If you could go on just one holiday anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I am most certainly bias, but South Africa is one of the world’s most beautiful and sought after travel destinations. It’s a damn fine tick off any bucketlist! With much to see and do, visitors are so spoiled for choice they often cannot decide where to go or begin!
Those in pursuit of cultural heritage tourism and authentic experiences that are genuine, distinctly South African, have an even bigger challenge.
These days few things can really be considered authentic and my travels through Southern Africa seldom boast with encounters afterwards described as the real, real deal. I often feel as if I bought tickets to a rehearsed show of a people and a place, each singing for their supper. Had it not been for my presence as a tourist/traveller, they would not continue – or even start – in the first place! It is an act just for me, the paying tourist, it is all for show.
Dean MacCannell nicely captured an aspect of this problem in his concept ‘staged authenticity’. This term refers to the staging of local culture to create an impression of authenticity for a tourist audience.
Luckily not all tourism involves the staging of authenticity …
AFRICAN IVORY ROUTE’s BALENI CULTURAL CAMP is my most authentic travel experience to date: I WATCHED women making salt from river soil, as they have been for generations, around 2000 years and counting! this experience set a new benchmark for all travel EXPERIENCES claiming to be responsible and/or eco for years to come.
It is the end of the dry season in Limpopo, large dark clouds swell above our heads – soon the rains will be here.
As I walk through the dry Mopani tribal grazing lands of the Mahumani Traditional Authority, towards the last salt water harvesting site of it’s kind in the country, I know I will be forever thankful to the wonders of Baleni, situated near the banks of the Klein Letaba River.
From a natural hot spring in the Greater Giyani municipal area, declared a Natural Heritage Site due to its rich ecosystem, the indigenous Tsonga community extracts a sacred salt from their tribal grazing lands, following ancient ancestral traditions of nearly 2000 years.
Here you may walk down to a geo-thermal hot spring, a sacred site by appointment only. This is the only undeveloped hot spring in Southern Africa, it maintains a water temperature of around 42 degrees.
After washing away your bad luck in the spring, your walk can continues to the salt harvesting site.
I am just in time to witness the Tsonga women where they collect salt-encrusted sand and leach it with ntsobe (water) through xinjhava (filters) made with nwahuva (clay) and nhlangula (leaves) to make salt.
In a few weeks the harvest would succumb to the coming of the rains and the rising of the riverbed. No harvesting of salt takes place during the wet summer season because the river rises and the salt is too difficult to extract.
Salt Harvesting at Baleni starts by leaving a gift at the foot of the Leadwood tree (called Motswiri) to thank the ancestors for nature’s bounty.
Our traditions act as a compass for all of our human relationships and personal interactions, the qualitative experiences of our family life, and ultimately, the development of civilized societies themselves. As we honor traditions, so we learn to honor ourselves, and in the final analysis, each other.
Traditions are special things. It is almost as if they ration usefulness, tales and purpose from one generation to the next. For me, travelling is one of the best ways to encounter these three things in another’s culture: I’m forever travelling, forever learning.
One of the Baleni Cultural Camp’s 5 stand-alone thatched rondavels. There is such luxury in the simplicity for me.
Without any doubt in my mind I know that of the many experiences I have had as a traveller and documentary filmmaker, this is as authentic and respectful to local cultures as it gets. It is the foresight and dedication of the African Ivory Route that makes this experience possible to outsiders, fostering an appreciation and recognition of other ways of knowing. I would even go as far as saying that this is what responsible tourism is all about.
If you are interested in buying some of the Baleni salt, you can visit the website here.