A spiritual retreat to renew body and soul, deep into the sub-tropical mountains of the Limpopo province, personally hosted by the Venda people
This journey takes you on a fully portered, fully guided walk through the Venda tribal area in the Limpopo Province, South Africa. Over 7 days, you'll walk through the Soutpansberg Mountains which are subtropical and remote: by day, we explore this region slowly and deliberately on foot. We will visit magical natural rock swimming pools, a hilltop sacred lake, a forbidden forest and many rural villages which are only rarely accessed by visitors. By night, we'll eat traditional Venda food, listen (with interpreters) to traditional Venda stories and songs and be entertained by the music of the Venda people.
The focus of this journey is the wilderness, the isolation and a return to an inner calm. But we also will build a connection to the Venda people who themselves are deeply connected to the earth and all it provides.
Here, time has stood still: you'll stay in comfortable reed and mud huts with en-suite bathroom facilities. The huts are located in traditional villages that nestle in the valleys of this verdant region as personal guests of the Venda people. The Vendas are culturally and linguistically quite different from other tribes in South Africa and as such offer a unique perspective on Africa.
Your journey starts at O R Tambo Airport in Johannesburg. We'll fly direct to Phalaborwa with a one hour flight, and then drive around 200km to the village of Mukumbani, so aiming to arrive mid afternoon. The village is located high up in the Soutpansberg Mountains with lovely views and crisp, clean air. On arrival you'll be greated by the local villagers and shown to our accommodation, which is close to King Kennedy Tshivase’s royal homestead. Our accommodation for tonight is a traditional reed hut with beds, linen and an en suite bathroom. You'll be treated to a dinner provided by Soza Community Project, which is a local catering company started in 2003.
Today we start our walk: we'll leave the village of Mukumbani and walk to Makwarani. This is a walk of around 10km. To support youth employment, we encourage you to make use of the porters who are local Venda people to carry your bags: they will accompany us as we walk so your items are always accessible. Today's walk takes us through virgin African bush along rarely trodden paths. We'll eat a light lunch on the way prepared in traditional Venda style by our cook who accompanies us on our walks.
As we walk, our Venda bush guide will introduce us to the plants, particularly the edible and medicinal ones used in the Venda culture. Should we be lucky enough to encounter animals we'll also stop to observe them and hear more about their behaviour from our guides. During the afternoon, we'll stop at quiet site along the way and engage in guided meditation for around an hour. The African bush is a wilderness and in that solitude and stillness we can truly return to an inner calm.
We aim to arrive at Makwarani around 4 p.m. and there will be some free time to settle in to your accommodation (Makwarani will be our base for this night and the next).
On our first night, we will be honoured to experience the villagers of Makwarani performing traditional Venda music and dancing and we’ll be served with traditional Venda dishes for our evening meal: the Limpopo region is fertile and abundant and you’ll learn about how cuisine is a fundamental part of the Venda lifestyle. Traditionally this is a combination of grains and vegetables with wild maize being the main ingredient of the Venda cuisine. A porridge made with maize forms part of many dishes: it’s sometimes eaten plain with the appearance of a pancake,or mixed with spinach and other soft green leaves or added to meat and stock to make dumplings for a type of stew.
Limpopo is famous for the striking baobab and marula trees that grow here: the baobab is visually very distinctive, appearing almost to be an ‘upside down tree’, its branches appearing more like roots than branches. The baobab is internally edible so small sections of the tree are cut out and infused with milk. This then makes a sauce that accompanies many dishes. Conversely, the marula tree bears a fruit that is used to make the famous liqueur ‘Amarula’: still to this day, the fruit is not harvested until the elephants reach up with their trunks to eat it (elephants are considered the better judges of whether the fruit is ripe or not). It’s delicious raw but also forms part of many traditional dishes.
Leaving the majority of our equipment at our lodgings, this morning we'll take a circular walk through the bush to the Tshirovha River. Our destination is the spectacular geological phenomenon known as the Tshatshingo Potholes which are fed by a river with deep rock pools. The water is cool and incredibly clear and to swim in it is a spiritual experience in itself. Our cook will prepare us a light lunch by the river.
After sustainance, we'll walk just behind the potholes to visit a ‘secret valley’ that few outsiders know about: filled with cycads (a protected ancient tree that appears both like a palm and a fern), it's an untouched virgin forest brimming with wildlife. Here we'll engage in silent meditation for an hour or so. We'll allow the sounds of potholes, the river and forest to surround us and fill us with renewal. Afterwards there will be some private individual time to practice yoga, write, read, paint or draw whilst surrounded by the bush.
We'll then return before sunset to our lodgings at Makwarani. We will be able to spend several hours at Tshatshingo before we overnight in the nearby village. Tonight you’ll have a chance to try mopane worms, much favoured by the Venda people. These worms can be eaten dried or cooked and are extremely nutritious. They are in fact a type of caterpillar which are preserved by being dried in the sun or smoked. Most often they are eaten plain, as a snack, or as you will try them rehydrated and cooked with tomatoes, onions and spices. They taste similar to chicken on their own and in stews more like an oxtail soup.
After a morning meditation session and breakfast, today we’ll start by packing up our gear and taking a short walk (6km) to the village of Tshidzivhe. As previously, you’re encouraged to allow the local people to help with carrying your bags. We’ll pause here to unpack and set up our accommodation for the night, as this is where we’ll be staying. Then, by late morning, we’ll start walking again to Thathe Vondo Forest which is sacred to the Tshidzhive people. You’ll meet Chief Netshidzivhe who is the guardian of Forest. The Venda royal family are buried here and it is forbidden to enter this forest without asking for special permission and performing rituals. The Thathe Vondo is an indigenous Afromontane forest, rich in mythology. Local people are often to be found engaged in practising sacred rituals there to this day. It is believed that a white lion patrols and protects the forest.
We’ll enjoy a lunch in the forest and then engage in some guided meditation in this most special of places.
We’ll return to Tshidzivhe for a night of Tshikhona music – the musicians here are quite superb! You’ll be treated to another traditional Venda dinner. Because beans, nuts and groundnuts are to be found pretty much everywhere, growing wild, in Limpopo they form a significant part of the local cuisine. You’ll find that the nutty flavour which comes across in many dishes are really popular all over South Africa, even amongst other tribes.
Thathe Vondo Sacred Forest
Walk through the Thathe Vondo Sacred Forest. We learn about the forest and its signiﬁcance to The Venda. We will meditate too in the forest. Then we walk on to Tshitangani, the chief here being a co-guardian of Lake Fundudzi with the Chief of Tshiheni.
Our transport fetches us and returns us to Mukumbani (Via Phiphidi Falls- another sacred site) for our last night in Venda. Mukumbani too has excellent musicians and we will experience other forms of Venda music here. Our night here will be in ‘relative luxury.’