Why Eshowe? Well, where do I start? I knew there was a brewery, with a resident ‘Zulu Blonde’, so that seemed like the obvious place to start planning from. What I didn’t realise was just how much more the town had to offer. With further research on the town I became more aware of its history, culture and natural assets.
I contacted The George Hotel and Richard Chennells, the owner, came straight back to me with suggestions for my stay. I was beginning to wonder if I would have enough time to do everything so would have to be selective. The hotel is not only a great spot for a tourist like me, but is geared up for business conferences, weddings and golf tours. Plus it’s on the province’s ‘Battlefields’, ‘Birding’ and ‘Beer’ Routes. With The George being 110 years old I was pleased that my room was both spacious and modern and included an en-suite bathroom. The decorative features like those throughout reflected both the hotel and towns history.
The drive to Eshowe from the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains started in snow, changed to rain in the Midlands and turned to fog in the Zululand hills. It even included a drive past the South African Presidents controversial homestead at Nkandla. The controversy is about who paid the vast amount to build the homestead. I could not help but think, why build it here? On arrival at the hotel the rain abated and eventually gave way to sunshine. Richard was there to meet me and he suggested a loose itinerary for my stay.
En route to Fort Nongqayi I passed a plaque mounted on a stone marking the place where the legendary Zulu King Cetshwayo passed away. He was a major figure in the Anglo-Zulu War and orchestrated the victory over the English at the battle of Isandlwana. The fort was constructed after the Zulu war and was used as a training base for the Zululand Native Police Force. It now houses a museum, cultural centre, chapel plus several other attractions. Guides Elizabeth & Caroline took me from traditional Zulu beehive huts to the links with Norwegian missionaries, and the skills of beading and basket work. The Zulu people have always prided themselves on intricate beadwork used in items such as as simple trinkets to complex figures of art. Baskets have multiple uses such as the storing of food and brewing of beer. A lady, also on a tour, picked up a delicate small woven grass item and asked “is this an intricate spinning top?” Our guides embarrassed reply “Erm no, its what a Zulu man used to wear down there for birth control”!!
I drove through the Dlinza Forest, rather than entering straight from the main road. I made my way to the forest board-walk. There are two trails but after paying my entrance fee I headed straight for the board-walk. The 125 meter wooden, wheelchair friendly, walkway climbs up to 10 meters before reaching the viewing platform which stands at 20meters. This puts you at the height of the green canopy and gives views all the way towards the Indian Ocean. From a birds-eye level you can look down through giant limbs onto vast trunks. Vines, ferns, lichens, air plants and orchids hang, cover and nestle on the bark in the clean clear air. Forest birds call and flit from tree to tree. On the ground below duikers forage for food undisturbed by my view from above.
Richard had organised Joe, a local village guide, to give me a cultural tour in and around Eshowe. I had been on a similar tour around the city of Durban but had never undertaken a rural tour. We visited a shebeen (informal pub), and shared a beer with a few locals. The beer was a traditional home brew and although resembling Milo or Horlicks and served in a plastic measuring jug, it actually tasted ok. The muthi store, similar to our chemist by nature, was full of herbs, lotions and potions. There were buckets of red and white balls resembling cannon balls. These were made from ‘clay’ and used by Zulu ladies as a sunscreen. We visited Joe’s parents house located in what he simply referred to as his village. He showed me their traditional thatched rondavel which is dedicated to his ancestors. He talked me through family beliefs and traditions and how the Zulu way of life was becoming more influenced by the the western world. We visited his old school where children queued for a lunch of rice and soup. On finishing eating, each child, smartly dressed in their school uniform, took their bowl and washed it under the tap of a water tank. Passing the local store we stood at a Shembe Church. There is no structure just a circle of painted white stones. This is a church where ‘Christian’ and Zulu beliefs come together. Our final stop was with Michael, a local Sangoma. I guess to some he is a spiritual healer, to others he is a witch doctor. After removing our shoes Michael took us to his practice room which resembled the muthi shop from earlier. His story of becoming a healer was fascinating. His father before him was a sangoma and he had answered the call after a spiritual journey which involved finding his fathers ‘bones’ buried in a river bed. He still rolls the bones to look into the future. Michael asked if I had anything else in my camera bag. He thought I could have healing powers and maybe kept my ‘bones’ and muthi in the bag. I resisted a consultation and a variety of love potions but was fascinated by Michael.
Sundowners, with Richard on Signal Hill was where we had spectacular views of rolling hills all the way to the east coast. A group of young men and women were also on the hill. We shared a beer and they realised that years before they had sat in the same place with Richard’s father. Back at the George Hotel I was given a quick tour of the brewery and sampled some of the famous Zulu Blonde Beer. I knew of the beer prior to my visit due to a magazine article here in the UK. The beer was award winning and had been available in a UK pub chain. Richard certainly knew his beer, and the hotel trade in general. He is passionate about his home town, his hotel and his beer. I would describe his beer as a summer ale and the perfect accompaniment to the excellent pizzas, cooked in the wood fired stove, served in the bar. Thank you Richard and the staff of the hotel. Happy days and a toast to all Zulu Blonde’s!