South Africa has an abundance of famous tourist attractions, from Kruger Park on the north to Cape Point on the south. South Africa is also dotted with many lesser known spots that deserve a visit. Here we explore The Big Tree of Limpopo.
Like all secluded attractions worthy of their name, The Big Tree of Limpopo is not easy to find. It is tucked among several sprawling villages close to the Zimbabwean border and can be reached only after traversing a maze of dirt roads that do not sport the “Big Tree” pointer on every junction.
Today, The Big Tree is fenced off, complete with a pay booth at the entrance. It was not always like that. Some visitors grumble because they have to pay for something that used to be free to view. However, the cost of the ticket being low (R15 in December 2009) and the trip to the attraction long, everybody pays up. And as soon as our group approaches the tree we have to admit that there are at least two good reason (besides providing some money for the municipality) to fence it off and charge the admission fee.
Firstly, that will (hopefully) stop tree vandals from carving their names and other inane messages into the bark in future.
And secondly, there is a guide whose input greatly increases the enjoyment of the visit. The guide, an old man with eyes scintillating with good humor and wisdom, gives our group, now grown to about a score of individuals (how did they all find their way?), a presentation that is both informative and amusing.
The Big Tree in Limpopo is – of course – a baobab. From our guide we learn:
- That it is the biggest baobab in the world;
- That it would take about forty grown-ups to encircle it;
- That it is over 3,500 years old;
- That its roots spread five kilometers from the trunk laterally.
We also learn that the baobab is a veritable farm in itself. Every part of it can be used: the leaves can be eaten as vegetables; the fruit, rich in vitamin C, can be eaten directly or mixed into porridge or milk; the bark can be pounded and soaked and made into rope, fishing nets or clothes; the seeds can be used as a thickener for soups, as seasoning, or pounded to extract baobab oil, which is reputedly very good for the skin. Both leaves and seeds are said to have medicinal properties.
Then the guide invites us on an imaginative trip around the big tree. He points to a host of fantastical creatures and scenes that the nature has sculpted in the bulbous branches, the folds of the bark and gnarled roots. With just a little prompting, we can see:
- The map of Africa;
- The map of South Africa;
- A chief’s chair;
- Mandela’s fist;
- FIFA World Cup (signifying not only that South Africa was destined to host the 2010 cup, but that it will remain in the country);
- Several animals (a baby elephant, hippo, rhino, the head of a horse, several crocodile, etc.);
- A whole family (mother, father and two children), a distressed father (we know that he is distressed by the way he rises his hand to his head);
- A set of male and female genitals (before pointing them out, the guide, mindful of age restrictions, asks two teenagers to please go to the other side of the tree, out of earshot);
- and much more.
Then we climb inside the tree, a space that can hold about twenty adult individuals. This is where freedom fighters (at that time called terrorists) used to hide during the apartheid from prosecution.
In a phenomenon that travellers are familiar with, the drive back seems much shorter than the drive to The Big Tree.
To get the directions to The Big Tree, enter its coordinates, S22 degrees 29.99 minutes, E30 degrees 37.99 minutes in the lower right corner of iTouchMap.com, in this format:
and press the “Show Point” button.
More baobab facts:
- African Baobab (Adansonia digitata) is found in western, north-eastern, central and southern Africa. Other species of Adansonia grow in Madagascar and in Australia, as well as in India and South America.
- Baobab is a succulent plant. It stores water inside the swollen trunk to endure the drought conditions. Baobabs are deciduous and shed their leaves during the dry season.
- Elephants, monkeys and baboons love to feed on the baobab fruit.
- Baobab wood is very soft and does not form rings. The age has to be determined by taking carbon-14 readings.
- The baobab was declared a protected tree under the Forest Act in South Africa in 1941.