Welcome to the blog site for our Elmira College travel class to South Africa. We will update this blog regularly with posts about our travels and experiences. We'll upload photos when we have the chance. Check back regularly to follow our adventures!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mapungubwe and Hot Springs

We spent the morning at the archeological site of Mapungubwe, home to a culture that flourished between 900 and 1250 AD. Mapungubwe has been designated a World Heritage Site due to its archeological significance. This culture is noteworthy because, unlike virtually all the cultures that lived in South Africa prior to European settlement in 1652, it was not a nomadic culture. Instead, it was a culture that mined for gold, created exquisite handcrafts in gold and clay, and traded with groups along the Indian Ocean. Indeed, artifacts from Mapungubwe have been found as far away as China. Our guide speculated that the history of the past half century might have been different if people had known about this culture at Mapungubwe. Defenders of Apartheid claimed that black South African cultures had consisted of nomadic herdsmen; since they had not settled South Africa, they had no more claim to the land than the Afrikaaners and English. Mapungubwe proves them wrong. The site was first excavated in 1932 by an archeologist from the University of Pretoria. There is now a controversy regarding funerary remains reminiscent of controversies in the United States over Native American remains, both human and cultural. Recently, the University of Pretoria re-buried the remains of 23 individuals and there are plans to return the cultural artifacts to the site in the near future.

Mapungubwe is situated along the Limpopo River which forms South Africa's northern border with Botswana to the northwest and Zimbabwe to the northeast. From the top of the site, we could see across the river and into Zimbabwe. Due to political and economic instability in Zimbabwe, this part of South Africa must deal with an influx of Zimbabwean immigrants. This is an acute problem, since unemployment in South Africa is thought to be 45%, although no one knows for sure exactly how many people are out of work. It's clear that while things are much better here now than they were twenty years ago, South Africa still has a long way to go. This is a lament that we've heard more than once on this trip.

After an all-American lunch of burgers and fries, we piled into the bus and proceeded to Tshipise. The resort we're staying in tonight is known for its hot and cold natural springs which are thought to have therapeutic properties. We arrived here around 4:30 pm, but stopped along the way to climb a lookout rock that provided us magnificent views of the surrounding area.

Tomorrow we continue our wonderful time in Venda with visits to a traditional healer and artist. We will also soon be sampling Mupani worms (said to be good in stew) as well as termites (apparently a good movie snack, similar to popcorn I suppose). Stay tuned!

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