The Itinerary

The Itinerary

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

April 10, Durban Zulu Battlefields Tour

Friday, April 10, Day 67 - Durban Zulu Battlefields Tour

Today is pay back time for all the barefoot temple walking Dick did in Burma! Carolyn has arranged a guided trip to the sites of the two most famous engagements of the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War. Dick has been interested in these two battles, Isandlwana and Rorck’s Drift since he first saw the movie "Zulu" in the early 1960s. Our guide is Shelldon Wells, a man in his mid to late 30s, of Country and Coastal Touring.

Shelldon is waiting for us in the hotel lobby at 6AM and by that time we have enjoyed an early, but very nice, room service breakfast. This getting up at 5AM has got to stop and, maybe, this is the last one of these mornings; let’s hope. Shelldon escorts us to his eight passenger van and we are off.
This is a regular tour for our guide and it will take 12 to 13 hours and we will ultimately drive 690km or just over 400 miles! Anyway, with our permission, Shelldon leads off the day with a verbal history of the Zulu tribe and its famous leader Shaka who was at the peak of his power from 1822-1827. We learn of his lineage and how the whole conflict between the Zulus, the British and the Boers developed over many years. Our guide’s knowledge is almost encyclopedic on the subject and we listen to his narrative for most of the four hours it takes to get to Isandlwana. Shelldon is a good story teller and it is an interesting tale so the time passes quickly.

The land we traverse is very pretty and is dotted with small settlements and towns of mostly black Africans, the present day Zulu. Shelldon must speak Zulu to some extent because he regularly converses in short phrases with toll both and gas station attendants. He is a native of the area and has been doing this type of work for some 11 years. In a previous life he was a ranger in Kruger National Park. He includes information on the Zulu lifestyle and comments that it hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years. They are still a tribal people, with chiefs in charge of the small communities. The land is held by the state and divided to the chiefs as needed. The individuals do not own their land, but can live on a track allotted to them for their life time and that of their descendants, but they can't sell it  There is a community water well and mostly modern "out houses" near each family unit. The men are herders and the women take carry of the family. There are numerous primary schools that are well attended as the people see the value of education and make sure the kids not only do their traditional chores, but that they also attend school. A man's wealth is determined by the number of cattle he owns and even today it is their currency. Everywhere we see women and girls doing the wash in the streams or working on part of a meal over an outdoor fire and the men and boys herding the cattle and other livestock.

At Isandlwana we visit the small museum and pay our admission fee to the battlefield site. Once at the site of the battle, on the East slope of the Sphinx-like, rocky hill now known as Isandlwana, Carolyn sits in the van (it is pleasantly cool and she ultimately falls asleep) while Dick and Shelldon walk the ground and Shelldon explains the sequence of events that occurred on January 22, 1879. It is easy to follow the flow of the battle by looking at the white stone cairns, placed some two months after the battle, that mark the graves of the soldiers.

An hour and a half passes quickly before we are ready to move on to Rorck’s Drift. Rorck’s Drift is some 17km from Isandlwana as a horseman would ride and further by the very poor road we take. Before visiting the site of the battle, we stop for lunch at the Rorck’s Drift Hotel, a Zulu development project, run and staffed by the local people. It overlooks the site of the actual drift or ford of the Buffalo River which gives its name to the cluster of buildings where the battle took place. Lunch is a light buffet and will be enough to hold us until tonight. This is included in our tour package as are all the admission fees.

At the site of the actual battle, Dick is disappointed to see the changes that have been made to the site over time. The hospital building from the time of the battle is still there and contains a nice little museum with some full sized displays depicting portions of the battle. The only other building from 1879 still standing is a supply storage building that is now incorporated into a Lutheran Church. Everything else from the time of the battle is gone and the sharp, rock ledge upon which the defenders built their initial wall of defense has been turned into a gentle slope by filling it in with dirt. In 1879 there were only two trees in the area and none of the brush and other trees one sees today. Only one of the original trees still stands; it looks to be some sort of cedar. Numerous other trees have grown up over the years along with brush on the hillside and these have changed the landscape to a significant degree. The footprint of the location of the mealie or corn bag wall built by the British is now delineated by stones set into the ground and one can trace the defenders positions as well as identify the location of their mealie bag fort. The cattle kraal, their position of last resort, is still there but its walls are significantly reduced in height.

Dick is glad to be able to visit this historic site but it does not take very long to see all there is to see and we are heading back to our hotel by 2:30PM. It is a long reverse of our trip out and it is after 6:30PM and dark by the time Shelldon drops us at the hotel.

We are both very tired but also hungry so we order a room service dinner of grilled king prawns (no shell tonight) and eat out on the terrace of our room by candlelight while listening to the sound of the heavy, Indian Ocean surf below our room.

Tomorrow will be another long day but we do not have to get up too early. We are in bed and out for the count by 9:30PM.

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