Have you ever heard of Limpopo? The answer most likely is no and this because it is one of South Africa’s best kept secrets.
A four hour drive north of Johannesburg, Limpopo is a region with so much to offer… a region where you’ll immediately be blown away by the spirit of its people and their Tsonga, Venda and Shangaan cultures.
Known as the land of Myth and Legend, the region is home to enchanted forests, mythical pythons, white crocodiles and law defying lakes… These legends and traditions have been passed down from generation to generation resulting in the community of artists and craftsmen/women that live here today.
Named after the local mountain Ribolla, The Ribola Art Route takes you on a journey through this rich cultural heritage and brings you into contact with famous artists, traditional dancers, storytellers, sculptors, gardeners and craftsmen (…breath) who express themselves and retell the stories of their past through their different crafts.
If this alone isn’t enough to warrant a visit to Limpopo, the scenery is simply stunning and home to amazing wildlife and rare birds that birdwatchers come from far and wide to see.
Our favourite stops along the Ribola Art Route:
Not actually part of the art route itself, this hidden nature lodge is where we began our trip in Limpopo and deserves a mention, not only because it was one of the best places we stayed in South Africa but also because Lisa, the friendly owner, works hard to keep local traditions and the Riobola Art route alive and was pivotal in helping us organise our trip.
The lodges themselves are hidden away in the forest, where you are completely alone except for the birds and a group of monkeys which pass through twice a day. The wood cabins are kitted out with a fireplace, kitchenette and of course a braai. Filled with cosy blankets, hot water bottles and candles, we could have easily stayed holed up in the lodge for a few days. What’s more, they are electricity free so it was the perfect opportunity to take a digital detox and absorb the magical nature surrounding us. Solar heated water and a gas stove meant we weren’t without our creature comforts however!
A Morning Nature Walk with Paul
After a few nights of sleeping in a van, it wasn’t easy dragging ourselves out of the comfy bed at 6am, but Lisa assured us that the early morning nature walk was worth it. We met with Paul, the resident bird expert who took us on a walk through the forest surrounding the lodge. It’s safe to say bird-watching has never been one of our favourite pastimes, but Pauls unbelievable knowledge and ability to imitate and talk with almost every species of bird, as well as his insights into local life, stories of traditional medicine, witch doctors and the spirits meant that this was an experience not to be missed. Maybe ask him to skip the Black Mamba story though… the fear of being attacked in our sleep didn’t seem to leave after that!
If you have the time, make sure you take Paul up on the offer to visit his village and meet the local witch doctor… this sounded like an amazing experience to truly integrate with the locals, however sadly we were too stretched for time.
2. Twananani Textiles
Probably one of our favourite activities on the route, this is a community initiative to help the local women make money from their craft.
Greeted by a group of bubbly women, they showed us around their studio and small shop before giving us the chance to draw and paint our own cloth using their traditional batik methods. Our efforts seemed to cause a lot of amusement amongst the women who cried with laughter at my drawing of a fish and couldn't quite believe how slowly Charlie took to make his creation (bearing in mind they complete several large designs a day).
The studio is on the same site as a primary school, so make sure you pop your head in to say goodbye before you leave… the kids are adorable and so happy to see you.
3. Tinyiko Art Centre
One of the most impressive and inspirational people we met along the art route was Lucky. An incredibly talented artist, musician, dancer and gardener (with a random penchant for sunflowers) it seems there is no end to this man’s talents. What’s more, he gives almost all of his time to the local children, holding jam sessions, dance classes and art clubs, inspiring creativity and giving them something to do.
Just to add to Lucky’s achievements, we forgot to mention that he hand makes all of his musical instruments. Without the money for expensive kit, Lucky tells us that anything can be turned into an instrument - which he duly demonstrates as he starts tapping a beat using a metal plate. The kids quickly join in and soon they are all jamming together with an amazing ease and natural rhythm that seems so intrinsic to African culture.
4. Wood Sculpture with Patrick
Another character along the Ribola Art Route is Patrick. It’s safe to say that Patrick truly lives for his craft. Hidden away in the countryside, Patrick has built himself a very modest mud hut that overlooks the stunning Limpopo landscape. Every nook and cranny inside the small one-roomed living space is taken up with different artworks. Outside in his garden it’s a similar story, everywhere you turn is another beautifully intricate wood carving - fish sculptures seemingly are the mood of the moment.
Even in the blistering midday heat, we were fascinated to hear Patrick tell us his story, where it all began and how he walks for miles to find the perfect wood for his craft. He explains how he carries these enormous pieces of wood with his bare hands all the way back to his home, sometimes taking days just to find and collect the material.
5. Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge.
Our short time exploring the Art Route ended at Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge. A beautiful spot to unwind with a dip in the pool. Alternatively you can simply sit back and enjoy a G&T as you watch the sun set over the lake. Perfection.