I gravitate towards hot springs. To me, hot springs are one of the greatest miracles in nature. Ancient water from deep aquifers is heated by molten lava and surfaces, steamy and mineral-rich to the earth’s surface. I make pilgrimages to hot springs for their healing qualities. Having been born a tiny, premature human being, I like to linger in hot springs, hoping to be fully cooked, matured, and nurtured.
After a week of camping and cycling in Barberton, I look forward to soaking. These early winter nights in South Africa are cold. I am sore from my daily exertions followed by sleeping on hard ground. I look forward to immersing my body in the hot springs at Badplass/Emanzana. The name Badplass is descriptive and translated to English from Afrikaans means, “Place of Baths.” The name of the town has been changed in recent years to Emanzana, a Swazi word meaning, “Healing Waters.” The Badplass/Emanzana springs are connected via a geological rift valley, connecting to Mbabane in Swaziland.
I drive over the Nelshoogte Pass from Barberton and pass by the turnoff for the Queen Rose hiking trail. The two-day, 21 km hike through the Nelsberg Mountains is supposed to be quite beautiful. I make a note to come back to hike it someday.
I drop over the forested pass and come out into the Emanzana valley and find the Badplass Forever Resort. Forever Resorts are a chain of resorts situated throughout South Africa. They are family-oriented resorts with camping, chalets, swimming pools, tennis courts, putt-putt golf, and all kinds of holiday diversions. I have spent the past 3.5 years staying next to the Swadini Forever Resort, so it feels a bit like a homecoming. I know what to expect with the campground, the little shop, the restaurant, and the chalets. Each Forever Resort has its own theme based on the natural environment, but they have a lot in common. For instance, the women’s camping ablutions have fabulous bathtubs. I love a campground with a bathtub.
I arrive mid-day and set up camp. And then I make a beeline to the indoor hot springs pools. The flow rate for the springs is 34,000 liters per hour with a temperature of 53°C/127°F. The water contains 32 different minerals. There are two large soaking pools along with a smaller, super-hot, pool and a cold plunge pool. I feel primal as I step into the hot earth water.
My muscles are tired from the cycling and my bones are a little weary from sleeping on the ground. I relax deeply in the warm pools. Then, I alternate between the cold and the hot pools to really crank my circulation.
I spend the next two days cycling on the adjacent Emanzana Nature Reserve that edges up onto the slopes of the Ndumudlumu Mountains, which translates to, "The Place of Much Thunder" in Swazi. Thankfully, I don’t encounter thunder or lightning, but I do cycle through a grass fire. There is a marked 10km mountain bike/hiking trail, but I opt to explore the 4x4 jeep routes up into the mountains. I traverse steep, rocky climbs. I dip over streams and weave through grasslands and forests. The terrain is beautiful. I have the whole place to myself.
While cycling, I encounter African herd animals. I come across giraffes, wildebeest blesbock and kudu. Sometimes the herds startle and I can feel the collective adrenaline as they race across the landscape. I am sorry to frighten them.
I meet my camping neighbors, two farming couples from KZN who are traveling together and spending eight nights in Kruger Park. We speak of farming, animal husbandry, South Africa and America. They are lovely, generous, kind, and interesting. They give me their contact details and ask me to call when I pass through their part of the country.
I sit at the café one afternoon having a coffee and hoping to get some writing done. I have stacks of notebooks and my computer on my table. A couple arrives and occupies a table nearby. I am curious about them. She is vibrant, full-bodied, and blonde. He is older, with a full, greying beard and skin that is both weathered but also soft in a Mediterranean kind of way. She looks modern. He looks like he could have stepped out of another era. They are animated together and clearly have a warm bond.
They get up to leave. As they pass my table he asks if they can join and sit and talk. He says he LOVES to talk. I am curious. I say, “sure.” His wife takes her cue to exit, and I imagine to relish in her quiet time. Momo is absolutely telling the truth. He LOVES to talk. Momo (Momir) came to South Africa alone from Yugoslavia in his early 20’s in 1972. He has built a thriving business in construction/development and rentals.
He orders a cappuccino and I order a cappuccino and a slice of carrot cake. As time passes, I will be grateful for the sustenance. It takes a lot of energy to follow the in-depth narrative. I enjoy the sugar high that comes from the rich butter frosting, after a diet of potatoes, onions, eggs, and butternut squash. The sugar high and caffeine allow me to be attentive and alert.
Momo walks me through five decades of his life and business. Business is like a chess game for him. He often makes wildly unexpected moves that seem contradictory, but ultimately make sense. He is hardworking and honest, but he also uses his experience to his advantage and relishes the wins. His wife calls twice, mostly on my behalf, reminding Momo to wrap things up because I may have things to do. I appreciate her sensitivity and the lifeline should I want to step out of the narrative.
Momo shares his success. He has written a book. He hopes to inspire others to follow in his footsteps and achieve success. I am struck by his creativity, determination, and resilience. I don’t mind the long, mostly one-sided conversation. I learn a lot. His stories bring history alive. He is a simple, ambitious, curious, self-educated man who grew up in a small Serbian village and set out to see the world. He applied for a laborer’s visa to Canada and America and was rejected. South Africa, his third choice, approved his application. He speaks with gratitude for the opportunities South Africa has afforded him.
The Badplass Forever Resort is a comfortable, familiar refuge. I feel contained, supported, and companionably engaged. I take full advantage of the indoor hot springs
pools. I step out of the cool wind and swim laps in the large, just warm enough outdoor pool. I escape the early morning chill of the tent and drink my tea in a hot bath. Badplass/Emanzana is a place of warm, liquid immersion for me.