Hiking in Cannibal Country!

“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti”
― Thomas HarrisThe Silence of the Lambs.

We came upon this “Cannibals” road sign (complete with an icon of a man being boiled) just before entering the Royal Natal National Park, where we planned to do some holiday hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains. At the time, we had no internet or phone service, so researching this unusual sign was impossible. But, as we hiked (straight through the clouds, into the rain and home through the mud), we speculated as to what it meant.  Was it a poorly executed warning, alerting us to the presence of cannibals? Was it the name of a restaurant – however inappropriate or ironic? Was it a National Park sign (again – poorly executed) commemorating an important historical event or highlighting a “not to be missed” park attraction? Who were these Cannibals and where were they now?

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And so… we ruminated while we hiked. Wondering about the cannibals, enjoying the lowland scenery, and trying to keep the cameras dry. Despite the rain and mud, our experience hiking up to Tiger Falls and back via the Cascades Trail was ethereal. Hemmed in by clouds, we could only feel the presence of the massive Amphitheatre – looming beyond the mist, taunting us with the promise of far more dramatic landscapes and… ultimately extracting a promise to return someday soon when the weather is clear and bright. (here’s a  peek at what The Amphitheatre and Tugela Falls look like “sans brouillard”…)

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While we missed the famous vistas of the Amphitheatre, there was an up-side to the wet weather… abundant rains fueled the sound and fury of Tiger Falls and the Cascades while misty skies kept the temperature cool and – most importantly – discouraged the snakes from slithering around above ground.

After returning the Drakensberg Mountain Retreat – a quirky lodge whose cozy, comfortable charm cannot be denied despite its rough edges, mismatched furniture, and giant cobwebs – we were able to access the internet long enough to ask Siri for some info on the infamous Cannibals sign. It turns out, the sign was meant to indicate the location of Cannibals Cavern,  where once upon a time (in the early 19th century), a group of desperate humans resorted to eating their dead after being driven out of their homes and into northern Drakensberg mountains by Shaka Zulu and his warriors. Today descendants of the survivors still live in the area and you can hike up to this rather grisly tourist attraction, or… you can opt to enjoy some wine in the Cave Bar at Cannibal Caverns namesake resort.








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