I arrived at my bed and breakfast in Cape Town on June 4th after twenty-four hours of travel. The manager, during her tour of the beachfront guest house, pointed out the candles and matches provided in case of load shedding. Having friends in South Africa and following many South African social media sites, I'd heard of load shedding which is a rolling blackout; an intentionally engineered electrical power shutdown to various regions of the country at seemingly sporadic times. Truly though, it is a last-resort measure by the power company used to avoid a total blackout of their power system.
As I tooled around Cape Town, I took note of some hefty generators in front of condos and construction sites expensively supplying themselves with backup power for when Eskom, the power company, pulled the switch.
My short three days in Cape Town ended with no load shedding.
From there I headed to Kruger National Park; one of the largest game reserves in Africa covering more than seventy-five hundred square miles, housing one hundred and forty-seven species of Africa’s greatest and largest mammals.
I started my sixteen-night adventure with two nights in Skukuza; no load shedding. I wanted to experience it for some strange reason and was prepared with long stem slow burning candles stuck in tall bottles lit just as the sun set each night.
From Skukuza I headed to the Biyamiti bush camp where I had a lovely cottage on the fence-line. Herds of elephant, kudu, and waterbuck wondered by. The camp is far from anything and load shedding there would offer amazing star gazing opportunities.
After a nice dinner cooked over an open fire I retired to bed, quite spoiled with the ceiling fan blasting. At ten o’clock as I was falling asleep it happened. Boom. Everything went dark and the fan blades came to a slow stop. “Load shedding,” I said aloud in darkness that replicated blindness; there was no difference between eyes open and eyes shut. I was too tired at that point to do any star gazing though, so I went on to sleep.
The next morning, I went to boil water in the electric coffee pot but there was no electricity. The power was still out. I was shocked. I thought load shedding was for, at most, two hours. Eight hours had passed. I soon discovered though that what I thought was load shedding was a tripped breaker. After I made sure I hadn’t lost any of my frozen or cold foods due to the outage which would have sent me scrambling many hours down dirt roads to restock, I laughed. Seemingly, I wanted to experience load shedding so bad I made my own that night!
Two nights at Biyamiti Camp; two nights at Tamboti Camp; then a night in Lataba on my way up to Shingwedzi Camp where I spent three glorious nights and still no load shedding, except for the one I created.
On the 17th of June I arrived for a two-night stay in Satara Camp. After ten nights in the park, I was not even thinking of load shedding anymore. Out of habit though, I lit my candles at sunset and placed them on my patio table. I was just about to put dinner on the table when the camp went black dark.
From the hut down the way I heard a woman shout, “LOAD SHEDDING. LOAD SHEDDING,” like the town crier.
For thirty minutes all you could see were flames from candles and cooking fires and the shine from flashlights. Those thirty minutes that night in the darkness were quite magical.
For two nights in a row at Satara I experienced the long awaited and quite talked about load shedding.
My last three nights in Kruger and in South Africa were spent in Pretoriouskop Camp where, on the second night, I had my third load shedding experience darkening the camp of all things mad-made, highlighting the waxing crescent moon, the gasses of the Milky Way and the gazillion stars.
By happenstance I learned that on that night, June 20th, the Moon, Jupiter and Venus were to form a perfect triangle in the sky, and although I don’t have the best camera for shooting stars, the darkness of load shedding allowed me to capture this rare event.
I am sure for local South Africans trying to carry out their daily life, load shedding is not a desired experience. But, out there in the bush of Africa, it was a welcome event.
Perhaps Eskom should concentrate their power switch flipping on the areas of the country where those of us seeking nature in all its glory welcome the darkness.
For me, it made an already magical place even more so.