It was all I could do to restrain myself from breaking into loud, boisterous gales of The Lion King's "Circle of Life" when I first saw the Sunland Baobab Tree in Limpopo, South Africa. It's by far the most magnificent specimen of plant life I've ever been lucky enough to see.
But what made it even more alluring is that inside its gnarly, massive trunk is a bar complete with sound system, wine cellar and dart board. I've tipped a glass in many a fine drinking establishment over the years, but the Baobab Tree Bar and Wine Cellar in the foothills of the Modjadji Cycad Reserve is probably the most unique. I half expected Rafiki, the wise mandrill from the movie, to walk out holding a lion cub aloft.
This arboreal watering hole comfortably seats 15 on bar stools and benches, but owners Doug and Heather van Heerden, in times of bleary reasoning, have managed to squeeze in more than 50 of their closest friends.
"We won't be doing that again," Heather reports.
The enterprising duo turned their notorious baobab (it has been called the world's largest, the world's widest and the world's oldest) into a bar in 1993 soon after buying the mango and palm farm where it has been growing for, some say, longer than 6,000 years. The problem with baobabs is they don't produce rings. The only way to estimate their age is with carbon dating.
But this we can say with some certainty: This gargantuan tree was around long before the Giza Pyramid. And while it doesn't attract quite as many tourists as the oldest of the world's seven wonders, it does attract a lot of imbibers who come to snap pictures of themselves clinking steins inside the trunk of a living tree.
The record-setting baobab is about seven stories high, 155 feet in circumference and has withstood drought, lightning strikes, black fungus and marauding elephants, all problems with which its weaker peers couldn't cope. In African legend, the baobab is sacred. It isn't called "The Tree of Life" for nothing. Hundreds of birds, insects and small mammals live in the branches and knots of baobabs and its fruit, known as monkey bread, has four times the Vitamin C as an orange. Locals use it for fiber, dye, fuel and even on their plates as a nutritious leafy vegetable.
"The only problem with the baobab is it doesn't get handsome until it's about 800 years old," jokes government botanist Hugh Glen.
When the van Heerdens first began clearing their tree's innards, they found artifacts from ancient bushmen who believe the following: Drinking water in which baobab seeds have been soaked protects you from crocodile attack. Feeding your baby a mixture of its bark and seeds ensures a long, healthy life. Plucking a flower from a baobab's branches portends a lion attack.
I can't attest to any of those myths, but I can say this with total authority: There's no better way to while away a summer afternoon in the South Africa savannah than drinking Castle Lager inside a monster baobab tree.
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