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Mossel Bay, South Africa

The Post Office Tree

South Africa's postal service began with a letter left in a boot beneath this tree. 

This ancient milkwood tree, located in Mossel Bay, South Africa, is believed to be the country’s very first mailbox.

In 1500, a Portuguese sea captain named Pêro de Ataíde lost much of his fleet in a storm off the Southern Cape. Before returning to India, he wrote a message reporting the damage and warning of rough waters to the East. Ataíde tucked the message in a boot dangling from a milkwood tree near a spring where sailors often drew water.

Miraculously, the message was retrieved by its intended recipient, Joao de Nova, the very next year. The tree became a de facto post office box, where sailors would exchange letters protected in boots, iron pots, or beneath rocks. Seamen would leave their messages behind, trusting that their countrymen would pick them up and deliver them to their correct destination, albeit very slowly.

The tree, now believed to be approximately 600 years old, still continues to send and receive mail. A large post office box shaped like a giant boot has been constructed beneath the tree, where people can send letters anywhere in the world and receive a special stamp. Presumably, delivery now takes less than a year.

Know Before You Go

The tree is located in the Bartholomeu Dias Museum Complex located in Mossel Bay. Admission is free; however, for a small fee you can board a recreation of Bartholomeu Dias' caravel. The shop in the maritime museum sells both postcards and stamps for sending mail all over the world.

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