Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Underberg, Sani Pass, Lesotho, Drakensberg, Johannesburg,
08.09.2011 - 16.09.2011
Cooooooweee! Coooweeeee! Coooweeeee!
Hope everyone is well. Just arrived in Johannesburg last night after spending some time in the Drakensberg Mountains area. From Durban last week I was dropped in Pietermaritzburg , Kwazulu-Natal’s ‘Heritage City’ and actually really enjoyed it. I forgot to mention that it’s been warming up more and more, even in the mountains here where I expected freezing temps. The day drive to Durban was actually HOT and arriving 9ish at night was like a mild summers’ night, the first since Dar es Salaam I think. I felt really old and boring at the hostel in Durban, complaining the next morning about the noisy drunks keeping me up that night. A bit of payback.
But anyway, Pietermaritzburg was interesting, a mix of historic buildings and run down alley way shops. And, as with Mthatha, lots of “Cheap, Pain Free Abortion” posters plastered on walls and poles. Not something you see everywhere. I sat at the park to read for a bit and then heard all this hooting and singing and chanting and looked up and there were 20 or so work utes and trucks slowing driving and honking down the main street, then the council workers all stopped, blocking both sides of the road and everyone got out and started singing and clapping out the front of I am assuming the council office. (My African drumming lessons from ‘Bongs’ at Port St Johns would have topped the beat off) Apparently they had been striking…that is all I found out as I don’t speak Zulu. This went on for nearly an hour, perfect to fill in the middle part of my day. People in the city were soooo nice to me which was lovely! Went to the Natal Museum but didn’t get long there as my shuttle arrived. Not to say that we left any time soon, as the van wouldn’t start so after a couple of runs to the petrol station, the driver – wearing a novelty multi-coloured top hat – had me and 2 schoolgirls (another school run/tourist shuttle) pushing the van to flat ground. Nearly an hour later we were on our way.
I stayed at Sani Lodge in the Southern Drakensberg near the Lesotho border. The hostel was nice and quiet and set amongst the mountains in Underberg. On Saturday I did a 4x4 Sani Pass day tour to Sani Top in Lesotho which was really really really great. Our guide knew EVERYTHING, though sometimes I felt like we did at Good News Week when he would tell a joke, not get the reaction he wanted, so he would explain it, then tell it again twice or until someone laughed louder. The drive up to the top was amazing, the mountains are so dramatic and the tops scattered with patches of snow. The road was not so amazing, and driving so close to the edge wasn’t all that relaxing. At one view point we all got out and started walking up it and the guide suddenly yelled SNAKE and we had all walked past it, oblivious as it slithered right between the group. Turned out to be a puff adder….I didn’t eat this one. You wouldn’t think simply crossing the border into another country there would be such a dramatic change in culture and landscape. The Lesotho border crossing is at Sani top, at 2873m. Lesotho is known as the Kingdom in the Sky, as it is the ‘highest country in the world’ having the highest low point (1452m). We crossed the Sani Flats to have lunch at Black Mountain, I sat next to a pile of snow and watched as a shepherd boy herded his Angora Goats past us. Then went and visited a Basotho village, tried some homemade beer and fresh bread, kept warm by cow dung. Rondavels with a white flag out the front mean they sell beer, and was interesting to hear that the culture is quite opposite to most of the others I have learnt of being here, in that the girls usually get the better education as the boys are more likely to spend time as shepherds. Also, the men build the homes and must knock and ask for permission from his partner before entering. No man is allowed to enter the house a baby is born and kept in until 3 months of age, as they can bring in bad spirits. We then headed back towards the border to stop in at Sani Top Chalet for a beer at the highest pub in Africa. REEEEAALLLLYYY enjoyed the day.
Next day I did a 6 hour hike around the mountains with a German girl. The first hour was all recently burnt grass, which I thought looked really pretty in contrast to the yellows and greens in the distance. She didn’t think so and was keen to turn back if it didn’t change over the next ridge – I was HOPING it didn’t change as well so we could turn back as I was dying already! I am going to blame the altitude…and not my lack of fitness. But it turned out to be even more beautiful on the other side of the mountain so we pressed on and I am glad we did. Really amazing scenery, saw some baboons and the leg of an Eland.
I forgot to mention that I met the Rolling Stones at the hostel bar at Port St Johns. Haha these 3 men, probably in their 60’s but the party hard years have aged them, still partying, smoking weed, living the bachelor life. And they still say “let’s bounce man” when time to leave. They were hilarious, and the one I was talking to - in his multi coloured patchwork pants – he spoke like a mix of Ozzy Osborne or Keith Richards.
Sunday night I tried to have an early night as I had to be up at 3:30am for my shuttle to the transfer back to Pietermaritzburg (PMB). At 4:30 the shuttle hadn’t come and when I called they knew nothing of it, and there wasn’t any taxis running at that time. So they said if I could get there by 8 they would arrange another way for me to get there. So I booked a taxi for just after to be safe, in case I was late. It was early so I thought great I’m on my way! Not so – the taxi broke down 10mins down the road, so he had to call another car which by 7:50 wasn’t there yet, then the driver wandered off down the road and I didn’t see him for a while. The transfer people gave in and came to pick me up and drive me to PMB themselves, which was awkward after how rude I had been on the phone (but at 4:30 who wouldn’t be). Then they realised they wouldn’t be able to get me there for the Bazbus at 9:30, which they knew was the whole point of the shuttle….so had to call the Bazbus driver and luckily he only had a few people so they waited for me. What a morning!
This took me up to the Northern Drakensberg area near Bergsville for 3 nights. I stayed at Amphitheatre Lodge, sort of set on a farm. Unfortunately I was a couple of days late for the ‘Women’s only’ party Saturday night, but the remnants of rainbow flags and banners and decorations remained. No question as to which person at the hostel organised it either.
On Tuesday I did another day trip into Lesotho which again absolutely loved. We drove through some of the old homelands areas of the Free State, which during apartheid were not considered South Africa, like the Transkei, and crossed the border, which was literally 2 white posts in the ground, unmanned. Driving past the roadworks the ladies working have their faces painted in a sort of clay as a natural sunscreen. In Lesotho we visited a village called Mafikalision, which is sort of on the way to Mokhotlong. This tour the hostel runs is the only tour to go here so it was all very ‘real’. People were so friendly. Our first stop was at a school where we got to see what the kids were learning, and distract their lessons :S Everyone just comes up to you and asks you to take their picture so they can look at it, so got lots of portrait photos. It’s funny, they’ll ask for a photo, then when you put the camera up put on a very serious face, then when they look at it they just laugh hysterically. We then did a walk through the village and up one of the mountains to look at some San rock art, which to be honest I could have just been looking at some discolouration on the rock but I did a lot of “oh yes I see it”. The view up there was really nice. Then went on a mission for a white flag. Success! At 30c for a litre, you know the taste is no good if even I only manage a sip. Lots of donkeys around, shepherds and more goats. We then went to the village pub, the ‘Two Sisters’ with the sign at the door requesting ‘Be Disarmed’.I would love to go there on a busy day and see the row of spears, knives etc at the door. Another really awesome day. That night I was woken by the biggest storm I have ever been in. The room was lighting up constantly for over an hour, and was told the next day that the area has one of the highest lightning strike rates in the world. We didn’t feel all that safe in our rondavel style room with thatched roof, and as it was double story, easily the highest object in a long way. Me and someone else in the room put our thongs on in bed.
Wednesday I had put my name down for a shuttle to take me to the Royal Natal National Park. It didn’t show up, but a French tour group offered to take me as they were going that way. They were all in their 60’s – early 70’s, didn’t speak a word of English besides the tour leader who luckily could translate, and I thought I had an easy day of hiking ahead of me. They tried to pay for all of my entrance fee’s and a guided walk to view some more San rock art, this time I could clearly see the paintings, some 800 years old. Eland and gazelle and buffalo and dancing people. Pretty cool.
Well I was wrong about the easy walk, I was struggling at the back of the group with one other man while they all powered ahead! I’m very easy going with my ‘hikes’, which sometimes would be better called a stroll, and I give myself a lot of breaks, so this was a tough day but had to try suck it up, how embarrassing if they had to wait for me! We tried to walk to a grotto, but after an hour uphill walk, that is where they decide to put the sign saying that that path is closed. So ended up walking to a waterfall which was nice. Then went to a picnic area and out came the French wine(much better than the usual box wine) and French liqueur, biltong (which I finally got to try) and we had a braai with the most delicious food I have had in a long time! Lamb and sausages and corn and fresh bread………I was so spoilt! I think as we drank more we all started to speak the same language and could communicate without the translator. Met up with them all at the hostel bar and they were buying shots all night, 4 or 5 in and I finally had them shooting them rather than sipping. Then was up dancing with them … but they had left by the time the Jacuzzi was on. They said I must visit them at their village in France. Yesterday was a painful day on the bus to Johannesburg, was happy to get into bed!