Drakensberg & Off to the Cape!

Durban Travel Blog

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Hi all!

The World Cup is now officially over.  I'm not sure what to do with myself.  So much has happened in the past month, it feels like a year has gone by.  MJ and I are packing up our things and taking care of some last minute b'ness before we leave for Cape Town tomorrow.  We have a loose plan going - we've rented a car and are going straight from the air port to the town of Oudtshoorn, where I will finally achieve my dream of wearing a construction helmet and riding an ostrich at full speed.  There is an area east of Cape Town known as the Garden Route - a long drive through spectacular scenery and interesting sea towns.  At the end of the route is the site of the world's highest bungee jump, which will be another thing I can cross off the bucket list if all goes well.  On the way back we hope to hit the southern most point of Africa, do some whale watching, get to the beach that has all the African penguins running around, and then head up to the wine-lands and hit the South African wineries pretty hard.  Then, when that is through, we'll hang out in the actual city of Cape Town, and do all the Cape Town things.  Everyone in Durban keeps telling us how gorgeous Cape Town is, so our expectations are pretty high.  I'm going to miss a lot about Durban tho, especially the fantastic weather and the people I've been privileged enough to share jagerbombs with.  I imagine that Cape Town will fly by, and the next thing I know I'll be back in Breckenridge, where I'll have to get back in to shape and work off this horrible Hansa-brand beer belly I've earned.
     This past weekend, in the lull before the Cup final, MJ and I rented a car and drove 3 hours inland to an area called The Drakensberg.  The place is a mountainous area that borders the land-locked country of Lesotho (Lesotho is actually complete surrounded by South Africa, but is an independent nation) and contains national parks and numerous hiking areas.  In the South African summers, when the temperatures are well above 100 degrees and the humidity is unbearable, Durbanites will take a weekend or a holiday and stay in the Drakensberg where the temps are more pleasant.  We found a nice cheap backpackers lodge and stayed for 3 nights.  This was the first time I have driven in South Africa, and the first time I have driven on the left side of the road since my stay in Thailand.  All in all, things went well, but the most unnerving thing about sitting on the other side of the car and shifting with your left hand, is that the blinker and windshield wiper controls are also reversed, so for the first hour of driving, whenever I wanted to go left or right, I accidentally turned on the wipers and looked like an idiot to the drivers around me.  At this point I've got everything down pretty well, but when I go back to the US I'll have to re-adjust all over again.
     On our first full day up in the 'berg, we went to one of the parks and did a good 6 hour hike.  We started at about 1100 meters (3600 feet) , and hiked up to the top of a large plateau which brought us up to about 2100 meters (6900 feet).  The plateau is the base area for hiking to the peaks, which reach as high as 3500 meters (11,500 feet).  The peaks are pretty dramatic, and it would be cool to come back one day and climb them.  Some of them appear to be semi-technical, and some of them have caves that you reserve and spend the night in.  While we were on top of the plateau, a family of baboons crossed over the path in front of us.  I guess people like to feed the baboons, because there were many signs at the bottom telling us not to, and the baboons weren't too concerned with our presence.  Jackals, genets and large porcupine also roam around the park, but we didn't see any of those.  The jackals however made themselves heard outside our hut all night.  They have no respect for the tourists who are trying to sleep.
    We set up a horseback ride for day two.  We went out with proper horses for half the day, through some of the lower farmlands in the valley.  Neither MJ nor I are experienced at this (I've ridden horses a few times before, but years ago) so we mostly took it slow.  My horse was a bit bitchy, so every once in a while it would try to take off and I'd have to yank on the reigns to get it to stop before I flew off it's back.  Our guide was a local Zulu youth who answered yes to almost any question we asked.  Once we realized that "yes" didn't actually mean yes, communications improved greatly and we learned some interesting things about the area and the type of jobs he did.  They do a lot of fire control there, because in the winters the area completely dries out, and lightning strikes wreak havoc on the dry grasses.  They pre-burn large sections of the plateau so that if a fire occurs, it won't spread beyond the section its in.  Landowners hire local Zulus to do the fire control work, and we got to witness one of these fires near the entrance of the park the day of our hike.  The fire they had lit certainly looked bigger than I would have expected, and it was hard to imagine how these 4 for 5 guys with water filled backpacks and little sprayers could contain such a large fire, but evidently they must have it down to a science, because when I asked my guide if it was dangerous work, he very clearly said no.
     While up in the 'berg, we found a great restaurant and ended up watching the 3rd place playoff match between Germany and Uruguay there.  The owner was a terribly nice guy and had been to many parts of the US, including western Colorado and the Aspen area.  He was working the restaurant and would come over to the bar area everyone couple of minutes to get updates on the game.  Somehow, every time just after he'd walk out of the room, a goal would score.  By the end of the game it was just us and a few locals left hanging out at the bar.  The owner bought us a round of drinks and wished us luck for the rest of our trip, which was a great ending to a great game (as great as watching Forlan hit the crossbar with his last second penalty shot, much in the way that Ghana hit the crossbar with the penalty shot that should have put them in the quarter finals.  I'm still a tad bitter about that)  If the people in Cape Town are as friendly as the people in Durban and KwaZulu-Natal, then the rest of the trip will be fantastic.  And if you are ever in the central Drakensberg area, make sure to have a meal at the Thokozisa restaurant (see my review for more info)
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photo by: mrgishi