Published: April 5th 2008February 16th 2008
Sealed with a kiss
Her fishy breath didn't worry the seal!
Heading south to Durban we hit problem number 1. Having made it across the whole of Africa with no mobile phone, limited public phone facilities and intermittent e-mail supply we found ourselves needing to contact Tracey’s relatives who we were staying with, to arrange a meeting place. Having located a working public phone we met problem number 2. When would we be arriving? Well, how long is a piece of string? We had to be at our bus at 5.30am and the journey apparently took anywhere between 4 and 10 hours depending on whom you asked. Add in to that the fact the bus probably wouldn’t leave until 8, and what do you tell the family?! Then of course problem number 3, where does the bus stop anyway? Does it have a final destination and would there be somewhere better on the route to get off that didn’t leave us stranded in a dodgy back street while waiting for our lift?
Of course it all turned out fine. Rather disappointingly we saw our first McDonalds in four months almost as soon as we crossed the border but the roads also got much smoother.
And so we found
At a show near Durban
ourselves in Durban in a lovely house with a comfy bed and space to unpack courtesy of Tracey’s Mum’s cousin Val and her husband Don. We ended up staying a week, enjoying some delicious home cooking and the availability of western products like fresh milk and cheese. Val and Don organised a wonderful itinerary including an amazing aquarium and waterslide park called Ushaka and a trip to Sharksboard where they design and maintain the shark nets protecting Durban beaches. We also saw a great Zulu show and were happy to realise that Zulu is still spoken by a huge number of South Africans across Kwazulu Natal. Luckily we weren't affected by the 'load shedding' the power companies are having to do at the moment. They can't produce enough electricity for the whole country so periodically turn off whole sections of cities. Usefully they publish the times this will happen in the newspapers so as not to inconvenience people. It occured to us it would also be very convenient for burglars to know exactly when people's alarms and electric fences weren't working!
Have wheels, will travel
We decided to treat ourselves to a hire car to get around South
At The Sharksboard in Durban
Africa to avoid being at the mercy of the Baz Bus (A backpacker minibus with limited seats, unreliable timetable and HUGE ticket price). This also meant we could go exactly where we wanted when we wanted…and off we set to the Drakensburg Mountains.
We got to our campsite in time to book a trip to Lesotho, set up our tent then headed out to watch England lose badly in their first 6 Nation’s match - oh dear! We left the pub to discover a storm had been brewing and as we drove off it decided to unleash itself with full fury across the high, flat, open land with hardly any trees. So, for the second time this trip we found ourselves wondering whether cars conduct electricity and lamenting the fact we had not checked after our first lightening roulette trip back in Zambia. As we dashed home in our sardine can it seemed someone had added an extra 5km to the road, but eventually we made it…only to realise we had put up our tent under the only tree in the whole blooming field! Despite this we survived the night and set off the next morning for Lesotho.
Camping in the Drakensburg Mountains
Our tent under the one tree in the whole field!
The Mountain Kingdom
Lesotho is an entirely landlocked country within South Africa and by comparison is tiny. We entered from the west over some ear-poppingly high mountains and entered an area that has hardly changed in a thousand years with one very narrow, very dubious road, mud huts, fields full of crops and blanket wearing horsemen.
On this side of the country families really do rely on subsistence farming and if they don’t grow it themselves they trade it with a neighbour. Money does exist, but it is not commonly used. We visited a local village and saw the ingenious way they paint their homes, white or yellow on the side that faces the morning sun to reflect the heat and grey or black on the other side to warm it for the evening.
We visited a local shabeen to taste the home brew. Signposted by a plastic bag on a post, these shabeens are visited by herdsmen travelling through with their goats. A white flag means the regular stuff is available, a yellow one signals pineapple flavour. We got pineapple and it wasn’t too bad as long as you don’t mind your beer being gritty, sour
New meets old
A traditional horseman in Lesotho as we drive past in a van.
and warm! We also visited a local healer called a Sangoma. Locals visit Sangoma when they can’t get to doctors. Sangoma are given their powers by their ancestors who they summon up for advice during consultations by smoking a special concoction of herbs!
We didn’t even have to go through immigration to enter or exit Lesotho and we left feeling like we had witnessed a really old way of life. However, we knew there must be more to the country than we saw so we decided to visit the capital Maseru on the western side of the country to see what that was like.
Before then, there was the small matter of a magnificent mountain range to explore so we set off for a walk in the world famous Drakensburgs. After that we drove through some terrific mountain roads in order to make it to Maseru for about 5pm. Unfortunately we didn’t notice the HUGE queue to get back into South Africa until after we had crossed the border. This side of Lesotho definitely took immigration more seriously and we were granted 24 hours entry. There was also most definitely money. Smartly dressed people, plenty of cars and
Having a pint with the locals
Warm gritty pineapple beer from a plastic bucket - yum!
an internet café every 30 paces. After the timeless simplicity of the eastern side, Maseru seemed a bit soulless so we stayed long enough to eat and let the border queue die down before heading back to South Africa…and yet ANOTHER thunder storm.
Had we used one of those many internet cafes to check our lightening v car conundrum? Of course not! And so with Tracey at the wheel while Dave’s heavy cold meant his nose fluctuated between bunged and running at 2 minute intervals we set off into the night. And we drove. And we drove. We discovered that Mighty Thimble (the car) did not have great headlights or wipers but as the lightening was illuminating most of the horizon we ploughed on looking for somewhere to stay. First stop a B&B. Cue huge dog whose guard technique was to slobber Tracey to death while David rang the bell. Cue local woman whose Afrikaans accent was so strong we could barely understand her. Cue her sending us off into the night because she ‘had no facilities’ for us. (translated ‘why are you strangers turning up here in the dark. Go Away’) Second stop a hotel.
The Valley of Desolation
Dave looks out over one of God's games of Jenga
Very nice, too expensive, but with a nice lawn we thought we could camp on. Cue local Afrikaans man with very strong accent telling us he ‘had no facilities for us’. (Translated ‘can’t you see from all the stuffed animal heads and guns in this bar that this is a hunting town. Nothing here for you missy’) Third fourth and fifth stops at possible B&B’s..…no answer. Just as we were resigning ourselves to a night in the car we found a hotel that was open, had a room and didn’t charge the earth. We even got breakfast thrown in.
Next up was Nieu Bethesda a little village in the middle of nowhere that we had heard about. This place was way off the tourist track so we bumped and juddered Mighty Thim along a gravel track in the hope it would be as wonderful as the guidebook described, and it was. Suddenly a lush green oasis appeared in the desert with picture postcard houses, little cafes and a backpackers where the owners were busy making their own jam! We had the entire place and the honesty bar to ourselves and as we sat soaking up the quietness of the
Ahh, how cute
Except she is actually biting Tracey
sunset we realised why so many artists and writers move there to think and create. Near to Nieu Bethesda was Graff Reinet, home to a huge national park full of strange rock formations called the Valley of Desolation. This didn’t disappoint either. As most of the rock has eroded over time it has left behind perilous pillars of harder, stronger stone. It looks like fragments are perched on top of each other like a giant game of Jenga. Tracey couldn’t look as David moved into a ‘great position for a photo’ but luckily his weight wasn’t enough to send one of the towers toppling!
Do you think they’d let us touch one?
The Mighty Thimble really came into her own on the trip down to the coast. First dodging giant tortoises that wander across the road at random points and then throwing a brilliant u-turn on the main highway after we spotted a sign about cheetahs.
The place turned out to be Daniels Cheetah Breeding Farm where cheetahs are reared and released back into national parks. We were able to play with a 6 month old which was as big as a Collie with much sharper teeth
And to continue the theme...
This little 6 week old cub is also chewing on her thumb
and stroke two fully grown adult males. The two adult males were tame (the cheetah is the only big cat than can be totally domesticated) while the rest of the cats are raised to be as wild as possible so they survive once released. For our final treat we were allowed to play with a group of 6 week old lion cubs. The cubs were sooooo cute. When you tipped them upside down they would try and roar but all that would come out was a high pitched squeak.
Very strong knicker elastic
Once Tracey decided the tooth puncture wound from the baby cheetah wasn’t life threatening we set off for the coast and the world’s highest bungy. Unfortunately the weather was so bad when we got to the Bloukrans Bridge that we couldn’t even see the bridge from the office, let alone the bungy platform or the river 216m below. Tracey thought this meant they were off the hook but David was determined, so we were back first thing the next day in brilliant sunshine. As if the jump wasn’t terrifying enough, you had to start by walking out to the centre of the bridge along a
Taken after surviving the 216m drop
metal walkway hanging from the underside of the road. Once out there, there was no turning back so off we jumped. The height was thrilling but we didn’t like how long you had to hang upside down for at the end of the jump and overall we think the Nevis in New Zealand is a better buzz.
Having started the day very high up, we ended it very far down, inside the Cango Caves near Outdshorn. We were pleased to realise that the ‘adventure’ tour we had chosen was genuinely difficult compared to the regular tour. Life size pictures of parts of the route showed anyone much taller than Dave or a bit overweight would not have got through and we soon found ourselves wiggling and sliding through tiny holes with names like The Coffin and The Chimney. We stayed in Outdshorn as it is famous for its ostriches but we were disappointed when the ostrich egg breakfast we ordered was scrambled and not the bicycle tyre sized fried egg we were hoping. So in the interests of science and cholesterol we bought our own fresh egg and cooked one ourselves. Man was it big, the equivalent of 24
The Cango Caves
Tracey wriggles through "The Letter Box"
regular eggs with a shell as thick as a china plate. Tracey couldn’t crack it open on a pan or the sideboard and in the end David had to repeatedly smack it open with a sharp knife. The resulting fried egg was so thick it looked more like an omelette.
Drinking in the name of education
The next two days were spent wine tasting in SA’s premier wine growing region Stellenbosch, before making the final push south to The Cape of Good Hope (in body battering winds) and on to Capetown to stay with a friend we had made in Zimbabwe. We climbed Table Mountain on what turned out to be the only cloud free day of our visit, did some shopping in the amazing Waterfront area of the city and stuck a toe or two in the freezing ocean. For Valentines day our friend Karin had arranged a brilliant picnic on the beach with a group of friends. As the sun set it was beautiful to watch the whole area slowly light up with glowing candles and other than David spilling red wine all over himself and our blanket, it was a perfect night.
Giant fried egg
Our ostrich egg finally made it to the pan after a battle with the shell
we leave Capetown it’s a break from backpacking as we head to Kenya for a two week holiday with Tracey’s parents, her brother and his girlfriend. This time the only danger we have to survive is the ‘All Inclusive Bar’ - Oh the hardship.
There are more photos below