Sani Pass

Trip Start Sep 21, 2009
Trip End Apr 28, 2010

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Today I had to get up at 4.45 to pick up my car at 5.30 from the airport and leave for Underberg at 6.30. I got my taxi, arrived at the airport and to my surprise there was no internet access there – it has apparently been a request for a long time but has never been done – surprising for Durban really.

When, I got to Europcar, the Indian fellow working there was very helpful. He let me use the internet as he needed me to print my booking voucher; I told him I got it stolen (which was not true of course but I thought he would be sympathetic and let me use the internet) It worked although I am sure he would have let me use it anyway.

Directions sorted, car sorted, off I was on my way to Underberg. I left at around 6.20 and arrive at 9.05. It was motorway up until Pietermaritzburg and I then had to drive through fairly rural areas. It was "rush hour" but as a driver, what you have to worry about is people on the roads as opposed to other cars. It amazed me to see how they were walking on the road with not a care in the world when car were going at 80-100 Km/h. At one point on my way back to Durban, a guy was walking in my direction but in a curve. I only saw him at the last minute, he was so close but he just looked at me with his thumb up and a smile on his face but without moving. I almost hit a car coming the other way trying to avoid him. That was fun!

A lot of people seem to be hitch-hiking to work and there are a lot of school kids walking along - I am assuming that a lot of people do not own a car or only have one per family. Most of them walk to school and that's why there are a lot of schools along the way.

You can see that they are a lot more deprived in that part of the country. It seemed that most of them had electricity and running water but a lot of the houses or shacks were run down. However, I would imagine they live in better conditions than in the townships.

What happened in South Africa after Apartheid is that a lot of the blacks came to the city to find work. Unfortunately, the cities were not equipped to deal with such a mass exodus of people that they (the people) had to build townships around them to still be able to work in the city and have shelter.

So, I arrived in Underberg slightly late but none of them were there expect for Kim who was here to greet me - she was lovely, made me a cup of coffee and was intrigued as to why I came to visit the area. We left at about 10am and my fellow tourist for the day were Veronica, a 27 years old oil trader from Singapore and Jesper, a 25 year old project manager (or something like that) implementing SAP solutions in companies from Denmark. She works in Singapore and he works in Rotterdam - Talk about long distance relationship! Apparently, they manage to see each other every month - but looking at their job I’m sure they are alright for money:-). They were absolutely lovely and we had a really good day. Modlin was our driver and guide for the day. He is going to go and see 3 World Cup games paid for by some British people he took on the Sani Pass a few months or years back - Cool!

The weather wasn’t great for the occasion, it was raining on and off and also foggy especially near the top. The journey to the South African border control was around 2 hours, and then we had to drive another 8 kms to get the Lesotho border control. It was without a shadow of a doubt the bumpiest path I have ever taken in my life. They have had 20 accidents in the last 50 years or so and listen to this; these were not 4x4 but 8 tones trucks!! And these trucks apparently still use the Sani Pass nowadays - Absolutely crazy!!

When we got to the border Modlin was telling us that people regularly forget either their passport or to buy a visa before they get here (EU Citizens don’t have to get a visa) but listen to this, You can bribe the officials 100 Rand at the border when a visa would cost you 500 Rand in Durban. Some people just go back refusing to pay the 100 Rand because “it is bribery”. Once the formalities were done we had another 5 km of fairly decent road to get to the “village”. There was only 8 huts and I must say it felt like it was kept in place for tourist because let’s face it; they must make a fair bit of money (all proportions kept of course) from all the tourists. They also make a living by selling craft and wool in South Africa.

It was very cold and windy at the top of the mountains but in the hut the temperature was nice. There was some sort of coal burning in the fire in the middle under which she was baking some bread. There was a bed on our right against the wall for the lady and her 3 children - Her husband and 2 other children have gone to live in the nearest town for school and work - and also on our left was a kitchen area.

We tried the bread which was delicious and were told a bit about Lesotho. For instance at the age of 15, the boys have to go up in the mountain to get circumcised and they get given a stick with the colours of their family and village. They carry that stick everywhere all their lives.

We then headed back towards the Lesotho border to stop at the highest pub in Africa apparently for lunch. It seemed rather strange to have a pub that was actually very British inside just 5 kms away from that little village which has no electricity or running water. Then, we just went back down to Underberg so I could drive back and take the car to the airport.

I had to take a cab back to the hostel and when I got there, the lady working that evening was pretty unhelpful I would say. They had decided to switch me room for no apparent reason since the dorm I was in remained empty. She told me to go to Room 1A but when I went to pick up my bag, it had gone and room 1A was full of people asleep at 8pm which a bit annoying to get yourself sorted - Needless to say that I was not too pleased. I got my bag in the end - they’d put it in reception which was probably a good idea but I at this stage I just wanted to get to sleep.
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