The Burg

Trip Start Jan 27, 2011
Trip End May 27, 2011

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Flag of South Africa  , Free State,
Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Well this was perhaps the best weekend in South Africa that I have had yet. We were treated to a long weekend, partly due the fact we never have class on Friday (rough I know) and that there was Human Rights Day on Monday.  We decided that this weekend was the perfect opportunity to go somewhere out of the average weekend driving range.  We originally picked Lesotho (pronounced Less-ooo-too) and we were going to get our passport stamped as well as go on the world's largest abseil, only 205 meters, no biggie.  We had to change our plans since the backpackers were booked solid, so we chose the Drakensburg Mountains, northwest of Lesotho and east of Durban.  We thought that it would be anywhere from 8-12 hours in the car, but oh how we were surprisingly mistaken.  We picked up our cars at 7:00 am and were well on the road by 8:00.  There were ten of us, the five gentlemen (including me) from my flat, one other johnnie from upstairs, and four girls from various flats.  We had two mid/full size sedans that were well equipped for the long haul.  To our delight one of the cars we rented, was not back yet, so we were treated to an upgrade; Nick was apparently now renting a Mercedes Benz.  During our drive to the Drakensburg, dubbed, "the burg", we drove through tons of winding roads that snaked up and down the small mountains Souht Africa has.  The hours seemed to fly by, partly due to my fantastic mix CD’s I had made before, but also because we took turns sleeping and driving.  A few of the crowd were still a little groggy from St. Patty’s day, so they were definitely on the sleep shift first.  As we were driving, we passed a corner and a car flashed its lights at us, we didn’t know what he meant because it was 3pm in the afternoon.  We soon figured out there was a speed trap ahead, but for the car ahead of mine, it was too late.  Luke was going 90 in a 60 km per hour zone, and despite being 10 meters from the 100 km zone, he got a ticket.  There went 400 rand for Luke.  After an hour we got back on the road and drove into the evening.  As the sun was setting, we realized how far we actually were from the burg and realized it would be fairly late when we arrived.  According to Norma, she doesn’t want us to drive at night, but what Norma doesn’t know, won’t hurt her.  We managed to stay on course until about mid night, when we realized we had overshot our turn.  We had to drive back for an hour, and then get back on course.  We finally reached the backpacker at 2:00 am, it had been a seventeen hour drive, but we were finally there.

We instantly crashed, and the next morning we all got up around 10 am, not bad considering how tired we all were.  We agreed that the day (Saturday) would be a relaxing day, and that we would go hiking for a few hours in the nearby park.  We packed back into the car (reluctantly)  and headed toward Cathedral Peak Hotel, which had numerous trails on its vast property.  We drove throught several small villages and around sharp corners.  A number of times we had to stop on a dime for the cattle that were sitting in the middle of the road, but we left ample stopping room for the car in front, we weren’t about to cause any accidents.  We reached the hotel, a posh get away that has a five star rating, and headed for the trails.  We decided to visit Mushroom Rock and Doreen falls, to make our hike around four hours.  We started stomping through the brush and after awhile just blazed our own trails.  We reached Doreen Falls first, and decided it was a good time to go swimming.  There was a large pool that was about chest deep under the falls, and so we swam for awhile and took tons of pictures.  Afterward we went toward Mushroom Rock, but realized how far away it was.  We hiked up for about 200 meters and since the sun was setting, we had to turn back around and get to the car.  That night we had dinner at the backpacker and were treated to a three course meal: a salad, steak w/ chips (fries), and a dinner cocktail.  For only 80 rand, it was a pretty good deal!  That night we sat out on the deck and chatted until a group of guys walked up the steps and started making a ruckus.   We learned that they were part of a bachelor party and that they wanted us to join in on the fun.  So they were buying drinks at the bar and getting rowdy, but we had to get to bed because we were going to go to Tanguela Falls in the morning at 7:00 am.  In the morning we packed warm clothes and a rain jacket along with snacks and water, for our long hike.  The hike to the falls was supposed to be six hours in combination with a 2 hour drive, each way.  We packed into a Kombi and once again went on a road trip toward the mountain.  We drove about half way up, and got out at the entrance of the state park.  We filed into a line and immediately started up the mountain.  Our guide Josh, was at the front and was giving us interesting facts and tidbits about the mountain and the area.  We had a leisurely hike (for us) for the first two and half hours, but then we reached the gully.   It was 250 meters at a very steep incline, but the kicker was the countless number of boulders and loose rocks that we had to clamber over.  I volunteered to lead the pack, and I quickly realized how tough it was.  Back at the backpacker there were pictures of older women at the peak, but I’m calling B.S. that they made it up the gully.  It was supposed to take an hour to get to the top but myself, Eric, and Steph made it to the top in about twenty minutes; the Americans had swept the podium for mountain climbing!  We looked around while gasping for air, and realized how beautiful it was.  The best way I can describe the scenery was a green grand canyon.  There was a 1000 meter drop from the cliff face, and below were lush green valleys.  We were standing next to Sentinel Peak, and the air was a little thin since we were at 3,200 meters above sea level!  We took tons of pictures while eating the lunches we packed, and also while we waited for the slow pokes scrambling up the gully.

After a half an hour we started marching toward Tanguela Falls, which is the second highest waterfall in the world.  It was another hour, but it was mainly downhill and through a field.  We heard the thundering of the falls, and suddenly we were upon it.  I crawled toward the edge and peered over: it was intense.  The falls is a series of five step-falls, with the largest step being the first at 400 meters!  Josh told us that if we wanted to get a better view that we should hop the river and go to the cliffs on the other side.  It had been raining the previous week so the river was at its strongest it had been all year, so jumping over the river was a little sketchy, but it was only 2-3ft deep.  A few of the girls didn’t make it all the way so they got a little wet.  The other cliff offered much more spectacular views so once again we took advantage of the photo op.  Once again we spent a half an hour taking in the scenery and then it was time to head back down.  This time we would be taking an alternate route, that involved chain ladders.  The ladders were 15 and 25 meters in length and were the most intense part of the hike because you were suspended over nothing except for exposed rock.  After a two hour hike down we made it to the van and headed back to the backpacker.  We decided in order to get back at a decent hour we had to leave a 5:00 am the next morning.  Somehow we were able to get up at 4:00 am and actually leave early, who knew!  We had gotten reliable directions (we hoped) from Josh and we expected to have a 12-14 hour drive back.  One the way we did run into some trouble though.  At around 1:00 pm Nick’s car (the benz) flashed its lights at me.  We talked to them on the phone and the car said air pressure in the tire was low; just great.  We pulled over to the nearest gas station, and I went over to their car and bent over by the wheel.   I put some water on my hand and felt around for any breeze coming from the tire.  I felt cold air on the left side, and saw the piece of glass that had punctured the tire.  I got Luke to pull the car over to a parking spot so I could change the spare.  Thanks to the few times Dad had me take the wheel off the SAAB, I was the most willing and able person to change the tire.  Within five minutes I had the car jacked up and the bolts off.  I tried to pull the wheel off, but it wouldn’t budge.  We learned that the wheel was rusted on, but also that if we pulled too hard, the jack might fall and then we would have real problems.  Finally with the help of one of the gas station attendants and a hammer we popped the wheel off.  Luckily Mercedes has full size spares, so we were able to change the wheel and get back on our way, while still going the 120 km speed limit.  Time dwindled on and by 7:15 we had made it back to PE.  Including the hour and half stoppage time for two meals, gas, and the popped tire, we had driven for about 13 hours give or take, which was a heck of a lot better than the 17 hours it took to get there.  We unpacked and went to go return the cars, but despite us calling ahead and telling them we would be late, the car rental place said they would charge us for being an hour and half late.  Nick and I tried to argue with the lady but she wasn’t budging, so we grabbed our keys and went back home.  We decided we would get full usage out of the extra day.  Then today (Tuesday) we returned the cars before class and caught a cab back home.  All in all it was a fantastic weekend, and one of the most memorable so far.
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