Mountain time

Trip Start Aug 26, 2012
Trip End Dec 22, 2013

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Where I stayed
Amphitheatre Backpackers Lodge Jagersrust
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Lesotho  ,
Thursday, December 6, 2012

Leaving Durban, I headed for the mountains to enjoy my last few days in Africa. I had heard the Drakensberg Mountains were beautiful and didn't know what to expect but was not disappointed.  The Amphitheatre Backpackers (www.  where I stayed is a funky place with lots of character, wide open spaces and beautiful views of the Ampitheatre Mountains. During my stay here I did two amazing tours with a crazy entertaining guide by the name of Adrian, one being a 12km hike to Tugela Falls and the other was a day trip into the country of Lesotho.

Our trip into to Lesotho was unique in that we visited the northern remote part of the country that only the Ampitheatre tours take people too.  After about a two hour drive we entered the country via the Monteng pass where there was a South African border control but no Lesotho boarder control.  There was at one time, but with no money and the harsh weather conditions it’s been pretty much abandoned.  The roads in Lesotho are pretty bad and the first section of the road has actually been paved by the South African government because of its poor condition and the fact that the terrain is quite steep and vehicles where constantly getting stuck on the dirt road.  Once on more flat terrain the road returned to dirt with the mandatory potholes.  We were driving through rural farmland where most of the farming was subsistence farming to provide food for themselves.  There is very little else there to do, in terms of work for these people in this part of the country and they often trade and barter for goods and work as they do not have money to speak of.  The closest town to them is back in South Africa, meaning they have to cross the border with a passport every time they need to go to town.

We stopped at the village school and learned about the education system in Lesotho which is much like all the other African countries in that it’s free up until high school and then they have to start paying.  So unfortunately not many kids go on to high school but that is slowly changing as they realize that education is their only way out.  We also learned that R85 of the money we pay toward the tour goes to support this school and with that money over the years they have been able to build another three classrooms.  After visiting the school and picking up a few kids (school holidays are on) we set off for a 4km hike up into the hills that looked over the small village.  The kids provided us with entertainment on the way and of course were waiting for hand-outs from our lunch boxes when the time came.  Along the way we interacted with sheep and goats and saw a few locals passing by with donkeys loaded with maize heading for home.  The traditional dress here is the blanket, made of wool and would have different pictures on them symbolizing different things.  For example cabbages meant the person was hoping to achieve wealth, and airplanes and bombs represented the history of the area in the past.  We came across a small cave or covering in the rocks that had a few paintings from the San people that could still be made out ; harsh weather conditions and damage due to humans have disfigured the 2500+ years old paintings.

Coming back down into the village, we went around in search of the traditional local beer made from soya gum or at times bananas.   Locating a house with beer is easy in that when a family has some available they raise a white (for soya gum) or yellow (for banana) flag above their house.  We found a house with banana beer and went to meet the family and have a taste.  Unfortunately my second try (first being in Tanzania) of banana beer did not make me like it any better.  Then it was off to visit the traditional healer where through translation we learned about how she became a healer, the ceremony involved and how they go about treating the sick.  Basically they meet with the person who just informs them they are not well, than they go into a trance and consult with both their tribal and family ancestors to understand what is wrong with the person and how they should be treated.  If the person is too sick to come to the healer, a family member must bring an article of clothing from the sick and the healer uses that to consult with the ancestors.

Our last stop before heading back was to try some local Lesotho food which was pap (maize meal not unlike the Ugali I’ve had in Kenya), braised spinach and a drinkable Lesotho beer called Maluti.  The people of this Lesotho village were very welcoming to us but also reserved and protective of their culture.  Most of the men would not allow us to take pictures of them in their traditional dress much to the dismay of some in the group.  Regardless it was still a really unusual experience to have visited this small remote village in the mountains that can have very harsh weather conditions, especially in the winter, and see how the people live.

The Tugela waterfall tour was a completely opposite experience in that it was all about being one with the mountains.  Again after about a two hour drive we reached the base of the Ampitheatre in the Royal Natal National Park which sits at 2500 ft above sea level.  During our drive we could see sun over the mountains but by the time we arrived the clouds were starting to roll in. Unsure what we were getting ourselves into off we started our climb, with the first 2kms being fairly easy as it was a path with very little elevation.  The next 2kms got a little more aggressive in terms of elevation and terrain as the path was a combination of dirt and rocks to navigate through.  Zigzagging our way up we finally reached a part of the climb known as the gully which would require us to climb up a distance of 400m and a vertical height of 250m. Taking our time off we went to navigate our way up with the only instruction being if you loosen a rock as you climb up, yell "ROCK" so others below can get out of the way. There were a few small rocks that loosened and rolled down but thankfully no big boulders.  Reaching the top of the Ampitheatre Summit at an elevation of 3127ft, we got to sit and relax (and recover) for a bit and enjoy the views of Sentinal Peak (3165m) and Devils Tooth (3044m) as the clouds were starting to clear.

From the top we then had a nice leisurely walk across to the top of the Tugela Falls on the west side of the Ampitheatre, which is the highest waterfall in South Africa and the second highest in the world.  At this point we had probably covered 7kms of the total 12k hike.  While the weather was improving it was not really ideal to take a dip in the river (before the falls), though some braved it to say they did it. Then it was time to head back down, so across the top we went to get to the east side, viewing  across the valley,  Mont-aux-Sources(3282m) which provides water to the Tugela, Eland and one other river and then the Eland Falls. Next up was the task I was not looking forward to, descending down two chain ladders, one 25m and the other 50m. Being a bit nervous I decided to use my “go first” strategy and headed down.  It was scary for sure especially when the wind gusting at times but I just kept focusing on what I needed to do and was very happy to see the end of the second ladder.  With that behind us the rest of the walk was fairly easy, descending down until we meet up with the trail we took to get to the gully and then back on to the base.  This was definitely my first major hike and think I’ve come a long way in overcoming my dislike (wouldn’t say it was ever a fear) of heights.  Having no choice but to climbing up the gully and down the chain ladders I would say helped!

I had another day to enjoy the mountains but the weather was not in my favour with thunderstorms happening most of the day so I just hung out in the lounges of the backpackers, reading n’ writing, and chatting with others over some beers.  All in all the Drakensberg Mountains was a great place to spend my last few days in beautiful Africa.
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JoJo on

LOL-ed at your go-first strategy!!! like reading your posts!!

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