Dragon Mountain

Trip Start Aug 17, 2003
Trip End Jun 04, 2004

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Now back in South Africa, and adjusting slowly to not being herded from one place to the next on the truck. Suddenly having to make decisions for myself was quite a shock to the system!

I flew into Jo'Burg, and then headed straight out again (a very sensible choice) to Durban (not necessarily so much safer), and then out of there the next morning to the tranquility of the Drakensberg. This is a range of mountains which runs along the border with the little country of Lesotho which is totally surrounded by South Africa.

We set off from Durban early in the morning, and arrived at our overnight stop near Underberg, in the Southern Drakensberg about lunchtime. The scenery on the way through was amazing, although the weather was a bit overcast, so it wasn't as dramatic as it could have been. Rolling green hills in the foreground, and then craggy mountains at the back, turned blue from the clouds and the distance. Very mystical!

Our first adventure was a 2 hour horse trail in the hills... Having ridden only a few times, and always been terrified if I got above a trot, I wasn't overly convinced about the whole idea. But in fact it was amazing. The fear just disappeared, and riding in that amazing scenery felt so peaceful. The horse I had didn't spend the entire ride fighting me, which probably helped, and we even had a good run without me being scared - in fact totally the opposite - I loved every second. If I could have possibly coped with sitting in the saddle for another minute, I would have loved to have kept going, but with bruises everywhere, and legs which were threatening to get very very stiff, it was best to stop!!

The next day, we went for an 8km hike to Siphongenwi cave, where there are San rock paintings. It was a pretty intense climb, combined with being at altitude for the first time in weeks, and the fact there was a lot of smoke in the air from the veld fires which had been raging in the area - so I was exhausted. There had actually been a veld fire the day before on the very hills we were walking on - which meant it was all black underfoot - and still hot in places. In fact every now and then, we found wood still smouldering...

The rock paintings were great to see, having seen the carvings at Twyfelfontein. These really told the story of the San people - showing battles with black tribes (some obviously Zulu) and white settlers on horse back with rifles. Pretty sobering.

The final day of the trip was to the top of the Drakensberg, with a 4x4 journey up the Sani Pass. This was also a chance for another stamp in the passport, as we crossed over into Lesotho. We went up the mountain in a jeep, with a really interesting guide, who told us all the history of the area, and also somehow managed to spot wildlife from miles away. (He saw an eland, which we all struggled to spot even through binoculars!!)

The Pass goes up through 13 hairpin bends, on a very bumpy road, with not a lot of space to manoevre, which was quite hairy at times. But we made it up!! And it was so worth it - the views back over the valley were just stunning.

Once we reached the top, we went to a Basotho village, and were welcomed into a hut to understand a little more about the culture. The people there are very poor, with the main income coming from sheep and goats - which boys go out to look after from the age of 11. Another distinctive feature of the Basotho is that they all wear blankets - this tradition comes from extreme poverty, when they had nothing else to wear, but is still continued now.

After lunch at Africa's highest pub we headed back down the mountain and back to the city of Durban - quite a shock to the system after the peacefulness of the mountains.
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