Tuesday, February 23, 2010

African Chronicles: A pleasant muddle of a trip

This weekend was our Lesotho trip. Kind of. A major hindrance of our progression was too many cooks in the kitchen. Unlike our previous trip, and most of our activities, all 8 of us went. Which means we had 2 cars, 8 different viewpoints, and little chance of a coordinated effort. Which was quite annoying to members of our group at times, but strangely enough not for me. Though I'm prone to annoyance with people, especially large groups with poor planning, I really had no expectations of this trip so my personal plans couldn't be foiled. It's a good mindset to be in when traveling with 8 people.

On our way out of town we visited the 1,000 Hills region. As far as I can tell, the 1,000 Hills is a concept created to entrap tourists. Certainly, the area is hilly, and some of the views quite pleasing to the eye, but there isn't anything else really tying the region together. There's no rug. I suppose a potential rug (if you're confused this is a Big Lebowski reference) are the Zulu people. The area used to be populated with Zulus, and there are a number of Zulu villages in the area. But they were all “closed” by the time we made it there around 4. Only native villages in South Africa close in the middle of the afternoon.

There are a number of “routes” designed to lead people from place to place in the 1,000 Hills. The places on the routes are primarily markets, bed and breakfasts and artist shops, each of which likely paid some fee to be part of the 1,000 Hill route.

In any case, we picked a route which pointed towards the Drakensberg mountains, our eventual destination. We had a difficult time locating the tourist traps we sought, but did eventually make it to a ceramics shop that made only horses. As I wasn’t in need of a ceramic horse, I wandered around outside looking at the hills. We hit a number of other markets, curio shops etc but nothing terribly noteworthy. But the views were very nice, and the pictures of this portion of the trip will be more interesting than this description. Though that may be the case for all portions of my travels.

Another debate among the 8 of us was where to stay. Bryce and I are well versed in hostels and found one by the mountains which seemed pretty great. Many of the rest of the group had an irrational fear of hostels. Maybe it's not irrational, in that sometimes they are gross and I image there is a statistically greater chance of crime being inflicted upon you than at other sleeping locales. But due to this fear, we ended up renting a cottage, an entirely new experience. The price was quite reasonable since there were 8 of us, otherwise it wouldn't have been feasible. The place was actually extremely large, fairly luxurious, and only slightly infested with ants. The location was out of the way, but the experience was pretty nice. We even had cable tv, with 3 channels. We watched Awake one night, because there were really no other options. It is quite bad in case you're wondering. But I realized that it was the first movie I've watched in the last month, which was odd to think about.

With no definite plans, it’s fairly remarkable that anything happened when we woke up the next morning. But remarkably a consensus was reached that we should go hike to The Amphitheater in Royal Natal park. Evidently this is the most popular hike of that particular park, and The Amphitheater is among the most scenic of the Drakensberg mountains, so we decided to go for it. After an hour or so of driving we came across the hostel we had wanted to stay at, which looked pretty awesome, which promoted some mental I-told-you-sos if not any verbal ones. When we got to the park we had to choose between 2 trails that covered similar area. One was 5 hours and one was 17 hours. I voted for the 5 hour route, as I’m lazy. And I didn’t want to hike narrow African trails in the middle of the night. Luckily the rest of the group agreed.

Hiking is not in my top 10 activities. I suspect it’s not in my top 100, depending how many ways you can describe watching television. But, it is a nice change from time to time. And I much prefer hiking on rocks to hiking on dirt. I’m not sure why, but I do. So while the scenery was indeed very scenic, the first couple hours of hiking wasn’t super-fantastic. We’d hoped to see animals, as generally we’re fans of African animals, but sadly this was not to be. We saw some baboons when we first entered the park, but saw none on the trail. Honestly I didn’t want to run into baboons on the trail as we each had backpacks with foodstuffs and things could’ve gotten dicey. But seeing nothing for the whole trip wasn’t ideal either.

The best part of the hike was the last hour. Part of our group stayed to lunch by a river while the remainder continued on. Our goal was to see the 2nd tallest waterfall in the world, Tugela Falls. The trail switched to rock (hurray!) so I had a much better time. We had to cross back and forth across the river a bunch of times, which I also enjoy. I did manage to get a foot wet and later scrape up my legs, but hopefully the water wasn’t too chock-full of protozoa. Eventually we made it up to the viewing point, and the falls were very nice. They were also still quite far away, as we hadn’t opted for the 17 hour route. But we could see them, and they were tall. The tallest is Angel Falls in Venezuela btw.

We attempted to go to a cave with some cave art afterwards, but it was closed. This became an unfortunate pattern for the rest of the trip. The next day we’d attempt to eat at the Waffle Hut, go to a ceramics shop, see another cave with drawings, and dine at no less than 3 restaurants, all to be turned away. So it goes.

We investigated visiting that mystery of a nation, Lesotho. I can’t really fathom this being true, but evidently there’s only one road into the country. And this road requires a 4x4, which we did not have. There were spots to hike into the country and to ride ponies into the country, but none that really fit with our plans for the weekend. The we nearly paid a guy 500 rand to drive us close to the border and walk us in, but his main sales pitch was that we wouldn’t see any tourists and we could try to buy some liquor off the locals. Since we don’t really care about avoiding tourists, and had all the liquor we required, we opted not to go with this option. So in the end we visited all around Lesotho, just not in Lesotho. I’m slightly disappointed but pretty far from heartbroken.

The rest of the weekend was pretty lazy really. I learned some new rules to Scum, and crushed some fellow travelers at Hearts. We made a pasta dinner. I tried monkey gland sauce and horlicks. We did a little shopping. We saw another waterfall, Howick falls, but were warned that we might get robbed by squatters if we left the main road without 5 men. Who knows if that would’ve happened (we had only 2 men, and one was Bryce), but we didn’t try it out. I had my first pizza in Africa. My companions refused to get the banana bacon pizza, which is a popular combo here. BTW, I invented the banana bacon combo with my Jamaican Bacon Bananas years ago. Eventually we wound our way back through the 1000 Hills and made it into Durban at a fairly reasonable hour.

One more week in Durban.

1 comment:

Amy-Alisa said...

"Oh, a cottage sounds quite snug."-Sense and Sensibility
And charming. I'm impressed with all of your hiking, sounds like the trip was a success, besides not actually making it to the place you were headed. That guide sounded a touch sketchy.