Into the cloud kingdom

Posted: October 5, 2010 in Africa
Tags: , ,

With weary eyes and a touch of irritation we left Cintsa to start the day long epic adventure up to the highland mountains of the Drakensberg. Having had a cabin to ourselves for 2 nights and loving the beachside chill, our final day siesta was disrupted by the arrival of 2 students from Port Elizabeth. Janet was a cool if rather giggly Kenyan and Kenny an incredibly pissed and incoherent Swede. They had been on the free wine that was handed out at the nightly volleyball session and it was only 7pm. They jipped off for the evening meal as we cooked and had another chilled evening getting ready for another day in Mopfu.

Deciding to get some shut eye, we passed out early at about 10pm to the sound of cheesy disco beats blaring from the bar. A few hours laters we were rudely awaken by the Kenny & Janet show. First, dickhead lost his key, then drama queen got a bit pi**ed and sent him packing. He came back, she woke up, the argued some more: “Just go Kenny, oh my god”, followed by the witty retort “Uhhhhmmmmm” then the sound of vommiting. Nice. Queue more teenage angst from drama queen and soon we were listening to a live episode of Dawsons Creek. Finally they passed out, too tired to argue and with Kenny too drunk to care. Oh what blissful memories of student life. A few hours later, we awoke to our 6am alarm call ready to hit the road. Muneeza was a broken women, very annoyed at the sleep deprivation and we couldn’t wait to get away from the teenage emotional car crash.

The drive up to the Drakensberg was beautiful (though every time I say that word the James Blunt song comes in my head which will lead to me killing someone…) and whilst it took 10hrs it was memorable for several reasons. Firstly, driving in South Africa is an experience (i’ll be writing a blog on it sometime to bore you more). Secondly, the scenery on the Sunshine Coast and into the Transkei is stunning and variable enough to maintain my notoriously bad concentration. Thirdly, we had our first experience of picking up a hitcher…though not quite in the same vain as the Mighty Boosh’s Hitcher (“do you know old Elsie boy?”…). We had stopped in a small town just outside Bergville to stock up on food for the next few days. As Muneeza shopped, I chilled by the car still wary of leaving all our stuff unguarded. Following several sales pitches from some entertaining yocals, a dude with a guitar rocked up and proceeded to tell me about his authentic Zulu music and then unsheathed his acoustic and played me a song by the side of the road.

And to my genuine surprise and pleasure, he was awesome. So we chatted and it turned out he was playing at Amphitheatre Backpackers where we were headed. He was en route to see his son, Sponga (Zulu for welcome), and girlfriend in Bergville so we dropped him in the town and agreed to listen to his live show. We carried on to the backpackers and the long drive was fully worth it – Amphitheatre is off a road that snakes between the Drakensberg mountains, in the middle of nowhere, with no living soul within shooting distance. We had a 360 degree panorama of stunning mountains. The backpackers was run by 2 ultimate stoners who reminded me of Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout and Neil from Young Ones. The whole place had an amazing vibe and the main lodge offered a climbing wall, jacuzi and sauna in addition to the standard facilities.

Having checked out our new friend’s guitar set (performed in traditional Zulu costume with tribal dances) and chucked him a few coins, we retired early as is our rhythm now and I passed out. We took the next day easy like sunday morning. After a leisurely breakfast, we took a stroll through the fields and in the hills. We had planned to go for a bike ride in the mountains after lunch but our quick siesta turned in to a full bore sleep off and we only woke at 4pm. We opted for a pilates class instead – Muneeza is my official pilates teacher on our travels and she’s drilling me (oh er missus) with core strength exercised that bloody hurt.

We booked a day trip for our final day in the Drakensberg to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. This wasn’t on our horizons when we left the UK but I’d read about Lesotho and the British involvement and was intrigued, so when we discovered that Amphitheatre ran guided tours to a local village that they were supporting financially, we signed up straight away. Luckily we had a good group with a mix of sarcasm from New Zealand, Sweden, Germany and Holland.

The guide, Sim, was Zulu but spoke Sesotho, the language of the Basutho people (the indigenous people of Lesotho, pronouned Le-Soo-Too). He gave us a detailed history of the country. What is interesting is that, whilst the original Sotho people resented British rule, it was British protection that enabled them to maintain independence in the 1950s when the Union of South Africa was being drawn-up. It is only since the 1960s that the ruling party demanded complete independence. Ironically, independence has come at a cost. It is the 3rd poorest country in the world whilst South Africa, whilst hampered by pockets of abject poverty, is far more stable financially. Lesotho suffers from existing in one of the most beautiful landscapes on this planet yet has little natural resources that can be turned into profit.

We spent the morning visiting a local school to talk with the teacher but unfortunately, as it was their Independence Day, there were no kids in school. Sim took us on a hike in the mountains to visit rock paintings that were left by San hunter-gatherers to help other tribes navigate the landscape. A group of young children escorted us up the mountain and we spent the next few hours playing with them and learning more about their life from the oldest boy, aged 13, who spoke quite good English.

It was a humbling experience. Everyone we met was so content and welcoming yet they really have nothing. They live in basic 1 room rondevels and there is 1 water tap per village. Running water and electricity doesn’t really exist. Their clothes are rags, hand-me-downs clogged with dirt. But their smiles will light up the darkest day. Every country I visit, I usually find that the poorest communities are the friendliest and most generous. Cities are often exceptions but in rural areas they have an innate happiness that I am envious of.

The journey home was rather silent. A mixture of tiredness and contemplation hung in the air. That sincerity was shattered at dinner as we all tucked into beer and began the abuse and rude conversations. It was nice to sit with like minded people and mix serious conversation with good old fashioned banter.

Today we headed north to Pretoria to sort out a few visas and return the hire car. The journey was a ball ache thanks to Jo’burg traffic jams, sweltering heat and an unexpected one-way system in Pretoria in which I drove the wrong way as the tiredness kicked in and nearly gave us a head on collision. When in Pretoria….

We’ll kick back here for a few days, visit a few museums and temples and then get ready to move on to Botswana for the long journey to the north-west and the Ocavango Delta to go hippo chasing.

Hope you are all well (that is if anyone is reading these blogs!) and we’ll say hello again in a few days.

love jamer & muneeza x

  1. Boots says:

    Still here, still reading mate ;o) Sounds amazing and the hitchhiker story is exactly what I would imagine life on your ravels to be. Enjoy dude & dudette, but go to bed later!!! ;o) Bootsy.

  2. Tim says:

    Chief and Chiefess – keep the blogs coming – they’re entertaining and a little amusing and keep on reminding me why I hate you.

    Or is that jealousy.

    Anyway, make them funnier and maybe I’ll hate you less.

    Enjoy your travels guys. How’s the tan coming on James?

  3. sammi says:

    Still reading your blog. Quite entertaining actually. You could turn it into a book when you get back make your millions and keep my sister living in the lifestyle she so hopes you are going to provide her with!
    Look after yourselves,

  4. Jamer says:

    Thanks Sammi, glad you are enjoying it. Perhaps I’ll need the film rights as well to keep the Persian princess happy! Hope you are well., send our love to Justine, Cyrus and Dayyan (hope I spelt his name correctly). Cheers

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