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Road Trip! The Mountains.

Written on: Tuesday May 5th, 2009

Coming off of our adventure highs along the Garden Route, we decided to head inland to the stunning Drakensburg Mountains.  This spectacular range borders Lesotho (pronounced: Le-soo-too), one of the tiniest countries in Afrika.  Naturally we wanted to check out this minute nation, so we headed for Sani Lodge Backpackers and crashed for the night before undertaking our journey.

The cultural tour started at 9:00am, when we were met at the hostel by our driver/guide with a rugged 4x4 Land Rover.  Our journey today was to drive up the Sani Pass, the only stretch of "road" that entered Lesotho from the South, and explore some of the culture of that country.  The initial stages of the journey were breath-taking!  Wilderness dominated the scene as we drove up the gravel road, spying unusual trees, jagged peaks and wild flowers.  Our guide was brilliant, offering historical tidbits along the way, and pointing out rock formations and flora that we certainly would have missed had we attempted this journey on our own.  Traveling ever higher, we soon realized that it would have been impossible for us to tackle this terrain in our vehicle.  The road was significantly potholed with many washouts, and the sections that were somewhat intact had hairpin turns along the edge of a cliff!  As the nicknames of some of the stretches of road might indicate, it was not a drive for the faint of heart.  Hemerroid Hill, Oh-My-God Pass and Suicide Corner were just a few of the appropriately clever names on this road.  The vegetation soon disappeared as we neared the peak of the mountain. 

Already past the South African Customs Office, we now entered the shack that served as Lesotho Customs.  Things sure were different in the nation which boasted the highest LOW point of any country on Earth.  The landscape was predominantly tundra, with mountain peaks often jutting above the landscape.  The main export was wool.  As one might imagine, herds of sheep and wooly goats roamed the fields.  Accordingly, our first visit was to a working wool farm.  We toured the facility and saw the freshly groomed herd of sheep, often knicked from the sheers and slightly bleeding.  The wool was sorted and packed for distribution to South Africa.  The second stop was a lunch break at the top of a nearby mountain.  Being rather cold, we scarfed our food while overlooking the valleys below.  From there a short hike ensued which allowed us to view the highest peak in Afrika South of Kilimanjaro.  Continuing on, we were led to the Sani Pub, the highest pub in Afrika.  Dramatic vistas were appreciated from the deck as we sampled a Maluti lager, the only beer made in Lesotho.  The final stop in the country was to the home of a local family.  We were able to go inside the single room dwelling and experience the surprising warmth of the structure.  A central fire transfered the heat throughout the rudimentary heated floor design.  Additionally, food was cooked on this fire and we were fortunate enough to sample some of the delicious bread and wash it down with a taste of their homebrew.  It certainly wasn't Summit, but when you lived in the desolate mountains of Lesotho, I suppose you didn't complain!  Overall, it was really quite cozy.  A descent back down the windy passage into South Africa ensued and we eventually made it back to the hostel.  Surprisingly exhausted, we made a fire in the main lodge, ate dinner, drank some wine, and chilled until bed time.

Waking to a brilliantly sunny morning, we hopped back in the buggy and headed off for what Nish referred to as his favorite backpacker place ever.  But along the way there were sights to see.  We drove through the majestic mountains for a couple hours, up the steep climbs and around the windy roads.  It was gorgeous!  Eventually we made it back to the highway and hightailed it to the general vicinity of the hostel.  However, one benefit of travel is (usually) no fixed timeline.  So we stopped for a fantastic, casual lunch at a local coffee shop in some no-name town in South Africa.  It was flipping beautiful...sitting in a sunny courtyard, ordering breakfast and apple pie at 2:00pm, or a mexican wrap, or simply a piece of cake and a banana shake!  We liesurely dined without a care in the world.  It was freedom in its simplest form.  We reluctantly pulled ourselves away from this culinary diversion and made it to THe Lodge Backpackers. 

Damn, Nish was right.  The place was wicked!  Set in the country upon acres and acres of land and completely backdropped by the Drakensburgs, the visual appeal was undeniable.  And inside it only got better: the dorms were cosy, with a full kitchen and bathroom en suite; the common area boasted the most kick-arse bar I've ever seen in a hostel, as well as an oversized audio-visual room with blazingly fast internet access and never-ending football on the tele.  A first-rate pool table, indoor rock climbing wall, sauna, outdoor pool and...get this...ten person jacuzi in the bar area rounded out the amenities.

Already forseeing the potential 'harazrds' that might fall upon us over the next three days that we planned to stay here, I opted to go for a run the first night to help offset the future caloric intake.  The five mile loop across the hilly fields nearby was the perfect primer for a night spent indoors.  Soon I met my friends in the bar and spent the night chatting away with other backpackers.  It only took a couple (of our now trademark) Jagermiester shots to convince people to hit the jacuzi.  Yes, it was a late but extremely fun evening.

The next day we wanted to get into the mountains, so Mari, Katie (a fellow traveller from London) and I set off for the Draks.  We started with a simple hike to the Cascades, a small series of waterfalls whose beauty was worth the twenty minute trek.  Of course we wanted more, so we drove to a different trailhead and set off for the ampitheater, a stunning rock formation some 5km away.  The hike was brilliant, taking us through forest, moss-covered rocks, over streams and up cliffs.  When we finally made it back to the car we were all pleasantly fatigued.

The next night was our last at the hostel, and, sadly, my last in Afrika.  Mari and Katie went off on another hike, while Nish and I chilled at the hostel.  Our plan was to have one final braai together, so we opted to recruit all others interested in joining us.  A ridiculous amount of meat, salads, vegetables and bread were purchased, prepared and cooked to perfection!  In total fifteen people enjoyed the festivities, which soon went from the outdoor grill to the indoor jacuzi.  Yes, it was a stellar ending to a wonderful two weeks with Mari and Nish and an unforgetable two months in Afrika for me.