South Africa (East)

Game Drives and Boat Rides
(Tuesday 17th December, 2019)

Giraffes

Giraffes in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve.


A
fter some uneasy sleep, we set out to do our game drive in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve at 5:00. It was a bit of a drive out to the reserve, so I caught a little sleep on the way, but I was awake when the game drive started for real. The place is really green and hilly and also has a lot of bush. It was a pleasant drive without too much of an African massage.

We didn’t see that much game today, but my highlights were:
– 6 warthog babies running around on the road.
– 5 giraffes hanging out together.
– 2 rhinos lying down for a nap together, not too far away.

Despite being tired, I did enjoy the drive. The nyala that hung out around the rest rooms, for some reason, are also very pretty animals. Like a smaller version of a kudu, almost.

We drove back to the lodge at about 12:00. Back there we decided to go for lunch because we’d seen a restaurant with seafood and we had that craving. One of the German ladies came with us, and we enjoyed another nice, and quite cheap, sea food platter with hake, prawns, mussels and calamari. Still very filling, too.

After lunch we had a bit of free time to relax in before we were scheduled to go on a boat cruise on the St. Lucia estuary. This time was just spent on reading, music and writing.

Our cook walked us down to where the boat would depart. We were clearly booked on an economy class tour, and the boat was filled with lots of other people, including many children. The seats were pretty uncomfortable, but we made due and the boat tugged off. The water in the estuary is very shallow (a few metres at most) and very brown and dirty looking due to being muddy. Today it was very windy and waves rippled on the surface of the water. It was a slow and relaxing sort of boat ride (roaming children aside) where not that much happened and there really wasn’t that much to see, either.

We did see some sleeping hippos, a few weaver bird colonies in the reeds, and a type of vibrantly green Bee-eater. I was a little surprised that there didn’t seem to be that many birds around but who knows.

Back on land we walked back to our accommodation where we got ourselves set for dinner. The dinner was nice once again. Some people went out to a bar tonight because a few of the group members leave us tomorrow, but I am so tired that I have an appointment with my bed just about now.

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Durban, Nelson Mandela and the Drakensberg Mountains
(Wednesday 18th December, 2019)

We left St. Lucia at 7 this morning, driving towards Durban. In Durban we will drop off the Brazilian couple, the Belgian girls and one of the German women – and we will pick 5 new people up. The drive was not overly interesting as we went along the highway.

When we arrived in Durban it was quite hot. Our guides said it was not a very safe city, and they advised against us walking around and into town. So, we were dropped off by a hotel on the beach, from which we had 2 hours to spend while our crew signed our new group members in.

A rather big group of us went to the mall where we bought some snacks, put more money on our phones etc. This is our last shopping spot until after Lesotho, we were told. After the mall we walked back down to the beach, but we quickly realised it was too crowded for comfort (due to the holidays). So, we turned around and ended up having our lunch at a chain restaurant near the hotel (American style..).

Back outside by Chuck we met our new group members; a woman from Germany, a woman from the Netherlands, a woman from Australia and an older woman from the UK. Also the boyfriend of one of the German girls already on our tour.

Well, we got settled in and then left Durban to move towards our accommodation in the Drakensberg mountains (a UNESCO World Heritage site). On the way out of the city there were some neat looking residential areas, huts dotted on the hills with valleys in between. Also on the way out, however, I witnessed some less nice things. Among these, a homeless man (there seemed to be a lot of them there) lying in the street just rolled around, unzipped his pants and basically pissed on himself before rolling back around. It was quite sad. Durban seemed like a poor place, even the buildings seemed in dilapidated and decaying states.

Our next stop was at Howick Falls, which is a 97 metre tall waterfall. It was nice although nothing too spectacular.

Afterwards we made a stop at the place where Nelson Mandela was arrested. They have built a museum in his honour here, and although there was a lot of text to read within the museum, it was surprisingly modern in aesthetics and visual displays, ambience and more. Especially since it sort of seemed to be located in the middle of nowhere. As we walked down the Freedom Walk towards the sculpture of Mandela’s profile, we could hear thunder in the distance and see lightning fork across the sky far away. Definitely seemed like rain in the air. We spent about an hour at the museum.

After leaving the museum, we still had another 1.5 hours to drive before reaching our lodge for the next two nights, The Nest. It’s a very cool place, seems sort of too high-end for a Nomad tour budget. T and I got quartered in a round hut, which is really nice. At the lodge we have facilities like a pool, table tennis, tennis, bowling, spa, golf and more. They will also provide dinner and breakfast for us while we are here, and at our dinner at 19:00 we got surprised that we could each order like 3 starters, 2 main courses, cheese platter, dessert, coffee. It was a lavish but also confusing meal where too much food was eaten for sure.

Post dinner, our driver wanted us to do another initiation Springbok dance/shot. Most of the new people (and old) agreed this time and we had some fun doing so.

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Cave Paintings in Drakensberg
(Thursday 19th December, 2019)

CavePainting

Cave painting from the rock in Drakensberg.


T
he hotel made an exception for us and started breakfast at 7:30 so we could start our day in time. It was a great meal with many options, luxury for us people. By approximately 8:00 we got into Chuck the Truck and drove to another camp site called
Monk’s Cowl where we would start today’s hike in Drakensberg. But first we made ourselves lunches (sandwiches) to take along with us, as some of us might be out until the afternoon.

Most of us (except one) went on the hike taking us to the cave paintings. It was a nice hike, not too strenuous although it was hot and sunny. It offered us both great views over the mountains and walks in the shade of little forest thickets. We had a stop here and there for our guide to tell us about the plants and their medical uses.

Eventually, after about an hour or a little more, we reached the cave paintings. Not really located in a cave, but rather on a large, free standing stone in the middle of the mountain side. Some of them were still very visible, and it is quite fascinating that you can still see them after all those years exposed to the elements. And to think they have served as a bulletin board, of sorts.

Drakensberg

View over part of the Drakensberg mountains landscape.


From there on and onwards you’d have to pay an extra 200 Rand to go to the “Sphinx” and the peak above. I didn’t want to pay more to keep walking like this (kind of felt like a sheep to be honest, unable to set your own pace). So, those who wanted to end the hike here could go back, which was only 3 of us, plus our cook.

It still took us about an hour to go back down to the camp and the truck where we then all had an ice cream while waiting for our driver to get back from his walk with one of our group members. When they came back, we got taken back to The Nest where we had free time until the others returned and until dinner.

I watched some local, South African TV (very dramatic), had a coffee and then took my music and my book pool side where I spent an hour or two reading. The others were back about 2.5 hours after us, and it sounds like they had all enjoyed the hike quite a lot.

The afternoon was otherwise quite uneventful, with some people hanging around the pool and others chilling out in their respective rooms.

Dinner was at 19:00 and worked out the same way as yesterday. Today I had some beetroot tartar with whipped feta, fried prawns, mussel pasta and a triple chocolate dessert. The mousse in the dessert was amazing, but otherwise I wasn’t a huge fan of today’s menu. I did, however, enjoy a double Amarula with ice cubes to end the night.

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A Feeling of Coming ‘Home’ to Lesotho
(Friday 20th December, 2019)

GoldenGate

The rock formations behind the name of the Golden Gate National Park, South Africa.


T
he lodge packed us breakfast bags and we drove off at more or less 6:30. Aside from a brief stop for coffee on the scenic roadside, courtesy of our cook, we also made a stop at ‘Vulture’s Restaurant’. This is really just a pointless name (there are no vultures) for a spot overlooking a dam – but it was quite nice. They had quite quirky and funny/cute clay figurines, and I did buy an impala (we saw a lot of them on our game drives, and it sort of became an inside joke) for 50 Rand.

We then drove through Golden Gate National Park, named so not after the San Francisco bridge, but after two rock naturally shaped formations resembling a gate within the landscape. The scenery was very pretty and we made a few photo stops along the way.

We made a relatively short stop in a town called Clarens (inspired by the Swiss town, apparently). Here we had to buy whatever necessities for the new few days in Lesotho. It was quite a touristic but cute town, and we bought some very good biltong (dried meat and a local delicacy for South Africa) here.

Our cook made us lunch by a farm stall, which was also quirky and weird as well as quaint. They had lots of different animals (especially birds!), and funny/interesting decoration. The place was called Jenlees and also functioned as a café, featuring the owner’s 3 friendly dachshounds as well.

Some time thereafter we crossed the border to Lesotho, walking across the border post in Maseru (capitol of Lesotho) quickly and painlessly. Our guide told us that people here are known for being friendly and welcoming, and this was also the first impression we got upon entering. The people greeting us at the border and joking with us etc. Later on, children started waving at us again from the road side which felt nice. This was more a feeling of home, or coming home, akin to last year’s trip.

So, Lesotho has about 2 million inhabitants and it used to be a British colony. The state is mostly self-sustaining with agriculture and livestock (sheep and cattle being the most important). Sheep and cattle are required by law to be looked after so that they don’t cross into someone else’s land. As such, there will always be a herder around a group of livestock, probably wearing the traditional woolly cape and hat. They use donkeys and horses a lot to get around, and these horses are especially known for their sure-footedness in the mountains. The country is rather poor, and also has had a history of issues with HIV and aids, although recent campaigns and education on the subject has improved the situation a lot.

MalealeaValley

Makhaleng Valley in Lesotho.


We drove towards our accommodation where we would be staying for the next two nights, Malealea Lodge. This lodge works closely together with the surrounding community, and also has a fund which helps specifically with HIV and aids, but also improving education and living standards for the communities in the valley. The lodge is sort of located within a village, and it is a very nice place.

We arrived, erected our tents and then had a drink before dinner at 19:30. After dinner, we went back to the bar for a chat, some rounds of pool. I talked briefly to the manager about the concept of this lodge and how it gives back to the community, which was informative and nice.

The sky before bed was beautiful and clear, stars glimmering down – but there is too much electric light around to get the sort of ‘being wrapped in a blanket of stars’-feeling.

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Last updated 6th February 2020.