This weekend marked our first real weekend away from Joburg, and it was all I hoped it could be. Al and I and three friends (Josh, Ken, and Elli) spent the weekend hiking, braai-ing, and drinking in the Drakensberg Mountains and, let me tell you, it was glorious.
The Drakensberg Mountains run along the western edge of the KwaZulu-Natal province and also border Lesotho. There are a lot of resorts in the Drakensbergs, but we decided to stay in the Royal Natal National Park, which, according to my guidebook, “is famous for its exceptionally grand scenery.” This turned out to be no joke.
However, reaching the park was no easy feat. The drive from Joburg was a harrowing five-hour ordeal involving a two-lane highway full of slow moving trucks and fast-moving cars, long stretches of unsealed/unpaved roads littered with potholes, and, for most of the trip, pouring rain. Oh, also, we left Johannesburg at 7 pm – probably not the wisest choice, in retrospect. We made it, though!
We stayed right in the park in the uber-charming Thendele resort. The five of us rented a self-catered, six-person cottage with a fireplace, TV, kitchen, and, most important, outdoor braai area. Priorities!
This was the view from our cottage’s back patio.
It was okay, I guess.
After staying up until 2 am on Friday drinking wine and eating biltong, we got up at 9 am on Saturday, ate a filling breakfast, and then set out on what ended up being a rather epic four-hour hike. The hike took us past several waterfalls and required that we scramble up wet, moss-covered rocks and ascend a chain ladder. For those of you who have never climbed a thin, swaying chain ladder set against slick, wet rocks, go ahead and skip it. We all pretended we weren’t scared by it, but I’m reasonably sure we all secretly thought we were going to die on that ladder.
On our way back down from the midway point of the hike, we were passed by a group of very tough looking Afrikaner guys wearing compression leggings and huge backpacks, who informed us, quite gravely, that “the pressure is dropping” and that we needed to get back down the slippery rocks before it started pouring rain. Then they jogged up the rocks and we lost sight of them.
When they passed us again ten minutes later, going back down, one of them – in his eagerness to outrun the dropping pressure, I imagine – slipped on the rocks and fell so hard on his back that we all gasped and cringed, sure that we had just witnessed a spinal fracture. “Are you okay?” we all asked him. “Fine,” he said cheerily, as he popped back up, brushed himself off, determined that he had no broken bones, and continued on down the rocks at a brisk clip. These Afrikaners don’t mess around.
After our hike, we uncorked some wine and settled in for a braai – salads, steaks, sausage, garlic bread, grilled veggies, corn on the cob, and even cookies for dessert. Stuffing myself silly with wine and food has become my main weekend activity here, but what am I supposed to do, not partake in the local delights? That would just be culturally insensitive.
This guy, and his friend, decided to join us for our braai. He was very bold:
After stuffing ourselves with food, we went inside and started a fire, and, of course, drank more wine. Are you seeing a pattern here?
The only thing missing? S’mores. I’m thinking s’mores need to become a braai staple. I also realized this is the second blog post in which I’ve mentioned s’mores. I might have a problem.
Some other highlights of the trip, for me, included several baboon sightings and this sign warning us not to feed said baboons:
I also saw this in the park’s “curio shop,” and had to really make an effort not to buy it. By the way, what do we think – is headache powder to be snorted, or applied directly to the head? I couldn’t decide.
All in all, a great weekend. South Africa is feeling more and more live-able every day.