The Kingdom of Swaziland

Hi everyone!

The Kingdom of Swaziland is another landlocked country within South Africa that also borders Mozambique. It is just over 17 000 square kilometers in size, making it even smaller than Lesotho and in fact, one of the smallest countries in Africa.

Our journey to Swaziland was much more tame than that of Lesotho, but it was still longer than anticipated. We left plenty early after our previous debacle and were on tarred roads the entire time so the extra time was no problem.

Coming directly from Lesotho, through South Africa, to Swaziland prompted serious reflection about the discrepancies between the three countries. South Africa and Swaziland were on equal playing fields in terms of wealth and infrastructure, while Lesotho has been left in the dust. I found it interesting the contrast between Lesotho and Swaziland seeing as they are both landlocked, small, resource rich countries. The other major contrast between Lesotho and Swaziland was the climate; Lesotho of course had been very cold yet Swaziland was almost tropical even in the winter months. We were delighted at how warm Swaziland was, especially in the evenings for camping!

We were booked to pitch our tent in the Milwane Game Reserve at Sondzela backpackers. Milwane is a privately owned game reserve with a focus on conservation. Between 1960 and 1970 over 20 000 snares were lifted from Milwane and another parked owned by the same people called Hlane. They have the snares within the park and it was astounding to see exactly what 20 000 snares looked like. See the picture below!

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We rolled in to Sondzela just after dark, pitched our tent quickly and made a bite to eat. Wimbledon was on so we were able to watch a match before bed.

The next day we woke up and opened our tent door to a view of beautiful mountains and a few antelope grazing nearby. The park has no predators so it was perfectly fine to camp, but the wildlife were free to roam where they pleased. We just hoped none became too curious of our orange tent and got too close and damaged it in any way.

That morning we went for a game drive in the park and were able to see tons of zebras, blue wildebeest, and antelope. We parked the car and did the Summit Hike, a steep ascension to the peak of the park where we had a spectacular view of a large majority of the Kingdom. Unfortunately my phone was dead so I have no photos to share! That evening we relaxed by the fire taking in more of Wimbledon.

The next day we started our day with a beautiful run through the park. It was one of our most incredible runs as we were amongst the wildlife as we ran. It certainly didn’t seem like forced exercise with such stimulating scenery!

We then headed to Malandelas Lodge and restaurant for lunch. The lodge is set on a beautiful property and also is the site of House on Fire, Swazilands most famous bar. While we were there we enquired about entertainment for the following night, a Friday night. Unfortunately the bar wasn’t opened that evening, but the manager informed us that on Saturday they were hosting Swazilands first ever Craft Brewery Festival. It was as if he told us Christmas was coming early, we were so excited! We rearranged out plans to ensure we could make the festival.

We checked out the craftstore onsite and I found another pair of beautiful earrings. We then headed to a few other craft markets to check things out. We can’t buy much due to our baggage restriction but we were told the crafts in Swaziland were some of the best in Africa so we wanted to at least look. They definitely had a higher end craft market, with pricetags to match. It was fun browsing but the only thing we walked away with was a bottle of hot sauce for our upcoming tour.

We made our way back to the backpackers as the sun was setting and I was able to snap this beautiful picture below of the hippo pool.

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The following day we had booked a game drive in the Mhkaya Game Reserve, which belongs to the same owners as the Milwane Game Reserve where we were staying. The biggest reason we wanted to do a game drive in Mhkaya is because they have a very successful rhino conservation project which gives you a high chance of seeing them on your drives.

We had just over an hour drive to get to the gates of the park. We were met by a ranger who then led us into the park where we boarded our open viewing landrover. We set off immediately in pursuit of rhinos as they are the most difficult to spot. Within half an hour we had the incredible fortune to find a rhino, and not just any rhino, the very elusive and ill-tempered black rhino! I could hardly believe what I was seeing, he was very close to the vehicle and came even closer (due to his poor eyesight) to investigate further. When he was facing us straight on I was a little shocked as he wasn’t as tall as I thought a rhino would be; but then he turned to the side and he was the size of a small tank.

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We continued with our drive after sitting and admiring the rhino for over half an hour. Not long after we were lucky enough to stumble upon several white rhinos within a close vicinity to one another. We admired from afar a group before pulling up further to a mother and 3 year old baby. As soon as the ranger cut the engine the mother started walking [slowly] towards the vehicle. All of the guests were a bit apprehensive and held our breath as she approached. The ranger however, said hello and grabbed her for an affectionate rub! I was surprised to say the least, but the rhino seemed to enjoy it. She then proceeded to walk along the side of the vehicle scratching her horn along the way. The ranger encouraged us to give her a pat and say hello. Chris and I were hopeful at the start of the day to even spot a rhino, let alone pet one! It was a really incredible experience.

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The ranger had to try and get away when he could, apparently she would stick around all day if allowed! This also enabled me to get some great shots of Chris and the baby.

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We were totally satisfied with the drive after that incredible encounter and we were only a few hours in! We headed to the watering hole where we were fortunate enough to see hippos and a crocodile!

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We drove further into the park to the park lodge where we had a delicious lunch that was included in the price of the game drive. We had guinea fowl and a young antelope visit during our meal. You are able to stay overnight at the park lodge as well which seemed like a very beautiful setting to spend a night (a bit out of our budget).

The afternoon game drive was much quieter than the morning, we joked everyone was having their afternoon nap. When we reached the watering hole for the second time we found more rhinos, the hippos were further out of the water, and the croc was still around. The afternoon light was perfect for picture taking!

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We had an absolutely fantastic time at the game reserve and highly recommend it to anyone!

The following day we went for another run and then headed to the Swaziland Craft Beer Festival for the day. We were able to have a delicious lunch at Malandelas restaurant before we got down to business with the beer. The only craft brewery from Swaziland was there along with 16 South African Craft Brewers. We were able to try 18 different beers throughout the day (it was from 11 am on) and were very impressed with the quality of the beers. We enjoyed Darling Brews beers, their Silverback Dark Wheat Beer shocked and impressed us, it sounds very unappealing but was fantastic! We were even interviewed by the local newspaper, Swazi Times, for our take on the festival. It was an awesome day of sun, excellent beer, and fantastic live entertainment. See below for some pics of the day!

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The following day we left Swaziland for Pretoria where we have spent the last week sorting out our visas for our upcoming tour. On the way out of Milwane we noticed we had a flat tire, which seemed appropriate for the beating we gave the car. Chris changed it no problem!

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We did a ton of running around to obtain our visas, I could detail it for you but just know that if it appears it will be an easy process to apply for a visa it most definitely won’t be. We did all of our shopping for our tour (see pic below) and tried to relax a bit as these next 50 days are going to be hectic! The only thing we did worth noting was visit the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and the South African Brewing Company World of Beer where we had an awesome tour. The Apartheid museum was absolutely phenomenal and it is a must do on any visit to Jo’berg.

We head out tomorrow on our tour and unsure how reliably we will have internet along the way. I promise to keep up on my blogging and post whenever I get a chance.

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Cheers everyone!

The Kingdom in the Sky

Hi Everyone!

Lesotho (li-soo-too) is an independent country that is landlocked by South Africa. We didn’t know much about the country before going so I thought I would share some information about it before I detail our time there.

It is known as ‘The Kingdom in the Sky’ because it is the only [independent] state in the world that lies entirely over 1000 meters in elevation. With over 80% of the country being over 1800 meters and its lowest point being1400 meters, it is the highest country in the world. It is 30 000 square kilometers and has a population of two million. The people are the Basotho and over 40% of the population live below the international poverty line. The average life expectancy is 37 (Lonely planet gives this number, Wiki says 48.2. Either way the numbers are heartbreaking) and the prevelance of HIV/AIDS is 26%.

The country is renowned for its beautiful scenery and friendly people. It is the Mountain Kingdom that has been frozen in time. One of the main modes of transport remains as pony or horse. We decided to visit after hearing these things and so much more from our tour guide Matt, on our Namibia tour.

We wanted to go from our beach haven in Bulungula to the Mountain Kingdom in one day. There was no wifi or cell service in Bulungula so we had to rely on our lonely planet book and a few road maps a fellow guest had to plot our route. As Lesotho is landlocked by South Africa there are many border posts to enter through. We plotted what we felt was the most logical route based on the information we had, with our goal entry point being Telle Bridge.

We departed Bulungula at 8 am with an anticipated driving time of 6 hours. We made it to Mthata by the midway point and went grocery shopping as there is very little in terms of food in Lesotho. We then began the second half of the drive armed with google maps as we were back in cell reception. The route google came up with was the same we had plotted the old school way of maps and books so we were feeling very confident. Within an hour and a half we came to a junction where we had to turn off the highway we were on to another highway that would give the most direct route to the border post. The only problem was we were going to turn off a tarred road onto a dirt road. You heard correctly, a dirt road highway. We were very hesitant with this but both google and our paper research had lead to this route so we decided to go with it. The dirt road was maintained and signed with all of the official highway signs. Unfortunately, we were only able to go 60-70 km/h on it, so our driving time was being lengthened by the minute. There was another turn onto a different highway 70 km after starting on the dirt road so we were hopeful we would be turning back onto a tarred road. If nothing else, the scenery while on the dirt road was spectacular.

We arrived to the junction and our hearts sunk; we were turning onto another dirt road for a further 80 km. It was 1:30 pm by this point and it gets dark around 5 pm so all we were praying for was to be off the dirt road by dark. Based on the previous dirt road we thought we could do it. It didn’t take long for us to realize that this dirt road was not well maintained. There were massive washouts due to water, and there were many rocks and potholes that had to be avoided. We were averaging 20 km/h or less on this road and became increasingly aware of time slipping by. We arrived to a military post marking the end of the South Africa border and had to have one of the guards open the gate for us. He spoke a little English so Chris asked him if the road was okay from there on. He heartily laughed and replied, “No. Not until after the mountain pass, down by the river.”

Mountain pass?

What had we gotten ourselves into! We were now officially in no-mans-land heading up the pass. The road condition continued to deteriorate and become narrower and narrower. Again, it was some of the most spectacular scenery we have encountered but it was now cast in the late afternoon sun which was a constant reminder of our race against the clock. We rounded a hairpin turn and saw two men on horses herding their massive pack of bulls down the [one lane] road. There was no way of going around them so I gingerly made my way to the back of the herd and hoped they would get out of the way. Some of them moved to either side of the road and others continued to move leisurely infront of the car. I inched my way forward, and all I kept thinking was,

I cannot hit one of these bulls. I cannot hit one of these bulls.

We were in no-mans-land between two countries, if I hit one of those bulls, or even knicked one I don’t even want to fathom the trouble we would be in with those two men. Thankfully, the rest of the bulls moved to one side at a slight widening in the road and we were able to pass. Not long after we arrived at a very troubling patch of road. The road was almost entirely washed away, and was barely wide enough for our small compact car to pass. I slowly made my way forward with my mirror grazing the rockface on one side and my tire just barely staying on solid ground on the other. As I mentioned in a previous post the Chevy Aveo has a high clearance, but was no match for this treacherous road and we bottomed out more than once. By the time we made it to the bottom of the pass (which was over 2000 meters) my arms and hands ached from gripping the steering wheel so hard. As the guard had said, the road did improve at the river but just barely. We then could average 40 km/h versus less than 15 km/h going down the pass. The sun set as we hit the river bed and soon enough we needed our headlights to navigate our way. Fortunately it was only for 15 km and then we hit the tar road that brought us to the Telle Bridge Border Post. When I finally put the car into park more than 10 hours after embarking on our drive, I half expected the car to just fall apart.

The immigration officers didn’t know what to do with us as not many foreigners utilized this post. They were very entertained by us and had great fun trying to teach us how to say the name of the city we were going in their language which necessitated a click in the middle. We just barely saw the humor after the hell of a drive we had been through. Luckily we didn’t get any trouble and made our way through the border quickly.

We were rewarded with more dirt road, this time in total darkeness as there are no street lights in Lesotho as most of the country is without electricity. They were doing work on the road so it was incredibly difficult to navigate and more than once we lost the main road and ended up by a piece of heavy duty machinery. We arrived to Quthing and the city was in full swing as it was a Friday night. We found our guesthouse after getting turned around a few times and collapsed into our room. It was 11.5 hours by the time it was all said and done and it was one of the most remote and terrifying days on the road. We were incredibly lucky to have not had a flat or other mechanical problems along the way.

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The next day when we awoke and walked out of our room and saw the spectacular scenery we were slighty comforted that the journey would be worth it. We set out early with a quick stop to view the dinosaur footprints outside of the city and then continued on to the small village of Malealea to Malealea Lodge. The lodge was originally a trading post and now serves as an excellent mountain oasis (partly owned by the local community) and pony trekking center. We arrived and settled in and then simply sat and marveled at where we were in the world.

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That evening after we had supper we sat around the fire with two South African families on holiday. They were lovely to chat with and thankfully kept the fire going all evening.

The following morning we woke up to catch the sunrise, it was one of the best we have experienced yet. The lodge was surrounded 360° by the most beautiful mountains, it is definitely one of the top 5 most beautiful places we have been in our lives.

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That morning we set out for a hike. Not long into the hike we were surrounded by local children. One of them cracked me up, he kept saying “My name is KYTE!” but when I would respond he would simply repeat his name. After several rounds of this he introduced, “Give me a TREAT!” For about a kilometer or so he followed us saying louder and louder, “My name is KYTE, Give me a TREAT!” Although adorable we never indulge children as it fosters a culture of begging. He eventually gave up saying anything except “TREAT!!!!” before finally accepting we weren’t going to give him anything. We had a beautiful hike along the rim of the gorge surrounded by mountains.
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We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the sunshine and enjoying the onsite coffee shop. The evening was passed at the bar where they were selling handmade crafts. I found a beautiful pair of earrings which may be my favorite purchase to date. The rest of the evening was again spent by the fire chatting with the families. The power was turned off each evening at 9:30 pm so it was candle light after that. There is something so special about having nothing but candle light to illuminate a room. As Lesotho is at such a high altitude it was very cold in the night so we opted for a nice farmhouse room rather than our lightweight hiking tent.

The next day we signed up to go pony trekking as it is one of the best places in the world to go for a ride. This was incredibly exciting for me as Chris had never been on a horse before. I had ridden growing up so it is one of the only times I was proficient at something he wasn’t! He was a little nervous before we got started but as soon as he met his horse, Rasta Man, he felt much better. Our guide was very helpful and entertaining, we stopped early into our trek at a small shack so he could buy airtime. He musn’t have had airtime in a while because he spent a lot of his time texting and calling! We did a 4 hour trek to a waterfall and it was one of our favorite activities we have ever done. It was so relaxing and beautiful, it couldn’t have been a more perfect day. Chris even got to trot for a while which made him very happy! I did manage to snap a picture of him on his horse but the bugger deleated it!!! I am still rotted about it.

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After our epic horse trek Chris was adamant he wanted to check out the local pub, called a ‘Shebeen.’ The brew master is usually a woman and she brews in a massive [dirty] bucket. She advertises what type of beer she has by flying a flag made of plastic bags outside her little shack. White means hops beer, yellow means maize (corn) beer. We found a shebeen and Chris went in and ordered a ‘glass’ of hops beer. It cost 5 Rand which is 50 cents Canadian and he was handed a 750 mL tin can of the most disgusting looking liquid I have laid eyes on. I was not even going to consider indulging in one of these beverages.

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The frequent flyers of the Shebeen were very excited to see foreigners at their haunt and happily smiled toothless grins and gave us the thumbs up on our drink choice. Chris decided to buy a round for the “boys” and it was as if god himself had walked into the bar (a round for the entire bar cost less than $3 CAD). After much cheering we convinced them all to step outside of the smokey, dark shanty to have a picture taken. This was quite the production and they were all very excited to see the pictures after as I don’t think they had ever seen a picture of themselves. They had great fun zooming in to get a better look. One guy was more than impressed with himself, repeatedly pointing to himself and saying, “Nice!!” It was a very entertaining outing.

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The following day we got an early start as the sun rose to make our way to Swaziland. Again we were relying on research from road maps and the Lonely Planet book, so it was with a hope and prayer that we set off for another day on the road. We stopped at the Gates of Paradise to capture these amazing photos of the sunrise. It was the perfect cap to our incredible adventure in the Kingdom in the Sky.

The sign at the Paradise Gates that is pictured in the first photo reads:

Wayfarer pause and look upon a gateway of paradise

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The Wild Coast

The Wild Coast, formerly known as the Transkei during the Apartheid era is famed for its beautiful scenery and terrible road conditions. It had repeatedly been recommended to us to visit from locals we met along our travels as they felt it was like an entirely different world compared to the rest of South Africa. It is also quite famous for being a cannabis growing and consuming region with many warnings about “Pondo Fever.”

We arrived to Port St Johns, our first stop on the coast, in the late afternoon after taking 7 hours or so to make our way from the Central ‘Berg. The roads were excellent and it was not hard to navigate. Our accommodation was Amapondo Backpackers where we had a beautiful campsite overlooking the ocean. The backpackers was ideally located close to the beach and had a plethora of animals, including two donkeys who were free to roam where ever they pleased and would turn up from time to time at the bar looking for carrots. We quickly learned the Wild Coast wasn’t a place with specific activities or attractions, but rather a place you went to relax and take in the scenery.

Our first afternoon/evening was spent doing both aforementioned activities by socializing at the onsite bar. We met quite of few interesting people thanks to the icebreaker one of the staff initiated early in the evening; wigs for everyone! Chris and I looked lovely in matching green. We met Will and Aaron who are both university professors and work together to study and record the local languages. It was really neat to hear their linguistic backgrounds and the work they are doing in South Africa. I am not sure if I have mentioned previously or not but South Africa has 11 official languages and many different dialects of these! They are working to record and differences between tribes. We met Dean and Tim who were very entertaining if not slightly deranged. We also met a local guy who spent a significant amount of time explaining to Chris his history of drug smuggling. It was a mixed bag to say the least!

A large chunk of the next day was spent at the beach watching a pod of dolphins of at least 100 in number. We have never seen so many dolphins so close to shore! It was really incredible to watch them all playing in the waves and jumping out of the water. We were enthralled!

That evening we went to another backpackers in town for music and a performance by a group of local girls. They were really adorable and had many of us up dancing with them (except Chris). We crawled into our tent early as we planned to hit the road early in the morning for our next stop; Coffee Bay.

We had high expectations for Coffee Bay as it was the town consistently recommended when we were pointed towards the Wild Coast. We arrived to the Coffee Shack Backpackers early in the afternoon and were pleasantly surprised to see 3 other tents in the camping area. We walked the bay which the backpackers is located on and were followed by a few local women hasseling us to buy their beaded jewelry. They were rather unpleasant when we told them we didn’t bring any money with us!

The next morning we were woken up by the South Africans in the tent beside us having a full on conversation at 6:00 am about their upcoming day fishing. They missed the memo tents aren’t yet sophisticated enough to be soundproof. We headed to the beach for the day that was a short walk away. It was very picturesque and we spent a long time soaking up the sunshine. We did not swim as we were rather terrified of sharks seeing as it was the sardine run and there had been attacks at the beach before. We headed back to the backpackers for the daily sundowner excursion. They load you up in their vehicle and bring you to a beautiful hill overlooking the beach for a refreshing drink.

The next day we decided to leave Coffee Bay and go really off the beaten track to a place called Bulungula. Coffee Bay was nice, but it certainly did not live up to our expectations. It seemed a bit run down and negatively influenced by tourism. We were hassled there more than any other place in South Africa. We were looking for a more authentic, rustic experience which is why we decided on Bulungula.

The map we downloaded from the Bulungula Backpackers website estimated it would take us 2.5 hours to get there from Coffee Bay despite it only being 20 kms away . We were a bit apprehensive of the roads based on this trajectory but we mutually decided to give it a go. Even worse than the estimated driving time was the actual map; it was handrawn, not to scale, and the instructions seemed quite vague. As soon as we left the tarred road for the gravel road we realized how remote we were going, the roads were not maintained in any way shape or form. We had to go excruciatingly slow due to the massive craters formed by water washing the road away. We were doing well with regards to the map and the landmarks we were given until we came to a fork in the road we weren’t expecting. From that point on we resorted to “Plan B” listed on the map; “If you lose your way just follow the road that looks like the main road.” We continued to try and identify landmarks but an example of one landmark given was several peach huts with a yellow corner post in which we were meant to turn right after. The only problem with this was every single hut was peach and every post yellow. Hence implementing “Plan B.” I began to worry as we really only had directions to the backpackers, there was no cell service, and we were not convinced we were on the right road. What if we were so lost we wouldn’t be able to find our way out? By that point we were so remote it was only sprawling landscapes dotted here and there with traditional rondavel huts and not much else. The villagers we met while driving either laughed their heads off at us, which worried me, or greeted us like royalty by waving and running alongside the car. It is a bad sign when you are trying to judge the reactions of the villagers to decide if you are on the right track or not. Finally we pulled up alongside a friendly looking woman and asked her where Bulungula lodge was. She smiled and in perfect english pointed us the right way. Not five minutes later we pulled into the parking lot very relieved to have made it.

It was a 500 meter walk to the lodge with all of our bags, tent and groceries. When we arrived we realized we didn’t just make it to the lodge but we made it to a little slice of heaven. Perched overlooking the ocean with nothing around for as far as the eye could see we succeeded in finding the perfect off the beaten path location.

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The view from the front lawn

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The lodge and view!

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The accomodation was in the traditional rondavel huts. We of course, pitched our tent with a spectacular sea view!

The lodge is 100% owned by the local community and the project is incredibly unique and very successful. It was started with the idea to break the poverty cycle of the village. The locals are encouraged to come up with businesses that can be run in conjunction with the lodge and supported by tourism. The revenue generated by these businesses goes directly to the person who owns it, the lodge does not get any commission or cut. For example there is a canoe guide, horseriding guide, someone who has a small souvenir shop, etc. The lodge itself also employs a large number of people so it created jobs just by being open. The lodge is 100% off the grid; it is solar powered, its water is collected rain water, it has long-drop compostable toilets, and it has rocket showers. What are rocket showers you ask? They have a pipe that has a small opening at the bottom in which you put some toilet paper, a heavy dosing of paraffin, and light it on fire. It roars to life and heats the water for your shower for 7-8 minutes. The overhead is therefore very low for the local community. The same people that started it also have something called the incubator project which you can read more about at http://www.www.bulungulaincubator.org. We were very happy to spend our money on such an incredible project.

We started with a lunch of toastie sandwiches on traditional Xhosa Bread. When the sandwhiches arrived they were absolutely massive; I would estimate we each had a loaf of bread by Canadian standards. The bread was devine and worth every single carb it contained. It was soft and spongy with perfect crusts. It was very windy that afternoon so we lazily spent it chatting with Mike and Nicola; a father daughter duo from Cape Town. We walked the beach at sunset and could hardly believe how beautiful of a place we were in.

The next day we had an early start as we were signed up for the canoe trip. We were joined by Warrick and Kim who currently live in Johannesburg. Somehow we [Chris] managed to tip the canoe as it was low tide and we needed a “push” off a sandbar. Luckily we had everything in a waterproof bag and there was no damage to any of our belongings. Far and beyond the best part of the trip was the stop at the local pancake house named iLanga on the walk back to town. It is also part of the incubator project and employs several women from the village on certain days of the week. We split the Three Nut Pancake consisting of butternut squash, cashew nuts, and coconut milk as well as the Bulungula Special which had dates, raisins and walnuts and tasted much like the filling of date squares.

Below are some pictures of the village from our walk back from the pancake house!
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The river we canoed on


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The next two days were spent blissfully doing nothing; I ran each morning barefoot on the sand and we went for a long walk on the beach each afternoon, and we spent the rest of the days relaxing. We celebrated Canada Day while at the lodge by sharing our love of Canada with the rest of the guests and I purchased a white and red anklet and a red bracelet from a local woman. It was a rather tame Canada day for us, but a very memorable one due to the beautiful setting.

We set out for what was meant to be a 6 hour drive to Lesotho at 8 am, and I will leave the tale of getting to the ‘Kingdom in the Sky’ for my next post…

Back to South Africa

Hi Everyone!

As promised I will continue to get you all caught up on our adventures over the past few weeks. If you are looking at a map thinking our route in Africa is rather illogical; you are absolutely right. As with most things in life, our trip has not gone 100% according to plan. We are making the best of it, with the only major downside of our change of plans being having to answer the question, “…So where else have you travelled so far?” from every fellow traveller we meet. While we used to entertain answering this with each person we met we have grown rather exhausted of our complex, nonsensical route so our usual answer is, “A little bit of everywhere.” That means if you are sitting home slightly confused by our path, don’t worry, you aren’t alone!

After picking up our car at the O.R Tambo airport we ran a quick errand to do with our big overland tour and then headed to Pretoria to meet up with Anna-Marie, the local South African we had met on our first wine tour in Stellenbosch. She was heading to England for three months so it worked out that we were able to meet up. We had a lovely evening of port, dinner, and catching up. We were lucky enough to be able to stay at her sons apartment with her, the only downside being he had two “pet” terantulas. I almost had a panic attack falling asleep that night as I envisioned waking up with one having escaped and being in the bed with Chris and I.

We survived the night and the next day we headed out bright and early for the Drankensberg Mountain Range. We stopped along the way in a small town called Harrismith to stock up on groceries for the next few days of hiking. We based ourselves at Karma Backpackers in the town of Kestell, which is in the Northern ‘Berg. The backpackers was absolutely lovely, owned by Vera-Anne who was a fantastic host. She makes all of her own [award-winning] jams from ingredients out of her own garden and you are able to have as much as you like with breakfast. The flavors were unlike any we have tried before, and many incorporated wine or champagne. We loved them so much we made sure to buy a bottle when we left! We pitched our tent much to the apprehension of Vera-Anne seeing as it is winter in South Africa and we were in the mountains. Our first night she provided us hot water bottles and I doubt we would have made it through without them. It was -2 during the night and our sleeping bags are really only graded to 3°C. We awoke plenty early for our first day of hiking.

We tackled the Chain Ladder Hike that has been made infamous thanks to Pinterest and The Chive. The hike starts from the Sentinel Car Park which is a bit of a challenge to get to as about 7 km of the road is unpaved and in poor shape. Thankfully our Chevy Aveo has a very high clearance, otherwise I think it would have been a real challenge to get up. I wouldn’t suggest going if you have a small car with a low clearance. Apparently there is a shuttle that can take you up from the main gate which would be a better alternative.

The hike involved a steep ascent to the region known as the Amphitheater, then a rather lovely gentle walk to reach the ladders. The views along the trail were incredible, we easily understood why it is ranked as one of the top 10 day hikes in the world. When we reached the ladders I will admit I was more than a little apprehensive about them. The incline was almost vertical and the only point of attachment was at the top. This meant they moved freely around as you made your way up. I gingerly started and instantly began to feel a sense of panic. I know that may seem crazy considering my love of adrenaline but I was terrified on this ladder. Chris was perfectly amused by this and passed the time by taking pictures of me. The only thing I kept thinking going up was, “How on earth am I going to make it down?”

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The views from the top more than made up for the extreme effort to get up the ladders. We had our lunch with a beautiful view before turning around to head down.

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We did look into taking an alternative route through the gully on the way down but it sounded even worse than the ladders as there were many points where you traversed rock faces and had to scuttle down on your bottom. I resigned myself to the fact I had to make it back down the same way I got up. Chris still teases me about my knees-knocking the whole way down.

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We spent the evening by the warm fire with our friend Pixel, the largest cat we have ever met. Load shedding wasn’t a problem for our tired bones as we passed it easily with a nap. Vera-Anne insisted we sleep inside in the dorm that evening as we were the only guests at the time and it was meant to be even colder that evening. We gratefully obliged.

The next day we continued on to the Central ‘Berg to Inkosana Lodge. The frustrating thing about the Drakensberg region is that you must always drive out of the region and then back in as the roads do not follow the range. A small number of kilometers as the crow flies takes several hours by the roads. We arrived at the lodge by late afternoon and relaxed for the evening. The lodge is owned by Ed who is a former mountaineer that participated in South Africas expeditions in the Himalayas. He has climbed Annapurna and a few other famous 7-8000 meter giants. He is very knowledgeable about the local hiking in the area and entertainingly grumpy with age.

We again were camping despite the negative temperatures at night, and that first night was exceptionally cold. When we awoke in the morning both Chris and I decided we were in no shape to hike. The beauty of having lots of time is we can have those precious down days and not feel bad about it. We were in a beautiful setting with perfect mountain views so we passed the day easily in the sunshine and chatting with other guests. We met Hugo at the lodge who was from France and we all set out together on a hike the following day. We hiked starting from the Monks Cowl and completed the Blind Mans Corner hike. The views were spectacular and the conversation was very interesting. Hugo had been volunteering with a baboon project our of Cape Town so we learned quite a lot about them!

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We had a lot of planning to do after the hike as we had originally wanted to enter Lesotho via the Sani Pass in the Southern ‘Berg but we learned that is only possible if you have a 4×4. Looking at other points of entry lead us to another discovery; you need an official Letter of Authority from the car rental agency to bring your car across the border. The girl at Avis asked if we were going to cross any borders when we picked up our car and she failed to provide this letter even though we told her we planned to go to Lesotho! We had to quickly regroup and come up with an alternative plan based on these facts. We decided we would loop out to the Wild Coast, travel south down it, and then loop back up into Lesotho after picking up a letter of authority from an Avis along the way.

Our planning completed we hoped to attend the Drakensberg Boys Choir performance that evening as they usually perform every Wednesday evening, but their school holidays had just started so they were taking a break from performing. It is such a shame as they are quite famous! We spent it instead by the warm fire reading the up-to-date Time Magazine collection, getting caught up on what is going on in the rest of the world. Having a car means we listen to the local radio as we drive and thus are quite up-to-date on the local news. If you want a laugh google “South Africa Presidents Fire Pool” It will give you a good picture of what happens regularly in this country. We also like to chat about news and politics with as many local people as we can as it is very interesting hearing their perspectives and we learn a lot. With that being said, we are quite behind on our world news so it was nice to get a bit caught up.

The next day we set out plenty early for our first stop on the Wild Coast; Port St. Johns. My next post will detail our time on the coast!