Last Days in KwaZulu-Natal

Trying to continue this whole idea of healthy living, I agreed to go on a hike with Amy and Lizette from work. Near Hillcrest is this rather large gorge called Kranskloof. I think Kloof means “canyon” in Africaans. Lizette’s husband also came along. I can say for certain that I was the least fit in the group, but my excuse is that I was also the oldest. Pretty sure I am bordering on middle-aged right now. The hike was really beautiful but I sadly could not convince anyone to come along for post-hike beer. What’s the fun in exercise if you don’t use it as an excuse to drink more alcohol? I mean seriously! The weekend continued on this theme as I attended my friend Johan’s birthday, which started with a early morning run on the beach, of all things. I joined up and was absolutely left in the dust. Sadly I couldn’t use age as a factor this time. It was Johan’s 52nd birthday. Sigh. I think the biltong and wine are maybe catching up to me. The birthday party later in the day was a proper South African braii. Many meats were grilled and wine consumed. Oops.

 

The other day I got to do something I have been wanting to do for many years. I met a woman at the birthday Braii (yet another Amy), and she told told me that the local yacht club did cheap lessons for women on Tuesday nights to encourage more female participation in racing. For the equivalent of $7, I was taken out on a Pacer with an experienced skipper and two other learners and we did laps around the Durban harbour until sunset. It was spectacular. Some day I want to get fully certified on a sailboat. After I finish my pilot’s license. There are too many cool things to do in the world! The last two weeks have been bittersweet. I finished working at WGS on Friday and had a lovely going away shindig at the local pub. I will honestly miss the people in that office. There was too much air conditioning and the computers were slow as hell, but the people were damn cool.

 

The week before I was graciously driven by Joe and Joan (whom I refer to as my South African parents) up to a famous game reserve to the north called Hluhluwe-Mfolozi. This is pronounced as “shloo-shlooey-oomfolozi; I think it is in Zulu but don’t ask me what it means! We stayed in safari tents and did a self drive safari for two days. I felt like goddamn David Attenborough. There were rhinos everywhere and we even saw a male and female lion. I have been to a zoo before but nothing can compare to seeing these creatures in the wild. In Africa, everyone talks about seeing the “Big 5” which includes Elephants, Buffalo, Rhino, Lions and Leopards. I saw everything but the leopards, which are apparently the most illusive. I did see a leopard tortoise, so maybe I can count that! Also on order where various antelope, zebras, baboons, and a warthog family that had moved in under the deck that my tent was built on. Also at the camp we could hear hyenas in the night because they could smell the cooking. With only a canvas wall separating me from the outside, it was a rather surreal experience.
When we got back I finally manged to also squeeze in a day for scuba diving. I had booked a dive way back in December but a serious of unforeseen circumstances meant that I had my dive cancelled three separate times.

 

The wait was worth it for the dozens of sharks I got to dive with (don’t worry, no Great Whites). A British couple also on the dive took several pictures and will theoretically be sending me some via email, so come back to this post in a few weeks to see the terror in my eyes. Tune in next time for some updated photos and such.

-A.

Broke Down in the Drakensburg

The new year has been much more fit than December so far. This means it is only a matter of time before I fall of the exercise wagon, haha. South Africa has not been kind to my waistline. Too much biltong and beer. For the uninitiated, biltong is similar to jerky but soooo much better. The flavours are truly unique and your jaw doesn’t hurt from chewing afterward because the meat is much more tender. I have been eating bags of the stuff, not to mention the very good, very cheap wine. I have been doing trail runs with zebras and runs around the block, but they cannot stop the siren call of the oh-so-delicious biltong.

New Year’s Eve was spent indulging in more of South Africa’s delicious meat selection as my friends Johann and Tina had a braii (BBQ) for the occasion where we grilled ALL THE MEATS. To be fair I have yet to attend a barbeque without a good array of meat, but lets just say that our South African brethren have this stuff down to a science. No fancy Webber Grill here. All hardwood-fired grills or briquettes. That is some serious skills, my friends.

It was around this time that my laptop decided to absolutely shit itself. The laptop that had all the data and software I needed to do my job. Yeah, that one. I did find an IT guy to save my ass but the part needed to fix the problem was a few days away so I took a week off to go  camping. Silver Lining, I guess? Other than the part where my rental car (a different one from the one I dented in the security gate) decided to die in the middle of nowhere. At this point I am not sure if it is me or Africa that is trying to kill my cars.  I got three quarters of the way to the mountains and as I got off the freeway I could hear a loud rattling from the vehicle, a Datsun Go. I didn’t even know that they still made Datsuns. I got out of the car, contrary to all advise I had heard about from people who heard I was going to South Africa. I was literally in the middle of nowhere- a narrow road 40km from the closest town and another 30km to the hostel I was heading to in the Drakensburg Mountains. Cool.

Luckily for me a lady stopped and offered to lead me to her nearby farm where she said her husband could take a look. Normally I would take this at face value but after all the stories I heard about this country, lets just say that I was hesitant. The awkward part was when she confirmed that she only stopped because I was a white female. While I felt safer because she was telling me how she was reassuring herself about my safety, there was an underlying guilt because I knew she wouldn’t have stopped if I was a black lady. South Africa is hard on the morals.

IMG_9401.JPG

Her husband sprayed a crap-ton of WD-40 on my fan belt and warned that the pulley on my alternator was loose (as I suspected, but guys like to think they can diagnose all car problems for you and I appreciated his efforts). The loose pulley meant that the problem was only going to get worse but I was only 30 km from my destination, so I decided to risk it. When I was 10 km from my destination, the belt either broke off or fell off. The car immediately started jerking and the battery and temperature lights both came on. The belt was responsible for recharging the battery and running the fan so this made sense. I nudged the car along by turning off the electronics, constantly shifting and then popping it into neutral on the downhills. Miraculously, I made it to the hostel before the car overheated or the battery died. The rental company got a very stressed out and strongly worded call from me after that (I used all the good swear words).

My plan for the day was to do some hiking which was why I had left at 6 am for the 3 hour drive, but I now had to wait 2 hours for a tow truck and then another hour after that for a replacement car. The only bright side was that at least I wasn’t broken down in some dodgy neighborhood.

I set up my tent and resigned myself to no hiking but I did meet a lovely French lady who was looking for a hiking partner for the next day so we made a plan to go on a 17km hike up Tugela Gorge the next day, so the expreience wasn’t a complete wash. The hike was way more difficult than I had expected and I had to come to the sad conclusion that I was in terrible shape and should plan accordingly. Rather than hike to Tugela Falls (second highest in the world), I compromised on a less strenuous option, where I would be driven to a village Lesotho and do an easier, more cultural hike there. Getting old SUUUUUCKS.

To be fair, the tour of the Lesotho village was actually very interesting. Lesotho is an independent mountain kingdom within the borders of South Africa with a majority barter culture in the south and many citizens who still do sustenance farming. We met the local sangoma (for want of a better word, Witch Doctor) and he told us of how he heals the local populous. It was very enlightening as he made sure to emphasise that he could not cure things like Cancer or AIDS and was much better at joint or back pain. It is nice to know that even witch doctors know the limits of their abilities, I suppose! 

We also got to try the local fermented maize beer (like porridge if it was alcoholic) and some regional food (also maize-based). In the winter the people catch mice to supplement their diet. The beer wasn’t bad but lets just say I was glad I wasn’t needing to spend a lot of time in Lesotho. I suppose it might help with my biltong and beer habit though?

-A.