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.


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?


Author: Amy D. Nelson

Wanderer, hack writer, aspirational hobo, part time aerial surveyor, geologist, forester and whatever else I can do to pay for a plane ticket. Is that sentence fragmental enough?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s