All the small things
01.05.2007 - 08.05.2007 24 °C
We had planned to head north but a rendezvous with Jake in Durban was enough to convince us that it was worth looping back down before heading up to Uganda. Unfortunately the meeting feel through but after doing all the planning for the reroute we had plenty of other reasons to go back to South Africa.
Getting out of Vic Falls isn’t easy. For starters we were running out of currency and at the moment withdrawing money in Zimbabwe is financial suicide. The official exchange rate is US$1 = ZIM$250. The black market rate is US$1 = ZIM$20,000 which basically means that if we withdraw money from the ATM or cashed a travellers cheque, you will find that a can of coke costs you $56US. We had a couple of options for getting out: fly for $300ish each or hitch a ride on an overland truck heading back to SA for another tour. We wandered around town searching backpackers and pubs looking for overland drivers. We finally found a truck heading back but they were waiting on petrol money from their head office before they could make the 1300km trip to J’burg. They told us to wait at the campsite and they would let us know when the money had come through. After an excruciating 40 hours of waiting we finally got rolling. Trouble is getting fuel in Zim is difficult and expensive so we left VF with the truck running on fumes. Needless to say we ran out 30km short of the boarder right next to some elephants. The two drivers hitched across the border with as many water bottles as they could carry while we cooled our heels with the remaining crew. When they finally returned they discovered that the fuel lines were full of air which resulted in another hour or so of tinkering. The delay meant that we were going to be driving through Northern Botswana (the most elephanty part of the most elephanty country in Africa) at night. Five or six times during the night the truck would screech to a holt waking us from our sleep and throwing us from our seats. By the time we arrived at the Botswana - South Africa border it was shut. We finally made it to J’burg 48 hours late and more than a little frazzled.
We hadn’t heard too much about Lesotho other than reading about a horse trek Peter Moore did in “Swahili for the broken hearted”. It sounded like just the ticket so we got a car and headed further south. Before we got to the mountains in the south of Lesotho where we would be riding we had to negotiate the knot of nerves that is Maseru, the Capital. Rome, Paris and Bangkok have nothing on Maseru in the bad driving stakes. Fortunately with a population of 290,000 we didn’t have to endure the chaos for long. After a huge feed we hit the hay early in preparation for the journey. I knew 12 hours of riding was going to hurt. The degree of pain was the unknown. 5 minutes in I started to get a little bit a chaffing on my leg and it was looking like two days of pain. Our decision to do the ride was soon justified. The mountains of Lesotho are spectacular. Riding through the canyons, up and down rocky paths and across rivers I began to channel the spirit of John Wayne. I relaxed in the saddle and got a one hand on the hip, one hand on the reins thing going. I felt pain but more importantly I felt like a cowboy. The spirit of Calamity Jane must have been preoccupied. Nat didn’t feel like a cowgirl but she enjoyed it all the same.
We left our horses at the village which would be our home for the night and headed up the valley on foot for an hour or so to a waterfall. As we got to the top the sun started to soften and everything got that warm glow. We got back to the village just as twilight turned to night, the perfect backdrop for baked beans on toast and G&T’s.
After an early start we rode back to base camp and hit the road to Durban. It was a long but pleasant drive along the north edge of the Drakensburg ranges. The next morning we had a drive around Durban and ended up at the beach for breaky. I was hoping for a surf but as the photos show it wasn’t worth the effort. The city has a pretty cool vibe and we would have liked to stay a little longer but with our time with a car running out and lots more to see we headed up the coast.
St Lucia is Hippo central. We were going on a hike into the wetlands the following day but we got a little sneak peak hippo action when two mutone hippos stopped for a late night snack in a park opposite our hostel in the centre of town. The hostel has a guide who was kind of on crowd control, not letting us get too close, but we still managed to get within about 5 meter. I was tempted to move a little closer. It’s easy to forget that they are Africa’s most deadly animal. The next morning on our walk we found a herd (or is it pod? or even hip?) of about 15 hippos playing right near the bank of the river.
A Dutch couple we meet in Lesotho had just come from Swaziland and couldn’t stop raving about the Mlilwane game reserve in the Ezulwini Valley. I think it’s safe to say that after all the game viewing we’ve been doing we’re both looking forward to a change of pace but they told us that Mlilwane wasn’t your classic game park. Seeing as it was finally a step in the right direction (North) we decided to follow their recommendation. We arrived in the Valley in the mid afternoon and as soon as we entered the park we loved it. I’m not sure what exactly made this park so different. One of the cool things about it is the absence of predators. It sounds like a negative but it’s really cool being able to get out of your car and walk up to a zebra or ride a bike around without fear of a leopard dropping from above. We spent the arvo getting up close and personal with as many of the residents as possible.
Next stop Mozambique to find out if it really is unique to be among the lovely people living free, upon the beach of sunny Mozambique.
The waiting game sucks, let’s play hungry hungry hippos!
Lots of love,
Ev and Nat