A Travellerspoint blog

Kingdom in the Clouds

Drakensburg Mountains, South Africa and Sani Pass, Lesotho

sunny 35 °F

As any conference veteran will tell you, most people typically skip the last day of the conference to either travel home early or explore what the host city and its surroundings have to offer. After four soporific days of the conference, I was anxious to get out and play tourist one more time.

Durban itself is a sleepy city. The top-rated activity on Trip Advisor was a place called uShaka Marine World. Having been a resident of San Diego, I had the feeling that I had seen something similar in the past. The remaining activies didn't seem up my alley, so I decided to search a bit further afield. An all-day trip by Tim Brown Tours offered to take tourists on a tour of the Drakensburg Mountains and up the Sani Pass to the country of a Lesotho. The unique beauty of the Drakensburg mountains combined with the chance to add another country to my list sealed the deal. With the trip booked, I was told to be outside and waiting for my tour at 5:25 AM sharp.

I woke up at 4:30 on the morning of and was outside by 5:10. I waited until 5:25, no car. I reasoned that maybe they were on Africa time (this is actually a thing), and I waited until 5:45 until I emailed the tour operator. By 6 AM, I started to worry and called the tour operator twice. He finally called me back and said I had given the wrong address, and the tour had to go on without me.

I sulked, too tired to disagree, and walked back to my apartment with a feeling of defeat. I called Danielle and said I had messed up the address, and she consoled my tired mind. Within 5 minutes, Tim called me again and said that he had got it wrong (he had told the driver "Beach Road" instead of "South Beach Road"), and the driver initally couldn't find me. He apologized profusely and said the car was on the way, I excitedly told Danielle, dusted off the defeat, and within 15 minutes, the car had arrived and I was on my way to Lesotho.

Our driver and guide for the day was a man named Rudi Botha who had been up the Sani Pass over a hundred times with different groups. After giving us a quick itinerary for the day, he started giving me and my four colleagues background on the mountains and the mountain kingdom.

The first point of interest the town of Pietermaritzburg. This town is more infamous than famous in that it was the train stop where Ghandi, and all of his luggage, was thrown off the train for refusing to move out of the first class car. This is often cited as the seminal moment that would change Ghandi's worldview from one of a private citizen to the man who would eventually expel the British empire from his native India.

Rudi also taught us that Drakensburg literally translates to the "Dragon Mountains." The mountains are famous around the world for being the inspiration for the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. The author, J.R.R. Tolkien, was born in the nearby town of Bloemfontein in South Africa and spent the first three years of his life there before moving to England. When he wrote about the home of the dragon for the Hobbit, he had the Drakensburg range in mind. Between the Hobbiton tour in New Zealand for our honeymoon and seeing Ghandi's pyre in Delhi earlier this year, it felt like the day-trip was bringing my adventures of the last year full-circle.

Lesotho is a land-locked country completely surrounded by South Africa. The top of the Drakensburg mountains marks the border between the two countries, so we would have to travel to an elevation that was about two miles high to enter the kingdom. When we got to the base of the pass, we slowly meandered up the mountain in the 4x4. We climbed over 4,000 feet as green hillsides slowly morphed to frozen wateralls and small shrubs. The temperature at the base had been about sixty degrees with a light wind. By the time we made it to the top of the pass, and the entrance to Lesotho, the temperature had dropped to about 30 degrees and the wind had become fierce.

Entering the Drakensburg Mountains

Our 4x4 chariot

Look closely on the left, and you'll be able to see the tiny road that goes up the mountain

Rock formations that looked more like a Picasso painting

A view from the 4x4 on the way up

Near the heavens

Welcome to Lesotho

That's just over 9,400 feet, about two miles up

The wind was so fierce at the top that this flag had been ripped to shreds

Rudi has been coming to Lesotho for such a long time that he has deep connections with the villagers and the history. He informed us about the customs for entering a Lesotho household and that it was considered impolite to not try food or beer that was offered. He gave us a history of the Kingdom informing us that over 40% of people were living with HIV in the country (shockingly bad considered that the prevalence is less than 0.5% in the United States). I got to try traditional bread as well as a home-made beer which were both delicious.

A traditional village

The hut where we met the villagers

Traditional bread made with hot stones

Me trying traditional beer from Lesotho (it was only 2% and the host decided to put the hat on me)

The land looked like another planet, no trees, just clumps of grass

The second and last stop in Lesotho was a place called "the highest pub in Africa." I had a delicious ginger beer (called Stoney's, something my friend Susanna and I had discovered in Mozambique in 2010) and a huge hamburger as I peered out the window at the almost moon-like landscape. After we finished eating, we took the requisite pictures and then made our way back down the mountain pass.

The highest pub in Africa!

And what does one do at the highest pub in Africa? Have a ginger beer, of course!


Someone had a sense of humor

Making our way down the pass. If you look closely, you can see a tiny white truck on the road ahead of us.

Careful eaters

A frozen waterfall

The Drakensburg as the sun faded

Arriving back in South Africa

As we drove back to the beach city, I had thought about how fortunate I had been over the last few years. As a child, I had traveled with my family to a lot of national parks as well as international trips to Canada, Mexico, and an overseas trip to England and France. My own adventures began in South America in 2009, and by the time I was 27, I was able to say that I had finally set foot on five continents. In just the past 10 months, I had set foot on five different continents for the second time.

After 20 different countries, six different ones this year alone, I've decided that it's time to take a break from travel. Rest assured that there will be another adventure, but when that will be is anyone's guess. Thank you for following along, dear reader, and we'll correspond again before it's time for the next adventure. Until then, I wish you well on your own adventures and encourage you to take pictures and blog so that we can share in the spectacle!

Posted by mbeymer 15:23 Archived in Lesotho

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