October 3, 2006

South AfricaLesothoAs we drove over to the main Sani Top Chalet building for breakfast, the rain was turning to snow. There’s a weather station at Sani Pass, and the owner told us the temperature was 3° C.

Breakfast was at 7 am, the usual breakfast. Today we were leaving Sani Top to drive down the notorious 4×4 road to take us back to South Africa. At 8:15 am we left and drove to the Lesotho immigration office, which was just across the road. This turned out to be a very simple process; they just collected our passports and stamped them all without even looking at us.

So off we went down the road. The road is a bumpy dirt track with numerous hairpin turns and no guard rails to shield you from the precipitous drop. Still, we weren’t driving so it didn’t seem bad at all. Part way down we stopped and got out to take pictures. The scenery was quite spectacular, very green and lush as we got lower down. We saw several birds and a group of chacma baboons.

At the bottom of the valley we stopped at the South Africa immigration office and each went in to have our passports stamped. For the next couple of hours we drove through farmland as we continued our way to Underberg for a snack stop. Paul still wasn’t feeling well and Rosemary was feeling a bit queasy as well, so neither of us wanted to eat anything. We looked at the supermarket across the street so see if they carried the locally-made jam that we had eaten at Sani Top, but they didn’t. Our next stop was the pharmacy, where we bought some ibuprofen (from behind the counter) for Rosemary’s sore knees. Finally we had a look through the book shop at the little mall where we were waiting, but we didn’t see anything of real interest.

Craig and Charl were back after doing the grocery shopping, so we all squeezed past the boxes of groceries into the trucks, for the journey onward to Giant’s Castle. The route doubled back through Himeville, where we had filled the trucks with diesel earlier in the day, and then along a good dirt road through the foothills of the Drakensbergs. Along the way we were lucky enough to see Blue Cranes, South Africa’s national bird, and some Ground Hornbills, which even Charl was surprised by. We were lucky that he was our driver, as he was very knowledgeable about birds and plants and from time to time he would point out various things as we drove by them.

We arrived at the Giant’s Castle camp at about 3 pm and were assigned our huts. Initially we had #37 and Heather and Beckie had #38, but their hut had a double bed so we traded with them. The view from our hut was spectacular and the huts themselves were startlingly luxurious. Large covered deck to sit on, electric lights and heat, television, bathtub with shower and plenty of hot water, wood-burning fireplace with wood and fire-starters, and plenty of room to spread out in. It was too bad we were only staying here for one night!

Anyway, we had several hours before dinner, so we decided to go for a short walk up to the caves with the Bushman paintings. We knew that the guides there did not lead tours after 3 pm, so we wouldn’t be able to see the caves, but we thought the walk would do our various ailments some good. The trail was fairly level, only climbing slightly. It was still cloudy, as it had been all day, but luckily it was not raining, so it was a comfortable 45-minute walk through grasslands and into a little forested area where the caves were. Along the trail we saw a beautiful flower that looked very much like an amaryllis, at least the stalk and initial shoot did. We took some pictures so we could try to identify it later.

On the way back we went a slightly different route that took us past “Rock 75”. Rock 75 is where Colonel Durnford and his British army company were stationed for four months during one of the 19th-century South African wars. The company’s cook carved the company’s number, 75, on this rock in his spare time. Of which there must have been a lot, since the company’s task was to prevent people from using the pass.

Then we followed the river trail, but it was starting to get dark so we hurried along. We climbed back up to the camp and went by the camp shop. It was closed by then, so we headed back to our hut. We still had an hour to relax before dinner, so we did. Dinner was at 6:30 pm down at Craig and Charl’s hut. There was chicken stew with rice, patty-pan squash and mini-zucchinis. Dessert was very good: chocolate coconut biscuits on peaches with whipped cream. Extremely tasty and so easy to make. You put canned peach halves along with their juice into a frying pan, put the biscuit on top, then boil the liquid until the biscuit is softened.

We couldn’t find the Imodium we were rather certain we had brought, so we “borrowed” some from Kim. It turned out to be three years past its expiry date, but we hoped it would calm down Paul’s stomach. And Rosemary took some ibuprofen to calm down her inflamed knee. We tried out the showers, which worked excellently and made us feel much better, started a fire, and made a pot of tea. (It took us a few minutes to figure out the South African concept of having an on-off switch on every electric outlet.) We finished writing our journals and organized things for tomorrow, as we have to have our packs ready for loading on the trucks by 7 am.

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