October 6, 2006

South AfricaToday was the last hike of the tour. We got up for breakfast at 7:30 am—yoghurt, tea, pancakes with jam, and scrambled eggs—and were off in the trucks about 8:15. Our destination today was the Tugela Gorge Trail in the Royal Natal National Park. Luckily the sun was shining, so it promised to be a good day. On the way we saw two zebras in a field beside the road, and also a Bald Ibis.

It didn’t take very long to get to the trailhead, so by 9:15 am we were hiking up Tugela Gorge. The trail was extremely well maintained, wide and flat and well-graded. It followed a contour along the grassy slope, with views across the Tugela River to the massive 5-kilometre-long wall of the Amphitheatre. This went on for a couple of hours, after which the trail entered some woods and started to go up and down a bit, ending up at a suitable lunch spot beside the river.

Some of us followed a white arrow that indicated a trail leading off to the left. We climbed for about 15 minutes until we reached a dead end and still could not see the waterfall, so we retraced our steps back to the river and ate our packed lunch there. The Sungubala people had packed each of us a lunch; the cheese and tomato sandwich was good for Paul but not for Rosemary, but we both agreed that the fried chicken leg was excellent.

For the return trip, Charl led a group (Neil, Sean, Kim, Ben, and Gary) boulder-hopping down the river bed, while the rest of us followed the trail back the way we had come. Along the trail were several Natal bottle-brush trees in full bloom and several large blue Scilla bulbs. By 2:30 pm we arrived back at the parking area, and Craig drove us down to the reception centre. The curio shop had the same sort of things as the one at Giant’s Castle, so we bought ourselves ice-cream bars instead. A nice treat after a long hot walk! It wasn’t long before Charl came down with the other group, and we all drove back to Sungubala. Originally we had planned to go to Didema to see more Bushman paintings, but by this time it was too late to fit that in.

We had a cup of tea and a shower, and tidied up our packs a bit. Tomorrow would be the last day of the tour, and after that we wouldn’t be needing things like Gore-Tex rain pants. But we would finish packing tomorrow. Neil and Christine had appointed themselves to be in charge of organizing the thank-you cards and tips for Craig and Charl, so we signed the cards and put in what we calculated was an appropriate tip for 13 days of tour-leading.

Dinner was about 7 pm and today something different again. Today it was stir-fry, so we got to choose from bowls of meat and vegetables and stir-fry them ourselves in skottels, which are basically woks powered by propane canisters. We could choose from beef or chicken, then added onions, carrots, beans, and peppers. Once cooked we had white rice with it. An excellent meal! For dessert we had vanilla ice cream with Amarula, then tea and coffee. We stayed quite a long time after dinner. Craig was at our table, and he is very knowledgeable about South African history and political affairs, so we had a good discussion. We finally went to be at 10:15 pm.

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