Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New pictures!

Hello! We finally got the chance to add more pictures to old posts. Start with Otter Trail and move forward to check them out.

Augrabies Falls

We arrived at Augrabies Falls National Park unsure of our exact plans, other than that we were going to camp there that night. We had read about a three-day hike called the Klipspringer Trail, and asked about it at the reception desk. It was described as a popular hike of moderate difficulty. Upon inquiring about availability to start the next morning, we found out there was room! In fact, on this popular hike we were the only ones signed up! (The same thing happened at Blyde River, too.)

Before setting up camp we walked down to the falls the park is famous for. Here it is, Augrabies Falls, the world’s sixth largest waterfall:

A fair amount of the boardwalk was washed out from big floods this February. It is hard to imagine the water levels rising that high, and must have been quite a sight to behold.

At first glance this region seemed as if it would be fairly monotonous, but each day on the trail proved to be much more varied than expected. The semi-arid regions are usually quite beautiful to look at but don’t hold people’s attention for long. It takes a close eye to notice the subtleties and appreciate the fine details, so hiking through it was the perfect way to accomplish this.

The days included rock-hopping over boulders, walking past koppies (basically giant mounds of rocks), avoiding koppies with large baboons, sandy, dry riverbeds, and numerous wildflowers. On the second day we dropped down into the gorge where the Orange River flows and followed along on the banks for several kilometers. The boulder-hopping was fun, but very taxing on the body.

Anne with the Orange River

The trail was incredibly well-marked with little green signs, white arrows painted on the rocks, and rock cairns. With the terrain being what it was, this was essential. Otherwise, you could get lost very easily. As soon as one trail marker was passed, we instantly looked for the next one so the trail became a sort of connect-the-dots adventure.

Quiver Tree with Weaver Nest

Scary but beautiful desert flower

The first two days of hiking only took us about five and half hours each, so we had plenty of down time to read, play cribbage, and most importantly, plan Namibia. We only have the car until June 29, so every minute counts.

The trail was a great little desert getaway. We spent the hours scanning the horizons for kudu, springbok, klipspringer, eland, and giraffes. On the last day (ironically, while on a dirt road for a brief while), Anne spotted two klipspringer, but the giraffes and other ungulates completely evaded us.
Tomorrow it is on to the Kalahari Desert where black-maned lions await us…hopefully.

Friday, May 27, 2011

I love the bathroom.

Thursday night we slept in the bathroom. It wasn’t planned, nor was it because we had the runs, but it was necessary for getting any sleep. We had left Cape Town on Tuesday afternoon as planned and tried to drive all the way to the Cederberg Wilderness Area. The mad downpour prevented us from going down the gravel roads all the way to the campsite, so we stayed in a cheap hostel. The next two days offered a short good, but cold weather window and the rain cleared up beautifully. The Cederberg is a mountainous, semi-arid landscape filled with strange rock formations. We hiked up a small mountain to see a towering rock spire that was capped with an even larger rock called the Maltese Cross. The park also included hollowed out, twisting caves and a place called the Cracks where we crawled and rock hopped through cracks in massive cliffs.
Maltese Cross

Stone Trolls from the Hobbit


On Thursday we finished hiking earlier than expected and decided to try to get as close to Augrabies National Park as possible. Our travel bible, the Lonely Planet, mentioned a hotel about four hours up the road. When we arrived just after dark a woman was standing outside but otherwise it was deserted. We were the only guests for the night and chose to camp because it was much cheaper. I joked that maybe we should sleep inside the ablutions block, so we wouldn’t have to go as far for the bathroom. However, the weather was warmer and the land much flatter than in the Cederberg, so we prepared for an easy camping night. 

Everything was great until about three a.m. at which point the wind started howling. Our tent flapped about us, and the poles bent inward. Jeanette figured that as long as she was awake she might as well use the loo. As soon as she got out of the tent it started moving and the rain fly detached from its stake. Stupidly I got out of the tent to try to grab it, at which point the whole tent started to blow away. Jeanette came back at the right moment to hold it down. We re-staked it, got back in, and tried to get back to sleep.

We both tossed and turned for about two hours before finally giving in. As much as the wind made us feel like we were back at home in Unalaska, it was not conducive to sleep. We got out of the tent, held on tight, collapsed the poles, and carried the whole thing inside the bathroom. Our sleeping bags and mats fit perfectly in the space between the toilet stalls and the sinks. It really did make getting up to pee easier. No one at the hotel even seemed to notice. The next day we headed up to Augrabies Falls National Park.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


We saw African Penguins in the wild for the first time ever and it was fabulous!  Everything they do is super duper cute and I can’t stand it!  This really is the most adorable thing we’ve seen so far on this trip.  These creatures, formerly named Jackass Penguins due to the braying noise the males make, live on Boulder’s Beach in Simon’s Town.  They usually mate for life.  I could say more but the pictures are better.

"Bow down to me for I am your leader!!"

I know. Adorable.

Baby blues molting their down and heading toward adulthood

Monday, May 23, 2011

Finally made it to Cape Town!!

Cape Town is that rare gem of a place that you hear nothing but good things about from the people who live there and even from those who just visit.  For two months now (yes, we’ve already been here two months and are still in South Africa….) we’ve heard endless praise about this city.  We’ve thought of it as the anti-Johannesburg for weeks and viewed it as a sort of mecca of the South Africa portion of our trip.
There are many wonderful things about this city, the two most important being cheap, delicious food and penguins.  The highlight of our cheap, delicious food experience was the Eastern Food Bazaar, a collection of stalls with a plethora of choices – everything from Palak Paneer to Hummus and Pita to Indian Omelets to Pani Puri.  We ate here three times.  Penguins will be highlighted in the next blog.

The city is watched over by Table Mountain, a sandstone goliath that attracts tourists and locals alike.  We hiked up Plettenklip Gorge.  Anne’s most powerful outdoor skill is her ability to hike uphill at an impressive rate, so she went for it on this one.  The estimated time up is 2 hours and she made it in a mere one hour and five minutes.  My most powerful outdoor skill is not my ability to hike uphill at an impressive rate.  For a tourist treat and to save my aching knees after the Otter Trail, we took the tram down and it was actually pretty cool.  The floor slowly rotated so you had a view from all angles.  I thought that was a very nice touch compared to other trams that I’ve been on. 
Hiking up Table Mountain
View of Cape Town

Our hostel was a short walk away from the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, a monstrosity of a mall/shopping complex complete with a massive Ferris Wheel out front.  There were two movie theaters and we went to the artsy one and saw Jane Eyre.  I highly recommend it.  While it felt slightly foreign to sit in a movie theater and eat popcorn, it was lovely.

While my driving skills are constantly improving, Cape Town threw me several new curves, such as lots of street parking and lots of pedestrians.  One of the more intense (but scenic) drives was the road to Hout Bay which consisted of narrow, winding roads with a mountain on one side and the Atlantic Ocean 100m below on the other.  That alone would have been fine, but this shoulder-less road was a favorite with bicyclists who were either suicidal or short on biking etiquette and insisted on riding up to four bikers deep with nary a care of the car approaching them from behind on a hairpin turn. Luckily we and they made it out alive, and we took a fabulous but short cruise to see a giant fur seal rookery. (Because we just don’t see enough marine mammals at home.)
Cape Fur Seal colony

The Cape Town experience would not be complete without a drive down to the Cape of Good Hope, where the tourism industry incorrectly touts this point as the meeting place of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans (the real point is Cape Agulhas some 200 kilometers east).  It was still beautiful though and we did a nice hike out to the point.
Cape of Good Hope

Between the museums, outdoor opportunities, delicious eateries, and shopping, we ended up being here for four non-stop days, and really only left because we were spending too much money and promised ourselves we’d be in Namibia by June 1.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Little Karoo

We finished the Otter Trail mid-day on a Wednesday and still hadn’t decided exactly what to do next. We felt pressured to finally get to Cape Town and leave South Africa but when camping in Wilderness we met a lovely couple who invited us to visit them in the Karoo. The Karoo is a vast, open, semi-arid region of South Africa that is surrounded by mountains. We had only vaguely considered going there, but John and Ann spoke so highly of their little town, Prince Albert, that it was hard to resist their invitation. It’s rare that you meet people who so sincerely love where they live.

After finishing the trail we headed north to Outdshorn, the ostrich capital of the country. The town and its innumerable ostrich farms boomed during the ostrich feather craze of the 1800s. Apparently they even had a large population of Jewish ostrich barons. Now the birds are farmed for meat and to offer ostrich rides to tourists. Note, however, that you can’t ride one unless you weigh less than 136 pounds. They don’t include that fact in the brochures… The ostrich farms were desolate looking places for the most part: dirt fields with flocks of giant birds eating out of old tires, though some were in large grassy fields. We only stayed in the town because it was getting too late to drive any further.

The next day we stopped by the Cango Caves before heading up Swartberg Pass. The caves house amazing rock formations but are heavily commercialized. However, unlike similar attractions in the States, they offer a tour that lets you crawl through tight, awkward spaces. This shockingly fun option is only offered to the “lean” but luckily Jeanette and I qualified because they really just mean the not overly chubby. Apparently a few years ago a woman was stuck in one crack for over 11 hours. It took three rescue teams and many gallons of soap to get her out. We didn’t get stuck, though my bizarrely awkward way of getting through the “Chimney” was a close call...

The last segment of our journey to Prince Albert was driving over the Swartberg Pass. The twisting, steep gravel road through rugged, rocky mountains truly is a feat of engineering. Jeanette’s ability to drive it in a small two-wheel drive stick-shift was a feat of will and amazing driving abilities. I never could have done it. I prefer my bike. We safely made it over and to the quaint olive-growing town of Prince Albert.
Cool rocks

The easy part of Swartberg Pass

John and Ann moved to the town about 16 years ago after living in Cape Town for about 30 years. We sat with Ann in the back of their pick up as John drove us around the town. Ann pointed out all of the various houses that John, an architect, helped build or refurbish and all of the local landmarks. It was evident how much they still enjoyed and respected each other, even after over 40 years of marriage. Before leaving for Cape Town the next morning John took us on a botanical tour of the semi-arid koppies that surround the town. The wide-open landscape is filled with small succulent plants and rocky soil, perfect for growing very tasty olives. We walked back through the town, where John seemed to know everyone and all of their stories.
Prince Albert

Though we didn’t fully plan on it, the side trip to the Karoo was fully worth it. It was nice to step away from the normal backpackers trail for a while and experience both crazy tourism and wonderful hospitality. It will be fun to show John and Ann around Alaska some day.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hiking the Otter Trail

After leaving Addo we decided to head west toward Cape Town along the Garden Route. Along the way was Tsitsikamma National Park, home to the highly-acclaimed Otter Trail. The two sentence description in the Lonely Planet said it was one of South Africa’s best hikes and that it needed to be booked almost a year in advance, though sometimes people canceled. We decided to call and check availability and by some stroke of luck, spots remained for the next week. Sure, it was expensive and all we knew about it was that it was popular, but we decided to go ahead and book it.

Over the next week we wandered through the Garden Route. We hiked on dunes and by lakes in Wilderness. Kynsna showed us how the other half lives in fancy resorts with beautiful yachts on a placid lagoon. Sedgefield, the mosaic capital of South Africa, has very few fantastic mosaics but amazing fossilized dunes. We told various people that we were about to hike the Otter Trail, and they warned us that the hike was strenuous, and we would have to ford a river with water up to our necks. Those were details the Lonely Planet didn’t mention, but we decided to do it anyhow.

The 42 km-long trail was divided into five fairly short days of hiking, and each night was spent at a different hut. Six others started the hike the same day, so we shared huts and walked together. Luckily, all of them (Nicola and Elizabeth, John and Anne, and Chris and Almyr) were fabulous people and fun to be around. Many of them seemed to have profound reasons for doing the hike, like celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary or hiking to prove that they had finally overcome unhealthy habits. Many of them did more research on this one trail than we had for our entire nine-month, cross-continental trip. Jeanette and I were impressed and humbled. It was nice to join such an interesting and dedicated group.

From the start the talk was of crossing the Bloukrans, the big river that we would encounter on the fourth day. The river had to be crossed at low tide, which happened to be at 9:33 am. In order to get there on time, we had to start hiking by 5 am and cover 10.3 km. John had luckily hiked the trail twice before and said it wouldn’t be an issue to cross, though we would probably have to swim. Swimming is not exactly my strong suit, so I was determined to arrive by 9:15 at the latest.

The first and second days of hiking were fairly mellow though beautiful. The well-maintained trail stayed along the coast and wandered from beaches to indigenous forest. The second day was filled with steep climbs, much like going up endless staircases, and beautiful beach stops. That, of course, meant many chances for Jeanette and I to pause and have snacks. 

All eight of us hiked at our own paces, but we met up occasionally along the trail. At one rest, Alymer and Chris stopped to say hello while we chomped on some trail mix. Now, that may seem like a normal, simple thing to eat. You pop in the nuts, you chew. But humor me here and run your tongue around your mouth. Do you feel how much room you have in the roof of your mouth? It’s cavernous. That delightful space actually has a massive effect on your ability to eat. Fill it with a piece of plastic affixed to a fake tooth, and eating becomes a dreadful load of work. So in order to eat trail mix, I take out my tooth, which means I had to explain to Chris and Almyr why I looked so odd. And here’s what I learned: I’m fashionable. Okay, well, halfway fashionable. Almyr said that for a while people of mixed race in Cape Town, Cape coloureds, would have their front two teeth purposefully removed. Two healthy teeth pulled just to look good. Even her brother did it, though within a few years he filled the gap with fake ones. Here I was, slightly embarrassed by my gapping gums, and in truth, I was nearly fashionable. So here it is, folks, my new look, all courtesy of a dead tooth and new confidence installed on the Otter Trail.

Okay, just kidding. I still wear my fake tooth. Anyhow, back to the trail.
The Otter Trail is just as stunning as people say. The entire hike you are awestruck by amazing views and stunning coves. We even saw birds, seals, and clawless otters. The first three days passed without much incidence and with many peaceful hours of down time. All of the rivers were easy to cross, and the trail was straight forward to follow. When we approached the hut on the third day we ran into a ranger. When asked about the Bloukrans River crossing the next day he seemed completely cavalier about it. “Don’t worry about getting up early,” he said. “What’s the point of hiking in the dark? If the river is too high, you just hike up the escape route to the highway, and a ranger will drive you across the bridge and close to the last hut.” He didn’t mention that the escape route requires a two hour uphill hike nor did he think of our pride. We were not skipping the Bloukrans.

On day four everyone was out of the camp by 5 am and hiking with headlamps. The full moon was dulled by the overcast sky and blocked by the forest. Luckily the steep uphill climbs of the previous days had mellowed and the 10 km hike to the river, which was three km longer than any of the previous days’ total hikes, was fairly flat. Even hiking mostly in the dark, and stopping for a snack or two, we all made it in time. The tide was out as far as it went, and Chris went on a scouting mission. He found a series of sandbars where the water only went up to your waist. It was shallow enough to walk through but too deep for wearing packs. Since the other six hikers had done their research, they knew to bring dry sacks for carrying packs across. Jeanette and I didn’t, so we are forever grateful that they let us borrow theirs. The river crossing, which was eternally fretted over, was fairly simple. We made it easily and were even joined by an otter that was curious about the weird two-legged creatures and unwieldy red bags wandering through its territory.
In truth, much more daunting than the river, was the part of the trail after the river. We had to use ropes to pull us up thin bits of rock on the edge of a cliff above more rock. In retrospect, it wasn’t that bad. We weren’t high up, and the rock provided decent handholds. At the time, though, it was exactly everything I hate all in one go – steep slippery edges near potentially deadly water. But I only made Jeanette carry my pack for a few feet. I’d like to think I’m getting better. The next three km of the day were fine.

Overall, the Otter Trail is known as one of South Africa’s best hikes for a good reason. It takes you onto a truly wild and majestic coast without being too taxing, and our companions were delightful, especially the otters. The whole experience was otter-ly fabulous.  (Also, Alymr, I made you a fun graphic with your name in stars like you requested, but I can't get it to upload right now.... Sorry. :) )

From Left to Right: Almyr, Anne, Ann, John, Chris, Elizabeth; Bottom: Jeanette, Nicola

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Addo Photos

The photos are now posted on the Addo Elephant entry.  I forgot to mention before that we also got to see lots and lots of cape buffalo!!!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Addo Elephant Park

Elephants are big!!!

The first thing we did after leaving Port Elizabeth with our rental car was to head to Addo Elephant National Park. We didn’t arrive until late in the day but still had time to do a 2-hour drive around before sunset. It was overcast and rainy all day, so we didn’t have a lot of luck seeing many animals but we did encounter this awesome guy right at the end of the day.

It was unfortunate that we couldn’t linger a while to watch him, but it was really fantastic to see an elephant this up close and personal.

That night we camped in the park and while it did rain a lot, it didn’t rain on our parade. The next day we got up and spent a good six hours driving slowly around the park to look for more animals. Although it was quite far away (and our new camera is awesome to capture this) we did see three lions, my (Jeanette's) first ones ever in the wild.

Other highlights included lots of zebras, red hartebeest, black-backed jackals, dung beetles, and kudu.

Nearing the end of the day we were lamenting the fact that we hadn’t seen many elephants. The three we saw earlier in the day were quite hidden by the vegetation they were eating. However, one of them was a baby, and while none of the photos turned out, was one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen. (Note to reader: Jeanette says every baby animal is the most adorable thing she’s ever seen. In fact, she says everything is adorable lately, even a fake tortoise graveyard set up by the road to tell people to watch out for them. She’s on a mini is cute kick. It’s funny. But I’ll admit that the mini white frog was really cute.) Then suddenly, around a hairpin turn, just to the right of the car was the biggest elephant I have ever seen in my entire life, including those on TV. He was enormous and we sat for 10 seconds just watching him in awe.

Then he began to saunter very close to the road, and our car, and we had that momentary realization that even though he was in no way threatening, he could easily just decide to become threatening and annihilate our puny little car. So we backed up. A lot. Then he just began casually walking down the road without a care in the world, so as soon as he was a safe distance ahead of us we would drive up a bit and continue to watch him. After about 10 minutes we saw two other cars come up in the opposite direction and we kept watching them back up as the elephant got closer. From our vantage point it was crazy to see how much the elephant dwarfed those cars. In another 10 minutes or so the elephant took a path to the right back into the woods and moved on as if he couldn’t have cared less whether he made our day by being there or not. It was awesome to be that close to a creature than enormous.

Dung Beetle



Red Hartebeest

Black-Backed Jackal

Cape Buffalo

Drive It Like It’s A Rental!

Never have these words rung more true than for me right now. The big news is, yes, we rented a car!!! And we have it for a long time! We knew we needed one for Namibia because it’s very difficult to get around on public transit. Then we decided we wanted a car for the Northern Cape area because there are several really awesome-sounding parks with great hiking and/or animals. Long story short, we decided to rent a car in Port Elizabeth and keep it until Windhoek, Namibia for a total of 52 days. It’s awesome having a car. We have the freedom to do whatever we want whenever we want. The world (i.e. South Africa and later Namibia) is at our fingertips.

There are, however, a few caveats to driving in South Africa that I will probably get used to right around the time we have to return the car:

1)You must drive on the other side of the road. Yes, the one that goes against all instinct when behind the wheel. It’s really been just a matter of constantly reminding myself which lane to be in at all times. The scariest parts are when you have to turn because then you have to think about it – left turns are now easy but right turns you have to look both directions before going or it could be the last thing you forget to do.

2)The driver’s seat is on the right side of the car. This sounds like merely a trifle after having to drive on the other side of the road, but really it’s not. It means that your spatial relationship with your car and where it is on the road is off kilter, most notably the entire left side.

3)It’s a stick shift. And yes, I did already know how to drive a stick, thanks to Anne who taught me on her car last year in Dutch Harbor. It’s just different here what with the speed limit being above 30 mph, there being more than five cars on the road at a time, all the traffic lights, and lots and lots of pedestrians. Also you shift with your left hand. The car has been a really good sport while I deal with all these nuances of driving. While I do tend to stall out occasionally, I like to think it’s usually just when I have to go from a dead stop on an uphill part of the road. This seems to occur with most stop signs that I’ve encountered but so far has not deterred me in the slightest!

We have a car and we’re going to use it!!!

Good Times

We’ve heard a few comments lately about the hardships or hassles we’ve endured thus far on our journey. It made us realize that maybe sometimes we (I) use the blog to vent about crappy hostels, the trials and tribulations of traveling on public transit, and almost getting mugged. So I just wanted to take a brief moment to reassure our dear readers that it’s all been worth it. Whatever has come our way on the travels so far has been completely worth it. I think we just write about it because it’s been different or interesting or ridiculous. This trip – hands down – is the best decision of my life.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Wild, though pushy, Coast

We’ve heard repeatedly throughout our trip that the Wild Coast and Coffee Bay in particular are not to be missed, so this was our next destination. After one particular 2 ½ hour taxi ride in Lesotho with my pack on my lap and a 102°F fever last week I decided I was done with taxis for a little while, so we took a bus to the Wild Coast. It ended up being an overnight bus that was supposed to leave at 11:55 PM and arrive at 7:05 AM but instead left at 1:15 AM and arrived at 9:25 AM. We both slept a bit and were pleasantly awakened at 6 AM when the driver started blaring rap music on a bus with no individual volume controls for the speakers. After this bus ride we took another three hour bus ride to a different city and then a 1 ½ hour shuttle to Coffee Bay. Turns out that South Africa is really, really big. Much bigger than I ever realized and sometimes a real bus is well worth the expense.

Coffee Bay has three backpackers that we have termed The Party Hostel, The Dirty, Pushy Hostel, and The Other One. Through a series of events and partly by default we ended up at the Dirty, Pushy Hostel. They definitely had the best campground of all three and in that regard this hostel was the right choice for us. In other regards it was dirty and pushy, namely the kitchen was dirty and some of the staff was pushy. We have stayed at a lot of backpackers in the past month and a half, and this one gets the vote - hands down - for the most disgusting kitchen of them all. There were plates of half eaten meals on the counters, a sink full of dirty dishes, pots and pans, a dropped egg left under the door of the refrigerator, a bowl in the fridge containing one slice of a rotting apple. You get the picture. We ended up staying four nights due to the fourth night being free and having to wait for the guided hike we really wanted to do. We cooked the first two nights and then we were too disgusted to return to the kitchen and simply ate out the rest of the meals.

The staff member who did the guided hikes was, I’m sure, a very nice guy but he was very pushy. He really wanted us to take all of the guided hikes offered by the hostel and kept after us about it, but we heard from other guests that these same guided hikes were offered by the other hostels at much cheaper prices. We checked into this and it was true, so we booked a guided hike with each of the other hostels. Then we avoided the pushy guide at our hostel. He was also in a drum band that performed tri-weekly at the hostel and we were invited repeatedly to hear him perform. On the nights they didn’t perform there were free drumming lessons for donations that we were invited to three times in one night. Okay, enough complaining about the hostel. It left some things to be desired but what do you do? It was good for camping. Oh wait, one more complaint. On our last night we decided to upgrade to a dorm room because we had to get up very early the next morning and it would help us pack up quicker. But now we have bug bites all over our bodies. Anne even has bug bites in her belly button. Seriously. So we think there were bed bugs.

Coffee Bay was very beautiful. There were trees and cliffs and beaches. I don’t quite know how to word it, but there was a weird feeling to the place as a tourist. I think it had to do with a meeting of the poor and those who came with money. The hostel warned us more than most places to be careful and not to leave anything anywhere. Any time we left the confines of the hostel we were approached by someone asking for money or asking us to buy something – beads, grass bracelets, firewood, mussels, weed. We were even occasionally approached while inside the confines of the hostel. I found it very off-putting. Anne was even approached by a boy who wanted to kiss and hug her for money. It was disturbing.

I was on antibiotics during this time from whatever I had last week (the doctor thought maybe Tick Bite Fever or some other infection from a tick or flea bite, but I’m not sure how he could tell because he spent more time talking to Anne than me). Since I had a year’s supply of doxycycline that I wasn’t going to use, he said to just take it for this infection. I had to take two a day so the sun sensitivity was doubled, which is unfortunate since we spent three days on the beach. My face was bright red and felt like it was on fire no matter how much sunscreen I put on. It made my fingertips and nose tingle. Definitely done with doxy now.

While in Coffee Bay we spent time reading books on the beach, swimming in the Indian Ocean, and just generally relaxing. We did two hikes, the first to the Mapuzi Caves and the second to Hole-in-the-Wall. The caves were pretty cool and very beautiful, right on the beach with waves crashing in to shore and inhabited by goats. Our last day there we went to Hole-in-the-Wall, which was awesome. It really was just a hole that was worn away by water through a rock wall but it was beautiful, and also beautiful was the three hour hike back along cliffs overlooking the ocean. It was a definite highlight of our stay here for both of us and certainly redeemed some of the weirdness from the begging and the hostel.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pony Trekking

There are certain things you are supposed to do when you visit certain places. In Egypt you have to go to the Pyramids. When visiting Paris you climb the Eifel Tower. In Las Vegas you get drunk and marry a stranger in a brief ceremony presided over by Elvis. In Lesotho, the Mountain Kingdom, you go on a pony trek.
Pony treks are available everywhere in the country and last anywhere from an hour to a week. The name is a bit misleading, however, because you clearly hire a full-sized horse, not a pony, to ride high above the rocky, narrow paths through the steep mountains. I knew this before I became bound and determined to go on a pony trek. I also knew that, in truth, I’ve never really liked horses. I grew up riding my mom’s high-strung, jumpy, slightly crazy Saddlebreds, and my lack of balance prevented me from ever really taking to it. But we were in Lesotho and Jeanette was feeling a bit healthier, and you’d better believe we were going on a pony trek.

 We opted to join another traveler on a three-hour trek to see San cave paintings. It was characterized as an easy ride, though it started with a steep downhill rocky section in the middle of the village. I thought this would be fine. Our horses looked sturdy and mellow. The guides said we wouldn’t have any troubles. When I mounted my horse, everything came back to me. I sat up straight, heels down, reins held properly, and I thought, I can do this! Then the horse started moving and completely ignored absolutely everything I did. It was like trying to control a cat or a raging two-year-old child. It didn’t actually matter that I was there. Suddenly, all of my distaste for horses came back to me and I realized what a dumb idea this was. Unfortunately we still had two hours and 58 minutes left to the ride. Great. The guide noticed that I wasn’t doing so well and told another guy to take my reins from me. I thought he would just lead me down the hill, but instead he led the horse the entire ride. That’s fine; I just held on to the saddle and watched the scenery go by. Jeanette had better luck, and her horse listened to her, but sitting on the saddle made both of our bums hurt. I decided walking was much better than riding. 

The San paintings looked very similar to others we had seen – faded images in red and black of elands, shamans, and dream walkers. Some figures you could easily discern whereas others just looked like faded lines. Our “guide” didn’t help explain them or their meanings, so I read a sheet out loud given to us by the lodge. I have to admit that as much as I like art and learning about ancient cultures, I’ve decided that I might have seen enough San paintings. Especially ones that have to be seen by horse.

That afternoon Jeanette rested, and I hiked to a waterfall. Lesotho really is beautiful, but it’s also very, very cold.  Cold to the point that our 15 degree sleeping bags couldn’t keep us warm camping and we had to stay in hostels. (The best hostel had six blankets on each bed. Seriously.) The temperature was down to about 18 degrees the night before our pony trek, so we decided that once we fulfilled that obligation we would head back to cozy South Africa and the Wild Coast. We’re now out of the cold, away from the wretched “ponies” and on to our next tourist obligation. I’ve decided I no longer need to do the things that you are supposed to do at different sites, except get married by Elvis of course. That’s still a dream of mine.