Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hike up the Tugela

Yesterday, I decided that my Drakensberg stay wouldn't be complete without, you know, a little bit of old-fashioned legwork around the mountain ranges, so I signed up for a shuttle to take me to the Royal Natal National Park.

That's not to say that I put my chips in for a guided tour along the mountains. Oh ho, no. See, I'm a bit of a cheapskate. I sleep in tents and eat noodles. And while something like R400 is considered acceptable for a guided day-long hike amongst some of South Africa's most glorious peaks, I can't say that my wallet is entirely thrilled at the prospect of parting with that money for a walk. Unlike 99% of the people who pass through most backpackers, I'm not a foreigner: I earn in rands, I travel in rands, I suffer in rands.

So anyway, summary of the whole thing: guided hike costs 400 bucks and takes people along the mountain range to the top of the Tugela Falls (basically one of the highest waterfalls around). Shuttle to Royal Natal and entrance fee came to R60 and afforded me a gorge hike that took me to the base of the waterfall. Bonus points because the gorge hike was both warmer and easier.

While I enjoyed my stroll, mountaineers were freezing their arses off on this escarpment.

The Drakensberg is awfully scenic, and has a lot of winding trails that take you to all sorts of nice places. I personally went along a trail that closely followed the Tugela river. Being winter, the river was mostly dried up, but it still offered an interesting scene or two for my camera to snap up.

Of course, my pics suck anyway, so it doesn't make a difference.

There was also a bit of wildlife hanging around the path: namely, a bunch of baboons that dotted the trail here and there. Admittedly, they made me a little nervous at times: I hear that they sometimes kidnap and eat human infants, and due to my rather spry frame, I was worried that they'd mistake me for an infant. And I absolutely hate being carried off and eaten.

But seriously? They belt out some of the most frightening sounds at an unbelievable volume – at one point, I nearly fell over when I heard what I thought was an angry simian creature standing right behind me – it turned out that it was a noisy little bugger practically standing on the opposite end of the gorge who was the source of the crazy racket.

If I recall correctly, this was the culprit. He was barely visible.

About two-thirds of the way through the hike, I met up with a group of students from Holland. They were a notable bunch because one of them was called Zoltan, which is possibly the most awesome name in existence. We went along the rest of the trail together, exchanging smalltalk and trying to figure out just how badly lost we were. We even decided to take a brief stroll along the dried-up riverbed after the trail came to an unceremonious halt just short of the falls.

Dried-up waterfall in the background, random Hollandaisy dudes in the front.

Lovely day walk, though I'm glad it finished up before evening struck: I swear, the moment that the sun disappears over the mountains, it's as if somebody flips a switch from “sweltering heat” to “bloody chill”. When you're in the berg, DON'T get caught in the shadows. Pitch Black style, yo.

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