Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Drakensberg I

Dear Friends and Family

Last week Floyd and I had a real “Out of Africa” experience. Have you ever seen the movie? Do you remember scenes somewhat like this, with miles of open grasslands and mountains in the distance? In our case, often the mountains were covered in mist; you could only see glimmers of their shapes. On the plains during the day, the sound of wind and call of the birds broke the silence. There was nothing around us for miles and miles and miles except the backpacker’s lodge we were staying in. The huts in the distances in this picture were at least 7 miles away; the people living in one of the most remote villages in the region, walking in and out. The mountains are about forty miles away. Distances seemed compacted because you can see so far. Behind the line of trees in the rolling hills is a huge crater called the Amphitheater. More about it later.

We were in the Drakensberg Mountains near Durbin in the eastern section of South Africa. While Cape Town tends to be hot and dry in summer; the Eastern Cape area has its rainy season, which cools the land significantly. Therefore, we were expecting cool days, cold nights, with rain each day. We did have some heavy rainfall, but most days were bright and sunny.

There is little to do in the Drakensberg except eat, sleep and hike. Most of the mountains are inaccessible unless you go on extended, multiday hikes. So, that is basically what we did in our four full days there.

Day 1 – We visited the Cathedral Peak area in the central Drakensberg to find out more about the San rock art in the area. There, some very informative displays depicted the life of the San and the interpretation of San figures. A lot of their culture evolved around elands, a type of bok. Over 80% of their art includes eland figures. Over 15,000 eland still roam the Drakensberg, but they are very elusive and roam high elevations.

Outside the museum there was a shop with the types of baskets made in the area, so we were able to pick up a few fine examples of local craft work. This is a very rural area, and this shop keeper did not speak a word of English. All communication was via hand signals, frowns and smiles.

For lunch we headed higher up Cathedral Peak to a provincial lodge. There we discovered the alternative reason for visiting the area. One of Becky’s PhD students needed some samples of baboon dung, so we were on the hunt for baboons. After inquiries at the lodge, as Floyd and I sat finishing our wine, Becky and Kurt headed up, and down, the mountain on the hunt. No luck today, maybe we will find them tomorrow.

So ended day one. We are headed to Lesoto tomorrow.

From under a tree somewhere in the northern Drakensberg, love to all.

Betsy and Floyd

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