Coming to Johannesburg was a surreal experience, I hadn’t seen Nick in a week and considering that we’ve been together 24/7 for a year , that was a long time! Nick had been staying at his friend’s Bhaskar’s house. They both picked me up from the airport. I was a bit zonked out because the trip had been long as hell. I had a 9 hour layover in Amsterdam where I spent roaming around the airport and sleeping for a couple of hours at the lounge. It was a rainy, cold day so I didn’t see much of a point of going out. I had to get my boarding pass printed out by Egypt Air since my flight was to go to Cairo and then from Cairo to Joburg. No one was to be found at the desk until an hour before the flight. When I got to the desk, the hostess told me that since I didn’t have a visa for South Africa I wouldn’t be able to board. I argued with her that as a US citizen I was eligible to get a stamp for a visa on arrival which I had verified with the Embassy of South Africa and the US Dept of State website and that my husband just flew from Australia to South Africa without issue. She called her supervisors and I had 2 more people telling me I couldn’t get on the flight. I fought and fought. I knew this was not true. I had checked up on this…visas and documentation are my job these days! They were trying to cover their ass and eventually made me sign a waiver saying that I was flying at my own risk. I was so pissed off…on top of that the hostess was one of those ladies that loves to deliver bad news with a cheeky smile at the end. Oh it could’ve been messy!
Nick had prepped me beforehand, telling me that South Africa is nothing of the Africa that you imagine. Johannesburg was just that…big shopping complexes, chain stores, chain restaurants, clean road ways and white people everywhere. It is really weird to see white people driving trucks with the black workers sitting in the truck bed in their blue jumpers or non-blacks stopped at intersections in their cars while black vendors knock at the windows or walk along the way to their home. Just not what I expected. At least from an outsider’s point of view, South Africa seems like a complex country to try to understand. Anyways…we spent a good few days with Bhaskar and Vandana and the family getting our stuff straightened out for the start of our second leg. We felt like we were in a slump. We kinda have been since Australia. We were having a hard time getting started again. It’s hard to describe the feeling. Most people think that we’re on this holiday. After a year of traveling to a new place everyday, Sydney was our first downtime. Ever since then we were in somewhat of a slump that was hard to get out of. But eventually we did…!
We knew we had to just put our stuff on the bike, whatever if we forgot something in our preparation…we just need to get back out there. We had it in our head that we had to camp to get us back into the swing of things. The whole day it was threatening to rain but by the end of the day we got sunshine and found a place to stay in Lydenburg with a great view of the rolling hills. The next day we were again faced with threatening clouds but some of the most amazing scenery in the Graskop area…the Three Rondavels (rondavel is a traditional rounded hut) and the gorgeous green, rolling hills of the Drakensburg escarpment. Much of the area is comprised of pine tree plantations which had their own beauty, cloaking the hills with dark green stripes. After thoroughly pleased, we found a campsite run by an Afrikaans-speaking family in Sabie that taught us some basic Afrikaans and spent time telling us about the area. That night we experimented and made some green curry a la MSR stove. Turned out good 🙂
the next day we decided to take a stab at Kruger National Park. Obviously bikes are not allowed into the park and we had the option of parking at a lodge and take a safari in. We decided against it. We figured we could do a safari elsewhere and possibly less crowded and touristy? Let’s see if that was the right decision! Instead we went to Swaziland! Its pretty easy immigration on both sides and the carnet is not an issue because Swazi, Lesotho, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia are a part of some sort of agreement where you don’t need to have your carnet stamped in and out. You only need to get the carnet stamped once you leave the ‘zone’ like once we leave Botswana, we will get stamped out when we go to Victoria Falls on the Zambia side.
Swaziland was quiet…calm…and definitely less developed than South Africa. We decided on camping out in Malolotja National Park on the northern side. We were surrounded by tons of antelopes grazing around mossy rocks reminiscent of the some Scottish moor. It was a beautiful evening!
The next day we rode down to the southern border along what was supposed to be a scenic route but we felt that the north was much more interesting. The south is definitely more touristy with expensive lodges around Piggs Peak etc.
We exited out into SA into Zululand (Kwazulu-Natal). The clouds looked menacing and by afternoon we were racing to get some accommodation. We had to take a road that was literally going through the clouds but with nowhere to stay or even pitch a tent we were stuck. We had 15kms to go to a place that we thought might have some guesthouses but we were too late. The rain came down in buckets, strong gusts of wind literally pushed us sideways, and the lightening was striking not too far off. We rode back down to a school but saw that the mud driveway had already been washed out and became a mini river. Across the street was a large compound. We saw someone moving around so I got off the bike and knocked on the gate. A man came running and opened the gate and allowed us to ride in and park under the shade. It had only been two minutes since the first drop of rain but the bike, us, and everything on the bike and in our pockets were soaked. Water seemed to get into every nook and cranny. The man ended up being the owner of the house. We chatted for an hour or so…but an hour turned into two…then three…and the rain was not letting up. It started to get dark and we realized we were either gonna have to pitch our tent here or ask for room to sleep. The man who knew some English told us we could sleep in his house but he seemed scared of his wife and wanted to wait for her. She turned out to be an election official for Zululand and was also related to King Shaka’s grandson who is now the King of the Zulus! When his wife got home she wasn’t the most welcoming but told us to come in. We were shocked…the house was literally flooded with water almost up to the knees. The man told us that he had accidently left the door open and thats
how the water got in. We knew he was trying to save face because a lot of furniture and things were hoisted up on wooden crates, so obviously this had happened before. We didn’t want the guy to be embarrassed so we got to helping him by scooping up water with cups into buckets and mopping up left over water. He got a real kick out of it that Americans were cleaning his house and he made it a point to take pictures of it! Nick and I were looking at each other like what the f*** did we get ourselves into?! the couple opened up a room for us and gave us a comfy bed and blankets to use. They were obviously one of the ‘well to do’ people of the village. the electricity had also gone out but luckily he had some kerosene lamps we could use. We didn’t want to put extra pressure on them so we told them we had eaten before and we were just going to head to sleep. We made a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, had a drink of rum and attempted to sleep. But before that the man told us that we had to go meet the King of the Zulus tomorrow morning, his wife would arrange it. We tried our best to get out of it but he would not take no for answer. The next morning we washed our face, brushed our teeth and tried to look presentable in whatever dry clothes we had. all we wanted to do was to get to Durban as fast as fast possible and take care of our stuff. Again the man was insistent so we obliged and rode our bike behind him to the Zulu king’s ‘palace’. It was a bit early and it seemed the King’s wives were not up yet and it took 40 minutes of us waiting at the gate until they let us in. Basically it was a long driveway full of cows and the usual cow dung that led us to a large house. It turned out we didn’t actually get to meet the king but some other men took us around the complex where we saw the pool, the outside of his room (seemed like bulletproof glass on the windows) and an old rondavel where King Shaka used to come up with tactics for battles and teach them to warriors). After thanking the man for giving us shelter, we left towards Durban. Ooh what a night…