In search of the Dragon: A taxi to Lesotho
The morning swallows darted above the long evergreen grass catching their morning meal as they did. The day was heating up exponentially to its sweltering humid conclusion. The loose sand, a steaming cesspool after yet another nights rain made walking in open shoes a kids delight. The monotony of the rolling hills broken only by the occasional Zulu hut or village all culminated into a vista people would pay a lot of money to see. It did make me feel like I was right at home standing here in the heart of Zulu-land And the thought of finding the dragon was all but gone put to rest for the time been.
Today’s activity would see the group all together, and not going it alone, crossing the South African border into a very small country comfortably nestled in her heart: Lesotho. But first we had to get there and Siya knew the way. Brown, Frisian and all black cows dotted the countryside as we made our way to the border post. It was a steep climb (but not for an African taxi bus) to the border all due to Lesotho being one of the highest countries in the world and surprisingly one of the least concerned over its borders. Evident by the lack of their border post at Mananatshe meaning it didn’t exist. However, there were remnants of it, but after having checked out of South Africa we essentially didn’t exist. It was a funny thought being a no body for a day; it was a symptom of the state of their nation.
Subsistence agriculturalist communities make up most of the country’s economy a misconception that accordingly makes them poor. Especially when it comes to the country’s GDP ranking it one of the poorest nations in the world. Its all about perspective though just meet a few of the locals like we did and you’ll soon realise they’re everything but unhappy. I mean if you just take a look around at the landscape and how the people live, probably like they have for thousands of years it’s difficult to argue whose living a more fulfilling existence. Nevertheless and in response to the guided tours the local communities do receive a fair amount of aid from establishments such as Amphitheatre backpackers. Its sort of an exchange for allowing tourists to come visit so they therefore donate funds in order to build schools; clinics and community centres.
My attention was for the most part consumed by the landscape a window into living on the roof of the world, mountainous, hilly and green. The distant cries of donkeys and Basotho ponies reverberated off of the cliff faces as we made our way up to a nearby cave. Frank did, on occasion, wonder off and make new friends with the local farmers almost getting lost in one instance, but it was fun seeing him dive headfirst into this adventure. At the cave Siya gave us a quick history lesson as to how the Basotho nation took shape and why it was never absorbed into South Africa. A legacy of siding with the winning team namely the British who were at war with the Zulu’s and later the Afrikaners. Shortly after we were treated to a viewing of ancient Bushman rock art and then made our way down to a nearby village.
Filled with homesteads fashioned into traditional round huts begged my curiosity as to why this was so. But the numerous children running around stopping to ask us for things hoping we would give them something, anything kept my attention instead. Siya then took us into a couple of homes to show us how the people lived, what they made and what they ate. He motioned to the flags flying above the huts; and explained that depending on what colour the flag was signified a different commodity on offer. It was almost always a food or drink item that was available due to it being in surplus. White stood for food, green for vegetables, red for meat and lastly yellow for beer and luckily for us today’s flags were all yellow. I had to admit the beer although strong in taste, made all the more so by the drum we were drinking it out off, was tantalising enough that you wanted more and more. The beer tasting was then followed with a quick walk to another hut whereupon we were presented with a local meal consisting of yellow pap made from corn served up with a helping of spinach. We then even had the chance to buy some of the local beer brewed exclusively in Lesotho and not sold anywhere else. A must buy if I if you ever get the chance.
A little tipsy and full of corn our last stop would be to the home of a Sangoma or traditional African healer. A man or women well versed in the arts of spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing. Sitting in a circle around him we were privileged to see him perform a traditional ceremony involving bone throwing, smoke blowing and intense meditation. Afterward we could ask him questions and he would summon the ancestors to help him answer them as concisely as possible. It was then I realised that my quest of finding the mysterious dragon of the Drakensberg hadn’t crossed my mind all day. Should I ask the Sangoma about this mystery, I was a little shy but asked anyway. His answer was simple “you’re the dragon, its in you, not hiding somewhere on the mountain. Your restless soul is like a sleeping dragon being awoken from a thousand year slumber now needing to find a new place to roost or it’ll remain awake for a very long time and you don’t want that.” So what he was saying I speculated was that I just needed to find my dragon a new place to roost.
Tian and Frank’s eyes were as big as saucers. I had to laugh for they couldn’t wait to ask Siya a million questions as he drove us all back to camp. In fact our whole group was still so wide eyed when we finally arrived back at camp that I just had to duck out into the bush and be in nature for a minute more. I was sure many of them couldn’t wait to get home and tell all the folks back home their great story. However, I could as I wondered aimlessly thinking about the Drakensberg Mountain Range. Its isolation had resulted in its nature and it’s people along with their traditions having retained some mystery and wild beauty. I had, it would seem, found the dragon and its place was here.
Quick Information Guide:
- There are multiple ways of getting there; by car, public transport (bus or train) or plane. All are available depending on your budget, but with your own car (or a rental) and then a ride on the Baz bus from Durban to the Drakensberg comes highly recommended by us.
- The Backpacker we used in Durban city, and considered one of the best ideally situated near uShaka Marina is the Happy Hippo. It’s a great place with a great rooftop terrace and close to the beach. Then in the Drakensberg (northern) we stayed at Amphitheatre backpackers. It’s breathtaking location at the foot of the Drakensberg mountain range with a undisturbed view of the amphitheatre with have you gawking for a minute or two every morning.
- At Amphitheater backpackers you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to activities. I’ll name just a few but the list is endless.
- Rock climbing
- Day trips to Lesotho (don’t forget to bring your passport!).
- Self guided hikes in the Royal Natal Park and so on.
- Just have a look on their website for more.
- Seriously the Natal midlands in Summer is like living in a tropical jungle at times. Humidly and torrential rain is the name of the game, but it’s always a quick spell and then it’s back to sunshine all day. Then because you’re probably going to be camping because it’s the best way to experience the Drakensberg you’re going to need more gear so be prepared to bring:
- Water repellant dry gear and raincoats.
- Camping equipment.
- Firewood and lots of insect repellant.
- Self catering gear for cooking and washing.
- And yourself.
By Slippery Joe Lyzard ©
Photography: Nomadic Bug ©
Nomadic Existence 2016 ©
Explore. Conserve. Discover.