It’s been awhile. I apologize. I am a horrible person for keeping you all hanging. I know everyone is living vicariously through me and my adventures in South Africa and I hate to be so cruel. So, here’s an update on what’s been happening…

The last weekend (the 22nd-26th) before the start of classes, the girls of House 8, plus Cayci, wanted to get out of Pretoria and do something active before sitting on our rear ends in lecture halls at Tuks. (Tuks is the unofficial/ common name for the University of Pretoria) So we decided that we should go on a weekend trip to the Drakensberg Mts and do some hiking. We decided this on Friday night and we wanted to leave on Sunday morning. So I got up early on Saturday and in four hours I had figured out all the logistics of our trip. We decided to take a bus to a city called Nelspruit and from there take one of the numerous mini bus taxis to a little town called Sabie and stay in a hostel there. I picked out the best bus going to Nelspruit. Imke called the company and made a reservation for four seats there and back and got a reference number. We headed down to the bus station by cab taxi (80R) to pay for our tickets. We arrived in the SA Roadlink bus office and spoke to a very rude counter person who then informed us that we couldn’t pay for the tickets, despite having a reference number, and would have to call tomorrow morning two hours in advance to see if the bus was even heading out.
“So it’s not guaranteed  that the bus is going?” Imke asked.
“But we have a reference number…” Imke replied.
“Yes, I know. You still need to call.”
“But we have a reference number…”
“Yes, but the bus might not be going out tomorrow.” replied the counter guy.
“Wait, so if we go, there’s no guarantee that the bus will be coming back either?” I asked.
“So we might not be able to get back?”
“Well, you just lost 8 fares!” I was a bit snippy, I admit, and I led the way out of the office.

Cayci, as cheerful as ever, suggested that we pop into the Greyhound SA office next door, “just to check”. They not only could guarantee the bus out but the bus back as well. So we snapped up those tickets in nothing flat.

We all packed a pack and left Sunday morning. The 4 hour drive from Pretoria to Nelspruit was gorgeous. The flatish grasslands slowly morphed into hills, then into small mountains with a very aesthetically pleasing combination of grassland and trees.

When we got to Nelspruit, we inquired at the Greyhound office where the plaza was so that we might catch one of a minibus taxi. The two women in the office, both black, became alarmed, told us that we couldn’t go out into the city because it wasn’t safe for us nor could we grab a minibus as the drivers were on strike and fighting each other. We were a tad baffled but complied and had the ladies call a regular cab to take us to Sabie, 60 km away.

The taxi ride, although enjoyable, cost us 800R. Although, only about $110, 800R is a TON of money around here and an absolutely ridiculous amount to pay for transport. But we got to the hostel, in the pouring rain, and checked in. Then the power went out. We sat in the rapidly darkening hostel until 6pm or so. We were then informed by Pieter, who worked at the hostel, that he would take us to go eat something and then take us on a night hike by one of the waterfalls to go see the little glowing mushrooms that are common in the area.

He drove us to the only place open in Sabie during the power outage, an Italian place, that was only making pizzas that night using their wood oven. It was quite delicious. We also discovered that cream soda in South Africa is not amber colored. It is indeed a bright green. Fantastic.

The hike was fun. We had a crazy ride up to the fall in the back of Pieter’s truck. No seats. Just the four of us, plus Michael from Finland and Nikki the dog, balancing on top of the wheel wells. We got to the place, it was pitch black and we set off. Cayci and Krista ended up holding my hands. I walked in front of them but behind Pieter and Michael. We walked and walked, I eventually could see quite a bit as my eyes adjusted and then Pieter pointed out the first bunch of mushrooms. At first I couldn’t see them then I realized the tiny glowing dots on the ground were the mushrooms. They looked like little faerie lights. So cute. Pieter had me turn on my flashlight to look at them then had me switch it off and they glowed even brighter. Amazing.

We headed further down the path and came to the waterfall itself. There was a small bridge going across the stream so we got to go right in front of the waterfall. It was breathtaking. My first sight of a South African waterfall was at 9 o’clock at night and it was gorgeous. It wasn’t terribly big, maybe 20 meters (60 ft.) but the noise was amazing and the stars were out and I couldn’t speak.

Pieter told us to try and take pictures of the waterfall. We complied and I have about 5 pictures of water droplets and no waterfall. We left, even though I wasn’t ready, and trekked back down. We stopped a couple more times to look at more mushrooms and at the bottom where the truck was, Krista had me try and write my name with the flashlight. That failed but we had a good time trying. We bumped back down to the hostel, played a game of cards and went to bed.

In the morning we got up and donned wetsuits, helmets, and overshorts called “Rubberbutts” and headed out, in the back of the truck, to a park/nature reserve to go canyoning. Canyoning, also called Kloofing, is an extreme outdoor activity in which one climbs in and out of a stream/river, clambers over and off rocks, through caves etc. and the goal is to traverse across/down a canyon and back out. It’s like wet ‘n wild hiking…for four hours.
We climbed into a mine shaft and out again; we jumped into waterfall pools and swam across; we went under waterfalls; stumbled along the river bottom; went halfway up the canyon side only to after climb/fall back down. I fell down so much that I think my bum is permanently indented. At one point, traversing across a large flat rock submerged under water, my feet slipped out from under me and I ended up doing the splits half in the water and laughing like mad. Thank God for almost 10 years of dancing or that would have been severely painful instead of simply surprising and uncomfortable.

I discovered I am much tougher than I thought. I canyoned for four hours, fell down more than anyone and still managed to laugh every time and make it out of the canyon with mostly good spirits.

Another time, when we went halfway up the side of the canyon and were trying to get back down, we had come to the edge of a large rock that simply dropped about 10-12 feet. Pieter told us we had use a tree like a fireman’s pole to get down. He and Michael (the Italian, not the Finnish guy) went down. Then Imke, while making her attempt, realized that as girls, our arms don’t quite reach and we would all have to touch the tree with our fingertips and kind of leap onto the tree then slide down. Imke and Cayci made it; poor tiny Krista had to literally jump onto the tree and then go down. My turn. I touched the tree, calmed my nerves and leapt on. Apparently my arms aren’t as strong as gravity. Me and my tremendous behind went down the tree like a rock thrown into a pool. I landed with a thump, legs crossed Indian-style and the tree in the middle. Krista was immediately concerned while Pieter, Michael, Cayci and me laughed hysterically. It didn’t hurt at all really. I was just embarrassed and entertained by my utter failure to be a suave outdoors person.

I was once more thwarted my gigantic bum when I attempted, after everyone else, to go through a waist-high narrow meeting of two huge boulders in the water. Stupid me, didn’t think to go sideways to accommodate my child-birthing-sized hindquarters. Well, I got stuck…really stuck. As in I couldn’t move and Imke was moving fast away from me. I did momentarily have the thought: “Well, I have fresh water. I just will have to survive on that for about 3 weeks until I’ve lost enough weight to get myself out of here.”

But my well-known common sense kicked in and I yelled for Imke.

“Ok, hold on, I’m coming!”
I attempted to wriggle back and forth to persuade the rocks to release my ginormous haunches.
“I’m coming, Vianne, I’ll help you!”
At this point, three-fourths of the way through our trek, I was becoming fed up with my problems trekking due to being out of shape and overweight,
“Imke, WHY AM I SO FAT?” I wasn’t really upset, just frustrated and amused mostly.

This loud declaration apparently was the last straw for the rocks, who released me just when Imke was two feet away (which is a large distance in kloofing because there can be ten bagillion rocks under you in that two feet).

We got to the Micmac Falls at the end of our expedition. At 64 meters (210 ft), it is very impressive, despite the the illusion its name gives. Pieter told us we could swim across the huge pool, against the power of the waterfall, and go left and climb behind the fall and then back out. Cayci and I tried. We got two-thirds of the way and almost died from exhaustion. I was having trouble treading water and staying put so I could rest and go on. Water was going in my mouth and my feet were flinging about underwater and the waterfall was relentlessly pushing and pushing and pushing me under and out. I panicked.

I swam over to the side wall and tried to get a grip. I encountered a gray worm thing that could have been a leech but I didn’t stay long enough to find out. I pushed off as soon as it started slithering towards my hand. I yelled “I can’t do it!” and Cayci said “Me neither!” and we floated/swam back to shore. Krista rested with us on the wall but went on. She almost didn’t make it and had to be literally hauled by the arm up onto the ledge by Pieter. Cayci and I watched the others scrambling about behind the fall from the little beach and played fetch with Nikki the dog, who also accompanied us through the whole journey.

We then clambered out of the canyon and went back. We took showers and crashed on our beds. We were going to go on a trail hike at five but that didn’t happen because by the time we got up we were hungry. We went to the Woodsman Restaurant and had Greek food. My moussaka was delicious.

The next day Pieter drove us back to Nelspruit to catch our bus. We told him that we were definitely coming back. Thanking him again and giving him a hug we left the Drakensbergs.

The drive down from Sabie to Nelspruit was even more beautiful to me than when we first arrived. The bus back to Pretoria should have been a good time to catch up on Zzzzzs but I couldn’t. I had to look out the window and watch the land roam up and down and eventually flatten into wide grasslands again. I am convinced that South Africa is one of the most bewitching and gorgeous countries in the world and the Drakensbergs are some of the most enchanting mountains.

PS- I still have bruises on my shins and my now notorious bum. We were all tremendously sore and walked around like your great-aunt Myrtle for a week.

PPS- More on my classes and etc. next time, aka tomorrow.

PPPS- Sorry this is such a long post.

PPPPS- Really sorry.