Time Out in Africa: Part 18

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Time out graphic by Wotchit

This trip stems from a promise that El (my better half) and I had made to ourselves

- when her exams were over we would take off for a while, travel the world, have a little fun. The

aim was to do a wide variety of stuff – some touristy things, some mountains, see some friends and

family. Most of this journal dates from notes I took in the evening - I have allowed hindsight to

creep in in some places though...

Day 65 Durban to Hluhuhwe

After a night disturbed by the music of the inmates on the floor below and the return of the

pesky mosquitos after a month's absence, I wake to three unpleasant experiences: A chap with

unfeasibly hairy shoulders shaving his armpits (or putting deodorant on very meticulously?) in the

men's shower block, a pigeon in bits on the courtyard floor (the cat dunnit) and a manky if cheap


Our seven year old guidebook takes us again, as if by magic, to a squatter camp, one of the

rougher areas of town. We never did find the Indian market, although we saw stalls selling rancid

bits of meat, plenty of street telephones and other street vendors. Some of these packed up in a

tearing hurry when two policemen strolled behind us up the street. Quite comical watching them

stuff goods into bags and sprint off. One final visit to the seafront – not very lively out of season

but plenty of surfers and big cargo ships out at sea, and then we head back to the airport to meet

my parents on the right day this time.

This goes without a hitch and we are all soon on the motorway, past almost tropical scenery,

palm trees, possibly alfalfa and then big forestry plantations. Hilltop camp itself is a magical

place – ridge after ridge of forest and veld, very peaceful.

Day 66 – Hluhluwhe (pronounced


For once we can get out of the car in a National Park as there is a walking trail around the

camp. Nothing wilder than antelope but a nice chance to walk in a preserved area. Back in the car

we see rhino and a range of antelope, but no elephants or cats. By the time we get back the uncles

and aunts have arrived. They have had an interesting time in the Kruger including a few problems

with the hire car. At one point the computer on it was telling them that they only had three wheels

on the car and that one of them was flat… This while they were driving along. We meet them in the

bar for the evening – they have seen fifty odd elephants including one straggler about a metre

away due to driver error. We have a boozy evening with the usual family atmosphere.

Day 67 Hluhluwhe to Cathedral Peak – Playing rugby with


An early start for an early morning game walk. This involves swopping the protection of a vehicule

for the protection of a ranger. First problem, there aren't enough rangers to go round, so we only

get one per group. Nevertheless he's got a rifle so we should be as safe as houses. Off we go, at a

brisk pace over hill and down dell, across veld etc. For the first hour we see more or less nothing:

it's cold and windy and all the animals are huddling together somewhere.

Given this, we are quite pleased to see a mother and baby rhino. She watches us warily, but we

get the photo before they trundle off, baby first, mother keeping an eye out for trouble. Five

minutes later we spot another pair of rhinos. We observe, take photos and then as we begin to walk

away, things cease to go according to script. I'm the last in the line, and as I begin to move off, I

notice that the rhinos are moving off too – towards us. They walk first, then trot and then finally

break into a full blooded charge. The next ten seconds are pure pandemonium, as we try and guess

which way they are going. The ranger runs towards them waving a stick, they make one pass, stop

and then wheel away after coming for us for a second time. At their closest they are about five

metres from us.

El can recollect the thundering of their feet on the ground, and the way the two rhinos weaved

figure of eight patterns as they swapped positions. That part was a bit of a blur for me, but I do

remember the way they wheeled nimbly away at the end. As we walked off, still slightly in shock,

the ranger revealed why he hadn't fired in the air or perhaps even at the rhinos. When he had

loaded his rifle, he had put the cartridge in the wrong way round, thus somewhat impairing the

function. He'd realised this when he tried to cock the rifle prior to firing in the air, at which point

he'd resulted to the less technological method of a big stick. There's no doubt that it was a

potentially disastrous error, but he recovered the situation well with his bravery. Nobody is

complaining when we don't see much else on the walk – we are all just happy that no-one was hurt.

Breakfast is eaten with renewed gusto and then we set off to drive to the Drakenbergs. It gets

colder as we climb, and we arrive in the dark. As we pass Basotho agricultural lands, a number of

the fields have been set alight by the farmers. It looks like a Viking (or perhaps more likely Zulu)

raiding party has been through. There's a lot of people walking around, looking after burning

fields etc. The scene is a bit intimidating but we are still surprised to draw up at the gate of the

hotel and see a couple of patrollers on horseback trot up with a rifle and a sub-machine gun on

their back. The security guard salutes us, which reinforces the impression of having arrived at

some kind of mountain training camp. Fortunately our room dispels that impression – very cosy,

with a little bottle of port on the table, a nice touch.

Day 68, 69, 70 Cathedral Peak

Still grey and cloudy when we wake up but we're determined to go walking so off we set. It is

very beautiful – green and red hues, big rock cliffs, little purple and yellow flowers, even at the

end of winter. We do things like play scrabble in front of the fire, watch the cricket and eat

plenty. In the evening the clouds lift just a little, we can see the snow on the high mountains so

maybe a glorious view tomorrow?

And indeed it is, although El thinks it lacks some of the mystery it posesses with the clouds. We

go on a guided walk to see some more rock paintings, the themes are similar to those we saw in

Namibia. The hotel has got a golf course, so definitely worth giving it a go. We hire the full clubs

and stride up to the first tee confidently only to be greeted by a course full of water, cliffs,

marsh and football swallowing rough there is. Seven farcical holes later we have lost seven balls

between the four of us and it's getting dark. Time to call it a day.

The next day El goes horse riding, and then a group of us walk up to Mushroom rock. The

afternoon is reserved for competitive sports – Andy and I win at bowls after some sterling

defensive work against the better quality of Pete and Tim. El loses at shopping – shop not finished,

nowt decent to buy. And nobody wins at volleyball as the ball keeps disappearing down a slope into

a field. El gains a bruised thumb from some demon serving and Mum has a bruised nose from a

missed block.

Anyway this idyll, like all good things, has to come to an end. Back to the airport at Durban we

say our farewells to the family who are going on to Cape Town, and proceed to Jo'burg airport for

a six hour wait whilst keeping a wary eye on our bags.

Time Out in Africa Archive


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