David Moseley

Reconsider local tourism

2014-06-24 07:18

David Moseley

Recently, South African Tourism had social media buzzing with their "Reconsider South Africa" advert. I have a feeling it's aimed at foreigners, but I hope it's also asking South Africans to reconsider South Africa when thinking of their holidays. While I'm no fan of the mawkish advert, it did make me recall my first time… as a local tourist.

My first adult experience of South Africa was a trip to the Sani Pass with my friend X (I’ll leave out his name as we're no longer friends due to some trivial matter that I can no longer remember).

We left Durban a few days after his belated 21st birthday party and made our way, I think, through the Midlands on a winding and misty road towards the Drakensberg. Tagging along for this adventure was a girl who was a friend of X, though I think she thought she was his girlfriend.

She might well have been, though I wasn't paying much attention because I was more worried about X's erratic driving in his mom's underpowered Nissan Sentra.

Coincidentally, a year earlier X had been driving my dad's underpowered Nissan Sentra around Cape Town when he came upon a traffic circle and promptly entered it the wrong way. With Kevin and I shrieking like the victims of a found-footage film, X calmly turned to us and said, "I thought the circles in Cape Town went the other way round."

We never asked why he thought this and for the rest of our varsity vacation in Cape Town I took over the driving duties, even though I didn't have a licence and had a worrying tendency to hit the accelerator when I meant to hit the brakes. It was just another in a long line of episodes where X's driving took years off our lives.

On another occasion, driving from Grahamstown to Port Alfred, X managed to get his temperamental Volksie Beetle to screech like a getaway car on a perilously sharp bend on the perilously windy R67. This was an achievement in itself, considering our trip started with four of us pushing the car downhill to get it started.

Sandwiches went flying in the back of the car, while Kevin and Jonathan crashed their heads together, in hindsight on purpose, I think, so that the rest of the drive would be but a blur.

So putting myself in a car with X on a drive to the 'Berg was already an adventure. The mist on the road only added to the "will we, won't we" nature of the happy excursion.

Eventually, having narrowly avoided a truck driver lying down in the road tending to a flat tyre, we arrived at our backpackers. The name escapes me, but I recall there being a sign in the pub that read, "last drop before the top" or something to that effect.

The surroundings were everything X had promised. At this stage I knew nothing about KwaZulu-Natal, so taking in the beauty of the 'Berg was quite a showstopper. The waterfalls gushed, the peaks loomed romantically and the rustic accommodation, manned by two shaggy-looking fellows not much older than us at the time, added to the sense of remoteness.

The only people at the backpackers were me, X, our tag-along friend and the two hosts. After some prodding they agreed to take us on a hike, which our guide undertook in a pair of Converse trainers and his hands in his pockets the entire time. As we held our breath along the narrow path, which was not so much a path as it was a smattering of flattened daisies that provided some semblance of guidance to the top, the guide hopped nonchalantly forward and upward.

Once on top we walked across a vast open plain, eventually coming to an idyllic waterfall that plopped serenely into a crystal-clear rock pool. We all jumped into it, immediately flying out like those little spits of water you drop on a scorching pan before cooking flapjacks, the water being somewhere between frigid and arctic.

Walking back we stumbled across a large troupe of baboons, the largest gathering of these fine furry things I've ever seen. There must have been close to a 100 of them playing, snoozing and, occasionally, glancing towards us.

Panicking slightly, we turned to our guide for guidance, only to see him scarpering down the path we'd earlier walked up. Later that night he marvelled at our composure, wondering out loud why we hadn't bolted in a manner similar to is.

It was a sublime first experience of KwaZulu-Natal. The dangerous drive, the anarchic environment of the backpackers, the silence and the baboon encounter all left a lasting impression.

But the highlight was surely the last night, when our friendly hosts dumped two bloated black bags in front us. "We get this from the border patrol," they said somewhat blearily. "They take it from the guys walking over from Lesotho and just give it to us."

I remember looking into the bag and wondering why the Basotho carried their garden clippings over the border… and then it all went up in smoke.  


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