South Africa Part Dos: Howzit, Bru?!*

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Oh my goodness how I love me that Afrikaaner twang! Similar to how other girls swoon over the English thing or the Australian thing, throw me a “Howzit?” (or, “What’s up?”), and I’m yours! Sigh.

Ahem. Now, back to business- the Baz Bus. The Baz Bus is a fantastic system of buses (surprise!) designed for backpackers to travel across South Africa in any direction they please in as much or as little time as they like. It’s also a fantastic way to meet people. As you might have guessed, we started in Johannesburg with a plan to end in Cape Town by the second week of August. Our first stop from Jo’burg was Amphitheatre in the Northern Drakensberg mountains. It was about a five and a half hour drive, although the bus does stop quite frequently for loo and food breaks and whatnot (more on that later- the Baz Bus is not conducive to eating well!).

There’s only one hostel in Amphitheatre, and it’s really good- gorgeous scenery, a pool (though it’s winter in SA, so far too cold for that!), a hot tub, an indoor climbing wall, a massive telly room, a bar that sells beer in wine-size bottles and, perhaps most importantly, super comfy beds! Wow, a huge treat for the hostel dweller! The only downside is that if you’re not out on a day-long tour, there’s really NOTHING to do – one can’t just take a stroll to the local shops, for example. Luckily we met some great fellow travelers- Phil from London and Jim from somewhere in England by way of Malawi- and started drinking early, entertained until late in the evening by about 15 French teenagers jumping in and out of the hot tub and screaming. Zut alors.

The next morning was an early start for a 12K hike (no, your eyes do not deceive you, yours truly participated) up to the top of the mountains (the Amphitheatre) and the second highest waterfall in the world. It really was a hike too- at one point we had to climb up a gulley, employing any and all hands, knees, etc. we had available with loose rocks cascading down into our faces. What the WHAT, I thought to myself as I panted my way up, We’re paying THEM for this?! But soon enough, we reached the top and the views were FANTASTIC. We were above the clouds – I’m pretty sure I’ve never experienced that before, outside of an aeroplane. From there we walked to the waterfall, merely a trickle during the winter months, but still affording us incredible views, and it was fun to hike through snow in July!

But, if you can believe it, the real fun STILL hadn’t started! Now that we were up the mountain, we had to get down, and there’s only one way…rusty old iron ladders shackled to the sheer rockface! Straight down! Broseph raced down and was the first to the bottom, of course, but some of the folks on the hike were actually quite nervous about it- it was seriously steep. I was actually quite scared myself and had a serious case of Jelly Knees, but I made it down, saying “One foot, two foot” over and over as each landed on the next rung down. Oh and I DIDN’T look down!

We then had a long hike back to the van, and during our walk back the weather turned from fairly warm and sunny to cold, misty and VERY foggy (and I know fog), so much so that I couldn’t see more than two feet-ish in front of me. The group got separated into several chunks and those of us that made it back to the van first were a bit nervous for the welfare of our fellow hikers, but eventually everyone got back and piled in- a shivering bunch of exhausted people! The steak, chips and beer we had for supper that night might have been the yummiest I’ve ever had.

The next day we got up and packed for our next Baz Bus trip to Durban, about a four-hour drive. Once settled into our hostel, we went out for some dinner and then set about mingling with other guests. We met another brother/sister team- the second in two and a half months!- and a few other interesting folks from the UK and, which has been unusual, the US. One batch of folks went out for a big night, including mon petit frere, but I was exhausted so just stayed in chatting with a few of the locals who hang out at the hostel. I find this funny because I wouldn’t consider rolling up to a hostel in San Francisco or New York just to hang out, but maybe I should because hostels are where it’s at people!

The particular weekend we were in Durban, the Durban July was taking place, the biggest horse race in the country – even President Zuma was in attendance. We decided we certainly ought to check this out, so in the afternoon we decked ourselves out in our backpacker finery and along with a couple of other travelers walked down to the race track. I’ve never been to the races, and it was brilliant! Talk about people watching! The theme this year was flowers and most people were fully decked out in giant ball gowns, hats, gloves, the whole bit, all with floral undertones (and in a lot of cases, massive overtones!).

We bought a few drinks and whatnot and found a place in the stands with a decent view of the track when the horses thundered past. I didn’t place a bet, but I might not have done too badly- the horses I picked just for fun with my new friend Louise actually did all right! In the end we didn’t stay for too long as it was a bit of a pain to have nowhere to sit, so we went back to the hostel where my grand plans for a big night out dissolved into an evening of watching E! with Louise. C’est la vie, I guess I needed a rest!

The next day we took a trip to Victoria Market- full of all sorts of knick-knacks and African bits and pieces- which was primarily successful because Bro and I scored a travel adapter for South Africa, which has about nine different types of plugs or something. After that we took a cab with Louise to the beach, which was excellent. People have built some huge sandcastles shaped like animals and people and things- Louise and I took a photo in a sand car! It’s also a surfer’s paradise, or so I understand- massive waves for miles.

We took a leisurely stroll along the waterfront which eventually took us past Durban’s World Cup stadium and back to the hostel, where everyone was gearing up for a ‘braai’ (pronounced ‘bry,’ essentially a barbeque though a South African will tell you it’s very different!). The Baz Bus had also turned up again, and as is its way, we were reunited with people we’d met on earlier legs, such as Sebastiano (this would keep happening for the whole three weeks, with Seb and others). After hot dogs and salad, I finally got my act together to join the gang out for a drink. It was Sunday so things were quiet, but as is the way of the persistent Afrikaaner, a local guy called Matt got a bar to basically reopen for us where we all had a number of beers as a way of thanking the staff for going to the trouble!

The next morning we relocated to another hostel in Durban as I had wanted to be closer to the beach, but this turned out to be pointless as it was really close to where we were originally! We also had a really sketchy guy in our room called Vonda (or something) who I’m sure was on drugs and who definitely nicked my sunny Gs- I had to buy my third pair of the trip! Still, we also met some lovely new people like Sigrid from Venezuela and the two Emmas from England- more folks who would make our time in South Africa even more excellent- so I do think things happen for a reason!

On our last day in Durban we bought a day pass to Ushaka Marine World and a group of us from the hostel had an excellent day out at the aquarium, watching penguins get fed and seals and dolphins perform. I revert to the mindset of someone aged approximately five in these situations, and I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed myself. I almost put my hand up when they asked for volunteers, but would have felt bad robbing an actual five-year-old of that experience!

The next morning it was back on the Baz Bus to Coffee Bay, a highlight of our WHOLE trip so far, so stay tuned…

*In South Africa, it’s not ‘bro’ or ‘brah’ or ‘mate’ or ‘dude,’ it’s ‘bru’ (pronounced ‘brew’). As you’ve likely deduced, “What up bro?” in South Africa is “Howzit bru?”

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