Saturday May 9th 2009 Durban area

Yesterday I got an e-mail reply from Tony Boorer who is principal trombone in the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra. I am going to go and meet him and Duncan Wooldridge the co-principal trombone. They have a kids concert with the orchestra and then they are going to play with a Brazilian group called Napalma at a charity multi-band bash out in the stix somewhere. In the meantime I catch up on my blog and do some more research and actually plot a basic outline route on my maps.

It is pouring with rain and I end up just going for a small drive in the Landrover. I meet up with the guys at around 7pm at the Playhouse and have a chat with the café manager while the lads do the 1st half (which is quite short). They have been excused from the 2nd half as their other gig is a charity thing and they weren’t really needed. We head up to the reggae type gig and they meet up with the rest of the band. What a surprise, it’s running late. The guys have a horn section of 2 bones and a tuba and they call it the Brasstitutes. The venue is quite unusual as it is a BMX/MTB track (bicycles to us older than 25s). It is good because the noise doesn’t disturb anyone. There are some very unusual fashion statements here and I’m not talking about the trombones still having their DJ’s on (which actually works well against the gear the rest of the band is wearing) and I see more shades of hair colouring than I think I have ever seen before even including the punk era. I think they have done a great job setting up this place and people seem to be having fun. It is all donations to a lady who has cancer and needs hospital treatment no admission fee and I think they raised a decent amount. There is not really an NHS here and for all we knock ours it is something you notice when you travel. After being there for about 20 mins I suddenly become designated driver but that is no great hardship as I don’t want to lash out too much on beer. It is a cool gig and I think it makes a nice break from the norm for the guys.

I may take a couple of days at the campsite before departure if the guys have another to play some quartets. I would enjoy that. Hopefully this will get me connected with more people to meet but I am anxious to be on the move again as I am excited to see the nature side of this part of the continent. We head back quite late after the gig and call at an apparently famous (in Durban) roti house for a potato, chicken, mutton and curry roti. Definitely a meal for two but very tasty.

Sunday 10th May 2009 Guess where

Yes still Durban but I am getting things together and will definitely be out of here this coming week. I spend time today marking my map for the coming months and now have a good outline which will deviate according to what local knowledge I get. I also watch the Grand Prix and then go out for a curry with the Durban Orchestra trombones. It is quite nice and once again it is a bit later than I had planned as I will leave Paul and Darren’s house tomorrow.

Monday 11th May 09 Moving out

I get up early and go into the Centre as I need them to tighten up an exhaust stud that doesn’t appear to be quite right. After this is done I head to the ICC as one of South Africa’s great adventurers is heading out on his next humanitarian adventure and there is a group of Landrovers going to send him on his way. Think Grizzly Adams meets Captain Birds Eye and you get a visual picture. He is larger than life. There are speeches and all sorts and while this is going on I am able to meet some of the local Landrover guys including Paul from the beach at Ansteys and Mike who I have met via one of the forums. I think the funniest part was when the stunt parachutists landed. They came in at speed over some flagpoles and I believe the massed male population crossed their legs nervously at this point. I get to have a little chat with Kingsley’s wife Jill who seems very nice and wishes me luck on my trip.

We are bussed back to the holding car park and given a police escort to form up for the departure convoy. Kingsley refuses to be rushed into departure by the organisers until he has walked down the line thanking all the guys for turning out. He definitely gets respect for that as many ‘stars’ wouldn’t bother and everyone turned up voluntarily. The convoy shoots off and we are rushed through red traffic lights by police. It is really rather fun. About 10km out people start to split from the convoy and it is difficult to see whether the convoy has continued or not. I eventually bale out as I still want to go and do my brake pads at Mandarin Motors. I get there and Ian Pardy is in residence. We have a chat and then I get to work. I do the rears first and find that I have been given the wrong fitting kit so I re-use the pins and just replace pads, springs and split pins. I work my way round and replace the whole lot on the front. The front pads aren’t worn badly but the rears were getting there. Another job I know how to do now and I retain the used front pads as spares. The rears aren’t worth keeping. I head to Paul and Darren’s and pick up my stuff so I can move to the campsite. This is the first step towards actually leaving Durban. I arrive at the campsite and when it is time for bed am a bit annoyed that the mattress is wet. We have had very heavy rain and it looks as if the tent cover wasn’t quite on right. I plan a modification that will prevent a recurrence of this event. Fortunately there is a large portion of the mattress that is dry.

Tuesday 12th May 09 The Bluff.

Not a lot to report today. I fit the caravan type electrics to the rear bulkhead so I can make use of the power at campsites if it is not an expensive addition. This will mean I can run the charger to give the batteries a really good conditioning charge. I remount the interior fan as it had worked it’s way loose. I also look for eyelets which I can use to modify the tent cover. No joy here and I promise myself I will find those tomorrow. Noo way of meeting up with the trombones or Landrover Mike today so I make sure I am ready for the winter temperatures and get my thermals out. I am going to places which are in excess of 3000 metres and so I need to be ready.

Wednesday 13th May 09 To Giba Gorge.

I am about to get on the road. I pack up and have a good breakfast. The first order of the day is to meet up with Tony and Duncan and I arrive just as they are in the process of recording a demo for a pop group they are trying to work with. It all sounds good and then Duncan has to go off to teach. I play some duets with Tony and am ‘treated’ to some healthy broccoli soup. It is part of a diet regime the boys are on. I then head off to get those eyelets and at the same time I take advantage of availability to pick up a malaria test kit. Couldn’t see these at home.

I head to the Mountain Bike Park where the Brasstitutes had their gig the other night as I know they do camping and Mike pops round to see me but has to go quite soon as he is summoned by her who must be obeyed.

It goes very quiet as I am the only person stopping there. It is cold so I have an early night and once I am tucked up I am fine. The adventure has started again.

Thursday 14th May 09 To Howick

I am up quite early for a hearty breakfast and am just starting to make the adaptations to the tent cover when the place is overrun with lady mountain bikers. Most are concerned with having a gossip but one comes for a chat. It turns out she was at Nantwich College in the early ‘80’s. Quite a small world again. They head off and I finish my cover. I pack up and say goodbye to Michael who is the guy who checked me in last night. He seems genuinely pleased when I flash the rear spotlights at him in farewell. On my way North I find Landrover Experience but no-one is home. I have a waypoint for the howling Moon tent factory but no-one seems to know where it is and I give up. I go to Landy Parts and ask about a radiator cowl but they are out of them. I meet a guy there called Cameron who is a friend of Paul (from the beach) Chandler. It is his rooftent that Paul told me about being for sale. It would be a steal but it is too early in my trip to weigh myself down any further. I call in at a Lion Park on the way north but it isn’t covered by the Wildcard so I don’t go round. The lady there is quite bitter about developments in the country but I am not in a position to judge yet whether I agree with her assessment. I carry on and find my way to Midmar Dam and decide to stop here as I can plan a few good things for tomorrow within easy reach. I cook a meal for the first time in ages and enjoy it while catching up on the blog. I try out the car charger for the laptop and it works great. Makes sense just going from 12v DC to 19v DC rather than going all the way through 240v AC as I do with the inverter. I do a little washing as well and hope it dries in the morning early enough for me to do all I have planned.

Friday 15th May 09 To Spioenkop Dam

Up at a reasonable hour and I head into Howick to see the falls. I think they are pretty nice and then I check out the Antique places. There is a huge range of stuff and I am glad Stephanie isn’t here as I think we would then need to buy a trailer. I head off to the Nelson Mandela Capture site, There is a small memorial but nothing else. Similar but less well kept is the site where Winston Churchill was captured by the Boers. I head to Spioenkop Dam to camp at the site there and on the way in to the park see Zebra and several types of buck. A nice setting for the night.

Saturday 16th May 09 To Royal Natal

One of the guys who was also on the site decides to come and say hello. His name is Graham and he was brought up in Kenya and now lives near Howick. He told me of the time he was invited to a demo of the new DISCOVERY 3 at the Landrover Experience place. One guy obviously decided he wanted it to fail so took a brand new vehicle on the extreme course and drowned it in a pool about bonnet height. This flooded and killed all the gearbox electronics and meant the vehicle needed a new gearbox at huge expense. Needless to say the owner was close to justifiable homicide. I then take a trip round the park seeing giraffe and may other bucks including Eland. Next it is off through Bergville to Royal Natal Park where the camping appears R10 more expensive but I now reckon this was due to being a Saturday. I buy firewood and cook over the fire. The weather is foul and the wind very strong. I worry about falling branches and in the morning see that many have indeed fallen but not on me.

Sunday 17th May 09 to Tugela Falls????

I drive to the car park at the start of the walk to the falls. I am the only one going out this early. The car park guy gives rough directions but these prove useless later on. It is a tough but beautiful walk and I quite enjoy it. I get to a spot where the way is unclear and take my cue from a big white arrow painted on a rock. When I get to the end of this trail there is still no sign of the falls so I make my way back down. Arriving at the point of the arrow I meet a couple Marcus and his wife on honeymoon. They tell me it is the other way up a rope ladder then crossing a rock fissure which had them turning back. I give this a miss and head back. It is too late to move on and so I book another night finding it back down to the price I am used to. I am quite glad I have stayed as the wind has died down and I get to meet David and Andy a couple who live in the States. David is American and Andy is a girl from New Zealand. They travel for 6 months every year. Lucky to have seasonal jobs which allow this but also dangerous as David is a wildfire fire fighter. They are great fun and I also learn that they met on the island of Zanzibar.

Monday 18th May 09 Meaning to go to Giants Castle.

I head off meaning to get to the Giants Castle, Kamberg area and follow the tracks marked on the Info Map of the area. It indicates to me that you can go via Injesuti and make a loop round. Arriving at Injesuti I find there is no track through. So much for these being the best maps.

I end up giving Kevin and Lorraine a call as I know they are in the area and it transpires they have made a base at Drakensburg International Backpackers which is being run by Miranda, Anne-Marie and assisted by the ever energetic Ian. They are all a little nuts but in a good way and a good time is had by all.

Tuesday 19th May 09 Running round.

I need a foreign exchange place. Ian draws me a map and it has several other places I need to visit in Escourt. The Forex is in First National Bank and is quite funny as the girl almost gets it wrong by a factor of ten in my favour. No such luck. I get some replacement bonnet clips and also pop into Nottingham Road Brewery. I pick up a little of their Pale Ale which is very nice. Unfortunately the local Landrover 2nd hand parts man doesn’t have a radiator cowling for me but not to worry. I try Kamberg for accommodation but contrary to the information given out with the Wildcard they have no camping. They send me to Highmoor but they don’t seem keen to sell their camping so I head back to Drak Int Camping.

Wednesday 20th May 09 Kamberg

I get up early and head up to Kamberg. They have fine examples of the San Rock Art and I join the tour to see it. Actually it is only me and the guide Derek. We are about 15 mins in when he gets a call. There is another couple and we wait while they catch up. They are from North Carolina. Part way up the guy starts a conversation with me about Bush (W) and we are getting along okay until his ‘lady’ snipes that she wants to take a video without hearing about George Bush. Not exactly well mannered the way she put it and rather soured the trip for me. The walk was quite heavy and a long way up hill but Derek was excellent and the art well worth the effort. On my return I have it confirmed that I have a slow puncture. I call into the Hi-Q in Nottingham Road, the owner being very friendly and having just been to the UK to see his daughter married near Bath. They plug the leak, caused by a screw having gone through the thin part of the tread, and I also get a small discount on some fuel. I then head out to Lotheni to stay but the road is really slow and I am there just as they are closing. I am directed up to the camping which is totally isolated and unoccupied. I find out the following day that I am the first visitor in a fortnight. It is lovely and quiet but slightly spooky when you shine your torch at the bush and see the reflection of the animals eyes coming back at you. I still sleep well.

Thursday 21st May 09 Towards Sani

I get up and do domestic chores in total isolation even though the nearest people are only around 3km away. There is a hillside separating us and I get a feeling of it just being me in this beautiful place. Heading down to the reception area I thank the lady for being so helpful and it is when I sign the register I see how few visitors they have.

The road to Himeville is much the same as yesterdays road with vigilance needed for the odd part where it has been washed away and is a bit lumpy. On arrival in Himeville I decide to just carry on through to Underberg as I need a few things and there is more available there. I pop into a hardware shop in order to try and find things for a bracket to mount my video for the trip up Sani but there is nothing suitable. The lady (Joan) directs me to her brother in law’s engineering shop and tells me to say she sent me as that will make him drop everything to help me. I make this joke to him, Rod, when I meet him and he appears to get the humour. We decide I can just as easily bolt through my roofrack and so I am saved a few pennies. He also gives me directions as to where I can buy antifreeze and some tips on Lesotho. I head off for this and bump into Kevin and Lorraine who have made a failed attempt at Sani with the bike being just a bit heavy to manoeuvre on the rocky stuff. We agree that if I can create room I will take them up there and they will catch one of the tours back down. I head to the same backpackers they are at and this is where I leave you just prior to heading to Lesotho.