Thursday 21st May 09 continued

I get to the backpackers but there is no-one to tell me if there is a workshop where I can drain down my cooling system and top up with 50% anti-freeze.

I wait and when someone finally turns up who knows what is going on the answer is know so I dash back to town and Rod points me in the right direction. I get on with that and then head back to the backpackers.

There is a horse here who stands waiting at the barn type kitchen door for his peanut butter sandwich!!?

Kevin cooks on the open fire in the garden and I start to plan how I am going to get them in. It is a relatively early night after we find out that to turn off the security light that floods my tent we must use the switch for one of the inside toilets. How silly for us not to have known that.

Friday 22nd May 09 Sani Pass

I am up early to rearrange the car and Simon the Horse calls by. Somehow he doesn’t help! We drive into Underberg where I fuel up, send my previous update and buy chicken for cooking later. As we head to Sani Pass we see that the first part is indeed being prepared for tar. There is only one bumpy bit before the South African border post. At this point I mount the video camera on the roof and Kevin mounts his remote camera on the bonnet. Into low range and off we go. For a genuine 4x4 this road isn’t really a problem but it does require good concentration on quite a few points. In full winter with ice in more places I wouldn’t want to know without studs. At the top there is an R8 charge for Lesotho ‘road’ tax and our passports are stamped. The carnet doesn’t come into it. We pop into the Sani Top Chalet which is the highest pub in Africa (without any draught on) and Kev & Lorraine buy me lunch and a beer to thank me for the lift. I can camp here but it will be cold. I head on to Black Mountain and it is spectacular. I then return to the pub where as time goes by Greg, the landlord, entertains people with his guitar and I am then dragged into the entertainment with the trombone. 9 o’clock comes and it is time for bed. 3 sleeping bags, 2 blankets, thermals, a hot water bottle and wish me luck.

Saturday 23rd May 09 To Katse Dam

Up and at them. The night was fine with the preparations I had made. I make breakfast and leave after a few words with Greg who kindly gives me a sticker from the Lodge. I head 1 km up the road to the shop to pick up some paraffin. She is kind in discouraging me from even asking the price of the ‘local’ blankets. They have the materials but they are sent to South Africa and the blankets are from there. I am about to leave when a pickup from the lodge pulls in and the guy asks if I am travelling with the other 4x4s. I say no but one has left some bedding behind so I volunteer to take it along and hope I catch them.

There is beautiful countryside and rough roads and it takes until I arrive at St James Mission before I catch the other. And hand over the bedding. Unfortunately the most notable thing to report about today is that almost all the children instead of waving back out their hands out begging and are sometimes quite aggressive even to the point of throwing stones. These are poor people but not starving and the kids run down very steep hills with bundles of energy to engage in this begging. It rather tarnishes the impression I am getting of the country. After a long drive I arrive at the Katse Dam information centre where camping is allowed. The girl says it is R10 but I later find out it is R20. This is per tent not per person so very cheap. The Free State 4x4 group arrive and are all very sociable. I have already started cooking my tea and they proceed to braai. They are almost all making what they call a Christmas bed in the centre rather than pitching their tents. It is only 7pm and I am already tired but a couple of the guys plan my trip for me. It would take 2 years and several times my budget to follow their ideas. Too many ideas and names to remember, Off to bed.

Sunday 24th May 09 Heading North.

The camping ended up at R20 and I also sold 3 CDs to the group. Many thanks to them for that. All very nice and it was great to share a couple of days with them. We head to the dam for the tour that goes inside and over the dam wall. It only costs R10 and is very good value. I drive North and straight out of Lesotho. The begging is relentless and makes me reluctant to stop. I thought about visiting a couple more sights but Decide against it. It turns out that the SA Parks are quite different from the KZN parks in that they charge per pitch at around R120 and this is for up to 6 people. Great for families but terrible for me. I will have to try Mark’s strategy of finding someone already on the site and asking to split the cost with them. Either that or more backpackers places.

Monday 25th May 09 Free State

I head out of the park early and into Clarens. It is a strange place reminding me of Aspen in Colorado. I am not sure of the overt affluence with the township servicing it looking so grim down the hill. I guess it works and the township people don’t look grim as the head uphill to work. I take a quick look round and head off but not before I see the Aspen Guesthouse making me feel that at least someone else may see the comparison. I head on to Bethlehem and fuel up then onto Kessel. I decide I want to stop early today and head to the Ampitheatre Backpackers. The welcome is great but I want a bit of solitude so I carry on and end up back at Spioenkop Reserve. I drive round before I camp and am rewarded with my first rhino view of the trip.

At the campsite I set up. There is a young family from Germany and I point out to Jurg that there is a rhino across the way. It is just moving and they speed off to take a look. They are really happy when they come back as the rhino put on quite a show for them. They haven’t got a lamp so I lend them one of mine and they give me a cup of wine in return. I cook over a fire and have a relaxing evening before sleep.

Tuesday 26th May 09 To Dundee

Up reasonably early and I make coffee. I return the mug that had the wine with coffee in it which goes down well. Lots of domesti chores and I am ready to leave around 11am. I call at several monuments for the battlefields of the various wars including Colenso gun positions and the Bloukrans monument which is tended by an old lady and her grandson. I didn’t buy the pamphlet but gave her a few coppers I had and the remains of a pack of crisps I had to the lad. As I was preparing to drive off the lad ran up and gave me the pamphlet for free. I guess it was a nice trade. All in all a nice day and I arrive in Dundee to explore more of the Battlefields on my way North. I try a camping place but it is expensive so I head for the backpackers and Evan, who runs the place, is most hospitable. I will settle in for a good night and send off these latest Parish notices tomorrow.