Jon and I went to the Drakensberg Mountains a few weeks ago, in a portion of the country called ‘The Free State.’ It’s about four hours (driving) away and we went through some pretty torrential downpour on the way, which is always fun. Our drive also had a hiccup, early on, when we were stopped a police checkpoint. We were just barely outside of Centurion, where Jon’s office is. A female cop asked for Jon’s license – a U.S. license – and said it wasn’t valid, that a ‘traffic register’ was needed. Jon told her that he’d researched online that as long as the license is in English, it’s valid here. She said that wasn’t true and he frantically tried to look up the U.S. Embassy’s site, as well as other places he might have seen it. Meanwhile, a male cop came over and told us that a traffic register IS needed for visitors after 30 days of being in the country. We told them that we were on ‘Day 11’ because we’d come to the country on January 2. They asked how long we’d be here – we told them “90 days,” since we’re not officially residents yet – and they said because we’re *going* to be here for 90 days, we for sure need one and need to pay a fine. We asked why we’d need to pay a fine now and they said without the register, the license is invalid and it’s illegal to drive without a license. Jon took out our rental agreement, took out his passport, everything, to try to convince them. The female cop stepped away from Jon (while I was in the car) and asked me, “So, what is our solution?” I asked her, “What solution? The solution is you let us go because we haven’t done anything wrong.” She replied, “You’re going to pay a fine – R1,250 (~$93) – what is the solution?” I told her that she should just talk to Jon because we don’t need to have two discussions. The male cop told us to just pay the fine now and come to his office for a refund when our paperwork is obtained. Some time passed while Jon kept looking up websites on the internet, to verify, and the male cop said, “You have the internet on your iPhone but I have the law in my head.” (Ohhhkkkkaaayyy…) We were getting really frustrated but also realized that we might be totally screwed. Jon kept researching and arguing and they eventually said, “Sir, we already planned to let you go.” Jon was incredulous. As Jon started to come back to the car, the female cop asked, “Aren’t you at least going to buy us lunch?!” He told her no and we drove off. [HEAD EXPLODES]
Once we finally got to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, where our hotel was, we were able to relax in our individual chalet. We were invited on the trip by our wonderful friend and neighbor, Bella, who put together a really love group of people – friends from work and from her salsa dancing class. We had a nice dinner out and started to get to know everyone. It was so nice to be in a big bunch! We were a little nervous about the hike the next day because it had been raining so hard but decided to meet at 6:00 am and go for it! We drove a bit less than two hours to get to Sentinel Peak, almost at the border with the country, Lesotho. The hike was about four hours up and three hours down, which definitely kicked my ass. I hadn’t been on a serious hike in a while but I was reminded pretty quickly of how strenuous hiking can be! We saw the most beautiful scenery – a mix of Hawaii, Scotland and New Zealand. Like “Jurassic Park” meets “Braveheart” meets “The Lord of the Rings.” Just spectacular.
Once we finished climbing we saw that to get to the very top, you have to climb a 30 meter metal ladder. I am TERRIFIED of heights and couldn’t do it. I thought about it but realized that I’d have to come down eventually and that wasn’t going to happen. Luckily, a few others didn’t climb so I had some company and we waited for the rest to go up and explore. But, while we were waiting, we heard a very loud, “HEY! HEY! GIVE ME FOOD!” We looked up, to the top of the ladder, and there was a man with crazy hair and lots of layers of clothing on, staring at us. We tried to ignore him but he kept yelling and staring, never actually coming down to get the food he was so adamant enough. (And I sure as hell wasn’t climbing up the ladder to give him some.) A tour guide and a group came by shortly after and he said that they’re beggars from Lesotho that hang out on the mountain and try to get food. He said not to engage and to be careful because they’ll sometimes expose themselves or even throw rocks down, if you don’t cooperate. We decided to get out of rock-throwing view, just in case, and ignored them.* The whole episode was a weird mix of fascination, slight fear and confusion. Finally, the rest of our group came back and we began our return. It was beautiful, foggy and slippery from the rain run-off but super fun. And once we got back to our hotel, we braai’d (i.e., barbecued) and had a lovely evening with our new friends. The next day, we explored the cutest town called Clarens, just about 15 minutes away from our hotel, and had drinks and shopped in the little stores and boutiques. It was a delightful trip and we were so glad to go.
– By Naama
*Kate & Jon made me add that they did, in the end, throw rocks down on us (we were just out of the way) & one of the guys exposed himself to my friend when she was trying to pee. But, all’s well that ends well! [two thumbs up]