Finally a climbing trip put together with Anja, Demis and John! Cramped inside a small car, off we go down the mountain to Waterval Boven. Passing through the northern Drakensberg was breathtaking with slanting cliffs of red and green with tiny towns embedded in valleys and dips—wondering if they can appreciate all this beauty despite the poverty.
“This looks like parts of Switzerland or Germany!”
“Really? It looks like part of the west coast.”
“Hm, kind of looks like bits of Australia.”
Must be a generic landscape of sloping hills, cattle and sheeps and endless greens. Coming upon Waterval Boven (supposedly one of the best, if not the best, climbing areas in South Africa), “Hmmm, I don’t see any cliffs.”
After directions to the campsite and renting some gear from Roc ‘n Rope we came upon a flat plateau diving into a lovely, lush valley surrounded by these gorgeous red, red cliffs and even a river! Breathtaking at sunset and completely unexpected. Dawn the following morning, we headed out to try some easier warm-up routes as we were all out of practice. Demis lead most routes but John and I were able to get one in as well. The workers’ two dogs followed us out for the whole day, panting along patiently as we took our time at each route: Chics for Free, Hamster Hotel, Angel of Mercy and more. Unfortunately, early afternoon, thunder, lightening and rain approached from all sides and with such high flat plains, we headed in early as did other climbers to wait out the storm…that never came. Such a waste but there’s always tomorrow! So we did some bouldering at a rock with an overhang over the pool. Shivering from the wind and wet from falling in, we ended the day going to town to buy more food for another braai. On the way back from town, Anja and Demis refreshed my memory on how to drive stick and shifting gears. During the evening, the mist rolled in and we awoke to the disappointing sounds of drip drip drip on the tents. By noon, with the mist still all encompassing, we packed it in and started heading home a day early.
But first, this grand waterfall and trying to find it for the umpteenth time. Going through the poor township, we finally found our way to a viewpoint. Wary of leaving our car unattended after stories of broken windows and thefts, we ran for a quick peek, to say hello to the piggies and left for home. A short, but very sweet, trip off the mountain.
With less than a week left for Ben and John, we held a party to celebrate Ben’s last follow day with drinks, card games and hide and seek in the dark that ended up with a possible broken toe for Ben and a bruised rib for Demis. The next day, with a clear afternoon after morning rain, the whole Barn, all eight of us, headed out on the rover for a day drive to all the places Ben had missed out on. Apparently the rover was very hard to maneuver with Ben and Demis shifting together.
“Why are you all taking pictures or videos?”
“Because you are two men driving one car.”
A very serene summer ride with singing (Disney and rock ballads of course), John hanging off the back, ducking from thorns and almost falling out of the rover when the door swung open as the car slid in the mud. In the evening, we held a goodbye dinner at Wilderness Camp with Kudu steak, imapala, meatballs, pap, bread pudding and other delicious, amazing food—the best I’ve had in ages. Stuffed and in a food coma, we all headed early to bed.
On Ben and John’s last day, I went out to try and find the House Troop so Ben could look at them for a bit and ended up getting lost for hours in some thorny dense vegetation. Swearing and bumbling through, I finally made my way back with shins bleeding. Then out with John to measure trees (“This is our very last time working together!”) before a final dusk walk up to the patches to place some cameras and hopefully see a leopard; only some birds, antelope, bushbabies and possibly a civet.
The next morning, I tried not to cry. But when I walked into Ben’s room and saw it empty I immediately teared up.
“What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“Shut up and give me a hug.”
After Ian came to say goodbye, I rode down Lajuma in the bakkie with Anja, John and Ben while listening to Bob Marley on cassette (haven’t seen one of those in awhile). In front of the Internet Cafe, there was lots of hugging with the goodbyes and the final group photo. Immediately after the picture, I burst into tears and I think everyone felt sorry for me, patting my shoulders, as I sniffled into my scarf. After grocery shopping at Pick ‘n Pay, Anja caught me tearing up again.
“Aww, did you ever stop crying today?”
Maybe. I finally started feeling homesick with barnmates leaving and Christmas approaching: I can’t believe I’ve been away for 3.5 months.
Before the holidays, I managed to do a morning follow with the Samangos but lost them in the acacias. In the afternoon, I went to replace some batteries on the cameras up on the patches and ended up skinny dipping in a secluded and very hidden pool up on the cliffs–drifting serenely under a very blue sky. On Christmas Eve, I went for another swim at the rock pools with Anja and Demis—imagine swimming in December! In the evening we had a night walk to see bushbabies with an impromptu dance party at Bushcamp on the way back with classics such as “Lawnmower,” “Cut the Cake.” “Eat the Cake” and some hair flipping.
Finally Christmas and feeling a little less homesick with such great barnmates, we took the leopard trail up and saw three kudu! We heard some thunder but the storm never broke. When we got back, dinner preparations began: tomato soup, toasted bread with pesto, onion salad, apple and potato mash, stuffed peppers, deviled eggs, chocolate mousse and burnt pumpkin pie. By the end, we all had food babies grumbling and hot punch wine sitting happily while we watched a Christmas chick flick.
The next morning and still full from the previous night, we managed to have second Xmas day brunch with Anja’s amazing scones. We cooked some goodies for Ian and Retha along with the workers and delivered them before sitting around with the German girls for their last day.
“I don’t want to pack.”
Most people hate leaving Lajuma.
On town day, we dropped them off after what’s becoming the customary goodbye photo and wandered around town after buying our bus tickets from Pretoria to Maputo for January. Most shops were closed or closing early since it was still considered a holiday. Walking to the mall, we stopped by China shops to buy umbrellas for Jennifer’s (new Dutch girl) project and I got to use my Chinese for the first time since leaving! Unfortunately, we spoke different dialects and in broken Mandarin and English, we had a short polite conservation.
Then the wife/girlfriend/whatever pulled me aside and began pantomiming at her skinny stomach, her daughter and speaking in broken Chinese and English.
“I’m sorry I don’t understand.”
“Baby, see over there. Yes…in here…I want it out.”
“Oh…you want an abortion?”
I felt so sorry staring into her hopeful eyes and imagining such a small frame beginning to swell with the impending “gift.” I’m not sure if she was able to find what she wanted.
We left town early that day and had another braai. Despite losing four barnmates, with fireflies, the Milky Way, and satisfied stomachs, you can’t be anything but happy at Lajuma.