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2011 Trip Report - The Stolls in South Africa

In South Africa!

By Anne Stoll , 2011

 The Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa! What a place! The other side of  the globe, culturally and physically, and yet you can get there in a day (OK, a  loooong day). We’re back, I think – though some of me is still there hiking the  hills, marveling and trying to take it all in. A land of fantastic beauty and  yet familiar somehow, like Southern California in many ways with eucalyptus and  golden dry grasses and (for us, anyway) lots of sunshine. But then you have the  blesboks and springboks and zebras grazing – and oops! Not so familiar after  all. We (eight of us) had an excellent local guide, an archaeologist with a  great personality (!) who led us to about a dozen painted rock shelters where  George and the group photographed to their hearts’ content (see photo). There  were several all-day hikes involved but despite some pre-trip anxiety,  yours-truly happily kept up with the pack. With botanist friend Gary James  along, nature was fully explored and treasured from tiny succulents to flowering  protea trees. The lodges were excellent – some with unusual architecture (see  photo). We stayed three nights in a lion sanctuary where the "music" of roaring  big cats at sunset enhanced our Happy Hour. Such a rich and beautiful place!

But I don’t think we’ll ever go back. People seemed friendly enough and we  had no problems, but we count ourselves fortunate in that regard. South Africa  has become very dangerous for white people and sadly, it’s sinking farther into  social chaos all the time. We were riding in a rented Toyota van, the most  desirable vehicle as this is what they use for taxis. Hijackings of vehicles by  armed gangs are very common – one occurred in broad daylight just down the road  from our lodge while we were there! Toward the end of our trip, our guide, Frans,  revealed he had personally been hijacked twice and robbed three times, some 25  of his colleagues and friends have been killed over the years, and most of his  family had already left the country. Sadly, he’s planning to join them in a year  or two. We saw many burned out and abandoned farms and each night the gates to  our lodges were locked and guarded. My initial naiveté was exposed early on in  Ladybrand, a cute little town that looks a lot like Beaver, Utah. One afternoon  I wanted to leave our hotel to explore the shops and take a few photos but Frans  quickly stopped me. "Do you see any white women on the streets?" he asked me.  "Well, no," says I. Light bulb time! "I’m sorry, it’s just not safe for you" he  continued. Sigh. The only time we mingled with locals was once in a supermarket  where we stopped for batteries. Was that sullen look on the faces of the  loitering young black men we passed really hatred? I prefer not to think so, but  I could never speak to one so it may have been.

  Ah, if only this crazy world would wake up!  Anyway, we’re home safe and sound and looking forward to sharing more with you  soon.