An experience like this is greatly affected by the encounters you have with other people. Overall
this was an incredibly positive trip.
The hospitality, openness and kindness of some of the Himeville Arms staff to George and I
was wonderful. Caron kindly offered us a lift from Underberg to Merrivale when we needed it,
and we felt like more than guests, rather like friends in the local community. After Sani, we
had sent some kit backs down to Himeville and arranged for our collection from Bushmans
Nek a few days hence. All worked out well and it was greatly appreciated.
Jan and Helen, not only accommodated us at very favourable rates in the backbackers they
are no longer advertising, but also woke early and drove us to Witsieshoek in their cars to
ensure we could get an early start. Even though it appeared that Helen's clutch was damaged
due to driving on such rough roads there was no hint of regret at assisting us. Fortunately we
confirmed after the trip that her car was fine.
Witsieshoek, at the Sentinel Car Park was as disorganised as usual. We supplied a hike
register sheet with all our info and paid fees despite the person in attendance indicating that
there are no receipts. Whether the fees paid go to any cause relating to assisting hikers is a
Casual hikers who spend the Easter weekend in around the Tugela Falls area on top of the
escarpment are always susceptible to opportunistic theft. We met, as always, disgruntled
hikers that had lost boots and backpacks despite the fact that they we followed down by
Parks Board guards carrying rifles. It seems this problem is here to stay.
In the central berg area, we encountered numerous "Dagga Smugglers". Initially small groups
of 3 or 4 people acting as mules each carrying a sack, heading for one of the passes in the
late afternoon. Hoping to offload their goods and return in the early hours of the morning. As
we neared Judges, ironically, we met the largest groups we had seen. There were
approximately 40 to 50 men gathered around donkeys with large quantities of sacks. They
were not aggressive and we moved through the group as we crossed the saddle on the path
they were probably waiting to use for a large drop later that evening.It appeared that this was
a key meeting point of two groups, perhaps one from Lesotho and the other responsible for
moving on into South Africa. Generally they do not engage negatively as they have a task to
do and probably do want to draw undue attention to themselves and jeopardise their chances
of completing their work. We talked briefly, shared some sweets and dried fruit, and enquired
as to next position of availability of water. We noticed that they sent an observer to watch our
movements and we chose to move away from the main path, camping some 500 metres off
the path lower down in a valley. We saw nothing further. Perhaps they moved in the night,
perhaps they waited another day. Looking at the people involved they are pawns in a bigger
game. Some had no shoes, wearing only their blanket as protection against the elements. Not
a platform for discussion but I sense the blame lies more with the target buyers and drug lords
than it does with the "mules" who are scratching together a living. It is easy to judge from a
position of comfort, and I leave others to judge as they see fit.
As we progressed further south and the landscape opened up with broader and flatter valleys,
we encountered more shepherds. Kraal dotted each hill and herds of sheep and horses grew
in number. It was interesting to witness the hill to hill communication between shepherds, as
well as the good relationship between the shepherds and their multiple dogs. Friendly, always
keen on a handout of sweets, we had no negative interactions at all. A harsh lifestyle that
remind us how little some people can live on.
On reaching Bushmans Nek border control point we offered our passports but as we were
hikers it was indicated that this was unnecessary. We had not technically left South Africa
although we spent the last 12 days walking predominantly on the Lesotho side of the
international boundary. The border was most friendly and no objection to being used to take
photographs of our group and allowing us to enjoy some cold drinks and beers on the verandah
of his post.