We landed at the crack of dawn and were awaited by a very cheery Henry (not my Henry who is neither cheery or a licensed driver) who picked us up and delivered us to a bed and breakfast that was located in a suburb nearby the airport (big fan of this, when staying for just a night). Super welcoming and friendly, we met our host burley Arthur who fed us a great breakfast, English style with sausage and tomatoes and eggs. We took a short nap just to stay human before heading out for a quick look at Johannesburg. Johannesburg is a huge sprawl of a city (population 10million), suffers from bad winter smog and while parts of the town infrastructure is slick (from the World Cup 2010) most of the city and shanty towns and filled gold mines are how you would expect a 2nd world city to look like. It reminded me of Buenos Aires in a way. The B&B owner, Arthur steered us to Sandton for lunch and a walk around. Sandton is a suburb that developed after the free elections. There was a huge migration out of the central business district when squatters moved into the office buildings. It’s a combination of business offices, hotels and restaurants and shop. It was new, safe and kind of sterile, reminded us of Buckhead in Atlanta. But it was what people wanted us to see of Johannesburg. We found a driver, named Sydney to take us out to Soccer City to see the Calabash (pumpkin)which was the main venue during the World Cup last year. We took some photos and then made our way back to Sandton where we got on a train and headed back to our B&B where only GM and I made it to a nice BBQ dinner of sausages, lamb ribs and corn mash (polenta with ham and cheese, good eating cant be good for you). We went to bed by 8:00 and everyone was up by 4:00. Thank God for the novelty of English speaking TV that kept the kiddies quite until we showed up for another protein heavy breakfast at 7:00 on the dot.
Next on our itinerary was a 4 day/3 night road trip to the Drakensberg with is a mountainous region located 4 hours south and east of Johannesburg. Gm headed back to the airport to pick up the rental. We hit the road about 9:30 and with in an hour or so we were in the middle of nowhere. It was extremely brown and dry (winter is dry season), rolling hills and an occasional town and more often shanty towns. It wasn’t until we were within an hour of our destination that the scenery changed in a meaningful way. The mountains in this part of the world are ancient. Rounded and layered, quite different from the jagged Andes. They look not unlike the washed out mesas and buttes in Utah and Idaho, just really tall. The tallest point in the Drakensberg is 3600 meters. In the summer when its hot, it’s a popular vacation destination for hikers, campers, and resort goers. In the winter, it also is great for hiking though much cooler and there can be snow. We arrived at our Guest Farm that is located in valley facing the striking Drakenberg Range. It was a homey, comfortable and very authentic place. It had the feeling of an estancia but different in an African way. The owner was warm and extremely helpful and invested in our time there. The food was cozy and so was our cottage. There were dogs running with the pigs and horses. There was a honor bar where the kids got sodas and played darts.
We had a great time. We did a great canopy course that was long and fast. There was a paintball match that on moral grounds I didn’t participate in. We had a couple of hikes, one was through a beautiful fern forest. For the most part the weather was great, warm and sunny but during our last full day and as we were driving through a small game reserve the weather began to change and by evening the rain and the cold settled in to the valley, with snow on the mountains. We were presented with a logistical challenge when we woke up.