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“A portrait of our children, once a week, every week, in 2014″

Bailey and Robert: Sometimes they play nicely together
Willow: Pink ice cream at Hout Bay harbour
James: Making friends with a tiny speckled piggy and a duck

— Liza

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Day 4: a night we’ll never forget

This morning we woke up to the sound of birdsong and mooing cows. Rather different to the usual song of crying babies that we’re used to. After breakfast Frikkie and another guide at the camp, Ernest, took us on a walking tour around the camp. Zingela is made up of three base camps constructed along the Tugela, each with its own accommodation and eating areas. They all have their own style and are as comfortable and picturesque as the last.

The tour took us all morning – up hills and down valleys, and this was before the three hour hike we knew awaited us at midday. The part of the trip that we had been most unsure of. Our itinerary just said that we’d be spending our last night in a rural village, when we asked specific questions all we got were vague responses and general reassurance that we would be well looked after. There wasn’t a moment where we felt we would be in an unsafe situation, but we were after more detail. Like, are there toilets? An important question, seeing as our entire enjoyment of the experience depended on the answer.

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Looking out across the river towards the mountain we climbed later that day

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After a strong cup of tea and more rusks, we packed our rucksack with all we needed for the night in the village and met up with Ernest, Thebi and Bonnie who were to be our guides on the hike. They were born there, have grown up there and do the three hour hike daily, there and back! Lithe and with an unrelenting pace they hopped and skipped up the side of the mountain like sure-footed duikers, while we trudged on behind. We were so grateful for our kit from Due South. We wouldn’t have got far without the light, easy to wear rucksack that carried everything we both needed easily and comfortably, plus our water bottles and binos. Lunch at the edge of a dried up waterfall overlooking the valley recharged us before we set off again, feeling totally unprepared for what was to come…

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Ernest

Ernest

The beautiful Thebi, who hosted us in her home.

The beautiful Thebi, who hosted us in her home.

Bonnie

Bonnie

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Throwing rocks at ‘the can’ – a good luck ritual that they do every day

Lunch stop

Lunch stop

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Yet another cow. Liza is mad for cows.

Yet another cow. Liza is mad for cows.

By the time we reached our second pitstop I was feeling rather overwhelmed. The enormous silence was deafening and the feeling of being so utterly remote caused a creeping panic to start in the pit of my stomach and work its way up to my throat.

We had no idea where we were going to be spending that night and Frikkie chose that moment to tell us that in Zulu tradition an unmarried man was not allowed near the house of an unmarried woman. Our host Thebi is unmarried, so he was going to be somewhere else, on the other side of the village, in Ernest’s house.

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The boys went off in one direction and we in another. Thebi’s house was made up of three huts on the outskirts of the village. She lives there with her baby boy. The first room was where we were received. Here we were given a grass mat to sit on and left, while Thebi went off to draw water and light the fire for supper. We were exhausted, sweaty and more than a little out of our depth at this point. Women from the village came, and hoards of children, they sat on the opposite side of the room and watched us, giggling when we asked them questions and chatting amongst themselves, no doubt about the tired, bedraggled looking tourists in front of them who may well have come from another planet, for all we knew about each other.

Both sides of the room started to gain confidence though, and before long the mama’s sang, while the kids danced and clapped. Babies were handed to us and we were shown a little bit of the feminine side of life in the village, after all the work was done. Lots of chatting, raucous laughter and spontaneous bursts of song.

There were so many kiddies, they all seemed to belong to everyone, as no one woman treated any child more lovingly than the next. We learnt that a lot of the little one’s mothers have jobs in the big city and only come home a couple of times a year. These little ones are absorbed into the village and loved and cared for as if they were family. We learnt the next day that “orphan” in Zulu is intandane, which can also be translated as “most loved one”.

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We slept in the third hut, under traditional blankets, snug and safe from the chill winds outside. We were expecting to go to bed as we were, filthy and exhausted after our long hike, but Thebi had heated water, drawn from the village well and brought it to us so we could wash before we crashed into bed.

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So many things come to mind when I recall that night. It was in many ways a difficult experience. The culture shock itself threatened to overshadow everything – it was not a ‘quirky African experience’, but getting a first-hand experience of people’s real lives. There’s no electricity, no running water, no toilets and life is hard. That said, there is little or no crime and the people we met were warm and full of hospitality. We were asked back by everyone we met on the road out. “Come again,” they said, “next time stay with me and my family!”

Who knows, maybe one day we will!

Thank you Open Africa for an amazing experience. Next time you are thinking of taking a holiday in and around this amazing country of ours, check out their website and what they have to offer.

— Emily

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Day 3: beautiful Zingela

After our two amazing days in the Berg, we waved goodbye to Bahati Tree Lodge and had breakfast at a sweet little coffee shop called Ady’s Queen of Tarts in Winterton. The food was so good and it was the perfect place to buy presents for everyone who was helping us out back home. Such tourists.

Our next stop was Weenen, where we left our trusty Chevy and met up with our very own Camel man Frikkie, who hauled all our luggage onto his stripped down 4×4 and proceeded to take us on a very rough, two-hour 4×4 drive deep into the bush. Frikkie was our best friend for the next two days. Really though. He was our game ranger, guide and emotional support system, as well as a fount of information who never got tired of our endless questions about the area, the camp, the foliage, animals (and stopping for every single cow so Liza could take pictures, there were lots of cows), surrounds, history etc etc… we loved Frikkie.

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Frikkie

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When we arrived at Zingela Safari & River Company we were definitely in “bush mode” and had NO idea what to expect…  Zingela is African bush glamping at its most lovely. Unspoilt, uncommercialised and owned and run by people who love it more than anything. Mark and Linda Calverley have been constructing the camp for over 30 years, you can see the passion in their faces when they welcome you and the pride with which they talk about the land and its surrounds.

The thing that hits you first about Zingela is the enormousness of it. The huge expanse of hills and valleys, scrub lands and unending sky, untouched by the hands of man. Just nature, the way God intended it to be.

The vast, echoing silence punctuated by the bark of a baboon and the chirping cicadas hits you next. It’s the sound of Africa, which does more for the strung-out city mama than all the therapy and spa-days ever could.

The accommodation is luxurious without being pretentious and the food, facilities and activities are perfection. Plus, they comb the sand so it’s straight and neat all the time, which Liza loved. Real Africa, only neat!

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The view from our beds!

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After our river rafting adventure, we each enjoyed a hot bath under the night sky… bliss

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Bentley the resident Great Dane. There was a Jack Russell called Diesel too, but he was very grumpy so we steered clear

After settling in our beautiful room right on the river which was constructed out of stone from the area with a thatched roof and tented doors, we made our way back to front of house where we gulped down a hot cup of tea and some rusks before we hiked up to the “pimple” with Frikkie and a clutch of interns who are studying tourism and doing their practicals at Zingela.

The “pimple”, aptly named for its protrusion at the top of the hill, is the perfect spot for sundowners and game spotting. We saw warthogs, giraffes and buck while we sipped on beers out the can (something we don’t do too very often!). One of the interns, Hector from Islington, had never left the UK before. He literally stepped off a plane from London and headed for the bush – talk about polar opposites. He also proved to be the world’s best barman (bless him), keeping our glasses full at all times – from our sunset beers on the “pimple”, G&Ts round the fire at base camp, wine at supper, Amarula after supper and on a night ride to feed the wild pigs. Nothing like a shot of Amarula after you’ve just been elbow deep in mielie corn tossing handfuls to pigs.

We also got to experience an impromptu white water rafting experience under the light of an enormous full moon, which left us both completely certain that we had just experienced the funnest night of our lives. Such a rush. Halfway along the river we stopped at Frikkie’s “private” beach where Hector seemed to magically appear at our sides toting more Amarula and Old Brown Sherry to fuel us for the rest of the paddling journey where we steered from the front of the boat, while Frikkie was really doing everything at the back. If you’ve never done white water rafting, at night, with the moon as your guide, you really should. We’ll never forget it.

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At the top, admiring the view

At the top of the “pimple”, admiring the view

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Full moon rising over the Tugela River

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— Emily

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“A portrait of our children, once a week, every week, in 2014″

Willow: Hanging with friends
James: Trucks are the flavour of the month
Bailey: Shelling beans from the veggie garden
Robert: Babe in the bath

— Emily

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Day 2: raptors and treetops

Falcon Ridge is a bird of prey rehab centre in the Champagne Valley of the Drakensberg. We arrived in time for the 10.30am show, which was mind blowing. A few rows of chairs are set out on a ridge, with a view of the foothills and once everyone had taken their seats Greg, the owner, and his incredible birds put on a display that neither of us will ever forget.

These mighty birds have always fascinated me, so to see them so close was awe-inspiring. I had no idea that they could be trained as quickly and easily as you can train a dog. Greg hails them from literally hundreds of meters above us with one piercing cry and they come hurtling out of the big blue. He’d fling a chicken neck up into the sky and Squawk or Rourke or one of the other mighty creatures would swoop down and grab it. I felt moved to tears once or twice, totally awe-inspired by the intelligence and power of these enormous birds.

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Ardmore selfie

The view from Falcon Ridge

The view from Falcon Ridge

Greg introduces his birds

Greg introduces his birds

Showing off a considerable wing span

Showing off a considerable wing span

Fish eagle

Fish eagle

Hooter the brown owl

Hooter the brown owl

Rouke the African eagle

Rouke the African eagle

From there we headed straight to the Drakensberg Canopy Tours reception. We were about to face our fear of heights and take on Africa’s second highest, fastest zip lines.

Seriously though, this is is the most fun you can ever have swinging helplessly by a thread over a ranging river. Our guides, Promise and Zumile made it look so graceful and while we were a little more ungainly, we couldn’t stop shrieking with the fun of it all. Seriously, if you are in the area you have to try this, it includes the second highest zip line on the continent and there are 12 altogether.

With Zumile and Promise, our guides for the canopy tour

With Zumile and Promise, our guides for the canopy tour

Eeek!

Eeek!

Weeee!

Weeee!

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We did it!

We did it!

Exhausted, we then got hopelessly lost on our way to our next night’s stay over. We were cocky and weren’t using the TomTom and ended up on some guys private farm about an hour off the beaten track. He looked a little surprised to see two city girls in a Chevvy Spark Lite blasting East Coast Radio, hurtling up to his front door, but he took it in his stride and we eventually made it to Bahati Tree Lodge where we spent the night.

Built by the owner Chris, the cabins are constructed around the trees, he refused to chop down a single one so they continue to grow up through the rooms. Comfortable and modern, with views out over Bell Park Damn Valley, this place is perfect for families and little kids, especially for those who want to get away from it all, but still be close to the activities in the area. Chris’s wife Magda is so hospitable, going out of her way to ensure we were happy and comfy and had everything we needed. She also works at the Drakensberg Information Centre, so she knows everything that is happening. A great person to get in touch with if you are on holiday there.

The accommodation is self-catering so we headed out for dinner to the Drakensberg Sun (the Drak Sun as the locals call it) and took total advantage of the buffet. What a pleasure.

Such a busy day… but we slept like logs in our log cabin. Which is good, because we had no idea what the 3rd day had in store and that we’d need all the sleep we could get.

Arriving at Bahati Tree Lodge

Arriving at Bahati Tree Lodge

Our gorgeous cabin

Our gorgeous cabin

Sunset from the deck.

Sunset.

— Emily

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Day 1: the beautiful Drakensberg

If you follow us on Instagram or Twitter you might have seen that we have been on a little adventure. Open Africa is a social enterprise that tailormake tourism routes, offering travellers authentic experiences, while generating income for local businesses in rural areas.

We were thrilled to have been chosen by them to partake in their Empty Suitcase Open Mind experiment that sent 5 bloggers off on different trips around the country. And so, last Tuesday we were up at 4am to fly to King Shaka Airport to explore the beautiful Drakensberg, along with the fantastic sponsors, Hertz Rent A Car who provided us with our trusty steed (seriously, this Chevvy Spark Lite took us all over the province on the smallest amount of petrol imaginable, never known such a economical car!) and Due South who equipped us with all the latest tools, gadgets and things we needed to complete our action-packed 5-day trip.

After a 3 hour drive, which was unimaginable without our trusty nbf (TomTom) we arrived at the Drakensberg Information Centre where we had the best burger either of us have ever tasted, no jokes. From there we headed to our first stopover.

Ardmore Guest Farm is a fully-functioning farm as well as a arts and crafts hub. African Loom Weaving Factory employs ladies in the area who spin, weave and sew hand dyed cotton into vibrantly coloured bags, cushions and placemats etc.

As you can see from the below pics, it was the perfect place to kick off our adventure. Serene and views for miles… plus an honesty bar that helped us kick-start the holiday vibes. At supper, the owner Paul told us a little bit about the fascinating history of the area – the endless battles for the land that were fought by the British, the Zulus, the Boers and a few others if you look back far enough. Amazing to think of all that violence in such a peaceful spot. Although the beauty and the lush, fertile lands makes it understandable why so many were willing to lay down their lives to claim it.

After a comfortable night and a wonderful (enormous) farm-style breakfast (which we almost missed because, man, everything happens way earlier in KZN!) we were off again on day two of our trip, which was to prove eventful… more to follow on that tomorrow!

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— Emily

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