The Spoked Traveller | Karate chop a snake in The Bergs
Trails and advice cycling around the world as solo female cyclist and adventurer
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Karate chop a snake in The Bergs

Karate chop a snake in The Bergs

I wish I had my heart rate monitor this morning when I heard a snake hissing in the grass. Hmm, let’s see, was it the highly poisonous rinkhal whose neck spreads like a cobra and attacks the nervous system? Or, could it be the Puffadder? I think it was the Puffadder. They like hissing when humans approach. “The bite is very painful followed by massive swelling, nausea, shock and a drop in blood pressure,” says the hiking map. I think I prefer the rinkhal. None of this dramatic, (think of the cowboy that just got shot in the Western movies). Unnecessarily long process, non? Draaa….maaaa. If you’re going to kill me, get it over with.

Lucky me, I scampered past the sound and kept going. And don’t give me the speech about hiking alone. What, is my partner going to wrestle the snake for me? A couple kung fu chops to the lizard skin? Nope. My big concern with hiking alone is snapping an ankle and then the vultures start to pick at my body. Thankfully, ankles are intact, today.

Jokes aside, this place is stunning. I’m staying at Giants Castle (cabins) in the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Mountains. Afrikaans named it, Mountains of the Dragons, because the top of the mountains resemble a dragon’s back. Layers of red, yellow and black stone topped off with green shrubbery , and red rock plateaus, I followed the ridge along the river today.

In 1997 Sir Edmund Hillary (first man to climb Everest) stayed in the ‘Bergs.’ He was 70 at the time so not up for hiking, but he was helping the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (park management) promote the park, which  subsequently received a UNESCO designation in 2000.

What also makes these mountains so amazing is the 30,000 San Bushman cave paintings, the largest collection in the world, in the neighbourhood of 8,000 years old. I saw some yesterday – they’re about a 20 minute walk from the cabins and they’re actually quite cute: people dancing, and a woman giving another woman a baby. Of course you have all the hunting and animals, but dancing? Lovely.

After mountain biking intensely for nine days, constantly being on, focused and occupied with the riding, it’s so nice to hike and let all that go. Hiking is in the details. Like today, following the sound of the river in the valley below, and then turning a corner to have it disappear and replaced with a gentle wind in my ear. Or, watching the way the shadows of the clouds move across the mountains, like zebra stripes; or, stopping to examine a blue and red bug, cricket?

Or, happen across a couple from Pretoria, South Africa and stop to chat. And before I could get their names, a 50 something couple camping in the park, they invited me to stay with them. Wow. As it was the weekend, lots of city folk come here to hike and camp for the weekend.

Walking on, it wasn’t long before the ridge walk lead to the top of the plateau and I was following a red path through the golden straw. The path undulated up to the rocks, when I saw something moving. A baboon. No, two, three, yikes, over 10! They didn’t really care that I was there, but it made me nervous. At the cabins we’re warned to keep doors closed because they get in and search for food and are known to bite. I wasn’t taking my chances. I turned back. I’m sure I would have been fine, but I was also getting pretty knackered. Even though it’s winter here, the sun is strong.

Ok, back on the restaurant patio: a bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce and a beer. Back to reading Good Morning Mr. Mandela. Written by his Afrikaan secretary, it’s a good primer for South African history. Looking into these mountains, it’s inconceivable that apartheid, something so vicious and hurtful, could happen in this country, but no politics here, just beauty.

  • Toby van Reenen
    Posted at 11:17h, 09 May Reply

    Hiking alone is not very smart. Hiking alone in the Berg is very not smart. Don’t do it. The weather is notoriously changeable and the locals can take advantage of you if they think you are vulnerable. You were smart, however, to avoid those Chacma baboons. Baboons can be very aggressive. It is a known fact that they would viciously attack when feeling threatened. They don’t just “bite”, they could tear you apart.
    It was an honour meeting you on the Joberg2C.
    Safe and happy travels!

    • Melanie Chambers
      Posted at 13:30h, 10 May Reply

      Hey Toby- thanks for the note and your concern. Truly. So, a few factors mean I often hike alone. As a travel writer, I travel alone for months at a time. Meaning, I don’t have a mate with me, and I also don’t have the budget for guides. Unless I doing something difficult then I won’t hire one. I also choose trails that aren’t that technical; Giants Castles’ World View is not so much a hike as it is a walk with a gentle slope. But agreed on the baboons. I trust my gut. I also heard that baboons are more likely to attack women! Thanks again and I promise to be ‘smart.’

  • Claudia B. Manley
    Posted at 14:57h, 07 May Reply

    It all sounds quite amazing; I would’ve liked to have seen the baboons although I, too, would probably have turned around. No lectures on hiking alone from me. I know you’re smart.

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