Another travel day. We were leaving the cape for the last time, catching a domestic flight to Durban. We flew for a pretty reasonable price with Mango Airlines, and got our new rental car, a little red Nissan Micra. We didn’t spend anytime in Durban and hustled out onto the road towards the southern tip of the Drakensberg mountain range near the town of Underberg.
With revised plans we only decided to stay two nights in Underberg, as our plans to take horses up into Lesotho fell through. We took full advantage of our time there and went hiking. As the first light came over the hills we drove to the Bushman’s Nek border post, which is the entry point for those coming on foot or on horseback from Lesotho. We would be hiking in Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park up to Thomatu Cave, an early San cave dwelling. The trail is in the no man’s land between South Africa and Lesotho, so to begin the trail you have to walk through the South African border post. The trail was about 14km round trip with huge rolling slopes and weathered boulder fields. The early morning fog gave way to a strange haze from the controlled burns for fire mitigation in the surrounding areas. The hike itself was quite spectacular with the caves being a pleasant addition. The Thomatu cave, as well as the landscape was very reminiscent of the Ancestral Pueblo people of Mesa Verde in southwest Colorado. Although the Thomatu cave lacked the craftsmanship found in Mesa Verde. We headed back around 1:30pm and made good time until a large troop of baboons sidetracked me. We continued down to the bottom of the trail that took us back to the border post.
To our surprise, and immediate shock the border gate was closed and locked. We were now face to face with a seemingly endless border fence about 10 feet tall and covered with barbed wire, locked out of South Africa. It was 4:15pm and the border post closed, as the extremely faded, and poorly placed sign on the fence stated, at 4pm. The ranger that we spoke to previous to leaving for the hike had given us a map and told us the gates lock at 6pm. Apparently everyone was not on the same page as far as gate times go. The locked gate did not give me a very promising outlook for the evening that was approaching. We decided to try and find another way across the border. We opted to follow the fence south towards the river in hopes that the fence would be crossable in the river. As we headed through the trees towards the river we noticed another door in the fence. With not many option we decided to see if it was unlocked.
To our surprise and relief it was unlocked! It felt a bit strange crossing back through this secret door in the woods. We were not crossing into South Africa illegally since we never officially got stamped for exiting South Africa, and we never crossed into Lesotho. Even though we could justify the legality of our crossing we were still nervous as we made our covert crossing of the fence. We passed through another stand of trees, which opened up, into the backside of the border post and the housing for the border guards, which was seemingly abandoned now at the days end. We walked as casually and confidently as we could between the empty buildings just waiting nervously for someone to appear and question our form of entry. No one appeared and we made it back to our car with a big sigh of relief. We were well worn out, and hungry, and after a quick dinner we slept like logs.
While staying at Khotso Trails just outside of Underberg we had the fortune of meeting a family staying in the room next door, who had been traveling the world in their 1928 Graham-Paige for the last 12 years. It began with a road trip from Argentina to Alaska, and they just kept going, and going, having 4 kids along the way. They have written a book called “Spark Your Dream”, a bestseller in Argentina, and currently in its 8th edition. They had only just begun their African excursion, arriving in Durban from India, when we met them and they were an inspiration for continuing to travel in our life, and we wished them the best of luck on their adventures.