Next morning was our major day. We aimed to head for the high Drakensberg come hell or high water, and as I burst out of our tent, disturbing a flock of guinea fowl looking for pickings, the weather was obviously fantastic. The bluff to the west of the camp stood out brilliantly, clear as it could be, and I started to get excited about the trek.
The first couple of miles took us through tame valley, out of the camp and up through partially wooded slopes along a bustling river valley. As Kirsty pointed out to me, the sight is a very rare concept anywhere in Africa, a freshwater stream where you can bathe, drink and wash in complete safety. So many rivers in the continent were dark and muddy, and full of bilharzia-carrying snails, that unless you were really desperate, you would never think of entering. But here close to the Drakensburg were the kind of freshwater streams that littered North America, northern Europe, the Andes and the higher parts of Asia. One of the most wonderful sights in the world is good clean fresh water rippling over rocks and valleys, and here was no exception. The best part of this valley was a series of rock platforms over which the river cascaded. Many people were taking advantage of this natural playground and the whole effect was far more impressive than Sun City could ever hope to reproduce.
We moved away from the river valley and began to climb a nearby ridge. The air was so clear and fresh, we got some wonderful views both down the valley towards the farms beyond the park and up into the higher mountains. Below us, several fire scars were betrayed by the luminous green of regrowing grass. As we went higher, the escarpment exposed itself to us. We hoped to find a way into the next valley and work our way back to our camp. But as we rose higher, we realised that there was no easy route down, and we tramped across moorland that had no true path.
I tromped as if on a Pennine moor, and rarely looked where my feet were taking me. I don’t know why, but I looked down at one stage and as my right foot moved towards the ground, I realised I was about to tromp on a curled up snake. The reflex reaction to this lurched me three feet in the air, and I bounded backwards away from where my right foot was to go. Kirsty was a few steps behind, and thought I had actually been bitten, but I had propelled myself backwards. My heart racing I looked back at the spot I had been about to stand in. There was a dusky brown coloured snake, still curled up. From a safe distance Kirsty and I investigate this thing. It had made no move but Kirsty fairly confidently identified it as a Puff Adder, a rather dangerous snake capable of inflicting a painful and poisonous bight if it so intended. It confused us a little as to why it had not reacted when my foot had not been more than three inches from its frame, and could only come up with that it was either rather ill, or had just eaten. Whatever, I was very glad, and I looked the snake as it glared up at me, very much alive, but obviously stunned by something, What is it about an animal being more scared of you than you are of it? I must admit that I looked down at every step I took after that.
We continued to climb for a while, but with the thought that we should have to descent by the same route, we were loathe to go all the way. I was a bit disappointed; I could see the escarpment only another couple of thousand feet above us, and could even see the small huts that marked the border of South Africa with Lesotho. But we needed to be home by dark and those mountains are so huge there was little guarantee that we would get all the way up and down before nightfall. So down we came. It was a magnificent day, and one which drew me closer to the real South Africa, but I was still painfully aware that I was in love with the scenery and not the people.