9.09.2010

Hiking and Cranky Hostel Owners

We went to the Drakensburg Mountains in South Africa, which are known for their hiking. We had a couple ideas of what we wanted to do, and we looked up the hostels in our guide book and settled on one that said was "closest to the Amphitheater", which is a place we wanted to hike. We arrived in the evening and met the owner, who was a bit snarky. He explained all the tours to us, places we could pay about 70 USD per head to go and he would be the guide for the hike. He also said, and I quote, "there are other ways to get there but I can't tell you how".

Okay, so let me just be clear on one thing. Aside from guidebooks, we RELY on hostel owners and employees to give us the lowdown on the surrounding area. Usually they do this with gusto and pride. They are a very important wealth of information to us. This guy was not a wealth of anything. So, we decided to just set off on our own and maybe ask someone else along the way.

The first day we had no problem finding the base for the Amphitheater hike. There was a bit of a dirt road (we have a TINY Hyundai with NO power), but we had no problems driving it, finding the trail head or any problems keeping to the trail along the way. We got back to the hostel that night and met a couple who had just arrived and were disappointed because they had wanted to go to the Amphitheater but the owner had told them that, "it was very hard to find, it was essential to have a 4 wheel drive for the road up there and the trail was not well marked". Which, as I explained before, is total BS.

Our plan for the next day was do another, more difficult hike, one that this hostel offered as a guided tour for about 130 dollars. We knew we didn't want to pay that much and clearly we could not ask the owner for advice, so the next day we set off on our own to tackle the mountain. We arrived at the gate, paid our fee, and were delighted when the gate attendant asked us if we wanted a map. Little did we know, all this was was a map to find....the trailhead. NO map of the mountain or the trail. We set out anyway.

Now, this hike was said to have taken 9 hours, so we figured we would go about 4 and then turn around if we hadn't made it to the top. We reached a split in the road right around hour two, and since our peak was to the left, we took the path to the left. And walked and walked and walked. Around hour 3.7 we realized we were not getting anywhere, we were definitely not going up, and this was a hike to the peak of the mountain, so we turned around sadly. But then we started thinking, maybe we should have taken the split to the right. So when we got to it, we still had a little extra time and we decided to try it. It was the correct path. It went up a hill, along a ridge, then up another hill, which was almost as high as the peak. From there it went left (towards the peak) on a flat path. So basically we did all the climbing without the payoff.

I don't mind not making it to the top, but it is SOOO frustrating to not be able to get proper maps or information. As I was walking down the hill, I was so peeved at the hostel owner, who was so into making money that he didn't make it comfortable for his guests. He had a gorgeous hostel with a pool table, jacuzzi and chill out room, but he had the bar open to everyone and everyone was there. They all stayed up until 4 and 5 in the morning (the locals) shouting and screaming, playing loud music in their cars in the parking lot right near the camping area, and tooting their horn. And everyone who comes here comes to hike, and has to get up early to do so!

I had a great time hiking anyway. The Drakes are beautiful and I would recommend them to anyone, but it does bother me that they don't make it easy to take a hike on your own. There were no signs or markings and no information to be had. I would not recommend the Amphitheater hostel unless you are going to the Drakes for a party and don't plan on going to bed early. Then it is just the place for you.

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