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dragon hunting

Work took D to South Africa a few short weeks after we had completed our Garden Route trip, presenting an opportunity to explore a little more of what is quickly becoming one of our favorite countries in the world. The possibilities were at once numerous and difficult to execute. D only had a long weekend at his disposal before he had to report for work to the consulate in Johannesburg, and all of the destinations that had piqued his interest were at least 4-5 hours’ drive away.

D’s first instinct had been to go to Kruger – South Africa’s premier national park – but then he thought better of it. Upon further reflection, doing a solo safari seemed like a somewhat lonely proposition. Also, we have done a ton of safaris during our nearly four years on the continent, including multiple trips with the kids. To make the most of this opportunity for solo travel, D thought he should seek out an adventure that would be impossible to undertake with kids in tow.

D was reminded of a three-person delegation whose week of work meetings in Kigali he had helped arrange recently. They had one free day at their disposal before their return flight to Washington. Two of the visitors seemed content to relax by the hotel pool, get a workout in, and maybe do some souvenir shopping. Their companion, on the other hand, crafted an intense sightseeing and adventuring itinerary for her one free day of leisure. She was married with two small kids, whereas the others were both young and unattached. “You guys just don’t understand,” she kept telling them when they scoffed at her plans, “I haven’t had any alone time in years and I must make the most of it!”

D’s next thought was to try to tack on an extra flight to his Kigali-Johannesburg route – maybe a few days in Swaziland or Lesotho, which would have enabled him to add another country to his travel list. Alas, the Kigali-Johannesburg route is already less than ideal given the stopover in Zambia. Adding more flights would have eaten so much into D’s limited free time that the hassle would not have been worth it.

Ultimately, D decided to rent a car and drive to the Drakensberg, which is located about halfway between Johannesburg and Durban. The so-called Dragon’s Mountain is actually an escarpment that reminded D of the Island in the Sky in Utah – a stunning plateau that towers over the Eastern Cape’s flatlands for hundreds of miles while forming South Africa’s border with Lesotho.

The Friday evening flight from Rwanda landed in Johannesburg just after 2am Saturday morning. To make his itinerary work, D had to forego sleep that evening. Johannesburg is not the safest of cities, so D killed a few hours at one of the airport’s two open coffee kiosks before picking up his rental at 5:30 and hitting the road with the first light of the day. The sacrificed sleep was well worth it, as D got in two full-day hikes in Royal Natal National Park along with a day-trip to Lesotho.

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