I had a wonderful twenty four hours in the Drakensberg and feel compelled to write about it.
I attended a performance of the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir on Wednesday 19th November 2008. The school is located in the Cathkin valley of the Drakensberg, overlooked by Cathkin Peak and Monk’s Cowl. It is a boarding school with 107 boys between the ages of 9 and 15, with half the boys being black. Entry to the school requires an initial high standard of musical achievement. The school provides a normal academic and sports programme but also requires the boys to train for two hours each day in the choir. The choir does a performance on most Wednesday afternoons and also tours both South Africa and internationally.
The first half of the performance featured a wide range from extracts from Handel’s Messiah, Faure’s Requiem and classical songs in Russian to songs from Queen and Coldplay. Many boys were given a chance to do solo performances. The sound was pure and exciting with some African instruments included. All their songs were performed from memory without texts to remind them.
The second half was even more exciting and focused on songs from south of the Sahara sung in many different African languages. The boys had changed out of their formal choir attire into coloured shirts, dark trousers and gum boots. They sung with gusto, swung, clapped, stamped and entertained the audience mightily. They accompanied themselves with a wide range of African drums, string and other instruments. At one point they turned the lights off and in a cappella style created the sounds of the African night including frogs, crickets and even rain and thunder. The performance was so moving that I had tears in my eyes. This was sheer magic.
Further details, as well as audio clips, are available on http://www.dbchoir.info
I was staying at a time share unit at the Drakensberg Sun. The next morning I woke early to find that the rain had stopped and the sun was shining. By 05h30 I was hiking towards the mountains. I followed the course of the river from the hotel. The grass and the ground underfoot were both still wet. The path crossed the river a few times and then climbed high above the river, to join it again a little way further. The forest filled the valley only allowing slim whispers of light through. After ninety minutes I came across a mountain cave or grotto beside a mountain pool, beneath a waterfall. Thirty years ago, when I was last in the area, I would have rolled my sleeping bag out, fired up the billy can and dived into the pool. I sat alone in wonderment of the beauty around me. I back tracked a little and then took a path up out of the valley, out of the forest on to the open lower flanks of the Indanyana Mountain. The views opened up for miles around me. The baboons barked from the kloof, the raptors soared above and occasionally I had to be careful not to step on a songololo. I crouched by fast running mountain streams and scooped ice cold water to quench my thirst and cool my face.
I crossed into the KwaZulu Natal Parks Board land and specifically the Monks Cowl Mdedelelo Wilderness Area. The path nudged higher and higher to an altitude of about 5,000 feet where the steep rock faces of the upper Indanyana Mountain towered another 1,500 feet above me. As the early morning sun pulled the wetness from the land and vegetation I turned south along the contour path. I met a young couple and we shared enthusiasm and passion about the beauty around us. I was tempted to forge higher and take the path to the peak of Steilberg but was conscious that I was hiking alone. I had signed the hiking register at the hotel so they knew that I was out but I had now ventured further than I had recorded. One is very vulnerable when hiking alone. I had stumbled in hidden holes a few times and while I felt quite safe I recognised that in the mountains an accident can be just a step away. And so I turned on to the long easy downward path along the ridge between the Kwa-Ndema and Cathkin valleys and eventually back to the hotel. I was gone only four hours, had walked about twelve kilometres, had climbed about 1,200 feet but had visited heaven.
I had a quick shower and headed to the Falcon Ridge bird of prey show. An audience of about sixty sat high above the valley in bright sunshine and were enthralled while Dave, the falconer, explained the sport of falconry which is the sporting art of flying trained birds of prey at quarry in its natural state and habitat. He then did a one hour show with a lanner falcon, a long crested eagle, a black eagle, a spotted eagle owl, a cape vulture and a wild yellow billed kite. He would release a bird from his arm which would then fly far down into the valley until it found an upward thermal which it would then use to soar upwards and upwards. When it was very high, sometimes as far as a kilometre away, Dave would bring out a lure which looked like a mouse or small bird and the bird of prey would come sweeping in at an incredible speed. Generally it would attempt to grab the lure as it swept past and beyond us. The eyesight and speed of these birds had us gasping with amazement. Dave communicated his knowledge to us in an easy and amusing way and we left in awe at another wonder of nature.
And so I had a wonderful twenty four hours in the Drakensberg. I will visit this area again and regularly, and next time will make sure that I visit the valley that I was last in thirty years ago. That valley is called Injasuti which translates as ‘the valley of the well fed dog’. This dog certainly fed well on the wonders of the Drakensberg.