Living, Learning & Loving La Vida Nueva

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

All About Sani

Well before we moved here, we heard about Sani Pass.  We heard that it was dangerous and scary and that is gives young people gray hair.  Google confirmed all those accusations.  It truly is a treacherous journey when we drive down that direction.  Because the vast majority of you won’t ever experience it yourselves, I thought I’d describe it in detail here.  Just for fun.  

It takes about an hour from our driveway to the top of Sani.  The road between here and there was literally a piece of work the first few times we drove it.  The Chinese had come in and were busy blasting, carving, chipping and chopping away at the mountains to make space for a decent road.  We once were stopped for over an hour waiting to pass because they were blasting ahead.  Before, the road was narrow and unpaved.  Now, the road is smooth, wide and, although windy, easy to drive.  

At the top of Sani is the Lesotho border post.  It is very small and the folks who work there are almost always inside by a fire playing cards.  It is very relaxed and they know us now.  The top of Sani, at approximately 10,000 feet elevation, is chilly even in summer.  In winter is it bitter cold.  The fire inside burns nearly year round.  We stamp all of our passports and pile back into Rocky.  The law states that only 4X4 vehicles are allowed to travel the pass.  Rocky qualifies.  Jono switches the gear box into low range and puts on the difference lock.  There are reasons for this which I don’t fully understand and/or don’t fully want to explain.  But basically it makes Rocky safer to drive down the steep road ahead.  A sign requests that right of way be given to ascending vehicles, as it’s harder to stop and go as you are traveling up.  Many spots in the road are not wide enough for two cars to pass, so you must be aware of oncoming traffic.  

We start down.  Oftentimes you can see far into South Africa with an unobstructed view.  Other times there is a layer of clouds hanging lower than the mountains, which makes it look like a big white blanket is spread across the lowlands.  And occasionally there is fog which means you really can’t see anything.  That doesn’t feel too good.  But we really aren’t nervous.  We turn on some Toby Keith to bump down so our singing voices sound like his.  We figure if we go over, we go over.  What can we do?  We need groceries and want fast food.  The hairpin turns begin immediately.  I believe I've counted 14 major turns with a number of other twists and turns along the way.  They have names like: Suicide Bend, Reverse Corner and Hemorrhoid Hill (gross).  The rapid turning only lasts a few minutes; we drive slowly and carefully.  The road is narrow and there is no guard rail.  Not that it would help if there was one; it’s a long ways down.  A few of the turns are a really close call and Rocky’s tires are closer to the edge than we’d like to admit.  There are small water falls coming from all directions.  Water is coming out of the rocks.  In the wintertime, that water is frozen solid in places that never see the sun.  It is then two foot long icicles. 

When the quick turns are over, we wind down and around and down and around another bumpy 20 minutes to the South African border post.  The road here is essentially a ton of large rocks packed hard into the dirt.  It means a lot of jerking around in the car.  The kids ask why the road is so bumpy.  And how much longer do we have?  And say things like, “Daddy, I just hit my head.”  We drive through a number of streams along the way.  We go fast to try to clean off Rocky.  Free car wash.  The border post provides a much needed bathroom break after all that bumping.  If we’re lucky, we see baboons hanging around high on the rocks above the post.  If we’re unlucky, they chase us.  Just kidding.  Although they are quite aggressive, they do keep their distance.  We stamp our passports again, this time with temporary visas for South Africa, and continue on our way.  There is another 30 minutes of very bumpy, windy road ahead.  The lower area of the road is extremely muddy, which is so dangerous when it is raining (or just after).  Just this past week, we were slip sliding all over the place trying to drive it.  It’s awful.  Rocky very nearly got stuck and we were a little too close to sliding off the edge for comfort.  It’s still very high, even though we are way past Sani pass.  Going over would be a big problem.  We really wish they would pave this part of the road, but alas, it is unlikely.

Sani is a huge tourist attraction in this area of South Africa.  It is known as the most precipitous (highest climb in shortest distance) pass in Africa.  People pay good money to take a guided tour up and down it in one day.  If you want to spend the night at the top, you can pay a hefty tourist rate to stay at the Sani Mountain Lodge.  Because Sani is an attraction for tourists, thrill seekers, bikers and others, it is unlikely that much will be done to change the rugged appeal to the pass.  It can be annoying to pass so many touring vehicles when we are trying to get to the grocery or a doctor’s appointment.  We also know it is exactly four hours from our porch to the McDonald’s parking lot, so we’re aiming for lunch time.

We can typically accomplish Sani in about an hour.  Then it’s another two hour drive to the nearest large city, Pietermaritzburg.  That drive is absolutely stunning.  It reminds us of Tennessee or Kentucky.  Rolling hills and large dairy farms.  Lots of ponds and lakes are sprinkled around.  The road is smooth and the scenery is lovely.  We’re over the worst of it and on our way to french fries.  It feels good.


Sunday, April 2, 2017


As a child, I used to love to visit my grandparents' house.  As an adult, I still get just as excited.  When I return to that log cabin set beautifully atop a mountain, memories of summer days and winter nights come flooding back.  Having spent a career in the Air Force, my Oma and Opa have collected a variety of unique items which decorate their lovely home.  I enjoy looking at the paintings and carvings from foreign lands.  The house itself is warm and welcoming, but most of all I love the memories I have from many visits over the years.  

The smell of strong coffee fills the house in the mornings.   Slowly but surely family arises and gathers for a simple breakfast.  Some have slept at the Big House, others at the cottage on the backside of the property, some even camp in the side yard in a pop out camper.  Mornings are spent on the front porch if it’s warm outside, or in the sunroom if it’s chilly.  When breakfast is cleared and put away, a family walk is on the agenda.  We spend a lot of time walking and exploring the land surrounding the house.

There is a pond on the bottom of the property where we go to feed the fish.  Walking down is easy, but walking back up is always a feat.  When I was small, it felt like such a long ways.  Now I realize it isn’t that far at all.  We climb trees and inspect moss and collect flowers for a table center piece.  In the heat of summer, we enjoy picking blackberries.  

Games begin on the front terraces during the late morning and after lunch.  Three legged races, bocce ball or softball with plastic bats and plastic balls are included in some of the fun.  We spread quilts on the lawn and enjoy each other’s company in the shade.  The beautiful lawn doubles as a driving range, where Opa practices his long-range shots.  We take rides in the golf cart and hunt for lost golf balls.  Sometimes, if it’s too hot or too cold, we venture down into the basement for more games or a classic movie.  I remember watching Lion King and Riverdance the most.  Those are two of my very favorite movies even now.  I almost always tear up watching Riverdance now because it takes me right back to my childhood in Oma’s basement.  

Summer nights are spent playing outside games.  We love to play flashlight tag.  We dress in dark clothes, set boundaries around the yard, and run to hide in our best spots.  My dad and my uncle often begin the hunting.  Fireflies light up in the dark and crickets are making noise all around.  We do our best to not giggle as they walk right past us. 
During the holidays, the house bustles with people moving about preparing for a big family get-together.  Some set places at the tables, while others are assembling the food on the buffet.  My Oma is a great cook and an even better hostess.  The air is so chilly outside, but sometimes I go out on the front porch swing while the dinner is being prepared.  There is plenty of space to spread out inside, but I enjoy sitting outside and breathing in the fresh mountain air and gazing at the starry night.  There seem to be so many more stars above that mountain than anywhere else.  

When the night is over and we all head to our designated sleeping spots, I enjoy replaying the day’s events before falling asleep.  It never gets old being there.  It’s the perfect place to visit, relax, eat and have tons of fun.  

Months ago, I saw an add for Wanderer Bracelets with coordinates from your favorite place.  During this stage of my life, I certainly feel like a wanderer.  I also feel as though I'll never feel completely at home anywhere again.  I've left pieces of my heart in lots of places and I'm only just getting started.  That specific place holds such cherished memories for me, I decided to order myself a Wanderer Bracelet with the coordinates from my grandparents' front porch.  I love knowing a little piece of my heart is with me even here.