Sani Mountain Lodge, KZN

Albert’s expert offroading skills delivered us safely to the top of the Sani Pass. After getting our passports stamped at the highest country checkpoint in Africa, we drove around the corner to the Sani Mountain Lodge.

This is the the place that everyone drives to in order to see the mountain range. It is utterly spectacular. Most people only come in for an hour or so and then head back down. They have a drink at the highest pub in Africa, and then drive their way back to wherever it is they are staying.

Not us though. We decided to stay the night there! But I’m getting ahead of myself…

We arrived at the top and were complete in awe of the views. Not that we could see much but the clouds were spectacular. They drew in close and then disbursed again, repeatedly, offering us glimpses of the crazy road that we just drove up!

There were a number of Basotho men on the mountain. I thought it was amazing to be able to see them. However, it turns out they are there every day. Their job really is to have their photo taken and then demand money for it. Now, I have no issue with that generally but you cannot harass people to the level that they do at times. I found it really rather intimidating, especially as when the men said no to them, they respected it. Women they asked and asked and asked. They followed you and stood by you, and stared. It was very creepy.

I didn’t have a clue that any of this was going to happen. I just saw people indigenous to the area we were in, and took a photo. No one warns you otherwise. A few minutes later, the asking started. I didn’t have any change on me at the time. I apologised and said no. I was followed for a while but then new people turned up and they started again. In fairness, it wasn’t all of them. There were a couple who were way worse than the others.

Albert and I took a few more hundered photos, and then settled in at the corner table on the balcony to watch the world go by. In this time, more Basotho arrived, and one had a home made guitar. Accomanied by the drums which were already there, they started up a little song. Basically everyone in the area whipped out their phones and started recording, Albert and I included.

Back came the main aggressor with his tin rattling. He became much more demanding. I continued to try and ignore it, but it was making me start to worry about staying over night there. Eventually he ambled off and I got some change to pay them. I hoped this would keep them at bay.

Stupidly, after half a bottle of the most terirble wine I’ve subjected myself to in quite a while, Albert and I decided we wanted to go down and take some more photos of us by the edge of the cliff. We did that, and figured that as we had already given them a sizable amount of money (about 5 times what was considered average) I could have my photo taken with them again.

Like I said, stupid. The continued to hound us after that. It was the most miserable part of the whole experience and it totally marred the day for me. I don’t know why the hotel allow this to happen.

I can happily report that after my third glass of terrible wine, I stopped stressing about it and started to put myself back into the enjoyment stage of the evening.

We were staying in a darling little rondawel for the night and it felt like a great adventure!

Not so little really. The bed was double the size of the one from the previous night!

I was rather looking forward to getting in it at that point. It had been another very long day but not only that, I was struggling to breathe in the altitude. I live on sea level and have for the last 14yrs nearly. This is slightly different to being nearly 3km above sea level! It really messes with your lungs. I couldn’t take a full breath of air the whole time we were up there.

I thought on the way up the mountain pass that I couldn’t breath well because I didn’t have a sports bra on (pro tip for any busy ladies heading up there – wear the sports bra because it’s fairly painful in a normal balconette!) but I actually think that as soon as I got above 1500m, it started to change my lung functionality. Don’t get me wrong, I could breath but I couldn’t catch my breath. I hope that makes sense.

For some reason I decided that thinning your blood with alcohol was a recommended way to combat this. That’s why I was drinking the terrible wine. I could have saved myself a cracking hangover if I had bothered to do a little research first, but by now you probably have realised that this isn’t my strength when I’m adventuring! It’s literally the thing they tell you not to do! Oops!

The wine was still going strong when the clouds reached us. I literally mean reached us. They rolled up the mountain and in seconds you could see all of 10ft in front of you if you were lucky. This didn’t bother me at all. In fact, it was really rather exciting!

It was followed up with a torrential downpour though which took us inside. We sat looking out the window and although you couldn’t see a great deal, you could absolutely see the giant lightning bolts which didn’t just light up the sky, but lit the valley too. It was absolutely incredible.

Before long the storm died out, the wine was finished, and it was time for dinner.

Albert had upgraded us to have dinner and breakfast included. I was so thankful as it was a long time since the omelette that morning!

Dinner was a three course affair, which started with tomato soup (that tasted more like minestrone minus the noodles) with fresh bread and cheese on toast soldiers!

The only way I can eat (drink?) soup is by dunking vast quantities of bread into it so this worked very well. I also asked for some additional soldiers, which they happily bought for us!

There was a choice of main course but I couldn’t tell you what they were now. I know that Albert had the steak. It came with peas, pumpkin and buttered potato. We asked for chips instead but they forgot that bit and had to bring them out separately. Also, they only had peppercorn sauce, not his favourite cheese sauce. He said it was very good indeed, and it certainly looked like he meant it because there wasn’t a scrap left!

I ordered the ribs. While it was very tasty, who on earth gives someone TWO ribs?? Has anyone else ever heard of such injustice!? Two ribs. Ribs come in much larger sets and while I didn’t expect a whole rack, I did hope for at least a quarter!! It also came with pumpkin, peas (devil’s food!) and potatoes. Had I known that the potatoes were going to be as good, I would have never asked for chips. But I did and so I ate both!

Dessert was Malva Pudding which is a South African specialty that everyone here has grown up with. It was a bit liked a steamed vanilla pudding cake which was inoffensive but uninteresting to me. I had eaten so many delicious carbs that I had no room for any more anything!

As soon as we finished desert, exhaustion started kicking in. I think we had been running on pure adrenaline all day (and wine), and so when we finally stopped and slowed down, we literally stopped.

We staggered our way over to the roundawel and got ready for bed. There was a beautiful fire lit for us that had really headed up the room. Not enough to dry the carpet by the door where the rain had apparently flooded in earlier, but enough to make you all toasty and happy. There was also a crystal decanter next to the fire filled with sherry. I cannot stand sherry so it stayed in it’s place!

As an additional plus, and a MASSIVE plus at that, we pulled back the bed sheets and discovered that they had put two hot water bottles between the sheets. This completely and utterly finished me off. I am a sucker for a hot water bottle. It reminds me of being a child and either my Mum or my Grandma taking care of me in the cold. It’s a huge comfort.

I doubt it was even 8.30 before we were asleep. We are such party animals!

The next morning we woke up and after a piping hot shower, investiaged outside. It turns out that the clouds had completely disappeared and so you now had a clear view of the pass. It was stunning. I think I preferred the cloud though as this just served to remind me what an insane drive we had waiting for us to get back down!

There was a bit further you could walk out to see everything, but I couldn’t make it that far. My lungs literally wouldn’t let me. This now means that I have to go back again armed with a small portable oxygen tank. I hate not seeing things. I did suggest to reception at one point that they should stock them and have them on hand for sea people like me but I think they thought I was joking. I don’t joke about lung capacity and touristing.

We went through to breakfast at 7.30am which is when it opened. We weren’t the first there so that made me feel better. We obviously weren’t the only ones that had a very early night! We needed to though because we wanted to be back on the road before the amatures started their climb drive to the top since we were now professionals. We didn’t fancy a few of those corners with oncoming traffic!

There was a lovely selection of cold breakfast available but that’s never interested me. I went straight for sausage and bacon, of course. While we were waiting for that to be brought out, they came through with some freshly baked scones. The smell of them literally must have picked me up by my nostrils because I was suddenly in front of them and putting one on my plate. The idea was to share it with Albert but when he saw and smelt it, he wanted his own!

It was utterly divine. The smell was nothing compared to the light buttery taste. The butter was proper butter and the jam was obviously homemade. I was so angry at myself for the stupid tiny handbag I was using. If I had a proper bag I could have smuggled some away with me to enjoy later.

I think it speaks volumes when I say that I was disappointed when the bacon and sausages were put down in front of me. Not because they weren’t good, but because it meant that I wouldn’t have room for a second scone. I did consider just pushing the hot breakfast to one side but then checked myself and ate the pork!!

It was also really good. The scrambled egg was a little over cooked for my preference but it was still very nice. The sausages and bacon were bursting with flavour though. I think they must be very locally sourced because you never get that level of taste with anything that has been frozen and shipped. Trust me. I know!

All too soon it was time to leave this beautiful place and hit the zig zaggy road again.

I cannot say that I would go back and stay there again. I would go up and go to them for a drink and photo op, but after the problems with the Basotho men, I wouldn’t stay which is a shame because it was very pleasant. I think I would just feel more comfortable in another hotel. There are a couple more just down the road, and we met people staying at them. They were very positive about them but had come to ours for the views and sundowners.

All in all, we had an incredible time though. I am so thankful to Albert for showing me somewhere so incredible, and of course for his fantastic driving skills that got us there and back safely!

Written January 2019

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