We spent the last two days of our South African expedition in an area called Drakensburg.  With stunning mountain peaks and incredible hiking, Drakensburg had been highly recommended to us by several locals as a “must see” destination.  So we drove, and we drove, and we drove some more, and when we finally arrived, we realized that Drakensburg is exactly like Ellensburg, but much, much more rural.  It’s true that the surrounding mountains are beautiful, but unless you have camping gear (which we don’t) you can’t actually stay in the mountains.  You have to stay in the foothills, which are nothing but flat farm land.  It’s a good 1.5 hour drive to get to the nearest hiking trail.  We were literally in the middle of nowhere. Not exactly what we had expected.  But, here we were, and so we made the best of it.  We stayed at a nice hostel called Ampitheatre Backpackers.  They had a fully stocked bar which was the saving grace of being in Ellensburg for our last two nights!  

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t the best and we weren’t able to go on any hikes. We needed to find a post office to send our South African souvenirs home.  The nearest post was about 15 miles away in a small town called Bergville (I’m not kidding here, that truly was the name ~ it really was just like being in Ellensburg, but worse!).  So our plan was to go to the post office then drive as far as we could into the mountains and find a lake to do some fly-fishing.  Upon driving into Bergville we did a quick scope of the place and quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to leave the car unattended.  So it was decided that I would go into the post office and take care of the shipping while Eric stayed with the car. 

For perhaps the first time in my life, I got a glimpse of how disturbing it can be to be the minority.  First of all, the line was unbelievably long.  Second of all, I was the only white person in there and was quite possibly the only white person that many of them had ever seen.  As soon as I walked in, all eyes were on me, and they stayed there. And, as other people were coming in after me, several of them actually cut in line in front of me like I wasn’t even there.  I just kept thinking about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and all of the other black people who for years and years were banished to the back of the line or bus or couldn’t even walk through the same door as a white person.  I literally got tears in my eyes, because I knew how out of place I was feeling just in that one moment, and I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to live a lifetime being discriminated against. I also couldn’t stop wondering how many of the several young babies that were there would be orphaned by the age of 5 due to losing a parent to AIDS {South Africa has the 2nd or 3rd highest percentage of AIDS in the world}, which of course just made me more sad.  There was one adorable little girl in particular who was about 2 or 3 years old.  She was happily singing and dancing around and was probably the one person who hadn’t immediately stopped everything and stared when I walked in.  When she did notice me though, I looked down and smiled at her, and she went running to her mom and said something in her native language.  Everyone in the building started laughing.  I wish I knew what she said ~ it was probably something about seeing a white ghost! 

After the shock of my emotions wore off and I stopped feeling sad for everybody, I pushed my way back into the line and stayed there for over an hour before it was my turn, only to find out that they wouldn’t ship it because I hadn’t packed it properly (the box I had had slots on the side for carrying, which I just assumed they could tape up, but I assumed wrongly).  I was advised to find a different box (mind you, they don’t actually have boxes at the post office, so I had to go find a grocery store to see if they had any boxes I could use). Poor Eric had been waiting in the hot car this entire time & wasn’t at all happy to see me come walking back out of the post office with souvenirs still in hand. We finally found a suitable box and I went back to the post office {thankfully I didn’t have to wait in line again!} to finish the deed.  But, of course this box wouldn’t due because there was words on it and the words needed to be covered.  And, no, I couldn’t just black them out with a marker.  They had to be covered with brown paper.  And only brown paper.  And no, the post office doesn’t have brown paper.  So, by this time I’m no longer in the lobby with the rest of the post office patrons, I’ve been taken into the Manager’s Office in back.  She told me I could leave the box and all the items in her office and off I went down the street looking for some brown paper.  I made a quick stop by the car to let Eric know what was going on ~ we’re now about 2 hours into this process.  Surprisingly, it only took me 3 stores before I found some brown paper.  I bought several rolls of the paper, just in case, and rushed back to the post office to once again finish the deed.  By this time all of the workers knew me and as soon as I walked in they unlocked the door to the Manager’s office to let me in.  The Manager wasn’t there, so I went ahead and started taping the paper onto the box myself.  About 5 minutes into the process she came in and told me I was doing it all wrong.  Through tightly clenched teeth I politely asked her to show me how it needed to be done.  It took us 20 minutes to cover the damn box with paper to her satisfaction.  Finally it was done!!!! 

Except not quite.  She still needed to weigh the box stamp it and have me fill out a stack of paperwork.  How long could that take, right?  Longer than you think!  The entire process took 3 hours from start to finish, and again, Eric was waiting in the car the entire time.  And, when I had done the fly-by to tell him I needed to find brown paper, I never flew back his way to let him know that I found it.  So for at least the last hour of this process, he was sitting in the car thinking that I was (1) lost in the 1-street town of Bergville or (2) abducted and being held for ransom.  At some point he had decided that it would be worth the risk of losing the car in order to make sure I was okay, and he went into the post office looking for me.  But of course didn’t see me because I was behind locked doors in the Manager’s office.  So, while I was skipping out to the car elated and ready to celebrate that the deed was actually finally done, I was surprised to see Eric glaring at me in a way that he’s never ever done before.  Because I was gone for so long & he hadn’t seen me in the post office, he had built up in his head that big black african men were going to come knocking on the car door demanding money for my return.  He was incredibly pissed off that I had left my “purchased-for-emergencies-in-case-we-get-separated-cell-phone” in the car.  OOPS!  Mental note for next time….

Anywho, after spending way too much time at the post office, we did still have time to take a nice drive into the base of the mountains.  Eric got some fly-fishing in and I practiced my photography skills. After about an hour or so we decided to cut the fishing a bit short because we caught glimpse of a huge disgusting eel-looking thing in the water that really creeped both of us out.  So, we bailed on the fly-fishing and went back to the bar at the hostel.

Eric fly-fishing

Cathedral Peak

This day wasn’t exactly what we had envisioned for our last full day in South Africa.  But, nothing ever goes as planned, and we’ve been able to see the humor in it.  Well, actually Eric hasn’t quite seen the humor, yet.  He’s banned me from buying any more souvenirs that require shipping home.

Anyone care to make any wagers on who’s going to win this little battle?

(p.s. I saved the rest of the brown paper just in case I run into similar shipping issues in another country)!