Hostel-hopping in Europe is excellent: fun, fast, and pretty widely available. But to be a backpacker in South Africa requires a bit of a culture shift. Trains cannot always get you from A to B (though B to C may be an option). The best experiences might require a 4×4 and a few hours of hiking. And the odds of encountering a band of gap year students filling every dorm bed are drastically reduced. What I love most about backpacking South Africa is the camaraderie.
Yesterday I returned from a much-needed trip out of Mokhotlong. Jenn and I sped away through fog and rain toward the rolling Kwa-Zulu Natal state and into the small village of Underberg. Our weekend escape: Sani Lodge Backpackers.
Though I could extol the homey merits of Sani Lodge accommodations and the delectable Dutch apple pie or delicious chocolate cake, the highlight of our visit was surely the company. Travelers from all over the world posted up for a night or two and we found ourselves pulled into a number of conversations ranging from international economics to sports to novel-writing methods while traveling. We shared meals and beers and transportation; swapped tips for the best sights to see and people to meet along the way; exchanged email addresses to trade photos and stories; and parted better friends than when we arrived.
In the end, that’s true of any backpacking experience. And I would agree that South African backpacking is not radically different from European or Asian varieties. But in these other places, how common does one collect hikers in the truck bakkie throughout the day? How often does a family of 7, spanning 3 generations, stop by the local backpacker outfit for a meal and a good time? How often does a man stand up in the dining area and shout that he’s offering rides the next morning for Durban: “All aboard shout now!”
In South Africa? Regularly.