Today is the day when I’m about to set out to the Dragon’s throat (Drachenberg). However, it doesn’t look like that even a bit, since in the morning I’m off to shoot a commercial for some kind of Czech company with my friend Jakub, whom I took for a tandem flight half a year ago, and there we go, I came to his mind. So we have cameras, lenses, drones and all the fancy stuff you can imagine and take it with us up the hill. Pleasure to work like this!! It should be released soon because Jakub and his team worked hard, while I was roaming around Africa… and here’s the story.
On one April day I took all my gliding stuff together with dried food and camping equipment from Zajo and let’s go hitch-hike to Prague to catch the flight.
Since I have all the camping things with me I set up the camp in a forest somewhere in Záhorie (very western part of SVK), set the fire and enjoy everything. I’m enjoying the things I’ve gone through and am looking forward to the things which are waiting for me. Travelling through the half of the world, once again alone, to see some kind of mountains that are called Drakensberg. Sweet-smelling pines with the scent of dry grass and gentle smoke… these are the moments worth living for, yet, sometimes it would be nice to share the moments with someone, not to be alone.
The next beautiful sunny morning I pack all my things in my backpack and there I go through the forest to the nearest petrol station. As I’m walking some deer are scurrying in front of me, the sky is blue, gee, the day before messed me up. In Prague I roam around the shops, buy some more trifles, a slight problem occurs when smiling and happy I want to check in at the airport. Similarly smiling bloke from Lufthansa wipes the smile off my face like this:
“Where’s your visa please?”
Visa… this word is the essence of my Ďuryssey (Ďurifuk + odyssey) to the Republic of South Africa and it even became a kind of frustrating key word, headword expressing my hopelessness… You ask why? Because I have NO visa!
Just to explain: I’m checking that on the 2 April and the webpage of our Embassy says that the only thing you need is a machine readable passport with three blank pages. For me a globetrotter – amateur, no problem so on 13 April I boldly buy my ticket and do the last check. Not a word about changing the visa requirements. But you’re out! When I find out I’m checking it again and realise that on 14 April it was mentioned on the web that from 18 April you need the visa. However, as there was no notice beforehand, I hadn’t considered necessary to check it every single day as it is not usual that these kind of things change in a blink of an eye!
What’s more, on the visa.centralle.de there is still the old information that Slovaks do not need visa. After a phone call with Lufthansa headquarters I’m aboard of a small Boeing and on my way to Frankfurt. Right after I get out of the plane I’m rushing to the gate to tell them that I have a tiny little problem. Straight away they start a whirling of phone calls to all possible and impossible places just to find out that I can go without visa. I’m waiting until I can board the plane, queuing, when all at once I hear “Mr Koreeen”! They say, sorry, but you can’t. No Africa. Please go wherever you want… And this is how the Ďuryssey started.
It’s 22:00 and that was the last flight. The airport is closed at the night and only God knows why. There’s no one there, and it takes me about an hour to find my way to the LUFTHANSA info centre. No one wants to talk to me, they don’t give a damn about my situation, I’m tired and have no idea where to go. When I finally reach the info centre, the lady isn’t much of a help. I don’t have anything, just a skytex bag with my electronics and a bottle of water.
They say that if I want I can collect my luggage there and there… that’s pretty nice, however, THERE is over the hills and far away! The thing is that they are repairing some kind of staircases and I don’t know what else, so I have to go round and round, it doesn’t make sense. When I finally come to the luggage belt, it’s already switched off, by luggage is somewhere, anywhere, no one knows where and there’s no one to ask. Awesome. So what will I do? I will lie down on my right side and cover with my left side, but after half an hour my skinny body hurts and I’m freezing. Well, I have to think. Toilet paper and its various uses come to my mind. I could stuff it underneath my clothes and make kind of insulation layer like this…
As I’m freezing and tossing and turning, I spot a baby changing room and the decision has been made! I grab a mattress, where the tiny babies are being changed, and ultra-wide toilet paper, probably 10m long. I lie down on the mattress with half of my chicken-like body and wrap the toilet paper around … like a real bum. In the morning I wake up with slaver sticking out of my mouth, but more or less, I could sleep.
It’s the second day on the road and I’m in the Reich, not in the Republic (of South Africa)… today is the day of Visa hunt. Pierre (xalps athlete, he wants to fly the seven summits with a wing, a great pilot and mountaineer, organiser of the x-berg contest – where I’m heading) calls me, we exchange emails to find out what I can do. He found that directly in Frankfurt there’s a RSA consulate. Great… I say to myself, I could make it today.
Except that the phone is replied automatically by some kind of clever machine and there’s no office, no one in there… go to hell Ďuro!
I call to RSA and God knows where else, they say that if I arrive to Munich or Berlin or Vienna they will grant me the visa while I’ll be waiting. OK then, I go and ask about the flight ticket… wow 450e, no thank you. The train is only 200e, WTF? Is this normal to ask for such money?
I’m sitting with my head in my hands, trying to think… Bugger… I go home, there’s no point… I waste lots of money and I’m even not sure about the result. Berlin or Munich? Where will I sleep? It will cost me further 40e for a dorm room.
NO, I WILL FIGHT MY WAY BECAUSE I WANT TO!! And let’s fight fiercely with the red tape J
I take the train to Munich, 100euros, without free Wi-Fi? Damn it. On my way I’m trying to figure out the accommodation, I have my sleeping bag and air mattress, so I just fear the cops that they will chuck me out of the park. Hopefully I will find something. Master Bajza helps me and I stay overnight at his family, we drink some beer; swear a bit and a nice day is over.
In the morning I’m rushing and stepping in front of the consulate one hour in advance. When I arrive there, I’m scared, stinky with a huge backpack and a sad face… they are reserved, anyway. When I tell the lady what’s the thing, she’s just staring… and the requirements are: account statement for the last three months with the bank’s official stamp. Are you kidding me? It’s impossible to get it here in Germany. They don’t care that I have cash in my pocket, there’s no way to prove it. Then they wanted the reason of the stay… so I have to call Pierre to send me an official invitation. Then I need some papers from our Association to confirm that yes, LAA (Amateur Air Sport Association) is sending me ahead to Africa to compete there. My train leaves at 1400, and I’m running out of time. Then the emails don’t work. Then I miss some signatures. At 1200 everything is handed in, paid… there’s nothing left to do, just wait and hope… usually they have 15 days to grant the visa. I have only 15 minutes and there we go. I was lucky enough to get the bloody sticker! The only thing left is to travel back those 350km to the Frankfurt airport, catch the flight and travel there where my soul longs to be! Africa tried to drive me away sooner than we had the chance to know each other… like a girl when she says “but you and me… we are so different”! Damn it, but what if she’s for me like pollen for a bumblebee? No, I won’t give up, no way!
At the end of the day, everything worked out well, even though I’m 400euros lighter, but I’m here! At the airport Pierre picks me up and the whole time I’m staring out of the window at this strange country. They drive on the wrong side of the road, everything is so vast, huge and wide open. Something like US Midwest. At the traffic lights the natives are doing everything possible and impossible, one is juggling, other one is selling plastic giraffes and a third one is holding a paper with something written on it.
At Pierre’s place there are barriers with barbed wire and electricity. They say the crime rate is quite high… great! Although it is great weather I missed the bus so we go and climb and meet other competitors, mainly from the PG section. Since they have here some kind of weird classification, I climb something like 23, what I find out later is 7+ on sight… then I’m weak like barely brewed tea, can’t do any more, since I haven’t climbed that kind of stuff in my whole life. After we came back from the bouldering wall I realise that, yet it would be possible to get to the Drakensberg sooner (btw. there’s a bus every other day) so I’ll go tomorrow! Wow, what a pleasure! As I learn from Pierre the national park in that area is one of the few places in the world (3.8% of the planet’s surface) that hasn’t been touched by man… that will be wild! Really wild!
Day one in… the Dragon’s throat
At first I’m in the bus all alone, and then a German, American and Canadian get on and finally two girls. While we were only blokes there the discussion went on like what are one’s travel plans and so on. The American was asking about Europe, I was asking him and the German joined the debate and we end up talking about my journey… that I want to get off the bus somewhere in bush and walk… just follow my nose J But as soon as the girls get on the bus the blokes start to play clever dicks… I liked the way how the girls put them down… The American started to talk about what kind of tough adventurer he is (hostel riffraff, everything organised in advance by an agency, a bore) and the girls, they are on a trip around the world, they started to talk where they were and so on… the fooled American went silent as he realised that there’s not a slight chance :D he’s quite funny and I’m truly having fun J
When I want to get off, the bus driver asks me three times if I really want to get of here. And I three times answer eagerly YES!
I take my backpack wave them good bye… strange feeling. Now it’s just me, me alone in a strange world, I know neither animals nor plants… nothing. That will be hell of a rock!
Right at the beginning… that silence… only the wind blows, plays with the grass, I can hear stones screeching under my feet… and the shoulder straps of my fully stuffed backpack gently creek. I’m walking… for ages. I feel like in a western movie, damn!
I walk quite a distance until I reach the ridge, it’s almost dark. I wonder why the trails are burnt here, farther than the dragon’s tail. Who the hell was doing this kind of work? I also pass a deserted farm, like from a Karl May’s book…
Gazelles are staring at me, indeed, they horns are something; I wouldn’t want to hit one of them. I take off and soar a bit but land quickly because the hills don’t have the right shape. I take my stuff a bit farther and unpack my beauty Avaxiáš while the sun is almost setting. A solid gale grasps me upwards and so with the last rays of the light I fly as far as I can. I land, and dark!
The thing is I don’t have much water, but from the air I could see a place where the nearest stream could be. I run, but eek, young boy, this is 2000m AMSL, it’s not just like that. After a minute I’m done. And water? It’s less than little; it’s dry like a week before payday. I come back and set up the camp. The sunset is more than phenomenal, together with the rustling sweet smelling grass in the strong wind and the wonderful Milky Way above me, Drakensberg behind me and the unknown ahead of me. Oh! I’m falling asleep hungry because I have no water which I could use to cook the dried mash. Scared of the howling and other unknown sounds I’ve prepared a decent pile of stones in front of my tent, if nothing more I can knock the beasts out! I’m clutching my knife, maybe I can rip that animal open, if I’m lucky enough… ha ha the knife is 5 and half cm long, with this I can barely scratch its ear.
But all this was just a pointless fear… but expected… alone, in Africa, strange noises… nice, what a name day!
The next day I’m waking up tired because at night it was blowing like from the dragon’s ass and it kept waking me up. But when I unzip the tent I’m stunned… the colours??! ’m staring and it just doesn’t make sense.
When I pull myself together a bit I go looking for some water, quite a tough job. Just to explain why… the streams are visible but, actually there are no streams, no water ‘cause they simply dried out, or the water is flowing somewhere deep beneath the surface. But finally I got some. Gee, it’s so good, icy cold and clear… just like that I drink about a litre not to let my root dry out (just to explain the play on words… my family name Koreň means root in EnglishJ)! I’m taking the backpack since my shoulders are longing to carry it, never mind that my Bachelor thesis is still unfinished, but I have trained like hell! I take two leapfrogs (short overflights without climbing, just to spare my legs). In that swelter I struggle through wilderness mainly without trails. I even found a kind of lake, preparing myself to take a bath and cool down, but surprisingly the water stinks more than I do, so it wouldn’t make any sense… Never mind, I struggle farther until I reach so called Sugar Loaf, a hill that looks like a pile of sugar. There the wind turns to the right direction… there are even some kinds of intervals so I have a warm feeling that it could also help me climb. Unpacking my equipment I wait no more than half an hour, I can’t more.
I fly, or I should say, fall down like a stone thrown quite well and I really want to swear. The problem is that I have a strong feeling that there is no way out of this place to the ridge. The rocks around are maybe 30-50m high, smooth and quite vertical, I would say that even overhanging. It’s impossible to overcome this obstacle.
I pack my stuff… walk towards the rocks, scramble up the steep slope and slippery grass, like a Mordor. I’m traversing underneath the rocks, mission impossible to climb them. What’s even worse, all the streams are dry. However, there is one tiny little waterfall that looks like it’s working, but the issue is (as if it wasn’t bad enough) that the wind blows the water away, somewhere towards the bushes, maybe 50m away. So I devotedly wait until it is blown towards me.
I’m elbowing my way through the jungle, it’s a tough fight without a trail… so what, once there has to be an end to the rocks, or at least I fill find a crack that will enable me to climb. Suddenly, out of the blue there was a kind of via ferrata J rope, stemples… quite a tough journey with a backpack.
I have no water, crap, hot like in hell, my head is frying. The only way how to get some is go down to the valley. Hopefully I will manage it straight to a stream, since I’m dried out like a desert and to risk sunstroke could end up with a failure. I take off in pretty strong wind hoping that it will hold me close to the slope… but no, it doesn’t. And only dragons know why. I fly so close that on one slope I almost get hit by baboons running down the slope like chamois. They have a problem though, and that is insufficient skills… so dear baboons are falling down the steep slope like toy soldiers. Not one bit did the wind help me, probably there’s inversion like hell. I’m heading towards the stream, take some water, have a bath… Mmmm, in the blink of an eye I’m a new person again. I’ve decided to return to where I started from, so called Olivershookpass, as tomorrow should be better, Pierre wrote so, and it will be blowing towards the right direction with the right speed, that goddamn dragon wind.
Another portion of the beautiful setting sun… Milky Way, loneliness and once again I‘m captivated, and not only by the nature alone. Indeed, I’m writing poems… Gee!
From behind the clouds the sun disc is making its way to enlighten the world… I’m sitting on the ground, listening to the wind rustling in the grass… warm and dry… this is the dawn of my third day in the Drakensberg.
I pack the tent and straight away unpack my friend Avaxiáš, it’s getting overcast and the clouds are pouring downwards. I take off quickly and as far as possible, pack everything and go hitch-hike. In Africa. A nice English guy gives me a lift and we are talking about his hikes and hitch-hiking and everything… he was quite surprised by the fact that I came here… so far. He knows Slovakia because he imports Zetor tractors.
I haven’t eaten anything since the morning, so I hope that I will get something in the restaurant. But it’s closed, never mind, I wake a guy up, who still sleeps like a log at ten in the morning. My intention is to buy at least something in the shop… but when I see the shelves there’s just some crap like crisps, candies and the only usable things are jams, so I buy the largest one. The guy asks me how are things, where’s my car… so I tell him in brief my story of the last few days and when he sees me thin as a rake (he can weigh probably 140kg) he feels sorry for me and gives me a loaf of bread and butter… yippee I have something to eat.
I marched away something like 300m past the allotment into lovely grass and build the tent. With my stomach full I lie down and take a nap, the clouds come by, drop down and hide the rocks and hills. I have plenty of time, mind full of hopes and once again I catch myself versing… me?! :D
I have no money on my pre-paid card no connection to anyone, I’m waiting for Pierre, who is about to pick me up in the evening. The plan for tomorrow is to go and fly somewhere. When the restaurant is finally opened I order the largest meal they have, a kind of burger, what else… and I miss home, hardly some vegetables, the meal hardly tastes and what’s even worse it’s not too much of it… Pierre finds me, we get into the car and drive somewhere eastwards, to his parents’ house just below Matterhorn (yes, but this one is in RSA).
After the morning maintenance I’m blond again, that’s cool! Then we rush up the hill, elevation 600m is behind us in 45 minutes, the fact that we’re carrying our wings doesn’t make any difference. But truth be told, I couldn’t keep up with Pierre. Although he’s not a youngster, he was rushing as if all devils were after him up the hill. The weather looks usable so at half past 11 we jump into that.
Finally, it’s here, I get the chance to climb; we fly round the hill without a hitch. Of course it doesn’t let me calm and fly fast somewhere far. The cloud base is low, though, and I’m flirting with the idea that I jump towards the plateau, land, than hike up the high hills and take off from there, ‘cause when I see the cliffs, those sky-high rocks… it awakens the desire in me to fly close to them.
Eventually, I follow Pierre and land in the valley. I’m about 5km from the house, so I find it easier to climb the hill a bit, some 400-500m and then fly. Hot like in hell… but when I see that I could make it and fly I have loads of energy and run up the hill until I reach the rocks, which stop me for a while as I’m thinking if it makes sense to take off from such low altitude or if I should climb them. I decide to climb them… after all, why not?!
Up there I just take off and fly to Pierre parents’ house, btw it’s a landing place and at the same time also one of the turning points of the contest that starts tomorrow.
It’s lovely here!
This is the first part, the hiking roaming part… you know getting to know the terrain, animals. Indeed, I was quite scared as everyone was telling me that someone will kidnap me, or that I’ll be trampled to death by antelopes, and I don’t know what else… but the worse part, though because of the visa hunt considerably shortened solo part, is over. I haven’t flown much, but walked quite enough and seen much more… and what I felt… Woohoo!
Thanks a lot for translation, Zuzana!!