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June 17, 2010

World Cup: Oh, Inkosana!

By Evelyn Spence

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View of Cathedral Peak from the slopes of the Drakensberg Escarpment near Fang's Pass, Mweni Conservation Area, Drakensberg, Kwazulu Natal Province(Emil von Maltitz,Getty)-crop
View of Cathedral Peak from the slopes of the Drakensberg Escarpment near Fang's Pass, Mweni Conservation Area, Drakensberg, Kwazulu Natal Province (Emil von Maltitz/Getty)

There are dozens of resorts, B&Bs, and cottages along the flanks of the Drakensberg—a vast mountain range and World Heritage Site just a couple hours east of Durban—but one of the best has to be the Inkosana Lodge, which sits in the square-topped shadow of some of the escarpment's most beautiful peaks: Cathkin, Monk's Cowl, and Champagne Castle. I spent two days and two nights at Ed's sprawling Homestead—eating dinners of butternut squash and apple soup and hearty fresh-baked bread followed by breakfasts of mealie-meal (South Africa's version of grits) and yogurt...and the budget guidebooks have it just about right. This has to be one of the best backpackers in South Africa. Though the whole country was under the spell of a cold snap (I saw my first African frost yesterday morning), Inkosana kept things cozy: wood-burning stove, thick wool blankets, unlimited tea and coffee, three resident white German shepherds, and formations of Adirondack chairs and firepits around the huge garden.

And there's Ed himself—a slightly flustered former mountaineer who dishes out porridge first thing in the morning and outdoors advice the rest of the day. Hiking is the main draw here. I did a seven-mile round-trip up to Blindman's Corner, a junction up on a grassy plateau with views of both mountains and low country. On tap as I climbed: a troop of 20 baboons, a few waterfalls, the lush Sterkspruit River gorge, and a quick and windy snowstorm.

The Champagne Valley, as this area is called, tends to be a bit more touristy than other access points to the Drakensberg Range such as Giant's Castle and Cathedral Peak. Here, you can golf, visit ceramics studios, go fishing, take scenic flights, listen to the Drakensberg Boys' Choir (with performances on Wednesdays at 3:30 PM during the school term), and buy enough curious items to fill a second checked bag. But I still found it scruffy and dramatic and charming. During the World Cup, the pub at Dragon's Rest filled up every night with locals and international travelers alike—many of whom drove the five minutes from Inkosana, where there are board games and books and Ed's iPod/speaker set-up (and sometimes-questionable taste in music), but thankfully no television.

Ah, yes. As for the World Cup, it was a shocker at Moses Mabhida Stadium last night: The Swiss shut out heavily favored Spain (1-0) in a chilly afternoon match in Durban. Just two hours later, the streets were empty: Everyone was inside watching South Africa in its second match against Uruguay (which turned out to be another blowout, in Uruguay's favor). It left Palki, an excellent Indian restaurant on Musgrave Road in the leafy hilltop neighborhood of Berea, almost empty. While we ravaged samosas, chicken vindaloo, and veggie curry, the owners were glued to the set and the vuvuzelas were, for a few blissful moments, silent.

Evelyn Spence is a writer, editor, and adventurer based in Brooklyn, New York. A former editor at Skiing and Backpacker, she's the author of Colorado's Classic Mountain Towns (Countryman Press) and a freelancer for Men's Journal, Runner's World, Women's Health, and Outside. She's competed in a half-Ironman triathlon, completed the Bataan Memorial Death March, traversed Slovakia's High Tatra Mountains on skis, and hiked in the Australian Outback. When she's stuck at home, she watches soccer and edits The Brooklyn Review, a literary journal.

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