The Smoking Dragon

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Michel Muller

MICHEL MULLER went on a site visit to the Amphitheatre Backpackers Lodge to get a whiff

It wasn’t hard to imagine a metropolis of tents sprawling out from the lodge’s built accommodation, the Mother Ship. The Amphitheatre Backpackers Lodge at the foot of the northern Berg is that kind of place. With its wide, open spaces to the mountains and a deck at the dam, it lends itself to flights of fantasy. As does their Smoking Dragon Afro Sci Fi New Year festival. Puff, the magic dragon: fields for camping and 200 in the rooms and suites.

Entrance to the Amphitheatre Backpackers Lodge in the northern Drakensberg

But now, the trees are plump with promise, some already brazen in their lust for spring, keen for summer. No respect for the last week of winter. Bad ass buds.

It was a busy 40 hours or so at the lodge trying to sort stuff for the festival, two nights, several meals, and people from everywhere. A double-decker truck off-loaded campers and their tents. They cooked in the outdoor kitchen as concrete braais lined up for duty.

It was nice in my quiet room, on a double bed with a reading lamp perfectly poised. My rucksack reclined on the bottom bed of a double bunk and the shower said phooosht-clunk-clunk. The piping hot water shuddered all over me. My room had a stoep with a view to the dam and the berg and the concrete of the kitted kitchenette was silk on my palm.

I ate at the Coral Tree restaurant. The best fried eggs ever and a great Americano. I didn’t sing for my supper but it’s a popular activity at the lodge. The bandstand and instruments beckon. “My friend played when he stayed here,” said the traveller on his way home from Togo and development work and lights out at sunset.

BB King’s crooning. “That same friend,” the traveller’s eyes shone, “he went to one of BB King’s last concerts and said afterwards, ‘Too bad, the thrill is gone’.”

His knife sliced a thick pink steak and his smiling mouth widened to accommodate prime beef. The food was good, and the kitchen on point.And so was the Jacuzzi. There they sat skin to skin, pink cheeks pink lips moist in the steam.

They swarmed around reception in the mornings, the travellers in and out, to nature hikes or day trips to Lesotho. Laundry. Bills. It’s vistas and sandstone too and mountains with ragged backs jutting into the sky.