Running in Remarkable Rwanda

Our rhythm is good, we are all enjoying the pace, leaping over volcanic rocks in the path, clambering up and down steep, mica-speckled slopes and teetering over wooden bridges that crisscross the canals in the lush tapestry of tea plantations.

`Mwaramutse!`, I yell enthusiastically as our little group scampers through a small copse of banana palms and past yet another humble dwelling. The woman I am greeting is wearing a bright yellow patterned Kitenge dress, her sleeping baby’s little cheek flattened against her back. She is sweeping the area around her home, rendering it even more immaculate, working her way around a large sheet covered in russet-colored millet seed, drying in the sun. “Yeego!” she replies, her face breaking into a glorious flash of white, her eyes wide and astonished. A few other women join her, laughing delightedly. We run on and I ask Jado, our young Rwandan guide why they are laughing. “They are really happy to see you”, he says, “they love to have visitors like you, they are welcoming you!”

We all came to learn these little Kinyarwanda phrases and greetings and it felt good to connect with the locals in their language – even if only on a fairly superficial level. I suspect we were something of an enigma to many of the rural folk we ran past. Seven Mzungus, four of them women, moving at speed through remote villages, waving, smiling and whooping with joy as they went. “Where is your car?” was a frequently-asked question….”Where are you going?” another….”To Kigali“, we would say, tongue in cheek. This was generally met with some hilarity. Crazy bloody Mzungus…

Travelling in a new country on foot is a unique and privileged experience. Travelling at speed, on foot, even more so. Running in wild places has been something I have been lucky enough to do more frequently in the last few years. I have covered 400 km in 8 days through the soggy bogs and rugged peaks of the remote Scottish Highlands, got swallowed up by boulders the size of houses of the Tattasberg and brushed past the endangered, prickly Halfmens of the Richtersveld, run into elephant on the banks of the Limpopo in Zimbabwe and wrapped my arms around the gnarly, rutted ancient bark of a giant baobab tree.

When travelling to new countries, I prefer to veer way off the beaten tourist track, stay well clear of the tour bus and selfie-stick brigade, and come eye-to-eye with as many of the local people, wildlife and habitats as possible in the time I am there. Lacing up a pair of trail shoes, throwing a few essentials in a pack and sniffing out the single track opens up a whole new window on a world beyond the road network and normal tourist routes. It’s often not easy to seek out this kind of travel in a foreign country, so it helps to be guided by those in the know and benefit from years of research and time on the ground.

Wildrunner’s Owen Middleton is one of South Africa’s most successful trail running event organisers. Wildrunner is well known for extremely slick events, ambitious destinations and more recently, with Wildrun Africa, for African wilderness running experiences. I have run three of Owen’s Wilderness multi-day adventures, all of them unique and memorable (the Richtersveld and Mapungubwe mentioned above are his). When he advertised his latest plan to run for a week in Rwanda, I looked on with envy and interest, but shelved it, thinking that it would be something well out my reach. So it was with a huge sense of disbelief when my partner announced he had paid the first installment (for the two of us) of the Rwandan Wildrun 2019! Digging into a fairly significant chunk of his life savings, this was a bucket list item that Filippo FOMO Faralla did not want to miss…

Enter Active Africa’s Chris Goodwin – close friend of Owen, and African travel expert of note. Trained chef, elite runner (in his earlier years) and all-round great human – Chris is one of those people who is just tailor-made for tourism. He exudes patience, a world class sense of humor and diplomacy. He’s also not afraid of some bloody hard graft. These qualities make up an essential skillset for one who makes a living taking tourists to remote locations on the African continent, ensuring that their every need is taken care of.

Chris has over 8 years’ experience in Rwanda, knows the country like the back of his hand, and has made some valuable connections and friends on the ground. His deep respect and understanding of how things roll in the country was visible in the week we were there – rendering our trip utterly seamless and hassle-free. He was also remarkably adept at arranging ice-cold, scented hand towels at the end of every run. There is nothing quite like being offered a rolled-up towel on a silver tray after a long, hot run in deepest Africa.

Wildrun Africa’s Rwanda 2019 inaugural trip was an absolute treat – from start to finish. Owen, Chris and their team of four local Rwandan youngsters Jado, Olivier, Emanuel and Danny laid on a completely unique trail-running experience.


Our two Rwandan guides Jado and Olivier – wonderfully athletic young men, brimming with passion for their country

The 7 of us (all from South Africa) were treated to as many days of running through far-flung districts of the Northern & Western provinces of Muzanse, Rubavu, Rutsiro, Krongi & Nyamasheke. Our total mileage was 146 km, with a cumulative elevation gain of 5 700 m and 7 500 m of accumulative descent.

The adventure started and ended in Kigali – an impressive city of 12 million people. This city is spotless. Quite literally eat-your-breakfast-off-the sidewalks spotless. I have never seen anything like this, ever. And I have travelled widely – on the African continent, in Europe and North America, where waste and disposables are ubiquitous and highly visible. Litter and roadside trash are simply not a feature in Rwanda. Toss something on the ground and you will be reprimanded – not by a member of the armed forces or anything sinister like that – but by fellow Kigalians. It is just not done. Self-regulation and self-policing completely work here and this sentiment plays out on the roads too – with drivers of motorbikes, bicycles and vehicles all respecting one another with grace and humility. I am not sure I heard a single hooter honked in frustration or rage while I was in the city.

Plastic bags have been banned in Rwanda since 2006, the collection and recycling of plastic drinking bottles is rigorous, and many of the markets are completely packaging free. And it shows.

We ran twice in the city – exploring its (very clean and safe) side alleys, main roads and neighborhoods, passing easily between houses perched on the slopes around the flood plain, running through the highly cultivated landscape, and transitioning into cityscape, with some swanky hotels and ex-pat homes in the leafier, Jacaranda-speckled streets. Our hotel was within spitting distance of the presidential residence – an intimidating rolling-lawn affair, all high walls and armed guards at every pore.

On the first day we ran to the Camp Kigali Memorial. This was the site where the shit hit the proverbial on the 6th April 1994, shortly after the plane carrying Rwanda’s president and Burundi’s new president was shot down, killing both. Ten Belgian UNAMIR peacekeepers who had been deployed to guard the house of the Prime Minister were brutally tortured and all ultimately murdered by the Presidential Guard. The building where this played out has been left as is. The bullet holes peppering the exterior walls and doors, the rash of bullet holes in the corner of the room, all testament to the horror that would have played out 20 years ago. From that moment on, all hell broke loose. The army and the interahamwe began their systematic slaughter of around a million Tutsis, and over 100 days, the country quite literally bled to death – while the world stood on the sidelines, watched and did nothing.

The Gisoze Genocide Memorial is a harrowing experience, but one that must be done if you are to move through and get to grips with this country. It helps contextualise things and throws the spotlight on the extraordinary, forward-thinking resilience and optimism displayed by every single survivor. It is impossible to understand the depths of despair faced by so many, the sheer horror of neighbors turning on neighbors, the indescribable cruelty displayed by humans on other humans. We all left the museum feeling quite numb and pretty gutted.

Every individual I subsequently saw walking the streets (over thirty years old), would have witnessed and lived through the hundred-day horror. Looking into the eyes of these older men and women (many who would have been children at the time), it is impossible to fathom what goes on inside their heads. How is it possible to emerge from something so unspeakably traumatic, where entire families were erased – yet to stand up, shake off, look forward and build a nation from scratch?

On the afternoon of our first full day in Rwanda, we all boarded a mini-bus and headed to Kinigi, about 110 km to the north-west of Kigali. We settled into The Five Volcanoes Hotel and got our heads around the next day’s adventure in Volcanoes National Park – made famous by its many family groups of mountain Gorilla. We were off to play in Dian Fossey’s misty, mythical hunting ground. And so began our Rwandan Run…

Day 2 Bisoke Volcano hike (7 km) and run in the foothills (14 km)


The group about to embark on the Bisoke Volcano hike

Dressed in waterproof pants, sturdy shoes and cold weather gear we set off early to the Gorilla Centre – Rwanda’s gorilla tourism hub. Here visitors from all corners of the globe come together to receive a guide, get divided into groups and depart for their gorilla encounter experience. I found it a little overwhelming – and was grateful that our small group would stay as was for our planned Bisoke Volcano hike. We were told that should we come across any gorilla groups, it would be totally incidental. We had not paid the very hefty US$1.500 per person for a permit, so would quite possibly not encounter these primates. We drove to the trail head, met our larger than life camo-clad guide Fidel, were joined by a veritable flotilla of armed guards, issued with walking sticks and off we set.

The initial stretch had us walking through fields bursting with white daisies (Pyrethrum), which we noticed were being harvested by teams of women. This is a valuable commercial crop used to make insecticide. Rwanda is the world’s third largest producer of this incredibly valued flower.

Rwanda’s mountainous landscape is due to the fact it straddles the eastern rim of the Albertine Rift Valley. The nation’s highest peaks (the volcanic Virungas) are a 20 million-year-old by-product of the same tectonic rumblings and labor pains that gave birth to the Rift Valley.

The hike was strenuous and extremely muddy, with a 900 m vertical gain over 3.5 km, but we all soldiered up to the top where we had fleeting glimpses of the crater lake below us when the thick mist cleared. The armed guards disappeared into the mist and watched from the sidelines – a sensitive area, given that this is the border with the volatile DRC. We slip-slid our muddy way back down and were met with a picnic feast. Here we shed our waterproofs and put on our running kit, to get ready for a 14 km run back to our lodge.

That evening before dinner we were addressed by the very impressive and knowledgeable Dr. Jean Bosco Noheli, better known by his colleagues as Dr. Noel, from the Gorilla Doctors. He left us all feeling quite positive about the future of these incredible mammals. Wildlife tourism – as uncomfortable as it may make the likes of me – is this species only chance of survival. These daily, hour-long encounters between human and beast are what will ensure that these beautiful mammals continue to thrive in a very compromised world.

Day 3 Gishwati forest and Lake Kivu (16 km)
The day started with an early drive through to Gishwati, the start of one of the longer runs – a 28 km stretch to Lake Kivu. We disembarked at the end of a bustling, dusty road, fringed with busy stalls, shops and many bemused onlookers. The run took us through a tapestry of tea plantations, fields groaning with yams, cassava and sweet potatoes, mango and banana trees and eucalyptus forests. We ran through endless villages and were rarely alone or away from large groups of small, ecstatic children or men and women working in the fields. Since Rwanda has one of the highest population densities in Africa, it came as no surprise that we were almost constantly surrounded by people. When we arrived at one school, the kids couldn’t contain their excitement, and all dashed out the classrooms to surround us and stare wide-eyed and fascinated.

The terrain is hilly, and the running involves many ups and downs, but the views are always spectacular. We eventually reached the verdant banks of Lake Kivu, and after more of Chris’s famous towels, a blissful swim and an ice-cold Virunga beer, we settled into our rooms for a brief nap.


The view down to Lake Kivu on Day 3

Lake Kivu is Rwanda’s largest freshwater body, and it also forms the border with the DRC. Reaching depths of almost 500 metres, with a water content of 333 km2 renders it one of the world’s deepest freshwater lakes.

That evening we went out on a small motor boat to watch traditional fishermen with their three-boat system (amato), long bamboo poles and nets. These incredibly fit young men head out at sunset (often singing as they paddle). They spend the night out on the water, catching as much of the only species of small fish, called iSambaza, able to survive the methane-rich waters of the lake and return at sunrise.


Fishermen setting off for the night’s fishing in the methane-rich waters of Lake Kivu

Our evening was rounded off with an incredible dinner on the sandy banks of the lake, with some local drummers and dancers to entertain us.

Day 4 Lake Kivu trail to Kinunu (28 km)
Another 28 km day saw us skirting the lake shore, again passing through numerous villages, through fields, over hills, into valleys and along ridges overlooking the lake. With 10 km to go, we had a very welcome break at Nkora Market village. Here we were treated to some spectacular Rwandan hospitality (quite the most delicious warm chapattis dripping with local, dark honey and an array of locally grown fruit), courtesy of Mamma Nellie, a local Nkora Market village entrepreneur.

We ended the day at a small, basic but very cozy guesthouse at Kinunu where we were treated to a fascinating bean-to-cup coffee growing/washing plant and processing warehouse experience.

Day 5 Kinunu to Kibuye (25 km)
The trail continued southwards along the many bays and inlets of the Kivu coastline through fishing villages and fields of crops – the terrain becoming increasingly curvaceous and lung busting! Our run ended with a short boat trip to an island where a magnificent picnic had been laid out by Chris (with his towels) and his team. After a refreshing dip and welcome feed, we all boarded the little boat and chugged our way back to the mainland to our final Lake Kivu accommodation. Cormoran Lodge on the steep, lush banks of Lake Kivu is a unique place to stay – with vast treehouse-like rooms on tall stilts set above the sunbird-saturated canopy.

Day 6 Transfer to Nyungwe Forest (rest day)
On the morning of the 6th day we drove to Nyungwe Forest. On the way we stopped in at Gisakuru Tea Factory, which gave us a fascinating insight into how tea is processed – literally from picking, fermentation, drying to packing.


The view across the tea plantation of Gisakuru towards the fringes of Nyungwe Forest

Day 7 Nyungwe Forest and Congo-Nile Divide Trail (42 km)


The group at the start of the 42 km run

Day 7 started with a 3-30am alarm wake up call. We bundled into the vehicle and hit the road for a long, winding journey to the trail head of the Congo Nile Divide Trail. We were destined for a section of the Rift Valley Escarpment, which slices through western Rwanda, and which sits as the watershed between the continent’s two biggest drainage systems – the Nile and the Congo.

We were to run in the only large stand of protected indigenous tropical montane forest remaining in the country and in sub-saharan Africa. The trail boasts bracken fields, ericaceous shrubs, bamboo forests and primary forest. Our guide Jado referred to Nyungwe as “Kamiranzovu” – the forest that can swallow an elephant!


Deep in the magical Nyungwe forest on the Congo-Nile Divide trail

The 970 km2 park contains 13 primate species (a staggering 25% of Africa’s total), 275 bird species, 1 068 plant species and 85 mammal species. We were delighted to see and hear the Ruwenzori and Great Blue Turacos – two extraordinary endemics. We also came across a Bamboo squirrel, Colobus monkeys and a host of other endemic bird species. The trail was 100% runnable, soft and leafy underfoot and incredibly well maintained. We flew along some of the flatter sections, slogged at a fast hike up most of the hills and whooped our way down the longer hilly sections. We all felt incredibly blessed to know that we were the first group of runners to complete what is a standard 3-day hike in 8 ½ hours.

The trip was very elegantly rounded off with a sumptuous dinner at the newly revamped One & Only hotel on the fringes of the Nyungwe Forest. We indulged in this other-worldly bubble of luxury for a few hours and ate and drank ourselves silly, sharing war stories and making appreciative speeches of thanks to our guides and the team.

The Rwanda Wildrun was a bucket-lister of note that exceeded all my expectations. Rwanda has a very tangible soul – she is powerful, positive, hopeful. As a country, she has drawn me in hook, line and sinker and I have fallen quite hopelessly in love.

Thanks to Filippo Faralla for all the photos!

Mission Turtle – Trouble in Paradise

Mission Turtle – Trouble in Paradise

The alarm was set for either 3 or 3-30 am every morning.
We would toss the mozzie net aside, pull on some running gear, grab our head torches and leave the cocoon of our little chalet to make our way down the boardwalks between the other chalets to the beach. All the other guests would still be fast asleep.
As soon as we hit the sand, we would start running – easy going, hard-packed, low-tide sand. The circle of torchlight would bob up and down and pink ghost crabs would scuttle away and dive into the foaming surf to our right.
Mission Turtle.
We would run for up to four kilometres, perhaps more, before any reward. I would usually be ahead, just trotting along, crunch, crunch, crunch….
Then! The sheer joy at coming across the ruffled sand, the tell-tale tractor-like grooves that leave the surf and head straight up to the dunes. See one, inch a little further. If you see another a short distance on, you sigh quietly and move on.
Two tracks – you’re too late. One track – bingo!
Heart races, torch is switched off immediately. You follow it quietly up the beach….and then you stop. And listen.
Swish, swish, swish.
In the pre-dusk gloom you can just make out a massive shape on the sand and if you listen very carefully, you can hear breathing, and puffing.
We had two such encounters this year. Two beautiful, massive Leatherback female turtles, both at the end of their laying, both covering up the nest and then moving a little further up to disguise and make a “fake nest” to confuse any potential predator. The work is exhausting, her flippers work hard – front and back: scoop and flick, scoop, scrape, dig, flick, smooth over. She sighs with the effort of it all. The lack of buoyancy, the effort of having to work against something solid, as opposed to the ease of moving in water. She is exhausted. Mucus mixed with sand pours from her eyes and mouth. She gasps, sighs deep, flicks, scoops. Driven by a magnetic instinct, so powerful, so brilliant.
I take a moment to reach out and touch her shell. A light touch. I stroke this barnacle-encrusted soul, and whisper: “You clever thing you”.
Eventually we watch her manoeuvre her massive shape and face the surf. She inches rhythmically back down towards the waves – almost parallel to her track out of the sea.

I love watching her as the first ripple hits her. The sense of relief must be enormous.
I touch her one last time. It’s emotional. I almost want to pull her back – tell her not to venture there.
Not in there. It’s bad in there. It’s getting worse.
Because of me.
Because of us.
“Go well, be safe beautiful”, I say quietly – my words whisked away in the wind.
She inches further and then a wave pounds down and covers her completely. It retreats, and she has moved, sunk into the sand – an incredible, prehistoric, ancient shape, again enveloped in meringue-white surf. We watch as she starts moving with greater ease into the pounding surf and beyond into the flatter stuff. Her little head pops up – once or twice….and then she’s gone.
Why do I feel so heart-sore every time I see these magnificent animals re-enter their ocean home?
I have visited this beach for three years in a row now. Each time I find more and more ocean-borne plastic being spat out. I can no longer holiday here without the overwhelming compulsion and need to pick everything up. In the five days that we were there, we collected ten large hessian bags of plastic waste from approximately two kilometres of beach.

f bags
In an OCD-driven frenzy, I separated everything out and counted it all up. These were my findings.

Plastic bottles – 175
Shoes (flip flops, soles, whole shoes) – 30
Polystyrene pieces – 30
Soft plastic pieces (bags, packets, sachets) – 40
Bottle tops – 260
Cigarette lighters – 12
Toothbrushes – 28
Light bulbs – 8
Rope/strapping – 50
Random plastic pieces – big and small (pieces of kid’s toys, coat hangers, toothbrushes, etc) – 300
This beach, for me, is a complete mirror to the ocean. Since there are no rivers in the area, no community nearby, all that we come across is coming from the ocean. It is a very real reflection of what is going on out there.
And that, to me, is utterly terrifying.

The UN has very recently stated that ocean plastic is a new looming planetary crisis.
It is vital that we start putting pressure on manufacturers to take responsibility for their products.
We also ALL need to look at our disgracefully wasteful consumption patterns that are driving all this. We simply have to address our addiction to DISPOSABLE. Our need for instant gratification, ease of use, the quick, the dirty.
There is NO AWAY – not for plastic.
Every day we make choices – from ordering a cup of coffee on the move, quenching our thirst when away from home, taking leftovers from a restaurant to carrying our purchases home. All of these choices involve some form of super-convenient, super-cheap, super-indestructable and super-damaging, plastic.
So I start 2018 feeling so enraged, yet so fuelled to try and generate awareness and to help everyone connect the dots and see how our choices – from how we light a cigarette, how we shave our legs, how we hang up our clothes, what we sit on, what we wear on our feet, what we cover our school kids books in, what we buy for our kids to play with…..ALL OF IT….or bits of it….is ending up in the sea.

An environmental campaigner colleague and friend recently completed a cross-Atlantic trip in a small rowing boat. He said that marine wildlife sightings were few and far between. He did, however, come across three dead turtles. Out of curiosity, he cut them open and all of them were stuffed with plastic.
It is so easy to feel helpless and despondent and overwhelmed. But there’s no time for that. We have to talk, rattle cages, have conversations, and, if necessary, shout.
Very, very loudly.


Christmas Boot Camp

This year’s Christmas will go down as one of the least conventional (and infinitely more adventurous) for me.

Earlier on in the year, we decided we wanted to get as far away as possible from the festive consumerism and madness. We were determined to separate ourselves from the horror that starts to play out long before December – the overly cheery jingle-jangle, sparkly, happy-crappy musak in the malls, the tsunami of gift wrap and plastic landfill, the constipated out-of-towner-traffic, the atmosphere of forced jollity and greed….all of it.

So F and I took flight and headed for the hills. The idea was to flee into the solace and still embrace of one of my favourite wilderness areas, the Cederberg. It’s rugged, it’s unpredictable, it’s spectacular and very, very peaceful.

We were seeking big skies, big mountains and a chance to camp out under the stars one or two nights. I had in mind a few reasonably brisk hikes up the odd hill to get to a flat spot where the new lightweight tent could be pitched and views and books could be savored. I fantasised about long tea breaks perched on sunbaked rocks, mountain stream dips, lazy picnics, star gazing and sunset contemplation.

This, I felt, would be the order of the day.

What I had forgotten was that I had signed up for all this “downtime” with a chap who has this little piece of wisdom stuck to his fridge door…

There’s nothing more satisfying than the primal feeling of being able to move quickly and    proficiently through a rugged, natural landscape.

Anton Krupicka

We shall call him Duracell from here on.


The first morning the alarm went off at 5am (!) I managed to throw one cup of coffee down my throat before we popped on our trail shoes and charged up the mountain in front of our chalet. Our mission was to explore the extent of the big burn. A nasty fire had ripped through roughly 30 000 ha of the reserve’s east section some days before and since we had run through this two months earlier while racing the Cederberg Traverse we wanted to get an idea of how much damage had been caused.

So charge we did….or Duracell did….at a rate of knots….with me sagging, sighing and whining ever so slightly behind. It was just too much, too early, and I was on holiday!

The burn was pretty devastating, but we did see a pair of Klipspringer bounding across the scorched sand, so we felt a little heartened by that…

Duracell flew back down the mountain – sinking into the mist below – and I followed a little lamely behind, vowing quietly to myself that I would need to be firm and set the boundaries for myself on this holiday of ours.

I laid this out on our return and settled down with some coffee and a book while he charged off to buy matches from the nearest shop about 20 kays away and to charge the battery which was powering our fridge.

Later that morning, run long forgotten, I found myself packing the tea stuff, our gas stove, lunch, drinks, hoisting packs on our backs and setting off up another mountain to have a picnic at “Andy’s Waterfall”. It was a fairly solid mission in the heat of the day. We did (granted) sit and have tea, sip from the stream and peruse the map. This, you understand, was in order to plan Days 3 – 9.



Day 3 dawned bright and early and this time we were all set for a mountain bike mission…we navigated and rock hopped our way through and over some excellent, reasonably gnarly single track. Duracell had a nasty fall, ripped hisimg_0988 T-shirt, but got up laughing and wanting more…as one does.


We then locked up our bikes and set off on a walk (with lunch). Much later that afternoon after a brief breather we set off on a 10 k run. Then the clouds rolled in and some beautiful soaking rain drenched the mountains, dampening down the soot and fed the thirsty earth.


Day 4 saw us heaving pretty hefty packs on our backs and setting off on our first overnighter…our route carefully crafted and selected by Duracell. I thought nothing of the route, the distance, the destination, just knew that we planned to be out in the mountains for Xmas eve, and would wake up somewhere beautiful on Xmas Day. I trusted his route, thinking he would have a good sense of distances, heat and water en route, etc.


We clobbered about 20 kays that day – a beautiful route which takes in the second half of the Cederberg Traverse. Duiwelsgat valley has come to be one of my favourite corners of this wilderness, and I vowed to Duracell that I wished to have my ashes scattered right there…a place where I will most certainly ride thermals with the Black Eagles and be left well alone by people. Pure bliss.

We had lunch and a break at Sneeuberg hut, then set off on the last leg of our journey to get to the top of Sneeuberg Peak. We were rewarded with some superlative views, a glorious sunset and a comfortable, albeit chilly night’s sleep.556a5523

556a5618Day 4 dawned and after tea we packed up and set off back down the mountain, off on our return journey – via Agter Kruis Valley…we knew it was set to be a long day, but we had not really bargained on such intense heat.

Long and short of it, we walked….and walked….and walked….and bitched (well I did)….and bitched some more….and after about eight hours of this (in temperatures that rocketed well over 40 degrees), we found we had to negotiate two very steep gorges…so up we went, blisters screaming, hot sun on our backs, streams starting to run dry.


Tempers were frayed, sense of humour got lost somewhere deep down a porcupine hole, some harsh words were exchanged, but we eventually got ourselves home. Literally just short of 12 hours after we had started that morning.

The G&T’s (note, plural) were utterly delightful that evening.

We really did rest up the next day. Read books, caught up on some work, and slept.

Day 6 saw another pack hoisting affair – destination Middelberg hut and surrounds….a lovely reasonably gentle haul up to a stunningly peaceful camping spot in a valley.


We made camp, brewed tea and had lunch. Leaving everything in camp we skipped off down a path looking for cell signal, and came across a beautiful pool – crystal clear, tree fringed and with a waterfall. We swam and drank and soaked it all up… and vowed to keep our discovery a secret…

Day 7 was a horror story…truly.

Slingsby (bless him, and all due respect to the man for a set of exceptional maps) claims that the path linking Middelberg to the next valley on was “old and faint”…we were up for that challenge, and fought our way fairly valiantly down a very steep section of burnt out fynbos, legs covered in soot and scratches by the time we hit the valley floor.

What we hadn’t bargained on was the path in the valley itself being completely non-existent.556a5758

We set off in search of the path through a solid wall of fynbos…and I mean solid. Thorny, scratchy, nasty, whipping, spiky, bastard, f*%&ing fynbos. It just came at us from all sides – in our faces, slapping our battered, bloodied legs and eliciting the foulest language ever heard in those parts – of that I have no doubt. We crossed the river a few times (choked with typhus and some other invasive shite), slipped, cracked skulls, twisted ankles, had some more branches whip and slash our raw legs…we tried scrambling over to the other side of the valley which looked cleared and more walkable. It wasn’t. So back over the river….556a5759

Eventually we met up with a decent path – the one that goes up, up and up to the saddle to take us back home. One final hot ascent, and then a long, dry descent and we were home….battered, bloodied, bruised and looking like something out of Platoon. It really felt as though the mountain didn’t want us on board that day and she was doing everything in her power to chew us up and spit us out.

I have had so many conversations in my head (some out loud) about those two tricky, testing days last week. Long and short of it, I am grateful for the adventure and the pain (retrospectively anyway). I like that I am being pushed – sometimes to my limits, getting far out of my comfort zone, getting angry, then just pushing through and buggering on. And getting stronger through it all.

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger – and why on earth would one want to whittle away a day sipping cocktails by a pool anyway?!

Run anyone?


But struggling and suffering, as I now saw it, were the essence of a life worth living. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not constantly demanding more from yourself—expanding and learning as you go—you’re choosing a numb existence. You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip.

Dean Karnazes

If you go down to the woods today..

We are cruising down the Atnarko River in a Clackacraft drift boat – a rather bulky, tinny affair. It is, we are told, the best in the business. As we set off and clunk and grind our way over the shallower rapids, I wonder about this assertion.

The regal and appropriately named snow-dusted Mount Stupendous casts her gnarly profile down upon us and the reflections of lush and lofty cotton trees and Douglas Fir wriggle and stretch in the calm pools between the busier rapids.


While negotiating his way with ease around vast cotton tree stumps and through churning rapids, our 70-something river guide Les Koroluk waxes lyrical about the great run of ‘pink’ or ‘kap’ay’ this year. He rolls off names like ‘chum’, ‘coho’, ‘cutthroat’, ‘sock eye’ and ‘bull trout’ – all with a delightful, and slightly quavering Canadian lilt.


Vast clutches of gravid females swim urgently upstream, males not too far behind them. The crystal clear water darkens with salmon as they move en masse beneath and alongside us. Occasionally one leaps out of the water and belly-flops back. These remarkable fish face an astounding suite of challenges as they turn their backs on the ocean and make their way upstream.

I notice a few rather ropey looking fish, large white fungus-like growths on their flanks and fins. “Signs of decay”, explains Les, “long before their number’s up, many of them show quite erratic behavior and will flop about. They spawn and they die. Their job is done”.

Despite his advanced years, our guide’s burly arms tweak and tug at the two oars with total confidence. He is clearly well attached to his beaten up old boat – and refuses point blank to guide in the souped-up inflatables favored by his younger guiding colleagues.

We are in the company of a real mountain river man….boiling rapids, feisty fish, charging bears, icy mountains…he’s seen it and done it all. A deep understanding and reverence towards the land and its critters – hairy or scaled – oozes from every pore. He’s a story teller of note.

In the 80’s Les owned and ran a successful guiding company in the Bella Coola valley, where salmon and trout fishing was the main focus. This ultimately gave birth to commercial bear viewing ventures in the British Columbia region of Canada. Les, we find out later, was the brain behind the ‘river drift’ approach to viewing wildlife.

And thus we drift.

We are looking for bears. Big grizzly ones. They have been spotted all week on these drift trips, so we are feeling lucky. Sometimes they are within arm’s reach, we are told. Les tells us about all sorts of bear encounters – ones he has had with clients or on his own. Bears sitting on logs dipping paws into the river, bears mock charging, bears with cubs, big male bears swimming alongside the boat….bears all over the place.

Our rookie excitement mounts with each story and we strain our eyes up and downstream – we would give anything for a hint of hair, a flash of a pointy dark muzzle.

We’re here at the right time. When the salmon start migrating, the bears move up and down the river in a collective feeding frenzy, in a bid to fatten up for winter.

Towards the end of September, as fresh salmon numbers dwindle, the bears become less picky and start gnawing on spawned-out, dead and dying salmon. Very often, the putrid smell of rotting fish is what you will smell before you see a bear deep in the forest, explains Les.

We are in deep wilderness – with no signs of human habitation for many, many miles. The Bella Coola valley cuts through the coastal mountains from the Pacific to the interior plateau. The area has the lowest population density of any habitable area on earth and is one of the few places where ‘natives’ or ‘first nations’ folk outnumber the ‘non-natives’. Because of this, many of the bears that are encountered have not had negative experiences with humans. They are, Les explains, fairly tolerant and allow humans to watch them at pretty close quarters. It’s a balancing act though, he goes on. “There is a degree of trust that one needs to garner from the bears…we have to behave in a certain way that they are able to both tolerate and predict. The guides in the area undergo very specific training and we all adhere to the strict regional and provincial standards.”

I ask about client numbers and whether there is ever a sense of crowding the animal. “That’s very much part of it”, he says “the guide to client-ratios must remain small…we have to almost melt into the background for these bears, for these tours to continue to bear fruit”.

We come to the end of our three hour drift empty handed and a little disappointed. There’s always tomorrow…

The next day we set off with Mad Mike – a 30-something gingery bear of a man who has lived and guided in the area for many years. Mike shares Les’s deep passion for the area, but is also fascinated by the cultural history and tells us some rather alarming tales of how first nations people were mistreated by the Canadian government (enough material for another blog entirely!)


We follow the ‘Tote road’ – a rough gravel road (used by the early settlers in the late 1800s) that winds its way parallel to the Atnarko River for about 11 kays upstream to the confluence of the Hotnarko River.

We are, of course, looking for bears.

We find a pika (a small hamster-like rodent), a garter snake and many frogs. We watch red-tailed hawks ride the thermals and a juvenile bald eagle swoop between the cottonwood tops. We come across Culturally Modified Trees (CTMs) – cedars that have been stripped of a few sheets of bark to make clothing or hats.

But there are no bears in these deep, dark woods. Not today anyway.

We find more than an enough tantalizing evidence to indicate their presence though. Big piles of fresh bear skat peppered with rose-hip pips; fat, dinner plate sized prints pressed into the mud; a broad, winding urine trail along a stretch of tar road (a male bear, we are told – they don’t stop to wee, they swagger and wee); rubbing trees scarred with deep claw scrapes and even hair embedded in the bark. I pluck a hair out and pocket it for my son back home – knowing how much of a treasure a genuine grizzly hair will be!

These trees talk, says Mike. Well, to a bear anyway. The scent left on the tree will tell the next bear who passed before it, their reproductive status and possibly their mood. Marking is usually done by males during the mating season, but some is done by both genders throughout the year. A bear will always stop at a talking tree and read the news, make its own mark.

Mike tells us that marine-derived nitrogen is found in these trees – even though we are about 100 metres from the nearest river. Indeed it is difficult to find a tree that has not been influenced by salmon! In a single spawning season, one bear will carry up to 700 salmon from the river and leave half behind on the forest floor. “The larger tree growth rings correspond directly with the large salmon runs” explains Mike.


Remarkable stuff.

Every time we approached the river, we would be warned in hushed tones to quiet down, to be aware. Our guide would go ahead, stop, listen then pick his way through the tall reeds and gingerly check the river banks. Adrenalin levels would soar and I would start to imagine bears crashing out from the dark woods or rising up from day beds, all gnashing teeth and claws.

By now our feet were starting to ache a little, we had hiked the whole morning and into the afternoon. We had lunched on the river bank, taken a dip  in the river and now were really starting to think all these Grizzly encounters were pure fallacy…

On our final river bank check, I glance up and spotted a beautiful, massive golden-tinged Grizzly male sploshing about in the rapids. We watched him for less than a minute before he sunk into the water and vanished around the corner. It was enough to get the juices flowing. I had seen my first real live grizzly in the wild!

The next morning our first trip down to the hide revealed a sow and her cub right up close and munching away at a dead fish she had plucked out of the river. We watched through binocular and camera lenses – hardly able to contain our excitement.



The bond between mum and cub was profound – he stuck to her like Velcro, and she constantly made sure he had his fair share of the rotting flesh.

The little guy became quite playful at one stage, jumping up and down on his hind legs playing what looked like hide and seek behind a bush. Mike had explained to us that bears often show a human-like sense of humour in their behaviour – signs of being aloof, scared, friendly, goofy and inventive. We saw all this and more in the way these two interacted. Eventually mum and cub ambled off to disappear from sight leaving us all, slack jawed and star struck…

On our last day we went on another drift – again with Les. This time we were rewarded with an excellent sighting of the legendary “Bent Ear”. This big chap had a floppy bottom lip and a battered ear from too many bar brawls and encounters with rival males or even females.

bent ear 1

“That’ll be Bent Ear”, says Les, in his lazy drawl….”he’s fat alright – ‘prolly got a belly full of cubs”, he chortles.

“Cubs?”, I ask, horrified….

“Yip….many sows will give birth to three cubs, but only one’ll make it. They either suffer den death because mum doesn’t have enough milk, or they’ve come across the likes of Bent ear and he’s picked out a cub and gobbled it up in front of his siblings”.

Tough stuff this, but it’s nature – red in tooth and claw and all that.

We watch this magnificent creature for a while. His shiny hippo-like bulk swims for about a kilometre downstream and then he emerges, shakes, glances up at us in our boat and swaggers off up a bank to be swallowed up in the gloom of the woods.

Notes from a distant forest…

I came across some pencil scribblings on the back of an art pad this morning. They were notes I wrote on one of the last days of 2013 while sitting on a pebbled river-bank in a forest.

It’s a collection of scattered thoughts, random phrases, disconnected observations and experiences that I must have jotted down in the hope that they would be captured on my return and moulded into some coherent shape or form.

Our last trip over Christmas took us to two beautiful isolated (and relatively unspoilt) pockets of this vast and gloriously diverse province. The first venue was Vermaaklikheid – a tiny dusty unassuming little settlement mostly made up of holiday cottages sprinkled along the banks of a wide, curvaceous tidal river, roughly 5 kilometres upriver from where it meets the Indian Ocean.


What I did not know when I booked our second destination up in the rolling, grassy hills of the Grootvadersbos Conservancy was that we would be walking in the forested foothills of the Langeberg mountains – the catchment area of the very same river – the Duiwenhoks.

This made for some wonderful contrasts and thoughts around origins and destinations, youth and old age…as well as my usual musings around natural spaces and the magnificence therein.

So here are my penciled ramblings….unmoulded, unsculpted. Just as is.

..A quail fledgling spirits away from my bicycle tyre in fright skimming the grass with its small feathered body, tottering on immature, damp outstretched wings..

..A timid female bushbuck picks her way through the grass below our deck, the early morning mist rising around her… the guineafowl chatter and grumble at a passing baboon troup..all before breakfast…

..A Gymnogene circles overhead, Jackal buzzards taunt and dive and wheel and cry..

..Black cuckoo calls with her haunting song “I’m so saaaaad”….I say out loud (to nobody in particular)…”Don’t be sad, you live here!”…

..The occasional bellow of the Nguni cattle in the valley below and the hot smell of fresh steaming dung, the whine of flies..

..A mountain bike ride takes me up higher into the wilderness area…sweat trickles in frantic rivulets down my wrinkled forearm, I’m high on endorphs, big sky, mountain peaks and space…

..My tyres churn up the muddy single track and I duck and dive, hop and swerve my way along the contour of the mountain..

..The views are breathtaking and I stop to try capture them on my cell phone camera – knowing I cannot do justice to this beauty. One cannot possibly take this with..


.. an overwhelming urge to drop my bike and run up, up, up and into the mountains, never turn back – so much to explore, to get lost in..

..We go in search of Narina Trogon and Crowned Eagle (having been told that this is their home)…we come away disappointed – our walk rained out and at the end come across a wide-eyed stiff-legged corpse of a raptor chick on the path ahead…

..We spend a day down a secret little valley, a kilometer deep stretch of indigenous forest, not an invasive in sight – pure, untouched pristine paradise..

..The ‘infant’ Duiwenhoks bubbles and dances between the mossy roots and rocks of the Grootvadersbos forest valleys and then makes its way coast-wards, through farmed lands, through towns and over highways to merge into a wide, cantankerous salty body of water that is tugged and pulled by the moon…


..Wagging gossamer blue dragonflies touchdown on overhanging reeds..

…impossibly green fern fronds curl tight, ready to spring, stretch and bask..


..coke-coloured water bubbles dance, twirl and pop..

..Transparent fish and athletic pointy nosed bug-eyed frogs dart through whirling pools..

.. ..Old man’s beard drapes itself on smooth branches that stretch and reach overhead, powerful tree roots spread and dip and twist into random rapids and waterfalls..

..arum lilies, ferns and elephant ear leaved plants jostle for a foothold below and a sliver of sunlight above in a bubbling rapid…

A happy child sits for the whole day sketching, reading, disappearing upstream exploring….

“Mom, you’re being so nice!”, he says. “That’s because I am happy”, I say.

Wild, calm, quiet, untouched places do that to me.

When God threw his toys


Many billions of years ago, God had a gargantuan hissy fit – a tantrum of truly epic proportions.

Thunder roared and growled and fire balls cleaved the clouds as he tossed all his toys out of his big sky tree-house – one by one.

They tumbled down, broke into a thousand fragments, scattered and thrust themselves firmly into the barren land below.

There they all lie. Whenever I journey north to the Cedarberg mountains, I find my way to them.

On a walk one afternoon, I came across a new toy explosion playground.


Shards of sunlight thrust through the clouds, tickling the mountain tips and valleys…throwing warm yellow-orange showlights onto the stage of toy detritus.


What delight…! To walk between these citadels – red rock towers that tease the mind and play with the imagination, changing chameleon-like from one minute to the next in the early morning or late evening sunlight.


Seahorses vie with dragons and leopards and …if you stare long enough, five different facial profiles will leap out from a single rock face.


Here a Star Wars monster looms above us….any minute now he will break his shackles and move robotically towards us….destroying everything in his path.


It is a veritable Easter Island visual feast, although in this case, these masterpieces are not at the hand of man.

Knowing that these miraculous, natural works of art have been made over millennia as the Earth has shivered, wrinkled, exploded, divided, heated, cooled, dried, pushed and pulled… makes it all the more extraordinary.

What a world we live in.


a perfect place

I have just spent a very privileged weekend in the back of beyond, enjoying time playing in the foothills of yet another unique Cape mountain range not too far from the concrete jungle.
‘Home’ was a little two-roomed cottage tucked away, up a dusty road, through a creaking farm gate or three.

Our playground? Beautiful rolling Fynbos and Renosterveld-clad mountains that go on forever. Big wide coffee skies with star sprinkles cradling a massive moon – her deep craters brought alive by a long so-close-you-can-touch-the-surface camera lens.

We sat on the stoep in the evenings and took it all in. The stillness and the intoxication of being in a place where you cannot hear (or smell) a single ounce of homo-sapien-ness…

Every inch of me craves this kind of silence.

I breathe it in and hold it there, eyes closed….trying to capture it, to mentally bottle it and sip on it when next I find myself in a thrumming, sense-sapping mall, or having to endure the shrieking neighbor-hood kids and barking dogs…

And then the night-jar pipes up with her ‘Good-Lord-Deliver-Us’ and her mate calls back further down the valley and they continue with their heart-wrenching sing-song, until you see and hear a flutter of white and their calls echo further up the kloof. And then they’re gone.

And then the bats start their rustle, shuffle and twitter in the reed ceiling above and then they flit about in a very ordered frenzy, and we feel them rush over our heads and past our faces – almost touching, nanometers away from our noses.
We see a fleeting, perfect silhouette of one against the light – big, beautiful, template-perfect bat wings.

One evening I scan the pinky-orange-tinged mountain with my binoculars as the sun sinks away (reluctantly almost). I am hungry for a blurr of spots, the flick of a dark tipped tail, the whisper of a feline presence. The optimist in me believes that if I scan the mountainside for long enough, I will see a leopard in these mountains.

These are leopard friendly farmers after all.

We don’t see leopard, but we see a big old creaking giant of a leopard tortoise – quite possibly a septuagenarian.
I come across him grazing in the road as I cycle quietly up to him. He grazes so loudly I almost hear him before I see him! He stops, munches a little more with his beaky mouth, casts a lazy look at me and lumbers off, his massive, ancient, knobbly, distorted legs hauling his humpy-lump cargo – back into the bush.
What stories he could tell!

We hike in the foothills one morning… Destination: Waterfall.

Once out of the shaded poplar and oak groves, we hit the sudden intensity and heat of the mountain and begin our ascent…..
The air is heat heavy and deliciously aromatic. The grass is crisp and the ground thirsty and crackled. Thick papery leaves curl and shuffle in the wind, making one glance hastily sideways as you pass – always on the alert for sun-seeking serpents.


The red aloes are bountiful – all over the mountain, with their inward-curling apologetic leaves. Delicate pink and green-fringed succulents tough it out with all manner of other glorious plump painted fat plants with spots, dots and splashes and exquisite symmetry.
Tough customers these… they can take all the heat, drought and wind thrown at them. Yet still be so flawless and beautiful.


We hike for over two hours, every now and again putting on brakes as we descend into the valley and criss-cross a bubbling stream. Each time we cross, we teeter on rocks, slip-slide on logs and hover on leg-scratching dried up flood debris to stop and scoop up great handfuls of pure, sweet, delicious mountain water.

Into our mouths and over our heads. We cannot get enough of it.

We scramble and claw our way up the riverbed and reach our destination at the end of a shaded moist smelling kloof…this must be it?! The path has gone?

It’s all modest-cool-moss-shrouded-rock with a tall glassy splash of water in the corner and a dark mysterious bewitched little pool at the base. Curly ferns and cool-as-cucumber waving arum lilies… a welcome contrast to the crackle-simmer heat intensity outside.
I dip my toes in the icy pool and opt not to swim…leaving the frigid liquid to the zip-zapping water-boatmen and other dark wriggly creatures within.

On the way back down we come across black-shoe-polish-shine beetles scuttling about between hot rocks and quivering stalks…they’re all going somewhere. For something. Only they know where.


We stop to watch a large termite colony. Every single team member has a job to do and with military precision, they just get the hell on with it. There is not a second of down time. It’s all feeler-frenzy and ant energy bristling. Massive strips of grass, heavy seeds, five-times-your-body-size-restio stalks….all of it hauled along the rocky pathway into a tiny hole. The optimism and energy is infectious. Where one ant enthusiastically takes on too much and dumps it as it scurries feverishly onwards, another will follow and whip it up and carry it down. No questions asked.


We watch a Black Eagle pair thermalling high above us. In perfect unison, they tuck their wings back and zoom down to a ridge below us. They holler and tease and take on a pair of uptight Jackal Buzzards who screech and dive-bomb…..and then move back on upwards together.
Un-phased. Unruffled. Effortlessly superior in every way.

Over a late lunch we watch a family of striped field mice scuttle about under the tangled bush beneath our stoep. We sit silent and still and see life unfold in this tiny patch of mountain.


Birds, mice, lizards – all sensing no movement or threat above, begin to trust, inch closer and just be in their moment.

We watch it all unfold and the stories tell themselves.

It is a perfect place to be.

Wild creations

Happy 2013 to you all!

We have just returned from a wonderful time away exploring a few hidden (and relatively untouched) corners of this amazingly beautiful, diverse and surprising country.

I am going to kick-start this blogging year with some reflections on how some of these forays into these wild and woolly places brought on a remarkable change in our nine-year-old. His creative juices seemed to flow uncensored; he relaxed, seemed happier and made the most beautiful things.

We spent time swimming and canoeing in rivers, hiking on beaches, splashing in the warm Indian Ocean, sloshing about in thick river mud, watching clicking crabs and slurping prawns out of their murky depths, exploring the leafy, damp depths of thick coastal and riverine forests and swinging high within and between the vast creaking arms of ancient trees.

We rode horses (without conventional bridles and bits). We also rode and walked alongside African elephants. We met some amazing people who have a deep love and respect for these animals and who work with them in a way that uses the power of intention and a deep understanding of their instinctive/natural ways as opposed to cruel force and domination.

We stayed in some remote and rustic places – one or two of them fairly basic and without electricity. Our nights were lit by paraffin lamps, our showers either cold or heated up only by first lighting a fire and revving up a donkey boiler._1WD0147

The first of Tim’s creations emerged after one of our forest walks in the Wilderness area. Before we knew it, he had fashioned a little forest elf hat out of ferns, stems and twine. This he wore for the rest of the day – much to the gentle amusement of those we passed.

The second came out of a walk along one of those endless windswept Transkei beaches. This time, Tim quietly gathered up a random selection of driftwood sticks. He refused to tell us what he wanted to do with them. A surprise, he said.

That afternoon he sat with his knife and some fishing twine and within about half an hour had created a beautiful bow and arrow – the arrow perfectly whittled at the tip, with a neatly crafted slit at the end to fit the bow.

This was used on our first forest walk in Hogsback…when we were out searching for Hobbits!_1WD0406

At our next destination, and after another long drive, he hauled out his knife and fishing twine and started whittling away at the various bits of the bow and arrow and again – with zero intervention from us, he had fashioned a fascinating musical instrument. A kind of African guitar, which emits two tuneful notes when plucked along its two taut strings.


Our final evening was spent in a glorious Karoo farm, the ancient farm house overlooking the Gamka River with its craggy steep echoing sides. While we sipped our wine and marveled at the warmth of the stoep soaking into our bare feet, the fading sunlight touching the aloes, and the vastness of the sky, Tim vanished into the scrubby Karoo veld.

He returned armed with scraps of iron, rusty wire, a bone, a stone and various other gnarled fingers of farm detritus. He then proceeded to create the most beautiful mobile/wind chime – his bare hands twisting and bending, cheeks puffed out with concentration._1WD0879

The end result is completely beautiful. It hung on the stoep, the warm Karoo wind making music with it throughout the night. It now hangs on ours at home – a wonderful momento of a beautiful evening.

Later that evening, Tim and I went around the house lighting the paraffin lamps before the darkness seeped under the doors. He then went off to help his father light the fire under the donkey boiler.  No electric switches, no television, no ipad, no cell phone. None of these hideous modern imagination slayers. These sensory thieves.

That night we all sat together and soaked it all in….the crackle of twigs, the smell of wood smoke, the fading distant chirrup of the kingfishers in the valley below, the hadedas cackling as they winged their way to bed, the crickets humming and the jackals calling to one another.

All of them telling stories – the subplots of which we humans could never fathom.


This degree of creativity, independence and contentment is a fairly rare commodity at home with this little boy. I am not sure what it points to. But I imagine it has a lot to do with a “tuning out” – a shutting out the noise that is “civilised”, modern fast-paced and pressurised life.

There really is much to be said for spending more time in remote places. Especially for children. To be in places where one is forced to really fine tune all five senses; to become aware of what it takes to generate light and warmth; to invent, create and to really look and be in awe of the natural world.

In blogs to follow, I will share more on the extraordinary rivers and indigenous forests and the creatures we heard and saw. I also want to share the mind blowing interaction with three truly magnificent elephants…

A floral jewel

Just back from yet another wonderful weekend spent out of town discovering a new corner of this incredibly diverse, magnificent province of ours. We headed up to a spot just north of the rather pretty little town of Tulbagh, which is situated in a bowl surrounded by three imposing mountain ranges – the Obiqua to the west, the Winterhoek to the north and the Witzenberg to the east. We stayed on a farm on the slopes of the Winterhoek, its imposing, craggy peaks right behind our cottage.

We were determined to get ourselves up into the mountains and into a patch of indigenous forest tucked away in a kloof, so we set off early in the morning.

We hiked up a very steep firebreak which went right up the mountain until we reached the point where the fire-fighting vehicles would literally topple over it was so steep! It was hellishly hot – at 8am already. The combination of the heat and the fairly manic gradient was a bit too much for our usually fairly stoic little 8 year old…but the sight of the forest and its little waterfall was enough of a carrot!

It is always magical to be surrounded by 300-year-old trees, their creaking trunks and glorious twisted limbs with many a secret to tell. It is also a deep privilege to be able to scoop crystal clear water into your hands and drink straight off the mountain.

We clambered over rocks blanketed with dripping ferns and moss and headed a little further up into the mountain until it just became too steep. The place was full of raptors – from elusive African Goshawks flitting in and out of the canopy, to Jackal Buzzards and Peregrine Falcons outdoing themselves with aerobatics above…

We spent a little bit of time just sitting in the forest, sipping in all that energy and thinking how quickly all this brilliance can be wiped out… by us lot…!

The farm is stuffed with aliens, unfortunately, but in between all of that, we came across the most incredible floral jewel! The farm manager pointed it out to us as he showed us the way to the swimming dam. Rather alarmingly, he felt the need to pluck it out the ground to show us. At the time, it felt a bit wrong, and now, as I read up about this particular species and its fairly tenuous status, it was definitely not the best strategy!

This striking little turquoise-green flower (Ixia viridiflora) is one of the most unusual geophytes – and is confined to a very small pocket of the Tulbagh District. It is sadly listed as Vulnerable in the Red Data Book, and is likely to be upgraded to Endangered in the near future, if the decline in numbers continues.

These tissue-paper thin flowers have an incredible purple-black circular stain or ‘eye’ in the middle. This little gem of a flower is pollinated by scarab beetles – commonly known as monkey beetles!

After our mountain adventure, we hit the dam…a spectacular setting, with deliciously cool water and big fish nibbling our toes…what a great spot.

(With thanks to Warren for the pics, as always!)

To find a vlei…

Today we set out early to explore a new part of the reserve. We left home as yet another cloud burst moved in….and with bucket-loads of optimism and determination, we drove on to Cape Point, windscreen wipers slashing away at the massive dollops of unseasonal November rain.

We left our car on the Olifantsbos road, donned our raingear and followed a little rocky track into the hills. As we set out, the big grey clouds sucked in their cheeks and gave way to wonderful warming sunshine.

We were off! A new path and a new adventure!

After about 45 minutes of gentle rambling, we reached Sirkelsvlei – a large freshwater body situated (oddly for a vlei) on a plateau which is higher than the surrounding landscape. What is rather odd about this beautiful inland ‘lake’ is that there is no obvious inflow, apart from surface trickle in winter. Apparently Sirkelsvlei rarely dries out. The secret lies underground. Springs bubble up from below….and water also feeds into it from nearby marshes.

It is also apparently home to loads of Cape terrapins. These endearing mud-loving creatures are seldom seen. I don’t need many excuses to rush back to this treasure of a spot…but to see some of these little guys popping up would be one of them!

The trail then leads you through awesome rock formations, chilled out bontebok (some with fresh-out-the-box babbas), ostrich and glorious Fynbos (jam packed with everlastings and pelargoniums and pincushions) until you pop out into the Olifantsbos car park ….and in our case, not a soul in sight!

After a hearty picnic and a chat about The Long Walk Home….we decided it would be best if Mamma ran back to fetch the car. What a joy to trot quietly along the road back to the bakkie…a peaceful 8 kays or so with bold tortoises crossing the road ahead and a warm salty breeze pushing me along…bliss!

Another heavenly day out in a place right on our doorstep.