My whole life I have heard tales of how incredible Zimbabwe is, the beauty of the country and the friendliness of its people – but sadly the state of the government meant the country was in a shambles. With fuel shortages, a currency so unstable you could flush million dollar notes down the toilet (literally), and almost no food in the shops, it has been a place off-limits to its neighbouring countrymen. But with a recent change in government and hope in our hearts, we decided now was the time to give it a go. So we left Botswana after a few days of getting on top of ‘life chores’ and work in Maun, and headed in the North-West side of Zimbabwe. The border crossing was a breeze, and the locals couldn’t have been friendlier. Read More
Category Archives: Our Travels
Be warned, this is not a tame tail. Life in the wild can be exactly that – wild! Before any of you think we are negligent parents, I just have to say that we didn’t know we were going to be camping 100 meters from 6 lions, or that our guide would take us right to them. For us this was about experiencing mokoro life, living like the people of the waterways. It turned out to be a more game-filled experience than we ever could have imagined though.
What a wild ride it’s been! Long over due for a post on what we’ve been up to, but everyday seems to be filled with life. Whether it’s crazy animal encounters, extreme trips, chilling on a river, or doing bundles of laundry, I don’t seem to have had a moment to pull my thoughts together and give you all the update you deserve. So here goes…
The Call of Africa
A poem by C. Emily-Dibb
When you’ve acquired a taste for dust,
The scent of our first rain,
You’re hooked for life on Africa
And you’ll not be right again
Till you can watch the setting moon
And hear the jackals bark
And know that they’re around you,
Waiting in the dark. Read More
As our time in Namibia is drawing to a close, I’m finding a part of me already misses the incredible skies and vivid sunsets of the desert. As barren as those lands were, they held something special. I can’t deny though, that being next to a river is food for my soul. Watching the hippos wallow in the river, and seeing the crocs cruise by, fills me with such a sense of peace. It also makes me want to hop in the river however. They seem to have such fun cooling off while the rest of us land dwellers over heat in the upper 30-degree weather. And this isn’t even the hot season! I don’t know how the people here cope in the summer months. The last week has been unbearable, we have been doing game drives in the middle of the day, even though we know we’ll see no game, just because we need to cool off. Our thermometer measured 41 degrees a day ago, luckily that wasn’t the day we got ourselves stuck in the sand…
It has become quite apparent to me over the last week or so, just how spoilt we are. I don’t mean this in an ‘I get everything I want’ kind of way, I mean it in an ‘I have such an easy life’ kind of way. I should probably just title this post “#blessed”, but I’m not sure if that is the truth of it.
Two days ago I found myself hanging laundry, marvelling over how this is the first time in my life, that I have ever had to hand wash 5 loads of laundry. I was so proud of my efforts. There I was with my rubber gloves and perfect white buckets, and an image popped to mind of the countless rows of clothes we have driven past along the side of the road, flung over fences, hanging from poles, and I thought: I am pretty damn sure those weren’t washed in a machine! Never-the-less, my arms were tired and my fingers were sore, and I was satisfied with my first ‘en masse attempts. But then I thought about it more…
We had just driven from Etosha to the Caprivi strip, and the landscape changed dramatically. There is something called a ‘vet fence’, which is a large fence entirely separating the very north of Namibia from the South. The Northern lands were given back to the native Namibians, but as the spread of disease between animals was rife, the government-run South fenced it off and implemented policing of the borders, stopping any meat products from being taken from the North into the South. What’s interesting is that as soon as you cross over that ‘border’, there are animals everywhere! Cows, goat, sheep – all walking across the road, grazing on the verges, it’s like crossing into really-rural Africa. Suddenly there are kraals or homesteads every couple of hundred metres. The houses are all built out of wood and grass, and there are people walking along the side of the road carrying buckets of water on their heads, or on poles supported by two people. Even the children carry water. The first time I ever had to carry my own water was when Cape Town had its severe drought last year and suddenly we had to carry buckets of water from the shower to flush the loo’s, and from gutters to the pool, but I feel that’s not at all the same thing. Here I am being so proud of my laundry, and all around me, people not only hand wash all of their laundry, but they carry their own water to do it in too!
All of this was really hammered home this morning when after an incredibly beautiful game drive along the banks of the Okavango river, we popped in at a local store to pick up some supplies we had unexpectedly run out of. One of these things was milk. As I fought my way to the front of the petrol queue, Shaun ran into the general store with me yelling at his back, “Don’t buy milk if they only have long-life”. As it turns out, they only had long-life (not a surprise, this is true of most of Namibia). Back at the van, as I unpacked the groceries and moaned about Lola’s sudden love of cows milk, I may have mentioned milk rationing as a way of saving the fresh milk for my tea (we only have 1 litre left!). When we established (after some choice language) that I would rather not drink tea than have it with long-life milk, Shaun told me to grow a pair. Although I prefer not to grow a pair, I did think on the conversation for a while, and this is where it lead me: blessed is not at all the correct way to describe it – spoilt is.
Although there are numerous things I do feel blessed about, like medical care and access to education, there are other things that are unnecessary spoilings that in no way make our lives ‘better’ than any of the people living here. Maybe the good life is in the simple places. Once you have had it easy, like everyone who is reading this right now, it makes it harder to enjoy the simple things, because you are so aware of what you are missing. In my case, fresh milk and a washing machine, and I have no doubt many more things are going to rear their heads the further away from civilisation we go. Thank goodness we had enough boot space to stock pile good coffee and toilet paper!
It’s always the people you meet that add the special moments to an adventure. The stories you hear, the cultures you learn about; they add the little bits of ‘real life’ to an otherwise beautiful yet foreign setting. We have spent the last 3 days in Etosha with a social calendar that rivals ours in Cape Town. It’s been such a lovely few days. Feels like we’ve been able to have a bit of normal in an otherwise bizarrely abnormal life arrangement.
I have to back track a little as there is a fair amount I haven’t filled you in on… After soaking in the warm waters of the Ai, we drove north to Aus, and stayed in a camping spot that wins the prize for best sunsets and hiking trails. In fact, it was the start of an area that Shaun and I would put on our list of ‘must stay’ places in Namibia. It really is in the middle of nowhere and there isn’t a lot going on apart from epic vistas, wild horses and lots of nothing. Aus doesn’t even have a grocery store. The Engen garage, wait; when I say this don’t picture the convenience kind in South Africa that has a Woolies inside it, begin anew, because this is unlike anything you have seen. It comes complete with a car tires and random tools section, an animal hide rack, random tourist memorabilia, a caravan park reception area, as well as tinned foods, frozen meats and long life milk shelf. That is Aus. Don’t let it put you off though, it is the gateway to an incredible part of Namibia – just bring your own food!
We stayed there but drove through to Luderitz; a town on the coast, boasting, well, not much, but it does have its very own ghost town near by. It was eerie to walk through a deserted town with nothing but empty houses filled with sand. It was like stepping into another time. The area surrounding it is like a post apocalyptic wasteland, complete with dust devils and swirling sand across the road. It was nothing compared to Sossusvlei, which is the real dessert in the middle of Namibia though, and that is where we headed next.
We stopped off for a night in the M-O-S-T spectacular campsite, and then carried on through to the real dunes. We cursed these sand roads when we got into the country, but it has forced us to explore more and stop over on our way to places, because you simply can’t drive certain stretches of road at more than 60km per hour. It has meant we have found real gems of places, little treasures hidden away off the main roads. This was one of those treasures. When we arrived at the dune area (Sossusvlei National Park) the following day I was ready to turn around and run for the hills! It was a seething mass of tourists. The campsite lacked any of the characteristic beauty we have encountered throughout Namibia, and was instead just a sand bowl. The reception area was operated with all the finesse of an African government office. I must admit I did wonder when we arrived if anything could be worth that kind of commotion, but when we headed off for the dunes it was a special kind of magical that waited for us. We plotted a course for the Big Daddy dune at the end of the park, and not surprisingly greeted another hoard of tourists when we got there. So off we went in search of our own dune to climb. There are literally hundreds of dunes, but for some reason, everyone climbs the same few. We found one all on its own, with no footprints destroying the pristine ripples of sand in front of us. With not another human in sight we slogged our way up that dune, racing the sunset as we summited. Not only did we not want to freeze to death after the sun went down, we also had to be back in the camping area before 7.30pm. Sadly, we never made it to the real top, there seemed to always be another rise. So after turning back at sun down, we had to run down the dune, sprint back to the car, and ever so slightly exceed the speed limit to get us back to the gate at precisly 7.29pm, scraping in as the last car through the gate! Shew. We were also one of the first back into the park the following morning because we had the daft notion of watching the sunrise over the dunes. We had packed our breakfast picnic the night before, and left in the dark to find one of the smaller dunes to climb. The evening before we had climbed bare foot as sand gets in everywhere. Your shoes get progressively more uncomfortable as the sand works its way to the front, making you feel like your shoes are 2 sizes too small. So we all trotted off to the dunes in our flipflops, discarding them at the bottom. The joke was on us because the sand temperature drops to almost zero along with the air temperature. It was like putting our feet in the deep freeze! The kids and I abandoned the plan very quickly as our toes turned red, but Shaun with his thick skin and dogged determination made it all the way to the top. He did regret it later when the feeling hadn’t returned to his toes by that evening.
Luckily the night we spent there was calm, freezing cold, but still. The night after we left there was a sand storm which apparently blew people’s tents away, deposited heaps of sand all over everything, and sandblasted a layer of glass off everyone’s windscreens. We couldn’t have been luckier that we left when we did.
After the dunes it was off to Swakopmund for 4 days in a real house! We needed some catch-up-with-work-and-life time, some time to really valet the car, and not sleep all piled in 8 square meters of space. It was much needed and thoroughly appreciated. Swakopmund is a quiet little town, even though it is Namibia’s 2nd largest city, and had some really great little coffee shops and even a pizza restaurant! Anyone who knows how much the Wuths love pizza knows how much that was appreciated ☺
But small comfort stops can’t last forever, and so we were off to find some more perfect spots Namibia had to offer. We made our way through Damaraland as we headed up to Etosha, and visited living museums (where you get to see how the Damara people lived hundreds of years ago) as well as run around the hills looking at thousand year old rock engravings. It is a beautiful area and quite different from the south of the country. From there we rolled into Etosha game reserve, and were greeted with more animals in our first hour in the park than I think I’ve ever seen. We had a matriarch ellie mock-charge our car which terrified the lot of us! She was huge, and slow, and graceful, but clearly didn’t like the look of our green machine. Slow turned to dust churning speed in seconds and Shaun did a nifty reverse manoeuvre – with the trailer in tow – and luckily she backed down.
The game in Etosha is prolific around the waterholes, so we spent most of our time sitting in the hide at our campsite, enjoying the quiet and calm days, watching lion, ellies, hyena and black rhino saunter over for a drink, and in some cases even a bath. I never thought I’d ever be luckily enough to see black rhino so we were thrilled.
We met some wonderful people, were invited to gourmet meals in other people’s campsites, and picked up some very handy tips about how to cope with life on the road. We have met few South Africans in Namibia but the ones we have encountered have been so warm and friendly, it makes us proud to be South African. They are always quick to share what they have and offer help when they can. The added bonus is that they have all been interesting, intelligent people who have shared their knowledge, their life stories, and had us doubled over with laughter from some of their encounters. The people you meet really do add that little something extra.
We have just left the western side of Etosha for a night of stock-up and work needed wifi, and are about to head back in on the eastern side. The landscape is changing quite dramatically as we edge ever closer to the more rural side of Africa. I am both nervous and intrigued to see what lies ahead.
Sending love to all of our South African peeps, and those wonderful foreigners we are lucky enough to call friends too!
S & M & L & L
I write this from my camping chair, overlooking the Namtib biosphere. I have rocky mountains behind me, a savannah grassland in front of me, and red dunes peeking out in the distance. Namibia is an incredible place! But before I expound on our time here, let me give you a quick catch up on our remaining time in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
After I last wrote, we braved the corrugated roads of the park and drove north, into the heart of the Kgalagadi. The camping was luxury! We had our own bathroom where I could even leave my toothbrush for 3 days!.. our own washing up area.. and at my final count about 5 black back jackals that hung out at our camp after dark. Terrifying, but a great African experience. Very coincidentally we bumped into some old friends on holiday from Johannesburg, and we really enjoyed seeing some familiar faces. I think I’m becoming one of those annoying people who try and strike up conversation with anyone, so it was great to find people who actually wanted to speak to me. Lola and Lincoln loved hanging out with their kids and thought themselves rather brave adventurers exploring the camp for a couple of days together. They spent hours covering themselves in all available dirt, and had to be reeled in after dark as they didn’t see these jackals as much of a threat. Yikes!
We had some incredible encounters, including a herd of about 12 giraffe grazing on the side of the road, and finding a pride of lion at a watering hole. If you haven’t seen a lion up close let me lay it out for you; they are huge! They hung out around our car for a while and were almost head height at our Prado window (it is not a low car!). Staring out into the face of a lion had my survival instincts kicking in full swing. I can’t understand why that makes hands sweat and voices go squeaky, but there I was, squeak-yelling at the kids to close their windows as a lion sauntered up to Lincoln’s door, while my sweaty hands manhandled the camera in all the excitement. The lense-cap from our camera is still MIA from all the commotion!
After all the excitement of the park we headed out the Mata Mata gate straight into Namibia. We arrived here a week ago, and I must say, on first glimpse, I wasn’t all that impressed. It was dry and dusty, nothing grew, and to make it worse, the roads were all sand. Urgh. But then we stopped for our first night at an unpretentious farm on the side of a high-way (made of sand), and got to enjoy a night of absolute stillness under the stars. It is a very black sky that blankets Namibia at night, and a very blue one during the day. We discovered the colours here are more vivid, even though at first everything seems brown, after you’ve been here a while you see the colours all around you. The sunsets are magical. You have crimson sky to the west, and if you turn around a rainbow of colour fills the sky to the east. The dust is everywhere, but you can forgive it its intrusion because of the magnificent sunsets it incites. Taking beautiful pictures is easy because there seems to be a permanent filter on the lense. But I’m beginning to wonder if the filter is on my eyes. I was always the person swearing never to go to Namibia because it was too dry, now I can’t stop telling people how amazing it is. It’s another one of those places you can’t adequately describe to people. My language of the place does it no justice. It’s a ‘feel’ place. The emotions this environment stirs up leave you wanting to see more, explore more. It’s vast and barren and largely devoid of people, but it gets into your soul.
That is until you hit the tourist spots. Big sigh. We seem to be here during European peak season. The country boasts a population of about 2 million people, but there seem to be double that in French, Italian and German tourists. It is heaving, in as much as a country this barren can heave 😉 Thankfully, there are some off the wall stops we’ve managed to find that seem legitimately local. One spot was a roadside ‘coffee shop’ with the best apple-strudel and homemade rusks we’ve tasted. It was conveniently located at the exact spot that Lincoln had a rather severe on-set of car-sickness. We enjoyed the delicious goods while poor Lincoln walked in circles around a rather beautiful garden creation, made out of old car parts, crockery and desert succulents. We considered driving back that way just to stop in there again, but thought Lincoln wouldn’t be impressed with us, especially given his propensity for car-sickness on those rolling dune roads.
We had to do a bit of a U-turn after we headed into Namibia, and headed back down towards South Africa so we could experience the Fish River Canyon and the Ai Ais hot springs. Unfortunately the hot springs are incredibly touristy and you aren’t allowed in the natural springs at all. You are allowed to soak in the warm waters of the hotel, which are pleasant enough, in an un-natural-chlorine-filled kind of way. You can see the place was once charming but it has unfortunately become a little run down and lacks the magic you’d imagine it had. It is still a phenomenal area to visit as it allows you to explore the Fish River Canyon from the end point of the 90km hiking trail. We did some exploring in the canyon as well as going to see the view from the top. It too, is extreme. It is similar in many ways to the Grand Canyon in the States, but thankfully lacks the size of those crowds. We did some geocaching with the kids and running around the top in an almost desolate landscape, before returning to the much frequented waters of the Ai. As much as we complain about it, it was nice to have some water to soak in, and it was hard to convince the kids we needed to move on. But we had ghost towns and desert landscapes to explore, and many more dirt roads ahead of us…
We have just arrived in Swakopmund, and finally have enough wifi to load this post. It means we are a little behind in communications, but will have another post to get you all up to speed soon.
Happy reading and big loves!
S & M & L & L
As I sit here watching the sun rise over the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, I am struck by the extremes in Africa. Yesterday we got sun burnt… this morning as I scrambled out the van with numb fingers, desperate for a cup of warm tea, I found the kettle water had frozen over night. I mean it’s not like we don’t know Africa, we have lived here our whole lives, but I feel like the African bush is a different place. It’s run by different rules, and it’s ruthless. You can’t be soft here or you wont survive, maybe that’s why so many people fall in love with the place. It’s raw and it’s brutal, but it shows you life in a way that city living just can’t. It makes you see things differently, or maybe it just makes you see things for the first time. Life is fragile.
I must be honest here and say that I have not always been a lover of the African bush. I always begrudged the dust, and the bugs and moaned about the long hours you have to sit in a car. But then I married Shaun, and he and his brothers couldn’t accept my attitude. They told me it’s because I hadn’t been to the right bush. I hadn’t experienced it properly. And I’m beginning to see why they have always felt the way they do. Growing up in my family, we normally did action packed holidays. This partly comes from my mothers inability to sit still, but also because with 6 children, who could possibly imagine a 5 hour game drive! So we ‘did’ holidays instead, and loved it. It meant that the limited experience I had had driving through bush hadn’t left me with any real experience of it. It has taken 15 years of life with Shaun (and 9 years with my animal mad kids) for me to get to this point; where I love the idea of the bush enough to head into it for 6 months. No amount of cream seems to moisturise my dry skin and my cell phone doesn’t like my fingerprint anymore because the tips of my fingers are like sandpaper, but this is all trivial. Yes Dad, it would seem I’m finally toughening up 😉
We have been in the Kgalagadi for 3 days and have been spoilt with what we have seen. We have done 2 game drives, some of the time just appreciating where we are, and at other times marveling over the game around us. We stumbled apon 2 cheetah moments after they killed a springbok and we got to experience a raw moment of life. Even Lola (for the first time) could understand the need for the springboks sacrifice. It was a big experience for them. Seeing it first hand, and not on animal planet, made it easier for them to understand and accept as a part of life. The following day we found black back jackals cleaning up the same spot and got to watch them quite closely as well, a real treat. The kids are natural spotters (they must get that from Shaun) and have found everything from birds of prey, to lion (amazing!), african wild cat, mongooses, meercats, cape fox, and numerous species of buck. Their ability to spot birds is what blows me away, and the kids are loving the Roberts bird app and identifying the different species. They are teaching me so much!
Camping in Kgalagadi has been a vastly different experience to camping at Augrabies falls where we were constantly harassed by monkeys and baboons, and could barely open the kitchen for fear of a cheeky monkey flying over our shoulder to grab a bag of whatever it could get its hands on. It made the camping experience rather stressful, but it did teach us the need for a kettie, and the skills to use it. We all now have one, and are hard at work honing our talents. Staying their did give us an opportunity to explore the incredible falls, spend hours playing on the rocks, and do a beautiful walk to Twin Falls and Moon Rock, down river. Shaun had a lot of work to get through and I tried to get through a fair amount of school with the kids, as well as wrapping up any necessary things before leaving the country.
We have been staying in Twee Revieren for the past 3 nights, and although our camp here is fenced, we are aware that a stray lion could make its way in (as one did 6 months ago). This has kept us alert, but has thankfully lacked all the drama of camping with the monkeys. We are now heading up to Nossob (or Nobbie as Lincoln calls it) for another 3 nights. We are then out the country! The dunes of Namibia are calling and Shaun is chomping at the bit to show us this dry piece of heaven. I am reserving comment until I have experienced this desert land…
Catch you all in a few days time.
Love S & M & L & L
After months of radio silence, we’re back! We hope to incite a lust for adventure by supplying your inbox with a gentle stream of African road tripping images, wildlife shots and general Wuth family shenanigans. Hopefully they’ll burn a desire in your heart to head out into the wilderness and experience the beauty in this world. Maybe they’ll be enough to satisfy your desire, but either way, we hope they give you lots of enjoyment. A glimpse into our life for the next 6 months, the good… and the not so good 🙂 So before all that begins, here is a little bit of what we’ve been up to and how we got here…
We started off the year by taking our kids out of school so we could home-school them – we did this for many reasons, but partly to figure it out before we left on our adventure. What we didn’t realise at the time was that home-schooling and working would leave no time for planning the actual trip! So fast-forward 6 months to our anticipated leaving date and Shaun and I found ourselves in a perpetual state of mania trying to tick our way down our to-do list. We were impossible to pin down and even more impossible to get any concrete plans out of. After the property market in Cape Town fell through the floor, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to rent our house out, let alone sell it, and this meant we had a pretty flexible leaving date. But then a wonderful family on their own years adventure from Spain wanted to move into our house and suddenly mid July became a hard deadline! Our leaving date had moved from plan A, to plan B, all the way down to about E before we finally had lift off. It was a bit of a soft launch though and it only shot us 800 meters up the road where we stayed with friends for 2 nights – we just hadn’t managed to tick the last few things off our list. On our second take we managed to get all the way to Stellenbosch, a full 50mins drive from our home. The only reason we made it that far was because we had booked a 4×4 course so we could learn how to drive our vehicle before heading off into the wild blue yonder. Anyone would think we had no heads to screw on, and I think by the time we left we had our entire extended family in a state of paranoia about what we were about to attempt. Luckily (in this case), Shaun and I operate in completely different spheres, so put together we seem to have covered most of the bases (we think) and although we had a rather tumultuous start, we seem to have found a bit of a groove. After 10 days on the road we are all settling into it.
Learning how to 4×4 was actually a great start to our adventure and we’ve already had to apply our newfound knowledge. We’re hoping to avoid as many blow-outs as possible. Turns out there is a lot more to driving a 4×4 than just sticking it in drive and ploughing over things, who would have thought! We started our trip by spending 3 nights at Kogel Bay Campsite between Somerset West and Kleinmond. It gave us 3 days to sort out our packing. Re-pack and re-pack again, and go back into town to get a few more last minute things, and have some more gadgets fitted to our car. Shaun has really settled into this African adventure by over-engineering the socks off our gear. He has fitted solar panels, bought battery packs for our battery packs, and ‘smart’ charges that make all the charging that much more efficient. I think we should be ok for power.
While Shaun has geared us up, I have played tetris over and over again to make sure we have used our space wisely, and have the things we need close at hand while less necessary boxes get packed at the bottom. What this means is that I know where everything is and Shaun knows how to make everything work. If you take one of us out of the campsite everything grinds to a halt, but I’m sure after another few weeks on the road we will have grasped the whole picture.
The kids have been very good at getting stuck in and finding tasks that they can manage. I’ve actually been quite impressed. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a fair amount of nagging that goes on, but that is normally me trying to get them to do school work. Unfortunately Shaun and I have been trying to fit in some necessary work as well which has thrown off a couple of ‘packing up camp sessions’, so we’ve arrived in the dark at multiple stops which is never ideal. Luckily we’ve managed to keep morale high most of the time, but every now and again the wheels go rolling off and we all just have tea and go to bed
After Kogel Bay we headed inland to Tankwa Karoo for a few nights. There is lots of nothing and then some more nothing. It is desolate and barren, but in a strange way still beautiful. You can watch dust swirl down the road, catch the occasional springbok bounding past, and if you’re quiet enough, hear your blood flow more slowly through your veins. We did some work and school and chilling at viewpoints, and started to feel the stillness of Africa a little. After testing out our new suspension on some of the worst corrugated roads I’ve ever seen, we headed to Sutherland for a night to check out the Southern hemisphere’s largest telescope (S.A.L.T.) and do some star gazing in the coldest place in South Africa. It was worth all the corrugation to get there! The stars were out of this world.
Then it was off to Namaqualand to run in the daisies, and we weren’t disappointed. It was a little early in the season, but they were still spectacular. So was the landscape surrounding Namaqualand with its granite domes and interesting vegetation. Definitely a place we will come back to explore on foot. It is quite unlike anywhere else in South Africa and looks ideal for a hiking trip.
We are now on route to Augrabies to camp next to the roar of the falls. Here’s hoping our last week in South Africa is calm and enjoyable. Catch you all on the flip side.
S & M & L & L
Honestly, I am as surprised as anyone that my kids are prepared to put up with us. I keep expecting them to disown us, to beg for parents who don’t think that wandering the mountains whilst lugging all their gear on their backs is great holiday fun. But they have surprised us at every turn.
Escaping into the Cape Fold Mountains might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but lucky for us, it seemed to be the tea of choice for our children. Parenting win!
Most unlike us, Shaun and I decided on a route about 2 weeks ahead of time, leaving us plenty of time to worry about other things, like Shaun’s recent brush with decrepitude. Turning 35 seems to have come with a bag of niggles, most notably his ITB showing him the finger every time he runs more than 5km’s. This was a mild concern but we hoped taking it slow and making sure his pack wasn’t too heavy would mean his leg suffers no further disrepair.
So lightness of packs being the order of the day, I took the kids shopping to choose what they would like to eat on the hike. Having their buy-in is crucial for a successful hike. Their buy-in meant we came home with 6 bags of sweets, chocolate flavoured oats, and ‘lime and black pepper’ tuna (they assured me this would keep their protein levels up). After sensibly applying my ‘adulting’ brain and getting a few more essential items like coffee and biscuits, ok, and some biltong and cous-cous for dinner, we were ready to get the packs packed.
Our thinking is this: Most importantly, the kids have to enjoy the hike or it’ll be our last!
In order to achieve this:
1. Make sure we have slightly more food than we think we’ll need.
2. Make sure a large portion of this consists of sugar.
3. Make sure there is as much caffeine as sugar.
4. Have at least 1 energy gel for each of us per day (just in case the wheels come off the children’s wagons, mother looses her sense of humour, or dad gets wobbly legs).
If we can get points 1 – 4 right, we’ll be hitting our most important objective (refer to above)!
So once we had decided on food, chosen the barest of essentials for clothing, got a sleeping mat and a bag each, and packed the tent, there was nothing more we could do but distribute the weight as fairly as we could.
Lincoln tips the scales at a hefty 22kgs – we decided 5kgs was the max weight he should carry.
Lola clocks in at a marginally higher 24kgs – so she should also have no more than 5kgs on her back.
This obviously leaves the bulk of the weight to be distributed between Shaun and myself.
I weigh in at 64kgs – this means absolutely nothing because I can only carry what I can carry. I mean if I can’t pick up my pack, what’s the point. So I packed it until I required assistance standing up, and then repacked it because I forgot to pack any clothes, and then when I couldn’t take any more, Shaun had to take the rest. My pack weighed in at 22kgs.
Shaun’s beefy 72kg frame had to carry the remaining 27kgs.
It worked out to us carrying roughly 1/3rd of our body weight each, with the kids having more freedom to run with a lighter pack. The trick is getting them to think they are much stronger than you are because they can go so fast, then they really shine!
Where did we go you ask?
We chose the Grootvadersbosch / Boosmansbos Nature Reserve which is just past Swellendam. It has well established hiking trails (which would help us avoid mistakes of the past) and being springtime, was bound to have incredible fynbos.
The downside is that it doesn’t have a large selection of routes to choose from, just 2 well maintained paths leading up into the mountains for roughly 16km’s, at which point you find 2 very rustic huts, next to an icy mountain stream, with accompanying frozen pools… Bliss. So this was where we were heading.
16kms up is a little too much for our kiddos to do in one day however, so we decided we would camp out at the 8km mark, and break the ‘Up’ leg into 2. Coming down would be easier so a long return journey we weren’t so worried about. That left one day in the middle where we could do a day hike or explore the surroundings. Solid logic (for a change).
Day 1 – We go Up!
The start of the hike is never the best, we were all taking strain under our full packs and were anxious to get past the dirt roads and into the real wild, where the rivers run uninhibited and the wildlife roam freely. Luckily it didn’t take too long… Before we knew it Shaun was standing on a snake, Lola was gathering insects and Lincoln was wetting his shoes in all the mountain streams. It was lovely (it would have been less lovely if Shaun had been bitten!). We started munching our way through our heavy loads and already the stresses of the world were slipping away.
We only began hiking at midday and by the time we stopped for the night the kids were shattered. ‘Just’ camping at the 8km mark was easier said than done. The trail was beautiful and winding, but totally devoid of any terrain flat enough to pitch a tent on. We eventually cut our losses and pitched our tent right on the path. What we lost in comfort we made up for with our view. It was extraordinary.
We had an enchanting dinner of cous-cous and salt, while enjoying the evening’s entertainment of watching the clouds roll down the mountain into the valley. Pure simplicity. I know what you’re thinking, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. You can’t imagine the perfection of an evening like that; you really have to experience it. Utterly soul replenishing.
Day 2 – We go Up some more!
We greeted the morning with sore hips and crooked necks. The world had never looked better. We had an ocean of cloud in front of us, and a warm sun above our heads. The kids were clowning about, and life on the mountain was peaceful, if a little windswept. We had the remaining 8km’s to get us to the big river and swimming pools high up in the Cape Fold Mountains.
After coffee, breakfast and packing up our gear (in that order), we set off along a path probably not walked by a 7 and 8 year old before. We reminded the kids how epic they were, and hoped that would give them a good boost for the tough day ahead; we needed them firing on all cylinders. You’ve got to play the cards you’ve been dealt – Lincoln likes the encouragement of being told he’s a super star, Lola likes being given sweets. So having sweets and protein bars at the ready, we hit the trail. We had a big mountain to climb.
Going up can be slow going, so we continued with games stared the day before, being the ‘favourites’ game (whereby someone chooses a subject and we all have to guess each other’s 3 favourite things), and ‘20 questions’ (this was particularly amusing, but they picked it up quickly). It kept the kids very entertained until Shaun and I couldn’t keep up with their pace and they left us in their dust (well this is what we told them). In full disclosure, this was also a bit of a tactical manoeuvre from our side; if we let them get the lead on us it fires them up in a big way, it becomes a game of ‘we must stay ahead of mum and dad’. It’s a winning move.
Luckily after a short lunch there wasn’t much walking left before finding the river and the huts. This left us an entire afternoon to play in the pools and lounge like lizards in the sun. After a hot morning of hiking there is little better. There were no cold beers, but there was ice-cold mountain water. The kids were pooped and it took us a while to work out that Lola hadn’t drank enough water from her camel bak and was pretty dehydrated. Luckily we had packed the rehydrate so we had her gulping down bottles of it, but not before she said “We aren’t hiking tomorrow. Not negotiable.” So that sealed it. Once the rehydrate kicked in she had so much energy we could have sent her down the entire mountain and back up again; it’s amazing how the body shuts down when not fuelled correctly. But the enthusiasm ship had sailed, and we said if they didn’t want to they didn’t have to. We would have an ‘off’ day.
We pitched our tent inside the hut as it had no window or door and the nights were chilly. It did give us a very flat surface to sleep on and some shelter from the wind, which was much needed. (We were doubly grateful when it started raining on the following night).
Day 3 – Mary and Shaun don’t know how to sit still.
Good hard sleeping, interspersed with gale-force wind that made the corrugated iron roof sound like it was going to lift off the hut. But we were all there in the morning, more or less chipper, and ready for an adventure.
Lola was ready to eat the floorboards out the hut, so we began with breakfast. The men slowly made their way out the tent and joined the day, although more reluctantly today. Lola with her will of iron was still adamant that she was not hiking, so of course Lincoln followed suit. Shaun and I had been gazing at the final mountain peak looming in front of us and agreed that we couldn’t be this close to the summit and not get there, so we decided we would do it independently, as a trail run.
Hitting the trail up the final peak had me fast realising what a good thing it was the kids weren’t heading up. It was completely overgrown and had me wishing for Lincoln’s shin guards. At that point I was thankful for Lola’s stubbornness of will. Saying I was nervous going up on my own was an understatement. I was at the top of a mountain range, on my own, summiting the final peak. There was obviously no cell reception, and no way for me to get hold of Shaun if I needed him. I was super cautious.
Sitting at what felt like the top of the world like that, reminded me how we all need that time, and we all need that space. It was awesome that I could come down from that and let Shaun loose for his slice of peace and freedom. It’s like pushing a little ‘reboot’ button on life.
The kids spent the day playing make-believe games, collecting insects at the river, wading through the rock pools and trying to catch tadpoles – the most quintessential childhood day. I am so happy they could have that break from the busy-ness of ‘real’ life. There should be more carefree days like that.
The evening was spent lying in the grass staring at the clouds, chatting, laughing and taking ridiculous slow-mo videos of ourselves. The most perfect family evening together.
Day 4 – My kids are my heroes.
I would love to say we awoke in the morning after a wonderful nights sleep, but it was windy. Like really windy. The kids and I were less perturbed and managed to catch our zzz’s quickly, Shaun on the other hand, unbeknownst to us, made out into the night in search of rocks. Yes, rocks. I awoke to what I can only describe as the sound of the hut collapsing in on us. I had a panicked moment of thinking this was the end of us all. The sound was like nothing I had heard before; a banging-crashing-scratching sound. Ok, it was probably just that it was so incredibly loud, and it woke me up, at which point you obviously can make no sense of anything. A man enraged from lack of sleep, hurling boulders onto the corrugated-iron roof of our hut, was in actual fact none other than my lovely husband who was, yes, a little irritated with the incessant rattling and thumping of the roof sheets, but was as he puts it, ‘gently tossing’ rocks onto the roof.
So aside from minor heart failure mid way through the night, we awoke to a peaceful, serene morning; rain gently falling and mist rolling peacefully past the door of the hut. Absolutely beautiful, until I realised we had to hike all the way down the mountain in that! I panicked. I had visions of the children flat out refusing, of tossing their cookies and stamping their feet, or worse still, sulking the whole 14.5km’s down the mountain.
Conversely, everyone was in such high spirits. By the time we had packed up camp the kids were doing push-ups and star jumps to warm up before heading out into the frigid weather. I was amazed. The walk, although initially so misty we couldn’t see anything, cleared up to reveal the most incredible mountain cliffs, gorges plummeting down next to us, and carpets of flowering fynbos.
Beautiful though it was, it was still freezing cold, and the kids and I put our second pair of socks on our hands to keep warm. It would have worked a little better for me if Lola hadn’t stood in a puddle and wet the pair on her feet, meaning her ‘hand’ socks moved south, my ‘hand’ socks moved onto smaller hands, and Lola’s wet foot socks failed dismally in warming up my numb fingers. But such is life.
Despite the cold, or maybe because of it, the kids flew down that mountain faster than I have ever seen them move. They kept up a constant pace of 4km’s an hour, including breaks, I was positively having to scuttle in places just to keep up. It was a perfect hiking day, and I was sad to be heading on the ‘out’ trail. The fact that the kids needed almost no motivating whatsoever certainly helped, and we got to our car about 2 hours earlier than planned.
As we drove down the dusty road towards civilisation, I found myself gazing at the mountain ranges we were leaving behind us, and wondered how long we could live in them before needing to return to the comforts of home. There is a time and a place for everything, a wise man once said.
….I feel a challenge looming in our future.