Refreshed & reinvigorated, we charged off after a breakfast comprising the full enchilada – eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato & toast. The resort had even managed to wash & iron our clothes overnight. The menacing clouds had converted themselves into friendly wispy innocuous candy floss fluff balls, cute & cuddly. First we had to pass the hut where we were supposed to have stopped the day before. That made the day’s hike slightly longer but being as fit as we were, not an undue burden.
Overnight everything changed as if the clock had been rewound. The sky was heavy with clouds & moisture ready to do its damnest again. By lunch time, foul weather had again intruded, accompanied by its orchestra of lightning & thunder. The rain streamed down almost horizontally into our faces, a repeat of day one. This time there was not a saviour in the form of a resort but only a bedraggled dilapidated mud hut with ruptured water tanks. Not that water would be problem under the circumstances but nevertheless indicative of the state of repair including our accommodation in the camp.
The hut was not the most salubrious accommodation being mud floors, mud walls & thatched roof. Not designed for continuous rain, the mud walls were in peril of collapse as they slowly disintegrated in front of our eyes.
Not being religious, none of us prayed that the hut would last the night before succumbing to the rain; but cold & wet we climbed into our sleeping bags at 17:00.
Kurt being the fittest & not wanting to retire early, reconnoitred the following day’s path to the river. Back came the distressing news; the normally placid Mnenu river was a raging torrent 300 metres wide! We were still young & stupid but not idiotic. Any attempt to cross such a stream would be risking our lives. We weighed up our options; all were equally perilous or inadvisable except the one of retracing our steps. None of us fancied that option. Without any persuasion, the unanimous vote was to complete the hike. The solution: remain in a crumbling hut for 24 hours on starvation rations & then, all going well, find a crossing a few kilometres inland. So much for the theories & the plans! As any experienced Army General understands, even well-laid plans disintegrate as the troops cross the start-line as the rush of events on the ground – the realities – dictate a different course of action.
That is what quickly transpired. On seeing the state of the river with giant tree stumps effortlessly scurrying out to sea as if magically propelled along by some unseen force, was a sobering experience. With 25kg packs we would surely drown or be swept out to sea. Another day in a partly demolished hut was now not an option. That left the only remaining possibility; walk upstream until a suitable crossing place emerged but a quick glance at the high level maps was not encouraging. At best it would be a 10km walk upstream; that meant that we would make a detour of 20kms which in addition to the allocated distance to the next hut straight across the mouth of the river was 20kms. In short, we had to walk 40kms that day. Not an enticing thought.
So upstream we went, heavy in heart but slightly lighter of pack. Having had to spend two days in our sleeping bags at the previous hut had let the mind & the body dwell on the only thing to alleviate boredom & a groaning empty stomach, but food. Most found it impossible to resist the temptations. Spreading one day’s food over two days so the future day’s rations were not encroached upon proved to be futile. Nobody admitted doing so but all were equally guilty of stealing future rations.
A boat was spotted in the reeds. Without a rigorous inspection & due diligence review, our saviour had been found. Search parties were dispatched to find its oars & its owner. Without a warning, the bush telegraph crackled into life, “Will the owner of Rowing Boat called Unserviceable, please report for duty?” A scruffy unkempt black male of indeterminate age & unlikely sea faring capability stepped forward. In the haste to make our way across this 300 metres death trap, all the tell-tale signs of incompetence & inability were ignored as we haggled over price; twenty kays saved for R200 & 300 metres in a non-water worthy state. A basic tenet of purchasing is caveat emptor but in our eagerness to have a comfortable crossing, this aphorism was ignored.
In relief we all stepped aboard the RMS Titanic, the Second. Pushing off, we were quickly into the fast flowing water. This was not our only looming problem; the boat had sprung a leak. Nonplussed, Captain Intrepid had prepared for every eventuality; a scoop was conveniently kept on board the craft just in case of such an eventuality. The rest used their hats as extemporised scoops. As the guys in the front bailed furiously, the guys behind had a far tougher job to perform; namely beseeching all the deities that they could muster to assist us in our peril. By now we were in the maelstrom which was sucking us seaward. The forward motion generated by one set of oars was insufficient to overcome the seaward rampant motion of the current. It was a case of the classic B-Grade movie script. Would we reach the opposite bank before we were swept out to sea?
The imperturbable Captain Spectacular in sang froid mood, was rowing for his life & ours. The sweat poured down his bony arms & malnourished skeleton. His back bent & strained as he put every ounce of effort into his strokes. Now another disaster loomed. The right hand oarlock – the fitting on the gunwale of a boat that serves as a fulcrum for an oar and keeps it in place – was almost adrift, unsecured. It was well-nigh impossible to row without them. So far, all that our Captain Magnificent had successfully done was to put the pointy end of the boat – the bow in layman’s language – in first & pointed it towards the other bank. The idea of a bow was probably too technical for him. What a shambles! Even the bailing abated as all breaths were collectively held in anticipation. A hundred metres to go! That is all. It was now or never. Would we make it? The sea drew ever nearer and the thoughts of having to swim shortly, was upper most in our minds. Then THUD, crash, bump as the boat hit something. Looking down, it was a sandbank. What more would happen with just one hundred metres to go?
At this juncture, the Captain smiled broadly with a piano keyboard smile – pearly white teeth interspaced with spaces – ordering all survivors to abandon ship. Into waist deep water we jumped, expecting to assist with the extrication of the boat from the sucking incarcerating sand. Instead we were summarily issued with an incongruous instruction: “Remove your belongings & start walking”
Like a hostage with a gun to our heads, we were at the Captain’s tender mercies. In incomprehensible English he assured us of our safety as he paddled slowly upstream. With packs held high above our heads we struggled the last hundred metres to the shore.
Now to hike to the next hut, 20kms away!
All in a day’s work
Episodes of The 1988 Wild Coast Trail – 25 year Retrospective Report
The 1988 Wild Coast Trail – 25 year Retrospective Report Part1: The Journey
The 1988 Wild Coast Trail – 25 year Retrospective Report – Part 2: An ignominious start
The 1988 Wild Coast Trail – 25 year Retrospective Report – Part 3: In Too Deep
The 1988 Wild Coast Trail – 25 year Retrospective Report – Part 4: The route march through a swamp
The 1988 Wild Coast Trail – 25 year Retrospective Report – Part 5: The old & the future South Africa collide