The next day presented the same challenge as the day before, a surging enraged river hoping to do its worst. Not enamoured with the prospect of another treacherous crossing in dubious boats with equally dubious Sea Captions, that option was quickly discarded. With insufficient rations to allow for any delays to the schedule, there was no alternative other than a long haul up river to find a suitable ford. Turning back was not an option. A second treacherous crossing with Captain Treacherous was out of the question.
But the option selected again was a dud, a damp squib. It was easier said than done. Fate had again intervened. Walking along the bank would not be as easy as we anticipated; a huge mangrove forest encroached onto the water. Instead of a casual summer stroll upriver, we were forced to clamber over giant roots & branches entangled as in a huge contrived sexual pantomime; the hundred most difficult positions of the Karma Sutra. This dank world was home to not only these gnarled trees but it also shared its habitat with giant crabs, hidden in inky waters. The first indication of their presence was feeling them scurrying across one’s feet which – due to being in the water without the protection of boots – had sandals on them. The pace deteriorated to a steady clamber of less than one kilometre per hour. George & I tried one route while Mike & Kurt tried another. Soon the parties had lost sight of each other. Visibility was no more than 5 metres at best. Strange insects & birds cricked & squawked unseen in the dim light. These were the least of our concerns; the lack of progress a far greater problem. But given the environment, greater speed was clearly impossible. Would we make the next hut by night fall or at all? We struggled on. Climb up a root, over a branch, hold onto a trunk then duck underwater past an obstacle. The day wore on with scant progress being made. Again breaks were forfeited as how was it possible to make a mug of coffee with a stove precariously balanced on a branch. Besides, time was precious. Forty kays in one day even with a 6am start would mean at best arriving at the hut long after nightfall. Not an enticing prospect awaiting us but none complained.
After several hours of miniscule progress, our luck changed. A half-destroyed causeway obviously only fit for local foot traffic was espied.
After a quick bite to eat, George & I were off at a cracking pace. It was already close to midday & at best we had covered 10kms. Mike & Kurt were nowhere in sight. Knowing that Mike & Kurt were fitter than either of us, our best guess is that they were already far ahead, way in the distance. We continually scanned the horizon & especially the hill brows, but they were nowhere in sight. What happens if they are were still in the swamp hurt or stuck? In any event, in that tangled swamp, where does one start to search?
The confusion of thoughts teasing the brain!
The rest of the route would be a route march with no time for niceties like lunch; a quick drink was all that was allowed on the schedule. We passed a Sangoma with a bundle of branches precariously balanced on her head. Laughing at us, she indicated that we should remove our packs & also place them on our heads. With only a friendly wave & a nod in acknowledgement of her proposal, we sped past. No time for chitter chatter with the locals in a smattering of broken-down English. She sauntered on without so much as a care in the world sucking on her long crooked reed like pipe.
A desolate church rushed past, not inviting in two atheists to ask for forgiveness for their sins. Gentle green rolling hills invaded the distance, permitting a steady but hurried pace. Our harried faces told a different story, a tale of grim determination, of finishing the day in the hut & not in some ditch washed-out & wan, utterly exhausted after an over-long day in the wilds.
Slowly the sun dipped over the western hillocks with cows gently grazing in the green idyll, a perfect pastoral scene. Streaks of luminescent clouds adorned the sky before finally being switched off as the sun dipped below the horizon.
In the gloom with an indeterminate distance still to walk, Kurt & Mike caught up with the two of us putting on our sodden boots after yet another water crossing, the umpteenth of the day. Disavowing the necessity of their removal, they waded across disparaging of the water in their boots.
Happy to meet our long lost companions, we set off, with Kurt & Mike setting a cracking pace, too fast for either of us. Steadily the gap widened until they could no longer be seen. Maybe that was for best for as we approached the hut at nine that night, the faint flickering of an exuberant fire cast its welcoming light far out towards us.
After hastily eating a sparse supper of whatever had been left over, we crashed out, dead to the world; all that is except Kurt. As a German of Prussian descent having been born in Danzig in what is now called Gdansk in Poland, his family had narrowly escaped the marauding Russian hordes in the twilight of WW2 & their baleful predations. Having not been in South Africa long enough, the pedantic, meticulous Prussian streak had not been subdued. For the next hour Kurt polished, scrubbed & cleaned his kit as if the morrow would bring a military parade to this isolated place.
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 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