The Amatola Hiking Trail

Nestled in the fairy-like world of the Amatole Mountains, this backpacking trail provides ample opportunity for long periods of waterfall gazing, swimming hole bathing, and forest frolicking. Having lived in the desert for the last ten months, this mountain and forest gal was happy to get a three day dosage of lush green forests, peaks to admire and summit, and waterfall after waterfall to ooh and aah at the entire way. My fellow hiker, an American fella named Landon from the Hoosier state, was delightful company throughout the hike.

Great green gorges carved by tiny streams that turn into towering cascades make for an enjoyable hike of ups and downs, river crossings, rock hopping, and endless views. The Amatola trail is far from the noises of society, set in an unblemished wilderness where the eye of the passerby catches the colorful pink wings of the loerie. We, the only humans on the trail, are like explorers, forging our way through overgrown sections of head high brambles, forests thick with spider webs, desperately trying to follow our own yellow brick road of painted yellow footprints left in the most obvious of places when we don’t need them and in the most obscure places when we do.

In these indigenous forests, we have found the jungles of South Africa. They are dark and wet, humbled by quiet brooks, and to our happy relief, mosquito-free. Territory of the arachnids, we muse, keeping the biting bugs at bay. So we enter the forests with sticks held to the front, carefully trying to avoid webs of spiders, dressed in their armor, shielding our faces, to little avail. The spider webs win, covering our bodies in what feels like cotton candy. If only it were.

Our trusty map indicates swimming holes along the way, as well as humorously warns not to spend too much time enjoying the pools so as not to reach camp late. We struggle to heed to this advice, stopping at the first nice pool we see to take a dip. The mountain pools look inviting with their pristine turquoise water, but turn our feet numb upon toe dipping. A few full body submergings leave us craving for the heat of the sun. Fortunately, this keeps us moving to our destination for the night, a hut in an opening in the forest with a porch all to ourselves. Let’s just call it a lodge. It is a large, wooden structure with over twenty bunk beds, a braai pit for cooking our food, and showers and toilets. We fall asleep dreaming of spiders.

Our final day on the meandering trail returns us to the small mountain town of Hogsback. We indulge ourselves in taking some extra time to summit a peak overlooking Hogsback known simply as Hog 1 for its resemblance to the backside of a hog. As we reach the rocky summit, our view of the village is blocked by a thick cloud rising to the edge of the peak. We wait for the cloud to continue rising, eventually revealing the final leg of our trip. The hike isn’t complete without losing ourselves in a pine tree plantation on the way back to the road and hitching a ride with some local woodcutters to save us the long distance of unplanned walking. As usual, food is a motivating factor on the final day so we reward ourselves with a South African thin crust pizza each (or two in Landon’s case).

As a seeker of waterfalls everywhere, this hike was an absolute delight, one I would easily repeat again. Many thanks to Landon for putting up with my excitement over every waterfall and for entertainment on and off the trail. It’s funny how simple life can be when you can sit in the dark and share the joy of seeing bugs light up in the grass!

Happy trails to all :)

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The final two weeks

If you’ve been wondering what Amanda and I have been up to during our travels in South Africa, the truth is a lot, even though the blog might not reflect that. We’ve been so busy soaking up the adventure and culture of this country that keeping up with the blog has been challenging. But I can’t say we haven’t tried. The problem is the very slow internet everywhere we go. It’s been nearly impossible to get a good enough connection to load a blog post and that’s time consuming when our days are packed! We’ve had quite a few life changing moments and we can’t wait to share them with all of you when we return. But for now we’re going to continue living big and enjoying the last two weeks of our journey. Currently Amanda and I are going our separate ways for 5 days. Amanda is heading to the beach to get as much ocean time, surfing, and seashell collecting as she can and I’ll be heading into the mountains to hike South Africa’s famous Amatola Trail for several days. Next up is Durban where we hope to snorkel, yes swim, with sharks. And then we’ll be in the Drakensberg Mountains, the most beautiful and dramatic mountain range in South Africa. Our final experience will be driving through Kruger National Park hoping to see some big animals! We’ve been inspired in so many ways by all the people we have met and we are the most grateful for this. The hospitality here has made our trip and continues to give us good vibes. Onward we go!

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Ostrich Kloofing

Amanda and I had the pleasure of “kloofing,” the Afrikaans word for canyoneering, while staying near Cape Town. The name of the kloof we would descend was called Volstruiskloof, which in Afrikaans means Ostrich Kloof. Our trek to reach the head of the kloof would take us up a side kloof with boulders to climb over, crystal clear pools to drink from, and rock climbing baboons barking threateningly at us from the high vertical walls. We forged our way through fields upon fields of the meanest plants that did not want us to pass through without marking our legs up and down with cuts. We dropped our packs at our campsite and continued up the kloof to summit a quick peak. A night was spent in the kloof under a giant alcove to protect us from rain. The kloofing trip the following day consisted of 15 rappels down wet and mossy vertical drops, several tea breaks (yes, South Africans stop to boil water to drink tea while hiking), and a phenomenal ending rappel following by a jump into cool water before starting our hot hike out of the kloof.

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Beaches, Boogies, and Bridges

Our Home Away From Home: Muizenberg

It’s not hard to instantly fall in love with Muizenberg upon arrival. And it’s not just the postcard perfect views of the turquoise colored waves crashing against the rocky shores, creating a sudsy white foam as a contrast. And it’s not just the fact that every other person you pass in town is either hauling a surfboard or walking barefoot. That gives Muizenberg it’s laid back vibe. For me, it’s the sense of familiarity and comfort you feel upon arrival. There’s a great sense of community in this small town. A night street festival closes down the tiny village road lined with local shops and opens it up to live music and dancing. A weekly Friday night indoor market becomes a gathering place for locals and foreigners alike. And then there’s Lynn, our lovely host for our ten day stay here who has made us feel at home right from the moment she picked us up from the airport. We have been so well received and welcomed into this town and we already know it will be hard to say goodbye. We’ve already established ourselves at the local watering hole known as Tiger’s Milk, a restaurant by day most days of the week and scene of live DJing on Sunday nights. Sitting on the couches and bopping our heads to the music just wasn’t doing it for us. The seating area was cleared soon after we got on the dance floor and it turned into what would soon be Kat and Amanda’s dance floor. We set the floor on fire and the bar pretty high for the rest of the gang. The crowd was dying to know where we were from. Even the French DJ, Renee, was curious to know what country we represented. By the end of the night, everyone was impressed by our grooves.

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“Inspiraled”

When you are staying within a five minutes walk of the beach, it’s hard to resist collecting beautiful seashells. Amanda and I have been feeling artistically inspired by the shells along the rocky beach. We can’t help it; we’re attracted to shiny pretty things! The intricate patterns, spiral tops and bottoms, colorful variety, each shell is so unique. Our intention with collecting the shells is to create a beautiful mosaic representing our stay here. Several of our days have been spent commuting by foot via the oceanside walkway to the neighboring town of Kalk Bay, well known for its fishing harbor and bohemian shops. It is along this walkway that we collect the shells, having to forcibly avert our eyes so we can keep moving. We stopped to visit my Zimbabwean friends, Eddie and Abisha, who work as bead artists, selling their artwork to tourists. We were lucky enough to have our own personal concert performed by another man named Abisha. He played an instrument known as the mbira, a wooden board with metal pieces played by plucking the metal pieces. We were so impressed by his performance and grateful for his welcoming song and wish of good luck on our journey.

Mountain Biking on a Wine Farm

My former co-worker, Trevor, who works with the Bicycling Empowerment Network, set Amanda and I up with some great mountain bikes and awesome riding just two days after we arrived. We were scooped up in the early morning by Trevor and his posse of mountain biking buddies and driven to a beautiful wine farm in the countryside where we found a well-maintained system of single track trail networks that took us over bridges crafted of wood and rope and through thick forests of pines. There was also a technical bike park that I enjoyed maneuvering around with little jumps, ramps, and logs to balance on.

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The next leg of our journey begins shortly with a ‘kloofing’ or canyoneering overnight trip. And then we are headed east along the coast via the Baz Bus, stopping at hostels and beaches along the way. We’ll keep y’all posted!

This Is Not the End

Perhaps I haven’t posted in awhile because I’m not ready to accept that my time in South Africa has come to an end. I’ve been avoiding sitting down and writing about my thoughts on the whole experience. There were so many significant experiences packed into these past four months; unforgettable ones, heart wrenching ones, and difficult to come to terms with ones, amongst others. It’s all a lot to comprehend right now. But as I’ve learned from my past experience on my Immersion semester in the backcountry of Washington state, reflection and growth from the experience occurs awhile after the experience has ended.

The philosophy of Ubuntu after which this blog is titled is where I would like to begin my thought process. If you aren’t already familiar with Ubuntu, it is an old African philosophy that symbolizes humanness toward others. Simply put: Without one another, we can’t be. During my stay in Cape Town I interacted with and befriended a variety of people from all different walks of life. It’s hard to leave those people knowing that I won’t be back for awhile because they had such an impact on me. But the one thing in common amongst all of those interactions, and which stands out the most vividly when I share stories now, is how everyone embraced Ubuntu. One particular observation stands out in my mind. I was having a conversation with a woman named Sibu who was extremely upset and angry. Despite her state of mind at that moment, Sibu greeted passing people she knew with a smile and proceeded to ask them how they were. It was as if her anger never even existed. She did not let her present mindset affect her interactions with others. This made an impression on me. When I am in a bad mood, I often let it affect how I treat others. I may be disrespectful or rude because I only care about my own feelings. However, Sibu put her feelings aside and greeted others with respect. To me this represented Ubuntu because she was genuinely interested in how others were feeling.

Another example of Ubuntu was how people whom I had just recently met opened their homes to me and others when we needed a place to stay. The word hospitality is an understatement in South Africa. People were genuinely concerned about my well-being and I have never felt so warmly welcomed by strangers. Despite moving to Cape Town all by myself and not knowing a single soul when I arrived, it was not a challenge to meet people. The woman named Ursula, whom I met the first weekend I arrived and invited me on a strenuous hike up Chapman’s Peak, continued to email me throughout my stay and inquire as to how I was doing and what adventures I had been on. She was disappointed that she was not able to take me on more hikes up the mountain since she got her hip replaced a few weeks after I arrived. We re-connected in the last two weeks of my stay and were able to hit the trails together. She was so eager to get back on the mountain even after she had just started to walk again. She’s 72 years old and was doing rock scrambles 2 1/2 months after having her hip replaced. Woah! A wonderful woman with a contagious spirit for adventure.

There, I got some thoughts out. More will come later as I process the experience. For now, I wanted to share these pictures taken on my last few days in Cape Town.

View from the hike with Ursula

View from the hike with Ursula

Hard to say goodbye to these talented artists who taught me Shona

Hard to say goodbye to these talented artists who taught me Shona and welcomed me into their everyday lives

Good humor while making a sheep

Good humor while making a sheep

Abisha is the master bead artist

Abisha is the master bead artist

Got this shot of Table Mountain and Devil's Peak on a beautiful fall day before I left

Got this shot of Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak on a beautiful fall day before I left

Going to miss that old Lion's Head, my favorite mountain in the city

Going to miss that old Lion’s Head, my favorite mountain in the city

 

South Africa will always remain in my heart

South Africa will always remain in my heart

 

Last day at my favorite spot on Chapman's Peak Drive overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Hout Bay in the background

Last day at my favorite spot on Chapman’s Peak Drive overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Hout Bay in the background. Hmm I can still feel the sun kissing my face and salty breeze blowing my hair 

So long for now South Africa. I’ll be back in the future. I’m grateful for every experience I’ve had…the good, stressful, happy, sad, and challenging. I’ve embraced it all and I hope that a piece of me remains there.

The Power Family Lands in South Africa

Upon the arrival of my lovely family, I acted as tour guide for the week as my parents and sister got a glimpse into the temporary home I have made in Cape Town and a taste of the culture of South Africa. In the course of five short days we covered a lot of ground in and around Cape Town.  Although I made a tentative itinerary for the week, that immediately was adjusted as a result of the weather. With a forecast predicting rain for the middle of the week, we took advantage of the sunny, clear weather on Monday morning and hit the slopes of Table Mountain…cable car style. The generous and kind chairman of BEN, Louis de Waal, who is also chairman of the Table Mountain Cable Car, offered to treat my family to a ride up to the top of the mountain that overlooks the city. Donning his VIP Chairman pin on his sweater, Louis provided us with the history of the cable car, how the machinery operates, and gave us a personal tour atop the mountain. We couldn’t have found ourselves in better company. The top was quite chilly but we were rewarded with clear views of the bustling city below and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

To the top!

To the top!

The cable car travels at 10m/s and has a rotating floor..a bit dizzying

The cable car travels at 10m/s and has a rotating floor..a bit dizzying

Yep, we had the cable car all to ourselves...one of the perks of working with Louis

Yep, we had the cable car all to ourselves…one of the perks of working with Louis

Shot of cable car and Lion's Head

Shot of cable car and Lion’s Head

View of the city and Lion's Head and Rump with the Atlantic Ocean in the background

View of the city and Lion’s Head and Rump with the Atlantic Ocean in the background

Table Mountain on the right and Devil's Peak on the left tower above the city

Table Mountain on the right and Devil’s Peak on the left tower above the city

A lesson with Louis on geography

A lesson with Louis on geography

Dad an I excited to mail postcards from the top of Table Mountain with a specially marked Table Mountain stamp

Dad an I excited to mail postcards from the top of Table Mountain with a specially marked Table Mountain stamp

Looking at the Twelve Apostles, the mountain range that runs along the coast

Looking at the Twelve Apostles, the mountain range that runs along the coast

Pointing to Robben Island where we would soon be headed

Pointing to Robben Island where we would soon be headed

Next on the packed agenda was a most necessary drive along the scenic mountain pass known as Chapman’s Peak, a steeply built road on the mountainside that winds along the Atlantic Ocean. We started the drive in Hout Bay driving away from the city. Although a toll road for cars, there is no fee for bicyclists. On most weekends and early mornings, the road becomes a cycling Mecca. Living close to Chapman’s Peak provides me with the opportunity to ride this beautiful route frequently.

The Sentinal pointing upward at the tip of Hout Bay

The Sentinal pointing upward at the tip of Hout Bay

A spectacular view was around every curve

A spectacular view was around every curve

Cloudy weather in the middle of the week didn’t deter us from venturing to Cape Point, the most southwestern tip of Africa (not the most southern point). After waiting out a windy rainstorm in the visitor’s center, it appeared clear enough to walk to the lighthouse. However, we soon found ourselves caught in the middle of another storm once we reached the top. We could understand why the tip of the Cape was so difficult for early explorers to navigate. My sister Bridget wanted to know where the beautiful blue water was that I had so many pictures of.

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We hit the city to go to the District 6 Museum after seeing this scary cloud

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Rainy and cold…not the South Africa I had been telling them about before they arrived…but always beautiful

Cape Point Lighthouse

Cape Point Lighthouse

Wet and cold, we headed back to Muizenberg to warm up at one of my favorite food joints on the beach, Yoffi Falafel. Tasty pitas lovingly filled with layers of falafel balls, humus, tahini sauce, onions, cucumbers, cabbage, and avocado. With happy, warm stomachs we relaxed at the house before walking down to Kalk Bay for dinner at Olympia Café.

Evening beach walk

Evening beach walk

The end of the week provided us with warmer, sunny weather so we hit the road for a scenic drive along the coast eastward. Our destination was a game reserve. However we would not make it there in time for the afternoon game drive. So we headed south following signs for Cape Aghullas, the southernmost tip of Africa. Along the way we passed endless farmland with sheep blending into the landscape. After being disappointed in not being able to show my family the “Big Five of Africa” – elephant, rhino, lion, wildebeest, and cheetah, it turns out that we had a magical evening catching a sunset where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet at the very tip of Africa.

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Coastal drive

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That’s where I live, over there across the bay

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We came upon some baboons along the way

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South African countryside

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In Afrikaans: Cape Aghullas, the southernmost point of Africa

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Just in time for sunset

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On Friday morning we stopped in at the BEN office to express our gratitude to Louis. He provided each of us with a specialized BEN cycling jersey. He also showed my parents and sister a map indicating the towns where BEN has established Bicycling Empowerment Center bike shops and school trainings in bicycle road safety. The scope of outreach that BEN has completed over the course of 11 years is outstanding for such a small NGO. Although retired, Louis has done a lot in terms of getting bikes to schools and kids who can’t afford them. One of the “Magnificent Seven,” Louis has ridden in all 36 Cape Argus Cycle Tours. A kind man with a big heart, Louis is passionate about bicycling in the same way I am: it just makes sense to get around by bicycle.

Waking up to sunrise over the ocean

Waking up to sunrise over the ocean

Pointing to where I was in Namibia

Pointing to where I was in Namibia

Next we headed to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens where we had a picnic and enjoyed the warm weather.

Castle Rock to the left and Fernwood Peak on the right

Castle Rock to the left and Fernwood Peak on the right

Purple loving ladies

Purple loving ladies

Our favorite tree

Our favorite tree

A trip to Cape Town wouldn’t be complete without going to Robben Island to see Nelson’s Mandela’s prison cell. Our tour guide in the prison was an ex-prisoner whose voice bellowed through the prison. The tour took us around the island on a bus and then ended with a walk through the prison and a glimpse into Mandela’s former cell.

A different perspective of Cape Town from the ferry

A different perspective of Cape Town from the ferry

Mandela's former cell

Mandela’s former cell

On Friday evening we enjoyed a very filling Ethiopian dinner at an authentic Ethiopian restaurant in the city called Addis, after the capital of Ethiopia. The experience began with our waiter pouring warm water onto each of our hands to wash them before eating (there is no silverware), then we were served appetizers with injera, then came many rolls of injera with our main meal which consisted of beef, chicken, lamb, shrimp, and several veggie dishes, and at the end we received dessert as well as Ethiopian coffee and popcorn. Apparently Ethiopia is where coffee originated from. It sure was strong coffee.

Our table covered with a traditional Ethiopian hat

Our table covered with a traditional Ethiopian hat

Our plate of a variety of food served on injera bread

Our plate of a variety of food served on injera bread

Popcorn and coffee!

Popcorn and coffee!

 

Although a short visit, it was so nice to see my family and share with them the South Africa I have been experiencing. My own time here is nearing the end and now I will have to prepare myself for the culture shock of returning to America after I have assimilated to life here.