Thursday, February 18, 2010

Back Where I Started

Just over 9 months and around 5500km, and I'm done!!!

Will fill in details soon.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Just Swell in Swellendam!

Swellendam... And just over a week to go!

From PE I headed towards Jeffrey's Bay over some incredibly beautiful beaches. From J-Bay I headed down to St.Francis Bay where I reunited with an old friend of mine, Zade, who I haven't seen for years and it was awesome to see him and his brother, Dain, again!! On to Oyster Bay where Tony Kriel (who I stayed with in East London) told me about a cottage just past Oyster Bay that was owned by a friend of his. If there was someone there I could sleep inside, otherwise I could just lay down on a pretty well sheltered verandah. I arrived at the cottage and, finding nobody inside, lay my mat down on the verandah. While scrummaging through my bag to find something or other, I came across the key for the dorm at the backpackers in J-Bay that I had forgotten to return... I wondered... And it worked!!! After a comfortable night in a bed I continued.

The terrain gradually got rougher and rougher, having to cross next to a sea cliff over rocks and an incoming tide at one point. Walking past some amazing natural archways, I found some local fisherman who directed me on the best way to negotiate the terrain to come... They were wrong. After having to head inland for a bit, a farmer then told me that their were sandy beachesfrom there on... There weren't. The terrain was pretty rough, but the near vertical cliffs were easy enough to traverse with my trekking poles in one hand and my last will and testament in the other. Then I had to put the trekking poles away. Eventually I headed inland again, to be told that if I headed along a particular dirt road, it would take me inland then back to the coast at Eersterivier where I would find a campsite, a shop, and sandy beaches from there on. I'm sure you're sensing a growing trend in the accuracy of local information in the Tsitsikamma area and you would be right to assume that at Eersterivier there was neither a shop, nor a campsite, nor even navigable terrain to the west! Luckily there were Bernard and Lisbie, who gave me a bed for the night after joining them for dinner with three other families who were all out enjoying the spectacular coast and, I hope, enjoying the novety of this "engelsman" who hadn't heard of cars!



After that I headed inland to the N2 and gained momentum through Plett, Knysna and onto Sedgefield where I met up with Dave Jones, the president of the Mountain Club of South Africa, and his wife, Fay, a lovely couple well deserving of the respect they have from their fellow mountain folk! I enjoyed the momentum that I gained after hitting the roads, so after catching up with the Jones's, enjoying their warm hospitality, and gate crashing their club section's AGM to socialise with other mountaineers, I continued via road to Mossel Bay.

Darrell Raubenheimer put me in touch with Nadia and Estienne Arndt, the organisers of the Augrabies Extreme and Addo Trail Run. They are immediately likeable with their gregarious nature and passionate outlook on life, not to mention that Estienne has a foot and a half... No, that's not a rude comment you dirty minded readers! Estienne lost half of his right foot in a motorcycle accident quite some time ago. Instead of letting it get him down he subsequently became the first amputee to complete Comrades! Nadia and Estienne walked with me on the beach from Little Brak to Mossel Bay, after which we headed to the marina to check out Abacus; Estienne's yacht that he bought from a guy who sailed solo from SA to Australia... And he's blind! On our way to Abacus I spotted her... Her name is Ingrid, she was quite dressed down compared to the others around her and her modesty and natural beauty had me immediately drawn to her. She's quite petit compared to the others, 33ft to be precise. And she's made of wood. That is to say, she's yacht. She's a fixer-upper but apparrently all she needs is a bit of elbow grease and TLC and apparrently the owner is looking to sell... Sail to South America for that climbing trip instead of a boring old flight? Hopefully...

After Mossel Bay I put in the longest day of the trip so far: 52km to Albertinia. The next day was a bit shorter as it hit 45 degrees in the shade, and I wasn't walking in the shade! Other than that it's been pretty smooth until Swellendam, hoperfully a trend that continues for the next few day until the completion of my journey!!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Aaaaaaaaalrighty Then...

If you've watched Ace Ventura, you'll understand that I am preparing for something tough... If you haven't watched Ace Ventura well, you've just read anyway that I'm preparing for something tough, so no need to watch Ace Ventura now. Though I'm not stopping you...

Why all this dribble? Because the tough thing that I'm about to do is engage with technology on a necessity... Technologies, such as cellphones, seem to function fine when I don't really need them, but when it comes to the crunch, they seem to fail. For example, a few days ago I had a great conversation with a friend about random stuff that doesn't really matter but was quite fun. Cellphone does not leap into the ocean. The next day I was heading out into Dunefields, an area with no water, civilisation or anything much more than the sand, sea and small animals that have been there for millennia. In a time where my phone began to function as a safety tool and a coordinator of my return to civilisation and arrival in Port Elizabeth, my phone lept from my pocket and was promptly swept out to sea by a rogue wave. This, amongst other technological failures, has led me to believe that my clockwise route along the political border of South Africa has caused me to develop some sort of magnetic field as a result of my interactions with the specific ores and deposits situated around the country. This magnetic field disrupts electronic signals and generally prompts technological failures such as phones leaping from my pocket to a watery end. This is the only logical explanation that I have manged to find( the fact that I had my phone in a pocket prone to releasing its contents and was presently running from that very same rogue wave in order to keep my shoes dry, did lead me momentarily to the thought that the mishap could have been a mechanical inevitability. Similar explanations could be applied to previous technological faliures. But the likelihood seemed slim.). Despite this realisation, I have decided to take my chances and blog. My sincerest apologies if the internet's prolonged exposure to this field causes a catastrophic crash.

From Piet Retief I headed via Willie and Nicolette Scheepers on my way to Patrick in Pongola, a friend of my mother's who really looked after me! He is, unfortunately, one of many South Africans who have lost multiple family members to violent crime, so, compassionately, he picked me up in evenings and dropped me off in mornings through a potentially dodgy area so that I'd have a safe place to sleep. Some good rest saw me walking well despite the deteriorating weather on my way to Kosi Bay where I would greet the Indian Ocean! On the way a friend of Jaco Swart's found me on the side of the road, gave me a bed, organised me a bed night and a game drive at Thembe Elephant Park (Amazing!) and a place to sleep in Kosi Bay! In Kosi Bay I stayed with Maryke and Youriaan (spelling is probably wrong, sorry!); adventure racers, kayakers, and humanitarians! Armed with local knowledge I negotiated my way through indigenous forests to check in at one of the Parks Board offices as per the conditions I had to adhere to in order to walk through the isiMangaliso Wetlands. The head ranger there offered a roof over my head at the river mouth and the next morning I stepped from the rangers camp into an amazing day and excitedly ruched to the river mouth. If anybody tries to tell you how beautiful Kosi Bay is, don't believe them. It's not that they're lying, it's just that they're not capable of explaining just how beautiful it is! And nor am I. I was also fascinated by the fish traps that the locals use in the lakes. Such unusual structures for Highveld eyes to see and incredibly effective and apparently with minimal ecological impact.


Walking on the beach between Kosi Bay and St.Lucia was unbelievable! It was so refreshing to be away from the road with only natural sights and sounds around me. I felt so safe that I stopped carrying my pepper spray. Luckily I met Leo Frankel, a friendly camp manager who warned me to start carrying it again after st. Lucia... he probably saved my life. Between st.Lucia and Richard's Bay I met two guys collecting bait. My Zulu isn't very good and neither was their English, but we communicated enough to have a laugh a talk about the weather. Smiling and laughing, I continued south and took a break about 3km down the beach. From behind me in the forest, came my two new friends brandishing a knife and a machete. The one with the machete raised it into the air and shouted something... I ran. I had taken my backpack off as well as my shoes, so I ran away from them onto the beach expecting them to have their way with my possessions and leave me alone, but as I turned around I was met with the sight of a machete over the head of some strange animal that I had seen in movies about the Rwandan genocide and various media on machete-wielding Africa. It looks like a human, and often makes claim to human rights, but its behavior is anything but. Thanks to Leo, and similar warnings from my uncle in Richard's Bay, I had my pepper spray in my pocket. As I fumbled for it, I lost my glasses (which I later recovered) in a fight with the kikoi I had wrapped around my head and as I ran along the beach, my blurred vision obstructed further by a flapping kikoi and my hands hindered from their normal role in a sprint by their pursuit of defense, a thought entered my head:

"After battering my body by walking thousands of kilometers, being caught half-way through a hard day's walk, fumbling in my pocket and not being able to see very well, I can still outrun this guy... Awesome! I really must consider competitive running when I'm done... Oh ja... Kyle you idiot!!!! Someone's trying to kill you and you're admiring your running abilities!!!!! Save yourself man!!!"

With that though I managed to get the pepper spray out and get a squirt in its direction. With the wind and distance between us, it wasn't enough to put the animal down, but enough for it to get a wiff of it and for its primitive brain to realise that it could hurt. It stopped trying to kill me. Thanks Leo and thanks Vincent for caring enough to warn me, thanks Mom and Dad for good genes and an active lifestyle growing up, thanks Mountain Club for letting me play in the mountains to get fit, thanks Universe for allowing me this human experience and thanks Uzi for a great product!

The rest of the encounter could read as any encounter with criminals in South Africa, with me standing at a distance from my bag (I needed supplies if I was going to make it over 50 km to Richard's Bay) where they rummaged through my stuff. "the usual" I say, and everyone seems to understand, which is sad. If you're not from South Africa, this may seem like a very intense experience, but this was in fact very mild compared to what happens every day. It is sad and wrong, but now it's called "normal". Normal, if you don't know, is:

"Where's money? Pin number? We'll kill you if it's wrong!" etc.

They took my cash (R120 or thereabouts), card, phone, iPod, and headlamp. Things, no matter. It's just annoying when someone tries to kill you.

I walked about 25km after they left with their loot and eventually found some fisherman who told me I was lucky to be alive. I hitched a ride with them to Richards Bay to find my uncle and sort things out. When we reached the main road and got signal, one of the fisherman handed me is phone to contact my family. I phoned my brother, Bryian:

"Hey dude, It's Kyle, howzit going?"
"Hey dude!!!!"
Bryian communicates mostly in grunts or a quiet monotone so this was an enthusiastic reply!
"I'm good," he continued,"how are you?"
"Ja, alright. Long day..." I was expecting to give Bryian some news when he said:
"Am I the first person you've called today??"
"Ja, why?"
"Dude! There are four-by-fours and helicopters looking for you!!!!"

Upon realising that I had given the muggers an incorrect pin number, they used my phone and started phoning my friends to see if by any chance I had mentioned my pin number to one of them in casual conversation over a game of pool or at the base of a climb or wherever they might have thought people discuss their pin numbers. They got through to Laura Lees (who I stayed with in Jacobsbaai) and she ended up contacting my Dad, who contacted my Uncle and between the three of them they coordinated a rescue mission( Unfortunately they were looking further north where the mugging had actually taken place, thinking that I was probably incapable of continuing south)! When I discovered this I was really annoyed; do what you want to me but don't bring my friends and family into it! While I was strolling down the beach, all my friends and family had been led to believe that I was being held hostage by those two creatures! I think my friends and family really got the worst of it!

But anyway, a week's rest with family in Richard's Bay was just the ticket! A strange way to meet the Meiring side of the family after about ten years but a happy reunion nonetheless!

From Richard's Bay, my uncle Vincent dropped me off where I found the fishermen, and I headed inland onto roads to avoid some more dodgy areas on his recommendation. He helped me out with alot of accommodation until I was outside of Zululand. Friends, old and new, saw me sleeping in comfortable beds through Umhlanga (where I stayed with old family friends, the Mortons), Durban ( with an old friend of my mom's and a new friend of mine, Jovita, who does some amazing charity work!), on to Scottburgh where I stayed with Roger and Liz Clark, father and stepmother of a longtime good friend of mine Tyron. Roger does alot of riding in the Transkei and printed me some fantastic maps that proved very handy and organised me alot of accommodation with friends! A stop over in Shelly Beach to visit my great aunt Elayne, and I was on my way to the Trankei!! I had been looking forward to it for the whole trip, and totally underestimated it.

It was much tougher than I expected. The terrain was alot tougher, but predominantly it was tough meeting people with machetes when there was nobody else around for horizons. They were only using the machetes for what they were actually made for; a tool for harvesting food and making shelter. They were very peaceful people that I encountered, but the image rattled me and made me realise that the incident south of St. Lucia had affected me more than I expected. That stress, combined with terrible weather lead to a steep decline in the condition of my feet and eventually I cut my foot in Coffee Bay. As you might have read previously, I hitched to Kei Mouth for a holiday!! I stayed initially with family friends, the Stuarts and Simpsons, then again with the Clarks with the addition of Tyron and his girlfriend Cheri! It was amazing being with friends for three weeks and it helped me sort my head out! On the second of January, Tyron and Cheri dropped me off at Coffee Bay and, after a quick hello and a dinner party with the Trouws, I carried on south!

With a fresh headspace I was able to fully appreciate the Transkei! I'd tell you about it, but its one of the few places left in the country that you can feel like you're really exploring and I wouldn't want to spoil it for you! (and it's late right now and I'm tired of typing, sorry!!!! I promise if you ask me in person I'll tell you all you want to know about the Transkei... finding me is your problem!)

Out of the Transkei and into the beginnings of Raubenheimer hospitality with their friends the Kriels in East London, then some very kind guest house owners in Kidds Beach, Barend in Hamburg, a police officer with some very interesting stories to tell! A kind campsite owner on the Fish River, the Fogartys in Kenton and then the push to PE via another friendly campsite owner in Ocean View! The whole Eastern Cape has been unbelievable, every beach, hill and river from the Port Edward to Port Elizabeth has been postcard stuff! But between Woody Cape and Sundays river was really spectacular... It's some of the remotest terrain that I've walked so far and some of the most beautiful. It one of those kinds of beauty that makes you feel very small and insignificant in a powerfully satisfying way. Something that us humans need every now and then.

Well, that brings me up to date. This blog is but a fraction of a fraction of what I have experienced. for reading sake, many names are omitted and its tales of kindness are diluted (I have been offered food by people who scarcely had enough to feed themselves). I hope, though, that in this brief account intended to serve as a sort of progress report, there is something interesting.

If you are reading this, my technophobic, bio-eloctromagnetic field has not disrupted stability of the Internet and the necessity for a counter-clockwise walk around the country to nullify the effects of my techno karma have been rendered unnecessary.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Port Elizabeth


Yesterday I had my twenty-third birthday in Port Elizabeth and, in true Raubenheimer fashion, I even had a vegan chocolate cake with icing and candles! Darrell and Evie are the parents of my good friend Andrew, someone who I've always been able to count on in Johannesburg. Now, spending some time with his parents, it's obvious to see that generosity and hospitality are a hereditary asset in the Raubenheimer family! One needs only to mention their name to a runner who has taken part in the Rhodes Trail Run, or the Baviaanskloof Trail Run (which they organise) to hear countless tales of their passion and compassion for people.

So, well fed and rested, I find myself in the last few weeks of my trip. I'm looking forward to finishing, but I'm not sure what it will be like going back to a "normal" life. That being said, I think my trip has been quite pedestrian (tom-tom-snare) compared to many journeys that one reads about. But for me the real life changing part of the trip has been the people that I've met and the thought processes that this trip, particularly the oscillations between comfort and varying hardships, has allowed me. Someone recently pointed out to me, that the qualities that we admire in people are seldom possessed by the people that we aspire to be. This eloquent summary had been on my mind for some time but it's articulation seemed to bring the issue to the fore. Suffice to say I've had a radical change in values.

Well, I've a touch of writer's block (I remember some funny quote about using writer's block as an excuse that made everyone who said they had writer's block look like an idiot... but I can't remember it so now it seems a valid excuse), but I'm around this computer after walking again tomorrow, so I'm making a written statement that I'm going to completely update the blog tomorrow!

If I haven't, please harass me.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

On the Trail Again

Back in Coffee Bay after a fantastic rest in Kei Mouth! Foot is doing well, as is my headspace!

Same story with internet problems so a long update to follow soon(ish)...
South I go today!!!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Holiday!

Well, my foot is no good for hard walking after the cut. So tomorrow I catch a taxi to Kei Mouth for a holiday with friends! After some rest and recouperation I'll catch a taxi back here to Coffee Bay and carry on South...

Holiday!!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Coffee Bay: a Sunny Disposition to go with Sunny Weather!

There is alot of blue stuff and this bright thing in the sky... At first I was quite freaked out but then I remembered something about it being described as "good weather" in the days before the rain (It's been very wet lately!). It even had me waking up with a smile this morning!

I worked through what I think I need to work through in my head and have been feeling alot better lately! The Transkei really is a beautiful place! Also, since Piet Retief, I have met some fantastic people! I am now in a much better frame of mind to write about them now after my previous rant, and I look forward to writing a proper update. Unfortunately, I lost my phone capable of accessing the Internet to water damage so I am on a rented line at a backpackers now just to say that I am in good spirits! I am staying with my great great aunt's (my grandmother's aunt) friend here. I might have to stay here a bit longer as I cut my foot quite badly on a river crossing while doing some shopping this morning, I think it should heal pretty quickly though.

My next major stop will be Kei Mouth, where I am going to take a break till the new year to let my feet recover and just relax and let this new, more positive headspace kick in. A long-time good friend of mine, Tyron, is heading down there with his girlfriend, step-mom and his dad , Roger (Roger drew me up a fantastic map of the Trankskei which I would have been totally lost without! I really underestimated the terrain!), and I'll be staying with them for a while which I'm really looking forward to! I always tell people it's just walking when they tell me what I'm doing is impressive, but I think it's a little harder than I let myself think it is. Realising that I am now able to deal a bit better with obstacles. It's quite tough to gauge one's performance when alone, I think if someone else was having a bad day with me it would be alot easier to deal with, but it is perhaps a good thing as I am learning alot about myself, the human body, mind, and population in general. I enjoy the physicallity of this trip but lately the experience has taken priority so I am slowing down a bit and enjoying speaking with locals and enjoying the scenery. The only thing I was worried about with taking my time was getting back in time to train properly for the Rhodes Trail Run, but I spoke to Darrel, one of the organisers (and whose son, Andrew, is a good friend of mine and lent me his permanent number to run next year) the other day and he put my worries at ease. Both Darrel and Andrew are very talented athletes and I respect their opinion alot.

So, I hope to update properly soon but if I don't, know that I am in good spirits, in good company and hopefully under good weather!