Friday, May 27, 2011

Under the bush it is dark

Friday afternoon on the pipe track above Camps Bay. Twelve Apostles reflected in puddles filled with Wednesday’s rain. Sun smudged by a bank of clouds; two cold fronts on the way. River of light swirls on the horizon as the sun moves to another continent, another dawn, another day, towards summer somewhere far away. Under a bush a Cape Francolin scrabbles and lies down for the night. Under the bush it is dark. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Do you know where we are?

“Do you know where we are?” In front of us stood four teenagers with bulky backpacks. The girl who asked the question had a much creased and well used map of Silvermine in her hands. I don’t think it was hers.
It turned out they were Scouts, let loose for the weekend in Silvermine on a mission to find their own way to the Amphitheatre. They hadn’t done badly. They were in fact close to the Amphitheatre, even if they were heading in the wrong direction. And judging by those backpacks they were, as Scouts should be, well prepared. There were two boys and two girls in the pack and just in case you didn’t know, the days of Girl and Boy Scouts are over. It’s just Scouts now.
I was so happy to see these four Scouts challenging my preconception that most teenagers spent their weekends in half-dark rooms killing everything in sight on their playstations, that I said: “We’ve just decided we’re also going to the Amphitheatre.”
We had our own little scouts-in-training behind us. Eager little walkers, each one of them. Erin-Joy and twins Gabrielle and Chiara. There is something wonderful about showing a little girl a fresh pink flower and telling her it’s an oxalis purpurea, only to hear it repeated when she spots one a little further on: “Oxalis purpurea!”

Of course, if you have children (I don’t) you would know that refreshments are key to keeping children interested in spending a morning on the mountain. So we found a protected overhang above the Amphitheatre and spread out along the rocks like a happy extended Khoi-San family, munching and chattering.

Our Scout troop marched on and we watched them cross the valley with a touch of pride.
By now Silvermine was spotted with sunshine, clouds racing shadows across the mountain.
“Mommy, I want to spend the whole day on the mountain,” a little voice piped up. Have you ever heard more beautiful words from an eight-year old.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Gifts from Cecilia

Winter is beautiful.Tightly packed in our waterproofs, we walked through Cecilia Forest up to the waterfall. It was a mega-rich walk: mist swirling through the trees, orange and yellow leaves twirling and dropping softly to the ground, Cecilia stream fresh and filled with new rainwater.Today's blog is filled with pictures, not words.
Early winter in lace.

Cecilia Waterfall with the mist swirling in the trees above.
As it is.

Rock with elaborate ancient ridge necklace.

This glittering jewel lay next to the path, neatly framed by a curved sprig of dry grass. So perfect.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Damp glampers find a blue sky

Our 'glampsite' at Kol Kol Mountain Lodge.

Last week we went ‘glamping’ in the mountains above Bot River, which is the new word for glamorous camping. That means a semi-permanent tent with a nice big bed and a white duvet, an outdoor hot tub and – most importantly of all – a three-bar gas heater.
Because it rained and rained. And then rained some more. Followed by snow on the highest peaks. The ‘glam’ in ‘glamping’ was disappearing as fast as a sunray in a downpour and we were rapidly becoming far more damp than glam. It gets worse. We found a pack of cards and were reduced to playing rummy. My husband Jan drew the line at snap, even though I suggested strip snap. Someone has to stay rational.
But it was all worth it, because on the sixth day the sun came out and danced shamelessly over the fynbos as if it had never been away.  We strapped on our boots, packed in a flask of tea, built a king-size sandwich that would last a day and got out.
My fellow rummy player and explorer.
We had the whole world to ourselves. Soon we were over the borders of Kol Kol, the farm where we were glamping and heading further and further up. We couldn’t get close enough to that spotless blue sky. A few days before we had forced ourselves to set out for a waterproofed walk in the rain and had got to the top of the same ridge in a galeforce wind with an icy horizontal rain cutting through us. Now it was a different place: friendly, warm and stretching out around us into far dusty-blue horizons.
Rocky outcrops sat white in the fynbos, towering up like deserted old mansions. Not a smooth curve in sight. Nothing could ever stay smooth in a wild place like this with its raging winds, freezing rain and scorching sun. But not today. This day, the sixth day, was a peach. We walked and walked, eventually hitting a sandy jeep track that pulled us towards a hidden gorge. We knew the way home, but had no idea of the way forward. We let our feet find the way in this free place beyond people and guide books and it was wonderful.
Winter's first oxalis purpurea.
Long strands of restios waved in the wind and new tufts of bright-green, red and pink fynbos stuck their heads up in the recently burnt veld.
Then suddenly, in the middle of this valley, three figures emerged in the distance. Like two aboriginal songlines our path and theirs finally met in the middle. One man had a sturdy walking stick and a dog like Lassie and called out, “morning!” His name was Simon and he was the owner of this universe. Theoretically we were trespassing, but fortunately Simon seemed to enjoy the fact that we were enjoying it so much too. “Follow that path over there for the best views,” he pointed out. “It doesn’t seem right that someone should own a place like this,” said Jan, as we walked off.
Common Pagoda (mimetes cuculatus)
We followed Simon’s instructions and suddenly there it all was. Below us was the entire Houwhoek valley, from the Houwhoek Hotel on the left to the huge Steenbras dam wall on the right. Green squares of apple orchards and round blue dams filled the long valley between two mountain ranges and the N2 cut through it with its shiny steady stream of cars.
We found a spot out of the wind to have lunch, and I turned until I could sit and look at the big mountains above us. I far preferred the big untamed world up here to the ordered pretty one far below.

Even so, it was nice to eventually walk down one last hill and spot ‘our valley’ down below, cradled by mountains with ridges like long arms. Before us the ochre farmland and stubby hills of the Overberg bleached into the furthest range of deep blue mountains and what would surely be the next wild universe.
Things I found lying on the ground: a shard of a teapot, a porcelain duck's head, three everlastings, a piece of an anthill, three burnt leucadendron cones and a small piece of wood.