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On November 17th 23014 I received the above email flyer. It seemed like a good idea at the time, after all Easter 2015 was a long way off, and as a newbie for SA I was, and still am, into exploiting any chance of exploring any new areas of South Africa that come my way. So over the next few months as I negotiated the vagaries of the SA banking system, I paid off my deposit and final installment to Esme Jordaan. I have to admit that I did not even know where I was going so with just a week to go I thought that I had better find out!

My first Google exploration pointed me in the direction of Eastern Cape with one ascent of a 1,500m peak. I even began to work out travel logistics to get there; when it began to dawn on me that an easy five-day trek with donkeys did not equate with a 1,500, peak. I then Googled further and found the alternative donkey trip based on the Western side of the country on the coast from Garies. This was confirmed with a mail to Esme; and this led her to quite rightly wondering if I knew what I was doing. Over the next few days before the due leaving date I received a couple of mails from Esme, which tinged of worry – did I now know where I was going and how long it would take? A sweet lady to be concerned.

A few days before departure I called the number of the organisers and asked if they had an English translation of the Africans leaflet, that laid out what we would need to bring, and what they would supply. They did not have, but were thinking about it…. However what to take seemed like common sense, but I still checked with an Africans friend who translated for me. One item struck me as interesting for an Autumn South African hike – bring warm clothes!

Friday 3 April

Thus it was that around 06:30 on the morning of Friday 3rd April 2015, with cruise control set at 120kph, I set off from Sir Lowries Pass for Garies. What surprised me the most was that apart from a slow section through Malmesbury, and a long section of road works though the passes north of Clanwilliam, the car did sit pretty much on 120 for the entire journey. Along the way passing that lovely signpost pointing to “Douse-The-Glim” which always makes me smile and douses any gloom I have.

I had allowed up to seven hours to reach Garies, but reached it in less than five hours, so was the first to get there. I pulled up at the shop and restaurant called “Toeristestal” which is run by our guides Wouter and Sonja Jordaan, which was also our meeting point. I asked where I could catch up on some sleep and I was directed to an old caravan park with some convenient shady trees to park under. I was soon dozing, by an open window to keep cool, to the sound of barking dogs and the occasional wasp.

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Just after 12:00 I went back to “Toeristestal” to find nearly everyone had arrived. At 13:00 ish Sonja gave us all a chat – in Africans – about what we were doing. This lasted a good few minutes, and my own English translation after lasted a few seconds. Mmmm was I going to miss something important? Anyway, we parked up our cars and deposited our belongings by the side of the safari 4×4 vehicles. We had been asked to bring only 20kgs of luggage – this restriction was liberally interpreted in different ways by different people. But no worries, it was all piled on board the vehicles and by 16:00 we also piled into the buses as our trip began.

We soon turned left off the N7 and headed due west over increasingly dusty roads, and after about an hour pulled up at the Namaqa National Park crossing. During the completion of paperwork, I wandered down to the dried streambed to taste the white salt crust. Many of the stream and riverbeds dry up completely during the summer months, leaving behind areas of ‘Bitter flats’ and saltpans.

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The Padstal where it all started

The Padstal where it all started

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Just after 12:00 I went back to “Toeristestal” to find nearly everyone had arrived. At 13:00 ish Sonja gave us all a chat – in Africans – about what we were doing. This lasted a good few minutes, and my own English translation after lasted a few seconds. Mmmm was I going to miss something important? Anyway, we parked up our cars and deposited our belongings by the side of the safari 4×4 vehicles. We had been asked to bring only 20kgs of luggage – this restriction was liberally interpreted in different ways by different people. But no worries, it was all piled on board the vehicles and by 16:00 we also piled into the buses as our trip began.

We soon turned left off the N7 and headed due west over increasingly dusty roads, and after about an hour pulled up at the Namaqa National Park crossing. During the completion of paperwork, I wandered down to the dried streambed to taste the white salt crust. Many of the stream and riverbeds dry up completely during the summer months, leaving behind areas of ‘Bitter flats’ and saltpans.

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Entrance to the Namaqua National Park

Entrance to the Namaqua National Park

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On our way to Koringkorrelbaai

On our way to Koringkorrelbaai

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Back into the 4×4’s and onward and westwards, over increasing rutted ‘corrugated’ dirt track roads which caused the vehicles to vibrate, and our teeth to chatter unless you held your mouth tight shut or wide open – not an option in the dust.

After about two hours the wild coast came into view and we turned south for our campsite named ‘Kwass se Baai’. Our family of organizers had guide rights to camping in the lower area and we were directed to the higher ground opposite the picturesque toilets with their chimneys and spinning cowlings. The ground was rocky but there was room enough for our scattering of mixed ground hugging mountain and more plush dome tents.

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Skuinsbaai

Skuinsbaai

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By the time we had erected our modest temporary homes our guides had almost completed erecting their own sturdy large tents. The organization of the trip was very much a family affair, with Wouter and Sonja Jordaan heading up a family of workers that seemed to consist of two daughters, and their guys. Soon enough the braai was up and running and the bread was in the bockies with embers under and over it. Over the next few days I came to love the taste of this basic bread, spread with butter and jam; or the lovely crusty bits just by themselves. The meals were always good, rough African vortrekker style and delicious! My only down comment was that they were always pretty late, circa ready around 21:00, by which time I was always ready for sleep, never mind on a full stomach.

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Camp

Camp

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Camp

Camp

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Scattered around the campsites were large curve semi circles of stonewalls, the reason for this became apparent on the very first evening. We sat in camp chairs behind the stonewall and shivered from the onslaught of a cold prevailing south wind. Vests, fleeces and waterproofs were applied to all of us in order to keep warm. Even the hoods were pulled on over woolly hats. Finally the first meal was ready and we stood for a prayer of thanks before eating began. The religious theme was a keynote of the trip, with prayers of thanks before each meal and a short service each morning. One aspect of the trip was to emulate the old ways of trekking and eating – this sat ok with the group, as I am sure the old vortrekkers did much of the same and more. Off to sleep in my little mountain tent – I didn’t remember anything so it must have been a good sleep.

Saturday 4 April

Saturday 4th April dawned cool and misty. This was to become a common scenario in the mornings, and I later realized that this mist is a lifesaver for the fauna of the area. The Ostriches and various ‘Boks’ that we saw all were within half a kilometer of the shore. They were gaining their life giving water from the condensation on the plants. We never saw an animal further inland that half a clik, though in winter I dare say they travel inland when water is available.

We had a daily allowance of a bowl of water, so we all modestly hid ourselves in various places or just looked the other way as we eked out the water trying to wash the sand out of the various intimate places that it invariably found its way into.

Breakfast was filling and good, followed by the morning service and a chat in Africans about the day ahead. For my sins I speak only English and bits of other languages that I know are totally useless here in SA. I was reminded of a joke I saw once. There was this family of vultures in the nest consisting of Mum, with three youngsters who were about ready to fly. Two of the chicks were normal but one chick, poor Albert, was handicapped by wearing thick bi-focal glasses. Mum like Sonja was giving out information. “You fly out of the nest and soar on the thermals to about 1km up. Then you look down to spy out dead animals and then you fly down to feed on them”. Mum looked at Albert and wondered what to say, finally she said “Err…Albert…..you just follow your brothers!” My own handicap was not speaking Africans. I had mixed emotions about this, in that I did not want to spoil the flow and fun that all the rest had in speaking their native language. Indeed I would have felt very much a ‘spoil sport’ if folk had tried to speak English just for me. Usually a Good Samaritan translated a précis of what was said. The main thing for me was that I am so keen to learn about my new environment, that I worried about losing gems of knowledge imparted by our guide.

We boarded our 4×4 bus and land rover and set off north along the dusty track, at one point stopping to release the tire pressure to enable the tires to grip in the soft sand. Along the way we passed several old open cast diamond workings. These go back a hundred years or more, to when freelance mining was common. In a different era, eons ago, the area was swept by huge rivers washing down detritus from the north. Diamonds would be washed down, and deposited as the rivers lost their impetus and fanned out into the sea. The heavier deposited diamonds would fall to the bedrock and would over time be covered by other river wash sand and stones. Typically the workings were around 100m long and 40m wide. The top few meters of sediment would be dug roughly way to within a few centimeters of the bedrock. Then more care would be taken to carefully remove the last layer, in the hope of finding diamonds resting on the bedrock.

The lure of gold and diamonds is something deep – almost primordial within us. I found myself wondering if they found anything in that particular cut? Could I slip out of camp one night and dig a hole down to the bedrock – maybe I would get lucky………..?

We were dropped off, and the first day’s hike and we followed Sonja north and west, across thin fynbos and dusty flats until we began to descend into the open Spoegivier, which is apparently Afrikaans for ‘spit river’, the name is probably translated from Khoekhoen Kanoep, referring to a disease affecting cattle.

We walked left along the old riverbed until the Spoegrivier caves cam into view, which were unexpected as they were impressive.

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Caves

Caves

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Caves

Caves

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These caves are of archaeological importance as they contain the earliest evidence of sheep in South Africa with bones found dating back 2,000 years. Long ago huge forces of river water swept the area and had the power to hurl rock and boulders against the rock face, seeking out weaknesses and exploiting them into the caves as fissures we see today. In the modern day locals say that the river runs only once in a hundred years or so. It is well worth stopping at the info board just down from the caves.

The way now followed a pattern we would get used to – though not to love –the routine of walking along sand trails. The trail led down to, and along the seashore, until a rocky ‘kop’ formation called Constables Cap came into view where we stopped for lunch. Sonja told us of a tidal pool that forms a fine skinny dipping pond. I was up for that, so along with several ladies who also had few inhibitions, I went off round the kop and down to the crystal clear pool. Clothes were soon off and I was first into the pool, beautiful, and the last full body submersion I would have until returning to Somerset West.

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Scrambling to the top of Constables Cap

Scrambling to the top of Constables Cap

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The author skinny dipping - rest is best  unseen?

The author skinny dipping – rest is best unseen?

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Ever northwards, sometime beach boulder hopping, and sometimes, when lucky, progressing along lovely beaches of hard sand left by the retreating tide. Until eventually reaching the bus pick up point. Let me say that soft sand track walking equates in tiredness rating with any tough uphill hiking. We were always looking for the easiest way, the middle – nah too uneven, the tracks – nah too soft, the fynbos itself – nah too much wandering about to find a way through. The result was an uncomfortable balance of all three. Head down and sand shuffle along!

The bus took us back to camp and our small bucket wash, after which we would congregate in the shelter of the wind protection rock semicircles, watching as Wouter supervised the evening meal.

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Wouter cooks the evening meal

Wouter cooks the evening meal

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Chatting around the camp fire

Chatting around the camp fire

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The pre supper routine would last a couple of hours and comprised of jokes and stories in Africans. Sometimes my side to whisper a précis of the joke or story stationed an interpreter. Sonja told the story – in English bless her – of a South African Olympiad, Robey Leibbrandt, who fell for Hitler’s politics whilst taking part in the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. He joined the German army. In 1940 he had a son by a German woman. The Germans planned to overthrow the government of General Jan Smuts. Robey was recruited as a spy, brought to South Africa and was cast adrift in a small rubber boat and struggled ashore at the very bay that we were camped beside, Koringkorrelbaai. He was eventually caught in 1942 after locals became suspicious of his cover story, and stood trial. He was sentenced to death for high treason, but he was release in an amnesty of war offenders by the newly victorious National Party. Leibbrandt left the prison and was greeted by crowds as a “folk hero”, a legend was born (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robey_Leibbrandt).

Sunday 5 April
Sunday 5th April dawned unusually clear, with the early morning suns rays glittering and reflecting off the dew on our tents like a thousand diamonds – I’m obviously still diamond fixated!

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Seals

Seals

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Breakfast over we were north bound again to trek the paths past a colony of Atlantic grey fur seals. Interesting what makes a species pick one place to colonize as opposed to another. Like the penguin colony near Simons Town – where apparently one day a penguin swam ashore, followed over a period of months by more and more, until a whole colony had set up shop.

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Beach marble

Beach marble

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Namaqualand dunes

Namaqualand dunes

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We then pressed on along the soft sand tracks, detouring when we could to take advantage of hard beach sand, which in turn revealed revealed huge banks of shells and white marble rocky protrusions. There were spectacular dunes just inland, pushed by the wind and used by struggling vegetation to form odd shapes.

Another evening of good food, with a preamble of stories and jokes by the members of the group, including a few contributions by myself.

Monday 6th May

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Cooking breakfast

Cooking breakfast

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The morning mist soon burnt away to reveal once again our stunning beach promontory location. More delicious bookie bread and fried eggs – then once again a trip in the bus to another beach, this time north. We walked along duckboards to a fine viewing position, and then we were cast off for our last full day beach and sand track walk. Luck plays a part in where you walk. Towards the end I opted for a short inland trek to the track, which turned out this time to be hard compact sand – easy to walk on – so I made it to out pick up vehicles way before the others. There was a short continuation to the southern edge of the park, which, to my regret now, I declined. Sand walking was beginning to pall! A quick drive to the Groenrivier Estuary to collect those more hardy walkers than I, and we were on our way back to our base camp.

On the way we met up with the donkey part of our Weskus Donkie Stap Safari. I should say that we had met them before on a very hazardous basis. The local sense of time plus punctures had made this very infrequent. ‘Ok’ I thought ’this time I will go for it!’ So along with Thordis our German lady (who was endearingly wildly enthusiastic about everything) I jumped up on the cart.

We were pointing downhill, and as we moved off the driver jumped up and threw a piece of wood into the back hitting my leg. Meanwhile as the driver tried to pull the donkeys around the trappings got into to a complete tangle. I seized the chance to go and clean and dress my cut, and when I turned round to get back on the cart, my place had already been taken and they were off up the track away from me. It was funny somehow.

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Donkey

Wouter & Peter lend a helping hand with stubborn donkeys

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Donkey and cart

Donkey and cart

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Back to the camp for our last night, and the pattern continued. Lots of Africans jokes and stories, with the odd good Samaritan trying to explain to me what was said, but translated jokes don’t seem to work do they. No problem, it was another nice evening

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Unbelievable Korinkorrelbaai sunset

Unbelievable Korinkorrelbaai sunset

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Tuesday 7th May

Pack up and go day! We all tried to air and dry our sleeping bags and tent ground sheets, before packing them into our transport for the two-hour drive reluctantly back to Garies and civilization.

We said our goodbyes and began our own journeys to our various destinations. The Douse –the-Glim sign once again made me smile.

A happy end to a delightfull trip.

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The End

The End

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Thanks to Esme Jordaan for organization and to Wouter and Sonja Jordaan and family, our guides and cooks.

Steve Chadwick
Our group (Loni is the photographer)

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Categories: HikesJournal

1 Comment

Lauren Bezuidenhout · January 4, 2018 at 9:55 am

Good day, Do you have contact details for me for the Donkey trail in Garies?

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