Lucille had been devoting so much time to requesting divine intervention for the WW on the Wallweather, that she had evidently neglected to intercede for our Wild Coast requirements. It accordingly poured with rain for what felt like 40 days and 40 nights (don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story…more like 4 actually). Anyway, fortunately, she shifted her focus at the last minute and the deluge stopped on Wednesday morning when she arrived in RSA. 3 days for the rivers to settle down. I started receiving anxious phone calls from various tense people. “Ja the rivers are pumping today but by Saturday they will be fine. Open, flowing fast, but certainly not life threatening. No I’m not cancelling WW. No I’m not being irresponsible. Promise.”
Kylie (both Lieutenant and Hand of the King) arrived on Thursday evening and suddenly it was getting real. We did some qualifying eating and drinking events just to make sure we were on top form for WW before setting off for a little preliminary run to Haga Haga on Friday morning ahead of the other WW. I was particularly interested in the rivers and keen to check them out with the unflappable Kylie. What a treat to spend 25km catching up with my friend on our beautiful coast on a Friday morning. We trotted along happily secure in the knowledge that we had a substantial picnic hamper and no time limit. Every single one of the rivers that had been blind for-EVER had burst open and was frolicking happily into the sea enjoying its freedom and a very necessary purging. Although flowing fast the rivers were mostly mid thigh deep and presented no problem – what fun 6 rivers on a stretch where there had been none for years.
We arrived hours ahead of our bags at Haga and had to wear our blankies and drink liters of tea to keep warm –just about resorting to our space blankies when our bags arrived along with droves of excited WW. The rest of the night passed in a blur of introductions (out of town WW to the newbies) dinner, Myers Cocktail drips (really) and excited anticipation.
Day zero: 25km sandy beaches, rocky points, grassy paths and a lot of rivers!
When we were able to tear ourselves away from the breakfast (OMG those flapjack thingies! There is a theme here…), wrestle everything into the vehicle and trailer, and assemble everyone on the front lawn fir our devotions (WW kept darting off into their burrows for last minute rituals) we eventually set off in the glorious sunshine of day 1.The first noteworthy incident (other than breakfast) was encountering a crestfallen Toyota Landcruiser settling gloomily into thesilty sinking sand -up to its (expensive) haunches in seawaterat the mouth of the Haga lagoon. There were a couple of dejected folk nearby who seemed to be holding a vigil. A melancholy tractor stood at a respectful distance. It appeared to have given up. Oh my complete nerves! We hardly noticed getting wet so early in the day, the agony of the Landcruiser situation eclipsed our own discomfort at having to wade through a freezing, rocky, chocolate brown lagoon, within only minutes of setting off.
It was fun to have a quick reunion with Kerry-Lyn (one of our fabulous bag and bolly babes) and a large gang of mates all at Black Rock for Anita’s 50th birthday. There were enough of them to feel like spectators at a real event and some of them even had cameras! Yay the paparazzi can never resist stalking the WW (well that’s our version, never let the truth get in the way of a great story!) All the attention gave us lots of energy for the beautiful grassy contour “Sound of Music” path just before Double Mouth. The river was breathtaking: wide, deep freezing and flowing strongly. It was so exciting to experience the river that way after years of being blind. And so fabulous to actually need our dry bags instead of having them along as expensive accessories. It was at this point that Ruth hauled out her cannabis cream, which I applied generously to my annoying pelvic injury. It made my pelvis sing. Reggae.
We dragged ourselves up the massive climb (with variousReggae singing body parts) to the cliffs at Morgan Bay, hijacked a willing hiker to take group pics of us being fabulous with a glorious view in our cerise pink t’s and then trotted down the hill to the Morgan Bay Hotel where we are always received like celebrities and plied with free drinks. (I’m not sure why, we always lower the tone of the establishment. Its all grace, and Richard of course.). We liked being there so much that some of us had to linger for a quick picnic and a delightful G and T (the thyme sprig was a lovely touch). We were only about half way into our 30km day at this point so we reluctantly dragged ourselves away and trotted on past the lighthouse en route to Kei Mouth. Somewhere near the lighthouse I found myself running with a group of girls who were all calmly exchanging stories of their survival following experiences of brutal physical assault. They had all survived stabbings, gun shot wounds, broken bones but they don’t see themselves as victims. They are overcomers. Running is one of the many things that has helped them to recover and to feel powerful and brave again. I am so very moved by their composed courage, their honesty and vulnerability in relating their stories, by their compassion and profound absence of rage or bitterness. Yho, these Wild Women. They are extraordinary, astonishing, inspiring on so many unexpected levels. And every one of them has a story worth listening to.
Crossing the Kei River is massively exciting for me – it always feels exactly like the frontier that it is. When you step off the pont on the far (north) side, none of the normal rules apply and anything could happen, and usually does. (Fortunately nobody, including Kylie, and me felt compelled to swim the flooded Kei this year, which filled me with a deep sense of relief.) The 30+ km in our legs were soon forgotten after arriving at Seagulls and being plied with champagne by Robyn and Kel (in bowler hats, bow ties and white gloves, nogal!)
Day 1: 32km, 4 rivers and a glorious mix of terrain with a good dose of climbing.
The next morning presented a breakfast dilemma. How to get from the buffet table to my seat at the breakfast table without having finished the yummy mini croissant en route? How to keep it intact for the 5-second journey? How? HOW? I was only able to get this right on my third attempt. We left Seagulls dining room reluctantly, crossed a river, which is never more than a trickle and headed straight up hill to the Gates. Recent rain had made everything beautiful and green and lovely wild flowers and baby mushrooms turned the grassy fields into a glorious display of beauty. The springy green grass was also impregnated with pepper ticks and I am still scratching my ankles as a result! No amount of tick repellant can discourage the nasty little blighters. The Gates is always a huge highlight and this year especially so. The pool was really not for sissies and we had to swim through an enormous amount of debris before we could enjoy our reward of freezing brown river water and glancing sunlight and towering cliffs (and a leguan sliding sneakily into the mix). Lucille always terrifies everyone with her horrid fixation with the idea that a turtle will attach itself to her toes and drown her and there was much giggling and shrieking as we made our way across the pool, along the corridor between the towering cliffs and finally up the cliff face (not easy when its slick and wet with the passage of many soaked bodies and when one is shivering with cold). We all basked in the sun, dried off and frantically applied ourselves to snacking in an effort to replace lost body heat.
As soon as we hit the beach Lucille started insisting, “shouldn’t we swim?? Shouldn’t we SWIM??” [With access to only the Yellow Sea in China (instead of YELLOWS)without getting on an airplane she has become a bit obsessive.] We had to remind Lu that she was off duty and was now a sheep after having been a bossy general at Wild Women on the Wall in China and that she should, accordingly stop bossing us around. She was immediately apologetic and promised to be a “suggestive” sheep from that moment forward. Bwahahahaha! The mind boggles at the image of Lu as an improperly suggestive sheep….
The next challenge, beyond the almost disappeared wreck of the Jacaranda, was the Kobongqaba River [known to seasoned Wild Women as “Widget” River because of the panic inducing presence (real or imagined) of electric rays.] Despite a lot of authoritative brandishing of the rather biblical staff of Kylie there was no parting of the waters. She was reminiscent of a Moses type figure (just without the stutter). Fortunately a ferryman appeared and carried a few particularly reluctant WW to safety while the rest of us were treated to another rather breathtaking swim.
Morale was starting to wane at this point and I felt that I needed to pull something distracting out of the bag from a route perspective. Despite the obligatory climb I knew that the beautiful Lorie forest path would be the way to go – and it was a winner. The seasoned WW had never done it before and it provided a welcome change as well as a much-needed respite from the midday sun. One minute we were running along the coast and the next we were plunged into the cool green mossy gloom of an indigenous forest. The single-track path disappeared under a canopy of ancient trees and vines and tree ferns and fungi and exotic birds called to us from overhead. We ran through a patch of forest that was saturated with butterflies and as we ran we disturbed them and they rose up in a cloud of tangible blessing all around us. It was utterly magical. While this was all unfolding Candy and Shirley managed to leap over a snake (olive green, meters long and as thick as their wrist. Apparently. Cruising along in the deep, dark woods.) There was much shrieking and the poor, terrified snake bolted for cover.
Our version of the Gruffalo:
A snake saw the girls in the deep dark wood,
a snake saw the girls and the girls looked GOOD!
“Where are you going to, girls with your tribe?”
“We’re off to Wavecrest to imbibe!”
The next minute we popped out onto the airstrip at Wavecrest and were soon happily trotting into the hotel grounds to be met by Robyn and Kel and their mobile champagne stand (resplendent in yet another fabulous matching outfit.)
For the rest of the afternoon we completely committed ourselves to the Jacuzzi on the deck overlooking the astoundingly beautiful Nxaxoriver. It took a lot of vasbyt but we stayed right there until the hikers begged us to give their kids a turn at about 5pm that evening. Hrumph. Really! The entitlement of the children of today. Anyway, we decided we liked the hiking folk in the pub that evening when they all jumped on Robyn’s medical bandwagon. (Trust me I’m a gynecologist etc etc). Next minute she was medicating, injecting and methylating for a contribution to our charities. Got to love Robyn. At one stage I became rather overexcited and suggested a “methylate-off” winner takes all bets for charity. Last (wo)man standing and all. (Anyway, I suspect they had heard Kylie and I exchanging anecdotes about spraying methylate up/down/into various orifices, realised they were way out of their league and chickened out. Sadly.) A minor crisis arose pre dinner when we realised chicken was on the menu for the third dinner in a row and we had to arrange an intervention for Yster (and Baby Yster) to prevent a red meat withdrawal meltdown. Next year we will travel with an emergency supply of steak wrapped in a space blanket. It’s the only way.
Day 2: 22km, 6 rivers and a detour to the Gates
The highlight of day three (other than mini croissants of a similar quality to those of day 2) was Shirley’s (reluctant) agreement to make an appearance in a pair of Funky Shorts. Of course she looked spectacularly fabulous and is now a Funky Pant convert. Another one.
We started the day with a river crossing and all chose to hop aboard the readily available canoes to avoid a freezing early morning swim – with the exception of Kylie. Of course. (Mandy would be proud of her for her zeal for the aquatic index.) Sharon was fined for carelessly abandoning her hanky on the Nxaxo River bank. (Really, she runs with an embroidered hanky. Love it!). The beautiful long beach all the way to Cebe allowed us to really stretch our legs and enjoy the benefit of a good steady run. Just beyond Cebe the grassy paths are a delightful change from beach, especially because of the particularly high concentration of glorious quirky ruminating goats. They eyed us balefully from their perches on the rocks. Other than just north of Port St John’s, I have never come across so many goats anywhere on the Wild Coast. They totally made my day!
A whole bunch of never usually open rivers appeared on the next stretch of beach, one of which was so deep at the mouth that I only managed to keep my nostrils above the water. Of course everyone else chose a more efficient line further up river and didn’t even get their knees wet. I was cured of swimming for a while after that but Lu (the ever suggestive sheep) insisted on another sea swim at Dolphin Bone point. (Lisa fell on a smelly skeleton with absolute glee and carried the remains all the way to Mazeppa in one of Candy’s multi purpose Iron Man sacks. And then all the way home to East London to make treasures from the bones). We could see the Mazeppa cell phone tower for miles but at last we knew we were getting really close because the SFP rocks suddenly appeared out of nowhere as did Fluster Cluck Hill (just south of Mazeppa and inexplicably covered, COVERED in glorious euphorbia).
Just before the last climb we came across a marvelous traditional looking wooden pot– Jan pounced on it to use as a prop at her much anticipated Impi performance promised for later that night and bore it triumphantly over the hill to our final destination on the beach at Mazeppa Bay. What a wonderful sight the island and the swing bridge were and what a relief to have all the women arrive in one piece. And then suddenly it was all over, and we were (emotionally) congratulating our 5 Womandla Newbies on their fabulous performance and high fiving each other for sharing yet another astounding WW experience and feeling nostalgia ALREADY that it was all over. Or nearly. How splendid to arrive at the glorious tropical pool area to find Kel and Robyn in yet another astonishing outfit (umbrella hats this time!) brandishing chilled bubbly and toasting our arrival with true WW enthusiasm. What a moment. Overwhelmed as always by the friendship, the fun, the fellowship and the pure alchemy of WW.
Day 3: 20km, 7 rivers, varying terrain and a lot of dancing
Postscript: It is probably prudent to draw a veil over the rest of the evening, other than to say that we (once again) met up with a large party of truly fantastic(mature) hikers. They seemed very taken with us, especially with Jan’s Impi performance. (I did fear at one stage that she might inadvertently kick their apparent leader in the head when he recklessly got rather too close to her during her show.) They were in fact so impressed with Jan and Alicia that theyleft the (substantial) balance of their drinks kitty as a donation to our charities. Fundraising has been rather successful along the route this year. Just saying.