Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Otter Trail

The Otter Trail, as it was pitched to me, would be a 42 kilometre backpacking trip along the rocky, pristine coast of the Eastern Cape Province. A 4 day, 5 night affair, it would entail walking between 2 and 7 hours a day, and bunking in enclosed bunk houses with running water, bathrooms and mattresses provided. Hmm. Sounds easy. Later, I was warned that the trail was strenuous, but questioned how hiking less than 10 kilometres per day could be strenuous, and continued planning the trip.

We arrived in Knyzne, to a friend Gertie’s seaside home, a day early to prep for the trip. My daydream of leisurely watching otters play in the surf was abruptly burst when Rich called up a weather forecast. Five days of rain, with wind up to 50mph, high of 60 degrees. We thought of walking along unsheltered rocky coastline and cancelled the trip immediately. Then Gertie pointed out that while the forecast was grim, the local forecast as not often correct, and that we could start the trip, and bail at any point if we were miserable. Fair enough. After all, we’d been planning this trip for quite a while. In fact, most people wait 2 years on a list before they are given a slot on the Otter Trail. There are only 2 cabins at every over night sight. Each holds 6 people.

With our waterproof gear on, and our packs full of dry clothes and dried food, we set off from Storms River mouth. On our first day we picked our way for 3 hours along slippery rocks. At one point, we spotted an otter diving amongst the swirls(a rare sighting), and later hopped over a stream and looked up to find a 100 foot waterfall. Breathtaking. We also ran into the 6 people, from Cape Town, who were to reside along side us every night. We wondered how this would work because we were told there were 5 people ahead of us. When we arrived, there were 5 Afrikaners, from Port Elizabeth, in the other cabin. We told both parties of the issue, there must have been a booking error. The Afrikaners stepped up, they said “you’re welcome in our cabin. There’s plenty of room. Two of us will bunk together. You can each have your own bed.” We were floored. We accepted the offer and said that we’d bunk together in a single bed the following night.

For me, the impressions from trek were three fold. It was Rich’s first backpacking trip, and our first trip together. If you were to watch us together you’d have never guessed that he was green, and I seasoned. He was a natural, especially in our camp kitchen(as usual, I did the dishes). The second impression the trip left on me was the awesome power of nature. Because of the fierce weather, we spent our days watching massive surf crashing all day, and then camped just feet from the shore, listening to the heavy surf through the night. I was lulled into a state of fear. The third impression was of the generous, solid, Afrikaners who took us into their circle of friends, offered us their bed, whisky, steak and a seat by their braai. At the outset of the trip, if someone had asked me whether I’d choose to spend 4 nights in close quarters with English speaking athletes/professionals, or Afrikaans family-oriented first time backpackers. I’d hands-down have chosen the English group, thinking that we’d have more in common. But in the end, the Afrikaners chose us, and we were grateful.


Di Armstrong said...

I think the Otter Trailis the posting I have most enjoyed, and maybe your most indelible memory of the trip.

Di Armstrong said...

Actually, the previous comment was from Tex, not Di!