SANDI CAGANOFF takes a walk on the wild side
The Otter Trail is described as “tough”. I wouldn’t use the word “tough”. I would say Jesus-help-us-all because this is never-ending torturous tough and just a little exhausting.
San Parks uses phrases like “should be reasonably fit”. They don’t say you have to be like Wonder Woman and Cat Woman combined. They don’t say ‘Be careful Caganoff, you might die’.
They describe Day Two as ‘the hardest’. They forget to say that Day Three, Four and Five are equally hard. Every day has its tricky bits. Straight up. Straight down. And up again. And down again. Never- ending. Up, down, boulder hopping, rock climbing, bridge swinging, tree climbing, river crossing, snake dodging, mosquito biting, sweat dripping, shorts ripping, hot cooking, hard, hard, hard!
Walking with men had its challenges too – competitive, tough, hairy, smelly men. “You okay, Caganoff?” they would ask each day. And before I could answer, they’d be off. Biting heads off puff adders as they trotted up the mountains.
I was usually at the back. Sometimes the Irishman was behind me, but not because he was helpful. I’d ripped my shorts open on Day One and he had a great view of my backside.
We’d gone as a party of four, and soon hooked up with the other hikers. Two young German and two Spanish women who looked like Penelope Cruz, plus father and son, Frikkie and Jacques.
The women were delightful. When I had a panic attack after swimming across the Bloukrans River, they held me while I tried to breathe. When the men abseiled and skinned rabbits, we made each other tea, massaged feet, compared tan marks and shared chocolate. We discussed the men. Whisky and sleeping tablets were shared. Friendships were forged.
Did I mention how magnificent the trail is? I have never experience such stark, wild, rugged beauty – crystal clear rivers, waterfalls, and deserted beaches. We could hear the songs of the Knysna loeries, saw whales, dolphin, buck, and an enormous snake. We walked with fragrant fynbos, bright orange mushrooms, eagles, seagulls and never another soul in sight.
We all cooked together at night, using the pots we’d carried in the day. We roared with laughter when the Germans spoke about South Africa’s brilliant camping shop: Woolies. They seriously thought the chopped up veggies and packaged portions were for campers.
We’d arranged everything perfectly – two-minute noodles, dried pre-packaged Thai food from New Zealand, energy bars, jelly babies and three bottles of single malt.
I could’ve done with an extra pair of shorts. Stan could’ve done with deodorant. Dan should’ve bought his sheepskin slippers for me to borrow and the Irishman could’ve shared more of his Irish stew. But I forgive him. He not only bought the whisky, he carried it too.
The trail was perfect. I had to apologise for a tantrum I threw, but apparently everyone has a breakdown at some point during the trail. It’s not just physically hard but emotionally too.
I would do it again. Not tomorrow but in a year or two … when the memory of the pain has passed. I’d do it again with the same guys, a few more women, a rope, a first aid kit, a gun, more Valium and one more bottle of whisky.