25 February 2012

To Hell and Back

After doing the beach on Friday night, Christopher and I had a ten hour hiatus before meeting each other again at the Neelsie parking lot the next morning, ready to hike with the Universiteit van Stellenbosch Berg-en-Toer Klub. I joined the club for two reason: their hikes looked epic, and their members are Afrikaaners. If I am going to learn Afrikaans, what better way to do it that by spending time with and listening to the locals?

I was not disappointed, and was soon pretty lost after the familiar phrases of greeting such as "Bly te kenne" had been uttered. I easily cruised past the questions such as "hoe gaan dit?" and "wat is jou naam?" but was quickly lost in the harsh guttural sounds of the South Africans. As I struggled to pay attention to everything they said, we loaded up into the cars, and headed north to the Groot Winterhoekberge, and the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness.

The drive in was incredible, and the birds were nice too. North of Porterville, I scored my lifer Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis) on a fenceline, and the parking area had calling Ground Woodpecker (Geocolaptes olivaceus) in the distance and a pair of Bokmakierie (Telephorus zeylonus) foraging in the bushes. We got our gear together and, speaking our mix of German, Afrikaans and English, ventured off into the mystical wonderland of rocky pinnacles and fynbos scrub that lay before us.

The tallest peak in view in this picture is Groot Winterhoekberg at 2055 meters asl. The incredible forest of stone continued almost the entire 20 km to our camp site.

As we hiked, the members of the club swam in the water and, being shy of lakes myself, I kept myself occupied with Orange-breasted Sunbirds, Yellow Canaries and a lone Common (Steppe) Buzzard soaring overhead.

That night, we all collapsed in the shelter of one of Cape Nature's cabins available for backpackers, and had a glorious feast of macaroni and tuna. I found a four inch gecko in the toilet (which was quite the surprise), and Christopher chased the spiders around the cabin, muttering foul phrases at the freakishly huge spiders that thought our cabin was quite the "lekker" place to be. The trip for me though, was a fascinating look at the people themselves. I did hardly any birding, and spend almost the entirety of my time just talking to everyone and getting to know them. I learned a lot of Afrikaans (even if I can't exactly say it back yet!) and a lot about South Africa in general. Almost everyone was quite impressed with my general knowledge base as well, as the two most common questions I was asked were "How long have you been here?" and "A month? How do you know so much?"

As a consequence of this fraternization, I did almost zero birding. I was distracted by the sky, with stars more intense than any I have seen in the northern hemisphere, by the fynbos with it's bizarre proteas, by the people, and by the great time as a whole. We did, however, see Verreaux's and Booted Eagles soaring over the fynbos and at the very beginning a group of Klippspringers to satiate my desire to bird, but I otherwise acted as the group photographer, and tried to capture the trip as best I could and work on my photography. As such, there really isn't much more for me to say, besides the fact that wildernesses are awesome, and that South Africa is an amazing place to be.

Die Hel, one of the largest freshwater pools in South Africa and our end point to our hike.

Die Hel, and if you look closely, you can see people in the rocks on the near side of the lake for perspective.

An awesome Praying Mantis found wandering across the road on our hike out.

No comments:

Post a Comment