leaving only footprints

Submitted by sproutingforth on Tue, 2012-01-17 13:58

We do one of 5 new trails in the Cape West Coast Biosphere

After another average week, similar to the one most of us experience – rush, dash, hare down the road, swerve round that corner, beat that deadline, race to fetch/buy/get – the drive out to Paternoster did little to relax me.

The sun beat down on us, as we drove towards the slowly setting star that is the source of our energy, and the traffic was, well, it was Friday traffic, need I say more?

But as we strolled down onto the beach in Paternoster and I felt the sand between my toes – no watch, cell phone or child (he's been left safely with relatives) to distract me, bar the camera I hold in an attempt to capture the moment – it is as if I sink into a comfy and well-worn sofa.

With the beauty of the town of Paternoster behind me, the windless white sands of the beach ahead of me and the unchanging shwish and swoosh of the now gentle waves as they leave ripples on the sand, I am transported into another time dimension.

Which is just as well, as the walk to Tweede Mosselbank (where the local women 'jam' for mussels) followed by a change in direction and a trek across the beach to the other side of Paternoster and the source of our dinner, leaves me breathless and wondering if I'll manage the 15 km at all the following day!

But I do. The incredible meal, during which Kobus of Oep Ve Koep fame pulls out all the stops, and the wonderful night's sleep, restore me to such an extent that I manage the beach walk, inspite of the heat.

There is something about the effects of being on a 'mission' together that a hike has on a group of individuals. Though they may not know one another the night before, after half a day's hike, the sighting of whales and seals, the shared shell middens and reflection on half a dozen incredible fynbos flowers, our familiarity is taken for granted.

And there is so much more at play during this trail than the obvious route passing through bay upon bay, the sea, rocks, wind and sun your constant companions. This alone is balm for the soul. But behind all of this there is another story that unfolds in the landscape that becomes our story book as we walk.

For the first time in a long time I am at one with nature as we unveil different elements on the walk that give each bay and hill new meaning.

We are spoilt on the hike. Perhaps because there are three journalists on this, the last of the 5 bays exploratory trails, we benefit from two guides, a biodiversity specialist who knows virtually all there is to know about the plants and flowers around us, and Dr Tracey Philips who has been instrumental in developing the trails.

Sometimes a question has not yet even formed in my mind before Rhett or Tracey have answered it. All of this firmly places me in the present. My mind and heart sing with the overwhelming beauty of the coast. It is so easy to look and see simply sea and sky. When one looks again, every step uncovers something new – the colour of the lichen on the rocks here, the salt on tiny little red succulents that cover the ground to look like dew but are actually salt, the collection of shells there that is actually a midden (a collection point for our ancestors 'waste', most of it shells).

There is the whale and her baby who appear at lunch on day two as if to order and swim lethargically by as we try to keep them in focus on one pair of binoculars, past around. And the incredible dunes in which swales have nested, the wind washing the original nest deeper so that it reminds me of Turkey's Cappadocia. The dunk we have in a narrow little inlet that makes an appearance just as I think I will expire...

And the simple luxuries – the soft bed in which I sleep at night, the incredible and lovingly prepared food we eat at meal times, the warm shower and dry towels – things we usually take for granted, perhaps, but which take on new meaning when contrasted with the rugged beauty of the terrain through which we walk, and the dry, windswept, sandy and dishevelled state in which I find myself at the end of each day.

I did not realise until my return how profound an effect the hike and its terrain, mixed with the warm hospitality of Paternoster had on me. Being part of the two and a half days was a wonderful experience. By walking the beaches, drinking in the environment and being fed by the locals, one leaves with far more than any weekend stay could provide.

Read more about the individual trails

or visit www.capebiosphere.co.za