May Day 11: Familiar Places seen with New EyesI (Penny) am starting today’s blog as Preven is busy with learners from Hilton College doing a mini sass in the river at the school’s boma where we are to spend tonight. I’m back in my old stamping ground yesterday and today (I spent my internship in Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve back in the 1980’s and again for 4 years from 2007 – 2010 as a field guide).
To pick up where Pandora left off the last blog entry, after leaving the hydro electric station yesterday we bundu bashed our way down the river to the falls called Little Falls, the most stunning waterfall on the Umgeni River yet.
From upstream the falls give the impression of one of those modern rim flow swimming pools, but way better than any manmade pool could ever be, with the thickly wooded gorge below. We managed to ford the river across a shallow natural rock drift, and pushed our way round the side of the falls, repeatedly changing direction as we encountered brambles, Acacia ataxacantha and other assorted natural obstacles. Below the falls an absolute delight watching the water cascade and channel over the rocks.
Masses of piles of crunched crab shells indicated the permanent presence of elusive otters. The light was fading and we decided it prudent to leave the river before we hit the steep sided gorge and found ourselves stuck there in the dark. So we did a ‘Mike Farley’ – straight up the mountain side. Took almost an hour, and, amazingly no one complained a bit, everyone had the time of their lives, ploughing through bramble, pulling themselves up the steep slopes whose grass cover made them like an ice rink – up and up we went, till we finally reached the road that leads to Inkonka Camp. I arrived just as the last light gave way to the darkness, the rest of the team close behind.
Dawn at Nkonka camp near Fish Jump Falls brought the sound of the river, a bush buck barking his warning signal, francolin calling in the day. Last night, Wendy, Hugh and Pandora retired early, whilst Penz, Preven and I spent the evening round the camp fire with Brett from Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve. Preven playing gentle melodies on the guitar. Overhead the stars shone so brightly without any light pollution, and the bare branches of all the Celtis trees round the camp were silhouetted by the waning moon when she finally appeared above the hills. It has been a long time since I slept in this camp, and to lie down to sleep beside the fire, was a special treat.Brett & Cara Smith from Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve,Sally Cummings and Bridget Ringdahl from WESSA arrived this morning to see us on our way, a wonderful surprise. We were joined down the river by Rob Symons and John Roff and Kevin and Franco joined us for another day of adventure.
I hope they weren’t too disappointed – today was the shortest leg of the whole walk, only 7.1 kilometres and due to the big pools in the river, and isolated big rocks, we generally had to stick to the track running alongside the river.
We started the day with the morning Water Blessing and a mini sass with a terrible score of 3.2 which indicates seriously modified, poor, condition river – no surprise after what we had seen all day yesterday. Our support crew had permission to drive the long way out through the nature reserve, so whilst we went down the river, they managed to get themselves hopelessly lost, finally arriving at the boundary fence with no way out. Then ensued a series of frantic phone calls to everyone they knew to get a phone number to call the office for directions. Their phones were continually engaged, and after finally calling Liz Taylor, they were given excellent exit directions.
Hey! it’s Preven here. Just back from wading knee deep in the river scouting for Minnow mayflies, bugs and beetles with eight Grade 6 learners from Hilton College. We spent an hour together in the river and they are some of the coolest and most enthusiastic kids I’ve met. We had a rip roaring Huckleberry Finn day along the river. What a day, what a day!
Once back in UmgeniValley, she wove her magic around me once again and I remembered vividly why I was drawn to this place in which I worked for five years. It was beautiful and bittersweet and WESSA welcomed us as only Umgeni Valley could. The people who work here and this place are so special and it is special to me. It was a privilege to be once again in the company of the valley and with its people who care for the earth.
The river was amazing today and when we arrived we were greeted by the flight of three fish eagles. It is also a pleasure walking with John Roff because he opens up little secrets in nature to you. Especially about plants and spiders. We played music with his Vietnamese Jewish Harp and an Irish pennywhistle in the river welcoming the river walkers as they crossed (Siphiwe’s choreography).
Tonight we (Penny, Pandora and I) are also back at a familiar place when in 2009 we spent a weekend in the Henley Lapa (Hilton College’s estate) when John invited a group of environmental educators over for the Arts for the Earth Campaign. It is amazing how one can constantly rediscover these special places and this river with new eyes, hands and heart. It feels good to walk beside her. We have walked 116 kilometres so far and we are 50km as the crow flies from the source. This evening we are in the company of John and Deren at the Henley Lapa. Many thanks to Hilton college for hosting the river walkers tonight. It promises to be a musical and interesting evening.