Deb Shucka's Cape Camino Journal
Wellington to Langebaan
Deb Schuka, USA
Deb walked the full 40 days of Winelands, Farmlands, Community, Sandveld and Strand, West Coast and Peninsula sections.
She started in August and ended in October of 2022 and was joined by small groups of pilgrims along the way.
Trail Runners – Hoka Speed Goat, ½ size up
6 Smart Wool short socks – I would add one pair of long socks
Flip flops – Chacos, good for hiking as well as relief for feet in the afternoon
2 hiking capris – I would substitute one pair of long pants for one pair capris and add one pair hiking shorts. Zip off pants would work well, but I don’t like the way they feel.
4 long sleeve performance shirts – I ended up alternating two for walking and two for evenings.
3 t-shirts – I wore these in the evenings mostly. I wore the Cape Camino t-shirt provided most days, over a longsleeved shirt.
1 pair jeans & 1 sweatshirt – my go-to evening wear
1 pair pajamas – cotton long-sleeved, bright colors, so I could be public if needed
6 underwear, quick dry
1 pair joggers – second choice for evening, or for sleeping when it was really cold
1 puffy jacket
1 rain coat
1 turkish towel – Used once as a towel and several times as a skirt while laundry was being done.
1 brimmed hat (Tilley) – I’d add a cap
2 Bandanas – kept in pack, used for sweat, napkin, cleaning
2 water bottles
1 lunch box – mine was too big, and I ended up using two quart ziploks instead
Ziploks – qt and gal
3 prong adaptor
Gifts – I would add a small package of note cards next time.
Lightweight backpack – for carrying souvenirs home
Swim Suit – I packed this and unpacked it several times, ultimately leaving it out. I would take one next time, for swimming in the tidal pools. Black underwear served well, but next time I would want to swim more. Most people had pools, but most were not yet open for the year.
Head lamp – I used this a few times going from dinner to bed, and a lot during load shedding.
Medium sized toothpaste
Battery powered toothbrush
Bar shampoo (2) & bar conditioner (1) – I used the shampoo for body wash
Travel Tide packets – only used one, but was glad I had it
Sun Screen, one large tube
Vaseline, one large tube – generously massaged into feet every morning before socks
Paper tape – for wrapping tender toes to prevent blisters
Body lotion, 8 oz or larger
Facial cream, 3 oz.
Sunscreen Lip Balm x 2
Travel packs tissues – not commonly found in most places we stayed.
Worn/Carried (for travel):
Large cotton scarf - I packed these three items in a ziplok and put them away for the return flight
Travel purse – Contained passport, pilgrim passport, credit cards, extra glasses, lip balm, nail clippers/file, Kleenex, throat lozenges, R9000 – carried in pack on the walk. I did the entire walk without getting more cash, used it mostly for tipping and the occasional souvenir.
24 l Deuter pack – I used this as a carry-on, and carried it every day of the pilgrimage, with the water bottles on the sides.
I-phone and i-pad – I debated bringing the tablet, and I think I would not bring it next time.
Lithium Battery pack – I used this more than I thought, especially with load shedding
The first laundry services were available on Day 7. After that it was possible every 5 or 6 days, sometimes every other day. Because tumble driers are rarely used, getting things dry was a challenge, especially if I arrived later in the day. The only thing that was of real concern was socks because it was impossible to get them clean by hand (sand, dust, grit).
So if you bring extra socks, and wash underwear by hand (or bring extra), it’s possible to go more than a week.
Sweating wasn’t a big concern, so I hung my clothes out to air at the end of a walking day, and they were good to go the next day. A couple of times I washed tops by hand because I was wearing the same thing every day. Most hosts would not take payment, but accepted tips for the workers who did the laundry.
Because I checked my bag, and didn’t need to use travel sizes, I did not need to buy additional toiletries along the way.
DAY 1 : 14km
Paarl to Wellington
Oh what a day. I have said on previous adventures that you get days that are so full they would be enough on their own. This was one of those.
I was in bed by 6:00 last night, and asleep not long after. Sometime in the night I was awakened by a howling wind and banging and crashing.
I I listened to it ebb and flow for a while, wondering whether walking would even be possible in the morning. The next thing I knew it was 6:00 a.m. The wind bellowed.
Shortly before 7:00 I went into the main building where I found my breakfast place set in front of the most inviting fire. Aubrey brought me coffee and then a simple and incredibly delicious breakfast of yogurt, granola, fruit, and toast.
"I’d forgotten just how good food tastes on pilgrimage."
Rea, my chaperone for these first three days, appeared just as I was starting to eat. He sat with me, had coffee, and told me what to expect for the walk. He explained that he’s a trained guide, but understands that this is a pilgrimage and his job as chaperone is to give me space.
So I had a choice. I could embark on a solitary reflective walk, or I could take full advantage of the gift sitting in front of me.
We spent the next hours and kilometers in easy conversation. Rea is a writer! Self published, passionate, committed. I learned about his life, his family, and more about the Cape Camino.
He told me the Protea is South Africa’s official flower, and we saw them everywhere. We walked through fields of Buchu, a native plant used medicinally, and olives and wheat and grapes. I saw a dassie, a sort of giant rabbit rodent. He pointed out landmarks and patiently repeated words until I understood. We laughed and enjoyed comfortable silences as well.
"The wind kept us company all day."
Like a mischievous child, it pushed and ambushed and whooshed. There were breaks, but even now as I sit outside of my room, it’s whipping trees into a frenzy, and doing its best to clear the table in front of me. We arrived in Wellington around noon. As we approached the town, I saw a woman walking toward us with her golden retriever. No joke. This is a pilgrimage and magic happens on pilgrimages. He, his name is Hudson, and he made a beeline for me. She followed him over and we had the nicest conversation. I got to talk about Cape Camino and pet a dog and make a new friend all in one stop.
Shortly after that encounter we arrived at the gorgeous Cummings Guest House that is my home for the night. Rea returned to his home. I got myself organized and then set off for the main part of town, just a few blocks away. I cannot overstate the deep pleasure of walking alone in a new town in a new land, especially on a sunny day with a frisky wind for company. My host had mentioned a coffee shop, so that was my first stop. I sat outside with excellent coffee and decadent honey cake, and basked.
From there I walked the length of the main street, turning around where it ended at a huge church. I would have gone in, but the gates were all closed. Ambling back, I wandered the aisles of a grocery store, one of my favorite traveling traditions. Somewhere between the bags of milk and the unrefrigerated eggs and the four foot tall bags of giant fruit loops, I became aware of the music: Wham singing Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.
I shared the sidewalks with a wide variety of people, mostly young or middle aged. No children - school wasn’t out yet. No old people - not sure why. Mostly I was ignored, but when eye contact happened, a smile always followed.
The Wellington Museum was on my way back. I stopped at the gate, unsure if I was in a museum mood. When I finally decided to go in, I discovered a locked and gated door. Someone let me in, and someone had to let me out at the end. It’s a small museum with more writing than artifacts, but so worth the R10 (about 60 cents) admission. What stood out: Everything was written in three languages. Afrikaans. English. Xhosa. In that order. I realized I am in the land where the first humans lived. There was an Egypt display that I was puzzled to find in such a small museum, until it again dawned on me where I am.
So now I sit watching trees dance in the slanted light of early evening, drinking rooibos tea (grown here), anticipating the adventure that will be dinner served at half past six. I’m listening to my neighbors speaking Afrikaans, and hoping the ibises I saw a bit ago fly over again. Grateful. Full to overflowing.
DAY 2 : 21km
Cummings Guest House to Langkloof Roses
My walking companions today were Rea, whom I enjoyed even more than yesterday, and the wind, which was uninvited and relentless. It partied outside my room all night, tossing things randomly at the motion sensitive light that blinked through my window like an insane telegraph message. It greeted us this morning as we set out before sunrise, pushing and shoving and making conversation a challenge with its constant interruptions. We ignored it as much as possible, and even found pleasure in the cooling it provided as we climbed our way to the top of a very high hill. The terrain was mostly dirt and gravel, with a short section that was pretty rocky. Easy walking. Beauty surrounded us, and presented itself in so many different forms I found myself saying :
"“This is so beautiful!” at every turn."
Proteas, panoramic views, a troup of baboons. So many birds. Rea turns out to know a lot of birds and pointed out many I would have missed. My favorite was the weaver community we found only after Rea discovered a nest on the ground. Vineyards for most of the day, one so enormous it filled our field of vision in every direction. Workers compounds where I saw fat adorable children, adults going about the business of daily living and sad scrawny dogs. A guava field - my first chance to pick and eat one from the bush. Wonderful conversation, learning about each other’s countries, learning more about my own as seen through Rea’s eyes. I am so grateful for him and will be sorry to say goodbye tomorrow.
We arrived at my place for the night, Langkloof Roses, shortly after noon. It’s beautiful and peaceful here, the staff so friendly and accommodating, my cute cottage inviting with views of the gardens. I’m sitting outside the office in a soft chair drinking rooibos and eating cookies. I’m tired and I have a sore knee, yet I’m filled with such peace, looking forward to a good wander in a bit. I haven’t found adogtopetyet,sothedayisnot quite complete.
For the three days I’ve been here, because I’m alone, the afternoons after walking, and the evenings, have been my reflection and processing time. I’m loving the balance and the organic flow.
DAY 3 : 30km
Langkloof Roses to Blou Porcelein (Hermon)
Today was a feast for the senses and a clear reminder that my choice to be a pilgrim means letting go of expectations. I also for the first time felt like I began to get a sense of South African rhythms. I awoke rested and whole to a clear sky, warm air, and a gentle welcoming breeze. Rea messaged to say he’d be late because he was waiting for his ride. He doesn’t have a car and this morning was relying on a car that also was picking up workers for the farm. While I waited, I wandered the place. I followed geese for a bit, petted all three horses, watched brilliant birds in trees. The air was a mad chorus of chirps and squawks and honks. Such a lovely way to start a day, a bit of solitude I would have missed if Rea had been able to be on time.
Rea was worried the later start would have us walking in heat on this longest walk of the Camino. But the day was as perfect a walking day as you could hope for. In every way possible. Not far up the road Rea stopped to point out what looked like a big piece of rotting wood. But it was a wild bee nest, swarming with bees and with honeycomb evident. One of the things I love best in life is getting to see with my own eyes something I’ve read about that seemed wondrous. Especially if it’s something I didn’t really expect I’d get to see.
We stopped often to watch birds, identifying some and simply enjoying others. Weavers, which were such a novelty yesterday, were everywhere. We saw at least three different kinds. I watched a big white bird fly overhead and glide in just behind us. I mentioned I’d seen an egret, and we observed it for a minute. When I realized my egret had a funny flat bill. My very first spoonbill!
Our walk today took us through grapes and wheat and corn and canola. We came to the Berg River, which will be with me for many days to come. We walked farm roads and farms. Flat, rolling, a couple of respectable hills.
Rea pointed out a strange bird sitting on a post in a vineyard we were passing through. He couldn’t quite recall the name, but I recognized it right away. It was a hoopoe, another bird I didn’t quite expect to ever see. We got to watch it for a while before it headed for the trees.
Our conversation was a gift beyond measure. It flowed easily and covered everything from books and writing to family and schools. Questions were asked and answered and I learned so much about my new friend and this country I’m falling in love with. When we arrived at the farm that is my home for the night, we were both surprised the day had passed so quickly. I was sad to say goodbye, but I know we’ll stay in touch.
One of the farm workers greeted me and
showed me my room. The resident mastiff and three dachshunds made sure I didn’t get lonely. I did my routine end of day pilgrim things: organizing for tomorrow, shower, laundry. Because my host had not arrived yet, I made do with rooibos and rusks (think biscotti) for my afternoon tea. My host sent a message through Rea to tell me she’d be late and dinner was in the fridge.I wandered the farm, escorted by the dogs, and discovered hundreds of chickens, a few rabbits, and some insanely huge farm machinery. I ate my dinner, cleaned up and then read and watched the sun go down. My host finally came, and while I hadn’t been worried, I was really happy to see her.
"I loved this day."
I’m so grateful my body is adjusting and my feet are happy. The coming days will bring a shift from wine country to wildflower country. They will also bring new chaperones and a group of walking companions. I can hardly wait to see what happens next.
DAY 4 : 14km
Hermon to Riebeek Kasteel
"Today has been an absolute delight from start to finish. Even better, it’s not exactly finished."
Bartho, my chaperone for the day, met me at half past 7, along with his parents. Today was his first official time as chaperone, but if I hadn’t been told, I wouldn’t have known. 21, a university student, with big dreams and the confidence and ability to make anything happen. To spend the morning in the company of that joyful youthful energy was the first gift of the day.
Our walk was through farmland that offered vast expanses of crops: canola, pomegranate, wheat, fruit trees of all kinds sheltered under massive swaths of net. We walked along fields of sheep and through a gathering of young bulls. I finally caught a weaver with my camera. We passed crop dusters that looked like an art installation. The gentle gray sky and still air and nonstop entertaining conversation made the time fly by.
We arrived at Riebeek Kasteel pretty early, and stopped at a wine and olive shop. We tasted our way around the shop. There were chutneys and jams and minces in flavors I’ve never experienced. There were olives in so many varied flavors I couldn’t do them all. It was very hard to limit shopping to what has the best chance of getting home in one piece, and remembering other people have to lift my suitcase.
From there we walked to a coffee shop where Bartho’s mom, my host at Blau Porcelein, met us. She had delivered my bag to my place for tonight and was taking her son home.
They headed out and I bought a coffee to keep me company while I waited for Shawn Hewitt.
Shawn, my ride from the airport in his role as driver with Riebeek Valley Tours & Transfers, is my host for the day. He arranged for the guest house I’m staying in tonight, and my chaperone for tomorrow. Seeing him was like greeting an old and dear friend.
What followed was my second big gift of the day. Instead of dropping me off at the guest house, he took me touring, narrating the entire time. Riebeek Casteel is a small town in all the best ways possible. Friendly people, an energy of creativity, cute shops and an abundance of restaurants, beautiful old homes.
He took me to the other side of the tracks, both literally and figuratively, where Blacks were moved during apartheid. We visited a museum he’s involved with where there’s an effort being made to tell the stories of this area with as much truth as possible.
Then we went to a nursery created by Corńe, a friend of Shawn’s, that is a work of art. As Corńe gave me a tour, his warmth and passion filled the space.
From there Shawn dropped me off at the guest house where I sit in comfort with my rooibos and rusks, my head spinning a bit, my heart overflowing. But the day is not done. The third big gift is coming. He’s returning in a bit to continue our tour and take me to dinner. So this is a to-be-continued story.
DAY 5 : 20km
Riebeek Kasteel to Gouda
I was everything today: tourist, student, pilgrim. Joyful. Willem, my chaperone for the day, started by telling me it was important to take my time. He’s very soft spoken with a heavy accent that fell often from English into Afrikaans. He shared his story, and while the beginning might have been rough, he is proud of his life now. It turns out he’s an incredibly talented artist in addition to being a very committed chaperone.
We started the day visiting a couple of markets. I bought at the first two places we stopped, which caused Willem alarm. He said the people are desperate for money, but that I couldn’t help everyone and I needed to find balance. I listened to him, but it was hard.
The walk started overcast and comfortable. There was a bike race going on so we got to greet lots of people. It was another day of farm roads that were mostly flat and straight. Also very dusty and there was more traffic today so it was a gritty walk.
We arrived at a pomegranate farm where we were served brunch by Kai, the farmer himself. The food was deeply satisfying, but the conversation was priceless. I learned so much about pomegranates and what goes into making a living with them. It would have been easy to sit and listen for the rest of the day. Fortunately, it turns out he’s invited for dinner here tonight, so I’ll get more stories.
For our afternoon walk, Willem insisted we walk separately so we could be still. He seemed a little concerned I’d be okay with that, but I really enjoyed that time.
By then the sun was out, I was well fed and re-energized, and I loved the stretching out of my legs and the absolute peace of those hours. The green of the wheat, the blue of the sky, and the vivid crayon box of wildflowers kept my eyes happy. There was a sweet scent that followed me all afternoon.
The wind has become a friendly companion. It was a welcome and familiar pilgrim space. When we arrived in Gouda, I felt, maybe for the first time, like I was in a foreign place. One where I didn’t quite belong.
My hosts at the guest house were very welcoming and accommodating, along with their three Aussies.
The gates to the place were locked behind me. I’ve been warned that there’s a disco next door, and it’s Saturday night so it could get noisy. It actually sounds like the party may have already started (it’s 5:00 p.m.). It will be an opportunity to remember who I am here.
DAY 6 : 20km
Gouda to Tulbagh
(I didn’t have Wi-Fi last night, so two stories today.)
To finish yesterday, dinner turned out to be one of my favorite meals so far. It wasn’t just the food, which was remarkable. I ate impala in a rich gravy and roasted vegs and rice. It was just as much the company and conversation. My hosts, Loedolf and Marloes of Die Workshop, their son, and Kai, were gathered around the family table. To be included was such an honor. We talked about such a wide range of topics, one would think we’d known each other for a very long time. I ended the day feeling rich and very full.
Today’s walk was fun with Mariette, who is Loedolf’s sister. We headed out at half past seven into a cool morning with clouds hanging low against the mountains. Our initial path took us past a squatter settlement with music blaring and garbage blowing. It didn’t feel unsafe, but just on the other side, Loedolf caught up with us on his bike, just checking we got through okay.
There was some climbing and rocky terrain to keep things interesting. We walked past a goat enclosure and beautiful shrubs and found ourselves on an old highway. That led us to railroad tracks. Mariette said we’d only walk on them a short distance, and she’d never seen a train there. We got the train today.
"We came to a fence where it looked like there was no way through."
It turned out the way was down a very steep and narrow metal ladder. It wasn’t as scary as it might have been because Mariette was so confident and I just went without thinking
We chatted the whole way. It was easy and satisfying. We stopped to eat the sandwiches Marloes had made for us, sitting on rocks at the side of the road. Homemade bread, egg, cheese, vegs - it couldn’t have been better. There is little in life better than good food eaten in conversation with new (or old) friends.
We arrived in Tulbagh with much of the day ahead. My Gouda friends headed back and left me in the capable hands of Carol, my host here. Wittedrift Manor feels straight out of a Victorian mystery, even though it’s not that old. Dark and crammed with ornate furniture, the walls covered with eclectic and sometimes strange art, there should be a ghost lurking somewhere. Carol took me for a drive through the valley, which I’ll walk out of tomorrow. Even though she has a restaurant and manages this manor, she took time to show me the sights. When we got back I wandered Church Street where Carol told me there is the largest number of historical houses in one place in the Southern Hemisphere. It is beautiful and I might have lingered longer except the rain everyone has been promising showed up. I did go into the community garden to explore. I met Emanuelle there, a young man from Malawi who works in the garden. He gave me a tour, proudly pointing out herbs and spinaches (chards to my eye) and flowers. A surprise adventure in a day already overflowing with one surprise after another.
I'm writing this in a sitting room with a fire burning and a table set in front where dinner will be served soon. Springbok and mash tonight. I’m feeling filled to the brim, being as present as I can for each new gift, grateful beyond words.
DAY 7 : 12km
Tulbagh to Oudekloof
I awoke to the sound of rain this morning. The promised storm was making itself known. I got myself ready and made sure my raincoat was out, glad to have it so the rain wasn’t going to ruin the walk.
I found Carol in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on a gorgeous spread. Coffee, yogurt, muesli, rich nutty bread with butter and homemade marmalade. While I ate, she prepared sandwiches with the double yolked eggs that are a specialty there and put together a snack bag and handed me a generous handful of fruit. Jan, my chaperone for the day, joined us and sat and ate with me.
A retired farmer close to my age, he has lived in the Tulbagh valley his whole life. We set out into a blustery cool morning that eventually gave us a little of everything: rain, wind, sun. It was an easy conversation filled with laughter and even joking.
Because the road distance between the two places is short, we wandered through farms down farm tracks along dams (ponds). There were birds everywhere, and cows, and beauty as far as the eye can see.
We stopped at a coffee shop that is a usual break place, but found it closed. Jan discovered an open door and after talking to someone inside, he said we were invited in.
We were seated in an area with a view, given water with ice and lemon, and a fire was lit behind us. Then we were served coffee and rusks. When we left, payment was refused and blessing was given.
The depth of hospitality here is beyond anything I’ve experienced before, and experiencing that, as much as the walking, is this pilgrimage. Our walk took us to a beautiful venue and gardens where Carol met Jan to take him back to Tulbagh. He decided to walk with me to the water crossing where it was suggested I might need to take my shoes off to ford. Fortunately Carol was there to drive us across because it was going to be a dicey walk.
From there I walked completely alone to Oudekloof. It was a glorious stretch with stunning scenery and the joy of being in the world on my own. It was also my last solo time for a while.
Going forward, for the next two or three weeks, I will walk in the company of new friends. The room around me is full of the happy chatter of people getting to know each other. Ina and her husband Frikkie, Jane and Esther - both of whom I’ve communicated with in the previous weeks, and Dot. Three of us have wandered together and already feel connected.
Soon we’ll walk over to have dinner in the family home, the whole group of us. I’ll pick up my laundry - what a luxury to hand my dirty and pretty ripe clothes to someone and get clean, sweet smelling clothes back. I suppose it’s especially good since I’ll be surrounded by people who still smell good.
"The next stage of this adventure is about to begin."
DAY 24km :
Oudekloof Wine Estate to Sandvlei Farm
"I will remember this day as one of the most challenging and one of the most satisfying of the pilgrimage."
We were ready and out of the house with amazing efficiency and cheer for a group of people who were still mostly strangers. Christine, our host, was our chaperone for the day. After giving us our packed breakfasts, she led us up a very steep concrete road with the sun coming up at our backs.
We spent the next few hours walking through fynbos, with its astonishing variety of plant life, a place unique to South Africa. It would have been easy to speed through what looks like vast expanses of scrub without really appreciating the richness it offers. Christine stopped every few steps to point out this flower and that shrub. She pinched off bits for us to smell (rosemary) or to taste (anise). She was the one who first spotted the baboons in the distance.
After the concrete we found ourselves on an old ox track, a road used during settlement times. It was interesting to imagine the hardships coming over the pass we were walking for fun (and pilgrim reasons, too). The downhill was steep and rocky and felt like it went forever. With each step I thanked my cranky knees, and this time at least, they let me off easy. Once over the pass the path was mostly flat, but we had a long way still to go. I enjoyed this stretch tremendously. The ebb and flow of walking with and then walking alone was perfect. I actually had more solitude today, surrounded by my Camino family, than I’ve had so far.
The day, which started cold, grew hotter as we moved into afternoon. The wind helped from time to time, but like a cat, it came on its whim and not our desire. There were wonders to keep me distracted: snow on the mountains, a fish eagle (much like our bald eagle) soaring and calling overhead, a quarter sized baby turtle crossing the road.
The beauty was unwavering, and the companionship unparalleled, but we were all very glad to finally arrive at Sandvlei Farm and the former schoolhouse that was our home for the night. This was the first true pilgrim lodging of the walk so far. Six beds in a shared space, two shared bathrooms, a shared living space - no Wi-Fi. As the pilgrims we are, the unfancy nature of our acccomodations was taken in stride. Isobel, our host made sure we were comfortable, and then left for her home 1.7 km away, and came back at 6 with a remarkable dinner. Blended veg soup, homemade bread, lamb stew with green beans and potatoes, brown rice, pickled beet root, and apple berry tart for dessert.
Without discussion, we all found our way to our beds with our hot water bottles as soon as dinner was done and cleared away. Stomachs full. Hearts full. So full of the day there wasn’t room for one more thing.
DAY 9 : 16.5km
Sandvlei Farm to Nuwefontein
Today’s walk was gentle and beautiful, a poem for pilgrims. Cows and canola fields. Wildflowers and windmills. A deliberately slow pace that made absorbing it all easier. It started with a gorgeous sunrise that brightened into blue skies. I wandered up the road to commune with the cows. Isobel brought a feast of breakfast makings from which we each packed our picnic. She sent us off with two young women who chaperoned us from bicycles.
We walked. And stopped to take pictures. We talked, beginning the beautiful process of learning each other’s stories. We stopped at the side of the farm road that was our path today and ate our picnic. We walked some more.
We arrived at the converted stable that is our shelter for tonight around noon. Marinda, our host, showed us to our rooms and apologized for the lack of electricity. Loadshedding happened today, but fortunately for us it ended shortly after our arrival.
I’m sitting outside in balmy air, showered and ready for tomorrow, my new friends chatting and laughing next to me, breathing in clean sweet air that is full of birdsong. Peaceful. Grateful. Open.
DAY 10 : 16km
Nuwefontein Farm to Soutkloof
It was a wonderfully strange day today. One of my fellow pilgrims suggested last night that someone coming to Cape Camino based on my idealized vision might be disappointed. That stopped me a little. I went to bed pondering it and woke up still trying to decide if I am in fact painting a too rosy picture.
So it’s no real surprise that today would give me the opportunity to check where the truth might lie.
The morning started magically. I was up in time to watch the bright orange moon set in the west as the eastern sky was just hinting at the day to come. Then Jane came looking for me to point out the Southern Cross. I saw the Southern Cross!!! A childhood dream come true. For a bonus, Orion is visible here now, only upside down.
Our walk started as they have been. Blue sky with mist in the distance, the air almost warm, wheat and sheep surrounding us. Easy country road strolling, our chaperone today on a four wheeler.
We were surprised an hour and a half in to be invited in to a farmer’s kitchen for coffee and to eat our packed breakfasts.
Because it was a short walking day, we arrived at our destination late morning. This is where things tilted sideways a bit. A host had been unable to keep their commitment. Another host, Karin at Soutkloof, agreed to keep us two nights. We would be transported from our walk’s end to Karin’s, and brought back to walk the next leg to Karin’s the next day. There was a glitch in communication that resulted in our waiting for our ride for an hour and a half.
I could have seen that in a number of ways, many in a less than positive light. However, it turned out to be a gift. We relaxed in the grass with a view of a river. It was shady with a slight breeze. Birds were everywhere, plus we had the company of a very sweet dog and a friendly enough cat. Without discussion we all settled ourselves in for a nap. We even got to witness a swarm of bees fly over our heads.
When Karin arrived to get us, we were all in good spirits, and none the worse for the time out. Her warm welcome and easy conversation made the drive to her farm just another part of the adventure.
She and her husband are canola farmers, who also raise sheep, on land that has been in the family for generations. They joined Cape Camino recently, but you’d never know. The guest house we were meant to stay in only holds five. I got the lucky invitation to sleep in the house. Again, that might have felt weird, to be separated from the group. Instead I had the nicest afternoon visiting with someone I might easily be friends with if we were neighbors.
I love these farm wives who open their homes and their lives to us. I love their practicality and their warmth and their intelligence. I am in awe of their strength and stamina and tender hearts.
Today was a loadshedding day, with the power set to be out from 6:00 to after 8:00. Dinner hour. Karin planned a cold dinner and braii. When my fellow pilgrims came over for dinner, the house was lit with battery lights and candles. The lights came back on just as we were beginning to eat, the lamb and pork the best I’ve ever had. The salads were great and there was a sort of traditional braii sandwich that I won’t soon forget.
"For me pilgrimage is an opportunity to practice letting go of expectations, and finding the hidden gifts that are easy to overlook in every day life."
It’s not that I don’t see or feel the challenges of walking every day in a strange place without the comforts of home in the company of people I haven’t chosen for myself. It’s just that the joy and the magic outweigh everything else. Today was a perfect example of that.
DAY 11 : 15km
Soutkloof to Soutkloof
"Oh what a glorious day."
I started the morning sitting at an old farm table that had been used for butchery in its early life, drinking coffee made with a very fancy machine, eating rusks made by a local woman raising money for her autistic granddaughter, watching Karin get food together for us to pack for our walk. That could have been enough for one day, but it was just the start.
Karin drove us to our starting place, close to where we ended yesterday minus the paved section. Because she had made sure there were blue rocks at every intersection, and after getting all our numbers, she sent us off on our own. Four of us - Ina & Frikkie, Jane and I - walked loosely together through morning mist and lupine and wheat. We didn’t hurry, stopping often to take pictures or just breathe in the fragrant air. We stopped to eat beside a dam, enjoying the feast Karin had prepared. My breakfast was cold lamb chops from last night’s dinner, huge blueberries and strawberries, and an egg from yesterday’s collection. Good food eaten in even better company in fresh air after a great walk - I stopped in the midst of it to create a permanent picture in my memory to be brought out in winter moments.
We continued on full and happy. The air had cleared, so blue and green and a crayon box of flower colors replaced the muted morning hues. We walked next to the Berg River where birdsong rose like a great hallelujah chorus. We met curious horses and climbed a steep hill, and ambled into the farmyard midday.
Karin took three of us to the nearby agricultural show, a really big deal here. Esther, Karen and I wandered through behemoth farm equipment and booths of typical fair food. We ate chips on a stick, made our way through a commercial pavilion, and settled to watch horse competitions. Karin joined us there. She bought us fresh squeezed juice and took us to the chicken barn where we saw the biggest chickens imaginable. On our way to the car she took us into a trailer where they were rating wheat, a complex and interesting process.
In the car on the way home one of us asked about dental care here. So many of the black people we’ve seen are missing their front teeth. It turns out there is a cultural reason for those missing teeth that had us giggling like school girls. We arrived home to discover a surprise loadshedding event. It was taken in stride. You just sort of get used to doing things in the dark.
Our group has changed. Dot decided to end early. The group of three we’ve been messaging with for days arrived. Gayle, Wendy, Ruby - instant friends and fellow pilgrims. The frosting on the cake of what is one of my favorite days so far.
DAY 12 : 11km
Soutkloof to Die Ark, Koringberg
Without being an actual rest day, today feels like one. We headed into the gray morning later than usual, knowing it would be a short walk. Karin gave us a map and clear directions, and followed behind at a distance in her buckie (pickup truck).
We walked on a farm road, stopping to take pictures and look at birds. Wendy, one of the new pilgrims, is a birder and I’m looking forward to expanding my ability to identify some of the amazing birds I’ve been seeing. A coffee shop along the route had been promised, and it didn’t fail to deliver. Even thoughitwasonly3or4kfromour destination we stopped and settled in. Desert Rose would be called a tourist trap at home. Here it is an oasis. I ordered coffee with cream and a toastie. What came was coffee with a luscious pile of whipped cream on top and a huge and very delicious sandwich.
While waiting for my food I wandered the grounds finding all kinds of wonders to enjoy. For a time I stood and watched a weaver actually building his nest. The resident cat was quite entertaining. The kitsch to be found at every turn was delightful. For a while this morning it looked like the gray was becoming blue, but as we left the coffee shop the gray got grayer. There were spits of rain - enough that everyone geared up. The remainder of the walk was cold with some sprinkles, but the real rain held off.
We are cozy now, tucked into shared rooms, listening to the rain on the roof. My roomie Jane and I have been enjoying rooibos and conversation and getting organized. We feel like we hit the jackpot because the shared toilet is outside our door. Showers and more toilets are in a separate building a short walk across the lawn.
Bregda, our host, is doing laundry for us now (third house in a row for laundry - we’re getting spoiled). Later she’ll drive us to the top of a mountain, although whether we see anything is anyone’s guess. I sort of think we will. Addition: This wouldn’t post yesterday because the rain was interfering with the internet. Bregda’s husband drove us up the mountain. In the rain. In the back of his buckie. We were under a tarp, but very much in the elements. It was totally socked in at the top, but so much beauty on the way. Gayle and Wendy walked it and had a glorious time.
Dinner was an organic sugar-free feast of meat balls, roasted vegs, gluten-free vegetarian pizza, apple crumble and chocolate mousse. Before dinner we packed our picnic breakfasts from a selection of muffins, butter, eggs, fruit, fresh vegs, date balls, cheese, crackers, olives, nuts - all homemade or local and all healthy.
It was early bed for us all. Now it’s early morning.
"The just past full moon is lighting the world in a soft glow, inviting the new day in."
DAY 13 : 20km
Koringberg to Wittewater
DAY 14 : 14km
Wittewater to Goedverwacht
Days without Wi-Fi: 3
It’s interesting how things work out on a pilgrimage. In life really, but you notice it more when the world is narrowed to walking and eating and sleeping. Up until Day 13, I would have told you I had no expectations of this walk. That I would have no issue with whatever was thrown my way. My pilgrim spirit was sorely tested in Wittewater, but then restored to a new fullness in Goedverwacht.
The walk to Wittewater was beautiful and easy. Bregda had arranged for us to have bathroom stops along the way, a huge step up from our usual roadside accommodations. The only remarkable things were the enormous table grape farm under tarps that extended beyond sight, and the huge worker camp we walked beside.
Wittewater is a Moravian Mission Station, a colored community under the control of the church. I didn’t understand that clearly before we arrived. Or that our community stay was not necessarily welcomed by the whole community.
When we arrived at the community center that was our destination we were greeted by a large group of smiling people in green and black shirts.
We were welcomed warmly and invited inside. Solly, our official host, took us in to the room where we would sleep, where we had our first surprise. Six of us would be crammed in single beds with room only to move sideways between. Ina and Frikkie got their own room, but the path to the bathroom was through it.
I was still adjusting to the tight quarters (trying to think where my luggage would go) and the lack of Wi-Fi when Solly delivered the next surprise. The geezer (hot water heater) was broken. If we wanted to bathe there would be urns of hot water and tubs (like large planters) to put it in and a space in the shower stall. I had not showered at Bregda’s because it was cold and the shower was in a separate building. So now it was going to be two days without a shower, but with lots of sweating.
Because it turned out there would be no hot water until later in the evening, and by then I was finished for the day. Right after Solly left us, the power went out. At first we thought loadshedding, but our neighbors had power. We tried to call Solly, but had a wrong number. By the time Ina figured out the breaker and got the power back, we were 15 minutes from loadshedding.
The final surprise of the day was toilets that wouldn’t flush without filling the tanks manually. Water is a huge issue here, all over. This was the first time we experienced what that actually means firsthand.
In the plus column, the women had left us a huge spread of food on the table in the central room. There was even a pudding waiting in the oven. During our first power outage someone found a gas burner so we at least had hot water for tea. While it was still light, I walked around the town with Gayle and Wendy, enjoying their company and seeing the life of the town up close. We walked past a house where a large group of young people were congregated. One young man came out with an emerald green guitar and played for us. It was both lovely and a little uncomfortable.
Solly eventually came to check on us, but by then we’d found ways to make the situation work for us. By the time the sun went down, taking every last bit of heat with it, we were tucked into our beds under all the extra blankets we could find. I slept surprisingly well.
We all woke up around 6:00, in good spirits, laughing, and ready to face a new day. Ruby, who was choosing a daily song for their trio, gave us
"“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”."
It stuck with us in the walk. It was clear the previous day’s events had bonded us in a way we hadn’t previously achieved.
knew our next stop would be another community stay, so we left Wittewater uncertain what we were walking to. By then I had lowered my expectations from hot shower and flush toilet to seeing what happened and preparing to be grateful for whatever it was.
The day 14 walk, led by Solly and Yvette, turned out to be one of my favorites of this pilgrimage. We set out from the community center across a field where we met children walking to school and the smell of sheep. Once across, we went straight up a hill, following what had to have started as a game trail. No switchbacks and lots of fynbos trying to take over the path.
Once at the top we followed a ridge above the valley for a long way, and then a more gradual downhill to a tar road. The fynbos is blooming and full of much to catch the eye (and pant legs). It was so much fun. The rest of the walk into Goedverwacht was flat, but no less interesting.
We went past an aviary full of squawking parrots, and a field of long-tailed sheep in the midst of lambing, and fields of yellow and purple lupine. We arrived, hot and tired and grimy, at a brightly colored store where we were met by a group of smiling and welcoming people.
Goedverwacht is also a Mission Station populated by colored people. Our itinerary said we might all be staying in separate homes. None of us knew what to expect. After being served freshly squeezed orange juice, and given a welcome speech, we were sent on our way. Three of us went with George to his house, and the remaining five went with Cynthia to hers.
When Frikkie and Ina and I saw George’s house for the first time our hearts lifted. It is a beautiful home with a sweet garden in the front. George’s wife Carol waited for us on the front porch and greeted us with a hug. She showed me to my own room, decorated and clean and inviting. Across the hall was a toilet (flushing!) and a room with a shower with hot water.
After cleaning up we were served tea and rusks as George and Carol chatted with us. The rest of the group joined us for dinner, an incredible lamb stew prepared by Cynthia, and George’s homemade cookies.
This story comes full circle with our after dinner conversation. While my equilibrium had fully restored by then, the previous night’s experience had left me more tender than before. I think that might have been true for us all. Someone asked someone else why they were walking pilgrimage. In a very organic way, each of us was invited to share. All responses were heartfelt and profound. Some were emotional in a way that seemed to surprise the speakers.
"As I listened, I fell in love with these once strangers who are now forever a part of my family."
I don’t believe that conversation would have happened without the challenges of the night before. I think Wittewater will mark a turning point for me, although I can’t quite yet articulate how. I am writing this on Day 15 at Kapteinskloof, a magical fairy land hosted by a couple who are the epitome of South African hospitality (as were George and Carol). This story will have to wait so I can shower (hot water!) and settle in as loadshedding is about to end.
DAY 15 : 9km
Goedverwacht to Kapteinskloof
Because walking to Kapteinskloof is not possible because of the difficult route, we explored Goedverwacht this morning. Our guides Freddie and Cynthia led us through a field that went past pig, sheep, and goat pens to the base of a cliff on top of which was a cave.
As we stood at the bottom waiting for Freddie to give direction, he pulled out a huge rope and headed up. We looked at each other skeptically. We’d all expected a stroll, not rock climbing with rope assist.
While the ascent was steep, it was short, and actually really fun. The cave was really a cutout in the cliff. The walls were said to contain aboriginal drawings at one point, but graffiti covered every surface, so they were impossible to see. The view was lovely. Our descent was a little harder, but I used my favorite butt scoot method and got down without problem.
The rest of the walk took us above the town to the church that is the center of things. After, Ina, Frikkie, and I headed back to George and Carol’s where they had a most amazing brunch waiting for us. Eggs, ham, whole wheat bread, cheese, avo, two kinds of homemade jam, fresh squeezed orange juice.
Shortly after, the whole group was driven to Kapteinskloof. The very bumpy road and trees screening the place gave away no hints about what we might find. But then we turned a corner and found ourselves in a magical place that brought tears to my eyes.
"The very old white buildings with thatched roofs, the flowers everywhere, the dog with elf eyebrows. Pure magic."
Melanie, our host, along with her husband Billie, could not have been more welcoming. She showed us to our rooms, and then led us on a tour so we could see where everyone was staying. Because we arrived during loadshedding, showers needed to be postponed.
We wandered the grounds to discover a circular herb garden, a citrus orchard, hoopoes grazing in the grass. There are hot tubs and a pool, which the youngers in the group took full advantage of later in the afternoon. There was battery powered Wi-Fi, which I took advantage of sitting in the front garden of the main house with rooibos and cookies.
This loadshedding lasted more than four hours, and there was concern when it didn’t end after the usual 2+ hours, it might be off much longer. So we adapted. Ina and Frikkie had a cottage with gas, so their shower worked. We took turns being guests in their bathroom. Melanie had a plan B (probably C & D as well), and a bunch of pilgrims eager to pitch in.
So when the power did come back on at 6, no one cared that much. Except Melanie, who could then finish her plan A dinner. Before dinner we all gathered in their backyard for drinks and conversation. The magic continued in the gold pink light that has marked most of the sunsets here, and in the deep conversations that can only happen in the midst of such magic.
Ten of us sat around a huge table, filled with delicious food. Melanie said grace, something that has happened at almost every dinner here. We dug into the green salad, couscous, chicken, and garlic bread, but managed to have room for the strawberries with double cream at the end. The conversation was lively and traveled around a variety of topics.
Finally someone asked about the morning plan, and then someone mentioned loadshedding starts at ten, so we all headed to our rooms. On the way we stopped to look up to a night sky rich with stars and sashed with the Milky Way. Another day overflowing with all a person could hope for.
Loadshedding starts in five minutes. I’m off to go look at the stars again in the perfect darkness
DAY 16 : 22km
Kapteinskloof to Aurora
My night’s sleep ended in the very early morning hours. There was not a thing wrong. I was just awake.
So I took advantage of the quiet hours. I called Walt, and enjoyed Wi-Fi and read. Loadshedding was to start at 6:00 a.m., so I made sure I had my coffee before then.
Then I wandered the grounds, soaking in the peace and cool air and the riotous joy that is morning birdsong here. I found an orange tree loaded with fruit and blooming at the same time. For the first time in my life I got to inhale the scent of orange blossom.
I headed to Melanie’s kitchen close to the time we were meant to meet. From there the morning progressed much as they all have done here.
We gather food for our morning picnic from a generous array of choices. We figure out what to do with our bags. Pictures are taken, goodbyes and gratitudes are exchanged, and we head out into a new day with our chaperone.
Koko led us past a huge blueberry farm where workers were gathered waiting to begin a very different day from ours. For the first hour the morning offered her best. It was peaceful and beautiful and cool. The road was firm gravel and easy to walk.
The change was likely gradual, but it felt like a door opened from one walk to another. On one side was ease. On the other heat and sand. There was still a road but it was thick sand and difficult to get traction with. The heat intensified, almost like a fractious child who wasn’t getting enough attention and so got louder and louder. There was precious little shade.
We remained in good cheer, but things got quieter than usual, as we all went inward to find our way in the sun, sand, and sweat. And just to make things more interesting, the miggies decided to join the party.
By the time we reached Aurora around 1:00, it was 30/86 degrees. Hester and Jan greeted us with cold water, juice, and ice (!). Four of us would stay there. The other four were sent to two different homes.
"I can’t quite get over how welcoming people have been here.:
I’m staying in someone’s home, my needs looked after with grace, being offered tea as a matter of course, being fed well. My comfort matters in a way that is so humbling.
Hester offered to do laundry, which I was so grateful for because nearly everything I wear was dirty. Once the load was washed, I got to hang it on the line, which made me so happy to do. The sun that had deviled us before, along with the wind that joined later, had everything bone dry in a couple of hours.
When I asked how much I was to pay, she said she would do it for free, but a donation to a church project would be appreciated. I love this place.
Loadshedding was scheduled for 6:00. Everyone had arrived back for dinner, and Hester had prepared the food so the lack of power wouldn’t delay dinner. Before we sat to eat, we gathered in a circle in the living room where we were served drinks and bites and Hester told us a story about the flat white beans that would be part of our dinner.
Candles were lit, as were battery assisted lamps. The back door opened out to the western sky where the sun gave us a glorious performance - no hard feelings for the walk. We stood around the table, held hands, and Jan said grace. Dinner was delicious and lively, eaten in the fading pink light of another day falling behind the horizon.
DAY 17 : 12km
Aurora to Southern Skies
I woke up this morning well rested and raring to go. I got myself dressed and organized for the day before going in search of coffee. Jan got up from his chair to serve me, despite my saying he didn’t need to. Hester came out of the kitchen and gave me the biggest hug. It was one of those benediction moments I will remember long after I’ve forgotten the discomfort of yesterday. The table was spread with so much food: muffins, raw vegs, blueberries, breads, cheese, butter and margarine, yogurt, muesli, packets of snackie things.
Everyone gathered, Marinda our chaperone arrived, and we set out. The morning was warm enough that we all started out with fewer layers than usual. Marinda pointed out interesting landmarks along the way. A monument, old houses, tame sheep.
We are officially in the Sandveld now. We’ve walked from wheat and canola and grapes into potatoes and rooibos. The land is scrubbier but no less beautiful. We’re surrounded by craggy rocks that invite the imagination to envision ancient civilizations.
The walk was short and flat and pleasant. It got warmer than we were expecting toward the end, but chatting with Marinda who is a treasure house of knowledge made any discomfort insignificant. We were more spread out than usual, and quieter. The walk is winding down for many, bodies are demanding attention, and the inner space that pilgrimage creates invites more introspection.
I was a little worried about our destination for tonight, Southern Skies Guest Farm, and had prepared myself to be brave and grateful for whatever it was. We had been told no power, shared double beds, wood heat for heating a dinner delivered by Jan. A guest farm used by backpackers. It didn’t sound promising.
What we have is a stunning place with two complete bathrooms, more than enough beds (Jane and I get to share a room!), and a veranda straight out of a novel about Africa. The thorn trees flanking it only add to the romance of the place. There are ample places to relax and to be away from each other. The grounds are spacious with springbok grazing below. Solar power lights the place and provides Wi-Fi.
We were greeted by a lovely young woman whose name I can’t yet spell with a smile that could provide light if we had no other means. Also on the greeting committee were two resident dogs. We were served tea made with water heated on the wood stove in a giant blue pot.
Now we are all scattered about the place. Some napping. Some lying in the grass outside. Some writing. There is a great sense of ease and peace. This is an afternoon of restoration and the time and space to absorb the wonders of these last days.
Southern Skies - The evening in pictures
DAY 18 : 24km
Southern Skies to Redelinghuys
"While the walk was long, the day was perfect."
The sunrise had us all standing outside in awe in the cool morning. The three friends who joined us a week ago left ahead of the group so they could walk more slowly. One of us decided not to walk today. So after a breakfast of pap prepared for us by our lovely host Zvaka, four of us set off into what had become a foggy morning.
The way the light played with the landscape, and the way the moist air eased our way, made for magical walking for a very long way. Eventually the fog started to burn off, but the austere beauty of the Sandveld was great company as the kilometers slid away. Oats. Rooibos. Potatoes. And lots of sand.
We eventually arrived at Gezie’s house, catching up with the trio just there. We were treated to a wonderful brunch which we enjoyed sitting in her lush garden in the company of a sassy cat and a fractious goose. Once back on the road we continued the gradual ascent we’d been climbing for what seemed forever. The sun was out and the air had warmed considerably.
We were happy to crest and look down into the small valley where Redelinghuys sits.
We found our way to Redelinghuys Manor where Janet welcomed us with the warmth that feels normal now, and with cold water on ice with lemon. Three of us were taken to a separate sleeping place, while the others will stay at the manor.
Jane and I walked up the street a bit ago and found a store where we bought fizzy drinks, and Jane introduced me to the local version of Cheetos. We enjoyed our junk food break sitting in the garden here while the resident rooster and his hens checked us out.
As has become our custom, we’ll meet for dinner back at the main house, Janet’s tonight. Actually we’re headed over in a moment for tea and scones. I suppose life could be better, but for the moment I can’t imagine how.
DAY 19 : 17km
Redelinghuys to Klarefontein
Today was an easy joyous walk. Janet fed us well this morning and sent us off with her love and two amazing chaperones, Ellie and Yolandie. We spent the day alongside a vlei, a beautiful and bustling wetland. It felt like our most relaxed walk so far with more and longer stops than we usually do. The sky was cloudy, the air fresh, the trail sandy, but not a problem. Birds scolded and sang and squawked from the grasses that were our backdrop all day.
I spent the first section at the back visiting with Gayle, one of the three friends who are leaving us in the morning. The other two joined in from time to time. It was a very satisfying conversation, a reminder of the wealth that exists in every person. The second part I moved up to be with Jane and Ina and Frikkie, and at the end we all sort of mashed up together.
After days of a wildflower walk that has yielded fewer flowers than a normal year, we finally found our field at the end of the walk.
"We definitely made the best of it, and had so much fun."
Our arrival at the farm stay that is our home for the night left us all a little unsettled. Four beds outside, the shower in a building outside, on our own to manage dinner from what’s left in the fridge. Uncertainty about loadshedding. One pilgrim who had been struggling decided to end her Camino and got a ride to the next place.
But it’s actually an interesting place with the outside seating area looking onto a garden full of birds feeding on oranges impaled on thorn trees. The shower building is enchanting (plants hanging from the ceiling, vines around the casings), and the water was hot. There are three bathrooms. Sleeping arrangements have been adjusted so everyone is inside. It’s cozy and not ideal, but we’ll all be warm and dry tonight. There’s a cat. There is an abundance of the sweetest oranges you can imagine, and the water is from a spring. There’s a fire in the fireplace with lavender to throw on for the fragrance. There’s Wi-Fi.
When Ina, Frikkie, Jane and I walk out tomorrow, we’ll say goodbye to the friends: Gayle, Wendy, and Ruby. Each is a gift in her own right, and the unit they are is powerful. I’m going to miss them, and treasure the time we’ve had together.
Tomorrow is our last day with Jane, who has become my special buddy. I’m trying not to think about the hole her absence will leave. I’m sitting in the outside sitting space in front of the fire enjoying the sounds of my friends around me. Friends who just days ago I’d never met. There is a storm building outside, which will make our last evening together even more cozy and memorable.
DAY 20 : 24km
Klarefontein to Elands Bay
It’s hard to decide which of today’s events to give priority to:
I have a blister. My first in three Caminos. It’s in a good spot (between big toe and bunion) and it doesn’t hurt to walk, but my pride has taken a hit. I figure it was the sand, or maybe it was simply a Camino gift of humility.
The three friends left us this morning. It was a sweet and emotional parting. It’s unlikely that I’ll see them again, but there will always be a thread connecting us. When the four of us started our walk this morning, we were pretty quiet and introspective, I think each of us absorbing the farewells in our own way.
The sand was a major player today, plus there was a very long hill.
We walked most of the day between fynbos and vlei, on sand that varied from compact to fill-your-shoes- with-every-step. Even so, for most of the day we were in good spirits and enjoyed the play of clouds in the sky, and the beauty around us. And each other’s company.
Our breakfast break was a special one. Ina shared the coffee that she and Frikkie have every day with Jane and me. The sandwiches we took from Klarefontein were especially good. Our awareness that this would be our last picnic together made it feel a little like communion to me.
For the first time this pilgrimage, our chaperone was less than wonderful. He got us from one place to the next safely, so there’s that.
However, he frequently was completely out of sight, so had no idea if we were okay or not. And when we got close to Elands Bay, he took us on a circuitous route through tide flats and over brush and next to a building where the litter was thick. We eventually ended back up on the tar road, and got to our guest house finally, so it all ended well.
Eland’s Bay Guest House is lovely. Open and airy. Light and homey. Our welcome from Paul and Audrey was warm. We each have our own room and bathroom, and Audrey offered to do laundry. The ocean is breathing outside the open door.
I’ve treated my blister, had my shower and rooibos, and had a chance to let things settle. Dinner is not far away, and is sure to feel quiet compared to last night. We missed the afternoon loadshedding, a bonus for sure.
"Gratitude wins out."
DAY 21 : 26km
Elands Bay to Fork West
Today was one of those days that marked a turning point for me. It was the day that this walk shifted completely from grand adventure to true pilgrimage. I recognized the transition as it was happening because I experienced it in Spain four years ago. I’ve been walking for three weeks now, long enough to be missing the comforts and familiarities of home.
I awoke at 5:00 to loadshedding after having gone to bed with loadshedding. My first thought was about coffee and what kind of day no coffee was going to create. Fortunately there was a gas stove, and coffee was enjoyed. Audrey had gotten up at 3:00 to bake our muffins ahead of loadshedding, just one more example of the way the hosts on this Camino go so far beyond simple care.
Because of tides, we started walking early, which gave us a glorious sunrise. Audrey and Jane walked us to the starting place on the beach, where we were met by Paul and the dogs. A lovely send off. Saying goodbye to Jane was hard, and the first tears of this walk kept me company for quite a while.
Ina, Frikkie, and I set off down the coast in soft sand that resisted our progress with every step. There was no conversation as we conserved energy for what was clearly going to be a long day ahead. The constant companionable rushing of the ocean made conversation both difficult and unnecessary.
I would stop often, in part to gather myself, but mostly to absorb. It was a perfect beach day. Puffy clouds. Blue sky. The texture of the dunes. The ocean itself - green, blue, purple by turns in layers topped with the lace of sea foam. Eventually the wind joined us, but in a way that made the conversation richer, and the walk easier.
And then there were the birds. Gulls, at least three different kinds. Little sandpipers in their windup toy mode moving as one at the edge of the surf. Hundreds of terns wheeling into the sky as we approached, settling again just ahead. Toward the end of the walk as bodies were tiring and energy flagging, great masses of Cape cormorants appeared. Thousands upon thousands of black birds scurrying, rising in the air, settling on the water. More birds of one kind than I’ve ever seen anywhere. The magic of their presence, mixed with the terns and peeps and one lovely pair of oystercatchers drew us on until we arrived at Fork West.
We had seen only one other person the whole walk. It was easy to imagine we were completely alone with only sand, sea, and our souls for company.
The walk from the beach to the glamping at Fork West nearly did us in. It was the softest sand of a day that gave us many different versions of soft. Our tired bodies were not pleased. Once we arrived, however, we found an oasis in the dunes. Cherlynne greeted us warmly and Rasheed drove us to our tents.
"The tents are amazing, with everything you need for comfort."
I was housed in a separate tent next door to Ina and Frikkie, very cozy. But no bathroom. And getting to the bathroom (thinking middle of the night) required going down a steep step, up several steep steps, and past a sleeping couple. I was prepared to find a bucket.
The kitchen was in the other tent as well. But if I’d had my own at that point I wouldn’t have gotten the gift of Ina bringing me my very own tea makings. When Ina brought the situation up with Theresa and Cherylynne as we were having drinks before dinner, both women were sympathetic. The conversation resulted in my moving to my own tent with a bathroom. Which I was deeply grateful for.
Dinner was an amazing Moroccan delight of seasoned ground venison with a cheese topping served with chutney and coconut. The conversation with Theresa and Cherylynne was fun and interesting, as our dinner conversations always are.
I went to bed exhausted and homesick and heartsore. The day pushed me to limits I knew only pilgrimage could do, limits I knew once breached would reveal new possibilities and strengths. The days going forward will be seen and felt on the other side of those limits.
DAY 22 : 7km
Fork West to Arni's
Today was a planned and successful rest day. We woke recharged and ready to go, so after a leisurely morning because there was no reason to hurry, we set off on soft sand with a spring in our step.
Our walk to Arni’s farm was sandy the whole way, but knowing it was a short walk made it so much easier.
We saw tortoises and tiny wildflowers and stopped to play on the railroad tracks. We arrived at Arni’s just in time for loadshedding, but it barely registered. This is such a happy and interesting place. The house is over a hundred years old, and has been added on to and repurposed into a friendly grouping of rooms and quirky furnishings.
Our host is an artist and an animal lover and a genuinely wonderful human being. The afternoon flew by in satisfying conversation and fun with animals and tours of his garden and studio. A giant pan of lasagna just went into the oven while Dougal the giant black dog chews on a shoe on the couch. Budgies chirp happily in their cage in the corner. Filet the bull, Arni’s special pet grazes placidly outside. Peacocks occasionally scream from the yard. Birds are doing their last songs of the day as they head to roost.
"Breathe in. Breathe out. All is well."
DAY 23 : 25km
Arend Louw to Dwarskersbos
Our fourth day of sand walking started out easy. We left early to catch the low tide, so were just hitting our stride when the sun rose at our backs. It was loose sand to the beach, but our energy was high as were our spirits.
The first stretch of beach walking was glorious. The sand was firm, the air cool and still. It felt like I could walk forever. We stopped for our picnic breakfast at 9 k, sitting on a hump of sand watching waves fold themselves into the shore. Based on our itinerary, we expected we were about halfway to our destination.
It became more difficult to stay in hard sand as we progressed because of the incoming tide. Ina discovered a huge bone that we spent some time checking out. I spotted a whale and her calf just offshore, and raced to keep up with them for a while.
When it became clear that the walk was going to be quite a bit longer than we expected, we took another break. This time we sat and watched another whale and her calf until they moved off. When we continued toward the town, it seemed to stretch farther into the distance with every step we took. The tide played with us like a puppy with a toy - letting us have the harder sand and then sneak attacking our feet so we had to scramble onto the soft.
I managed to distract myself with the wealth of shells scattered everywhere.
We were met on the street of our home for the night by Francois, one of the hosts who has been with Cape Camino from the beginning. He gave us cold drinks, told us how loadshedding would impact our afternoon, and sent us off to the deli for lunch. Frikkie and Ina had been there on previous travels, and were looking forward to it.
It felt a little weird to sit in a restaurant and order food, but we got past that pretty fast.
Snook spring rolls and red velvet cheesecake make for a very satisfying post walk lunch.
Back at our place we took showers, did our usual afternoon organizing and resting, and close to the end of loadshedding returned to the main house.
Where Francois fed us an amazing dinner of chicken and chips with a lush green salad at a beautifully set table lit with kerosene lanterns. Pudding was malva pudding with custard, my new favorite. The dinner conversation was about our travels, a conversation that always inspires me.
As tired as I am, my body is holding up well. The blister is mostly healed. My legs are happy and strong. The usual stiffness and aches give way after a short distance and as long as expectations don’t derail me mentally, I think I could walk forever.
DAY 24 : 19km
Dwarskersbos to Velddrif
Today was one of those days that was so full and miraculous it doesn’t seem possible a life could hold it all. The walk started on mute. It was a gray beachy morning, cool and quiet, the ocean whispering gently beside us. I felt not exactly melancholy, but right on the edge of it. And grateful for it. The calm blanket of cloud offering comfort I didn’t know I needed. The sand was firm so I felt held from every direction.
Very gradually the sun and sky broke through. We were intentionally slower paced because we had a date at 10:00 we didn’t want to be early for. Which might have helped us see the seal. Initially he was a black lump in the surf, but as we stood watching, he revealed himself in all his blubbery glory. He worked the wave line and surfed toward shore again and again, obviously feeding. It was a miracle to watch, and the shared joy made the moments even richer.
We made ourselves move on, now concerned about being late. We had a lunch date with Ammie and Debbie, brand new Camino hosts. From the bright blue arrow leading us off the beach to Ammie’s bright smile, to Debbie’s welcoming hug, we knew we were in good hands.
Their home is as warm and light spirited as they are, and the lunch of soups (two!) and homemade bread made us feel like it was our home, too.
Debbie offered to walk us to our host for the night, Etienne, which would allow us to explore a bit instead of going straight there. We set out full and full of anticipation for some beach town fun.
We found ourselves at a breakwater where cormorants lined up in the walls by the thousands. The sea reflected tropical turquoise under a robins egg sky.
There was a gift shop wander and ice cream eaten in the company of giant fishing boats. People knew we were the pilgrims passing through, so there was even a brief moment of celebrity. As if that weren’t enough, the walk took us past more seals and my very first flamingos.
Etienne greeted us like we were friends he’d been missing and was glad to see. In the midst of getting us drinks and giving us direction he hinted there might be a surprise for me later on. A new pilgrim joined us today.
While Etienne took her for a walk the three of us got showered and settled. We were all sitting visiting talking about dinner and tomorrow, when a car pulled up.
"My surprise. Shawn!"
My first South Africa friend. A kindred soul.
Our connection a miracle that is a true Camino gift. I’m a rare life event, I was getting an evening with my friend without sacrificing something. I have days left with Ina and Frikkie (not thinking about when those days run out!). Etienne will be our chaperone for the next couple of days, so I’ll get time with him. And the new pilgrim is my roomie for the next three nights so we have time, too.
The first thing we did was go with the group back to the breakwater. Every night the cormorants fly up the Berg River that enters the sea there to their roosting spot a few kilometers inland. They follow the river exactly without shortcuts. As we stood there in the fading day, string after string of birds appeared on the horizon and made their way to the mouth of the river. The miracle of their unwavering precision left us in awe.
From there Shawn and I headed to dinner. We talked like old friends, going straight to what mattered most to each of us and barely stopping long enough to eat. There was so much to share, and so much laughter, and so much light. Oh the gift of it all.
I got back in time to sit for a bit with my family, feeling like I’d come home. If I’d worried at all about missing something, it was dinner with them because every meal here is an adventure on its own. It turns out they had fish and chips, which is what I had ordered at the restaurant.
I knew this pilgrimage was going to be about relationship in some important way. Today was full of the many varied forms relationship can take. Starting with the solitude of the morning where I went inward. Continuing on the walk with Ina and Frikkie who have become my family, with whom I’ve gotten to share so many magical moments. Meeting Debbie and Ammie, Etienne and Naadjia, fledgling connections full of possibility. Getting a message from Jane that made me happy. Ending with Shawn who is family and friend at once. I am full to bursting with the richness of it all.
DAY 25 : 21km
Velddrif to Schaftplaas
Any day that starts with a boat ride on a river teeming with birds is a good one. We were at the water at 7:00 and aboard Cracklin’ Rosie shortly after. Wendy hosted while Nico manned the Helm. Both were welcoming and full of information about the flora and fauna and sights along the way.
It was a cool morning so we started out bundled and tucked under the provided blankets. Mine fell by the wayside quickly as spoonbills and flamingos came into view. We also saw kingfishers, cormorants, African darters, lapwings, night herons, gray herons, sacred ibis, glossy ibis, and even coots. I felt like a kid in a candy store. Then as the morning wore on I simply felt a deep sense of awe and gratitude.
We disembarked a couple of hours later and began the long walk to our place for the night. Etienne and Desiree were our chaperones, and they did a great job of keeping us on track and entertained.
We stopped for lunch at one of the huge farms we were walking through. It has been in the same family for seven generations. One of the sons mentioned they had pictures from the past that showed the history of the farm in Range Rovers. The walk itself was uneventful. A tortoise. A couple of busy dung beetles. Some sand. Massive numbers of sheep. The sun coming out and bringing a breeze with it. An occasional burst of wildflower color. Just another day on the Cape Camino.
DAY 26 : 21km
Schaftplaas to Hopefield
This day was about three days long. The morning walk was cold, and damp with dew, so our feet were soaked fairly quickly. The track was gritty sand. We were walking through farmland that was well on its way to bring reclaimed by fynbos. Ticks hitchhiked while black caterpillars fell from branches at our feet.
With nothing breathtaking to distract me, I went inward. It seemed like I was being asked to manage expectations, to find the joy and gratitude in the simple pleasures of the morning. I considered last night’s stay. It was generously sufficient. But not extraordinary, which is what most of my stays and meals have been. I had to remind myself that my job as pilgrim is to accept with gratitude whatever I’m given, and to be able to find the unique gifts offered in every situation.
Our chaperones today were two young men from Hope Farm, a rehabilitation center in Hopefield. They were so great - polite, funny, thoughtful. They also talked easily about their lives and Hope Farm. As someone who’s been in recovery for years, my heart both ached for them and celebrated their courage.
"They talked about gratitude as the key."
It was the exact gift I needed at that exact moment. As I am starting to consider home on the other side of this walk, I know I need to find a way to find purpose and meaning in the blessed mundanity of every day life. The morning warmed, the kilometers fell away, and we found ourselves at Plaasmol, where we had been promised a coffee shop. It turned out to be so much more. Plants and repurposed tires. An ostrich, a donkey, two marmosets, two zebras. A birthday party. An old airplane and old train cars. Vetkoek (think English muffin fry bread) being made outside on a fire inside an old oven by a woman named Lee (after Bruce Lee she said). And coffee. It was fun and funky and weirdly delightful. The vetkoek was delicious.
We finished our walk into Hopefield fairly soon after, in sand again, but we didn’t let it dampen our caffeine and sugar fueled spirits. We arrived at Spindlewood Barn and were greeted like old friends by Lindy. She showed us to our rooms, gave us orange juice and took our chaperones home while we cleaned up.
While waiting outside being entertained by the numerous cats and dogs (one of which is in my lap as I write this), I got a message from Gabrielle. She is the mother of the mother daughter team who created (or facilitated as Gabrielle would say) Cape Camino.
The four of us - Ina and Frikkie, our newest pilgrim friend Naadjia, and I - ended up at Gabrielle’s house for tea. We are the first pilgrims to walk to Hopefield, so the first to meet Gabrielle in her home. I will be marveling at the deep magic of that conversation for some time to come. To spend time in the presence of the energy and determination and insight behind the creation of an entire Camino out of the rough fabric of this South African countryside was an honor beyond description. Her vision is clear and strong and born of love that goes beyond the spoken word. That we seem to have many similar beliefs feels like a blessing.
As if that weren’t enough, we came back to Spindlewood for dinner. Lindy’s daughter Abbi was preparing what turned out to be an incredible dinner of ramen and vegs and egg and chicken served with fresh sourdough bread.
Brownies and tea after. We all gathered and chatted happily before during and after dinner in the warmth of their ancient house and in the particular loving and accepting energy that permeates the air here.
"I will go to sleep tonight full to overflowing, praying that my being has the space to both absorb and have room for what’s yet to come."
DAY 27 : 18km
Alegria to St. Helena Bay
We said goodbye to Naadjia this morning. Even though she only walked with us two days, I’ll miss her insightful conversations and slightly wicked sense of humor. Our official day started in a car, which was a little strange. It was also fun. Gabrielle drove us from Hopefield and on the way we saw blue cranes. That on top of the most satisfying conversation made the time go fast. When we arrived at Alegria restaurant there were already several local people gathered to walk with us. Etienne was also there, as promised. What we didn’t expect was a cameraman and a photographer.
The three of us did our part and went along with the program. We did as we were asked, and we were happy to be asked to follow Madoda our guide toward the sea with everyone else behind. It was strange to not be visiting, especially since I’d just met my new friend, Trudy, but the crowd and the fuss were a little overwhelming.
I was aware that today for the first time we were in a populated area. The sea on one side and beautiful expensive homes on the other. We were actually in St. Helena Bay all day. I have a feeling that going forward there’s going to be more and more people and structures. Finding pilgrim space will require a more intentional approach, a claiming of the moments on walks and the moments in the mornings and evenings where I can simply be.
The walk was beautiful, the weather balmy, the sand only sometimes soft. The stretches of walking on mussel shells so thick you couldn’t see the sand provided a satisfying crunch. I found a sea urchin shell. The breakfast sandwich packed by Abbi was especially delicious. We eventually got to visit with our fellow walkers. All in all a pleasant walk.
At a point next to the da Gama memorial Etienne had us do a mixing of the water ceremony to celebrate unity. We stopped at a lighthouse. The last stretch in was harder because of the incoming tide. We all arrived at Maggie’s beautiful home at the same time, and everyone stayed for coffee. I got to see Debbie from Velddrif, which was especially nice since Ammie had spent the day with us. One of the things I love so much about this pilgrimage is how quickly I grow attached to the amazing people I’m meeting.
We three pilgrims took our shoes off and sat, absorbing the day, while friends and neighbors enjoyed Maggie’s refreshments and each other. It was both lovely and overwhelming at the same time. This is a rare afternoon with power, Wi-Fi, and down time. I have my own room. I’m warm and clean and Maggie (bless her) is doing my laundry. Our new pilgrim friend, Anthea, has just joined us and is getting settled. So much to be grateful for.
DAY 28 : 26km
St. Helena Bay to Paternoster
Despite the most comfortable room imaginable and a good night’s sleep, I woke up this morning exhausted and sad. Time and circumstances allowed me to sit quietly with a cup of coffee before the day actually started. It’s as important to honor these times with gentle attention as it is to celebrate the joyous ones.
All the sand is taking a toll. My feet, while blister free, are sore.
Muscles that are happy to do a two hour beach stroll are less than happy to be asked to do 20+ k many days in a row. My pilgrim rhythm was seriously challenged by yesterday’s festivities. I’m not a crowd person under the best of circumstances, and the energy it took to manage yesterday took me to empty.
While reflecting this morning I was clear - I am clear - that I wouldn’t change a thing. I can do hard. I know that’s where the deepest growth happens. I found myself thinking today of Harold Fry, the fictional guy who walked an “unlikely pilgrimage” in the book that was my first inspiration to walk pilgrimage. He essentially didn’t say no to anyone or anything on his way to Queenie.
"He accepted everything that came onto his path with kindness and equanimity, and he kept moving forward."
At the beginning of today I walked pretty hard. Not grumpy exactly, but needing the movement of my body and some space to work out what remained of the night’s intense dreams, and the morning’s sadness. The sky ahead of us held a darkening storm that reflected perfectly my inner struggle. I watched as light broke through and a rainbow appeared, Camino magic at its finest.
"Although my feet barked at me most of the day, it was a good walk."
I got to know Anthea a bit. I spotted a gecko in the sand, although I’m not sure how. Ina and I matched each other in pace and intensity for spaces. We saw dolphins playing in the surf. We saw crayfish poachers at work. And we got to visit Charlie Chaplin’s house on the beach (seriously!).
Paternoster, just before our place for the night, is a gorgeous little town with a distinct Mediterranean feel. We stopped at a cafe for coffee and dessert, causing a minor stir as we trudged up from the beach in all our grubby pilgrim glory. As we were enjoying the break, a young Scottish woman came to our table to talk Camino. She had seen our shirts, was a many time pilgrim herself, and we all chatted like tribe mates. On our way out of town we stopped at the Panty Bar (if you go in you have to leave your panties), a must see that is as gross as it sounds.
When we finally reached Sea Shack, we were all pretty tired. There was enough soft sand and slanted beach to make this another really hard walk, although really beautiful as well. The first thing we all did was take off shoes and socks and dump out sand.
"This place is like nothing I’ve ever experienced."
Little one bed shacks that open to the sea. Solar power. Gas everything else. Bathrooms and showers are behind us in separate buildings. The communal kitchen in its own building. I got a cold shower because apparently the gas wasn’t working in the one I chose, but I found I didn’t mind.
Our hosts were fixing dinner as the sun was setting. Both Ina and I were trying to get a good shot of the colors, and neither were being very successful. I climbed a rock to get up higher, and Ina decided to join me. Our host wanted pictures, which got us laughing hard enough I was afraid we might fall off. Anthea joined us next, which resulted in more laughter. By the time we worked our way down, I was feeling more myself than I have for a couple of days.
Dinner tonight was snook and patats, a special Cape dish. Ina had been campaigning for days to have someone prepare the fish and sweet potato meal for “our American guest”. The wonderful people at Sea Shack brought in fresh snook just for our meal tonight. Sanet, our host, even showed me how to suck the marrow out of the spine. It’s a meal I won’t soon forget.
Tomorrow is another long day of beach hiking. My feet are still tender. I’ll be taping my toes and massaging and liberally applying Vaseline in the morning. My spirit is much recovered. Rest, laughter, and great food are great medicine. I’m so grateful to be sharing this with other pilgrims. I’m so grateful for a strong resilient body. I’m so grateful to be in this exact place at this exact time feeling all of these feelings.
DAY 29 : 28km
Paternoster to Jacobsbaai
"This morning was one of my favorite walks of the whole Camino."
With my tender toes carefully swaddled in tape, I felt strong and if not quite invincible, at least up to the challenge of another day of sand. The air was fresh and cool. The light soft. As hard as these days have been, they have also been like walking through an Impressionist painting.
Led by our host Sanet and a newer chaperone Eddie, we set out on a track next to the sea. It wasn’t long before it started to climb, often narrow, with the horizon soaring out to our right. There was rock hopping and boulder scaling. There were more wildflowers than we’d seen for a while, including a bright gold one that made me think of the balsamroot at home. Every stop revealed new wonders. Every step was a song of gratitude.
Eventually we found ourselves on the beach again. It was flat and firm and invited fast walking. Ina, Frikkie, and I found ourselves at the front going strong and without speaking feeling strongly the family we have become. The paradox of the power and tenderness of that feeling made it especially sweet to me. We stopped where the beach met rocks and road to eat our breakfast. A bakkie arrived to take Sanet and Eddie home. We believed another chaperone would start there and were quite a ways farther before I realized we had no chaperone. Because most of the communication is happening in Afrikaans, I’m missing a lot of detail, but all the pilgrims were surprised.
We were being accompanied by three women from St. Helena, including Maggie, our amazing host and chaperone from there. It seemed Sanet had handed off responsibility to Maggie, which would have been great except she had not walked this stretch before.
The instruction was to follow the beach to Jacobsbaai. Which worked until we got to Jacobsbaai. By the end of the walk the group had become two. The three of us who had walked the longest were walking our pace on beach that was far less hostile than previous days. The length of the walk started to wear on the less experienced walkers so that the distance between us lengthened.
We ended up waiting at the edge of the town until the others caught up because there was no clear direction, no blue arrow, only beach and rocks. None of them knew the path beyond finding a track off the beach. Maggie got ahold of Roz, our new host, and had direction enough that we eventually found our way.
Roz was waiting for us at a gate with a warm smile and hugs for everyone. She led us in her car, saying it’s not far, while we followed behind tired hot and footsore, ready to be settled for the day. Not far is such a relative term. It felt far to the coffee shop we ended up at. There we met Goda, whose place we’d be staying at, and were invited to rest and have a coffee.
On a normal pilgrim day a rooibos cappuccino and cheesecake would be enough to restore me to, if not full on joy, at least warm contentment. Today was not that day. The service was slow and spread out so we didn’t get to enjoy our treats together. Goda mentioned we had another one or two k walk to our place. She would be riding her bike, and when I joked about the inequity of that she joked back that she had a choice but we didn’t. Roz did offer to shuttle us, but by that time it was a point of pride.
During the table conversation, one of the women who had joined us commented on the pace of the experienced pilgrims and the fact we hadn’t stayed together as a group. She said if this was pilgrimage, she didn’t ever want to do one. That came close to bringing the tears to the surface that had been gathering since we arrived in town. The thought of discouraging a future pilgrim in any way hurt deeply. Ina and I both talked to her about the training we had done before, and the strength we had built in the previous weeks of walking. My heart ached for the physical pain she was feeling - to do 26 k as a fun beach walk is a daunting task. My hope is that with time, her own pilgrim spirit will spark again.
We set out with Goda (pushing her bike, not riding it) toward our place. It was a beautiful walk, and our place was a pleasant surprise. We were expecting “backpacker” accommodations. We got a lovely place with space, and the apartment Anthea and I share has an expansive view of the sea. We each have our own room and there’s a small kitchen so coffee and tea are at our fingertips.
A dog had greeted me enthusiastically at the coffee shop and she followed us to our place. It turns out she roams the neighborhood and doesn’t live here. Apparently she didn’t get the memo because she climbed the stairs to our room and hung out with us all afternoon.
The day wasn’t quite finished offering pilgrimage opportunities. Sometime during Anthea’s shower a waterline broke up the street. We spent the evening with no water, and Frikkie and I with no showers. By that time I was neither surprised nor particularly upset. Going to bed unshowered seemed such a little thing in the grander scheme of things. All these days spent rolling with whatever is thrown my way are doing exactly what I came here for: a softer heart and a stronger ability to live with and accept the unexpected and often uncomfortable.
DAY 30 : 15km
Jacobsbaai to Saldanha
Frikkie called today our rest day because it was only 15 k, and not on the beach. And while it was very much a walking day, we arrived in Saldanha in high spirits. Our chaperone for the day gets much credit for our state of being during and at the end of the walk. Khumbula was tall and dreadlocked, a calm presence with a laugh that makes you glad to be alive. He was attentive and knew exactly where he was. All we had to do was walk and soak up the glorious morning.
He pointed out interesting sights: a WWII era watchtower, a boma where a shaman once lived, a huge township in the distance, a tortoise missing a limb, an old airstrip. He let us be, but was easy to engage for conversation. I walked behind and very much enjoyed listening to him and Anthea talk about shamans and medicine men and healers in general.
We gathered in the boma for our usual breakfast stop. It was a little different this morning because for the first time on this Camino there was no breakfast. We had a small bag of snackies and a banana. Fortunately we all had stashes of food that we drew from, so we managed to make it a picnic regardless.
As we walked along I found myself thinking about the great honor of being a long walker being witness to new pilgrims and the beginnings of their transformations. Watching the courageous facing of pain and frustration and the reward of days like today adds a whole new layer of richness to my own pilgrimage. Maybe because the last few days were so hard, I’m especially inclined to love anyone willing to walk through no matter what.
We’ve spent the afternoon hanging out and chatting happily in our quirky apartment. Dion, our host, worked so hard to make us feel welcome. He had coffee brewing, and cookies. He left us with his very large and very impressive boom box. The fairy lights on the even larger organic tree of life picture are twinkling merrily away. All the homey touches mostly balance out the trash strewn stairwell and the cockroach Ina saw scurry into my room earlier.
She dispatched it with a shoe so I’m pretending it’s the only one.
Dinner will be in the hotel across the street in a real restaurant. We’ll go early to be there during loadshedding because they have a generator.
"We will enjoy each other’s company as we have all day, a bittersweet pleasure since our time together is nearly over."
DAY 31 : 15km
Saldanha to Paradise Beach
Beauty was slow to reveal itself today. I woke up to a cockroach climbing down the wall toward my clothes. Our walk was mostly along a busy paved road for kilometers. When we turned off, we walked by a fence separating us from the plant on the other side emitting a strong gas smell. The overcast sky highlighted the industrial areas in a way that made them seem sinister.
Eventually we left the fence behind and walked the rest of the way on a sandy road that felt like home. Flowers appeared in abundance and in new forms. Tortoises shared our path. Our chaperone was cheerful and got us to our destination without fuss. The clouds burned away leaving the blue I’ve come to love and associate with this pilgrimage, both as sky and as Cape Camino. We were met on the last bit of trail by Julia, our host for the night. She led us into a fenced community that looks like a Greek village from the distance. (I think I’m going to have something to say about fences on the other side of this.) Our unit is light and spacious, a comfort to rest in. She offered to show us the way to the beach, but so far none of us have taken her up on it.
We’ve spent the afternoon cleaning up, drinking tea, snacking (Julia brought us a wonderful snack tray), and visiting. Naps have been enjoyed. I did laundry (there’s a washing machine here!) and hung out my wash, something I find soothing.
I was the only one doing laundry because everyone else leaves tomorrow after our walk.
I can’t even imagine going on without Ina and Frikkie. We have such an easy rapport and have developed little rituals and rhythms. They share their coffee with me on our picnics. We get each other’s water bottles out of packs without being asked. We’ve developed similar walking paces. Frikkie tells us the weather. Ina and I end up stopping at the same exact places to catch a particular shot with our cameras.
They are the first people I see in the morning, and every day ends with their goodnights. They are the grace sayers at dinner.
Although my time with Anthea has been short, we’ve connected. I have such admiration for her courage and pluck. She asks great questions that lead to satisfying conversations. I wish we had longer.
I won’t be alone long , and their departure marks the beginning of my next and last leg of this Camino. One door closes. Another opens. Home is on the horizon.
DAY 32 : 14km
Paradise Beach to Pumpkin House
This day was so full and so perfect and so beautifully bittersweet I hardly know how to write about it.
The morning walk was everything. The air was warmer than usual, holding hints of the summer to come. The few clouds provided perfect contrast against the blues of sea and sky. The three pilgrims and our wonderful host and chaperone, Julia, fell into easy rhythm from the beginning.
Knowing it was our last walk together, and their last day of walking, made all of it feel important and sweeter than usual. The soft sand, the hard sand. The rocks. Scrambling and strolling. Chatting and holding each other’s silences. We ate our last breakfast picnic sitting outside in an empty restaurant (closed on Sunday, invited by the owner to enjoy the space). The simple food and shared coffee felt once more like communion, as it had Jane’s last day.
Because it was a short walk and we had started earlier than usual there was a feeling of ease. Julia stopped often to point something out. Ina and I found many great photo ops. We took little side trails for better views. We tried to get coffee at a little roadside place, but loadshedding made it impossible. I think we didn’t really want the walk to end while at the same time we were all ready to move on to the next stage.
We arrived at Pumpkin House late morning after one final challenging hill I learned later is called The Mamba. Hanli, the heart and owner of this art oasis, greeted us warmly. She had split pea soup and bread waiting to be served after a tour of her magical space. While we waited for her to take Julie back and to fetch our bags, the three of us enjoyed one last coffee and visit together.
Frikkie’s brother arrived to take them to his home five minutes away. There were hugs and tears and expressions of gratitude and blessings. And then they were gone.
There are a number of ways the afternoon might have gone, but Hanli in her way and wisdom guided us toward joy and adventure.
After taking a moment to catch my breath and to shower, I met her in her art filled home. Everywhere my eye lands here makes me smile or sigh in wonder. We got everything straightened out for tomorrow and then headed out to explore West Coast National Park.
It was a long drive through fynbos and veld and seashore. The conversation flowed like we were old friends catching up.
We stopped to dip toes in the very cold Atlantic, to picnic in the sea air, to visit an old signal shack. She took me down roads not everyone gets to see, and narrated the entire drive. We saw zebras, two kinds of bok, ostriches, and a puff adder who seemed less than pleased to be photographed.
By the time we got home so Hanli could get dinner ready ahead of loadshedding, I felt like I had crossed into the next stage of my journey here.
Our dinner of bobotie, rice, pumpkin, salad and koeksisters, eaten outside in the magical evening light and energy of this space, was a perfect wrap around an already perfect day. We talked our way through the meal and the loadshedding until the lights came on and my energy faded. I went to bed with a bursting heart, completely full, deeply grateful.