As I said in yesterday’s post, we spent the weekend at the Jamaka Organic Farm in the Cederberg Mountains. The nearest towns are Citrusdal to the south and Clanwilliam to the north. The farm itself is situated in a deep river valley, which is accessed by a gravel road that traverses the Nieuwoudt Pass. On the way, you pass the entrance to the Algeria campsite in the Cederberg Wilderness Area (see here).
This is the spectacular view from the height of the Nieuwoudt Pass.
This is the little house in which we stayed. You might just be able to see Mona (the grey horse) grazing in the middle of the veld.
The view north from the front stoep was so beautiful, particularly with the bright blue sky above us. The two trees on the left were badly burned by the fire that swept through this valley earlier this year. Judging from the blackened shrubs and charred remains of trees and soot-darkened boulders that we encountered all over the farm, the fire had approached right up close to our little house. It’s a miracle that it survived the blaze.
After Saturday morning’s hike up part of the Wolfberg trail and along the entire length of the River trail, we were a little knackered and in need of a restorative cup of tea accompanied by some of that long-promised marble cake, followed by a bit of a nap because it was simply too swelteringly hot to do any more vigorous hiking after lunch.
By 5pm, though, Richard and I had recovered enough to tackle the Geelhoutskloof (Yellowwood Kloof) trail. Mom, in retrospect very wisely, decided to give this one a miss and to have a leisurely cup of tea on the stoep, reading a magazine or two.
The trail was described as a 1.5 hour hike, which sounded perfectly doable. The route description was more than a little vague, but it did at least enable us to find the start of the route. It was only once we’d crossed the main gravel road and gone through the little pedestrian gate, turning left down to the dry river bed, that things began to disintegrate with alarming rapidity. We saw no markers, no arrows, no signs. The description merely said: “… turn to the left after you entered the gate. After 30 mins you reach a natural ‘amphi-theatre’.”
Fortunately (or perhaps not), I saw footprints in the soft sand of the riverbed, heading upwards on the other side of the riverbed. It was an imprint that was most likely caused by a hiking boot, and we kept losing and re-discovering the same recognisable imprint all over the place. Initially, I thought that the wearer of said boots must have been quite confident of his direction, but after a while realised that he – like us – kept turning back and retracing his steps and wandering aimlessly across the veld. It wasn’t exactly a comforting realisation.
Anyhow, we did find a narrow little path leading up through the fynbos on the northern edge, but it petered out after a while. We searched around for a couple of minutes, hoping to find it again. This is Richard, engaging in some bundu-bashing.
After we came upon a few bokkies (goats), which bleated plaintively as they trotted away from us, their unwitting pursuers, it dawned on us that we must have been following a bokkie-track. Here they are, barely glimpsed through the fire-blackened trees.
Consult the description and the aerial map once more.
According to the aerial photograph, on which the route had been sketched in, we should be walking uphill (roughly eastwards), following the river valley to the aforementioned rocky amphitheatre, before turning south on the other side of the river valley and returning down the hill (roughly westwards) to the Jamaka offices, where the trail was supposed to end. It looked so straightforward on the map.
Clearly, we had to find the river.
We ploughed our way through blackened shrubs and waist-high fynbos with spiky, itch-inducing leaves until we reached the edge of the river valley. We were guided by the barely audible sound of running water. By some miracle – divine intervention, no doubt – we somehow found ourselves on the actual trail!
It is hard to convey the thrill-filled excitement and profound relief generated by the sight of a white painted arrow on a boulder. Like this one:
And the exhilaration of suddenly reaching the amphitheatre!
We celebrated our good fortune by plonking ourselves down in a shady area of the sun-baked rocks to catch our breath and to gulp down some cold water. It was so beautiful up here. Once the area has had time to recover from the wildfire, I’m sure it’ll look even more spectacular. There were already sooo many flowers popping up from the rocky soil.
Then we followed the [our?] trail northwards out of the river valley, until we came to a pedestrian gate at the top of the Jamaka property. This was supposed to be the start of another trail, which would lead the intrepid hiker all the way to the Algeria campsite. We didn’t consider ourselves to be sufficiently intrepid, so we searched around for the next bit of our trail. We soon found a white arrow painted on a rock, pointing vaguely northwest and up another ridge. We continued along this trail, until it too petered out.
We wove back and forth through the fynbos, searching with increasing desperation for any sign of a walkable trail. I found imprints of the hiking boots we’d seen earlier, but it soon emerged that our fellow hiker had also wandered back and forth aimlessly across the landscape.
We were lost.
The sun was sinking lower. Our house on the other side of the gravel road faaaaar below was already in the shadow of the opposite mountain. Time was ticking. We had to find a way off THIS mountain before it got too dark to see! So we trudged back vaguely in the direction of the pedestrian gate in the fence that we’d just seen.
We bashed our way across the veld and through the bushes once more until we somehow, miraculously, reached it. Then we climbed back down to the amphitheatre, and started retracing our steps along the trail we had walked along earlier, crossing and re-crossing the little bubbling stream. The fire had wrought incredible devastation here, with large trees lying all over the place, and charred stumps of shrubs everywhere. There were supposed to be lots of signs on trees, labelling them, but we saw barely a handful of these. Perhaps the others had all been burnt?
It was with deep relief that we found the letters ‘JAM’ (‘Jamaka’) painted in white onto a large boulder on the southern side of the river valley. There even – yahooo!! – seemed to be a path leading down to the farm buildings.
We lost the path a few more times, but at least we were now on the ‘right’ side of the valley and we caught reassuring glimpses of the farm buildings below. Eventually we emerged onto a broad track that must have been used by vehicles at some stage. We followed this all the way down to the main buildings, and onto the gravel road, which finally led us back to our home.
The braai that night was SOOOO delicious. We were HUNGRY!
The next morning, I was jolted awake some time before dawn by the clip-clopping of hooves on the stoep. Bill and Mona had come to have breakfast. I got a slightly blurry shot of the pair of them cropping the lawn behind the house. When Bill spotted me, he even came down to where I was standing at the bedroom window to say a proper good mornin’ to ya.
I made myself a cup of tea, wrapped myself in a blanket, and went outside to hang out with them for a while. They slowly moved off to one of the open areas, where they must have found good grazing.
There was definitely a storm brewing in the northern sky. The beautiful blue skies of yesterday had vanished, hidden behind threatening grey-blue-black clouds. Ever so often, a flash of lightning shot from one cloud to another far down the valley, followed after a few moments by a rumble of thunder.
There wasn’t much of a sunrise this morning, although the sun did – very briefly – illuminate the top edge of the mountain towards the south, before the clouds swirled in once more.
It rained, at intervals, for the next few hours. We were really keen to attempt one of the three Upper River Trails before packing up to go home, but had to wait for the rain to stop. Bill and Mona returned from their morning breakfast, their coats completely soaked… and covered in fine sand. They must have had a good roll somewhere!!
They stood on the verandah, sheltering from the rain, while we made our second (or third?) cup of tea of the morning. I stood outside with them, untangling Bill’s mane and brushing the sand off his coat with my hand, and just hanging out with them. Once in a while, Bill would give a jaw-cracking yawn, that made me feel quite sleepy myself. It was sooo peaceful.
At last, the rain stopped, and Richard and I set off to find the start of the Upper River trail.
But all we found was the sign we’d seen yesterday, pointing ACROSS the river.
Katrin had confirmed this morning when we’d driven up to the main buildings to buy fresh milk from them, that there were two trails on THIS side, but we just couldn’t find them. We clambered over the rocks, until it became too wet and slippery to continue, so we turned around. Then we climbed up to a lookout point, from where we could see the river and the camping site, but here too the path just petered out. Reluctant to forge ahead without any evidence that we were actually on the right track, we gave up. Apart from that, there were midges EVERYWHERE. They flew into the nose, the mouth, the eyes, the ears… ignoring our frantic swatting. Awful creatures.
And so we reluctantly returned to the house, packed up, and said a sad goodbye to a very, very beautiful place.
We look forward to returning here someday for a longer holiday.