“Look, that man is taking his dog for a walk!” this from a fellow hiker. Today we traipsed around the lower reaches of the Langeberg Mountains at Suurbraak. We also proved the old cliché that when you are lost, you tend to go around in circles.
There was nothing unusual about the statement except that the man really was taking his dog for a walk. I asked him if he would mind being photographed. He was very obliging and gave me the toothless smile so typical of the elderly locals. Johannes tells me ‘Socks’ has been going with him into work every day for about 10 years now. Socks first hopped onto his barrow when he was a tiny pup, which suited Johannes as he did not have to worry about passing motorists.
Suurbraak, at the foot of the picturesque Tradouws Pass is a long narrow village, between Barrydale and Swellendam, nestling in at the foot of the Langeberg, with buildings up to 200 years old lined up on either side of the R234. While we waited for our guide, it became clear that motorists were driving carelessly, unappreciative of the valley scenery and in a hurry to get to work (or home). ‘Socks’ was safe and best wheeled along in his master’s barrow.
This month’s outing (we do it every third Tuesday of the month) took the Witsand Stappers across the Buffelsjags River into the forest creeping up the mountain. We gathered in the village square ready for the fray complete with trail shoes, walking sticks and plenty of food and drink in our backpacks (because you never know what might happen) at just about the time the rest of the village was making its way on foot to the various places of work. Our guide, a retired local (he did not accompany us) briefed us a little on the history of the village and route we would be following today.
Suurbraak is a village born in 1812 when the London Missionary Society established a mission station. It lies within the municipality of Swellendam in the Overberg district in the Western Cape. Suurbraak is translated Sour Marsh. I was not able to establish the origin of this name. The name given to it by the indigenous Attaqua Khoikhoi appeals more to my sense of proper. iXairu means ‘a place called Paradise’. This explains the name of the ramshackle building housing the Paradise Organic Food restaurant that we saw when we drove into town. ‘Organic’; we all accepted; there is a wonderful community garden initiative happening near the banks of the river where we later had our picnic.
A village that started life on such a good foot, is now somewhat neglected and most houses are in a state of disrepair. You can see and feel the poverty. It made my heart ache. On the other hand, the cheerful, polite and friendly attitude of the people I spoke to made my heart sing. It seems cooking is done mainly on wood-burning stoves and the locals' mode of transport is donkey carts. Visitors come to hike as we did or to bike or to visit the historical buildings.
The heart of the village has been well preserved or restored. It boasts two ancient and well-kept churches and the municipal offices are housed in restored historical buildings. I was astonished to see the brand new and welcoming library.
If you face north towards the mountains from the village square, your eye cannot help but be drawn towards Wonder Kloof, a spectacular geological crack in the mountain range. Several hiking trails of various distances and difficulty ratings have recently been opened to tourist trade. We set our sights on the 6 kilometres long; Piet-my-Vrou trail. The Piet-my-Vrou is a vocal but shy red-chested cuckoo that prefers woodlands. Our guide warned us that we would probably not even hear one as the weather was too cool. Its common name is after the sound of the call, an Afrikaans phrase suggesting a call and answer, that is Pete? My wife! Many people are irritated by the persistency of the call.
Per our guide; all we needed to do, was to follow the green arrow markers on rocks or tree trunks and we would be taken on a circular route through the forest, we would experience some low-key rock climbing and slippery slopes; pine needles, not mud and of course grand views of the valleys and cliffs, somewhere along the way we would pass a dam where we could swim and the plan was to have our lunch on its banks. And then, on our return to the village, we like true South Africans would have the opportunity to set up for a braai. (barbecue)
Circles in the Forest
So, we walked, chattered; jabbered like the baboons we heard but did not get to see; we slipped and slid our way along the course; we clutched at trunks pulling our way up the mountain and leaned heavily on our staffs as we slipped down again. At about this time “Circles in the Forest” (South Africans will understand) came into its own and we got lost. Thirteen intrepid pensioners, most of whom are travel wise on a world-wide scale, who can read good old-fashioned maps simply got lost.
If you had been there you would have heard the newspaper headlines being formulated, the stories concocted for our grandchildren and sensed my secret delight that just maybe a helicopter rescue would be the order of the day. It was not to be, we missed the picnic dam but eventually made our way back to civilisation and marched along the R324 in high spirits and anticipation of the ice-cold beers and wood-fire braaied meat.
Life is good when you’re a pensioner; in relative health and surrounded by like-minded and spirited people.
Witsand Stappers is a club for hiking and lesser adventurous walks set up in Witsand four years ago, its members are from Witsand and environs. The best way to find out more is to visit our Facebook page . You will need to request membership. Once approved, admin will add you to our mailing list for discussion and planning of the next outing. Outings generally occur on the third Tuesday of every month and alternate between a short-day hike one month followed by a longer overnight or two stay hike. These programs are planned at the final hike of the year.