Muscle Cramps and Malva Pudding (Otter Trail Day 5)
Andre to Nature’s Valley, 11 km, 6 hours
It was with sadness that I woke up the following morning and realised it would be our last day on trail together (for that trip, at least). What made this end-of-the-lollipop feeling easier to deal with was laughing at my tentmates. Dehan woke up and got up as though someone had flipped his ‘on’ switch, immediately talkative and ready to go: ‘Home stretch, homeslice.’ Clifford, on the other hand, simply said good morning with a ‘mmm’ and needed a moment to acclimatise before he was ready to engage on a social level …
The morning started with a little rock hopping to cross the Klip River, followed by a steep climb with lots of stairs. NB! Do not forget to warm up and stretch on the morning of Day 5! The stairs claimed one member of our early group: Dehan’s calves cramped so badly that we had to stop at the top, sit him down and find the Voltaren gel.
What a comical scene: Dehan lying back with his legs stretched out in front of him, bum balancing on one of the steps; Clifford and I each taking a leg and trying to stretch and massage out the calf muscles while the Voltaren gel (which does not lend itself to massaging) created little, dried clumps as fast as we were applying fresh gel; and Marno hovering and wanting to be helpful, but unsure what else could be done.
After the climb and getting Dehan mobile again, we enjoyed the respite of the flat path along the clifftop. We fell into a rhythm as we hiked along and my mind emptied in a way I’d never experienced before. Was this what Marno meant when he’d described achieving a trance-like, zoned-out state on a hike once or twice before?
About 6 km on, we caught our first glimpse of Nature’s Valley. We admired the view of the river mouth and reflected on the wonderful few days behind us while watching a Rock Kestrel hover in the strong wind. It’s unbelievable how, despite the wind and its occasional gusts, they’re able to keep their heads dead still!
Nigel was even luckier: Not only had he seen an otter at Andre Hut that morning, but just before exiting the forest onto the expanse of the Nature’s Valley beach, he saw a Narina Trogon! I have, since that hike, been privileged enough to enjoy three wonderful Trogon sightings of my own, but at the time, I was very jealous.
(The birders will understand, but for those readers who aren’t twitchers: you see a Narina Trogon once or twice in a lifetime, unless you spend plenty of time in the indigenous forests of southern Africa. They are silent predators, so although not endangered at the moment, they’re hard to spot since they sit dead still for ages and don’t make a sound.) To the right is a screenshot from the Roberts Birds app.
At the eastern end of the beach, we decided to stop for a swim. Replacing our shoes, though, presented an interesting dilemma: The sand was fine and clingy enough to make a nuisance of itself inside a sock; but there were no rocks close to the water where one could sit and rinse and dry feet before donning shoes.
While I was contemplating how to deal with this oh-so-mundane hiking problem, Clifford unexpectedly scooped me up and carried me to the water to rinse my feet, and back again to where my pack, towel and shoes were lying on the rocks! Needless to say, his own shoes, socks and feet got soaked in the process!
The Otter Trail no longer finishes along the beach. Since SANParks needs to know that all hikers are safe, the finishing points is now at the De Vasselot Rest Camp. After walking across part of the beach, we re-entered the forest, but not before Thapelo had found a small puffadder just off the path and had poked it out of the way with his hiking pole. I was only aware of this because I heard Jess ask him, ever so politely, ‘Thapelo, why are you poking a snake with your stick?’ (Talk about things you don’t want to hear while out hiking!)
The forest road was lovely – although the long grass was laden with ticks – and we enjoyed the last little river crossing and swinging on the monkey vines immensely, before hiking into the SANParks campsite with grins on our faces to find Tannie Joey waiting for us!
After receiving our certificates of completion and taking a few group photos (both very important parts of an experience like this), we went to the Nature’s Valley Restaurant and Pub for lunch. This was partly because it was a necessity to ‘fill Clifford up’ after five days of trail rations, but also because it is tradition to end your trail with a meal here. The tree outside was full of items left behind by hikers who’d completed the Otter. Hanging from its branches, we saw everything from dirty underwear to camping mugs, and Jess sacrificed and decorated her camping plate for us to sign and leave behind as well.
A few of us ordered the obligatory ‘Otter’s Arsehole’ shot, which came with its own version of a certificate of completion. The shots looked questionable and the texture was awful – I think the stuff floating around in the middle like brain matter was Amarula – but they didn’t taste too bad.
Despite yet another impromptu duet with Dehan – this time, of ‘There’s a Hole in the Bucket’ – and a brief moment where we were worried the Malva Pudding was finished, we enjoyed good service, good food and great company before going our separate ways.
Thank you, Tim, for the invitation to join you on this wonderful adventure; thank you, Tannie Joey, for all your trouble and support; and thank you, fellow hikers, for making memories that never fail to bring a smile to my face.
To catch up on Otter Trail Day 1, click here.
To catch up on Otter Trail Day 2, click here.
To catch up on Otter Trail Day 3, click here.
To catch up on Otter Trail Day 4, click here.
To watch Marno's video of our trip, follow this link.