Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sacred Journeys to Longed for Places

St. Gildas 5thC

Pilgrims’ Prayer

In health may I and all of my companions
Safely arrive with no harm or injury –
May my boat be safe in the waves of the ocean,
My horses safe on the highways of the earth,
Our money safe as we carry it with us
To pay due heed to our poor necessities.
May our enemies fail to do harm to us,
However evil the counsels which inspire them,
In the eternal name of Christ our Master,
May my roads all lie plain before me,
Whether I climb the rugged heights of mountains,
Or descend the hollow depths of valleys,
Or trudge the lengthy roads on open country,
Or struggle through the thickets of dense forest:
May I walk always in straight ways and shining
To longed-for places . . .”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Accident and Angels on the way to the Dragon Mountains

Last weekend we went to do some hiking in the foothills of the southern Drakensberg Mountains that stretch for over a thousand kilometers along the interior of South Africa from the Cape in the south, along the entire length of Kwa-Zulu Natal, forming a natural border between Lesotho and South Africa.

Wikipedia: The highest peak is Thabana Ntlenyana, at 3,482 metres (11,420 ft). Other notable peaks include Mafadi at 3,450 m, Makoaneng at 3,416 m, Njesuthi at 3,408 m, Champagne Castle at 3,377 m, Giant's Castle at 3,315 m, and Ben Macdhui at 3,001 m. All of these are in the area bordering on Lesotho; north of Lesotho the range becomes lower and less rugged until entering Mpumalanga where the quartzite mountains of the Transvaal Drakensberg are more broken. The Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga is within the Northern reaches of the Drakensberg, though its geology appears different due to the lack of a Basalt cap. South Africa's Drakensberg mountains are home to the world's second-highest waterfall, the Tugela Falls (Thukela Falls), with a total drop of 947 metres.

Camino pilgrim, Tricia from Empangeni, invited a group of us to spend the weekend at her timeshare in the Bushman's Nek Resort. Tricia drove to Durban to collect Lorraine (also a camino pilgrim) and on Friday morning Marion picked me up, then Glynis and Linda and drove us to Val's place in Kloof. We loaded Val's trailer with food, wine and hiking gear and settled into her Pajero with Amy Winehouse crooning on the radio.
When she tried to start the car it made a strange 'trrrrrrrr.... trrrrrrrrr..." sound. After a few phone calls and reading the onscreen message we realised that the battery was flat. Glynis, our girl-guide supreme, helped Val find jumper cables in the garage, Marion brought her car close to the Pajero and after a while the Pajero roared to life! We were off!
Bushman's Nek is about 250k from Durban. I phoned Tricia on her cell phone to tell her that we would be running about an hour later than expected and she told me that they were almost at Underberg - just 35km from Bushman's Nek.

We had an easy drive to Underbeg but as we reached the small town I got a call from Tricia - they had skidded off the gravel road on a bend, literally flew over a gulley, crashed into the brush and ploughed through brambles and thorn trees, hitting a log jutting out of a deep donga. When the shocked women came to a halt, Lorraine (a physiotherapist) asked Tricia if she was alright.
"My back..."said Tricia.
"Don't move," said Lorraine, "I'm going to see if I can flag down a car for help."
Lorraine got out of the car and fought her way through the sharp brambles to the road ripping her exposed arms and legs.
We came upon them an hour later - Tricia still shocked, sitting in the passenger seat, Lorraine with blood splashed on her clothes, her legs and arms a mess. The badly damaged car had been pulled out of the donga by a tractor, using a chain belonging to another good Samaritan.
Another motorist who'd stopped was on his way to Bushman's Nek and when he arrived there he told them what had happened and they had sent a vehicle to collect all Lorraine & Tricia's luggage. A paramedic and an ambulance soon arrived.
They strapped Tricia to a spinal stretcher and put her in the ambulance. I went with her and Lorraine back to Underbeg to be checked by the only doctor in town while the other girls continued to Bushman's Nek.
The doctor thoroughly checked both women and found that, besides bruises, whip-lash, lacerations and shock, neither had any serious injuries. (Unlike the little car which appears to be a write-off.) The lodge at Bushman's Nek sent a driver to collect us and we arrived at the lodge just before 7pm.
The universe works in mysterious ways. The first car to pass Lorraine was a couple on their way to Bushman's Nek. They offered to drive on, let the lodge know about the accident so that they could contact the paramedics.
The car that stopped next had a chain just the right length to attach to the car and a tractor that was called in to help. The woman in the car said that they had missed their turn and should not have been on that section of the road. "You see, we were meant to be on this road at this time,"
said her husband.
A woman in the second car to arrive said that her mother, who lives 300km away in Port Edward on the South Coast, knew the farmer whose land bordered onto the road where the car had crashed. She called her mother, who phoned the farmer, who was able to radio for help.
Lorraine also contacted her son-in-law who told her that he knew the only paramedic in Underberg, and that he would contact him. The paramedic had not received the message left by the lodge so it was thank's to Lorraine's son-in-law knowing how to reach him that the ambulance and paramedic arrived when they did.
When the ambulance delivered us to the doctor's rooms in Underberg, he told us that for many months there had been no doctor in Underberg. He had only opened his practice a few weeks earlier. So many co-incidences - or, so many Angels sent to help?


Back at the lodge Lorraine had a warm bath to clean the wounds on her legs and arms. She had pretty 'bling' sandals on and we teased her about putting a post on the blog called "Blood and Bling". We shared a veg lasagne that I had made for Friday night and had an early night.
After breakfast in the morning Val, Marion, Linda, Glynis and I set off to hike on the Lesotho side of the border. It was a beautiful morning and after paying R20 each for a permit to cross the
border bewteen South Africa and Lesotho, we followed a path that crossed the river in about 5 places before swinging left up a rocky ridge, high above the riverine valley below. We had missed the path to the Twin Pools and could see people far below us sitting on a rock at the base of the mountain on the other side of the valley. We met up with that group, being led by a guide, when we crossed the river later on.
By the time we got back to the lodge, a nasty wind had sprung up. I stayed with Tricia and
Lorraine - giving them both a neck and shoulders and feet massage - while the others went on a horse-ride - a first for Marion.
By the evening it was a howling gale that grew stronger and stronger during the night, shaking the windows and doors and rocking the lodge on its stilts. Nobody got much sleep and with the wind still howling in the morning we decided not to go hiking but to get an early start home after breakfast.
One of Lorraine's family had friends looking at property in Underberg and they offered to drive her and Tricia back home. We took a lot of their stuff in the trailer. On the way home we stopped at "Puckety Place" - a delightful old house with a farm stall, bottled preserves, cheese, fleece ponchos, hats and scarves, an animal farm and an honest tea garden where you make your own tea, coffee, hot chocolate etc and choose from scones, cakes, or pickles, cheese & bread.
We got back to Val's place and Marion drove us all home.
This was our last country training before we leave in less than 3 weeks time. I had a full dress rehearsal, only taking my camino backpack. Everything worked well but with the 'Berg weather being almost the same as the south of France and the Pyrenees, I decided that we might need a second lightweight fleece and perhaps a scarf and gloves. I also decided to swap one of the shirts I made for an old tried and tested t-shirt.
On Monday, all the clothing I'd used on the weekend was washed and I have now re-packed my backpack - for the 10000th time - and am ready to fly!!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Meetings, training, paperwork etc

Preparations: There is a lot to do in preparing for a long trek (or a series of short ones!) When you live on the other side of the globe you have to make meticulous plans in order for everything to go smoothly. Only then can you walk with peace of mind knowing that the groundwork has been done, that you will make that connection between airport and train and there are no uncertainties about planes, trains or sutomobolies! Once you have decided on an itinerary of sorts - start and end dates agreed upon - all the travel plans have to be made.

We've now had two meetings - the first at Val's place and the second a lunch meeting here last week. I did a vegetable stack for lunch with scallop shell polenta and served it with assorted pestos.
We started off deciding on which airline to fly, where to fly to, how to get to the start of our walk.
We have booked on Iberia from Johannesburg to Toulouse. We will get a train to Lourdes and start walking from there. We've discovered that the times of our flights from Johannesburg to Madrid have been changed from 22h30 to 20h30. Our connecting flights from Durban to Johannesburg will get us there with time to spare. We get to Madrid earlier and have a longer wait for our flights to Lourdes, which have not changed.
We get to Lourdes at 11h10 and we agreed not to rush to get the midday train from Toulouse to Lourdes but to rather have lunch somewhere and get the 14h00 train which is a faster train and gets to Lourdes only 1 hour after the midday train. Making this decision now means that we don't have to bust a gut trying to get from the airport at Toulouse to the train station in an hour.
We have booked a hotel room for the first night, only 15 euro each at Hotel San Etienne, so it won't break the bank!
We've agreed to get a bus from Puente la Reina to Pamplona rather than walk there as this gives us a few extra hours in both towns. We've booked a room at the Hotel Maisonwave in Pamplona (78 euro for the room) and will have a slap up dinner - courtesy of Val who leaves us there to return home, via Barcelona, the next day.
Marion and I leave for Lugo on the 20 June. When I first checked the train times from Pamplona to Lugo, they left at 12h36. Between now and the 13th June they leave at 13h07. We'll have to check the departure times again before we leave Pamplona on 20th June.
Because Marion and I will arrive in Lugo around 10pm, I have booked us in the hotel closest to the railway station, Hotel Muralla. There is only one bus in the afternoon to Ferrol so we'll get an early morning bus to A Coruna and from there a bus to Ferrol. We've decided to start walking to Neda in the afternoon which will leave us with a short walk to Pontedeume the next day.
I have booked us into the Hostal Paza de Agra (where I've stayed twice before) in Santiago, 40 euro for a double room. Marion leaves me the next day and I start walking to Finisterre. Because I plan on leaving after the midday mass, I decided to book into the hotel Tamara in Negreira which has a special rate of 25 euro for pilgrims. The albergue only has 20 beds and its bound to be full by 6pm.
I am planning on taking 4 days to Finisterre and back to Corcubion, arriving there on 30th June.
We have done walks that we did earlier in the year and have found that we are flying up the hills and are coping with long distances. We are still walking on the beachfront twice a week - two new wanna-be camino pilgrims, Phyllis and Eugenie have joined us - we walk with Highway AC on Saturday mornings and doing a long walk ± 20kms on a Sunday. We'll have a weekend away in the 'Berg on the 15/16th May to do some proper hiking in the mountains. Our backpacks are comfortable and mine has remained constant at just under 5kg.
We checked through our e-tickets, insurance, hotel booking confirmations etc. I have sent my tickets, passport etc to the Spanish Embassy with the application for a Schengen Visa. We have all got our FOREX in cash and cards.
I have downloaded strip maps for the route from Lourdes to Somport and profile maps from Somport to Puente la Reina and will photocopy relevant pages from the CSJ & Miam Miam Dodo Arles guide. The three of us will share carrying the maps and guide pages. I've also downloaded guide books for the Ingles which Marion and I will share as well as a guide for the Fistera.
We have got 4 weeks, 3 days and counting!!