How lovely the gorge looks now that spring has sprung. Wildflowers are beginning to bloom. The dried grass is getting greener following the start of the rains. I love the Fire-Ball Lily and the Grassland Tree Ferns, nestling in the valley where there is a bit more moisture. These photographs don’t really do it justice.
I am a veteran walker with the NHSS (Natural History Society of Swaziland) so I was volunteered to be the sweeper. The backstop. The man at the back of the group that kept us all together. The group leader also knows I am a doctor, so I could deal with the stragglers if they had medical problems.
All went well for the first hour or so, but the sun was getting hotter and a large Swazi man sat down beside the path, sweating profusely. This was his first walk with the group. “How did you train to do this walking, Doc?” he asked me. I told him that I didn’t train, I just walked. “But how long have you been doing walking?” he asked. “Since I was a child,” I said. “I enjoy walking for fun.” “Howww! This is fun? I’m dying, Doc!”
I asked him about his fluid intake. He had drunk a whole camel backpack of water. He was drenched with sweat, his autonomic nervous system desperately trying to cool him down. I asked him about any medical conditions, but he said he was fit. Well, perhaps that was a matter of opinion.
Two of his friends came back to support him. One said, “I’m sweating more than him. I had 10 bottles of Sibebe beer last night. Not the small ones, the long necks,” he said. “It is pouring out of me now.” That is 7.5 litres of 5% lager.
I herded them up and we pushed on up the hill to the next bit of shade. Two small boys wearing ragged tee-shirts and no shoes strolled past us. “Here’s 20 Rand, boy, get me a cold drink,”said the largest man. We were probably 5km from the nearest Spaza Shop (also known as a tuck shop, where coolish drinks might be available).
“How far is it to the waterfall, Doc?” he asked me. I told him that I’d not done the walk before, but it was at least another 2km. “Howww! In this heat? Tell me it is closer.” His pal said, “Let’s just think of it being half a kilometer away. We’ll walk that distance, then stop for 15 minutes, and tell ourselves it’s just another half kilometer after that.” Interesting motivational philosophy.
By now I couldn’t see the rest of the group. I said that I would have to go on ahead to contact the leader and let him know that we were having problems, but I would definitely be coming back for them. One of the group told me not to worry. “We’re farm boys, Doc. We’re Swazis. We can handle this, it is our country.”
The leader had stationed walkers at strategic points on the path to guide us. I crossed a gully and walked up a muddy track in the forest to find Eric, our leader. He told me to send the fat man back to where we had left the cars, with one of his friends. Good plan. Why hadn’t I thought of that? I returned to the stragglers, who had managed another 100 metres before collapsing under a tree fern.
“No, I’m not going back. I can do this, just give me time,” the big man said. I encouraged him to go slowly and steadily, rather than trying to rush until his energy gave out. We were so far behind by now, that I needed to go on to scout out the route, as we were out of visual contact with the main body of walkers.
I waited at the next fork in the path to make sure we went the correct way. While doing so, I took these photographs. The lads asked me, “Seen anything interesting, Doc? What’s that flower called?” So much for being Swazi farm boys!
Eventually, we reached the waterfall and the lads could cool off in the mountain stream. On the way back, I chose to go the difficult route, under Tortoise Head Rock, and someone else had to be the sweeper.