Backpacking at 33. Who’d have thought.

This week’s Cape Town Diaries in fact takes me out of Cape Town. To go backpacking in Kruger no less. Who ever thought I’d be backpacking again at the age of 33? And more serious backpacking then I ever did in my actual Gap Yaaar, when I mostly slept in hostels with proper beds, showers and loos. To be honest, I’d rather be woken up by a pride of lions roaring outside my tent than a weird Australian guy watching me sleep (true story). And I’m going to recommend it to you now. Get yourself out into the wilderness, or just into nature, with your home on your back and the wind in your face. Because the opportunities to do this will become fewer and fewer as cities eat up countryside and we eat up fast food. Plus there’s nothing like a little hardship to make us feel a sense of purpose and achievement; the endorphins get pumping and our hearts beat invigorating oxygen around our bodies.

Ancient Baobab Tree in Mphongolo, Kruger

Not so tall compared to this 1500 year old Baobab tree.

If you watch Instagram stories, you will have seen a multitude of videos I posted after our Kruger trip. In short, we spent a couple of days driving the length and width of Kruger, and 4 days backpacking in the Mphongolo, a remote 55,000 hectare wilderness devoid of any civilisation or infrastructure. The backpacking involved carrying everything we would require for 4 days, excluding water which we would filter from various water holes as we journeyed through the bush. The process of finding where the elephants had dug for water, digging our own hole nearby, skimming off the scum and filling our water bottles from the ground certainly felt Bear Grylls-level intrepid. That and going to the loo in the bush with only your fingernails for protection.

Robert sourcing water from a hole previously dug by an elephant

The first afternoon was only about 4km but my hips and collar bones complained mercilessly, unused to the weight and relentless rubbing of the rucksack straps. Strangely, this pain wore off over the days to be replaced by a deep satisfaction; born from self-sufficiency, enforced digital detox and being completely disconnected from civilisation and life’s many trivial, anxiety-inducing troubles. Added to that, the beautiful, natural world and I felt more at peace then I had done for as long as I can remember. Despite a survival situation on Day 3, when we ran out of water and had to trek 5km in 40°C heat because a water hole had run dry (a minor miscalculation by our guides), and a run in with a rather enormous bull elephant, we emerged unscathed.

After 3 days in the wilderness and thinking I’m tanned. It’s dirt.

When I got into the shower after 4 days in the same clothes (and no washing), there was a rather terrifying-looking sun spider in the cubicle hiding in the folds of the shower curtain. Old me would have screamed and ran. New me, smelly, sticky and desperate for a shower, gently closed the spider back into his shower curtain fold and went about my cleansing. The one thing I had learned, which was true for almost every species we encountered, was that animals want nothing to do with us. Give them space and they will most certainly give you yours. The spider wasn’t going to push the shower curtains back and jump on me. Just like a whiff of a human on foot will see a herd of elephants, pride of lions, or indeed cackle of hyenas, moving off in the other direction. And the sad thing is, there are now so few unspoiled corners of the world where wildlife can retreat and hide away from encroaching human civilisation. We must do everything we can to protect these precious pockets.

Spot the dancing lion in the background. We saw this on foot which is almost unheard of.

A few days after I returned to Cape Town, I was lucky enough to go on a hike with a climber friend who had done the Left Face-Mystery B route up Table Mountain a couple of times before. He reckoned only a handful of people would be doing this route every month and you could see why. After a short stint on the Platteklip Gorge route we left the main path and traversed East across the mountain, using the occasional cairn (a small pile of rocks kindly left by previous hikers) and Mario’s memory as sat nav. The route involved some grade B scrambling, very narrow steep paths and a rather hairy reach-around a precipice/step/pray-type move. We didn’t see anybody else for the entire climb and it was eye-wateringly, jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Left Face - Mystery B Hike up Table Mountain

Left Face – Mystery B hike

You may be thinking, “she’s changed, used to be a party animal” and you’d sort of be right. I’ve taken great pleasure in the more physical, soul-enriching activities to be had in South Africa of late. But never fear, because summer is coming. As are the parties. Bring it on.

H x

PS A few more wildlife pics below if of interest… All taken from the car – you can get much closer than on foot! Albeit not as satisfying an experience strangely…

Nuptial pair of lions

Will they mate? Won’t they?

Hyena pups in Kruger

A babysitter keeping an eye on the pups.

Baboon family

Lilac breasted Roller Bird hanging with the elephants (in the background)