Updated: May 4
I remember stepping out of the plane wondering if I had done enough. Clouded by thoughts of worry - “but I have been to this forest before, Lee come on girl you got this. I remembered the day I completed 6-day Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail a couple of years back in 2018 and telling myself Otter, I am coming for you.
Backtrack, it’s 2021 and I have been waiting to hike the Otter trail for a few years now but all sorts of disasters have interrupted this hike from happening. First it was Covid, then the Cancer diagnosis, followed by 6months Chemotheraphy treatment… I know right? Yho I been through the most, but I’m here now and that’s all that matters. Biz tells me he has a spot for Otter in Feb 2022, so I scream “Birthday Vibes babyyyyyyyyy” –I’m a Feb baby, the Aquarian, the water creature, walking alongside the ocean will do me good during this birthday month. I have about 4 months to prepare. I feel a little behind, others have had an advantage with a full year to prepare... shucks ! but all well. I’ve never backed down from a challenge. Game on!
Heck, what do you know Pinkie and sis Glenda are part of the group… kachingggg! Some familiar faces... Good!
Joined the whatsapp group only to see there’s marathon runners… mmaaweeee ! the hell is this ? Comrades? I panic… I mo be left behind, I know that for a fact! But Lee, you’ll have all the time in the world on trail to explore the beauty that nature has to offer…voices in my head convince me to still go for it...
We trained, no, like seriously, we trained. Westcliff Stairs (for my sins), Harties Hiking Trail (the under-dog), Botanical Garden (how we did it was just insane… backpacks circled it twice…I blame this duo, Pinke le Naledi - #NeverAgain), Amphitheatre, Squats, weights, rope skipping…I even had a personal trainer for a short while. Ask yourself, who do you have in your corner that will do everything to see you succeed. LIKEEEEEEEEEEEEEE BONA !!! I have never shem.
I had to be mentally and physically ready. I was not about to miss the beauty of Otter by having a challenging time, blaming it on cancer and being an Ostomate (due to excessive dehydration), in fact I made sure this would be one of my best hikes since remission. Wolkberg was my first after remission and what a disaster… dehydration did me real bad, I kept screaming “this is it for me, I’m hanging my boots after this hike”… but like any true hiker, you get off the mountain and have already planned another one… yup here I was, back at it and training for Otter trail. I done learned, I can achieve anything if I put my mind to it… AND TRAIN!!!
Fast forward to trip day, woke up early and got dropped off at the airport, between Pinkie, Glendah and myself we were already taking lots of pictures while sorting out our bags… like seriously though, I thought I loved taking photos until I met Ous Glendah haha I had met my match! Took the flight. We met Rose, Khanyisa, Lindz and Chanelle at the Port Elizabeth airport… guys wait though I’m still learning to say Gcebega … yho my poor tongue! We waited for the rest of the group and convened outside the airport.
A trip is never complete without a bit of drama-nyana you know. One of the hiker’s bag didn’t arrive and we still had a two-hour trip to Tsitsikamma… do we wait, do we leave and make arrangements... a bit of an almost mess which turned out well thanks to Elvis. If you’ve never been to Tsitsikamma and are planning a trip, Elvis is your man. The sweetest, most kindest man I have met in a while. Let’s just say you will be well taken care of from the time you land at the airport to the moment he waves goodbye back at the airport again when you are heading home, he’s THAT amazing. Needless to say we made a couple of stops along the way towards Tsitsikamma getting this and that yet this dude was just amazing. I even got me a wrist protector which I desperately needed after having twisted my wrist the previous weekend at Drakensberg getting down the chain ladders. It happens kids, it happens...
Day one, the day we landed was almost a waste. We had planned to do activities on this day… turned out we arrived late, so myself, Pinkie and Glendah still persisted to make it an eventful day as planned. We took the boat into the Storms River Mouth in Tsitsikamma… actually wait, I heard Tsitsikamma means a place of many waters in Khoisan language… how gorgeous and accurate.
We then decided to make a return the following morning before starting the hike, for our initially planned Kayaking and Lilo activity. What a freaken EPIC adventure! Listen I was terrified at first. But you know instagrammers and adventure seekers live life on quotes mos, so this one pops into my head: “When you’re trembling that’s when the magic happens” – from the song Spirit by Beyonce. And boy oh boy was Kayaking the ocean scary but AMAZING. I felt too close to water…. Like wayyyyyyyyyyyy too close. But ke you know… the phone had to feature somewhere there for photos mid kayaking LOL.
There’s 11 hikers, it’s the afternoon in the Tsitsikamma National Park, a bit cloudy and we are all super excited in the briefing room after having waited and waited and waited to be briefed... shhhh dont tell them I said that, but we did... little miss impatient over here was like can we start already yho!
Well we were excited because most of us have been waiting for years to do the Otter Trail, one of South Africa’s oldest and most well-known hiking trails, popular with both local South Africans and international visitors because of its incredible scenery. The 45km trail starts at the Storms River mouth and ends at Nature's Valley De Vasselot Rest Camp in the beautiful Tsitsikamma Nature Reserve on the Garden Route where you check out and receive your certificate with much celebration with those around you.
Day 1: Start to Ngubu huts – 4,8km kicks off within the lovely forest close to the coast. Navigating through the forest we found ourselves skip hop and jumping through the rocky most gorgeous path, some well rounded rocks and some sharp as heck.
Along the way we came past the Jerling River waterfall where most of the day-hikers end their day hikes. Whilst having a lekka jol, I could already see interesting group dynamics playing out, but granted the leader, Shezz was concerned about time not being on our side and got us all to pick up the pace a little so we get to the huts before sunset. Nice and easy for the first day I’d say with a lovely sunset.
Day 2: Ngubu to Scott huts – 7,9km, one of the days we were warned about, if anything is to go by, I think most of us trained with this day in mind. Lord have mercy, the sunrise was so amazing, a bit of worship here and there, taking in the morning breeze and splashing waves against the rocks before heading out, music to my ears... I am my dad's child (God)... the Creator, so my soul sings when i'm out here.
The day started with a heck of a challenging steep climbs through the forest. While some had walked on ahead, Pinkie, Glendah and myself stayed behind taking in views of Skilderkrans(and a bit of network spot to connect with home too). What a lovely view.
Journeying through the forest we came across the Kleinbos River where the rest of the team had waited after crossing it. The boys helped us cross and we were on our way again.
The beauty of Otter when starting out early on trail is arriving at the next hut early enough to go and have a lekka dip in the water and still have time for a chat around the fire getting to know each other well… Okay okay I lie, I am lousy at those, sure but I promise I managed to connect with everyone equally on this night around the fire, we even tried some games where someone starts the ”Once upon a time” story and the rest of the group gives life to this story, moving from one person to the next… the creativity around the fire is insane I tell you… but on the same breath when your turn comes and you give a nonsensical follow up, we laugh and kill it right there… onto something else…
I must say for the two days I’ve been on trail I have had the luck of not having to change my bag on trail. If you’ve walked with me during trails and I have been open enough to share with you about my ostomy journey, you’d know the amount of anxiety I go through at the thought of bulging up around my stoma… can people see it, has it ballooned, how long till the next hut… I stress about that, but the courage of having to walk on trail again without fear of judgement, I honestly feel blessed, breathe in and out and poof goes my anxiety because truly life could have taken another turn completely for the worst at that.
Oh goodness and then I almost forgot the late afternoon butt naked showers, Chanelle calles them the 'mapoena-poenas"… where ladies connect and chat, as we take turns to shower… yall know those right? Hashtag OstomateOnTrail right ? yeah I know - imagine how I must felt when we got to that point… No pressure Lee, story for another day guys … where were we? Oh yeah
Day 3: Scott to Oakhurst huts – 7,7km, yhooo di steps tsa Otter bathong !!! but WOW was this day amazing, the views were just begging for shots, I could imagine God taking his time around these areas knowing Lerato (and Glendah LOL) will be passing through one day. The hike was a bit better than the day before, from the top of the climb the view is truly a wonder and the exhaustion of the climb is soon forgotten.