A week ago, I thought I would just be writing a post about our hiking trip. Now, it seems impossible not to also write about events that frame our recent getaway to the southern coast of South Africa.
The hike: the Dolphin Trail, from Storms River in the Tsitsikamma National Park to the Sanddrift River, over suspension bridges, along the coast, through indigenous forest, and fynbos.
The frame: the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in South Africa was announced last Friday (March 6), a man (in the town where we live) who had recently returned from a trip to Italy. On Sunday we left on our trip. Today, nine days later, the total number of confirmed cases in South Africa is 51, and many new developments have taken place in the United States, including a travel ban on several European countries; the closing of schools in many states; colleges, universities, and seminaries moving their instruction to online; and the closing of churches and cancellation of gatherings in many Episcopal Dioceses. So much can change within a week.
Here, church services are still on, but guidance similar that what was in place in the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Maryland (and others) in late February, such as “no-touch” or “low-touch” Eucharists, reminding worshippers that they don’t need to receive wine in order to receive fully the Eucharist, is now on the website of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.
A dear friend has given up worry for Lent. I’m rooting for her. She is a thoughtful, funny, smart, faithful, prayerful, compassionate person. If anyone can do it, she can. Plus, unlike giving up chocolate, or, in my case lemon shortbread bars, who wants to go back to worry starting on Easter Day? It could become a permanent change.
On the subject of worry, Jesus said, “can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 6:27) And, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). When people are tempted to worry about clothing, he advised considering the lilies of the field; about food, looking at the birds of the air. In other words, worrying won’t help solve any problems or fix any situations. What helps? Working for solutions, caring about people, showing compassion, praying. Washing your hands will help. Worrying won’t.
Walking helps too. At least it helped me as we checked into our lodgings along the way and watched the news and learned of travel bans and outbreaks and cancellations. If you can go out for a walk, I hope you will. If you can’t, maybe taking a deep breath and seeing these pictures will help you in the meantime.
So, here are some highlights of our walk and the opportunities we had to consider the lilies (or proteas, heathers, ericas, yellow woods, stink woods, insects, and other creatures along the way).
The Dolphin Trail is a 4 day/3 night slack-packing adventure. You hike from accommodation to accommodation. Someone collects your luggage from your lodging and takes it to the next place where you find it when you arrive. Guides carry snacks, lunches, and water for you. You bring your own day pack with a jacket, camera, whatever you want to carry, and that’s it.
Day 1: Arrival at Storms River in the Tsitsikamma National Park
We got a shuttle from Port Elizabeth to the park and checked into our cabin there. It was super well equipped. It even had an ironing board. At least, I think that’s what that apparatus is called.
Over dinner we met one of our guides, JJ, and the other hikers, 3 couples, from Cape Town, Germany (living in Switzerland), and the UK. We heard about our hike and when we would need to be ready the next morning. We slept soundly, lulled to sleep by the sounds of the ocean waves.
Day 2: Storms River to Misty Mountain Reserve
We met our lead guide, Werner, who gave great information and help throughout the hike. Werner was at the front of our group, while JJ walked at the rear, keeping us all safe, and making sure we knew we could be as leisurely as we wanted, without anyone falling too far behind or getting lost.
The hike starts with a walk through the woods to 3 suspension bridges that cross the Storms River. From the bridge we could see seals in the water. One of them was trying to catch a sting ray.
After the bridges we began our ascent to the first lookout.
Along the way, Werner pointed out details of what we were seeing. Here he’s showing us a eucalyptus tree that has had a ring of bark removed in an effort to kill it. Farmers planted eucalyptus trees, which absorb great amounts of water, in an effort to dry out land and make it more suitable for farming, but is not helpful for the natural balance of the area. Now efforts are being made to eradicate the non-native trees. People found that cutting them down caused 4 or 5 to spring up where there had been one, so cutting the bark off and allowing them to die, then using them for firewood is a better solution.
Other sights along the way:
After a beautiful walk, we arrived at Misty Mountain Reserve, where we stayed for the night. They had peacocks at the reserve—not native, but fun to see, and many mischievous monkeys, who moved too fast for me to take any pictures of them (maybe it was all the sugar packets they swiped from the restaurant).
We didn’t have cell phone coverage or reliable wifi, but we did have a television in our room. We caught up on the news, but fell asleep quickly after our long day of walking.
Day 3: Misty Mountain Reserve to the Sanddrift River
After a delicious breakfast, we made our descent to a beautiful walk along the rocky coast.
At the end of our day of walking, we arrived at our lodgings at the Fernery. This is the view from the restaurant’s deck.
Over dinner that evening, our group compared notes on the hike and our experience. The people who would be returning to Europe in the next little while were a little wistful, expressing gratitude for this time here, and knowing they would be returning to homes changed by the Covid-19 outbreak and developing responses. We all would. Appreciating the beauty of the day, the fresh air wafting in from the balcony, and sharing stories of fun travel seemed extra important.
Day 4: Return to Storms River on the old Storms River Pass, a 4 x 4 drive through beautiful indigenous forest. We met our shuttle and were taken back to Port Elizabeth where we spent the night before flying back to Durban and driving home.
At both airports we noticed right away that changes had been made. It had only been a short time since we had last been at the airports, but hand sanitizing stations and bottles of hand sanitizers had been set up all over. Posters with best practices for keeping healthy were posted. Over the bathroom sinks, signs had been hung telling people to wash hands for at least 20 seconds. We were happy to see it.
We don’t know what restrictions lie ahead, but we are very grateful for this chance to be outside, walking, wondering, and practicing setting worry aside.