MY HIKING TRAVEL GROUP
The conversation on the journey from the airport to Venda is so riveting, that even though I’m exhausted, I ditch my planned nap and tune in. In the travel group is Liam, a videographer, Pearl, a pharmacist turned property manager, Jana, an artist, Jenny, a former MK operative, who during apartheid was in exile for about a decade, and now works in government, Liesl, a psychologist following a shamanic path, Eveyan, a property manager, and Renee a GP/homeopath. I’m thrilled about Renee, as she is a friend of mine, and I only discovered earlier today that she is on the trip with me. Then, of course, we have Jeffrey, conservationist, psychologist, and clinical hypnotherapist.
Next to all these impressive professionals, I feel totally inferior.
I dread the “so what do you do?’’ question.
I guess I could say, “Oh, I’m an author, and blogger, soon to be adventurer,’’ but it sounds so fake. And in reality, the bulk of my adulthood has been spent raising my four kids, which most people find totally underwhelming, so I don’t elaborate.
Our first stop in Venda, is a fruit stall, it’s football sized pawpaws and giant avocadoes a testament to how fertile the land is.
ARRIVING IN MUKAMBANI VILLAGE
After purchasing fruit from the venders. We make our way to Mukambani village, where we will be spending the first and last night of our journey.
Our taxi struggles up towards the village, which is high up on the hill, skidding over loose rocks, and navigating ditches. I look out the window, scanning the fields of tea in the valley below.
When we arrive, we are bowled over with warmth, by our guides who are waiting to greet us. There are huge smiles and friendly handshakes, till each person has been greeted in turn by every guide.
Jeffrey has been working with the main guide Nelson over the years to create his unique eco-tours. The two have worked closely to organise this tour, which has involved discussions with chiefs, headmen, the community and a dry run, where Nelson and his colleagues, Themba and Shifiwa, did the walk themselves, establishing the most suitable pathway to navigate between villages.
I’m suddenly wrapped in a bear-hug by Suzie, one of the guides who will be staying behind in Mukambani. She remembers me from my visit Venda 6 years ago. She grabs my bags, ignoring my protests, and deftly puts one on her head.
It’s getting dark, so Suzie grabs one end of my cane and competently guides me up the rocky, uneven steps towards our rondawel.
Mukambani is set up for visitors, so the ronadawel has the luxury of a shower and a flushing toilet. From here on, we’ll be hosted in families’ homesteads, with no running water or electricity and a long-drop for a toilet.
I chat to kitchen staff when we gather at the Lapa. I learn from Jeffrey later, that our chef Jamina has a twenty seven year old son who has studied bio-chemistry, has his PhD in Tuberculosis, and is currently doing post-doctorate studies at UCT. Her younger son is doing his MSc in agriculture at Stellenbosch university.
I come to discover that the Venda people are very committed to education, their children overcoming the odds to excelling at school, often studying in cramped homes with a gas lamp. They achieve the best Matric results in the Limpopo province. Often, the only thing holding them back from university and keeping them in the villages, is not being able to afford the tertiary registration fees.
Jamina’s skirt is made of the beautiful Venda fabric. The two round disks that are connected to the ornament around her neck, represent lilies. I’m told that the lilies mean that even when the wife has children and gets old, she is still fresh like a lily.
Our beautifully prepared supper is what we are served each night on the trip with a variation on the cooking. Three different types of mielie pap, made with home grown corn, spinach, chicken, fish, and the added delicacies of mopani worms and crickets.
EVENING CATCH-UPS AND CONVERSATIONS
After supper, over coffee, Jeffrey leads us through the first of our nightly go arounds.
He asks us to all officially introduce ourselves, and say what drew us to this journey. I listen enraptured by people’s exceptional stories. I’m also blown away by the vulnerabilities of individuals in our group, who I’ve already placed on pedestals. ‘’I was tired of being unhappy,’’ I haven’t been a very good mother,’’ ‘’My professional life has been a bit of a mess,’’.
I throw in my own personal challenges and stuff-ups, ‘’I’m going blind. I don’t feel like I’ve achieved much in life. I’m always so tired. I don’t want to burden anyone.’’
I can see that having a psychologist heading up the walk will be beneficial. I picture us as the walking wounded, and wonder how we will all manage what is going to be a challenging journey. Thankfully, the group seems to be nurturing and mutually supportive.
MISTY MONDAY MORNING IN VENDA
We wake up to a gentle rain. The village and its’ beautiful surroundings are shrouded in mist. Mukambani is high up on the mountain, nestled in a subtropical forest. King Kennedy Tshivase lives here. We can’t see his home, but the stone walls that are at the entrance, are similar in structure to the great walls of Zimbabwe. I’m not surprised that royalty have chosen such a picturesque spot.
At breakfast, I am delighted to discover that, even though we were instructed to pack bare essentials, Renee has brought along a large metal coffee plunger. Once we are fuelled with coffee, we head off on our hike to Makwarane, the first village on our itinerary.