Wendy Ross (support team) writes today:
Fifteen days into the walk and the support team is still going strong albeit that the daily tasks seem to be increasing. It has to be said that we are carrying everything with us including the kitchen sink, from the usual camping equipment to the office, a library, musical instruments (although some have now been left behind), hand puppets, educational material , mini SASS equipment, water sample bottles and an endless array of digital equipment, cables and adapters.
The back-breaking culprits of our tasks are the “80 litre lug boxes” (personal belongings!), varying from medium to heavy – a strategy was needed – they are now dropped off at the closest navigable point to our accommodation by the support vehicle. There they are dug into every evening and repacked in the mornings – the only solution for the aging backs of the “mama goose and papa goose” support team as we are jovially referred to!
Getting lost in the forest plantations, nature reserves or the small rural roads seems to be unavoidable at times for the support vehicle – why? – because sometimes the marked roads no longer exist or the tracks are not easily seen from one direction but are painfully obvious on the return route or we just don’t know where the walkers are along the river.
Fortunately, patience and optimism together with common sense or cell phones have saved the day. When in contact, the walkie-talkies, landmarks and the setting sun on the hillsides have been our only way of “finding” the walkers at the end of some very long days.
However, whatever the time or place, the bramble-scrambling or boulder-hopping, the beauty of the river or the beast of degradation, we are always welcomed by loud whopping, cheering and laughter from this mixed bunch of crazy, tired and very dirty team of adventurers. They are something to behold! But they are also something else – determined, passionate and single-minded – the health and well-being of the river is their mission and this is what drives them on this walk to the sea.
It has been a remarkable experience – a bunch of five spirited resolute walkers, an unfaltering two-person documentary team and the staunch two-person support team, a group who previously did not really know each other, are suddenly living in very close proximity with each other without any friction – this is an incredible “family” – of which I am happy to be a member.
We have also had the pleasure of getting to know one another a little better and respect each person’s strengths. This respect underlies the success of this team, that of its connectedness to one another and the river, a connectedness which is echoed in the graciousness and kindness of all the volunteers, helpers, communities and individuals who have given so willingly of themselves and their time, whatever the task.
You have welcomed this motley bunch of travelers when we invaded your homes with all our clobber (I sometimes wonder what you think when we arrive); you have never failed to respond to our requests for this or that; you have cooked and/or delivered the most tasty meals (well appreciated), at times to the most out-of-way places; you have shared in our evenings or walked the river with us; and you have cheered us on along the way. This connectedness between you, us and the river is the success of this venture.
Besides lifting, carrying and spatial calculations to fit all into the “Vehicle” (I daren’t mention its nickname for fear of being left behind, although the others rag about it all the time), the testing of all our driving and navigation skills and the many other tasks we perform, I have had a once-in- lifetime opportunity of following a dream of the last 8 years – to be able to follow the uMngeni from source to sea for an arts project I hope to fulfill – I am not able to walk the river myself but I experience the next best thing – the elation and despair, the never-ending recounts of the day’s adventures, a multitude of photos and the continuous banter and chit-chat of the walkers – this in fact gives me a pretty good picture of the uMngeni River – a gift that I am delighted to receive.
We are presently at Cumberland, a most tranquil nature reserve where our hosts, Stella and John, are spoiling us all beyond words. It has also given the support team time to recuperate and rejuvenate the walkers with its serenity, magnificent views and charming hidden away retreats. It is dark, the walkers have just arrived and the laughter and chatter floats in as they clamber out the back of the vehicle.
By Wendy Ross