Chapter One: The Final Countdown (Penny Rees)
The final countdown! – the kit is ready the team has arrived in Howick and we are setting off up the highway to spend the night near the source of the Indezi! Joining me on our latest adventure are Preven Chetty, Pandora Long and Sphiwe Mazibuko (our cameraman / movie maker from the uMngeni walk) Doug Burden meets us tomorrow.
Final preparations are in place: I met with Sarah Allan, Chairperson of the Currys Post Conservancy, through which the Indezi River flows – Sarah has kindly undertaken to assist with much of the background information we needed to collect and while pouring over the maps the night before setting off, she said – “Oh – you need to watch out for the guard dog that patrols this farm”. I was still recovering from that tit bit when the next bombshell was delivered “there will be a golf tournament on here, so you will have to watch out for flying golf balls”. I was thrown of kilter! Having walked over 450 kilometres down the uMngeni, Lions, Dargle and Mpofana rivers, never have we once had to worry about guard dogs, let alone being knocked unconscious by flying golf balls!
Today I prayed the golfers aimed straight down the fairway and that perhaps Pandoras gift as a bovine Pied Piper will extend to guard dogs………
Chapter Two: Of Hope and a Helping Hand (Pandora Long)
We started out near Mount West along the 23 km long Indezi River in the heart of the Midlands. How to describe the beauty of this place? The early morning mist, draws back slowly, gently, like a sacred shroud revealing the watershed. The first rays of sunlight reflect man’s ingenuity and reliance on water.
As we start on this new river journey, sparkling dewdrops shimmer across the pristine grasslands and the little rills which soon grow to be drainage lines and little tributary feeders to the main river stem are just faint shadows in an undulating landscape of green and gold.
Amidst the musical sounds of a river being born, the N3 highway sets up a different resonance, jagged sounds that rise and fall as vehicles trapped on a narrow strip of tarmac race uphill and downhill oblivious to the little river that twists and turns in culverts underneath their wheels, as it winds its way down to its confluence with the Lions River.
What a wonderful day to reflect on! I did pipe up the Inguni’s and how I love them, but in the same breath how do I describe how destructive their foot traffic is on rivers and wetlands? This incongruence, was, for me, the theme of the day.
And so the theme played out…past seeps, wetlands, and wonderful wildlife,
then alien invasives and worrying spray drift affecting mature indigenous trees…
now a clear running stream flourishing with life, mayflies, stout crawlers, prongills, crabs, cassisflies…grasslands, forest pockets and butterflies…
then a diversion…
and into a different landscape; beautiful in its own way, nature’s tangle tamed into manicured flat rolling lawns,
trees with exotic shades of ochre, umbers and burnt sienna reflecting off man made waterways and dams,
channels carving new paths on old hills
and silent carts intent on a game where bramble thickets, erosion gullies and suffocating silted rivers don’t count in the score.
Today along the river there were winners and losers. You may ask, “Aren’t there always?” But walking rivers reminds me that that is only how man plays the game. Rivers play a different game, a game with fierce competition maybe, but a game with no winners or losers… for everything works together to the same creative purpose.
Watching a river grow and then struggle past infringements that challenge its integrity is a very moving experience. It’s an experience I wish more of us can participate in and understand. How wonderful that the Curry’s Post Conservancy and umbrella body, the Midlands Conservancies Forum has facilitated this DUCT walk, with generous funding from NTC3. Thank you too to the landowners who have given us permission to walk along the river through their properties and to The Windmills for their gracious accommodation on our first night.
Today I saw Eland for the first time since they vanished from my valley some fifteen years ago and I was overcome with awe at the majesty with which they grace the foothills of the Midlands. I hope that as our eyes draw attention to the Indezi, they can do so with encouragement to strengthen the work that has begun. It is not with criticism that I sketch the sometimes overwhelming challenges of ensuring the health of a little stream, it is with hope and an outstretched hand.
Chapter Three: Indezi, Indezi, Indezi… (Preven Chetty)
Can I get personal today? Ok, thank you then I will. Please bear with me for a meander or two. These river walks for me are a balm for my soul, always when I am at my lowest emotionally, spiritually or in whichever life circumstance I find myself in, I can always count on walking along a river to help me focus on the present moment. Which is why any of us walk, hike, climb, cycle or swim I guess. A break from the incessant march of ones shallow thoughts to the deep realms of nature and ones soul. To be honest with you, I rarely find them, but I always have, at some time on all of the walks. Every brief glimpse into that realm is always a blessing.
The river blessing has always been an essential element of our walk. Before kick-starting into walking mode, we always look for the most suitable spot to dip our hands into the water and recite the verses, which represents our physical and spiritual mission:
With these hands, with this heart,
with the pure intention of God,
This river is blessed,
Removing and transmuting all impurities,
And returning them to the light forever.
Our physical mission is harder than our spiritual one, I think because there are multiple water users along every river, from landowner to informal settlements, farmworker to desk jockey, municipalities to companies, and from small towns to bustling cities. How do you negotiate all these different needs and end uses? How can you get everyone to see the importance of rivers, so that litter is not carelessly thrown from moving cars (because it all ends up in our rivers), or waste illegally dumped when there is a no-one looking. It all ends up in our rivers. How do you stop the release of effluent from factory outlets (because it all ends up in our rivers), rivers being diverted and then carelessly being allowed spill out into the valley lower down (because it all ends up robbing our rivers), how do you stop irresponsible damming and pumping and irrigation? It is all of our river.
It would seem we are addicted to the easy way out, to the quick fix. To meet our needs before the needs of rivers. We lose sight of the importance of these majestic water factories, and before you can even say the word Indezi, she has disappeared, into weirs and dams and golfing estates. I’m tired of environmentalists being all doom and gloom and maybe I am putting out a bleak message because my inward state is also bleak at the moment, but maybe that’s the ticket. Inner pollution leads to outer pollution and maybe, just maybe, our spiritual quest is not that different from our earthly one.
The highway with its constant drone of trucks and cars provided the background to this walk today. The river’s quiet bubbling sound was drowned by the cascade of motor vehicles, families and friends, lovers and loners, all heading somewhere to do something, somehow. But here, along their hurried pace, was the quiet call of nature, merely relegated to the background. This was the contrast that was in my mind while the six of us intrepid (crazy), inspired (weird), passionate (some of us jobless) walkers (Penny, Doug, Pandora, Paddington, Sphiwe and me) hiked up steep slopes and along electric fences that skirted along the N3 highway.
When I looked over the highway I saw tons of cars and trucks, when I looked at the land alongside it, all there was were us lonely walkers blanketed by alien weeds and trees . In places the river is trashed, physically and spiritually. It is neglected and over run by invasive plants, overshadowed by an intrusive highway and a seemingly unconcerned humanity.
How can we achieve greatness as a civilisation when our rivers are so neglected? It’s almost like saying how can we have a great future when our children are ignored? But we are the rivers ‘children’, not the other way around. And the Children have isolated their ‘Mother river’ and allowed harm to befall her.
The nature reserve where the Indezi begins is glorious and few impacts appear here, with scatterings of Zebra, Bushbuck and Oribi dotting the landscape. We slept in the very comfy Windmills lodge right in the heart of this nature reserve and the mist rose and covered the earth with a deep stillness.
I wish I could merge with that stillness and become one with this flowing river before she is canalised and diverted from her original being. I wish I could do the same with myself…
Chapter Four: Minus an Indispensable Team Member
During the Indezi walk we will be minus the invisible (and indispensable) member of our team – Nikki Brighton. Nikki is the person that works the graveyard shift during the walks. As we often overnight in places with bad internet signal we cannot upload the blog, and we thus send Nikki the days photos in batches, then the blog text as a word document (usually late at night after all the other evenings work is completed), and Nikki works late into the night getting it all posted onto the blog. This trip, whilst we are hacking at brambles and getting our feet wet, Nikki will be enjoying a few days respite walking down the Wild Coast. Wish us luck at posting our own blogs! And wish Nikki a well deserved break!
Chapter Five: Thank you!
We would like to thank everyone that has assisted in making the Indezi walk possible thus far. Thanks to Sarah Allen and the Curry’s Post Conservancy, to Rhona van Niekerk and the Midlands Conservancies Forum, to the funders N3TC and to The Windmills Boutique Hotel for our excellent accommodation last night. Thanks to our DUCT General Manager Doug Burden for support and for walking the first day with us. More thanks to follow!