Saturday, January 03, 2009

'Hiking' in Groenkloof

Some months ago, while leisurely sitting in someone's backyard enjoying a glass (or two) of wine that same someone (and no one is exactly sure who that was) came up with the idea of all of us going hiking together in the Groenkloof nature reserve, situated not far from the country's capital, Pretoria. Naturally, everyone laughed and laughed and laughed, especially us two - the complete city slickers. Granted my native country could seem to exist as pure county side, but I maintain I was born and bred in a city. Also, our little family's previous address was none other than the biggest city in the world, Mexico City. Furthermore, how was hiking to fit into my wine-fueled and relaxed to the extreme lifestyle? As you can imagine I had more than enough reasons as to why any hiking was completely out of the box: I'm overweight, I drink too much, my knees hurt, I burn in the sun, wildlife freaks me out, etc and some more etc...

But... because you always need to say yes to all invitations if you want to make friends, not to mention to make the most of your expat experience, this morning (a Saturday mind you) we got out of bed at 7AM and were soon on our way towards Groenkloof. The ride from our estate does not take long, so before we knew it we were headed up a trail with giant wildebeest hoof prints going the same way as us. There were also quite a few curious, or perhaps put off (or at least they stared at us a lot) ostriches by the trail. These birds are huge, and when there is no fence between you and them somehow they seem to double in size. Or, I'm just a big baby - something that seemed to be the general consensus amongst the others in our hiking group.

Reaching the top of the first hill we actually came across four wildebeest hanging out only 10 meters into the bush by the trail. After ignoring us for the whole of two seconds they took off in a hurry. These creatures also seemed pretty huge. At that point I was happy I was in a big group. A bunch of guinea fowl followed the wildebeest sighting as did five giraffes from quite a distance. Or,  to put it honestly, others in the group saw the giraffes, I on the other hand apparently need glasses.

The group was pretty excited about the giraffes and hoping to spot some zebras as well, so we decided to make a beeline for the next ridge. Without me being fully aware of what a 'beeline' actually entailed, we soon found ourselves cutting through grass higher than any of us and a murky stream of water at the bottom of the valley. Walking through the grass was pretty cool, I have to admit, as was crossing the water had my sneakers only stayed dry, but at the same time this 'hiking' was getting pretty creepy. I'm glad the park does not have a lion population. 

When we finally made it to the foot of the hill where the giraffes had been, they were of course nowhere to be found. The most athletic guy in our group decided we could climb a straight line up the hill, and catch up to the elusive long necks. At this point, the less enthusiastic hikers (read: all of the ladies) thought it was time for a break and some shade. The group split, the guys and the kids sprinted (I'm totally being nice here) up the hill and would call us if there was anything to see. As we enjoyed some shade no call came and we happily yapped and yapped about books and our book club and the usual, such as what to do with a very nasty looking boil in a 13 year old boy's lip, and how hot is the guy who stars in the movie Australia. You know, the usual ladylike stuff. Finally we decided too much time had passed, we had thoroughly exhausted the interesting boil discussion, and decided to call the guys instead.

The call was answered with a whisper, since they guys were watching seven zebras and five giraffes up close, from about 30 meters away (this however might be a case of the catch getting bigger with every story). My husband was too busy taking pictures to call me and later iterated that 'So and so was going to call you', as did all the other guys, with only the 'so and so' changing from comment to comment. So zero zebras and giraffes for me, lucky we still have two years left in the lovely, if somewhat too wild, South Africa. 

Finally, after tramping on and off the trail for some hours without seeing anything more exciting than running guinea fowl and a yellow butterfly, there was nothing else to do except for head back to the picnic area and start a braai. As I've mentioned before, the braai truly is an institution, and can apparently be attached to any activity (I've so far heard of such oxymorons as church braais and Cricket braais). Again the people were awesome, the discussion was interesting (the guys gave their views on the boil issue), and the food was great. Had there been more wine we would still be in Groenkloof. 

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