It finally arrived: Thursday, 3 October, the meet-up at Big Bay to register and get set for Walking the Daisies 2013. I wrote my motivation for why I should be selected as one of 200 walkers out of almost 1000 applicants here. Somehow I got through … I’m not sure why – other than that I really, really, really wanted to walk! I had noticed that the selectors had allowed a few more wrinklies in this year, so maybe I was allowed in to fill the Seniors quota (although I seriously doubt that, of course – I am brimming with youthful exuberance!).
Anyway. If 2011 was a display of organisational virtuosity, this year exceeded that by far.
It was clear that things were going to be different as soon as we arrived. A huge overlander stood waiting to be filled to the brim with our gear, Pick & Pay supports Walking the Daisies flags were planted all over the lawn, friendly guides stood at tables waiting to take down our names and hand us our goodie bags, and various volunteers walked around handing out hard boiled eggs, muffins and fruit. The goodie bag was really cool – a coarsely woven bag, probably hemp, with a great pair of knee-high socks from the Hemporium (wow – did those come in handy at the festival; it was cold-cold!), colourful flip-flops from Ocean Minded (got my feet straight into them at the end of day one), a Fresh Living magazine (great for those who like to cook healthy food), a tube of Island Tribe sunscreen, factor 50 (without which many walkers would have been fried to a frazzle). The goodie bags were packed – through the night, I think – with the assistance of Twenty Fifty, a really interesting co-working space I can’t wait to learn more about. Crocs offered walkers 100 pairs of boots at a huge discount. They also pledged to provide shoes to the children in Mamre, a small town we walk through on the way to Rocking the Daisies – one pair of shoes for each pair of boots bought. I bought a pair of super bright purple ones and, like the Hemporium socks, was very grateful to have them when the icy winds whipped up at night.
I had packed pretty badly (got to bed way too late, and had to pack in the morning), so ended up with clean bottoms for Day two, but no top! Ah man! But just before we were ready to set off on Friday morning, the Daisies team had another gift for us – our Walking the Daisies t-shirt! Yay! I didn’t have to walk into the Festival wearing only my bra and a sunburn.
Ocean Minded sponsored the beach clean-up, providing the yellow bags for stashing the junk and the van for hauling it away for recycling. It was quite a colourful sight, 200 barefoot walkers, each armed with a yellow bag, setting off across the beach. We have the most spectacular coastline – endless white beaches that stretch for kilometres between lace-edged waves of crystal water on the one side and shimmering meringue dunes, sprinkled with October blooms on the other. Seen from a distance it looks pristine.
When you look closer, though, it’s a sad, disheartening mess. Plastic and glass everywhere. I picked up crazy stuff, like a hard hat, shoes (always only one of a pair), broken toys and, of course, bottles … so many plastic bottles and plastic bottle tops! What is wrong with people? Why must they leave their mess lying in nature? I would wager a bet that their cars are clean, as are their houses and gardens. As long as my own back yard is clean, why would I care about the beaches and forests?
I became completely obsessive about cleaning the beach, clambering up dunes, walking with my bare feet over sharp shells, stones and dried kelp, filling my bag until it was too heavy to hold the load and tore. I had brought extra bags along, and started filling two of those as well. (I would have filled more, but couldn’t carry all of it, and the beach seemed to stretch endlessly ahead.) Then I would find glass bottles and chase after the walkers carrying the buckets meant for glass recycling. And all the while I was thinking and stewing an brewing: there must be a way of getting more people involved, generating an awareness, getting schools to clean up … I don’t know what I’m going to do, or how, but this plastic gunk lying everywhere is just plain crazy!
We lugged so many bags of glass and plastic across the beach, and still we didn’t even touch sides. But we did something. We did what we could. And so we should every day.
We leave the soft sand for a while, giving our hamstrings and thighs a bit of a break, and walk through fields of flowers. The very wet August and September I have been complaining about resulted in one of the most prolific and colourful displays in years. The Flower Kingdom really showed off, and we were there to see it!
As always, I was in a walking/photography quandary … I just want to walk, to be there, feel my body working, take in the colours, the light and the smells, allow all the stimulation to drive my creative mind crazy … but I also want to slither about on my stomach, taking macro shots of the incredible variety of flowers, climb onto rocks and dunes to take panoramics of the spectacular vistas, zoom in on the happy faces of the incredible people I am walking with. The walking won, and so I don’t have the pictures I would have loved to have had at the end of such an inspiring trip. I think, should I ever get to be a part of this project again, I should go with the express intention of taking photographs.
The end of day one, and my Walking mate tells me we have covered just over 25 km. I could probably walk 25 km in my sleep, but walking on the beach, picking up rubbish, carrying heavy bags, and reigning in the pace from time to time to allow slower walkers to catch up racks up the hours on the feet, and we were all pretty tired by the end of the day, ready to get the shoes off, stand under a hot shower and get a large plate of food into our bellies.
The rows of little brown tents are pitched and ready to receive weary, sweaty, hungry and very happy bodies. It was amazing how things were just ‘there’ – food arrived from nowhere, tents were pitched before we arrived, our luggage sat next to the overlander, waiting to be claimed, dinner was cooked, hot tea and coffee was on hand. It’s as if a band of fairies had been flying about, waving magic wands and just getting things done. I think the Walking the Daisies organisers had made it all look so effortless, that they (almost) ran the risk of being unappreciated.
After an early rise, yoga, a huge breakfast, various tussles with tents that, apparently, are pretty hard to fold up, packing the overlander, a quick lesson in how to plant a tree, and a few roll-calls and team talks, Day two gets underway. I think this must have been pretty hard work for the guides, as trying to get 200 people to walk in single file, off the road, must be pretty similar to herding cats. A stressful affair. Many people were less fit than they thought they were, and blisters and aching muscles started to squeak and groan. Everyone remained good humoured, though, and kept the pace all the way to Mamre, about 15 km away.
The urge to just lie down along the roadside and photograph the wildflowers was pretty big … again. I didn’t have my macro lens, though, having tried to keep the bag weight down as much as possible, and the photographer in me won’t allow me to take happy snappies of flowers, and the walker in me, of course, won’t allow me to slow down.
But one of the walkers was a crazy-passionate man by the name of David Gwynne-Evans. He gave us a quick talk on his project to turn road verges into reserves. He says ‘Despite being the richest, most diverse, and most extensive of our biological assets, they remain unprotected. If the road reserve were declared a nature reserve, it would be the third biggest nature reserve in South Africa, the most diverse in the world by a long way, and the most accessible reserve in the world!’ I was fascinated … I had always wondered why the road verges are mowed, especially when they are awash with colour during September and October. The appearance of daisies and vygies popping up along the roadsides, adding cheer to our road trips, is swiftly followed by the appearance of men in overalls and protective eye-wear, brandishing electric mowers.
So I kept my head down, and stayed on the look-out for the many different kinds of flowers along the way. Needless to say, there were too many to count. And I couldn’t do justice to them on the walk, in the bright light, and with the lens I had. But I needed to bring a few snaps home.
Once in Mamre, we were guided to the Community Garden, where the Greenpop people had already dug holes in neat rows and added some fertiliser to the dug-up soil. They also set a pile of mulch, a wooden stake, a rubber band and a spade next to each hole. All we had to do was slip the little tree out of its plastic bag – carefully, so that the bag could be used again – put it in the hole, pound the stake next to it, tie the tree to the stake, shovel the soil back into the hole, mulch and water. And then we were allowed lunch!
The community garden looked pretty impressive, filled with rows of strong, healthy vegetables, and now rows of strong, healthy (baby) trees. I hope our trees grow and provide food and income for the people of Mamre.
And then there was lunch. Another great spread … roast vegetable and feta rolls, mozzarella and pesto rolls, fruit, juice, chocolates, nuts and raisins … all sorts of stuff! And shade and a little while to sit down, check those blisters, apply more sunscreen, and get to know a few fellow walkers. There were so many inspiring people, living life with a sense of purpose. Creative, interesting people, all with a positive outlook on life and a sense of ‘anything is possible if I just try’. It was a rare and humbling, opportunity.
The best part of the walk is to come: over the hill and down to the Festival! It’s so close we can almost feel the thrumming of the music through the daisy-covered earth. Only 10 km to go! The energy shifts. The blisters seem to evaporate, the muscles don’t ache quite as much, and the people who had been lagging behind are first off their butts and striding on ahead, sunburnt faces beaming with anticipation.
We get off the tar road and everyone can relax a little. We walk along a dirt road for a while and then across a field of flowers. The slight incline becomes steeper … and steeper …
There is less talking, more sweating and puffing … we can hear whoops and yelps of joy up ahead … the walkers who had reached the top are looking down on the Festival site sprawled out below, and they can barely contain themselves. It’s a treacherously steep downhill, and the guides do their best to warn people not to run.
There was no point in rushing, though! We will arrive at Rocking the Daisies as one group, we will leave no man or woman behind, and the guys up front will just have to wait for the guys at the back. I thought the guides were going to have to get out the riot gear! Cheering, chanting, whooping, singing and champing at the bit, we were ready to get down into the valley, see our friends, get the party started!
Finally, after one more group shot, a few more safety talks, a last bit of information, we were on our way. Two hundred walkers snaking their way down the hillside – what an impressive sight!
The Walking mate logs just under 25 km. Fifty kilometres over two days, over all sorts of terrain, with shoes and barefoot.
And then we were there … The walk is over. All that camaraderie, the sharing, the encouragement, the getting to know each other, the jokes, the songs … as if part of a dream. It’s time to listen to some of the best music South Africa has to offer, dance our feet off, shun sleep, exercise and good nutrition … there will be time enough for that when we get back to reality …!
For now, I am just trying to ignore the fact that Monday has swung by already!