Grocott's Mail

Sunday at Slaaikraal

- AMY PIETERSE

Iwoke up at six on Sunday morning with a strange mixture of dread and excitement. Dread, because I am not a morning person, and because, as someone who is pretty unfit, I was about to embark on a 12-kilometre hike with the Oldenburgi­a Hiking Club. On second thought, maybe the excitement was just nerves.

But my dread was unfounded. The hike at Slaaikraal, a farm just 10km out of Grahamstow­n, was exceptiona­lly beautiful.

There were a few moments where my feet were screaming at me, “What have you done? We do not deserve this!” Yet, for the most part, it was probably one of my favourite days spent in Grahamstow­n.

There is no better way to appreciate the Eastern Cape than to walk it. When we began the hike at about seven thirty, a cool mist was blanketed over the landscape, obscuring all except that which was right in front of us.

As we ascended, the sun rose and the mist gradually dissipated, revealing the shining wind turbines and rolling blue hills.

Everyone also began to sweat more. Walking on a day with a maximum of 33C is not ideal, but being with a group of sociable and exceptiona­lly helpful people makes it feel like less of a trek and more of a heavybreat­hing holiday.

That’s what makes this club such a great idea. Anyone, regardless of age, fitness levels, or willingnes­s to actually hike, will find something to appreciate – whether that is meeting someone new or admiring Grahamstow­n from a different angle.

There is no better way to appreciate the Eastern Cape than to walk it

The hike at Slaaikraal was also informativ­e in various ways. The path went along the old ox-wagon trail from Port Elizabeth to Grahamstow­n, which is now a deeply eroded gorge after years of use. I also learnt that I need to invest in a hat and a second water bottle.

The entire hike, including rest stops, took about five hours. There were moments of ease and joy, and moments of pain-inducing steep hills.

But each time we reached the top of a hill, there was a collective sense of accomplish­ment and awe. Not only did I feel stronger, but I also felt a part of the Eastern Cape landscape, littered with its ever-present aloes.

Despite the stiffness and aches of muscles I never knew I had the next day, I think I will be joining in on future hikes.

I’ll be better prepared and, hopefully, fitter by then.

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