For someone who loves nature, fresh air, wide open spaces and little cabins in the mountains – as opposed to the bright lights and bustle of the city – my two day breakaway to Kogelberg Nature Reserve held some surprising discoveries for myself. We’ve all seen the meme’s on Facebook: “If you could live here for a week but had to give up Facebook, would you?” and “Most girls want fast cars, diamonds and a big house, but some girls just want this >>> [insert photo of cabin in the woods]. I’d checked out the website and was so excited by this beautiful reserve, and yes, I read the notice and reviews that there is no cellphone reception. No problem, two days of mountain vibes, time with my son and some downtime – bring it on!
The two hour drive from Cape Town had me falling head over heels for the Elgin Valley. Yes, of course I got lost and drove half an hour off-course… anyone who knows me would expect that! But this time I blame Google. When I hit a dirt road and Google said the next 15 kilometres would take 54 minutes, I figured I should either be in a 4 x 4 or turn around. A second drive through the Elgin Valley can do no-one any harm, so turn around I did, and eventually made my way to Kogelberg. Thanks to Google, I missed the spectacular coastal drive between Gordon’s Bay and Kogelberg that all the reviewers raved about.
The moment my tyres left the tar and touched the gravel of Kogelberg’s service road, it felt I had entered a magical kingdom. The mountain backdrop coloured with fynbos breathes life into a weary roadtripper and I could feel myself shedding stress, deadlines and routine busyness. Also, at that exact moment, my cellphone shed all signal – aah the syncronicity! Oh well, whatever I hadn’t answered yet would need to wait two days. I was a mom on a mission and with a vision – of a universally accessible South Africa. So this was the most important work right now.
I checked in at reception to a wonderful welcome and run-down of how things work. And, I did ask for good measure, and was re-affirmed that there is no signal. Now we’ve all been places where signal is bad, or intermittent, but somehow with a little patience, some yogic twists of the body to position our phones at just the right angle, we’re usually able to connect with the outside world. This is not so at Kogelberg – THERE. IS. NO. CELLPHONE. RECPTION. AT. ALL. Still no problem, I was relishing being ‘forced’ to switch off and just be.
That is, until I reached my cabin, when I was gripped by something unrecognisable. I was alone with my son, in a cabin in the mountains, with no way to reach the outside world. No phone, no internet, no other people. The kind of holiday I’d dreamed of, but WOW did it feel strange in that moment – almost like being abandoned by the world. If I needed anything, I’d need to either carry or wheel Damian to the car and drive – depending on the need, either to the conservationist’s cabin in case of emergency, or into town for whatever else. No problem during the day – but could I summon the courage in the dark of night to leave our little cabin and make our way to our car? It’s quite a vulnerable thing to imagine, and to ponder whether I actually do have this level of bravery. And why does such an act, just because of the abscence of light, equal bravery, when I wouldn’t give it a second thought in daylight?
I could see Damian was also experiencing something of this, and I explained it was just a different sensation, something other than we were used to that we needed to find different ways of being without doing. We spent some time meandering the boardwalks, unpacking the car and getting acquainted with our accommodation. I leisurely gave us both manicures and pedicures – something neglected in our daily doing, other than a quick once over for basic, necessary grooming! We relaxed in mutual silence, and we relaxed in light chatter together. When he was ready to sleep I sat and wrote – with pen and paper – something as a writer you’d think was an every day activity but actually is a luxury! And thus began the musings of this post as I sipped a glass of red wine and listened to – nothing! In the still of night, where there are no street lights, distant traffic, or background noise of any form – I sat up in bed, my sleeping boy in the other bed, a vulnerable speck in my cocoon in a vast universe and let the essence of this moment wash over me, absorbing it, hoping to carry it with me.
The next morning was sweltering, but we had to at least do one hiking trail – you cannot come all this way, experience this level of vulnerability and freedom, and not take to the outdoors and immerse yourself in nature. After checking in at reception and giving them an approximate time they’d expect us to be gone before sending a search party, and a quick baboon-safety briefing (eek!) we set off up the jeep track to find the Palmiet Trail, which is a 10 kilometer circular easy trail. I knew we wouldn’t manage the whole 10 kilometres, but just wanted to experience at least part of it. We found the trail which started through some thick brush. A few metres in, I was gripped by the same vulnerability – alone in the bush with my son, knowing we could have a baboon encounter, and no way of calling for help in an emergency – and I turned back, choosing rather to stick to the jeep track. It reached a dead-end not too far, so we turned back, and as I passed the Palmiet Trail turn off, my resolve kicked in and I decided to face this new emotion head on and put one foot in front of the other. If I go through life nervous to take risks because there is no-one looking out for me, then I will miss out on some amazing experiences… as I was about to have proved to me! The scary thick brush made way pretty soon and we found ourselves in 360 degree magnificence, teeming with life and an energy unique to the mountains. We soaked it up, along with the sunshine and found ourselves at the river, the flow of water, calming and invigorating all at once. Look what we would have missed!
After our trail, we headed towards Betty’s Bay to go and visit the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens. Another thing I noticed with being switched off from the world, was that because I wasn’t glued to my cellphone, I hadn’t once checked the time! The first time I checked was when we left to go to the gardens, and only because I mentioned to Damian we could enjoy lunch there, then suddenly wondered if it would indeed be lunchtime when we were there!
The moment we hit the tar road, I was actually disappointed when cellphone signal returned and the email and Whatsapp notifications started coming through. How easy it is to get wrapped up in this stuff, that for almost 24 hours we had coped quite well without! By evening, we decided in true tradition of our first two visits to Cape Nature reserves, our second night would be a braai night. Another challenge, to make a solo braai, hoping we’d actually get to eat dinner! I am going to be boastful and delight in saying that I made the perfect braai. We had deliciously braaied food by 8pm! And I’m probably exaggerating on delicious, as it was simple, ordinary food – but considering my new-found braai skills, delicious it would be!
This was a significant visit. Its purpose was to assess universal access facilities in alignment with an MOU we, as Warrior On Wheels Foundation, have with Cape Nature, but I took much more away from this visit. Some new understandings of myself, my challenges, my fears, my strengths, my hopes and my goals. And a new resolve to find regular time to ‘switch off’ and just be.