#FabSlowJourney goes hiking, part one

The idea of a #FabSlowJourney was born on a #MeetSouthAfrica bloggers trip a while back. The blogs Food & the Fabulous and My Slow Journey going on trips together, combining slow travel and fab food experiences! This is part one of what hopefully was the first of many #FabSlowJourneys!

I recently went on the Perfect Work Trip. I had to do a pre-tour check of a few hiking trails for an upcoming tour that I will be guiding, and I invited a good friend to come along. My friend, the Fab Foodie; Ishay from Food & the Fabulous, is not a hiker and apart from it being an opportunity for the two of us to spend some time together, she would be the perfect guinea pig for the hikes (you obviously assume that people who book a 20-day hiking tour are experienced, but you never know…). The Fab Foodie is (up until this trip at least) rarely spotted more than 5km away from the city center or other area that holds a high concentration of foodie establishments. I never thought she’d agree to this trip, but to my great delight she did (adding under her breath “god help us all”). Never one to take on a challenge unprepared, she spent many hours preparing together with her hubby (or Plus One as he is often known – well you know foodies and all the fab events they get invited to with their Plus Ones). So much in fact, that Plus One decided to come along for part of the trip (perhaps to support his wife, perhaps so that all those hours of training wouldn’t be for nothing?).

#FabSlowJourney

Our first stop was the Drakensberg (or the Berg as it is affectionately known), and we arrived at our accommodation, Berghouse & Cottages just in time to watch the sunset behind the massive Amphitheatre that we would climb the next day. We had dinner by the fire, and decided on an early night as we had to start at 6am the next morning. In fact, the Fab Foodie (who is also a workaholic) had a particularly early start; I found her with her laptop in the bathroom (the only room with a proper heater) the next morning – she had been there since 3am… After a flurry of packing breakfast and lunch packs (very important items for foodies), hiking boots, sticks and cameras we were on our way to the Sentinel Car Park; the start of the Top of the Amphitheatre hike.

Sunset at Berghouse & Cottages

Sunset at Berghouse & Cottages

A small price to pay to be able to go on a #FabSlowJourney whilst keeping the office running!

A small price to pay to be able to go on a #FabSlowJourney whilst keeping the office running!

There was an air of anticipation (and possibly some fear) as we stood at the start of the trail, looking up towards the awe-inspiring Sentinel. Our guide Samson assured everyone that it would be an easy hike, but I could see on the looks of my friends’ faces that they were not convinced. After an hour or so of slowly but steadily climbing upwards, we reached the contour path and everyone perked up considerably (especially Plus One, he claims to be a “contour hiker”) and we suddenly realized how amazing the views around us were. We may have enjoyed these a tad much, at least in Samson’s eyes, as our progress was constantly hampered by the many photo-stops…

The Sentinel, looming high above us as we started the hike

The Sentinel, looming high above us as we started the hike

There was a lot of this happening

There was a lot of this happening…

... and this

… and this

Contour hiking at its best!

Contour hiking at its best!

After another hour (or perhaps a little longer, owing to the photo stops) we reached the biggest challenge on this hike: the chain ladders. Both my friends paled markedly as they looked up at the rather rickety (but completely safe, Samson assured us) ladders that loomed above. To be completely honest, I never thought that the Fab Foodie would make it up; her fear of heights almost making her tremble before we even got close to the ladders. Plus One had a different coping mechanism: while we were busy fixing shoes and ensuring that Samson and I carried all loose items, he had already started climbing. In silent determination he made his way to the top, completely ignoring our calls of encouragement (you know those things that sound utterly useless to anyone facing their fear, like “you are almost there”). As for the Fab Foodie, Samson expertly guided her (always two steps below her on the ladder, providing a sense of safety) to the top. The remaining hike to the edge of the Amphitheatre was fast, with everyone more or less high on adrenaline.

The Ladders

The Ladders

The views at the top are unbeatable! This is without doubt one of my absolute favourite hikes in the Berg. We enjoyed our lunch at the top (probably one of the best hiking lunches ever seen on a trail given that the Fab Foodie is just that, but more about this in a separate blog to come), right at the top of the Tugela Falls (the second highest in the world, after Angel Falls, at 948 meters) and then had a nice and uneventful return. Well, apart from The Ladders. We decided that the scardest goes first, giving the Fab Foodie right of way. As Plus One prepared to follow his face was a study of fear; ashen with tightly clenched jaws and unfocussed eyes. Turns out that this was but one of many faces he can pull, rendering him a new nickname: Face Man. In a (mostly) unrelated incident during a trip to Europe, Face Man confused the mustard bath salt that had been brought along on this trip (to soothe aching muscles) with sugar for his morning coffee. That is one face I would have loved to see (or not perhaps…)!

At the top of the Amphitheatre

At the top of the Amphitheatre

Quite possibly the Best View in the World

Quite possibly the Best View in the World

Not for the faint of heart...

Not for the faint of heart…

Going down...

Going down…

That evening, we toasted to the Big Achievement (both the ladders, and the 7-hour hike in its entirety) in red wine while feasting on a home cooked meal by the fire on our stoep (verandah). I must say, I was incredibly impressed with my friends’ ability to (more or less) take it in their hiking-booted stride! The next day, we had an easier hike in front of us and we all felt rather relieved.

The Berg has a way of making you feel very small...

The Berg has a way of making you feel very small…

Day Two saw us following the Tugela River to the base of the Amphitheater, where the Tugela Falls land. It was more or less a “contour hike” to Face Man’s great delight, following the river through Protea bushveld, cool Yellowwood forests and finally into the gorge. In all, it was a lovely 6-hour hike but given our 7 hours the day before our legs started getting tired towards the end. We decided to keep some wine in the car for future situations like this.

Heading towards the Amphitheatre

Heading towards the Amphitheatre

Another moment of feeling small...

Another moment of feeling small…

The Tugela Gorge. At the end of winter, it is very dry but as soon as the summer rains start coming this part will definitely get your feet wet!

The Tugela Gorge. At the end of winter it is very dry, but as soon as the summer rains start this part will definitely get your feet wet!

#FabSlowJourney

#FabSlowJourney

#FabSlowJourney goes hiking part two to follow soon!

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