When I left off, my travel companions and I had spent a magical evening in the village of Hugel-Bugel (a.k.a. Heuningvlei). We awoke early the next morning for the final installment of our Cederberg adventure: a hike across Krakadouw Pass.
Our guide for the day was Abraham, an ageless, salt-of-the-earth kind of man. Abraham has lived in Heuningvlei all his life. He has worked tirelessly to encourage conservation and responsible tourism in the Cederberg.
Abraham was waiting at our door at 8:15 a.m., the agreed-upon departure time. We weren’t quite ready. ‘We’re a bit late,’ said Abraham. Note to self: ‘Africa time’ does not apply in Hugel-Bugel.
I’m glad Abraham got us going. It was a stunning Cederberg morning. My friend Michelle, the most well-traveled person I know, said this was one of the most beautiful settings she has ever hiked in. She’s probably hiked in at least 20 countries around the world.
We didn’t encounter another soul on our hike, except for birds, two klipspringer (rock-climbing deer), and some baboons calling in the distance.
We spent the first couple of hours on flat terrain, chatting with Abraham about the ecological history of the Cederberg. The Cederberg got its name from a special species of cedar tree that used to blanket this wilderness. The trees are nearly extinct now, due to forest fires and people chopping them down. We didn’t see a single cedar in the Cederberg. (I don’t know why ‘cedar’ is spelled with an ‘a’ and ‘Cederberg’ is spelled with an ‘e’. Go figure.)
We wandered into a sea of giant red flowers. The African name for the flowers is perdekop, Abraham told us. The scientific name is Leucospermum reflexum. Perdekop is a threatened species and exists only in the Cederberg. There is also a yellow species of perdekop, which is so rare that only five or six clutches of them still exist. We saw one group of yellow perdekop far in the distance.
Another Cederberg fun fact: The Heuningvlei River is one of three rivers in South Africa officially deemed clean enough for drinking. It is the most delicious water I’ve ever tasted. Abraham doesn’t carry a water bottle, just a small enamel cup. When he gets thirsty, he waits until he passes a stream, dips his cup, and drinks.
As the morning wore on, we began to climb. The sun disappeared and the temperature dropped. By the time we reached the top of Krakadouw Pass, it was freezing but stunningly beautiful. I was too cold to take a picture.
Abraham told us that Krakadouw Pass got its name from the sound that thunder makes when it crashes over the pass. “Crack-a-DOOO!” I’m not sure if this is true but I love the story.
Should be smooth-sailing on the way down, right? Wrong. Hiking downhill, especially for four straight hours, is freaking hard. At least it was for me, Michelle, and Nina. Abraham didn’t mind the downhill slope. In fact he was often several minutes’ walk ahead of us — his hat a tiny dot winking at us in the distance. This was frustrating, as we felt lonely without our guide and weren’t sure what the big hurry was, anyway.
Our limbs felt heavy and our feet were sore. We were crabby with Abraham, who didn’t seem to understand why we were tired.
We forgot our complaints when we rounded a bend and saw this:
We romped across an idyllic field of white wildflowers and met the burly farmer who runs the Krakadouw Cottages. Abraham then led us to our cottage. We nearly cried for joy.
We lounged on the grassy lawn, dipping our toes into the freezing Jan Dissels River a few meters away. (Nina submerged herself completely, a feat for which she deserves mad props.) We ate oranges from the orange grove down the lane. We drank Nescafe and ate rusks.
We barely cared when a raging brush fire (we later learned it was perfectly under control, set by a farmhand to open up the riverbed) threatened to burn our cottage down. We were not leaving Heaven under any circumstances.
Just before sunset, we went into the wildflower field for a victorious group photo.
An Afrikaans fairy godmother appeared with dinner — fish briyani, lasagna, salad, and (you guessed it) jello trifle. This one was a masterpiece.
Thus, our Cederberg journey came to an end. There were some challenges but I loved every minute of it.
If you’re looking for a relaxing trip where you can leave your brain (and your leg muscles) at home, the Cederberg Heritage Route is not for you. But if you’re up for a little adventure, a little exercise, and a lot of laughing, go tomorrow.