Botsotso the Outdoor Pantsula

I have always had an interest in the outdoors and not just the great outdoors but also their concomitant cross season action activities equally. Whether it be weekend camping, hot air ballooning, hiking-climbing expeditions or a mere white water rafting escape, corners of my eyes would gleam with sheer excitement at the thought of my person being lost to these in a fit of adrenaline blast. Of course, throughout my childhood these were inaccessible to me because I am but Black, previously disadvantaged and already lived in the ‘great outdoors’.

East Rand’s Tembisa, my then coal smoke misty locale complete with unforgivingly rough and dusty streets, was a perpetual hive of all kinds of activities and had no time nor place for extreme sports or outdoor activities. After all, life was already an extreme sport in these parts as my permanently judgemental childhood friend often quipped. With the regular dodging of the Special Branch chaps, the knife wielding train surfing mapantsula and the dust pounding SDU Committees, Caiphus was in fact correct. Living in Tembisa was indeed an extreme sport. “Entlik ntwana unobungamlanyana wena ne?” He would ask rhetorically as he made judgements on my person and its tastes. “For sure umagriza uzok’bona ungena nedushu-nyana one day uthi umakoti” – he’d then laugh excruciatingly, as if he couldn’t even imagine it, the Neanderthal! He was not alone though, even as close as home. My beloved grandmother, the trusted Mabhalane matriarch to whom I owe my being, equally self-employed herself to remind me of how unusual my preferences were, and thus my life.

Sure, I dated across colour lines and ran through a list of Ashleys and Nicolettes, listened to Jacaranda FM as an avid consumer of the ‘Soft Rock’ genre and read books as frequently as I changed underpants - perhaps a little bit more than my peers did at the time, but in no way did my little-to-no exposure to activities popular among folks of the fairer skin render me a ‘1652’ on the inside and Black on the outside. I refused to accept this nonsensical classification of the different. I digress.

I was 18 when I went on my first outdoor experience, a weekend camp out in rusty but colourful Kommetjie. I had just moved to the beautifully outdoorsy Republic of Cape Town in pursuit of graduation gowns and all that and, in conversation, a rather comfortable friend of six months discovered my love for the outdoors and proceeded to mention that his student jalopy in fact craved an outing. That Friday afternoon, us two and two female acquaintances from varsity cruised down Chapman’s Peak towards sunset, on our way to Kommetjie, camping gear in tow. I needless to say, had found myself.

In the years that followed, I was to discover The Hex River Mountains as being the premium mountain climbing location in the Western Cape, the Silvermine and Cape Point Nature Reserves as spectacular gems for day and overnight hiking and the Matroosberg catchment area as an automatic winter adventure destination. I was to discover over these years also, that I, Botsotso Steven Mabhalane, pantsula lase East, am a hiker.

A very seldom leisurely activity, hiking is commonly defined as simply an activity of going on long walks. In truth and actuality, it is a physically demanding activity that involves the ascent and descent of remote hills, mountains, valleys and gorges not only for purposes of conquering the said ascents and descents but of finding contentment and tranquillity for oneself. It is thus not for everyone.

Folk are introduced to this activity through what hikers call day hikes. These are walks that can be undertaken during the course of a day and completed before the end of that particular day. They in fact measure an individual’s fitness and interest in the ‘sport’. Those who discover at the end of their day hike that the bug has bit, often want more as they eventually get bored by these day hikes. This consequently has them introduced to another level of this sport, overnight hiking. These can range from two-day to fifty-day hikes. In essence, these are long distance hikes and are very addictive.

The one question hikers are always asked is, ‘why? – why do you hike?’ It is not an easy question to answer because the said activity involves tremendous amounts of pain, tolerance, dehydration, injuries and even death. The truest response is to admit to the fact that we cannot help ourselves. We hike because we can, because it brings us inexplicable joy and because we cannot help ourselves. There is a kind of joy experienced by traversing untouched landscape, terrain that no vehicle can reach, terrain that requires guts, tears, sweat and pain to be accessed. As you can probably tell dear readers, this is a special kind of joy. Hiking is also cheaper than therapy [insert a desired emoji].

Over the next few days, I will be taking on what is touted as South Africa’s toughest hutted hiking trail, The Amatola Hiking Trail. Located in the Hogsback region of the Eastern Cape, The Amatola Trail traverses the Amathole Mountains over six days to cover a hundred kilometres. Culture Review Magazine will be documenting my journey on all its social media platforms, updating as and when updates come in from the trail. Do follow me on this journey on all Culture Review social media platforms as well as my own.

Twitter: @skrufu Instagram: bmabhalane