Northern Spain Road Trip – Day 6

After 4 great days in San Sebastian it’s time to leave and head for our next stop Lekeitio, via the house and grounds of sculpture Eduardo Chillida. At his house and extensive grounds we’re presented with the evolution of Chillida’s work over a period of 50 years.

The park displays around 40 monumental sculptures made of alabaster, steel and granite, while the farmhouse shows, chronologically, Chillida’s journey through sculpture, from his early drawings on paper and preliminary depictions of the human form in plaster and chamotte through to his most iconic creations.

Walking around the 30 acre site we marvel at Chillida’s creativity. The sculptures silently sit in the grounds blending seamlessly into the surrounding natural landscape. They don’t feel out of place in fact they’re perfectly sited as watchful guardians of their environment. The grounds are a place of solitude and serenity. A meditative space that fills us with a huge sense of peace and calm.

We drive to Lekeitio marvelling at the stunning coastline and wide sandy beaches. We stop for lunch at Deba and chat to a Basque fisherman who on Coronation Day asks us our thoughts on Prince Charles. We advise that we pro-Royals. Our fisherman is an ardent Republican and he advises that the financial embezzlement scandal that engulfed Spain’s previous King, Juan Carlos means he has no time for Royalty. He wishes us happy Coronation Day and we continue our journey to Lekeitio.

Lunch spot by the side of the river at Deba

We locate our lovely apartment where we’ll be staying for the next 5 nights in the port town of Lekeitio.

Northern Spain Road Trip – Day 5

Ae awake to yet another day of sunshine yay. San Sebastian has on average 200 rainy days a year so we’ve seriously got lucky with the weather fairies. We commence today with a cycle to the far end of La Concha beach at the foot of Monte Igueldo, to view three sculptures that are symbols of the city, the Peine del viento (Wind Combs). They are the work of famous Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida and architect Luis Peña Ganchegui. Installed in 1977, the artwork is made of giant iron shapes anchored by pink granite and is spread across three sites. The strangely powerful but mysterious forms are very striking against the Atlantic buffeted coastline.

Chillida anchored to the cliff rocks the trio of claw-like Corten steel sculptures, through which can be seen the horizon-line where sea meets the sky. Chillida grew up in the region in an era when the Basque peoples’ struggle for an independent identity often resulted in violence with the militant separatist group ETA regularly launching terrorist attacks against the Madrid capital. He saw this point at the end of the beach as a ‘meeting place’. Chillida felt he was Basque and believed in identifying with a place, but he was against separation. He wanted the two sides to come together, he believed in people working together, and he wanted to believe in peace.

We leave the sculptures and cycle around the corner to the ancient funicular – over 100 years old – that rises to the summit of Monte Igueldo. The views from the summit are spectacular as we look down over the vast panorama of La Concha beach and the surrounding coastline and mountains. It’s a very clear day and we can see for miles. We make the return funicular journey and meander along the beach.

After a glorious sunny day we head to a sushi bar a order a takeaway with beers and walk to Zurriola beach to marvel at a glorious golden sunset.

As the sun descends below the horizon the Kursaal Palace consisting of two large buildings that mimic two stranded rocks facing the sea provides its own illumination. Sated by the natural and man made illuminations we leave the beach in search of chilled rioja before returning to our hotel to pack in preparation for the next leg of our Spainsh road trip.

Northern Spain Road Trip – Day 4

Sun is shining again, we could get used to this. We cycle around town to the harbour and photograph the iconic La Concha beach steps. The tide is out and so I’m afforded the opportunity to walk underneath them and play with the light and reflections. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to work on my photography. Brownie patiently sunbathes up above it’s a win win for us both.

The Tour de France starts in Bilbao on 1st July this year with 3 stages in the Basque Country before moving into France. A hint of yellow abounds promoting the Grand Depart

We cycle around the harbour and stop for a delicious lunch at a harbour side restaurant – grilled sardines, green salad and fries – and watch the world go by.

After lunch we cycle to Playa de Zurriola the 3rd stretch of golden sandy beaches in San Sebastian and sit on the sea wall catching rays whilst marvelling at bravery of the surfers as they’re buffeted by the strong Atlantic currents.

After a short siesta we visit the Tabakalera a former tobacco factory which has been converted into a contemporary culture centre. Our hotel is part of this building. Entry is free and there are a number of exhibitions for us to wander through. The rooftop terrace affords us with a great view of the city.

Tonight we stay local and bar hop for Pintxos in the Gros area which is across the river from the more touristy old town and about 10 minutes from our hotel. We dine on salt cod tacos in a rich red pepper sauce, baked foie gras, rich garlicky prawns, tun empanadas and beef sliders. Chilled rioja is a perfect accompaniment. The bars are heaving and space is at a premium. We have eaten royally tonight and sleep well.

Northern Spain Road Trip – Day 3

San Sebastian is famed for it’s golden beaches, forested mountains and great food via it’s unrivalled pintxo scene – tasty morsels held together with a cocktail stick. The sun is shining and the weather is set fair for a scorching 30 degrees. It’s the perfect opportunity for us to drive down to Playa de La Concha and get the paddle boards up and ready for a 750m paddle out to Santa Clara Island. It’s just after low tide and the island gains its own tiny beach at this time so we don our wetsuits and start paddling. The water is cool, turquoise and almost crystal clear. There’s a slight breeze but it’s not a difficult paddle. We land on the beach and have a late breakfast of pastries and lay out on our boards catching some rays.

You can climb the Island’s forested paths to a small light- house and a tourist boat from the other side of the bay delivers day-trippers. It’s too hot to wander up in our wetsuits so we give it a miss. The paddle back is slightly more complex as the wind has now got up and the tide is coming in. Initially all is ok but then I fall in after trying to be too clever with my go-pro. Brownie comes to my rescue and steadies my board whilst I haul myself back in. Once again I thank my lucky stars that I’m wearing a life jacket. We constantly see so many paddle boarders not wearing one when out on the water and can’t stress highly enough just how important they are. Anyway I digress, the wind picks up again and we have to paddle hard to make it to the shore and are very relieved to finally haul our boards onto the beach and peel off our wetsuits for a lounge in the sun. It’s been a great paddle and here’s to many more. We return to our hotel for a shower and siesta, we are after all in Spain.

Tonight we walk into the Old town to sample some of San Sebastián’s famous pinxtos. With 15 Michelin stars in and around the city, San Sebastián is one of the foodie capitals of the planet. The city is overflowing with bars so we’re hoping that we’re going to be spoilt for choice. We stop en-route to take in the glorious sunset.

Our first stop is for chilled Rioja and Brownie chooses iberico ham, goats cheese and mushroom. I opt for sardine, creamy cheese and jam. They are both delicious. We’re loving the alfresco dining well alfresco bar hopping such a contrast to chilly London where outdoor dining requires an overhead heater and multiple layers. We wander the Old Town and continue to sample a variety of delights. It’s brimming with tourists and sadly the mixed quality of some of the Pintxos reflects this. We continue to quaff chilled rijoa whilst balancing on bar stools or windowsills.

We retire to our hotel just before midnight after a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Northern Spain Road Trip – Day 1&2

We love a road trip and after time on the road in Africa and the Pacific North West in the past 6 months or so its time to change it up and switch our focus closer to home, Europe. With Brownie’s Spainish improving on a daily basis now’s the time to embark on a 42 day road trip through Northern Spain. When we started to plan this trip we had absolutely no idea just how vast the region was and are already thinking that 6 weeks might not be enough.

Our road trip will see us staying in 14 different locations – 3 in France & 11 in Spain. We leave home @ 5.15am on 1st May with every possible space in the car utilised. If we’ve forgotten anything tough as there’s no room!! We board the 6.50am Le Shuttle and have a complete carriage to ourselves. I repeatedly ask Brownie if we can get the cricket set out as its a perfect place to play but she flatly refuses – boo!!

The route we’re taking to Fisterra with stops along the way. We’ll be returning via Santiago de Compostela, Leon, Vitoria Gasteiz, Bordeaux and Versailles

35 minutes later we emerge from Channel Tunnel at Calais. As it’s a Bank Holiday in France everything is closed and the motorway is deserted. The skies are grey and we’re rained on at irregular intervals. We stop to swap drivers and grab a sleep in the passenger seat. We stop for lunch with a large number of French and manage to find a bench on which to eat our sandwiches. There’s no fast food joints here it’s all delicious french bread and what ever you fancy between the iconic crusty white loaf. Everyone sits outside and the majority bring tablecloths for the picnic tables. The French are just so chic. The drive of 480 miles is uneventful and we sleep well in our hotel just outside Poitiers.

Day 2 dawns bright and sunny and its a lovely 19 degrees!! It’s a short drive today just the 302 miles! We drive down past Bordeaux and Biarritz and onto the Spainish border headed for the foodie capital of the world, San Sebastian where we’re staying for 4 nights.

Lunch break and its a glorious 22 degrees😎

The drive is straightforward but it’s noticeable how many more stops there are for tolls today. It seems like the motorway owner is requesting our money every 40 miles or so. However, their are plenty of rest stops along the way and almost zero potholes so we should be careful of what we wish for. We cross the border into Spain and head for our hotel.

Our hotel, One Shot Tabakalera House is located in the new International Centre for Contemporary Culture of San Sebastián.

We unload the car and pile everything up into our room. Thank goodness it’s a large one otherwise we would really struggle for space. We’re really taking advantage of having a car to literally bring as much as we could including our bikes, paddle boards and body boards. We get ourselves organised find a map of the city and as the sun is shining decide to go for a cycle and orientate ourselves. It’s also a good opportunity to stretch our legs after almost 2 days in the car!!

Well what can I say, there’s 3 sandy beaches here and they’re all quite magnificently beautiful. The Atlantic is bright azure blue and incredibly clear. We take a 7 mile cycle around town and enjoy the sensation of hot sun on our faces. San Sebastian has an excellent network of cycle lanes and we’re very glad that we’ve bought our bikes with us. It’s easy to get around and surprised at just how big the city is. Very glad we won’t be doing too much walking.

La Concha Beach

We go for dinner at a local tapas bar Tribuna Norte close to our hotel and feast on patas bravas smothered in garlic sauce, spainish omelette, ham & cheese croquettes and large juicy prawns glistening with lemon and sea salt. We drink cold cervazas and watch the local team Real Sociedad play Real Madrid with a passionate group of supporters. Sociedad win 2-0 a bit of a turn up for the books but Real Madrid field a slightly weakened side with half an eye on the Spainish Cup final on Saturday and their Champions league semi-final vs Man City next week. A perfect end to a great day.

Day 35 – Dundee to Babanango Valley Lodge

Yesterday’s visit to the battlefields was immense and we’re still talking about it at breakfast this morning. We’ll certainly rewatch Zulu through a new lens when we return home. We awake to bright sunshine and blue skies which is a relief as today we’re back on the road again, this time it’s a short 100km drive to the Valley Lodge at Babanango Game Reserve.

But just before we leave Dundee for Babanango, we go and visit the Talana Museum which is a battlefield site turned heritage park. There are memorials, cairns and 27 historic buildings relating to the 1899 Anglo-Boer Battle of Talana. Spread across the site, there are comprehensive displays of the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer Wars, local history, Zulu beading, glasswork, a very detailed exhibition relating to the local mining industry, a section on Mahatma Gandhi located in the original court house in which he was tried and sentenced on two occasions. This fascinating exhibition focuses on Gandhi’s time in South Africa, Dundee and the context of the rest of his life. Sadly, we don’t have more time to explore the wealth of exhibits.

The drive from Dundee to Babanango takes us through the big skies of Zululand. Zulu means ‘Heaven’ and the vast rolling green landscape is befitting of the name. It’s a quite beautiful drive although sadly the townships and villages that we pass through are evidence of just how much poverty there is in South Africa. We’re stopped by the police en-route as part of a routine stop and upon discovering that we’re British the lead officer jokes about our inability to keep a Prime Minister in post for more than 6 weeks.

Throughout the drive we see a number of white stone circles. We’d seen a number during our Battlefields tour and learnt that these white formations represent the “heavenly Jerusalem”, or “Zion” for a local community of Zionist Christians. The stone circle is a meeting place for believers who don’t require or more poignantly cannot afford to build an expensive church in order to worship in. We see a couple in use with worshippers in prayer but it felt disrespectful to take photos. These enigmatic almost insignificant structures are in complete contrast to the wide open landscape of KwaZulu Natal but feel strongly at the heart of every community.

We finally reach our turnoff from the R68 and join an unmade road. We shake rattle and roll in a cloud of dust for around 10km. The hire car copes admirably and I’m keeping everything crossed that Brownie drives on the way out. I don’t fancy another stint of off-roading!! We finally reach our destination, Babanango Game Reserve. Its the first project being undertaken by African Habitat Conservancy (AHC), established by German philanthropist Hellmuth Weisser and seasoned South African conservation and safari industry veteran Jeffrey van Staden to support the conservation of African wildlife in the north-west regions of KwaZulu-Natal through investment and community development. It’s seen several private game farms and land owned by the local communities brought together to form the reserve. With a range of habitats and varied topography, the Reserve offers mammal sightings, including buffalo, giraffe, nyala, zebra and impala. The Reserve is also home to rich reptile and invertebrate life, and more than 250 species of birds. This will be our first game reserve experience having previously only visited national parks in Southern Africa so we’re very much looking forward to everything Babanango has to offer over the next 3 nights.

As we hand over the keys to the car and our luggage is whisked away to our room, we swiftly come to the conclusion that we’ve landed in game reserve paradise. We’re ushered to our table for a late lunch, order up a G&T and tuck into delicious fishcakes, salad and oriental beef stir-fry. We could get used to this! At 4pm we meet for our first game drive and are introduced to Mr X, who is we discover a fabulous guide and an absolute walking encyclopedia of wildlife, particularly birds.

We commence our drive and almost immediately spot a beautiful black rhino who is a new arrival and unusually for rhinos, quite inquisitive. She’s 3 1/2 years old so hopefully she has many happy years ahead of her at Babanango. Currently, there are 10 black and 18 white rhino on the Reserve and we keep our fingers crossed that we get to see some more of them. As we travel around the Reserve we see Impala, Blue Wildebeast, Zebras, Eland, Red Hartebeast, Giraffes, a nest of 20 Ostrich eggs and 2 Cheetahs.

The two cheetahs are brothers and have only recently been allowed to leave their boma in which they spent 2 months. A boma is traditionally known throughout Africa as an enclosure, stockade or fort used to secure and protect people’s livestock. Boma’s can also be used for wildlife introduction to settle and habituate an animal to its new home. The cheetahs seem to have acclimatised beautifully and look to be loving life on the Reserve.

The cheetah brothers are adorable and we could sit and watch them all day as they gambol around. We head back to the lodge in the dark bouncing around in the jeep after an excellent couple of hours in the bush. Dinner is a gourmet delight and one of the staff team regales us with a Babanango tradition of “Story of the Day”. He recites in sonorous tones an excerpt from Thabo Mbeki’s speech I am an African It’s a powerful, thought provoking end to a fantastic day. We retire to bed with big smiles and fantastic memories. We’ve got to be up a 5am for our morning game drive, god we’ve missed these eary starts!!

Day 34 – Isandlwana & Rorkes Drift

We awake to pouring rain and leaden skies probably appropriate in view of the fact that we’re going to spend the day at two of the most famous battlefields in South Africa. At 8am, we meet our guide for the day, Pat Rundgren, a military specialist guide who specialises in Voortrekker (Boer pioneers who trekked into the hinterland of South Africa during the 1830’s) , Zulu History and Culture, Anglo Zulu War, First and Second Anglo Boer War. We’re relieved that he’s going to be driving us as its pouring and most of the roads are unmade and very uneven.

It will be incredibly difficult for us to envisage how the current green and tranquil landscape of central and northern KwaZulu-Natal was once the focal point of major military engagements without the knowledge, theories and storytelling abilities of our guide. The battlefields where Zulu, Boer and British forces clashed in the bloody clashes that shaped the course of South Africa and rocked the foundations of the British Empire are now just green lush fields and hills with few vestiges remaining to commemorate the sights. Pat commences our tour with a visit to the Isandlwana Museum and Visitors Centre where we watch a short introductory film to give us the context for the battle. We learn that 15km across the plain at the battlefield site of Isandlwana was the precursor to the batle of Rorke’s Drift. It’s here that only hours earlier, the Zulus dealt the British Empire one of its greatest battlefield disaster by overwhelming the main body of the British force in devastating style. This is the bit missing from Michael Caine’s Zulu. Victories were clearly more box office than defeats for Hollywood in the 1960’s.

The rain is still absolutely pouring down and Pat navigates through the growing puddles and drives us to the battlefield. On arrival, he explains that the increasing strengthening of the independent Zulu nation by King Cetshwayo was perceived as a growing threat to the Colony of Natal by the British High Commissioner Sir Bartle Frere and in December 1878 the British government represented by Frere issued an ultimatum that was impossible for the Zulu Nation to accept as it would have required them to disband their army and swear allegiance to Queen Victoria. When these demands were not met, three British columns, under the overall command of Lieutenant-General Lord Chelmsford, made the fatal mistake of underestimating the fighting ability of the Zulus, crossed the Thukela and Buffalo rivers on the 12th January 1879 and invaded Zululand. The Zulus retaliated and on Wednesday 22nd January 1879 the Zulu Army, comprising approximately 20,000 warriors, attacked and overran the British camp at Isandlwana, killing 1,357 men. As we gaze across the battlefield, Pat weaves the tale of the fateful day, the Zulu battle formation and the British tactics. We visit the memorials and white cairns are dotted across the plain. Pat explains that these memorials mark the spots where British soldiers fell. We’re humbled by these unremarkable stone piles that serve as the only reminder of the resting place of the fallen. The Battle of Isandlwana was and remains to this day, the worst defeat ever inflicted by a native force on the British Army. It’s a powerful sobering history lesson to swallow.

We drive to Rorke’s Drift and the rain is relentless. We do the typical British thing and have a cup of tea before the listening to the next chapter of the story. Pat continues our history lesson and advises that as the Zulus left the battlefield at Isandlwana in triumph, 4,000 of them split from the main army and headed for the mission station at Rorke’s Drift. In the film Zulu the battle site is portrayed as a large open plain area. Rorke’s Drift in fact owed its name to Jim Rorke, an Irish farmer and trader who had acquired the land in 1849, on which he had built his home and accompanying storehouse. It was located next to a ford or drift on the Buffalo River. Jim Rorke died in 1875 and the site was purchased by the missionary, Otto Witt, on behalf of the Church of Sweden. Witt resided in the house, and converted the store into a chapel. By January 1879 the mission station was in the hands of the British who rented it as a line of communication and a supply depot, utilising the house as a makeshift hospital and the chapel as a storehouse. Hollywood lied, the battle site is in fact no larger than a tennis court.

Pat takes us around the site and explains how 150 British and colonial troops fought off wave after wave of attacks for ten gruelling hours before the Zulus finally retreat. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded following the station’s miraculous survival. Isandlwana was a humiliating defeat for a British government that hadn’t even ordered the attack on Zululand in the first place. When news reached London both of the massacre and the valiant defence of Rorke’s Drift, the British public was baying for blood. The government duly obliged their vengeful subjects and in just under six months, an enlarged invasion force had conquered Zululand. The kingdom would remain a British protectorate for the next eighteen years until it was annexed and absorbed into Natal in 1897. We walk around the small but excellent museum that explains in great detail how the seriously outnumbered British soliders held off their Zulu enemies.

Its been a fascinating day with so much to ponder. If only all history lessons could be like this. We go for a very late excellent lunch at the Rorke’s Drift Hotel on the banks of the Buffalo River, it’s still raining. Pat our guide has been brilliant, he’s evoked the battles eloquently and with great colour. We will watch Zulu when we return home, but with completely new eyes and great memories of an outstanding day at two battlefields in Kwazulnatal.

Day 33 Amphitheatre Backpackers to Dundee

After 8 wonderful days in the Drakensberg Mountains this morning we’re on the move. We’re driving 150km to Dundee to visit South Africa’s most famous battlefield site, Rorkes Drift. We were born in the 60’s and our only point of reference is the film Zulu starring Michael Caine, Hollywood’s creative take on the Anglo Zulu War of 1879. Our adventure is moving into the heart of KwaZulu Natal province and we’re about to engage in an interactive history lesson that will help us to understand the events of the fateful days of late January 1829

We stop at Ladysmith en-route for some supplies and to post Brownie’s postcards. It’s a busy bustling town and the post office is vast. They find it highly amusing that Brownie wants to buy stamps to send postcards back to the UK. Goodness only knows when they’ll arrive. Ladysmith was founded in 1850 after the British annexed the area, it was named after the wife of Sir Harry Smith (then governor of Cape Colony). It was besieged by the Boers during the South African War from November 1899, until the end of February 1900. The 3,200 men who died in the defense and rescue of the town are commerated in the stained-glass windows and marble tablets of the All Saints Anglican Church. Ladysmith also has some excellent retail opportunities and I stock up on some clean t-shirts.

Our hotel room where we staying for two nights is enormous, the bed is huge and the sheets are of the whitest sofest cotton, a glorious contrast from our room at the backpackers hostel. It’s worth noting at this juncture that our accommodation going forward will I think you’ll notice dramatically improve up the luxury scale. We’ve got 2 nights at the Battlefields Lodge in Dundee and it’s lovely.

Day 31 & 32 – Sunday Falls & San Cave Art Hikes

After a good day of rest yesterday with gallons of wine and an excellent braai it’s time on Day 32 to get our walking shoes back on and head out for our final hike at the Royal Natal National Park and it only seems right to take the Sunday Falls Hike on a glorious sunny Sunday.

It’s a much shorter walk than anything tackled previously with only a slight incline as our legs are still feeling it a bit after Fridays exploits at Tugela Falls. It’s a gorgeous day and it’s great to walk between the beautiful blossoms of the Protea flowers and the lush grass. The waterfall is gentle and its most striking feature is the strong copper coloured rocks of the riverbed.

South Africa has the finest pre-historic collection of rock art in the world with art in national parks and reserves around the country. The most important of these sites are found in the uKhahlmba Drakensberg Park, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the importance of this cultural heritage as well as being an area of natural importance. There are approximately 20,668 individual paintings in about 500 caves and overhangs are heavily protected. Upon completion of our hike we visit the excellent visitor centre at the Royal Natal National Park and they organise a guide to take us on a hike to see the San Rock Art. This is too good an opportunity to see some of the oldest cave paintings in the world.

The San rock art is over 3,000 years old and the only place in the Royal Natal National Park where visitors can view it. Our guide, Sizwe is part of a group of community guides who lives in the village the other side of the Tugela River. He explains how San rock art depicts the religious beliefs and practises of the time, providing us with an insight into the lives of their lives. The San would draw the art in a trance-like state. This trance-like state was brought about through medicine, dancing and drumming. It was a way in which the artist could connect with their ancestors and the spiritual world.

The rock art is quite stunning and our first sight of it is very powerful. The hunter-gatherer San are among the oldest cultures on Earth and are thought to be descended from the first inhabitants of what is now Botswana and South Africa. The painting that are visible depict hunters and their animal prey. The San used red, brown and yellow pigments as paint. They made white paint from white clay or bird droppings, black from manganese minerals and charcoal. They never used blue and green. The blood of an Eland was often mixed with the pigments. They made their brushes from animal hair or bird feathers. It was fascinating to be able to view the rock art and understand the thinking behind it and the execution. We drive back to the hostel to start packing as we’re on the move tomorrow to the Battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift.

Day 30 – Tugela Falls Hike

The Tugela Gorge hike is one of the longer hikes in Royal Natal National Park and is widely considered one of South Africa’s best one-day hikes. The Royal Natal National Park is home to the Tugela Falls – the world’s highest waterfall at a height of 3,225 feet – and today we’re walking to the top, eek!!

We join a young German couple in the 7am bus from the hostel and our guide/driver informs us that it will take around 90 minutes drive to the  Witsieshoek Lodge where we’ll then transfer to a 4×4 vehicle in order to reach the start of the hike below Sentinel Peak.  Its cold in the bus and we’re regretting wearing shorts.  In fact it’s so cold we spot snow on the ground as we get closer to the lodge – what’s possessed us to book this.  We transfer to the rickety 4×4 and immediately can see why a car or bus couldn’t even attempt this road.  Its off road for a start, some severe inclines and littered with rocks and pot holes.  The bone shaking journey takes 40 minutes.  We quite relieved to unfold ourselves from the 4×4 and get the hike underway.

We commence the hike at 10.15am and the trail climbs at a steady pace.  The views are stunning across the valleys. There were some sections where the trail peters out and our guide expertly helps us to navigate through the rocks and at times vertical sections of granite that we are required to traverse.  Overnight rain, now there’s a surprise, has made the rocks slippery and to be frank in parts a little dicey.  Adenaya, our guide senses our apprehension and holds out his hands for us to cling to as we gingerly make our way up the winding path.

The views are stunning and bit by bit we ascend above the clouds. We’re about to reach the most nerve racking point of the hike, the dreaded chain ladders. There are two ladders 75 and 100 feet in length respectively and the only way to reach the falls is by climbing them. In addition, there’s no safety line and definitely no safety net. If we slip and fall it will quite frankly be game over. I’m dreading it. Brownie goes first and is like a blooming mountain goat its quite ridiculous she climbs to the top of the first ladder very comfortably making it all look quite effortless. Its my turn and I’m quaking, my palms are sweaty and my blood pressure is elevating rapidly. I grip the cool metal sides of the ladder and begin my ascent. The wind starts to pick up and the ladder is not completely secured to the cliff. I’m petrified, my foot slips and my life flashes before me. This is horrible I feel sick and want to cry. I call up to Brownie I really don’t want to do this why am I here? Brownie calls down and tells me that I can do this, to take a deep breath and start by putting one foot in front of the other. I breath in and slowly start to lift my foot come on Sellsey you can do this. It takes an inordinate amount of time but I finally make it to the top, mightily relieved but with the penny dropping that I have another ladder to climb up and two to climb down in order to get back to the trail. Adenaya reassures me after I finally complete the second ladder that he’ll make a plan in order to get me down, he’s determined that we’ll complete the hike safely and securely.

We walk across the top of the plateau towards the edge and our pace increases as we get closer and closer to the falls. It’s a glorious sight and we marvel at just how high we are, what a stunning view it is and just how brilliant it is to reach the top.

We take some photos and stop for lunch. After 20 minutes we prepare ourselves for our descent. On the way down the ladders I have another shocker and Brownie has to talk me down both of them from above, reminding me that when an elephant walks it always has 3 points of contact with the ground. I repeatedly ask her to tell me about the elephant and I gain more confidence as I descend. Boy am I relieved when I take the final step on the ladder and reach terra firma. We follow the path back the way we came, we’re exhausted and our pace falls to a crawl. Brownie’s in agony and can barely walk. I relieve her of her rucksack and encourage her to keep going. We finally get to the the end of the hike at 5pm, the whole thing has taken us nearly 7 hours, we’ll sleep well tonight. It’s been an incredible experience and one that I couldn’t have undertaken without the continued support of Brownie and our guide Adenaya. It’s an enormous achievement and one I quite frankly don’t wish to repeat. Watch a video of our hike exploits by clicking here. Enjoy!

Website Built with

Up ↑