Last week was a whirlwind. On Monday I was in the green and gently rolling hills of Dorset, England in the beautiful old Victorian house where I grew up. It was early summer, the buttercups were flowering and even the sheep were smiling. I left with great reluctance after a break that was all too short. By Tuesday night I was curled up on the floor sleeping in a small frozen heap in Doha airport in Qatar in the Middle East. Wednesday night brought me back to a cold and wintery Cape Town.
In early January of this year we decided to abandon the Mother City and take a long overdue holiday. What better than to hike the Tsitsikamma Trail, one of the classic trails of the Garden Route? This stunning six day 60 km hike begins in the small village of Nature’s Valley, wending its way from close to the lagoon mouth up through the spectacular afrotemperate forests typical of the region onto the plateau above before weaving its way through the peaks and forested valleys of the Tsitsikamma Mountains. Sounds idyllic. What could go wrong?
One of the greatest joys of Capetonian life is the ease with which one can escape the intensity of the city into pristine mountain wilderness. Just an hour out of town over Sir Lowry’s Pass lies the stunning, rugged and achingly beautiful Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve. It is here we chose to spend the Easter weekend.
So what do a tuna tin, a paint scraper and several thousand sosatie sticks have in common? Confused? The answer is elementary my dear Watson: all are important tools of the trade in undertaking research into Biological Soil Crusts. Last year I spent two months in Namaqualand assisting a German colleague with her research work and discovering that there is far more than meets the eye to these tiny members of the Succulent Karoo plant community.
Instructions were clear and to the point. “The first rule is not to leave the door open otherwise the mice will come in. The second rule is not to leave the door open otherwise the snakes will follow the mice in”. We’d just arrived at Tandskoonmaak, translated literally from Afrikaans meaning the place to keep your teeth clean. Clean teeth or otherwise, we were feeling as though we’d arrived in a different world, one that was only three hours drive from the bustling city of Cape Town.
The photo above shows Drosera regia, the King Sundew, growing wild in its natural habitat. It is incredibly rare, only occurring in one valley in the Cape Fold Mountain Range of South Africa. There are just two populations with a small number of individuals, making this the most endangered species of Drosera in the world and it is threatened with extinction in the wild. Despite this, the species remains absent from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.