“Ah no….it isn’t….it IS….catch it…quick! Before it disappears!”. Nothing like the sight of a tick trundling across the inside of the windscreen to bring a person sharply to their senses first thing in the morning. Clearly there was a small stowaway that got away after our research group’s bakkie’s latest field trip. With some highly professional multitasking my colleague dispatched our resident blood-sucking beastie and calm was restored once more. It was very early on a chilly Cape Town winter morning and we were heading north to the West Coast suburb of Melkbosstrand to do a 4×4 course.
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.