Of all the days for me to leave my camera at home, this would be one of them. I can’t tell you all how much I regret it. I doubt there are words adequate enough to describe the gasp-inspiring beauty, the awesome splendor and terrifying visions of danger and DEATH that overtake you as a sojourner through Storms River Mouth…! But I shall try.
Now that the kids are in school, we’ve found ourselves in a familiar rhythm. Get up, drop them off, wait for them to come home, do homework, do work that pays the bills in the hours between, go to church on Sunday, repeat next week. It’s a pattern that is comfortable – and incredibly dissatisfying – and one I hope that we utterly abolish with immediacy. I don’t think there is any existence more dull and soul crushing than the Western Hamster Wheel we just abandoned. This is why my spirit was gladdened when Marshall suggested that we go on a mini excursion on Saturday.
We set off east for Tsitsikama with low expectations. Marshall had been to Storms River 12 years ago when he came on a mission’s trip with Goshen International, and was ‘excited’ to share the adventure with us. Aside from the “highest suspension bridge in southern Africa” he gave no indication about what we might see while we were there, so the kids and I got into the car with very low expectations. Our journey took us down a narrow, tarred road that eventually gave way to a muddy pathway guarded by slender South African youth. They wanted money – all KINDS of money! – to enter a ‘nature reserve but what looked like a grand cow pen being circled by well-fed vultures. And my husband was willing to pay! I rubbed my temples and waited for the ridiculous fiasco to come to an end.
Let’s just go see this bridge and go back home, I thought to myself. It turns out the two older kids were cycling similar thoughts in their minds.
Eventually the muddy path gave way to a newly tarred road through dense bush along a mountain pass. The bush soon cleared at presented us with a view of the great, open sea.
“Whoa!” the peanut gallery exclaimed, and for good reason. The waves were high and the water was Microsoft Word blue. It was phenomenal.
We passed cabins and a handful of hikers along the way before the road ended at a boundary of volcanic rock at the ocean’s edge. We parked and Aya squealed.
“Look! Loooook! It’s so adorable!”
There was some sort of half rat, half rabbit, half gopher, and part beaver thing nibbling on the grass next to a trash bin. Naturally, the kids expressed a desire to take it home as they cautiously approached it. The rat-gopher stopped eating its food long enough to stare them down and give them a chance to back off before it attacked. Fortunately, violence was avoided when Marshall instructed the kids to come along so that they could come see the bridge. It was just as well, because there was a whole family of rat-gophers nibbling on the lawn adjacent to the parking deck! Grant children went squealing and cooing everywhere.
“Those are gussies – rock rabbits,” said a salty South African man in dark sunglasses. With his black leather jacket and weathered skin, he looked like he’d just stepped off a futuristic pirate ship and was in search of a jug of rum in port.
“They don’t look much like rabbits though, do they?” I wondered allowed.
That’s when he dropped a Popeye-ish chuckle my way and wished us all a good day.
By now that kids were at the water’s edge, completely enthralled by the sand, the sea and the beige colored foam riding its crests like the head a freshly poured mug of root beer.
Marshall was pointing out to the horizon. “See how the water looks like it’s above our heads? Isn’t that cool?”
I had to admit that it was pretty cool. The point we were standing on was below sea-level and it was impressive to see how gravity, the hand of God and unicorn magic all conspired together to provide a barrier between us and the deep brown sea.
But wait, didn’t you just say the water was blue?
Yes, I DID. Only on this side, the water was seaweed brown, an illusion courtesy of…
“A waterfall! Oh my goodness! It’s HUGE!”
Again, Grant children went squealing and cooing everywhere.
Just 50 ft or so from the beach stood waterfall hidden in dense vegetation. A cave that resembled a hollowed out ribcage of a theropod bordered it. We would’ve stood and admired it forever, but we were being hurried along by Liya who has yet to learn how to stand still and appreciate things. It was just as well, because we had a long trek ahead of us.
Honestly, it wasn’t that long. The distance from the waterfall to the bridge turned out to be .75 miles, but most of that distance was vertical, on a slippery wooden path, overlooking the side of a mountain that was at least a 500 foot drop, straight down. If you weren’t impaled by a tree on the way down, then the jagged rocks below were sure to finish off the job. And if your body wasn’t carried out to sea by the furious waves, then the daggum rock-rat-gophers were certain to finish up the job by consuming your mortal remains.
It was in this environment that my children skipped merrily along, racing each other and imploring me to “hurry it along” as I took one ginger step after another.
Fresh-faced hikers kitted with professional cameras and NorthFace parkas smiled sympathetically at me.
Forget them. Me and my fat body don’t need no sympathy!
Anyhow, the treacherous ramble was made more pleasant with presence of fragrant flowers in bloom. It was a delicate scent that was carried by the wind rushing in from the coast. We passed trees that had knotted and bent themselves into strange shapes, and listened for wood frogs who suddenly went still and quiet when we did. We walked and walked and suddenly, without any warning at all the bridge appeared!
It looked like a long march to the gates of Hell.
I consider myself an adrenaline junkie, but nothing in me wanted to cross that bridge. Marshall and the girls raced off, leaving Stone and I behind to navigate another set of steps that were built at a 90* angle. (That’s no exaggeration.) Nevertheless, this is what we had come for and cross the bridge we must! We waited patiently for a family to finish taking their pictures on the chain-link, wood and wire construction swaying 23 feet above swirling ocean waters below before crossing to the other side.
And we didn’t die.
Well, there was another beach on the other side of the bridge, only this one was comprised of rocks. Glabrous stones that glistened and clattered against each other under the weight of the waves. Every time the tide came in and retreated, it sounded like…
I have never seen or heard anything like it. It was akin to standing on a mountain of solid hominy grits. My greatest regret is that we did not have a camera to capture that setting.
The sun was setting, so we decided it was best to get back to the car before Africa Dark set in. There was a second suspension bridge that looked like it would cut the distance by 1/5 if we took it. But as the book of African Proverbs says, shortcuts are dangerous. The shorter bridge led us to steps…about 450 steep steps that burned the buttocks with every effort. Stone and I – the two least fit people in our family – were weeping and sweeting by the time we got onto the main path. His father soothed his breaking spirit by telling him about his own struggle to conquer Table Mountain 3 years before. It seemed to calm the boy down. It did nothing for my racing heart. Again, the girls left us behind and were dancing back at the car park when we emerged from the jungle trail.
Remember Salty the South African pirate? Well, before we parted company, he told me that the whales had been jumping earlier in the day.
“You’ve just missed them!” he said with a wry grim.
“Shame,” I replied.
I looked out to sea, grateful that none of my children (or I) had slid down the mountain and that we were truly standing on good ol’ manmade terra firma. The kids were chasing after rat-rabbits when Marshall hollered excitedly.
“Look! Come up here quick!”
I turned just in time to see a mighty splash in the water.
And then another, and another, and another…and yet a few more!
The last whale we saw breached the surface and did a half spin in the air before disappearing back into the depths. That’s when we decided it was time to go home. What a perfect ending to the day.