I am on the way to Barberton. My friends in Badplaas tell me the hills toward Barberton are steep, but coming back is even worse, so I am hoping I can get up this mountain… It is scenic but very steep, my legs are starting to feel like they do not want to work any more, and even on flat roads I feel lethargic and breathless. But I have to push on, there are no farms until I get to Barberton, it is all plantations, so no camping and no chance of finding somewhere to sleep.
Just as I feel like I cannot go further and my legs are just not cooperating, the world changes position on its axis and everything becomes uphill. I have never had to put so much effort into just getting my one foot a few centimetres in front of the other. Every single step is exhausting. I considered turning around a few times, just cycle back to Pretoria and pretend I never left. But I dug a bit deeper and soldiered on. When I finally got to the top I could not believe my eyes, the view was exquisite. I climbed over the ledge (I do not condone this type of behaviour) to get some pictures of the sheer drop to the valley below. It is humbling to see how small I am compared to the world I live in.
After catching my breath (From the climb and the view) I prepare for the descent – a 15km downhill winding down the other side of Nelshoogte pass. With red hot brakes and the wind rushing by, I could finally go faster than the crawling speed of the morning commute. Now I am actually looking forward to the slight inclines to slow me down. Ironic, I guess it is like wishing for summer in winter, only to complain about the heat.
The world here is mainly macadamia farms, beautifully kept rows of lush green trees, behind high electrified fences and patrolled by mean-looking fellows on quad bikes. I learned a bit later that macadamias are in quite high demand, and theft is a major problem. There is a black market for nuts in the area. It is nuts!
I somehow manage to pull into a place of rest each night that feels right. I only know this after I pull into the driveway, but looking back I can vouch that God has definitely been in control of my destinations. I was greeted this time with a bit of hesitance and what I can only imagine is the look of a sane person wondering about the seemingly insane person standing in front of them asking for a place to pitch a tent. But I asked for a place to camp for two nights, and was allowed to enter and set up camp. After a bit of a conversation and some coffee and a sandwich, I was told I can stay in the guest room and that I could come to dinner. Once again the hospitality and generosity of people has stunned me.
I got to meet the 16 dogs on the farm while walking around taking pictures of the pretty place – a lively bunch of Jack Russels, a stunning Boxer and a very happy Ridgeback. There is also a Bloodhound and a massive Mastiff that managed to slobber up my jeans on my second day here in three seconds. Literally, I had just washed them and was so proud of my shiny clean pants… and in three seconds I was all slobbery and muddy, but it was fun. I love dogs so slobber is part of the deal I guess.
The couple of days I spent in Barberton were amazing, we spoke a lot about Christianity, life on the farm and Barberton in general. We exchanged stories of family, political history and how much the world has changed. I got to get a feel for how the area has changed over the last few decades. I also got some interesting facts about farming with nuts. I have never considered the implications and costs of farming and producing food. I will admit, I used to see food on the shelf at my local supermarket, and buy it. I knew where it comes from, but now, I have a greater respect for the people make sure it is on that shelf. Getting macadamia nuts out of their shells is quite an ordeal, you don’t just break it open and chomp away.
Day two: Ginger traveller with a green hat vs. Barberton. With my walking shoes on, a map of the town and instructions of where to meet up for my lift back to the farm, I set out to see the town, and meet the Barbertonians (I just made that up). What a pleasant town, the people are all amazing, I was greeted with a warm smile everywhere I went, and got to chat to some of the locals and discovered the nicest coffee shops and sights. After I did the heritage walk through town, in the rain I might add, I could close my eyes and picture the gold rush days, the days when Barberton was a thriving town filled with the dreams of prospectors. The trade posts, the stock exchange and all the hotels and old buildings came alive with an imaginary cast of pioneers and miners. I could see the ladies in their dresses and hats, the men tipping hats as they walked by, and sadly I could picture life during the war. The war memorial in the centre of town serves as a reminder that even in the small towns of South Africa, the war sculpted the lives of the generations to follow – leaving widows and fatherless children, mothers mourning their sons and fathers unable to pass on their wisdom to sons that did not come home.
I was ready to head home to an invite to join my hosts for an evening of fellowship and dinner. We were joined by some other friends from the area and had a great evening. It felt sad to leave Barberton. The place and the people have a way of creeping in and making you feel right at home. We discussed possible routes I could take to get further north, and avoid the areas where there is a lot of violence and protests at the moment. So with maps marked and routes finalized I headed to bed to catch some rest before I resumed my adventure in the morning.
Tomorrow morning I head to Nelspruit, and yes, another pass to conquer. But I know every mountain I conquer is not done alone. And every mountain I conquer makes me stronger and able to conquer more. I just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep at it until the gradient tips. No matter how small the steps are.