Slackbacking is South Africa’s answer to hiking-lite; everything is organized by an enterprising company for you from the moment you fill in your personal details online and enter your credit card number. From then on in, there is a guide at hand to assist, firing emails, brochures and other information and doing all the planning and logistics. An itinerary is thoughtfully and meticulously worked out for you, with full board accommodation arranged and other little treats. All you need to do is bring your own day pack and fill it with a packed lunch each day that you hand pick, after tanking up on a sumptuous breakfast.
I just returned from a long weekend of slackbacking, traversing 28 kilometers of the Western Cape coastline, taking in a large number of pristine bays, each quite different from the last; whiter, wider, windier, sandier, sloppier, stickier. Some covered in discarded shells, others big boulders and others strewn with giant tentacles of desiccated kelp. We trekked from Paternoster to Jacobsbaai in picture perfect weather, lapping up eternal sun, sea and surf. Blue skies, white sands and blue and white waves, all stretching far into the horizon. Each new vista being more gob-smacking and mind-blowing than the last.
For most of our hike, we barely saw anyone else walking; the few other people we did see were dotted along edges of the camping beaches, surrounded by tents, and lots of camping gear. It was out of season, being the start of winter, and yet, paradoxically, a perfect weekend for being outdoors. Ideal weather – not too hot, windy, or humid. Those who had ventured out were a mix of retired folks, families and friends, hanging out, fishing, cooking and simply being. What struck me was the time, effort and ingenuity they had mustered in creating their makeshift homes.
My hiking companions told me how ‘being inventive’ was part of being South African, and their way of thinking out of the box. I could see their point as they described the details of the nomadic homes, with makeshift loos, power showers, brimming fridges and coolers charged by chugging generators. One we poked our noses in (the owners were only too pleased to show us around and demo their array of tight fitting gadgets) was a 4×4 tent, that had a double kitchen sink with running hot water, a fold away shower snucked on the side of the 4×4 (also with hot water), 150 litres of water stashed away underneath in an enormous tank, all the electrics you needed to light up the sky and even a well hidden drinks cabinet, with bottles of spirits all neatly lined up. We were all mightily impressed with its cleverness, compactness and neatness.
Contrasting with mankind’s ingenuity, was Mother Nature’s sculptures, huge boulders and rocks carved individually by wind, sea and storm, protruding and jutting from the sand. Many of these extraordinary rock formations were coated and stained in vivid reds and tangerine oranges. After a while, we began to see them, not just as abstract-shaped beauties, but as transmogrified camels, toes, snails, elephants, human faces and other body parts. Perhaps we had been primed since our lunch destination on day 2 was ‘tietiesbaai’ – a name given to a rock that stands out like a breast on the hill behind the sheltered beach. After that, it was impossible not to have evocative Dali-esque moments.
On our way home from a restaurant in the small town we were staying at, we looked into the local hotel that was a melting pot of locals and tourists. At the back we discovered a pokey darkened bar, adorned with rash moments of frivolity. Hanging from the ceiling and the walls was a dense canopy of underwear, of every color, shape and size, many stenciled by their former owners. This room full of cheeky curios is officially called the Panty Bar. It has been in existence for nearly 40 years ever since the former owner, Johan Carosini, started a collection of ‘honeymoon panties’. Our minds boggled.
There is something very weird about these kinds of small Twin Peak towns and their surroundings. Not only do the blistering boulders make you see the world strangely, but so, too, do the local’s antics – letting their hair down or setting up camp – make you imagine being inventive differently.