Day 2: Paul Roux to Emden Farm (20.4km)
The night at Dunlin B&B was noteworthy for several reasons. The first and most important was that despite my very comfy room, the annual Free State Mosquito and Landbou Convention was held in it. All 18 of the Free State’s finest mosquitoes were in attendance with events such as Curtain Clinging, Acapella Ear Spelunking and the crowd’s favorite, Avoiding the Big Red Eyed Mooing Thing That Keeps Trying to Kill Us. The Free State is down to its last three mosquitoes. I hope they are all male.
Secondly, at around midnight, God arrived and let us know with a very traditional lightning storm. It was spectacular having the heavens shatter overhead. I felt like it was just nature being polite and getting it out of her system for the day ahead. Mother Nature, if you are reading this, thanks for the solid.
My alarm went off at 5:30 and with no small amount of giddy excitement I got ready. We congregated outside of the B&B and had the obligatory photos taken. The air was cold but had the promise of a warm day ahead. The manageress ably juggled three phones and a massive camera for the photo op.
A note on our fellow travelers. They are kitted out in all new gear. Everything from the grieves around their shoes to their backpacks still smell of mainland China. However, they do look incredibly prepared. Dad and I, despite our new bags, were adorned in only the finest old shirts and boots. Our clothes would be missing teeth if they were people.
We were collected from the guesthouse by Doug. Doug is old. Doug is also extremely racist. At one stage I just tuned out of his ceaseless tirade. Fuck you Doug. Eventually the Oranje Blanje Blou wagon dropped us off at our starting destination. The days walk lay ahead. A serene sky with old shadows loomed over the sandstone heartland. We were nervous but dammit were we going to walk.
We were off. The first hour on the first day is defined by nervous conversations. Though we had done similar events before, the uncertainty of what lay ahead for the next week was still present. You just don’t know. Are you going to have a bad time? Will your feet give in before you can even enjoy yourself? At the end of the day, as lovely as the sense of achievement may be, you still want some comfort. It did not take long for the conversation to turn towards ever more trivial things. This is the sign that the mind has become loose and less inclined to worry. With each step, you become more able to do the simple thing you have set out to do – walk.
And walk we did. The sun arched its trajectory overhead and smiled on us. We had our first stop an hour in. Even here the breathing was easier. Dad and I decided to do the polite thing and wait for the Lourens’ (they had taken a while to get going initially and seemed to be walking a bit slower than us). Eventually they came into view and rewarded our politeness by walking straight past.
Dad observed that the sandstone house is possibly the Free State equivalent of the log cabin in rural America. I have to agree. We have seen many and they speak of the practicality of a land that is rich but only when worked. The metaphor was multiplied when we came across peach trees on the side of the road. A sturdy fruit which requires human attention to be edible. Though the branches were laden, the sun had taken its share. The Free State requires labor, but rewards are rich for those who provide it.
Yet Dad and I did not have time for philosophy. We had both realized simultaneously that perhaps this walk was going to be harder than previously imagined. A stretch in the middle found us on a road with nowhere to put our bags down for a stop. As a result, our usual pattern of walking for an hour and then breaking was… erm… broken. We eventually slogged our way to the gate of Vergelegen Wedding Venue. There Dad and I weed on the gate. We also did more civilized things like grab a light snack and stretch.
The final push to Emden had us debate how the Lourens’ were doing. We had overtaken them about an hour prior and had not seen them since. They are not fast walkers but thankfully their company in the evenings is stellar. It felt like we breezed our way into Emden. The accommodation is beautiful. Large rooms and white linen will always win our hearts. With a shower and scrub we turned human though the parade of sweaty finery drying on the pool fence did hint otherwise.
Our hostess was nothing short of attentive. She was quick to provide us with a wonderful array of food for the next day. The afternoon was spent chatting on the veranda and playing with the dogs. The dogs are a motley crew comprised of a large black Labrador, mix breed, their two young puppies (barely a few months each and jet black), a Jack Russell (named Chucky) and a fat daschund. I have listed these dogs for a specific reason.
Nightfall. Laughter is heard throughout the land. The dry laundry has been taken indoors. Dad has put his boots in his room with his socks on top of them. We remain outside on the veranda eating another very traditional “boerekos” meal. Between mouthfuls of peas Dad watches one of the puppies slink into his room. He asks me if he should be worried. I tell him no. Moments later said puppy slinks back out but this time with Dads antique socks. It vanished into the inky black night. Before we have had time to put down our cutlery and mobilize torches the dog has successfully hidden the socks in the darkness of the garden and returned with its tail wagging. Three men with torches #were unable to find two socks that fateful night. Defeated we retreated back to dinner and Dad took to a bottle of wine for comfort. The door to his room now remained closed.
Bedtime. I am reading in my room when Dad bursts in with smears of toothpaste across his face like a dental hygienist geisha:
“Where is your torch?! Was brushing my teeth with the door open when the little bastard took my boot.”