A couple of months ago, Craig and I took
part in a few days of something very special. It blended our love for trail,
for South Africa, and for feeling in touch with the natural beauty around us,
with the special pleasure of sharing a wonderful experience with like-minded
It was small in scale, big in dream, and
huge in reality.
It was a pilgrimage – a South African
experience that had a start line, a finish line, and involved a special journey
in between. That journey was not about speed or style, form or fashion. Rather,
it was all about immersing ourselves in the moment, feeling and seeing and
hearing everything around us all at once, and being one with ourselves, each
other and our environment.
It was Indlela yoBuntu, affectionately
known as the Pilgrim Trail – a no-stress, no-pressure 582km trail run on dirt
roads, farm tracks and mountain paths, over 13 days, from Grahamstown to
|The Indlela uBuntu pilgrims|
Back, left to right: Gwenda, George, Laura, Filippo, Neville, Brian
Front, left to right: Kim, Kylie, Roger
The concept was the dream of George
Euvrard, a Rhodes University professor who I met several years ago at the Midnight
Hell Run. George is a special man – he’s humble yet wise, gentle yet strong,
and by his own admission, he has a knack of seeing the positive in everything.
He’s one of those wonderful people who dream big, and have the faith, energy
and determination to turn their dreams into reality.
George’s dream for Indlela yoBunthu is that
of an African pilgrimage of hope, symbolising the way of Ubuntu. He dreamed of the
idea of a pilgrimage from Grahamstown to Cape Town, taking more than 20 days,
and covering over 1 000km. The idea would be similar to the world renowned
pilgrimage the Camino de Santiago in Spain, just without the religious history attached
Instead, this pilgrimage would be seeped in
cultural relevance, enabling those who cover it to experience and explore some
of the big questions of life in an African context – the experience of the
wilderness of Africa, the huge blue skies and deep nights, being in harmony
with that around us, hearing and seeing the life stories of the people and environment
Logistically, however, this would not be
easy to make reality. Much of South Africa’s land is privately owned as farms
and game reserves, without the “right to roam” enjoyed by hikers in much of
Europe. Crossing private farmland and reserves in our country requires permits
and permissions, and is notoriously difficult.
Tackling this challenge one step at a time
(‘scuse the pun), George split the route in half, and in 2011 he walked from
Grahamstown to Knysna by himself, following a carefully researched route that
he’d envisaged. The success of his recce showed such a pilgrimage was indeed
possible, and he set about planning the inaugural Pilgrim Trail for 2013.
He invited a small group of like-minded
runner friends he’d met at various endurance events over recent years, and set
a date of 1-13 September. In George’s words, this would not be a race, but
rather a training run… for life. Between 30km and 60km a day for almost two
weeks – in your own time. Run when you want, walk when you feel like it, swim
when you’re hot, take the time to enjoy the views, smell the fynbos, be a part
of the life around you.
|Kylie, Filippo, Roger and Kim in the Baviaanskloof|
Craig and I were only able to join for the
final three days – from Vaalwater in the Klein Karoo through to Knysna via the
magnificent Prince Alfred Pass – and that time, short though it was, had us
hungering for more. The full contingent – Laura and Brian Bannatyne, Roger
Steel and Kylie Hatton, Kim van Kets, Filippo Faralla, Neville Keevy, and
George and Gwenda Euvrard (Gwenda cycling) – set off from the monastery outside
Grahamstown on Sunday 1st Sept, eventually arriving in Knysna on a
sunny, blue-skied Friday 13th.
And what an incredible experience it was.
No attempt to describe it can do the pilgrimage justice, suffice to say that
there’s nothing quite like sharing with like-minded friends the richness of
being surrounded by the simple, uncomplicated beauty of the Africa we love so
The Pilgrim Trail may have covered +580km
on foot, but everyone crossed the finished line on the final day with their
souls energised, recharged and rejuvenated. A pilgrimage is an intensely personal
experience, and different people take different things from it. But guaranteed
is the growth sparked by such a special time, and every soul is the wealthier for the
It was the pilgrims themselves who put it
so beautifully in their musings about the Pilgrim Trail.
"We are a band of travellers, and this is envisioned as a spiritual as well as physical journey, an opportunity for contemplation, reflection, fellowship, and pilgrimage learning. This is also the guinea-pig run: we're the trail-blazers of what will one day become an established route, continuing beyond Knysna all the way to Robben Island. One day the Red Girl will mark the way for pilgrims to follow on the rocks, walls and gateposts along the route. But for now she can travel with us, swinging from our packs."
|The Red Girl wooden tokens made for each pilgrim|
Kim van Kets on the incredible scenery...
"Of course, the itinerary doesn't even begin to describe the thrill of an early morning leopard and honey badger in a Baviaanskloof valley, the adrenalin rush from a massive puff adder, the hospitality of the communities who fed us and allowed us to sleep in their NG Kerksaals and on their farms. It doesn't do any justice to the camaraderie that develops between the runners over 13 days, and it cannot convey the heartbreaking beauty of the landscape."
... and on the camaraderie of trail running:
"Is it possible that running together makes us better people or brings out the best in us? Is running the magic ingredient for instant and genuine ubuntu, and if so can we force the whole world to go on multi-day trail runs as a matter of extreme urgency? Shall we start a running revolution?"
And I say YES! let’s go forth into 2014 and
start that (trail) running revolution!
Here’s to ubuntu, to the joys of discovery, and to sharing them with like-minded nutters!
|All done and dusted - the pilgrims' last supper|
Labels: Filippo Faralla, George Euvrard, Indlela uBuntu, Kim van Kets, Laura Bannatyne, Pilgrim Trail