MABOLA TO PONGOLA
Slurry, snakes and an adventure swim
The instruction from our walking guide, Tarryn Pieters, was simple but effective.
“Stay on the path. There are snakes – mambas. Keep still if you see one and it will move off. But you should be OK, because we’ll see it first,” she said.
There are few opening pronouncements able to bring a group of 20 foot-weary walkers smartly into line. We’d arrived at this point after driving down a dirt road that offered vistas of mountain upon mountain all the way to Swaziland.
A fast-flowing stream called for some careful negotiations as the walkers headed to Bivane Dam.
Our destination? Bivane Dam – the largest privately built dam in South Africa. This dam is fed by the Bivane and Manzaan rivers and collects the water that comes from the mountain highlands that we had visited from the day before.
The dam, which was completed 17 years ago, has brought water security to this drought-prone area, securing 3 500 permanent jobs and 1 500 seasonal jobs on local farms, directly supporting around 30 000 people. In addition, 260 000 people living in rural areas now receive potable water from it.
A LITTLE STREAM WITH A POISONOUS SECRET
The learnings for Day 2 of the #JourneyofWater had started early.
The first stop was Makateeskop, where we were shown the aftermath of a 35-year-old abandoned coal mine. Coal lay exposed next to a large donga, and within a stone’s throw of a nearby homestead was a little stream with a poisonous secret – still too polluted for the local people to drink.
Leanne Manas with Thembisile Zungu and her baby, Asimbonge. They live right next to the stream that is still showing signs of acid mine drainage pollution 35 years after an underground coal mine was developed at Makateeskop.
From here, it was on to the Pinecone Piggery, a farm that has reduced its water usage by half by introducing more efficient, modern methods in the piggery. They also stop the slurry from finding its way into the rivers by keeping it in holding dams and turning it into useful compost that is sold to local farms.
But ultimately the Bivane Dam was calling, in particular the treat awaiting us at the end of our adventure – a paddle down a beautiful gorge on the Manzaan River. To get there, we had the 9km hike which the ever-mischievous Quintin had promised us would be downhill all the way. What he’d failed to say was that there was an enormous hill right at the end of the road.
Here, we voted with our feet, and most of the walkers leapt onto the back of the two bakkies that were ferrying gear to the put-in site. As some of our group were not able to swim, there was a little bit of anxiety about the pending paddle, but the guides were quick to reassure us that the crocs and kayaks were super stable, and everyone would be wearing a life jacket.
And this too was the moment for our extreme swimmer and inspirational speaker, Ryan Stramrood, to step up. Ryan is a man who takes ice baths for a living to prepare for his Arctic swims. He stripped down to his Speedo, sporting the South African flag, and set off well ahead of the rest who, in the meantime, were doing 360-degree circles on the water as they got the hang of paddling.
As we gradually fell into line on the river a pair of African fish-eagles rose into the sky, offering their iconic call as a starting gun. In the distance, we could see Ryan’s arms steadily working his way through the water – leading us home for the day.