Spending two weeks road tripping around the eastern half of South Africa was incredible, but constant motion takes a toll on my energy levels these days. With three more weeks of travel still to come, I needed to press pause and sleep in the same bed for more than a night or two. To combat long-haul holiday fatigue we decided to post up at Waterval Boven for the week.
Waterval Boven translates to “below the waterfall,” and offers world class sport climbing in perhaps the most scenic location I’ve ever clipped bolts— a sweeping coral-hued canyon that stands in striking contrast with the greenery surrounding it. While scaling the walls you can catch your breath while enjoying views of the dramatic waterfall and the river flowing far below. We stayed in the town center at a hostel set up for climbers, where a nice group of locals adopted us, shepherding us around and sharing communal dinners. Waking up every day and only having to think about what route I wanted to try was a welcome respite.
And while the climbs were well-bolted, the people lovely and the views epic, a lot of my time there was tainted by anxiety. To reach one of the crags you had to cross through a pitch black railroad tunnel, where I was told if I heard a train to immediately take off my backpack and press my body against the wall. During a different approach I rounded a corner to find a spitting cobra in the middle of the trail. The previous week a woman had been rushed to the hospital after receiving a direct hit in the eyes from one hidden in a crevice on the wall. In the late afternoon thunderstorms would roll in, and everyone would run to hunker together in a little cave, evidence of lightening strikes along the ridge a tangible reminder not to rush back to the car until we were sure the storm had passed.
One day Gary opted out of climbing to sit on the porcelain throne, and when I told some of the local climbers hanging out in the kitchen that I was going to run out and grab him some crackers, they looked gravely at one another before all three of them rose to accompany me around the block to the shop. “I know it’s 10am, but it’s just really not safe for you to be out on your own,” one of them explained. During the day groups would pair off to climb in different locations, but always a time was set to walk out together, a collective effort to prevent muggings. A month before at the other climber accommodation on the rim of the canyon, one such mugging ended in a fatal shooting.
Which is to say, while I enjoyed moving my body, getting some fresh air, and having a consistent base, the trip wasn’t exactly the relaxing pause I had in mind. In the future I’ll avoid any spots with excess risk while planning a trip to go cragging, climbing itself is enough of an adventure for me.