Quest Africa Kaba – the first five weeks
The trenchant wind howls through the air, stinging our skin as it chills us to the bone. Ubiquitous as the wind in the Eastern Cape seemed, the wind felt ten times as strong where we were standing. We stood upon the apex of our farm, a comfortable retreat from the demands of our rapidly growing world, in which all other cares or responsibilities seemed peripheral to our monogamous goal of staring at the sun setting over the undulating dunes of Algoa bay. “This is very different.” I thought to myself. We had just finished seven months at Quest Africa in Zimbabwe. A place where the rugged bush and scorching sun was our home, had now switched to the woody cape, filled with an abundance of rolling hills and green pastures. The acacia bushes, covered with thorns about as long as a seven inch screwdriver, seemed to be the prolific flora of the farm. I quickly left my thoughts and looked away from the Sahara desert dunes and gave Matt Macray a furtive glance, as we both felt that same nauseating sense of trepidation that everyone feels on a first day. This was the first day of the inaugural Quest Marines programme in Kaba, Eastern Cape. We turned back, walking to the Land Cruiser, which would take us back to camp. “This is it.” I thought. For six weeks, this is our new home.
The Quest Marines programme has been an awesome experience. We are five weeks down and we have gleaned a wealth of new skills, adventures and stories. Over the last few weeks we have been involved in: Scuba diving, skippering, horse riding, rock climbing, marine ecology, fishing, paddling, mountain biking, birding, and some hands on farming experience.
Perilous waters! On top and underneath!
In the first week we headed out to Port Alfred to complete a scuba diving course as well as completing our skipper’s license with Outdoor Focus. These two areas was one of the most highly anticipated areas for me and Matt. Two weeks would be spent becoming proficient in scuba diving and skippering. The first few days were theory and training all designed to educate us in understanding the gear and all the skills critical for the safety and enjoyment of the dive. We spent the next two days in the training pool, learning all the underwater skills necessary to qualify as a diver. We cut through the practical part of our training quickly, and saw ourselves prepared to take on the murky depths of the Port Alfred waters.
For our first dive we kitted up on the boat, ready to dive over backwards for our first sea dive. I steeled my nerves as our instructor Kieran shouted “over in 3, 2, 1.” We went over the side, bobbed back up to give the okay before descending into the murky depths. As we descended the first panicky breath of compressed air shot through my lungs, body disorientated from panic as my brain raced off with its thoughts. As my breathing slowed and the lung nectar filled my alveoli sacs, surges of focus and calm spread through my body, I could really begin to absorb my surroundings. The miraculous details of life under the sea gripped my attention like a vice. Having so often floated, drifted, swum or snorkeled, I was now right underneath, a place of brand new discovery and surreal interface.
Throughout all the dives we had some sublime experiences. This new sense of tangible fantasy becomes reality. Anemones explode with vibrant colours, the fish curiously approach, the corals are mercurial and the details of life completely pervasive. We saw copious amounts of ragged tooth sharks (one of the most sought after things to see in a dive) phlegmatic by nature, we could really get up close and personal to them. On the whole scuba diving is an addictive activity. I’m sure anyone who has dived before will acquiesce with me. Diving is one of a kind.
The life of a true fisherman
Fishing is one of the core focuses of the Quest Marines and we have had many great fishing experiences. None of the other experiences were more exciting than the fishing experience involved fishing at Kenton on the estuary, which gave me true insight and enlightenment into this wonderful sport of fishing. I truly came to appreciate it as I somehow managed to catch my hook, sinker and entire line in the thorn trees and bushes. I crashed through thorn bushes for about an hour and a half trying to locate my hook and sinker throughout the thick undergrowth. “Wow my fishing knowledge is really augmenting.” I thought to myself. “I love this; I mean look at all these new thorns I am learning about.” As I pulled out what seemed like the eighth different thorn out from my flesh. “Hmm I don’t think this was as sore as that rose hook thorn, but was definitely up there.” As I finally exited the devils playground, slashed to pieces, the facilitators and yes, my own friend Matt couldn’t seem to revel enough in my misfortune. In the midst of raucous laughter, I must have looked like the long lost fisherman that haunts the docks, walking closer to everyone covered in blood, a hook and sinker in hand and a facial expression that lost all sense of humour about forty five minutes before. As the laughter continued around me, I could do nothing but smile and show a quizzical look in my eyes, having realized the madness of my escapade. In retrospect, I think it was quite a serendipitous fishing experience.
Amongst the barren crags
Rock climbing on the marine’s course has been awesome, having a day out at Thorny Bush and then spending a full weekend at Pinnacle, was where we experienced this awesome sport. We had never experienced the thrill of rock climbing and we approached the endeavour with much alacrity.
At Thorny Bush we consummated two level 17 climbs and just fell short on the treacherous level 19 climb. The deceptive nature of these cliff faces never ceases to amaze me, amongst the overhangs, cracks, crevices, juts and holds you scale the face of a seemingly momentous challenge, having points where you are only hanging on a crimp by your fingertips, or standing on the tips of your toes having to launch your frame to the next stronghold. We discovered three quarters of the way up that rock climbing does generally look a lot easier than it actually is. After seeing the perilous start of the level 19 being nothing short of jumping spider or ninja material, miraculously every one of us conquered the first overhang. A few hairy moments in every rock climb creates just enough trepidation to keep the excitement and thrill of it alive. When your forearms are burning and your fingertips are slipping is the admonitory sign that you need to keep going or fall to the abyss.
The weekend at Pinnacle, was in my view, the best weekend at Quest so far. Pinnacle is tucked away surreptitiously from the rest of the world and took some time before we came upon this quiet African wonder. We would spend the weekend climbing a host of various challenges led by our fearless guides Graeme and Cam. We did nine climbs in total, ranging from the difficulty of a 13 right up to a 19. Each climb had a unique and varied challenge, requiring certain techniques or skills to conquer the climb. We all chimney climbed, crack scaled and climbed our way to victory. The pinnacle of all climbs that weekend was, well, the pinnacle. It is a 45m vertical climb to the top. It had more than enough height, intensity, technicality and scenery to slake our thirst for adrenalin and adventure. We all conquered the climb and truly felt on top of the world.
Fitness is the stalwart of the Quest programmes, and rightly so, for physical fitness is an essential part of creating a balanced and confident young man. For as Theodore Roosevelt’s father said to him: “You have the mind but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should.” Our fitness has been solid. Our most recent challenge was a 45km cycle up to the Bushman’s river and then to paddle 12km down the river close to the mouth. Varying between cycles, paddles and runs we have been keeping fit.
This Quest experience has been awesome so far. Much has been learnt, experienced and lived in our time here. We grow each day and learn something more, not just in knowledge but also of ourselves. Life is a constant learning process and we have to keep changing and growing in the process. I want to end off with a quote by Leo Buscaglia. “We can’t afford to go to bed at night, the same way that you woke in the morning. We’ve got to say, how am I bigger, how am I better, how am I more.” By the end of today how will you be bigger, better… more?