The truth about Banana Nightfighters…
Day 3 – 28km
The final day of a multi-day event is always bitter sweet. Generally, the body is weary and home beckons. But it means the end of a grand adventure, and the imminent return to reality. I’d missed my youngest daughter’s first stint as hockey captain, one of my son’s important early season rugby matches and my eldest would be turning 21 two days after my return. My husband was juggling a lot, and I couldn’t wait to share all the stories with them. But, dressed in the last of my clean running kit as I sipped hot Rooibos tea and looked at another dramatic sunrise over the river, I didn’t want to leave.
We started the day’s route in one large group, slow jogging, walking and stopping from time to time to keep the crew together. Owen had something up his sleeve and our weary bodies did not object to the reduced pace.
We hadn’t got far before our first “wet” river crossing was upon us. We had crossed many bone-dry rivers prior, imagining their full-flow beauty during the floods as we crunched the sandy beds full of animal tracks. Of course this is crocodile country; the flat dogs of Africa. But the crossing was at a point where we were all about knee deep at most. Some removed their shoes, some chose not to. We tidied up on the far bank, then headed towards what is known as Poachers’ Corner in the Mapungubwe National Park in South Africa. Our passports had been stamped in camp. From here we ran west through the riparian forest along the banks of the Limpopo River to the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers. We headed back east to join the confluence viewpoint track and proceeded up to the first of the confluence viewpoints; a large wooden platform with views that spread out for kilometers below. Owen’s sneaky surprise was a table of ice cold bubbly, egg wraps, tea and coffee. The first of two aid stations for the day, and by far the most social. We had a big team photograph on the platform, and left in our previous group order, with James taking the lead for us. The heat came up quickly, and I started a little internal battle to remain chipper. I didn’t want this incredible experience to end on a low note.
From there we ran down to the base of Leokwe Valley before following elephant trails up into the valley and turning east, down into the Mapungubwe Valley. James pointed out young male lion tracks criss-crossing the sandy trails around us. I looked at the rocky cliffs spread out on either side of us and wondered if we were being watched by Africa’s King.
At the bottom of this valley we turned north to make our way to Mapungubwe Hill where a guide named Cedric was waiting to take us on a guided tour of this incredible piece of history. He showed us the original grave of two kings and a queen, discovered buried in seated positions facing East, one with the famous golden rhino buried at his feet. The site of an ancient, sophisticated civilization.
It was soon after the visit to Mapungubwe Hill that I started feeling awful. Soft sand, temperatures of well over 30 degrees and absolutely no shade. My amazing team made helpful suggestions around drinking more water, taking in a Gel etc. Thankfully the next tea stop wasn’t too far away, but by the time we arrived I was ready to lie down in the shade of the support vehicle and have a nap. James was right, I needed to drink. I’d not managed my fluid intake and the sun was beating down on us. I smashed two cups of delicious local orange squash (do NOT tell my children that I drank something like Oros!) and refilled my hydration bladder with cold water. I ate some banana bread, half a potato and a date. Home stretch ahead.
We turned east before making the final turn north over the ridge and crossed the river back into Zimbabwe and our campsite at Maramani. We stopped for a shallow swim in what James had promised us was a croc-free stretch of water. I regained my sense of humour sufficiently to laugh uproariously once again as Joe went hip deep in a sink hole during our river crossing. The drums and ululation of the camp crew welcomed us home one last time. We raised the first of many Zambezi lagers for the afternoon, and took our final bush showers before slipping in to a melancholy kind of celebration, resisting the inevitable return to laptops, deadlines and To Do Lists.
Later that evening, with about 20 of us seated around an enormous fire and James singing as he played familiar tunes on his guitar, I became aware of a lightness within. Something entirely opposite to that gnawing feeling of being pulled between the pressing responsibilities of a career and city dwelling. I had found a reset button out there somewhere between a rocky ridge and an owl-less tree.
Africa has experiences that nowhere else in the world can offer, and in Mapungubwe you can be assured of touching something truly unique. This experience cannot be replicated anywhere else on the planet.
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Oh, and there really is an insect called a Banana Nightfighter.
Words by Kim Stephens