Day 9, Sunday February 13, 2005
In the morning, we headed out again along the dirt road where we had seen the
asparagus the evening before. By the time we reached the end of the road, we had counted and photographed 6 different species. We were all amazed that none of these seem to be in cultivation in the US. Our favorite is a species with foxtail-like blue spikes... none of which were in seed. This was also our first sight of the lovely
Gladiolus mortonianus along with
Hypoxis costata, both growing among the asparagus. We turned down another dirt road and passed the farm belonging to Cameron's brother. Amazingly, we found three more asparagus species on this dirt road. We need a seed collector to keep an eye on these when they are in fruit.
We stopped at a
stream crossing which was one of Cameron's favorite area for Nerine,
Dierama pulcherrimum, Schizostylis, and Eucomis comosa. When we walked to the site, we found that the area had flooded recently and nothing remained visible except the dierama and the eucomis, both of which grow at damp rivers edge... much different habitat from the other species of both genera that we had seen earlier on the trip.
Still around 4,000' elevation, our next stop was a few miles away at the
Ellington Farm, which is owned by a friend of Cameron's. The sun shown brightly as we parked in the drive and jumped yet another barbed wire fence and headed for the large rock outcrops. The first rock outcrop was covered with flowering
Aloe pratensis, as well as loads of
crassula and euphorbias. The rock outcrops were also abundant with
desert ferns and bulbs including albucas, ledebourias, and many more
asparagus. The highlight of this site was the huge number of
Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi. These cycads had trunks between 6 and 15' tall. Many of the larger specimens are between 1000 and 2000 years of age. As if we needed it, there was more added excitement when Cameron found a 3' long recently shed cobra skin nearby. It's probably good we didn't see the rest of the snake.
Over the fence again, and we were off for the 30 minute drive to Stutterheim. Stopping to pick up lunch at the local supermarket, we were harassed for money by young black children, who obviously have had plenty of practice at begging. We took our food to the nearby
Kologha Park and enjoyed at the
Podocarpus forested picnic area near the base of the mountain. Kologha Park in the Amathole mountains is one of a few afromontane forests remaining in South Africa.
After we finished eating, we were off to the top of the mountain to see the
waterfall. Hiking up the densely forested steep grade around the waterfall, we were greeted by an amazing array of 13 different ferns (1, 2) including an
8' wide blechnum. It was also great to find several
epiphytic ferns and other plants such as
streptocarpus which found the moist rocks a perfect home. Along with the ferns were three bulbs that I was not expecting to find in the shade,
Scadoxus puniceus, Haemanthus albiflos, and
Bowiea volubilis (climbing African onion). The other wonderful gem at the edge of the forest was
Plectranthus ecklonii which made a 8' tall flowering shrub.
We had been blessed by high temperatures in the 70's and 80's until today, when the hot, humid temperature in the 90's took it's toll on everyone. At least it cools off nicely at night. Fortunately, our hotel, the Manderson Inn was at the base of the mountain, since we were all extremely worn out and some sunburned by the long hot strenuous day. This was the first day of our trek that we arrived at our hotel before 7pm. Thank goodness it was such a nice inn. If you find yourself in Stutterheim, I strongly recommend the well-run Manderson Inn. Be sure an tell Ingrid that we said hello.
Day 10, Monday February 14, 2005
Staying at the same hotel for two nights for the first time, we were up early to make our one hour drive to the farm of Neil and Carmen Potter, outside of
Stutterheim. Picture Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter and you've got
Neil. Neil owns some of the most inhospitable land that I've ever seen anyone try to farm. Despite the terrible terrain, he manages to make a living from cattle, goats, and sheep. Neil had recently been attacked in his home by thieves from the adjacent Transkei region, but managed to shoot two of the five intruders before the others fled. Neil was charged with attempted murder, but because the robbers removed the bodies of their accomplices, he was acquitted. As you can tell, the judicial system here is quite a mess. All day long, we continued to be amazed at Neil's stories from the perils of farming to killing puff adders and cape cobras on his property.
We offloaded at Neil's home on the farm and piled into the back of Neil's 4x4 pickup for the drive to the top of the
mountain. The trek was slow and tedious since this Federal road was one of many to have fallen into a severe state of
disrepair since the black government took over the road maintenance division of the Eastern Cape. We bounced and bounced all the way to the top where we mercifully arrived around 10am. From here, we hiked for three hours up and down the mountain top exploring the amazing vegetation. This remote mountaintop had been unexplored until Cameron discovered it nearly 20 years ago when he was hiking up the nearby Kei River. He had initially explored the mountain from the river side, but later made contact with the Neil, who owned the land on the other side. Neil just happened to be the son of one of Cameron's former classmates.
Cameron found that the mountain (3,400' elevation.) contained three species of cycads including Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi,
E. princeps, and
E. caffra. He had also discovered a new species of cyrtanthus here, soon to be published (2005) as Cyrtanthus mcmasterii. One of the special moments of the trip was when Hans persuaded Cameron to pose with his new find in it's native habitat.
As we trekked down from the top toward the
Kei River, the 2' tall thick tussocks of grass and hidden round boulders made walking difficult. Actually difficult would have described our hike if the ground was level... which
it wasn't. Another of the highlights was seeing
Boophone disticha growing in the open
grassland. The huge bulbs and amazing foliage were well over 25 years of age. Another bulb that caught my eye was
Cyrtanthus obliquus with its fascinating wide glaucous leaves.
Exhausted after a morning hike, we
devoured our packed lunch while sitting on rocks surrounded by short clumps of the beautiful
Ficus ingens and then headed back down the mountain. About half way down, we detoured to a ravine, flanked by a steep rock cliff. Here, I found more Adiantum capillus-veneris along with many more plants that I used to grow as houseplants including sansevieria, Parthenocissus (grape ivy), and
tree euphorbias. By this point, we were exhausted, sunburned, and jostled to death, so we returned to Neil's home and reloaded our van for the return to the hotel. On the way, we dropped Cameron by at his sister-in-laws house in Stutterheim. Cameron had to depart our excursion because of a previous commitment to tour the Australian Sheep Growers Association.
We arrived back at the hotel to find our laundry finished, but only part of it in our rooms. After rechecking with the hotel office, it was discovered that they had put part of our laundry on our luggage and hung the rest up in the closet which none of us had thought to check. Did I mention that we are now down to 2 hubcaps again? Not a good thing. We're casting ballots now to see which hubcap gets voted off next.
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