Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Story of Longtom, the Dragon

Before I begin, I want to give you a final tally of the funds many of you helped me raise for our event: $1355.00!!!

Ok, on with the post…

Amongst the chaos and rehabilitation of getting back into the swing of things for the second quarter—fall term—after such a great and eventful few days away in Mpumalanga, I finally have some time to follow up from my previous blog—this time, with lots of pictures!

I have to forewarn those who may be reading this feed on Facebook or other non-image friendly site: this won’t make much sense if you don’t have the pretty pictures to follow along with. It’s like a children’s book, so grab a knee to sit on and enjoy the story!

Once upon a time, a young man named Matson ventured out from his quiet village in South Africa to join others in a quest to conquer the legendary evil dragon the locals call Longtom, which rests nestled far in the mystic hills and valleys of the fabled Land of Sabie, Mpumalanga.

…Alright, I think we’ve had enough of that… but actually, in the rest of this story, there is fire, enchanted forests, an Old Man of the Mountain, tree spirits, magic waterfalls, a fountain of youth, and a rainbow. So, use your imagination and this could make for an entertaining story after all. (And who knows, you may even be able to spot an elf if you’re lucky.)

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Here is a photo of my friendly and exhausted PCV friends, Ryan, Dave, and Haley, sitting in a minibus taxi in Nelspruit, waiting to complete the last leg of our respective journeys from each of our villages to Sabie, Mpumalanga. My particular trip (one way) cost me a 1/4 of my monthly stipend (about $75), 12 hours in a minibus taxi (like the one pictured, or in worse condition) and an overnight in Pretoria. Ryan had it even worse. That’s what we get for choosing to live so far away. (Oh, wait, we didn’t choose. That’s right.) But no matter what, it was really nice to get out and see more of the country, no matter what the cost.

P1120072 (240x180)At the Sabie Backpackers the night before the big race, we had a wonderful BYOSpaghetti and attempted to have a Pasta Sauce Cook-off. Pasta sauce, we did make; however, the cook-off was more in a state of “off.” Nevertheless, we had a great time socializing as you can see in these pictures.

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A 4am wake up the morning of the race. We gathered at the racer’s registration spot, then all the half-marathoners boarded a bus to transport us to our starting spot. There were more people running this marathon than I anticipated—about 1500 finishers.

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Below are the two female 56K runners—intense runners.

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Near the starting line for the half-marathon, in the Drakensburg mountains, it was very cloudy early in the morning.

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As we were ascending, the clouds were spectacular as we’d rise above them with the sun coming out in the horizon. Unfortunately, I had no clear shot of the view, so here’s a photo-dramatization using stand-in (photos). (Please note: the names of all clouds, mountains, trees, and locations were changed to protect the identity of those involved. Thank you for your consideration.)

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So, back to the race… as the misty rain let up and we attempted to get used to the bone-chilling cold, we all gathered at the starting line. It was quite the scene at the front where a familiar tune of “Shosholoza,” a traditional South African folk song, was the warm-up song, accompanied by some impromptu traditional dances by the runners.

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We know this guy. #252 of 754 in the 21.1k. I’m proud to say that at 2:00:22, it’s a record for me. Granted, I’ve never run this far in my life before. But regardless, I’m happy to have finished standing up!

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Below are the other two PCVs that ran the 56k. Again, intense.

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The two lady 56k-ers after the race; and a group of the PCV Longtom-ers.

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That night, we enjoyed some fire juggling. How else to enjoy a successful day of running than by playing with fire! And look at them go!

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After the Longtom Marathon and festivities, for the next couple of days, some of us partook in a hike through the Drakensburg mountains near Sabie. We hiked the Fanie Botha trails—a truly spectacular hike (that is, once we could follow the sorry excuse for trail signs).

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We hiked 40km total for two days, and had some incredible views to take in.P1120126 Stitch (480x201)

P1120130 (240x180)On the early leg of our trip, we were quickly redirected by the caretaker of the hut we stayed in the first night. He was a God-send for running down the hill after us to tell us we were going the wrong way (no thanks to the signs).

Below is a small sliver of the artificial forest (a timber plantation for paper—supposedly the largest artificial forest in the world). All the trees are in neat, orderly rows with the lower branches all trimmed off.

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Below is a common formation we saw in the hills. The shallow valleys between hillsides would roll along and all of a sudden drop off into this deep depression filled with large trees growing from it’s base in the canyon. It seems as though water or some pocket beneath just gave way and it all sunk in. It was strange to see a large tree growing out of a crevasse in an otherwise tree-less plain.

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The landscape and climate changed dramatically within just a few hours of hiking. We walked into pine forests, out into plains, then into fields, then back into a forest, which was this time, a very dense and wet forest. And this happened over and over again, changing temperatures from cold to hot to cold so quickly.

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Some very beautiful and unique looking flowers along the way. (Does anyone recognize these and can tell me the names?)

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Here’s those rows in the timber plantation. Nice and orderly, but oddly disturbing to find hiking in “nature.”

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At the arrival of the Mac Mac Hut (hiding behind the trees), our second night’s stay. P1120210 Stitch (480x192) A distant view of the Mac Mac Hut. Absolutely breathtaking views from here.

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P1120224 (240x180)These were the trail markers we were supposed to follow. Evidently, these white “footprints” marked the direction, yet the feet didn’t always point in the right direction. Many times it led us up very steep hills with no indication of where to pick the trail back up.

A view from the Mac Mac Hut at dawn.

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We were convinced that the figure just off to the left of center was the Man on the Mountain. He watched over us and we made sure he didn’t move by the next morning. He didn’t, thankfully. That would have been scary.

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The start of hiking, day two of two…

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And a train crossing sign? In the middle of the woods?

As aware as I am of where paper and 2x4s come from, I still can’t help but feel sad when I see the effects of logging. Maybe it was from watching FernGully as a child.

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Here’s another one of those canyons in the middle of a hill. This one is due to a waterfall—Mac Mac Falls.

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This was a magnificent waterfall, totally taking me by surprise by it’s covert location.

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Mac Mac Pools, a little fountain of youth. Well, quite literally—there were a lot of youth swimming in it. A great little oasis with crisp cool water and spectacular views.

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P1120387 (180x240) And finally, a great way to be greeted back in my village when I returned.

And they all lived happily ever after. ◊ Salang Sentle—Stay Well


  1. Ed Looks like he didn't break a sweat.. wow.

  2. Hi Matson, I wanted to see if PCVs were still supporting Longtom and was pleased to see your post. Your pictures and descriptions brought back great memories for me. I am an RPCV, SA 15. Enjoy the rest of your service and your adventures there. Dave