Feedback on the Gabriel Trail

To: Michelle Truter, Cedarberg Travel, Clanwilliam.
From: Jane Barenblatt, Bantry Bay, Cape Town.
Date: 1st June 2015.

Dear Michelle
It was wonderful meeting you on the Wednesday evening before our hike, and as I said to you that evening, you did a wonderful job, of once I had started the enquiry of hiking in the area, to never “let me off the hook.” You are obviously passionate about your job, and the professionalism with which you presented the information to us that evening, was excellent, as well as the envelope including all information, from the predicted weather, through to the story behind the CHR community initiative.

We, as a group, were very impressed with this trail and the people we met along the way, and I will, as briefly as possible, set out a few pointers that could certainly enhance the trail even further.

The transfer to Driehoek for 5 persons should have been done in a bigger vehicle, as the space was not really enough on the back seats for a 90+ km transfer. Rodney is a superb driver and was kind enough to take responsibility to get our cars parked and washed at Living Landscape. What a pleasure to arrive back to spotless cars on Sunday afternoon!

Our first day’s hike was magnificent, and the detour to the Wolfberg Arch a highlight. The Aloe Lodge made the most amazing chicken salad, but a suggestion to them for the future, is to put the dressing separately in a small disposable container, as this can get messy in a backpack. The paper bag should also be replaced with a plastic one (we realise this is not environmentally responsible), but for practical reasons, it contains the rubbish more efficiently. We enjoyed the company of Marlin who was a concerned guide and showed us plants and their uses along the way.The arrival at Langkloof was a highlight. Tea and scones with Oom Koosie on the stoep. This was a fantastic welcome, followed by an amazing dinner by his grand-daughters.

The second day’s hike, Harry was our guide, who was also tremendous. In your instructions, I think you need to note to all future hikers, that they should consider wearing long pants, as the grasses and fynbos can scratch and cut one once one reaches the “non-path white marker section” We were warned by Oom Koosie, but you could consider including this in your pre-presentation brief for packing. The lunch pack that the ladies did was superb with salad and tasty meatballs.

We arrived at Eselbank at Ina’s guest house, welcomed by Ina and her son, Cardo. Here we felt we missed the tea and scones that we had so enjoyed the previous day, and we have made the suggestion to them, that Ina’s delicious cappuccino muffins that she served us at breakfast, could be used at tea time on arrival. It is always nice to come into a warm comfortable space at the end of a long hiking day, to be welcomed with a pot of Rooibos and something to eat. The dinner that evening around the fire was superb and the Groenboontjiebredie was a hit!.

The following day we were met by Avril and the donkeys for our 3rd day’s trail to Kleinvlei. The information sheet reads as a 13km hike. This is if one does the waterfall in the morning, and then an extra 6km up a trail and return by the same route. As hikers, we feel that you need to create a trail 10-13Km long, not lengthen the experience by walking up a mountain, only to walk down again. It would be different, if one is going to see a very special rock formation, bushman paintings or a waterfall. Also once you see a village that you are going to stay in for the evening, you don’t want to veer off the path just to lengthen the day. The welcome again in this village, was with warm pots of tea and special ladies to make sure we were comfortable.
After 3 wonderful “home-stays” and much discussion with the group, we came up with some ideas that we feel could also provide the villagers with extra income from hikers such as us. We saw so many abundant lemon, orange and naartjie trees in the villages. We felt that if someone started an initiative, where jams, marmalade or lemon juices are made for sale, people would buy them. Also we saw the most amazing colours of Chrysanthemums growing in the gardens. If the seeds were collected at the end of the season, and put into envelopes, these could be sold in the guest houses.
Aubrey Mac Callum was such a special person to meet, and was generous of spirit to allow us to watch the Stormers rugby game in his home.
Bridgette, Avril’s wife, was making bread in the outdoor oven as we passed by on our evening stroll, and we got involved and enjoyed this experience. This should be included in the days activities, and then the hot Sourdough bread could be served with the dinner. The dinner that evening was delicious.

Our last day’s hike through the kloof to Wupperthal was beautiful – Avril offered to take us all the way, and we were collected by Rodney (this time in a larger vehicle) and John Mountain. They did accurate calculations of how much time we required to see the bushman paintings at Sevilla, and to arrange an early lunch, which is highly recommended for the quality and service. John Mountain’s presentation on the paintings was excellent.

We all arrived back to Living Landscapes feeling thoroughly satisfied with having walked in one of the most dramatic areas on earth, but more importantly, that we had engaged with a community of wonderful people. They made this trip extra special.

One of the last items that we discussed, and one that we feel that you have made the correct decision on, is the gratuities. We were so happy that, as explained by yourself during our initial briefing, that gratuities have been added into the costs – it would have been so difficult to have equitably tipped the guides, donkey drivers, cooks and cleaners. We wish that this would extend into other types of holidays, where one is continually getting the feeling that there is an expectation of a gratuity.

We wish you well with CHR and hope that you have linked this wonderful hike on to TripAdvisor to get extra coverage by people looking to do exciting trails.

This email sets out Henry and my sentiments. Our hiking family has been copied in on this email, and they may have additional information and suggestions to share with you – go well.
Warm regards,
Jane.

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