"I'm pretty sure we're lost," I said matter of factly, trying to mask the rising panic I felt in my stomach. Mr. Photog and I had been traveling northbound in our rented Chevy Spark for more than four hours, two of which had been spent jittering at 16 kph over a pitted dirt road in the middle of the Cederberg wilderness.
For those of you who have never heard of Cederberg (of which there are many, I'm sure), this region is located only two hours from Capetown and yet the landscape is completely different: wilder, warmer, untamed with a raw, dramatic beauty. Towering mountains and twisted rock formations rise from the scrub grass and dense fynboos, the perfect hiding spots for springbok, insects and, in our case, leopards.
Only hours before we decided to embark on our journey, Matt and I were in our hotel room in Capetown hunkered over laptops, maps and guidebooks researching Cederberg's hiking trails and planning our route. But the execution of those plans turned out to be wholly and exceptionally different than what we had expected.
For starters, there were no maps. What few directions we could find online didn't include mileage or addresses. The location where we were supposed to pick up our hiking permits didn't even know its GPS coordinates, so our little Tom Tom was most definitely out of the question.
But Matt and I were tired of the gift shops, the selfies in front of Table Mountain and Capetown's unpredictable weather. We had a free day and were looking for an adventure. This was perfect.
Rising early the next morning, we stuffed our backpacks to the seams, packing rain jackets, sturdy hiking shoes, sunblock, and enough food and water to last us through the night. We grabbed our written list of directions and to-dos, setting off toward our destination, eager to see the Wolfberg Cracks.
Two hours later, we took a right off the N7 onto a dirt road that appeared to stretch for eternity. Grassy farmland with workers and livestock transformed to open vistas ringed by mountains. Everywhere we turned, it seemed, we were the only living things in sight.
To avoid becoming leopard food, we kept driving.
The hours ticked by and little by little the excitement Matt and I had been harboring for this trip was replaced by panic, frustration and fear rising like bile in our throats. We were hundreds of miles from our swanky hotel with no known end in sight. If we popped a tire or ran out of gas - we were on our own.
What happens next? Click here to read Part Two of the story!