Home Opinion and Features I hated the climb but loved the view

I hated the climb but loved the view


GREY MUTTER: Currently, roads are being tarred and other positive action is occurring in our country. But don’t get too excited; this is just the normal pre-election hustle intended to woo voters, writes Lance Fredericks.

The view from the top of Lin Fa Shan. Picture taken by Nicolas Medrano, the one who suggested the hike up to the peak on December 31, 2023.

“WHY don’t we climb to that peak,” my brother-in-law said, pointing to the mountain that loomed over the village where we were staying on the breathtakingly beautiful island of Lantau, which is just a short splash by ferry from Hong Kong Island.

By now I had learned that everything in Hong Kong was uphill, but walking up a mountain was a bit of a stretch. However, despite the protests of his wife, my sister, his brother-in-law and myself, he assured us that it was a great idea.

What he failed to mention is that Lin Fa Shan on Lantau Island is the seventh highest mountain in Hong Kong, with a height of 766m over a gruelling 8km – that’s eight kilometres of unrelenting and steep ‘up’, and the walk to the start of the trail was a draining 3km (uphill) hike.

As it turns out, the day of the hike turned out to be hotter than we had anticipated and our water canisters were soon running alarmingly low.

I missed my lost youth and started thinking weird thoughts.

‘Forever Young’, the song by Alphaville, started playing in my head. Almost delirious with exhaustion, I wondered if the band’s vocalist’s nickname had something to do with the title of this track. What if Marian Gold’s nickname was “Mari-Jan” or just “Jan”? Would that mean he was actually singing “Forever Jan”?

That’s how tough the climb was … It hatched awful puns!

It got to a point where I was telling myself – between the bad thoughts I was having toward the sadistic maniac that had suggested this climb – just to put one foot in front of the other.

“Just step, and step, and step …” I told myself over and over again.

What made things easier was the fact that large sections of the trail, most of it in fact, was paved. There were stone steps, and where the incline was too gradual for steps, there were paved ramps.

On the hike up the mountain, there are stone steps, and where the incline is too gradual for steps, there are paved ramps.

I was amazed, wondering what an effort it took to, firstly, haul stones this size up a mountain, and secondly, what dedication and forethought did it take to build such an impressive pathway? Whoever did it had an admirable future vision, and I take my hat off to them.

The paving should have made the climb easier, but remember I am 57 years old, and I hail from a flat section of South Africa. The only things raised over here in SA are people’s blood pressure due to atrocious service delivery.

Of course, currently, roads are being tarred and other positive action is occurring in our country. But don’t get too excited; this is just the normal pre-election hustle intended to woo voters. Within a few months after the votes have been cast, I am almost certain that those potholes will be gaping again – after all, it’s happened before.

My guess, my opinion, my theory is that the reason that potholes keep returning, infrastructure continues to crumble and no real forward momentum is being generated in South Africa is because – unlike on a steep mountain trail situated between Mui Wo and Sunset Peak in Hong Kong – there is no future vision.

The window dressing that is done, is done with just enough effort to secure support, to win votes and often to appease fed-up communities.

This past week, I drove past an establishment in the city one morning. It was 9am and pallets of paving bricks were being delivered. The premises’ gates were open, and inside I saw a crew of workers – around 10 of them – moving heavy pot plants and shovelling the gravel that covered the courtyard into wheelbarrows.

I drove past the same establishment at 4.30pm on the same day. By then all the gravel was on the sidewalk, the courtyard had been cleared, compacted, covered with river sand, and half the entire area had been paved already.

In just over eight hours an area, roughly 80 square metres in size was in ship shape. The rest of the courtyard was still covered in river sand; this told me that the rest of the paving would have to be laid the next day.

I was very impressed.

But here’s the point: If a work crew of 10 men could put their heads down and get a project 50% done in less than nine hours, how could an ‘entity’ with what must be the deepest pockets and the largest workforce, not keep roads tarred, keep electricity supplied and have water – a necessity for life – reliably flowing through taps?

Those questions are rhetorical. We have seen work crews leaning on brooms and sleeping in wheelbarrows. We have read stories about corruption till our rolling eyes have made it quite impossible to concentrate.

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I suppose the best we can hope for is that, later on in 2024, voters open their eyes and consider the evidence before drawing their X on a ballot paper; not voting from a sense of loyalty nor emotion. And that whoever wins the upcoming election will take it to heart that they were elected to serve South Africans, and not the other way round.

Now here’s the thing; when I got to the top of Lin Fa Shan, the view from the summit was indescribable. Every single day after that exhausting climb, I would look up at the mountain and say to myself, or whoever was around me, “I stood on top of that mountain on December 31, 2023.”

At the end of it all, whatever happens after the 2024 elections, it’s going to be a long, gruelling climb out of this mess, and it will have to be done step, by step, by step.

But if that challenge is taken on, and the effort eventually pays off, imagine the sense of achievement afterward!

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