Her whole body aches.
Every determined step towards her goal seems harder than the one before, but she persists.
She breaks down in tears, when utter isolation drives her to the precipice of submission, but she persists.
The frightening magnitude of Charlotte Steyn’s 5 327 km journey haunts her day and night, but she never gives in.
Now, as she approaches the mountain she last saw on 21 March, her body protests and time presses hard on her.
As always, Bloubergstrand’s Charlotte doesn’t know what waits for her over the horizon.
Will there be people waiting for her?
Will she be there in time?
Will the pain pills deafen this urge to stop and rest her throbbing foot?
She walks on.
Just like she did that day when she left her home and her friends behind in the name of charity. Even at the very start she envisioned the end of her journey through South Africa, and now she is only a few kilometres from Big Bay.
To walk through nine provinces and create awareness for nine causes – her goal was always crystal clear.
Eager and admiring people wait for Charlotte at the five kilometre mark. They take on the final stretch of her journey with her.
As with so many curious people before them, she answers their questions one by one.
“Did you really walk through South Africa?” “On foot?” “Were you afraid?” “What was the most difficult part?”
Her story has evolved, but the questions stay the same.
“It first occurred to me that our country might be shaped like a heart and that I should walk within this outline. But then I saw it was really a warped heart, and with that came the realisation that the heart of our country needs healing.
It signals our broken society, to be fixed through service to humanity, by chivalrous caring, kindness and loving,” says the 34-year-old.
Charlotte walked on behalf of nine charitable organisations to represent key aspects encountered in life (childhood; education; health; HIV/Aids; disabilities; elderly; human rights; the environment; animals) with an umbrella organisation giveall2charity (www.giveall2charity.org).
She encountered incredible and hair-raising moments along the way.
“I have shouted at the top of my voice a few times during this trek, for survival. Life-threatening situations were for real: near-drowning, an attack by crazed dogs, an impassable gorge, a most precarious way along the cliffs above the ocean, dehydration, exhaustion, isolation,” she continues.
In the quiet stretches of dust and mud she also had epiphanies.
“I’ve realised how powerful one’s mind is, and that determination is key, but without a sense of direction, it means absolutely nothing.”
At the Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga she was certain people would shed their negativity and appreciate the country once again if they could see what she saw.
At God’s Window she saw God reading books written by humans and commenting about it to His angels.
“I try to compress all the experiences, trying to convey the meaning of this journey, but there is still much to embroider on. A lasting image was created by a young child, early one Saturday morning as I walked past another informal village.
“This girl child had a two litre Coke bottle, the cap unscrewed, with some fake hair pushed inside. The child nurtured the bottle as if a real doll.
“When she waved at me and then hugged the bottle, again it was clear that love is what we have in common. Life consists of feeding hunger and fulfilling a hunger for love.”
There were moments when Charlotte wanted to crawl into a little ball and weep under a desolate tree until she had the strength to carry on.
Walking through barren parts of the Northern Cape redefined the word “solitude” for her.
When a car stopped in front of her, when no-one was around, her heart quivered, but nothing untoward ever happened to her.
Her journey was blessed all the way.
The people she met will live with her forever, and when TygerBurger asks her if she could name a few people who left a lasting impression on her she was overwhelmed by hundreds of names and nameless faces.
On Sunday her journey ended at Big Bay, but in her mind she is still walking.
It isn’t impossible that in her mind Charlotte will be walking through South Africa for the rest of her life.