Ode to a red raincoat


My love affair with my red Altus raincoat started more than three years ago in the small town of St Jean-Pied-de-Port close to the border of France and Spain. The next morning I would start the 800 km journey on foot to Santiago de Compostela along the way of St James.

I saw her in a tourist shop and bought her for €60 – hoping that a good raincoat would better equip me for this journey for which I was so thoroughly ill-prepared. Like most love affairs I didn’t fathom the depth of commitment, dedication and total reliance it would take to make this relationship last. I am so thankful that my red raincoat took the plunge and made me love her unconditionally.

The one thing you should understand about my red raincoat is that wearing her is not a fashion statement. She reaches to an unflattering mid-calf and her hoodie can obscure the brightest smile or twinkle in the eye. But in her greatest virtue lies her most unstylish feature. A pouch on the back makes ample space for a backpack to be covered completely. Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame becomes a reality once the first drop of rain starts to fall.

On the Camino the red raincoat taught me a few lessons. One being not to overreact. A few drops of rain does not maketh a storm. No need to put on the raincoat at the drop of a … uhm drop. She will soon make you sweat without reason. I also learnt little tricks to get her to fit over my backpack without the help of others. Just turn towards the wind, hold her up in the air and a gust will help the coat over the backpack. You can do it on your own, baby.

My red raincoat has gone on more journeys than I have. She has done the Camino again in my daughter Corneli’s backpack – this time completing the 800 km in a mere four weeks. She also hiked the Tsitsikamma trail with my son Wiiliam when he joined his godmother and my dearest friend Liesbeth on an unforgettable journey earlier this year.

But my total devotion to my red raicoat was sealed in the very recent past. She was with me every step of the way when we hiked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu a week ago. While climbing more than 4000 stone stairs to the ominous-sounding Dead Woman’s Pass, she kept the rain from my face and body while I gasped for air, prayed to every god I have ever known, taking each step knowing that there was just one way to go – and that was forward. Reaching the highest point of the trail at 4300 m above sea level, my red raicoat was draped over my shoulders like Superwoman’s cape. I made it and lived to tell the tale.

Today we hiked around the glaciers near El Calafate in Patagonia – most probably the furthest south I will ever be on this good planet. Again my red raincoat was there, sharing my exhiliration and humility at the greatness of what was before me.

I hope there will be a few more trips for me and my red raincoat and that we will walk along, in our our very unstylish way, to see the wonders of this beautiful world.

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