South Africa, p2

Written by on December 20, 2012 in Africa, General with 1 Comment

I don’t know what happened the night that Karen and Alisa flew out, but I was sooooo hungover the next day.  I know I met up with Alick and Tess, the fun couple I’d met a couple weeks prior in Vic Falls on our rafting trip.  I didn’t think I had that much to drink, but when my alarm went off at 8a so I could meet up with our 830a Lange township tour, I was HURTING!  OMG!  Felt soooo sick!  Wtf??

Needless to say, the township tour was BRUTAL!  I felt so ill, and all I wanted to do was crawl back into bed.  But, I had to grin and bear it.  The tour was actually awesome, despite me feeling like I was going to hurl at any minute.  Samantha, who actually lived in the Lange township and was extremely knowledgeable and sociable, was an awesome guide and driver.  It was Sunday morning, so the tour was a bit special and visited a gospel Baptist church service.  If I wasn’t feeling so horrible, I would say it was pretty cool.  But I was more focused on doing whatever was within my power to not get sick!

I was so thankful that I made it through the tour without puking!  It was so nice to meet up with Alick and Tess again, and everyone on the tour was super cool.  I was just NOT UP FOR IT!  Was another huge reminder about how big a gap there is between the wealthy and the poor.  It seems so much worse than in the US.  The townships are so poor, and the HIV rate is high and growing.  Instead of being educated about how to protect themselves from HIV, people still trust in the traditional healers (shabans) , working out of offices like these.

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Being the over-scheduler that I am, and not wanting to hang out in Cape Town by myself, a few days before I’d reached out to the Cape Town couch surfing community to see if anyone was interested in showing me some local places.   Luckily, a guy had responded and I was supposed to meet up with him in an hour.  Uh oh!  I still felt reaaaallly sick.  But, I didn’t want to cancel and was hoping to power through.

GW is a surfer, and had emailed me to ask if I was up to seeing one of the more beautiful local beaches that aren’t so accessible to Cape Town.  Of course I was!  Well…I was yesterday, when I accepted the invitation….!!!   He picked me up in his cute Audi and we made a quick stop to pick up a 6 pack of Savannah Dry (cider) and then headed down the unbelievably beautiful coast to Long Beach.

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OMG – why was I soooo hungover?!? Sometimes it’s not fair to be this old and react so poorly to too much wine.  Waaaaa! (as my new favorite Botswana bird might cry).  Luckily, we got to the beach and the cider was just what the doctor ordered…I was back to feeling like me in no time.  GW surfed.  The sun came out. I worked on my tan.  It was a beautiful day!

My last day in Cape Town was spent trying to figure out my itinerary, and catching up on blogging, emails, etc.  After a LOT of back and forth, I finally decided to buy a 14 day ticket to the hop-on, hop-off Baz Bus, a bus for backpackers that makes stops at pretty much anywhere a backpacker might want to hop on or off between Johannesburg and Cape Town.  To make things even easier, the Baz Bus (which I will refer to as BB going forward) works with several backpacker hostels in each town or city and will drop you off or pick you up directly from whichever one you tell them you’re staying at, alleviating the hassle of trying to get to a sketchy bus station at odd hours of the morning or late evening.  As much as I wanted the freedom to rent a car and go/see whatever I wanted to go/see whenever I wanted, I just couldn’t justify the cost of doing that on my own.  And, I hadn’t been able to find anyone to chip in with me through word of mouth at any of the hostels I’d inquired with.

Alas, at 630a the next morning, I was waiting for my first BB to come pick me up outside of my somewhat sketchy hostel on Long Street.  When you make a reservation on the bus, you have to tell them where to pick you up, and where to drop you off.  I had read and re-read the Lonely Planet’s section on the Garden Route of SA (from Mossel Bay to Tsitsikamma National Park), but none of the stops jumped out and screamed – “you definitely need to stop here and see this place!”, which made my planning a lot more difficult.  I decided to settle on a town called Knysna, a town perched on the edge of a serene lagoon and surrounded by forests, that supposedly had lots of activities to keep you busy.  I quickly made lots of new friends on the bus, including Sergio, an immediately likable 31 year old from the Andalusia region in southern Spain, who hopped off at the same stop and hostel as me.  We checked into the Island Vibe, and made a plan for the next 2 days.

One really annoying thing about the BB is that it doesn’t run every day.  I think the economy has taken it’s toll on the BB, as the LP refers to it having routing throughout all of SA and Swaziland, and with connections to Lesotho, which it has apparently scaled back on recently.  Because of this, we are stuck in Knysna for 2 nights, even though there’s really only enough to keep you busy here for a day or so.

Knowing this, we decided to rent a car and drive to all the towns/stops we would have made if we had more time on the bus.  We picked up the car from Avis and were on our way.  After a light breakfast in pretty, but uninspiring Plettenberg Bay, we drove to the Bloukrans Bridge, home to what they deem as the “highest non-commercial bungy jump in the world”.  At 216 meters, I believe that comes out to just over 700 feet.

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I don’t know how many stories that is, but I’m sure it’s at least like jumping off a 50+ story building.   We decided that we wanted pictures of one another, which means we had to go in different groups. Sergio seemed nervous so I offered to go first.

The company running the bridge was aptly named “Face Adrenalin”, which is exactly what you do…even if you’re not jumping!  The viewing area was quite far from the jump zone, and they took people out on the bridge in groups.  We had arrived just in time for me to join a group heading out right away, so off I went.  They were very strict about not taking cameras with us, which is a pity because the walk out to the jump zone along the side of the bridge was over a vertigo inducing walkway which didn’t let you forget how far down the upcoming plummet would be.  I wish I could’ve videotaped my footsteps out there.  In no way did I feel unsafe, but if I hadn’t bungy jumped before, that walkway would’ve scared the shit out of me!

Anyway, there were 6 of us in the group and, like several bungy jump experiences I’d had in prior years, you just get more pumped up after seeing people scared, buckled in, then shimmied out to the edge, then screaming on the way down, and then being hoisted up with huge smiles on their faces.   The guys on the bridge keep you busy and moving relatively fast, with fun music playing in the background, so when it’s time for you to sit down and have them attach your harness to the bungy cord, it’s like you’re caught up in a whirlwind of activity that you don’t quite understand.  It almost goes by too fast…so fast that you start thinking that they aren’t paying close enough attention to how they’re attaching the caribeners to the cord.  But, before you can protest, there is one guy on your right and another on your left, and they put your arms around their shoulders to help you hop out to the edge.  Because your arms are around their shoulders, and both are taller than you, it is impossible to look down and assess how high you really are.

When it was my turn to be out on the edge, the gray and threatening skies had finally opened up and it started raining.  I actually wanted to look down and savor this, but like the others before me, I hopped out to the edge, had time to look the video camera in the eye for a second before the guys removed my arms from their shoulders, yelled 5-4-3-2-1-BUNGY, and I felt myself diving off the platform and freefalling VERY FAST!

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But, before I could even think about how nuts this was, the cord had already caught and I was bouncing back upwards.  Woooooohooooooo!  What a RUSH!  I’ve done several bungy jumps before, and had recently done the three gorge swings in Vic Falls, but this was fricking awesome!  I need to do this more often J

The only part about bungy jumping that kinda sucks is when you finally stop bouncing, you’re stuck hanging upside down for awhile, where the braces around your ankles feel like they are slipping and you’re looking straight down at the river gorge below thinking, oh fuck…please don’t let me have gotten through the bungy jump and then what gets me killed is the braces slipping after the fact!  It was even less fun now that it was pouring rain and I was getting soaked.  So much for having any good pictures from this experience.  Lol.  This bungy was so high that instead of lowering me people down the the river below, they hoist you up to meet a guy who is lowered down in a harness to meet you and turn you right side up before hoisting you all the way back up to where you jumped from.  Hanging upside down when it feels like the braces on your ankles are slipping is no fun…all the blood runs to your face and you can’t wait for it to be over. But at the same time, you’re totally buzzing off the adrenaline high.  Interesting feeling!

Anyway, I came bouncing back to the viewing platform super-high on adrenaline and wished Sergio luck as he was on his way out to jump.  I tried to protect his camera from the rain, but got off a few good shots of him jumping with perfect form as he screamed on his way down.  I think it’s almost as big of a rush to celebrate with someone else who’s jumped after the fact…especially a first-timer.  I had a beer waiting for him when he returned.  It wasn’t even noon and we could’ve called it an amazing day already at that point.

But, we weren’t going to let the car rental go to waste, so we drove on to Tsitsikamma National Park in Storms River for lunch and a scenic and easy walk along the water and up to a lookout point.  The day was overcast, so most of our pictures look kind of gloomy, but the scenery was pretty.

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Our last stop was in Nature’s Valley, where we walked along the desolate and unspoiled beach for about an hour before finally driving back to Knysna around 7p.  I was very happy as in one day, we managed to see the best bits of the Garden Route, which would’ve taken several had we used the BB and stopped overnight at all of these places.  All in all the Garden Route is aptly named.  All the spots we visited were very pretty, but not “stunning” or “spectacular”, so I was happy we crammed it all into one day instead of wasting a week making several overnight stops.

That said, now that the sun came out, the Knysna Heads were gorgeous, especially the color of the water.

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We had a signed up for a tour of the Knysna township, but our guide was kind enough to drive us up to the Heads, which was a wealthy area with gorgeous views out to the Indian Ocean to where several underwater rocks/sand banks create an extremely dangerous sea passage, and some pretty awesome crashing waves for a spectator.  We made several picture stops before continuing on tot the township, where we visited a kindergarten and a Rastafarian community.  Awesome day!  The kids were so precious.

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I think they were still too young to know how hard their life is and will be in the future.  Sergio and I both jumped back on the BB that afternoon and overnighted in Port Elizabeth for all of 8 hours before we jumped back on the bus the next morning at a very early 645a.

I had heard from others on the bus that Chintsa would be a nice place to stop, as did Sergio, so we decided to hop off there, which was at the start of the “Wild Coast” of SA and is an idyllic seaside village with a few hundred residents. I stayed at a great hostel called Buccaneers, where a twin room shared was the same price as a 8 bed dorm-huge score!  It always amazes me at how easy it is to get into the habit of sharing a room with complete strangers.  After 2 days, sharing a room with Sergio sounded like heaven compared to sharing with 7 other people that I hadn’t even met yet!

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After we were shown to a cute twin room in a bungalow close to the pool and beach, Sergio and I made a beer run at the local store and headed to the beach to try to work on my tan.  Cloudy skies interfered, but it was still beautiful and relaxing.  The beach made a long arc and I could see maybe a dozen people for a few kilometers in either direction – nice!  This was the view from Buccaneers.

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The Indian Ocean is supposed to be warm, but the water was too chilly to go in.  The hostel’s 4pm “free activity” was a volleyball game, where 12 of us played, and about the same number watched…all there for the free boxed wine offered by the hostel. We got cleaned up and went to the brai (South African for BBQ) offered as the only dinner option.  Afterwards Sergio and I played pool for a good portion of the night, but not very well.  We kept getting lucky as our opponents would scratch on the 8 ball, or we would have been done in much earlier in the night.

In between games, I met Francois, a tall, dark and handsome French 30 yr old who is traveling through SA for 3 months. I had noticed him earlier when I was checking in, and ended up chatting with him into the wee hours of the morning.  To steal one of my favorite people in the world’s lines, “Giddy up!”

The following day was dark, cloudy and gloomy.  Sergio and I went for a walk on the beach to take some photos.  He’s a really good photographer…I really wish I could have gotten more tips from him before we headed in different directions.

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Alas, the sun poked through around noon and I ran back to the hostel to change into my swimsuit, but then it disappeared again and the sky opened up. I was soaking wet from the downpour when I made it back to the room again. What is up with this rain?!?  Boooo!

I saw Francois passing our little cottage and invited him in.  We talked for a bit and he asked me if I was up for joining him on part of his road trip to check out a few national parks over the next several days.  Hmmm…hot French guy wants me to come with him off the beaten path for a few days!?!  That was probably the easiest decision I’ve made in a long time! I had actually been deliberating what my next move was going to be and had 3 completely different plans in mind, but this sounded like a lot more fun!!  Mixing things up is always a good thing, and I was more than happy to accept…and get off the Baz Bus for a few days.

The next morning I said goodbye to Sergio and my new friends who were getting back on the BB, and Francois and I set out towards Hogsback, a little village located 1300m up in the beautiful Amatole Mountains and is said to have inspired JRR Tolkien to write of hobbits, as his family used to vacation here back in his childhood.  We checked into a cute hostel called Away with the Fairies, which had a unique outdoor bathtub that was set into the side of the mountain overlooking the spectacular view where I’m sure many interesting pictures have been taken!

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The following day, we did several short hikes to some waterfalls in the area, which were beautiful, although I can’t say they were absolutely breathtaking.  Just being in this setting was awesome, though.  It was fun to hang with Francois, a burgeoning photographer, who kept trying to get “the right shot” and was frustrated when he couldn’t.

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I have to remember to choose nature over cities/monuments/churches any chance I can, as I enjoy it so much more!

We were on the road in the direction of Mountain Zebra National Park by noon.  The park was special because of it’s several rare cape mountain zebra, differentiated from normal zebra mainly by its brownish coloring in the face and their bellies without stripes.

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Francois had spent a couple weeks volunteering on a game reserve, and another couple weeks doing self-guided game drives in Kruger, Limpopo and a park in Swaziland, and had a “Wild Card”, which granted him unlimited access to any parks in SA for a year. I got lucky on entering the park as the ranger thought his pass was for both of us, and I got in for free. Nice!  That definitely beat the 600+ rand ($65+) charged for guided drives, and the freedom to drive at our own pace was liberating.  Why I didn’t think of this before, or even offer as an option for our trip through Botswana, I’ll just have to chalk up to inexperience.  Next time!  And, for all those reading this, if you’re coming to Africa to go on a safari with more than one person, think hard about doing it as a self-drive, as it was much more rewarding!!  After a few hours driving through the park, we found a cute bed and breakfast in Chaddock, the nearest town to the park, and crashed early as it was a long day.

We slept in and missed our opportunity to drive through the Zebra park again, so decided to drive straight to Graff-Reinet, which is supposed to be the “jewel of the Karoo”.   I guess it’s well known for some buildings in the Cape Dutch style, Karoo cottages, and a few ornate Victorians, but I didn’t get it.  Why all these people wanted to live in the middle of nowhere is beyond me.  Yes – the rock formations are fantastic, but there is nothing around the town for many many miles in every directions.  Apparently it’s the 4th oldest European town in SA.  Why anyone would want to live out here is beyond me.  It did have a nice looking church with a gorgeous purple tree in full bloom in front of it.  I never did find out the names of those trees, which were everywhere in this region.

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Anyway, GR was a town about 3 hours away from the Zebra Park, and upon arrival, we headed to Camdeboo National Park, the highlight of which is the Valley of Desolation…a series of spectacular geological rock formations overlooking Graff-Reinet and the surrounding plains.

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We did a brief game drive through the park and saw a few more zebras and antelope, as well as this ostrich guarding her nest, before heading back up to watch the sunset over the valley.

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We felt like we’d been travelling fast the last couple days and needed to rest a bit, so we decided to sleep in and enjoy the cute B&B for the morning, where we were able to cook dinner,  I did laundtry, and we caught up on some emails before driving to Addo Elephant National Park to catch a late afternoon game drive from 330-630p.

OMFG!  There were SO MANY ELEPHANTS!

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We had an unbelievable experience by a watering hole where there must have been 100+ elephants frolicking around.  Within the hour, several herds walked right past our car from less than 2 meters away.

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A bit scary, knowing that they could toss our little car if for whatever reason they got upset, but they didn’t seem to care that our vehicle, or the several others parked nearby, were voyeurs into their afternoon activities.  Incredible animals!  And the babies were soooo cute!

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Around sunset we checked into a super-cute hostel called Aardvark’s, where our rondavel had some quaint African touches.

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The garden was amazing, where the purple trees were in full bloom.  We saw them around a lot in this area and they were gorgeous!

We had dinner at Hazel’s, an organic place a few kilometers up the road that was opened by a Canadian, whose wife is a chep that specializes in game. I had the kudu, which was dressed in some sort of cranberry glace sauce.  It was reeeeaaaaallllyy yummy!  And cheap for only about $15!  Mmmmmmm…..

We set our alarms and were inside Addo by 73 and ended up having an amazing and almost unbelievable morning with probably 200 elephants frolicking in and/or near a watering hole only 50 meters from where 2 hyena took down a baby buffalo and was having a standoff with its angry mom.  This shot is kinda gross!

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The elephants were so cool to watch.

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We ended up staying at the watering hole for hours enjoying the show.

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They really looked like they were enjoying themselves!

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Especially these two!!!

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Throw in a dozen zebras, a few warthogs and a jackal and we were smack in the middle if a scene out of National Geographic.  Oh…and I finally saw my first black rhino in the wild…just to make the day that much better!   We stopped for lunch, and then did went back out for an afternoon game drive from 2-630.   We joked that unless there were at least 20+ elephants, it wouldn’t be the same.  Which was true!  Although this guy had to be my favorite 🙂

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We finally gave up on seeing any cats and drove the hour to Port Elizabeth and checked in to the same hostel I’d stayed at nearly a week ago.  I was catching the BB the next day and Francois was heading down the Garden Route towards Cape Town.  Bon soir Francois…thanks for inviting me to join you on our little adventure together!

Almost like deja vu, the BB picked me up at 645a and off we went up the Wild Coast.  It was actually quite cool (and random!) to re-connect on one leg of the bus trip with the two cool Spanish chicas I’d met at the hostel in Johannesburg a month ago on my first day in Africa. I had told the driver I was getting off at Port Saint Johns, but had been monitoring the weather as the forecast called for rain for the next week along the coast.  So depressing!  I had done such a good job of avoiding rain for all but 2 days of my trip only to slam into it in South Africa…nearly every day since I left Cape Town.  Grrrr….

Anyway, the Trans-kei, which is what they call the stretch of highway that cuts through the area I was hoping to go on the Wild Coast, and is supposedly incredibly scenic, was foggy, misty, rainy and visibility was maybe 3 meters in front of the bus.  Dammit!!!   More fucking rain.  I’m getting REALLY sick of the rain!

I made a last minute decision to stay on the bus and instead, I hopped off at a town called Kokstad, where I arranged for a taxi to pick me up and take up to the Sani Lodge, at the base of Sani Pass.  Why fight the rain?  Instead of hanging at the beach on the Wild Coast, I figured it would make a lot more sense to head to Lesotho, a little country in the middle of SA that actually thrives on rain. Lucky for me, another guy on the bus was also headed in the same direction, so we were able to share the taxi up the hill to Underberg.  I will write a separate blog post about my 2 days in Lesotho, so bare with me as I skip forward to the couple days I spent in Durban before heading to Mozambique.

There is honestly not much to report about Durban other than to not go there if you can help it!  The rain continued throughout my first day there, which I spent at the Mozambique consulate obtaining a visa.  If I hadn’t had that to do, I’m not sure I would have even left the hostel.  Durban life revolves around the beach.  If it’s raining and you can’t go to the beach, there is nothing to do.  It isn’t a safe city, so I didn’t feel comfortable exploring even a few blocks from the hostel on foot.  Not a good feeling…at all.  So, I caught up on emails and sleep, which wasn’t a bad thing.

The sun came out for my last day in Durban, which was glorious.

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What a difference a day makes!  I reunited with Sergio on the boardwalk, and we spent the day on the beach, bar-hopping to several bars on or near the beach before saying a final farewell around sunset.  Durban isn’t safe to walk after dark (and probably not during the day either), and he was staying on the opposite side of town than my digs at the Happy Hippo, a cool hostel close to the beach.  I called it an early night as I had to catch a 6am bus to Maputo, Mozambique the following morning.

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  1. Deb, South Africa is on my list of place I HAVE to see! Love this. Love this entire Blog, it is giving me the travel bug for sure! Harris and I are moving to Costa Rica in June so I hope you can work us into your 2013 travel plans! Safe travels, Love Andrea

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