South Africa, part 3: Garden Route I

POST EN ESPAÑOL -> LÉELO AQUÍ

Thank God I decided to go on the Garden Route tour at the last minute, because my initial idea was to stay in Cape Town for the whole two weeks. But then I thought: “Come on, how can you go to the other side of the world and stay in just one place and not explore as much as you can?!”. That’s a question you can’t really argue against, so I booked the tour and I can say that, had I not done it, I would have had a much more limited impression of the country and now I wouldn’t be obsessed with Africa and scheming my way back (something certain people would prefer… Hi mum).

The tour I chose consisted of a 4-day route from Cape Town, in the West, to the Addo Elephant National Park, in the East, going along part of the coast.

DAY 1

The day started early, I was picked up on a Monday at 5:30 in the morning, although I can’t complain because I was last. Plus, I was lucky no one had wanted to take the front passenger seat in the van, so I jumped in, ready to enjoy the roadtrip. The group consisted mainly of young people, several German guys and girls, a Greek girl, a Norwegian girl, a Polish couple, a Dutch guy, a Swiss guy, an Italian man and myself.

Despite being extremely sleepy, I resisted the urge to close my eyes as much as I could because I wanted to enjoy the scenery. I love landscapes. During the trip, besides marveling at the views and getting frustrated for not being able to take decent pictures of the sunrise, I talked with the driver, Nadia, a nice South African girl who, besides asking about myself and so on, also asked some odd (yet funny) questions such as “If you could only eat one type of nut, what would it be?” or “If you had to choose between being able to play every instrument in the world or travel every country in the world, what would you choose?”. My answer to the first question was “chestnuts”, about which we had a little debate because according to her, it is almonds you can get the most out of. I think the answer to the second question is pretty obvious, as much as I may love music. We both agreed there. It was a long ride, about 6 hours (with a stopover in the middle) along Route 62, so beautiful time passed by quite fast.

When we arrived at our destination, we said goodbye to Nadia and she introduced us to the guy who would be our guide for the rest of the tour, Gareth, a surfer kind of guy. Our first stop was the Cango Endangered Wildlife ranch, where we could see crocodiles, giant bats, a cute otter, lemurs, lions, cheetahs, a Bengala tiger, flamingos, turtles, wild pigs, snakes, birds… The ranch guide told us about the animals as we walked around and, well, it was a nice experience. Maybe a little too long for me because there were too many people, the guide’s voice was extremely high-pitched and it was really hot, so the animals were lying down lazily, something I would have done in their situation, too. Then we had to wait quite a long time until those who had paid to pet the animals were finished, before having lunch, at last, at the ranch restaurant. There I tried ostrich meat for the first time, in a very tasty burger. It doesn’t taste like chicken at all, it’s actually more similar to game.

Then we went to Cango Caves, where we were offered two options: the standard tour and the adventure tour. The latter entailed going through very narrow spaces, having to duck, kneel, climb or even crawl on the floor. Being aware of my slight claustrophobia, which I noticed a couple years ago when I had an MRI done, stuck in that stifling tube for 20 minutes without being able to escape, I had to think twice. My adventurous spirit encouraged me to do it, my slight claustrophobia held me back. As the guide explained what the tour consisted of, there was a power struggle in my head:

–          Guide: There will be times when we’ll be able to simply walk through…
–          Adventurous spirit: See? No big deal.
–          Guide: …But at certain point we’ll have to go sideways or bend, some spaces are less than 30 cm…
–          Slight claustrophobia: 30 centimeters?! He’s talking about width and not height, right? RIGHT?
–          Adventurous spirit: Obviously, how do you intend to go through a 30-cm high space? Duh.
–          Guide: …If anyone is claustrophobic, you’d better have medical insurance. You all have medical insurance, right? (A generalized nervous giggling is heard).
–          Slight claustrophobia: I do have medical insurance, but you’re kidding, right? I mean, you’re trying to be funny.
–          Adventurous spirit: The guy looks pretty serious about it, but I’m sure he’s exaggerating. If a big guy like him fits through those holes, you too.

And that’s what made me choose the adventure tour. A simple “If he fits, you too”. The first 20 minutes were kinda easy, so I relaxed, but then things started to get tricky. First we had to duck to keep going, then kneel, then the walls got slippery and, lastly, the final challenge: a vertical and narrow hole through which we had to climb for about 10-15 meters with the only help of our bare hands, our knees—not bare in my case, but I got bruises on them anyway— and hardly any light. It took us a while to go through because we had to go one by one and there was about 30 of us. When only a few of us had gotten out of the hole, we realized that in that new chamber there was only one exit—another hole up to the right. But wasn’t this the last thing?! No, my friends, there was one even worse. The one that was 30 cm. 30 cm HIGH.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a little nervous, but the truth is that, in other people’s company, joking about the mess we had gotten ourselves in, I simply went on without thinking about it. To go through this last space you had to lie down, preferably facing upwards, and slide forward by pushing your hands against the ceiling until the space opened up and you slid downwards, finally landing in a huge chamber. Then we made our way back (skipping the last two tricky parts) and that was it. I was happy I dared do it and faced my fears. Nothing like travelling to step out of your comfort zone and realize how far you can get (a lot further than we think!).

This was the last activity of the day, so we headed towards Sedgefield, a town by the sea where we would spend the night in a backpacker.

DAY 2

The day started the way the rest of the days would start from then on—early, quickly and in a hurry. At 06:35, after a rushed breakfast and a slight telling off for being 5 minutes late, we hit the road, driving by Knysna, a seaside town with beautiful surroundings.

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The first stop of the day was an elephant sanctuary. It wasn’t included in the price and I didn’t see the need to spend €25 in walking along with elephants and feeding them, so I waited with some other tour mates while the rest did the thing. This was the morning of waiting, because next was the highest bungee jumping in the world (216 m) from Bloukrans Bridge, something I wasn’t mentally prepared for. So, while some people leaped into the void, others had breakfast for the second time that day with a good beer (and I say “others” to disguise the fact that the only greedy pig who had breakfast twice was me). During that morning I had the chance to know some of the others better, which is always good to build trust and good vibes.

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Bloukrans Bridge, 216 m free fall
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If only every wait was like this…

After this and the necessary stop for lunch, I finally could do something: a zip line circuit at Tsitsikamma National Park. I didn’t do badly and it was cool to see the red water in the river, which apparently looks like that because it’s an area where the honeybush grows, a plant used to make a type of infusion which dyes the water.

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Driving a little further, but in the same national park, we went to see two swing bridges over the Storms River. We walked through a wooden structure built in the middle of a little forest, crossed a bridge and ended up on a beautiful and small pebble beach, where we rested for a while. Some of us spent their time climbing rocks, others decided it was best to throw pebbles into the water, others made piles with pebbles on the ground, others took photos and others simply observed the scene.

When it was time to go, we drove to the backpacker where we would spend the night: Island Vibe in Jeffrey’s Bay. It had a surfing vibe and the atmosphere was quite lively, and it was right in front of the beach with stunning views. Since we arrived pretty early, we had time to go shopping at surf clothing stores, which according to the guide had good discounts. I’ve never surfed in my life nor was I planning to, but I hoped to find a nice T-shirt as a souvenir from South Africa, which I finally found after a thorough search for a modest €8, I think.

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The view from the backpacker

The night at the backpacker was pretty fun. Dinner was inspired in Mexico so, obviously, the meal consisted of fajitas. There was a lounge/bar area where many of the guests gathered, there was music being played, pretty much a “club” atmosphere. After dinner, the inevitable happened: drinking games, although I soon stood back as an observer because I was full between the food and a couple beers. It was cool because, as our group played, other people observed intrigued and ended up approaching us to ask if they could join us. But the observer role is fun for a while, then it gets tiring, and so I went to bed at about 23:30. The party went on till late in the night, but I didn’t notice because I fell asleep as soon as I lay down on my bed. I didn’t even need to use my earplugs despite hearing the music echoing, and that’s weird considering I need absolute silence to be able to fall asleep.

To be continued…

I’d like to finish this post with an example of the landscape diversity in this fabulous country *_*. Both photos were taken around 30 mins – 1 hour apart.

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