South Africa, part 4: Garden Route 2

POST EN ESPAÑOL -> LÉELO AQUÍ

So here’s the fourth and last part of my chronicle about South Africa.

DAY 3

This was one of the days I was looking forward to the most because we were finally going on a safari, if driving around an elephant national park for hardly 2 hours qualifies as such. But anyway, it was the most similar thing to a real one I could do, so I was really excited about it.

Its name being Addo Elephant National Park, you can already have an idea of the animals we saw most frequently—elephants, but we also saw warthogs, zebras, buffaloes, antelopes, cheetahs and a lion (oh, and a tortoise!), which means we only saw 3 of the so called “Big Five” (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino), but what more can you ask for in a couple hours? I enjoyed it a lot because I loved watching the animals in their natural habitat which, far from being the Maasai Mara, it wasn’t a zoo either. Plus, the guide was super friendly and, besides explaining things to us about the animals’ lives, he kept making jokes and made us feel really comfortable. I must say he also told us the same, that we were a super nice group, which led to a great atmosphere that he didn’t experience with everyone, so I’m glad we made our guide Siya have a good time as well.

This was the most Eastern spot of our route, after which we drove back to spend the night at the same backpackers as the first night, in Sedgefield. On our way there we stopped again at Tsitsikamma Park to do what I explained in the last post about the hanging bridge because I messed up the days. No wonder I thought that afternoon had been extremely productive when writing the post… So after stopping at the pebble beach and the bridge, we arrived to the backpackers, where a delicious braai was awaiting us (although it was mostly chicken… easy to notice the “backpackers” factor here). There was a cozy veranda where some of us had dinner, getting to know people from other group who were doing a slightly different route, and we ended up pleasantly chatting until pretty late in the night. The truth is it was a cool night (figuratively speaking), drinking the calimocho (red wine + coke) I had bought the first day and which I hadn’t had the chance to drink yet. The idea of mixing those two drinks produced faces of disgust from everyone who asked me what I was drinking, but once I invited them to try it, they had to admit it wasn’t that bad. In any case, I don’t know why the hell I didn’t buy beer instead.

DAY 4

The last day kicked off with dampened spirits because apparently it was going to rain and that would ruin our activity of the day: canoeing. We set off under an overcast sky and, indeed, as we arrived to the place where we would take our canoes, it was closed. People started complaining (and rightly so, because it isn’t normal to have an activity planned and finding the place closed when you arrive), so the guide phoned the people in charge and soon after they came and opened the place. Everyone was utterly happy and went to pick the canoes, but what in my head looked like an idyllic and relaxed ride ended up being an ordeal for me.

First, because my left arm hurt quite a lot after a while, which made me overstrain my right arm, which made me have to stop paddling to rest, which made my poor Norwegian mate and me lag behind and arrive last.

And second, because in the middle of all that agony, it started raining as it was forecast, which forced me to take off my glasses and paddle blindly (or rather, blurry) and wet. The landscape was beautiful, though. Green lush everywhere. After that we walked into a forest to see a waterfall, but the guide had a warning to make. He said: “Is anyone arachnophobic? Cause in this forest there are rain spiders, which are quite big and come out when it rains. They’re not venomous, but they do bite, so keep your eyes open!”. Those who know me also know the hate/panic I feel for spiders, but there was no turning back, so I decided it was best to continue without putting on my glasses in order not to see any spiders in case any of them wanted to come out and say hi. I kept walking quickly after the steps of whoever was in front of me and luckily no one saw any spiders.

But the adventure wasn’t over. We arrived to the waterfall and there were huge stones forming two levels. Everyone took off their shoes and started climbing a steep rock to reach the upper level and get closer to the waterfall. Since it seemed we were going to be there for quite a while, I decided to climb as well, but I hadn’t taken off my shoes. When the guide saw me wearing my trainers, he told me I had to take them off because otherwise I would slip on the wet stone, so I took them off and left them in a hollow to grab them on my way down. I felt it was even more slippery with bare feet, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a hard time. It was difficult to hold on to the rock and the surface was quite steep, but in the end I managed to get to the upper level safe and sound. Once up there, we took the obliged picture and then it was time to go down, which worried our guide.

When my turn came, I went half way to where I had left my shoes, but it wasn’t feasible to carry them in my hands because I needed both to grip the rocks on my way down. The guide’s solution? Throw them rolling down the rock, one by one, hoping they wouldn’t fall into the water. At my baffled face, he sentenced: “it’s either the shoes or you”, an argument that convinced me right away. He threw them and they were REALLY close to falling to the water and disappearing forever. After that, we all came down without any incidents and we walked back through the forest and picked up our canoes again. At least this time we weren’t last to arrive because I had already gotten the hang of it. I was sooo happy to get to the van and be able to finally change into dry clothes… As you can understand, I don’t have pictures of this adventure because, for once in my life, I made the right decision leaving my bag in the van.

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Don’t stop the flow

After that we continued our way back to Cape Town and stopped by an aloe factory for lunch. Yes, for lunch. It would have made more sense to do what we all had imagined—visit a factory to learn about how they make aloe products. But no. It was the shop where they sold their products, which as it turned out, had a restaurant (?). So we had lunch there and we didn’t even have the time to have a look at the aloe products they had on display to sell (nicely managed, guys…!). After lunch we had a couple more hours to go and we finally arrived to Cape Town, physically destroyed but pleased and happy with the journey we had shared.

And what a better way to top off such a nice evening than enjoying it in the best part of the house having a delightful snack with privileged views:

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Sushi and beer, oh yeah

I also think it’s necessary for me to show you this sausage brand we saw during our trip…

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“Ster” means “star” and “wors” means “sausage” in Afrikaans… very clever

CONCLUSION

What else can I say after these four posts? I fell in love with the country. Africa is a continent that had never caught my attention, I wasn’t really interested in it and I could think of many other places I’d rather go to. But I had the chance to visit South Africa and it blew me away. The variety in its rich landscapes, the people’s character, the history that makes their way of life how it is now… The consequence? I am now obsessed with Africa and counting the days to go back. I can’t stop reading books about the continent, be it explorer journals from the 1800’s or fiction novels, I become emotional (even to the point of crying!) when singing “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King, I take more interest in the African history and reality, I download movies such as Out of Africa… Plain obsession. I also have already planned my next trips to Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and, of course, my so yearned for return to South Africa.

All this to say I really encourage you to visit Africa if you haven’t already, even if doesn’t appeal to you at all, because I’m pretty sure it will charm you as it charmed me. In Spanish we have a term for this, “mal de África”, and it is 100% true. As the explorer Ryszard Kapuscinski said:

I wish I could convey what Africa was like. I have experienced nothing like it. Africa has its own personality. Sometimes it is a sad personality, sometimes impenetrable, but always unrepeatable. Africa was dynamic. It was aggressive, on the attack.

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