As some of you know I took what was quite the epic vacation this December. Last year I explored the East coast from where I stay to Durban in KZN so this year I thought it only appropriate I go in the opposite direction. Luckily, my friends agreed!
Our holiday consisted of two parts, traveling to Cape Town along the Garden Route and then Cape Town itself.
Garden Route/Little Karoo:
After renting a car in Port Elizabeth our first stop on our trip was a place called Nature’s Valley which boarders the Tsitsikamma National Forest. We went zip lining in the forest and it was a ton of fun! Our lead guide was named Yolo and he made me believe that I had to go backwards because I was left handed. I am apparently exceptionally gullible. We had a lot of fun doing this and I highly recommend zip lining if you ever get the chance. Very cool.
Our second stop was Oudtshoorn in an area called the “Little Karoo”. This is the land of ostriches. You can tour one of the many ostrich farms and even ride an ostrich (which is apparently cruel so we decided to not do it despite the temptation). We came this way to see the Cango Caves and do the “adventure tour”. Talk about an adventure! We had to squeeze sideways through “Lovers Lane”, shimmy our way up the “Chimney”, and blindly slide down a tunnel. These caves were at one point in time shelter for actual cave men – the Khoisan people. Evidence of this was in rock paintings inside the caves (which have all unfortunately been destroyed). Again, it was very cool.
Oudshoorn to Mossel Bay – what should have been a short trip – turned into a four hour detour on a gravel road. Thank goodness we’re Peace Corps volunteers and we “packed our flexibility.” We stopped a few times for some scenic pictures, a quick dance party, and our sanity. Upon arrival in Mossel Bay at our train-turned-backpackers accommodation we immediately wanted drinks and food. *As a side note: a train-turned backpackers (beachfront!) sounds like a good idea. Not so much a good idea when your dorm is the width of a small train, lined on BOTH sides with bunk beds, and is literally booked full. There was no floor space because it was covered in massive hiking backpacks so getting to the bathroom, changing, moving at all was literally impossible. Our sense of humor about this didn’t really exist after again, FOUR HOURS on a GRAVEL road. Oh and our butter had melted in the trunk and got all over two of our bags. We laughed at this like insane people for probably ten minutes straight. It’s all we could do…
Anyway, food and drink. We go to the restaurant/bar attached to the backpackers and take a load off. This is our interaction with our waiter Mike after we’re seated:
Mike: “Oh, are you from Canada?”
Us: “No, America!”
Mike: “So. What can I get you.”
Clearly the right answer was Canada. This was made abundantly obvious over the rest of our stay as we would try and ask him something and he would continue to walk past us as we were mid-sentence. Oh, and the next morning he fake seated my friends. He took menus, pretended to walk my friends to a table, yet kept walking and closed a sliding glass door behind him…
It. Was. Weird. He also obsessively and continuously flipped a towel on/off his shoulder, occasionally switching the shoulders. It was quite entertaining. Waiter Mike had no love for us, and unfortunately by the end we had ZERO tolerance for him and his shenanigans. Who fake seats people?! We were quite happy to continue our trip leaving Mossel Bay in the rearview mirror.
We hit up the Southernmost Tip of Africa – Cape Agulhas on our way further West. It’s pretty cool to say I’ve been to the very bottom of Africa!
Then came my favorite part of the trip – cage diving with great white sharks! It was absolutely amazing and one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had! We went out on a boat into Gansbaai (Gans Bay) and I was terrified. I have a love/irrational fear of sharks. I’m one of those people who will be in a pool and suddenly have a fear that a shark is going to attack me and I frantically swim to edge and get out (other people do that too right………?). I blame TBS for having the JAWS movie marathons when I was in grade school. JAWS 4 did the most damage I think. Anywhoo my other irrational fear was that the cage would somehow detach from the boat and I’d either have to swim with the sharks to get to safety or sink to the bottom of the ocean. So basically I’m the perfect candidate to go cage diving right?!
I was scared and nervous until we saw our first shark; after that it was pure excitement. My friend Sam and I had just finished putting our wet suits on and we were on the bottom deck of the boat patiently waiting for that first sighting. The company we were with chums the water and also uses a massive tuna head as bait. We were discussing how disgusting the tuna head was when suddenly we hear “SHARK APPROACHING FROM THE LEFT!” and at that moment a great white’s massive jaws came out of the water in an attempt to get the bait right in front of us. It was amazing! After the first shark they put the cage down on the side of the boat and four people went in at a time to view under water. Sam and I got to go into the cage for two different 30 minute viewings. You’d bob in the cage (and attempt to not let your feet float out the back through the bars) and wait for the instructions: “shark approaching from right GO DOWN GO DOWN GO DOWN!” Then, you hold your breath, go underwater, and look to your right as you watch the shark swim in front of the cage to check out the tuna head. There was one scary moment when I was looking at a great white straight on as it came towards the cage but it turned before it got too close. Even though there wasn’t the possibility of danger, there’s nothing like looking straight on at an approaching great white to let you know who the boss is. If you’re ever in South Africa, and want to go Cage diving you HAVE to go with the “Shark Lady” (previous customers – Brad Pitt and Princes William and Harry) it was amazing!
There was actually a scarier event that day – having to drive our manual shift car to and from the shark diving which was 40 minutes away from where we were staying. That was my fourth time EVER driving a manual shift. Previous times include: 20 minutes in the Oregon State University parking lot, 30 minutes around Alexandria, 30 minutes the night before cage diving just to make sure I could actually do it. So I was TERRIFIED. Luckily, we were leaving super early in the morning so there was almost no traffic on the way there. I only stalled a total of like 5 times at stop signs, which to me, is great! I still can’t reverse…
We met up with other Peace Corps volunteers in Cape Town and rented a house with them for the rest of the vacation. We celebrated Christmas with a gourmet dinner that was simply delicious! We visited the National Art Gallery, the National History Museum, shopped, ate delicious food, went to a Goldfish concert (youtube them – so good!), Kaulk Bay, an awesome wine tour, the beach and had an overall great vacation! NYE we went out on the tourist trap Long Street but it was actually really fun and we got to meet up with a lot of other PCVs from other groups who were also staying in Cape Town. I wore heels for the first time in two years. Huge mistake. It was still a really fun night though!
Besides the house we were renting belonging to a semi-hoarder, there being no curtains anywhere including the bathroom which looked directly into another houses kitchen, and the fact that we were essentially paying to dog-sit, there is one funny story about where we stayed. The almost break-in!
Everyone was downstairs in the backyard when I went upstairs to get something. I was staying in the master bedroom with a balcony off of it. As I turned on the bedside lamp I saw a man come out of crouching position on our balcony. I froze in terror. I literally couldn’t move and I just remember thinking…do I scream? Do I run? What do I do?! That’s when he speaks to me through the window:
Potential robber: “I have asthma.”
PR: “I have asthma, can you help me?”
Me: coming out of shock…”NO! NO I CAN’T %$#&^*@ HELP YOU! GET THE *#%$ OUT OF HERE!”…followed by other strongly worded statements like: “WE HAVE DOGS!” and “WE’RE CALLING THE COPS!” After about 30 seconds of me screaming at him he just simply climbed off the balcony never to be seen again. It is still completely unknown how he somehow scaled his way up our house to the second story balcony. Especially if he had asthma…
My vacation ended on the 1st of January but I had a slow reintroduction to life in reality as I spent a few days with the Smith family at the Cannon Rocks Kiteboarding competition. It was a great time, the weather was lovely, and it was cool meeting a whole bunch of kite surfers and hanging out with new and old friends.
Life back at site has been great! I was glad to be home in my comfy bed and back to a semblance of a routine. There is lots of work to be done in the next weeks as I prepare to leave South Africa. Finish reports, write a summary of all the work I’ve done that goes on record for 90 years, and make sure that my programs can function once I’ve left. Not easy tasks to accomplish but I know everything will get done! In the meantime I’m following some great advice and living in the moment!
“May every sunrise hold more promise, and every sunset hold more peace.”