These past few days have been crazy, awesome, amazing (etc., etc.) travelling across the Garden Route of South Africa so I am just going to briefly describe what we have been up to since we left Plettenberg Monday morning…
After getting on the overcrowded Baz Bus (a hop-on, hope-off bus that stops across South Africa) we drove to Gorge, where we got onto the shuttle to take us to Outshoorn up in the mountains. The whole trip basically took up most of our day, so once we arrived we got dinner and then just relaxed and went to bed early.
We woke up early and went to Cango Caves, where we did the “adventure” tour, i.e. the one where we crawl through small spaces in the cave for about an hour and a half. Because I have been “caving” (or whatever walking underground in a cave is called) at Mammoth Cave a few times and know how I get when I am placed underground far from any exit, I was kind of nervous I would have a panic attack but, not wanting to hold the group back, I sucked it up and joined them on the excursion. For most of the tour I pretended I was doing some sort of alternate work out exercise to prevent myself from freaking out and the experience was not as bad as I had anticipated.
After that we went to an ostrich farm, which was surprisingly really fun. Ostriches are the weirdest looking animals in the world; they resemble what an animal would look like if a chicken and a dinosaur mated, which makes them twenty times more fun to be around because they look so weird! Haha. We were also supposed to ride an ostrich but, since it was muddy, it was too dangerous because ostriches tend to randomly fall in the mud (we saw one wipe out and it was the saddest thing ever), so we ended up just getting to sit on one and we also got to stand on ostrich eggs – two things I definitely never thought I would do!
After our escapades around Oudtshoorn we got back in our “shuttle” and drove back down more windy mountain-hills to meet the Baz Bus in George. From there we travelled until about 8PM, stopping right outside of Cape Town in the suburb of Somerset West to meet Mal’s family friends, the Marshalls. Maury, Robbie, and Claire were waiting for us at the stop and loaded us and our twenty-odd bags into two cars and drove us back to their beautiful home for the night. I must admit, I was semi-reluctant to stay with a family for two nights who I had never met but Maury, Robbie, and Claire made us feel like we had known them forever! Welcoming us into their amazing home to make us dinner and allowing us to use their showers (finally, no baths!), was a welcomed break from the hustle of travelling. For the next two days there I felt as if I was home in America at a relatives’ house; the home-cooked meals, nice beds, and not having to worry about if my stuff was going to be stolen!
Staying at the Marshall’s house, we were finally able to sleep in (“sleeping in” is relative here, I mean we didn’t have to wake up by 8 AM ha) and enjoy a much needed less eventful day. After breakfast, Maury took us to Vergelegen, one of the world’s best known wineries, for a tour and a wine tasting. The tour was not really my kind of thing; personally, I would rather skip the lecture about alcohol and just drink it (haha), but it was nice being able to see how much work really goes into the wine-making process. In addition, the tour provided us with a unique way to see the beautiful landscape around us as the actual winery is situated upon a large hill while the other sorts of buildings and museums associated with it sit at the bottom. Standing on top of the winery you can either face the mountains or look down on to the city and bay, which is somewhat mind-blowing to be able to see both kinds of scenery all at once. After the guided-tour, we were able to participate in a wine-tasting. I have never been a part of a wine tasting and, although they give you sheets that explain the different wines, I really did not know what I was suppose to be tasting or smelling but it was fun to pretend I was a cultured wine-connoisseur for a day.
Somerset West is right next to Stellenbosch, a place known for its wineries and university, so we decided to go get some lunch in town and walk around the campus. Stellenbosch is an older town with visible Dutch influence; Afrikaans is everywhere, written and spoken. The buildings are also painted white and based on a similar Dutch design, reminding me of a white, non-brick Athens. And, like Athens, Stellenbosch is composed of primarily college students. Walking around the town, I kind of wished our program had been located there because I think our group would have met more people our own age, but I still would not trade my experience at Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth for anything!
Although our past couple days in Stellenbosch were relatively stress free, I managed to wake up with a migraine on Thursday morning and all I wanted to do was hide under the covers in a bed for the rest of the day. However, we had scheduled to travel to Cape Town that afternoon and go to Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela was infamously held, and I was determined not to miss experiencing this piece of history even if I was sick. Unfortunately, even though everyone had told us tours to the island were dead during the off-season (i.e. winter in South Africa) and we would have no problem getting tickets, the ferry was booked until Sunday! Just our luck (Table Mountain’s cable car, which takes you to the top of the mountain, was also closed down for maintenance the week we were in Cape Town too L ), but probably all for the better for me because, while the rest of the group decided to go to the aquarium, I was able to sleep for the rest of the day without the guilt of missing out of something amazing.
After my long afternoon nap, I was feeling better and met up with the girls to go to dinner at Burkarh. Maury and Robbie has recommended Burkarh as one of the best Indian restaurants to go to in South Africa, but I did not comprehend what “best” entailed until we got there. Burkarah, I know now, is a very swanky place to eat at and is appropriately worldly renown for its Indian food, but, not having realized this before, I rolled into the restaurant under-dressed in my stained hoodie and hair in braids. If this situation would have been in the States, I doubt I would have been seated, much less served, but the waiter was more than obliging and navigated us through the foreign menu! However, the best part about the dinner was how inexpensive it was for such amazing food; roughly $26 U.S. dollars per person, making the experience one of my favorites throughout the whole trip (haha).
Friday was jammed packed with things to do and see in Cape Town. I am pretty sure you can live in Cape Town for years and still find something new to experience each day, but we only had under three days to experience it so we went from one thing to the next, seeing an impressive amount of sights in such a short period. In order to see and experience as much as possible, we bought red and blue bus tickets for Friday and Saturday. The red and blue bus tickets allow you to experience Cape Town at your own pace, stopping at areas in Cape Town (the red bus) and outside of the city (the blue bus). The first day we primarily stayed on the blue bus, hitting up:
- Another winery (the name escapes me now) where there was more wine tasting. The original owner’s house has also been kept in tact and refurbished with historical furniture to act as a museum, which I really enjoyed touring as a history buff.
- The botanical garden Kirstenbosch that was gorgeous, but something I still can’t appreciate to its fullest because I grow impatient with walking around looking at plants. Maybe one day…
- Monkeyland and Birdland, where we were able to walking through the cages where the birds were! Aside from your typical talking parrot, Birdland had many vultures and owls and we walked through many of the areas where the owls were. This does not sound like it would be frightening but owls are pretty intimidating up close, especially when they click and hiss at you. We also got to see lots of different kinds of monkeys
We also got to experience another township tour and, in my opinion, this one was better than the one we had taken in Port Elizabeth because it was a walking tour thus we were able to meet residents and experience township life up close. The most interesting part of the tour was going to the community center located in the middle of the township where young girls were taking dance lessons. It was amazing to see all of these young girls in such a small space with a single teacher dancing like crazy and all on beat. Too bad we weren’t there long enough for them to teach us some moves (haha).
We then ate a late lunch and did some window shopping down by the wharf. Getting tired, we decided to just ride the bus around Cape Town until our dinner reservations at the restaurant inside of the Gold Museum. Eating at the Gold Museum was an experience I don’t think I will ever forget. First of all, all of the waiters and waitresses are dressed in a traditional African style, who sing, dance, drum, and put on three shows throughout the course of your meal. It is a long dinner with thirteen African dishes and desserts (that are coated in gold!) slowly brought out to you during the night while you enjoy the shows. And, if you are impatient for the eating to begin (or insanely early for your reservations like we were), there is a chance to drink cocktails while taking drum lessons before being seated. It was one of the nicest and most interesting dinners I have been too, and although it was expensive in comparison to what we had been spending on dinners during our travels, it only cost us about $60 U.S. dollars each and was well worth the money.
Saturday was our last day in Cape Town and South Africa, which was depressing enough, but to make it worse we had to wait around all day for our flight that was not due to leave until 11:30 that night. Wanting to make most of our last day and avoid thinking about the terrible, long flight ahead of us, we spent most of the day riding the bus around town and shopping at the local market and other stores in downtown Cape Town. However, everything closes earlier in South Africa, including all of the stores in Cape Town, so without anything else to do Emilee and I passed the time at a small coffee shop while waiting for Jessi’s friends (Jessi has family friends who live in a suburb outside of Cape Town and they were going to pick us up later that afternoon and make us dinner before taking us to the airport). Since staying in South Africa, my coffee intake has risen 500% and, in turn, I have seen and been in many different coffee shops but none were as great as this one; when I order a cappuccino, not only did it come with cookies and a shot of water, but they drew in different designs and sayings in the foam before giving it to me! The first time I had a heart that read “I love you” and the second time I received a dove holding an olive branch in its mouth with “You’re an angel”. Talk about a pick-me-up! No one can be sad after seeing something like that elaborately drawn in your coffee foam. Definitely something that would not happen at Starbucks.
After my amazing coffee shop experience (that looks corny but it really was), we were picked up by Jessi’s friends and went to their house for another delicious home-cooked meal before being taken to the airport. Going to the airport to catch our flight, I was not as upset as I had thought I would be but I definitely wish there was a way I could have stayed in South Africa for longer, whether it was in Cape Town or Port Elizabeth or anywhere for that matter. Maybe it is just the novelty of my South African experience, but I can’t even say that the ways that South Africa is deemed “behind” the U.S. are completely negative; yes, technology is slower coming over there and, yes, there is more overt racial issues because apartheid took place in the not-so-distant past, but the diversity, the geography, the food, and the friendliness of the people of the nation make me wish I could re-live my trip for the rest of my life.