Caves, Parks, and Bungee: The Garden Route Part 1
This post will cover the first half of our tour through the Garden Route of South Africa with the company Earthstompers. The tour took us from Cape Town over to about Port Elizabeth and back, all along the Indian Ocean. Every day was jam-packed with activities and amazing sights to behold.
What We Did
Day 143 (12/12/16): We departed from Cape Town early, boarding the bus and meeting the five other girls and guide Cindy who would be our South African family for the next week. We travelled down the scenic and spectacular Route 62, which is South Africa’s longest wine route and very similar in style to Route 66 in the U.S. We grabbed breakfast at a gas station, and bought our first stock of biltong. A little while later, we stopped at a small town on the way called Barrydale. We spent about an hour wandering into the cute shops there and devouring the massive and incredible milkshakes at Diesel & Crème. Super Guide Cindy, upon discovering our obsession with biltong, purchased a giant bag of fresh stuff from a butcher for van snacks. We continued on and had a lovely lunch and wine tasting at a local winery. We then drove through Oudtshoorn in the Little Karoo, known as the Ostrich Capital of the World, where we would be staying for the evening. Before checking in to our hostel, we proceeded to explore the Cango Caves on a guided adventure tour where we had to climb, slide, and wiggle through some very tight spaces. Afterwards, we returned to our hostel, checked-in and made our way poolside. For dinner, we had a braii and feasted on delicious ostrich. We ended to evening bonding with our tour mates, henceforth referred to as “the sausages”, over beers, wine, and some new drinking games.
Day 144 (12/13/16): After breakfast we headed over the spectacular Outeniqua Mountain pass where were set to explore Wilderness National Park. We paired up and paddled up the Touw River through indigenous forest on canoes. After about 40 minutes, we left the canoes riverside for a 2km hike along a boardwalk. At the end of the hike was an awesome rock formation and waterfall with pools we could swim in. We stayed there swimming, soaking up the sun, and eating a packed lunch. Afterwards, we paddled back upstream and headed for our hostel on the beach in Sedgefield. We checked in, explored the beach, including some of the interesting marine life, and returned to the hostel for a braii on the sand. That evening we held a beer pong tournament in which Justin emerged victorious.
Day 145 (12/14/16): After breakfast, we made our way through spectacular Lake District of the Garden Route and had a quick stop in the famous town of Knysna and the Knysna Heads viewpoint for some spectacular views over the Knysna River estuary and the Indian Ocean. Afterwards we headed to the Bloukrans Bridge, where Katie, Adam, Emilee, and I prepared to do the world’s highest bridge bungee jump (over 700 feet). We all took the plunge, and got some great pictures of the experience. We then drove to meet up with Justin and the other sausages that had done the zip-lining course. We visited a vintage Elvis-themed shop and diner and took some time to relax in the grass. We then drove to a citrus farm, where we would be spending the night. We spent the evening sipping wine by the pool and having a traditional dinner of bobotie and malva pudding before turning in for the night.
What We Learned
- Biltong is AMAZING. No joke. Buy as much of this stuff as you can. It is kind of like jerky, except when you make jerky at home, you cut the meat into strips before you dry it. With biltong, you dry the entire piece of meat and then slice it. You end up with a moister piece of cured meat that won’t tire out your jaw. It comes cut in a variety of thicknesses and can have a variety of flavors (we had a chili-spiced one that was delicious!). Also, they make biltong out of several meats including beef, lamb, and springbok. I literally shoved three bags of it in my backpack to take home and it barely lasted a week. Get you some!
- We noticed that South Africa still has a huge economic divide that for the most part is along racial lines. You will have beautiful modern houses in Cape Town, and then drive 10 minutes out of town and find huge shanty-towns filled with aluminum-sided shacks. The white people seem to be better off economically as a whole, especially in the urban areas. That bring said, we never felt threatened or felt uncomfortable and found everyone to be quite kind and welcoming. You will definitely notice a lot of security in South Africa as far as bars on windows and thick fencing around all the properties, but with the poverty that still exists there, burglary can be a problem. We were told to watch out for pick-pockets, especially on Long Street, which is a tourist drinking hotspot, but never had any issues ourselves (Justin’s lost wallet was even returned).
- Hitch hiking is very common in South Africa. People regularly hitch-hike as a way to get to work or the store. Many people also pick up hitch-hikers, especially those who drive trucks (the passengers sit in the bed). Our guide Cindy said she does not do it personally, as she is less comfortable when she is driving alone, but said her dad and brother pick up hitchhikers all the time and have never had any issues. She also said that a lot of the time, the passengers will give the driver some cash for a ride. On a funnier note, when I asked Cindy if hitchhiking was common, she started by saying it was a huge problem and then goes into talking about poor sexual education and a lack of knowledge about transmission. It took about five minutes of me wondering what the hell she was talking about to realize she had misheard me. She thought I had asked if HIV was common. Justin and I were relieved because for a minute there, we thought she was indicating that hitch-hiking often resulted in sexual exchanges….
- Holiday Sausage. For everyone on our tour, this will be enough said. On our first night together, while drinking the bar out of Black Label beer, we began swapping drinking games. We taught them all a game called Picolo, which resulted in some hilarious exchanges such as having to tell everyone you loved them every time you spoke, me dancing non-stop for ten minutes, and discovering that the Afrikaans language has no slang words for male or female genitalia. Then Debbie shared a game from England called Holiday Sausage. In this game, one person is not allowed to laugh or smile. They must respond to questions asked by the rest of the group, no matter the question, with the phrase “holiday sausage”. It resulted in some very inappropriate and solicitous questions, and became the de facto nickname for our tour group.
- When coming back from the waterfall on canoes I was behind Katie’s canoe heading straight up river when all of the sudden they started going sideways. I was confused as to what was going on until we hit the big gust of wind that they were dealing with and began doing the same. It was quite comical watching everyone paddling from one riverbank to the other and zigzagging up the river as they fought the wind. Katie’s canoe had the most trouble, whereas magically, Adam’s canoe was able to forge straight through unfazed.
- Completing the world’s highest bridge bungee jump was definitely a highlight. After arriving at the bridge, we got fitted with harnesses, and completed a crazy and to some in our group, terrifying, walk under the bridge to the jump point. The operators do a great job at keeping it fun, rather than scary, as the jump point has a DJ booth and the workers are constantly doing dances while pulling up the various ropes. We all anxiously awaited our turns to take the plunge. I went first and jumped doing my best Pocahontas impression before plummeting towards the ground. It was surreal and quite the head rush. After bouncing around at the end of the rope, you are hauled back up and a man comes down to meet you and cranks you up from being upside down to the seated position. Adam had some difficulty at this point, as some of his manly bits were not appropriately positioned in the harness. This resulted in some discomfort fom him, and some laughing from the worker. Once you get back to the jump point, they set you down on a mat and six guys go to town unwrapping you like a big Christmas present. It was a really awesome experience to have in South Africa. All of us enjoyed it, although Katie and I had decidedly much better jumping form than Adam and Emilee (it must be genetic), and we walked back to the van knowing we could cross one more thing off of our bucket lists.