South Africa – The Coast to the Cape

April 16, 2008 - Keetmanshoop, Namibia


A Beach or Three
From the hills of Underberg, we hitched a ride with a couple of Canadians to the town of Port St Johns on the Wild Coast. Bordered between two sharp mountains, PSJ is made up of one town and three beaches creatively named First Beach, Second Beach and, you guessed it, Third Beach. On arriving into town, Johanna and I instantly liked it. It had all the hustle and bustle you would expect from an African town in a lovely setting of beaches and forests.
But upon arriving, we found that the cottage we had booked had been given away – just because. So instead, we were directed to try up the road at the Silaka National Park. On arrival, we managed to were lucky enough to secure a fantastic cottage overlooking the beautiful reserve with the gorgeous Third Beach just a short walk down the road. The Backpackers God had smiled on us that night.

So we spent the next couple of days just taking it easy – playing racket ball on the beach, going for swims and simply relaxing. One night, we even managed to procure seven live crayfish from the measly cost of $6 the lot, and cooked up the lot with garlic and butter – yummo!
On leaving PSJ, we got a minibus inland to Mthata, and booked ourselves on an overnight bus heading southwest along the coast. We waited at the Greyhound bus station until the scheduled time of 11pm. But as the time approached, the station master came out, mumbled something in Xhosa (the local language), and we were disheartened to see the locals start to “set up camp” in the bus station. We asked for an English translation, and were told the bus was delayed by two hours. Five hours later, the bus turned up, and we finally jumped on. Apparently the bus had hit a couple of cows on the way down and had to be replaced. TIA – This Is Africa.

The Garden Route

We traveled onwards, avoiding any more cows, and after a 26 hour trip from Port St Johns, arrived at Storms River in Tsitsikamma National Park. We spent the next few days at Dijembe Backpackers mountain biking with baboons, chilling out in hammocks, having drinks around roaring bonfires, and playing soccer with Tiger, the amazing, yet obsessed, soccer-playing dog

The last night there, we met a mama, who had brought her twin boys to perform for us in order to raise money for the crèche she was running up the road. After an energetic performance, the mother invited Johanna and I to come visit the crèche the next morning. We walked there the following day, and I was amazed to see how close it was. A few hundred metres away from the plush holiday homes and B&Bs of Storms River, sat the rough shacks and dilapidated houses of yet another township. The contrast was stunning. The mama took us to the crèche, made of corrugated iron and rotting wood. In this flimsy structure, will little to no funding, this mama tries to care for and feed 50 children every day. It’s a tough ask, but she tries to do what she can.

The contrasts in South Africa keep getting to me. It is by far the richest country in Africa, but the majority still live in poor conditions. While apartheid has ended, many things remain the same. The majority of whites remain relatively rich and comfortable, while the majority of blacks struggle to get by. They are trying to do what they can for the people of this country, but they are still a long way off from achieving true equality and prosperity.


From Storms River, we went to Knysna, which marked the arrival on the Garden Route – and the world suddenly seemed to change. I could have believed we were on the east coast of Australia rather than Africa. There were plenty of souvenir and clothes stores, cafes and supermarkets, and white tourists. We spent a day doing a beer and oyster tour (two of my favourite things), but soon left Knysna. This was the type of place that we had not come to Africa to see.

Ostrich Riding
We spent another night at Buffalo Bay, a beautiful secluded beach. But as the weather started to turn, we escaped with a German girl named Tina on the way to Oudtshoorn – the ostrich capital of the world. On arrival, we quickly booked ourselves in on an ostrich tour. Our first stop was to be introduced to an ostrich couple that had been together for 27 years. Funnily enough, these celebrities were quite camera shy, and Johanna’s attempts to photograph them were almost as entertaining as the strange birds themselves. But the most interesting, yet disgusting thing was watching the male ostrich relieve itself. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say, I am very happy that ostriches cannot fly. We also had the chance to check out the huge, strong ostrich eggs – equivalent of 24 chicken eggs and strong enough to stand on – no yoke!
Next came the fun part – our opportunity to ride on the ostriches. Unfortunately, I was over the weight limit, so only had a chance to sit on one. But nervously decided to have a go. With a bag over its head, Johanna jumped on board and held on tight. They whipped off the bag, and the bird went for a frantic run around the yard with Johanna hanging on screaming. Hilarious stuff.
After seeing the birds that day, we could not help but eat ostrich steak that night and ostrich eggs in the morning. And funnily enough, it didn’t taste like chicken.

From there, we drove through the Little Karoo, an area with barren lands and red soil that remind me of the Australian outback. We drove through some nice towns and a gorgeous mountain pass covered with a thick blanket of clouds. And soon enough, we started to come into Somerset West in greater Cape Town.

Mike


Cape Town
Arriving at Sven and Janet's place a short drive outside Cape Town I think we both felt as if we'd come home despite never having been there before. Sven and Janet greeted us with champagne on arrival (why all the hostels don't do that I don't know!) and after a shower and having packed our things away in our room we were served a delicious roast lamb dinner.
As I am used to seeing Sven and Janet, my grandmother's brother and his wife, in Sweden every summer it was funny to sit in their lounge room chatting away being on the other side of the world. This is made possible through their ideal setup of living in Sweden during the Northern hemisphere summers and spending the rest of the year in Cape Town -retiring is the way to go!
I felt like I could just as well have been in Dragsmark. We went to bed quite late after having chatted the night away and slept like babies in our comfortable beds. The following two days we spent mostly catching up on well-needed washing of clothes and purchasing new ones. Along the way we have managed to to lose a sleepiong bag here, a sarong anad a pair of shorts here etc, and it was great to be in a big city to re-stock on these items being allowed some selection. We also dedicated a fair amount of time towards getting a car one way or the other for our trip North. Our next leg of the trip is Namibia where very little public transport and and enormous distances make for a pretty challenging destination without your own vehicle. While we looked at several options both Mike and I had this roimantic idea of sriving around in an old Land Rover in which we could sleep, cook and store all our bleongings. We did pursue this this option to the point where Sven took us to see a 1983 Land Rover, 1983 being the excellent year in which I was born. Initially we got the run-down of all the technical requirements such as “You will have to fill up the oil from underneath the car daily”, and “It is inevitable that the car will break down at som point during a trip like the one you're planning”. Despite this we were willing to take it for a spin, because it did so fulfil that romantic, and as it would turn out, naïve dream of ours. When Mike however attempted at manouvering the beast through the narrow streets of Cape Town with double clutches, indicators on the wrong side of the dash board and non-working fuel and speed guages, we recognised our defeat and turned the dream down. With neither Mike or me being particularly mechanically inclined it would just not be a smart option.
Instad we made a great discovery a few days later when we got an offer to rent a little VW Citi Golf for a very attractive price. The bright blue “Chico” which is the name it now goes under became our chosen mean of transport and will be our (hopefully) faithful companion through Namibia and Botswana. He might be little and weak-looking but there is strength to match the best of them under his little bright blue bonnet. It's just the 4x4 gravel roads we'll have to give a miss...

Having gotten ourselves a set of wheels and re-stocked on the essentials we could finally concentrate on discovering the beauty of this “The world's fairest cape”, as Sven calls it. We spent the first leisure afternoon at the waterfront, South Africa's biggest tourist attraction, which reminds me a great deal of Sydney's Darling Harbour. While the scenery is stunning with the Table Mountain as the back drop it suffers from being over-commercialised with endless rows of shops and fastfood restaurants. Not a bad place to kill a couple of hours, but I don't think we would have stayed as long if it wasn't for the Waterfront also being the place where the boats for Robben Island departs. The ferry taking us out to the little island where Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu and their comrades were held prisoners during the freedom struggle is only takes 20 odd minutes which adds to the bizarre feel of the place. You can easily see Table Mountain and the gorgeous vistas around Cape Town from the island itself. You see planes and fishing boats heading to their resptective ports, even the beautiful houses of the seaside suburbs are quite clearly visible. With all of this within such a close reach political prisoners (and lepers before them) where hidden away with the intention of making the outside world forget their bare existence. Solid isolation and hard labour in the lime stone quarries on the island were the ways to spend the time. While possesing this horrific and inhumane hsitory the island is strikingly beautiful and on the tour we did we really got to see both the beautiful and the horrific sides if it. Being such a popular tourist spot however it is inevitable to be bunched up with large tour groups or camera and video happy Europeans and Americans snapping away at every building and sight possible. With this dedracting form the personal experience, it was still a spectacular afternoon to walk around the prison blocks with our guide. He had been a former political prisoner to the island himself, and listening to his stories about the attrocities commited by the South African government against the majority of the country's population gave us chills.

The following morning we headed together with Sven and Janet to Kristenbosch Botanical Gardens, the nicest botanical garden I have ever seen with hundreds of antive and introduced plants nicely organised along the lower slopes of Table Mountain itself. We had tea and scones at the gardens where we also watched a memorable photo exhibition, Hard Rain.

Mike and I were later dropped off in the Atlantic coast suburb of Camps Bay where we had organised for a night out with Tina, a German girl we had met a few days later and who had given us a lift to Cape Town. Craving urban atmosphere we headed out with Tina and her friend Ted for delicious suchi and seafood dinner and a few drinks witch even ended in karaoke to Mike's great satisfaction. We continued on getting our urban fix when we the following morning headed down to the beach for large frothy cappucinos and yummy muffins. Bliss after weeks on end with instant coffee. Following brekky and we said farewell to Tina and Ted and and ventured back to the city. Dropping Mike off at the Table Mountains cable cars where he did a tour to the top of the mountain, I continued back down to the Waterfront where I spent a few hours in a music store picking up some local music.

The following day was one that we had been talking about and looking forward to since long before leaving Sydney. It was time to face one of my biggest fears and the reason for my somewhat panicky fascination with sharks – The Great Whites off Seal Island. Not only were we going to be able to see the giant sharks from the boat, but we were also to take the plunge into their territory where we could see them from inside a cage. I hadn't really asked myself the question “Why?” right until I was just about to get into the cage, and at that point I had no good answer at all.
The place where the cage diving takes place is called Gansbaai, a little sleepy fishing village about 150kms East of Cape Town, which has become (in)famous, depending on who you ask, for the big business of taking tourists to see these impressive creatures. We left Cape Town before dawn in our little Chico and made it just in time for a quick brekky before getting onboard the boat and leaving the safety of land. During the compulsory vessel safety brief we were told where the life jackets where stored in the “unlikely case of an emergency. “. Never before had that sounded so irrelevant. A life jacket would harly do the trick if the boat sank in Shark Alley...
The location we were heading for has been made famous worldwide through numerous wildlife documentaries, even Sir David Attenborough himself has been filming there. The reason for its fame is a concentration of Great Whites unheard of anywhere else in the world. Over 1500 sharks frequent the shallow waters around Seal Island and Shark Alley. The reson for that is as clear as the Pope is Catholic – a huge nursing colony where Cape Fur Seals learn to swim, “Shark McDonald's” they call it.
It is however not only the number of sharks that has drawn such international interest, but the sharks' behavious of breaching the surface when they torpedo themselves out of the water in their hunt for seals. Seing a four metre shark shooting itself two metres into the air with its jaws wide open must be one of the most incredible sights mother nature has on offer.
So there we were, in the middle of Shark Alley with the 1500 sharks lurking somewhere below us, throwing out chum (a mixture of fish oils and blood and sea water) into the water to wish them welcome. We had anchored up, gotten the cage in the water and were somewhat nervously scanning the surface to spot the monster wherever it would turn up. It didn't take long before shark no1 honoured us with its presence. Coming up towards the surface having a sniff around the two tuna heads our boatmaster had tied toa thick rope, all six of us on the boat rushed to see it disappear as quickly as it had arrived. Then the boatmaster decided it was time for the first person to enter the cage – me. The first challenge involved getting into the cage itself. You have to haul yourself over the side of the boat and make sure that when you stick your legs into the water they actually go inside the cage. Once in the freezing 12 degree water and luckily inside the cage I was told to find the hand rail inside the cage of which I was to hold on to. The instruction “don't stick your hands or feet outside the cage” felt somewhat redundant.
Shark no 1, which we had seen from the surface instantly came back to check out what all the splashing was about and as the boatmaster yelled out “Diver, shark to the right” I took a deep breath, went underwater and saw this enromous creature gliding past within reaching distance of me. It looked like as if he took one glance and realised that the cage wasn't eatable. However it did not lose interest and during the 15 or so minutes I was in the water two or three sharks between 2-3 metres kept coming passed undoubtedly attracted by allthe smells and movements in the water.
It was a trulyl magical expreience to be able to watch these fantastic creatures appear from nowhere only a few metres in front of you and then disappear. None of the sharks we saw showed aggression against the cage, and being so graceful in their movemnts it would be difficult not to admire these kings of predators. As we all took turns in the cage some larger sharks up to four metres in size came quite close and when Mike was in there came right up poking at the cage with its nose showing even lines of glistening white teeth. The largest of them all however came like a rocket á la “Jaws” style from under the water and caught be boatmaster by surprise and took the tuna heads as well as the floating buoy attached to them into his mouth. Any attempt att pulling them back in was fruitless and the 10metre rope which was tied to boat at the other end went tight in only a few seconds before the shark must have decided that he didn't like polystyrene and spat it our again with impressive tooth indentations done to it.
After several hours of shark watching we had had our fix and were quite happy to have solid ground under our feet again. We spent the remainder of the afternoon travelling ons tunning coastal roads before returning back to Cape Town. The last few days we spent touristing a few more of the sights in and around town - there are som many great things to see and do in the Cape that a week is not enough. With little Chico proving that any doubts we had initially had about his speed and strenght were unfounded we went to the Cape of Good Hope, saw the Jackass Penguins, toured some fabulous vineyards around Stellenbosch (where I was most happy with not being able to drive a mnaual car) and had a swim at Fishhoek beach.
Leving Sven and Janet and Cape Town feels a bit sad. It has somehow become the last part of the first leg of our journey. Now a long drive towards Namibia and eventually Botswana awaits us. While a bit sad however I do think that we are ready to move on and are both very much looking forward to what ever lies ahead. I am also very satisfied with how the trip has gone so far. Swaziland, Mozambique and Lesotho are all fantastic countries to travel through, if very different, thet I would recommend to everyone I know. South Africa started in a very different tone than to what it ended in. Seeing Joburg and the mentality there was certainly interesting but painted a rather bleak picture of the country. One cannot as a tourist judge and be too critical of some of the things that you har and see while visiting a new country, but I have to admit that I was quite negatively affected of what we saw and heard. Having now however travelled through many other areas of SA; KwaZulu Natal, the Wild Coast, Transkei, the Drakensberg and the touristy Garden Route as well as Cape Town my view is a lot more optimistic. We have had a fantastic time everywhere we have been and met nothing but friendly faces, whether that has been at a backpackers or onboard a local minibus. While crime, poverty, unemployment, poor management by the government, racism, bigotry and segregation are huge problems for this country to tackle I think the future is bright. As Bongani, our guide through the Soweto township said, “South Africa is a young country of only 14 years of age. She's going through her teens and will need some time, but then she will settle down, mature and flourish.” Now we're off to Namibia!

Johanna

Photos are posted in a new album as usual...



Pictures

Beer tasting (at 10 am)
Buffalo Bay Backpackers and Beach
IMG_2235-550
Mike and the 24 chicken egg omelette
 
 

4 Comments

rouky debelak:
April 17, 2008
hi doods, it is really supercalafragalistic stuff you are showing us here. amazing !!!!.you seem to do everything right. keep it up. love your little chico.
love you 2
Biba:
April 23, 2008
Hi Mike, hi Johanna,

I enjoyed very much reading about your adventures! I always do! And the photos are just fabulous!!!

I opened my hotmail account today (for the first time in 5-6 months, since I am not using it anymore), saw your message about this blog and spent the rest of the day reading the journal and looking at the photos! And I am AT WORK!!!

Anyway, enjoy the rest of your trip and I hope to see you in Macedonia on one of your next quests! And before going to Africa the next time, I'll definitely seek advice from you! :-)

Hugs'n'kisses,

Biba
sonia:
May 12, 2008
Hi little bud & jo
Phil:
May 29, 2008
Mikey,

Loved hearing about the sharks, I am sooooo jealous.

Keep the updated coming, whilst being jealous, am learning heaps.

Travel Safe

Phil
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