Monday, March 13, 2006

The Garden Route

Last week my friends, Jaime, Aimee, Dave, Tim and I did an amazing 6-day road trip. We didn't have school on Wednesday (Election Day) so we skipped Thursday and Friday (I only missed two classes) and we took a trip along the Garden Route.

The Garden Route is a stretch of highway from Mossels Bay to Port Elizabeth along the eastern cape shore line. The trip was absolutely amazing. We could do it 5 times and never run out of new places to go and things to do.

Tuesday night we made the drive from Cape Town to Oudsthorn for our first stop. We stayed at a hostel and woke up early on Wednesday morning to take a tour of the Cango Caves. They were amazing.

After going through a couple HUGE caverns which were absolutely beautiful, we went on the "adventure tour" where we had to crawl on our tummies through tiny little passageways, twist and turn just to make it through, and slide down on our backs! It was my first time spelunking and it was awesome. Who would think caves could be so beautiful.

After the caves we went to an ostrich farm. There are TONS of them in that part of the country, and this one did not disappoint. At the ostrich farm we learned about the birds and then we got to pet some. Then they put a pellet of food in between our lips and the bird picked it out from our mouth and "kissed us!" Although it was a pretty neat experience, I would have to say that ostriches aren't very good kissers, and it's probably not something I would do again, given the choice.... it kind of hurt!

After that we got to RIDE THE OSTRICHES!! Yes that is what I said, I RODE an ostrich! It was freekin’ awesome. First they took a little sac and put it on the birds head. Although ostriches don’t actually put their head in the sand when they’re scared, there is some validity to the rumor. When an ostrich can't see you, it thinks you can't see it. And even though I was climbing on its back, it just chilled out and didn’t worry about a thing. Life is good in the dark. But as soon as they take the sack off its head, the bird realizes that something is on its back and freaks out and starts running around!

We all got some help mounting the bird, but I was laughing so hard that I fell off even before the bird started moving. Once I gained enough composure to sit properly on the bird, they took the sac off his head and away he went!!! It was crazy. He just ran around in circles 'till I fell off! I didn't last too long but it was super fun.

After we all had a turn the "ostrich jockeys" showed us how its really done. They just hopped right on and rode them all around the pen, directing where to go by pulling (gently) on the bird's neck, pull right, bird goes right, pull the neck back, the bird stops. It was crazy looking!
Next was an "ostrich neck massage." Basically they gave us a bucket of food and put us in front of about 5 ostriches (they were behind a fence w/ our backs to them) and they all just bolted over our shoulders and around our bodies to get to the food, it was probably the most ridiculous thing I have ever experienced! I was almost hyperventilating, I was laughing so hard!

At the end, we got to stand on some ostrich eggs which can really sustain the weight of a person! I have to say I was very impressed by my whole ostrich experience! Additionally, ostrich meat is delicious and good for you, its very lean meat. But their eggs are really high in fat and cholesterol. We had them for breakfast at our hostel but I didn't really like them. They had a weird texture very different from chicken eggs; fluffy, but maybe a little greasy and gritty too… bizarre. Did you know that one ostrich egg can feed up to 18 people!? Crazy stuff.

After the ostrich farm we went to a wild life ranch. Our intent was to pet some tigers, but it ended up being too expensive so we just walked around and saw a bunch of alligators and crocodiles and wild cats: cheetahs, tigers, jaguars, and lions..

The lions were quite interesting. There were three lionesses and one alpha male in the enclosure. After sitting there for a couple minutes, the male lion gets up and walks over toward one of the lionesses... And climbs on top of her, about 5 feet away from us!! It was crazy. There was a little moaning and then she rolled over, hit him in the face and he walked away. Then he walks over to another lioness and does the same thing. It was ummmm educational or at the very least...entertaining.

Thursday morning we got up early again and drove to a place called Wilderness. The entire drive was amazing, BEAUTIFUL green mountains on one side and an incredible shore-line on the other. At Wilderness we rented some canoes for the day and canoed down a river (we basically just moseyed down the river and let the current pull us). We stopped at the base of a trail and hiked up to a waterfall. After we swam in the water for a little while and then hiked down, got back in our canoes.

Unfortunately, at this point the wind had picked up. It got cold and started raining and we were paddling upstream. The wind was so strong that we were actually being blown backwards and into the shore. It was probably the most difficult thing I've done in quite a while. I was definitely not a happy camper!

After our long day we went to an Italian restaurant in town and right in the middle of dinner the power went out!! (due to the "rolling blackouts" the country has been experiencing lately) Go figure. South Africa is a funny place, but the wait staff and other workers just kept going like nothing happened, and everyone finished their dinners by candle light. Just another blackout!

Friday morning we drove to Knysna for breakfast. It is a gorgeous coastal town with amazing sandstone cliffs that mark the entrance into a beautiful lagoon. It was breathtaking. We hung out there for the morning and explored a little before heading off to Plettenburg bay. Once we got there, our first stop was monkey land for lunch.

Monkeyland is an open monkey sanctuary where the monkeys roam free w/in the place and there are no barriers between the human visitors and the monkeys. It was crazy. They have over 200 monkeys there. So at lunch lots of monkeys hang out near the deck where the lunch seating is hoping to snatch some food from unsuspecting people! A monkey actually ran across my table trying to get my Lays potato chips!!! And one got someone's yogurt and a soda can! It was hysterical and a little unnerving. They were running under our chairs and we even saw one little momma monkey with a little baby monkey clinging to her back. After lunch, we went on a tour of the forest where they live. The whole time we were walking around there were monkeys playing over our heads and running across our path. It was sweet.

Next was the elephant sanctuary which was one of the most awesome things I've ever done! The place has 6 domesticated elephants that they have 'rescued' from less desirable conditions. First they brought out the elephants and they had us put out our hands in the form of like a cup behind us and the elephants put their trunk in our hands and we lead them down a path to a little clearing in a forest. It was awesome. Then they showed us some 'tricks' but they called it "promoting the elephant’s natural behavior." They had commands for the elephants to kneel, lay down, make noise, and raise their trunks. All of the behaviors that they did were behaviors that they do naturally for some reason or another.

Then, they pulled each of us up individually and let us touch the elephants, their trunks, their ears (the back side of their ears is extremely smooth, actually the only smooth part on their body), their bellies, legs, and tails. It was very cool. After that we led them to a big field which had an incredible view of the mountains and we rode the elephants around for over 10 minutes. They had the elephants lie down and someone helped me climb up and then I just rode the elephant around bareback for a while (with a trainer). We had a line of a bunch of elephants with me and one of my friends each riding one and while they were all walking in a single file line, they actually did hold the one in front's tail with their trunk! It was very cool!

Next, it was time for dinner. I had read about a beach called Kerboomstrand that is relatively untouched and a pretty well kept secret. It was supposed to have a great restaurant on it, so we decided to go check it out. It was probably the most incredible beach I have ever seen. It was pretty small but it was gorgeous and there was no one on it but us. We stayed there for dinner watched probably one of the most beautiful sunset’s I have ever seen in my life. The dinner was awesome. We had 3 appetizers, 5 entrees, 4 bottles of wine, and 2 beers (there were 5 of us) and it came out to about $120 US!! What a great deal!

After dinner we drove to our next destination, Tsitsikamma National Park. We stayed at a sweet hostel inside of elevated tents each with a full mattress. I stayed with Dave (just a friend) and Jaime, Tim, and Aimee stayed together in the other one. We were a little tipsy to say the least and Dave and I took both of the flashlights to our tent so the others got locked in their tent in total darkness and couldn’t figure out how to get out until the next morning! (Basically they were too out of it to find the zipper door in the tent and were trying to get out the window) To say the least, it made for some pretty hysterical circumstances and some ridiculous cries for help in the middle of the night. very entertaining.

The next day we did a zip line tour through a forest canopy. There were 8 ziplines, the longest being 250 meters. And we ziplined over 4 (yes 4!!!) waterfalls. It was breathtaking. We were in full harnesses with all of our own gear. The water was this weird brown/amber color because the indigenous plants have the same chemical in them that makes tea brown and it leaches into the water making it a really crazy color.
After the zipline tour we rode quads around the property for a little while and then headed to one of the garden routes best kept secrets, Cape St.Francis. All I can say is, WOW! It was Beautiful. It was a huge beach and there were only TWO other people on it (a couple walking their dog). We stayed there for lunch before going to our final destination, Jeffery's Bay.

Jeffrey's Bay is one of the best surfing spots in the world. It was really nice, and our hostel was on a hill above the beach so we had an incredible view and we literally just walked down some stairs and were on a beach. That night we hung out on the beach with some English people who we had actually met at our first hostel and randomly crossed paths with again.

Sunday morning we got back into our car, after a morning at the beach, and drove 7 hours home to Cape Town.