Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Garden Route

           A week-long trip down the Garden Route will heal your soul. At least the way Mama H plans it, it will.
          Saturday morning we said goodbye to Stellies in the wee hours of the morning and headed east. The Cango Caves were our first stop. I won’t put pictures up here… Human interference and family-friendly tourism has turned beautiful rock formations into steps, railings and torches, also known as a line at Disney World. Even so, the caves were cool to see and it reminded me of home. No complaints here.
          Then we saw ostriches, the massive and awkward birds with snakes for necks and eyeballs bigger than their brains! Unfortunately, excessive rain made the ground too soft to ride them; if we had, we would have broken their ankles. We still had a nice tour though. One ostrich even looked at me the wrong way, so I put her in a headlock:
          We spent the first two nights in Wilderness at a charming backpackers’ lodge called Fairy Knowe. The young woman greeting us sounded American…turns out, she grew up in Florida, studied in Cape Town, fell in love, runs this hostel with her man, and they are moving to Charleston in May. Foreshadowing my future? A girl can dream.
The next day brought nothing but adventure in the great outdoors. The majority of our program went kloofing – which can best be described as river swimming/hiking/cliff-jumping. We had a BLAST…it felt like we were white-water-rafting without the rafts. 
Later that afternoon, a smaller group of us hiked through the Wilderness National Forest to a beautiful waterfall. The only thing that made us leave was the setting sun, a sign that we were sure to be bush-whacking home in the dark. Which we did.
           On Monday, we trekked to our next destination in Plettenberg Bay. On the way, however, we stopped and shopped in Knysna…and you can’t stop in Knysna without visiting the elephant park. (Well apparently you can, as my friends back in Stellenbosch didn’t even know there was an elephant park in Knysna, but now that I’ve been, I’m telling the world you can’t go to Knysna without going to the elephant park.)                                                  
I'm completely in love. 
         Tuesday brought nothing but nervous-eating, nail-biting, and the documenting of wills...and oh yeah, the craziest thing I have ever done in my life. Face Adrenalin is the company that is responsible for throwing nine of my friends and me off this perfectly good bridge. Which just so happens to be the highest bungy bridge in the world.

Bloukrans Bridge, 
ladies and gentlemen.

I will never forget the feeling. Silence. Solitude. Nothing but the wind on my face, Velcro on my ankles, and the Indian Ocean in my line of sight. It was truly exhilarating.

           This post is getting a little long, so I’ll explain the rest of the trip as tersely as I can. Leopards are cool and prettier than cheetahs. Monkeyland houses movie-star monkeys after they retire (aka, the Pirates of the Caribbean monkey). If you ever come to South Africa, stay at Antler’s Lodge and eat at Enrico’s just as the sun is setting. James is now 21 and we had a talent show in his honor.
           On Thursday, AIFS headed back to Stellies while Sam and I went to Wilderness to meet up with our friend Liz. Her grandmother was kind enough to welcome us into her home, extending our garden route experience for a few more days. Liz showed us even more of Knysna, Sedgefield, and Wilderness. She taught us how to cook chicken pie and malva pudding, which is the most delectable dessert your taste buds could ever imagine. The farm was so peaceful, not to mention utterly stunning. My favorite moments were sitting outside with Liz, Sam, Elsie, and Brian, drinking tea. Elsie taught us about the birds and butterflies that inhabit her garden. We watched baby swallows learn to fly and saw weaver birds (shout out to the Color of Friendship) hard at work. Elsie and Brian gave us more than a bed and some tea; they gave us inspiration for how to live. I didn’t want to leave! It wasn’t until a brilliant double rainbow guided our drive back to Stellenbosch that Liz asked how it felt to be in the wine country again. Sam and I said in unison, “it’s good to be home.”

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