After 2 weeks at DIY WILD, the longest amount of time I’ve spent in one spot in 4 months, I was ready to start moving again. I had agreed to meet up with Loes, the Dutch girl I met during my Kruger Park safari, and travel down parts of the Eastern and Western Cape together on our way to our final destination of Cape Town. South Africa has a pretty good transportation system for backpackers in the form of Baz Bus, which drops you off from hostel to hostel, but we both wanted a little more freedom. We rented a car in Port Elizabeth and after only driving on the wrong side of the road a few times, got our bearings. Both of us are last minute travelers, so each day was a new decision. First off was Hogsback, a beautiful town in nestled in the mountains in an area that is said to have inspired J.R.R Tolkien to write Lord of the Rings. Roughly 250KM in the opposite direction of where we ultimately wanted to end up, we were not deterred. Nor were we disappointed. One day turned into two as we hiked to waterfalls with 5 excited dogs forging our path, enjoyed picturesque views from a cliff side bathtub and dined on good food and wine while we exchanged stories from our time apart.
(Our room, with 4 of our 5 canine pals. We picked up a big box of treats for them)
(Above: It was a full car ride. We had 2 dogs in the front seat too. After the hike, we couldn’t get the two big dogs out of the car. Wellington and Klipa just didn’t want to leave. We’d get one out, but they would run around the car and jump back in. Wellington even chased our car down the road for a kilometer or two as we went to get dinner. He sat with us in the restaurant the whole night.)
(Above: If you can get a fire started, you can actually heat a barrel full of water and have a warm bath. Wind and incompetence meant we had no fire, but we were determined to get a picture. The water in that bath is ice cold.)
We had a long, sad goodbye with the dogs and made our way back to the coast. We stopped over in Jeffrey’s Bay, which is a world famous spot for surfing. What better place for me to take my first actual surf lesson? It was a 120 minute session filled with 100 minutes of frustration. I’d fall and fall and fall and every time I got back up, the instructor would tell me what I did wrong. It was different every single time. It wasn’t until Loes came over and gave me some small tips did I actually stand up. If it wasn’t for her, I’d still be flailing around in the Atlantic Ocean.
After fixing a flat tire (Opps. I need to watch the road a little better), we then made our way to our way to Knysha. There wasn’t much there that we took advantage of. Known for oysters and boat tours, we weren’t interested in spending time on those activities, so we continued on to Cape Town. We decided to head back inland for some hiking and mountains. On our way we stopped at a viewpoint along the coast. After some briefing investigating, we saw a rough trail and jumped over the viewpoint barrier and made our way down the cliff side. Soon we found ourselves on old train tracks. We soaked it all in. The expansive views, the blue crashing waves, the rich green and brown cliff sides. It was one of the moments where you just sigh and shake your head at the pure beauty laid out before you. We decided to explore a little more and went into the train tunnel. As we came out the other side, we stumbled across one of the true treasures we found on our trip. Built into the side of the cliff and caves was a small hostel. I use the word hostel loosely, as I don’t really know how else to describe it. More of a shanty type building than anything. Using an array of materials, this building was constructed with love, attention and creativity. And no regard for coding violations. Decorated with thousands of seashells and drift wood, we weren’t quite sure what we were looking at. A gentleman came out and told us about the place. No electricity and only running water in the bathrooms, this place was an oasis. A place where they welcomed people in need, listened to their stories, and helped them get back on their feet. A place where travelers could come and experience a different environment. A place where someone could be alone with their thoughts, their emotions or with their gods. It was a truly beautiful place, one that words or pictures can’t even begin to explain. It was something that needed to be experienced first hand to truly appreciate. Loes, in typical Loes fashion, made fast friends with the guide and received a beautiful shell ornament that they pulled right off the building itself. I swear she didn’t stop talking about that thing for the whole day. But I can’t blame her, I would have done the same.
Next up was Hermanus, a small town on the south coast. On the drive in, I had boldly declared we were going Great White shark cage diving here, so without any further thought we booked two spots on the boat for the next morning. Up bright and early at 5am, we found ourselves sitting in silence with roughly 20 strangers as we awaited instructions from our captain. He discussed expectations. What we should expect, what the sharks expect, and more importantly, what he expected from us. As we slowly left the harbor with the sun rise painting the sky a bright orange and red, my excitement and anticipation began to bubble over. The silence that dominated the earlier meeting had melted away and the excited chatter of nervous voices filled the air. We put down anchor only 3KM away from shore and went to the upper observation deck for further instructions. Not 5 minutes in, our first shark appeared. The ghostly shadow moved elegantly through the water as all 22 of us leaned over the rails to catch a glimpse. Our captain knew he had lost his audience, so we called the meeting and began getting our dive suits on. Loes made it into the first group, and not soon after they closed the cage on her did the sharks begin to circle her group. The crew would tempt the sharks with large fish heads and chum as bait, and when the shark would get close enough, they would pull the bait back in. Sometimes this meant the shark would simply swim by, carefully inspecting the foreign invaders. However, if we were lucky, and the sharks were aggressive, it meant breaching. Tons of muscular grey flesh and white teeth would come shooting out of the water mere meters from the faces of the cage divers. It would be met with a chorus of screams and laughter and an overwhelming anxiousness to see it all again. Occasionally the shark would accidentally bump the cage, causing panic amongst the divers. We all hoped that didn’t happen though. Not for the divers sake of course, but for the sharks. It scares or hurts them, and that was definitely not our goal. We did this for roughly 3 hours, all taking turns, about 5 divers at a time. I went twice, enjoying my close up with one of the world’s most fearsome creatures. Loes went just once, and spent the other time chumming the waters with the dinner from the night before. Turns out she is a little more seasick than we had anticipated, and the motion sickness pills I gave her didn’t help too much. She was amazing though. She kept a smile on her face the whole time.
That afternoon we napped, regrouped and got back on the road. It was time to end our journey. Destination Cape Town