Capetown and Beyond

I’ve spent roughly a week in Cape Town exploring hiking trails, city streets, new restaurants and historic museums. I also said goodbye to my incredible traveling partner, Loes. One thing that continues to be reaffirmed in my travels is that an experience is always better when shared. I couldn’t have shared these last 12 days with a more special person. I’m truly lucky and will always look back on this time with a big smile.

Closing one chapter means starting a new one. Today, I start my 24 day trip through Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. After that, I catch a train, a bus, a plane and will find myself in my second home, England. I can’t think of a better way to round out my 7 months of travel then with cheese, toast and tea with my cousins.

I doubt I’ll have much time on the rest of this Africa trip to spend online. Expect more silence, but know I’m thinking about home and everyone in my life.

Below are some shots from Cape Town. Hope you enjoy viewing them as much as Loes and I enjoyed taking them.

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(Above: Township tour. We stopped at a Kindercare. Absolutely heart warming. We stayed as long as we could.)

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(Above: Penguins from the Cape. I feel like I’m interrupting something here.)

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(Above: The views from Table Mountain, Cape Town)

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(Above: A collection of shots from hikes along the Cape of Good Hope.)

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South Africa: The Garden Route

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.

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(Our room, with 4 of our 5 canine pals. We picked up a big box of treats for them) IMG_4017 IMG_4020

(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.)

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(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.

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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. IMG_4168 DSCN4506 DSCN4494 - Copy IMG_4185 IMG_4261 IMG_4209 IMG_4266 DSCN4509

That afternoon we napped, regrouped and got back on the road. It was time to end our journey. Destination Cape Town

An Overdue Update: DIY WILD

It’s been awhile. Thought I was dead? Nope, just very very happy. South Africa has been more than I could ever have hoped for. It’s filled with great people, amazing scenery, abundant wildlife and endless adventure. I can’t stress enough that this country needs to be at the top of the list for everyone to visit. I have just one bit of advice, though. However long you plan on visiting, double it. You won’t regret it.

My two weeks at the animal sanctuary/farm ended about two week ago. Each day involved an early wake up to feed the collection of monkeys, sheep, pigs, geese, guinea pigs and chickens. After a quick breakfast of my own, I was then off to find out my task of the day. Sometimes it was pretty mundane tasks, like cut firewood or clean out a pig sty, and sometimes it was a little more interesting, like finish off the monkey cage for the soon to be received Capuchin monkeys. No matter the task, I was happy to get my hands dirty and feel a sense of accomplishment. Oddly enough, I especially enjoyed my 4 days of painting the stables. Just me, a view of the entire valley, music and some paint (Interesting fact: House paint is also really good for war painting your chest). We’d end each day with another animal feeding, and by 4pm we’d be in the showers and either getting ready to work behind the bar for a night or to relax and play cards. Either way, we were treated to some fantastic meals by the resident chef. I’m pretty sure I ordered the pork chops every night.

I’d say the most memorable experience was sitting in with Zack and Coco, the two long awaited Capuchin monkeys that came to the sanctuary about 1 week into my stay. Our task for the day they came in was simple; Sit and play with them. Zack took a quick liking to Sam, another volunteer at DIY WILD, and immediately ran into her arms and sat on her shoulder. Coco was a bit more nervous, and spent the day chirping, eating fruits, cleaning herself with onions and exploring her cage. Zack eventually took an interest in me when I took out my camera. He sat on my shoulder and fumbled around with it. That was the icebreaker I needed. Soon he was running and jumping into my arms, playfully biting my hands as we rough-housed for a couple of hours. When he was done play fighting with me, he’d run back to Sam for grooming and affection.

DIY WILD was all I had hoped for and more.

(Disclaimer : Most of these pictures have been posted on Facebook already!)

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(Above: It’s easy to work all day when you look up and see this.)

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(Above: Madam and Foxy. Always together)

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(Above: Sam with Zack)

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(Above: Zack, getting ready to bounce)

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(Above: Baby Vervet monkeys that will be released back into the wild when their troop is ready.)

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(Above: One of the few moments where Zach wasn’t playfully, or not playfully for that matter, biting me)

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(Above: One of the many moments where Zach WAS biting me)

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(Above: Mrs. Piggy. By the end of my time, she was following me everywhere. Pro tip: Want animals to like you? Feed them)

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(Above: I literally wore this outfit for a week straight. I’m pretty sure you can see a green stench cloud somewhere in this picture)

Getting Dirty in South Africa

I’ve spent the last 3 days being chased by a large pot-bellied pig named Bruce, installing poles, swings, ropes and ladders into a monkey enclosure, herding sheep (Where’s my border collie when I need him?), bottle feeding a 3 month old bush pig, getting canine group hugs from four loving dogs, getting taught a lesson in billiards by the resident chef, and meeting some wonderful people. It’s basically just business as usual for a volunteer at DIY WILD.

Internet connection is spotty and costly here, so I won’t be posting very much for the next two weeks.

 

 

Wild South Africa

Three Days ago I was sitting in my hostel in Johannesburg, South Africa wondering if I had made the right move. On a whim I purchased a one way ticket to South Africa and, like always, was prepared to just go with the flow and do my last minute style of travel. Bad idea. South Africa is not Asia. There aren’t tuk-tuks everywhere. You need a phone. It’s best to book in advance. Things are expensive. Don’t even think about going out at night due to various dangers. As I sat alone in an empty hostel, I began hatching my plan.

Safari. Volunteer. Cape Town. Overland Tour of Southern Africa (tentative plans, of course. I still need some flexibility!)

I caught a bus to Nelspruit, which is the provincial capital of Mpumalanga and found a bed at Old Vic’s Travellers Inn. This was the perfect destination for me, as it served as a jumping off point for my safari in the world famous Kruger Park, as well as being my soon to be pick up point for volunteering on an animal sanctuary.

After some wheeling and dealing, I found myself on a 2 day, 1 night safari with Loes, an incredibly lively and fun woman from Holland, and Jose, a care free and confident (not to mention sleepy) Argentinian. Our tour guide was Dave, the owner of Old Vic’s Inn and Kruger Flexi Tours, who is a charming and fun-loving man. He made sure we were happy, laughing, educated and well feed.

The tour started with a 4:30 wake up so we could be the first car at the gates as the park opened at 6 a.m.. Once through the gate, we were immediately greeted by a hippo, and Jose, Loes and I all chattered excitedly. Not even 10 minutes later a pair of hyena crossed our path. Considered one of the “Ugly 5” in Kruger, I had trouble seeing why. I found them to be beautiful creatures.

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We puttered down dirt roads, all 8 eyes anxiously searching the bush. Soon enough we came across a large male elephant munching on vegetation next to the road, pulling grass into his mouth with his trunk. Giraffes surveyed the landscape as they nibbled on trees and bushes. We stumbled across a white rhino resting in the road. As he slowly made his way back into the bush, he looked as us, seemingly frustrated that his sleep was ruined by this loud, shiny box.

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Zebras. Impalas. Kudu. Warthogs. Every animal sighting resulted in an excited “Stop!” followed by hushed voices and comments of disbelief. This was especially the case when we stopped in front of a female lioness and a mostly eaten buffalo carcass. Perhaps 5 meters away, the lioness, undisturbed by our presence, scanned the horizon and nodded off to sleep. As we moved on in search of our next sighting, everyone in the car smiled brightly and eagerly awaited what was around the corner.

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Honestly, there were so many highlights in these 2 days that I could write 10 more pages. But for the sake of brevity and avoiding carpel tunnel, here are a few:

– On day two we witnessed a failed lioness hunt. We watched 6 or 7 lioness’s stalk and give chase to a small group of impala. This resulted in mini stampede across the road, where 2 dozen or so impala and wildebeest literally ran for their lives maybe 20 meters in front of our car. No kill on that hunt, though. Seeing a kill is very rare, so we considered ourselves lucky to see even just a hunt.

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– Spending 15 minutes watching a full grown cheetah walk through the bush. There are only 250 cheetah in the park, and with Kruger being the size of Israel, we were very lucky.

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– Continuing our streak of good luck, we saw a family of 6 cheetah cross our road and walk into the bush. The sighting wasn’t as clean and as long as the first cheetah, but amazing none the less. The cheetahs were hunting something, but left because…

– …we saw a full grown male lion very close to the cheetahs. He was the one and only male lion we saw on the trip. He was maybe 25 meters out, but was impressive none the less.

–  50-60 zebra make their way to a watering hole, which was already occupied by a resting white rhino.

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– A giraffe walking down the road just a mere 3 meters from me.

– A family of mongoose playing on the road

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– 6 or 7 bull elephants drinking and cleaning at a watering hole as we ate a gigantic bbq lunch

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– Spending time with Loes, Jose, and Dave. Safaris are car rides, and car rides can be an unpleasant experience if you are with people you don’t enjoy. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case. We laughed and smiled the entire trip. It was a sad moment when we broke up our safari family after dropping Jose off at the Mozambique border.

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All in all, these past two days have been some of the best times I’ve ever had traveling. I can’t wait to see what is in store for me next.

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(Above: It’s the endangered something-something bird!)

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