Posted by: Naima | February 16, 2009

G. Route

Last week, as a precursor to the first full week of classes at UCT, most people on my program took trips around the area. A few girls I’ve become friends and I decided to go on the Garden Route – an almost guided tour of South Africa’s coast. The route is surrounded by  a bunch attractions ranging from elephant reserves, the world’s highest bungy jump, world renowned surfing locales, zip lining, and a number of safaris. While a lot of other people on my program focused on bungy jumping and different safaris, the crew I went with did less adventurous/more scenic things on our Garden Route. After piling into perhaps the only automatic car in the Western Cape (we called every car hire in town), we hopped on to the Route 66-esque N2, and never looked back. The first night we stayed in Knysna, a small beach town about 5 hours from Cape Town. Because summer vacation has ended in the last three weeks, it was kind of a ghost town by the time we got there. Nevertheless, we stayed in a wonderful hostel called Knysna Backpackers about a ten minute walk from the waterfront. Knysna is where we did our most active explorations. The very first thing we did was check out this beautifully small and isolated beach in the town over. The beach we went to was know best for the castles that create the enclave. Here are some photos:

beach-in-knysna

castle

To get to the beach we drove down the road for a while and took a turn into a township (or an “informal settlement”, as described by our hostel’s owner). It was wild to see the stark contrast between the poverty in the area as we passed through to get to a secluded beach surrounded by huge beach houses and castles. This was somewhat of a theme on this trip. Next door to every tourist attraction were poverty-stricken townships.

While in Knysna, we also went on a “canoe safari” down the Knysna river. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t ideal so we saw little more than cows along the river. Regardless, the river was beautiful and we were able to do a little bridge jumping into the water towards the end.

knysna-river

After Knysna, we trekked over to Tsitsikamma, where the world’s highest bungy jump is located. Those who know me well should have no doubt that there is no way I will ever go bungy jumping. Ever. On that note, we all went ziplining in small canyons that usually overflow with waterfalls (it’s been a dry season) and stayed right next to the bungy location in a beautiful chalet that had a great view of the sun set and looked over the mountains of southern Africa. Because the exchange rate is in the dollar’s favor, staying anywhere along the Garden Route is between $10 and $20 per night. After a relaxing evening in Tsitsikamma, we ventured off to Jeffrey’s Bay, more affectionately known as J-Bay. There, a few of the girls took surfing lessons while the rest of us hung out on the beach or within the hostel, which was decked out with things to do. Island Vibe – the hostel – is located on the water so it kind of has its own private beach. It was so gorgeous and quirky, and a much needed nap in bed while listening to waves crash might be one of the best feelings in the world. There were other people on our program in J-Bay at the time so we ended up going for a nice meal in town and then going to the house they were staying at and making a small fire on the beach.

bonfire

When we packed up to leave J-Bay, we decided to make one last stop on the way home: the Knysna Elephant Reserve. At the reserve, you can walk with the elephants, ride them, or even spend a night with them. Since we were trying to make it back to Cape Town before midnight, we decided just to feed and take a stroll with the elephants. Feeding an elephant might be the one of the most strangely satisfying things I’ve done since I’ve been here. The feeling of an elephant’s trunk picking of food from your hand, with his/her trunk hairs springing up with excitement for watermelon is such a crazy feeling. When you’re so used to using your hands to lift and eat food, it’s wild to see an animal so different yet familiar make movements so natural to its species and so foreign to your own.

As I write to you now, my Garden Route has been over for a few days and I am amidst my first full day of classes. Don’t sweat, I’ll report on how they all go.

Peace and then some,

Naima

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