Friday, June 14, 2013

Road-Tripping Through South Africa

After our All-Volunteer Conference in Windhoek, we were well-rested and well-fed after having stayed in a nice hotel with delicious food, and so ready for our thrilling 23 hour bus ride to Capetown! After a day on the bus we made it, and of course our first stop was McDonalds, conveniently located about 20 feet from our hostel. We later stocked up on snacks from the incredible grocery store, because after a day relaxing in the gardens of Capetown [I had already seen all the sites last year] we were off in our cute little rental car, dubbed the Fruit Loop Flier! Our plan was to drive the Garden Route and the Wild Coast up to Durban, then to Johannesburg for our flight. This trip involved a lot of driving, and we were working on accelerated schedule of only 10 days to travel over 2400 kilometers [South Africa is kind of massive], but we made the best of it!
This was the 'map' we used the whole trip because we were too cheap to buy a real one... there was a lot of guesswork involved when determining if we were going the right way. 
The Garden Route!
Our first day we drove from Capetown to Jeffrey’s Bay, a surfing town close to the big port city of Port Elizabeth. It’s known for it’s Billabong stores and major surfer vibe. The whole day we were driving the Garden Route! The forests of massive weird-looking trees straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, and the assorted plants on the side of the road, not to mention the plains of grass and tree-covered mountains, were so beautiful, and such an departure from the desert of Southern Namibia. Pictures really couldn't do the area justice! Once in Jeffrey’s Bay we didn’t see much of the town, it was more a place to crash for the night, in our not-well-protected from the cold/wind little shack of rickety bunk beds, which seemed worringly close to breaking and crashing to the ground. I made a resolution that night, that after my travels are over in December, I will no longer pay to sleep in bunk beds. The next day we headed off towards our destination, Coffee Bay. This place had been majorly hyped up by Chris, who had done almost this same trip last May, and was obsessed with Coffee Bay. Luckily it did not disappoint. The adventure in getting there was a story in itself. In Jeffrey’s Bay we met a Canadian family of giants [they were all over 6 feet tall], who were coming from Coffee Bay, complaining of the worst roads they’d ever driven on, having bottomed out at parts, and having had to get out of the car with all their luggage so the car could drive through the mud. We scoffed at their story, thinking that they had not seen much of Africa, how bad could it be. Turns out the road from the major highway to Coffee Bay was fairly full of potholes, and also the standard cows and goats on the road. It wasn’t until the very end of the drive though that we saw what they were talking about. Once we got into Coffee Bay, which is more of a village than a town, we were completely off any tar road situation, it was all dirt, and it had clearly rained the night before. Chris admitted that he actually didn’t know what we were going to do with the car, since we had to cross a river to get to the hostel. What?!?! This aspect of Coffee Bay had definitely been left out.

Fez, whom one could call the fun czar of the hostel, took us on a hike to the edge of a cliff to get this view for sundowners. Coffee Bay is the best!
Leaving Gio to guard the car, Chris, Mo, Marsha and I wandered toward this little river. He wasn’t joking, we literally had to cross a river to get to the office/main part of the hostel. Depending on the tides, there was a path of rocks to step over to avoid splashing through the river. Building a little bridge would detract from the remote/off-the-grid feel of this place I guess? After checking in we found out that our house was actually on the side of the river with the car, so we could at least bring it to the hill where the private houses/rooms are. We crossed back to the other side and made a plan, because even driving that 150 feet would be difficult – it was straight mud and puddles followed by a steep grassy hill. We unloaded the car and walked while one person drove it up. After walking to the very top of this steep hill, we arrived at the King's House, reserved just for our little group, and we were met by one of the hostel dogs, that proceeded to stay by our side for the entirety of our time there. We named him Chicken Sam. 
Beach Cows, it's a thing.

Anyway, one of the biggest impressions I had of Coffee Bay was how calm it was. Also pretty hippy. No fewer than three times were we approached by slightly sketchy people, who discreetly asked us if we wanted any nice weed or mushrooms. My neighbor had told me how open this business was on the Wild Coast, but I was still very surprised! Our hostel, The Coffee Shack, was the best hostel I have ever stayed in! It was more like a lodge for backpackers. When we arrived they gave us a welcome drink of our choice, and then told us that we had arrived on the perfect day, because on Sundays they have a free poitjie* dinner for guests. Oh, and also every night at 6:30 they bring out a plate of oysters for people to enjoy before dinner! We had our own kitchen so we could have cooked, but on the following nights when they had delicious three-course dinners offered for 55 rand, who could pass those up?! During the day they had planned activities, every night at around 9 they got all the guests who were interested together for a round of ‘killer pool,’ and our last night everyone who wore a homemade mask to the pool game got free punch! I can very very easily see how people would show up here and just never leave. If we hadn’t been on a schedule, we would’ve stayed at this place for a long time. This isn’t even mentioning the fact that we had the beach entirely to ourselves, well, except for the cows that we shared it with. Three days was not enough in this little slice of heaven! 

After Coffee Bay we headed to Durban, where we were supposed to stay for two days and three nights. After another full day of driving, we reached this massive city! It was overwhelming the amount of city lights, sprawling suburbs and highways we found when trying to locate our hostel. Once there we realized that the only reason we were in Durban was at the request of someone who was supposed to be on our trip but couldn’t come last minute! We decided to stay only one day, during which we spent the majority of our time at the mall, eating KFC, Indian food, and seeing 3-D movies – Iron Man III and The Great Gatsby! It was wonderful.
The mist starting to roll over the Drakensberg Mountains
We decided to spend our extra day in the Northern Drakensberg Mountains, which were on the way to Jburg. It was really cold there, obviously as it’s the mountains and it was the start of winter, but not something that we had prepared for clothes-wise. Gio doesn’t even own a jacket, since it's never cold in Rundu where he lives! When we checked in at yet another lodge-esque quality hostel, Amphitheater Backpackers, the lady told us that her feelings were hurt that we were only staying one night. We apologized that we had to be back to work in three days, so we had a flight to catch the next night! She proceeded to convince us that we had time to at least go on their day trip the following day, offering us a Volunteer discount, showing us a lot of beautiful pictures, and arguing that it was kind of on the way to Johannesburg, so we couldn’t say no! That story to come separately, because it was possibly the coolest day on the trip!

*a poitjie is a heavy black pot that looks like a cauldron! People make stews of meat and vegetables in it, slow cooking the food, which is then referred to as poitjie kos.

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