Sunday, November 28, 2010

South Africa - fun stuff

After saying our goodbyes to our Acacia friends a few of us had decided to spend a few days extra in Capetown. After all, this is one of the most exciting cities in all of Africa. It has a super cool vibe, look and feel. If I could describe it to you it is kinda like being in San Francisco, New England and New York all at the same time. The architecture it would seem has bits and pieces of all these places spread out all over the town. We decided to spend a few extra nights here and then rent a car and follow the coast eastward later on. It turned out that there were a lot of our fellow travelers that were going to be hangin’ out in Capetown for a while. So we decided to coordinate our activities as much as possible.

There is lots to do in Capetown. It is a place that has everything. South Africa is a very rich country, the richest in all of Africa. That is the reason why they hosted the world cup here. All the amenities that we enjoy in the states exist in the country of South Africa, especially in Capetown since it is the capital city. It is a highly developed country. So there were four obvious activities that were available in the area that needed to get done: 1) Climb the famous Table Mountain (yes, yet another mountain that we would climb) 2) Visit the famous Robben Island prison: place where Nelson Mandela served eighteen of his twenty-seven year prison sentence, 3) go wine-tasting in the famous Stellenbosch area, and last but not certainly least 4) go cage diving with sharks.

Pretty much everyone decided they would climb the mountain and go to Robben Island but only four of us decided to go shark cage diving. I can’t exactly remember the order but I think we decided to climb the mountain on the first day, see Robben Island on the second, go wine tasting on the third day and go shark cage diving on the last day. Finally, all this planning made us hungry. So we decided to meet our partners in crime that night for some dinner in what I like to call the “Warf Area”. I believe the actual name given to it was the Waterfront. This place was a state of the art area with loads of restaurants, ice cream shops, bars and entertainment venues to choose from. We ended up meeting our two former A-team adrenaline junkie members Caitlin and Meredith for dinner that night at a seafood type place on the Waterfront. I ordered the Sea Bass with red wine (I’m not a white wine drinker, yuck.). I’ll let Katie tell you how good the sea bass was. After din we walked around a bit and turned in for an early night, as we were all pretty tired.

The next morning we all had breakfast at a local favorite breakfast café on the main drag that would soon become our favorite thanks to our awesome friend Tara who recommended it. Thanks Tdubz! She would actually join us for breakfast as well. After breakfast Tara and the others decided to scan the main drag for shopping bonanzas. For Katie and I, we needed to hunt down a hostel to stay at for the next 2 or 3 nights because we were suddenly now on our own again. So we would have to meet up with the girls later. I must confess it was very nice not having to look for a bed to sleep in every three or four nights while we were on the Acacia tour. But as they say, all good things must eventually come to an end. It took us about 2 hours to finally find a hostel that we liked. It ended up being a little on the pricey side but we had one of two choices: either pay the extra money for the posh pad or take the alternative route which was to sleep in a roach house. For whatever reason, all the middle of the road places to stay in were all booked up for the days we wanted to stay there. My guess is that there may have been some people still hanging around who went to all the world cup matches that were in Capetown. No worries, we didn’t mind paying the extra money cause the place was really nice and worth the extra dinero. At it turned out, Caitlin and Meredith were also staying at the same backpacker hostel we found. We met up with the girls later that afternoon and went to the Waterfront again to do some shopping there and just hang out some more. The Waterfront is a really cool area. They have bands that play along the sidewalk areas which give it a great ambiance. I scored a couple of radical world cup t-shirts that were still being offered for sale.

After getting our fill at the Waterfront we said goodbye to Tdubs because she decided to be lame and leave early. Just kidding Tara, we still love you. After that we took a little timeout to rest for our mountain climb later that day. So we checked out of our so-so backpacker hostel and moved in to our new posh one and readied ourselves for the evening’s activities. There are two ways to get to the top of Table Mountain: You can take the cable car to the top or you can be gallant and climb it. The ideal time to climb it is just before sunset so you can catch the view of the sun saying goodnight right as you reach the top. Can’t remember exactly, but I think the climb was supposed to take about an hour to reach the top. We decided to take our time so I think we climbed a total of about 1-½ hours. Pole, Pole, right Caitlin. ☺ The climb was not all that difficult at any measure of comparability. This is not a huge mountain we are talking about. Just a nice mid-sized one that overlooked the city. As we reached the top we received an ovation from some of the fast walkers who had decided to leave us behind. Whatever! I decided that I would be a gentleman and stay with the group just in case something went wrong. There was a point where I did get a little worried that we might not get to the top in time to see the sunset. It was very hard to judge how much trail was left because it curved in between cliffs the higher you got so there was no clear view as to where the end was. Luckily we made it to the top just before the sun said goodnight. We took some great pics together and celebrated our feat with a bottle of wine. We all took the cable car down so we could get a nice steady glimpse of Capetown in its finest hour. It was lots of fun!

That night we all decided that we wanted to be an African carnivore one last time. So we all met up at a restaurant that had all the African wild animals as a regular item on the menu. I had the Springbok (a type of gazelle) again because I just couldn’t get enough of it. It was one of the most succulent meats I have ever tasted. Katie had, uh, I dunno and everybody else had uh, I dunno. After gorging ourselves some of the others decided to go out and party the night away. Katie and I decided to turn in early and stay out late the next night.

The next day we had breakfast at our favorite café and then headed to the Waterfront and hopped on a boat. Destination: Robben Island. After a very slow ride we finally reached the dock on the island. I was impressed with the efficiency they had for getting people on and off the island. There was a ready cue of at least 5 or 6 buses that whisked you away to the prison and just as many waiting to bring you back after you were done. That made it all the more enjoyable to spend as much time as you wanted visiting the abandoned compound. Upon arrival at the prison there would be a former prisoner that would serve as our guide around the prison. It was a nice touch to the tour because we were lucky enough to have a person tell us his story and why he was locked up while at the same time tell us what it was like to know Mr. Mandela. We got a good glimpse of Nelson Mandela’s cell. It was a small cramped space and looked exactly the way it looks on the internet. The prison itself was small in comparison to modern day prisons in the US. There is so much history surrounding this adored man but too long for me to explain. I will just say that he is still considered the most highly influential South African to ever fight for human rights in that country. He legacy is very worth reading about so I encourage everyone to learn about this man if you have not already done so. After spending about 3 hours on the island we boarded the very slow boat again and headed for the mainland.

That evening we met up with everyone at a local favorite restaurant for din and had a few laughs and a few drinks. David and Marc thought it would be funny to buy me a couple of Tequila shots so I returned the favor and bought them a couple of Yeager shots. Don’t get me going on the Yeager story. Let’s just say that the last time I did a Yeager shot with these two guys I couldn’t remember my name the next day. We took some final pictures and said some goodbyes as this would be the last time most of us would be seeing each other as most would be parting ways. After dinner most of us decided to go out and paint the town. It was early, around 7:30pm, so we had some time to kill before things would start kicking into high gear or so we thought. After walking just a few blocks we stumbled on a bar that was in high gear already. They were playing African reggae, perfect! So we all piled in and had a tall beer. For whatever reason we decided that we wanted to check the scene out a bit while this bar was already happenin’. To make a long story short, we ended up coming right back to this bar after doing a quick roundabout. So we ordered some more tall beers and danced a bit to the reggae beats. As the band took a break, David decided that it was a good time to meet the band. Diamond Dave, you sweet talker you. He proceeded to convince them somehow to teach him how to play the xylophone. I was immediately drawn to the scene, of course. In the end the band ended up teaching us a cool reggae beat that David and I got to jam out to for a good half hour or so. We had so much fun bangin’ on that thing together. What David doesn’t know since he was too busy chatting afterwards is that jam session cost me 4 tall beers. As we were walking away one of the band guys approached me and said: “Hey bru, so you think you can buy us all a beer for letting you guys jam out on our instruments?” That’s ok David it was well worth it. So after hangin’ out there a while longer and watching David show us his dancing with the stars moves we headed out to find another cool bar. We would not have to go far. Just across the street was a cool Irish bar that was packed and had live music. Oh, goodie! So we all piled in and ended up staying there the rest of the night dancing in a circle together just singing along to all the famous great bar songs. I love Irish bars! We stayed there till just about closing and then said goodbye to the remaining Acacia members. So long dear friends. Thanks for all the good times and memories. Till we meet again.

The next day we headed to wine country and hit about 4 or 5 of the biggest wineries. We sampled all the local favorite wines and got a tour of each and every winery. It was fun learning how each winery made their individual flavors. South Africa produces some of the most highly rated red wines in the world. We had lunch in the very famous town of Stellenbosch. It was a cool town and it had a great vibe. I’m guessing partly because it has one of the more uber popular universities in the South Africa. After getting our fill of wine country we took the long 2 or 3-hour ride back to Capetown for some much needed R&R. We pretty much took it easy that night because the next day was a big day: We would be going shark diving. Those of you who know South Africa know that this can only mean one thing: We would be having an encounter with many great whites!

The next morning we boarded the bus and headed to the coast. It would be me, Katie, Meredith and Caitlin that would brave the shark infested waters. Yes, the very same four that braved the bungi jump in the beginning. Such adrenaline junkies we are! Go A-team! Upon arrival they would feed us a very nice continental breakfast. Nothing too heavy because we might ralph on first sight of a great white. They gave us an introductory video and briefing on what we would be expecting to see. That got us all excited. Finally after making sure we were all prepped we headed out to sea. As we reached to dive spot we got a brief cage etiquette talk while the other boat hands chummed the water with bloody fish. The cage would hold 4 people at a time. Basically it just dangled off the side of the boat with a few ropes holding it in place. South Africa is the only place in the entire world where you can actually do this without any prior experience requirements or serious red tape. You just sign your life away and off you go. The other notable plus about diving with great whites in South Africa is that it is also the only place on earth where you don’t have to go 3 or 4 hours out on the ocean to do it. They have channels that are less than an hour away from the dock where there are more great whites making the rounds looking for a tasty unsuspecting seal than a busy bee hive with oozing honey.

So after suiting up Caitlin and I decided to go first. Caitlin, you brave heart you. This turned out to be a bad idea because our cage time would be cut off short so the other groups could go. So we didn’t get any real action. Just a couple of long distant stare downs with a couple of Jaws look-alikes. So after about 20 minutes or so, they yanked us out. In goes Katie and Meredith. As luck would have it, by the time they got in the blood in the water had now attracted about five or six more giant killers. So knowing full well that they would soon be surrounded by several killer sharks, Katie and Meredith get in the cage unphased. So after about 10 minutes or so the action starts to happen. As if blood in the water was not enough the boat hands also tied a rope with smelly dead tuna and used that as a lure over the cage to try and get the sharks to come close to the cage. And that’s exactly what they did. So while Katie and Meredith got their fill of watching shark after shark come and try to eat them, Caitlin and I could do nothing but just stand on the top deck filming all the action all the while yearning to be in the water. Finally after getting all they wanted, Katie and Meredith waved their white flag. So now it was the next group’s turn. I thought we would never be able to get in the water again because of all the people on the boat. I did the math based on how much cage time each group would get and we would be hard pressed to get another shot with so many people still yet to get in the water. Unbeknownst to me half the people on the boat were there only to see the action from the safety of the boat. We would get another shot at it. So after a short wait it was out turn again. This time we got some good action! This time we almost got eaten, yea! One of the monsters actually did a full frontal bite on the front of the cage and I will just tell you that my life definitely flashed before me. What a major rush!!! Impossible to fully describe to you what it feels like to cheat death by only a few bars in a cage. Pure adrenaline rush!!! So after we got our fill, Caitlin and I reluctantly got out. There was still time on the clock for anyone else to do it again but Katie and Meredith decided that they had enough action in the first round. Rightfully so, they indeed got plenty of action as well. There were no more takers so we all de-suited and headed back to shore. It was the biggest thrill. So glad I did it! Oh and Meredith: congrats on facing your biggest fear head on, literally! Can’t remember what we did that night. I think we all just went to dinner and exchanged shark encounter stories and laughs all night.

Then next day we would pack it up, rent a car and head up the east coast. Destination: The world famous Jeffrey’s Bay for some much anticipated surfing! But first we would do some site seeing along the way. We took the “Garden Route” which is basically the most beautiful landscape in South Africa. It is the sweet spot, if you will. And boy was it sweet. The only way I can describe it is by comparing it to the Wizard of Oz. Remember how the flower gardens looked along the yellow brick road? All those bright yellow, red, blue, green, purple flowers all along the trail. That’s kinda what the Garden Route looks like in a nutshell. Gorgeous! On the way we stopped at the most southern point of Africa. It is geographically conveniently located where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean. So we decided to drive there so we could be one of the few people in the world that can say that they have had one foot in the Indian Ocean and one in the Atlantic Ocean at the same time. Rad! We made a couple of other stops along the way. We went to a peninsula area that was really awesome. They had a trail that went all the way around the peninsula that took about 3 hours to complete. So we decided what the hell, let’s do it. We saw some of the most beautiful blue water and beaches yet. We basked in the sun, kicked some waves around a bit and saw a bunch of whales just handing out in the harbor as it was peak whale watching season. You could see them blow their spouts from the top of the peninsula. It was awesome! So glad we did that. We reached the end of the Garden Route about an hour after sundown so we booked a room in a town that I read online that had the best oysters in South Africa. So we settled in for the night and called it a day. The next day we searched out oyster heaven. After a couple of wrong turns we finally found it. Turns out we were there right at the peak of harvesting for oyster season. We just missed the annual oyster fest by only one week. %&*(&@%$!! But there were still plenty of fresh oysters that were in season. So Katie and I gorged ourselves on those delicious little critters. And we also got educated on what good oysters are South African style. After inhaling about 5 pounds each we headed to Jeffrey’ Bay or more affectionately known as JBay. We settled in to a “surf backpacker hostel” right on the best surf beach. Of course we did, duh!!!! We immediately went to the surf shop and rented some surf gear: a 4mm full bodysurf suit, surf boots, and a long board each. Keep in mind that this is August which is still considered the winter in South Africa so it was cold! That’s why we had to rent the body suit. It wasn’t like Indonesia where the water and air were both +80 degrees and we got to surf in only our Bermuda shorts. This would be different.

As it turned out August just so happened to be high surf season. That’s the biggest reason we decided to drive all the way to JBay because we knew the waves would be huge!! As a bonus there was a professional surf championship (The Billabong Pro Invitational) that was going on during that month as well. So not only would be get to catch some of the best surf in the world, we would also get to see the best surfers in the world master the waves. We went out the next morning and sat for about an hour or so watching these guys surf the tubes and make it look so easy. So disheartening to watch them because I’m still in surf diapers but still fun to watch them rip the waves apart. That afternoon we went to the beginner’s beach and gave it a go ourselves. We didn’t last very long because the waves were too strong for us and the water was blistering cold so you couldn’t stay in too long if you weren’t catching consistent waves cause your extremities would freeze! But we still had fun trying our ass off just to catch one wave. Katie finally caught a couple toward the end while I would have to leave hoping the next day would find me on top of a wave. We had dinner that night with Caitlin and Meredith in their posh 5-star pad. Thanks for inviting us guys! Turns out they had decided to come to JBay themselves and get in on the surf action. We had some Italian food with red wine while we laughed our asses off at Caitlin as she did her imitation of one of the more noticed drama queens that was on the Acacia tour with us. Thanks for that CB! A great finish to another stellar day.

The next day was almost an exact replica of the previous day. I almost caught a wave! I gave it a good shot and utterly exhausted myself in the process. We just hung out and enjoyed the sand and surf for one last day before driving all the way back to Capetown to catch our plane in two days. Destination: South America – Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The drive back was especially emotional for both Katie and I. It was officially the end of another chapter in our epic journey. Seven months into our trip, we would now be on the last leg of our ten-month odyssey. We were both sad and happy to be leaving Africa. Sad because there would be so many memories and new friends that we would be parting with on a continent that I consider the most magical on earth. Happy because we would be arriving at another continent that I had never been before with lots and lots of adventure waiting for us. It’s like this: we were constantly on an emotional rollercoaster and oh what a ride it has been so far.


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