Well, it’s been a hot minute since I’ve written, hasn’t it? The next two posts will be less than literarily demanding in that they’re simple summaries of the past two months. Today’s dispatch covers my escapades from mid-December through just after New Year’s and the next one will be all about my brother’s visit. Hope you enjoy and, by the way, Happy 2014!
After spending some fun, adopted family-filled, semi-nostalgic days in my area for Christmas, the time came for this travel-bugged whippersnapper to start her second South African tour (as if this topographically and culturally diversified country could all be seen in less than a lifetime). On Boxing Day – December 26th for you Stateside folks – Katie and I headed to Durban to meet up with our good friends Brandon and Ted before proceeding to Cape Town the next day. Though short, our stay in Durban took up the usual vibe: fresh food, catching up with the backpacker staff, and many games of pool – it’s been a year since I learned how to play and I can honestly say that I have really, really… not improved. It’s fun, entertaining, and I’ll joyfully admit that I’ve never completed a game without collapsing into a belly laugh or ten.
From the mornings of the 27th to the 28th, we found ourselves on a 25-hour bus ride to Cape Town. I’m sure many of you are groaning at the thought of that, but I loved it. Somehow, perhaps due to my small stature, I take pleasure in most all modes of transport (save the hot, crowded taxi rides with live chickens); I’ve yet to come across a car trip, plane flight, boat ride, or train travel that I haven’t enjoyed in some way. So for that day’s trek across South Africa, I did a lot of dozing, bracelet making, and the ol’ stare-out-the-window-while-pondering-the-universe trick. Arriving at the Cape Town bus station, we made our wobbly way to our backpackers, one that has accomplished an excellent marriage of cleanliness and atmosphere: Amber Tree Lodge. It’s in perfect location for the common tourist; at the foot of Table Mountain and at the end of Long Street – a, believe it or not, lengthy strip of fantastic restaurants, shops, and pubs. After realizing that we definitely weren’t in Kansas anymore, we immediately sought out a laundromat so we could pretend to be civilized enough to sneak into Cape Town’s fast-paced lifestyle and quasi-European feel. Later that night, our fivesome group was completed when Briana arrived after flying back to South Africa from a two-week holiday in the States – THE STATES! Boy, did she go through the third degree. Very happy to see her, but not happy enough to take sympathy on her potential jetlag, we tried the tough love approach…
Bright and early the next morning we hiked up Table Mountain, a 1,085m feat achieved by just about anyone that visits this country, though I wouldn’t say it’s a cake walk. Perhaps I think that because there were several ascension steps as tall as my waist but, nonetheless, my heart and quads were happy for the workout. As this landmark’s name suggests, the pinnacle is a wide plateau, affording us an epic vantage point to gaze down upon the city, surrounding cliffs, and Robben Island (where Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years). After convincing ourselves we deserved an overpriced beer, we descended into the masses and spent the rest of the day gorging on fine (Mexican!) food and the rest of the
night on fun and (Mexican inspired!) frivolity. The next couple days we voluntarily got entangled in tourist traps
such as souvenir markets, hanging out with penguins and seals, and finally ducking south to see the Cape of Good Hope, a historical hotspot and argued to be the most south-western tip of the African continent. By this point, we found ourselves on the cusp of 2014, unsure of how it was already New Year’s Eve. Doing the predictable thing, our crew visited Long Street along with everyone ever born but, perhaps unpredictably, we had a relatively mild evening, meeting up with other PCVs, enjoying craft brews, and dancing ‘til the wee hours to what seemed to be about 2,014 songs.
Though there’s much more to see in Cape Town, it was time to continue our easterly ramble along the coast. Part of the Garden Route, we glided into The Crags for the next few days, settling in to our campsite at an earthy, ecofriendly (go ahead, read: hippie) backpackers called Wild Spirit. Completely by coincidence,
we knew a family that was staying a brief drive away in Nature’s Valley: the Rattrays, who own and operate the Fugitive’s Drift Lodge near my village as well as the David Rattray Foundation, an organization heavily involved in 17 of my surrounding schools. Our five-pronged amoeba of awkward, grungy Volunteers greatly appreciated the welcome arms extended to us by the Rattrays – being so far from home for so long, we are extremely happy to affix
onto and absorb any sort of familial atmosphere. After a couple days of small hikes, kayaking, and logging the obligatory beach time, our dear Rattrays truly treated us like family when they sent us down a slippery slope and essentially dared us to add bungee jumping to our holiday repertoire. And – Gordon Bennett! – the world’s highest bridge jump was just a hop, skip, and a tumble to our death away?! A call to make the booking was placed just moments later.
The following day, 4 January, will forever go down in history as the day I pooped my pants.
Just kidding, but barely so. On the way to our next destination, we pulled off to have a casual chitchat with the cavernous jaws of the Bloukrans Bridge. The bungee company, Face Adrenalin, opened in 1997 and has been incident-free with clientele as well as played witness to a 96-year-old participant in 2010. Facts like that should instill warm fuzzies, right? Tell that to the five of us as we staggered across a mesh catwalk out to the belly of the bridge, the site of the jump, clutching nothing but flimsy harnesses and callous curse words. That was definitely the scariest part of the whole ordeal; watching the solid earth fall further and further away, taking our confidence with it. Fortunately the staff really knows how to deal with their patrons, alternating between sturdy directional shoves and hyping us up with blaring, themed music (thank you, House of Pain). Katie, Brandon, Ted, Briana, and I made instant best friends with everyone in our group (how could we not?) and spent a while exchanging nervous jokes as we watched people go ahead of us.
Before I knew it, my ankles were getting strapped in to what looked like delicate water wingies, but was quickly told that they could take tons of pressure. I don’t think I blinked between then and being placed on the edge, where everyone instinctively curls their bare
toes around the comforting concrete before they’re expected to do a graceful swan dive into the abyss 216m below. (I’m getting anxious again just writing this.) I don’t remember jumping – I literally blacked out. I recall thinking that I might die, so I told the launcher man I thought he was cute, and the next thing I saw was the brilliant landscape zooming up towards my face. It was SO COOL. As I whizzed my pants towards the river and trees, the music faded and I
only heard the wind rushing; vice versa as I bounced up. After the bungee momentum ebbed, I hung there for what felt like an epoch, willing my ankles not to slip out of their wingies and the retriever to belay down faster and clip me to more assured safety. It was probably a year’s worth of adrenalin within just a few seconds and I can’t wait to jump again! We all had so much fun in the gift shop looking at our photos and laughing at the videos of our jumps, or tumbles, or whatever you want to call them. The drive to our next destination, Cintsa in the Eastern Cape, was abuzz with recounts of the morning as well as finally making phone calls to our parents to tell them how rash and reckless their children had been.
Pulling up to our new campground at Buccaneers Backpackers made me so excited because that was going to be the last place where I stayed until my brother arrived. It didn’t make the next two days any less fun, but it did make the arrival of the 6th that much sweeter. Buccaneers is quite large; their buildings, campsite, pool, volleyball pit, and open fields were freckled along a forested hillside that led down to a nice beach. We happily wiled away the hours playing ping pong, swimming, participating in their daily 16:00 activities with free wine, and eating traditional Xhosa meals (though nothing will compare to village Zulu food). While I very much looked forward to meeting John at the airport, it was a bit sad to split off from my group. We’ve been through a lot together; literally during hilarious holidays and symbolically as we struggle and succeed at our Peace Corps sites. I simply love you all! And so, with heaps of memories in my pocket, the holiday beginning to show in my waistline (but who gives a flying rip), and unbridled anticipation in my tummy, I was off to pick up a certain curly-haired guy from the airport…