Capetown to Transkei and KwaZulu-Natal
After about a week in Senegal, it was nice to get away to beautiful Cape Town, SA, to start uploading and editing all the photos and video I’ve taken. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out the way I had planned. Upon arrival I met the craziest group of people where I was immediately whisked away for a late night of drinks in Camps Bay on the water, hot dogs on Long Street (just the bun and onions for me) and an almost fist fight in front of the hot dog stand. I didn’t sleep the first night, and at the break of dawn was up again for a Township tour close-by.
For those of you unfamiliar with SA, a township is essentially a small town with its own judicial system and is an essentially a country unto itself. The townships are generally poor (although there can be an upper middle class as well), and they’re the first thing you notice driving throughout the country. The pockets of townships stretch along the landscape, their borders sharp and stark as a wall. Maybe the strangest thing is their proximity to modern cities such as Capetown, where every modern convenience is evident, yet next door is an area of poverty and open latrines with precarious electrical wires exposed in corrugated metal dwellings. I was disappointed to find it unsafe to travel into a Township alone, even in a group at times, as I always want to be in the midst of everything for a great photo and couldn’t venture far enough in to truly get the feel of the place.
I spent the next week in Capetown making friends at my favorite hostel, The Backpack and Africa Travel Centre, right in the heart of Capetown. I met so many people hanging around their amazing cafe having a drink in the evenings, looking at the stars over Table Mountain as a backdrop. I hiked up Lions Head (the inspiration for Pride Rock in the Lion King) in ridiculously high winds, trekked for 3 hours up Table Mountain on a trail called Skeleton Gorge (normally a 4 hour hike) with an incredibly fit friend I met along the way.
I drank wine, ate delicious food, made friends, and found an indoor climbing gym where I met some people who could take me up Table Mountain for some outdoor climbing. Unfortunately I ran out of time, next trip to Capetown! Finally, it was time to leave. I hopped on the Baz Bus, an awesome bus that takes you all the way up the coast of SA with other backpackers, dropping you off at hostels along the way. You can buy a ticket for a pre-determined amount of days, and hop on and off as much as you choose. It’s the best way to travel along the coast. I stopped first at Jeffrey’s Bay, home to the famous Island Vibe hostel, known for its delicious family style dinners, awesome bar, surfing culture, and beautiful panoramic views perched on a hillside overlooking the bay.
Sadly, the surf has been crap all the way up the coast, so I wasn’t able to partake. Instead, I haunted the ever cheap Billabong outlet, the Island Vibe Bar, and went on an amazing horseback riding trip where we raced across powder white dunes which were devoid of human life for miles and miles. We finally came upon an empty stretch of blue sea, where I was almost thrown from my horse by a freak wave, and luckily managed to stay on. It was amazing. It was also amazing how none of us were thrown from our horses when they all decided to take off full gallop at random intervals across the dunes and beach.
Here I met a really cool German guy, Bjorn, and his Dutch girlfriend May Ke, who funny enough I had stayed with in Capetown. They invited me to travel with them, so I hitched a ride up the coast to Port Elizabeth, where we stayed in Lungile (pronounced Lune-geel-A) hostel for 2 nights. Along the way, we stopped at Sea View Lion Park, where we ended up meeting several of the people we went riding with the day before, who volunteer there. It’s a really cool park where volunteers keep watch over the baby lions, jackals, tigers, hyenas, and other animals being raised at the time. Although the park was fun, I’ve heard rumor after the cubs can no longer be handled by the public due to their size and age, they are sold to game parks where they are hunted and killed by people who pay big money for the African big game experience.
Lungile hostel was an interesting blend of backpackers who usually only stay one night, as a stopover to keep heading up the coast, and a few regulars who are actually living there. One guy, an Australian, I am convinced was a pirate. Another, a skinny, pale Irish guy who consumed an entire plate of his ‘homemade’ brownies one night, was thrown into the pool and later couldn’t understand how to cut a carrot in half. Lastly, an Ethiopian/Miami/South African who liked to lie about where he was from was the chef of these house, who enjoyed giving tips about cooking to everyone in the kitchen whether you wanted them or not.
It was an eclectic group of people, the smell of the smoking Braai outside, music pounding till late, and the smell of the kitchen, ever wafting throughout the hall. From here we traveled for the day to Addo elephant park, where we wandered among elephants, buffalo, monkeys, exotic birds, jackals, kudu, and sadly missed 3 of the big 5: the rhino, lion, and the leopard. We received some odd conflicting information from park staff, who told us the leopard hadn’t been seen in 4 years and was possibly dead, and the rhino hadn’t been seen in 3 months and was also potentially dead. Another told us there were many rhinos but they couldn’t tell us if one had been spotted and when, because of poachers, but there was definitely a leopard and it was, in fact, alive.
Next stop, the amazing and rural Coffee Bay area where locals live in brightly painted round houses with thatched roofs, and the Coffee Shack sits—the most famous hostel in the area. I traveled with Bjorn and May Ke again to get there, where we watched the setting sun, driving over the rolling hills and through patches of small houses till we arrived. It was absolutely beautiful.
The Coffee Shack sits in a valley, surrounded by mountains which end in cliffs and drop into the sea. A river runs through the compound that can be crossed to get to another dorm and small, private huts on the other side. You can see the breaking waves in the bay, and a small path leads to another cove which is known for its surfing. People sign up for ‘Sundowners’, where you climb a small mountain to sit on top with a drink in hand to watch the sunset. The light is fantastic there, from 2 PM until 6:30 PM when it gets dark, you are illuminated by sunlight which appears to be perpetually sunset. Long beams of orangey light run through the hostel and, during the day, weaver birds nest in the trees, twittering and building their unusual nests.
Here, I went on a hike, climbing along the cliff (many times on paths no wider than one of my shoes) overlooking the breaking waves below. We traversed a cave, jumped off of cliffs into the water below, hiked up more steep cliff-sides than I can remember, and had a lunch of toasties on a hill by a river in the late afternoon. In the evenings, we shared family-style dinners of homemade bread, vegetable soup, chicken curry, saffron rice, fresh peas and carrots, and roast beef and gravy. Giving up my vegetarian lifestyle at times, I feasted in Biltong, a South African specialty of seasoned dried beef cut into thin, short strips. It’s delicious.
From there, I jumped on a Greyhound bus (not to be confused with the American Greyhound bus company), and traveled north to Durban, where I was welcomed by the lovely Donna and Craig who picked me up at the bus station and welcomed me into their home. Donna is my sister’s best friend, a South African who along with her husband, are the kindest people I have ever met. They have spoiled me rotten for the last few days, and I’m sad to leave tomorrow as I embark on a journey up the African coast. I will travel north through SA, on to Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya. We’ll be stopping at Kruger National Park, Chobe National Park, Victoria Falls, Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, and Serengeti National Park, among other stops along the way. The entire trip will take a month, camping and traveling with about 17 other people in a monster 4×4 and taking turns cooking meals. I’ll arrive in Kenya just before Christmas, in time to travel to India over the holidays. I did finally purchase travel insurance, so if I am attacked by a lion in my sleep, I should be covered.