South Africa

The Garden Route – my path to happiness

5 Comments 19 October 2006

Pink Sunset in Mossel Bay

Pink Sunset in Mossel Bay

No zucchini or corn – but lots of rain on this Garden Route. I decided I should explore life outside of Cape Town so I made plans to take the Baz Bus across the Garden Route. I probably need to define a few thing from that last sentence. The Baz Bus is a ‘backpacker bus’ transporting backpackers (like me) around to popular destinations picking you up and dropping you off at various hostels. It was cheaper than renting a car so I figured I would try it out! The Garden Route is a section of coastline on the Western Cape know for it’s spectacular landscape, towns, beaches, and weather (I’m really not sure about that last one…read on). For you San Franciscans reading this – think Carmel/Big Sur – but much larger area and supposedly nicer weather. Since I’ve been here – I find that I’ve picked up a bit of a British/S. African accent…therefore – I’m not really sure if it’s Garden Rowt or Garden Root anymore…

View  snapshots of Mossel Bay

View South Africa photography

I chose 2 towns to stop and stay at – Mossel Bay and Knysna (pronounced Nyzna). I chose Mossel Bay because my friend Gail’s parent lived there ans she insisted that I pop in and meet them. I used to do work with Gail in NYC she provided me with many top quality consultants from Celerity (love the shameless plug!). She grew up in South Africa so I had asked her for travel advice before I left. She gave me her parents phone number and said.”Call them – they are expecting you”. So – this was my first opportunity to dust off those skills I picked up when moving to a San Francisco and New York City – calling complete strangers and seeing if they will be your friend. Little did I know that it would be a piece of cake – and I’m once again reminded on how rewarding it is to reach out to strangers.

I boarded the Baz Bus – it picked up other backpackers along the way and was generally a great ride. The country side that we saw was really beautiful…fruit farms, wheat fields, sheep – just stunning. About halfway there our driver, Simon, put in a movie for our viewing pleasure…I was so excited as I haven’t seen any TV/movie since the plane ride out here! The movie was really one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen…Soccer Dog. It was so bad – I had to watch it – like a car accident.

I arrived in Mossel Bay and put my bag in my backpacker hostel. I hadn’t been able to call Gail’s parents yet as I was having issues with my phone. So I took a walk around the Point scouting out areas to run and then found a pay phone and figured out how to use it (yes – this seems simple – but sometimes it’s not!). I called Blume and Natie not really knowing what I was going to say – but was hoping that they would meet me for dinner at the least. Blume answered and immediately asked me where I was…”ummm – a pay phone outside of a material shop” – her : “I’m coming to pick you up – you can stay with us” – me: “But I’ve already checked into the hostel” – her: “Have you paid them – if not – just tell them that I insisted that you stay with us”. Sure enough – 5 minutes later she pulls up and gives me a big hug, takes me to my hostel in which I try to explain that I have been hijacked and I must stay with my friends. They were totally cool about it – so off I went to stay with Blume and Natie. They had a wonderful place on the water overlooking the wharf and yatch club – I was in heaven! They fed me and drove me around town showing me the sites. The company they provided was out of this world – it was one of those times again where I thought – how did I get so lucky to meet these wonderful people? To top it off – they totally reminded me of my parents. They were roughly the same age and were quickly approaching their 50th wedding anniversary next year! Many of you reading this know my parents…this was my parents in South Africa…fun, outgoing and just plain nice. I felt like a queen staying there compared to the hostel.
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Photo: Blume and Natie on their balcony

Natie would entertain me non-stop with stories. He was a sailor (sailed from Mossel Bay to the Caribbean), an architect, and I even came to find out that he was the Mayor of Mossel Bay a few years back. For me – he was my TV…I was thoroughly entertained by him – great reality TV! It really made me miss my parents. The next morning Blume invited me to join her at her water aerobics class at the heated pool in Mossel Bay. Since I hadn’t exercised in a month and I love to joining the ‘locals’ – I figured what the heck. Oh my goodness – this was probably one of my favorite moments during my trip so far – going to water aerobics in Mossel Bay. Never in my wildest dreams could I have predicted that I would be with Gail’s mom doing Aquasize along with a bunch of other women and men more than a few years my senior. I was the only one in a bikini (it was all I had!!). As I was following the instructor and sweating from the hot, hot pool (it honestly was like a jacuzzi) – I just had to grin with pleasure. One of those grins that make your face hurt. I was so happy.

That day I also accompanied Blume to the store and more site seeing. Then I walked around and went to the museum on my own. That night I went with Blume and Natie to the Yacht Club for dinner where they had a raffle and I found out that Natie had been one of the main and had his own parking space with his name on it! So – we walked in and got a Cheers-like reception – everyone knew him and Blume of course. However they had no idea who I was! I didn’t win anything at the raffle…darn…but I did meet a lot of great people. We went for ice cream after dinner and drove out to the Point to listen to the waves and eat our dessert…a perfect day.
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The next day I got up and ran 5 miles…well – run/walk…it was excruciating after a month. I was actually sad to leave Natie and Blume that afternoon as I had so much fun with them. Blume took me back to the hostel to pick up the bus – but as we were going by the hostel the bus pulled away…oh noooooo…..that was my ride!!! Blume took off trying to follow them – but we lost them…imagine – car chase down the main street of Mossel Bay (I’m sure Gail will get a chuckle out of that). Since we couldn’t find the bus we went back to the hostel and the people there called the bus and they had to come back to pick me up! Granted – I wouldn’t have minded staying another day…but they were most likely tired of me by that point (confirmed by the fact that Blume was going 60 down main street trying to catch the bus!) The bus came back…and I was on my way again. Saying goodbye to Blume and Natie was hard…they were out of this world! It’s people like them that make me want to travel more. Thanks Gail!!!!!

So – I get on the bus and we take off – I apologize to everyone on the bus including our driver, Sam, for being late and making the bus turn around. Everyone was cool about it – however at the next rest stop – Sam she would have to take the microphone and sing a song! For those of you that know me – you know that I DON’T sing – never even hummed in karaoke. So I nervously told him ‘no way’! So instead he made me get up and tell everyone my name, where I was from, what my hobbies were, and what my favorite part of my trip had been…hilarious! I can’t sing – but I can talk – so this request was no problem! Sam continued to give me crap the whole way to Knysna. He dedicated a song to me at one point – the only lyrics I remember was “Watch the red tail lights disappear in the night”…it was really an entertaining ride! In fact – it was one of those times…those really special times where you realize just what happiness is. Sam put on some traditional African music with an intro by Nelson Mandella and all of a sudden I looked out the window at my surroundings and had this rush of happiness come over me. I was so happy that my eyes welled up, my face got stiff and tingly (like when you are about to cry about something good), and I smiled so hard it actually hurt. The beauty of the countryside, the incredible people I met, the unpredictable things I am doing – I felt so lucky and blessed to be exposed to this. I cannot really put this feeling into words. It’s better than drugs (not that I would know of course!), and it’s a feeling that I know will come to me a lot this year. It’s happiness.

View pictures of Kynsna, South Africa
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Photo: Knysna Eastern Head – in the rain of course!

I arrived in Knysna that evening – and it had been raining and foggy the whole way – the weather gods were not with me. I had arranged to stay in a guest house in Knysna as I had tired of the hostels and wanted a bit more pampering. I found a great place online so I reserved with them. Clare from the guesthouse called Cair Paravel came to pick me up from where the bus dropped me and take me to the house. I honestly didn’t know what a guest house was as I that I don’t know. Plus – their house was not in town – and I didn’t have a car – so I wasn’t really sure how I was going to eat and get around. Clare said that they were doing a brai (remember – if you were paying attention a few posts ago you would know that brai means BBQ) and we stopped at the grocery store on the way out of town and I picked up a steak. I found out that Clare had been living in Knysna for about 6 years running various hostels and her parents, Keith and Jacqui, had decided to retire here from London. They had built this house and it was just finished and they had just arrived today also to stay there for the next month or so – they were semi-retired. So – now I was a bit self conscious as I was staying with a family that I didn’t know – the good mid-westerner in me didn’t want to intrude…but hell – I had no choice! So – that night Clare got a piping hot BBQ going (this woman knows her grill!) – she cooked the steaks, we opened up wine and we all sat on the porch and had dinner together. It was like I was visiting with old friends – it was so much fun. Wine and beef…a great way to bond (sorry to you vegetarians out there!). It was as if I was going to one of my friend’s parents houses for a few days – I felt totally comfortable and they were so social. Even though it rained most of the time I was there – Clare still arranged various activities for me and would take me into town. Then she would cook up these amazing meals that we would all have together. I came to really look forward to dinner time for the food and the company. The next night we had shrimp on the brai and the last night we had tuna…she was a great cook and they were great company! Once again – I learned a lot about London, and South Africa. Keith worked in the tobacco manufacturing industry so he was well traveled – so we had tons to talk about.

While in Knysna in the rain I did some great activities…and I visited many Internet cafes! One day I went on a tour called the Awesome Foursome – (no – this is not sexual…all of my friends in NYC…get your mind out of the gutter…hee…hee). Since the weather was horrendous – I was the only one who was crazy enough to book this – so I was the only one on the tour…just me and my guide Ricky. We canoed across the lagoon to the Western Head. Knysna is known for it’s stunning lagoon. There are two mountain ranges that practically meet – but there is about a 100 meter opening that let’s the ocean water in to form this amazing lagoon. The two mountains are called the Eastern Head and the Western Head by the locals (I’m sure they have much more official names). All I really wanted to do was canoe and hike – however it was a package deal – so I had to do the other two activities… Quad biking and abseiling. So – Ricky and I canoed and then hiked up to the top of the Head where he taught me how to use my Quad Bike (think 4 wheeler).
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I am not a big motorcycle person – hell – I’m not a big car person – so this quad biking thing seemed a bit scary to me. He showed me how to use it and gave me a helmet. I warned him that I hadn’t drove in years in NYC – but he didn’t seem worried. I was very surprised to find out that the white trash side of me emerged and I LOVED this activity! It was so fun to go fast and practically tip over…it was like riding a snow mobile but in the dirt! I was laughing the whole time under my helmet and seriously considering growing a mullet. Next was the abseiling (basically repelling down a cliff). I thought that this wouldn’t be a problem – until I saw the cliff. I was all of a sudden terrified. Ricky made me go look over the edge – it was a 70 meter drop with the ocean and rocks below. It sounded like someone had turned the volume up on the waves as all I could hear was them crashing into the rocks. I freaked out and told Ricky that I didn’t think I could do it. I went and sat down for a bit and considered it. I told myself that I was here and had paid for it – why not do it. I told myself that tons of people do this all of the time and they are fine. I told myself that I had jumped out of a plane…why would this bother me. That finally did it…I told him I would go through with it. He set it all up and I asked him about 10 times if everything was secure. When he told me to step over the edge my legs were like rubber – I was completely scared. There’s nothing like laying back off a cliff that drops to the ocean – you have to totally trust the ropes and let them hold you – but I was scared stiff. I did it – but I must admit – I was soooo happy to be on the ground. I much prefer jumping out of a plane to abseiling…but I did it!! Ricky and I hiked back to the canoe and talked about reality TV…one of my favorite subjects. They have Survivor here – so we bonded over that. I told him to keep an eye out for Project Runway!
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Photo: Me abseiling…you can’t see the fear on my face – but it was there!

The last day in Knysna I really wanted to go hiking – however – being a single traveler has posed some problems. No one wants to do a tour with a single traveler as it really doesn’t make them money. But Clare worked very hard at finding me a guide that would be willing to take me out on a short hike. I met Mark in his open top Land rover the next morning. He was a real likable guy with a great S. African accent. Once I determined he was married – my fantasies of living my life out in S. Africa hiking through the mountains with him disappeared – but regardless – we had a great time. We did a 4 km hike down to a beach and back up – it was tough – but good. We talked non-stop about politics, various countries, astrological signs, dating in NYC ,sex clubs, and relationships…this was my kind of guy – no subject was off limits!! He really was great – very granola – if he lived in the US he would belong in California for sure. He showed me different plants, educated me about trees, you name it. It rained on us when we got to the beach – we were soaked – but then again that was the pattern in Knysna! He took me back to the guest house and from there I caught another Baz Bus back to Cape Town.
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Photo: Keith, Clare, and Jacqui from my Guest House

My adventure down the Garden Route had been a success. I was overwhelmed with the great people I met and their hospitality was remarkable. I felt like a part of the family everywhere I went! Most importantly…I experienced happiness…you must grab those moments and not let go!

Note – Once all of you other vendors that I worked with out there in NYC get me a place to stay with great food and company…I’ll give you your plug!!

Your Comments

5 Comments so far

  1. Cyndi Sommerfeldt says:

    Hey! Where is the ocean you described in the abseiling picture???? Shouldn’t it be right beneath you? Maybe this whole around the world trip of yours is being done from NYC with smoke and mirrors!!!! Maybe that explains why I have no recollection of hiking up Kilimanjaro from 17,000-19,000ft. I was being reprogrammed to see views from the top????? Interesting!

    Seriously it sounds like you have done fine since I left you in Capetown…I told you that hostel looked cool. Maybe by the end of this year you will have learned to listen to me….Ha! Can’t wait to hear about New Zealand and Austrailia before I pick you up here in Singapore in early December. Have Fun! Love, Cyndi

  2. joan says:

    Please let me know wherabout the aqua aerobic pool is that you visited whilst in Mossel Bay with Blume. Dying to go. Thanks


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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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