Renting a car in a British-influenced country usually means that I will not be driving on the “right” side of the road. And to make things slightly more complicated, the steering wheel also switches sides of the car. My mantra while driving quickly becomes “stay left, hug right” because I need to remember to stay on the left side of the road while still hugging the middle line to make sure I’m staying relatively centered in my lane.
Other thoughts from driving in South Africa are as follows: Big right turns and small left turns. Ride the shoulder to let others pass. Tip people who help you park whether you want the help or not. Every radio station begins each hour with news. Figuring out if gas at 10.5 rands per liter is a good deal or not (It’s not). Traffic lights are called robots.
The drive east along the Garden Route from Cape Town was beautiful, easy and relaxed. The drive back is a bit more intense. We go on roads that are slightly more inland, supposed to be a little faster, and take us through incredibly varied terrain. We pass through farmland, along vineyards, up and over mountains, and in the middle of vast open areas. Some of these roads are accompanied by sheets of rain so heavy at points that even the windshield wipers at full speed cannot keep up.
When planning this trip a couple months back, the four of us were debating whether to go to Addo or Kruger. Kruger is one of the largest game reserves in all of Africa and is one of the more famous parks in the world; therefore, choosing not to go here was a big decision. The factor leading to this decision is mainly that it is currently the wrong season to visit. At this time of year, Kruger is supposed to be hot, humid, mosquito-infested, and rainy. Moreover, the increased rain causes the grass to grow higher making it more difficult to spot wildlife. We are lucky that we chose to stay away because while at Addo we learned of headlines that read “Hundreds of tourists stranded as Kruger National Park floods“.
While at Addo, we enjoy driving around the park searching for game and finding elephants, zebras, kudu, turtles, ostriches, warthogs and more. We spend one night at a very comfortable cabin and the second night in equally comfortable tents in the middle of the park. At one point, we even find a section of the park that is lion-free and walk-able so we take a nice hike.
On our way from the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape, we make sure to stop at some of the most beautiful coastline that the Africa and the world have to offer. This stretch of coast is better known as the Garden Route. Some of the highlights include Mossel Bay Beach where we enjoy a seafood feast at a beachside restaurant called The Pavilion. Other pit stops include Wilderness and the famous Knysna along the way to our first night’s destination in Plettenberg Bay. In Knysna, we take a short hike to a beautiful spot to enjoy sunset. Clasmmates Jan, Carmen, Inessa, and I find a nice quiet hostel in this small town after enjoying a fun open-air dinner.
On the second day along the Garden Route, we begin by enjoying a relaxed breakfast in Plettenberg before continuing onwards. Our first stop of the day is at Nature’s Valley Beach. Nature’s Valley includes two parallel beaches, one next to a fresh water lake and the other facing the ocean. We walk between the two several times enjoying the warm water and the hot sun. This wide, sandy beach is a perfect start to the day, which ends at Addo Elephant National Park, where there is a bit of excitement upon arrival as we first go to the wrong entrance and then have to travel along a bumpy dirt road before barely making it in time before the park closes. We quickly order some food to be ready for us after an evening game drive through the park, and all proceed to pile into an open-air truck to see what wildlife we can find.
Many of us who had just finished our school program spent one evening at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens listening to the South African musician Johnny Clegg. Clegg’s sounds can probably best be described by imagining an ethnically South African Dave Matthews Band. We all brought snacks and local wine to this family-friendly concert with its unique backdrop.
The Penguins of Boulders Beach:
The Cheetahs of Spier Winery:
Hike to the top of Lion’s Head:
Cape of Good Hope:
Although I hiked to the top of Cape Town’s famous mountain only the other day, I could not resist returning to its summit to enjoy a clear sunset. Luckily, there is a shortcut to the top by means of a cable car.
Even on a clear day, the table cloth, an appropriately named layer of clouds that fly over Table Mountain every afternoon, appears as the rock of the mountain begins to cool. The clouds, the mountain, the ocean, and the city all make for an unforgettable sunset.
I didn’t get enough heights from my paragliding adventure and searched out that dizzying, gut-wrenching feeling caused by looking downwards from great heights the same afternoon after my Lion’s Head paragliding flight.
The recently built Cape Town Stadium is partially covered by a glass roof, from which we can see Table Mountain on one side, the Atlantic Ocean on the other, the sun above us, and the pitch below us. With the day being close to 40 degrees Celsius in combination with the reflection off the glass, we all feel like we are being slowly cooked. However, I do not come to this realization until retreating back down to a more natural height.
A fun fact about the stadium’s roof is that it is very flexible and ready for some of Cape Town’s windier conditions. The roof can flex both up and down as well as side to side to accommodate some of Cape Town’s harshest wind conditions.
Stefan says to me, “On the count of three, we will start running. And don’t forget to not sit down.”
“Right,” I reply. “I guess I’m ready.” I ineffectively try to wipe the sweat from my face on this scorcher of day.
I think of all the not-so-reassuring words that fellow flyer and classmate Matt has given me throughout the last couple days in preparation for this moment. “Even in the worst case scenario, at least there will be little pain.”
I’m waiting for Stefan’s count of three to begin any moment and it feels like I’m waiting forever. I find myself holding my breath in anticipation until I cannot hold my breath any longer because of my quicker heart rate. I tell myself that I get more than my money’s worth for these types of adventures assuming that the best measure to use is heart rate per dollar. My fear of heights causes my heart rate to scale quickly at such moments.
Paragliding Over Cape Town from Andrew Stein on Vimeo.
“One. Two. Three.” We start running and of course I begin to try to sit in my harness well before it is time. I receive a quick scolding and immediately stand up and resume running.
Before I know what has happened, we are seemingly weightless, Lion’s Head Peak is to our back and Cape Town’s coastline is ahead of us. We hit a small thermal updraft and climb a little higher before beginning our descent. Once I feel supported by the parachute above me, I begin to relax and couldn’t be happier that I was convinced to fly via paraglide over this great city.
In order to fully understand the many aspects of Cape Town culture, my classmates and I venture to Camps Bay Beach located just on the other side of Lion’s Head Mountain from our hotel to experience the city’s nightlife. Apparently, Camps Bay is a high-rent area where people go out to be seen, and although the drinks are still only about two dollars (20 rand), the atmosphere is young, loud and lively. Other hotspots in the city include the restaurants, bars, and clubs around Long Street.
Opposite of many other large cities, in the core of the Cape Town dwells the wealthy, and the “suburbs” are where the poor reside within townships. As part of the school’s immersion program, we spend an afternoon having lunch at and visiting one such township, the Langa Township.
Much of what we see there could be expected, but there are a couple surprises that I want to share. First, within the township, there are a variety of socioeconomic classes displayed. There are the large families who live in overcrowded, small tin houses juxtaposed to the smaller families enjoying fenced-in, cleaner-looking homes.
The second surprise for me is that regardless of where and how a family lived, many are in possession of seemingly luxurious goods such as nice televisions, stereos, phones, refrigerators, and even cars. Anything in need of electricity is powered with stolen electricity off the power lines.
Finally, the last idea that I struggle with while touring this township is the fact that these families are opening up their homes to let foreigners like us photograph their lives. They do receive monetary compensation for doing so; however, it still feels very intrusive and uncomfortable.