Thursday, October 15, 2015

South Africa

With a new tour group of 2 South African guides and 8 random travelers from Canada, England, and Luxembourg (seriously, where are these Luxembourgish people coming from all of a sudden? It’s like they’ve just all been released from their Grand Duchy all at once…), Jarrod and I set out across South Africa in search of gold and riches.  Or maybe just leopards and hyenas – two of the main animals I hadn’t seen on my first tour.  Just like Johannesburg and Cape Town, the rest of the country had its nice parts and its less-than-nice parts (to put it nicely), but being on an organized tour, we didn’t stray too far from the path of safety.

A few highlights of my time in South Africa (not including Johannesburg and Cape Town):

Garden Route:
We drove along the Garden Route – a famous stretch of gorgeous coastline extending south and east from Cape Town – where we visited Knysna Heads (beautiful scenery where the Knysna River flows into the Indian Ocean), saw whales migrating along the coast near the town of Wilderness, and ate at the Sedgefield Saturday Markets.  The markets were glorious and I put so much delicious food into my mouth that I was full for a week.  I put some fat cocks in my mouth… wait, that’s not right.  I mean vetkoek!  Vetkoek means “fat cake” in Afrikaans and it’s like a doughnut but not sweet and you put filling in it like a sandwich.  I had a similar one in Botswana but this was bigger.  I also had koeksisters – small, syrup covered Afrikaner doughnuts… and coffee… and cake… as I do.  We also visited the Cango Caves where our amazing tour guide earned her badge for best cave tour ever.  How do you make a cave tour – which really are all the same – stand out among the others?  Talk in a manner which commands amazement from the crowd.  It sounded like she was some sort of sensual robot narrating a murder mystery.  I know that sounds weird, but trust me.

Tsitsikamma National Park:
At the end of the Garden Route lies Tsitsikamma National Park.  It is here where we camped just meters from the Indian Ocean – waking up to the roaring sound of the waves.  We hiked along the coast to a waterfall and back the other direction to some suspension bridges hanging over the mouth of the Storms River.  There were also tons of little rock dassies everywhere in this park and I almost exploded from the cuteness overload.

Addo Elephant National Park:
I had seen a lot of the African wildlife that I wanted to see by the time the next national park rolled around, with the notable exceptions of leopards and hyenas.  For much of the group, it was the first time they were seeing things like zebra and giraffe, and I was like “yawn.”  We didn’t see any leopards in Addo Elephant National Park but we saw tons of elephants (as the name suggests) including one bull elephant with a massive erection.  MASSIVE.  It was like a fifth leg.  It was frightening.  There were also tons of warthogs which was actually quite cool since I had not seen any since Zimbabwe (surprisingly), and we also saw two male kudu with horns locked, fighting over something.  New species included the eland (the largest of the antelope), the caracal (a super elusive feline species which apparently nobody ever sees), and the flightless dung beetle (a super endangered large beetle which we were lucky to see crossing the street and which we learned more about later on as there was a whole display on the species’ struggle at the visitor centre).

The fourth oldest European settlement in Southern Africa, Graaff-Reinet was a cute little town that we spent an afternoon in.  There, Jarrod and I broke from the group to get coffee and cupcakes (because Australians get coffee and gays get cupcakes, right?) followed by a visit to the Graaff-Reinet Museum to get our education on.  Though small, they had a great exhibit on Robert Sobukwe, one of the leaders of the anti-apartheid movement that I had learned briefly about on Robben Island.  Nearby, Camdeboo National Park offered another new antelope species for me – the blesbok – and a late afternoon hike in the Valley of Desolation (such sadness!) offered a great sunset and views overlooking the town at dusk.

Drakensburg & Vicinity:
Moving toward the Drakensburg region, we stopped for lunch in the tourist town of Clarens, where the rich of Johannesburg come to escape the city for weekend getaways.  We knew the town was legit nice when we spotted some other gays there.  Along the way, we saw some bald ibises along the road – contenders for title of the world’s ugliest bird species.  Our campsite at the Drakensville ATKV Holiday Resort had a massive heated indoor swimming pool (WIN!) and we took a day hike at Thukela Gorge in the Royal Natal National Park.

Saint Lucia:
Not to be confused with the Caribbean island nation, Saint Lucia is a small tourist town situated in the middle of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.  There we did the typical touristy hippo and croc river cruise where we saw quite a few large pods of hippos.  And one lone croc.  We saw some new bird species, including the giant kingfisher, cormorant, African darter, and some Egyptian geese, along with an African fish eagle chasing a pelican.  Lesson of the day: don’t piss off an eagle.  Jarrod and I opted to spend the next day just chilling at cafes in town rather than doing any wildlife adventures, but we did at least manage to see some mongooses at our campsite.  I finished my bottle of Amarula (a local liqueur drink), drank my first and last Castle Lite (a local favourite beer which tastes worse than piss), and cooked my famous mac n cheese for the group over a campfire.  It turned out ok – not great – but not bad for a lack of proper cheeses and the lack of a proper oven.

Other activities:
On the way back to Johannesburg, our group visited a local pre-school which is supported by Planeterra, the charitable arm of our tour company, G Adventures.  The pre-school was created so that older children wouldn’t have to drop out of school early to take care of their baby siblings.  It was another one of those not-so-nice realities that we learned about South Africa.

There is obviously one other place in South Africa that we visited that I haven’t blogged about yet.  For those of you who know South Africa, you can take a quick guess.  Ready?  Ok.  Guess!

Actually, I can’t hear you.  So I’ll just tell you.  It’s Kruger National Park!  And it will get its own separate entry soon enough.  Stay tuned.  In the meantime, let me take a selfie.

To see more photos of my time in South Africa, follow this link:

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