The Penguins of Simons Town

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On our final full day in Africa we were up and on the road by 7am. Throughout the trip, we kept delaying places to see and things to do. “Tomorrow” we kept saying to ourselves. Well this time there was no tomorrow and we had a ridiculously full day of sightseeing ahead of us. Our first scheduled stop was Simons Town.
Simons Town is a little town on the west side of False Bay. It is quaint and beautiful, with amazing views of both cliffs and ocean. The real draw, however, is the penguins!
Kelsi was stunned when she heard I’d never seen a penguin in the wild before. Zoos yes, wandering around the beach sunning themselves, absolutely not!
“What?!” Said Kelsi “Penguins are almost like pests they’re so common in New Zealand”
“Yup, and I remember having a similar discussion about squirrels in Canada!” These penguins were my squirrels… As strange as that sentence sounds.
We paid our small fee to get into the park and walked down the boardwalk to the beach. I was elated.
“Look! Oh my god! There’s one!” I shouted. I got my camera out and started snapping photos of this lone penguin on a rock while Kelsi kept walking.
“Wait! There’s another!” More photos. Then finally I turned to where Kelsi was standing and saw a beach FULL of penguins. Hundreds of them! Old, young, sitting on eggs, swimming in the sea, waddling around in circles, and overall looking adorable.
“Shut up!” This was amazing.
I probably filled a half gig on my camera taking pictures and videos of these little tuxedo wearing balls of cuteness. The northern hemisphere is missing out! Except for the smell…
Yup, hundreds of penguins living on a beach created quite the stench! The novelty of the animals wore off quickly when the wind changed direction, so we wandered to a less populated beach to look around.
The second beach was beautiful. Very quiet, with shallow clear water and lots of rocks to climb around on. When we had finished jumping around on the rocks, we played the “how close can you get to a penguin without it snapping at you” game. Kelsi nearly got attacked a couple times by a curious little penguin, but the video was worth it!
When we’d finally had enough, we moved on to our next destination: Cape Point!

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Cango Caves

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Just 15 minutes up the road from the ostrich farm are the Cango Caves. We made it, once again, just in time for the tour to begin. Don’t know how we keep lucking out that way.
There are two types of tours at the caves. One, is the normal walking tour, and the other is the adventure tour. The difference is, on the adventure tour, you are taken to the end of the caves and then you get to crawl, shimmy, and squeeze your way through a labyrinth of tunnels to get back. Although normally this would have been the chosen tour for Kelsi and I, we had a limited time schedule, and with Kelsi’s busted knee, we were not about to crawl through any cave tunnels.
Either way, the caves were incredible. The first cavern that you enter is huge. It has stalactites and stalagmites, such as Cleopatra’s Needle, or the Giant Organ Pipes, that date back to 650 and 800 thousand years ago respectively. They are massive! Apparently the Cango caves holds the records for larges stalactite formations on earth. Very impressive.
In the first cavern, they used to set up full orchestras to play inside. The music would echo throughout the cave and the audience could either sit, or wander around, hearing the music from different areas. Unfortunately, the orchestra music had to be cancelled in the 90’s. Too many people were exploring the back caverns of the cave and vandalizing the area. They pulled off stalactites that were thousands of years old, and etched their names into walls. It’s sad when just a few people ruin something for so many others. I imagine the orchestras must have been incredible!
From there we continued on to the second cavern. There we came across the petrified weeping willow tree which was the oldest formation in the cave at 1.5million years old.
We continued deeper into 10 different rooms, until finally our tour came to an end. Each room had something amazing to see, and some sort of story behind it.
All in all, the tour was an hour and we were glad to have done it. We weren’t even sure that morning if we could fit in the caves and still drive all the way to Swellendam by evening. But the stop was worth it!

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Wilderness

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We weren’t entirely sure where we wanted to spend our next night. Originally we had thought Knysna, until Sam told us it wasn’t worth out while. Then, when we stayed an extra night in J-Bay, we tried to include as many sights as we could in a single day. We aimed for a little town near George called Wilderness. Why not? It was quite a ways down the road, it had a cool name, and we’d heard it was a pretty laid back beach village. Sounds good to us!
For the first part of our trip it was still raining. We stopped in Storms River for lunch, but the town didn’t have much for people stopping by. We had opted out of the bungee jumping (the largest bridge jump in the world at 216m) to save money for several other must-do activities along the way: plus after the gorge swing I’d had enough of hurling myself off huge heights.
The garden route was lovely, but the misty rains made it hard to see things, and the side roads to Nature’s Valley was sadly closed.
Fortunately, by the time we hit Plettenberg, the clouds lifted and the rains stopped. Plettenberg was adorable. The whole town was built on a hill, overlooking the ocean. The locals walked around the street barefoot, and everyone seemed friendly and in good spirits. We wandered around a little craft market, then made our way down to the shoreline. The waves were gorgeous, the sky had brightened and we were in heaven! It was hard to leave, but finally we made our way to Knysna.
We drove through Knysna to “The Heads” which had some incredible views of the coastline. I don’t know what Sam was talking about; Knysna was beautiful! The cliff sides and splashing water was absolutely stunning to look at. We found more than one view point and spent forever just taking photos from every angle we could find. On the other side of the water passage, there we all sorts of hiking paths and caves to explore. If only we had more time, and if Kelsi could walk without a limp, we could have spent hours exploring the area.
We drove back down to the bottom of the cliffs to see the water up close. Right along the shoreline was a beautiful little restaurant that served wine and seafood. One of our goals along the way was to sit and eat oysters and sip on wine somewhere along the coast. Unfortunately, this place was too classy and too expensive for our tastes, so we got back in the car to search somewhere else.
We did a quick drive through of Knysna’s busy restaurant area, then carried on to find a place called Buffalo Bay.
We were all about pulling off route to find small corners of the earth, untouched by tourism. Buffalo Bay was the first of those places that we’d found. Just a little ways away from Knysna, Buffalo Bay (or Buffels Baai as the signs show) it a tiny town with some outstanding shoreline. Fisherman fished off the rocky shores and the sun and clouds made for an awesome photo op. we didn’t spend much time in the town, as the day was getting late and we still had to find a place to stay. So we hopped back in the car and continued back along the N2.
Just a little ways along the highway there was a turn off to a community called Timberlake. Hardly a community really, it was just a small village with about 10 buildings that considered itself an “organic community”.
I made some lame Justin Timberlake joke and looked back at the town as we drove by.
“Stop!” I yelled “there’s a place called ‘The Oyster Shack’ and it’s an actual shack! Let’s check it out!”
Kelsi pulled a U-Turn and we flew down into Timberlake. It was the best U-Turn I’ve ever made.
I can’t even find a word in my vocabulary for how much I liked Timberlake. There’s really no reason for me to have loved it so much, it was ten or so little wooden buildings that sold organic goods from around the area. Honey, wine, cheese, cured meats, and there was also a beautiful looking restaurant… Then there was the Oyster Shack.
Just a little bamboo and wooden shack, with a tiny bar, some killer tunes and wandering chickens. Yup, there were chickens in the bar. On top of that, they sold very cheap, entirely organic oysters and amazing local wines. Win!
We sat down at the bar and met Dominique, the owner and bartender and one of the most pleasant people I’ve ever met.
“How did you find this place?” He asked us.
“We saw it from the road and got so excited we pulled a U-turn!”
He laughed and asked us if he could get us anything. We ordered some oysters, I got a glass of wine, and Kelsi sipped on a cider. Then we hung out and chatted to Dominique about our travels.
The oysters were incredible, and the wine was my favourite of the trip. Dominique was super helpful and suggested a couple places in town to stay for the night (along with directions). He asked us if we could do him a favour and send him post cards from India and Canada and New Zealand. He wanted to be able to post post cards up on the wall of the shack from around the world, but sadly only 2 people had remembered and his collection was lacking. We promised him we would, and in turn he offered us some shots on the house. Kelsi was driving so we said nothing strong. He suggested we try this new type of liqueur that just came out on the market 3 weeks ago. It was called Black Moon and was peanut butter flavoured. We figured we’d try it out, not expecting much, so he poured us a round. It was out of this world amazing! I couldn’t believe it! It was the perfect combination of sweet and salty and one of the best shooters I’ve ever had (which, let’s face it, is saying something). I have searched long and hard for that liqueur ever since and have unfortunately not come across it. So sad.
When drinks were finished, we said goodbye and continued the 10km to Wilderness. We pulled up at the hostel Dominique had recommended and was greeted by the owner who was in a frenzy!
“Girls!” She said, stopping everything she was doing to talk to us ” can I help you?”
“We were looking for a room for the night”
Her face was genuinely upset. ” oh I’m so sorry ladies, I’m so full! I have people sleeping on my couch at home, and I’ve given out all my tents! I can’t think of a single place to put you!” She turned to me and gave me a big hug. “I’m so sorry love.” Then she turned to Kelsi and gave her a huge embrace as well.
“Look,” she said, determined not to let us down “ill call the hotel down the street and see if they will give it to you at hostel price” she did, but they wouldn’t budge on their offer. “Sometimes I don’t know how people like that can run a business!” She exclaimed.
Then she gave us directions to a hostel on the other side of town and asked us to come back for dinner if we could. Oh my god, how nice is everyone in South Africa?!
We made it to the next hostel by dark, and the old man who ran the place was just as pleasant. He talked on and on about all the wonderful places to see in Wilderness ( he obviously took great pride in the town) and gave us some restaurant suggestions as well. When we were shown our room, we decided to head to a local restaurant called Cocomo. They had an incredible seafood platter and amazing live music. He band playing was called Wild Lettuce, and had some of the most unique sounds I’ve heard in a while. The two guys playing were so amazing, Kelsi and I each bought one of their CD’s.
It had been another long day on the road but it was wonderful. The scenery, the people, the food: it was in Wilderness that I decided South Africa was my favourite of all the countries I’ve visited. Yup, for a person who NEVER chooses favourites, this was a big milestone.
Next stop: Oudtshoorn for a second glance!

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Jeffrey’s Bay

We had heard great things about Jeffrey’s Bay. A surfers town on the southern coast with a fun backpacker vibe: what more could you want? When we drove through, we knew we were hooked. The place was larger than I had imagined, but had a very laid back, friendly feel to it.
We pulled up at a hostel called Island Vibes at the far end of town. It was paradise. The hostel sat on a small hilltop, right on the beach. It looked across the entire bay, with its white beaches and perfect surfing breakers. The hostel was cheap, clean, had an incredible bar and such wonderful staff. We had a very tight schedule for the next week. Too many things to see to get stuck in one place; but after we saw Jeffrey’s Bay, we pushed back our itinerary and signed up for 2 nights.
Our first afternoon we spent shopping. The town of J-Bay has some incredible deals on surfer ware. Billabong, Rip Curl, Quicksilver and a few local brands all have their outlet stores at one end of town. We spent a couple hours walking the streets, trying to find some cute beach ware.
Afterwards we stopped at a little Sushi joint for some lunch. The place had long wooden picnic tables and was mostly outside. Just the laid back kind of place we love to eat at. That’s where we met Dean, our server. He and his buddy Ash were two South Africans that fell in love with J-Bay’s lifestyle and decided to stay. They work til 3, then surf and dive and party until bed, then get up and do it all again. Dean was keen to give us all sorts of local places to see: the waterfalls, the horseback riding, the places to party, he knew it all. Meeting Dean was just the beginning of our experiences with South Africans. The further along we got with our road trip, the friendlier people were. Just when we thought we’d found the nicest person in the country, the next person would surprise us by being even more helpful.
When we’d gotten some ideas on things to see, we wandered back to the hostel to relax. It was hard not to fit in relaxing in such a laid back town. The view was spectacular, the hostel offered all sorts of comfy couches to lounge on, and after a long drive, it was exactly what we needed.
Sooner than we wished, the bartender from the lower bar found us. “What are you girls doing?! Come down and have a drink with me! It’s lonely down there, come hang out at the bar.”
Oh okay, if we have to.
When we arrived the lower bar was full of just staff members. Michael Jackson (as he liked to be called) was the bartender who had dragged us downstairs. He was a hilarious guy from Malawi who spent most of the night howling with laughter about something. Then there was Ben, the organizer of daily activities for the hostel, and Richard, the upstairs bartender who was trying to fit in as many drinks as he could before his shift started. We had a great time telling stories and sipping on Windhoeks until more people finally started to join in the party.
At one point Michael Jackson got distracted by some friends, so I got behind the bar to pour drinks for everyone. I held my own behind the bar until the cooler full of beer ran out. Apparently the guys thought I did an okay job, because they asked Kelsi and I to come work for them full time. Turns out they need some female bartenders around the place. It was a tempting offer, but with a flight to India in a week, we had to politely decline.
When the beers were completely gone, we shut down the lower bar and moved everyone upstairs to the main bar. From there we spent the night meeting all the different travelers. Dean and Ash even showed up for a while to have some drinks with us before heading to a party in town. Even for a Tuesday, the hostel was pretty full of people looking to have fun.
This time it was my turn to head to bed early while Kelsi partied on into the night. And in the morning, we once again wanted to do nothing…
Unfortunately, there were too many things to see and do, so we dragged our asses out of the hostel and went to see the waterfalls.
The waterfalls were about 20 minutes or so away from our hostel. They were on a local property, just outside of town. All you had to do was pay a dollar or two to enter on to their property then it was yours for the day!
We were given excellent directions to the property. We found it, no problem whatsoever. The issue, we realized quickly, was getting from the main house, to the waterfalls. There were about 20 different routes you could take once you drove through the back yard. Dirt and gravel roads headed out in all directions: great, what now.
We followed the paths that looked the most worn, and tried our best not to bottom out our little car on the way. Finally the road just stopped. So we got out, walked to the edge of the cliff, and looked over into the gully. At the bottom, there was a little blue-green pond with a flying fox running over it. The place was gorgeous; it had some rocks to climb on, and both small and large cliffs to jump off. And as a bonus: no one was there!
Kelsi and I grabbed our things and climbed down into the gully. What a spot! We lay out on the rocks with some music and soaked up the sun. Then it was swimming time. I climbed down the rocks to see how deep the pool was, and Kelsi swung off the flying fox. We swam around for a while, then tried to climb up the rocks on the far side of the pool.
The rocks were fairly flat, but they were covered with moss and were extremely slippery. Every time we started to climb out we would slip back into the water with a splash. This started to become so funny to us that eventually we couldn’t climb out at all we were laughing so hard. We looked like two seals trying to wriggle our way up on the shore. Finally Kelsi tried a new move.
“I’m going to salmon up!” She announced.
So she wriggled her body upwards, with no arms, while I tried the same. It didn’t work. But we were killing ourselves laughing as we were half stuck up on the rocks.
“Oh my god, I wish someone could see us right now” I said.
Kelsi paused, “They can” she said.
“What?!” I looked back and upwards at the top of the cliff. Sam, an Aussie guy that we had met the night before was shaking his head and staring down at us.
“Of all the people in the world” he said “of course it would be you two I find down here”
How embarrassing. We all just laughed, as he, his brother, and a random family all came down into the gully to join us. We had a wonderful afternoon swimming and hanging out with everyone, then finally Kelsi and I decided to head back into town.
We sat on the beach watching the waves for a while, then to a restaurant called Nina’s where we stuffed our faces with nearly every seafood item on the menu.
We had a quiet evening back at the hostel. We watched the sun set over the beach, and called it a night early. Jeffrey’s bay was an incredible place to relax for a couple days along our otherwise busy road trip. The next day we were up early for more activities and another day on the road!

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Roadtrippin’

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We had a huge day ahead of us. We were driving from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth in one day, then slowly working our way back along the coast throughout the next week. For normal people, this isn’t that crazy of a trek, for Kelsi and I, a normal 8 hour drive turned into a 13 hour adventure through back highways and wine country. We had no exact plans, no city maps, and no directions. We just bought a big road map of South Africa and hoped for the best. (For anyone else thinking of doing this, maybe plan a little bit better than us).
Our alarm went off at 6am and we were out the door by 6:45 with all our things. Because we had left our car rental until so late, the only available cars were located at the airport. Which meant, we had to lug our backpacks the 20 minute walk to the bus station, then the half hour bus ride to the airport just to rent a car. We had found a pretty incredible deal through Europcar that worked itself out to $25/day with unlimited kilometers on it and full insurance. Both of which were very important; we had a lot of driving ahead of us!
Kelsi drove. Our car was A. Manual and B. It drove on the wrong side of the road. I was not about to mess around with my limited knowledge of manual cars, trying to figure out which side of the road to turn in to and with the stick shift on the wrong side. I was much safer with the map. It didn’t matter how many turns or corners we took, I could NOT get used to driving on the left side of the road. But the driving was teamwork for sure: I read the map, and found the right highways for us to follow. I shifted gears while Kelsi needed a break to eat, and I helped with the four way stops. Yup, apparently New Zealand and Australia don’t HAVE four way stops. So when we came up to one, and Kelsi blew in front of another car out of turn, with me yelling from the passenger seat, it was quite a shock. From that point forward, it was my additional responsibility to help with four ways. Yes, we are disasters. How we made it through the week is beyond me.
Our goal was to avoid hitting any roads twice (or as much as was possible). So the usual, efficient, N2 route to Port Elizabeth was out of the question. Instead, we decided to head the more local R62 route from Montagu to Oudtshoorn and then follow it South East to Kruisfontein. This route also just happens to be the longest wine route on Earth. It is surprisingly very un-touristy (with more popular wine routes in the Stellenbosch area) and a quiet, scenic route to drive along.
So off we went, up to Bellville and Durbanville, then off route to Stellenbosch for breakfast. We opted for a healthy breakfast choice of burgers and fries. (It was the only cheap thing open early Monday morning in the sleepy university town). Then we headed back up through the mountain passes on our way to Worcester and the N9.
Wineries lined the highways. You couldn’t look one way or another without spotting an idyllic little vineyard. We were so excited to stop in at something along route 62. However, as soon as we hit route 62 and passed Montagu, the wineries stopped. What kind of a wine route was this?! We had over 200 kilometer of driving to find a winery and we couldn’t see ANY!
At first it didn’t matter. It was too early to try a tasting for us anyways, and we wanted to get moving after our off route stop in Stellenbosch for brekkie. But, by the time we saw signs for Oudtshoorn nearing, we were getting a little upset. “How is this a wine route?! Have you seen ANY wineries at all?”
Then all of a sudden we spotted a sign: Gruienheim.
“A winery!!! Look, look! Let’s go!! Turn in! A winery!” We were ecstatic.
We pulled off the main road into a gravel path. A couple turns and a few kilometers later, we pulled up outside a deserted vineyard.
“What do we do? Do we just go in?” All of a sudden we felt ridiculous. We parked the car and wandered around the front farm house. No one was in sight. “Maybe we should just go”
Nope! We’d driven the entire length of route 62 we were sure as hell going to stop at ONE winery.
“Hello?” We called out as we stuck our heads inside one of the buildings. Inside was a small room with a bar along one side. The bar was full of wine bottles and liqueurs. I think we found the tasting room.
We heard a lady talking on the phone in the next room over so we stuck our heads in. She looked up and stuck her finger up as if to say “silent!” I gave her a quick smile and went back to the tasting room to peek around. There we found a map of the riute 62 region with all the wineries on it. there were LOADS of them! at least 20 right on the route that we had just driven… apparently we are just visually impaired.
Soon after the lady on the phone came in “Yes? Can I help you?”
“We were hoping you’d have some wines here!”
“Yes, we do, here is the price list” she hands us a piece of paper and then walked behind the bar.
Okay.
Then all of a sudden a little old lady walked in the room and her face lit up when she saw Kelsi and I
“Oooooooh!!! My darlings! How are you?! Are you here for some wine tastings? Where are you from? Are you sisters?!” She was not much taller than five feet and barely stood above the bar on the other side. She was the most pleasant lady I’ve ever met, with a cute little South African accent and a passion for her vineyard. Her and her husband owned the vineyard and all their stuff was sold locally. She was adorable!
“If your looking for dry wines I’m sorry, we only do sweet things here, like ports and liqueurs.” Oh no, I am NOT a sweet wine person. How did we end up at the one winery that doesn’t make dry wine?
“Come to think of it” she said “no one in the area does dry wine here, just not the right place for it I’m afraid. But we do have some excellent ports! Do you like port?”
“Of course!” We lied. It’s not that I don’t enjoy port. It’s just not what I normally go for. But, when in Rome!
To admit, we did try some delicious ports! They were smooth and sweet and as long as you think of them as solely desert wines, then they are delicious. Afterwards we tried the liqueurs: milky ones, honey flavored, rose petal flavored, they were all excellent and unique! And when all was said and done, we couldn’t leave without buying a small pack of something. It would have broken my heart to say no to this little old lady who was telling us the whole history of each thing we tried.
“Where are you staying in Oudtshoorn?” She asked as we were leaving.
“Oh we’re not, we are driving to Port Elizabeth.”
“Port Elizabeth!!!” She exclaimed. The way she said it you would have thought we’d told her we were driving to the moon. “But it’s so FAR! You still have 5 hours at least of driving ahead of you, and it will be dark when you get there. Don’t do that my dears, just stay here in Oudtshoorn. It’ll be much nicer. Wait. Ill get the name of a lovely little place to stay. It’s a youth hostel, you will love it. I’ve heard so many great things about it! Hold on right here a moment. Marylin! Marylin! How do you get to that youth hostel again?”
We stood there dumbfounded, not quite sure what was happening. Then she rushed back in to the room.
“Okay. Here we go. From my front gate you take a right, then a left then a right again at the main road. When you hit Oudtshoorn you will hit one light, then another then another. Then you will turn left and you will be in the vicinity. Okay? So right, left, right, one, two, three, left again and you are in the vicinity!” All this was explained to us with rapid hand movements from the right to the left.
“Okay, say it with me now. Right, left, right, one, two, three, left and you are in the vicinity!” For the rest of my life I will remember these directions. She was so precise with her movements, practically bouncing up and down with excitement as she explained the directions to the VICINITY of our supposed hostel. She was so cute I wanted to put her in my pocket and bring her to Port Elizabeth. But she thought we were going to Oudtshoorn, so that was out of the question.
We said goodbye and thanked her for the directions as we left “remember now, left, right…” We could hear her shouting to us as we walked out.
“So, Port Elizabeth?” Kelsi said
“Yup”
It was so lovely for her to give us directions, but we had already lost a day and had way too much to see. So we continued down the highway on our mission to PE.
It was just as she had said, about 5 hours later we reached the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, and it was dark. Maybe we didn’t entirely think this through. Driving up into a city we don’t know, in South Africa, without a place to stay and without a city map. Only retrospectively was this a bad idea. At the time, everything seemed totally normal.
Luckily for us, while we were in Victoria Falls, I found a travel book for backpackers in my room. It was all about South Africa and the places to stay along the way. It didn’t have maps, but it had one or two suggestions of places to stay with the vaguest directions I’ve ever heard. But it was something. I dragged that book around for a month, and it was finally going to come in handy!
Unfortunately, with zero city maps, finding anything was difficult. We stopped at a gas station just out of town to ask for directions.
“How do we get to the city center of Port Elizabeth?” We asked the attendant
“What?! You can’t go into the city at night!” He said
“Well we have to stay there tonight, we need to go”
“Okay” he said reluctantly, and he gave us some basic directions.
I was reading the guide book as Kelsi rounded the last bend before hitting downtown.
“Wait a second, these directions look much easier” I said “we could stay in the neighboring town of Summerstrand, avoid driving around the city, and wake up on the beachfront! And there’s the turn! Go right!”
So we pulled a quick right, found Summerstrand and a lovely cheap hostel for the night. Even in the night you could see how gorgeous the coastline was going to be in the morning. It was worlds better than aimlessly wandering the city streets for a place to stay, and a great way to end our first long drive of the trip.

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Cape Town Goodbyes

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We had a tight schedule when it came to exploring Cape Town. We had two less days in South Africa than we had originally thought. Two blondes trying to count the number of days in February is a disaster. What happened to the 29th and 30th of the month?! Oh that’s right, they don’t exist. And just like that we were two days short. Fantastic!
We cut one day off our road trip and one day off Cape Town. Then we filled our days with as much as we could.
We arrived on Friday pretty early. This was perfect because it was a day in the city we hadn’t counted on. We hit the markets, got accustomed to the city center, checked out the waterfront and went for an incredible Italian meal in the evening.
Cape Town is amazing! The city has such a great laid back vibe and the people are so helpful. Long street offers everything a young backpacker could want: clothing stores, markets, great restaurants and a fabulous nightlife. The waterfront is simply stunning. Fancy restaurants, out of this world seafood, sunset cruises, and quaint shop fronts; the waterfront is the hub of life, and was packed full of people throughout the day and evening.
On top of all that, Table Mountain can be seen from almost every part of the city. It stands on a hill behind the hubbub of urban life and looms down over the city. It is stunning. Table Mountain combined with the unusual looking Lions Head makes for a gorgeous backdrop to an already wonderful place to live.
Saturday morning we got up early so we could hike the mountain ourselves. No one was really sure what to expect. We’d heard it wasn’t so bad from one person, then we heard it was the most exhausting thing ever and we wouldn’t be able to walk for days after hiking it. Oh well, we were doing it anyways. So Kelsi, Gina, Anisha and I caught a cab to the base and began our slow ascent. It was steep, and far, I’m not going to lie. The sign at the bottom estimated a 2 and a half hour climb time… But we were mentally prepared.
“I’m going to go ahead and assume it will take me three hours” I said, “that way I won’t be disappointed when I don’t reach the top right away.” And so we climbed. And we climbed, and ten minutes into the journey I couldn’t believe that we hadn’t already been hiking for 45 minutes. But the morning was cool and the hike wasn’t as bad as I had expected. Actually, it was really fun!
We passed a whole lot of people stopping to catch their breath on the way up, but trekked on at a steady pace. At one point Anisha had a flip flop blowout and had to start walking barefoot. Kelsi and I trekked forward while the two of them made their way up more carefully, step by step.
I couldn’t believe it, but 1 hour 27minutes later we reached the top.
“We made it!!!” Kelsi exclaimed.
It didn’t seem possible, but we had hiked to the top and I didn’t feel like I was near death either! What a bonus.
Unfortunately, during our hour and a half climb, our beautifully clear morning had disappeared and fog surrounded the top of the mountain. We hike ALL that way to come into a cloud of white. Fabulous.
Either way we were stoked we had climbed it. We ran this way and that once we got to the top, trying our best to catch a view. We sat on some rocks just as the view cleared up enough to see Robben island, then in a matter of seconds it was back to white.
So we passed the time waiting for Gina and Anisha by having breakfast in the cafe, climbing around on every cliff face we could find, and creeping in on a wedding that was going on. After two hours, we were wondering where they had gone. We were so obsessed with catching even the most minute view, that we hadn’t realized how much time had passed.
“Maybe they went down the mountain without us” we thought.
So we bought a tram ticket down and hoped for the best. Sure enough, the two of them were crashed out on a park bench waiting for us!
They had made it up only ten minutes after us, but couldn’t follow our sporadic pattern at the top and missed us. Oh well.
The rest of the day was filled with dress shopping and bevvies around town. Finally a city with nightlife!
When our dress shopping afternoon was over, we met up with Falafel for a Mexican dinner on Long street. We ordered nachos and enchiladas and beers and a litre of margaritas. Well… Kelsi ordered a litre of margarita.
When dinner was finished all of us were a couple beers deep, and Kels was a litre in. It was hilarious. We trekked back to our hostel and started back up at the rooftop bar. Kelsi went around introducing herself to every person on the roof, while we all switched to vodka to try to keep up. All of a sudden Kelsi was missing and Anisha said she had “taken a quick nap” and we were supposed to grab her when we headed out to the clubs. Oh no.
An hour later we were all caught up and we rushed to grab Kelsi on the way out. “We’re going to the club baby!!!” I shook her. No response. She was curled up and dead to the world. “Kelsiiiii, wake up!!” Nope. Nothing.
So off we went, out to explore the nightlife of Cape Town with our new found friends… Until the sun rose. I refused to believe it was 6am until I turned and saw the glow of morning light coming over the hill. Okay… Time to go to bed. It was probably a good thing there wasn’t anything else open, because Gina, Anisha and I would have been there. Instead we called it a morning and crashed in bed.
By 10am Kelsi had had an 11 hour sleep and was ready to go. “Okay, wake up! We’re going for breakfast!”
“Nooooooooo!” We moaned. “I can’t do it!”
“Yup, lets go”
So Gina and I rolled out if bed and we jumped in a cab to the waterfront where we had eggs benny at a cute little cafe by the ocean. Afterwards we tried to complete the days activities. By a CD, get some new flip flops, book our car rental. It was overwhelming, I couldn’t do it: I got cranky.
“I’m going for a nap” I announced, then took off towards a cab.
An hour nap was all we needed to survive the rest of the afternoon. Then we were up and exploring the food markets back at the waterfront. We had some savory soups, fresh baked sourdough bread, the most incredible halloumi samosas I’ve ever tasted, and then taste tested a plethora of cheeses and olive oils and meats from various food stands. Everything was incredible.
After that it was dinner. Yes, we had hangover pit. But also, it was our last dinner with Gina, Anisha and Falafel! We stopped at a place on Long street just a couple blocks from our hostel that served the best milkshakes in South Africa. They were huge and filling and by the time we downed them, Kelsi and I were almost too full to eat our dinners. Then it was sadly time to say goodbye again. As Gina said, that is the sad part about meeting so many amazing people while you travel. Eventually we all go our separate ways…
It hadn’t hit me that we were actually separating until I hugged Falafel goodbye. She had been our one friend that stuck through the entire trip with us. And despite us being completely opposite people, I was really going to miss our overly cautious little vegetable! Who was going to say “no” to Kelsi and my terrible and whacky ideas?! Instead, Falafel took a photo on my phone of a sign that said “take care, not chances” and said, “every time you guys want to do something stupid, think of me and this sign.” And we replied with “Oh Falafel… What could possibly go wrong?”
And from that point forward… We were on our own!

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Orange River and Wine Country

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Our first stop in South Africa was right over the Namibian border at a place called Orange River. There wasn’t any spectacular activities to participate in, but the place was still breathtaking. The Orange River apparently got its name from the colour. However, I don’t see how. The water looked blue enough to me, and the surrounding hills were lush and green. Perhaps we hit the wrong part of the river…
We could hardly wait for lunch before it was time to jump in the river. “Careful of the current!” Manda warned. But how bad could it be? The river wasn’t very wide, and we were strong swimmers. Wrong.
The current was so strong that it was nearly impossible to swim the 10 meters or so to the middle to grab on to the paddle boards. You had to swim way upstream then cut across as fast as possible. By the time you’d made it that far, you were exhausted. Kelsi as Gina made the trek out to the paddle boards just to prove they could do it. I decided to lie on the deck with the puppies and get some sun. As with every campsite we’ve stopped at, this one had no shortage of adorable puppies wanting to play. So we spent the afternoon sunning ourselves and relaxing by the water.
The next morning we were up and driving again. For our last night out in the bush, we stayed at a lovely winery partway down the west coast of South Africa. The winery was beautiful (as most wineries are) and the owner Sparky was a delight!
We had a couple hours to relax, then all sat around on the patio for wine tasting and cheese and crackers. This is exactly what I wanted to do while in South Africa!
The winery had some really nice wines to try. My personal favourite was the Klawers pinotage. It went perfect with the cheeses, and we bought a bottle to have with dinner as well!
Sadly, this was the last night that Farai was cooking dinner for us. We all sat around in a circle while he did his final speech for us. All of his meals had been so incredible, and this one was definitely one of his finest. It was sad to say goodbye to Manda and Farai and Vincent, who had taken us through so much of Southern Africa in the past three weeks. But there’s so much more to explore, and I must admit, Kelsi and I were pretty excited about getting away from the confines of a tour and exploring on our own. We had two more weeks in South Africa to get into trouble, and we couldn’t wait for it to begin!
Next stop: Cape Town

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