Thursday, February 04, 2010

African Chronicles: Escape Velocity

We finally made it out of Hermanus. Well, we'd really been out of Hermanus for 48 hours by the time you heard about it, but I blame that on the time zones.

Our bus tickets were nonrefundable (score!) so we were stuck renting a car on top of buying bus tickets. The car experience was pretty uneventful, which I find is the best way for driving to be. For the first couple hours I had to remind Bryce (the designated driver) LEFT whenever we made a turn so we'd remain on the right (left) side of the road. But eventually he overcame the difficulties of driving on the left, with a stick shift, in unknown territory, with no air conditioning and questionable roads.

We drove from Hermanus to Wilderness. The naming of towns here is very interesting. There's a combination of English, Dutch/Afrikaans and native African names. Meaning we never known how to pronounce anything. But we're pretty sure Wilderness is pronounced wilderness. We'd meant to spend a day here, but due to the Hermanus debacle, we abbreviated our stay to a couple hours. We'd heard rave reviews of the Kingfisher trail, so drove to the head and embarked on the trail. After paying 80 rand. It kind of galls me to have to pay to hike, but that's how they do it in SA. I thought about sneaking through the woods to either side of the path, but I'm a little hesitant to do anything that could drop me in a SA jail or hospital, as either could be riddled with the AIDS and tuberculosis we came here to treat.

The trail was pretty good. Somewhat amusingly, they've installed all kinds of boardwalks and stairs, so our extreme Wilderness hiking in Africa experience was some of the easier hiking I've done. But there was a nice waterfall at the end, that may or may not have been man-made to justify the 80 rand price tag. No wild animals on the path, apart from caterpillars. But we told ourselves the caterpillars were the deadly variety, so that made it a bit more intense.

We continued our roadtrip through Nysna. Nysna is famous for having the most endangered seahorse in the world. I know, I bet you wish you had the most endangered seahorse in the world in your backyard. It's a nice little bay community, and like the San Fransisco bay community is famous for being gay friendly. Which is convenient, since I think many of the people who see the 2 attractive white men strolling through their town think we're gay. We went to the oldest building in town, which is now a pub, and had a pleasant dinner. We ordered kind of gay things (vegetarian ravioli, lamb stew, crème broulee and bread pudding/berry compote) and generally had a gay old time.

We continued on to Plettenburg, or as we called in Trendelenburg. It's a med school “joke.” Plettenburg is famous for nothing in particular, but it has lots of stuff around it, so we're staying for a couple days. We decided to stay at a ritzy hostel (who knew such things existed?) which has been a very different experience. It's really more of a bed and breakfast type place, so much lighter on the partying and heavier on the relaxing.

We set out the next day to return our little Kia, but decided to keep her for one more day. First things first, we headed to the Tsitsikamma Falls Adventure. They have a number of places in the area where they've set up dozens of zip lines and you can zip from point to point. We decided to try this one which took place over a river, which I'm sure has a name but I'm going to call Darkwater. The trees in the area darken the water like tea, making it all very dark. The zip lines were fun, and very Batman. If I have learned nothing from Venture Brothers (very possible) it's that you can use Batman as an adjective. We'd zip from side to side, with some guidance from our guides as to when we should brake, lift our legs, and generally not kill ourselves.

Nearby was the tallest bungee jump in the world, so we knew we had to stop by. At least I knew I had to stop by, Bryce knew he had to jump. In my wise old age I've learned not to pay 830 rand for something I don't particularly want to do, so I had a good time watching people jump. I think it helped when they were drunk, and there was a conveniently situated bar by the bridge where you could watch people both on the balcony and on their big screen. Bryce didn't have the benefit of being drunk, but he can tell you about the experience himself.

Since the day was young (or at least not over) we found a game reserve that still had an opening. We made it just in time to hop on their last tour of the day, which I figured was a good time to spot some wild creatures. Who wants to be out and about in the middle of the day? Not me. And especially not me if I were a rhino. So we hopped on the ridiculously tall truck and started around the reserve. We saw a bunch of deer/antelope/gazelle of various types and sizes (they're not really my bag.) The park had 4 lions, of which we saw 3. Unfortunately they'd been fed recently (one of their 3 meals per week) so weren't in the mood to chase, pounce, eviscerate or maim. Just sleep. We also saw some Nile crocodiles, zebras, wildebeast, ostrich and giraffe. And of course a hip-hop-apotamous and rhymenosaurus. I'm not sure if any other explanation is required; they were there, I was there, I took pictures that will appear later. Nothing attacked us. But it was nice and the lodge was cool and we made it back without malaria. That was one of the park's major advertisements. “Malaria free!” That doesn't count for much in the US, but it's a nice perk here.

After a very full day we made it back to Plette, as the locals call it. The town is a pretty sleepy place, owing to the sleepy old people that vacation here. So the nightlife is pretty minimal, excluding watching Jeopardy.

Happy Groundhog's Day! You'll notice, eventually, that I wore my groundhog t-shirt to celebrate. Evidently it's also the day they released Nelson Mandela from jail. But we tried to explain to some locals why Groundhog's Day is a more important holiday, but I don't think we convinced them. But since I was away from Phil, I tried to make up for it by seeing the lions, hippos and rhinos.

Today (the day that I'm typing this) has been very lazy. We made our way down to the beach so we could go sea kayaking and dolphin hunting (with a camera, not a dolphin gun) but it's too windy to kayak. Or at least so says our guide. The weather continually ruins our nautical plans. So Bryce went to hike Robbenburg peninsula, and I went exploring in “town.” The fact that I'm typing out blog entries does indicate how well that has gone. But tonight we'll hop on the bus for Port Elizabeth, and tomorrow we'll be at Addo Elephant Reserve, which has an excellent reputation. For having elephants, amongst other things.

Random South African trivia of the day:
-It's illegal to swim with dolphins.
 People hitchhike in crowds. It seems counterproductive to me.
 You hit your hazard lights when passing on the freeway.


esodhiambo said...

Yeah--did anyone tell you about the local driving customs, or did you have to figure it out for yourself?

I assume that park can only be "malaria free: because it is above a certain altitude, so presumably much of the surrounding area is, too.

I have only ever seen lions sleep. Elephants rock, but my favorites to see are giraffe. You'll agree if you ever get to see one get a drink from a river or run. I think. The rock hyrax has nothing on that (dassie?)

Amy-Alisa said...

I thought about you on groundhog day, and briefly wondered how far away we live from Punxatawney. Love to hear about your adventures. I have only seen African animals in zoos, I imagine they are even more brilliant in their natural country, but the zebra never fails to impress me.