The Garden Route

Remember that time I made a blog and promised myself to write in it once a week? That was like pre-government shutdown times. Does anyone even remember that? New York Magazine redesigned their website and Apple put out the new iOS7 in the time that I said I would blog once a week. Among other things have happened, of course. What have I been doing with my life? Oh wait. Well, I am back and ready to write what has happened (or rather what I remember).

After my first week at Rolling Stone SA (which was and has been everything I had hoped for in an internship here), I went on a 4-day trip down the Garden Route, which goes along the south-eastern coast from the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape. I went with 6 girls in my program and we traveled in a van with a tour guide, provided by the travel agency we booked the trip with. This was my first trip outside the city, so I was very excited to be exploring different parts of South Africa, passing through towns like George and Jeffrey Bay. However the Garden Route is bound to be touristy as it involves doing many touristy African activities. Our trip included going on the Big 5 Safari (where you see wildlife animals such as giraffes, zebras, hippos, cheetahs, etc.), visit the elephants at the Elephant Addo Sanctuary, lion sanctuary, go to an ostrich farm, and bungee jump off of Bloukrans Bridge Bungy: the world’s highest commercial bridge bungee 709 feet above the Bloukrans River.

Though there has been criticism for these activities: from people at home and local South Africans, even the people who I actually went with, it was important as a cultural learning experience to see what what we as tourists and Americans will pay for to get the “truly authentic African experience” and to see what South Africans think is acceptable to do for money. But that’s for another blog post. For now – my trip and my experience bungee jumping.

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The group on our way back to Cape Town

On the first day, we left Cape Town at 5am and drove 4 hours to the Big 5 Safari. As I mentioned above, the safari was basically a game viewing, where we all got in a jeep and drove around the land looking for different animals, observing them eat, sleep and live. It was a nice introduction to the trip, we weren’t necessarily close to the animals but we saw them from a distance. Actually the giraffes were pretty close, which was probably my favorite part. We learned about the conditions that the animals face outside the Game Lodge, as well as how the money that people spend to go to the game lodge goes to saving close to endangered species, like the black rhino. It was definitely exciting to see, despite knowing the animals were brought from their actual habitats to be in this fenced in field. One elephant who walked alone was a male who lost his partner and their child when the mother died giving birth to the baby. He walked alone in the field while we took pictures. This idea of ‘something doesn’t seem right’ was a recurring feeling we had as a group. And yet we continued.

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After the Big 5, we went to a Lion Sanctuary where we interacted with two lions: Mufasa and Lila. We walked with them, pet them and stood next to them to take pictures. Besides the ostrich farm, this was the phoniest of the activities we paid for. Though it was shocking to be around actual lions without getting hurt, it was mostly because we were holding a stick and were instructed in how to use it when standing near them. It was scary at first, until you realized that the stick was more controlling than it appeared to be. The lions were totally trained by it. The whole thing ended up being a walk, stop, pose, take a picture, repeat with the lions in different, cool areas. It might as well have been advertised as Glamour Shots + Lions. I guess that’s what you should expect when you’re on the Garden Route.

Similar to the lions, we went to the Elephant Sanctuary in Plettenberg Bay, where we walked with the elephants by putting the front of their trunks in our hand. We also learned about each elephant’s history prior to coming to the sanctuary, and heard stories about how they’ve gotten to know one another, and become a family. One of the elephants was saved after her tusks were ripped off by poachers, which is a huge issue for elephants because it helps them protect themselves. We were able to look at the bottom of their feet, the tail, feel their skin and then eventually ride them. The elephants, to me, were the most comforting of all the places we had visited. The instructors were convincing that even though these animals were in this space, they were living a fulfilling life with other elephants. The riding didn’t seem so fake at it did with taking pictures with the lions. Though I’m sure in both pictures below, I look ridiculous.

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We stayed in three different hostels for the three nights we were out. Each hostel was better than the next and all of them were next to the beach so we were always by the ocean. The first one was a Backpackers hostel in Jeffrey’s Bay where we had seriously delicious pizza, celebrated a friend’s birthday and met fellow Garden Route travelers from Norway, Germany as well as America. The atmosphere was definitely calmer and more relaxed compared to being in Cape Town. I guess one could say that about going from any city to the beach, but it was a necessary trip in this case. Cape Town has made all of us a bit on edge, with the street crime, theft and weather. We all were in need of a break (which is a bit ironic since Cape Town is essentially a break from home in America).

Other things I enjoyed about the hostels were the African dance entertainment and the ostrich braai. In our second hostel, a group of kids performed African dance moves, while wearing beaded anklets and skirts. At the third, the ostrich braai (barbecue) included grilled ostrich, on a stick, like kebabs, potatoes and grilled veggies. It was delicious and I really enjoyed that we ate something different — not too thrilled that it happened hours after we visited an ostrich farm, but hey, what can you do?

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On the last day, we visited the Cango Caves, which are located in Precambrian limestones near the town of Oudtshoorn. The caves were discovered in 1780 by a local farmer named Jacobus Van Zyl. I did the adventure tour which explored the caves on a more difficult level. There were three trails, where you either had to pull your body up or down through narrow paths and climb the rocks while being in a really enclosed space. It was hard but I had a lot of fun.

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While we weren’t on tours or riding animals, we were in the van driving from the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape. The scenery was probably my favorite part of the whole trip. There was no traffic and you were just driving down these winding roads that overlooked mountains for miles. The views were breathtaking. We drove through the desert at one point. Since this was only a couple of weeks in since I first got to South Africa, it was a joy to experience life outside of Cape Town, even though most of it was touristy. The in-between time: driving around, being at the hostel, gave us a look at more of South Africa.

(Note: I also DID go bungee jumping at the highest bridge in the world! But I’m making a separate blog post about it once I get my photos for it. It really was a different kind of experience, separate from the trip, so get ready for that too!)

Thanks for coming along for the ride everyone and I hope you’re still enjoying what you read. Please feel free to follow my instagram – @mars_baars or click on the pictures on the right side of this page.

Till next time,
Mara

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