Africa is like a really big trail map. Cairo to Cape Town. Malaga to Douala. Nairobi to Victoria Falls. Tour companies and travelers alike have realized that those who make it to Africa are there to spend some time and see a good lot of incredible sights. You won't meet many people who travel to Africa and hop around by air to all the different destinations. Everyone overlands. And everyone takes the same paths, whether in an overland vehicle, a fully-loaded Jeep with their families, or a cramped and ancient public bus. They do this because there aren't many distinct "sites" in Africa. Africa is the sight to behold in itself. See the land in between and connect destinations with the open road. Follow along these well-known paths, and you'll often see the same travelers at the same junctions/watering holes on the way. People swap stories and can relate to each other because they all know Ma who works at Snake Park in Arusha and that one fantastic beach bar in Nungwi, Zanzibar where the local boys practice their dance moves. Following these trails creates a community of vagabonds that all move by different means but all move to the same places.
In South Africa, the trail to follow is the Garden Route.
Starting (or ending) in Cape Town, one can experience the endless activities of this harbor city and move on via Baz Bus to a plethora of towns along the southern coast. Whether you want to hit up the winelands in Stellenbosch, the whale watching and cage diving near Hermanus, the beautiful landscapes of Mossel Bay, or the adventure sports of Plettenberg Bay, there are tens of stops to choose from and so many travelers to tell you good advice for your route.
The views are pretty much stunning everywhere, and we were there in the wintertime, when the sun was always at about half-mast and the wind was gentle and cool. Perfect. It can only get better from an already sky-high standard of vacation. And one of the best parts of the Garden Route, especially during that time of year, is the laid-back atmosphere that encourages relaxation and taking your merry time to blaze the trail.
Africa seems like a tough place to begin thinking about visiting, but after a quick glance on the internet, anyone will find a slew of routes and easy ways to digest the birth continent of mankind. And with a name like the "Garden Route", you know you're not going to be disappointed on your tour of South Africa.
About six weeks prior, I had trouble jumping off a 12 meter cliff into beautiful teal waters. I danced nervously atop a rocky precipice and looked to the skies to counteract the damage done from staring at the water below. But for some reason, I had absolutely no trouble throwing a lead weight around my neck and getting into the chummy, bloody waters that would make a whale shiver. Not to mention, these waters had some terrifying inhabitants, man-eaters for sure, and it was only a couple steel rods between me and the world's scariest smiles. Chris and Carly were quite skeptical of this experience, but why was I so gung-ho? Sometimes my travel huevos just decide to show up, I guess.
And so, as the sun rose over the Western Cape of South Africa, Carly, Chris and I were boarding a small vessel equipped with wetsuits, soft drinks, and a five-person cage for great white shark viewing. Tying the cage to the side of the boat, five or six people piled in, looking like identical Scuba Steves, and awaited the sharks who were being tempted by tuna heads on ropes, bloody water, and chum a-plenty.
The first shark was a little guy, relatively speaking, and he went for the tuna head with patience and very little pre-meditation. Soon, there arrived a couple more bigger guys that had the fire in their eyes. One ran straight into the cage beside Chris' scared-stiff body, its razor sharp teeth squealing as they smashed against the metal. He emerged from the water frantic and not amused.
By the time I jumped into the thoroughly nasty waters, the bad boys circling our cage and boat were like swimming cars...with killer grills. I forgot to hold my breath a couple times and came up sputtering, taking in drops of the bloody, salt water, and nearly tossing chunks. Luckily, the adrenalin surging through my body kept me aware and together enough to know not to put my feet on the back of the cage and not thrash around to attract the beasts. And just as I was about to crawl out of the Southern Ocean, the grand-daddy of great whites went for the tuna head, putting his massive body vertical in the water and smack dab against our rattling cage. He could have eaten the Jetta parked in my garage at home.
Why did we go deep into frigid waters and taunt these terrors? What made us feel safe in this little, rocking boat? These adventure dudes sure know how to make you feel safe, and I am definitely pleased I saw such awesome nature all up in my face. Ah, travel huevos...if you've got 'em, utilize 'em...and go shark diving! Just listen to them when they say, "Don't try to pet the sharks. I know you want to. But...don't.”
Have you been keeping up with our WTI journey? Yes or No. If the answer is yes, you've aced today's coolness test. It's based on hundreds of factors developed by brilliant scientists in order to accurately determine someone's personal awesomeness level. If you answered no, you can't possibly have less internet access than we have, so there's no excuse. Catch up now!...then come back and finish this blog :)
The reason I ask this hard-hitting inquiry is that if your answer was yes, then you know we've been boarding tour bus after tour bus thus far with strangers-turned-friends around the world. You'd also know that Chris and I weren't really tour people to begin with but have had experiences thus far that would need "best time ever", "once in a lifetime", "hooray for life" phrases attached to them.
But with South Africa came a whole new experience...an unplanned one! Though we had our hostels and Baz Bus reservations all set, we had open-ended days in spectacular cities along the southernmost coast of Africa in need of filling. So when STA Travel's marketing manager, Carly, joined us in Johannesburg for a lil' SA getaway, we started rambling off all the things that had to get done.
Great White Shark Cage Diving Hiking Table Mountain Stellenbosch Winelands Adventure Sports Long Street and the Waterfront
...and a healthy slew of others. With only one or two days in Cape Town to do it up right, we talked to fellow travelers (lots of the volunteers from i-to-i) and travel agents to find out the scoop, which was that adventure sports could wait until the Garden Route. What's unique to this area? The best ways to spend a few days in CT? Hiking tall, flat mountains and savoring fine wines, of course. And so we did, making sure to sample some staple and some understated restaurants around. We actually extended our time in Cape Town in order to allow for more enjoyment of this city that is idolized by her visitors and especially her residents.
What's great about the Garden Route are the landscapes, the relaxed wintertime environment, and the heaps of activities available. I see Cape Town as one of those cities that makes everything in it better because it's existing and happening in that city. Just like New York, Chicago, Florence, Paris, London, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Sydney...these places live. And when something happens there, regardless of how fun or cool it actually was, it's immediately on a higher level, solely based on the real estate mantra of location [cubed]! Therefore, we had to see the nightlife, had to shop, had to go wine tasting, had to walk up big slopes, had to take tons of pictures and wander around...not because these are things we never get to do, but because they are occurring in this booming and blooming city.
And that's how we decided on our itinerary for South Africa. Hike. Drink Wine. Shark Dive. Bungy. Sky Dive. Whale watch. View animals. And the trip was perfect...