Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Garden Route and Eastern Cape


Today actually is a #throwbackthursday, so let's continue with my 1998 trip to South Africa!

 Tsitsikamma

 
  

Leaving Cape Town, we drove along the Garden Route, stopping at Tsitsikamma National Park. We arrived late in the afternoon, just in time to be blown away by the incredible scenery and the gorgeous sunset. (It's still one of the prettiest places I've ever been.) After breakfast the following morning, we explored the rocky tide pools filled with tiny starfish and sea anemones. Once everyone had eaten, we took a walk on one of the shorter nature trails, crossing the Storms River suspension bridge.

Grahamstown and Umthathi


In my Cape Town post, I mentioned that I visited South Africa as part of a church youth group trip. Though my posts on South Africa won't really reflect it (I'm saving the topic of mission trips for another date), we did spend the majority of our time doing puppet shows in churches, community centers, orphanages, and hospitals. Our stay in the university town of Grahamstown coincided with the national arts festival. We stayed in the Rhodes University dorms and performed at the Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint George as part of the festival, but we also took a short trip to the Umthathi Training Project.

 

Up to this point, we hadn't really spent any time in townships. In Grahamstown and East London, we did shows in several. Pulling up to the community where Umthathi was located was eye-opening. The very first thing we saw was the local cemetery, with handmade crosses and plastic dolls marking the graves.


After putting on a show, doing some arts and crafts, and letting the kids have a turn working with the puppets, we sat down for a meal made from ingredients grown in the community garden. The local ladies told us a bit about the food and about the project in general. After eating, we checked out crafts and jewelry made on-site. I ended up with a pretty cool beaded necklace (the very cool ones were out of my 16-year-old budget) and some postcards featuring art by local kids.

Shamwari


Our first safari experience was a morning at a private game park, Shamwari. Looking at their website, I think the reserve has changed a bit since we visited. For one, we were able to go on a game drive without staying overnight. Also, when we were there, the lions were kept in their own fenced-off area - plans to eventually introduce them to gen. pop. have been fulfilled. 

Even without lions, a morning at Shamwari was a really great experience. Our group was divided into smaller groups of about six people per vehicle. We rarely ran into the other vehicles during our tour. Our guide kept us entertained as we bumped through the thorny brush in search of animals. Shamwari had recently hosted Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas, as the two had been filming The Ghost and the Darkness in nearby Swaziland, and our guide had a few stories about that. We were disappointed to learn (after one of our group asked) that we wouldn't be seeing any zebras in the park. Upon spotting a few, our guide remarked, "You might see some zeh-bras though."

 

Because of the small size of the reserve, we were able to spot a bunch of animals in a very short period of time. We saw various antelopes, zebras, giraffes, elephants, and rhinos. A rhino baby stole the show, playful bouncing and frisking its way down the road in front of us. Even with a camera with no zoom, I managed to get some decent pictures at Shamwari. After our drive, the whole group met back at the lodge for hot chocolate and tea.

Bathurst and Kayser's Beach

 

We spent a night at Summerhill Inn in Bathurst, home to the world's largest pineapple. The inn had pretty nice rooms at that time, but also served the most horrific hamburgers we'd ever encountered. I think they were trying to appeal to the large group of American teens, but a ground ham patty with chutney sauce on white bread was not the way to go. Luckily, we had plenty of great food in South Africa as well (again, from a teen's perspective), and most of us came away with an affinity for Steers, Chicken Licken, Magnum ice cream bars, and the amazing pies and chips from King Pie.

At Kayser's Beach, we spent a couple of nights at a private beach house. It was remarkable in two ways - one, that it was large enough to accommodate our group and two, that it was one of the few houses in its little community with no electricity.  As I've written about before, this led to some interesting challenges. The beach itself rivaled Tsitsikamma - while not as dramatic, it shared that incredible, end-of-the-world light and had its own kind of peaceful beauty. Despite being there in winter, we managed to swim in a protected cove (without rocks, it's prime shark area). A walk on the beach provided its own discoveries, from beautiful abalone and sea urchin shells to tiny little hermit crabs wandering down toward the water.

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