South Africa Wrap

With all the excitement that surrounded the hype of Cape Town, we ended up booking 10 days at a loft apartment.  That way we could really settle in and explore everything the city had to offer.  It wasn’t until our second day there that we were informed that Cape Town, as refered to by South Africans, encompasses a majority of the region we already covered on our road trip.  The speculated time it takes to enjoy the area that is “Cape Town” (8-14 days) was misinterpreted by us as the amount of time needed to enjoy the city of Cape Town its self.  Suddenly the loft apartment on the fifth floor seemed a bit excessive and we wondered what the f*&k we were going to do with ourselves for the next 10 days.  But as with all of our time in South Africa, the days seemed to slip through our hands like a fist full of sand.  It was with a blink of an eye we found ourselves rushing to pack while the cleaner tried to work around us.

While in Cape Town we were able to catch up with our favorite South African (Warren) twice.  He is in the midst of setting up a South African tour company that runs the very route we just spent the last 50 days completing.  With his valuable insight, social ability, and down right bad ass ability to throw back some drinks, we look forward to coming back and touring with This Is Africa Tours.

Cape Town photos

After almost two months in the country, speaking with various locals and trying my best to take it all in,  I have come to the conclusion that summarizing a country is as difficult as picking out all the contributing aromas and tastes a wine has to offer.  To one person its vanilla with a hint of bark.  While someone else will note blackberry with coffee undertones.  The very best analysis of wine that I have ever come across has been the simple response, “Who gives a shit?  All that matters is do you like it.  If so,  then price and palate are just background noise.”

I can’t tell you everything that makes South Africa enjoyable to us, but I will do my best to describe how we interpreted the background noise.

South Africa is as complex and diverse as the extraordinary wines they create (Getting the idea that their wine made an impression on me yet?).  Geographically, culturally, and the individuals that call it home, all come together to create a wonderful college of art that would be impossible for even the greatest of artists to capture.  Their rich history is not shamefully pushed into the past but rather used to help propel them in a forward direction.  The country realizes they are a diverse and has opted to have 9 official languages.  (And to think, I know some Americans that complain about a McDonald’s having a Spanish menu)

Of course there are aspects of imperfection.  For instance, never have I witnessed such poverty and prosperity in that close of proximity and it seems they have some trouble dealing with mine workers.  But it is not overlooking the flaws that makes you fall in love with South Africa.  It is admiring how they are working to solve their problems that creates the endearment.

The more we travel the more comfortable we get with the concept of not having a home.  Not just in the sense of a place to sit on our ass, drink beer, and watch football (though that would be nice considering it is NFL time, Go Hawks!).  But rather meaning we have began to let go of the idea that we have to live in a place we once called home.  We don’t have to go back, we don’t have to hold onto the concept that a single place is where we are destined to return and live our life.  This concept has always been at the back of our mind, slowly creeping forward the longer we are on the road.  But it was thrust forward in a very real and tangible way during our time in South Africa.

The whirlwind love affair was 50 days of pure enjoyment.  Our passion for the country began almost instantly during our time in Johannesburg.  A city that many people chose to skip over and is degraded even by some South Africans.  We enjoyed the rich history the city had to offer, visiting SOWETO, and learning about the struggles of the past, present, and future.  The Apartheid museum was nothing short of amazing and set the cultural groundwork that enabled us to better understand the country and people we were about t explore.

The individuals we met in Joburg foreshadowed the amazing interactions we would have with all South Africans throughout the duration of our trip.  I am a strong believer that it is not just the places you go but the people you are with.  (I have sat on a curb in the middle of the night and had the time of my life.  I could also walk through the pearly gates and do a B-line for the exit if I saw even one of a handful of people.)  Our time in Joburg was filled with interesting and engaging conversation.  The Gandhi Backpacker bar proved to be an excellent classroom to learn from locals and expats alike.

The safari at Naledi left us awestruck at the beauty and power of nature.  An experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list.  Not just a safari, a safari at Naledi.

As we made our way down the coast we marveled as our love for the country grew with each stop.  “We could live here”, we would continuously say to each other.  Until it reached the tipping point of us actually looking into living and working in South Africa.  Unfortunately the country doesn’t make it easy for foreigners to immigrate and the actual math of earning/spending the Rand rather than the dollar made us realize it just wouldn’t work.

Maybe its better this way.  This way we don’t have to absorb some of the struggles that people endure by living in a country that isn’t quite 1st world.  We can admire from the other side of the fence and marvel at how green the grass seems to be.  We can visit, enjoy and leave without ever having to water, cut, and fertilize the grass that most certainly doesn’t grow easily.

Food:
The top of the list for food in South Africa has to be biltong!  The meat snack makes American style jerky look pathetic.  Continuing with the carnivore theme, springbok also topped our list of dishes we enjoyed, especially after a South African loss to the All Blacks.   Surprisingly South Africa has a strong mix of various ethnic foods.  They have Portuguese, Indian, and of course the local tribe influence as well.  We found ourselves eating cow head one day and bunny chow the next.  I think our favorite part of enjoying South African cuisine would be the wine before the meal, during, uh. . . and after!
Top Rated For The Trip:
The safari at Naledi is not only our favorite of South Africa but our best experience of the trip so far!  We also enjoyed the Wild Coast.  It offered off the beaten track villages nestled into the cliff side with a chilled out vibe.  Of course it was also liberating to take our own set of wheels (as pathetically sized as they might have been) and do our own road trip.
Items Lost:
The little bucket next to the toilet where we had to put our shit paper for the last six months.  It was refreshing to actually flush your used TP, rather than enjoy it next to you for the duration of your stay.
Items Acquired:
A couple extra dollars in the debit part of our budget spread sheet as we stayed an extra 15 days longer than originally planned.
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The Great Western Cape Road Trip

We arrived in Cape Town, our last stop on the Baz Bus route, late on a rainy Tuesday night.  After three weeks using the Baz Bus, it was time to get our own set of wheels and explore a little of the area surrounding central Cape Town.

After researching the cheapest way to get a car, we ended up booking through Around About Cars.  Of course we booked the cheapest possible option.  Upon arriving at Around About Cars and seeing what we would be spending the next week driving in, I pulled Bret aside and asked whether or not we should consider upgrading.  We had booked a Chevy Spark Lite.  The wheels looked like the wheels on a child’s tricycle!  Bret assured me it would do the trick and with a little resistance we proceeded with the rental process.  It wasn’t long before we were off on our Western Cape adventure.


It had been almost six months since I had been behind the wheel of a car and several years since I had driven on the left hand side of the road but I had no doubt that I would be able to get us around safely (despite the Spark Lite).  As soon as we pulled away Bret was trying to direct me, telling me to change gear, look this way, don’t go yet, look that way.  After a few kind words reminding Bret that I grew up driving a manual on the left had side of the road and that he had never driven that way I convinced him that “I got this” and we settled into our road trip.  First stop, Stellenbosch.

Stellenbosch is roughly an hours drive from Cape Town.  The second oldest European settlement in South Africa and a university town, it is well-known for its numerous wineries. We booked three nights here allowing ourselves two full days, one for visiting the wineries and another to check ou the town itself.

Upon check-in at our hostel we were given the run-down on our wine tour options.  A six-hour long group tour of four wineries, the Vine Hopper hop-on-hop-off bus that visited six different wineries and allowing you to visit each at your own pace or DIY.  Seeing as I was the only one driving, DIY was out of the question.  We opted for the Vine Hopper bus and signed up for the next day.

We were extremely lucky to have perfect weather for our day of wine tasting.  The driver of the shuttle, Husein picked us up from our hostel at 9am (sounds early but we wanted to ensure we had enough time to visit all six of the wineries before the last bus at 5pm).  The first winery was only a ten minute drive away, needless to say, we were their first customer for the day.  It cost us about two dollars for five tastings of our choice.  I had that freshly brushed teeth taste in my mouth so it wasn’t until the third tasting I was able to appreciate the wine.  After 45 minutes or so tasting and checking out the wineries amazing garden we were happily on our way with a lovely bottle of rose and only ten US dollars out-of-pocket.

Next up was the international award-winning Van Ryn Brandy estate.  Seeing as Bret and I were the only ones on the bus that day, Husein made sure we were there in time for a 10am tour of the premises.  We were cheerfully greeted by one of the staff members with a brandy cocktail made with their 5-year mixed, with mango and apricot juices.  We spent about 45 minutes learning the process in which Brandy is made and also had a demonstration of how the barrels were made back in the day before machines took over.  After the informative tour it was time for the tasting.  They had a few options and we chose the one with the brandy chocolate pairings.  We were able to try their ten-year, fifteen year and twenty year brandys.  It was a little much for me to take in before 11am but I powered through and Bret officially declared himself a brandy drinker.

We continued our tour with Husein onto one of the more well-known and commercial wineries in the area, Spier.  We enjoyed their gardens for a while before sampling a selection of their wines.  Next up was yet another lovely estate where we enjoyed wine and chocolate parings – now this is what I’m talking about!  Five wines paired with chocolate and two without.  By this point Bret and I decided we needed to get some food in our bellies!  We would later find out that a salad each was not such a smart decision.


Our second-to-last winery we struck up conversation with a few Capetonians who were enjoying a day off work.  By the looks of it, they had been wine-hopping for a while like us.  We hung out for an hour or so and were having a great time but we still had one more winery to visit and we didn’t want to miss out on anything!  Kenny, Sheldon and his crew decided they would follow our van to the last stop.  Their designated driver said she would give us a ride home so we thanked Husein and off he went.  We grabbed a table outside to enjoy the sunset.  I went with the wine tasting while Bret decided on a bottle of red to himself.  Needless to say, the evening began to get a little hazy.  All those small pours add up over the day, especially having only a measly salad to soak it all up.  By the end of our winery adventure we made it home safely with our new friends and were crashed out before 8pm!

The next day was off to a rough start but we dragged our butts out of bed to take a walk around the quaint town of Stellenbosch and enjoy the sunshine.  NZ were also playing Australia in the Rugby Championship so we stopped off at a local pub to catch the second half – Kiwis won!

The next stop was Hermanus.  A fairly large-sized town considered to have the best land-based whale watching in the world.  We were told the drive from Stellenbosch would take around five hours.  We took the scenic whale route along the side of the cliffs hanging over the Indian Ocean and were pleasantly surprised to arrive at our destination less than two hours later.

We had only booked on night here and spent our time walking along the cliff paths taking in the stunning scenery and looking out for whales.  We did spot a few roughly 50 or so meters off shore but none of them did anything exciting.  In fact, the best view of a whale had been at Mossel Bay.  We could have taken a boat trip out to see the whales but seeing as we are trying to make our travel fund last another 12 months, we decided against it.  Despite being slightly disappointed with our whale viewing, we enjoyed our short time in Hermanus.


Making our way back towards Cape Town we headed on over to Simon’s Town, another stunning drive following the coast for most of the way.  We had booked two nights here but upon check in we were told that they only had room for one night.  There was a sailing race going on so unfortunately moving to another hostel was out of the question as everything was chockers.  Seeing as we were limited on time we headed straight to Table Mountain National Park.  Neither of us realized how huge the park was and were bummed to find out that the park closed it’s gates at 6pm and we only had two hours to look around.   We headed straight to the main attraction; a short walk up to Cape Point and to the Cape of Good Hope.  The views at both locations were amazing.  We wish we had more time to spend there but we had to make our way out before the gates closed for the night.  Next time I guess.

After checking out of Simon’s Town Backpackers we headed down the road to take a look at the African Penguins.  They have set up these wooden walkways set up at Boulders Beach that take you right through the area where these little guys hang out.  It was pretty cool to see the penguins in a beach environment when Bret and I both always think of penguins living in cold, icy climates.

With no accommodation available for our second night in the area, we moved on closer to Cape Town, stopping in Hout Bay.  We drove the M6 route that took us along the breathtaking Chapman’s Peak Drive.  The weather was pretty terrible while we were in Hout Bay but we did manage to get out a little since we had the car.  We stopped in at Original Tea Bag Designs, a business created by an English woman who moved to South Africa some time ago after her husband had a job transfer.  She was appalled by the poverty in the area and wanted to do something to help people in the local community.  After a suggestion from one of her friends she created Original Tea Bag designs that sells local art created with used tea bags.  You can check out a great clip telling her story here.

Many people we had met on the road since arriving in South Africa had told us that we should save at least a week to spend in Cape Town.  So after Hout Bay we made our way back to central Cape Town where we would spend our last ten days in South Africa.

Western Cape Photos

Last of the Garden Route

After we left Storms River we had about six days left on our Bazbus ticket.  Six days and three places left that we wanted to check out.  It was going to be a triple jump attempt to Cape Town.  Treating a city like a fast food drive-through wasn’t exactly how we like to “experience” new places.  Up to this point we have tried our best to spend four or five days every where we go.  But as a wise man once said, “It is what it is.”

Here at aroundtheworldtripping, we try to capture our experiences and convey them in a manner that really allows you, the reader, to envision yourself sitting at the bar stool right there next to us.  We want you to feel the way we felt, picture what we saw, and understand what we learned.  With that in mind, I will proceed to quickly summarize our six-day blur of the last part of the Garden Route.  To fully grasp the hop, skip, and jump we made through the three cities,  I suggest simply skimming over the rest of the post.  Try and grab a couple of key words, maybe look at a picture or two, and then mush it all together in one part of your brain.  That way it almost feels like we didn’t visit three different cities at all.  But rather one, singular, amazing place that was rudely interrupted by two-hour bus rides to different neighborhoods.

Pletteburg Bay was the first stop on our mad dash to Cape Town.  To describe it as a beautiful oil painting brought to life is an understatement.  It’s no surprise the breath-taking views that are achieved from the cliffs lining the ocean are saturated with million dollar homes and summer vacation rentals.  The main part of town runs along a single main street and is lined with cafes, restaurants, and a bar called Flashbacks that has Black Label on tap (Um, so we heard).  When we weren’t out jogging around in the morning and trying to avoid stray dogs, we were sitting on the freezing beaches and imagining what life would be like in the 18 room mansion on the beach.  Our admiration for mans best friend continued with our hostels dog Sarah.  She would play fetch until your arm fell off and nothing was out of the realm of possible to play fetch with.  A ball, stick, leaf, anything.  We also had a chance to have an in-depth conversation with a couple of colored people.  (Wow, wow, wow, Bret.  What’s up with the 50’s style derogatory comment?)  Relax crackers, it is how people of mixed race refer to themselves in South Africa.  The women of the group was straight forward, blunt, and very conversational.  It was refreshing to hear a different perspective on South African history and politics.

Knysna plummeted us into the Seattle-esk whether we had been trying so hard to avoid this entire trip.  Minus a day or two in Columbia and a small three-day stint in Brazil, we had avoided the rain for most of our trip and had never been confined to our living quarters because of the wet shit that falls from the sky.  Knysna’s icy cold rain combined with high winds had us sitting inside for over half of our time there.  We did have a couple of hours to explore on our first day and when we heard they actually had a micro-brew in Knysna.  It instantly became number one on our to-do list.  Unfortunately it was an Ale house and that was pretty much all they served up.  Several variations of the simple brew with little difference between the 3 oz shots of beer.  I wept as visions of Mannys danced through my mind, dreaming about making it back to Seattle in time for the International Beer Festival.

Mossel Bay was the last stop on our way south.  Known for its whale watching and outdoor activities, we found our way to their famous Seal Island.  The hour-long boat ride to observe the rock sanctuary for the playful animals proved to be one of the biggest rip offs I have ever experienced.  Twenty minutes out to the rock, three minutes to half circle around it, and then we were headed back to the dock to switch out with the next batch of suckers.  Luckliy we were on the right side of the boat and were closest to the seals.  The guests on the outside of the boat weren’t allowed to stand up and spent the entire time (three minutes) trying to swing and pivot their body to catch a glimpse between the gaps of those with the view.

We spent quite a bit of time down at the water front observing the whales.  We were fortunate enough to catch several glimpses of them lifting their tales out of the water.

Knysna/Mossel Bay Photos

Storms River (A Pirate Looks At 30)

Life as a civilian has been nothing short of wonderful.  I have a beautiful wife and am living out my (our) dream of traveling the world, I went to college and got myself educated, I even held down a legitimate office job for 8 whole months!  There is nothing I would change about who I am or what I am doing.

But . . .

There are some simple realities I have been faced with since I left the Army.  First and foremost, I will never be doing anything in my life that even comes close to being that cool, ever, again.   That discipline of waking up in a flash at the sound of a pin dropping, being able to comprehend my surroundings, and knowing what needs to be done.  Has been replaced with the snooze button and confusion as to why anyone would ever want to get out of bed.  Sleep, ah the wonderfulness of sleep.  What used to be considered a luxury is now a necessity.  Eight hours.  If I don’t get at least eight hours I feel as though I have been cheated and will proceed to conduct myself in a manner that a child would note as being immature.

These are just a few of the things that have changed since leaving the Army.  However, the most important thing or I should say question that arises, is when I look at myself in the mirror.   When I look at the man I am today I can’t help but wonder, is Bret Armstrong in fact now, a pussy?  Has he gone soft?  Of course any of my Army buddies, being the strong emotional supporters that they are would quickly assure me that wasn’t the case.  Because in order for me to ‘now’ be a pussy, that would imply that at one point I wasn’t a pussy and that simply isn’t the case.

The fact is, the natural and quick transition into a well oiled killing machine, now feels like a distant memory.  As if I was reading a story that in no way relates to me and now that I have put the book of badassness down, I realized I was really just standing in a public library, caught up in a nice piece of fiction.

Unfortunately, there is no way of really knowing the answer to this question.  Short of signing back up and joining those fucking bad asses out there still doing it.  Oh, and so there is no confusion, I am strictly referring to grunts (and the odd medic who is known to bury his weapon or a hand full of FO’s).  The guys that actually know what war looks like outside the wire.

Nope.  The simple fact is, the only way I can attempt to get my heart racing is through stupid gimmicks that any person with a handfull of cash can do.  I fully realize that it won’t bring me to the level of excitement and fear that is attained by being shot at or jumping our of a plane for the first time.  But my love for freedom is greater on the actual enjoying it side, then it is ensuring it is available for others.

Gimmicks.  Some better than others, but mostly all the same.  A safe way to try to trick yourself into the thought that you are doing something scary. Dangers. Death defying. (Don’t get me wrong, these things are actually fucking scary if you have no measuring stick in which to judge them.  Shit, I was once scared of the monster in my closest.)  But all within the boundaries of being relatively safe and of course always being degraded by the 90-year-old man or 13-year-old girl who did it before and after you.

None the less the gimmicks are all that I have left and the fact is, I am starting to kind of like them.   Thus, when I caught wind that the highest bungee bridge in the world just happened to be in South Africa, I guess you could say I jumped at the opportunity (that one is for you pops!)

The bridge stretches across a canyon on a major highway road heading down the Garden Route of South Africa.  The bridge is 216 meters / 708 feet.  The day I decided (had to go) was off and on showers.  This actually worked out to my benefit.  Only one other jumper was set to go during my jump time.

They have jumpers walk across scaffolding that is hung under the highway. The steel mesh walkway enables you to watch as the ground disappears below you.  The five-minute walk to the center of the bridge lets you fully understand the height of the bridge in which you are about to throw your body off of.

As I walked down the steel walkway my heart barely skipped a beat.  I couldn’t shake the gimmick factor of the whole experience.  Granted, it is the biggest bridge gimmick in the world but a gimmick none the less.  I told myself not to be concerned with the “thrill” factor of the experience.  But to rather focus on what I really do love about this sort of gimmick, the weightlessness of speeding toward the ground from large heights.

The entire jump process felt like a NASCAR pit crew servicing a race car.  I was heading back toward the office to collect my pictures before I knew it.  In hindsight I should have mentioned that I wanted to stand on the edge longer then the five seconds they give you.  I wanted to take in my surroundings and fully understand the jump I was about to make.  I mentioned this to one of the guys on my way off of the bridge and he stated that they have too many people freeze as it is.  Monsters in my closet I thought to myself, fucking monsters in my closet. . .

Storms River Photos

Jeffreys Bay

Jeffreys Bay is noted as being strictly a surf town.  The word on the street (Bazbus) is that unless you surf, you’re really not missing anything.  But the fact is, we have been enjoying South Africa so much that we already feel like every city we pass by without visiting, we are missing something.  So we headed to Jeffreys Bay with only a marginal intention of catching some waves and more of an emphasis on catching the game.

The Waikato Chiefs were set to play the Durban Sharks at 9:30am South African time.  We booked four nights at the Hard Rock Backpackers, which surprisingly contradicted your initial assumption of what an establishment like that might provide.  Extremely clean, well run, and bedding that didn’t smell like ten years of sweat, urine, and um. . . other nasty shit that one can only assume has been collected by the ten-year old, yellow stained, torn, poor excuse for a blanket. (i.e. Takweni in Durban).  If you tried to give Takweni’s blankets to a homeless person they wouldn’t even take it for their dog.

Hard Rock is a block from the beach, has a big screen T.V. to watch the olympics, and (the owner) Dick is cool!  Wait, that doesn’t sound right.  I mean Dick is really nice. . . no, not comfortable with that one either.  Dick is fun to hang out with?  Fuck.  I don’t even think he goes by Richard, Dick is in fact his name. Lets just say the owner is a good guy.

We had scouted the bars in the area the day before.  When we walked into @Work and asked about the game the girl at the bar pointed out every T.V. in the bar, “It will be on that one, that one, those two, this one, and the big screen right there.  We will be serving breakfast, burgers, and are expecting a big crowd.”

That’s the shit we’re talking about!  The game plan was laid out.  Wake up at 6:00 and get in a quick 40 minute run (hey, you have to do something to justify drinking that early in the day), get to the bar around 9:00 to beat the crowd, enjoy the game, but keep it modest.

We walked into @Work and happily found ourselves a spot at the bar in front of one of the flat screens.  The bartender asked us if she could get us anything.  I paused for a moment to give it some thought.  Beer is of course the cheap option but not really on the brain at 9:00 in the morning.  I could grab up a screw driver to try to score some vitamin C, but mixed drinks tend to add up pretty quickly on the bill.  I did a quick scan of the room to look for some inspiration.  The guy on our left was drinking a coke on ice.  They guy on our right had what looked like a fresh beer that he was struggling to put back.  Fuck.  I reluctantly decided to go with a beer.

“And for you miss?”

Sally belted out Jack and Coke faster than lightning strikes.  The bartender smiled really big with an impressed look on her face.  It also caused the patrons to our left and right to nod with amazement.

Fucking shit Sally! Now I look like the punk because I was trying to stick to our “game plan”.  I quickly changed my order to make it two Jack and Cokes.  “Just these two and then we’ll have a couple of beers” Sally proclaimed.  No worries I thought.  JD did sound more appealing than beer and if it’s just one round, it will be fine.

A tiny Kwaussie ordering a Jack and Coke at 9 in the morning and an accent that clearly was not in support of the Sharks was all it took to get the attention of the people around us.  Introductions were made and a second round was bought.  We held true to our intentions and went with a beer.  I was in the mood for something a little more crisp and decided to go with a light beer.  After the cap was popped off and I took back a swig Sally noted that light beer in South Africa is similar to light beer in Australia.  Meaning that the light stood for less booze not fewer calories.  What the fuck!?  This is blasphemy!  I checked the bottle and sure enough, 2% alcohol.  Who in the fuck wastes their money on a beer that doesn’t have any alcohol in it?  More importantly, I have been drinking this shit off and on for three weeks now and this is the first time she decides to mention it to me!

It didn’t take long for the Chiefs to score a try.  Reluctant to yell, high-five, and rub it in the locals face, Sally chose the more respected way of celebrating, buying shots for us and our new friends.  Ten minutes into the game and we already covered next months rent for the place.  That was enough to grab the owner’s attention who decided to work the bar for a while down on our side.  More scoring, more shots, the more friendly we became with the locals.  The owner now started matching our shots with complementary shots of his own.

The Chiefs ended up smacking the Sharks around like Ike beat on Tiny.  I watched as the faces in the bar became less interested with what was on the T.V. and more interested in staring at the beer in front of them.  The game ended and so did any shred of hope that we would leave the bar when it did.  Our first name bases with the owner and a few of the locals had us kicking back drinks right through lunch and well into the afternoon.  For the sake of our parents we won’t mention the actual amount of time and money we spent @Work.  Lets just say the cultural exchange was a success.

During our time @Work, we found out that Dicks dog Mustang from the Hard Rock was a frequent visitor.  He hops the fence, runs to the bar, and sits on one of the bar stools.  The entire act of escaping the hostel to head to the pub sounded funny to us at the time, but didn’t fully register.  It wasn’t until the next day when we witnessed the act that we truly appreciated Mustangs love for the bar scene.  He crept to the fence of the hostel, looks back over his shoulder to make sure he is in the clear, then hops the fence with ease.  I ran out of the hostel to chase after him.  As I came out onto the street and attempted to call him back, one of the neighbors reiterated the story we heard the day before.

“He’s just going for a pint mate.  He does it almost every day.  Comes to my yard to fuck with my dogs, takes a shit, then he’s off to @Work. ”
Now that, is an awesome dog!

Jeffreys Bay had an interesting effect on us.  We didn’t spend an extensive amount of time there and the weather was pretty much shit (minus the one day we spent in the pub, figures. . . ).  But we found ourselves in love with Jeffreys Bay.  It seemed like just the place we could imagine ourselves.  A small beach town where you get to know the people around you.  Great weather (most of the time), good pubs, awesome beaches, and right in the heart of the garden route.  It was enough to make us seriously open the conversation about living in South Africa.

 

Joburg to Coffee Bay

The safari left us awestruck at the beauty and brutality of nature.  It also lifted our taste buds to a level that isn’t easily achieved.  The expected crash back into the world of two-minute noodles and sandwiches didn’t return without a fight.  We were catching the Bazbus (a hop-on/off bus that travels from Joburg to Cape Town) out of Joburg and had scheduled one last night at our favorite hostel in South Africa so far, Ghandi Backpackers.  That meant one last steak dinner at the Portuguese restaurant, one last attempt to single-handedly finish off Heinz’s five litre box wine, and one last night ignoring our pathetic attempt to keep a daily budget.  To our social advantage and monetary disadvantage, Nick was down from Swaziland.

Kicking back drinks with Nick (and Heinz at the bar) is like walking into our own version of Cheers.  Of course everybody knows our name, but it also feels like we are hanging out with old friends.  Not concerned with the fact we may never meet again, but rather conversing as if we will be back the very next day.  Ghandi Backpacers also ranks high on our list due to the fact that Heinz has a dog named Fluffy that Sally is absolutely in love with.

Early the next morning our Bazbus journey began slowly.  The bus driver made it an hour out of Joburg when he realized that he didn’t pick up two of the backpackers.  That was an hour out of Joburg, a two-hour drive back due to traffic, and another hour and a half to get back to the point we originally were when he realized he fucked up.  That turned our expected six-hour drive into ten, painful, hours to Durban.

Durban ended up being the final straw.  We couldn’t take it any longer.  Five weeks in South Africa was just not going to cut it.  Two emails later, $100, and we added an extra 10 days to our time in South Africa.  This conveniently enabled us to watch the Super Rugby game that was going to be televised the day we were originally expected to leave Durban.  The  Durban Sharks versus the Cape Town Stormers, winner set to play Sally’s team from New Zealand, the Waikato Chiefs.  Now some of you might think we extended our trip purely on the fact that we wanted to party in Durban if the Sharks won and advanced to the final.  To that I say. . . it did have some influence.

The game turned out to be pretty good.  Sally is enjoying getting back into rugby and now that I have had a sit down with some people who can actually explain the rules in detail and have learned to except the fact that it is a different sport than football (I stopped comparing), I have really started to like it too.  We stayed at our hostel to watch the game, which is the self-proclaimed best party hostel in the area.  Their slogan is ‘Takweni Goes Off’.  They are positioned a block away from Florida street which is lined with bars and restaurants.

However, partying is about all they do.  The people who appear to be employed there are as about as useful as having a seat that also serves as a floatation device on a flight that is going from LA to New York.  They are the oldest hostel in Durban and have seem to have a nostalgic attachment to the blankets they first purchased, as they are still being used.  But if you have no attachment to the idea of sleep between 9pm and 6am, don’t mind waking up in a bed that stinks like 10 years worth of urine, and can navigate your way around a foreign city with zero help, then it actually is a pretty decent party spot.

The hostel turned out to be a great place to watch the game.  Two T.V.’s, a local crowd, a few guys from Cape Town, and of course a tab system that let us drink with no regard for the actual amount of money we were spending.  Durban beat out the Stormers and were sent packing to New Zealand to play the Chiefs.

After five nights in Durban we were ready to escape the city and head for somewhere more secluded and chill.  Coffee Bay was exactly that.  We pulled up at the petrol station in Mthatha (the home town of Nelson Mandela) around 3pm and met up with the shuttle from our hostel to drive us the last 1.5 hours along rural country roads until we finally reached our destination.

Coffee Bay, in the Wild Coast Region of SA is a fairly isolated rural surf village with a population of just 600.  We stayed at the Coffee Shack, situated right where the river meets the ocean.  It has a definite party vibe where evenings are kicked off with sundowners, followed by drinks around the fire and going very late into the night.  Bret and I were roped in the second we arrived.  We were force-fed a free beer then met Clayton who had been there a week before us, returned home to Joburg and was back for a two-week stay.  Extremely nice guy who likes to party at 100 miles per hour.

They also served up an awesome home cooked meal each night and had local children in the area sing and dance before the meal.  Rather than having backpackers give money and sweets to the local kids asking for it, staff at the Coffee Shack encourage the kids to form singing and dance groups to give travellers a taste of their local Xhosa culture, or make and sell their own beads and crafts.

There is so much to see between Durban and Cape Town so unfortunately we only stayed at Coffee Bay for three nights to allow time to see more as we headed south.  Bret and I could have easily stayed two weeks!

In our short time there we managed to get in a three-hour hike to the Hole in the Wall where we chilled for a few hours and enjoyed toasties fresh from the fire.

On our second day we had planned to take a surf lesson for only 40 Rand – that’s a two-hour surf lesson, board and wetsuit for less than USD$5!!  Unfortunately the wind picked up and the temperature dropped that day so we changed our mind and cancelled.  We definitely regret that decision as everywhere we’ve been since, charges at least 200R.  Instead we spent the day at the beach, wrapped up in the warmest clothes we had watching some serious surfers rock the waves.

Coffee Bay is an amazingly scenic place and I have no doubt that Bret and I will return one day, most likely NOT in winter.

Durban and Coffee Bay Photos

Naledi Bushcamp Safari

You know, it’s funny what a young man recollects, ’cause I don’t remember being born.  I don’t recall what I got for my first Christmas and I don’t know when I went on my first outdoor picnic, but I do remember the first time I laid eyes on Naledi Bushcamp.

We were slightly exhausted from our nine hour journey from Joburg.  That seemed to instantly disappear when we pulled into Naledi.  We were greeted by the owner Kjell and the front of house TK.  A warm smile and gracious welcome were accompanied by a chilled cocktail.  Our bags were whisked away and we were ushered to the bar to check in.  I marveled at the liquor selection and smiled to myself, Sally and I were going to do just fine here I thought to myself.  The schedule of the safari was explained before we were escorted to our room.

The morning drive leaves at 6am and the night drive at 3:30pm.  Both drives are approximately four hours, longer if game viewing is going exceptionally well.  Breakfast is served after the morning drive, followed by the option of: visiting one of two hides for an hour and a half, a walk with one of the trackers to learn about the bush and tracking animals, or hang out at the camp and enjoy the facilities, which by anyones standers are nothing short of amazing.  The general area is composed of a bar and lounge, an open air viewing area up stairs, and a massive spread of decks that surround the pool, serve as the dining area, and work their way down to hang over the riverbed.  The entire camp is decorated in a manner that one would imagine an African safari lodge, but with a tasteful eye, as to not overdue or degrade the experience.

TK took us through the wood carved door of our room and showed us the suite that would serve as our home for the next six nights.  The quality of decor continued from the camp and fulfilled every expectation of what a pampered safari room should look like.  From the massive bed, framed with the wood carved headboard, to the outdoor shower.  There wasn’t a single thing I would have changed about the layout.

We had missed the afternoon drive and had some time to kill before dinner was served.  We enjoyed a glass of wine and looked out over our private deck.  Taking in the beautiful South African sunset.  A sight that seems to bring its own uniqueness with each night.

Dinner was served at 7:30pm and it set a precedent that didn’t falter throughout the duration of our time at Naledi.  The three-course meal was perfectly cooked and wonderfully displayed.  The quality easily on par with that of any five-star restaurant.

Kjell joins the guests for both dinner and breakfast.  Making himself available for any questions you might have after the game drive.  He expressed that “You are seeing and doing so much on a game drive, that you may not get the chance to ask a particular question or maybe you have some thoughts after a viewing and would like to know more about a particular animal or scenario.”  The fact that he makes himself available and is extremely knowledgeable is really just a side note to the act of playing a gracious host.  During our six night adventure we saw several guests come and go.  Their nationality, cultural background, and preference of conversation as varied as you can possibly get.  Kjell was able to intelligently contribute to any subject and ensured the conversation made its way back to a topic that everyone could enjoy.

Our first morning game drive had us full of excitement.  We hadn’t really set any preconceived expectation of what we thought we might see or how the drive was going to be conducted.  This was our first Safari and we really wanted to come in and just experience it for what it was.  The camp only had seven guests our first drive, leaving the nine person jeep feeling spacious, and allowing both Sally and I to sit in an outside seat.  Naledi Bushcamp only has occupancy available for nine guests.  Kjell wants to provide an intimate and personal safari experience, a feature that drew us to this particular camp over that of his competitors.  Kjell explained some general safety procedures and outlined how he planned on conducting that particular drive.  He won’t guarantee the sighting of a certain animal or an animal at all for that matter.  Kjell explains how the reserve opens up to several million hector, to include Kruger National Park, and that the animals are in fact wild.  Thus unpredictable in movement.  This humble and anchoring forewarning is little more than a disclosure of the unlikely.  With Prem the tracker up front and Kjells decades of experience, it is only a matter of time.

Our first morning took a little more time to spot an animal than I expected and when it was all said and done, quite a bit more time than it took on all of the following drives.  Prem spotted the tracks of one of the lioness that is known to frequent the area and we spent an hour and a half trying to track down the location of the lion.  To include a large portion of time where Prem was off on foot scouting the area.  Being my first drive my excitement quickly started to fade.  I questioned if this procedure and amount of time was how all big five were tracked.  I doubted our ability to see a lion within the five days we would be at the camp, let alone close enough to snap a photograph.  We did manage to spot several of the plains game and two buffalo (one of the big five) behind some trees.  I felt slightly discouraged, but that would prove to be the most uneventful drive of our entire stay.  It was also quickly turned around when Prem spotted some elephants on our way back to camp.  Five massive bull elephants were making their way through the bush, ripping and destroying any tree that got in their way.  Kjell strategically placed our vehicle to be close, but out of danger.  The largest of the group actually made his way only feet from the Landcruiser.  Apparently he is very comfortable and curious of the tourists, providing excellent photo opportunities.
Breakfast was just as decadent and rewarding as dinner the night before.  I thought to myself, I may not get to see all of the big five but I will most certainly enjoy eating like a king!  After breakfast Sally and I decided to visit one of the hides as our afternoon activity.  We were taken out to the hide that over looked a watering hole.  An ice chest with beer was our refreshment of choice as we discussed the remainder of the time ahead of us.  The peaceful surroundings, excitement of finally being on our safari, and of course beer, proved to be a wonderful experience in the bush.  Unfortunately our noise control was lacking and we ended up limiting our sightings to only a few monkeys and some birds.

On the afternoon drive it was less than 20 minutes before we were tearing off to a white rhino spotting.  Kjell works with a few other lodges in the area to help spot the animals and ensures everyone gets to enjoy the experience.  The massive white rhino took us on a 15 minute stroll down the road before he stopped and posed for pictures.

White Rhino Video

On our way back to the lodge, just before sundowners (a beverage consumed while enjoying the amazing South African sunset) Kjell and Prem spotted several vultures looming in the trees.  They both got off on foot to see if they could spot what had captured the scavengers interest.  They were unsuccessful that afternoon but the following morning proved to be the most fruitful sighting of the entire trip.

We drove straight to the area the next day to see if we could spot what the vultures had already keyed in on the day before.  As we came around a bush next to the watering hole Kjell spotted what we were looking for.  Bigboy, the alpha male of one of the prides in the area was chewing on the back part of a zebra.  I don’t remember the last time I actually saw a lion?  Only in Zoos and of course on T.V..  But this was the first time I saw a real lion.  A lion that had scars on his face and body, hardened from the bush and battles for his food and life.  This particular male was on the downslope of his life and dominance in the pride.  Kjell said that Bigboy was 18 years old and has failed to chase his five (5-year-old) sons out of his territory.  The scenario is either they go or he goes.  Once off his own territory he would be faced with the ongoing battle to survive on opposing prides land.  A life change that more than likely would result in the end of the Bigboy era.  As we sat and watched Bigboy laze about, bloated from his feed, you couldn’t help but develop an affection for the fading king of the jungle.


The remainder of the drive was filled enjoying the planes game: zebra, Impala, Springbok, giraffe, etc (a complete list of what we saw each day is listed at the bottom, along with a photo link).  During the afternoon drive we were lucky enough to find a buffalo herd, composed of nearly 100 of the massive animals.  Kjell excellently placed the vehicle in a way that the herd split and walked around us.  The large bulls walking just feet from the car while the mother and baby buffalo trotted around us in a more half circular fashion.

The third day began with our now usual visit to Bigboy.  Inspecting the progress of his feed and his ability to keep from sharing the zebra with other predators.  We watched Bigboy tear at the flesh of the zebra for a good ten minutes before he decided he had his fill and retired to his napping spot beside his pray.  Just as we pulled away from Bigboy Kjell got a call from one his crew that two black rhinos were walking in the field next to the river.  The animals are fairly elusive as they just arrived in the park less than a year ago (implanted to help preserve and grow the population) and they are not used to the vehicles.

As with all the big five animal spotting potentials, Kjell navigates the roads with an impeccable balance of rally car driver and soccer mom.  Making his way over the bumps and around the corners with a controlled speed that gets you there as quick as possible but still letting you feel safe and confident in his abilities.

We came into the open field and Kjell quickly spotted the rhinos.  As always, he positioned himself in a way that allowed the animals to feel comfortable, while getting us extremely close (no need for a large lens for your camera on this safari!).  The male and female pair had just recently started traveling together.  The hope of generating more of these animals is looking promising on the Naledi safari grounds.  We watched as they fed and showed affection to each other.  They would walk close to the vehicle to inspect it, not able to fully make it out until they were 10ft away due to their poor eyesight.  It was quite humorous to watch their expression change as they approached.  From curiosity to an almost startled look once they can actually make out that it is in fact a vehicle.  The female rhino at one point made a small gesture of aggression toward the vehicle. Then realized we weren’t scared or moving, causing her to retreat into the bushes.


Black Rhino Couple Video

At the end of our night drive we were heading home and feeling quite good about the days events.  With Bigboy, the black rhino, and buffalo, we were at 3 out of the 5 big five in one day.  Everyone was full of excitement and ready to see what extraordinary dish was prepared for dinner.  Just as we pulled around the corner close to camp a lioness came out of the bush onto the road.  She made eye contact with us and then casually trotted into the bush.  Game viewing being the priority of the lodge we pushed back dinner and followed the lioness for the next ten minutes.  The night was just cooling down and Kjell told us the pride is waking up and getting ready to hunt.  It was just moments later that two eight month old cubs came running past the truck.  They were out looking for their mother and spent several minutes next to us.  Their aunt arrived shortly after and gave a quick gesture of affection before directing them in the direction she came from.  The cubs were off and the aunt came to hang out with her sister, the lion we followed into the bush.  The two lioness were extremely receptive to one another and had a little play fight before plopping down into a pile together.

Lion Cubs Video

The fourth morning several guests, Prem, and Kjell reported they heard the roar of the lions as they moved through the bush during the night.  Kjell predicted that based on the distance of the roars, Bigboy may no longer be eating alone.

We made our way to Bigboy and found him stretched out next to his food, alone.  The next hour and a half was one of the more exciting moments of my life and something I will remember forever.  As we sat watching big boy he suddenly lifted his head with a quick jerk.  A few twitches of the ear, wiggles of the nose, and he was up, fully alert.  He started growling and positioning himself in front of his kill.  Behind us a young male lion appeared, followed by a second, a third one, four.  All five of his sons were creeping through the grass.  Four of them made their way to the water hole, trying to express they had no interest in challenging Bigboy.  While one came to the front of the truck and plopped down.  The video below shows the slow creep toward the zebra and Bigboy’s displeasure with the situation.

Bigboy Fight Video

This was it!  This is what I came on Safari to see.  A lion fight and feeding frenzy just feet from the vehicle.  We watched as Bigboy and his five sons devoured the remainder of the zebra in less than 45 minutes.  Bigboy getting the largest portion and occasionally slapping one of the younger lions to remind them whose food they were eating.

Bigboy Slap Video

I didn’t think the day could get much better.  It was surely the apex of the safari.  Up until that point each drive had been better than the one prior.  It was as if Kjell had an arrangement with the animals.  He couldn’t have scripted a better tour of the bush.  His constant reminder that animals were unpredictable and he couldn’t promise a sighting was a distant memory and a humourous statement at that point.  It was completely overshadowed by his tracking ability, placement of the vehicle, and excellent timing.  I was ready to head back to the camp for another excellent round of lunch.  But the drive wasn’t over yet!  Kjell got word over the radio that the group of bull elephants were making their way through the riverbed.  We raced toward the riverbed and passed another truck that was positioned on top of a hill.  Kjell explained he wanted us to get an up close and personal view of the group.  We pulled into the riverbed and placed the vehicle on the left bank of the dry sand.  We watched the older bulls drink from the water as the young elephants wrestled for dominance.  The group then made their way down the riverbed toward our location.  Everyone in the vehicle sat in amazed silence as the group of bull elephants made their way around the Landcruiser.

Young Bull Elephants Playing Video

Herd Of Bull Elephants Video

Sally and I sat in our room after breakfast in amazement.  What could possibly be next?  We must be in for a boring drive in the afternoon?  Statistically speaking, we had to have a drive were we didn’t see one of the big five.  Up until this point it had been at least one every drive and three in total each day.

As we took off on our afternoon drive Kjell mentioned his desire to show us a leopard to complete our big five.  To be honest, I had little faith in our ability to spot the animal that enjoyed the spotlight the least of the big five.  We had been in the Pantanal in Brazil a few weeks prior, a place that travelers also go to spot leopard.  If there was a score kept on those that actually accomplished that goal, it would be drastically one-sided in favor of those who don’t.  I smiled to myself and knew we wouldn’t be seeing any leopard on this trip.  But the fact was it didn’t even matter!

The experience that Naledi provided us was bar none the best anyone could have hoped for while visiting Kruger.  The small details that they pay attention to are amazing.  Heater on when you come back from the morning drive, AC on when you get back from your afternoon activity, fresh towels after every shower, a different cocktail waiting for you after each night drive and a genuine smile and greeting from every staff member.  I had mentioned to another guest during one of our sundowner sessions I would love to try some good biltong (South African version of Jerky.  Putting American jerky to shame).  The next day Kjell had some biltong for me to have with my beer at the sundowner.  How good is that!?

The evening drive found us content with our experience and ready to just kick back and enjoy watching others experience their big five spotting for the first time.  It was just about the end of the drive when Kjell got word from another camp that a leopard had drunk from their watering hole.  As I mentioned before, Kjell does his best to get the vehicle to a big five spotting as quickly as possible.  But this time he really put his foot on the gas.  We had about a fifteen minute drive to try to spot an animal that probably heard us the moment we started heading in his direction.  There was no way we were going to be able to track this animal down in the pitch black night.  Prem was swinging his spotlight from side to side as Kjell flew down the road.  We made it to the area and Kjell eased up on the speed.  We crept down the road, fingers crossed, eyes scanning the treeline, and then it happened.  Prem spot lighted the leopard under a tree marking his territory.  We got close enough to take a video of the last member of our big five check list.

Leopard video

Our final day on Safari was just as productive as the rest.  Kjell eagerly showed the new guests the bull elephant heard as they destroyed his trees next to the watering hole.  He was also able to track down the black rhinos again.  It amazed me how he maintained the same energy and enthusiasm for each of the drives.  I actually started to understand his motivation behind being excited for every animal spotting.  Each viewing was unique and provided a new perspective of the animals.  We ended our time with Naledi by watching the three eight week old lion cubs venture out of their hiding place for one of the first times.  Even Kjell had yet to see the cubs.  Everyone sat awestruck at the adorable cubs that start life so innocent and end up being such a dominating beast that they became known as the king of the jungle.

Safari Photos

List of animals by day:

Day One –

Wildebeest, Impala, Zebra, Black Back Jackel, Elephant, Warthog, Kudu, Monkey, White Rhino, Giraffe

Day Two –

Lion (Bigboy with kill), Buffalo herd, Giraffe, Warthog, Stenbok, Zebra, Kudu, Impala (rutting at hide), Crocodile, Baboon

Day Three –

Lion (Bigboy), Giraffe, Water Buck, Buffalo, Bush Buck, Clip Springer, Black Rhino, Kudu Bull, Warthog, Zebra, Lioness, Lion cubs (8 month)

Day Four –

Warthog, Kudu, Giraffe, Zebra, Black Back Jackel, Lion (Bigboy fight), Elephant, Leopard.

Day Five –

Elephant, Lion (male/female mating), Black Rhino, Warthog, Stenbok, Grey Daker, Waterbuck, Lion cubs (8 week), Lion (male calling for pride), Crocodile.