Dan Haight & Sam Singh - February 2009
Notes from Sam (taken from his blog: www.singharoundtheworld.com)
The Adventure Part 1 - Sideways Meets Jaws
As I mentioned in yesterday's post after a fun weekend in Cape Town, I embarked on a guys trip with my friend, Dan Haight and our trusty guide, Hendrik Van Vuuren. The first stop was to go to the most southern point of the continent and see the point where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet up. At first, we went to the very touristy, Cape Point. Somehow people have decided that this is the point where the two oceans meet and the South African tourist industry has run with it. I assume it has something to do with the fact that it is so close to Cape Town. The reality is you have to go a few hours further and to the east to the town of Cape L'Agulhas to get to that point. We did both so we could safely chalk it off our list. Cape Point reminded me of going to the equator in Ecuador and visiting the tourist point there. Everyone is taking pictures at the big "E" but the reality is that scientists have found that the real equator is actually a couple hundred meters away. Of course, I was partial to the Indian Ocean!
After our stint with the two oceans, we went into Stellenbosch, South African wine country. We didn't have much time so we rushed to the winery of my choice, the Ernie Els Wine Farm. I wanted to see what the South African golfer could do with a bottle of wine. The answer— not much. It was a beautiful winery and ranks up there with the ones I have been to from an aesthetic point of view. But the wines we tasted were average and priced way to high but I guess if you have a famous name you can charge whatever you want. While we were in Stellenbosch, we had dinner with a few of Hendrik's college friends. They had all gone to school at the university in town. After a few bottles of wine, the college stories started to flow and needless to say that Hendrik would have fit in very well with my group at Michigan State University.
Our next stop was our first adventure stint of the trip. Shark diving in Gansbaai, South Africa. I will admit that this had me a little nervous the night before. I had seen the movie, Jaws, as a child and it scared me. We were going to be face to face with great white sharks. We went with a good firm but the group was fairly large so we all limited time in the cages.
I was lucky and had the closest encounter with the largest shark of the day while I was in the cage. The Norwegian guy in the cage with me had a digital camera that worked underwater and he took this great picture of the shark as it went by us. Pretty cool, huh?
The adventure continued as the three of us took the coastal route towards the East Coast of South Africa. We stopped in a number of small communities giving me a better sense of the country outside of the big cities that I had been to before the trip had started.
One of the stops we made was to explore the Cango Caves. "The Cango Caves are located in Precambrian limestones at the foothills of the Swartberg range near the town of Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape Province of South Africa.
The principal cave is one of the country's finest, best known and most popular tourist caves.
Although the extensive system of tunnels and chambers go on for over four kilometers, only about a quarter of this is open to visitors. The smallest passage that tourists will have to pass through on the Adventure Tour is just under 30 cm high at the exit." (Wikipedia)
We made a stop that day at an ostrich farm as well. As you can imagine, there was not much to do at an ostrich farm. We mocked the tourist who tried to ride an ostrich. The three of us were not allowed to ride due to our size. Something about animal cruelty. The most excitement came when an ostrich attacked my new friend, Flat Mallory. Unfortunately, Flat Mallory has sustained permanent damage to her left arm. How do you tell a third grader that an ostrich ate her paper doll's arm? I am still grappling with that one.
Caves and ostriches are fine but this was an adventure trip. The next thing of bravery was paragliding over the "Map of Africa" in the small town of Wilderness, South Africa. The views were incredible and the winds could carry you for hours.
The adventure continues with your three protagonists slowly making their way through the Garden Route of the southernmost road of South Africa. We entered the Tsitsikamma Coastal National Park in the early afternoon. We did a hike through the park before the sun down and proceeded to have the worst barbecue ever. It needs to said that South Africans take their barbecue or as they call it their "braai" very seriously. Hendrik had offered to cook the food for us to show us how it is done in South Africa. Though Hendrik now lives in North Carolina, he still thinks that South Africans have a better barbecue style than Americans. In Hendrik's defense, we did buy the chops at the local gas station since everything else was closed that day. Needless to say, the chops were tough and we needed a few bottles of wine just to finish the food. Dan and I relentlessly made fun of Hendrik for his barbecuing skills. To be more accurate, Dan was trying to be polite while I continued to rip on Hendrik for the rest of the night.
The next morning we took a boat trip through the river that ran through the national park. After the very slow leisurely boat trip, we decided to dial it up a few notches by going to the world's highest commercially operated Bungy Jump. I will safely say that this is by far the scariest thing I have ever done in my life. I do have a fear from falling from heights. I have always thought you should face your fears which is why I have tried parachuting and paragliding on this trip. There were a few points that thought about heading back down and forfeiting the fee that Dan so generously picked up. In the end, I knew that I would be disappointed in myself if I didn't go so I talked myself into it. The jump itself is 708 feet!
The bungy company was called Face Adrenalin and this description is from their website—Situated along the Garden Route at the Tsitsikamma Forest Village Market, just 40km east of Plettenberg Bay along the N2 Highway you will
find the highest single span arch bridge in the world. This is the ultimate thrill! This IS the highest commercially operated Bungy Jump in the world. We secure you in a full body harness and proceed to walk along a specially designed catwalk (216m long), which is suspended beneath the road surface, which will then lead you to the top of the arch – 216 meters above the Bloukrans River. Here you will be given final instructions by highly experienced staff, a countdown and off you go! Bloukrans utilizes pendulum bungy technology ensuring you the smoothest, most comfortable bungy jump possible. For the record-mom's will be mom's regardless how old you are or where you are in the world. After I posted these pictures to Facebook, I received an e-mail from her suggesting that I should cut the journey short and come home.
Our adventure continued after the daring days of shark diving and bungy jumping. The rest of the trip was a little more subdued and as my mother would say "not as reckless." One of the stops we made was in the small town of Hogsback, South Africa.
At first I didn't understand why it was on the itinerary. It wasn't a place in my guidebook and there didn't seem to be much there. It made sense that we stopped somewhere in order to break up the long drive but why there? Hendrik explained to me the lore of the region. The town of Hogsback is said to have been the place that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to write the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit. To be honest with you, I didn't even know that he was from South Africa. You wouldn't know it from the town as well. They really try to downplay the connection.
There are a few hostels, one road and a few restaurants that play off the Tolkien connection but other than that it would be any other small town off of South Africa's Garden Route. It was nice to see that the small town wanted to keep its character and feel and not play off the recent success of the LOTR trilogy. Hendrik mentioned, as an aside, that his cousin actually owned the house that Tolkien was born and has turned it into a bed and breakfast called the Hobbit House.
Since Hendrik was from the area, we were able to do things that were not on the usual tourist agenda. We made a stop at his cousin's place to do some "4×4"ing in the sand dunes of his property. Hendrik's cousin, Choppy, took us through the dunes at great speed and I am still finding sand to this day from the trip.
Hendrik, also, took us to meet his parents and we stayed on their farm. They have thousands of acres of land and have begun to stock an number of wild animals. His parents were great hosts and we ate like kings. We went tubing in the river and I did my first target shooting with a rifle. Though I don't know if I will be getting my membership in the NRA, I was not a bad shot if I might say so myself. We would go out at dusk and track the animals.
Our last activity before we went our separate ways to do one last safari. It was at a lodge called Stone Safaris on the way back to Johannesburg. Though we didn't see as much as we did at the Addo National Elephant Park, we were able to go on the trails on our own ATVs. The highlight of this part of the trip was getting to play with a few of the lion cubs. In a few months when they could fend for themselves, they would be reintroduced to the wild.
The twelve day adventure tour ended in Johannesburg, South Africa. We left Dan at his upscale hotel with his wife joining him later that night to start their own adventure trekking guerrillas in Rwanda. Hendrik was getting ready to see his brother before heading back to the States to be with his wife. And your hero started his next adventure. No rest for the weary.
The places we visited and the hospitality of the people were unbielevable, this is truly a rainbow nation..Dan Haight
Since Hendrik was from the area, we were able to do things that were not on the usual tourist agenda..Sam Singh