African Memories

We’ve arrived in Perth safe and sound. The weather is beautiful and we are enjoying a few nights in an apartment-style hotel (thanks Mum and Dad!!) while we plan the next few months of our adventure.

But what about the last few days in Africa? Jeffrey’s Bay is the South African surfing mecca, and true to form I had to try it. Ever since my sister’s first trip to Hawaii, I have been bombarded by stories of her surfing success — I aimed to equal it! I failed miserably (it is much harder than it looks!) but I did manage to stand on my own for a few glorious seconds.

After leaving Jeffrey’s Bay, we entered Lesotho where there was no internet, let alone a telephone (the campground we stayed at uses radios to keep in contact with the outside world). Lesotho is nicknamed “the Kingdom in the Sky” and for good reason. All around us spread amazing mountain views. We spent one night bush camping on the edge of a cliff and woke up the next morning being buffeted by strong winds. Sarah and I managed to keep our tent in one place, but some people weren’t so lucky! After securing (and in some cases, rescuing) the remaining tents, we hustled toward Malealea Lodge. The weather was sunny and beautiful, although there were some threatening clouds looming in the distance. The owner of the lodge encouraged us to go pony trekking that day, before the bad weather set in. Three of us (Katie, Leahanne and myself) took his advice and set off on a 6-hour trek through the Lesotho hills and mountains. Bad idea. Only half and hour into the ride and the rain came down in a fury. Closely following the rain? Hail stones the size of golf balls. It felt like we were under attack! The ponies, bless them, plodded on dutifully through the rain, somehow managing to keep their footing down the steep – and now very slick – hillsides as we descended into gorges and back up again.

By the end of it we were drenched but smiling. The views were still incredible, with the rain clouds casting an eerie grey mist over the landscapes. We managed to get our sunny tour of Lesotho the next day, when we hiked to a waterfall.
I’ve posted a taster of the photographs here, but the full pics are up on flickr (link is on the side of the page):
Pony Trekking in Lesotho

Pony Trekking, Lesotho

Hiking Lesotho

Hiking in Lesotho


R.I.P. Mr Gorman

Before this entry, I would like to pay my respects to my favourite English teacher in high school, Mr. Gorman, who passed away from cancer on November 29th. He was the teacher who encouraged my development in creative writing, and I wouldn’t have had the courage to pursue writing without him. He taught me Writer’s Craft, Grade 11 and Grade 12 English and played a huge role in my high school career. If I were in Ottawa, I would be sitting in the front row of his memorial service, but since I cannot, I am sending my goodwill out to his family and to his extended Immaculata family who will be so sad during this time.

Today I am leaving South Africa and starting on the next portion of my journey. My flight leaves at 19:55 tonight, on its long long way to Perth. The next part of my adventure will see me and Sarah by ourselves, travelling Australia and New Zealand and South East Asia without the security of a truck and a tour leader — and can we say, we cannot wait. This has been such a great learning experience, and the best way to start our gap years. I plan on writing a recap on the plane ride over, so expect a longer entry over the next couple of days.

Lesotho was beautiful, and I’m glad I got the chance to visit while I was here. I’m sure if I had done SA myself, I would have missed out Lesotho in favour of the Wild Coast, but it would have been a mistake. We pony-trekked in the pouring rain and hail stones the size of golf balls, we hiked in the glorious sunshine amidst the “Kingdom in the Sky”. And the Drakensberg Mountains were stunning, with waterfalls and streams around every bend. It was idyllic, really. And now we are in Joburg, and unfortunately we haven’t had the chance to explore at all. We arrived late last night and leave in the afternoon today. I even have to give Soweto a miss, and I regret it… but it’s just another excuse to come back to this country some time in the future.

To all the Oasis people I am leaving… I will miss you so much! There have been moments on this truck I will never be able to share with anyone except you guys, and that will bind us forever. Even though we all live in such disparate locations, you are all welcome in Canada whenever you choose to visit. You have all my love.


Adrenaline Beauty

Stepping out onto perilously thin wire mesh, the ground hundreds of metres below, I take a deep breath before the death march toward the centre of Bloukrans Bridge. It’s what I’ve wanted to do from the beginning of the trip — isn’t it? Isn’t it? I question myself over and over, but not as loudly as the others from the truck who are standing around, some shaking and quaking, some talking gibberish to compensate for their nervousness. I try not to show fear. Perhaps only those paying close attention would notice the increased heaviness of breath or lightly clenched fists.

Watching other people makes it seem easier. They put us through in weight order, and with the few men jumping it means I’m not first. The music is blasting so loud that you can’t hear the men scream, although we find out later that most of them went down swearing bloody murder. We wave to the people over on the viewing platform; those not even brave enough to walk out under the bridge. They have our cameras in tow, so we smile big, put on happy faces. Why are we doing this again?

There is no time to think about it. Toes out over the edge, 5-4-3-2-1 and no time to think about what you’re doing. Looking down is unavoidable, as is the feeling of having your stomach drop out of your body! But the rush is great, my scream is the loudest of everyone and the view — once your eyes can actually take it in — is incredible. Being hoisted back up is actually the scariest part. But when the blood rushes back into the rest of your body and your feet are on solid ground, then you can take in what you’ve just done, and brag about it for the rest of the trip.

Bloukrans Bridge is the highest bungy in the world.

Our next stop was the otter trail, a 3.5 hour hike which winds around the garden route coastline. This is more like the South Africa I imagined! Whales frolicked off the shore as the surf pounded the ground at our feet. We swam for an hour underneath a waterfall by the ocean, and generally had a fantastic time.

South Africa is getting better by the moment!


Ostrichs and Caves

South Africa is an undeniably beautiful country. Today I sat up on the beach with wind blowing through my hair as we passed through the mountains. There is lots of room on the truck to stretch out, sun tan and chat with everyone.

After a night in the quaint town of Swellendam, we travelled to an ostrich farm. Ostrichs are far from my favourite creatures – I wasn’t unhappy to see one being devoured by a lion – but today I learned and experienced almost enough to change my perceptions. We saw the eggs (indestructable), the chicks (quite cute!) and nippy adults who we were allowed to ride. Riding an ostrich also did not sound like my idea of fun – but I figured it was about as close to riding a hippogryff as I was ever going to get! So swallowing my trepidation and pretending he was Buckbeak from Harry Potter, I hoisted myself up onto an ostrich, whose head was covered by a canvas sack. Gripping firmly onto the wings, I braced myself as the bag was removed from the head and the ostrich bolted into a bumpy gallop! I lasted about 10 strides before tumbling off the back end… but at least I could say that I did it!

We then moved on to the Cangol Caves, a spectacular calcite rock formation of stalagmites and stalactites. I did the “adventure” tour, which involved crawling through tight spaces, climbing up chimneys and slipping and bashing my head on a rock (not mentioned in the brochure!) All was well, and somehow all of us managed to slide through “the letterbox”, a tiny crack about 27cm in width. I really must have lost weight on this trip! It won’t last long, especially if ostrich steak is on the menu… on a plate is still my favourite way to encounter an ostrich, despite today.


Cape Town and Farewells

Cape Town is the end of the road for half of the people I have been travelling with for the past two months. There are so many people I am going to miss, and so many people I am going to see in the future… without our resident funny man Chris or Tash’s famous laugh or Isabel’s hugs, the trip just isn’t going to be the same. It does mean more space in the truck for the rest of us though!

Travelling overland is like being thrown into a pressure cooker. Life is condensed into a tiny space, where personalities jostle and collide. Our experiences – these new, fabulous, unique experiences – are shared with each other. Life is surreal when you travel; it is reality the way we wish reality to be. It is why so many people find it addictive. It is also why some people can’t wait to get home and back to the regular. There is something highly charged and magnified about life right now. Senses are heightened. Emotions. It is easier than life back home. It is much more difficult than life back home. Travelling is always a challenge, and that’s why I love it.

Cape Town weather has been somewhat of a disappointment, but it improved remarkably for today. Trying to cram everything that this city has to offer within two and a half days is impossible. We tried. On the first day, as it poured with rain, I made my way to the District Six museum. I have never been to a place like this before – a museum that is not designed for visitors but for the people who actually lived through these events. This was not a museum of facts, but a museum of life – people’s life stories were plastered up on the walls next to giant murals of a thriving corner of the city that existed 50 years ago – but does not exist now.

The next day I took a hop-on, hop-off bus around the city to see the best of Cape Town. Sarah and Mike were also aboard. It took us around to District Six itself and allowed a glimpse of the reality the museum had told me about. It was scary to compare the grassy hills to the bustling streets that were once there. The bus took us up to the Table mountain lower cable car station, but due to high winds we were unable to ascend. Then back through Camps Bay and Clifton’s Bay – truly spectacular parts of the city that I wouldn’t have glimpsed without taking the bus.

Today, I pulled the curtains open to sunshine streaming into the room. Finally! After breakfast on the balcony outside my room, overlooking Long Street, Sarah and I ventured down to the train station to head to Boulder’s Beach – the home of the penguins. One train, one bus and a minicab later, we arrived to the most gorgeous of beaches and crystal clear turquoise water. We yearned to swim but we were short on time – we had left Cape Town just in time to see cable cars start their climb up the mountain! But by the time we got up there, once again it had closed due to high winds. We will try again tomorrow morning, before the truck leaves.

Now I am about to head to Robben Island, and I am back down at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. The waterfront is my favourite spot in the entire city – and so far I have three pictures of the exact same spot (day one – no table mountain visible, day two – table mountain visible against a grey sky, day three – beautiful sunshine behind table mountain!) It has been lovely to relax for a few days, and terribly sad to say goodbye to everyone. How can you feel like you’ve lost so much when you’ve only known people for two months?

Australia is fast creeping up on us… only two weeks now to the next part of my adventure. I can’t believe that soon I’ll be writing in a different continent, but it will be happening sooner than I believe.

Africa will be hard to beat.