It is turning into autumn here in Cape Town! Quite a strange experience to celebrate Easter as the leaves start to change colors, the air gets cooler and the days are a bit shorter. Although, South Africa doesn’t change their clocks, so sunrise keeps getting later, but sunset gets later as well, how crazy!
My friend from Belmont came to visit me this past week. We studied abroad here together about two years ago and she too fell in love with this beautiful country. So I am having a little holiday in the middle of my project which has been so fun and extremely refreshing. Although I have taken a week off of work, I have continued to learn so much about the diversity and beauty of South Africa.
Our adventure started last Friday, I picked her up from the airport and the next morning we left for a four day stint on the Garden Route, which is perhaps the most incredible drive of my life. We stopped in Knysna and slept in a treehouse and had a braai with the owners of our Air B&B. We talked travel experiences, culture, politics, religion, and it was fascinating and thought provoking. Most of them had been alive, albeit young, yet still remember apartheid, so I am always curious as to what that was like for them, and their opinions of what South Africa is like now. It was also interesting to hear how some of them felt about our president and government. And thankfully, many of the conversations ended in “agree to disagree” but were fruitful and enjoyable nonetheless.
The next morning, we drove up to a lookout point over the Knysna Heads, the two mountains that help create the Knysna lagoon, and it was simply the most stunning view! And when we thought it could not get any more beautiful, we ended up in Robberg hiking one of the most magnificent trails through the mountains and down the sand dunes to a massive beach. We checked into our Air B&B, got some recommendations from our sweet host and headed to the beach to watch the sunset in Plettenberg Bay.
Our last stop on the Garden Route was the most adorable and incredible town of Tsitsikamma. Situated in a forest with the mountains as your backdrop on one side, and the ocean on the other. We stopped at Bloukrans bridge, the largest bungee jump in the world (but thankfully we both had a mutual agreement that bungee jumping was not on our list of things we wanted to do). Instead, we opted for ziplining through the canopy. We had the best guides and the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours is a fair trade tourism company, meaning their workers get paid a fair wage, they give a percentage of their income to forest preservation, education and a social enterprise restaurant that employs women from a local township. In all, they only keep about 43% of their profit, which was AMAZING and obviously was in sync with my heart for business for good.
After ziplining, we headed to Tsitsikamma National Park and hiked to the suspension bridge and watched the sunset, then headed back to our glamping tent at the Tsitsikamma Backpackers Lodge. We slept in a tent under the stars and froze our faces off, but it was SO. FUN! The next morning we got up early, drove over to Nature’s Valley (home of the granola bar?), did a short hike up to a viewpoint to see Salt River Beach, then headed over to MONKEYLAND!!!!!! It is a primate sanctuary that rehabilitates monkeys that were in zoo’s, hurt in the wild, rescued from people’s homes, etc. We took an hour long meander through the woods and saw so many monkeys and lemurs. Monkey’s are my favorite animals so it was a dream come true to be so close to these amazing creatures!!!
Finally, our Garden Route stent had come to an end and we opted for the longer, more scenic R62 home. And it was worth every extra km. I have never seen anything quite as beautiful. It seemed like every thirty minutes we were in a new town with a new terrain, in a new temperatures, new mountains. One hour we were at a viewpoint overlooking lush green mountainsides, the next hour we were at a viewpoint overlooking mountains with red rocks that looked like they belonged in Arizona. We saw the most magnificent sunset somewhere about three hours outside Cape Town and honestly, all we could do was laugh at how absurdly beautiful South Africa is. We passed so many farms and little village towns (dorps) and kept asking what do the people do who live there! There is absolutely nothing for miles. I have realized, however, that most of the food I buy here says grown in South Africa, and after seeing the amount of farms and farm land, I believe it. I think that is so incredible that South Africa still feeds itself with so much local food, which is pretty much the opposite of America, and it is probably why the produce here taste so good!
After an educational and adventurous four days, we are back in Cape Town. I got to show Alexa a bit of the work I am doing at the safe house, and she tagged along for one of my workshops with the women. We are hiking, reminiscing on our favorite spots from study abroad, and making memories in new places. Tomorrow is Easter and we are going to church and to have lunch with Jeremy (the guide for the Belmont in Africa Maymester) and his family! Every day just keeps getting better! It has been an amazing week getting to see some of South Africa that I have never seen before, and meet people from all over the world in new places. It is crazy how much of an impact people can have on you, even just knowing them for a few hours and it feels like you have been friends your whole life. Relationship is such a gift, and this week has given me a real taste of ubuntu.