Tuesday, May 31, 2011

South Africa! part 2


After a very beautiful wedding and an extremely fun reception it was time to pack up and head up up to the city of Durban for a few days.

Durban is a city along South Africa's Eastern Cape and is a city by the sea. the city is also a fairly popular place for surfing. We spent our two days in Durban mostly strolling down the promenade by the ocean sampling different restaurants as we went. The experience of the city was very enjoyable, very different from Joburg as we all felt a bit safer walking the city streets.

One of our stops along the Promenade was a place called UShaka Marine World. At the Marine World you can do all sorts of aquarium related things and even go shark diving! We arrived at the entrance to UShaka and quickly had all our shark diving hopes dashed when we found out shark diving was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays! 

Nevertheless, we ate a lot of great food and saw some great ocean views from the city. Katie recommended we try a special type of Durbanesque food known as Bunny Chow. Basically it is something like curry stuffed inside of bread topped with more curry-it sounded very tasty but unfortunately we didn't get to try it.

The next leg of the trip meant we hopped onto another Mango airlines flight to Capetown! the parents hopped on a plane to Kruger National Park (JEALOUS!) where they went on a safari to see African animals! as for us children, we were headed to Capetown to explore the city, bungee jump, ride ostriches, and have other adventures!

We (Katie, Dani, Chaz, and I) arrived in the busy Capetown airport without any problems. The airport was the busiest we had been to so far but we were never heckled or accosted by anyone as we went to rent a car. Renting a car was a success! we got to drive a bit through the suburbs outside of Capetown and saw Table Mountain! 

The Hostel we stayed at in Capetown was very quaint and cozy after a good nights rest we packed up and headed out on a long road trip to go bungee jumping!

The Bloukrans bridge is a South African bridge that hosts the highest bridge bungy jump in the world! at 216 meters! (about 708 feet for the rest of us Americans). The roadtrip was mostly uneventful although driving past the South African scenery was very enjoyable. I briefly saw a mother baboon and her baby along the side of the road! the rule of law is obviously not to pull over to feed the baboons as they will try to steal everything out of your car and/or rip your face off.

7 hours in to the road trip and we were still an hour and a half away from the bridge, it was 3pm and the bungy closed at 5pm. Dani, with her keen bird eyes, spotted a 5 star-looking hotel along the side of the road in this tiny beach town called Wilderness. All four of us in the car agreed it was probably best to stop there for the night and so we booked the only rooms available: the honeymoon suite and a "premier" suite.

The rooms at the hotel were finer and fancier than anything that I have every stayed in in the US. Plus, they were fairly cheap! 1,000 Rand per person (about $160) seemed like a very good deal for a 5 star luxury hotel suite that in the US would cost $500 or more a night.

After spending a lovely evening at the hotel we set out for bungee jumping!

Let me tell you, bungee jumping from Bloukrans Bridge was the most extreme thing I have ever done in my life-it was my first time bungee jumping so I guess I started off with a bang! the experience was surreal: Once you have paid the fee to jump (about 700 Rand, 100 or so US dollars) a group of helpers strap you up in a harness and then lead you on this dusty narrow path surrounding by shrubbery to the bridge. Chaz and I were the only ones jumping and we had to cross a narrow suspended metal tunnel to get to the actual jump site underneath the bridge. The metal tunnel is made of this metal mesh material - I have no idea what it is called but it holds the weight of a group of full grown people and you are also able to see through it to the depths below. The experience of seemingly walking on air in the tunnel was a bit unnerving but the real nerves came when it was my time to jump (ladies first!)

I was tethered up to the bungee cord and my feet were secured VERY tightly by some enthusiastic and very nice dockies (deckhands/helpers). A few dockies/helpers were dancing around as I prepared to jump and the head dockie that was tightening my foot straps was trying to tell me a bunch of things but over the sound of the bridge, the music, and my own nerves I couldn't really understand him. All I asked was if I was strapped in tightly enough and they reassured me that I was perfectly fine. After hobbling over to the jump off point I took a few deep breaths before the dockies told me to stretch out my arms, hold my head high, count down from 5 and then JUMP!

I remember swan diving off the bridge and as I looked from the sky to the fast approaching ground below I recall not really feeling scared at all. Sure, my nerves were still there but for some reason it was  almost tranquil as I fell toward the ground. As my bungee cord caught the tension and I stopped falling I got the chance to take a look at the raging river and the forest below me - it was extremely strange and yet I felt completely fine. The only time I felt any fear was when I realized I could feel gravity pulling in my foot straps and it felt like I would fall if I moved my feet at all.

After  being hoisted up I got to witness Chaz jumping off. We stopped for a few pictures with the dockies and then it was back to the main area to get our photos and videos!

Driving away from the Bloukrans bridge we stopped by a small town called George with a small regional airport to let Dani and Katie off so they could fly back to Capetown. From there it was off to Outdshoorn to ride Ostriches!!!

We spent the night in Outdshoorn at a nice hotel named the Queens hotel. the hotel was 100 and some years old and had once been visited by Queen Elizabeth when she was in her 20's or so. Fancy that, I dare say!

The next day we drove a few km outside of the town to an Ostrich farm called Highgate. The news on the street was that this place was the best place to see and ride ostriches but unfortunately we received terrible news once we arrived at the gates. Apparently, all the ostriches at this farm were sick with some kind of disease and all of them were going to be shipped off to be slaughtered the next day. The farm worker we talked to said we could take a tour but could not ride or even get near the ostriches - she also informed us that most of the other ostrich farms in the area had the same problem.

In light of this news my spirit was crushed. I suggested to Chaz that we should try one more ostrich farm and if we had no luck with that one then we would give up on riding ostriches. Luckily we encountered an ostrich farm down the road that had no problems at all with their ostriches and we bought tickets to take a tour and to ride them!

the Ostrich tour was very interesting and a bit strange as well. For one, the ostriches at the farm are treated like beef cows in the US. They are raised up by human hands until a certain age and then slaughtered for their skin, feathers, and meat. I felt a bit sad for the birds as we headed toward the riding pen. Sitting on an ostrich feels strange because the bird is not bulky although it is tall. It's not like sitting on a horse where at least you feel a bit secure and you know you are sitting on a sturdy animal - I felt like I was crushing the poor bird and it felt very unsteady. Riding the ostrich was another fun and yet strange experience. I got on the ostrich with the help of two dockies while the bird was blindfolded. At first I wanted to grab on to the bird's neck but I was told if I did that I would get bucked off. To ride an ostrich you have to grab the birds wings and lean back as far as you can and then hold on for dear life.

It was a fun ride and it seems silly to me looking back on it. I enjoyed the tour and the overall experience but it was a bit depressing to think that these birds do not live very long lives on these farms. Out in the wild an ostrich can live for 30 or so years but on a farm some don't even get to live to be 2 years old.

Our last leg of the journey led us to Stellenbosch. It was another 7 hour drive but well worth it in the end. Stellenbosch is a smaller college town outside of Capetown, It is a very safe place as far as South African standards go.

We arrived around 7pm and found another 5 star hotel along a very trendy street full of interesting shops and restaurants. Our night and our last day in Stellenbosch consisted of eating good food and exploring the town's streets. I bought quite a few souvenirs and Chaz got to talk with two local part time gift shop workers about all things South Africa and USA related. It was a very nice end to a long trip.

Basically we left Stellenbosch and headed to Capetown and then after a long series of flights from Capetown to Amsterdam to DC we finally made it back to the US!

So, After typing all this, here are some final impressions.
South Africa has beautiful scenery and the people are very friendly and of course, they have awesome accents! The racial tension is a bit unnerving but understandable being that apartheid ended not even 20 years ago. With all the experiences I had I never felt truly safe in any part of the country -  although the US could learn a few things about service and hospitality from South Africa. Nevertheless, my boyfriend, his family, and I had some wonderful experiences and met some amazing people. We got to see wonderful sights and I would definitely come back to South Africa some time in the future! It was definitely a worthwhile trip.

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