after spending a full day touring the spectacular winelands surrounding cape town, taking in both the scenic fruitful lands and their amazing products, we finished our last night in cape town enjoying dinner at a local game restaurant, where i sampled kudu, eland and springbok. only later did i realize that these were a few of the beautiful animals i would be viewing on safari in the upcoming week.
the next morning we hopped in our newly rented nissan (some strange overseas model) and i pulled out (anxiously) onto the “wrong” side of the road. to say city traffic in cape town was nerve wracking would be a slight understatement, especially without a road map, but i managed to get us safely out of town and down into the peninsula to boulders beach- our first true destination- where we spent the morning hanging in ridiculously close proximity to the friendly, frolicking penguins all around us.
the beach is, as its name implies, comprised of large boulders where the penguins lounge (both alone and in pairs) dozing in the warm sunshine or pruning themselves and one another. they allowed us to sit right with them, and while we were admiring them two men from esquire japan approached us with notepads and cameras to take pictures of our unbelievable interaction and include us (jaime + john from united states!) in their upcoming s. africa issue! hilarious. we watched these delightful little birds dive and slip into the crashing waves and felt so privileged to be in their immediate presence.
we ate lunch on the coast, preparing for the long drive to port elizabeth- our stopping point for the evening and base camp for a voyage into addo elephant reserve n tuesday morning.
only once we were on the road, and logging many less kilometers than we anticipated, did we realize how harrowing our drives would be along this “wild coast” of south africa.
although in excellent condition, and with relatively accessible petrol stations, the N2 (main coastal highway) is a desolate, one-lane highway where passing 18 wheelers and other vehicles is a necessity and being prepared to stop for stray sheep or herds of cattle or families of monkeys happens all too frequently.
for the better part of the 600+ kilometres that took us from cape town to jeffreys bay (where we stopped just slightly before our intended destination due to the wicked night conditions) i was engaged and entertained by the striking scenery alone- one minute taking in the vast expanses of rolling verdant hills, backed by deep blue mountain ranges rising into the sky, only to be almost instantly replaced by the roaring ocean bordered by stark white sands to my right. later we would glimpse endless rows of green, lush corn stalks set amid brightly painted mud huts with pointed thatched roofs.
between each main city set chaotic clusters of improvised homes- townships, as they are called here- little shanty towns sprung up and full of people, stray animals, stray cars, and lots of loose trash. i immediately found beauty in their colorful chaos, rogue untamed communities sitting in absolute contrast to the modern hubs surrounding them. as some (not all) are rife with hostility (particularly toward outsiders) we did not have the opportunity to explore any of these areas and pressed on toward our destination.
arriving in jeffreys bay for the night, after braving a brief but harrowing thunderstorm, earlier than expected sunset, and stumbling into the center of a sketchy township on the outskirts of town, we tucked into a surfer’s hostel thankful (and lucky) to be safe from the elements.
awaking at dawn we pushed on another 200 or so kilometers to addo national park- a wild haven for over 400 elephants and all of the big five. we opted against the elephant-back safaris we had originally anticipated participating in, after we learned that these tamed animals merely lead you around a private reserve, whereas a full day in the national park allows you to interact with truly wild animals in a myriad of ways. we had breakfast at the rest camp before driving our own vehicle throughout the massive grounds- covering only a minute portion of the area in over 5 hours of driving. we were treated to countless up close encounters with families of warthogs, strikingly beautiful zebras, a large leopard tortoise, black-backed jackals, a bright yellow cobra, hoards of kudu, red hartebeest, eland, ostriches, hares, buffalo, large families of elephants, scores of birds and even tiny dung beetles.
in the evening we took an open-jeep tour of another section of the park, following even more remote paths into the brush, watching the sun set over the hills and scanning the brush for any of the nine lions that call addo home. searching out, and discovering these animals in their natural habitat is indescribably more rewarding and unbelievably moving- we actually sat next to a water hole at dusk and observed a pack of elephants drinking together and protecting a newborn (3-week old elephant!) from predators. this quiet moment together with some of the crazier run-ins earlier in the day (as hartebeest peered in our windows and elephants sniffed our windshield- and growled in our face) were exactly what i had hoped to experience in south africa.
we rose even earlier the next morning, valentines day (fyi: a HUGE deal here in s. africa, they love holidays apparently, esp. this one, where we even received a little present of candies at one of the gas stations!) and set off on a 1000 kilometer hike along the coast (in the nissan of course, still not sure if cef does hikes at all…) which took us just under 11 hours of continuous, and by continuous i mean NO stops except for petrol.
this took us into the small town of umzumbe, just south of durban along the hibiscus coast and steps from the indian ocean, where we will spend the night in a tree house tucked between banana tress, where the delighful and fiesty vervet monkeys clamor all around us…