My lovely tent mate, Maud, and I headed out from Cape Town and met up in Stellenbosch for some girl time with wine. I had purchased a Baz Bus ticket that allowed me 14 days of unlimited hop on and off transport between Cape Town and Johannesburg. I had a rough itinerary already planned out ( I know, you’re shocked by that!) but was open and willing to make changes along the way should the mood strike or I received a significant personal recommendation.
I knew I wanted to have at least one day in Stellenbosch as a good starting point for my embarking on independent travel. And I was thrilled that Maud was up to meet me there, and go on a biking wine tour.
We were super lucky in that we were the only two people booked on the tour and it was a beautiful sunny day. We met with our guide and started the tour with a cycle around the main town of Stellenbosch and campus of the large university the town is also famous for. The town is framed by the most stunning countryside and mountains and I was thoroughly enjoying being out of the big city, breathing in the fresh air, and enjoying the exercise.
We visited two wineries, both of which were in stunning settings. The first had such an incredible backdrop of lake and mountains that the photos we shot during our tasting looked artificially superimposed. See for yourself!
Feeling quite tipsy and thoroughly happy after our ride, Maud and I enjoyed a lovely coffee and Belgian waffle on a trendy café-lined street before both going to get haircuts. Unfortunately, my hairdresser decided to cut an extra inch off the right side of my head vs. the left side, and I only noticed upon our return to our hostel…which ended up being an adventure in and of it!
Thoroughly looking forward to a home-made tuna salad, we asked around as to where we might find a cab to drive us to our hostel. No-one seemed to know where we might be able to locate one and we started to grow slightly nervous. We walked to several in-city hostels and we were told that cabs stopped operating at 5pm! What?!!
Eventually, a kind hotel shuttle driver offered to drop us off, and we were saved from our complacent “I’m used to being in Cape Town” attitudes.
We enjoyed a lovely evening’s company with our dorm mates who were Peace Corps volunteers from the States working in Zambia. They told us some fascinating stories about the challenging projects they’d been occupied with in the rural center of that country. One of the more memorable, was the locals’ preference for “dry sex”. What on earth is “dry sex”, I hear you ask.
Well, I was fascinated to learn as well. Dry sex is sex where there is no internal lubrication in the woman. In fact, along with ensuring (of course) that the woman is not aroused before intercourse, young women in some Zambian villages are literally taught how to dry out their vaginas using certain leaves/herbs in order to please their husbands – who’s preference is for the sex to be nice and rough…ergo “Dry”. The reason the volunteers even got involved in this discussion is because in their health care education efforts, it is important for locals not to engage in this practice as the resulting abrasions vastly increase the chances of spreading the HIV virus which is rampant in Zambia.
Asking them how their efforts at condom education fared – their response was equally disheartening. They told us that locals would say “Well, when I bake a nice juicy chicken, I don’t put it in a plastic bag before I enjoy eating it…!”
Yeah…it’s like that.
From Stellenbosch I said my farewell to Maud and boarded my Baz Bus to my first stop on the famed Garden Route – Outsdhoorn – world capital of the ostrich!
I stayed at Backpacker’s Paradise and it really was one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed at. And it was a paradise for me when I found out on arrival that one of the manager’s was also a masseuse and was willing to give me a massage that evening. It was not only the best massage I’ve had on this trip so far, it was the best massage of my life!
Dinner that night was ostrich meat, roast potatoes and salad. I ate with a highly immature group of five English girls who giggled hysterically in between their ceaseless chatter about boys they’d hooked up with at last year’s Glastonbury festival. Ahhhh….hostels! Yet again, I discover that I’ve been traveling and staying in hostels since I was 17 alongside the other 18-25 year olds. The only problem is – I’m now 39, but the other backpackers have stayed the same age! What is nice, however, is that with age comes the ability to fend off peer pressure and truly do what one feels is in one’s best interest. For me, it was having my dinner and heading straight to sleep.
Outsdhoorn proved to offer quite an adventurous, strenuous day trip which consisted of being driven to the top of Swartberg Pass (1568 M) and then dropped off with a mountain bike for a 56km (about half downhill) adventure. The weather at the top of the pass was drastically different due to the elevation, and I was glad that I had brought lots of warm layers and my wooly hat! The ride literally started off in the clouds, but it wasn’t too long before I descended below the cloud line and found myself whizzing past green pastures full of ostriches, and rolling hills. It was just lovely.
The other main attraction in the area is the Cango Caves. Having visited lots of caves during my trip in South America last summer, I wasn’t too enthused about going – but I decided to at least go check out the visitor center and decide if I wanted to do the full tour or not.
The pictures at the ticket booth were pretty impressive so I signed up for the 90 minutes “adventure” tour – touted as being as close to splunking minus equipment that a person can get.
The cave tour actually far surpassed my expectations – the main caverns were enormous and were beautifully lit to highlight the wonderful stalagmite and stalactite formations. As the guided group continued deeper into the cave, the passages got narrower and trickier to get through. Our guide, Theo (a Xhosa) was hilarious telling us stories of fat tourists who’d gotten themselves stuck in some of the passageways and had to get extricated using copious amounts of grease lubricant. Some of the passageways were rather panic-inducing, but I was proud of myself for getting through it. Unlike many cave systems I’ve been in, this one has no oxygen supply save for the initial opening, so you could really feel the air getting thinner the further you progressed into the cave.
At the turnaround point, there was a section that you had to slide down, head first on your tummy in order to squeeze your way through. A few of the larger men in the group had to turn around and come back a different way. It was challenging, but I managed to squeeze through feeling like I was re-enacting my entry to this world through the birth canal. We were all reminded of this when someone commented that the tunnel “opening” looked like a woman giving birth, and as the last tourist slid on out, Theo announced “And it’s a boy!” – and we all had a good laugh.
The rest of the ride back to town was actually quite arduous and I was glad for all the water I’d brought. I was eager to get to the farmhouse that had been recommended to us as having wonderful cakes and tea as I was getting hungry – only to discover that they were closed! The last six kilometers back to the hostel were the longest I’d ever ridden and I walked back into the lobby absolutely famished.
I ordered a piece of carrot cake and a coffee and sat relishing both as I rested my weary muscles.
That evening turned out to be rather “French”. I had met a French-Canadian on the bus named Lea (who I continually re-met at various stops along the Baz Bus route as the trip continued) and an American named Jake who was rather fluent in French having just lived in La Reunion these past six months. Then, two guys from Lyon showed up complete in their V-neck sweaters and matching scarves – and we all went out for a meal which turned out to be dominated with French conversation. Despite struggling a little to keep up and understand – I was decidedly happier with the conversation.