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Heading out on the Salt River Hike

Heading out on the Salt River Hike

My next stop along the Garden Route was to be at a place called The Crags – close to Knysna, Storms River, and other small towns along The Garden Route and close to Tsitsikamma National Park. The hostel had been recommended to me because of its beautiful location – though I was warned that it was slightly “hippy” in atmosphere.

Sure enough, there were drumming circles, copious instructions on composting/recycling, dreadlocked folk strumming guitars, yoga/meditation classes, and lots of cats and dogs roaming freely amongst the chilled out backpackers who all regaled their story of coming to Wild Spirit for two nights – and staying for seven. I was planning on staying for two nights and stuck to my plan.

Not that I didn’t enjoy the place – on the contrary, I made a nice little circle of friends, and the home cooked food was otherworldly. The whole lodge is set against a backdrop of lush forest that peters out towards the ocean. The bar area was built literally around a giant tree that was covered with fairy lights creating a lovely atmosphere in the albeit very chilly evenings. In the main lounge, folks fought for a space on one of the giant sofas with the gigantic dogs who seemed to own the most coveted spots around the open fireplace. It was very cozy indeed.

A cute little Dassie in Storms River

A cute little Dassie in Storms River

Unfortunately, I had come down with a bad cough after my bike ride in Outsdhoorn so I wanted to take it a little easy on my first day. I had made a new friend in Ashley – a girl whom on first appearance I was sure I wouldn’t get along with and who subsequently surprised me with her genuine, fun spirit. She was a total self-professed hippie, with giant purple and turquoise dreads, lots of piercings and tattoos adorning large swaths of flesh. She also had an extremely interesting career producing fetish videos – which led to lots of very interesting conversations. On the first day, I was disappointed to discover that Untouched Adventures (a company offering a kayak and “lilo” experience up the channel in Storms River) was too far away to send a shuttle for me to participate in their tour. I was delighted therefore to meet up with a lovely English couple, who’d just gotten engaged(!) named John and XXXX who over breakfast, informed me of their plan to do the afternoon kayak tour and offered to take me with them in their rental car.

Glad to have a little rest to blog in the morning, I happily joined them – and since she’d gotten back from having completed the world’s highest bungee jump that am, Ashley came along too. On arrival at Tsitsikamma National Park, we found that Jake (from Outsdhoorn and the bus) had also signed up for the afternoon adventure…making us a happy little group of 5. Still not feeling great, I opted to rent a full wetsuit in case I worsened my symptoms paddling upstream on a lilo in frigid brackish water.

Storms River

Storms River

On our "Lilos" in Storms River Gorge

On our “Lilos” in Storms River Gorge

The landscape was really beautiful and verdant – and we walked along the coastline for about a half mile before coming to the mouth of the river where we were to put in our kayaks to paddle up the Storms River Gorge. The gorge itself was stunning and reminded me a little of both The Narrows in Zion National Park, and Wadi Mujib in Jordan…I love places where you can be in the water with towering rock walls jutting up alongside you enclosing you in the magic that lies between them. All told, the kayaking was very short indeed which was a little disappointing, though I was looking forward to the “lilo” section as I can honestly say I have never ever paddled myself upstream on a river laying on one. This was one of those “firsts” that get rarer with age and the amount of travel that I am lucky enough to do. This was when I was truly grateful to have rented the wetsuit as we laid belly down and swiftly used our hands to continue our way up the gorge. Again, we didn’t go very far, but we enjoyed the experience and the setting nonetheless. A few bold cliff jumps into the water completed the excursion before it was time to kayak back to our starting point.

After, our newly founded little group got wine and seafood at the café and heard the story of how John had proposed. It was a very memorable day made all the more special by the live music that awaited us at the hostel upon our return home.

The Wild Spirit Backpackers at The Crags

The Wild Spirit Backpackers at The Crags

The bus was going to be picking both me and Ashley up the next day in the evening to take us to Port Elizabeth where we would be forced to spend the night in order to catch the next vehicle heading to our next destination – the Wild Coast. I was super excited to have made an alteration to my planned itinerary upon learning that it was possible to do a 3 night/2 day hike along the coast (think up hills, down hills, along beaches, up and inland, across inland, rinse and repeat for a very long time) and had booked nights at Bulungula Inn for my first night, Wild Lubanzi for my second, and ending my trip in Coffee Bay (where I had originally intended on staying for two nights.)

Determined not to let a silly cold/cough hold me back, Ashley and a few others opted to do the famed Salt River hike that day which is supposed to give you a snapshot feel for all that the Garden Route is famous for – Fynbos, trees, rivers, beaches, and beautiful scenery. This trail would lead us to the ending point of the famed Otter Trail – a five day hike that gets booked years in advance. Though feeling a little rough, I managed to keep up with the girls as we set out on our intended loop – aiming to be back to the hostel in time to shower, change and hop on the bus to Port Elizabeth.

The map that our hostel owner had given us lent itself to extreme frustration as none of the markings were accurate or helped us orient ourselves. We eventually had to just rely on our sight and logic and made our way along the beach to the restaurant at the end of the Otter trail where we ordered a lovely lunch. Since I wasn’t feeling great, we opted to take the slightly shorter route back up to the starting point, where we got picked up.

Ashley and me

Ashley and me

Ashley and I had a lovely day and discovered that we actually have a lot in common and eerily similar backgrounds in terms of our religious childhoods. It was a lovely day, and we were glad to have some down time before having to re-join the bus (where Lea and Jake also joined us) as we headed to PE for the night.

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