Somehow we managed to get some sleep last night even though it was cold and we had to use pillows and extra shirts for blankets.   We spend the morning just hanging out and enjoying the beach.  We’ve made a seagull buddy we named Fred who hangs out with us a bit before our trek back.

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I’m not exactly doing cartwheels about the hike back this morning.  Still sore from yesterday, my thighs are on fire as we make it over the first hill. But I’m also on a mission now because I’m pissed off that it was hard the day before.  I quietly remind myself not to focus on the pain but enjoy the experience and of course, the surroundings, which I do.

I’m once again in awe of the beauty of this place as we pass by caves and cliffs and flowers.  I don’t want to leave.

There’s one particularly gnarly spot up a narrow stone walkway that you have to hoist yourself up to, and once I do [aside from doing my little happy dance] I feel like I have a better groove.  At least I know what to expect on the way back, which to some extent does make the hike easier.  We make our way to the top, and now we’re looking out over the other side – the side where we stayed at Sea Breeze just a few days before.

View to Sea Breeze

We get in our car and head off to the Peppermill Cafe for some lunch.  At this point, it’s been 14 hours since we’ve last eaten and we’re both so hungry we could eat a horse.

The Peppermill is a place that was recommended to us by Nick’s contact at Plett Tourism.  The owner, also named Nick, was a chatty guy who treated us to fish and chips in turn for some pictures and shout outs on social media.   The food and drinks were very tasty and it felt good to just relax in the sun and enjoy some coffee.

Our journey along the Garden Route continues, with our next step being Tsitsikamma.  Before we get to our destination, Misty Mountain Reserve, we stop off at what’s known as the “Big Tree”.  It’s a yellowwood that’s estimated to be a thousand year old.  Nick and I discuss what this tree has seen over the years and all the things it knows that we don’t.

The rest of the drive to the reserve is through farmland.  We drive down the dirt road past tractors and fields of cows.  The first thing we see as we pull into the property is a peacock.  By the time we get to the parking lot, there are several more peacocks, but these ones are proudly displaying their large plumes of feathers.

After a much needed shower and change of clothes [feeling pretty grungy from the night before] I pick out the nicest dress in my suitcase and we go to the dining room at the reserve with a bottle of red wine in hand.  Later that night I slept like a queen in the pimped out tent.  The chandelier, sunken tub and fine linen sheets would definitely quality this place as “glamping.”

The next morning we’re up early for an 8am visit to the Elephant Sanctuary in the Crags.  We’re the first visitors of the day and are met by a small team of guides.

There are five elephants in total when we arrive but we’ll be spending the morning with three of them.  The guides walk to the far reaches of the property where the elephants are standing and slowly they start to walk in our direction.  As they come nearer, I have one of those heart-fluttering moments.  These creatures are huge and sweet and powerful all at the same time, and they’re on their way to visit us.

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I smiled the whole day.  We were able to walk them, which you do by cupping your hand like a hook and letting them place their trunk inside it.  Their trunks are heavy and wet with mucus but who cares when you realize you’re actually walking with an elephant.  I walk looking straight ahead of me while this massive animal follows a foot behind, his trunk in my hand.  The guide is there, of course, to watch over us and make sure all goes smoothly.  But there’s a moment I look back and remember this animal could trample me in a heartbeat if he wanted to.  A little unnerving, but I’m still in my bliss.

After some education and demonstrations from the guides, we were able to touch different parts of them – their ears, their eyelashes, their feet.   I’m surprised their entire body is covered with short course black hairs.  I’ve always assumed their body was just the grey leathery skin, but it’s not.

Next, it was my turn to take a ride.  Nick opted out.  With just a blanket draped over the elephant, no saddle or seat, the guide and I straddle the elephant and ride through the field.  The other two elephants come along and they walk in a straight line, with each elephant linking their trunks to the tail of the one in front.  The guides tells me this is a comfort to the elephants, just like humans holding hands or hugging.  The elephants walk together for security, which in turn, keeps the riders secure.

Once we’re in the car, Nick tells me he feels bad for the animals, and I get it.  I felt it too. While I loved being able to interact with them, in order to do that, there has to be some manipulation of this wild animal.  On the one hand, these are rescued elephants who are being cared for and will live out their lives without fear of being poached – a horrible reality in Africa.  On the other hand, they’re not in the wild and therefore are not in control of their destiny.  They do have to conform to a set of rules in order to live peacefully on this land.

We go back to the Lodge and check out.  Our next stop is one of the biggest highlights of our trip – the Fountain Shack at Robberg.

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Another 20 minute drive down the N2 and we arrive at Robberg Nature Preserve on the coast.  We get our small overnight bag from the [clueless] gate guard, which has some kindling for burning, two pillow cases and a key.  The hike out to the Shack, which is a totally secluded hut nestled into the edge of the hillside, is about a 1-2 hour hike, depending on how frequently you stop.  Realistically, I think it’s closer to 2.  The Shack is ours for the night, just like for any guest that rents it, and along with the Shack the whole stretch of beach is ours for the night too.

We’re not carrying all that much with us, which is highly advisable considering the intensity of the walk.  Nick has a backpack with some meat to braai and a few sandwiches, along with a change of clothes and toiletries, while I have a crossbody bag filled with water, a few shirts and my toiletries too.  Just before starting our hike, we stand at the end of the parking lot and look down over the edge of the cliffs.  Nick points out that the Shack is just on the other side of the mountain (that you see on the far left of the photo.)  No big deal.  Famous last words.

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While I have my hiking shoes on, and I’m carefully plotting out my steps along the path (which was quickly turning into far more rock than dirt), Nick’s in his flip flops hopping along the trail without a worry in the world.  He’s hiked Robberg many times and is a far more experienced hiker than I am.  He pauses and waits for me several times, partly to be nice, but also partly (I’m sure) to check whether or not I’ve fallen off the side of the cliff.

The first 20 minutes or so are manageable, but also not super easy.   The views really are incredible and worth every ounce of pain.  I take a look at the land still ahead of us and from what I can see, this hike is nowhere near over, and it’s about to get harder.  There are some portions of the trail that are easy – they’re either paved or are clearly-defined wooden pathways.  But there are many other parts that if you’re not paying close attention, you’d have no clue where you’re going and could end up lost.  Many of the rocky areas that we need to go up and over, and then down again, are narrow and slippery.

We finally complete the main section of the hike which dumps you out onto the beach, and of all the beautiful beaches I’ve seen on this trip – this one is by far my favorite.  Pictures don’t do it justice.

The sand is a perfect caramel color, soft and powdery.   To the right and left is endless water and large rock jedis with waves crashing against them.  The only sound I hear now is that heavenly rhythmic sound of the sea.  Directly in front of us are two masses of island-like land.  They also have hiking trails which lead you to the top.

The backdrop to all of this are tall green hillsides peppered with more rocks and sand dunes that climb into the sky.

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I can see the Fountain Shack now from where we’re standing.  I assume there’s just a cute little walkway leading from the beach up to its front door.  Wrong again.  As we make our way to the other side of the huge patch of beach, I can see, we’ll be climbing up and over a hillside, including more rocks.

I’m happy to say, about 15 minutes later, we find our way to the wooden walkway that leads us up to the porch.  We made it.  The Shack has just the basic amenities – no electricity, bunk beds with pillows, metal cutlery, running water, some folding camp chairs, a braai pit and outhouses – to which, the gate guard forgot to give us the keys.  When Nick discovers this shortly after our arrival, he informs me I’ll be peeing outside in the sand.  But not only did we not get the key for the outhouse, we also didn’t get the key to the chest with the blankets.  Oh well.  I’m sure as shit not walking back to get those keys!  I’ve already pondered if it’s possible to get an air lift out of here tomorrow.

We set up two camp chairs on the patio.  Next thing I know, about a half hour has passed and we’ve both been passed out cold.  There truly is nothing more peaceful and relaxing than salty air, a good dose of sunshine and an ocean.

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We still have about an hour before sunset so we head back out to the beach to explore the cliffs on the other side.  Nick brings his camera and takes pictures of everything along the way.  The initial walk up theses hillsides is a few steep sets of stairs, which turn into wooden walkways that wind and lead you to the top.  On the other side, is a sheer cliff with small tidal pools and caves at the bottom.

Up here, the wind is a lot more powerful than down below.  We find a bench on the other side to watch the setting sun.  Eventually we climb back down before it gets dark.

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Along the way, we pick up 3 sizeable logs for our braai.  Nick pokes and prods at them for hours while we chat by the fire.  We eventually grill our wors and sandwiches, and eat our dinner inside… complete with toilet paper for napkins.

The next morning, I’m up early – again – with the sun.  The rain has stopped so I go for a walk by myself on the beach.  I stand for quite a while on the last section of the stairs leading to the sand, scanning back and forth across the stretches of the ocean.  The sky and water is every shade of blue and grey one can imagine.  It looks like a painting, and I just want to take it all in.

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I finally take my shoes off and step into the cool, damp sand.  As I walk along the edges of the water, I’m aware there’s not a thought in my mind, other than my thoughts about this place, right here and now.  On any given day my mind is typically bombarded with ideas and worries, hopes and fears, and sometimes just random shit that’s quite frankly a useless waste of my time.   I seem to analyze everything to death, which on one hand is useful for the research and writing I do, but on the other, when it’s not useful, it’s not only distracting, I find it increasingly detrimental.  But not today.  I’m not sure how I’ve achieved this moment but I wish I could bottle it because I want more of them.  It’s something I plan to consciously work on in the year ahead.  Being outside in nature more frequently will no doubt help me get to that space.

Back to the now.  Nick has finally woken up so I ask the maid to make us some coffee.

One thing I’ve really grown to appreciate in the short time I’ve been here is that everybody has a maid to help them tend to their homes.  It’s not a luxury, it’s a staple, even for those families with small incomes.  The maids don’t make much in salary, but they do benefit from stable employment as well as a roof over their heads.  Some maids, if fortunate enough, are given their own homes.

Sea Breeze has been in business for about 8 years.  Prior to expanding and becoming a B&B, it was Erika’s private family home and this same maid has been with them since their kids were little babies – almost 15 years.  It’s touching to see the maid with Erika’s teenage son.  He laughs and jokes with her and tells me she’s like a second mom.  I can tell by the way she looks at him that she cares for this family deeply.

After Nick takes some photographs of the property we go down to the beach.  I’m more than happy to go for my second time that day.  Which, speaking of pictures, I have to mention – the photos I’m using in these blogs about South Africa are a mix of my amateur photos along with Nick’s stunning professional photography.  He’s got plenty more you can enjoy on both of his blogs – www.nickvanderleek.com and vdleek.blogspot.com

The clouds have dissipated and the sun’s peeking out.  We walk for a little bit then find a spot to just lay in the sand.  About a half hour later, the skies suddenly open up.  The initial sprinkling soon turns to sheets of rain.  By the time we make it back to the B&B just under ten minutes later, we’re completely drenched from head to toe.  But I could care less, it’s been years since I’ve walked in the pouring rain.  Note to self:  do it more often.

After a change into dry clothes it’s time to check out of Sea Breeze.  Our next stop is our last stop in Plett – the Plett River Lodge.   It’s another short drive up the Garden Route to the edge of the Bitou River.

We have a small cottage right on the water.  The first thing I notice as we pull up is an intricately carved wooden door surrounded by vibrant hot pink flowers.  Through the door on the right is a large patch of lavender.

The property is a perfect blend of rustic, yet landscaped, and the interiors, although not extravagant, are pleasantly elegant.  A short view in the distance from our cottage are old polo fields which have recently been converted into a winery.

Later that night, we have dinner at a popular, but very hard to find, Italian restaurant named Enrico.  It’s right on the beach, and a spectacular stretch of beach at that, but to get there you have to navigate through multiple residential neighborhoods.  After driving back and forth a few times, and cursing at the lack of signs, we finally find it.

For most of the week we’ve been pretty good about eating healthy, but tonight, we decide to let loose a little.  Along with beer and wine, we have calamari, oysters, a whole pizza and large plate of pasta.  Everything was delicious.  The owner, Patty, grew up in Italy and learned to cook there, but relocated to South Africa several years ago and seems thoroughly happy in her surroundings.  I can understand why.

Our last morning at Fynbos is too overcast for coffee on the patio.  Instead, I spend the morning packing and we say goodbye to Liz and the pigs.  Our next stop is also in Plett at another B&B called Sea Breeze, owned by Erika and her husband, which is only about 15 minutes away.

Just across the street from their property is a path that leads down to the beach.  It’s a series of wooden walkways that slice through the tall bushes and trees.  When you emerge at the end, there’s a spectacular view of Robberg in the distance.

We only visit the beach briefly that night because the clouds are fairly ominous.  We head out to a local restaurant called Off the Hook.  It’s a perfect night for creamy mussel soup and coffee.

When we leave the restaurant, it’s dark out but still light enough to see around us thanks to the lights from the surrounding businesses.   As we walk, I can see a shadow off to my left.  I’m aware there’s a person walking not far behind us but just assume it’s another patron heading to their car.  Soon after, I realize it’s not, it’s someone following us.  Nick seems calm but me, not so much.  I ask him to hurry up and open the door, but the man has already arrived at our car.  Without saying a word, Nick reaches into his pocket and gives him some money.  The man takes it and walks away.  It’s a pretty tense moment for me, but one that Nick’s gotten used to over the years.

He tells me it’s very common for people to expect “tips” even if they’re doing nothing to earn them.  One place you’ll always see these beggars (for lack of a better word) are parking lots.   Some wear special vests to make themselves stand out, while others wear street clothes, and they’ll help direct you to your spot.  It seems pretty silly because in most lots you don’t need any help parking, but here it’s common knowledge that the guy who helps you park will also keep an eye on your car.  The tip you give him/her is a thank you in return for being your security guard while you’re off doing whatever you came to do.

I’m not sure it’s common knowledge, at least not in America, that the unemployment rate in South Africa is reported as 25%.  In actuality, according to most locals, it’s higher than that.  So one can certainly understand and be somewhat sympathetic to people asking for hand-outs.  The fact that some are at least trying to do some type of work in return is respectable.  The problem is [and this is not unique to South Africa], you don’t know what you’re gonna get when a stranger approaches you.  Will they simply take a hand-out or will they take all of your money, your car, or worse, maybe even take you, or kill you?  Nick tells me that sadly it’s not unusual for any combination of those things to happen here.  It’s a scary reality which reinforces the need to not be walking around too often in the open, especially not at night.  For the most part, I feel somewhat safe here.  I’m not in a panic every moment of the day.  But I am extra careful and extra aware that every house is surrounded by razor wire and has panic buttons for a reason.  It’s South African way of life now and in that respect, it’s very different than the States.

When we get back to Sea Breeze we spend some time out on the covered patio.  Even though the weather is miserable the lounge area is toasty from the fire.  Meanwhile, the rain comes down in buckets.

 

It’s our last full day at Fynbos and I wake up early. Somehow over the past few months I seem to have become a morning person.  Problem is, I’m also a night person, which doesn’t leave much time for sleep.   There’s something about the solitude of morning I’m learning to enjoy.   I decide to take a longer walk today.2015-11-19 08.11.11

I head up past the main house and out to the road and then back.  As I pass by the front gates, I can hear the occasional scream-like squawk from behind the treeline.  When we first arrived at Fynbos I assumed those screams were from monkeys but it turns out they’re peacocks that live on the property next door.  Normally, sounds like that would be unnerving, but in the past week I’ve gotten used to [and kinda like] all of these new sounds as well as the random unidentified rustling in the bushes.

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When I get back, we have breakfast at a nearby café called Heath.  Then we stop to pick up more groceries since tonight I’m making my homemade pasta sauce.

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While out and about this week, I took some photos in the grocery store to show you what food looks like and how much it costs in South Africa.  At the time of writing, the conversion rate of Rand to Dollar is 15.3.  To put it into simpler terms, each 1 Rand [ZAR] is the equivalent of .65 USD.  Needless to say, the dollar stretches a long way right now in these parts, especially when you take into consideration the lower cost of living.  Here are some popular grocery items and what they cost in Rand & USD:

Strawberries – 29.99 ZAR = $1.96

Basil – $7.99 ZAR = $0.52

Tomatoes – 12.99 ZAR = $0.84

Green onions – 8.99 ZAR = $0.58

Lettuce – 11.99 ZAR = $0.78

(Decent) wine – 55.99 ZAR = $3.66

(Decent) steak – 55.43 ZAR = $3.62

Loaf white bread – 12.99 ZAR = $0.84

1/2 dozen eggs – 14.99 ZAR = $0.98

1 liter milk – 12.99 ZAR = $0.84

Cheddar cheese block – 20.40 ZAR = $1.33

Can of soda – 7.50 ZAR = $0.49

Chocolate bar – 8.99 to 14.99 ZAR = $0.58 to $0.98

Cheeseburger – 50.00 ZAR = $3.27

Cup of coffee – 16.00 ZAR = $1.04

To give South Africans an idea of how cheap that is, on a recent shopping trip for similar items I spent $12.80 for a steak, $14.99 for a bottle of wine, $2.99 for a container of tomatoes, $4.99 for cheese and $3.99 for milk.

After shopping and a brief stop at the beach, we return to the cottage. I spend the rest of the afternoon editing K I I out on the main patio of the B&B.  As I try to concentrate, I’m distracted by Riley, the pig, who’s trampling loudly nearby in the bushes.

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Our evening ends with another fire and the beginning of the latest Bond film, Spectre.  I say beginning because we both fell asleep within the first 30 minutes.  It would take us 3 days of watching and falling asleep to finally get to the end.

Today’s our third day at Fynbos and Nick spends most of the day wrapping up his solo, and second, book on mountaineering titled, K I I.

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It’s been a busy year.  In addition to writing books, Nick and I have also been making a series of videos for YouTube called Interrogating Oscar.  These videos are homemade, raw snapshots of our lives as we research and write about Oscar Pistorius.   Some episodes are strictly about the murder and the trial, while others are much more personal, providing insight into our own trials and tribulations as we grow both personally and professionally throughout this process.

One of our longer term goals is to make professionally produced documentaries to complement our books.  Why?  Well, it’s never been about getting rich.  Trust me, if it were, we’d be failing. Of course, we want to be successful and with that eventually comes money.  We’re no different than anybody else working hard at a career and wanting to reap the benefits.  One of the primary reasons for documentaries is we want a larger platform from which we can reach more people.  Also, as much as we love writing, we’re not limited to that as far as our interests are concerned.  We also love bringing stories to life in visuals.  Nick’s a photographer, I’m a blogger, and we’re both movie junkies.  I also enjoy narration and have become pretty decent at it over the last year.  Add all of that together, and our desire to have our stories on the bigger screen makes sense.

Because this work is so personal to us, Nick and I have an unofficial pact to honor what we’ve built by finding the right partners who understand us and our vision.  The ride to get there, let’s just say, has been… interesting.  We’ve definitely met some doozies.

One of my favorites [insert eyeroll] from early on was an executive from New York and I had the pleasure of being his primary contact. The first time I talked to him on the phone he confessed he was several sakes in and not exactly mentally clear.  He also told me, in glorious detail, about his last failed relationship and their sexual escapades.   This guy’s masterful use of the word fuck made me seem like a girl scout, which for those who know me, is a stretch.  I gotta admit, he was amusing for a bit.  But cooler heads prevailed and we soon parted ways with the Charlie Sheen wannabe.

I won’t tell you about all the others in between, but the latest potential executive is a guy from South Africa.  We’ve been communicating back and forth with him for the better part of two weeks.  Initially, the proposal seemed interesting but needed some negotiating.  After a few go arounds, we realized, he was trying to get us to agree to much more than we were comfortable with.  So, today we told him no thanks but neither one of us is particularly crushed.  Now that we’ve been around this block a few times, I think we understand how this process works and we’re prepared to keep at it for the long haul.

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Later in the day, as Nick’s napping, I treat myself to a bubble bath and some much needed pampering.

That pampering comes to an abrupt halt when I step into the bedroom, then stop dead in my tracks.  There’s a spider the size of my hand up near the ceiling.  I can’t believe my eyes; I’m literally frozen in horror.  I’ve never seen anything that freaking huge before.  I absolutely despise spiders and this is the King Kong of all spiders [at least until the others I saw later on the trip.]

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There’s no way in hell I can get this thing off the wall without having a heart attack.  There’s only one option – Nick has to get his ass up.  I go into the living room and make just enough noise to get him stirring.  As soon as he does, I tell him about the spider and beg him to kill it.  Kill it, kill it now, don’t let it get away!!!  In the typical annoyed male fashion, he gets up and grumbles while he looks for the broom.  Unlike me, Nick’s not a serial killer of spiders.  He pardons them and sets them free in the wild.  Unhappily accepting that the spider will live, I helpfully suggest that he fling it as far as he can over the other side of the mountain.

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Once the monster is out of the house, and I shake off the heebie jeebies, we light a fire and watch Dumb and Dumber on TV.  Yes, Pistorians, that’s right, Nick and I watched Dumb & Dumber.  I’ll patiently await your charming comments on this post.

Tomorrow I’ll edit Nick’s latest writing and get it uploaded to Amazon… and then the road trip continues…

After a year of hard work and many late, sleep deprived nights, it’s nice to enjoy some peaceful [and coherent] morning time.  Right here, in this moment at Fynbos, I’m completely relaxed.  No phone, no TV, no outside world.  It’s 7am, the sun is peeking behind cotton ball clouds and the air is chilly, somewhere around 65F.  South Africans go by Celsius, so approximately 18C in their terms.   It’s just me, my coffee and the birds.  Fynbos has tons of different birds and listening with no distractions you can pick up on how they communicate with each other.

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Two hours later, the sun is full in the sky.  The temperature has easily risen 15 or so degrees.  The South African sun is strong, even more so than what I’m used to in California.  Already I can feel my arms starting to bake but that doesn’t scare me away from a swim.

A short walk through a wooded pathway leads you to the pool that overlooks a spectacular view of the mountains.  It’s 360 degrees of lush flora.  It’s totally secluded up here and sort of feels like a fairy tale.  Happy to have the place to myself, I spent the next two hours lounging and dipping in the turquoise water.

Nick and I have been craving some good seafood so in the afternoon we head over to Robberg Fine Foods.  We pick out 12 crayfish tails (South Africa’s version of lobster but smaller), Snook fish, shrimp, and all the necessary fixings from yummy local butter to a fresh garlic bulb.  And of course several more bottles of our new favorite Sauvignon Blanc.

Now to give you an idea of local currency and how much you can get for your American dollar right now – everything we bought cost approximately 900 rand.  Thats $65 dollars.  Pretty incredible, right?!  Needless to say, we’ve been eating and drinking like kings.

 

 

 

 

After breakfast at Oakhurst, we drive on the N2 towards Plettenberg Bay.  As we get closer we can see views of the ocean off to our right.  Dozens of hang gliders jump off the cliff and float in the air.

We stop at the local Spar (grocery store) to stock up on some groceries for our cottage.

I’m pretty blown away by the amount of squatter camps in the area.  A sad reminder, despite the breathtaking scenery, that South Africa suffers from staggering poverty.  They have government housing, which is basically a house the size of a tool shed given to people who can’t afford a home, for free.  Then there are the camps where people make homes out of whatever they can patch together.  These “squatters” can be seen at all hours roaming around, often walking in the middle of the street.

But like many places, there’s always another side to the train tracks.  Just down the street are areas of extraordinary beauty.

One of my favorite spots so far has been Gericke Pointe in Sedgefield.   As soon as we parked, I literally jumped out of the car and hopped in the sand.  It’s that perfect white-beige color, powdery and warm.  The kind you can’t resist sticking your toes in or just laying on all day.

Both of us were so eager to check out the beach that we kinda forgot our belongings were in plain view in our car.  It didn’t dawn on us until much further down the beach.  At that point, we figured screw it, if they’re gonna take our stuff we mine as well enjoy the beach.

Nick ran ahead and took pics from the top of the rock at the point.  I splashed in the water and soaked up some rays.

Afterwards, we continued our drive and arrived at Fynbos Ridge around mid-day.  It’s truly a spectacular place where you feel completely at home.  Liz and Brian Phillips are the owners and they fawn over their guests.  Sparing no details, we arrive to fresh flowers, cookies and wine.  Our cottage has a patio and yard with views for miles.

We spend the first night braaing the meat we bought on the way.

 

 

This morning we began our trip to Plettenberg Bay. It takes roughly 8 hours to get there from Bloem. After some lackluster customer service at the rental car place, we head out onto the N1 for our drive.

It’s unnerving getting used to people driving on the opposite side of the road. The worst is when you’re turning or making your way around a traffic circle. To me, it feels like a crazy game of Frogger. People going every which way, jockeying for an open lane. Any fleeting thoughts I had of helping with the drive were quickly squashed. Nick and I agreed, he’ll be my chauffer while I’m here.

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The weather today is warm, but more comfortable than yesterday. Sunny and windy with lots of puffy clouds. The first few hours of our drive we go through Edenburg and Colesberg. The landscape up to this point remains fairly unchanged. Dry, golden land with little substantial vegetation.

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We see mini funnels kicking up the sand in the distance. The land is mostly flat but the horizon is framed with smallish mountains from every angle. The shadowy hills have an eggplant colored hue. Even though I live in California, which has similarities in climate – namely the lack of humidity and the persistent drought – the dryness of South Africa is unmatched to what I’m used to. I’ve felt it in my sinuses from the minute I stepped out of the airport and I can certainly feel it now out in this mid-day sun.

As we continue down the N1 the surroundings eventually start to change. Little by little you’ll notice everything seems a little bit greener. As the coast inches closer, life feels a little more vibrant. But before we get there we come upon a few reminders of the harshness of this road.  Children living in the squatter camp across the street play soccer along the edge of the highway.  This, essentially, is their backyard.  And, between Hanover and Richmond, a man has rolled his car.

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One can imagine how at high speeds and with a lack of policing, one can easily get hurt along this stretch of road. The car is laying almost completely upside down. The man was trapped inside, still conscious but hurt. A small group of people had gathered around the car. When Nick approached them they said they had called for help. Seeing the camera in his hand, they also told Nick to leave. It had a hinky factor as if they had something to hide.

I asked Nick what an average response time for help would be out here. He said it would likely take an hour, possibly more. During the Oscar trial, the response time of an ambulance was an issue as Oscar claimed that was the reason he moved Reeva from the bathroom.  He claims he was told by the ambulance dispatcher he shouldn’t wait.  In reality, the ambulance showed up at his house in approximately 15-20 minutes after the calls. Interesting that even though the man in this car was hurt, nobody moved him. They decided it was best to wait for help.

It’s become apparent to me over the last few days that South Africa definitely moves at a slower pace. If you need to rely on others to get something done, you will likely be waiting a lot longer than you’d like to.

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Right around Richmond is the beginning of the Karoo. We stopped to pick up some meat for our braai. One of Nick’s favorites, and now mine, are the lamb chops sold at Travalia. It’s a farm store located about 70 km from Beaufort West.

At this point in the drive you connect with the N12 and head south to George. We were running later than expected after several stops to take pictures. We decided to grab some dinner around 9pm and call Homtini. Even though Nick’s stayed there before, and they were expecting us that night, the owner said he was getting ready for bed. We told him we’d be there in no more than 2 hours to which he replied he didn’t want to be woken up. He told us to find another place to stay. Nice service, right?!

There are many bed and breakfasts and tented campsites owned by private individuals in this area. And although they don’t have the full staff of a hotel, they still need to take care of their visitors. How do you tell a guest at 9pm on a Sunday to take a hike?

It all worked out well though; we ended up staying in George at a place called the Oakhurst Hotel.

It was a lovely little property tended to by a friendly and helpful staff. Tomorrow morning we’ll drive the remaining hour to Plett.

Saturday begins with a visit to Naval Hill for Park Run.  Naval Hill is situated in the middle of a game park.  It has a 5K loop with sweeping views of the city. After being cooped up on planes and in airports for two days, it was good to stretch and enjoy some fresh air.

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Our peaceful morning exercise wasn’t totally without drama.  Nick, who was running ahead, almost ran straight into a herd of animals crossing the running route.  One of the zebras charged head first into a fence.  Nick and a group of runners watched as the animal struggled to breath. By the time help arrived, the zebra sadly passed away. When I caught up, it was shocking to see this beautiful animal lying dead.

Park Run started a few years ago as a smaller event with approximately 250 people participating every week.  But as the event has more than doubled, it’s drawing the animals out of their natural habitat and causing a dangerous situation for both the animals and the runners.  It’s a situation Nick hopes to influence the organizers to resolve.  I’m happy to say the afternoon ended with a much more joyful interaction with wildlife.

After our run, we had grilled wors (sausage) made by local college students who manage a small tent outside one of the shopping centers.  We also had coffee with Nick’s friend Linda who’s an archivist for the Oliewenhuis Art Museum.

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Later in the day we packed a picnic lunch and headed over to the van der Leek family farm, which is about 30 minutes outside of Bloemfontein.  There are four zebras that live on the property.  One of the zebras is currently pregnant.

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The youngest zebra, a male, seems to think he’s a dog.  He follows Mr. van der Leek loyally around the farm.

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Some of the other animals living there are springbok, blesbok, wildabeast and ostriches.

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Aside from the wildlife, the farmland itself is  magical. The weeping willow lined lake and hilly pathways seem to glow underneath the baking South African sun. Old barns and utility sheds are sprinkled throughout the property.  They stand unused today but appear rich with memory. It’s the type of place that evokes your own childhood dreams.

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