Friday, June 17, 2011

World Cup & South Africa – Part 2 – Port Elizabeth and Garden Route

Click here to read the first part or our experiences in Johannesburg and watching the World Cup Match
24th June 2010: Port Elizabeth (PE) is an elegant town and Airport was no different, we landed there by around 7:30 PM and moved to the Car hire session where we got the keys to Renault Logan from a beautiful young lady called Calliandra who worked for Tempest. I Should say we were lucky to a get this car as we definetly needed the extra space inside the car as well as in the boot to accommodate our entire luggage. It was decided that Jeff would be the main driver and Keith would be co-driver, Kieth’s size and Jeff’s enthusiasm easily burying other options. I was happy as it gave me the liberty to enjoy the beautiful scenery, have small bursts of dream and also have the occasional drink or two without worrying too much. The short drive of 15-20 minutes from the Airport was serene, giving the right picture about the peaceful and quite town, although we managed to lose the way atleast on one occasion. We were staying in a place quite close to the beach called, Kings Beach Backpackers on Winderemere Road, 2 blocks from the Marine Drive Road. We had small walk in the quite surrounding and located Mc Donalds near by, we had a light snacks before packing some necessary items from the cash and carry. We went back to Kings Beach and had couple of pints of beer in the small but cute bar counter outside the Backpackers, if I remember correctly with some barbecued meat.

25th June 2010: We decided to get up early and go to Seaview Lions Park. I should say I was a little skeptical whether our Singapore friends would arise so early, despite Jeffs caution; to my pleasant surprise they actually were ready even before Jeff and I. And I should say they surprised us by their descipline and team spirit every day from then and I should mention that for young people still in their early twenties they were very well organised and acted with a lot of maturity.
The drive to Seaview Lion Park which was about 35 kilometres was sheer pleasure, the roads were good and there was almost no traffic all the way. We also travelled along the coast line for some distance and got the chance to get down from the car and take a couple of pictures in of the beaches along the way.

The park ( is actually a small hill, atleast a couple of kilometres from the Sea, but definetly had one of the best views of the Sea as it was at considerable height 200-300 metres above sea level. As soon as we entered to the Park territory we were greeted by a few Giraffes, Majestically walking along our path and a couple of them actually accompanied us for while, making it difficult for us to go past without scaring them, on the narrow road.

We also saw few Zebras before stopping near the Lion enclosures. The Lion enclosures are unique in the sense these are large areas surrounded by fences, and there are narrow paths around them where we can walk and see them. There were lots of lions in there, some with beautiful manes, giving life to all our imaginations about the majestic creatures, making us realise exactly why they are refered as the King of the Jungle.

This is one of the rare places where we get to play with Lion and Tiger cubs, and we were told that we should be lucky as it all depended on the mood of the cubs when we were there. Lucky we definetly were, as we all got to play with the Lion cubs. It was an amazing feeling to touch these cute cubs, imagining and respecting how strong and fearsome they will become in few months. And although they were only about a month old and very little, they often tried to nible at your clothes, and tried to scratch with their cute tiny paws. Those 10-15 minutes with them was bliss, giving us beautiful memories to be cherished forever.

Jeff and Keith also got to be with the Tiger cubs which were 4-5 months old, rest of us avoiding it as the cubs were quite large and definetly did not look like they can be played with. I should admit that I was a little embarassed when we saw a lady playing with a full grown lioness. They have a beautiful restaurant on top with an amazing view of the hills below and the surrounding Tiger and Lion enclosures.

Our next destination was Addo Elephant National Park ( one of the best national parks according to our research for game viewing, we had already booked our stay there along with two Safari rides. The beautiful drive to Addo was dirturbed by the realisation that our tom-tom (GPS Navigator) was a faulty one; we called the travel guys and were told that they will come to Addo and replace the same for us, which they actually did by the same evening. We reached Addo by 2:30, had lunch and after confirming booking for the Sunset Safari went to our cottages, Jeff and I were in one cottage about 300 metres from the cottage where Farhan, Keith and Diana stayed. Our cottage was real beauty, with a small open balcony, overlooking a water hole (where we saw a Fox the following morning) separated only by an electrified fence.

We all gathered back by 4:00 to start the sunset Safari, called the Sundowner, we were 8 of us including the driver, in the large sized vehicle. Soon we were driving through small hills, open fields having grass and shrubs as the main vegetation. We spotted a few wild beasts, Ostriches and herds of Elephants, we realised why this park got its name as there were lot of elephants in this place and they could be seen freeling moving in small and large herds. This park has the largest density of Elephants in the whole world.

Then we entered through a gate to a large secluded area, and after driving for while we spotted 2 two majestic lions relaxing under the evening sun, 20-30 metres from our path, our hearts skipped a beat or two when the driver slowly reversed the vehicle through the grass between the shrubs, and stopped within about 10 metres from the Lions, we soon became quite comfortable as we realised that Lions were not too much bothered by our intrusion. We silently exchanged places and took a few pictures with the two beauties in the backdrop. It was an amazing to see these animals in their natural habitat, with the soft rays of Sun and the hills in the background adding color and beauty to the enthralling sight.

Our driver soon stopped the Vehicle in betweeen a large open field right in the middle of the park for us to down a few drinks. The snack of dried exquisite meat like Ostrich and beef along with flavoured African special beers were relished in the beautiful backdrop of the surrounding hills, with the setting sun and cold breeze providing the perfect setting for a memorable experience.

We returned to our tent and the setting was so beautiful that we could not resist the temptation to drink the Lamb’s Rum, soon Farhan also joined us and gave me all the reason to continue drinking, Jeff stopped after while probably to ensure that atleast one of us were in our senses.

I remember seeing the match in the Fan Square, the common gathering place and enjoying every moment of it. In my high spirits and contentment, I was talking to almost everyother person including children from different countries, we met in the restaurant and so occupied was I with my discussions that I actually did not find time to eat my dinner. I should confess that I only vaguely remember when and how I returned to the tent and slept.

26th June 2010: We were up early in the morning and it was very cold, and we were almost shivering on our way to and from the bathrooms, which were outside the tent. The morning Safari was less entertaining as it was chilly and the breeze was not making it any easier, we did not see too many animals, except for a few Ostrich and meerkats, not even the elephants as they were standing behind the large bushes to escape the cold, according to the driver. But soon things changed, probably brought on by the beautiful sunrise, as we drove around a hill we suddenly realised that we were amidst 50 to 70 elephants, some so close that we felt we could just stand and stretch our hands to touch them, many of them only partly visible behind the bushes. I should admit we were a little fazed by their near proximity but took heart in the fact that there were many other vehicles near by and it took just a minute for us to regain our composure and enjoy the rare and delightful experience. We also saw a couple of Lions along our path and the interesting scene of a Lion marking its territory.

It was about 9:30 AM when we started for the Tsitsikamma, we travelled mainly on the N2 Highway and it was impossible after seeing the Kabeljaus lagoon (close to Jeffers Bay) not to take diversion and enter the Kabeljaus beach. This beach was an absolute beauty, with endless sand at the mouth of the lagoon, the backdrop of hills and the artistically built houses on the slopes providing for some exceptional secenary, etching memories which are likely to stand the test of time. We enjoyed playing like small children, taking pictures with different postures and style, some even daring to remove their shirts, all in an attempt to cature the magnificence of the place and feeling of bliss we shared. On our way back from here to Jeffrey’s Bay, we saw an interesting and simple street market; we also stopped at another beautiful beach on the way.

We reached the storms river village in tsitsikamma by around 3:30 PM, we directly went to Tsitsikamma falls adventures office as we wanted to do the zipline tour across the kruis river. I remember when we reached there it was overcast with some drizzle and the place looked beautiful. We soon purchased the tickets which cost us about 500 Rands or 3000 INR including the tickets for abseiling, and individual photographs and videos.

The Zipline tour, is basically sliding from point to another by being suspended from a ‘line’ or “cable’ usually made of metal. We got the instructions from two wonderful native guides, one of them was really friendly and talkative, I can never forget his favourite way of calling us ‘as my brother from a different mother’ in his distinct South African accent.We were a group of about 9, Keith opting out as he had fear of hieghts.

Here you will have 6-8 slides taking you zigzagging across the river gorge above 3 small water falls, the first two slides are small allowing you to get a feel of things, all the slides except the last one is down the river. The last slide is the longest, for which we have to climb to a platform at height of above 50 meters, and slide the entire distance we covered in the last 7 slides, covering a distance of about 211 meters at height of above 50 metres across the picturesque gorge with magnificent views. This was an awesome activity and we were completely thrilled by the experience. We also managed to do the gravity zone abseiling, which is going down vertically being suspended only by the ‘line’ or ‘cable’ from height of about 30 metres to the foot of a small waterfall. We were tired after nearly 3 hours exhilarating action and headed straight to
The Tube ’n Axe Backpackers lodge ( ) where we had booked for the overnight stay. This place gives you a very homely atmosphere and is peaceful, atleast till the start of the football match in TV, like most of the lodges in this part of the World. If my memory serves me well this is the place where Diana prepared noodles for our dinner, and I was helping her by just being around. Soon the match started and we started our little booze session near the beautiful bar counter watching the football match between Ghana and USA. I was a little tired from previous nights drink session and also from the zipline activities in the day and retired to bed after the match, but Jeff encouraged by the victory of Ghana (he had bet a sizeable amount on this team), became his usual self and celebrated till early hours of the next day, along with Farhan and Keith.

27th June 2010: This was the big day, for Diana, Farhan and I, as we had planned to do the ‘Bungee Jump’ from the World’s tallest Bungee Bridge (Jeff opting out as he had already had sky dived a few months back)and the highest single span concrete arch bridge in the world called Bloukrans, at height of 216 meters. We were near the bridge by 9 AM and were in the slotted in the second batch for the jump by the Face Adrenaline team. I could make out that Diana and Farhan was a little apprehensive waiting for the jump, and they asked me how come I was so cheerful, I was not worried at all, this was something which I always wanted to do and my excitement ensured that I had absolutely no room for fear.

The platform from where you jump, is right at the centre and below the bridge, and the walk to the bridge along specially designed catwalk (should be called cagewalk) below the bridge, can be little intimidating before the jump, giving clear idea of the height and view of the river below though the opening in the metal cage on which you are walking. I was the first in our gang to jump and what an experience it was! I should say it is breathtaking feeling to stand at the edge of the platform looking down to the river 216 meters below just before the jump.
The jump was spectacular, soaring down with my arms outstretched, sensing the encredible gravitational pull as well the as the weightlessness caused by the flying feeling, and quickly seeing and sensing the river/land closing in on me very rapidly, and immediately being tossed up to nearly 60% of the original height due to the recoil of the bungee rope, just like flying, giving an incredible sensation, I kept saying 'I did it' repeatedly keeping a closed fist, for the next minute or two I would fall and be tossed up multiple times till I was pulled up by a guide, who came down using another rope with the help of a motorised pulley. And I should confess there was few seconds when I was suspended freely after the jump, when I was a little worried with the feeling that my legs were slipping out of the harness, but I soon realised it was just my feeling. The astounding few minutes with different elating sensations was a feeling of pure bliss and can not be expressed by mere words. I was as excited after the Jump as I was before it, making one of the jumpers Mohammed, who stayed in our same lodge remark that I was not a human as I had no fear at all. It was very nice to share the feeling with Diana and Farhan, which by just holding our hands together, conveyed and shared the triumph more than words could ever do.

We had a quick brunch and went to Knysna, a marvelous place with numerous spectacular views. We went to the Fan Square, the public World Cup viewing area in thesen harbour town to see the match between Germany and England. It was nice and different experience to watch the match in the Fan Square, but I should mention that crowd here is much disciplined and as expected it was uneventful. The place though was an absolute beauty and we took time enjoy the spectacular view of the sea and strikingly different buildings. The surroundings here are so serene even with the World Cup, imagine what it would be on other regular days.

We soon headed to our destination for the day the Outeniqua Lodge ( ) in George, again a private and homely place with a beautiful swimming pool. This is the first place we had to use codes to access the main gate for entering the Lodge driving your car. We went out to have dinner in a near by restaurant, had a delightful meal watching the match, being served by a courteous and friendly waiter and returned back to the Lodge, some of us continued watching the match along with a guest of the Lodge and others chose to browse the internet and check their emails.

28th June 2010: This was the special day for Jeff as he was planning to do something called as Kloofing, so we headed straight to the Eden Adventures located in the midst of Wilderness National Park. Kloofing is usually a summer activity, where you wear wetsuit, go boulder hoping, swimming down narrow canyons with optional jumps of the cliffs to the colored water below (designed for the ones like Jeff). The rest of us did not feel like doing it because the water was really cold, nearly freezing and we were not ready for another adventure after the Bungee Jump the previous day.

We decided to hire canoe and peddle around the beautiful stream in the wilderness area. The river and the surrounding was extremely gorgeous with the soft rays of the morning sun adding to the beauty and also filling us with the much needed warmth from the chilly wind, on this exceptionally pleasant and beautiful morning. Keith and I, were in one canoe and enjoyed the experience of synchronised rowing, which was the only way we could move in the direction we wanted, and the company of Diana and Farhan in the other canoe. We then went to the wilderness beach for quick visit and went to the near by Victoria bay as we waited for Jeff to finish his kloofing.

Victoria bay is small cove with a few palm trees and is popular beach for surfers and there is walking path along the right of the beach with beautiful dwellings on one side, which will take you to small bridge/path a few metres into the sea ending with a good viewpoint. This place I guess is quite famous for Icecreams as I could see lot of Ice Cream parlours, and we also gave way to the temptation.

We were soon joined by a very tired looking but visibly happy Jeff, and we set out to see the Birds of Eden Sanctuary near plattenberg bay, The Birds of Eden is an enormous two hectare dome spanning a gorge filled with green indigenous forest. With in which there are some 100 species of incredible birds, a few of them endangered. There is a wooden walkway to lead you through the beautiful place, over a river and behind a waterfall which are all part of the sanctuary. I should confess though I did not find any thing spectacular here and do not even remember most of the things I saw in this place.

Jeff alone went see the monkeyland, which is basically guided tour on an eco friendly trail which allows you to see the free roaming monkeys in their natural habitat and Jeff looked rather thrilled by seeing the different types of monkeys and possibly their antics. We spent time waiting for Jeff having few pints of beer in the near by restaurant. Near this place there was also a beautiful pearl white goat/sheep with a very distinctive and large horn which attrated lot of visitors. There was also a handicraft’s shop which sold the work of indigenous Africans in this part of the World.

Then we drove to the Congo caves and realised on the way that we were late and decided to spend time visiting an ostrich farm, we had delicious ostrich meat from the open restaurant in the farm. The ostrich meat tastes quite similar to Beef, perhaps a little more hard but is considered very healthy because of the low fat content. It was a nice experience to see these huge birds from very close quarters, seemingly completely at peace with surrounding, probably unware of their size and great strength. We also saw a strawberry farm, had some fresh strawberries and also saw the precessing of strawberry Jams if my memory serves me right.

On the way back to Outeniqua Lodge we made a very important decision to start our travel to Cape Town by 4 in the morning, initial plan was to start by 9:00 AM and reach Capetown in time to see the match in the evening. By starting at 4:00 we could reach Capetown by 10:00 and had the option of seeing the Cape of Good Hope and also visit the Boulders Bay. We did manage to start at 4:00 in the morning, Jeff and I engaged ourselves in light conversation till daybreak to ensure that we were awake. I should say that the conversation was really good I got an understanding about Jeff’s lifestyle and his views on his life and experience in the last 6-7 years. I never realised how outdated I was, after all it is not everyday that we have time to discuss about our personal lives, the fact that he stayed in Ireland and me in India not helping the cause a bit. We took a small break at a filling station; we had tea/coffee with some quick take away snacks. We soon were witnesses to some of the most wonderful landscape, the sunrise adding final touches to the already beautiful portrait, we found it irrestitable to stop, get down and take a few pictures. The scenery on the entire stretch is exceptional and the roads were in excellent condition all the way, making sure the comparatively long travel was a great enjoyment.

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