Archive 2008 - 2019

Semester in Cape Town: Part 11 A

by Bella Tobin

 My friends Alyssa, Alicia and I started planning our road trip about a month ago.

We investigated backpackers (hostels) and car rentals. It is difficult to rent an automatic as the locals all use stick shifts, so we decided to travel by train, leaving on Saturday morning. 

Stellenbosch was the destination. It is a college town on the outskirts of Cape Town, about an hour's train ride away, surrounded by vineyards and wineries, and is home to South Africa’s most famous wines. We stayed at a small hostel, the Stumble Inn, and in the morning went on a wine tour that was offered through the hostel. That brought us to tastings at four different wineries in the town. It was just the three of us on the tour and a young, friendly German couple who were graduate students exploring South Africa. The wineries offered a unique atmosphere and distinctive wines and cheeses, a truly great and unusual experience.

Later in the day we received a call from our friend Christian, a student who is from South Africa. He asked if he could join us. We welcomed him and he had a car which made things easier. The four of us continued our journey.

We decided that Port Elizabeth might a little too ambitious for a one-day drive. Christian had a friend from school who lived on a farm outside the city, in a town called Cradock. He called his friend, Breddell, and he and his mother invited us to be their guests. We began our trip in the morning while it was still dark and we saw several sunrises. Since Cape Town is so mountainous, the sun would come up over one mountain, and be behind many others as we drove through. It was a majestic series of pink sunrises over the rolling green mountains.

Once out of Cape Town it was a very long drive through the Karoo, which means ‘land of thirst,’ miles and miles (kilometers and kilometers) of dry, barren land, with the occasional pack of sheep or goats. 

Fortunately Christian was with us as everyone spoke Afrikaans. Gas station attendants would have immediately targeted us as American tourists. Christian's native tongue is Afrikaans, so everything went smoothly.

We were expecting a small farm, with maybe a few animals but this farm was enormous, and the house was like a palace . We brought flowers for Mrs. Michau, and she welcomed us warmly to her home, The house was old and rustic, but very well maintained and decorated elegantly. The kitchen was very homey, with a huge old wooden table, that didn’t have chairs around it. I understood why when I saw the dining room; it was something like a movie setting. The home was so elegant and beautiful we felt as if were in the presence of royalty. Breddell gave us a tour of the farm, which was full of sheep and goats and an emu. The land was very extensive, and there were horses too. Behind the house and barns were houses for the families of the farm workers. We then went outside to the patio couches to enjoy homemade organic iced tea and jerky made from an animal hunted by one of the family members. Mr. Michau came out to say hi but the family doesn’t often speak English and they felt awkward speaking English to each other. Mr. and Mrs. Michau were very helpful and gave us many suggestions where to go and what was not worth visiting.

 In the morning we enjoyed real coffee on the patio in the sunshine while planning the route to East London. We had a traditional South African breakfast of pap, or mealy-meal, with milk, butter, and sugar. It’s a bit like oatmeal only made of corn. We said our goodbyes and got on the road around 10:30.

Heading to East London we stopped in Grahamstown which is an historical college town a little north of Port Elizabeth. It is home to Rhodes University, a town full of old buildings and churches. We walked up to Rhodes University and toured the campus, which Alyssa and Alicia said was similar to their home universities, Lehigh and Bates. 

The drive to East London was beautiful, with vast sheep, cow and game farms and rolling mountains in the background. We made it to East London mid-afternoon, and found our backpacker. We had reservations at a place called Santa Paloma Guest Farm which we assumed was a small farm.. We came to the gate and once inside we were greeted by a pack of zebras on the driveway. 

We drove down the long dirt driveway and came to a few small houses surrounded by woods and a large field. We parked and met a young friendly girl named Nadia, one of the owners. She showed us to our room, which was the nicest room we have ever had at a hostel. We chatted with the owners, played with their puppy, and took a dip in the pool.

While taking a dip in the infinity pool, a pack of zebras came right beside the pool to graze. Behind the zebras a pack of impala were grazing. We relaxed by the pool and enjoyed nature.

The next day we walked the trails of the reserve and ended up wading through a few rivers, but it was worth it as we saw wildebeests, more impala, zebras, and waterbuck.  

We headed to Coffee Bay, about a four-hour drive on a treacherous road with potholes that were more like ditches. And there were children playing chicken, random animals, and crazy minibus drivers. It was also very interesting as the Wild Coast is very primitive and under developed, a different world. This was the main road and only road, with no other cars.

The homes were all circular and a light aqua or teal color, made of clay with straw roofs. There were no walkways leading up to the homes, and the women carried things on their heads -- not just small things but long sticks, probably longer than they were tall, as 10 of them somehow balanced on their heads. The sheep and goats roaming around were marked with paint or dye to make them distinctive. We were not sure if these people used money, as it seemed more of a self-sustained community.  

We were afraid we might get a flat tire from the potholes as we did not know how to change a tire and thought if we stopped we could have everything we had with us stolen. (When I get home, I must ask Dad to show me how to change a tire.)

There were few cars on the road and the area is known for being ruthless with crime.

Later on during the trip when I was taking a short nap, a minibus coming from the opposite direction crashed head-on with the car in front of us. The small sedan went flying in the air, landing upside-down on the side of the road, totally destroyed. The minibus was a bit damaged, the windshield was smashed as well as a front fender. The horn was blaring and the 20 or so occupants started exiting the van, a few bleeding, but all survived. We freaked out, unsure of what to do. We were in the middle of nowhere. We couldn’t stop; we would be bombarded by people asking for rides, food, or anything else. Somehow, there happened to be an ambulance nearby. We slowly maneuvered around the crash, trying to see if there was any movement inside the car. The driver of the minibus had run down to the car and we drove at a snail's pace and then we heard the ambulance coming. We knew we had to leave, as there would be no point in staying and it would just be dangerous. It was quite the wake up call! Had we been ahead of that car, it would have been us. We didn’t nap for the rest of the trip.

The Easter spring break tour story will be continued in Semester in Cape Town Part 11 B