South Africa - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 25
Sunday 6th April
Today, we’ve seen both ends of the pleasure spectrum. The day started off poorly with the bill for last night’s lodging and meal. In addition to the R200 ($25) for the very poor (and way overpriced) accommodation, they tacked on no less than R70 ($9) each for the meal and drinks. It’s difficult finding a restaurant the charges that much for a gourmet meal here. For what little effort this family puts in to accommodating their guests, they sure are raking in the cash. Anyway, we handed over nearly all of our remaining cash and were on our way with less than a quarter of a tank of fuel and just R30 ($4) in ready bills to our name. With a few thousand dollars in traveller’s checks, I wouldn’t normally worry but today is Sunday, the banks are closed and we’ve had intermittent luck finding ATMs that work and with petrol stations that accept credit cards. Not to worry, we’ve still got our health.
As luck would have it, we did find a petrol station this morning that took credit cards (one of the very prevalent Total stations) and we fed the car accordingly. For a few small coins, one of the lucky-go-happy attendants even checked our fluids and tire pressures for me. The only ATM that was there was an ABSA machine that we’ve had absolutely no luck with at all so far in South Africa. The machine always tells us that the card is damaged and unreadable and that we should contact our bank for a replacement. Both our ATM cards work perfectly well at other ATM machines so I don’t know what kind of weed these things are smoking. I’ve been reluctant to use the credit card at the ATM machines because of the ridiculously large seven Euros per usage charge that my Dutch bank tacks on each time. However, any port in a storm so I gave it a go. Interestingly, not only did the credit card work fine, but it also presented me with the option of drawing the cash from the credit card (presumably as a cash advance with all the associated fees that comes with it) or from my checking or savings account. I told it to take the cash from the checking account and it duly dished out R1000. I felt like a balloon that had just been re-inflated. How this will look on my credit card and bank statements will be a point of interest down the road.
With the car now full of fuel and some ready cash tucked away, we headed out further westwards along the Tsitsikamer mountain range. The mountains are quite beautiful. The main N2 highway, along which we travelled, runs parallel with the mountain range and lies just a few hundred yards from the base of the foothills. The N2 passes over several bridges through which huge valleys pass underneath, providing wonderful scenery. The scenery is a big part of what this area has to offer but, quite frankly, both Sandy and myself would much prefer to be out on the safari trail instead. Perhaps the Drakensberg, Sodwana Bay, Kruger and the excitement of wild game around almost every bush and tree have spoiled us. Once you’ve seen one mountain peak or valley, you’ve seen them all.
Not really sure of where we were going, we stopped in at our next destination which was the Stormy River Mouth National Park. Gean, the ‘lovely old lady’ that had ‘suckered’ us into our previous night’s accommodation, had booked us into a cabin that we were eager to see. She had told us that there was a R20 ‘per car’ entry fee to the park but it turned out to be R20 ‘per person’ instead. Could the day get any worse? After a few minutes of contemplating whether or not to proceed, Sandy decided that she wanted to see the much-hyped suspension bridge and so we forked over the cash and entered the park. It’s a nice place and the accommodation is made up of various huts and chalets that sit close to the seafront along the edge of a very beautiful and rugged shoreline. On another day, perhaps, it may have seemed even idyllic but we were not feeling to energetic or enthused this morning and we could only find fault with everything. We looked at the hut that was assigned to us and decided not to stay overnight. There were no bathroom facilities. In fact, other than two basic beds, there were no facilities of any kind – not even a place to put the backpacks. We cancelled our reservation at the reception desk, much to the disdain of the rather snotty old woman behind the counter. One of the activities that were on offer was a treetop fufi-slide adventure that looked pretty good on the brochure. At nearly R400 per person, however, it suddenly didn’t look so appealing anymore.
We did hike the one-kilometre trail through some thick hillside vegetation to the suspension bridge. It was about forty meters long and just seven meters of the ground, though. A bit of a disappointment but we did take some nice photos.
We left the park somewhat depressed about how disappointing ‘the garden route’ was turning out to be (sorry Wil). Never mind. Perhaps things will get better down the road.
Plettenberg Bay, which came highly recommended by last night’s hosts (Hmmm), was our next destination just thirty or so kilometres down the road. After following the signs to the town centre, a local shopping mall and KFC caught our eye. Anything would be better than the sad, unappealing, ham and egg sandwiches that I made us for lunch this morning so we stopped off and indulged ourselves. Bugger the cholesterol problem!
I posted the CD full of the fufi-slide pictures to Chris, the dentist and we stopped in at a bookshop for Sandy, who by now was in heaven (and is now reading through her Enid Blyton purchase as I type). The local tourist information booth was closed and we just didn’t have a good feel for the place so we left again and headed for Knysna. Knysna (pronounced nize’ner) is supposed to be one of the gems of the garden route and came highly recommended by Helen so surely this place must provide for some kind of redemption for the garden route? Luckily it does.
For the first time on this backpacking tour, we found and booked into a backpackers hostel. Why or why didn’t we do this earlier? I felt at ease from the get go and just love the place to death. The room is very large, comfortable and just R180 ($22) per night (a steal compared to last night’s hovel). It has everything a backpackers place should have, including kitchen, TV room, bathrooms and showers, a computer permanently connected to the Internet and, most importantly, a genuinely helpful guy who manages the place who is just a fountain of useful information. I can’t quite put my finger on it but everything here just ‘clicked’. Other backpackers wander around the corridors, there is a nice and clean pool and the place is perched on the hillside with a glorious view overlooking Knysna Bay (although so does every other building here).
We chatted with the nice young man at the front desk about the various things there are to do and see here in Knysna and then headed out down towards the bay and waterfront. We went to ‘The Heads’, which is couple of rocky outcroppings between which the Knysna estuary flows. It’s a very rugged yet beautiful coastline feature and we got some lovely photos walking over the rocks down as far as the waterline. Next we headed into the beachfront centre where most of the restaurants and shops are. It’s a seaside town and a very nice one at that. The views from anywhere are stunning and the main hub of activity down at the beachfront is the harbour, which is full of fishing boats and catamarans. A line of restaurants each with an upper deck level encircles the harbour and the whole place has a very idyllic and tranquil feel to it. The whole atmosphere lends itself to a natural state of relaxation. The garden route, it seems, does have something to offer after all.
We chose one of the nicer restaurants and had a really nice meal for just R160 (last taste of night’s disappointing BBQ was still fresh in our mouths). Sandy enjoyed a juicy steak and I went with the catch of the day (Red Roman – the name of which we remembered by picturing the image of a naked and embarrassed centurion) with fried potato slices. Fish and Chips never looked, or tasted, this good.
After we returned to the backpackers hostel (Peregrine Backpackers), I collected a handful of backpacker’s brochures from the front desk to take with us for the rest of our garden route journey. These will come in handy as we are always looking for the next night’s stay. I took one of the little Coast-to-Coast backpacker’s guidebooks from a pile that was sitting there and started to read it this evening. It’s like a whole world that we’ve missed out on has just opened up. Up till now, we’ve been staying in B&Bs, lodges, chalets and guest-houses. This really isn’t necessary anymore now that we have ‘found’ the backpacker’s trail. Hopefully, from here on in, we will be able to slow down our money burn rate somewhat by taking advantage of the backpacker’s way of life. This little book has a wealth of tips for cheap car rental, budget accommodation, budget safari tours and all sorts of things. It will be interesting to see just how our means of travel is affected by this newfound knowledge.