No Longer Living in a Glass House

...South Africa is Love...

Hope you’re well and everybody had a safe and moderate evening celebrating Halloween this past weekend. My tour has been done now for about two weeks hence no updates as I am actually really travelling right now and the internet is neither an accessible option nor one that takes priority as I explore the beauty that is South Africa.

I think last I wrote I was just getting off a high from skydiving and sand boarding and about to head out into the Namib Desert to go quad biking…This experience was surreal, there was only four of us and a guide on our two hour adventure through the dunes. We all received manual quads with 2500 power  and proceeded to ascend vertically up dunes some as high as 300m on our bikes only to begin descent when the sand started to shift and you knew you needed to avoid either a slide or your quad completely flipping off the edge of the dune. Very adrenaline packed experience and it took us along the skeleton coast of Namibia were our views were constantly either 200-300m sand dunes in front of us or the Atlantic Ocean…we were fortunate that nobody flipped but after much acceleration and speed along the dunes I was happy to be on solid ground on two feet and hence we headed off to dinner to some of the best calamari I have ever had in my entire life. Nothing quite like finishing a couple of adrenaline packed days with a great seafood dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Atlantic with great food, company and wine.

Leaving Swakopmund we headed south to meet the Atlantic Ocean yet again at Walvis Bay, further continuing our journey into the Namib-Nauklutt Park which is set in the world’s oldest desert. Here we based ourselves at Sossusvlei which was smack in the middle of a flat desert but happened to have about five giant rock formations (the tallest being at 1700m – which I naturally tried to climb) and was our home for one final night of bush camping. We had our truck, our tents, and five litre allocations of water per person as the nearest form of electricity or running water was at least a 40 min drive away at the park’s entrance.  From here we went on a desert walk to explore the history, geology, flora and fauna from a local guide who wore no shoes (let me tell you the desert at 3pm has really hot sand, the bottom of his feet looked like coal it was scary) and took us through the desert, its dried out oasis’ and across the dunes. After our desert walk we drove to Dune 45 which is about 175 high and climbed atop for the world’s prettiest panorama after which we proceeded to run down barefoot before heading back into our desert camp for dinner. This night was my favourite of the entire trip as we got to climb the rocks, take mind blowing photos of the sunset as it turns the rocks into majestic shades of red that truly gave us a magic hour of photography – I have attached a couple. After sunset the remaining 10 of the group had a dinner around a campfire, enclosed by two 10m high boulders, enjoyed some laughs and reminisced about the previous 7 weeks of our journey and everything we had experienced, seen, conquered and shared together.

The following morning we awoke to catch the sunrise across this beautiful area and we left the serenity of the dunes and headed south to Fish River Canyon which after the Grand Canyon is the world’s second largest. At 161 km long, 27 km wide and about 550 m deep this canyons outer layer was formed by tectonic activity while natural erosion of the canyon formed the inner depths. There is a road that follows the eastern rim which gave us several spectacular viewing points where we were able to take in the vista before we stopped for a short hike and sunset viewing, that night we camped along our first spot from Fish River Canyon to Cape town that welcomed us into Scorpion Alley, so basically every morning before you put your tent down you had to move it at least a few metres to make sure there were no scorpions hiding out underneath (we only saw two as a group, but still probably something you don’t want to roll up into your tent bag). This morning was also Michael’s birthday (who as the only other North American (San Fran) was originally paired with me and naturally or by default became my best friend over the course of the two months) and hence the great friend in me (modest I know) awoke early to decorate the bus and have our cook make him a special breakfast before we began this day by finally crossing into South Africa. This was quite the moment for most of us who over 8 weeks had been enjoying ourselves so much that we forgot that it would eventually come to an end. So once in South Africa we stopped right at the Namibian border for a night of camping along Orange River, a final swim (and shock at what 8 weeks of over landing does to a body that has to put on a bikini) and a night of celebrating at a bar with a bartender named AJ, who I swear is one of the best I have ever encountered. He would guess a person’s drink of choice before the person spoke a single word. Each and every single time he was right, it was incredible!!!!!!!!!

The following morning we drove further south into wine country were we had our last proper dinner as a group following some wine tasking in the Namaqualand wine region of South Africa. We stopped and camped in Cederberg which is just through the Richtersveld  area and surrounded by the Cedarburg Mountains, I had the world’s best bubbly with some of the other girls to celebrate 55 days of survival on the truck before the following mornings final drive (tear tear no more truck) into Kapstaad.

Cape Town is hands down one of the world’s most picturesque cities. As you drive in from the North you see the majestic Table Mountain at 1000m which stands right in the middle of the city and stops all the clouds so it almost permanently looks like a boiling cauldron that is otherwise bordered by the Atlantic Ocean or fields of green. Everywhere you look in the city takes your breath away, whether it is Long St (the main strip downtown which looks like Bourbon St in New Orleans minus the nudity) or the Gardens which look like something out of a story book everywhere you turn you little have your breath taken away. I have always said that Rio de Janeiro is the world’s sexiest city, while Vancouver is the prettiest; Cape Town is like the love child of the two.

There is literally something here for everyone, whether the history lover in you chooses to go to Robben Island for a day and relive Mandela’s 18 year life, the adrenaline junkie in you can climb table mountain (the easy option is the cable car) abseiling down the 111m, or you can go surf on Muizenberg Beach with its colourful huts or simply rent a car and drive to the Cape of Good Hope which is this continents most South-western point and also where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic (90 days after I had left Cairo I went to Cape point and had my teary eyed moment as I thought back to the over 20000km these last few months had seen). I really enjoyed Cape town and spent my first few days solo wandering the city post tour and dealing with the fact that I no longer live in a glass house – As great as touring is, especially given the inaccessibility of Dar El Salam to Swakopmund otherwise, I have learned that I am far too impatient and also emotionally fragile to live with strangers 24hrs a day for that long – it was an amazing experience, but one I would choose not to repeat given the amount of drama, emotions, tensions and gossip that naturally accompanies that many strangers sitting on a truck for that long looking for ways to entertain themselves. My first few days solo were very draining psychologically as I adjusted to life without constant public surveillance. Plus when you live in a glass house like that it’s very hard to avoid any rumours or stones people may throw when you are one of few single women travelling…

So in South Africa after a few days in Cape town I flew to Johannesburg for not much exploring as it is an extremely unsafe city. I am actually quite shocked at South Africa, I have felt safe every other country of this journey until now – for a first world country they are extremely backwards it so many ways. Not only is racism still obvious and a factor but segregation in cities like Cape town exist (a friend I made is a black man, and manager of one of the cities biggest hostels, but cant go to specific nightclubs if he’s not in the company of a white female – as well it is very unsafe for females in general) this is a country where 1 in 4 people are infected with HIV and a woman is raped every 17 mins…not what one would associate with a first world country, so be thankful you unlike us females here don’t have to leave your door for a 2 min walk for yogurt without at least 3 male friends with you for your safety. For example one night we were walking back from dinner (me and three male engineers I met from Kansas) and the males stopped to take a pee break while I stood on the sidewalk – immediately an officer pulled me over and demanded to drive me to my hostel because he thought I was crazy for standing alone at 10pm at night, even though it was 15m from the guys and even though it was on the equivalent of Bloor St – different world I tell you.

Any who after doing all the major sites in Cape Town I decided to go travel to Johannesburg – for everything Cape Town is, sadly Johannesburg is not – even more so as a white female who can pass for south African). This is a very sad truth given how fortunate us North Americans are to live without skin colour – at least amongst the people I grew up with before you start judging my naivety – I am a firm believer that you judge somebody by the size of their heart, not the tone of their pigment – however here despite my willingness not to see colour my safety is in question, as I look like an Afrikaner who are typically very backwards and very racist white people – there have been 3500 Afrikaners killed in the last 16 yrs just in case you want to know where this is coming from all in retaliation for over a century of repression and more recently the Sharpeville massacre and of course the Apartheid – not just paranoia guys). So as I was saying (I apologise if I offended anybody with the prior – this is reality here) I flew to Johannesburg to spend my birthday on a 4 night overnight Safari in Kruger National Park. After a lovely day spent hiding in my hostel in Johannesburg I began my journey in to Kruger by driving along the Panoramic route and I stopping at Blyde Canyon (third largest in the world) for a hike down and some photos by the naturally formed potholes in the water that appear every year after rain season.

Once we entered Kruger we began three days of 16 hour game drive days which was spectacular, I probably saw about 19 rhinos, hundreds of elephants, some servals, wild dogs (very rare), African wild cats, jackals, and about 8 lions within a 10 m distance. It was the perfect way to spend my birthday, as my safari consisted only of myself and two other people, so for three days we had a private overland vehicle were able to dictate our own schedules and spent some amazing time inside Africa’s second most famous game park. Here we had amazing dinners of wild Oryx, kudu and other fine game meat, it was quite possibly the best birthday I could have asked for given my experience the last three months and doing a night drive on my bday and seeing animals that close made me realize just how fortunate I am to be able to see Kruger before we have completely killed our planet off. There’s a great line in a poem by Lord Byron I am sure I have shared with you before but it still holds true, especially when asked why I didn’t spent my birthday partying with friends, dressing up in costume, or having a cocktail in Kapstaad – this is the only piece of poetry I have ever related to:

“I love not man the less, but Nature more.”

So after a beautiful and animal filled Safari I headed back to Johannesburg from where I flew back to Cape Town where I have kind of been since. I have spent the last four days cruising the Garden Route starting with diving with the Great White Sharks in Shark Alley Gansbaai, South Africa where I was put in a cage next to a 4 m 25 year old male shark that was one of 6 that flocked to our boat upon sensing the tuna that they use for bait. I did this with Great White Shark tours which are world famous for Brian McFarlane, the owner, who has worked with these lovely fish for over 30 years and has been featured on National Geographic quite a few times. I will definitely post links to the videos later were you can see just how close they got and you can hear the sound underwater when the HUGE fish smacks into our cage. From here I drove back through Stellenbosch, which is the world’s longest wine route, before a night at Muizenberg which is a pretty surf part on the outskirts of Cape town where I spent a night catching up with a over landing friend and taking in a pretty laid back surf town. The next morning we drove the 6 hours again to Storms River in the Eastern Cape province to jump the world’s tallest bridge bungee at a heart pounding 216m free fall over a very very pretty gorge, I have posted this video online so if anybody wants to see me try to fly enjoy.

Just Abseiled down from Table Mountain in Capetown <3

Now however I am back in Cape Town for three final days of the waterfront, helicopter rides, climbing Table Mountain and some last minute abseiling before I fly out to Vietnam on Sunday. I must say this it has been both the best three months of my life while I have been enjoying complete freedom from the day to day life in the city that originally made me want to get away, as well though it has been the most trying. It is amazing what you learn about yourself when you place yourself amongst strangers in a new environment for such a period of time. I know now I am not invincible, I know I am nowhere near perfect and I know that I will never in my life be able to stop travelling. For everything I have accomplished in my life this trip has made me realize how much higher I need to aim. This world is both too small and far too unexplored to ever settle or short-change our goals. I originally thought this trip was going to be the end to my travel addiction and have only now realized how much more there is in life to see. I can promise you I will never sit around the house again wasting time when there is so much beauty in nature, yes even in Toronto, which is begging to be explored. I think as city people we take for granted our mobility and ability to go hiking, biking, climbing or walking… once we start looking up from our blackberries and taking in our surroundings, regardless where in the world they may be, we will begin to realize that our purpose in this world is no longer just to survive, consume and reproduce but to define ourselves and stretch our boundaries both personally and physically to reach the feats that otherwise may just seem like pipedreams. A few of you have emailed me to tell me you’re jealous of my trip or wish you could do it…I encourage you to at least try, if there’s a will there is always a way – broaden your horizons and break whichever mould or plateau you may think you are stuck on, the payoff will blow you away.

Haha wow now I am getting all psycho babble on you… all I am trying to say is that for everything I have experienced in the last three months, other than sharing it with you, I wish you would each be here with me or out doing it yourself so you can really see just how short life is and how much more enjoyable it is when you’re not afraid to start living it or in the case of my bungee – not afraid to try to end it ;)

Happy November everyone

Below is me jumping out of a plane and bungee :) hope you enjoy it as much as I did – and if the sound works (it doesn’t at this internet cafe) then I apologise for any profanity you may hear as I am jumping off the bridge – needless to say I was fluent in French the whole 216m down

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=460315247009&saved#!/video/video.php?v=460315247009