Robben Island – The Stormy Seas of Freedom

On Tuesday, we had our first full day in Cape Town. It’s hard not to be reminded of San Francisco by Cape Town’s windy, rainy weather, crowded urban streets, and the old prison just a ferry ride away.

We took our ferry – The Sea Princess – to Robben’s Island.  The island is home to the prison that Nelson Mandela was placed in. Bad weather and rough seas caused the boat ride to be chilly and pretty nauseating, but helped us all realize how tough being in that prison would be.

When we arrived we took a quick bus tour of the island, and then started the main tour of the maximum security prison. Our guide was actually held there for six and a half years because he advocated for the end of apartheid. He told us about the cold winters with no towels and no hot water, and about the fact that prisoners were made to wear short sleeve shirts and shorts all year round.  But when I asked him what stood out to him the most when he thought back on his time there, his answer was the friendship. And I thought that was a beautiful thing. He said that without that bond of fighting for something bigger than all of them it would have been impossible to survive.

I can’t imagine working in a prison that you once were held in, but this case was different. They weren’t in prison for murder or rape, but for the sake of freedom. They all were proud of why they were there.

He also talked about the concept of victory. He said that most people feel like victory should mean that the winner takes all, but that every situation – some more so than others, and especially in the case of the overthrow of apartheid – a victory is a compromise. No one can get exactly what they want and that’s okay.

He wasn’t bitter about anything that happened, but grateful and optimistic. He said today was better than yesterday, but tomorrow is not entrusted to us. We need to work hard to make the future better for the future generations. I could have talked to him for hours – he was an unforgettable guide and it was overall an incredible experience.

Morgan Kelly

A view from inside

A view from inside

Entering the maximum security area

Entering the maximum security area

 

Entering the compound

Entering the compound

 

Walking through the maximum security area

Walking through the maximum security area

In the central courtyard

In the central courtyard

Nelson Mandela's cell

Nelson Mandela’s cell

 

Bungee Jumping

On May 29th, the morning after we arrived in South Africa, we drove to the tallest bungee bridge in the world in Bloukrans, Eastern Cape. Of the 13 people on the trip 10 of us decided to take the jump. We got harnessed and then went to the cafe where the teachers were. As if we weren’t terrified enough, we stood in the cafe and watched some people jump off of the bridge and needless to say, we all got even more scared.

We were then summoned to the bridge and had to cross a chicken wire bridge overlooking the entire jump. Looking down you could see the entire jump and the ridiculous height that we would be jumping from. Once we made it across the bridge and onto the part of the bridge we would be jumping from, the DJ did everything in his power to keep the jump out of our mind! He played loud music and the staff was very encouraging promising us that we would make it and that everything would be okay.

I was up first, so needless to say I was terrified. They ask you to sit down while they tie up your ankles with a thick rubbery cord… that’s it. Then, the men help you to the edge of the bridge where you look down for the first time, and the drop looks eternal.

The guys know what they are doing and they don’t want you to over think anything, they quickly count down 5-4-3-2-1 and say bungee, as the give you a little “shove” off the edge. The view during the free fall is stunning, and for those 5 seconds it is completely silent. You no longer hear the music on the bridge, and you can faintly hear the running of the creek below you. They allow you to dangle once you jump so that you can take in the nature — the only uncomfortable part is that you are upside down!

The views are outstanding and the adrenaline rush is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. On the signs as we walked in they said “Fear is temporary but regret is permanent” and they could have not been anymore correct. That jump is something that I will never forget, and it was an amazing way to start a great trip.

Carolina Abdullah (aka – Lina)

The Bloukrans Bridge!

The Bloukrans Bridge!

Before the Jump ;-)

Before the Jump 😉

Before the Jump ;-)

Before the Jump 😉

Getting Ready...

Getting Ready…

Praying...

Praying…

About to Jump...

About to Jump…

After the Jump is OVER!

After the Jump is OVER!

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The Chicken Wire Walk!

An aerial view of the bridge

An aerial view of the bridge

Struthio camelus domesticus: Frankie the Ostrich!

After a three hour bus ride from the end of the Dolphin Trail across the Outeniqua Mountain Pass (a beautiful mountain range located along the Garden Route of South Africa), we arrived at the Safari Ostrich Farm in Oudtshoorn.

The Safari Farm is in the heart of “Ostrich Country” and has been in operation since 1956. The farm was established by Derek Fisch and Harry Lipschitz – both fourth generation ostrich farmers.

According to our guide, the Ostrich can be traced as far back as 40 to 60 million years, along the Mediterranean Sea in the west and China in the east and Mongolia in the north. The Ostrich migrated south across Africa approximately a million years ago, together with many of the larger mammals. The ostrich is the largest living species of bird and lays the largest eggs of any living bird. They can also run up to 70km/h (43 mph)! The feathers of adult males are mostly black, with a white tail. Females and young males are greyish-brown and white.

We went on a tour of some of the farm and saw a lot of ostriches. We learned a ton about different breeds, eggs, and hatching processes of ostriches. We walked around the farm and stopped at a stall where we could feed the ostriches out of the palms of our hands. I know from personal experience that their beaks are very sharp, and they are not shy when it comes to eating off of human hands!

Next, we got to go to a ring where we were introduced to Frankie, who we had the opportunity to sit on. You sit on an ostrich by sitting underneath the wings and holding onto the wings, kind of like a seatbelt.

Then, six of us were chosen randomly to ride the ostriches. You have to lean very far back when riding, so it felt like we would fall off at any given moment, however, it was a very fun experience!

After riding ostriches, we sat down at the restaurant, where we proceeded to eat ostrich steak. This was a little alarming after just having made personal bonds with some of them, but it tasted good nonetheless. This stop was a very exciting one, and I never thought I would like ostriches so much!

Mary Stuart Gray (aka MSG)

Ostrich farming country near Oudtshoorn

Ostrich farming country near Oudtshoorn in the Klein Karoo

View from our bus passing through the Outeniqua Mountains

View from our bus passing through the Outeniqua Mountains

The Outeniqua Mountains

The Outeniqua Mountains

Our group at the Safari Ostrich Farm

Our group at the Safari Ostrich Farm

MSG feeding the ostriches

MSG feeding the ostriches

Stephanie sitting on Frankie

Stephanie sitting on Frankie

Mitch sitting on Frankie

Mitch sitting on Frankie

Chris getting ready to ride!

Chris getting ready to ride!

Xori on the move!

Xori on the move!

MSG at the starting gate!

MSG at the starting gate!

The Dolphin Trial – oops … Trail

After bungee jumping off of the highest bridge bungee in the world, we had a short 30-minute drive to the Tsitsikamma National Park, where we spent the rest of our weekend hiking the Dolphin trail. In 2009 the Tsitsikamma Park was linked to several other protected parks in the region and it became part of the Garden Route National Park which covers about 470 square miles of land. The Tsitsikamma National Park itself includes 50 miles of coastline. The word “Tsitsikamma” is derived from the Khoekhoe language “tse-tsesa”, meaning “clear”, and “gami,” meaning “water”, and which probably referred to the clear water of the Tsitsikamma River. It was also Africa’s first national marine park, made up of the narrow coastal plain bounded by cliffs and beaches and then extending five kilometres out to sea.

After initial arrival and cabin check-in, we had dinner at a very nice steakhouse that was perched right on top of the water where we were able to watch the sunset over the Indian Ocean.

The next morning we embarked off onto our hike in two groups of about 8 each. With our guide Marius in the lead, we headed off through some Fynbos (which grows in a 100-to-200-km-wide coastal belt stretching from Clanwilliam on the West coast to Port Elizabeth on the Southeast coast) and across two large suspension bridges, spanning almost 80 meters in length. And then the hike truly began in earnest.

After our first very steep climb, we were greeted with fresh squeezed mango juice, water and tea on the high lookout point over the Indian Ocean. What goes up, must come down, and so after our break we all began the long (and somewhat painful) decent back to sea-level. There we were again greeted with a wonderful food interval and we sat around eating lunch while gazing at rock pools and the pounding waves.

The next climb up Steilkob (“steep hill”) was extremely taxing but well rewarded when we finally reached our chalets at Misty Mountain reserve. The views were stunning as we were situated right on a cliff overlooking the ocean far below. From there we watched what may have been some of the first whales of the season passing by.

After a good night of sleep and a fabulous breakfast, we started the day with a very quick descent down to sea level again. The views of the ocean were unbelievably beautiful but because of some rain the previous night and the sea spray, some sections of the trail were slippery to say the least. The hike ended with a long steep climb up to a dense forest area where we were met with a picnic lunch under the canopy with quiche, salmon spread, fresh baked bread and melktert (a sweet pastry crust containing a creamy filling made from milk, flour, sugar and eggs).

The day ended with a short hour walk to the Fernery, which was our last stop on the Dolphin trail and the nicest hotel we had stayed at so far. The cabins were situated on the side of the cliff where it dropped down into a fresh water waterfall that ran out to the ocean. The rooms were more than comfortable, and well deserved might I add, as almost everyone took long naps from the two strenuous days of hiking. The next morning we boarded our bus to George where we would visit the ostrich safari and board a plane to Cape Town.

Jacob Queller (aka: Q-Tip)

DT 1

View of the Indian Ocean after initial ascent from Storms River

DT 3

Walking through the Fynbos

DT 4

Rock scrambling

DT 5

Rest stop to explore the some rock pools

DT 6

View of the rocky shore from the trail

DT 7

Rock pools along the trail

 

Where We Are

Below is a map showing the places we are traveling to:
1. Arrived Johannesburg (May 29)
2. Port Elizabeth and the Dolphin Trail along the Tsitsikamma National Park coastline (May 30 – June 1)
3. Oudtshoorn (June 2)
4. George (June 2)
5. Cape Town (June 2-6)
6. Mount Camdeboo near Graaff Reinet (June 7)
7. Johannesburg (June 8-11)
7. Depart from Johannesburg (June 11)