Travel Blog: Our South African Road Trip
First stop: Wild Spirit
Wild Spirit is like a little paradise hidden in the Nature’s Valley forest. It’s like a haven for travellers and backpackers looking to rough it up a bit in the bush. Here a couple of young people offer their time and a specific skill for around 3 months at a time. These volunteers are called “earth angels”. Among these angels is my sister. A few months ago she started to work in their kitchen as a chef. So, my mama, her partner and his daughter, Linsay, joined us all at the backpackers over the Christmas period.
We arrive at Wild Spirit on Thursday afternoon. I drive around the campsite looking for a cool spot to pitch our tent. The camping area is literally in the forest. Underneath the trees, we pitch our little home for the next couple of days. It’s quiet around the site, even your voice sounds weird when you suddenly speak. Like it doesn’t really belong here. We’ve been looking for some peace and quiet, it’s what we need. Peace and quiet far away from the city.
The Christmas eve dinner at Wild Spirit is cooked by my sister and some of the other volunteers. The dinner is big, rich and most delicious. We sit around a big table and listen to stories, laughing and drinking wine. Later we move down to the campfire next to our tent.
We have a beautiful unconventional Christmas. We spend it around the campfire, sitting underneath the trees that create a dark canopy. In the light of candles and flashlights we make snacks and hand out gifts. We share some stories about the time we spent apart. Later our parents go to bed and we stay a little longer around the fire. Just us children. Like in the old days when mama and papa went to bed and the kids stayed up, too excited to sleep.
Linsay wakes us in the morning. We don’t want to get up as the fresh, cold air makes it so much nicer under the warmth of the tent and sleeping bag. After coffee my mom hands us fruit salad and sandwiches to have a picnic with. We walk the Magic Forest Trail and stop at a beautiful waterfall to eat. We talk about life and all the things we got up to when we were younger. We spot frogs and a tiny nest with tiny little birds in. It’s like a secret little paradise. We don’t want to go back, but there’s another trail we want to walk.
We hike to the waterfall on the other side of the camping area for an afternoon swim. The water is icy and we sit on the rocks contemplating to go in. I decide to climb up the cliff to jump in, but instead lose my balance and fall in. The water is colder than the ocean along the West Coast, I lose my breath, but it’s incredibly refreshing. While I dry in the sun, I take pictures of everything I see. I think how lucky my sister is to stay here.
We go to the Storms River Mouth to eat breakfast, see the suspension bridge and swim. I hold on to my camera like a piece of gold. To me it is. I don’t want to miss anything. Everything is so big, vast and beautiful. We take a dip in the ocean and drink beers on the deck. I take pictures and allow myself to dream that one day I will have a cottage here in the forest. Somewhere to disappear to.
Back at Wild Spirit we lay on our backs on the green grass. I trace the trees’ branches against the blue sky. I now understand how easy it can be to not put your roots down. To come here for a few months, to embrace nature and meet new people without any objective.
Every night they have a drumming circle. On the last night we all join in. My hands feel a little dumb at first, but soon I join in completely with my own beats and play with my eyes closed. When I open them, I look into the smiling faces of the family, friends and strangers all sitting around me. Then it’s past 11 o’clock and we have to pack away the drums. We climb into the treehouse with my sister and our good friend, Ben, to finish our drinks before we sleep.
In the morning we have coffee with our parents at the boma, pack our little home up and take the road back to Wilderness.
Wilderness has had a piece of my heart since the first time I went there. We arrive at Fairy Knowe on Sunday afternoon. We don’t have much time, so we pitch the tent and immediately go on a 3 hour kayak and hike trip. It takes us an hour to row up the Touw River to the waterfalls trail. We keep almost crashing against the banks, and everytime I laugh so hard my arms become too weak to row. At last we reach the trail. Another 30 minutes’ hike and we arrive at a beautiful site with three magnificent waterfalls. It’s all too magical. Some people swim and jump from the cliffs. I stay on the rocks and just watch. It’s big and bold and almost looks unreal.
Back at the camp I make dinner which consists of a couple of leftovers we collected over the few days. We have a few drinks, but we’re too tired to join the party in the lapa. So, we have a warm shower and cuddle up in the tent. I fall asleep immediately.
Then I wake up to the chatter of a few early birds. I look up at the sky through the trees under which we camp. It’s a beautiful day. We take the road immediately after coffee.
It’s Monday afternoon and we’re driving underneath a threatening thunderstorm through the Eastern Cape. Past Grahamstown, Fort Beaufort and Alice. It’s warm and humid and slowly getting dark. The road seems never ending, it bends and bends every time you think you’re almost there. It’s beautiful, eerie and mysterious. Bat country. I’m immediately charmed the moment we drive up the mountain into the little town. There’s a kind of silence in between the woods that intrigue me. Some believe that JRR Tolkien was inspired by Hogsback to write the Lord of the Rings trilogy. One day I will buy a cabin in the mountains. I swear it’s my heaven.
Our wooden cottage is cosy and one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. From the balcony you can see the entire Hogsback valley. We go to sleep with the moon shining in on our bed, in the morning we hear baboons close in the woods. Very close. We’re in the middle of their territory.
I read Obie Oberholzer’s book about his travels in Africa on the big bed in our room, and I dream of one day going there myself. Then I lay on my back and look at the tree tops. I admire every moment like a rare charm.
We go for breakfast at The Edge before we walk the labyrinth. I buy incense, and browse crystals at a shop across the gravel road. Lastly we stop at the Fairy Sanctuary. It’s a great little place to visit if you love all things goblin, fairy, dragon and pixie. Then we go back to our cottage and make a fire. We talk a little about everything we got up to in 2015, from taking a train trip to Oppikoppi to driving to Hogsback.
The cottage smell of sandalwood incense when I wake up. I pack my bags with a heavy heart. We have to go. It’s the long, hot road to our last destination, Jeffreys Bay. Before we leave Hogsback, though, we go in search of the Madonna and Child Waterfall. It’s completely worth the 500m very steep downhill walk. The waterfall’s name originates from the outcrop of rock on the face of the falls which forms the shape of a “Mother and Child”. I stand in awe. I imagine a few water nymphs stay here, and come out when everyone is gone. The more I see of Hogsback, the deeper I fall for it. It has to be home one day.
On the first night in Jeffreys Bay the sunset is incredible. The sun’s last rays mix with the darker blue clouds and creates a beautiful pink, purple and blue skyline. An older lady who likes eating and cooking works at the guesthouse where we stay. Every morning we wake up to a warm, home cooked breakfast. We swim in the warm water of the Indian Ocean and bath in the sun. Back at the house I take long bubble baths and we play 30 seconds on the balcony. We’re tired and go to bed early.
On new year’s eve we go to a festival in the middle of town. There’s a big tent and three great acts on the line up. We don’t know anyone, so instead we sit in front of the stage and chat. The first band only starts at 9pm, called Desmond and the Tutus. I enjoy their set very much. We buy too many drinks, and soon we become annoyed with the DJs that play between the bands. We stay only for Fokofpolisiekar, the new year’s countdown and then head back to the house. I fall asleep between the thick white sheets and the ocean breeze coming through the open sliding door.
I float through the next day and feel completely not ready for the new year. Luckily I know the feeling all too well, and I give myself time to feel like that for the rest of the afternoon. Before sunset I fall into a deep sleep, curled up while watching a silly, holiday movie. I wake feeling much better. It’s officially 2016.
On our last day, before we pass Plettenberg Bay, we decide to turn around for one more night at Wild Spirit. A friend of us came to visit my sister and we had one more night and a few more drinks to drink.
We make potjie around the fire. It’s a perfect night. We chat to some foreigners and share plans for the new year with each other. Later someone sings and some people dance on the deck.
Our cottage doesn’t have any electricity, so we light candles and place it around the room. We’re extremely tired, so we go straight to bed. I lay awake for a while, thinking of the trip and how lucky we are to experience it all. With my best friend in the world by my side, like children, we want to go everywhere and see everything and we just get to do it somehow. We’ve been really blessed.
Then it’s 7am in the morning and we have to leave. No more turning around. No more days left. But I’m excited to go home. To my cat, my house and my city.