Sunday, May 8, 2011

Best Week

It had been in the works and the subject of heated discussions all year, but following Easter, "Team South Africa" finally set out on a roadtrip from Cape Town destined for the Eastern Cape. "Team South Africa" is composed of the four YASCers living and working here this year--Amanda, Ann, Travis, and myself. Amanda and Ann both live in Cape Town where they work for HOPE Africa and with Anglican student ministries, respectively, and Travis is based in Grahamstown where he serves as an assistant teacher for students in Grade R (kindergarten). As a group we had hoped to find time during the course of the year to get together for a trip of some sort, and with a slew of public holidays lining up at the end of April we set our dates! We decided to make our way from Cape Town to Mthatha driving along the Garden Route, which is a popular section of the southern half of the country because of its varied landscapes and interesting stopping points along the way. We would also have the opportunity to spend time with one another in our various sites and get a glimpse of what life, work, and play is like in each of our placements.

Team South Africa: Travis, Ann, Amanda, and Me

I flew to Cape Town on Maunday Thursday, and was able to share in the rest of Holy Week with Ann and Amanda in the Mother City. It was a real gift being able to spend these days with them, and wonderful to take part in services at St. Faith's where Amanda has been serving as a deacon since early April.

Travis flew into Cape Town on Monday April 25th, and we began our 1,000+ kilometer journey toward Mthatha. That afternoon we wound our way along the coast to our first stop in Cape Agulhas. The two-lane highway just outside of Cape Town hugs the rocky coast and was a stunning start to our trek. Cape Agulhas is the southernmost tip of the African continent, and we arrived just in time to catch the sunset where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. We spent some time walking out amongst the rocks and taking in the cool night air, and then headed into town for dinner. We spent the night at Cape Agulhas Backpackers which had warm fireplace to greet us. It was also an ideal spot for catching up with one another celebrating the start of our adventure.

Cape Agulhas, southernmost tip of the African continent
and meeting point of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans

Tuesday morning we headed back out to The Tip, and visited the lighthouse that sits on Cape Agulhas. It's the second oldest lighthouse in the country, and making the steep and very windy climb up to its beacon is worth the views of the two oceans below. We then drove down to a shipwreck that sits just off the coast where we could see the power, both beautiful and haunting, and that the waters hold.

We piled back into our trusty Nissan Tilda bound for our next stop in Plettenberg Bay. We detoured off of the N2 for a little while to wind along the R62. This road took us through mountains and arid stretches that contrasted with the rocky edges of the coast and fertile fields that we passed on our first day. In Plett we stayed at Acacia B&B, and settled into our first night there following dinner at a restaurant for the "young and hip" that Lesley our hostess suggested...see picture below for evidence of our young and hip-ness. Two thumbs up.

Wednesday we kept in local and explored the sights around Plett. We visited Bramon Wine Estate in the morning and tasted some wonderful wine at this family run establishment. Bramon also has a restaurant that sits out among their vines, and we enjoyed a lunch that was just wonderful. The tappas style menu allowed us to try LOTS of yummy dishes, and we all left full and happy.

Travis, Amanda, and Ann give lunch at Bramon Wine Estate a glowing review

After Bramon, we paid a visit to Monkeyland and Birds of Eden which lie just up the road along a stretch known as the Crags. This monkey and bird sanctuary provided us with some up close encounters of furry and winged creatures. We also were able to spend some time sitting by the water in Plettenberg Bay, which is one of the most popular coastal destinations in the country. That evening we enjoyed another dinner in town, and rested up for our next stop.

Thursday our time on the road was short, but the contrast in locations was quite glaring. That morning we drove about an hour east to Storm's River, which is located in the middle of the Tsitsikamma National Forrest. From coastal bay to giant pines and yellow woods! We checked into our backpackers, and then Ann and Travis decided to try out some of the activities the area offers for thrill seekers. Ziplining was their adventure of choice, and they zigged and zagged their way along a ravine through the forrest. Next, all four of us took a walk out to see the famed "Big Tree," which does in fact live up to its name. This gianourmous yellow wood is over 800 years old, and towers above its younger floral neighbors. I really enjoyed spending time walking through the woods in the area, which had both a primeval and familiar feel to them. At moments, I could have sworn I was walking through Shakerag Hollow or another trail back in Tennessee...

Around lunch we headed to Storms River Mouth, where Storms River meets the Indian Ocean. This was hands-down my favorite stop of our trip. The color of the water, the mix of mountain and coastal landscapes, and the beauty of this national park were amazing. The park's restaurant sits just over the edge of the water, and it was a stunning place to enjoy a meal. We then took a hike over to the mouth of the river, which can be crossed via a trio of suspension bridges. Along the ridge of one of the mountains we saw a lookout point, and somehow or another we decided to reach it. Our leisurely walk soon turned into a full on climb, but we made it and basked in our triumph (i.e. caught our breath) once we made it. We stayed up there until the sun started to set, and then headed back to Djembe Backpackers where the night took a turn toward the surreal.

Storms River Mouth

At Djembe, we grabbed a drink and then settled into a circle that was forming around the fire. There was a small group of middle aged South Africans, who were in town for an Elvis Festival. Yes, an Elvis Festival. In Storms River. In a fifties themed dinner called "Marilyn's." Yep. As the night progressed, other folks joined us...some from Germany, more South Africans, and later a group of Americans. Eventually we convinced Alan , who is an Elvis impersonator competing in some of the festivals competitions, to bring out his karaoke gear. Speakers were set up, mics were tested, and soon "Mojo" and "Love Me Tender" were being croned into the night air. Others joined in, some ABBA and Garth Brooks tunes were busted out, and we all sang along under the stars. Surreal and wonderful.
Some elephants in Addo Elephant Park, ya know, just hanging out...

Friday we said so long to Storms River, and made our way to Grahamstown (aka Travis' stomping grounds). Along the way though we took a detour into Addo Elephant Park, where we spent a few hours driving around with them earthly giants. We rolled the windows down to listen and watch as they stood just feet from us. They are humbling beings that fill me with wonder every time I see them.

While in Grahamstown, we stayed at uMariya uMama weThemba Monastery, the Anglican Benedictine monastery where Travis lives and works. This has become one of my favorite places to share time and space since I've been here, and I was happy to back. Saturday Ann, Amanda, and I spent the day at Pumba Game Reserve while Travis stayed to do some work at the monastery. There we saw lots of animals including a rhino, lions, hippos, giraffe, and the significantly smaller, yet equally impressive, bat-earred fox. Saturday evening we attended a vigils service in the chapel with the brothers, and enjoyed some Thai food in town for our last dinner all together.

Sunday morning we went to eucharist in the chapel, which was a great way to spend our last morning together. There, much hope and joy was shared. Travis preached that morning, and we were able to spend time after the service mingling with the monks and children from the area who Travis with whom spends his days. From there Amanda, Ann, and I sadly said our goodbyes as we continued on to Mthatha, while Travis stayed on in Grahamstown.

We wound our way through the curves of the N2 that lead into the Transkei. The drive from Grahamstown to Mthatha, which at times can be hair-raising because of the occasional stray cow or goat combined with narrow and winding roads, is my favorite. The rolling hills of this section of the Eastern Cape are dotted with brightly painted rondavels that seem to pop up out of the tall grass and vertical landscape. We made it safely to my home in rondavel number one at Bedford Hospital, and settled into dinner with Megan my friend, neighbor, and fellow volunteer extraordinaire.

Thanksgiving in May!
Ann, Amanda, and Megan cozy up around the Mac inside my rondavel for some Macy's festivities

The next morning we had Thanksgiving in May! What better time to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade than May 2nd? This is a Turkey Day morning tradition at my house, and my mom had been wonderful to record it for me back in November. However, when the disc made its way to South Africa in early January, it was the middle of summer here, and that is no time to watch Matt Lauer, Meredith, and Al bundled up in Herald Square. So, since the cool weather had set in by May and with friends around, we nestled in for a breakfast feast (complete with festive turkey paper plates) to the sights and sounds of parade joy!

We then spent the rest of the day exploring Mthatha. Monday was a public holiday and Itipini Community Project was closed, but we stopped by for a visit and I was able to share some of what my days here are like with Ann and Amanda. It was fun and exciting being able to show them around a place that has really become my home. They were able to meet some of the friends I've made over these months, and see important places that continue to shape my time here. It was a full day, and one for which I am very thankful. So maybe that whole Thanksgiving in May deal really was appropriate?

Tuesday morning I headed back to work, while Amanda and Ann set off for their flight home. It was hard seeing them go, and to see such a week come to an end. I'm so happy and thankful Team South Africa had this time to spend together. We were able to get to know each other better, see much of this beautiful country, share parts of our respective communities with one another, and of course, listen to some pretty great music along the way.

Best. Week.

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