Wegeners in ZA (Part 2)

After Pat’s grand start to blogging the family’s visit and promises of more entries from Curtis Sr., Curtis Jr., and Grace, your stuck with me finishing the trip. Please hold back your disappointment.

I’ll pick back up the story with the family loading into the Defender on Monday morning. We were leaving Cape Town behind us and headed down to the costal plains of the Garden Route. The route has achieved sometime of legendary status in South Africa for its pristine wilderness, costal towns, and high adventure activities. This stretch of the trip was also the first time during the families trip I would be experiencing everything for the first time right along with them. We headed out on the N2 and within an hour the scenery had changed completely. The buildings and intersections of Cape Town had been replaced by rolling valleys and lofty mountains. We had our first Wegener moment when we pulled over for lunch only to find the gust of winds we’re throwing us and our picnic all over the side of the road. We packed backed up and headed down until we found a little enclave alongside the mountain where we parked and unpacked our picnic. As a side note, I had proposed the idea of a picnic on Sunday and everybody looked at me like I was out of my mind. I thought of that the entire time they were shoveling food into their month and saying what a great little stop we had. We pulled into Knysna that night and Curtis and I found accommodation at this log cabin / train themed hotel in town. Turns out we picked a great time to be in Knysna as they were midway into their annual oyster festival!

The following day we loaded back up in the Landy and headed towards Plettenburg Bay where the world’s largest bungee jump was located. I was surprised but Grace of all people was jumping at the bit to jump. Once we arrived, Grace and Curtis Jr. went to a pavilion to get into harnesses while Pat, Curtis Sr, and I walked over to a viewing area where you could see the bridge spanning the gorge below. We then all proceeded out to the catwalk that spanned from one side of the bridge to the midpoint where the jumping platform was located. The catwalk was diamond grating that flexed each time you stepped forward. It only got worse as the further out on the catwalk you went the further down you were able to peer through the grating. I was in horror and thoroughly embarrassed myself in front of my family and all the other people in our group. I was walking behind the group leader and once we got on the catwalk I slowed to a mere shuffle. Once we got to the midpoint, they had music blasting from speakers mounted under the roadway and a crew of guys steadily throwing people off the bridge. It was a pretty stark contrast to the bungee jump I made off the Zambezi Bridge. There it was a long silent waiting for your turn. You jump according to weight so little Curtis was up first. You could tell he was nervous but when his time came he lunged off the platform no problems. A couple minutes later I watched Grace follow suit. Both of them came up near ecstatic and Grace even got swept off her feet by one of the crew members for a nice post-jump photo.

From our bungee experience we headed off to zip-line through the forest near Tsitsikamma. We got there just in time to catch the last group out for the day. After putting on our harnesses we all walked over to the first platform to hear the safety rundown. As is normally the case inAfrica, the safety talk was short and covered very little useful information. The first span stretched a couple hundred feet from the platform across a gorge to a platform on the other side. Grace zipped away first and me and little Curtis followed suit. Soon everybody but mom and big Curtis were on the second platform. After sometime, mom came zipping across. Apparently, when it was her turn to fly across she broke down and decided she wasn’t having any of it! The man from the place started to unhook her and Curtis put a stop to that and sent her screaming across the gorge at break neck speed. Well the next couple hours were a complete blast! The zip-lines took us flying back and forth across the gorge and even over a waterfall. By the end of the day even Pat was zipping across with a pretty big smile!

The next day we departed for Oudschoorn, world famous for its ostriches. Curtis Sr. and Grace were ecstatic as they had plans to buyout the entire stock of ostrich boots and pursues. Well pulled in and found a young enterprising boy at the information station who told us where all to go for a coupleRand. The first place we went to offered an ostrich farm tour complete with ostrich rides, however, to my extreme disappointment Pat nor the twins were going to have any of that. We ended up going to 3-4 different ostrich products stores in search of things to purchase. However, it turned out that the prices in Oudschoorn weren’t that much different than inAmericaand apparently ostrich boots are only made in sweat shops inMexico.

After our slight disappointment by Oudschoorn we headed off for theCangoCaves. We got there and bought tickets for the last tour of the day. We then had a picnic out on the balcony of the complex where little Curtis was attacked by birds. The caves were truly an unexpected treat for us all. Honestly we had decided to go to the caves because of their proximity to Oudschoorn, not because any of us had it at the top of our list. We were led around on a guided tour where we received a through history of the caves.

Now no trip toAfricais complete without game viewing. We made our way to the Botlierskop Private Game Reserve just outsideMosselBay. We piled into a game viewer and headed out onto the reserve where we spent the next several hours encountering 4 of the Big Five (no cheetahs) before retiring to the lodge for some port to warm us up.

After our incredible experience, we headed to Mossel Bay where we were going to spend the night before heading back toCape Townthe following day. I had suggested (a couple of times) that I wanted us to stay in a self-catering place and braai. Nobody else seemed keen to the idea much less vaguely interested, but I persisted and got my way. A kind word of advice to the editors of my guidebook, you failed to mention that Mossel Bay COMPLETELY shuts down at dark. However, unaware of this situation, we managed to drive around town only to be greeted by one closed grocery store after another. By 9pm the mood in the truck was souring and I was quickly becoming the target of everyone’s frustration for not wanting to just stay at a hotel. We finally settled on a small convenience store near the self-catering facility. The store was little more than a glorified quick mart that you would find attached to a Exxon to Shell station in the States. We managed to scour the aisles to find enough provisions to scrap together a braai. Upon arrival at our unit, it promptly started to rain. No worries, we’ll just crank up the heat and move on, right? Oh surprise, due to what I’m assuming was the language barrier the ‘yes’ to my inquiry of ‘does the unit have heat’ should have been a resounding ‘NO’. I probably had it the best standing outside near the fire pit, despite the freezing cold rain pelting me. Inside, the Wegeners came through and everybody decided to make the most of the adventure I had gotten us all into.

The upside of the place not providing basic necessities such as towels or soap was there were no showers or basic hygiene to slow us down in the morning. So we were off at perhaps our earliest departure time yet and headed back toCape Townto catch a Stormers rugby game. We had just left Mossel Bay when the engine started to over-rev. Curtis pulled us off to the side of the road and tried putting it back in gear. Nothing. He tried reverse and we lunged forward. Grace started crying and little Curtis was furious at dad and me for saying a Land Rover breakdown was just part of the deal. I called a tow truck and we waited … and waited. Finally they showed up and drug the Landy on top of the flatbed trailer and took off … with us perched on the trailer still in the Defender. We were unloaded at a repair garage that claimed they could get us repaired. It was a muffler shop so I had my doubts. We spent the next 3-4 hours waiting on the repair only to be told it wouldn’t be ready until the following day.

The repair shop loaned us a VW Polo and recommended a guest house down the road. I was a little leery of the term ‘guest house’. From my travels in Africa, that term can mean anything from the dirtiest block housing to proper suites. Pat and Grace were on high alert as well after the sleeping arrangements we had found ourselves in the night before. Thank goodness for the women of the family the guest house turned out to be over the top. It was a two story condo style unit with the absolute nicest amenities of just about anywhere I’ve ever stayed. We all spent some time regrouping before heading out for dinner in town.

Perhaps my favorite part of the trip was our trek to the Western Cape winelands. We drove to Stellenbosch, the largest and oldest of the Cape wine routes and home to the very Afrikaans Stellenbosch University. I highly recommend checking out my Flicker feed for pictures of the winelands as I can’t begin to do justice in describing it. (I’ll post more pictures over the next couple weeks). We started our outing at Spier Wine Estate where ordered a selection of wines and food platters and spent the next hour plus taking it all in. I thoroughly enjoyed trying all the wines and comparing notes on what everyone preferred.

From Stellenbosch we drove through the stunning Helschoogte Pass to Franschhoek. Franschhoek literally means ‘French Corner’ and for good reason. The area was settled between 1688 and 1700 by French Huguenots and many of the estates today are still known by their French names. The town (dorp in Afrikaans) is among the most visually stunning places I’ve ever been. It’s surrounded on three sides by mountains and has a unmistakable charm. The only thing I could hold against it (besides being French) is everything was a tad pricy. We spent an hour or so wandering down the main promenade before grabbing a quick bite to eat at a local pub. From Franschhoek we headed back to Stellenbosch to try and do one more wine tasting before the day was out. Unfortunately most of the estates had closed.

After the success of the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek wine land trip, we decided to visit Constantina for the family’s last big event in Cape Town. Constantina is theCape’s oldest winelands located in the Southern Suburbs. We went to Groot Constantina, the largest estate in the area. The tasting differed from Spier in that they really took the time to walk us through the various components of the wine. We finished out the day by touring the winery and learning a little about how wine is made.

All in all the family’s adventure toSouth Africa was incredible and I hope this entry aptly captures some of the highlights. Hopefully I can still follow up with entries from everybody else to share some of the funny moments and experiences I’m sure to have left out.

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