March 21, 2004
The Little Green Van
DAY 148: In travel culture, there are two kinds of people away from home: "travelers" and "tourists." From the pages of National Geographic Traveler to internet bulletin boards, people usually agree that the term "traveler" refers to those who see foreign countries independently, outside of a tour package, usually during a fair amount of time, without the fancy resorts or the fuzzy slippers you get in first class. "Tourists" are those that travel on limited time, usually with a package tour, with the purpose of getting away from life at home to live it up, with or without those fuzzy slippers.
THE GARDEN ROUTE, the area about four hours east of Cape Town, is the most popular destination of the Western Cape province after Cape Town according to the Frommer's Guide to South Africa, and a must-see if you have the time, so I was told. With forest trails and beaches to walk, caves to explore, ostriches to ride, and game reserves to drive through, the amount of things to do was a bit overwhelming. My head was spinning with all the brochures out there fighting for my tourist dollar and I thought to myself, I wish there was just someone who could figure it all out for me. Then I realized that duh, the whole tourism industry was built by people figuring it out for you. As one traveler in the hostel told me, "You can knock [tours] all you want, but they do a good job."
As much as I wanted to do the Garden Route independently -- either through a rental car or the hop-on/hop-off Baz Bus service -- the best way for me to go was a comprise of the two: the Bok Bus, a small tour company that catered to the independent traveler that went to all the major spots that I wanted to see. It wasn't a big fancy tour bus; it was a little green Volkswagen minivan with a Toyota engine that would continue to run for two more minutes after you turned the van off (picture above). At the wheel was Tom, a Namibian of German ancestry, born and raised in Swakomund. He picked me up at The Backpack, along with two British girls Sarah and Kate, at 8 a.m. promptly.
Already in the little green Bok Bus was Chris, an English out-of-work archaelogist; Andy, a German painter working in a factory outside of Munich; and Sonja, a German student that had just finished a Business English course in Cape Town. We picked up two other Germans, Verona and Birgit, and then head out of the city, east towards the Garden Route on the N2 highway.
After stopping for morning tea at an overlook at Sir Lowry's Pass, we continued the three hours along N2 towards Mossel Bay, the seaside town at the start of the Garden Route. Along the way we stopped at the Gouritz River Bridge to watch people bungy jump for the first time. Tom tried to get us to jump the 68-meter drop, but everyone was just happy watching. Having done a bigger jump at Victoria Falls in 2000, I wasn't exactly rushing to do an inferior one.
"Erik and I have an excuse," Chris said. "We've already done higher ones. We've been initiated into the club already."
We stood at the bridge and watched others get initiated while screaming their heads off.
After dropping our bags off on the train, we all hit the beach to relax after the long drive in the morning. Unlike the beach at Camp's Bay, with frigid waters brought up from the Antarctic, Mossel Bay was along the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and had a much bearable temperature to swim in. Compared to the New Jersey shore, it had a much bearable cleanliness to swim in; I could actually see my feet immersed three feet below.
Even with acres and acres of land, the reserve had a sort of zoo feel to it and, having done a proper safari in Botswana in 2000, I wasn't too impressed. Don't get me wrong; it wasn't like an old-fashioned zoo with cages, but here the animals were fed and didn't really interact with each other in the great "circle of life." Instead of letting the lions hunt for their food instinctively, they were merely fed cows from the nearby farms and drank out of a man-made watering hole. Without proper exercise, The Lion King here was in desperate need of Weight Watchers.
Everyone else in my group hadn't been on safari before and seeing the animals -- even in an "unnatural" habitat and in limited quantity -- was still a thrill. Inside I felt a little embarrassed that I had already become a "safari snob," but I will have to say that I was impressed with finally getting to see rhinos -- in Botswana in 2000, they had been poached out of existence.
After our fill in luxury, we headed back to our little humble train accommodation on the beach, where I fell asleep nicely to the relaxing sounds of the ocean waves just a couple dozen feet away.
Fine cuisine, jacuzzi under the stars, sleeping by the beach. That guy at the hostel was right; knock tours all you want, but they do a good job.
Now about those fuzzy slippers...
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