Monday, June 3, 2013

South Africa Travel Diary 2 - Jeffrey's Bay and Addo Elephant Park

(India's a really cool place - I would love to volunteer there! Every view I get on this video is one view closer to getting there! Open it in a new tab, and let it play on mute when you read this, and I will love you forever. Thanks so much!)

May 3rd: The bus left Cape Town promptly at six, which was quite a surprise. Compared to the last bus I was on, this one was absolutely luxurious. I found a seat on the second level, in between an Afrikaans techie guy and an Australian missionary, which made for some interesting conversation for the next five or six hours before we fell asleep.

Around 5:30 in the morning, the bus dropped me off at a gas station along the highway outside of Jeffrey's Bay. A woman in the gas station told me to get a taxi into town, but I'd rather have walked. So, I settled down at a picnic table outside, and waited for it to get a little bit more light before I would start to walk. I didn't expect to spend the morning outside a gas station, but the gas station attendant guys were chilled, so it worked! Oh, at gas stations here, there are guys who fill the tank and do stuff for you, instead of you getting out and doing it. That's kind of just how it is here, I guess. I don't think I've seen anybody do it themselves.

After a little while, all these big Afrikaans guys started pulling up, just as it was getting light outside. They said that they used to go to Mlilwane for vacations, a game reserve in Swaziland. I'm not exactly sure why you would leave South Africa to go to a game reserve in Swaziland, but whatever.

Anyways, they gave me directions to the beach, so essentially into town, and I found it easily enough, and just in time for the sunrise, which was spectacular. The beach was still empty enough that it was strangely peaceful, despite the massive waves that came crashing onto the rocks. Jeffrey's Bay has some really massive waves - the town is kind of built around being a surfing town, as I later found out.

As I'm sitting on the beach, watching the sunrise and the waves, asking myself whether this is actually real life, this old lady comes along with a bucket and a bag, picking up seashells like a five-year-old on vacation in Florida. She comes over, and so I asked what she's going to do with all these shells. She says that she makes arts and crafts with them, which is typical enough, I suppose, but then she starts describing the beauty of shells with such an animation and passion that I couldn't help but smile. She had these big glasses and big eyes that darted around, searching for more shells in the sand. She kept going on about "the details, the details! I've been here twenty years, and I never noticed the details of the shells until a few years ago!"
She then starts talking about some group of dolphins that is coming through the bay, and how they mate here, and how you can see them surfing with the surfers in the waves (true story, I spent many hours later watching the dolphins - they're pretty magical looking). She proceeded to give me directions to a backpacker's hostel, but then immediately told me not to think about directions and to enjoy the moment.
Old people are smart.

She then dug this awesome shell out of her pocket, big, but not too big, and says, "Here, have this one. Appreciate it." And then she was off.

A few hours later, I left the beach and made my way to the backpacker's hostel. Compared to my hostel in Cape Town, this one was a million times better. It's called Ubuntu Backpacker's, and is essentially a house. I've never felt so immediately at home as I did here. Everyone seems to know everyone, and they know you, and people sit down for meals together, and it's just so wonderful. And it's funny how stereotypically "surfer" the place is, but I love it. The dorms definitely have more character than the dorms in Cape Town as well, which just makes me smile when I see it.

May 4th: This morning, I woke up, stumbled out of the dorm and into the kitchen to make some tea, and this guy goes, "WANT TO SEE THE ELEPHANTS?"

Long story short, shortly thereafter, I found myself in a car with a South African, a Canadian, and this guy from RĂ©union, headed to Addo Elephant Park, which is about a two hours drive from Jeffrey's Bay, more towards Port Elizabeth. There are 450 elephants in the park, so that's the big attraction, although they have everything else as well.

Getting into the park, we all pretended to be South African, because the admission rate more than doubles for internationals. Thank goodness my last name works as a South Africa name, because I'm terrible at making up names on the fly. Anyways, we got into the park, and within two seconds, there's this massive elephant just chilling in the bushes. It was so cool - but we hadn't seen anything yet.

First, there are zebra, which are as common as squirrels in the States, apparently, but I still think they're super cool. They're pretty stocky animals, a bit tubbier than horses, but they're so cool.

Then, there are warthogs, which are also everywhere. They're very bizarre things, with these big tusks, and the hairs of the side of their heads that look suspiciously like bad sideburns.
So, the South African guy turns out to be the son of some famous ornithologist, so there was much more of a bird focus to the day than I expected. The park actually had some really cool birds. They're the kind of thing that you won't notice for forever, but once someone points them out to you, you can't help but notice them.
Okay - back to the elephants. So, we're just driving along this road, surrounded by this intense thicket on either side. The thicket is literally so thick that you can't even see through it, but suddenly we come over the top of the hill, and can see all these elephants in the valley.
And so? We drove down there, obviously! Elephants are absolutely stunning. They were close enough to the car that you could see all the wrinkles in their skin, especially around their eyes. I have to say, for being a massive, four-legged creature with tusks and a trunk, elephants are surprisingly humanlike. Their eyes just make them look so old and wise, like owls, except that elephants actually look old and wise, whereas owls just look confused.

The elephant herd also included several baby elephants, which were a mere fraction of the size of the adults, and still rather wobbly on their legs. The rest of the herd was amazingly consistent in keeping the babies near the middle, always either under a larger elephant, or surrounded by the bigger ones.
It was absolutely breathtaking. The elephants were so close, it was amazing. Especially in a park like this, which is less focused on stocking the park for tourists, like Kreuger, and more focused on conservation, it was nice to see elephants as much in the wild as they could be.
After five or six hours of cruising around the park, we stopped for lunch. Almost immediately after pulling into the lunch area, all these monkeys come flying out of the bushes at us, obviously expecting food. Someone whips out a banana, and while I laughed at first, suddenly we had ourselves a bit of a monkey extravaganza. To be fair, feeding them was a really, really bad idea. They kind of attacked the car.
Seriously, don't feed the animals. They did seem to enjoy it when the guy from Reunion started juggling though. Not sure where the juggling came from, but I was the only person surprised at it, so I just went with it.
After lunch we drove around on these little dirt roads for a few more hours, trying to find some of the super-rare rhinoceros in the park. Apparently the rangers had found the rhinos that morning, but refused to tell us where they were. Poaching is still a massive problem, so while it's all right if you happen to find a rhino, it's not exactly highly publicized information. There are only six or eight in the whole park, which is massive, so it was a long shot anyways. I totally understand the poaching thing though - Apparently these poachers just take helicopters overhead, shoot down the rhinos, cut off their horns, and leave the bodies to rot. Over 375 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2012, and so far in the few months that have passed on 2013, the toll has already passed the entirety of the last year.
So, while we didn't see any rhinos, we saw plenty of other stuff (especially elephants!) and it was a really fantastic day. When I woke up in the morning, and this surfer guy asks if I wanted to see the elephants, I'm not sure what I thought he meant. Now, thinking about it, I can't think of a better thing I could have done that day. Definitely a stunning day - there are some moments I won't be forgetting.
May 6th: The last few days have been absolutely glorious, as far as vacations go. Jeffrey's Bay is a great, laid back "beach town," and my backpacker's is wonderful. I've been splitting my time between watching dolphins and surfers on the beach, exploring the tide pools, and chilling with a book in the hammocks at the house.
The only big issue I have with it is really an issue I have with all of South Africa. I keep getting addressed as "baas," referring to the fact that I'm white. I understand that South Africa has its issues with race, but today, I hate that my race is the first thing people think when they see me. I don't think "black person," when I see a black person, and it's frustrating to see how much race is still at the front of people's minds. I have really nothing to say about this, except that I wish people would see past each other's skin color, whether black, white, colored, or whatever else.
I leave for a farm away from the coast tomorrow - I'll be working there for the next two weeks as a "WWOOFer." I can't wait! I have really no idea what I'm getting into, but I'm so excited!

No comments:

Post a Comment