The Garden Route is the itinerary most tourists take when visiting South Africa. On the agenda are stunning views, wildlife, wine tasting as well as many activities ranging from scout riding, shark diving to hiking and canyoning.
Very spontaneously, I decided to set off for five days road trip along the famous Garden Route, to discover what most tourists visit. I left Cape Town by car in a hot afternoon heading East towards Gordons Bay with the idea of driving the amazing coastal road and finding a chilled backpacker in Hermanus, a seaside town 120 km from Cape Town, to rest during my first night.
As I was driving along the highway, I kept switching between radio channels, which somehow helped to make time pass by. Finally, I saw my exit: Gordons Bay! Just when I turned to head towards the coast a fire truck passed me at full speed. I made it to the coast and a strong gusty wind welcomed me among local South African’s families that were enjoying their relaxed Sunday’s beachfront strolls. The wind was amazingly strong.
As I headed to the coastal road I was stopped by a policeman. “The road is closed, you need to head back to the pass, there is a bush fire.”, he said. I thought: “Ah, of course, 1+1=2. That’s where the fire truck was heading to!” So I made a U-turn and head back to the highway that was climbing up a hill.
When I managed to get on the top of the pass an amazing dry landscape view opened up. While rolling down the hill you could see the inland, opening up widely, while some small mountain ranges were drawing a smooth line along the horizon. Wine and fruit fields appeared far away.
After a turn, I was surprised at the sight of some people walking on the highway. There was a woman with a child. Some other people were waiting to cross the street. But we were in the middle of nowhere! Just then, I saw the barracks. A densely build settlement appeared in the middle of the dusty dry landscape. There were hundreds of small houses, build out of thin shin metal, stacked to each other. Ironically some men were selling apples to the cars driving by at 100km/h.
This settlement was a strange contrast to the rich European style Gordons Bay, where everything looked beautiful and laid back. Here there were people. Here it looked messy. Here there were no trees growing in green gardens, but girls walking their goats along the highway. It was a strong contrast. The “Rich bubble” in which live 1/4 of South Africans slightly touched the “Less than 1.25$ a day bubble” in which 3/4 of South African’s live.
I kept driving and driving on the straight road. Up and down. One hill after the next. From one apple tree farm to dry fields. Finally, I turned towards Hermanus. It was getting late afternoon and I was looking forwards to arrive, get out of the car and walk around. But as I arrived in Hermanus and headed to the backpacker I wanted to stay I found out that it was fully booked. It was the second unlucky change of my spontaneous plans. So I checked out a few websites while watching the windy sea, to discover that every place with a decent price was fully booked in Hermanus.
That’s the kind of situation you can end up in after a 4 hours drive on a spontaneous trip. So what? I checked some more websites and I found a payable room in Gaansbai, the next village along the coast 30 minutes East. I forced my restless legs back in the car and drove over, while the colors of the landscape took golden shadows as the sunset approached. It was a sequence of stunning views on wide landscapes.
After my short experience in the touristy Hermanus, I was surprised to find an almost empty Gaansbai. There were no people in the streets and no people at the welcome desks of the local backpackers. I just found a number to call, to wich none answered. My patience was getting low, almost as low as the battery of my mobile phone that was close to dye. “Patience, patience, patience. Trust in life, flexibility.”, I had to remind myself in order to stay calm.
Finally, I ended up in the “Shark Backpacker”, 10 meters from the beach. It was not really like an oasis of peace: the gusty wind was still blowing restless, the big waves gave the impression to be fighting with the rocks of the shore, and the atmosphere in the almost empty hostel was dark.
The only person I crossed was this unsportive american guy, that was sipping a beer while starring in his laptop. He looked happy to see another person around. He surprised me when he told me that he went shark diving that day. The idea of shark diving is that divers close themselves in a metal cage and some bloody fish is thrown into the water in order to attract sharks. People watch the sharks from inside the cages and get scared. They love it.
Would you imagine that people are ready to pay for getting scared in a safe way? People are ready to paying a lot for getting a free adrenaline rush. They pay for the thrill of facing their fares. The thrill of feeling superior to an animal that could eat them effortless for breakfast.
Before dark, I managed to go to the only nearby open restaurant with a great name: “The great white”. At the mountain chalet style restaurant, I found the traditional Garden Route tourists having dinner: many 50plus groups of friends and bored couples (that eventually spend the full day driving and have nothing left to tell to each other). White tourists were enjoying delicious food while sipping local wines served by black waiters with large smiles. It felt as if the main challenge of the tourist was which delicious dessert to choose from the menu. It was a calm atmosphere, nice, but almost sleepy. I felt as if I was in a bubble I did not belong into.
The next day I moved on very early in the morning, the sun was rising in front of me as I was driving. The clouds created light games while I was moving along the hills in a landscape with rare settlements.
I kept driving towards my destination of the day: the town of “Wilderness”. But as I approached Wilderness a thick layer of mist appeared, setting a strong contrast with the blue sky I was experiencing along the whole way.
When I arrived I directly headed to the beach. The atmosphere was surreal, I had sunlight shining in the back, but fog mixing with the waves, in front of me. The fresh water, that cooled down my feets, was awesome.
I drove up the hill on a dirt road to reach the “Wild Farm Backpacker” situated on the top of the green hill. I saw some wooden huts. I crossed the well-kept grass to get to the main building that was surrounded by banana trees. At the reception, I hear some music playing. A few volunteers from WOOFING welcomed me with big smiles.
I did leave the mist below me, the sun was back and I saw the incredible view of the bay below me. Horses and cows were grazing in the fields. I was captured by the beauty of the surrounding green hills. I felt as if, after the long journey, I arrived in the place I was looking for.