World's Highest Bungee
(Click to watch the video)
Cape Town Comfort
17 February, 1999 (2,610km)
(Cape Town, South Africa)
Finally in Cape
Town at the end of the first leg of our trip, and the memory of it
is a mix of adrenaline, breathtaking scenery, and smashed windows.
Andy and I finally broke
away from Johannesburg on February 6, after an extra week of bureaucratic
contortions and paperwork. Our hosts, Tom and Donna Wolford, were gracious
and accommodating as we shopped around for provisions. In fact their
friend, Dr. Leon Verkhale offered his Series 2A Land Rover to us for
our two weeks of outfitting. In Jo'burg's sprawl, a vehicle is a necessity
and the favor was really appreciated.
Roaring around the Jo'burg
loop, we headed southwest intending to angle down to the coast and then
follow it west to Cape Town. The air conditioner fought a losing battle
with the heat and we began our 2litre a day water habit. Arriving in
Kimberly at dusk, we selected our campsite for its proximity to The Big
Hole, tore plastic wrappers off our gear, and managed to pitch camp in
1/2 an hour. Survived the first camp cooking and sweated through our
On Sunday we found a
spectacular Methodist church and a crusty old minister with sense of
humour. He mixed evangelistic fire with veld wisdom which made for a
very entertaining sermon.
The Big Hole - first De Beers diamond mine
Sunset in the Karoo
Pitching camp in Knysna - after a dozen camps it was down
to 10 min.
Cango caves - the 'postbox' part of the tour requires belly
The Heads at Knysna - a narrow channel that cuts between
Robinson Pass - a sea of wildflowers
The beaches along the southern coast draw a stream of tourists
The world's tallest bungee - 70 storeys high
Lighthouse at Cape Agulas
Cape Agulas is the southernmost point of the African continent. On
one side is the Indian Ocean, and on the other the Atlantic. This
was a high-point of Andy's trip, "I always used to look
at the African atlas and see that point at the bottom, labeled
prominently, and wonder what it was like." It turned
out to be hazy from the salty air, with a strong wind whipping
off the ocean spray. It felt like the end of a continent.
Cablecar up to the top of Table Mountain
Cape Point is the southern tip of the cape peninsula -
Monday morning, The Big Hole, the largest
man made hole in the world. Created almost entirely by pick and shovel,
it was the central location of the great diamond rush. It spawned the De
Beers company founded by Cecil Rodes. We also toured two of De Beers' active
diamond mines, where diamond bearing kimberlite is blasted from volcanic
tubes and hauled to the surface to be crushed and sorted. Interestingly,
the De Beers family had nothing to do with the company. It was the De Beers
brothers who owned the two farms on which the Kimberly diamonds were found.
They sold the land rights for 21,000 pounds sterling – a large sum at the
time, but a pittance compared with the $5 billion worth of glittering stones
that have been hauled out since then.
Garden Route around
the Southern Tip of Africa
Monday afternoon we turned south and the
next few days were spent along the Garden Route. Jeffrey's Bay
- South Africa's best surf. Happy Valley - an incredible twisting
vertical plunge through chasms of lush greenery and plateaus of gorse
and sage. Plettenberg Bay – a huge white sand tidal pan bordered by a
steep hillside town reminiscent of the Italian Riviera. Knysna - a narrow
water outlet to the ocean guarded by two massive cliffs - vacation houses
perched a thousand feet above the ocean.
Leaving the Garden Route
briefly we traveled inland to the Cango Caves on a side trip. Walking,
scooting, and finally belly crawling - we traversed 1.2 km of the Cango
1 system. Baleen like stalagmite, pipe organ clusters of stalactite,
delicate flutes and massive toppled pillars. It is an ancient cave full
of growth and character. Recently Cango systems 2,3,4, and 5 were discovered
- extending the known cave structure by several kilometres and ranking
it with the world's best.
Temperate extremes were
obvious as we headed back to the coast. The cave region looks like
a scorched red Martian landscape, with occasional thorn trees nourishing
flocks of ostrich. Dry and barren because of the ocean side mountain
ranges which rip the moisture from passing clouds. Within 10km of the
coast we climbed from the barren plain, up Robinson's Pass, to wildflower
carpeted heights. Clouds boiled over the peaks like dry ice off a stage
and chilly winds zephyred through the pass cut as we descended back into
the verdant Garden Route again.
Back on the coast at
the west end of the Garden Route we camped at Mussel Bay. Discovered
by Bartholomeu Dias in 1488 it was used as a watering stop for centuries.
Near the spring is a famous tree that served as a mail post for passing
Dutch traders. East bound ships would leave messages to be taken home
by west bound spice laden galleons. Excellent oysters.
The campers in the adjoining site told us about the world's tallest bungee.
We'd missed it in our meanderings through the country. Re-tracing our path
back to Jeffrey's Bay, we came to Bloukrans bridge. At 216 meters, the central
span can accommodate a 70 storey building. After strapping up, I teetered over
the edge - the stream was a metallic glint far below. The crew yelled 5,4,3,2,1...
and leap out, arms straight out, then yank one in and spiral into a dive straight
down - the ground blurring. The elastic cord used stretches 3 times it's length
so the arrest is quite gentle, but the rebound takes you within 30m of the
bridge, and the second drop is almost as long as the first. Bounce, bounce,
hang upside down blowing in the breeze. The winch man descends like a spider
and you are hauled back up to the dizzying height.
Unclipped, smile to
the video, walk back over to the harness chair, re-strap... this time
tip-toe to the edge - backwards. On five, spring out like falling backwards
into bed, then head way back and curl into a back dive. Arch up at the
extremity of the arrest and bounce upright - standing... then down again.
After two jumps I was adrenalined out. Andy captured the lunacy on video
Late lunch at the Boardwalk
in Plettenberg Bay, chicken curry again, and then a petrol fill up at
Caltex. Andy scratched a little prize contest coupon - and won! So now
we have R1,600 ($400) towards future accommodations! We straggled into
Swellendam and ate noodles and cream corn from the can. Our camp pitching
skills are improving and we are down to 10 minutes from arrival to kettle
"woke up with damp
dew and chilly cloud - little worn from prev. day's exertions, but the
cloud burned off like a pool cover rolling into the ocean and we walked
out of breakfast to blue sky and mountain backdrops"
Off to Cape Agulas,
the southernmost point of the continent. Arriving mid-morning we ground
out to the marker, Andy gleefully engaging the low gears and diff lock.
Pictures, video, toes in surf, etc. Thence to Cape Town. Descending the
mountain pass we were awestruck at the view. The city is truly gorgeous,
and Table Mountain is much higher than it looks in the pictures.
We found accommodation in a hostel downtown, and were awoken to the car alarm
on Sun. morning. Thieves like to hold an old spark plug in their fist and
use the end to shatter car windows. Our alarm has an infra-red sensor that
clicks on with movement and that saved most of our gear. I lost my backpack
with rain shell and most of my Kilimanjaro ascent gear. Before leaving
Jo'burg we had bolted a steel trunk into the back of the vehicle, and bolted
a safe inside the trunk. It seemed paranoid at the time, but with a steering
lock, alarm, immobilizer, car insurance, contents insurance, locked trunk,
and locked safe - we didn't lose much of value.
Sunday continued to
be an odd day. We dropped the truck off (3 days to ship in new glass)
and walked around the city. As we were headed toward the restaurant for
dinner we noticed three men yelling on the sidewalk, suddenly one staggered
away supported by his friend, blood streaming down his stomach and side
from knife wounds. Dinner was subdued.
Despite our experiences,
Cape Town is one of the safer large cities in South Africa. It's beaches
are beautiful, and the malls and stores rival any large North American
city. We rented scooters while the truck was in the shop and wound through
the city's charms. Sunset from Signal hill. Twisting though the coastal
road in the Cape Point reserve. Shredding traffic down the Kloof Nek
connector from Camps Bay. Fantastic dinners at fractional prices each
night. And daily e-mail access at the Virtual Turtle cafe.
South Africa is still
struggling to integrate a large proportion of it's population. We noticed
electricity grids newly installed in the townships, and modest new houses.
The country is developing a sense of pride and the populace seems generally
content with the work of the ANC. The two keen concerns are crime and
employment. I read a book called the “South African Vision” which was
a summary of a systematic survey of the population to determine its mood,
five years after the end of apartheid. Virtually everyone remains
solidly loyal to the country and willing to continue to make sacrifices
to rebuild, with one strong caveat – the horrendous crime rate must be
cut. This country and its people are so great that I can’t help
believing that things will work out.
We plan to ride the
cable car to the top of Table Mountain this afternoon. More spectacular
views. Tomorrow we'll head north on the second leg of our trip; Namibia,
Botswana, and ending up at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. I'll have
to brush up on my Swahili!