Yesterday I left on a five-day tour from Cape Town to Addo along the garden route. I said goodbye to the dog at Salty Crax (described by one of the American girls as a creep) and got on the road. I was in a minibus with seven others - a girl from Japan, four Dutch girls, an English girl and an American girl. Two of the Dutch girls were here for a psychology conference in Cape Town (the same conference packed with thousands of people that is probably the reason I was unable to get a ticket for Robben Island) while the rest were all volunteering on different projects; for example the English girl Maddy was volunteering with an education group, while the Japanese girl was volunteering with penguins. In the week that I have been in South Africa I have yet to meet a single person who was just on holiday. In fact the assumption seems to be that you are volunteering or studying and people look a bit surprised when I say I am just traveling. I've never experienced that anywhere else that I have been. There also seems to be a real male-female imbalance with about 90% of the foreigners being girls that I have met. I wonder how much volunteering is appreciated. Is it better to come to a country and spend money visiting different parts of it or is it better to give a lot of money to an organisation to set you up with a volunteer project and place and house you for a certain number of weeks in a specific part of the country. Does volunteering take jobs that local people could earn money doing? Or does it fill in the gaps where paying someone is not feasible? Does it benefit the local economy and encourage development as much as tourism or does it have more important social benefits as well as putting some money into the country? A few years back I was volunteering with Habitat for Humanity on a building project in Ghana. We were working alongside paid local builders who were directing the operation and after a few days they started telling us that there was no work to do on certain days or that we should have an afternoon off. It later turned out that the local builders were concerned that if we worked too hard the work would be completed a lot sooner and they would be out of jobs.
Our bus took us along the coastal route, with jagged mountains on our left and white sand, turquoise waters and rolling surf on our right. A picture couldn't do it justice but I tried. We stopped off for lunch at a town called Hermanus - famous for having the best land-based whale watching in the world. Unfortunately I only saw surfers and lots of restaurants and shops. It was a really beautiful town though and somewhere that I wouldn't mind spending a couple of days. It was the sort of place you felt more relaxed just for being in. Even the Dassies (the closest living relative to an elephant...not that they look anything like elephants) feel like relaxing in Hermanus (photo below)!
After Hermanus we visited Birkenhead, a local estate and beer brewery. Nestled in the foothills of the mountains we had the chance to sample six different beers and enjoy the sun. There were wheat beers and English style ales, stout and a beer called Black Mamba with a 10% alcohol content. I settled for a pint of blonde wheat beer to follow up with and then almost instantly regretted it when we got back on the bus. I didn't regret it nearly as much however as the two Dutch girls who had to ask Martin to pull over for a toilet stop. Martin looked at them like they were insane.
"Have you looked outside? Where do you want me to stop?"
All around was a barren expanse of land with little in the way of bushes or shrubs. A few hundred metres down the road we pulled into next to a solitary bush which was just about able to conceal the girls. I struggled on.
Our accommodation for the night was Cape Agulhas in the small fishing town of Struisbaai. The place was great, with a swimming pool (freezing cold with it being winter) a bar and lounge with a pool table and spacious private rooms in their own mini houses complete with shared kitchens. There was a huge sandy beach nearby - 70km long with a distinction of being the longest unspoilt beach in all of South Africa. We went for a short walk along it to a small harbour where it's possible to see stingray in the water. Like the whales we were out of luck but we did accost a fisherman for a group photo.
(One of the dogs from where we were staying led us to the beach)
Dinner that night was a braai, a South African-style BBQ cooked over a wood fire. Martin tried to explain the difference between braai.
"With a braai it's all about the social aspect and drawing people together. The fire usually burns all night and you never have a braai without a beer in your hand!"
Over dinner I bumped into Stephanie, one of the guides from when I went rock climbing in Cape Town. She was with boyfriend and the two were taking a few days to travel around the area. After dinner I played a few games of pool while some of the others played cards, wrote in their journals and generally relaxed. Tomorrow we're up at the un-Godly hour of 7am for breakfast and an early start.