This was my last week of my year off and looking back at it, I can’t believe that it is over. Time really flies when you are traveling and I am so lucky to have been able to have all of these amazing experiences. I have done so much over the last year, met so many new people, ate lots of new foods, and did so many firsts. This year alone I traveled on 17 different planes, 9 trains, countless buses, and hundreds of hours on a truck. I have circled this planet at least twice.
This week started with a drive day from Bethanie to reach Fish Eagle Canyon. We arrived in the early afternoon, had lunch, did some laundry, and read a book for a couple of hours. Around 3:30, we all hopped into the truck and were driven to Fish Eagle Canyon. This is supposed to be the second biggest canyon in the world, only behind the Grand Canyon.
We started at the small viewpoint and walked along the edge of the canyon until we got to the main viewpoint. The canyon was very beautiful! It was very big, but I do think the Grand Canyon is a big more spectacular. It has a small river running through it and it looked like it went on for miles.
I really enjoyed the walk and we made it more entertaining by throwing rocks into the canyon trying to hit certain places. On our truck, we seem to be able to make a game out of anything. Once we reached the main viewpoint, we got on the truck and got out the wine and cheese. They had bought it for us so that we could eat and drink during sunset. It was really a great way to spend the evening. We continued drinking a bit at the campsite and a couple of people drank a little too much that night.
The following day we first drove to Ais Ais, which was about 30 minutes from Fish Eagle Canyon. We were supposed to stay here the night, but we chose to stay at the canyon instead. Ais Ais is know for its extremely hot, hot spring. Once we arrived, we looked at it and laughed because it was so small and unimpressive. Chris had told us it would be, but we didn’t believe him. The only thing that would have been nice about staying at Ais Ais is that they have a large heated swimming pool.
Hot spring at Ais Ais
After Ais Ais, we drove down to the Orange River. The Orange River is the border between Namibia and South Africa. We were offered a chance to canoe on the river, but the river was much smaller than I expected and it didn’t seem worth the money. Also, Chris said you wouldn’t see many animals. Instead, we all just hung out near the river and read books. Then, I got a group workout going. For dinner that night we learned how to make chapatis which was also exciting.
Campsite at the Orange River
The next morning, we crossed in South Africa for our tenth and final country in Africa. Our first stop was in Citrusdal. It was another drive day, but we were driving into the wine region of South Africa. The drive was very beautiful and it was exciting to stop in our first South African supermarket because they had so many more option than the rest of Africa. We were like kids in a candy shop.
Once we arrived, we set up quickly and got ready for our wine tasting. The campgrounds where we stayed put on a pretty good wine tasting. Joining us at the tasting was another group of people from all over. They were on a road trip delivering shoes to kids in Africa. They were a really fun bunch. We all had a lot of wine that night with the tasting. Robin had so much that he debuted his T rex dance moves for the first time.
The following day we drove to Stellenbosch, which is a college town about 25 miles from Cape Town. This was where we would do our official wine tour of the region. Now that we have hit South Africa the weather has turned really cold and I wish I had brought cuter winter clothing. Instead, I have worn the same outfit almost every day. We arrived in time for a late lunch. Freya, Lucy, and I walked to a cafe in town and had smoothies and a really good panini. We haven’t had food like this in a long time and it was delicious. Then, Freya and I went on a run around town to check out the university and get some exercise. For dinner, we found an amazing burger restaurant called Hudson’s that even had a Weizen on tap. It was a really great day!
The following day, I woke up and went for another run around town. Then, showered and got ready for our wine tour. They picked us up around 10:30 in the morning and we didn’t get back until 5:30 pm. We went to 4 different wineries plus a lunch stop. It was a really great tour and our tour guide was really knowledgable about wines. I was so surprised to learn that it was the first wine tour for many in our group. I have done so many that it was a shock to me.
We arrived at our first wine and kicked the drinking off to an early start. He brought out two bottles of sparkling wine and even pulled out a sword. He then proceeded to show us how to cut off the top of the bottle with a sword to open it. A skill set that I will for sure put to use in the future with my own sword. We had our first glass of bubbly while we had a tour of the vineyard.
The really cool part about this wine tour was that they were using some of the equipment while we were there to put the labels on the wine and box it up for shipping. I have never been on a wine tour where I could actually see any of the equipment in use, so this was an exciting moment for me. After the tour, we moved on to the actually tasting.
The wines were really good! I liked our guide’s process of thinking about wines and he really made it easy to understand the different flavors that we should be expecting in the wine. He described what made the difference in color and said all white wine is either acidic or tropical. I also tried a Pinotage for the first time in my life and I loved it! It fits in to my preferences of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon really well. Especially the longer the wine is barreled.
Our second winery was a wine and cheese tasting. The cheese platter was to die for. There were 6 different types of cheeses that we paired with wines, but I think the cheese was better than the wine. There was an amazing feta, but the goat cheese was definitely my favorite. The wines were pretty good at this vineyard, but I think I preferred the first vineyard more.
Our third stop was our lunch stop. We stopped at a restaurant at the base of the languages memorial. I had what they call bobotie for lunch. This is like ground beef with curry powder and egg on top. They serve it with banana and chutney as well. It sounds like a weird mixture of food, but I assure you it is delicious! Also, it is a local dish so I had to try it.
After lunch, we all headed to the languages memorial for some fun photos. It was a really neat looking statue, but I am not sure the point of the memorial. Also, it seems like most of the parts of the memorial just represented Afrikaans instead of a joining together of the languages.
After lunch, we had two more wineries. Our next winery was fun because our server knew a lot about wine and she liked to sing. So, that kept us on our toes and I really liked her. Our final winery had an amazing view! It looked over at the mountains and you could see just a green countryside. We would go inside, choose our next wine for the tasting, and then come back outside to the view.
Views from our last vineyard
By the time we all got home, we were all very drunk. We had a sing a long in the car on the way home and refused to get out of the van until our driver drove once more around the block. About an hour after we got back, we all ordered our own pizzas. I ended up shocking myself and eating the entire thing. I was so hungry! Everyone else was going to go out that night, but I knew I wouldn’t last so I just took myself to bed.
The following morning was our last drive day. I couldn’t believe that we had already reached our final destination. It was too soon! I wasn’t ready to leave all my friends and go back to normal life quite yet. It was a short drive to Cape town and we were staying at Ashanti Inn, which was a really nice hostel. We settled in and had to get all of our stuff off of the truck since we wouldn’t be getting back on. It was an emotional moment.
I wanted to hike table mountain this day because I only had one more day in Cape Town and it was supposed to rain. Unfortunately, we were running short on daylight hours and Table Mountain was covered in clouds, so we decided to hike Lion’s Head instead and I am so happy we made that decision.
Five of us decided to do the hike: Anika, Jess, Lucy, El, and I. It was a gorgeous hike and the weather couldn’t have been better. When the sun was shining it made all of the water look so blue and the mountains were really beautiful. We never saw the top of table mountain, but we were right next to it. The other advantage to this hike is that you spiral up and so it gives you a chance to see views of the whole city while you hike.
Toward the top, the hike turns into more of a scramble up rocks. There is even a section where you need chains, ladders, and handholds screwed into the rocks to get up. I had a lot of fun doing this last part because I really like climbing on rocks.
The view from the top was 360 degree view. Unfortunately, we had lost a lot of the sun by this point so the water did not look as blue. Yet, it was interesting because there was a stark contrast between the light and the dark.
We stayed at the top for about 20 minutes and took lots of different pictures. It was fun since everywhere you walked, you had a different view of the city. We were becoming a little scared of the clouds and the fact it was getting dark so then we headed down the mountain.
We returned to the hostel, showered, and then everyone from the group walked to a restaurant for our final dinner together. Part of it was paid for by the trip and the rest we supplemented ourselves. I got an kudu steak and it was really good! Again, I tried a lot of game meat that night which was fun. We returned after dinner and a lot of us were tired, so we just headed to bed.
The following day, I woke up late and hung around the hostel until 11 am because Freya was going to get picked up by her aunt and I wanted to hang out with her as long as possible. After, a large group of us walked downtown to do some shopping. I had been holding off on buying a lot of souvenirs because I didn’t want to lug them around and knew I could buy them in Cape Town.
Around 3, we raced back to the hostel one more time to say goodbye to Kirsty and then headed out to buy my dad a springbok jersey. I didn’t know it would be so difficult and we ran all around town looking for one. Eventually, we made out way down to the waterfront and I found a store selling them there.
The waterfront at night was gorgeous and I was so glad we decided to venture down there. There were so many lights and restaurants. There was even a ferris wheel. Lucy and I walked around looking for a good restaurant and settled on an Italian place with great pasta and fire around the outside.
That night, we all had a big night for our last night together. We had a beer pong tournament at the hostel (we won!) and then headed out to some bars. It was a really fun night, but I left early because I had a flight the following morning.
The following morning was a bittersweet day for me. I was excited to go home and see friends and family, but it was with the heavy understanding that I was finished with my year off. I can’t even begin to put into words the impact that this year has had on me. It has pushed me beyond my limits and forced me out of my comfort zone. It brought new friends, cultural exchanges, lessons in history, food, and even a new world view. I saw the sun rise over deserts and set over mountains. I sat on deserted beaches and watched the waves crash against the shore. I hiked through jungles, swam through caves, repelled down waterfalls, zip lined through the forest, bungee jumped from bridges, and surfed in the ocean.
Unfortunately, not everything was great all of the time. I to overcome the theft of 2 phones, many terrible stomach viruses, cramped travel on buses and trains, and broken motorbikes. I even had trouble with animals! This year alone I was stung by a sting ray, bit by a monkey, and scratched by a cheetah. These things only made me stronger. Though, I can say for sure that they highlight of my trip is those people I met along the way. Whether is was for an hour, a day, a week, and month, or even 5 months, they are all a part of my life and these exchanges are what makes traveling so special. I wish that many will stay in my life, but I know that is sometimes impossible. What I do hope, is that everyone keeps on traveling, remains open minded, and keeps on trying to make this world a better place.