Spring Break '11 - Cape Town

Trip Start Jan 27, 2011
Trip End May 27, 2011

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Where I stayed
Penthouse on Long Street
What I did

Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Well this will definitely be the longest blog of all because spring break in Cape Town was probably the BEST week and a half of my life! The adventure begins on Friday (April 22) morning; we woke up early in the morning and piled on the bus at 6:30 am.  We then headed on the N2 freeway west toward Cape Town.  It is roughly 900km away from Port Elizabeth so it would be a long haul in our buses.  However today we would only be driving for around three hours because there were a lot of activities planned for the day.  We arrived at Tsitsikama and Bloukrans Bridge at around 9:30 am.  The reason that we stopped here was because we were going to partake in the WORLDS HIGHEST BUNGY JUMP!  Sorry Grandma, I know you don't like heights, but this jump was 216m off a bridge that overlooked a gorge that was around 400m deep!  I was in the second group to go jump.  When there are 20 some participants, it can take awhile.  My scheduled jump was noon but it got pushed back to 1:00pm because another group had booked before us.  Since I had ample waiting time, I chose to watch the first group jump; bad idea.  I hadn’t really realized how big the jump actually was.  When the first person went we all started to get anxious.  We didn’t realize what we had gotten ourselves into!  The anxiousness would subside and the return every half an hour until the jump.  By the time I got my harness and prepared to walk out to the bridge I wasn’t scared, but I was super pumped up.  The walk out to the bungee platform may have been the scariest part about the entire process.  The walkway was metal but it had holes and was see-through, so as you were walking out to the center of the bridge, you realized the magnitude of the drop.  Once I got out the platform I was so jacked up I volunteered to go first, but the lead worker chose my friend Megan to go first.  There were DJ’s on the bridge playing music, the workers were dancing and working to the beat of the music.  It was just an awesome atmosphere.  While I wasn’t able to go first, I was selected to go second.  They wrapped a pad around my ankles, then took a nylon strap and wrapped it between around and through my legs until there was a complex series of turns.  I wasn’t too comfortable with this being my life line, but the worker cinched it up and explained that as gravity pulled me down, this knot would hold 400 times my weight and that I would be just fine.

I hopped over to the ledge with the assistance of some of the workers and they started to count down.  5…4…3…2…1…BUNGY!  I bent my legs and jumped out as far as I could.  I wish that I could explain the feeling of falling over 70 stories, but I can’t.  It was the most insane thing I will ever do!  I rushed toward the earth trying to yell, but I couldn’t breathe or muster a sound.  Once I reached the bottom I was brought back up by the elasticity of the cord.  I went back up almost all of the 216 meters and I prepared myself for the worlds second highest bungy jump (the second fall of the bloukrans is still 70 meters taller than the nearest bungy jump).  Finally I could breathe and I yelled at the top of my lungs.  For what seemed like an eternity I fell back toward the earth, the rebounded back up, over and over.  Finally I was hanging suspended, 300 meters in mid air with some of the most beautiful scenery around me.  This was pretty nerve racking but soon the gentlemen nicknamed spider man, came down and attached the steel cable to my harness and pulled me up.  I had the biggest adrenaline rush after I got up and I was high fiving, hugging, and dancing with all my friends.  Soon the rest of our group jumped and we headed back to the buses.  I still can’t believe I did it!

Funny side story, my friend Taylor was told by his mom that she wouldn’t let him bungy jump because he had had a few concussions before and she thought there would  be a lot of whiplash.  Our instructor explained that because the rope was set up like a pendulum, there isn’t any whiplash.  So Taylor decided what Taylor’s mom doesn’t know, won’t hurt her!  He decided to bungy but he wouldn’t allow anyone to take photos of him as evidence.  After he jumped he decided to buy the professional pictures and give them to his mom as a present; he said hopefully she won’t kill him.

Ugh, there is still so much to say about break and I’m only one day in…

Well at Tsitsikama, we hiked and ate a traditional Xhosa dinner and stayed overnight in backpackers.  The next morning we were to drive all the way to Capetown, at least seven hours in the car.  Basically we slept, read for class, or chatted the entire drive.  Once we got to Cape Town, we drove to the township of Guguletu where we would be doing a township overnight.  We were each designated to certain 'mama’s’ who would be looking after us.  Nick and I went with our mama and found that for Guguletu she had a very nice house.  She cooked for us and we talked with her family until about midnight, it was then that we went to bed.  The next morning was Easter Sunday, instead of the traditional Catholic mass, we were given the option to attend the townships multi-racial and multi-denominational church.  It reminded me of a combination of a Pentecostal and Baptist church, and mass was LONG, but I survived.  Afterward we headed to a popular local joint called Mzoli’s.  There they specialized in meat; and they were very good at braii-ing it!  We had chicken, lamb, boerwoers, and pork chops.  It was a meat lovers heaven, and some of the best food I have had in a long time.  The place was jam packed because outside it was raining and the tent was fairly small.  I would have estimated conservatively that there was 300 people under the single tent.  After Mzoli’s we headed to the docks where we would catch a tour to Robben Island.

Robben Island is about 30-45 minutes of the coast by Cape Town, and when we took the ferry, it was extremely choppy and several people got sea sick.  Many of them were kids so we felt pretty bad for them, but I enjoyed the ride for the most part.  Once we got to the Island we took a bus tour of all the roads and compounds.  Afterward we were able to take a walking tour of both group and individual cells.  The one cell everyone had nervously been anticipating was Nelson Mandela’s. Once we got there, we studied how small the cell was and looked at how primitive it truly was.  This was where he had spent over two decades of his life!!!  After the tour we hopped back onto the ferry and back towards the waterfront of Cape Town.  We had dinner at a restaurant on the water and then returned to our hotel where we all passed out in nice warm beds.

The next morning we woke up early for our hike up Table Mountain.  Table Mountain is truly what sets Cape Town apart.  The steep face butted up against the ocean is truly beautiful.  The weather was overcast, and as we looked up the mountain we could see the rainclouds, but we started hiking up anyway.  Our guides for the week in Cape Town, Mike and Trevor, were pretty young guys, maybe 25-27 years old and they were super energetic which was nice on the hike.  Mike kept commenting how in-shape our group was and that we were going at a hectic pace up the mountain.  After about a half an hour we were all out of breath and our legs were burning from the climb, but we pushed on.  We were able to climb up to the top of Table mountain in 1:15:00, usually it takes 2-3 hours!  When we got to the top we looked around at the scenery, but were disappointed, there was too much cloud cover.  But all of a sudden it was very windy and the clouds were pushed to the far side of the mountain.  The view was awesome!  The city, ocean, and mountain made for a perfect picture opportunity.  After we had eaten our sack lunches we began to hike back down.  Apparently the hike was four hours down, and a half an hour in it started to downpour.  We had to take a group vote to see if we wanted to continue or turn back, but it was unanimous; press on.  The rest of the hike was leisurely but we went at a fast pace which was nice.  Mike and Trevor weren’t kidding when they said the hike was four hours, we got back to the vans at around five pm.  It had been a full day of hiking.

Tuesday was our last day as a large group in Cape Town, and the activities for the day were a trip to the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Point), wine tasting, and seeing African penguins.  We drove for a couple of hours to Cape Point, the point at which the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet.  Once again we had to hike up to the lighthouse, but the view was worth it.  After lunch we stopped briefly at a national park to see African penguins.  These little guys are hilarious to watch when they walk.  They are about 1 – 1.5 feet tall and are black with white bellies and spots.  We left the park in a hurry because we were about to be late for wine tasting at Groot Constantia, the oldest winery in South Africa.  It was founded in the late 1600’s and was over 300 years old!  We arrived at the vineyard and were ushered in and immediately served wine.  We tasted many varieties of red and white wine and were able to meander around the premises.  Everyone was having a great time and many people bought wine for family back home.  I guess you can bring back 2-3 bottles without paying duty, which is nice.  We had our final dinner with the large group and with Mike and Trevor.  The five days we had spent together were awesome, but the adventures were only about to begin.

Wednesday morning we were scheduled to go Great White Shark cage diving, but there were 7m swells, which made our trip cancelled.  All of a sudden we had a free day in Cape Town to explore the city.  Eight of us went back to the water front where we went to Two Oceans Aquarium, explored the Wharf, ate lunch, and saw a movie (it was only 3 dollars!!!).  We had dinner at the ocean front once again and afterward we explored the city’s night life.  Long Street is about 2 miles long and has an endless number of shops, restaurants, clubs, and bars and that was where our backpacker was located.  The only problem with Long Street is that there are also high numbers of beggars.  Where ever you walk you are pestered for spare change, but as long as you say no and keep walking, they stop hassling you.

Thursday morning we woke up early for the larger wine tour I had planned earlier in the week.  We were going to be driven to four different wineries for tasting and then back home.  We started at our first winery, Fairview, at 9:30 am.  It seemed pretty early for wine, but hey were college students… Our guides Bruce and Mirunda were awesome.  The explained how to taste wine, how it is made, why there are taste differences, and a dozen other things I can vaguely remember.  We started with white wine and moved our way to red wine.  Meanwhile there was also cheese tasting so we learned how to pair cheese and wine.  At about 11:30 we moved on to our next winery which was outside beneath the mountains.  Again we learned about the process of making wine, but by this point we felt like we were experts.  Time started to fly by and we were driven to lunch and our third wine tasting.  By this point in time some of the girls were getting a little buzzed on the wine so there was always a few people laughing and enjoying themselves.  Finally we made it to the final winery and our guides started to hit us hard with wine.  By the time you would have finished one, your glass would have been refilled with another.  Luckily they put only a little wine in the glasses, otherwise we would have been pretty tipsy. 

Everyone went to bed fairly early because on Friday morning, we were scheduled to be picked up at 4:30 am; we were going to cage diving!

There were 11 of us that planned on diving, but one of the guys decided it would be a great idea to go out partying until two am.  Basically when I woke up I had to spend twenty minutes trying to wake him.  I eventually resorted to slapping him in the face and pouring water on him while shaking him violently.  Finally he woke up out of the mini-coma he was in, and I dragged him out of the bed, down six flights of stairs, and into the van.  The drive to diving was two hours.  We were headed to a city called Gansbaii, one of the best places in the world to see great whites!  We arrived at the location at around seven am, and luckily they gave us a large breakfast, because we were starving!!  The briefed us on the procedure for diving and by 8 am we were out on the water.  Once again the chop was pretty strong, but the ride was fun because we were in the open air.  We arrived at Dyre island, were 60,000+ seals live, and where great whites come to hunt from April to August.  Great whites are very migratory creatures so it wasn’t a sure thing that we would even see one.  By the time our skipper said this, Nick shouted ‘SHARK’!  There was a nine footer right by the boat!  I was one of the first selected to dive, so I quickly suited up into the wetsuit and popped in the cage.  When the shark swam by, we all started to freak out.  These animals are HUGE!  Nick had worked as an intern in Mossel Bay studying great whites for a month so he knew how large they were, but his description didn’t do them justice.  We were in the cage for over twenty minutes watching these sharks swim toward the boat, attracted by the chum we had spread, and also by the tuna head attached to the rope that was floating ten feet in front of the cage.  In case you were wondering how they attract sharks, chum, a combination of fish oil, water, and fish parts, is scattered behind the boat where ocean currents spread it and sharks can pick up the scent.  Then as a visual, a fish head is attached to a rope via a knot, not a hook, so that the shark will swim toward the cage.  The cage itself is attached to the boat and the top two feet are above the water surface so that you can come up for air.  The dive was so intense I get excited just thinking about it.  Things got even better when a 3.5 meter shark brushed up against the cage.  This thing was insane!  We had to pop back out of the cage so that everyone else could take a turn, but just watching the sharks from the boat was just as intense.  The sharks would often come from beneath the fish head and pop the top halves of their bodies out of the water in attempt to strike the target.  Sometimes the shark would miss, other times it would snag the bait and trash about in the water until it ripped the bait from the line. 

After everyone had taken one turn in the cage, the skipper asked if anyone wanted to go again. I immediately volunteered and this time I was able to spend 40 minutes in the cage.  The water was much colder now and the waves were twice the size, so things got a little rough.  In addition the sharks were a lot less frequent, but toward the end of my second dive a shark burst towards the bait, missed it, and the bumped into the cage, snout first, right next to my face and hands!  I started to freak out with my buddy in the water and when we surfaced we started shouting and giving each other high fives saying "HOLY *%$@! That was awesome!!!!"  By 12:45 our time was up, but we didn’t care, we had gotten our fill of sharks for the day.  We got back to our hotel at around 3:30 and immediately told the other people in our group how awesome it was.  That night no one went to bed before 2 am because we were all so jacked up.  The next day we went to the local markets and picked up our rental cars since we had to start back for home.  We were all depressed to leave Cape Town; after a week there we had become emotionally attached to the city.  We worked our way along the coast toward PE and stopped for the night near Mossel Bay, Nick’s old stomping grounds.  We talked with the shark research crew he worked for and had dinner at this awesome burger shack before we turned in early.  We got back mid day on Sunday and everyone was in no mood to work on schoolwork, despite the fact I had a rough draft for my research paper due on Tuesday morning and I hadn’t even started.  Luckily yesterday (Monday) I kicked it in the butt and finished my rough draft and sent it in to my professor.  I still can’t believe how awesome the trip was.  I wish I could put all my pictures on facebook and my blog, but there are wayyy to many.  Once I get back I will be sure to show all of you several times until you are sick of hearing about it!
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