The Most Peaceful Place on Earth

Trip Start Dec 25, 2008
Trip End Mar 28, 2009

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Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

After ditching our plans to head to Knysna for the night since we learned we could never realistically make it there in a day (thankfully Irene had asked someone for directions), we headed for Swellendam, one of the first European settlements in South Africa. From there we would be able to easily visit the De Hoop Nature Reserve, a place heralded in our guide books as one of the most peaceful places on Earth.

The drive to Swellendam was faster than we'd expected, arriving after only a few hours of mountain swtichbacks and two-lane "highway". One of the things I actually loved about driving in South Africa was how incredibly polite everyone was - people would drive onto the shoulder so that you could pass them more easily. This seemed to be completely in keeping with how friendly everyone is - they would go above and beyond anything I'd previously experienced to help. (For example, after asking someone for help in locating an ATM in Cape Town, having tried a nearby ATM that seemed to be broken, the woman offered to leave her office and come with us to see if she could be of assistance.) After checking into our incredibly cute cottage room, we left for De Hoop - an almost 90,000-acre coastal reserve apparently mysteriously seldom visited, given its incredible beauty.

We ended up on the "long road" to the Reserve, following the directions of the person who owned our guest house, since there were no signs to direct you otherwise. But after a while on a road clearly meant for 4X4s and not our little sedan, we made it to the Reserve (we learned from someone we met later that we were very lucky to not have gotten a flat tire). We were immediately stunned by how peaceful (yes, the guide books are right) and incredibly stunning the Reserve is, and I realized that I would love to come back one day and spend a week there - particularly during the South African winter, when scores of right whales can be spotted right off the coast. De Hoop is easily one of the most strikingly beautiful places I've been - untouched, immense sand dunes (called "Koppie Alleen", or "Head Alone") that contrast with a crisp blue sky, fynbos and rocky coast pounded by turquoise water, many species of antelope, birds and other animals, and rarely another human in sight. Irene and I spent some time on the dunes and then hiked a bit along the coast, making our way to a tiny cove. We then left with enough time before the sunset to make sure we were off the dusty backroads and back in Swellendam before dark.

That night we had an incredible dinner at our guest house and shared with the cook and waitress a bottle of wine Irene had bought in Franschhoek. The next day we decided to walk around the town a bit, visiting a few shops on the main road. There we met Ester, a really sweet young woman who had just opened up a shop selling crafts from around the country. We talked to Ester and her boyfriend for a while and promised we'd visit if we're ever back in the area (Ester promised her boyfriend would take us fly fishing) - something not at all hard to imagine . . .
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