Road to Everywhere: Chapter 4

 

In the morning we looked online, and found the closest scooter rental company, then took the short walk through town to get there.

Our plan was to ride scooters down the coast all the way to Cape Point, the southern most point in Africa, and then on over to Simon’s Town to see the penguins. To me this sounded like an awesome adventure, but Chad kept warning us that out of all the trips he had lead and all the crazy activities, riding scooters or motorcycles though traffic in a hectic foreign country was by far the most dangerous.

Out of dozens of student trips, through many countries around the world, the only accidents or injuries he had ever seen were from being on the road, whether it be on a motorbike, in a taxi or any other form. He begged us to be very careful and vigilant and it did give us some caution as he is usually so carefree.

If we weren’t a tad bit apprehensive by the time we arrived at the rental place, it only got a little stronger when Sarah, one of the students, immediately crashed her scooter into the wall inside the garage of the shop, giving herself some nasty road rash down her arm. After that she decided to ride on the back of her boyfriend Connor’s scooter, and a few other people also chose to pair up and ride behind someone.

I had ridden motorcycles before, so thought I’d be fine on my own. But the problem wasn’t whether I could ride a bike or not, it was the crazy traffic and different laws and of course, the fact that they drove on the left side of the street here. It would be a steep learning experience.

Chad held the one GPS we had, and we headed out through Cape Town. As beautiful as Cape Town was, I don’t think any of us noticed much of it at first, we were so nervous about the drive, and concentrating so hard on cars around us and not getting squished.

My first big scare came at a big roundabout. It was so hard getting use to driving on the left, and it just got a whole lot more confusing at this round about, where people were driving in circles. Round about can be confusing already, especially in a foreign country with strange signs and street markers, but then when everyone is driving clockwise instead of counterclockwise, things just get crazy.

When I pulled up to the round about, on the left side, there were no cars in it to use as a reference for traffic flow direction. So out of instinct I turned right. Almost immediately after I turned right into the roundabout, a big truck starting speeding towards me, horn blaring and tiring screeching. I veered off onto the sidewalk in a hurry, barely being missed.

That was my last real incident on the trip, although many of the sharp turns and corners were a little scary, especially when bad drivers would be in my lane, making it even more confusing. But once we hit the straight coastal highway, it was at least a little less nerve racking than the city.

Once I started getting the hang of things, and the winding road started following the coast line, I was able to relax and start watching the amazing scenery pass by. There were some of the most beautiful beaches I had ever seen along that highway, with zero people on them, to my right, and Table Mountain and other sheer rocky cliffs to my right. It was the first truly beautiful landscapes I had seen in Africa so far.

Some of those scenes in the desert from the train window were also beautiful in their own ways, but what I was looking at now with long white sandy beaches with the waves of the Atlantic crashing down, were truly breathtaking. I wanted to stop at each and every one of those huge beaches, but we had a long way to go.

For a lot of the journey we were taking the same route that we did with the shark tour guy to get to the boat, but this was a completely different experience. In the shark van there were a lot of us talking and joking and not really paying attention. But now, I was on my own, even if I wanted to talk to someone I couldn’t. There was only inches between me and the road, and the air whipping by. It felt truly immersive, just me, the ocean and my thoughts.

The highway didn’t completely follow the coast line the whole way, as it angles slightly inland, and after about three hard hours of riding, we came to our turnoff where we would start heading more south, instead of east. We found a gas station, or as they call them here, a metro station, and topped up. I don’t think any of us had expected such long trip.

From the metro station turnoff, we hit another highway going south, and the weather changed a LOT. With each passing kilometer the winds got stronger and stronger, blowing dust and tumble weeds across our paths, and into our faces. We had to stop and wrap shirts or bandanas around our faces because it was so windy and dusty. We even thought about turning around, but we had already come so far.

The problem wasn’t the visibility, the problem was the wind was so strong it was practically pushing us over on our bikes. Because of this we had to drastically reduce speed to fight it, which meant that the big tour busses would get right on our asses, then pass us within feet, making it even more windy. That last leg of the trip was the hairiest.

One minute the wind would be tolerable and I would lower my guard and start enjoying the view again, and the next minute a strong gush of wind would almost send me off the road. It was a wonder no one crashed on that trip. Cape Point is nothing if not windy.

Cape Point is the southern most tip of all of Africa, not just South Africa, and is also said to be the point where the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean collide. I was excited to see this for a few reasons. The first reason was that, besides flying over the Atlantic on the way here, I had never seen an ocean before, and now I could see two.

The second reason I was happy to be here, is because Dave, the inspiring hostel guest from Israel I met in Jo’Berg, had been on a mission to travel from the northern most point to the southern most, and I was at least seeing one of those. Maybe I could even retrace his foot steps.

I guess making the southern tip significant in my mind, and maybe a start to a much bigger journey north, was much more interesting than the actual thing itself. I was too embarrassed to admit this but I guess I kind expected some huge turbulence of waves as the Atlantic raged against the Indian, but there was not even a ripple. Of course when I think about it it makes sense, but my over imagination hadn’t caught up to logic when I first heard of it.

So we went to the lookout point, looked at the rocky coast line with the Indian or Atlantic waves hitting them, took a group photo by the “Southern most point in Africa” sign, along with lots of Chinese tourists from the buses, and that was about it. I guess the most memorable thing I saw, was when I was walking through the bush, and a huge yak stepped out and scared the shit out of me.

I had never seen a yak in my life, and especially not in the wild, but there it was, staring at me with its huge horns resting on top of the bushes. I was much more intrigued by this “exotic” and “rare” species then anything else, and so I ran over to the parking lot to yell for my friends to come look.

Joel, forever underwhelmed, said “dude look”, and waved toward the valley just below. When I looked closer at the shoulder high brown bushes or shrubs down the hill, I started picking out more and more yaks, with only the tops of their heads visible, with their long horns resting on top of the bushes. There must have been 10 of them. Just standing and chewing on…whatever they chew on, and staring at nothing. Well still, it was another exciting “first” for me.

Then we had to make the one hour trek, and retrace our steps back to the main highway. This time the journey through wind-rowe was just as hairy and tough as the first time, but we made it. Once we got back to that petrol station though, we turned right towards Simon’s Town, instead of left back onto the highway.

About 30 minutes more, and we arrived. The town itself is a cozy little village with quint little shops with big porches with tables. We headed to the national park, paid the fees and walked in. There are two options for the park area. The first is with a small entrance fee, that lets you only walk down their wooden pathway, parallel to the beach.

The second option, with a higher fee, lets you onto the beach and right up with the penguins. The second option is popular with photographers, but most of us took the first option, being broke travelers. But even with our option, we got to see hundreds of penguins, relatives close.

They call these little penguins jackass penguins, and we were wondering why until we saw some of them mating. When they aren’t mating they are cute and quiet, just waddling around, but when they start mating the male starts braying loudly like a donkey, and its quite funny. Thats were they got the name.

I was excited to see my first penguins in the wild, and it was a little more significant because this is the only place in Africa where you can see them in the wind. Apparently for the winter they swim all the way from the south and hangout here for a while. There are not many places you can see them in their natural habitats, and I was glad to chalk up that experience.

We really didn’t want to leave the penguins. For starters they were just too cute, as well as a new experience for us, but also we kind of dreaded the long ride home. I for one was pretty worn out and ass-sore from such a long and nerve raking ride, and not exactly looking forward to 4+ more hours of it. I’d definitely be going top speeds to get home, not to mention that none of us wanted to be riding motorbikes here after dark.

But, the ride home was uneventful. I did top out the speedometer on the scooted a time or two, but really I think I was more relaxed this time around and enjoyed the ride even more. And the beaches and shoreline, now on our left side, seemed even prettier around sundown. I would call this day a long, but extremely memorable experience.

….

Once we were finally back to Cape Town, had returned our scooters, taken showers at our hostel, and headed to the bars of Long Street to debrief, I had a kind of heart-to-heart with Professor Chad about the future. The strong feelings I had gotten ever since meeting Dave, and then the reminded when we visited his finish line at the souther tip, could not be abated or ignored.

I wanted to stay in Africa, after the trip and after the other students went back to school, and head north on my own. I wanted, even needed, to experience this much much more, and on my own where I am dependent on no one but myself, answer to only me, and fully immerse myself. The dangers were real, but the rewards were innumerable.

I explained to him how I had never been more happy in my life, then the day I stopped off that flight in Jo’Berg. I had never felt so alive, and as if my senses were experiencing life times 10. It was hard to explain, but for years I had not enjoyed life. I hadn’t been depressed or anything like that, but everything had been remarkably unremarkable. Mundane. I had been existing but not living.

For many years not a single thing had arroused more than a morsel of excitement form me until now. And now, every single day was more exciting than the last, and maybe the most prolific of my life. even in this short time I had experienced and learned and felt and soaked in things I never even knew was possible. So the thought of all the amazing and life changing things I could attain if I doubled my time here, was overwhelming.

Right now I was the happiest I had ever been in my life, but when I thought of the trip ending, and me returning to the small classroom in the small town in the center of USA, I got seriously depressed. Something inside of me was turning into a defense mechanism, because it knew I could not go back. Not yet. I could not be one of those people who have one good story in their life, of a fun trip they did once before returning to the “real world”. I had seen what was possible, and I wanted it all.

As I sat at the bar rambling on about this very topic, Chad just laughed. 99 out of 100 teachers would advise their students that they need to return to school, and be a contributing member of society. They would certainly never indulge a students ideas of quitting school to backpack around Africa alone with no money. But Chad did. He set my resolution into stone, when he told me that not only did he support me, but he encouraged me and anyone else, to travel and see the world.

He said that immersive travel like we were doing, was a much better education then you could ever get inside a classroom. I wasn’t just learning history and economy and business and politics geography and all those other topics first hand, I was also gaining first hand experiences and an independence and self-reliance that would last a life time. One that most Americans never get. This was the most valuable experience he could offer students, and he was elated when one was moved enough to explore those experiences more.

I didn’t need his permission, but Chad had become sort of a mentor, and certainly a pillar in my life, so when I had his blessing (even insistence) all bets were off. I was staying. I had no idea how, or with what money, and I didn’t care. Dave did it, and so would I.

That night was spent with my nose in a Lonely Planet, looking at a map of Africa and marking possible routes. I also had to email my parents and tell them I was taking the next semester off, and staying here, as well as my old roommate, so he could find another. My parents were just as supportive as Chad was, with I later found out is super rare, as none of my friends parents would allow them to do such a thing. Basically there was only an open door for me to my future.

Although my mind was on my future travels beyond this class trip, this trip was far from over. In the morning, hungover and all, we headed to the airport. As a group we had made a last minute decision, based on our bucket list of things to see in Southern Africa, and decided to go see Victoria Falls, the biggest water fall in the world.

The waterfall is right on the border with Zambia and Zimbabwe, and it was cheaper to head to Zambia, so that was the plan. We would check out the falls on both sides, and spend Christmas in Zambia. Sounded good to me.

Next chapter coming soon. Did you see chapter 3?

 

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Justin Carmack
Justin is a dive master and world traveler on a mission to dive and document the top 100 dive sites in the world. In doing this he hopes to bring love for the marine environment to the world!

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