We left Umkomaas on November 1st and drove all day. It was long, boring, and not even very scenic. See my previous post about driving through Wyoming, you’ll get the idea, except this drive was longer. It paid off though, at sunset we arrived at our destination – Buccaneer’s Backpackers.
Located in Cintsa West, it is right on the hill above the sea, with gorgeous views of the Indian Ocean and Cintsa East right across the river. My parents had actually stayed here 5 years ago with their friends Jan and Jim. They only stayed one night, but have raved about it ever since:
“And there were surf lessons! And you could use the canoes!”
“Yeah Mom, I know, hostels are cool”
“And there was a bar right there! And they even served food! And everyone was young and so nice!” “Yeah Mom, hostels are like that, that’s why I stay in them”
We had decided sometime earlier that evening that we were going to get drunk, and since we are two gals who like to achieve our goals, get drunk we did! Pretty much immediately upon getting our room code, we dropped our bags and headed to the bar. We met a lot of really cool people that night, including Bryan, who owned a restaurant in Cintsa East with Lloyd, who had a really cute black lab puppy named Fishpaste. There was also Laurie from Texas, and Becca and Davis from San Francisco (Go Giants Go!) and Char and Adam from Australia. We had a great night chatting and chilling out and spent the next day nursing our hangovers on the beach. We ate the group dinner that night, an Indian curry buffet, with Davis and Becca and exchanged emails and phone numbers to keep in touch.
The next morning, we drove 4 hours to Graaff-Reinet. As usual, Lisa got the bum end of the driving. I drove through overcast skies on straight main highways for the first two hours, and she drove the next two hours through a torrential downpour in a lightning storm on secondary highways. Eventually though, we made it and found our way to our place for the night, Le Jardin Backpackin’, run by retired couple Nita and Terrance Gush, who are just about the cutest couple you’ve ever met in your life! They call each other Mom and Dad, and won’t leave the other in the house without a kiss goodbye first.
GR is a pretty sleepy town, full of retiree’s, and aptly named “The Gem of the Karoo” for it’s beautiful Karoo architecture (yes, yes, pictures are coming). Nita mentioned that there was a movie showing in the little theatre in town that night, and invited us to come along. Since there really wasn’t much else to do, we went for it and joined the octogenarians of GR (and two other random Canadians in town on volunteer work) at the converted church to watch ‘Julie & Julia’. It was actually quite nice to do something at night other than drink or write in our journals or sleep, and the people were pleased to see the tourists partaking in their local activities.
One of our main reasons for going to GR was to go to Cambedoo National Park and see the Valley of Desolation, a valley of piled dolerite columns and great views over the plains. Dear old Lonely Planet said it opened at sunrise, so we were there at 4:50am with a lightening sky – to find out the park actually didn’t open until 6am, well after sunrise, and a long time away. *sigh* back to the hostel, a cup of tea and a rusk, and then back to the park for 6am. It was definitely day by the time we got back up there, but the morning clouds pretty much blocked the ‘spectacular sunrise view’. We walked the 1.5km trail around the top and it was actually pretty impressive. The columns look like a bunch of rounded children’s building blocks stacked, in some cases, rather precariously, on top of each other to create pillars and mountains of stone. Since we were already in the park, we took a quick drive around the animal viewing area, and saw a few ostrich and a gemsbok. Cambedoo National Park has a ways to go before it gets to Kruger status.
Back in town, we ate breakfast with the other hostel guests, Root and Taisch from Holland (have I mentioned that every tourist in SA is Dutch pretty much??) and then got ready for the day. Nita said it was completely safe to walk around in the day and since we basically hadn’t done any city walking since London, Lisa and I were both pretty excited to be out and about on our own, and also to SHOP. Our few postcard purchases to date were simply not enough, we wanted a few more substantial things. GR did not let us down. We have already planned to head back in 5 years with our sisters to shop and EAT! It was too bad we had decided this would be a self-catering stop, as every single menu board we passed promised amazing culinary delights: Karoo lamb with roasted veg, prosciutto and brie paninis with caramelized figs and tomatoes – yes please! We hit up pretty much every single shop in town, and spent the afternoon in a shaded cafe writing in our journals and drinking delicious chocolate milkshakes (large size R21 or $3!). It was so nice to just wander around a town and relax and be a tourist. Definitely a sign of things to come, as next up on the itinerary was a series of beautiful little coastal towns and one night stays on the seashore.