“It’s too bad you’re working,” Heinie said in the morning. “We’re going on an all-expenses paid promotional tour of the Garden Route to Plettenberg, coming back tomorrow evening. We’ll be staying at Wild Spirit Backpackers.”
Damn, I thought. “Yeah, that is too bad.”
I was covering for Henry who had called in sick. One of those, ‘I’m not even supposed to be here’ days. Fortunately, Gerrie changed some things around and within two minutes I had packed an overnight bag and jumped into the van.
“Roadtrip!” was called out as Nina and Tim, Stefan, Ian (who had travelled from Cape Town to Dublin on a Vespa.
A Vespa!) and Malcom, a DJ who blew my musical mind at the Sedgefield Trance Party a few weekends ago settled into the van.
The drive to Plettenberg would take us east about two hours, crossing the Hartenbos River, Klien-brak River, Groot-brak River. Going through George, past Wilderness, Island Lake (which has a snake infestation problem), Swartvlei Lake, Sedgefield, Groenvlei Lake, crossing the Goukamma River, the Knysna River (pronounced: ‘Niz-na’) and through the picturesque town of the same name with its dark lagoon before making the final stretch to hit the seaside town of Plettenberg Bay. We turned off-road to head up into the mountains to Wild Spirit, a backpackers unlike any I’ve ever heard of yet alone seen.
This place was smack-bang in the middle of the forest, had a horse ranch with horses, a view point called God’s Window, tree houses and viewing platforms in the trees, waterfalls, forest hikes, rivers, streams and creeks, a classic British taxi, an amazing dinner, live music, an indoor and outdoor fireplace, a couple of guitars and djembes, 3 dogs, one child and quite the library to use as a book exchange.
The brothers, Heinie and Gerrie attended a meeting regarding all the activities offered on the Garden Route, a colourful journey on the N2 Highway that starts in Mossel Bay and goes all the way to St Johns. It’s a green route full of waterways, forests, surf beaches at the foot of majestic mountain ranges and some pretty laid-back people.
While they conferenced the rest of the road gang were free to hike and play so we headed off to the waterfall.
The day was grey and the ground wet so I knew my flip-flops would slip ‘n’ slide every which way taking me along for the ride so I opted for my favourite form of footwear – barefoot. I slowly trekked through the forest full of huge trees hundreds of years old, crossing brooks and streams before we reached the rock pool with what appeared to be a 12-foot waterfall trickling down over the rocks it had smoothed out over the course of millions of years.
Malcolm had brought a didgeridoo and sat at the banks of the rock pool and proceeded to play it. I’ve never heard the didge played in a forest setting. With the backing band composed of singing birds, chirping insects, rustling branches, falling leaves, the orchestra was set and we chilled by the waterfall, listening to the sounds.
It was mind-tingling.
We hiked back to the backpackers and headed off to see the view from God’s Window where a bench, made from fallen branches was waiting to be sat on. The bench was about as comfortable as sitting on a nail cushion. Luckily, the view was just as amazing from lying in the grass.
We clambered up a tree house, accidentally disturbing a couple in the hammock before we continued on to see the Big Tree. We passed a couple of horses on the way that weren’t shy of humans. They even enjoyed licking the sweat-salt off the palms of our hands.
I don’t think I’ve ever been licked by a horse before.
The Big Tree is a short hike into the forest to a 900-year-old Yellowood beast of a tree.
900. Years. Old.
The rock at the bottom instructed that the tree needed a hug. I could barely bring my arms half-way around the ancient trunk.
“Think about the amount of animals that this tree has seen evolving, devolving, becoming extinct and the weather it’s had to endure,” I said aloud, feeling the energy one gets from hugging a tree.
The tree was so old and high that some of its branches had met the ground, sprouted roots and had formed themselves into their own trees.
The power of nature never ceases to amaze me.
We headed over to the Magic Forest hike, a 45-minute circular route through crooks and crannies, over brooks and streams, under sky-high trees, some riddled with termite tunnels that resembled ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. We came across another rock pool where we chilled for a bit. Stefan noticed that the water trickling from the rock to the pool over the green algae-like moss seemed to illuminate a florescent colour fit for a bush-rave dance floor.
Heading towards 15:00, we returned to the backpackers to meet up with Gerrie and Heinie and check in to our dorm room. We then drove down to the town of Plettenberg Bay to eat a burger at the Peppermill Restaurant (which neither grows peppers or has a mill) but is situated opposite an Angora Goat farm.
Angora goats look like a cross between a sheep and a goat (like when an Aussie breeds with a Kiwi). They have the body and wool (called ‘mohair’) of a sheep and head and face of a goat. They still carry the same ‘Deh…’ look on their face though (like when George W. Bush is asked something simple like, “How old are you?”).
A stall offered samples of Mampoer liquor which had to be one of the most harshest things I’ve ever introduced to my liver, even worse than Stroh Rum but not as strong. The chilli one was by far something that not even a well-seasoned vodka-drinking Russian would be able to stand.
“It should be served in ice-cold glasses,” informed the rep.
It shouldn’t be served at all, I thought as I washed away the bad taste with a beer (I burped half an hour later and the flavour was like Jesus – resurrected).
With lunch done (I had a veggie falafel burger which was pretty good) we headed back to Wild Spirit. Dinner was an all-you-can-eat-buffet – my favourite kind. I have a reputation that, although I’m athletically built, I can eat like a liberated POW. Not that I was out to prove anything to anyone but on my second plate questions asking, “Where do you put it all?” started to rise.
“My hair,” I said. “I think.”
We sat around the outdoor fireplace, drinking beer and wine and shooting the chilly breeze as the freezing mountain cold frosted anything that wasn’t properly layered, including myself. For the evening’s entertainment, a live performance was provided by an electric guitar player named Ben. He was the loop-pedal master, hooking up different effects pedals and playing on an 8-string guitar.
I’ve never seen an 8-string guitar before.
“It has two bass strings and then the normal six strings of a guitar,” Ben explained after an amazing looped set playing originals and some covers. On the last few songs I was so drawn by the music that I found myself beating a rhythm on the empty wooden chair beside me.
Still sitting around the fire, the didgeridoo came out and Stefan blew a rhythm while I drummed on the djembe. I meet an American who I jammed with on guitar at the indoor fireplace. Just past midnight I tapped out and headed to bed.
Our dorm was on the top floor of the last building and the space was shared by a small family of bats. The sign read, ‘They might fly around the room at night but are harmless.’ A true Wild Spirit experience.
The next day we had breakfast, complimentary bread with a selection of jams, fresh fruit and coffee or tea. We headed down to Plett and then to a beach called The Waves.
The name pretty much explains itself as I stared, jaw-dropped at the water. Crossing the Mozambique Channel I had encountered (and felt the wrath) of 12-14 foot waves. But what I was staring at was some of the biggest waves I have ever seen breaking onto a beach. They looked to be tsunami-sized although probably no more than 10-foot.
And boy, did they thunder when they rolled. And then Heinie came up with a brilliant idea.
“Let’s bush dive,” he said, peering into a bush by the beach. Confirming that it was clear and, like George, was nothing but bush, he took a running start to somersault his way into the plant, flattening it.
After Stefan jumped in, Heinie urged me to follow suit. “Get in on this, bro!”
I opted to jump off the braai and land, back first onto a bush yet demolished by the boys. That was the easy part. The hard part was to get myself out. And noticing the bricks, pieces of concrete and metal, I could only thank karma for not killing me.
Always check before bush-diving.
On the way to a restaurant called Lookout Deck, we stopped to admire a futuristic, self-sustaining home that looked like something from The Jetsons.
The Lookout Deck in Plett was right on the beach, atop where the Piesang River used to follow before the changing tides shifted the river mouth.
We had fun saying the name in a Kiwi accent so it sounded like we were saying, “The Lookout Dick.” The jokes got dirtier from that point, and throw in an early lunch of a beer keg, it was cut-loose from then on.
From the lunch we drove back west, stopping in Knysna at the point where the river meets the Indian Ocean known as Knysna Heads, notorious for boats to enter yet few still brave it.
Lunch was on the banks of the river, still black water barely moving, reflecting the rail bridge, horse ranch and scenic, undisturbed lands while Cormorants flew about as we paddled on a bike-paddle boat and a conventional paddle boat.
We headed up to Sedgefield, where I had attended my first South African bush doof a few weeks back, to watch the sunset. We ended up at the launch-pad for para-gliders. Sedgefield spread out a few hundred feet below us, a dark river snaking through it.
We drove back down and stopped to check out a classics car dealer. It was odd to find such a dealership in the middle of the Garden Route in a small seaside town. They had some classics from the 30s up to the 50s.
The sunset escorted us back to Mossel Bay as I dozed in and out of the hazy dream that my life had become.
It was good to be back where Sunday has a prediction of 18-foot swell.
Some things are meant to be seen from the beach.