Saturday, July 5, 2008

Road Trippin': East London and Cintsa (May 24-31)

During SWOT week (campus exam study week) Grace, Sonya and I rented a car and drove from Grahamstown to East London and then to Cintsa. East London is a small city about two hours from Grahamstown and Cintsa is at the bottom of the Wild Coast, an area of untouched beaches on South Africa's east coast.

At first it was crazy driving on the "wrong" side of the road. It was hard to get used to, especially when turning. The drive to East London was super long, but we had a lot of fun on the way. Grace made a roadtrip CD with great sing-along songs like "Summer Lovin'" and "American Pie". On the way we bought a pineapple from one of 50 women selling them on the side of the road. The fresh pineapples here are amazing!

Once we finally got to East London we got super lost searching for our hostel. Eventually we found it. We were given our own little cabin on the top of a hill. It was cute and perfect for us. We had dinner and headed for bed.

The next day we decided to go shopping. We laid on the beach for awhile then headed to the mall. East London was a lot like Port Elizabeth: a small city on the beach. It was really nice having the freedom of having a car. We walked around the mall for awhile and just had a little bit of a girl day. We decided to cook dinner that night at the hostel so we picked up some pasta and bread. We got back and made ourselves a feast! It was delicious. Afterwards we sat around watching TV and drinking wine. A foreign boy on crutches came into the common room and started talking to us. It turned out he was from Portugal. He had hitch-hiked from Portugal to Senegal, then flew from Senegal to Johannesburg. I couldn't believe it. He was telling us about his injury, as well. He was in Coffee Bay and jumped down 3 steps. He slipped and broke his leg in a few places. It was left untouched for almost a week and then when his insurance company finally got their act together he was airlifted from Coffee Bay to East London. His insurance company was paying for him to stay at the hostel and receive physical therapy in East London. It was a pretty crazy story. He was a really cool guy.

In the morning we woke up early to go to a lion park to play with baby lions and then to go sandboarding. The whole day it was the 3 of us, a guide and a random British couple. The group of us got to be pretty friendly by the end of the day.

The lion park was very cool. We got to play with baby lions. They were really cute and a lot of fun. There we also got to feed a giraffe, play with a "baby" cheetah and play with a meercat. The cheetah was really scary. It was running around its pen and going crazy. In the pen with it was a wiener dog. The guide said that they were best friends and that the dog didn't want to be anywhere else except with his best buddy, the cheetah. In my opinion this was not the case. That "vienna dog", as they call them here, was doomed. That cheetah was waiting for us to leave so it could eat it! In the cheetah pen the 3 of us looked like big babies. We kept screaming and hiding behind the guide, Rocco. The cheetah was all riled up and it's the only cat that cannot retract its claws - that was pretty unappealing to me. I honestly thought that the headlines were going to read: "Three American college students mauled by 'docile' cheetah". It was terrifying, but it was still a lot of fun. In the end the cheetah calmed down a bit and let us pet it. That was nice.

After the lion park Rocco took the 5 of us sandboarding. I had seen sandboarding on TV before, but never saw it in the States. This was something that Sonya really wanted to do so Grace and I went along. It ended up being a lot of fun. It was a lot like snowboarding, but on sand. We got to the dunes just before dusk so we were doing it as the sun set. It was beautiful. The dunes were gigantic! I had a really good time.
Afterwards we decided to cook another feast for ourselves and our new friends. We invited the British couple, Portugal and Rocco. When we got back from sandboarding the three of us hit the showers. As Sonya and Grace were finishing up in the shower and I was outside of the shower in my towel talking to Portugal the electricity just shut off: load shedding. We were so angry. We had to go to the grocery store to get more stuff for dinner. As we were driving there we realized that all of the traffic lights were out, too. Driving was insane. No one was following the correct protocol; everyone was just fending for themselves. It was so scary. Luckily we made it to the store safe and sound. We got back and cooked our meal and everyone joined us. We sat outside on the deck and enjoyed a great meal with great company. During dinner it was still load shedding time so we ate by candle-light. We all stayed around the table until late talking, eating and drinking wine. It was a great time.

The next morning we woke up and drove to Cintsa. As previously mentioned, Cintsa is at the bottom of the Wild Coast. It was a beautiful place. It reminded me a lot of Matoaka, a place on the Chesapeake Bay where we used to vacation every summer. My parents would have loved it. We stayed at Buccaneers, a hostel that was made up of a bunch of cabins and cottages. There was also a pool, two bars and a nice dining area. It was a great place to stay. We had our own little cottage with a cute little sitting room and kitchen. It was nice. The first night it was just the 3 of us in the cottage, but the next night two older women from Canada/Netherlands who were literally traveling the world joined us.

[View from our cottage]

Our first day there we just read in the cottage and eventually made it down to the beach. Every night the hostel had a big meal for all of the guests so we ate with everyone - the food was delicious. The following day we decided to go on a 22km bike ride through Cintsa and a traditional Xhosa village. The ride was through the mountains overlooking the coast. It was INTENSE and our guide hated us - as usual. In the Xhosa village we met Mama Tofu. She was an elderly Xhosa woman in charge of her village. She was wonderful. She taught us a lot about growing up in a Xhosa family as a girl. It was really interesting. After the village we really hit the road and drove through the mountains. It was rough! We finally made it back to the hostel after 3 hours - I was so happy to be back! After our exhausting morning/early afternoon Grace and I just wanted to relax and read until dinner. We sat by the pool, read and had lunch. It was great.

On our last day in Cintsa we just sat around and read/relaxed all day until the late afternoon when we went on an elephant-back safari. That was interesting and a lot of fun! We rode the elephants through a game reserve. At the end of the ride we saw zebra and giraffe from the back of the elephants. It was really cool, but the elephant was uncomfortable to ride. It was really hard to keep your balance, especially when going up hill. It was worth it for the experience, though.

On Saturday (May 31) we woke up VERY early and drove back to Grahamstown. We made it back a lot earlier than expected so the 3 of us had breakfast in town, dropped off our bags and Grace and I went to Port Elizabeth to return our car.
All in all we had a really great trip. I enjoyed the trip a lot and it was a welcome distraction from studying.