On Sunday (7/25), we drove to Tsitsikamma National Park for hiking and whale watching. Wow, this park delivered lots of both! Tsitsikamma is along the N2, known as the Garden Route that spans the southern edge of Africa. Tsitsikamma itself is considered the jewel of this route. It contains rivers, estuaries, large forests (though a lot of it has unfortunately been logged), and some hunter-gatherer caves. We spent the majority of the day hiking along the hills and cliffs overlooking the ocean. We walked across long suspension bridges over the estuary where the river dumps into the sea. Andrew had been craving to see whales, and that desire was greatly satisfied. We spotted 2-3 humpback whales on the first vantage point, which was a few hundred meters high. We most likely saw a mother and a calf. Later, we had one of the coolest wildlife spottings any of us could ever hope for: Killer Whales! Not only did we see orcas, we also saw orcas hunt and kill a seal. Andrew and I actually saw one of them throw it in the air from the shore. While this sight is not for most, it was incredibly unique to witness. Later, we saw a group of 25-30 common dolphins swimming along the rocky coast. We continued venturing through the cliffs and explored one of the hunter-gatherer caves, where I stepped in some deep mud. We remained until sundown and then drove to Bloukrans.
Bloukrans is an area just west of Tsitsikamma and is home to the highest commercially operated bungee jump in the world. I repeat, the highest bungee jump in the world and is recognized as such by the Guinness Book of World Records. We stayed at the adjacent backpackers’ hostel and ventured over to the jump spot on the Bloukrans Bridge the night before. Wowwwwww. The jump is off a bridge that spans an extremely steep valley. The bridge is 216 m above the bottom of the valley, which is equivalent to a 70 story building….straight down. We awoke Monday (7/26) ready to embark on the greatest freefall possible without a parachute, where we would reach a velocity of 120 km/hr, or 74.5 mph. We would fall at a velocity that police could ticket on most highways. The first rebound brings you back higher than Victoria Falls and the bridge itself is twice the height of Victoria Falls.
Walking across a metal pathway on the side of the bridge, we watched as the ground rapidly disappeared below our feet. It quickly became evident what we were getting ourselves into. I never have had a great desire to bungee jump, but I might as well start with the highest and best. After being harnessed in and watching a group of Indians and Jay jump, it was my turn. I waddled up to the edge and peered over; Mother Nature dared me to leap. Everyone counted 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 BUNGEE! I took the plunge. There is almost no way to describe the feeling of free falling for more than 5 seconds and hoping the cord is as safe as they say. All you know is that you are descending, fast. I hardly remember what I saw the first fall down, but I remember the feeling of the wind rushing past my ears as the adrenaline coursed through my body. Besides the buildup to the jump, it actually is not scary until you bounce back up near the top point and begin to drop again. You do not really have time to think on the way down, you are just astounded as your senses are overwhelmed. I bounced 6-7 times, always with a smile on my face, before Spiderman (good nickname) descended down and attach me to a pulley, which brings us both back to the bridge. It was an amazing experience and feeling, and all five of us jumped. I do not know if I would need to do it again, but I definitely would. I am so glad that I did, at least if just this once time.
This was to be our last great event on our Cape Town holiday. We got back in the car, drove through the Karoo region, an arid region that resembles the deserts of the southwest, but with the addition of ostrich farms. Karoo is full of small villages, shantytowns, and many succulent plants. We did not have time to hike, but it was a beautiful drive. We woke up the following morning (7/27), dropped off our rented car, and boarded a plane for Johannesburg. One of our South African co-researchers, Pieter, picked us up at the airport and drove us to our house in Pretoria.
While I spoke mainly of our travels, I did not touch much upon the social aspects or disparity in South Africa. South Africa is unique because it has embraced its shantytowns, attempting to supply them with power, plumbing, and further infrastructure. The areas of poverty are dispersed along the highways, so we only saw the shantytowns while driving. Some of them were vast, some small. There are also several unique jobs that fill particular niches. For instance, someone will always run to your car to guide you into parking and remain on the street to watch your car. We all wonder how they organize themselves and establish territory for these odd jobs. We have also noticed how proud South African are of their country, particularly after the World Cup.
I would like to comment on this aspect more, but I feel our adventures in Cape Town are enough for now! We leave on Monday (8/2) for 19 days of fieldwork in Tete Province, Mozambique. We are currently finalizing our protocol and preparing our equipment. We fly directly into Tete, meet with our translator and set out from there. Wish us all luck and we look forward to seeing you all again.