Saturday, February 26, 2011

South Africa Days 4-5: Ostriches, Bungee, and Cheetahs!

Exhausted, I am now finally getting a chance to relax at the famous Tube ‘n Axe Backpackers in Stormsriver, enjoying a glass of South African wine. I thought the first few days here would be impossible to top, but boy was I wrong.

Yesterday began early as Nate had to pry me out of bed with another adorable kitty sleeping in it with me. We headed to Oudtschorn quite early, and enjoyed a beautiful hour long drive through the mountains. Once in town, we visited the Highgate Ostrich Farm for a personal tour. We learned all about the rich history of Ostrich farming in this area of South Africa, and just about anything you would ever want to know about Ostriches. We met some younger ones and let them bite at our hands (they don’t have any teeth) and then we fed the adults. Of course the highlight of the visit was our chance to sit on and ride them around. It’s amazing how strong and fast they are! I promise there will be some hilarious video once I return to the states. After enjoying some Ostrich Biltong (Jerky) we hoped back in the car to make our way to the Tsitsikamma National Forest to check into our hostel and bungee jump.

The three hour drive to Stormsriver was nothing short of amazing. Beautiful coastline and mountains the entire way - think New Zealand on crack. Of course on our drive we happened to drive directly over the Bloukrans Bridge…the one we would be leaping off of in a few short hours. That drive over did NOT do much for my confidence. We checked into the Tube ‘n Axe hostel (which there has been hype about the entire way) to not be as impressed as we hoped we would be. Luckily, there was an adorable kitty that made me not care at all about the downfalls of the hostel. While getting changed to go to the bungee, my nerves kicked in big time. I must have used the bathroom 10 times during that hour. Back in the car for our short 10 minute drive to the bridge. I keep urging Nate to drive slower, and I think at this point he was getting frustrated with my butterflies. We arrived and had the first part of our harnesses put on, only to be told that we had to wait an hour before the next group left to jump. That gave me one hour to sit at the café overlooking the gorge, watch the other jumpers, and freak out. I must have made quite a scene because within that hour I had an entire café of people giving me encouraging thoughts and comments.

The time finally arrived and we made our walk out on the catwalk under the bridge. Through the grate below we could see how high we were. I kept telling myself not to look down (literally, I was staying it out loud) but I couldn’t help myself. Wow, we were WAY up there. The second we arrived at the jump site, the music was blasting and I was able to refocus. I remembered exactly WHY I was doing this jump. Not only for my own personal accomplishment, but as a leap of faith that we will one day find a cure for Huntington’s Disease. My fear flushed away (okay, MOST of it) and I was pumped to find out I would be the second jumper. Unlike the last jump I did back in 2003, they give you a VERY little time on that ledge to think. I was happy with that. When my turn came up, I had a moment to tell the camera why I was jumping, and of course, I let them know I was doing it for my mom. And then, with eyes closed tight and face clenched with fear- 5..4..3..2…1… BUNGEE! I jumped, freefell for about 5 seconds, and then felt a state of euphoria upon feeling the cord. I was then able to open my eyes and scream, laugh and cry with excitement. The fear was gone and I could enjoy what I had just accomplished. After hanging there and enjoying the upside-down view for about 30 seconds, my “rescuer” was sent down to pull me upright and raise me up back to the bridge. Once they lifted me up and over, I was told my recording didn’t work and I would have to jump again. As much as I enjoyed what I had just accomplished, my face turned pale. Of course they were kidding me, but it took me a bit to realize that. Jackasses. Nate was one of the last jumpers in our group to go and he jumped like a rockstar. He stuck out one arm like superman during his freefall, and then tucked his knees on the cord recoil to get as much out of the bounce as he could. He then started flailing his arms around like a crazy man which made us all on top of the bridge crack up. They brought Nate back up and we all walked the catwalk back to the main center. During the walk back I was able to look down and appreciate the beauty of the area. After snapping some photos we went back to the hostel, grabbed a wonderful dinner in town, and then fell asleep by about 8:30pm. We were drained… physically and emotionally.

This morning we woke up at 6am and I could not contain my excitement, for today, I would finally get to walk with a Cheetah. If you know me personally, you are probably well aware I have an obsession with cats of any size. Nate did not want to pay for this adventure, so he dropped me off at Tenikwa Big Cat Sanctuary for my morning with the Cheetahs. After a brief safety introduction (these ARE still wild animals who can eat you alive) I was introduced to Shaka and Tandi, brother and sister 2 year old Cheetahs. I was able to lead both of them on their morning walk; okay actually they led ME on their morning walk. Today they were feeling quite lazy so we spent a lot of time lying down and chilaxing. During that down time I was able to pet them just like any house cat! Once I started petting, the purring that came out of them was unreal. We were not supposed to stand face-on but Shaka wanted to play and would roll over and grab my leg. It was such an amazing experience and I learned so much about Cheetahs during the walk.

Nate arrived to pick me up two hours later and of course I was talking ninety miles per hour about my experience and was unable to remove the shit-eating grin from my face. I talked him into doing the Big Cat Experience and we got a tour around the sanctuary meeting many different types of big cats. We were able to hang out with Shaka once again and Nate got a chance to pet my new friend!

After the Cheetah fun we drove into Plettenberg Bay, had a wonderful lunch, and then hung out at one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen for several hours. We bounced in the waves, climbed over the rocks, and napped in the sand. I even had a chance to film the TRX Spring Break Challenge! The locals were quite enamored with the TRX and what we were filming. We took a drive to the Tsitsikamma National Forest hoping to do a 2 hour hike before sunset. The lady at the gate practically laughed and told us to take a drive through without paying and tell her if we just wanted to come back tomorrow. Sure enough, this is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. We immediately agreed to head back over there in the morning for a hike through the mountains along the coastline. I cannot wait!

So there you have it. The jump is complete, but our adventures are not over yet! Don’t forget, we are still raising money for the Huntington’s Disease Society of America and would gladly accept your donations in honor of our jump and my mom:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

South Africa Days 1-3

South Africa: This place is paradise. Right now I’m on the beach is Mossel Bay nursing my ego after trying to show Nate how great of a surer I am. While he flounders through the waves on our rented board I have a moment to reflect on the past three spectacular days.

With the blizzard pummeling Madison and Detroit, I was forced to leave 8 hours early- which was very lucky because all flights after mine were canceled. I believe I am now considered a resident at the KLM lounge in Amsterdam- which I didn’t mind because it was so nice! After two smooth flights I made it to Cape Town and was greeted by a very tan Nate! While driving to the hostel, I was shocked by how similar this place is to any US city- quite a change from Tanzania. We checked into the Long Street Backpackers and I surprisingly (okay, not THAT surprising) fell right asleep.

The next day I felt no jet lag so we hiked up Lion’s Head Mountain and enjoyed beautiful views of nearby Table Mountain, the beaches, and the city of Cape Town. It got quite hot out so we then spent the afternoon at the beach, practicing our tumbling skills on the shoreline. After a beautiful afternoon there we got our hiking gear back on and proceeded with our mission to watch the sunset on the top of Table Mountain.

We wanted to make sure we got to the top in time for sunset, so we killed the 2.5 hour hike to the top in about an hour, which exhausted us both! It was well worth it. Words and photos cannot describe how amazing the views were up there. To top it off we popped open a bottle of wine and enjoyed that along with some handstanding at sunset. After the sun went down we had a spectacular view of the lights of Cape Town. We took the cable car down and got to enjoy that view all the way down the mountain. We then decided that even if the rest of the trip sucked, day 1 was worth the visit.

After a bit of exploring the nearby markets on Day 2, we then set off to swim with the African (Jackass) Penguins at Boulder’s Beach in Simon’s Town. When we first arrived at the beach, we saw maybe one or two penguins and spent quite a bit of time watching and photographing them. After some hiking around on the rocks, we soon found other areas with hundreds of penguins. The entire experience was unreal. The water was as blue as the Caribbean, the temperature in the 80s, views of beautiful mountains, and hundreds of penguins were hanging around us like we weren’t even there. I got to swim along side them, listen to their donkey-like noises, and of course, watch them mate. Naughty! Quote of the day was from a little British boy watching the penguins mate saying “Today I learned about Penguin Sex!”

After tearing me away from the Penguins, Nate finally talked me into getting in the car for our 5 hour drive to Mossel Bay. When we arrived it was past 10pm, and little did we know, most of the city shuts down at 6pm. The hostel we had planned on staying at was closed, so we visited another one from our guidebook. The lady working there was just leaving and we were able to snag a room. Not only that, but there were three adorable kitties living there and the most beautiful one, Hyena, spent the night with me in bed. That also meant Nate had to sleep in a different bed… hehe. The beauty of this hostel cannot be put into words. It is a beautiful sandstone manor with a Victorian design. There is a beautiful garden with Koi swimming in all of the ponds. And did I mention the super cute cats? Everything happens for a reason!

Today we got up and explored town for a bit. I’ve been dying to surf for the last few days, so we rented a board at the local surf shop and hit the beginner’s beach. Our other option “The Point” gets some of the best waves in the world and is only ideal for professionals. It was a very windy day and the waves were closing out, so needless to say surfing didn’t go as well as planned. We did have some fun riding the whitewash for awhile. And again, the views made everything worthwhile! We spent a bit too much time at the beach to make it to Oudtschoorn to ride the Ostriches, so we just poked around town again in the afternoon. I’m now finally getting a chance to sit down and upload some photos and blog! We found this great little pub next to our hostel and I’m quickly making many friends. I’ve been trying to explain log rolling to them for the last hour and they didn’t believe me until I was able to pull up a YouTube video. Nate is now making dinner back at the Hostel so, time to eat!
Tomorrow: riding Ostriches and the Bungee to Beat HD.