GG & the Magic Strip Mall
Updated: Mar 21
I tried to write earlier today but exhaustion won the struggle and I was out cold before I even had a chance to open my iPad. Trying to fend off jet lag is like trying to ignore pneumonia. You are utterly at the mercy of its demands.
Today, I got picked up at 7AM for my 3 day Garden Route Safari tour. I’m remaining positive, but this tour hasn’t really impressed me yet. I am every hopeful that things will improve and then we shall all sit around and laugh at this belittling and critical post I’m about to write... Day one. The Drive.
A LOT of it. My sciatica was a bonfire of fun.
Route 62 is a tourist route in South Africa which offers a scenic alternative to the main highway. As it meanders along between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, the landscape proves to change so drastically at times, that it is sometimes difficult to believe you are on the same road.
The route began very lush, through vineyards and harvests... full displays of bright & colourful blossoms, assorted foliage and big, bushy trees lining the highway.
Then the scenery would morph in to miles of red dirt and a chain of wave-like pointed hills would appear, splashing their way along beside us as we drove. Monumental passages embellished with large intricately designed cast iron gates were scattered throughout the area, suggesting entrances to grandiose estates, but the dirt tracks seemed to lead up in to the hills and... disappear.
These hills eventually transitioned in to enormous rocky masses, each one plastered with clusters of those little bouquets of twigs. If you squinted your eyes, you could envision crocodiles or sleeping dragons. The landscape became so desolate and dry, that I thought we were on the moon.
At one point, if someone had shown me a picture of where we were driving, I would have had a hard time deciding if we were somewhere in South Africa or in between Merritt and Kamloops. The Guide. His name is tough to pronounce and I forgot it the moment he said it... I think it’s Ulrich?... but he proudly informed us that he prefers to go by his nickname, which is GG... short for Gentle Giant. We suspect his nickname is self appointed. He eats too much and drives too fast. There have been a few times that I have literally jolted out of my seat in fear. The mountain roads are treacherous and spiral a great deal.
What else can I say about GG?
I wouldn’t hire him if I had a tour company. As much as he continuously makes mention that he loves going on tour with all of us, I have a sneaking suspicious that we play second fiddle to his agenda, as he hardly makes an effort... unless absolutely necessary. He did, at one point during the beginning of the tour, announce that he had a terrific surprise for all of us.
It was a milkshake.
Granted, a milkshake from Diesel & Creme, a vintage diner in Barrydale. Apparently they received A1, top milkshake reviews... It was lovely of him to offer this, but I think it was merely an excuse to get one himself. He was noticeably bewildered, almost to the point of being put out, when some of the gang opted out of his generosity.
Not me, of course.
I order the Valhalla Villian and slurped back the entire sickly sweet, double thick, decadent triple chocolate delight loaded full of chocolate brownie crumbles. Of course, I don’t have the power to make myself stop when the sweetness is overpowering and I feel my stomach doing flips in order to protest & deny. Nope.
I need bigger clothes now.
The Group. The group seems more subdued than yesterday’s tour. There are 2 Germans - one is a smoker and will SIT on the step of our tour mini van - AND SMOKE! They also refuse to wear their seatbelts. It’s making me crazy. We have been asked on more than one occasion to buckle up. If the police catch GG touring around with people not buckled up, he faces a 5000 ZAR fine. That alone would be enough to make me buckle up.
Not them. I guess safety is below them.
At first, I thought that the problem was merely a language barrier, so I kindly nudged the German man and pointed at his seatbelt to hint him in the direction of playing safe. He complied for that one time. Not again after that. His wife blatantly doesn’t care. To be honest though, the way that GG Mario Andretti’s his way around every mountainous corner, no seatbelt would save us. I’m a real delight, eh?
The Safari vigilante...
Reminding people not to smoke, to buckle up and to slow TF down on those mountain roads!
A tour favourite.
I was tempted...There is a couple from Serbia- and actually the only 2 from the group that GG really puts concentrated effort in to conversing with ... because once he went to Serbia and got really drunk and a couple girls there thought he was hot. The bond is strong... The other couple is from the US. There is one girl travelling alone, from England, and she’s become my solo traveller ally. Although I would not describe her humour as being quite on par with mine, she is smart and we have had a few decent conversations so far. She’s one of those tourism & hospitality nightmares - can’t have dairy, meat, gluten... exceedingly scared of heights and spiders... someone who always has to be catered to. When we all had a milkshake, she opted for tea. Unfortunately she doesn’t like the Royal family either, so I’m not sure that we could ever be good friends. But despite all those inconvenient flaws, she is experiencing all of the same emotions on this trip that I am so far.
Our eyes roll in unison.
The Shopping. Like most tours I have been on, they always do the obligatory shopping stop. Somewhere along the way, usually overpriced and over stocked... and often also over staffed to really apply the pressure. This stop was Barrydale, where GG stopped so that he could get us all a milkshake. I bought a ring. I’ve been feeling quite naked without my rings and my earrings... so now I’m toting a polka dot bone ring. I didn’t know it was bone until after I bought it. It’s also making my finger stink. I think it won’t be in my life for long. Stop number two was downright bizarre. We pulled in to our final destination for the day - a small town called Oudsthoom, which just so happens to be the Ostrich capital of the world. Ok... maybe not the world... but definitely South Africa. GG dropped us all off at a STRIP mall for an hour & a half and took off. I would have been ok had this strip mall presented us with various options of unique dining experiences and perhaps some intriguing little craft shops... but there was none of that. Our lunch choices were that of a shopping mall food court... surrounding by a couple dollar store style shops, 2 supermarkets, a toy store, a gas station and then a scattering of useless (to us) businesses. No heritage, no picnic tables, no parks, no photo opportunities...
We were all thoroughly disappointed.
For months, I envisioned my time in Oudsthoom to be riddled with ostriches. Ostriches everywhere.
Full on epidemic.
The closest I got in that strip mall was a local selling feather dusters. I was still feeling sick from my milkshake overindulgence, so mostly my time in the strip mall was spent drinking water and people watching.
The Cave. From the strip mall right to the cave.
GG was trying to pressure us all in to upgrading to the real ‘caving experience’ but none of us bit. Actually, having been given the choice, I probably would have opted to stay in the strip mall. As I stood there at the cave entrance with approximately 300+ of my closest friends, awaiting the moment we would all be permitted to enter these cramped and damp quarters together, it dawned on me that I have been in a cave in England, Ireland, Vietnam, Bermuda, Canada and now South Africa. I am not a speleologist. Speleology is not a hobby of mine. Cave exploration has never made it on to my top favourite activities, nor has rock collection. I don’t think I’ve ever gone out of my way to express a keen interest in the formation of stalagmites or stalactites. I am not a Geology major and there are no definite plans in my future to study Petrology.
I’m done with caves.
I concluded some time ago that I suffer from small bouts of claustrophobia. It all started in Edinburgh when I tried, twice, to do the underground city tours. Both times, I had to be assisted out of the vaults because I passed out.
I’ll admit, at the time, my imagination ran wild - convincing me that in a past life, I was one of the people that got locked down there during the plague or one of the massive fires... or perhaps I was the official responsible for locking the condemned in, and now the unsettled spirits were making it clear that I was not welcome.
Probably just claustrophobic.
Tea considers herself a spirit guide. She doesn’t think I’m claustrophobic at all.
Tea thinks that strong energy forces are tunnelling through me....
My thoughts exactly.
Either way... my travel through caves has come to an end. Congratulations me... on completing my final cave tour for infinity and beyond. Honestly... unless there is a cave bar, offering free wine & massages, I’m out. It never helps when the tour guide starts every sentence with, “Ladies and Gentleman..” It grates...
The Ostrich. “I better get to see an Ostrich.” I was thinking that all day. You don’t bring me to the ostrich capital and then just dump me at a strip mall. I have been told I’m eating one tonight - for the low, low price of 100 ZAR. The Swiss Family Robinson would be disgusted with me. In my feeble attempt to appear to be cool, worldly and not afraid to try new things, I agreed, under much pressure, surrounded by ostrich eaters... to eat ostrich tonight.
This final decision was cleverly put in to play before we arrived at the ostrich farm.
Fun facts about ostriches that I discovered today;
They are one of nature’s most stupid animals.
If you cover their eyes and they can’t see you, they naturally assume that you can’t see them either.
Burying their heads in the sand is a myth.
They eat rocks.
They don’t have any teeth, so the rocks serve to grind up their food while in their stomach.
They can’t fly.
Their knees are up below their feathers, and what you think is the knee, is actually their ankle.
Their ‘hoof’ could slice you in half.
Ostrich sausage is very gamey and I’m not a big fan.
This is a strange one. When we booked this tour, we were given options on accommodation - and they did nothing but confuse us all greatly. It was presented somewhat as a financial scale multiple choice that ranged from really cheap budget, shared location to a ridiculously overpriced private room. There was no elaborate description, let alone any photos to lay out exactly what you were signing up for. The lower end of the scale was so cheap that it actually scared me in to envisioning a dirty bunk riddled with bed bugs. I chose ’budget single private room’ with the hopes that I would not be let down. The Serbians were dropped off at an Elephant Refuge camp to sleep in a luxurious safari yurt. We are all beyond jealous.
Next drop off was me... bracing myself...
I got lucky.
The place I am staying is a local B&B, owned by a lovely couple in town. The entire house is decorated with furniture and paintings from the 1930’s and 1940’s. This is the quintessential African early immigration house and dates back to 1853. It embraces everything historic and luxurious and all furnishings have been restored to their original beauty. I feel like I’ve arrived to stay with Merle Streep from Out of Africa. Tea apparently ticked all of the exact same boxes as I did when she was booking the tour. She is at the backpackers hostel, in a private room. I am alone down the street with Meryl Streep. As strange as it seemed that I was segregated from the crowd, we managed to figure it out.
The backpackers was full - three tour vans in the parking lot - and they needed an extra room. Fortunately I pulled the long straw tonight. Why wouldn’t we both be placed at the lovely B&B so that no one had to be alone? Money. GG informed Tea that she will be away from the group tomorrow, so I hazard to see what lies in my accommodation future...