The Garden Route
TRAVEL UPDATE - Marlinda Angbetic Tan (The Freeman) - July 3, 2014 - 12:00am

Before I leave Cape Town for Western Cape for its Garden Route, I must mention one of two main reasons why I opted to visit Cape Town:  to set foot at Cape Point where the Cape of Good Hope stands majestic on the meeting point of the swirling Atlantic Ocean and the equally turbulent Indian Ocean. Hence, there is a famous restaurant there called Two Oceans Restaurant where we had our pricey lunch. 

In 1488, on a quest for the Spice Islands, Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias landed in Mossel Bay in Western Cape -- the first European to set foot in South Africa.  He later discovered a rocky promontory in the farther coast and almost got shipwrecked there due to bad weather. He quickly headed back to Europe and reported his discovery of a "Cape of Storms" that may be a new route to the east. Ten years later, it was Vasco de Gama who led the second expedition, with Bartholomeu Dias as guide.  The ship of Dias, along with him, perished at The Cape.  Da Gama however reached India by successfully rounding The Cape in 1498. The Portuguese King John II changed the ominous name of the new eastern route to Cape of Good Hope. 

The Cape Point is part of the Cape Floral Region, "the smallest but the richest among the world's only six floral kingdoms," with 1,100 indigenous floral species and over 200 avian species found in the 7,750 nature reserve. I had been so charmed by the numerous birds we had seen throughout our trip in Cape Town. I was happy to see the weavers, or the bee eaters -- brilliant colored tiny birds that build hanging nests on thorn tree branches that reminded me of Christmas tree decorations in the bush velds -- when I was in Kenya.

The Garden Route traverses the Klein Karoo, the frontier lands once inhabited by the indigenous people of Western Cape -- the nomadic cave dwelling hunter-gatherers called San, and the equally nomadic herders called Khoi Khoi.  They had a common language spoken with sharp clicking sounds. The Dutch & Huguenot (French Protestants who fled from persecution to the Netherlands) pioneers built an ox wagon pass through the Attaquaskloof mountain range to connect Cape Town and Mossel Bay in 1689.  Oudtshoorn is the largest town of Klein Karoo and the center of commerce, known as the Ostrich Capital of the World. There are ostrich farms selling ostrich leather bags and accessories at factory prices. Today, the mountainous roads and byways we passed in our 2-seater Toyota Innova (with our blond Teutonic-looking avuncular driver/guide Andrew Thackwray), make for a breath-taking panorama of granite mountainsides, frozen waterfalls, vineyards, roadside blooms among thickets and fynbos varieties. Of course, we stopped for some wine tasting along the way -- the other reason why I wanted to come to Cape Town:  to savor vintage wines from what is now considered as the producer of the best wines in the world. And to bring home a bottle or two, as luggage requirement would permit.

Our first night was in a quaint hotel tucked away by itself -- Turnberry Boutique Hotel -- with a cheery African braai (grill) awaiting us for dinner.  No less than the hotel owner himself Neil Els was doing the barbeque of springbok, beef sausage and -- what else -- ostrich fillet. Everything was superb and Neil took the time to explain that was served.  We were quite impressed with his culinary savoir faire. The next morning, upon check-out, I was happy to have the honor to meet the former Bailli (president) of the Cape Town Chapitre of the Chaine des Rotissuers, Bailliage de Sud Africa -- Neil Els -- a fellow Chaine member! What a small world after all!

By the way, we had a chilly late afternoon safari on our first day, at Botlierskop Private Game Reserve with 3,000 hectares of natural terrain. Linda and I were the only passengers on the open safari vehicle with our lady driver/guide. I stayed on the bumpy top seats (bumpier as I was alone) while Linda sat beside the driver in the warm enclosed front space as she couldn't climb up to the seats with her problem knee. When we encountered the lions that were starting to get active as it was sunset, we were that close to the lion roaring after having been snubbed by the lioness that was walking away. Linda took good shots...also of the family of friendly cheetahs that posed for the camera. Then Linda saw what she wasn't able to see in the first safari:  hippopotamus.  We drove really close to the animals, unlike the usual safari drives -- even with the elephants and the rhinos.  Our lady driver was fearless!  And so were we -- especially I, as I was the most exposed!

Our second day was spent "spelunking" in the pre-historic Cango Caves, formed in the belly of Swartberg Mountains some 20 million years ago, then 3 million years ago, stalactites and stalagmites evolved. They used to have concerts in the main cavern but stopped the musical activities when the vibrations caused damage to the surroundings. Only portions of the vast system is safe for public view: standard tour -- one hour with over 70 steps going up and down the passageways to the first six largest halls; adventure tour -- one hour and a half of going through challenging passageways, through narrow openings, "requiring a degree of fitness. For lean people only."

We were next enjoying the forests towards Knysna with its series of lagoons. We ended our second day with a sunset cruise on a John Benn yacht with a three-course dinner served as the boat went out to sea.  There was a magnificent moon rise that I could not let pass without a photo souvenir of the rare occurrence.  The full moon made the sailing magical!

Travel well!

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