Stellen-BOSCH!

Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
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19
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Trip End Feb 13, 2011


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Where I stayed
The Stumble Inn

Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Sunday, June 20, 2010

Our journey across the South African border was the most eventful so far. We had until this point been quite lucky with smooth transitions between countries. The general routine involved our tour leader handing out the necessary exit/ entry forms in the back out the truck and talking us through what needed to be filled in the various fields. Then we would just present ourselves at the requisite desk, get our stamps and be back on the truck in no time.

           However, probably as a result of the world cup, the South African border controls were particular stringent. As we began to file out of the entry office with our newly stamped passports we saw officials in the back of the truck! Now this had never happened before, our driver was particular good at dealing with officials who wanted to search our truck and as yet none had actually made it on board. This is quite a feat when you consider the distance we had traveled, especially through Botswana with its various veterinary checks which involved everybody getting out and walking through disinfectant while officials interrogated our driver as to whether not the truck contained any fresh produce.

Therefore as we stood at the foot of the stairs we contemplated how serious this situation must be. Thoughts of the numerous cheap cartons of cigarettes/ bottles of alcohol bought in Zimbabwe loaded in there coursed through our minds. However, after a lot of agonizing the official disembarked clutching a carrier bag of apples! It would appear the threat of fresh produce was just as intimidating here as it was in Botswana. So on we went, the fright of our brush with border control clearing away the hangovers most people were nursing, we lapped up the new landscape of rolling green mountains and vineyards that lay before us.

That night we stayed at a campsite within a massive orange orchard. It was our last night in tents and everyone became very nostalgic as we set camp for the last time. That night however, was one of the coldest we had experienced to date, and the next morning was worse! The rose tinted glasses quickly fell off as we all muttered and moaned packing the tents away, fingers burning on the ice-cold metal of the tent poles. As we sat down to our last camp breakfast around the burnt remains of the previous nights campfire, as we had done so many times before, the mood was not reflective or longing as with dinner the night before, instead we sat in near silence slowly going numb from the toes up.

Nevertheless, by the time everything was packed away and we had completed our final big group truck clean of the journey, the sun had warmed a little and we set off to Stellenbosch with the music pumping loud and smiles on all our faces. Stellenbosch is a big elite university town filled with posh shops, bars and restaurants. The sight of our big rugged yellow truck pulling up turned a few heads to say the least. We pulled into the driveway of a big townhouse, which was to be our home for the next two nights. The big colonial style building had two big dorm rooms full of bunk beds, a big kitchen, multiple bathrooms and even a swimming pool in the back garden (not that anyone would contemplate going in as it was so cold!) For another group of 24 people it might have felt very strange all living together in a big house like that with essentially just three rooms, but we had just spent 24 hours a day together in the back of a truck for the best part of 2 months. In fact, throughout the whole trip we all coexisted very easily with one another, a miracle when you consider the diversity of passengers on board!

We spent the next couple of days exploring the town, sampling a few of the nicer restaurants and generally enjoying each others company as we were all too aware that our time on tour was fast running out. One afternoon however, Mark was on checking his accounts on his internet banking when we got a terrible surprise. Our account had had the best part of 2000 pounds cleared out of it! A quick look showed that all of the transactions were made in shops in Namibia, where the incident at the ATM had occurred! We then had the ordeal of trying to call the bank on an old coin operated phone in our hostel. I had to run back and forth to reception to change up notes while Mark sat on hold feeding tiny coins into it, half of which came straight back out of the bottom. After informing them and having the card stopped we had to wait for news as to whether or not we would be able to get any of it back. Angry, frustrated and hungry, we headed back to the house we were staying in to eat the leftovers we had saved for lunch from the previous nights dinner, only to find they had gone from the fridge! This was the straw that broke the camels back for me and with no money to buy any more food I became thoroughly depressed. After stropping around the house for a while we went back to the main hostel area to await a call from the bank.

As I was festering in self-pity alone on one of the sofas (Mark was playing pool at this time) a stranger approached me with a big plate of humus, carrots, feta cheese and salad and asked if I wanted it! I must have looked a little confused as he quickly explained that he'd bought a lot of groceries with the intention of staying at the hostel for a few days but his flight had been changed and he had to leave the following morning. I was so emotional at this point, this small gesture from a stranger felt like I’d won the lottery and as I excepted the plate of food graciously, I explained to him how bad my day had been and how his timing couldn’t have been better. Pleased, and a little taken aback by how grateful I was for his small offer of food, the stranger sat down and we got talking. It turned out he was a German guy on a solo round-the-world motorbike ride! He’s just driven from Berlin to Cape-Town and was now heading off to drive from Argentina to Alaska, then from Tokyo back to Germany. We had a very interesting chat and when he finally left he gave me 2 carrier bags of groceries. So that night after a horrible day Mark and I had a slap-up meal of mincemeat, bread, salad and cheese courtesy of a kind stranger!

So after an eventful few days in Stellenbosch (it transpired that we did get all of the money back that was fraudulently taken) we began our final drive- to Cape Town. It was heartbreaking to sit in the back of the truck, as we had every day for the previous 7 weeks knowing it was the last time. We played all of the songs that had become cult classics amongst our group namely 'Dominic the Donkey’, the Cillit Bang remix and John Denver’s "leaving on a jet plane". Mark had one last game of monopoly perched on the eski and we all lamented as the imposing silhouette of table mountain drew closer. That night we went out for our final group dinner. Both our driver and tour leader who would be leaving with Barbara the next morning said their final goodbyes and there was barely a dry eye in the house. It was a jarring thought to think that we would no longer be under their watchful protection. Throughout the 7 weeks we had been very absorbed as a group, we had barely spent time with anyone who was not part of the tour. Every day spent with the same people had been a comfort and we’d relaxed around each other to the point where we felt like one big dysfunctional family. The simple fact that it had become acceptable to walk around in pajamas with socks and flip-flops on colder days is testimony to that fact! The realization that tomorrow we would be 24 individuals again, fending for ourselves in the big world sunk around the table like ice sliding down our backs.

Luckily, the goodbyes were to be staggered over the next few days as people left, in fact that night we slept in a dorm with 6 of our former truck mates. But as we watched Barbara pull away with our driver and tour leader inside the next day, we felt our safety net slip away with them and mourned the end of an amazing trip together.
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