George and the Garden Route

image320The Garden Route of South Africa is a lovely stretch of coastline that begins about 400km from Cape Town and ends 300km later in Port Elizabeth. For all intents and purposes it is like driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in California because the arid mountains meet the pounding surf, there are lots of cute little towns, and the whole area is filled with surfers. I’m not saying this like it’s a bad thing or anything, quite the contrary, just you need to pinch yourself to remember you’re not on the opposite side of the world.

I was heading from Cape Town to Johannesburg overland on the Baz Bus, the South African backpacker bus that you should look into when traveling alone, hard to beat the price even if schedules can be a hassle, and my first stop on the Garden Route was at George. Which it turns out is a town in addition to a popular name in my family, and location of a very nice place called Outeniqua Backpackers run by a brother-sister couple. Oh, and where it turns out one is strange for not knowing that if you want to order a pizza you call the town deliveryman rather than the pizza parlor, as in a person whose job it is to deliver things. Once you get over that and realize this one man could conceivably deliver flowers and pizza on the same trip the possibilities get rather exciting.

The view towards the mountains from the tiny botanical gardens in George, which I confess I will always remember more for losing a favorite Bosnian earring over anything else. (On this trip my souvenir of choice have been earrings- easy to carry, unique to each place, and makes you feel like you’re varying something even if it’s not your wardrobe.) George is a few miles in from the sea, but you find something very cool just across the mountains…

The Cango Caves! Yay! The caves have a lovely set of limestone formations, but the best thing to do is sign up for the “Adventure Tour,” meaning “crawl through narrow spaces kilometers underground and try not to think about how many people have gotten stuck here before.” Got to do the tour with a rather nice South African family on vacation, where the kids were really excited to meet an American and for some reason kept referring to me as “Miss Pennsylvania” as clearly all American chicks enter beauty pageants, or some such.

Anyway, the bad news about this day was how my camera abruptly decided it needed to be recharged, so I didn’t get pictures of the rest of the tour and need to steal them from the Cango Caves website

The entrance to the Tunnel of Love on the Adventure Tour, also known as when things start to shrink up a little. Our guide says he lost all tact in telling people they were too fat to do the tour when a woman got stuck in this tunnel, sideways and in a split position, and was still hyperventilating after a few hours until he frankly told her “ma’am, if you don’t calm down you are going to die.” Personally such a statement would make me even more upset, but that’s just a South African guy for you.

This is the narrowest part of the tour- a 30cm (less than a foot) gap called the Devil’s Post Box that you have to slide through. In actuality this wasn’t the hardest part of the tour- the hardest was a tiny 45cm (17″) chute called the Devil’s Chimney (clearly Lucifer was intimately involved in the naming process of early explorers). Said chute extends about 3.5 meters upwards, so there is much inelegant wiggling involved to get up there.

I should also note that this was all about 1.5km below the surface and when one of the South African kids asked their dad what would happen should there be an earthquake right then the nervous-looking dad who tended towards claustrophobia told his offspring to hush up.

I did one more thing in George while there but it deserves a post of its own. So moving along…

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