I woke up a bit tired, and sore, but no worse for wear. I was now beginning the final leg of my route back to Cape Town and had 5 days left before the car had to be back. I left Graaf-Reinet and headed south on R75 towards Port Elizabeth, and then caught the N2 west about 20km to the town of Humansdorp. Thanks to Matt, and Mike, friends from back in the states, I would have a place to stay with their friend, Sarah, who was living in the coastal town of Cape St. Francis. I phoned her when I arrived in Humansdorp to get better directions, and was delighted to hear she had just gotten off of work and was currently in Humansdorp as well, so I could follow her from there. We stopped by the grocery store to pick up some food for the braai she was having that evening, the South African equivalent to a barbecue; when she got a call from her work. Sarah is a veterinarian and was on call all weekend and had just gotten word that she had to see a man about a cow. I was offered to tag along if I wanted, and jumped at the chance. I followed in my car to a farm, which was home to a couple farmers she knew quite well. Rob and James, both lawyers, who happen to have a passion for cows, and run a cattle farm on the weekends. When we arrived they were just finishing up artificially inseminating the last half of the heifers. They were bringing in genes from a well-known Canadian bull. Sarah’s friend Izolda also stopped by, she had 5 cows herself and was keen to see others. Rob and James treated us grandly and drove us all over their farm to look at their cows and would not take no for an answer when it came to treating us to lunch and beers. After this unexpected detour I finally followed Sarah to her place. A few more friends came by for the braai, all of whom seemed to be farmers or work with farms. It was nice to relax and sit by a fire with good company and I was very thankful for the place to rest my head.
The most relaxing day by far. The morning and early afternoon was spent walking along the coast with Joe and Tonks, Sarah’s two dogs who were keen to tag along. The ocean was chilly but not unbearable, much like a spring dip in Lake Michigan. I waded in and was soon engulfed in the waves, enjoying a refreshing and salty swim. The Indian Ocean had now become the first ocean in which I had swum on both the eastern and western shore. My last dip had been in Palolem, India in 2006. The rest of the afternoon was spent doing what needed to be done, re-organizing. The last night I had spent camping I had woken up to everything blanketed in frost so I had just thrown it in my backseat. Having a small yard to use made it the perfect time to air out and dry my camping gear before continuing on.
I woke around a quarter to seven and bid farewell to Sarah and her two pups, extremely thankful for the hospitality. I was now headed to Knysna for the next two nights. On my way I stopped at Big Tree, which is part of Tsitsikamma National Park, and is home to a stand of old growth forest, the “Big Tree”, and the Ratel Trail. The “Big Tree” is a 1000-year-old yellowwood tree that stands around 36m tall. It is a huge tree, but much different then the redwoods, and sequoias of the U.S.A. The Ratel Trail is about 5km of boardwalk and trails that winds its way through the dense forest. There is a great deal of birdlife, although they always seem one step in front of me as I walk and they stick to the thick canopy that keeps the forest floor in constant shade. It was perfect conditions for mushrooms, of which I came across many; the most interesting had a burnt orange cap. As its mycelium colonized the decaying wood it turned the core of the wood an unreal bright orange color as if someone had dyed it.
I picked up the road again and pulled into a backpackers in Knysna around 1 pm and took a walk around town. I had surprisingly not run into anyone playing soccer for the whole of my trip thus far, but finally saw a few people at a field not far from where I was staying. I had passed plenty of empty fields, and it made me happy to come across this group of high school kids in Knysna. They all played for the high school team and I played some small-sided games with them until they had to go home.
For the first time on my trip I woke up to overcast skies, and it seemed it was going to put a damper on my day. I made the short drive down to The Heads, two towering cliffs that act as a giant gateway into the port of Knysna. It is proclaimed to be one of the most dangerous port entrances for ships in the world. The coast here is also home to many strandloper caves. Strandloper is Afrikaans for beach-walker, which refers to the hunter-gatherer peoples that first inhabited the coastal areas living off what the sea brought in. The caves that dot the shores were their only shelter. The only remnants left are the blackened ceilings from the fires kept inside. It was a harsh existence that was truly dictated by the ebb and flow of the ocean tides. It is also the ebb and flow that brings the food to all the hungry creatures trapped in the low tide pools that form in the craggy shoreline. I spent my afternoon hopping from pool to pool finding all sorts of urchins, sea anemones, starfish, and little fish while catching the salty spray of the crashing waves. The rocky islands on the shoreline are also home to large groups of cormorants that take turns diving into the ocean in search of fish. The scenery allowed my over active imagination to envision pirate ships entering the foreboding port to hide their booty in the craggy sea swept caves.
Today was my last long day of driving before the next 6 days in the cape peninsula. It was about 5-6 hours from Knysna to Stellenbosch were I would be spending the night. Stellenbosch is in the heart of the wine lands and is also a bit of a college town. I was feeling a bit out of sorts, and after a long day on the road I wanted nothing more then a leisurely night to make sure everything was in order before I got back to Cape Town. I stayed at the aptly named Stumble Inn, which was a backpackers that also gave tours of vineyards. My first priority was to take care of an unknown bite/wound on my leg. It started out small enough, looking like a typical mosquito bite, but had grown in the last few days to about 1-2” in diameter and was looking far from normal. The outer edge was swollen, and red with the inside forming almost a bulls-eye with a dark purple, and black ring around the center which had turned white. It was quite apparent I had some sort of infection. I got out my first aid kit for the first time on the trip and grabbed my Swiss army knife. I cleaned and sanitized the knife before using it to scrap out all the dead skin, puss, and infected areas of the now open wound. I liberally applied antiseptic, and antibiotic cream, and hoped it would look better in the morning. After my mini operation I made a large dinner and curled up by the fire with some of the local cabernet sauvignon, and read a book.
It was an inauspicious start to the day as I left Stellenbosch in a heavy downpour. I wasn’t feeling quite right, not sick, but not normal. I journeyed forth to take part in the daily commute of start and stop traffic that slowly inched towards the heart of Cape Town. I eventually found the car rental place, less by address, and more by the memory of the streets I walked about 4 weeks ago. To my surprise and delight they said the car looked good, and I wasn’t one to complain about the less than thorough inspection. The rain helped as well, washing away the last of the dust that clung to the car. The guy at the rental place was kind enough to offer me a lift to a place to stay so I didn’t have to haul all my gear through the torrential downpour. I quickly got settled and figured out how to get myself down to visit Sarah. She had the day off from field camp and I was eager to see her after my 4 weeks out and about. After a 20 minute walk, a 40-minute train ride, and a 10-minute minibus taxi ride I made it. Wet and haggard looking, with probably a bit of funk to my odor, I think Sarah was the only one who looked pleased to see me as I stumbled through the doors of the guesthouse everyone in the field camp was staying at. I unfortunately was only able to stay a few hours because I had to repeat the taxi, train, and walk before the darkness came. We were able to take care of some necessary planning for our leg of the journey together, which would begin in two days time. I was also able to get a second opinion about the mystery wound on my leg. Although her lack of medical training, I was able to gauge by Sarah’s reaction to my leg that more research needed to be done to identify the problem. Sarah researched things on the computer while I ventured back into Cape Town. She later called with her diagnosis from her research that it could very well be an African Tick bite. It was not the news I wanted to hear but it was helpful. I decided to prescribe myself the course of antibiotics I had with me before things got any worse. I had a less than pleasant sleep with dreams of all sort of parasites consuming my leg.