Cape Town to Oudtshroon

 

 

January 21, 2009

 

 

Journal Entry January 25, 2009 - My last night of the trip

 

I am on my last night of my trip and felt compelled to write home. It is 10pm and I am getting ready to go to a club to dance the night away. It won't get started till midnight so I have some time to kill. (odd choice of words)
 
I was not sure what I would write about. My letters home are usually quite regular at weekly intervals and I did not have that luxury this trip not being able to find internet cafes or internet connections anywhere. 


So, I get to write one more story before I return home and I was debating between the Rhinos, the gorillas, the crocs, the orphanages, schools and hospitals, the kids, the sites, the people, the clubs or the accident...


I hate to have my next email be so dramatic after the Nile white-water rafting incident but here goes.
 
My month in Uganda and Rwanda were brilliant to say the least. I met some fabulous people and it was actually quite hard to leave there. Never-the-less, I was looking forward to my time in South Africa. I had planned on several adventures in and around Cape Town.


Upon my arrival to Cape Town I found my bags had been torn and destroyed with missing zippers and locks. Apparently that is not unheard of from the leg of Johannesburg to Cape Town. So, my 1st evening and following day I found myself dealing with the airlines (a true pleasure to deal with, honestly), and the luggage shop. They were all so nice but everything moved rather slowly so it all took time. But again, there really was no stress just many wasted hours. My ride was not at the airport when I arrived either so I was delayed waiting for a car to escort me to the proper luggage shop that I had been directed to go to.
 
I then had to deal with delay from the rental car company and a GPS unit that was to be picked up directly from the cellular company so my second evening was shot as well with that. Ok, so I arrive at the hotel which was fabulous and I'm laughing about the delays and the girls (hotel front desk staff) and I were just having fun and they commented that they were so impressed with how I was making positives out of negatives. Now, had this happened in Los Angeles, I know my tolerance level would never have been so accepting? I love what being on the road does for me. I really was not experiencing any stress over anything as of yet.

 

Anyway, by 9:30pm my second night in Cape Town, I had two new suitcases and a GPS unit for the following day. As a matter of fact, the cellular company guy was so nice, he threw in a cell-phone at no additional cost. I'd only pay for airtime and I told him how much I appreciated that. It would be great to have if I got lost on route. After all, I was traveling 6 hours to my first destination, 4 hours to my second destination and then several hours back to town. I would not have had a clue at how invaluable having that phone would actually be. Everyone knew I was nervous about driving from the airport staff, the luggage shop staff and the cellular shop staff and most definitely the car rental company. Let's face it, I've now been to 55 countries and I have never driven in any of them let alone one where the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car as well as having to drive on the opposite side of the road. But everyone assured me I would be just fine!
 
Before I go on, let me say that with the mix-ups thus far, I was still in love with South Africa. The hospitality here is really remarkable and the country itself is gorgeous. The contrast of the beautiful, clear blue skies with white fluffy clouds and forest and Kelley greens in the trees is enchanting. There are beautiful mountain backdrops everywhere and the dramatic Table Mountain is visible from all over Cape Town. I really had fallen in love with the city and its landscapes and coastlines.


I must have delayed the driving as long as I could. I sat in the car and was so careful pulling out into the road. It was a straight drive on the N1 to Route 62. This is comparable to our famous route 66. They even have bumper stickers that say I Love Route 62!
 
Now, I am not sure I share the same love for this route but I just had to buy the sticker and put it on the last page of my journal!
 
I had been driving for over 5 hours. I made one or two photo stops for rainbows, cloud formations, mountain backdrops that made my jaw drop and a few others. I was getting more comfortable and yet still cautious and nervous. Cars pass like lunatics on this road and the big-rigs pass so fast they shake you.


Ironically, I had made a lovely new friend in Bwindi, Uganda during my Gorilla trek that was a resident of Cape Town. Karen visited me at my hotel in Cape Town and had told me a special stop to make on my way to Oudtshroon. So, I stopped at Ronnie's Sex Shop (famous for a cold drink) along the way and chatted with a couple of girls that were wearing shirts that said I survived the crocodile dive. Well, that was where I was heading so I asked how far away I was. They replied only 1 - 1 1/2 hours. "Great, I'll see you there."


So, I took several photos of the bras and underwear hanging from the walls and ceiling, snapped a shot or two of the worlds currency notes adorning the walls, and the signatures that left only inches of blank wall space. I bought a bottle of water at Ronnie's and was back on the road. Only I did not make it to the crocodile dive that day.
 
About 32 km away from my destination I was passed by a big rig. I shook rather fiercely and I must explain that these roads are one lane on each side and paved just enough for the width of the car with not a lot of room for error. The outer lane is just loose gravel and quite slippery I must say.
 So, back to the story...
 
The car is vibrating and my right front left tire just barely touches the gravel and the rest is a complete blur!
 
The car swerved back and forth and I thought just get control. When the car spun around into the other lane facing oncoming traffic and continued moving backwards I realized I would never regain control of that vehicle. I don't remember much from there except believing for a second time this trip that this was it! There was no way I would survive this.
 
The car spun around one and a half times and was traveling or skidding backwards in the wrong lane when another tire hit the gravel on the other side of the road and flipped in the other direction. I felt the car drop down into the ditch but I was still traveling at over 100 km per hour. It dropped further into the ditch and I think I was just waiting for the crash. The car was moving along the ditch at an angle. I was backwards again and could not see what was happening. There was dust and rocks and no visibility. I must have already gone into shock at that time. It was slow motion from then on.


The next thing I know is I hear the crash. The back of my car hit a wired fence and spun forward and I slammed into a small tree and a pole. The fence then fell on top of the car.
 
I don't know if I realized I was alive or not. I waited like nothing happened. I then came too and thought get out, get out, get out! But I couldn't.
 
The driver door was completely blocked by tree branches and a gate. I was trying to kick my way out with no success of even an inch. I was really trying to kick my door open. I just was not thinking clearly. I was panicking. I thought the car is going to blow up so get out! I realized I could climb out from the passenger side. It was like I could not think clearly. I fumbled with the belt and grabbed my bag with my passport and ran out of the car. I didn't smell gas but I knew a fire was a possibility. I then realized the engine was running so I ran back in the car to shut it off. I then realized there would be no fire and that I was actually ok. I was walking, actually swerving like in a drunken stupor but walking none-the-less. I ran up to the remote road to drop my first load of bags and then ran down to the smashed car for the second load. I was just a robot going back and forth. I could not think straight. It was all so automatic. Just get your stuff out of the car was all I could think. I could not bear getting my big bag out of the trunk so I just left it in there. I had the important documents, phone and cameras somewhere in the piles along the skidded road.
 
I realized I was all alone and may be there for some time and I remember fumbling to find my phone in my bags. I couldn't though. My fingers could not sort through anything to find it. I know I needed to get it but my brain could not focus. I was moving but with no direction. It must have looked like a crazy cartoon. I knew what I needed to do but I could not contain my motor control. I was moving too fast to focus.

 

I finally saw a big truck coming and flailed my arms pleading for assistance. As he drove past me, I felt completely alone and helpless. I just plopped down on the side of the road. He must have had an instinct that I was no threat to him as he stopped in the distance and started to back his car up. I lifted my head and saw him backing up to me and just bowled over and sobbed. When he reached me I could not speak. I don't even know if I understood what he was yelling from his car window. I know he could not understand me.
 
A man in a car had pulled up at this point and told the truck driver he would take care of it and the truck drove off. Then a lady with such a kind face drove up. I felt so much more at ease when she showed up and I just hugged her and held onto her as if I had known her for years. Then, a half-dozen cars must have been on the road with us. They all wanted to see the car in the tree I guess.


Well, there was no reception in the "accident zone" so the man in the car went to the next town to call the police for me. The kind lady stayed with me and brought me water. She took me out of the sun and a group of us waited for the police. I was still in shock. The ambulance came and did a very quick check of my blood pressure. They asked if I wanted to go to the hospital and I said no. They released me to Jo, formerly referred to as the "kind lady".


The police were very lovely and knew Jo since their station happens to be only doors down from her guest house. Jo insisted I return with her. I was so worried about being an imposition I didn't want to go but it was my best alternative as I was not going to drive anywhere. I was in the middle of Calitzdorp and Oudtshroon. I thought, thank God that before I took the car, the man at the rental car office offered me full insurance. I had rented the car from home before I left on the trip so I did not know options of insurance. I just said I would take it but I was only given partial coverage at that point. So, for 150 Rand ($15), I had full coverage. Whew!
 
I was thinking how will I get to Oudtshroon and then Knysna? How will I drive again? How will I see the animals, do the crocodile dive, get to the Cango Caves, ride the ostrich, see the Garden Route and then do the shark dive? I was thinking of all of this with my bruises, my head aching like crazy and being quite frankly in shock.
 
So, from Jo's place, I called the rental company and they said my cost would be $50 for the processing fee of the claim and that the tow truck would go get the car and they would deliver a new car to me within a few hours. I thought, “Are they seriously going to give me another new car?”
Then I thought, "Why, I'm not going to drive it?"
 
Sure enough, a few hours later, I had a brand new VW Polo at the door. No questions asked.
 
I filled out the police report and then finished the evening drinking Vodka and orange juice with the police at Jo's house along with her other guests over dinner. Now, I don't want to be misleading like I was fine. I was so out of it but I was once again grateful to be alive. Jo was a life-saver and I will always be grateful to her! She took such good care of me.

 

The bruises are healing and I still have some neck and back aches and the headaches have not gone away completely as of yet but I'm well enough to hit a dance floor tonight. Although, now that it is 11:38 pm, I'm not so sure anymore that I will. I think I will intelligently get some well-needed sleep.


So, now what was I going to do...
 
I had things to see and places to get to. Mind you, I was not myself all day. I was scared, nervous, still in a bit of shock and yet quite determined.


I hugged my new friend Jo goodbye and drove off around 10am and was rather slow and cautious. Actually, I was paranoid and terrified. I don't know how I drove. I was extremely determined to do some of my planned activities although looking back, I think I did them all in a fog. I made it first to the Ostrich farm where I did stand on ostrich eggs and I rode an ostrich. That was the whole reason I rented the car so that was now done. It was a good time and I'm glad I did it.
 
Then I headed off for my crocodile dive. Three enormous crocodiles and I were literally face-to-face with them under water. The staff were telling me to slap the water and blow bubbles to excite them. Now, normally I would jump at chances like that but I was really gun shy. I was just too afraid. I was actually feeling like I had already tempted fate twice this trip (more if you count the dangerous things I did without incident). So, I was calm and happy to look at them eye-to-eye and call it a day with them.
 
I showered and dried off and then was off to play with a tiger. Words can not express the beauty in that. The tiger is my favorite cat. I find it the most regal of them all. Then I played with two Cheetahs. They were so playful licking me so passionately the keepers made me back away. They said the larger male was getting too excited and if he decided to play more, they would not be able to control him. I was in awe over how much they loved me. It made me miss Spooky!
 
Then it was time for the snakes. I really enjoyed the Pythons. I spent most time with them. The keepers said that the snakes are normally not as calm for other tourists as they were for me. We got on quite well. I was even allowed to spend time with the albino. So, the keepers gave me extra time with them as they slowly slithered around my legs, body and neck.
 
So, now I didn't know what I would do. I was missing the Cango Caves which was a major disappointment to me. They are the biggest draw in that area. But it was after 6pm, about to get dark and started to rain. There was no way I could drive 4 hours to Hermanus let alone in the dark with rain. But, I had to push 1 hour ahead to drive to George. I made an emergency call to the car rental company and asked for a driver. They gave me a number to a chauffeur service and I hired a man to meet me in George and he would drive me to Hermanus and then drive my car back to the rental company at the George airport. I would then get picked up at my guest house in Hermanus at 7am for my caged shark dive and they would return me to Cape Town safely at my hotel. Done!

 

I was slow moving and steady with a few shakes from passer-bys. I made it to George at the airport just at 7 when they were closing and met my driver John. I added him to my policy and we were off. I arrived in Hermanus at 11:30pm and was safe. The comfort of a driver for that 4 1/2 hour drive only cost me 580 Rand or $58. Shocking! I love this country. Again, upon my safe arrival I was tearing and just a bit shocked. I was well taken care of by the owners of the Bed and Breakfast at 138 Marine Drive. Jena ran a bath for me and I was asleep by 1am.
 
Now, the next morning, the caged shark dive was the most exciting of all of my activities in Cape Town. This I could not wait for. Well, there is no drama here. It was a rather boring day with a boring group of people on the boat. One Great White surfaced for us and I was right in front of him but only for a moment and only before the cage was lowered into the water. I did capture the moment on video and it was exciting for a fleeting moment. Nothing else happened over the next 3 1/2 hours. Well, I wanted the cage experience so I hung out in it for about 40 minutes on my own just chilling out. It was cold and I would dunk my head just to see nothing in the water but I was going to make the most of the cage experience. I kept asking for the shark to come visit but I guess he had other places to be. But, with all I had been through, I was going to have a good time. I played my music on the boat and chatted with the crew. It reminded me of the white-water rafting people that I had been with. They all left their personalities on the dock.
 
We did see hundreds of seals though. But then we sadly watched baby seals drowning and dying all around us. Literally, it was really pathetic to watch them dying, trying to swim to the rocks literally exhausting themselves to death and we could do nothing about it. I hated that part! We did pull in one and threw him back in the water toward the rocks but were told he would sadly not make it in spite our efforts.
 
The shark driver dropped me off safely at my hotel and I had a great story for the girls at the front desk when I got back to my hotel Fire and Ice. Once again, they said how "inspirational" I was for being so positive about everything. I have to say that I really was being very optimistic about everything. After all, how could I not be? I was alive and well. I was so lucky to have walked away from that accident. I am pretty calm and accepting of everything considering what has happened in this last week.


Well, I managed to ignore the pains that night and danced away a few hours and it rejuvenated me. I was ready for the next day to go see the townships and hang out with the kids and I did just that. I passed out pencils, bracelets and fans to a lot of really appreciative kids living in shanty’s and projects. I then took a cable car to the top of Table Mountain and appreciated the views of beautiful Cape Town.
 
I was grateful to be on that mountain. I was grateful for the views and grateful for the clear day.
 
Mostly, I'm grateful for all of you that allow me to share my stories. Each of you has a role in my life and I'm forever grateful for whatever role that is regardless of how big or small.
 
Thank you for being my friend!
 
Love,
 Elisa
 

See you on Tuesday, God Willing!

 

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