Week 1 in South Africa

A trip up the N1 to an originally undisclosed location allowed me to soak up a little more South African history. The tiny but wonderful town of Matjiesfontein consists of a grand old hotel, a cozy pub, an old post office, which has been converted to a gift shop, a coffee shop, some cottages, and a train station.

The evening was spent exploring the area, cozying up to the fire in the bar with a glass of red wine, riding the ancient red double decker bus to receive the official tour of the place, and making our way to the traditional dining room to eat THE most delicious Karoo lamb chops.

Somewhat of a time warp, the hotel in town stayed true to tradition with no television or phone, two twin beds pushed together, and no shower, only a tub.

Once we had soaked up the essence of Matjiesfontein, a full day of driving and a stunning mountain pass landed us in Storms River Village where we dropped our stuff at a backpacker’s and headed west to Plettenberg Bay for some dinner.

The next day was spent hiking along the first part of the Otter Trail, a coastal trek over boulders, through covered forest paths past massive caves. We made it to the waterfall and later hiked down to see the suspension bridge.

Monday morning had no schedule and I think this is why it was the best day. We started out to tackle the walk along the abandoned railroad from Wilderness to Vic Bay, about a 3-hour trek. The landslide-covered tracks and signs letting us know it was forbidden to walk along the railroad didn’t cause too much concern. The views were incredible as we wove along the coast until we came across a dark and creepy tunnel. We walked through to find the most bizarre man in the world on the other side.

Meet Clifford, creator of this shelter buried in the depths of a cave. Home to homeless visitors, the abandoned restaurant has been separated into tons of tiny rooms by plastic tarps and is fully equipped with 12 beds, a kitchen, a dining room, a bible study room, a lounge, and thousands of donations from passing visitors.

We met Clifford as he was doing his wash. He walked up to greet us and then took us on a tour of his lair. A little mesmerized, and even more creeped out, I breathed a deep sigh of relief when we waved goodbye to the eccentric man.

We proceeded to cross the Scariest Bridge in the World only to meet the police on the other side. After figuring out that they were looking for a man who had robbed another man, we decided the best thing to do would be to get the hell out of there. We scurried back along the Scariest Bridge, tiptoed past Clifford’s lair, making sure that our first interaction with him was our last, and let out a deep sign of relief when we made it back to the car in one piece with all of our belongings.

Wanting something a tad mellower, we set out to reach the waterfall at the end of the Half Collard Kingfisher Trail. The gentle incline and perfect weather countered the morning’s overly exciting events. After searching for the perfect spot to swim, we held out until the very end and jumped into the frigid water of a pool below the falls.

In the evening we drove back to Knysna to catch the end of the evening’s food & wine fair, part of the Knysna Oyster Festival. After sampling a collection of wonderful wines from around the county and meeting multiple people who had been to San Francisco, we decided to call it a night.

The drive back was filled with the constantly changing landscape, lots of country music, and enough biltong to feed a family of five.

The trip was a delightful way to start my time here and now has my brain spinning about the adventures to come.

Tom took all of the particularly cool photos in this post.

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5 comments

  1. Wow…… what an experience. Glad you didn’t have to see Clifford twice!! The photos are gorgeous. I think you should write a novel beginning with how you met!

  2. Wow II….. What an incredible weekend trip. Photos are gorgeous. Experiences are unimaginable. The first night hotel is so lovely. Clifford’s lair is magical. I am getting the travel bug for the first time in a couple of years.

  3. Thanks for the map to give a sense of where you were aside from clear across the other side of this little blue marble we inhabit. It is winter there, I presume?


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