South Africa #3: Helen is Scared of Water Because of Children and Snakes.

Haha what an awesome week it has been! Don't worry, I'll explain the title of this post in full later.

Burned Trees looking pretty colorful...
I kicked off the week going on a hike/mountain swim with a colleague and his wife after work. I can not even begin to describe how incredible experience this was. The hike weaved through burned forests, which in SA look more like Autumn trees.

Start of swim and went a km or so up from here
But the mountain swim.. that was what blew my mind. There were a series of three damns, and we hopped in the river after the first one and swam to the second one. The water was black from the tannins that leak into the water... but I mean really black, like your body disappeared once it went beneath the surface. It was straight out of a dream to swim in this canyon during sunset filled with birds and lush plant life clinging to the mountain sides. Besides the birds, it was just us slowly swimming up stream, and it was a truly perfect moment.

Really, try the grappa milkshakes
This week we also had visitors from the UK join us at SANSA to discuss space weather. SANSA is a very international place, with people (like me!) popping in and out to work with the researchers here. So of course, we had a little international collaboration by inviting them to our weekly drinks after work (featuring grappa milkshakes!).

And then... the weekend. Helen and I kicked things off by putting on our dancing shoes and going ballroom dancing on Friday night. We had only planned to stay for one lesson, but ended up drinking wine, making new friends, learning Afrikaans, and dancing the night away (OK only till 10:30 PM). The ballroom instructor here, Lani, is an amazing person and a fantastic DJ! I can't wait to go again on Wednesday this week!

Catch me if you can!
From there, on Saturday, we made our way to Stanford (about 40 km from Hermanus) to explore. We saw BABOONS run across the street  - BABOONS! Running like raccoons!! Several of them!! Helen was so nonchalant when it happened, "Oh come on little baboons, get of the road... ugh you're causing such a mess, shoo!" Anyways, first event: kayaking on the salt water kleinrivier.

So, Helen and I agree, South Africans seem to  have a really unique sense of direction giving. Like "go to the river and you'll find the guy with the kayak" actually meant "go to this guys house, walk around in his front yard yelling "I hope this is Ernie!", give him some money, and he gives you a canoe out of his backyard that you can *use as long as you want*". Yes, Helen and I are still working on translations.

Canoeing was a great experience. I jumped in for a swim, but Helen didn't because we had read online about the Puff Adders (extremely poisonous, responsible for many deaths every year in SA) that are in the river. However, we ran into real trouble when we encountered a bunch (= 9) of kids enjoying the river on a hot day.  Sounds harmless right? Yeah it was until they decided to all hang onto our canoe and try to climb in (oh s@$#). We convinced that we could only paddle 'one' of them down stream, and then we convinced him to let go for a minute (SUCKER) and tore off turbo speed.

Here kitty kitty!
We encountered another group of such pirates downriver. They saw us at a distance and started power swimming at us, literally yelling "we gunna get YOU!!!". Helen and I kicked it into turbo mode and flew away... kid swim power can't quite compete with our fancy paddles and terror of canoe loving children.

From there, we had lunch in Stanford, walked around town a bit, and then went to the nearby cat sanctuary. It was a great experience to see the big cats... happy! They always look so miserable in zoos, but these ones looked legitimately happy. Of course, as an added bonus, a big game breeder decided to join on the tour and counter everything the guide said about breeding/big cats in SA. At first he made some good points, but by the end, he was pretty incoherently raving about how he was going to report the cat sanctuary for violations against the cats (whoa bro, you're the one raising Lions to be shot by tourists).

Helen and I then told a stroll by the sea and decided to call it a day there... we had a big day planned for Sunday. Waking up early, we made our way to the Fynbos trail near Stanford. Once again, some issues with South African directions ("Follow the Jeep Tracks? They literally go in 6 different directions here..."). But after some help from a kind man named Christoff (we have his number - anyone want a date with a nice SA man?) we started on the trail, and it was surreal.

We descended out of a desert into a tropical rainforest about 3 km in. I felt like I was in Costa Rica again... after just seeing succulents and dusty mountains, it was bizarre to suddenly be surrounded by green on all sides. We found a waterfall, which Helen didn't go in because she's scared of water. I did a crazy thing and took off my shirt and ran under the waterfall... which was probably one of the most liberating experiences of my life. You all should try it at least once!!

We then climbed out of tropical paradise and summited a nearby mountain. Our gratitude towards the wind and partial cloud cover was immense... it was boiling when we were in full sun and no wind on the way up. On top of the mountain, Helen and I enjoyed brie and crackers with fruit as we gazed at the mountains and ocean surrounding us. It was absolutely fabulous. We hiked on a while longer and turned back after 10 km or so.
Waterfall to Mountain Vistas!

Of course, Helen and I always have problems when we turn back. We were close to re-entering the rainforest when I heard this snorting sound. I didn't think too much of it till we heard snorting again with a sound like a dog bark. At this point, I started racking through possible animals in my head... I looked up the mountain (200 m away or so) and saw hooves with a thin tail about a meter high disappear into the bushes with more loud snorting.
Picnic on Summit!

First Thought: "That was a warthog"
Second Thought: "No... those aren't here..."
Third Thought: "Shit, I'm in Africa."

So Helen and I made our way quickly into the rainforest while there was more snorting/barking behind us in the distance. We had NO IDEA what you are supposed to do when you encounter a wart hog or if they'll follow you, so we made excellent time getting back to the car (fear as a motivator...mmm). And thus, another day's adventure waned, and we survived to go to down and have curry/pad thai and relax :)

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