Free travel on the South African coast

November 5, 2012

After having been in mountainous Lesotho for almost a month, I was ready for the next adventure. Although I have many cherished memories and moments I will take with me from the village, my toes were aching to sink in sand, my skin was craving the warmth of the sun and tingling of the sea breeze, and my heart was ready to feel at home again. I like to think of it this way: I have a roaring ocean inside me. My heart is ever-aching unless I am by the sea. It’s about the only thing that calms my pilgrim soul. So off we set to the beach. We spent a few days at a beautiful beach town that people say is South Africa’s St. Tropez. It was fun to walk the streets and meander in and out of cafés and surf shops. We also spent a night at a beach town famous for its on shore whale watching. It was absolutely breathtaking to be able to sit on the rocky cliffs overlooking the Atlantic and see whales spraying and their tails flipping in the near distance.

As incredible as both of these places were, my heart fell in love with Wilderness. I am not quite sure how to describe it because I feel like no amount of words would do it justice. It was a cozy beach town tucked away by a cliff that constantly had a paraglider flying down, and miles of breath-taking coast to the left. By day we explored town and made the beach our second home. We spent our evenings after dinner back at our backpackers around the ever-glowing bonfire hanging out, meeting other backpackers and locals. It was nothing but beach and greenery and friendly smiles all around. The nights we spent hanging out around the fire at the beach house were some of the best nights of this trip yet (which I don’t say lightly, because this entire trip has been incredible). I met some of the most chill, down to earth, honest, generous, and genuine people yet. Even though they knew we were backpackers just passing through, they generously opened up their lives and homes to us and welcomed us into their tight knit community with open arms. They even threw us a braai (South African barbeque) on the last night we were there. I found rest and rejuvenation in Wilderness. I also found kindred spirits and cherished friends. I will always share fond memories of and with the three other girls that formed our free travel group, as well as our new found Wilderness friends. And even though we were only there for three nights, I’d like to think that a little part of me stayed behind. So if you are ever traveling along the South African Coast, and happen by Wilderness, perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of me frolicking out at sea before fading slowly, as I drift out to sea.

-Hannah Patterson


Kevin Leaman, Hannah Shrock, Caitlyn Suttles, and Mandy Stowers shark diving! November 6, 2012

Coming to South Africa, I knew I wanted to go cage diving more than anything. When we arrived in Hermanus towards the end of free travel, a group of us planned to go. I was so pumped. The thing I wanted the most was actually happening! We got there and were told all about what the experience would be like. Then, all of a sudden, we were out on the boat. Even the boat ride was amazing, with open water on the right and the beautiful coast on the left. We anchored only about 500 yards from shore. I was shocked to see how close we were. We got into wetsuits and dived at the same time. It was awesome. The crew would throw out a fish head to bring the sharks close to the cage and pull the head away before they could eat it. Even though the water felt like ice, it was totally worth it. The first dive, I remember one shark just going by the cage, staring all of us down. It was a crazy feeling knowing that it was watching us. Shark! The second and last dive was my favorite. By that time, several sharks surrounded the boat. Some were aggressive and attacked the fish head, hitting the cage rather hard. One shark even ended up biting the cage. It was cool to see its teeth so close. We were the last group to go because the crew ran out of bait. I was sad to leave, but I also knew it was time. Some people were getting really seasick, so it was good that we were heading back. Seeing the great whites so close was the highlight of my free travel. I hope one day I can come back and do it again.

-Mandy Stowers