The Spirit of Ubuntu

Words by Gero Lilleike
Photos: Ubuntu Backpackers

 

Ubuntu Backpackers


Like a bright star shining in the night sky, this place lights up for one reason and one reason only, surfing. Once a year, Jeffrey’s Bay in the Eastern Cape of South Africa becomes the focal point in the surfing world with the Billabong Pro being South Africa’s most anticipated surfing event held at the world famous Supertubes.

Ubuntu Entertainment Lounge

Surprisingly, I’ve never stayed in Jeffrey’s Bay and witnessed it in full swing but I was excited to witness it myself and booked into Ubuntu Backpackers. I decided to put the luxury of a bed aside and pitch a tent instead. The facilities at Ubuntu Backpackers are more than comfortable with everything you could possibly need at your disposal. Apart from camping, Ubuntu Backpackers offers ample accommodation in the form of five double rooms, one four sleeper mini-dorm and a ten sleeper dormitory.

Ubuntu Jazz
 

Ubuntu Backpackers is a friendly place filled with friendly people and owner Daryn Sinclair, with his cool, relaxed attitude is no exception and the vibe seems to rub off on everyone here. With a spacious, upstairs entertainment area, lounge and deck area, there is always time to socialise and meet new people in a warm atmosphere. The layout and artwork of Ubuntu Backpackers creates a warm homely feel and it certainly lives up to its name meaning ‘humanity to others’.

Ubuntu Artwork

 
With a world class surf break in sight, it’s easy to climb into the sea. Ubuntu Backpackers is ideally situated near Supertubes and the waves can be seen from the balconies. When the Billabong Pro is running, Jeffrey’s Bay turns into a buzz of activity with people from all walks of life descending on the town to feast their eyes on the great waves and the brave men who ride them. Parties are held throughout the town for the duration of the contest with bands and DJ’s rocking into the early hours of the morning, every night. If you are seeking peace and quite, go surfing, or escape into the surrounding garden, you will be pleasantly surprised to find hammocks and couches to keep you chilling for hours.

Ubuntu Quiver

So if you ever in Jeffrey’s Bay, surfer or not and find yourself in need of accommodation with a sweet vibe, pull into Ubuntu Backpackers, a fun experience is waiting for you here and you might just catch the wave of your life too.

Surf Of Your Life

For more information visit www.jaybay.co.za

Bloukrans Bungee Madness

The sun was out and the Bloukrans Bridge lay before me in all its greatness. It’s been three years since I first jumped off this world renowned engineering marvel situated some 40 km from Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route in South Africa.

Any way you look at it, jumping off this bridge is an experience that encompasses a hint of madness and requires courage of considerable preportions. For most of us, the thought of lunging off a bridge standing 216m tall is simply nightmarish.

However, in danger lies the pleasure and on this particular day my job was not to jump but rather to capture this act of madness. Walking over the grated steel towards the jump zone can be a hair raising experience. Far below, the Bloukrans River makes its journey to the sea and the reality of going over the edge set in. My heart started doing flip-flops and the fear of dying crept into my mind. It wasnt long before I had my harness on and the time to descend into the Bloukrans Gorge had come.

Today I wasn’t going down alone. I was accomanied by a Face Adrenalin crew member who would ensure my safe return. Soon I was attached to the wench and we started our descent into the Bloukrans Gorge. The experience was freaky. The wench was creaking earily and I thought my end was merely seconds away. The thought of plummeting to my death consumed me. I laughed at the thought and wondered why I had done this. 

Within a few minutes we found ourselves in the trees below. The feeling of touching the ground was surreal. I only had five minutes to get into position, I had to move, quickly. It wasn’t long before the jumping commenced and my camera went snap, snap, snap.

After savouring the pleasure of capturing the madness, it was time to return to the safety of the bridge. With the wench securely attached, our ascent began and the thought of dying became too real once more. Half way up, we stopped. The operator was toying with our emotions, leaving us hanging there to contemplate life and what it means to be alive. I shouted into the gorge with my echo carrying for miles into the empty vastness of this place . The wench creaked under our weight. Thank goodness we were moving again.

I reached the bridge, my legs were weak and my heart was beaming with happiness. Being alive never felt better. Today I learn’t to appreciate every single moment, because every moment is sweetly rare. For more information visit www.faceadrenalin.com

Rocky Road to Heaven

   Words and pictures by Gero Lilleike 
 
Over the years I’ve learnt that the beauty in travelling lies in the mystery of adventure.  Finding a rare gem is rare but so is taking the road less taken and when it happens, it feels great. No matter where you are in the world, an extraordinary and unique experience is never too far away, just waiting to be discovered.  
The Rocky Road View

 

With adventure sitting on my shoulder and a pirate map in hand, I set out to find that gem. The road led to me to Natures Valley, the ‘Jewel’ of the Garden Route, where nature boasts her undisputable beauty, a remarkable place indeed. With the sun setting fast, I pressed on through the magnificent Groot River Pass towards The Crags, Plettenberg Bay.

 I soon reached The Crags and saw a sign, ‘Rocky Road’. Adventure tapped me on the shoulder and I hit a left onto a long, rocky ‘stofpad’ road. I arrived, taken aback by the astounding beauty of this place. Eureka, I found the gem and checked in. Rocky Reeder, the owner and legend, showed me to my luxury tent set in a beautiful garden with green pastures, forests and mountains painting a perfect country scene.

The Luxury Tent (Photo: Glen Murray)

 

As the setting sun fell behind the Tsitsikamma mountains, the cool, nippy air called for fire. Nothing beats a good old South African braai. Rocky and Marietjie, his partner, are master chefs and cook the tastiest, mouth-watering meals, much needed when the beast needs to feed.

The Fire

 

You are always bound to meet interesting folk at a backpackers, it’s the name of the game and Rocky Road Backpackers is no different. Kris ‘The Kiwi’ barman is a great guy, always making sure a cold beverage is sliding down the gullet. One of the highlights of Rocky Road Backpackers is the outdoor Hot Tub, driven by a wood fire furnace, it’s the best thing since sliced bread, especially in winter.

The Hot Tub

 

The Rocky Road Adventure Kitchen cooks up some great activity meals. The Garden Route offers a myriad of adventure options to satisfy any adrenalin junky. Some of the adrenalin charged activities include bungy jumping, skydiving, canopy tours, extreme hiking and many more. A hike into the Tsitsikamma forest is my cup of tea and the experience was simply surreal. It’s tough going but worth every step. Graceful streams make their journey to the sea and on the banks, forests rise to meet the bluest of skies, a truly splendid experience.

The Forest

 

 The accommodation at Rocky Road Backpackers is more than comfortable and makes for a peaceful nights sleep. Accommodation options include fully equipped luxury tents, dorm bed and bunk rooms and double rooms. Bathroom facilities are strategically placed in lush gardens and are uniquely and beautifully decorated, with a distinct natural outdoor fairy feel, a pleasure to behold.

The Fairy Bathroom

 

Rocky Road Backpackers is also home base for volunteers participating in active community development projects in nearby Kurland Village under the wings of Willing Workers in South Africa (WWISA). Rocky Road Backpackers is a special place. The warmth and friendliness that Rocky and Marietjie exude will make any traveller feel right at home.

The Cozy Rocky Road Lounge

If you are travelling on the Garden Route and find yourself in the vicinity of The Crags, Plettenburg Bay, find the Rocky Road to Heaven, it’s the place to be. For more information about Rocky Road Backpackers, visit http://www.rockyroadbackpackers.com

The Sunday Monkey Bird Walk

Words and pictures by Gero Lilleike

Squirell Monkey

It was mid morning and I had to force myself not to sleep anymore, hard work on a Sunday. I looked out my window and another great day lay before me. I had no plan for the day but plenty of time to think about it. A cup of coffee later and I was onto something. I felt like taking a walk, with shoes on. Another cup of coffee down the hatch and I decided to take a walk, with shoes on, to see some animals.

I thought it would be the perfect day to visit Monkeyland and Birds of Eden in The Crags, Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. I arrived at the gates of Monkeyland where a friendly monkey ushered me to the reception area where I paid a very special price of R200 to visit both sites. A bargain some might say. The monkey behind the till gladly took my money and directed me to the waiting area where Neil, the monkey guide, was to start the monkey tour. In the near distance of the forest, I could hear my fellow primates swearing at each other, quite a freaky racket to bear witness to, but amusing nonetheless.

Within a few minutes, a troop of monkey tourists gathered and Neil, the monkey guide, arrived to start the hour-long monkey tour. Welcome to Monkeyland, the world’s first multi-species free roaming primate sanctuary. The main focus of Monkeyland and Birds of Eden, is to rehabilitate and release previously caged monkeys, apes, lemurs and birds into a free-roaming environment, some of which originating from many parts of the world.

Monkey feeding

The monkey tour began and we soon reached the first feeding point, an elevated tray laden with fresh fruit. Within seconds all kinds of monkeys, apes and lemurs were making their way from the canopy above to feed on the fruit buffet below. It was a primate feeding frenzy like I have never seen before. I was very tempted to join in the feast but resisted for obvious reasons. In the distance, I could hear my primate friends swearing at each other again. I chuckled to myself as monkey chaos ensued around me. It was a remarkable moment in time and a remarkably sad one too.

We continued with the monkey tour, spotting the odd Vervet here and a Lemur there and then the forest fell quiet, not a sound to be heard. Neil, our monkey guide, was indecisive as to what route to take next. He then shared some interesting facts about monkeys, answered some monkey questions and soon we were back on the monkey trail. It wasn’t long before a bridge lay before us, suspended in the canopy, offering a scenic view of the beautiful forest surrounding us. We crossed it carefully and upon reaching the other side, the monkey tour ended and Monkeyland was but a fleeting monkey memory.

Birds of Eden

Birds of Eden was next on my hit list. I have never been an avid birder but I saw the value in the experience. In the car park, I looked upon this mammoth bird sanctuary before me and thoughts of Jurassic Park filled my monkey brain. I proceeded to enter Birds of Eden, but with caution, as a good monkey should. In the first five minutes, a big white Cockatoo flew straight towards my head, I ducked just in time and it perched right beside me to feed on some seed. That Cockatoo freaked me out.

Welcome to Birds of Eden, a beautiful place indeed. I decided to really proceed with caution now. There were birds flying everywhere, it felt like every bird was after me as I entered their maze. I had to watch my back, often. This was a birder’s paradise, a surreal experience, really amazing. About half an hour into my walk, a large Blue and Gold Mawcaw got sight of me and flew swiftly towards me and tried to perch on my shoulder, I quickly ducked, denying it the pleasure. These birds were really freaking me out now. I laughed out loud and taunted them to leave me alone.

I looked up and saw my friend, a large male Chacma Baboon patrolling the top of the sanctuary, it was defending me, obviously. I walked a little faster, with the end of my Jurassic Park experience almost in sight. With a sigh of relief, I made it, I was free again. Free?

I took a moment to ponder on my day. Although the experience of Monkeyland and Birds of Eden was fun and informative, a deeper concern was pecking at my monkey brain. Why are these sanctuaries here, I asked myself? I thought about it and soon my monkey brain came up with the answer. We live in a sick and twisted society. Humans cage wild animals as pets and these animals lose their ability to survive in the wild. So, we build sanctuaries for them, to save them from doom, where they spend the rest of their lives slowly re-learning what they already knew before they met us, how to be wild… For all these animals, these sanctuaries and all those around the world, at least provide a taste of the freedom they once knew. As human beings, it’s the least we can do for them, for we live in cages of our own and freedom we know not.

I got into my car and drove away and in a field nearby I saw my friends again, a troop of foraging baboons. I waved goodbye. They smiled and waved hello. Finally, it dawned on me. I’m just a monkey too and so are you.

If you ever happen to be driving through The Crags or if you are on holiday in Plettenberg Bay and are in need of some rehabilitation from the outside world, stop over at Monkeyland and Birds of Eden and support them, for they are doing a sterling job for the conservation of our beautiful wildlife. It’s a great experience your monkey brain won’t forget.

For more information, contact +27 (044) 534 8906 or visit their websites at http://www.monkeyland.co.za / http://www.birdsofeden.co.za

In the Jump Zone

In the Jump Zone

Published in the Saturday Star on March 15 2008

Written by Gero Lilleike

I’m afraid of heights, I admit it and am not ashamed of the fact. But there comes a time in one’s life where fear needs to be put aside if pleasure is to prosper.  Jumping off a bridge may seem ridiculous to most of us and that’s what I thought until it happened to me. What the hell just do it, is what I kept telling myself, over and over again, but it would never be that easy and even I should have known that.

The Bloukrans Bridge is situated on the Garden Route at the Tsitsikamma Forest Village Market 40km from Plettenberg Bay along the N2 highway and is the highest single span arch bridge in the world.  Spanning an incredible 216m above the Bloukrans river, the Bloukrans Bridge is a spectacle to behold.  Construction of the bridge was completed in 1984 with the Bloukrans River forming the border between the Eastern Cape Province and the Western Cape Province.

The Bloukrans Bridge is not just a roadway, it’s a landmark, a place to visit and if you’re up to it, it’s a place that can change your life forever.  The Bloukrans Bungee Jump is considered the world’s highest commercial bungee jump and at 216m – it’s no joke.  Face Adrenalin has been operating the Bloukrans Bungee Jump since 1997 and have maintained a 100% safety record since.  Even so, nothing can prepare you for that moment you step off the edge.

It was the perfect morning.  The fresh pungent smell of fynbos hung heavy in the air with not a cloud in the sky.  It was 7am and the heat was already unbearable. Standing and staring at the mammoth gorge before me was really amazing but the thought of falling into it left a lump in my throat.  Before long it was time to put my money where my mouth was. I knew why I was there and there was no turning back. Doubt seeped into every corner of my mind but eventually I forced myself to part with R590 for an experience I would never forget, ever.

The friendly personnel took my weight reading and I was immediately directed to the harnessing area, where I was fitted with my very own safety harness, my lifeline from the very hard rocks strewn at the bottom of the gorge. Then, the waiting game began.

The jump

Getting to the jump zone at the centre of the bridge is a frightening experience and there are two ways of getting there. The Bridge Walk is a steel, caged walkway attached to the side of the bridge and offers easy access to the jump zone.  If you are brave and have R100 to spare, a 200m long cable slide called the Flying Fox will get you to the jump zone in no time. Once on the bridge, the shear size of the Bloukrans gorge becomes all too real. The vibe on the bridge is energetic with dance music blaring into the gorge, calming shot nerves and preparing the jumpers for that moment of truth.

The bungee personnel also referred to as ‘The Crew’ always ensure that the bungee cord is safe for jumping purposes.  Jumpers are ordered according to weight and then the thrilling fun begins. Just watching ‘The Crew’ operate made me nervous.  Images of snapping bungee cords flashed through my mind on a regular basis.  I felt ill to the stomach, which by that stage had shrunk to the size of a golf ball.

The Bloukrans Bungee makes use of pendulum bungee technology ensuring that the jumper experiences the smoothest and most comfortable bungee jump possible. Jumpers are required to jump outwards as far as possible to maximise this pendulum technology. In my world things don’t work that way.  I heard a crew member call my name. The time had come. ‘The Crew’ rigged me up, with the bungee cord attached to my ankles and my harness clamped on.  I was struggling to breathe. Adrenalin surged through my veins, making my fingers tingle.

The crew helped me to the edge with my toes dangling off the end.  “Look down,” they said.  Far below, I could see the river making its way to the sea, and all the hard rocks were there too.  I was pale in shock. “Smile for your friends at the camera,” said the crewman to my right.  I obliged. Then suddenly, five, four, three, two, one, bungee.  At that moment nothing went through my mind, my knees went weak.  Unable to jump, I literally fell off the side of the bridge, plummeting to the earth with incredible pace not realising where I was. It wasn’t long before I came around and started howling as loud as I could.  A feeling of weightlessness overcame me.  My attention quickly shifted to my ankles.  My feet felt like they were slipping through the ankle padding and panic set in.  I clenched my toes outwards in distress.  There I was, dangling hopelessly in the Bloukrans gorge only to be rescued by a crew member and hoisted to the relative safety of the bridge.  I was overjoyed.

I had conquered the Bloukrans Bridge but more importantly I had conquered my worst fear and it felt out of this world.  A word of advice though, jump, don’t fall. For more information on Face Adrenalin, visit their website on www.faceadrenalin.com.

Thai Backpacking

Thai Backpacking – It’s a great way to see the whole country

Published in the Saturday Star on 17 March 2007

Written by Gero Lilleike

I stand over a drain in the vicinity of Khao San Rd, with a rotting stench rising to meet my nostrils. I feel bilious. Everything about this place overwhelms my senses. The sidewalks are lined with mobile food stalls, vendors cooking endlessly, coaxing everypasser-by into buying food.

Every tuk-tuk driver offers a ride, I respond with Mai, Khop Krun Krap, meaning “no, thanks”. They smile and drive off, instantly melting into the chaos of the street. When the sun sets over Khao San, roadside markets dominate, luring every character onto the street only to indulge in shopping, eating, drinking and sex. This is Bangkok. As a first time traveller to Thailand, I didn’t know what to expect. I only had R8000 that had to see me through a month.

I had no choice but to surrender to an average budget of R260 a day, which had to pay for basic necessities such as accommodation, food and of course shopping. For most people this would seem impossible, but I was soon to realise that my Rands would get me a whole lot more than I bargained for.

Thailand caters exceptionally well for the large influx of foreigners it receives on a daily basis, so accommodation is easy to find. The area around Khao San Rd is known worldwide by backpackers, offering the lowest accommodation rates in Bangkok and is certainly the place to be in terms of entertainment and nightlife. You can expect to pay R100 for a double bedroom, adjoining bathroom and air conditioning. If you can live with a fan and communal bathroom, expect to pay R80 per night, for two people.

Obviously if backpacking isn’t your style, simply find your way to the hotel district in central Bangkok – at a price of course.

When hunger consumes you, there is no need to go far for a feast. Thai cuisine is considered to be of the best in the world, using a large variety of fresh vegetables, meats, noodles, rice, herbs and spices, leaving no room for disappointment. There are restaurants wherever you go in Thailand with popular mobile food stalls being the cheapest in Bangkok.

Meals can be bought for prices as low as R5 – unbelievable, but true. If you consider yourself brave then feel free to snack on some really tasty local delicacies such as spiders, scorpions, grasshoppers and maggots. You might need some water to wash that down, but remember that tap water in Thailand is not drinkable so bottled drinking water has to be on your daily shopping list.

Bangkok has much to offer the tired, stressed traveller. The full body Thai massage is a must. For only R35, you can receive an hour long rub down that will ease you into the vibe and leave you totally relaxed.

Bangkok is also famous for its shopping, so if your budget is in the green then go wild. Merchandise stalls are permanent features in the streets, selling anything and everything imaginable.  Markets are a way of life, with the biggest being at the weekend and also know as the Chatuchak Market, with more than 15 000 stalls and catering for about 250 000 people a day, this market will simply blow you away. Vendors love bargaining, so don’t feel shy to name your price – you will be amazed at the result.

Bangkok is undoubtedly one of the most exciting cities to visit in the world, but does require a certain level of tolerance. The intense bustle of Bangkok has the ability to bring anyone to their knees, but being sun loving South Africans, we decided to move on and go in search of the much acclaimed islands of Southern Thailand.

If diving is your favourite pastime then the island of Ko Tao is the place you want to be, but getting there is a mission. A 10-hour overnight bus trip took us 800km south of Bangkok, to a town called Chumpon where we boarded a leaking ferry for four hours before arriving on Ko Tao.

The whole journey set us back about R250, which is amazing considering the distance we travelled. Long tail boats or taxi boats offer daily snorkelling trips around Ko Tao, with lunch and fresh fruit served on board.

These particular boat trips are a pleasant way to experience the surrounding reefs, but also to get a good idea of the overall size and beauty of the island., and for only R100, what more can you ask for.

If you are lucky, you can find yourself in the presence of a black tip reef shark. Apparently they don’t bite humans. After the 2004 tsunami, places such as Tonsai Bay were left with long tail boats washed ashore which are now home to new coffee bars and restaurants.

Massive limestone cliffs rise from the sea, creating a world class playground for rock climbers. Located some 40 km west of Tonsai Bay lies the island of Ko Phi Phi which forms part of two islands, namely Ko Phi Phi Leh and Ko Phi Phi Don. Ko Phi Phi Don was one of the islands worst hit by the tsunami, with estimates of more than 10 000 people missing or dead. Effects from the tsunami are visible, with the construction of new buildings still underway.

Despite the tsunami, Ko Phi Phi remains a popular tourist destination, with the warm spirit of the island remaining untouched.

A snorkelling trip around the islands will take you to ancient caves and popular beaches such as Monkey Beach. Ko Phi Phi Leh is uninhabited , with cliffs enveloping deserted beaches. Maya Bay, on the northern end of Ko Phi Phi Leh is home to a beach called Noppharat Thara that became famous with the filming of the movie The Beach taking place there in 1999.

Accommodation on Ko Phi Phi Don was more expensive than we expected, about R160 a night, but considering that Ko Phi Phi Don was overrun by the tsunami – the rates increase is justified.

We covered 3000km and witnessed the awesome scenery the islands had to offer, but just as you commit your soul to Thailand and all the good things that linger there, the realisation of returning home creeps in and slaps you in the face. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and our time in Southern Thailand was wearing thin, so a flight from Phuket got us back to Bangkok – just two days before our flight back home to South Africa.

The creativity and love for life displayed by the Thai people will both surprise an impress you. Thailand is so vastly different from South Africa in all aspects, making it a perfect holiday destination.

No amount of words or photographs can grasp Thailand entirely, but one thing remains, as South Africans we are all well aware of the fact that our money doesn’t buy a hell of a lot.

In Thailand, our seemingly worthless Rands made us feel like kings. So save some money, take a deep breath, and plunge into paradise, it really is heaven on earth.