how to not get lost in a cave and other nonsense along the garden route

The first step to not getting lost in a cave is to not lose your guide. Just stay with the guide. Simple as this seems, I can attest that it is not as simple for the uninitiated.

The garden route is a beautiful stretch of South Africa. It’s a stretch of South Africa where the arid and Mediterranean climates of South Africa overlap, creating a beautiful green region as the region experiences both summer and winter rains. Or so I understand. This is how it was explained to me by the tour guide. I was on a very touristy tour of the garden route and initially I was very keen to hear the tour guides thoughts and facts about South Africa. An Afrikaans surfer man seemed as good a person to take information about South Africa as anyone else, and I wouldn’t know any better about why the garden route is so aptly named, or really anything else about South Africa.

I just want to offer the disclaimer about the naming of the garden route because after talking to the tour guide on his opinions on education, I wasn’t as convinced by his tour guide schtick. I mean I’m sure he knew what he was talking about, but he and I had very different views on what education should look like, and I mean reasonably so. He was a college graduate who now works as a tour guide, and I’m a college student trying to figure my own education out, so his distaste for the current system of higher education makes sense. There is just something interesting within the human mind of when someone has a dissenting opinion, there is a lot of urge to view them as stupid. In reality, I have no idea about what would make education better, but the tour guide’s fondness for online education left a sour taste in my mouth, so I want to disclaim anyone who reads this that my information comes from this guy.

The tour guide’s name is J.P. and as I said he was an Afrikaans man who had a knack for surfing. He also was quite knowledgeable on birds and plants and other wild things (or so I think). He also was very big on pool and he was a smoker. The last two details add to my doubt of his intelligence (is it fair to judge him on the terms of his own life choices? No, but I’m a punk and these are the snap judgements I make. I’m sure J.P. is intelligent and a wonderful person, I just happen to have the soul of a hag that judges people in this way. In fairness to J.P., he once got marshmallows to roast over a fire for us, he had good taste in music and he mentioned that he is slowly killing himself by smoking, so those are positives. I don’t know, I’ve written a lot of mean things about him, and he was delightful as a guide so I’m trying to balance it out.)

J.P. drove a little van of twelve people, three of the United States, three of Brazil, one of Spain, three of Switzerland, one of England and one of Burkina Faso, through the winding roads that navigated mountain ranges, beautiful vineyards and all the beauty that was the garden route.The way the mountain ranges seemingly stretched along the whole drive was encapsulating. The greenery along these mountains would slowly drift as we went through regions. Along the way away from Cape Town, J.P. bought us all milkshakes, which was fantastic. I had a banana chai milkshake that was wonderfully sweet and indulgent, though lacking in much chai flavor. As my father would note, that is the banana dominating the flavor (he would say this with disgust, but I don’t mind.)

The first day of the trip focused on getting away from Cape Town and closer to the garden route region, and as such, much of the day was driving, but with the immaculate landscapes, I didn’t mind much that I was couped up in a car for most of the day. After most of the driving, we ended at a place called the Kango Caves and J.P. prefaced our cave trip with the option of taking the heritage tour or the adventure tour. Immediately, this wreaks of marketing. I mean c’mon, we all know that the heritage tour is essentially the regular tour and the adventure tour is the sport edition of the tour, and just like in cars, the sport edition really only has the option that it is better in some regard to the standard version. Indeed, it did have some special features; for one, it went deeper into the caves than the regular tour and on top of that, in the adventure tour you get to crawl through some crevasses and get the sense that you are going all Indiana Jones up in that South African Cave. Needless to say, I went on the adventure tour, and I did not regret it. There was one of the group members, a Brazilian, who was uncertain about the adventure tour, but decided to go on the adventure tour. I think they might have regretted it.

After many of the crevasses, there comes a point where the cave guide has to help each person down from a crevasse, but our cave guide insisted we go on to the next cave chamber and wait there, while they helped the rest of the group. The three people in front of me, the Spaniard, the Englishman and the Brazilian in being told this, readily moved to the next chamber. I, having a desire to get some nice pictures, lingered a bit before moving on. Upon going to the next chamber, it seemed that my three compatriots had continued on their way to the exit. I took my time in taking more photos moved forward cautiously, while waiting for the people behind me, so as to not be lost and alone in this cave. I continued along with the tail half of the group and at each waking chamber, I was struck by the lack of the three folks in front of me. The back half of the group along with the cave guide continued to the exit. At one point along the trip back, we were instructed by our guide to ignore a sign that directed to the supposed exit. We went on and emerged from the cave to daylight, and entering back into the center for the cave, I was impressed by the lack of the three others. Needing to pee and take pictures, I put them out of mind, thinking surely they must be fine and somewhere else.

After the regular tour of the cave, our whole tour group met back at the entrance to depart. We had everyone. Well except for the other adventure tour three. We all looked around expectantly, as if the other tour members would know. The back half of the adventure tour group pieced together the fact that the last three were still in the cave. The tour guide J.P. began to go about franticly looking for the lost three. He found that the caves were locked up, the lights turned off and the staff had gone home. Well most of the staff. Somehow we got hold of people, but we had to wait for the cave staff with the keys to come back to unlock the caves. It must have been at least half an hour before the people with the keys came back. By that point, the adventure three had found their way through the cave to the exit, but they emerged in the light victorious, only to find the gates to the caves locked and they had to wait. I think it was at this point the spirit of the Brazilian was broken. Upon being freed fully, the Brazilian was crying while the Spaniard and Englishman simply looked dumbfounded. We hit the road back to the hostel, with the whole tour group dumbfounded.

Arriving at the hostel, we settled in and headed to the bar to wait for dinner. Upon hearing our tale of cave mishap, the hostel owner offered our tour group a free drink on the house. I ordered the beer on tap at the suggestion of the bartender, Heinrich. It was a Jack Black, and at all records, the beer seemed quite regular. It was a good lager, but as with lagers, the ceiling is quite low. I don’t hold this against Heinrich. Heinrich was wonderful and I got to know him a bit in talking about rugby and sports and how rugby has been getting on in the United States. Apparently, rugby is having a moment in the States, or so I’m to understand. I talked to Heinrich also about American football, as that is what I watch, but a bit after talking about the Cleveland Browns I realized that Heinrich thought I was talking about football as in football anywhere else in the world (soccer if you are still lost in what I mean). I did not bother to correct Heinrich about this. We proceeded to talk about the Cleveland Cavaliers as Heinrich had started following them on Twitter. I had to sadly inform Heinrich that despite his impression from what he saw, that the Cavs were quite bad this last season. We also later chatted about the use of ‘ya’ in South Africa, and I got to know the term ‘lacka’ from Heinrich (it means awesome, or the like.)

My conversation with Heinrich occurred in front of a television playing a rugby match between New Zealand and South African teams (it was quite a big deal of a match, as Heinrich informed me. The Kiwis won.) This conversation also followed a meal of ostrich and ostrich sausage, which were both quite lovely. They are quite lean meats with a nice flavor. In the backround of my conversation with Heinrich was a pool table. I was watching rugby to pass the time and ended up being roped in to play pool against the Englishman and a Swissman and on the team of J.P. (I wanted to play, but I didn’t totally expect or desire to play with J.P.) In seeing J.P.’s enthusiasm for pool, I had to remind him multiple times of how bad I am at pool. And I delivered on my promise, not making a shot for the better part of the game, so much so that J.P. tried to advise me on what shots to take. I only made two shots in the entire game, but they happened to be the last solid and the eight ball. I was lucky and it excited J.P. immensely, as it seemed clear early in the game that we would lose.

Following this game, J.P. organized a game of ‘Killer Pool’. The rules are very easy, a whole bunch of people play and everybody has three lives, and if you don’t make a ball into a pocket on your turn you lose a turn. You can gain a life by making the eight ball. Preceding the game, J.P. asked everyone if they wanted a shot. Doing as the Romans do, I said I would have a shot. J.P. called it a Springbok (the national animal of South Africa), so I was even more on board. The game of ‘Killer Pool’ started and Heinrich prepared the shots. I made my first shot in a shot that could not have been set up better by the person before me. In preparing the shots, I noticed the shot was two layers, a bottom layer of translucent green and a top layer of opaque light brown. In taking the shot, I did not open my throat as I think you are supposed to do, but I did cock my head back like they do in the movies. This combination forced me to try to make a quick gulp before anyone noticed that I had not downed the shot so elegantly. I am not at all surprised at my poor form, as it was my first shot and I think as far as shots go, it was quite pleasant. It had a strong mint flavor and a nice smoothness to it, with only a small sense of it being alcohol. It was like taking a shot of mouth wash.

On my next three shots of ‘Killer Pool’, I didn’t make a single one. I played in the next game of ‘Killer Pool’ as well and I missed three shots in a row and was out as early as possible. I watched the game play out and J.P. won and he seemed quite satisfied with himself. After the fun, I made my way back to the room of all the boys on the tour and I grabbed a towel and had a quick shower. Shower is generous as I had no soap or shampoo, because I didn’t have room in my backpack for the big bottles I was using in Cape Twon, so I left the soaps at home. Essentially, I rinsed myself with water, but it made me feel better, so I count it as a win. I brushed my teeth and went to rest.

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