South Africa #4: Lions and Tigers and Whales, Oh My!

Preliminary note! A lot happens here, so I have a whole bunch of posts that are half-written sitting on my computer that I started writing when the events were more recent. As such, this one is written in a bit more present tense than it actually is (i.e. this event no longer happened “last weekend”; it was about four weekends ago). I am doing my best to finish these posts so I can upload them, but things are busy and I have been having trouble finding motivation to use the free time I do have to write these. Anyway, just keep that in mind when enjoying this post, and thanks for reading!

Hi there! Another day, another adventure here. This time I have a good story from last weekend — I got to take an overnight trip in another city! The Study Abroad program I came to Africa with takes us on these “excursions” throughout our time here to see the country. The past weekend we went to the town of ‘Hermanus’, which is known for its whale-watching site (they even have a whale festival in early September).

The approximate trip we took

On Saturday, all of us studying through ISA (my study abroad program) drove down on a super nice tour bus from Cape Town toward Hermanus (I have no idea why they rented an entire tour bus for a group of ~20 college kids. Everyone had just been expecting us to take a van). The drive down there was gorgeous, we went through miles of rolling hills and saw some incredible scenery as we made our way south. After a couple of hours we came to our first stop, which was the Panthera Africa Big Cat Sanctuary. This place was really neat, because we got to walk around and see a bunch of awesome wild cats, including leopards, lions, tigers, and caracals. The sanctuary had a really cool mission to rescue animals that wouldn’t be able to live on their own in the wild (out of places like breeding farms where huge pens of wild cats like lions are grown in horrid conditions just to be shot for their bones and body parts. The sanctuary also rescues from places like closed-down zoos) and only display those instead of breeding or capturing their own animals to use. Each animal they showed us had a unique story and were incredible to watch up close. The sanctuary tries to keep the animals in as natural conditions as possible, so none of the workers even go into the cages to interact with the cats – food is thrown in over the fences. Some of the lions they had were white lions, which sometimes are born due to a recessive mutated gene, and they also had black leopards (i.e. panthers) which occur when the leopards are born with melanism. The whole time the sanctuary was really awesome.

From the sanctuary we drove to Hermanus, where we had lunch and split up for a short time to walk around the town, watching some African drum players and seeing the cute waterfront shops. While in Hermanus we also did part of the town’s “whale walk”, which is an 11km walk that stretches down the coast and has some of the most incredible nature I have seen in my life. You walk past beautiful beaches and rock formations, over wooden bridges, on brick paths, and see gorgeous plants, animals, and cliffs. It felt like I had stepped into a real-life Disney Land waiting line where all the nature was so over-the top beautiful that it couldn’t be real. We also saw a bunch of cute dassie along the way which was fun, and some penguins.

By the time the walk was over it was early afternoon, so we loaded onto the bus again and drove to the Houw Hoek Hotel a little ways away, which is the oldest hotel in all of southern Africa (est. 1779). This was another place that felt unreal, because staying there felt like you were stepping back in time to the colonial era of Africa. It was surreal walking around the wide, manicured lawns and rooms filled with intricately carved wooden furniture. It really did feel like time had not moved in that place since the 1700’s because nothing has been replaced with newer, more modern materials like plastic, everything has just been maintained very well.

That evening I was standing out on a bridge gazing at a stream that runs through the property when a group of ISA students walked past me to head out on a hike. I decided to join them, and the group of us ended up hiking for about 2km (~1.2 miles) on these unmarked trails that twisted around behind the hotel property. The trails seemed to stretch forever! It was a bit magical and trekking along them instilled a sense of exploration because the entrance to the trails was in a remote corner of the hotel property, nobody had mentioned that the trails existed, and there were no guiding signs or anything along the way. The trails just seemed to simply and inexplicably exist without human intervention or notice. Yet they wove through some absolutely stunning nature, with fields of burnt down plants that we couldn’t identify and huge rocky mountains that reminded me of the landscape of Haiti. It was truly beautiful, but as we turned around to start walking back we ran into another couple of ISA students who had accidentally found the same secret trails. Our group split in two, and I joined the group that decided to continue hiking, so we went on for another 0.5 – 1 kilometer or so and eventually climbed one of the large rocky hills in order to watch the sun set. After about 30 minutes of waiting the sun did set and it was gorgeous, and then we walked the 2 ½ kilometers back to the hotel.

Dinner that night was entertaining, because in addition to being very fancy (I was not upscale enough to belong there), there was a dance party hosted at the end with a disco ball! It was pretty fun (and funny) to watch our group of young college students dancing to music alongside the much older generation of people who made up the rest of the hotel’s patronage.

The next day we woke up and drove down to the bay where we finally did the whale watching! Getting off the dock took a bit of time because apparently they had overbooked the boat but once we were on the water it turned out to be a good day because we saw about 10 whales! It was mostly humpback whales, I believe, and we got some really good views of them, especially toward the end. The boat even served us free snacks and drinks during the ride back to shore!

We arrived back in Cape Town a few hours later, in the early afternoon, content from a full weekend. There is only one more weekend with an excursion left before we have our mid-semester break and my trip will be halfway over!

For those of you who pray

If you are someone who believes in the power of prayer, there are definitely some ways you can pray for me:

  • Prayers of thanks that I get to see the country and that I am getting to experience so much. I am glad that I did not just get trapped in my room or in school for this whole trip and miss our on actually learning about the country.
  • Prayers of petition that I will be able to find full contentment in my solitary time here. I have not found any close friends yet, and it has been getting easier to adjust to living a more independent life but some days are harder than others.
  • Prayers of comfort for victims here of gender-based violence and prayers that men would step up to the roles they are called to play by God. There have been a lot of protests going on here over the rape and death of a young student at UCT (blog post on that coming in the future). The country really needs some peace right now in this tumultuous time.

Thank you so much for your prayers up to this point, and all of your comments on my previous blog posts! They all mean more than you know!


4 thoughts on “South Africa #4: Lions and Tigers and Whales, Oh My!

  1. Glad you went on this trip…better than staying in your room studying! Keep praying you’ll find Christian fellowship or some good friends. Happy birthday yesterday I think. Marilyn Crover

    Liked by 1 person

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