The Little Green Van


This blog entry about the events of Sunday, March 14, 2004 was originally posted on March 20, 2004.

DAY 148:  In travel culture, there are two kinds of people away from home:  “travelers” and “tourists.”  From the pages of National Geographic Traveler to internet bulletin boards, people usually agree that the term “traveler” refers to those who see foreign countries independently, outside of a tour package, usually during a fair amount of time, without the fancy resorts or the fuzzy slippers you get in first class.  “Tourists” are those that travel on limited time, usually with a package tour, with the purpose of getting away from life at home to live it up, with or without those fuzzy slippers.

THE GARDEN ROUTE, the area about four hours east of Cape Town, is the most popular destination of the Western Cape province after Cape Town according to the Frommer’s Guide to South Africa, and a must-see if you have the time, so I was told.  With forest trails and beaches to walk, caves to explore, ostriches to ride, and game reserves to drive through, the amount of things to do was a bit overwhelming.  My head was spinning with all the brochures out there fighting for my tourist dollar and I thought to myself, I wish there was just someone who could figure it all out for me.  Then I realized that duh, the whole tourism industry was built by people figuring it out for you.  As one traveler in the hostel told me, “You can knock [tours] all you want, but they do a good job.”

As much as I wanted to do the Garden Route independently — either through a rental car or the hop-on/hop-off Baz Bus service — the best way for me to go was a comprise of the two:  the Bok Bus, a small tour company that catered to the independent traveler that went to all the major spots that I wanted to see.  It wasn’t a big fancy tour bus; it was a little green Volkswagen minivan with a Toyota engine that would continue to run for two more minutes after you turned the van off (picture above).  At the wheel was Tom, a Namibian of German ancestry, born and raised in Swakopmund.  He picked me up at The Backpack, along with two British girls Sarah and Kate, at 8 a.m. promptly.

Already in the little green Bok Bus was Chris, an English out-of-work archaeologist; Andy, a German painter working in a factory outside of Munich; and Sonja, a German student that had just finished a Business English course in Cape Town.  We picked up two other Germans, Verona and Birgit, and then head out of the city, east towards the Garden Route on the N2 highway. 

After stopping for morning tea at an overlook at Sir Lowry’s Pass, we continued the three hours along N2 towards Mossel Bay, the seaside town at the start of the Garden Route.  Along the way we stopped at the Gouritz River Bridge to watch people bungy jump for the first time.  Tom tried to get us to jump the 68-meter drop, but everyone was just happy watching.  Having done a bigger jump at Victoria Falls in 2000, I wasn’t exactly rushing to do an inferior one.

“Erik and I have an excuse,” Chris said.  “We’ve already done higher ones.  We’ve been initiated into the club already.” 

We stood at the bridge and watched others get initiated while screaming their heads off.

MOSSEL BAY, THE SITE OF THE FIRST EUROPEAN LANDING on the South African coast by the Portuguese in 1488 by Bartholomieu Dias, is in the Guinness Book of World Records as one of places with the mildest all-year climate — only second to Hawaii — making it a great beach town.  Conveniently enough, the beach was where we stayed for the night.  The Bok Bus pulled into the parking lot of the Santos Express, a novel concept in budget accommodations: an old train of sleeping coaches permanently set up on the unused railroad track along the shore.  What the quarters lacked in space (and the lack of fuzzy slippers), they made up in the view of the ocean out the window.

After dropping our bags off on the train, we all hit the beach to relax after the long drive in the morning.  Unlike the beach at Camp’s Bay, with frigid waters brought up from the Antarctic, Mossel Bay was along the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and had a much bearable temperature to swim in.  Compared to the New Jersey shore, it had a much bearable cleanliness to swim in; I could actually see my feet immersed three feet below.

FOR THE AFTERNOON EXCURSION, Tom drove us to the Garden Route Game Lodge, a posh safari lodge inside a private game reserve.  We went on a safari game drive in a 4x4 driven by Jana, a native South African who pointed out all the animals the private reserve could afford to have.  The Reserve encompassed 12,000 hectares of land, fenced with 6,000 to 8,000 volts of electricity, which kept the elephants with the elephants, the zebras with the zebras, the springbok with the springbok — and all of them away from the guys drinking gin and tonics while wearing fuzzy slippers in the fancy lodge just over the hill. 

Even with acres and acres of land, the reserve had a sort of zoo feel to it and, having done a proper safari in Botswana in 2000, I wasn’t too impressed.  Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t like an old-fashioned zoo with cages, but here the animals were fed and didn’t really interact with each other in the great “circle of life.”  Instead of letting the lions hunt for their food instinctively, they were merely fed cows from the nearby farms and drank out of a man-made watering hole.  Without proper exercise, The Lion King here was in desperate need of Weight Watchers.

Everyone else in my group hadn’t been on safari before and seeing the animals — even in an “unnatural” habitat and in limited quantity — was still a thrill.  Inside I felt a little embarrassed that I had already become a “safari snob,” but I will have to say that I was impressed with finally getting to see rhinos — in Botswana in 2000, they had been poached out of existence.

AFTER COCKTAILS AT SUNSET, a delicious African buffet was served in the lodge dining hall, where we ate chicken, lamb and springbok, the game antelope meat of the evening.  Afterwards, I soaked in the natural spring jacuzzi with Kate and Sarah under big African sky.  The stars shined above us while a distant lightning storm thrilled us from the northeast.

After our fill in luxury, we headed back to our little humble train accommodation on the beach, where I fell asleep nicely to the relaxing sounds of the ocean waves just a couple dozen feet away.

Fine cuisine, jacuzzi under the stars, sleeping by the beach.  That guy at the hostel was right; knock tours all you want, but they do a good job. 

Now about those fuzzy slippers…

Next entry: Big Cats, Big Birds and Telephones

Previous entry: Finishing in Cape Town

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Comments for “The Little Green Van”

  • Yippee!  First!  I haven’t even been on safari yet and totally understand where you are coming from Erik.  I was like “they keep the animals segregated??!!”  Love the lion pic!

    Posted by Liz  on  03/20  at  07:11 AM


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/20  at  09:29 AM

  • Glad you took took the Tour Erik. Sometimes a little concession brings a great return.

    I don’t know if I qualify for the label of traveler for my next trip, as I’m hitting a lot of destinations in only 6 weeks. But I haven’t booked any package deals yet… So I guess I’m in the gray area of the traveler’s lexicon.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/20  at  12:47 PM

  • You have become a safari snob! Oh the shame of it! Seen too many elefants, eh? That train thing is pretty neat. So glad the BLOG is back… the cold NJ winter is endless and boring.

    Knock the tourist bit all you want… but two weeks is all most of us get. Besides, you can go “solo” for two weeks and have a non-package experience that’s awesome.

    Then there are those tourists that are an embarassment to other tourists. Matching jump suits, asking for a “cal-zone-ie” while in Rome and complaining to the waitstaff that “This isn’t like the cal-zone-ies we get in Oregon. This is terrible… it’s like a pita with an egg in it! Can I have some mary-nara sauce for it at least?” My husband and I adopted quick Irish accents and tried to ignore them. Eek.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/20  at  04:58 PM

  • the gouritz river bridge!! that’s where we jummped:)

    (i’m jealous!)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/20  at  08:36 PM

  • ...the ghetto van has family all over the world!!!  damn its march and uve been to so many beaches while its still snowing here. 
    and u hit the minnado’s of africa!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/21  at  12:26 PM

  • Hi Erik! I came across your site while researching for my own RTW trip I’m leaving for this June!  I looked at your proposed itinerary and it looks shockingly similar to mine!  Only I’m going in the reverse direction! Maybe I"ll meet up with you somewhere!!! Happy Travels.  Love the site!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/26  at  10:53 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Big Cats, Big Birds and Telephones

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Finishing in Cape Town


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