Long weekend in Plettenberg

Let me start by saying that this was probably the best weekend of my life.

We began our journey Thursday afternoon when all 16 students plus our professor, Denise, and bus driver, Joe, settled in to our seats for a 9 hour drive to the beach-side town of Plettemberg. Stocked with books, music and snacks, the ride wasn’t so bad. Arriving in Plet in the middle of the night, we all were skeptical as we drove down a kilometer of unpaved, over-grown, pot-holed road to get to our hostel. It felt like we were on a haunted hay-ride, waiting for something to jump at us as we drove.

But, walking in to the African Array Lodge, my fears were quelled. It was impossible not to feel comfortable there. There was a roaring fire in the living room and it’s white clean walls felt cozy with all the couches and pillows and blankets. The view of the night sky from their two porches was incredible. We were all too tired to be able to appreciate it just then, but it is the most beautiful oasis imaginable.

The next morning, I awoke high on adrenalin and with butterflies in my stomach, because this was the day that I would willingly jump off a bridge. Not just any bridge, but the tallest bungee bridge in the world. In the whole wide world. I couldn’t stop moving or else I’d lose the feeling of excitement and the reality of what I was about to do would set in.

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To get to our jumping spot on the Bloukrans Bridge, we walked beneath driving cars via a steel-grate walk way, allowing you to see all the way down. It was all I could do to keep my eyes straight ahead and just get to the platform. Luckily, the crew out there kept all of our energy high with some pump-up music. No one wanted to stop moving, so we all danced around until our turn came. Mine turn happened to come second.

I was harnessed up, strapped in, and had a rope tied around my ankles. Unable to stop the huge nervous smile on my face, I hopped over with my toes just sitting over the edge. The jump master and crew don’t give you time to second guess yourself because as soon as you’re in position, head up and arms out stretched, they count down “3, 2, 1 BUNGEE!”

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I jumped. As I felt my weight shift forward, not even fully off the bridge but too late to turn back, the one thought that ran through my head was “What the hell am I thinking?” The feeling of free fall is indescribable though. It feels entirely unnatural, as no one in their right mind should willingly jump, but it was unbelievably incredible. As soon as the rope catches, you swing back to see the view of the valley and the ocean beyond, and then swing forward to see the forest and river just ahead and below you.Hanging still, it felt like I was surfacing from a dive into cold water. All I could do was try to catch my breath while muttering “oh wow.” The whole experience was amazing and cannot be accurately or fully described. I was on a high the rest of the day.

Returning to the hostel, we were treated to a traditional South African braai (barbecue) for dinner as the sun set. The orange sky reflecting off the reservoir below accompanied by the smells of smoke and bonfire made the place truly feel like paradise.

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One of the great things about hostels are the people you meet there. Our house-mates for the weekend were a group of German travelers, a couple from Cape Town, and an American volunteer. All very friendly, we made an odd friendship over meals and around the bonfires.

Our next adventure of the weekend was kloofing. Basically exploring canyons by repelling (or as they say, absailing), jumping off rocks, swimming, and zip lining. We were all decked out in wetsuits, life jackets, butt pads, and water shoes. It was quite a site.

Exploring the caves and canyons was very cool. My favorite part was being able to repel down a waterfall inside one of the many caves. Despite the wetsuits, the water was cold and my hands quickly went numb as my teeth were chattering. It is definitely an activity that is better suited to the height of summer, as opposed to the spring. But, even though I came out the other end with several bumps and bruises, I’m glad I was able to do it.

Our last big adventure of the weekend was our trip to the Knysna (pronounced Nye-z-nuh) Elephant Park for an early morning walk with the elephants. T

he sun rising over the Knysna forest was the perfect setting for our introduction to these beautiful animals.

While others rode, I walked next to the elephants. I was with Keisha who was injured in 2004 and has holes in her ear to show it. I was able to touch and feel her skin as we walked. It was much rougher and more wrinkled than I imagined. But she had such a sweet face, they all did, it was hard not to fall in love.

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The groups original plan was to depart for home after our elephant encounter, but our professor surprised us and found a way for us to stay an extra full day. With it, we simply relaxed at the beach. We soaked up the sun and swam in the Indian Ocean with all thoughts of homework and clinical gone.

It seemed like the first time I’ve ever been fully relaxed. Not worried about school or work or anything. I was able to be in the moment every step of the way. I lived life to the fullest this past weekend, and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. I fall in love with this country more and more each day.

Nicole

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