This weekend, we were backpackers.
Ok, maybe not legitimate backpackers, but we did only pack a backpack of stuff each, and we did stay in a backpackers hostel…
So, we had a backpackers beach weekend.
For a short beach getaway, 11 of us from AIFS took off at 7:45am on Saturday morning to catch a train to Muizenberg.
We had been told a couple of negative stories about the train – people getting mugged, etc. But in all honesty, that can happen anywhere in the world, so we decided to go for it. Turns out, it was the best decision we could have made.
We walked from our flats to the train station – about 15 minutes away – and paid only R18 (~ $1.80) for a first class train ticket to Muizenberg.
The train came about 2 minutes after we all purchased our tickets – perfect timing. First class was very quiet and empty – somewhat nerve-wracking at first because we were told to sit in a car with other people rather than all traveling alone. After a few stops, more people piled in and our nerves were settled.
After an hour (or so?) we had a connecting train in Salt-something-or-other (near Cape Town) – where we caught another train that would bring us to Muizenberg. We accidentally hopped into a normal passenger car and didn’t realize – but it was actually a good mistake to have made – we were able to watch a group of young girls dance and sing in the train car. They danced better than I could ever dream of dancing, and their voices seemed to carry throughout the whole train. It was such a special glimpse into the culture of this beautiful and also challenged country. During some of the performance, one dancer girl would walk around with a bucket to collect money – a reminder to me that there are people around us struggling every day, and I don’t want to be ignorant of that.
This first train ride went smoothly and quickly – but we’ll get to the return train ride later.
When we arrived in Muizenberg, our hostel was right next to the station – so easy. The Stoked Backpackers hostel was our first real idea of the chill, surfer atmosphere that we would be submerging ourselves into over the next 24+ hours. The building was painted with surfer images and earthy quotes, and the cafe within the hostel itself had such a calm, beachy vibe that just made you want to sip a quick iced tea, go grab a surf board and hit the waves.
We couldn’t head to our rooms until later (around 2:00), so after checking into the hostel, we all went to grab a bite to eat before hitting the beach. Some of us, including myself, went to a restaurant called Knead, which sat right across from the beach. As soon as we entered the restaurant, a wafting scent of freshly baked bread permeated the air – definitely a good sign. I got fresh mango juice and a chicken pesto sandwich for lunch – so so good, so fresh, so perfect.
Then it was finally time to hit the beach. It was probably around 12 at this point, so we would have a few hours to lay out in the sun. The first thing I noticed was the colorful changing rooms which lined a couple of sections of the glowing white-sand beach. The colors popped so vividly that pictures can’t even do it justice…
I fell asleep for a little while on the beach, only to wake up to a sunburned back (ouch – forgot to apply sunscreen to both sides of me). Then we were told that there was a shark sighting! Apparently there are tons of sharks in this area – and it was obvious, because as soon as the word was out, the water was cleared of the tons and tons of surfers and swimmers within seconds.
After lots of sun, sand and touristy pictures (of course), we left to go grab a snack and a couple of drinks. We decided on this little mexican-ish restaurant right across from the beach, where we devoured some nachos and sipped on long island iced teas/daiquiris/mojitos while listening to live music.
At this point I still had my sandy beach cover-up clothes on, like many of the others, so we went back to the hostel to freshen up/chill for a bit before that night. We (my 3 flatmates and me) were in a room of 7 people, which means we had some stranger roomies – so backpacker-ish! I didn’t shower (really none of us did that weekend, actually. True backpackers?) – but changed, rinsed my super sandy beach hair, and walked down to the hostel’s cafe for an actual bite to eat for dinner and an American iced coffee, which I had to teach the guy how to make (and he was happy to do it – so nice).
After it started to get dark, most of us piled out onto the second floor deck of the hostel which overlooks the beach and ocean. We had some wine, chatted for a while and actually started to shiver from the cool ocean breezes. Cold in Africa? I never thought that would happen.
When we moved inside into the communal kitchen/living room area, we ended up meeting a few other people who were staying in the hostel – a guy (our age?) from London who was hopping around the coast after visiting family, a guy from Austria who talked with us about the bungee jumping/sky diving opportunities here, and a couple guys from Northern Ireland/Long Island/elsewhere who were volunteering as surfing instructors for a few weeks. Such an interesting mix of people, and we were all brought together for conversation just because of the community feel of the backpackers hostel. It is really such an amazing concept – strangers who are all traveling for different reasons all brought together to live in one common place for however long, and somehow we all enjoyed a conversation and some time together.
Some of the girls decided to wake up around 5:50/6:00 the next morning to watch the sunrise, which was so so worth it. The sun peeked over the mountains casting an orange glow over the blue twinkling water. But the mountains themselves even appeared as if they were floating over the water’s horizon – an absolutely stunning view. I’m so glad I forced myself out of bed so early!
We went to bed again for an hour or so, and then got dressed and packed up. Check out was at 10:00, so we ate a delicious breakfast in the cafe (I got french toast with honey and fried bananas) before leaving to explore the area for a few hours before our train.
Right outside of our hostel was a trail that lead down a section of the coastline. It was kind of like a boardwalk but more like a pathway along the side of the water’s edge. We walked along it until you hit another section of sandy beach, this one with a stone-edged “wave pool” set right in the ocean. It was very interesting and hard to explain, especially with a lack of pictures, but I did take pictures of the walk…(again, they don’t do it justice)…
Right after the walk we boarded the train that would bring us back to our connecting stop. That ride was pretty much on time and not very long at all, maybe 45 minutes? It was at this connecting stop that the “troubles” started…
We waited for our second train….and waited…..and waited. An hour later, no train.
Luckily, we met a nice guy who is coming back to Stellenbosch to get his masters after taking some time off to work in Jo-burg…he basically guided us from there all the way home to Stellenbosch. We waited a bit more at this stop and then hopped on a train heading in the right direction, but it was only going past the Stellenbosch stop, so we overshot and got off at another train stop – this one literally in the middle of nowhere. We waited at that stop for another 30ish? minutes, maybe longer, and then caught a train to our “home” stop….
Colleen & me on the train
5 hours later, we made it home. But I’m more than ok with that – it’s all about the adventure.
Honestly, without this guy’s help, we might still be stuck at the connecting stop. In the dark. Alone. Thank goodness many South Africans are so nice and he was more than willing to help us. Along the train ride many of us listened and discussed with him some interesting stuff about South Africa and politics/the economy/the rich and poor areas/etc. It’s incredible to hear about all of these topics from a South African, especially since he was obviously very passionate about it.
But in reality, even just talking about it doesn’t mean that the inequality issues really sink in. It’s not until you see it. When you see it, you understand that we can be walking in Stellenbosch past cafes and boutiques one minute, but turn a corner and see a group of young barefoot boys digging in the trash cans for scraps of food/anything useful they can find. This isn’t even a hypothetical, this happened just after stepping off the train earlier today.
But still, we had an amazingly beautiful beach weekend getaway. It went smoothly (for almost all of it, besides the 2nd train) and was so much fun getting to chill with some of the AIFS girls as well as meeting other people/travelers/backpackers. I feel beyond grateful and I’m almost lost for words at how lucky I feel to be able to explore this country, make memories in it’s towns and it’s beaches, and devour the sweet, and not so sweet, elements of it’s culture and the lifestyle of the people.
Here are a few things I discovered over this weekend:
– I’m ok with the fact that we almost always need to be very cautious as a group of American girls traveling in towns that we don’t really know – just be smart about it.
– I actually do love a slow-paced, disconnected, surfer-vibe way of life. And that is exciting, but also scary – because what does that mean for where I want to live? No more dreams of NYC?
– I realized that I DO feel safe enough to keep my money in my purse rather than in my shirt on the train ride home, despite some horror stories.
– I’m ok with the fact that it took 5 hours to get home when it should’ve only taken 2 at most – that’s the adventure!
-I’m ok with not having showered all weekend and taking grasp of that whole carefree backpacker’s lifestyle.
– I’m ok with seeing difficult situations, because that means I’m learning rather than staying ignorant.
– I want to be more involved – with volunteering, with South African communities, with different lifestyles and different kinds of people. This place as made such an impression on me already – I can’t wait to see what’s to come…