Friday, February 18, 2011

Into the Wilderness

After over 3 months of nearly perfect weather, our road trip along the South African “garden route” was slightly subdued due to overcast skies, misty, spitting rain and some initial accommodation stumbles.  But, there were some real silver linings among these clouds.  We got to see Ted & Sarah (other RTW travelers we met 5265 miles away in El Chalten), enjoyed a totally secluded private beach, and took down the biggest commercial bungee jump in the world.  Well, at least one of us did.

This road trip also marked the first time I drove a stick shift on the “wrong” side of the road.  I can happily report that it was 1) not as difficult as I feared, and 2) we made it 490 miles without a single incident.

During every right turn, we chanted, "stay left, stay left, stay left"

We left the tastefully appointed and meticulously clean Bantry Bay Guesthouse in Capetown* and headed towards Wilderness, a town described as a “small gem on the coast.”  The recommended activity here is to do nothing.  Just sit on the endless (and wonderfully deserted) white beaches and relax.  Despite the overcast skies there were occasionally moments of sun when the town lived up to it guidebook descriptions.

The other mentionable aspect of Wilderness was our accommodations.  Following a week of partying with our friends in Capetown we thought it would be nice to find a quiet place and just take it easy.  We (or Jesse, because she makes all of our bookings) found what we thought was a perfect place.  The Wild Farm.  Situated on the top of a hill high above the Wilderness beach, the place looked like the perfect getaway.  I mean, they invite you to pick your own veggies from their own vegetable garden!

Around 9:30 PM we arrived at the “town” of Wilderness.  Both of the town’s two restaurants are closed.  Following our directions we drive through the town and head for the giant hill that overlooks the beach.  There we find the road to The Wild Farm: the single-lane (but apparently two-way) muddy, rutted-out, guardrail-less switchback road that heads high above the beach.  After ten minutes of driving we were finally there.  And that is when things got interesting.

As we headed to the bar/restaurant/reception area, the vibe was decidedly not one of peace and tranquility.  It was more of a, well, full-on rave.  Standing at reception the bass was literally causing the pens and pencils to dance in their holders.  After a few minutes of standing there – and feeling slightly out of place because of our shoes (most people were dancing barefoot in the mud), hair without dreadlocks, and factory-made, non-corduroy and patchless clothes – a woman from the dance floor grooved on over to help us.

The check-in was auspicious.  We signed a form indicating that the entire farm was to be quiet by 11 PM – out of respect for all the guests – and that The Wild Farm could not be responsible for any guests’ possessions, and that while theft is rare, to please use caution with anything of value.  I then asked whether the 11 PM quiet rule would be in effect tonight.  Perhaps she thought I was joking, because she assured us it was not, and that the 2nd night of the two-day New Year’s party at the Wild Farm, would not go quiet for many, many more hours. 

It turned out that that our peaceful hostel has an annual two-day New Year’s celebration that is literally, all the rave.  Somehow, this was not mentioned on their website, or during the booking process.  In other circles, the party was well-known.  People came from hundreds of miles to camp, dance, and celebrate the start of 2011, the entire first day of 2011, and most of the early hours of the second day in 2011.  I don’t think any of these people showered since 2010.**  It is quite possible that we found the hotel most directly at odds with what we wanted in all of Africa.

The receptionist then showed us to our room.  The room was plain, and mostly clean.  What was surprising is that she took us into the room by walking us up a muddy hill and through a glass sliding patio door, oddly avoiding the door to the hallway.  She then told us she would be right back with the key.

Our room at The Wild Farm. 
You can see the light streaming though our "door."
When I asked where the bathroom was (this was not an ensuite room), she strangely directed me back out the patio door, down the hill, and back into the main building through the front door.  It appeared that we were avoiding the door from our room that lead directly to the hallway with the bathrooms.  Not thinking too much of it when I returned from the bathroom (again circling around the muddy building) Jesse informed me that, in fact, the door that lead from our room into the hallway was locked.  And they did not have the key.  And they would not be able to get one until the next morning (if at all).

So there we were, at a rave, with a room that had one patio door that could not lock – and we had just signed a form putting us on notice that we had to be careful with our belongings – and a second door that could not be unlocked.  Our bathroom was a short, dark, and muddy trip away, and required that you pass directly by the locked door to our room.  2011 was off to somewhat of an ominous start.
Our shared frat house bathroom
(accessed via a patio door).
This was post-cleaning.
Hungry, tired, and upset about the room situation, we put all of our belongings back into our car (which did lock, and for which we had a key), and headed to the restaurant/bar/rave.  We ordered some food and asked to speak with the manager about the key situation.  Disappointed that we had pulled him from the dance floor, I explained our continuing concern about the room, our skepticism that a new key could be made the following day (Sunday on the day after New Years), and “could he help us out” in any way?  His response, not surprisingly, was that there was nothing he could do at that time (there were no other rooms), but surprisingly, that this was not his fault because the guests before us had actually left with the key to our room!  Indeed, he was somewhat shocked when I inquired about a potential spare sets of keys he might maintain for the rooms he rents.  His outrage peaked, however, when I suggested that perhaps he could pick-up our bar tab, or dinner (it was only $7), in light of the inconvenience of not having a lockable room (despite the offer to put any of our valuables in his office), and the fact that we had just purchased a room from him with the reasonable expectation that it would have a lockable door and a dry, and perhaps even interior, route to the bathroom.  His response was tremendous.  “Why would I buy you dinner, when some other guest stole the key to your room!”  When I pointed out that I had just paid him to rent that room, and that whatever happened previously was not our fault, and that all we wanted was a fair deal on a hotel room for the night, he told me that he could not believe what I was asking, was outraged, literally gave us the hand, and simply walked away, leaving Jesse and me equally shocked at the interaction that he just taken place. 

Resigning ourselves to a two-day stay as outcasts we drank our beers, paid for our dinner, bought internet, and headed back to the room, using the outdoor, muddy entrance.

As the party raged on Jesse and I sat in our little room playing on Paddy (iPad) and Sammy (Samsung computer).  A knock on the locked (and keyless) interior door left us somewhat confused.  We couldn’t open the door, and the prospect of going outside to see who was at our door was unappealing to say the least.  Then, we hear the unmistakable scratching of a key being put in the keyhole.  The woman who checked us in had found the key!  And as she opened the door it was a bittersweet.  We now had all that we wanted (and paid for), but harbored so much negativity towards the place we would not be able to enjoy it.  Meekly thanking her, all we could think was that the whole situation could have been avoided if they had only looked a little bit harder when we arrived.

That night we fell asleep to the ‘soothing’ beats of house and trance music – laughing to ourselves between the similarity of our first night of 2011 and the first night our trip, nearly 3 months earlier at the Pure Lounge Hostel in Santiago.  We are such party people.

The next day we strolled on the empty Wilderness beaches, ate lunch high above the beach and watched dolphins swim in the ocean, and then went to the movies – anything to stay away from the Wild Farm.  All in all in was a pretty relaxing day.

The next day we would head to Kynnsa to meet Ted & Sarah.

Don’t stay at The Wild Farm – even though it very well may be a nice place 363 days of the year - it did not work for us and we would not recommend it.  There were lots of cute B&B looking places alone the Wilderness beach.  Most did not have websites, so get there in the morning and head to the tourist information booth, or just drive along the beach road and stop in.

We ate at Pomodor's, an Italian place in town.  It was OK, but nothing special.

* We would highly recommend the Bantry Bay Guesthouse.  Ed & Alan have a lovely house and were excellent hosts.

** It is within the real of possibility that I also had not showered since 2010.  It is not possible that I smelled or looked like any of our fellow guests that evening.


  1. Sorry that your first night without us was such a disappointment but I don't know, guys...the name "The Wild Farm" didn't tip you off even a little bit?

  2. Those look fabulous! Great blog; happy I found you!


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