Our Stories Journeys

The Garden Route

A journey along South Africa’s Garden Route takes seven travelers on a wild adventure.

Emily Gillespie during the first few seconds of her bungee jump at Face Adrenaline in Storms River, South Africa. As the world’s highest bungee jump bridge, the 216 meters fall and takes about four seconds. Photo courtesy of Face Adrenaline

Story by Emily Gillespie

The trip began as a group of seven — six girls, one guy. Our journey: The Garden Route.

Living in South Africa for the last three months has lured me into countless conversations about my stay: what I’ve done and what I should do next. The one “must do” that consistently came up was the famed “Garden Route,” which I knew next to nothing about. The name made me think of a scenic drive along the southern coast — but when I heard stories of bungee jumping, elephant riding, and crocodile cage diving, I knew it was much more than flowers and windy roads. It had my name written all over it.

Our group was quite the mix. Morgan, Elsa and I were college-aged, outgoing American girls. Kayla, the self-proclaimed photographer of the group, documented all of the shenanigans and mishaps along the way. Jules, a Canadian, was quiet and intelligent. Tor, short for Victoria, the lone South African of the trip, I had met through working at The Big Issue, a magazine sold on the streets of Cape Town. Ben, although outnumbered six-to-one by girls, proved to be a good balance for the group. A patient guy, he occasionally prevented passionate conversation from turning into a catfight.

Of all of the things to do on the Garden Route, we immediately jumped into the most thrilling: bungee jumping off of the highest commercial bungee in the world, Face Adrenalin. That’s right — the world.

When we got to Face Adrenalin right before Bloukrans Bridge, we immediately ran out of the car to the edge of the railing. The company, situated on the east side of the bridge, was in plain sight of prospective jumpers. Exhilarated, all but one of us immediately turned around and signed up; Jules opted out despite hounding from the group. Although the price was steep for a college budget, some things in life are worth going in debt for, and jumping off the world’s highest bungee jump site just so happens to be one of them.

All geared up, we were ushered to the zip line – our transport to the jump site. Ben on the other hand chose to walk – something our bungee guides advised against, since the hike takes you through a netted bridge from where you can see the vast distance below. I wasn’t that brave.

As we waited our turns to zip line, minus Ben, our nerves and voices grew more frenzied. We started making jokes about anything to keep our minds off of what we were about to do. We laughed at the fact that the bungee policy included radioing our weight to the person waiting to catch us (“Ten four ten four, we got a fatty coming in. I repeat, a ‘big mama’”). We even named who we wanted to speak the eulogies at our funerals should the bungee break. After a relatively smooth zip-line to the platform — albeit crashing into the worker designated to catch me — I found out Ben and Morgan had already jumped. It’s okay, I think; I still get to see Tor and Elsa go before I have to jump. But the next thing I knew, someone grabbed my hand and hollered, “You’re next!” So without the luxury of getting to watch anyone else, I was directed to the loading bench in a slightly forceful manner.

A worker began to wrap my ankles with red Velcro padding. I tried to concentrate as he explained what he was doing. “Uh huh, uh huh,” I said nodding, despite the fact that I couldn’t hear the words exiting his mouth. I felt as if I was somehow submerged in water. Before I knew it, I was lifted toward the ledge by two men on either side of me, my arms around their shoulders. “Any last words?” I was asked. “Wait,” I finally managed. “This is too loose,” pointing to my ankles. “No it’s not,” they said with a chuckle. I was told to look up as they counted down from five.


I cannot honestly say how I jumped off that bridge. All I know is that I did, and only after a second of free falling, staring straight at the foliage more than 200 meters below me, did I manage to have any thoughts. “What the fuck am I doing?” Quickly remembering that I had voluntarily propelled myself off the side of a bridge, the thought of ruining Adrenalin’s 100 percent survival record crosses my mind. But after these morbid thoughts die away, I find myself strangely at peace. Everything seems still and right and the beautiful view offers a glimpse of serenity. The sun hits everything perfectly, and the detail of every leaf on every tree is so obvious and wonderful. Everything in the world has its place and that’s how it should be. Time seemed to inch by, ever so slowly. I have never felt the kind of peacefulness that I am convinced came from the complete uncertainty required of any leap.

The next thing I felt was the pull of the rubber chord, flinging me back up in the air. Finally able to scream, I did so willingly and at a decibel I didn’t think I was capable of. A few bounces later, I was dangling by my feet, arms flopping uncontrollably. I survived.

Having all taken our leaps and returned safely to the ground, we slept soundly that night, and spent the next day lazily by the pool.

From there we headed to Cango Caves, a national landmark in South Africa. Although most of us were too hungover to get out of the car, Ben, Jules, and I explored the beautiful geology and rock formations. Having gone on the adventure-style tour, Ben and I found ourselves laughing as we watched each other’s attempts at squeezing through the tiny crevices.

Afterwards we went to the Cango Ostrich Farm, where we eagerly anticipated checking off the last activity on our vacation “bucket list:” ostrich riding. We paid the 40 rand (a whopping $4) and had a quick tour of the grounds. After a brief lecture, the guide looked me straight in the eyes. “I want you to go first,” he said. It took a bit of clarification to realize he was done with his lesson — he did little more than say, “It’s not that hard” — I did my best to mount the bird. Clenching its bony wings, he removed the cloth draped over the ostrich’s head and I held on for dear life. To no surprise, my ride was short-lived. After a short five seconds, I gracefully tumbled to the ground.

Tor laughs as ostriches eat from the bucket in her hands. | Photo courtesy of Kayla Young/ Kayla Jill Photography

After we had each tried our hand at riding, or more so experiencing what it feels like getting bucked by an ostrich, we couldn’t wait to get back in the car and make our way home. Ben offered to drive while the rest of us rested our heads, taking in the beautiful colors of the plains and mountainous backdrop. After driving for an hour in thoughtful reflection, we pass a sign that read “Ronnie’s Sex Shop.” It was the first man-made thing we had seen in at least ten minutes, and we all looked at each other knowing we had to stop. Driving through the middle of nowhere, convenience stores, gas stations, and the occasional roadside stands are common. Sex shops, not so much. Ben looked back at everyone with a smirk, and pulled over. “Easiest decision I’ve ever made,” he said, as the car erupted in laughter.

From the moment we stepped into the small wooden shop, it became immediately apparent that Ronnie’s Sex Shop was in fact a bar — and one decorated with enough bras, panties, and boxers to act as inventory for a Jockey store. We all had a beer and took our time scanning the gem of a bar. Although not the sex shop we had envisioned, the triple-D size bra hung over the entrance and the g-string draped between the Captain Morgan’s and Witblitz shot dispenser was enough for us all to feel at home. It was the perfect twist of fate to wrap up our whirlwind trip. Almost as if we had just eaten a full course meal, we all happily resumed our positions in the car. We couldn’t have planned a better ending to our excursion.

Comments are closed.