August 07, 2009 Edition 1
There's nothing like a bus of merry pranksters, star-bright nights spent pounding djembe drums and beautiful, boundless wilderness at your doorstep to turn you from being a tourist into a genuine traveller - a backpacker. TAMLIN WIGHTMAN found herself transformed.
YOU think you're a traveller until you go backpacking. Then things change. Quickly. A week travelling on the Baz Bus from night stop to night stop was enough to change me from the always-on-time, all-plans-made, over-packer sort to a go-with-the-flow barefoot type with nothing but a camera and some clothes in tow.
The Baz Bus is a jump-on, jump-off backpackers' bus service that's been running since 1995 and is popular with young foreigners wanting to explore South Africa.
It's the brainchild of retired backpacker Barry Zeidel, who travelled around Europe by similar means because he fancied the idea of meeting other like-minded travellers and not having to drive in unfamiliar places or follow a strict itinerary.
Today the Baz Bus runs between Cape Town and Joburg/Pretoria via Durban and Swaziland. I was headed to Port St Johns.
Be warned: if you have no pressing engagements back home, you might be gone for some time.
On the road
It was after sun up and I was waiting promptly at the Ashanti Lodge in Gardens, Cape Town, for the Baz Bus, which was late. When it arrived, the bus had not one South African on it.
A 19-seater Volkswagen bus with a trailer to hold everything from backpacks to surfboards and bicycles, the Baz Bus transported us - me, two Australians and some Scotsmen - along the Garden Route.
The Wild Spirit Lodge and Backpackers, tucked away on a farm in Nature's Valley overlooking the Tsitsikamma Mountains, was my home for the first night.
As the Baz Bus dropped me off, a big red Land Cruiser with tattered mattresses on the back held down by two German girls was off to catch the sunset over Bobbejaans kloof, a short drive away.
Londoner Craig Miller, who was at the wheel, invited me along for the ride. It wasn't a bad introduction to life on the road: stars winking a hello above the chiselled gorge and our impromptu band of outlanders passing around beers.
After a dinner served from the kitchen where dreamcatchers dangled, we sat in the driftwood boma, amid the orange swirl of Craig's nimble poi fire dancing and the group's ecstatic djembe drumming. I found myself wondering: "Where exactly am I?"
With its pull for drifters and arty types, I felt Hogsback was a must, so I booked into Away with the Fairies. Red mushrooms with white spots winked up at host Daniel Colnick and I as we hiked from the hostel to the Swallowtail and Madonna and Child waterfalls. With no car, watch or phone, there was nothing to tell us to stop having fun.
At Amapondo Backpackers in the tropical forest of Port St John's, I sat beside the fire as people picked up instruments and began jamming. I picked up a drum and joined them.
Published by arrangement with Getaway magazine. For the full story, see the August edition.