Hiking around Zion

We had been warned that the Zion National Park would be a zoo of people in the early summer months, but we our travel dates were hemmed in by the end school year and the beginning of the Fourth of July festivities. So we celebrated this year’s big birthdays — an eightieth, a seventieth and two fifties — over the last week in June. Warnings were well founded. Zion was a mob scene. And we discovered ways to escape the hordes.

We stayed an hour away in St. George and we arrived at the park later than we should have. By 9:00am the parking lot was nearly full and the line for the shuttles into the park were long. Very long. But the shuttle system is slick. Double buses run nonstop from the crack of dawn to sunset. No air conditioning, but good air flow, reasonably comfortable seats and a combination of taped recordings by naturalists or historians as well as the drivers commentary keep you informed about what you’re seeing.

The newsprint guide handed out at the entrance was great. It described the hikes in terms of ease but also with a stick figure falling to indicate the worst hikes for the acrophobes. As several in our group suffer from that fear, and given the age of our eldest, we opted for a moderate hike for our first effort, the Watchman Trail. It was one of the few trails accessible right from the parking lot, no shuttle needed.

A quick walk along the Virgin River and then we followed a clear trail from the river up the into the canyon. At mid-morning much of the early part of the west facing trail was in the shade, but as we climbed and traversed the switchbacks, the path became more exposed. They aren’t kidding when they say take lots of water. We all went through several liters each! But the view from the top, across the Virgin River valley to the red rock faced walls stunned all of us.

The newsprint guide said the famous Narrows hike was closed — much to our disappointment — too much winter snow meant too much water in the Narrows. But lesson learned. Double check with the rangers. Turns out the trail had just opened and while the river was high, it was passable as long as you were willing to get wet. So off we went.

Do not be deterred by your first impression. The “trail” to the river is handicapped accessible, paved and so crowded you have to walk single file. It feels more like a walk in a crowded city park than a wilderness experience. And at the river’s edge the mob of people walking along the trail congregated. Felt like a party. We hesitated. Did we really want to wade in our hiking boots? Next time we all agreed we would bring sturdy running shoes and swap out our hiking boots. You can rent waterproof walking shoes and a wooden hiking staff for $25, although we all agreed the wooden staff would offer a heck of a lot of resistance in the fast moving river.

Our hiking sticks had been superfluous on the path to the river; once we started wading over large and slippery boulders in ankle to knee high swiftly moving water, we all relied upon those poles to keep two points of contact with the bottom. Even so we made slow progress. Very slow. It took major effort than you might think. When the water became crotch deep, we turned around while many went on. Anyone doing this needs a dry bag for valuables. But the few hundred yards we waded through was worth every sore muscle the next day!

We did talk with those who hiked the Angels Landing Trail. Twenty seven or some such switchbacks and holding on to a chain as you scale a narrow path with nothing between you and hundreds of feet of air, plus the fact that there is often a waiting line to begin the hike was definitively not for us.

Like many popular sites, they are popular for a very good reason. Zion is gorgeous, breath taking and unique and well worth suffering the crowds

If the crowds of Zion get to you, try one of the state parks in the area. We spent one day hiking in the Snow Canyon State Park. An entirely different landscape than Zion. More desert and less green, but still eye popping with a whole lot fewer people. We took a quick walk up a slot canyon. And then spent several hours climbing upon petrified sand dunes.

And some amazing views

Snow Canyon is definitely worth a day, maybe two at the most. And while we ran into a handful of other hikers, we felt like we were far, far away from Zion’s mob scene.

More than a tropical rainstorm

It was just a little bit more than a year ago, April 2018, that the first pictures showed up on Facebook and in the media. Hanalei Town, Kauai, under water. After nearly a month of prolonged rain (we spent most of that month inside our vacation rental looking at the rain) the north end of Kauai experienced the single highest 24 hour rainfall total on record anywhere in the United States–49 inches. And the Hanalei River could not be contained.

We returned to Hanalei this March, 2019, nearly a year later. We have been coming to the north end of Kauai for over a decade and know the area very well. Much changed because of the 24 hour deluge a year ago.

Recovery is slow. Very, very slow. While the main commercial areas are up and doing their usual brisk business, damaged roads and homes are much slower to bounce back. And we have to imagine that the cost of flood repairs to restaurants and shops, plus the reduction in tourism for much of last spring was a huge financial hit for the business community and the people who work there.

The road leading north out of Hanalei Town has been closed to all traffic except for repair crews and residents. It is the last 7 miles before you reach the impenetrable, spectacular Napali Coast with some of the most beautiful coastline, beaches, and mountain views in the world—Bali Hai of South Pacific fame, the Tunnels snorkeling and scuba diving reef, the gorgeous Ke’e beach beach, and the beginning of the breathtaking Kalalau hiking trail. Residents can only travel in escorted caravans. Job one is not yet completed — repairing the old one lane bridges so they can support the equipment needed to repair the roads. The damage was compounded in an August storm and a year later that task is yet to be finished. Meanwhile, we heard rumors of a controversy about whether or not tourist traffic should even be allowed to return (3,000 plus cars a day made the trip to the end of the road before the disaster)–parking was always a nightmare at the Kalalau trailhead. Some have suggested shuttles from Hanalei Town instead. But change comes slowly in this corner of the world.

Repairs to the several homes undercut by the flooding on Hanalei Bay near the pier and Black Pot beach have become a tourist site. Nearly everyone walking down the beach stopped to watch the demolition work or take pictures of the repairs. We suspect the homeowners had always worried about water damage coming from the ocean during hurricanes or a tidal wave. Last spring it was the rain and river that got them when much of the valley flooded, creating a new, temporary river bed. The multi-million dollar homes in the path of that river were destroyed.

It is hard to conceive how these homes will be rebuilt. Would insurance even be available? As we walked the beach at high tide, strong northerly winds pushed the waves up into the channel created by flood waters a year ago. And once more, the house was surrounded.

Weke Road to Black Pot, running parallel to the ocean remains closed south of the pavilion where much of the road was totally destroyed as this local newspaper photo shows from a year ago.

Repair efforts to homes along the road seem to be moving even more slowly than elsewhere. Signs warn that that water around these homes is still contaminated.

The waterfront homes familiar to many from the movie “The Descendents” seem just fine. George Clooney could still knock on the front door or jog down the beach in front of the homes as he did in the film.

The biggest impact to tourists (and locals seeking some beach time) is the lack of parking now that Black Pot beach is closed and the parking lot there is being rebuilt. Hanalei never had enough parking and now it is even worse.

Plus the beaches seem more crowded than ever. Is it because the beaches further west are inaccessible? And with less parking the sunbathing, surfing and swimming crowds pack the beach in front of the pavilion. Only a few hearty souls and surfing school students hike down to the pier.

Nonetheless, the three mile arc of the bay remains as beautiful as always. And walking the beach still can’t be beat. Despite the weather trauma, Hanalei Bay endures.

Cozumel with an Open Mind

Surprise, surprise! We were convinced that 15,000 cruise ship passengers a day descending on tiny Cozumel would make it a very un-Mexican, tourist trap. We were coming here for the fantastic snorkeling and beautiful beaches, but didn’t expect much more. Yes, San Miguel de Cozumel (the only town on the island) does have its fair share of tacky souvenir shops, loud over-priced bars and restaurants playing American golden oldies, and street hustlers touting rental cars, scooters, jewelry, t-shirts, tequila tastings, and dirt bike tours. But walk five blocks from the town square and cruise ship docks, wait until 5 pm when the big boats start to depart, or spend a Sunday here when there are no cruise ships in port—you are in a different world. Mexican, local, real.

And despite our prejudices, mass tourism has its upsides. The cruise ship dollars make this island wealthier than most Mexican places we’ve visited—more opportunity for decent paying jobs, better infrastructure, less crime and poverty. And we benefitted as tourists too. We found a wide range of excellent, excellent restaurants—from the local, hole-in-the-wall taqueria to fancy seaside establishments with stunning views. Accommodations ranged from $18 a night rooms, backpacker hostels to all-inclusive resorts and beautiful villas on perfect beaches. There were three giant, modern supermarkets, but there were also mom and pop bodegas on every block and a large central market with stalls of fresh fish, live poultry and dozens small food stands.

But we did come for the drop dead gorgeous beaches and beautiful coral reefs that Cozumel is known for, and we weren’t disappointed.

You do need to know that the island has two very distinct sides. The eastern shore facing the Caribbean is wild, virtually uninhabited with only a couple of small hotels and restaurants. The surf is high, the winds strong, and the shore is rocky. Great for kitesurfing, or sunbathing if the wind isn’t too bad, terrible for swimming or snorkeling. The western side, facing the Yucatan, is usually calm with crystal clear waters, barrier reefs and many idyllic sand beaches. The shore is dotted with beach clubs, restaurants, hotels, a mega resort or two, but also public beaches and small coves. This is one of the few places we’ve been where swimming is good almost in the town center! Cozumel is heaven for swimming, snorkeling and diving.

In our search for underwater adventure we stuck to the western shore and were given this bit of advice: sandy beaches typically mean terrible snorkeling and diving—little to see and often poor visibility; rocky beaches mean clear water, lots of fish, and often great coral formations. There are many places to snorkel from the beach—some very close to the San Miguel itself—but the best snorkeling is definitely from a boat. The reefs are well off shore and it would be very dangerous to swim out to them. We booked a four hour tour for $65 per person with a guide that took us to three reefs—Columbia, Palancar, Cielo. It was money well spent. And a bonus: it was Sunday when there wasn’t a cruise ship in town—no other snorkelers in sight and only two others on our boat—a dad and his 15 year old son. We saw rays, barracuda, jacks, and spectacular schools of colorful tropical fish. The water was crystal clear, warm, and ranged from brilliant aqua to deep blue—travel brochure quality.

Our meals in Cozumel, particularly dinner, ranged from simple tacos at a locals’ hangout to fine dining in luxurious patio gardens or beautiful seaside palapas. The price for dinner with drinks for three was never more $20 each, and usually much less. And we had to be careful of snap judgements—a seaside restaurant around the corner from us that during the week seemed like a classic tourist trap filled with bus loads of gringos caused us to walk on by. On Sunday, when many places were closed for lunch, we stopped in desperation and discovered the place packed almost exclusively with locals and their children enjoying a meal after church. We now know why—the food was excellent and prices very good.

So Cozumel maybe Mexico’s number one cruise ship destination, but please don’t let that keep you away.

Tale of Two Ancient Cities: Coba and Tulum

For many people hopping on a bike is a frequent occurrence. For us, not so much. But the size of the Coba Archaeological Zone almost requires riding a two wheeler. You could walk it, but the distances between sights can be several kilometers. A third option are the pedicabs, but those pedicab drivers were almost as scary as the crazy taxi drivers in Tulum. So for the first time in probably 30 years, we climbed on bikes. Word to the wise: check out your bike rental. Many are in sad states of disrepair. Make sure to get one that fits.

We peddled madly, if a little unsteadily, along the gravel and hard-packed path for a well over a kilometer. Parts of the path follow roads more than a thousand years old. Our goal was to get to the second tallest pyramid in the Yucatán, Nohoch Mul, or the Big Mound in English, before the tour buses arrived and before the heat of the day. It is one of the only remaining pyramids you can still climb and we were told that will end this year.

Hard to imagine as you wander in and around Tulum that the Yucatán Peninsula was once home to millions of Mayans living in a collection of cities where the jungle now grows. Nearly two thousand years ago, Coba had been one of the largest cities and the center of trade with a network of roads going out for miles to all directions.

Our first sight of Nohoch Mul was intimidating. It was big. Tall. Steep. Almost immediately we realized two of us were wearing flops, not the best decision since we had hiking shoes back at our vacation condo.

But the crowds were still sparse and a thick rope had been attached to the pyramid to aid our ascent. We knew going up would be the easy part. Coming down, another matter. When we reached the top, a stranger high-fived us in celebration. We understood why.

From the top, you could see places where the tree tops sat higher, almost like they grew out of small hills. In reality, each bump was another temple or pyramid that had been absorbed by the jungle.

All three of us made it back down safely with no misadventures. We over heard a guide explain the technique — go down backwards as you would on a ladder or side step your way down, or use your bum. Do not, she said, walk down, facing straight ahead as you would handle most stairs. We followed her advice, often with using the heavy rope for safety.

Mission accomplished!

We stood for a while at the base, watching the hordes arrive, feeling smug that by 9:40 am we had completed our primary goal. Now we could take a more leisurely tour of ancient Coba.

The site includes two ball courts for a Mayan game vaguely like basketball. Without using hands or feet, but instead using your hips, the object of the game is to get a large rubber ball through the hoops on either side of the court.

Outside of the archaeological zone, we found four men actually playing the game on the school courtyard.

We read that when the Mayans played, it was for very serious stakes–human sacrifice of the team members. It wasn’t clear to historians whether it was the winners or losers who died.

Coba is also known for two other main structures. A rare round, cone shaped structure, Xaibe, which may have been a watchtower or served a grander purpose, an observatory. Archeologists are unsure.

And the second tallest structure, La Iglesias (the church), where archeologists discovered jade figurines, ceramic vase and even pearls.

In several places, signs next to stellaes gave us an idea of what the carvings looked like a thousand years ago. Even so, it was hard to appreciate the carving.

The Tulum Archaeological Site offers a very different experience. A walled city built on the edge of the Caribbean, with well groomed open spaces and a park-like feel. And it is substantially newer, only 800 or so years old.

Few archaeological sites anywhere can complete with the setting and the views.

Tulum is a happening place — highly commercialized and packed with tourists. There aren’t too many other archeological sites where you can go for a swim, buy lunch and a beer and take in some history. Even with the views, the degree of commercialization can be a little disconcerting.

A couple of warnings for would-be visitors. For either site, arrive early. Crowds can be overwhelming.

While there are plenty of places to buy water at Tulum, Coba is a little more rustic. Bring water, and insect repellant. And keep your eyes open for critters.

Maya + Kayak = Mayaking

“Mayaking”: described in the tourist brochure as kayaking in the Mayan preserve of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere near Tulum—a UNESCO world heritage site. Corny name, but cute. Later we learned the name was actually pretty significant.

The Sian Ka’an preserve is actually a giant national park—in fact, the fifth largest in Mexico. It stretches down the Yucatan coast from Tulum halfway to Belize. It includes many different ecosystems—brackish coastal lagoons, inter coastal waterways, jungles, freshwater lagoons. It is home to manatees, jaguars, huge saltwater crocodiles, hundreds of species of birds, and rich collection of both freshwater and saltwater fish.

Our tour company, Community Tours, based in the tiny town of Muyil, is completely operated and run by Mayans, part of a local effort to build a local economic base for jobs and to keep kids in the community. Our guide for the three of us, Benjamin, left his village at age eleven as the only way to further his education. After college, he tried living in Mexico City but came back to his roots and culture. Mayan language and culture is very much alive in this region—in fact there are about 800,000 Mayan speakers left in Yucatan. Benjamin’s first language is Mayan and he said his English is much better than his Spanish.

The Community Tours headquarters is right on the main road in Muyil and consisted several whitewashed buildings, including a beautiful open air, thatched roof meeting room that doubled as the dining hall. On the grounds were a butterfly enclosure and, of course, a gift shop that featured local handmade souvenirs (which, strangely enough, Benjamin never urged us to visit).

The tour began with a typical Mayan breakfast of fried tortilla chips, ground pumpkin seeds and tomatoes and sautéed summer squash. Sounds slightly strange, but was delicious! As we ate, Benjamin gave us the overview of the kayak tour which would take us onto two huge freshwater lagoons connected by an ancient cut dug by the Mayans. Both lagoons are fed by rain runoff seeping through the Yucatan limestone into the underground rivers—the same rivers that fed the dozens of local cenotes.

A short, but bouncy van ride took us through the jungle and past barely visible Mayan ruins covered by vines and brush. There are likely dozen more ruins throughout the area that have simply been swallowed up by the jungle. Hard to imagine the size of the population that must have existed before the arrival of the Europeans.

When we arrived at the lagoon, we saw a dozen of more Mayan locals sitting around with cell phones perched on top of huge plastic gas cans. Later we found out they were the boat operators who took less adventuresome tourists out for boat rides on the lagoons.

We settled into our kayaks — certainly well used (aka beat-up) sit-aboard kayaks, but with the most comfortable strap-on backs we’ve ever used, first-class paddles and new personal floatation devices. And we were off on the absolutely flat, crystal clear water.

Through water grasses along the shoreline we saw dozens of birds, with Benjamin calling out their names and pausing to show us pictures in his dog-eared bird book, always carefully stowed back in a plastic bag. Some of the birds were known to us like the Great Egret and Green Heron, but others were new, the Black Crowned Heron, Tiger Heron, Tropical Kingbird, Northern Jacana and Anhinga. The water lilies that the raccoons devoured in our fish pond at home in Seattle grew here unscathed.

The first and smaller lagoon was several feet above the larger lagoon and as we ventured through the very narrow canal a slight current made the paddling easy. The entrance to the 500 meter channel was all but invisible to us but Benjamin signaled for us to follow him and suddenly we were in a beautiful narrow waterway barely wide enough for our kayak paddles. An oncoming motorized boat every now and then added to the excitement—forcing us to the side as we used our hands to guide the boat past us.

Benjamin kept checking the reeds along the shoreline for crocodile nests. One of the other guides reported seeing one, but no such luck for us.

Once in the large lagoon we stopped briefly for a dip in the clear water. A soft bottom of silt felt a little strange on the toes, and we were told to avoid the darker rocky or sponge-like objects — actually an important organism that created oxygen that flourished in these waters.

All in all, the kayaking was peaceful, gorgeous and easy. However, by the end of the three hours, our sitting muscles were sore and our paddling muscles tired. It had been almost six months since we had been kayaking! Getting out of the kayaks was a bit exciting as a result, but the Mayans did not let us embarrass ourselves.

We returned to the lodge for lunch — our choice of chicken or fish cooked in banana leaves and hibiscus juice, again prepared in a more traditional manner. Quite tasty.

As we were eating, Benjamin used some well-worn, laminated pictures of Mayan drawings to illustrate the tree of life and several Mayan legends. After unsuccessfully trying to teach us some basic Mayan phrases (the word Ka’an has four different meanings based on slight changes in pronunciation), he explained that Sian Ka’an translates to “where the sky is born.”

Not hard to see why after mayaking in this gorgeous part of the Yucatán.

Tulum: Not Much “Then” a Lot More “Now”

One of our neighbors, a local historian, writes a newspaper column: “Seattle: Then and Now.” We thought of him when we first hit Tulum on the Yucatán Peninsula. Several of our friends who travelled years ago to Tulum to see the magnificent Mayan ruins told us there was almost nothing there then. Apparently you reached Tulum by a dirt road and the town was all but non-existent. Well, times, they have a changed—some things for the better, and some for the worse.

There is a now a modern, straight four lane divided highway running down the coast to Tulum full of cars, tour buses, trucks, motorcycles, three-wheelers and every other version of marginal motorized vehicles. Throw in a few pedestrians, a stray dog or two, hippie hitch hikers, road construction sites, massive & frequent but almost invisible speed bumps and a couple of police roadblocks and you get the picture.

The “freeway” is lined with entrances to mega resorts, billboards advertising Cirque de Soliel, cabaret shows, and, being Mexico, roadside cheap eats, pottery shops, tourist stalls, and fruit venders….and did I mention a stray dog or two.  

Tulum itself is built around a couple mile stretch of this four lane highway with a grass meridian,  large sidewalks and frequent huge, broad speed bumps that also serve as pedestrian crossings.

On one side of the road there is bike lane which is often indistinguishable from the sidewalk….a  very dangerous proposition for pedestrians. On the other side the bike lane is still under construction, with gaps in the sidewalk offering another hazard to shoppers.

The street is lined with cheap clothing shops, high-end jewelry stores, souvenir stalls, restaurants, bars with pounding loud music. It seems to go on forever with a just public building every now and then to break up the string of tourist oriented businesses.   

It’s a lively, fascinating combination of a small town experiencing growing pains and a collection of international travelers drawn to the Mexican vibe. Great for people watching and meeting new friends over a Margarita.

Off the main drag, the town is a collection of small shops—auto repair, light manufacturing, cheap, cheap eats, very modest homes and apartments and occasional pushcarts selling fruits or “pozol frio” with loud speakers announcing their wares.

Off, off, off the main drag just as you get beyond the city limits are the tents and shacks right at the edge of the jungle.   Perhaps not your typical charming resort town, but fascinating to wander around and soak in.  By the way, the traffic is awful…chaotic, unpredictable. On the edge of town are two giant supermarkets—modern, selling everything from hardware to food.

So we drove down to the beaches and the hotel zone to get a look at the gorgeous beaches we’d seen in the guide books.  The coastal hotel zone now stretches about three or four miles and, unfortunately, the walls around the hotels and the jungle between them completely block any view of the water.  On the other side of the road is a collection of small tacky shops, restaurants of all sorts and a few high end boutiques, all crammed together. There is an incredible range of quality from shabby tent campgrounds, hotels made from cargo containers, bars decorated with old car parts to glamorous ultra modern “yoga” resorts, eco hotels,  swanky vegan restaurants, boutiques with expensive beach togs and jewelry.  The road is narrow and potholed with more invisible, mountainous speed bumps. There is virtually no parking except in a few pay lots (many with valets).  So add to the traffic, dozens of taxis and mini vans, a number of water trucks (no sewer or water lines here) coca-cola delivery trucks, hordes of bikini clad bicycle riders (often looking very unsteady), swimsuit clad walkers—plus the usual mix of hippie hitchhikers, fruit vendors, construction workers, and of course a few stray dogs— and people just popping out onto the roadway from out of nowhere. Even at 15 miles per hour, driving was a white knuckle experience for the driver and passengers. 

This all would have been very discouraging but we finally decided to stop at hotel and restaurant because by some miracle there was a parking spot across the street.  Once you entered the hotel you stood just above the beach with a magnificent view of the long, white, picture-perfect beach.  

Palapas, families playing in the water and bright colored traditional fishing boats taking snorkelers out to the reef dotted the shore.  Stunning!  

Of course, the three lattes and a bottle of water ($10 by itself) we shared cost as much as the dinner we had last night in a nice restaurant but without the water view. Still worth it.

We are staying just outside of Tulum, in one of the largely gringo enclaves of condos, many of which are vacation rentals.   Dozens and dozens of yard signs line the broad smooth streets advertising new developments in the enormous planned community. Everywhere we saw small crews of men building by hand two and three story condo complexes.

No cement trucks or power tools here; it appears to all be done by hand. Sprinkled in between to walkways, green belts and buildings under construction were new restaurants and small shops waiting for customers.  Lots of bikers here, too, but at least there are well marked and separate lanes for the two wheelers.  

Not a lot of soul, but a calm oasis of sorts close to all the action.

The Garden Route: a lucky decision

We chose the Garden Route based upon the flimsiest information. I had read someplace it was a beautiful section of South Africa’s coast. We didn’t know much more. And so we added four days there to our itinerary. Sometimes you just get lucky.

After nearly three weeks traveling we were ready to slow down. Soaking up ocean views, hiking through a couple national parks and nature preserves and enjoying the laid back ambiance of Plettenberg was perfect!

The beaches all across this part of South Africa are broad and gorgeous with pounding surf in late October. Those lucky enough to be here during the right season and during calm seas could likely see whales. We didn’t. But we enjoyed walking the beaches anyway.

After driving past miles and miles of denuded or reforested timber lands, Tsitsikamma National Park offered a glimpse of this part of the world before logging became king. We had time for one hike to the suspension bridge, but you could spent a lot more time doing all the different hikes available. Actually there are three suspension bridges — one across the mouth of the Storms River and two smaller ones along the rocky shoreline. None of them are particularly scary.

Hiking shoes or good athletic shoes advised. The path is well maintained, but steep with awkwardly spaced stairways.

Sitting on the rocky shore, listening to the rocks rolling in the waves was mesmerizing, but also amazing as the rocks were substantial.

The ocean views and wildflowers competed for our attention. I was surprised to see wild calla lillies and geraniums.

We were tempted by the kayak tours. Looked like great fun to paddle up the Storms River, but we did note everyone on the trip wore a full wet suit and those who finished the trip definitely left wet footprints.

For a completely different hike, we chose the Robberg Nature Preserve with three or four routes, varying in length from a quick walk to an all day hike.

We settled upon the hike out to the Little Island which allowed us to avoid the steepest part of the trail to appease the acrophobes among us. Even this tamer hike offered spectacular views of the ocean with an occasional glimpse of seals fishing in the surf below. As a friend said, “Big Sur, without the crowds.” And a short, stunning beach walk that offered us a chance to go wading in the cold water, tempting to swim, but as the signs warned: strong rip tides and sharks.

At times the path was carved into the rocks with steep ups and downs and at other times a wooden boardwalk. At several points we had to shimmy through narrow openings between rocks. And at least a time or two the hike involved a bit of a scramble on all fours. Cool breezes off the ocean kept us comfortable. Again wildflowers vied with the oceanscapes for our attention.

At one point we walked past shallow, broad cave on the leeward side of the island. The soot blackened ceiling and the floor of midden suggested an early human dwelling. The sign announcing the archeological site was off limits was also a clue.

Beyond the history and views, the seabirds also seemed particularly interesting in this setting.

And then there was Plettenberg. Lots of restaurants (and a couple very good ones), a good coffee shop or two, a bookstore where we bought a decent map of the Garden Route and much more to supply the tourist trade. The city provides parking assistants who watch over your car after helping you park. We thanked them with several small coins.

The town is ringed with gorgeous villas and stunning estates–a playground for wealthy South Africans. As in the rest of South Africa with its huge disparity in wealth, these homes were usually surrounded by high walls topped with electrified fences.

Coming into to town along the main road were the shanty towns that provided the workers to maintain these homes. This is the a sad legacy of apartheid. But most of the people we talked with were optimistic and hopeful that things were changing for the better. After all, they said, it’s only been 25 years of democracy.

We only explored a small slice of the Garden Route. As we drove back to the airport in George we realized there were dozens of other seaside towns to explore. Who know what other idyllic spots you might find?