Finally, after all of our efforts, we were actually attacked by cheetahs. Technically Dave was only attacked by one cheetah, but his battle wounds were more substantial so he really shouldn't be ashamed. But that only happened yesterday, so let me give a very quick run-down of the far less notable days in between, for our parent's sake.
After we'd gotten our one legitimate hostel experience out of our system (check!), we headed along the N2 to Tsitsikamma National Park. We had one stop on the way though, and our focus was the highest bungy jump in the world. And by focus, I mean the focus of our eyes. After the Zimbabwe-cable-breaking incident, we'd agreed to leave that adventure out of our adventure. If we needed to further rationalize our cowardice (which we did), Dave's back is far to fragile for such an event, and, despite my fear of heights, I've already bungy jumped previously in my life (check!). So, we settled into the pub at the top of the cliff where you can watch far braver men and women than we, and enjoyed watching a couple of jumps before we continued on our merry way.
We were staying just outside of the park in a place called Storms River Village, which was just my style. A tiny little town in the woods with three restaurants, one stop sign, and a gang of baboons. Our guesthouse was nothing fancy but a good step up from the hostel, and we spent the afternoon at the tiny pool talking with some friendly Germans. If we were going to talk to anyone during this two day stint, it would have had to be Germans as, remarkably, every other couple at the guesthouse was German. We settled on the 50's diner for the first evening, and the next morning headed into the park, which was AMAZING. As Dave likes to say, over and over and over again, "The sea was angry that day, my friend." The waves were crazy all around the park, you could sit and watch it all day. But first, we hiked. There's a famous 5 day hike here called the Otter Trail, of which you can do about 4 miles out and back as a day hike, which we set out to do. It was supposed to take about 3 1/2 hours which seemed crazy to us, so we assumed as well seasoned hikers we would be done sooner. How wrong we were. A huge distance of the hike involved scrambling over rocks and boulders (somewhat like Old Rag), and it took us every bit of the 3 1/2 hours to make it out to the waterfall and back. And even then, we were spent! It's made us a little scared for our mountain gorilla hike, it's possible that we should have been conditioning a little more...okay, almost certain.
We decided to head back to Knysna for the weekend since it was the only town we knew well and we really wanted to find some St. Patrick's Day festivities. We were planning on stopping at a few attractions along the way but, finally, after all of our great weather, the rains came. It ended up pouring rain all day Friday...and for most of Saturday. There was a lot of studying on Dave's part and boredom on my part, with a brief but very pleasant movie break to see Jim and Elsie's daughter-in-law star in Semi-Soet in the middle! The movie was a romantic comedy in Afrikaans with English subtitles and it was really good! Good enough that the subtitles didn't even bother us. After the rains stopped Saturday evening, we were very ready to reemerge from our brief hibernation to find some good Irish flavor. However, bar after bar, there was NOTHING. And by nothing I literally mean the bars were empty of people. Somehow, and you won't believe this, but Saturday is not a going out night in this town, possibly this country. Instead they have live music on Sundays, and nothing, anywhere, on Saturdays. When we finally did find a bar with real honest-to-God people in it, they were watching golf and looked at us like we were fools when we asked if anyone celebrated St. Patty's Day. What a waste of our last Saturday St. Patty's for years to come! Oh well, we admitted defeat early and settled for watching a movie at home on television.
Sunday was the day of the cheetah. We stopped in Plett for a couple hours of beachtime and had lunch at our old haunt Moby Dick's en route to "Tenikwa Wildcat and Wildlife Sanctuary" for our 3:30 appointment. The first hour of this experience was spent walking around to the various different enclosures holding "tame" (human raised for one reason or another) leopards, caracal, servals, African wildcats, and, of course, cheetahs. Very cool, caracals look crazy and servals appear to actually BE crazy. Next up was what I've been looking forward to for days-taking the cheetahs on their evening walk for 2 hours. We signed up for it as soon as we heard of it, not really having any idea what it involved, both of us actually assuming the trainers walk them and you just get to go along. But no, it was way cooler than that.
Our group of six was to take the two cubs, Gabriel and Zeus, and another group of five went the other way with two older cheetahs. Now these "cubs" are about a year old and to us appear fully grown, so we haven't gotten to see any really young cubs yet. They put two leashes on each one and immediately hand the leashes over to us. AWESOME!! The walk starts off pretty lazily with the cheetahs plopping down on the ground every so many meters, giving us some great picture opportunities. During one of the first few rest stops, with my face inches from the cheetahs, he turns to look at me. I immediately divert my eyes as that was one of our main instructions: never look them in the eyes or it's taken as a challenge. Not fair, HE looked at ME but I'm not sure if that really matters! But, instead of attacking he starts nuzzling my neck. The trainer says he must like me. You must be kidding me, this is what I've been dreaming of! Cuddling with a cheetah...until, what's that? Hmm, what's he doing?
"Oh, he's biting me now...my collarbone...he has my swimsuit strap"
"Don't let him bite you!"
Well, no shit trainer, but what am I supposed to do exactly? I assume panicking would be stupid! Luckily the trainer pulls him off, no harm done, and I'm not really notably affected by the event either, he's just tooo cute.
So, on we walk. The pace starts picking up considerably with the new instructions to drop the leash if the cheetah starts to run. We enthusiastically agree to do so, and they enthusiastically start doing so more and more often. We're kind of in the woods outside of the facility so we ask the trainer if the woods are enclosed at some point but, no, we're out in open land. Dave and I look at each other pretty funny, wondering if their neighbors know about these walks. I can't tell you how many times I think "This would never happen in America" in this country. Soon, the fun really begins. As we're walking Zeus, he turns and looks at Dave threateningly. The trainer's right there, and not worried, so neither are we. But apparently we should have been. Moments later he launches his huge body at Dave, scratching his leg, but quickly moving on to the smaller object right beside Dave, me. He wraps himself around my legs, and I can feel his claws digging into my leg. I remember thinking this hurts now but how the hell could we possibly get him off me without it hurting a lot more? The trainer FINALLY (in reality the event probably lasted like 10 seconds) pries him loose and I look down to see a pretty substantial hole in my "fancy" green pants, and one of our fellow paying victims tells me he can see my bleeding as well. Unfortunately, just that morning, I had donated all the rest of my pants! Oh well, the real misfortune here is that nobody got a picture.
So, shaken, we let the trainer take the leash for a little while, but the cheetahs are still extremely agitated and erratic so Dave gets the video camera rolling. He catches a lot of the action, in particular the next time Zeus lunged at him. I swear to you this cheetah spent the rest of the walk looking like he HATED Dave. I don't know if it was the camera or what, but it was scary. They finally took off running in the other direction, trainers trailing after them, and so it was deemed that it was time to head back. No problem there, we've gotten what we paid for!! Hilariously, on the way back, they plopped down again a time or two, and the trainers urged us to get down beside them and take more pictures. Something we did eagerly less than an hour ago-no thank you, we got some great ones! And sir, if I'd known this animal, I would not have put my face there before!!
So there you have it. One crucial difference between South Africa and America is that in America, when you go somewhere to do something "crazy" (bungy, treetop obstacles courses, etc.), you may be scared but you can logically and accurately tell yourself that they wouldn't let you do it if it weren't safe. Lawsuits right? Well, that is far from the case here. Which is cool, because we would never have gotten to do any of these dangerous activities if we hadn't come here. And, we've come out of it all relatively unscathed so far-oh yeah, those wounds I spoke of earlier are no worse than scratches we would get from tussling with Willie. Still, you can imagine the potential, which I guess is what is so thrilling! If you can't tell, the attack was a net positive in our eyes, a good story and a thrilling memory! We're hoping for scars but it seems unlikely....
P.S. On one of those rainy days I put myself to good use and emailed all of the Mossel Bay hostels to see if they would be interested in buying our shark diving vouchers, and successfully sold them for half of the full price, so we only ended up spending about $100 each on the unsuccessful shark dive which was much easier to stomach!