Tag Archives: Africa

Drinking Our Way Through South Africa

12/11/12 

stellenboschWe woke up early this morning so we’d have time for breakfast prior to the day’s wine tasting adventures.

The package we booked through Lion World Tours included a half-day trip to Stellenbosch, one of South Africa’s famous wine regions. However, we felt that traveling nearly 10,000 miles to South Africa warranted a full day in the Stellenbosch region, so we opted to extend the tour.  South Africa is known for its wine and we wanted to ensure we had ample time to appreciate it.

Our package also includes daily breakfast at More Quarters, where we’re staying. In my previous travel experiences, “breakfast included” equals continental breakfast, which isn’t really my thing.  So I anticipated that this may simply be a snack and that we’d get a “real breakfast” somewhere else.  I am pleased to report that I was entirely wrong. Breakfast at More Quarters is outstanding!

We were escorted to the dining room upstairs by Liz, who works at the front desk, but again, treats us more like old friends than hotel guests.  The dining room is beautiful, open and spacious, with windows on all sides.  There was a wonderful spread of fresh juices, tea, pastries, meats and cheeses, fruits, and cereals.  It was the  most elaborate “continental breakfast” I’d seen.

Next we were handed menus, which included a wonderful selection of egg dishes, as well as sweet items, and create-your-own options.  Breakfast at More Quarters is among the best breakfasts I’ve ever had. I’m already looking forward to tomorrow morning’s meal.

During breakfast I reflected on our day yesterday. I tried to recall my formal education – the lectures and the textbooks.  We were taught about apartheid at some point, I remember that much.  Yet, everything I learned was a “fact” presented on a piece of paper or talked at me by someone who couldn’t lend any first-hand perspective.  I’m grateful for school and I received a wonderful education, but I don’t feel I truly learned about apartheid until I came to Africa and heard about it from people who’ve lived through it.

I snapped out of my daydream and finished breakfast just before our guide, Sharif, arrived to escort us on our wine tour. We made arrangements to go to a few wineries early in the day and then meet up with the half-day group during the latter part of the day.

Fairview Goat GreetingOur wine tasting began at Fairview, known for their wines, cheeses, and goats.  When we arrived, we noticed a male goat sitting peacefully on the top floor of a tower. Shortly thereafter a female goat greeted us.

The GoatfatherWe selected a special tasting that included cheese pairing.  “Colette! It’s 9:15 in the morning and we’re already drinking,” my friend exclaimed, reveling in the absurdity of it all. “Cheers!” I replied, raising my glass.  I had no doubt we’d be able to endure the extended day of wine tasting.

First we were asked to choose either the “traditional path” or the “adventurous path”.  I chose the adventurous path, which allowed me to taste some of the winery’s more unique wines.

With our final glass of wine we were instructed to head over to the cheese tasting area so we could pair the wine with assorted cheeses.  The honey flavored goat cheese was my favorite.  Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to bring any back to the States.

Lion SanctuaryTaking a break from wine, we set off to Cheetah Outreach so we could learn about cheetahs. However, on the way to Cheetah Outreach we noticed a lion sanctuary. Drakenstein Lion Park rescues lions that have been raised in captivity and therefore would not survive in the wild. They rescue lions from circuses and from zoos that are closing down.

Coca Cola Sponsorship of Lion SanctuaryIt appears Coca Cola is a major contributor to the sanctuary.  I was happy to see a large company contributing funds to this important project, for what truly seems to be altruistic reasons.  I don’t imagine Coca Cola gets much global recognition for this effort, but they should.

We finished up at the lion sanctuary and continued on to Cheetah Outreach. Cheetah Outreach does important work to support the well-being of these endangered animals.  During our visit we learned that farmers have been shooting cheetahs who threaten their chickens. In an effort to reduce this, Cheetah Outreach breeds Turkish Anatolian Shepherd dogs and places them on South African farms to guard livestock.

Petting Cheetah JosephCheetah Outreach raises the dogs alongside chickens so that the dogs naturally become protective of the chickens and scare away potential predators. There are fewer than 1,000 cheetahs remaining in South Africa and Cheetah Outreach’s mission is to help ensure their survival in the wild.

While learning about the program, I got to pet an adult male cheetah, named Joseph.  He began purring the moment I touched him.  While I was well aware Joseph is a cat, I hadn’t expected him to purr.  His entire body hummed as we connected peacefully.

After our amazing animal encounters it was time to get back to drinking wine. The knowledgable staff at More Quarters recommended we visit and dine at Tokara.  The view at Tokara was breathtaking and the wine was some of the best I’ve ever had.  I purchased a bottle of their scarce, award-winning 2010 Pinotage which is not available for shipping in the U.S. I also shipped a few bottles of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet home.

We wanted to stay at Tokara all day, but the time had come for us to meet up with the half-day tour.   We connected with the rest of the group at Ernie Els Wine Reserve.  We took in the beauty of the property as we embarked down another tasting adventure. Ernie Els specializes in red wines.  While tasting, we learned that the vineyards are carefully arranged according to wind patterns, to minimize damage from high winds.

Ernie Ells Private CellarJust as our group was about to leave, another group was headed down for a tour of Ernie Els’ private cellar.  We spoke with both guides, as well as the staff at Ernie Els, and arranged to stay behind for the special tour.

The group of people we connected with on this portion of the tour were quite spirited and, like us, not quite ready to call it quits.  We asked our guide if we could stop by another winery rather than head back to the hotel.  Much to everyone’s delight, he obliged. We shared a lot of laughs – as well as several bathroom and water stops – with this fun group of people, solidifying several new friendships.

Still not ready to return home, we asked our wonderful guide if he’d drop us off at Mama Africa for traditional African food and live music.  Our new wine-enthusiast friends, Les and Dana, joined us and we had an absolutely amazing time.  The place was packed and it took 2 hours for our food to arrive, which meant nothing more than we had 2 additional hours to drink. We tried some new beers, various speciality shots, and some traditional cocktails.

A really fun live band called Abakhaya performed throughout the night.  I shot some video to share with you, but upon further review it turns out 16 hours of drinking does little for my cinematography skills.  You’ll just have to travel to Cape Town to see them. . . or take my word for it.

Off to bed.  Tomorrow is another full day of adventure as we embark on the famous Cape Point drive.

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The Journey To Africa

December 9

IMG_2752I’m sitting awake on the second of three flights to South Africa. I should be sleeping now to get my body adjusted to the new time zone, but alas the Tylenol PM has worn off. Back-up plan activated: melatonin, red wine, and writing until the next wave of sleep kicks in. We’ve got 15 hours on this flight, so there’s time for it all.

It’s worth mentioning that my soundtrack at the moment is Tom McRae‘s album, Lowlands. It goes well with the red wine and dimmed lights of the aircraft cabin.

There’s something else: a Twix candy bar has never tasted so good as it did 5 minutes ago. We’ve been traveling since Saturday night. The journey began following 2 weeks of prep and packing. The task was made all that more challenging by the luggage weight restrictions. Due to the fact that we’ll be traveling to safari on smaller aircraft, there are strict baggage considerations. “44 pounds” has never been so meaningful. With the taxi waiting outside, I left a pair of pants and a raincoat behind. It seems trivial – how much could that really weigh? 1.2 pounds to be exact. So, some clothing gets sacrificed on behalf of my camera equipment, which I’m not sacrificing, despite its 17 pounds.

In all the packing and getting things set up at work, time was compressed leading up to this journey. There were some friends I just didn’t have time to see before I left town. I’m looking forward to sharing stories when we reunite.

One of my favorite things about life is how we can feel the presence of those we love, even when we’re 35,000 feet above ground, half a world away. My current sipping of red wine straight from the bottle brought laughter at the memory of the wine shortage on a recent train ride to visit the polar bears in Churchill. My friends Jeremy and Heather conspired to get off the train during the next “stop” and find wine. This was a two day journey and stops were infrequent, in the middle of nowhere, and brief. It’s up to the passengers to get themselves back on board before the train leaves. The train won’t wait for you and the crew won’t turn back. So, unless you’d like to be left behind in sub-zero degree weather, you may step off the train for some fresh air, but that’s about all you have time for.

Jeremy and Heather set their minds to acquiring wine. They were gone far too long, but much to everyone’s surprise, the train didn’t budge in their absence. Resourceful as ever, these two encouraged a couple of the crew to help facilitate their mission. Turns out, the crew was stopping at a market to pick up some supplies, so Jeremy and Heather hitched a ride with them. The smiles on their faces and the sigh of relief when they returned to the train is as funny as a memory now as it was at the time it occurred.

So yes, I’m drinking red wine from a bottle on a 15 hour flight from JFK to Johannesburg, sandwiched between a red eye flight from Los Angeles to New York and a flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. This, in combination with a hefty dose of melatonin, is a concoction worthy of inducing sleep.

Going to Africa has long been a dream of mine. Earlier this year I had a talk with myself. “What are you waiting for??” More time? More money? The “right” person to travel with? Yes, those seem like logical considerations… But upon further analysis, it turns out those are merely perceived obstacles I was allowing to stop me from fulfilling a dream.

If I had more time, it’s possible I’d be working less and not have the money to do a trip like this. If I had more money, I’d probably be working so much, I wouldn’t have time to embark on his journey. Such factors are unknown and can always stop us if we allow them to. I’m alive now – that’s truth. The only way to realize our dreams is to take steps to do so. So, in June, I made a commitment to myself to travel to Africa before year’s end.

A funny thing happens when you commit to something – it begins to come to fruition. The following day one of my close girlfriends called me, “I just filed for divorce, want to go on a big trip?” she asked. Then came an irresistable deal from Lion World Tours, advertised at Travelzoo. Within 48 hours, our trip to Africa was booked.

I don’t know what’s going to happen while we’re there. We have a loose itinerary and amazing things “to do”, but we’re both looking forward to the expanded perspective and unforeseen adventures that ensue.

In other news, this is my first time on South African Airlines and I’m exceptionally impressed. The service in Coach is equivalent to that which I’ve previously experienced in Business Class on other airlines. They should win an award, if they haven’t already.  Thankfully, no wine shortage here. One of the things South Africa is known for is its wine.

Well, the magical cocktail of melatonin, red wine and sleep deprivation is taking effect. Soundtrack: The Alternative Best Of Radiohead.

More soon. Or later.