Tag Archives: Stellenbosch

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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Arriving in Cape Town, South Africa

12/10/12 

We arrived. By the time we checked into More Quarters, it was 2:30pm Monday. This would have been our first moment to unwind since we began the series of flights Saturday night. However, rather than relaxing, we decided to seize the moment – and the daylight – to explore Cape Town. We quickly took showers, changed clothes and walked out the door. We didn’t really have a determined destination, we simply set out to explore.

IMG_1892 Cape Town is a city with prominent and unique geographic features.  Table Mountain, recently named one of the “New Seven Wonders of Nature”, is visible from nearly every vantage point.  The warm waters of the Indian Ocean and the cool waters of the Atlantic meet in Cape Town as well. The rich marine surroundings are exquisite, further highlighted by the vast mountains.

It’s so surreal that we’ve reminded ourselves we’re here numerous times throughout the day. There have been some comical and obvious indicators that we’re in new territory: figuring out how turn the lights on. . . and off, how to fill the bathtub. . . and drain it, and how to use an old metal key to open the gates leading to our hotel room.

Those are good indicators that we’re in unfamiliar territory, but the best indicator that we’re in Africa is the people. I’ve heard this –  and chances are you’ve heard this as well – the people in Africa are kind, hospitable, positive, and full of gratitude. We are blessed to experience this first-hand. Everyone we’ve encountered exudes joy, love and passion, even in the face of challenges.

People in Africa look up to America. We’re the Americans in town and they’re happy to see us. America is a place many say they aspire to live. “If I work hard, I can go there someday,” a wonderful man named Gilbert said, with a smile and the look of a dream-come-true in his eyes. “But I have to work really hard,” he added.

“Stay hopeful!” two young men we met today cheered. Obama’s words have traveresed continents. There are people in Africa, up against insurmountable odds, who have hope as a result of our President’s words and leadership.

People here are extremely interested in, informed, and invested in our politics. They depend on our policies, our foreign relations, our leadership, to pave the way for their future.

We walked down Kloof and Long streets to take it all in. The staff at More Quarters, who treat us as friends, told us about a place called Green Market Square where people sell African arts and crafts. However, we didn’t remember how to get there. As we walked aimlessly, we met a nice young South African couple who’d just returned from a hike. We asked them about Green Market Square and they kindly offered to lead us there.

As we were walking, they shared some of the history of South Africa with us. They told us that Green Market Square is initially where ships’ crews would come to stock up on freh produce before returning to sea. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was merely our first history lesson. Everywhere we went today, people shared history. It’s almost as if understanding its history is a prerequisite to truly experience and appreciate South Africa.

As we continued our walk, it became apparent why people are so adamant about sharing their country’s history. The history of Cape Town is exceptionally rich. To experience Cape Town, you must understand how it came to be. The couple continued to explain how Cape Town was discovered, developed, the origins of the classifications whites, colored, and black. The physical boundaries that came with the classifications went away with Apartheid, but their identities did not.

They talked to us about how things have changed since Apartheid was abolished. It was only very recently, from a historical perspective, that these three groups of people were allowed to integrate, share neighborhoods, schools, restaurants. As a result, there has been a tremendous amount of rapid change. The positive abolishment of Apartheid brought with it its own set of new challenges. It’s the beginning of a new era and everyone we meet is invested and active in positive change.

As I processed this information, sleep deprived, and disoriented, I heard “Here we are!” I looked at the couple, the brightest smiles shining on their faces. They take pride in sharing their country with us, in sharing each moment.

Our new friends left us with hugs and well wishes as we entered Green Market Square to begin purchasing gifts for friends and family back home. We were a bit overwhelmed by the quantity of art and goods before us.  Each time I picked something up, I asked who made it, where it originated.  Many of the pieces I inquired about came from Zimbabwe, a country we’ll be visiting at the end of our journey here.

We purchased a few items, vowing to return once we’d gotten some sleep, and found a nearby bar, The Slug & Lettuce, to unwind. Again, we were greeted as if we were family or long-lost friends, as opposed to visitors.  We enjoyed a few drinks, had inspiring conversations with locals, and walked away with a recommendation for dinner.

View of Table Mountain From The Waterfront

View of Table Mountain From The Waterfront

We enjoyed our first meal outside of an airplane or airport in 36 hours at a restaurant at The Waterfront, called Baia. A martini, a bottle of wine, and a delicious seafood platter were welcome comforts before enjoying our first night of sleep in a proper bed.

Our wake-up call tomorrow morning is set for 6:00am.  Our adventure: touring some of the wineries of Stellenbosch. A good night’s sleep is in order.