Cape Town and Wine Country

What an incredibly BEAUTIFUL city! Flying in, we could see the coastline on both sides, as well as Table Mountain and the sprawling skyline. We rented our car and headed to Table Mountain since it was a clear day and those are pretty rare in CPT, however being Sunday it was packed and we decided we’d rather spend our day drinking wine in Stellenbosch. Stellenbosch is only about a half hour/ forty five minute drive northeast of CPT. Nestled in a valley hugged by lush green mountains, it was as if were were in Napa/Scotland/Ireland all rolled into one. We checked into our guesthouse – Rustenbosch – which was a great modern spot with separate apartments all overlooking a courtyard and pool. Brody’s friend Andre, a native South African, picked us up and took us on an amazing wine tour through Stellenbosch.

Tokara Winery, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa

View from patio at Tokara Winery, Stellenbosch

Our first stop was Tokara, an architecturally modern winery sitting atop a hill overlooking rolling vineyards and soaring mountains.

Lunch at Tokara Winery, South Africa

Lunch in Tokara's deli

Here we tasted a few great reds and whites before eating lunch in their upscale deli – enclosed in glass overlooking the landscape. We shared a bottle of chardonnay and took in the sights while eating grilled lamb with pesto, feta and green bean salad, quinoa and crusty bread – yum!

Our next stop was Boschendal, a winery in it’s original 1920’s buildings, where we sat outside in the sunshine and tasted a few of their wines. They make an excellent Brut Rose and Blanc de Noirs which we bought for the road as well as a few etched glasses.

Our last stop was Muratie, a old old winery tucked away behind overgrown bushes in an ancient building with spiderwebs and dust. Our host wasn’t very pleased that we walked in right before closing, but we had the place to ourselves and we think we won her over in the end. The wine here was great as well, their red especially – Ansela Van De Caab is wonderful.

Boschendal Winery, South Africa

Dave and I tasting the Brut Rose at Boschendal, Stellenbosch

Our host Andre then drove us to his family’s estate and winery called Seaton, in a beautiful old house surrounded by vineyards on all sides. We promptly opened more wine and dove into an exquisite cheese board – I felt like we were treated like royalty. We moved to the outdoor braai (bbq) and conversated around the fire while his many stray dogs kept us company and he roasted steak, boerwoers (sausage) and more for us. We sat down to an incredible meal with more wine, then off to the living room to watch the night’s match – where I quickly fell asleep on the couch ha. Thank you Andre!

The next day, we awoke to rain and fog but got up and headed to downtown Stellenbosch for breakfast at a place called Java. Being a college town, the feel of the main street was reminiscent of an East coast college town in the States. After a breakfast wrap and latte, we headed off to Franschoek to hit a few more wineries on our way out of town. The drive to Franschoek from Stellenbosch is through windy narrow passages in the mountains, next to rivers and surrounded by clouds. I swear we could have been in Ireland or Scotland again, especially with the weather and the green moss on the rocks.

Our first stop was Chamonix, a big winery with a little tasting room tucked away almost in a cellar. The wine here was so-so, I don’t think any of us were that impressed (it may have been the hangover from the night before or the fact that it was noon).

Haute Cabriere Winery, Franschoek, South Africa

The gang at Haute Cabriere Winery

Our next stop proved to be the best – Haute Cabriere estate and winery which was up on a hill overlooking the entire valley. We posted up at a table and tasted some amazing wines including a dessert wine called Ratafia – the only place in South Africa where it’s made. We befriended the cellar master’s son who gave us a tour of the cellar and the factory as well.

Next post, cage diving with the Great Whites in Gansbaai! AMAZING!!

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We took off to Johannesburg the next day and in a quick hour flight, landed back in the city we first arrived to. We were greeted by our host for the day, a bubbly Greek immigrant who was to be our guide to Soweto and the Apartheid museum.  We climbed in her old VW van/wagon and took off for the Southwest Townships (SoWeTo) to visit the area where blacks were relocated during Apartheid. I thought I knew what I was getting into, that I was somewhat prepared for what I was going to see, because I had seen photos and TV specials on the area. To be frank, I don’t think anyone is.

Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa

Walking into squatter community in Soweto

You think you have an idea of what these people live in day to day, but until you see it, you have no clue. We arrived at the entrance to one of these squatter communities, which are made up of about 20,000 people, and immediately I had to choke back tears. We were greeted there by our somewhat toothless guide, who also lives in this community. He makes his living off of giving tours to wide-eyed tourists like us, hoping to get a glimpse of what it’s like to live like these people. As far as your eye can see – nothing but dirt, scrap metal, old signs, cardboard boxes, plastic sheets – people’s homes, no more than 100 square feet each and home to up to 5 or 6 people. There is no electricity in any of the shacks, no running water and

Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa

One plot within the community, about 5-6 homes here.

hardly any privacy. Groups of between 4-7 shacks share a “courtyard” which consists of a dirt plot where laundry is hanging to dry after being washed in a tub and children are playing together. Each of these groups share one toilet that was just recently put in by the city. Several children followed us and talked to us during the visit, most sort of conditioned to ask certain questions and then for money. We were told not to give them any money, as they are trying to teach them not to beg. I spoke with two beautiful teenagers who attend school down the road, walking there and back each day. One wants to be a gynecologist and one a police officer, both hoping to better the lives for women after them.

Child in Soweto Township

Child in Soweto

We learned that about 80% of the people living in the community were unemployed, however most of them are out on the streets everyday, not begging, but looking for work – anything from a day job to something regular. Unfortunately, the language barrier seems to be a big inhibitor to these people finding jobs and holding them. We visited one woman’s home who was preparing hot water for her laundry from a little gas heater – they have to buy gas about twice a month – while carrying her baby on her back and trying to clean her tiny home. I gave her 100Rand in hopes to help her buy more gas to heat her home as it was very cold in Joburg those few days.

Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa

Woman in her home doing laundry

Next we ventured to Nelson Mandela’s home to see the neighborhood he lived in before and slightly after his imprisonment. From there, we went to the Apartheid museum. When you enter, you are given a card to designate whether you are “White” or “Non-White” which also designates which entrance you take. I could go on and on about the museaum, but to sum it up: we spent 4 hours in the museum and had to skip by exhibits towards the end. It was a humbling experience that actually made me feel ashamed of my skin color and so incredibly appalled that this happened only a few years ago. To think that South Africa has only been a democracy for 16 years is hard to fathom – meaning that being such a young country in that respect, it will still be a few generations before the racism isn’t as apparent.

Long story short, if you have the opportunity to visit Soweto and Apartheid, absolutely do it. Just be prepared for the emotions it will bring up and also be sure you designate enough time so you can thoroughly experience the museum.

I can’t even begin to describe our crappy accomodations in Joburg, yuck. We stayed in a guesthouse that was NOTHING like it said it was online. I guess we had been spoiled the past few nights with great places so we were probably little bias, however this place was like some weird old house that someone threw some beds in so they could make money off tourists for the cup. Our room had no heat, and since Joburg was the coldest it has almost ever been, it was not very fun. We met up with Dave’s friend of a friend who lives in Joburg, and she picked us up to go to Melrose Arch for dinner and to watch some matches. Melrose Arch is an upscale complex of hotels, restaurants, pubs, stores, etc., similar to a giant shopping complex you’d see in the States. We had dinner outside under heatlamps (thankfully) at a place called the Meat Company. We all had great steaks and an awesome bottle of wine (Rupert & Rothschild) and fried Haloumi cheese (a staple here). Dave’s friend Alan – a commentator for ESPN – met up with us and we stopped in a pub called JB’s for drinks as well. We had a great night all hanging together, then back to our crappy little room to sleep (and for the record, wore beanies and sweats to bed!).

USA v. Slovenia, World Cup 2010 South Africa

Us and our Slovenian friends before the match

June 18th was the day of our USA v. Slovenia match so we slept in a bit then met up with Dave’s friend Brody and his friend Aaron to get ready for the game. Wodey and Mackerer met up with us and we all drove down to the park-n-walk which was in a slightly sketchy part of town but with all the people, it was great. We instantly met two Slovenian guys, Frank and France (yep) who we hung out with the rest of the day. Walking down the street, we came upon a Nursery School that was selling beer and sausages to raise money for the school so OF COURSE we had to stop.

Dave and I before USA v. Slovenia match, South Africa

Dave and I drinking beers to support the school

Soon after, it became overrun with USA supporters and everyone was drinking and hanging out and playing on the junglegyms – I’ll never forget that experience (especially high-fiving the kids in the schoolroom). We

USA v. Slovenia match, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, South Africa

Good times...GO USA!

walked to the game at Ellis Park and got our seats (second row from the top of the stadium) for a great game. US and Slovenia tied, with our last goal an unfortunate BAD CALL. We stopped back at the school for a few more beers then headed back to bed.

The next day, June 19th, we took off to Pretoria, less than an hour north of Joburg. A much more affluent town, our guesthouse was beautiful and we hung there for a bit in the backyard bbq spot with some beers before heading down to Hatfield Square for some drinks at the Springbok Bar on our way to watch the Denmark v. Cameroon match at the Pretoria Stadium. The bar was a typical rugby spot with the chairs bolted to the floor so they couldn’t be thrown. After a few beers and a “Springbok” shot (some sort of Bailey’s liquor and a minty green liquor) we headed to the stadium. The logistics of this stadium were way less planned out then the others, with thousands of people funneling through tiny entrances. Again, our seats were a few rows from the top, but the game was fun to watch all the same. We hoped for Cameroon to win, but Denmark squeezed by 2-1. Exiting the stadium was just as horrible, however we were slightly entertained by two drunk Danish men – one falling over the seats and spilling his beer all over, then not being able to get up, and the second who fell over and dropped his pants then couldn’t figure out how to get them up. Gotta love it.

We woke up at the crack of dawn the next morning and our guesthouse host John drove us to the airport in his minivan. It’s interesting how many people you see walking to their jobs, right on the side of the highway. Most of them I believe don’t have transportation and being that it was freezing out (-2 Celcius) I felt bad being in a semi-warm minivan. The Lanseria airport is tiny, just like Nelspruit, with one terminal. It’s funny that here they just say “We are now boarding” and everyone just lines up, no groups or zones or rows. We boarded our Kulula flight (Kulula is a great airline, very tongue and cheek kind of like a little bolder Southwest) which had “This Side Up” painted on the side of the aircraft ha. After a nice nap on the plane, we arrived in Cape Town two hours later.

Durban is a great coastal city with sleepy suburbs and a beautiful stadium. We arrived in Durban on June 13th and checked into our B&B called “African Dreamz” in Umhulanga (pronounced Oom-shlonga), situated in an upscale neighborhood just northeast of Durban on the coast. We promptly headed to the Gateway Mall to pick up our match tickets and found out that it’s the largest shopping center in the Southern Hemisphere. I also didn’t realize that Durban is home to several million Indian residents, so much of the culture and cuisine is Indian-influenced. That night we headed to a pub close to the B&B in a little row of restaurants and shops close to the beach to watch the USA v. England match.

Durban, South Africa

Watching the USA v. England match at a pub in Durban

Of course, we sported all our USA pride and ended up in a bar with a bunch of English dudes. It was great fun though, we drank too many Castle beers and made friends with some Irish and Australian tourists. The next morning, we ventured down to the beach to put our toes in the Indian Ocean – which was surprisingly warm! Didn’t have time to get in but it was beautiful to look at for a bit. We headed down to the FIFA

Indian Ocean, Durban, South Africa

Putting my toes in the Indian Ocean

Fan Park – a fan festival that FIFA sponsors close to each stadium – to watch the other matches before heading to see Germany v. Australia at Durban’s new stadium. The fan fest was great, hung out on the beach and watched the matches on a giant projector screen. To get there, we had to walk a bit through downtown Durban, which isn’t a place you’d find me after dark. It’s similar to run down areas of LA or NYC, as most of the nicer neigborhoods are north or east of the city. We walked down the boardwalk to the stadium, which dominates the city’s skyline. Huge and all lit up, it was like a beacon welcoming us. The match was great, my first professional soccer game! It helped that the Germany and Australian fans were hyped up and singing, chanting and taunting each other.  Germany slaughtered Australia 4-0, so it was pretty much a blowout. Oh well, fun all the same!

HluHluwe – Umfolozi Park

Our next adventure was a trip to HluHluwe – Umfolozi game park about 2 hours outside Durban. Similar to Kruger on a much smaller scale, we stayed in the Hluhluwe side, very overgrown brush with somewhat limited animal viewing. The first day, we managed to spot several rhino, giraffe, zebra and

Giraffe, Hluhluwe Park, South Africa

Pretty Lady!

impala on our own. We signed up for the sunset drive so made our way to Hilltop Camp and checked into our bungalow before doing the drive. Luckily, we spotted a lioness feasting on a water buffalo kill, an incredibly raw sight. She had her head inside the buffalo, ripping the meat from the bones and using her giant paws for leverage. We also came upon an elephant walking in the road as well as hyena – waiting for the lions to leave the kill so they could swoop in and steal some. The next morning, we did another guided drive and came upon the same feeding site, this time with a few lions sharing a nice feast. We encountered a ton of baboons, mothers, babies, fathers, etc. who weren’t camera shy in the least. We captured some great

Babooon, Hluhluwe Park, South Africa

This guy loved the camera

shots of baboons modeling for us. The camp itself was great, we had a tasty buffet dinner each night and buffet breakfast as well. Not too cheap, but reasonable. We bought a bottle of wine for about $5 USD and drank it in the lodge while watching the matches. Not a bad little spot! Upon leaving Hlulhluwe, we got pretty close to a few hyena, also feasting on a kill, vultures nearby just waiting for their turn, and a few more elephants. All in all, a great experience if you don’t have the time to make it to Kruger.

Upon leaving Hluhluwe, we stopped in St. Lucia (no not the island, the town), about 45 mins from Hluhluwe. It lies on the Elephant Coast, north of Durban. We stopped and checked out a crocodile park since our friend Wodey really wanted to see some crocs in action. They had a great  viewing area and several pens with crocs of all sizes, where you could actually reach and touch some (if you really wanted to 🙂 Of course I had to, so I touched the tail of a

Crocodile at park in St. Lucia, South Africa

Baby Croc

“teenager,” just to see what their skin is like. It’s strange, hard and scaly but still very flexible. For about $5 entry, it’s worth it if you’ve got an hour or two. We stopped for lunch at a recommended ski boat club restaurant which was great. We watched a match and checked out the crocs and hippos in the inlet while watching the waves break on the nearby shore.

Back in Durban, we checked into our guesthouse in Morningside, a posh, upscale area of town with gorgeous homes and an incredible view of the city. We stayed in a place called “The Neuk” (I am assuming pronounced “nook”) and were greeted warmly by our host and her daughter in their breaktaking turn of the century home. With shabby chic decor and lovely grounds, we were a bit bummed we were only there for hardly one night. We walked down

Rooting for Bafana Bafana at "Booty," Durban, South Africa

Rooting for Bafana Bafana at "Booty," Durban, South Africa

to the corner and turned on Florida Street, sort of the happening place to be where all the bars and restaurants reside. We found a bar called “Booty” yes, booty, where we posted up to watch the Bafana Bafana v. Uruguay with a ton of locals. It was a great time even though the boys lost, and the scene was great.

Overall, Durban is a pretty neat city, and I could definitely spend more time there. I recommend staying in either of the areas we did, as the downtown is still pretty rough and I wouldn’t be comfortable saying that you’d be as safe as we were (walking down the street at night) in the other areas. Ok, time to plan a trip back! 🙂

Kruger and more…

June 16, 2010

Yawn! Kruger National Park - Sabi Sabi Game Reserve

It’s been hard to put into words what a life-changing experience South Africa has provided thus far. I haven’t had the chance to sit down and write since we have been going non-stop, plus I needed to get my bearings on where to start and how to explain in words the last week and a half here.

We arrived in Johannesburg on June 6th and the next morning took off to Kruger National Park (first night uneventful – food & sleep as flight was early). We flew into Nelspruit airport, a small one terminal airport in the beautiful countryside of  Eastern South Africa. We jumped in the rental and had to adjust to driving on the opposite side of the car and road as back home. A funny experience the first time but adjusted pretty quickly! Our drive up to Kruger was beautiful, the weather perfect and the landscape incredibly green and lush – not what I expected at all. Many more hills and trees and bushes than I ever expected when you think of safaris and the Big Five.

We entered Kruger through the Numbi Gate and stopped in Pretoriouskop Restcamp for a few bottles of water and crisps (we call them chips back in the States), and we headed on our excursion through the Southern part of Kruger. Promptly I noted that I thought we would see a giraffe first, Dave guessed the rhino. I won! Sure enough, we come down a dirt road and there towering in the trees is an giraffe, roughly 18ft tall. It’s a surreal experience. As we continued our day and saw zebra, elephant, giraffe, kudu, impala, warthog, baboon, hippo and more, it never became less exciting or less strange that we are here, driving through this wild, open area of land where these animals call home.

Mother and baby - before mother told baby to charge our car!

Vervet Monkey - love them!

Hello Gorgeous

Neither of us had ever seen these animals outside the zoo, and to be  honest, it’s hard to wrap your head around that they are real and in their natural environment! Just as we were heading down the road to our restcamp, we came upon a lion pride. Eight lions walking down the road right at us and coming withing ten feet of the car. Talk about adrenaline rush – we were fumbling with our cameras and video to capture the moment.

Great shot captured by Dave of the lions in the road...

Lions in the road...

Hippo Family

We stayed two nights in Lower Sabie Restcamp, toward the Southern end of Kruger. The camp was great, with a large deck out back where you could grab a glass of wine and watch the elepants and hipppos bathe in the river. We did a sunset drive and morning walk with guides – but the rest of the time we drove ourselves and spotted animals, trading sightings with other passerby cars and quickly becoming excited when we came upon parked cars. The last night we stayed in Satara, located closer to the center of the park. Close to Satara is the S100, a road that bears East. We were blown away with all of the animals encountered here!

Up close and personal

Zebra checking us out

Rhino in the grass

One of many beautiful sunsets

Ok, signing off for now. More to come soon!!