Adventures in South Africa

I kind of ended up accidentally in South Africa. After my 30th birthday in Mauritius, country #201, I had only a few one-way options out. London, Dubai, Johannesburg, or one of the Indian Ocean islands I had already been to. It wasn’t nearly time to go home, so South Africa was an obvious choice, even though I’ve already been there twice.

up close and personal with a Kruger elephant

I flew into Johannesburg, where I had a couchsurfing friend I met 6 years ago in Rwanda to stay with. Thru the wonderful world of facebook, I realized two Latvian friends, who I know from Iceland, had also just arrived in Johannesburg. They had rented a bright yellow VW we nicknamed ‘Lil’ Miss Sunshine’ and spontaneously left for Kruger the very next morning. There we spent 2 days on a self-drive safari, saw 4 of the Big 5, and nearly got trampled by an angry elephant bull three times the size of our Lil Miss Sunshine (I don’t think they like yellow).

me and the Latvians at Berlin Falls

On the way, we stopped in Nelspruit, where we couchsurfed with a woman, all her cats and one Jack Russell Terrier I had to share my couch with. Her boyfriend is part of the band Minanzi Mbira, and we watched one of their rehearsals in a storage garage late at night, joining in for the precussion bits with drums, triangles and shakers.

the orphanage

We roadtripped past waterfalls, swimming holes, the Bourke’s Luck Potholes, and thru the Blyde River Canyon, taking countless selfies from all the panoramic views along the way. Later we went to Durban, visiting the valley of 1000 hills. We visited an orphanage, ate Indian food that tasted even better than food in India, and then went our separate ways, I, to Lesotho.

the chain ladder up to Tugela

Later I roadtripped with my South African host to Golden Gate National Park and the Drakensberg, where we frolicked inbetween and ontop of mountains, with stunning views down to the Irish-green valleys. The chain ladder up to Tugela Falls nearly gave me vertigo, but it was all worth it once we got to the top and went skinny dipping in one of the frigid pools above the falls – the world’s second highest.

On top of Lion’s Head, with Table Mountain in the background

I spent a week in Cape Town, including a day of wine tasting in Stellenbosch. I stayed in SeaPoint, and one of the roomates there had a horse we could giddyup. We spent our days beaching, or hiking at Newlands Forest and Kirstenbosch Garden. There was a swing dance festival kicking off my last night there, and lots of great coffee, wine, and food everyday.

My base for all these adventures was Johannesburg, which I had never really thought of as more than just a base. Its reputation for being a big, sprawling, dangerous city really changed when I got to spend a few weekends tieh locals, exploring the restaurant and nightlife scene. Neighbourgoods Market was a major highlight, a Saturday food and beverage festival where an old fried from UBC randomly sat across the picnic table from me. After giving eachother long, awkward glances (neither of use could remember eachothers names or just where exactly we knew eachother from – or if we were just doppelgangers), I finally asked where he was from, and answered ‘Vancouver’ in a perfect Canadian accent. Then our worlds collided as we remembered all the stories, friends, and parties from Totem, our residence dorm, 10 years ago. Small world, eh?

South African Wine Route

I spent some time with my two Antarctica friends, the Rotary guys Fred and Steven, including my visit to the waterfront and Robben Island with Steven. We all hung out one evening at Fred’s house for a braii dinner party. Their home is located on a wine estate called Steenberg Vineyards. It’s still a fully operational winery, boasting a golf course and a few small neighbourhoods of private homes, and is completely fenced in with tight security patrol. Arriving after dark we had to pass through a couple gates and tell our story to a few security guards before we convinced them we were allowed in, and then one of the guards hopped in the back of our car to escort us all the way up to their door step, unlocking another fence along the way with his thumb needed for the finger print scanner. To bring this type of security control into perspective was easy enough since exactly opposite the estate, separated only by a two lane road, was a maximum security prison with fences just as high, barbed wire just as pointy, but still a step below the estate safety standard since the vineyards fences were also lined with surveillance cameras every 20 or 30 meters. It’s strange to think that locking criminals in is just as important a precaution as locking the affluent in, or is it locking everyone else out? Im not sure…

Steve (my Steve, confusing, I know) managed to get well enough into Fred’s good books that he offered him one of his own home-made, personally-labeled bottle of red wine called ‘Pour Mes Amis,’ uncovered from  his underground cellar – witness to Fred’s established status as a wine connoisseur. I of course entrusted him to take me wine tasting the next day, sampling the best of South African wine in the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek regions.

Steenberg Vineyard

Steenberg Vineyard

We started at the Steenberg Vineyards Cellar on the estate early in the a.m. with some bubbly chardonnay for breakfast. From there we drove to Franschhoek and stopped first at Chamonix wine farm where we had samples of white, red and sparkling rosé, and then drove through the French-influenced town.

We had lunch under the vines at Moreson Vineyards and I sampled my first Pinotage. Its an excellent blend of pinot noir and cinsault unique to South Africa, and after drinking more Pinotage throughout the week, I’ve decided its probably my favourite red variety. I love good discoveries like that.

Me, Fred & Mr Stark Conde

Fred & Mr Stark Conde with me

We spent the afternoon in the better-known city of Stellenbosch, very famous for its wine and also the second oldest town in South Africa. We tasted at Starke Condé Winery, and this vineyard had by far the most beautiful setting and landscaping, with the newly built wine tasting room an open-air gazebo over a small lake, surrounded by lush greenery and vineyards, in a valley between two massive mountains, one of which had an old Palace fortress looking down on us. We also stopped by Stellenbosch town, to see the university and feel the young student, Afrikaans vibe of the place. It was very quaint, with Cape Deutsch architecture remnants all around, and heavily vegetated with big Oak trees. We finished off at Middelvlei Wines which is specially known for their Pinotage… yum.

Sunset behind Table Mountain from False Bay

Sunset behind Table Mountain from False Bay

After a day of drinking in the toasty sun, I was definitely in a ‘bright’ mood, and we rounded off our perfect day at an African Themed restaurant called Moyo where you could dine in tree-top tables. We shared a fare-well drink before Fred drove me home, and we took the scenic route along False Bay with the beach to our left and the most beautiful sunset behind Table Mountain straight ahead.