A Travellerspoint blog

Bella

Bella the dog - the mascot of My Wyn, a boutique winery that was our second winery stop of the day. Fitting that her name is Bella, because as we all know, Bella means beautiful, like the wines produced by My Wyn, like Franschhoek, and like the whole Winelands region. Also suitable because Bella the dog looks a lot like Kristen Stewart's Bella from the Twilight series, though Bella the dog is surely more expressive, and capable of demonstrating a greater emotional range than the actress ...

The Winelands are full of big name producers, whose wineries are works of art, perfect places to bask in the glorious views with a glass of wine or a fine meal. But typically, I find visits to these big estates to be more style than substance, more about the experience than the wine itself. Of course, this is still an enjoyable experience, but it's nice to supplement this with visits to smaller or upstart wineries, and it's supremely satisfying to stumble upon one like My Wyn, which produces some truly excellent wines.

You never know what to expect from a winery this size - are they keeping their operation small to ensure quality by focusing on a few select wines, or are they just starting out as a winery? We've found smaller wineries in the Okanagan to be hit or miss, since wine has become such a big business in the area in recent years, with seemingly every mom and pop hoping to make a fortune in wine making, often leading to some suspect results.

My Wyn was actually closed today, but since we were in the area we thought we'd still drive up the hill, just in case, and upon seeing us, the owner still arranged a brief tour and tasting, though he was obviously very busy preparing for the upcoming harvest. If this was the Okanagan, we could buy as much wine as we could carry, but being in South Africa, we were limited to two bottles of wine each that we could bring back to Canada. A pity ...

After trying My Wyn's first three wines, we had already decided on the first three purchases of the day - quite the problem, as this was only our second winery visit of the day, and our quota was already nearly maxed out. Even worse was that after these three, we found the next two offerings also worthy of buying - quite the conundrum, but a good problem to have! My Wyn eschews modern wine making techniques for traditional ones, something only possible with a small winery. It's blatantly obvious that they are on to something good here.

Our original intent was to visit three or four more wineries today, but time simply would not permit, as strolling through town was a delight. Time rapidly dwindled today after lunch, some coffee, and some art gallery browsing ... another day here would've been nice, but our South African itinerary is unfortunately much too tight.

It's a small world here in Franschhoek - the guy who started our earlier tour at My Wyn ran into us as we were walking near our guesthouse. It turns out that Johannes is also an artist, with his home and studio nearby, and when he extended an invite for a visit, we couldn't turn it down. So the day ended similar to the way it started, but instead of with a personalized experience at a winery, it was with a personalized tour of an artist's studio.

After the studio tour, the evening started with a sundowner, what South Africans call happy hour, a drink while watching the sun set. The Winelands around Franschhoek provide the perfect backdrop for a sundowner, with its beautiful views and moderate weather. Returning to the Dieu Donne winery for sunset was the perfect denouement to our little story in the Winelands ...

Bella AKA Kristen Stewart

Bella AKA Kristen Stewart


Tasting at My Wyn with Johan ...

Tasting at My Wyn with Johan ...


Morning Wine Tasting at Dieu Donne ...

Morning Wine Tasting at Dieu Donne ...


High-End Beadwork ...

High-End Beadwork ...


African Chocolate Dreams ...

African Chocolate Dreams ...


The Artist's Studio ...

The Artist's Studio ...


Starters at the Common Room ...

Starters at the Common Room ...


Crayfish ...

Crayfish ...


Afternoon Pick Me Up ...

Afternoon Pick Me Up ...


Sunset at Dieu Donne, Home of Roca Restaurant ...

Sunset at Dieu Donne, Home of Roca Restaurant ...


Dinner at Roca ...

Dinner at Roca ...


Vension Carpaccio ...

Vension Carpaccio ...


Peppered Venison Loin ...

Peppered Venison Loin ...


Ostrich ...

Ostrich ...

Posted by vagabondvoyager 17:00 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Reunion

South African wines - though quite renowned, our experiences with them prior to arriving in South Africa have been less than stellar, even when sampling their pinotage, the country's signature grape. Thankfully, things have been different since arriving, when we started to find some truly excellent wines available here, perhaps because intelligent South Africans keep most of the good stuff here for themselves?

Over eight hours after bidding adieu to Mai and Prince Albert, we finally rolled into Franschhoek, in the heart of the Winelands near Cape Town, after a long and slow drive on gravel roads through the Karoo's famous Swartberg Pass, followed by hour after hour along Route 62, a drive known for being one of the most beautiful in all of South Africa.

It's a good thing we weren't late, as we had a reunion planned with the Warlords Yeow, who had made their microflight escape from Zambia to South Africa, via a detour to Botswana. You don't want to be late for a meeting with these ruthless people, who may punish insolence by cutting off our toes and stuffing them into our ears.

Franschhoek is considered to be the most beautiful town in these Winelands, with an air of sophistication lent by its various art galleries and fine restaurants, purported to be some of the best in the country. Overall, Le Bon Vivant, tonight's choice for dinner, did not disappoint - for the most part, things were excellent, especially the wine, and the ridiculously large dessert platters we each had.

It ended up being a nice evening, though a bit chilly, sitting outside in the garden, over a leisurely meal, catching up on each other's African adventures. In addition to agreeing that it was supremely cool to have been able to meet up once more in Africa, we also reached consensus that Africa has been an amazing experience, worthy of a return visit in the not-so-distant future. In fact, the Warlords Yeow intend to break their own rule of not doubling back to a country, as they already have ideas of returning to the Chundukwa Lodge in Zambia.

While I understand their rule and agree with it for the most part, it's a good thing I don't subscribe completely to it, as that would have meant wiping out my subsequent nine visits to Spain! But if there is one rule of travel, it is that rules are meant to be broken ... especially if you're Zimbabwean Warlords!

Beautiful Franschhoek

Beautiful Franschhoek


Driving the Swartberg Pass ...

Driving the Swartberg Pass ...


Top of the Swartberg Mountains

Top of the Swartberg Mountains


The Long Road up the Swartberg

The Long Road up the Swartberg


The Patio at Le Bon Vivant

The Patio at Le Bon Vivant


Amuse Bouche at Le Bon Vivant ...

Amuse Bouche at Le Bon Vivant ...


Quail ...

Quail ...


Foie Gras ...

Foie Gras ...


Springbok ...

Springbok ...


Duck Breast ...

Duck Breast ...


Pure Gluttony ...

Pure Gluttony ...


Another South African Picnic ...

Another South African Picnic ...


Huguenot Memorial ...

Huguenot Memorial ...


Biltong ...

Biltong ...

Posted by vagabondvoyager 17:00 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Stargazer

The Karoo - a vast stretch of land in South Africa, dry and desert-like, almost barren, a sharp contrast to the lush and green Garden Route so popular with us tourists. I've never been to the Australian Outback, but I imagine it would look something similar to the Karoo, which was the backdrop for a long but stunning drive from Knysna, first through the ostrich farms of Oudtshoorn, and then the Meiringspoort Pass, before finally reaching Prince Albert, one of the gateways to this part of South Africa.

Vegetation all but disappeared as we climbed up to the pass, until we began our descent down into Prince Albert when magically, we were in a verdant and fertile valley, like an oasis in the middle of the desert. They say that for many South Africans, Prince Albert represents a simpler life from a bygone era, a sleepy little town in the countryside, where the activities of choice are lazing about, basking in this bucolic little paradise, and eating delicious home-style cooking featuring the bounty of the valley - tender lamb, fresh produce, award-winning olive oil, and artisan cheeses ...

Prince Albert was a sharp detour off our journey through the Garden Route, which done simply, should've been a straight shot west from Knsyna, a relatively short drive into Franschhoek and one of South Africa's famous wine-growing regions. But our little branch off the route was most definitely worthwhile, even though it involved five to six hours of travel today, and meant an epic eight to nine of hours of travel tomorrow.

Our first impressions of Prince Albert - charming, cute, and quaint, and we received a most warm welcome from Mai, our guesthouse owner, a transplant from Ireland. There is really only one street in Prince Albert, with a number of art galleries, shops, and cafes, perfect for whiling away a few hours. Perhaps the "major" sight in town is Gay's Dairy, producer of cheese that locals rave about, and a place they also recommend as a must-see attraction. A cheese sampling there is delish, and we ended up walking away with a chunk for lunch tomorrow, as well as an excellent peach and toffee yogurt, and some great fresh mango juice.

That was about the extent of our activities in Prince Albert, as it was HOT here - we were told that the temperature was in the low 30s today, but it felt much hotter, more like the mid 30s, so the rest of the afternoon was spent in the guest house's icy pool, with a couple of glasses of locally-produced white wine, the remainder of which we later brought to dinner at a BYOB restaurant.

Collen and Cecil, the owners of our Knysna guesthouse, had visited Prince Albert recently, and recommended a contemporary restaurant situated above an art gallery, but based on Mai's suggestions, we decided upon Karoo Kombuis, basically a farmhouse converted into a restaurant, which only serves the same three entrees each and every night. You wouldn't think a place with such limited offerings would be successful, but it is often fully booked, as its attraction is the fact that they specialize in Karoo cooking, good old South African country comfort food, done very well.

Prince Albert does feel a lot like one of the small towns you'll find in the foothills of Alberta, and the meal we had tonight was the Karoo equivalent of pot roast and apple pie on a Sunday. Since arriving in Africa, we've had a number of dinners featuring more upscale fare (with the exception of our Kitchen Nightmare in Port Elizabeth), so this evening's simple cuisine, lovingly prepared, was a perfect counterpoint to those prior meals.

Stepping out from the little farmhouse after dinner, completely sated and feeling great about life, we discovered one other activity to try next time in Prince Albert - stargazing. Being such a small town in a largely uninhabited region of South Africa, there is hardly any light pollution, providing the perfect backdrop for gazing up at the heavens. In fact, there is an observatory nearby, and the Karoo is considered one of the best places in the World for this activity.

I don't think I've ever seen that many stars, that clearly, in all of my life. Perhaps we've discovered a future calling here as stargazers, who will sit in the great Karoo outdoors under the stars all night long, chowing down on tender roasted lamb and sipping on some fine South African wine ...

Charming Church in Karoo Country

Charming Church in Karoo Country


Driving Through the Meiringpoort Pass

Driving Through the Meiringpoort Pass


Like The Okanagan ...

Like The Okanagan ...


Sedgefield's Award-Winning Farmers Market ...

Sedgefield's Award-Winning Farmers Market ...


Homemade Passion Fruit Popsicles

Homemade Passion Fruit Popsicles


Parasailor's Paradise ...

Parasailor's Paradise ...


Chilling With Mai in the Courtyard ...

Chilling With Mai in the Courtyard ...


Chinese Man for Sale ...

Chinese Man for Sale ...


Prince Albert's Main (and Probably Only) Drag

Prince Albert's Main (and Probably Only) Drag


Dinnertime View ...

Dinnertime View ...


Oudtshoorn Ostrich Salad ...

Oudtshoorn Ostrich Salad ...


Ostrich Kebab ...

Ostrich Kebab ...


Karoo Kombo ...

Karoo Kombo ...


Traditional Karoo Desserts ...

Traditional Karoo Desserts ...

Posted by vagabondvoyager 17:00 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Honey Badger

The honey badger - one of the the more recent celebrities of the animal world, after a video showcasing its bad-ass aggressiveness went viral, attaining over 54 million hits on Youtube, and also today's star at the Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness and Rehabilitation Centre. The primary focus of Tenikwa is actually the rehabilitation of African Wildcats, including caracals, cervals, and cheetahs (yup - we never heard of those first two either), but Badgie the honey badger captivated everybody on our tour today.

Tenikwa not only rescues animals from the wild, and also from animal encounter attractions where they have been abused and exploited, but also from private homes, if you can believe that. Apparently it isn't uncommon for African families to keep dangerous wildcats as pets, and even a honey badger. Haven't they seen the video where the honey badger kills cobras? Haven't they heard stories of it fighting off multiple lions at a time, and also attacking elephants? Why would you want to keep such an aggressive little bastard as a pet?

Of course, a family did in fact raise Badgie, resulting in the World's one and only docile honey badger, making him a delight to watch. He's kind of ugly in a way, yet strangely cute, especially as he shuffles along as only a honey badger can, with the goofiest walk imaginable, and when he lies on his back, playing with his toes like a human infant.

Surprisingly, Badgie is allowed to roam freely amongst the baboons at Tenikwa, which are also considered extremely dangerous animals when encountered in the wild, though are fairly docile here, as they are used to human contact. In the wild, a honey badger would probably make short work of the baboons, but Badgie is different, as we were told he is often picked on by the baboons, slapping him around in a joking manner. But Badgie takes it all in stride, goofily walking away without retaliating, except for one isolated instance where he bit one of the baboons.

Tenikwa is renowned for its cheetah encounters, where visitors can actually walk a cheetah like a dog, except that it's the cheetah who usually winds up walking the human. It is the World's fastest animal after all, capable of hitting 120 kph in under three seconds, so I could imagine them dragging people along for one hell of a ride! Unfortunately, we didn't think to book far enough ahead and weren't able to participate, though that didn't detract from our overall experience at Tenikwa.

They do some pretty amazing work here, and the staff's love of animals is evident, even though I'm sure it is difficult and largely thankless work. At least people can show a bit of their appreciation by visiting this very special and unique attraction, with the entrance fees going towards a very worthwhile cause. Maybe you'll even be rewarded by spending some quality time with Badgie!

Badgie!!!

Badgie!!!


Cheetahs On The Prowl ...

Cheetahs On The Prowl ...


Caracal ...

Caracal ...


African Wildcat Ominously Yawning ...

African Wildcat Ominously Yawning ...


Cerval ...

Cerval ...


Grooming Time ...

Grooming Time ...


Meerkats

Meerkats


Ugly Bird ...

Ugly Bird ...


Flamingos!

Flamingos!


The Knsyna Heads

The Knsyna Heads


Thesen Island ...

Thesen Island ...


The Turbine ...

The Turbine ...


Ile de Pain ...

Ile de Pain ...


Picnic at Tenikwa ...

Picnic at Tenikwa ...


Expensive Oysters at JJ's ...

Expensive Oysters at JJ's ...


Zebra ...

Zebra ...


Kingklip ...

Kingklip ...

Posted by vagabondvoyager 17:00 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Ubuntu

"One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity."

- Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Perhaps the most infamous aspect of South Africa is the Apartheid Era, and one of its enduring legacies are the townships dotting the country's landscape, a reminder of how millions were evicted from areas designated as white-only, and forced to move into areas designated for non-whites. Like Brazil's favelas, they have become an item of curiosity for travelers, who are flocking to them in droves. So why would somebody want to visit a township, which represents such a terrible atrocity, such racism? It's because for some, these townships represent hope and the enduring human spirit, and also because they are a reminder of the sordid nature of humans, of what we mustn't let allow ourselves repeat.

Knysna is our home base for a couple of nights, and there are a number of townships nearby, the largest of which is Concordia. A drive through them is an eye-opening experience, the poverty is beyond what most North Americans can comprehend, even in the more affluent townships. Favela da Rocinha in Brazil pales in comparison, as most dwellings here were constructed with scrap wood from lumber yards, and many had no running water or toilets, with residents instead relying on a communal water tap and outhouses.

Our guide for the day was a resident of a township, and we were able to stop at her home for a short while, which was palatial by township standards, with multiple bedrooms, and much larger than the typical dwelling we saw, which are no larger than a small hotel room. It's interesting to note the perspective of a local, who is not only proud to say that she lives in a township, but also will tell you how good life is here now, so much better than in years past.

It really emphasizes how good we have things in North America, as even what we consider to be complete poverty is many times better than the lives of even the richest of township residents. Oh, that tourist bubble ... popping it every so often is necessary, and a day like today is a good wake-up call. But out of the darkness, there is always a shining light, and it's the spirit of the residents, who seem to always see the positive, no matter how dreary life here appears to outsiders.

I questioned how people here can maintain such a positive outlook on life, and our guide replied "It's Ubuntu ... we share whatever we have, no matter how little, because we are a community." It's interesting to see how selfish rich societies can be, with the rich constantly getting richer, and doing everything in their power to avoid sharing their wealth with others. Yet here, people with next to nothing would hand over their last bit of rice to somebody else, if they felt they needed it more.

There's only so much wealth in the World, and First-World Nations have their riches because poorer nations don't have what we have. In a way, you feel a sense of guilt for having so much more, when so many have so much less ... perhaps if more people endeavoured to see things like this for themselves, the World wouldn't revolve so much around the almighty dollar, and the accumulation of material possessions - food for thought ...

A sobering fact about today is that by African standards, South Africa is probably the richest, and the poverty here would be nothing compared to that in neighbouring countries. Even in contrast to other townships in South Africa, the ones we saw today are minute, when you consider that a massive one like Khayelitsha near Cape Town sprawls to the horizon, as far as the eye can see.

When you speak with visitors to Africa who have fallen in love with this continent, beyond the amazing sights, they speak of something special here, something that transcends the tangible. It's esoteric in nature, and likely those that have set foot on this continent are the only ones who can have some grasp of it ... it's the strength of the human spirit, something that can never be taken away by others, no matter how hard they may try.

Township Livestock ...

Township Livestock ...


Knysna's Harbour

Knysna's Harbour


Township

Township


Increased Government Investment ...

Increased Government Investment ...


A More Affluent Part of the Township ...

A More Affluent Part of the Township ...


Freaky Statue at Knysna's Crafts Market

Freaky Statue at Knysna's Crafts Market


Victor From Zimbabwe ...

Victor From Zimbabwe ...


Unexpected ...

Unexpected ...


Morning Tea in Tsitsikamma

Morning Tea in Tsitsikamma


African Village Girl Returns ...

African Village Girl Returns ...


Lunch at Steers ...

Lunch at Steers ...


Average Burger, Good Fries

Average Burger, Good Fries


Knysna is Famous For Oysters ...

Knysna is Famous For Oysters ...


Snoek Soup at 34 South ...

Snoek Soup at 34 South ...


Seafood Pasta ...

Seafood Pasta ...


Seafood Platter ...

Seafood Platter ...

Posted by vagabondvoyager 17:00 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

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