Category: South Africa

Wine, Weddings and Wind

First of all, I want to clarify that the word ‘wind’ in the above title does not refer to the embarrassing bodily function (despite the 24-hour virus and resulting gassiness Tyson and I have somehow picked up over the past two days) but rather the perceptible, weather-related movement of air. I will explain this later – this story, like all, must start from the beginning.

To be honest, I don’t exactly know what the beginning of this particular story – blog entry #5 of South Africa 2018 – is. It’s been the most alcohol-intensive end of our journey (as was to be expected) and thus I believe the beginning must have been somewhere between a rosé and a pinotage. Let’s just say that by the time I read ‘…Intense flavours of fynbos, mint, and in particular, blueberry welcome you on the nose, followed by aromas of cinnamon, lead pencil and dark chocolate…’ I knew I was back in one of my favourite places in the world: Franschhoek.

A place whose character seems to be at odds with itself – one part pretentious Noosa (think white linen clothes, boat shoes and loosely draped jumpers over men’s shoulders), one part African gallery walk (showcasing local and national artists in painting, sculpture, clothing and leatherwork), one part French revival (think al fresco cafes with checkered tablecloths and confit on the menu) and one part wine-loving tourists (lots of South Africans, but otherwise mostly European) and that’s pretty much Franschhoek in a nutshell. We fell in love with this place three years ago when we first set eyes on its mountain caldera city walls, beautiful Cape Dutch buildings and incredible restaurants. And I haven’t even mentioned the wine tram!

It was this wine tram – which has, since we were last here, expanded its reach to include 26 wineries in the Stellenbosch wine region – which we found ourselves on again this sunny Wednesday morning at no later than 9:30am, and before you tell me we’re alcoholics I should remind you that when you’re trying to cover 6+ wineries of an hour’s visit each (you know, to taste wine, wander around the grounds, browse their farm shops…just kidding – just to taste wine), you need to start EARLY. It’s just about maximising the experience, people.

So anyway – there we were, just before 10am, at Allée Bleue winery (which is a weird name to me, as whichever way I look at it, it’s either a pompous way of saying Ally Blue or a description of the noise you make after tasting certain wines), learning that sometimes wine can taste of lead pencils and wondering if – now in our 30s and with somewhat of a less indulgent diet than our younger selves – we would still be able to stomach a whole day’s worth of wine jumbling. Luckily, the pompous bleurgh winery served toasted bread with its cab merlot and so I made sure my little handbag took a few extra pieces with it when we left to cover us for the next couple of wineries.

On our ramble down the winery’s tree-lined driveway, our long-haired, bright-faced wine tram guide told us that this was “the best ever place to take selfies because at night, the blue lights (told you they were all about the blue!) illuminate the trees.” Initially not sure if he was joking, I’m glad he wasn’t looking at me when I said it, because my half-frown, half-right-eyebrow-raising reaction showed that clearly there ARE differences between generations of millennials because there was no way that I was seeing the attraction of taking a selfie under a dark tree illuminated by blue light. Or maybe that idea becomes more appealing the more lead pencil you’ve consumed?

Anyway – I digress. We’re back on the wine tram. Fast forward a few more wineries and Tyson and I are sitting on the deck of another winery – Zorgvliet – this time the only people who decided to get off the tram. We’re tasting some fine drops and talking about the world and South Africa and its issues and its beauty, but I won’t bore you with that now because I’ve ranted about it enough during the last couple of blog entries. Instead, let’s fast forward again – now we’re starving, full of wine but lacking more substantial stomach-filling solids like food, because we were too busy tasting wine and discussing life’s big issues that we missed lunch. In Franschhoek, on the wine tram, that leaves you with two options: cheese platters, or unusual pairings. Resisting the urge to try fudge pairing (if it had been biltong, we could have had a deal), we decided on the former, and because that one wasn’t enough, we had another cheese platter at the next winery too. In the end, we had so much cheese and lavosh and pear chutney that we filled in most of the gaps between the wine in our belly and ended up after the last winery just wanting to sleep… and then missing the tram home. In summary, it was a day to be remembered. And yes – most likely repeated upon our next return visit.

Apart from drinking lots of delightful (and lots of not-so-delightful) wine, we also ate amazing food in Franschhoek, bought a few souvenirs a lot of things that we now have to try to fit into our suitcase, (like two pairs of shoes from this amazing South African brand that make you feel like you’re walking on clouds!) and played with the cute grunting dogs at the farm on which we stayed. As always, we were sad to leave this gem of a place and vowed to be back as soon as we could.

From Franschhoek, it was off to the Fynbos (pronounced more like the traffic infringement and less like the forward-moving-propeller of a fish) Cabin, situated on a private nature estate just 15 minutes from the seaside hamlet of Gordon’s Bay and an hour outside of Cape Town. What a stunning place this was, and so peaceful!

Well, that was until the wind started.

My friends, I have never heard such a wind as this. We felt like what people in a cyclone must experience – howling gusts through gaps between trees, branches smacking on everything, windows shuddering. We thought it was going to come inside and take all of our loosely placed belongings with it into its rage. This wind howled for most of the night, meaning we barely got any sleep (I think Tyson was more worried about a branch falling on the car than the loosely scattered belongings in the house – and to be fair, his was probably a more valid fear). Of course, this had to be the Friday night before the wedding of Beth and Ross, which ended up going until the early hours of Sunday morning. Nothing like a dance-off on no sleep and lots of wedding wine (and coffee)!

Luckily, the wind died down somewhat for the wedding – though sadly not enough for anyone to touch the lonely ping pong table that was perfectly positioned on the green lawn beside the ceremony. My hair – still recovering from the last wedding, at which it not only got covered in bird poo but also turned into a bigger-than-80s-afro mess from the wind – was pinned down strictly with bobby pins and lots of hairspray, and I’m proud to report that whilst umbrella was in hand in case of any sighting of overhead flying birds, no poo landed on my scalp on this occasion.

The wedding was fun – lots of laughter and kind words and beautiful food, and the lovely Beth, our friend, the bride, reminded me a little of myself on my wedding day – full of insatiable joy, looking relaxed, clearly in the perfect place at the perfect time, marrying her perfect guy. It was a delight to witness, and an honour to be able to share this special occasion.

After the wedding, the wind and the wine, it was time to wine down our trip (couldn’t help myself), though on the way back to Cape Town airport I managed to squeeze in a fabric jewellery making class with the incredibly talented Thandie Dowery, designer and owner of Nomi Handmade. Her use of the colourful, iconic and tradition-rich shweshwe fabric to make jewellery that screams nothing but style was another sign to me that this country – with its diversity and richness of entrepreneurs, fashion, design and creativity – is just now coming into its own.

You know, I’m not usually one to be on top of trends, but if you ask me, South Africa is a place to watch. And yes – you heard that here first.


Kuyasa nangomso.

(It shall dawn again tomorrow.)

 

 – Isixhosa proverb

 

An Ode to South Africa

‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.’

These were the words of the Afrikaans pastor at the Shofar church we decided to visit on Sunday, and it’s funny, in a way, how relevant they became for us over the coming days.

Whilst you could tell from the pastor’s emotion that he was talking about much deeper issues than those that plagued us (more on that in a moment), this petition to find joy among trials became somewhat of an ironic mantra as we spent three nights in our Tulbagh log cabin, accommodation #4 of this South African adventure.

Consider it pure joy, my travellers, when you have two plastic bags full of dirty washing and can’t access the sole laundry you will have on this trip because the door’s welded shut from the rain. Consider it pure joy when this trial means that the local farmer has to come over two days later and cut the entire lock out of the door so that you can get in.

Consider it pure joy, my travellers, when you’re at the end of a heatwave-induced 35°C day, have spent all day outdoors and have looked forward to a dip in the pool, only to find that the pin code on the gate has been changed and there’s no way you can access the inviting lagoon inside.

Consider it pure joy, my travellers, when the water goes ice cold mid-shower because you haven’t been told you had to turn the geyser on, or when a cute little dog follows you all the way home from the pool gate and ends up peeing all over the outdoor furniture.

These issues are trivial, no doubt – there will always be things that go wrong when you travel and indeed, I could write a book on that topic by now. But to hear these words – consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds – in a country that is plagued with a host of (sometimes well-documented, sometimes more underlying) issues meant that this imploration took on a new meaning for us this week.

For many who have never visited this diverse, indisputably beautiful and fascinating country, South Africa remains somewhat of an enigma. Most of what we hear at home (at least in Australia) is that the country is one of danger and crime, poverty and corruption. And it’s true – some places are dangerous, and you do need to be vigilant. There is a large gap between the haves and the have-nots and the variances in people’s living standards are clearly visible, particularly when you drive past the townships which adjoin most urban areas.

But what we don’t often hear about is the steadfastness of the South African people: their intense, deep-seated love for their country and its people and the hope they hold onto for change, despite facing what truly could be described as trials of many kinds.

Tyson and I have spent time – both on this trip and previous ones – with people from both ends of the spectrum. We’ve been in townships with locals – like when Tyson attended a housewarming party in Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s largest township a few years ago – and we’ve enjoyed absolute five-star tranquillity in luxury private game reserves. On this trip, as on previous visits, we’ve stayed in locally-run bed and breakfasts; something we believe gives you a priceless opportunity to interact with the ‘true’ South Africa, not to mention ensuring that the bulk of your money actually stays within the community.

All the while, we’ve spoken to local South Africans as much as we could about the trials this country continues to face: racial issues, crime, poverty, corruption. Some people have said that they’re fearful of what the future holds for the country, and many understand why their friends and family have emigrated to other parts of the world. But they have also said that they see hope for South Africa, and that something inside of them refuses to give up on this country – the rainbow nation, as so eloquently described by Former President Nelson Mandela when he took office after the end of Apartheid in 1994:

“Each of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld […] – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”

Our prayer for this country – one that we love, mostly for its natural and cultural assets but also, probably, for its vulnerability to being misunderstood, is that light will triumph over darkness; that the future will bring great change for its inhabitants, regardless of their skin colour, and that the people who are the lifeblood of this nation will have the strength and resilience to consider it pure joy when they face trials of many kinds, because, as the scripture goes on, they know that the testing of their faith produces perseverance and that perseverance, when it has finished its work, will mean they are mature and complete, not lacking anything.

 

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

James 1:2-4 (New International Version)

 

 

What I learned about fear from a hike through leopard territory

I’m not brave.

That’s what my head told me as I walked across the wide-open plateau of fynbos, rocky mountains stretched up to my right and to my left like some kind of life-sized version of a monkey enclosure. There was a troop of baboons that inhabited those stony enclaves, we were told. Baboons, snakes like puff adders that don’t move when you step on them (they just bite and sit there gleefully while your leg inflates to match their namesake). Oh, and a leopard.

Yes, my friends. A leopard.

Now, you’d think growing up in Australia – with 8 of the world’s 10 most venomous snakes, sharks, crazy insects and all sorts of weird-but-not-wonderful creepy crawlies – I would be immune to the fauna-related frightfulness induced upon many less regularly exposed human beings. And indeed, when I’m at home, I’m pretty chilled. I know they’re there, but unless we’re talking about cockroaches and toads (apologies in advance – my weaknesses are all coming out today), I don’t usually lose my cool.

Well, hiking in Africa is a different story, as I realised through my more-rapid-than-usual heartbeat and cacophony of negative thoughts that went something like this:

There is a leopard in these mountains. A leopard! That’s the second biggest African cat! Oh my gosh. Who the heck goes for a walk through leopard territory? This is a suicide mission! We haven’t even packed band-aids, let alone done any feline self-defence training. If I see the leopard, I will freeze. I will not know what to do, and since I’m walking at the back and I’m the smallest, it’s definitely going to be me that gets taken. If it’s not the leopard, it will be a snake – we’re walking through long grass – I was always told NEVER to walk through long grass. And these snakes don’t even move! Oh no and now I’m looking at the ground because I’m sure there are heaps of snakes but really I should be looking at the mountains because somewhere in there is a troop of baboons and I guarantee one of them is going to steal my water bottle. Why on earth did I agree to this?!?

In retrospect, these thoughts were ludicrous. Of course it was extremely unlikely that we would come face to face with the leopard, the snakes or even the baboons. Yes, the chance was there, but my fears were massively out of proportion with reality.

All of this got me thinking about fear: what it does to us, and perhaps more importantly – what it stops us from. Here’s what I realised:

  1. Fear stops you from seeing the full picture / the big perspective.

When I was hiking through the fynbos, head down, looking for snakes, I wasn’t looking straight ahead. All I was thinking about was what could go wrong – I wasn’t looking at the beauty that lay ahead – in my case, an extraordinary view over the valley.

Isn’t it sad that when we’re afraid of something, our vision somehow becomes minimised? What do we miss, by focusing on the problem at hand? And what’s the greater purpose to our current struggle? Does fire not strengthen the clay; do valleys of trial not magnify life’s peaks?

2. Fear steals your joy

Being afraid of leopards, snakes and baboons occupied so much of my brain space that morning; there was little room left for anything else. Along our hike, there were spectacular wildflowers all around us, there was beautiful, moon-like mountain scenery and a clear blue sky. I didn’t notice any of this until I consciously began to work on drowning out my negative thoughts.

How often do we let negative thinking control our brain when we’re faced with a fear, or confronted with a challenge we don’t know how to deal with? It seems easier, somehow, to focus on the bad than to turn our minds to what can bring us joy. We let ourselves get caught up in these negative thoughts and we miss out on the things that could lift us up. Are you letting fear steal your joy?

3. Fear stops you from being aware of the things that can help you.

As I marched through the long grass, my eyes barely wandered from the path ahead. If I hadn’t looked up and around occasionally, I would have missed the little stripes of blue paint on the rocks, guiding the way to our final destination. I wouldn’t have seen the little piles of rocks that others had left where the path was almost invisible, helping us to find our way back to the trail.

When we face difficulties in life, chances are, there’s someone else who’s been there. If you don’t know them, maybe they’ve written a book, or a blog post, or sung a song about it. Who is around you that could help you through the situation you’re in now? What resources are you not taking advantage of in this season of life, that could push you forward to a place where fear no longer has a place in your inner world?

Guys, I know you’ll be thinking that this blog is getting deeper every time you read it. I apologise, but I don’t. I like words – funny ones and kind ones, mainly – but also deep ones. If you know me at all you’ll know that I’d much rather a conversation about something that’s on your heart than a conversation about work or the weather (though my job and clouds both bring me significant happiness as well).

This blog was always designed as a way for me to share my reflections about the world around me – a way to open a door, if you will, to intrigue your senses so much that you’d want to come in and experience what I’m sharing with you for yourself. But it was also designed to be a conversation about important things, heart things. Things I don’t think we talk about often enough. So, thanks for sticking it out with me today.

To lighten the mood a little, I thought I’d share one of my favourite captures of our 3 days in the Southern Cederberg Mountains – the place where we went on the beautiful hike mentioned above. We had an incredible time there, actually. Once I got over my fears I completely relaxed, and by the end of our time at the Rooibosch Cottage I didn’t want to ever be anywhere else ever again. Nature’s silence – which is not very silent – was a magnificent alternative to the city hustle and bustle and the view of mountains will just never get old. I’m so thankful to have these opportunities to travel. But about that picture – and I apologise if it’s a crude way to end – here are, for your African animal photo collection, two dassies mating! You may not appreciate it, but appreciate the timing – these animals are SKITTISH, so to capture them at all is a feat. To get this intimate moment, well, we’re getting pretty close to safari-quality. And since Tyson and I aren’t doing any safaris on this trip, this is going to be as good as it gets. 😉

Speak to you soon!

Of flowers, flamingos and arriving

It always takes me a little while to feel like I’ve arrived somewhere when I travel.

It amazes me constantly, this weird duplicity that exists between home and away, between your normal and someone else’s – even when there are thousands of kilometres in between. When I’m at home, everything feels normal to me – life has its usual rhythm, that’s my everyday world. Yet when I arrive in a destination, be it a 10-hour flight or a 20-hour flight away from my little patch of the planet, life is normal there too – it has its usual rhythm, and it’s someone else’s everyday world.

Whilst I’m not really part of it, I’m suddenly plonked into this other world and can stay there for as long as I like (or can afford). In some ways, I’m an observer of this ‘other normal,’ watching with keen fascination the intricacies of a life so different to my own; but in many ways, really, I am a partaker in this other normal, living and breathing in the same way that all those around me are, going about my business as if nothing has changed.

It makes me realise that the world is small, and that although we are all uniquely different in our backgrounds and in our sense of what ‘normal’ looks like, existentially we are all the same – we are all humans, living on the same planet, spinning around the same sun, created (at least according to my belief) by the same master creator.

I know what you’re thinking: Gee, Lina, this is a little deep for a Thursday afternoon. You’re right, and you might be surprised to learn that no delectable South African wine has yet contributed to this second instalment of my 2018 Africa narrative.

But be rest assured – there is a point to my pondering.

As mentioned, it takes me a while to feel like I’ve arrived when I go somewhere. I know it sounds weird, but there’s no other way I can think to explain the feeling. It may be jetlag, lack of sleep, the number of Bloody Marys consumed since departing BNE International or an aggregate of the above, but whatever it is, I need time for it all to sink in.

Well, my friends. Let me tell you what helps with that:

FLAMINGOS.

Yes, you read that right. And don’t worry – I too thought that flamingos only existed in zoos and in the 1992 Disney classic, Aladdin. But they don’t! In fact, in South Africa’s Western Cape, flamingos exist on the side of the road.

Yes, I know. That’s not normal. But alas – here it is! In this particular instance of sighting the long-legged, pink-feathered, red-eyed wading birds, they were smack bang beside a normal residential road with houses on the other side of them, casually shuf-shuf-shuffling through the water, feeding on algae and shrimp like it was the most un-phasing thing in the world. And to be fair, to them it likely was. To me, on the other hand, it meant only one thing: welcome to Africa – I have arrived!

Ironically, it wasn’t the first time we’d caught sight of flamingos on this trip. We’d just spent two nights in Langebaan, a small seaside village about 120km north of Cape Town, and on our one-day drive through the adjoining West Coast National Park (in search of zebras frolicking in wildflowers – which we didn’t find – though we found LOTS of wildflowers), we had seen flamingos from far away. We got very excited then too, mind you – they were flamingos in the wild, no less – but it’s always going to be a bit more expected that you see weird and wonderful animals when you’re in a protected area, like a national park.

Anyway. We saw flamingos in the park and we saw flamingos by the road. In between these exciting and bucket-list ticking life moments, we ate copious amounts of seafood, discovered that ostriches also like wildflowers, realised that not all towns in South Africa are crazy about security and stuck our toes in the Atlantic Ocean. Oh, and I was told by a lady I had never met that I have such a cute face – like a doll! But those are all stories for another day, perhaps – or likely not. Mostly I’m just summarising because I know that since I mentioned wine, you’ve been dying to have a glass yourself.

I think I might join you, actually.

Cheers (to the wine, and for finishing this post) – and until my next ramble!