Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cape Town Part 5–The Ride

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Mark wanted to save the best of Cape Town for last and the best, in his mind, was renting a motorcycle for a day. You may already know that my children did not inherit their love of motorcycles and dirt bikes from me. But I am always willing to go for a ride as long as it’s not too much freeway, too fast, or too often.

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Mark reserved us a new FLHTCU Ultra Classic Electra Glide from Harley-Davidson Tyger Valley. The bright yellow color was a surprise, but we didn’t have a choice. The skies were grey again, but fortunately we could borrow jackets and rain gear.

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Tyger Valley is an eastern suburb of Cape Town, which meant that we were close to the winelands we visited the day before. We decided to return and ride through Franschhoek, where Mark had seen a hat he liked. Mark is one of those shoppers who likes to think, which means re-shopping. Me, if I see something, I usually buy it then or not at all. It was a bit déjà vu, having been there just 24 hours earlier. The hat Mark wanted, and ended up buying, was perfect for the Kruger safari.

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It wasn’t pouring rain, as it had been the day before, so we grabbed a coffee and walked the town. Franschhoek (Dutch for French Corner) is one of South Africa’s oldest towns, and filled with well-preserved examples of Cape Dutch architecture.

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There are plenty of gift shops for tourists, but when we were there it was blessedly quiet. At one shop, we saw this display of carved figures depicting Africans dressed in colonial costumes. We saw wooden figures everywhere throughout our trip, but these were not the usual animals, embracing humans, or spirits. They seemed to be … making fun. But of whom?

Doing a bit of research, I discovered that they are folk art that originated on the Ivory Coast, and depict the local inhabitants’ impression of what they would look like if they dressed like colonial people.

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After Franschhoek, we rode south through the mountains. The texture of the clouds rivaled that of the landscape, and I was shooting photos with one hand, holding on to Mark with the other. We stopped at a pullout overlooking the valley, and our elevation at 655 meters provided the most spectacular views of the winelands.

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As we descended, we passed several bicyclists laboring uphill toward us. They didn’t look much younger than we are, and as much as I love bicycling, I was glad we were riding something motorized.

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Our destination – or better termed half way point and stop for lunch – was Betty’s Bay, between Cape Point and Point Agulhas on a part of the coast we had not seen. The weather kept changing. Whereas it was cloudy in the mountains, when we emerged from the pass we were in the sunshine.

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The coast was brimming with wildflowers amid the scorched remains of the recently burned scrub. Every winter the environmental agency conducts these prescribed burns to manage the fast-growing trees. Have you ever been to a place in the spring where a disastrous burn occurred the year before? It’s a thing of beauty, to watch the plants reappear.

Africa (845)This coast is an isolated, windswept place. I expected a village like the ones we drove through on our Cape Point tour, but this was a much more remote place. I don’t know the demographics, but I imagine that many places are vacation homes and can be rented. This would be a great place to get away from the press of civilization, relax to the sounds of the ocean and sea breeze, and watch for ships rounding the Cape of Good Hope.

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From Betty’s Bay, we rode north on the coast highway to the harbor town of Gordon’s Bay.  This stretch of the ride looked so much like California that it was a little scary. I kept twisting around to take photos of the coastline behind us, and Cape Point to the left.

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Then we came around a curve, and there was civilization. We wound our way through Gordon’s Bay, then through the town of Stellenbosch where we had stopped at the end of our winelands tour the day before, and got back to the freeway, headed to Tyger Valley to return the bike just a few minutes before closing time.

Harley ride 2 Fusefinal

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I had so wanted to love riding on the back of a touring motorcycle. We thought maybe if I was sitting in my own seat instead of perched on the back of Mark’s I would be more relaxed. But I wasn’t, really. The good news is that I have realized why. It wasn’t the bike. It was the fact that we were driving on the “wrong” side of the road all day. And on the freeway, which I don’t like on any bike, I was never sure whether we were in the fast lane, or the slow lane. The best of it, for me, were the empty roads out on the desolate coast. That was heaven. And, it is a great way to take photos, although I need to be a little more brave out twisting around. Or, maybe not …

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But back to reality. While we saw many gorgeous sights on the Cape, I will never forget the townships. Every place has them, even Betty’s Bay.

  Africa (212)Viktor, our Cape Point tour driver, told us that he’s married to a Colored woman, and they have a daughter. He is White, they are Colored, and they live in a lower middle class neighborhood, in a house like the ones here. He said the terms White, Colored, and Black are used by everyone to describe people, without the same reaction, the same power, as in the USA. It’s just a way to describe and identify people.

Or, maybe it’s that the racism is something they just can’t deny, so they don’t.

The social and racial fabric of Cape Town is complex, the depth of which I can only begin to comprehend. I did pick up some new perspective on the roots of segregation as I learned about Cape history and its townships, middle class neighborhoods, and wealthy districts. Afrikaners are descendants of the original Dutch settlers, the historic ruling class. The first slaves were not indigenous black Africans, but people brought from Indonesia and Madagascar during the 17th century to ease the labor shortage in the growing settlement. These were the first Cape Colored people, and many of today’s Colored are their descendants. Later, as the city grew, the Black population outnumbered the others and was seen as a cultural threat. The White minority government passed apartheid laws curtailing the rights of Blacks and designating residential areas based on race, which were in effect from 1948 to the 1990’s. They identified and segregated four races: White, Colored, Indian, and Black.

 Africa (872)For me, coming originally from Detroit, a major American city that was torn apart by racism and eroded by white flight, it was a shock to see the squalor of the townships in such a developed, civilized city. Even after traveling in India, and seeing slums where men defecated alongside the railroad tracks as we went by, it was painful and shocking to see the densely packed shacks and imagine life inside the fences. Segregation so organized and entrenched was hard to witness.

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Still, it was fascinating to see, it was colorful and alive, and I couldn’t help but think about how, inside those townships, people live out their days surrounded by both dirt and dignity, love and violence, hope and despair. And there is hope, as the ramshackle township dwellings are slowly being replaced with better housing, and most houses now at least have electricity, running water, and toilets. Although, they are sometimes porta-toilets.

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So, there is hope for better conditions. But is there hope for opportunity? Education? Good jobs?

Politics and corruption in government are impediments to social progress now. The pendulum swings.

  Olga, the Winelands tour guide, talked about the townships. She said she went to a celebration in one, with a friend who knew someone there. They left before dark. After dark, even the police do not dare to enter. There are tours where visitors can go into the township with a guide. Our friends Terry and Pete went on one, and they liked it – although it was clear that there was a line inside the township beyond which the tourists would never be taken. I would have liked to go on one of those tours, but didn’t. I didn’t think there was enough time, and I wasn’t sure if I had enough energy, either physical or emotional. Did I have enough information, or the right frame of mind? I just wasn’t … ready.

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So I could only take pictures, mostly blurry, as we drove by. We hope to go back and if we do, then maybe I will do a township tour. If it’s still possible, still safe. Maybe by the time we come back, these will all have been replaced with new cement brick, metal-roofed houses. What do you think?
Thanks for reading!

Cape Town Part 4- Cape Winelands

Fairview Wine & Cheese – Solms-Delta Winery – Haute Cabriere – Lanzerac Wine Estate

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“I want you to take a picture of everything I drink today,” Mark said. Really? “Yes. I want to document it. Just the first sip. Starting with my morning tea.” Thus, at the hour of 0700, I began to document our odyssey of drinks.


One could spend months, even years, exploring South Africa’s winelands, which are spread out in a boomerang shape and concentrated on the Cape. We had one day. The weather was a bit overcast – we were glad that we’d already been to the top of Table Mountain the day before. To me, a rainy day is the perfect setting to run from winery to winery, ducking inside to sip wine while brushing off raindrops.

We were picked up by tour guide Olga at 0830, joined by two other couples, and headed east out of City Center to the winelands while Olga gave us an overview of the day’s itinerary with a short explanation of why she had chosen each particular winery. Unlike the Cape Point Tour with its itinerary dictated by geography, the Cape Winelands Tour is influenced by the tour guides’ personal tastes and experience, which I really liked. We were going to some of Olga’s favorite places.

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We began in the Paarl region. Olga likes Paarl because it’s more low-key than the popular Stellenbosch and Franschhoek regions we would visit later, and she pointed out the Afrikaans language monument, which we could see overlooking the valley from its nearby mountain perch.

It looked like just a single, slender stone obelisk soaring into the sky, but if we had gotten closer we would have found a grouping of oversized concrete structures that symbolize the multicultural nature of the language. Afrikaans was developed during the 18th century as a combination of languages consisting of mostly Dutch (over 90%,) with African Bantu and Khoisan (the clicking language, which Olga demonstrated,) Portuguese, and Malay. It was considered a Dutch dialect – derogatorily called “kitchen Dutch” – until the early 20th century, when it was officially recognized as a distinct language.

Africa (654)Our day began with a tasting at the historic Fairview Wine & Cheese.
Fairview began wine production in 1699, and grape cultivation has continued to today. In 1937, the farm was purchased by a Lithuanian named Back, and has been run by the family ever since. The visionary son who inherited the property in 1978 replanted grapes, including new varietals.

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He also purchased a herd of milking goats in 1980, was the first goat cheese producer in South Africa, and remains the leading producer of artisanal cheeses. I remember the wineries of Napa and Sonoma, California, in the 1970’s and 80’s. Wine and cheese pairings were not on the radar yet, but you can book them now. It’s so fun to think about what was happening in South Africa, so far away, and yet on a parallel course. I’m working on organizing a Sonoma/Napa wine country reunion and tour with our Abu Dhabi friends. This South Africa experience has set the bar high!

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Mark especially likes goats, and Fairview’s Goat Tower, only the second such tower ever built, is famous around the world. Although we didn’t get to see the goat climb the stairs, it was a special sight. The iconic Goat Tower, built in 1981, is integral to the Fairview brand.

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If I had known what we were in for, I would have skipped the More Quarters breakfast, good as it was. Fairview’s sommelier presented us with a sumptuous pairing of eight wines with eight artisan cheeses, along with bits of bread and three olive oils. At 10:09, I recorded Mark’s (and my) first sip of wine. What a way to start the day! “Pace yourself” became my mantra.

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On to Stellenbosch. Olga took us next to the Franschhoek Wine Valley and Solms-Delta Winery, another historic venue, this one with a dynamic, community-focused mission in addition to preserving an historic winery and making great wine.  As we sat down, we realized that we were in a museum.

Africa (679)Museum van de Caab (translated “from the Cape”) is a museum of the people who once lived, and now live, on the land. Indigenous Black people were displaced when European settlers came in, seized the land, and established farms. The new landowners then imported Colored slaves from Indonesia and Malaysia. The local Drakenstein people are their descendents. Like so much of what we’ve discovered on our travels, it’s a conflicted story, beautiful and painful, elegant and violent.

When celebrated neuroscientist Mark Solms began his winemaking venture there in 2002, he recognized that the property came with people who had been living on and farming the land for generations. In addition to planting Rhone varietals – his family were vintners in the Mainz region of Germany, where Mark and I have traveled – he established two trusts to benefit the local people. The  Wijn de Caab Trust works to break the historic cycle of poverty of the tenants and employees on the estate by providing improved housing, medical care, and opportunity for advanced education.

A second trust, the Delta Trust, “aims to contribute to nation-building on a local scale, focusing first on the Franschhoek Valley, and more broadly, the Cape Winelands. Its mission is to contribute to greater social cohesion and inclusiveness in South African communities (which for obvious historical reasons were unhealthily divided) through careful, patient and creative local cultural work.” 

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This includes arts, music, history, and food.The Museum van de Caab is a cultural center where the local people can research their colorful heritage. The musical heritage of the ordinary local people, and Cape Winelands cuisine, are celebrated each year during the Franschhoek Oesfees harvest festival.

These two videos tell the story and give the flavor of this amazing community.

This video will make you want to dance. It is reminiscent of New Orleans, I think. I haven’t been there yet.

This video tells the story of what the winery programs mean, from the workers’ point of view.

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But hey, let’s get to the wines.

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Upon leaving Solms-Delta the dark skies made good on their threat, and scrambling into the minivan we dodged a drenching rain shower.

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After lunch in Franschhoek (more about this town in the motorcycle blog,) Olga took us to Haute Cabriere, where we tasted Pierre Jourdan sparkling wine and brought away a bottle of honey-flavored Ratafia, a chardonnay fortified with Pierre Jourdan brandy. We do like our nightcaps, from time to time.

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 Despite the weather, or maybe because of it, the scenery was stunning. Silver clouds, backlit by the sun, illuminated the patchwork valley and mountains in the background, while the foreground was a delicate riot of flowers in red, white and green, the colors vibrant against the contrasting sky. The next day, on our motorcycle ride, it was even more spectacular. Look for the Harley ride story.

Our final stop was the most decadent. The 300-year-old Lanzerac Wine Estate is a hotel and spa, as well as a spectacular venue for weddings. But the true decadence was the tasting – we had the Chocolate & Wine Pairing with Premium Wines.

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Sauvignon Blanc paired with a white fresh citrus and apple chocolate
Chardonnay paired with a white lemon verbena chocolate
Merlot paired with a dark malted cherry chocolate
Pinotage paired with a chocolate dipped cherry
Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a Cape Malay Spice chocolate

 I am not a chocoholic; far from it. I love the idea of chocolate, but for me a little bit goes a long, long way. These were amazing, huge wands of the stuff. And I don’t really understand white chocolate although these two were very interesting, and delicious. However, I do love a bite of dark chocolate with a sip of red wine, so my favorite was the Pinotage/ malted cherry chocolate combo. And now, all that said, this was something I would like to do with my friends at home in the USA.

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By this time, as we left Lanzerac, our little group was literally staggering, as much from the food as the wines. Any one of the four tastings could have made the trip and in combination, it was an unforgettable day.

What was our favorite wine? Well, we don’t really remember … but we fell in love, generally, with Pinotage, South Africa’s signature grape variety that’s a cross between Pinot Noir and Hermitage, now called Cinsault. It’s got a deep, strong, smoky, earthy flavor, and is also good when blended with Merlot.

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We also loved Olga. She was so sweet, comfortable to be around, and you could tell that she would be fun to go wine tasting with. But she was the driver, so all she could do was watch.

Mark’s glass-by-glass record.

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