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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Out of Town, Part I: Part II

...the exciting conclusion.

Leaving my final paper in the dust at long last, we proceeded along the coast…

But first – you have no idea where I’m talking about, do I? Let me refer you to the map:

click it to see it mo bigga

Yesterday, I posted about numbers 1-3, more or less. That took us from Monday through Wednesday morning. From Hermanus, we pushed on all the way to a wee town called Wilderness for a late lunch (not stopping at Cape Agulhas, though it is the southern-most tip of Africa; it didn’t look like the sort of place that might have a decent antelope carpaccio). Notably, the road from Hermanus to Mossel Bay veered away from the littoral into the farmbelt, and took us through what appeared to be parts of Kansas, still beautiful in a fertile, familiar way.

amber waves of same

But back on the coast in Wilderness, we dined at an American-themed bar and grill; Mel still managed to eat foreign beasties in the form of a terribly bland ostrich item that came doused in an alarming purple-grey sauce. My spinach and feta pizza was considerably less disgusting, at least in appearance. To walk these off, we spent a bit of time roaming up and down yet another stellar, completely unpopulated white-sand beach, though the frigid wind did not encourage us to stick around . Mel did get a chance to stick her toes into the Indian Ocean, which proved to be no less frigid than the Atlantic; thus did we conquer Wilderness, and pushed on to Knysna (NOOZH-nah), the mispronunciation of which entertained us repeatedly for the hours it took us to get there.

In Knysna, we were hoping to visit Mitchell’s Brewery, one of the only local beers that has survived the relentless buyout strategy of the megalithic SAB-Miller Company (that’s South African Brewing Co, who bought Miller from Phillip Morris in 2002 for a mere US$5.6BN). We were hoping they’d have a bar attached to their brewery, but alas! our extremely pleasant hostel host informed us it was only tours and tastings, and already closed at any rate, by the time we showed up. What the hay, Mitchell? Don’t you WANT foreigners to be predisposed to love your beer, so you can enter foreign markets with a leg up? Foreigners LOVE underdog micro-brews!

Sadly, we ditched Mitchell and followed our host’s directions to a nice bar/restaurant [the name of which escapes me, but I'll find it later] for sundowners , the all-purpose word for whatever you drink between 4:00 and 9:00 pm. This was perched right on an inlet of the Knysna Lagoon, such that its expansive windows afforded a 50-yard line view of a Zodiac and a speedboat braving craptastic weather to chase each other around like demented waterbugs, catching some massive air off of the choppy waves. It looked exhilarating, though of course if I’d been on either boat I’d have been sick as a dog. We came early, settled in by a fireplace, started in on wine and fruity cocktails respectively, took a liking to our cute waiter, and stayed until well after dark, and the return of the rain. You know you are truly habituated to driving on the wrong side of the road when you can make it back to your hostel in the dark, in the rain, in an unfamiliar town with inadequate street-lighting, after 4.5 hours of “sundowners,” without inadvertently pulling an American and trying to turn into oncoming traffic. I hearkened back to my former traveling days by sucking it up to sleep in an 8-bunk dorm room; we were to share it with 3 young French ‘packers who stole in silently after we’d already hit the hay at the geriatric hour, and whom we both managed to wake up in the morning for our various trips to the unattached bathroom.

Thursday morning we scooted a bit farther along the Garden Route towards Plattenburg Bay, where we finally made it to the beach on a positively beachy day. Here the water was warm enough for pleasant wading, and we spent some time puzzling over which ridiculously beautiful expanse of beach was, in fact, MOST beautiful – not the last time during this week that we would be confronted by such a conundrum.

along the path leading to the sea

beach weather, despite the toasty ensemble

But time was running short on our short week, so reluctantly we shook the sand off our feet and turned back towards Cape Town.

Instead of following the same coast home, though, we looped up onto a scenic route that included the lower chunk of the South African desert area called the Karoo. On the map above, you will see a Central Karoo region; we were right beneath that in the Klein (Little) Karoo, where the arid scrubland drew from us comparisons to the Dakotas, New Zealand, and Mars – though none of those places, to our knowledge, are as peppered with ostrich farms, nor boast sporty signs such as this one, warning us to beware of a variety of ballet-dancing ‘boks.


Many antelopes ‘round these parts are ‘boks: gemsboks, steenboks, blesboks, miscellaneousboks, and of course, the venerable springboks - namesake of the national Rugby team. (This is the family that brave Mel was trying to work her way through via the menus of the Western Cape – at a lunch stop, she tussled manfully with a tough bit of overcooked zebra steak before conceding defeat, while I fared better with the less adventurous burger, though it was drowned in what may have been the enigmatic monkey gland sauce). Despite the sign, no ‘bok attempted any flying leaps over, or into, our car. A pity; it might have enlivened the drive, though the serene otherness of the Karoo was still magnetic, in its bleak, scruffy way.

The Karoo was winding down into wineland farms when we pulled into Montagu near dusk, and our trusty Lonely Planet guided us to De Bos, the kee-YUTEST little farmhouse that ever hosted a Karoo-weary traveler. We only poked around enough to register the creepy masks over both our beds,

to be warned away from the ostrich enclosure by our hostess, and to spy the funky open-air common area, with its farmhouse chandeliers,

before we headed into the almost offensively adorable town for a dinner of chicken-and-bacon pot pies, which were surely worthy of their own picture.

Back at the guesthouse, we took a quick tour of the starry, starry South African night sky, unbesmirched by Cape Town city lights, in seach of the Southern Cross;

when you see the Southern Cross for the first time...

and met one of the busy but helpful farm sausage-dogs, who took a break from chasing invisible varmints in the lawn to shepherd us around a few outbuildings and alert us to the existence of a bourganvilla of brobdignian proportions in full flower in the backyard, before trotting off to woof importantly at some nocturnal trespassers-by.

taller than it looks

Dreamily, we floated off to our night’s sleep… which was rudely and repeatedly interrupted by the psychotic yells of some unfortunately LOUD bird - possibly the ostrich about whom we were warned, or perhaps the peacock that we spotted the next morning posing ostentatiously (and somewhat redundantly) in yet another flowering bush in that gloriously floral backyard. Despite our intermittent slumbers, Montagu’s charm nevertheless charmed us, from the grey-haired, barefoot surfer hippy giant that ran the internet-café-cum-office-supply-store, to the self-consciously French provincial breakfast spot that served up soft jazz and remarkable baked goods with sunny, measured equanimity.

someone's backyard actually looks like this.

Though it would be tough to best Montagu for the title of Favorite Spot On The Trip, Frankshoek certainly tried. Nestled between the more high-profile Wineland destinations of Paarl and Stellanbosch, Frankshoek is smaller, but still home to a number of world-class wineries, many of which house tasting centers in historic estate buildings that dot the picturesque hillsides like so many Architectural Digest covers.

ridiculously beautiful view from veranda at Vrede en Lust

cheetah sculptures guard Graham Beck estate

Mel dreams of reds to come

Though we had limited time, since most closed at 5, we sampled the wares at three – Graham Beck, Solms Delta, and Vrede en Lust - courtesy of a hometown guide named Andre who was chauffeur, sommelier, porter, local historian, (enthusiastic Stormer rugby supporter!), and concierge all in one; after escorting us to three wineries, each more lovely than the last, and guiding us through their tasting menus, he arranged a dinner for us at Dieu Donne, where Mel had a mince-and-cranberry bobotie worthy of a 6000 mile trip. The only pity there was that they did not serve food on the outdoor patio, which offered another breathtaking view of the valley; we took advantage of the view for a cocktail or two, as the sun slipped behind the sheltering mountain range, and sprightly geckos chased each other crazily around a low stone wall for our happy-hour entertainment.

After all the tastings, it’s a wonder we could manage any more drinking at all; but if our dinner libations were curtailed by fatigue and tipsiness, at least we could console ourselves with the bottles we’d purchased during our brief tour. These were just mine – you can tell, because none of them are red. Sweet, sparkly, fruity, and dangerous (just like I like my men. Ha ha! Ahem.)

We were also consoled by the pleasant working farmhouse we stayed at in Franshoek – both a vineyard and a fruit orchard, La Provence also boasted a genial hostess, full of pleasant small talk and proud of two children in college in America; several curious and vocal Collie dogs to pat; a spring-fed pool that finally allowed Mel the refreshing swim she’d been denied on so many chilly beaches; and breakfast of fresh-picked fruit and hot scones on a shady veranda which overlooked a rose garden, some poofy papyrus plants and a couple of nameless flowering trees that were alive with jewel-colored songbirds. Really? People live like this? Like, all the time? Collectively, we exhausted our supply of synonyms for “beautiful,” “picturesque,” and “jealous.”

view from inside our room

rose garden at La Provence

digging the spring-fed pool

Incidentally, it was Andre who solved the mystery of the beautiful rose bushes that grew everywhere along the roads, supported by the fences ringing the vinyards; we had speculated that they attracted cross-pollinating bees, or identified one farm versus another, but Andre told us the roses are affected first if pests or blights hit the area, so acting as a first alert for the farmers. Whatever the reason, the glorious florabundance made for some stunning roadside displays, and it lasted to within about 30 k of Cape Town, where we were thrust back into city living via the noxious fumes and stop-and-go traffic of the M2, which was under construction. Oh joy. Oh well.  We'll always have Provence.


And so our short-week jaunt along the Garden Route, the Klein Karoo, and the Winelands came to an end. And I better get this post up pronto, because it’s already 3:00 am here, and Bernardo and Svein show up in a mere 4.5 hours to pack up the truck and head off for two weeks in Botswana, Victoria Falls, and Namibia. I probably won’t have much internet connection before I get back to Cape Town, but I’ll be taking notes. Stay tuned!


  1. Kel,

    This is fantastic stuff. I miss you but I want more of this so bugger off north and bring back the Mott's!

  2. Whoo hoo!! Good, good times, even vicariously. I can practically taste that fruity tooty vino. Looking forward to the northern tour pics and stories. (and congrats on surviving to claim the well-earned MBA)