One of the main events of our Cape Town trip was visiting the wine region. A major catalyst towards our decision to visit the country at all was our local South African wine bar back home. We were itching to see the rolling hills and fields of grapes that bring about our favorite bottles of vino. We booked a tour with Wine Flies that visited both Franschhoek and Stellenbosch for some boozy tastings and a little area history. Our van was piled full of visitors from all areas of the world and soon we were out of the congested heart of Cape Town and driving alongside open country. We were given some time to explore the small town of Franschhoek on foot before jetting off to our first winery. Franschhoek is one of South Africa’s oldest towns, once populated by French settlers. The small downtown section can be walked front to back in about ten minutes, with parks and quaint architecture on one end and shops and cafes on the other.
I was already overheated from my ten minute walk and I still didn’t have a glass of wine in my hand. It was painfully obvious that I still had no stamina for the African sun. “Pitiful” may be a better word for it.
Solution…drink strong alcohol. Wine in South Africa generally runs 14-15% percent ABV and packs a punch. That’s probably why it’s so easy to drink but hard to forget (the next day). We got generous tastings at 4 wineries between Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, including chocolate and cheese pairings. I nearly fell off my chair when the cashier told me that the bottle of wine I was buying at winery #3 only cost $5. That 2 litre alcohol limit at US immigration was the only saving grace for my liver.
Lunch was a South African braai (BBQ) at one of the wineries. We got a plate full of homemade sausage, chicken on skewers, a pressed sandwich, and loads of sides. Slowly but surely, we soaked up the fermented grape ocean inside our stomachs while a lazy winery dog slept in the sunshine nearby.
I was relaxed and carefree as the van drove us back to Cape Town, but leaving the city means seeing the way people live just outside the borders of bustle and concrete. Townships run for dozens of miles alongside highways that connect airports and commercial hubs. There are thousands of loosely constructed rectangle buildings with ribbed metal roofs that reflect the piercing sun. Most have satellite dishes on top and poles with utility wires stand every few meters. The wires drop into individual structures like a tangled spider web. Then there were some homes scattered along the outskirts without satellites and too far from the web of electrical wiring to gain access. In the evening, kids played on a makeshift soccer field alongside the roadway, kicking up dirt as the ball moved between them. We whizzed by on the highway in a blur, music playing, and gloriously privileged. Don’t ever forget that.
Our final moments in Cape Town were spent eating (naturally). We bid goodbye to some wine tour friends at happy hour that night, one of whom was set to go camping in Botswana for the following 10 days. We were sun-tired and wine-saturated, but still enjoyed dinner and a long night’s sleep.
The next afternoon, we went back to the Bo-Kaap neighborhood and I had a big plate of bobotie and a cool mango lassi at Biesmiellah Restaurant that soothed my soul. The bobotie is a do-not-miss. It’s a sweet and savory combination of ground beef, yellow rice, baked egg, and tangy chutney that sends you on a flavor journey. In retrospect, I didn’t have room in my stomach for the lassi (which is essentially sweet liquid breakfast) but I have never been the best at portion control when I travel. Definitely worth the food baby I carried around for the rest of the day.
We were off to the airport to fly to Kruger National Park, leaving the city for rural land and wildlife. I was feeling really good. Being away revitalizes the silliness and lightness of living. People here are very easy to be around. They are warm and comical. They are relaxed and open to jokes, regardless of language or background. The biggest difference between here and home is that there are very few walls between strangers. It isn’t an excessive degree of “friendliness”, but more the feeling of talking to a cousin you haven’t seen in a while when it’s just your bartender, Uber driver, or somebody in line at the store. I’ll really miss it.