A Wine-Filled Welcome to Cape Town
Our final stop before Christmas break, as Katie dubbed it, was to the country of South Africa. We were headed to Cape Town for a few days, where we would meet up with Adam’s cousin Emilee before heading out on a six-day tour if the country. Adam had found terrific deal on this tour with a company called Earthstompers and we decided that it would likely never be much cheaper for any of us Americans to fly to South Africa than from where we would be in Egypt. And, while our tour of Egypt focused almost entirely on historical sites and cities, out tour of South Africa would focus mainly on nature, with lots of hikes, great views, and trips to see wildlife. We were super excited to get out of the cities and see another side of this great continent.
This is the first of three posts on our trip to South Africa. Sorry to split it up again but we crammed way too much into our time here and took far to many photographs to keep it to just one post. This one covers our time in Cape Town, prior to Emilee’s arrival and the beginning of our tour with Earthstompers.
What We Did
Day 140 (12/9/16): After a 16-hour flight, which took us through the tiny and extremely wealthy nation of Qatar, and over 22 hours in travel status, we finally arrived at our apartment in central Cape Town. We were in an awesome and trendy part of the city. However, our first day, we found ourselves so exhausted that our activities were limited to acquiring food from the burger place downstairs and running to the grocery store a few blocks away. Once we returned from the grocery store, we settled in, and took naps. Around 9:00 at night we awoke to make BLTs (this was necessary since we had spent the past three weeks without access to pork because of the Islamic nature of the countries we were in), and then promptly went back to sleep, so we would be energized for the next day.
Day 141 (12/10/16): The night before we had made a somewhat feeble attempt to get ourselves booked on a wine tour through South Africa’s famous Stellenbosch area for today, so when Katie rushed into my room at 7:30 in the morning and told us to get dressed because we were getting picked up for it in half an hour, I was surprised and excited. We hurriedly made ourselves ready and were outside when the van came rolling up. We picked up some more participants, dubbed “the family” by our guide, and made our way to the first winery. We learned about the grapes in the area and tasted five or six different estate wines, pairing them with a new food that would become one of my absolute favorites in South Africa: biltong (more on this later). We purchased a bottle we liked and reboarded the bus. Our next winery had an incredible setting overlooking the mountains and a field full of zebras and springbok. There we paired six of the wines with different kinds of local cheeses. After the tasting, we each purchased a local craft beer to drink while wandering around the grounds and playing with the dogs (all the wineries seemed to have at least one K-9 mascot). The next winery was our lunch stop. We split a bottle of wine while eating tomato, onion, and cheese toasties, a popular South African sausage called boerewors, chicken, and various salads. At this point, Adam was on the phone sorting out an issue with Emilee’s flight over, so he did not eat much (this would prove disastrous later). After lunch, we toured the wine facilities and got to sample a wine straight from the aging barrel, which we had never done before. We wrapped up our time there and went to the next winery (en route two bottles of wine disappeared between the group J), where we got to participate in a chocolate and wine pairing. In the cellar, we sampled five estate wines with five different types of homemade, herb infused chocolates. Feeling pretty good already, we headed for the final winery, which had a more laid back-feel and culminated in a couple of us running around trying to catch chickens. On our way back to town, Katie and I had a hat party, while the boys agreed to meet our guide and his fiancé at a local bar back in Cape Town called the Beer House. We played a game of cards at the apartment before walking two blocks from our place to the bar, where we enjoyed a couple of beers and socialized. For most of us, the day’s activities proved too much, and we ended up turning in early (and some of us without our wallets).
Day 142 (12/11/16): All the wine of yesterday turned into a bit of a nasty hangover today. We were not up to doing much at all until around mid-day. We made our way across the street to Clark’s Bar and Dining Room for some bloody mary’s and greasy food. Some of the group fell back to sleep for a little bit afterwards. However, not wanting to miss out on one of the best things to do in Cape Town, Table Mountain National Park, we eventually dragged our butts out of the apartment and headed for the mountain. Although we had originally intended to hike it, it had gotten late in the day and we decided instead to take the cable car up to the top for the sunset. The line took forever, but once we boarded the car we found it to be awesome. It spun around as it ascended, giving you a terrific view of Cape Town and the mountain no matter where you were in the car. We got to the top and immediately discovered parts of the park to be overrun with these large guinea pig-looking animals called Rock Hyrax. A local told us their common name was a dassie and that they were a bit like squirrels in South Africa in their commonality, although their closest relative was actually the elephant. We found them to be fearless, approaching humans regularly hoping for snacks. We spent the next hour and a half exploring the top of Table Mountain, climbing rocks and trying to see both the view of Cape Town from the one side, and a view of the Atlantic Ocean from the other. We found a good spot on the ocean side and watched our first sunset in the country. Afterwards, we heard a siren signaling the closure of the park and made our way back to the cable car for our journey down. We returned to our apartment after dusk, and Adam promptly headed to the airport to pick up his cousin Emilee. We greeted her when she arrived and spent the rest of the evening watching TV and relaxing, ready for our tour to begin the following morning.
What We Learned
- Stay near Bree Street in Cape Town. Bree Street in incredibly trendy and chalk-full of cool boutique bars and restaurants. It is also very close to other popular streets for socializing such as Long Street, but is less touristy and a bit safer. Our guide Cindy told us when she picked us up that we had one of the best spots in the area, and that when she goes out in Cape Town she frequents the Street. She also indicated that the bloody mary’s at Clarke’s across the street were commonly known to be the best in the city.
- The food in Cape Town is very similar to what you may find back home in the United States. While there definitely are some local specialties, their diet is very meat focused, like ours. Their most common traditional meal is called a braii (barbeque), and consists of boerewors, sosaties, kebabs, and marinated chicken. Like everywhere else, you will find burger joints all over as well. Maybe, however, it felt the most familiar to me since we had just come from Egypt and Morocco, but who knows
- The wine produced in and around Cape Town is so good, it is worth a trip out to do some tastings. I had an absolute blast on our tour and would highly recommend the company Wine Flies if you are considering one. For approximately $55, you got transport, lunch, complimentary pairings of dried meat, cheese, and chocolate, and five to six tastings at five different wineries. The company worked hard to make the tour extremely interactive. We were split into teams at the end and charged with completing a quiz based on information gained throughout the day about the region and the wine-making process, and the winning team got a bottle of wine. Additionally, when we got back in the car, we were given a variety of “drinking hats” to wear, which made for interesting pictures. We met some terrific people on our tour who gave us terrific suggestions for the rest of our travels both in and out of the country.
- If possible, spend the entire day at Table Mountain National Park. Once we actually managed to out of bed and get up, I instantly regretted not going up earlier. It was truly a beautiful park. Not only were the views terrific, but the flowers and plants were in full bloom. The park had loads of hiking trails and terrific spots for picnics (they allow you to bring in all your own food and drinks, including alcoholic beverages). Based on recommendations from other travelers I met on our trip, I would also recommend hiking up to the top. We were told it was not an arduous hike and it gave you different awesome perspectives of the area. If, however, you cannot or do not want to get up there earlier, the park sells discount cable car passes online for sunset (after 6 p.m.). But get them early, as they were sold out when we looked for them and we had to pay full price for only two hours atop the mountain.
- Sunset on Table Mountain was beautiful. It sets over the ocean and you get just the most amazing view of the peaks.
- At the last winery, we were in more of a farm-like setting, complete with chickens. Upon seeing another guy in our group holding and petting one of the chickens, the boys decided they wanted to have that experience also. So, they proceeded to chase the chickens around. Justin successfully wrangled an older chicken, who seemed a bit more docile. Adam went after a younger, more human-wary chicken and was unsuccessful.
- On the way back to Cape Town after the tour, we found ourselves to be the last people in the bus to get dropped off. So, while the boys talked with our guide, Katie and I decided to have a hat party in the backseat. We took turns modeling all the different drinking hats available on-board and snapping pictures. The results were only slightly embarrassing……