Thursday, March 27, 2008
Back in 1996 Sea Shell Sal and I went to South Africa for two weeks. We visited Capetown, Sun City and of course went on safari.
It is the most stunning, confusing, compelling trip I've ever been on. Visiting is an exercise in adaptation. The country is spectacular in its beauty and crushingly depressing in its poverty. Capetown is a photogenic cosmopolitan city bordered on multiple sides by shanty towns of indescribable squalor. Sun City is your worst Disney/Las Vegas nightmare. It is the only place in the country where gambling and pornography are allowed and only the wealthiest of citizens can afford to visit. It was crawling with tourists, primarily from Asia.
That said, it was 1996, apartheid had ended and Nelson Mandela was President. There was a true sense of optimism and hope in the country. While the country would struggle with spasms of violence and questionable leaders after Mandela, I have watched with a tourist's pride as it has grown into an increasingly stable voice in an otherwise dysfunctional continent.
So, why this story? Well, as you read this, Wine Wizard Bob is winging his way to South Africa for a wine industry sponsored promotional tour. As Bob put it, he's traveling to Africa, "to converse, confer and otherwise hob-nob with his fellow wizards" (name the movie).
He will be visiting numerous wine producers in the Paarl and Stellenbosch areas of South Africa. Besides touring wineries and eating the likes of grilled impala and Bobotie, he will also get the chance to go on safari. Safari is one of the great experiences of my life. You sit in roofless Land Rovers and get to within a few feet of lions, rhino, leopards, baboons and the like. This is not Disneyland. Most of the animals are carnivores. Never have I felt so much like bait in my life.
Everyday after our jeep tour, we would go on "walkabout" into the veldt. Our guide always carried a high powered rifle and we were constantly instructed not to get separated from the group. Our biggest fear was from lions.
Lions are extremely territorial and protective of their cubs. When on walkabout, we were all issued small whistles for our hikes. We were to blow the whistles at random times in order to warn the lions of our presence and to, hopefully, have them move off. Additionally, we were issued strongly flavored cinnamon gum. Lions have a keen sense of smell and it is believed that the scent of the gum warns them of our proximity. We were constantly on the lookout for signs of recent lion activity, particularly lion dung. How did we know it was lion dung? The dung gave off a pleasant cinnamon scent and was embedded with many small whistles.
That is a very old joke.
Before WW Bob left I asked him to recommend a few South African wineries for us:
Glen Carlou, Paarl Valley. A winery owned by the Hess Vineyards of California. They produce very good chardonnay and shiraz, typically at $15-$25/bottle.
Graham Beck Wines. Very good merlots and sparkling wines (goes great with bobotie). Also about $15-$25/bottle
Ken Forrester Wines. Famous for their Petit Chenin, though that one can be harder to find. Prices range from $15-$60/bottle. A strong, reliable producer.
That's all folks. Be back soon. What do you think of the new look?
The lion photo is courtesy of National Geographic, photographer Chris Johns.