22 December 2007

up, up, and away!

Urgh... got up before 4 am for a 4:15 pickup for our balloon safari. When the driver didn't show up at 4:15 (he arrived early yesterday) we were afraid that they forgot about us, our re-booking... but yay, finally, he showed up around 4:25. No big deal; South Africans have a tendency to drive a bit fast ;-)

When we arrived at the balloon grounds, there were quite a few people already there, waiting. There was a booth set up where coffee and rusks (hard biscuits/cookies) were served, so we got some coffee and rusks while watching the crew set up the balloon.

getting more inflated

heating up the air

About hot air balloons in general

The balloon finally inflated and we were ready to board! The basket was huge and fit lots of people. There were several compartments where four people fit in one compartment. It was somewhat crowded but that was OK. Our pilot was Tracey; she has 30+ years of experience as a pilot (and also the most photographed armpits in South Africa). She gave us some instructions, particularly regarding landing, and then we were airborne. Wheeeeee!

Being airborne was... amazing... so quiet and peaceful (well, except for that noise when that hot air blaster went off)...

balloon silhouette II

The scenery... wow...


People looked so small...

people on the road, from above

And trucks looked like toys...

a truck seen from above

The weather suddenly got kind of dodgy though, at least according to Tracey, who was communicating with people on the ground who had that kind of information, so we had to land a bit sooner than planned. Safety and all. Bah. We almost landed on a tree or perhaps a house, but eventually we hit the ground properly and everything was ok...

brushing against the trees

After landing, we all celebrated with a glass of Cap classique (or orange juice for those who didn't want alcohol); some people chose mimosas. We enjoyed this as we watched the crew pack up the balloon...

packing the balloon away

Then we returned to “headquarters” for a big buffet breakfast. There were lots of goodies – eggs, bacon, beans, cheese, yoghurt, fruit salad, freshly squeezed orange juice, several different kinds of bread... and nicely chilled Cap classique of course ;-)

champagne breakfast after the balloon ride

After pigging out on this wonderful breakfast, I took several bird photos while waiting for our ride back to Melville...

purple heron (Ardea purpurea) in flight II

All of the balloon safari photos (except the bird photos) start here and end here. The birds are here...

Some stats (WGS84):
S 25°48.887'
E 027°44.288'

S 25°53.474'
E 027°36.660'

Our highest altitude was 5610 ft. above sea level; our starting point (the balloon field) was 4115 ft. above sea level. You do the math ;-)

in the Cradle - lions and rhinos and caves, oh my!

Urgh... got up before 4 am for a 4:15 pickup for our balloon ride. Well, we got picked up and after about 15-20 minutes of driving, and seeing flashes of lightning in the sky, I got a call from the guy who runs the balloon place – they weren't going to fly due to bad weather conditions. Bah. So we turned around and were delivered back to our guesthouse. (Later on we arranged for a flight the next day.)

Urgh urgh. We went back to bed and got up around 7-ish. Our hostess gave us a curious look, as we asked if it was possible to get breakfast (included with our room, but we had said we wouldn't be having any because we were going on the balloon ride hmmf). It was no problem getting breakfast, so we sat down, ate, and figured out what we were going to do... ah yes! Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage site...

I didn't write too many notes about this part of the trip. We started at Sterkfontein Caves, limestone caves that are the location of many hominid remains. Some of the more famous remains are Mrs. Ples and Little Foot. Inside the caves, the rock formations are interesting but not as spectacular as the Cango Caves or Wonder Cave. There are some interesting underground lakes though...

The next stop was the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve, also the location of the Wonder Cave.

rhinos eating

We had just missed a tour of the cave, so we drove around the park, looking at the animals, while keeping our eye on the clock to make it for the next tour. We finally got to see some white rhinos; they were not so very white as they were covered in red dirt. They're also wild, but the people running the reserve created some artificial conditions. For example, someone had left a pile of green grass for the rhinos to eat. As it was the end of winter/start of spring and the grass everywhere was dry and brown as a result, so green grass? It had to come from somewhere “manmade.” Also, they had predators in various enclosures, not mixed in with the prey as it would be in nature. What a way to tease the lions and cheetahs, being fenced in, without access to the tasty springbok grazing happily... ;-)

a lion, licking his paw

It was finally time to go to Wonder Cave. The formations inside are really fascinating, especially the one that looks like a jellyfish and the one that looks like the Virgin Mary (take that, creationists!). This was similar to though very different from Cango Caves. For one, no harrowing chimneys or narrow tunnels of love. They also use natural colored lights inside Wonder Cave, as opposed to the colored lights in Cango.

After the cave, we looked around the park some more, and stopped at the animal creche, where I got to rub a baby tiger on the belly (oooh so soft!) and meet some white lion cubs up close. The cubs were more interested in their chunks of meat than any of us...

I have mixed feelings about the interaction with cubs, but I'll leave that for The Plump Penguin some day...

We ate dinner at another Portuguese restaurant that was across the street from Nino's. Don't remember the name, and I remember eating grilled bacalhau, as nothing else was written down... :-/

09 December 2007


Aaaah, finally in Johannesburg, in a district called Melville. We arrived at our guesthouse, got our room and dumped our stuff, and then went out to find some lunch. The lady in charge of the guesthouse pointed out where we could find some restaurants, so we walked over there. The most interesting restaurant was a place called Nuno's Portuguese Restaurant. As we sat down and looked at the menu, we noticed some people at a table near us; one of the people sitting there had a huge professional SLR camera just sitting on the table, with the strap loose. All worries about this area being unsafe went up in smoke ;-) It was quite relaxed here. As opposed to downtown Johannesburg, after getting our car and driving out here... eish ;-)

Anyway, food. We were quite hungry, so we decided on both a starter and a main meal. Our starter was the snack platter. It included chorizo, liver, giblets, haloumi, trinchado, prawn cakes, and calamari. Damn, it was HUGE! That was more than enough lunch for two people... and we still had a main course to eat! ;-) It was also very, very tasty...

a very tasty and filling Portuguese goodies starter!

We had the Mozambique-style seafood curry as our main course. It was very rich and flavorful, and very nicely spiced. Yum yum yum...

Nuno's Mozambique-style seafood curry

Our wine: Windmeul Kelder Sauvignon blanc 2007
  • color: very pale gold

  • nose: guava

  • palate: dry, refreshing, fresh, pomelo, grapefruit and guava flavors. Aftertaste of lemons and lemon zest

  • grade: :-D

Heh, on the menu there was a disclaimer: We do not take responsibility for meat ordered well-done, Later on, we saw that other restaurants had this on their menus. Excellent ;-)

There were quite a few guys out trying to sell stuff made of steel thread and beads...

Oh, I also had to go to a pharmacy that was across the street from the restaurant, as I managed to pick up some kind of nasty cough on the train (because of the air conditioning system). The pharmacist on duty was lovely, and picked out some medication for me and explained the dosages... we also chatted a little as she was curious about where I was from and whether I was enjoying South Africa. This was my second visit to a pharmacy during this trip, and I'm still very impressed with the competency and professional-ness (is that a word?) I was met with... always a good thing when on the road...

We spent the rest of the day just chilling out at the guest house. We bought a bottle of wine after lunch, and we had leftovers that we had planned to eat for dinner, but we were so stuffed that we didn't need to eat at all...

But the wine... we drank that ;-)
Mischa Estate (Wellington) 2003 Shiraz
  • color: deep, opaque violet

  • nose: spices, prunes, bell peppers

  • palate: full-bodied, fruity, peppery, slightly acidic but well-rounded. Long aftertaste of sour cherries. Pleasant tannins. Would go nicely with steak, ostrich, lamb, game, hearty dishes. Very easy to drink for a South African shiraz...

  • grade: :-D-

All aboard the posh purple train of Ring of Fat doom!

02/10 – 03/10/2007
We got up quite early to get a taxi to the train station, arriving at the Premier Classe lounge a bit too early, so we had to wait outside, but that didn't really matter... while it seemed kind of dodgy in the area, we never really felt unsafe. And we didn't have to wait that long...

When the lounge opened, we checked in and sat in one of the sofas. We were served coffee and muffins while waiting for the train to arrive for boarding. While waiting, we walked around the tracks area, and watched as they were loading cars onto the train, including a bunch of Ferraris.. really weird...

Things were running a bit late; apparently a lot of the cars that were going on the train arrived late, which delayed everything. After a while, we finally boarded the train, and found our berth. It was supplied with, among other things, a bathrobe each. And slippers. Nice :)

Quite shortly after boarding, we were herded into the dining area, where we were given a glass of sparkling wine (nasty sweet – bah) and fed snacks (potato chips, nuts, and biltong) and scones and sandwiches and coffee or tea... let the feeding commence!

After the snacks and before lunch, we sat in the lounge area, enjoying the scenery from the train. We walked back and forth a lot, between our berth and the lounge area, hanging out and observing stuff. The scenery was amazing... everything from farms, vineyards, etc...

scenery from the train I

It was soon lunch time. Our lunch was:

  • Avocado ritz – shrimps in a seafood sauce, served in an avocado half. Absolutely delicious! The avocado was perfectly ripe, and the shrimps and the sauce were tasty. An excellent combination! The bread they served with it was on the dry side though...

  • Grilled hunter's steak (ordered medium rare), served with a bacon-, onion-, and mushroom sauce, tomatoes, potatoes, and vegetables. The steak was good, but a bit overcooked for medium rare...

  • strawberry custard slice, with berries and cream. Was OK... not too crazy about desserts ;-)

And the wine: Graham Beck "Railroad Red" Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
  • color: ruby red
  • nose: fruity, red berries, spices, pepper. Very aromatic
  • palate: Fruity, rounded and pleasant tanins, full-bodied. Primarily a wine to be paired with food, preferably red meat and maybe spicy dishes.
  • grade: :-)+ for food, :-) otherwise

Mini Wolfgang enjoys a Railroad Red Shiraz-Cabernet sauvignon!

After lunch, we continued to enjoy the scenery; you get a good dose of wonderful scenery from the train! It's not easy taking photos while the train is moving, but it's not impossible...

scenery from the train IX

At 3 pm it was time for high tea. We were starting to feel like geese that were being overfed to fatten up the livers, but hey... tea and cake ;-) I chose rooibos tea and carrot cake. The tea was nice, the cake was OK but a bit dry. What's with the dry baked goods here?

high tea on the Premier Classe

At some point between high tea and dinner, we were passing through the Karoo, a semi-desert region. It was raining. Quite heavily. With thunder and lightning too. At some points, while the sun was shining. And it even started to hail! In a desert! How cool is that?

hailstorm in the Karoo

Dinner was the following:
  • Marego soup – a cream of wild spinach and potato soup, flambéed with South African brandy. Very tasty!

  • Kingklip Hout Bay – pan-fried kingklip with smoked snoek cream sauce. This was also very delicious, though the fish was slightly overcooked. The sauce was very different and interesting, but quite tasty...

  • Lamb chops “Saratoga” - Karoo lamb chops with potatoes and vegetables. Mmmm... lovely lamb! Nice and tender. It was served with potatoes, green beans, pumpkin, cauliflower in a cheese sauce, and half a peach. It's especially the peach-lamb combination that was excellent...

  • Chocolate mousse. Didn't eat much of this as chocolate bugs my stomach... :-/

  • Cheese board. Mmm... cheese!

The wines:
White wine: Vrede en Lust 2006 Karien (chenin blanc + semillon) – from Paarl
  • color: pale gold

  • nose: citrus, melon, peaches

  • palate: dry and acidic, flavor of minerals, blood orange. Standard white table wine
  • grade: :-)

Red wine: Stormhoek Pinotage 2006
  • color: (too dark to see properly)

  • nose: prunes, spices, blackberries

  • palate: pepper, plums, cocoa-bitterness towards the finish. Pleasant tannins. Very well-balanced.

  • grade: :-)+

After dinner, we were kind of tired, and we wanted to get up early to try to get some sunrise shots, and everyone else had gone to bed, so...

We made the lame attempt to get up early but, well, forget it! ;-) (Well, we did manage to take showers before everyone else wanted a shower, and then get back into bed)

We did get a wake-up “call” at 7 am; we were served coffee in our berth. We sipped our coffee, and then went to the dining car to have some breakfast. And as usual, breakfast was a big affair. We had juice and yoghurt, followed by an omelette with bacon and a sausage on the side. Good stuff :-)

Now the rest of the train ride was a bit of a “disaster” - we were delayed due to some accident earlier. People were getting restless, the staff was restless and nervous and frustrated, there was no more food left. We were supposed to arrive in Johannesburg at 11 am, and we didn't get there until 1 pm... bah...

But what can one do? When we finally arrived, we grabbed our luggage, went to get our rental car (a big Volvo!), and drove to Melville, where we would be staying for the rest of our trip...

Photos for the train ride start here - keep clicking forward until you get to here...

04 December 2007

*title replaced by incomprehensible baby babble*


We got up early so that we could get to Betty's Bay relatively early. Our backpackers' didn't serve breakfast, so we took off hoping we would find a place to get something to eat. But alas, no. Fortunately I had a package of peanuts with me, so we munched on that and drank some water... not ideal, but better than nothing...

Life at Betty's Bay...

The actual penguin reserve is at a place called Stony Point Nature Reserve. It's a bit more “off the beaten track” than Boulder's Beach, the better-known locale for penguins in South Africa. I think Betty's Bay is nicer than Boulder's Beach (except that you don't get the nice sandy beach photos), as the area seems bigger and there are more bushes and “caves” and holes in the ground for the penguins to hide if the humans (and other creatures) get to be too much for them.

So we saw penguins. Lots and lots of penguins. Adult penguins. Fuzzy baby penguins. ”Teenage” penguins. And among the penguins, lots of cormorants. The cormorants were busy gathering nesting material, but a few took the time to walk among the penguins, invoking curiosity in the babies (“huh, what's this?”) and aggression in the adults, who were pecking at the rather indifferent cormorants.

all dressed up and no place to go...

And if the photos here and the links posted weren't enough, there are even more penguin photos on my flickr site... just click around and enjoy ;-)

We spent about an hour at the penguin colony. Afterwards, we headed towards Cape Town, making lots of scenery stops to take photos...

Our next major stop was Somerset West, to go to a shopping center there. Boyfriend of feitpingvin was hoping to find some clothes there. We got some lunch first though... at Dros, a chain restaurant. We ate at their Stellenbosch locale last year and enjoyed the food. This year – ugh. Bad mistake. First of all, it took forever for our food to get to us. Secondly, I threw up around a half hour after eating it :-/ Boyfriend of feitpingvin didn't get sick, so it must have been something Ms. Stomach didn't care for... grrmf...

He didn't find what he was looking for in the mall either. So we just headed towards Cape Town. First, the car was in desperate need of a good wash. We used the same car wash place as we did last year when we were going to return the car; their price had gone up to what... 60 rand for a complete wash (including vacuuming the interior) or something. We then went to our backpackers' (Inn Long Street) to dump our luggage, but this was a bit of a hassle. The girl at the desk, although rather sweet, wanted us to just sit down and relax. She didn't seem to get that 1) we were parked out on Long Street and parking costs money (a few rand hah!) and we really didn't want to stay parked out there anyway, 2) we had to get the car returned to the rental agency and we wanted to get that done right away so that we could relax properly afterwards. Sheesh :-) But we finally made it clear that this had to be done right away and everything was cool...

Heh. And when we returned the car, boyfriend of feitpingvin noted that he had driven over 2700 km :-) The guy who we handed the car over to also failed to see where we had that little accident pre-Harrismith, so boyfriend of feitpingvin pointed it out to him. It's best to be honest about it. Sure, we were insured and had to pay some administration costs, but that's better than getting caught later on. Oh, and he was also quite pleased that we got the car washed properly...

So we finally got back to Long Street, and hung out for a good part of the afternoon at Bob's Bar & Bistro. It's a really cool place; they have brews from Boston Breweries in Cape Town (a microbrewery). Yum yum, whale tail ale!

We decided to go walk around a little and then go back to the backpackers' to rest before dinner; we were planning on meeting some people I met through the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree African Board (South Africa). We eventually met at Khaya-Nyama - a restaurant specializing in meat dishes. I think the vegetarian platter that one of the women ordered was the “deadliest” of all though. It was huge! Not to say that anyone else got small portions. The food was plentiful and very tasty. At least my eland steak was tasty. And boyfriend of feitpingvin's grilled meat was presented in an “interesting” manner :-) Though we wanted the warthog ribs... but they were out. Boo hoo ;-)

Our wine: Fleur du Cap Pinotage 2005 (Stellenbosch)
color: (too dark to see properly)
nose: mint, tobacco, spices
palate: full-bodied and powerful, slightly acidic, flavor of very ripe dark berries, with a hint of cocoa
grade: :-)+

They had some cool live music going on as we were eating and chatting. The overall atmosphere was great. I highly recommend this place. And it was a very nice evening... the people who were able to show up – carolineb + husband, CTLocal, and tc_sebba were all very lovely and I wouldn't hesitate meeting them again :-)

29 November 2007

whales are good food....

ooooops, that was supposed to be whales and good food ;-)


Bloody Sunday everything's closed... bah... we went to Raka, hoping they were open, but nope. Closed on Sunday. Bummer...

Now in Hermanus, having lunch at SeaFood at the Marine, this really posh place with a nice view of the sea. We sort of picked the first place we saw, as we were both quite hungry and wanted to get lunch out of the way before heading towards our backpackers' and whale watching and stuff. I guess we should have known it would be really posh judging from the outside and the finely-dressed parking lot attendants... didn't think they would let us in either, considering how we were dressed ;-)

Anyway, food. They had a two-course lunch for 155 Rand (or so) – which is quite up there by South African standards, but, well... we've paid more for lunch in Norway. And we were hungry :-) It's really strange how we quickly assimilated to the price standards here though... I'll discuss that later... Anyway, I ordered fish cakes as a starter, and boyfriend of feitpingvin ordered tomato soup. We both ordered “rich man's fish and chips” as the main. Being the non-driver, I ordered a Birkenhead lager to wash it all down with; it was very nice! (Birkenhead is a local microbrewery that we also tried to visit but they were closed for a private party. Bah.)

Mmm... excellent fishcake! You can see that it's actually made of chunks of fish, not some kind of pasty over-starchy stuff. Boyfriend of feitpingvin's tomato (tomato and basil actually) soup was also very tasty..

fish cake

tomato soup

As for the main course... wow! The best fish and chips I have ever had! I stopped caring about the price of the meal after this – this was amazing stuff! The fish was nice and crispy on the outside, with a thin layer of batter, and the fish itself was cooked perfectly – neither too cooked or too raw. Just perfect. The chips were nice and crispy and not too heavy (though rather filling, ugh :) See how beautifully it was presented...

fish and chips

We had coffee afterwards... that was a bit of a downer. It was quite thin. South Africans are good at a lot of things, and not-so-good at a lot of things, and coffee is one of those things. I kind of expected better at such a posh place. I guess not...

The afternoon was spent watching whales along the shoreline. There were quite a few whales out and playing, but none of them were jumping out of the water, which was kind of a disappointment. Well, one of them started jumping out of the water when we put our cameras away... typical...

whale tail

Southern right whale

We went to Annie se Kombuis (Annie's Kitchen) for dinner; they serve traditional South African food. It's a cosy little place with rustic décor, where the menu you get is a list of the offerings written on a chalkboard. Kind of neat...

I was in the mood for something fish, so I got fish soup as a starter, while boyfriend of feitpingvin ordered mussels. To go with my fish soup, I ordered a glass of Hermanuspietersfontein (local winery) Sauvignon blanc. It was served in a huge glass, filled to the top. And it was very delicious ;-)

So was the soup. It was a fishy tomato-y broth with lots of bits of fish. Boyfriend of feitpingvin's mussels were also very nice, served with a wonderful very garlicy sauce...

fish soup

Our main course was the ostrich pot – tender and tasty ostrich neck pieces in a wonderful sauce, served in a little black pot of RoF doom. Sweet potatoes, green beans and rice were served with the stew...

ostrich potjie at Annie's

We had the following wine with our main course:
Hermanuspietersfontein Swartskaap 2006 (100% Cab franc)
color: deep blue-violet
nose: prunes, raisins, cloves
palate: full-bodied, slightly acidic and bitter, flavor of cherries, spices, anise, licorice. Good match to hearty meat dishes and stews, steaks, grilled meats
grade: :-) +

Mini Wolfgang samples the local wine at Hermanus!

After dinner, we went back to the backpackers' to watch the rugby match between South Africa and the US... we both konked out at some point... SA won though (and eventually won the World Cup) :-)

25 November 2007

in vino veritas...

It's the truth. South African wine is fantastic! :-D

This was a happy day for everyone, especially Mini Wolfgang! It was the big wine tasting day! Woohoo!

But first, we had some morning drama. We were eating breakfast and boyfriend of feitpingvin heard a strange sound in the Moroccan room. He took a quick look and came back to the breakfast table, saying that a dove had managed to get into the room and was trying to fly out through the window, and that the dogs were rather curious. We grabbed our cameras as this was a potential charming photo op, and you could hear that something going on. But then suddenly... silence. We went to have a look, and the only thing you could see was Floyd with his nose buried in the sofa, with feathers flying everywhere; you could hear a muffled growl and chewing. Ugh...

Floyd had managed to capture the dove, and it looked like he was eating it. Who can blame him though... the doves like to get at his and Roxy's food dishes (placed outside). He was chomping and growling and shaking his head, releasing feathers... the cover on the sofa was stained with blood and bird crap, and after moving the sofa, we found the poor dove on the floor, badly injured... poor ting had to be put down, it was best that way...

We never expected that we would see this kind of a kill. Lions killing buffalo, sure, if we were lucky. But a dog killing a dove? Very freaky. It was kind of grotesque, but at the same time, overwhelmingly funny...

Darn, I could use some wine now ;-)

Robertson is the second largest wine producing region in South Africa, and is part of the Route 62 wine route, the longest in the world (and one of the most underrated activities in South Africa).

Our host at Robertson Backpackers was also our driver/wine guide. I'll just use his first initial (K.) as I'd like to avoid using people's names on blogs, even though his name is on his webpage. Anyway, considering it was Saturday and most places closed early, we managed to hit an impressive 6 wineries. Now keep in mind that I swallowed most of what I tasted, and what I ended up writing in my little notebook (if anything at all in the end) reflects this ;-)

It was kind of dangerous going to this place first, as it seemed to “ruin” us for everything else ;-)

Rusticus produces their wines the “old fashioned way” - quite literally. The owners (the Busch family) use restored antique wine-making equipment and machinery, with minimal use of modern technology. I don't know to what extent making wine this way makes the difference, but the wines here are beyond fantastic...

Mini Wolfgang visits Rusticus Winery!

(more cool photos of Rusticus on my flickr site)

This wasn't in the original plan, but K. hadn't visited the place before and it was along the way to the next stop, so why not?

The Robertson area is known for more than just wine. Among the other things Robertson is famous for – thoroughbred horses. Part of the Arabella estate is a stud farm. The horses we saw there were beautiful.

Mini Wolfgang visits the Arabella Wine Estate!

They're set right by the Breede River; it was very beautiful there. It's a popular picnic spot...

Mini Wolfgang visits Viljoensdrift Winery!

De Wetshof Estate
We tasted the best dessert wine ever – the Edeloes 2001. Too bad they didn't sell it, though they did let us take the bottle with the remaining contents – that was cool :-)

We did buy a bottle of a 2005 vintage to store though; can't wait to drink it :-) It was almost a disaster. The bottle we bought turned out to be defective, and it took several phone calls and several De Wetshof representatives trying to figure out where we were (we had been travelling here and there). But eventually, they caught up to us when we were in Johannesburg. We exchanged the bad bottle for a good one; everyone was happy :-)

Oh, we also bought a bottle of their lovely rosé wine...

Mini Wolfgang visits De Wetshof Estate!

Bon Courage
We were served a very lovely sparkling wine (cap classique), something we would have loved to take home with us had it been possible. Stupid, selfish fucks who keep the liquids ban going :-(

We had a very tasty lunch here – salad with smoked chicken and avocado, oranges, pineapple, nuts, and feta. This was washed down with sparkling red grape juice...

This was our last stop. They had a very lovely “Life from Stone” Sauvignon blanc.

Mini Wolfgang visits Springfield Winery!

We relaxed in the back yard when we were done with the wine tour, and Floyd (the proud hunter) and Roxy got their obligatory belly rubs. After drinking a small can of Lesothan beer (geez, more to drink? ;), I wanted to go for a walk. Boyfriend of feitpingvin didn't want to come along, so I explored the area on my own... no problems whatsoever. In fact, I noticed that there were very few people who had the typical high fences and/or walls and barbed wire. Everything was open, and you had the feeling of safety and tranquility. It was such a nice feeling...

And the area is sooo beautiful! Mountains, valleys, new flowers to let the world that spring had arrived... lots of birds... good stuff!

When I got back from my walk, I played with the dogs some more, and then we had a delicious red chicken curry for dinner (home cooked by our hostess), along with some of the wine we bought on one of the visits (don't remember what we had, and we didn't take notes). We also shared the remaining dessert wine. Darn, that was good stuff!

12 November 2007

my new career?

Once again, we had a lovely ostrich egg breakfast :-)

ostrich egg breakfast!

I forgot to write in the 27/09 report that when we returned from dinner at Jemima's, we found the Irish couple that we met at Viva Safaris staying at Backpackers' Paradise, sitting in the common area. So we chatted with them for a while about what we had been doing, and made temporary plans to meet up again in Cape Town...

The 28th of September, 2007 was the start of a potential career as an ostrich jockey. But before my big debut, we visited the rest of the Highgate Ostrich Show Farm. We started by driving out to the actual farm area, where we first passed a bunch of baby ostriches of varying ages. Baby ostriches are freakishly cute. They look totally clueless and their bums are whiteish and baldish and really strange-looking. And then we got to see the adult ostriches – the big males with their red beaks (their beaks turn red during mating season) and lots of females. One of the females was really snappy with her beak. It made for interesting facial expressions and thus interesting photos...

freaky ostrich

We were given a quick lecture about ostriches, and the one thing that has glued into the depths of my brain is that the eyeball of the ostrich is 60 grams, while its brain is 40 grams. Otherwise, they're raised for meat (ostrich meat is very lean and healthy and tasty), feathers (boas, dusters, hat decorations etc.), and leather (wallets, purses, belts, etc.).

We got the chance to hold an ostrich egg, to get a feel for the size and weight. We were also allowed to stand on the eggs; they tolerate quite a lot of weight! In a building, we got to see an incubator with a baby ostrich on its way to come out of the egg. It takes them about 8 hours to get out!

And then it was almost time for my big debut! We went to this show area where they first brought out a big male ostrich, put this bag over his head, and started showing and describing his body parts – neck, wings (wow!) etc. After that, they were looking for people who 1) wanted to only sit on the ostrich, 2) wanted to ride the ostrich. Surprisingly, I was the only one who wanted to ride. Well, boyfriend of feitpingvin wanted to ride too, but he was borderline at the weight limit for riding (75 kg). So he just sat on the ostrich. Only one other guy was willing to sit.

For riding, I had to first sign a disclaimer. Fine, whatever. Then they brought out an ostrich, and instructed me on how to get up on it. A patch feathers on the ostrich's back had been plucked to make a sort of “saddle” (ostriches have thick skin), and I sat on that. It was a really neat feeling sitting on the ostrich; they have very soft feathers and it was funky-neat to feel the feathers on my bare legs! The ostrich handlers told me to hold on to the wings and lean back, and then suddenly wooooooooosh! The ostrich was running. Fast. And I was hanging on for dear life :-) Wheeeeee!!!

I got a certificate for my efforts hehe...

After my big debut, we watched some real ostrich jockeys in a little race. Cool stuff. Though I'm sure I can kick all of their asses :-)

To reward myself for a great debut, I bought myself a really funky ostrich leather purse at the gift shop. And a cute little t-shirt. Boyfriend of feitpingvin bought a really nice ostrich skin wallet. Hindsight is 20-20; I wish I bought more stuff while I was there. Not that we had any space in the luggage for it or anything, but still...

Next on the agenda was Robertson, so we headed out on Route 62 in that direction. Our lunch stop was in Calitzdorp (the port wine capital of South Africa), at Die Dorpshuis guesthouse and restaurant. We both ordered the "Klein Karoo Special" - smoked ostrich with potato salad, bean salad, Greek salad, and red beets. It was nice having a cold lunch for a change, and the food was very tasty. The bean salad was especially delicious. We washed this down with a lovely homemade ginger beer.

Before lunch, we stopped at the Calitzdorp Wine Cellar and tasted a few of their wines. They were OK, but not spectacular, so we didn't buy anything. The woman working there seemed kind of indifferent, and we weren't really motivated to stick around... better luck next time...

Our next stop after lunch was Ronnie's Sex Shop. The story about the place is in the link. My own evaluation – ummmm... it's quite a place. Ronnie is quite a character, but really rather harmless. If you're driving along Route 62, I highly recommend a stop here...

After Ronnie's we had another stop, though a more gruesome one. There had just been an accident where a car drove off the road and flipped over. Several other people had stopped to see what was going on, and the cops were already there investigating and getting information, witness observations, etc. It was a really weird accident; there were skidmarks on the road and based on the skidmarks it was hard to tell what really happened, other than the driver must have been driving very fast. This accident was just as bad as some of the others we've seen, where the front of the car was completely crushed and the windshield was shattered...

We arrived at Robertson Backpackers at some point in the afternoon, while the sun was still shining. They have a big backyard with a nice green lawn there, and we decided to just stay there and relax for the rest of the day and evening. The rest of the house was quite cool too – especially the "Moroccan room" where you can sit and chill out to some music, and even smoke a water pipe if you'd like.

The couple who run Robertson Backpackers have two dogs – Floyd and Roxy. They are such characters! The very moment boyfriend of feitpingvin and I showed up, they demanded attention, and immediately rolled on their backs and spread their legs out in the hopes of a belly rub. And being the sucker that I am, I rubbed their bellies. And played the "grab the rope" game with this old tattered dog rope; Floyd was especially eager. It was actually quite fun running around barefoot on the lawn, playing with the crazy dogs.

We had a lovely braai for dinner and the following wine:
Swartberg Reserve Pinotage 2005 (from Kango Winery
color: deep red-violet
nose: very ripe cherries, hint of herbs
palate: hint of red apples, red grape peel and black currants, pleasant tannins. Goes nicely with red meat but should not be paired with fatty red meat.
grade: :-)+

08 November 2007

Cango, Cango, Kango!

Guess what we had for breakfast? Guess! Guess!

Hah... scrambled ostrich egg! :-D With cheese, tomato, and toast. Yoghurt, cereal, juice and coffee (or tea) was also included in the breakfast. Yum!

Ostrich egg is quite interesting, with a richer flavor and texture that was nothing like chicken eggs at all. I really enjoyed it. Ostrich eggs are supposed to be the most unhealthy thing from an ostrich you can eat because of the high cholesterol level. Otherwise, ostrich meat is very lean and healthy. And tasty :-)

Cango Caves! We had been looking forward to this for quite some time. And of course we were going to do the adventure tour!

The adventure tour involves a lot of crawling in very narrow passages, climbing up “chimneys,” and sliding through “postbox slots.” The caves are warm (18-20 C) and very humid, so you get very sweaty, and it can be somewhat problematic if you're asthmatic, so if you are asthmatic and want to do the tour, it would be a good idea to take your inhaler. Be sure you wear lightweight clothes that you can climb in, especially when the humidity and sweat make the clothes stick to your body, good shoes, a headlamp if you have one, and keep stuff to a minimum – no big camera bags like boyfriend of feitpingvin and I had. (It went OK, but it was rather annoying.) You'll crawl around on the cave floors and sometimes it will be wet, but you won't get very dirty. We were surprised over this...

Alvin going through "The Postbox"

The only time I had a little bit of trouble was when I climbed up the chimney, because of my shoulder injury. Fortunately, I managed...

I'm glad I didn't get my fat ass stuck in the narrow passages. But people getting their fat asses stuck in the narrow passages has happened; early this year, this woman went on the adventure tour. Despite being warned not to. She got stuck in “lover's lane.” For 10 hours. Other people were trapped because of this. I can only imagine how badly it sucked for them...

We had actually talked about this with our hostess and her family in King William's Town, when we mentioned we were planning on going to Cango Caves. They said “she was enormous!” and even gestured to indicate a very wide girth. We also asked some of the people working in the information booths at Cango Caves, and they were all like “well, you know, she was warned...” and generally kind of polite about it. Our guide, a petite and fit young woman, was not very diplomatic about discussing that particular incident. She mentioned that rescue workers brought food to the people who were trapped by this woman, and that as they were passing the food along, the woman asked for a muffin, and everyone was screaming "what?! You want a muffin?! The last thing you need..."

So now there's soap and Vaseline readily available to the guides hahaha...

And there is now a disclaimer in the information pamphlet for Cango Caves – you have to be lean and fit to do the adventure tour. I don't see the disclaimer on the Website though... weird...

The caves themselves are very beautiful and fascinating. You have to see it to believe it...

Cango Wildlife Ranch
Our next stop was the Cango Wildlife Ranch. We were quite hungry, so we had lunch first. We went to a restaurant called "Turtles" - there was an enclosure with a pair of tortoises nearby. I photographed some swallows that were darting about the dining area, and then we sat down and ordered lunch. I ordered the crocodile filet, and boyfriend of feitpingvin ordered the crocodile ribs. It's not every day you get to eat crocodile!

While we were waiting for our food, I noticed something going on in the tortoise enclosure. So I went to have a closer look, and... well... the big tortoise was up on top of the other smaller tortoise. He was humping along, and making this really strange noise. I snapped a few shots and went back to the table; we could hear him from the table. They went on for quite some time, and the tortoise underneath kept trying to get away. We later learned that both tortoises are male, and that the big one is named Bonk and he likes to bonk everything ;-)

bonking Bonk

Anyway, our food arrived, and as usual in this country, everything looked great and the portion was enormous! And the taste – YUM! Crocodile is neutral like chicken, though with a “fishier” taste. This crocodile was very tender, and marinated with a very nice flavor. It was served with rice, vegetables, and salad.

crocodile filet

The ribs, which I got to sample, were quite different from the filet, which comes from the tail. The ribs had a more “meaty” flavor and different texture. They were still quite delicious ;-)

crocodile ribs

After lunch, we had a guided tour of the ranch. There were way too many people on it. Other than that, it was nice. We saw lots of birds, some crocodiles (including one that jumped up from the water to grab some meat from this guy's hand), lemurs (including one with a baby), meerkats, large cats, and other cool creatures.

Kango Winery
After our visit to the ranch, we headed back into town so that we could do a tasting at the Kango Winery before they closed. The winery is within walking distance of Backpacker's Paradise, and as we weren't in a hurry, we stopped by a few shops to find a hat for boyfriend of feitpingvin, to replace the one the monkeys stole from him at Moholoholo. He managed to find three ;-)

Hmm, I just realized I didn't tell that story. The quick and easy version was that boyfriend of feitpingvin left his hat in the car when we went into Moholoholo. The window was open slightly, and it was apparently just enough for the monkeys to get in, take the hat, and take off again. So when we returned to the car, no hat. It was unlikely someone in the area would have stolen it. Just the darn cheeky monkeys...

OK, back to the wine. Wow, for a little winery in a semi-desert region, they make some really nice wines! Mini Wolfgang was having a good time – the friendly staff made sure his tasting glass was never empty! The white wines were very nice and refreshing, and the reds were brilliant, especially that blend we had with our dinner at Jemima's. We bought a bottle to take home to Norway, as well as a bottle of Swartberg Pinotage Reserve.

Mini Wolfgang visits Kango Winery!

On our way back from the winery, we stopped in this one fancyish shop that sold ostrich leather products and big, fluffy boas. I bought myself a beautiful white boa, with brown flecks. “Au naturel” - boas come from the wings of female ostriches and that is the natural coloring. It is absolutely gorgeous. I can't wait to use it!

We ate dinner at Paljas Restaurant. We each ordered ostrich liver paté as a starter; this was very nice. I had the Moroccan chicken with lemon, garlic and chili for my main course, and boyfriend of feitpingvin had the Cape Malay chicken curry (“Bo Kaap-style”).

ostrich liver paté at Paljas Restaurant

Moroccan chicken at Palja's

Cape Malay-style chicken curry at Palja's

Our wine was the Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon blanc 2007
color: too dark to see
nose: gooseberries, hint of grapefruit peel
palate: dry and refreshing with flavors of gooseberries and citrus fruits. OK with spicy food, but not the best choice. Otherwise a very lovely wine.
grade: :-)+

Hahaha, we're sitting in the outdoor area, and there's this stage out here for shows and whatnot... one can only imagine... ;-)