Saturday, February 20, 2016

Stunning Stellenbosch

As part of our trip to the Western Cape and Cape Town, we spent a few days in the beautiful wine country of Stellenbosch. This portion of our trip was planned by a friend who sadly didn't end up visiting South Africa due to a family emergency. I was excited for this friend to experience South Africa and I am sorry she had to miss the trip. She would have been our first friend to make the journey from the U.S. Note to other friends - that coveted honor is still up for grabs. Also, this friend knows a lot about wine whereas Mr. Deep and I only know that we like wine. So Mr. Deep and I were flying (or should we say drinking) by the seat of our pants.

The first place we visited was the Jordan Wine Estate.  It was raining a bit when we arrived but it quickly cleared. The rain did cause Jordan to delay the harvest by a day. By the way, we had no idea we were going to be in Stellenbosch during harvest time. I am not even sure that is something that can be planned because I think a lot of the winemakers just decide when it's the right time to harvest based on the conditions. You could probably time the month (we went in January) but being there on the exact right day or days might be difficult.

At Jordan, we were received a tour of the vineyard and viewed the various hillsides where the grapes are grown. We learned that different types of grapes are grown in different areas of the vineyard depending on the level of sun, wind, etc. that a particular hillside receives. While out in the vineyard we got to taste a few wines as well. It didn't hurt that a wine writer from the U.K. was also on our tour and so by association we got the VIP treatment. We nodded our heads and tried to act serious as we learned about fruit, tannin and structure. After exploring the vineyard, we were given a personal tour of the area where the wine is stored as it ages. I guess the wine writer had already seen such things so she did not join us. We learned about different types of barrel aging including the type of oak used (French or American) and the freshness of the barrel. There is a more official term for this barrel freshness but I can't remember what it is. Anyway, a barrel being used for the first time is going to introduce more oak flavour to the wine than a barrel being used for the fourth time. Following our tour and tasting we ate lunch in the lovely Jordan restaurant. We then headed out (via Uber) to visit two more wine farms that day, Neil Ellis and The House of J.C. Le Roux. 

The general manager of Jordan (left) and the wine writer from the U.K. (right.) And seriously can you imagine if your job was being a wine writer and you traveled around and drank wine for a living? Where can I sign up?

Hahahahahaha. As if he has any idea what he is doing.
The chefs at the restaurant at Jordan are artists!
Almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
At Neil Ellis and J.C. Le Roux, we didn't take tours and only did tastings.  It was interesting to see the different styles of the wine farms and tasting rooms. The tasting room at Neil Ellis looked like a 1960's style elementary school or library that you would find in the U.S.  J.C. Le Roux was all white and modern looking inside, in a 1980's kind of way.

Me at J.C. Le Roux

Sparkling wine at J.C. Le Roux
Finally, we headed back to Jordan where we had lovely accommodations. 

Mr. Deep was very excited about our accommodations!
The view from our room at Jordan.
On our second day in Stellenbosch, we visited Waterkloof, Zevenwacht and DeWaal wine farms. Waterkloof was not even on on our radar but a former colleague of Mr. Deep, who lives in the area, suggested it. 

Waterkloof sits on top of a huge hill (mountain) and has floor to ceiling windows in their restaurant/tasting room. They were harvesting as well the day we were there. 

Harvest at Waterkloof

View from Waterkloof
While we were tasting at Waterkloof we were able to taste some of the sauvignon blanc grapes. They were sweeter than I thought they would be and actually tasted a lot like regular grapes. But they were smaller in size.

Zevenwacht wine farm was much more of a country setting with a pond and old Dutch style buildings. We ate a picnic lunch near the pond and then had a tasting. For the tasting we sat outside on the porch. We practically had the place to ourselves except for the annoying smokers who came out to smoke while we were trying to taste. How are we supposed to taste earthiness and chocolate while people are blowing smoke in our faces? 

Picnic lunch and more beautiful photos from Zevenwacht below.

The pretty porch where we had our wine tasting at Zevenwacht

On the way back to Jordan, we decided on a whim to stop at one last wine farm, DeWaal, located right next to Jordan. Going to DeWaal was one of those unplanned things that ends up being a highlight of a trip. 

We arrived toward the end of the day and about 15 minutes later Mr. DeWaal himself came over and started chatting with us. I am calling him Mr. DeWaal because Mr. Deep insists his name was David and I am positive his name was Pieter. And, in looking at the website now as I write this post, it appears his name is Pieter. So I win! Anyway, Pieter started talking with us and telling us about the wines and the vineyard. The harvest was also in full swing at DeWaal and we could see the workers coming in from the fields and the grapes being poured by the truckload in the "crusher."

There were two other guys at DeWaal who were visiting from Germany tasting at the same time that we were. After chatting for a while Pieter invited the four of us down to the fermentation area to taste some grape juice that was in the process of fermenting into sauvignon blanc. It was such a cool experience be with the winemaker and taste right out of the tap. According to Mr. DeWaal, the alcohol content of wine increases by about 1% per day during fermentation. We were tasting it on day five and so it tasted like a wine cooler that you would have enjoyed back in the 80s - very sweet. If you didn't drink wine coolers back in the 80s have no fear, you didn't miss much  - except for a really big headache. 

On the beautiful property of DeWaal.
The fermentation tank
German guy tasting the soon to be sauvignon blanc.
Pieter DeWaal

Monday, February 15, 2016

Wait. What?

This post was supposed to be about our lovely trip to Stellenbosch. It is a beautiful part of South Africa, right near Cape Town. A few weeks ago we spent a couple of days there visiting wine farms and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. I started working on the post about Stellenbosch last week and spent a lot of time uploading many photos and then (I won't bore you with the details) but the latest version of the post did not save. So I'm going in a new direction with today's post. And don't worry, I'll share all about Stellenbosch as soon as I work up the energy to rewrite it and upload the pictures again.

I mentioned in my last post that February 18th marks the one year anniversary of the Deep Family arrival in South Africa.  The year has flown by! I feel like the year has been a great success. We have survived and thrived in our new surroundings. But, the year anniversary is causing me some stress, because it is a reminder that one day we are likely going to have to leave this place.

I have two main sources of worry. One, is a worry that I made up in my head that maybe Mr. Deep's company will tell us the assignment is going to end early. I have no reason to think this other than I know it happens to some expats. When it happens, it must feel like it does when you're a kid playing around at the beach and then your mom yells that it's time to go. Only you're not done playing yet. You haven't completed your sand castle. Your moat doesn't have any water in it. But no one cares and your cries and wishes to stay longer fall on deaf ears.

Second, and more realistic of a concern, is my realization that even if we don't have to leave early, one day this South African life is going to end for us. It's like summer vacation. Our first year felt like the start of summer vacation. We had the whole thing in front of us. It seemed endless. And now, suddenly, it's July (sorry for my northern hemisphere bias on the months that I am calling summer for this example) and I recognize that the summer is passing by. Yes, there is still plenty to enjoy but not as much as there once was. 

Now it's practically year two (of a planned three year stay) and I can't help feeling like we've really got to get moving. We want to visit a lot more places before we have to leave and doing that is going to take some planning and some work to fit it all in. I also wonder if, when this life in South Africa comes to an end, I will personally have any regrets about how I've spent my time. I want to be sure I am making the most of these gifts of time and place.

Will I wish that I spent more time volunteering?  Or will I wish that I buckled down and learned a new language? As an aside it's easy to wish you learned a new language, mustering up the energy to actually learn one is a lot harder. Or, maybe I am already doing way too much and in the future I will regret that I didn't just spend more time relaxing and lying around. What if in the year 2020 I am holed up in a cubicle somewhere working? Will I look back at my time in South Africa and wish that I had taken more naps or spent more time lying by the pool drinking cocktails (drinking out of a juice bottle because it was only 11:00 a.m. and I don't want neighbors to talk?)  I never do either one of those things by the way. But maybe I should start? 

So here we go. On to year two with more adventures (and possibly naps) to come. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Road Less Traveled

This is my 100th blog post.  And February 18th marks one year since we arrived in South Africa. You know the organized and methodical me just loves hitting these two milestones at approximately the same time. I didn't even plan it but when I saw the two converging I was so excited! I will celebrate these occasions in an upcoming post which I will write while drinking champagne and eating cake. And now for my 100th post....

I'm guessing that most bloggers who write about South Africa eventually share details with their readers about visiting Table Mountain in Cape Town. Table mountain is an iconic and awe inspiring mountain which keeps watch over the city.  It appears and disappears from view multiple times per day as the fog rolls in and out. There are two ways to get to the top. You can hike up or you can take a cable car.

Table Mountain as seen from Robben Island
This blog post has a little bit of a different spin to it than most on this topic because in large part, this post is about how Mr. Deep and I didn't make it to the top of Table Mountain on our first try. Instead we got "off trail." Which is how we hikers like to describe getting lost. If you have hiked up Table Mountain yourself then you might be wondering how in the world we possibly got "off trail?" It's a fair question. I will get to the details of this mishap shortly. But first a bit of Deep family hiking history.

Getting lost while hiking is somewhat of a pattern with us and in retrospect it's due to a personality flaw we both have. Mr. Deep and I are very different and normally our personalities balance each other out, but every now and then we both tend to get a little over excited and when that happens we both lose our of sense of methodical planning and we just go. And that's when we get into trouble. 

The first time we got lost while hiking we were in Lake Tahoe, California hiking with my parents. Specifically, we were in Squaw Valley and we wanted to hike up to the top of a peak where a pool, restaurant and bar were located. Similar to the Table Mountain episode, there was a cable car available to take people up to the top and similar to the Table Mountain experience we scoffed at the idea of taking the cable car.  We pride ourselves on our level of fitness and our sense of adventure, sometimes to our own detriment. On that occasion, the four of us ended up scaling the face of a mountain an in effort to reach the top. When we finally emerged from the woods and reached the resort we were covered in dirt and looking haggard. The staff at the resort at the top were so surprised (and we like to think impressed) to learn that we had hiked all the way up that they waived the entrance fee and we got to hang out at the pool for free.

Another time, in Zermatt Switzerland Mr. Deep and I went for a hike in the Alps. Everything was going fine until we lost the trail due to massive amounts of snow at the higher elevation (it was May.) We ended up trudging through waist deep snow up the side of a mountain. The hills were alive with the sounds of our complaining. Then, the snow lessened but the mountain became so steep that we had to crawl on our hands and knees. We had to rest every few seconds in between spurts of crawling telling each other, "we'll just crawl to that next rock." That time, there was a train that we could have taken to the top of the mountain but of course the train was of no interest to us.

Crawling up a mountain in Zermatt. I am only smiling because we are almost at the top.
Prior to hiking Table Mountain, Mr. Deep "researched" the trail that we wanted to take. Of course I didn't even bother to look at the map or really listen when he explained the plan to me. Once we arrived, we easily found the trail head and began our hike. But as we went along the trail became more and more difficult to spot. At first we could see some piles of rocks that it seemed were purposely left along the way to mark the trail. But then we wouldn't see any rocks for a while and then it became difficult to tell if the piles of rocks we did see were official piles of rocks or just piles of rocks. At this point we had been hiking for two hours and and had climbed 1200 feet (366 meters.) We kept heading in different directions trying to figure out where we had lost the trail. We were not seeing any other hikers or any official trail markings. By the way, not seeing other hikers on a trail that's described as popular is a sign of a problem. As we continued searching for the trail, the fog rolled in and suddenly we could no longer see Table Mountain above us or Cape Town below us. We decided to turn around and go back down. 

Cable car

As we began to make our way down the sky started to clear and soon we could again see Cape Town, cars, roads and people. We could even hear people below us talking. We could see the trail that we needed to get back to. But even with all of these signs of civilization we could not figure out how to get back onto the trail. We were so close but yet so far. The problem was that every route that we would take would eventually lead us to some kind of cliff or rock face drop off. About ten times we chose different directions and eventually would come to a drop off too steep to navigate. I think I now know where the phrase dead end comes from because we were hitting dead ends as in cliffs where if we tried to make our way down we'd likely end up dead. To avoid plunging to death off of a cliff, we had to hike through the brush and through giant prickly shrubs and boulders.The boulders were hidden underneath huge tufts of grass so it was difficult to navigate. Finally after an hour of crawling, sliding on our butts, grasping onto rocks and praying not to step on any snakes (that was all me, I don't think Mr. Deep was worried about that) we were able to get back on the path. 

Boulders and huge tufts of grass

There has got to be a way down!
I'm so glad I left my good hiking boots at home and just wore regular sneakers!
Dead end!
Always prepared, Mr. Deep put on his gloves.  
See I'm not exaggerating and you can see the road below.
These are the cliffs I'm talking about! 
Finally safely back on the trail!
When we were safely on the trail, Mr. Deep turned to me and said, "you know we were in trouble up there right?" I actually wasn't scared once we started to head down because I could see civilization, so I wouldn't say that I knew we were in trouble. Mr. Deep though, felt that we were only moments away from having to call for a rescue. The only thing more horrifying than taking the cable car up, would have been having to call for a rescue. Luckily it didn't come to that.

And that is the story of how we didn't visit the top of Table Mountain. 

A few days later, after drowning the the sorrows of our failed attempt with lovely wines throughout Stellenbosch, we returned to Cape Town determined to successfully hike up Table Mountain. We had figured out our mistake. In our haste we had what is known as poor reading comprehension and we misread the sign, ignoring the arrow. Instead of correctly reading the sign and noticing the arrow was pointing to the trail head, we thought the sign was marking the head of trail. 
Notice the arrow. We didn't.

Even though we didn't get lost the second time, the hike was really challenging. It took us about 2.5 hours to hike 1.75 miles (2.8km) because we climbed 2500 feet (.762 km) in elevation. It was so steep that we had to stop to rest frequently. There were many other hikers (a good sign that you are actually on a trail) and we kept passing them and then they would pass us as we all alternated climbing and resting.  

I like being on a trail. 

When we finally reached the top, the view was spectacular. It was a very clear day which is is not always the case. We could see all of Cape Town and Robben Island

Robben Island
From where we came.

 We took the cable car down.  Mr. Deep had changed his shirt because the bright yellow one was attracting bugs. Yes, the man keeps a spare shirt in his pack. 

About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.