Sunday, March 8, 2009

Day 4 - Robertson Wine Valley

Today was spent touring the Robertson Wine Valley, about 2 hours northeast of Cape Town. The area was having a wine harvest festival.

I drove up with Hannes, the Couch Surfer I was staying with in Cape Town, and his friend. Before leaving the southern suburbs of Cape Town, we stopped to get petrol (as they call gasoline in South Africa). Similar to Hong Kong and some parts of the U.S., there were attendants who filled up the cars. It was interesting to note that the government regulates the price of petrol monthly for each geographic area, so comparison shopping is pointless (unless you're filling up with diesel, which isn't regulated).

Another interesting observation was the diversity in the southern suburbs. These suburbs were formerly whites-only during apartheid. It was amazing to see all races mingling with each other today.

The drive along the N1 freeway to the Roberston Valley was somewhat scenic. We drove past lush fields with cows grazing. The area is also fairly mountainous. The route also took us through the longest tunnel in South Africa, where we spotted a few baboons trying to get some shade! In front of us, on a distant mountain, was the pointy Afrikaans language monument in Paarl.

Our first stop in Roberston was the farmers' market. This was a small market, but with friendly sellers. They were curious as to where I was from and what brought me to their town. I ended up buying a chicken pie and a few muffins (extremely healthy, with bran and dates in them).

We stopped at three wineries in the area. Similar to Napa, Sonoma, Santa Ynez and Temecula valleys (basically all the wine regions I've been to), the area was picturesque, with rolling hills and lush valleys. The odd thing about South African wineries is that many are closed or close early on the weekends (such as 1pm), which doesn't make sense since that is when most people have time off.

I went grape stomping for the first time at Ashton Kelder winery. It felt like trampling on mud. I hope that they aren't going to process our stomped grapes into wine!

The second winery we visited, McGregor was interesting in that it had this unfermented grape juice called 'musk'. It was quite tasty. There was this worker who was mixing the grape juice while allowing the water to be evaportated so that only musk remained.

The third and last winery we visited was Springfield Estate, winner of several awards, according to Platter's Guide to South African Wines and others. This winery had an excellent view of the Brede River.

An interesting observation that I noted while driving through the freeways is that townships even exist in the rural areas. I thought they only existed near cities. Also, there were plenty of people (mainly black) who were walking and hitchhiking on the freeways. It was sad to see a man on a wheelchair trying to get transport.

We drove back on the N2 freeway, passing through the Overberg region with flat, rolling hills. I encountered my first "road works" (construction) in South Africa. Basically, since there is only one lane in each direction, the cars have to stop in front of a temporary 'stop' sign, which the attendant will flip to the other side ('go') after a few minutes. This definitely reminded me of Hong Kong. One unique observation I noted is that South Africans will get out of their cars and stretch at a long road works site (ironic given the paranoia surrounding safety in SA). This would be unthinkable in the U.S.!

I was dropped off at Couch Surfer Richard's place in Stellenbosch. On the way, we had to drive through smog due to forest fires and heavy winds. Unfortunately, the fires have been causing destruction for almost one month now.

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