Thursday, 20 December 2012

A Provençal Road Trip... in South Africa

As I sipped my glass of crisp Chenin Blanc on the terrace of a local winery and looked out over rows of vines, blue lavender and olive trees to the low, rocky mountains beyond, I found myself thinking:

“This is Africa?”

Where were the lions, the elephants, the giraffes? Where were the Masai tribes and the head dresses? I should be eating mashed lentils with my hands in the bush somewhere, not eating fresh oysters and Camembert cheese on a sunny terrace. This wasn’t the Africa from the pages of my dad’s National Geographic magazines. Hell, if it wasn’t for the language, I’d think we were in Provence!

But, you know, maybe it was a blessing in disguise that the area we explored in South Africa, the wine and coastal regions east of Cape Town, so closely resembled the region of France that we would be returning to within days. Maybe it eased the transition between traveling and being back in Provence. Maybe that two week road trip helped us to mentally prepare ourselves for Europe.

It certainly helped us prepare our stomachs.

Two weeks in South Africa’s most fertile region, not to mention a visit to its famed Winelands, was enough to help us gain back all of the weight we had lost during our trek in Nepal. We gorged ourselves on lovely French-style cheeses, home-made ostrich stew, fresh Knynsa oysters, barbequed sausages, our first sushi meal in a year.

And wine. Obscene, embarrassing, disgusting amounts of wine. 

Although it felt like it sometimes, we didn’t spend the whole two weeks just eating and drinking. We drove a bit, first along gorgeous winding coastal roads with stunning views on the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, then through dry, rocky mountains further inland, and finally, through lush green farmland covered in grape vines and blooming lavender. We didn’t have to drive far out of Cape Town for landscapes that were at once varied and beautiful. 

We also did several day-hikes, during which I insisted that we both carry “baboon sticks” in case we came across any baboons during our walk.  You laugh, but those things were everywhere and I wasn’t about to risk getting attacked by an aggressive, disease-infested, red-bottomed baboon during the last week of our trip. No, thank you, no nasty-ass baboons for this girl.

Those baboons better not f- with me, I got my Baboon Stick.
A baboon-free hike along the coast

Baboons weren’t the only wildlife we saw during our road trip; we also got up close and personal with a colony of penguins and some ostriches. True, it isn’t exactly Discovery Channel material, but we were still pretty excited. That is, until one of our guesthouse hosts told us that ostriches are really mean and will use their claws to rip open your stomach and eat your intestines while you are still alive. Charming lady, really…

At least he won't try to eat my innards
When we had had enough nature in all of its threatening, organ-eating forms, we hightailed it back to Cape Town, with a two-day detour in the wine region to do tastings and essentially make our bodies hate us. Imagine my liver giving me the finger before packing up its things and jumping in a taxi- that’s what two consecutive days of wine “tasting” did to us.

In Cape Town, we did what we always do in a new city: we got lost. We wondered around aimlessly until we eventually found ourselves in the adorable neighborhood of Bo Kaap, known for its candy-colored houses. Every home was painted a different bright color, every street looked like Disneyland, everywhere we looked was another photo opportunity. It was fuckin’ adorable.

On our last night in Cape Town, the last of our year-long adventure, we went to an Ethiopian restaurant in the hope of finally feeling like we were in Africa, even if just for one meal. Everything was going well: we had Ethiopian honey wine to drink and we ate with our hands. There were even mashed lentils on the table. After two weeks in “Provence,” we were finally in Africa. We finished our typical Ethiopian meal and were about to congratulate ourselves on this authentic experience when our waiter came to our table.

“And now, for dessert,” he said with a flourish, as we eagerly strained to see what Ethiopian sweet would finish the meal. “Mediterranean baklava with ice cream. Enjoy.”

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