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A Tour of the Western Cape Wine Region, and What You Don’t Want to Know About It

There’s a reason why newlyweds head to South Africa on their honeymoons — it’s one of, if not the best, wine region in the world. A 20-minute drive out of Cape Town and you’ll see stunning scenery and an endless array of vineyards.

There’s a few options for you to tour the wine regions. The cheapest and easiest is go on a pre-packaged wine tour. Your hotel can arrange for it before hand or when you check in. Most work with their preferred tour operators.

The mid-tier option is to rent a car where you can go at your own pace, visit the wineries of your choice and load up your trunk with wine that you can smuggle back home. The downside is that you’ll have to be mindful of your wine intake.

The baller option is to hire a driver for a day, give him or her your destinations and route, agree of a fee and then drink the day away. The cab drivers I came across will give you their card and ask if you need a driver for a day. Whether you trust them is up to you. On the other hand, if you’re in a big group, the cost is less.

The romantic option is to stay at the honeymoon suite of a vineyard. A couple I met in town were staying at Diemersfontein, so I’m sure it’s good for sexy time.

I did the a pre-booking on Viator using a 10% coupon code. The whole day cost me $62US. That included 3 wineries, tastings, cheese pairing, lunch, a stop at an historic house and bus transport from my hotel. This was my best option since I was solo.

On my ranking of alcoholic libations, it goes beers, spirits and then wine. That’s not to say I don’t like wine, but if given the choice, that’s my order. My knowledge of wine is limited, but I know what I prefer and how to do the snooty tasting ritual.

With that said, I was looking forward to the scenery, tasting some new wines and maybe buying some treats. On the opposite end, I’m going to be stuck with strangers who maybe cool or could be annoying. They were on the annoying side.

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I was the lone American and the youngest one by about 30 years. It was a big group of German retirees and a small group of Dutch. They all spoke English and didn’t pay me much mind. By the end, they all had too much to drink and I was getting a massive headache from it. The tour operator was a little bit of a wacka-doodle and also pushing 70. It didn’t come as a surprise when they picked me up last and was an hour late.

Stop No. 1 was KWV Wine Emporium in Paarl, one of the largest vineyards in South Africa. Their wines are one of the most readily available around the world. I can even get a bottle of their Sauvignon Blanc from my local wine shop. The tour was the most extensive where you can see the whole process. The tasting was also informative, where I learned that the pinotage is the only true South Africa wine variety.

The most interesting part of the tour was their decorative barrel room where artists carve different designs into the woods.

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Stop No. 2 was Fairview Wine and Cheese in Suider-Paarl. This is where we had the all-you-can cheese with the wine. Yeah, that’s a damn good time. The vineyard had a fun-looking courtyard and a highly-rated restaurant. I took advantage of their market and bought their house-made hot sauce, wine jelly and chutney. It was much easier to transport than a whole bottle.

wine-cape-town-south-africa-12 wine-cape-town-south-africa-13 wine-cape-town-south-africa-14Lunch was at the The Famous Franschhoek Pancake House in Franschhoek. It is a Dutch-settled country so pancakes are usually in order any time of the day. It was my first wine and pancake pairing.

The next stop was in historic Stellenbosch, which is like historic Williamsburg, Virginia in America. The town is at the center of the South Africa wine region, as it was settled and founded as a vineyard back in the 17th Century. You’ll see many building  recreations (houses, plantations, school buildings) of that era around town and at the University. I had an hour to explore and visited Stellenbosch University’s art gallery.

The final winery was Stellenbosch Vineyards. By the final stop, the senior citizen Germans and Dutch were flying. My stomach was getting a little acidy because there’s only so much you can drink of anything. By the final tasting I was swirling it around and spitting, which I felt bad because it takes a lot of effort to put a bottle together from growing and harvesting to producing and bottling. And here I am spitting it out into a spittoon.

As for buying wine, many in the group did. The wineries have special carrying cases or wine-shapped bubblewrap containers that prevents breakage. Even it were to break, it’s vacuum-sealed shut. I almost bought Stellenbosch sparking wine, but it would be too much of a hassle to bring back. I’m sure I can find any of these wines back in the states if I searched the web.

Yes, if you bought it there, you’re getting an excellent bargain for some top-of-the-line wine. People do bring empty suitcases just to fill with wine. I don’t love wine that much to pay for an extra checked bag or drag it across South Africa by myself.

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On the way back into Cape Town is where I saw something that put the wine region into prospective. Along the side of the road, you’ll see hundreds of African workers walking back to the outskirts of Cape Town. The settlements in Khayelitsha can only be described as shanty towns. When you get closer to them, you’ll see miles upon miles of tin shacks among garbage heaps.

It has to be said —  all of the wine owners, tour guides and wine experts I came across were white, all of the wine pickers are black. 8.9% of South Africa’s population is white. The people who pick the grapes live in abject poverty with scarce infrastructure like electricity or running water.

You can read this report by the Human Rights Watch in 2011 about the conditions the workers live in. In this Guardian story, Khayelitsha is described as follows “When it rains, the public toilets overflow into my living room,” she says. “Water comes in through the ceiling and the electricity stops working.” Outside her makeshift home in the sprawling township of Khayelitsha, on the eastern edge of Cape Town, barefoot children play on the banks of an open sewer, while cows roam next to an overflowing rubbish heap.

Apartheid ended two decades ago, but Cape Town has a long way to go. It doesn’t mean that you should not go to the wine region. I’m just one of those people who want to know how and why things are the way they are and doesn’t want a sanitized view of reality. I brought up why wine region observation to some locals and they said, “Yeah, it’s fucked up mate.” Then, to a couple from San Francisco on honeymoon and got the “Nah nah nah, I’m not listening to you.”

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TSA Will Always Suck and There’s Nothing You Can Do About It

Hope you enjoyed your Memorial Day holiday travels this weekend. With the tributes to our military, BBQs and kick off to summer, come more reports of increased travel and long lines at security. It seemed like last summer that everybody was raving about how great a job the TSA was doing … said nobody.

The headlines include mismanagement at the top where TSA Director of Security Peter Neffenger was fired for doing a shitty job despite getting $90,000 in bonuses. With budget cuts, the crew of screeners have decreased to 44,900 from 47,000 in 2013 while the numbers of flyers have increased steadily since. You can thank the better economy and cheaper flights for that passenger increase.

My sarcastically favorite aspect of this story is that the TSA failed to detect fake explosives and banned weapon 67 our of 70 times. On the bright side, they are doing a hell of a job confiscating bottled water.

It’s a sad state of affairs for all involved — passengers are missing flights, working for the TSA is a thankless job with little  advancement and airlines are losing money from delayed flights. Missing for the headlines are a couple of angles:

  1. TSA is a government agency along the lines of the DMV, Post Office, judicial system, the IRS and unemployment. All these agencies are needed, you don’t look forward to dealing with them and you have to live with it. The DMV is a soul crushing experience, the post office has one line with one person working the window, jury duty is a pain, understanding tax code is mind numbing and nobody wants to be on unemployment.
  2. Most airline passengers are idiots.

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Let’s focus on the idiot passengers. I’ve pointed this out that people are bringing way too much with them. On top of that, they are unwilling to check their bag in because of airlines fees or fear of having their luggage lost. Thus, going through TSA screening is a shit show when they have shopping bags, carry-ons, strollers and support animals. Meanwhile, they have to take their shoes off and metal out of their pockets while trying to put all their worldly possessions on the conveyor belt.

While the TSA doesn’t prevent terrorism, the screenings are needed because 2,653 firearms were confiscated in carry-ons last year. I’m sure those 2,653 people were ready to prevent the next terrorist situation like Liam Neeson in Non-Stop. Sorry gun nuts, you can’t bring it on board. Boooooo, we know, blame Obama.

Here are my tips on how to get through TSA faster:

Shut up. If you have TSA agent Jerky McJerkson giving you a hard time, just let it slide. I got picked for a random inspection once and the agent took out my passport case that keeps my currency and accidentally spilled all my money out of the floor. I didn’t flip out, I just said, “I got it” and picked up my cash.

Get to the airport 24 hours before your flight. I joke, but don’t wait to the day of your flight to pack. Get to the airport as early as you can, check-in, get though security, find a bar and watch Netflix on your phone.

Carry as little as possible. For families with small children, I get it. The rest of you, enough. Vacation is a not a trip to the mall. Put your stupid souvenirs in your suitcase and check it in. The airlines have never been better at getting your luggage back.

Pack better. You’ll have more room for things you bought while traveling so you don’t have to cram it into your carry-on. Here is my guide.

TSA Pre-check. Sure, but it’s not a cure all. I’ve had it for two years and I’ve been able to use it three times. The last time I got to use it, the line was 75 minutes long at JFK. I fly Virgin America and Atlantic out of Newark and pre-check is not set-up at that terminal. Most of the time, the TSA pre-check line is there but not staffed because there are not enough passengers or not enough staff. Weeeeeeeeee.

 

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Inside the District Six Museum in Cape Town

If you can tear yourself away from the stunning wine region, the view from Table Mountain and safari excursions, do yourself a favor a learn a little bit about the historic struggle of the African people. The District Six Museum chronicles the plight of black people being removed from this area of Cape Town and relocated to the Cape Flats. District Six became a whites only area where the old residential buildings and homes were demolished.

I’ll admit that I did not know about this portion of South Africa history before going to the museum. I know District 9 and, I’m finding about this now, District 6 is a location in the Hunger Games. I never saw that. I blame the New Jersey school system for not teaching me about District 6 — the real place, not the fictional one.

Inside, you’ll read and hear individual stories of those who were displaced, the government’s reasoning (racial integration causes violence), how the area became crime-ridden and how D6 rebounded after the end of apartheid. As you can see in the photo above, the museum is a teaching facility for young students. Once your done inside, you can wonder around outside and see firsthand the progress of rebuilding.

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Steampunk-Inspired Truth Coffee in Cape Town Might be the Coolest Cafe in the World

There’s a certain degree of snobbery I take pride in with my coffee. With my strong distaste of Starbucks and the dorky neighborhood coffee shop with three sizes of cappuccino and a row flavored syrup pumps, I take my coffee seriously.

When you search for the best coffee in South Africa, what comes up again and again is Truth Coffee in Cape Town. Located on Buitenkant St near downtown, Truth is the rare coffee shop where the coffee lives up to its stylish decor.

Designed by Johannesburg native Haldane Martin, the steampunk interiors is like stepping into a cosplayer’s wet dream.  The espresso machine lends itself with to the steampunk esthetic with its nobs, dials, chrome and switches, thus the cafe plays on that.

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Every where you look, you’ll see silver and gold pipeworks, iron fixtures, refurbished scrap metal and antique brickabracks. The staff dress in the spirit of steampunk as well with leather aprons, metal welder goggles and vintage top hats. Dry cleaning their work outfits must be a pain.

Truth Coffee doubles as a roasting facility and full-service breakfast, brunch and lunch spot. All of this would be for not if the coffee was not legit. I highly endorse the flat white and cold brew. You can have several because the dollar to rand favors us Americans. As I pointed out when I was there, a coffee, cold brew and french toast with bananas cost me $11US total with the conversation.

Even better, you can take the beans home — easy to pack and transport. Their Resurrection blend will transport you back to Cape Town. You can also grab and go as well in the front counter.

I would put Truth Coffee on my top five favorite coffee places in the world next to Castroni in Rome, the Coffee Collective in Copenhagen, Four Barrel in San Francisco and Monmouth in London.

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Protests and Singing Children — Your Typical Cape Town Morning

Your travels will have you be witness to things you can’t explain or understand. Whether it’s a parade or local ceremony in a different language, you have to turn to somebody and sheepishly ask, “What’s all this?”

On my Monday in Cape Town, I stumped upon a group of protesters singing and marching down Caledon Street. It’s not far from the District Six Museum and Castle of Good Hope.

From what I could gather from the local news, this march was in solidarity with the non-violent student protests going in Pretoria. The government was raising tuition fees for universities. For the time being, the student’s voices were heard and the hikes were stopped. It was the largest mass protest in the country since the Soweto Uprising in 1976.

Days before, Cape Town police fired tear gas at a group of protestors at the Parliament building. From The Guardian: Police repeatedly attempted to disperse the students from the steps of the national assembly, with limited success, as the protesters tried to stage a sit-in to disrupt a mid-term budget speech being delivered by the finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene.

On the opposite end, I walked out of my hotel one morning to be greeted by young kids singing and dancing.

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Photos of an Uninhabited Robben Island in Cape Town

One of the aspects that I embrace in travel is learning the dark history of a city or country. It’s one thing to read about in a book, see a documentary or visit a museum, but when you standing in the middle of it, you understand it.

Robben Island in Cape Town was where the political prisoners of the Apartheid were incarcerated. It’s a 30-minute boat ride from the harbor. Along the way, you might see some whales.

As you know, this where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 29 years of imprisonment. There are hundreds of other men who spent time there, and one of them will take you around on tour. Just that idea that my tour guide is telling me about his experience.  They come back day after day to the place of their pain so that other can be educated.

If you remember my post when I was there, a couple felt the need to take selfie in front of Mandela’s cell. Side note: his cell moved around during his time. Last month, I walked around the  9/11 memorial and I see plenty of people with selfie sticks take selfies in front of the fountains. We’ve built ourselves a wonderful narcissistic society for ourselves.

Moving on. While on tour, looking at the desolate surroundings, you get a sense of the isolation and dis-attachment from the outside world. Besides your fellow prisoners, your only other company are the seagulls.

If the loneliness didn’t kill you, the food and disease will. The guide told of rampant food poisoning and lack of medical attention. Add in the manual labor of breaking rocks, you have hell on earth.

When I was taking photos, I made sure not to include other people, the gift shop or cafe. Yup, just like the Anne Frank House, there’s a gift shop. I wanted to capture the feeling of detachment from humanity.

For visitor tips, book well in advance for the boat ride and bus tour — at least 2-3 weeks. You always need to be accompanied by a guide. The whole trip is a 3-4 hour experience. Finally, don’t bother with the surrounding harbor space with the mall, eateries and dopey entertainment. It’s for the tourists.

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Colorful Photos of Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap Neighborhood

One of the many great things to do in Cape Town is wonder around the living museum that is the Bo-Kaap neighborhood. Located about  10 to 15 minute walk from central downtown, Bo-Kaap is one of the most colorful and captivating neighborhoods in the world.

Back in the mid- to late-1700s, the area was predominantly Muslim, who were freed slaves from the Dutch settlers. Today, you can still see the Nurul Islam Mosque in the area.  To honor their Muslim heritage, the houses were painted in vivid colors for the celebration of Eid. The neighborhood worked together so as not to repeat the same colors next to each other. You can learn this in the BoKaap Museum. It’s small, so your visit won’t be longer than 20 minutes.

Traditionally, the area has been a multi-cultural area, but now the evil concept of gentrification has creeped in. Rents has been too damn high for long-time residents and they can no longer afford to live there. Thus, make sure to visit it soon before a Starbucks with a bright brown exterior gets built.

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