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Old October 9th, 2008, 12:00 AM
AR AR is offline
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Default The South Africa Chronicles, Part 1

Back in the spring Terry and I traveled to Bulgaria and the South of France. I reported on that trip in a series of posts that I called “chronicles.” You responded favorably. On our just-completed trip to South Africa, I kept a journal and sent installments to a number of friends who said they enjoyed the story. So here are my notes on another great trip. It will take several installments.

This trip was long overdue. We’ve known Tyrena for some 30 years. She’s an old work buddy of Terry’s, who went on to represent the United States as Commercial Consul in Berlin, Uzbekistan, and now Cape Town. She’s been in Cape Town for more than four years, and has been after us to come over ever since she arrived there. “Plan for a long stay,” she cautioned. “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”

Thursday, September 11 / Friday, September 12

After an uneventful shuttle up to Kennedy, our plane to Cape Town was delayed for three hours due to mechanical troubles. This, plus the scheduled stop in Senegal stretched the entire trip to some 27 hours. But, not to worry. The Friday afternoon weather in Cape Town was beautiful for our landing, and our pal Tyrena was waiting outside customs with her favorite driver, Kurt. During the drive into town Tyrena told us that we’d all be going to a special dinner that evening.

We had about 20 minutes at Tyrena’s terrific two-level penthouse apartment on the downtown Victoria and Alfred waterfront to wash up and change for dinner. The occasion was the retirement of Tyrena’s good friend the Belgian Consul, Ida. The dinner was held at Cape Town’s Belgian restaurant on the waterfront, Den Anker, which had been completely taken over for the affair.

Den Anker restaurant, home of our first dinner

Ida greeted us at the door, treated us like family, and seated the three of us at a big table with South Africans, Swiss, and heaven knows who else. Tyrena knew them all, of course, and we had an excellent dinner with everyone laughing and telling us that we looked pretty good for just having landed a couple hours before. There were speeches by the Belgian Ambassador and many others, there was singing in Flemish, French and English, and eventually we went home for a very good night’s sleep.

Saturday, September 13

"We’re going out to Stellenbosch today," announced Tyrena over breakfast. "You’ve got to meet Anne." We had no idea who Anne was, but we certainly knew that Stellenbosch is South Africa’s Napa and Sonoma, famous for some fabulous wines. Along with another of Tyrena’s friends, Rhadaka, we were soon off for the forty minute drive into the wine country. On the way, Tyrena explained that Anne is a good friend who is the owner of Morgenhof, one of the excellent wineries in the area. We would have lunch with Anne at the wine estate’s outdoor restaurant, then a tour of the cellars and a personal tasting conducted by Anne.

Anne Cointreau is one of those rare people who seems like a lifelong friend within ten minutes of being introduced. She walked us down to lunch in the courtyard of her wine estate. Terry and I had roasted springbok on the bone (or rather, falling off the bone). Tyrena had fish, Anne, of course, chose the wines.

Anne hosting us for lunch at her beloved Morgenhof

Anne told us that she bought Morgenhof 16 years ago and spent a good deal of time and effort improving on a property that had fallen on some rough times. Now, it is a beautiful, going concern of some 400 acres, making wines that are well loved throughout South Africa and abroad as well. She’s extremely easygoing, and in response to a question about what got her interested in winemaking, she simply pointed out that her family has an 800 year history in the wine and spirits business (there is, after all, that orange liqueur). She also has a private stock of the family’s best cognac, which they make in France. Anne assured us that we would sample it soon enough.

When Rhadaka mentioned that she was writing a cookbook, naturally the subject turned to food. Rhadaka had taken some courses at le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and Terry chimed in that she’d spent an afternoon there once learning how to make puff pastry. Anne thought that was wonderful and mentioned that she was well acquainted with the director general and chef de cuisine at le Cordon Bleu. "He’s my dear brother," she smiled.

Tyrena and Terry survey the grapes

. . .And the cellars

After lunch, it was off to the cellars and the tasting room. Who could blame us for nodding off during the drive home?

Dinner Saturday night? We ordered a pizza.

Sunday, September 14

Anne keeps an apartment in central Cape Town along with quarters at the winery, and she and Tyrena go swimming on Sunday mornings, along with some other friends. Terry went along with them, but the water even at the indoor pool was far too cold for her. Nevertheless, we all got together afterward at a local restaurant for breakfast. There we were introduced to John and Yoli. John is an American State Department diplomat, just assigned to Cape Town. His wife Yoli is French, and ironically, taught French last year at Wakefield High School in our very own Arlington. At breakfast, plans were hatched for an informal dinner party at Tyrena’s later in the week. Since we were leaving for a safari outing the next morning, the dinner was set for Thursday, the evening of our return. Terry said she’d do the main course and salad, Rhadaka said she’d bring the starters, everybody chimed in with some contribution.

The weather on Sunday was stormy, so after breakfast we simply drove around town, and along the waterfront down to the very pretty Twelve Apostles Hotel, named for the dozen large rocks in the bay outside the front door. There we had drinks, and eventually high tea, and once again decided that no real attempt at dinner would be made.

Monday, September 15 – Wednesday, September 17

Kurt was at the door promptly at 7 am on Monday to drive us to the airport for our short flight to Port Elizabeth on the Eastern Cape, the gateway to our adventure at Shamwari game reserve. At the other end of the South African Airways flight was Leon, the driver sent by Shamwari to bring us to that glorious place. It seemed odd to be driven into the wilderness in a Mercedes, a little like the last scene of Blazing Saddles, where Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little exchange their horses for a limo. But Leon got us to our nine-room lodge with no difficulty.

After check-in and lunch, we boarded our land cruiser with our ranger for the first of many three-hour game drives. No matter how much people tell you about it, you simply can’t be prepared for the experience of seeing the animals on their own turf. Everybody says the same thing, "I’ll never go back to a zoo or a circus." There’s really not much more you can say. The 5:30am wakeup calls from the ranger didn’t seem too early. The 6am coffee tasted great. And the 6:30am departures into the vastness of Shamwari were all new beginnings. In spite of all the pictures I took, there is something unphotographable, as our ranger Conrad put it, about putting the people in a cage and bringing them to the animals instead of the other way around.

Along with the animals were encounters with more nice people. We had a fun lunch with our land rover mates Maurice and Ann from England, he a vet, she a midwife. Many jokes, all of which they’d heard before. Another British couple, Nancy and Steve were also great fun. We had dinner together and talked into the night by the fire in the bar. At lunch the first afternoon we met the German pianist and conductor (well, he’s actually Polish), Justus Frantz, who was at Shamwari with his wife (a violinist) and their young son. We had a number of delightful conversations. He told us that he had guest conducted the National Symphony several times and that he had been good friends with Rostropovich. They left a day before we did, and we exchanged cards. I asked the maestro which of his recordings he was most pleased with, so I could look them up. He said that the recordings he did with Bernstein and von Karajan are his favorites, because they were so good at bringing out the best in others. He said that he is attempting to do that with young musicians today, and that he would send me some CD’s that he is especially pleased with. He also said that he sponsors a very nice music festival at their own small hotel and music facility in the Canary Islands each October, and he would love it if we could come over and join them sometime. The people you run into on game drives.

Here are three photos from Shamwari. You can see many more in the personal gallery entitled "ARs Africa Game Park 2008." And watch for Part 2 as we return to Cape Town and get ready for our pot luck dinner.

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Old October 9th, 2008, 02:01 AM
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WOW!!! AR, you keep writing about your travels like this, I am going to have to add more things to my "bucket list!"
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Old October 9th, 2008, 06:40 AM
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AR..glad you are back, it's been rather quiet on the boards without you...looking forward to reading about your adventures
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Old October 9th, 2008, 09:53 AM
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WOW! Love the game photos AR, they're magnificent!
Also, great story so far, looking forward to more!

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Old October 9th, 2008, 10:39 AM
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I expected your chronicles to be wonderful, and you did not disappoint.
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Old October 9th, 2008, 10:43 AM
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ATTA BOY AR. I am with you. Keep um coming . Bringing back some memories.
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Old October 9th, 2008, 11:27 AM
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Great pictures it interesting to hear about your trip, it's something I would not have thought to do, but now you make it sounds amazing. I also will have to add it to my "bucket list."
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Old October 9th, 2008, 12:39 PM
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AR, thank you for sharing your chronicles! Sounds like a incredible trip!
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Old October 9th, 2008, 11:12 PM
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A.R., Your trip chronicals are interesting. Thanks for the photos too. It sounds like you had a wonderful time.

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Old October 10th, 2008, 08:49 AM
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I live in Cape Town, South Africa and am always pleased to see when someone has enjoyed our country. Come back soon.
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Old October 13th, 2008, 05:26 PM
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South Africa has been on my list for a long time, but I keep putting off going. Your chronicles and photos have moved it way up on the list. When's the best time of year to go for warm (not hot) weather? And, what type of camera did you use to get such outstanding photos?
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Old October 13th, 2008, 08:26 PM
AR AR is offline
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Originally Posted by BornToCruise
When's the best time of year to go for warm (not hot) weather? And, what type of camera did you use to get such outstanding photos?
Everyone says that late September through October is ideal, because it's the beginning of spring. In our experience, the weather was very changeable in September, and the joke goes that you might get all four seasons in a single day. But there were enough fine days during our three weeks to keep us very happy, warm and comfortable. Plus, in the Eastern Cape, where Shamwari is located, the weather is much more stable and generally nice at this time of year.

The other advantage to this time of year is that it isn't quite high season yet, and the crowds are not yet oppressive. We were told that from November on, things get pretty hectic, crowded and far less pleasant.

I use a Panasonic Lumix camera with a 12x Leica zoom lens that translates to 36-432mm in 35mm terms. I like it because it's not too cumbersome considering the features it offers, although it is certainly not a shirt-pocket camera. Photography is about lenses, and it's always seemed to me that it's far more important to evaluate the glass than to count megapixels.

I should also note again what I said in a previous string about photo editing: I Photoshop absolutely everything before I print it, e-mail it or post it. In most cases it's nothing more than cropping, color correction and density correction, but I do it religiously. It's no different than what all the old darkroom guys knew: the picture isn't finished until it is printed, and to them "printing" meant exercising controls over the print. Photo editing software blesses us all with the ability to do that, so I take advantage of it.

Finally, it may be worth pointing out that I spent my career in film and TV production, with my earlier years devoted largely to the crafts, including cinematography, where I became a fairly decent cameraman. So I hope you will not think me immodest if I say that the human factor does play a part, along with good hardware.
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