In which we discover that we could soon be illegal aliens; what started as a postponed 60th birthday celebration with Shelley-ann's nonagenarian Mum suddenly threatened to escalate out of control. In mitigation there was a surprise visit to a dear school buddy of Shan's after a 40 year separation.
(Above, L to R): Jane and Shelley-ann in 1978; Two gorgeous ladies in 2021.
But before all that, a most considerate friend had offered us her guest cottage opposite Mum Judy's tiny abode. Our first task after returning from the Swartland was to move in with Emma, a task that might have been a little easier had I not already accumulated a mini wine collection.
Many attractions of Hermanus lay within a short walk of Emma's. For the next few weeks we played at being tourists with all the delightful places we could either walk to or reach with a short car journey. Some pictures emerged but not much text.
The next section will be devoted to picture stories with not much more than a caption here and there. Following that, we'll start out on another road trip and kick off with more detail of the Jane and Shan reunion that forms the masthead of this episode.
A story in pictures ...
The area around Hermanus is extraordinarily varied. In terms of botanical life on its own - there are said to be more species in the area than in the entire United Kingdom. And then there are the whales and the mountains adjacent to the sea. Beyond those mountains there are vineyards heading up the (Hemel-en-Aarde1) valley with rolling wheat fields towards its North Easter end. There is also the forgotten community of Tesselaarsdal ...
This series of blog episodes has, more often than not, featured mountains. That's because there are a lot of them in Southern Africa, many of which line up along the East and then South coast. One of the places these mountains come closest to the sea is Hermanus. Viewed across the Old Harbour (below), a stretch of the town's waterfront is framed by a background of these majestic natural structures.
(Top triptych, L to r): Sculpture of an elegant baboon2 couple looking out to sea across Walker Bay; Lovingly restored buildings at the Old Harbour; Street art livens up the bollards with the mountains omnipresent in the background. (Bottom triptych, at Emma's house, L to R): Shelley-ann opening birthday presents with mother, Judy, and sister, Kerry, on the verandah of the guest cottage (more of the birthday further down in this episode); Emma silhouetted on her own verandah at the other end of the pool; the Moon and Venus see off the other light sources on a magically clear evening in the garden.
NSRI3 flare training
Fishing is a primary pastime for Kerry's family in Hermanus where the seas range between idyllic turquoise tranquility and terrifyingly grey, gale-induced cauldrons. She and husband, Chairman Tim, and sons, Andrew and Michael, were frequently to be found in and around the Walker Bay Boat and Ski-boat Club. Volunteering, fishing, mucking about in boats or propping up the bar. This particular evening they were to be trained in the proper use of distress flares by the NSRI ...
(Photo opportunities included (L to R): Michael; a member of the NSRI team; a realistic exercise out in Walker Bay to demonstrate the flares' visibility.
So, I cheated (just a little bit) with the Montrachet:
When I persuaded Shan to leave the name plate (now reinstated) blank on her Fauvist interpretation on the left above, we were in the middle of a little social media game of "name this vineyard". Some of them had had more obvious detail and friends such as Angela Lloyd and Daryl Balfour rallied to the challenge. For this one, I thought things were a little less obvious so, in a spirit of fun, I offered a prize of a representative wine to the first person who got it. Having met Anne Wessels subsequently, I very much doubt she was motivated by the prize. Nonetheless, she got it immediately. Shan and I suspected she might have been a little surprised when we met for coffee in Hermanus actually bearing a bottle of 1er cru Puligny Montrachet. Note to Anne: we knew you weren't expecting anything so hope you weren't embarrassed? Not quite Le Montrachet, but your delight and grace was worth the little ceremony. I guess as the purveyor of SA's arguably finest Chardonnay, Restless River Ava Marie, Anne would have done her homework.
And then it was THE birthday
The one we'd been waiting to celebrate for a year: Madam's virtual 60th.
This episode in our holiday was full of surprises. You've heard about Shan's friend, Jane, and there's a bit more of that to end off with.
But now there was a new delight - her brother Patrick and sister-in-lor Sue (a.k.a. Packet and Susie) putting in an unannounced appearance for the festivities.
It started with siblings and Mum:
(Clockwise from top left): L-R Shan, Judy, Kerry (a.k.a. Kinks) and Packet; Fick's Pool could be anywhere in the world (typically, perhaps the Mediterranean) where a terrace sits above a beach or tidal pool open to all comers; Shan, Packet, Kinks, Susie and, at last (but not least), Tim enjoying beer, wine and sunshine at Fick's Pool the day before the main event; and on the actual day, lunch at La Vierge with views from the Hemel-en-Aarde valley all the way to the sea through a gap in the coastal mountains4.
In relatively recent years the Hemel-en-Aarde valley has become, if there is such a thing, a rural metropolis of winemaking with wall-to-wall wine farms, including Restless River and La Vierge, lining the valley. It needs a blog of its own. This will be forthcoming, as will, one day, a proper blog about Tesselaarsdal, the place that more-or-less escaped Apartheid5, having been left in trust by an 18th Century landowning couple to their workers (probably read slaves).
Before we took time out to assimilate a comprehensive catalogue of the Hemel-en-Aarde's delights, Shan and I took a little time out to meander up the North Eastern end of this valley's evocative landscape.
At first, we were enticed into Tesselaarsdal because it was in the middle of nowhere. Then we came across this loosely packed community of eclectic buildings:
(Top row, L to R): a general store; a bungalow that seemed entirely populated by donkeys; a loose collection of smallholdings enclosed by immaculately maintained barbed-wire fencing. (Bottom row): what appears to have been a "Little Boutique Hotel" until fairly recently, now spookily abandoned. And no-one I asked knew a thing about it.
I will return to Tesselaarsdal in a later episode of this Blog series but what I really want to do is properly research a full-length article.
Moving further North East towards Stanford, both of us were moved by the moody rolling hills and their varied textures reflecting the cycles of agriculture in the area.
During a previous expedition to the Cape, Shan and Kate (our daughter) had taken the opportunity, I suspect aided and abetted by Kinks, to visit the penguin colony at Betty's Bay. Shan was keen to take me there. I had seen a bunch of penguins in amongst the Boulders on the outskirts of Simonstown but, beguiled by my dearly beloved's tales of these avian busybodies scurrying about their daily business in their thousands, I happily went along for the ride.
If you have the option, don't go there in the moulting season (seemingly November into December). There were thousands of Penguins but the vast majority of them were standing around in bunches, looking depressed. And being very smelly. After we left, a couple of people I spoke to confirmed that this was a penguin thing6.
We did have an enjoyable light lunch in Kleinmond, followed by a scenic drive up to the Iona wine estate and a little beyond to gaze over the Grabouw/Elgin valley (partner/rival to Hemel-en-Aarde).
(Top row, L to R): Betty's Bay Bleak House; Depressed penguins moulting on a slipway; (Middle row, L to R): Mountains across the bay viewed through a fissure in a century old oak post; at least two of the penguins had other things on their minds than being depressed ... necking in the sunshine, perhaps? (Bottom row, L to R}: A fine sweeping beach seen from an al fresco Kleinmond restaurant, with the Babilonstoring Mountains in the background; Elgin farms in the basin formed within the Hottentots-Holland mountains ... some fab wine farms down there to rival the Hemel-en-Aarde.
Bit of a shock re: visa extension
When planning our much-postponed visit to South Africa we came across a little clause somewhere, which stipulated that we would have to obtain a visa extension to remain in the country for more than 90 days. This fell short of our 144 day duration. As is always our wont, we immediately assumed panic mode. The planning had been stressful enough anyway and here was another obstacle standing in our path. It may not sound like much, and perhaps it shouldn't have been, but the complete lack of coherent information had the makings of a nightmare.
Initially we were pointed at a South African government website that suggested it was a piece of cake and could all be done online. Whew, huge relief. The relief didn't last long ... only until we tried to follow the online instructions and were politely informed that the system had not been commissioned yet.
Who should we ask how to resolve this? Our carrier, British Airways, who had happily accepted a 5-month return flight, had no idea. The South Africa embassy in London was worse than useless (and quite rude to boot). We were abandoned to Googlesphere. Eventually following a path that seemed plausible we found someone that told us that we couldn't obtain an extension from outside of South Africa and would have to do it when we got there.
The most probable solution we'd been given was that, once we were in SA, we'd have to take our passports to an office of the Department of Home Affairs. If one chose the office carefully, one would have to join a queue that may take quite a few hours but the extensions would be appended there and then. The most convenient appropriate office was evidently in Caledon, which wasn't too bad, especially as I could combine a visit to the Tesselaarsdal section of the museum nearby. Do a bit of research and a visa extension in one 90 km round trip.
We should've realised that things could never be that simple ... 7
Forty years of friendship in abstentia.
How to end this episode on an upbeat note? Well, that's the easiest question so far.
Once upon a time, in the beginning, Shan had been attempting over several forays to the Cape, staggered over quite a few years, to hook up with one of her oldest and dearest friends from their jolling8 days in Joeys. Turns out the friend, Jane, has a restaurant in Kloof Nek with her husband, Solly. Said restaurant keeps them extremely busy and all attempts to join up in the past have ended in disappointment.
Enter Captain Markel. Through a few forays into Ms H's memory bank, managed to establish where Chez Solomon might be. Things became a bit easier from there and Captain M managed to contact Jane anonymously. We wanted to entertain six of our friends (two of whom were also relations). To cut a long story, and numerous calls to Jane, short, we ended up with a table for 4 for lunch on the first Wednesday in December. Shan was in the picture and Jane blissfully unaware.
Serendipitously, we would be staying a few nights with another friend of mine of many years. Must've been about 50 years I'd known Viv. She and her partner, John, were to be our guests at the Miller's Thumb and Viv had offered to drive so that Shan and I could celebrate our coup de grâce in style.
Viv, John, Shan and I were all in on the story but I suspect every one of us was a little apprehensive that the whole surprise could go horribly wrong. In the event it went off like a dream, give or take the odd happy tear and many, many hugs.
As is always the way with these things the tears shed were not in a miserable way, as can be seen from the pic at the outset of this blog. Sometimes the odd tear can be a gratifying thing especially when organising surprises.
The food was bloody gorgeous BTW ... do try the Miller's Thumb in Kloof Nek Road.
We contrived to return in the next episode.
I did mention at the start that this episode was going to jump about a bit. Things start in one timeframe and continue into another. So the next few episodes will contain continuations of our forays into Restless River, La Vierge, staying with Viv in Muizenberg, lots more about Home Affairs and, inter alia, more bits and bobs about Hermanus and Tesselaarsdal ...