Day One: Winery, Ho!

(Lexicon note: “Ho!” Is a term that was used in the old West – at least as portrayed on television – to signal that the wagon train should start moving forward, as in “Wagons, ho-o-o!”)

It was the first day, so everyone was anxious to start, and we were all aboard by noon, as requested, and away we went, rumbling through the streets of Cape Town and out to the highway, headed north. Our first night would be spent at Highlanders’ Vineyards, which also had a camp site.

Our bus of tourists drove for about four hours north through South Africa, and arrived at Highlanders Campsite & Lodge, situated on the shore of the Olifants River, near the village of Klawer.

This was our first time in setting up camp. Each team of two was given a tent and a pair of foam rubber mattresses. Each tent bag had a number that matched the numbers on the two mattresses (+ an “A” or a “B”). We all had our own sleeping bags. The tents were made of heavy duty rubberized cloth with “bathtub floors” and steel poles. The corner seams of the tents had thin, black wire hooks that were supposed to snap over the poles to hold the tent’s walls taut. The tent had three windows and a door with green screening cloth. The floors were big enough to handle two mattresses with about 18″ of center floor separating them.

The tents were bulky and heavy to carry from the bus, but Gail and I were strong enough and we managed the carrying with a little effort. Handling the tent was challenging because the cloth was so heavy, and the hooks didn’t snap onto the poles easily. Pushing on them caused a great deal of pain in my thumbs, and Gail also struggled with the hooks. I had some success pounding on the hooks with my water bottle. We finally got it together, but it was a struggle each time. Taking it down was a little easier, and Mambo taught us (and others!) how to flatten the tent to fold it and roll it up for storage in the morning.

After everyone got their tent set up for the night, we were very ready to have a wine tasting! A lot of wine tasting. The owner of the winery joked that if anyone had too much and fell into the swimming pool, “just remember to stand up.” Again, the wine was very nice, and bottles were purchased by several of the group for continued relaxation at camp after dinner.

You may recall that I mentioned “chore distribution” in the first tour post. Mambo had divided us into four groups, and each group was responsible for one of four chores each day: help food preparation, wash dishes, wash pots & pans, and cleaning the bus. This, of course, was how Intrepid Travel (IT) kept the cost of the tour down. In truth, the crew was very experienced in organizing these chores, and the imposition was very little – usually about twenty minutes of actual work – but it was also an opportunity to talk with the crew, which was helpful to me. I picked their brain about living in Africa, whether certain areas were safe for tourists or not, were there trains, what was “native” African food, et cetera. I also learned a few words in Swahili.

Henry proved to be a very good cook for our group. The food was good, serviceable fare, and always included vegetables, meat or lentils/soy, and potatoes or pasta. He was a stickler for cleanliness, and there was always a hand-washing station set up where everyone was to wash their hands before helping with meal prep or hitting the buffet line.

The evening routine became setting up the tents, entertaining ourselves while dinner was prepared, setting up chairs, washing hands, and eating. At the end of dinner but before clean-up, Mambo would describe the next day’s itinerary and answer questions. Afterward, people either settled in for the night or engaged in some socializing, generally depending on how active the day had been.

Morning usually came early, and for a few days, “early” was before dawn, which was around 6:00 a.m. Sleeping bags and personal belongings were gathered, mattresses were rolled and tents came down, packed for storage on the bus. Then came breakfast, always filling – often fried eggs, bacon/sausage, and potatoes. Cereal and milk were available for the vegetarians amongst us, along with fruit, tea, coffee, etc.

Sometimes Henry would fix “pap,” a thick, pasty stuff with a texture similar to thick mashed potatoes, made from maize flour. This was a staple eaten by Africans. It was very heavy and bland, and I could never warm up to it, but it is very popular “home cooking” in Africa, advertised by local restaurants who promote their own version of it. They serve it with a sauce of some kind, comprised of meat, vegetable, tomato sauce, and spices. In that sense, it’s not unlike Italian pasta and sauce, or French crepes and filling: a bland base with a variety of accompaniments.

Pap gained a reputation with the people, eventually everyone, who had to clean the pan afterward, because it stuck to the sides of the pan with tenacity, and clogged the scrubbing sponges.

A relative of pap was another maize product which seemed to be maize kernels cooked in a way that rendered them soft, immersed in a more liquid version of pap, and served as a side dish. That was very good, but must take more time to cook, because we only had it twice.

These two posts do not have photos because I was hesitant to start snapping photos of fellow travelers while we were still getting acquainted. “Hi, how are you? Let me take this photo of you while you’re eating….” It didn’t seem the way to start off, but we relaxed quickly – living in close quarters will do that.

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