Saturday, January 14, 2012

South Africa Day 7 - Swellendam

Had an early breakfast before packing up our stuff yet again in readiness for the journey to Swellendam. Already I’m getting into a routine of packing, making sure everything is in its place, each item fitting in perfect unison. My suitcase is like a well oiled machine, each piece coming together and harmonising in perfect completeness. In fact, now I think of it, my packing is also like a ballet, where I am the conductor upon his rostrum, where my shirts are the horn section, shorts the percussion and my pants the brass. Anyway, you get the idea. So, after that graceful performance we were speeding out of town with the open road in view.

10 minutes later we were back at the hotel as I had left the passports, money and my driving license behind in the room safe. But after that, we were definitely off.

Again we stopped in Boschendal to have a look at the manor house, as it was closed the day before. If you’re looking for a restored 19th century Cape farmhouse then you cannot go far wrong with Boschendal Manor House, besides the fact it is one of very few in existence, it does give a sense of stepping back in time with it’s beautiful period furnishings and of course it’s pièce de résistance - an antique four poster stinkwood bed.

Next up was La Motte where we hoped to get ourselves onto a cellar tour as it has one of the most traditional cellars in the area, the original having been built in 1782, before being renovated and declared a national monument in 1975. This is where you get to see the huge wooden barrels, rather than the monstrous metal urns of the modern cellar. But despite what our guidebook confidently told us, we were informed by the lovely lady on reception that they do not do tours of the cellar.

She invited us to take a minute to stroll into the tasting room where great views of it could be had, but to be honest this was not at all what we came for, so somewhat irked we made a swift about turn and strode out of that place, leaving our dreams splattered all over the reception area carpet, like a bottle of cherished wine that has been demolished on the floor, a bottle of cherished wine that was full of dreams, probably on a carpet made of dreams as well.

As soon as we got outside I wished we had gone and taken a look, it would have been better than not seeing it at all, but could we go back in there after making such a haughty exit? We decided to acquiesce to our shame and make for the car. We checked the guidebook again and it definitely said they did tours, which left us contemplating two possibilities. A. They have a policy of not letting anyone in on a tour who they don’t like the look of, obviously I was fine on this count, so I could only assume it was Sarah they took an immediate aversion to, or B. Our eight year old guidebook was imparting information that was not concurrent with the prevailing situation. If was a betting man, I’d have to go with A.

House among lavender
Once back on the road we passed a small lavender farm to get a few snaps before heading onwards to Franschhoek where coffee was procured along with a couple of African prints from a local artist, which were the only souvenirs we bought the entire trip. After that we made our way over Franschhoek pass again, before finding our way onto the N2, the main route along the southern coast of the country.

Overlooking the Winelands from Franschhoek Pass
View from the Pass
The range marches off into the distance
Land and light on the Pass
An artistic view of the land, or a bit of a mess, not sure myself
We ploughed through fairly high winds along the exposed road, as it shot arrow straight, through the surrounding countryside, which had turned from the verdant mountainous views of the winelands region, very suddenly it seemed, into lush, open vistas of golden wheat fields stretching off to the ranges that ran along the entire horizon.

Once in Swellendam we found Rothman Manor, our accommodation for the night fairly easily, as Swellendam is basically one long main street. This has to be one of the nicest hotels, or guest retreats, I have ever stayed in, perfect setting and more finishing touches than you could shake a well turned stick at. So after making use of the coffee machine, a proper coffee machine mind, not some vending machine, and the complimentary ipad to check emails etc, we drove into Marloth Nature Reserve, located in the Swellendam mountains above the town.

After signing in, we drove into the park proper as we’d heard there was a lovely waterfall there that was worth a look. After making our way along a well maintained dirt road, we took the left hand fork behind the accommodation they have in the park. The road soon got a bit trickier, turning from dirt to mud and soon to large slippery puddles, although that description doesn’t do them justice. It was when we started sliding along roads that, already narrow and winding, became narrow and winding with rather sheer drops off the edge, that we thought maybe we had taken a wrong turn.

After making use of a welcome widening of the track to turn the car around, we drove/slid our way back the way we had come, only to discover the other road had a handy signpost pointing the way to the waterfall for anyone who would care to look. So that was handy. We later discovered that we had been traversing the jeep trail, our two wheels had been negotiating terrain meant for four, but on the plus side, we had given the car a new paint job, I imagine the effect would be described as mud monsoon, and it was a look it would sport for many days to come.

Making our way along the correct road this time, for a fairly slow 2km as the road was a bit rutted, we ended up deep in the forest where the trail for the waterfall began. It was getting on a bit by now and they would soon be closing the park, so we got straight to it. This was our first taste of proper exercise thus far in the trip, not the last, but definitely the first, and it showed. So after a pretty demanding walk to get there we finally made it to the much anticipated waterfall. Well, it was technically a waterfall I think, as water was falling. Although, I’m not sure if there has to be a minimum amount of water in motion to define something as a waterfall, if there is then this was running a very fine line indeed. The setting was lovely though, not a sound to be heard, beyond the trickle of water of course, and lots of lush, green ferns and overhanging branches made it a great spot.

Yep that is the extent of the waterfall
Once ensconced back at the hotel I took a few photos as the sun was setting, couldn’t get much of a view of the mountains unfortunately, so contented myself with pictures of clouds, and that is no bad thing. The light at sunset here is amazing, a real deep yellow, rather than the orange of back home, which slowly coats everything in a glowing ambrosia, the landscape seems to blaze, to become more existent, yet more inscrutable, as if there is a transcendental beauty at work who is at once frivolous, yet also imbued with the unfathomable weight of the cosmos, revealing to us something about the land, about ourselves, we can never truly grasp.

Basically it’s very pretty.

Three shots of the changing colours as the sun set
Later on we settled ourselves at the Field & Fork located at the other end of town, and began another round of outstanding steaks washed down with a cracking bottle of red from the Robertson Valley. A pretty decent end to the day and no mistake.

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