John C. Barry

My reminiscences, thoughts, and travel experiences

Category: South Africa

Montagu Country Hotel, Western Cape

Montagu Country Hotel the only Art Deco hotel in South Africa

I started my consulting business in 1982.  My travels took me to countries in Southern Africa, North America, Western Europe, and India.  Besides, I have traveled with my family to Hawaii, the Caribbean, and many places throughout the United States, Canada, and South Africa.  I stayed in hundreds of hotels during that time.

Montagu Country Hotel is situated in the Western Cape, South Africa, about a 3-hour drive from Cape Town through some of the most scenic drives that can be found anywhere in the world.  Having an opportunity to stay in the only Art Deco hotel in South Africa and furnished with original period pieces, was an exceptionally special treat.  As was an outstanding level of service provided.  To learn more about the town of Montagu click here.

When it comes to boutique hotels, a few come to mind.  I stayed at specialty privately owned hotels in Clinton, Missouri, USA, and Montreal, Canada.  We stayed at a boutique hotel in Paris with a view of the Eiffel Tower.  It was an ancient building retrofitted with an elevator/lift so small it could only accommodate one person and a small amount of luggage.  These lodgings offer something exceptional compared to the cookie-cutter major hotel group offerings all built to a set standard of design, accommodation, and price.  One-off boutique hotels offer bedrooms and bathrooms that are quaint with meals served to delight the most fastidious palate.  Montagu Country Hotel is an example of an exceptional boutique hotel.

The original hotel was erected in 1875 by Christiaan Schlacht, of German descent, built with Victorian accents of the period.  Mr. Goldberg bought the establishment from Schlacht, a popular landlord, and generous to the community.  Ms. Fernandes managed the hotel while married to the former owner of the Springs Hotel.  After divorcing her husband, she bought the Montagu Hotel.  Mr. A. Idelsdon purchased the hotel from her.  The Art Deco Hotel with 32 bedrooms got erected behind the original hotel around 1922.  On completion, the first structure got demolished.  Mr. Russel owned the hotel from July 1941.  Ownership changed hands to the Conradie family, then to Mr. Piet Nel.  Carol Gunter took ownership and invested heavily in the premises.  On October 1, 1966, the late Mr. Gert Lubbe took over the property from a liquidation sale.  Gert Lubbe, who passed away in November 2019, discovered that concrete pavements illegally covered parts of the premises; he had them removed and replaced it with lush vegetation and trees to enhance the street scene.

P-J Basson, General Manager of the hotel for the last 20 years, and his wife Colene took the bold step at the end of June 2020 to buy out the majority shareholder of the Montagu Country Hotel.

How do you market a hotel situated in the most beautiful part of the Western Cape?  Gert Lubbe and Jeanetta Marais created the “Route 62” brand—following the USA’s Route 66 concept.  Both routes built in the 1920s linking farming communities with harbor towns.  Both roads got replaced with highways in the 1950s.  Route 62 is the longest wine route in the world.

Gert Lubbe and P-J Basson began the time-consuming labor of love to replace the furniture with Art Deco-style pieces of beauty.  All dressing tables in the main building are of Art-Deco style.  Lounge suites were re-upholstered to the original specification.  The outer gables are Cape Dutch architecture and repeated in the top-most panels of the glazed doors.

My wife and I were privileged to enjoy most of what this establishment has to offer.  After checking in to our spacious room, we found it comprised a bedroom cum sitting room, bathroom with bathtub, shower, and toilet.  Personable valuables are held in the room’s electronic safe.  Dinner is served in the elegant dining room, with attentive waitstaff discriminatingly obliging with tasty à la carte meals.  To make the ambiance even more appealing, we were entertained by pianist William who played a grand piano with a wide range of music including songs from West Side Story, Les Misérables, to name but a few classics. 

In the mornings we were treated to a hearty country breakfast, selecting from a wide range of buffet-style eats.  I had the good fortune to join several local dignitaries one morning to a tea served with scones and crème.  A Cape Buffet lunch is available. 

We loved the artwork on display in the hotel and appreciated the secured parking provided behind the hotel with a gated entry and exit.

The hotel has many amenities in which we did not partake.  A selection offered includes massages, facials, mineral baths, manicures, pedicures, waxing, and tinting.  Hourly tours can be arranged in classic American vehicles, with a choice of a 1956 Cadillac Sedan De Ville, 1964 Cadillac Sedan Deville, or a 1956 De Soto Fireflight Sportsman.

Obviously I highly recommend the Montagu Country Hotel as a fun place to stay and spend time in a great tourist destination.

To learn more and make your reservations, click here.

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Cape Town COVID-19 Adventure

We left the US on March 5, 2020, for a 37-day vacation in South Africa to visit family and friends.

Click to hear a 50-minute audio of the blog text below, or read and enjoy.
See photographs below

Monday, March 23, 2020.  I woke at 6:00 am to a rude awakening!  Checking my iPhone messages, I discovered United Airlines canceled our flights to the United States from Cape Town, South Africa, scheduled to fly March 26, 2020.  I receive a follow-up message to say they are flying again.  What I did not know then is that this pattern that would repeat several times over.  Let me back up and tell the account coherently.

We left the US on March 5, 2020, for a 37-day vacation in South Africa to visit family and friends.  We planned to return home on Easter Monday, April 13, 2020.  For our trip, we flew Delta Airlines from Milwaukee, Wisconsin; to Detroit, Michigan; on to Amsterdam, the Netherlands; to Cape Town.  In hindsight, had the Trump administration told the American people the truth of the COVID-19 pandemic, we would never have traveled in the first place.  We witnessed our investments plummet.  A select few Republican Congresspeople were informed of the imminent catastrophe, sold their investments, some in the millions of dollars before the public learned of the pending danger.

United Airlines started a seasonal service between Newark, New Jersey, and Cape Town on December 15, 2019, through March 25, 2020.  Travel to South Africa is on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.  Return flights to the US are on Monday, Thursday, Saturday.  The distance of 7,817 miles (12,580 kilometers) is the longest route flown by United.  Flying time to Cape Town is 14 hours, and back to the US, 16 hours.  United operates this route using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner with 48 business class seats, 88 Economy Plus, and 116 economy seats.  Frankly, I had no idea that we caught the last flight for the season back to the US until I did my research from home in Wisconsin.  Then too, South Africa went on lockdown at midnight on March 26, 4 hours after our scheduled departure.  Consequently, no other flights could have taken off on the following days.

After Trump stopped flights from Europe, and other countries from flying into the US, the rumors started flying, and fake news prevailed.  Our daughter and son in the US were in a panic after the US State Department issued a proclamation, return to the US immediately, or remain overseas indefinitely.  We sprang into action.  We did not want to be stranded forever in South Africa, lovely as the country is.  We purchased new and additional tickets on United Airlines flying from Cape Town directly to the Newark, New Jersey, in the New York area, with a connecting flight to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  For the record, our one-way tickets on United Airlines was more expensive than our return tickets on Delta.  We canceled our return ticket on Delta and should get a credit toward our next flight, but there is no cash refund.

When I woke March 23 at 6:00 am South African time on Monday morning, it is 11:00 pm Sunday night US Central Time.  The first text from United was sent at 10:43 pm SA time when I am already asleep (3:43 pm Central).  It states that our flights “are canceled due to the unprecedented circumstances.”  At 11:53 pm SA Time (4:53 pm Central), I receive a follow-up text stating the flights are not canceled!!  The follow on text states that non-US citizens who have visited certain countries will be denied entry to the US.  We may be subjected to 14-days of self-quarantine.  We had planned to follow an isolation recommendation in any event.  We quarantined ourselves in South Africa for the two weeks, ending March 21, and beyond that date until we departed.

When I booked the United flight on March 20, 2020, there were only two seats available in the economy class, and they were not situated next to each other.  I had a decision to make and paid for an upgrade to Economy Plus.  In hindsight, it was a wise decision because there is much more legroom.  If the passenger in front decides to recline their seat, there is sufficient space available to enjoy the trip without a seat backrest in your face.  Our problem is that with this experience, we will never fly the regular economy class again.  I have been a frequent flyer for many years, regularly flying for business and occasionally for pleasure with our family.  I am knowledgeable enough to know that to get an early boarding allocation; I need to obtain our boarding passes 24-hours before take off.  At 8:00 pm, South African time, on Wednesday, March 25, I logged on to the United Airlines website to secure our boarding passes.  It was the start of a 90-minute ordeal.  Let me hasten to add that I retired after 50 years in the computer industry as a developer, designer, educator, trainer, consultant, and salesperson, so technology should not be a challenge for me.  Little did I know.

I keyed in my confirmation number to be informed that the flight had been canceled!  My wife was three hours away in Cape Town, so I made contact with her immediately to alert Linda of our challenge.  Linda contacted my daughter and son, who were both working from home in the US with their respective companies requiring employees to work from home due to COVID-19.  The four of us now worked to figure out if and why the flight was canceled.  I started the process off by attempting to secure my boarding pass.  At some point, I was required to scan my passport with a warning that it will take some time for the system to register the document.  I again received the message that the flight was canceled.  We had to verify that we had not traveled to a list of countries where we could not get access back to the USA.  My wife scanned her passport into the system, and again we were informed that the flight had been canceled.  Our children in the interim were on the United Airlines website and showed that the plane was flying.  After an hour and a half, the boarding process was complete, and we could print our passes.  My conclusion is that the programming was substandard, and rather than report there were problems with the information we entered, the program reported an erroneous flight cancelation.  To verify that we were not unduly stupid, where we were seated on our flight home, a few passengers near us complained that they, too, got these flight canceled messages.

In the US, we are recommended to arrive at the airport three hours before takeoff for all international flights.  Our flight out of Cape Town was at 8:00 pm.  We arrived at the airport at 3:00 pm, 5 hours before the scheduled departure.  We were surprised by the number of people in line, but the gates had not yet opened to allow us to check our luggage.  Maintaining our social distance, we had interesting conversations with other passengers waiting in line.  The airport itself was a madhouse, especially with passengers flying to the UK.  To pass through the multitude of people to get to our check-in position in itself was a challenge with a large number of people, each in very close proximity to one another.  The check-in agents arrived about 4 hours before boarding, giving us sufficient time to go through security and passport control.  At 7:15 pm, the boarding process started.  While seated on the plane, at 8:00 pm, the captain advised us that 28 passengers were stuck trying to check their luggage and get through security.  He kept us informed as to how many people were waiting to board the flight.  He was wise enough to hold takeoff until all passengers could board.  The captain did tell us that part of the holdup was some of the check-in agents had not shown up for work, and that helped slow the process dramatically.  The captain walked through the plane before takeoff to answer questions that the passengers may have.  Once in the air, and hour and fifteen minutes after our scheduled departure time, the captain made up time to arrive in Newark close to the stated arrival time.  He announced the flight crew was volunteers due to COVID-19.  The captain informed us that we would not be processed by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) for temperature checks after deplaning.

Arriving at a near-deserted airport in Newark was another experience.  We arrive at Terminal B.  We proceed through passport control, then had to relocate by train to Terminal C to collect our luggage, pass through customs, and check-in our bags for transport to Milwaukee.  Next, take a bus to Terminal A, catch a small regional jet for the two-hour flight to Milwaukee.  We knew we had 90 minutes to complete this process, and we were fortunate to make our flight without delay.  The jet was less than half-filled with passengers.  Probably the most challenging situation was the toilets in the terminal buildings were locked, and I have a weak bladder.

The surprises did not stop yet.  We arrived in Milwaukee at General Mitchell International airport at 10:00 am to a deserted airport.  The shops were closed, and there are no people around.  We make our way to baggage claim, and our three bags are the first on the conveyor.  My son and his girlfriend were outside the baggage claim area.  Sean tosses the keys to my wife, making sure there was no close contact and headed off home with his girlfriend.  My next surprise was my drive home.  In thirty-four years we have lived here, I have never seen the roads so quiet.  Once back home, we started the sterilization process, cleaning all our luggage, taking a shower, and doing six loads of laundry washing everything we took to South Africa, including the clean clothing we brought home in our bags.

Friday, March 27, 2020, was the start of our 14-day isolation.  I cannot deny, now, into a few days of this experience, that we have experienced a significant adjustment.  We have arranged to have groceries delivered, and seriously miss our daily 40-minute walk around the neighborhood.  I feel starved of exercise.  Naturally, we miss seeing our children and granddaughters.  Facetiming is not the same.  We are not able to socialize with any of our neighbors in our condominium complex. 

Now that I have reached the end of my account of getting home, I will start at the beginning.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

A friend kindly drove us to the airport in Milwaukee. Our flight to Detroit was only 75-minutes on a regional jet. Delta requested us to be at the airport 3 hours ahead of departure. With Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee being a small airport, this seems an excessive request. The bad news when we finally got to Cape Town we found the Transport Security Agency had searched my large suitcase, one of three checked bags. They found nothing worth confiscating.  The flight was uneventful. We had a three-hour layover in Detroit and had a meal at PF Chang’s.

I filed a complaint with Delta for not issuing boarding passes with TSA Precheck.  They said it would take a week or more to respond.  TSA (Transport Security Administration) is a government organization responsible for security at the US ports of entry.  Precheck is a program that one can apply for at a cost, where your background is vetted, and when going through security at the airports, they are more lenient in what passengers are asked to do.  We do not have to remove shoes or belts, for example.  More than that, I hold a TSA Global Entry that speeds up the process when returning to the US from overseas travel.  Delta advised that the TSA Precheck is a privilege and not always provided to passengers.  Strange, when I paid $85 for the convenience.

We boarded a flight to Amsterdam. With the flight time of eight and a half hours, I watched the movie Bombshell. It is the story of Fox News and the sexual advances made by Rodger Ailes on female anchors. South African actress Charlize Theron played the part of Megyn Kelly, who sued Rodger. If any of the faithful Trump followers watch this movie, I cannot see how they will vote for Trump again, unless he convinces his base that this movie is all lies and fake news. I watched Judy about the life of Judy Garland. What a short sad life she had, getting manipulated by men wanting to profit off her voice at any cost. Finally, I watched a single episode of the TV series The Neighborhood with a Chinese family living in white suburbia and the racism they faced. And yes, it was a comedy.

The flight to Amsterdam was not full, Linda and I had a spare seat to ourselves.

Friday, March 6, 2020

By the time we crossed the Atlantic, it was early morning In Amsterdam. We did not have much of a layover and boarded a massive Boeing 777 300 for the 12-hour flight to Cape Town. When you arrive at Cape Town International Airport, the passengers are split into locals and foreigners to go through customers and immigration. There were a handful of South Africans, with the majority of us being international passengers. Frankly, with all the bad press South Africa is getting, I am surprised to see any visitors. I read before our departure that tourism is down.  A few days after our arrival back in the US, Moody’s Investors Service cut South Africa’s credit rating below investment grade, delivering the country a full house of junk assessments as it grapples with a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The currency, the Rand, devalued dramatically against the US$, and other global currencies.  South Africa has been in a recession for the past six months.

The Hotel Verdi, which is a stone throw from the airport, listed 11:30 pm and midnight as shuttle pickup times. A taxi driver told us that the 11:30 shuttle had left at 11:20. I called the hotel to complain, and they responded immediately with another shuttle.  I have stayed at this hotel previously and recommend it highly.  Everything from the rooms to the dining facilities is of the best available.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

After a short night’s sleep and a great breakfast, we took the shuttle to the airport to collect our Hertz rental car. Hertz provided us with a Renault Stepwise, a compact small vehicle. We drove to the hotel, loaded our luggage, and I tried to connect my dashcam to one of the two cigarette lighters. Neither worked on this low mileage car, and I was disgusted. The more significant issue was that on two occasions, I tried to close the rear door and ended up cutting myself in two different spots on my face. The rear doors are an above-average height with a sharp edge. From an engineering design point of view, the vehicle is a disaster. Linda bumped her nose on the silly door but did not break her skin.

Hertz exchanged the car for a Volkswagen Polo. I had to change the feed to the dashcam from a cigar lighter to a USB port. So far, it appears that the dashcam did not get the needed electric connection. The Rexing dashcam shows that it is activated when you switch the car on.  When I looked at the camera display, after several day’s driving, it was blank.  I discovered that the SanDisk micro SD card was my problem in that it will not permit multiple over-recordings with the overwrite feature.  I replaced the SIM card with a Kingston product.  The biggest disappointment for me is that I was not able to save videos of drives we went on to add to YouTube and my blog.

On leaving the airport, we drove to nearby friend’s home to borrow a Taser for our short duration in the Cape. Wally drove me to a nearby shopping center for me to draw rands from the ATM. At a minimum, I needed cash for the tolls on the way to my sister in Montagu. After tea and cookies, we made our way to my other sister, living in the northern suburbs of Cape Town. Linda had never seen their home, and I had not seen the renovations. After another round of tea and snacks, we followed through driving three hours to my sister and brother-in-law’s farm in Montagu. That night we stayed in Cottage 3 on the farm.  Please appreciate that driving in South Africa required me to drive on the left-hand side of the road with a stick shift rental car.

I am the proud owner of three pairs of eyeglasses; one for general use, one for computer use, and sunglasses.  When we arrived in Montagu, unpacked, and set everything in its place, I realized that my “regular” eyeglasses were missing.  A quick call to Hertz verified that I had left it in Renault’s glove compartment/cubbyhole and that they would keep it in a secure place until we retrieved it on our return to Cape Town on Tuesday.

A dozen of us met for a tapas dinner at the BluVines restaurant, including Simon, and wife Yvette (more about them later), Jonathan and Sharon (additional detail to follow), Linda and me. I wrote about Richard Weilers and his restaurant in a blog, and with the delicious food and waiters who entertain with singing.  You may imagine what a wonderful evening we had.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Eating is essential, so we started the day at Sergio and Cay Fernandes’ Rambling Rose restaurant. Sergio always does an excellent job of making all his patrons feel like royalty, but we are regulars, so we got an even better treatment. Cay’s kitchen skills are unparalleled.  Having Linda and me back in Montagu added to the excitement.  You can read about The Rambling Rose Restaurant in my blog about Montagu. 

Linda, my sister Gail, and I headed off to Gecko Private Reserve in the Little Karoo, owned by Jonathan and Sharon Deal. Driving time is 45 minutes to an hour from Montagu, depending on speed traveled. Gail was driving a 4X4 vehicle. I have been to Gecko Rock on several occasions, and knowing the corrugated gravel roads; I would never drive a regular car there. Gecko is 4,000 hectares in size.  (10,000 acres, or 15 square miles). New Berlin, Wisconsin, is 37 square miles (95 square kilometers). New Berlin has a population of 40,000. Imagine half of the New Berlin population living on Gecko Rock.

With a few bungalows or cottages on the premises, Gecko can accommodate 50 people.  You should be able to imagine how each unit is positioned so as not to see another soul. The concept is to fully enjoy the mountains, flowers, some wild animals, and nature in general.  In the cabin we stayed in, it is self-contained with a lounge, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom.  The quiet is so peaceful and almost deafening in its silence.  I asked Sharon where the water for the cottage is supplied?  It is piped and pumped from the main house, and this is how each cabin gets its water supply.  Please understand this is not a straight line.  It is a mountainous environment.  They live entirely off the grid.  Electricity is supplied from solar panels on the cottage roof, with a battery pack in the kitchen.  The bedroom has large panoramic windows so that you can lie in bed and enjoy the view of the mountains.  Imagine a life without internet access.

Jonathan provides handgun training for certification to own a firearm, a South African legal requirement. Gecko offers hiking, off-road riding, and facilities for conferences for up to 70 people, including a camping site where you can erect your tents.  Meetings focus on self-improvement.  The attendees are required to provide meals.

Sharon provided a late lunch before heading to our cabin, so we did not have to fuss with food. The friendship with Jonathan and Sharon was enjoyable, and we even played a trick on Gail’s husband when he joined us later in the day.  As he arrived at Sharon’s home, we pretended to all be drunk.  It is what friendship is all about.

Jonathan wrote a book entitled Timeless Karoo.  I was so impressed that I wrote a blog about the book. 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Sharon met us early morning at our cabin for 3.5 miles (6 kilometers) walk on the estate, including heading back to their home.  After another meal, Gail drove us to the cabin to collect our belongings, and we headed back to Montagu.

Today’s game plan was to enjoy the Montagu Country Hotel, the only Art Deco hotel in South Africa, and furnished with original period furniture.  The original hotel was built in 1875.  The Art Deco hotel was erected behind the original structure in 1922.  The old structure was demolished, and the hotel renamed in 1941.  Gert Lubbe purchased the hotel out of bankruptcy in 1966.  Gert passed away a few months ago.  See a separate blog discussing this hotel.

Before heading to the hotel, we spent time watching Simon train horses on Gail and her husband’s farm.  When Linda was growing up, she spent her 6-years during her schooling, riding horses daily.  During that time, she was the proud owner of four horses, one at a time.  One horse was bought from the renowned golfer, Gary Player.  Linda and two close friends would go to the stables after school, groom, feed, and ride their horses.  All of Linda’s horses were older and unlikely to be too energetic for young girls.  However, how do you go about training a horse to be able to be ridden for any age group?  Gail and her husband have numerous Arabian horses on their farm.  Simon contracted to teach their son and the team of six-horse handlers how to break in a young horse without using any violent methods.  I will not get into more detail now, but there is much information I could share.  I will likely produce a blog about this exciting learning experience.  Simon and his wife Yvette have a horse training business in Johannesburg and spent time with the “horse whisper” guru, Monty Roberts, on several occasions in Salinas, California.

The connection to the Montagu Country Hotel is interesting to understand.  Colene Basson is a charted accountant.  Colene previously worked with Gail and her husband as their accountant.  P-J Basson is the CEO of the hotel.  Colene joined P-J in his business, helping to run the hotel.  After I wrote the blog about Montagu, Gail asked me to write a blog about the Montagu Country Hotel.  I said that it would not be ethical if I had nor stayed there, so I made a reservation from the US before going on this trip.  P-J got to hear about our visit and gave us a complimentary upgrade.  I requested P-J to allow me to interview William, the pianist who played beautifully during our dinner.  You name it, and he played it, including music from Les Misérables, West Side Story, and other well-known favorites.  I was so intrigued by the extensive repertoire that I went to chat with him.  I wanted to see what sheet music he was using.  William told me that he couldn’t read sheet music.  He hears a tune and can play it almost instantly—what a talent.  I want to interview him to learn more about his background and skill.

We enjoyed an excellent sleep in this stylish hotel after dinner in an elegant lounge.  In truth, we did not need to eat again.  The hotel had secure parking for our rental car alongside the hotel. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Yes, we are at it again, with another meal, this time breakfast.  Gail had organized a tea so that Linda and I could meet people we had contact with while writing my Montagu blogs.  Richard Weilers from BluVines Restaurant joined us along with other dignitaries.  I had not met Helen Gooderson, the CEO of the RAD Foundation. Helen explained they take at-risk kids off the street and mentor them with music and arts.  She shared a story about one youngster who had never been out of the Montagu community.  She arranged for this kid to spend time in Boston, Massachusetts.  Helen explained to this boy what he would experience during this travels and venture.  He could not understand the concept of flying.  He arrived at the airport in Cape Town with his grandmother.  He was concerned when they took his suitcase and saw it disappear on a conveyor belt.  He wanted to know what if on the two 11-hour flights he needed to use the bathroom.  Helen explained the process, and he wanted to know, looking up, where the excrement goes after he flushed.  Since I have crossed the Atlantic at least 100 times, I cannot relate!

After saying goodbye to Gail, we detoured to Hertz in Cape Town to retrieve my glasses.  It is a process that should have taken two minutes.  30-minutes later, we left, eyeglasses in hand.  The agent had to look in many locked cupboards.  With not being able to locate them, he sent a broadcast text to all off duty personnel to request information as to where it was stored.  The process did not provide the information requested.  In desperation, the agent emptied the locker that he first looked in, and after unpacking everything, he found them in the back underneath all the other lost items that were stored there.  Sadly, this did not create an excellent impression of their efficiency.

Linda was anxious to get to her sister and renew her acquaintance with her sister’s daughter and grandson, Alex.  We arrived at her house at lunchtime. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Linda was up very early to take her sister to the hospital.  They left at 5:45 am.  The procedure was a success.  I took 17-month old Alex for a 30-minute walk to give her mother, who was working from home, time to make business calls.

One challenge faced by residents of South Africa is the unreliability of electricity.  The power utility company, ESKOM, cuts power, known as load shedding, done in stages.  Today was a day when the power got cut twice, each for two and a half hour periods—one in the late afternoon, the other during the midnight hours.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

With Linda’s sister in hospital, recovering from her knee replacement surgery, Linda spent the entire day at the hospital.  I spent some time playing with 17-month-old Alex.  As part of my caring for him, I took him for a long walk: me walking, Alex in his pushchair. 

A great curse in sunny South Africa is a corrupt and incompetent government.  Electricity production and distribution are through the bankrupt Eskom, the electrical power utility.  Due to a lack of maintenance, they need to shut the power.  It is complicated; they have various stages; each stage has additional shutdowns in 2.5-hour increments.  Stage 1 and 2 have one shut down for the southern suburb of Tokai in Cape Town, where Linda’s sister lives.  Each suburb or region throughout the country is on a different schedule!  Where my sister lives in Montagu, stage one has no shutdown, and stage 2 a single shut down.  Stages go all the way to Stage 8, in Montagu power is cut three times in the day, and the same for Tokai.  How does anyone keep track?  I have an app EskomSePush on my iPhone that tells you by day and location the status of load shedding, as it is named.  The only silver lining is that we do not live in Zimbabwe where electricity is cut for 16-hours a day.  It only comes on in the very early morning when families need to rise and cook for the day if groceries are available in the shops.

While at Linda’s sister’s house, we do not watch TV.  The only entertainment is to read the news on our iPads if there is available electricity, and therefore Wi-Fi.  One other issue is that when power is cut, it is critically important to unplug all electronic devices.  If left plugged in, when the power comes back on, there is a power surge that burns out electronic device printed circuit boards.  Then too, we read lots of books.

Friday, March 13, 2020

The highlight of the day was my opportunity to attend a dinner with Rondebosch Old Boys.  Several hundred attend this event with 12 from our 1963 graduating year.  It is held at an exclusive Kelvin Grove club in Newlands, a southern suburb of Cape Town, close to where we attended junior and high school.  The fee R475 ($30) covers the 3-course meal and drinks, wine and beer only.  If you want hard liquor, you pay for it separately.  As a side note, for may years, Rondebosch would not hold the event at this club because, in the early days, Jewish people were not allowed to join this club, or attend functions at this club!  That bigoted policy got rescinded many years ago.

Growing up in racist South Africa with its apartheid policies creates interesting but sad stories.  The newly appointed principal of Rondebosch Preparatory School is a non-white gentleman.  Ian Ryan told of being raised at previously disadvantaged schools, and the struggle to get a good education.  He did say that the most challenging position as a principal that he held was at the previous girl’s junior school.  He said that if you thought teaching boys was a challenge, try teaching girls who tend to be more intense about their studies.

It was the 111th anniversary of our Old Boys’ Union.  Dinner comprised a salad, braised lamb shank for the main course, and Crème Brulee for dessert.  When I returned home, I told Linda that I did not think the lamb was particularly tasty.  She reminded me that I made the same comment after last year’s dinner.  I guess catering for a few hundred patrons is not easy.

Returning to my sister-in-law’s house was challenging.  I only arrived at 11:00 pm.  Linda had stayed up to help me with the garage doors, and to then set all the complicated security alarms.  It is no exaggeration when I say that it is like living in prison, where everyone is extremely fearful of criminals entering your home.  After I parked my low mileage rental car, we went to sleep.  The next morning the domestic informed me that I had left the car lights on overnight.  I had visions of a dead battery, but I dodged a bullet.  The car started and started repeatedly.  After a three-hour drive to Montagu, the battery problem was a distant memory.

The other big news of the day is that Linda brought her sister home from the hospital. 

Saturday, March 14, 2020, and Sunday, March 15, 2020

Nothing much exciting to report—with one exception.  While at the Rondebosch function, a school friend told me that a millionaire was living close to the home where I originally grew up.  Linda and I drove to the neighborhood on Sunday to see what my youthful home looks like 65 years later.  I must stress that we grew up dirt poor, the house we had back then was tiny, a semi-detached house, not something to be proud of, especially while attending a prestigious boys school.  It was a rental that my parents moved to at the time I was born.  The change in the neighborhood was alarming.  Every house now looked like a fortress.  Where we initially lived, there was a large sports field across the road, and that location currently consists of multiple homes, all fortified as protection from criminals.  South Africans live with a siege mentality.  I chatted with one neighbor who told me that there is one elderly lady who has lived in the area all her life.  I could not recall her from my early days.  We drove around the corner to the home my parents built-in 1961.  That home has also been fortified by the current owners so that nothing is visible from the street.  As Linda reminded me, the large outer wall is the one my parents had erected.  The entry gate is remote-controlled, and also massively high and new since we lived there.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Today I woke up and carefully packed the small rental car, a Volkswagen Polo, about the size of a Golf.  I needed to detour to my sister Monica and her husband, staying with their son in the northern suburbs of Cape Town.  I had to find space for Monica’s sizeable cool box, three suitcases, and what looked like a 6-months supply of groceries in plastic bags.  Somehow we found space in the small car and set off for Montagu.  Driving in the late morning had its advantages, as there were relatively few large trucks and other traffic on the road.

When you drive through the Huguenot tunnel on the road to the north you pay a toll.  A few months ago, it was R38.25, and now it had been increased to R41.50.  Most people pay cash, while credit cards are accepted, but why don’t they charge a nice round number like R40 or R45.  Why mess with coins?  Several motorists drop the coins on the ground when handed back from the toll operator, and then hop out their car to retrieve the small change.  It causes chaos with irritated motorists also trying to get through the tolls.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

I filled the VW Polo today with petrol/gas at the cost of US$50.  Outrageously expensive for a small car.  My sister Gail fetched, our sister Monica and her husband, and then picked me up from the farm, as we headed to a restaurant midway between Montagu and Barrydale along Route 62.  This restaurant is literally in the middle of nowhere on a farm where they produce wine.  Leon, who runs the restaurant, told me the business has been slow since the municipality made him remove all the road signs advertising his place.  We met a British gentleman who is spending a month in Montagu on vacation.  I am guessing he must be in his late 50s.  He started cycling at 5:00 am from Ladismith along Route 62 to Montagu, a distance of 63 kilometers or 40 miles.  Leon, the restaurant owner, told me that a couple stopped at his restaurant while cycling from Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, to South Africa, a distance of 5,240 kilometers or 3,256 miles.  (New York to LA is 2,800 miles).

Wednesday, March 18, 2020, through Wednesday, March 25, 2020

It may not be apparent in what I have written about so far, but for all intents and purposes, Linda and I were in quarantine due to the COVID-19 virus.  After my school function on Friday 13th, we began a process of isolation.  Linda in her sister’s home, and me in the cottage on my sister’s farm.  We made significant efforts to stay away from people, and in both cases, only interacted with our immediate families.  We clearly understood that being back home, we would need to begin a fourteen-day isolation process all over again.

Before setting off on this vacation, we had several family and friends that we wanted to meet, and in some situations, stay over and visit for a day or two.  None of that happened.  After I wrote my blog about Montagu, I discovered additional sites that I should visit and expand the blog.  That, too, did not occur.  The sad reality is that after our long trip on three aircraft and four large airports teaming with people, we had no assurance that we had not contracted the virus or were carriers that could affect other people.  The responsible action was to practice social distancing.  I am fortunate that I have visited South Africa on numerous occasions, and escaping the cold of Wisconsin for the warmth and sunshine of South Africa, could have been an even more enjoyable experience.

COVID-19

Arriving back home after three weeks in South Africa was a shock to be in a different world in terms of the reality of the Coronavirus, COVID-19. We received email, text, and telephone discussions from local families, friends, and neighbors about the prevailing practice. In one situation, we even had a face-to-face conversation with a friend, three meters/ten feet apart. 

Locally in Wisconsin, people still shop.  Let me use grocery stores as an example.  Seniors typically buy early morning, return home, shower, and launder all the clothing worn to the store.  Some purchase groceries and have goods delivered to your door.  If it is more urgent, people will order and pick up at the supermarkets with purchases brought to your vehicle.  In all cases, the bags or boxes are left at the entrance door on returning home, groceries are removed and sterilized, and packaging trashed.  Naturally, the next step is washing and disinfecting your hands, finally packing the groceries away.  

To put it mildly, when we arrived at the Milwaukee airport, it was like a ghost town.  There was virtually no one there; all the shops were closed.  Our state governor, Tony Evers, has declared all non-essential workers to stay home.  On the drive from the airport to our condo, I could not believe how light the traffic was.  One nearby church had 80 attend a service, afterward, ten tested positive for COVID-19, and 43 are sick.

It is very important for Donald J. Trump that America is the biggest and the best.  We are.  We have more COVID-19 cases than any other country in the world.

In our condo complex, we have a community room and a fitness room.  Both are locked until the virus passes.  

Our strategy to stem the virus was to launder everything that we journeyed with, including all clean clothing.  All suitcases got wiped down and sterilized.  We even washed our shoes. Our children stocked our home with food that should see us through for the next four weeks at a minimum. 

Social distancing is a reality.  People are staying at home and avoiding contact with others.  If you go for a walk and someone is on the pavement on your side of the road, you cross the street so as not to make close contact.  When we went through the security at the airport in Newark, they had an officer continually crying out, “stay at least six feet apart.”  

Our son, Sean, and his girlfriend drove in two cars to the airport.  Sean tossed my car keys to Linda, waved from a distance, and headed home.  If you have not yet got the message, we are taking this pandemic seriously.

The bottom line, if you meet someone today, who has met someone else in the last few days, you may have got yourself infected with a virus that can live for three weeks.  

We had a few unusual financial situations after we returned home.  We needed to cancel our Delta return ticket.  They did not offer us a refund, but we could use a credit on a future flight.  Hertz charged us an additional amount of $48, even if we returned the rental 18 days early.  I queried the charge, and they did not respond but did issue a credit of $47.  The difference was due to the fluctuation and devaluing of the South African Rand.  If you go to the grocery store and purchase several items, and charge it to your credit card, you do not expect to see an itemized list on your card for bread, milk, apples, tomatoes, etc.  United Airlines listed 12 separate charges, including South Africa Passenger Security Charge $1.30, South Africa Passenger Safety Charge $1.50, US APHIS User Fee $3.96, US Passenger Facility Charge $4.50, September 11th Security Fee $5.60, etc.  I guess if you wish to dispute any of these charges through your credit card company, this may be helpful.  I have never seen this detail on my Delta Airline bill.

As I reflect on our trip, my only disappointment was in not visiting family and friends that I wanted to meet.  Then too, I am sorry that we could not have additional sightseeing opportunities that we planned before our trip.  However, the seriousness of the COVID-19 virus cannot be underestimated, and being responsible and practice social distancing was and is the sensible option.

Stay safe, one and all.

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Timeless Karoo, Western Cape, South Africa

The Karoo in South Africa’s Western Cape provides some of the most fantastic touring sites and vacation places.

Timeless Karoo, a travelogue by Jonathan Deal.

As a voracious reader of non-fiction, and consummate writer, I believe that I am qualified to recognize a seminal work when I read one.  That was my reaction in reading Jonathan Deal’s travelogue, “Timeless Karoo.”  In 208 pages, 185 photographs, each picture telling their own story, Jonathan’s journey through five regions of the Karoo in South Africa’s Western Cape, spending time at each of 56 towns and villages is a riveting and highly informative read.

The Karoo in South Africa’s Western Cape Province provides some of the most fantastic touring sites and vacation places.  Steeped in history and offering a variety of scenic and cultural experiences, a travel opportunity not to be missed.

I am guilty as charged of driving from Cape Town to Johannesburg, or Port Elizabeth via the inland route, without stopping at these many places to savor the delights it has to offer, its history, or to meet the locals as Jonathan did.

Jonathan and his wife Sharon took three years to research in detail each town before visiting, and then journeyed to and stayed at each location.  With his background knowledge, he was able to meet the locals in a coffee shop, church or pub to learn more about the local history and customs, discerning their secrets before writing about his experiences.  While at it, Jonathan took magnificent photographs to illustrate for the reader’s enjoyment, thereby making the travel more enjoyable. The result is a page-turning narrative that keeps you engrossed in his findings.  The only warning is that you may want to follow his path of discovery.  It is addictive.

The result is a well-written account of all they saw and experienced, for us to enjoy.  Jonathan covers geography, geology, paleontology, and other topics of interest.  The book is complete with “Don’t Miss These Highlights,” a glossary of terms from Afrikaans to English, publicity associations, and information bureau telephone numbers, with accommodation suggestions from Jonathan’s personal experiences.  A goldmine of valuable information.

Regions covered: Klein Karoo, Hantam & Tankwa Karoo, Great Karoo, Northern & Upper Karoo, and Central Karoo.

Towns covered: Aberdeen, Amalienstein, Barrydale, Beaufort West, Britstown, Calitzdorp, Calvinia, Carnarvon, Colesberg, De Aar, De Rust, Fraserburg, Gamkaskloof (Die Hel), Graaf-Reinet, Hanover, Hopetown, Hutchinson, Ladismith, Laingsburg, Leeu-Gamka, Loxton, Matjiesfontein, Merweville, Middelburg, Middelpos, Montagu, Moordenaarskaroo, Mount Stewart, Murraysburg, Nelspoort, Nieu Bethesda, Niewoudtville, Noupoort, Oudtshoorn, Philipstown, Prieska, Prince Albert, Prince Albert Road, Richmond, Rietbron, Seweweekspoort, Smartt Dam, Steytlerville, Strydenburg, Sutherland, Three Sisters, Touws River, Uniondale, Van Wyksdorp, Victoria West, Vosburg, Wagenaarskraal, Williston, Willwmore, Witteberge, and Zoar.

In my travels, I have read many fact-based informational tour guides.  In Jonathan’s Timeless Karoo, he provides many fascinating anecdotes that help make this book a must-read.  Each page introduces impressive people, each with their own unique story. You get to enjoy many pearls of wisdom from prehistoric times.  Jonathan wrote it to make this book a must-read.  Revel in the geological facts. How has the economy impacted the communities?  What role water played in these communities?  Where in the Karoo will you find prehistoric fossils?

In addition to basic facts, Jonathan provides endless entertaining tales contributed by locals shared on his travels to make this a reverting read.  The data includes historical events.  America has its continental divide, where is there one in the Karoo?  What do you know about the diictodon?  Jonathan recommends scenic detours, what is not to like about that?  Jonathan tells accounts of his forefathers, including his mother.

Where to invest in this book?

I own the hardcover book.  I usually read novels and non-fiction on my Kindle.  I am particularly biased, this is a magnificent book to hold in your hand, now in its third edition, and the hardcover is the way to invest and enjoy this publication.

In South Africa, you can purchase hard copies from Sharon Deal, Sharon@geckorock.co.za or directly from their website www.geckorock.co.za (082) 493-8733

The Rambling Rose Restaurant, 36 Long St, Montagu, 6720, Western Cape (083) 401-4503

The Lord Milner Hotel, Matjiesfontein, 6901 Western Cape (023) 561 3011

Nuveld Motors, Donkin St, Beaufort West, 6970 Western Cape (023) 414 4117

Veldskoen Padstal, N1 Road, De Doorns, 6875 Western Cape (023) 356 2619

South Africa’s Loot: https://www.loot.co.za/product/jonathan-deal-timeless-karoo/hfzh-467-g2a0

Ebooks:

For my American and other international family and friends, this is the only way that you can lay your hands on this work: Amazon (ebook only) https://www.amazon.com/kindle/dp/B01N7612LA/

South Africa’s Takealot (ebook only) https://www.takealot.com/timeless-karoo-ebook/PLID43667269

South Africa’s VitalSource (ebook only) https://www.vitalsource.com/za/products/timeless-karoo-jonathan-deal-v9781775845652

Enjoy your travel experiences.  I trust you discover all the hidden gems.

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Montagu, Western Cape, South Africa

A magnificent village full of charm and attractions. A great vacation spot.

Aerial cover photograph courtesy of Hilton Preston hilton@montagu.org.za

Click to hear 14-minute audio of the blog text below, or read and enjoy.
See photographs and video clips below

My obsession with Montagu, like many of its visitors, is to get away from the rat race of the big cities to the peace and tranquility of this delightful town, or more correctly village.  A haven for fantastic weather, fun, healthy living, exercise, and great food experiences.

I was born at the southern tip of Africa in Cape Town.  Our family moved to New Berlin on the outskirts of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, late 1986.  Milwaukee is located alongside the freshwaters of Lake Michigan, 307 miles (494 km) long by 118 miles (190 km) wide with a shoreline 1,640 miles (2,640 km).  A two-hour drive south takes you to Chicago, Illinois.  The residences of Illinois are known as flatlanders, a reflection of their topography.  South Eastern Wisconsin is equally flat.

My fascination with our annual pilgrimage to the Western Cape in South Africa is to enjoy the many mountain rangers and sheer majestic beauty of the landscape.  I have written about the magnificence of Chapman’s Peak Drive, Boyes’ Drive, and the mountain passes in Franschoek.

When driving from Cape Town to Montagu, a two-hour trip that may take three-hours due to road construction, takes you across Du Toit’s Kloof, and through the Huguenot Tunnel.  You pass through Worcester, Robertson, Ashton, and the Kogman’s Kloof Pass to arrive in Montagu.

Kogman’s Kloof (gorge) is named after Cogmans, a Khoi chiefdom that lived in the area at the beginning of the 18th century.  The Khoi (meaning people) were hunter-gathers that inhabited Southern Africa at the time the Portuguese (Bartolomeu Dias 1488), Dutch (Jan van Riebeeck 1652), and British (1795) occupation.  The Khoikhoi got decimated by the smallpox epidemic around 1774—1677 during the third Khoikhoi-Dutch war.  This gorge is built through the Langeberg (long mountain) between Ashton and Montagu on Route 62 that ultimately takes you to Oudtshoorn.

I have two younger sisters.  My youngest sister and her husband have two businesses in Montagu.  A pip (pit in America) processing plant where they dry and split peach and apricot pips.  The outer husks are used for yard mulch or finely ground and used for abrasive materials, and the seed for medicinal purposes.  Their other business is an Arabian horse breeding farm.  My older sister and my now deceased parents have at some time in their lives lived in Montagu, and reason enough for me to visit this quaint town.

Montagu has a population of 15,500, with an additional regular stream of 30,000 visitors peaking to 40,000 in season.  What is the attraction of this town?  In 1936 Montagu was declared a health resort, attracting an influx of wealthy.  The hot water healing properties at Avalon Springs and Montagu Springs are among the attractions.  Montagu Hot Springs charged a fee dating back to 1873.  My wife and I have walked from town along the fee-paying Badskloof Trail, following the Kogmanskloof River through the magnificent mountain gorges, to the hot springs and back along Route 318 to our home base.  An exhilarating hike if there ever was one.

With health being an attraction, one of my favorites is Carma Lifestyle Hair Salon and Body Wellness.  Salon owner Michael Cole’s 32-year career began in London at Vidal Sassoon.  Mike’s talent supported his global travel as a stylist, manager, and educator.  He settled in South Africa at the Mount Nelson Hotel.  Eventually, Michael started Carma Hair & Wellness in Montagu.  Carla Cole, Michael’s wife, designs a customized body treatment based on an in-depth consultation to target your needs.  I enjoyed head massages, hair cuts, pedicures, and back massages by this highly professional team.

With the significant tourist trade in Montagu, it is not surprising that there are many excellent restaurants.  At last count, a minimum of 16.  I have probably supported each of them at one time over the years.  As a creature of habit, there are two that stand out for me.  BluVines provides all professional aspects of a restaurant with occasional singing entertainment, wine tasting, and a conference room facility.  This restaurant is so impressive that I wrote separately about it. 

My other favorite is Rambling Rose, managed by Sergio and Cay Fernandes.  I have returned to this establishment many times over the years thanks to the great food and friendly atmosphere.  Both restaurants located on Route 62, Long Street, the road as you enter Montagu from Ashton, situated on the right-hand side.  If you are paying in US$, these restaurant prices are ridiculously low, and quality as good, if not better than US restaurants.

Montagu provides accommodation to suit every tourism need.  Approximately 700 people are employed in the tourism industry.  There are 1,900 beds provided through 40 Hotels, Self-Catering Units, Guest Houses, and Bed & Breakfast establishments.  With additional Game Lodges, Caravan Park, and provisions for Backpackers.  Here I am fortunate that my family provides for my accommodation needs.

When visiting the Tourism Office at 24 Bath Street, they provide materials to help with your enjoyment of the many sights and activities in Montagu.  They offer a walking tour map highlighting 25 places of interest in town.  I will name drop by referencing one site.  The Dutch Reformed Church was constructed between 1858 and 1862 by Joseph Barry for an amount of £4,300 (in 2019 currency £520,000, US$670,000, R10 million).  The Neo-Gothic cross-shaped church was design by George Burkett.  The eastern and western galleries designed by John Parker added in 1906. Initially painted in traditional white color, but after complaints by residents that the reflection of the bright sunlight blinded one, was painted in today’s creamy-yellow.  I must recognize Maraletta Mundey, Tourism Manager at Montagu-Ashton Tourism, for providing me with excellent reference materials regarding Montagu and its environs.  Maraletta and her team provide excellent and professional customer service. 

One attraction I enjoy is the Montagu Village Market held on Saturday mornings.  It is my favorite place to find momentoes for my granddaughters and other family members and friends.  I never miss out on freshly made pancakes and coffee.  Here you will find many handicrafts, including clothing, jewelry, beads, hand-painted cloths, etc.  For the locals, they have access to olive oil, cheese, vegetables, loaves of bread, chutney, sauces, and eggs.  Naturally, biltong (jerky) is available—but do not attempt to take this overseas with you.  It could cost you having it confiscated or getting arrested for trying to sneak in food products.  There are specialty booksellers.  How can you afford to miss this exciting and friendly market?

Bird Sanctuary

If you wish to spend alone time watching birds, then the bird sanctuary is a peaceful location to enjoy nature.  Important to know that this is located at the intersection of Bath and Barry streets.

Short Drive through Montagu—along Bath, Barry, and Long streets.

Montagu Mountains

This short video identifies a small portion of the mountain that I had the pleasure of viewing for many days in a row, and appreciate the ever-changing beauty.

The above represents eight photographs taken on different days to show the kaleidoscopic beauty and mood of a single spot in this tiny portion of the Langeberg (long mountain) West mountain range.

Montagu is a springboard for several scenic drives.  I wrote about my trip to Barrydale along Route 62 in my blog.  You can follow a delightful journey in the opposite direction, along Route 318, to Keisie.  Keisie means “sweet water” in the language of the Khoisan.  It is 18-kilometers along the Langeberg (long mountain) valley in the Little Karoo, a semi-desert region, arid, with a unique ecosystem, South Africa’s most significant collection.

History

John Montagu was the Colonial Secretary of the Cape and visited the town in 1852.  The village was laid out on the farm Uitvlucht (escape), beginning in 1841.  The Second Boer War (October 11, 1899, to May 31, 1902) resulted in the English building a fort (9.3 X 3.8 meters 30 X 12 feet) above Kogman’s Kloof, seen as you drive through the short tunnel.  Montagu was founded in 1851.  The first school opened in 1855, and the church in 1862.  The hot springs started operations in 1873.  Montagu banknotes issued in 1861 until the bank’s demise in 1868.  In 1877 Thomas Bain built the tunnel and new road through Kogman’s Kloof alongside the Kingna River flowing southwest of Montagu.  In 1936 Montagu was declared a health resort, and at one time in the early days, boasted five millionaires.  In 1950 Montagu hosted the first South African Wine Festival.  In 1954 the Montagu Nature Garden was inaugurated.  In January 1981, heavy rains in the southern Karoo caused the Keisie and Kingna rivers to flood and meet at the confluence in Montagu.  It resulted in considerable loss of life and damage to property.  It justified the reconstruction of the roads to minimize flood damage.  Construction is currently underway.  In April 1995, President Mandela opened the twenty-first Muscadel Wine Festival.

The reality is that I still have so much more to see and experience in this quaint town.  I will keep looking for additional charm and sites worth exploring on future visits.

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BluVines Restaurant

Richard Weilers opened his establishment in April 2019 after remodeling a farmhouse into a restaurant, wine tasting venue, and conference room facility.

How many small dozen persons enterprises are you aware of that is privately held, with an active social responsibility commitment, and operates a foundation that passionately gives back to their local community?

When I established my website, I had no plans to write about restaurants.  That was before I met the creative, charismatic, generous, caring hospitality executive Richard F. Weilers, owner of BluVines in Montagu, Western Cape, South Africa.  Richard opened his establishment in April 2019 after remodeling a farmhouse into a restaurant, wine tasting venue, and conference room facility.  More about Montagu here: http://www.johncbarry.com/montagu-western-cape-south-africa/

Previously Richard was Managing Director, Hotels Offshore, Tsogo Sun Gaming Ltd., from July 2011 until his retirement when he took up residence in Montagu.  Richard’s domicile was Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he was responsible for opening and managing Tsogo’s offshore facilities.  Tsogo in Setswana means resurrection or new life, a term that mimics the daily rising of the sun. 

When driving from Ashton to Montagu on Route 62 as you enter the town on Long Street, on the right-hand side is a charcoal building, BluVines.  If you appreciate class, excellent service, and occasional live singing, this restaurant deserves your patronage.  The establishment would be welcome on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, Trafalgar Square London, Times Square, New York, or Al Maryah Island in Abu Dhabi.  A place where patrons enjoy first-class dining and delightful entertainment.  The vista with a massive mountain nearby is as awe-inspiring as is the service and food.  It is a special treat for Montagu.  We had lunch for seven family members—and what a special gift.  The average cost for drinks, main course, and deserts were R233 (US$15), a steal if ever there was one.  Don’t forget to visit the winery, and in all sincerity the bathrooms, as that too is an experience.  If you wish to hold a small 14-person conference, the facilities are exquisite.  There is off-street parking behind the restaurant.

What makes BluVines so unique?  Where to start?

Food preparations are by chefs James Mulligan, Sean Bassett, and Knowledge Jonasi.  Waiting service is courtesy of Team Leader Aviwe November (cousin to Siphi—see below), and waiters and singing performers, Mark Stalmeester, Mbulelo Hohlo, and Antonio Arendorf.  Ronald Chiripo is the Grand Baristo and Mixologist; Custodians are Preveledge Dimasi and John Zgambo.  Elliam Nehama is the gardener, all serving under the watchful eye of General Manager Jonine Erasmus.  It is worth noting that with the impressive menu presented to guests, Richard’s name is not reflected.  He is willing to have his team get the recognition they so richly deserve.

James Mulligan singing Falling in Love.  (Watch for the large photograph of a farmhouse near the end of his song, and see additional photograph information below detailing the Conference Room).

Mark Stalmeester and Antio Arendorf performing All I Want.

Menu items include ten percent paid to the BluVines Vision fund.  Staff members receive six percent of the proceeds, with the balance donated to the RAD Foundation.  RAD (Rural Arts Development) Foundation believes in M.A.G.I.C (Music and Growing Inspired Children), and introduces the Arts to Rural communities, providing a platform for integration and unity in diversity, through classes and festivals.  Helen Gooderson is the inspiration to all for her leadership and direction of RAD. She is referred to as “our mother” and has enormous drive and energy.  RAD’s aim is to get youth off the streets and into an environment where they can learn, grow, and achieve manageable goals — working in collaboration with other non-profit organizations to ensure reaching all target groups of youth to introduce them to projects including HIV/AIDS awareness, substance abuse, life skills, recycling, nutrition, and other relevant youth issues.

As an aside, and to reinforce the achievements, benefits, and success of the RAD Foundation, read about Siphesihle (Siphe) November and the late Fiona Sargeant, a past patron of RAD in my 16-day Canadian trip on Day 4.    Fiona’s incredible gift was to work with and develop young people so that they may use the opportunities that Dancescape gave them to change their lives through dance.  Siphe November’s talent was nurtured to provide him with the privilege and opportunity of continuing his training at the Canadian National Ballet School.  “With his debut as Bluebird in Rudolf Nureyev’s production of The Sleeping Beauty last spring, National Ballet of Canada corps member Siphesihle November quickly established himself as the rightful heir to one of the most challenging male parts in the classical repertoire.”  Dance Magazine.  “Mr. November has danced in such ballet as The Nutcracker, Nijinsky, The Winter’s Tale, The Four Seasons, Emergence, Paz de la Jolla and The Dreamers Ever Leave You.”

Blu Vines feature Mimosa wines that are terroir-driven, with limited quantities to ensure a sustained focus on quality.  Terroir (French from terre—land) is a set of environmental factors that affect a crop’s phenotype. Bernhard Hess is the creator and inspiration of the Mimosa Wine Brand.

Richard commissioned the large photograph for the conference room to depict “Create your vision, and keep your eye on the goal.”  The conference room can seat up to 14 delegates. Cape Town photographer, Martin Osner created this work.  There is a second picture of Martin’s on the patio.  I did not take a photograph of this but can be seen in the background on the patio in the video with James Mulligan singing Falling in Love.

Sometimes it is just the small things that add to the class of this establishment.  Imagine providing absent-minded patrons with glasses to read the menu, or possibly more valuable to read the bill.

In America, we have a strong view that you can tell how clean the kitchen is by inspecting the bathroom.  Here three rooms are provided, a ladies, gents, and a handicap accessible or baby change room.  If it does not verify the care, attention, and cleanliness that has gone into every detail, then nothing will.  Please notice the small hand towels available for drying your hands, and the receptacle for storing the used towels.  I apologize for not closing the door when I photographed and saw my error too late.  The video is less problematic.

Please invest the time for your enjoyment to visit and appreciate this fine dining restaurant.  I did.

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Huguenot Tunnel on Du Toits Kloof Pass

Living in Southeast Wisconsin, alongside Lake Michigan in the United States, where the countryside is relatively flat, makes visiting southwestern South Africa around Cape Town and environs exiting with its…

Living in Southeast Wisconsin, alongside Lake Michigan in the United States, where the countryside is relatively flat, makes visiting southwestern South Africa around Cape Town and environs exiting with its many majestic mountain ranges.  You may get the impression that I am obsessed with the beauty of mountain passes of the Cape with my blog describing Chapman Peak’s Drive, Boyes Drive, and Franschoek Pass.

There are more than 51,300 tunnels in the world with China (16,229) and Japan (9,760) being the most prolific.  South Africa has ten vehicle tunnels and one rail tunnel.  The most impressive, to me, is the Huguenot Tunnel on Du Toits Kloof Pass (gap in English) between Worcester and Paarl on the N1.

The N1 is a national route in South Africa that runs from Cape Town through Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Polokwane to Beit Bridge on the border with Zimbabwe.  It is 1,929 kilometers (1,200 miles) in length.

Before 1825, farmers used the gravel pass to get to the interior beyond.  P.A. De Villiers, an engineer, explored the idea of a road over the pass in 1930.  The National Roads Board investigated the idea further in 1938 and finalized the route in 1940.  The project started in 1941 and completed in 1949.  The vehicular accessible Du Toits Kloof Pass was conceived by and named for Francois Du Toit, a 17th-century Huguenot pioneer.  Originally 48 km (30 miles) long, the pass elevated to 820 meters (2,690 feet). 

The 3.9 kilometers (2.5 miles) Huguenot Tunnel opened in 1988, reducing the distance of the old pass by 11 kilometers (6.8 miles).  Driving time between Worcester and Paarl reduced by 20 minutes.  It is the largest curved structure in South Africa and operated as a toll road.  Current toll charges R39.50 (US$2.65) each way.

Geological surveys and design started in 1973, and excavation followed in 1984, tunneling from both ends using drilling and blasting.  There were two phases to the tunneling, the first a pilot tunnel to examine the routes geographical obstacles.  The second phase bored a 5-meter (16.4 feet) tunnel through granite rock as well as the construction of portals, drainage, and ventilation tunnels.  The two drilling heads met with an error of only 3 mm over its entire 3.9 km length.

Leading up to the Huguenot Tunnel from its south side is an awe-inspiringly beautiful, high-altitude viaduct bridge (the first of its kind built in South Africa!) The bridge is simultaneously curved and cambered –constructed by the incremental method.  It soars high above the farm-patch worked valley.

Currently, the tunnel carries one lane of traffic in each direction. Plans are underway to open a second unfinished tunnel, the “northern bore,” to take eastbound traffic. It will allow for two lanes of traffic in each direction, with each tunnel carrying traffic in one direction only.

The old tollway free pass is still available to motorists and follows along Route 101.

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Western Cape, South Africa. Impressions from my 75-day visit during Q1 2019.

The scenery in South Africa is magnificently dramatic. The beauty of the countryside with its vast, majestic mountains, great oceans, gorgeous weather, and a large variety of fauna and flora, is breathtaking.

Map of South Africa highlighting Cape Town in the southwest and Pietersburg/Polokwane in the north. The area we drove with Paternoster in the west, Knysna in the east, and Montagu in the north. New Berlin, Wisconsin, USA alongside Lake Michigan. The Great Lakes in the US and Canada.

Click on the first image to see in full, then click center-right to advance to the next image, finally clicking “X” top right at the final image to exit.

I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and Linda, my wife, in Pietersburg/Polokwane, 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) north of the Mother City.  We left South Africa for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States with our daughter and son, departing from our residence in Johannesburg in January 1987.  In the 32 years, we have been away from South Africa, we have visited family and friends nearly every year for two to three weeks at a time.  2019 was a different year.  Linda retired in May 2018.  I shut my business in 2018, so we planned our 75-day trip.  I was debating calling this a vacation.  It was not an event where we suntanned ourselves on the beach most days.  The trip was more of an obligation to visit nonagenarian mothers, and visiting friends and family.  We had disappointments.  There were friends we did not have time to visit and places we did not see.  We restricted the trip to a portion of the Western Cape, the area around Cape Town, and journeyed briefly between Paternoster on the west coast to Knysna on the east coast, to Montagu, Bonnievale, and Barrydale, in the northeast, driving about 6,000 kilometers (3,800 miles) during that time.  Herewith some of my impressions.

When I write about South Africa, the country of my birth, it is not a myopic view of the country where we lived in Cape Town, Pietersburg/Polokwane, and Edenglen, Edenvale near Johannesburg where we had our home built.  We have been fortunate to travel.  We have crisscrossed the United States, our adopted country and new residence.  I have visited Canada on numerous occasions, Mexico, the Caribbean, England, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, India, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Namibia.


The scenery in South Africa is magnificently dramatic.  The beauty of the countryside with its vast, majestic mountains, great oceans, gorgeous weather, and a large variety of fauna and flora, is breathtaking.  We experienced pleasant and friendly service in retail stores and restaurants, some unbelievably compassionate people in nursing home care facilities especially the home where my mother is taken care of at one extreme, and the third world reality of total government incompetence, corruption, ineffectiveness, and lawlessness at the other.

Our two and a half month visit cost R61,000 (Rand) (US$4,362), excluding airfare and four nights in hotels that we prepaid from home.  We stayed with friends and family without charge and had the use of a motorcar costing nothing, except petrol/gas.

Naturally, I will not repeat detail here shared in recent blogs previously written to highlight the beauty of South Africa within the province of the Western Cape. (Click each heading below to load on a separate page).

We were in for several pleasant surprises during our visit.  The use of paper straws was evident in all the restaurants we frequented.  Being so environmentally conscious was an enjoyable experience.  More so than Wisconsin, the State where we live.  Other parts of the US, especially Hawaii and California are environmentally progressive.  In South African grocery stores, customers pay for plastic bags.  Consumers are encouraged to invest in reusable cloth bags, available for purchase at the checkout for a nominal fee.  At the store near our home in the US, we get a 5-cent refund for each recyclable bag used to pack our groceries.

One of my favorite restaurants, Rambling Rose in Montagu, run by Sergio and Cay Fernandes with our special server Elton who did a great job of taking care of our every need.

The facility where my mother is cared for in Bonnievale by a compassionate team of caregivers under the owner and leadership of Nurse Jane Phillips.

Restaurant meals, haircuts, manicures and pedicures, massages are unbelievably cheap in South Africa, usually about 10% to 15% of US charges.  Tipping is only 10%.  I recommend the husband and wife team of Michael and Carla of Carma Hair and Wellness Centre in Montagu. Servers in restaurants are abnormally pleasant and friendly, especially if they are Zimbabwean nationals who are well-spoken and articulate, which seemed to be the rule and not the exception.  The quality of restaurant food is unparalleled.

When you drive from Cape Town’s airport into the city of Cape Town along the N2 (national road/interstate), you will see Khayelitsha spread out on the left-hand side of the road. Khayelitsha is the Xhosa word meaning “our new home”. The unofficial count is it houses one million people. Notice the satellite dishes, and how the electrical power is linked to the homes, sometimes illegally.

Almost every public parking area in South Africa operates with official or unofficial car guards.  In some situations, they work within above or below ground parking garages where you pay for parking such as at a shopping mall.  They serve to protect your vehicle from break-ins and other vandalism.  The parking attendant earns their money from motorists who would generally tip them R5 (US$ 0.35).  I elected to park in the street level parking at the Blue Route Shopping Center in Tokai, for a quick visit to the bank.  That visit took an hour.  On exiting the mall, I now had the challenge of finding where I parked.  Searching diligently, I was delighted to have a car park attendant show me to my car.  I am amazed that he could recall and connect both my car and me.  I rewarded him with significantly more than R5.  What service.  With the high unemployment rate in South Africa, this is one way to earn money, especially for foreign nationals.  A Google search reveals many car park attendant stories and videos.  Parking attendants typically gross R36,000 (US$ 2,500) per year, tax-free.

We were in South Africa for one public holiday, Human Rights Day, on March 21.  We did not miss any in the US during our time away from home.  South Africa has 14 public holidays, including an extra day in 2019 for voting on May 8.  The US has 8 Holidays.  The government workers and banks celebrate two additional days, Martin Luther King Day, and George Washington’s birthday, while the rest of us working stiffs toil away.

One highlight was attending David Kramer’s “Langarm” (long arm) production at the Fugard Theater in Cape Town on February 24, 2019.  Growing up in Cape Town during the 1960s apartheid era, this musical appealed to my senses.  I loved the bilingual nature of the presentation that made me feel at home.  The storyline with twists and turns matching Chapman’s Peak drive, the talented band, the professional actors and singers and dancers, the humor, the theater in a former church, everything was beyond first-class entertainment.  I was sitting next to an Afrikaner and his wife.  She loved it; he hated it and sat frozen throughout the entire performance.  Many of the lines in the show were not “politically correct” in today’s world, but that, frankly, added to reliving the tragedy of our past.  I believe it was nervous or embarrassed laughter shared by most.

South African’s know how to laugh at themselves.  The government tests to determine if you are white.  Slide a pencil in your hair. If it falls out you are white.  The concept of “try for white” because you would live a more privileged existence.  I wrote about my experiences in my 50-year career blog where I attended a party in a Colored area dancing with fellow workers. Totally against the apartheid laws.  I guess it is wretched to look back and see what we lived through, accepted, and experienced.  That is the joy of theater, and a reminder of what most of us have learned, matured with understanding over time, in attempting to be more accepting society, less racist, more tolerant, and living without prejudices.

We spent a night staying in a cottage high up the mountainside in Hout Bay (wood bay) with friends to watch the sunset.  It was another opportunity to have a break in our routine and again admire the beauty of this “fairest Cape in all the world.”

Our visit to Cape Point was a highlight.  It is located at the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, sheltering False Bay. It is located 60 kilometers (40 miles) from Cape Town’s city center.  Kelly Izzard invited us on a morning hike.  She is a member of a club enjoying this activity frequently.  Rugged rocks and sheer cliffs towering more than 200 meters (650 feet) above the sea and cutting deep into the ocean provide a spectacular background for the park’s rich biodiversity.  Cape Point falls within the southern section of Table Mountain National park.  The natural vegetation of the areas – fynbos (fine bush/shrub) – comprises the smallest but most abundant of the world’s six floral kingdoms.  We drove into the Cape Point Nature Reserve heading for Buffels (buffalo) Bay, one of the more beautiful and desolate beaches of Cape Town.  Here we hiked and saw Antoniesgat (Anton’s hole) one of several caves on the Cape peninsula formed by the consistent pounding of waves against the headland.  It is particularly beautiful and ridden with rather mysterious tunnels.  Hiking is somewhat tricky in places where if you are not careful it is possible to sprain an ankle.  We were following an unbelievably wretched smell that turned out to be a giant whale that beached, died, and was slowly decomposing.

Kelly provided us with this exciting legend of Antoniesgat.  When the Dutch East India Company took over islands of Indonesia in 1752, on the island of Sumbawa some of the islanders resisted.  The leaders of the rebellion Lalu Abdul Koasa and his son Lalu Ismail were captured, banished for life as political exiles, and taken to South Africa, incarcerated in the slave dungeons in Simon’s Bay (Simon’s Town today).  After three years, Lalu Abdul managed to escape by digging a hole in the wall and taking a boat tied alongside the prison.  He headed out to sea, eventually landing along the shore at Cape Point, near Buffelsbaai (buffalo bay).  Lalu Abdul laid low for several years spending time in the partly submerged cave, known as Antoniesgat, below the steep rocky cliffs of Rooikrans (red crown).  He befriended local sheepherders.  He became quite a spiritual and political inspiration to the slave community of Cape Town’s “Deep South” and wrote books.  Here is a beautiful passage from one.  “When I stood on Cape Point Mountain and watched the mesmerizing views of the Atlantic Ocean on the left, and the Indian Ocean on the right, I would think that this was a perfect place for my safety.  Isolated and far away in the distance and in time from the memory and the danger of imprisonment in the dreaded underground prison room for slaves in Simon’s Bay.  At Cape Point I could feel peace through walking every day through the environment, studying mountains, flora, fauna, wildlife and capturing my observations with notes and drawings in my diary.”

We saw this Southern Elephant Seal on the coast at Fish Hoek.  This seal is about 12 feet (3.5 meters) long, is onshore to shed its fur and skin, or molting. It stays on the beach for 3 to 4 weeks and during this time does not eat.  These seals have no fear of humans or dogs.  They can dive to 2,000 meters (6,600 feet), and stay underwater for 2 hours.  Part of our afternoon entertainment on a windy day, and walk on the beach.

We drove six hours to Knysna, part of the Garden Route stretching 300 kilometers (170 miles) from Mossel Bay to the Storms River.  We stayed in a delightful cottage with a nearby walk to a restaurant, and a pleasant drive to the East Café Head restaurant with a view through the Knysna Heads.  We enjoyed it so much that we returned the following day for a second meal.  It offered a fantastic view of the bay.  Here we saw the minimal remains of the wreck of the 460-ton sailing boat Paquita.  Built-in 1862 in Newcastle, England, it ran aground on Beacon Rocks at Fountain Point on October 18, 1903.

We visited Groot (large) Constantia (“consistency” from Latin) twice, each time taking different friends to restaurants there.  In 1685, during an annual visit to the Cape, Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede tot Drakenstein granted the grounds of Groot Constantia to Simon van der Stel the VOC (Dutch East India Company) Governor of the Cape of Good Hope.  Van der Stel built the house and used the land to produce wine as well as other fruit and vegetables, and for cattle farming.  Groot Constantia Wine Estate produces award-winning wines to please every palate.  Jonkershuis (Jonker’s home) Constantia restaurant is nestled in the traditional heart of the Groot Constantia Wine Estate next to the historic homestead and surrounded by ancient oak trees.  Simons Restaurant setting is relaxed with an open kitchen atmosphere to keep you entertained.

I had been in South Africa for a week and not having had any exercise, decided to go for a 75-minute, 4.3 miles (7 kilometers) walk along Route 62 near Montagu, in the Western Cape.  R62 takes you to Barrydale from Montagu, a dual lane, one in each direction, carrying a 120 kilometer per hour (75 mph) speed limit.  Most motorists consider this to be the minimum speed and a few are content traveling at 160 Km/h (100 mph).  I saw one driver hardly able to maintain half the posted speed limit.  The question is why his car is even roadworthy enough to be on the freeway.  I always walk facing on-coming traffic.  One motorist was kind to honk his horn or toot his hooter as he barreled past three cars from behind me on my side of the road, and just in time for me to jump off the road’s narrow sidetrack onto the grass verge.  I did not appreciate on the outbound journey that I had the wind at my back.  That realization became apparent when I turned around.  The road runs along the base of a valley, so the Langeberg (long mountain) mountainous scenery, landscape, and plants are a joy to behold.  To spoil the view, lining the roadside, I saw:

  • aluminum/aluminium soda/cool drink cans,
  • beer bottles both intact and smashed,
  • plastic bottles,
  • tin cans,
  • cigarette packets,
  • Styrofoam boxes discarded from fast-food restaurants,
  • plastic bags large and small,
  • corrugated boxes,
  • Six car tires/tyres,
  • a front end bumper from a car,
  • wooden planks,
  • several dead rodents,
  • and the list goes on. 

We are not a civil society, are we?  The fallout I had from family and friends was fascinating.  They all questioned my sanity to venture onto a road like this with little regard for my safety.

I found speed bumps/humps within the suburbs to be intrusive and dangerous.  I understand the purpose is to slow down motorists.  I was driving a white 2002 VW Golf with under 80,000 kilometers (50,000 miles).  Roadside markers identified some bumps, others appeared out of nowhere, especially while driving in the shadows along tree-lined streets.  If not taken slowly, it felt as if your suspension was going to be ripped off your car, or maybe suffer a cracked or broken sump.  Many times, I found these humps to be a solution in search of a problem.  Troubling too was the number of bumps in relatively short distances.  Many parking areas, primarily shopping centers, business parks, elite residential areas, or medical facilities seem to favor this type of obstruction.

In the United States, the Uniform Plumbing Code specifies that faucets “shall be connected to the water distribution system so that hot water corresponds to the left side of the fittings.”  In our household kitchen, we have a single-handle hot and cold mixer water dispenser.  It is located on the far side of the sink and operates horizontally along the countertop.  To dispense hot water, you open the tap away from you, for the safety of young children.  We, therefore, have a standard that applies countrywide.  In South Africa, a country with a severe problem of water shortage, more often than not, you have a hot water faucet and separately a cold-water tap.  Frequently these taps do not have an indicator as to whether it will dispense hot or cold water.  Running water to test for temperature seems like excessive waste.  In one situation, I used a shower at a holiday cottage and determined that the hot water came from the right-hand tap.  The hand basin placed immediately outside the shower had the hot water on the left.  I could see the logic in that it made life easier for the plumber who routed the hot water closest to the respective taps.

We observed a troubling medical procedure.  It was evident that hygiene was not on the top of a nurses concern.  If you administer a drip into a patient at a hospital, why sterilize your hands before inserting the syringe, and why wear gloves?  My sister, who is a registered nurse, assured me that the gloves protect the nurse as much as it does the patient.  This cavalier attitude at a private hospital in affluent Constantia in South Africa was difficult to comprehend.

I found the absence of street names while driving a challenge.  Many roads exist without reflecting their names.  You get to an intersection and have no idea if this is where you should turn due to the street not being named.  I have often thought it must be a challenge for visitors knowing they need to turn left at Church Street, only to find Kerk Straat, the Afrikaans for Church Street.  South Africa has eleven official languages, the street naming possibilities are endless. I did see some street names placed between tree branches making them impossible to read unless you exited your car to take a closer look.  Even Google Maps is a challenge.  We were trying to find a specific retail store while driving in Worcester.  Being smart, we searched using Google.  Following directions, we ended up in a residential area far from the business district.

There are challenges to driving in South Africa.  I am behind a large truck/lorry that needed to make a tight left hand turn onto a narrow farm road.  All is well.  However, an impatient motorist behind me decides that high speed overtaking across double white lines is in order because he is in a hurry, and his time is critically important. I did take note of his license plate.

I was disappointed to find that some large corporations are nowhere near as efficient as I would have expected.  I started work in January 1968 for Mobil Oil in Rondebosch, a suburb of Cape Town.  To open the Standard Bank checking the account for a direct deposit, I needed to provide an address and telephone number.  I was living at home, so I used my parent’s residential address in nearby Claremont, as well as providing the bank with my parent’s telephone number.  Each time we travel to South Africa we need to apply for a new debit (ATM) card to withdraw cash from our savings account.  For security reasons, the bank invalidates the ATM card if not used for six months.  The bank requires a local telephone number where they can send security code for verification, to obtain the new card.  Before approaching the bank, I bring with me from the US an old iPhone and get a South Africa sim card with a local telephone number.  I can now comply by supplying a local cell phone number for the bank to use to send a code to verify that the account belongs to me.  Soon after arriving in Cape Town, we applied for new cards in January 2019.  Bank fraud in South Africa is a severe problem, especially with so much theft occurring.  I was pick-pocked in March 2013 losing my US driver’s license, Standard Bank ATM card, US credit cards and a small amount of South African cash.  The day before our departure in late March 2019, I went to the bank to request they delete the temporary South African cell phone number from my account, and change it to my US cell phone number.  After standing in line for 40 minutes, not a record as I waited an hour on a previous visit, I handed the bank clerk a sheet of paper with my South African and US cell phone numbers requesting that she replace the South African number with the US number.  In looking at my account, she asked about other information such as email addresses.  I had her remove all the old emails and only kept my current email address.  Then she blew my mind by asking about telephone numbers.  She questioned the one that was my parent’s old number that had been in their system for 51 years.  I agreed it would be wise to eliminate that one.  On returning to the US and waiting a few days to get over jet lag, I tried to log in to the Standard Bank website to verify that there were no fraudulent transactions on my account since my departure.  To complete the login I had to enter a code sent to my now disused South African cell phone.  It took a few days and a few telephone calls to Standard Bank’s support center from the US to get everything changed to using my email address rather than a cell phone number.  I saw in the South African press that at Standard Bank Boksburg (near Johannesburg) branch; a woman was so frustrated by the lack of attention to her issue, she went outside and drove her car into the bank building.

May 2, 2019 update.  When we moved to the USA 32 years ago, we could not get life insurance from US insurers, (but could from Canadian companies).  We elected to keep paying for our insurance with Old Mutual in South Africa.  When we became US citizens 20 years ago, we bought life insurance in the US and had the Old Mutual policies “paid up.”  Since that time Old Mutual pay us monthly from investments, directly into our Standard Bank non-residential account.  This morning I get an email from Sipho Maci, a “Learner” in the Non Resident Support division of Standard Bank questioning these Old Mutual deposits with the threat that without documentation “will result in funds being transferred to a non-interest bearing suspense account held in our books.”  I decided to telephone to discuss but 20 minutes after listening to stupid music elected to hang up.  Answering an international call after pressing the compulsory 1, 2, 3, 4 is not part of customer service when calling the Standard Bank nonresident division.
May 3, 2019 update. Sipho emailed “Apologies for the message, it was sent in error.” Translation–I screwed up.

If this is appropriate, I want to put in a positive word for T-Mobile.  For decades, we were AT&T customers.  Each time we had to make a special arrangement to use our cell phones in South Africa and naturally pay a fee, and pay each time we used their service.  About a year ago, we changed carriers to T-Mobile.  We spend a flat monthly fee that includes unlimited data usage.  On our 16-day drive to Canada during September 2018, we asked T-Mobile what the conditions were to use the phone in Canada.  None.  Just use it as if you were still in the States.  For the trip to South Africa, they told us the same thing, except the calls would cost US$ 0.25 cents a minute.  Use it as if you were in the US.  It was a blessing for the many times we used Google Maps to find out of the way places—and not have any additional data charges.  None.

South African Post Office (SAPO) is the national postal service of South Africa and is a state-run enterprise.  The only shareholder is the South African government.  In terms of South African law, the Post Office is the single entity legally allowed to accept registered mail and as such operates a monopoly.  In 2018, they employed 18,119 people.  A good friend of mine required documents mailed from his bank a mile away, it took 12 days to arrive at his home.  If I need to send business documentation to my family in South Africa from the US, we only use FedEx, UPS, or DHL because that is the only way I have a guarantee it will arrive at its destination.  Many international family and friends have learned the hard way that if you mail packages to South Africa using SAPO, the likelihood of it arriving at its destination is slim to none.  The contents will be probably be stolen somewhere along the delivery route.  I was reading Facebook comments made by South African’s in the US, that chocolates and candy/sweets mailed from South Africa to the US never arrive, as these gifts are eaten somewhere in transit in South Africa.

What do South African’s do within the country?  Use private enterprise.  PostNet was founded in 1994 when there was an urgent need in South Africa for an operation that could deliver a range of efficient business solutions.  Today, PostNet is South Africa’s largest privately-owned counter network in the document and parcel industry, trading across over 370 owner-managed retail stores.  PostNet serves more than 70,000 “walk-in” customers per day, countrywide.  There are five product types within PostNet: Courier, Copy & Print, Digital, Stationery, and Mailboxes.  The incompetence of the ANC government to operate anything professionally opens avenues for entrepreneurs to step in and provide effective solutions.

Driving is another challenge in South Africa, more especially when you are familiar with the United States driving on divided highways with multiple lanes in each direction.  Even in residential areas, we have broader roads, often divided with a median in the center.  The multi-billion Rand minibus taxi industry carries over 60% of South Africa’s commuters.  These passengers are from the lower economic class.  Wealthy residents drive their cars for safety and convenience.  The taxi industry is almost entirely made up of 16-seater minibusses, which are sometimes unsafe or not roadworthy.  Minibus taxi drivers are well known for their disregard for the road rules and their proclivity for dangerously overloading their vehicles with passengers.  Due to an effectively unregulated market and the fierceness of competition for passengers and lucrative routes, taxi operators’ band together to form local and national associations.  These associations soon exhibited mafia-like tactics, including the hiring of hitmen and all-out gang warfare.  These associations also engaged in anti-competitive price-fixing.

  • Traffic police appear to be afraid to issue citations to taxi drivers as many operate like criminal syndication.  Turf war killings of rival gangs are not uncommon 
  • Taxis use minivans that typically hold 12 to 16 passengers.  But they have been stopped with as many as 42 children in their vehicle
  • It is not unusual to read that 30 people are killed due to high-speed driving when two taxis collide head-on due to overloading and being un-roadworthy
  • I exited an interstate (national road) with two lanes feeding a T-junction and traffic light (robot in South Africa) at the bottom of the off-ramp.  The left lane had only one vehicle waiting for the light to turn green, and the right lane had traffic backed up to the exit ramp.  A taxi screams down the left lane and turns right forcing a motorist to stop suddenly to avoid an accident
  • The Thruway is backed up due to a severe accident a mile (kilometer) or two ahead.  The shoulder becomes the ideal race track for the taxis to get their fares to the destination quickly, while motorists are dumfounded
  • There is a turn lane for drivers and a flashing arrow to permit cars to clear the intersection.  A taxi blocks the drivers from proceeding, and a string of fellow taxis follow, all using the turn signal from the wrong lane to clear the intersection while the legitimate traffic is held up
  • A friend has a business operating out of a suburban home.  They have a dozen employees.  Each evening the employees are driven to the local taxi rank for their onward journey home.  A taxi operator stops the employee’s driver and threatens his life.  Offering a convenient transport service to the employees takes money out of the hands of the taxis according to the operator.  The employee is told to arrange for the taxi to come to the suburban home to collect the workers.   Due to the risk of having taxis in residential areas, posing the potential for additional crimes, the community will not tolerate this situation.  The police offered to intervene if this threat happened again
  • Picture a situation where I am driving in the affluent area of Constantia (a suburb of Cape Town) with narrow, winding, tree-lined, and hilly roads.  I get to a stop street and have difficulty seeing cross-traffic due to the fences blocking my view.  Cross-traffic is not required to stop.  High walls protecting the mansions reduce my visibility.  A taxi comes barreling over the hill from the left traveling at twice the posted speed limit.  Linda could have died with our vehicle getting t-boned.  I was able to stop in time
  • Taxis sometimes organize protests by blocking all traffic lanes or driving very slowly across all lanes on the main arterial roads, or interstates/national roads
  • The City of Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith has recognized the recent taxi violence as the conflict between two taxi associations, saying the taxi industry has come to “heavily rely” on assassinations.  “There is almost no conviction rate for this, so people kill with impunity in the taxi industry.  Killing is a viable business practice sadly, and there’s never any consequences for it,” he said
  • Anything that I could wish?  In the US, we drive on the right, and we have a right turn on a red traffic light if there is no oncoming traffic.  It would be great to have a left turn on red in South Africa.  Then again, you have taxis that never wait for any color traffic light, or stop sign
  • Over the past decade, the price of fuel in South Africa has increased by a staggering 118%.  In the US the countrywide average fuel price during the same period: USA 2008 $3.61, 2018 $2.657, a 26% reduction
  • Cape Town was rated the most congested traffic city in South Africa for 2018.  It required motorists to sit in traffic for 170 hours that year.  That is the equivalent of almost 20 eight-hour days
  • I had to drive from Tokai, a suburb of Cape Town to the airport along the Simon van der Stel freeway, the M3 merging onto the N2.  It was 9:00 am and initially headed in the direction of the city of Cape Town together with office workers driving to work.  This 30-kilometer (19 miles) trip should not take more than 30 minutes according to Google maps in “normal driving conditions.”  (That averages 60 kilometers per hour, or 40 miles an hour for freeway driving).  Most of the M3 and some of the N2 carries a 100 Kph (60 mph) speed limit.  It took me an hour (30 kph, 19 mph average).  I drove most of the M3 in first gear in the VW Golf.  I noticed that several motorists were so frustrated that they crossed the center median to U-turn, attempting to avoid high-speed oncoming traffic, to find another way to their ultimate destination.

Motorcycles make up another class of traffic that are a law unto themselves.  It makes sense that bikes are a popular method of transport on these congested roads.  On any of the main arterial roads, when clogged, or slow-moving, you find motorcycles weaving between the two rows of vehicles at high speed.  If as a motorist, you wish to change lanes, checking your rearview, driver-side, or passenger-side mirror is essential, as is indicating your plan to change.  I find it amazing that many motorcyclists wear shorts, or t-shirts while riding.  Many do not wear helmets.  They have no protection should they come off their bikes.  On the interstates or national roads, it is common to see motorcycles traveling at speeds significantly above the maximum-posted speed limits.  I even saw a motorbike pop a wheelie!  A friend in Cape Town told me this week that he was driving in heavy traffic when he saw an obstruction ahead.  It was a young kid lying in the road next to his red motorcycle.  He read the following day that it was a 19-year old who was killed by a hit-and-run taxi driver.

Many motorists seem to have a death wish.  A solid no-overtaking line, or worse yet a double no-overtaking line, represents a challenge to see how many vehicles you can overtake before the blind rise or bend disappearing to the left or right from the motorist’s view.  These maneuvers often executed at 160 km/h (100 mph).  I find this degree of lawlessness or recklessness in South Africa quite troubling.  Many country roads are a single lane in each direction with a “yellow path” on the side.  Legally this is not to be used for driving, but most motorists will pull over into the yellow lane to let a speeding motorist pass.  Trucks do this frequently especially if they are navigating an incline.  Then too if you have an oncoming motorist barreling towards you because they are busy overtaking across solid white lines, the yellow lane becomes a welcome safety lane.  Talk about Kamikaze drivers.  Some trucks have stickers at the rear stating, “Yellow lane driving is not permitted.”  The yellow lane has a practical purpose for emergency vehicles, especially when traffic backs up.

Seen on Facebook: RULES FOR DRIVING IN SOUTH AFRICA

  1. Never indicate – it gives away your next move. A real South African driver never uses indicators
  2. Under no circumstance should you leave a safe distance between you and the car in front of you, this space will be filled by at least two taxis and a BMW, putting you in an even more dangerous situation
  3. The faster you drive through a red light, the less chance you have of getting hit
  4. Never, ever come to a complete stop at a stop sign.  No one expects it, and it will only result in you being rear-ended
  5. Braking should be as hard and late as possible to ensure your ABS kicks in, giving you a gentle, relaxing foot massage as the brake pedal pulsates.  For those of you without ABS, it is a chance to stretch your legs.
  6. Never pass on the right (the fast lane) when you can overtake on the left (the slow lane).  It is an excellent way to check if the people entering the highway (from the left) are awake.
  7. Speed limits are arbitrary, given only as a guideline.  They are especially NOT applicable in South Africa during rush hour.  That is why it is called “rush hour.”
  8. Just because you are in the right (fast) lane and have no room to speed up or move over does not mean that the South African driver flashing his high beams behind you does not think he can go faster in your spot
  9. Always slow down and rubberneck when you see an accident or even someone changing a tire.  Never stop to help – you will be mugged
  10. Learn to swerve abruptly.  South Africa is the home of the high-speed slalom driver thanks to the government, placing holes in key locations to test drivers’ reflexes and keep them on their toes
  11. It is traditional to honk your horn at cars that do not move the instant the light turns green.  It prevents storks from building nests on top of the traffic light and birds from making deposits on your car
  12. Remember that the goal of every South African driver is to get there first, by whatever means necessary

If Henry Ford looks down on South Africa, he must be turning in his grave.  By my unscientific estimates, more than 90% of vehicles on South African roads are white, and smaller sized vehicles than we drive in the US.  In the US white is most popular (23%), followed by black (19%), gray (17%), and silver (15%).  The 18-wheelers, many towing a trailer, are no smaller than their matching brands in the US.

 

We drove from Montagu to Barrydale, a 60 kilometer (40 miles) drive for lunch.  The busiest restaurant, by far, was Diesel Creme.  They have a selection of memorabilia that was more than entertaining.  It certainly takes one back in time.  Barrydale is named after Joseph Barry, a well-known merchant of the 19th century.  In fact, every town and village in the southwest Western Cape has a Barry street.  A few years ago I obsessively took my son-in-law to see Barry Streets in numerous places.

South Africa’s Minister of Transport, Blade Nzimande says his department’s production team was “working overtime” to clear a backlog of close to 200,000 driver’s license cards.  It occurred after a 5-month long strike due to a labor dispute, and an upgrade to a new system in 2018.  My cousin explained that when you apply for a driver’s permit if they could not issue the license immediately, you get a card confirming your application stating that you will receive it in due course.  When traveling on the road and many miles from home, you may be stopped by the police to check for valid driver’s licenses.  You show the police the card, but the officer issues you a citation to appear before the magistrate several weeks from that day.  It necessitates another long-distant trip to this town.  The magistrate will throw the case out of court, but you have the inconvenience of taking time off work, traveling some distance to this town again, for what?  Only because the police will not accept as legitimate a card issued by another South Africa administrative department.  I was stopped four times in South Africa to have my driver’s license checked.  On three occasions, they waved me on after a cursory look.  The fourth time the police officer diligently entered all the details into a handheld device.  I use an international driver’s license, but none of the police was knowledgeable enough to know that it had no validity without simultaneously examining my US driver’s license.  I had no plans of handing that one over.  It is far too valuable as an identity document, and should they choose to confiscate it; I would have to go to extraordinary lengths to have a replacement driver’s license issued.

When roads are under repair, to facilitate workers, a single lane is blocked off with cones and barrels while being worked on, and traffic restricted to travel in one direction on the remaining path.  Control takes place at “stop and go” points.  Typically, motorists can expect a 10 to 20-minute delay for maintenance depending on the length of road repair.  I encountered road works on the drive from Robertson to Ashton and Montagu.  Between twenty to one hundred cars and trucks wait during this hold-up.  When released you have vehicles bunched like sausage links, as they proceed to their destination.  It must be a traffic engineer’s worst nightmare as the natural flow of traffic is disrupted.  You see this caravan of vehicles upsetting the normal flow of traffic as it moves through towns blocking intersections.

I was driving from Montagu to Cape Town.  With road works along the way, my sister recommended that I avoid the “stop and go” into Robertson with a 20-minute wait and a 50/50 chance that I may be held up.  There are five of these obstructions on the drive.  Some have a hold up that is generally under 10 minutes, with no detours available.  To avoid the Robertson stop, I needed to detour towards Bonnievale.  On the Bonnievale road turn back toward Robertson.  It might add 5 minutes of driving time but may save 20 minutes.  I thought the turnoff was near the Arabella Wine Farm.  Arabella had a sign in their vineyard not far from the road to turn to the left to get to their farm.  It was at that turn off that I saw this massive 18-wheeler blocking the sign to Bonnievale, and I saw the sign after I had already gone too far.  Who places a turnoff sign after the intersection?  Only in South Africa.

One way local unemployed people earn an income is to beg at the traffic lights (in South Africa, robots), or the “stop and go” roadblocks.  They use this restriction of traffic to sell their wares or plead for charity.  Traffic lights in town provide an additional opportunity.  Hawkers or beggars in the city take their lives in their own hands as the lights turn green and the vehicles reach maximum speed with these poor souls often caught in the middle of traffic. 

I stopped in a pharmacy/chemist in South Africa and was fascinated to see brand name products that sold in the US but in smaller pack sizes.  In the US, I might buy an over-the-counter multivitamin in a pack size of 250, but it is only available in 25s in South Africa.  I found this situation across the board including toothpaste, cosmetics, over-the-counter medication, toiletries, skincare, etc.  My breakfast cereal is sold in smaller portion sizes than I get in the US.  In discussing this with friends and family, many would not agree that with a high cost of living, and high inflation, smaller quantities at lower prices created a more affordable choice—especially among the poorer classes.  Besides, we know that packaging makes up a high percentage of a product cost and may not be that beneficial in the end.  According to Business Insider, gasoline/petrol prices in South Africa increased 200% over the past ten years, including a tax increase over that period of 165%.  Business Day reports that Eskom, South Africa’s electric utility company, increased rates 350% over the past ten years, with additional increases planned over the next quarter.  According to the OECD, South African’s average household net adjusted disposable income per capita is US$ 10,872 a year, compared to the United States’ US$44,049, and a global average of $30,563.

Constantia Uitsig (view) is a wine farm boasting a heritage dating from 1685.  They opened Heritage Market in December 2017 with five quaint cottages including Nest Deli where we dined twice.  In fairness, we spent money at neighbors Alexander Fine Chocolates and Kristen’s Ice Crème. 

Jakes in the Village, located in Tokai, features a local cuisine with vegan options.  It earned a 4 out of 5-star rating on TripAdvisor and provided us with great food and service.

On driving back to Montagu from Knysna, we stopped over in Riversdale to eat at the Paddavlei (frog lake) Kunsgoete (art stuff).  An avant-garde establishment if ever there was one.  The woman who served us had spent a number of years in the US prior to moving to this tiny town from San Diego, California.  The food and service were great.

We had a family celebration at The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa located above the Atlantic Ocean, flanked by the majestic Twelve Apostles and Table Mountain in Camps Bay, Cape Town.  You can eat from the buffet, or ala carte menu, all for one price in the Azure Restaurant.

We had a birthday celebration at the very highly rated The Table, De Meye Estate in Stellenbosch.  The bad news is that the chef couple Jessica Shepard and husband Luke Grant planned to make a change in their careers and seek another interest.  I am unsure of the status.

We all have our tastes; many developed over the years.  While in South Africa, we had our daily fill of Americano or Cappuccino coffee.  I had no plans to order a double-expresso.  Back home we are blessed with a full-bodied aroma coffee.  Hello Starbucks.  We use a coffee maker using pods that brews a stronger, tastier cup than I could get in South Africa.

Security in South Africa is like Chinese water torture, a process in which water slowly drips onto one’s scalp, allegedly making the restrained victim insane.  In the South African context, this process evolved over the decades.  Being controlled is the operative word, as in jailed within your own house.  In the 32 years since we left the country, homeowners and businesses to an alarming degree, have needed to tightened security on an ongoing basis further improving their safety annually.  I clearly understand that in a lawless society with minimal police presence, this is a necessity.  With a residence, the first requirement is to ensure every window and external door has burglar proofing to ensure no one can force entry.  Reinforced glass is helpful.  Divide the home into zones, separately protecting each area.  Say the living area versus the sleeping quarters, or garage.  Before setting the alarm, all windows and doors must be closed and locked.  If not securely closed, the homeowner will trigger the alarm.  The idea is that should there be a break-in; the alarm system will identify which zone is compromised.  Naturally, the signal is linked to the security company by telephone who will send security personnel to provide help and assistance as soon as the alarm is triggered, when applicable apprehend the villains, generally with police help.

All entry doors must have a steel security entry operated with a key or remote lock to unlock from within the home.  Generally, the bedroom area will have another security gate in the passage to stop any potential intruders.  Next, secure the outer perimeter.  High precast or brick walls are a prerequisite.  Often residents add palisades, a steel stake with razor-sharp points that might impale a burglar trying to gain entry to a property.  In turn, protect with razor-sharp coils of steel, and that topped with electric fencing.  Do not forget to add a closed-circuit camera recording device to use as evidence in a court case, or to view what is taking place outside should you hear something.  If you have a driveway to your garage from the surrounding property fence, ensure that you have a retractable gate, remotely controlled.  Finally, add a few dogs.  It is imperative to have a small dog that is alert and sensitive to noises, and the dog’s bark will alert the big dogs who scare the daylights out of any potential burglar.  The dogs must be trained not to take food from a stranger.  Burglars might feed dogs poison to kill them.  As we walked in the suburbs to get exercise, we could have performed an audit to see which homes had the most alert and vicious animals.  The barking was often incessant as one set of dogs from one home would alert the neighbor’s dogs, and the cacophony continued down the street. 

What has led to a security industry in South Africa?

The South African Police Service (SAPS) is the national police force of the Republic of South Africa.  The provincial borders share 1,138 police stations in South Africa, with a Provincial Commissioner appointed in each of the nine provinces.  SAPS employs 193,692 people.  I attempted to use their services when I was pick pocked in March 2013.  The security offices in the shopping center had video footage of the theft and naturally the criminals.  Reporting the incident to the nearby police station was a waste of time.  For them to follow up would have entailed work.

Close and very long time friends of ours suffered deep emotional stress after their son’s demise.  The stolen cell phone was in use for several months after the incident.  The detective requested they continue paying the bill allowing for the interrogation of the current user.  That never happened.  The police chief got promoted to a new location.  The inspector in charge of the case reassigned.  The three witnesses identified had never been interrogated, and the case file is missing.  A year later, there is still no resolution to this tragedy.

Protests are a daily occurrence in South Africa.  “Service delivery” is an excuse.  If the locals don’t want to pay for schooling, then burn buildings within the schools or universities.  If the trains do not run on time, set the coaches alight, or steal the copper wiring.  South African’s observe the role of the police to protect the protesters—certainly not to stop the vandalism.

As I write, here is another incident I saw in the South African press.  “The latest burning of another eight train carriages in the Cape Town central train station is an indictment on those responsible for the management of our rail network, and they must account to the city’s public for the ongoing inaction to protect this essential public transport infrastructure,” Plato said in a statement.  He added that while the cause of the fire in the latest incident has not been determined, the reality is that more than 40 carriages have been burnt in arson attacks since 2017.  Plato said not a single person has been charged as being responsible for any of the more than ten incidents over the past two years.”

In the United States, there are over 18,000 Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies around the country, and estimated between 750,000 and 850,000 sworn officers.  With a population of 327.2 million, this equates to 245 police officers per 100,000 people.  According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2008 Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, the Wisconsin state had 529 law enforcement agencies employing 13,730 sworn police officers, with a population of 5.4 million, about 254 for every 100,000 residents.  South Africa’s total population in 2017 was 56.72 million.  With 193,692 police officers, that equates to 341 police for every 100,000 residents.  South Africa has an adequate police force, but not an effective one.

There are numerous studies in South Africa relating to the corruption within the South African Police Services (SAPS).  Here is an extract from one study.  “In recent years approaches to examining the subject of police corruption have shifted from asking whether or not corruption exists in any given police agency, to ask questions about the size, nature, and impact of the problem.  Decades of experience suggest that if you look for corruption in any police agency, you will find it.  Often likened to a disease, corruption can only be effectively addressed once its existence is recognized.  However, just as some diseases are considered taboo, so too is the topic of corruption in many police agencies.  Talk of it can make police officials, particularly at senior levels, visibly uncomfortable.  It is because it draws attention to the murkier areas of policing which are often out of the sight of the public.  It brings to the fore a critical tension between the functional requirements of police members to combat criminals and the organizational needs of the police agency to be accepted in the eyes of the public.  Police corruption lurks in the arena where a police member’s discretion starts and organizational control ends.”

With the SAPS being so inept, what are South African’s to do?  They have supported a booming security industry.

The Security Association of South Africa is a body representing private security companies.  There are, at present over 9,000 security companies rendering residential, commercial and industrial security services, which comprises guarding, electronic monitoring, armed response, and asset in transit services.  There are currently more than 500,000 security officers in the employ of these companies.  Security companies exist because of the high level of crime and South Africa and the total ineptitude of SAPS.  The reality is that we saw more security vehicles parked alongside the roads, than police vehicles on the streets.  Therefore, we have 193,692 police that are mostly idle, some corrupt, and 500,000 security offices that are active.  A friend told me jokingly that when a police station is attacked, they call the services of Armed Response.  Besides, with all the looting that takes place in South Africa, the consensus is the police are called to protect the looters, and nothing is done to stop the crime.

Where does this leave South Africa today?  State-run enterprises include:

  • Transnet (freight logistics)
  • SAA (the South Africa Airways)
  • South African Express (airline)
  • Eskom (world’s eleventh-largest power utility in terms of generating capacity, ranks ninth in terms of sales, and boasts the world’s largest dry-cooling power station)
  • Denel (armaments and military equipment manufacturer)
  • SAFCOL (forestry)
  • Alexcor (diamond mining)

To illustrate one major South African government state-run enterprise Eskom.  Eskom operates in dire financial straits through a carefully orchestrated plundering of finances, mismanagement, and lack of maintenance, establishing fraudulent supplier contracts, and widespread corruption.  Eskom’s current debt is R600 billion (US$43 billion).  Eskom’s debt burden is much more significant than South Africa’s entire income from personal income tax (R556 billion).  Although Eskom incurred massive losses in its last financial year, it still managed to pay each employee an average bonus of R88 000 (US$6,000).  The total bonus paid of R4.2bn (US$ 300 million), (2016: R2.1bn), even though Eskom made a loss.  Eskom’s external auditors, SizweNtsalubaGobodo, found that Eskom had incurred R3bn (US$200 million) worth of irregular expenditure.

During our visit to South Africa, we had to adjust to a life with periods of no electricity, a concept that the electrical utility, Eskom, called “load shedding.”  Eskom chairperson Jabu Mabuza said the operational side of Eskom required “crisis reaction” as well as time and speed to fix the current load-shedding situation.  Mabuza said seven generating units were currently out of the system due to boiler tube leaks.  The number of power outage hours at thousands of locations across the country showed an increase of over 100% in power failures in 2018.  Eskom highlighted that power outage is mainly caused by the overloading of transformers – especially during cold spells – and this is often because of theft, vandalism, and illegal connections.  Electricity expert Chris Yelland, however, said the causes include planned load shedding, cable theft and vandalism, aging infrastructure, a lack of maintenance, and system overloading.  Networks are the responsibility of municipalities to which Eskom provides electricity, and aging infrastructure are behind many power outages.  Eskom’s Chief Operating Officer Jan Oberholzer said the contract for early detection of faults in the extensive network of tubing inside boilers lapsed 18 months ago and had not yet been renewed.  There are currently seven generating units, which have broken down due to boiler tube leaks as Eskom struggles to maintain its aging power fleet.

Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe said the power utility had burned between 20- 25 million liters of diesel by running the open cycle gas turbines as a last resort and there are no diesel stocks available in South Africa, except for cars and small utilities.  Adding to Eskom’s woes is the loss of 1,150 megawatts of power from the Cahora Bassa hydroelectric generation station, amid the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Idai.  (In fairness, this only accounts for less than 1% of South Africa’s electrical power needs).  Yelland said cable theft is an additional problem for both municipal networks and Eskom’s grid and causes a high percentage of outages.  In brief, South Africa’s power stations are capable of generating approximately 50,000 megawatts of electricity that feeds into the electrical grid.  Realistically with many of the maintenance issues, there is 40,000 MW available regularly.  The government introduced a process of “load shedding” to reduce the amount of power available due to supply or maintenance issues.  One to eight stages of load shedding is applied, with each representing 1,000 MW of unavailable electrical energy.  It is a complicated process as it varies by region and time.  Generally, consumers lose power for two and a half hours at a time from one to three times in a 24-hour a day.

Energy expert, Ted Bloem, explains the reason behind load shedding is that we don’t have proper coal, and we haven’t invested in coal mines, it will take at least five years to sort the coal mess out.  “We’re going to have load shedding of this level or worse for the next five years.  Rocks in the coal cause the current load shedding.  The corruption at Eskom continues.  A year later after the new board has come in, I have warned them for ten years that they were going to run out of coal,” says Bloem.

What is the impact of load shedding?  I was fortunate to have invested in an Apple Watch.  At night, I could use its flashlight to perambulate the dark bedrooms and hallways to find the bathroom.

  • Imagine sleeping in bed with your alarm clock next to you.  As the power trips, it starts flashing noon.  When you wake, you see 1:27.  What does that tell you?
  • Imagine being in a grocery store.  You get to the checkout with your trolley or handbasket, and the power goes out.  It did with us while in a national chain store.  Fortunately, they owned the liquor store next door, and those cash registers were still operational on batteries.  We were carefully chaperoned from one store to the other, verifying that we would not take a short cut to our vehicle with unpaid groceries.
  • You wake before 6:00 am to prepare for the next round of load shedding, but then you are unsure if we are at stage 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6?  Is the current stage scheduled to start at 6:00 am or 10:00 am, or 2:00 pm, or 6:00 pm? 
  • Stages are changed at short notice to accommodate the lack of available generating capacity or increased with new capability that has come on stream.
  • The government is considering adding stage 7 and 8 to its options to further cut the electricity supply.  South Africa has a theoretical capacity of 51,309 MW total power from all sources.
  • Fortunately, there are busy and confusing single page tables available where you can try to figure out the date, your electric grid area, the selection of stages—not knowing what is scheduled for disruption today, and then you recall that the internet is down.
  • Have you been to a restaurant where the servers give you a list of menu items not available because they do not have working ovens?  They have a few meals prepared before load shedding.  
  • You want to use your iPhone, but your Wi-Fi is not available.  You try to use data from your carrier, but that too is not available.  Their system is overloaded, and their battery backup has failed.
  • I went to bed at 8:00 pm because the load shedding had kicked in.  I knew at bedtime that the next round of load shedding was to take place at 4:00 am.  I woke just before that time, only to only find the schedule had changed.  Stage 2 replaced Stage 4.  The next load-shed now planned for 2:00 pm.
  • Picture trying to run your business, or organize your day with these erratic and somewhat schizophrenic changes.  The cost to the country’s economy is uncalculatable.
  • I have a family member with his own business.  Labor shows up at 7:00 am for the start of a shift, power goes down at 10:30 for two and a half hours and workers are standing around on the payroll, waiting for the next load shed at 4:00 pm.
  • Thanks to Eskom and load shedding, when power is restored, it triggers the residential security alarms.  The security company calls to verify if there was an incident.  Sadly, the call only came after 20 minutes or longer.  When chastising the security company representative for taking so long to call, the response was that they had so many customers to call.  Realize that power might have been restored at 2:00 am so the phone call would wake one in the early mornings.
  • The surge that comes on once power has been restored does significant damage to electronic appliances by frying printed circuit boards.  It has led to a boom in UPS (uninterruptable power supply), and surge protector sales.

The only thing worse than load shedding is being surprised by load shedding.  Herman Maritz and Dan Wells developed EskomSePush; a free web application that allows users to view what regions will be affected by power outages on any particular day.  During load shedding, or when there has been a change to the load-shedding schedule, the app will send users push notifications.  The app features timers are counting down the amount of time until load shedding starts.  It provides detailed information on over 50,000 locations in South Africa.  Sometimes the app does not respond because the hits to their servers with inquiries from all over South Africa crash their servers.  Sigh.

  • You drive along the main road, and the traffic lights are dead.  It is now the survival of the fittest.  Who can get through the congested intersection as quickly as possible, only to be stopped by the next traffic intersection without functioning traffic lights
  • Imagine driving on a local suburban road with several other cars during load shedding at night.  The collection of vehicles provides lighting the way.  You turn off onto a side street in the suburb, and all you find is pitch black darkness.  There are no streetlights, the houses are in darkness, and there is no full moon to light the way.  Visibility is negligible.  You know you need to turn into a street with an island at the intersection.  You are not driving a Subaru that casts a beam when you turn the steering wheel.  Will you make your turn safely, or hit the island?  No fun at all.
  • I spoke to a woman who was in an elevator/lift when the power went out.  Otis reported that they would get there as soon as possible, but they had many call-outs.  2-hours later, with limited fresh oxygen she was rescued. 

If you arrive in South Africa by plane, and you expect professional service from custom and immigration agents.  You discover that they resent the fact that you are intruding on their conversations that they are holding very loudly with comrades on the far side of the building.  Eye contact?  What is that?  Do not expect to be welcomed into the country.  Your passport is rubber-stamped mechanically without so much interest as learning how long you plan to stay.  We previously entered South Africa in November 2017 through Johannesburg and received the same shoddy treatment as we did in Cape Town on this recent trip.  Nothing changed.  No improvement.

Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape on April 6, 1652, to establish a halfway station for ships traveling between the Netherlands and East Indies.  The goal was to provide fresh water, vegetables, and meat for passing ships on the month’s long voyage.  He was responsible for his employer’s directives, the Dutch East India Company.  Van Riebeeck found a phenomenal infrastructure of roads, rail, cities, power grids, farms, and a booming industry.  It is this message promoted by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) government.  Van Riebeeck then stole this infrastructure from the local blacks.  It is this rationale that the ANC uses for its policy of expropriating land without compensation.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The Kohisan are the traditional nomad non-Bantu indigenous population of southwestern Africa.  They were the inhabitants that van Riebeeck bartered with for animals; many years before the Bantu migrated south into what is today South Africa.  The “occupiers” built the infrastructure over four centuries, providing jobs and income for the locals.

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” Willian Shakespeare in Julius Caesar.  I have an undying love for the country of my birth.  I am completely mortified by what the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is doing to destroy the country through corruption and lawlessness to turn the country into another Venezuela.

One can argue that the ANC is not blameless, but looking for retribution after the way that white Nationalist Party government treated blacks under the apartheid regime.  South Africa legislated onerous and racist apartheid (separation) laws in 1950.  Marriages and sexual relations between Whites and other races were banned.  The Population Registration Act of 1950 introduced the government’s classifications of race: Bantu (Black Africans), Colored (mixed race), White, and Asian (Indian and Pakistani).  It is complicated.  At some period, the Chinese were treated as “honorary whites.”  This legislation could split families, as parents and children could potentially be registered as different races.  A series of Land Acts set aside over 80 percent of the country’s land to its White citizens.  The government required non-White citizens to carry passes (known as dompas—stupid passes) authorizing their presence in restricted areas; created separated facilities for Whites and non-Whites to limit their communication; limited the action of non-White labor unions and refused non-White participation in the national government.  Due to these apartheid laws, “over 17,745,000 Africans have been arrested or prosecuted” between 1916 and 1984.

Let us step back in time to understand how we got to this point.  The original inhabitants of South Africa were the nomad non-Bantu Khoi and San, or Kohisan people.  Bartolomeu Dais, a Portuguese mariner, was the first to explore the coastline in 1488.  Vasco da Gama with a fleet of Portuguese ships rounded the Cape in 1497.  The Dutch East India Company under Jan van Riebeeck established a settlement in 1652.  British sovereignty was established in 1815, paying the Dutch 6 million pounds for the colony, outlawing the Dutch language, and instilling English language and British culture.  In 1820 five thousand settlers migrated to the country.  1830 was the beginning of the Great Trek, as Dutch-speaking inhabitants moved north.  From 1852 to 1902 sometimes called the Republic of the Transvaal operated as a nation-state.  In 1866 alluvial diamonds were discovered.  Between 1870 and 1880, mines at Kimberley produced 95% of the world’s diamonds.  The first Anglo-Boer (Afrikaans farmer) war broke out in 1880.  In 1886 gold was discovered — the Second Boer War 1899 to 1902 resulting in upwards of 30,000 lives lost.  In 1910 the Union of South Africa formed under the leadership of General Louis Botha, and Jan Smuts his deputy with the South African Party (SAP) following a pro-British white-unity line.  In 1922 the South African National Congress—the forerunner of the African National Congress (ANC) was formed to fight for voting rights for black and mix-raced people.  In 1914 General Barry Hertzog formed the National Party (NP) championing Afrikaner interests advocating separate development for the two white groups (English and Afrikaans).

In 1948 the National Party formalized and extended the existing system of racial discrimination and denial of human rights into the legal system of apartheid (separate development).  1960 heralded the establishment of the Republic of South Africa, withdrawing from the British Commonwealth.  Homeland Citizens Act of 1970 authorized the forced evictions of thousands of black people from urban centers into “homelands” or “Bantustans.”  In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly identified Apartheid as a “crime against humanity” resulting in 91 member states voting for, 26 abstentions, with Portugal, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States, voting against the measure.  The Africa National Congress (ANC) took control of the country in 1994 with a one-person, one-vote mandate and after national elections voted out the apartheid Nationalist Party white government.  Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, with a law degree and who had spent 27 years in prison, was elected the first president and served for a single 5-year term.  Thabo Mbeki, a British educated economist, followed next as president and was ousted by Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma with a grade two education.  Zuma perfected how to siphon funds from government-run enterprises to share with selected family members and comrades.  Zuma was ousted in 2018 after several terms to be followed by Cyril Ramaphosa, a lawyer by profession, reputed to be one of the wealthiest people in South Africa.

More than anyone, Jacob Zuma proved to be a highly corrupt politician.  Zuma initially indicted in 2007 on 18 charges of corruption, fraud, and racketeering, including accepting bribes from a military contractor.  The arms deal, made by the government of Nelson Mandela in the mid to late 1990s, involved the purchase of naval vessels, submarines, fighter jets and other equipment from European nations including Germany, Italy, Sweden, the UK, France, and South Africa. The deal totaled 30 billion rands, or between US$3 billion to US$5 billion at the time.  Zuma alleged to have sought bribes from Thales to support his extravagant lifestyle.  French arms supplier Thales may still face charges.  South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog alleged that the billionaire Gupta family had exploited their ties with Zuma to win state contracts.  Schabir Shaik was found guilty in 2005 of trying to solicit a bribe from Thint, the local subsidiary of French arms firm Thales, on behalf of Zuma.  Zuma had extensive state-funded upgrades to his rural homestead at Nkandla.  Zuma’s rule is estimated to have cost the South African economy R1 trillion (approximately US$83 Billion).  Zuma is married to six wives with an estimated 20 children.

What is the responsibility of a government?

  • a government to provide the safety of law and order, protecting citizens from each other and foreign foes
  • The government as protector requires taxes to fund, train and equip an army and a police force; to build courts and jails, and to elect or appoint the officials to pass and implement the laws citizens must not break
  • Using the United States as an example, a political structure comprising the President, Congress, Supreme Court and departments of Treasury, War, State, and Justice.  Critically the three branches of government; the Senate, The House of Representatives, and the Office of the President are co-partners where one does not have jurisdiction over the other.  A system that calls for compromise to meet the will of the people
  • The government as the provider of goods and services that individuals cannot provide individually for themselves, including the means of physical travel, such as roads, bridges, and ports of all kinds, and increasingly the means of virtual travel, such as broadband. This infrastructure can be, and typically initially is, provided by private entrepreneurs who see an opportunity to build a road, say, and charge users a toll, but the capital necessary is so significant and the public benefit so apparent that ultimately the government takes over
  • The government can cushion the inability of citizens to provide for themselves, particularly in the vulnerable conditions of youth, old age, sickness, disability and unemployment due to economic forces beyond their control.  Providing social security that enables citizens to create their financial security
  • The government to heavily fund education, encourage more active citizenship, pursue binding international trade alliances and open borders to all immigrants
  • The most important priority of the government as an investor is to provide education from cradle-to-grave, and schools, roads, medical care, firefighters, etc.
  • Governments need to be concerned about monopoly enterprises that block innovative entrepreneurs from getting a foothold in the market and moving technology forward
  • To establish a “social contract” with the people who trade some independence for protections and other services, and usually granted through a constitution
  • The most basic duty of a government is to protect its people from violence.  It may include the military, police who enforce laws, and organizations to ensure the health and safety of the environment and food chain
  • A capitalist market economy controlled by buyers and sellers where the government verifies the fairness
  • Citizens on their own without orders will create problems.  Businesses without controls may harm the population

It is worth reflecting where South Africa succeeds or has failed.  South Africa is the only country in the world where they have enacted laws to protect the majority from the minority.  One such act that has backfired is Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), and its derivatives such as Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE).  BEE is a racially inclusive program launched by the South African government to redress the inequalities of Apartheid by giving black people (African, Coloreds, and Indians) South African citizen’s economic privileges that are already available to Whites.  It is a form of Affirmative action.  Let me illustrate where this does not work.  A government entity will release a tender offer for software development.  A BEE registered company will win the tender with an inflated bid to grease the palms of its management cohorts.  After a couple of years, the BEE appointed company cannot deliver the solution, and a tender is awarded again without the stipulation of BEE qualifications.  A white-owned and white run company with highly qualified technical people is now assigned the project and completed in a few months.  It turns out to be their most profitable assignment because they priced it higher than the previous BEE contact.  The BEE or BBBEE stipulation is responsible for more whites parting for countries outside of South Africa, than any other.  BEE does not create a level playing field. In 2020 974,400 wealthy blacks have benefited from BEE, shutting out 30-million impoverished people.

What I find troubling is that when the ANC took control of the country, many of my family and friends were terminated from their jobs. Positions that had to be filled by blacks. In some situations, whites were forced to train their replacements, taking as long as a year to attempt to get the new hires up to speed. Many remain in South Africa today, and several of those struggling to make ends meet without government financial support.

An attitude exists in South Africa among the majority population group.  If you are unhappy with your circumstances, take action to destroy things.  School and university fees are not free, so burn down the schools and universities.  That solves the problem, does it not?  Trains do not run on time.  Set the coaches alight, and steel the copper wire driving the trains—again proving what?  I will not get into the fact that petty crime is a way of life.  Then again when you have a government that is corrupt and siphons off as much as it can for their own pockets from the State Run Enterprises, it becomes a free for all in a lawless society.

We brought back souvenirs, including these placemats. I am very partial to all things protea (the national flower of South Africa).

On returning home and reflecting on our time in South Africa, it is a joy to live in open spaces.  As we drive in our suburbs, we notice the absence of high walls, with barb wired tops and electrical fences crowning that.  Security gates that do not block access to driveways.  We live in freedom with our broader roads and the absence of drivers maniacally driving at any speed to get nowhere in a hurry.  We live in a sane society.

We arrived home near midnight to find a strange electrical fault.  The power in our bedroom and bathroom was out, while the rest of the condominium was working correctly.  In checking our condominium passages I found the same anomaly, most lights were working, but some sections were without power.  When we woke up, everything was working correctly.  Later in the morning, we received a phone call from Wisconsin Electric to apologize for the outage that affected 1,000 homes in our area.  I do not recall Eskom called their customers apologizing for ongoing and repetitive load shedding.  But then again their customers are a general nuisance and inconveniencing them is inconsequential.

In my opinion, much of South Africa’s mess traces to the Nationalist government’s apartheid policy.  They did not see the need for effective black education because they were the laborers who did not need knowledge.  The ANC came to power a generation ago, and did not provide an adequate education for their people because their only purpose was to vote ANC!  Now the country sits with generations of uneducated people, uneducable, unemployable, with a government not competent enough to create permanent jobs, with financial shortages due to corruption.  The pass rate for final-year students at state schools in South Africa rose to the highest level since 2013, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said.  Of the approximately 800,800 students sitting for the exams late last year, 78.2 percent passed, Motshekga said.  About 312,700 people (39%) are eligible to study at higher-education facilities such as universities, she said.  Almost half of the children who enrolled in the first year of schooling in 2007 did not write the full-time tests.  South Africa’s Department of Basic Education lowered the pass rate for mathematics to just 20% to keep children moving through the country’s struggling school system.  The World Economic Forum ranked South Africa’s quality of the education system 138 out of 140 countries.  Of the 12,372 students at 249 private schools and testing centers who wrote papers set by the Independent Examination Board, 98.9 percent passed.  About 90.7 percent achieved a mark high enough to enter university.

Cyril Ramaphosa has appealed to the million whites to return to South Africa.  Why?  South Africa ranked the unhealthiest country on earth.  The ten measures were healthy life expectancy, blood pressure, blood glucose (diabetes risk), obesity, depression, happiness, alcohol use, tobacco use, inactivity (too little exercise), and government spending on healthcare.

On May 8, 2019, South Africa will hold elections.  I will stick my neck out and bet that the ANC will win the polls again, albeit with a reduced majority.  The status quo will remain.  Corruption and lawlessness will be intact.  The white flight will continue, the currency will weaken, and inflation will continue its upward trend.  I am not confident about the countries future having read two books by investigative journalists:

  • Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s Gangster State: Unraveling Ace Magashule’s Web of Capture
  • Jacques Pauw’s The President’s Keepers: Those keeping Zuma in power and out of prison

I follow South African news sites daily.

As I ponder a quarter century of ANC rule, I question what exactly have they contributed to South African society? I think in terms of any field of endeavor: medicine, science, engineering, literature, music, military, political, sport, education–or any other that you can offer. I would love to stand corrected.

As you read blogs on this website that I established in September 2016, it has cost me under US$1,000 for hosting costs, bearing in mind that I did not add in my time for writing blogs.  In Myburgh’s book, he references a similar technical website  (WordPress) developed for the province of Free State under Magashule’s control that cost R95 million (US$ 7 million) but not sure how many websites this entailed, or was it just one.  More corruption anyone?  The potential in South Africa is unlimited, but it will require robust, honest and ethical political leadership, without all the racism calling for the killing of whites. I appreciate Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane’s rhetoric, but sadly a message that will not be heard by all South Africans.

If you know what an idyllic location to live might be, nothing beats the Cape Town and its environs, or many spots in the Western Cape. The scenery, the weather, the people. It competes with the Carribean and other scenic spots in the world. If only the politicians did not set out to destroy the country.

Naturally, many local friends ask us if they recommend visiting South Africa.  I always respond with a resounding yes, with one stipulation.  Only travel with a reputable tour company who provides a fully guided, well chaperoned, and safe, escorted service.  With a high unemployment rate of 27.5% or 6.2 million people without jobs, this has resulted in high crime rates and affected by a general lawless society due to government corruption.

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Franschhoek, Western Cape, South Africa

Franschhoek has blossomed as a tourist destination, especially with the wine farm tours and tastings.


Linda and I married in February 1971.  For our honeymoon, we elected to stay in Franschhoek.  Linda and I recall the honeymoon suite at our hotel differently.  I remember that they only provided a single bed; Linda says there were two single beds.  No matter, a honeymoon suite with only single beds is a travesty.  We have no idea where we stayed, so 48 years later we were unable to re-visit the old haunt.  Franschhoek has blossomed as a tourist destination, especially with the wine farm tours and tastings.  Art, crafts, and bead shops are very popular.  I have another family tie to Franschhoek.  My mother’s maiden name is Maris and traces her arrival in South Africa to the French Huguenots.

The first Huguenots arrived as early as 1671, when the first Huguenot refugee, Francois Villion (later Viljoen), arrived at the Cape.  By 1692, a total of 201 French Huguenots had settled at the Cape of Good Hope.

The Huguenots were French Protestants who were members of the Calvinist Reformed Church established in 1550.  From the mid-1500s through mid-1600s, Huguenots were persecuted in France for their religious beliefs.  Therefore, thousands of Huguenots fled to other countries where they could enjoy religious freedom, including South Africa.  Simon van der Stel (Governor of the Cape) set aside land for Huguenot settlement in Franschhoek (‘French corner’) and Drakenstein (present-day Paarl) and gave orders for the French to be interspersed with the other burghers (Afrikaans citizens).  His reasoning for this integration was “that they could learn our language and morals, and be integrated with the Dutch nation”.  Today, many farms in these areas retain their French names.

In 1688 French Huguenot refugees began populating the valley establishing farms and businesses bringing with them their experience in agriculture. The name of the area soon changed to le Coin Français (“the French Corner”), and later to Franschhoek (Dutch for “French Corner”), with many of the settlers naming their new farms after the areas in France from which they came.  La Motte, Champagne, La Cotte, Cabrière, La Provence, Bourgogne, La Terra de Luc, and La Dauphine were among some of the first established farms — most of which still retain their original Cape Dutch farmhouses today. These farms have grown into renowned wineries. Many of the surnames in the area are of French origin, e.g. Du Toit, Marais, Du Plessis, Malan, Malherbe, and Joubert.

Not your grandfathers tractor ride. This, fortunately was only a short transfer ride. Enjoy the noise and shakes.

Our specific wine tour featured five vineyards, transported by bus and tram, depending on the wine farm’s location.  We used the Franschhoek Wine Tram, a hop-on-hop-off tour. It is one of the best ways to discover the true essence of the Franschhoek Valley – picturesque vineyards, breath-taking scenery, warm hospitality, world-class cuisine, fine wines, and a 300-year history.  Passengers experience a unique and leisurely way to see the Franschhoek Valley as they journey through rolling vineyards in a vintage style railway tram and open-air tram-bus stopping in at some of South Africa’s oldest and most distinguished wine estates.  A combination of tram and tram-bus transports passengers around a loop of stops allowing them to hop-off at each stop and experience the activities on offer, be it wine tasting, a cellar tour, lunch or simply a stroll through the vineyards and when they are ready, hop-on to continue the tour.

Linda and I decided prior to visiting the first wine farm that we would not feel good at the end of the day tasting four wines from each of five farms for twenty samplings.  We agreed that we would buy a single tasting to be shared at each farm.  When there was coupling with biltong (jerky), a cheese board, chocolate, or any other treat, that too would be shared.  The alternative was that we would gorge ourselves.  As it was, we were meeting my cousin for dinner at the Tuk Tuk Microbrewery. Tuk Tuk, a craft beer microbrewery serving bespoke brews and Mexican-inspired food.

La Bourgogne

We visited Franschhoek for two nights in early March 2019 staying at the Riverside Cottages on the Le Bourgogne Farm in the loft, a very spacious accommodation.  La Bourgogne is a subdivision of the farm Bourgogne that was among the first Huguenot farms proclaimed in 1694.  Simon van der Stel granted the farm to Pierre de Villiers.  However, 1800 saw the first involvement of the Le Roux family, a relationship that endures to this day, with neighbor Gappie Le Roux managing the farming operations.

On our wine farm tour, we elected to taste wines from La Bourgogne to learn more about their products.  That morning we enjoyed breakfast in their restaurant.

When the late George Mayer bought the farm, it was his aim to make olive oil, notwithstanding the lack of olive trees on the farm. Today the farm has approximately 2500 olive trees, which were planted in May 2008, bar about 220 which went in May 2005. The majority of the trees planted are Frantoio, with liberal sprinklings of Corantino, Lecchino, and Mission. The oil produced to date has been of excellent quality. La Bourgogne started with their own olive pressing on the farm. The 2011 harvest won a Silver award with the South African Olive association.

La Bri

The original grant of La Bri is one of the oldest Huguenot-allocated farms in the Franschhoek Valley.  The farm is situated in the valley previously known as Olifantshoek (Elephants Corner).  The name La Bri is probably derived from the outlying town of Brie, which was the stomping grounds of the de Villiers family in the early 13th century.  L’ Abri is also French for “the refuge or Haven”, a perfect name for this property, as it is safely nestled in the imposing amphitheaters of the Franschhoek valley.  La Bri featured Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Holden Manz

Located in the top, southern-most corner of the Franschhoek Valley, in the embrace of its spectacular mountains, the 22 hectares Holden Manz Wine Estate is situated between the Franschhoek River and Stony Brook at 300 meters above sea level.  An exclusive grower of red grapes, the Estate only cultivates its top 16 hectares under vineyards, notably Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Merlot.  Long, cold and wet winters allow the vines to rest well, while hot dry summers and gentle autumn allows for slow ripening.  Featuring a rich and diverse terroir influenced by its unique natural surroundings, with three different soil types and a marked seasonal climate, the estate’s vineyards are perfectly suited to its intention – the production of ultra-premium wines made for the discerning wine connoisseur.

GlenWood

GlenWood is a family owned boutique winery located in an area of outstanding natural beauty very close to Franschhoek.  GlenWood has been developed from scratch over the last thirty-three years to become a leading South African wine producer and wine exporter to 12 countries.  With only one exception, all wines are made from grapes produced on the farm, thereby reflecting the unique terroir of our small valley.  The wines are uniformly and consistently highly rated by wine judges and have received numerous awards and prestigious listings.  GlenWood features Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Noblesse.

Grande Provence

Grande Provence Estate wears her 300-year history with dignity.  Her lush vines spread across 47-acres with gentle vistas over the valley floor, with the rugged mountains beyond. This is heartland South African wine country at its very finest.  Grande Provence features Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz.

As part of their social responsibility programs, Grande Provence supports a number of causes. We were impressed with the cheetah program. Cheetah Outreach has two facilities in the Western Cape, Somerset West, and Franschhoek. Here they offer cheetah encounters. The primary goal is to promote the survival of the free-ranging, South African, cheetah. From an estimated 100,000 cheetahs at the turn of the 20th century, the population is currently estimated to be 7,100. Shrinking habitat, dwindling of natural prey, and conflict with human activities are the primary causes of this critical situation. There are about 1,326 cheetahs in South Africa of which approximately 500 free-ranging cheetahs live on unprotected farmlands in the northern part of the country.  This population is the focus of the work


The Gallery at Grande Provence is considered to be one of the most highly regarded galleries in the Cape, with a reputation for showcasing some of South Africa’s finest established and emerging artists. Regular exhibitions are held with the major disciplines being shown throughout the year. The Gallery exhibits a carefully selected group of artists from South Africa, Europe and America. The Sculpture Garden has a continually evolving collection of monumental works in a variety of media.

Driving to Franschhoek from Montagu was a treat.  It is evident with my blogs and videos showing mountain passes, that I am enamored with the scenery as we crest the hills, and descend the dales.  In Wisconsin, from where we live, we need to travel long distances to see similar beauty along the Mississippi River. 

Franschhoek Pass is located in the Western Cape, Province of South Africa on the Regional road R45 between Franschhoek and Villiersdorp.  The pass was formally constructed in 1822, by a group of soldiers under command of Major Holloway, under orders from Lord Charles Somerset.  Jan Joubertsgat bridge was part of the construction.  It is still in evidence today, as one of South Africa’s oldest bridges.

Franschhoek Pass also known as Lambrechts Road was called Olifantshoek 150 years ago. 

Franschhoek Pass (R45) is also called Lambrechts Road, though – more poetically – a hundred and fifty years ago it was known as Olifantshoek (Elephants Corner) after the now mythical herds of elephant, which once roamed these valleys and mountains. This long, steep and dramatic pass with its variety of scenery was South Africa’s first properly engineered road. During weekends, city folk stream to the pass on bicycles, motorcycles, skateboards, and vehicles to enjoy its sheer magnificence.  Sadly, fire devastated the pass two weeks prior to our visit—and this is evident along our journey.  Where we stopped, we looked down on the town from on high.  The town becomes visible as we descend on the winding road complete with hairpin bends.  Our good fortune is that we did not have vehicles in front of us to impede the view. 

We highly recommend Franschhoek as a great place to visit.  We had dinner with a family who moved to Franschhoek two decades ago as their ideal retirement community.

PS. This was a cold day and a few days later I had a cold. My fault for not bringing anything warm on this trip.

On June 21, 2019, the Western Cape was hit with very strong storms. After rock falls, the Franschhoek Pass was closed. My sister sent me these photographs published in the media.

A motorist escaped serious injury on Saturday morning after a rockslide at Franschhoek Pass during rainy weather. Marc Thackwray, 28, suffered a few bumps and scratches but was otherwise uninjured after massive boulders rained down on his car.  Western Cape traffic chief Kenny Africa said the pass was closed because rocks had fallen on to the road. Authorities had to turn motorists away from both sides of the pass.

An additional rockfall took place on July 3, 2019.

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Paternoster, West Coast, Western Province, South Africa

Paternoster is a fishing village set on the Atlantic seashore


Paternoster is a fishing village set on the Atlantic seashore, with whitewashed homes in the mold of southern Spain, but without the mountainous backdrop.  With a population of under 2,000 featuring a foodies delight at a variety of restaurants, art studios for aficionados, bed and breakfast accommodation, self-catering apartments, guest houses, and several hotels.  This seaside resort count swells with numerous tourists to this quaint region year round.  Sadly, on the drive from Cape Town along the coast, we saw that recent droughts had ravaged this region.  The environment provides magnificent walks along the beach and shopping experiences through the town.

Three hundred years ago, Paternoster was known as St Martin’s Bay.  The area was rich in wildlife including hippo and leopard on the land, and the marshes to the east that stretched for miles.  The rocks and offshore islands were rich in guano.  Penguin colonies thrived.

The ancestors of the coastline were the Strandlopers (beach walkers) who roamed the shores and gathered food from the sea to sustain themselves.  The Strandlopers are a Khoikhoi-derived people who lived by hunting and gathering food along the beaches of southwestern Africa, originally from the Cape Colony to the Skeleton Coast.  When the Dutch settled the Cape in 1652, they met these nomads.

Many people believe Paternoster means “Our Father” in Latin.  It refers to prayers by Catholic Portuguese seamen when they were shipwrecked.  Others believe it refers to the beads that the Khoi tribe wore that were called Paternosters.

Paternoster is a sought after tourist destination and is known for lobster and the whitewashed anglers’ cottages. The remarkable coastline of jagged cliffs and white boulders makes this one of the most beautiful beaches on the West Coast of South Africa.

The area is a pillar in the South African commercial fishing industry. The town itself has a lobster factory and a newly erected Kabeljou (one of the most targeted edible saltwater fish off South Africa’s coastline) farm, whilst the local people catch and sell herring, or draw mussels from the rocks. In the greater area are several more commercial activities, including deep sea fishing, snoek catching, abalone farming, oyster farming, canning of pilchards and mussel farming. The oyster farm in the lagoon of the neighboring town of Langebaan is currently the largest in South Africa. The first Portuguese navigators (1497-1502) enjoyed the West Coast rock lobster (Jasus lalandii).  By 1902 a full-blown lobster industry was in operation, canning and exporting lobster to France in particular. The West Coast lobster industry generates millions each year and employs large numbers of the local people.

In the 1930s the first Redro factory was erected in Paternoster.  Redro fish paste was developed by the Stephan family in an effort to compete with the already popular Peck’s Anchovette of Britain.  It flew off the shelves when first released and enjoyed nearly three decades of uncompromising sole monopoly in the savory spread market and is now owned by Pioneer Food Group.

The Cape Bokkoms (dried, salted and small whole fish) has been well known in this region and has been a cheap and practical source of protein for centuries. The unique method of preparing and drying fish has grown with leaps and bounds, often for export, in response to the growing demand for the product from South Africa.

When you travel in South Africa, everyone seems to be imprisoned by living in homes with high walls, topped with razor wire, electric fences with an armed response on call.  Paternoster is the exception to this rule.  Not a burglar bar in sight, and total absence of security without the obsession to keep everything locked.  Even the retail stores and restaurants did not have security gates.  We were assured that this is a crime free community.

We were fortunate to get accommodation at Gaby Carstens Dunn’s self-catering “Karibu in Paternoster“, located on Mosselbank Street.  Her Facebook page is here.  We had our own room with bathroom, and a shared lounge with utensils to prepare and enjoy meals.  In fairness, we did not cook but enjoyed the many available restaurants.

Our first-night outing was to Leeto Restaurant by Chef Proprietor Garth Almazan.  Authenticity and local specialties merge with sophistication in both the menu and restaurant design.  Leeto (Khoi language: ‘journey’) stays true to its unique beach location, capturing local flavors whilst at the same time boasting spectacular views.  I ordered a steak and was horrified that I was not offered a steak knife.  When the meal arrived, I was amazed to discover that a regular knife managed to cut the tender and delicious meat with ease.  If I had any complaint, it was that the restaurant was so noisy with the multiple diners participating in animated discussions that I could hear the magnificent classical music playing in the background.

The restaurant at Paternoster Lodge presents a magnificent view of the ocean.  Dealing in crayfish is illegal in Paternoster, especially if you purchase the fish from independent tradesmen who roam the streets.  We witnessed a police raid from our lofty view of the ocean and seeing the illegal traders scattering at the site of police vehicles.  The food was a treat.  Our server mentioned that she was born in the town of Worcester, a 2-hour drive from this village.  Unable to find suitable employment, she enjoys her job and the quieter community of Paternoster.

The Voorstrandt (beachfront) Restaurant is located in a 114-year-old quaint red and green tin house, right on the white sandy beach with panoramic views of the sand, sea, and sky, overlooking the bay.  Seafood was a natural selection for our dinner.  We had the opportunity of taking photographs of the beautiful seashore and sunset from our table.

We used our visit to drive to the lighthouse at nearby Cape Columbine Nature Reserve, in Tietiesbaai (breasts bay).  Tietiesbaai got its name from two large rocks that indeed look somewhat like a pair of boobs.  Those familiar with the Pennsylvania Amish would know they have a town named Intercourse, the junction of two roads.  What is in a name?  Cape Columbine originates from the name of the last manually controlled lighthouse built in South Africa.  This lighthouse, in turn, got its name from the British wooden ship ‘Columbine’, which was wrecked 1,5km (1 mile) north of the lighthouse in 1829.  Other notable wrecks include “Eve” March 17, 1829, “Friends Goodwill” February 6, 1840, “Alicia Jane” May 16, 1845, SS “St. Lawrence” November 8, 1876, SS “Ismore” December 3, 1899, SS “Haleric” April 5, 1933, and SS “Chub” November 2, 1945.

Cape Columbine Lighthouse was built-in 1936 on Castle Rock, it is usually the first South African lighthouse seen by ships sailing from Europe. Its light stands 80m (260 feet) above sea level and casts a beam visible for about 50km (30 miles).  We had two surprises.  Getting into the reserve required an entrance fee.  Getting into the lighthouse to climb the four flights, 98 steps required an additional fee.  The way down requires that you slowly reverse on the narrow staircase.  The view from the top makes the venture worthwhile.

This area is windswept and we were delighted to see a local wind farm.

In a small fishing village, Paternoster on South Africa’s rugged west coast, restaurateur Kobus van der Merwe is struggling to process his meteoric rise to gastronomic stardom.  He recently got back from Paris, where his 20-cover Wolfgat was named Restaurant of the Year at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards, also winning the remote location prize.  The restaurant is named after the nearby Wolfgat cave – an archaeological wonder containing remnants of an ancient culture, and rumored gateway to underground passages.  Says Kobus: “There is a rich history of early civilization on this coastline, which we find very inspiring.


One disappointment.  On Wednesday, February 20, 2019, I sent an email to Kobus requesting a reservation for lunch on Thursday, February 21st at 12:30 pm.  I instantly received an automated response that read in part “All reservations for Wolfgat are taken online, please visit our website to view available dates and to reserve your table.  Lunch is served Wednesday to Sunday, and dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings, by appointment only.”  The restaurant was fully booked through the end of April 2019.  Subsequently, I learned it was fully booked through June 2019.  The 7-course meal costs R850 (US$60) per head and R1,400 ($100) including drinks, with payment at time of reservation.  So yes, I was disappointed I could not experience this wonderful restaurant and chef who operates with a team of eight helpers.

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Norval Foundation, Cape Town, South Africa

The Norval Foundation is home to one of the largest privately owned collections of South African modern art in the world.


The Norval Foundation opened to the public on Saturday, April 28 2018.  It is located at 4 Steenberg Road, Steenberg Estate, Cape Town.  Property mogul Louis Norval funded the foundation.  The Foundation’s architecture is as beautiful as the artwork inside.  It is home to one of the largest privately owned collections of South African modern art in the world.  The Norval Foundation houses the Norval family collection, which counts among its archive the works of the Gerard Sekoto Foundation, Edoardo Villa Estate Collection and the Alexis Preller Archive, all to be found between the sprawling sculpture garden, outdoor amphitheater, multiple exhibition spaces, research library, restaurant, bar, shop and children’s playground.

We ate at the restaurant twice .  And recommend it highly.  The Skotnes Restaurant is the culinary arm of the Norval Foundation.  Named after legendary South African artist and teacher Cecil Skotnes, the restaurant is naturally at home in the world of art.

To fully appreciate the Norval Foundation, we need to understand the driving force and motivation of Louis Norval, his successes and achievements leading to this welcome addition to Cape Town’s culture.

Louis Norval accomplishments include:

  • educated at Lyttelton Hoerskool (high school), Centurion (near Pretoria, in Gauteng, South Africa)
  • graduated with a BSc (QS) (with distinction) from the University of Pretoria in 1979
  • co-founder, Executive Chairman and Chief Executive of Attfund Limited (one of the largest private property investment companies in South Africa) until the company sold to Hyprop Investments Limited (a REIT listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange) in 2011
  • Managing Director of the Parkdev Asset Managers/Parkdev Group of Companies
  • Executive Chairman of Homestead Group Holdings Limited
  • serves on the board of a number of other companies including:
    • Hyprop Investments Limited
    • a founding member and Senior Partner of Noval Wentzel Steinberg Quantity Surveyors
    • serves as a Director of Stenham European Shopping Centre Fund
    • a Non-Executive Director at Capital & Regional plc since September 15, 2009
    • a Non-Executive Director of Hyprop Investments Limited since September 1, 2011
    • served as an Executive Director of Sycom Property Fund Managers Limited from June 30, 2006 to August 2010
    • served as an Executive Director of Baker Street Associates Holdings (Pty) Ltd
    • served as a Director of Stenham European Shopping Centre Fund from July 3, 2007 to August 16, 2010
    • served as a Director of Baker Street Association Holdings (Pty) Ltd
  • Chairman of Pretoria Country Club
  • represented South Africa in golf in 1979

On a personal note, one of the exhibitions was from David Goldblatt.  David was born 29 November 1930, in Randfontein, and died 25 June 2018, in Johannesburg.  The Norval Foundation featured an hour plus movie of David’s life, his disagreement with the apartheid policies of the white Nationalist government, and his complete disappointment with the corruption that has wracked the African National Congress (ANC), the current black ruling party in South Africa.  Growing up in South Africa, David was a celebrity that we admired.

Click here for more information on the Norval Foundation

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