On any trip abroad with a large group of people, your party will experience one of the following: a blazing row in a packed restaurant; being escorted from a venue by a flank of irate security guards; a public projectile spew OR; an injury ending in crutches. Within two days of arriving in Cape Town we had managed all four. Not bad for a group of adults with a median age of 33.7 who really should have known better.
My South African food, wine and wildlife safari began last month when around twenty of us boarded flights from Australia, Ireland, Hong Kong and New Zealand for the nuptials of my housemates, Lynda and Sexy George. If you’ve been paying any attention to this column in recent months you’d have read about the precision planning that preceded The Wedding of the Century, and legitimately assumed it went off without a hitch. Alas. Not quite.
The week before the Big Day the rental car was towed from the airport while the happy couple were greeting relatives. A few days later the betrothed were informed that their marriage licence was, due to a middling bureaucratic technicality, not valid. This took four days to sort out, including a seven hour round trip to a dodgy council office.
Sexy George cancelled his buck’s party in favour of a small Thursday morning breakfast with his groomsmen. A tad predictably, things got out of hand when brekky started with a pint of Castle Lager and ended at 4am the next day. A female member of our party was swept unwillingly into the celebrations en route, eventually going shot-for-shot with the boys while wailing ‘I ONLY WANTED BREAKFAST!’ at twenty minutes intervals until she was poured into a taxi eleven hours later.
The next day (24 hours before the ceremony), a very hungover Sexy George and a very patient Lynda were informed that their very sexy bridal suite had in fact burned down three months prior.
To top it off, the cars that were due to transport Lynda, her father, her brother and bridesmaids to the altar never materialised, which saw the entire wedding party (bar the groom) piled into the best man’s Land Cruiser singing Goin’ to the Chapel while trying not to squish the bridesmaids’ bouquets. That the wedding itself was an outstanding, stunning celebration is a credit to both the temperaments of the betrothed and their organisational abilities.
After the ceremony, with the guests sated on canapés of bunny chow (curry in bread), mains of beef and pork and some truly excellent speeches, we danced the night away to that wedding classic Grease Megamix before being dispatched to our fancypants accommodation, while the newlyweds searched for alternative lodgings that weren’t still afire.
Da Big House
Villa St James is a rambling old mansion on the beach about a half hour from Cape Town. The day after the wedding our group (including the newlyweds, who had charitably decided to share the first week of their honeymoon with us, and not just because their preferred accommodation had been reduced to ash) decamped to Da Big House’s warren-like interior.
From here we breakfasted each morning together on the patio, planning drives around the Cape, cable cars up Table Mountain, and evening braais (courtesy of Sexy George, his cousin and her best mate) at the medieval dining table which comfortably sat 34.
Wine and Food
A number of day trips happened from Da Big House. One accidental jaunt into the absolute depths of the impoverished black township of Langa gave myself and a few other equally clueless nitwits the opportunity to sip fermented maize beer straight off an open fire from a massive tin bucket, surrounded by twelve still and silent locals. We gave our thanks for their hospitality and retreated hastily, but I can’t deny that it tasted like warm Yakult with pee in it.
On the Tuesday we boarded a chartered coach for a wine tour around Stellenbosch, a picturesque town coincidentally home to over 150 wineries, and discovered Pinotage (robust hermitage grapes grafted with delicate pinot noir), which was sampled extravagantly at every winery we visited.
During a drive around the Cape of Good Hope we found Snoekies, formerly an old bus that beat the food truck trend by nearly 70 years and that’s been serving smoked, deep fried snoek on the docks of Hout Bay Harbour since 1951. Wash that down with a Cerveza Mojito (topped with Corona instead of soda) at La Parada Del Mar, Camps Bay, and you have yourself the perfect afternoon.
The real foodies’ highlight, however, was the Kruger Tasting Plate at San Marco on the V&A Waterfront. It consisted of three decent-sized fillets of ostrich, springbok and kudu (the latter two being of the antelope family), which we sliced into strips and shared around the table. Springbok I could have eaten with a spoon, so tender it was. The kudu was similar to venison, and oh-so buttery, while ostrich is truly South Africa’s kangaroo; lean, gamey, sustainable and an absolute delight when cooked well. (Also, like kangaroo, a total frikking disaster when left on the BBQ too long.)
Cape Town is in the midst of an extreme drought which has rendered the tap water undrinkable. We didn’t know that, so we drank it. A lot of it. We got sick.
Patient Zero abandoned the wine tour of Stellenbosch one vineyard in and was bedridden for two days, writhing feebly under a mountain of duvets surrounded by pharmacuticals and spew buckets. Sexy George succumbed a few days later, just hours before he was due to fly to Austria with his new bride. Lynda marked the first official day of her honeymoon by vomiting lavishly all over the streets of St Anton am Arlberg and her new husband. As our new South African besties would have said, ‘Agh, shaaaaayme.’
At the end of our week at Da Big House the core group went their separate safari-ing ways while Lynda and Sexy George departed, armed with sick bags and sleeping pills, for their honeymoon proper. I will however mention that during that one awesome week one of our party was molested by a baboon, I had my hand further up an elephant’s trunk than I ever care to again, and Lewis showed us all that the noble art of ostrich riding is a lot harder than it looks but hilarious to anyone watching.
The Wrap Up
So, after two weeks subsisting on bread, wine, meat and beer, I’m ready to tuck into a kale salad with a side of apple cider vinegar. But before I do I’d like to raise this last glass of Pinotage and drink to Lynda and Sexy George’s happily wedded future… As the Afrikaans salute goes, ‘Op die eerste een’!