We could have had one last safari, making six, before we left Gondwana. But the last two had taken a toll on my tummy that I just couldn’t shake. The effect was worse than the roughest seas on the cruise and Don was happy to be done as well. We decided to get an early start for Franschhoek (pronounced: Fran-chook). We knew we were running low on energy and we had to save some for whatever might happen on our trip home.
When we said farewell to Felix we could tell he was very worried about his family and how he would support them. Gondwana had announced they would be winding down at the end of that week, keeping only a basic crew to maintain the reserve.
‘last one out, turn off the lights’
Just as when we had arrived to a welcoming committee, we left with a cheeky farewell from the Gondwana inhabitants. As we drove past small towns and townships* we felt quite heavy and sad, for we could see what was coming. In the townships people live very close together and many have poor hygiene and no transport, so they were hitchhiking rides. A perfect ‘vehicle’ for an eager virus. Even though the government was being very proactive with regard to the virus, and there were only a few hundred cases at that stage, we just knew what would likely befall them.
The drive was, again, very pretty landscape, and we had a nice, albeit brief, refuel and loo stop in Swellendam. We watched a local woman making ‘rooster bread’ as it is called. There was a little cafe two doors away who would make the dough and this lady came every day to cook the bread for them. She would roll the dough into mounds, then one at a time she would place a mound on the grill and pat it down. When it cooked on one side she turned it over to the other side and then stacked them up ready for the cafe to use. Apparently they put anything in them you would use in a sandwich. I would loved to have tried one, but we weren’t the least bit hungry so I asked to take the photos and thanked the woman, and we were on our way again.
We drove through the Franschhoek Pass to get to the town and so we had a stunning view of the area even before we’d arrived. This region, as with Stellenbosch, was famous for wine, but we were not going to experience that side of things on this trip, due to the alcohol restrictions. Our accommodation was a rather unusual place, set beautifully with the mountain as backdrop and a stunning scene from the outside tables as well. The L’ermitage Franschhoek Chateau was what I would call a group of holiday apartments, large bedroom and sitting area, with kitchenette and luxurious bathroom. There were all kinds of balconies and outside areas to sit which we used to advantage, while planning our activity for the following day. The place was even set out for weddings, with its own chapel and small reception hall. That evening there was a small wedding and reception, without alcohol but nonetheless enjoyed.
When it came right down to it, the town was mostly empty and with the wineries and museums closed we had to get a bit creative. We had seen something about a large organic farm a short drive from town and decided we would drive there and see if they were open. Again, we were lucky. They were open and due to small crowds, we had a private tour around the main gardens. It was their last day to be open due to lockdown measures and it was the most incredible place of that type we have ever visited. Babylonstoren** used their own organic produce to make nearly everything that was sold on the farm. There was a winery (closed, of course), a farm shop with dairy products, breads, meats, olives and many other things. The Scent Factory used their own herbs to make soaps, creams, perfume and other products. Also there were two restaurants, one that served large meals and one with smaller offerings, called The Greenhouse, our choice later in the afternoon. The lamb and olive pie, halloumi and salad sandwich and a shared dessert, were all homemade using their own organic ingredients.
It was the most relaxing, nourishing and calm place you can imagine and a perfect choice for our last full day in South Africa.
The last morning we were away smartly, though CapeTown was only an hour’s drive. By the time we filled the car with petrol, dropped off the rental and got to the airport several hours had elapsed. We had an hour or so to wait but we had eaten breakfast before departing L’ermitage, even though breakfast was being served in the airport lounge. I noted the food was all open and subject to any airborne germs that might be around, so I was glad I wasn’t hungry. I was pretty sure that uncovered food would not be the case for much longer. We could feel the tension everywhere.
So you see, the things we worry will happen to us, seldom do. And the things that we never see coming are the ones to bring us undone. Our bags were never lost. We were never sick, or seasick. I seldom had any problem finding food I could eat or the appropriate clothes from my suitcase. Even my pants fit perfectly to the very end.
Big challenges yield big memories…and they don’t get much bigger.
Thank you for traveling with me.
The return trip that takes up from here is here.
*townships are loosely equivalent to Indigenous communities in Australia, or Indian reservations in the USA
**Babylonstoren, so called because of the various languages in South Africa, having been settled by the French Huganots and the Dutch centuries before. And ‘storen’ is the word for ‘hill’ taken from one of those languages. The garden was designed by French architect Patrice Taravella.