Going back to June and our second road trip: this was a bit of a rushed one, mainly because we had lots of work to do on the warehouse so couldn’t spend too much time on the road after all. We needed to get up to Johannesburg to do a distilling course and although initially planned to turn it in to a few days on the road each way, with plumbers and electricians and builders working on the warehouse we instead asked the wonderful Brenda to drive up from Grahamstown to babysit them all while we rushed up to Jo’burg and back again, taking 2 days on the road each way.
The driving was good: empty roads (we realize how we are now so used to busy European highways!) and beautiful countryside. We left at the crack of dawn, so missed the beauty of the Hex River valley on the way up as it was still dark, and instead the whole of the first day seemed dominated by the semi-desert of the Karoo. We stopped in “Book Town” Richmond for tea and, with Cali parked in the High Street still bearing her UK number plates, promptly became the talk of the town. We were not quite sure what to expect – and anyone who’d been to Hay-on-Wye (with its two dozen book shops) would be disappointed – but it is a charming little place, boasting all of two bookshops (perhaps there were more, but we weren’t able to find them) as well as a library and a horse museum! We were made to feel very welcome and the tea shop stayed open late for us (it was nearly 2 o’clock on a Saturday after all, well past closing time!).
The highlight of the day was rescuing a young lamb, lost on the highway, which we took in to a nearby town and handed over to a local farmer. If we’d found him on our homeward journey, he would definitely have been brought back to live in the distillery!
That night we stayed on the banks of the Tierpoort Dam in what would have qualified close to the awfulness of the sites we stayed at in Essaouira and Sidi Ifni! The location was beautiful, but the campsite itself not so much – we should have realized when, on checking in, we saw a long list printed out on A4 sheets in BIG letters listing all those that had been banned from the campsite along with their transgressions (including breaking down doors and fighting). But beggars can’t be choosers, and we enjoyed sundowners on the lake before feeding the local cat population on the remains of our dinner and having an early night: being winter in the Northern Cape the temperature plummets as soon as the sun goes down!
We didn’t have all that far to go the next day, and got to Jo’burg in time to enjoy lunch with Leigh’s dad up before meeting up with Stevie who we were staying with.
The week was a really good one: an action packed course on distilling, comprising both theory and practice. It was good to put all the theory we’d accumulated so far into practice finally … and we even flavoured our first gin (I have to boast that mine tasted far better than Leigh’s) and really got to grips with the fermentation side, which we hadn’t had any experience of as the distilleries we’d visited in Europe all started from neutral spirit rather than the grain itself.
It was also wonderful catching up with friends in Jo’burg, some of whom we hadn’t seen for years, and we enjoyed the amazing Highveld winter: cold nights (suffered without central heating and in badly insulated houses designed for summer!) and glorious warm, sunny days.
The trip home was equally good: again empty roads, glorious sunshine and a real reminder of our year on the road. Cali really enjoyed being used to her full potential again and positively zipped along (and of course was happy not to have Bambi in tow!).
We overnighted in Colesberg, which competed with Santander for our coldest night in Cali: luckily we’d stocked up on blankets and were extremely cosy despite the temperature falling to -5 degrees!
The highlight of the trip home was driving through the Hex River Valley. A cold front had come in during the week away and the mountains (the 2nd highest range in the Cape) were blanketed in snow, with the valley filled with vineyards ranging in colour from red to orange to green: truly magical.
Fascinating blog – the photos of SA (especially the climactic Hex River Valley) should earn you an award from Dept of Tourism – and gin-making secrets revealed to the ignorant. Leigh looks understandably really chuffed with his bottle. Noted the “Al-Ambiq” (?) label on the alembic still – looks as if your Moroccan/UAE/Egyptian days are back! Love, M and T.