Travel Memoirs of the Wanderlust-struck, PART 5

Hout Bay Cape Town South Africa
Located on the Cape peninsula, Hout Bay was named by the first settlers for the thick forests of valuable wood found there – “hout” means wood in Afrikaans. This breathtaking valley is where I grew up.

Although my family had a beautiful home in Hout Bay (my father is an architect), we weren’t what you’d consider a wealthy family. Our travel philosophies were a testament to this: we’d rarely fly anywhere, we’d almost always stay in our caravan, and lunch was taken on the road and more often than not consisted of soggy jam sandwiches, floury apples, and sweet coffee. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for these early thrifty travels, though, because they defined my perception of luxury.

To me, as a kid, luxury was a hunk of biltong to chew on for hours during our long, tiresome road trips around the country. It was getting to sit down and eat at a restaurant, even though my concept of haute cuisineat the time was a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich. But the very pinnacle of luxury, the Mount Olympus of all treats, was getting to stay in a hotelroomwhere my parents’ snores could be shut out by a door, rather than bundled into our tiny cots in our tiny caravan.

Living large

old hotel room
Maybe a slightly embellished representation of the kind of old hotels we’d stay in…

On the odd occasion we did overnight in hotels, they were ancient budget establishments, usually named something like “The Standard Hotel” or “The [insert one horse town’s name] Inn.” These were places with creaky wooden floorboards, ancient paintings of forgotten people, furniture that would belch out decade-old, musty air when you sat in them, and cracked porcelain bathroom basins.

In other words, they were in desperate need of an accidental electrical fire so that they could be burned to the ground, completely redesigned, rebuilt, and refurnished.

To me, however, they were luxurious and the excitement of sleeping in a hotel superseded any kind of miserable reality that might entail. In other words, I was taught to be happy with what I needed rather than what I wanted.

My parents were and are not misers. My father is one of the most generous human beings I know and will never, ever turn down the opportunity to buy you a chocolate bar whether you want one or not (or a cheeky shot of tequila on a trip to Hollywood, Los Angeles).

Tequila! Hollywood, Los Angeles

But to my parents, traveling is about spending 14 hours a day on the road, in the bush, or tramping through foreign cities. It’s about feelingthe climate – the humidity and the heat – rather than banishing it from your experience, and eating where the locals eat for a fraction of the cost of some fancy restaurant. To budget travel is to live like the majority of locals live and it’s to leave that city or country with a lasting impression of its supreme beauty, charm, culture, and cuisine…but also its struggles.

There’s a lot to be said for staying in a luxury hotel – to be sure, I’d likely choose that over slumming it – but it does provide somewhat of a sterile travel experience. And what could be better than playing pool, drinking tepid beer, and getting to know fellow budget travellers in the rec room of a hostel?

Disaster

On a caravan trip up the Garden Route – so called because of the region’s lush, verdant forests – along the east coast of South Africa, disaster befell us. Cresting a particularly hilly hill a few tens of kilometres from the epitome of one-horse towns, Heidelberg, our caravan caught a tail wind and began to fishtail violently from side-to-side. It felt as though my mother, who happened to be driving, was yanking the wheel from left to right, which she was but out of sheer desperation to counteract the forces of the fishtailing caravan on our little red Toyota corolla.

Totally out of control, the car lurched sickeningly from one side of the highway to the other before the caravan swept right around in a massive arc, ending up at right angles to the car and forcing us into a deep ditch on the far side of the road. I remember my mother’s hysterical concern over her precious cargo on the back seat juxtaposed by my dad’s eerie calm, who immediately set to work rationalising what had just happened to us.

To my mother: “We must have caught a tail wind. You should have hit the accelerator instead of the brakes – that would have pulled the caravan back into a straight line behind the car.”

I don’t recall my mom’s precise words but they were probably something along the lines of “gaan kak”, the Afrikaans equivalent of “get fucked!”

Sitting there on the back seat, emotionally rattled but physically unharmed, the strangest thing happened. Our high drama on the highway began attracting an audience but not of people – we were in the middle of nowhere after all. From far and wide and seemingly out of the crackling white horizons, tall, comical-looking birds materialized and began loping over to the fence to ogle unashamedly at our appalling situation. Ostriches! Before long, we had drawn a crowd of the world’s largest birds.

Ostrich birds South Africa

Silver Linings

Our caravan, which was bent at a torturous angle to the car, was quite simply and totally fucked. There was no way we were going to make it to our holiday destination. To make matters even more uncomfortable than having just been in a potentially fatal car accident – not to mention blatantly stared at by a gaggle of stupid-looking birds – we found ourselves stranded under the blistering countenance of the African sun. Oh, and being sometime in the 1990’s, none of us had a cell phone to call for help.

I don’t recall precisely how we got out of that mess but I believe that another car arrived soon after our accident and kindly offered to drive my father to Heidelberg, where he could hire the services of a tow truck. Thereafter, we found ourselves in this tiny Karoo town with nothing other to do than languish, for three days and three nights, in a hotel room. My parents were in hell – the trauma, the expense, the boredom.

I was in heaven.

Rags to riches

I unpacked my entire suitcase into the closet as a way of claiming my new space, had a greasy cheeseburger and undercooked fries in the nearly deserted hotel restaurant for dinner, and drifted off to sleep trying in vain to read the Old Testament bible (the ones that were always nested in the bedside drawers of hotels).

To this day, staying in hotels excites me, although my perception of luxury has changed somewhat. I’ve had the privilege of landing a job that sends me to wonderful places in and around Cape Town to stay in luxurious hotels and guesthouses, all of which are four stars and higher. One such assignment sent me to a five-star luxury resort in the Welgevonden Nature Reserve in the Limpopo Province (northeast South Africa). Another to a five-star guesthouse in Paarl, one of South Africa’s oldest towns, where I drowned in expensive sheets and delicious local Méthode Cap Classique (our equivalent of Champagne).

Wander Woman Thea Beckman
Yours truly opening a bottle of MCC, a South African sparkling wine made from Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir grapes in precisely the fashion as Champagne.

In spite of this unbridled, exquisite assault upon my senses, I remember how excited I was as a kid to be able to stay in a hotel for three nights, even if it was a terrible car accident that landed us there in the first place. I have, however, given up on trying to read the Old Testament since then, or any bible for that matter.

Unless I’m in need of a sleeping aid, that is.

 

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Travel Memoirs of the Wanderlust-struck, PART 4

Orange River Rafting

When I was 19, I spent the Easter holidays in a soggy canoe barrelling down the Orange River, the longest river in South Africa and the mighty waterway that constitutes its northern border with Namibia. You’ll notice this if you look at Namibia’s eastern and southern borders. The former is a clean cleave right through the left ventricle of the subcontinent, while the latter, which follows the meandering course of the river, is wonkier than your life choices after your fifth tequila. For the trip, we hired the services of a river rafting company that supplied everything we needed – canoes, guides, equipment, food, and watertight storage – while we were tasked with bringing our own beverages and sleeping gear.

On day one, we landed at base camp after a long, dusty drive up from Cape Town and, on the banks of the Orange River, got acquainted with our guides and our fellow intrepid explorers. These were a rambunctious lot of my parents’ vintage (with kids my age) and thank goodness for that because there’s nothing worse than travelling with boring people. After a welcome braai (South African colloquialism for “barbeque”), several beers, and final preparations, we retired to our cabins for a night of civilized sleep: our last for the next seven days.

Daytime on the Orange River

Orange River rafting South Africa

As the sun came up, the heat descended. The north-western border of South Africa is several hundred kilometres closer to the equator and with the cold Benguela current, which flows adjacent to the west coast, imparting little moisture to the atmosphere, the air here is dry and the landscapes parched and dusty. Of course, the Orange River gives life to the trees, bushes, and reeds whose seeds won the lottery by falling near enough to its water to germinate and so there is some greenery. This is strongly juxtaposed by the warm oranges and reds of the iron-rich soils, which is where we and many like us assumed the river gets its name from. In fact, it was named in the 1770’s by a Captain in the Dutch East Indian Company after Prince William V of Orange.

The days spent on the river were long and afforded us a sneak peak at the lives of people who spend the majority of their waking hours engaging their hands and bodies, a digression for most of us middle-to-upper class families whose jobs or studies have us desk-bound. I found myself relishing the simplicity of the day’s work: the rhythmic, repetitive motion of rowing, the trees and rocky red landscape drifting idly by, and the hypnotic ripples caused by our canoes cutting through the muddy green waters of the not-so Orange River. The hours trickled by as new landscapes evolved and melted past us punctuated by the odd series of rapids we’d have to negotiate. I also kept mental note of the birds we saw – goliath herons, African fish eagles, hamerkops – which I would write down on my list when we stopped to camp for the night.

Orange River rafting South Africa

With all the arid beauty of this region and its rich birdlife, there was always something to keep the eyes engaged but untethered from the insular concerns of my fairly sheltered life, my thoughts were allowed to wander precariously to the future and to my dreams of travel. I was only in the second year of a Bachelors Science Degree and so my soul belonged to academia, a demanding and occasionally traumatizing mistress who would, every now and then, award you with enough validation to get you through the next six months of intellectual toil. I had a fair slog ahead of me before I’d be able to hit the road but the point is that the dream, or rather need, to see the world was there, gnawing steadily at my inner fibres.

This was daytime on the river – row, row, row your boat; think, think, think about shit – and for every toll it took on the body, it gave back in mental rejuvenation. Never mind the intense heat of the near-equatorial sun, the physical demands of rowing for eight hours a day, and the blisters caused by the oars rubbing wetly against the soft flesh adjacent to the thumb. You do your best introspection when there is nothing to distract the mind and there are few people to talk to. It’s the people who struggle with solitude and who constantly need to be surrounded by chatter that tend to have shaky relationships with their inner selves. And if they can’t be alone with themselves, what makes you think it’s safe for you to be?

Don’t date those people.

Nighttime on the river

Orange River rafting South Africa

African sunsets are something to behold. There is some magical quality to the air here that creates the most spectacular sunsets, the intensity of which I’ve simply never witnessed anywhere else in the world. Perhaps it’s not so much the visual spectacle as it is the multi-sensory performance of the sun setting below the African horizon: the accompanying smell of the burning Earth and its parched shrubs; the chorus of the weaver birds, sparrows, and starlings settling down for the evening; the way the light falls over the landscape like a golden veil. Then, very suddenly, the night descends and, by God, it was my favourite time of day on the Orange River.

With no light pollution and few obstructions in a 360-degree sweep around us, the night sky yawned above us, a fathomless black vault set ablaze by trillions upon trillions of twinkling stars. The starlight was so intense and the night so still, it was almost as though one could hear the universe gently breathing in and breathing out. I looked at the gentle silvery light on my arm and marvelled at the fact that the photons pummelling my skin at that very moment were likely older than the Earth. Total nerd that I am, I had brought along a star chart of the Southern Hemisphere (I was taking a university course in astronomy at the time) and delighted the other families’ children with the names and mythology of the stars, planets, and constellations. Nighttime on the Orange River was my favourite, even though the mosquitoes were relentless in their bloodsuckery.

Earning your experience

Orange River South Africa

We slept in tents, cooked over the fire, and went to the toilet in the bush with sweeping views of Namibia one night and South Africa the next, depending on which bank we camped on. We paddled hard during the day, swam in the river to cool off, and, on the third day or so, hiked up a hill to an abandoned fluorspar mine, where shards of the snot-coloured mineral lay scattered everywhere. These, we threw onto the campfires at night to unleash their enchanting properties of thermoluminescence, which is nerd speak for something that lights up when it’s heated.

The Orange River was a magical experience from which I returned with bulging deltoids, sun-bleached hair, and skin so tanned that I barely recognised myself in the mirror. Basically, I looked like a dried-out bag lady but with an enormous white smile. Every meal, every night’s rest, and every breathtaking view I had experienced during those seven arduous, euphoric days on the river had been earned. From the ephemeral streak of meteorites in the night sky to the spectacular pink sunrises, the bubbling stews on the campfire and the vegetal smell of the river… we had earned it all and the experience was all the more thrilling for it. I returned to city life and the rigors of university refreshed, invigorated, and refocused.

Oh, and I earned a distinction in astronomy.

Travel Memoirs of the Wanderlust Struck, Part 2

This is the story: a chronicle of my life’s adventures and those of my parents, who imbued in me a curiosity for the world. Over the course of the next however long it takes, I shall be delivering this story to you piece by piece, in succulent little bite-sized hors d’oevres of adventure and awesomeness. This is the second instalment. Let’s go….

Caravanning

South Africa road trip
Gravel path somewhere in the middle of South Africa’s “Little Karoo”

In between major travel adventures, my family would hitch our tiny, cramped caravan to our bright red Toyota Corolla, pack up a weekend’s worth of clothing, invariably wake up way later than intended on the morning of our departure (the Beckman men are always late) and go camping.

Over weekends and school holidays, we’d hit the N1 or N2 national highways out of Cape Town and drive for what would seem like an interminable amount of time before drawing up at some campsite, caked in dust, and just about ready to murder each other. At the age of about 11, I discovered the blissful joy of reading and so I would typically occupy myself with a book. My brother had, concurrently, discovered the blissful joy of pestering me and so we’d usually end up in a backseat brawl to which my father would shriek: “If you two don’t knock it off, I’m going to turn this car around…”

In this manner, we crawled our way around South Africa, rigging up our caravan and its attached canopy tent and spending days at a time living like hippies. Our family caravan had two narrow cots for us kids to sleep in and a dining section that converted into little more than a three-quarter sized bed for my parents. Each day invariably began with a loud fart from my father, followed by the smell of gas (propane) as he turned on the stove to make morning tea. A cup of sweet rooibos tea and a buttermilk rusk later, my brother and I would barrel out the caravan to a crisp, dew-kissed morning with unlimited possibilities for play.

South Africa landscape
Desolation Valley, South Africa

We explored the length and breadth of South Africa in our tiny caravan, from its East coast, rendered lush and green by the warm Agulhas current that courses adjacent to its coastline to the dry, desolate, yet dramatically beautiful West coast. Patchwork quilts of farmlands become landscapes dominated by rugged mountains and outlandish rock formations, which then give way to vast tracts of interior that are virtually featureless, save for a scattering of dry shrubs and the odd koppie. The towns here are decidedly one-horse; the kind of places where ostriches serve as guard dogs. It was pure magic.

South Africa road trip
A backyard in the tiny town of Sutherland, South Africa. This town also happens to be home to the largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere – the South African Large Telescope (SALT) – because here in the Karoo (a semi-arid region), there is so little light and other pollution the telescope has maximum visibility.

Again, I can’t tag any place names to the snapshot memories I have of those early adventures but they imparted in me a sense of scale and a corresponding sense of humility. South Africa is a staggeringly vast country with a diverse collection of landscapes to explore and the lessons this early travel taught me were indispensible.

It’s not all about you

toddler tantrum funny

Kids tend to think that the world revolves around their tender little bodies and needs. It’s why they sulk or cry when they don’t get what they want – the injustice is too much to bear! Yet, as a kid, travel taught me that there is an enormous world out there where comfort is, for the most part, a rare commodity. It exposes you to the cruel desolation of the deserts, the stifling heat of the tropics, the desperate poverty of cities, and the disquieting strangeness of foreign cultures, cuisines, and customs. Rather than shelter me from these humbling experiences, my parents had me participate in the discovery of it all.

Then, of course, there’s the discomfort of traversing the planet’s truly vast countenance. Hours spent in hot cars pestered by annoying brothers or cramped buses, airport departure lounges, and long-haul flights with nothing to do other than stare at the other passengers with the big, googly eyeballs I was yet to grow into. And, again, rather than shelter me from this discomfort, my parents taught me to be patient and to endure the punishment because the reward was the thrill of exploring new places. My early travel experiences became the framework for a worldview that is rare amongst children. And it was all okay because I could trust my parents to keep us safe, feed us when we were hungry, and let us fall asleep in their laps when we were tired. What more could a kid need?

Certainly not an iPad.

View from plane

Learning your insignificance

We all like to think that we are important in our environment. As children, we like to feel like the beating heart and soul of the family and as hormonal teenagers, we strive to be socially, physically, or academically revered at school. Finally, as adults, we work hard to be respected within the workplace and community. It’s therefore understandable that many people are intimidated by travel. Aside from the fact that we aren’t typically comfortable with strangeness, the vastness of the world takes the importance you’ve spent your entire life cultivating and makes an utter mockery of it.

You think you’re important? Go to a foreign country where nobody knows you and nothing revolves around you and see the world in motion completely outside of yourself. It’s humbling. This probably explains why most of my life’s epiphanies have taken place at 37,000 feet, whilst flying for hours over staggering tracts of glittering ocean, ice shelves, and deserts. There is a whole world out there and down there and it carries on irrespective of me. The only conceivable reason why this might sound depressing to some is ego. Let go of your ego and the world becomes a rich source of experience, education, and thrilling, unforgettable adventure.

It is all too easy for humans to become mired in their own comfort zones, which are awfully small if you have never set foot outside your own city. At an early age, travel made me aware of and comfortable with the vastness of the world and its treasure chest of new places, people, languages, foods, cultures, and views. That vastness has beckoned to me for as long as I can remember. And it’s thanks in no small part to my parents’ narrative of their own travels and the innumerable trips, both local and international, they took us on.

Thailand beach

Travel Memoirs of the Wanderlust Struck, Part 1

This is not just a collection of stories – it is the story: a chronicle of my life’s adventures and those of my parents, who imbued in me a curiosity for the world. Over the course of the next however long it takes, I shall be delivering this story to you piece by piece, in succulent little bite-sized hors d’oevres of adventure and awesomeness. There will also be tales of occasional idiocy and human flaw, for travel holds a mirror up to our inner selves and reveals both the beauty and the ugly.

Let’s go….

Tumbleweed parents

My travel family
My father, mother, brother, and yours truly (bottom right)

I grew up in a family who liked to travel. My parents had met in South Africa and weren’t married for more than a few hours before they boarded a Union Castle Line vessel – a working mail boat – bound for the United Kingdom that would take them far away from the meddlesome influences of my truly insufferable paternal grandmother. They subsequently spent the next two decades bouncing from one continent to the other, budget travelling harder than Syrian refugees. When necessary, they would drop anchor, get a job, and earn a little money, only to get itchy a year or two later and set sail for the next adventure.

My mother has a beautiful silver bracelet, which she has adorned with charms purchased in almost every new city or country she has visited. The damn thing just about weighs a pound, which just goes to show how well traveled my folks are. Its tinkling would also announce her impending arrival long before she entered a room, which saved my ass from trouble many times during childhood. Australia, Belize, Cambodia, Denmark, El Salvador, Fuji, Germany, Honduras, Italy…for every letter of the alphabet,they can name a country and at least a handful of cities they’ve seen. And so, my brother and I were raised on an intellectual diet of travel anecdotes, geography, and world history.

My parents are walking tomes of travel knowledge, which I have had the extraordinary privilege of tapping into my whole life, not only for the purpose of cracking High School geography but also for my own adventures. My father is particularly fond of recounting old travel anecdotes that end either in a comedic punch line or with someone getting diarrhea, and often both. My mother, on the other hand, loves to thoroughly research a country before visiting and so could just about bore you to death with a sweeping account of its history and culture.

To this very day, my parents speak fondly of five decades of travels as though they have just come back home from the airport. I can’t even get my dad to remember how to work WhatsApp properly and yet, he can tell you in exquisite detail all about their adventures in South America, camping out in the Amazon jungle, escaping political coups in Columbia, and visiting the lost city of the Incas in Peru, all the while dodging cases of “Montezuma’s revenge” and refusing offers of cocaine around communal camping fires. Moreover, he speaks as fondly of these harrowing experiences as one might of a long-loved, yet long-dead family cat.

With two brave, intrepid explorers for parents, I grew up with a particular vulnerability to travel bug infection, which was made fatal when they took my brother and I on our first international holiday.

Airplane taking off

Singapore and Malaysia

Having kids did little to interfere with my parents’ love of travel and in 1994, when I was nine, we were whisked off to Singapore and Malaysia on an epic three-week adventure of which I have a collection of faded snapshot memories. Starting in Singapore, I remember the cloying heat and humidity, it’s vegetal tropical smell, impeccably clean streets, the delicious coolness of its sleek, air-conditioned public transport system, and skyline of chrome-and-glass skyscrapers.

Singapore city

I remember waffles for breakfast at McDonalds, a spectacular waterfront area guarded by the mythical half lion, half mermaid (Merlion) statue, and spending a day at a waterpark. It was here that I fell completely in love with Aaron Copland’s “Billy the Kid” orchestral suite, which was played as a soundtrack for one of the fun rides. It’s funny the silly things we remember as kids.

Singapore Merlion

Then, moving on to Malaysia, I remember sinister-looking komodo dragons sprawled out on a beach we visited, the awful smell of stinky dugong fruits in the open-air markets, and the enchantment I felt at watching amphibious fish called “mudhoppers” skip across the fetid mudflats.

Mudhopper fish

I remember being chased by cantankerous temple-dwelling monkeys, ordering apple juice off a restaurant menu and receiving a glass of chunky, pulverized apple, and, on a rickety bus ride somewhere, watching an old Malaysian gentleman eat some kind of cream bun and thinking, man that looks delicious. I remember relieving myself in the hole in the floor that was the bathroom of the island-hopping boat we had hired for the day and feeling terribly distressed that I had ruined the beautiful turquoise waters with a monstrous turd, the kind of which only back-to-back days of hard travel and strange food can concoct. I agonized over whether or not to tell my family to vacate the water but embarrassment won the day.

P.S. I was a kid – I stopped pooping the minute I became a lady.

Malaysia island boat

My early travels with my family are a collection of these sorts of snapshots: multi-faceted compositions of colour, sound, smell, visuals, and remembered emotion.

Travels in Southern Africa

About a year later, in 1995, our family and my parents’ friends embarked upon a safari style trip to Zimbabwe, catching a two-night train from Cape Town all the way to Bulawayo, a major city in southwest Zimbabwe. From here, we toured the country’s largest game reserve, Hwange National Park, and drifted for a few days in a houseboat on Lake Kariba. We hiked the Matobo Hills and took in the breathtaking Victoria Falls, even walking across the bridge to visit Zambia for a fleeting moment.

Victoria Falls Zimbabwe

I have a lasting impression of each place – again, all sensory compositions that are difficult to craft actual narratives around. I remember being young and feverishly excited by nature. I kept a list of all the birds and animals and would shriek in excitement every time we saw something new. I imagine my parents’ friends wanted to garrotte me on those lengthy game drives but my parents were nothing but patient; grateful to have a child who was enthusiastic about nature and travel. It’s rarer than you would think.

In 2000, I simultaneously embarked upon a journey through puberty and Botwana’s Okavango Delta, an oasis of waterways, lush vegetation, and sprawling savannah in the middle of the Kalahari Desert. We travelled with a guide and his elderly chain-smoking lady friend who drove us around in a weathered safari vehicle, cooked dinner over a fire each night, and told us the most spectacular stories about past adventures in the bush. We journeyed through a spectrum of landscapes and witnessed a staggering diversity of wild animals and birdlife, from African fish eagles and great eagle owls to little bee-eaters, crimson shrikes, and lilac-breasted rollers.

lilac-breasted-roller

We explored the delta’s intricate network of waterways by mokoro, a Botswana dugout canoe, and were treated to a flight over the region in a 6-seater propeller plane. How I wish I had discovered the joys of photography early on, for then my souvenirs of these magical places would be more than just a collection of memories, obscured by my inexorably advancing age and perhaps just a little tequila-induced memory loss.

Flying over Okavango Delta

I remember the acute sense of freedom I felt at being out in the bush with absolutely no fences to keep the wildlife out of our camp. At the time, I was also in a particularly cloying relationship with a boy who was excessively protective and quick to get angry if I didn’t pander to his insecurities.

To illustrate, he once showed up at my door on a night he was supposed to go out. When I asked why he wasn’t out partying with his friends – privately grumbling that my night of toenail clipping, series bingeing, and popcorn hoovering had been ruined – he told me that he couldn’t trust himself to behave so he decided to do the gentlemanly thing. I think he expected me to be grateful or proud of him for not cheating on me. Instead, I shat all over his head and sent him home. He stormed out the house, furious, which lasted about a minute before he came back knocking on the door to engage in further heated debate. I was 15 at the time and even though he was my first real-ish boyfriend, I knew bullshit when I smelled it.

The point is, going away to the Okavango Delta got me away from the noise and discomfort of a suffocating relationship and into the bush, where the distractions on offer invigorated and awakened my soul. Travel gave me such a healthy perspective on life, my problems, and the way forward, and it still does. Even though the spiders in Botswana are the size of cats, our campsite was routinely marauded by baboons, and a hornbill voided its bowels into my eye – not even exaggerating on that one – I absolutely loved it and will definitely make my pilgrimage back there before I kick the bucket.

Botswana Okavango Delta

Introducing “Wine of the Week” AKA Thirsty Thursday

South African Winelands

Who doesn’t get thirsty on Thursdays? You’ve managed to crawl through the majority of the work week, nailed the meetings you were dreading, and survived the voluminous injection of caffeine into your bloodstream. The weekend is so close you can practically smell your sleep-soaked pyjamas and boozy breath!  Surely we’ve earned ourselves a glass of wine (or three)?

In the immortal words of Barack Obama: YES WE CAN!

Look no further for recommendations! Every week, I showcase a wine I’m absolutely loving, which may come with a little history/science lesson on the cultivar (grape varietal) used to make it, depending on my mood. I will be posting these on my Facebook page, Wander Woman Thea and on my Instagram account (@wander_woman_thea) so go ahead and like or follow. Let’s be friends!

I’ll also chat a little about the nose (aromas) and flavour profile of the wines, which may sound enormously pretentious to those of you who are yet to discover the wonderful world of wine, but isn’t, I assure you.

I know, I know… The first time I heard someone describe a wine as smelling of “green peppers, grapefruit, and pencil shavings” I mirthfully snorted in their face. You’re joking, right?

“Apparently not,” said their withering stare.

Here’s the simple logic behind the nose of the wine and I’m using the example of green peppers here. The chemical that causes a green pepper to smell the way it does – a sort of savoury, herbaceous, and vegetal smell – is called methoxypyrazine. That very same chemical compound is found in wine, particularly in the cultivars originating from the Bordeaux region of France: Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and so on.

So while there is obviously no green pepper in your wine, you can detect this aroma because the wine contains methoxypyrazine. The same applies for a spectrum of other fruits, vegetables, substances, and inanimate objects. The chemicals or, in the case of fruits, sweet-smelling esters that give them their trademark smell are present in wine to varying degrees. This is what you’re smelling.

It takes time and repeated wine swilling, sniffing, and quaffing to begin to identify these aromas. With practice, your brain will tie up its hair, slap on a pair of reading glasses, and start cataloging these smells, building a useful library, which you can draw upon to sound really smart the next time you go wine tasting with friends.

With that brief lesson out of the way, I have but one final side note for you before I proceed to tell you about the absolutely lip-smacking, eye-closing, panty-dropping wine I’ve discovered.

Opinions are like a**holes

The selection I make each week is entirely my own and is most often based upon (1) my personal tastes, (2) the wine region I’m currently exploring, and (3) the wine I think is best suited to the season. With that said, I will do my best to present a fair variety of both red and white wines of various cultivars and blends.

You should also know that I live in South Africa so most of my recommendations will come from here. South Africa is one of the oldest “New World” winemaking regions in the world and a progenitor of wines that can and do compete with the most internationally recognised and acclaimed vintners out there. In other words, if you love wine, you’ve got to add South Africa, and particularly Cape Town, to your bucket list. The wine here is phenomenal.

Here are my weekly selections thus far:

Idiom Zinfandel (Primitivo) 2014

Wine of the Week 1

From the foothills of Sir Lowry’s Pass in the Helderberg valley comes a Zinfandel of such sexy, sultry delight, my relationship with it feels personal. This red wine bursts with ripe fruits and berries, is velvety in delivery, and has an incredible nose of fynbos and eucalyptus. Actually, this characteristic is present in most of Idiom’s wines and is a testament to the intimate relationship between the vines and a terroir dominated by fynbos and stands of Eucalyptus trees.

What I absolutely love about this Zinfandel is its exceptionally perfumed nose. If a sun-beaten bush of fynbos bonked a cherry tree and they made a baby, this is what that offspring hybrid fruit/flower would smell like. On the palate, these fynbossy, almost minty aromas unfurl into a beautiful, silky red wine that’s perfect on a cool spring evening and, in my opinion, with or without food.

Zinfandel is a moderate tannin, high acid red cultivar that’s mistakenly believed by many to originate from the United States. In fact, DNA fingerprinting has confirmed that Zinfandel is an ancient Croatian cultivar that is genetically identical to Primitivo, an Italian cultivar.

Excelsior Evanthuis Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Wine of the week

Named after a race horse reared on the estate, the Excelsior “Evanthuis” Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is a wine of exceptional weight and character. A deep inky red in colour, this wine, which hails from the Robertson Wine Valley (an approximate 2 hours’ drive from Cape Town) is big and seductive with syrupy black currants and violets on the nose, and dense fruit flavours supported by a strong tannic backbone. In other words, it’s bloody delicious and since we’re still waiting for the weather to get the memo that spring has arrived here in the Cape, it’s perfect to enjoy right now!

The cultivar itself requires little introduction. Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s most widely recognized red wine grape varieties. And if you thought that Napa Valley was the only region that did a good job of producing “big Cabs” think again. Our warm climate combined with the tender, loving maritime sea breezes that flow off of the Atlantic Ocean create red wines of enormous flavour, elegance, and structure.

La Bri Barrel Select Chardonnay 2016

I began my career as a professional wine drinker with a heavy preference for dry red wines. It was only with my first sip of an obnoxiously wooded Chardonnay (rich, buttery, caramel flavours) that my eyes were opened to the possibility that, hey, I could actually like this stuff! And so I began trying every wooded Chardonnay I could get my paws on. My initial obsession with heavily wooded white wines has calmed down and now I seem to have achieved equilibrium, which explains why La Bri’s Barrel Select Chardonnay 2016 makes my heart quiver.

Chardonnay from Franschhoek South Africa

This rich and rounded Chardonnay from Franschhoek (South Africa) has been crafted from grapes growing on La Bri Wine Estate’s oldest vines, which were planted in 1991, making them older than Justin Bieber. Genteel, gracious, and multi-award-winning, this fabulous Chardonnay boasts flavours of oatmeal and shortbread with a vivacious undercurrent of tangerine. It’s absolutely delicious and well-suited to any weather.

Say hello to the other side

Here in South Africa, one of the most popular white wines is Sauvignon Blanc, which, unfortunately, the public seems to enjoy extremely young. Mere months after the year’s harvest has been pressed, fermented, and bottled,  the young Sauvignon Blancs are whisked to market and sold for a trifling R30 to R80 ($2 to $5).

Marketers describe them as “zesty, fresh, tart”.

I describe them as pissy.

In fairness, not all young Sauvignon Blancs will turn your face inside out, but when you consider what a bit of age does to these wines, it’s a travesty to consume them so young. Why not wait for them to age a little? You know:  open their eyes, develop a bit of character, and sprout a pair of boobs?

The saturation of bottle store shelves and restaurant menus with young wines is precisely why I felt an aversion to white wines for so long. It was thanks to an accidental tasting of a super rich, opulent, and golden Chardonnay that I actually stopped to take stock of “the other side”. In that moment, I realised that, hey, not all white wine has to taste like your flat mate forgot to tell you that he’s been storing clean pee in the refrigerator in case of a surprise drug test at work. In fact, the world of white wine is enormously diverse and bursting with fruit, fabulous flavours, and a damn good time!

So, if you align yourself with any side of the red wine / white wine divide, I urge you to try a beautiful Chardonnay like La Bri’s Barrel Select 2016 and let it open your eyes to the other side [*insert Adele soundtrack here*]. For red wine lover’s, it’ll open your eyes to the world of white wine and for white wine lovers, it’ll open your eyes to wines that aren’t super fresh, young, and pissy.

Get with it!

Funny thirsty Thursday picture

Today’s Thursday, which means that I shall be publishing another “Wine of the  Week” post. If you haven’t already done so, get your butts on Facebook and give my page a like (Wander Woman Thea) or follow me on Instagram (@wander_woman_thea) to see what indulgent tipple this week brings. I’m all about sharing the love so drop me a message if you want me to follow you back, especially if you’re as passionate about food, travel, and wine as I am.

Let me know what wine you’re drinking today!

Drunk History: The Invention of Coca Cola

Watch the “Eureka” moment when American pharmacist John Pemberton innovated one of the world’s biggest and probably (in the eyes of dentists) most regrettable inventions: Coca Cola. What initially began as a new medicine with some interesting applications ended up as the addiction of tens of millions around the world and an essential accompaniment to popcorn at the movies.

This “Drunk History” moment is brought to you by ingenious comedy writer Derek Waters, a very drunk Jenny Slate (narrator) and brilliant actor Bill Hader, who plays John Pemberton.

Video Source: Comedy Central, as seen on the YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-mU4pf3ywU

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Answers Angry Tweets on Pluto's Demotion

Many moons ago, Pluto – the outermost planet in our solar system – was demoted. For those of us who grew up with the nine-planet solar system model, this came as somewhat of an affront to everything we knew about anything, ever. I mean, what is the meaning of life if the planetary status of Pluto can so easily be revised and revoked? Why, Neil, why??

In this hilarious video, Neil DeGrasse Tyson answers to the angry rants and raves (and insults) of those really strange people who were truly and deeply wounded by Pluto’s demotion from planetary status to mere space-wandering rock. Why people give such a damn is beyond me. After all, Pluto is only a quarter the size of our moon and even then, most of its mass is ice.

Video Source: Uploaded by National Geographic on YouTube channel https://youtu.be/eBREBAnglr

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a megamind and, not coincidentally, also curator of the Hayden Planetarium, as well as the presenter of Carl Sagan’s revised TV-series, “Cosmos” He is awesome and anyone who has watched any of his videos, lectures or presentations will appreciate just how erudite and smart this man is.

But by far one of Neil’s greatest talents is the perfect balance between a sophisticated understanding of science and the ability to communicate with those who don’t. This makes him one of today’s most powerful and persuasive public figures in science and technology.