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Winelands of South Africa and Israel

Leon's No News Bulletin 137

S. Africa is a vast country by any standards; 1,221,000 km2, approx 50,000,000 people and about the same number of animals, but to visitors like Avishai and I, coming from Israel (approximately 22,000 km2 and a population of about 8,000,000) it looks gigantic.

The impression of a hive of activity and crowdedness in Israel and the contrasting easy-going, happy-go-lucky atmosphere of S.Africa probably stems from this great size difference.

I felt that we had the right ingredients for a great trip to S.Afica; a planner, myself, a good driver and chef, Avishai, and an excellent game spotter, my brother Bernard.

Being equipped in this way we could stay in very comfortable and reasonably priced self-catering cottages throughout S.Africa.

With a chef like Avishai we were treated to meals that were far better than any 5 star hotel could offer.

I divided our journey in two; the first week in the Western Cape, the second in the Kruger National Park with a short, two day interlude for a nostalgic visit to the town of my birth, Krugersdorp and visits with old friends in Johannesburg.

The highlights in both the Cape and the K.Park were the animals:

In the Cape the great white shark opened his great jaws three inches from my left hand clutching the safety rail inside the protective cage. I watched him/her for as long as my breath allowed me in my great excitement and freezing cold (10o c) water of the Indian Ocean in Gansbaai (bay of the geese).

In the Kruger Park about twenty elephants, brown from rolling in the dust were splashing water over themselves from a little puddle of water next to our car. Driving slowly at night in the special safari vehicle, searching for animals and not finding any to excite me for quite a while, the fresh lowveld air dozed me off until someone shone a flashlight in a big bull elephant's eyes and his angry trumpeting woke me.

A leopard calmly strolled in front of the vehicle until he brought it to a stop by taking a rest in the middle of the road. We continued when he allowed us and found a group of three lionesses playing with a very young cub while they waited for an opportunity to hunt some impala.

In the evening, at the bar of the Sabie Sabie private game reserve (a one night splurge) everybody compared notes about which animals they'd seen.

Quite frankly it's easier to see animals in the private reserve than in the park itself but the park is more exciting probably because of the long wait before an animal suddenly appears. The park requires more careful observation than the private reserve. I would recommend the park on condition one is accompanied by an experienced game spotter.

Considering our chef's desire to experience S.African cooking I made a list of the ten best restaurants in Cape Town.

The atmosphere at Baia, the only one of the ten we tried, a very good fish restaurant on the waterfront was, like all of the waterfront, contrived to look like an old village with quaint cobblestone streets, the way things were in the old days but the fish was just as good, if not better at the real fishing village of Struisbaai (bush bay) 200 km from Cape Town. The waterfront is good for people who want to be in an old village without leaving the modern city.

I got hooked on fish and chips which is cheap, delicious, and available everywhere. The best I tasted was in my old home town Krugersdorp, in the cafe right next to where my father's shop used to be.

The dish, however that really threw me back to my old S.African past was curried lamb stew with stuiwe pap (a thick porridge of mielie meal) which I ate at Moyo, a typical African style restaurant in the smart, new Melrose Arch complex, a Johannesburg version of the waterfront in Cape Town.

All the wine we tasted in the 10 wine estates we visited in the Robertson Valley area of the Western Cape (there must be about 50) was delicious, although full of flavor, a little too watery, acidic and tangy for my taste.

A day after my return to Israel on Monday, I took a tourist to the Elah Valley Winery, at Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed He2 where new strains of grapes have been planted in soil, where the Jews and later the Romans had cultivated their best wines more than 1300 years ago until the Moslems put an end to wine-producing with their conquest of the land in the 7th century (Islam prohibits drinking wine).

I found this wine almost without acidity, rich in body with a deep flavor which left my mouth almost dry as it trickled down my throat.

It's clear to me that this is the result of the soil, being ideally suited for cultivating grapes for wine, was one of the first wine-producing countries in the world, as we read already in the Bible.

Now we can expect it to improve to levels of quality which will surprise the modern wine drinker who's been accustomed, for several hundred years, to praising French and Italian wines.

S. Africa wasn't a grape-growing country until Simon van der Stel, the first governor of the Dutch colony at the Cape planted grape stems he'd brought from France at Groot Constantia, in the shadow of Table Mountain, to do something he could only dream about in Holland, his cold, wet homeland, namely produce wine.

Baron Edmond de Rothschild, famous for vineyards in France, did the same for the young pioneer country of Israel by bringing about the renewal of vineyard cultivation in Israel at the beginning of the 20th century, after an interval of nearly 1300 years, by sending some of his best stems to be planted by the Jewish pioneers in the revived Jewish homeland.1

As a young boy, David must have walked many times down the Elah Valley, a shortcut from his home in Bethlehem, the mountain heartland of the Jewish People, to the coast where the ferocious Philistines lived, seeking adventure among them and perhaps learning the skills of warfare and swordsmanship. (the Philistines were famous as sword and chariot makers at a time when the Israelites only knew about bows and arrows and stones).

I can imagine the many arguments David must have had with his Philistine peers about which weapon, the sword or the bow and arrow and the stone, was the most effective in battle.

I don't believe that the event in the Bible, where he kills Goliath with a stone, from the river bed near Kibbutz Halamed Hë, was the first time he had met Goliath. I believe that David and Goliath were old foes.

It's clear from later stories in the Bible that David also had many friends there who gave him shelter when he escaped from the anger of King Saul.

I didn't have enough place in my luggage for all the wonderful African gifts I wanted to bring to the loved ones I'd left behind but the memories of that wonderful journey will take me back for more and Africa will always be there as it has been for many millions of years.

The old continent still has lots for modern tourists to discover.

Wishing you a great no Newsday

Yours truly

Leon Gork

  1. For an excellent article on viticulture in modern Israel see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli_wine

  2. The Kibbutz is named after 35 soldiers of the Palmach who were killed trying to rescue the citizens of the Jewish settlement of Etzion. You can read the story of the 35 here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convoy_of_35

  3. This article was originally written on Saturday, March 27, 2010

For some relaxing music may I suggest Rupert Clementora Bongo Mood

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