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South Africa: Day 14—From the Top to the Bottom, Tourist Style

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Mar 21, 2007 10:58am ET

It’s a national holiday here today: Human Rights Day. It’s cooler than it’s been so far on my trip, and summer seems to be finally winding down here.

To celebrate the holiday, I allowed myself to be a tourist for a day. I figured after two straight weeks of work, no one would mind. I slept in and actually had breakfast for a change, as opposed to previous mornings when I only had enough time to grab an apple as I was bolting out the door at 8 a.m.

After breakfast, I took the dramatic cable-car ride up to the top of Table Mountain. It's a steep ascent that takes about five minutes. (The car actually rotates as it ascends, so everyone gets the full view.) When you get to the top, it’s about as good a view as you’ll see of the Cape. The rugged, rocky slopes of the mountain are breathtaking, and it takes a minute to get your head wrapped around being above the clouds. There's no observation deck in the way—you are literally on the edge of the flat-topped mountain (hence its name).You could easily spend a few hours walking around, taking in the 360-degree panorama, but I only spent an hour. Next time …

It was then time to head back down to sea level, where I took in the V&A Waterfront. Think New York’s South Street Seaport or Boston's Fanieul Hall—times 10. All of the stores and restaurants are side by side with the dock and barking harbor seals.

I stopped into Vaughn Johnson’s wine shop, a local institution. After two weeks in the wine lands, it was great to see a bustling retail shop filled with the best wines the Cape has to offer. In one corner, there were stacks of cases of wines going out to private clients in Europe—11 cases to one person in England, 66 to another in Germany, so obviously Johnson has his following. The only downside: No cases stacked to go to America. At $35 per bottle (plus taxes) to ship the wines to the U.S. (Europe has no such issues), it's just too pricey, even though the actual wine doesn't cost much. What a shame. I could’ve really spent some money there all too easily ...


Proof that I was actually in South Africa ...


I then checked out the rows of shops (OK, it’s a mall) and did a little gift shopping for my daughters and wife. Hopefully they remember what I look like. A leisurely lunch at Belthazar was great—a gamy, rich kudu steak with Madagascar green peppercorn sauce and a bottle of Scali Syrah should set me up for the long trek home. The restaurant is a bit touristy, but the wine list is long and the meats (beef and local game) are terrific.

As I sat looking out over the harbor enjoying my food and wine, I saw the "table cloth," or cloud cover over Table Mountain, move in, and I realized how lucky I was to get up there early in the day.


A cable car takes you to the top of Table Mountain.


I’m also lucky to have gotten here: It’s a country with amazing landscape and some potentially terrific vineyards. There are still plenty of issues to be ironed out (more on that after I get back to NYC), but the pieces are in place here. It’s hard not to feel the optimism and opportunity that defines this country; it’s just a matter of who takes the effort to exploit this place for the better.

I’ve got reams of notes and plenty to write about after I get back. But that will wait until Monday. Until then, I’ve got two green Day-Glo T-shirts with cartoon sharks on them that need to go to a pair of patient little girls waiting for their daddy.

Bobby Chandra
London —  March 22, 2007 5:05am ET
Hello James, I just want to thank you for your blogs from south africa. They have been very informative and amusing. Looking forward to digging deeper into the world of south african wines.
Cape Wine Ventures Llc
Atlanta —  March 26, 2007 8:44pm ET
James,I started an import company a couple of years ago(2003)after starting a fine wine distribution company in South Carolina in 1998. My distribution company represented an amazing portfolio of wines including some of the best US importers such as Bobby Katcher, Kermit Lynch and the likes. Our US portfolio included many of the great wines from the West Coast such as Shafer,Talley,etc.My company started selling a few South African wines after a trip over to the country in 2003. I was simply blown away with what is going on in this incredible country. I have read your blogs from your trip and would very much like to talk with you. I have been to SA about 5 times over the past few years and realize as you have that this is a very special place....the people, the place, the food, the culture....everything. How did you enjoy Johnny Clegg?...I think that he is amazing. Next trip you will have to check out a game park...it is off the charts.I will try and reach out for you soon or you can reach me at the number below.Kind Regards,Greg Mueller843-384-9465

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