Saturday, February 13, 2010

Oubaii and Garden Route

Kris and I took an extremely quick trip down the Garden Route at the end of last week. I didn't know too much about the area except that it is considered a thing to do, and that there’s more green stuff there than in most parts of South Africa.

About 4 hours into the 4.5 hour drive I fell asleep while reading in the passenger seat. I woke up when we slowed down at some security gate to enter Oubaai. I was disoriented both because I was waking up from a short nap and because Oubaai is a totally bizarre place. It is a very new, planned-feeling golf community that is basically centered around a golf course designed by Ernie Els within the last ten years. There are a bunch of vacation condos there, a Hyatt that opened in December, and a bunch of high-end shops to go along with them. So everything is very well-manicured and fancy-seeming, but there was almost no one there. The Hyatt hotel staff outnumbered everyone else that was around by about 5:1.

We went immediately to the meeting with the wine shop right by the golf course, which went fine. It is owned by an enthusiastic husband and wife duo who love their wine. She had been an attorney until giving that up to open this shop. That went fine – they are interested in distributing Noble Hill in the area.

From there we checked into the Hyatt and went up to our room, which was super nice. Hard to not enjoy a fancy hotel room, even in the creepiest of locations. Here are a couple of pictures of the balcony outside our room. As far as we could tell, most of the condos pictured were entirely unfurnished.

By the time we got there, had the meeting, and settled in, it was too late in the day to do anything like go check out the nearby beaches or see the town of George, which is like 15 minutes from there. (George didn’t sound too exciting anyway. I don’t have the guidebook in front of me, but it said something like “Unless you are a golfer or a steamtrain enthusiast, George isn’t a particularly exciting place to go.” I am neither a golfer nor a steamtrain enthusiast). We resolved that there would definitely be at least 16 hours worth of stuff to do to entertain us in Oubaai, so even though we were setting ourselves up in the premise of a horror movie we decided to hang around there. Trip to the hotel gym, drinks at the bar, dinner at the hotel restaurant. Dinner was bad – the restaurant lights dimmed and brightened drastically every 7 seconds or so. They claimed that it was on an automatic timer that had Gone Rogue, and that it was supposed to dim and brighten every 20 seconds or so. I think even that would have been terrible. We ate our overcooked food in elongated strobe lighting. Then watched Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Big delicious room service breakfast in the morning almost made up for the bad dinner.

Because we wanted to get back to Paarl in the afternoon (merlot harvest was still going after starting the previous afternoon), we took off right after breakfast, but managed to make a couple stops along the way to actually see some less phony towns along the garden route.

First, we went down a winding hill from Oubaai to Herold’s bay, a tiny little beach town that had a bunch of vacation/rental houses, a hotel or two, a couple little shops, and a beach. Granted it was a Friday during the day, but it was also not very happening. Despite it being an ok beach day, there were about 5 people on the beach. Here are a couple of pictures from the beach. We stopped there for about 10 minutes to look around before moving on.

Mossel Bay, a larger Garden Route town, was also on our way back. It had a seemingly endless stretch of beach that went all the way around the big bay. We almost decided to just give up on getting back and making a beach day of it, but decided not to. Instead we grabbed a cup of coffee where we had a nice view of a few surfers on the bay and a cool little lighthouse. Here’s the view from there:

Made it back to Paarl in the afternoon, and had a pretty busy weekend. Went out to the Funky Buddha in Paarl, the town’s only nightclub (more on that some other time, maybe). Medium-busy on Saturday working in the tasting room. Dinner with some of Kathleen’s friends at the new Bombay Brasserie in the newly built Taj Hotel in Cape Town. Very busy Valentine’s Day – fully booked in the restaurant and for picnics, so I helped make picnic baskets, ran a tasting or two, helped Vivi the guitar player/singer settle in before she minstreled her way around the restaurant and lawn, and ran a couple of errands. Now off to Col’Cacchio in Franschhoek for dinner. Will get to check out how Franschhoek is doing. There was a huge fire there for a few days in the last week or so – we could see a red glow over one of the mountains for a while, then lots of smoke, then little bits of ash were falling on us in Paarl. I suspect it is soot-city over there.

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