Let's Talk About My Vacation Part 4: Stellenbosch

I am recapping, excruciatingly slowly, the two-week trip we took to South Africa last year. Here is part one, about our layover in Paris; here is part two, about Cape Town; and here is part three, about Cape Point and the penguins of Boulders Beach. Expect me to be finished with this sometime in 2014.  

If only our trip to South Africa had actually been as long as the time I'm taking to tell you about it, right? Sorry about that; now that I'm knee-deep in commuter traffic and work deadlines and a mild concern about why the check engine light keeps coming on in the car, I keep sort of forgetting that all this gloriousness actually happened. So tell you what, let's collectively remove that vice-like grip of everyday stress for a minute—I find a gentle touch does it; maybe some cajoling words—and take a little trip back to Stellenbosch, which could aptly be described as the Napa Valley of South Africa. Are you wearing your eating pants? Did you bring your ID? Oh please, girl, you need it; you don't look a day over 18. 

Stellenbosch is only a 45-minute drive from Cape Town, so we hopped in our rental car on our third or fourth day in South Africa and made our way there, using the map we'd been given at the hotel reception. "On your way," said the woman at the front desk, "you should stop at Spier." 

"Spier?" I said. "Why? What's there?"

"Oh, there's a cheetah sanctuary," she said. "You can pay a little bit of money to stroke a cheetah."

And just like that, our next destination became Spier. 

The cheetah sanctuary turned out to be a place called Cheetah Outreach, a non-profit that aims to raise awareness about cheetahs—an endangered species—and puts the money it makes towards helping to conserve them in the wild. 

Meeting with a cheetah is called a "cheetah encounter," a fact I got a bit of a kick out of when buying the tickets. "Two encounters, please" I said to the ticket-taker, which is not something you say very often in most other areas of your life. In fact, I think I might start adopting it at the movie theater ("two encounters with George Clooney, please" at a screening of The Descendents, say. Hey, I will take any encounter with George Clooney I can get.) 

Meeting a cheetah is not unlike meeting a very important foreign dignitary. First, you have to wear a special badge. Then you have to apply hand sanitizer, leave your bag in a locked-up cage, and listen very carefully to which parts of him you're allowed to touch (though I imagine they leave this part out when you're being briefed on meeting President Clinton, BA-DUM-DUM.)  After that, it's just a whole bunch of waiting around for a while, before you're finally led into a private enclosure to meet with the VIP himself. 


Uh, wait. This is okay, right?

I did used to have a video of me stroking the cheetah before I accidentally deleted everything on my iPhone—it was mostly me staring wide-eyed at the camera, my expression pure and unadulterated HOLY SHIT—but I've lost that now, so you'll have to imagine instead the total silence of the cheetah enclosure, punctuated only by the clicking of the camera shutter and the occasional heaving snores of Sir Sleeps-a-Lot. 

There were only four of us in our little group, and we each got about three minutes one-on-one time with the cheetah, plus a minute or so in pairs if we wanted it.  Stroking him was much like a stroking a regular old house cat, to be honest, albeit an enormous one who required his own handler. Because we had just lost Charlie a few days ago—and I know this sounds stupid, I know—I found it weirdly emotional to be so close to a cat again, but sort of therapeutic too. Charlie says hi, I whispered to him. In my head, of course. 

This cheetah was old—fourteen, I think they said—but there were baby cheetahs frolicking around outside as well. Do you know one thing you're not supposed to do around baby cheetahs? Make the sort of pursed-lip kissy noises you might make at an adorable kitten, that's what. I found this out the hard way when one of the attendants stuck her head out of the enclosure and found me cooing idiotically at one. "Please don't make those noises," she said coolly. "I'm so sorry!" I cried, horrified at myself. "I totally didn't even realize I was doing it." 

Whatever, Spier. Stop making your cheetahs so cute then. 

After the excitement of that side trip—which included jumpstarting our rental car in the rain, the battery having died somewhere around the time we were getting up close and personal with a cheetah—we made our way on towards Stellenbosch, which is so gorgeous that it cannot even be believed.

Our destination was Rust en Vrede, a winery I'd read had a fantastic lunch deal: steak, fries, and a glass of their glorious red for around $18 each. 

I'm not sure if I possess the words to describe just how enjoyable this was. We ate in the wine cellar, which was hugely charming, and the food was out of this world. I'm not even normally a red wine drinker—I prefer a cold, crisp glass of white—but this one was so good that I have been scouring the Internet ever since we got home, trying to find a bottle for myself. And the whole "one glass" thing, by the way, is a total lie; the guy topped mine up three times and counting. 



What year is it? Who is the president? Can you say the alphabet backwards? 

After a little wander around Stellenbosch, we made our way to the neighboring town of Franschoek, which neither of us knew exactly how to pronounce. We solved this by just saying "Fran..." and then making some guttural noises in the back of our throats for the rest of it. This served us pretty well until we had a chance to overhear some locals saying it so we could copy them. (It's "Fran-shook.") 

We stopped quickly at La Petite Ferme, where we bought a bottle of excellent Sauvignon Blanc for, I kid you not, five dollars—I just opened it a few weeks ago and wished I'd bought several more—then dropped in at Haute Cabriere, where they were tasting champagnes. (Oh, really? Twist my arm.) If it sounds like we knew what we were doing, by the way, we totally didn't; we just stopped at places that looked pretty. We didn't do a whole lot of tasting, honestly, partly because Sean was driving and couldn't indulge, and partly because we were still so stuffed from lunch at Rust en Vrede, but the scenery was so mindblowing and the experience so much fun that it didn't really matter. 

There are tons more pictures—of cheetahs and wine country both—over here, and I'll be back with my next South Africa installment soon so I can tell you all about how I went cage diving. Oh yeah, I said it: cage diving. With great white sharks. You heard me. What, you thought stroking a cheetah was as brave as I got? 

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1
findingmagnolia
Feb 21, 2012

You said, "stroke a cheetah" and then you said "baby cheetahs frolicking" and after that I couldn't finish reading the post because I was too busy checking to see how much it would cost to fly from Addis Ababa to Cape Town next fall. (Which will be spring in South Africa, which will probably guarantee a lot more frolicking of baby cheetahs, I would imagine.) I mean, if we're going to be in Africa anyway, we could probably just jet down south to stroke a cheetah, right?

2
Kirsty
Feb 21, 2012

It's 9.47am and my mouth is literally watering at the thought of that steak and a glass of red wine. This worries me. (But probably not as much as it should.)

3
newfoundlander
Feb 21, 2012

OMG...You look positively ethereal, Holly! Wish my husband could take photos of me looking as good. Then again, I guess I'd still look like me...not like you :(

4
One Third Acre Woods
Feb 21, 2012

It looks like you had your own little African Safari, without, you know, actually going on a safari with wild animals and a guide in an open car so they can eat you.

5
Emily
Feb 21, 2012

Fabulous, Holly! Tell me, how do you keep track of details when you get home? I seem to forget everything we've done and spend hours on the internet trying to figure out what it is we DID while we were gone (in terms of names, places, etc.). Do you keep a journal when you travel?

6
Sara
Feb 21, 2012

I didn't even know that I wanted to pet a cheetah until now. And suddenly, I can't get it out of my head. All I hear is "stroke a cheetah, stroke a cheetah." Much in the same way that Olympia Dukakis gets stuck in your head.

7
Samantha
Feb 21, 2012

Oh my goodness. My fiance and I have just decided on going to London to visit my family and then driving to Scotland for our honeymoon, but after reading this post? I'm totally sending him a link that says SOUTH AFRICAAAAAAAA in the subject line.

Also, the Bill Clinton line made me spit coffee and say "I'll thank you" a la Austin Powers.

8
Dana
Feb 21, 2012

Much like the first commenter, you had me at "cheetah." I would fail a test on comprehension of the rest of this post because I am already figuring out when and how I can get to South Africa, just to pet a cheetah.

9
KT
Feb 21, 2012

We saw cheetahs hanging out in Kruger National Park (northeastern S. Africa), but we certainly didn't get to pet any- that's so cool!

If we ever go back to SA, we are definitely hitting up Cape Town and doing some wine tasting. Yum.

10
Marcheline
Feb 21, 2012

1. Gorgeous photos, and what a trip!

2. The only people more annoying, pompous, and self-righteous than assistant animal handlers are stable owners / horse people. No one else in the world could possibly know anything about animals. They are the gods of animal knowledge. Anyone else is a mere peon, a spectator, someone to be corrected publicly, and often. Seriously... I'd have asked, "Sorry, what exact, specific horrible thing could happen if I make a kissy noise at a baby cheetah?".

11
elz
Feb 21, 2012

1) So JEALOUS of cage diving with great whites. That's on my Life LIst. No lie.
2) Cheetahs! Petting a cheetah! Baby cheetahs!
3) Gorgeous country. Gorgeous.
4) Your earrings are so cute, where did you get them?

Ok, I'm done.

Sounds like an amazing trip! Thanks for sharing your pics and stories with us!

13
honeypops
Feb 22, 2012

i almost cried over my bowl of boiled veggies when i read "Charlie says hi". breathtaking pictures. would south africa make a good honeymoon destination?

14
Sarah
Feb 22, 2012

Ok, it's kinda worth all the pop up ads to see your SA trip notes because I have the EXACT same photo of myself next to the Don't Feed the Cheetah sign AND of Stellenbosch. It is amazing. And it's lovely to see your photos and remember when I was seeing it myself. My photos have been lost as well.

We ate at a place whose name escapes me but we ate on a terrace over looking the hills. Heaven.

The hostess said "I'll be with you now." and then turned and walked away. Apparently, "now" in South Africa means "soon."

And in a country so gorgeous, so languid, so hot--I get it--except for the cheetahs and other predators who clearly make the need for "now" to be "now" true sometimes.

15
Taryn
Feb 22, 2012

So, as I work in the wine business, I figured I'd help you out with your Rust en Vrede search. I used to sell that wine here in the Chicago market, and it is indeed fabulous! The wine is imported by the Terlato family, and they are located in Lake Bluff (about an hour north of Chicago), and they would LOVE to hear from you! I am going to forward this blog entry on to them, so they can reach out to you and hopefully get you in touch with the right people in CA. In the meantime, keep writing! Your blog is my favorite!

Txo

16
Sioux
Feb 23, 2012

I love that the cheetah experience actually had something to do with conservation. Over in Chiang Mai we've got all the tigers you can pet, but they're all sad and drugged and about to be shipped off to the shady variety of zoo. I so want to go cuddle a baby tiger (which you're allowed to do), but it's not actually for their benefit. Spier seems to have everything all worked out.

Also? That steak, fry, and wine combo has me shaking with food lust. Mmmm...

17
scholae
Feb 23, 2012

Did you get any explanation as to why you should stop making kissy noises at the adorable frolicking baby cheetahs, or was it just because the handler was sick of hearing everyone do it? In which case: shut up, grouchy handler.

18
Carlien
Feb 23, 2012

Sigh.. beautiful.. homesick now.. but I can handle it.. in 3 weeks I'll be there! :)

19
Camels & Chocolate
Feb 25, 2012

We picked my sister and her boyfriend up post-cheetah sanctuary in Stellenbosch because they were too intoxicated to drive themselves. Which I'm just going to attribute to Stellenbosch and not the cheetahs (though I could be wrong about that). Those cheetahs look like sneaky cats, they do.

20
KatieC
Feb 26, 2012

Yay! Last July, my colleague and I had two full days in Cape Town before a two-day work thingie. We stuffed so much in. The cheetah reserve was fantastic, we also did Table Mountain and Robben Island and Mama Africa Restaurant.

One place that we were so disappointed to miss out on was High Tea at Mount Nelson Hotel. We left it too late to book.
Next Time.

By the way, just back from my Las Vegas detour on another work trip. Stayed at the Bellagio, freaking fantastic couple of days, the high-light is a toss-up between find a coach handbag in one of the outlet shops reduced from $348 to less than $100, or a helicopter trip.

Thanks for your email tips for LV.

Katie

21
ipad bingo
Feb 27, 2012

Hi,
Fantastic blog, Love your blog.
I will share your blog with my friends. Keep it up with good work. Thanks a lot.

22
Love Angela
Mar 11, 2012

That's really great vacation! mountain, field, cheetah, fresh breeze, and romantic :) I'm really jealous with you. Noted Stellenbosch in my vacation plan, hope will visiting soon. love Angela

23
Rafael
Jun 06, 2012

Independent Home Inspectors of North America (2002 ? present).
Schproket Pendant Light Online Sale http://www.chiroquebec.com/?ID=id-178984284

25
Nook
May 19, 2016

Poslední ofC-otpic:fo se týče diskuzí k tématu a k důvodu zavedení smetiště, je velmi podnětné (a všem to doporučuji) pojít si několik posledních diskuzí a pozorovat, kdo diskutuje k tématu a kdo se snaží naopak diskuzi strhnout jiným směrem.

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