Tuesday, 8 January 2013

South Africa 2012- Kate and Karel's week long wedding

South Africa 2012
Kate and Karel’s week-long wedding
Day 1- Camps Bay and the case of the broken feet

Jennie and I arrived in Cape Town after a drowsy (thanks Nytol!) 12hours from Heathrow to a welcoming smile and hug from Ed, Kate’s Dad. A short drive later, taking in the breathtaking views of Table Mountain out of the window of the car, and we were deposited on the gravel drive of a stunning “Grand Designs”- style property overlooking the bay. After frantic hello hugs and a LOT of introductions, a glass of wine was thrust into our hands and all the female guests headed outside to cackle our way into the afternoon. Those who knew each other started catching up on six months of news, those who didn’t began the process of getting to know one another.

The first topic of conversation involved Zenon, one of the twin best men, who, it would appear, had launched himself from the balcony the previous night and landed on his feet (thankfully), which were suspected to both be broken. Remarks of “at least he’s a twin, so it’s fine, there’s a spare” may not, at this point have gone down that well with him. After several glasses of wine, we retreated to our room, for a brief nap and a shower. An hour later, fully revitalised and with drinking heads on, Jen and I headed downstairs to join the merry mixed group of Aussies and Brits, to sample the first of two “Ed Lawton” BBQ’s- sausages, burgers, haloumi, salad and potato salad, all served up to the background sounds of Joel's’ Prince
playlist. The boys had all been out late the night before much to the consternation of the bride, but that didn’t seem to put a dampener on anything, , we all drank and talked way into the early hours, some heated “Desert Island Disc” conversations were still happening way past midnight.

Day 2- Table Mountain,our arrival in Franshhoek and “Cheesegate”...
An unseemly early start after what was quite a messy night begins with the Bride entering our bedroom to inform us that she hasn’t slept, and that her mother has said she looks like shit, and therefore she will not be going ahead with her planned make-up trial today. I mention that I think this is a good idea as the makeup artist may double her price if she thinks this is the amount of work she will need to do on the Big Day, which is 3 days away. This sets Kate off into some kind of cross between nervous laughter and panicked hysteria, so Jen and I leave her to her pre-wedding anxiety, pack up our things, and jump in with
our two new favourite Aussies, Meg and Joel for a family trip up Table Mountain. Now, having climbed another mountain in Africa two years ago- Kilimanjaro- I perhaps should have known what would be appropriate to wear. The assumption that the cable car would
gentrify the experience was correct, however, the assumption that a summer dress and sandals with pretty bows on them would be appropriate clothing was not. It was bloody freezing up there. The wind stops one from realising how hot the sun is, and, so sure as eggs is eggs, Jen and I both came back down with burnt chests and noses. But it was worth it. Table Mountain is a stunning sight from below where it becomes a natural boundary for the sprawling city of Cape Town...but from the TOP of it, well, wow- that really is something special. The view extends, on a clear day, for miles, from one side you are able to see Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, from another, the odd sight of where two seas (The Atlantic Ocean and The Indian Ocean) meet and merge with one another in the same way that oil and water do. The terrain is stony with plenty of greenery and some Rock Beavers that we didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of, but I am assured are indigenous to the mountain. After taking the jammed full cable car back down the mountain, and a slightly misguided attempt to get out of the car park via a large ditch, the four of us headed to the V&A Waterfront for a stunning seafood and fish lunch with a view of the harbour. An hour or so in the shops later, with one pair of Havianas (Jen) and one beard trimmer (Joel) procured, we jumped in the car and began the hour long drive to Franshhoek in the Wine Regions of South Africa.

Arriving in Franshhoek, we stopped at our hotel -well it said “Auberge”, only to be told that it WASN’T our hotel, that “Auberge” was a South African name for “hotel”. Our description of “It sounds something like dauphanoise” was eventually understood and we were directed to the Auberge Dauphine. Jen and I got settled in to our lovely cottage, and then walked out
for drinks at Ed and Janice’s apartment. Tonight’s plan was for the whole crowd to go to Reuben’s- a well-known and well-reviewed restaurant on the high street in Franshhoek.
With the wine flowing freely, the crowd tucked into blue cheese tart, some stunning chili squid, lamb, steak and a selection of other perfectly cooked dishes. All was well. Unless of course, you were Joel. Because Joel decided to order the ostrich. To say he was disappointed would be an understatement. It tasted like cheap overcooked steak, not something he will be ordering again methinks. The Aussies were all starting to feel the jet-lag, apart from Emma, who had arrived feeling fresh and raring to go, Jen and I went home for a good night’s sleep,
whilst the after party kicked off at Rose Cottages. This was the night of cheese-gate. The boys decided to steal cheese from the girl’s fridge in Rose Cottages. Big mistake. Huge. Tanya was not happy about this turn of events, and after accusing Joel of patronising her when he was attempting his best Ban-ki Moon impression, decided to let the rest of the boys know what she was really feeling.

Day 3- The Vineyard with the Beautiful Man
Today was supposed to start with a quick 5K around the countryside. What it actually started with was blind panic as Jen and I overslept. We were due to be at Boekenhoutskloof vineyard for 11am- yep, drinking from 11am- just like being at home really. This part of South Africa has some exquisite scenery, and although we were getting used to the breathtaking sights, I don’t think that any of us were prepared for THIS particular sight. The man who took us through our two hour long tasting was beautiful. He entranced men
and women alike- Simon was caught gazing adoringly up at him on several occasions. He was a hot man, with a hot accent and he knew EVERYTHING about wine...wine which he was sharing with us for free. What’s NOT to like!? Cue Christina and Alex’s arrival, a flurry of hugs, a few Northern exclamations some gentle ribbing about Alex’s sunburnt face! Rory took this opportunity to begin her drinking career with a taste of one of the desert wines, and even Freya didn’t spit EVERY time. Two hours later, suitably pissed, we all dutifully purchased bottles of “Chocolate Box” wine to take back to our loved ones and off we went to the next place where we could over-consume.

Le Petit Ferme has been voted in Conde Nast as one of the top “reasonably priced” restaurants in the WORLD, so to say that I was looking forward to it is an understatement. In fact, when I“checked-in” on Facebook when I first arrived in Franshhoek, several friends had made me promise to go there, so I was pretty sure that it would be a great experience. And I wasn’t disappointed. Le Petit Ferme is set in the most beautiful location I think I have ever seen. The view from the back terrace/lawn takes in the majestic mountains, the lush vegetation and the green, uniform vineyards. The bursts of colour from well tended flowers give the view a very “British” feel, but without the sheeting rain and snow that we were told was happening at home. After champagne on the lawn in the burning hot African sun, another session of gorging on wine and food began. Risotto, lamb, fishcakes, beetroot and goats cheese salad were on offer and yet again, couldn’t have been better. I actually don’t think I have ever been to a country where the food and wine is SO consistently good- not just good, but fantastic- fresh produce, imaginatively cooked and beautifully presented. The South African’s do it properly.

Today was Ed’s birthday, so after Le Petit Ferme we headed back to base to shower, change and then back to Ed and Janice’s for....yep, you guessed it, more food and wine! News of a rather large snake being found on site meant that the 3 journeys back to our cottage in the dark to add more clothes were interesting...and quick. One thing that I wasn’t prepared for was the cold evenings- Franshhoek was very windy when we were there, and evenings require jumpers and trousers- virgin visitors to South Africa, take note! The various groups were really starting to mix by now- the Aussies and the Brits, the girls and the boys, the “grownups” and the kids, conversation (and wine, obviously) was flowing, including a conversation between myself and Cool Hand Luke, the cougar’s friend, Turnbull and Zenon
about the fact that Australia has 13 of the top 20 deadly snakes. My main concern was that there is EVEN a LIST of the top 20 deadly snakes...! I tried to raise them with a Jack Russell and an Adder, but they were having none of it. An early night was had by all in preparation for the early start necessary to get to the shark diving place. Yep, shark diving. Actually, Great White Shark diving to be precise...

Day 4- Shark diving and Stinky Seal Island
After a filling breakfast, Jen and I, the perpetual children without a car jumped into Steve and Jean’s car to drive to Gansbaai where a boat and some crew had been procured to take us out to see and into a cage to dive with Great White Sharks. Passing more stunning
scenery, negotiating a dirt track, spotting an “Emu on holiday” (possibly an ostrich, Jean??) and having to stop for a family of baboons in the road, we headed South, doing the fabled 3 hour journey in an hour and a half. Arriving in Gansbaai, we congregated at the shark diving centre for MORE food (but no wine on this occasion) before getting our orange sou'westers on for the safety briefing. We fought our way through the winds out to the boat, which to my liking didn’t look that safe and certainly not able to withstand a great white shark attack! I settled in up the top for what I expected would be a short gentle ride, only to be thrown about like a rag doll as the boat accelerated to deeper waters. 

Ten minutes later, and soaked to the bone, we arrived at “shark alley” where we saw the first of our day’s sharks...not bad I thought, until it was pointed out that this was a baby shark and that we were off to find his mother. And find her we did, when 10 minutes later we dropped anchor further along and the first intrepid divers slid into the cage which was a lot easier than getting into the wet wetsuits! As the crew baited the sharks, the air turned blue and Kate, Meg, Simon and others got their first underwater view of adult great whites. By now I was feeling incredibly sea sick and so when the opportunity arose for the second group to get into the cage, I was into my wetsuit in a shot- all I wanted to do was get off that damn boat. Now I should explain that since the age of 5 when I saw Jaws, I have had an innate fear of the sea. Even in crystal clear Caribbean waters on holiday I refuse to go in any further than about waist hight. Its not so much sharks that I am fearful of, just not knowing what
is down there is enough. So, god bless sea-sickness, because without it, I am not sure I would
have had the balls to get in that cage. Lucky old Zenon had the dubious pleasure of being one
side of me and Darian with an underwater camera (that I am yet to see any pictures from) on the other side. 

The water was cold. The Atlantic isn’t known for its warmth, but this was COLD. My
mask was constantly slipping out of place and I still felt sick. This was not, so far, a great

And then it began. Using Gladys, a foam seal-shaped decoy and plenty of fresh fish-heads, the crew baited the sharks, again and again, and as we heard the call of “down, down, under the decoy!!”, we took a deep breath and bobbed down under the water to see the great whites coming directly at the cage. Being vertically challenged, I struggled to hook my feet under the safety bar AND keep my hands INSIDE the cage, so poor Zenon ended up having to hold his hands on mine to stop me from floating off. The sheer terror that I felt when down there meant that it was a welcome offer of human contact. The visibility under water was only about 1.5 meters- meaning that by the time you saw the shark it was only a meter or so away. They look so serene, with their streamlined bodies and dead eyes...until they open their mouths and you see those teeth- then you KNOW that they are actually deadly killers and that you wouldn’t stand a chance. After what seemed like a lifetime, but I am told was about half an hour, we, one by one were hauled out of the cage- Joel narrowly missing losing his left leg when an ill-timed shark baiting left him exposed as he was pulled out of the cage. 

The next two groups took their turns and then a small group of intrepid boys went back down for a second shot. I resisted the temptation and opted to stay on boat, feeling wretched and shivering with cold but massively proud of myself for being so very brave! And finally, we were all done and ready to get back to shore...but not before we had visited Seal Island. Seal Island is a small stretch of rock that is home to up to 60,000 seals, and really was an amazing sight to see. But I don’t think it is the sight that will stick in my fellow travelers minds. Nope, that would be the smell. I have no way of describing what this island smelt like as we approached...words actually fail me. It was simply putrid. The crew informed us that is was a mix of seal faeces and urine, mixed with the fresh scent of rotting baby seal carcasses that are floating in the water after mother seals have given birth to them and they have not survived. This smell mixed with my seasickness is something I will never forget. I cannot even bear to remember the feeling- I have never WANTED to be sick so much in my life...anything to stop how I was feeling. Eventually we sailed back to base and the sea-sickness abated as soon as we were on dry land. Half an hour later, having changed
into some warm, dry clothes, had some mushroom soup and watched the DVD of the day’s experiences, we jumped in Jean and Steve’s car and went back to the ranch to get changed. It took two washes of our hair to get the stench of the seals out, and then all of our clothes needed to be washed- the smell was permeating the apartment.

As the wedding was the following day, everyone was careful NOT to have a big night out, and as most of us were exhausted from the days antics, Jen and I decided to have a quiet night out at the local steakhouse- The Grill Room. Steak, chips and salad were the order of the day, washed down with just the one cocktail. As Jen and I didn’t have a car, we had hitched a ride with Alex and Christina, so after a quick glass of wine in the only pub in the town- The Elephant and Barrel, we called them to cadge a lift back to the apartment, realising that two blonde girls wandering home in the dark in South Africa late at night was not the sensible option. Only they had gone to bed- and they had the key to the outer gate. So we ordered a taxi and tried to figure out how we would get into the vineyard. When we arrived there was no answer from the reception, and so, with no other option, we launched our, by now, well fed bodies over the front wall...I was slinging myself over the top with all the grace of a
baby deer on ice, just in time for Meg and Joel to pull up in their car. Joel’s exact words were, I believe, “you guys look like two drunk petty criminals”. Having explained ourselves and attempted to reassure them that we were not drunk, we went to bed.

Now, I may not have mentioned that Kate had asked me several months ago to do a reading at her wedding, a reading which, despite the 3 months notice, I had not exactly finished...because I had decided to write something rather than use a standard reading after a few google searches had not turned up anythig matching my brief. My brief rom the Bride was succinct, and definate-“Nothing too soppy and nothing about fucking God” I believe were the exact words. And so I was plagued all night with the fear that I had not completed this simple task. Oh well, I’ll finish it tomorrow I told myself as I drifted off to sleep to dream of sharks and seal shit.

Day 5- Horse riding, The Wedding and YMCA.

My alarm went of unfeasibily early- as did Joel’s and Christina’s as we had booked a two hour trek on horseback for this morning. Kate’s wedding wasn’t until 4pm, so we had
plenty of time to kill and were keen to do something that DIDN’T run the risk of us drinking yet more wine. We mounted three arabs, and our guide, Peter took us on a stunning
tour of the valleys, farms and mountains of Franshhoek. His family had owned farms in the area for a couple of hundred years, and there was no part of the countryside that he didn’t know- 4 of the 5 farms in the valleys were still owned by relatives of his, some of whom we greeted on the way. I learnt more from Peter than I would have done from any guide book- I learnt that apart from wine, plums were the only crop that farmers in this area could really profit from- and we saw plenty of them, being harvested despite the early hour. We also saw
vineyards, olive trees and some scenery that made the hairs stand up on the back of our necks. Peter pointed out all the special areas of interest- including the elephant trail up the
side of one of the mountains and the natural spring where the farms take their (untreated!) water from. Despite being told that we were experienced, Peter was very patient when he
realised that we could all ride, but that myself and Joel (Christina rides regularly) were not exactly experts. We still managed to comfortably get up to canter in a few places, but the real joy was just seeing part of this beautiful country on horseback- surely the best way to travel and enjoy your surroundings?

After bidding farewell to our lovely guide and beautiful horses, we met up with Meg and Jen and headed into Franshhoek town to do some last minute shopping- one task of which was to find me a dress to wear for the impending wedding. Yes, just 2 hours beforehand, I had still not really picked an outfit. After contemplating spending a months mortgage on an average-looking frock, I decided to borrow one that Jen had offered to me earlier in the week, so back to the apartment, and a quick shower and change and we were ready for the wedding. I added a few words to my reading, printed it out, and we were ready to go.

We were ferried to the wedding venue by a selection of taxi’s where it soon became apparent that the wind might be an issue. Tables and chairs were being blown about the place and Joel, who was set to play the violin as the bridesmaids and the bride walked down the aisle was starting to fret as to whether it would actually be possible to play in the hurricane
that was happening around us. The setting for the venue was incredibly impressive- rolling valleys and rugged mountains with lush greenery and a beautifully simple archway with flower arrangements either side for the actual ceremony to take place. I didn't actually see
Kate before the ceremony, but I am reliably informed that she and the bridesmaids had a relaxed morning getting their hair and make-up done and eating sandwiches. There was a mild panic for Becky when it transpired that the dresses were labeled up with the wrong names and hers didn't fit, but once the right dresses were found for the right bridesmaids, all was well. Sat on the brides side of the aisle, Jen and I both beamed with pride and joy as Kate was escorted down the aisle to meet Karel and pledge the rest of her life, for better or worse to the man she loved. The ceremony itself was short, to the point and no nonsense- it was full of love and even a little bit of laughter as a gun went off in the distance at one point and some wag made reference to a “shotgun wedding”. Meg did the first reading, and then I managed to get through mine without being blown away, allowing the guests to see my knickers or bursting into tears. Kate and Karel, now newly man and wife went off to sign the register and the guests were led over to a sheltered part of the grounds where we were served some exquisite canap├ęs and fizz. All the while, Kate’s Uncle Andrew and cousin Michael were gamely acting as official photographers, capturing and preserving memories of the occasion. On their return from the official duties, Kate and Karel joined the rest of the guests just in time for the accapella singing group who performed for an hour using just a   bottle with some pebbles in as their accompaniment. Suitably refreshed, the guests were then led upstairs to the reception venue where, true to what we had come to expect from South Africa, we were fed an array of fantastic food- a selection of meats and bread to start, followed by a melt in the mouth slow cooked lamb and finished off with creme brule and/or a very well proportioned cheese board!

Next came the speeches, a moving reading from Becky, Kate's maid of honour, a humorous Best Man double act of Zenon and Darian which recounted their friendship with Karel and told us a lot about the man who had just married our friend, a brief but heartfelt speech from Milani, Karel’s Dad and then some wise words from Ed about marriage and adventurewhich
seemed to me to be the themes of the week!

And then came the dancing.

In the UK its usually the girls on the dance floor at weddings, but not here. Nope, the Aussie guys really went for it, with shapes being thrown all over the place...to say that there was a sense of dignity abandonment would be putting it lightly. Somewhere between YMCA and East 17 is where I last saw mine. There were dance-offs abound and Jagerbombs at every turn. The latter of which I believe to be responsible for the blood blisters that formed on
my hand the following day after a “beam hanging” competition that got out of control. The “after party” back at the Bridesmaids abode, Rose Cottages was messy. I am a little hazy on the details, but am assured that the wine was still flowing until around 6am, and I-pod wars aside, everyone had a great time. I woke at 7.30am on the couch to see Emma,Tanya and Hayes still dancing in the garden, and that some kind soul had left a towel near my head,
optimistically thinking that I may want a shower in the morning. Zenon was also still at the house, so having woken him up, we walked together back to the Auberge Dauphine, him in women's clothes and makeup (don’t ask) and me looking like a common drunkard with Rod Stewart’s hair. As Zenon remarked at the time, the picture of us in our bedraggled state
would have made an awesome album cover. Actually, I think that the pink string jumper suited him- I think he may have asked Becky if he could keep it. The answer, as I remember, was no.

Day 6- The Hangover
Well. That was what we were all here for then. To watch two people pledge that they will spend their lives together, look after and love one another forever. So, the following day, after a dodgy start, which involved us all waiting at Boschendaal vineyard for what was promised to be an exquisite picnic, but which had to be cancelled at the last minute due to high winds, we headed to a pizza restaurant that we were booked to go to that evening. Pizza and pasta, what a great way to eat through the intolerable hangover that 75% of the wedding party (actually, make that ALL of the wedding party) and guests had. I lucked out, my lasagna was the perfect antidote to the previous evening’s excesses, even if I didn't quite manage to get through the Bloody Mary that Alex ordered me! Unfortunately, the rest of the group weren’t so lucky, the terrible service and then shoddy pasta dishes that were served shortly before a sheepish manager explained they had just two hobs...yep, a large restaurant with two hobs, and 37 people just walked in. Never mind, it was the only bad meal that we had whilst in SA. 

The bill renegotiated, a group of us collapsed next to the pool back at Auberge Dauphine and had some very weak, hungover discussions that involved everything from the state of the UK benefits system to the word for button phobia. A glass of wine later and we went back into town...and, despite the state of everyone, we went straight to a Champagne Festival that we had watched being set up through the week. Braving the winds, we tasted our way around the tents and then I left with Christina and Alex to go back to the Grill Room for dinner- another fantastic meal, this time starting with a plate of Oysters. It was our last night and everyone wanted to get together for “one last glass of wine”, so we all met up in The Elephant and Barrel, for a few glasses and a little bit of laughter and music before it
was all over. Janice, commented on Kate and I sitting together, giggling conspiratorially and
looking like we could still cause a lot of trouble after all these years- which I believe is the correct assessment of the situation! But it is weird, after 24 years of friendship, we (Jen included, and for even longer) are still there for each other- and despite living at different ends of the world, when it matters, we get together and its like we have never had a day, let alone at times, years apart.

Day 7- Cape Town...and MORE wine....

And so the day came, time for us to say our goodbyes to new and old friends, thank the
Lawton's for their hospitality, and wish Kate and Karel all the best for their future. There were a few tears, but also a lot of assurances of when we would next see each other- and what’s six months between friends?? Then myself, Jen, Emma, Tanya and Becs left for Cape Town, aiming for the V&A waterfront, via the airport to drop our cases off on the way. But our girly lunch ended up being one down when Emma’s flight was delayed and she had
to get an earlier flight to not miss her connection. The four of us left spent some time in Cape Town, had yet another delicious fish lunch, far too much wine and recounted the stories from the week- some of which made it into this blog, and many of which didn’t!

Our flight home was uneventful, bar the turbulence, and soon we were back on British soil
and back to reality. South Africa is a stunning country, but it still has it’s problems, as the appearance of miles and miles of shanty town slums on the way to the airport shows. But the South Africans are beautiful souls,and they are rightly proud of a country that treats is guests to the best of everything. The food and wine was out of this world, and I lost count of the number of times I was awestruck by a stunning view or picturesque photo opportunity.
But most of all, this trip was fantastic because of the company. A relaxed, kind, generous, funny group of people were thrown together to celebrate a beautifully executed day of love and laughter...and boy did we celebrate.

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