Wilderness & Winelands

Our drive through Outeniqua Pass

Our drive through Outeniqua Pass.

We left Graaff-Reinet earlier this afternoon and now we're on the verge of breaking out of the arid Karoo and into the lush Garden Route. First, we must traverse the Outeniqua Mountains on a road that is forced to conform to the rugged landscape as we drive over the 2,600-foot pass.

We stopped several times to take in the spectacular view. This road opened in 1951 and took eight years to build. It is a marvel.

Below the pass we drove through George to our destination: Wilderness, a town with an almost magical name. It's a small town on the southern coast of Africa. We checked into the Interlaken Guest House and went into town to explore a little. It's a cloudy day and the sea spray coats everything in the town.

After seeing our magnificent deck, we decided to pick up a bottle or two of wine, then we looked into finding some food for the night. The one drawback was that our hotel was on the outskirts of town, so I would have to drive.

We chose to eat at a slow-food restaurant called Zucchini, where I had the warthog shank. My first warthog. After seeing them in the game reserves, on their knees eating grass, I ate without compunction.

Our stay in Wilderness was wonderful. We had a delightful morning with our hosts at Interlaken, who welcomed us into their home and fed us a warm breakfast with fresh herbs and ingredients while we all talked at the dining table.

Franschhoek, South Africa

Franschhoek, South Africa.

We left Wilderness and the Garden Route and headed closer to our departure. We decided to spend our last night in South Africa in the winelands. Instead of Stellenbosch, we chose sleepier Franschhoek. A smaller, country town surrounded by vineyards, the town also takes pride in its culinary offerings.

We settled into town in the mid-afternoon and sat down for a slow lunch. After, we walked to the other side of town to visit the Mont Rochelle vineyard, where we sat down for a taste or two. After our four tastes, which were all very good I must admit, we each got a glass of their 2005 cab and enjoyed the sunset on the rocky mountains.

We walked back to town and, continuing the day-long imbibe-a-thon, we scoped out some places for dinner. We decided on Reuben's, which calls itself a "restaurant and gooney bar." Good food, and perhaps the most upscale restaurant I've visited in South Africa thus far, where we spent R756, which at the time was about $100.

After dinner we strolled around town for awhile, looking for something inspirational for our camera. Nothing presented itself—perhaps after a few weeks of nonstop traveling and photography, it as time to just "be" for awhile. We returned to the hotel—the red balloon—and began to think about packing for the plane. As depressing as that may sound, we were ready to get home.

This morning we head to the airport. We have a short drive to the Cape Town airport but we need to gas up the car and turn it in. Will the caked on mud be a problem? The strata of dead insects on the front bumper?

Our last drive from Franschhoek to the Cape Town airport

Our last drive from Franschhoek to the Cape Town airport.

We arrived at the airport around 11 a.m. and returned the car without a problem. All told, we put 5,343 kilometers (3,340 miles) on the car. It took us from the heavenly climates of the west coast to the humid, subtropical east, and to the roof in the Drakensberg area. Our Chevy Cruze never let us down.

Jackie and I set up shop in the airport and finished up our expenses and wrote in our journal for awhile. My flight to Johannesburg leaves around 3 o'clock, but Jackie's flight does not leave till this evening.

The flight to Jo'burg was uneventful. We arrived just after 5 o'clock and in the rain. I met Carolina on the plane. She's Polish and came to Cape Town to escape her husband and her life in Poland. Cape Town is a destination for many in Africa and Europe.

I didn't have too much time to catch my flight from Jo'burg to JFK in New York. By the time I found the gate, there was already a long line. And, beyond normal airport security, there were several checks on line. A boarding pass check, a passport check, a peek inside my carry-on, another passport scan, the card that we return upon boarding the plane, and a pat-down from someone who initially offered me a full-body massage, then told me my shirt was too tight. Hmmm...

While on line, I began talking to the guy next to me. Turns out he's the pilot's son and is taking a free, first-class ride to New York with his Dad for the weekend. I was astounded that someone would go from Cape Town to New York for the weekend.

Seat 67K awaited.

At 18.5 hours, the flight is brutal. And, this time we need to stop for fuel in Dakar, Senegal—the extreme western tip of Africa. We landed in Dakar around 2 a.m., refueled, endured an in-cabin fumigation, and soon we were off for another eight hours to JFK.

We landed in New York at 7:15 a.m. and it was great to be home and, more importantly, it was great to be off the plane. I flew through baggage and customs and I even caught a cab right at the exit. I know this is not fair, but I don't care, I just want to get home.

Perhaps the most dangerous part of my journey, the cab ride, ended without incident and I was finally home... good to be home.