Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mohoehali (Franschhoek)

In Franschhoek, which is part of South Africa's wine lands, we stayed at the Elephant Lodge.  It was elegant and luxurious. And the service was extraordinary.

We spent a good deal of time just relaxing by the pool.

When the poolside sun got to be too much, this seating area was nearby (where we also had breakfast served to us each morning).

The lodge itself was situated on a hill overlooking the valley and its vineyards.

The views from the rooms were  rather remarkable in their own right.

The town of Franschhoek was quaint and lovely, with all its artisan boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops.

Our first evening in Franschhoek, we dined at Le Quartier Francais, where we enjoyed an exquisite meal.  

The next day, we visited a private game reserve with the unlikely name of Fairy Glen.  There, we were treated to rather close-up views of Cape Buffalo.

And lions!  We were in an open bed truck for much of our visit at Fairy Glen, and there was nothing but air between us and these lions which were, thanks to the heat, merely relaxing in the bush.

Just look at those teeth...

From a distance, we could see how well hidden they were in the bush.  If he had laid his head down, we would not have known he was there.

We also saw springbok.

A spotted thick-knee (I think).

Some lounging elands.

Our guide, Denis, was great, even getting out of the truck at one point to tell us all about different types of dung.  (As I recall, that chunk in his hand was from a rhino.)

We saw this young eland making its way through a thicket.

And these bontebok grazing.

A wildebeest keeping a close eye on us.

And I must say, a wildebeest has unexpectedly intriguing eyes.

We saw quite a few zebra, as well.

During a refreshment break, Pat and Kathy discovered this old stone church.

It was facing out on the valley where we were served watermelon to help us cool off during what was probably the hottest day of our entire trip.

But soon, we were back in the truck, looking for more wildlife.

Like this pair of wildebeest.

And this waterbuck.

And then the wildebeest and the waterbuck as they scoped each other out.  Each eventually decided that the other posed no threat and went on its peaceful herbivore way.

I got quite a kick out of this young zebra taking a rather vigorous dust bath.

Then, we met the reserve's resident rhinoceros (rhinos), who were recovering victims of a vicious poaching attack.  The poaching of rhinos for their horns, which are mostly sold in Asia, is a huge and growing problem. These two were incredibly lucky to survive, but they will still never be the same.  Seeing them like this just broke our hearts.

They were doing their best to get through the heat of the day.

While Denis told us their story.  (If you ever want to hear someone speak passionately about rhino poaching and what should happen to its perpetrators, talk with a professional bush guide.)

How close were we to those rhinos?  Pretty darn close.  They may look small in this picture, but when you get that close to an animal that large, you can feel it.

Especially when they get up and start to move.

Next, we visited some young lions.  The female, at least, seemed a bit warn out, perhaps from the heat.

Or maybe she was just loosening up her jaws because she thought we were lunch?

Regardless, she was a beautiful cat.

Though even her yawn could be a bit intimidating.

It is difficult to describe, but she and her equally relaxed friend were a presence we could physically feel.

Because they had recently torn down some of the reserve's perimeter fencing, the elephants were temporarily housed in an enclosure.  This was sad to see, even if only a temporary arrangement, but it did give us an opportunity to get really close to these magnificent animals.

Looking into their eyes, I felt as if I could see a profound depth to their souls.

We even got the opportunity to feed them.

But when one moved directly toward me, even with huge metal bars in between the elephant and me, I was overwhelmed by the sense of its majesty and raw power.

After an exciting day on safari, we returned to the lodge to enjoy a sublime sunset by the pool.

As we gazed out over the valley.

And stared up at the crescent moon.

I tried to spend a little time each morning strumming poolside.

And admiring the view.

I especially enjoyed it when my wife came out to keep me company.

But I digress.   The next day, the three of us went into town to visit the Huguenot Museum.

Then we went on a wine tour.  Franschhoek has a tram that takes visitors around to a few of the local wineries, allowing for a very relaxed experience.  Pat and Kathy got to taste some wonderful South African wine...

...  and I got to taste some wonderful South African vistas.  Here, from out front of the Haute Cabriere winery.

In fact, from Haute Cabriere, I was able to look out across the valley at Elephant Lodge, where we were staying.

Of course, we had to pause for a couple of poses.

Before we boarded the tram and rode to our next stop, Dieu Donne.

Here, even I enjoyed a drink, albeit Grapetiser.

While Pat and Kathy shared smiles over a different grape-based beverage.

And we all enjoyed the view.

Next stop was Chamonix.

There, we relaxed for a bit in the shade of an ancient oak tree, contemplating the finer things in life.

For the next portion of the tour, we shifted from a tram to a train.

Which carried us down the charming valley.

Where we first visited Grand Provence, which was spectacular from the very beginning.

Even the garden was a work of art.

And in fact, the grounds featured an art gallery.

As well as, of course, a tranquil spot for a tasting.

The final stop on our wine tour was Rickety Bridge winery.

Where mother and daughter shared a bonding moment.

And, again, we all enjoyed the view.

All this, from a few grapes.

For dinner, we returned to Dieu Donne, where we dined at Roca Restaurant.

Even without food, I can imagine no more perfect spot to spend that evening.

The food was wonderful, though, even if I was apparently a bit skeptical at first. (Or maybe that was merely my "Why are you taking that shot?" look?)

What a fabulous way to spend our final evening together, enjoying fine dining and spectacular views of Franschhoek valley.

The next day, I enjoyed one last gaze out the window of our room.

Then paused one last time to admire the lodge.

We all had such a perfect time there, and indeed throughout our trip.  The whole visit was fantastic, with kudos to Kathy for planning the whole thing.  We three truly had a first-rate and fabulous vacation. My only complaint is that had to end.

We did manage to take one last look out over the valley.

And our lovely lodge.

Then we took Pat to the airport and bid her a fond farewell, all agreeing that we could travel together again any time.