Tuesday, August 30, 2011

African Trip Review -- Bike and Wine Tour

I've been riding bikes a bit on vacations lately - Orlando, Palm Springs, and Los Angeles.  When reading the guidebook we found a couple references for Bike Rentals in Cape Town -- once we started digging a little further we found a Bike and Wine Tour in Stellenbosch.  There were three options for the ride 9k, 15k and 21k.  While I'm not a fit or avid cyclist, 21k isn't that far, I was quite confident we could do it without a problem.  We opted to take the Adventure Ride, or 21k trip.  We signed up to take the tour on Saturday morning.  The folks at BnW were very helpful and great to work with.

We were told to meet at 08h00 at a coffee shop just a few minutes walk from our hotel.  From that point on, we'd head to the main train station and go to Stellenbosch station, about an hour away.  We arrive at the coffee shop to find a man from BnW telling us the ride had been cancelled.  He said the train to Stellenbosch had been sabotaged and no trains were leaving today.  This was a little concerning -- sabotage?  What exactly does that mean? Who is sabotaging the train.  Come to find out, it was more just vandalism -- people were stealing the copper off the power lines.  Whew.

We were able to move our reservation over to Sunday vs. Saturday.  Surprisingly we were the only people on the tour.  Our tour guide, whose name I forget, was an 18 year old kid, who was quite knowledgeable about wine.  He grew up drinking wine with his attorney parents.  We met at the coffee shop, and walked to the train station -- we took the train to Stellenbosch without incident.  The trains looked a little old and not all that well maintained. I don't know if all lines were like this or if it was just this one.

Our tour took us to 3 different wineries plus one brandy distillery.  Our guide gave us the option of visiting the distillery first or last.  We opted to do it last, as it was right near the train station and would make a nice way to close out the day.  The bikes were well maintained and in pretty good shape...unlike us.  No where in the literature did it mention that this ride would be on mountain bikes through the vineyards proper. I expected us to be riding on pavement or at least hard packed trail trails...nope.  We rode quite a bit on loose sandy trails.  I should mention that it was 35C when we started the ride.  The first part of ride was smooth and easy...but about 4 minutes in we had to go up a very steep hill -- VERY steep.  There was a 120 meter increase in elevation in just a couple kilometers.  This was torture.  I worked my hardest and couldn't make it up the hill.  I made it about 60% up before I had to get off and walk my bike up.  MS also ran into an issue, but he made it up about 75% before he had to walk it.  I'm so happy we were the only ones on the tour - I would have been horribly embarrassed if there were others watching me crap out.  It was bad enough with MS and the 18 year old guide.   

Once we reached the top of the hill (mountain??) we had a short ride to the first winery, where we did a quick tasting and had a flavorful lunch.  We were so exhausted from this first part of the ride, I was uncertain I could finish it.  We drank a ton of water immediately then headed to the tasting before the lunch was served.  Unlike every other tasting I've done, we only got a small amount (truly a taste).  I've been lucky enough to do tastings with industry people and get very full pours.  I'm glad the pours weren't large -- It would have killed me off, I'm sure. 
 The views along the route were really beautiful.  No one was out on the "trails" with us.  It was so calming out there.  As we headed down the hills we often ran into loose sand that caused us to really slow down -- luckily none of us took a tumble (surprisingly).  Of all the wineries we visited I liked Spier the best.  The service was great and the wine was quite tasty.  I like it the best because of the outdoor seating area and we managed to make up some time so we could really sit and enjoy various wines. This is the only place where we bought wine, too.
 The Stellenbosch region was surprisingly green, considering how sandy and dry the whole area was.  We had a really great time, even when we were crossing over a rickety old bridge -- so rickety and old we had to walk our bikes across.  Pretty cool though.

The brandy distillery was nice, but definitely my least favorite of the visits.  I was in no mood for Brandy when it was 35C and I was exhausted.  At least the service at the distillery was top notch and it was fully air conditioned with LOTS of water.

When I go back to South Africa (when, NOT if), I want to do this tour again. I've been riding my bike much more here and I think I am now able to do the first elevation completely -- I'd probably struggle, I am confident I'd finish and not need to walk any of it.

epicfail.

If South Africa is on your short list, I say you MUST do this tour. It is absolutely amazing and well worth eating up an entire day in South Africa.  just do it!

The final picture here is taken at the train station. There were HUGE chickens just hanging out on the platform.  I can't imagine how tough (or mean) this rooster would be.  I'm sure that big old bitch would peck you to death and think nothing of it.





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