Friday, October 02, 2009

Return to the Cape, Day 3, Elgin Valley

We had breakfast at the farm (home made bread and jams, along with yogurt and fruit salad) and we played with their dogs, including an enormous 11-month old Brazilian mastiff named Balthazar, then Nicole arrived to show us around the property with Murray. The farm is absolutely ridiculously beautiful, with hills all over, criss crossed by little trails and paths and studded with fynbos (native wild plants) and cultivated areas where they grow olives, artichokes, fruits and vegetables, as well as flowers. They produce olive oil and artichokes for sale, while the rest is mostly for their own use. The property stretches over 220 hectares or so, has plenty of water from underground aquifers, and is part of a Cape nature preserve, which helps them to remove invasive non-native species in exchange for preserving the native habitats. They are home to countless types of birds (including a rare breeding pair of African Black hawk-eagles), mammals (including of course porcupines, but also leopards, antelopes, and other interesting animals) and are considering reintroducing zebra to help with keeping the weeds and grass down. In addition to the cottage where we were staying they also have four or more other rentable units, one of which is even suitable to rented out as someone’s home (or maybe used for my mother if she chooses to live with us). They are nearly all booked out through the summer, and have guests coming through the property for nature walks, bird watching, bike trips, etc. If we had the downpayment on us we’d probably have just handed it right over, the place is so amazingly beautiful and workable. As it is, Murray and Fiona would not let us pay for our night’s stay (which we fully expected to pay for), saying they wanted to encourage us to move to the area so that they’d have another fun and interesting couple to hang out with here. Very nice people.

But we have other places to see besides this place, so after our visit Nicole led us out of their toward the town of Elgin, where we’d stay for the next two nights, stopping along the way at the Gabriëlskloof winery and restaurant where Nicole dropped us off so we could have a tasting of their wines, a tour of their cellar and lunch at their brand-new yet fully booked up restaurant. Indeed, the wines were very good (they only have two thus far, a sauvignon blanc and a Bordeaux blend) and the olive oil was excellent. Their cellar is brand new, with gleaming stainless steel tanks that employ the gravity method for moving the juice from tank to tank, so they are suspended in three levels with the final process taking place at the lowest level.

Lunch at the restaurant was fantastic, starting with a very flavorful spanakopita and then followed by an aged sirloin steak for J2 and roasted duck with duck risotto for me. I had originally thought I’d have some cheese, too, but we were too full even to consider it.

From Gabriëlskloof we headed to our inn for the night, the Rockhaven Guest Farm, just outside of Elgin. When we arrived we could not find any evidence of the owners for quite some time, but eventually one of them turned up, showed us into our room, and told us we’d have dinner with them at 7:30pm, giving us plenty of time to head to Hermanus to visit one of the fitness centers in the area.

Hermanus turned out to be a 50 minute drive from our inn, and the gym was at the farther end of town. It was a pretty nice gym, with a good range of cardio machines, weights, and the like, and a very helpful, enormously muscular trainer who showed me how to use a few of the unfamiliar machines. I don’t think we’d ever want to make this gym our regular place to go to, since it’s a bit far from where we’re looking at farms, but it’s nice to know it’s there. Unfortunately, we realized only too late that they don’t provide any towels at all, and of course we had not brought any of our own...

We returned to Rockhaven after doing a few errands for SA friends back in Beijing who had given me a shopping list, arriving just about in time for dinner. Surprise! Nicole had brought some mussels to the owners here, too, who decided to serve them to us for dinner, rather than have them for their own lunch as she had intended, so we had the exact same meal as last night, though with the addition of a very nice broccoli risotto and a few bottles of Oak Valley Sauvignon Blanc wine. Rockhaven is owned by a very nice couple, Liz and Michael, who took a keen interest in our plan to move to the area, and, like everyone else we met in the Elgin region, expressed their willingness to help us in any way they can to get us settled in and involved in a social network when we arrive. Michael also turned out to be a dentist with a surgery on his property, and a practice that could accommodate J2 if he chooses to keep practicing after moving. In fact, he was telling us that he has a lot of overseas visitors coming to see him from Europe to take advantage of the higher quality of care and much lower prices. We also met Liz’s son, Andrew, who used to work as a game warden but who is now “between assignments”. The three of them thought our plan to have the farm and maybe also open a gym in the Elgin/Grabouw area would be a very reasonable thing to do, adding that the area desperately needs a gym, since there is none at the present. I see a business model shaping up in my mind...