The song in my head should have been ‘These Boots are made for Walking’ and for all of five minutes, Nancy Sinatra did have the floor. But she was almost immediately outplayed by Mango Groove’s ‘Another Country’ and that’s the way it stayed for the full three days. Because that’s exactly what it felt like:
“Another time, another place
Another country, another state of grace
You’ll walk beside me, I’ll tell you no lies
And then you’ll see another country in my eyes.” (Mango Groove)
We were on the three day Wellington Wine Walk, (www.winewalk.co.za) roaming the mountains, forests and vineyards barely an hour away from Cape town and it felt as though we could have been anywhere in the world. Two well-versed guides accompanied us every step of the way and enriched the whole experience with stories about the history of the area and more current happenings while pointing out exquisite, delicate fynbos and wild flowers along the route.
Over the three days we stopped at no fewer than ten farms and estates for lunches, wine tastings, olive and olive oil tastings, a talk on the wonders of Buchu Brandy and another on the principles and challenges of biodynamic farming. We learnt a lot, not least of all being that a vineyard isn’t started by planting grape seeds in the ground…
It’s difficult to describe how beautiful it was. Forests opened into valleys enfolded by mountains. Proteas paraded down hillsides and vineyards marched across deep glens and wide fields. One path took us through orchards awash with the scent of orange blossom and alongside clear mountain streams. We ventured into deep labyrinthine valleys we never knew existed and as a group, decided that South Africa must surely be home to the most picturesque winelands in the world.
It all seemed so very far away from the realities of our everyday lives. I found myself remembering the scene in ‘Mary Poppins’ when that magical nanny drops through a pavement painting and emerges in another world, or thinking about the door in the back of CS Lewis’s wardrobe. Again and again I felt as though I was part of an old Cape painting. There was something utterly ‘removed’ about those three days. Our political shenanigans seemed so distant as to be part of another country.
Since returning home, I’ve reflected on that feeling – that sense of liberation – and an unsettling realisation has surfaced. Our walking group comprised five couples, all from Johannesburg. Of the five, four couples have been directly affected in some way, at their homes or close to them, by violent crime over the past ten to twelve years. No matter how we might try to rationalize it, this is not normal. If I think of friends of similar ages, in similar professions and leading similar lives in Australia, Britain or the States, embarking on a similar group adventure, I doubt if anyone in those groups would have, at some stage in their lives, found themselves looking down the barrel of a gun.
So unique was this walking experience, it should have banished all thoughts of past brushes with crime, but it was not that simple. For one couple walking with us, the experience was still too recent and the after-effects, both physical and psychological, too present for them to manage some aspects of the hike. And so we were reminded from time to time of our other realities.
Despite this, the breathtaking landscape in which we found ourselves and the passion and commitment we encountered amongst the people who live there, was restorative. It inspired hope.
Sitting in history classes back in the ‘70ties, dragging reluctantly through The Great Trek for the umpteenth time, I never dreamt that I would one day be seated in the house (Welvanpas) where the legendary Voortrekker, Piet Retief, was born. Nor, that I would be listening to one of his direct descendants (300 years down the line) relating his star-crossed family history while affirming his belief in the ability of South Africans to succeed against all odds.
For three days we were able to immerse ourselves in one of the most spectacularly beautiful parts of our complicated country; to align ourselves with the lives of people who are deeply connected with the history of the land and who are passionately committed to forging their futures there. For those exceptional three days we were able to believe in the possibility of Another Country.
“…But let’s begin to look within, to where the future lies
And find the strength to live beneath another country’s skies.” (Mango Groove)