FORTI RIDES OUT
My Big Fat African Road Trip, Part 3: From a colonial outpost to Garden Route schizophrenia
Larger-than-life restaurateur Fortunato Mazzone is on the road, heading northwest from his Pretoria home to faraway places where adventure and mystic sunsets await. He’s sharing his diary with us.
Travel is education. One can have multiple qualifications, but without travel you remain ignorant. Today we delved deep into the dry barren southern part of Namibia. Hundreds of kilometres of bone dry land devoid of population interspersed only with little dots of villages with the skeletal remains of service stations, and occasional random shops surrounded my multigenerational little troupes of exceptionally polite locals looking for erm… financial beneficiation
Their little space will be like everything in Namibia — spotless — and they will guide you five at a time to the $5 a pee bathroom, and the shop hidden behind bars with 34 items in stock. You will buy a cold drink for yourself in the 40℃ heat, and multiple packets of crisps for your tour guides.
After five hours on mostly great roads, we arrived at dusty Keetmanshoop, an oasis surrounded by vast tracts of sand infected with multiple little dust devils.
It is a place of gravitas.
Old German sandstone buildings are crisscrossed by old railroad houses and the feeling of a colonial outpost. We settled in at a lovely guest house called Maritz something or other with great aircon, a barman called Gadaffi and a green pool (something of a recurring Namibian theme).
We then explored. There is an upper town. And a lower town. In the lower older section we came across the most phenomenal cultural slice of society in the form of the Schützenhaus restaurant owned by the jolly Mr Klitzke and his black cat. We sat in a wonderful old dining room filled with the obligatory German restaurant wooden tables with turned legs and high-backed chairs. (Do they all buy them from the same shop everywhere?) What differentiated this shop was its history dating from 1899 and the memorabilia everywhere. The flags that originally hung outside the restaurant. Photos of old-school sport teams. Photos of Herr Bismarck. And the ghosts of eisbeins past. What followed was a delicious meal of much pork in many forms, Draught beers, kirschwasser and multiple Jagermeisters.
As one does.
My head is still buzzing warmly. There were locals. There were imports. An exotic-looking barfly from Europe with a Rubenesque face, who was a polyglot with charming manners. A two-tone khaki suitor for said exotic who asked us to talk Afrikaans as he was battling to understand. Two local couples and two businessmen having dinner. It was delightful. I bought the whole lot Jagermeisters. They deserved it.
Herr Klitzke recommended we try a Hungarian bitter for our digestif, which we did, and it was herbaceous and persistent. He explained that his grandfather worked as a cook for the German garrison in Swakopmund, as did his father in the colonial twenties. He had owned the restaurant and pension for “only” 20 years but grew up in it. He was that perfect amalgam of everything German but so Namibian. A total living museum. A cultural immersion. An education.
Ich habe Deutsch in die schule gelerhnt…
Once a year Frau de Klerk booked for dinner at Die Böhmerwald just south of Church Square [Pretoria]. The school sponsored transport and she negotiated a special price for dinner. It was an exam. We were not allowed to speak anything but German and most importantly had to order our meals and drinks “Auf Deutch!” from the restaurant staff. We practised for days on end.
Back to the present: We are on holiday in Namibia and our friend Mark booked at Schützenhaus in Keetmanshoop almost before we planned the trip, his mouth watering for the eisbein. I came prepared. The moment we entered, the phrases rolled off my tongue.
Guten Abend, Fräulein, wit haben Hunger
Bier bitte, vier mal, danke
Schnitzel mit Bratkartoffeln bitte
Anything from pointing out and describing the decor, the food, describing the consistency of the cream for the Apfelstrudel, the works. All followed by bitte.
Our waitress at first smiled politely, then frowned and finally asked that I speak Afrikaans or English because she is still learning German.
At least Herr Klitske, the owner, was impressed.
More with my chest than my German, I might add.
As we crossed the border from Namibia to South Africa today the thermometer touched 47℃. Tonight as we lie in what is politely called a “plunge pool” in the middle of the bush outside Springbok, the temperature has dropped to 22℃ at a beautiful retreat called Lievland. Like the wine. Except we had to bring our own. And they grow Gnu here. Not grapes.
A fascinating day today. Long, long straight roads leading through a sun-blasted landscape. Tortured rocks. The odd quiver tree. And large trucks. And nervous tourists driving rental 4x4s, their skins in diverse shades of well-boiled lobster. The people are lovely and speak superb idiomatic Afrikaans. It sounds like poetry.
The border crossing was really slick, even on the SA side. The only reason why you realised you were in SA was litter strewn all over the side of the road, a squatter camp smelling of dried sunburned shit and a pothole big enough to swallow a pantechnicon 2 km over the Orange River.
Springbok is ugly. It looks like sadness. Everything is covered with a layer of dust. The best restaurant in town recommended by even Trip Advisor is a strange time portal called Tauren Steak Ranch. 1972 called and wants its decor back. 1974 retorted with a plea for its menu. That being said, I drank three delicious cocktails brought by the delightful Valerie, who was bubbly and polite and the only person who interacted with us the whole night. I ate a luscious rump steak with pepper sauce. It was the most avant-garde dish on the menu. Served with a petite round microwaved “baked” potato. And “sour cream”. It hit the spot. That is all.
The difference between SA and Namibia is not the people. Both sides of the border, they have similar accents and features. The difference is in the lack of hope that pervades the environment. It is the dirty streets. The squatter camps. Namibia has small but neat and spotless housing laid out in neat rows. It is a noticeable contrast. The petrol also costs R3 a litre more in SA.
Fok. SA needs help. And it doesn’t look like it’s coming soon.
But hey. We could be in Ukraine. Or Gaza. Or Somalia. Or any multitude of the world’s disgraceful places. Instead of sipping Hamilton Russell Chardonnay, being assaulted by ravenous mosquitoes in tepid water watching a starlit sky. This was made especially possible due to load shedding. #justsaying.
Yesterday afternoon we swept across Namaqualand with a view of the beautiful Cederberg mountains and down into the seaside hamlet of Lamberts Bay. A cacophony of gulls heralded our grand arrival at the majestic local hotel, a highlight of my previous solo road trip around SA. I am pleased to tell you that the hotel now has push-button phones, new linen, a flatscreen in place of the old wooden box and a distinct refresh without losing any of its character.
We wandered down into the harbour for excellent fish and chips at Isabella’s. This little bay has an exquisite lack of any pretentiousness. A lazy sun illuminates old canning factories and time seems to slowly change its circadian rhythm here. Everything just seems to slow down. Even the waves seem to crash into the dolosse at the harbour in a more relaxed fashion, spraying dollops of foam floating into the slow-moving air. We sat and watched the gentle play of the universe here, drinking our obligatory cocktails. Mine came in a wonderfully retro coconut shell. Everything just eased forward.
Dinner was at a little place just above the harbour called Roestyd. Rust time. Because everything has time to rust here. We ordered crayfish. Courtesy of load shedding this arrived in an hour and a half, the evening air insidiously pierced by the national sound of SA, the generator. The large potato processing plant owned by Famous Brands (yes, your chips at Steers etc all come from here) in the old fish canning factory had a very large generator belching out clouds of diesel over the harbour like a departing tugboat. I decided I was, in the light of circumstances, going to pretend that is what it was. We trudged back to the hotel in the darkness of Eskom deprivation but felt perfectly safe. The hotel welcomed us like a soft womb.
Today started in a breezy Lamberts Bay, and Vee and I headed out and then South through the vast Swartland. The road as we came down past the Clanwilliam dam was filled with beautiful curves. Biker country. On short straights, we accelerated past the slower traffic on massive bursts of the BMW’s torque. But it was getting hotter and hotter. Imagine wearing heavy boots, thick jeans, gloves, a 5kg heavy padded leather biking jacket and a helmet in 40℃ plus heat. We stopped for a rest in a small service station, soaked in sweat. The shop inside had strong aircon. I just stood there in its blast, my T-shirt looking as if I had stood in the shower, and sucked down two massive isotonic energy drinks one after the other.
On our way to see my beautiful super intelligent friend Lynn Angel in Britannia Bay, I decided to stop in and say hi to chef Kobus van der Merwe at his restaurant Wolfgat in Paternoster. I have admired him from afar for so long. He is outspoken, super talented, a perfectionist and a perfect example of someone using all the bounteous ingredients of his area (many of which are foraged by him and his team).
These are then presented and prepared exquisitely in a new fine dining SA style or idiom in a small fisherman’s cottage just above the sea. It is everything you would imagine. Classy. Understated. Tiny. It seats 20. And Kobus and a tiny well-oiled team do everything. Cook. Serve. Clean. And interact. They are trained and sourced (like the ingredients) from Paternoster. They create magic. We sat in awe with a craft beer and yummy homemade sourdough flatbread and bokkoms butter kindly brought to us by the super friendly Kobus, who is a mensch, and observed how it should be done. Like two gastronomical voyeurs.
Course after course of exquisitely presented local delicacies emerging. The air was infused with the smell of smoky shellfish. The wines all sourced and paired with care from the surrounding vineyards. Many of them were true unicorns. We saw many of our favourite wines that are literally unavailable unless you know someone, being served at those tables. It was a revelation. Go there. It is worth flying in for.
We turned back up the coast and arrived at Lynn’s idyllic home on the beach. I call it the Greek church. It has a central stained glass window on its white facade that faces the sea 20m away, and is accented with blue. Lynn lives here with a vast menagerie of animals. Dog, cats, parrots and pigs and any local wildlife that needs saving. She is that person. We were treated as always like family, and following tea and homemade cake (she is one of SA’s most iconic chefs) we plunged mercifully into her cool swimming pool and discussed her new career. She is a guru of healing using food and lifestyle, based on extensive analysis of your personal DNA, and the damage being caused by the modern chemically suffused lifestyle. Everything she says makes complete sense and she is a forerunner in SA of this medical breakthrough. She is truly a genius and ahead of the curve in this area.
Lynn took us for dinner and we landed up back in Paternoster. This place “breeds” amazing restaurants. We went to a gorgeous spot called the Noisy Oyster which served us my favourite meal of the trip so far. In a sandy little courtyard, we ate a feast of oysters, ceviche, mussels and oven-baked fresh bream. It was a delight. As was their wine list. If you need a few days of complete rest and really good food head to Paternoster, it seems.
Like at Wolfgat in the early afternoon, load shedding was also playing havoc with the Noisy Oyster’s evening service. How can restaurateurs offer world-class food and a great experience without the government fucking it up for us? Wherever you are in our beautiful country there are new reasons to hate our horrid corrupt government. And its turgid greedy lackeys. We returned to Britannia Bay in darkness. And got into the pool again. And listened to the waves. And each other. And looked at the stars. And hoped that this year would be better.
Vee Mazzone writes: Our road trip across Botswana, Namibia and around South Africa has a few non-negotiable via points. One of them was an 11am appointment today in Durbanville. To witness the marriage of my dear friend Hildegard Gaum and Leander.
Fortunato Mazzone and I left Brittania Bay shortly after 8am, OK closer to 9 because Forti and Lynn Angel first whipped up cheffy eggs and grilled tomatoes. Sutherland (the Boerboel) and I said soppy goodbyes and then we jumped (strong word) on the motorbike and made our way down the R27 towards the northern suburbs of Cape Town. It was not a long ride, but certainly a hot one. We arrived at the intimate wedding venue shortly before the wedding party and after a long glass of water, we had intentions to change into something more dressy…
But who cares.
We spent a beautiful morning with Hildegard and Leander and a lunch at Diemersdal that I will leave to Forti to describe. Words fail.
But love will prevail.
Today was a relaxed but hot and windy ride from Britannia Bay to Vee’s longtime friend Hildegard Gaum’s wedding. The actual point of our trip originally was to attend the wedding. The furthest either of us have ever driven to a wedding. 4,000 km so far. I am proud to say we were the first to arrive. We are always on time. Even after 4,000 km. LoL.
The R27 is the coastal main road down the west coast. Past bay after bay and the weirdly foreboding Koeberg. The badly misnamed Atlantis. You get the idea.
Eventually, you turn inland through the beautiful Durbanville winelands passing well-known vineyard after vineyard. Durbanville Hills, d’Aria, Groot Phesantekraal, Klein Roosboom, Maastricht, Meerendal, all names of wines we love stocking at the store. The ceremony was at a close friend’s beautiful home, but the amazing reception for a wee party of 10 was at beautiful Diemersdal. I don’t know what I was expecting. A light lunch or some easygoing platters. Done by 2ish followed by a blast through to Hermanus.
What followed was a polished Magnus Opus by a team at Diemersdal who provided us with a multicourse spectacular of beautiful dishes one after another in a tapas style. A meal that was replete of exquisite food, elegantly flavoured, complex but not pretentious, abundant and full of interesting variety. The service was professional and slick. Well done team, especially Florence and Jaka. Manager Rudi kept on top of everything like a ship’s captain. Well played Thys Louw. The experience was so much more than I expected. This trip has truly been filled with exceptional meals. But this one took the cake so far.
We had such a lekker time that it was almost 4pm before we groaningly rose to leave. With a tummy that full and a body so ready for a nap there was no way I was going to ride all the way to Hermanus. I called my dear friend Jeremy Walker from Grangehurst and he allowed us kindly to crash at his pozzie for the night at short notice.
We howled through on the N1-R300-N2 route dodging insane Cape drivers. Damn but Capetonians are crappy drivers. Driving on highways here is massive winds trying to whip you off your bike and playing constant dodgem with people who have forgotten the use of indicators and rearview mirrors.
This farm is so peaceful tonight. The pool is so damn good and big. The last time I saw a pool this cool was many years ago. The deep end is 8ft and you can swim proper lengths. We rest now much revived. And the Cape is looking good. Roads are pothole-free and well-painted. And travel can be so beautiful except for the sad kilometre upon kilometre of squatter camps spreading right onto the roads. A constant reminder of the kak our poor country is in right now.
It’s taken me a couple of days to digest what I have seen on the “Garden Route” so far. We took a fast blast out of Stellenbosch down the N2 in the direction of Mossel Bay stopping only to greet our family at Ken Forrester and Paul Cluver. The road is excellent. We punctuated the ride with little stops. Swellendam and the beautiful Tredici. Petrol. A disappointing pie at a place that was recommended. I suspect this pie will exact revenge later. And then we came through the curvy pass in the direction of Mossel Bay.
What did I observe? A vast complex of pipes and extreme industrial development. Cooling stacks. Condensers. Towering and undoubtedly expensive metal. Places where chemical reactions must occur on a megalithic scale. And then next to it a truly vast squatter camp creeping from the verge of the road unto the horizon. Shacks as far as the eye can see. Clawing to the landscape like the rusty metal scales of a massive beast. Interspersed with brief wisps of sewerage. Punctuated by the odd flash of wacky weed. And dust. Seasoned with misery. Like the salt and pepper of poverty. And suddenly a large hill like Calvary. Except with oil storage tanks instead of crosses. The religion of greed. And then suburbia. Neat houses in a well-vegetated spot of civilization where Veralda’s delightful family live. We were greeted with warmth and lasagne. And a much-needed shower. And a washing machine. And old wisdom. And deep kindness.
I asked about the massive complex proudly labelled PetroSA. Only to be told it was closed. Shuttered by our vile government. With the loss of thousands of jobs. The Mossgas rig that used to feed this multibillion-rand white elephant chemical monolith was removed for scrap, piece by piece, by Chinese scrap merchants. For peanuts. What a diabolical piece of incredible, or rather incomprehensible, government planning. They’d rather import gas than produce our own. I was now convinced Mossel Bay is monstrous.
Veralda’s cousin then drove us into town. Hanna showed us cute shops. Sandstone buildings. Boutique hotels. An old pier called Jackal on the Beach. Exquisite views. A lovely beach. A cute port. A massive cruise liner arrived in the harbour while we were there. What schizophrenic trickery is this? That two such diametrically opposing landscapes can be part of one town. A mesh of beauty and ugliness. Despair and delight. Sadness and happiness. Dust and verdancy. Shit and shahoola.
I struggle to absorb the dichotomies we as South Africans are forced to absorb as a result of the massive mismanagement of our country. The abandonment of its citizens by the very people tasked with protecting them. The chasm of economic disparity. It is so distressing. We chose instead to focus on family and spent the night with people worthy of love.
We continued our journey up the forested coast passing Wilderness, Sedgefield, Knysna and eventually arriving in Plett. We stopped for drinks in that deep concentration of wealth on Thesen Island. A little pimple smelling of money on a vast skin of ravaged poverty sliced through by a neat road. It was continuous. Vast swathes of despair interspersed with sporadic pimples of great beauty and concentrations of wealth.
The inequality was breathtaking. It almost seemed more unequal than on my previous trip. Where I expected progress I only saw deeper divides. The haves. And the have-nots. Why is this not being fixed? It is not the fault of the locals who seek the quiet tranquillity of beautiful spaces. The long deserved rest of retirement. The ability to live comfortably. It is the fault of a government incapable of anything but corruption and consumption at the expense of the vast majority of its citizens. The failure to provide hope. Health. Education. Employment. Hope. Uncontrolled immigration. Porous borders.
Plettenberg Bay central is beautiful. The views are astonishing. The main street quaint. Our hosts for the night are Roger and Meg Houghton. They stay in a gorgeous retirement village following a lifetime of hard work in Gauteng. They showed us around. The restaurant we ate at called Adi’s Kitchen was lovely. The food tasty. The service swift and friendly. Value for money was astounding. Expecting touristy pricing and then getting the exact opposite. Run by a man with a plan. Who provides employment. Direction. A contributor to the local economy and environment. With no assistance from the lousy local council yet again today in the hands of the ANC following dubious transactional politicking by local councillors.
The SME sector can however not be expected to solely rescue our country. Small businesses alone cannot save our economy. We need management. Guidance. Investment. Industrial development not focused merely on milking as much as possible to the detriment of the working class. So that we can experience a more homogenous environment. Unblemished by the scars of the painful proof of uncontrolled poverty. The indignity of the shack. The sensual assault of the yawning income gap. The disparity of everything. The schizophrenia that is the South African condition. DM
Read more in Daily Maverick: My Big Fat African Road Trip, Part 1: A slice of Afrikana
Read more in Daily Maverick: My Big Fat African Road Trip, Part 2: Namibia, where everything works
Published with permission from Forti’s daily Facebook diary on the road. Fortunato Mazzone is Boss at the Forti Group of restaurants.