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March 08, 2010

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Thanks for sharing this. I have often thought of visiting the SA wineries as something of a dream vacation but wonder how a single black woman would be treated here.

I'll be honest - both racial and gender stereotypes are way more out-in-the-open here than they are in the U.S., and attitudes vary tremendously from place to place and from one person to another.

I mentioned in my post that several people have told me I shouldn't be going out to wine farms alone; a number of people including a security guard have actually added, "especially because you're white," the implicit stereotype being that people would wonder why a white person would have to walk. ("It makes the tourists uncomfortable," one employee explained.) Or perhaps they say this out of concern that since I looked like a potential tourist (most are white Europeans) I'd be more likely to be a target. Either way, I hadn't considered the racial element to the situation before I got here, but as with every aspect of South African life, race is front and center.

That said, the SA wineries are in many ways a dream vacation: the wine's excellent and original, the scenery is beautiful, and the food is out of this world. I would never discourage anyone from paying a visit, but I did want to share some observations about New York vs. SA tasting experiences. I think it's important for women of all backgrounds and walks of life to be comfortable traveling the world independently, and the best way to make this happen is to get people used to the idea! Happy trails!

Fascinating, and of a piece with your excellent analysis of race relations in SA on your blog. You simply write beautifully, Julia, and it's a pleasure to follow along on your journey.

When I visited SA it was with a group, but it didn't keep me from noticing everything that Julia is pointing out to us in her descriptions. The cultural differences are shocking, and shockingly subtle too. Why wouldn't a "white woman" travel to wine farms alone? Why not? The answer isn't in their words, or on their faces. The answer is in their blood it seems to me - what is normal to us is not normal there. The feeling is so strange (and yet so beautiful) there (for a NYer) that the air feels differnt, the colors you see are more intense, and the smells and tastes so unique and memorable. It is indeed a different world. When you taste a South African wine AFTER experiencing the country, you are reminded of the experience all over again. The strange aromas in the glass evoke those memories for you. Even in the simplist SA wine, I can smell the tension in the air. It's palpable.

"I would never discourage anyone from paying a visit" ... I would. I would discurage anyone of European descent from visiting any country in the world where the natives are still living under a state of occupation and subservience to a ruling European minority. We went there, we took all their good land, we raped and murdered and victimized entire generations and peoples. For Americians this is our history, the irradication of the indians was almost total, but in South Africa, this it never stopped, it continues to this day, and as soon as you go there, even as a tourist, your are joining the dominators. This may sound hyperbolic, but this is the perspective through which the natives see you, wheather in South Africa, Jamaca, Kenya, Puerto Rico, Mexico, or any other of those wonderfull vacation spots (even native hawiians resent a situation where wealthy Americans and Japanese are the dominant cultural and economic force).

And Id like to preemptivly address anybodys rebuttal about how tourism creats jobs and helps the impoverished natives blah blah blah. If I steal your entire village, where your people lived comfortably for thousands of years fishing and farming, knock it all down and build a beach resort, am I doing you a favor by offering you a job as a bell boy in the hotel? these people dont need "jobs" or "money" they need their land back.

Sorry to get uber political on your wine blog Lenn, and Julia this is not an attack on you ...

Rowland isn't entirely incorrect in his rant above, but the depiction of the early history of South Africa is not accurate. The sparse population of San (bushmen) where eradicated almost entirely by the nomadic and warlike Zulu from the north centuries before the Dutch landed. What the Europeans found was almost empty. The black population of Zulu and Xhosa came after the Europeans. You can look it up.

Rowland,

Thanks for your comment - though this isn't the forum for an involved discussion of colonialism, you raise important issues. Certainly the history of European imperialism and racial oppression in South Africa is both hateful and depressing, and few would disagree with your assertion that it continues today in a non-institutionalized manner despite the end of apartheid and the beginning of voting rights for non-whites. We have a similar problem in America, though South Africa's racial turmoil is even more recent.

But - and this is certainly a personal choice based on my opinion - I don't think this is a reason to not to visit South Africa any country where social inequality is rampant (and so many countries fall into this category!). Yes, when we travel to such countries many of our dollars go toward this continued white domination, but it's also possible now to support socially conscious businesses. I'm doing research for a post on black-owned wine farms, for example - stay tuned. Little by little, South African society is moving toward social equality and a more equalized economy, but it won't happen without publicity and financial support.

I see where you're coming from, but I do view travel as an invaluable education; for me, it's important to see how people live their lives in as many parts of the world as possible.As you suggest, we have a responsibility to make sure that our tourist dollars are going to responsible businesses - I encourage all travelers to seek out environmentally and socially conscious businesses, support local charities, and volunteer their time or skills (LonelyPlanet.com has good resources for this), and spend as much time with the locals (as opposed to other tourists) as possible.

Unfortunately there is a lot of injustice in the world, but in avoiding the areas where it takes place we risk closing our eyes to it. Let's not forget that international opinion against South Africa's apartheid system lead to economic sanctions which helped weaken the National Party's stronghold - the international community can't offer support to an independence movement if no one is traveling and bearing witness to it!

For what it's worth, many of my non-white coworkers and friends have expressed their appreciation that I wanted to come to South Africa. Most people in the world are eager to share their culture with outsiders, and South Africans are especially friendly and open: they've invited me to their homes, to their shebeens (informal bars), to their football games, and my experiences here have been so rich and rewarding that I simply can't bring myself to discourage others from doing the same.

Rowland,

Unless you are way older than a person normally gets to be, I really don't see how you can feel responsible for things that happened hundreds of years ago. I see the world as it is and I am cognizant of how it got to the state it is, but I don't feel personally responsible for getting it there. I would never say "we did this or that", because being born in the USA in 1961, I wasn't a part of it. I can only look at the way the world is and try to make it better by affecting things I can affect. Traveling the world helps us all build understanding. If no one ever went to places like South Africa, how would any of us know anything of what life is like there? I am enjoying reading of Julia's adventures, though I do hope she is being careful as well.

Evan and Duncan, thank you for the compliments! And don't worry, Duncan, I'm determined to get back to Niagara in one piece because I miss your Estate Syrah. :)

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