I absolutely love birthdays. It is your time to blow out the candles on your last year, good or bad, and start with a fresh new you. Last year, I was given the supreme gift of spending my birthday with Alejandro and Lucia’s caring family in Galicia, Spain. I blew out 20 candles with zest at a picnic on the beach in one of my favorite places in the world, and ready to begin my latest European adventure. This year my landmark 21st birthday landed less than one week before my flight home to the USA. There is something so special about a 21st birthday. It is the last benchmark of adolescence, from which the real world awaits. I celebrated all of my best friends 21st birthdays with red velvet cake and tiaras, and had always imagined mine to be something similar. The realization that I would not be surrounded with my friends or family, made me yearn for home.
I luckily had a piece of home with me. Knowing me better than I know myself, Luke set out to make my day special, beginning with a “cheetah encounter”. We drove through the sprawling wine country, through the mountains from Hermanus to Somerset West where we ended up at a Cheetah Outreach facility. The facility is home to 11 cheetahs, and is centered on education and conservation. Cheetahs are incredible animals, with 2000 black spots. They can run up to 110km/hr, and use their tail as a stabilizer throughout their sprint. Cheetahs are also unfortunately endangered species with only 7,500 left, fortifying the efforts of the cheetah outreach. The best part of my visit to the cheetah sanctuary was my actual cheetah encounter. We entered the cheetah enclosure with a woman who had worked with this cheetah since it was a cub. His name was Harris, and she calmed him down enough that we could approach from behind and pet it. I miss my kitty Oreo, and believe that the cheetah may have been his long lost shorthaired grandfather. Harris had the same mannerisms as Oreo, lazily laying around on the platform.
From the cheetahs, we drove back to Stellenbosch for champagne tasting at JC Le Roux. JC is a very popular household name here in South Africa, but the man explained to us the trouble of breaking through the idea that champagne is only made for toasting, which drastically limits their market. We were able to see how the champagne, or rather sparkling wine was made. In reality, the beverage is only legally called champagne if it comes from the Champagne region of France. Everything else, while made the same way, goes by a different name. The South African equivalent is MCC or Methode Cap Classique. In this, the bubbles form naturally in the bottle as opposed to being injected as with sparkling wine. We had five tastings, which were brilliant, and I bought myself my first birthday gift.
Making it back to Cape Town without a dent in the rental car was perhaps something to celebrate more than my birthday, so we popped our champagne and headed to the famous Bombay Bicycle Club, a restaurant that is a local favorite. With dim lighting the ambiance was quaint. I had wanted to spend my birthday at home, but I had a blast with my MSU/Cape Town family.