Home brewed tours

Posted: July 27, 2010 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews

Coffeebeans Routes

First published in The Sunday Independent – July 2010

By Astrid Stark

 In the heart of the Mother City there is a magical garden, well there may be more than one, but this one is exceptional.  This splendid 5-tiered garden lives behind an old house with wobbly wooden floors and thick walls in the leafy suburb of Higgovale.  The house is so close to the grandiose Table Mountain that it feels as if the mountain is resting its feet inside the garden. Each tier overflows with robust bushes of fynbos plants and flowers and the levels are connected by a drunkenly weaving stone pathway.  The scent of a freshly watered garden and bruised indigenous herbs lingers along the path. On a full moon night you can clamber to the highest tier, rest on a wooden bench, and meditate upon the twinkling city and harbour lights way down below. 


Alan Grant, the owner of the house, is an American who lived for a long time in Jamaica, doing everything imaginable.  “Anything to stay alive,” Says Alan, whose wild grey beard is aiming for his belly button. “But everything fails in Jamaica.  The economy is just so screwed. Nothing lasts.”  His South African friend, Jason Yankees, also sports a beard but his is a crazy ginger colour. The pair looks as if they are waiting for the ZZ Top tour bus.  Alan and Jason are hosts that form part of the Coffeebeans Routes tours which take visitors right into homes of Cape Town artists, musicians, poets, gardeners, entrepreneurs, journalists and even praise-singers.    The concept behind the Coffeebeans Routes is that visitors can get a personal insight into the lives of locals on their home turf.   The tour groups are generally small and intimate and on an evening, such as our night with Alan and Jason, you get to have intimate conversations with people from across the world in a Capetonian’s lounge or garden.  Some of the routes include Reggae, Jazz Safari, Soccer , Storytelling, !iKhwa ttu San Culture, Art, and Spirituality tours and it will take you Gugulethu, Hout Bay, Woodstock, Nyanga, Khayelitsha Sea Point, Simonstown, Philippi, Diep River and Manenberg; to name but a few places on their map.

On this particlular evening we joined the Musical Dinner Tour which was held at Paradise Grey in Higgovale; the home with the magic garden.  Jason, who looks like a pale ginger Jesus has expressive eyes that shyly darts around gazes at his guests.  He is also a damn fine chef.  After we met our hosts and the other guests who hail from Europe, the USA and South Africa, we are seated under a starry canopy.  Jason serves up delicately prepared Angelfish smothered in a fragrant orange jus, with perfectly roasted butternut and salads.  There is also a chicken pot roast. The chicken falls from the bone.  Seated at my table are two Germans, a Turkish guy, a South African and a Greek actor.  It’s an evening for languages as we all try to communicate with wild hand gestures and textbook tourist phrases. Some of them are students learning English in South Africa and we share stories about our different home towns and cultures in between glasses of delicious South African wine.

 It feels as if I am at a friend’s house party.  The Turkish guy speaks with a strong accent and his words come out all wrong. However, he takes it in his stride and conjures up a bottle of Licor de anís which he shares with the Greek actor.  It’s not long before the Greek and the Turk are slapping each other on the back like old buddies. We all swap e-mail addresses and phone numbers.   Alan and Jason who have travelled the world share their incredible stories with us.  By now the Germans are looking a little glassy eyed.  The art of communicating to people who all speak a different language is taking its toll.  Alan announces that the band is about to play.  Black South Easter describes their music as an eclectic blend of electronic dance grooves, punk and soul.  Damien Staz plays the drums, Dan Boshoff is on guitar, and the pint sized Nhoza Sitsholwana is the lead vocalist. Her sweet, yet powerful voice, contrasts beautifully with the electronic sounds.  Geoff Adams, the band’s general manager, plays the bass and completes the foursome.  We get up to dance in between the flowers; it is all very spontaneous.  The Turk and the Greek are doing a shuffle and the Greek squirms a little at the Turk’s enthusiastic leg thrusts and thigh slapping. 

Too soon it is all over.  Reluctantly we filter out into the night and amidst hugs Alan invites me back for a cup of his finest Jamaican coffee.    They were not my friends when I met them, but I feel as if I’ve know them a long time.

Iain Harris, the founder and MD of Coffeebeans Routes, says the tours have been created to facilitate communion across borders that are both real and imagined.  “In the new economy, our gold is not under the ground.  It is on top,” Iain explains, “Our gold is human capital. It is human skill, ideas and expression that can grow our economy.  Culture is the channel for identity. And identity, knowledge of self, and self-confidence, are the backbones of a thriving economy.”    Iain says that typically their guests are well-travelled, well-educated, eccentric and curious. “They are travellers looking for something a little deeper, a little more engaging.” Iain explains.

The Storytelling routes are a very entertaining way to get insights into the psyche of South Africans. Such a route typically includes a visit to the homes of two different story tellers with dinner, coffees and nightcaps included. One of the storytellers en-route is Samkelo Tukulula, a praise-singer in Montclare. Samkelo says praise singing is spiritual, meaning that he is connected with his ancestors.  All the lines and verses he performs come spontaneously.  “If you look at the way praise singers do their stuff, “Says Samkelo, “You  realise that they are actually journalists because people around them are always relying on them to get some information.”  Some of the other storytellers include performer Janine van Rooy aka Blaq Pearl and Hazel Allies who is a journalist from Bonteheuwel.

“We are always looking for people with great stories, great music, great ideas and great perspective,” Says Iain Harris.  “There’s no shortage of them, anywhere. People come to us. People are recommended to us. We read about someone in the paper somewhere, we meet someone somewhere. It’s not difficult to find people.”   Coffeebeans Routes will soon be launching their Weekend Specials which are weekend getaways to hot African capitals.  They will start with Cape Town and Maputo. “These are designed for those Africans who grew up with Brenda Fassie’s music, and want to know their own cities deeply, grittily and elegantly.”  Says Iain.

For more information on their various themed routes and costs, visit them at http://coffeebeansroutes.com


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