Rio's Meet the People Trip of a Lifetime: A Diary of South Africa

Our Digital Marketing Executive, Rio, has just returned from the trip of a lifetime to South Africa, with our friends at Meet the People. She kept a diary of her two amazing weeks there – here’s how she got on!

Day 1 > I’ve arrived in Cape Town! First impressions: everyone is very friendly, and the weather is mild. I've just met the group, who I will spending my time with and they all seem lovely, like-minded bunch! As we drive from Cape Town to Stellenbosch, we pass the townships. The reality between the rich and the poor is quite shocking, seeing it first-hand, really made me think of simple privileges at home. Tin hut houses, with children playing outside, to then driving past green fields with the backdrop of rocky mountains was a stark contrast. Stellenbosch gives the impression of a being an upmarket place and is known for its wine, so tasting the local wine was one of my first things I wanted to do! I was not disappointed…

Day 2 > Today was the day I was very excited for, we were all heading to Robben Island. This was the island that homed Nelson Mandela for 18 years and many other political prisoners. Arriving to the island, it really felt like you were really being banished from civilisation. An eerie feeling came over me. Half of the tour showed us where prisoners worked for eight hours a day in scorching, as well as a local church and school. Getting off the tour bus, we were greeted by an ex-prisoner (in the prison at the same time as Mandela – amazing!). He spoke about Nelson Mandela as a man who put other people first, and also a bit of a rule breaker, fighting for what was right! This reminded me of Traidcraft and what we all collectively work for! Fighting for what is fair…

Rio at Robben Island in South Africa

Day 3 > Today we headed to Upington, a small place which is not usually found on the tourist trail. We boarded a small jet and arrived within the hour to blazing heat, a contrast from Cape Town. Heading to Keimoes, we caught the African sunset, which was truly a sight to see. Unforgettable.

Day 4 > On day 4 we visited one of Traidcraft’s producers, EAC. Traidcraft has worked with this cooperative for many years, so I was beyond excited to meet our producers first-hand and hear how Fairtrade has changed their lives and in what ways. EAC raisin and grape farmers were extremely passionate group of farmers, who knew the grape and raisin growing process inside and out. Whilst in their company, they cooked us a traditional South African lunch known as ‘Braai’ – which translates to Barbecue! This is very much a social custom in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and other areas. We spoke about the relationship between Traidcraft and EAC, they spoke very passionately about it, they expressed how sad they were when they heard the news that Traidcraft was expected to cease trading. They were excited when they heard that Traidcraft was revived; from speaking to them all, you could see the impact the relationship had in their lives and within farming. They spoke intensely about the raisin drying process, how important it was to get maximum quality out of the raisins they had grown. Drying them on concrete versus air drying made the difference. Air dried raisins were the better tasting raisins, which means they would leave them on racks, shake them every day and they would dry within a week. We were all eager to see this, but unfortunately, we missed the drying season which is in August, but hearing the process was extremely interesting! We spoke about how they used their Fairtrade premium, they told us that they used for many things for the community, from buying backpacks for children in the local community, as the children were previously taking their books in plastic bags to school. Then, buying computers for the children to use at school and even dental care for the older generations, as the cost is high for this so they tried to support in as many ways they could in the community.

Later in the day, the chairman of the EAC said we could visit a local orphanage in the area where we could meet some of the local children - this wasn’t in the itinerary, but we all thought it would be lovely to meet them whilst here. There were 23 children cared for by a local lady and her husband. The orphanage was not government funded and the lady and her husband raise the children from all different backgrounds out of the goodness of their own hearts. This was truly heart-warming. The children all played together like brothers and sisters, no fighting, just simply playing together happily. A couple on our trip brought a ball and bat set for them to play with, I was showing them how to play with the set and the children showed me gratitude by giving me a hug to say thank you. I tried to say thank you in my best Afrikaan accent, which was the children’s first language… Danke!

Rio's South Africa trip highlights

We had a quick stop at Orange River Cellars, where we sampled some of the local wines produced here, it is something else to sample wine where it is produced, a truly amazing experience.
We then went back to accommodation for the night, Augrabies Falls, which is within the National Park. We also had the chance to do a game drive, which was an absolute must for anyone! We were out for around about 7pm for a two-hour drive, where we saw giraffes, kudos, Red Rock rabbits and even a South African oryx!

Day 5 > Today involved a scenic drive to get to our destination, Nieuwoudtville. This is a small town which homes a few guest houses, little shops and the home of the Roobios Tea Cooperative!

Day 6 > Today we visited Heiveld Tea Cooperative, the small-scale farmers produce a variety of Roobios Tea. They concentrate heavily on sustainability of the environment they farm in and train the farmers on ways they can maintain the land to produce Roobios leaves.
We visited the farmers, which was in a quaint little spot 10-15 mins drive from the centre of Nieuwoudtville. The farmers have built their own houses, these were eco-lodges! These lodges were built with stone from the land with sustainable materials, there is no electricity and all energy are through solar energy. People and planet go hand in hand here.
We walked a short distance to go and visit the Roobios Tea fields, where they showed us how it was harvested. They chop it by hand with a curled cleaver, chopping halfway up the plant, they chop the leaves and stem is included. I even got the chance to harvest some Roobios Tea, it included grabbing a big handful and cleaver in the other hand to chop it correctly. The farmer explained before machines they would chop the plant, add water and mesh together, leave it 24 hours, which ferments the Roobios for flavour. Now, they use machines to harvest and clean the tea, the farmer joked that if they still had to farm this way, she wouldn’t be a Roobios tea farmer!
We also were treated to another Braai lunch! This was so tasty; they prepared us potato salad and fresh clay oven bread, which was a taste sensation!

Rio at the Cape of Good Hope

Day 7 > We set off to head to the seaside village of Langebaan, which is the home of the Khosian Salt Trading Company! This sea salt goes into the delicious Eat Your Hat chocolate. Knowing this, I brought some bars all the way from Kingsway in Gateshead to gift to the workers.

Day 8 > Today, we’re visiting the Khosian Salt Trading Company, we met all workers there, the company seemed a very welcoming place to work. I met one lady Florendina who showed us round the company, this was her first job and she lovingly spoke about working there, she showed us where they mined the salt to back to the factory where it was spot checked and bagged up! She explained the salt mines is a natural process to clean the salt, the water and sun help to clean the salt before going in the salt pans. The water had a magical pink colour, which was so intriguing to know what this was. The pinkness to the water is the brine from the scrimps who are in the water. They then go into smaller salt pans, to clean the salt further, this sits in the sun to cleanse and gets regularly cleaned and monitored to get the sea salt to the perfect consistency. The three different types of sea salt that come from the Khoisan Sea Salt trading company are Coarse Sea Salt, Bath Salts and Fine Salt. The Coarse sea salt is what goes into the tasty bars of Eat Your Hat chocolate. The salt is then transported back into the factory, and sorted by hand, to get any big chunks out or any sticks that may have gathered with the salt. These salts that are put to one side, are then used for dishwater salts, so there is no wastage from the factory.
After the Khosian Sea Salt farm, we head back to the National Park for lunch and see spotting’s of Adder Snakes. Ostrich’s and a baby Tortoise.

Day 9 > We leave Langeeban, now heading back to Cape Town, on the way back we stop at a local fossil park which is not in the itinerary, but our tour guide made us aware if we wanted to go we were more than welcome to! Where homed more than 300 species, a National Heritage site and is a nature conservation zone too!

Day 10 > Now in Cape Town, we head to the Hout Bay Harbour, where local artists are selling arts and crafts. We stop at Chapman’s Peak, a stunning spot, which is a must see! Then to Boulders Beach to see the adorable Jackass Penguins, which are now endangered and are likely to be extinct in 10 years’ time, this fact made it very real what climate change is doing to nature around the world, and made me very proud to work for a company who support the planet. Lastly, we stop at the Cape of Good Hope to see the gorgeous views and see where two oceans meet! (Pacific and Atlantic)

Rio visiting Fairhills Fairtrade School and Table Mountain

Day 11 > Today we head to Langa, which is the oldest town sip in South Africa. We met a local tour guide who lives within the township to show us round. I was amazed at the local community spirit, in the heart of Langa there was an amazing arts community centre which promotes local jobs, hand-painted art and pottery to handmade earrings and outerwear. The arts centre hosts 125 artists, one project within the arts centre called ‘Our Workshop’ which the artists head out round the township searching for rubbish to bring it back to life, through art. They collect plastic bottles to keyboards and cans, then make something beautiful!
Later in the day, we headed to Turqle Trading, which formed the relationship between Traidcraft and Khosian Sea Salt Company. The relationship between Traidcraft and Turtle Trading has been going for over 30 years. Turqle Trading not only produce amazing sauces and salts, but they have also set up their own funded charity which is called ‘Fair Trade Trust’ – This trust helps producers children’s get a school education, this trust has so far helped 246 children. It pays for school fees, training at the production facilities. They ask the producers what training they need, such as personal finance etc. It is means tested every 18 months.

Day 12 > Today we visit a vineyard called Fairhills, a farm which is now in its 9th generation of farmers. Traidcraft formed a relationship with these farmers, many years ago when they were small scale farmers. Now, they sell to big supermarkets such as Sainsburys to Tesco’s, selling Fairtrade wine! The Fairtrade premium is invaluable to these farmers, with the premium they have built a school for children of the farmers and for the children of surrounding farms too! Every age is covered from 6 months to age 12-13 years old. The school is 1,500 rand to attend, the Fairtrade premium covers 90% of the cost and the parents pay the remaining 10%, which gives a lot of pressure of the parents. The first children who attended the school, has now graduated as a teacher!

All wine produced at the vineyard is 100% Fairtrade, the cooperative assist from farm level to cellar level, to know everything is right and as it should be. 95% is export to big supermarkets. There are 92 labels that come from this farm. They plan to be off the grid by 2020, which is fantastic to hear, they plan on being ran by solar power, and battery packs. There is a big initial investment, but it starts paying off after 5 years in sunny temperatures.
They also use two natural measures, the farmers recognise how important it is for the grapes to be as natural as they can be, the first method is growing winter grass around the vineyards, so it keeps small bugs at bay. Second method is micro-organisms, which feed on the spiders and mites, so they don’t need pesticides.

Day 13 > Today I head home, it is a mixture of emotions, it has been such a surreal trip and a experience of an life time. A Meet the People holiday, it hands down like no other! You get to experience parts of the South African culture, that you wouldn’t do on any other holiday. Meeting the producers of the foods we know and love has been a true highlight.

Meet the People tours

If Rio’s trip has inspired you to get out and about, seeing the world off the tourist trail and meeting some of the producers who grow and harvest our food, take a look at Meet the People’s website for some travelling inspiration.

Published at: 30-11-2019
Tags: Meet the People South Africa Khoisan Salt Fair Trade Tours Behind the Scenes
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