Monday, January 3, 2011

Xtreme Dining for Dummies*

* for Dummies, cos logically it doesn't make sense :)

We chose New Years, but any old excuse to celebrate would be good enough to hold an extreme dinner.

Choosing an Xtreme Dinner venue

When organising an Xtreme dinner, the most important factors are choosing the location, location and location.

Try to pick a dinner site with recognisable features. The Devils' tooth at the top of the Drakansberg's Amphitheatre is one of the most photographed features in South Africa. The inside of a cave, no matter how remote or difficult to get to, will be less impressive.

Take the weather into account. The Drakensberg could be cold even in summer; if it's summer you will very likely experience a thunderstorm during your trip.

Depending on the location and time of year, it might be a good idea to have the dinner for breakfast.The air is crisper, and background features would be visible on pictures - you might avoid afternoon summer-storms if you're anywhere near the Drakensberg.

Some possible venues:
Hiking times are estimates for hikes with daypacks; this may be more than double if it's done in the dark or with dining equipment.

  • Top of Tugela falls, Amphitheatre; Drakensberg
About 4 hours drive from Gauteng; a 2-hour hike up to the Tugela falls which includes negotiating the chain ladders with what might be an unbalanced backpack (because of the ironing board)
Spectacular views; Very variable weather. A very dilapidated hut which could be used for shelter if not occupied by the park's guards.

  • Scaly cave; bottom of Rockeries pass; Drakensberg
About 4 hours drive from Gauteng; a 2-3 hour hike in. Kids might follow you asking for sweets - confuse them by asking first. Water in a river a few 100 metres below, and good shelter.

  • Zulu cave; Drakensberg
About 4 hours drive from Gauteng; a 3 hour walk that includes some uphills. Pretty views along the way. A huge cave that takes about 12 people, well sheltered and with en-suite water (the waterfall tumbles over the front of the cave) - but no significant features for a backdrop. Gatberg is not too far away, but exposed, it would be possible to set up a dinner at the top or inside the gat of Gatberg. Taking pictures might be a challenge. (But that's taking xtreme dining to the next level of craziness, and a subject for another day)

  • Wolfberg arch; Cederberg
About 3 hours drive from Cape town; it's about a 3 hour walk to the arch, so with Xtreme dinner equipment this might be a tough walk.
There's no reliable water source in the area.
The view would be spectacular.

  • Top of Kasteelspoort, Table Mountain
It's about a 2-hour hike to the top. This venue is not for the feint-hearted - it might be wise to move the party to safer ground after the first bottle of bubbly. I can't remember if there's any reliable water source close by - there might be a small river on the way to the front table.

Like with all mountains, the weather is unpredictable - but the views would be quite cool. You might see some city-lights and fireworks far below. An added benefit is the possibility to hike to the front table and take the cablecar down after the party.
(haven't had an extreme dinner here, so it's an old pic with no formal wear and no candles and white tablecloths.)

  • Other places worth exploring (don't know if possible)
Inside the cave at Waenhuiskrans at low tide?
In one of the Magaliesberg kloofs? That sandy beach-bit just after the compulsory abseil and swim in Grootkloof? Or inside the stream in Tonquani?

Choosing the Xtreme Dinner guests

Once you've found a suitable venue, the next step is to identify the guests. Any party is made by the people who attend to it, and an Extreme dinner is no different. People likely to attend functions like these, will most likely have an excellent sense of humour - so anybody that would be up for it, would make a very good guest.

Adventure people are generally suckers for anything - hang out with mountain club members, start mountain biking, or join an adventure racing club - all of these would have potential extreme diners.

A word of warning: it's not called 'extreme' dining for nothing. Mountain weather is very unpredictable; it might be cold and wet, the diners may have to brave chain ladders or narrow cracks. It's therefore not the best place to invite the potential new girlfriend ... it may end up in a break-up - or a wedding; i know of at least one :)

Choosing the menu for Xtreme dining

Depending on how many people accepted the invitation, you could have anything from a 3-course to a 7-course dinner - you decide. The dishes could include anything from appetizers, soup, fish, meat, veggies, salad, desert, a cheeseboard, chocolates, coffee.

It's easier and much more fun if you distribute the responsibility. Let everyone decide what dish they want to be responsible for - and then they make, carry and present it at the top. I've had fresh butternut soup, tiramisu, braai-sosaties, pancake, roast veggies, chocolate cake and plenty other interesting stuff on these outings. Those who claim to really can't cook, could buy ready-made cheese-platters or veggie-trays - or invest in some Lindt chocolate to go with the filter coffee.

Setting the scene - equipment

Good tents, good rain jackets, good stoves that will not run out of gas are essential - survival first; you have to live to post the facebook pictures.

For dining you'd need a table, (preferably white) tablecloth, chairs. Add some candles, or some form of table decoration, maybe a chess set for afterwards, glasses and some bubbly. A tripod is handy.

Xtreme ironing boards, tables, chairs, jamie oliver pans and bubbly all add up to the weight. Try to balance the weight in your backpack - especially if you know there's gonna be chain ladders or narrow cracks that you have to go through.

What to wear for Xtreme dining

Don't pick a gown with lots of net or lace, especially around the seams of a full-length gown - it might catch on bushes, tentpegs and other outdoor things.
Heels may seem like a good idea, but they tend to sink into grass, swamps and other soggy places. No matter how well pedicured your toes are, killer heels will look bad with mud all around them. Rather stick to your trusted boots, and choose a long gown to hide them (Just not something netty or lacy; it tends to catch, see point 1 above)
Black dresses don't show wrinkles; Red make pretty pictures.
Don't bother with make-up, except if it's something that's gonna make an impact - like if you've got an extremely red lipstick that will show up on pictures.


Try to save weight where possible - you're already going to carry enough other paraphernalia to test your endurance. You could get away with your black capestorm pants with a white shirt, bow-tie and jacket. Or simply carry the whole suit, including cufflinks - there will be someone to help you fasten them.

If you're not taking a jacket, make sure that your shirt has no wrinkels - you could always iron it if it did get some wrinkles in.

If you're on a place known for it's bad weather, or any mountain top, you might have to get into party gear on very short notice - e.g. straight out of bed after a sleepless night lying in puddles inside the tent listening to lightning just outside. Throw a xmas hat, wig or party hat in to instantly fix bad hair days.

Final Notes

If you choose the right company when you climb kilimanjaro, or cycle to everest basecamp, then every day is an extreme dining day :)

And don't forget the sunscreen while you're dining!

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