Posts Tagged With: Explore

Let’s take Bus 35 to Somewhere

Bus 35 runs from our village, 大高舍村, into Liangxiang, where I have classes 5 days a week.

The bus runs between 05h40 to 20h30.

We’ve taken it to Liangxiang many times over the past few weeks.

This morning we got on it in the opposite direction, to see where it would take us.

It is amazing what you experience if you are willing to just get on a bus and go somewhere unknown.

We rode the bus for about 20 minutes and then got off in a neighbouring village, started walking along its streets, taking in the atmosphere, the old buildings, the beautiful people, the smell of food and the sound of laughter.

We walked down the main street, eventually getting to the entrance of the village.

I love how villages and towns and cities here in China have ornate entrances welcoming you.

We kept on walking in the shade of large trees planted decades ago, all along the road.

A woman on an electric scooter stopped alongside us.

She started talking and explaining, too fast for us to follow, but friendly and kind, us able to understand she has a gift she wants to share with us.

A little way further down the road we find their farm, their gift.

Amazing organic fruit trees.

Plums.

Peaches.

Apricots.

And a similar fruit we don’t know.

They explain that they do not spray their trees and invite us in to come and pick and eat as much as we like.

Birds provide the soundtrack fro our experience.

We enjoy one juicy plum followed by another juicy peach.

Maddi’s face and clothes are marinated in fresh fruit juice as she eats along.

As we leave we take a bag of fruit with us.

It starts to drizzle.

People offer us umbrellas which we politely decline.

The drizzle is perfect.

We find our bus stop.

We ride home, along tree-lined streets.

As Beate would call it, ‘China the Beautiful’.

Not just the trees and fruit and countryside.

The people.

Always friendly.

Always welcoming.

Always sharing their little bit of abundance with our little tribe of strangers.

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Categories: Asian Adventure | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

From Jiamusi to Liangxiang

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On December 29th 2013, we loaded our luggage in a friends Fortuner and drove the 400 odd kilometres from Bloemfontein to OR Thambo International Airport, to start a 24 hour journey, taking three flights, to arrive in Jiamusi, Heilongjiang, China, late the afternoon on December 30th.

That was 18 months ago.

On July 1st 2015, we loaded our luggage on train K2606, departing from Jiamusi train station, to start another 24 hour journey.

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This time to Beijing.

And from Beijing to Liangxiang in Beijing’s Fangshan County, about 40 kilometres from the city centre.

Public transport in China is cheap and convenient.

We bought second class tickets, or what they call ‘hard-sleeper’-tickets.

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You get a bed, with fresh clean bedding, in a carriage,  alongside many other travelers.

The carriage is equiped with a toilet, bassin area and conductor who constantly cleans and makes sure everybody is comfortable.

The journey was easy.  We played cards.  Excitedly talked about what awaits us on the other side.  Read some.  Shared dinner and breakfast and lunch.  Slept some.

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And then we arrived in Beijing.

At the beautiful old train station with its bell-tower which rings on the hour.

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Crowds of people easily finding their way.

We find our way to the KFC for a cup of coffee and ice cream for the kids, while waiting for Anna Wang, who is meeting us for the last leg of our journey.

In Jiamusi we had new friends seeing us off at the station, making sure we catch the right train and find our carriage and settle into our little semi-compartment.

18 months ago, at OR Thambo International,  it was just us, our friends far away in Bloemfontein and Nelson Mandela Bay.

This afternoon, as we sip hot black coffee, the bell striking once, it is just us again.

Our little Tribe, on our amazing little journey.

It is different from a 3 week tour, with luxury accommodation and arranged transport.

It is immersive.

Tasting and experiencing what never could be on a short little visit.

Anna arrives.

We load our luggage in the black mini-van and head out of Beijing, towards Liangxiang.

The air-con a welcome comfort after 30 minutes at the train station.

It is a 90 minute drive.

We could’ve taken the subway.  Google Maps says it is 90 minutes by subway from Beijing Train Station to Liangxiang on the new Fangshan-subway-line.

Anna insisted on meeting us.

She takes us to the Police Station, where we need to register our arrival.

And then to our new little home.

In Jiamusi the institution I worked for provided us with housing, for which we were grateful,  since it would’ve been an impossible requirement for us to seek and find housing, in a country we’ve never been to, from South Africa, before our departure.

In Liangxiang, we found our own home.

Over the internet.

With lots of negotiations, with the help of Google Translate and WeChat, China’s version of Whatsapp.

I was a little worried, despite my belief that our lives are connected to the Origin of Life and Being & that there is a rhytm of loss and gain, which is good, aware that every loss brings gain and every gain will flow to loss again, creating space for new gain.

We’ve ordered shoes online.

Electronics.

But never before have we ordered a house.

You speak.

You agree.

And then you trust that everything will work out.

And eventually it does.

In Liangxiang, on the outskirts of Beijing, housing is expensive.

Not as expensive as in Beijing itself, but still, on what I would earn with the little bit of teaching I would do, a 3-bedroom apartment would eat more than 35% of my income each month.

And we did the apartment thing in Jiamusi.

Which was an interesting experience.

A difficult one, in some ways, for a little Tribe who came from a beautiful little wooden house, set on a not so little hill, overlooking forest and ocean.

It took some getting used to the 5 flights of stairs to climb every day and the view of another apartment building and the less space and the neighbours above and below.

We made the most of that and enjoyed the experience – somewhere, if we get the gift of old age, we’ll talk about the beauty of our little apartment on the 5th floor in Yi Yuan Qao Qi, but when we found a little house, with a little garden, just 10 kilometres outside Liangxiang, renting for not even 17% of my income, we were excited.

Could it be possible?

To live in a house with a garden, and a beautiful entrance gate, in China where most families live in apartments?

It must be a scam!

And had we given ourselves to fear of the unknown and belief in the worst, we would’ve opted for a smallish 2-bedroom apartment,  somewhere on the 5th floor again, neatly furnished and very safe, but above our means and already inside the sphere of our experience.

It is a littlenharder to be brave when you are part of a Tribe.

When Zuko and I were just married, young and without children, we would often throw caution to the wind, without thinking about it twice.

We shared an adventerous spirit and we would deal with whatever happened, together.

We continued this tradition after the kids arrived, but it took and it takes a little more now.

We have 4 other lives to consider and you don’t know how hardy they would be and you don’t want to subject them to stuff that is unpleasant or bad.

Still we phoned and WeChat-ted and ordered.

And arrived.

Driving down a little alley.

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To stop in front of a beautiful red gate.

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And find a not so little house with 5 fruit trees and loads of birds in the garden.

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The landlord and his family are friendly.

He apologises.

Everything isn’t ready yet.

He misjudged himself on how long it would take to prepare for our arrival.

The inside is repainted.

But the bathroom and kitchen isn’t ready yet.

Zuko can’t cook and more than 30 hours after we’ve left Jiamusi, it seems we can’t wash either.

Maddi is unaffected.

She starts playing in the soil under the fruit trees.

Dude and Pippin and Sophia choose bedrooms.

For teenagers this is important.

The house has 5 bedrooms, not 4, as the landlord indicated.

The wood-panneling and Chinese sliding doors give it an exotic feel.

Chairman Mao greets us in the lounge.

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And as the sun sets our neighbours, an elderly couple, bring dinner.

Since we can’t cook.

Beans with beef.

Vegetables.

Rice.

In the cool of early evening, we sit on the steps of our new home, enjoying the warmth and hospitality of beautiful people we’d just met.

We sleep.

And then we start cleaning, while the landlord brings a new fridge and washing machine with great pride.

And installs a beautiful new gass stove in the kitchen.

Our Tribe impressing me,  hardier than I thought, braver, alongside each other, as we livemthrough a little discomfort and make the best of this very moment.

Perhaps the Landlord too struggled to believe and was a little hesitant?

Not believing that a foreigner, who says he lives in Jiamusi, would arrive, when he said he would and rent, what he agreed to rent?

And because of his disbelief, he held back, not wanting to waste time and money?

Whatever the reasons, 3 days after our arrival we take a hot showermin our own bathroom, we do some laundry in the newly installed washing machine and Zuko cooks a beautiful dinner on her new gas-stove.

This morning we’ll head to the little breakfast shop where we had breakfast on our first morning in 大高舍村 (High house village), then we’ll stroll to the outdoor market to find bedding and seeds for the garden Pippin has already prepared.  Later we’ll watch a movie and have dinner on our steps.

And so we’ll find a new rhythm, in a new place, filled with new people to meet and beautiful places to discover.

Life, not very normal, but interesting.

A little discomfort and uncertainty,  always the gateway to something exquisite.

Categories: Asian Adventure | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Journey of 13721km Begins

We imagined, we would leave Nelson Mandela Bay around the 21st.

We’re heading to the Far East.

For a while.

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For an experience.

Not for a vacation.

To live amongst people.

To learn from them.

Serve them.

And become.

As individuals.

As a Tribe.

What we imagine & what eventually happens isn’t always the same.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

On Friday we got word that our visas are sorted & ready.  Zuko’s.  Mine.  And Beate’s.

I’ll tell you about Beate in a moment.

The children’s visas are somewhat more complicated though.

We need to be in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

We need to prove that they are ours.

Or rather of us & in our care.

And so suddenly we wrap-up what needs to be wrapped, relying heavily on friends who come alongside us, as we prepare for our journey.

Melvin will sort the last stuff at the little house on the not so little hill, getting her ready for the tenants who will enjoy her splendour while we are cavorting in unknown places.

Danie & Xandre will look after the horses, for a few weeks, until they’re ready to make the journey to Thinus & Iris, who will look after them until we’re back.

Zuko’s dad will sort some fencing, so they don’t make a journey of their own makings, while in the departure lounge of Klein Uitvlug.

We’re overwhelmed by the love of friends who embrace us & enable us, as we brave this new adventure.

Wouter gives us their Fortuner to get around in Nelson Mandela Bay for the last few days & then get to Johannesburg via Bloemfontein, where we will meet up with our newest Tribe Member.

Nietsche believed the strongest man is he who stands alone.

We know this is not true.

We experience how we are stronger, in the good kind of way, as we gratefully accept what each friend offer to us in these days.

Perhaps our lives are too well organized?

Robbing us of the opportunity to come alongside and need at the same time?

We see grace.

Kindness.

We are anchored to Africa, to Nelson Mandela Bay, not by patriotism or birth or family.

We are anchored to Africa and to Nelson Mandela Bay by relationship.

By all the people we love and by whom we are loved.

This journey, this Asian Adventure, it is a gift we receive from many hands.

Dolf & Adriaan at Yales’ s Jonathan Edwards Centre Africa, from who  we receive the opportunity to study happiness, guided by the world’s greatest kinds.

Mei Han in Jiamusi.

Xandre, Alan, Joy & the rest of the Kingfisher FM- tribe, from who  we receive the releasing, so that we may move towards this new chapter, knowing what we’ve spent the last seven years of our life on will be nurtured & grown.

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We receive it from the hands of everyone who wishes us Godspeed.

Who prays for traveling mercies & tell us that we will be missed.

Perhaps their hands, are the hands of the Creator who created us to be an us?

Perhaps their love & grace & kindness is the kindness of the Origin of love & grace & kindness?

So we leave Nelson Mandela Bay almost a week earlier than  planned.

We meet Beate in Bloemfontein.

We’ve known her almost 20 years.

She has traveled the world.

Not as tourist.

As explorer and adventurer.

She’s lived in Germany, The Netherlands, North America and the United Kingdom.

She’s been to Japan, Botswana, Lesotho & Spain.

She knows international flights & travel documents & settling into new worlds.

She understands very well that our geography determines our proximity & that our proximity determines who we meet & who affects us through their affection.

She guides us through the process of re-completing the children’s visa applications & to the Chinese Consulate in Johannesburg where we meet the officials who accept our parentage & files the four applications,  before informing us that we could collect all seven passports,  with visas on Friday.

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We are relieved.

Elated.

Our journey has begun.

Now to reduce what we each own into one suitcase containing 30kgs & one piece of hand luggage containing 7kgs.

And book the train from Beijing to Jiamusi.

For on the 29th we will board Etihad flight 601 to Beijing.

And in between we will celebrate Christmas with more friends who love & embrace us, not despite who we are, but because of who we are.

Perhaps that is the journey we all should seek?

To become.

Less alone in the Nietscheian-sense.

More ‘us’.

Perhaps in this, there is happiness as well?

Categories: Asian Adventure, information | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

our Africa

WIN! a two night stay for a family of four at beautiful Ripple Hill Hotel, in Patensie, on the edge of the stunning Baviaans Kloof.  Baviaans & Gamtoos Valley is in the 2nd Wonder of our World, within the ‘World of 7 Wonders’ in the Cacadu-district of the Eastern Cape.

To Enter – read the article & at the end of the article, in the comments section, leave your answer to this question: who told us stories of The Kloof, healers & ‘water-myde’?

Competition closes on: 05/12/2013

The winner will be announced on: 06/12/2013

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Location:  165 kilometers from Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay.  Take the Baviaanskloof turn-off from the N2 towards Cape Town, travel past Hankey & Patensie straight into the Kloof. This is in the beaitiful Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Date Visited: 22- 24 November 2012 (Summer)

What we Drove: Our trusty Landrover Defender 90-series.

Where we Stayed: On the Friday night we stayed at The Meadows Farmhouse & at The Milk House, right next door.  On Saturday night we stayed at  ‘Twee Waters‘ right at the mouth of Baviaans Kloof, cooking our own supper on an open fire.  Both spots can be recommended for a very comfortable stay.

What we did: We took the opportunity to explore not only Baviaans Kloof, but also the Gamtoos.  We had supper at The Milk House & Breakfast at Tolbos in Hankey.  We visited the Kouga Dam & drove deep into Baviaans Kloof, swimming at Rooi Wal as Noel Isaacs shared stories of the people of the Kloof.

Recommendation: This is our Africa.  Our Wilderness.  A world which, if you haven’t visited it, will haunt you until you do.  It is a World Heritage Site & rightly so.  It is filled with natural beauty, deep history & amazing stories.  You can’t visit South Africa & not visit the Gamtoos & Baviaans Kloof.  It would be like visiting Paris & not going to see the Eiffel Tower.  Being a South African & not visiting this area would be like being Russian & not drinking Vodka.  It is unimaginable.

Website: Baviaans Kloof & Travel Cacadu

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This is our Africa.

A world rich in diversity & deep in connection.

Beautiful.

Stunning.

Breath taking.

For the Traveling Tribe, this weekend was perfect.

Perfect timing.

Perfect conclusion to our travels of the Eastern Cape & specifically the Cacadu-region, before we head out on our Asian Adventure.

It is an easy drive from Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay to Hankey.

Not even a stones throw.

We left the little wooden house on the not so little hill at about 16h00 & arrived at our destination well before 17h00.

At The Meadows Farmhouse a friendly welcome awaited us.

You could spend a weekend here.  A week even.  The house is spacious.  Beautifully renovated.  Stylishly furnished.  The kids took the loft-area, affording myself & Zuko privacy down stairs.  There is a well fitted kitchen, dining room, lounge & enough TV’s to meet everyone’s needs at the same time.

Next door is The Milk House.  An old Milk House turned into a pub.  A family place.  After settling in & washing off the week’s worries, we amble over to the stunning gardens.  Andre Pearson welcome us.  We walk the massive fruit trees.  The children pick Avocados & Custard Apples.  Pippin picks some roses from one of the hundreds of well kept rose bushes.  We talk to locals who are eager to tell stories & get to know us.  Everyone is friendly.  Warm.  Open.  In Hankey you’re bound to bump into a ‘Fereira’.  We talk to a few of them.  Supper is stunning.  You can drive to The Milk House for Sunday Lunch & be back in time for the Sunday evening movie.  You’ll get immense value for money & an atmosphere money cannot buy.  The evening is perfect.  After supper we talk to a girl visiting from Holland.  To a coulke who’ve just returned from Ireland.  We laugh with a farmer about his Yorkshire Terrier’s silliness.  We listen to the amazing story of how Andre & his family came to be in Hankey.

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Saturday morning we wake up refreshed.  As if we’ve been on holiday for a bit.

We find breakfast at Tolbos.

Wow!  What a breakfast.  For the same price you’ll be able to feed a fairy from a city franchise, this restaurant offers a monster meal, friendly service & very tasty food.  Maybe Sunday should be breakfast at Tolbos & lunch at The Milk House, although, after brekafast at Tolbos you wouldn’t need lunch or supper.

At Tolbos we meet a crew of Bikers out on a Saturday morning run.  We bump into family.  Hendrien & her son Dewald.  We breakfast together.  We laugh & tell stories about where our lives are now & where our lives are heading.  Sophia plays with Maddi in the play area.  The waitresses bring scrumptious food to our table.

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At around ten, Sizwe from Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism Agency arrives.

He is taking us to Kouga Dam.  We’ve seen Dams before, but not in the way Sizwe plans to let us see this one.

Sizwe is from Kwa-Zulu Natal.  He is a conservationist & a conversationalist.  Extremely knowledgeable, but not in the obnoxious flaunting way.  Helpful.  Warm.  Concerned about our comfort.  Humble.  A good man to have in charge of Baviaans Kloof.

We drive to the Dam where we are met by Vuyani Dlomo.   He is the man looking after the Dam.  A former Rugby player who entertained many as he ran onto the field for Eastern Province, the Freestate & the Griekwas.  More friendliness.  More knowledge.  We stand in the spray of an overflowing Kouga Dam as Sizwe introduces us to everyone.  Noel Isaacs is also present.  I’ll tell you about him later.

Vuyani talks about the origin of the Dam.  How it is the lifeline of the agricultural activity in the Gamtoos.  Citrus world.  Sending Oranges & Naartjies to Europe, Asia & beyond.

Then we’re taken into the heart of the Dam.  Into the tunnels leading deep into the wall.

There, in a dark corner we bump into ‘Oom Piet’.  I never knew Dams were such complicated structures.  ‘Oom Piet’ tells us how he is measuring movement of the dam wall.  Checking vibration, wind in the tunnels, pressure, flow & a myriad other things.  There are possible plans to raise the dam wall.  The immense body of water contained by it, growing to grow food & opportunity.

We exit the tunnels half-way up the wall.  Vuyani takes us under the overflow of the dam.  My heart pounding.  The kids laughing as the water becomes a shower, halfway along the walkway.  On the other side,  soaked, but happy, Vuyani explains about the flow, the checks & balances.  The floodgates.  the adults return to the other side while Vuyani takes the kids back along the wall, under the overflow again.

1840 steps we did.  Up and down the wall.  Along the front of the wall.  Through the deepest crevices of this immense structure.

An experience which cannot be described.

Surprised.

That is what we are with every track we leave on African soil.

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The Landy finds her way to ‘Twee Waters‘ where we’ll rest for the evening.

The key is left on the large ‘stoep’.

We each find a bedroom.

We wash up, or rather dry out after the Dam experience.

Theunsie lights a fire.

We talk.

We laugh.

We chew on our experience.

Here too is a beautiful garden.

Comfortable rooms.

Television.

Well fitted kitchen & every amenity you might need.

As the sun sets a Bakkie comes driving down the long dirt road.  It is Gerhard & Kenau.  To our surprise, more family.  Gerhard worked for my grandfather, many decades ago at the Patensie Tabaco Co-op.  He tells stories of my mother & aunts who were at school with him.  Kenau tells stories of when Zuko was a little girl & came to play on their farm.  We talk of our lives.  Of time’s certain flow.  Of reasons & motivations.  We express gratitude & the hope that somehow, in all of this life, we will leave something beautiful behind.

Supper is grilled on the open fire.

Coffee is served on the ‘stoep’.

Sleep is embraced.

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Sunday morning is welcomed by the call of Baboons high up in the mountains.

Breakfast is quick.

We’re off into the Kloof.

This morning Sizwe brought Duma along.

More friendly people.

People who love the Eastern Cape.

Baviaans Kloof is an immense bit of wilderness.

The Tribe has been there before.

The kids were still small.

Raymond & Karien Staines shared it with us.

We spend a little bit of time at the reception, viewing camping grounds.

Then we start the drive.

I’m relieved we’re in the Landy.

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You can’t take a soft city car on these roads.

Baviaans Kloof is breathtaking.

You need a few days to really experience it.

Today we’re just getting a reminder.

A taste.

Something to call us back to our Africa.

Along the way we stop at different viewing points.

Every now & then Sizwe & Duma’s vehicle stops.  One of them gets out.  Then they pick up a plastic bag or a random wrapper left behind by someone who does not understand what this world is about.

At the Wolrd Heritage Site Interprative Centre we meet up with Noel Isaacs again.

He explains to us why this is a world heritage site.

He tells us of the communities who live in the Kloof.

Of how he grew up at Colseke.

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He talks about Soutpan.

About the healing plants of the Kloof.

About the healers who traveled through the kloof, from one side to the other, healing serious diseases with nothing more than a branch of this & a root of that.

We travel further.

Stop at a Bushman Cave.

Noel shows us the mark of ownership of a people who lived here long before ships came from Portugal or Warriors came from the north.

He talks with respect about how they did not destroy, but took only what was needed.

He talks with sadness about how they were destroyed.

Maybe we do not sow what we reap?

We traverse ancient passes built by men who were braver & bolder than engineers with fancy equipment & earth-moving machines.

We spot antelope.

Big game.

The Baviaans Kloof is home to the largest leopard population in South Africa.

Late afternoon we arrive at Rooi Wal.

The river’s water is cool.

We swim.

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We lunch.

We take a moment to breathe Baviaans in the shade of an old Yellow Wood.

Noel starts telling us the stories of the Kloof.

Of Oom Schalk Swarts, the healer.

Of the ‘tokelossie’ a little evil man who pestered the people.

In all his stories he reminds me that we cannot move away from our troubles.  They follow us.  And that sometimes it is good to face our demons.  And the good things, they are worth being brave about.

Noel’s eyes glisten as he speaks of miraculous healing.

Of inexplicable experiences.

Of ‘water-myde’ (Mermaids) & little men with flat heads tormenting a little boy.

It is evening when we say our goodbyes at the entrance to the controlled area.

We thank Sizwe for his hospitality & kindness.

We thank Noel for his companionship & stories.

They encourage us to take the spirit of Africa to Asia.

The beauty of it.

The diversity.

The immensity.

And the kindness.

As we drive home we resolve, one of the 1st things we’ll do, once we’re back from Asia, is load a Landy & spend a week listening to the heart beat of our Africa.

Categories: 10 Day Trips, Weekend Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Life Measured in Moments

As the Traveling Tribe prepares for our immense adventure exploring Asia & the Far East, we’re inviting some of our friends to keep on doing travel in the Eastern Cape, South Africa & Africa, making contributions as honorary Tribe-members, so that you can now get information on South African travel, as well as our explore of unseen Asia, right here in one place.

In this article Xandre van der Berg & her husband Danie joins our Tribe, as they take a trip on the MSC Opera, cruising our stunning Oceans.

Website for more Informationwww.MSCcruises.co.za 

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“Life should be measured in moments, not minutes”

This statement not only captures the introduction to the MSC Opera’s brochure, but lingered in my mind – capturing my thoughts,  forcing me to slow down, re-measuring my  two days spent, as a guest on the luxury vessel.

It was in these moments, that somewhere between embarking in Cape Town, and disembarking in Port Elizabeth,  I was transformed from stepping on as a guest, to leaving as a friend.

Luxurious she is, by all measures and opinions.

But beneath all the glamour and glitz, I found a village on the MSC Opera.  A village which invites everyone to become one with their fantasy world.  Embracing’s differences, opening opportunities to explore and enjoy their finest moments.

Moments to reflect on life are ample, as you cruise along –creating the space I needed to reconnect and focus.

When you are surrounded by miles and miles of gentle waves, you can only focus on the eminent.

The now.

The being of your soul.

I will not be able to describe the swell of the ocean, the gentle rocking when you lie down, the ever moving horizon and the realization that this is it.

You are captured in another world.

A world beyond time.

An escape.

And it is only then, realizing that you have escaped from reality, that you start looking around, taking the surroundings in, and start to blend with this new world.

MSC has explored the seas for over 300 years.  With 450 vessels under their wing, they have mastered her – the ocean.

Their expertise, passion and professionalism are evident in everything they do.

Tina joined the family from the Philippines, seeing to all my needs in my room, Miguel came from Peru, serving our coffee with dedication, Annia from Cuba waiting at the spa and Rinthing from India, eager to be of assistance.

The South African cruises developed at such a rapid pace, that they had to include South Africans crew members.  With 98% or the passengers on South African cruises being from South Africa, this is truly a home from home.

The MSC Opera, a masterpiece on the seas, lives up to her name – a classy, grand lady, a world class resort.  Five star cuisines, 9 bars, shows, lounges, a theater, shops, casino, disco, pools, spa baths and fitness equipment.

Don’t imagine for a moment that a cruise on the MSC Opera is only for adults.

This is an amazing adventure for children as well.  Some cruises end up with 40% of passengers below the age of 18.

Pools, Play areas, Discos, movies, Virtual game rooms, outside deck games & indoor activities, are all utilized, under the watchful eyes of a very capable crew component.  Children are issued with security bracelets the moment they become part of the cruises – assuring that they can be traced at all times.

Do not be fooled by the luxury and splendor of this adventure – this is truly a South African Holiday – affordable for everyone.

While fares published would want you to reach for your saving account number – actual fares are mind blowing.

The MSC family, want everyone to be able to enjoy and share what they have captured.  Specials and promotions available allow us all to be part of their dream world.

Keeping in mind that all meals and most of the entertainment is part of the package, you will be able to freely enjoy the theater and all shows brought to you, from side splitting comedy to Italian Opera.

For the more serious ‘gastronomix’ amongst us, you will have opulent opportunities to experience different menus, steaming hot pizza from the oven – Italian pasta, homemade ice cream and the finest pastries.

Their promotion packages covers everything you could imagine.  For newlyweds, family, single travelers, anniversaries and special celebrations – they have it all covered.

And although I joined the cruise along the South African Coast – this is not where it stops.

Take you imagination on a wild cruise, and join them to explore the coral reefs, exotic landscape and cultures of the Southern African coast and islands.

Always wanted to explore the Portuguese Islands?

Madagascar?

The Island of True contrasts – Reunion?

Mauritius and Namibia?

This is the opportunity – join the MSC family and explore alongside them. They will spoil you with beach braais while you discover the hidden secrets of a Portuguese Island, snorkeling.

They will show you the best places to shop in the Cosmopolitan Maputo and invite you to Inhambane, one of the oldest settlements in Southern Africa.

Join them and explore the active volcano and black sandy beaches of Reunion.  Extend the adventure to the home of legendary figures like Captain Kidd or stop at the beautiful turquoise waters of Mauritius.

Traveling with the MSC Cruises, give wings to your wildest dreams.

For us anyway.

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The Republic of Swellendam

Congratulations to all our winners, who will be traveling to Swellendam.

To see who won & where they’ll be staying, click HERE for details.

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Location: 535 kilometres from Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape, on the N2 in the direction of Cape Town, just past Heidelberg.

Date Visited: 19 – 28 July 2013 (Winter)

Where we Stayed: Stonehill River Lodge

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Other Great Accommodation Options:

Wildebraam Berry Estate

Arumvale Country House

Roosje van de Kaap Herberg

Braeside Guesthouse

Barrydale Karoo Hotel

What we Drove: Chrysler Grand Voyager, complements of Maritime Motors – this is the most comfortable family vehicle the Tribe has ever traveled in, it is extremely spacious, handles easily & has all the luxuries you could dream of, including climate control, heated seats, TV-screens, DVD-player & automated doors.

What we did:  Swellendam & surrounds offer an awesome range of activities & experiences.  The Museums are beautiful.  The town is the 4th oldest town in South Africa, you can imagine how much history is nestled in this bit of world.  Here’s what we did over the few days we were there.  Every one of our experiences were amazing.  Horse Riding with Stephanie at Two Feathers Horse Trails was a stunning highlight.  Zuko loved crossing the Breede River by Ferrie at Malagas.  Pippin & Sophia fell in love with the Faerie Sanctuary.  I loved Barrydale & Warmwaterberg Hot-Springs.  We’re sure you’re going to find the perfect mix of experiences to make your visit to Swellendam exquisite.

Visited the Sulina Faerie Sanctuary in Swellendam

Went Horse Riding at Two Feathers Horse Trails in Swellendam

Crossed the Breede River by Pontoon at Malagas

Spent a day in Suurbraak & Barrydale.

Spent an afternoon at Warmwaterberg Spa on the other side of Barrydale.

Went Mountain Biking in Stonehill River Lodge‘s reserve.

Visited Cape Agulhas.

Visited the Shipwreck Museum in Bredasdorp.

Recommendation: The Swellendam area is beautiful.  Once you’ve chosen suitable accommodation you won’t struggle to find the perfect mix of activities.  There are loads of little art shops, organic food shops & restaurants to browse & enjoy.  The area has two very beautiful nature reserves in close proximity: Bontebok National Park & Marloth Nature Reserve.  Distance wise its a bit far to travel for just a 2 night weekend, but if you plan a 3-night stay, maybe leaving Thursday or only returning on Monday, it could be a perfect break.  The ten days we spent in the area was amazing, as we were able to do enough exploring without rushing anything.  The Tribe loved the experience.  We’ll definitely be back, we know we haven’t seen or tasted everything.

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Swellendam Explore Day 6

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If you know our Tribe, you’ll know we love horses.

We keep our own & ride as often as we can.

We share this gift with whomever visits us at the little wooden house on the not so little hill.

We search for the opportunity to enjoy this, wherever the opportunity exists.

We ridden at Addo.

At Koffylaagte.

And on this day we shared the exhilaration with Stephanie on the outskirts of Swellendam.

We met up with her at Swellendam Backpackers.

Here she recieves guests who are looking for something more than the standard buffet offered to people passing through.

A menu of activities is up on the wall & a tangible love for people is nestled in her words.

We drive to the Two Feathers Stables at the foot of the mountain.

The horses are beautiful.

Their temperament a mirror of Stephanie & her crew.

Kind.

Warm.

Willing to share.

Each of us is assigned a horse & as we saddle up, Stephanie speaks about each horse like you would speak about a friend.

Where the horse comes from.

How he came to live at Two Feathers.

What he enjoys.

What he does not enjoy.

By the time we’re in the saddle, we each feel as if we’ve kniwn these horses since forever.

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Then the ride.

Into the mountains.

Crossing a river.

Amongst trees.

Exquisite views.

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Stephanie has been doing this for almost two decades.

A short interval taken, somewhere in between, to travel to America, to work on a horse farm where she was part of the team who took people on a week-long ride into desolate mountains.

Then she came back.

Continued with new energy & fervour to bring happiness to the lives of whomever wanted to be part of her world.

A son was born.

Later a beautiful girl.

They share the joy of horses & nature.

Stephanie came to Swellendam to work, during a school holiday,  on one of the river boats.

She came from Upington.

She never left.

She is a beautiful person to meet.

An awesome guide to take you on horseback into the mountains.

She offers day trips as well.

Taking riders deeper into the mountains, breaking for a picnic lunch, before returning to the stables.

We do the afternoon ride.

The horses are comfortable with us.

I can see that they’re used to attention & even if you’re not used to riding, this would be an exquisite experience.

Stephanie not only attentive to each rider, but bubling with easy conversation, talking about herself & Swellendam, its people, its history, its beauty.

This is the kind of person who should be in the hospitality industry.

Late afternoon we return to the stables.

It wasn’t a hard ride.

It was relaxing.

Refreshing.

It filled each one of us with what we needed.

A sense of connectedness.

To nature.

To each other.

To this place.

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Even Forest, Theunsie’s new friend, who does not ride often, bubbles with excitement.

As we take each horse back to its stabke, Stephanie talks about the hot-springs at Barrydale.

She heard we’ll be heading that way.

She knows, few people know if the hot springs.

Like a secret, divulged only to insiders, she gives us directions, so we could find this hidden gem.

We say our goodbyes.

We’ve made new friends.

We’ve tasted a bit of Swellendam, without which our experience would’ve been bare.

The rest of the day is soent at Stonehill River Lodge.

As we drive through the reserve to our cottage we see Eland, Zebra & Blesbuck.

Over supper we talk.

We dream.

We hope with new energy.

For it is when we live & taste & experience that we are reminded that every day is precious and tomorrow is beautiful, when approached from a lived today.

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Swellendam Explore Day 5

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It was pretty early, for people on holiday anyway, as we bundled into the Chrysker Grand Voyager, on this very cold Swellendam morning.

We were making our way to the Swellendam Backpackers, from where we would proceed to ‘Two Feathers’ for some horse riding.

Riding is something we love.

Horses.

Nature.

The opportunity to ride new horses & acquaint ourselves with the mountain forest adjacent to Swellendam, enough of an incentive to get up early & face the cold.

The Chrysler Grand Voyager’s heated seats & climate control a friendly reminder this morning that we are traveling, not on our own, but supported by friends & along with you.

We’re not accustomed to the opulence of this kind of vehicle – our somewhat ageing Defender offering nothing more than the very basics which could be expected from a hardy vehicle.

Windows to roll down for ventilation.

Wheels.

An engine.

A characteristically rattling sliding back window to create the ambiance of off-roading, even on smooth city streets.

As we turn off into Swellendam, the Voyager senses the first spatterings of rain, automatically switching on its window wipers to ensure maximum visibility.

Our Defender has window wipers as well.

They keep the rain off the windscreen whenever the left indicator is not engaged.

As we park the Voyager in front of the backpackers, as if persistent, the rain comes down in abbundant sheets.

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Inside we’re greeted by Stephanie.

This morning the bearer of disappointment.

The precipitation will persist, but tomorrow is another day & perhaps it would fulfill the promise of flying on horse-back, the smell of forest leaves a trail behind us.

Stephanie has been building the Swellendam Backpackers for seventeen years.

She knows what can & cannot.

What will be pleasant & what will not.

And so we headback to Stonehill River Lodge, the sponsored Chrysler Grand Voyager’s comfort a small comfort on this cold winters day.

We light a fire in the fireplace.

We make brekafast together.

We watch a little bit of Hawaii 5-0.

We play some cards.

We make lunch together.

Read some.

Talk.

Enjoy the warmth of comfortable accomodation.

Sleep a bit.

That luxurious afternoon nap for which we never have time.

More cards are played.

More Hawaii 5-0 watched.

More wood placed on the fire.

And we are reminded that not everything is always about activity.

That sometimes our circumstances expect us to wait.

To rest.

To anticipate.

And tomorrow we try again.

Perhaps with success.

Perhaps not.

But this is life & nothing will be gained by resisting her flow.

Not even when urgency overwhelms us.

Supper is a slow affair.

Conversation connecting us.

How hurried we are to do instead of be.

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How poor we are.

For not allowing the moment to be.

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Swellendam Explore Day 4

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“However you disguise it, this thing does not change: / The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.”

According to Dean Koontz, these are the words of T.S. Elliott.

He quotes it in relation to Odd Thoms’ latest epic adventure.

I claim it, for myself, as I consider the day’s experiences, making sense, or trying too, of the nagging feeling with which I came away from a little village on the banks of the Breede River.

We’re lounging on the couch, late afternoon, back at Stonehill River Lodge, after a full day.

The kids are playing outside.

Little Maddi is at our feet with a selection of pots & spoons.

I wonder if she is emulating Zuko’s prowess in the kitchen or just mindlessly clanging?

Zuko & I are enjoying a cup of Masterton’s.

Our Kindles the doorway to vivid adventures we can pause whenever we need or page over, should they be mundane.

” … and evil is not always that recognizeable, oft disguised as the good it doth despise … ”

The words echo in my being, as I digest the Odd adventures conjured by Koontz, mixed with my own.

Breakfast was a festive affair.

Everyone excited to make the journey to Malagas where we would cross the Breede River by Ferry.

Crossing a river by ferry is not so much a fireworks & orchestra playing the soundtrack of ‘ Chariots of Fire’ kind of occasion.

Although there is something stomach churning about driving a R500 000 vehicle onto a float, running the risk, even if ever so small, of having it float away into the Atlantic Ocean, or sinking to the shallow bottom of a once often traversed river.

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Malagas, it seems, was once a busy little harbour town.

A place from which farmers & traders moved goods between the Overberg and Cape Town.

‘Barry & Neefs’ making a decent living, while providing a much needed service.

Perhaps the 1800’s were a simpler time.

Perhaps not.

The Chrysler Grand Voyager,  kindly sponsored to us by Maritime Motors, impressed with its comfort & road holding on the 40 kilometre drive through yellow canola fields.

The video screens & sound system silent, as we watch a crop duster flying low, a mist at its tail.

Once across the river, we drive through the little town, now predominantly populated by holiday makers who enjoy boating & water sports.

The old stone Dutch Reformed Church & the white washed trading store the only reminders, alongside the ferry, that any kind of history is hidden here.

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The Church is locked.

The bell’s ring silent, until my children boldly call the good to come and worship to no avail.

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We lunch at the Malagas Hotel.

A pleasant enough lunch.

A kind waitress.

The owners somewhat aloof.

As we pay our bill they reluctantly divulge the little bit of information that they’ve lived here sixteen years, building the hotel from a guest house into the many roomed accomodation it now offers, with house boats for rent & green lawns for children to enjoy.

At the trading store we encounter a more talkative resident.

The ‘Tannie’ (older lady) eager to share conversation.

The businesses has been in her husband’s family for more than one hundred years.

They’ve been living here, selling goods, for almost three decades.

She speaks of how life has changed.

How businesses has slowed.

Of the young ones leaving for Cape Town.

The old ones stuck with memories & they’re own sad conversation.

Theunsie & Wilhelmina buy sweets.

Zuko gets some milk & cheese & cooldrink from the fridge, while Sophia & Forest study a display of old cameras.

When Malagas was settled a camera was a rare commodity.

Theunsie takes pictures of a display of old cigarette boxes with his mobile phone, then WhatssApss it to the group of friends he created before we left Nelsin Mandela Bay.

Replenished we point the Chrysler Grand Voyager towards Infanta.

Sophia wants to know if that is where they make Fanta.

At the end of the road we find a deserted holiday village, where the Breede River runs into the ocean.

Some homes are new & oppulent.

Some old & dilapidated.

Population 56, says the website on Zuko’s tablet.

They must all be in town for the day, I think to myself, as we pose for  picture at the entrance to this village, before we head back home.

At Malagas we cross the river by ferry again.

And now we read.

And think.

“However you disguise it, this thing does not change: / The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil” … and evil is not always that recognizeable, oft disguised as the good it doth despise . . .

Images of ‘Barry & Neefs’ loading cargo, of that old Tannie’s in-laws one hundred years ago, perfectly dressed on Sunday, to worship at the stone Church, shabby in blue overalls on Monday, to make their living, the children at the school we could not find – they play vividly in my imagination.

A ferry relentlessly moving people & cargo & carriage from one side of the Breede River to the other.

I wonder, do we even consider, as Elliot & Koontz do, the strughle of good & evil, as we make our way from one generation to the next?

Do we question our motivation?

Or is it simple?

A bit of money earned.

A bit of respite enjoyed.

A bit of bitterness in our age, before we pass it on.

So that our children may prevail.

A few old buildings.

A few stacked shelves.

A display of neatly preserved cigarette boxes our reminder.

Perhaps it is.

Simple.

But as I sit here with my Zuko, the sound of children emerging into their own adulthood outside, little Maddi unaware,  clanging at pots & pans with mass produced utensils,  I hope it could be more.

More than just a bit of prevailing.

At least for us.

I hope our lives could spill some meaning.

Beyond a living earned or the bitterness of age.

Perhaps relationship could be our building.

Connection our trading store.

Perhaps we are constructing.

Even as we live.

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Swellendam Explore Day 3

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Every time we travel, we are reminded of how ‘loose’ life can become.

Every time we travel, we are reminded of how important it is to choose time spent together, with the people we value, to grow our connection.

In the end, after all is said & done, our relationships are all we have.

They’re the most important.

Our life partner.

Our children.

Our friends.

As our third day in the swellendam area comes to an end, I make a knot in my ear. Another in my heart.

To remember.

Balance.

As the sun sets I look at little Maddi running around, I think of our son, who was smaller than a toddler, less than a wink ago.

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Today we didn’t drive anywhere.

We rented bicycles & cycled through the Stonehill Reserve.

We played some cards.

Another game of chess on the large outdoor chess board.

We read some.

We slept some.

We walked some.

It is interesting how our concerns can consume is.

Isolate us.

Even if we re physically present.

Lost in that maze of worry & striving.

Under the bush, like a hopeless prophet.

We need to intentionally engage.

Each other.

For it is in our collectiveness that we succeed.

We need to slow down, create opportunities to talk, listen, think.

Sitting was frowned upon as I grew up.

‘Why are you doing nothing?’ the question always came s I was sitting, staring into my being, dreaming, thinking.

That is industrious too.

Now.

At 42.

I think it would be good if I could recapture that.

Think more.

Be more.

Take time to taste.

Allowing the moment to touch me.

Seep through my skin into my being.

Theunsie handles the braai while Zuko & I talk, sipping slowly from the moment.

After supper we read.

Zuko is enjoying a Steampunk Fantasy Sci-Fi Adventure.

I’m lost in the world of Odd Thomas.

Taking a breath.

That is good.

Taking a breath alongside people you love.

By whom you are loved.

That is better.

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