Posts Tagged With: Family

Every bus-route has an end

A while ago we took bus 35, the only bus which runs from our little Chinese village to the nearby city of Liangxiang, in the opposite direction.

Away from Liangxiang.

Along the way we got off & discovered the most beautiful organic fruit farm.

Today we decided to take the bus again.

Same direction.

But ride it until it stops.

Or returns to our village.

After 30 minutes it stopped, of ambling along beautiful country roads & through picturesque little villages.

The conductor asking us to disembark.

Google Maps, with the helpmof a sturdy VPN, informed us that we were in ZuCun, or Zu Village.

The place didn’t look like much, but we’ve learnt that the most exquisite treasures are around the corner, if only we are willing to take a walk.

Life is often like this.

Somewhere the bus stops & then we have to get off & if we are willing to walk where we are, we might just experience something great.

In the streets of Zu Village, as in the streets of all the villages on the way, corn is spread to dry, workers carefully turning it & working it, so the corn may fall off the cob & dry in the sun.

Happy yellow greet us everywhere.

We get ice cream from the nearest shop.

Then we walk.

Past old Chinese homes.

A pond where old men are fishing.

Then a country road.

Fields of corn & cabbage & nuts & berries.

A river accompanying us & friendly locals greeting us, as we make our way.

We walk past a paper factory.

Small.

Unobtrusive.

Then a dam & sluices.

More fruit trees.

More fields of vegetables

Probably we’ll never set foot in Zu Village again.

But we were here.

We saw the old man & his dog, making a vegetable garden on its sidewalks.

We spoke to the boy who waits for the bus, at the end of its line, to carefully wash & clean it, while driver & conductor enjoy a meal.

We sat in the shade of an old Willow Tree.

Greeted the old men as they waited for a fish to bite & spent a moment with a Mom and her toddler who wanted to take a picture with Maddi & Sophia.

It wasn’t a ‘wow’-moment.

It was a quiet one.

Calm.

A needed one.

We need quiet moments along our way.

We can’t always be on the Great Wall or at the Forbidden City.

In fact, mostly, real life, I think, is lived along forgotten paths, near insignificant little villages,  where few tourists make their way.

Categories: Asian Adventure | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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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Categories: information, Ocean Liners, Weekend Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Whispers of Wilderness (Mini vs Maxi Day 2 & 3)

(In South Africa September is ‘Tourism Month’.  As part of the launch, Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism Agency invited me to join them on a four day promotion, as their guest, discovering some more of this adventure province.)

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Glimpses of Spring gave way to rain during the night.

We woke to a world as refreshed as our souls.

Breakfast at Prana Lodge is a stylish affair.

We say our goodbyes & head towards Inkwenkwezi Lodge.

An easy drive, despite the rain, in our comfortable VW Amarok.

At Inkwenkwezi we meet Elephant & Cheetahs up close & personal, Israel, our guide telling us stories of these ‘children’ of his.

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For lunch we head to Kidd’s Beach, meeting Malcolm & Terri at Breeze Inn Bed & Breakfast.

They’ve created a home away from home for travellers.

An exquisite view combined with exquisite food.

They tell us of Hamburg & the Fish River Lighthouse and as we head towards Bathurst, we take small detours along the way.

In Hamburg we meet Luvuyo at his boxing club for kids.

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We talk of hope.  Of change. Of giving children someone to look up too.

We meet Noluntu as well.

At the Keiskamma Art Project.

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We’re astounded by the talent & resilience of artists hidden in this village.

We’re reminded that travel is about more than main routes & arriving at your destination on time.

From Hamburg the Amorak takes us Lighthouse hunting.

The Lighthouse at Fish River was errected in 1898.

It still works & beautifully kept.

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On our way to the Lighthouse we ask a group of ladies for directions.

They’re on their way to the Lighthouse as well.

Not as tourists, but for a funeral.

We invite them to ride with us, as they are on foot & even though it is a quick drive, as pedestrians they would only reach their destination well after dark.

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We greet & pray a safe journey to each other.

‘Hamba kahle’.

It is late afternoon already.

We find our way to the Pig & Whistle Hotel in a beautiful old english town with a huanted hotel, the oldest licensed pub in South Africa, amazing artists & musicians and stunning people.

We start the evening in the hotel’s pub.

We do supper at the Thursty Monkey.

Breakfast at Flutterbeys.

We browse art shops & antique shops & vintage clothing shops.

I find a book we’d been talking about in a second hand book store & bump into an old friend from days when the next day’s homework was the most we had to worry about.

All the while accompanied by the ‘Mayoress’ of Bathurst who is also the organizer of the Bathurst Country Affair, which takes place annually in October.

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I fall in love with the work of a carver.

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And with a people who’ve created something stunning, from history & hope & diversity.

You need time to travel.

To taste & experience.

Time to linger.

Allow places & people to seep into your being.

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But time we do not have on this trip, a pre-cursor for journeys to come.

Perhaps with my Zuko & Tribe by my side.

As the sun sits high we check out at the hotel, load our luggage, say more goodbyes.

Amakhala Game Reserve is waiting for us.

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Beautiful African Rooms.

Unending views.

Exceptional service.

Game viewing & new friends.

We’re staying at Amakhala’s Safari Lodge where Kayi & Bernie welcome us & settle us in, before high tea is served, to sustain us through our game drive into supper.

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We’re joined by the Steinhouzers from Germany as we view Giraffe, Lion & Elephant, along with Zebra and an assortment of other wildlife.

There is a stop as the sunset.

Drinks.

Conversation.

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As I listen to this European family talk of their experiences, I am reminded, to always look at my country through their eyes.

Perhaps tourism operators would do good to do that too.

To see its beauty as if for the first time.

To be in awe & wonder of its magnificence.

To savour her, the mother who sustains us.

To embrace the diversity, a breathtaking tapestry, keeping us warm.

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Supper is butternut soup, lamb shank & pears soaked in a sweet red wine sauce.

The conversation is slow & excited all at the same time.

As I find my way to my rooms, late in the evening, I listen for the whispers of wilderness.

The quiet whispers here at Amakhala.

The insistent whispers of the past few days, deep inside my being.

‘It is good’.

‘It will be well.’

‘We are fortunate.’

And I smile, for it is truth.

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The silent howl of Heterogeneity (mini vs maxi Day 1)

(In South Africa September is ‘Tourism Month’.  As part of the launch, Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism Agency invited me to join them on a four day promotion, as their guest, discovering some more of this adventure province.)

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The holler of contrast – this is what we experienced on our first day of exploring this adventure province with Eastern Cape Tourism.

We woke up at Meander Inn to the bustling sounds an smells of early morning at an old fashioned Inn, where travelers become friends as they trade and buy and promote and ply.

Unbeknownst to us, the day held excitement & solitude.

I’m without my Tribe on this trip.  They’ve graciously allowed me to head out & explore this little bit of Eastern Cape.  Perhaps we’ll be fortunate enough to come & explore together, the gems I might find along the way.

Uzi & Esti are my travel companions.

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Uzi works as internal auditor for the Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism Agency.

Esti, represents St Francis Bay Tourism.

After fueling the VW Amarok, we head out of East London, towards Durban.

We’re not heading to Durban.

We’re just traveling in that directions to Areena River Resort & later to Prana Lodge in Cintsa East.

At Areena we’re met by Jarod who takes us Quad Biking on the resort’s reserve.

This is a family resort with chalets, camping & loads of activities on the river’s edge.  Other than quad biking, they also offer zip-lining, canoeing,  boating, walks, paintball – a lot of stuff my little Tribe would love.

Jarod takes us through the motions of how to operate the Quad Bikes.

We’re joined by a family from Johannesburg.

Their kids scream & laugh as we swoop up the hills & down the valleys.

They’re mesmerised as we meet Abby, the resort’s only male Giraffe.

What an experience.

Abby is an 8 year old fully grown Giraffe.

He was rescued & hand-reared.

He comes to us, as if we are old friends, smelling us, reaching down with his long neck to solicit a little bit of affection.

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This is an African Experience.

Not the fake kind, so often orchestrated for international tourists.

An authentic one.

The Africa we live & have come to expect.

The Africa we love.

We spend two hours exploring Areena River Resorts Hills & Valleys.

From our open Quad Bikes we see Zebra, Blesbuck, Wildebeest & an assortment of smaller game.  We even get a glimpse of their 7 other Giraffe,  gracefully picking the softest leaves from tree tops.

Then we do lunch at the resort’s restaurant, before heading to Prana Lodge.

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It is a quick drive to Prana Lodge, in the VW Amarok.

Here we are met by this 5-star Lodge’s very friendly reception staff.

Three beautiful ladies.

One Dutch.

One Zulu.

One Xhosa.

This is Africa too.

She is exciting & diverse.

Sophisticated & adventurous.

Prana brings us silence.

Calm.

Rest.

The rooms are luxurious & oppulent.

After refreshing & spending an hour reading, I head to the Lodge’s Treatment centre where I am met by Nom from Thailand.

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Prana Lodge offers a comprehensive Thai Treatment Centre.

People coming from far & wide, to rejuvinate, reconnect,  relax & listen.

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While Nom treats me to a massage,  my body relaxes & my mind empties of concern.

I think of Zuko, who should be here with me.

Of the beautiful life we share.

Of the stunning adventure which is our life.

Of new chapters, persistent hope, intimacy, relationship & affection.

Supper is a slow affair.

We’re joined by Gail, the owner of the Lodge.

We hear of her family.

Of a lifetime of holidays spent on the property.

Of children raised & finally getting away from Johannesburg to create the sanctuary they’ve always dreamed of.

The food is exquisite.

Tasty.

Beautifuly presented.

Prana Lodge receives day visitors, overnight guests,  small executive conferencing groups.

Their 43 staff always ready to cater to the needs of a handful of guests.

I would imagine, a couple could spend a weekend here & go home reconnected.

A stressed out businesses-person could come here & go home rejuvinated.

With new focus.

New hope.

New ideas.

We have to little opportunity to think, consider, read, in a very fast-paced, high-demand world.

Prana Lodge certainly offers the perfect environment for someone who is hoping to refresh & reach again.

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Decor & furnishings are understated, yet oppulent.

Service is calming, yet perfect.

Food is couture,  yet scrumptious.

The beach a minute’s walk away.

The silence & solitude stunning.

After supper I find my room turned down, my bed welcoming.

And rest engulfs me.

My soul tasting rejuvenation,  after but a moment.

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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 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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