Posts Tagged With: Theunis Pienaar

10 Must-Do Jiamusi Activities

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Maybe one day you find yourself in Northern China with a few days to kill.

Or, you’re keen to go where few others go on holiday.

Here are 10 must-do things to enjoy in Jiamusi, in China’s Heilongjiang Province.

We’ve lived here for 18 months and had time to explore, experience and enjoy.

1.  Walk or Cycle the Shongua River Park:  The city is stretched along the bank of the Shongua River which forms the longest Park in Northern China, with beautiful walkways, gardens, Memorials and Statues.  During the day the Park is filled with old people playing board games, playing traditional instruments and taking slow walks.  There is music playing and there are vendors selling balloons, ice-cream and snacks.  At night it lights up with energy, large groups of people doing ‘Zombie-dancing’, a kind of co-ordinated slow exercise dance-thing, which is quite something to see.  In summer we loved cycling the park at night, feeling the energy of this vibrant place.

2. Take the Ferry to Willow Island: from the tall Memorial Monument at the River Park, near the RiverSky Hotel, you can take a ferry to Willow Island across the river for 2¥.  On the Island you are greeted by a minority group who are the last remnants of a Gypsey like people who first lived int his area, hunting and fishing like Eskimo’s.  Now they entertain you with a little Amusement Park, restaurants, horse riding, bicycles for rent and carraige rides.  If you walk past the noise and buzz of the organized amusement, you hit the gravel road and experience a little bit of rural China with 2 little villages, a forrest and large farmlands, cattle and sheep grazing along the way.  Whenever we had time, we would take our bicycles across on the ferry and cycle from one side of the island to picnic and swim on the other side of it.  This is a great day-trip.

3. Enjoy a Picnic at TsiFung Mountain:  TsiFung Mountain has a massive reservoir at its feet and pristine forrest with little paths to picnic spots.  There are boats to rent and restaurants, a wooden walkway on the edge of the water and an old Temple set slightly up its side.  You can take a bus or taxi here.  We’ve even cycled there one sunny summers day.  A large Buddha greets you, as you arrive and at his feet are statues of all the animals of the different Chinese birth-years.  In winter you can ride a snowmobile, tube down a slide, ice skate or even go sledding on the reservoir.  We loved walking in the forest.   Hearing the birds.  Breathing solitude, always amazed that even though this is a densely populated city, none of the places ever feel over-crowded.

4. Play in the Children’s Park: As you arrive at the Children’s Park, you are greeted by the chairman, or rather a statue of him and then you walk past playgrounds,  canals with peddle boats,  pagodas and food-vendors.  The Parks in Jiamusi are many and all of them are well kept, clean and safe.  They are beautiful havens where you see children play, couples whisper sweet nothings and others practicing traditional arts.  TaiKwonDo, Kung Fu, TaiChi.  Music.  Games.  It is in the Parks that we always tasted China’s wealth.  In winter the Children’s Park is transformed into a playground with every imaginable activity you can do on ice, on offer.

5. Visit the Heroes Park: this Park is slightly aside from the city centre, near Jiamusi’s number 16 middle school.  A Park dedicated to a brave Jiamusian who fought during wars with Russians and Japanese.  There are memorial stones, an old tank, an old river boat and along with the Park’s surroundings,  we tasted something here, which we did not taste anywhere else.  Not so many people.  No music.  A quieter place, as if remembering isn’t always pleasant.

6. Enjoy the Public Art at the Memorial Park: The Memorial Park is riddled with monuments and beautiful statues.  It is a stones throw from the very large, very modern New Mart Shopping Mall rising 16 storeys into the air and it remembers the Russians for emancipating this little part of China from the Japanese and their puppet Emperor.  If you’re there, look for the massive ant sculpture and the beautiful woman with the peacock.   In summer fountains dramatically spray into the air and children find relief from the season’s heat.

7. Eat beautiful Food: Hot-Pot, Dumplings, Barbecue,  Beijing Duck and Fabulous Breads. In Jiamusi you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to food and restaurants.  You’ll see the big multi-storey restaurants,with private rooms where you are served by a dedicated team of waiters at no extra charge, from the main streets and when you head down alleys and little roads you’ll stumble onto exquisite family-owned restaurants, each offering something special.  You can try threm.  The food is stunning.  Noodles.  Korean food.  Russian food.  There is even a French Restaurant and a selection of coffee restaurants.  “Summer” is our favorite place for coffee, cake and sandwiches.  Exceptional coffee.  And after dinner Jiamusi offers an Theatre, Cinema and Bowling Lanes for late night entertainment.

8. Shop at the Markets: The Markets in Jiamusi is something to explore.  At the big shopping malls you’ll find all the Western Brands you’ve desired, but at the markets you find treasures at robbery prices.  Be sure to haggle.  If they say it costs 100¥ you should bargain them down to 50¥, they expect you to do that.  There is a massive underground market, built in what I imagine serves as a bomb shelter, stretching kilometres and many streets under the city.  Then there is also the Flea-Market where you’ll find anything from food to household items, around the corner streets with furniture and behind it an 8 storey market filled with clothes and shoes and curtains.  Here you can get a pair of Lee or Tommy Hilfigger Jeans for 100¥ and shoes for even less.

9. See the past at the Museum: The museum doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside you’ll find pictures and artifacts giving you a feel for the long history of this area, from the time of little fishing villages spotted along the Shongua River, through the revolution, Japanese Occupation, Russian Occupation into more recent days.  The museum is dedicated to a local teacher who lost her legs saving students, her story dipicted as you enter the museum.

10. Amuse yourself at the Zoo: The zoo is right next to a massive Temple and is also host to Jiamusi’s Amusement Park with a fair sized Roller Coaster and pretty big Ferris Wheel as major attractions among all the other Amusement Park kind of stuff.  The zoo itself is forest-like with not too many animals, but enough to make for an interesting afternoon of leisurely walking and playing.

In addition to all of this Jiamusi has interesting architecture.   Two diverse temples.  A little Roman Catholic Church, a larger Evangelical Church and a Mosque.

Just walking the streets is interesting, as old and new and rich and poor exists and lives amongst each other, knit together by the smells and sounds of a hearty people who embrace their bit of world.

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Fuyuan, Heilongjiang, Northeastern China

We left Jiamusi City early on Tuesday morning, eager to experience this 3-day trip to China’s most Northeastern border.

We were heading to Fuyuan, the place where the sun brushes China first, every day.

It is a place of history.

A place of conflict.

Like most border-towns, a place where cultures spill into each other.

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We looked forward to visiting Dong Ji Square, Black Bear Island, the world’s largest Wetland & walk the streets of an old Chinese City influenced by Eastern European ways.

We took a Coach, so that we could stop along the way & see where the Yellow Dragon River & Black Dragon River meet.

And visit the birth place of the world’s first Eskimos.

If you come to Fuyuan via Beijing you should fly.

It is remote.

In a corner of the world known to few.

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The Coach was comfortable & air-conditioned.

There is also a train to Fuyuan.

Until 1998 the city was cut off from the rest of China.

The railway only reaching the city in the Autumn of that year.

The airport quite recently completed.

A deep water harbour being built.

It was a place where outcasts were sent.

Siberia.

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Iced for the greatest part of the year with temperatures dropping below -40ºC for almost 7 months of each year, Spring & Autumn bringing good weather with temperatures rising to zero & a short summer creating the opportunity to grow food & stock up for winter.

If you visit Fuyuan,  you should come in summer – July & August.

By September temperatures drop again & by October it becomes unbearable, unless you are equiped with Alaskan-gear.

Han Mei, one of our travel companions tell us her story along the way.

She came to Fuyuan when she was six years old.

She came from wealth.

The Han-family prominent & influential.

Her father an artist.

A leader.

An influencer.

In 1965, as it always does, things changed, in China & in the life of the Han-family.

Where her father’s influence brought them privilege,  suddenly it did not.

They were ‘redeployed’.

To Fuyuan.

Not to be a teacher of art or leader, but to be a laborer.

Carrying building material down the mountain to the River harbor, from early morning to sunset & beyond.

Her life changed.

Suddenly expected, as six year old, to go into the mountains to fetch wood for the fire that would keep them warm as temperatures drop too low to measure.

Can you imagine that?

A six year old, walking axe in hand, through deep frozen snow, into wild mountains.

Her only company a 10 year old brother & a few other brave children.

To come home, bring life to a dwindling fire & start cooking dinner.

Not from pre-packed shop stuffs.

A chicken to be caught & killed & skinned.

Rice to be cooked.

Flour to be kneeded into bread.

To sleep & do it all again, tomorrow.

And the next day.

In 1976 change came again.

Her father never restored, but at least his artistic talents not squandered anymore.

And as an 18 year old, having excelled at school, despite life’s demands, she is off to University.

To become a nurse.

Later to study in the USA, during the early 90’s.

To become Professor of nursing management at one of China’s biggest Medical Schools & Director of an International Language School.

Her father now 80.

His battered body showing the scars of more than a decade’s hard labor, his heart the scars of life’s rhythm of loss & gain & loss again, always bringing new life, new experiences, new gain to be lost again.

A story isn’t told in a moment.

Our travel companion sharing it with us as we visit different sights, share meals & walk along ancient paths.

On day one we stop for a moment at the place where the eskimos of old were born, a little village with a little musuem and less than 5000 people.

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They are the Hezheh-people of China.

One of the 56 peoples who form this nation.

Now protected & their lifestyle of hunting & fishing supported by their government.

We also stop at the place of three rivers, where the Yellow Dragon and Black Dragon Rivers flow into on big Heilongjiang River.

It is late afternoon when we arrive in Fuyuan.

The Eastern European influence very visible in the buildings, the food & signage.

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Everything is bilingual.

Chinese & Russian.

Caviar is on the menu.

And Salmon.

Beer is deep rich Russian-style beer.

Pagodas are relieved by domed roofs.

Day two takes us to Dong Ji Square with its 40 meter high Sculpture.

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Until 2008 Black Bear Island was taken by the Russians.

Then half was given back to China.

Now Dong Ji Square comemorates peace & positive relationships.

Nearby Usu Town, the smallest village in China, with a single road & a single family, remembers a different time of conflict, the commemorative wall remembering the conflict of 1929, the battle, the lives lost.

We visit there too.

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And we visit the largest Wetland in Northeast Asia.

This world has 56 ponds & 700 lakes.

It is a paradise for birds & water plants.

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Many protected species & most only found here, in this little corner where China & Russia rub shoulders, sometimes even embracing each other.

Across the river is Russia’s smallest Village.

With its own history.

Its own story to tell.

Perhaps another story.

As in life.

A story of loss & gain & loss again, as seasons give way to the resilient rhythm of high tide & low tide, of abundance & poverty.

The Treasure Tower is our last stop for the day.

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Reaching high into the sky, surrounded by 56 pillars,  symbolizing the 56 peoples who are China.

A new structure with carved stone & a deep spiritual feel.

A sign.

Even here, far away, people recognizing that treasure is gift received, never earned, for a moment to be grateful for, no matter how uncertain your connection with the Divine.

We enjoy a late lunch.

Fish.

Prawns.

Sweet & Sour Pork.

Pork leg.

Green Beans & shank of goat.

Soft white bread & sweet tea.

Then we walk  the streets of Fuyuan in the golden rays of another precious Summer’s afternoon.

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Traders approach us in Russian, believing we are just another group of Russians who came to Fuyuan to buy special goods at low rates.

But we are not.

Our journey is of another kind.

We came to become more.

We feel our beings expand, a cool breeze rustling through our leaves, from off the smooth cool surface of the Ussuri River as it flows towards the Japanese Sea.

Day three starts with another beautiful breakfast.

Then we head to the Fish Museum.

A 800 sq meter Pavilion featuring this world’s ancient Sturgeon.

The largest freshwater fish to be found anywhere.

It is called the living fossil of the Ussuri & Heilongjiang, believed to be 130 million years old.

It is carnivorous.

It grows 8 metres long & can weigh up to 1000kg.

It matures at 17 and can become 100 years old.

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Some Sturgeon, born during Chin’s Cultural Revolution, still swimming the waters of these dragon rivers, spawning off-spring, providing Caviar to those who can afford it.

Then we drive up to the mountain.

Walk in the forest.

Take lunch, before we grab our luggage at the hotel & head back to Jiamusi City.

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As we drive past kilometres and kilometres of rice paddies,  sometimes broken by fields of corn, I think of what we’ve seen.

A place where even the street lamps are works of art, whith a welcome gate which reminds of the Arc d’Triomf & people whove known what life truly is.

I think of my own Tribe of Vagabonds.

And I am grateful.

For we see from another perspective.

And we become.

Every day.

As we taste & share & experience.

Our own vagabond-culture taking shape in new ways, as we see a golden thread amongst all people, expressed in different ways, along the way.

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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.

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A Final Bit of Wonder

This weekend we’ll be wrapping up our Tribe’s Eastern Cape Explore for a little while.

We’re a bit nostalgic.

It was on the 3rd of February 2012 that we embarked on that first trip.

A weekend at beautiful Bergrivier, near Hankey

The start of an awesome experience, as we traveled from corner to corner across the Eastern Cape, every now & then spilling into the Free State, Lesotho or the Western Cape.

That first trip was done in our trusty Defender 90-series.

Zuko was still pregnant with little Maddi.

Landy

Unbeknownst to us, in all our travels, we were leaving tracks all accross the Cacadu-region.

Visiting six-and-a-half of this Tourism-region’s ‘World of 7 Wonders.’

Along the way we were privileged to enjoy the support of Vaughan Robertson & Maritime Motors, allowing us to experience the range of luxury vehicles they bring to our bit of world.

We drove Jeeps, Chryslers, Dodges & even a Fiat and a Alfa Romeo.

The kids in our Tribe fell in love with the comfort & space of the Chrysler Grand Voyager.

Zuko loved the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

I’m still in two minds.

I love the affordable practicality & luxury of the Dodge Journey.

But there is something about the red Alfa Romeo Giulietta which exhilarated & wich I cannot shake.

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We started near Hankey.

This weekend as we head to ‘Baviaans Kloof, one of the Cacadu-region‘s ‘7 Wonders’, we’ll be coming full circle.

We’ll be spending our firts night in Hankey, at an authentic 125 year-old farmhouse now known as ‘The Meadows Guesthouse’.

We’ll be driving there in our Landy.

We’ll be savoring everything of this beautiful world, aware that soon we’ll find ourselves on a different kind of adventure.

Exploring Asia from a city called Jiamusi.

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It is going to be a completely different kind of journey.

We hope to learn Tai Chi.

To discover something about ‘happiness‘.

To ride the Trans-Siberian Line.

Visit Vladivostok & Kabarovsk.

Mongolia.

Japan.

Korea.

To taste a world so foreign we won’t know how to ask for headache medicine & no one will know what Disprin is.

We’re grateful for this weekend.

It is a moment to breathe amidst rushing to get everything done for our Asia Adventure.

It is a moment to reflect.

To smile.

Be grateful.

So we say thank you to everyone who shared our travels.

To everyone who supported it.

If you loved ‘Traveling Tribe’ because of the prizes: don’t fret.  We’re bringing back an awesome prize from Baviaans Kloof.  Next year, a crowd of travelers will be our guests on this blog, as they keep on exploring the Eastern Cape & all of them will share the fun.

If you loved ‘Traveling Tribe’ because you loved following our journey: we’ll keep you posted on life from Jiamusi & show you all the out-of-the-way places we discover.

Don’t forget to savor every moment.

To not take life too seriously.

To love relentlessly.

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Adventure for Everyone (ECPTA Mini vs Maxi Day 4)

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Waking up in the Safari Lodge opulence at Amakhala Game Reserve is something you should experience.

We arrived here, yesterday.

We enjoyed a game drive, beautiful supper & stunning conversation.

It is early morning.

We’re off to see some more game.

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We encounter the magnificent male Lion & Mnoni, our Ranger bursts with knowledge.

This is a big 5 reserve.

The German family with whom we share the experience comment on the intimacy of it.

How privileged we are to encounter the game in their natural surroundings,  yet up close & personal.

There’s a tower of Giraffes.

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A beautiful herd of ‘Rooibok’.

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We see black wildebeest, Kudu, Rhino.

All of it accompanied by interesting facts & great information.

The wind is cold.

The experience is stunning.

After the game drive there’s opportunity to warm up with a shower & a breakfast spread.

Then it is time for goodbyes & heading home.

We’ve tasted so much & yet we’ve tasted only a glimpse of what the Adventure Province offers.

The Eastern Cape is a magnificent destination, often forgotten by even the people who live here.

Not on the main routes for many international tourists, yet it offers travelers an awesome experience.

Affordable.

Family friendly.

Quality.

We’ve only encountered tourism operators who are passionate about the service they provide & every single international tourist we’ve met, on this trip & on previous trips say the same.

They say: wow! I am so glad we made time to come to the Eastern Cape.  The experience was authentic.  It gave us a taste of Africa we did not get anywhere else.  Without it, our African trip would’ve been incomplete.

And after spending a little bit of time in our Adventure Province, they all say they’re coming back.

For more.

Soon.

Perhaps, if we who are fortunate enough to live right here, see with new eyes, start tasting in new ways – perhaps then the excitement of our wonderful bit of world will be infectious.

Walking away from this experience, I know this: the Eastern Cape is an amazing place to spend time, it is more than worthwhile to explore.

Diverse.

Rich.

From Cintsa East, through East London, down the coast past Kidds Beach, Hamburg, via Bathurst, down to Port Elizabeth & up into the Karoo to places like Graaff Reinet & Nieu Bethesda – it leaves us breathless.

It makes us more.

So this is my encouragement to you: if you live in the Eastern Cape, explore it.  You’ll discover it is so much more than the little bit of world you inhabit.

If you’re from another part of Southern Africa: come!  You’ll taste our country in a way you did not know existed.

If you’re from Europe, the Americas or the United Kingdom: come, come! You’ll be able to taste Africa, like nowhere else, in a malaria free environment.  You’ll experience the authenticity you long for in an extremely safe environment & you’ll go home wishing you had more time to adventure with us.

So?  Are you up for it?

We look forward to hosting you, to showing you life like you did not know it existed.

Come taste our Africa.

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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 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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