Posts Tagged With: Traveling

Every long Journey will be Interupted

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We’re taking a trip.

A long one.

With no specific destination in mind, except perhaps to experience and learn.

And no determined end, except when we run out of grace and goodwill, which are both invaluable on a journey like this one.

We left our beloved country almost 20 months ago.

And for now, we find ourselves in a little village ( 大高舍村 ) on the outskirts of Beijing, about 10 kilometres from a city called Liangxiang.

We’ve received a lot of goodwill from beautiful people in this very foreign world.

And we lost some goodwill, from beautiful people who suggested that they were friends.

That is the nature of goodwill.

It cannot be claimed or demanded.

It is given, or not.

And in receiving,  or not receiving it, we are grateful,  for there is a Sourceror who conjures goodwill and lets it disipate in a perfect rhythm of gift and care, loss and gain and loss again.

On an extended journey like ours, the worst interuption is a medical matter.

In a country where we’ve not even been able to explain eloquently that we have a headache, it is daunting to imagine you might need a doctor, on short notice.

It is one of the things you put at the very back of your mind, lest angst consumes your every moment and you confine your children to padded rooms, only letting them out to pee, if they really have to.

We’re good at walking away from the things that worry most people.

You have to be if you want to load a 13 year old boy, two girls of 12 and 11, and an 18-month old Boo on an airplane and head into the unknown, without an idea of what it all will demand.

And then, when a need arises, you deal with it, at least consoled by the fact that every moment leading up to this need wasn’t poisoned by fear.

Fear is a terrible thing.

It sort of sucks the life out of you.

And everyone in proximity to you.

And every experience, which might’ve been beautiful, but seem gray and tasteless in the dim light of nightmarish phobia.

Fear makes us do stupid things.

Like being selfish and needy.

And existing without truly living.

In our little Tribe, the only thing soliciting greater anxiety than an amputated head on a stainless steel hospital trolley, after an horific accident in which half of us lost the ability to perform normal bodily functions and the other half lost their heads, is a dental emergency.

Ask Wildrie, our kind and very patient dentist back home.

It takes an unusual amount of coaxing and encouragement to get any of us to open wide, even despite excruciating pain and vivid pictures of Zombi-like rotting faces, brought to life by our own imaginations enticed by pain induced hallucinations.

So when one of our daughters anounced that she was going to need a dentist, only days after we arrived in 大高舍村, we knew it was important.

So how do you find a dentist in a new city?

Ask friends?

Google it?

Go on Facebook and ask for recommendations.

All pretty handy in a world where you and all your friends speak the same language, where you can read it and Google and Social Media is open and unrestricted.

Where we are, none of these options are viable.

In fact, private medical care isn’t available.

If you need a doctor, you go to a hospital.

If you need a dentist, you do the same.

And so we ask our neighbours where the nearest hospital is and head there, hoping for the best, armed with our passports, all the Chinese currency we could scrape together, after having relocated our Tribe of seven, aware that we’ll need to eat for 6 weeks, before my little bit of income from teaching makes its reluctant appearance, and that every ¥ we spend is part of a meal we won’t have.

Hospitals in China are Public.

State operated.

They are not expensive.

They are clean and well run.

We find the hospital.

Amidst a thousand signs we’re not able to read, we find an information desk.

With a translator app (almost as invaluable as goodwill if you journey through this part of the world) we explain we would like to see a dentist.

The problem with translator apps, they translate fine from English to Chinese, but the person you speak to usually doesn’t carry a handy translator with them and even though they understand you, because they are relieved they understand you and want to move right along as quickly as they can, in order not to seem incompetent, they start answering your question in Chinese which must have inspired the fast train which runs between Beijing and Hong Kong and you have to listen and understand as much as you can in the 7.3 seconds it takes for them to talk, before your eyes glaze over and you can see a mindless stare reflected in the lenses of their spectacles.

A bit of advice: learn as much of the language as you can, as soon as you can.

We’ve found, even though what comes out of our mouthes sound like giberish, since Chinese has different tones which influence the meaning and you can think you are explaining to someone that you are a teacher, while in actual fact you are telling him you are a mouse, solliciting uncontrolable laughter, always recieved in good spirits and optimism, because you don’t know what was heard and only what you hoped to say, when you practice listening, over time, you understand more of what is said.

I listen to the radio, to every conversation on which I can eavesdrop, to people in shops and restaurants and gradually my brain has built a translator of its own.

So this morning I figure out we must go to the 3rd floor of the hospital.

Which we do.

Where we are told we need a hospital card, fear slowly dripping down my spine, becuase why would China provide state-sponsored healthcare to a foreigner and his oversized family?

Before the sweaty droplet could reach the crack where a monkey-tale used to be, according to the stories my Dad told me, the friendly nurse writes a few words on a piece of paper, asks an attendant to accompany us somewhere and smiles at us.

We go to the 1st floor, which is actually the ground floor, since buildings in China do not have ground floors, making it easier for me to understand,  since I don’t know yet what ‘ground’ is in Chinese, but I do know how to count, and there is no word for 1st or 2nd or 3rd in Chinese, just ‘ee’, ‘ar’ and ‘san’, one, two, three and ‘low’, which means ‘floor’, so ‘ee low’ is easy enough to follow, but on ‘ee low’ it took us 30 minutes to find the information desk, and so we are grateful for the smiling chatting attendant walking us down, first to one desk where our daugther’s details are entered onto a computer and she is handed a hospital card, then to another desk, where we pay the 3¥ for the hospital card and a light blue booklet in which all records will be manually kept of all treatment she will ever receive at the hospital.

Then we go back up to the 3rd floor, where a young dentist greets us.

She calls herself Dr Gee.

She speaks a little English.

She takes a look at the mouth of our daughter who, by now, needs no more vivid imagination or gentle coaxing to open wide, as relief that we’ve come this far washes over the two of us and pool at our feet.

She needs x-rays.

A piece of paper is printed.

We go to the 4th floor.

10 minutes later we’re back with Dr Gee, x-rays in hand.

She explains the problem and starts treatment.

45 minutes later we stand at a counter and pay the days bill.

151¥

Then we go to the pharmacy counter to collect medicines, which we need to take back to Dr Gee, before we can be ‘released’, so that she can retrieve and replace the anesthetic she used and explain about the rest.

151¥ and about 2 hours later we head back home, laughing at ourselves for our rediculous fear of dentistry, while patting ourselves on the back for being able to find our way through this as well, with so much ease, in a place where nothing should really be easy for people like us, except for grace and goodwill.

This morning, from a nurse who was kind enough to scrible a few words, an attendant who didn’t mind showing us the way and Dr Gee who took the time to give our daughter treatment which equals everything we’ve ever received in our beloved country.

And from Wildrie we received better than the best.

Goodwill.

We can’t make sacrifices at the feet of little golden statues to sollicit or guarantee it.

We can’t make advance payments or take out insurance.

It is given or not.

Which fills us with gratitude every time we receive it in such abundance.

Helping us not to take anything for granted, not anything.

On our journey, we are learning this, feeling a bit stupid, since this isn’t suddenly true.

It is always true.

For all of us.

And as we walk away from Dr Gee and the friendly nurse, finding our way to the home with the kind neighbor who fed us on the night of our arrival and who helps Zuko with her vegetable garden, who shows Zuko where the perfect little shops are to get unique little things, we are deeply aware that whoever we are, wherever we go, even despite our desperate striving to create a safe bubble in which to exist, but for the goodwill of our Origin, we would be lost in a world filled with animosity.

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

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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Between Worlds

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It’s been 18 months.

At the end of 2013 my little Tribe and I packed up our little wooden house on the not so little hill, sold our ageing Defender to a shrewd lawyer and our beautiful inherited antique furniture to Colonial Antiques, bought six plane tickets with the proceeds and found our way to Jiamusi in Siberian China.

A bit more than a year before our departure, we realized that something will change in our life.

We didn’t know what, but we knew change was on the horizon.

We sensed it, like you can smell the rain in the Kalahari, as it is on its way.

It wasn’t the first time, we’d smelled the rain before and felt it on our soul.

I’d been working for a non-profit for more than half a decade.

It wasn’t the first time.

My career, if you could call it that, had been in non-profits and non-profits are just that, not profitable, so you go into it, with a lot of passion and hope, aware that you won’t be making exceptional profits, hoping you would contribute something to life and society, and sometimes the non-profit isn’t even breaking even, so you walk away with loads of experience, but somewhat poorer financially than you went into it.

I’d been interested in happiness, writing and speaking about it on every opportunity afforded me.

Not because I wasn’t happy, or was seeking happiness, but because I was immensely and increasingly happy, since I could remember, and wondered why, for so many others, happiness seemed so illusive.

As a young child, immersed in ignorance, as a young adult, inspired by aspiration and most recently, progressively framed by love and peace as faith seeped deeper into my being, enabling me to live a happy life, despite loss & gain, always caught by loss again, happiness existed in my being.

I was curious to understand why I’d been happy for most of my life, except for that brief moment in 2006 when my world seemed to implode and rejection desired to devour my heart, from which I emerged happier than before, aware that the depth of our sorrow contributes to the breadth of our happiness.

Curious, why so many with seemingly so much more, weren’t.

Aren’t.

Then two forward thinking Academics noticed my writing and offered me the opportunity to study again, perhaps sensing that happiness is indeed an Ancient topic well neglected in modern literature,  only recently revived, in Psychology and Spirituality,  but perhaps untied from its deep Ancient Roots and the thinking which has gone before.

I had the privilege of studying when I was young, and publishing in an Academic Journal, but life and hope and aspirations consumed my time and it had been 15 years since I expended any real energy on extensive learning.

There was the post-graduate Certificate I gained from Rhodes University, which taught me a bit of Broadcast Management, but to be offered the opportunity to read towards a real PhD, on a topic which made your being come alive, was a prospect to be embraced.

The rain we smelled started falling.

The scholarship,  however, wouldn’t cover the cost of clothing and feeeding a family of six, nor would the 16-hour days I’d been working at the non-profit, allow any time for legitimate learning or pondering.

It seemed an impossible fortuity.

Something which would have been wonderful,  but would have to be set aside as the glistening golden chains of regular life and responsibility bound us.

Impossible, however, only exists, when we are unwilling to let go and unwilling to consider  metamorphosis,  and so we let go and found the chance to teach, while studying, in the deep Far East.

A world apart.

18 months later, I am inordinately grateful.

I’ve only touched the surface of what had been written, by Ancient Philosophers,  excited that there are deep wells from which to drink, over time and encouraged by the old African Philosopher, Augustine of Hippo Rego, that we should allow ourselves time to digest, but somehow I’ve learnt much already.

Sustained as I patiently consume and consider.

Energy does flow where attention goes.

The gift of the past 18 months, not only reading forgotten wisdom, but reading it in an environment to which I am un-accustomed, a listener and observer, learning about happiness in every moment and every interaction.

Soon we will depart from Jiamusi, heading to Liangxiang, a little University Town, with fewer than 100 000 residents, not too far from Beijing.

And as we pack our bags and say our goodbyes, I contemplate and take stock.

I’ve realized my own happiness is a gift.

A gift received from when I was born, as I lived under the grace and kindness of our Origin.

They, awakening in me an awareness of their presence and a comprehension (rudimentary,  but non the less) of Their Being.

Gradually, like the tide, coming in, pushing water over rocks and river-banks, until all that is parched is covered by its cool.

I’ve realized, loss is gain and gain is loss.

Neither one better than the other.

Both vital to our happiness.

I’ve realized, although we verbalize it, and endeavor after it, in different ways, we have this desire to be happy in common, as a species, a kind, a race.

And mostly we are dissapointed, because we seek it in Spirituality or Materialism, but seldom in the Origin of Spirit and Matter.

Denying ourselves the gift we have already received, from Them Who brought us into Being.

And perhaps the unwrapping of what has already been given exists in ridding ourselves, or being ridden of, the conviction that we have want.

Seeing, that we have no want, for They are and we are with Them.

Also, as we embrace the metamorphosis,  receiving the time to live slower, to walk slower, eat slower, love slower, happiness is afforded the conditions it needs to flourish.

The past 18 months gave us the opposite of what we had.

Instead of 16 hour working days, I had 4 or 5 classes to teach.

Instead of getting into the car and rushing through traffic to just be on time for an appointment,  we had slow walks, talking along the way, listening, smelling, consuming our environment.

Instead of no breakfast and a hurried late dinner, we had slow meals, with long conversations and simple food.

Wealth isn’t always wealth, for with it, often it seems, comes the poverty of our being.

Instead of short sleepless nights, interupted by anxiety of unpaid salaries or knocking suppliers, we had the regular deep rest of uninterrupted long nights, waking up revitalized.

We were happy before we came to China.

I was happy as an oblivious little boy and as an arrogant post-teenager, when Zuko and I fell in love, I was happy as a student and as a Minister and a Media-guy trying to bring about change with no resources and excitable people.

We were happy then, despite the loss.

And we are happy now, despite the loss.

For loss is always gain and loss will thankfully be ever present.

Don’t be misled.

The happy life is not a life poor of loss.

Selling all your movable assets and moving 13000 kilometres away from everything you’ve ever known is loss.

Being in a world in which you understand nothing and are never understood is loss.

Being the distrusted foreigner is loss.

Not being able to reach out to your Mom when she is afflicted by a stroke, or being able to console a friend when his wife and daughter dies, all of it is loss.

But loss is gain and gain is loss and it is good, for our happiness isn’t born of circumstnaces, but concieved by the Origin of our circumstances from Whom we receive in such a way that it is complete.

Not some of us.

All of us.

And not because of our devotion or delighting in Them.

Because of Their Being.

For They let it rain on everyone and They too bring famine to everyone, indiscriminately, as old confessions would say, for we all are from Them and They do not abandon what has been brought into being from Their own Being.

There is no reward or punishment, as religions would like you to believe.

There is They from Whom we come, Their grace and kindness, Their indestructible consistency and desire to live at One.

And so we find ourselves between Worlds, finishing up in Jiamusi, looking forward to settling (for a while) in Liangxiang, but always between Worlds, as we live a life which is complete, while it is still being completed, understanding it, as understanding will still dawn in our being.

Gypseys, vagrants even, in a world filled with death and injustice, seemingly out-of-control, yet perfectly loved by They Who are Love.

And so we encourage you to be on your own journey, from World to World, good travelers who never arrive at their destination.

Looking inwards, instead of at the illusions of success and acceptance.

Listening to Their ever present Voice, not the voices of destruction planted in your  being over time, the Voice of Them from Whom you come, always Whispering, calling us out, to be, as They are.

Not seperate or superior.

Redeemed and Regenerated, as we are being redeemed and regenerated.

Becoming the gift, as we receive it, for we are all created in Their image, not just some and we are all being called, all of us also answering at once, even if it be fumblingly in our muted blindness.

Happiness ours, along this Way.

Our Gift.

Which cannot be lost.

PS: at Sevencitys you could read some more about The Gift of the Way

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

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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Swellendam Explore Day 2

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Odd Thomas, my favorite character in Dean Koontz’s repertoire,  has this ‘ability’ of being ‘drawn’ to stuff he concentrates on.  I think Odd himself calls it ‘psychic magnetism’.

On our second day exploring Swellendam, we experienced this.

The sun had already set when we arrived on Friday evening.

Saturday morning we woke up to a stunning view of the Breede River & fresh Canola fields.

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We’re staying at Stonehill River Lodge, just outside Swellendam.

Or rather, perfectly positioned between Swellendam, Barrydale & Malgas.

We hope to discover all these places, but today we’d prefer not to go anywhere.  Stretching our legs & enjoying the tranquillity of Stonehill, just for a moment, before we plunge into the rest.

As we prepare breakfast, Zuko reminds us that we need to get some fruit & vegetables.   We read about a lovely organic market in Swellendam & so we pile into the Chrysler Grand Voyager for the short drive to town.

Swellendam is very beautiful.

Settled in 1745.

The 4th oldest town in South Africa with many original buildings well preserved.

You could spend a whole day walking from museum to museum, enjoying the architecture,  taking in the history, getting a feel for a South Africa of long ago.

We’re just hunting fruit & vegetables.

We find the market.

Zuko gets stunning fresh produce, including organic heritage seeds to take home & rusks & nuts & an interesting quince extract created by a Korean family who settled here many years ago.

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Satisfied that we’d be able to feed a Tribe for the next few days, we load the Voyager’s spacious boot & start heading out of town, back to Stonehill.

We turn, turn again.

Swellendam is not a large town in which you should get lost.

The next moment we’re driving past this beautiful Village’s Fearie Sanctuary.

We stop.

We go in.

We get lost in time, space, love & peace.

The Fearie Mother eventually finds us.

We listen to the story of how the sanctuary came to life over 22 years.

About children growing up.

Neighbours infected with love, as everything the sanctuary represents spills across boundaries & fences.

We drink from the fountain of people who just gave themselves to being.

Everything which was alive inside of them.

We all desire love.

Peace.

We all hope to be connected somehow.

We express ourselves differently.

Use different words & language.

Our hope is not that different.

To be loved for who we are.

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To be known.

Truly known.

To be part of something.

Something greater than the sum of our individuality.

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As we say our goodbyes, the Fearie Mother puts a spell of happiness on us.

We each receive a tiny bottle of fearie dust & the instruction to sprinkle it wherever we go.

Some sprinkle water.

Others sing songs or whisoer words.

We all express hope.

To bring happiness.

To taste what is beautiful.

When the Chrysler Grand Voyager comes to a stop at Stonehill it is afternoon already.

We walk.

We play chess.

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We talk.

As the sun sets, Theunsie lights a fire in our fireplace.

Zuko cooks the most beautiful meal.

We talk about how we were ‘drawn’ to the Fearie Sanctuary.

How we are ‘drawn’ to each other.

How we could ‘draw’ others close to us.

As love, happiness & kindness spill from us into our world.

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Kudu Ridge Game Ranch

Location: 50 kilometers from Nelson Mandela Bay, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Take N2 in direction of Grahamstown.  Just past Blue Water Bay, take the turn-off to Addo.  Kudu Ridge is approximately 22 kilometers before the village of Addo on the left hand side of the road.

Date Visited: 8 – 10 June 2012 (Winter)

Accommodation: We stayed in comfortable safari tents.  Kudu Ridge also offers chalet accommodation.  The tents are neatly furnished and each tent have its own bathroom with shower, as well as coffee-making area & veranda.

What we Drove: The Jeep Wrangler from Maritime Motors

What we did: We lounged, talked, read, drove through Addo Elephant National Park & enjoyed the company of friends & family.

Recommendation: Kudu Ridge is very well positioned in proximity to the Addo Elephant National Park.  It is well suited for a relaxed family weekend and perfect for conferencing or team building in groups of forty or less.  There is no ‘self-catering’ option, which is nice, since Brian & Jenny create wonderful food and not having dishes or clean up is part of the fun of spending time at Kudu Ridge.

Website: Kudu Ridge

Tribe Special: Mention the ‘Traveling Tribe’ & claim free accommodation & meals for your own children under the age of twelve for a 2-night stay, for a family of minimum two adults, until the end of August 2012.

We met the Stevnsons at the corner of Westmead & Old Seaview Road.

It was just after two on this cold winter’s afternoon.

We’d been looking forward to this weekend.  For both our families it would be a weekend of firsts.  Our first time to travel together.  our first time to stay in safari-tent accommodation.

Our children were ecstatic.  They were looking forward to the opportunity to spend a whole weekend with Gary & Jane’s daughter.

Our worlds are somewhat different.

Ashleigh is schooled at one of our city’s well-known private schools.  Our children find education under Zuko’s guidance in the privacy of our little wooden house on the not so little hill.

Gary & Jane both run their own companies.

Gary runs Organic Footprint.

Jane runs with Jane Stevenson & Associates.

I do radio & Zuko, when she’s not guiding our four children in the world of discovering knowledge & insight, takes pictures.

Even though our worlds are somewhat different, our values or what we value is surprisingly similar.

This is something I’ve noticed more & more.  People finding each other in what they value & not so much in where they come from or how they would be defined in archaic social terms.

We all value our children’s education.

We give expression to this in different ways, but our high regard for the education our children receive & our willingness to adjust our lifestyle, so that an exceptional education may be had, is something we share.

As is a love for our environment.

An awareness of how contaminated life & living could be.

Of how central relationship is to our being & joy.

How often this is less than what we hoped for & yet exceptional and surprising in other ways.

We all believe fiercely, but despise cheap lip-service & empty religiousness.

Or so we see our friends & experience them this weekend as we talk & share & discover throughout this weekend at Kudu Ridge.

That is the wonderfulness of spending time with friends & family in a place which is not familiar.

It is as if, in a new space, we are more relaxed, more willing to share and be honest & intimate.

It is only three in the afternoon as we arrive at Kudu Ridge.

The Jeep Wrangler which Vaughan hand-picked for us from his sales floor for this weekend, was an easy & comfortable drive.  The powerful 3.8 liter engine accelerating easily.   The automatic gearbox shifting almost unnoticed on a very short drive to a very lovely destination.

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Brian & Jenny gives us a warm welcome.

They show us to our safari-tents & allow us to settle in.

We meet up at the main lodge area where we find steaming hot coffee & a warm fire.

Brian explains the menu for the evening.

Butternut Soup & freshly baked bread.

Kudu Fillet with hand-cut chips & fresh vegetables and salad.

Ice cream & chocolate sauce is desert.

The afternoon dwindles into evening.

We discover that coming to Kudu Ridge is returning to his first love for Brian & his family.

They’d been here no more than a year.

He spent years in the corporate world.

Before that he was a game-rangers for the Natal Parks Board.

That is what his heart hankered after winter after cold winter spent in offices & board rooms.

Now they spend time in nature.

Entertaining guests.

Growing their flock of antelope.

Over supper we talk of the joy Brian & Jenny find in their refound passion.

The evening is cold, but the conversation is warm.

It is evident that this couple hope to come alongside corporates & companies as they create a fresh environment in which people can rediscover themselves, unwind, dream & plan.

‘What we have to offer, is a completely new environment, a place where people can get in touch with who they really are,’ he explains as we enjoy desert.

Then it is off to bed.

Our first night in our safari-tented accommodation.

The kids are tired.

Andrew, Brian & Jenny’s son who shares this dream with them, took the children for a discovery walk in the late afternoon.  Then they fed the latest addition to the Kudu Ridge Family.  A baby owl who was rescued & is being hand raised by the falconer who hopes to establish an activity with falcons & a very interesting pointer which he is training.

‘Soon we’ll be able to hunt with the pointer & a falcon.  Man, bird & dog in the perfect collaboration.  Perhaps it would unlock something in people’s minds of how we can collaborate in the workplace & in families.

In their family collaboration is certainly the norm.

The meal is cooked together.  The guests are cared for alongside each other.

Saturday morning is slow & easy.

We hide from the cold in the warmth of our safari-tents.

Pippin makes coffee.

Zuko & I talk.

Of what we hope for.

What we dream of.

Then a hearty breakfast welcomes us in the dining room.

As we eat we decide to drive to the Addo Elephant National Park for the day.

Brian unfolds a map & shows us where he believes we’ll spot the lion & the elephant & the buffalo.

We enjoy a last cup of coffee & then we’re off.

We huddle together in the Jeep Wrangler.  It is no fun to go wildlife spotting in separate vehicles.

The girls jump in the back.

Zuko & Jane take the back-seat with Maddi & Theunsie.

Gary & I take shotgun & driver’s position.

10 minutes later we’re in the park.

Despite the weather we see herds of elephant, Kudu, Zebra, Blesbok, Hartebeest & Blesbok.

A black backed jackal surprises us & a secretary bird takes notes on our arrival.

The drive is easy & comfortable.

The Jeep Wrangler as at home on tar as it is on gravel.

We stop for a late lunch at the Park’s Tiger’s Eye Restaurant.

Every time I stop here, I am surprised by the quality of service.  The excellence of the well-trained staff & their friendliness & knowledgeably.

I am also astounded by the effort & investment we make as a country into conservation.

And I am proud to be an African in general & a South African in particular.

It inspires hope.

If we can get this right (conservation & tourism), then there is hope that we might get the other things right as well.

If only we would believe it.

Dream it.

Reach for it.

Imagine a South Africa in which our education & healthcare resembled the same excellence so very evident on this Saturday afternoon in one of our National Parks?

Gary orders a venison hotpot.

Jane takes the fish of the day.

Zuko chooses a vegetarian wrap & I go for the Thai Chicken Salad.

The children enjoy chicken nuggets.

We eat slowly.

Talking.  Remembering.  Sharing the moment.

We’re in no hurry.  Kudu Ridge is a few minutes away.

We resolve to take an afternoon nap as we get home & we take our resolve seriously as the Jeep Wrangler brings us home to our weekend-destination, each family heading off to their respective tents.

The hunger for time together and conversation is too strong though & moments later we’re together again at the warmth of the fire at the lodge-area.

Conversation is easy.

We talk of how we came to where we are.

Of what we face from day-to-day.

Of what we hope for, dream of, for our own tomorrow.

The optimism in our circle makes me smile.

Where there is hope, there is hope.

That we would still be journeying.

That we may even one day find our dream a reality, as Brian & Jenny found it at Kudu Ridge.

The afternoon becomes evening.

Supper is served.

The children play pool & darts, hide-and-seek and truth-or-dare.

Theunsie beats me at a game of pool.

Then his mom.

At the dinner table we share stories from our lives.

Beautiful stories of exquisite experiences.

In the silence of a moment I think about how no one is talking about what they own.  Everyone is talking about what they shared.  A moment.  An emotion.  A disappointment.  A breakthrough.

Perhaps we need to hang on to that more tightly.

That it is in moments shared that life exists.

It is late & cold when we head to bed.

The rain pours down throughout the night, but we sleep warm & dry in our safari-tents.

Even Maddi only wakes once for a midnight feast.

And then it is Sunday.

The day I always dread, for it signals the end of another journey.

And it always comes too soon.

Breakfast is intentionally slow this morning. Brian & Jenny & Andrew act like old friends who do not want their loved ones to go just yet.

The sun is out for the first time this weekend.

After breakfast we take a game drive on Kudu Ridge.

They show us the ‘Bus Bar’ created by Andrew.  The excavation area where fossils were found.  A Kudu & some Impala greet us on a clearing.

Brian talks with love of this wonderous new place they are transforming into a getaway for corporates & families as we drive along the ridge.

Then it is time to pack & greet.

Ashleigh still has a project to finish.

Zuko wants to stop at her parent’s before we go home.

We say our goodbyes.

And as we drive off in the Jeep Wrangler I remember moments shared & I hope for more.

More moments.

Of honesty.

And intimacy.

For it is in moments shared that life unfolds.

 

Categories: Weekend Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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