Sunday, September 4, 2016

When the planets align

A couple of weekends ago Rory and I decided to head out of town. It was a bit last minute. We needed somewhere close enough to be able to depart after work, but far enough so it felt like a holiday, not a day trip. We needed affordable, but not cheap Mr Price-circa-2008-Africa themed. Oh, and preferably some part of the country we haven't been. Everything matching that description seemed to be fully booked, no surprise.

So I Facebook googled. What better way to find a place than through your peers. And it was a very successful Facebook google. Is that even a term?

We found a few lovely places, some unfortunately fully booked, but in the end we booked at a brand new place in Groot Marico called The Hanging Garden Bushveld Eco-Retreat. What a gem! About 10km after the Swartruggens toll gate you turn onto a gravel road and meander passed bushveld farms and over the Groot Marico river. You finally reach a farm with a newly built solar and gas power cottage. Off the grid. No one to be seen for miles. Not the main house, not other people, not gates or roads or other farms. Just aloes.

 photo aloes_zpsrbcz3ipr.jpg

I can't wait to go back here in the summer. The cottage sleeps four and has a small pool, perfect for sitting in on a hot day with a G&T in hand. Bliss. Our hosts were fantastic and very welcoming. They even left us a bowl of freshly picked lemons, and stacked the wood in the braai so we could just light and 'laat waai'!

 photo sunset-pool_zpskyhg0dsq.jpg  photo pool-reflection_zpsnmpwlrsn.jpg  photo hanging-gardens_zpsgavmxiqt.jpg  photo bedroom_zpsmx8jr8ep.jpg

There was another reason for our Groot Marico escape. A year ago we did what modern couples apparently do these days to signify commitment: we deleted our Tinder profiles and apps. That was a whole year ago already. It feels like we have lived more than a few lifetimes in the last 365 days.

 photo 1-year_zpswxfwy7ee.jpg

I wish I could end this post right here, with a big happily ever after. But this is real life, which you can't control and can't predict. Instead of ending the weekend with romance and rainbows, I had to first deal with some past issues popping up. Really, great timing divorce baggage.

And there it is again. The D word. Surely that should not be a topic of discussion anymore. Boring! And yet, there it is. Every once in a while I find myself having to tell my story again. And usually I am quite alright. "In order to love who you are you can't hate the experiences that shaped you". But sometimes, at the most inconvenient times, it relentlessly brings to light leftover insecurities and memories that I would rather forget. However, it also forces/encourages me to be vulnerable, and honest, and to communicate better in my current relationship. The past prepares you for the future right?

That first evening in Groot Marico we sat outside in silent darkness, and looked up at the unpolluted skies. Venus, Mercury, the moon, and Jupiter, were all bright and visible in a straight line. We joked that the planets aligned for us, lol.

Maybe they did. I got a second chance. I get to write a new story.

  photo moon-and-planets_zpsj1mgg6gw.jpg

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The inexperienced hiker's guide to the Otter Trail

I've never been much of a hiker. I'm not a runner. I'm alright at swimming, not great on land. I have old lady knees. I exercise in airconditioned gyms, doing step classes on solid reebok steps. Yet somehow I found myself prepping for the most (in)famous hike in South Africa. Buying hiking shoes, fancy socks, micro towels. Borrowing trekking poles, backpacks, tiny pillows. And climbing stairs, doing squats and lunges with a sandbag on my back, and then some more stairs.

But it would never be enough. Nothing could prepare me for Escher's infinite staircase, the Otter Hiking Trail in the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park.

 photo day-3-infinite-stairs_zpsjv5hcnvi.png

I read many a blog, good ones, and I don't want to repeat what they say. What I will do is give you list of the things I, an inexperienced hiker, found to be essential, and the things that were complete rubbish. I also want to share a few moments from each day, so this post might get long.

 photo day-5-lookout_zpswpuh6otl.png

Things I could not do without
Obviously things like toilet paper, sleeping bags, and medical kits go without saying. Some items are deserving of the spotlight though.

- Trekking poles: these were my crutches, quite literally sometimes. My knees, even when well trained, are not the best. At times I lost faith in their ability to carry my up, and more importantly down, yet another mountain. The ascents and descents were steep, and slippery, and often involved scrambling up rockfaces, up paths that hardly exists.

 photo day-3-Scott-Hut-beach_zps4kcususc.png
Morning of Day 3. On the beach at Scott Hut.

- Hiking shoes and socks: Guess these should be first on the list. I read everything I could find (on page 1 of google) on the topic of hiking shoes vs hiking boots. In the end I settled on a pair of Salomon hiking shoes, and Salomon socks. Not boots that cover your ankle. Not trail running shoes. Not thick wooly socks. They treated me exceptionally well. My ankles could move and adjust to the steep climbs. And no blisters. Okay maybe one small one because I had a plaster around an ingrowing toenail. But the shoes were so comfy I often wore them around camp even after a long day of walking.

 photo day-3-climb_zps0rterf4c.png

- The Buff: It was May and the water was cold. Fridge water cold. Showering consisted of soaping up and splashing just enough water on your body to get most of the soap off. I showered twice (wet wipes were used the rest of the time). And washed hair once. A buff not only makes you look like a legit hiker, but it also covers dirty hair, and keeps your ears warm.

 photo bloukrans-buffs_zpsb8o0yens.png
8:20am at Bloukrans. Cold, tired, relieved, and not nearly done for the day.

 -'Proper' meals: Oats-so-Easy for breakfast, home-made protein bars and peanuts for snack time, tuna sachets with a cheese wedge and rice cake for lunch, Knorr pasta 'n Sauce and mussels for dinner. Carb heavy. Lots of energy. MSG never tasted so good. We also packed a plastic bottle of wine, some Woolies jelly sweets, and filter coffee and my trusted Aeropress. Could have done with more chocolate though.

 photo food_zpsjx6b3zlq.png

- Hydration packs, aka bladder: Again, the bottle vs bladder debate. We bought cheap bladders from Mr Price Sport and they worked well. We had water at every campsite and did not need to refill in rivers. Staying hydrated, even in winter, is essential. Do whatever you need to.

- Fire lighters: We were all ready to braai on night one, and excited to sit by the camp fire by night, but only one member of the team, luckily, remembered fire lighters.

 photo day-3-oakhurst_zpsvmxa7akz.png
Oakhurst Huts. End Day 3.

Things that were rubbish, or just unnecessary 
- Biodegradable kitchen kit: We bought those fancy biodegradable cups and cutlery. We wanted to pack light so we only packed two cups, to both eat and drink from, and cutlery. Day 1 I retrieved the cup from my bag and it was broken. Now we were down to a cup and a dixie pan. On day 4, after crossing the mighty Bloukrans, we had brunch on the beach. After rinsing our cup and forks in the waves, we got distracted by the anemones in the rock pools, and forgot them on a rock. They are hopefully now biodegrading, or being picked up by a beach goer in South America.

 photo day-4-bloukrans-beach_zpsd6lswine.png
Beach after the Bloukrans river crossing. Day 4.

- Water shoes: okay they were not completely useless, we used them twice and they were helpful. But they were still wet when we reached camp, so they could not double up as camp shoes. Meh.

 photo day-3-Elandsbos-river-crossing_zpsrofswmgt.png
Elandsbos River crossing. Day 3. Photo cred R MacRobert.
 photo day 3Lottering river_zpspmwy75o2.jpg
Lottering River crossing. Day 3. Spot me on the other side with my survival bag. Photo cred R MacRobert.

- Expired milk powder: Check before you pack. Curdled milk is quite disappointing

- A book: Some people read at night. My collection of Nataniël short stories never left it's ziplock bag. When we arrived at camp we sat watching the sunset. After dinner I chatted around the camp fire until it died (usually at around 8pm), and then fell asleep.

 photo day-3-oakhurst-relax_zpsa4hasvta.png
Watching the waves and the sunset at Oakhurst. Day 3.

 photo genet_zpsqus6yf8p.jpg
Inquisitive genet. Day 2. Photo cred R MacRobert.

What I took away from this epic five day hike isn't just what plastic spork to buy. The learnings were far greater. I learned that I needed to fight, and can fight. Every step was a fight against genetics, against pain, against what I believed I was incapable of.

 photo day 2 lookout_zpsukyhfiz4.jpg
Relief after relentless climbing. Day 2. Photo cred R MacRobert.

I learned that communication and saying sorry, even when you are tired, and scared, and frustrated, is essential.

 photo Day4 bloukrans night hike_zpsunym5vs4.jpg
Hiking at night. Started at 3am to make it to Bloukrans by 8am. Photo cred R MacRobert. 

 photo day-4-bloukrans_zps7i9mg48f.png
The mighty Bloukrans. A mere trickle at low tide.

 I learned that achieving as an individual often means relying on the group. It means sometimes holding back. It means pushing others and pushing yourself.

 photo day-3-climb-team_zpsq7osqdrh.png
Admiring the ocean below. Day 3.
 My senses were overwhelmed by the waves thundering outside our wooden huts at night, and crashing against the cliffs below the trails we were walking on. But also by the sudden silence when the path turned away from the ocean, deeper into the indigenous forest. And then finally the warm sun on your skin as the light breaks through the forest canopy, and you reach the plateau covered in fragrant fynbos. I experienced that the smell of dewy ferns and decomposing leafs in combination with the salty sea, smells greater than any amount of perfume or deodorant (although a little deo never hurt nobody).

 photo day-4-andre-hut-beach_zpsvzqkejea.png
Beach at Andre hut. Day 4.

I was grateful for every spectacular vista that followed a treacherous climb, even though I knew it would be followed by yet another descent.

 photo day-3-view-of-oakhurst_zpsa64mdn6u.png
View of Oakhurst huts below. So close yet so far.
 photo day-5-view-of-Andre_zps3vlfupcz.png
Saying goodbye to Andre hut. Last day. Last lookout.

Would I do it all again? I don't know. Do I miss the silence and clarity away from the media and the cars and the taxis and the fumes? Of course. I'd eat dixie pan pasta any day to experience that again.

 photo day 4 crossing bloukrans_zpsyzjflt86.jpg
Bloukrans crossing. Some things seem worse than they end up being. Photo cred R MacRobert.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Adventure is out there: Drakensberg revisited

It's so cliché but this year has simply flown by at an unreasonable pace. It is mid March and I am yet to complete my December holiday posts. It has almost reached that critical point where it feels well, pointless, to blog about it now. But then I realised that the Berg is still standing, the experience was had, and it was worth revisiting.

So here we go, Drakensberg part 2: Doreen Falls hike

The Doreen Falls hike is categorised as EASY, just what we were looking for. A relaxed hike to a beautiful waterfall to have a relaxed lunch.

We followed the marked trail and took in the beautiful scenery as we walked deeper into the valley. At some point we arrived at the river crossing listed in the direction booklet. A family of hikers were resting there and asked us if we knew where we were. We all agreed that we thought we were at the said river crossing. However, just a few steps after crossing the river we were not so sure anymore. An Australian couple joined the two of us and we continued on the only path visible. Very quickly it went from being an easy, flat hike, to something completely the opposite.

 photo Doreen-falls-walk_2_zpsmmw2ekrd.jpg
Somewhere on a trail, the Aussie looking as lost as we felt.
 photo Doreen-falls-walk_5_zpssnbb9gon.jpg
Don't be fooled, this was a very steep climb.
 We looked at the 'map', reread the directions, tried our hand at compass navigation, tried to identify the landmarks, but to no avail. We pressed on in our search for the mythical waterfall. This involved scrambling up steep, sandy faces with hardly any footholds, climbing down even steeper faces, and eventually reaching a strange flat white rock plateau. Still no waterfall. And no signage. We had a quick snack, and decided it might be time to introduce ourselves to our Aussie companions. Jill and Gene if I recall.

 photo Doreen-falls-walk_3_zpschsatvxq.jpg
View from the top of one of the ups and downs.
 photo Doreen-falls-walk_4_zpseklyzsuk.jpg
Oh look, a dodgy ladder.

It kind of feels like we were little wilderness explorers, like Russell, Carl and Doug in Up, searching for Paradise Falls.

 photo anigif_enhanced-1058-1400264913-11_zpsv0eexv2f.gif

And so we headed down another path, down towards another valley, where we finally reached Doreen Falls. Turns out we were on our way to Ribbon Falls, a route for which they recommend a guide and climbing ropes.

 photo Doreen-falls-walk_6_zpsx8vndmxw.jpg
Beautifully lost
 photo Doreen-falls-walk_7_zpsy5jcbpqt.jpg
The sign! We clearly came from the wrong side.

Doreen falls where more like Doreen Drizzle, due to the drought. We had lunch and then went up a bit further, to Albert Falls, where the pools where quite pretty.

 photo Doreen-falls-walk_8_zpsebhbmpoy.jpg
Doreen Drizzle
 photo Doreen-falls-walk_9_zpsnacfnbqb.jpg
Nothing like fresh, clean, cold, mountain water
 photo Doreen-falls-walk_11_zpsa2k2ndo1.jpg
Albert Falls pools

I'm quite proud of myself. And my Nike Free Running sneakers (not made for hiking really). We didn't fall, twist ankles or any of the sorts. I did scoot down some of the steep bits on my bum though, but I made it down safely, so who cares.

It was an adventure. An adventure shared, and that is a great treasure. I want to have more of these shared adventures. They make life rich and exciting. They challenge me. They remind me that I can do more than I thought. Death to complacency!

 photo Doreen-falls-walk_10_zpsdjqobukh.jpg

"Adventure is out there!" - Charles Muntz and Ellie, Up

Note: if you stay at Didima Camp, don't trust the little free leaflet map that they provide. You will get horribly lost. Some more seasoned hikers confirmed this and referred us to the accurate, topographical map that is available for purchase at Cathedral Peak Hotel.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Take a hike, in the Drakensberg - part 1

2015 did it's damage. It was time for a break. It was time to go to the mountains take a hike.

I have never been to the Drakensberg. Well, apparently I was there as a baby, but that doesn't count. I've been to Clarens, which is just around the corner. But that doesn't count either.

The (last minute) plan was 3 days at Didima Camp near Cathedral Peak, 1 day at the Smoking Dragon Festival at Amphitheatre Backpackers for New Years, and 2 days at the Tower of Pizza just around the corner from that, near the Royal Natal National Park. I took so many pictures that I might have to do this as multiple posts.

Didima Camp is not really a camp although there is a camp site. According to their web page it is located next to the upper Thukela in the north, Lesotho in the west, and Monk's Cowl in the south. I have no idea what this means, except that it is a really pretty area. We stayed in one of the 62 two-bed San Rock Art themed chalets that has an inter leading doors, so it can become a 4 bed chalet.

Because we booked last minute we got the chalet that caters for people with disabilities. It was well equipped, with low counters, bathroom handles, wheel chair friendly shower etc. But there were a few problems. The cast iron pots are lovely, but so heavy that they are a challenge for an able bodied person. The toilet seat could not stay open due to the handle around the toilet cistern, which means it has to be held up while you get onto the seat etc. Those are tiny things that really make a difference unfortunately. Also, because this chalet is closest to the main building where breakfast is served, it doesn't quite have the amazing view that some of the other ones has.

 photo Didima_1_zpsk0ctivlg.jpg
View from the Camp. Not too shabby. 

Regardless, it is a beautiful, well maintained camp with (generally) very friendly and helpful staff. I will most definitely book here again.

Didima is just a 5 minute drive from the Cathedral Peak Hotel, where most of the hikes start from. On our second day we had breakfast and set out to find the Blue Pools. Now, I am not much of a hiker. I don't have the proper gear. I have very little experience. So we tried to select the walks marked as "moderately strenuous" or "gentle", since I had to rely on my Nike Run Free gym sneakers.

 photo Blue-Pools-walk_1_zpsgchyje0f.jpg

 photo Blue-Pools-walk_4_zpscdv5iy0h.jpg

Anyway. I can't express how beautiful the scenery was. As you walked deeper into the valley, you became enveloped by greenery. The air is clean. The water delicious. The mountain peaks appear like a layered image, going from green to blues and greys and purples, as far as the eye can see.

 photo Blue-Pools-walk_7_zpsgzpslmuy.jpg

 photo Blue-Pools-walk_8_zpsuuiqzxt8.jpg

We found the Blue Pools, we think. There are no signs to actually confirm that you are in fact where you were headed to - problematic. And because of floods or something the pools were not really pools. It was lovely though. We at lunch in the dryish river on a rock, and later sort of swam in a pool. Mountain water is freezing.

 photo Blue-Pools-walk_2_zpsfrjbj2j9.jpg
Somewhere in the river

 photo Blue-Pools-walk_3_zpstrchpfqo.jpg
Dinosaur eggs aka the blueish rocks that crumble when you touch them.

 photo Blue-Pools-walk_6_zpsyuimrax5.jpg
So that was our first walk. My shoes survived. I survived. We had a lovely gin and tonic at the Cathedral Peak Hotel bar, with a spectacular view of the mountains. 

I felt like I could finally breathe again.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Get lost 2015! Year in Review.

I dared to ask, "What else could possibly happen this year?". Nope, don't do it. Don't tempt the universe/fate/whatever.

This year has been uhh, trying. I know it seems like every year we say that. But this one will go down in history, me thinks. It is a year characterised by loss and change. My previous two melancholy posts mentioned some of the heartbreak and sadness I and the people around me experienced. Enough was enough. It was time for change.

I took solo holidays. I switched jobs. I ventured into a new relationship. I was exhausted, but things were looking up.

And then, on the evening I was supposed to meet my boyfriend's mother and brother, we were met with the horrific news that they were involved in a fatal car accident on their way to Joburg. Just 30 minutes after leaving their house. Just a year after his dad passed away.

That was the last straw 2015.

Is this some kind of a sick joke? You have now taken everything. You have brought incredible, unfair, disgusting amounts of sorrow and trauma. We can't bare any more. Enough!

 photo IMG_0504_zpskb0leift.jpg

So now what? How do we get up and continue and have a merry Christmas? By grace. And by focusing on those who we love and still have. Maybe it is avoidance. It won't change what has happened. I won't bring people back. But it's the best I can come up with.

I went through my photos of the year, looking for the highlights. I found 230. 230 amazing, silly, selfie-filled, fabulous, magical moments. I could hardly believe that all of it happened in one year. It far outweighs the horrors of 2015.

Thank you every one in this montage. Thank you for playing a role in my life. For bringing the fun and the happiness and the love. We can't let the sadness win. Less things, more love and laughter. Bring it on 2016.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Je ne regrette rien

I started writing this post three weeks ago, in Struisbaai, near the southern most tip of Africa. Three weeks ago was the anniversary of my now ex husband coming out to me.

 photo suiderstrand_zps5arxys5s.png
My favorite beach near L'Agulhas - Suiderstrand

I got divorced not because my husband didn't like me, but because he liked men more.

When I started writing this I was reliving all the details from the day/night it all came to light. I went into detail about the events and years leading up to the night we had a very tearful conversation and knew that the only way forward was to say goodbye, after 10 years, and give each other the opportunity to be truly happy.

But those details are not important right now. A lot has happened in the last year. I am convinced I lived more than 365 days. Maybe double that. Or triple. Time stood still, and yet whooshed by.

As I sat looking at the ocean, by myself, I cried involuntarily. I grieved one last time for what was lost. For losing my partner. For losing the person I knew. For losing the person I was. I wanted the tears to wash it all away so I could move forward.

 photo muizenberg_zpsqyghmxtn.png
Muizenberg. The weather matched my mood. 

"I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then." - Alice in Wonderland

So who am I now?

I am a person still trusting the process. Or at least trying. I went from dealing with my partner's gender identity, being directly confronted with my liberal views and beliefs, to dealing with the loss and anger, to dealing with a future different to what I had planned. I dealt with lawyers. Lots of lawyers. I experienced being in court and feeling naked in that bench, even though no one else even blinked (okay the judge blinked). I dealt with family members and friends, each coming to grips with things in their own way and time.

I am a woman who had to learn to be alone and be okay with her own company. I had to date myself. (When my cats started sharing the food on my plate, on the table, I knew it had gone too far though.)

And I am someone who is risking a relationship again. It is terrifying and wonderful at the same time. As my divorced friends all agree. You are constantly wondering when it would all come crashing down. Not hoping it won't, expecting it will. I think it will take some time to change our own mindsets. This has nothing to do with the other person, but everything with self-preservation. It's a process. We need to accept that we can be happy again.

 photo tattoo_zpsy6h9vck9.png
Thanks Palm Black Tattoos - amazing line work.

As much as I wanted to forget the past, I wanted to metaphorically put a stake in the ground. I decided to get a tattoo. On my forearm, under a childhood scar, I permanently wrote, in Helvetica Neue Light, "je ne regrette rien" - I regret nothing (checked the spelling at least a dozen times). It comes from this Edith Piaf song. I will post the lyrics at the end of this post.

No, I have no regrets. I don't regret getting married. I don't regret spending years with a wonderful man and friend. I don't regret the adventures we had together, the friends we made, the things we shared. I don't regret the pain. I don't regret what I have learned about life, about myself, about people.

And I don't want to live with regret going forward. I want to say what I have to say, do what I have to do. I don't want to stand at the end of time wishing I had loved more, cared more, shared more, given more, been less angry, less busy, less stressed, less reserved. It could all end tomorrow, without sounding fatalistic.

No, I regret nothing.

Non, Rien de rien
(No, nothing of nothing)
Non, Je ne regrette rien
(No, I regret nothing)

Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait
(Not the good things that have been done to me)
Ni le mal tout ça m'est bien égal
(Nor the bad things, it's all the same to me)

Non, Rien de rien
(No, nothing of nothing)
Non, Je ne regrette rien
(No, I regret nothing)

C'est payé, balayé, oublié
(It's paid for, swept away, forgotten)
Je me fous du passé
(I don't care about the past)

Avec mes souvenirs
(With my memories)
J'ai allumé le feu
(I lit the fire)

Mes chagrins, mes plaisirs
(My troubles, my pleasures)
Je n'ai plus besoin d'eux
(I don't need them anymore)

Balayés les amours
(Swept away my past loves)
Avec leurs trémolos
(With their tremors)

Balayés pour toujours
(Swept away for always)
Je repars à zéro
(I start again from zero)

Non, Rien de rien
(No, nothing of nothing)
Non, Je ne regrette rien
(No, I regret nothing)

Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait
(Not the good things that have been done to me)
Ni le mal tout ça m'est bien égal
(Nor the bad things, it's all the same to me)

Non, Rien de rien
(No, nothing of nothing)
Non, Je ne regrette rien
(No, I regret nothing)

Car ma vie, car mes joies
(Because my life, my joys)
Aujourd'hui, ça commence avec toi
(Today, it begins with you)

*Apologies for the melancholy nature of these last few posts. I will find something hilarious to write about soon. Also I am not depressed. Just feeling the feels.*