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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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- 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.

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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.

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- 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.

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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.

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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.

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Elandsbos River crossing. Day 3. Photo cred R MacRobert.
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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.

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Watching the waves and the sunset at Oakhurst. Day 3.

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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.

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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.

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Hiking at night. Started at 3am to make it to Bloukrans by 8am. Photo cred R MacRobert. 

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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.

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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).

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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.

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View of Oakhurst huts below. So close yet so far.
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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.


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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.



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Somewhere on a trail, the Aussie looking as lost as we felt.
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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.

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View from the top of one of the ups and downs.
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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.

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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.

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Beautifully lost
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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.

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Doreen Drizzle
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Nothing like fresh, clean, cold, mountain water
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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!


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"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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Somewhere in the river

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Dinosaur eggs aka the blueish rocks that crumble when you touch them.

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Treasure!
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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.*

Friday, August 21, 2015

Candles lit. Glasses raised.

Today has been a shitty, heartbreaking day. Actually the last few weeks have been rather shit. The kind of shittiness that makes you wonder whether you should pray or drink. The kind that makes you question what or if you believe anything at all.

Today was shit. So I had my nails done. Painted a garish, glittery silver. I cried without my make-up smudging (thanks Smashbox). Then cried until it did. I had a bath. I had a glass of wine. And I lit some candles and prayed.

I'm not Catholic. I'm not 100% sure how the candle lighting thing works. But tonight I lit them.

I lit a candle for every one of the people I love who lost someone (or is busy saying goodbye). A parent, a grand parent, a family member, an unborn child. It doesn't matter what other people say. It doesn't matter what the reasons are. It doesn't matter what the doctors say, or nature, or the internet.  The why's don't matter. The hurt does. It's real. It is overwhelming. And it is fcking awful.

I lit a candle for everyone that lost a marriage, a relationship, a great love. Those who experienced betrayal. Who endured, perhaps for too long. Who didn't see it coming. Who just knew it was not right. Who had their hearts broken like in a Taylor Swift song.

I lit a candle for everyone who hates their job. Disillusioned. Disappointed. Depleted.

I lit a candle for everyone who is just tired. So tired.

I lit candles, because I didn't know what else to do.

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I also raised a glass...

...to the parents who pray for us, who stay up late to make sure we are safe even though they can't do anything. The parents who support us no matter what. The parents that doubt our decisions but let us make them anyway. The parents who challenge us, but are also willing to be challenged.

...to the brand new parents who are taking on the task of raising well adjusted, future adults. Who are trying their best, and often failing, but always loving.

...to the ones who are risking new relationships. Risking being loved. Risking loving and giving it all. One more time.

...to the ones who get up, dress up, and show up.

...to the friends who give unconditionally. The friends who drop everything for you. The friends who disagree, and love, and shout, and debate, and understand. The friends who give up their beds, their time, their energy. The friends who show time and time again that they Will. Be. There.


Here's to you.
Amen.
God bless.
And cheers.





Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Let's play Tinder

- This title should be read in a game show host voice -

Tinder: the new way of dating. Or the latest app store game. I was dead set against it. But then we were all laughing over a drink, playing Tinder on a single friend's phone, and I signed up. Yes. Playing Tinder. This is not the real life. Okay for some people it is. For a few, very few, lucky ones. I've only heard of one such person.

The 'problem' with Tinder is that you become very judgy. Okay, I've always been judgy, so much fun. Or let's rather say particular. But on Tinder that is the whole premise. You judge an unfortunate soul, solely on their chosen profile pic, and maybe their little write-up. You don't look at someone's bathroom selfie and think, oh well, maybe he has a great personality. And there's no time for wit, small talk, persuasion. It's one, two, swipe left or right. Mostly left, for nooooo never ew. I've swiped left so many times that I accidentally swiped left on a few that should have gone right, but I was just so used to swiping left that they were gone before I could say, 'oooh, maybe'.

I think I can count the times I've swiped right on my two hands. I've also finished Tinder about 3 times. Yes. Tinder has told me more than once that there is no one new in my area. A radius of 45km. In other words, lower your standards darling, or quit. So I quit.

But not before compiling an entire folder of screen grabs, for the purpose of illustrating why I have had no luck on Tinder, of course. And for entertaining friends at parties. Mostly the entertainment part.

So here are some my reasons for swiping left:
(Disclaimer, if you happen to be one of the okes below, I'm sure there's someone out there for you, but it's not me, or most of my friends. You might want to reconsider your profile pic #justsaying)

Beards
Sometimes a profile pic catches your attention, and then you look at the other pics available. And all you find is disappointment. Like this guy. He should really keep the beard.

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Ooo yes. Then not so much.

Cars
Is it your car or not? Either way, I don't care. Also, are you a car?

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Fish
Bakgat by die visgat saam met jou dronkgat pelle. Nee dankie.
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Gym or bathroom selfies
Well done. But no my boet.
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Girls
Is she your girlfriend, wife, sister, hooker? Don't care. Just no.
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Guns
Misfire.
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Hunters
Like guns. Go away. I hope Oupoot finds you, before you find him.

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Just no
Hard to explain. But just no.

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Oh the contrasts.
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Wow, gold digging teasing cheating bitch? How about learn to use a comma, and grow up!
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Interesting fashion choices.
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Still living the grunge life, I see.



Lucky Packet
Sometimes you come across what is known as a Tinder Lucky Packet. Which one are you?!
Hint: usually the least attractive one

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WTF
What the actual F? What are you trying to say? You like having fun? Yussie no, but thanks for the LOLs.
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WTF?!
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You wear more make-up than I do!
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uhm?
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Too much zen. Too much fun. Too much.
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Everyone's an artist.



There's someone for everyone, right?


Note: All these people live and roam within a 45km from where I stay in Joburg. All of them I found on Tinder, no google searches.