The pain is searing as it lances up my leg and explodes through my entire body like the blazing sun. I slow in an attempt to reduce it as the hill rises relentlessly before me. Yet immediately a sharp pain burns across my side as he brings down the thin stick. I have no energy. I feel weak. I want to stop. I remember a time when I lived in a warm place, where I was brushed every day. There was a time when I was fed sweet apples and would trot around a ring, where I would jump and people would cheer. A time when my hair was soft, as was the touch of those who cared for me. The whip strikes me again, this time curling around and cutting me beneath my stomach. The fiery burn sears. The pain of the whip is matched by the pain of my sore leg. Yet, if I continue, at least the pain of the whip will leave me. I move on, limping to try and stop the lancing pain. I know this route, this hill. It is only the first of many, and this journey will take several hours. The whip comes down again. I shudder but I move forward…
As a family of five traveling for a year through southern Africa we are blessed to see some of the most incredible sights possible. The beauty is beyond words – a huge walking grey giant, gently caring for its small calf with a tenderness that belies the power of the elephant – a waterfall that plunges into the ocean that is unknown to the modern world – a majestic hole in a huge mountain dropped in the middle of the sea. These and many other sights are the weave of wonder that forms the beauty of South Africa. Yet our journey is not just about relishing this beauty, it’s also about meeting the locals who live in these “wish you were here” spots, who are truly making a difference, and who in many ways are the true beauty of this land.
Too often as tourists we arrive, grab the glossy brochure, book on the organized event, enjoy the 10am scones and rest by the pool waiting for dinner. I will be the first to admit – I love the glossy brochure, as it gives us great ideas of what to do - I enjoy organized events, especially a seafood braai – and as for the 10am scones, we are not missing that!
Arriving at Hole in the Wall hotel after a long and bouncy ride along the 18km rutted dirt road – which is actually a paved freeway compared to the potholed road prior to it – we dive fully into tourist mode. The 10am teatime treat is a real winner; we even have to race back from an early morning hike to be there in time for this. The seafood braai is fantastic – there is nothing quite like eating mussels, prawns and fresh fish while watching the waves roll in across a tranquil sea.
The main reason, however, for being at Hole in the Wall is the stunning backdrop of the Hole in the Wall beach. Huge waves surge proudly towards a towering mountain that seems to have grown out of the sea, only to be dispatched with little regard for their foaming fury. A small section of the wave explodes through the hole and reforms into a perfect wave that rises and travels on towards the river that enters the sea at this picturesque point. The girls are surfing, as this is the spot made famous by the movie Blue Crush 2, and reenacting those surf scenes is a must on every young surfer girl’s agenda.
For me, I’m relishing one of the best braai spots in the world. Nothing beats braaing with this spectacular backdrop, a beer in hand, and the smell of wors mixing with the salty sea spray rising tantalizingly into the air. Days can easily be spent lazing on the beach, surfing, braaing, walking the stunning hills, or even negotiating the not-for-CLKs road to Coffee Bay. This is the ideal spot to just get away from it all.
“I love it here,” Mervin, one of the hotel guests says to us, as we meet him while loading our plate with fresh scones. "I have been here for nearly a week and I have not driven once in my car," he explains. That’s what Hole in the Wall is all about – arrive and enjoy until you leave. However if this is only what we do we are missing out on some of the most amazing wonders of the area. I am not referring to the Hole in the Wall, or the mini Hole in the Wall, or any of the other incredible view sights or hikes. I’m referring to a woman who is one of the most amazing natural wonders of the area – Marlene.
“Hi Marlene, I am not sure how we can help but I would love to bring our family to come and see you and your work,” reads the Facebook message I send Marlene. And so it is on Friday morning…just after morning tea (of course)…we jump into our Pajero and bounce the 1 kilometer route to Marlene’s home. We are greeted at the small white home, overlooking the aqua blue sea below, with an enthusiastic rendition of “who the hell are you” by her eager family of dogs.
“Dad, I hope you told her we don’t really know much about horses,” my children had said earlier that morning. And of course they are right – we really don’t know much about horses. However one of our goals on this trip is not just to travel but also to be touched by the lives of others, and to help touch their lives in whatever way we can. In order to do that we will have to go outside of what we “know” or what we are comfortable with. So it is with a little trepidation that we arrive at the Hole in the Wall horse project to meet Marlene.
“Hi Craig,” nice to meet you Marlene says after the enthusiastic cacophony has been stilled. Introductions are made and Marlene is quick to introduce us to her latest two patients, as she refers to the horses she cares for. The time for our lesson, our huge lesson on compassion, cruelty and kindness begins.
The sight is heart wrenching. I've never seen a horse in this condition. It's hair is thin and covered in an oily-like grime. Thousands of ticks, gorged on blood, cling to nearly every part of its emasciated body. It limps painfully on a damged rear leg, making it difficult for it to even move a few steps. It's ears droop. Yet it's none of these that strikes at my heart - it's the look in her eyes. I've never seen such sadness in an animal's eyes. I've never seen such resignation, such pain. I've never seen an animal cry - as a tear rolls down its cheek from its large plaintive eyes, and my daughter attempts to dab it away.
"They rode her here all the way from Coffee Bay?" Marlene informs us. There are tears in her eyes. Her compassion is so visceral, it’s almost as if she is one with the horse and its pain. The route from Coffee Bay to hole in the wall is an arduous 9km route on a rutted, uneven road. The road rises and falls hundreds of meters as it winds over hills and through valleys. "They rode her, in this condition, with her lame leg all that way. And they were planning on riding her back. I refused. I would not let them." She dabs her eyes with the back of her hand as she steps away.
"I'm shaking," Marlene says as she attempts to insert a needle into a vein in the horse's neck. Blood runs down its neck and across Marlene's hand. She pulls away and composes herself. Once more with shaking hands she inserts the needle. This time it's right and the pain medication flows into the horse as she empties the syringe.
"We will try and wash her," Marlene says, "I'm not sure how she will react as she has probably never been washed." Slowly and carefully we rub her oily, thin coat with a medicated soap wash. The horse does not react at all. She simply stands there, favoring her hurt leg and looking at us with sad eyes. We try to remove some of the thousands of ticks as we gently wash her. She just looks at us with those sad eyes.
“Where do all these horses come from?” I ask looking at several horses and mules roaming freely on the hills behind her home. “Do they belong to someone?” Without stopping her gentle, caressing washing she replies, “They all belong to someone. There are people who go and buy ex-race horses and show jumping horses, and then they come and sell them to the locals here for a profit. Some of these may well be those horses. However they do not know how to survive in these conditions. They can’t adapt to the grass as their sole form of nutrition. Quickly they get thin and sickly.” She pauses for a moment as if considering how it is possible that people could ever do this to their animal. “I wonder if those people know what has become of their horses? I wonder if they care?” she says as love and compassion flow from her hands. “How did you ever get like this?” she whispers quietly to the horse.
"Let's allow her to dry in the sun now," Marlene says after we've rinsed the horse. "What should we name her?" she asks. "How about Marmite," Nicky, my wife suggests. The name is perfect - her brown-black, sticky hair looks like marmite. Yet it's more than that. A name somehow imbues her with a little more worth, with a sense of belonging. While she still has those sad eyes she somehow stands a little straighter. She somehow seems to know that she is being loved, as she, for the first time since we have been here, stoops down to eat some grass.
"How long have you been doing this?" I ask. "For about three years. I was not trained for this," Marlene replies. "I just saw so many horses in such a terrible condition, I just couldn't ignore it. I had to do something, anything."
Nearby in Marlene's small garden another horse is grazing. It has a large, raw wound on its back caused by a saddle. It makes me feel slightly sick just to look at it. "I often start retching when I have to treat the horses,” Marlene says. “Time and again I have to walk away and compose myself. But I tell myself to stop being ridiculous, to pull it together, and I try again and again until I get it done. If I don't help them, who will?”
Outside her garden a horse comes to graze. It walks into a small enclosed paddock that has an open gate and drinks from the water. Several cows also graze contently just outside her fence. They feel it, they know it, this is a place of love. Something many of them, like most living things, are desperately in need of. This is a place were tears are shed, not just in sadness, but in joy, not just in pain but in thanks - for here exists some of the most beautiful wonders you can ever see – compassion, determination and love.
Marlene runs the Hole in the Wall Horse project. Please visit this link to find out more about her and this amazing project and how you can help her with this work. Even if all you do is share her story, you can help her make a difference to the lives of so many helpless animals. Click Share below to help share the word about Marlene and her work.
Lazily I turn my head and lick the salt off my back. The sun is warm and the beach sand soft beneath where I am lying. A cool breeze carries a fine spray onto the beach as the waves tumble up the shore in their endless quest to gain higher ground. Just ahead I catch sight of a man coming out of the trees that hug the beach. Soon he is followed by more people, trailing behind him in a line like chickens following a hen. They pause momentarily before heading towards where I'm lying. As they come closer I watch them. A few of the other cows on the beach clamber to their feet and move away. But soon they have passed and are heading away down the beach towards the green hill that rises to touch the blue sky above. Lazily I turn my head and lick the salt off my back.
"28 kilometers! Are you crazy!" The kids are not exactly enamored about the idea of an 8 hour hike to see some waterfalls. However, we persist. As a family we are on a year tour of Africa - two daughters who have just completed school and a son who will need to be home/hut/car-schooled, plus two parents intent on experiencing it all. "One of our Africa Tour mottos is to Experience new things, so we are doing this," I say. Of course the teen girls are quick to retort, "But we have seen waterfalls before, it's not new." "You're right," I reply, "but walking 28 kilometers will be!"
Our guide, Caine arrives spot on time at 7am - Africa will always surprise you just when you think you have it figured out. After a brief explanation of the route we head on down the dirt road from the Pondo Hut where we're staying at the community run campsite in Mbotyi. The road winds down the hill and crosses a low bridge where the local women and young children washing their clothes in the river below call out greetings to us.
Shortly thereafter Caine leads us to a small local Spaza store, giving us an opportunity to buy some cold drinks for the walk ahead. The shopkeeper smiles and greets us as his two small children look curiously at the strange visitors. Soon we are stocked and on our way.
The path winds its way up a small hill and quickly enters a thick, dark forest. Huge trees frame the path like a tunnel. This incredible forest that stretches for miles in all directions is impenetrable and largely unexplored except for a few paths the locals use to traverse between villages. We feel like we are explorers deep within the Amazon jungle as we listen to the haunting sound of a crying baby coming from deep within the forest. "That's a Hornbill," our guide informs us, dispelling the mounting sense of trepidation. Long, tangled vines hang from the trees and butterflies dance in rays of light that occasionally penetrate the thick canopy above.
The path emerges from the dense forest into a new world. Hills carpeted with lush green grass roll out before us, dotted with colorful huts, all spread beneath a cloudless blue sky. We walk past lone huts with views that most of us would pay a fortune to own and finally emerge on the beach. We take off our shoes and our feet relish the soft powder white sand stretching down towards a tranquil azure sea.
A herd of cows lounge lazily on the warm sand of the beach - a familiar sight all along the Wild Coast. As we move towards them some clamber lazily to their feet and amble away. A large bull boasting huge curving horns watches us as we move towards him, but as we move on he flicks his head and turns to lick his hide, quickly returning to his restful somnolence.
Our path continues up from the beach across rolling green hills, over streams, and through stunning hidden valleys. Reaching the halfway mark towards our destination, we stop to swim in a cool river that cascades down a series of small waterfalls. It's a welcome break as the warm African sun begins to take its toll. It's a short break and soon Caine is leading us on - our destination, Waterfall Bluff beckons like a siren's irresistible call.
After 4 hours of brisk walking we arrive at the edge of a cliff with a steep path winding its way down. "Be careful here," Caine says, "it's far down there." The anticipation is mounting, we've walked far to see this spectacle. Yet we are careful as we descend as quickly as we can. The moment we have been looking forward to is near. And then we round the corner and the sight is spectacular, awe inspiring. There it is, one of only 19 in the world, one of only two in Africa, the only one in South Africa - a waterfall that falls directly into the sea,
A huge overhanging rock forms a cave at Waterfall Bluff where we settle down to have a picnic in one of the world's ultimate picnic spots. The giant waves roar in from the sea and smash against the towering cliff as if seeking to rise up and meet the water plummeting down from the waterfall. It's like watching a meeting of giants, from the secure, shaded shelter of a cave. We sit there enjoying our rest while staring transfixed at this titanic sight.
About 30 minutes later it's time to move on. "I want to show you more," Caine says in his perfect English, "let's go." We are reluctant to leave this spectacle, and the children who have not complained at all are also keen to stay longer. However we know it's a long hike back so we set off once again.
Just above the falls is Mamba Pool which tantalizingly invites the hot hiker into its cool embrace. It's a huge deep green, Olympic sized pool that refreshes us immediately as we dive into its refreshing depths. A cascading waterfall tumbles into the pool just above the pool before exiting below us to head on down to its final destination - Waterfall Bluff and the sea. It's a little scary swimming in the deep, dark pool as Caine has just informed us of the origin of the pool - "Once a large mamba snake was seen here!"
With wet clothes we head on, grateful for our cool clothing as the sun beats down relentlessly upon us. After about 20 minutes Caine once more leads us toward a bluff of rock jabbing out into the ocean. We're following, not sure if this is a view point or just the way back. To our surprise it's the former. A magnificent spire of rock with a huge hole in it, to rival the famed "Hole in the Wall" further down the coast, rises out the sea below us. It is truly stunning and totally unexpected!
"It's called the Cathedral rock," Caine says, as we look on in wonder. From our vantage point high up on the cliff, the Cathedral rock stands immutable like a lone sentinel in a swirling vortex of waves. Like Waterfall bluff there are no signs, no official viewpoints, in fact there is not even a defined path. How is it possible that such natural beauty lies so unacclaimed in this land? In any other country there would be paths, signs, photo spots...but then there would probably be shops selling postcards, guided video tours and a MacDonalds...maybe it's better this way. Undiscovered, and as beautiful as it has been since the dawn of time.
We could spend hours just looking at this sight, but we still have a long hike home. We set out with 5 liters of water, but now we are running low. The sun and the distance are taking their toll on our fluid supply. Everyone is thirsty and there is only a liter left with about 3 hours to go.
Following Caine as we wind back up green hills, marveling how he knows where he is going, we meet two woman carrying huge bags on their heads. "It's muscles," Caine says, "they are carrying them to their village up there," he says pointing to a village in the distance. The village looks to be about 10km away. The round trip must have been at least 25km or more, with half of it carrying 30 or more kilograms on their heads...barefoot, of course.
Our vague concerns about sore legs and thirst vanish as we look on in awe. We continue following our guide as he makes his way over hills and across grassy plains, seemingly following some hidden map. I'm watching the path as Caine had told us to be careful of snakes and so I don't realise where we are until I look up. It seems once more we are walking out onto a rocky outcrop.
"Be careful of the gap and the cliff. Go on your stomach" Caine says as we get close. "Secret falls is there," he says pointing down. We walk carefully over the gap and then lower ourselves and slide towards the edge of the cliff.
"What!" I reply, "that is..." words fail me at this point as I look down at the sight before me. "I don't understand," I begin again. "What is this falls called?" I ask again. "Secret falls," Caine replies. And what a secret it is! Here before us is another magnificent waterfall plunging directly into the churning sea below. This seems even bigger than Waterfall bluff that we saw earlier. The view is truly beyond words. The roar of the sea far below rises up carrying with it the smell of its salty spray. The waterfall cascades down a huge cliff plummeting into the sea far below - what a triumphal way for the river to end its long journey from the hills far away.
"I never knew there were two waterfalls that fall into the sea," I say to Caine, still stunned and transfixed by the sight. And as it turns out nor does the rest of the world. Wikipedia with all its collective knowledge lists just 19 such waterfalls and 2 in Africa. It's wrong! There are 20 waterfalls emptying into an ocean, and 3 in Africa, and 2 right here just kilometers apart! It's called Secret waterfall because that's exactly what it is. No path, no signs, no knowledge of its existence by our modern world. It's plummeted into the sea for millennia upon millennia, yet the world has not known, except for a few locals, like Caine who have enjoyed this sight for many years. Maybe this is the world's best kept "Secret" after all.
The rest of our walk back, despite the heat and thirst is almost euphoric. Finally after 9 hours of sensory indulgence we arrive back at Mbotyi beach. We plunge into the cool waters of the estuary and luxuriate in finally resting. I lie in the water thinking. We have just experienced the most incredible and beautiful walk possible. We have just witnessed the most astounding views and sights imaginable. And all of this was not because of some fancy tour or some signposted walk, it was made possible by our guide. A local, born and raised in this area. A local with a love of his land and a passion to share it. A local who is making a difference. This is how we should experience Africa, because in the experiencing we are also touching lives. And who knows, you may just see something that is such an incredible secret, the world does not yet know about it!
YOU CAN HELP PEOPLE LIKE CAINE: Our goal is to share the stories of "locals" who are making a difference in their communities and touching lives. In doing this we hope that we can help touch their lives too. Our ability to touch their lives is of course up to you. By sharing this story, more people will not only experience these incredible sights, but Caine and the local community will also benefit. Please click Share below to spread the word! If you would like to help Caine or find out more about the amazing activities he offers (horse trails, overnight hikes and more) then visit here for more details on how to contact him. No middleman - just straight to the local - and that makes all the difference!
The water is glassy still as I look down at it from my vantage point on top of a dead tree. It seems as if nothing is alive beneath that glassy surface, but I know different. After a few moments I catch sight of movement just below the surface and launch myself into the air before banking sharply left and diving down towards the water. In seconds my talons break through the water and sink deeply into the soft flesh of my prey. With a mighty thrust of my wings I rise quickly above the water holding my catch as droplets roll off it like silver tears. I cry out my success to my mate as I rise high into the air.
From bush to beach. From north to south. We make our way from northern KZN and the beauty of Phinda's stunning game reserve 5 hours south to a cottage we have just outside the little coastal town of Port Edward (H). And once more God, using a different brush to the one he used to paint the bush in the north, sweeps his divine hand across this area to create an equally stunning, yet vastly different vista.
Gone are the thorn trees and endless bush - before us is a mirror-still estuary, framed by twin hills covered in dense coastal forest that reaches out to kiss the white beach and sea beyond it. Gone is the rich smell of dust and fynbos replaced by the scent of tropical coastal bush blended with salt spray.
One of our goals on our trip is to not only walk Africa but to also run Africa...that means we get to explore on foot the many wonderful places we are visiting.
It's a sticky humid day, the kind of day when the sweat drips off your body with just the slightest exertion - it's summer in KwaZulu-Natal. So if you decide to go for a run, you can expect to return hot and sweaty - and that's what we do. After a few days of inactivity balanced by equally active eating we know that a run is needed to help with the restoration of body and soul. And so despite the heat, already oppressive at 8am, we set off.
Running through the small coastal town of Port Edward on the south coast of South Africa is a real treat. The road wends its way between the sea and small old style homes that have been here for years, sporting interesting signs such as "Likable Local". Soon the paved road gives way to a dirt track framed on both sides by cool, shady trees that almost touch each other above the road. Our 8km run finally ends back on the beautiful white sandy beach where it began - but now there is the added reward, the tantalizing prospect of a cooling swim.
The moods of the Indian Ocean on this south coast of South Africa are as changing and unpredictable as the moods of a male elephant - one moment calm and serene and the next wild and dangerous. Today we are rewarded with a silky smooth sea that looks like God has turned it to glass. Beautifully formed waves grow slowly and perfectly as they approach the beach, rising in grandeur before crashing down in a spray of foam as they reach the shore and roll up the sand.
We need no second invitation and quickly doff our running gear and race towards the cool, silky embrace of the sea. The chilled liquid pleasure envelopes us and instantly washes away the heat of our run. It's invigorating, exhilarating, and what is most amazing - it's just like this nearly all year round.
Port Edward and the beaches nearby are what might be termed "far from the madding crowd". Unlike the busy and popular beaches of Durban and Cape Town, Port Edward and the nearby Ramsgate Blue Flag beach are tranquil and uncrowded - especially if you come out of season. Beautiful walkways and paths wind through the coastal bush and along the beach enabling you to walk many kilometers enjoying the beauty, searching for shells or just relishing in the amazing weather. This is the place of the endless summer!
I sit on the patio of our cottage at The Estuary, and even though we have been here many times over the years, I am overwhelmed by the beauty. The tranquil estuary stretches out to the tree-dressed hill beyond. The air is tinged with the salty smell of the sea air as the early evening sun paints the sky a kaleidoscope of colours. And then I see it - Africa's most magnificent bird, the African Fish Eagle. It rises with graceful ease off a branch and plummets towards the water to grasp a fish. In seconds it is rising again crying its iconic sound - the sound of Africa, the sound of tranquility. I raise my glass of chilled Chardonnay and toast this place of endless summer and endless beauty.
I lift my head and lick the salty blood off my face. The smell of blood fills my nostrils. Flies buzz excitedly around as I rip another piece of meat off our kill. I've eaten enough and my belly is full but I can't resist eating more of this warm, succulent feast.
A rumbling noise attracts my attention and I lazily lift my head to see what it is. I know that nothing with any sense would threaten me while I'm eating. It's nothing to worry about - it's one of those things that is often around but never bothers me or tries to take my kill. Strange. I snap at a fat fly that is buzzing near my snout but it flies lazily away. I look once more at the thing as bright flashes and sounds come from it. It does not interest me. I'm tired. I'm content. The sun is warm. I close my eyes.
Africa has many aspects that make it the most amazing continent - and certainly one of them is its unrivaled wildlife. It's good to start on a high, so we start our Africa Tour with a couple of days in the Phinda game reserve in northern KwaZulu Natal. This private game reserve is home to the big 5 and we are blessed to be staying in Mziki lodge - where words can't describe the stunning beauty of its setting. The lodge is set above a huge dam which means that nearly all the time you can watch hippos and crocodiles lurking in the water and a constant stream of animals making their way down to drink.
The encounters with the wildlife are up close and personal, and we see them all - lion, elephant, leopard, rhino, buffalo, giraffe, nyala, impala, duiker, warthog, serval, and on and on. Yet one of the most thrilling sightings is seeing a lion at a kill. The radio crackles and a lion kill is reported. It's a bit of a drive from where we are but we radio in to book our spot - only 3 vehicles are allowed at a sighting at a time. "Mziki 9 you are standby one," the reply comes. "Confirm Mziki 9 as standby one," Matthew-brother-ranger answers. He's become a natural at negotiating the tricky roads as has Adam his young son who has mastered navigating the unmarked trails winding through the African bush.
After some hasty driving on rutted roads and some free "airtime" - as the kids refer to the momentary weightlessness caused by being airborne when hitting a bump - we arrive at the sighting. It's a zebra kill and the pride are still enjoying their feast. They seem unperturbed by us as they lazily rip chunks of meat from the carcass. The power of these huge animals hits me as I see the ease with which they tear the zebra apart. A chill runs through me when the lion looks up, just meters away from our open Landrover and fixes it's yellow eyes on us. What's stopping it from leaping into the vehicle and grabbing dessert? Three bounds and it would be on us. All that raw power. That killing machine. Just meters away. She flicks her head, snapping at a bothersome fly and then closes her eyes. The danger seems to vanish...for a moment.
This is Africa and this is why it is the most amazing place to visit. As for us we head off. We are going to find a place to have a bush breakfast. Situated on the top of a hill with sweeping views of the planes below we watch a pair of zebra graze peacefully. Full of life, yet not far away one of their family is satiating a lion pride. His death is their life. The circle of life.
The smell of bacon fills the air as we sip the iconic morning game drive drink - hot chocolate and Amarula liqueur - This is Africa - death, life, renewal, perspective...unbeatable.
Order, neatness, structure...these are not us! We tend to live in the moment with a good dollop of chaos, impulse and disorder. This has worked great for us for years because if we lose some items of clothing at home we can just use another item of clothing until the "lost" item reappears...under the bed or in the pool filter, or wherever. However this is not a luxury for five people set out on travels around Africa.
The first impact of this hit us as we had to figure out how to sift through all our belongings and cut them down to just what would fit into the car. So with meticulous thought and wisdom(?) we created piles - clothing, camping, hiking, swimming, cooking...and on and on. Soon we had piles of items that we thought we would need, as a minimum for each category, neatly (this is our version of "neatly") arranged in the lounge.
Then came the next task...how to get all of these "definitely needed" items into the car...just taking a look at it was enough to make us want to give up and stay home...it looked exhausting and impossible PLUS we were already behind schedule and Durban had graced us with a steamy 30C day.
Yet it had to be done - this is an adventure after all, and an adventure is doing what is not normal, going where we have not gone before - and this would be our first adventure, making the impossible fit into the possible...changing disorder into order! And so with coordinated effort - the first test of our family relations in the trip - we packed, unpacked, repacked, tossed, combined, gave up, continued, gave up...swam...continued, until finally we had squeezed it all in, including a surfboard on the roof...because after all you never know when the swells will be just right!
And so we set off...smiling like a cheshire cats...we had overcome the first obstacle. Yet as we drove I was wondering - how in the world will be keep track of everything? Where did we pack the cutlery? Where is the mask and snorkel? Where are the matches? Where are my undies? So many important questions making me realise that fitting it all in is just a battle won - the war is to be able to find the things we need when we need them. That will be the greatest battle, we as a chaos-embracing family, will still need to face. How will it be when we are trying to find the lighter for the braai...or the pegs for the tent - actually, come to think of it, did we pack the tent?
30 years at the same university, 24 years in the same job, 20 years at the same church, 17 years in the same house...absolutely amazing, an incredible blessing. All our friends, family, and familiar places are right where they should be...near by! We know where the best coffee shops are, the best beaches, the shortest routes or most importantly how to get sushi at the best price and be back home on our deck having sundowners in the most amazing spot overlooking the bush below in just 10 mins! That's the reward of having lived in one amazing spot for so long...and now we are giving it all up!
The culmination of much planning, and the birth of an idea conceived years ago - bearing testimony to the power of vision, passion and action - we are about to depart on a 12 month adventure through southern Africa. A family of 5, all somehow fitting everything we need for a year into our recently acquired second hand Pajero. Now that is testimony to downsizing! Going from a 5 bedroom home to a single car - from endless cupboards to a single small bag...the potential spectre of underpants worn 4 times (inside out, then back to front) looms in the future. Our plan is to leave all that we know behind, and explore Africa.
Currently our home is rented out and we are located at base camp - a small room at my brother's home where we have claimed squatting rights - in true African style. Tomorrow we set out on the first part of our travels. We will go north for a few days to take in the big 5 wildlife in Phinda's amazing game reserve before heading south as we wend our way through the former Transkei past wild, relatively untraveled places like Mboyoti (where we will stay in a Pondo-style hut), Hole in the Wall, hiking the Shipwreck Trail, finally reaching the Western Cape and the idyllic town of Franschhoek. And that's just the warm up! Our accommodation will vary from plush to plain, from timeshare to tent, from bungalow to bush...from everything that beeps and squeaks (although this is the exception) to no toilets, no electricity, no water, no fuel. On so many levels this is going to be an adventure.
For us this is not just about an amazing experience, but also much more. In addition to planning for the trip we have also spent a lot of time thinking about what we want out of our travels. We have broken it down into the GET objectives, to:
- Grow in knowledge and love
- Experience old and new places
- Touch and be touched by people's lives
This means our trip will involve time set aside for studying. The girls (Sarah and Hannah) have just finished school and so need to do online courses to not only extend their learning but give them future direction. Joshua, who is still at school will get to enjoy some "home schooling" or more like "car schooling", "hut schooling", "beach schooling" etc. Nicky and I have much we intend to learn, including a new programming language, continued research on learning, etc. The brain cannot become bored.
Yet it is not only growing in knowledge that is important, but in love too! OK, so here's the disclaimer. We are a totally normal family where we all want our own things, space, way, ideas...which, while we love each other, leads to our fair share of conflict, debate, discussion, and on occasion, shouting. The kids are normal teenagers, and while I am 99% perfect, humble and eschew sarcasm, I too may have the odd relapse in behaviour. So, how will things pan out as we get up close and personal in a car for days on end, in a tent, on a hot hike, lost in the bush, waiting our turn for the toilet spade? Only time will tell, but one of our objectives is to use these opportunities to grow in our love, respect, and understanding of each other. This in itself is a lofty ideal...but so too was our entire trip!
The "experience" objective is what most might expect out of a trip such as this - the wonder of experiencing amazing new places. Yet here again we want to do more than simply tick lists of "did that - one more off the bucket list". We want to truly experience the places we visit. Part of this is the guiding tenets of "going nowhere slowly" and "taking the detour". We want to make this about the journey, about the people we meet along the way, about the interesting windmill we notice, or the interesting looking shop the sign hints at on a side road. Too often trips are simply about the destination - we want our trip to be about exploring and experiencing places we have been to before, but many more we have never seen before.
And then there is "touch". We don't want this trip to be just about us...there will no doubt be truckloads of US...but it must also be about touching other people's lives. So our intention is to do volunteer outreach work in places where we can, to do random acts of kindness to strangers, to look for any way, from a simple greeting to digging a hole, to touch the lives of those we meet. Yet it is not just touching others lives that is important. All too often people come to Africa and seek to touch lives and leave having missed out on the greatest opportunities - to have their lives touched by Africa. As such we seek to touch and be touched by Africa and her beautiful people.
These are all lofty ideals, but like our trip which is the culmination of vision, passion and lots of energy we look forward to striving to GET these too! Of course we will fail, of course we will get lost, of course things will go wrong, of course we will forget our ideals at times...but then this is an adventure after all, and that's what makes it worth living!
Let the journey begin!