The sun lances through the water scattering into bands of light as it sparkles off the bubbles rising from the sea bed below. With ease I slip through the rays of light, gliding above the sandy ocean floor below. The clear water and calm sea above makes swimming easy, although a slight surge causes the seaweed to dance back and forth as though in response to an unseen hand. Suddenly a dark shadow breaks the sun, and seconds later with a quick flick of my tail I dart to the side to avoid inevitable death from above. The water erupts in an explosion of bubbles as a huge beast lances through the water where, just moments before, I was swimming.
“I can’t believe this is low season,” I say as we pull up at the back of a line of 10 cars waiting to get into the Tsitsikamma National Park. “I’d hate to see what it’s like here in peak season,” I grumble as we wait for about 15 minutes in the rising heat for our turn. Once more I’m thankful for our Wild Card, it's saved us a fortune in entrance fees to national parks.
Once we’re inside it does not seem too busy as we quite easily find a parking. We unpack our picnic lunch and sit down to eat it in God's diner - endless deep blue sea stretching out to meet endless deep blue sky, wrapped together by the free audio ambiance provided by seagulls floating effortlessly on the light wind.
“Hey, look at the cool raft floating out in the sea,” Hannah says pointing to a small wooden pontoon secured about 30 meters out from shore. We’re sitting on the small Tsitsikamma beach, nested between the wooden structure that houses a shop and restaurant and the cliff that rises up next to the Storms river. “Let’s swim out to it,” Hannah suggests. With the early afternoon sun causing the temperatures to reach the low 30s, we don’t need a second invitation. The cool sea instantly washes away the heat as we swim out towards the pontoon. Pulling myself out I flop down onto its gently bobbing, warm surface. It’s like having your own private island as we watch the people back on the shore. It’s the sound of a motorboat that catches our attention, as it deep throaty roar rises in intensity as it bounds playfully out to sea. “Now that is what we need to do,” Joshua says looking on with excitement.
I’m warm now and it’s time to swim back to shore…there’s no other way off our little piece of tranquility. I stand soaking up a few more sun rays as I steel myself for the waters cool embrace. Diving in I frighten a silvery fish, that with a flick of its tail darts away looking noticeably relieved that we did not collide.
It’s not long and we have purchased tickets for the boat ride which promises to be a combination experience - some fun wave bouncing action, and a photographers dream ride, slowly up the Storms River.“You should hold on tight,” the friendly boat captain explains, as he we all put on our lifejackets and cling tightly to the seats. “We will head out to sea then turn around and return to the river. Once we are in the river you can walk around and take photos.” With that the powerful twin-engined boat roars into life and within seconds we are racing away out to sea. The sea spray whips into my face as the boat goes faster and faster, flying over waves and crashing down the other side in a spray of water and shouts of euphoria. The adrenalin induced smiles are still carved on our faces as we finally slow down to enter the mouth of the Storms river.
A hidden world of stunning beauty opens up before us, as the rusty dark water slowly makes its way between the huge cliffs that tower on either side of us. Our camera is smoking as we turn it from one stunning spectacle to another, from the grandeur of the cliffs, to the colors of the water, to the overhanging caves. It’s like a lost, quiet world in here, a stark contrast to the heart pounding, thumping noise of a few minutes ago.
With our souls satiated with beauty we turn around and a few minutes later we are once more white knuckled as we laugh with childlike glee as we bounce like riders on an untamed horse over the glassy waves, leaving a swathe of foam and memories behind us. As I step off the boat, the mixture of tranquilly and adrenalin, of beauty and adventure swirling in my mind, it seems like I’ve just enjoyed two espressos with a cream scone between them. Perfect!
I stroke her long soft hair through the box. It feels like silk and her dress is so beautiful. One day I will take her home. Never have I see someone so beautiful. Never have I ever dared dreamed that I might be mother to something so precious. One day. One day I will take her home and she will be mine. My own precious baby.
When I think of Sedgefield my heart is lifted up. It's not only by the memory of my first flight but by the memory of dreams given flight. "Sorry Joy, but we are lost," I say as we call Joy yet again from our cell in the car. "Just tell me where you are and I will come and find you," Joy says. "No, don't do that," I quickly reply, "just explain again how I get to where you are. I'm sure we will find it." A few minutes later we are winding our way through the poor township of Smutsville "Hello, waar is die skool?" I ask some school kids on the side of the road in my limited Afrikaans. Equipped with our final set of directions we soon find the school where FreshStart runs their Swop Shop.
A long line with several hundred children snakes its way from a colourful container set next to a school all the way out the school grounds and up the street. We are met at the gate by Joy. "Hello," she says, "I'm Joy," she beams her welcoming smile. We walk through the gate which is closed with some children lined up inside.
Soon Joy is showing us around this amazing gift of love. "The children start here," she says pointing at a smiling man operating a scale. "They weigh their bags here." A small child stands by staring expectantly at the scale as he hooks the bag of glass bottles on the hook. "Vier punt vyf," he calls to another person seated nearby under an umbrella. "Each bag is weighed," Joy explains and they get Moola points for plastic, glass, paper and tin." The small girl, now relieved of the huge bags she had somehow manage to get here, waits quietly while her points are recorded and a sticker is placed on her hand. Her eyes light up as she sees the number and moves to the lady seated at the entrance to the container.
Two ladies sit at desks hunched over boxes filled with cards before a brightly colored container with wide open doors revealing a treasure of dreams. "This is where the children's Moola points are recorded," Joy says. "We currently have over 700 children on our card system." I look on as the children give their names and their card is extracted from the box. "Hoeweel wil jy spaar?" the lady asks. All of the children have cards that records each visit. They can choose to spend or save some or all of the Moolas they have earned. "Most of them save some or all of their Moolas," Joy says as I watch the young girl hand her card to a smiling man sitting at the entrance to the container. There is a look of awe and excitement on her face as she is about to step into this vault of dreams.
"Ok copy me," Joy says to an expectant group of children watching her from the line where they are waiting to have their bags weighed. Soon the kids are laughing as they copy the fun dance and exercise moves Joy is doing. "The kids get bored waiting, so I like to keep then entertained," Joy had explained to us. She gushes enthusiasm and a genuine love and care for these children. She is Joy in name and attitude.
The little girl is now in the container and looking in excitement and awe at the shelves lined with items. "Do the children use their Moolas to get toys?" I ask. "No," Joy replies. "Many of them buy toiletries and other basic products that they can’t usually afford. Just the other day a young girl who had saved her points for a year came and cashed in. Did she buy herself a present? No, she bought clothing and toiletries for every member of her family."
FreshStart is more than just recycling it's about teaching children responsibility. Unlike other similar programs that use the Swop Shop concept, FreshStart is focused exclusively on children. The children are taught important lessons like recycling, earning money, saving, and responsibility. However the wonderful part is that the lessons are not confined to the children.
“Just the other day one of the children’s parents, who works as a maid, was asked by her employer why she was looking through the garbage. She replied, ‘It’s recycling. My daughter does it. Do you know about recycling?’” The impact of love, of joy, of hope cannot be contained.
The little girl walks out the other side of the container, she is clinging to a box with both her hands. She looks lovingly at it as she carefully carries it with her. She turns it to show me, as a smile breaks across here face. The day has come. She holds her dream, her own precious baby.
For more information visit www.freshstart.org.za
The sun is warm now as it rises towards its pinnacle high above. With the warmth comes energy and more opportunities to eat. I move slowly through the grass away from the view of prying eyes. However if I'm to get to the succulent food I will need to cross the gravel road. It's not something I relish doing because it exposes me. I pause as I emerge from the grass on the edge of the road. I cannot sense any danger. I begin making my way across it...on and on and on I go...it should not be long now. All of a sudden a dark shadow looms over me. I immediately retreat into my shell as I'm lifted high into the air.
"It's just two steps and you lift high into the air," Lucille from FlyTime paragliding says as we sign our lives away…quite literally. As a family the dream of paragliding was just that - more a dream than a reality. It just seemed too expensive, and I suppose a little intimidating too. Yet here we are, standing on top of a hill looking down on the beautiful town of Sedgefield below. Above us a rainbow of colours fills the air as a myriad of floating paragliders look like colorful butterflies rising into the blue sky above.
Soon Joshua has his harness on and is being attached to Jorg, the pilot for the tandem flight, as they stand near the edge of the steeply sloping hill. I watch as our youngest child takes a few steps towards the edge…something we normally discourage our children from doing, and seconds later they are off the edge…as I am projecting “rise, rise, rise” thoughts to counter gravity’s “fall, fall, fall” law… and they begin to rise into the sky. Soon Sarah and Hannah follow. "It's getting closer to my turn," I think, as I attempt to keep track of which floating color spots are my kids. It’s a natural parental instinct that keeps you watching out for your kids, although it’s getting hard to remember which colourful speck is which.
As Josh and Hannah land, with huge smiles on their faces, Nicky launches into the air to join the aerial dance of colour. My vigil is not over as now I have to watch my wife, although her shouts of excitement reaching me from high above, do help my tracking.
"Ok," Deon says, "just keep walking until I say stop." "OK," I reply as I look at the ants walking on the road below…Oh, they're not ants, they're cars! Wow this is high! Quickly, but nonchalantly, I enquire as the edge looms nearer, "So how long have you been doing this?" I'm hoping for, "about four hundred years and I'm the current intergalatical champ and actually I'm a reincarnated eagle which means I can’t fall from the sky" or something like that. However it's too late for conversation we are running towards the edge and destiny. “I wonder if our life policies are up to…” The ground vanishes!
It's like magic! Three steps and the ground drops away and we gently rise into the air. I'm flying! I'm actually flying! This is where words become pointless. I suppose that is why eagles don't blog, they just can't put into words the feeling. This is truly specilirating - I need a new word to augment our language's limitations to capture the feeling. The first thing that strikes me is the quiet. There is no noisy engine keeping you afloat, it's as if you are magically floating high above the trees and sea far below.
We magically bank to the right as we continue to rise joining he colourful carnival of flight as the dance of the paragliders swirls around the invisible thermals. I breathe deeply of the cool air drinking up the surreal beauty and inexplicable sensations with even fibre of my being. I'm flying. I'm truly flying. All those dreams where I've awoken disappointed to discover it was only a dream. And now I'm experiencing flight.
It seems too soon and we are spiralling back towards the same spot that we took off from. It seems incredible to me that we can rise and fly in the air for as long as we wish and return to the same spot once again. Like stepping down a staircase..one, two, three, four and we are standing still back on the the ground once again. However my heart and mind are still flying, and I fear, judging from the family’s enthusiastic conversation, this is just the beginning. We've soared with eagles...and our horizons have been set free.
“Make sure you pack the beer in the cooler box,” Nicky says as we pack a picnic lunch. We’re experts at picnics now, as finding a beautiful place to eat lunch is a near daily occurrence. The good news is that doing this in Sedgefield is particularly easy. A short walk from our timeshare unit on the beautiful Sedgefield Island, as it is called, and we are on the waters edge. We follow the gravel road along the edge of a tranquil estuary framed by a tree-filled hill rising to touch the perfect blue sky on the other side. “Hey look here,” Joshua says, as he bends down to pick up something. He holds up a small tortoise that had been slowly making its way across the road. It immediately retreats into its shell as we look at Sedgefield’s symbol - the tortoise which represent’s the town’s “slow town” motto.
“The water is warm, come let’s swim to the other side,” Nicky shouts from where she is a few meters out in the river. Our senses have been satiated from the high’s of the flight, to the taste of our picnic. And now once more we are flying, this time in the warm water of the estuary, as I float on my back and look up at the vaulted blue sky…I’m lifted high into the air.