Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 10: Gariep Dam

Our final stop on this epic adventure took us to De Stijl Hotel, high up in the mountains overlooking Gariep Dam, the water levels of which were heartbreakingly low. Being on the cusp of the Free State and the Northern Cape, this trip allowed us to tick off two more provinces on our crusade to visit all nine before the year is out.

The hotel is lovely – if somewhat out of place. You find yourself looking around for the water park that ought to be adjoined, but no, it’s just a hotel. As it was the last stop, we splashed out on the honeymoon suite, which had some very… interesting décor choices. And no bathroom door. Yes, we may be married now. Yes, we may have moulded our lives together. But YES, I would still like bathroom privacy.

The most wonderful calling card of staying in this particular part of the country can be found some 90km away, just outside the small town of Philippolis: Tiger Canyons; a tiger sanctuary operated by renowned South African conservationist and filmmaker, John Varty, who is on a personal mission to create a wild tiger population outside Asia. It is a remarkable undertaking, and even more remarkable, is that it’s working. During a three-hour game drive with Varty himself, we were lucky enough to see three of the sanctuary’s fourteen tigers, including Ti-Bo, the last remaining white tiger living in the wild.

Make no mistake, this is not a zoo with big cages. These tigers are 100% wild. They hunt, they claim territories and they fight, often resulting in death. If anyone is any doubt about their wildness just read about Varty’s too close encounter with male cub Corbett in March 2012, an attack that almost cost him his life. As well as the tiger viewing we were also given a chance to interact with two cheetahs that JV has hand-raised. I was very skeptical and anxious to get out of the truck, but was comforted by the fact that they had just eaten. What a special and rare opportunity to view these beautiful cats in their natural habitat.

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This experience must be added to any wildlife lover’s bucket list. It was an experience beyond compare. And my advice would be to go as soon as possible! This place is just a few investment opportunities away from being turned into a five-star resort that would alienate locals like us. I am so grateful we got to experience it in these early stages. My second piece of advice would be – make sure you’re in a 4 x 4, that your spare tyre is in good shape and that you drive slowly. The roads were beyond shocking and we ended up with a puncture.

After the awesomeness of Tiger Canyons there was nothing much else to do except dunch about the hotel, catching up on some reading by the swimming pool and taking in the last few moments of this heavenly adventure before normal life would resume.

Distance Travelled: 479.8km

Defining Soundtrack: “Big Machine” the Goo Goo Dolls

Items Purchased: A 1GB WiFi voucher so I could watch the Seahawks game.

Next Stop: Home

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Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 9: Nieu Bethesda

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Today we saw a crab. After fourteen days of travel, ten of which were spent, at least in some part, in coastal regions, we saw a crab for the first time today; in the middle of the desert. I’m quite sure there’s a simple explanation for it; he was probably a fresh water crab who wandered off from the one and only stream in the near vicinity. But still, I thought it was pretty funny.

That really does sum up our latest stop – Nieu Bethesda: a town in the middle of the desert, where weird things happen. There are no street lights, no petrol station, no ATMs, no supermarket. Shops, restaurants and accommodation establishments only accept cash. You need to come prepared. We stopped off on the way in nearby Graaff-Rieneit to prepare ourselves, loading the trolley with food, drinks, and most importantly: fire wood. Because if there’s one thing Hubby and I enjoy above all else it’s a good fire. And there is no better place to sit by the fire than under the Karoo night sky.

Words are not worthy of describing the Karoo night sky; no amount of them would be adequate anyway, even if I tried. Hubby even tried taking photos of it with his fancy new camera, but it refused to be captured. It needs to be seen, by everyone everywhere, at least once in your life. Add it to your bucket list right now. I have seen night skies in the Kruger and Zimbabwe, away from the city lights and pollution that usually block our view. But I am telling you there are some stars that only shine for the Karoo.

It’s like a blanket of sparkle, as though glitter has been poured from the planets. When you look up there is more star than sky. The milkyness of the Milky Way is clearly identifiable. In contrast, Orion’s belt, usually so obvious in the night sky is much harder to identify as it’s surrounded by so many other stars, rather than shining solo as it appears to do in the city’s night sky. And it’s not just what you see, it’s what it makes you feel. It captures your soul and mind. I sat there for hours, lost in the stars and lost in my own thoughts; thoughts about the big things, the things that really matter. Remembering people I’ve lost and wondering if this is where they’ve come.

…This is why you shouldn’t try to describe the Karoo night sky. Because you end up sounding like an idiot! Hahaha!

So moving on… Hubby and I have been to Nieu Bethesda once before, to see in the beginning of 2014 with mum in tow. It was my most memorable new year celebration and one of my favourite ever holidays. The town is just so special and unique, full of little gems like an honesty store selling everything imaginable from books to trinkets to bubble bath. The Karoo Women arts and crafts empowering women in impoverished areas to support themselves and their families through their beautiful creations. And restaurants with a different menu every day decided by what’s available and what they feel like making. Apparently though, this only describes Nieu Bethesda in season.

Out of season, Nieu Bethesda is a dusty ghost town full of “Sorry – Closed” signs. And we were here on a weekend! Fair enough, we only saw about a dozen other tourists on our strolls though the town, but this opens up an interesting chicken and egg debate. Are all of the stores and restaurants closed because no one comes or does no one come because all of the stores and restaurants are closed? Although this gave us a well overdue day of down time it was disappointing not to be able to revisit the splendors of our first visit.

But as I reminded Hubby, we didn’t come for the shopping, we came for the sky.

Distance Travelled: 289.5km

Defining Soundtrack: “Stars” by Skillet – no surprise that was in my head every night.

Items Purchased: Lavender linen spray (been hunting this down for ages, of all the places to find it!?!), ball of 100% wool in a pinky-maroon sort of colour to make a scarf (needles and pattern included), a funky long sleeved shirt (pictured as it too defies description).

Next Stop: Gariep Dam, Free State

Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 6: Franschhoek

Of all the routes, I enjoyed this one the most: Route 62.

Our hostesses at the glorious JBay had recommended a couple of stops along Route 62 and we took them up on their suggestions. The first one was Ronnie’s Sex Shop, situated about 20km outside Barrydale. The story goes that Ronnie bought a dilapidated building on Route 62 intending to turn it into a farm stall. As a joke his friends painted “Ronnie’s Sex Shop” on the side of it while “helping” him to restore the building. As most of the restoration effort involved them drinking and keeping him company, they eventually convinced him to turn it into a pub. And so today it operates as a watering hole still bearing the original paint job of “Ronnie’s Sex Shop”.

I’m not sure what we were expecting, but something with a bit of character at least. What we got was a place that looked like it used to be fun once upon a time. The staff looked loathe to be there and their signs advertising “ice cold drinks” were a flat out lie. Still, it made a good photo op and if it had looked half decent we may have stopped there longer and missed out on the gem that came next. See, everything works out for the best.

Diesel and Crème: what a spot! Located just as you’re leaving Barrydale, it’s easy to miss – we drove straight past even though we were looking for it. They have taken what used to be a petrol station and turned it into a real American style diner, still keeping all the original fixtures like the pumps and signage. The restaurant itself is also an ode to all things retro and vintage from the antique furniture to the random décor like old measuring equipment, and children’s toys that brought back epic memories. And the thing is, it’s all done in a very unique and authentic way – it doesn’t feel trendy or like it’s trying to be something, it just is. And the food… I ordered the lady in red milkshake which was basically a slice of red velvet cake liquidized with a scoop of ice-cream. Amazing does not begin to cover it; it was a true taste sensation. The chicken burger was the best of its kind. Not only would I recommend Diesel and Crème, I would recommend going out of your way to pay them a visit. You won’t regret it!

Anyway, what was this blog post about? Oh yes, Franschhoek. So, we arrived in Franschhoek. We were staying in a charming little cottage called Little Willow Brooke, with its own swimming pool that made my feet go numb – the rest of me didn’t make it in. After our stupendous lunch we didn’t need to visit one of the town’s famous establishments and instead made ham rolls for dinner. The next morning we had some time to explore the charming streets before heading to Cape Town. It reminded me quite a lot of Clarens with lots of little shops selling delightful odds and ends – the things I just go nuts for. If it’s got a funny quote on it or would look good on my kitchen counter, I want it. So I spent entirely too much money but left happy.

On the way out of town we stopped at the Franschhoek Motor Museum, which I soon discovered was Hubby’s version of the Theatre of Dreams. With cars being his number one passion (after me of course 😉 ) this really was the place to be. It is terrifically set out as far as museums go, located on a beautiful wine estate with various models from the early 1900s until today displayed in 4 different large barns. There were cars in there that are one of only seven ever produced. So even if you’re not bothered about cars (like me) seeing a piece of history like that is always mesmerizing.

The scenery in Franschhoek is nothing short of breathtaking. Wine estate after wine estate, rolling hills and river crossings. The route certainly offered some peace and tranquility before heading into the city.

Distance Travelled: 400.4km

Defining Soundtrack: Crown the Empire

Items Purchased: En route: Ronnie’s Sex Shop apron. In Franchhoek: teapot, mug, a bag, some gifts.

Next Stop: Cape Town, Western Cape

Incident in the BHSV!!!

Husby and I are extremely fortunate to live where we live; spoilt in fact, spoilt rotten. My parents bought a lovely little family home in Beacon Hills (name changed to protect my neighbours from lynching once you have finished reading this post) in the early 80s, back when property was affordable. Over the course of my childhood they gradually expanded on it as finances would allow, turning it into a really luxurious living space. Beacon Hills also grew, turning into one of the most sought after suburbs in the area. My mom chose to rent it out rather than sell when she moved overseas seven years ago. Best decision ever (in my humble, spoilt rotten opinion). But after the tenants from hell, our beautiful home was in desperate need of a little TLC and a little family to love it. Enter me and Husby!

Mom gave us the opportunity of a lifetime: fix up the place, and you can live in it. We jumped at the chance – no other arrangement would enable us to live in a neighbourhood even half as awesome as Beacon Hills. And so the year of trials and tribulations took hold, as we argued with builders, agonised over bathroom tiles and Excel spreadsheeted the crap out of our budget. At last it was ready to live in. We were residents of the BHSV (Beacon Hills Security Village) and had the stickers on our cars to prove it. Only one thing left to do: Join the BHSV Community Facebook Page. Worst. Decision. Ever.

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Growing up in this neighbourhood I knew many of the ins and outs. I also knew many of the people – those who had bought when my parents had bought and watched me and my brother grow up, playing one hand one bounce, tip and run, over the wall six and out cricket until well after the sun had gone down. There were a lot of people I didn’t know though. The Range Rover drivers, the tennis club members, the “pay someone else to walk your dogs” crowd. But I was about to meet them.

“Keep all posts relative to issues regarding the BHSV” warned the Community Facebook Page intro. The absence of the word “please” should have told me all I needed to know. This was not a place to build friendships and initiate community upliftment. No, this was the place where people with too many fucks to give came to spew forth their cruel, harsh, judgemental vitriol. If folks cared about poverty or world hunger even half as much as they care about how close you’re parked to a white line, a quarter of a mile away from a school on a public holiday, maybe the world wouldn’t be in such dire straits.

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But the bone I have to pick today is about semantics; it’s about white privilege, selfishness and a complete lack of self-awareness. I know we live in a country with an astonishingly and alarmingly high violent crime rate. Our legitimate fears keep security companies in business and ensure Australia has adequate skilled labour. But our fears and concerns can never legitimise the victimisation of innocent civilians just because of the colour of their skin, the slight tear in their jeans or the way they walk.

“These people”. Two words to get my blood boiling. Who are “these people”? I’ll tell you who they are; they are the people responsible for every bad thing that has ever happened in your life or anyone else’s. They hijack, they murder, they steal, they loiter, they litter, they bring down the tone of the neighbourhood. They are the devil incarnate. And just as they perpetrate these offences indiscriminately, we identify them in broad and general terms, casting a net wide enough to include 75% of the population.

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“Why are these people allowed to walk our streets, using the suburb as a thoroughfare?” one poster asks. “Access should be controlled!” demands another. “Domestic workers and gardeners should be issued passes,” someone suggests, “That way we can keep these people out”. Restricted movement. Passes. Sounds vaguely familiar no?

Before anyone gets too defensive, I am not accusing everyone of using language that advocates for the reinstatement of some apartheid laws. But isn’t it bad enough that these few people are; completely oblivious to the fact that they’re even doing it. I am also not belittling crime statistics.  Awful, awful things happen every single day. But they don’t happen in Beacon Hills. Can’t we just be grateful for that?

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Despite lifelong struggles against depression and anxiety, I do consider myself a silver lining, glass half full type of person. I would rather enjoy the beautiful weather, the friendly people, the quality restaurants and the spacious home in a security village than bemoan the noisy school children, the douchebags who don’t stop at stop streets and these people, who may very well be ‘casing the joint’, but could more than likely just be shaving 30 minutes off their daily commute by walking through the suburb instead of around it.

Maybe I’m naïve, maybe my apparent ambivalence is part of the problem. But I sure as heck seem a whole lot happier for it.

So far, “incidents in the BHSV” have included an escaped bunny, parents double parking for the five seconds it takes to drop off their kids at the local school and the alleged theft of a pot plant. Watch. This. Space.

It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change… bleugh!

Please Let it fit

Last week I had a “oh my god, I am not going to fit into my dress at my next fitting in two and half weeks” meltdown. It wasn’t pretty. Ever since putting on a bunch of weight during a very difficult year of my life six years ago, I have struggled to love my body. I get angry at myself when I think about how healthy I used to be and how easily I ‘let myself go’. I make all sorts of deals with a potential higher power – just let me go back to how I was then, I swear I won’t let this happen again! PLEASE! But our choices determine who we are and my choices have made me fat.

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Last year I turned a corner and finally exited the denial phase. The phase where I thought an entire year of bad eating habits and limited movement could be undone with a little bit of walking and eating more vegetables. I needed dramatic change, which required dramatic efforts. And so began the lifestyle change.

I started exercising in earnest, personal trainer and all. I started eating healthily and cutting back on the junk food. My mood started to lift and the grams started to fall off, albeit very reluctantly. The buffet of tablets I take for my epilepsy makes losing weight extremely difficult (excuse #1?). By Christmas I had lost 4.5kg; nothing to write a book about, but enough to make me proud of myself. Fast forward to last week and I have put it all back on and then some.

What happened? I’m not really sure. Wait, that’s not entirely true… I have a fair idea. I fired my personal trainer (irreconcilable differences), I sat still a bit too much and took comfort eating to a professional level. Turns out I lied to the potential higher power – Even if they returned me to my original state, I would probably end up making the same bad choices.

People tell me to go and see a dietician, but I feel like that would be a waste of time and money. I know what I’m supposed to eat and what I’m not supposed to eat. A knowledge gap is not the problem here, a lack of willpower is. But during last week’s meltdown I discovered what truly powers the will – the love and support of friends and family. Everyone I reached out to came back with words of encouragement; none of the blame and belittling that was going on in my head; no self-righteous suggestions, only reassurance and inspiration. I could do this. I can do this!

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Mixing a bit of everyone’s thoughts together I came up with this: being overweight is just like any other battle one has with oneself. It’s an addiction to hedonism; to the easy way out. It’s unfair. Others are blessed with a fast metabolism and skinny genes, I am not. And so I must fight. One step at a time, one minute at a time, one day at a time. This isn’t a sprint, or even a marathon; it’s my life. This may have a starting point, but there is no finishing point, I can’t let there be. Some days I will sail through, other days I will need my friends to carry me. It’s a fight I have to win.

It’s only week one but I’m ok. I managed to avoid the birthday cake for a colleague and the roadtrip to KFC during lunch hour. I managed to drive past two McDonald’s on my way home from work every night without insisting that we go there for dinner. I know there will be days when I eat the cake, days when I join the roadtrip and nights when we go to McDonald’s. And that’s fine. Because I will be kind to myself. This isn’t a race, this is my life. Once step at a time, one minute at a time, one day at a time.

I hope to update you regularly on my progress (or lack thereof). Please share your stories in the comments below. Maybe we can help each other.