Category Archives: Travel & Exploring

The 10:59 to Muizenberg

I am, intrinsically, Pollyanna-esque. To the point that I’m sure drives many to madness. I can’t help it, it’s inherited. I come from a line of glad people, there’s no fighting genes.

Sometimes, though, I find the world harsh and cruel. My faith in humankind gets crushed like an unlucky butterfly on a car’s windshield. There’s just so much ugliness amongst humans: hatred and violence and disregard. It makes me sad.

And then something happens that reminds me of the goodness. Today was one of those days – coincidentally Human Rights Day in this wonderfully diverse, spectacularly chaotic country that we call home.

Winter is coming. It’s the equinox. Cape Town didn’t get that memo, or chose to ignore it, speaking sweetly into my beloved The Weatherman’s ear and persuading him to give us a wind-still, 35-degree day. Cape Town is a foxy minx, The Weatherman couldn’t resist her smile.

And so it was that the day dawned perfect and the beach beckoned, but not the traffic. No, the traffic didn’t beckon, but the train did. I love the train. It brings back memories of childhood holidays, it makes me feel part of the thrumming humanity that call this city home.

The train was late as we chatted with the family next to us, buckets and spades ready, the tiniest of their party already in her skirted polka dot swimming costume.

Finally it arrived, packed with families and youngsters off to the beach, backpackers, people going to work, people going home, the stifling heat packed with smells of sun cream, Nik Naks and sweat.

I took a chance, having not checked about the wheelchair accessibility of Muizenberg Station. Sometimes, I just don’t wanna. Sometimes, I just wanna do. Unplanned, spur of the moment. We climbed off, onto the sweltering platform, a welcoming salty breeze coming off the sea.

And there it was. A flight of stairs. The ramp at the end closed tight – City of Cape Town/Metrorail, why? GM calmly left me in the breeze and crossed through the underpass to the station on the other side.

There, she found Nobonke Koni, security guard-angel of Sechaba Protection Services, who gathered her colleagues, Mr Nopakela and Mr Sonqi. They, along with the car guard from the parking lot and another guy, whose names I sadly didn’t get, hefted my (not unhefty) weight in my wheelchair down the steps to the opening to the beach.

There we found, with dismay, three cars parked so closely to each other that we couldn’t fit through. Not an eye blink and those four superheroes lifted me over the bonnet of the Merc glinting in the heat. If it hadn’t been so scary, I’d have shouted ‘I’m flying!’. My fear was totally misplaced, those guys had me

And that’s how I got to bask in the sun at the beach, make a new sweet surfer-boy friend, hear the glee of kids at the seaside, and how I was reminded of how much good there is in the world, how I love my country. Five people were kind and caring and went way beyond the call of duty for a woman they’ve never met before. We met up with them on the train home, our new friends who were so kind.

Faith in humankind restored.

In Search of Eddie Vedder

I have loved Eddie Vedder since I was a teenager. And by loved, I am perfectly happy to admit that it’s a love of the complete teen-adoration-for-ridiculously-good-looking-rockstar-who-stage-dives kind. It’s not only that, though, and it’s lasted into my 40’s. I love his voice, his lyrics, his … I’ll stop there. Swoon.

Pearl Jam and, later, Eddie Vedder’s solo songs, have been integral tracks on the Soundtrack of My Life. You know how when big things are happening – you’re falling in love, you’ve had your heart broken, somebody ate the last piece of pizza – every song lyric is written for you? In those moments, those song lyrics for me, very often, were those of Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder.

For years I’ve been watching them announce concert dates, the world over, and thinking ‘should I’, ‘shouldn’t I?’  Then they announced a Florence Festival date *Quick whirl back in time: I went to Italy in 1990, as a long-limbed 16-year old, and fell in love with it* and I thought, ‘I should.’ A few days later, they announced more European dates, one in Sicily.

And that is why I have spent the last weeks plotting and planning and calling in Italian Knights in Shining Armour (IKiSA) to help me translate booking sites and correspond with organisers, to work out if I could wangle it to see Eddie Vedder play in the most beautiful ancient Greek ruins overlooking Mount Etna in Taormina, Sicily. There have been mails to-ing and fro-ing and nails being bitten and so many lovely, kind people both here and in Italy giving me the low-down on accessibility.

Yesterday, I received the final one, from the organiser of the Taormina concert. Yes, I would be able to access the Teatro antico di Taormina, all I needed to do was get online and book, when bookings opened this morning at 10 AM (CET), all in Italian. My IKiSA gave me careful instructions on what to do. Yesterday, using Google Translate, I registered on the ticket site, practiced buying a ticket for something else, Google Translated every little line.

I checked three different websites to make sure that 10 AM (CET) was the same as 11 AM here.

This morning, with my ADSL behaving like a 2-year old that doesn’t want to go to school, I pretended to do some work while I watched the clock like a civil servant waiting for tea-time. At 10:45 AM I moved myself and my tetchy computer into the kitchen, with its nose against the modem and logged on on my phone too, in case. Google Translate was open. Everything else was closed, so that my computer could concentrate solely on the matter at hand: Getting. Those. Tickets.

10:58.

10:59.

11:00! And there they were! A little green button next to ‘Biglietti’! I clicked on it, put in the number of tickets and clicked on ‘Metti nel carrello’. The little Circle Thingy of Hell turned and turned, the page not changing. I started doing the same thing on my phone, a panic rising from the pit of my stomach.

Wait! A Capchta code. Eek. Those things freak me out. Is it a ‘C’ or a ‘c’, a ‘W’ or a ‘w’? I felt like I was doing my final Chemistry prac again.

Success! New screen.

Pick ‘Ritiro sul luogo dell’evento’, as told by IKiSA. Then more Circle Thingy of Hell, as the time-allowed-clock ticked down from 10:00 to 08:40. My shattered nerves. New page loading!

What? Who? You need me to fill in which? Eek. Frantic Google Translating … Enter credit card details.

We’re down to 04:21.  The timer is sticking it’s tongue out at me. 02:34.

Enter SMS’ed code to agree to payment coming off my card: 9939.

Circle Thingy of Hell.
Circle Thingy of Hell .
01:24.
Circle Thingy of Hell …

VOILA! (I think. Everything’s in Italian, but it looks like tickets to Eddie Vedder, and the money’s gone off my account, and I’ve got the e-mail. I feel like I’ve just received a Golden Ticket to go to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.)

I am going to see Eddie Vedder in Taormina, Sicily on 26 June 2017.  I have that excitement that makes the tummy gurgle and the mouth stretch into a smile and the heart flutter arrythmically. The excitement.

This is where I’ll be seeing him. It’s almost unbelievable. Here. That’s the Mediterranean in the distance. Oh. My. God(father). Sicily. Eddie. Swoon.

 

Sheep For Sale

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There are huge old trees in Ganora’s gorgeous gardens. The kind that have cradled generations of Karoo farm children in their boughs  –  for voyages to sea, Secret Society meetings, and the occasional sulk. I’m sure they still do, but on the hot, blue-skied day we were there, they were just standing around on the lawn providing shade for the around seventy farmers. Mostly men, in varying shades of khaki and plenty of blue (don’t accuse me of not catering to dedicated followers of fashion: blue is this year’s colour for farm-wear. And probably last year’s, and next year’s, I’ll stop there), and they were all talking Sheep.

You see, we’d been fortunate enough to be invited to the annual ram auction at Ganora, a ridiculously beautiful farm outside Nieu Bethesda that is not only a working sheep farm, but has fossils, ancient rock paintings, superlative guest rooms by all reports, and lovely owners, the Steynbergs. I stray though. This day was about the sheep.

Down on the bottom terrace, the farmers milled about between the rams (also milling about as much as they could in their enclosures, and slipping out at any opportunity to run amok amongst the humans). After being offered tea and an array of delicious snacky bits, including sweet and sticky koeksisters  – Karoo gasvreiheid is beyond compare  – I watched in fascination as they looked in the sheep’s mouths, examined their woolly jerseys and made notes in their auction booklets, of which I could make neither head nor tail (see what I did there). All I can say is that there is obviously a complicated science behind it.

And then it was auction time. We all piled into the shed and the auctioneer started the sale, his call as strange as that of *something that talks very rythmically and very fast*. Sorry, but I just spent an hour down a Google search wormhole trying to find a Karoo animal that sounds even vaguely like it, but couldn’t. Luckily I recorded it, see below. It’s a weird, on-edge-meets-lullaby feeling, watching (and listening to) an auction.

The very handsome ram gets put in a pen in front of the auctioneer (facing the room of buyers) for all to see, he explains their good points, the hammer drops and then it’s quick-quick, as farmers vie with each other, raising their hands, showing their numbers, being spotted by the spotters (dudes that stand on each side of the auctioneer watching for any missed raised hands, and shouting when they see one). Each ram went for anything between R6 000 and R16 000. I held my breath and didn’t scratch my nose until the hammer dropped for the sale each time, in case I suddenly found myself the proud owner of a ram. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a sheep, but I fear the sheep wouldn’t love my city garden. And, Dwayne.

Once the auction was done, the prices paid, the rams back out in their pens waiting to go to their new homes (and meet their new lady sheep), we all retired back onto the lawns in the shade and enjoyed lunch  –  braais creaking under the weight of the chops being cooked on them, delicious, fresh salads and ice cold beer. Remember the gasvryheid I mentioned earlier? This is gasvryheid on steroids.

We all know I’m already a huge fan of the Karoo, but the more time I spend there, the more I get to experience the inner-workings of the land, the more of a fan I become. There’s a whole world going on out there, a sometimes tough and harsh world, but it’s a world with a gentleness, an unhurried passion, that one doesn’t see in the city. Here, on these farms, your work really is your life, and it’s hot and unrelenting, but it’s done under huge, clear skies on vast plains with so much air to breathe. And there are such lovely people (and sheep, and dogs, and ground squirrels, and, and …) all scattered about.

We Need To Talk About Straws

I’m tetraplegic. That is not something I often talk about in my writings because, more often than not, it has nothing to do with my everyday goings-on. Actually, no, that sentence is incorrect. It, obviously affects everything I do, but in most cases, it’s in the most uninteresting and un-writing-worthy way. I’m straying, though. the point I was making is that, well, I’m going to use it today to give more sway to my argument against straws.

My tetraplegia means that, while I can move my wrists up and down, I cannot move my fingers. Over the past twenty years I have perfected the balancing act of holding a glass or can using gravity and the paw-like action that paralysed fingers naturally take on. If, however, I’m lying down, gravity is not on my side, so I use a water bottle instead. Very occasionally, when drinking something that requires a glass, like raspberry cordial, or something equally beautiful, I will use a straw. I will then wash that straw, let it dry, and use it again next time.

In the same way, very small children, who still use sippy cups at home but want to feel a little grown-up at a restaurant, may need a straw. Or stroke patients, or people who have balance issues. And for all of them, I say go for it, that’s what things like straws are for: to make life easier. But they should only be used in those scenarios.

And there I, finally, get to my point. All you perfectly able people (and children) sucking your liquids through plastic straws, stop! All that plastic is flowing into the sea and straws are getting stuck in turtle’s nostrils and polluting the oceans and just doing bad stuff. And it’s completely unnecessary.

The other day I saw an entire table of late-teens get gorgeous-looking, brightly-coloured cocktails, each with not one, but three straws. Presumably so that they could guzzle them down quicker, knowing teens. I wanted to shout across the tables: “Kids! Kids! You know what? it’s even quicker if you pick the glass up and drink it through your lips. You know those things that were specificaly designed to make it possible for you to sip stuff without it falling down your fronts? Those.”

But this isn’t a rant aimed at teens, it’s aimed at everybody. When did we all forget how to pick up a glass and drink with our lips? How come there’s not a huge move toward not giving a straw with every drink served at a restaurant?

An argument from a friend, whose poor ear I was chewing off about the issue, was hygeine. She was worried about the germs she might get off the rim of her glass. This, after she’d just taken the escalator and held onto the sliding bannister-filled-with-tiny-organisms-from-the-hundreds-of-people-doing-the-same-before-her. Worried about germs? Wipe the rim with your serviette.

Because, as I said before, that straw that you’re using, because you’re too lazy to pick up your own glass and sip with your own mouth, is going to land up in the sea. And it may very well hurt or kill the lovely creatures who live there and aren’t as ‘lucky’ as the guy below, who was found and helped. I put lucky in apostrophes there, because, if you watch this video, you’ll see how bloody awful it was for the poor critter. He BLEEDS. Not to mention how sore he must have been with it lodged there.

Stop with the straws. Just, stop.

Summer Holiday Nostalgia

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As children we were fortunate to have a house at the seaside*. A shack, really, that to me was a palace beyond palaces. It was four rooms. Five, if you counted the bathroom that sat in the garden, a scary-when-you’re-9-years-old five metres away, out of the back door and through the dark. The front door opened into the lounge which opened into my sister and my room which opened into the kitchen, off which my parents’ room was. It was the perfect holiday house.

It was a palace beyond palaces to me, to us, because it was at the seaside. Not on the sea, with views across the ocean, not one of those rambling fake-Spanish monstrosities that started popping up along Beach Road, in the late 80’s, guzzling the aromatic bush, all glass and soulless, no. But it was at the seaside.

Set in the cluster of houses next to town in Port Alfred, where the river bent, we could walk to the beach, or the river, and the air was salty and slightly clammy and, in the house, when we first opened it up on arrival, it smelt like grass mats and damp wood and holiday.

And it was at the seaside which, for us who lived in dusty gold-mining towns over a thousand kilometres from the sea for the other 46 months of the year, was heavenly. And it made that shack a palace in our eyes. And it was. We were extraordinarily privileged to have it, to have those blissful, barefoot summer holidays.

Every year, when schools closed, our parents would pick my sister and me up, the car packed so tightly with tiny bags (summer: we needed only our costumes, a couple of t-shirts and shorts, one light jersey for ‘in case’ and a pair of flip flops to protect our feet from the duiweltjies that would’ve run riot in the garden all year), my mother’s sewing machine, boxes of plums and peaches from our garden on the mine, and the dog. My sister and I would exchange our school uniforms for t-shirts and shorts on the back seat, stuffing them under the car seats not to be seen or thought of for the next six weeks.

We’d eat digestive biscuits with triangles of Melrose cheese squashed on them as we drove over the dam wall, leaving the Free State behind us and entering the Eastern Cape. We’d stop to stretch our legs and walk across the dam wall, leaning over the edge as the water thundered and our hair flew above our heads.

The Eastern Cape has held my heart since those early days. Perhaps it was genetically passed down to me, from my parents who had loved it from their varsity days, and my grandparents before them. I didn’t realise then that I, too, would go to varsity there, and the Eastern Cape would entwine itself around-and-in-and-through my heart more than I thought possible.

Then, though, in my childhood days, that little house was a palace, the place of sandy feet and salty skin; the Treats Drawer (second from the left) that smelt like Christmas fruit cake and chocolate bars; our iron beds made with a sheet and a brown storm blanket that squeaked and squawked and gave us the best sleeps ever; morning swims on Kelly’s Beach, us the only ones there so early; sundowners and picnic suppers on the jetty at the end of the road; the friendly librarians at the library with its puzzle on the huge table always on the go; the smell of the Christmas tree; the sound of my Mother sewing ‘secrets’ late at night, a shaft of light thrown into our room from the kitchen; my Dad collecting mussels at Riet River; of walking behind him on the beach, stretching my legs so that my footsteps could match his 6 foot, four ones.

It was a palace filled with delight.

*Seeing everyone’s gorgeous holiday pictures, I got all reminiscent (and I’m working the night shift tonight, so it’s a good time for some writing.)

Don’t mind if I do, Darling

img_0742As I’ve said on numerous occasions, I’m a small town girl and being in the city (even though I live in it and love it) for too long creates all sorts of claustrophobia that makes me Not Very Nice. It is because of this that it’s a good thing for the world in general, that I make regular trips away from the clogged roads and peopleness of the cities.

Thanks to my occasional blogging for What’s On In Cape Town (see my piece here), the perfect opportunity came up – a little jaunt to Darling, for the inaugural Darling Summer Beer Festival at the ‘new’ Darling Beer Tasteroom and Brewery. I say ‘new’, because it was also the first anniversary of their new premises. And what a celebration it was.

So off we went, packing the newest member of The House in the Middle of the Street – Tinks, the labrador – and us into The Silver-Winged Unicorn, stopping first to show Tinks the sea for the first time (what joy!) and bump into a lovely old friend walking with her just-as-lovely Mum and sweet baby. Once cooled by the sea and sustained by some delicious tapas at Damhuis in Melkbos we ambled along the road to Darling.

Darling is a quaint town, with an even-more-quaint name, and the Darling Brewery – just over the train tracks and down a dust road in the ‘industrial’ part of town – gives added dimension to a town that offers an incredible number of things to do, despite having a population of only 10 000.

After meeting up with one of my oldest friends, SJ, we dropped our things at The Granary and off we headed to the brewery.

Saturday was hot and blue-skied and the summer wind was howling, blowing up the dust from the road leading to the brewery and almost blowing us over getting out of the car. It was perfect beer drinking weather. In the grounds of the brewery there was plenty of shade and shelter in the form of two Bedouin tents, all set about with hay bale seating and pallet tables. There’s a kid’s jungle gym in the garden of the brewery that’ll ellicit squeals of happiness from every and any child.

Felix, the fabulous brewer who we’d met on our previous visit, decked out in lederhosen, welcomed us and introduced us to his two friends visiting from Germany, and so an afternoon of chilled beer, relaxed vibes and great company began.

It being a beer festival, there was plenty of beer to be had. Served icy cold, all of Darling Brewery’s favourites were available – the Bone Crusher, Sun Gazer and Gypsey Mask, to name just three – and also their new lager, the Blood Serpent, Africa’s first carbon neutral beer, how fabulous! To get into the festive spirit, a glass of the seasonal Red Goblin was just the ticket. Inspired by the Samango monkey, it has subtle overtones of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and ginger.

There were guest brewers and bands playing and food being cooked and eaten (including some of the best spare ribs I’ve ever tasted. Unfortunately I forgot to take note of the name of the stall. Fall-off-the-bone, juicy marinade, lip-smacking stuff). [Edit: I’ve been informed the rib spectacularity was from The Flying Pig. Look out for them and, if you’re lucky enough to be near them … eat their ribs!] I liked the ‘braaibroodjies with a twist’ idea, too. And the best thing about it was the wonderfully mixed crowd of both locals and visitors to Darling. City pretension had not been allowed through the gates, and it made my heart soar.

An entire paragraph must be dedicated to Darling Sweet’s toffees. Orange and pomegranate toffee. It’s the stuff of dreams. Dreams, I tell you. You have to stop and be still when you eat it, because it’s a taste explosion that I’d imagine Willie Wonka would’ve made, had he made toffees and not chocolate. Sublime.

After making friends with a local farmer’s wife who, it turned out, is the cousin of one of my neighbours and one of my favourite people in Nieu Bethesda (how small the world is) and a wonderful young guy who explained the process of bottling with a passion I’ve not seen often in people about their careers, we headed off to sit on our stoep and watch the spectacular sunset and quaff wine while talking Saturday Sundowner Talk.

Perfect small town soothing for a city-dwelling small town girl, thanks Darling.