Thursday, June 30, 2016

The End of the Road, but not the Journey

It's been a long two years since I first started this blog for the purpose of recording and sharing our experiences and travels... and now we have finally arrived at the last post. What a journey it has been! We've seen, done, and learned so much; we've grown as individuals and together as a family, despite things not always working out as planned. Countless memories have been made, and we're all a little wiser (and slightly older too).

But just because this season in our lives is coming to a close, doesn't mean the adventure is over. We are settled in a new town and a new house, with new opportunities, new friends, and new memories to be made laying ahead. It's a good reminder of the saying,

So without further ado, here follows some of our individual reflections - check out the full pieces on Parents' Thoughts, Elna's Musings and The Boys' Corner.

Of the 20 months we didn't know where we were going to end up, for about eight we were nomadic and living out of bags and boxes (bags for clothes, boxes for books and food, literally), or working as volunteers on farms. The other twelve months we lived on a farm in the Kammanassie. Therefore highlights will be separated into these two categories.

Highlights during our 8 months of travel: 

  • The 3 farms where we volunteered – the people, the work we did and to experience farm life
  • Being together and getting to know each other as a family in every new adventure or exploration of the unknown
  • All the interesting people that we met and got to know better. Our whole understanding of what ‘normal’ means changed radically and we discovered that people are unique and choose their specific lifestyles for a reason they consider ‘normal’

~  While doing a treetop tour near Stormsriver I happened to see chameleons in the wild for the first time - a few small and large ones in the treetops very close to us – that taught me to always be on the lookout for the little interesting things you may discover unexpectedly on a journey!

~  Every hike (whether short or long) in forests, on mountains, seasides, ‘veld’ or ‘vlaktes’
~  Having coffee in a jail cell at the Provost in Grahamstown
~  Camping on the sea at Stormsriver
~  Reading to colored children in Piketberg

~  Listening to Nama stories around a campfire, seeing the moon come up, and go down again (when you wake up), having splash wars with Michael (our guide) on the Orange River
~  The Strand's giant ice creams (best in South Africa, if you ask me)
~  The single, gorgeous Disa flower we saw at the Groot Winterhoek Nature Reserve, and the scenery too

~  I'll never forget the spectacular New Year's Eve fireworks at the Cape Town Waterfront

~  We saw a lot of fantastic places, but the Knysna Lake really made a big impression on me. [when we drove into Knysna, Maarten's first comment was that he'd like to live there] 

Highlights during our year-long stay in the Kammanassie 

~  Enough time to really spend hundreds of hours focusing on developing better trading skills
~  Simple farming experiments where the plan is easy and everything makes sense, and then the reality turns out otherwise and usually more complex than planned!

~  The view from our stoep on the place where we stayed
~  Experiencing four seasons on our doorstep!
~  All the animals we had – the ponies, the pigs, the chickens and little Nassie the kitten who grew into a cat
~  To have met wonderful people of different cultures and building relationships with them

~  The safety on the farm – I could take long walks all alone, wherever and whenever I wanted to
~  The quiet, the wind, the mountains, and the darkness at night (one can see millions of stars there)
~  Really developing and practising my photography skills, despite not having a proper camera (it goes to show that it's the photographer that counts, not some fancy camera)

 ~  I really enjoyed to make such good friends with the local workers' children, particularly Brendon, Brayton and Jaylin

~  Having JanDiesel as a 'little brother' (though not biological) was really special for me

Lowlights in General

~ Process of figuring out a new career

~  Sometimes we did not have enough space to pack out and find things
~  Sometimes we worked on each others’ nerves in confined spaces and being with each other 24hours per day
~  The over-commercialization of some tourist spots
~  Stopping projects that are not working out according to plan

~  school chaos in a tent at PE,
~  seeing the after-New Year's Eve-party mess and the huge amount of garbage being blown into the ocean at Cape Town's Waterfront, despite trash cans standing everywhere(!)
~  being exhausted but I don't even know why
~  friendship disappointments

~  I missed Potch (the known), and the stability it'd always represented for me
~ All the hiking (I don't like hiking)

~  I missed our old house a lot. [both boys were born in that house, by the way – thus much sentiment]

What Could We Not Do Without?

~  My laptop and smartphone, definitely.

~  The portable washing line and a kettle
~  A cup of tea or sometimes a glass of wine
~  My really warm jacket and buff (for the cold) and
~  always having a book to read!

~  my camera (during most of the trip, it was a Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone),
~  my earphones (ATTENTION, this is a lifesaver), and
~  my 'kamerjas' (so fluffy)

~  A place that I can go to, to be by myself.

~  My soft toy 'Perdjie', which I got when I was 2 years old.

What We Learned About Ourselves

~  I realized how bad I actually knew myself, as the times the real person inside come out is when you are in different, challenging and sometimes stressful situations

~  I don’t enjoy cold weather
~  That I enjoy beauty around me and function better in wide open spaces/areas – small spaces makes me moody
~  Things can work out ok even without a longterm plan for everything
~  Sometimes unplanned experiences are the most exciting

Getting to know myself, I realize that I loved:
~  watching a whale leap for joy from one end of the horizon to the other,
~  tapping my foot to a colourful musical fountain,
~  the Kalahari and it's different beauty, with red dunes and plains of waving golden grass ('goue grassies') in the evening sunlight,
~  pasta the proper Italian way (made by an Italian – we visited them on a farm near the Kammanassie)

~  I didn't know I could row the Orange River. That was quite a personal victory for me.

~  I didn't know I could operate a TLB machine – that was awesome! ['oom' Jan let them work with the TLB once on the Kammanassie farm] 

Some Lessons Learned

  • One’s attitude will determine your experience!
  • One needs very little stuff to experience things
  • People are very adaptable – whether to adapt to living conditions (we stayed in  a variety of places ranging from shacks, tents, flat, houses and even in an industrial area) or food or clothes or routine.
  • You design your own lifestyle by how you spend your time and your money
  • Sometimes you can be really lucky (as in the Kruger National park when we saw all the animals in one day)
  • You have to reach out to people, they seldom do
  • Men don’t pack logically 
  • You have to be prepared for change – it's an attitude, and a skill. 
  • When you start something new, it's exciting and fun, but after a certain time it's not as wonderful any more and can get too much. 
  • To notice and appreciate the little things in life is precious

An interesting realization I(Elna)'ve had is that a lot of people have this 'travel dream', in which they want to see the world (maybe with a couple of friends) and have a romantic, happy-go-lucky, careless and flexible kind of lifestyle for a few months, or maybe a gap year or two. I was one of those people, but I've now realized travel, especially as a lifestyle (not just vacations), is rather overrated in this context. It's not just one big vacation (though some people probably think what we did is exactly this). In reality, it's life. You get your ups, your downs, lessons, fun, disappointments, worries, pleasures. You learn, you grow, you change.

Life is a million little things, not one big thing. Once you realize that, and start living out each day as your own, the journey begins. 

Our journey is not over, but we hope that this season in our lives will inspire and encourage others. A final THANK YOU to all the readers, we really appreciated your comments! 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Grooving the Moving

Following up from the previous post, after our last week of official touring we stayed in Potchefstroom with my grandparents while packing up all our stuff which had been in storage for the last 20 months, in one part of our old house. It was a complicated business and took a lot more time than one thinks it should. First off we had to 'collect' all our furniture that has been stored elsewhere and get everything at our house in preparation for the moving truck's arrival. Then everything already in the storeroom had to be portably repacked.

Packing our hundreds of books into boxes - good thing mom asked both grans if they could start collecting cardboard boxes a few months ago. 

We also had to figure out how to partially dismantle an old, sentimental family piano - it's been broken for a long time and so we decided to see if we could remove the very heavy, cast iron plate/metal frame for easier transport of the antique. Dad cut the strings first (because if you remove the tuning pins while the strings are still taut, the piano will implode), then used his drill to take out the tuning pins, taking breaks as the drill overheated. When all the pins were finally removed however, we still couldn't get the frame out. Eventually my grandfather came to the rescue with his grinder and knowledge of carpentry. 

Cutting strings. 

Believe me, this thing is much heavier than it looks. 

Putting back the keys. 

It was an emotional time for us too, as we were leaving the place where all of our childhood memories were made behind. When we discovered our toddler/preschool artwork and mom refused to move nine boxes of it to Oudtshoorn, we burned it over a period of a few sad sentimental evenings, showing everything to our artist-grandma Elna before we threw it in the flames (she took a lot of the stuff for herself though, haha).

"...And here I dumped string in paint and let it fall on paper." (seriously though)

On May 25th our moving truck arrived, and after everything was first carried onto our sidewalk, the Oudtshoorn Furniture Removal team fitted everything into a part of the truck like a jigsaw (which took a whole morning).

Almost all our stuff on the sidewalk...

A few big wardrobes. 

Packing in. 

Then we drove down (a 1000 kilometres!) to the beautiful old house we are now renting in Oudtshoorn, an historic town in the Little Karoo famous for its ostriches, heat and the annual KKNK ('Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees', Little Karoo National Arts Festival). Oudtshoorn is known as the 'ostrich capital of the world' as well as the twin town of Alphen aan den Rijn (a town in the Netherlands), and owes a large part of its wealth to the ostrich-feather industry booms in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Approaching familiar mountains... the Swartberg mountains (they lie next to the Kammanassie mountains where we lived last year). 

First night in our new house! We slept on the floor.

The next day the moving truck arrived. The unloading went well and everyone was soon unpacking boxes, trying to remember where they put what exactly. Interior decorating was also plenty of fun.

They knew what they were doing.  

Empty corridor, awaiting our many paintings and photos. 


A good example concerning how priorities differ... I fixed up my bed first, while Theuns got out his collection of airplane models.

Unpacking school books. 

One lovely fireplace. 

Our furniture suits the house, don't you think? 

Thanks for reading, and watch out for the last post that will finish off this blog next week. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Mpumalanga Explorations

After the Kruger National Park, we toured Mpumalanga and saw the biggest tourist attractions in this province over a few days, including places such as Pilgrim's Rest and the Blyde River Canyon. It was  an exciting (albeit exhausting) week and officially our last 'tourist-hat' days for a long time....Here follows what we did.

One fantastic Baobab Tree (Kremetart Boom) next to the road. We stopped spontaneously, as these trees are usually more north and we'd never seen one before.  

Coming out of the Kruger Park, we drove to Pilgrim's Rest and stayed in the caravan park that night. We arrived late afternoon and were just in time to check out the different museum buildings. 

Pilgrim's Rest are famous for the buildings made from sink, originally built by gold prospectors. 

Gold was first discovered by prospector Alec Patterson in 1873 who, when he grew tired of the nearby MacMac diggings, went out and explored the area on his own. He found gold in Pilgrim's Creek and soon more than a thousand people were panning for gold, resulting in a sudden village: Pilgrim's Rest. It only lasted a few years however, and then bigger companies moved in with proper equipment in order to mine the deeper gold ore. In 1986 the village was proclaimed a National Monument, and it is now mainly a tourist attraction as living memory of the gold rush years. 

Part of the museum, these are the kind of tents the gold prospectors lived in before they could build more solid dwellings. 

After a demonstration of what gold panning entails, the boys were in the freezing water and looking for gold themselves. They found flecks of gold, but it was so small it looked like misplaced glitter. 

In the transportation museum. Pilgrim's Rest is located between 2 passes, and thus in the old days it used to be very hard getting a car there. Cars and trucks had to be hauled over the mountains by horses/donkeys. 

The General Dealer store. Gold panning is very hard work - this guy was obviously a bit smarter than the rest of them, and got his gold by trading food and essentials with the panners. 

One of the old switch boards used when making telephone calls, in a museum. It was the first time we saw a machine like this. 

At the old Post Office museum - a Post Box really is a handy thing you know, how about a bit of appreciation?

One of the churches. 

Although the Pilgrim's Rest caravan park was a bit rundown, we decided to camp there as this 300-site park is beautifully situated amongst massive autumn trees with a lot of atmosphere. So, after looking for somebody to help us get permission and unlock the facilities, we camped there all by ourselves for one night.  

It got very cold as the campsite is next to a stream, but a local helped us with stacks of wood, so a good old campfire was made and it kept the cold at bay! 

Running amongst the huge autumn trees.

Pancakes for lunch the next day! 

Magical mirrors - I know you have a big brain and a long neck, but please shut your mouth. 

 We visited Echo Caves and enjoyed an hour-long tour of this surprisingly large underground network of tunnels and formations. Echo Caves were used by a black tribe as a hideout long ago, and when a farmer discovered it on his land in the middle 1900's, he found the evidence of their presence among the stalagmites and stalactites. He opened it as a tourist attraction soon after, however a big part of the caves (about 16 km) remain inaccessible to the public.

There were many interesting formations including a Madonna, an ostrich head, an ostrich body separate from the head, an elephant head, etc. Can you spot the ostrich head here? (It's upside down and just left of my dad's head).

Tree roots growing down more than 200 meters from the surface. 

Elephant skin rock (fascinating texture).

Apparently, some of the tribe members sometimes used stalactites as weapons/spears.

Red or blue, which to choose? 

We passed through Graskop (a town) and continued on to see some of the most popular sightings in Mpumalanga. The Lowveld Panorama Route (what the area around Graskop is called) is known for its spectacular views and many waterfalls, and we alternated between these, sleeping over at Blyde River Canyon Lodge. This is what we saw on route...

The Pinnacle, named for obvious reasons. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Krugers in the Kruger

One of the biggest nature reserves in South Africa (and undoubtedly the most well known) is the massive Kruger National Park in the Northeastern corner of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. Home to an incredibly diverse range of species including the Big Five, the Kruger has come a long way since it was originally established as the Sabie River Game Reserve in 1898 by the then-president of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger (the name was later changed when a few smaller nature reserves merged together to form the Kruger).

The Paul Kruger Gate - in honor of his original vision for a nature/game reserve in the 'bosveld' (bush). 

The Park is now a world-famous attraction, and so we couldn't say we toured South Africa but didn't go to the Kruger (surnames aside). Thus followed a day of game watching (though it should be called first game-searching, then game-watching). Considering we started out rather late, we saw a huge variety of animals. 

Of the Big Five we saw 4 - number one was a whole herd of elephants. These giants are quite destructive, but the calves stay adorable. 

Sibling rivalry is not just among humans. 

Concerning antelopes, we saw many Impalas and a few Kudu, Waterbuck, Bushbuck, Steenbok, Nyala, and Blue Wildebeest. Interestingly enough, the Kruger does not have Gemsbok or Springbok, both which we saw plenty of in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

"What a beauuutiful day," says the Waterbuck calf (I adore this picture). 

Little Steenbokkie.

Some cool Kudu calf moves (evening stretches).

Beautiful shy Nyalas. 

This hyena was lying right next to the road. We suspect she was either pregnant, or had just eaten an entire impala by herself.  

We saw a couple of warthogs (Pumba!)... 

Tanning hippos...

The odd giraffe...