2016: Reminiscing and shout-outs

Life is all about balance.

We need the lows to truly appreciate the highs.

Being happy all the time only exists in our social media lives.

The reality of 2016 has been one of extremes. The highlights were abundant and beyond anything I had dreamed for myself. The lows, well, can you get any lower than Zuma and Trump 😦

Like any other year, in 2016 I have had moments of 100% magic, experiences that were above average, times that were just”nice” all counterbalanced by crap days, admin, boring chores and frustrating curve balls.

Let’s start with the magic.

By now you all know that I wish I was a ninja but I am actually the biggest fraidy cat in the world. This year I tried really hard to face some of my fears .

Fear of heights and a generally overactive mind that imagines all the ways I could die doing an adventure activity.

I went aqua hiking in Reunion Island

I jumped from about 5 miles high into a pool. Read about it here. I almost had a heart attack and bailed out, but I eventually jumped. Thanks Dawn Jorgensen for making me brave.

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It is much higher than it looks when you are standing there trying to jump.

I swam in the Devil’s Pool on the very edge of the Victoria Falls in Zambia.

Obviously I was convinced I would be swept over the edge, but I survived it and actually the scariest part was the unseen fishes that kept biting my feet, that was creepy.

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One of the most exilarating experiences of my life

I zip-lined. In the dark.

I have a love hate relationship with zip-lining. I love the feeling of flying but I am petrified of heights. Add to this the fact that I was not very good at braking and it gets messy. I would twist and turn totally out of control while imagining plummeting to my death in the valley below. Then, I learned how to brake (finally, after completing over 10 zip line experiences, I’m a very slow learner) and now I am addicted to zip lining. Cape Canopy Tours took it to a whole new level with their full moon adventure. Except the moon stayed hidden behind the mountain and only appeared as we were hiking out. Ziplining in pitch blackness is bizarre, unique and a total rush, especially when you know how to slow and brake like a pro 😉

 I went underground to explore the lava tunnels on Reunion Island

I fought my claustrophobia (only just) and spent a fascinating and slightly terrifying 2 hours underground in the lava tunnels formed by the many volcanic eruptions on the Island. I will confess to joining a few others in our group for a brief moment of panic and hyper-ventilating, but I did it, I’m glad I did it and I would even do it again.

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The lava tunnels are under this other worldly landscape.

Helicopters.

These whirlybirds tap in to all my usual fears of crashing, dying and heights but I’m over that now as I was totally spoiled  with helicopter flips this year. I learned a valuable lesson. Up to half an hour in the air is fine, anything longer and the airsickness kicks in along with desperate teeth-clenching to avoid vomiting. Viewing Cape Town from the air with NAC Helicopters is a must do experience, you can read about mine here

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Perfect views of Cape Town from inside an NAC Helicopter

I fell in love with a river and despite the drought, flying over the Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River  with United Air Charter was a hugely emotional experience.

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Exploring the whole island of Reunion from a helicopter is an adventure second to none. We flew over volcanoes, through skinny gorges and spiraled dizzyingly above multiple waterfalls before calming down to serene views of the beaches and coastline. Some serious flying skills by Pierre from Helilagon during this mind blowing hour in the air.

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Wildlife

Wild animals are always amazing and seeing them where they belong, in the wild, is a humbling experience. Swaziland blew me away with the beauty of their reserves, their conservation success and the abundance of wildlife there. I trotted past zebra on horseback, viewed elephants bathing, giraffe eating, hippo yawning and lions sleeping. All over just a few days in this fabulous kingdom.

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Thanks to Anje Rautenbach I was part of a group of bloggers who adopted a penguin, read all about Pax the Penguin here.

I marched for Lions in Cape Town to highlight the plight of captive bred lions. Read more and support BloodLions  and get all the info on the plight of lions here in my article on Traveller 24.

It sounds like my life was a non stop perfect adventure, so before you start hating on me, lets get back to reality. In January and June I had surgery to remove skin cancer from my face and arms. More to still be removed,but that is a issue for next year. Please wear hats, load on the sunblock and beware of the sun.Skin cancer is a big problem in our country and it comes and bites you years after your over exposure to the sun.

My hot water cylinder burst,and a new one set me back ZAR15K, I nearly cried. My car decided it needed a new everything and then some dip-shit reversed out of a parking place on the side of a road and hit me as I was driving past. This was in Sedgefield while I was on holiday. Of course the driver had no ID, insurance or license. In fact they were even unsure of their own address. Turned into an admin nightmare.

My beloved Xperia Z3 phone had 3 CPU’S replaced as it kept overheating and then dying. Vodacom were beyond unhelpful, my insurance people were awesome but I still spent too many ZAR’s buying and iPhone 6s and I am still locked in to the Z3 contract. 😦 I think I am not an Apple fan because compatibility is a tech nightmare.

Let’s get back to the happy stuff. Highlight on the home front was getting my 2nd grandchild in April. His name is Oliver and he is an adorable brother to Stella who turned 3 this year.

Photography

Four days into this year I decided impulsively to commit to posting a pic a day on Instagram. #366daysofmakingspace. I was inspired by Heather Mason  whose photography I am in awe of, and she never missed a single day on the project, and she started on the 1st. I missed a few days due to illness or absolutely no connection, but I did make the effort to “make space” for photography and it was awesome. There are probably too many images of Table Mountain on my account but I realised that actually I don’t care.

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My photos are for me. I experiment, photograph what appeals to me and it thrills my soul. I have climbed trees, mountains, bridges, roofs and walls, risked speeding fines chasing a sunset, captured incredible moments, stood on the middle of bridges, roads and railway lines to the extent that my friends created #DiDontDie. I have spent about 1000 hours on photo missions this year, learned a lot and am no longer daunted by how much more I still have to learn. This is an exciting adventure and all consuming hobby that I am loving.

I was surprised to have three images accepted for the Cape Town Igerbook (hope it comes out soon) and did my first ever weekend taker over on Instagram for Kaapstadmag. Thanks for the vote of confidence guys.

Please follow me on Instagram, I’m begging 🙂 In my quest for the perfect shot only a few phones and one camera have been harmed.

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Addicted to beaches and sunsets

I almost became a foodie 

I have had some outstanding culinary experiences, I ate Miso soup at 89 on Copper, the restaurant at Brahman Hills in the Natal Midlands. I rate this as the best eatery I experienced in 2016, if you are ever in the area treat yourself. I even read the whole article on Anje Rautenbachs Degustation Experience, after I had looked up what degustation means.

I tasted countless mouth watering feasts in various towns along the Cape West Coast Foodie Route, drank bucket loads of pink gin in Zambia, sipped and became addicted to Groot Constantia’s Grand Constance and became a fan of many of the various flavours of Rooibos Tea by Carmien, read all about this proudly SA company here. It’s just not in me to be a foodie, but huge respect for the creative people who use food as their medium for art.

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South Africa

I explored some new areas and returned to old favourites.

Ladismith on Route 62 was unexpectedly fabulous (blog post coming soon) and the Natal Midlands is a place I will definitely go back to.

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Brahman Hills and the Midlands Meander in KZN

Piket-Bo-Berg was another eye opener and place I had never heard of. Take a drive on the N7 and visit this place if you are in the Western Cape. Read about People Rocking Nature on the N7 here.

Durban is always a repeat destination, as is the Garden Route and in particular the Wilderness. Read about my Garden Route travels here and here.

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One of my favourite Durban images taken at Moyo Pier.

I loved road tripping to Oudtshoorn and showing off Gansbaai and the West Coast to Anje. Covering the Fynarts Festival in Hermanus reminded me just how creative South Africans are.Read about this amazing festival here.

This post is way too long, if you have read all the way to the end, thank you. This is just a fraction of what I experienced in 2016. I am tired. So much of the really awesome adventures were concentrated into a very short time frame that saw me catching 22 flights in 11 weeks. At the end of that fantastic, manic round of travel I got some nasty bug and was forced to my bed on and off for 2 weeks.

Overall 2016 has been very good to me and I am lucky to have shared it with great friends, my supportive travel family ( you know who you are) and wonderful clients who have become friends and introduced me to inspiring places and new people.

Thank you everyone who has been part of my journey in 2016.

After all the adventures I have had, I broke my toe in my kitchen last week 😦

Happy 2017 everyone.

PS. Once again I have been inspired by Heather Mason.

I am committing to a blog post a week for every week in 2017.

This is going to be really tough but it is the ONLY way my poor neglected blog will get attention, and I know that certain unnamed bloggers will nag me and hold me to this promise. Wish me luck.

 

Aqua hiking, the ultimate experience on Reunion Island.

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“Look straight ahead and just take a step” says Aliocha, our guide.

I am about to obey and then time slows down,

My legs turn to jelly and my mind screams

“Are you flippen insane? “

I am standing on a slippery rock next to a waterfall that drops for way too many meters before it hits the pool below in a fury of white water. Above me green cliffs soar towards the heavens, the sky is blue, the sun is shining and I am in paradise.

I am also absolutely petrified and unable to move.

For days I have been mentally preparing myself for this jump of eight meters.

“It is mind over matter. It will be over in seconds. You can do it.”

Right, tell that to my body, because as much as I really want to jump, I just can’t seem to take that one little step.

I decide to start again.

I take a step back and foolishly look down. A swear word escapes from my lips.

I breathe.

Deeply.

Right, I am afraid of heights and today I am going to face my fear.

I make the decision, step forward, look forward and so begins the longest hesitation…

For thirty endless seconds I stand like a fool saying out loud

“I am going to do this, I want to do this, I can do this”.

I hyperventilate.

And then I just jump.

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It is not pretty, it is nowhere near graceful, but it is exhilarating.

I free fall and hit the water like a bullet, my body goes underwater while the life jacket rockets up to my ears and pops me back above the surface.

Laughing and gasping for breath, I look up to where I was standing just a few seconds ago.

It looks so far away; I can’t believe I just jumped from way up there.

I feel like a ninja. I am a flippen ninja.

Welcome to the ultimate experience on Reunion Island. This is Aqua Hiking, and if I can do it, anyone can do it.

The first challenge of aqua hiking starts after a winding, uphill drive from the coastal town of Saint Benoit to a small informal car park alongside the Langevin River.

The guide Aliocha, (just call me Yosh) presents me with my outfit for the day.

Stripped down to my bathing costume I start the long and arduous process of putting on a full body wetsuit. This involves a lot of grunting, rolling, stretching and pushing flesh into rubbery corners until finally it is on and I am exhausted.

Then come the socks, takkies, life jacket and helmet and the final flourish is a heavy duty Prussian blue piece of plastic that fits like a nappy. Not styling this look at all, and sweating profusely in this attractive getup, I start the 200 meter uphill walk to official starting point.

The not so little pint sized one in the middle is me.

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The views from the start are spectacular and a good excuse for a quick rest. A group in front of me are ziplining into the pool below, but our route involves climbing, slithering and slipping down black mossy rocks, over boulders in finally into the 8 degree water.

A few practice jumps off a meter high rock and I am oozing confidence. Bring it on.

Saying goodbye to the eight waterfalls that thunder into the first pool, I realise that this water flows pretty fast and concentrate on the instructions from Yosh.

Basically he tells me to lie on my back and use my feet and hands to avoid crashing into large rocks. OK then.

Yosh is incredibly fit, softly spoken and really calm. This is a good thing as freaking out was definitely an option on hearing these instructions.

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“Lie down, I am going to push you underwater. You must go under this rock, but don’t worry, you will come up on the other side.”

Whaaat? I can’t  even see the other side. Somehow I obey, and don’t drown.

I swirl along a few more gentle rapids, taking the line Yosh indicates and probably due to brain freeze, I trust everything that he says. Mostly it works out fine and then this happened.

I have been slipping and sliding over rocks, wading through shallow pools and climbing up and down embankments around trees, when I am told to sit down on a flat rock waist deep in water.

“Move to the left and lie down in the channel. Look up, cross your arms over your chest, I am going to push you, and keep to the left of the waterfall. Just trust me”

What the……. ?

I am sliding, no I am airborne and I am hurtling down a waterfall, inhaling most of it as I go. Once again the life jacket hits my ears and spluttering, choking and laughing I hang on to a rock to catch my breath.

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A swim to the rocky wall and I am behind a waterfall. Oh my soul, this is too much. I stand there grinning like a maniac trying to take it all in. The noise of the water rushing to meet the pool overwhelms all other senses and for a moment I am completely in awe of the power of nature. It is raw, unbridled energy.

Crouched down, I use everything I have to launch myself and I dive right through the waterfall and into the white water. I roll onto my back and float with the current.

I have never felt so alive.

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All too soon it is over and I wade through a few more pools before the short walk up and along the embankment to the car park.

The adventure ends with an ice cold beer and the long process of getting out of wetsuits, helmets and all the rest and back into regular clothes.

I felt like I could conquer the world. The next day, I could barely walk and sported an impressive collection of scrapes and bruises.

But I feel like a ninja. I am a flippen ninja.

I would do it again without a second thought. Next time, I’m choosing the full day option.

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To book an Aqua Hike contact www.Runaventures.com

Air Austral flies between Johannesburg and Reunion Island on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Thanks to Hannelie Diedericks for taking the pics with my phone. I need the evidence to prove to myself that I actually did this. 🙂

Disclosure:  My visit to Reunion was as a guest of Reunion Tourism.   Opinions are all my own.