All posts filed under: Travel

Things I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Want to Know

Published first in the Sunday Times’ Accidental Tourist – 13 May 2018 They say there are things we know we don’t know and things we don’t know we don’t know. The unknown unknowns. Before going to the Seychelles, I knew there would be blue sea and white sand and coconuts and I had heard talk of bats and turtles. Other than that, I knew I was going in blind. And that excited me. I like not being a know-it-all. Perhaps I have no choice in the matter, but the surprise element was very appealing. I wasn’t prepared, though, for the things I discovered that I didn’t know I didn’t know. The best case of this came one evening on a beach on a private island in the archipelago – the remote North Island that had taken three planes and two boats to access from Cape Town. We had been hiking through the jungle terrain of one of the island’s peaks, slipping down fallen palm fronds and scrambling up giant black boulders. The guide led the way …

The Peculiar Virtues of a Cactus Garden

When we speak of gardens, we all imagine different things. Some of us conjure up images of wild jungle-like spaces with towering palm trees and human-size ferns taking over ponds, or secret paths winding under pockets of cool shade from giant oaks and dappled light created by ancient cedar trees. These kinds of garden lovers are the dreamers and adventurers of the horticultural world and, like their gardens, they prefer not to be tamed. Their fingernails, toe nails, nostrils and brows are all marked with the soil they excitedly embrace with a whole heart. They are easily distracted by the call of a bird – one wonders if they have not created their garden solely for the enjoyment of these winged vagabonds. As a place for the birds to enjoy and for the garden lover to enjoy the birds. You can detect this with the countless bird baths, handmade suet balls and seed feeders scattered around the greenery. And the chairs set up beside them. Some of us settle on an image of a prim …

Cycling with the Wild Things of Kenya

First published on the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog. No matter how many times I get on a bicycle and head out on city streets or country roads or mountains trails, it is always Einstein I see. With his big lawless mop of white hair and his goofy “spent too much time in the lab” smile. And I hear his words about how cycling is just like life. “To keep your balance, you must keep moving,” the great physicist said. It’s useful advice should you ever forget how to ride a bicycle, or, simply, how to do life. How to keep your balance in the continuous play. You truly feel this balance when you’ve conquered something, like incline after incline, and when the smooth ride of the flats leads into a fast and glorious downward soar. It’s a feeling that is all the stronger when out in the wilderness, in big sky country like Kenya’s Chyulu Hills at ol Donyo Lodge. Here, vast stretches of uninterrupted land surround you in every direction. Wild animals roam beside …

The Beauty of Solitude at Sunrise

First published on the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog. I want to tell you about the sunrise, because you weren’t there. You were 5000 kilometres away and I was alone on Paje beach on the east coast of Zanzibar, still expecting you to take your place next to me. I waited for the sun to peep out of the darkness before I stood up and decided to take the step forward, to explore, by myself. If you weren’t going to join me, I would enjoy it for the both of us. I would explore everything. I know that it is often that which first appears quiet or dark that holds the greatest mystery. And it did. The stillness of sunrise revealed a whole other world to me. People always say that sunrise and sunset stand like bookends on the tale of a day, but I realised that they hold stories of their own, if you take the time to look closely. Sunrise is a different story across Africa, but on a beach in the Indian Ocean, …

Imagine All the People, Living Life in Peace

“Imagine there’s no countries / It isn’t hard to do / Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion, too / Imagine all the people / Living life in peace.” – John Lennon I wasn’t there when it happened. I was at home, an ocean away. But I saw the images, I heard the words, I felt the sorrow, and I did what we all do. I put myself in the scene. I went back a year and a few months to that Christmas trip, when we danced along the pavement of Tower Bridge and photographed the grand beams leading up to a castle in the sky, as the sun’s own beams cast flares across our camera lenses. I was there for a moment, oblivious again to any movement around us. Londoners went about their day, like any day, as I imagine they did that night the Tower, one of London’s busiest river crossings, and its pedestrians and oglers and out-of-towners and lovers and nightowls and late workers… were hit. At home in Cape Town, the Tower Bridge often appeared …

The Scared Heart of Madagascar

In moments like this, I can never tell whether my heart is beating faster, wilder, its doof doof doof building dizzily, or whether it has stopped. What I do know is that it is not rested in the in-between. And it is not on terra-firma, wherever it is, whatever it’s up to. Moments like this are the culmination of coming across something never before seen – not by me at least, and not by many – and seeing it with strangers, locals here in Madagascar, three people who have already made their way into my heart. This confused heart. This heart that finds itself in unknown territory, a territory so powerful that reacting in any simple way is just not possible. You made it more powerful, fellow explorers, leading me to that sacred space in the Lost World of Antafiamohara – past the tall wooden sculptures carved by local hands that call this region of and around Anjajavy in Madagascar home. The faces of those sculptures that stared back at me as we entered the …

The Art of Getting to Know Someone

First published here, on the Royal Chundu blog. As I sit with my laptop before me, both connecting me with the world and getting between the two of us, I am more and more aware that while modern life may let us know more people, it does not necessarily let us know them. We get to follow the lives of friends, family, acquaintances, people we’ve never met, and learn about them through screens – but we rarely commit as much time and spirit to doing so face to face. Through that unscripted, unfiltered, unpolished yet beautiful interaction of two people sitting across from each other, getting to know each other. We find ourselves in other people, and through them. We also, simply, find them, other unique souls to connect with, grow with, feel with – truly, messily, embarrassingly, feel. The heart shows up. In a way that it can’t through a screen, through the facades of technology. When you travel, you get to meet new people, and sometimes you get to stay around long enough to get …

At One with the Wild Things of Madagascar

First published on the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog. If it is true that fear is the opposite of love, Anjajavy is one place your heart can be sure to find itself again. There are many things that scare me – the more tangible in nature, like baboons, the big cats and black mambas, but also matters of the heart, like love, truth and trust, and the possibility of losing them. Because of this, because I value courage, because I am in awe of the wonders that exist on the other side of fear, I challenge myself to cross over. Travelling to wild and remote spaces in Africa, my courage is put to the test constantly. And each time I make the leap, I am rewarded. By an excitement that makes the skin on my arms blush – from a gaze shared with an animal much larger than me. By the honour of nature’s acceptance – when a snakes slithers into my space and lingers, gently, before moving on. By the greater understanding that comes with seeing …

The Secret To Understanding Art

Above: Anton Smit’s Faith sculpture at Delaire Graff Estate [Published on the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog] Most of us start out in life as rather eager artists. Our first art studios are the creches or primary schools of our youth or the tables of our family homes (also, sometimes the canvas itself, along with the walls and bed linen for the more avant-garde little ones). Our first materials are any pencil, pastel, play-dough or paint we can find; sometimes toes and fingers replace paint brushes, but the idea is the same. We engage in art for fun, as part of the explorations typical of childhood. Some of us create our art for chaos sake, or to express an emotion we don’t have words for, or that words are not enough for. Sometimes we do it for reward – the approving smile or words of affirmation from our teachers and parents. Not much has changed for the men and women of the brush or charcoal stick, clay or pottery wheel. Art’s purpose, our purpose in pursuing art, goes far beyond the simple statement, “art …

Night Time Is The Right Time

First published for Royal Chundu’s blog. “Darkness — like silence, like solitude — belongs to that class of blessings increasingly endangered in modern life yet vitally necessary to the human spirit,” Maria Popova writes in her piece, In Praise of Darkness. As a civilisation, we have, largely, voluntarily, become blind to the beauty of darkness, nightblind, so to speak; constantly, anxiously, trying to replace nightfall with extended day. When last did you sit outdoors and take in the entire night and only the night, giving it your full dedication and seeing in it the poetic beauty it intrinsically holds? Night is the stuff of songs, the muse of musicians… Van Morrison’s Wild Night. Van Morrison’s Here Comes The Night. Ray Charles’ Night Time Is The Right Time. Jimi Hendrix’s Long Hot Summer Night. Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night. What is night good for? What is it not good for? To Ray Charles, night time is the right time to be with the one you love. The Greco-Egyptian writer, Claudius Ptolemy called it cosmic ambrosia. American writer and naturalist, Henry Beston, in his …