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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, I have found it often to be quite the same.

Sometimes you have been beside me, sometimes not, but you’ll remember me telling you about the waters of low tide that initiate the dance of local men and women heading out fishing in the morning – by boat and foot. I’ve sat with my camera to my face, tracing this dance – in Mauritius, in Madagascar, in Pemba Island, and here, in Zanzibar.

The beach is a different animal as the sun begins to rise and break across the clouds. It is still but moody, like a lion starting to wake, like you before your morning coffee. The ocean is darker, not yet the light turquoise that will coax other travellers from their sun loungers at midday.

I stood silently on shore. There were no foreigners yet, only the local Zanzibari that have moved across these waters for generations. I listened to the women talking among themselves as they tended to the seaweed farms scattered across the low water. I listened to the men heading out in dhows. Their Swahili was lost on me, but not all stories require words to be told. Soon the tide would rise and the women and men and dhows would disperse and the story would end, like the fire of sunrise. But I would have understood the moral. The lessons.

Since you weren’t there to give voice to my thoughts, I’ll try now. I felt then a deep almost dazed peace wash over me like the sea slowly moving over the shore and I was reminded of something I’d forgotten. I was reminded that in me is a stillness that needs not only to be alone from time to time, but to be truly still, watching and listening, not thinking, analysing and anticipating.

I also realised that out here in the early morning, I had only myself to rely on. I was the sole narrator. Back home, I knew I would tell you about what I had seen and you would add your own views, your logic and knowledge. You would make sense of it all and my mind would be broader for it. But until then, I could tell myself whatever I liked. My imagination was free to run wild.

That’s the beauty of being alone on an island at sunrise – lost in translation with the few locals out and about. There is a sweet sense of freedom and dare I say valour of venturing into the unknown. But I did it for us both, remember that.

Keep following the Relais & Châteaux Africa and the Indian Ocean blog for more from our recent adventure in Zanzibar, while staying at Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa.

 

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Travelling is not like riding a bicycle

My latest article in the Sunday Times Travel section… Published 15 October 2017

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Haven’t had a holiday in ages? Travelling is nothing like riding a bicycle, writes Tamlin Wightman.

We hadn’t travelled all year. Not as a family or individually. Cabin fever had been setting in for months. During times like this, my aptitude for adventuring doesn’t just take a leave of absence. It goes to meet its maker. So as the nomad of the family, I was of no help as we headed, Mother, Father, Only Child, from Cape Town to the Grahamstown Arts Festival.

As the organiser of the trip, Mom was even more lost. For one, she thought that overnighting in a backpackers was a good idea. And a closed one at that, because booking the right date is only something the frequent traveller does.

The entrance hall of the Mossel Bay Backpackers taunted us with bright lights through a locked, bolted, security-barred door. It was 11 pm, the sky was black and the air cold. We paced the empty parking lot, wrapped in every woolly item we owned. It was the sort of lot you expected a Fight Club to emerge upon at any moment. At least our fall would be soft.

We crossed the road to a Protea Hotel we had spied. Inside, we approached the night manager and tried on the most forlorn of looks in an attempt to get the cheapest room. Their idea of cheap was not the same as ours and so, bar from sleeping in a car park, our only option was to continue driving.

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Five hours of Rankin’s Rebus on Audible later, we arrived to a town on lock down. That’s what Grahamstown looks like at 4 am. Apocalyptic and forsaken. Except for the odd donkey chewing at grass brave enough to spring from a crack in the tar road. And the occasional line of locals queuing at a 24hr petrol station ATM, as though the town could run out of money at any moment.

Without anywhere else to go or anything to do, we simply had to wait. For the sleeping sun to rise, for the artists to begin the show. And because we had no clue of how to do this cross-country road trip thing, we tracked down another parking lot and passed out.

We woke up too bushed and crooked-necked to attend most of the shows we had booked and paid for. We attempted to resurrect the vacation with coffee. It was at the local Mugg & Bean, after my fourth Americano, that I realised that trying to travel after time-off is nothing like riding a bicycle and everything like drinking coffee. You have to keep doing it or you lose tolerance. You lose the knack.

The withdrawal from caffeine does to your brain what that from travel does – it turns it to mush. Next thing, you find yourself with Mother’s steel knee in your ribs and a stranger (resembling Tyler Durden after a fight) ogling you through the steamy car window while you attempt to sit-up sleep.

But as the milky brew took over my nervous system, I began to ponder something profound. I began to see the silver lining.

Perhaps we hadn’t been that awful. We had remembered the audiobook, after all. We made it to one show, one great show. And we had done what we had set out to do. We had bonded. Over the mishaps and exhaustion. Over the stillness of the road at night. Over wrong turns down dirt roads scattered with broken glass from shebeen brawls. Over the inevitability that it all works out in the end. Because, as they say, if it hasn’t worked out, it isn’t the end.

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How I got over the hill

Accidental Tourist Tamlin Wightman tried to mark her 30th birthday with a daring excursion – and got way more than she bargained for.

What I did on my 30th birthday and what I should have done are very different things.

Much like when I told people, “I’m totally buzzed to be turning the big 3-0. How great to grow old and wise,” – when what I really meant, deep inside my aging heart, right down to my fast-fossilising sinew, was, “!@£$%^&”.

Time is an illusion. Resist the hour. Yes, yes, I too uttered such proclamations.

But I was still 20-bound then, on top of the hill with nowhere to go but down. And so, for the big day, in sympathy for myself, I decided to throw myself off the hill (attached to a cable while ziplining, yes, but do not dismiss the danger of a little steel in a lightning storm).

The Cape, allegedly amid a dry spell, turned dark and damp, very damp, within minutes, as we started up the Huguenot Mountains in Elgin in an open-sided truck.

The rain spat out from clouds shrouding the view of an empty Theewaterskloof Dam and filled our shoes and gloves with ice water. As we sledged to the first canopy – the point of no return – an air raid of lightning surrounded us and I uttered those famous last words.

“What happens if the lightning strikes the cable while we’re on it?”

Hoping for a response that would entail backtracking and coffee around a fireplace at the base camp, I was met instead with the guide’s flippant own last words, “Ja, well, he, ha, urg, you don’t want that to happen; it’s gonna feel like being struck by 50,000 kilowatts (or was it killer watts? All I really heard was, “Bite your tongue, Murphy, bite your tongue.”)

As said guide connected himself to the cable to show our team of terrified zipliners what to do, those 50,000 kilowatts struck the line and danced along to where he was holding on.

Our little lightning conductor shot into the air. Hail beat down on our backs as we hugged the rock and expelled expletives. The guide swung back onto the thin, wooden canopy built into the side of the mountain and, with a f***, f***, f***, he disconnected himself and trembled to a clearing not on the edge of a cliff.

Somehow, he radioed for help. We swam uphill to the drop-off spot and waited for the truck, which then glided us down the meandering mountain pass on what felt more like a white-water-rafting trip.

There were tears, there were doctors, but there were no Harry Potter scars and our guide managed to escape any serious circumstances, although not the nickname Flash.

And I decided, or rather nature had decided, there would be no birthday. On second thought, the earth was saying, go back to bed. Thirty is not for you. Stay young and dumb.

Of course, it could have been saying, “Tough luck, cookie, you’re 30 and it’s all downhill from here.”

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 like a mirage to me, the way Table Mountain did in London. The same way the Eiffel Tower follows me everywhere. These landmarks that rise up above their city, making us feel safe as long as we can see their silhouettes in the distance. A constant in a sea of change.

I can only imagine that when your landmark, your lighthouse, your oracle, takes a hit, the ground beneath you feels a little less safe, a little more foreign, unsteady, fractured. It’s easy to take that on.

The same man who said, “By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show,” also exclaimed, “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” I disagree with both statements. (Sorry, London. Sorry, Samuel Johnson. The greatest man of letters in English history, my foot! Did he never see Africa?) But I’m particularly averse to his beast approach. I would raise him a quote from Gandhi in rebuttal: An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. (Also, I’ve tried it and it doesn’t happiness or world peace make.)

The hits, the carpets pulled out from under us, they unsteady us at first but they’re opportunities to be better, stronger, more certain and more alive. It wasn’t Tower Bridge that was hit, it was the people on it. It was the city. The nation. But the bridge remains the landmark, one that can either remind us of the brutality and make us surlier and darker with each glimpse, or one that can remind us of our strength, of the many reasons to be proud, in the face of what may come; one that lifts our chins and straightens our backs as we strut and swagger under, over or beside it. Just the way we always have.

It is this pride that Ken Livingstone reaffirms in a speech in response to the London terrorist attacks in 2005, words as applicable today as they were then….

“Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life. I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others – that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail. In the days that follow, look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential. They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don’t want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.”

“Non violence is not the weapon of the weak, it is the weapon of the strongest. True strength doesn’t lie with a person who wins over his enemy using force. True strength lies in taking pain but still fighting for the righteous reason.” – Gandhi 

“One should not fight evil by adopting it. ” – Ayn Rand 

This Must Be The Place. This Must Be The Zambezi.

First published on the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog.

Home, is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home, she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place

– Talking Heads

We all have a place. A simple name on a map that we have traced with our fingers more often than any other name. A place in the country or city, the sea or river, jungle or forest, a place of snow or sand, water or rock. A place that has, over the years and the holidays, taken on a sort of humanity, an intimacy, a nature beyond how most of us see, well, nature. It’s not uncommon, either, for such places, these special enclaves that pull on our hearts a little more than others, to be seen as something living, something more like a friend, like family. The Whanganui River in New Zealand and the Yamuna and Ganges rivers in India, for instance, were granted human status and named “living entities” this year. By law.

But it isn’t only for their significance, their sensitivity, their vulnerability and their beauty (all qualities seen in the best of people), that we hold them close. It is also the time we have spent with them, getting to know them. The days and nights spent as witness to their different sides and moods, their ups and downs.

We all have a place that we have bonded with more than any other, that we understand more than another, and for me that place is the Zambezi. A river no less human than the Whanganui or Yamuna or Ganges. A river no different to you and I. An individual that breathes, that ebbs and flows with nature, and that needs protection.

Of course, the Zambezi is vast and I am not familiar with it all. It is the fourth-longest river in Africa and the largest river flowing into the Indian Ocean from Africa. It passes through six countries on the way, a true adventurer at heart. Its journey begins in north-west Zambia, in a marshy black wetland in the centre of the Miombo Woodlands, and continues on through Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. If you can, imagine 1,390,000 square kilometres, slightly less than half the basin of the Nile, and you will start to grasp its immensity.

I’ve played in the lower Zambezi, while white-water rafting over rapids ranging from Grade III to Grade V – the highest commercial grading possible. Rapids with names like The Devil’s Toilet Bowl, The Gnashing Jaws of Death, Morning Glory, Oblivion, and The Ugly Stepsisters. I have helicoptered through the deep gorge, over the great Victoria Falls itself, and swum in the tiny natural infinity pools on the edge of the cascade – both Devil’s and Angel’s Pool. But it is the upper stretches of the river, before it tumbles over the Falls, that I know best. In particular, those private 15 kilometres of waterway flowing past Royal Chundu in the district of Katombora.

Of course, those 15 kilometres cover a body of water that is always flowing, always changing. I never quite meet the same river. But here, hugged by the same riverbank as always, its essence never changes. It feeds and is a home to the same life – the elephant herds, the hippo pods, the tiger fish and parrot fish and bream, the crocodiles, the African skimmers, African Fish Eagle, Rock Pratincoles and Schalow’s Turaco, the water buck, otters, baboons, buffalo, zebras, and even the occasional leopard and lion. Its sunsets and rises are a constant as are its channels, rising or dropping in level perhaps from time to time, but reliable in their permanence, letting us navigate the river better, more closely, and cautiously.

This is my place. And over the years I have come to not only know but to feel deeply for the people in and around Royal Chundu. The local people who understand the Zambezi much more than me, who teach me, with each visit, not only more about the water, the wildlife, the birdlife and the plants, but about compassion, patience, loyalty, respect and resilience. Those human qualities that I don’t doubt the Zambezi played a hand in refining.

And while our human laws may not (yet) recognise this incredible life force as a living entity deserving of human status, there is another source watching over it, protecting it day in and out. A source with the head of a fish and the body of a snake. A source know as the Nyami Nyami, the great guardian and God of the Zambezi River Valley. One of the most important deities of the Tsonga people, the Nyami Nyami and his wife are said to be the God and Goddess of the underworld, living in the Kariba Gorge.

Discover more about the Zambezi in our blogs:

The Making of an Explorer on the Zambezi

Parrot Fishing on the Yemen. Pardon. The Zambezi

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

The Butterfly Effect – A Q&A with Tina Aponte

The Scared Heart of Madagascar

Sacred sites

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 tomb, they have stayed with me too. In deep memory, coming to me not only in my photographs but in my dreams. Them and the lemurs. And that cinnamon roller. Because Anjajavy doesn’t leave you, does it? It joins with you and you forever roam onward together.

How could I not feel a mix or fear and awe, sitting there on the rocks of this hidden cathedral to the dead?

What with the profound respect with which many of the tribes in Madagascar treat their deceased – the sculptures they make to honour and guard the tombs, the coffins they carve to home their lost ones, and the Famadihana (‘turning of the bones’) ceremony.

Onja

After seven or so years of being buried, the bones of a corpse are dug up and moved to a family tomb, like the one I found myself at during my time at Anjajavy le Lodge. New coffins are made for the bones, which are then left to rest once more – but not before a family reunion with plenty of song and dance. All in the name of giving thanks for the blessings the ancestors have bestowed from the spirit world.

How could I not feel fear and awe? Fear for the spirits, whether I believed or not, fear for stepping wrong, for saying something out of place, for not showing enough respect. And awe… for the devotion, the dedication, the love of the Malagasy way, for being welcomed and allowed to sit so close to the remnants of men and women who have passed on.

Doof doof, yes, it was definitely a doof doof. I feel it now. Building again. I feel the power of that tomb and of the union of our little tribe of four, Maître de Maison Cédric, Guide Johnson, Head Waiter Onja and me, beholding something special, together.

That is the purpose of travel, is it not? In the words of Walter Mitty, “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel.”

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Antafi 1

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Sacred sites 4

Sacred sites 3

Tree life

Read more about this sacred tradition in these articles from Lonely Planet and Ancient Origins.

The Art of the Heart-to-Heart in the Winelands

First published on the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog.

conversation
noun,

a talk between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged.
synonyms: discussion, talk, tête-à-tête, heart-to-heart, head-to-head, exchange, dialogue, parley, powwow, chit-chat, chinwag, natter.

Walking along a mountain path with Autumn’s colours spanning out from our feet and across the vines, we find ourselves falling into conversation with the people at our side as naturally as we fall into step with them.

Identity seems to dissolve, while we focus more on the words and ideas (the glances and silences) playing between us. While we watch our feet, as they guide us. Conversations aren’t inherently like this. Very often we are rudely aware of ourselves, but perhaps it’s the effect of being in nature and the effect of genuine understanding – talking with someone who just gets you, whom you get. So much so that you feel as though you’re talking to yourself. But a self adding new ideas and stories to the developing tale between you all.

Word of mouth, things spread, things grow and change, and we leave, uplifted and renewed.

Gathered with our extended Relais & Châteaux Africa tribe, at Delaire Graff Estate in the Cape Winelands of South Africa, there were many conversations like this. Conversations that matter. Conversations struck between the evening yoga and long table dining at Delaire Graff Restaurant and breakfast on the verandah of Indochine. This is the reason we come together – to share, to inspire, and to remember the bonds that unite us.

Below are a few images from our stroll through the vineyards of Delaire Graff Estate, and yoga and meditation with the Escape + Explore team, as well as our bonding over meals and other kinds of “food for thought”.

Safaris and the Things That Really Matter in Life

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First published on the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog

We have been inspired this week by a simple sentence. One shared by the Great Plains Conservation, the organisation encompassing a few of our favourite safari lodges and camps in Botswana and Kenya. The image accompanying the sentence, posted on Facebook, showed an elephant in the Selinda area, where Zarafa Camp can be found, lifting its trunk to its mouth for a drink from the river. In the foreground, a few hippos bob, while in the background a swathe of trees, alive and fallen, and bush, hopping a ride on a growing termite mound, fade into a blur. The sentence with it reads:

“Maybe the best thing about spending time in the wild and observing the animals who willingly share their space with us, is being reminded of the things in life that really matter.”

The words perfectly capture what it is that more and more of us are searching for in life – a feeling of purpose, an experience that goes deeper, that transforms, and that takes us away from the man-made and closer to our own wildness, to a natural pace and way. An experience that takes us closer to our own animal instincts and needs as well as our humanness – our vulnerability as well as our ability to feel gratitude and awe, and that speaks to our deep desire for belonging, meaning and fulfillment. An experience like a safari in the wild.

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Time in the wild can never be taken away from you, unlike a material object. It can never be stolen. Experiences stay with us for a lifetime. As the book, Stuffocation: Why We’ve Had Enough of Stuff and Need Experience More Than Ever, by James Wallman, says, simply, “Memories live longer than things,” and, “the best place to find status, identity, meaning, and happiness is in experiences.”

The book discusses the emergence of a new type of person. Rather than a materialist, this new kind of seeker is the experientialist. A person who knows that the deep and genuinely meaningful connections and sense of individual happiness that we seek cannot be found in objects, but rather moments…

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Watching a wild elephant go about a simple task like drinking is one of these moments. Having the camera to photograph the moment no doubt adds to it, because cameras are, in a way, tools of the experientialist, an experiential object, but the moment is no less powerful when you put the camera down. Most likely, it hits you even harder. Connects us more to the elephant, to the wild inside and out.

And, yes, it reminds of the things that really matter in life… like the beauty of wild things and the freedom of wild spaces and the need to protect them both.


Images from Great Plains Conservation.

Like a Rolling Stone

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First published on Relais & Châteaux Africa’s blog.

The beauty of going slow when on an adventure is the gift of time, seeing more and seeing it more fully. I read somewhere recently that the smallest moments contain the whole universe if we just slow down enough, are present enough, to recognise them.

This is what I love about Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat. On the journey to the lodge, in its remote mountain valley in the Cederberg, travelling by car from Cape Town, my mind can wander through the clouds and the faces of the people we pass and the lyrics of Rodriguez and Bob Dylan that play over my speakers as the city slips away. As the red rocks of this part of the country come into frame through the window of the car.

I like things slow. Some of us simply do… our natural rhythms flow to a gentler tune. We get to see the little wonders that connect to the larger ones this way. You don’t have to do more to see these. You don’t have to think more, say more, be more. You just have to stop, to sit in the safari vehicle at dusk or around the dam in the sunlight and do nothing else but sit in the safari vehicle at dusk or around the dam in the sunlight. Like Thích Nhất Hạnh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, says, Why do we eat? To eat, of course.

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In those moments we see it all… the zebra grazing on the ground, the foals rubbing their soft fur against Mom’s legs, the eland and bontebok dining beside them, a hawk in mid-swoop, the bees and sunbirds doting on the fiery flowers of the aloes, the sun and moon moving too slowly to detect, and the dung beetle at work, like a rolling stone…

You don’t miss it. You don’t miss out on the bright little moments that are life itself. The next time you find yourself embarking on an adventure, even if it is simply the daily adventure of life, consider these…

10 Rules of Slow Travel

  1. Slow down
  2. Pack less
  3. Get out of the car
  4. Be patient
  5. Look and listen
  6. Connect and Interact
  7. Keep that mind open
  8. Seek authenticity
  9. Journal it all
  10. Play more Bob Dylan

Bushmanskloof Little Wisdoms

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Bushmans Kloof

Little Wisdoms 12

Read more about Bushmans Kloof in these articles on Instants

The Bushmans Kloof: Reconnecting with the Human Past
The Bushmans Kloof: The Cave
The Bushmans Kloof: Food, Shelter and Fire

When in Wonderland

Dessert 1

First published on the Royal Chundu blog here.

“Day by day and night by night we were together, — All else has long been forgotten by me…”
– Walt Whitman

We were together. It was that last day of the year feeling, day by day, night by night. How were we meant to hold back? With the whole of our past flying quickly from us and the brilliance of our future burning ahead. What were we to do but dance between the two and say yes to it all?

To hold back the river and look in your eyes, to hold back the river and be by your side…

What were we to do, with James Bay singing softly somewhere and the Zambezi swimming its eternal swim around us? And with that sweetness placed before us, a single spoon beside it, filling in the dots, leading the way.

It was wonderland and I was Alice. And “all else has long been forgotten by me.”

Indulge with us, why don’t you…

Here is a look at a few of our favourite desserts. Join us for a taste… from the baked cheesecake with butterscotch sauce and toasted almonds to the lemon meringue pie with mango ice-cream.

Dessert 8

Dessert 2

Dessert 4

Dessert

Dessert 17

Dessert 9

Dessert 7

Dessert 22

Ice cream 1

Dessert 19

Dessert 20

Dessert 18

Dessert 15

Dessert 16

Cheese Platter