Archive for the 'Travel' Category

On travelling solo.

No one can say that my life has not been interesting.  From the very beginning it appears I was destined to live a life full of challenges interspersed with an occasional adventure.

It all began in Singapore where my mother, just twenty-one, fell pregnant with her second child.  She had married my father, a slim and charming Irish airforce man at nineteen and their first posting had been to Singapore.  A couple of years later we returned to England and within a year or so we were off to Germany where I began my schooling. I distinctly remember being dragged to school through the snow… not eager to leave the warmth of our top floor flat and the sweet stories of ‘Listen to mother’ on the radio.  Three years later I had to leave my first best friend Gillian and return to England.  I cried for a week and experienced my first broken heart.

Back in England it felt like we moved incessantly.  House after house and school after school.  I became a bookworm.  The corner of the school library and a soft cushion became my friend. The books I read being familiar faces no matter where I found myself.  It was during these years that I discovered the value of knowing how to be alone and I remember my mother telling me how important it is to know how to do this.  To being easy in your own company.  To savour the very sweetness that is solitude.

Finally in my teenage years when my father left the airforce and started his own company we started to settle and yet life began to fall apart.  My father, a typical irishman was a drinker and the more money he made the more he drank.  During his airforce years he had never really been home and I was probably to young to be aware of his addiction.  Now it was glaringly obvious and his indifference to me became a thorn in my side but, at the same time, I developed a deep friendship with my mother that lasted until the day she died.

A week after my seventeenth birthday, having been dumped unkindly by my first boyfriend, I hopped on a plane and went stateside to escape yet another broken broken heart and my father.  I stood at Atlanta airport feeling tiny, afraid and incredibly vulnerable.  All I could think was ‘how am I going to survive this’….but I did.  I ended up in South Carolina and spent a year exploring life, making friendships that are still alive today, learning to stand on my own two feet and the art of ‘conversation with a stranger’.

A year or so later I returned to England and instantly regretted the decision.  Driving through the grey, damp streets on a foggy November morning I longed for the sunny skies of the carolinas, the friends I had made there and once again to be far away from my father and the shit storm that surrounded him.  Just eighteen I sat in my parents little house in England and felt lost, alone and once again incredibly vulnerable.  No plan and no idea where to start. My parents marriage a mere pile of rubble and his love affair with the bottle all the stronger.

Now so many years later I am so grateful for those early adventures.  I am eternally grateful for those early life lessons of savouring solitude and travelling solo.  Of learning to talk to strangers and of reading anything and everything.  Of knowing that broken hearts do mend and that there is power in vulnerability.  Of knowing that you don’t have to tolerate other people’s stuff no mater who they are.

Today I savour my solitude and that little armchair at the back of the bookstore is still my friend.  I have more books than clothes and still love ‘conversations with strangers’.  To hear snippets of their stories and exchange friendly smiles.   I am alone, a little lost and once again feeling incredible vulnerable…..but it feels like home.

Driving the Karoo

Watching the last rays fall on the vast open landscape of the Karoo.

Watching the last rays fall on the vast open landscape of the Karoo.

What a privilege it is to live in this magnificent world and there is nothing like a long road trip to remind us of this.  Driving, for me, soothes the soul and expands the mind.

This month I had the good fortune to drive with my eldest daughter Ellen from Durban on the east coast of Africa to Cape Town on the west coast.  The drive is long. Very very long.  1635km to be exact.  We decided to do it in two 11 hour stretches and stop overnight in a small town (it can barely be called a town) called Colesberg which is somewhere in the middle of a mind blowingly vast and hauntingly beautiful Karoo.

We set off the first morning at 5am and felt the warmth of the sun rise as we headed west with George Ezra’s ‘Budapest’ playing loudly on the radio.   Taking turns with the driving, swapping every three hours, we stopped at every available stop for fuel, coffee, bathrooms and a dash of fresh air.

There is something so magical about road tripping. To steal the words from a text message I had sent to a friend on the trip  ‘Miles and miles of conversations, thoughts, sweet silences and a world so beautiful it takes your breath away.  It is an exquisite reminder of possibilities’.

The rolling green of the Natal hills turn quickly into the vast open dry landscape of the Free State.  Barren in it’s beauty, but beautiful nonetheless.  Endearing towns with quaint churches and golden fields of swaying grasses littered with wild flowers, it’s very openness encourages deep breathing and equally deep thoughts.

By far the majority of the drive is through the Karoo.  One simply cannot express the incredible size of this landscape except to say that probably around 18 hours of a 22 hour trip are on a mind boggingly straight road with nothing but dry, flat desert in every direction.

We made it to our overnight stop at around 4pm.  Time to roll out the yoga mat and stretch out those cramped limbs in the last of the afternoon sunlight.  It is easy to forget how very cold it can get in the desert in winter and as the sun set I took a walk around the charming but stark place we had chosen to rest for the night.   An icy wind blew at me but I stood my ground, determined to take a few shots of this amazing landscape as the day turned its back on us.

A hot shower, a warm fire followed by an exceptional dinner of roast lamb and finally a delightfully reassuring heated bed ensured we were well rested for day 2.

Another 5am start.  This one slightly delayed upon finding the car covered in ice.  One does not associate ice and snow with Africa but let me reassure you that the Karoo is cold at this time of year!  Half an hour later and the car finally warmed up and defrosted to the point of being able to see we head out onto that long straight road we had parted ways with just hours before.

There are very few petrol or coffee stops in the Karoo and it was two hours before we found our first cup of coffee. Two hours that had passed mainly in silence with the sun taking it’s time to greet us. A grateful stop for petrol and warm drinks and a driver swap and we set off for many more hours of tarmac, vast open landscapes and easy music for company.

About 2 hours outside of Cape Town we spot the first signs of mountains with snow covered peaks and lush green valleys. A welcome sight for any weary traveller.  A couple of hours of some of the most breathtaking scenery on this sweet earth and one arrives in what can only be described as the most beautiful city in the world.  Cape Town.

This is a trip I would do again in a heartbeat.

 

 

 

 



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