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Archive for July, 2016

When there’s something you’ve wanted to do for a very long time, and suddenly you make the decision to do it and it’s nerve-wracking…..which is weird really but there it is – I’ve finally put a date to my Camino.

It’s been a dream of mine to do ‘The Camino’ for a very long time. I’m not sure when exactly I first became aware of The Camino, that, is lost in the mists of time. But some years ago my father planned to do The Camino on his bike and suddenly I was like….Oh okay….then during some visit or other to the UK he and I discussed the possibility of doing it together but due to the fact that he wanted to cycle the route but I wanted to walk…unfortunately we never did get that off the ground.

me and dad 2011 (1)

My Dad and I in 2011, the last photo ever taken of us together

Although he did do it again last year with one of my younger sisters, albeit not very successfully apparently as by then he was in the early stages of dementia and not only lost his passport but was terribly slow and struggled along.  But since he was in his mid-80’s by then, he could be forgiven for struggling. And of course he has since passed away (not connected to the Camino).

Doing the Camino was one of the ‘things’ on my ‘list of things to do’ once I got my British Passport 🙂 and like the sorting out of my possessions in South Africa the time has now come. And so project #Camino2016 has begun!

I immediately started doing some research on routes and best time of the year to travel etc etc. What I discovered is that there are numerous routes besides ‘The Way’!!! I finally decided on the Portuguese Coastal Route starting from Porto. Besides the fact that it is relatively flat in comparison to The Frances route which is 790kms and traverses mountain ranges, I have always wanted to go to Portugal so this was a great way to combine the two. I would love to go to Lisbon of course, but since it’s a lot further and I don’t have unlimited time, I settled on Porto as my launching point. However, on the plus side Porto looks amazing, so I’m really excited about starting there.

I’m planning on spending 3 days in Porto to explore then on the fourth day I shall head over to the Cathedral and start my 285km Camino journey from there.

I joined a group on Facebook; exclusively for women, the group allows women who have already walked the Camino, no matter which route, to offer advice and encouragement to those planning their journey. It allows us to ask for help or information and allows women who are already walking to post photos and tips and hints on what to wear, where to stay, what to expect en-route, what to look out for (like insane gropers), where to eat and also just some of the most stunning and amazing photos. It’s certainly made me impatient to start!!! LOL I’ve also starting studying photos on Instagram. Ohmygosh! Some of the places are just stunning.

Next was suitable gear…..I had bought my jacket while I was in South Africa as well as pants with zips and lots of lovely pockets (I love pants with pockets). I also bought a thermal top and leggings, socks, shoes, gloves and other bits and bobs. So thrilling to start getting my gear together.camino 2016.05.24 camino(4) Once I got back to the UK, I started doing more research on what to take and what to leave…keeping in mind the recommended weight of 10% of body weight…..I’m trying really hard to NOT lose any weight so I can take more with me!!! Hahaha.

I got online and ordered a whole lot of goodies from Mountain Warehouse, a parcel I received with much excitement and couldn’t wait to get it all on and start wearing it in.  I’ve also bought stuff that I will clearly not get to use (go figure) and some that after trying it out I have found to be unsuitable.2016.05.31 (1) So it goes I guess. But slowly I’m whittling it down to what I will or won’t take. Veterans of the Camino recommend weighing EVERYTHING and note it down…apparently after carrying the backpack for a couple of days for up to 8 hours a day, the pack gets heavier and heavier. Hmmm.camino (2)

I also got online and started to plan my route. As I say the Portuguese coastal route appeals to me the most…there’s also an inland route, but the thought of walking alongside the seas (well ocean actually) for 5 days appeals greatly. So I zoomed in on the maps and listed the towns along the way; potential places to stay and noted the distance between each. I don’t want to walk my feet off, so I’m limiting my distance to 28kms on any one day.

I also noted places that have lots of historical buildings and churches and things to see.  I can’t go to Portugal for 2 weeks and NOT explore….that would be sacrilege. And so after many, many hours online I have identified the best places to explore where I’ll stay for two nights, and which towns I can just sleep over and leave the next day.

Working out the various stages has been fun too…I worked out the distances with great care since as I say I didn’t want to walk more than 28kms on any one day…some places just don’t play fair…33kms!! So it’s been a real challenge to plan each stage. I’ve also learned so much I never knew about Portugal…I may just end up not coming back to the UK LOL. Portugal sounds absolutely fantastic. The towns have so much history and having looked at photos of some church interiors, I can tell already that I’m going to be taking a LOT of photos.

At the midway point of my journey, I’ll leave Portugal from Valenca, cross into Spain and walk the final stages from Tui to Santiago de Camino…oh my word, when I write that it gives me a thrill…of anticipation and a healthy dose of fear. I love walking and that will be a real pleasure, I love being on my own so that’s something I’m looking forward to and exploring is right up my alley….it’s looking to be a really amazing journey. The section from Tui to Santiago is the most important stage, I’ll do this over 5 days via Vigo and at just over 100kms it will qualify me for my Compostela….the certificate you receive from the Cathedral in Santiago for completing the route as a pilgrim. In order to ‘prove’ you’ve done the required 100km’s you get stamps in your Pilgrims Passport along the way from all sorts of places, churches, alburgues, restaurants and other such places…not always easy to identify but apparently once you say you’re a ‘pilgrim’ the locals are mostly very happy to help.  I am planning on learning some Portuguese and Spanish so that I can communicate.

My sister is loaning me her Spanish phrase book so I guess it’s time to start learning a new language.

Bring on the Camino!!!!camino 2016.05.24 camino(3)

 

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The last time I visited South Africa was in 2011. After I left I said that that would be my last visit….uhmmm, nope!!

In February of this year I finally got my British Citizenship and realised that I needed to sort out my South African ‘stuff’ – my worldly possessions, most of which had been in storage for the past 15 years. I hadn’t wanted to make a decision to move everything to the UK in the event I didn’t get my citizenship and have to move it all back to SA.

So now that I had it (my citizenship), I planned a trip.

Just a couple of days after our Paris trip I boarded a plane to France (go figure) en-route to SA. We flew via Charles de Gaulle.  By the time we left it was dark and by my absolute luck I had a seat with a view of Paris and the Eiffel Tower…it looked magical. Soon after taking off we were asked to close our portholes so after that I didn’t get to see much else.

Paris by night - the Eiffel Tower

Paris by night – the Eiffel Tower

The plane was really empty and I had a row of 3 seats to myself and managed, by dint of wriggling and strategically places cushions and blankets, to get a good night’s sleep….well as good as what you can get on a noisy plane.  I had a seat on the left hand side of the plane as I was hoping to see the sunrise in the morning…..hah!!! I hadn’t bargained on the extraordinary brightness of the sun at that height…I opened my porthole a sliver and promptly shut it again…nearly blinded! Of course the sun had risen while I was sleeping, so I had missed the best of it.

Flying in over north of South Africa I was dismayed to see just how dry and brown the landscape was – I have become so spoiled by England’s green fields.  I was also surprised to see how empty the Johannesburg International airport (aka Oliver Tambo Airport) was…the last time I visited it was packed to the brim.

south african in winter

…how dry it all looks

I spent the first few days in Honeydew, staying with a friend who has a caravan parked within a caravan park….quiet and peaceful, the serenity belied the reality.  Beyond the iron gates and electrified fence are the sprawling mass of a township; a place of unrest and discontent, with frequent riots and tyre burning…..the burn marks clearly visible on the tar of what is a national highway between Johannesburg and Pretoria…two major cities.

Waking up in this park that borders on a nature reserve was a treat. As someone who treasures quiet mornings, I would make myself a cup of tea and wander down to the fence to watch the animals and birds at the waterholes.  The sunsets in the evenings are stunning; colours in the Highveld are like no other…it’s an African thing – something I suspect has to do with the air.

I had planned to see one of my younger sisters whilst there; Joanne, my Mother’s 3rd daughter, 10 years younger than me. She is currently being cared for by a charity in Soweto. After a dangerous descent into the underworld of drugs, she was, 3 years back, made a ward of the state and sent to an institution for detox and care. After they said she had to be moved on my sisters looked around and finally found this charity where she is currently staying and where I visited. Essentially although to all appearances she looks well, her brain has been irreparably damaged and she is unable to care for herself.t broke my heart to see the situation she has put herself in……I refuse to accept blame and will not allow anyone to say my sisters or I should care for her….she deliberately took the drugs to spite us against all pleading and arguments to not go down that road….and much as it breaks my heart to see where she has ended up, it is better than in an alleyway somewhere, and she is actually very happy and well cared for. The lady who runs the charity takes very good care of her albeit with very strict rules and if she breaks any of them she is denied her small freedoms…like being allowed to go to the store on her own. We simply don’t command the same respect and my sister, although very friendly to people, can be and has been very, very abusive towards her sisters, and my Mother when she was alive.  Anyway, that’s another story altogether, so moving on.

It was lovely to see her and I’m glad I made the journey despite my misgivings. I was most grateful to my lovely niece Tracey who has kept in touch with Joanne and visits on a regular basis, also being my go-between for birthdays and Christmas…being Postie for cards and presents. It was so lovely to see them too, the kids are growing up so quickly!!

Then it was off to Cape Town….flying over the country from north to south I was dismayed to see how dry and brown it all is. Many droughts have plagued the country and when you have idiots in Government who say that the previous Government failed because they built the dams too big, which means they take longer to fill up….you can only wonder. Although of course droughts are a common issue in Africa, still it was saddening to see how much it has deteriorated in the last decades.  Made me long for the green fields of England.

I was absolutely delighted to have a fantastic view of Table Mountain coming into land and if there is one thing I do miss about SA, that would be it…..the sight of Table Mountain….it really is quite extraordinary…as well as which the difference from before and after the mountain ranges is quite remarkable.

Table Mountain - Cape Town

Table Mountain – Cape Town

The Cape is green…on the whole, very green in comparison to further north. I was also astounded at how the ‘squatter’ camps in Cape Town had grown and how many houses had replaced the shacks, as well as which in a very innovative move which I think is just excellent, were that each house has a solar panel for generating hot water!! Makes absolute sense. Oh and satellite dishes galore!!

How wonderful it was to see my sisters at the airport…..I had only been expecting to see my friend Cheryll with whom I was to stay for the weekend and my younger sister Caroline and her hubby, but suddenly out of nowhere two of my other sisters Valerie and Sue appeared!!! We had a great time catching up. Of course Sue is now also working as a Carer in the UK but due to our work schedules we seldom see each other. You can imagine the noise at that table LOL…all of us talking 19 to the dozen….

Then it was time to go and my sister and her hubby kindly drove me through to Cheryll’s place where I spent the next two days…..sunshine every day! I had forgotten what it’s like to wake up to sunshine every day! Mind you, just the week before I arrived the Cape had experienced some terrible storms that took trees down and lifted roofs off! I had packed my bags accordingly and as it turned out I had no need at all for the warmer clothes I packed!IMAG3550

From there it was over to Somerset West to a place I had booked via AirBnB…a first for me and I was hopeful it would be okay…..after all I had already paid for it all. The place turned out to be lovely and very well appointed, but unfortunately I had a falling out with the host due to her nosiness and sly comments about my being vegetarian.  But it was comfortable and safe and at least the hire car was safe and not too far from the storage unit in Strand which is where I had my possessions – the reason I was in SA in the first place…..time to sort out my boxes and keep, sell or pack…for shipment to the UK.

I had always said that as soon as I got my British Citizenship I would head over to SA and sort it all out. It had been in storage for 15 years already and costing me a small fortune.

Thankfully my sister and brother-in-law were with me when we first opened the storage room….I took one look at all the boxes piled high and would have just shut the door and left again LOL…… But disaster was averted, and we decided to start sorting stuff out right there and then…first thing down was my mattress….now bearing in mind it had been in storage for 15 years….there was not a mark, or moth or mouse poop anywhere to be seen…..well done to my sister for all the safeguards she had thrown willy nilly over it all hahahaha. It worked! In fact it worked so well I decided right there and then to send the mattress to the UK!!! It’s one of the best I have ever had.

IMAG3554

my marvellous mattress…can’t wait to sleep on it again

And so began the next step of my journey…..what to keep, what to throw away and what to sell/donate. Oh lordy……it was really hard. I had over 40 boxes to sort through and although I hadn’t seen or needed or used any of it for the last 15 years….it was very hard to make the decision to get rid of things like my precious books. But the reality is that we don’t have anywhere to put them here in the UK and I am damned if I am putting anything into storage here!!! Besides which, storage in the UK is more than double the cost than in SA.

I had a fair idea of what i wanted to keep and what not…clothes in particular, although there was a fair number of favoured items that I wanted to bring over…. Kitchen implements and the dinner service et al were easy….time to go. Over the years we have accumulated more than enough and frankly I didn’t want to end up with loads of things again.

My sister had had the brainwave of hiring an extra unit across from mine so I could have space to move and sort. It really made the job so much easier….whatever I wanted to keep I just took across to the other side where I had boxes taped up and numbered, ready to absorb the things I wanted to ship to the UK.

Finally, after 7 long days, lots of bending, sorting into keep, throw, sell, donate with packing and unpacking, as well as walking back and forth between units – utter exhaustion, braving heat and an unexpected south-westerly wind that ensured I took more SA beach sand back to the UK than I had ever intended…I narrowed it down from 43 boxes to 26!!! Hahahaha. But I can tell you, it was really difficult to part with some of the stuff….as the last day wore on, more and more little bits got ‘squeezed’ into various boxes…stuff I suddenly felt unable to part with.  I’ll probably end up donating it to charity once I get it here!!

But after all that, the most difficult items to part with were my books. It nearly broke me to force myself to leave behind all the Encyclopaedias and nature books I had collected over the years. The novels were easy…I had read them all anyway and could easily buy them from charity shops in the UK if I so desired to read them again….but my encyclopaedias…..really hard. My sister promised to donate them to a library which assuaged my emotions…but then promptly started giving them away to people she knew.

I put a lot of the household items up for sale, the many unwanted toys my daughter had accumulated, clothes, ornaments and such like, but after all I ended up donating 70% of my unwanted items to a charity in the Strand area. I felt really happy with that as the woman who runs the charity is taking in unwanted and abandoned children from the surrounding area and was desperate for all sorts of necessities. The delight on the children’s faces when they got the toys was amazing. So the stuff all went to a good home.

Then it was time to say goodbye. The final bits and pieces had been loaded and taken away, and to my utter joy my sister took the fabulous rosewood dressing-table that I had acquired some years ago (29 to be exact! – where do the years go?). It was in a right sorry state and desperately needed a good clean, some fixing up and a lick or three or four of polish….a lot of tlc. I would dearly have loved to bring it over to the UK, but I have absolutely nowhere to put it and it certainly won’t fit into my motorhome!! LOL

Next step was the removal company to collect all the boxes and ship them over to the UK. (fyi I had a really good experience using Biddulphs). In all it feels really weird….essentially I have now, except for family ties, cut my ties to South Africa…the land of my birth. And even more weirdly, I can no longer stay there in excess of 90 days without permission….that was the most odd of all the discoveries I made.  Cést la vie.

Now it wasn’t all work and no play….I spent the following Sunday and Monday with my younger sister Valerie in Fish Hoek and finally got to meet my little nephew Luca…who is just the cutest little boy. Initially he was very shy but within a few minutes we were best friends and the three of us had a fantastic day on the beach, splashing in the waves….well Val and Luca did…I watched from the sidelines and filmed the fun!

Then we met up with my youngest sister Deidre (Luca’s mummy), and her hubby and my niece Maya….what a charming and delightful little girl she is. I had not yet met either of the kiddies and my heart melted. They are just adorable. We spent the next day with them too and had a most enjoyable time.

The following weekend, and after we had shut the doors of the storage unit I spent the weekend with another of my sisters; Caroline and her hubby Ewart at their home in Wynberg. What a pleasure to wake up to the amazing view of Table Mountain each day. We went up Lions Head in the evening to watch the sunset which it seems is a ‘National Occupation’ judging by the number of people.

Friday was mostly a wasted day with fiddle-faddling in their garage sorting boxes etc, but a highlight of the weekend was a ride on my brother-in-law’s motorbike….I rode pillion of course but oh my word, I hadn’t been on a bike in over 30 years!! Superb! When i got off the bike I said forget the motorhome….I’m buying a motorbike!!! LOL

Saturday was also a bit adhoc with none of the plans adhered to, but we did meet up with a friend of theirs and went to see a show which was just astounding and very very emotional for me. The story really captured my imagination and suddenly I found my South African identity again and it threw me completely.  I had over the last 15 years lost any joy in the country and any affiliation with or towards the country, so this sudden emotional connection left me feeling quite bereft…I cried on my sister’s shoulder afterwards.

We went for drinks afterwards and I had the most enormous Bailey’s Milkshake you could imagine…..I felt much better after that!!! LOL

Sunday we took an early ride up Table Mountain in the cable car. Oh my gosh the views….I had completely forgotten how stunning Cape Town is from that vantage.

We spent a couple of hours walking around the top of the mountain before heading back down and meeting my two younger sisters and the kiddies at Kirstenbosch Gardens for a picnic.  So much fun. It was lovely to relax in the sun and chat and play…and eat 😉

So there we were…..4 sisters together. If my other two sisters Sue and Joanne had been there it would have been the first time in decades we had all been together. We all came from different parental relationships which has been really difficult and quite tricky over the years, with all of us together happening probably never. In fact I simply cannot recall any occasion where we were all together without exception.  How sad is that! My brother too lives in another country with his family. Maybe one day it would be amazing to get everyone together….sisters and brother along with nephews, nieces, great-nephews and great-niece….all in one place. How marvellous.

Meanwhile my time in South Africa was drawing to a close. After our picnic in Kirstenbosch Gardens we decamped briefly to Deidre’s house for a couple of hours and then suddenly it was time to go. I felt so sad saying goodbye. It’s unlikely I will see them again for some years…it’s quite expensive travelling to SA and it’s also now become really expensive in the country. In years gone by you could get good value for your Rand, but not anymore.

Next morning is was up early and off to the airport. I said goodbye to my little sister with pain in my heart and my brother-in-law kindly drove me to the airport.

a trip to South Africa

leaving the Cape – looking towards Gordon’s Bay

Back to Johannesburg, overnight at my friend in Honeydew and then goodbye South Africa. As we flew out of Cape Town I had one last glimpse of the mountain and flying over the cape plains I felt an unexpected tug at my heart….unexpectedly I was sorry to be leaving….I guess that means this trip is not my last after all!

south african sunset

a final South African sunset from Johannesburg Airport

A very long night later, with little sleep on the flight we landed at Charles de Gualle and in no time at all I was in-flight to the UK. I had asked for a window seat, but unfortunately none were available.  Just before we started making our descent into London I took a walk along the passage and noticed that 6 rows at the back were empty!!! I asked the Attendant if I could sit there and oh my gosh the pilot could not have given me a better view of London as we came in to land even if I had asked 🙂

IMAG4021

beautiful London from the air

After what turned out to be an amazing trip to South Africa I was home.

 

 

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