Category Archives: Comfort Zone Blast

Horse Riding in Patagonia: How I Nearly Froze to Death

Patagonia is a mesmerizing place. It’s a wilderness where the wind blows without mercy, where men are still men, where the landscape pierces your soul and make it its own.

Awkward or Amazing?

Amazing!

I’ve always wanted to visit Patagonia

My favorite book as a child was Ms. Feenstra’s Great Dragon Adventure. It was the story of an explorer who went to Patagonia, captured a dragon and brought it back to England, just to set it free. I’ve read it over and over and adored the pictures of Ms. Feenstra exploring the wilderness of Patagonia.

Setting up for Horse riding in Patagonia

When I finally made my way to Patagonia, I visited El Calafate to see the Perito Moreno glacier and to partake in whichever other activities the area had to offer. I love horse riding and the idea of horse riding in Patagonia was idyllic. I took a bus from El Calafate to an Estancia close to lake Viedma. Two incredibly attractive gauchos greeted us and treated us to coffee before we went to saddle up.

A life-threatening mistake

Usually, I get hot when I’m horse riding, so I left my polar fleece top inside the bus. The wind was howling as it can only do in the wilderness of Patagonia. En route to the stables, I was nearly blown off my feet by the wind. Walking at a 45-degree angle – not fun. I was given a beautiful white steed, but once I sat in the saddle, my heart pounded in fear of falling off the saddle – not because of the horse, but because of the wind blowing me sideways.

Patagonia
The Patagonian Wilderness

We moved at a slow pace, following the gauchos and their two playful hounds to the hut where we were supposed to have lunch. The ride seemed to last forever. Despite my gloves, my hands were freezing. My body temperature dropped to zero and I was reminded of the South African legend of Rageltjie de Beer who froze to death trying to save her brother’s life. I dearly wished that I could hug my horse’s neck just for some extra heat, but I could tell that he wasn’t too happy about the weather conditions either.

A warm welcome

Finally, we reached our destination. A small cabin in the middle of nowhere. Blue and shivering, I got off my horse and handed the reins to one of the gauchos. Inside, a warm fire was being brought to life and a bottle of wine was emptied into the typical Argentinian penguin-shaped pitcher. Quickly, meat was being grilled on the fire and we were handed rolls filled with delicious pieces of steak.

patagonia
Wine to revive the spirits

Just when I was finally warm, it was time to head out again. With a belly full of steak and wine, I made some time for philosophy in my near frozen state. And that’s where Patagonia stole my heart. This wilderness where nature dictates and men are still men.

Later, in Ushuaia, I bought a pen sketch of a penguin battling to walk in the wind as a souvenir. A drawing to remind me of the day when the freezing Patagonian wind had nearly blown me off my horse.

Patagonia
Penguin drawing

 

 

Camping in Antarctica

Camping in Antarctica…Awkward or Amazing?

Amazing!

The thought of camping always makes me feel like crumpled, slightly damp clothing in a suitcase after a long-haul flight. My friends know not to invite me to camping trips. I don’t camp. Period. Unless it is on the white continent, buried in snow, without a tent.

Last year, I did the Base Camp tour to Antarctica

We boarded the mv Ortelius in Ushuaia and crossed the notorious Drake passage, facing 10 meter waves. Luckily, we reached the Antarctica in one piece. Our first landing spot was Paradise Bay which looks like this.

Paradise Bay
Paradise Bay

The Best Spot for Camping in Antarctica is Leith Cove

Leith Cove is about 2 miles away from where our ship was anchored in Paradise Bay. Before dinner we packed our multiple layered bivy bags. I’m not familiar with the technical terms (seeing as I don’t camp. period.), but it basically consisted of the following:

  • A silver mattress to protect against hypothermia
  • A normal camping mattress
  • An inner sleeping bag
  • A slightly thicker outer sleeping bag
  • A very sturdy every-thing proof outer sleeping bag
  • A sleeping bag stuff sack

Try getting all of that into a bag is like trying to stuff a circus tent into a bag.

After dinner we headed out to Leith Cove

Hearts full of anticipation, we took a zodiac ride to the cove. On our way we saw a stray Adelie penguin trying to hitch a ride.

Adelie Penguin
Adelie Penguin

When we reached Leith Cove we had to dig a shallow grave to nest in for the night. Our team decided to build a fortress instead which involved building a snow wall to protect us against the prevailing wind. After wandering around the island for a bit we prepared our bivy bags. We took of our outer layers and hid it in the outer shell and our mid-layers were tucked in our sleeping bags to remain warm during the night. It was actually quite cozy in the sleeping bag.

Building our fortress
Building our fortress

For me it was an amazing experience. I’ve never seen so much snow and as we lay in our bags snow started falling onto our faces. I relished the experience, but after a while I zipped up the bag to protect my face, leaving just enough space for fresh air to enter my mummy cocoon.

 

 

So much snow!!
So much snow!!
Having a philosophical moment
Having a philosophical moment

Early the next morning we had to leave our warm nests

Getting back into your cold outer layers was not fun, but we knew we had another day of penguin watching, birding and seal spotting ahead of us in Paradise Bay. Which also looks like this:

 

Paradise Bay Antarctica
Paradise Bay Antarctica

Later that afternoon, I got to kayak in this gorgeous bit of the world… a perfect ending to an amazing Base Camp tour to Antarctica.

Life List Entry: Camped in Antarctica

By the way, if you do like camping, I have friends with a wonderful blog that’s full of camping, trekking and budget travel information

Horse Trekking to Song Kol, Kyrgyzstan

Horse Trekking in Kyrgyzstan – Awkward or Amazing?

Amazing and so very very awkward.

The Song Kol horse trekking expedition departs from a tiny town called Kochkor.

One of the main highlights marked on the tourist map of Kochkor is a three-story building. While the building is not pretty, it was pretty easy to find; unlike the town’s obligatory Lenin statue. This is a particularly good example about why Kyrgyz towns are not the main attraction of this beautiful country.

This three story building is a main tourist attraction in Kochkor
This three story building is a main tourist attraction in Kochkor

In Kochkor, one can arrange a horse trek to Song Kol with several service providers. I used the CBT (Community-based-tourism) branch as I already had good experiences with the other branches. I’ve heard good reviews of Shepard’s Life as well. At the CBT I rented an English-speaking guide and two horses (one for me and one for my guide) for a four day trek to and around Song Kol (or Lake Song in English). To cut down costs, we agreed that I would provide my own lunch and that my guide and I would arrange our own transport to the summer pastures and back.

On the day, we easily found a taxi that we shared with some additional passengers. En route we stopped at someone’s house to deliver a package, a convenience store to buy a sim card (not for me) and a random stop for a cigarette and a hug at the taxi driver’s friend’s house. All the other passengers got of and by the time we reached our destination, I realized that no-one else had paid, so I guess I paid for everyone’s errands.

Topics of conversation while horse trekking

We got our horses, saddled up and head into rolling green hills. My first impression of the horse was that it was very responsive. It took a while to teach him that I was in charge, but on Day 1 we got on just fine.  The first part of the trek was up a very steep hill to a viewing point. En route, my guide tried to make some light conversation along the lines of Islamic believes (his) vs. Christian beliefs (mine), the existence of  heaven or an afterlife of some sorts. We talked about my marital status and then ran out of conversation. I noticed that he had a well-worn book with him and realized that it was a school exercise book for English vocabulary. It nearly broke my heart to see him go through his notes while riding.

Our first pit stop revealed a big mystery

When we first mounted our horses, I was curious about the size of my guide’s backpack relative to mine. I had a small day pack (10L) and he had a large military style duffel bag. At our first pit stop, he packed out his lunch and urged me to eat mine. He then excused himself and plucked a prayer rug from his bag. Mystery solved! He disappeared to do his thing and while I guarded the horses. I took some time to revel in the beauty of the landscape and had a quiet moment with my own God.

Taking a prayer break
Taking a prayer break

 Horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan involves yurt stays

Our first host family was an absolute delight. Mother, father, older daughter and two young tomboys. At first it was a little awkward, there’s not much to do besides admiring the scenery. But the family was prepared – the young ones are tasked to entertain the tourists. I was sitting next to the guest yurt when suddenly two little faces popped out the yurt next door. They immediately asked if I had a camera and we spent some time taking selfies of each other and pictures of them goofing around. This quickly escalated into games, which  mostly involved me carrying and swinging them around.

Making friends with the little ones
Making friends with the little ones

After a while, I was exhausted and decided to join the adults in the kitchen. The mother kindly allowed me to watch her make dumplings while I played at building blocks with the kids. I was offered some kumis, fermented mare’s milk. I’ve had it before in Mongolia, so the taste wasn’t completely surprising. It’s definitely not something that I see myself growing an acquired taste for.

After dinner, which was delicious and served with copious amounts of tea, it was time to go to bed. I actually loved sleeping in the yurts. The bedding consists of multiple mattresses and blankets piled on top of each other. It’s very warm and comfortable. Not all yurts have lighting, so I was thankful for my mobile phone flashlight (and my solar panel phone charger). I shared a yurt with my guide, and the next morning over breakfast he said that I look very beautiful in the morning. I (secretly flattered) called him a liar.  Awkward.

Yurts on the Kyrgyz jailoos
Yurts on the Kyrgyz jailoos

Day 2: Destination – Song Kol

The next day we saddled up to trek through a mountain pass to finally reach Song Kol. On the way we met up with another group on a horse trekking journey to our destination and we decided to ride with them. Today my horse kept falling behind, so it was a constant cycle of  strolling/trotting to keep up with the group. I didn’t mind, it gave me time to take pictures. I’ve become quite the horse-back photographer. Then, all of a sudden, my horse got down on its knees. I jumped off and immediately it started rolling on his back, saddle and all. Once he was done I caught the reign and got up. And in all this time, my guide didn’t even notice that I had an incident. When they turned around, I was on the ground trying to get the horse to stand still so that I could mount it again. So everyone thought, I got thrown off and it took quite some time to explain that the horse had actually very politely given me the opportunity to exit gracefully.

Once we reached the lake, the other group pressed on, while my guide and I decided to have a lunch picnic. As we sat down he realized that he had to go back for something – and off he went at full gallop – the image of a Central Asian warrior on horseback. I took a little lie-down with my head against his duffel bag, the soft sunlight stroking my face and the smell of grass and fresh water filling my senses. When I woke up, I was surrounded by horses and cows looking down on me. Clearly, humans taking a snooze next to the lake is a rare occurrence. Once I stood up, they realized that I wasn’t as interesting as they thought and scampered off.

Horses at Song Kol
Horses at Song Kol

Horse trekking and dress-up parties

When we finally arrived at our accommodation for the night, we met our fellow horse trekkers again. This family’s little one gathered up all the traditional Kyrgyz outfits and we went on a fashion parade at the banks of Lake Song.

Traditional Kyrgyz dress-up party
Traditional Kyrgyz dress-up party

Homeward bound

The family that we stayed with on the third night was under the impression that I could play the guitar and insisted that I try out one of the other travelers guitar. I clearly explained in English to the traveler that it was absolutely not the case- music is definitely not in my repertoire of skills. I got quite a few questions from the family on why I’m traveling by myself as a woman and why I’m white if I’m from Africa. Sigh. I did meet some very nice fellow travelers who were at the start of their trip to Kyrgyzstan, so I was able to give some advise. The next morning that group was surprised by a visiting cow in their yurt!

On the fourth day, my horse was pretty over it, and I struggled to keep it on the path. It kept wanting to go uphill and when we were at the top, he didn’t want to go down and my guide had to come save me. It was a constant struggle! Finally we reached our end destination – a teeny tiny little hamlet where I saw the tiniest woman I’ve ever seen in my entire life! Here we had a final meal with a host family. I paged through their visitors book and noticed that they have received a lot of post cards from previous visitors. All the post cards were pasted in a book, with the message part facing forward. I found it interesting that the family valued the message more than the picture and this was very much in line with my observation that the Kyrgyz people are warm hearted, generous and welcoming.

Since I was too cheap to pay for a taxi, we had to hitch a ride back to Kochkor. As we walked to the main road, my guide had a very long conversation with someone on the phone. By the way that he walked and grazed his fingertips through the long grass by the side of the road, I thought it could only be a girl. I might not speak Russian or Kyrgyz, but I understand the language of love when I see it.  At the main road a big Soviet-style truck picked us up. It was a long and slow ride home, but I was deliriously happy to have this perfect ending to my four day horse trek in the Kyrgyz jailoos.

Hitching a ride home
Hitching a ride home

Kyrgyzstan is a country of contrasts

Its cities are an eye-sore, but its landscapes are breathtaking. Its people are poor, but generous with the little that they have. Even with the language barrier, I have discovered an amazing people and have seen the most beautiful landscapes in the world.

I’ve made a collage of pictures from my Kyrgyzstan trip for my office wall. Everyday, I imagine myself back at Lake Song, snoozing in the sun and surrounded by horses and any troubles I might have just washes away.

Life List Entry: Went horse trekking for four days in Kyrgyzstan

Zip-lining in Banos: The Only Way Out is Up

Zip-lining across the San Martin Canyon – Awkward or Amazing?

Quite, quite awkward. But loads of fun.

Someone brought it to my attention that the brain function I default to in most aspects of my life is my reptile brain.

This is the part of your brain, the brain stem, which is responsible for basic functioning such as breathing as well as for your flight/flight/freeze response to, I’m guessing in my case pretty much everything. I kind of like the idea of going through life altering between states of minding my own business like a gecko in a sunny spot and responding to life with the passion of a fire-breathing dragon.

It also explains my approach to dealing with potentially fear-inspiring situations.

Let me explain with a case study:

Zip-lining at Parque Aventura San Martin in Baños, Ecuador.

The service provider, going by the name of José and 2 Dogs (although I have it on good authority that there are actually 5 dogs), showed us a video of the zip-lining adventure that they offered.

Basically, it was an AC-DC pumped-up action extravaganza showing how we would be zipping at breakneck speed over a massive canyon and through a gorge after which we will oh so casually cross a shifty-looking suspension bridge above a raging river, climb up a perpendicular cliff and then zip all the way back to civilization.

Reptile Brain: EPIC!!!! Let’s do this!!!!

Rational brain: Don’t mean to interrupt, but you’re terrified of climbing remember

Reptile Brain: I don’t see a threat. I only see epic glory.

Rational Brain: But…what about when you’re actually doing it?

Reptile Brain: I’m hungry. Overriding conversation.

Next day we were lining up to zip across the canyon.

Appearing pumped up and ready for action due to over-active reptilian brain chemicals, I was (unfortunately) the chosen one to go first. As I was being strapped into the harness, it occurred to me that I’ve never zip-lined before. I had no idea what to expect. I was being held by strangers, facing a gigantic canyon, seconds from being rocketed straight through two cliffs. Naturally, I went from gecko to dragon in a millisecond dropping a fiery hell of swear-words until I was unleashed.

And it was actually quite okay. Not even scary at all. I even got a few whoops in as I flew over the canyon.

Through the canyon
Made it through the gorge!

Next up: bridge of suspended suspense.

After taking a few corny group shots once everyone finished zipping, it was time to cross the bridge. Seeing as we were getting photos taken, I had to go first again.

Nothing to worry about, just crossing a wonky bridge over a raging river with a metal cable as a security blanket. No biggie. Rather not think about the sizeable gaps between the platforms making the bridge a bridge. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. Reached the end, phew.

Bridge of suspense
Bridge of suspense

Now there was a little ledge serving as a waiting station

We were a group of seven plus two guides and a camera man. The ledge could maybe fit four people. So there was not  much time for the guide to give a step by step instruction on how to step by step climb up the via ferrata (iron steps hammered into the mountain side). He explained how to work the safety chains and left me with a “up you go”.

Reptile brain: Oh, f*ck. I can’t climb.

Rational brain: Told you so.

Reptile brain: Freeze

Rational brain: Only way out is up.

Reptile brain: I said FREEZE!

At this point, a line had formed behind me

Oh oh...
Oh oh…

The guide: “What’s up?”

Me: “I can’t go up.”

The guide: “Why not?”

Me: “I’m scared. I can’t remember how my limbs work.”

After some arguing and persuasion, the guide agreed to climb up with me so that he could handle my safety chains so that I could focus on figuring out how to put one foot up above the other.

Reptile brain: Oh man, left leg, right leg, don’t look down, breathe, left leg, right leg, never-a-flipping-gain…..smile at the camera (you kidding me?)…

Fake smile for the camera
Fake smile for the camera!

Reptile brain: Breathe…nearly there, just breathe. We made it!

Rational brain: Told you so.

Reptile brain: And I told you epic glory.  I’m the Dragon Master of San Martin! Oh look, another zip-line. Wheeeeeeee!!!

Whohooo!!!!

Let’s be honest.

If my reptile brain wasn’t in charge, I wouldn’t even have attempted the adventure. I would have rationalized my way past AC-DC to my fear of climbing.  And yes, it was scary as hell, but I made it.

The San Martin canyon is not the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

Not by a long shot.

I can’t say for sure which part of my brain I used to find courage to face the worst task of my life. Or which part I used to endure the almost equally horrific aftermath. But I’d like to think that it is because I live close to my inner dragon that I was able to find courage where others could not.

Life List Entry: Zip-lined at San Martin Canyon, Baños, Ecuador

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halloween on the Amazon

Awkward or Amazing?

A creepy encounter on one of the 7 natural wonders of the world? Amazing, of course!

This story starts in a hostel in Iquitos, Peru.

Iquitos is a small town. It has a nice waterfront and some interesting old colonial-style buildings. Mostly, it’s scruffy and infested with mosquitos, moto-taxis and dread-locked hippies on ayahuaska diets. In case you were curious, an ayahuaska diet is a way of purifying one’s body and mind before taking part in an ayahuaska ceremony. So basically you have to go on a clean, alcohol and drug free vegan diet and take a break from intimate interactions for at least a week. Once you’re cleansed you get to drink a special yucky herbal tea with a shaman – followed about 2 hours of vomiting and if you’re lucky – hallucinations that’s supposed to give you clarity about all the important questions in your life.

While all of that sounds absolutely delightful, most folks go to Iquitos to get access to the glorious Amazon river and the surrounding jungle.

I booked two nights in Iquitos with the hope of getting a good night’s rest, followed by a day of browsing for the perfect 3 day Amazonian jungle trip. My roommate at the hostel was a 23 year-old exchange student in Cusco who came to Iquitos to experience ayahuaska. She told me that her yoga-vegan-spiritual journey lead her to want this experience and how she was concerned that maybe it was too mainstream, because everyone seemed to want to do it.  Hippies could be hipsters? Who knew?

That night she was going for the big event and I knew I could kiss my good night’s rest goodbye. Before she left she introduced me to the guy who organized her trip into the jungle. This guy, with the unfortunate given name of Hitler, apparently only arranged tours by word of mouth. I had a quick chat with him in the corridor during which he gave me a low-down on the tour.  I was in luck, because he had a group leaving at 9 am the next morning.  At $30 per day, all inclusive, I figured – why not. If it sucks, I’ll do another one. After a quick cash deposit street-side, I settled in for a night of worrying about my roommate, because her parents clearly had no idea where she was and someone should at least be worried about whether she gets home or not. Which she did.

The next morning we set of for the Amazon

Satisfied  that my roommate returned from her ordeal in one piece, I hitched a ride with Hitler to meet the rest of the group. My excitement dimmed somewhat when I realised I have pretty much gate-crashed an exchange student party. I nearly copped out, if not for one redeemable American fellow called Nathan who seemed almost human (ironically, he was the youngest person in the group). I tried to blend in as best I could. I disguised my wrinkles with a sun hat and glasses and dutifully carried my bag full of expensive age-defying skin care products in silence while the young’uns joked about accidently buying anti-aging sun cream.

Being on a low budget trip we had to sacrifice luxury items such as life jackets and in-door plumbing, but an ample supply of hammocks and a very knowledgeable guide more than made up for it. On the first day we had a wonderful time playing with sloths and anacondas, feeding piranhas and swimming with pink dolphins.

Day 2 was Halloween

We started with a morning of playing with all sorts of monkeys on Monkey Island and was scheduled for an afternoon of piranha fishing followed by a nocturnal river game drive in search of Cayman alligators and boas. We had a bit of a late start for our afternoon program since our guide had to spend more than an hour in search of more drinking water for the group, only to return empty handed. We still had some water, but trust me, there’s nothing like the prospect of running out to bring on the mother of all thirsty throats.

Eventually we reached a good spot for fishing and settled in with our wooden fishing rods. The little critters were really biting, but after a few tries it was clear that I was feeding the piranhas instead of fishing for them. I settled for watching the sun set over the jungle instead.

When we headed back, it was pitch black and we all had our torches out, looking for snakes and other nightlife that might be visible in the trees. We didn’t see much apart from a few nocturnal birds, but it was still exciting.

A thunder storm broke loose that lit up the sky like broad daylight. It was spectacular! I wish I could capture it on camera, but we were getting thoroughly soaked. Unfortunately it didn’t rain quite enough to raise the water levels; at one point the water was so shallow that we had to push the boat. With every “uno, dos, tres, VAMOS!” we moved only a few centimetres, but progress is progress, right? We were soaked in rain, the water flooded our rubber boots and every now and then a massive flash of lightning would illuminate the sky to the point that we didn’t really need torches.

Once the boat was in the clear, we decided that it would be easier to just walk back. Our group got separated from the guide for some bizarre reason, so when the path started to turn towards the jungle we weren’t sure what to do. We decided to walk in the river instead since we knew that it lead back home. But a few steps in we were already waist high in the water and we had no choice but to follow the path into the jungle. We trudged the unfamiliar path for what seemed like ages. With each step the vegetation seemed to grow a foot higher and we had no idea where we were going. Finally we saw a flashlight shining like beacon in the darkness – home!

It always seems better in the daylight

The next morning I wasn’t surprised to see that our treacherous jungle path of the night before was actually just a muddy trail in the grass. Nevertheless, it was the best Halloween experience I’ve had since forever. Which probably has a lot do with the fact that I’ve never celebrated Halloween before, but that’s besides the point.

Life List Entry: Pushed a boat in a thunder storm in the Amazon

 

 

 

Surf’s Up in Bali – And Maybe Something Else As Well

Awkward or Amazing

As usual, both.

I had my first surf lesson in Kuta, Bali

This is significant, because I’m supposed to really scared of the ocean and especially waves. But when I travel, I tend to leave my sense of self-preservation on the baggage carousel and just go for whatever would have seemed terrifying back home. So, we went surfing.

Surfing turned out to be awesome.

Somehow, the combination of a wearing a second skin and tousled hair while carrying a surf board makes you automatically feel like one of the cool kids. You seriously consider booking an appointment for highlights and words like “stoked” and “goofy” feel natural on your lips. When you’re in the water you feel like a brave warrior conquering massive 20 foot waves. In reality, the waves we rode just about reached our ankles. But then again, I have had a pretty bad run-in with an aggressive ankle grazer on Clifton 4 in Cape Town once, so I’m not one to judge a wave by its size.

All illusions of grandeur aside, it was a very fun day. Sports don’t come naturally to me and I did struggled to get the knack of it. Eventually I managed to get up on the board every time and I even rode a few waves out to the end. Most of the time I just fell off and tumbled in the water. I did feel a bit of fear welling up on more than one occasion, but it was outweighed by fun with a big old capital F. I think my favourite part was listening to my Balinese instructor humming Jack Johnson’s Banana Pancakes while the next wave came in.

What’s Adventure Sport Without GoPro?

While all this fun was being had, the Oddessey Surf School ground staff had been filming our antics on GoPro cameras which gave us frame-by-frame footage of our efforts. We cracked up when we reviewed these, that wonderful feeling of sun-kissed exhaustion enough to wave away any thoughts of looking foolish.

There was one set of pictures of me that specifically baffled us.

Let’s look at it frame by frame.

Frame 1:

Here I have my back foot up and am on my knee with my front leg. You’re not supposed to use your knees, but hey, I was still trying to get the hang of it.

Surfing in Kuta

Frame 2:

I haven’t managed to get up off my knee yet and am clearly struggling to keep my balance. You can now see my instructor yelling at me to get my leg up.

Surf in Kuta

Frame 3:

I have fallen forward and appear to have grabbed onto the board with my hands. My instructor recognizes that all is lost. You can see the nose the next surf student’s board coming in on the right.

Surf in Kuta

Frame 4:

This is where it gets weird. In the fourth frame, I went from standing on my hands and knees to falling BACKWARDS off the board. The next surf student have reached the instructor.

Surf in Kuta

Frame 5:

In this final frame, I have completely fallen off the board and you can see the third student coming in.

Surf in Kuta

How the hell does one even DO that?

According to the time stamps, these frames belong to the same surf sequence. Judging by the position of the instructor and the new surf student, it’s possible that there may have been a frame missing between Frame 3 and Frame 4. The missing link, if you will. The top-secret Frame X that the Surf Photo Inspector must have removed to the classified file – where it will be reviewed by Secret Surf Agents to help them plan offensive attacks against the Surf Terrorists who are to gnarly for their own good.

Or maybe I’m just badass like that.

We’ll never know.

Life  List Entry: Pulled off a next level surf stunt

Day trip to Phi-Phi Island – A Matter of Sink or Swim

Awkward or Amazing?

Awkward.

Ah…Thailand

I went to Thailand with seven of my very best girlfriends. During our 10 days cruising around Phuket and Phi-Phi Islands we celebrated two birthdays and a bridal shower. And yes, it was a completely ridiculous 20-something-girls-shrieking-whohoooing-and-cracking-up-with-laughter-fest.

Friends on their way to Phi Phi Islands

There was one South African couple on our flight from Cape Town whose faces sagged from mildly miffed to desperation when they realized – transfer after transfer- that this annoying group of girls were there to stay for the remainder of their holiday. Every flight they took, every excursion they booked…there we were….laughing and shrieking. We had this incredibly lame private joke that involved saying the Afrikaans word “Lappie” (small kitchen cloth or hand-wipe) over and over again. Even the Thai skippers caught on to the joke and handed out wet-wipes with a friendly “Lap-pie” while the poor South African couple tried to remember why they didn’t go to Mauritius instead.

I imagine that they must have actively resolved to keep on swimming lest they sink into despair over the lack of peace on their island break-away.

I also had to choose between sinking or swimming that day…in a much more literal sense.

An excursion to Phi-Phi Island

As I mentioned in a previous post, I suffer from a morbid fear of the ocean. While my friends snorkeled and  dived with abandon, I happily accepted the offer of a “Jacket-Life” and the safety of the surface.

May Bay - Phi Phi Islands

When our  boat arrived at Maya Bay, the idyllic cove from Leonardo Di Caprio’s The Beach, my friends promptly jumped over board to enjoy the pristine tropical waters. Scared to death, but too proud to miss out, I sneaked to the back of the boat, without a floating device, and slipped into the waters using the little steps like an old lady geared for aqua-aerobics.

Once in, I doggy paddled to where my friends were busy whooping and organizing a group photo. Upon arrival I suddenly became acutely aware of the vastness of the waters beneath me.

Panic.

Panic is not conducive to practical and useful behavior. A useful way to stay still and pose for a photo while in a large body of water would be to tread water. But somehow, my panic-stricken mind forgot how to do basic things like moving limbs.

Sink or Swim in Thailand

Split-seconds after this picture was taken, someone tossed me an orange vest-shaped beacon of hope.

And so, I survived the Phi-Phi Island excursion, along with the South African couple who wiped their hands with a “lappie” after dinner and reminded themselves too were young once.

Life List Entry:  Nurtured seven amazing friendships with laughter and random craziness

 

Horror in Hong Kong: Enter the Clown

Awkward or Amazing?

Awkward. And scary.

First, my view on clowns

I’m a child of the early 80’s and thus form part of a generation whose collective psyche was damaged beyond repair by Steven King’s IT. The infamous demon clown, Pennywise, may have seemed too silly to be scary to folks who were older and less impressionable when it was released in 1990. But he has instilled a lasting fear into our hearts that now causes anyone around the age of 32 to experience anything from at least mild discomfort to complete paralysis when faced with clowns.

I realize that all clowns are not demons. Even so, I struggle to accept them as bearers of joy and laughter. When I look at them (from a safe distance) I can not understand why parents allow their children to interact with these atrocities.

Do they not see the grotesqueness of their features?

Do they not see how unnaturally tall some of them are?

Do they not see with what cruelty they torture innocent balloons by twisting them into all kinds of horrid and unnatural shapes?

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong…

I did not expect to have to face this particular irrational fear during my first visit to Hong Kong. After a morning of exploring Kowloon markets selling everything from goldfish to songbirds, we headed down to the Salisbury promenade to watch the Hong Kong dragon boat carnival. We found a nice spot where we could watch the dragon boat crews racing past and feel part of the general festiveness of the event.

After a while, I was in need of something thirst quenching and set off to scout for soft drinks. When I saw them, I froze. Clowns. Two of them. And masses of balloons tortured into grotesque decorations and cocktail dresses. I can not describe the horror that I experienced in that split second.

I tried to run, but alas, I did not get far. My friend, aware of my fears, but too young to truly understand it, summoned the clowns and their balloon-wearing companions, and shoved me towards them.

“There…you love clowns, right? Now, smile!”

I was surrounded by my worst nightmare, but I managed to smile for the picture.

It may look like an innocent and somewhat cheesy picture of a South African girl at the Hong Kong dragon boat carnival. But if you look closely, you’ll also be able to see the pure terror of the moment.

Life List Entry: Turned my worst nightmare into a cheesy photo.

 

 

 

 

 

Riding my First Wave on a Bodyboard

Alternative Title: Take That, Thalassophobia!

Awkward or Amazing: Amazing!

You don’t even like swimming – what’s so amazing about riding waves?  I am incredibly scared of the ocean (Thalassophobia – it’s real) and this was one giant flip-off to my fears.

It all happened in Hartenbos, South Africa

Hartenbos is a sleepy little coastal town in South Africa that gets a rude awakening every December when it gets invaded by a hoard of crazy Afrikaans folks from the Free State and Gauteng. Judging by the number of people splashing and tumbling in the surf it’s a great place for swimming – if you ignore the prowling Great Whites and sneaky rip currents. There’s a lot of waves, most of which are rough enough to evoke great terror in my thalassophobic heart.

Usually, I sunbathe while my family braves the waves. If it’s a real scorcher of a day, I’ll convince one of my brothers to escort me into the water with me clinging on to his arm like duct tape.

But this year was different

It was our last day and I thought I should probably at least wet my toes. My sister in-law handed me a bodyboard…

“Come join us…you can use this as a floating device”

So, I did.

Some key take-outs from my maiden bodyboard voyage

  1. Bodyboards are indeed good floating devices
  2. And serve equally well as modesty boards…which leads to my third observation
  3. Pick your swimsuit with great care

The most important thing that I’ve learned from this experience:

Waves are not quite as scary as I thought

Life list entry:  I faced my fears and rode a wave to shore on a bodyboard. It may be a small step for most, but in my case…. a giant leap deserving of a slow clap.