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enter: wanda* the travelling dinosaur

6 Feb

We have a stow-away. Her name is Wanda.*

Here is Wanda getting all cushioned into the comfy Emirates seat (next to Stof’s man-bag):

Lucky for Wanda (and for us) we had an empty middle seat on BOTH flights from CT-Dubai and Dubai-LAX. We also had very comfortable seats and generous (for economy) leg room and beautiful hostesses and tasty food and a really really impressive movie selection. We liked Emirates.

Wanda quite likes the travelling life. She especially appreciates a good view. Like this one from the roof of our hotel in Dubai:

(She would have appreciated it more if we had taken a less blurry photo of her, but it was starting to rain giant raindrops and we needed to go shopping (when in Dubai…) so it was a one-shot Wanda.)

Wanda does not like to wait. We had to wait for about an hour before we took off in Dubai for LA after passing through the boarding pass section. Aaargh.

She got a little tetchy and tried to make a phonecall. It was about 3am in South Africa, so she reckoned our niece Electra would be awake.

Lucky for Rob’nPat she didn’t have a phone card.

After 16 1/2 hours in the air on our way to LAX** we were all a little nervous about our 5 hour lay-over in the US. These were some of the things we were worried about:

  1. We would get stopped at customs with our 5kg of chocolate and most amazing first aid kit which included, inter alia, two vials of morphine and adrenaline each.
  2. Not all of our 4 enormous bags weighing 32kg each (we got to weigh and re-pack them in Dubai where the lady at the check-in desk was friendly, but not as prepared to bend the rules as Lynn) would arrive.
  3. We would not have enough time to go to the UPS Store to collect the various items we had sent there from Amazon and other suppliers.
  4. We would not be allowed to check the new bag of freshly collected stuff in due to our copious other luggage.
  5. Stof might have to spend the night in LA due to anything going wrong.

But it was all fine! Really? We could not have wished for the LA bit of our crazy journey to have gone smoother. Stof and I kept looking at each other in disbelief and laughing and smooching (once we had finally brushed our teeth) and high-fiving and generally feeling better than lottery winners!

We all climbed on to the prop plane to La Paz feeling triumphant. If you look carefully, you will see Wanda grinning out of the top of Stof’s bag.***

The flight to La Paz was gorgeous. A little bumpy, but we don’t mind bumpy too much in our family. It was marvellous to fly over the coast of Baja California and to see from the air some of the islands we hope to explore in the Laura Takalani.

This one reminded Wanda of herself for some reason:

So now we have all arrived. Exhausted. Cold (we forgot about winter).**** Pleased that we do not have to step on to another plane for at least a year.

* Um… Dear Nieces and Nephew. “Wanda’s” name may not be Wanda. If it is not Wanda and you had already named her/him something else, please let us know forthwith and we will rename her/him immediately. Weloveyouthemost, Sara and Stof.

** We flew over the North pole! How awesome?

*** Erm. No, you will not see Wanda grinning out of the side of Stof’s bag, I’m afraid. But I wanted to work that information into the post now and I couldn’t figure out how else to do it because we forgot to take a photo of Wanda at that time. Mea culpa.

**** To be fair: all the locals reckon that today is the coldest it ever gets in La Paz and it was about a max of 20C. But when you have only come prepared for balmy island paradise, that is CHILLERS!

ex cape town

2 Feb

If this week has been a whirlwind of packing and organising and frenzy and partying and dining and last-minute admin like never seen before, then yesterday was a veritable tornado.

In retrospect it is clear that leaving ourselves a day to not only pack our own bags, but also pack up the office and cottage we’ve been using thanks to the world’s most magnanimous in-laws, was ridiculously ambitious. Stof and I have promised ourselves that we “won’t do that again”… the great thing about this being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is that the odds are fairly high that we WILL NOT do that again…

The craziness climaxed just as my parents arrived to fetch us for the airport, Stof’s dad and Sis-Curly came home from work for farewells and my mum-in-law shuffled over the garden from the main house to see if all was in order. The big bags were (over-)packed – more on that later – my “keep” clothes had been jammed into boxes, I’d crammed most of Stof’s remaining (but who knows whether they are keepers because he has refused to sort them since we moved out of our house in JULY. Breathe, Saartjie…) and all that remained was to pack my hand luggage, shower and re-attire in comfy but not too scruffy airplane clothes.* Then we could leave for the airport leaving only a minor wake of shambles behind us (sorry Nova for putting  you through that).

Enter: The Great Hand Luggage Crisis of (1 February) 2011. Set aside for my carrying were:

  1. My laptop;
  2. The B-GAN (satellite internet connection: not that much bigger than  a netbook, just bulkier and heavier);
  3. The folder with all our important documents;
  4. Small bag with important** jewelry, i-pods etc;
  5. Cruisers manual to commence the provisioning;
  6. Leggings and cardigan in case it was chilly in the plane (or LA);
  7. another Object which shall be revealed forthwith; and
  8. bitsnpieces…

I had Stof’s old backpack set aside to accommodate all of the above.  I own a rather larger, more accommodating backpack, but Stof had insisted that the green*** backpack be put  in storage so we had no alternative but to insert all of 1 – 8 above into the old (Stof’s) backpack.

It did not fit.

I issued forth a blood-curdling yelp. And a few more. There were probably some choice swear words mixed up in the yelping. All the stress and balance of the past few days, weeks and months were working towards this moment of getting to the airport with all in tact. The possibility that it might not happen smoothly (and the realisation that it was happening, period!) culminated in some pretty gnarly noises. Sorry mum and mum-in-law and dad and dad-in-law and Sis-Curly and (mostly) Stof-my-love for the horror of my outburst.

And then the problem was solved (temporarily, I am presently typing as quickly as I can so we can go out and buy a more suitable replacement hand luggage bag), goodbyes were hugged, and we were already at the airport with about 130kg of luggage.

130kg of luggage made up of three suitcases, a sail bag and a set of spear guns (for fishing) is not a small amount. Especially when your limit as a couple is four bags not weighing more than 23kg each. (Which would be about 92kg in total – for the numerically challenged.)

Somehow, miraculously, we had an angel (called Lynn) working the desk. With some imaginative solutions, strategic removal of various heavy objects, the insertion of the spear guns into the sailbag (ok, they do stick out a bit), biting-the-bullet to pay for some (not too ghastly) excess, and the genius intervention of Lynn: we were checked in! And it only took us and hour and a half… Moral? We are so arriving for our other flights at least three hours early. Probably more.

So now we are in Dubai. Whew. And Wow. Although I’m not really “wow-ing” Dubai as a city as we are yet to venture out of our hotel wich is RIGHT across the road from the airport. But this hotel has a bed and hot showers and place to walk around in and stretch out and with a 16-and-a-half hour flight to Los Angeles ahead of us, that is sounding pretty marvellous! There was a panic on the plane when I thought that I hadn’t actually paid the deposit for the hotel and then we would have to try to find somewhere to stay at 6am when we finally cleared customs, but standing at the bottom of the (long) escalator leading to passport control was a beautiful woman with a placard with our names on it! She showed us the way and assured us our hotel transfer would be on the other side. I nearly kissed her I was so delighted.

Now we are well and truly on our way.

*Speaking of airplane clothes: South Africans! What is it with that scruffy travel look??? I can spot you in almost any airport around the world. It’s like someone told us we didn’t have to travel in our Sunday best so we took the dress code of the sky to be “hanging out at the plaas (farm)”.

** Not important enough to leave behind, though.

***My one, of course it’s green.

today is my birthday

12 Jan

I just wanted to let you know…

I walked (and breakfasted) on the mountain with my husband and dog; lunched with my girlfriends; and picnicked and watched Shakespeare in the park* with my family. A tremendous day!

31. Such a quirky number. I’m no mathematician, but I do appreciate a prime number (especially when they’re few and far between these days). 30 was tough and gritty, but full of planning and waiting and anticipation. 31 must be full of living.

* Taming of the Shrew. Frothy and light.

family holiday

17 Dec

Yesterday was the Day of Reconciliation. It’s one of those amazing South African stories where we have tried to turn some really horrendous incident-event in history into a holiday for all! Mostly, it marks the start of the Christmas (and summer) holidays! Hurrah! In keeping with the tradition, we travelled to Knysna yesterday for a short snatch of holiday with the family.

Knysna (pronounced Nise-na… or as I repeatedly quip (jeepers I can be annoying) “nice, na?”) is a gorgeous marvellous town on the famous garden route. My in-laws have a second home here and Stof and I have escaped for a few days to hang with Stof’s ‘rents, his sis and her three fabulousa daughters. We’re still ploughing through the Things That Must Be Achieved, but in an altogether more relaxed environment. We’ll be back in the routine on Monday…

Family holidays are both hilarious and awesome. Especially when they’re not actually your own family.*

AND: For those of you involved in the Running Challenge, I have been So Good! [The Running Challenge is a challenge to people who like to think about themselves running. The point is to encourage each other do actually do some running over December and January (more specifically: the 14th to the 14th). The person who works in the most runs will be sent Awesome Stuff from the other participants!] I didn’t run yesterday in the midst of my travels, BUT, I’ve run three days out of four since the 14th. Brilliant!

* When they’re your own family, family holidays are a mixture of infuriating and hilarious and awesome.

some logistics

25 Nov

[So this post is about some of the practicalities, as opposed to the beauty. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how spectacular a place Antarctica is and how immeasurably lucky I am to have experienced part of it. All the while, labouring at my work work, which needs to be wrapped up by Tuesday when I move out of my office.]

Right until about 45 minutes before we departed, I wasn’t sure whether I would make the flight to Antarctica. One of the gentlemen who had earlier cancelled changed his mind (again!) and was trying to fly in from London in order to catch the plane south which was due to leave at 9am SA time. The timing was going to be a bit risky, but with a good tail wind, he could have made it. (Our pilots were reluctant to delay the flight south as the weather forecast indicated that the weather would turn bad that afternoon.) Only when we arrived at the airport did we find out that his flight had been delayed by one hour at Heathrow. Which meant I was on the plane! Yippee!

We flew into an area of Antarctica called Dronning Maud Land. It’s situated due south of Cape Town and it took the Gulf stream we flew in on about 5 1/2 hours to cover the distance.

The White Desert camp is located fairly close to two scientific bases: an Indian (!) and a Russian base. The Russians (because they’re good at that shit) also run an ice runway every summer to ferry in scientists and tourists and other stuff. The red dot on the map above indicates more or less where all the action is. As can be seen, we were on the edge of the continent and about a 7 hour flight  (including a stop to refuel) to the South Pole.

The photie above was taken with just under an hour to landing. You can see the ice bergs floating in the southern ocean and I’m not 100% sure whether that is ice shelf or cloud in the distance. The solid ice shelf is about 80km wide before the start of the continent.

Just after this photo was taken we were urged to start putting on our layers of “cold weather” gear and our sunnies. We’d left CT on a beautiful morning clad in T-shirts, but as soon as the plane door opened, we had to be prepared for The Cold and bright white ice and snow.

Here is our “team” of lucky last-minute Antarctica travellers on the Novo runway. You can tell how awesome we feel by the size of our grins. It consisted of father-in-law Rick, brother-in-law Ali and three of Rick’s colleagues, one of whom we referred to as Austin “Danger” Powers (guess which one).

I am dressed in my oilskins! I couldn’t find any suitable ski-gear to borrow on such short notice, and most of what I own is in storage. I just layered up a whole bunch of (mainly borrowed) warmer clothes and used my oillies to keep out the wind. It was perfect!

So those Ruskys run a tight, if not kinda cavalier, operation.

Every year they have to test the ice and then they clear a runway that will be able to support a summer season worth of flights in and out of Antarctica. To the left of this photo you will notice the Gulf stream 3 that flew us into Antarctica. To the right, there are some enormous Toyota Hiluxes which are responsible for transporting people around Antarctica. People like us.

[Here’s another picture of the car. In case any of my readers are boys or otherwise into that kind of thing.]

The drive took about 20 minutes across the ice until we arrived at Camp Whichaway, the White Desert camp.

When you consider that everything has to be entirely removable, and that all that is left standing at the end of a season are the bases of the main tents and the guest tents, it’s quite an impressive operation.

The red and grey tents are the staff tents, the yellow ones are guest tents which were only used by one person, the canvas smaller tents are guest tents and the big one consists of a kitchen, a dining room and a lounge/library. They are so fabulous. The wooden square structure is where the toilet is housed.

Because it is (ordinarily) so darn expensive to fly down to Antarctica, the standard of hospitality has to be pretty ridiculously high: people who have loads of cash to spend on a holiday at the bottom of the world are used to the finer things in life. For this reason, each tent is exquisitely equipped with proper camper beds, fluffy blankets (although we were also all given -30 sleeping bags to sleep in), rugs on the floor and heaters.

There is always at least one bottle of  bubbles chilling when the guests return from any daily activity. Not to fear: I took full advantage of the bubbles…

The food was subliminal. Jennamay is one of my finest friends so I knew that the fare would be phenomenal. It was nevertheless loads of fun watching the other guests being blown away meal after meal with the culinary delights before them. In ANTARCTICA!?

Cook sister, cook!. Legend.

I’ll be back with more Antarctic beauty and some snippets of activity and laughter soon. To the A-mericans who read this blog: may you have a superb thanks-giving. To everyone: only one month to christmas. Woop! Woop!

the lynching of alaskan bill

5 Nov

Our brother-in-law runs the seriously awesome business of taking rich people on holiday to Antarctica. Like, to hang out in personalised luxury tents on the ice with only a handful of the really elite. (Not just to cruise by the ice-shelf in a ship with hundreds of other rich people.) In order to run such a brilliant concern, he needs Good Staff. Good Staff are people who are (a) strong; (b) calm; and (c) interesting. Enter: Bill the Alaskan!

Bill the Alaskan has been staying in our little cottage on the Wine Farm* for the past week. I think it’s been full of surprises for him.

Firstly, the Wine Farm (let’s not kid around here) is seriouslyspectaular. It’s knock-your-socks-off kind of amazing.*

Secondly, within minutes (probably about 7 minutes) of meeting him, Stof and I had invited ourselves to come and visit him in Juneau in May 2012. And to stay in his house. And to take advantage of all the benefits usually only on offer to locals. The man took it well: perhaps he thinks we will forget and make other plans? Ha! They do not call me Sara-the-girl-with-the-elephant-memory for nothing.

There are two morals to this story:

  1. We’re shameless.
  2. If you live anywhere on the Pacific Rim: BEWARE!

* Stof’s parents live in the main house on the Wine Farm. We’re staying in their cottage until we leave. The amazingness of the Wine Farm has everything to do with my in-laws and nothing to do with free-loaders like us who just hang out there for a few months before embarking on adventures.

three month countdown

1 Nov

THREE MONTHS ‘TIL WE FLY!*

Wow.

The measurement of time forwards is such a tricky beast. How will those three months rush by? I just cannot imagine that they will drag. What will three months from now feel like?

In order to measure time forwards, I’ve developed the habit of casting my mind back to the equivalent time in the past.

By 1 August we had moved out of our lovely home. Scissor and I were completing our open water dive course and high-tailing back to Durbs to catch our flight with happy faces and pressurised ears (that only became worse on the flight). People, there’s a reason why they advise you not to fly on the same day you dive. Or dive with a cold. In retrospect, though, that diving was the best thing for my months-old cold and it quickly dissipated on returning home…

On 1 August, Stoffel was in Southampton, getting ready (with his team) to sail so jolly brilliantly that his team won their J109 regatta in the esteemed Cowes Week.

Already, it is now! 1 November 2010 will be remembered as a Very Important Day: today I resigned from the Bar and gave notice on my chambers and parking. One more month as an advocate. One more month of work. [One month ago we had just celebrated our anniversary…]

Between now and 1 February 2010, there is so much to do. I must complete sailing, first aid, spanish and french courses. We will celebrate ten family birthdays (including Cowboy’s! (and mine)), two friends’ weddings (two weddings, four friends), Christmas and New Year. The to-do list grows everyday.

But I have a growing tingle in the pit of my tummy. It grows at at least the same rate as the to-do list. It’s the tingle of excitement and wonder at the audaciously awesome nature of the life we are living.

*As abundantly clearly as I think I write, I am aware that there are times when all is not as clear in my mind as it is in yours. We need to fly to La Paz in Mexico on 1 Feb 2011 to meet up with the Laura Takalani and then we will work very hard getting her ready and then we will leave to sail across the Pacific.