Until we meet again…

What a fabulous introduction to our grandchildren. 

Julius – 4 months at the end of our holiday – captured our heart – always ready to smile, never fussing (unless hungry of course), always happy for a hug and kiss and a morning walk, listening to the birds singing and his Grandma’s lullaby ‘Little boy’.  What an absolute pleasure. Spitting image of his mother, with his grandmother’s complexion – perfect.  He’s won the ‘Angel of the Year’ award.

Wyatt, a 15-month-old with music in his soul and love in his heart – does not stop moving or ‘talking’.  Always strumming a ‘guitar’, with an intimate relationship with ‘Exa’ (Alexa) who seems to respond appropriately to his random requests to play ‘Too’ (Bob Marley) – dances to all music and always has a story to tell.  The way to his heart is definitely through his stomach – a pleasure to feed – who shows his appreciation for everything with the random kiss.  No fear of water and keeps you on your toes at the beach.  A character you can only love to the moon and back.

Solomon, our eldest – adores his brother, Baby Ju-Ju, smothering him constantly with ‘gentle’ hugs and sloppy kisses, loves his cousin Wyatt with a wicked streak that overrides this love at times.  After six weeks, we still need a translator for his Aussie accent, but we managed.  You’re drawn in from the get-go, as he slips his little hand in yours and beckons you to ‘come Grandma’.  Loves an adventure and is extremely aware of his surroundings.  Gives great morning hugs and is enraptured by ‘Moana’.

He is sensitive and caring.  When his cousin left us for the last time, he noticed tears in my eyes and asked why I was sad.  ‘I miss Wyatt’ I said.  ‘Me too Grandma’ and he continued to keep me distracted by catching fish with our pretend rods and telling me stories of whatever came to his mind.  As I watched him play minutes before my final departure, he again noticed tears in my eyes and asked, ‘Why you sad Grandma’.  ‘I am going to miss you’ I said.  ‘I love you so much’.  ‘I love you too’, he whispered.

The tears have not stopped flowing.  Until we meet again my boys.

Time is drawing near…

It’s 4 in the afternoon.  Still a few hours until nightfall.  The birds are singing, chirping, squawking, such a variety nesting in the area.  The rest of the world is quiet in the small town of Tyalgum, Australia.  The gentle breeze is soothing and relaxing and my cup of tea makes it all a very serene moment, giving me time to reflect.

My two eldest sons have now been living in Australia for the better part of the past 16 years – my eldest moved here as a teenager to further his university studies and decided to make this country his home.  My second son moved here with his wife (then girlfriend) about 6 years ago.  Both now have 3 sons between them, and I am a very proud grandmother.

My husband and I have been here now for just about 4 weeks, and the time is flying by ever so quickly.  Using our time and talents to help our sons with their growing families.  Enjoying the precious time spent with our grandchildren – meeting them practically for the first time, after leaving our eldest two years ago at the tender age of 3 months.  We were greeted by two little confident, loving, funny, chatty, determined toddlers and one sweet 3 month-old angel – our hearts melted instantly and we immediately felt the dread of leaving them in the short six weeks ahead.

How does that work.  How is it that you can fall so deeply in love with little humans with just a smile, a snuggle, a giggle.  I will never understand.

We’ve been busy travelling back and forth between their homes – an hour’s drive each way – and have come to love this part of the country.  Tyalgum boasts of just over 500 residents and is nestled in the foothills of Mount Warning, the world’s largest extinct shield volcano, surrounded by farmlands, mountains, creeks and rivers which make this area such a joy to explore.  The centre of the town itself can be leisurely visited in just a short 10 minutes and has all the necessities including a cricket oval, a playground for kids, ice cream parlour, general store and of course, a bottle shop. Sunday afternoon is their busy day when the neighbours gather at the local pub for a quick meal and a beer or two, while being entertained by a live band made up of members of the community.  Charming indeed.

Mullumbimby, Australia’s biggest little town, is a bit larger with just over 3,000 residents and seems like a metropolis in comparison.  When you first arrive, it feels like a one-horse-town with not much action but that is part of the charm of Mullumbimby. It is known for its cafes serving world class coffee, quite often locally grown, and its choice of restaurants, local bakery and butcher, all your needs being met within a stone’s throw away.  The weekly Saturday market offers an opportunity for the neighbours to meet each other, share a meal, and of course be serenaded by the local artists.  A simple life, no fuss, no bother.  Locally the town is known as Mullum. Back in the day, this town grew weed so potent it was known as Mullum Madness – go figure. Fashion is alternative and shoes are always optional.

Both towns exude a simplicity of life and ease of living.  A haven for young children where the outdoors beckon, the rivers pique your curiosity for exploring, the trails easy to venture.

We’ve been joyfully busy.  Grateful for every moment shared. But the reality is that we will leave in a short two weeks, having put our life on pause for our grandchildren.  Creating memories that we hope will build a base for many more to come.

Glamping, Lumbre style…

I remember as a child watching the movie “Sound of Music” over and over again.  I shamelessly admit that I’ve also seen it as an adult multiple times.  And every time that I’ve had the opportunity to hike across the ridge of a mountain, my mind goes back to that scene when the Von Trapp family leave Austria and escape to Switzerland.

Lumbre offered that experience, with cows grazing on the hills, open landscape as far as the eye can see, and as a special treat, what seemed like a secret hike through the forest to an enchanting waterfall – our own private escape.  Such a perfect way to spend a beautiful sunny morning just oustide the small quaint town of Salento nestled in the Cocora Valley.

For those of us who think they want to go camping but aren’t quite ready to sleep on the ground, who want to enjoy the simplicity and beauty that nature has to offer, to wake up to gentle breezes and the chirping of the birds, to be pampered and catered to by the most gracious of hosts, Glamping at Lumbre will fulfil all of your desires and more.  With hiking trails just 100m away, horseback riding at your whim and even the extreme pampering of a masseuse, if you so desire.  A treat for bird watchers.

Our short 3 night stay wasn’t enough.  If there’s one place you want to put on your bucket list – this is it.

Salento – Touring the Wax Palm Forest in the Cocora Valley

We arrived in Salento late into the night, in pouring rain, cold, damp and hungry.  What was supposed to be a 5-hour drive from Jardin stretched into an 8-hour journey due to unforeseen traffic and road works.  Needless to say we were tired and after a quick dinner, bundled into our ‘Glamping accomodation’ and fell asleep before anybody could say “Jack Sprat”.

As we emerged from our tents in the morning, the beauty of the surrounding mountains, the sound of the birds chirping and the cows mooing in the distance immediately erased any displeasures we may have experienced the day before. We were on the Lumbre farm in the Cocora Valley situated in Quindio, Colombia, located in the Central Cordillera of the Andean mountains.  What an absolutely beautiful morning view.  And the day had only just begun.

For we were about to embark on a tour of the Carbonera estate known for its Wax Palms and amazing views.  We chose however to do this tour with a local guide (www.salentocycling.com) in what could only be described as an unconventional way – not only hiking through farm lands bordering the Wax Palm forest, but exploring what is known as the Cloud Forest on dirt road bikes.

We met our exuberant guide Eduardo in Salento and once fitted with our gear, climbed into the back of a Jeep and made our way 20 km up to 11000’ up into the estate.  Rumbling along the rocky dirt road we eventually arrived at our first point of decent – an 8k downhill bike ride which took us to the start of our trek to the Wax Palms.

Amazing views awaited us as we climbed up and down the gentle slopes back to the top where we picnicked relishing in the peace and quiet of the nature that surrounded us.  And then the adventure really began as we were carried back up to the top and jumped on our bikes to make the final 20k ride downhill back to Salento.

The cloud forest, at a temperature of roughly 18C provided mystery at every turn as we could see just 10 meters ahead at any one time.  As we descended further the views of the Cocora valley opened up once more and we were treated to the mooing of cows and even accompanied by a couple of young foals who galloped alongside us for part of the journey.  The excitement building, adrenaline pumping as we had just experienced the tour of a lifetime.

The pictures speak for themselves, and the memories etched in our minds forever.

Jardin – A small town with a big heart

We pulled up in front of our hotel perfectly located on the picturesque square, El Libertador Park,  of the small town of Jardin, located in northwest Colombia.  We gasped at the imposing presence of the neo-Gothic Basilica of the Immaculate Conception which towered over the square in all its glory.  The square was encircled by tents with vendors of local food and art, restaurants full to the brim of customers enjoying their Sunday lunch, parents sitting amongst the rose gardens, while their young children ran around chasing the birds, laughing with their friends.

We smiled, and immediately fell in love with the sheer beauty of Jardin, known for its brightly painted houses, colorful floral displays and milk candies.  We too began to laugh and chit chat as we wandered in and around the stalls and shops making our way to the nearest local restaurant for lunch.  A normal Sunday, in a small quiet town.

As the afternoon continued, we began to notice young children in their costumes, likewise teenagers and some adults.  It was Halloween we were reminded, but nothing prepared us for the unfolding events that would take place as the sun set on what we thought was the sweet quiet town of Jardin, Antiquoia.

While relaxing on our balcony overlooking the square, we noticed crowds lining the streets under our noses, music from bands began to play on the other side of the plaza, the stalls that were selling local art and candies filled the air with the inviting smells of street food.  The town had come alive in a way totally unexpected.

And then we realized that we were about to witness a parade of Halloween bands, not unlike the Carnival parade of ‘Ole Mas’ bands we are accustomed to in our small twin island of Trinidad and Tobago. This parade however not only featured the well orchestrated bands as they marched or danced pass but also included a large contingent of motorcyclists showing off their road skills.   The revving of their bikes, intermingled with the sounds of the orchestra, the costumed participants of all ages and the varying methods of expression, made for a highly energetic display much appreciated by all.

We were thoroughly entertained and left this sweet town with its unsuspecting vitality imprinted on our hearts.

La Piedra, Guatape

675 steps up to an altitude of 200m to witness what is claimed to be the best view in the world.  A panoramic vista as far as the horizon towering above the town of Guatapé Antioquia.  Fresh water lakes formed by a hydro electric dam interrupted by small islands, dotted with what you can only imagine to be vacation homes and the odd boat speeding from one island to the next.  You can almost see vacationers tanning on the decks with children splashing in the water enjoying the brilliant sun shiny day that it was.

It is known as “La Piedra” and has been the reason for many rivalries between the towns of El Peñol and Guatapé over the years.  This is highlighted by the letters “G” and an incomplete “U” (leaving the letters GI) painted on the western face of the rock.  The two towns had long disputed ownership of the rock and the residents of Guatapé decided to settle the matter by painting the town’s name on the rock in huge white letters.  It did not take long for the residents of El Peñol to notice the work and a large mob was assembled to stop it, leaving behind the unfinished graffiti.*

According to geologists the rock is approximately 65 million years old.  The indigenous Tahami, former inhabitants of this region, worshipped the rock and called it, in their language “Mojarra” or “Mubarak” (rock or stone).   The landform is a granitic rock remnant that has resisted weathering and erosion.

Climbing the rock is not for the faint hearted.  Yet it’s a challenge that many take on as the view literally takes your breath away.

* Wikipedia

La Comuna 13

Children should not be working in the streets, but on their dreams.

Comuna 13 was considered one of the most dangerous communities in Medellin if not the world.  Many may remember our fear of even so much as visiting Colombia due to the rampant drug trafficking and the violence that surrounded this trade.  Stories abounded with kidnappings, drug lords taking over small communities, the crime rate soaring.  After the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993 however, the government decided to intervene in the ongoing destruction of its youth in Comuna 13 one of the hardest hit communities where a life of violence and crime seemed to be the only option open to its residents to climb the social ladder, or so they were led to believe.

Investment was made in the infrastructure of the community allowing everyone access to schools and public transport instilling in them not only a new vision for their future but a sense of pride in themselves and their community that has transcended from generation to generation.  A community that truly embraces the spirit of ‘each one help one’.

Today Comuna 13 is considered one of the safest districts in the world, its walls covered in graffiti art depicting not only the struggles faced by their inhabitants and the evolution of its community, but also embodying messages of peace and unity amongst its people.  As you walk the streets, you are entertained by self made dancers, hip hop artists, singers – all intent on making an honest living while promoting a life of honesty and integrity.

We thought we were going to visit an exhibition of the finest street art Medellin has to offer.  Instead we were silenced by the beauty and humility of its people, the exuberance of a new culture of youth who look out for each other and who understand the value of community living.  We felt safe and secure exploring the ins and outs of the many shops and thoroughly enjoyed the talents of the local artists who performed on demand for our voluntary contributions.

You can visit on your own or with a tour guide (Aeroturex).  You will be welcomed with open arms at all times.

An overhead view of la Comuna 13, courtesy our Tour guide Aeroturex

No Dejes Rastro

These three little words follow you wherever you go in el Canon del Rio Claro situated west north west of Bogota, Colombia.  Its owner intent on ensuring that the natural environment is kept as pristine as possible.  But in its own way, this place unknowingly leaves traces of serenity and beauty in your heart and soul.

A mere 5 hour drive from Bogota, traversing the undulating terrain and beauty of the Central range of the Colombian Andes, el Canon del Rio Claro is tucked away in Antiquoia.  As you enter you are immediately transported to what can only be described as a place of peace and quiet.  As you drive alongside the rambling river of Rio Claro to the reception area, you are surrounded by natural forest and can see small waterfalls, and hear the chirping of birds along the way.

The buildings are tucked away in the forest and made of natural materials.  Your connection to the outside world is limited, there are few ‘new world’ amenities but you willingly forego what you consider to be ‘must haves’ in your modern world and embrace the simplicity of life as you truly have all you need to relax in these surroundings.

Our day was magical, exploring the Rio Claro from many different angles.  It began with a short but invigorating run along the river, the trail carrying you through stone paths, across wooden bridges, alongside huge rock formations and down onto small beaches beckoning you take a quick dip in the flowing waters of the Rio Claro.

Then we literally zipped across the river through the canopy of the forest surrounding the river enjoying the expansive overhead view of the terrain wishing that we could do it again and again.  Ending with a quiet but exciting rafting on the river itself, jossling over the rapids, cruising under the waterfalls, and of course taking a quick swim in refreshing water.

This place is used as a weekend retreat for the locals, visited by many young Colombians who want to enjoy the daily activities as well as bird watchers from around the world who want to get a firsthand view of what the forest has to offer in a more intimate manner.

We did manage to leave some traces in Rio Claro, our worries and pieces of our heart.

Jo’burg – and off we go…

No sooner did we land – after 2 days of travel (ok with a 6-hour time lapse – so maybe a day and a half) but still after a 15-hour flight from Atlanta, I was given a brief night’s sleep and hauled off at early o’clock to hike the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve.

Note to self, this is a vacation, not a holiday – there is a difference. Nonetheless, time is too short to complain – and when next will I be back in South Africa? Unless my last single son decides to marry there – maybe never. So just do it!

But what a lovely way to start a holiday, sorry vacation – fraternising with the natives, learning how to enjoy Jo’burg, sweating off the stresses of life (in a lovely temperature of 24 degrees C), traversing the rugged terrain of the famous Melville Koppies Nature Reserve.

Melville Koppies is a Nature Reserve and a Johannesburg City Heritage Site. It is the last conserved remnant of Johannesburg’s ridges as they were before the discovery of gold in 1886. Its geology goes back three billion years. Stone tools show that Early Stone Age man camped here as long as 500,000 years ago. Within the last 1,000 years Iron Age immigrants arrived, and remains of their kraal walls can be found on the northern slopes.

The vegetation of the Koppies is entirely indigenous and is a remarkable example of the richness of highveld grasses, flowers, and trees so close to a city centre. These ridges have looked like this for hundreds of years. Unfortunately (or not) for us, we encountered this terrain at the end of winter… still an impressive site in the middle of the vast, modern city of Johannesburg.

Rain or Shine…

And you awake to pouring rain. A lazy cozy day indoors you say? Absolutely not. Remember it’s England and rain or shine, there’s a world out there waiting to be explored.

So instead of making our way to the Yorkshire Dales we visit the nearby town of Saltaire. This well-structured town has its history embedded in the fancy of Sir Titus Salt who believed that the welfare of his people was key to his success. As such to ensure the longevity of his large textile mill, he constructed a charming town where his workers were encouraged to live – a town with all the necessary amenities including a hospital, schools, gymnasium – and the list goes on. The story goes that Sir Titus Salt believed that alcohol was the devil and purposely excluded the inclusion of pubs in this thriving town. As you can imagine this lasted only until his death, when the rise of pubs increased with one of the first being entitled “Don’t tell Titus”.

Making our way to Appletreewick to meet up with another friend, we cruised through the lush dales with grazing sheep and cattle, stopping off in the sleepy town of Grassignton, a town committed to the summer weather.