The Adventures of a Part Time Professional Gypsy (and her ginormous teddy thing)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

And they will know us by the Trail of Bread...


You know that feeling you get just before you begin a new chapter??
When you hear adventure calling your name and the beckoning is so loud that you have to heed it... even though you're not quite sure where it will take you and what you will find when [if] you get there...??
When you're thrillingly terrified... And you can't sit or relax or even think for fear of what it is that is about to pounce at you??

After 9 years of incongruously traipsing this planet, I'm amazed that I still get the jitters; that exhilaration still pulses through my veins... Actually I suppose it's the bewilderment that keeps me doing this. Yes, I should have it down. I should be mentally and physically prepared and set and... this should be a walk in the park... But still the flutterbys swarm my intestines and well...

...Well yes, it's back into the vortex of sea I go... 
And this time I'll be crewing on my smallest sailing boat yet, a Beneteau First 25; which, as the name suggests, is a "mega yacht" measuring in at a whopping 25 feet (7.62 m). Mono hull.  
I'm still trying to work out my explanation for my choice of vessels (there were a plethora of bigger, flasher, faster boats to choose from and an array of kind and funny and adventurous skippers), but I've learned enough in life to follow my instincts. 
And sometimes you just know something's right. It's infinitely more important to be on the right boat with the right crew - regardless of the destination - than anything else... Boat hopping is as extreme as hitch hiking gets: There is nowhere to just hop off, it's a flipping long way before you get to refeul and replenish, and you don't get bathroom stops... 
Fortunately this time, as I reassured  my mother this morning, we actually even have a toilet aboard.

Although I still maintain that this is the world's best toilet!!!
In fact it's a pretty interesting mix of cultures aboard: The boat (Yacare) and the skipper (Raphael) are French. The first mate (Cocotino) is a young coconut tree. Then there's me, the African. And my first mate, the trusty (little bit crusty) Teddy Teddison. 
To top that we also have yogurt, wild yeast and other foody cultures we'll be cultivating and experimenting with as we continue to cross the Pacific. And, with the lack of fridge and freezer, we'll be forced to be regularly producing sour dough and fermented milk products... 
We may even leave a trail of bread crumbs for you to follow. 

You ought to be able to tell who's who in this picture...
There will be stars. And sea. And whales. And dolphins. Mermaids, and flying fish.
There will hopefully be time to read and write and draw. 
There will be French... a language I don't speak [yet].  

But here we go again... Goodbye Fiji and thank you for a flipping phenomenal time!!!

...Next stop, The Solomons [probably] with it's crocodiles and pirates and malarial mosquitoes and volcanoes... 
Yes, here we go again.
Ahhh, the excitement!!

Thursday, July 21, 2016


I was named after my late grandmother: Dina. Man was she an epic sort... but then again, everyone in my family is.

Left to right: Epic sort, Epic sort. Epic sort. Epic sort
But I've never really given much serious thought to the whole "who am I really?" nonsence... you know, all the name meanings and heritage mumbojumbo... but maybe, yes maybe, there's something to it?? All of Fiji keep talking about their namesakes and they're pretty smart and excessively happy beings!!

Mum told me that my name meant "noble woman of esteem." I thought that sounded a bit posh and ostentatious - but I rolled with it. And then my travels led me across many an Israeli who informed me that in fact my name, apart from being an "old people name", also meant "soft and gentle". And yes, after a couple of months spent in Fiji, I am pretty soft and squishy; but gentle? I'm not so sure.

After sitting through many a gift giving (sevusevu) and grog drinking (kava: dry mildly-sedative roots mashed up and soaked into water) ceremony where my name and a lot of clapping gets thrown about almost hap-hazardly, I've come to realise three things. Firstly, I don't like kava very much. Secondly, I've got some flipping big foot prints to fill if I want to live up to my grandmother's legacy (even though she was a tiny human) and finally, I've found a more accurate depiction of who I am (although I suppose that's just my noble esteemist opinion)... In Fijian "Dina" means "true and genuine". And I'll take that!

What better person to be than who you really are?
Big, small, tall, short, funny, passionate, boring, gregarious, impulsive, bad-ass, inbred, accident-prone, cross-dressing... whatever, it doesn't matter as long as you're you!
And that's who I want to be; a true and genuine [Dina] me.

Who's your name sake? What's your name mean? What shoes were you born to fill??

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Blown Away

You're sitting in your home and the wind starts to pick up. 
It gets stronger. Stronger. Stronger still. 
Before you know what's happening, the whole house begins to tremble and your roof gets whisked away. You cluster together as a family and run to the neighbours, but their house isn't there anymore so you keep running. The community hall... 
You find solace for a second, but the concrete starts disintegrating so you huddle together again and run for your lives. The only protection you can find is a uprooted tree. With eight of you hiding in it's roots, you know your chances are slim...

You heard there was a storm coming, so you'd battened down the shutters... Three families sit inside sipping sugary tea and eating custard tart (a national pass time). The rain's bucketing down outside, but your house is strong. You think you're safe. In an instant water comes gushing through the living room and you're in it. Struggling for breath you follow the flood, fight the currents, even though you can't swim...   

The walls are shaking and you have no idea what to do and nowhere else to go. You sit and sing and pray. You've got all generations of the family in your house and you know that at any second you could all be face to face with Saint Peter or whoever it is that controls Heaven's admission list. For hours the wind pounds on the door and roof threatening to come in. When nobody answers, it leaves, only to return again with more force. When it's finally safe to peek outside, you find you're the only house left standing...

So there I stood in Fiji, eager to explore.  I had a vague notion that I'd be meandering through a cyclone and tourist destroyed, money expecting, land of smiles and tropical beaches.  I thought a week would suffice. With all my life belongings stuffed into my backpack, the infamous bear on my side, and a friend from New Zealand, we set off to see what Fiji was all about. 

A friendly lady on a bus told us to come and see her village. We had no idea where else to go, so we did. We adorned ourselves in sulus (sarong skirts), covered our shoulders and carried our bunch of dry kava roots to the chiefs house [as is custom] where a ceremony of clapping and mumbling ensued before our sevusevu (gift) was presented and we were welcomed as villagers. We ended up living with Sara and her family for three days, being fed and catered for and blessed with so much that we felt we had to leave - we'd arrived with bags of vegetables but they gave us everything they had and wouldn't accept a thing. I'm not very good accepting anything from anyone - so we fled Vatu Lele.

Not wanting us to go astray, our exceptional hosts called up their family near Labasa and told them we were coming. We arrived with even more vegetables, and a bigger bunch of kava. Malau was tucked away between an oil refinery and a sugar plant. The kids played with whatever they found washed up on the shores (crabs, syringes, diapers...). When we arrived we were immediately treated like royalty (only instead of a red carpet, we had to make do with mats). We were living amongst the poorest of the poor and here they were lavishing us with luxuries. It was impossible to do anything without having 7 or 19 children hanging off your arm. They all wanted to be your friend. They all wanted to bring you fresh coconuts off the highest palm trees. They all wanted to make sure your daily hug quota was filled. If I went to the bathroom, they would wait patiently outside; and when I braved the shower, they'd poke their eyes through every gap in the corrugated iron walls. In the morning I'd see their shadows lurking around my tent waiting for any sign of life. They had the most beautiful voices and, with a diet of mostly sugar, more energy than the power station down the road. Again the village gave us everything and took nothing in return. Again I felt like I had to flee - my heart would burst if I had to accept any more generosity!

We worked our way to the edge of Vanua Levu (The second biggest island in Fiji)  being given more than we bargained for every jolt of the way. We began to see more and more evidence of the cyclone as we traveled East - destroyed homes, derooted palm trees, road works... and, when we ferried over to Taveuni, it was even more blatant. 

We partnered up with another friend and were trying to work out how to avoid resorts and learn more about village life as a threesome, when some friendly ice-cream licking ladies invited us to follow them home. We followed them all the way to their family reunion on a neighbouring island and for days we were fed to the point we thought we may actually burst 
(Fijian facts:
There is no limit to the amount of food a human can consume.  
The average cup of tea must contain at least three heaped table spoons of sugar.
Oil is a food group. Sugar is another. All meals must contain a 50/50 balance of the two.)
Custard Tart: a normal dinner in Fiji

One of our seven daily feasts
Using Naselesele as a base, we ventured down South, stopping to climb a volcano (which, thanks to Winston, became a 14 hour machete-a-path expedition of epic proportions) and explore beaches; constantly growing our Fijian families with people taking us in for a couple of nights and spoiling us rotten, then crying when we left - begging us to stay longer.

Climbing to Lake Tagimaucea
Just a few of the kids in Navakawau
"Should we grab some groceries first?" I asked as we clambered on yet another bus. "Nah. everything we bring gets given back to us and I'm tired of having things go off in my pack. There'll be a shop anyway..." We weren't sure where we should be going, so we asked the bus. There was a unified agreement amongst the other passengers that we should be going to Navakawau. So we did.

We arrived in the dark, and Mella, who I'd sat next to on the bus, told me to follow her. We walked through a tented camp and into her brother's home - which was reconstructed from debris to a third of its original size - and now housed two families with nine children. "Winston stole our house" she laughed. They shared their evening meal with us and poured us tea. Apart from being the worst hit village on the island (25 of 135 houses were salvageable), the chief had just died; it appeared that our timing couldn't have been any worse. 

Sat in their China-Aid tent (they wouldn't let us pitch our own tents in the dark) we cried. Here we were in the worst of the worst disaster zone, and we'd arrived empty handed. We didn't know what to do, so we escaped into the land of books.

In the morning we were taken to the [former] chief's brothers to present our sevusevu and we felt seriously sheepish. With the death of the chief, others were lavishing the village with gifts of whale bone and pigs; and here we were with a measly bunch of dry smelly roots. They accepted us anyway. We wanted to run as far away as we could, but we didn't want to offend anyone, so we decided we'd stick around for a day.    

We stayed a week. We somehow managed to stop looking at what the Fijians didn't have and instead saw what they did have. Winston stole their roofs. Winston stole their houses. Winston stole their power, their water, their family heirlooms... but Winston left them with their lives, and they knew how lucky they really were. Watching how they worked together to constrct shelters and do food preparations for the ten day funeral made me realise that Winston had actually bought them closer together.

Preparing the lunch time Casava portions
It didn't take long for us to find roles in the village. There was always something to do (whether it be construction, vegetable chopping,  or making thousands of pancakes[which I did for three days straight]). In fact, I blended in so well that most of the funeral guests spoke Fijian to me. Everyone had stories [similar to the ones above] to tell about how they had survived the cyclone. You could see why they believed in God. Everyone had something to teach, and at the same time, everyone wanted to learn what they could from us.

Funeral clothes... looking more Fijian than ever!
I left not feeling like I'd pillaged the village, but with a renewed soul and a motivated outlook to give and lavish love and to do something meaningful. I carried this with me to further islands and back to Savusavu where I met up with another old friend who was sailing out to rebuild communities with Sea Mercy... Of course I wanted to join...

Above and below: Just some of the joys of off and on-loading building materials for very remote islands.

Before: The begins of salvage work on Makongai
After: The first of the rebuilt homes
Just a few of the Sea Mercy volunteers in Makogai
If you read my last blog, it was a tale about how I got lost in the world. Really I found myself in Fiji. The people are the friendliest I've ever met and the smiles are by far the biggest. The generosity of the villages has been unparalleled. But it's also been one of the most difficult countries to travel. Every stop I've made has made me look deep within and showed me things I didn't want to see. It's challenged me about my own motives. It made me learn how to accept things. It's a country that has wrestled with my heart and my soul and bought me out with a new outlook on what really is important in life.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Losing Yourself in the World

Lake Tagimaucea, Fiji

Where would you be sitting right now if you'd said "yes".
What would you be doing? 
Who would you be?

Wilson's prom, Australia

I had everything to lose. [Or at least I thought I did].
I lived in a perfect home with amazing housemates {and even owned some of the the furniture]. 
I was semi-self-employed with more random, yet exceptionally fun, work contracts than the amish have children.
I had great friends, and my family was just down the street. 
I was young and free and, by my own standards, I was a success.

Drinking toxic floats with a brother.
Joburg, South Africa
But did I want to travel the East coast of Africa with some of my besties? YES!
Was I prepared to move out of my perfect home? 
Not really.
Could I sacrifice 3 months of my life to do it?
Probably not.
Was I willing to leave other people to look after my work contracts?
No way!
Did I have the money to do it?
No chance!

The safety and beauty of the homelands
Dietary alterations, Malawi

I'm not sure why I did it.
I'm not sure how I broke myself free from the comforts of life.
I was young. 
I was naive. 
I had determination and adventure. And a brand new backpack.
The world was mine for exploring!  
It wasn't an easy descision, but it was the best descision I ever made: I said "Yes."

Cliff jumping, Aling Aling, Indonesia

Every jolt of every bus, ferry, truck, and car  knocked wisdom and sense into my life. I changed from a Joburger to a citizen of the world. I had no idea how intoxicating wanderlust could be and before I  knew it; I transformed from a tourist to a traveller: a student of Earth.

Ijen volcano, Java

Kudat, Borneo

Stone Henge
I found myself lost in some of the most beautifully remote places on Earth. Every day was a chance to reinvent myself. Every day bought with it new lessons, new cultures, and a new [dirtier, scruffier, more care free] me.

Perth, Australia

I started chasing challenges. I found myself setting unrealistic goals. If something was deemed "impossible" I would try it. If a destination was "too difficult to get to" I'd aim for it. I stopped taking busses and started travelling by thumb, bicycle, horse, motorbike, sailing boats... I forgot motorbike, sailing boats... I forgot about deadlines. I forgot about comforts. I forgot about time.

Kioa, Fiji

Pnom Phen, Cambodia

New wheels, Cambodia

Suddenly I wasn't a scrawny, naive 22 two year old anymore. The [meant to be] three month trip had somehow spanned 9 years.

I still live out of the same backpack (although you can barely recognise it now). The contents have been overhauled countless times and there isn't even a remnant of fancy outdoor gear left. My body is a mangle of souvenir-scars tattooed on by the greatest artist of all: adventure herself.

The first significant scar acquisition, from falling into a volcano in Kenya

Today I'm sat in Fiji, a somewhat tropic paradise ravished by a recent cyclone.
I'm about as far away from South Africa as I could possibly be - but looking at the smiles of the people around me. 
The welcoming spirit.
The generocity.
The sense of humour.
The hugs, and the acceptance... I'm home.

Nawakalau, Fiji
Yes, if I'd stayed behind I might have a big corporation, I may be a home owner, I might even have a family of my own... Hey, I could be president (if Trump, Jacob, and Keates can do it, anybody can!)...
Instead i have a dismal bank account and almost nothing in the way of material possessions, but traveling taught me so much... in fact it made me rich.
Man am I glad I said "Yes"!

Still the most disgusting place I've stayed (that's poo dropping down the walls behind me) and it was a "luxury hotel". Kazakhstan