First away weekend: KZN: I’ve never seen stars like these

Ever notice how the coldest part of winter is after the solstice? At least the days are getting longer now. And not that I’ve been down there in a few weeks but driving between Cape Town and Constantia on the M3 during winter has got to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Much as I complain about the extremes of hot and cold, I really do appreciate being in a place that has very distinct seasons. I missed that when I lived in Northern California.

This was the beginning of a couple of weekend away trips. I’ve been in Cape Town over a year now and I keep talking about getting out to explore but I think the furthest I ever made was that trip up past Citrusdal when Jason was here in February. There is never a convenient time to take a weekend: you usually have to take some time off of work for it to be worthwhile, and there’s always some cool party (or three!) going on that you’re going to miss.

This weekend was to visit my friend Katharine in Durban. She’s Canadian and this was her last weekend in the country (for now at least!) and so I finally got my butt over to visit her. Where she was staying was a leafy suburb called Kloof, which reminded me for all the world of NorCal, like Marin maybe, when we arrived at night. Upon waking up the next day, I realized the Durban suburbs are actually more like LA, or the hilly, leafy parts of LA like the Hollywood Hills (not so much the flat stretches of Santa Monica …. Not that I’m getting excited to visit LA or anything like that!). All of South Africa is one giant time zone so Durbs is more towards the eastern end and as a result it gets dark earlier in the evening (by about an hour actually!), so it felt a lot later than I was used to.

It was a bit of a jam-packed weekend where we never really seemed to stop for very long! Which was cool by me, because even just being away from home and being forced out of the usual routine and unable to work (because it would have been rude), was a good break. Plus I was in town for such a short period (Friday evening to an early morning Monday flight), that I was happy to squeeze in a bunch of stuff. So here’s what we did:

Friday night dinner at a local called Stoker’s with Katharine’s co-worker Jineya who was fascinated by, among other things, the CrossFit diet.

Saturday morning visit to the farmer’s market. This was quite cool because it was more like a North American-style farmers market. Cape Town doesn’t have such a thing, which is a shame. But it may come. We bought all sorts of cool stuff: huge avos, warthog loin & game boerwors, biltong, dried fruit & nuts, huge farm-fresh eggs, amazing spinach, garlic, tomatoes, and rocket, and some coffee.

Then we were late for CrossFit (my seventh box, Integrated Fitness run by Andy who I’d met at Regionals two weeks prior … there is no way I’m catching Laa-Laa at this point, although it was my third one in Africa!), but it was ok because the others were late too. That was quite fun: Andy and Craig were doing Fran and I thought for about 10 seconds about doing it with them, but the pullup bars were so cold that I decided that it was actually a better plan to do the WOD they had done on Thursday which was a sprint workout (3 rounds: within 3 minutes, run 400m then max hang power cleans @30kgs, rest 2 minutes. Result: 25, 24, 22). Was supposed to be 4 rounds but somehow I got confused and thought it was only 3 so I was pretty annoyed after but hey even 3 rounds was good stuff. But we don’t get to sprint much at CCF because of our top floor location, so I thought the running would be good for me. I can do Fran any old time. OK yeah, I was scared….

As Katharine pointed out later it was quite cool how we all just kind of showed up and did our own thing, and actually that is pretty cool that I could come, figure out which workout would fit best into what I needed to do, get set up, warm myself up, and go, without really any instruction. Except Andy did coach me a bit on my power clean technique, which is always good!

Afterwards, we all went over to another local bar called the Station House to watch the rugby (Crusaders vs Sharks). It was a bit of a drubbing and the food took like an hour to get out but we had a great time hanging out. The highlight of this in terms of amusement was when one of the guys who trains there was trying to say how we should be careful not to eat too many eggs and then proceeded to go on to describe his breakfast (which involved yogurt and oats), and then went on further to say he would eat a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, which is actually one of the worst things you can eat: gluten, grains, processed sugar, and large quantity of legumes, probably again with processed salt & sugar). Now when it comes to food I’m a bit of a convert, but I would never suggest for someone to change their diet unless they wanted to. Part of the broader “you can lead a horse to water” thing. But I really wish someone had taken a picture of the look on my and Andy’s face when he said that because it was really funny. People can eat whatever they want but if a CrossFit athlete is telling his coach what he eats and it includes PB&J he really deserves the look he gets.

Katharine and I then went back to her place & packed, then into downtown Durban for a walk along the beach front and lunch on the pier. It was absolutely gorgeous and much as I love Cape Town, it was great to be able to walk around in a t-shirt and be pleasantly warm. Then I got a beautiful facebook email from my friend Sam, which put me in an even better mood.

After lunch we piled into the car and hit the road for a three-hour road trip to the Drakensberg mountains to the northwest of Durban. Quite near Lesotho in fact. This is apparently one of the coldest parts of South Africa, and yeah, it was quite cold overnight. There was even frost on the ground the next morning! The drive through the country was beautiful, so while Durbs may resemble LA the Drakensberg reminds me of what I imagine Montana would be like if the mountains were different. Big sky, big fields, lots of blue and yellow (hay, or straw).

But up there in the foothills of the mountains three hours away from the nearest big city the stars were like nothing I had ever seen before. Even in Vermont which is quite remote you wind up with light pollution from Boston, Montreal … even New York, probably. Here … wow, I saw details in the Milky Way I’d never seen. Shame it was so cold. But I love to lie on my back on the grass staring up at the night sky and dreaming.

Sunday we woke up bright and early to hit the road for a hike. We drove to the Royal Natal national park and started off with a short guided hike of an hour or so to some rock paintings. That was quite nice, one of the locals from the village had been trained as a tour guide and he was really nice. It was interesting to ask him questions, too, like what happens when a man can’t pay lobola (this is the bride price). Apparently in that case, they negotiate. Where there’s a will there’s a way I guess. The rock art was cool to see, it was my first time seeing it but unfortunately a lot of the art had been vandalized over the years hence the requirement now that tourists be guided. Such a shame. Humans can be so short-sighted and selfish. I know I can.

Afterwards, we embarked on our longer hike: a 6-hour trek (about 3 hours in, some breaks to eat, and 2.5 hours out). It wasn’t particularly strenuous, but my right ankle is still recovering from that sprain. I actually should really be doing some proper physio on it because it’s not going to heal completely of its own accord so I need to start researching that. But it was super fun, including lunch with a view of the frozen waterfall (second highest in the world we were told), meditation on the rocks, and the obligatory icing of the ankle in the freezing cold mountain stream.

By the end of the day we were quite exhausted! I was very happy for my shower, dinner, and in bed at 9:15pm (although considering that my alarm was set for 4:20 because I had a 6:30am flight I wished I’d been in bed earlier!).

All in all, a great weekend! Katharine is quite an amazing woman: she’s smart, and nice, and perceptive. I am very curious to see what she winds up doing with her life both in the short- and long-term but I do see in her that she has a drive like mine to accomplish something and not just be satisfied with the status quo. We are also quite similar in terms of our beliefs about people and potentially even the nature of existence and how the universe works. Will explore that one more over time I am sure.

We talked about a lot of stuff this weekend. Food, CrossFit, relationships (past and maybe future), mistakes made, lessons learned, work, home, family, happiness, travel, body image. When you get to know someone better you do wind up spending a lot of time expounding on your own philosophies. But in talking through things with her, I did realize a couple of things the main one being that I actually don’t think you need to justify to anyone (or even to yourself) what makes you happy. For example, I have felt the need to justify why I like South Africa so much. Or, why I like CrossFit so much, or why I’m such a workaholic. Well, some things you just can’t explain, nor should you actually have to. Of course we are pack animals and psychologically we need other people to like us, but sometimes that can go too far. This above all: to thine own self be true. Shakespeare (or whomever) really knew his stuff.

Having said that, it was validating to hear that she shared a lot of the issues that I have with America/Canada. I mean, I am American. I am very American, I’m a product of that country. I do get goosebumps when I think about America the Beautiful, or American flags hanging over a small town set of storefronts, or football, or New England in the autumn, or the Golden Gate bridge. But I said out loud for the first time this weekend that firstly, I’ve always felt inside of me that I would wind up as an expat one day (just like even when I was at my most out of shape and overweight, which wasn’t actually that long ago in the grand scheme of things, I always felt like I should be an athlete), and secondly, that I actually do have a problem with America. Not with individual people per se but I have a problem with the complacency. Life is too easy. Not that Cape Town culture is flawless either, goodness knows objectively I have enough issues with it. But there is something about living in America that just doesn’t work for me, at least right now.

Anyway, moving on. Secondly, it is even more important than I realized to be present and conscious. It’s when you’re not present and conscious that you do thoughtless things, ranging from maybe making some inappropriate comment that hurts someone’s feelings, to eating something that’s not actually good for your body but might make you feel better in the short term (or not).

Third, I need to find a better balance between being tough on myself and compassionate with myself. Sometimes I am too harsh on myself, sometimes I let myself off the hook too easily. But I’m still learning and growing too, and just like if I could know the future I wouldn’t want to, if I could be perfect I actually wouldn’t want that either (and what is perfect anyway: my perfect and yours are probably two different things).

Fourth, quality is more important than quantity.

When Katharine dropped me at the airport and we had our goodbye hugs I wasn’t at all sad. I think because I know I will see her soon, and that we’re going to stay in touch.

In the meantime this weekend I figured out my #1 priority, and my #2. Now the question is what is the appropriate balance between the two things I’ve decided are the most important to me, and all the other things I enjoy doing. Life is more complicated than just two things, but if you don’t focus and make choices then you spread yourself too thin. Time for some choices.

• “I have an absolute disregard for what you’ve just said.” – Jaco
• “Was that an evil laugh?” “Yes.” – Ellie, Jaco (I was saying I was looking forward to his birthday. I think he’s looking forward to getting me drunk!)
• “100 pullups is just stupid.” – Ellie
• “Are you a bodybuilder?” – Jineya
• “Are you a fighter?” – Jineya
• “I’ve never seen people eat this fast before!” – Jineya
• “Why don’t you have a tequila or something?” – David (apparently my reputation preceded me!)
• “You’re not lifting heavy enough. Quit being a girl.” – Andy
• “It’s nice to be in love and in a relationship but it’s also nice just to be yourself.” – Katharine
• “It’s really nice to hang out with someone whose life also revolves around food.” – Katharine
• “Sometimes lying on the floor just feels so good.” – Katharine
• “I don’t think being happy is a luxury.” – Ellie
• “You over-analyse things in ways that contradict the nature that I would expect someone who comes across as so strong and independent to have.” – Sam (what she’s saying is that I’m not only softer than I let on but I’m also more insecure than I let on. Well, secret’s out now…)
• “Only when we succeed will others understand.” – Peter (everyone loves a winner and hates a loser, no?)
• “You are definitely not crazy.” – Mona
• “I don’t miss cheese as much as I thought I would, but boy do I miss cappuccinos.” – Ellie
• “There’s something magical in the energy.” – Mandy
• “Women are weird. Men are weird.” – Ellie
• “I saw the one where you did that weird squat with the elephant.” – Jacques



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  2. If you want to visit an unforgettable farmer's market near (relatively speaking) Cape Town, go to Greyton on a Saturday. You will NOT be disappointed. I went there for a 21km trail run a while back and the area is stunning.

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