Category Archives: Obsessions

Leg 8: Sodwana – Richards Bay

From under the water’s surface to on top of it… for more gifted people at least πŸ˜‰ I can’t surf (yet?) and sitting on the beach at Richards Bay, this suddenly feels like a serious deficiency. Richards Bay may not be as recognized as Jeffrey’s Bay, but surfing academies abound. The strong winds I’ve experienced there may be good for surfing (or maybe not, what do I know?), but if this is an obstacle in your beach-lazing, there are plenty of beaches on the same stretch of coast where you can find some little respite. You can also retreat to a beachfront cafΓ©; not a bad spot to catch up on some reading, or people-watching. Crashing surf from one side, warm coffee or a tangy cocktail in hand sound like just the thing to allow my fingers to unwrinkle from spending almost a week on the beach, if not in the water. The last time I was in this area I visited a restaurant with food so mind-blowing, my mouth was watering even after I was stuffed to the brim! Now that I try to find out where exactly it is, Google is letting me down… I could swear it was called The MoΓ§ambican, situated somewhere between Richards Bay and Balito. Unfortunately that’s all the info I have, but the finger-licking creamy coconut curries with jasmine rice are enough to make me drive any conceivable road it could be on, hoping that some kind of bloodhound sense would kick in.

A little ways inland from Richards Bay, there are plenty of nature reserves to be found; I’ve never visited these, but the pics look great!Β 
Now… the absolute must-visit-I’ve-been-dying-to-go pin is dropped at Zululand Brewery! I have been hearing about them and their famous Zulu Blond craft ale for years, but only once been close enough to smell the fermenting barley… and they were sold out 😦 Right now, in South Africa, you can only find the Zulu Blond at the George’s Hotel and evidently you have to be an early bird indeed. No beer before noon? I’m pretty sure somewhere in the world it’s considered breakfast! As long as I can get my fingers curled around the brightly colored sticker on the bottle, still sweating from the fridge, all’s well that ends well.Β 
I couldn’t get in touch with them in order use a picture of their unique ale, but visit their website for a quick peek: Zulu Blonde

The George’s Hotel and Zululand Brewery are in a tiny little town called Eshowe; however small Eshowe may be, there is more to do than sip on golden nectar… The Dlinza Forest has an aerial boardwalk 20 meters off the ground from which to enjoy greenery, fresh air and wild (if small) animals – think birds and spiders. πŸ™‚ The boardwalk is only 150 meters long, but who rushes in and out. Sit down. Breathe.

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Leg 7: Ponto Malongane – Sodwana Bay

From one ocean paradise, straight to another! More soft sand and warm sunshine; I consider Sodwana to be the best diving spot in South Africa. Actually, even after diving in parts of Southeast Asia I maintain that Sodwana has the best diving, ever! Oh yes… you think Mozambique sounds and looks amazing? Sodwana is by far #1 on my list and I’m not alone: Wikipedia insists that 35 000 people flock here every year to ogle at Indian Oceanic marine creatures who are making big fish-eyes right back at them. Bearing in mind that this exact number is not verified and probably made more unreliable by the sheer number of other websites that recklessly quote this same number without proof, it gives you a rough picture of the Sodwana’s appeal. There are beautifully technicolor reefs and coral, and they stay this way because of strict conservation practices.

Picture by Matt Kieffer licensed under Creative Commons

Picture by Matt Kieffer licensed under Creative Commons

Sodwana Bay is a national park, inside the iSinangaliso Wetland Park [1] which means you’ll have to pay a permit fee to be able to dive there (they check every permit!) and on entry to the nature reserve you pay another R10 per vehicle. The permit is R85 and can be bought at Post Offices; it's valid for a full year (as far as I remember; this may have changed recently). On individual level the permit fee isn't super high, and it funds nature reserve facilities and infrastructure, as well as the personnel. Reefs are further protected by limited group sizes, strict no-touch rules etc. If you've seen what devastating effects big crowds of uncaring, uneducated, protection-insensitive divers can have, you fully appreciate these efforts in Sodwana, even if it costs a bit.Β  Continue reading

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SA Leg 6: Swaziland – Mozambique

From bosveld to blue ocean! The Mozambique of my memories is a paradisical wonderland of soft, white sand, turquoise-green-blue water and good times around a fire as well as under the water!

Admin first… The road from Pretoria to Ponta Malongane via the Kosi Bay border post is notoriously Swiss-cheesed with potholes! And I mean it – drive 10km/hour if you want to keep rims intact. Often it’s necessary to weave all over the place just to find road to drive on. Construction is under way to fix this, but don’t hold your breath; construction has been consistently under way for at least 10 years, and serves to back up traffic more than lay any new asphalt. Apparently the road between Swaziland and Mozambique through the Lomahasha-Namaasha border post, is in much better condition (not a difficult feat, but still: yay!)Β 
It’s only 130km from Mlilwane to border control, and another 185km to Ponta Malongane, but as with any border control I’ll err on the side of too much when budgeting time to make border payments and submit to inspections if necessary. I could enter simply having my passport with me, but since Kiernan is from the “land of the free”, he is expected to pay a gouging US$110 to get a tourist visa; driving across the border also requires inspection of original vehicle registration and licensing papers.Β 

Picture by Etimbo made available under the GNU Free Documentation License I think this is actually on an island just off the coast of Mozambique, but the white sand and wonderful water is quite representative, I think.

Picture by Etimbo made available under the GNU Free Documentation License
I think this is actually on an island just off the coast of Mozambique, but the white sand and wonderful water is quite representative, I think.


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First taste of Brazil

Well, not Brazil actually… just SΓ£o Paulo so far πŸ™‚
After four months in Sampa, as it’s called, we’ve had one or two opportunities to try something new. The first two things that Brasileiros mention when I ask about eats to try is Feijoada and Brigadeiro, both of which I think are an apt representations of Paulistanos (people born in SΓ£o Paulo), if not Brazil: welcoming and sweet.

Feijoada is a thick, stewy, meaty dish served with rice, ground mandioca and fragrant couve. Besides the rice, everything else on the plate was a new experience the first time… The stew was traditionally made of throw-away bits of meat, and while you can still find that the modern version has tender red meat and bacon bits. Kiernan and I were invited to a birthday party where they had both the traditional and more popular version; they were both super tasty! One thing that is a staple of Brazilian food and always plentiful in a Feijoada pot is beans; since the pot of food is literally stewed for hours you get a thick, tender dish out of it that, to me, whispers “comfort food” in a voice like a soft blanket πŸ™‚
Wednesdays and Saturdays are “feijoada lunch” days and I would not be surprised if people really eat this twice a week, every week. It even encourages your social, sharing side, since a meal of feijoada served at lunch restaurants (or lanchonetes) are big enough to feed two grown men, comfortably!

Feijoada pot

Feijoada accompaniments

Brigadeiro is like caramelised, chocolate condensed milk, rolled in more chocolate sprinkles! Yes, it’s very sweet… one bite is quite enough to give you a tweaky sugar high! πŸ™‚ the first Brigadeiro we had was at a friend’s house – his girlfriend threw together a can of condensed milk, a tablespoon of butter and a generous helping of cocoa powder and kept stirring at it on the stove til it was thick and sticky. Yum!! I tried my own version of this, but in an effort to survive with all my teeth, I witheld cocoa powder and rolled the white caramelised condensed milk in cinnamon powder – nice and spicy. πŸ™‚ and very nice with a glass of velvety red wine.

Sweets in Brazil tend to be very sugary and very sweet! It seems like a substantial portion of the population likes chocolate (not just girls); I routinely see people (guy, girl, old, young) polishing of a huge slab of chocolate on the metro! At another birthday party last night they had about four jars of nutella on the counter, spoons jutting out invitingly of the creamy chocolate spread; one jar was being passed around enthusiastically and all indulged πŸ™‚ True, this is merely anecdotal of one sweet experience (pun intended), but I’ve heard that many foreigners complain that sweets here are indeed super sweet.

This was bought at a bakery as opposed to homemad.

This was bought at a bakery as opposed to homemad.

Soft, sweet, creamy brigadeiro

Anoter big activity here is churrasco (like BBQ, and actually surprisingly close to braai, especially in the south). Chunks of spiced, marinated meat are threaded on kebab sticks and roasted over a fire; yum! We have yet to try the traditional version of this, but we have had really good meat in Brazil! Not really at restaurants, but at people’s homes or at get-togethers.

The next couple of foodie must-do’s we’re aiming to cross off our list, are trying food from Minas Gerais and Bahia – two places with their own, unique and distinct food cultures. These are just Brazilian eats; SΓ£o Paulo is well-known for the city you can find any kind of food. While that’s not totally the case (they don’t have biltong, but that may just be nit-picking;), Kiernan and I have had the most deliciously mouth-watering “African food”, in a mostly Cameroonian restaurant; dainty, light and refreshing Columbian cerviche & arepas. The closest you can get to sushi is a fusion of California rolls, cream cheese & fruit… I’m not kidding: cream cheese and strawberry or mango, wrapped in rice & seaweed. o.O ok. It wasn’t bad, but it’s not sushi! πŸ˜€

Cameroonian restaurant

The drinks, cocktails, beer and wine are in a world of their own; perhaps I’ll get enough letters together to write about that soon…

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SA Leg 5: Kruger National Park – Swaziland

I’m preparing myself to be most surprised by the Kingdom of Swaziland… For being a country inside the borders and surrounded by South Africa, I know precious little about it. I mean, I know that it’s still a kingdom and I expect that the fauna & flora probably wouldn’t differ too much from our own (after all it’s not a large country…). Β Other than that I’ve only seen tourist brochures touting the life-changing experiences people have had visiting traditional hut-villages.

Websites like Tripadvisor weren’t much help in telling me what I wanted to know, having asked completely the wrong questions. My absolute disinterest in shopping malls and luxury spas left me with limited inspiration for this part of the trip. However, social inquiry rapidly put me on the right track: there are three major wildlife reserves in the kingdom, all managed by the same non-profit wildlife trust to promote environmental education, preserving wildlife and giving people the opportunity to get closer to nature[1]. These parks are Hlane, Mkhaya and Mlilwane, this last being home to Sondizela Backpackers, where you can set up your own tent for R80 /night. πŸ™‚

Other than wildlife viewing (which in its own right is awesome here), other things which caught my attention are exhilirating outdoor activities: abseiling and white water rafting are booming businesses. Similarly popular are multi-day hikes[2] or the challenging but none-the-less attractive Ngwempisi Day hike[3]. The Ngwempisi trails cover 33km, from the rim of the gorge, to the bottom and out the other side.
Still another experience up for offer is an outing of evening caving[4] that includes a walk through the forest, a serious & strenuous trek/climb/scoot/squeeze through the Gobholo caves, topped by dinner and a dip in ‘hot springs’. o.O I don’t know about you, but this seems like the perfect balance between exertion and leisure! πŸ™‚ The whole affair lasts 5 hours and the two of us would pay R1700 total.

Now it seems like there is too much to do for the time we will be spending in Swaziland :/ We will be spending one night here, and if Ngwempisi really does take the whole day, we may need to come back to do the caving/hot spring-ing another day.

Riveting references
[1] Big Game Parks/a> Accessed 10 September 2014
[2]The Kingdom of Swaziland – Hiking accessed 10 September 2014
[3]Visit Swazi Accessed 10 September 2014
[4]Swazi travel: Adventure Caving Accessed 10 September 2014

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SA Leg 4: Kaapschehoop – Kruger National Park

In my mind our most famous and accessible wildlife/safari destination and at about 2 million hectars, certainly one of the biggest in Africa [1] to experience all of our “big wildlife” in their natural habitat, is the Kruger National Park. The biggest rest camp and park headquarters is at Skukuza, making it the most developed and luxurious; however, these criteria are not high on my priority list, especially in a nature reserve. For convenient access to the park we would enter the park at Skukuza, and proceed directly to Satara (do not pass Go, do not collect $100… kekeke… though really, you wouldn’t want to drive any faster than “sedately” inside the park, lest you miss baby babboons pointing at you with their genitalia); a couple of nights here and another couple at Crocodile Bridge would serve to both recall wonderful memories and create new ones.

At first I say “a couple of days” off-handedly, but further investigation shows that while it’s not that much more than I would have expected, the price I was looking at is for South African citizens… Whereas two Saffers would pay R1 115 to camp in Satara for 3 nights, my “foreign tourist” boyfriend and I camping together suddenly changes that number to R1 710. Though this jump was surprising to me at first, it doesn’t make it impossible or even inconceivable. Continue reading

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SA Leg 2: Waterval Boven – God’s Window

God’s Window sounds like a typical pretty name, but you can only truly understand its significance when you’ve visited this wonder! You earn the view by parking at the bottom of a substantial hill and taking a short hike up to the viewing platform. The steps/path is well-maintained and the parking area is safe – the entry fee of R10 supports this infrastructure. Dude… when you get up there it’s spectacular! πŸ™‚ You are 1829m above sea level, looking out over the Blyde River Camyon, as if you’re in the Heavenly living room and the curtains have just been yanked open… And witness.
Apparently on a clear day you can see the Kruger National Park in the distance. There’s not much else I can say about it except: go there and see it for yourself. Take in its splendour and share it with the world.Β 

God’s Window is in the (take a deep breath) Motlatse Canyon Provincial Nature Reserve. Along the same canyon is another natural beauty (which must be a well-kept secret, because I was joined in my ignorance of it, by everyone I asked about special little spots in SA). These are the Bourke’s Luck Potholes, but contrary to its name it is not just a glorified hole in the road, which are plentiful enough on our roads. They are holes and hollows in rock, made by the swirling and eddying of water. The first picture I saw of the “potholes” convinced me right away of having to behold these. You’ll have to drive to a different parking area to get to the potholes – even though it’s in the same canyon, it’s not walking distance. So you pay another R30, walk a mere 700m to view these extraordinary rock formations from various paths and bridges.

Bourke's Luck Potholes by BC Torrissen under Creative Commons license.

Bourke’s Luck Potholes by BC Torrissen under Creative Commons license.

The Motlatse Canyon Provincial Nature Reserve is spitting distance from Watervalboven, provided you have a 10-foot spitting-champ-llama doing the honours ;). It’s a leisurely 240km to the Northeast, perfectly accessible as a day trip. I imagine us getting up early to do the walk up to God’s Window and whiling away some time on the viewing platform while the sun is out, before it gets too sunny. Bourke’s Luck Potholes are 30km from there, so really you can have an afternoon picnic with the closest man-made structures out of sight, hopefully with nature singing in your ears with grass beneath your bum. On the drive back we can even stop and explore a couple of smaller towns, (in some of which I remember finding awesome second-hand bookshops): Graskop, Sabie (where you can found countless other beautiful waterfall hikes!), Sodwala Caves. The afternoon can wind down as quietly or as busily as we choose… πŸ™‚

Boven - Motlatse Canyon

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SA Leg 1: Pretoria – Waterval Boven

This first stop has been prominent in photos and recommendations, especially from my brother and his fellow climbers (the photos are also theirs). Though Waterval Boven wears the badge of “climbers’ paradise” proudly, it’s more than that; there are many other exciting outdoor stuff you can do (caving at Sodwala, mountain biking, hiking and swimming in mountain pools)… and it’s only about 240km outside of Pretoria [1]. After seeing pictures, I would absolutely have to hike to the Eland’s River Falls! Well… um, it’s not actually much of a hike. Climbers can see the falls from different angles, but without the harnesses and climbing gear you’ll simply drive through the ZAZM tunnel on the N4, and there should be a wooden viewing platform to watch the 70m plunge of water. πŸ™‚

As a base camp Tranquilitas Adventure Farm is awesome, and besides being a home away from home for climbers (I hear), they organise a bunch of other activities you can do in the area. And… at R70 per night for a campsite, they’re the best bet for accommodation too. We would hopefully be camping a lot on our trip, starting with Tranquilitas! Waterval Boven is super close to a couple of oh-my-gosh-I-have-to-go-there! spots on my list, so we’ll camp here for a couple of nights and do day trips. Oh yeah, and they’re dog friendly. It doesn’t seem like there’s much else in the town of Waterval Boven (or Emgwenya, as it is now known), but I’m sure we can find something special there if we don’t rush through. When we’ve made the effort of driving away from the city, we would be absolutely content to simply enjoy the sounds of the night, and the smell of nature. The cute coffee shops and mouth-spasming gastronomics all have their special place later on this trip. πŸ™‚

Riveting references [1] Watervalboven, Highlands Meander Accessed on 6 September 2014 from SA Venues website

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OSP: Altered States of Consciousness

Float tanks are a fairly recent introduction to the ongoing and dynamic domain of altering our consciousness. In fact, people have been experimenting with altering consciousness as far back as “the great leap forward”, (to use Jared Diamond’s term for the jump in our evolution). That is, according to Terence McKenna, as we’ll see a bit later in this post. However, first I want to discuss where ASC comes from, and perhaps even probe the answers to why people keep venturing into manipulating consciousness (this is where Terence McKenna comes in). I’ll take a specific look at sensory deprivation as a way of playing around with consciousness and brain function, as well as the more modern approaches to ASC, including the dark side of how it has been used in the past. Finally I’ll come full circle in this Obsessive’s Starter Pack post-series and talk about the introduction of modern floating as a positive means to alter consciousness and how it has become more accessible to us today.

Altered States of Consciousness goes WAY back
One of the most obvious and most radical ways to manipulate how your brain works, even for a short time, is using drugs: sugar, coffee, alcohol, hallucinogens etc., some of which are more socially accepted or less stigmatised, but nevertheless have the desired outcome. Pamela Watson is a retired anthropologist and pharmacist, and retired though she may be, she still actively runs her blog Prehistoric Drugs on WordPress where she discusses (among other really interesting things!) psychoactive drug use in human society through history. She writes in her abstract, published on her blog:

“Psychoactive drug use has great antiquity, and not only because taking drugs makes individuals feel good. In the distant past, as now, people also used drugs as tools for social bonding; for contacting the sacred/spiritual; for expressing identity; for manipulating others; and as aids in confronting culture-specific problems. In short, for millennia, drug consumption occupied a central place in the economic, political, religious and social life of human beings.”

Similarly, this ‘spiritual journey’ with drugs is not solely a human phenomenon either. Michael Pollan writes in his book “The Botany of Desire”[1] that while there were Native American groups that used to keep an eye on which plants animals were using to “get high” (like jaguars with Ayahuasca vines or plants containing DMT) and use it themselves, there are also wild animals that would consume psychoactive plants to their own absolute detriment: “bighorn sheep will grind their teeth to useless nubs scraping a hallucinogenic lichen off ledge rock”. Continue reading

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OSP: Float Innovators and Advocates

Original image by adrigu on flickr under Creative Commons license Quote by Seth Stevenson [1]

Original image by adrigu on flickr under Creative Commons license
Quote by Seth Stevenson [1]

Innovators and advocates

Ashkahn Jahromi, Graham Talley, Quinn Zepeda and Christopher Messer are the founders of Float On in Portland, Oregon, they made a Youtube video for first-time floaters which provides excellent info and really shows their enthusiasm. In fact, their passion has driven them to promoting other creative projects surrounding floating (check out the results of their artist, musician and dancer programs). The artist program really caught my imagination – they invited local artists to go for a float, and produce something artistic inspired by their experience. (As I’m writing this post, they as well as about 350 people are at the annual Float Conference in Portland. Lucky bums!)

Artwork from the Void, cover image is Copyright of Float On

Artwork from the Void, cover image is Copyright of Float On

Another eloquent speaker on the subject is UFC host, stand-up comedian and podcast host Joe Rogan; he talks about his own experiences on his podcast The Joe Rogan Experience and encourages friends, guests (and incidentally listeners as well) to try floating. He’s got a couple of great videos about floating and other states of consciousness. Unlike the fortunate Mr. Rogan who has a tank at home, usually a person would find a center or spa where you prefer to float. I am in the inconsistent, ever-changing situation of having to find a float center close to wherever my travels have brought me. In Taiwan I could jump on the bullet train and two hours later be at Dream Waters, where Damien would meet me/us with the happy smile I’ve seen on every person involved in REST. The Where to Float website has amazing resources for finding float centers, reading all about others’ experiences, and getting acquainted with related horizon-broadening philosophies and advocates.

Enter Zen Float Company… William Hill, Shane Stott and Sean Stott launched a super successful Kickstarter campaign (the people have spoken!) and are now manufacturing float tents which are considerably cheaper than other float tanks. US$ 1700 is not bad for having access to your own float tent at any time.

XX
Indecisive Obsessive

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