Missionvale to Woluwe-Saint-Pierre

I have been living in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre (voh-loo-veh saaN pee-air) for a month now. Even it’s name is extravagant, and I soon had to learn that if you’re speaking to a Dutch-speaking person it’s “Sint-Pieters-Woluwe” … I know right. That goes for all the street names too.

woluweTown hall, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre

Brussels is the heart of the EU, and Woluwe happens to be where most of the ambassadors live.  We have Netherlands diagonally across, Pakistan House across the road, and some relative of the King of Belgium our direct neighbours (although neighbours don’t interact here, and even a shy acknowledgement and ‘Bonjour’ when leaving your house is awkward ). We live in a house belonging to the German government, and was built in 1932. Echoey wooden floors and plenty of space for children to run around and scream, not to mention the garden most children dream of. Bordering a beautiful forest brings squirrels and crows and a resident fox I was so excited to spot running down the road.

This is where I live now. This. is. where. I. live.

That is something I kept having to tell myself.  But why could I not stop thinking about Missionvale?  And why did I cry every time I compared the children I spent the last year interacting with, to the ones I’ll be spending the next year with?  Have I made the right decision? These children have so much, why did I leave the ones at home who have nothing?

Missionvale is a township on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, and where I worked at a Community Psychology Centre for 12 months.  It has no running water, is ravaged by poverty, gangsterism and HIV, and drug and alcohol abuse is a huge problem.  This leaves little hope for the children of Missionvale, who come to our Psychology Centre for either hopes of getting into a school suitable for their, often low, intellectual abilities or for one of our employees to try to piece back the little human character that has been damaged by abuse, neglect or grief.  Adults came to the centre too, and I was often the first person they shared their story with.  I was exposed to so much, and I grew so much. But my time there came to an end, and I now needed to take all I’d learnt and expand my horizons.

Missionvale+Township-15Missionvale, Nelson Mandela Bay

To say the first month has been overwhelming, would be an understatement.  I was thrown into the deep end, and told to win the 100m Butterfly.  Finding your way around (on foot), trying to figure out public transport (when you’ve been driving independently your whole adult life) and the massive language barrier… With German and Farsi being spoken at home, and French & Dutch being spoken on the streets, my brain is in overdrive, but it’s amazing how fast you can adapt.

One thing I was not going to adapt to was the tantrum-throwing episodes the children threw for not getting their way, or jealousy over how many toys the three year old sibling has.  That should not be condoned behaviour, and I made very sure they were aware of that.  “Maybe I don’t actually like children” and “what the hell am I doing here?” was something I asked myself about 4 times a day.  A month later I have those thoughts about once or twice a week, so it will get better.  I keep reminding myself that this process has never been easy, but God put me here for a reason – so vasbyt

Moving to a new country is not for sissies.  I have opened a bank account, been to town hall about 4x and will finally receive my Belgian foreigners ID card. I have registered at an Adult Learning centre and attend French lessons once a week (will be adding Dutch to that soon) and I am actually pretty confident catching a tram or metro to get from here to there.

When taking the youngest to school and back I walk an average of 7km per day, which is great news for my body and my ten thousand steps goal, especially with all the chocolate around.  I’m also getting to experience my surroundings in a way I don’t think many living here have.  I have got lost in the forest, found short cuts to the town centre of Saint-Alix, browsed through French bookshops just because I can, and stopped to have coffee and chocolate cake at a little bakery in Stockel Square just to watch the people buy their fresh fruit and vegetables at the market in the square.  I also really enjoy walking or running through the forest.  It’s here where people seem more relaxed, walking their dogs or doing their daily commute.  The forest is cool, and alive, yet has a sense of calmness.  Trees seem to have that effect on people.  It is here where my greeting is always returned, and dog-owners love for you to take an interest in their pampered pets.

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I also cook dinner for the whole family every night, and I never thought I’d enjoy it as much as I do (although most days are spent texting my mom asking how to cook this or what to make with this – thank goodness for Moms).  Grocery shopping in a foreign country is one of my favourite things to do, and soon I’ll be adding some plant-based meals to the mix.  Meat is horribly expensive here, and as a meat-eating South African I need to start getting creative.

IMG_7738I found a gourmet burger restaurant and savoured every bite (things we take for granted in SA)

Sure, I really miss South Africa and all that it entails, but I carry it with me everywhere – and this is where I live now!

 

PS: weekends are spent in Keerbergen with Michael and his family, and if it wasn’t for them I’d probably be typing this from my home in South Africa.  But that’s a post for another day.  Just know that I’m happy and healthy and filled with so much love.

xx

Dan

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Is the desire to travel genetic?

Travel is not glamourous.  After taking my second solo trip across the world, I’ve realised that 23 hours of travelling (read: sitting for hours on end in an uncomfortable seat with a broken recline button, next to somebody who, if not from South Africa, has no desire to make small talk or take any interest in the stranger next to them, and then hoping to make it to your connecting flight in time while trying to find Gate D7 which always seems to be on the opposite end of the airport) you have PLENTY of time to have a conversation with your self.

One of the questions I’ve been asked since I started planning this adventure, and only had time to think about it now was, “Why are you doing this?” 

Why do I have the desire to leave my home, and social circles, sell my car and move my life to another country, on another continent, for a whole year? And what sparked this desire?

My first thought was, ‘well, my mother did it?’  My mom and her hilarious best friend Athene backpacked their way through Europe for a year, at the age of 22.  This trip created dramatic and hilarious (and sometimes terrifying) stories that we have never grown tired of.

At the age of 21 my dad had travelled to countries like Japan, where South Africans were not actually permitted to be (due to the Apartheid regime), and with his frequent travels for work it felt like we had been on the trips with him (Eqypt in particular).

Are some of us genetically predisposed with this desire to travel? Or is it the way we’ve been brought up?  Can this be a part of the nature vs nurture debate?

I then came across the so-called “wanderlust gene” (DRD4-7R).  This is a variation of the gene DRD4, which is involved in the dopamine levels in our brain. This neurotransmitter has an effect on our behaviour and motivation (to mention just two) and the variation of this gene has also been linked to ADHD and restlessness.  Some believe that about 20% of the human population carry this variation, and it may be the reason behind seemingly “risky” behaviour to travel across the globe.

I then came across Mich, who had always dreamt of travelling the world – and he made it happen (see their story here.)  After meeting his lovely family and chatting to his mom, she mentioned that out of 5 siblings he’s the only one with this innate desire to explore.  Without me saying anything, she said he got it from his grandfather.  Mich had also mentioned to me before that his grandfather would take them on adventures, like camping in the mountains, and is still a globetrotter today! This sounds like a good case of DRD4-7R to me 🙂

Is this perhaps why my mother didn’t see my actions as risky? Because she, too, carries this gene which was then passed on to me (and I hope to pass it on to my children).

I’d also like to believe that it’s a culmination of experiences throughout my 24 years of life (so far).  Being encouraged to use my imagination, be curious, and take risks.  As I spend the next year of my life influencing two young children (working as an Au Pair) I hope to open their eyes to a world as big as their imagination can create.

Thanks Mom & Dad, for giving me the world to explore.

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Here are some links to articles I read on the topic:

Wanderlust: a Genetic Basis to a Globetrotting Fanatic

The ‘wanderlust gene’ – is it real and do you have it?

The Science of Wanderlust

 

Adventure calling

The last few months have been overwhelmingly, ridiculously stressful – yet so exciting!

For those who are aware of the BBEE system in South Africa, there needs to be a certain representation of a demographic within a business. That means that a certain percentage of your employees need to be black, white, indian etc., and this is usually based on the population of the country.  My job at the Missionvale Psychology Community Centre became permanent – but I was the wrong colour to fill the permanent position..

This meant that I needed to look for a new job.  One that I’d enjoy, could use my Honours degree in Psychology, and one that would contribute to my Masters application.

Europe was calling and I accepted an au pair position for a family in Brussels, Belgium!

In theory, the process of applying for a work permit and long stay visa seemed simple enough.  Well, it was a nightmare.  A disastrous sequence-of-events included the courier company losing ALL my original documents and having to restart  the lengthy process. But it was all a process of growth and perseverence which paid off. I apologise to all of those who had to deal with “stressed-dan”, and grateful to those who kept me postitive and in their prayers.

Moving countries is not for sissies!  Every little detail is vital.  Selling my car, renewing my drivers license to get an International permit, flying to Cape Town for visa appointment (to mention just a few).

I now sit with my visa granted, my flights booked, and in the process of packing up life on this side of the world.

My last lifegroup evening, my last yoga class, my last ‘girls night’ (for a year at least).  It’s also made me appreciate the rich life I live in South Africa, and I look forward to expanding my horizons and gaining even greater life experience in another country.

I look even more forward to seeing Mich soon, and will be keeping a journal of my adventures over the next 365 days!

xxx

A final Colombian foodie experience

On the first day of 2018, Mich and I made our way from Cartagena to Medellín where I had to catch my first of four flights. I could have flown from Cartagena, but M wanted to get me as close to Bogotá as possible. It was about a 600km drive, so we stopped overnight, in Caucasia, and indulged in merlot & filet mingon.

On the 2nd we booked into Hotel Praga in Medellín and Micho treated me to a gastronomical experience! He made a reservation at Restaurante Barcal, a contemporary restaurant that serves either a 6-course or 10-course tasting menu of local Colombian ingredients cooked to perfection in a “masterchef” way.

I had to make the choice between 6 courses and 10 courses – of course I chose the ten courses! Mich also requested the 6 wine pairings to accompany our meals.

It was amazing! Every dish was so interesting, and different. We definitely had our favourites, and enjoyed exploring the different tastes and textures being served every 15 minutes or so. One was quite spicy, and when we couldn’t identify what spice it was, we asked our waiter what the secret ingredient was. In his Spanish-Colombian accent he said “ground ant”. 🐜. Of course this surprised me and while Mich and our waiter held a very straight face I got the giggles.. (the wine may have contributed to that).

Our personal favourite, the trout, ft. Mich’s naughty smile.

The montaña antioqueña spiced with ground ant.

Thank you for the spoils, Michael! I look forward to our next date night 😉 whenever & wherever that might be.

On the morning of the 3rd, we made our way to La Catedral. Both of us watched Narcos, some of the episodes we watched together in Cape Town and fittingly finished the series in Colombia – so it was something we really wanted to experience together. It was a beautiful windy path up to his “old prison”, and a popular walking and cycle route it seems.

La Catedral is now a home for the elderly, perched on top of the hill, overlooking the whole of Medellín. It is very catholic and and nobody really mentions Pablo Escobar, but seeing his old heli pad and chess board we could just imagine the scenes in our heads.

Mich and I then took the scenic route to the airport (we got a little lost) and spent our last few hours together at the Jose Maria Cordova airport. I’ve never been good at goodbyes, and this was a particularly difficult one.

Carrying my big Santa clause pillow, and my eyes filled with tears, I went through security and boarded my first plane.

My itinerary was Medellín to Bogotá, Bogotá to São Paulo, a 12-hour layover in São Paulo, then São Paulo to Johannesburg and eventually Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth. I left Medellín at 3pm on the Wednesday, and landed in Port Elizabeth at 2pm on Friday the 5th. I was EXHAUSTED. But I’d survived crossing continents on my own, long layovers and the holiday of a lifetime. I’d also made some really special friendships.

I started work again on the 8th of January, horribly jet-lagged with post-holiday blues. But I’m about to start my third week of work, and back into the swing of things. Grateful that I had a job to come back to and happy to be able to spend time with my family and friends, who were all very eager to hear my stories.

Is it too soon to start planning my next adventure??

#thebughasbitten

Bringing in the New Year in Old Town, Cartagena

From Riohacha we made our way back along the beautiful coastal route and up to Minca to (finally) hand back the motorbikes, continuing on to Santa Marta again. By the time we reached Calle 11 the boys’ bodies were tired from being on a bike for 3 days. So the massage therapist was called in and we all booked full body massages; one of the perks of staying at Calle 11, such a treat. Spending the evening in the pool while each of us gets a chance to be pampered, we then went out for dinner (which I won’t speak about) and drinks in the city Centre of Santa Marta. This is what a holiday should feel like. Pure bliss.

New Year’s Eve was drawing closer and we were desperately looking for accommodation in Cartagena for a couple of nights. We heard it’s ‘the place’ to celebrate New Years. We were also told it’s very expensive. Luckily one of the guys stumbled across an apartment available for rent off booking.com – the photos looked perfect! We couldn’t believe it was still available, surely too good to be true..

Leaving Santa Marta a green iguana scurried across the road in front of us. I’m a sucker for nature and couldn’t contain my excitement. Too late to catch a good photo, but glad I got to see one.

We made it to Cartagena by early evening, and couldn’t believe the size of the sky rise buildings. We could tell we were entering wealth and were laughing at how many tourists we could spot (because we’re not really tourists, you know).

After circling the Hilton hotel a few times, we eventually found our accommodation… more like a construction site. Reception was a desk in a room divided by a curtain, with a friendly receptionist who showed us to our ‘apartment’. It was all one room with 4 bunk beds to share amongst the 5 of us, with a little kitchenette and dining room table with 2 chairs. However, the bathroom was lovely. I couldn’t wait to see the other guys’ reactions. They weren’t happy 😂. Needless to say we only stayed one night and Gert quickly found us another apartment on the other side of town.

Mich and I spent the 31st walking the elite streets of Cartagena and ‘shopping’ at boutiques. We then spent a few hours at the beach, enjoying the warm waters and a cold beer, and explored the walled ancient town known as Centro Historico.

Palenqeura, or fruit ladies, in their traditional dress 🍍🇨🇴

Once we arrived at our new apartment the guys had been grocery shopping for our seafood extravaganza evening. We unpacked the groceries, folded their laundry and watched the last sunset of 2017 from the balcony on the 18th floor. Security then came to tell us they’d given us the wrong key and our apartment was actually 2 floors up. We hastily packed our bags and left the apartment as we found it.

The next apartment was just as nice and we chilled and got ready while Sten & Gert prepared supper.

We saw the new year in with a magnificent firework display (right in front of us, no fire engine in sight – colombia) which even made me a little nervous at times. We then went in search of a good party, me trotting along the cobblestone roads in my high heels. We chose one of the clubs, and luckily, being a girl, I got in for free. It was a 4 story house (I think) that had been turned into a club, it was quite intimate and had a certain charm to it. I spent the night sipping on Moscow mules and dancing to Latin American music until 5:30am and my feet couldn’t take it any longer.

The next day Mich and I had to hit the road to make it to Medellín by the 3rd.

May 2018 be as wonderful as 2017 ended💛

3 flat tyres in 2 days

Leaving Finca Carpe Diem, back down the 4×4 route, with the motorbikes ahead of me, I came across a sad looking Sten on the side of the road.

His unreliable rented-motorbike had a flat tyre and broken clutch. So I pulled up beside him so that he could have access to all his tools at the back of the Land Rover. Thank goodness these guys are pretty handy and are able to fix most. They have all except a puncture kit. So the tyre was loaded into the back of the car and off I went to the local town to have the puncture patched.

Gert & Jürgen had found a few things needing tweaking on their bikes too, and so it turned into a motorbike maintenance session, outside a local family home. It must have been quite a sight for them. When I had got back from town, the local ‘Mami’ had brought the boys coffee! (I needed to loo and she happily showed me the way to their bathroom).

After a two-hour pit stop we were on our way again. The boys up ahead and Micho staying close to me.

Not even 100km later, we came across a stranded Jurgen this time. His fancy motorbike’s tyre also had a puncture. So being support car I quickly did a U-turn and again they loaded the tyre and off Gert and I went, with Micho on his bike, to find a local tyre-patcher. Our last tyre was fixed very quickly, and we were hoping this would be the same.

We found a man who could fix the tyre, and noticing his striking blue eyes, he told us that he was born in Colombia but his grandparents were from the Netherlands. Jurgen’s inner tube had a massive stone inside (nobody knows how or where it came from) but this simple task of patching the tyre turned into a mammoth task. It was hot, we were thirsty, and we had 186km to go before we would reach Riohacha.

It was quite a busy little town, and wherever you park the Pacha it becomes an attraction. Onlookers often remarking when they see who is sitting in the drivers seat of this beastly vehicle.

Mich is very good at finding the nearest shop, and will find any excuse to go to the shop; coming back arms loaded with chips, fruits, drinks and often something nice for me to eat ☺️. Man knows the way to my heart.

The minutes turned to hours and our tyre-fixing friend was patching hole after hole, laughing every time he took the tyre to the water to find more air bubbles drifting up. He operates from a little make-do garage at his home (which reminds me of the single roomed low cost housing we have in South Africa), with his wife kneading dough for their supper and their family sitting around chatting. We pulled out our camping chairs and sat in the sun eating ice creams and treats Michael could find from the café. He also went and took refreshments to Jurgen and Sten who were still stranded on the side of route 90.

The sun was starting to set and I realized we’d be driving the rest of the way at night.

After 26 patched holes, the tyre was finally ready, and we raced back to Jurgen and Sten to continue our journey.

The route is beautiful, along the Caribbean coast, and driving really gives you another perspective.

We reached the hostel, La Guajira, and received a warm welcome from Ricardo and his dogs, Palomino and Pecoso. We then went out for a much needed supper, to a local “restaurant”. We were handed 5 plastic forks and served potato fries loaded with cheese, chorizo, chicken, lettuce, and some sort of sauce. It was rich and not really mine or Mich’s type of food, but we were hungry and it definitely filled us. We also had a laugh watching a Spanish-dubbed version of Rambo playing in the background.

I’m very grateful that the boys make every situation entertaining, staying positive and enjoying life. I wouldn’t want to be on this trip with any others.

The next morning the guys left to have something else fixed on Sten’s bike, and Micho and I chilled at the hostel – playing with a 3 week old kitten and 3month old Pecoso.

When the rest of our group returned, the guys all left on their motorbikes to go and explore the desert. I decided to stay behind and let them have “boy time” together. While 20km into the desert, and far from most civilization, poor Sten had another flat tyre. 4 tired, muddy guys returned at 9pm that evening.

Carpe Diem – Minca

Carpe Diem – seize the day!

On Boxing Day, as we call it in South Africa, we left Calle 11 in Santa Marta for a little ‘out ride’ up north. The boys wanted to rent motorcycles and leave the car in Santa Marta but unfortunately they were all rented out for the next few days. So Mich and I continued in the car, while the others followed on motorbike, up a very tight mountain pass to a little town called Minca. There they found motorcycles to rent on the side of the road; not in the greatest condition but once a guy sets his mind to something… the only problem was what to do with the car? (Which had the tents and everyone’s clothes and our food and drinks). The only solution? Dan can drive!

So as Sten and Mich were handed keys to their bikes, I was handed the keys to the Pacha (now considered co-driver and co-owner). The smallest in the group to drive the biggest vehicle. I already start sweating.

“Don’t worry Dan, it’s just back down the mountain pass and to the hostel.” Little did they know that we would soon face the toughest 4×4 trail they’ve come across whilst in Colombia. Challenge accepted!

Finca Carpe Diem is a farm and hostel owned by a Belgian couple, and was a suggestion from Anouk. It is perched at the top of this challenging road, deep within the jungle, and really is a beautiful location. We finally arrived and I was surprised we’d all made it. Thankfully Mich & Sten stayed close to me to assist and direct if need be (I was also driving their most prized possession). After some praise I was handed a beer (like one of the boys I’ve become), and we all went up for dip in the pool. The pool has a spectacular view of the jungle, and to our left we could see a rainbow.

Even though we were camping, we were treated to some good food and pancakes for breakfast thanks to the Belgian ownership.

We camped to the sounds of the river running past and typical jungle sounds, the only downfalls of the jungle are the bugs; but nothing we can’t handle now.

Onwards to Riohacha!