Goodbye to 2019…

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“For last year's words belong to last year's language And next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” T.S. Eliot

In 2019, I got to witness many stunning sunrises and breath-taking sunsets from various places both in South Africa and countries further north.

 

I got to pay an unexpected second visit to Rwanda, spending time in the capital city of Kigali as well as the holiday town of Lake Kivu. This is an African destination that I enjoy so much and I am glad that my wife got to share the experience with me. With thanks to RwandAir and the Serena Group for hosting me.

 

My favourite mode of transport that takes me to my happy space. Any game drive vehicle on any untarred road in a park somewhere in Africa.

 

A first for me…spending nights sleeping out under the open skies with EcoTraining. Without the ambient city lights, our Southern skies are awash with stars, planets and constellations. Many thanks to the EcoTraining instructors who took time to point out some of the highlights, seeing that I can only find the Southern Cross and Orion’s belt with any certainty. At least I now know where the Milky Way is!

 

I am always grateful when I get to spend time with rhino, either White or Black. It seems that those name will be changed to “Wide lip” and “Hooked lip” respectively in the future. A much more descriptive definition as both species are in fact, grey. (Cartoon with thanks to Dov Fedler)

 

When some unexpected health issues cropped up, I had to have BIG cajones to tackle those issues head-on. Being married to a doctor, and having one as a mother-in-law meant that I could not hide from the procedures that I had to undergo.

 

I was grateful to get to spend times at stunning game lodges like the Kalserie Sands River Camp. A highly recommended venue for any special occasion.

 

I visited all of the EcoTraining camps during the course of the year and spent time with both student groups and a variety of different instructors. Combined they all taught me a variety of new skillsets, like finding scorpions with a black-light.

 

No matter how small you feel, as long as there is someone who looms large in your life, you will be safe.

 

The spelling on this signboard at the Botswana/South African border made me smile as I drove past towards the check-point. What occurred there wiped that smile off very quickly.

 

This was the first time that I had ever driven across a border, and even though I had ALL the required documentation, there was supposedly a document missing. The border security let me into and out of Botswana, but when I tried to clear customs on the South African side on my return journey, the missing document became an issue. Eventually, once I had explained that I had been let in 3 days earlier on the same documentation and after much mumbling by the South African Police Services, I was allowed to continue on my homeward journey. (Cartoon by the iconic Dov Fedler)

 

This vista of Botswana made up for a 7-hour drive that turned into almost 13 hours due to my lack of basic navigational skills as well as no Vodacom service once I had crossed the border. But all ended well!

 

If the year had been topsy-turvey for you, if there was a special person that you could cling to, even the darkest times would be made easier. Just learn to look at life from a different perspective.

 

While I was embedded with the Tourvest student guides at Makalali, I  learned about plants that traditional healers utilize. The Knob-Thorn Tree ( Senegalia nigrescens) is just one of those that can be used to cure a variety of ailments. Here, one of the students burns a knob off the tree. The smoke has a pungent, but not unpleasant smelling smoke that is easily inhaled and is said to cure a number of ailments. Many people, for whom Western medicine does not work, are turning to plant-based medications.

 

My highlight, not only of 2019 but of the past 53 years of me spending time in the bush, searching for this “unicorn”. For those who understand this quest, you will realize that the exact moment that I saw this elusive and endangered animal will be etched in my mind forever.(10/11/2019 at 06h02) With grateful thanks to all who made this sighting happen.

 

My involvement and passion for wildlife began back in 1966 when my 13th birthday present was a trip to the Kruger National Park. For as long as I can remember, the top of my WLWL (Wild Life Wish List) has always been to see a Pangolin. Every time I have visited a Lodge and the Field Guides have asked about favourites, “Pangolin” is the first word out of my mouth. On this trip to Klaserie Sands River Camp, I broke that tradition and I requested Hyena instead. Perhaps it was a way of not tempting the pangolin gods and then perhaps, just perhaps my wish to see one would be granted. We had started a morning drive and our vehicle was heading out looking for nothing specific when a garbled call came in over the radio. Nerise, our field guide, Caswell our tracker and I all thought we had heard the word “Penguin”. But how would you spot an Antarctic creature in the middle of the South African bush? “Repeat please” radio’ed Nerise. “PANGOLIN” was the response. STOP THE VEHICLE! Was my dream finally about to become reality? I was not too hopeful as the sighting was a distance away and in the opposite direction. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as the game viewer was turned around and we set off. I have to admit that I was not getting my hopes up as I have missed sightings before, but usually by a couple of days. I really did not want to miss this by minutes. We finally arrived to find Ross, a guide from a neighbouring camp who had called in the sighting, pointing excitedly to a spot under some branches…I held my breath as I peered into the undergrowth. I felt totally overwhelmed as 53 years of waiting finally came to an end! High-5’s were shared and the American guests on our vehicle could not believe their luck.

 

My 2019 tattoo…what else but the pangolin. Done on the calf of my right leg, it shares space with a phoenix. Done, as always by Ryan ‘Busta’ Boltoon at Golden Tiki in Linden, Johannesburg. (It was his first pangolin tattoo in his career and he certainly nailed it.)

 

Like many of my friends and family, I put up with a lot of crap in 2019, but I have decided to own my shit in 2020…To all those who will be taking charge of their own ball, I wish you all the very best!

 

To those readers who have lost friends, family members, colleagues or acquaintances, I offer you these words that I penned for the memorial service of a friend who was murdered. May they bring you solace, understanding and peace.

 

Make YOUR 2020 refract like the light through a crystal pendant, touching many lives and allowing you to be the best person that you can be. Remember, YOU can get rid of toxic people/situations in YOUR life. We all seek validation from others but do we really require that to be great human beings? May each day be unique and may you find your ‘happy space’ in the year that lies ahead.

 

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