Japan, A Cultural Story With Karma.

I am in love with this country.

As I write this, I sit up early on day 2 of our exploration of the Niseko resort area, it is 5:48 a.m. I just showered and love my morning quiet time to just be. I keep conking out around 9 p.m. and thus the early wake up.

We are staying at Moiwa Lodge at the base of the Moiwa ski/board resort.Yesterday we spent a day riding here as snow gently fell and there were zero lift lines. I took a photo of weaving in and out of the bamboo shoots and trees. 

The snow was good, not perfect powder for the pow chasers on the trip, but for a beginner freshie like me, I was happy. I put my phone in my pocket and mindlessly did not zip it back up. On the lift ride back up, I realized that I had lost it. Jess and I combed over the area but to no avail, Chad and I tried to set up finding the phone remontely, but to no avail. All the while, I just knew it would turn up.

The reason I knew my phone would turn up is that everything I have encountered in Japan is on time, has specific guidelines and runs smoothly. The people are filled with kindness and gentleness. I am a complete outsider and therefore may be off as to how an inner society is ran. However, it is quiet in restaurants, train stations, in people-filled subway stations and on crowded bus rides. They even ask you to not talk on your phone while on public transportation! I think, too, that if you did loudly someone would probably come and remind you to not. You take your shoes off at the door of many establishments and all homes and you bow and smile a lot. (I keep putting my hands up in namaste when I bow, which is not custom, but it feels natural to me as a yogi.)

After two trips down the mountain to see if I could find my phone, I realized that the lost phone ‘just is’ lost.

The concept of ‘just is’ came to me back in the spring, I even wrote about it earlier. Then, on the trip from Sapporo to Niseko, this concept was reintroduced to me through another yogi and writer, Baron Baptiste. In his book, “Perfectly Imperfect,” he talks about two views of a yoga class being full, so full that the mats are touching. He talks are out one view of the room, “it is too cramped” and another view, “spacious enough to hold many yogis.” He mentions that the room ‘just is.’ I thought about my lost phone as thus: ‘just is’ lost. As a result, I went on to enjoy my day, still believing it would show up, but knowing worrying about how much it would cost to replace it, how I was going to travel back to the states with it, and many other things would not increase my chances of finding it. Not to say, that I didn’t keep an eye out for it!wp-image-966439951jpg.jpg

This concept of ‘just is’ is something I have wrestled with throughout growing up. I have desperately wanted to feel in control. I have had tragedies happen in life that I almost could not accept because they were out of my control. Serious control issue there. I remember sharing a classroom with another teacher and he would always say “It is what it is” and I used to get so frustrated with that concept. Turns out, he was right.

As I continued to snowboard that second day at Moiwa, a sense of okay-ness, a sense of “Just is” set in to my soul. I went into Moiwa Lodge and talked with them about the situation and one of the workers said, your phone has been found! I went running over to the Ski Resort counter, and there it was, warming up and still charged. I could not believe my fortune. I talked about karma a lot that night, when I met up with friends for drinks at the Lodge 834. Chad and I kept saying that I do a lot of work to make sure that my personal karma is balanced out. As we left the lodge, I walked to the restroom. As I was leaving, I saw someone else’s phone on the back of the toilet seat.

FOR REAL.

I picked up the phone, told everyone and we were in complete awe of the day that the integrity of Japanese culture and apparently, my karma, were in perfect display.

when your dog…

when your puppy climbs into your lap at 6 weeks old and trembles 45 minutes to Petsmart for food, dog bowls and a collar in your Volkswagen beetle.

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In the summer of 2003, I drove an hour from where I was living to look at Great Dane puppies. It was a long curvy road in my black Volkswagen Beetle but it was sunny and my hopes and spirits were high. A puppy! The sheer thought of it brought me tremendous joy. When I arrived the breeder had a skinny, sad looking AKC with papers Great Dane mom, who was a beautiful blue merle color. She looked overworked with breeding and I felt uncomfortable in the situation. I had never been to a breeder before…The breeder had met a guy with an AKC registered Chocolate Lab. I did not think or know much about AKC breeding, nor did I care. I just loved the Blue Merle color and wanted a puppy.

I wanted a Great Dane so badly because about 6 months earlier, while walking on the lawn of the Smithsonian Museums, I met an 178 lbs Great Dane who had the most beautiful eyes, backed up to me and sat in my lap, knocking me completely over and eliciting laughter. He was hilarious, a giant, big, love. I knew from that point on, I was hooked on Great Danes.

I inspected the puppy breed, who mostly were curly haired black puppies romping with each other with fighting and biting. Bared playful teeth and puppy breath were every where in the late summer browning grass. The property the woman lived on was filled with cages of animals, where she was breeding and breeding and breeding. She told me there were several male puppies and two females. I asked her if any of them looked like their mom and she said yes. She started to look around for the female that was not in the mix of the puppy WWE match going on before us. Through her maze of cages and crates she and I peered until a spotty, grey, floppy eared puppy emerged, nose to the ground interested in what was in front of her instead of the puppy wrestling match.

This dog.

I went over to the puppy and squatted. The beautiful Blue Merle markings were evident and this girl was sweet, kissed my face, and then continued to explore, curious about her environment.

“I will take this one,” I said, standing up to stretch my legs from my squatted, observation position. The woman informed me that I would have to pay $250 in cash. I did not have cash, so she knew exactly where to tell me to get it, about 15 minutes away. Slightly annoyed but growing with excitement, I drove to the ATM. Upon pulling back into the gravel driveway, I stopped my Beetle. The female puppy, who I had chosen, was sniffing through the cages. I saw her and she saw me, her floppy ears perking up. We made eye contact and as I got out of the car, she came running towards me.

This is my Anabelle and to this day she runs like this to me.

The remainder of the day was spent prepping for this puppy to come and live with me. I had nothing in my home fit for a dog, so she and I drove to Petsmart. The puppy trembled and sat in my lap the entire way. She was no bigger than a fully grown cat, weighing in at about 8 lbs. I carried the puppy into the store where I showed her collars, toys and dog bowls, as if she was so interested. I drove her home and was so excited to have my very own Blue Merle puppy.

when you dog jumps into the lake at full speed, you laugh and smile, and realize later she is soaking wet and now has to get into your car.

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Growing up, Anabelle was not the easiest of puppies. Raising a puppy is always a lot harder than you think. I have heard it said that God makes puppies super cute because they are a hot mess. Anabelle was both.

At night, this puppy would howl and cry and bark like coyotes do, with approximately 16 different barking sounds, all of which I had never heard come out of a dog before. There was an attempt to crate train her ending in perpetual disaster. She literally ate, demolished and Houdini-ed her way out of every crate. The final straw was when she climbed out of a crate she demolished, giving herself a wickedly deep, bloody gash. I decided crate training was not for her. She began to peacefully sleep on the floor in the bedroom. I guess crates do not work for all dogs (or owners, as some might say). She was a perpetual puppy, frolicking beside me and learning new tricks to please me. She was easy to train, and I diligently trained her to sit, stay, heel, lay down, shake and to play dead when I said “Bang, bang.” Ana went everywhere with me – every trip, every errand, every where that I could possibly take her, she came. We played in rivers, oceans, lakes and swimming pools. Being half chocolate lab, she loves the water. Once, while hiking, she ran down the side of a quickly moving stream and jumped full on into it. The stream swept her down and over a small waterfall area. Her entire body disappeared in the current. My family and I gasped and held our breath. As quickly as she had gone under, her little head bobbed back up and she sloppily swam her way to the side of the creek and crawled her way out. We laughed until we cried, as she came flying back to us, grateful as we were, to see her.

when your dog can outrun you…on your mountain bike and your 4-wheeler.

anamtbwoahI have been a mountain biker since high school. I rode my little nothing of a bike on trails before I knew what a mountain bike was. We rode up and down every hill we could find in East Tennessee. For a long time, I was the only girl I knew riding my bike with a pack of boys. The adrenaline, the rush of the woods whizzing past, the smell of the forest – nothing beats this sport for all around happiness in my life.

Once Anabelle was old enough she began to go on mountain bike rides with me. She was, and remains horrible on a leash. Pulling, dramatically falling over, dragging her face on the ground until she destroyed the third gentle leader that we bought (at about $25 a piece, I was done with the gentle leader). She chewed through multiple leashes as well while we were sitting somewhere, she would quietly gnaw through the fibers until the leash was in two pieces. If I had not noticed, upon completing her task, she would get up and walk away. However, after time, I began to realize that she would always remain within close distance to me. With this knowledge, Anabelle earned her right to mountain bike, hike and walk most places without a leash.

Ana and I mountain biked on trails from the time she was 3 until the time she was about 10. Seven solid years of mountain biking consisted mostly her and me. Ana would bounce around my bike when I unloaded it from my car and when I would get on my bike, she would take off ahead of me on the trail. She would run ahead of my bike and if she saw a squirrel or heard something in the woods, she would bound after said object, returning with a glimmer in her eye and her tongue hanging out. When we paused for water, I would give her a drink from the stream of my bike water bottle, and then I would take a sip. If ever we encountered a pond, river or lake, she would run uninhibited into the water and I would stop and laugh. The Lab in her always shining through her dominate Great Dane genes.

when your dog remains the reason you get out of bed (oh yeah, i have to at least feed her, and she keeps you going during some dark times in your live)

The 20s and 30s are trulanatouchingmyfooty the grown-up version of the formative years. You graduate from education, get a job, move, maybe buy a home, start paying bills…As you hit your 30s, you start to settle into who you are. You get a sense of contentment and purpose. During the 20s, I battled a lot of demons. Some were self inflicted, some were chemical imbalances in my own body (unbeknownst to me) and some were the poor friend/dating choices that I had made due to the reasons above. Ana patiently stood by my side as I trudged through these darkest of times. The picture above, where her paw wraps around my foot, reminds me of her constant presence, reassurance and love. Last night, even, she took her paw and reached it out to hold my hand, as we did many times, riding together in the car, headed to our next adventure.

when you and your dog meet the man of your dreams and he has a fabulous dog, too, it is a match made in heaven.

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In 2011, I was riding my mountain bike with Anabelle around the trails of my new hometown in Tennessee. As I rounded a corner of the trail that we had become accustomed to, Ana ran to another mountain biker to say hello. I saw him out of my peripheral, smiled, said hello, and kept riding. The following evening, he and I met out for drinks. We did not make the connection that we had met prior on the trails, until he met my Anabelle. One evening, Chad came to pick me up on one of our first dates, Ana was barking, signaling the arrival of stranger danger. When I opened the door, Chad knelt down with open arms and started to say her name in a happy voice. This was a sure win for me and her. Although Ana only weighed in at 72lbs (for a Great Dane mix, this is small), she was larger than a lot of dogs and frightened many people. However, Chad openly loved and hugged on Anabelle that evening. As time progressed in our relationship, we introduced our dogs to each other. Chad’s dog Mogul and Anabelle got along quickly, only having two arguments: one over food (Mogul’s first love) and one over me (Anabelle’s first love). Chad and I began to mountain bike together, with Anabelle.

When Chad and I were married in 2014, Anabelle, Mogul and our foster-failure Dane, Phoebe were a part of our day. I had pictures made with each dog, some of which are my favorites of Anabelle today. Chad has grown to love Anabelle as much as I do. Our “pack” has felt happy and complete for quite some time now.

View More: http://woodphotography.pass.us/tracy-and-chad-wedding
Anabelle on my wedding day. Pretty sure Ana thought this was all about her.

when you celebrate your dog at 13.5 years of age with a party, where you both eat too many treats; a dog who has loved you and been your companion through the ups and downs of your life.

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10 months ago, Anabelle, at age 12.5, was diagnosed with cancer. I had noticed her bathroom habits change drastically, and took her to the vet. Several trips and many ultrasounds later, we ended up at the university hospital with the news that she had bladder cancer.

It was devastating. I was at work when I got the news. Time slowed as I stood behind my desk at lunch time. I remember the sun filtering through the windows in the building and I proceeded to cry between every class.

Anabelle is strong and made it 10 months, without chemotherapy; she was given only 6-8. Sadly, the cancer has now spread into her lungs and around her body. Last week, we made the appointment at the vet. I can no longer bear to watch her suffer trying to use the bathroom or limp around the house. She has done well these last 10 months, but just recently, since the cancer started to spread, she has gone downhill fast.

A month or so ago, one of my closest friends suggested that I throw Ana a party, to celebrate her life. It was a beautiful idea. I started planning immediately. It was a beautiful evening, where family and friends ate pizza and cookie cake, swam in the pool and showered Ana (and myself) with gifts and treats. Ana even got an entire pint of Haagen Dazs, just for herself.

when your dog has been your companion for almost 14 years and you have to say goodbye to her, you do your best to think of the adventures that you had, knowing that death is another kind of adventure.

Anabelle brought me continuous joy for the entire time of her life. She was funny and my sidekick. My entire family has been sending me love and messages, and all of my friends have been the sweetest.

Because a dog does not communicate with words, the companionship breaks forth into the human spirit and the psyche. Bringing with it a profound understanding that there is much more in this life than verbal communication, busyness and material possessions. I will always be impacted with the reminder of the beauty that I shared with this dog. She could never talk to me, and she probably didn’t understand half of what I said, but she knew it and she felt it. The reason a dog becomes your best friend is because of the infectious, unbridled nature of a dog, which causes a human to let go completely-unabashedly free in their own true spirit- beside something as amazing as the spirit of an animal.

I am grateful to God and the Heavens for helping me find my best friend and to be able to remotely capture the companionship I had with her into words. I am grateful that I could have given her an epic adventure, as she has given me.

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asthma.

at age 18, i was diagnosed with asthma.

when i left the doctor’s office, i sobbed. i distinctly remember being in the car with my mom, we were on the corner of two major intersections where i grew up. it was raining. i was in high school. prior to the doctor’s visit, i had been running to get into shape for volleyball and i would come home from running and sit on the kitchen counter and cough. and cough. my dad would give me ice water, which helped somewhat. however, after several months of this happening, we knew something was awry.

“…Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you,…”Exodus 23:25

over time, asthma has gotten worse for me. this summer, i was in the doctor’s office being treated for pneumonia. for two hours i had tests ran for hereditary copd, liver disease, autoimmune deficiency, the list goes on and on. at one point, she put a mask on me and had me tested for SARS! in her defense, my doctor is a very thorough clinical doctor and we had just returned from south africa. and while i appreciate my doctors and their thoroughness, it is exhausting to hear a list of things that you might possibly have.

for you were once darkness, but now you are light… -Ephesians 5:8

so, i called my mom. my mom is brave, strong, and has battled through rare a lung disorder. she has made great strides and the doctors at Duke University of helped her with this progress. she prayed for me, out loud, while i sat in my air-conditioned car in the Kroger parking lot.

see, my mom believes in healing. she believes what the Bible has to say about healing. that sickness is not meant for us, that we are meant to live well on this earth.

i started to think she was kinda going off the deep end. then she asked me to read a book entitled, “Christ the Healer” by F.F. Bosworth. the first edition of this book was written in 1924. i literally read the forward, introduction and first paragraph and i started to feel my own faith shift.

what OTHER option do i have? my grandmother died of an asthma attack, i knew that my heredity was not exactly rosy. the doctors are getting concerned. i am healthy in my lifestyle and here i am, sick with a chronic illness. so, okay, what if i do believe healing is possible? can god truly right my ‘smoker’s looking lungs’ as the doc called them? do i really have to have steroids pumping through my chest for who knows how long before the nasal polyps will shrink, my sinuses will clear, i can smell and breathe again?

alright, i will give this book a try.

over the past few months, i have breathed in steroids and suffered the side effects of this process. i have been on another round of antibiotics and prednisone and had to take myself off prednisone due to the extreme side effects–then i read:

the results, down through the years, have been a demonstration of the truth of the inspired declaration that God “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” -Ephesians 3:20

woah. i can think that my lungs might be healed. i can think that the meds will kick this crap outta my lungs. i can think it can just be a divine intervention.

i also know my faith is pretty small right now. i have not been a church-goer for sometime. i have been faithful in reading and praying (a bit) and my lifestyle does not always shine.

but then, i remember:

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

interesting how i remember these things at just the right place and right time?

my faith is about the size of a mustard seed. i believe in miracles and divine intervention. i will let god prove it. my doctor even said, i am too vivacious for this to be a part of my life.

i agree.

so today, i am going to fast (a word i loath) something in my life (not to be disclosed here) which has been a stumbling block for me. i am going to pray. i am going to believe.

yoga: my journey to a practice

i started doing yoga unbeknownst to me in the 8th grade. i was stranded at home in a snowstorm and slowly going nuts from nothing to do besides sled down our gigantic hill (and i love sledding, needless to say). my mom casually suggested i try a VHS video by raquel welch called, “total body fitness.” i had nothing else to do. what i found was the mental concentration and movement of my body was just what i wanted, it made me feel so good. (i had no idea that the poses in her video are the 26 Bikram Yoga poses, which i still do today and still clear my head and make my entire body feel amazing, i have done research to find the connection between her video and Bikram, but haven’t found anything there yet.)

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in high school, i mountain biked on the hills of Tennessee and played volleyball. when i got to college, i found myself gaining weight and unhappy. i still worked out, but was very uncomfortable in my skin. after college, i got married and moved to Virginia. my marriage was very unhappy. i won’t go into all the details, but i was slowly slipping into someone i did not want to be. i was active (thank goodness) but miserable. it was a series of unfortunate events that lead to something so beautiful, that is now my life.

in 2006, i left. it was so scary and received so much ridicule from being in a very, very fundamental christian environment and deciding that divorce was for me. i was lost. luckily, i stumbled upon dave farmar on itunes leading a vinyasa flow podcast. i will forever credit him as helping me through this process, though i have never actually met the guy (thank goodness for technology). i started doing yoga every day. his manner of being real opened me up physically and emotionally (it was during this time i would repetitively cry on my mat). but, my body started changing. pretty soon, i dropped a lot of weight and my free spirit smile returned.

when i started doing vinyasa flow yoga with dave farmar, i was listening to him on a podcast, as i mentioned. i had no earthly idea what side crow meant or utkatasana meant, but i would pause the podcast, google the pose, and then go right back to doing the vinyasa. that year, i learned so much. i also attended classes led by a woman who told us that her MS had all but disappeared from practicing yoga. she taught a private class for my mom and i, and i loved being in her presence.

moving to knoxville in 2010 opened up 1 billion doors. i found a great job, a great mountain biking community, a small wealth of artistic opportunities and my future husband. life was so grand. through my future husband, i met his cousin, a certified yoga instructor who taught me the illusive side crow (in a matter of 2 minutes) and we started doing yoga challenges last summer together on instagram). this has poured me over into reading books, magazines, and starting this blog about yoga. through the inspiration of yogis such as kino macgregor, kerri verna, shiva rea and a slew of others, i am learning constantly about new postures, new alignments, breath, health and my life is so sunny right now, i couldn’t be more thrilled to be on this journey.

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my journey has become a practice. it is called a practice because that is exactly what you must do! if i take off on a new mountain bike trail, i am hesitant, nervous, unsure. if i continue to ride it, it becomes second nature. this is why we practice the things we want to become better at someday. my practice is something i continue to grow in, to move my body in, to become more stable and knowledgeable. it is something that i feel i will never be a master of, and therefore it challenges me consistently. i have never stepped on my yoga mat and not been rewarded. currently, i am attempting to do a portion of the primary series in ashtanga yoga (it is so difficult). at the same time, i have made a promise to myself to learn as much as i can about yoga, it’s benefits and my goal is to share this with others.

namaste.

South African Food

What can be said of South African food without missing something? We ate so well. Large 4-Course meals that we were unaccustomed to at home. It was fun, tasting the soup, then the starter, the main and then the dessert. In the two weeks we were eating this way, I actually lost weight!

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Kudu Steak with Chocolate Chili Sauce+ Potato

We did not choose to eat lunches many days as the full English breakfasts with the 4-Course dinners were enough.
We ate a lot of things I felt were easy to find in the UK such as various curries and fish & chips. Then, occassionally, a truly African flair would roll out. One evening, it was a la carte and Chad was thrilled! We could choose from a a variety of interesting meats: alligator, wildebeest, kudu, springbok, ostrich and of course lamb, beef and fish. Chad was in heaven! The chef would prepare each piece the way we requested. I have to admit, trying the game was difficult (as I was too in love with all of them) and I will not eat them ag

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Wildebeest, kudu and alligator

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On one of our nights in Cape Town, we ventured out to Marco’s African Place. The restaurant was decorated in African style, the waitresses were in African garb, a band performed lively African music and we tried dishes with African flair. It was quite a popular local place, and I was grateful to be in such a wonderfully African environimage

ment.

We ate a venison stew, at least twice that came served in a black cast iron pot. This dish, cooked long and infused with unique spice arrangements proved to be one of our favorites of the entire trip.

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(not my photo)

Another dish that was seemingly out of this world was cheesecake. We had about three differing versions of cheesecake, but walked away impressed every time we ate it. I came home and immediately created a recipe that my grandmother and mother had made while I was growing up, a “Cheese Pie.” It was not as good as I remember, and next I will be working towards a full blown New York style cheesecake.

I do know that Peri-Peri Sauce came home with us, however, this is something that I had experienced at Nando’s in England, the summer that I spent there…although it is an African chili. We also brought home some Onyx salt from the Kalahari, that I fell absolutely in love with while in Africa.
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Lastly, for now, I will speak of Roobios tea. This tea, that I have enjoyed for many years, was a staple tea in South Africa. When you wanted a cup of tea, Roobios was served. Its deep red color and rich, earthy taste will forever remind me of the cold winter nights, listening to the zebra and exotic birds.

South Africa, its cuisine, tea, and wine! Oh! The wine! THAT will have to be another post entirely.

Day 14|The Cape

After our adventure in shark diving in Gansbaai, we continued our trek to Cape Town, where we would spend out last day. The drive took only two hours and we arrived at the President Protea hotel, which had been opened by Mandela.
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It was a glorious night of room service, and relaxing, while we sorted our massive amounts of dirty clothes and our souvenirs. The next morning, we decided to go to Table Mountain and ride the cable car up to the top, since the massive, unique cloud cover that hovers on top of the mountain was not scheduled to be present! We arrived early, in hopes to beat the crowd. The sunrise was glorious at the mountain, shroud in Cape Town in a warm, red glow.
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The panorama was breathtaking. We stood in line, having arrived 30 minutes early, as in winter the hours differ from the summer-go figure. As we stood in line, two men talked in front of us. They had arrived before us with backpacks and as it turned out they were climbers. Every weekend they abseiled/rappelled down Table Mountain and then climbed back up. Woah. That was incredible!! We took the first cable car up, with a floor that spins, so that everyone could get a view of the panorama as you rode up.
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It was dizzying to me, as I had awoke feeling badly this morning. My body was tired and my adrenaline burst yesterday had left me less than gunning for another adventure.

Admittedly, I am afraid of heights.

This has not kept me from hang-gliding, rappelling, climbing, hiking on ridiculous cliffs and zip lining over Peruvian gorges. However, this time, I could not shake my fear. This also happened in Peru, after days and days of clinging to the side of a mountain and hiking, I could not do the last hike-a perilous edge crawl around the outside of Machu Picchu. Today, I was feeling the same. Chad, however, was thrilled. Once we reached the top, photos were taken-here is a view of beautiful Camps Bay from the top!
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We spent a few minutes at the top and declared we would hike down. We left and started our two hour trek down rock stairs. It was literally just that! We stepped down giant steps for two hours. Two hours! Did I mention giant stairs? Most of the people we passed were going up, but we chose down. Let me tell you, our legs turned into shakey Jell-O molds as we descended. It was truly one insane hike.
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And…three days later, our thighs are still recovering! To quote a word I have used immensely on this teip: Unbelievable. The views of Cape Town, a city I now love came gleaming into view around every zig zag turn.
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Hiking is such a wonderful thing. I grew up hiking with my parents and still find so much joy and release in a hike. Nature is the perfect cure for whatever ails, and reminds us how very small we are; a good reminder.
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Upon reaching the bottom, our legs would not work on flat concrete! We laughed and waddled to the car. After a shower and packing up officially, we left the Protea President Hotel and it’s gorgeous views.
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Our flight was in the evening on this last day, at 11:00. We had ALL DAY. Next on our agenda was a trip to Boulder’s Beach, part of the Table Mountain section of the SAN Park system. It was time to meet the African Penguin, officially. As we drove along the beautiful coastline, I thought about penguins. They are such a funny bird! Dressed in a tux, waddling about. Truly, however, I had not paid much attention to these animals before. I have always been a big game person-fond of the big cats, giraffe, elephants. I was quite curious to see and hang with the penguins. When we areived, we were serenaded by a group of a Cappella African singers, I was thrilled! We walked towards the entrance of Boukder’s Beach, and past onto the boardwalk. It was here, on this winding boardwalk, that I met the first African Penguin.
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He was standing right at the fence. His babies were in a nest behind him and he was, I am pretty sure, more curious about me than I was about him. Or, perhaps it was mutual. He stared at me, as I spoke softly to him. His beak slid through the cage and close to my face. He was completely intrigued. I was completely intrigued. We became instantly respectful of each other. I was hooked. Onward we walked, checking out all the nesting, mating and birthing of these incredible birds.
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The endangered animals came as a pair to this beach in the mid 1980s and have been coming to breed ever since. Thankfully, strict laws have been enacted to protect these animals and the colony has grown to about 2-3 thousand birds!
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They stay here, breed, and are viewed and kept safe from humans. They come here because of the supply of cape anchovy and fish migrating along this path. An intensive article on the penguins was written here.
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After a long time of viewing and falling in love with the African Penguin, we purchased a baby stuffed animal for our very kind and loving dog-sitter who is about to have her first baby! I painted a picture of a penguin for her new daughter and have decided I will teach her about these very sweet endangered animals in South Africa.
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Next stop in our very long wait, last hurrah in the Cape area: CAPE OF GOOD HOPE!

intro music: “…it’s the end of the world as we know it…and I feel fine! “

This REM song ran theough my head the entire drive to the Cape of Good Hope, and still does when thinking about it.

We were literally driving to the end of this side of the world. We were essentially closer to Antarctica than to our home in the States!
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I have to interject here and throw in a sign we saw frequently while traveling. Yes, baboons are all over the roadways and these hysterical signs mark where you just might happen to run into one..or more! There are warnings everywhere about not feeding them. It reminded us of home, at the Great Smoky Mountains, where humans feed the back bear constantly. What an adverse effect this has on the population of any animal that humans interact with by feeding them. The baboons we saw were usually running in a family unit, and always, there was a baby clinging to a protective mother’s back!

The drive to the the end of the world as we know it was alongside more breathtaking coastal roads, and the entrance to the Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope requires a fee and is also part of the Table Mountain SAN Park system. We paid and drove 15 minutes to the end. Here, you can hike or ride up to the lighthouse at the Cape Point, or drive to the Cape of Good Hope. We decided the later, since our legs were crushed and wobbly from our Table Mountain descent earlier. The crowds were gathered at the famous sign marking the CoGH, so we hiked upward a bit and took some photos of the ocean crashing the furthermore rocks.
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You felt like an explorer here. You could feel the historical accounts of arriving at this destination culminate at this very spot. The James Michener book I chose to thread while on the trip, The Covenant remarks about the Cape. I can see and feel what they meant. It truly was a place of heightened awareness at the smallness of mankind when compared with the vastness of history and the greatness of the planet we inhabit.
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We had our photos taken, took the photos for other tourists and met another traveler on his second day in South Africa from China.

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the end of the world as we know it

It was a stunning completion to a stunning trip. I think this photo specifically captures up our new generations marveling at the vastness and greatness mentioned above. We recognize the glory of travelling to such a spot. We honor the adventure.

As the sun set, we drive north to the airport to start our grueling, but safe and successful 24 hour journey home. There were and continue to remain a billion thoughts on this trip. Our honeymoon. South Africa. I am sure that I am not done writing about this country. Chad mentioned we would return. A part of my heart is and will remain Africa.

There is no proper way to end a journey such as this. Nor is there a proper way to end a writing such as this.
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em>May your heart be full and your adventures be many!
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Now bring me that horizon…

Day 13| Gansbaai + Great Whites

Our arrival in Gansbaai, South Africa was welcomed. The oceanside city, saltwater air and sound of the waves crashing felt so heavily relaxing.
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We booked a small B&B and were thrilled at the place. However, we were the first and last guests, as the owner had decided to sell this rustic getaway right on the ocean front.
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We had a wonderful couple managing the place while we were there, Dion and Linda, and it was a welcome relief to visit with them. They recommended a restraunt, Thyme at Rosemary’s, which we enjoyed and even got the opportunity to meet the owner/cook, Rosemary, herself. The food was wonderful, but again, the food of South Africa has to be another post entirely.
The reason we had trekked to Gansbaai, was that we had booked Great White Shark Cage Diving.

I woke up on the morning of our Shark Dive after a night of dreaming of great white sharks. I had the most vivid dreams! In my dreams, which are always whacky, it was greenish around the sea where I was and the sharks were super friendly and actually rubbed up against me.
Crazy, yes, but addmittedly, the dream was very comforting because I was quite nervous of the idea of diving with a Great White.
After a wonderful full breakfast, we visited the Volkswagen Marine Sanctuary and met two African penguins who had been trapped in a fisherman’s net.
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Luckily, we were told, these guys were not harmed more than a bit of dehydration and would be returned to their colony the following day.
Onward we went to the spot where our shark dive was going to take place. White Shark Diving Co. at the bottom of a route covered with many shark diving companies. We were to go out with 18 others. I was getting really, really nervous.
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After a delay, due to the governmental service that regulates boats that take out shark divers showed up and caused a skiff, we were off. The air was cool, the sun was warm, and we were going to dive!

When we arrived 9km out where our cage had been left, in hopes to get the sharks comfortable with it, we were instructed to get into wetsuits. As usual, they were akward, and we were freezing. Immediately, they called for people to volunteer, as the crew of the ship had spotted a Great White. No time to think, a gal from Canada and I volunteered. I have learned not to think too much when something frightens me, but to just do it.
As soon as we hit the water and scooted down the cages, we were filled with massive amounts of nervous excitement. Prior to leaving shore, we were briefed on where to put your hands and feet, and where not to, never touch the shark, go down into the water when instructed and pay attention. Canada and I chattered as the other girls got in and we all reviewed where to put our feet, hands, etc. Then, the crew members yelled, “Down! Down! Down!,” and we took a breath, and under we went.
The water was calm and the great white, about 16 feet long swam right by us.

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Un. Be. Lievable!!!!!!!

In no words can I describe to you the awe of being this close to an animal so easily feared and misunderstood. We all were amazed.
Chad went next and while he did, the girls and I tried to capture photos, warm up and explain how we felt. Mostly, I heard the word, ‘awesome.’ While Chad was in the water, one of the five sharks got a little animated.
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Woah!?!?!?
The shark, we learned, are not fed, just thrown chum and a giant tuna head which they jerk away at the last moment.

Cray-zee!!!!
On our second dive, we were hussled in to see the shark, as the guides knew the shark were getting disinterested. While we were in the cage the second time, the great white decided to whip his body through the water and he struck the cage with his tail. This maneuver elicited a roar of screams and for a few very brief seconds, I wanted to reach out and touch him as he swam by so closely. THIS was crazy-thinking and totally against policy and would cause everyone to lose the opportunity to dive. It was a very fleeting thought, but it was after that moment that I realized and am forever convinced that Great White Shark are beautiful, magnificent creatures. In fact, this instant reminded me of my dream.

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I am amazed by humans and our at times seemingly negative impact on animals and the stupid things we do for a treasure or an experience {such as shark fin soup, rhino and elephant poaching-all of which we have been told tragic stories of these weeks}. I am grateful that educating people works and that being aware and conservative is hopefully an ideal we are successful on sharing to our future generations.
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Our main guide had moved to South Africa from the States just to work with the shark. That day, he said we observed five different shark, which was very lucky. So lucky in fact, that after we all got our two dives, the captain called another dive boat to come over.
This experience, due to the adrenaline expenditure, left us with a massive calm and was one of the most rewarding of our entire trip!
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Day 12| A Cross Cape Drive and Reflections

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Today we headed from Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape and drove to Gansbaai, in the Western Cape. It is interesting to note that these areas are unique, as I imagine northern South Africa to be as well. On this trip we did not make it to the north, there just is not enough time in this gorgeous country!
When one takes a long drive, unless filled with a car of chatting people, it is a great reflection time. I always feel that travel, as well, evokes clear musings. Chad drove the entire time, and that gave me even more opportunity to think freely, as an explorer does-with nothing but the wide open road ahead. Upon summarizing these reflections, I have a few firm beliefs now instilled in me from this trip:

1. Life is short. Live well. I have the tendency to worry. I worry about things that are completely out of my control. It is a debilitating worry, that has rendered me sick on numerous occassions. I am realizing that anxiety and fears are seen as weakness in my culture and this creates even a bigger problem, for often times I have opened myself up fully to people around me about how I process the world {as a feeler of all things} and it does not do me justice. Life is too f☆☆☆ing short for a time and health waster/consumer such as worry and anxiety. It must stop. And, it stops now. Over our trip, when the young American woman was attacked by the lion, I had a slew of people email, write notes and do research to see if I was okay. Remembering this incident reminds me that life is short, and beautiful and should be lived well. My husband is a brilliant reminder, and advocate of this policy, so thankfully it will be easier to remind myself of this-with him around. Live well, dear reader, for it is your life, and as far as I know, perhaps we just get this one opportunity. Love boldly. Laugh! Have fun! Endulge every now and then! Guilt and worry are a waste of time. There are promises of goodness all around us. I do believe in a God that brings good things forth…
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2. Live the life you’ve imagined. Thoreau said this and I received it from a very creative student while I was student teaching. I feel that in The States, we have gotten very caught up in appearances and getting ahead {other places see this as well}. But truly, life should be full, beautiful and lived carefree. Especially those of us in the lucky state that most of us live in! We have everything! Driving through South Africa, many of townships truly are metal walls, metal roofs and mud floors. The people who live there often travel far away daily to work. Yet, we were met with smiles and ‘I am doing so excellent today, thank you!.’ Life is excellent-we are alive, we are able to take it in daily. What would happen if we truly did the following:

3. Live as if your on vacation. We saw many South Africans happy, smiling and taking the time to truly talk and listen to you. We saw work being performed and yet relationships were valued. I, for one, work hard…but rush around doing it-as if there is no time, too much work to do. When I look back on my life, the work I did does not compare to the people I was alongside.

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The beautiful protea

4. Conserve. At Botlierskop Game Reserve, I was struck by the amount of thought that the original owner, Dr. Neethling had put into sustainability within the part. The owners and staff were well-informed and each one played a gigantic role in this effort. It reminded me of the community that I live in and how it important and valuable conserving what I have seen and been given for future generations. {Especially the animal life! It is easy to want get involved with wanting to protect and sustain animal life, especially when you stand among the rhino and the lion!}
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5. Travel. Be adventurous! At this point, my family and friends have identified my need and desire for these two things. In fact, my mom is telling me to stop! 😉 However, I will not, and I blame her for teaching me the love of both travel and adventure. I learn more about life, myself and others travelling than I do anywhere else. I learn more IN GENERAL travelling. I also learn more and more about the limits {or lackbthereof} that I have as a human being…and pushing these limits only makes my soul fuller and happier. Do it. Do that thing that you have wanted to do. You will never regret it. It will be scary, frightening and perhaps dangerous…but do it anyway. The rewards will fill your soul and cause you to practically levitate!

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freedom & joy {and a love for saltwater}

Day 11| Tree Dassie Trail & Indian Ocean Encounter

Today we set off to hike the 7km Dassie Trail of the Woody Cape Section at Add National Park. After out typical English Breakfadt, we drove an hour to reach another section of the SANS  Park. Add is broken into several differing areas, not just the Main Camp, with the animal safari. We wanted to hike again as the hike the day before had proven to be a much needed adventure.
Upon arriving, we found that the coastal trial, 26 km Alexandria, was closed due to maintenence , so we stuck with the original plan of hiking the Tree Dassie trail. It should be noted that a Dassie is a small, shy mammal, which we never did encounter. Nor did we encounter any monkey, or snake, but a ton of spiderwebs, which we cleared out successfully for the next hikers.

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The trail is well marked, mostly, we small Dassie signs and the map we received from the reception proved pretty accurate. The trail was an easy two hour hike and we felt very refreshed afterwards. We did spot a Knysna Track with its funny hat on, but were unable to capture a photo of him as he took off when we arrived.

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After the hike, we decided to explore more, as I was dying to get to the Indian Ocean. This girl loves the saltwater and sand!
After a confusing set of directions and an accidental  drive through a dairy farm, we arrived at what we hoped was the entrance to reach the beach and the dunes, still a part of Addo National Park.

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We packed up sandwiches and water and hiked for an unsure fifteen minutes next to the sound of the waves, with sand underfoot. Surely this was the way to the shore, we both optimistically commented again and again.

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Finally, an upward set of Trex stairs led us to this breathtaking view of this solitary beach.

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We were stoked. I was completely excited beyond words, as it was out first trip to the Indian Ocean. We ate our lunch and then ran barefoot down the dunes to the water.

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The water, though freezing, felt incredible and we were rejuvenated being in this coastal environment. Seriously breathtaking, solitude.

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We played on the shore, walking, digging, rolling on the dunes {well, I did}

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and talking. Over the course of the past few days, I have come to really cherish this quality time I have shared with my new husband on our honeymoon. We have had many adventures, many fabulous conversations, laughed a lot and just been really relaxed. It has been just what we have needed.
We walked along the shore for over an hour and then came upon the vertebrae of a whale!

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It was just our amazing luck! It was huge and we felt quite in awe of the idea that a whale had died and been washed ashore here. Or, had washed ashore and died here. Either way, we felt, as usual, that the stars constantly align to tell our story. Every little thing truly is perfect.

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dunes at Woody Cape

As we headed out, the trail’s gate was closed {we could open it, however} and the farm had also locked their gates, as they moved cattle from one part of the farm to another. We had to move a couple of fences to get out. It made it feel a bit as if we were tresspassing, but we waved and smiled at the farmer and all seemed okay.

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It was another perfect South African day. Tomorrow, we take an eight hour drive back towards Cape Town, stopping in Gansbaai for our last big adventure…which I shall post on after it occurs. 🙂

Day 10|Elephant Encounters, Not Eaten by a Lion and a Long Trek in the Woods

Today, our goal was to head through the Main Camp at Addo to another park of the Park, called the Woody Cape, for a nice hike through the coastal section of the park. We took off around 9 in the morning and felt confident in our journey. The sun was out again and it was clearing up from the rain of yesterday.

As we traveled these past days, a news bulletin came out that a young American female tourist was killed by a lion in Johannesburg. She was 22. Many friends and family were worried. But we were not hurt. Thankfully.

As we drive, we spotted many zebra, wart hog, colorful birds and kudu. What we weren’t expecting was to encounter an elephant…right BEHIND OUR CAR.

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We had stopped to watch a family of elephant somberly eating the bushes, when out strolled this magnificent, stumning, HUGE animal. I was in awe.

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Perhaps it was a but dangerous to stay put and let him walk around us, but I could not resist! I begged Chad to stay put. This guy kept his eyes focused right on us as he walked around the back of the car, and then down the road!

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The exhilaration on seeing him in this way speeds up my heart rate even now, while writing this some nine hours later!
We drive down the road, as it was where we were heading, and he just kept walking the same way. There was no way we would pass him, even though he did speed up.

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He seemed to be looking for a way into the bush. He was beautiful and graceful. When you look into the eyes of these wild creatures, you feel peace. Eventually, he found the route he wanted to take, and off he went. We drove on, past zebra, hartebeest, ans kudu warming in the sun after the  rains.

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It was at the end of the main camp that we discovered that our drive to the hike would be another hour, just to get there, and it was about one in the afternoon. We would not have time to drive to Woody Camp and endure in the long hike. Instead, we decided to head to the Zuurberg Mountain Inn, where we knew some trails were. An hour later, we left our car and decided to hike the three hou, Doringnek Loop Trail at Zuurberg.

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The trail went through a section of Addo Park that was sage to hike. We went down a large mountain into the valley, where a river was flowing.

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It looked as though a dirt bike race had just gone through here, as we saw signs of a race and dirt bike tires. The trial was filled with spiderwebs and we crossed the creek many times. We were so thankful to be walking in the woods, however, and it felt great to be moving. We had admittedly needed this!!

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Towards the end of the hike, we walked up, up, up! It was incredible!!!! We just imagined riding a horse or being a gazelle through this steep part…as it would have been nice to experience a break! We had, however, cut our time close, as the gates to Addo Main Camp closed at six, and we had to be on our way by five p.m.

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We started hiking at 2 on the dot. And we finished sharply at 5:00. We had hiked fast and hard, and really only stopped once, for a group photo.

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We highly recommended this hike as a way to truly get into the mountains of Addo and the Eastern Cape of South Africa. However, we feel we are in decent shape and definitely needed the  entire three hours for this hike, so plan accordingly! What breathtaking views and fun we had.

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{There are no roaming wild animals besides the hartebeest, kudu, and small animals on this hike, as it is in a different section from the Main Camp at Addo.}