Cinnamon Island

Half way between Galle and Welligama along the southern coast of Sri Lanka lies a lake of islands.

On an afternoon of small swell and easterly winds sweet Kalana took a break from his Nokia and loaded us into his beloved tuk- tuk to brave the coastal highway traffic.

Passing colonial ruins, fishermen on poles, coconut groves and surf spots,

we arrive to a boatman waiting along the bank, in hope of trade. We provided him with his afternoon’s income and he provided us with a gentle ride across the expanse of water, past Temple Island, Spice Island and Bird Island,

to the docking point at Cinnamon Island.

If the mood takes, a fish pedicure is on offer at a makeshift cleaning station on a  raft floating at the waters edge. Declining we head up a clove- tree lined path to the shelter at the top, where the Island Keeper and his family live.

The welcome is hospitable and seating provided under the shelter of the homestead stoep with Cinnamon tea served as we await the demonstration. The Cinnamon Man’s smile is shy but firmly consensual when I ask if I may take pictures.

With the confidence of a showman that contradicts his shy demeanor he assures me that this is no problem. His photo has traveled far and wide…

I have no doubt it has…. tourists flow steadily through this lovely space over the seasonal months.

It is easy to understand why. The tea is delicious and the atmosphere  gently hypnotic.


Calmly we watch as The Cinnamon Man works his tools to remove one curled layer of cinnamon bark from a branch – to be dried in the sun.His wife smashes and sieves dried cinnamon out in front of us, leaving swirls of pungent and exotic aromas floating in the air, which we carry away with us as we head back down the path to the waters edge…….


First Quarter, 2016 – Celebrating the Spices of Life… Lanka Style!


Festive Dreams

We have only managed to miss one National Arts Festival since Sarah was born. Braving the colder inland weather, the girls seem to have an unquenchable thirst for theatre.  What’s not to love?


Each day we simply move from story to story with great coffee thrown into the mix.

The  rawness of theatre always takes me by surprise as I adjust to the intensity of the experience in contrast to the clatter of the screen.


With limited access to the performing arts –  living where we do – 10 days of Amazing! is a bit like a strong, wet, downfall after a long dry spell.

In the early years the street theatre was our only option with bouncing babies strapped to our chests, yet even now it still seems to be our form of choice….Viva Performing Arts!


 Celebrating another National Arts Festival and the Compagnie Des Quidams on the Drostdy Lawns July 2014








A Fairy High

Returning from his latest Middle-East stretch which ran through the festive season, Eric arrived home the day before Sarah’s birthday. These events required a serious family huddle, so we headed for the hills.

Summer is bountiful in Hogsback. The trees and hedges are rich with fruit and berries,


and the streams flow merrily with summer rainfall.

We stumbled across a gentle waterfall to splash about in and Sarah screeched at the top of her lungs all the way to the fall and back.

It must have been a place of strong magic because even ‘The Mom’ stripped down to her nothings and jumped in – Eric grabbed my camera and took pics but now surprisingly, I can’t seem to find any of them;)

The fairy theme flows abondantly through the hamlet of Hogsback, made famous by Tolkien’s supposed retreat to this area. This seems in itself to be fantasy, as it is apparently unlikely that he ever spent time in these mystical forests.

More magic is to be found at a local backpacker venue, aptly named ‘Away With The Fairies’. In addition to their famous pizza, beautiful garden setting, annual trail run and bath at the edge of the earth,

they also have a canopy top tree house that I had heard about but avoided until now, concerned that my little fairies would come to harm. But feeling strong and ready for adventure this time we trooped down the woody path and found the sign below the climb.

Really? Straight up 15 M, no safety gear or guide in sight, no harnesses, carabines, helmets…..With a big tick from Eric onto his list of ‘Things you can’t do in Australia’ we headed to the top of the forest like characters from Enid Blyton’s ‘Far Away Tree’.

Now I’ve rock climbed a little in my time and have experienced sewing machine knee on occasion, the kind you get from fear rather than exhaustion, but this climb is straight up to the top of a very tall conifer with no-one on belay.

A few cross planks are haphazardly nailed together near the top in what looks like a token attempt to provide a fall-break – no doubt I would have simply broken the break while falling through…

Gathering strength from one of wonderful Judith’s (Touch to Touch) posts about her particular technique for dealing with similar circumstances, I pulled in a few of the stronger women I know and made it up and down in one piece,

small fairies in tow.

One can only imagine the antics that might occur around this tree after particularly festive ‘fairy mushroom parties’ at the backpacker’s as colourfully dressed varsity students on bungy getaway weekends decide to engage in a bit of night observation of the endemic and elusive Cape Parrot, from the top of the canopy??!!

Luckily we have a few years in hand before our fairies hit that scene – and when it happens I’ll be using all my black magic to ensure that Eric is lurking in nearby trees with safety helmets on hand!

Celebrating Family Magic in the Forest and Sarah’s 11th Birthday : January 2013

The Forest In Me

I was raised by the sea. As a teen I spent hours at the beach, lying in the sand, seeping up the sun, trying to surf and checking out the talent. Surrounded by friends of a similar mindset, coastal beach culture flowed – through our choice of cloths, wheels, activities, music, entertainment and love of the environment……a gentle, relaxed lifestyle, different to that of  acquaintances raised on the buzz of big city life. I eventually married a waterman. The sea is a part of who I am. So why then does the forest move me to my core?

Perhaps it is because our coast line runs thick with indigenous bush and coastal forest. Lush foliage running down the sand-dunes and along coastal river banks, entwined by the revered Milkwood, (sideroxylon inermend) a protected hard wood tree which provides support to those trees surrounding it, feeds birds, monkeys and other small beasties, shares its secrets with traditional herbalists and works as an important firebreak. Perhaps this is where the love-affair began….

Travel north from our seaside village towards the Amatole Mountains and in a couple of hours you reach the tiny mountain village of Hogsback. The quintessential opposite of Chintsa. A perfect match.

 You will find no ocean here but rather, magical waterfalls among the deep and protected indigenous Eastern Cape forest, snow in the winter and fairies if you sit very still.

The protected Yellow-Wood grows tall and true, home to rare Cape Parrots still spotted along the paths said to have inspired Tolken to write The Hobbit.

Regular school trips from an early age and return visits with babies in tow have made this beautiful place an ongoing part of our lives and one of the precious spaces we go to when we need to renew our energy, seek inspiration, or simply huddle.

I love the sea for all that it is, but it is the forest that sings to my soul, and where my ashes will eventually fall.

 Hogsback, Amatole Mountains -Eastern Cape – June 2012

A School for Angels

Currently the status of state education in South Africa is such:

The stats:
At present, 10% of South African schools have no water supply, 14% have no electricity, 46% use pit-latrine toilets, 90% have no computer centres, 93% have no libraries, and 95% have no science laboratories.

(Source: Dept. of Basic Edu. 2011).

In my early 20’s I worked as a volunteer in The States. It was a bit of a weird situation: a white South African girl out of Apartheid South Africa, working with vulnerable Inner-City New York kids. The venue was set in the Catskills and looked a lot like a run-down version of the resort from the movie ‘Dirty Dancing’– minus the rich white folk, the Cha-Cha and the scandal – add lots of young black kids, hip-hop and the bible.

My stint of volunteer work stayed with me long after the experience was over and had a strong influence on the decisions and lifestyle choices I made later in life and so it comes as no surprise to me that volunteer tourism is such a fast growing and successful tourism trend.  Volunteer programmes are available everywhere, especially in high need areas such as ‘the whole of Africa’.  Chintsa has a great programme.

My friend Lou has done her share of volunteer work too. A self-described bolshie Aussie, Lou worked on Programmes in Australia before travelling, settling in Chintsa and setting up an NGO she calls African Angels: The idea being to impact the lives of local children and families by organising sponsorship to cover the cost of sending a child to a good school.  A good school means a school with decent facilities, teachers who pitch for work and well implemented academic programmes. Many of these schools, while still operating under the umbrella of the state education department, are really semi private and pick up the tab for pretty much everything except a small percentage of the teachers’ salaries.  Needless to say the monthly school fees can be steep.

As Lou implemented her programme many dynamics came into play including the challenges of transportation and sociocultural issues. Some kids managed the process but many struggled and Lou, never daunted, decided to change tack. To overcome these hurdles she simply started her own school. It was not really that simple. But as our wise friend Tom the Clown says, and I quote him again, ” if we stopped to think things through we would do nothing!”

Calling on the assistance of African Heartland Journeys and their Volunteer programme, Volunteer Africa, the volunteers came to the party and together under the guidance of Denver and his AHJ team transformed a derelict old country school building into A School For Angels. I wonder what impact working on this programme will have on the lives of these volunteers?

There are many schools of thought regarding the improvement of education in our country and the best way forward. Perhaps the secret lies in ‘the doing’ no matter the model.

A person with enormous determination and soul is required to pull off a stunt like this. Lou is that kind of person and these are her Angels.

AngelsCelebrating the completion of the first term of African Angels School.

Chintsa, March 2012 

Elephants and Oranges

Legend goes that in the early days before Addo National Park was formed, farmers in the Sundays River Valley would regularly drop off fruit – particularly oranges, at a specific spot for the elephants roaming around the area. This helped to keep the herd from wandering through the newley cultivated orchards that had once been the elephants  feeding grounds. The historic account is far less romantic than the legend.

Amazing Addo Elephant National Park is just a few hours drive away and spans over 260 000 hectares of Eastern Cape bush and coast-line. It offers all the essentials for a great wild life family adventure. Within the base camp alone there are animal and bird hides, interactive education facilities, walks, great accomodation and a swimming pool to help manage the sweltering African sun.

Life for the Addo Elephants has not always been easy though.  Slaughter and abuse feature heavily in their history and with their notorious memories and long life spans, who knows what some of the herd elders still remember?

Until recently visitors to Addo National Park were requested to leave their citrus fruit at the gate before entering, but this is no longer deemed necessary. Enough time has passed and time heals.

Watching large numbers of elephants and their young spend time together around a waterhole in the bush is an incredible experience,

and makes it hard to believe that the 550 elephants that now live a relaxed and  stress-free life in Addo decend from a herd once  driven right to the edge of madness and extinction.

Addo Elephant Park: Eastern Cape, South Africa, January  2012

Moonlighting Under The Acacia Tree

You  know you’re onto a good thing when your school teacher is also a REAL clown – especially if you happen to be five years old….The Acacia Tree Nursery School is a very good thing.Tom the Clown – a Spacial Dynamics Practioner, Waldorf Teacher and Funny Guy Extraordinaire, teaches the littlies at this local Waldof School. Last Saturday evening Tom’s Circus was in full swing.

The Acacia Tree Nursery School is situated on a hill-side, overlooking the sea and the surrounding Eastern Cape bush. It is hugged by lush veggie gardens and fun jungle gyms. A magical place run by magical people. Saturday’s Moonlight Market was a fundraiser for children unable to pay fees. The Market was a colourful and bright affair with bunting blowning in the evening  breeze and trees laden with dancing fairy lights setting the scene. Tom put away his mortarboard for his colourful bowler supported by a clown size bow-tie and his faithful right hand man – Thulani. Together, Tom, his team and the moms and dads put on a grand act with side shows of great coffee, delish pancakes and amazing mexican fare, fun, games and stories under the Acacia Tree. Another amazing example of Chintsa doing what it does best  – building a nation…

Macadamia Nut Spring

Hole in the wall spice shops and coconut suntan oil mixed with sweat and vanilla soft-serve assault my sensory memory box when I think about time spent in Natal. A recent spring on Southdowns Nut Farm has added a third dimension to my smell repertoire.

The girls and I disappear off to the farm every now and then which in the spring  is a place full of brightness. Macadamia nut trees laden with their pollen load and beehives brought in for the bloom – rent paid with jars of liquid gold when the bees have done their job – fill the fields, and everywhere there is colour and scent.

On the farm Granny Connie and Great Aunt Edna cut a particularly bright scene, despite the dulling of their memories with each passing day. Sitting together at arm’s length in their loyal armchairs they spend their days crocheting brightly coloured blankets while sharing a collective history kept alive through the repetition of a reservoir of childhood stories. Unable to tell you what was on their lunch plate they are able to clearly remember that as young girls their mom would not let them out to play until they had engaged with one or other form of needlework. Their hands still remember.

Gran must have been around my age when my Mom gave birth to me and so has known me, her oldest grandchild, half her life. She no longer knows me. I was not there during her early years.

The Grannies require and receive 24 hour care and plenty of physical and emotional input and in return provide enormously humbling lessons in caring and mortality. My young watch and take part in the care-giving process modelled around them while they also lay down precious memories of their Great Granny to one day share with their off-spring. The rest of us are forced to recognise passing time in all its reality.

On the farm days role by with the comforting sounds of the nut machines, the bird life, and the farm dogs, with daily routines and rituals – and surrounding all this is the constant, intensely heady, dizzying, musky, sensual smell of a Natal Spring.

Southdowns Farm – Southern Natal Spring 2011

Sunday on Scottburgh Beach

Scottburgh Main Beach along the Natal Coast is South Africa’s answer to New York’s Coney Island or Britian’s Brighton. A corny combination of seaside, sand, swirly soft-serve ice-cream, hotdogs,water-slides and vintage style beach pools…with sloping lawns to boot.

For family fun or just a good solid dose of people watching nothing beats a day on this beach. Although brass bands, colourful merry-go-rounds, candy stripped gents and ladies with lace-trimmed parasols have been replaced with bikini’s, tatoo’s and even a Wimpy, on any given Sunday seeping up the folk, faces and atmosphere is guaranteed to brighten anyone’s day.

Scottburgh Main Beach – Early September 2011

Swazi Stop-Over

A Swaziland stopover brings relief when travelling South from Mozambique. Providing just the right balance between comfort, value and entertainment, Nisela is a good option. It is a ‘soft reserve’ venue offering abundant natural beauty and wild-life with options to self drive, cycle or walk. The restaurant facility overlooks a small lake, home to great bird life and crocs who are free to roam.

Accommodation ranges from camping through to chalets with the option of staying in a traditional Swazi Beehive Hut – not for those who have trouble bending down as access is through a little door that would fit perfectly into a Beatrice Potter Story.

Out walking one is warned not to wander too far off the beaten track because although the big 5 are not on offer at this facility there are a few sizable hyenas around, known to be a bit unwelcoming at times. It’s interesting weighing up Hyena Risk against the need to get closer to a Black Winged Kite that begs to be photographed…

The pair of teen giraffes are particularly curious and obliging when it comes to photographic opportunities and if you have a spare R12,500 or the equivalent in Moz Mets or Swazi Dollars and a shot-gun you are welcome to take one out. Go figure that one out…

Owls fly around in the night, woodpeckers provide a morning wake-up call and this time we managed to avoid stepping on any crocodiles.

Nisela Reserve and Lodge, Swaziland – July 2011