Shopping Fair

With souk-sista, friend and fellow craft enthusiast – Heba, as my guide, I recently girded up with my scarf and comfortable shoes and together with thousands of Bahraini and Saudi shopping enthusiasts, headed into the Bahrain Exhibition Center for the Shopping Experience of the Year – aka, The Bahrain Autumn Fair.

Nine Days of bargaining, cajoling, haggling, arguing, debating, but mostly, in the true spirit of  this area – charming, customers into purchasing goods from all across the Middle East and  Asia.

Seven hundred and fifty stalls of wonder…

A rolling maze of a souk,

offering pottery from Hebron, Linen from India, Furniture from Syria and Afghanistan, carpets from Turkey and Iran, shoes from Oman, wraps, throws and scarves from Pashmina, spices and incense from all over and dresses from everywhere else…

Not to be outdone by their fellow traders though, the sweetest bargains on the floor came from the Yemen Honey Sellers. These guys roll a sale off their tongue as smooth as an Ed Sheeran lyric and back it up with quiet smiles and deep brown honey enhanced eyes. With seemingly little effort they draw you into a world of desert plains and forested mountains. One is assured that in these hills one will find the most special bees that produce the most special honey, in the world, a cure for many, many aliments including  marital-bed disinterest and child bearing problems. When Sarah suggested that a taster from the ‘Only For Married’ honey pot was perhaps not appropriate, being single and all – this too was not an insurmountable problem as the honey seller himself was still single ….

Unfortunately for him his camel and saber-tooth tiger count was a little short, and anyway Sarah, while enjoying the taste and shopping sensation, wasn’t falling over herself to hit the road with a Honey Seller, … but as far as the healing power of that divinely nutty, cinnamon, gingery, spiced honey goes, those ‘charm a minute’ honey guys might be onto something; the overwhelmingly delicious, heaven on a spoon, golden liquid, is fabulous.

Loaded with honey, pottery and other bits and pieces of gorgeousness, we did eventually managed to drag ourselves away from the sounds, colour and delight of it all – relatively unscarred and before the spend got a little haram; exhausted but inspirited with the knowledge that we had helped to make a small contribution to the continuation of trade in the Middle East.

Celebrating Middle Eastern Craft, Shopping and Honey- First Quarter 2017

Gone Tribal……

Mark Twain wrote:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

People need to travel – for the sake of those they share their space with,

because it opens up our world,

and helps build confidence,

enriching our interpersonal relationships through shared experiences.

For the record, these bags contained all personal items, school books and musical instruments for an extended stay. Still tough for Eric though who always travels with carry-on only no matter the distance – to be fair to ourselves we did follow suite when we traveled from the Middle East to Sri-Lanka – showing huge restraint, mind you!

My personal preference, when it comes to exploring the planet has always been to plant a few roots, rather than take a 7 in 7 style tour…..Sharing a space in the village provides a hands on experience that I believe cannot happen on a ‘back-pack/fly-by’.

Whether attending junior high in Texas, packing fish in Iceland, counselling kids in the Catskill’s, serving cocktails on the Greek Isles or playing ‘house’ along the shores of East Africa, my travel experiences have helped mold me.

And now back ‘on the road’ my style – I am immersed in yet another set of cultures, different from my own – and far from the place I call home.

It has been an amazing experience to travel again and share the experience of travel with my kids and through it I have watched them grow in many positive ways, as they have had to cope with saying goodbye and saying hello – dealt with international arrivals and departures, overnight flights, odd looking cuisine, the fluidity of expat culture and very different currencies, cultural beliefs and rituals..and they are, I believe, open-minded, nonprejudicial and are certainly not bigots –

But don’t for a moment be fooled into believing that it is all happy, fun, glam filled days of games, travel-play, sight seeing and smooth sailing…

Packing up and saying goodbye to those you love and the space you consider home is no easy task.

And while I am grateful each and every day (although deeply heart-sore that the situation exists) that we are not being forced into traveling on foot with whatever we can manage to carry on our backs – as ours is a privileged and protected experience – it still has aspects of physical but mostly emotional rigor and it takes courage to walk into a new environment with your happy-face on, your head held high and your hand outstretched – and if you don’t, the result is real loneliness…

So there are plenty of positives that result from experiencing beautiful, interesting and different places, and tapping into the tantalizing taste of something new, along with the momentary escape from one’s current reality: and who doesn’t need a piece of that every once in awhile??

But there is perhaps the biggest positive of all…

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and that is the deep appreciation of what you have left behind – which perhaps is only realized through distancing oneself for a while,

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and the joy felt when you return to your people, whoever they might be..and realize that you, too, have a tribe……

October 2016: Celebrating the rigor of travel and the love of home.

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.

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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…….

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

 

Living It Up In Saudi

When Eric switched careers some years back, I had two conditions…No Nigeria, no Saudi. Fearful from the bits and pieces I had heard over the years, my lack of knowledge and the general unknown – these places did not rest easy on my soul and I didn’t want to become a ‘diver-wife’ who was always waiting to hear if her man was OK,….. no matter the day rate. As it turned out I was to be that anyway – as he traveled to remote places to dive in deep and unfamiliar waters.

And as usual life takes one on unexpected paths and “never say never”, they say…and so now not only do we live in the Middle East, but Eric works in Saudi full time – based in the southern coastal city of Khobar, close to the 25 km King Fahd Causeway joining Saudi to Bahrain.

Settling into a different country has many challenges, but with challenge comes growth.  One of the challenges that’s helped us grow has been the requirement for all of us to spend a bit of time in Saudi…..

Now while Saudi may not feature as a regular on Western travelers ‘top ten destinations’ list, many, many people, male and female, travel from all corners of the world to Saudi every year to take part in Hajj at Mecca. This pilgrimage is an Islamic requirement – as laid out in the Five Pillars of Islam along with prayer, belief in one God, fasting and helping those in need. It is a journey that is anticipated with enthusiasm, excitement and joy. Others travel to and from Saudi to work, and even others, like our neighbours for example, travel regularly to Saudi to visit family and friends…IMG_0279

Truth be told, enthusiasm, excitement and joy were not the emotions that I was feeling overwhelmed with as we planned our trip although certainly I was a little curious ..and of course keen to see Eric’s work and living environment across the causeway.

Living so close to Saudi for a while had given me the opportunity to talk to others about their Saudi experiences; – local folk who enjoy the freedoms that come with life in Bahrain. The almost standard first complaint I would hear about everyday life in Saudi (Pilgrimages to Mecca excluded) is that it is just basically boring. A similar story from an expat mom now living in Bahrain confirmed this. She was of the opinion that life in Saudi was manageable and even enjoyable until her kids grew a little older and started needing to socialize beyond the playground. These thoughts calmed me as we donned our abayas and headed out. If boredom was all I had to contend with then I certainly could cope!

At the very least, we knew the basic rules – Woman cannot travel alone by vehicle because they may not drive. Abayas are to be worn in public, and although the girls and I could walk around together, once we entered a restaurant or cafe, we needed to sit in the ‘family section’.  Strong displays of affection in public are discouraged as is any form of ‘wild behavior’, and definitely no pork or alcohol.

Other than that, things did seem fairly normal. We were treated with courtesy and consideration – and although we received the odd surprised glance, in fairness we were three western females wearing our Arabic attire in a clearly amateurish manner, staying in a hotel in a business area of downtown Kohbar – not known for its feminine/ family like atmosphere.

In fact “a breathe of fresh air“, we were….according to Neil, the elderly British expat who has been running the hotel for the last 30 years. He then went on to recite Blake later that evening while we were dining in the family section of the hotel restaurant, so yes,…fairly normal, in an ‘Arabia meets Faulty Towers’ kind of way.

Surprisingly, despite the thick androcentric atmosphere – the shops along the streets outside our hotel displayed beautiful western style ball gowns and bizarrely fabulous cakes indicative of Saudi lifestyle way beyond my realm of understanding and experience… and later while stepping out to a local mall we found the women and children, out and about, dressed modestly and dining in the family sections….and so the week rolled on in an uneventful fashion until the girls and I decided to head across the street one morning for a breakfast of coffee and donuts, just to do something different…..

Abayas flapping in the morning breeze we blew down the block to the donut joint and  sought out the family entrance. There wasn’t one. A friendly gent having his morning espresso helpfully waved us towards the main door and inside although there was no signposted ‘Family Section’, the venue was divided into three parts – the front street area where our helpful gent and friends were hanging out, the middle section consisting of five empty tables, (bar one which was occupied by a young man) and a separate back section which was completely empty.  We ordered and waited at the front counter and when our coffee arrived I thought it prudent to check that the back section was indeed where we could sit. The young guy behind the counter looked at me in a confused manner and then somewhat sheepishly explained that it was not really possible for us to stay. We could purchase food but we couldn’t eat it in the venue. We would need to leave…’you know it is the tradition’….I think were his words.IMG_0239

As a privileged, white, western woman, the shock that I experienced in that moment is difficult to describe – even though I knew that this type of experience was possible here under certain circumstances. Perhaps if a male had been with us things might have been different. Perhaps that particular venue does not have a demarcated family section.  I am still trying to figure that part out…although clearly I need to go back to my rule book! I am also aware that Saudi is a dynamic and complex society grappling with many issues of change… Just this past week it was broadcast that the Saudi government has laid down further restrictions on the power of the ‘Religious Police’. And in addition to all of that, I am aware that my shock level relates directly to my privilege level and my lack of experience in the arena of prejudice and powerlessness…

My initial response  was a desire to turn around and have ‘a go’ at the unsuspecting, over-entitled young male, munching on his donuts behind us –  occupying one seat in an otherwise entirely empty and open section. Wisdom that comes with age helped me hold my composure and with a smile we turned on our heels and sailed back out through the front door, held open for us by yet another extremely courteous Saudi man…..

I have grappled with this experience over the past few months. On reflection what I felt in the moment was extreme frustration, quite a bit of humiliation and plenty of helplessness…yet all that had happened was we were told in a very gentle manner, that we could not stay. This was a soft experience. It did not involve trauma or violence brought on by fanatical, militant extremist nut cases. It did not damage us or hurt us. It will not leave us with scars, unlike the centuries of struggle before us and taking place even today. However for myself and our two young girls who have never really had to look straight in the eye of discrimination  – it was a challenge to be dealt with – life-schooling at its best  – clearly laid out for us as our heads smashed up against a proverbial glass ceiling that we had never felt before. And it was helpful. It encouraged us to look closer at and discuss issues around restrictions, inequality and social boundaries that are found everywhere  in the world – inviting us to look at our own cultural spaces more closely where the boundaries between rights and privileges are often deeply blurred.

February 2016 Celebrating New Places and Learning Experiences

 

Middle Eastern High

People set up in strategic viewing spots along the roads,

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was a fairly good indication that we were on the right track,

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as we made our way towards the Sakhir Airbase to attend the Bahrain International Airshow.

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The Bahrain leg of the International Grand Prix Circuit arrives early April on the Island.
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Not being motor sport types, we haven’t taken advantage of the ‘Early Bird’ ticket sales yet…but perhaps we should –

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because until recently we had not considered ourselves airshow types either…

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The Airshow is a biennial event and one that we would not normally make an effort to attend, however living a more suburban life now without the sea on our doorstep demands new social challenges ….

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A dramatic sun set bouncing off a desert setting created beautiful light, adding additional drama to an already charged atmosphere –

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Quite Intense and even a bit emotional …

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Teams from the Middle East and beyond participate in this stunning show.

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British Aerobatic Champ, Mark Jeffries, Russian Knights flying Sukhoi Su-27’s,

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The Twisters with their Twilight Pyrotechnic Display, UAE Al Fursan flying Aermacchi MB-3 39 NAT Jets,

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Saudi Hawks flying their BAE Hawk MK 65’s,

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and the Sarang Helicopter Display Team from India in modified HAL Dhruv Crafts .

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Unclear at the time as to who or what exactly we were watching….. we were completely clear on the fact that it was all rather spectacular. IMG_9971

Celebrating Special Events in Unique Destinations – 2016 Bahrain International Air Show.  Late January 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Festive Bahrain

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We arrived back in Bahrain on the 21st December after an admin trip home to South Africa, unsure what to expect as we headed towards Christmas in the Middle East. Our flight touched down in the evening and to our surprise Manama was ablaze with red and white lights.

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The 16 of Dec is Bahrain’s National Day and the Island State goes big!  Every inch of the city-scape is lit up – including the palm trees.The national colours, red and white… add to what feels like a Christmas atmosphere: This included an enormous Santa and his full crew of reindeer splashed across the side of a skyscraper! Eric pointed out this rather Christmas like theme to Anif, our driver, who insisted that these where National Day lights, not Christmas…but somehow it is hard to ignore 30 meters of the ‘Man in Red’ flying across a building..  Perhaps someone ordered the wrong box…but luckily red and white !

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The Middle East or certainly Bahrain, Dubai and Qatar celebrate the Gregorian New Year too, perhaps due to the influence of their huge expat populations?  Dubai currently holds the  number one position for ‘Place to Be’  with all number of events and rocking parties taking place on the 31st, at some seriously rocking prices.

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Since our arrival last year, Bahrain seems to have rolled from one celebratory event into the next..Shortly after landing we noticed the atmosphere warm up for Eid-al-Adha, an Islamic festival commemorating Ibrahim’s (or Abraham’s) obedience. There is a festive spirit in the air competing with the smell of goat, used by certain Southern Asian Muslim communities as a part of a sacrifice re-enactment ritual which might account for the increased presence of these creatures on the back of bakkies (pick-ups) at this time.

Eid  is rapidly followed by the Arabic New Year.  Lunar based, this date changes a bit each year and coincidences with Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca – considered the largest yearly gathering of people world-wide. Along the coastline of Bahrain, little baskets of plants can be found washed ashore – a Bahraini tradition created for the children who stay home while their parents take the holy journey. The seeds, planted at the beginning of the journey, begin to sprout around the time of the pilgrims return. These baskets are then sent off in the water in the direction of the holy place with love and wishes for a safe journey back.

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While many of the Arabic Elite spend this holiday period time hanging out in smart hotels with private beaches – where you will find gorgeous young bikini clad Arabic girls racing their wet bikes – or perhaps on the tracks racing their thoroughbred camels,

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the general populous let their hair down in simpler ways…

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The water-parks and Malls are packed out and as the weather cools in the early evenings families arrive to picnic and swim.

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Boys and their toys come out to play, including a bit of horse dipping,

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and as the sun sets the families pack up and the evening crowd arrive filling up the large stretches of empty land along certain parts of the coast line as the Bahrani gather for a bit of drag racing…

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as if there isn’t enough dust already..

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And now that 2015’s final quarter of festivities has come to an end, the post season sales are on and Bahrain is celebrating yet again with a 30 day shopping festival. SHOP BAHRAIN runs from late December through to the end of January and includes an outdoor Ice Rink among the attractions and sales that I suspect give London a run…

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all of which culminate in the final blast – The Bahrain International Airshow.

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So that’s how it rolls,this side of the Gulf, come year end, and as they say: A  Very Merry Everything and a Happy Ever After…

Celebrating Festive Occasions where-ever you may be…January 2016

 

Embracing Change

2015 has been a year of change for our family. Changing homes and changing countries.

I am not sure what part of these types of process’s are more stressful – the planning and anticipation, or the actual events, none the less, here we are, settling into life in the Middle East – a far cry and distance from Chintsa East on the Southern Coast of South Africa.

The Kingdom of Bahrain – our current spot on The Rock – is an archipelago of 18 islands, many of which are  joined to the mainland by causeways or landfill.

Once a central part of the ancient Dulmin Civilization which spread across Southern Iraq and Kuwait, its name refers to ‘two seas’ – although no one seems quite clear  which two seas exactly….

With a heritage rich in pearl diving, fishing and trading, the island now offers fabulous Malls and pretty good infrastructure but is sadly lacking in quality beaches or any obvious beach pride – even though the ocean is still used extensively for fishing and recreation.

The sea is beautiful and the patches of green that have survived in between the ongoing and extensive development allude to what was once a garden island, apparently milder in temperature before the bulk of it trees were removed. In fact rumour has it that this may well have been the site or at least the inspiration for the original garden story…way back when…

Now dust and heat prevail through the scorching summers although the winters I am assured, are milder.

From pearls and trade, Bahrain discovered and moved into oil production and a new stage of  wealth. Oil transportation pipes run along side many of the highways (see the image above) and with oil came currency which in turn led to banking – now another part of Bahrain’s personality, with the Dinar rated as one of the world’s strongest currencies.

Down the road from our complex lies the 25 km long King Fhad Causeway joining Bahrain to Saudi. Since the start of the oil years Bahrain has become a haven for families of expats working in Saudi, offering what many consider a more liberal lifestyle.

Apparently around half the population currently living in Bahrain are expat, and as of yet I have still to come across anyone who speaks negatively of their experience here. Rather telling…

While Bahrain may not be shiny pearls, palms and peace- all of the time – it has provided us so far with some fascinating experiences, including extreme heat, friendly people, diverse cultures, fabulous food and insight into Arabic and Muslim lifestyles. We also get to spend regular time together as a family which makes for a much needed change 🙂

Last week I sat around a  table drinking coffee and chatting with some of the women living around us. Strong, interesting women from Germany, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, The States, France and Scotland. I came away from that experience feeling exhilarated – who wouldn’t?  I anticipate an interesting journey ahead…

For More on the In’s and Out’s of Bahrain read my friend IIka’s blog An Expat in Bahrain – A Guide to Loving Life at:  https://ilkaclune.wordpress.com/

Sept / Oct 2015 – Celebrating New Experiences and our move to Bahrain   

A Useful Papa

Papas can be useful type creatures…

But some are more useful than others….The really useful ones are strong, like bionic robots – they lift you up and throw you right over their shoulder on a whim..

A Useful Papa is fun to have around…

like a giant goofy clown with batteries that recharge each morning at daybreak,

after just four cups of coffee.

Useful Papas are practical, like moving jungle gyms to be climbed on and from which the view is always better…

A Useful Papa is smart –  like an interactive ‘How To Do It’ manual. They always seem to manage to sort out the sticky bits,

or will happily show you how to turn on the power tools…

And useful Papas are adventurous, like some kind of cool movie person – and they always want you to do the adventurous stuff with them, even when you are still little and it feels a bit scary.

But that is just because Useful Papas have so much to share and they want to share it all with YOU!

A Useful Papa is good for pulling you up cliff faces.

They are good for shark viewing when you want to get right up close….

although Useful Papas are not always the best at remembering all the rules….

They are great for taking you on surf ski safaris,

or for giving you sailing lessons.

Useful Papas make patient teachers,

and helpful recovery agents.

They do crazy things like swim next to you in freezing cold mountain pools while you scream your lungs out, and they don’t even mind…

If you have a Useful Papa you never know what is going to happen next and sometimes things can get wild….

But Useful Papas also like to just hang out …

and sometimes they don’t say much… but you know that if you have a Useful Papa you have someone who will listen intently. And even though Useful Papas can be big, a bit rough and even furry – they are good at looking after you, great at looking out for you, wonderful to snuggle with and the best at holding you gently.

 We are lucky because we have a very Useful Papa.

 Celebrating Fathers Day – June 2015

The Scene

Langebaan was once a sleepy fishing village resting in a protected part of the extensive Langebaan Lagoon on the West Coast of South Africa. This is a part of our coastline that has a distinct Mediterranean feel.

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Fynbos creeps towards the water and cottages along the beach cling to their old-world charm, family treasures – handed down from one generation to the next.

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The once quiet village has now grown into a popular holiday location for Capetonians  and the traditional ‘fishing village’ part of town has been contained behind quaint shale walls which in return are surrounded by holiday mansions and golf developments. Langebaan also has wind and has become a destination for international travelers to South Africa in search of kitesurfing skills – drawn to the weather conditions, gorgeous landscape and our ever weakening currency.

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While no longer a village, Langebaan still alludes to a quiet demeanor when the weather is calm…. but when the wind blows, the tempo rises a notch or two…

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This happens pretty much every day…during the windy season.

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To catch Shark Bay looking like this you need to hit it early because by 15 knots around Noon this kite crèche is filled with white horses and beginners.

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But even Shark Bay at its busiest cannot compare to ‘The Scene’ going on at Main Beach!IMG_3425

With the wind come the vehicles loaded with students and gear from every kitesurfing school in the area, and with the students come the instructors with their foreign accents and mouth pieces. They strut militantly along the waters edge, in a stressful fashion yelling instructions to their students,

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who try desperately to listen, remain untangled and out of the rip, while fighting ‘the fear’. In addition there is the added accessory of the ‘dedicated boat guy’ ready and waiting to come to your rescue – for a fee of course which is definitely not calculated in South African Rands… IMG_3442

And all of this is on a quiet day. Over one hundred kites are said to be in the air at any given moment over season’s peak.

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And when you are done for the day you simply retire to one of the restaurants that line the shore, or better yet, settle in at a trendy singles-style Flash Packer Venue and hang around the pool with gorgeous internationals lounging on colourful, giant bean bags in tiny swim wear..Langebaan is an experience worth checking out…

But while That Scene continues,

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we head on home to Our Scene, along a wilder part of the coast line,

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where you find cows on the beach instead of fancy vehicles and smart restaurants.

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And there is no boat rescue crew in sight.

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Where the Papa is the instructor, and the lagoon small, but uncrowded,

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and the mood…….well it’s simply chillaxed.

Celebrating Sleepy Chintsa, its Uncrowded Scene and kite lessons for the girls. Late 2014 / Early 2015

 

The Road To Pomene

For Pomene you travel North along the coastal highway of Mozambique and over the Tropic of Capricorn. A right turn takes you onto the Red Road that leads towards the Pomene National Reserve.

The lodge rests on the other side,  liberally spread across a sand spit at the mouth of the Pomene Estuary: on one side the lagoon and on the other, the sea.

We were introduced to Pomene by a South African Champion Angler. An amazing woman who can cast a penn reel into a swirl of ocean with such elegance that one may be forgiven for thinking that she is using a fly rod.

Just before the lodge one passes through the hamlet of Pomene City which provides freshly baked, warm and smoky bread rolls, cold beer, onions, tomatoes, fish and a curio or two.

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Oh yes – and coconuts. Always coconuts.

If the sea has been rough the lodge’s culinary offerings are in line with those of the little village, minus the fish, although fresh crab seems to be fairly consistent.

This is a remote destination,

of excessive beauty.

Flamingoes abound and dugongs are said to live in the estuary waters along with a variety of other birdlife living off the offerings of the mangroves and the critters that take shelter in their shadows.

We didn’t see any dugongs but then the wind was blowing so we were a little distracted,

launching on the low tide next to our water chalet, while our ‘kiting orphans’ looked on.

And when the wind switched direction we headed to the ocean side,

in search of waves…

and rock pools,

while taking time out to explore the abandoned Portuguese hotel laying in ruins on the hill,

now occupied by a wonderer who has taken up residence in a room with a view:

Nothing to disturb him except the odd tourist, turtle, egret or fisherman.

This is a place one longs to return to,

and once there,

never leave.

Celebrating our return to Pomene: Mid 2014