Category Archives: Travel

Journey With Purpose: Finding A Tribe

A map of the original journey. Our itinerary had to change after Cyclone Idai hit the Mozambique coast in March 2019.

It’s been a month since one of the most profound travel experiences of my life so far began.  For my last blog post on May 4th I couldn’t even find the words I was so excited about the upcoming adventure and so just posted a pic of a recent painting.  But here I am at the other end of it and still processing. And while I have been posting photo highlights in Instagram @dragonfly.travelling, it is taking time to reflect in writing.

In the days since I got home and back into my “life as usual” routine, I have also spent a lot of time writing about this journey.  This writing has been with the hope of being published on a few different travel platforms that help champion Blue Sky Society’s Journeys with Purpose.  Now that task is mostly complete, I have time to shift focus to reflecting in my Pure Spaces way.

To be honest I did not have any real expectations about this trip.  Rare for me but I decided to just be in the flow of the moment, so utterly grateful for an opportunity to set foot on African soil again.

Now as I continue to reflect on these past weeks, I am starting to put pieces of a much bigger picture together.  I have decided the universe works in some mysterious ways. It will take a couple of posts over the coming weeks to show what I mean by this.

Let’s start with introducing Carla Geyser, the founder of the Blue Sky Society Trust.  The organiser and leader of our expedition and the brains behind Journeys with Purpose. In 2016 I’d read about the Elephant Ignite Expedition, the first of Carla Geyser’s epic African journeys – an all-female crew travelling 10 000 km through 10 African countries raising money for conservation NGOs, raising awareness for the plight of African wildlife and raising the profile of women working with wildlife.  At the time I wrote in the margin of my journal “blue sky society trust”.  Then life happened.  Fast forward to November 2018 and Carla opens applications for JWP01 May 2019 – fundraising for Elephants Alive and the expedition being to collar elephants in Gilé National Reserve, Mozambique.  Without hesitation I applied.

On 15 March 2019 Cyclone Idai hit the Mozambique coast making landfall at Beira and causing devastation up and the down the coast as well as inland.  JWP01 going ahead in May seemed doomed.  But Carla got straight onto Plan B and JWP01 South eventuated.

I now have the honour of calling Carla a friend and kindred spirit.  Sharing the road with her, Dora and the rest of our small crew was infinitely rewarding and so so much fun.  And that is saying something for this introverted wanderer who travels alone most often.

Dora is Carla’s 22 year old TDi Defender short wheelbase landy well kitted out and beautifully branded with her pink accessories.  She has oodles of character just like proud “mom”, Carla. 

JWP01 South Day 1 – Dora & Charles at OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg

So we couldn’t get to Gilé to help with the elephant collaring project.  But it turns out a new purpose was playing itself out…

And so on a cool, clear May day five adventurous ladies set out on an overland expedition to visit some out of the way places in north eastern South Africa, northern eSwatini and southern Mozambique over 14 days.  Our Journey with Purpose was to immerse ourselves in the African bush to soak up some Mama Africa time…. Oh so good for the soul!

The next 14 days held so many delightful wildlife moments and new landscapes to explore. The mixed bushwillow plains around the Hoedspruit area with its stunning escarpment backdrop providing dramatic vistas at every turn.  The autumn colours of the Mopane bush around the Letaba area in Kruger National Park.  The top of the world rocky outcrops of the Lebombo Mountains in eSwatini.  The coastal plains, undulating grassy dunes and tangled forest of the Maputo Special Reserve in Mozambique.  The clear, blue waters of Maputo Bay edged in mangrove.  We saw so many species – insects, reptiles, birds and of course all the iconic mammals.  Special moments with elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard, spotted hyena, giraffe, zebra, impala, nyala, kudu, hippo, a pod of endangered humpback dolphins and so much more.  I think our leopard count was 5!  The one lion sighting was this lioness up a tree!  For me the rhino sightings were extra special as they are my spirit animal.  I think Cat was okay with our cat count as they are her favourites.  Remke loved the ellies and the monkeys.  And I think Carla and Bella got a kick out of everything wild we saw.  All of us aware of the privilege to encounter this wildlife at all.

A stunning moment with this beauty who took very little notice of us as she went about her day.

I felt so at home travelling with these amazing women from the very beginning.  If I had any trepidation in the lead up to a trip like this it would be how five strangers would get along in such close quarters.  I don’t think that was a problem for us at all.  In fact it was the evening of day 3 and we were sitting round the fire at the end of an incredible day in the bush tracking elephant when I voiced to the group that I felt I was among my tribe.  That evening proved quite profound for me.  A feeling of absolute peace like I haven’t felt since I was a child.  Feeling truly at home and among my tribe.  And all this to the soundtrack of the Fiery-necked Nightjars and the calls of the Black-backed Jackal.  Bliss…

The Tribe from left Remmie, me, Bella, Cat and Carla outside the Elephant Museum, Letaba Camp, Kruger National Park

Ubuntu

A Zulu proverb referencing our humanity and connection to others

I have always loved this word – Ubuntu – the philosophy and the worldview behind it.

Here is a little reflection one month out from my upcoming African adventure.

I am not sure of a lot of things but one thing I am definitely sure of is that we are all connected. We impact each other every day for good or ill.

What I find particularly profound about Ubuntu is there is still room for individuality within this human story. To me this means that my actions count. Who I am and what I do makes a difference and is significant in the greater scheme of things. How empowering! This gives me hope in the face of all the tragedy and heart ache I see every day.

Taking this idea one step further I like to think of “we” as all the other living beings we share the planet with. I believe we are connected also. And while some groups of humans have not figured this out yet, I can be a voice for the voiceless. That tends to be what gets me out of bed in the morning, heading to work to teach conservation education to the next generation. A very urbanised, disconnected next generation.

And so I have been led to connect with people like Carla Geyser, founder of the Blue Sky Society Trust and organiser of the Journey with Purpose expedition I am embarking on in a month’s time. Here is woman who by her actions and what she has chosen to do believes in the power of Ubuntu. Definitely a kindred spirit!

Due to the ongoing effects of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, our itinerary has had to change. We will head further south. The original collaring project in Gile National Reserve will hopefully go ahead later in the year.

I also follow Dr Michelle Henley on social media through the work she does with Elephants Alive. Here is another individual dedicated to wildlife conservation but not leaving humanity out of the picture.

Obviously much of the focus in my news feed will be about my beloved corner of Mama Africa and the amazing individuals dedicating their lives to helping wildlife as well as communities of humans in this part of the world.

But I also work with passionate conservationists everyday. Check out this link to an amazing wildlife experience in Sumatra. The incredible woman who put this together is also a wife, mom, team leader, field conservationist and all round inspirational human being!

And I could go on and on with examples of humans who work everyday on the assumption of Ubuntu… our individual actions bringing us together, uniting us in our efforts to make the world a better place.

What I love about this is that conservation of wildlife and wild places can no longer be seen to separate humanity from the picture. We have to take this journey together, learn to live in harmony not just with each other but with all the species we share the planet with. It is a huge responsibility and we cannot see the kindness and compassion it takes as a weakness.

I will finish off with a mention that the fundraising efforts continue, even though the itinerary has changed. And again, I do know that we are all saturated with requests for money for a million different good causes… but maybe this one speaks to you? A bit of Ubuntu

Period poverty – this is going to get a little personal

I remember my first period really clearly.  I was 11 years old and it was awful.  Even though I knew what was coming, understood its reason biologically – my mother is very pragmatic and we had already had “the talk” – it was still awful.  I had fairly scientific leanings even then and while my rational mind could make sense of the biological function of it all, this pretty early blooming, relatively speaking, made me feel quite defective.  As an introvert I was already struggling with how to be more invisible but somehow this experience made me feel like I had a big, scarlet “P” on my forehead – “she’s a woman now!” – which completely freaked me out. Quite bizarre thinking back on it.

Unfortunately getting my period also signaled the beginning of a 30 year struggle with my body and its hormone functions – a legacy of “woman’s issues” in my family.  Every doctor, naturopath, acupuncturist, chiropractor, endocrinologist visit under the sun.  Countless hours reading everything about women’s’ health and I won’t even hazard a guess at the amount of money spent on these visits, procedures, tests and medication.  Who would want to be a woman?

But I am not sharing any of this really personal stuff to solicit sympathy. No, I am about to utter words of absolute gratitude.  Never once have I had to wonder how I would afford my next pad or tampon or even pairs of underwear ruined by flooding.  Never once have I had to say I will just live with all this pain and agony around that time of the month – there was always a new doctor to try, a new treatment within reach.  Never once did I have to sit in shame, alone thinking I was dirty or unclean.  Never once did I have to face any of the medical stuff alone or keep all this to myself for fear of shaming my family.  Never once did I have to face as a child making the decision not to go to school because of my period or later in life postpone happy travelling adventures because of my period.

I have just watched “Period. End of Sentence” – a 26 minute Netflix doco that brought me to tears.  One thing I know for sure from talking to all sorts of women over the years is there is nothing straight forward about periods.  The documentary highlights what is going on for women in rural India with regard to their periods.  They can’t even talk about it, don’t understand why its happening, have no access to even basic sanitary products never mind trying to navigate pain, complications, disease, hormone imbalance and all the other complexities that often arise around our monthly bleed.  My heart is broken.  And then all I could think was these are disposable pads they’re making! What about the waste, what about the planet!  These women have only just found some empowerment, access to a basic need.  Just in time for others to probably tell they are clogging up landfills with their waste!  My heart is broken again.

In my little bubble of a world the new conversation is all about waste-free managing-your-period alternatives like moon cups, period underwear or reusable cloth pads.  Most of these options come with a hefty price tag.  You would have to approach this with an investment in the future mentality.  While trying to find an option to suit me I came across a New Zealand start up – I am Eva.  Brilliant!  I invested and I am sold – great product!

But no sooner had I started congratulating myself for another little waste free win than I read something that shocked me.  Period poverty is thing.  Right here.  Right in my backyard.  Young girls in New Zealand are missing chunks of school every month because they cannot afford sanitary products!  Even older women working minimum wage jobs are sometimes missing work for the same reason.  This is insane to me in a country like New Zealand.  Thankfully there are amazing things happening out there to try and solve this.  I am Eva is one example – you can buy period underwear on behalf of women and girls who cannot afford this basic need.  Australia has just taken sales tax off sanitary products… perhaps we should be doing the same?

In May I am adventure bound once more – an elephant conservation project in Mozambique.  Part of our plan is to visit village schools along the way with environmental education materials but also reusable cloth pads for girls.  The importance of girls staying in school cannot be overstated, not to mention a little dignity with a side of empowerment.  I am humbled to be a part of this Journey with Purpose and to help in a small way support the work of armswideopen.org.

If after reading this you feel inspired to give, I am asking for donations in support of my expedition in May – for more info click on the link – https://www.givengain.com/ap/a-bit-of-ubuntu/

In my early 40s now I have finally learned to stop fighting my body.  I have learned to find stillness and listen to the sacred rhythms of womanhood.  This may sound weird or airy fairy but it is truth.  Seriously.  And I wouldn’t even consider myself a feminist.  All I can speak to is what I have learned about life from tapping into the wisdom of what makes me feminine – our periods are so much more than biology.  My wish is for us to find a way to lift taboo and allow all girls to tap into their sacred feminine too. And we can’t even consider that if most girls don’t have access to basic sanitary products.

Candy striped sneakers and turning 42…

Being the geographer I am I know that female life expectancy in NZ is 81.46 years.  That makes me officially middle aged as of Thursday.  I am having a really hard time getting my head around this!

I have always been quite excited about birthdays and finding ways to celebrate.  This was the first one I really just ignored until it arrived.  My darling family were bugging me right up to the last minute about what and how we were going to acknowledge my number day.

This whole situation has resulted in some serious reflection time.  So here are a few of my musings…

What are you supposed to have achieved by middle age?  A happy marriage. Nope.  A kid or two. Nope.  That house with the accompanying mortage. Nope. A successful career.  Hmm, debatable.  I LOVE my work environment but it took me a step backwards and a serious pay cut to get there.

I have also had a very non-linear employment journey.  In my mind I think this means I could give practically anything a go. Unfortunately it has held me back as many prospective employers are not too sure what to do with me. My current team leader would be the exception.  She took a chance on me and her support has been invaluable.  She definitely gives me space to play to my strengths and for that I will be eternally grateful… And there it is, the first blessing to count.

But what about the rest…

Well, for the girl so passionate about her birth place Africa – its red earth in my DNA – I sure have a lot of stamps in passports.  So reluctant to leave.  Yet that first travel experience in 1994 literally opened a world of possibility.

And so I can tell you what it feels like to wander the streets of London, Paris, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Rome, Florence, Pisa, Nice, Genoa, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Wellington, Melbourne, Bath, Bristol, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Maputo, Harare, Gabarone, Montpellier, Volterra, San Gimignano, Lucca, Windsor, Aylesbury, Waikiki, Hilo and Auckland.

I have watched the countryside roll by from the windows of cars, buses, trains in Pennsylvania, New York, Baltimore, Maryland, England, Scotland, France, Tuscany, the Lake District, the North and South Islands of NZ, Botwana, Zimbabwe, and all around South Africa.

I have had more breathtaking moments than I can count in nature – that is where my soul really sings.  Standing on the edge of Lake Wanaka or catching my breath at the top of Mt Tongariro.  Breathing in the silence in the Kgalagadi red dunes.  Drinking in the view from the top of the Drakensberg escarpment looking over Mpumalanga. Watching the seasonal waters arrive in the heart of the Okavango Delta.  The itchy heat of a summer day in the north of Kruger Park.  The numb on my face of standing in the snow at Glencoe or sailing with the wind in my face on Loch Ness, letting the sand ooze between my toes at Waimea Bay, north shore of Oahu or standing on the edge of the world at Kilauea Crater, Hawaii.. and so so so many more.  What an immense privilege!

I got to call some interesting places “home”.  My two little places in Maun, Botswana come to mind.  Or avoiding the hippos and the sleeping elephants on my walk back to my little house in the heart of the Delta each evening.  My quirky shipping container house in Blikkiesdorp, Twee Rivieren, Kgalagadi.

As I recall these places and times I am also reminded of the incredible people I have met and shared life with even if just for a short time.

Seeing life in this way has so often taken me out of myself.  What I mean is that so much of life today is taken up with just getting through the day for all of us.  It can be quite an insular experience especially for an introvert like me.  Yes, I need the time by myself to reflect, mediate and recharge but too much time alone is never good.  We are wired for connection.  Travelling and moving around has been the best way for me to get out of my comfort zone and connect with people.  Again, what an immense privilege!

And so yes, I am now middle aged.  No, I have not achieved any of the milestones usually associated with life at this point.  But no regrets, only oodles of gratitude for a life rich in experiences.  May I do this richness justice by using what I have learned along the way to live more carefully on this planet and show more compassion for you, my fellow travellers in the second half of my life.

And I think I will continue to wear candy striped sneakers – the ones my amazing sister got me for my birthday because the style name is the same as mine.  I will still love the Harry Potter books and movies and anything by JRR Tolkien and even teen movies from the 80s like The Breakfast Club…. and I will still believe in magic…

With that I am adventure bound once more – leaving for Edinburgh on Thursday.  Some time on a job experience programme at Edinburgh Zoo and then to England for time with special family…. can’t wait!

Ending off with two of my most favourite quotes, more like mantras these days…

“Not all those who wander are lost” JRR Tolkien

“Have courage and be kind” Cinderella

Week 6: Add some sweetness back in

Cathedral Cove, Hahei, Coromandel, NZ
Cathedral Cove, Hahei, Coromandel, NZ

This week we went on holiday.  Beautiful New Zealand in the spring time.  I know people complain about spring weather in this part of the world – the wind, the rain, its changeable nature.  But at this same time we see the gorgeous shades of green of paddock and forest, washed bright and fresh by the spring showers.  The aquamarine blue of the water washing up along the white sands on the Pacific coast.  The blues and greens of spring are rejuvenating, whispering hope and growth.

We put aside IQS restrictions and took advantage of being on holiday in every sense we could.

I didn’t feel guilty but rather relished indulging in a few of the delectable delights on offer – a 2 hour wine tasting plus accompaniments at a local vineyard with my mom; a delicious tapas meal with smoked beer in a converted church and tiny tastes of yummy baked goods at the local cafe chased with a fabulous macchiato (difficult to find a good one of those in this country in my experience).  The perfect break from our normal.

And so we head into Week 7: Recovering from Lapses.  This seems pretty appropriate considering the the week 6 we just had.  Reading what Sarah says about IQS week 7, it seems we are ahead of the game.  This week’s conscience lapse has reminded us of why we quit the white stuff in the first place.  So we focus back on being mindful in a gentle and kind way of how our bodies responded to a little sweetness.  In my case, I can definitely say that I have broken a bad habit and feel better for it.  I can hear my body’s voice asking for whole, fresh, vital and nutritious food.  I feel more in balance and not fighting against the cravings.  That makes staying without sugar a much easier choice.  I am motivated to continue…. maybe IQS for life?