A Rustic Charmer Called Belvedere Estate

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A short 30 minute drive out of Johannesburg lies this rustic little charmer called Belvedere Estate. It’s mainly a hub for European tourists who spend a night either before or after embarking on South African guided tours but for me and my friends it was a mini-break within the city that we live.

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The Good
It’s easily accessible from OR Tambo and the Gautrain station for your convenience.
It’s in a quiet enclave surrounded by lush gardens making it ideal for relaxation.
The rooms and bathrooms are spacious and comfy.
There’s an outdoor braai area near the pool so you can make the most of your summer evening.
Most of all there’s a feeling of go at your own pace and just unwind. There’s no-one popping their head around the corner every 10 minutes trying to force a conversation or checking in if you’re ok.

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The Not So Good
I’m a foodie and breakfast is important to me so for me it was just average.
Maybe for Europeans finding a pitbull chilling at the front entrance with no owner in sight is ok but for my friends it was “WTF”. Beware of the dogs roaming around.
The service could do with a little polishing up.

The Bad
The pool table was in a room that logistically made it impossible to play pool.
The evening braai was overpriced and underwhelming.
The toilet paper was 1-ply. Surely, it can’t be for a 4 star establishment?

My tip for fellow travelers:
If you’re South African opt out of the braai option unless you’re doing it yourself because braaing is a skill and not everyone has that skill.
Be wary of anyone offering an authentic, local experience that you have to pay for because it rarely is.

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You can find more information about Belvedere Estate at http://www.belvedereestate.co.za

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Soul Searching

“Out of suffering comes creativity. You cannot spell painting without pain.” John Lithgow

South Africa has been gifted a canvas of such natural beauty and diversity it leaves you breathless at times. Breathless at the sheer audacity and grace of the Artist and his/her depth of vision, generosity, and creativity.

If you’ve seen, heard or read anything in the news lately about South Africa that would be easy to forget. For, if you scratch a little below the surface what you’ll find is a strong undercurrent of powerlessness, and it’s close ally, hopelessness.

At some point, most, not some of us, have been knocked off our feet by that current, and by those, who feel the need to claim their power through senseless acts of violence.

It’s not as if we have ever denied that this country was built and sustained historically and politically through violence but perhaps we have been in denial about just how much it has spread through the veins of our social structures and about just how much it has become so every day.

So every day and so endemic.

So many questions and so few answers.

My personal beliefs are perhaps those of a small minority. I believe in energy, in flow, in tides, in seasons, in new ways of doing things, in new levels of consciousness, in sustainability, in community, in creativity, in the feminine, in forgiveness and in living in love.

I have referenced my father many times in this blog, and believe me, if he had just read the above paragraph, he would be saying by now, “What crap is this?”

Like my father, you and I may not believe in the same things and that’s ok but what would not be ok is if we collectively did not believe in hope. Hope for South Africa. Hope for re-discovering our collective soul. Hope for humanity.

Soul searching does not often happen in times of great joy and happiness. It happens in times of deep, dark despair. It happens in times of an achingly painful state of being. It happens in times when the stench of decay becomes unbearable and the rotting hatred of life too much.

For a country like South Africa where smart, strong, honest leadership is missing, it’s up to the small steps of one and giant leaps of many to claim it’s soul back.

“In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.” Ernst Fischer

If you still have it in you to dig a little deeper, to go into the depths of our complexities, to go beyond the violence and the depravity and the inhumanity, what you will find is communities.

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Communities of artists and of activists, groups of people who’ve stepped beyond the threshold of commercial gain and into the realm of agents of change. People who are quietly leading the way in re-generating, re-birthing and re-energising parts of the city and country that have been left for dead, so to speak.

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People who are using design, fashion, food, art, music, theatre and comedy to re-suscitate this ailing heart that is South Africa. They are proving through cultural endeavours that we are still here. That beyond the corruption, the fraud, and the violence, those who believed in what freedom would bring post-1994, those who were inspired by the humanity of Nelson Mandela and those who believe in a bright future for South Africa, are still here.

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They are proving that there is still a heart beat in this country, and however faint or weak it might be, as long as it is there, we have hope.

Hope that one day the beauty of the canvas will be matched by the beauty of the collective soul.

 

 

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The Homecoming and Reverse Culture Shock

12 days ago I was at Incheon airport in Seoul paying for overweight baggage, desperately just trying to get on the plane to Hong Kong.

3 and half hours later I was in Hong Kong being whisked away by security in one of those airport-golf-carts in a mad dash to get from one terminal to another for my connection to Johannesburg.

13 hours later one of the Mama’s at customs at OR Tambo International was scanning my passport and saying ‘welcome home’.

Yes, I had made it. I was here.

It felt surreal to have my feet planted on home soil again. To look around and see familiar faces. To stand near people and not just overhear their conversations but understand it as well.

To drive on roads mapped to my memory and breathe in the expanse and beauty of the landscape. To be hugged by the warm Highveld sun and smiled upon by the clear blue African sky.

It all felt so dreamy for the first 24 hours. Until the realities of trying to get myself re-integrated into the daily business of South African life started hitting me all upside the head.

For the first few days my mother became my conjoined twin because in order to exchange money, buy a sim card for my phone, buy airtime to make calls and buy a data bundle for internet connection I needed to have proof of a South African address, which I did not, for obvious reasons, possess. Mother dearest to the rescue.

Leaving a land of fast internet connection and access to wifi literally everywhere and coming to a land of slow internet connection and literally no wifi access anywhere, is hard. And frustrating.

Leaving a land with a fast, efficient and friendly service industry whether it is government, business or private and coming to a land with “I’ll take your money and fuck you” service industry whether it be government, business or private, is hard. And shocking.

Sitting in a restaurant or at a family dinner table and suddenly being tuned in to every conversation going on around you and trying to keep up, is hard. And overwhelming.

Trying to catch up with friends and close a 2 year gap is hard. And sometimes impossible.

Being in public and making sure your handbag is closed at all times or keeping your eye on your cell phone that you left on a table or making sure that your car is locked properly, is hard. And annoying.

I was really looking forward to coming home. I wanted to come home. I made the choice to come home.

There have been fleeting moments when I’ve felt frustrated, shocked, overwhelmed or annoyed, where I questioned whether I made the right decision. When doubt set in.

But a conversation with my sister and nephew recently, made me realise that with the all the things we want or desire in life, with all the things that make us happy, we mostly have to make certain sacrifices to get them. Sometimes little sacrifices and sometimes big sacrifices.

For me to live in my country with such an abundance of beauty, with the choice of mountains, forests, beaches, safaris, wine farms, and big open space and an abundance of activity to go with it, I have to make certain sacrifices.

So the question is not about want or desire or happiness, it’s about sacrifice.

And the willingness to do it.

Am I?

Not sure yet.

Are you?