Tuesday, 27 December 2016

You know you're tired when you sleep 13hrs a day

We weren't planning to go away over the festive season but a visit to friends, two weeks ago, resulted in a much-needed getaway. They offered us their cottage in the Western Cape and a week later we were on the road for an 11 hour drive to this peaceful spot.

Our first two nights here, we slept 13hrs a night! A sure sign that this year had taken its toll. We leveled off to an even 10hrs a night for the rest of our stay. No alarm clocks and no people or noises to wake us up either.

For the first two days we barely did anything. We'd brought our mountain bikes and of course I had my running shoes packed in. We settled into comfortable old wooden chairs and stayed there - reading, crochet (for me) and just relaxing. I didn't even have the energy to go for a walk.

On day 3 we took a walk to the river. And walked back. The wind had picked up and it didn't stop howling for about four days.

On day 4, we tried a paddle - with 1m waves on the river whipped up by the howling wind! It was fun, but short and unsuccessful. We stowed the kayak and returned to this snug cottage with its thick walls that are impervious to wind and heat and sound.

On day 5 we did an almost 30km mtb ride on some dirt roads and then tar to the next village. We looked at the sea and cycled back. An excellent ride, even with the blowing wind.

Day 6 we did a drive-about, taking back roads to check out the area. A mountain pass up, another down and views of the sea were a treat.

Day 7 we got in a paddle on the river. More social and sight-seeing than 'training'.

Our friends arrived late at night, the ones whose cottage we've been staying in. It has been in his family for a few generations. He bought the property from a relative in the line of inheritance, repaired walls, put in a solar panel to run the fridge and lights. Cooking is on an old gas stove and a 'donkey' provides fire-heated water for a shower.

Today we enjoyed a lovely braai down at the river with their family and friends. A walk to and from the cottage plus a soak in the river being our only activity.

We drive home tomorrow.

I have never had time away as absolutely filled with 'nothingness' as this week has been. We both really needed it and while I wasn't keen to go away - preferring Xmas at home - this trip was just what we needed. We would not have had this same time of rest and sleep at home.

Celliers read a bunch of books. I completed a tricky crochet project (really fancy doily) that I initially started almost four years ago. It needed chunks of time, which I had here. I started a knitting project, which I have wanted to do for well over a year. And I nailed a few books. All from the serenity of this little cottage and an old wooden chair.

We're ready to head back now. Home projects await with plans to be made ahead of the coming year.

We couldn't have chosen a better spot to be. This place has been absolutely perfect and we are thankful to our friends for gifting us with their spot.

Quiet, rest and a lot of sleep. Recipe for recovery and preparation to face a new year.

Friday, 23 December 2016

A four-pawed house guest - bye bye Kiska

My husky neighbour spent the long weekend with me. We also had a play-day in the week and another the week before. Celliers doesn't like animals to be in the house; I do. I found Kiska to be very well behaved inside and good company sprawled in the tiles of my home-office floor. Celliers consented, I think more for seeing the happiness that this fur-friend brought to me than from delight at having a fur-shedding husky in our home.

Over the weekend he (Kiska, that is) slept over on Friday and Saturday nights and I  had him with me the whole time. I did let him sleep outside, which is what he was used to at his home. It also meant that I wasn't stressing at night about the dog needing a pee or wanting to run around - I don't know his routines. Instead he had a cosy shelter om a blankie, under a table.

Kiska in our house was much like a human house guest. We were unfamiliar with each other's routines. He was slow to settle and lie down, not sure whether he needed to do something or be somewhere or to move to another spot in the kitchen. It was only when I was sitting down that he would settle nearby, falling asleep outstretched.

Over the long weekend we played in the garden. He doesn't do balls and toys but I did discover a game two weeks ago where we chase each other around the garden. He plays it for a bit and then decides that he has had enough.

We also went to the shops  - and the nice lady from SPCA, who had a table there doing Xmas present wrapping, held on to him while I ran in.

We went for a run-walk twice too. In this heat I couldn't let him run too much so we had to mix it up with walks. And we also went to walk along the river.

On Sunday morning we went walking to my mom's house and along the way we stopped to talk to a friendly couple who were asking me about the town.

From out of nowhere a dog attacked Kiska, going for his side. Kiska is not a dog - friendly dog but he certainly doesn't go for other dogs. He stays on a lead the whole time and minds his own business. This Jack Russell-type dog was off lead and he attacked unseen and without warning. I think Kiska got in a bit but knowing that Kiska could potentially rip the rat-dog to pieces we tried to keep it away. It went in again. Fortunately Kiska's thick fur didn't allow the fiend purchase.

The Jack's owner caught up and retrieved his dog, by which stage my little friend was crying. It looked like he'd hurt his left leg, but was actually his left shoulder. We didn't see any bite marks or blood and within a minute Kiska could walk gingerly on his leg. The kind people gave us a lift to my mom's house.

After an hour or so there Kiska was doing better and we walked home. But the leg was definitely not normal and by feeling I could tell it was his shoulder that ached. He spent the rest of the afternoon looking glum and lying around - totally not his normal behaviour.

His dad got back by dark. His dad told us that he had decided that this was the week that he would be putting Kiska to sleep. This wasn't a surprise as he'd been considering it for some time and had consulted his vet too.

At 13 years old, Kiska was on the upper range for a husky and the vet suspected that dementia was to blame for his howling. The moment he is left alone, he starts howling. A symptom of old age of needing his people with him all the time and possibly feeling anxiety when left alone - even for five minutes.

On my return from Spain at the beginning of November, I had noticed how much weight he'd lost. His harness was hanging where it had been tight.

Last week Kiska's dad got married and his adult children came to town. The whole family was together and so they all said goodbye to this dog that had been in their lives since he was a six-week old puppy.

As I was leaving early the next morning to go away for a week, I went over to Kiska's house on Sunday night to say goodbye. I felt terrible that he had been injured while under my care.

On Wednesday morning my fur-friend went to the Land of the Long Sleep.

Although I agree that this was the right decision by his dad, I have been very heart sore nonetheless. I have never been much of a dog person although some dogs have definitely touched my life.

From the moment we saw each other through his gate back in July, Kiska and I had a connection. We enjoyed our runs together and I loved taking him hiking in the Dome. Having him over for a play date or sleepover was a special treat for me.

Dear Kiska-boy. What a joy you were in my life, even though only for a few months. I know that it will be a long time before I can run, bike or drive past your gate without looking for you - or to gaze out of my office window and not be checking for you at your gate. Thank you for your excited greeting howls and two-footed bounces that always made me smile and for being the tug on the end of the lead on our runs. Kiska, thank you for being my friend. Goodnight, sweet boy.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

My AR website has a new owner

Yesterday I officially announced that my adventure racing website, www.AR.co.za has changed hands. My adventure racing friend, Alec Avierinos and his team, will be taking care of my 15+ year old 'baby'. There isn't a better custodian - thank you Alec.

Here's the media release:

AR website changes hands

For the first time in 15 years, South Africa’s adventure racing website, www.AR.co.za, is changing hands. Founder and editor Lisa de Speville is passing the site on to an experienced team that shares her passion for the sport of adventure racing.

 “When I started the site in April 2001 the internet was young, the sport was new in South Africa and there were no websites that brought the community together or provided information written especially to entice people into the sport,” Lisa explains.

She has written most of the more than 120 articles on the site – some in direct response to questions from the public and others re-published from magazine articles and columns that she has written. 

“AR.co.za is just as valid now as it was 15 years ago. It remains a trusted and informative one-stop portal for news, articles, advice and event listings – not only for South African adventure racers, but also for adventure racers around the world,” she says.

 In the past three years Lisa has taken on new projects and feels that the time has come to hand over the site to a team as dedicated and committed to the sport as she has been, but who also have the skills and technology to improve on the website and offer more to the adventure racing community. 

This week Lisa handed over the site to Alec Avierinos and his KeyHealth Nevarest team.

 “I’ve known Alec and his family for a decade. He is passionate about the sport and developing teams. He has provided incredible support to dozens of young athletes over the years. Alec is also a regular participant in events,” Lisa explains.

 Through his business and sport activities, Alec has a team of people who already track adventure racing news. They have web skills and a social media infrastructure to greatly benefit the site content and interface.

 In a sense, it is the end of an era for South Africa’s “Mother of Adventure Racing” as she allows her baby to leave the nest.

 “I’m both sad and relieved to be letting go of the site,” she says. “This is the first time in 15 years and 8 months that I don’t have to think about emails, news, events and calendar updates. I will still contribute content to the site but with the day-to-day running of the site off my hands, I look forward to jumping into new adventures and projects.”


Teach your kids AR

Can't say it better than this. Well done AdventureRacing Denmark.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Restaurants. Really?

I don't go out often to restaurants for two main reasons.

1. I'm a pretty decent good cook and it isn't often that a restaurant serves up food that is better than what I can prepare.

2. Eating out is expensive.

We had Celliers' dad staying with us this past week and so on Thursday evening we went to our local pizza place for a pizza dinner. They make excellent pizza. The place wasn't very busy - us and another table inside and three or four tables outside. We'd been there for 45 minutes when the new owner (he took over a few months ago) came to see how we were. We were still waiting for our food!

As a student, I was a waitress at an Italian place. Part of our training included spending time making pizzas. They really only take a few minutes to make and any delay is usually due to volume of orders. This place wasn't full nor busy but orders for seated patrons were stacked behind take-away orders. As I told the owner, you can tell take-away people (at the counter or over the phone) to come back in 30 minutes. Our town is small - nothing is more than five minutes away. At home people can continue doing what they're doing. As seated customers, we have nothing else to do but to sit there and wait.

Pizza is no longer a cheap meal at R80 to R95 for a pizza. It's a lot of money to spend to wait. We won't be going back for a seated meal there any time soon. But I can recommend Angelo's in Parys for a take-away pizza.

Yesterday we went to Rustenburg to visit friends and we all went off to a local nursery for lunch. We all ordered milkshakes to start. When the waitress arrived one of our friends appropriately commented, "Are those children's sizes?". They were the adult size and were way small. Milkshakes are around R20-R25 each.

Three of us ordered wraps. The fourth ordered a burger with chips.

When the wraps arrived they were the smallest I've ever had. As I told our lovely waitress, and later the manager, each half was the size of a canapé at a cocktail party! The burger was decent, but had a small handful of chips.

I did call over the manager to address his 'children's portions'. None of us are big people but the portions were silly. And when a wrap costs R48 or R52, you at least want something more than a hors d'oeuvres! The manager went on about the changes they were making to the menu and that they were surveying customers after their meals.

I pointed to all the empty tables (one table had been occupied when we arrived and there was only one other occupied table) and told him that this is why 'all the other people here' don't come back. Just like us. There is no point surveying us after the meal when we have to pay for a meal that has left us dissatisfied and hungry. He sent us a piece of chocolate cake each (nice, but not as good as my cake) as a peace offering. We still won't go back to the Geelhout Garden Pavillion for a meal, despite the friendly waitress and nice food.

I told my mom this morning about our recent restaurant experiences. Here in Parys we have a number of good restaurants. Three of mom's friends came to visit for lunch on Thursday. They went to a popular restaurant. I had an lovely lunch there about a year ago.

Mom and one of her friends ordered the Norwegian fish cakes - a salmon fish cake. The other friend ordered a burger and I can't remember what the fourth person ordered. Mom said that a large plate arrived and on it were two small, thin fish cakes with splodges of pickle and beet on the corners. Both mom and her friend looked at their plates in disbelief. R90 for what was nothing more than a starter - hardly a main course. The friend with the burger had a better deal but the 9 thin chips on her plate were dismal.

Mom didn't complain to the manager as her friend was paying for her lunch. But this was clearly unacceptable. I've suggested that she stops past the restaurant this week to speak to the manager.

The price of a meal is so much more than the food on the plate. It includes the rent of the building, salaries and wages, electricity and water, equipment, decor, crockery, cutlery, and plates. The actual ingredients really are the minority of the total expenses.

The food on the plate is what the customer is paying for and this is where the perceived value comes in. Dishing up another fish cake to arrive at a decent portion to produce a satisfied customer is common sense.

Good value doesn't mean cheap. It means a tasty meal served in a decent portion for a fair price. Spain was an excellent example of this. Superb food for a very fair price and served in minutes. I don't think we saw more than two people running the establishment - serving, cooking and cleaning - sometimes only one! It was astounding.

For me, a meal at a restaurant is a treat. It is a meal that I don't have to prepare and I enjoy choosing items that they 'should' be able to prepare better than me at home.

Restaurants are going to lose more and more customers in a flash if they don't start asking themselves, "Would I be happy if this was served to me?".

Foraging continues - a litchi tree

I love litchis. They're one of my favourite fruits but I've never eaten them straight from a tree. Yesterday, I did just this.

We went to visit friends in Rustenburg. The trees in their suburb - an older and established part of the town - are magnificent. The coral trees and frangipane are so beautiful at the moment.

Pulling into the parking in their complex, I noticed the tall tree outside one of the units. I saw coloured somethings between the leaves - but they weren't flowers. They were also too high up for me to get a good look. There was also brown 'debris' under the tree. 

I did a quick hello and then left to investigate. Litchis!!!

We went out for lunch and driving back in I asked Celliers to park under the tree. I needed to climb onto his roof to get at the branches.

The fruit was almost past its sell-by date. The majority of the litchis had popped skins and bees were feasting on the dripping juice. But, there were some 'unopened' fruits, that I duly picked. If only we'd had an extra tall ladder at hand! It looked like there were lots more that were ripe for the picking higher up.

Juicy, full of flavour and perfectly ripe.

I left some with our friends and returned home with some. They are the best I've had for ages - made sweeter by having been foraged.

Teambuild at Otters Haunt

I love watching people new to navigation get it right. Their eyes shine with satisfaction - the reward of completing something new and challenging. And discovering that they can find their way to any destination. Without a voice-assisted satellite navigation device.

I had the fortune of being roped into assisting with a teambuild event at Otters Haunt, a lovely place just outside of Parys (less than 5km from town). It is owned by Karen and Graeme Addision. Otters Haunt lies on the Vaal river and has a section of river front with access to islands - by wooden bridge if the river is low or by kayak if it is high. They have a number of chalets and accommodation options for guests. It is a friendly and tranquil place. It is also where my feline friend, Ribbons, the most massive cat I've had the pleasure of meeting, lives.

Me and Ribbons - about two weeks ago.
The Addisons offer a variety of activities from rafting and kayaking to tours of the Vredefort Dome. They have also facilitated a bunch of other events and were contacted by a university group about a teambuild. Graeme gave me a shout, knowing that I'd have some ideas.

The section of Otters that guests get to see is the river side; but the property also extends for almost a kilometre on the other side of the tar road. I headed out there and took a walk around - I'd never been on this side either. Using an aerial image for the background (thank you Dylan), I overlaid tracks and some details to create a decent map. We printed it at around 1:4,500 on an A3 page. This gave us a long, skinny map - the property is far longer than it is wide.

About 1/4 of the map
In the field we had 16 checkpoint - each with a different point score - and four activity stations. With the river running high and the bridges to the island inaccessible, we cancelled the 5th activity station (A) and another two checkpoints.

For the event, the participants had a limited time (1h15) to visit the four activity stations (compulsory) and they could choose, with the time available, which of the checkpoints to get. Highest point score wins. Total distance, if they got everything, was around 4km.

We had around 84 participants - in pairs for the event. A bunch of Parys locals who manned the activity stations and assisted in guiding the pre-event cone grid, which gave the participants a basic map orientation skill to help them during the event. Nikki, Kevin, Marcelle, Graham, Louis and two young river guides were on hand to help, take photos and to run the activity stations.

The participants did far better than I expected and it was a pleasure to see them really running around and aiming to get all of the checkpoints, which a few pairs did! It was hot and humid and still they totally rocked the activity. The event ticked over smoothly and on time, getting the participants back on their bus and back to Potch and off to catch flights to other provinces in good time.

My next mission is to turn this into a proper orienteering map. This will make for a fun and local orienteering event.

Photos of the event taken by Graeme and Nikki.