2018: The Year of the Backpack

2018 was a wild ride at Autobahn speed: We moved from London to Berlin, moved apartments twice in Berlin, Mari Kondo’d our possessions five times in the first half of the year, did a whole lot of visa runs to Eastern Europe, quit a job, moved out and didn’t move in anywhere else, traveled straight for 6 months, haphazardly managed to cross the borders of 24 countries (many of them 2 or 3 times), walk on 4 continents, and took 60-something flights.

It was an erratic way of life, that was mostly by determined flight routes and discounts and visa regulations. It was a lifestyle that made us crave the thing we sort of abandoned a few years ago: stability, dependability, the safe embrace of a ritualised day-to-day. We came to realise that extensive travel isn’t an unattainable far away dream – it is just something you plan for that costs you other things that matter (friends, home, insurance, etc.).

So now we’ve finally settled back in Cape Town. We signed an 11-month lease, which a whole mindset switch – the idea that I can unpack all the things we have and find them in the same place 10 months later. And we are so happy to have a home, and a car, and a gym membership.

So to tie up these crazy loose ends of a year of travel, I’ve highlighted one memory of each country we’ve been to, and chosen one photo (not necessarily related to the memory). These memories range from throwing up in a mall, to sleeping under the stars, to overcoming fears with my family – just a whole lot of good, bad, and ugly memories. It includes one last trip that we took in 2019, as we both agreed that our year officially only starts 1 February, after diving in Mozambique.

Not included are memories from our trips home: California and Cape Town. These moments are so rooted in a specific history and intertwined with people and emotions – between snow on Christmas day and my brother getting married, I set it aside as an impossible feat.

The rest, however, have been uncovered. From January 2018 to February 2019, in chronological order:

Bansko, Bulgaria

The dust had finally settled after moving our life from London to Berlin in as few bags as possible. I had started the long trek to get my German residency visa, but it was arduous and there were many obstacles. I still had my Schengen visa, so it was okay, but it didn’t take us long to realise that I was gonna have to make a lot of visa runs to stretch my stay until my residency came through. 

It was with half-hearted intentions to learn how to ski for cheap, and whole-hearted intentions to get out of the Schengen state to somewhere close where I don’t need a visa, that we ended up in the fairly unappealing mountain resort town of Bansko, Bulgaria (after we figured out how to get the clamp off our wheel in Sofia). 

Bansko was blanketed in fresh white snow, and I just got a new bright orange sweater, and our new Fujifilm XT20, so it was perfect timing. We didn’t end up skiing (I’ll get there one day), but we spent a night going through all the delirious highs and lows of ice skating. Joel guided me chivalrously while I sometimes giggled feverishly, sometimes tensed up as Bulgarian tweens got too close, sometimes gripped the edges with white knuckles, sometimes felt like I was gliding confidently (though, I almost certainly never was). We paid for our boots with a credit card, and I remember we thought how wild it was that we can use a credit card in this random ass town in Bulgaria, but almost nowhere in Berlin. 

By the end of our long weekend I had not only successfully added 3 days to my Schengen visa, but also kind of learnt how to ice skate.

Bansko, Bulgaria


Bucharest, Romania

We probably would have canceled this trip if it weren’t a necessary visa run. Joel was under the weather and we were heading to Bucharest. It was a long weekend of loitering around the streets of the city, and going into as many bookshops as possible, while Joel recuperated in the Airbnb. 

But on the horizon beyond this shabby-cool city lies a lush tropical garden inside a giant crystal palace – Therme Bucharest, aka Europe’s largest wellness centre. The giant indoor and outdoor pools and jacuzzis (and the accompanying in-pool bars) all rest on a huge well of underground geothermal water. And for some reason it has not yet reached the average ‘things to do’ list, so it really is Bucharest’s best kept secret. And there we soaked away the troubles of threatening colds and the memories of a rather random long weekend in Romania.

The Therme, Bucharest


Kotor, Montenegro

Joel is the guy who gets his hair cut around the world. That is part of what makes Joel Joel. On four continents there are little snippets of Joel’s hair discarded in the trash somewhere. Well, Joel needed a haircut, AGAIN. And we had time during our lazy Balkan road trip, so he stepped into a nice-looking salon in one if the squares in the medieval city of Kotor, but was largely ignored by some very rude hair ladies. Forget you guys, we said. 

Later we saw a lady standing in a door in an alley, smoking a cigarette. Behind her – a barber’s chair. This your place, Joel, I said. He stepped in and maybe 3 words were exchanged before she pulled out the buzzer. ‘Haircut’ was one of them. She nodded, with a face showing she knows exactly what to do, and gestured towards the chair in the shop, which was basically the size of two closets put together.

And in one of those ‘pinch me is this real’ moments, we recognised the hilarity of Joel receiving a haircut from this lady without any explanation in the middle of Montenegro. 

It wasn’t the best haircut he’s ever had.

Fun fact: these are the countries Joel’s been groomed in

  • South Africa
  • USA
  • India
  • Thailand
  • Cambodia
  • Montenegro 
  • Oman
  • Germany
  • England 
  • Ireland
  • the Philippines
  • Indonesia
  • Guatemala
P.S. Kotor is also the unofficial cat capital of Europe


Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Everybody was aware of the war in Sarajevo, but for a long time no one realised that Mostar, the famous quaint Bosnian destination town, had been made a battleground. The Croats on the one side of the river, the Bosnians on the other, and the 16th-century Ottoman bridge spanning the two banks. A local filmmaker was documenting the war around his home, and managed to film the moment the Croats deliberately blew up the bridge. He transferred his film to tape, traversed underground tunnels to get out of the war zone, then traveled on horseback all the way to Sarajevo. Here he handed the tapes over to the BBC, who broadcasted the destruction abroad. That’s how the world found out about the battle in Mostar. 

We met him and his wife in Mostar, when we stayed in their house. 

End of the road in Blagaj, a little village close to Mostar


Zagreb, Croatia

I was starting to feel nauseous by the end of our Balkan road trip, so on our last day in Zagreb we decided to just take it easy. Joel looked up the movies and saw Ready Player One was on at the mall – cool, let’s just do that. Wait a second, it’s a 4-D movie?? Awesome! Let’s definitely do that, great idea!

False.

Terrible idea. 

I stumbled-sprinted to the bathrooms halfway through being shook around in my seat and threw up in the toilets. After regaining my strength, I endured the rest of the movie from the floor, as all the seats were swirling around and up and down. On our way out, the concession stand vendors wouldn’t give me an empty box, and I barely made it to the trash can next to the escalators, while Joel held my hair back and a group of Croatian teenagers laughed at me. 

I read the book a few months later and it’s way better than the movie. 

Plitvice Falls National Park, Croatia


Ras al Hadd, Oman

We were jogging behind our Airbnb host at night in the dark on a beach in the Eastern reaches of Oman. He stopped and asked if we’re ready. We nodded excitedly. Then he dimly lit the huge giant turtle from behind. She was burrowing the 100-something eggs she had just lain, kicking so strongly that the sand flew against our legs as we edged closer. I forgot and suddenly remembered that I was still holding a baby turtle in between my forefinger and thumb, kicking furiously, that Salem picked up on the road towards the beach. He said, let’s go, and we followed him to the lapping waves. keeping an eye on a menacing crab nearby, he said, ok let it go, and I placed the baby turtle in the black water, which was now also lit up with blue phosphorescent plankton, like stars. 

That was some kind of magic Arabian night. 

The Bimmah sink hole, Oman


Cappadocia, Turkey

I’ve tried over and over to convey the feelings of a hot air balloon ride over the alien Cappadocia landscape. A thousand words can’t do it justice. But equally as tactile a memory was waking up before the crack of dawn to see them float to the sky. 

We had gone to Cappadocia once before, and stayed a cave house that used to be winery thousands of years ago (casual.). When you step out of your room onto the little porch, there’s a big flat area where the balloons take to the sky almost every day of the year. Best view in town. 

So when my mom decided to join us for our second time, we booked the same place, not telling her that it is also the site of the balloon launch. I hurriedly knocked on her door one the first early dark morning, telling her to grab her camera and come look outside. She pulled on a sweater and followed me outside, to be surprised by a field of giant balloons inflating with hot gas right on our doorstep. Isn’t that just the most satisfying feeling? Surprising someone with a view so grand? 

And there we stood quietly watching the sky slowly turn pinker and bluer and lighter, watching the balloons silently drift up and up and farther away, all the while with the urgent feeling of anticipation that tomorrow we will be in those baskets, floating thousands of feet away from here. 

P.S. This is the ultimate guide you’ll ever need for going to Cappadocia

The view from our Airbnb. Insert hot air balloons here.


Toronto, Canada

It was a hop and skip in Toronto for work before heading to California, and nothing much happened, but we likely won’t forget the moment we opened our hotel room and saw the most bizarre hotel view of views. We had no idea that the Marriot in Toronto was actually built into the city’s baseball stadium, and only found out when the uber pulled up to the hotel foyer. We’ve been upgraded to some executive whatever suite, we were told. 

The view is the baseball stadium. You can literally book this room for a game, and watch the match from your bed. Or the little living room. Needless to say, it made the list of the best places we stayed at in 2018. 

Room with a view, Toronto


Saint Petersburg, Russia

Russia was probably, no definitely, the country that has been my longest-standing bucket list destination. Ever since I was little, before I knew about bucket lists or visas or planes or borders, I wanted to go to Russia (find out here why). And in a shocking turn of events we ended up in Russia for the FIFA World Cup.

We got tickets to one game: Russia vs Egypt in Saint Petersburg. Of course we were rooting for Egypt. Not least because I am from the African continent, but mostly because of Mohammed Salah. We would proclaim our support to all Egyptians we managed to run into, but we had no way to show our support. We had no golden pharaoh hat, or black red and white face paint, or Egyptian flags. The face painters at the stadium weren’t offering the Egyptian flag, and all the Egyptian merch was sold out. We were lamenting this tragedy all the way to the stadium, when suddenly, from the heavens above, an Egyptian flag literally flew into my hands. We couldn’t believe it. The Egyptian gods have provided, and we waved our flag proudly despite the struggle. 

Egypt lost. 

We consoled the two Egyptians next to us as best we could, packed our little heaven-sent flag away, and, being the loyal people we are, immediately started chanting ROS – SI – A, ROS – SI – A on the way home. It was a wild warm night in the streets of Saint Petersburg and we basked in the unadulterated exuberance until the small hours of the morning when we watched the canal bridges draw in the forever-dusk of the never-ending Russian white nights in June.

The Saint Petersburg bridges draw around 2am, and the sun never truly sets in summer.


Pialdier, Italy

It was a lazy afternoon, and we were all lounging around, discussing this and that when our airbnb doorbell rang. We looked around, and one of us slowly opened the door. A middle-aged man started speaking and gesturing in Italian, showing no signs of recognition of the confusion in our faces. When he paused we said, sorry, we don’t speak Italian. He replied in Italian. No sorry, we mumbled and exchanged sympathetic glances. He continued in Italian making sweeping motions with his arms, exclaiming, oover! oover! 

Ooohhhhhhhhhhh, I clicked. Hoover? 

Si, si! Oover! 

Guys, he is selling hoovers. Vacuum cleaners. 

No way, we all said. 

Yes way. 

Sorry, we said again, no italiano. 

Ah, si, si. He carries on in Italian and eventually excuses himself. 

Wow, we said as he left, how is there a universe where a door-to-door vacuum salesman is still practicing and in a teeny tiny ass Italian mountain town? And how are we in that universe right now? 

The Sanctuary of Madonna Della Corona, built on a rock face outside of Verona


Reutte, Austria

If Korene and Dathan weren’t pushing Ryder (11 years old) to do it, I would have opted out of the 114-meter high suspension bridge near the Austrian-Bavarian border. We stumbled upon this crazy thing on our way to the fairytale castle Neuschwanstein when we made an unplanned stop by castle ruins on the side of the road (casual). 114 meters are a lot when you can see the little trucks on the highway passing underneath your feet through the steel grid bottom. Also, it is very movey!!! Whoever built this thing does not get my approval. Also, 400 meters is a long way to walk when all of the above points are in play. 

The best part? You have to walk all the way back when you’ve finally made it across alive. 

But what better way to face your fears than with the most supportive family in the world (and with your 9-year-old niece skipping over like nothing is the matter, because God neglected to put rational fear in her little heart.) 

Despite all the possible trauma, silently facing the suspension bridge is one of the fondest memories of the family visit to Europe. 

Korene taking in the Alps in Zell am See, Austria


Munich, Germany

I was very excited to show everyone (our visiting Californian family) the Hofbräuhaus in Munich. I went there when I was 11 with my mom and my brother and I remember the place like a Kandinsky painting.

It was very busy. (I was relieved – the idea of having them see it quiet seemed sad to me). Waiters were flying by, not affording us even one look, and all the tables in our view were taken. We sort of stood around amidst the chaos aimlessly. 

Then an old man with a long white beard beckoned us to his table. We squeezed in next to him and some other tourists. These tourists had just received their order of sausage, and the German man watched them patiently, before he grabbed their plate and started cutting at it. They stared at him, not knowing what to do. After he had taken the skin off the sausage, he passed it back to them, went to the waiters’ station, opened the drawer and brought them pack some packets of mustard. How adorable. 

Our drinks had come, and I asked Kami (9) to lift up her mini kids’ Stein for a photo. The old man reached over and took the drink from her, put it down, and passed his giant Stein towards her. He lifted up his palm, as if to say, there – no that’s a photo. Kami, who – along with Ryder (11) and mom Korene – seemed just a bit shell-shocked at all this German beer-drinking commotion – started warming up to this strange old man soon after. 

Good thing I was the family member sitting next to him, because he only spoke German. I told him my memories of coming here, when I was Kami’s age. I asked him if he comes here often.

Everyday, he says and shows me his stack of table reservations in his jacket pocket. 

He gathered some menus, wrote ‘München’ and the date on the corners, and hid them in his newspaper. When you go, he said, you have to take these menus, as a souvenir.

Won’t they stop me at the door?

No, just say I gave them to you. 

Lol, ok.

The food came, and he jumped up as soon as he saw Korene eating a Brezel without mustard. Off to the waiters’ station he goes again, helping himself to the mustard sachets. He handed them to her. Gesturing with his hand – that’s how you eat them. 

He told me all about the beerhall and the war, how everything was bombed in except for the room we are sitting in. 

When it was time to go, he joked, no – Joel and Dathan can’t leave before they try the dark beer! (Joel and Dathan almost got another beer just to satiate him.)

He smiled for a photo with me, and wished us well as we left. 

The Hofbräuhaus Angel, we said. 

We half expected to see his painting hung on the wall along with men from another century. Maybe he is the ghost of one of the founders. 

Whoever he is, it seems that he spends his days drinking beer and making sure the tourists at his table take the skin off their sausages and eat mustard with their pretzels. 

May the Hofbräuhaus Angel look after you when you go, too. 

The Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany


Singapore

We noticed some funny signage when we went hiking in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. It showed thunder and lightning, and a man running from underneath a tree as a branch came falling down. We laughed at the extremity of this. 

Fast forward two months when we touched back on Singapore and convinced my cousin, Hendrik, to join us from Malaysia. We returned to the Nature Reserve for the same hike. We had just crossed the suspension bridge when the rain gently started coming down. Good – a relief from the pressing Singaporean humidity. We passed a ranger’s lapa, but voted to carry on – the rain wasn’t that bad and we didn’t have long to go. The shelter was well out of sight when it started pounding, together with a frightfully loud bang from the now-thunderous clouds. We put on a speed walk, hurrying down the wooden walkway for the next ranger’s lapa. We were almost there when a large, thick broken off branch landed with a thud right in front of Joel. Omg. We started jogging, finally we made it and squeezed under the little roof with the rest of the hikers. We waited out the storm for about 40 minutes until the rain had subsided to a drizzle again. 

Damn, Singapore. That’s aggressive. 

We didn’t find that sign so funny anymore. 

The Super Tree Grove – the safer Singaporean jungle


Nusa Penida, Bali

We were on our way to see yet another gorgeous beach on Nusa Penida, the stunning island just a little bit east from Bali. It was a long ride – two people on a scooter for one hour equals about three car hours – and towards the end we drove through a village, where about seventy people (though I am historically bad at guesstimating, so it may be more or less), all men, were drumming around under a large palm-roofed lapa. I saw a flash of feathers above their heads and immediately recognised it as a cock fight. Omg, cock fight, I said, and we parked the scooter. 

We approached the group hesitantly. Cock fights are normally practiced clandestinely, though I haven’t seen any kind of authority on the island since we arrived 4 or 5 days ago. Fights are occasionally legally allowed during certain religious ceremonies, but it is illegal to gamble. Well, the group was in the bet-taking stage of the fight when we joined the outskirts of the circle.

Two men were yelling things and taking large bills from the men in the round, whilst another guy was making notes in a ledger book. While the bets were taken, the two cocks that were to fight were being psyched out to each other. Then the circle became silent. A bell announced the commencement of the first round and the cocks were sort of pushed to each other to begin the battle. The crowd ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ and applauded when the cocks made giant jumps or huge slashes, sending feathers flying. The bell rang – end of the round. 

It was easy getting into it.

We kind of agreed we wouldn’t take photos, in case people get angry. But the men on the side were sending us friendly vibes (Balinese people are hands-down THE friendliest people on the planet), so I took out my camera and asked if it was okay. Not only did vigorous nodding affirm my question, but the crowd basically opened up so I can stand closer to the front. People were holding out their chickens proudly for photos.

The cocks are patched up and the blades are tightened before the second round. 

We stayed a couple of rounds, forgetting almost completely what we were busy doing in the first place. We almost started betting when we decided we should get going. We hopped on our bike and continued, our normal day plans having just been interrupted by a village cock fight.

A prize rooster proudly held for a photograph in Nusa Penida


Malacca, Malaysia

In one of the more bizarre, out-of-place moments, we found ourselves sitting in an air-conditioned room in Malacca, Malaysia, with my cousin, Hendrik, and his girlfriend, Ameline, waiting for a band of huskies, and having paid for it. It’s called the Huskitory and when Joel saw it on the ‘things to do’ list on Tripadvisor we all laughed really hard, saying how weird it is and that we have to do it. I have tried cat cafés, and I don’t love it. But a room full of huskies? I mean…yes, sign me up. 

We were given the rules, and then from outside around the corner heard a spectacular chorus of barking fast approaching. And through the door came leaping the huskies, barking, almost tripping over each other, they seemed so excited. We laughed so hard and so much.

Little did we know they were excited for snacks, because, they do not give a flying F about you if you don’t have a little bag of snacks that you can buy from the Huskitory. That’s how they get you. 

So, yea of course we bought a snack baggie, and made some huskies very happy. They even drew blood when Ameline was trying to feed them. 

Eventually the huskies were ushered out, and the puppies ushered in. One puppy was passed around carefully around the room to be held – he wasn’t allowed to touch the floor (?) – it was a strange but endearing experience. 

We later learned that they (all the dogs) just live upstairs. We felt weird about it, but the dogs look good and get a lot of friendly attention. 

Malaysia can be a confusing place. 

The Huskitory, Malaysia


Oslob, Philippines 

Somewhere in the shabby little town of Oslob on Cebu island is a shabby little karaoke bar. We were sitting at a table with our airbnb host and our driver, drinking the local beer and watching the band set up. Our host said we should rather listen to the band, because they take song requests – she seemed super excited about this. Plus, the karaoke room was already occupied by one guy singing Filipino songs. Cover bands is a Filipino culture. It seems that almost everyone sings or plays an instrument, and this band was actually pretty good! They sang most of our requests, but we had to leave before I could find out of they were gonna do ‘Kiss from a Rose’ (probably not), because we were getting up early the next morning to dive with whale sharks. 

Diving with whale sharks in Oslob, Cebu island

Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt

If you look up what the best dive sites in the world are, the Shark Reef and Yolanda Wreck in Sharm el Sheikh will show up on any of them. And this year we got to dive there for a second time. The dive starts with the colossal Shark Reef and winds around to the wreck of Yolanda, which sank their in 1980 with her load of bathroom supplies – toilets and basins are scattered along the reef. The descent of this dive is my favourite memory of our trip to Sharm this year.

We dropped down into the striking deep blue, deeper and deeper, and deeper. The blue around us was so vibrant and all-encompassing that without each other, the other divers, we surely would lose all sense of meaningful direction. Save for the Shark reef, which wraps around like a giant Poseidon’s pillar, stretching all the way down, 750 meters down to where the sun’s light doesn’t reach. I felt a response which could be loosely describe as speechlessness until we hit 25 meters, and started working against the current, which we expected would have gone the other way. 

I am confident I won’t forget sinking into that deep blue that day.

We also did a day trip on a bus to Cairo, which is 7/8 hours’ drive from Sharm el Sheikh, and really chaotic and not advised. Read what that was like here

The Pyramids of Giza


Istanbul, Turkey

We had a day’s layover in Istanbul, the apple of my eye, so we organised to hang out with our friend Dilan. It was a red eye flight though, so I made sure to mention the date and time that we will be arriving. These things can be confusing when you plan around midnights – is it early in the morning of the next day or late the night of the previous day? Whichever it was, we arrived at Dilan’s flat at around 5 or 6am. She flashed us big Dilan-smile from her window above and buzzed us in. She welcomed us in her flat, and made us feel at home, and we took a power nap before the best breakfast we’ve ever had in our lives (amen). It turns out she was expecting us only the next morning. But that feeling, of feeling so welcomed back and  naturally at the right moment in time and, even though to her we were 24 hours early, that’s a special feeling. That’s the feeling of a friendship that is so right in all the right ways. 

Just hanging out in Dilan, eating our weight’s worth in menemen (the best breakfast in the world) and rice pudding and walking along the Bosphorus on a typically sunny day with cats brushing up against our legs in the park, that was one of our favourite days in Istanbul ever.

The one and only Dilan and the world’s best breakfast


Masirah island, Oman

We spent a couple of nights on a literal desert island, off the southern coast of Oman. Masirah island is home to a couple of 1000-strong villages, all clustered around an army based on the northern part. The rest of the island is a mountainous desert, with barely anyone in sight. With the help of a dang good Turkish restaurant in the populated north, we managed to camp 3 nights in the isolated south, where we had, for the first time in weeks in Oman, a sunset over the sea. 

We won’t ever forget the first night. When the dusk had changed to darkness, and we finished our 2-minute noodle dinner, the stars started glittering. It was just something we could never have anticipated. The milky way rolled boldly out above us, silver and blue. We rolled our foam mats out on the sand, and watched the sky explode with shooting stars as we listened to Sufjan Stevens’ Planetarium album. 

Then the stars lost just a bit of their shimmer as the moon rose blood red behind us, over the darkened desert. 

We often tell people that spending a month in Oman is a total time-warp. But the pace of life on the desert island is something so indescribably slow and serene. And this night seemed to last forever. 

Our little tent under the stars on Masirah Island, Oman


Havana, Cuba

We picked the hottest day in Cuba to be our beach day and we decided on going to Playa Bucarano – deemed to be more low-key, mostly for locals, and the best Havana beach for snorkelling, which is always Joel’s number one priority.

It was definitely low key. There was a handful of loitering locals, and 3 or 4 more tourists on the small bay. We asked about renting snorkelling gear. There was a lot of yelling to each other in Spanish; this guy orders that one somewhere; he delegates it to two other people; more shouting from the first guy, etc. We are given our gear, and ask where to pay. They point to a guy under an umbrella. We head there, but he seems confused. More passionate yelling. 

A different group of yelling has originated now, and it is becoming more urgent and intense. People seem to be getting mad, and we are nervous that we caused some of it. One guy is yelling so hard, his vein is throbbing in his thick neck, and his face has gone red. 

‘What’s the matter?’ we ask the lady that speaks English. 

‘Huh?’ 

‘Is something wrong?’ 

‘Oh. no, no worries. Just Baseball.’ 

Wow, okay. 

We thought she was lying because how can people get so upset so quickly about Baseball.

But the next day on our walking tour, our guide told us about the public squares in Havana. You see the same old men coming to the same benches, he said, everyday to talk. They get really mad and always fight about stuff. Not politics. Baseball. 

So maybe she wasn’t lying – baseball seems to be a huge freaking deal in Havana. 

Our ride for a day in Havana


Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

We reluctantly got ready to go to a club for New Year’s Eve. The reason we like traveling over New Year’s is to escape that ‘we gonna have an epic night’ expectation. We’ve always vehemently kicked against the expectations to have so much fun on NYE. But the group of friends we were with was fully buying into this and were psyching each other out. They were ready to party; we would’ve rather stayed and drank wine and watch the fireworks from the porch.

Our mood turned instantly when we got to the teeny bar. A band was playing all kinds of Latin music foreign to us, and Angelo, our Guatemalan neighbour from London, had started pouring the ‘Agua de Fuego.’ We danced and drank and danced the night away. On the stools and the tables, on the street, and also the dancefloor. At midnight Joel lit his Cuban with a sparkler that the bar had handed out to everyone, and we spilled outside to watch people set off fireworks in the street. 

We topped our night with 1am tacos, and called it a year. 

Emily and Angelo, and Joel and I headed home in a tuk-tuk, right after we made sure the two single guys found their next bar. 

It was euphoria; it was, without a doubt, our best new years eve ever. 

Watching the sunset over the volcano of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala


Mexico City, Mexico

We met our Eduardo and Diana in front of Arena Mexico and they graciously took charge of speaking the Spanish and getting the best tickets they could. They suggested getting something at the souvenir stalls here, because it has the most variety. So we bought a t-shirt for my brother. 

We made our way inside the arena and took our seats up in the gallery. 

The Arena is huge, seating a couple thousand people all around the ring. 

We were so damn excited to real. life. lucha. libre.

People started filling in (lots of families!), and Eduardo and Joel went to go get some beer from the guys at the cooler boxes scattered around the arena, while the lights started flashing and smoke machines whirring as the first group of masked fighters ran to the stage under big fanfare. 

Lucha libre is professional Mexican wrestling, (Think Nacho Libre with Jack Black), and it’s AMAZING. A cocktail of bad acting, breathtaking gymnastics, and brute strength, it’s a feast for the senses. And the atmosphere is contagious – even without speaking Spanish, we were immediately drawn into the ethos of each character and each match and each manoeuvre. We gasped when the good guys somersaulted themselves on the bad guys, booed when the bad guys clapped back, and cheered when little people joined the fight (always on the good guys’ teams). Obviously it’s all show, but sometimes they slap each other in the face resulting in such a sound you’d think they definitely burst a eardrum from the impact or something.

Two hours of absolutely unforgettable entertainment. 

A cenote in Playa del Carmen, Mexico


Tofo, Mozambique

The dive site is called Manta Reef. It’s a 40-minute ride out to sea along the coast on a small 3-meter boat on seas that are almost never calm and serene. But the mantas go there to be cleaned so often that we were almost guaranteed to see manta rays. The site is amazing. 

But no mantas. 

It was a bit disappointing despite the gorgeous dive site. 

Then on the way back, there was a big commotion. Someone had spotted something in the water. A whale shark.

We all grabbed fins and masks and jumped in. 

And there it was. A smallish whale shark – 5 or 6 meters in length – gracefully swimming towards us. When you chance upon a whale shark in the wild, time stands still. It glided past me in slow motion, I felt like my jaw dropped, but I was biting into my snorkel. Then the hard work began. 

Swimming at full speed, stopping to catch my breath every now and then, always keeping my eyes on it – its silver matt skin, the white dots scattered like stars in the sky, the gash in its tail where a boat’s motor broke the skin. Every now and then kicking furiously to get out of its way when it made large circles. 

One moment I saw our dive master had slipped on a tank and he was swimming 10 meters below, under the shark, then I looked back to see who else was coming, and the next moment it was gone. I surfaced to find myself 200 meters from the boat, with everyone inside. I felt as though I could’ve followed that whale shark all the way up the Mozambican coast.  

That’s a 2018 travelogue of memories right there.

It is wildly surreal thinking back on this unrooted, unsettling, unbearably exciting year. I am not sure I have the stamina to do another one of these years in 2019, or 2020, but for 2018 it was perfect.

And for every memory in every place there’s a million more to look back on whenever I need a pick-me-up from our much-needed and much-craved daily routine.

Comments

  1. c marais
    April 18, 2019 / 4:38 am

    Hierdie memories is priceless! Julle is sooo adventurous en so blessed en jy skryf soos n engel. Gisteraand v jou juffrou Marietjie vd Merwe gesien en onthou impressed sy was met jou skryfwerk en sy stuur baaaie groete!

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