Saturday, August 30, 2008
There are places in this world where everyday realities are safely out of sight. Instead, dreams are shaken up in the form of pink cocktails and served against a backdrop of serene blues and soft white sand.
One of these places is the Le Telfair resort in Mauritius. While most holidaymakers head for the bustling northern part of the island, this haven is nestled peacefully at the foot of the Plaine Champagne hills in the south west.
The resort is built on the former sugar estate of Bel Ombre, which is now a national park. Not only can wildlife excursions into the hills be organised through the hotel but the south of the island is also where miracles of nature can be found. Of course, this is besides the coral reef just off the shore which can be experienced by glass bottom boat or snorkelling gear.
About an hour’s drive from the resort lies the village of Chamarel which is home to two wonders – the Chamarel falls and the Seven Coloured Earth. The drive in itself is an exhilarating mix of aquamarine beaches and lush sugar cane lanes. Our first stop is the waterfall, which seems to fall forever. The sound of water is always reassuring and all of nature takes comfort in its abundance. For a while we are entranced.
Just a few minutes back in the taxi brings us to the natural phenomenon of sand that separates into seven colours. The sight is fenced off so that curious tourists such as us won’t spoil it for everyone. It is said to be the presence of minerals that gives the sand its colours and that even if you mix the colours together the sand will eventually separate. It is wonderfully stimulating to see something entirely new to my visual frame of reference.
My friend Justine takes the time to bond with the giant tortoises at the site before we head back for some more sea and sand at the Telfair.
There I salute this day with a yoga class under the moon in the Zen garden outside the spa. Then I soak in a bath full of bubbles and head out to meet the rest for dinner at Anabella’s.
Although my calamari starter is disappointingly chewy, the hearty potato and leek soup that follows makes up for it. What's more, the main course of seared tuna and rosewater flavoured pasta rice is a taste bud surprise. It’s a brave flavour combination that fans of Turkish delight would relish.
Fresh fruit and vanilla tea rounds off the extended meal and soon I am resting happily in my French colonial room, dreaming of a perfect day gone by.
Read the full article on travel.iafrica.com
Friday, August 22, 2008
Religion can be full of obstacles, rife with rules that serve an ulterior motive. Politics and religion have long been known to become intertwined.
In my home country of South Africa the Christian church I grew up with (Dutch Reformed Church) supported racial divisions through the philosophy of apartheid and even claimed that there was divine support for it. I doubt many SA Christians knew that the World Alliance of Reformed Churches expelled the Dutch Reformed Church in the early 80’s, declaring apartheid to be a heresy.
When I was old enough to think for myself and more truths came to light as Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1994, the church became repulsive to me. God became just another lie fed to me by the government. So I decided to go and find my own truth. One could say that, in a sense, that makes me a Buddhist, as Buddhists believe in finding personal enlightenment.
Yet, what I found at the end of every silence, hope and fear was a God of Love. Which takes me full circle right back to Christianity.
I believe that it is important to be true to oneself, because the truth lies inside of us and not in the rules and regulations that we are taught to believe and follow. This is one thing that I realise as I walk through Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. Throughout this humble convent it is reiterated that she followed the voice of God, a calling inside of her to serve the poor, sick, orphaned and dying.
Although not half as profound, I understand this calling: mine is to travel and to write. I may not have any exceptional talents, great ambitions or a humble alms bag but I know that I have to follow my calling no matter what.
And perhaps I don't have to be a saint to accomplish something beautiful.
* The title of a book about the life of Mother Teresa, by Malcolm Muggeridge
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
The last time I visited Moscow, Russia celebrated their most important holiday by staging the first full scale military parade since the Soviet days. Just about three months later the country is involved in a serious military conflict, carefully planned to coincide with the Olympic Games in Beijing.
On 9 May 2008 the Red Square was closed off to the public in favour of this victory parade. So I never got the chance to visit the colourful cathedral of St Basil’s then. There are so many bad things in the world, the worst of which is probably war. Yet, there is also beauty – and what better place to find peace of mind than on holy ground.
St Basil’s cathedral was built during the mid-1500’s by Tsar Ivan the Terrible. It was erected in fulfilment of a vow that Ivan made to the Lord in gratitude for the military victory over the Kingdom of Kazan. It houses the relics of Basil the Holy Fool and Ivan Big Cap.
Close up the textures, colours and details are even more delightful than on pictures. It is certainly one of the most unique buildings I have encountered during my travels. On entering, the experience is magnified. An array of murals decorate the walls and ceiling. These are mostly lush floral splashes of burgundy, amber, turquoise and forest green, creating a warm and intimate atmosphere.
Narrow stairs lead up to the cupola where a small choir is singing hymns. Their music sound rich even without any background music, because of excellent acoustics. The intense concentration of paintings and colours inside this small chapel is arresting. Combined with the pure voices, it is enough to move even the young girl in front of me to tears.
As soon as I step outside I am reminded of the irony of it all. As a Christian cathedral St Basil's stand in honour God the Creator, whereas the military hardware that passed by here recently are probably the same ones that is now causing so much destruction in Georgia.
Friday, August 8, 2008
“How much does it cost?” asks the stranger next to me in the aeroplane.
“I don’t know. I love my girlfriend,” says Dmitri, the young Russian man on my other side. The stranger loses interest.
Since the conversation turned to prostitutes, I thought I’d kill my curiosity: “Why are the whole world full of Russian strippers and prostitutes? Moscow is supposed to be a city of wealthy people. Are there really also people who are that poor that they have no other option? Or is it just that they get a kick out of sexual power?”
“Those girls are not really Russian,” answers Dmitri, “Russian people have enough money. The girls who work as prostitutes and strippers come from some of the other former Soviet States. These countries really are poor and maybe that really is their only way of surviving or providing for their families.”
I get the sense that he is protecting his own and immediately think of my own replies when asked about the crime in South Africa.
“South African people are good people,” I always say, “they have big hearts regardless of their race or skin colour. The people who commit crimes are the ones who come in from other African countries.”
Perhaps Dmitri and I are both wrong, but it’s only human to want to believe the best of your home.
Later I meet a traveller from Uzbekistan and ask her about Dmitri’s reply.
She says: “Of course it happens here too. Russia is a big country and there are parts of it that is very poor. Just like Uzbekistan. A lot of people come to Uzbekistan and promise young girls good jobs. Then, as soon as they arrive in the other country their passports get taken away and they are forced to work as prostitutes. The people in Uzbekistan are very conservative and unless a girl comes from a bad family she will never choose to work as a prostitute even if she is poor.”
The truth, as always, is elusive.