I should …

…write more often!

Can’t believe I am back to writing here after more than a year. The gap seemed like something I will never be able to cross. I had so many things to write about especially with the teaching assignment when everyday I had a story to tell over dinner and I would think in my mind “I should write this down.” I will phrase it while sleeping and then next day there would be one more story, one more learning and I had already forgotten about yesterdays’.

But yesterday when I was cleaning out my desk cupboards I found an old list. Written on a hotel stationary paper, it was a list of things “I should” do and on top was write more often.

If ever I needed a sign, this was it. While I have been writing regularly on my food blog – My Weekend Kitchen, writing for Volunteer Weekly and my own personal sharing here have become non-existent. So this is my first phoenix post to bring back the blog from dead. And I sure hope I don’t ramble too much :).

There was a time in the last year when I became dismayed with the online world and online existence. I kind of took a sabbatical from social media, whatsapp, viber and blogging and used only email to stay in touch with far of friends and family. It was great, but after about 3 months I felt I was being selfish. We live in a remote location in Africa and technology is actually our aide here. While I was fine, my family and friends only had social media to know what’s happening in my life. I was completely fine with nobody knowing about me but when I went back home after 3 months everybody had the same complaint. “Where have you disappeared? Is there no internet in Africa!” Well that phase is over. I am back but just on a few platforms. I actually did a factory reset on my phone to remove all the apps and then download only Facebook and whatsapp – the two apps that most of my friends and family used. It’s been good. Even with just these two, I feel like I get more information than I need but I feel they are necessary evils I need to stay with. But how much they interfere in my life is my choice.

What do you think about the interference of social media in life in general?

We just came back from an amazing trip to the little known island country São Tomé and Príncipe. I was keeping a travel journal there, something which I did after a long time. Hope to share about that soon.

muito amor,


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10 lines on love

to zoya…


little bits of allah

frolicking here and there

spreading sunshine with smiles

telling the world to

“be happy, be joyous

life is beautiful

life is carefree”

holding out their little hands

“come dance with us

let us be love.”

Continue reading

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The old zoo on ilha…

It’s been more than a year since I have been passing through the zoo that’s on the road to my house… no matter where I go, I have to pass in front of it. And it’s only about 3 km away. Yet I didn’t enter it until last week.

When I first crossed this huge green place running along one side of the road, I asked what was it? They said it was a zoo many years ago and it was destroyed during the war and then never renovated. I asked can we enter. They said no. You are not allowed to enter it or even walk by it. The whole area is now a favela and not safe for expats.

For a year, I crossed it, peeped in as much as I could and wished I could go inside. It looked so beautiful from outside. A whole stretch of wild growth, lots of trees, an old fence broken at places.. But whenever I asked my driver, he would say “ashima muito bandido, todos pessoas drogas, Ashima não pode entrar”. And I would again curb that desire.

the old zoo on ilha, luanda

the entrance of the old zoo and the fence broken at places with its graffiti covered wall

Last week when nimo came, he was also intrigued about life inside this old zoo. So much that I felt one of the days he would for sure go inside. One of the days when I was returning from foundation, I told diogo “let’s go inside”. He again started “ashima não bom…” before he could go on to muito bandido and drogas, I told him we will just drive through.. I won’t get down and if at any point we feel it’s not safe, we will turn back. On that he agreed.

Inside was beautiful. It reminded me so much of chikubadi in ahemedabad. . There was lush greenery, so many different kinds of trees, bushes and in one area a whole carpet of cactus!

People had made homes inside old containers. We didn’t go all the way to the homes. I didn’t even want to. If I wasn’t getting down, then it would feel very odd for people to see a car just drive through in front of their homes..

the old zoo on ilha, luanda

the jungle inside the old zoo

They have their own private beach entrance. Where lovers meet at the end of the day 🙂 At one end there is a boat making arena. And it seems like a whole marketplace for the park. There was a makeshift small beer shop, another one for basic groceries…

It’s a whole city living inside there!

the old zoo on ilha, luanda

the boat making arena, the market place and the entrance to the beach where lovers share a quiet evening

There were also heaps of garbage and scrap metal lying everywhere. in fact I was surprised to that the collection center for the only garbage company I have seen in luanda is right in the center of the park. Inside the fence you can see heaps of garbage with big birds standing atop and one lone security guard sitting right across.

the old zoo on ilha, luanda

garbage collection center inside the old zoo

But the most beautiful part of the park is also right next to this garbage collection center. A taekwondo class. In this city of the homeless, the bandidos, the drogas is one man teaching taekwondo to kids and young. I was transfixed at this beautiful sight. In so many ways it reminded me of the music classes at the independence park…

taekwondo class in the middle of the old zoo on ilha, luanda

beauty right next to the garbage collection center

Hope. Beauty.

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Esperança – Hope on the street

Hope is the only word that comes to me when I recollect what was it that I saw today.

This morning I went to a public park in the middle of Luanda city. Something tells me it must have been a great place long time back.. there is a broken popcorn machine, some beaten benches, a taped fridge. It must have been a place where kids played, people came for walks and just sit together and chat in the evening. But now the usual scene at the independence park in the morning is children and youth lying around – mostly high on gasoline.. you can smell clothes soaked in gasoline; the park is strewn with chewed up pieces of fabric.

volunteering in Angola

But lately every Tuesday and Thursday morning this scene changes. That is when Osvaldo and Costa enter the park armed with their guitars and lots of stools. They set up their stools under one of the shades in the park and start playing..

One by one street kids who sleep in and around the park come and sit. They then hand over the guitars and slowly begins the music class. They are still high on gasoline… it’s difficult for Osvaldo and Costa to do anything but they continue… The first thing they ask from the kids sitting in the circle is to throw out their gasoline soaked fabric.

Naama tells me that that Osvaldo himself was a street kids and was struggling with the drugs, but he found himself in music and brought himself out of it!

Some kids start listening.. some don’t care, some are fighting and some keep playing with the guitar. Most are more or less under the influence….Osvaldo and Costa know all this.. they know and they have all the patience in the world. They then start to teach them how to sing and how to play the guitar…

I had always wanted to be a part of this wonderful morning and finally it happened today. As soon as I entered the park I smelt gasoline and then I saw the class going on under a shade…It was beautiful. Osvaldo and Costa have their own ways of controlling and yet not controlling the kids… The only thing they ask of all the children and young to sit in the circle, is that they throw out their drugs.

music classes for all

Today looked so promising… of the 15 children that were there at least 5 were sober… For the first time there was a girl in the group… There were smiles and there was respect for each other. There was laughter. After almost 2 months, in terms of music, the group is still learning that a guitar has 6 chords but they are learning there is more to life than the street and drugs. They are seeing that they can be someone else.

They were creating a music of their own. The music of hope.

music of hope

I first shared this experience on Volunteer Weekly.

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Feito com Amor

It started at a morning tea session, when a friend of mine said “For Christmas, I want to make a nice gift bag for the ladies with dry food items like rice, milk powder, oil and some sweets”

The ladies here are the patients of a local maternity hospital. Every two weeks, my friend makes 100 sandwiches and goes to the maternity hospital to feed the ladies waiting for their labour and their families who all wait and live outside the hospital on the road for days.

I started thinking of how we can raise funds for this. The easier option was to just ask in our immediate circle but I wanted to do something more and reach out to more people so that they can all be a part of it. And I just didn’t want to ask money. What was it that I could offer?

Paper. I love paper. I love the way I can turn it into something beautiful. And I was at it. For almost a week, I made gift bags, cards, gift tags, quotation cards, fortune cookie stars, bookmarks… anything that I could think of. My whole room was full of craft material everywhere 🙂

feito com amor, made with love, wisdom crafts

Then I gave them to friends who I knew hosted many gatherings and offered them as wisdom crafts – no price tags; the price of the product is what the buyer is inspired to offer. I put up a paper explaining what they were for and asking people to give from their heart.

What was amazing was how more and more people joined in. One girl came up and said, I know you are making those bags.. I had these felt sheets at home, can you use them?

Another one came and said “I have these glitter tapes I haven’t used for months.. I am sure you can use them for your cards..”

Ribbons, more craft paper, sequins, paint everything started coming from unknown friends!


Naama, who runs a non-profit organisation, came to know of it and asked me if I could make 30 bags for their Christmas gifts for their supporters.

At first I thought I will make all of them the same. But as I started decorating the bags, something came over. Each bag spoke for itself and each was different. Before starting I didn’t have any set idea on decoration but slowly every bag’s decoration unfolded as if they were speaking for the person who is going to receive them.

Naama then insisted I create a tag for all of them and thus was born “Feito com Amor” [Portuguese for Made with Love].

feito come amor, made with love, art with heart, craft activities at home

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Of new years and resolutions

Let’s start with a happy new year! At least till the first month we should be allowed to say it 🙂

This last year went so quickly. It seems like just yesterday when I landed in Angola. And said hello to a new country and a new life. There were lots of new things in 2014 – new land, new home, a new culture, lots of new friends,  a new language, a new volunteering opportunity. I still haven’t been able to absorb all fully :).

I hope 2015 will bring in as much opportunities. Actually one of my resolutions is to see each day as an opportunity – 365 opportunities to learn and grow! Wow


Last year, inspired by my friend Shalini, I had taken the resolution to not buy anything new for myself. And surprisingly it was pretty easy to keep that resolutions and one year later I feel I really don’t need so much. What I have is so much more than what I need!

This year what are my resolutions? In the first week the resolutions change every day and so I refrained from writing this post :).

This year, I want to meet as many friends and family as possible. So many incidents happened last year that brought me face to face with the uncertainty of life. When I thought of a resolution, I asked myself that if this year is all I have, then what is the first thing I want to do? And the answer I got was that I want to meet the people I love. So I want to try doing that 🙂

Another is to attempt trekking Mt. Kilimanjaro. More than the real trek, I think the training is what my resolution is. By the end of this year I want to get back to an exercise and food regime.

As far as resolutions go, I would stick to only two. But if I want to write down my wish list, it would be an endless list…I want to get back to the morning meditation practice; I want to learn salsa;  I want to learn how to make a website from scratch; I want to learn photoshop and lightroom; I want to write more regularly on all my blogs; I want to do more with Feito com Amor (Made with Love)….

For now I will just say it’s a living list. I will keep adding to the list as time goes by 🙂

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South Africa road trip: Post trip

The road trip is over.. we are back into the daily grind. In fact now it’s been so many days that it feels like south africa was ages ago. During the last days on the road I had started jotting down a few points I wanted to share with friends who were planning a road trip in South Africa in January. And though I finally ended up telling them these in person, I still hope these will still be helpful for someone planning a similar trip 🙂

1. The roads are very good all the way from durban till Cape Town.  People follow lanes and all highway rules so driving is a pleasure in South Africa (at least on the route we took!)

2. Restrooms and gas/petrol: there are convenient gas stations on the highway with good restrooms and also little food outlets.. depending on the town, you might find just a small pick-and-go thing or a proper food court close to the gas station. Restrooms are mostly free but at some places there is a fee of 1 or 2 Rand.

3. Along smaller towns the highway food options close early.. by about 6 pm.

4. No matter what the season you are coming in, do bring your rain jacket and a warm jacket.

5. If you are planing to do treks, don’t forget your insect repellant.

6. Another must – sunscreen. The sun is pretty strong here..

7. For vegetarians: I didn’t have any problem finding vegetarian food all through the trip. All restaurants have 3-4 veggie entries. On the highway, I found Nando’s  veggie burger/pita and wrap the best!

I shall add more as I remember more. 🙂

Bon Voyage 

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Day 11-12: the last leg @ Capetown

I am back in Luanda now… I am back at work but my mind still feels like it stayed behind in Capetown. We left capetown yesterday morning with a promise to return. And we have to return because the city has so much and we experienced so little.

We reached capetown around 6 pm. .. got late in leaving from Somerset mall and then got stuck in the traffic outside the city. We arrived at Blackheath lodge,  and were greeted by, Godfrey, one of the friendliest of faces :). After checking in and a warm shower we decided to walk to the V&A waterfront. We had just two days and it was also the end of vacation so we wanted to take  it slow and easy… capetown is flooded with things to do and it’s difficult to choose but we had decided that in this trip we wouldn’t stress ourselves in going from one point to another..

First evening was a leisure walk along the beach road from 3 anchor bay to waterfront and then a bit pub hopping and a quiet dinner.

The next day we wanted to go to table mountain but the cable way was closed and we had no enthu for a trek up right now. We did the drive along the cape peninsula, stopping at the beautiful bays in between. The drive is amazing (and with well placed viewing points to get the best views of the scenery). We stopped quite often (again!), just sat watching the ocean and the mointains and the city from a distance and of course clicked a lot of pictures :).

All the way to cape point, we felt like stopping every few moments and take in the beauty of this place. At cape point, there is a lighthouse which is also called the ghost lighthouse… When it was built, it could hardly ever signal the ships of the approaching land because most of the times it was covered in clouds. Much later a new light house was made a little below.
Cape point is also the point where ‘the two oceans meet’. That’s the tag line as well! Standing at the lighthouse and looking towards the ocean one can see the difference in the colour of water on two sides. It should be due to the difference in depth but I am not sure if that is really the boundary. Actually how are the boundaries of oceans determined anyway? I would love to read more on that.

For us the most striking  or rather beautiful feature of cape point was the views of cape of good hope from there..The most stunning views we had seen on the whole drive.

From cape point we then headed to the cape of good hope and I said I would have preferred spending more time looking at it from a distance than being there. But you do check on being at the southwesternmost  point of the African  continent. If that matters :).

cape point and cape of good hope

On our way back, we stopped at Simon’s  town for lunch and then went to see the penguins at boulder penguin colony. As soon as we entered the park we saw two penguins and got crazy with clicking their pictures only to be super awed by a whole colony of them just a few steps ahead. Super cute animals… i just enjoyed them dping their different tactics… and they swim so so fast! And once on shore they will try to dry off by shaking all the water. Amazing.

boulders penguin colony

Then we headed to signal hill – the view point for table mountain and in a way for the whole of capetown city. We saw the sun set from up there, walked around a little. The beacon of hope that shines over capetown is also right there. It’s a solar powered huge star that is made from the recovered railing around Robben Island.

For dinner, we went to an Indian restaurant – Bukhara. It’s right in the city center. Our hotel owner had suggested it and I really wanted some nice dal makhni and butter naan! :). Sikander enjoyed his nihari. I think we over ordered because with some more rice or bread two more people would have eaten. Sikander decided to do just that :). He ordered one more plate of rice and asked our waiter to make two take aways – one veg and one non-veg. On our way back we gave one the guy helping cars park on the street and one to our taxi guy. Our taxi guy was so moved that he didn’t even start his meter. He said “what can I charge you when you have already given me dinner. You give me what you feel like.” 🙂 the guy was from Congo trying to make a living here.

The next day – our last day – we just wanted to explore the city center. During breakfast we checked the cable way and it was open.. but with some difficulty we decided to let it go and keep it for the next time…

After breakfast, we first finished all our packing so that we can have a relaxed evening and as our flight was at 6 am there wasn’t much time to sleep also. Then we left for the city center.


We first went to the district 6 museum – a museum dedicated to the apartheid history and people’s  struggle to have a place and rights on their own land.
A sadness enveloped me as I walked through the personal pictures and texts in the District 6 museum.

“You are now in Fairyland”
The handwritten text that one of the residents must have painted echoes what the neighbourhood meant for them. What their homes, their neighbours’ homes, the families all shared together. A fairyland.
Photographs of girls playing with skipping ropes on the streets outside their homes, of mothers with their babies, of daughters with their dolls, of family dinners, of boys making mischief – all of them transported me to that time and place. And slowly I felt anger and pain on being asked to leave my home. My fairyland being destroyed and grazed down to become a white neighbourhood. Why is this suddenly a “whites only” place and people who have been calling it their home for generations have no longer any right to call it so.

District 6 museum

After district 6 museum, as we were walking in the city, we came across the slavery museum. Another sad encounter with our history. Pictures and accounts reconstructed from what was told. The sad thing about slavery is it still exists.. In my own country, bonded labour is still practiced openly… family members are still sold…trafficking is a whole racquet  and in so many more invisible ways..

By this time we were hungry so we walked along.. and came across a sign of masala dosa hanging on our heads :). And masala dosa it was. The place is mentioned in lonely planet  but seriously there wasn’t much to it. The dosa were good but the chutney and the filling all were bland and lacked a flavour. But for me, who hasn’t had a restaurant style big dosa in ages, it was good. 🙂

Afterwards we went to company gardens.  Sat on a bench where sikander read his book and I took a siesta. There is a cute cafe as well inside the garden…


Later in the evening we went to Beerhouse, a place that prides itself for having 100 types of beers. Another waiter at a restaurant had earlier suggested us this place. What was great for me was that they had 100 ml size as well so one by one, I could taste many :P.


From there we walked to the waterfront and a mohito later our last evening in capetown was over.

The next morning we boarded the flight making a promise to the city that we will be back.


Lots of love

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Day 9-10: all the way to capetown

…With a little wine detours 😉

Beyond knysna we drove along some of the most scenic coastline. We were practically stopping every 10-15 min to click a picture until sikander said we will never reach stellenbosch  in time for wine tasting if we keep on like this! 😀

So we headed on. At one point I was looking in the paper map we had and felt that Route 62 will be a more scenic  route than N2. Route 62 is also the longest wine route so that would mean a lot of tastings on the way. At Swellendam we left the highway to join Route 62.

As soon as we hit the Route 62, the landscape completely changed. From wide open grasslands and roads running to infinity, we came into rocky mountains and zigzag roads. It’s an idyllic drive. Amidst the mountains and vineyards, the roads curves along without stressing the traveller.


On to route 62


Driving through the mountains on route 62

Our first stop was Mantagu. Only because lonely planet said the main street of the town is flanked by 28 national monuments… It’s a beautiful, almost manicured town but we didn’t really find the period houses that have been renovated and called national monument worth the stop.. we then headed to Robertson.


In robertson town.. The roads are decked up with beautiful flower rows everwhere

A lot of SA wines we knew of come from the Robertson wine area. There are many wineries here and you should just stop by whim… unlike Stellenbosch, most regular wine tastings are free. We went to Van Loveren. I chose to do the chocolate+wine tasting and sikander went for the free regular tasting… I think he had a better time because I got a questionnaire to fill after each of my tasting and he was pleasantly busy in conversation with the lady behind the bar and enjoying his wines while I was wondering if I should mark the taste as woody or nutty? Is it garnett or deep red? 🙂

Afterwards we went to Cristina’s@Van Loveren – a Mediterranean bistro inside the vineyard. Lovely food and lovely atmosphere.


Cristina's@Van Loveren

With all our stops, by the time we reached Stellenbosch, it was already 5:00 pm. Our first question as soon as we entered the estate where we were staying for the night was “when does the tasting close?”. We still had half hour so we headed straight for the cellar instead of the reception :).


We had chosen this estate to spend one night in luxury of a 5 star, amidst the vines and scenic beauty of stellenbosh. We didn’t have the best of stays there due to service issues at the hotel and by morning we figured we are more suited to places that have a more personal approach than hotels that have next to nil human interactions. In lodges and B&Bs and backpacker places, people are more open to talk and share their travels… The owners are right there having breakfast with you, giving you a little about the history of the area, helping you plan the day and taking care of anything that doesn’t work. In hotels, one the guests usually keep to themselves and two when things don’t work, the staff can sometimes be very careless about it without worrying about business. They have and 100 rooms what if one traveller goes back dissatisfied? That was somewhat our experience at Asara wine estate. The views from the hotel are breathtaking and I am a bit sad that we didn’t have the kind of time we hoped we would.


Beautiful views of stellenbosh from the wine estate

Anyway next morning we headed into town. This was also our shopping day. I wanted to buy a lot of craft stuff for my volunteering activities at the foundation and a friend had suggested a specific art supply shop in Somerset mall and we also wanted to buy some spices and groceries that we don’t find in Angola. We didn’t spend a lot of time in Stellenbosch city center but I would definitely want to spend a couple of days there exploring the city center.

Shopping was uneventful. I mean nothing to write home about..  I got crazy at the card stock counter and kept on adding pattern after pattern in my basket :).

Late in the evening we reached our beautiful lodge – Blackheath lodge – that was to be our home for the next two days.

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Day 7-8: up in the trees

We just left our nest atop a tree in an indigenous forest just outside of knysna.
Last two days were the most relaxing so far… There was not a sound other than those of birds and ourselves. There were times when I would be staring out of the window and sikander will come up from behind and ask “what are you thinking”.. and I was amazed by the fact that I was thinking nothing. My mind was blank. Rested. Quiet. I was just enjoying the scene outside the window :).


Just staring out and listening to the birds...

After leaving Colchester, we started phase 2 of our trip.. almost midway at Port Elizabeth we changed our chevy for a BMW.. and made way towards the garden route. One of the amazing features of the N2  and also the summer days is the long range visibility. The road at times feel like it’s stretching to infinity…  right ahead is an unending road and on both sides are open fields with mountains in a distance.


Roads stretching to infinity

Our first stop was at tsitsikamma. There is a nice highway pitstop there with both on-the-move and sit down restaurants, fuel, rest areas and information booth. We reached knysna about 2:30pm. Went about looking for places open for lunch but being a Saturday everything in the town was either already closed or closing. Picked up a few groceries as we were going to stay at Teniqua  self catering tree tops and left. A few kilometers  down the road we came across signs of a restaurant.. took the alley road and went in. It felt like we have suddenly reached Goa! Bamboo shacks… rooms behind the shack… tables on the water front, reggae  music, pool table inside the shack and assorted water games gear… After having lunch and drinks there we headed back on the highway.

The GPS brought us to a point on the road which had a sign board of teniqua treetops but there was no sign of anything far far away along the road… The board said left, a little distance away there was a gate on the left which said “private property, keep closed all the time”. Still we could not see any building inside the gate.. we went in… After a little while came to one more similar gate. Went in… saw a few ladies coming from the opposite side and confirmed that we were on the right path. Just about 500mts away hidden in the trees was the teniqua main area.
The owner William showed us around the property a little. Teniqua is a 38 hectares big resort in an indigenous forest.. There are only 8 treetops in the whole area with each being so private that you can’t hear or see from one to another… The common area has a big place for bonfires, library of books and games, a huge huge chess on the floor, swimming pool, trampoline, swings.. “enough if you ever get bored of your treetop!”.

Robin took us to our treetop. We fell in love with it as soon as we entered. Everything was so thoughtful in there… A little well-equiped kitchen; a bedroom, a covered sitting area with windows on all sides, an open bbq  area, toilet and open to the sky shower and bath tub! 🙂 it was a lovely little house on the trees. It was almost like being tarzan and jane.


Our little cabin on a treetop

After unpacking our groceries, we went for a little walk in the forest. They have a few marked trails. First day we just walked in the open grassland area of the forest and enjoyed the beautiful sunset and the mountain view from a mountain top. Went back cooked dinner… It was getting cold and a warm bowl of daal chawal was the best dish at that time :).

Next day morning we starting on a trail all the way down to the river bed. After going up and down two mountains we reached a pool in the river and it was jet black. Robin had told us earlier about the “Coca Cola” rivers of the region. The water is a reddish so at places where the river runs deep, it appears black and at the shore it makes interesting colours of red and orange.

We were the only ones there… so it like our own private river pool! We stayed down for about half hour and the we started to walk along the river bed so that we can climb the first mountain itself rather than climbing up and down two. At one point it was no longer possible to walk along the treetop side of the river so we crossed – with shoes tied together and on our shoulders. The other side was quite difficult and at one place we felt we can cross back. Sikander even did (and lost the water bottle to the river!) But the flow was too high and the river so deep that I chickened out.. and he had to cross back. We kept on going ahead. . Figuring out a path where we thought it looks like people have walked.. only to realise we were lost. We had no water and the sun was at its peak. We decided to turn back and go up the original way itself. But after about 200 mts  or so we saw a white painted stone on the other side… and then we also saw their board on the other side marking the 2nd place to cross…. yeah!!!! The fact that we had no water and it was getting hotter and hotter was what worrying us. once we saw the path, it was such a big relief… we climbed up mostly without much talk and drank two full glasses of water each upon reaching the cabin :). A friendly hike turned into an adventure..


Hiking in the teniqua forests

In the evening we again walked around the open grasslands area and took in the beautiful birds and flowers of the place. We also played a half game of scrabble at the common entertainment room. I had planned a pasta meal for dinner. Though simple, it by far is the tastiest pasta I had 🙂 eating our dinners with the views of the sun setting on one end and the moon rising on another… The whole experience made the food amazing!


Pasta with roasted eggplants

Oh! And I forgot to mention we also had a cola bath in the open! The water in the taps is from the river.. so when you fill the bath tub it’s like going inside a tub full of coca cola.. we had bought some Epsom salt at the local groceries and we just sat in it out in the open with our glasses of wine..

Lots of good food for the mind and the body.. After two nights of bliss we now head towards stellenbosch..


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