There is Magic in them thar Hills

There is nothing like a change to focus one’s attention.  For twenty years, I have lived in the Magic Cottage on Old Kilgobbin Farm in Dargle.  This week, I become an Howickian for the rest of this year (at least).

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While I really do appreciate most days living in the beautiful hills, these past two weeks, it seemed that Dargle put on her very best show – just for me.  There was dancing  (lots) and long walks, beautiful sunsets and spectacular stars. How lucky can a girl be?  I felt I simply had to share some of the Midlands treasures I have been showered with this fortnight.

sunset

Inhlosane is a Dargle icon.  Everyone loves this hill that one can see from across the Midlands.  Early one misty morning, I climbed it with some friends and the enthusiastic Everglades dog.  At the top we explored for hours and picnicked among the rocks.

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Summer flowers were out in abundance. In hidden gorges, I discovered Berkheya leucaugeta which I had never seen before.  I love finding new flowers! Especially such cheery ones.

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With late (very welcome) rains, the uMngeni was flowing strongly, so I stopped at the hidden Dargle Falls to pay my respects to Mama River.  I hiked down to the Dargle River too (particularly close to my heart), but sadly she was only trickling.

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I walked a lot in the hills that I love so much.  Through hay fields, beside wetlands and over grassland. I saw three oribi, a few bushbuck, a couple of duiker and some reedbuck too. Dizzy and I will really miss these walks that have been so easily accessible from our back door.

dizzy-nikki-grassland-crop

Orchids have been flowering particularly well this season. I stopped often to photograph them, and the spectacular Brunsvigia natalensis too.

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I showed off the magical mist-belt forest to my friend, Xola. It is always nice to have someone appreciative to share things with. I took my first ever selfie to celebrate!

xola-nikki-selfie

There were plenty of beautiful fungi,  delicate Steptocarpus in flower and the Samango monkeys clicked in the tree tops. We drank from the spring and sat quietly on moss covered rocks simply soaking in the sounds.

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On the veranda of il Postino, I crammed in more pizza than I have for months!  I love hanging out with the super friendly Mzamo, Wonder, Lucky, Anna and Thembelani so it wasn’t a hardship.  I enjoyed wood-fired pizza during a stoep schlurp afternoon with my pal Judy, with friends for a Dargle Conservancy committee meeting,  with my family who came all the way across the hills from Boston and on a particularly memorable night – with strangers. On this evening, the restaurant was full, but the owner, Chris,  kindly whipped a reserved sign off my favourite table and declared “I have been keeping it for you!”  A little later, a smart woman and her elderly mother arrived searching in vain for a spot for supper – we offered them space at our table. We had charming evening and then, to top off the magic with more magic – they paid for our meal!

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I read one of my favourite Midlands poems, by Chris Mann, at the epic monthly Poetry Evening at Steam Punk Cafe. This gathering of creatives is so special and inspiring it is almost impossible to describe.  On this occasion, I was privileged to be asked by Midlands legend Helen Shuttleworth to read one of her poems too.  I love the juxtaposition of the dusty car park with noisy trains trundling by as poets perform with passion.  Catching our breath at interval, we devoured Ayesha Thokan’s delectable veggie breyani.

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At home in the evenings, I drank champagne on my veranda,  wandered along the road – greeting strangers that appeared out of the dark –  saturated in the surround sound of owls and frogs. I marveled at the night skies from my very best bench-with-a-view.

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I harvested fresh food from my garden for the most delicious meals – cavalo nero and purple beans, new potatoes, tomatoes and wild greens. I invited friends for lunch – under the tree on perfect afternoons, or beside the fire when it mizzled all day.

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As the first chill of Autumn swirled about our ankles, lots of butterflies came to celebrate my garden with me. My neighbour Barend – whom I always look forward meeting on the road as we have so much to chat about – dreams of re-branding the D17 – Butterfly Valley.  Lovely idea.

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Of course, I swam in the dam as often as I could – it really is my favourite thing to do. Early some mornings, late in the afternoon and even in the midday sun. There are thousands and thousands of tadpoles in the shallows and dragonflies wearing jewel colours flitting about on the edges.

dizzy-at-the-dam

Dawn rambles in the farmyard are a morning staple – cup of tea in hand.  Just the donkeys for company and maybe the Barn Owl swishing by, if I am early enough.  Piggy-Sue usually takes a walk at about the same time as Dizzy and me.  On one morning, while Dizzy was scavenging in the scraps of hoof the farrier had left, I watched as Piggy-Sue chatted through the fence with the old donkey Jack. Gently putting their noses together in greeting.

donkey-head

I laughed and stretched at our regular Pilates class, hosted by Helen with energy, grace and an abundance of kindness. This gathering reminds us twice a week to value our community, to breathe and to stand in self-carriage.

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Also at the Lion’s River Club, I spent a happy hour watching the local frisbee club in action.  What a game this is!  I am in awe of their skill and commitment to the spirit of the game. No contact, self refereed and when they compete, three of the seven team members must be women.

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I could hardly believe my good fortune when invitations arrived to join two fabulous evenings of music. The first in the gorgeous Red Barn at Corrie Lynn – Tim Parr, Steve Fatar and friends – and the irrepressible Cech Sanchez who had us all dancing in a flash!

corrie-lynn-barn-concert-en

The Solar Powered Stage created by Kim Goodwin at the Zuvuya SunFest was magnificently, magically memorable.  Surrounded by love and good friends, we enjoyed poets and singers before the incredible duo of Nibs van der Spuy and Guy Buttery took to the stage, entrancing us with their guitars.  The clouds covered the cliff tops, the late sun streamed on our backs while kids frolicked in the dam.  A perfect Dargle afternoon.  As evening fell, the pizza oven disgorged deliciousness, the dogs chased the sparks around the bonfire and a variety of local DJs set us all dancing wildly. Marvellous.

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I enjoyed conversations with the Zulu staff, many of whom have lived at Old Kilgobbin for longer than me.  Sad that I won’t be around every day, they invited me to stay in the spare room in the staff compound with them – what a lovely thought!   I visited Baba Sokhela who has lived here for over 50 years – expending all his youth, energy and strength on this farm before he retired. He even built my Magic Cottage many decades ago.  Over the years, the Sokhela family have invited me to share so many celebrations – membezo, weddings, umgezo and more funerals than any father should have to cope with. It has been an honour to participate.  They have so graciously coped with my vegetarianism – letting me know not to come too early when an animal will be slaughtered and even giving me a gift of meat to take home for my dog!

baba-sokhela

With lovely fellow Darglians, Pauline and Rose, I spent a fantastic morning learning about Regenerative Gardening with the effervescent Eidin (who until recently, was a Darglian too).  We bounced along the back road to Notties, chatting happily, dreaming of abundant gardens and admiring the views.

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Last Sunday, I took my other favourite back road – to Boston past Inhlosane – to join my friend Carol’s Mindful Walk and Forest Meditation morning.  What a treat that was. I especially observed how the folk who usually live in town reveled in the beauty, tranquility and fresh cold country water that I may occasionally have taken for granted.

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If I could have had one wish, it would have been a Dargle Trade barter morning to top everything off. This regular get-together of like-minded, self-sustainable types is thriving and makes me feel pleased about all the effort I have put into Dargle Local Living over the years. However, I can still drive out to share, swop and catch up on gossip as it is actually only 15kms away…

In Zulu culture, after a big celebration or ceremony, the day after is called ukulanda isigqoko – the fetching of the hats.  The hosts need to cook a bit more food and prepare extra drinks for those who may have left belongings behind and come to fetch them.

I left my red hat at Zuvuya last week, so I guess I will simply have to go back to Dargle to collect it.

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Thanks Anthea Taylor and Xola Keswa-Dlamini for taking the pictures of me.

Eataly

My favourite new Italian word is chiocciola.  Snail.  The symbol of Slow Food and, this year, recreated in giant recycled plastic by Cracking Art to decorate the paths, walls and streets of Turin during the Slow Food Terra Madre Salone del Gusto (SFTM) event.

Cracking Art plastic Slow Food snail

Once I had accepted the invitation to attend, I was determined to make the most of the expense (both carbon and cash – see previous post!) and planned to spend time in Milan and the hills of Cinque Terre too.   Some tastes of my trip follow.

cinque-terre-coastline

Formaggio

Cheese is an abiding memory of SFTM. Great piles of odd shapes, big balls hanging from the rafters, enormous wheels of parmesan, grey squidgy lumps piled of bracken fronds from France (formaggio de bocca), delicate slivers on wooden platters, the dark crusts on the rounds from Campagnia, huge holes in Emmentale, and pale oozey balls.  Cheese from around the world was featured, but Italian cheese ruled.  I ate a lot more cheese than I usually would (when in Rome…). The delegates’ canteen offered a big tray of chunks (yes, chunks) of parmesan and a soft ripe brie style cheese beside the selection of charcuterie.  Restraint was required.

parmesan

I loved the smoked provolone (and the odd lifebuoy shape when whole), but think some of the goat and sheep’s cheeses were my favourites.  One day, I couldn’t make it back to the canteen for lunch, so snacked on a Pecorino sosatie beside the River Po instead. Did I say restraint?

cheese-sosatie

The million or so visitors to the festival did not miss the opportunity to try new things and stock up on good, clean, fair, delicious food – within three days the Irish stall had completely sold out of the 350kgs of raw milk cheese they had carted across the North Sea!

Naturally, the world’s rarest cheese was there – from Montebore in Valle Nostra – made with 75% cow and 25% sheep’s milk, with a lingering flavour of chestnut. Loved the wedding cake shape.

rarest-cheese

Verdura

Despite the fact that the central public gardens were planted with cavalo nero and the veggie patches we passed in the train were filled with kale and chard, it was a bit of a challenge to find greens to eat. Obviously at the SFTM, it made sense to showcase non-perishable produce during the five day festival, so that was understandable.

slow-food-festival

At lunchtime, the delegates’ (there were 5000 from across the globe) buffet featured a big bowl of green lettuce and maroon radicchio.  After a couple of days of scrumptious pasta, couscous, barley salad, soups (and too much cheese), I simply ate the leaves, topped with a spoonful of farro (spelt) and drizzled with lovely olive oil and vinegar.

canteen

Luckily, our hostess, Franca Farinetti (probably the only vegetarian in the area!), has been a slow foodie since the movement began 20 years ago and cooked the most delicious cavalo nero and cannellini bean soup (all ingredients from their garden), when Ntombenhle and I arrived home exhausted after a day of long bus rides, lectures, tastings and meeting people.

cabbage-and-kale

In the stalls, I snacked on the biggest and best capers ever – from Sicily, admired purple potatoes and exceptionally long leeks, and watched weather worn women from Puglia as they deftly knotted tomatoes together.

tying-tomatoes

In Turin, I ate caponata melanzane in Galleria San Frederico – not especially green, but veg

at least. On the sidewalk, a passing couple stopped and danced the Argentinian tango to the sounds of a student string band.

tango

In the village of Corvara, I was thrilled to find wild oregano, mint, borage and dandelions growing beside the country lanes, so nibbled as I walked.

corvara-street

One day I picnicked on tomatoes and small Ligurian olives bought in nearby Pignone supplemented by the wild greens.  A fresh feast.

There were lots of pink Cyclamen and yellow Crocus in flower in nooks and crannies too, but I didn’t think I could eat them.

On my last evening in Italy, my room featured a tiny balcony overlooking the street.  While I could have eaten at one of the numerous cafes and bars in the neighbourhood, I chose to watch the sun set and the trendy Torinese emerge for the evening, from high, with a deli-bought radicchio, rocket, watercress and lettuce salad, topped with burrata and a slice of farinata. Perfect.

balcony-salad

Pane, Pasta and Pizza

Italians eat a lot of bread – and pasta.  With bread at every meal, it is no wonder that there was plenty on display in the white tents of Valentino Park where the event was held.  Much of it made with heirloom grains to recipes handed down through generations. This was good bread. There was a vast selection of fabulous flours on offer too – farina della tradizione artigilana biologica – from which the various breads, pizzas and focaccia were made.

bread-on-shelves

Popular fast-ish food for festival goers was thickly sliced of bread with slices of cured meat or cheese. Seldom any salad or garnish – perhaps just a drizzle of oil.  They looked unappetising, but were very popular.  The whole loaves of bread looked wonderful – piled in mounds.  I tasted many tiny bits dipped into olive oil.  Isn’t this bottle just beautiful?  Holding very precious oil, obviously.

olive-oil

Biscuits are also an Italian favourite. Thin, flat and crisp ‘tongues’ flavoured with rosemary, salt or olives or long crunchy grissini – Stirati – extra-stretched bread sticks.  Speaking of snack food, I found pesto crisps! How yummy is that idea?  Come on Woollies.

tongue-biscuits

One evening, the local branch of Slow Food organised pizza and beer in the Alba town square for the South African delegates.  A mobile wood-fired pizza oven cooked to order while we were entertained by CoroMoro – a group of asylum seekers from across Africa who sing traditional Piedmontese folk songs and are a big hit in the region.   It was wonderful.

I ate fresh ravioli with bright green pesto off a plastic plate from the pop-up Fior Fiore food stall where they promised (and delivered): ‘each product reveals its own character through its unique flavour, close links with its territory of origin and the passion of those who guarantee its existence every day: breeders, farmers, artisans and entrepreneurs united by the common goal of safeguarding the values of food in a modern culinary culture.’

galleria-san-frederico-2

Alice Bottignol, delightful daughter of our hostess Franca, had never heard of the Banting diet – just as well, as they eat pasta every day. On our last evening around the kitchen table, they gathered twisted zucchini from the garden to make a simple spaghetti dish, followed by a salad of just picked green beans and tomatoes.  Epitomising good, clean, fair.

zucchini

At the 5 Terre Hostel, where I stayed in Corvara, the owner Franceso loved to cook. Every evening he would announce his menu plans and invite us to eat if we wanted to.  Penne with tomatoes, vegetable lasagne, risotto, spinach and ricotta tart or farro soup. Ideal after a long, steamy day hiking through the oak forests and olive groves between the villages in the 3 868 ha Parco Nazionale della Cinque Terre – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

corvara

In Corniglia one lunchtime (I had walked from Manarola), I ordered spagetti vongole e lemone under a big plane tree in the small piazza. I know clams are not vegetables, but this dish is a favourite from my pre-vegetarian era so I decided to risk the karma since I was right beside the Mediterranean where the dish was born.  It was fabulous, but not any more fabulous than any other pasta dish I ate in Italy, and I certainly don’t need to eat it again.

I then set off up the steep paths through the terraced vineyards to walk to Vernazza in time to catch the ferry back to Monterosso al Mare.

Cinque Terre - Vernazza

The five famous villages on the cliffs of the Med are car free zones. To get to them, you catch the train or the ferry or walk – or park your car high in the hills and take the steps.

riomaggiore

I chose to walk the high contour paths, but there were thousands of stone steps to get down to each village – and then up again when you left.

stone-steps

Hard to imagine farmers carrying huge loads of grapes from these precarious vineyards during harvest time, but they certainly did before rigging up the rickety looking rails that do the job today. On the hike from Porto Venere to Romaggiore I came across the stone walls built at just the right height for the grape-laden to rest their load.

One lunchtime, I joined locals (some men in their overalls!) on the unpretentious deck of a trattoria for some very fine fare.  I ordered trofie rucola, noci & scague di grana.  Trofie is a small twisted pasta that is a regional speciality and usually served with fantastic pesto (I ate this in Milan). This one was served with walnut sauce, rocket and parmesan. Good lunch on a steamy day with cold white wine and a tomato salad.

trofie-rucala-noci

Another evening, I joined new friends at the Hotel Paese and loved the ravioli with walnut sauce. A fellow diner had ribbons of pasta with wild boar – literally a sprinkling of boar.  I do like how the Italians use meat as seasoning, rather than the main event.  I wasn’t thrilled to spot the signs warning that boar shooting season started in the deciduous forests around the village that week.

forest-corvara

Fagioli

Slow Beans – there was an entire bean section at Terra Madre!  A fabulous celebration of lentils, beans, chickpeas – where crowds clustered at the booths – animatedly asking questions of the passionate producers and paying good money for bags of pale broad beans or almost purple chick peas.  I adored the names – each one a speciality of a particular region – khaki coloured Malato o di San Guiseppe, Fagiola rosso di Lucca with burgundy streaks, pale green Fagiolo Gialet and small rust coloured ones from Fiamagnano.  Many are Slow Food Presidia – set up to save and promote old varieties not in mass production.

beans

In Piazza Castello one was invited to play with an array of legumes – colouring in outlines of farming scenes drawn on a table.  A few volunteers patiently sorted all the mixed-up beans back into the various pots, so the next food explorer could play with their pulses too.  Clever use of touch and smell to illustrate the importance of seeds as the first link in our food chain.

bean-picture

Farinata is a pancake-like creation made from chickpea flour.  I like it a lot and enjoyed crisp, dark gold slices whenever I could.

Birra

Imagine my delight to discover il Teatro della Birre at Terra Madre – a forum for craft brewers to share their experiences and guide participants through the delicate flavours they had managed to extract from hops and what not.  I tasted American, German and Belgian beers, and plenty of Italian ones – a few of my beer highlights follow:

At Terra Madre, passionate small, ethical producers abound. That is the whole point really. A young man introduced me to the Trappist brews – Birra Antoniana – from Padua.  My favourite was La Torlonga, which uses Solina, an ancient variety of wheat that grows between 450 and 1400 meters, resists the intense cold and the snow on poor soils and is grown by only ten organic farmers.

birra-antoniana

It was hard not to judge the beers by their branding. The colourful folk art on the Czech Wild Creatures, the bold colours of Sicilian Epica, the enchantingly named Piccola Birrificio Indipendente. I certainly didn’t taste all that I admired!

lisa-beer

One evening in Monterosso, after paddling in the calm, warm sea, I sat at a pavement café enjoying fresh focaccia and a glass of beer. I can’t remember what it was, but the waiter did explain its local origins with great enthusiasm. The café was closing in two days as the season was over – I felt fortunate to have been one of the very last customers.

monterosso-beach

Frutto

Each morning for breakfast in Monticello d’Alba, Franca offered a big bowl of homegrown plums (prunes) and the very last peaches of the season. They have a special name this late variety, but I can’t remember it.  A succulent start to the day.

peaches-and-plums

The figs were almost over, but one evening when we were invited to join in the folk dancing at Cinema Vecchio (a bit like the Scottish reels we do in Dargle, so I fitted right in – thanks Lucinda!), someone contributed a big platter of fresh figs which we devoured with glee.

Did you know that apples originated in the mountains of Kazakhstan on the border with China? Or that 80% of the global market is represented by just four varieties?  There are 400 varieties of apple in Piedmont alone, so imagine how many interesting ones there are in the world that are being lost, or just surviving thanks to small family orchards.   Slow Food aims, through the Ark of Taste programme, to collect varieties that belong to the cultures of the world – record their existence, raise awareness of their extinction and ask everyone to do something about saving them, by telling their stories.  The display of apples in the Saving Biodiversity Exhibition in Piazza Castello was simply beautiful.

apples

Wandering on the fringes of Corvara, I admired plump pomegranates in driveways, and surreptitiously tasted a couple of grapes straight off the vine.

red-grapes

I loved the great heaps of nuts at the festival – pistachio, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. Almonds dusted with the herb savory were scrumptious, pistachio pesto was sublime. Most of all I admired the colours and textures.

pistachio-nuts

Gelato

Ice cream rocks in Italy. One of the first things Ntombenhle and I did in Milan was buy a couple to eat as we explored Navigli (the canals).   Good but not incredible – probably catering to the tourists that thronged the city, even so late in the season.

canal-ice-cream

In Turin centre during SFTM, Via Po became Via Gelato with a long string stalls selling gelati made from specific varieties of fruit and nuts. Everyone was invited to “taste biodiversity in one cup”. One could choose between Renneta or Gala apple (I chose the tart Renetta).  I also chose Limone di Almalfi, Bonda Valley Romasin Plum, Bronte Pistachio from Sciliy and Piedmotese Hazelnut.

plum-gelato

The weather was warm, the sun was shining, everyone was out eating ice cream, including me!

snail-piazza-castello

At every opportunity, I bought an ice cream. I managed to cram in four on my last afternoon in Italy – including Stracciatella.

river-po

Leaving Italy with a tummy full of ice-cream is jolly sensible, I reckon. But early the next morning at the airport I managed to squeeze in a fabulous arancini – fried risotto ball. Where in the world, besides Eataly could one order fresh mozzarella di bufala and arancini with a cup of breakfast tea?

Ciao.

Read more about the Italian trip here.

lamp-turin

Ciao Carbon!

Having consciously avoided emitting excessive carbon for the past 20 years, I am about to embark on a carbon creating extravaganza.  While there is no justification for this behaviour, I thought it likely that others who generally try to live low(ish) carbon lives might find my dilemma and attempts to justify it amusing.

I have long thought that environmental organisations are among the worst culprits when it comes to unnecessary air travel. I so often bump into supposed greenies who fly to Cape Town or Joburg for the day, conferences/ gatherings in Ghana or Germany at the drop of a hat, or are involved in research projects in Ecuador that demand their annual attention.  This has always struck me as ridiculous, but I have sceptically listened to rationalisations about how environmentalists/conservationists should be allowed bigger carbon footprint allowances as their activities were supposedly helping the planet, by finding solutions.

Many years ago, I refused to travel to Europe to receive an award for the MMEP (ok, it was a small and insignificant award). I recall the astonishment in some quarters that I would refuse a free trip, but also that a few people were very impressed at my ‘walking the talk’. At the time it seemed bizarre to have banned staples and set up recycling bins in the office of the environmental education organisation and then jet off abroad for a frippery.

So now I am doing just that – watch as I try to justify this!

An opportunity arose to attend the annual Slow Food Terra Madre Salone del Gusto in Turin Italy.  I have been a member for many years, certainly believe in the principles of good, clean, fair food and done my best to promote the cause. Ironically (in the light of the air miles I will be clocking up this week) I have never attended any of the local Slow Food functions in Durban as I thought they were too far away to be really local, so confined my slow food jaunts to the Midlands and ‘Maritzburg.

terra-madre-africa

Slow Food really is something that is good for the planet.  But seriously, a week in Italy with thousands of others from across the globe? The focus this year is on Indigenous food systems and I believe 400 Africans are travelling to Turin, along with countless South Americans, Asians and far flung Europeans.  I can’t even begin to imagine the combined carbon footprint! Anyway, I am going, with my friend Ntombenhle Mtambo. They are putting us both up with local families, feeding us and arranging a bus to get around.  So once we are there we will be pretty eco.

On the bottom of my airticket, it states “Estimated Total Carbon Dioxide Emission For Flights: 2812.80 kgs”. There are even suggestions on how to offset this. Ooooh offsets – that’s a whole story on its own, but I will try to focus on my personal issue.  I check the figures on the various online calculators and discover that about 3 tonnes is correct.  Is it possible to make this up/repay the planet?  Friends tell me that I have ‘earned’ it with all these years of solar cooking and harvesting greens outside my kitchen door. I know too that not having children ‘earns major credits’.  However, I was already doing these things perfectly happily, so shouldn’t I be doing MORE?

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After sifting through all the info on ‘trading carbon’ and ‘selling carbon credits’, it seems that tree planting is punted by most carbon offset companies (the internet is littered with them). Ha!  Well, I know how ridiculous that is.  Grasslands store more carbon than forests and trees are always being planted in inappropriate places, which drives me mad. Apparently, I only need to spend R352.32  to make up the three tonnes. This is the amount of emissions an average South African home produces in a year. No wonder this is a thriving business, it is just so easy to do.  I delve a little into a few of the companies and their tree planting projects – some are really enticing. Others focus on protecting rainforest and other ecosystems. I find one that focusses on installing low carbon cooking and lighting solutions in rural areas – that is very appealing and makes a lot more sense than planting random trees.  But I already do that. I have given away many sunstoves, wonderbags, isitofu to save our indigenous forests being plundered and plastic burnt for fuel, and spent much of my energy promoting these things.  Should I just do more of the same?  But how much exactly?

I could, of course, give up my car.  That really is a possibility – all I have to do is move into Howick where I can walk and ride my bike almost anywhere I need to go.   That would mean I give my walks in the hills and dips in the dams which I do believe keep me sane and enable me to contribute to helping others live more sustainable lives… Am I simply trying to justify my idyllic life that is made possible by fossil fuel?

No one offers the option of helping you transition to a vegan lifestyle, but I think that may have the most impact.   Most carbon calculators give lots of credits for this, but it is not an idea punted by the off-setters.  Pulses only use 100 litres of water to produce 1kg of food compared to the 13 000/16 000 litres for a kilo of (feedlot) beef.  The Slow Food Bite Sized Guide has this to say:  “Meat consumption is reaching increasingly unsustainable levels and the environmental costs of such an unbalanced diet are enormous. Producing a kilo of beef using industrial farming systems releases on average 36.4 kilos of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (the livestock industry produces 18% of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, a higher percentage than the transport sector) and requires around 15,500 litres of water and 7 kilos of plant-based feed.”

r-chickpea-salad

Remember water uses heaps of energy to get where is needs to (unless you are carrying it on your head – then it is your own personal energy) – so the energy savings of a vegan lifestyle are obvious.  The energy footprint of eggs and dairy is enormous if commercially produced.   I eat only free range eggs produced as locally as possible and buy milk and cheese from a cow just nearby, so I think I am doing pretty well.  But now that my attention is focussed on the issue, I need to take into account all the water and energy used to grow the maize fed to the happy chickens – I have yet to come across anyone leaving chickens to forage for themselves.  Even grass-fed dairy ends up looking dodgy – especially during the current drought when fields have been irrigated or hay trucked in (along with some commercially produced food supplements). I can’t find any simple calculations comparing a vegetarian diet to a vegan one (and am so bothered trying to book umpteen busses and trains on the internet that I give up searching).  I am a bit worried about all the extra almonds I might eat for breakfast instead of an egg. If a drought hits Prince Albert in the Cape and the nuts have to come from California, surely it would be better to eat my neighbour’s eggs?

r-mushroom-egg-toast

So back to Slow Food.   As part of the network, more than 2,400 Terra Madre food communities practice small-scale and sustainable production of quality food around the world.  So far so good – that is the reason I am a member.

I wondered if the organisation feels any responsibility for the enormous footprint of this annual fiesta and am pleased to discover that they do make an effort.  This is their blurb and I will be going to see for myself!  Better not be green wash!

“Slow Food has always warned about the sickness of our Planet and it has been working in order to find solutions to this problem. The SEeD project (Systemic Event Design), by the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, it has managed to reduce the expected environmental impact for Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2016. For the first time, the energy required for our event will be secured from renewable sources. Energy savings during the event will also be made possible through the use of lighting fixtures and low-consumption appliances. The commitment to reduce the amount of waste produced and to promote recycling will be central: more than 100 recycling areas will be set up, overseen by 250 volunteers. Visitors have been invited to reach Turin and travel around the city by using public transportation.

terra-madre-asia

The theme chosen for the 2016 edition, Loving the Earth, will show the way to possible solutions. Serena Milano, General Secretary of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, explains: “Looking after the environment and the planet we live on is the most important issue of our time, and an obligation for everyone who works with food. We want to rediscover the pleasure of taking care of the Earth, together with producers, teachers, chefs, academics, farmers, food communities and above all, everyday people and families. For this reason, we are organizing workshops, conferences, tasting sessions and educational courses.”

Several themed spaces and interactive tours will be dedicated to crucial campaigns to save the planet: from the preserving of biodiversity to the need of reducing meat consumption, from the promotion of a more sustainable fishing, to the need of safeguarding bees and other pollinator insects increasingly threatened by the intensive farming and the use of pesticides, from soil defense to water, seeds and other common goods protection. Terra Madre Salone del Gusto will provide several educational spaces aimed at schools and families to learn how to grow a garden, make compost, chose seasonal vegetables, and take care of seeds. An invitation to cultivate in several contests: in the ground, in a vase, on the balcony, in the garden, in the countryside or in urban spaces.”

So that was a long slow ramble around my head to reach the conclusion that I cannot justify the carbon emissions and it will be difficult to make them up from my current lifestyle.  I simply have to live with them.  I doubt very much that I will do another trip like this one in my life.

Buon appetito!

Do have a look at the important work that Slow Food does – www.slowfood.com or join our local KZN convivium –  slowfood.imifinokzn@gmail.com

terra-madre-europe

Mnandi

I am feeling pleased a punch.  The cook book I have been working on for absolute ages as a fundraiser for the Mpophomeni Conservation Group has finally been published.  My design diva pal, Des put it together just the way I dreamed it and I think it looks delicious.

mnandi-cover-no-p

My friends in Mpophomeni are the inspiration. How could I resist not sharing their stories and recipes when they say interesting things like this:

  • Hope Majozi (I call him my second favourite vegetarian in the world): “People are unaware. They do not realise the cruelty of meat production.”
  • Ntombenhle Mtambo: “Teaching young people to grow food and medicine and become more self- sufficient is the most important thing we can do – but it must be fun.”
  • Penz Malinga: “With animal agriculture now the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions, we all have change our lifestyles, and eating more vegetables is a great start.”
  • Lindiwe Mkhize: “I worry about the kids – they need fresh nutritious food and plenty of water, not white bread and horrible juice filled with colourants.”
  • Tutu Zuma: “My food forest and medicinal plant garden keeps me strong and healthy. I have never been hungry – I eat green food throughout winter.”
  • France Mtshali: “If you want to live a long life work hard, eat fresh, local food and lots of greens.”
  • Sthembile Mbanjwa: “It feels nice to pick your own food that you have grown with your hands and to save seeds for the next season.”
  • Mary Mlambo: “Many young people don’t understand how important growing good food is. They want to be pilots and doctors, but you can’t get food from a plane or hospital.”

dancing in the rain 4

I feel very fortunate to have been able to combine all the things I care about – eating  plants rather than animals, using renewable sources of energy, living local, growing your own, foraging for wild greens, building community, brilliant colour  – in this book.  Lucky, lucky me!

So this is a tiny taste of what it is all about.

Seasonal cooking is never a chore.  It is a joy.  It is a celebration of colour and flavour, of the time of the year, of the love lavished by the gardener and cook.

In Mpophomeni township in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands, joy is a fundamental part of living. Here food is grown from the heart, meals are meant to be shared and stories are told with pride.  In this book of fresh garden food, the people with their hands in the soil and their creative customers share their delight in seasonal produce.

winter

Savour Sthembile’s handmade lasagne with just picked spinach, try Tutu’s sun-cooked rhubarb stew and make Ntombenhle’s famous vetkoek or her favourite crunchy fennel and orange salad.  Customers at the Mpophomeni Community Garden, Caroline Bruce, Oaklands County Manor, shares her recipe for Sauerkraut while Kate Chanthunya of Rondavel Soap shows us how to make a salad dressing using maas.  The imifino (wild greens) section will encourage you to take a whole new look at the abundant greenery in your veggie beds.

nosipho and salad

Anna Trapido, author of Hunger for Freedom – the story of food in the life of Nelson Mandela, wrote the ‘shout’ for the back cover: “We are what we grow, cook and eat. Mpophomeni’s gardeners and cooks are an example of what South Africa can and should be. Through the pages of this delightful book readers will come to love and admire a remarkable and resilient community. The recipes so generously offered are not only delicious but also inspiring and insightful – each one allows a reader to taste a piece of the story.”

r grinding pepper onto potato salad 1

I hope that Mnandi (which translates as ‘tasty’) will inspire you to take part in the magical process of growing and preparing food that is good for you and good for the planet too. Available at Mpophomeni Community Garden, Mpophomeni Tourist Centre, Dovehouse Organic Farm Shop, Lazy Lizard Bookshop and Howick Falls Info Centre in Howick,  Three Tree Hill Lodge Bergville, Oaklands Country Manor Van Reenen, BookWorld  and Tatham Gallery Shop in Pietermaritzburg, The Lilac Crane and White House Books in Nottingham Road, African Art Centre, Earth Mother Organics, KZNSA Gallery, Home Grown at Litchi Orchard, and It’s All Good in Durban.  Or from mnandisales@cowfriend.co.za

Official launch at the Midlands Literary Festival at Yellowwood Cafe in Howick on 27/28 August.  I will be doing a presentation at 10am on Saturday morning, and we will be signing copies all weekend. Do hope you can pop by to celebrate with us.

Publication is sponsored by N3 Toll Concession who have always loved the food we serve them when they visit.  Thank you Andy Visser for the spark and Thandi Rakhale and Con Roux for your continual enthusiastic support. Thanks to my tribe of creative friends (who are not Mpoppies) who contributed recipes, ideas, time and advice – Sue Derwent, Erica Platter, Kate Chanthunya, Eidin Griffin, Sam Rose, Bridget Ringdahl, Karen Zunckel, Kim Ward, Lesle Hall, Caroline Bruce, Cheryl Blackburn, Liz Gow, Alison McKenna and Paul Van Uytrecht.

All money from sales will go to MCG projects.

r bunch carrots

 

 

Eating Orangutans

When I was little, my Dad made the strong bars for the new orangutan cage at the local zoo.  We got the special treat of going ‘back stage’ to see the orangutan.  I remember lots of concrete, metal bars, a pile of straw and being told not to go close as the orangutan could reach out and grab us. I think it was pretty scary. Now, of course, I think the poor lonely creature probably wanted to reach out and touch someone else.  Back in a time when orangutans were pretty unknown, I remember feeling very pleased to have had this encounter – it made me feel a bit out of the ordinary – but also a bit sad.

Nowadays, I really am out of the ordinary – particularly about food.  Eating orangutans is absolutely, definitely not something I will do. However, most people are doing so without thinking. Enjoyed a Magnum ice cream on a hot day?  Lays crisps with evening drinks? Marie biscuits for morning tea?  Horlicks before bed?  Nutella on your toast? All these things and a gazillion more, contain palm oil. Apparently approximately 50% of products on supermarket shelves contain palm oil. By default, they contain orangutan.

Last week, I went out without packing a snack. I stopped at the garage for fuel so popped into the shop to see if I could find something to nibble on. There was NOTHING, absolutely nothing, without palm oil listed in the fine print. The chocs, sweets and chips I knew about but I was aghast to find all the packets of peanuts, cashews and almonds also contained palm oil. I settled for a coke – another evil, but for another story.

young Orangutan by Photographer Andrew Suryono

What’s the issue with Palm Oil?

Palm oil use is responsible for mass deforestation and a decline in Orangutan populations.  When tropical forests are cleared to make way for palm oil plantations, not only does it drive extinction of plants and animal species (about 20 000 orangutans dead in the last 10 years and only about 40 000 left in the wild) but deforestation on this scale releases huge amounts of CO2 pollution into the atmosphere, contributing directly to climate change. Deforestation is the second largest manmade source of atmospheric carbon dioxide, after fossil fuel burning. Indonesia is now the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. These original forests are ‘carbon sinks’ which store more carbon per unit area than any other ecosystem in the world. Clever humans – just when we need to be storing as much carbon as we possibly can!

It’s estimated that 98% of Indonesian forest will be gone within the next 10 years due to palm oil plantations. For cheap oil? Cheap only because we are (still) raiding the planet – the true cost is borne by the environment and though not included right now, we will all pay for the destruction of functioning ecosystems.

When I was little, my Dad made the strong bars for the new orangutan cage at the local zoo. We got the special treat of going ‘back stage’ to see the orangutan. I remember lots of concrete, metal bars, a pile of straw and being told not to go close as the orangutan could reach out and grab us. I think it was pretty scary. Now, of course, I think the poor lonely creature probably wanted to reach out and touch someone else. Back in a time when orangutans were pretty unknown, I remember feeling very pleased to have had this encounter – it made me feel a bit out of the ordinary – but also a bit sad. Nowadays, I really am out of the ordinary - particularly about food. Eating orangutans is absolutely, definitely not something I will do. However, most people are doing so without thinking. Enjoyed a Magnum ice cream on a hot day? Lays crisps with evening drinks? Marie biscuits for morning tea? Horlicks before bed? Nutella on your toast? All these things and a gazillion more, contain palm oil. Apparently approximately 50% of products on supermarket shelves contain palm oil. Last week, I went out without packing a snack. I stopped at the garage for fuel so popped in to see if I could find something to nibble on. There was NOTHING, absolutely nothing, without palm oil listed in the fine print. The chocs, sweets and chips I knew about but I was aghast to find all the packets of peanuts, cashews and almonds also contained palm oil. I settled for a coke – another evil, but for another story. What’s the issue with Palm Oil? Palm oil use is responsible for mass deforestation and a decline in Orangutan populations. When tropical forests are cleared to make way for palm oil plantations, not only does it drive extinction of plants and animal species (about 20 000 orangutans dead in the last 10 years and only about 40 000 left in the wild) but deforestation on this scale releases huge amounts of CO2 pollution into the atmosphere, contributing directly to climate change. Deforestation is the second largest manmade source of atmospheric carbon dioxide, after fossil fuel burning. Indonesia is now the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. These original forests are ‘carbon sinks’ which store more carbon per unit area than any other ecosystem in the world. Clever humans – just when we need to be storing as much carbon as we possibly can! It's estimated that 98% of Indonesian forest will be gone within the next 10 years due to palm oil plantations. For cheap oil? Cheap only because we are (still) raiding the planet – the true cost is borne by the environment and though not included right now, we will all pay for the destruction of functioning ecosystems. So what can we eat or use? Fortunately for me, I don’t eat sweets, so that is not such a hard one to avoid. Crisps I do love and have found that Flanagans doesn’t contain palm oil or the veggie chips from Woolies – sweet potato/beetroot. Paul makes ice cream from scratch, so I don’t have to worry about that, but the Madagascan Vanilla one from Woolies is safe to buy. Biscuits, cakes and muffins are a real challenge, if you buy those. Anything with Vegetable Oil listed as an ingredient is suspicious – if it does not specify sunflower/canola/whatever, then it is very likely palm oil. The Mooi Plaas Wholewheat & Cranberry and Butter Yoghurt rusks have no palm oil, but others in their range do. Even one of our favourite baked treats from the Karkloof Farmers Market contains commercial biscuits – so you really do need to ask about ingredients. We were aghast to discover that even some of Fry’s Foods (those vegetarian protein alternative products) contained palm oil. We wrote to them and were told they were had stopped using palm oil in everything besides their pastry products. We check the label every time. Toothpaste, cosmetics and soap – well, I use small production, organic, preferably local ones but you still need to check. I like ESSE moisturiser (the creators are in Richmond) so wrote to them to ask about palm oil. They replied right away (which was impressive), “We don’t add palm oil as an ingredient to any of our products but palm oil is sometimes used in the production of one of our emulsifiers. The German supplier of this emulsifier generally uses coconut oil but sometimes switches source. Under such a circumstance their suppliers of palm oil are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) or are otherwise certified sustainable palm oil producers (CSPO).” I am comfortable with that. Of course, besides voting with our money, we can also speak up about the issue. Online petitions have had some major victories. Betty Crocker in America (cakes) agreed to switch to sustainably produced oil recently after huge public pressure and Ferrero (chocolate) and other big brands have become members of the Palm Oil Innovation Group. http://poig.org/palm-oil-innovation-group-announces-new-members-leads-change-from-plantations-in-indonesia-to-supermarket-shelves-across-the-globe/ ‘But it’s so hard’ someone said to me recently, when I encouraged her not to buy the pretty handmade soaps she was planning to give all her friends for Christmas. It is not really, you simply need to ask if the ingredients are not printed on the packaging. If they are, all you have to do is read them and pop them back on the shelf if they do contain palm oil. There are soaps without palm oil – Rondavel make fabulous ones (including a vegan version! yay!). You can choose Flanagan’s crisps or ice cream made with real dairy. You could also bake your own muffins, or ask someone who needs a little extra income to provide you with sweet treats, made with ethically sourced ingredients. If you are not particularly enamoured by orangutans, Sumatran tigers and elephants and gazillions of the small guys are also being decimated, never mind the millions of Indonesians that rely on rainforests for their livelihoods - entire forest communities now face poverty and displacement. Fortunately, we all learned to read in Primary School, so can put that skill to good use in the supermarket queue. Reading labels is a good thing anyway as you never know what other nasties may be lurking. Even easier is simply not to buy anything in a package. I think that if something has to list the ingredients, it is not real food anyway. I’d rather eat leaves. Oh, and you won’t believe it, but there is still a solitary orangutan, named Opal, in a cage at the Lion Park Zoo. Can she be the same one I met so many years ago? Compassionate friends are working hard to get her released to a sanctuary. http://www.heraldlive.co.za/world-rallies-around-spca-call-get-boswells-orangutan-sanctuary/ Images of orangutans are from an article by Sarah Arnold in the Mirror. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/pregnant-orang-utan-pictured-clinging-final-1896974

So what can we eat or use?

Fortunately for me, I don’t eat sweets, so that is not such a hard one to avoid.  Crisps I do love and have found that Flanagans doesn’t contain palm oil or the veggie chips from Woolies – sweet potato/beetroot.  Paul makes ice cream from scratch, so I don’t have to worry about that, but the Madagascan Vanilla one from Woolies is safe to buy. Grabbing a chocolate bar in the queue is virtually out of the question. Paul has discovered that the Ayeshire Cream Fudge chocolate bar from Woolies is both locally made and palm oil free.

Biscuits, cakes and muffins are a real challenge, if you buy those. Anything with Vegetable Oil listed as an ingredient is suspicious – if it does not specify sunflower/canola/whatever, then it is very likely palm oil. The Mooi Plaas Wholewheat & Cranberry and Butter Yoghurt rusks have no palm oil, but others in their range do.  Even one of our favourite baked treats from the Karkloof Farmers Market contains commercial biscuits as a base – so you really do need to ask about ingredients.  We were aghast to discover that even some of Fry’s Foods (those vegetarian protein alternative products) contained palm oil. We wrote to them and were told they were had stopped using palm oil in everything besides their pastry products. We check the label every time.

Toothpaste, cosmetics and soap – well, I use small production, organic, preferably local ones (Pure Beginnings, African Organics) but you still need to check.  I like ESSE moisturiser (the creators are in Richmond) so wrote to them to ask about palm oil. They replied right away (which was impressive), “We don’t add palm oil as an ingredient to any of our products but palm oil is sometimes used in the production of one of our emulsifiers.  The German supplier of this emulsifier generally uses coconut oil but sometimes switches source.  Under such a circumstance their suppliers of palm oil are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) or are otherwise certified sustainable palm oil producers (CSPO).”  I am comfortable with that.

mooi plaas rusks

Of course, besides voting with our money, we can also speak up about the issue. Online petitions have had some major victories. Betty Crocker in America (cakes) agreed to switch to sustainably produced oil recently after huge public pressure and Ferrero (chocolate) and other big brands have become members of the Palm Oil Innovation Group.

‘But it’s so hard’ someone said to me recently, when I encouraged her not to buy the pretty handmade soaps she was planning to give all her friends for Christmas.  It is not really, you simply need to ask if the ingredients are not printed on the packaging. If they are, all you have to do is read them and pop them back on the shelf if they do contain palm oil. There are soaps without palm oil – Rondavel make fabulous ones (including a vegan version! yay!).  You can choose Flanagan’s crisps or ice cream made with real dairy. You could also bake your own muffins, or ask someone who needs a little extra income to provide you with sweet treats, made with ethically sourced ingredients.

If you are not particularly enamored by orangutans, Sumatran tigers and elephants and gazillions of the small guys are also being decimated, never mind the millions of Indonesians that rely on rain forests for their livelihoods – entire forest communities now face poverty and displacement.  Learn a bit more about the issue.

PEOPLE-ONLY-Orangutan-Boon-Mee (1)

Fortunately, we all learned to read in Primary School, so can put that skill to use in the supermarket queue.  Reading labels is a good thing anyway as you never know what other nasties may be lurking.  Even easier is simply not to buy anything in a package. I think that if something has to list the ingredients, it is not real food anyway.  I’d rather eat leaves.

Oh, and you won’t believe it, but there is still a solitary orangutan, named Opal, in a cage at the Lion Park Zoo. Can she be the same one I met so many years ago? This makes me too sad for words.  Compassionate friends are working hard to get her released to a sanctuary.

Images of orangutans are from an article by Sarah Arnold in the UK Mirror and the baby under the leaf is by photographer Andrew Suryono.

Vegetarian? Absolutely.

When I met Erica for tea last Sunday morning, she told me she had been up since dawn making saffron, turmeric and coconut ice cream. “It is such a gorgeous golden colour, and I know it will taste delicious too” she grins. While she has grown the turmeric herself, coconuts are a bit of a challenge in Howick.

Erica is no ordinary cook – she is changing the world one delectable meal at the time and growing the herbs, salads, onions, garlic and greens she needs for her catering business right outside her door.  “Sustainable, ethical, delicious food is my thing, and now I only cook vegetarian food.”  No wonder I like her so much.

Erica Brown food table

Erica wasn’t always vegetarian. Her journey started while swimming on a deserted beach in New Zealand. “Suddenly, I was surrounded by dolphins, as they circled their sonic clicking sound went straight through me. It was an incredible experience.”  Knowing that dolphins were often harmed in tuna fishing, she immediately stopped using tuna and soon afterwards all fish because of overfishing and shocking farming practices.  “I felt that I couldn’t complain about the state of the planet if I was not doing my best to make it better.”  As a chef she started to ask about the produce and use only free range and organic wherever possible. This didn’t always go down well with the owners of the restaurants where she worked, as their focus was usually on profit.  Eventually she stopped cooking commercially, horrified by the food wastage, food miles and over packaging.

erica pea hummus

Nowadays, Erica runs a vegetarian catering business in the Midlands and is a regular stall holder at the Karkloof Farmers Market, serving up scrumptious and inspiring meals that happen to be extremely good for you too. “The reaction is always amazing,” she comments, “people are surprised that vegetables taste so good and that there is such a diversity of interesting ways to use them.”

erica patties

Juicing is another passion – a way to get nutrients straight into your blood stream – and her customers love her interesting, healthy combinations. “With so many people juicing as part of their cancer recovery diet, I always say, why not start drinking fresh juice while you are still healthy?” Certainly can’t do any harm. Naturally she only uses fruit and vegetables in season and is amused when asked for orange juice in the middle of summer, gently explaining that they are not in season then. She relishes every opportunity to spread the sustainable living message through her wholesome, home-made vegetarian food. “This is all part of a learning journey for many people. I am sticking to my guns even though some people tell me my business won’t succeed if I don’t compromise. I care that bears are starving because the wild salmon is overfished and no amount of profit can make up for that.”

For a taste sensation (and a little bit of learning) look out for Erica’s pop up restaurants, her foodie stalls and juicing demos – you will be delighted you did.

Contact Erica on 071 031 0182  Thank you Peter Upfold for the photographs.

erica brownies

Camping with Lipstick

  • tent
  • self inflating mattress
  • vacuum packed ready meals
  • sunscreen
  • tutu, headdress, wings, goggles
  • lipstick

Camping kit sorted.  Ok, I am clearly not a regular camper. The only reason to camp is if there is no other accommodation available and the destination is exceptional. Aaah, Afrika Burn. Of course. I reckon camping won’t be so bad if I can wear lipstick everyday without feeling weird among khaki-clad hiking/camping types.

The Survival Guide, which I read carefully before we set off, warned us to come prepared for dust, wind, rain, cold, heat, mosquitoes, devil thorns and flash floods. We also had to take every drop of water we would need for a week with us and bring out absolutely everything we carted in – Leave No Trace.  This was no ordinary camping trip.

my tent

Afrika Burn is community of participants who come together voluntarily to create art and a new world in the Tankwa Karoo once a year. Eleven principles act as guidelines for the event and illustrate how a community can recreate the world.

Tankwa dust is legendary.  On arrival, Burn Virgins (you could obviously spot us a mile away!) were required to bang a gong and roll in the dust, before heading into ‘town’ to find a rocky spot to hammer in our tent pegs.

karoo afrika burn trip 2016 1130.JPG

Tankwa Town (created annually by volunteers) is a barren plain ringed with hills. The Roggeberg to the North and East, and Cedarberg in the West.  The nomad tents rise like little mountain ranges too. Roads are created with tape and have delightful names. The main ones follow the clock – 6ish, 9.30ish and 10ish.  The side streets are alphabetical  (so thoughtful for late night revellers trying to find their camp) using interesting words with X in them – so Elixir, Flummox, Generation X, Hex… This year was the 10th anniversary of Afrika Burn, so the overall theme was X. Crossroads were illuminated with solar lights and You Are Here maps.

karoo afrika burn trip 2016 741.JPG

The very useful Survival Guide had said that goggles were essential. Despite it seeming very odd, I am glad I packed some as they were very handy when the dust storm rolled through. I wore them on my way to yoga class in the morning, to eat lunch (out of the packaging, with extra crunch) and to wander around the Binnekring in the early evening watching the people.

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Everything (well most stuff) happens on the Binnekring – a circular road around the open area where the art is displayed.  Thousands of people perambulate whirling umbrellas or trundle along on bikes. Marvellous mutant vehicles cruise by offering music or drinks or snacks. Folk lounge on bean bags or sit on hay bales enjoying pancakes, vetkoek, coffee or ice cream – all the treats that are gifted by the hosts of the Theme Camps. Some dance, some drum, some walk on stilts. It is an astonishing collection of creativity and colour and absolute magic. Everyone participates by dressing up, playing an instrument or jiggling hoola hoops – there are no bystanders.

3 karoo afrika burn trip 2016 558

Flags flap, balloons bob and tents strain at their tethers. The heat of the day is tempered by the breeze. No one bothers to cling to their tutus or headdresses – they simply go with the flow. The wind is an integral part of the Afrika Burn experience – illustrating beautifully the transient nature of the event, and indeed life.

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The morning yoga class set to resurrecting the tent and sweeping the canvas floor before the calm, white-clad teacher settled us down for some vigorous breathing with our eyes closed and backs to the bracing breeze. The Alienz Coffee Shop which provided free coffee to everyone who brought a cup took a battering, but was soon up and running as those in need of caffeine restored order.

All sorts of bits and bobs blew away to get snared on the bossies along the water course.  The detritus is called MOOP in Tankwa Town – Matter Out Of Place. Whatever you take in you have to take home and it is astonishing that 12 000 people actually do this!  There are no bins. We volunteered for MOOP collection a couple of times, disentangling ribbons of toilet paper from thorny bushes and found that what we collected was seldom willfully discarded, but simply lost in the wind or the party.   We seldom found copies of the entertaining daily paper – The Stofadil Sentinel – sure everyone wanted to take a souvenir home.

karoo afrika burn trip 2016 1054

Even when there was no swirling dust, the earth was obvious. Hard, with stones everywhere.  Interesting stones, I must say. Some sharp and standing upright in shards, others smooth and extremely shiny, swathes broken into neat rectangles and some that looked like elephant skin. I did spend a fascinating morning with a Geologist and Archaeologist out in the wild part, but can’t really remember anything I learnt.

6 karoo afrika burn trip 2016 1246.JPG

I have never been to any sort of festival before – the thought of thousands of people and a few chemical toilets has put me off.  Here the loos were lovely.  Long drops, dug by volunteers before we arrived, with buckets of sawdust beside them, treated with effective micro-organisms every day, and surrounded on three sides with shade cloth to ensure a little privacy.  One morning I overheard a tie dye clad young man excitedly telling his friend he had spotted a Rufous naped Lark from his favourite loo with a view! I was dreading the thought of mass use toilets, but these were perfectly nice. Just in case, I adopted three nearby anyway, tidied them and cleaned the seat a few times a day after decorating them in a Fresh-as-a-Daisy theme with trails of lacy white daisies and daisy coloured poetry to read. I hoped that users might be better behaved if it was a pretty space – I need not have been concerned.

karoo afrika burn trip 2016 756.JPG

We had carted in the suggested 5l of water per day per person and found that this was more than adequate. Obviously, we didn’t bother much with washing and soon got used to the powdery film on our limbs, matted hair and very wrinkly faces. Interesting how easily we adapted to a waterless world.  One afternoon our neighbours offered us the last bit of hot water in their portable shower and Penny and I had a very luxurious wash using only ONE LITRE each!

Our neighbours deserve a special mention as making friends with them was definitely a highlight.  We set up beside four young people from Pretoria – also Burn Virgins, who were so organised and utterly charming and offered us gluten free pancakes in the morning and woke me up to watch the midnight burn with them.  On the other side was Ebenezer Roux a succulent grower from Cape Town -he just loved camping and spent most of the time pottering around his camp housekeeping. He got the kettle boiling first thing so we could have a cup of tea together. One evening, he gave me a list of all the vegetables he had brought from his pantry so that we could cook up a big ratatouille to share. Beside him were a Gauteng couple whom he had met at the Burn before and who were now his firm Tankwa friends – an annual rendezvous in the desert. Tucked between us and the Afrikaans youngsters was a couple from Tanzania and their son who has just finished at UCT – they cooked glamorous things like Spagetti Carbonara and drank red wine and greeted the day with a ‘Salaam Alaikum’.  Behind us were lovely travel bloggers, Andra and Sergiu, Romanians who live in Vienna. They had a very organised VW Kombi that they slept in with their toy monkey, and the aforementioned shower.  When the big crowds arrived for the weekend, Hawaiians Juicy and Mantis squeezed their off road rental with a tent on top between us and the road. What a delight they were. Veteran Burners who have often been to the original Burning Man event in Nevada and had the most fantastic costumes, including incredible platform boots and eagle wings (which they gifted to Penny). They told us the quickest way to get to Tankwa Nature reserve when we left and saved us HOURS of driving.

Penny and Ebenezer

Apparently 1500 or so people simply left during the dust storm, packing up camp after their tents had collapsed in the high winds, or simply preferring their breakfast grit free. Most people were more resilient than that – carrying bedding and belongings to more robust tents, offering shelter to neighbours, sharing 10 pound hammers and hunkering down.

8 karoo afrika burn trip 2016 542

Ballgowns billowed and the creative buckets in the free showers at Camp New Beginnings swung wildly. Burning Mail managed to stick free stamps onto free postcards and send them off around the world, or deliver them by bicycle around the camp.  I don’t expect anyone tried to play tennis in the wind at the Love All Tennis Camp.  The rainbow CD and rag décor at the Pancake Pozzi twirled, but they kept serving pancakes, and there was afternoon tea in china cups with biscuits on offer too.  The Independent Republic of Boerassic Park was undeterred by the wind, serving up vetkoek and folk stories to the early risers.

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I contributed to the artwork named Octopus’ Garden – a crochet coral reef of many colours set on the ancient seabed – feeling fortunate that there was a way that I could participate from my comfort zone of hook and yarn.

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Radio Tankwa filled the airwaves with news about what was happening where and an eclectic selection of music. Eclectic is a word that epitomizes the entire event.  Wealthy revelers arrive in helicopters at the airstrip while battered panel vans brave the tyre shredding roads. The contrasts are immense and much of the time, one’s senses are overloaded.  Most of all the kindness of strangers, the spontaneous conversations in unexpected places, the sharing and generous gifting overwhelms the whole experience. There is really nothing negative to say.

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Burning the Artworks seemed a bit odd considering that some had taken weeks to build and were incredibly beautiful.  Fortunately, in conversation with strangers we soon learned that the FIRE is often the art – the way the sculpture burns. The flames that shoot high through the centre, the whirlwinds of embers that spin off into the desert, the petals of the Lotus that opened one by one as the flames licked the base.  Cleverly thought out and planned by the artists.

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The burns took place in the evenings and while there was a schedule, the fire crew made last minute decisions on the conditions and the wisdom of burning.  The best way to find a burn is to follow the flashing red lights of the fire trucks as they head across the dark empty space.  Soon crowds of self-illuminated folk (think LED lights in tutus, tiaras, on bicycle wheels and backpacks) wander across to ‘the burn’.  Some sculptures burn easily while others require dousing with petrol and flame throwers (a bit disappointing).

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Our favourites included the Desert Flower made of subtle coloured hessian; the Clan X – giant dancing figures; Die Laghuis for the small and engaged crowd; Obscura 2010 – Tintin’s Rocket which seemed so different from anything else; the silent burn when everyone in the entire place switched off the music and sat in reverence watching the flames; the Lighthouses which was pretty silent by default as many people had left already and those who remained had no need to be noisy, the sunrise burn; and The Moment which burnt at midnight.  This sculpture was created by a team of Russian artists – a beautiful cracked egg supported in the air – my favourite I think.

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Oh, I must not forget Lizzie X Edition – the life size, mechanised Tyrannosaurus Rex that circled the crowds spewing fire and reminding us all that dinosaurs once roamed these plains. It was very moving.

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Most evenings there were literally dozens of fire dancers doing their thing – completely mesmerizing.  While all this could be really dangerous, volunteer Rangers keep everyone at a safe distance, warn of potential hazards and treat anyone with sunburn or braai fire burns too.

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The volunteer medics treat other emergencies and the Sanctuary offers a quiet space for those having a rough time – all volunteers!  Volunteering rules at Afrika Burn!  I found a space that I fit into perfectly! It is the MOST FUN and highly recommended.  I volunteered as an Info Booth Faery, in Lost and Found, registering media and showing artists where to set up, collecting MOOP and as a Snow Queen in the ice booth.

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Ice is the only thing sold in Tankwa Town – helping to keep everyone cool, food fresh and drinks delicious. It was one of the most enjoyable afternoons I volunteered for and I met some jolly interesting characters at the ice truck too.  We were surprised at how easy it was to keep our supplies cold with a little care and a couple of bags of ice.

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I didn’t focus much on taking photos because I found it quite hard to capture the magic. Better to simply enjoy the moment. Also, I didn’t think the dust would do my camera much good!  With no phone signal, cash or deadlines and surrounded by remarkably friendly members of humanity one really begins to believe that we can recreate Life on Earth in a better way.

In the end, it is the people who participate who make Afrika Burn such an exceptional experience.  Participate, not just observe. We were all the entertainment.  Pyromaniacs or not. With or without lipstick.

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