Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

It is difficult and heart breaking decisions and moments like this that have me awake from 3am in the morning – I am beginning to wonder if I will ever get any sleep again in the lead up to my move (In case you missed it, SA to UK) Now that all the formalities are done, now that everyone knows, now that jobs have been left and friends and family have been notified, it is time to put all the plans into action – With a little less than 3 weeks to do it! This morning, all that I can think about is that fact that I have to leave my animal children behind – I am the most awful pet owner in the world :(

In the last few days, many people have posed questions to me about my desertion of my family – The human ones, J-P (My husband) and my daughters Hayley and Dakota. How can I do that to them? They won’t have two parents? How will they manage? How will I manage? In answer to everyone, it is the most difficult thing I have ever and will ever do, but I guarantee you that they will be stronger for it. They are not being ‘deserted’ as many people have put it, in fact now more than ever they will be around close friends and family to spend what time they have left with them. Both of my daughters will still have their fathers here in South Africa with them up until the move as well as all the grand parents and aunties and uncles they have, they are very blessed in that regard. Will they manage without their mother? Absolutely. I am not saying that I am a non issue in their lives, no doubt they will notice my absence and the distance put between us will be the longest mile imaginable but it is not FOREVER, hopefully it will not even be for more than 3-4 months if we can get all the paperwork right. They are resilient and they are still young, before they know it they will be with me in the UK looking forward to their first white Christmas (Probably next year) and speaking with little accents – This will all be a distant memory, the first and last time our family will be separated like this.

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Those of you who know J-P and I well will know that in recent years we have had to deal with some pretty rough stuff and heck, we got through that! We can get through anything (Except his snoring which this morning is exceptionally loud in my already over flowing mind). He is an amazing father with an excellent support structure, he will do a fabulous job with the children preparing them for this big adventure that I absolutely cannot WAIT to share with them. The beauty of modern technology is that the world has shrunk – We have the internet, digital cameras, Whatsapp and instant messaging, Skype and Facetime – We have so many tools at our disposal that it is impossible not to know how the other half of the world is living.

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I like to think of this little separation as a good thing. I will be there for a few months without them, finding a nice little place to stay and making it comfortable for them. I will be finding my way and learning the ins and outs of the towns and transport system. I will be contacting schools and making provision for them to start when they arrive. I will be making sure that by the time they do get there to join me, everything is already done for them so that along with the excitement of seeing their mother in person again, they will be in a comfortable loving home and I can excitedly show them the ropes – Not all 4 of us arriving, battling and fumbling our way around another continent. At the same time, they will be here with family maximising all the time they possibly can (and being spoilt, I am sure) – A few months goes by in a flash, they will be with me before I know it. Absence makes the heart grow fonder as they say, it is a necessary evil and one that has no choice other than to play out so that we can do and have what we want for our young family. My children have already given me a task, at Christmas time when hopefully there is some snow around, I have to go outside and sing ‘Do you want to build a snowman’?, record it and send it to them… Easiest christmas present ever :D

When we were originally in talks about the UK move, we did not foresee this happening for at least another 2 years or so, so you can imagine that we are a little unprepared in more ways than one (Including financially, but if you wait for financial readiness you will never get anywhere in life, this I know). We had planned to travel with all 4 of our cats and even starting looking at the budget and formalities involved to do this. That said, this move is happening a bit differently than we had originally planned and now that is no longer a possibility. The first difficult thing that I have to do is find loving homes for my 4 furry feline babies. Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I love my animals, this is not an EASY thing for me to do. My cats are my other children and without them life absolutely sucks, now I am sitting here typing this blog and all four of them are around me in the lounge as if they know that I am talking about them or crying for them… well, I am, on both accounts. If this is me with the animals, how the actual heck am I going to leave my kids?! So I have done the necessary and shared a status update on Facebook for my close friends and family, ideally that is where I need my animals to go, to a friend or family member who can give my babies as much love as I have and do.

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Despite having to heartbreakingly leave my animals behind and then desert my husband and children for a few months, I also have to leave all my family and close friends – The only life I have known for 24 years of it. I know, I am not the first person in the world who has moved countries and I most certainly will not be the last, that said, it does not mean that the end result affects me any less?! My sister said to me that she will miss me (Obviously) but I replied to her that we live mere roads away and yet we only see each other sporadically anyway, so the impact should surely not be so great. She had a valid point though, we get complacent and don’t see each other because we know that at any time we can. We can hop in the car, meet at the shop, go past the office or meet for lunch – it would be that simple if we allowed it. My best friend of now 21 years (That is a long time) and I have a relationship that allows us to get on with or lives that are at somewhat different stages at the moment and yet when we meet up, it is as if we saw each other yesterday and nothing had kept us apart – That will not happen any more. Instead, we will be reduced to the technological advances I mentioned earlier and hope that the British and SA governments work together to soon abolish the visa requirements for South Africans, so people can come visit us as well! When I leave on the 15th of October, I will be missing my planned 30th birthday party, my mom’s 50th birthday, my husband’s 32nd birthday, Christmas, Hayley’s 9th birthday and New Year – I just have to get past all of those difficult occasions and then my family will be almost ready to arrive!

It is a tough one, a really tough one. A decision we are not making lightly. We are choosing to raise our children without their grand parents, without their aunts and uncles and without any future cousins they may potentially have (I still want to be an aunty by the way, just because I am cross country does not mean I did not earn that right ok siblings?). We are choosing to raise our children in a country that they were not born into. My husband is choosing to move with me to a country in which he has to start again. Do I feel like I am taking something away from them? Of course I do, I know what it was like to be raised in another country without those people in my life but at the same time, I am opening up so much more for them and plan on my children being seasoned travellers very soon – The SA / UK commute will be a regular one because despite our need to move, I will never sever that tie.

And then, the letting go of worldly things. My life has had many battles and challenges, it was certainly not always easy and I did not always have the things I wanted. I spent the last 10 years building myself up, recovering from past mistakes and trying to build a life for myself materialistically… Finally, I am in a good place and have nice furniture, a nice house, nice clothes and nice things and I have to GIVE IT ALL UP to start once more. I cannot think of anything more frustrating… Well, they say life begins at 30 right so I guess I am just starting my life all over again. Time to relinquish almost everything I own in the world so that my little brother can start his little life on his own and we can start fresh. I will be going to the UK with my measly 30kgs of luggage and the move cube, with the last bits and pieces we can squeeze inside

But it is done and I am going and I am so grateful for the support that we have as a family, here and there. We appreciate ALL the help everyone is giving us and we would not be able to do it any other way… it is sudden, it is last minute and it is how I role. It is happening people… It is nearly time. Thanks to these two crazies again, I also cannot wait to see your faces so it is not all doom and gloom!

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It is quite the decision that one has to make when deciding to move countries. My parents did it, with 3 children a little over 24 years ago from the United Kingdom to South Africa (Thank goodness for my red passport) and their parents did it before them. There is something about a new start, a clean slate, a new country that can renew your excitement in life again, not merely to exist but to begin to live somewhere else. This is the decision that I have been thinking about for quite some time and now, the time has come where in the last 24 hours I chose to finalise my plans and to the UK I will go.

Suddenly, this is not a pipe dream anymore. My ticket is booked, my bags are to be packed (How on earth will I get this right in 30kgs) and today I had to resign (Hence I am awake at 5am typing a blog, I cannot sleep). In two weeks, I fly to London, England to start the next chapter of my life and my famili’s lives. I finally put motion to my dream.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things about this decision is the fact that I have to go to England WITHOUT my family. Why you ask? Well, there are a number of practicalities involved in that decision starting with me currently being the only family member with British citizenship and that red passport I am so happy to have. We have been in talks for months to move to England, so when the opportunity recently presented itself, it was a no brainer for me to go over and start working to get a head start on the family – Make sure that everything is ready for them when they join me. I am extremely thankful that good friends of mine have recently emigrated themselves (Similar situation sans kids) and are willing to house me while I get everything together – THANK YOU KIKKY AND SCRUFF, a definite cost saving that will be well used towards saving for my own little family place :)

So the plan you ask? I will be departing on the 15th of October (Yes, I know, a little over 3 weeks away). My ticket is booked and at a bargain too, R3200 one way to London via Doha on Qatar Airways including 30kgs of checked baggage allowance – I am going to try and see if an airline rep may be able to assist me with a few extra kg’s outside of the exorbitent USD50 per kg thereafter. Once I arrive, I will get settled into the new woman cave that my amazing friends are preparing for my arrival – I anticipate a few days of tears and anguish while I come to terms with being without my family for 4 to 5 months. Yes, it could be that long (Insert sad and miserable face here). While I am in the UK and working, looking for a nice little place for us to live, sourcing schools for the girls and saving some money, my husbander will be moving into my mom and step dad’s house with the girls so that he too can save on money and will then finalise the applications for their British passports (Automatic citizenship as I was born there – Thanks again mom and dad) as well as his spousal visa for which I already need to be working in the UK in order for him to apply – There are methods in our madness, this is a means to an end, all for the greater good. It must be done.

I have decided I will be writing a series of blogs to assist anyone else in this journey and of course, document my experiences for friends and family back home. The trials and tribulations of a new country, even though it is a birth country, and the hardships that come with ‘deserting’ your family for such a long time in the hopes that it will bring about a better life. So, my first bit of advice that I can offer anyone planning to move ANYWHERE – YOU NEED a good support structure, it will not work on your own. Without family and friends here willing to assist my husband and children in my absence, without my friends and family in the UK who will be putting me up and wiping my tears and without this little blog for frustration venting – I do not think I can do this. In fact, I am in quite an emotional space right now – A space in which I know the right decision has been made and for all the right reasons but a space that allows for hesitation and fear of failure. I feel like this is resting on me to make it work and the pressure I have added onto others (ie. Leaving my husband with my two daughters for such a long time without me) may be too much to handle.

Before you can up and leave your country, no matter how much time in advance, you need to do the research. Most importantly, can you live in that country of choice and work there legally? For South Africans, unfortunately this is not as easy as we would like for the UK but I am fortunate enough to have citizenship by birth which I pass on too my children – Sure, the passports cost a pretty penny when converting to South African Rands but hey, it must be done. My British passport in totality cost me approximately ZAR2800 and the girls passports will cost GBP145 or so for both. That is not too bad, alas, we await unabridged birth certificates from home affairs before those applications can get in there (Possible ten week delay that hopefully has shortened somewhat since the suspension of the ruling for children to travel with these out of South Africa). My own british passport delay was expected to take 6 weeks and I had it out in 3 so I can only hope that the 10 week guideline period will be just as efficient and we will have the passports out in half the time. Then of course, in order for JP to join me I must be working in the UK and earning at least £18,600 a year to sponsor him (More if non British children were to be joining, keep that in mind). The https://www.gov.uk is extremely helpful in this regard, there is tons of information about how to apply for your UK visa or British passport – Jp’s visa is going to cost approximately ZAR16k so you need to make sure that you can outlay the money for all these passport / visa costs before you start the process. The visa process also includes an English test that is conducted to check your English ability as well as a medical TB test, just to make sure you are not taking any bugs over. The expected delay on a UK visa? Approximately 12 weeks but in a friends recent experience, 7 weeks is all it took – Looks like jolly old likes to under promise and over deliver, hopefully letting me get to see my family sooner than I think!

SO now, you should have all the info on moving there and legally what kind of documentation you need to get into the country, it is probably a good idea to start researching jobs. Word of warning, it is pretty difficult in my industry to obtain a job cross country without actually being there for a face to face interview. I feel like there is mass hesitation to employ outside of the UK (Especially from Africa) based on a CV and a telephonic interview, despite modern technology and the ability to conduct video conferencing interviews etc. I had uploaded my CV / profile to a website recommended by Kikky called Reed where you can easily search for available jobs by area (If you already know where you are going to be) or contact recruitment agencies directly as well as companies listed. Fortunately, I have a place to stay (Based in Crowthorne, South East England) so ideally you would like to be close to where you live. Understandably, this is not always possible but keep in mind that if you do not drive or cannot purchase a car outright, public transport is not cheap. For the job that I have applied to and hope to confirm in the next few days, I will need to walk 20 mins to the bus station, catch a bus from Crowthorne to Bracknell and then a train from Bracknell to Chertsey at an average cost of approximately £11 a day (Rail Easy for more info)… For people working in London or commuting fairly far, this cost can rise to up to 30 or 40 pounds a day – Factor that in when deciding on what jobs you want to apply for. There are quite a few jobs available in my field for average salaries, travel is not the highest paying industry in the world, but as I mentioned previously, not too keen on hiring without a face to face interview. SO while I have spoken telephonically and am continuing to line up alternative interviews for my arrival (Just in case), the company still want to meet me face to face and so I have to leave, sooner rather than later.

So, the job you hope is almost sorted and you are ready to go with your documents – What next? Do your research, It is time to find out what things cost in the UK… I put together a basic ‘budget’ to identify what I will be spending now in the next few months without my family and of course what that will rise to once they arrive (The sooner I put my husband to work here, the better). There are great websites you can get onto to get decent ideas of pricing but everything is generic, your costs are going to be based on your own needs – That said, it is always better to have a decent idea. I found a great site called Work Gateways that has a plethora of information on the cost of living, applying for your National Insurance number (When you arrive) and how to do your UK tax – Also check out basic costs of living here to see what you will spend in the shop – Numbeo. You are also going to have factor in many things like what you will take with you? We have decided to sell up all our furniture here and go with the suitcases of clothes we pack and then use Seven Seas Move Cube to ship over the clothes I did not get to fit in the suitcases, kids toys, photo albums and of course Jp’s Warhammer goods. These cubes are really reasonably priced and come in varying sizes – We are going for a medium sized cube which costs approximately ZAR9000 to send over, takes roughly two to three  months to arrive by sea (Boat, please do not sink!) and requires a customs tax to be paid there on arrival of approximately 100 pounds – I hope to have this shipped by end of October latest, I am battling with the clothes issue! If you need a little more info on budgeting and what you need to earn as an individual or family of 4, I found an article on that could be quite helpful in that regard – Still relevant and important info to know = Business Insider. 

There are going to be many things you cannot take with you (SAD face) but it is not like you are going to the rain forest in the middle of nowhere, you are in fact going to a country with shops where you can purchase the items that do not make sense to travel with ie. Toiletries (Shampoo and Conditioner can be bought on arrival) that take up too much weight in your suitcase. On Kikky’s advisory I searched the Poundland store where everything is ONE POUND – This is amazing, and considering I am still in convert mode, R18 for a shampoo or conditioner is just wonderful (One of the first stops I hope to make on arrival!). Believe it or not, people in the UK are also nice, they give away stuff for FREE – Kikky (This wonderful mountain of knowledge) has led me to a site called Freely Wheely where people advertise what they want to give away and then you get to ask for it! This is not as useful now as it will be when I start furnishing a house, free stuff and charity shops will be the way to go for an inexpensive way of re furnishing a new home (Starting again :/). I then went on a bit more of a google search and I came across the Everything 5 pound store – Wonderful! Clothing etc all for 5 pounds, watch me become the bargain queen of Crowthorne! :)

So what do be done on arrival? First thing is first. I am going to need a bank account to put the miniscule amount of pounds I get from my rands into… Still not sure where / how on this one, going to take Scruff’s lead and advice and then get something together. Also, National Insurance number must be applied for – You need this for employment, seems quite simple from what I have heard and read but I guess I will discover that all once I am there. And probably the first thing I will do as soon as I get to a shop from the plane? Buy a SIM CARD – Prepaid is definitely the way to go if you already have a phone, you are spoilt for choice in terms of providers but just based on some short internet research I have done you can get a pretty decent Pay as you go deal. Take for example Vodafone UK – If you buy a £10 Freedom Freebie you will get a 150 UK minutes, 500mb of UK data (Thank goodness Scruff and Kikky have excellent uncapped WiFi at home, also on my budget!) and 100 rewards points. This is obviously just one out of many options, it will take a little shopping around to decide on the best provider and package for me :).

So there you go, I have not rested on my laurels for 24 hours – Instead, I have done every possible little bit of research I can do without actually being in the UK. Once I am settled, have found a place, have gotten into a rhythm with the public transport and am supporting myself, I will then start the research on schools and after care and those additional costs for my family to join me – I ALREADY cannot wait. The thought of being without them for months on end is keeping me up at night and constantly making me question my decision, but they are all in safe hands with a good support structure here in SA and when the time is right and the documents are ready, they can come over and the rest of our lives can begin.

There is one thing, one line, one picture and one saying that gets me through all of this. If you do not like where you are. move, you are not a tree. Too many of us are too free spirited to be tied to one place – 24 years in South Africa has given me a home, a place to grow up, a country where I met my husband and my children were born. I do not hate South Africa and that is not why I am moving, I am moving because I am not a tree. I am moving because I need to be free and I am moving to give my family and my children the life they deserve – To open up the world to them. To show them as they grow that there is more to life than being stuck in one place, which is currently how I feel. I am not happy here and I will not be happy until I change my situation, which is exactly what I have done. I am not going to moan about crime and how the South African police service and justice system can in fact be most unjust, instead I will put down all my criminal experiences to life lessons and what it has taught me is to be strong and to follow my heart… My heart knows it is not a tree.

Follow my blog (www.theshevster.com), twitter (the_shevster), Instagram (the_shevster) or find me on Facebook if you know me well enough and you can keep up to date with my plans and travels to the UK and what I am going to get up to before I leave on the 15th.

Love you all tons.

Shevy

Friday the 12th of September saw us waking up with the odd feeling that the Mascarun challenge was over and yet we were still gifted with a few days in Reunion to enjoy the scenery and culture. Getting down to business, it was a day of hotel inspections which saw us visiting a total of 6 hotels to better sell the destination and its various accommodation options to our clients. It was not all work and no play, between hotel visits we got to visit the local market in Saint-Paul and have a local lunch of junk food at the snack bar. The market was a canvas of smells, colours and textures… anything you could want or need could be found at this gorgeous ‘little’ market alongside the black beach. There are such beautiful crafts that you can buy to take home to the family, baskets and hats, purses and place mats. Stalls upon stalls of colourful, bright material blowing in the breeze – Every type and pattern of beach sarong imaginable, Many local artisans displaying their creative wares, from hand crafted jewellery to children’s toys, you name it and they make it.

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The rasta community in Reunion is quite a large one, we made fast friends with a local rasta who handmade and sold his magnets as curios to earn a living – He was such a happy guy, smiling and friendly, asking us where we were from and making conversation with us… Sure, he was charging EUR4 per fridge magnet, a little more than other stands, but his friendly disposition was the reason we went back for more. Something you learn very quickly in Reunion is that everyone is so very friendly, many understand that tourism is the reason that many of them have a business and so they are more than willing to be friendly and accommodating to the non french speaking foreigners. That said, after only a day or two in Reunion, you start thinking you are in France and suddenly you are greeting every one you see with a merry, high pitched ‘Bonjour’, often being mistaken as French speaking to be left with a blank look on your face – Word of advice, take a french phrase book along with you, it can only help.

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Fortunately, the market was not only non edible goods. Working our way up to the top of the market, the stalls go from colourful to tasty… rows upon rows of tables with spices, fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, fresh fruit juice stalls and little stands frying local samoosas and spring rolls. Good thing it was lunchtime because the smell of walking through this market was enough to make anyone hungry – There was nothing you could not find here, suddenly you are imagining yourself living on the island doing your weekly grocery shop at this beautiful market.

At the far side of the market was a little snack bar where we stopped for lunch, Quai Gilbert’s. We had pre chosen our lunch selection and I went with a local meal that was considered junk food… but it was far from the standard Big Mac. I cannot for the life of me remember what the meal was called but it was a fresh baguette filled with chinese dumplings and smothered in cheese – It was AMAZING!  I also had my first taste of the local beer, le Dodo, which went down nice and smoothly – Turns out the South Africans loved the Dodo so much, the snack bar ran out of the citrus version thanks to our thirst. Hey, shopping is thirsty work after all and for EUR1.50, a beer was the best way to quench that thirst.

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After the long day, we made our way back to the Le Recif hotel where we learned that dinner had been arranged on the deck by the pool where a jazz musician played music for us while we ate. Once we were all finished eating, the party started and the DJ played old school classics which I have never partied so hard to in my life. We did the patriotic bit and sang our hearts out along with Toto about the rains in Africa and when Kesha was going down and yelling timber, so were we. The YMCA became a pool side step class and JLo inspired some serious booty hopping! Music and rum, makes for quite a party.

The following day we woke up and after breakfast started the day with a trip up into Cilaos, our name sake cirque. This was definitely one of the most challenging of drives, a road consisting of 420 hair pin bends and two narrow tunnels that barely allowed for a single car let alone our tour bus. We stopped along the way for some beautiful landscape pictures before eventually arriving in the little town of Cilaos that had the most perfect little switzerland feel with the lake in the centre being used for relaxed water sports. We visited the first of two hotels for the day after which we changed busses and then made our way to Ilet a Corde along the most beautiful views including the canyoneering we witnessed up the side of the Yellow Flower. Once we arrived at Le Tapacala we were hosted by Raymonda and Michael Gonthier along with their beautiful little girl Eva who dressed in a local outfit to impress us, bling bling shoes and all. Raymonda cooked us an amazing lunch in her little kitchen outside paired with some beautiful wine atop a mountain overlooking rivers and valleys, surrounded by lentil fields and mini vineyards… It is hard not to imagine a iife like this, simple, care free – Living off the land. It was here that for the first time, I tried sweet potato pie and it was amazing, definitely a taste I acquired outside in the fresh air.

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After lunch we visited another hotel and then made our way back to the hotel to prepare for our last dinner together. We were pleasantly surprised with our mode of transport and got to take tuk-tuk’s to and from the little restaurant on the beach – A great way to get around the island for a mere 4 Euro’s a trip! At dinner, we sat with our feet in the sand and the wind in our hair not fully accepting that it was our last night here and it was almost time to go home. As much as I loved Reunion island, and I do still, I missed my husband and my children and was more than ready to come home.

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We got back to the hotel, packed our bags and at 4:30 on Sunday morning we were seated on the bus ready to come home. It was a sad day, so difficult to say goodbye to such a beautiful place filled with such amazing people. It was even harder to say goodbye to people I had spent the last 7 days with, fast friends we had made and long distance friends we will stay… It was time to go home and I know that we were all more than ready.

Reunion island, I fell in love with you in my short time with you. I still see your sunset in my mind and smell the sea air. I speak french every now and again and cannot wait for the day that I get to come back and try it out. I will miss you but I promise you, I WILL be back, next time with the family in tow.

Until then…

It’s day 5 on the beautiful island in the Indian ocean, our 4th  and final day of the Mascarun challenge.  You may have wondered by now why I had the same T-Shirt on every single day in every single photo but rest assured, there was more than one t-shirt and by this day I was glad for it. Not because I was tired of seeing or thinking in purple but because I was running out of clean shirts!

We checked out of the Lux hotel today so early morning our bags were packed and ready to go, after another early breakfast at the hotel we made our way to Corail Helicopters  – It was time for a another flight with the national bird, but this bird was a little fancier than the last. This was a truly amazing experience, for 20 minutes we dipped and glided through the three caldera’s of the island. We flew down the path of a waterfall and up over ridges that left you with a sinking feeling in your stomach – From this height you could see Reunion island in all its splendor, from mountains to seas. We then flew over the ocean and got a beautiful view of the lagoon that we had spent days admiring from the ground… there is no better way to see Reunion than from the blue skies above its crystal ocean. There is no better way to see a waterfall than flying with it and there is was nothing that could have topped this Mascarun challenge, it was the icing on an already splendid cake! It helped that we had a rather nice looking pilot named Antoine as well.

By the way – A selfie in a helicopter has been renamed the HELFIE, we took a few Helfie’s that day.

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When you get out of a helicopter, it is like you have ‘air’ legs – Like sea legs, only you feel like you should be flying instead of on the ground. It was hard to believe that 20 minutes ended so quickly, suddenly I am inspired not only to learn French but to learn how to fly a helicopter, in Reunion of course. From here we made our way back down to the beach and did a few beach challenges which included some archery on the beach, races in transparent kayaks in the ocean and a local game played with wooden pieces. It was a fun filled day, the last of our challenges had been done and it was time to name a winner.

We went back to the Lux hotel for another gorgeous meal where representatives from all the partners awaited us including Air Austral, Lux and the IRT. After some champagne and a chance to catch up on social media (thanks to the free wifi) we gathered to see who would be coming back to Mascarun in 2015 to represent South Africa. The teams were named from lowest to highest rank and well done to Team Cilaos who placed a brilliant 3rd – NOT BAD going considering we started at 8th place. Well done to the winning team of the week – Jenna, Tamarin and Johnathan in the CHOCOLAT team, a stunning effort and a well deserved Mascarun win!

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You would think by now that it was over but no, it was never over, that was the beauty of this trip – So much to experience in such a short time – We definitely made the most of our time in Reunion.

We made our way to Le Recif hotel which was further north of the island in Saint Gilles – Nice and close to the pier and of course to the airport for our impending departure in a few days. Once we arrived at the hotel, we had time for a quick change and then to an hour of meeting local agents and operators in Reunion where we shared stories, relived the last few days and listened to the locals sell their island as excitedly as we experienced it. Soon afterwards we had a lovely, leisurely dinner and it was time for all of us to hit the deck – 4 days of activity and fun was catching up, fast.

My favorite day in Reunion has arrived – Half way through the Mascarun challenge, the 3rd day, and it was time to get WET!

We started off the day with a trip to Bassin La Paix – This is where we were to spend the next 3 hours of our day doing our aquatic hike… and what an experience that was. When we arrived it was time to get suited up which meant parading around in a neoprene wetsuit with all the trimmings. We came prepared, swimsuits under our clothing, and spent the next 30 minutes attempting to squeeze ourselves into these neoprene suits – That was the challenge on its own, not only because it is just a mission to get a wetsuit on but because the changing area was a piece of tarp in the middle of the road – Not exactly the Woolies changing room I am used to! Once the suit was on, we had a life jacket over that along with a plastic ‘nappy’ to protect one’s bum (From what you may ask?!) and last, but not least, a helmet.  We posed for a photo and then spent the next 20 minutes (It felt like 5 hours) walking to the starting point – Suddenly I felt like I was reliving Monday and asking myself what exactly I had gotten myself into?

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Well, it was not half as bad as I made it out to be! In fact, the aquatic hike was amazing and turned out to be the highlight of my trip! Once ready, we climbed down a slippery slope alongside the river and made our way to the first jump where we were given a choice. A 6m or a 2m jump, what was it going to be? Team Cilaos agreed that we would have to eventually do a 6m jump so we may as well start now and all 3 of us braved the first jump of the day. It was a scary thing to have your foot on the edge, ready to jump, yet we did it! The most amazing feeling of accomplishment overwhelms you when you hit the water. That and the fact that your bum hole is creeping slowly back down to where it was biologically supposed to be… We then spent a few hours floating down the river on our backs, sliding down natural water slides, jumping off of cliffs and in my case losing my contact lenses and swallowing half of Reunion’s water supply. It was the best day EVER, I was sad when it was over and really did not want to get out.

We had now become accustomed to finishing off a challenge and being plied with alcohol so when we returned and got back into normal clothing, it was only polite to share in some rum and fruit juice. It was only lunch time, and the rest of the day was ahead of us with more amazing adventures!

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We made our way to Les Letchis, a local restaurant situated beautifully alongside the river where I over indulged in Palm Heart (My absolute favorite and a freely available delicacy on the island). The lunch was fantastic and just what we needed to line our stomachs for the next challenge. After some lounging, more wine and a relax on the river, we got back into the bus and headed onto La Vanilleraie in Saint Suzanne. We were treated to a guided tour of the vanilla plantation with a step by step explanation on the labour of love that is vanilla production… from hand fertilizing the flower from the vanilla plant to the final process in packaging the goods, the work that goes into Vanilla will absolutely astound you. I highly recommend this tour to ANYONE visiting Reunion, you will gain a new found respect for Vanilla and all the people involved. After a fascinating tour and lots of note making, we did a short quiz on vanilla and a little vanilla treasure hunt  before making our way back to the hotel. The aquatic hike and the vanilla plantation made this day my favorite day so far, but it was not over yet.

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It was now time for dinner (It is always time to eat in Reunion) at a local creole family restaurant where we were hosted by Aliette and Paris. On arrival we were greeted by the Mascareignes, a local Maloya band, luring us in with the romantic and sultry sounds of Maloya music, the local dance and rhythm of Reunion. We sat down to a traditional dinner accompanied by, you guessed it, wine (and rum) during which each team had to present themselves in a Maloya ‘dance off’ of sorts. It was amazing how all of us were such great sports and participated so willingly, it was such a fun night that ended in dancing until late and some air guitar being played. Team Cilaos took this day, we won the Maloya challenge and ended up placing 3rd overall… we were moving up in the world and having the most amazing time doing it!

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I cannot even begin to explain just how amazing this experience has been… how much we got to see and do, how we were treated like kings and queens and how much we learned about ourselves, each other and of course the BEAUTIFUL island that is Reunion…

Just a few pictures of some sights along the way – The oldest cemetary in Saint-Paul, some beautiful graffiti that covers many walls in Reunion and of course, a sunset along the main coastal road.

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The third day in Reunion and the second of the Mascarun challenge saw us heading up to the Piton de la Fournaise (‘Peak of the Furnace’), listed as one of the world’s most active and yet safest volcanoes in the world in it’s Hawaiian type island set up.  You can imagine the relief when we saw the Kreolie 4X4’s parked in the parking lot of the hotel, ready to take us to Pas de Bellecombe – I do not think that any of our legs were ready for any more walking after Day 1’s challenging hike.

The drive up to the volcano was a long one, higher and higher into the ‘mountains’ we go and of course, the motion sickness was bound to rear its ugly head at some point. It is not the height that gets you, but the windy roads that zig zag into and out of fields and forest. The further away you climb from civilization, the closer you get to an active volcano – NOW that is something to brag about. Knowing that the volcano last erupted in June of this year, it was hard not to hope something would happen while we were there but alas, after our 2 our drive, Piton de la Fournaise decided to look pretty without lava for us and she posed nicely for some beautiful pics. En route to the volcano, imagine greenery and trees, grass and fields and lush vegetation all around you – Our 4X4 driver, Martin, then asked us to close our eyes for a few seconds and when he told us to open them again, you are surrounded by what the locals call the ‘moon landscape’ and it really does look like you have just landed in a spaceshuttle onto another planet. We stopped for some pictures and some time to take it all in before getting to our volcano look out point… and there we just stood. It truly was a beautiful sight, you could see the black tracks making its way down the volcano from its last eruption – all of us just stood there in wonder. It is hard to imagine this volcano erupting ‘safely’ and yet it does. Sadly, we underestimated the length of the drive up and it was toilet time – A word of advice, it is a chemical toilet up there at the top and it is not the most pleasant experience so whatever you do, pee before you leave and enjoy the scenery without the chemical aroma of the bush loo.

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Being up there, it was easy to forget we were part of a challenge and easier to imagine we were just there to enjoy the scenery but it was time to get back to business. We made our way back down past the moon landscape and into the lush vegetation again where we were to take part in a Trike and Segway challenge. The trike looked like hard work, a rather large contraption with two big wheels at the back and one small wheel in front connected to pedals which you, in the bucket seat, have to operate. I was hoping that I would be picked for the Segway and lucky me, I was! 1 person of each team went to complete the Segway challenge where we learned to drive the Segway and then do a bit of a circuit in the fastest time… mind you, they were not just any Segway’s – They were 4X4 pimped out Segway’s which we got to operate through the clouds. The remaining members answered a few questions on Reunion and then pedaled the trikes through a circuit in a time challenge.

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We made our way back down, through St Pierre and some local traffic to reach the 5* Palm hotel where we treated to an amazing lunch (No shortage of food on this trip, which was a good thing because I always felt hungry), some wine and then a hotel inspection.  By this time we were exhausted, but it was not over yet… we left the hotel to reach Saga du Rhum, just outside of St Pierre where the teams were again treated to the amazing history, culture and background of rum. We took part in a quiz on the story of rum, followed by a rum tasting challenge which our team hopelessly failed. You would think all travel agents would be good at this? The truth, alcohol is alcohol and it all burned going down if you ask me.  It was extremely enlightening to learn about this beautiful island, it’s rich history and all the beauty that comes with a trip to Reunion. Writing this, reminiscing, I just want to go back.

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When we eventually got back to the Lux hotel, we had time for a quick change before we were treated to a beautiful dinner on the beach… the wine flowed, the food was amazing and I got to try out new things like eating Octopus and Goat of all things. The wine of course, flowed – It has taken some getting used to, not having a glass of wine with every meal. It had been another busy, fun filled, amazing day in Reunion on a trip I never wanted to end and only wanted to share with all I care about it.

On my third day in Reunion, I was hopelessly in love.

Ps. We had moved from 8th place to 5th place, it appears our Rum skills were not as bad as we thought. Go Team Cilaos.

It was impossible to imagine that I could fall so deeply in love with such an enchanting island and yet despite the heat, fall in love with Reunion Island I did. Our journey went as follows…

The Mascarun South Africa challenge was put together to educate, encourage and challenge those of us lucky ones who were chosen to participate. 24 of the countries top travel consultants from across the nation got together to share this experience – Out of 700 of the trade, we were the chosen ones. We were whisked off to an island of beauty and romance, thrill and excitement and we were ready to learn.

On the day of arrival we were met at the airport with coconut thirst quenchers and local music, I am certain that we were all curious as to what the coming week would have in store for us and we could not have anticipated the action packed adventure we were about to participate in, pre warning videos or none. The humidity hit me on the way out of the airport, as much as the charm of the island did. The people were so friendly, the group lively and unfamiliar. We made it and we could not have been more excited!

We made our way to the Lux hotel in St Gilles, a beautiful hotel situated right on the lagoon on the west side of the island. It was a dark bus ride accompanied by unexpected island traffic and a leisurely drive along the ocean – I could get used to this! Nico, our tour guide for the week, was talking animatedly in his French accent about the island and its history. He was passionate, instilling a sense of passion within all of us – As if we had been here always and were already ready to come back and do the same for others, get them to fall in love with Reunion.

On arrival we checked in and discovered who our roommates for the week would be, we then made our way to dinner to hear in which teams we had been placed and to get a better idea of what we would be doing for the rest of our time there. Many introductions were made and the foundation for firm friendships were being lade poolside that evening. After being divided into teams, we were left to a gorgeous meal (The first of many) and to get to know each other a little better. It was here that the inseparable Team Cilaos was born also known as PURPLE PASSION. Yes, for us the colour purple was chosen and yes, we were extremely passionate.

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Day 1 began with a very early start out of St Gilles en route to the Mafate cirque, one of three crater valleys surrounding the eroded Piton des Neiges otherwise fondly known as the Snow Peak, the island’s inactive volcano. Before departing, I had absolutely no idea what I was about to do. Mafate cannot be reached by car or by road, instead our bus left us alongside the Stone River where we piled into open back ‘bakkies’ for lack of a better word. We held on for dear life as the vehicles sped along the loose gravel roads, further and further away from the standard ‘beach holiday’ you would expect from Reunion… closer and closer to what felt like being in the middle of nowhere. Soon the lone joggers faded into the distance and the cars could drive no more – It was time to get out and walk.  We were presented with hiking sticks and armed with our Mascarun satchels, bottles of water and a jacket in case we reached cooler weather the higher we trekked. We had 3 trekking guides accompanying us and off we went, non hikers hiking through Mafate to reach the reward at the top – The helicopter ride down. To cut a long story short, it was the hardest but most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. Granted, by the 2nd hour of hiking I had lost all semblance of a sense of humour and by 2 and a half hours, I was one of 3 that chose to lag very far behind the rest. We had pushed ourselves about as much as we possibly could. The guide walked slowly ahead of us, allowing us to keep our own pace and while we were panting and sweating our little hearts out, it was impossible to ignore the beauty and tranquility of what was around us. We were trekking through a volcanic crator in the middle of the Indian Ocean island! And as we panted and gagged, locals flitted past us in flip-flops on cell phones – They will make this journey up and down up to 3 times a day the guide told us. What we walked in 3 hours, locals will do in one hour. What nearly killed me was away of life for the villagers – I suddenly realized the two legs I now abused had been taken for granted for so long. We went through hidden paths, across rivers and went higher and higher until the little red roof in the distance became our light at the end of the tunnel.  When we finally reached the end, our late arrival was cheered by the group and we prepared for a local creole lunch amidst a quiz and smell / taste challenge. We had to answer a series of questions based on the hike up Mafate and then taste an array of jams (Not my favorite) and smell numerous essential oils (Not my strongsuit).

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After a bit of sun lounging, the helicopter came to pick us up and suddenly the 3 hour hike (13km according to my FitBit) did not seem so bad! It was all worth it to see and experience the beauty of Reunion from that height in what we fondly nicknamed the ‘National Bird’ of Reunion. I cannot describe the view, I cannot describe the feeling – It was pure amazement and something that you will have to experience for yourself, there is just no denying that this is one of the most beautiful ways to see Reunion and a MUST if you plan on a visit.

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We then arrived back to the hotel and were greeted by our next challenge – A cocktail making test. Team Cilaos made what we called the ‘Pristine deLUX’. We thought it tasted pretty amazing, we layered vodka soaked local fruit and added champagne and a fruit juice mix – Well, we liked it anyway but apparently the judge did not agree as we placed in 8th place out of 8 teams on Day 1.  We did however learn that some of our travel trade colleagues were definitely in the wrong industry and perhaps a mixology career may have been better suited?

Day 1 ended with, you guessed it, more amazing food and exhausted South African bodies. We embraced our beds and slept with the wonder of what day 2 would bring… On that day I learned that I could do whatever I put my mind to! I just happened to be in the most beautiful place, putting my mind to it.