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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Take a hike

This weekend we went hiking. An 11.5km hike through the mountain range, valleys and grassy plains of Suikerbosrand, close to Heidelberg. It took us all of 4 hours and 15 minutes in the scorching sun.

The guide books and internet proclaims it as an area of surprisingly varied flora which includes a large number of grass species. It lists white stinkwood, the highveld cabbage tree, ouhout, sweet thorn and the common guarrie as some of the trees in the area. It also boasts about the fairly extensive range of mammals that can be found in the area. Indeed we did spot quite a number of buck, including Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Blesbok and some other that I couldn’t recognise from a kilometer away. We also spotted a few trees. And lots and lots and lots of grasslands. Up and down, up and down, grass and grass and grass wherever you look.

Let’s just say that if you ask my kids, they will tell you that it was pure torture. Their tales about the headaches, the scorching sun, the lack of trees and endless uphills and downhills may lead you to the conclusion that I am a very bad mother, who drags my kids along on torturous walks instead of doing the movies and ice-cream thing more favoured for a Sunday outing.

But I think once the dust has settled, and their sunburns have healed, they may be able to look back and see what I see, and that is a couple of very brave girls who managed to show perseverance, and made me very proud. Always the optimist!

As you know by now, I am doing the 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu at the beginning of May, and have been exercising to get to that illusive level of ‘moderate fitness’ which is required to do the almost 45km trail. And I realise that being able to do 10km walks around the Joburg Zoo and Zoo lake, and 30 minute runs in the mornings, does not mean that I can do a multi day hike. So, I wanted to do a longer hike and my friend (who is training for Kilimanjaro in August) suggested Suikerbosrand. The hike fell on a weekend that I had the kids, so I gently probed to find out if they thought they were up to it. The kids are both very active and do ballet, swimming and netball, but I had my reservations, especially about 11-year old Anya, as she is a bit lazy and struggled to complete a 4km walk at Zoo lake with us a few weeks ago. Admittedly, the girls both wore ‘secret socks’ with their trainers instead of proper socks, which I only discovered halfway into the walk, so I wasn’t sure how much of the complaining was due to their feet hurting from the socks and how much of it was due to genuinely being tired…

But I needn’t have worried, because they were very keen on the hike. We did a fairly long hike with my cousin a bit more than a year ago, along some waterfalls, which included a number of steep climbs and they absolutely loved it. Anya excitedly asked if we were going to climb some real mountains or just walk around a garden again…Well, real mountains it was!

Suikerbosrand is about an hour’s drive from our neck of the woods, and we were meeting the rest of the hiking group at 8:00am on Sunday morning for an 8:30 start. Which meant that we had to get up just after 6:00 on a Sunday morning, meet my friend at 7:00 at her house and start the long drive to Suikerbosrand. Getting out of bed was less of a mission than I expected, and after packing small backpacks, lots of water, snacks and a camera, we were on our way.

We met the rest of the group, and started the hike shortly after 8:30. After the first two uphills, our guide, who looked a bit haggarred after apparently doing about 500kms in the last 6 weeks as part of research for a book, decided to pull out of the hike. I guess this was a warning sign, which I completely missed in my eagerness to do the hike. Luckily the hike was clearly marked and we were told that at the 6km mark, the road splits with a choice of a 10km hike (difficult) or a 11.5km hike (easier). So, off we went…

The starting point of the 11.5km trail

The starting point of the 11.5km trail

At the first clump of trees, we stopped for a breather. Yes, we were all out of breath by then, having just done the first significant uphill. But I was still feeling confident and fairly fresh. Unfortunately at this juncture, 14-year old Bianca started complaining that she was developing a headache. We quickly diagnosed this as probably dehydration and suggested she drink some water. And set off again.

At first stop...all still looking fresh

At first stop…all still looking fresh

After about an hour we reached a summit with a beautiful view of the valley and had a bit of a rest. At this stage our guestimate was that we had done about 2-3kms, which meant that we were probably in for a 4 hour hike. And by now, both girls were complaining about headaches.

The next bit was downhill, so slightly easier, but it wasn’t long before we reached the next uphill. Now Anya was literally dragging her feet along. I kept trying to encourage her to walk a bit faster (“I don’t want to finish this hike at 5:00pm this afternoon!”), but it was clear that she was very tired. I even tried the bribing route, saying we will get ice creams on the way home. The thought of KFC Crushers seemed to do the trick for a little while there, and she picked up speed for a tick. Then she started to do the equivalent of the Shrek Donkey thing on a hike, asking how long until we reach the rock with the metal plate on it, indicating the 6km mark.

Shortly after this, we stopped for a 15 minute break, all sat down and tucked into our snacks. By now it was around 10:30 and really getting very hot. Above 30 degrees Celcius hot. And we were soon to depart the shaded area again. By this time we estimated that we had done around 4-5km, so not quite halfway yet!

For the next stretch, until we reached the 6km (actually it was 6.8km) mark, Anya did some tree hopping, stopping every time she reached a tree and I had to convince her over and over again to carry on. We were all very happy to reach the junction and unanimously decided to take the ‘easier’ 11.5km route. At least we were now on the home stretch. At this point Bianca told me that she was “never, ever, ever, ever doing this again”. Like in never.

Unfortunately, the easier route still had a couple of uphills, so not having anything to compare it against, I cannot say if it was a good or bad choice, but I can tell you that walking up 200 to 300 meter uphills in the 12 o’clock sun is no joke! At this stage Bianca, who was walking behind me, remarked that I was burning on the back of my legs. Stupidly, I did not put sunscreen on my legs, although I did meticulously lather it onto my face, arms and neck. I could feel that the sun was pounding down from behind us, but was a bit more pre-occupied with the task at hand, actually making it up the hill without collapsing. When we got to the top, Bianca told me (in case I didn’t know) “Mom, I just want you to know that I am hating this.” I replied that I was very proud of how far they have made it so far and that I doubt whether many of their friends would be able to do it. She replied “No, because they have a life.” Ouch!

Beautiful views...and even a few trees!

Beautiful views…and even a few trees!

Once again, I had to convince Anya to get up and tackle the next stretch. She did not want to alight, so I told her there was only one way to finish and that was to start walking again. This did the trick and we started walking again. By now, every uphill was greeted with a “Not another uphill” by Bianca. And we were all out of water by now. Luckily, some of the fellow hikers took pity on the girls and shared some of their water.

I cannot tell you how happy we were when we finally saw a clump of trees and a thatch roof in the distance, which marked our destination. The last few hundred meters saw us just dragging ourselves along and by the time we reached the car, both girls had their shoes off already and were walking on the tar road in their socks. Bianca was now complaining about how badly she smelled, and we all looked forward to finally taking a shower at home.

Bianca did tell me that it was not the hiking as such, but the fact that there were no trees and that it was so very hot, which was the big issue. Apparently they will both go hiking again, but only if it is in an area where there are lots of trees and running water.

I have been handed a white flag, but I am pretty sure that they won’t be as forgiving the next time around…and I have also created a new swear word in our house. I am pretty sure the word Suikerbosrand will never have the same meaning in our house again!

And I learned three lessons from the whole ordeal…

  1. I definitely need to work a bit more on the upper thighs as they were stiff for days afterwards;
  2. Next time we definitely need to take more water and less snacks; and
  3. I need to preferably wear long pants, or at the very least put sunscreen on my legs. Three days later, and my legs are still a cerise pink colour!
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Posted by on March 21, 2013 in Family, Fitness

 

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Come dine with us…

Okay, I have to admit, food is a pretty important part of my household. My love for food and cooking has rubbed off on my kids and we love eating good food, preparing food and entertaining.

We also love cooking programmes. It probably started with Heston Blumenthal and his feasts, Masterchef, Jamie Oliver, Giada de Laurentiis’ Everyday Italian. Lately, we have been enjoying the 2011 Masterchef Australia season and the latest Come Dine With Me South Africa. Personally, I find Come Dine With Me horrible, but I do enjoy the South African version. Maybe it is because I can sort of associate with it? My 14 year old loves Cake Boss and loves baking. She makes an excellent chocolate mousse and has made some really good chocolate brownies.

Last year I did a pasta making course and we’ve had some fun making our own pasta. Once, we even tried rolling out a sweet pastry with the pasta maker, with a little less success, but it tasted delicious all the same!

Rolling out the pasta and dessert was a bit trying, but the end result was spectacular!

Rolling out the pasta and sweet dessert dough was a bit trying, but the end result was spectacular!

So, I guess my kids have been very aware of food, cooking methods and presentation for a while. They don’t have the most refined palates, but they damn well knows what deglazing a pan means. When my youngest was 6 years old, she served me a mothers’ day breakfast of muesli and yoghurt, with ground hundreds-and-thousands in a bowl, set on top of a small plate and a colourful serviette. She told me that she copied the serving suggestion from the muesli box.

Last week, we watched a pre-recorded episode of Come Dine With Me while cooking dinner. If you have watched the show, you will know that it is a reality TV show (what else??), where a bunch of strangers are thrown together and each one gets a turn to host a three-course dinner, which the other contestants will then rate. The winner is the one with the highest score. Obviously, it is staged to a large degree and they go out of their way to toss some weird characters together and people who often rub each other up the wrong way. Makes for interesting TV after all…

When we sat down to eat, like we do – at the dining room table, Bianca asked me what I would have cooked if I had to appear on Come Dine With Me (which I would NEVER do, by the way). I couldn’t immediately say, since I am one of those people who will pour over the perfect meal combination for hours, but this clearly got their culinary juices going, because they started speculating about what they would make.

Eleven year old Anya said, “For a starter I would make those crost…, you know the ones where you double bake them, drizzled in olive oil?”

Bianca offered, “Biscotti?”

“No, savoury.”

I suggested, “Crostini?”

“Yes”, she said, “and as a main course homemade pasta.”

“Which type?”, I ask.

“Like what Bianca often orders at La Trinita.” (Our favourite Italian restaurant.)

“Carbonara?”

“Yes!”

play-fun-cooking-gamesAnd for dessert she would go for chocolate dipped biscotti. Bianca rejected this saying “You can’t serve coffee and biscotti for a fancy meal.” So she changed it to chocolate soufflé.

Now it was Bianca’s turn. She wasn’t sure about starters…maybe soup or ravioli?

Main course was no contest…”Mom’s fancy fillet, stuffed with bacon and cream sauce, with grilled feta on top. With veggies and potato.”

“Baked potato?”, I asked.

“No, finely sliced potato fried in oil, almost like chips.”

“And dessert?”

“Chocolate mousse with marscapone and orange cream.” Without a doubt. Her speciality.

Now it was my turn. I don’t often cook starters, but they told me upfront it needed to be something light, because I had to make my lasagne. Giada’s Meaty Mushroom Lasagna. It is their favourite lasagne ever. And everytime I make it, it is a hit. Even my brother, who part owned an Italian restaurant had to admit it was the best lasagne ever. Not your traditional lasagne with mince and béchamel sauce. No, with garlic and butter fried mushrooms and a proscuitto-laced béchamel sauce.

Dessert would have to be something light, like sorbet. Or something chocolatey. Or pannacotta.

By now our food, fish in a tomato and capers based sauce, served on couscous, was done and dinner was over. I was disappointed. Dinner is really the best part of my day!

To good food and many happy family meals!

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2013 in Family, Passions

 

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Exercising to still the rising panic

Let’s just say exercising does not come natural to me. I suspect that when athletic ability was being doled out, I already had my nose stuck in a book. “This is the final announcement…” clearly passed me by, while I was already in my first fantasy world induced by reading.

bookworm2You only have to give me one look to confirm that I do not have an athletic bone in my body. For starters, I am short, very short. I am 1.53m tall (or short), which means that I just scraped through the 5 feet mark. One teeny weeny centimetre shorter and I would have been an under-five-footer. And, worst of all is that I am not one of those petite short women. You know the likes of women who can still pass for a 21 year old when they are 35 years old and can wear their kids’ jeans? An ex boss, when it was pointed out that one of these petite skinny women and I were the same height, remarked that I am just more visible. Which was probably a nice way of saying I am fatter. I would prefer to think he meant curvier…

In addition, I have really bad eyesight, and it is only due to the advances in modern medical science that I do not have to walk around with bottle bottoms in spectacle frames to see where I am going. For the first 20 years of my adult life, I had to endure contact lenses or glasses to find my way around the world. And while this adds to the sexy, intelligent look in some women (lucky cows), in my case it just added to the nerdy look. Thanks to refractory eye surgery, I don’t have to wear glasses anymore, but somehow the nerdy look stuck.

In school, physical education was by far my worst torture subject. In grade 4 I was too embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t really swim, despite lessons that my mom paid for at one stage. After almost drowning (it certainly felt like I was drowning…), I was moved to the side of the swimming pool, so I could reach out for the sides. Luckily (?) I developed bronchitis shortly after that and had an excuse to skip swimming for a few lessons. When the PE teacher did not want to fall for the sick note story anymore, I hid in the girls toilets for a couple of lessons. And by then the swimming season was, thank goodness, almost over. Just in time for netball or some other sport that I was equally bad at.

But, as I have told you before, walking and dancing are the two types of exercises I do enjoy, and at some stage last year I did actually mention that I would like to do a longer hike one day. What I didn’t anticipate was that my first big hike would be on the other side of the world in mysterious Inca country. I guess I thought I would start with a two day hike and if I really get into it, do the Otter trail one day. But I have never been one for doing things half washed and with some reservation I decided I was gonna tackle the Inca Trail (as opposed to taking the train to Machu Picchu) on my soon to embark on once-in-a-lifetime tour.

Knowledge is power and I learned that it is a four day hike, and that you don’t need to be super fit (moderately fit will do it…which I have no idea what it means). In total the hike spans over 45 kms, with three main passes. But the scariest thing is the altitude. The highest pass (aptly named ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’) reaches over 13,000 feet. And altitude sickness is a serious risk. And incidentally, I did once have a short dalliance with altitude sickness. In 2006, we travelled to Switzerland and we went up to Jungfraujoch, and at 11,388 feet I got such bad altitude sickness that I couldn’t walk 400 meters. The big difference is that we travelled from 6,762 feet (2,061 m above sea level) to 11,388 feet (3,471 m) in a matter of hours. And, in hindsight, maybe the glass of wine with lunch when we arrived at the top wasn’t the best idea… Be that as it may, I am a bit wary. And I have already stocked up on altitude sickness tablets. Not taking any chances! And I ain’t saying no to any coca leaves coming my way either…

That's most likely going to be me....

That’s most likely going to be me….

So that leaves fitness…and I am exercising the scary monster away, or at the very least to try and forget about the scary monster.  All of the sudden I seem to have no problem getting up at 5h15 in the morning to go for a walk/run. After a week or so of trying to force my body to run when it didn’t want to, I started a proper running program and am starting with a 15 minute run, combined with a 15 minute walk this week. And I am walking/jogging/whatever-you-call-it for five days of the week. And on weekends, I am trying to do a longer walk/run or hike. I even did the Westcliff stairs once, where the likes of Comrades runners train.  Maybe the energy will rub off?? And on top of that, I started doing Pilates twice a week.

pilatesLet’s just say my body doesn’t quite know what hit it… I know this doesn’t sound like much, but you have to put this into context. The last time I hiked for any significant period of time (less than 4 hours), I was stiff for days afterwards. And I have not been able to run for more than a kilometer at a time for years! For me, this is like training for a marathon!

But as the excitement is mounting, I am also starting to feel more confident that I will be able to do this. Honestly, I am sleeping better than I have for ages, I feel energized and I keep patting myself on the back with little mini achievements. Yesterday afternoon at Pilates I managed a complete backward roll, almost touching my legs above my head (almost, I said). And I can feel my core strengthening (either that or I am delusional from all the adrenaline). The excess weight is clinging a bit stubbornly, but my kids say I look thinner, so who cares what the scale says.

In 8 weeks time, I will be walking on an ancient trail, built by an extinct civilization and I will be able to experience one of the most sacred and awesome sights in the world, the lost city of Machu Picchu. And I can barely contain my excitement. Come hell or high water, I will drag my non-athletic body up that mountain!

The most splendid achievement of all is the constant striving to surpass  yourself and to be worthy of your own approval. ~ Denis Waitley

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2013 in Fitness, Travel

 

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