While working on a luxury private yacht in the Mediterranean, I took advantage of a rare afternoon off to explore the popular Italian island - Isle of Capri. We were moored on the island at the main port – Marina Grande – and I wanted to see the town of Capri, which is located on the top of the mountain.
The most popular way to get up to the town is by funicular railway. The trip only takes about 5 minutes, and offers breathtaking views of the island’s valleys, sheer cliffs, blue bays with hidden beaches, and the distant Gulf of Naples on the horizon.
The railway is hugely popular with tourists, and on the day I was there, the line of people waiting to board was very long. I knew I didn’t have much time, and I didn’t want to wait in the queue, so I decided to climb the many, many steps up to the top. Naturally, my trip took far longer than the five-minute funicular ride, and in the end, I was actually running in order to get to the top in time to look around before I had to return to work.
Had I known beforehand just how steep and long the climb was going to be, I would more than likely not have even started. But the joy was that I didn’t know, so I just did it, and was rewarded with a huge sense of achievement - not to mention a much more leisurely appreciation of the magnificent scenery and views than if I had taken the train!
The life lesson here is that no matter how daunting a task or challenge may seem, you’re not going to get anywhere if you give up before you’ve started. The simple act of starting something is your first step up that hill. And even if you do know how tiring the journey is going to be, start anyway – and keep going. The view from the top will be worth it.
During my working holiday in the United States, I had the opportunity to visit the world famous Niagara Falls. These falls (made up of the Horseshoe, Bridal and American Falls) form the international border between the Canadian Province of Ontario, and the US state of New York. They have the highest flow rate of any waterfalls in the world, and have a vertical drop of over 50 metres.
Despite their immense size, the falls – when observed from a distance – appear quiet, serene and peaceful. It’s only when you don the mandatory blue raincoat, step on board one of the Maid of the Misttourist boats, and venture into the dense spray inside the curve of the Horseshoe Falls that you truly become aware of their size and force. The noise of the water is deafening, and you can’t help but be a little awed by the sight, sound and sheer power of almost 2000 cubic metres of water per second as it crashes down into the pools in front of you.
The life lesson here is that we should never underestimate the power of a person. From a distance (either physical or emotional), they may seem unimpressive and unremarkable. It is only when we venture closer that we are truly able to appreciate their strength.
As a South African, there are many things about my country which make me extremely proud. One of these has to be the Sterkfontein Caves, located just outside Johannesburg. I had the opportunity to visit these ancient caves a few months ago, and was humbled by the immense global significance of the caves to our understanding of the origins of people on our planet.
The Sterkfontein Caves are the most famous of the 15 major fossils sites which make up The Cradle of Humankind, an area covering about 47 000 hectares where the 2.3-million year-old fossil Australopithecus africanus (nicknamed "Mrs. Ples") was found in 1947 by Dr. Robert Broom and John T. Robinson. The Caves are owned by the University of the Witwatersrand, whose scientists have been responsible for the main excavations.
What's remarkable is that, despite the many highly qualified and experienced scientists working on the site since its discovery, one of the most significant finds was made by a mere schoolboy, Gert Terblanche, in 1938. He found fossils, including a damaged skull and half a jaw bone, which were later confirmed by Dr Broom as an entirely new genus and species - Paranthropus robustus – dating back over two million years.
Don't ever underestimate what you are capable of. Learn the value of just starting to do something – you may be amazed at what you will achieve.
Ronda is one of the oldest towns in Spain. Its origins can be traced back as far as 700AD, although the "modern" town dates back to the 11th Century. The "old" and "new" towns are built on either side of the spectacular, 100m-deep El Tajo Gorge, and are linked by a series of bridges, one of which was built by the Romans and is still in use today – albeit only by pedestrians. The main bridge – also still used today – is the Puento Nuevo, an architectural marvel built between 1755 and 1793. The bridge is one of the most photographed in the country, and to me stands out as symbol of the incredible power of the human mind and spirit. It was built over 250 years ago, without the help of computer-aided design or high-tech equipment – something modern engineers and architects would never dream of attempting.
The successful completion of this bridge is a huge lesson in what human determination and vision can produce. We are so often hindered by our beliefs about what we can and can't achieve, and don't always reach our full potential simply because we tell ourselves we can't do it. But if we don't impose limitations on ourselves, there's no limit to what we can achieve.
On an outing one day while visiting family in Lusaka, Zambia, we drove past a huge traffic island which had been landscaped with grass and pretty flowers – an oasis in the middle of the chaotic, centre-of-town traffic. I was amazed to see a wedding party posing for photos on this island, seemingly oblivious to the traffic hurtling around them – old buses belching exhaust fumes, dilapidated cars with people waving and cheering out of the windows, souped-up sports cars hooting their horns...At the time, I thought it was hilarious.
On reflection, however, I was humbled by the profound lesson –
I realised that if the photographer was clever with his camera angles, he could avoid capturing the traffic in his shots, and it would look as though the bride and groom had been photographed in beautiful gardens. The wedding couple would no doubt look at their photos with pride and fond remembrance.
Life is what you make it – so make the most of what you have, and don't allow the less-than-perfect to mar your day, or your life. Rejoice in magnificent simplicity, and don't place value on the trappings, but rather in the significance of the occasion.
While in America, I visited notorious Alcatraz - the legendary former maximum security prison, which struck fear into so many, and inspired such movies as The Rock, The Birdman of Alcatraz, and Escape from Alcatraz.
On the day I was there, a former inmate, Jim Quillen, was there promoting his book. I listened, fascinated, to the stories he told. I was most inspired by a story he told about the way he kept from going insane while spending days in the pitch darkness of solitary confinement. He would pull a button off his shirt, throw it up in the air, and listen to it fall. Then, after turning round and round until he was dizzy, he would get down on hands and knees and feel around for the button. When he found it he would start all over again.
I was stunned at this level of creativity in the very worst of conditions. At his refusal to give up hope, and by his unwavering faith in God, family and freedom. I was humbled and inspired. It was a life lesson I will never forget.
An evening spent in the town of Amalfi, Italy, is delightful. The narrow, winding cobbled streets leading from the central piazza with its magnificent cathedral, are packed with interesting shops, bakeries, cafés and art galleries – all tucked away behind stone walls and up little stone stairways.
But the true delight of Amalfi is to be seen sitting on the deck of a yacht. Gazing across the calm waters, the town of Amalfi, ascending up the mountainside, is the most beautiful sight to behold. In the evenings, the mountain, in inky blackness, twinkles with lights. The view is exquisite. I have sat for hours just gazing in awe at the breathtaking sight.
Sometimes, to really appreciate the beauty of something (or someone), we need to step back and get the bigger picture. Without details to distract us, we are open to see a vision of beauty and magnificence, impossible to see when we are caught up in it.
While on a wilderness trail in Umfolozi Game Reserve, South Africa, I took a bath in a pool of water surrounded by reeds and indigenous grasses, while watching the sunset. The water was cold, but so refreshing after the hot, dusty day. My music was the symphony of the animals and insects. The fragrance, the intoxicating blend of the many scents of the wild, blown gently towards me by the breeze. It was glorious and I enjoyed it far more than any bubble bath with champagne in a 5-star hotel.
Superb, inspiring experiences don’t have to be sophisticated or cost money. Pleasure can be found in the most humble situations and places.
While the shopping malls in Nice, France are magnificent to look at and wander through, and offer everything money can buy, they have no character. Shopping there was interesting, but soulless. I was alone and really felt it.
In the local open market in
Money can’t buy soul. Sometimes we get so caught up making a living that we forget how to make a life! Take time to step back and put things into perspective.
On the first yacht I worked on, we spent a month at the yacht Club in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. We were the biggest yacht there, and the owner’s wife was very proud of this fact, boasting about it at the club to the other yacht owners. However, when we sailed to Seychelles and moored at a marina on the island of Mahe’, we were one of the smallest yachts. When she saw this, she said in a very small voice, “but we look so small, you can hardly even see us”. She was devastated.
There will always be those who are better – and worse - off than you. Don’t be too arrogant or too depressed about either.