While travelling through Andalucia, the southern province of Spain, I had the opportunity to spend some time in the town of Malaga, birthplace of world-renowned artist, Pablo Picasso. The residents of the town are justifiably proud of their most famous son, and of course there is a Picasso Museum there, with works of art donated by the Picasso family.
When I visited this museum, what really surprised me were the works of art in styles that I had never previously associated with Picasso. I had always known him for his Cubist and Surrealist paintings, but in the museum there were many examples of work in other styles – line drawings, still lifes...styles that I think of as "normal". I was struck by how much Picasso's work had evolved over his years of painting.
So much of what we are today is not what we were before, but we have nevertheless been shaped by where we've come from. We are not static, stagnating beings, but instead are always evolving. We should recognize and embrace this constant evolution of ourselves!
During my six-month holiday in America, I visited the gambling mecca of the Western USA – Las Vegas. While the city does have a seedy underbelly – with rows of pawn shops, run-down buildings and homeless people – the Las Vegas we always see in the movies and on TV is every bit as glitzy and glamourous as you imagine it to be.
The Las Vegas Strip (which is actually located outside of the city limits) is a 4km-long, neon-lit stretch of hotels, casinos and resorts. Of course, as tourist in Las Vegas, you simply have to go gambling on The Strip.
I was on a limited budget but was having great fun playing the 25-cent (quarter) slot machines. I had literally put my last quarter into the last slot machine, and my bus was leaving any minute. Suddenly bells started flashing, whistles began whistling and worth of quarters began pouring out of the slot machine. I grabbed a paper cup and began stuffing the money into it, before racing off to catch my bus. It may only have been but I felt like a millionaire! I had won money on the slot machines in Vegas! The amount is irrelevant – it was the experience that was priceless.
The life lesson learned here is that while money grows your bank balance, experience grows your soul. If we learn to place the same value on experiences as we do on money, we will be truly rich.
While on holiday in London, a friend and I decided to see A Breath of Life - a much-anticipated play showing in the West End, starring Dame Judy Dench and Dame Maggie Smith. It was a last minute decision, and the person at the box office said that the only available tickets were not in a good position. In fact, he told us, for a portion of the play, we would be unable to see either actress on stage.
I told my friend that I didn’t want to see the play under those circumstances. She said she didn’t want to see it on her own, but was so obviously disappointed that I capitulated and said we’d go – even if it meant having the “bad” tickets.
As it turned out, there was not one second of the entire production where we weren’t able to see both stars, and my friend and I absolutely loved the show.
The life lesson here is that things are often not as bad as we think they’re going to be, and we shouldn’t always be put off by what we think is going to be a negative experience. Instead, let’s take the advice of that well-known brand of athletic shoe, and Just Do It!
One year, after spending the winter ski season working at an exclusive resort in Denver, I decided to use my earnings to see as much of America as I could before returning home to SA.
One of the many places I visited was the Zion National Park – the oldest National Park in Utah, and known for its incredible canyons. I joined a Green Tortoise Adventure Bus Tour, a budget, backpacker-type organisation that arranges trips to many of America’s most famous national parks. The costs of the trip are kept low by, among others, getting the people taking the tour to muck in with some of the chores – preparing meals being one of them.
One day, I was helping one of the other girls make a fruit salad. We were chopping pineapple and, because I love the hard core of the fruit, I put it into the salad. The other girl, however, was throwing it away. I was horrified that she was chucking it out, and she – because she never ate the hard core - was equally horrified that I was putting it in!
There are actually two lessons here. The first one is that even people who like doing the same thing (exploring America’s Parks) in the same way (on a low-cost backpacker bus), will not always like doing everything in the same way. We are all so different and we all believe that our way is the best way (otherwise, why would we do it?). Tolerance and compromise are key.
The second lesson is almost a corollary of the first. Just because you have always done something in a certain way doesn’t mean someone else may not have worked out a better – or a different but equal – way to do it. We can all learn from each other.
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.
While working on a yacht in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I met and befriended a young South African couple. They invited me to join them on an overland trip into Kenya to the Serengeti National Park to watch the famous wildebeest migration. It was awe-inspiring – open plains filled with wildebeest, antelope and zebra as far as the eye could see, and of course all the predators. I saw lion and cheetah, with many vultures and hyena cleaning up the carcasses left behind after a kill.
On this particular day, I watched three male lions as they ran towards the massive herds of animals grazing on the plains. Two of the lions were young and in their prime, but the third was clearly much older. As they ran, the older lion grew tired and slowed down. One of the young lions ran on ahead, soon leaving him behind.
The behaviour of the other young lion, was, however, markedly different. As if realising the plight of the older lion, he also slowed down, frequently stopping altogether to look back. It was as if he was encouraging him not to give up, to keep going.
I was very touched by what I saw. I realised that there are indeed times when even the King of Beasts needs encouragement.
The life lesson here is that we should never be too busy with our own purpose to look back at those who may be slower than ourselves, and encourage them to keep going. Let us never walk so tall that we cannot stoop to help those who have fallen.
During my stay in Tanzania, I was fortunate enough to visit the Ngorongoro Crater, located inside the Nogorongoro Conservation Area. To get there, we had to drive up a steep pass, which cut through really beautiful vegetation and indigenous bush. As we wound our way upwards, I was struck by the enormity of my surroundings. It felt as though my guide and I could be the last two people left on Earth. We really were in the middle of nowhere!
At the top of the pass, we stopped to read a plaque, which had been attached to a small stone wall. The wording on the plaque read: "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle." This famous quote by Father James Keller was the last thing I expected to read on top of an African pass in the middle of a UNESCO World Heritage Site! I was amazed – not only at the profundity of the words, but that someone had taken the time to have them engraved on a plaque and placed in one of the most remote areas I had ever visited. The person who had done this would never know who stopped to read the plaque, or whether the words touched the people who read them. But he did it anyway.
The life lesson here is that if something is meaningful to us, we should just do it, without the intent of personal gain or worrying about whether or not other people will understand our reasons, or take pleasure in our actions. We should do it for no other reason than it is worthwhile.
I recently had the opportunity to realise a long-held dream of visiting the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana. Many parts of this delta – the largest inland delta in the world - are only accessible by boat or Makoro (the wooden canoes used by local fishermen) and where there are roads, a 4x4 vehicle is essential in many parts.
I was travelling with a friend who fortunately had such a vehicle. Other people we encountered were not as lucky, and were travelling in a minibus. When it came to crossing a river, the guide who was leading us told us to drive slowly into the water, so as not to create a wash which would rise up over the engine, drowning it. The driver of the minibus decided not to heed this advice, no doubt assuming that as he didn’t have a 4x4, speed and momentum were what were needed to successfully negotiate the crossing. He duly raced into the river, causing a wave of water to wash up over his vehicle, drowning the engine and stranding him in the middle of the river. My friend and I proceeded as advised, driving slowly and carefully though the water, and eventually arriving safely on the other side.
The life lesson here is two-fold: Firstly, advice given by someone experienced in the area they are advising you on is more often than not well worth listening to, and secondly, speed and enthusiasm are not always going to get you where you need to go. Slow and careful will more often than not get you safely across life’s rivers.
I recently had the chance to travel to Maputo in Mozambique. I was there on business, but was also able to spend a little time exploring some of the city. One afternoon, I ended up in the market, walking though the different stalls, and chatting briefly with the traders. They were all friendly, but were obviously eager to sell me something – anything – and were not too subtle in the way they went about it! Quite often, such dogged persistence has the opposite of the intended effect, and instead of being persuaded to buy something, all I want to do is leave the market as quickly as possible to escape the constant hounding.
On this occasion, however, one particular trader stood out from the rest. He was selling some very pretty teaspoons, which caught my eye and I went over to have a closer look. I admired the spoons, but decided not to buy them, and so started to walk away. The seller called me back, and began what I thought would be the normal sales pitch in an attempt to get me to buy the teaspoons. But he was different. He was so inoffensive and non-threatening in his approach, and he seemed so genuine, that I was drawn to him and actually stopped and listened to what he had to say, rather than thinking of the quickest way out of the situation.
In the end, I bought the spoons!
The lesson here is that persistence, backed up with the right approach and a positive attitude, will – in many cases - go a long way towards getting you what you want.