I had an opportunity of visiting the ancient Roman city of Pompeii while working on a luxury private yacht in the Mediterranean.
Most people know that Pompeii was buried under a thick carpet of volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., but contrary to popular belief, not everyone in the city perished. At the time of the eruption the city had a population of some 20 000, but only 2000 people died. Most people left the city of Pompeii and escaped the burning heat, poisonous fumes and ash. Only those who chose to remain perished.
The irony of some graffiti text written in 1811 on the walls of the Basilica – “A small problem gets larger if you ignore it” – was not lost on me.
The lesson here is that when you are confronted with a challenge, it does not help to wait until it goes away. Rather face it and take decisive action.
When we think of tourist attractions huge icons like the Eiffel Tower, Great Wall of China or Table Mountain come to mind, but certainly not little doughnuts! And yet in the Vieux Carré (French Quarter) - the oldest neighborhood in the city of New Orleans - is the Café du Monde, famous for its beignets. The café du Monde is open 24 hours a day every day except for Christmas and during hurricanes and beignets have been made and served there continuously for over 200 years.
A Beignet (ben yay) is like a square doughnut without a hole. It is lighter and is sprinkled with powdered sugar. It is a custom to blow the powdered sugar of a beignet to anyone visiting the café' du Monde for the first time, and to make a wish.
While I was visiting New Orleans I visited the Café du Monde a number of times for the delicious beignets, but no matter what time of day there was always a long queue of people waiting patiently for this little delight. It is one of the greatest tourist attractions in the Vieux Carré.
The lesson here is never under-estimate the power of the little things in life. One beignet can fit into the palm of my hand and yet people queued for them like they queue to visit the greatest of our tourist attractions!
Before attending a conference for the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa, I took the opportunity to visit the Kruger National Park with many of the international guests who had come to South Africa for the conference. Like so many foreign tourists, all they wanted to do was see big cats – leopard, lion and cheetah. I too, have rarely seen leopard in the wild, so was as eager as they were. As luck would have it, however, we saw everything except cats! Our disappointment was compounded by a conversation I had with a young German doctor, who was with me on a walk one morning. He had seen almost nothing but cats! Three leopards, as well as lion and cheetah. But then later, when I thought about it, I realised that while my group may not have seen what we were hoping to, we had still had a wonderful time, and had seen many other magnificent animals.
The lesson here is that it’s not about having what you want, but wanting what you have. If we are always looking for something else, we may easily fail to notice and appreciate what we already have. Celebrate the here and now!
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 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.
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.
I was visiting the ancient town of Porto Vecchio, Corsica. Under a beautiful, shady tree in the town square was a board with a map of the town and relevant tourist information. In the bottom right hand corner of this board, the words, "Attention! Achtung! Warning! Arachnoide Corso Terrificus Vecchio Mortelum" had been pasted.
I was looking at the map and wondering about the odd words when a huge, brown spider slowly lowered itself down from the tree onto the map. I only noticed it only when it came in line with my face, and although I was startled, I am fortunately not scared of spiders, so I just looked at it curiously. It was then I noticed it was, in fact, plastic, and there was a thin line running from its back up into the tree. Following the line with my eyes, I discovered it ended over the road at pavement café, where a group of four men sat drinking beer and manipulating the spider. When they saw me looking at them they roared with laughter. They knew their game was up.
I watched the men playing their joke for a while – they would roar with laughter every time a tourist screamed when the spider dropped down in front of them. They were still playing their joke a few hours later when I came back to the square. It was great to watch the good, clean fun the men were having. Their laughter was infectious, and their joke made my visit to Porto Vecchio that much more memorable. I will never forget it
Don't take life too seriously – make time to have fun and play – it makes life memorable and is good for the soul.
I spent one memorable New Year’s Eve in Monte Carlo, Monaco. I was standing in front of the Grand Casino, surrounded by flashy cars and flashy people. Men and women were dressed to the nines in the most exclusive designer wear, and decorated to the hilt in gold and diamonds.
There was an atmosphere of celebration and festivity, culminating in a frenzy of hugging and kissing at the stroke of midnight. Friends and strangers alike were coming together to welcome in the New Year. Champagne in hand, I was loving every minute of it!
I spotted a tall, well-muscled and handsome man and, embracing the festive spirit evident all around me, I boldly went up to him, threw my arms around him and kissed him, wishing him “Bon Annee!” – Happy New Year in French. Unbelievably, he turned to his friend standing next to him and said, "Oh boy! This is the place to be!" ....in Afrikaans!
I groaned. Of all the men I could have picked, I pick a boy from home.
It turned out he was on a rugby tour from Pretoria. We chatted for a while and then moved on. He later became my bodyguard for the evening, protecting me from an over-enthusiastic Italian man, who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I realised then it was good to have a “boy from home” around.
Sometimes you need to travel far away to really appreciate what you already have at home.
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.
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.