Life Lessons

Claire Newton fridge magnetsTo know my fridge is to know me!

Anyone who knows me well, knows my fridge magnets…so I decided it would be fun to include them on my website. You will get to know me personally through my magnets, and the lessons I have learnt on my travels.

It is the lessons I have learnt, and the wisdom I have gained from life, that I bring to bear in my approach to my life and my work. I share some of these with you now.

Enjoy my stories....there are more to come!

The brightly coloured “Galo de Barcelos” (Rooster of Barcelos) is one of the most common emblems of Portugal. The legend, from the 15th century, tells the story of a dead rooster's miraculous intervention in proving the innocence of a man who had been falsely accused and sentenced to death.

The story, in all its many variations, symbolizes faith, justice and good luck or honesty, integrity, trust and honour and it is these values that permeate through the generations regardless of which version of the story you adhere to.

The life lesson here is that universal values persist no matter how they are symbolized in stories or legends.

Brussels in Belgium has one of the world’s most famous statues – the Manneken Pis a small naked boy peeing in the water fountain.

As far as statues go, the Manneken Pis barely features. At only 61cm/2ft in height it is really tiny, and yet the Manneken Pis is a major tourist attraction. It is as much a landmark in Brussels as Big Ben is in London and the Statue of Liberty in America.

The life lesson here is that it is not always size that counts – small everyday things can be just as significant.

California in the USA, is portrayed as the land of summer sunshine, with its beaches, fruit trees, vineyards and fun in the sun. So when I was due to visit California one June I bought new summer clothes suitable for the hot weather I was expecting.

My first day out in Los Angeles, however, had me rushing back from the beach to change into jeans and a sweater because I was uncomfortably chilly. I never wore my new summer clothes in California at all because compared to the summer climate in Durban that I was used to, California was not really hot. I had not looked up a temperature table for the cities I would be visiting, when I assumed it would be hot in California.

The life lesson here is to never to assume you understand the meaning of ‘relative’ words like hot, cold, early and late. Check them out – ask questions and try to get objective measures. What is extremely hot for one person may be chilly for another, and what is ‘early’ for someone may be ‘late’ for someone else. 

When visiting Mkuze Game Reserve in South Africa, I spent a few hours sitting with a friend in one of the hides overlooking a small waterhole. It was amazing to sit there listening to the birds and the sounds of the bush and to watch various animals come to drink. Most of the animals would emerge from the trees, walk down to the water’s edge and drink in one smooth movement. But not the big male giraffe. Time and time again he prepared to bend low to drink, only to quickly stand up again alarmed by some sound or movement.  I watched fascinated as he tried over and over again to drink, never feeling quite safe enough to make himself vulnerable to do so. After about half an hour I felt quite desperate for him and rejoiced when he finally bent down fully and got a drink.

The lesson here is that feeling safe is critically important to all beings. Without it we cannot thrive. A feeling of safety is essential to us and to our ability to perform. The greater the feeling of safety, the more we can take risks. and the more we can develop as individuals.

Whenever I visit Cape Town I like to visit what many consider to be the most beautiful garden in Africa – the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, on the slopes of Table Mountain. It is one of the most highly acclaimed botanical gardens in the world.

Reading a plaque one day, I was astounded to learn that it was started with the vision of just one man – Harold Pearson – a botanist who saw the need for a botanic garden in Cape Town in 1903 and set about achieving that goal.

It was 8 years before he found the place – the government owned Kirstenbosch Estate – where he wanted to establish the garden and another 2 before the land was set aside for this purpose. The garden began as nothing more than a neglected, overgrown farm with a ruined homestead, thickets of weeds and extensive plantations of alien plants. There were many difficulties to overcome – the topography was challenging for gardening, funds were severely lacking and the First World War happened leaving only one gardener. The worst blow was the untimely death of Harold Pearson himself in 1916. His dream, however, survived.

The beautiful garden we have today is of course due to many factors – the dream that started it all, the commitment and dedication of the staff during the early years, and the substantial support of the Botanical Society and its members over the years. Ultimately though, it was the vision and dream of just one man!

The lesson learned here is that if you dream and pursue that dream you can achieve mighty things.

My mother and I recently stayed at Thendele, one of the KZN Wildlife Resorts in the Drakensberg. Although there are signs everywhere asking guests not to feed the wildlife, it was quickly evident that this was happening.

The baboons were well aware that there was food to be had from the guests. I was caught unawares when an enormous baboon nonchalantly strolled up to me sitting in front of the open sliding-door to the cottage. I warily watched him walk around the corner and was relieved when he disappeared. Moments later he cunningly doubled back, rushed past me into the cottage, grabbed a bag of books and ran off. I chased him and found him sitting at the back of the cottage trying to eat a bird book! After some yelling and waving on my part, the baboon abandoned the book, jumped up on the roof and casually watched me while I retrieved the scattered books. It was a moment of high drama!  The ripped book makes us laugh now, but the tragedy of the situation is not lost on us – when tourists feed the baboons, the baboons become a nuisance, eventually become dangerous and have to be shot.

The lesson here is to obey the rules. 
Doing the right thing is incredibly important. It affects the future. Little choices that we make can have big consequences.

Saint-Tropez is easily one of the most recognizable names on the French Riviera – and conjures up images of champagne-fuelled yacht parties on millionaire moorings and star-studded beaches. Well known for its hedonistic reputation, beaches and nightlife, the town attracted the international ‘jet set’ in the 1960s, and remains a jet-set favourite.

You'd never know it judging by the glitz and the glamour, but having spent a fair amount of time moored in the port of Saint-Tropez while working on luxury yachts, I realized that all kinds of chaos goes on behind the scenes. The early hours of the morning, when the jet-set have retired to bed, finds delivery vans speeding through the narrow streets, marketeers setting up their stalls, deckhands washing down the yachts and street workers scrubbing down the streets to remove the vomit of drunken partygoers. Very unglamorous and even rather sordid!

The life lesson I learned is not to be fooled by a life of glamour and wealth. The serene swan appears to glide effortlessly across the water, but underneath it is paddling furiously. So too, much hard work and effort goes on to create a veneer of glitz and glamour. 

Earlier this year I visited the Cape and spent time with a dear friend. Every day we did something different, but because we loved Stellenbosch so much we went back there many times. We ate in fabulous cafés and restaurants, we met interesting people, we popped in and out of wonderful shops and bought a variety of things that caught our fancy – artisan bread, a bone china tea set, a pretty scarf. We were delighted with the variety and diversity of our explorations.

The lesson here is to appreciate what is in your own backyard. In Stellenbosch I was made very aware that we were enjoying what millions of international tourists are drawn to annually – the sheer beauty of this land, its rich culture and heritage, and the warmth and hospitality of our fellow citizens. The rest of the world comes to enjoy the offerings that are already available to us.

While travelling through America I spent a day at Disneyland in California. It was my first visit to any of the Disney parks and I was of course blown away by the sheer grandeur and variety of activities on offer. I did as much as I could in the time available and had an absolute ball!

What took me most by surprise, however, was the fact that there were more adults than children at Disneyland. It was like a giant playground for adults – with everybody laughing, racing around and getting involved. I had never before experienced such activity and so much energy expended by so many adults in one place.

The lesson I learned is that at heart we are a playful species and play is just as important to our wellbeing as good nutrition; as George Bernard Shaw said: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

While based in Cannes, working on a privately owned luxury yacht, I was asked by the Captain of another yacht if I would help him bring his yacht back from San Remo, just over the French border in Italy. His own crew were all on leave and he desperately needed someone to assist. As it was to be my day off and it sounded like hard work, I was reluctant to help, but I also realised that if I said no he would be hard pushed to find anyone else so I agreed.

The Captain and I set off at dawn on the designated day and took the train to San Remo.  We sailed back to Cannes in perfect weather conditions and I had nothing to do except sit back and enjoy the trip. On arrival in Cannes I was well paid for my time and still had some of my day off to enjoy. It turned out to be the easiest day’s work I have ever done!

The lesson here is that when you have the chance to do something for someone else, with no expectation of reward, seize the opportunity. One can never anticipate the good fortune that can come out of an act of goodwill. 

I recently visited Tala Game Reserve, in KwaZulu-Natal, with my mother. We spent a few hours driving around looking for game, but were disappointed in that we saw almost nothing. We eventually found our way to the bird hide overlooking a small dam, with rolling hills beyond. We set out our camping chairs on the open deck and just sat quietly, enjoying the view.

It was not long before we realised that everywhere we looked there was game to be seen. Waterfowl had settled back on the water, hippos in the dam were popping their heads up to grunt and snort, birds of prey were circling overhead, monkeys were playing in the huge fig tree on the other side of the dam, ostrich, kudu, impala and wildebeest could be seen on the hills and rhino were grazing in the distance.

The lesson I was reminded of is that desire often creates paradoxical effects: The more you want something, the more you chase after it, the more it eludes you. Henry Thoreau said: “Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you; but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder."

During my travels through America I spent a few days in Boston, Massachusetts. The historic parts of the city are beautiful and on my first evening there I was charmed to see the lighting of the gas lamps.

I wondered about the gas lamps and found out that they first came to life at Haymarket Square in 1828, spreading to other parts of the city relatively quickly. By the late 1800s however, electric lamps had replaced the quaint gas lamps. The electric lamps remained until 1962, when the city, hoping to recapture the charm of an earlier era, reverted to gas lamps in Boston’s historic neighborhoods. Today the gas lamps are a big draw for tourists in Boston.

The life lesson here is that sometimes in striving for progress and the convenience of modern amenities, we lose sight of the benefits of what we already have.

It was not the modern electric lamps that turned out to be the most beneficial for the city, but rather the gas lamps.  In order to capitalize on the tourism revenue, Boston had to revert back to what they originally had. 

While cross country skiing in Keystone Ski Resort, high in the Rocky Mountains, I fell and a sharp piece of ice gouged a small chunk of flesh out of a finger. It was a small wound but for the next week it did not heal at all.

The ski season came to an end and my next adventure was to drive to Louisiana for the annual New Orleans Jazz Festival. I was fascinated to find that within 24 hours of entering Louisiana, which is hot and humid (the exact opposite of the extremely dry atmosphere at the ski resort) the flesh of my wound had drawn together and healing was well on its way. All it needed was the right conditions – wounds heal faster and better when kept moist.

In 1962 scientist George D. Winter found that the regrowth of skin proceeded twice as fast in a moist environment than under a scab. Wounds covered with a film dressing took about 12 to 15 days to heal, while similar wounds exposed to the air took about 25 to 30 days to heal. Our body’s cells need moisture to survive.

The lesson here is that the right things happen under the right conditions – we just need to discover and create the right conditions. This concept applies to all aspects of our life, be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. 

While travelling in Córdoba, Spain, I visited the Great Mosque of Córdoba. It is a beautiful and fascinating building that symbolizes the many religious changes Córdoba has undergone over the centuries. Today, the Mezquita is the Cathedral of Córdoba, but the vast majority of its art and architecture is the work of Islamic architects, who built it as a mosque in the 8th century. . The shell-shaped ceiling of the magnificent Mihrab is carved from a single block of marble and the chambers on either side are decorated with exquisite Byzantine mosaics of gold. The worn flagstones indicate where pilgrims crouched on their knees.

I wanted a sense of the visual perspective which the pilgrims had, and so I knelt down on the floor to view the Mihrab. Within seconds I had two security guards bearing down on me shouting and gesticulating that I must immediately stand up. Little did I know that since the early 2000s Spanish Muslims have lobbied the Roman Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the cathedral, only to be rejected on multiple occasions. My innocent action appeared to be a challenge/protest and the guards were not having it!

The lesson here is to be aware that simple, innocent actions can be deeply offensive to others. It is important to be aware of rules, customs and etiquette when visiting unfamiliar places.

While working on privately owned luxury yachts, I had the privilege of having an evening’s leave on the Island of Elba, Tuscany. While strolling around the shops and cafés of the quaint, bustling harbour some brightly coloured, fabric shoulder bags really caught my eye, but I decided not to buy one as they were quite expensive. Getting back to my yacht I regretted that decision and so the next morning I asked if I could have thirty minutes to go onshore to buy the bag.  Having already had my allocated leave the chief stewardess was unwilling to let me have more time off and it took much persuasion and the promise of working the half hour plus an extra hour to pay off the favour, before she agreed. I ran all the way to the shop, purchased my bag and ran all the way back. I had taken only eight minutes, but I still put in the hour and a half I had promised. I was rewarded with the trust of the chief stewardess - she had not expected me to keep my word! This trust earned me future privileges.

The lesson here is simple, exercise your privilege to go the extra mile, and you will be rewarded. 

While working on privately owned yachts in the South of France, I spent some time in Nice and paid a visit to the magnificent Monastery of Cimiez. The monastery has been used by the Franciscan monks since the 16th century and includes a church, a cemetery, a convent, beautiful gardens and sweeping views across Nice.

The beautiful church boasts three major works by Italian medieval artist Ludovico Brea and a monumental altar-piece of hand-carved wood decorated with gold-leaf. The convent houses the Musée Franciscain which is decorated with 17th century frescoes, and displays more than 300 documents and works of art from the 15th to 18th centuries. Buried in the cemetery are the painters Henri Matisse and Raoul Dufy, plus the winner of the 1937 Nobel Prize for Literature, Roger Martin du Gard, as well as many notables of the Grand Italian Families laid to rest in exquisitely designed mausoleums. The remarkable garden surrounding the building is the former vegetable garden of the monks. It is now used as a garden of exceptional floral decoration.

What struck me about this awe-inspiring place is how so many disciplines - religion, art, history, literature and gardening - are brought together. The place is truly steeped in culture and inspires visitors deeply with unforgettable memories and emotion. I feel richer for having visited. The lesson here is to remember that our true wealth is not measured by the money in our bank accounts, but by the beauty and inspiration we experience in art, religion, history, literature and nature.

The lesson here is to remember that our true wealth is not measured by the money in our bank accounts, but by the beauty and inspiration we experience in art, religion, history, literature and nature.

When I was in my early 20’s I ‘did’ a Contiki Tour of Europe. Our first City was Paris and after checking into the hotel, we were taken to see the sights and ended at the Eiffel Tower. Our tour guide gave us strict instructions to be back on the bus by 9:30pm otherwise “it would leave without us!”

I had made friends with three fellow travellers and we made a plan to go up the tower as high as we could. It was magnificent and we took in the views from all 4 sides. When we realized the time it had already gone 9:30pm and we knew the bus would have left. We were not concerned - being young and invincible we knew we would find our way back to the hotel!

An hour and a half later we emerged from the Eiffel Tower to see the bus was still there.  Our fellow tour members told us they had felt sorry for us and had decided to wait. We felt terrible, but also angry that we had been put in a position of unknowingly upsetting the others.

The lesson here is to say what you mean, mean what you say and stick to the plan. Don’t expect others to know you have changed the plan if you have not consulted them!

The Mandela Capture Site is situated in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, South Africa. It marks the place where Nelson Mandela was captured, at a roadblock, by the police on 5 August 1962, after being on the run from the South African Government for 17 months. There is a remarkable sculpture and a small (sadly unremarkable) museum to be found there. What really caught my interest were postcards and magnets depicting a thought-provoking quote by Nelson Mandela:

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

The life lesson here is an obvious one. If we truly want freedom then we must respect others. Instead of shouting others down or intimidating them if they dare speak up against us, we need to allow them to have their own ideas and opinions. We don’t have to agree with them, but we must show tolerance and respect towards them.

Some years ago I visited Oudtshoorn, a region in South Africa well known for its ostrich farming. I had a tour of a farm, as well as a ride on an ostrich – a most interesting experience! I also learnt some fascinating facts about ostriches. What struck me most was that while ostriches are not the most intelligent bird on this planet (an ostrich's brain is smaller than its eye and would hardly fill a tablespoon!), they have adapted so well that they have been on earth between 70 and 120 million years. Their lifespan is 50 – 75 years, which is an amazing age for a bird! In Mesopotamia and Egypt ostriches have inspired cultures and civilizations for 5000 years, which is more than can be said for most other living creatures!

The lesson here is that success need not be about intellectual capacity or intelligence, but rather about getting on with the job. Too often we measure success by degrees, diplomas and certificates, rather than by the ability to adapt to what's needed and getting on with doing it!

While exploring the province of Andalucia in Spain, I saw numerous massive silhouette 'billboards' of an enormous black bull. They were so quintessentially Spanish, that I found myself quite charmed by the sight. The bull billboards are a superb image and branding campaign because although Spain has so much more to offer – food (paella & tapas), drink (sangria, sherry & wine), flamenco music and dance, and the artists Picasso and Dali – when one thinks of Spain one invariably thinks first and foremost of bull fighting.

The life lesson here is to recognize the importance of branding and image. Whether or not it is your intention, everything you do, wear or say projects an image of you. Ask yourself, "When other people think of me what comes to mind first?" Then make sure it is the thing you want people to be thinking!

When I visited Rome, in Italy, I expected to see a beautiful city – after all Italy is known for its beautiful architecture, art, clothes and people. What I did not expect was to be made to feel beautiful. But that’s what happened. Everywhere I went the Italian men would call out a compliment, or whistle, as they sped past on their motor scooters. Although I was under no illusions – they did the same to all the women – I loved it and felt like the most beautiful woman in the world!

I was staying in a backpackers lodge at the time and one evening an American girl came in angrily complaining about the Italian men and how they were “awful and always trying to come on to you!” I tried to explain that it was just the Italian way and absolutely no harm or offence was meant, but she was having none of it. While I had a wonderful time in Italy, she must have had a miserable time.

The lesson here is it worth learning how to accept a compliment graciously. Not only does it give you a real boost, it also inspires the giver to continue giving compliments – and the world would certainly be a better place if we were more complimentary to each other.

While travelling in Italy I visited the magnificent St Peter’s Basilica located in the Vatican City. Inside is a larger-than-life bronze statue of St. Peter — his right hand extended to confer a blessing, while his left hand clutches the keys of the Kingdom. The statue is mounted on a tall alabaster pedestal, so that the feet are at eye-level. In medieval times pilgrims would fervently kiss or at least rub the right foot, which was extended forward from the pedestal, at the same time offering a prayer to St. Peter to be merciful and open the heavenly gates for them, if they should die while on the pilgrimage.  Over the years the bronze toes have been worn smooth.

While watching the people,  I was fascinated to see that almost every one of them reached out to rub the foot. Although most of the tourists were neither Catholic nor pilgrims, they still ‘followed the crowd’.

The lesson I learnt is that following the crowd is a survival instinct. Across the generations, people have learned that survival depends on banding together and working as a group. There is safety in numbers. All humans have inherited this legacy and it is shown in the security we feel when we ‘follow the crowd’. 

While travelling in America with a friend, we decided to visit Los Angeles. We took a Greyhound bus from San Diego and on arrival in Los Angeles the plan was to be picked up by mini-van and taken to the accommodation where we would be staying.

The mini-van was unavailable and we were advised by a local to walk to a bus stop a couple of blocks away and catch another bus. As we walked out of the Greyhound station an LAPD police car pulled up in front of us and two huge policemen jumped out and asked us where we were going - it was like something out of a Hollywood movie! The policemen were horrified that we were going to be walking around in a dangerous area and they told us that my friend, being a white male, would have made it only half a block before being murdered and that I would have made it one block before being raped and then murdered! They were totally serious. The policemen kindly drove us in their patrol car across town to a safer area to catch our bus. We finally arrived safely at our destination, but I was very shaken by the experience.

The lesson I learnt is that we are ultimately responsible for our own safety. It is up to us to make sure of this and not put all our trust in other people or we may find ourselves in trouble. We must know where we are and what we are about –We can never be complacent about our personal safety.

I once had the great pleasure of spending a day at Disneyland in Paris, outside of tourist season. It was a real pleasure not to have the place packed with crowds, but what really stood out for me was the relatively low number of children there compared to adults. The fact that the atmosphere was still electric with energy, fun and laughter was not lost on me – I was reminded of the fact that we humans retain our juvenile sense of enjoyment and pleasure right into adulthood.

The life lesson here is that human beings are playful creatures – no other species pursues so many activities simply for amusement or spends so much time enjoying themselves – and we need to be this way.  As George Bernard Shaw said, “We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."

While travelling through New York State, a friend and I spent some time in New York City, where we went to see Miss Saigon showing on Broadway. It was a superb show but also very emotional, so after the performance we decided we would walk for a bit before catching a taxi to take us ‘home’. We walked quite a long way thinking that it would have the double benefit of not only allowing us time to get our emotions in check, but also save us on taxi fare. Finally, we hailed a taxi - only to discover that we had been walking in the wrong direction and had in fact increased our taxi journey substantially!

The lesson I learnt was a worthwhile one – To get ahead you need to move in the right direction!

While working in Keystone Ski Resort in the Rocky Mountains, I would on occasion visit Denver, Colorado for the day. I would always enjoy my time in the big city, shopping, seeing the sights and so on, but one of the novelties that really made me stop and look was the squirrels in the parks. I would watch them for long periods of time, enjoying the antics of these little creatures and of course appreciating the parks too.   These little forays into nature in the big city gave me much pleasure.

I observed that the local people in Denver would rush by seeming not to even notice the squirrels. Although I was aware that they were not a novelty to them, it occurred to me how much we can miss when we take for granted the beautiful nature around us as we rush by.

The lesson here is to take notice of the world – observe it. No matter what you're doing, notice the moments that surround you – the beauty of nature, the outline of a bridge, or a view of the sunrise behind the city buildings.  Look at the way the light reflects off the buildings, the tree line, and the birds that manage to nest in the branches and the animals that live in the parks. The simple act of tilting your chin can give you a whole new perspective on the place you live.

While travelling in Spain I visited the popular Balcon De Europa, which literally means ‘Balcony of Europe’. Located in the centre of Nerja's historic part of town, a tree lined promenade called the Paseo Balcon de Europa takes you to the balcon – a semi-circular viewpoint jutting out to the sea with breath-taking views of the Mediterranean Sea, Sierra Almijara mountain range and the local beaches.

While the views are indeed magnificent, it was not the views that caught my attention, but the people – meeting, greeting, walking, talking and sitting together! It is without doubt the town’s meeting place and nearby you can find all sorts of cafés, bars, restaurants, ice-cream shops and hotels. It is a favourite spot with both locals and visitors alike and becomes very crowded.

The lesson learned (or perhaps just reinforced on this occasion) is that human beings are innately social. We need to feel love and acceptance from social groups. We are drawn to each other and the psychobiological drive to belong is entrenched. Being left out or ostracised is extremely hurtful. Contrary to popular belief, solitary confinement and not the death penalty is the worst possible punishment.

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.

Many of us are familiar with Michelangelo’s statue of David, an iconic symbol of Italy, and so of course, when the opportunity presented itself while visiting Florence, I made sure that I went to the Accademia Gallery where the famous statue is housed. The 5.17-metre (17.0 ft) statue, weighing more than 6-tons is magnificent and I spent a long time walking around and around the statue just admiring its beauty. The  thing that struck me when I did this was that it was the first time I had actually seen the back view of David. Every image I had ever seen previously had been from the front. I was entranced with the way the sling fell down the length of David’s muscular back, the impressive gluteus maximus muscle and the hamstrings as well as the cleverly designed tree stump support. The statue came alive for me for the very first time when I was able to view it in its entirety.

How often do we only pay attention to part of a picture or story? The lesson I learnt is that it is vital to consider the whole issue to get the best perspective. Taking all the angles into account can bring a whole new dimension to your understanding.

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!

While I was travelling in America, I decided to take a ferry trip from Seattle to Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, Canada located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest and has retained a large number of its historic buildings. Because my trip was only to be an overnight stay I did as much as I could that first day and made sure that I saw one of its most famous landmarks – the British Columbia Parliament Building. I was duly impressed with the beautiful architecture.

However, that evening I was introduced to a handsome, young local man. We had a drink together and started chatting when he told me that at night the outline of the building is lit up by 3,500 energy efficient light bulbs. He then insisted on taking me in his car to see the sight. What a magnificent spectacle it was! The young man was clearly very proud of his city and happy to show me the sights, but I am sure he had no idea the impact his kindness would have on me, as many years later I still have the vision of that lit building clearly imprinted on my mind and feel again the joy I felt when I actually saw it.

The lesson here is that you never know how much of an impact a seemingly small act of kindness on your part, can have on someone else.

While on my working holiday in America, I spent a couple of weeks travelling in a back-packers adventure bus known as 'The Green Tortoise'. My travelling companions were a mixed bag of people of all types and nationalities. One of the young men, Dave, although nice enough, was the sort of guy who just blends into a crowd. He had no special qualities to make him stand out. That was, until we went to a nightclub in Utah which was hosting a Karaoke evening. Towards the end of the evening, Dave quietly got up and made his way to the stage where he proceeded to give the most perfect rendition of Elvis Presley's 'Suspicious Minds' that I have ever heard. Everyone was in awe of his incredible talent and he immediately gained a celebrity status within the group. Now years later, Dave is one of the few characters from that trip that stands out for me.

The lesson here is that people are always more complex than they appear on the surface. Look deeper and discover their special qualities or talents. It certainly will make life more interesting and exciting

While visiting Jerez, in southern Spain, I decided to take a tour of its biggest winery, Bodega Tio Pepe, famous for its sherry production. While on the tour we were told all about the history of sherry production in the region, shown all the major cellars of the bodega and given tiny glasses of sherry to taste. I remember it being a most interesting tour at the time, but all the facts and statistics have long since been forgotten.

What I have not forgotten, however, is the delightful story we were told about a little mouse who would visit the cellars in the quiet of the evening. The mouse would scramble up to drink the last drops of sherry still in the taps just after the wine-maker had done his tasting. Of course getting up to the taps was a struggle for the little mouse, and the wine-maker took pity on it. There in the middle of the huge cellar was a tiny barrel with a tiny ladder leaning against it – for mouse to climb up. Each evening a small glass of sherry and a piece of cheese is placed on top. I am not sure that the story is true, but it was a moving story and the story-teller created just enough doubt in our minds that we could believe it if we wanted to.

The life lesson here is that facts and statistics are easily forgotten, but a simple heart-warming story can be remembered forever. As we go through life we must not just concentrate on the facts and routines of daily life, but rather try to do something special for others that will create never-to-be-forgotten stories. 

While travelling in the South of Spain, I decided to do a take the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco where I joined a tour group for a day trip in Tangier. We had wonderful day, visiting various places of interest, riding camels and enjoying a leisurely lunch of delicious Moroccan food. The whole experience was marred though by a horrible experience I had with a young man who was selling souvenir teaspoons.

We were walking down one of the narrow streets when he came up to me insisting I buy one of his teaspoons. I did not want to buy a teaspoon and told him so, but he continued to walk beside me badgering me to buy. It was unpleasant and knowing that bargaining was the ‘modus operandi’ in that town I decided that the best thing to do was to offer him a really low price in the hope that he would just go away. Of course he declined my offer, but remained walking beside me trying to bargain. When I refused to offer him anything more, he accepted it, but as he handed over the teaspoon he swore at me. I was really upset by the insult, but it did teach me a valuable life lesson.

When you say “No”, mean “No”! Be assertive - give a single, clear message that you are not interested in buying and then do not engage in any further interaction. By engaging with the teaspoon seller I gave him the message that I wanted to bargain with him and so created the problem for myself.

The Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre (the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art) is situated in Jerez, Spain and is well known for its ‘dancing stallions’. This is an institution which showcases all the classic traditions of Spanish baroque horsemanship, coach-driving and the abilities of the Andalusian horse. I attended a morning performance and was totally blown away by the precision and execution of the movements.  Being a rider myself, I knew just how well schooled the horses were and how difficult the acts were to perform - each was so superbly executed and set to such beautiful emotive music that I sat watching with tears rolling down my face. It was a morning I will never forget.

The life lesson here is that you have the power to change someone’s life, inspire them to greater heights and move them emotionally, if you do something really well. Put your heart and soul into your effort and you can create a moment which will remain a memory for life!

Arizona in the south-west region of the USA has a stark beauty punctuated with an assortment of cacti. While driving through, it was at the back of my mind that the area was home to a variety of scorpions and rattlesnakes among other creatures. We decided to stop and pop into one of the stores along the way, which was filled with lots of fun stuff and touristy curiosities. Some buff-coloured envelopes which were marked in capital letters – ‘DANGER: RATTLESNAKE EGGS’ caught my eye. I opened one to peek inside and got the fright of my life! It vibrated in my hands and made a whirring noise… just like the sound of a rattle snake! I nearly dropped it! What a laugh, it was a trick! An elastic band had been twisted around a metal disc. Hysterical!

The life lesson here is that expectations ‘set you up’. I was ‘primed’ for rattle snakes with all their potential danger, so when I heard a rattle it resulted in me having the fright of my life.
It’s important to set up the right expectations – first impressions count - so pay attention to your appearance, the way you treat others and the manner in which you behave. Are they congruent with the expectation you want people to have of you?

Built of white stones from the La Turbie region of France the Cathédrale de Monaco is one place really wanted to see while visiting Monaco. This Roman-Byzantine-style building, also known as St Nicholas Cathedral, which hosted the fairytale wedding of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III on 19 April 1956 also houses their remains in the Grimaldi vault – where husband and wife lie side by side. Admission is free, and when there aren’t any services taking place, hundreds of visitors wait patiently in line to pay tribute to their beloved Princess Grace - a lady who despite her royal status remained one of the people without any airs and graces.

The life lesson here is that a position of power doesn't have to change you as a person. Princess Grace, was so loved because despite fame and fortune, she remained as graceful as her name.

Situated on a hill with a view of the city of Granada in Spain, the Alhambra is a palace which has been built over centuries to reflect ‘the very beauty of Paradise itself’. Its many construction phases (beginning in the 9th Century as a citadel; developing in the 14th Century to become a Muslim palace and ultimately, in the 16th Century, housing Charles V) have retained the ‘paradise on earth’ theme as each new section has been added. These have included column arcades, fountains with running water and pools designed to reflect the architecture. The gardens are lush with flowers and foliage. It truly is a paradise. I was struck most, however, by the genius of the Arabic architecture, engineering and design which utilised no modern technology. Even though the sun was freely admitted, the air flowed in such a way that even on the hottest days, the rooms remained cool and airy and it was as if nature and architecture were blended as one. The feeling that I had at this place was so enriching that I really didn’t want to leave.

In the hustle and bustle of life in the city, one forgets to appreciate the beauty and tranquillity of nature and the fact that it is entirely possible to incorporate the natural environment into the design of our modern buildings. In this way we can enjoy the convenience of peaceful, airy rooms without the ambient noise of modern technology. The more we integrate our lives with nature, the more enriched we are.

While backpacking through America I spent some time in New York City. This is where I had a delightful encounter with a tramp which I shall never forget.

He came up to me begging for a quarter. By that time in my travels I was fed-up with being accosted by tramps asking for money. I reluctantly handed over a quarter, while at the same time engaging him in a discussion about why I needed the money more than he did. To my surprise he listened to my story, then handed my money back, saying he agreed with me, I needed the money more than he did. With smiles and cheers we went our separate ways. I was so amazed that he took the time to listen and respond in such an unexpected manner.

The life lesson here is that if you are genuine and share your truth, people will open their hearts in return.

While I was working on luxury yachts in the Mediterranean, I had the opportunity to visit the town of Pisa, in Italy, with the American captain of a neighbouring yacht. One of the main tourist attractions in this town is the world famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. While we were there, the tower was being renovated, restored and repaired – architects and engineers were working hard to stop the tower from falling over completely. What was interesting to me is that they weren’t trying to straighten it to its original, vertical stance. They were keeping its “lean” because it is that very “flaw” that makes it so iconic, and so popular with visitors.

The life lesson here is that things don’t have to be perfect to be interesting. In fact, perfection is often a little boring! Instead, it is the flaws that make things worth a second look, and which make them stand out from the rest. 

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!

In 1994, I took a 10-month working holiday in the United States, and was fortunate to see many of the more famous attractions in cities across the country during this time. One of the attractions that most impressed me was Sea World in San Diego. Of course I realise that, almost 20 years on, these large “super-aquariums” are pretty common place – South Africa has uShaka Marine World in Durban and the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, and there are others in Australia and Europe. At the time, however, I was bowled over by Sea World. It was like Disneyland, but with fish! It was simply the best aquarium I had ever seen.

The lesson here is that it pays to be bold. If you do something unheard of, daring and completely revolutionary today, you may well be setting a trend for the future. 

While travelling through America, I spent a few days in Los Angeles, the 2nd largest city in the United States and the world centre for the entertainment industry. Of course, no trip to L.A is complete without a trip to Hollywood, and while I was there I took a tour of Universal Studios. Included in this tour was a stop-off at the pool containing the beast (or rather, the head of the beast) that sparked terror into the hearts of millions in the 1970s, and had people too terrified to go into the sea – Jaws!

While it made use of what were considered ground-breaking special effects techniques at the time, 30-odd years later, getting up close and personal with the fibreglass model of Jaws was anything but scary! As one of those who was terrified by the film, I was horrified at its amateur appearance!

The life lesson here is even something very basic can create a huge impression if it’s used in the right way. So don’t be scared - take your talents and use them to create magic.

During my travels in North America, I travelled across the border into Canada. One of the cities I visited was Montreal, where I was struck by the beauty of the architecture. What made this city special, however, was that while it was obviously a bustling metropolis with the mandatory high rise buildings, glass, steel and concrete, these modern structures were often found next to beautiful old buildings, dating back to the city’s early days. And instead of jarring, old and new existed in perfect harmony, creating a unique skyline which captured both the proud past and exiciting future of this amazing city.

The life lesson here is that we don’t always have to get rid the old to make way for the new. There can be space for both – be it buildings, ideas or people – to live in harmony with, and complement, each other. 

One of the cities I visited during my 9-month working holiday in the United States was Washington DC. And of course, when you’re in Washington, you have to visit The White House.  Naturally, it is a huge tourist attraction and when I got there, there were queues and queues of people waiting to go in. Big, muscular security guards were admitting people in groups of about 25 at a time. I had limited time in the city and didn’t want to spend what I estimated would be at least 2 hours in a queue. I decided that as I was on my own, it might not be too difficult to slot into a group much further up the line. I approached one of the guards, explained my situation and asked him if I could join the group that was going in next. And he said yes! He could easily have turned me away and told me to wait my turn, but instead he showed understanding and simple human kindness. It is a gesture I still remember today, 22 years later.

The life lesson learnt here is that sometimes, a seemingly small and insignificant act or gesture can make a huge difference in someone’s life. We should all practice random acts of kindness every day.

As a student, I spent a ski season working in Keystone Ski Resort in the Rocky Mountain Range of Colorado. To help stop me missing my family and friends, and feeling too homesick on Christmas Day, I decided to do something interesting, enjoyable and special.

I was very interested in joining a group for Christmas dinner in a restaurant at the top of the mountain, followed by a midnight run down the ski slopes - lit only by torch light. It sounded so exciting, but I was worried that I wasn’t a good enough skier, and almost abandoned the idea there and then. My sense of adventure won the day, however, so – after some reassurance from the organisers - I signed up.

The entire experience was absolutely amazing and I was thrilled I had had the courage to do it. It is one of the adventures I will never forget!

The life lesson here is not to let fear stop you. As Dr. Robert Anthony so wisely says: “Courage is simply the willingness to be afraid, and act anyway.”

A few years ago, during a “travelling” period of my life, I had the chance to explore the Spanish province of Andalucia. One day, I found myself in Frigiliana, a beautiful and charming town characterised by cobbled streets, coffee pots overflowing with vibrant bougainvillea and steep, winding stairs. The town was thronging with tourists, all appreciating its beauty and “quaintness.” Adding to the appeal was a little old lady, typically dressed in black, who came out of her house to sweep her “stoep.” While we were taking photos, it suddenly struck me that while we, as tourists, were admiring this “picture postcard” pastoral scene, the old woman herself was just having a normal day and was going about her business - no doubt as she does every day.

The lesson here is that life is all about perspective. What created an extraordinary scene for us as tourists, was just an ordinary moment for the old woman.

During my three-year stint working on luxury yachts around the world, I found myself in Bodrum in Turkey, as part of the crew overseeing the re-fitting of a beautiful 1930’s yacht. The work was exhausting and I didn’t have a lot of time for sightseeing, but one thing I will always remember about Bodrum is the magnificent roses that seemed to grow just about everywhere! They were absolutely breathtaking – some had blooms as big as two hands cupped together. They were growing without any attention – no one fertilising or pruning them – and yet they were probably the most breathtaking roses I have ever seen.

The life lesson here is that, when conditions are right, things will flourish - even if they’re not given an overt amount of attention.  Don’t wait for someone to nurture and look after you before you grow – create the right conditions for yourself and attain your own magnificence.

While travelling back to South Africa after working on a yacht in Turkey, I took the opportunity go to the United Arab Emirates, to visit an old friend who was living in Dubai. Dubai is situated in the middle of the Arabian Desert, and so is probably the last place in the world where you’d expect to find a ski slope! But this is exactly what I discovered one day while walking round one of the city’s many huge shopping malls! I was fascinated to be able to watch the skiers through a glass wall - while being very grateful for the cool air-conditioning blasting away on my side of the glass! A similar experience was watching beach volleyball take place in the middle of London – very far from the nearest beach – during the recent Summer Olympics!

The life lesson here is that just about anything is possible if you don’t let yourself be dictated to by your situation or circumstances. If you can dream it, you can do it!

During my year-long working holiday in America, I tried to see as many different cities as possible. I often made use of Greyhound buses, and one day, when leaving Chicago, I had a ticket for a bus that was due to leave at 4pm. I arrived at the terminal at midday, but didn’t want to walk around with all my bags, so I just sat and waited. Another lady had also arrived early, and she too decided to wait. As the afternoon wore on, crowds of people started arriving to catch the bus, and the fact that we had been waiting four hours didn’t seem to matter - the new arrivals just pushed and shoved so that we were forced right to the back of the queue. We were both furious, and the lady shouted and screamed at the conductor, demanding to be let on the bus. I kept calm and explained that we had been waiting hours. In the end, the conductor let me on to the bus, but turned the other lady away for being rude.

The lesson here is that aggressive behaviour seldom, if ever, gets you what you want. No one likes a rude person. If you want something, ask for it in an assertive, NOT aggressive, manner, always taking the feelings of the other person into account.

While working on luxury yachts in the Mediterranean, I found myself with some rare, but much-needed time off while we were moored at the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda in Porto Cervo, Sardinia.

The town is a favourite stop-off point for some of the world’s uber rich and famous, and it’s not unusual to see international celebrities benefitting from a little retail therapy there! Exclusivity and expense are the dominant impressions when you walk around, so you can imagine how surprised I was when, while browsing in one of the most upmarket shopping malls in the world, I found several shops offering lovely items I could actually afford!

The lesson here is that we shouldn’t be intimidated by outward appearances, reputation or title. Very often, if we are brave enough to look beyond the daunting exterior, we may well be pleasantly surprised at what we find.

While my Mom and I were visiting the UK for a family wedding, I took the opportunity to take us both up to Edinburgh in Scotland for the world famous Edinburgh Tattoo. Because it was a relatively late decision, the whole city was already packed out, and we were unable to get any accommodation.

Fortunately we found a little fishing village called Dunbar, about 20 minutes by train from Edinburgh, where we managed to secure a room in a B&B.  One day, while sitting on the pebbled beach in Dunbar watching the seagulls and listening to their raucous and incessant calls, I was suddenly struck by the fact that the seagulls back home in Durban don’t actually make a noise! What I had taken to be to be the same ol’ seagulls as back home, were in fact very different. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but that noisy Scottish beach made me aware of the difference.

Even though something may appear familiar, there may be differences we don’t expect. We shouldn’t take things at face value – rather make an effort to learn and appreciate individual characteristics.

While touring through the States, I had the opportunity to visit Venice Beach, in Los Angeles, California. This world famous spot is renowned for its long boardwalk, packed with people roller-blading, running, cycling etc, as well as for the aptly-named Muscle Beach Gym.

It was fascinating to watch not only the people working out in the gym, but also the people watching the people working out in the gym! Everywhere I looked there were gym bunnies showing off their bodies in barely-there outfits. I found the whole experience very shallow and superficial.  It’s not that I’m not into health and fitness – I’m hugely in favour of staying healthy. But it was sad to see people working out not for the health benefits, but for the ego boost they got from having others stare at their bodies.

Don’t place emphasis on those things that you will lose – looks, for example. Rather invest time and energy into things that will yield long-term and lasting benefits.

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.

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.

Many things have been said and written about the joys and benefits of travelling. As someone who has travelled extensively, I can honestly say I have loved the places I have been to, the experiences I have had and the people I have met – many of whom I am still in contact with. But as wonderful as travelling can be, Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca may well have been right when he said,

"Everywhere is nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel,
he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends."

As part of my sailing adventure I spent a lot of time in Antibes, France, I met a vast number of people who, like me, were also working as crew in the luxury yachting industry. I was always bumping into people I knew while on shore leave there, but, as lovely as it was to see them, I really began to appreciate the value of lasting friendships, as opposed to the many acquaintances I met on my travels.

At the end of the day, it is those friends with whom you have spent time, been with in times of need, stood by in times of trouble, nurtured and cared for, who will be with you in the long run.

One of my favourite places to visit in France is the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera. Built in the early 1900's by Baroness Beatrice de Rothschild, the villa is today the only great house on the Riviera open to the public. It is an extremely impressive example of the magnificent summer residences built by the very wealthy of the day, but it is the nine themed gardens in which it is set which are the true masterpieces. Strolling visitors will be surprised and enchanted by the exact symmetry of the formal French garden, the lush vegetation of the Spanish and Florentine gardens, the fragrant profusion of the rose garden, the rare trees in the exotic garden, and the archaeological remains in the Stone garden. I was really struck by how the Baroness's dream villa and its magnificent gardens are still bringing joy to thousands of people from all over the world over a hundred years later.

Something worth doing is worth doing well. The Baroness built something beautiful, which took many years to complete, but she made sure it was exactly as she wanted. Her determination to get it right has left us with a lasting legacy which will continue to bring pleasure to people for generations to come.

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.

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!" 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.

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.

When visiting the Grand Canyon, in the USA, I took the opportunity to join a guided, overnight hike down to the bottom of the Canyon. While water is usually available from taps along the route, there was a problem at this particular time, so we had to carry our own with us. It was thus a very precious commodity!

On the way back up the next day, I was almost at the top when I met a woman who had slipped on the loose gravel, grazing her knee and hand. She was feeling very miserable, as she had only just started her hike and had a long way still to go. I had some plasters in my back pack, so I stopped to help her, using some of my precious water to clean her wounds before putting the plasters on. This little bit of attention really cheered her up, and she was able to continue her hike in a much better frame of mind.

Sometimes, even the smallest gesture can make a really big difference.

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 AmalfiItaly, 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.

One evening while in Naples, Italy, Tim, a fellow crewmate, and I decided to go out for dinner. We chose a tiny restaurant on the edge of a little harbour filled with colourful fishing boats. The tables were laid with white linen cloths and napkins, the evening was warm and still, and the lights twinkled on the water - it was a fabulous setting for an alfresco meal.

Halfway through the meal, while enjoying the atmosphere, good conversation and the great food and wine, Tim put his knife and fork down on his plate. He did this in such a way as to show that he had not yet finished his meal – or so he thought! The waiter, however, came up to our table and whisked Tim’s plate away. Tim was annoyed to say the least, and it was only after much upset and gesticulating that he finally got his meal back.The waiter was also upset and went off muttering, soon returning with the maitre’d who could speak some English. He explained to us that while in England, the way Tim had put his knife and fork down indicated he was not finished his meal, in Naples it showed that he wasfinished, and the waiter was thus only doing what was expected of him. Tim and I were fascinated at this complete contrast in table etiquette. We had had no idea.

Don’t ever assume that your own customs are the way of the world. Take time to find out about the customs of other places so as not to cause offence. (Ask open-ended questions so that you can find out about things you don’t know you don’t know!)

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.

Lucca, in Italy, is the birthplace of Puccini, so during Opera season there are concerts every week. One evening, I invited Steve, the Captain of the neighbouring yacht, as well as Duncan, an engineer from another yacht, to join me at a concert. Both were very reluctant, saying they didn’t think they would enjoy it. But they did go and…they loved it! Steve enjoyed it so much he continued to go every week after I had left Italy, and Opera is now his ‘thing’.

 Never say no to an invitation - unless you already have another commitment. You don’t know what pleasures and opportunities it may bring or what doors may be opened to you.

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 Victoria, on the island of Mahe’ in the Seychelles, I was alone and yet felt I belonged. I had fun! The market sold freshly caught fish and locally grown fruit and vegetables and, although mostly illiterate, the local people were warm and happy to see you. In the midst of poverty there was soul! These people were living!

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.

While I was working on a yacht in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, I met a wonderful South African woman sailor, Meme Grant, who one day said she would take me across the bay to the local shopping market. She came to pick me up in a little rubber dinghy, greeted me and told me to “jump in.” As the level of the deck of the yacht was a lot higher than the rubber dinghy in the water, I was horrified! However, I didn’t want to appear stupid and incompetent, so I took a deep breath and jumped. Of course, I nearly capsized the both of us! Meme was furious and shouted at me: “Don’t you know that you never jump into a dinghy?”  I explained that I had never been in a dinghy before, so I had no idea. Meme, being the great teacher that she is, immediately calmed down and gave me my first lesson in dinghy skills. I learnt that when Meme said "jump in" she meant, “very carefully get into the dinghy so as not to capsize us”. I heard: “don’t waste time mucking about - literally jump.”

Don’t always assume another person will understand what you are talking about. Be clear and communicate the message you intend to communicate.

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.

My mother and I were in the UK at the time of the Edinburgh Tattoo in Scotland. As we both dearly wanted to see it, I decided to take my mother as a birthday treat. However, when I began enquiring about purchasing tickets, I was told repeatedly by friends and family that if we hadn’t booked our seats at least a year ago, we wouldn’t stand a chance of getting in. I was shattered by this news, but decided to keep trying. I eventually found out who to phone, made the call and got tickets with no problem at all. We went to the Tattoo and loved it.

Don’t let what other people say stop you from pursuing your dream. Do what it takes to make it happen. Listen to your own wisdom and trust yourself – others don’t necessarily know more than you.

While wandering through the ruins at Ephesus, in Turkey, I came across the crumbling statue of the Goddess of Victory and saw that her name was “Nike”. I was stunned as I realised one of the most well-known brand names used today comes from ancient times.

New ideas are not always what is required. Recognising and using the wisdom of the past is sometimes all it takes to enjoy great success.

In Gibraltar, I witnessed an accident where a child was fooling around, fell off a wall and landed on his head. He became completely hysterical. It transpired, much later, that his distress was not from the pain of the fall, but from his belief – based on a film he had seen where a similar incident had occurred – that he was going to die from his injury. The parents tried to soothe the boy but soon grew annoyed with his continuous crying. Finally they became angry demanding that he stop crying. They did not actually ask him why he was so upset, they just assumed it was from the pain of the fall. They therefore didn’t understand what the problem was, and were unable to calm their child down.

 Listen to what your children have to say. Respect that they have their own thoughts and ideas.