on being alive..

hello? hello! oh there you are. or rather, here I am.

I must apologise for falling off the planet from a literary perspective, I was preoccupied with spending the last couple of months falling on to the planet from a literal perspective. And Oh what a couple of months it has been.

One of the most humbling things I continue to learn throughout each day of my travels is how many outright, bad-assed, hyper-talented, awe-inspiring, entertaining, beautiful, positive, compassionate, exquisite personalities there are on this rock. I feel so

Base jumping on Zakynthos Island, Greece

privileged to have encountered some of these people on the way, more so to call some of them my friends.

Of all the breathtaking landscapes I have witnessed over the past 2 months, none can compare to that of the people who have populated it.

these are the people who choose to make their lives beautiful.

Thankyou for making mine beautiful:)

Here are some links to a few videos of some of the places Iv been playing recently. Enjoy…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcPNLhghHK0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZDWZJuMqy0&feature=youtu.be

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So in keeping with inspiration hour, watch this video again. Most of you have probably seen it along the way, but personally, I never tire of it:)

“People are Awesome”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKWoPlL2B8I

getting malaria, getting injured, and (finally) getting my game back..

There is an inspirational mantra. The words are poignant and, at the risk of sounding cheesy right now, I often chime it in my head when I’m hurting, worn out or being left behind on a hike..

“Harden the Fuck up.”


They say the human body has a psychosomatic “buffer zone”, where the mind tells you you are tired before the fibres of your body truly reach their limits. They say super athletes like Lance Armstrong have trained their minds to continue in to this “buffer zone” where most mortals would stop.
This of course requires an exceptionally attentive relationship with your body in order to avoid injury, for it is dangerous territory. But it is the territory where championship flags are planted.

I am far from a super athlete. And I’ve certainly never planted a championship flag. But, in my self-inflicted, overly dramatised world, I like to think every step, every challenge and every chore of my day is a personal championship race. It’s a race against my toughest enemy: me.

The nature of humanitarian flying is you see some horrible stuff. Africa is particular for loss of limb, albeit inflicted by poisonous snake, shrapnel or Machete.
We fly patients through various stages of their ordeal- from the horrifying medevacs, to the surgery and throughout the recovery stages. The thing that strikes me again and again is how quickly these people recover. Almost inhumanly so.

I’m fairly fond of my limbs. A recent time spent on crutches confirmed I’m also a sulker when it comes to injury. I’m proud of my body and what it can do. If I’d lost a limb, I would spend at least the first month coming to terms with this psychologically! Accepting the dreams I’d have to shelve, drawing up new ones. So much of who I am is defined by my capabilities.

Yet here these people are, they have no ego standing in their way. In war-torn Africa there is no time for self pity and psychological bullshit. For time spent recovering psychologically is time they cannot spare in the battle to physically survive. If they must drag themselves on their belly up the steps of the aeroplane they will do it. This is not degrading. It is heroic.

We are constantly told if we want to get fit “just take the stairs”. This is a false message of lethargy. We are capable of working out; we are capable of pushing our bodies and our minds. We are told that weakness is “only human”. Yeah sure, dont beat yourself up, but for goodness sake, you only have to spend an hour surfing Youtube to become over-awed at what humans can achieve!

They say a person will behave exactly as you expect him to. I reckon none more so than ourselves

Mount Nyiragongo, 21 November 2010

I don’t smoke weed, But what a trip. Even without herbal assistance I felt mind blown as I stared childlike into the molten vein tapping straight to the heart of the planet Earth.

I was sitting at the chilly summit of Mt Nyiragongo, one of Africa’s most active volcanoes, and staring, hypnotised, in to the world’s largest permanent lava lake.

Bubbling and hissing, the lake sounds like a gigantic gas stove, but on a scale that sends chills into my very soul.

The day started with a gruelling 7 hour hike up, up, never relenting up. The sticky jungle and cloud forest transforming as we climbed to prehistoric scrub, skree fields and moonscape. At 11 300’ it’s cold. We set up our tents at the very edge of the crater, and sat huddled like school children at a campout; mesmerised as we warmed our faces not by campfires dancing flames, but by the boiling magma 300m below.

The Nyiragongo and her adjoining Nyamuragira together account for 40% of Africa’s volcanic activity, with Nyamuragira last erupting in November of 2011. Nyiragongo is most famous for her deadly eruption in 2002 which claimed 147 lives and left 120 000 people homeless. The unique combination of low-viscosity lava and her steep-sided conical profile means that lava streams from this beast travel at 100km/hr (60mph) unlike the usual walking-pace of most lava flows. This, and the gaseous volcanic lake on which she resides, accounts for the Nyiragongo’s status as the highest volcanic threat to human life worldwide.

This single volcano emits more sulphur dioxide in one day, than the entire United States Industry and motor transport combined.

The magnitude of the colossus makes me feel small and so very human. Fallible in the face of such an incomprehensibly powerful entity, and arrogant in our claims of human impact. People say we are killing the planet. But as I face the unbridled power of this 4.5 billion year old giant, I wonder: are we really killing the planet? Or is she killing us?

Authors note: Later that night, while everyone slept, I slipped from my tent and took a pee off the edge of the cliff in to the crater. No disrespect intended, but pissing in to a volcano seemed like a cool thing to do at the time.  I must add that there are a few times in which my life really would be easier if I was a boy. Pissing into an active volcano is one of them.

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If you’d like to visit beautiful. wild, Eastern Congo- fly to Kigali, capital of Rwanda, and travel by local taxi to Gisenyi. Here you cross the border on foot in to Goma, DRC.  Most of the Gorilla, Eco and Volcano tours start from Goma.

Visit the Virunga Park website http://www.visitvirunga.org/

Eastern DRC is quite safe compared with the west so avoid Kinshasa, don’t believe everything Lonely Planet tells you and you’ll be styling:)

for more on Mount Nyiragongo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Nyiragongo

 

2011; In the shadow of the Eiger

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In October 2011 I spent some time in BASE jumping’s “sub-terminal tracking paradise” of Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland.

This is a place where exit points are easily accessible courtesy of the ski-lift infrastructure, the weather is jumpable all day, and BASE is not only legal, but ENCOURAGED! For a jumper usually accustomed to sneaking through the shadows in the dead of night in order to make a jump, riding to the top in a gondola full of jumpers casually displaying their stash bags was something new and enthralling!

As always in my travels, new and interesting friends are never in short supply. Two such friends made on this trip were fellow South Africans now living in New Zealand; adventurous couple David and Renee Walden. Although Renee doesn’t jump herself, David and her share a passion for climbing, outdoors and travel. How wonderful to spend some time with such like-minded and easy-going people.

Turns out David likes to hum the noddy song too.

The link below is a video he put together of the good times in “the Valley”. Check it out, its worth a watch.

I Cant wait to meet again in some corner of the planet!

Go “Team Noddy!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NedJQZr45gs&feature=player_embedded

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so what is this BASE jumping thing?

jumping from the 300m Menara KL tower in Malaysia 2011

Until YouTube and Jeb Corliss in his black “squirrel suit” came along, most of the world didn’t know what BASE jumping was.

Whilst the practice of mentally unstable monks jumping from cathedrals with feathers tied to their arms can be traced back alot further, BASE in the forum as it is practiced today dates back to the seventies when a few brave skydivers decided that jumping from aircraft was not enough.

Initially called “Fixed object parachuting”, the acronym BASE, standing for Building, Antenna, Span and Earth, was coined in the 80’s by legendary couple Carl and Jean Boenish, the idea being that once you had jumped from each of these objects, you could join the exclusive club and receive your sequential “BASE number”.
Nowadays BASE numbers are somewhere around 1700 I think, But the sport has become so much more to so many more people than simply “ticking the boxes” in order to be recognised.

Due to its shady, and often debatable standing with the law, BASE has been a largely secretive community over the past 20 years. However, the advent of YouTube, and a generally more accepting public when it comes to extreme sports, has seen more and more formal public events and media coverage of the sport. These days you will see clips on Discovery channel and National Geographic of jumpers flying wingsuits, performing exquisite aerials and jumping from remote and inspiring sites.

BASE jumping utilises a specialised parachute designed to open faster, and at a much lower height than a standard skydiving parachute. Exit heights for base jumps vary from 100foot antennas (lower if you’re a Fin) to jumps from cliffs of many thousands of feet equivalent to that of a skydive. Each type of jump has unique challenges and approach, and these days, within the sport of BASE, there are many specialists who focus on particular aspects of the sport, and an ensuing boom in the skills jumpers display. Videos of wingsuiters and trackers flying proximity through the cliffs and gorges of Europe and the world bare testimony to this. And it is only getting better.

Being a part of such a young sport is thrilling in that you get to witness, first hand, these ground breaking developments. Meet the masterminds, the crazies, the ones who push the envelope of humanity. In a small and humble way you feel like you are a part of this incredible advancement of human kind’s self exploration.

It is not a sport without its dangers; statistic will tell you the potential consequences for pioneers. And every day you jump you must ask yourself “is it worth it?”

And no matter at what stage in the sport you are at, be it starting out or standing on the edge of the Eiger, if one day it’s not worth it, then it’s not. The wonderful difference in BASE compared to skydiving with its military roots:  There is no General shouting at you to jump. No one can make you jump. It is an entirely personal decision and an even more personal experience.

For some it is the freedom, for some the intense mastery of oneself, some like the banditry, others the publicity. The loneliness, the camaraderie, intense fear or inexplicable joy.

No one can tell you why you should or shouldn’t jump.

You will know.

And knowing, that despite all the dangers, the reward is so satiating you are willing to throw yourself from a cliff for it, well that is knowing yourself.

And the journey of exploration of oneself is all we can be on this planet to do.

19-03-09; Goma,Democratic Republic of the Congo

Tchukudus in Goma

Looking around, it’s hard to imagine that only months ago the dark grey dust of these streets was torn and ravaged by one of the bloodiest wars on the globe, or that just years ago was victim to the asphyxiating clutches of the darkened mountain above.

Just as I struggle to comprehend the terrifying, tumultuous scope of the volcano that broods over Goma, so it is to look into the smiles bickering over prices of cheese, bartering bean sprouts and potatoes, and wonder how many horrors those eyes have witnessed. or how many terrors those hands have inflicted.

Tchukudus in Goma

Like any African town, if you peer through the festive scuttle of chickens and hawkers, dusty children rolling cans and muscles pushing wooden treasures, you can spy the scars of the times the lands have endured.

The ashen streets and bullet-ridden walls bear testimony the atmosphere cannot convey.
Our californianised world of therapists, spa’s and celebrity rehab, a distant mockery in this jarring world of life and its truths. How much more can this continent bear before she breaks?

An ungainly, yet inarguably ingenious, “tchukudu” zooms past on its gravity-induced vector. Its two occupants carefully balancing what appears to be a dismantled shanty-house, ‘driver’ up front managing balance and steering whilst ‘passenger’ behind handles the piece of tire-tread brake on the back wheel.. I am laughing once again.

My question is answered, the spirit of this land and all its occupants, for all her faults, never relents the beating of her fascinating, delighting, intoxicating metronome of life and that of being alive. She is a fighter,  that is certain. I can harbour no fears that this exquisite pulse could ever waiver..

Yet in the charged particles of dust that seem to connect all who wander through their smokey envelope I listen, smiling for the hope of all the dances her rhythms will inspire… shivering for fear of all the war cries..

the truth about goats

Do not be fooled by the steely gaze. Beneath lies the stealth and cunning of a ninja

Before I went to Chad, I never had a particular affinity for goats. Not for any reason further than I had never had the opportunity to hang out with them much.

Arriving in Abeche in Eastern Chad in early 2009 it became quite clear I would get to know goats.

Goats are food, goats are garbage disposal units, goats are traffic beacons and, as it turns out, goats are pretty awesome pets.

One of the common practices in a place where there is no such thing as sanitary meat slaughter, is to purchase live food and slaughter it yourself. The crew before me had purchased a goat with such intentions.  When the time came to.. you know.. the local staff, being more practiced in the fields of goatery than the crew, brought it to their attention that this goat was in fact pregnant.

The moral dilemma of killing a mother-to-be versus the anticipated meal set to follow was mitigated by the compromise that they would wait for the goat to have the baby, then have a two meals.

Well, as it turned out the mother-to-be had a personality. They named her Gloria. And you know the rest.

Thus arriving in Abeche, I was introduced to the crew’s pets: Gloria, and baby Celtel (so  named after a local mobile phone network in keeping with the theme of previously eaten goats  Tigo and Orange.)

Goats are fairly easy to keep. All that was required of me was to put a pile of food out for them once a week. The challenge proved not so much finding what they would eat, as it was finding what they would not eat.

Let me take a moment to summarise things goats eat:

Dried peanut grass

Plants in the garden

Leftover rice

Money

Plastic bags

Stones

Sheet metal

Entire volleyball nets

Freshly printed or important paperwork

Any item holding an original signature

My golden retriever in South Africa, a supposedly intelligent breed of dog, at 13 years of age has still not quite mastered the art of opening a door. Celtel (or Celti as she came to be called) mastered this within ten minutes of me beginning our lesson. I must admit I was proud of my student. The rest of my crew: not so much.

I came home soon after to find both goats in the house, munching happily away on the entire year’s archive of legally documented refuelling information for our operation.

They also came to know the sound of the printer and would sneak in to the house when you were nonchalantly printing flight planning or the like. Like the ninjas that they are, footsteps on the tiled floor timed perfectly with your rustling of stationary or tapping on the keyboard. Stop typing for a moment to listen for strange noises and you will hear nothing but silence.

The ninja goat is a worthy foe. In your moment of weakness she will pounce.

Paper disappears into their rapidly moving jaws as smoothly as the most modern paper shredder. Another interesting fact about goats is the laws of physics govern that ratio of speed-of-jaw to speed-of-foot is directly proportional. Thus ensues cat and mouse attempts to get near enough to goat (who moves only when you do) before the all-important signature disappears from view and the document is lost forever.

In my life, have literally had to report back to my employer at least once that “the goat ate my homework.”

Gloria the goat also developed a habit: somehow realising that if she rammed into the back of your knee with her head in just the right spot it would level you to the floor. And would joyfully utilize this skill at awkward moments such as when you were standing in front of the stove with your back to the kitchen door. Or carrying a large box. See above post regarding ninja goat stealthiness.

Anyone who has been to third world Africa will elaborate on the climbing skillz of goats. If we came home and threw an aircraft tyre on the ground, within minutes Celti would be atop of it. Planks, trees, anything raised off the ground. I’ve seen goats halfway up the face an almost smooth 2meter face brick wall. Not climbing awkwardly, just standing there, chilling out, being a goat.

In my time spent in Chad I have journeyed through the psyche of goats, and return with a new found appreciation for their sinister sense of humour.

As for Celti and Gloria, the final straw came after my departure from 2 years in Chad and “handover” of the goat responsibilities to the incoming crew. Over a long weekend, they proceeded to eat an entire volleyball net that was a communal court on our property for all members of the ICRC we were working for. Not chewed, not destroyed. Ate. Only the metal connectors at the side of the net remained.

The crew and the client were not particularly impressed by this incident. And would tell me afterward that the goats were “given away to a good home to be used for breeding and live out their days as a part of a happy goat herd”. I have no reason to believe that they have in fact fulfilled their original purpose of becoming a meal just like most goats in Chad ultimately do.

No, no, I am quite sure they are wandering around Abeche to this day, throwing nunchucks and prowling for documents to digest, remembering the good times shared.  Elvis is probably there too. And Gadaffi.