Raw Rugged Beauty: The Cederberg Wilderness

Approximately three hours from Cape Town, past the lush green vineyards towards the farmlands beneath the arid mountains, lies the Cederberg wilderness: an expansive “mountain playground” that is a prime spot for camping, hiking, rock climbing, and wildlife spotting. Just one hour in this wild and captivating terrain will make you feel like you have driven straight through a portal to another world. Sprawling sandstone formations surround you concealing all sorts of flora and fauna, ancient rock art, and, unbeknownst to many, some of the last leopards alive in the Western Cape. While it is extremely difficult to spot these elusive, nocturnal creatures, they may leave their phantom tracks behind for you to see in the warm, red sand. Read about my experience searching for them and camping beneath their Cederberg stars, and maybe you’ll want to venture out there yourself.

Finding My Wildness in the Home of the Cape Leopard

A room with a view: My tent overlooking the Cederberg mountains - Cederberg Oasis

A room with a view: My tent overlooking the Cederberg mountains – Cederberg Oasis

The bus made its way slowly, and ever so noisily through the winding roads of the mountains. The red dirt followed the beams of sunlight in through the half-open windows, settling onto my skin like a dusty blanket, while countless stones bounced up around the tyres and pounded at the soles of my feet to the beat of an African drum. For miles and miles I gazed anxiously out at the rocky mountain ridges, hoping to get a glimpse of the iconic creature I have only ever dreamed of. But as my eyes traced every slope from the sky down to the reeds and marshes, I grew more and more aware of just how elusive these big cats are. It was the little doe eyes of a pair of klipspringer that reminded me they were even there at all.

When we finally arrived at our trailhead, I looked up at the height of the mountain before me and wished I had the strength and agility of the fascinating Cape leopard that I have learned so much about. The few that are left in the 3,000 square kilometers of rugged terrain are built for these rocky slopes, and are far better at navigating them than I. I mustered all that I could and eagerly set off alongside some equally enthusiastic companions towards the tops of the towering cliffs.

Sandstone formations - Wolfberg Cracks, Cederberg

Sandstone formations – Wolfberg Cracks, Cederberg

We climbed and leaped and climbed some more, taking brief stops to look out and appreciate the vastness of the landscape. My line of vision was painted with bright blue and orange hues as we entered further into the massive rock cracks set against the clear sky. For hours I scaled walls of solid stone, dragged my body through the sand to squeeze through tiny crevices, and got my fair share of bruises. By the time we reached the top of the mountain, I felt more accomplished and more in tune with my natural self and the earth around me than I ever have before.

Embracing my inner leopard - Wolfberg Cracks, Cederberg

Embracing my inner leopard – Wolfberg Cracks, Cederberg

The dry, open, and rocky scenery laid out before me in the sweltering 95-degree heat was somehow comforting to me—untainted by the hand of man. I longed to see the shy wildlife of the Cederberg wander out from the distant piles of sandy boulders, even if just for a moment; but with their ability to blend into their surroundings and my poor eyesight, I accepted that this was unlikely.

We proceeded to climb around for a while more, exploring all possible nooks and crannies; I can still feel the texture of the cold, rough rock beneath my hands, dusted with the red dirt that seemingly covered everything, the prickle of the bushes that tried to block your every path, and the relief of finding shade under an over-hanging rock—a sanctuary away from the unforgiving Cederberg sun.

Plants spring up between the rocks - Wolfberg Cracks, Cederberg

Plants spring up between the rocks – Wolfberg Cracks, Cederberg

Soon our exhausted and, I dare say, sunburned and sweaty group of hikers made our way back down the mountain to civilization below. We celebrated our five-hour adventure towards the sky with a much-needed dip in the chilly rock pools and far too many bottles of wine. By the time we reached our campsite at the wonderful Oasis Backpackers (truly an oasis with the most knowledgeable and friendly hosts), everyone was eager to have a quick shower before braaiing long into the night. That evening we feasted on steak, chicken, potatoes, veggies, and more, all with nothing but the moonlight to guide us. Not being able to see my plate in the darkness heightened my taste buds and made the meal that much more mouth-watering.

Swimmers enjoy the refreshing water after jumping from the cliffs above - Cederberg

Swimmers enjoy the refreshing water after jumping from the cliffs above – Cederberg

We sat circled as if around an imaginary campfire, passing drinks around for those looking to warm themselves from the inside out in the crisp and cool Cederberg night air. A few of us took off to the other side of the campsite where colorful hammocks formed a semi-circle around an old pool. I wiggled my way into the narrow cloth, trying my best not to swing and flip over. I cannot even begin to describe in accurate detail just how beautiful and mesmerizing the sky was when I finally gazed up.

I’m not sure I have ever seen the stars so bright and clear. As I rocked back and forth in the hammock, letting my eyes adjust to the night and the constellations above, I began seeing the first of several shooting stars. They flew by one by one, leaving a stream of white light behind them for a fraction of a second each. It was hard to wish for something more special than this.

Stargazing in the hammocks - Cederberg Oasis. Photo by: Lorin Anderberg.

Stargazing in the hammocks – Cederberg Oasis. Photo by: Lorin Anderberg.

As the night waged on, the moon drifted down behind the mountaintops and my eyes began to grow tired and unable to focus on all the twinkling lights. I took one last look before heading into my tent with my friend, laughing (about what I can’t recall) until we fell fast asleep to the whistling winds. It was at this moment I imagine the leopards were probably already waking and venturing out into the darkness.

The next morning featured a long, bumpy and, once again, quite dusty ride home. I was completely drained from all the heat, the hiking, and the laughs, but I struggled for what felt like hours to keep my eyes open and set on the rocky mountain ranges ahead, lest I miss the incredible sight of a stocky spotted body moving slyly between the sandy cracks.

The red and rocky Cederberg landscape

The red and rocky Cederberg landscape

I recently heard this saying that I adore: “You don’t see a leopard; the leopard allows you to see it.” Maybe one day the leopard will deem me worthy enough. Until then, I find comfort in the fact that organizations like the Cape Leopard Trust are working to ensure they are still out there, watching and thriving in that incredible wilderness, and that the wondrous lands around them are preserved for many years to come. For nature has so much to teach us—about ourselves, and about our world.

Learn more about the Cederberg wilderness here or through CapeNature, and read about what is being done to protect the area’s dwindling leopard species through the Cape Leopard Trust. Then get exploring!

 

 

Flotation Therapy

(Image via i-sopod)

With so many different types of therapy and relaxation techniques out there, it can be hard to choose which one is right for you. Flotation hydrotherapy is an emerging form of stress therapy, relaxation, and meditation that is quickly proving to be successful and beneficial for the mind and body. Read about Naomi’s experience during her first “float,” and find out if floating might help you relax and escape too.

By Naomi Ncayiyana

FLOTATION THERAPY

I have always wanted to venture far from home, both literally and figuratively. Having been prone to periods of mania and severe depression; escapism both physically and mentally had become my mission. I wanted to step away from prescriptive medication to more therapeutic forms of therapy. I had never heard about flotation therapy until a friend who had done an hour session mentioned it. He described the process, and the more he explained, the giddier with excitement I became.

The day of my float, I woke up with a sense of anticipation. I moved through my day taking in every sensory vibration I could. I listened to the trees, the movement of the cars and the conversations of weekend plans. I prepared myself for what would be an altering experience and I was not disappointed.

I arrived at the Medi-spa where I was met by a charmingly genial man named Michael. He took me through the whole process; the room, the steps of cleansing before and after the procedure should I panic. I was given a glass of water and went to my little floatation chamber. I undressed and showered, then stood with butterflies in my stomach at the head of the tank.

The flotation tank was welcoming. It was white, red and sleek, and it gaped amiably, like a big clam. It was huge, certainly bigger than my height. The lid domed up to make quite a lot of head space: I was scheduled for an hour—a long time for a bath, maybe, but a short time by the standards of a rest tank, where the temperature holds steady and the salt means that your skin won’t prune.

I hit a button to begin, and lay back in the water. Slowly, the coloured lights dimmed, and then the lights in the room, visible through the hinge of the lid, dimmed, too. It was pitch dark and at first a slight panic set in. My mind swirled with scenarios of being trapped and coffined in a watery grave. But slowly the thoughts of terror were replaced by curiosity; restlessness and disorientation replaced by a womb-like security.

I slowly began to relax, stretching my legs and arms as though I was saluting the sun. The velvety water ran across my body. I ran my hands across my skin which felt soft and smooth. I closed my eyes and my mind settled further. I was in space floating gravity-less through memories of youth and days gone by. I stopped noticing the movement of my body, the physical became mental.

It was only when I opened my eyes that I realised that my hour was up. Disappointment set in because I certainly could have stayed in the comfort of memory longer. I willed myself up, and stepped out of the pod. I stretched once again and stepped into the shower to wash away the salt that lingered on my body. I felt a sense of peace and tranquillity. All the anxieties of the week had washed away.

I dressed and walked out into the waiting room where Michael awaited with a cool glass of water. He allowed me to sit peacefully without much talk. I took in my breath in calm waves. After a few minutes of reflection. I said my goodbyes and stepped back into the hustle and bustle of the city. The sun was bright and my sight had to re-adjust. The sounds of the streets were a cacophony of whispers. I took it all in and with a smile across my face, I ventured out back into reality.

Naomi had her first “float” at the Ubuntu Wellness Centre in Cape Town. Visit their website for more information about their services or book your first session here!

Flavourful Kitchari Paired with Earthbound Chenin Blanc

By Melissa Baird

We are giving away bottles of Earthbound Chenin Blanc wine – a delicious organic wine goes jolly marvellously with this recipe I tried out the other day.

Recipe: Kitchari

Ingredients: ( Serves 4)

Earthbound - Chenin NV

115 g yellow split dahl or green lentils (I used yellow dahl – very nutty in flavour and texty)

1 onion – chopped

1 garlic clove – crushed

50 grams butter or ghee

30 ml coconut oil

225 grams easy cook Basmati rice (rinsed and kept aside)

1 ml ground coriander

10 ml cumin seeds

2 cloves

3 cardamom pods

2 bay leaves

1 stick cinnamon (I used more as I like cinnamon)

1 litre vegetable stock

30 ml tomato puree (choose puree from a carton box not a can)

Himalayan salt and ground black pepper – to taste

Chopped fresh parsley to garnish

Method

Cover dahl with hot water and let stand for about 10 minutes. Fry onion and garlic till soft in the butter and oil, add rice and coat all grains in the mixture. Stir in all spices. Then add rinsed lentils, stock, tomato puree and seasoning. Bring to the boil and then let simmer for about 20 minutes – or until all the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Stir in the coriander or parsley and remove the bay leaves and cinnamon stick before serving.

Enjoy with a chilled glass of Earthbound Chenin Blanc and you will be feasting on nature’s bounty.

Recipe adapted from Inspired Vegetarian by Christine Ingram – Hermes House ISBN 1-84309-582-3

Earthbound Wine Giveaway: Cheers to a Sustainable Future!

Two lucky readers each have a chance to win a mixed case of Earthbound organic wines. That’s a great way to start the holiday season!

Earthbound wines are organically grown with Fairtrade principles out in the Papkuilsfontein Vineyards in Darling. The brand is transforming the current methods of wine farming, farm management, winemaking, and wine marketing, in order to promote sustainable practices and be mindful of what we produce and put back into the earth. So you can pour yourself a glass, and feel good doing it! Visit their website for more information about their practices and their delicious range of wines.

Earthbound Pinotage 2013

 

Earthbound - Chenin NV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For your chance to win, please send an email to melissa@lifeinbalance.co.za with the email header: Earthbound Wine Giveaway. Please note only one entry per email address. Winners are selected via a lucky draw and your names are not shared other than to award the prize winner(s) their prize. Entries close on the 15th November 2015 and winners will be contacted via email. Good luck!

Rethink the Bag

Plastic shopping bags…we see them in stores, we see them bunched up in our kitchens, we see them drifting aimlessly through the streets and out to sea. We have become so accustomed to using them that we do not consider alternatives and ignore the damage we are doing to our planet. One woman, Hayley McLellan, is helping create greater consciousness about the world that we live in by “Rethinking the Bag”—changing consumer behavior to clean up and protect our environment. Karoline Hanks has given us a glimpse at Hayley’s impressive efforts and the changes you can make in your everyday life.

Coastal park landfill - Muizenberg. Image credit to owl_books via http://rethinkthebag.org/

Coastal park landfill – Muizenberg. Image credit to owl_books via http://rethinkthebag.org/

Meet the power house behind the Rethink the Bag campaign

By Karoline Hanks

It is always wonderful to come across really driven individuals who are making waves in environmental circles. They are often incredibly passionate, yet unashamedly modest folk. The belief in what they do runs so deep and they walk the talk through every aspect of their personal lives – at the same time quietly getting on with the business of making a difference at a broader level through the work they do.

Hayley McLellan is one such game changer. She is the tour de force behind the Rethink the Bag (plastic bag ban) initiative that has received considerable attention from a variety of different organisations and appears to be gaining a foothold in the minds of many. Her primary objective? To have the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag banned across South Africa.

Hayley calls herself an environmental campaigner. And that she is. But she is a far cry from the bog standard image many have of a placard-wielding, tie-died skirted vegan who becomes unreasonably emotional in the face of corporate resistance.

The mere glimmer of a consumer backlash gets many store owners folding their arms and coming up with a barrage of reasons why they cannot possibly hop aboard. When confronted with this kind of resistance, Hayley just breathes, smiles, listens and agrees. She recognises that every one of the objections is valid, and allows the space for them to be worked through and discussed. Invariably she finds a way to create successful alternatives and solutions.

Hayley appreciates that the smaller, single stores are going to be much easier to guide in this process than the large, corporate, national brands that monopolise retail. Yet despite this, has recently had phenomenal success with the Spar Western Cape group, with a series of very high level meetings and promises of significant in-store changes.

Throughout her career, Hayley has been involved in the animal care and behaviour industry. This has encompassed many aspects, including staff management, animal rehabilitation as well as large-scale public speaking and educational presentations. She was the animal keeper for the Two Oceans Aquarium’s penguin and bird collection for four years. Her campaigning passions and public engagement skills lead to the aquarium carving out a new niche position as Environmental Campaigner within the Communications & Sustainability Department.

Hayley started out by getting an initial commitment to in-store awareness and providing them with locally made, affordable, alternative shopping bags. Designating specific focus days has also worked well for this campaign thus far. Annual International Plastic Bag Free Day on July 3rd has offered excellent opportunities for some very impactful events. In a bid to encourage store owners to adopt the campaign at a far deeper level, Hayley has created a ten-step programme.

The key emphasis is on offering choices. “This approach alters the whole conversation moving forward”, says McLellan, “I ask them to consider starting at Step 10 and to work their way up, choosing where they feel comfortable slotting in….you would be amazed how this approach works!”

“Step 1 is my personal nirvana: an outright ban on plastic shopping bags. Step 2 is a 1 week total ban – a trial of sorts. Step 3 is a ban every Thursday”, explains Hayley.

“Introducing Rethink The Bag to the community of Hout Bay has been an immensely rewarding and exciting journey”, explains Hayley, “I have joined forces with the NGO, Thrive – a very active environmental group in Hout Bay. Thrive had attempted a similar plastic bag awareness/ban several years earlier. With us in the mix, the campaign has been beautifully resurrected”.

Hout Bay is a mini metropolis with all the main retailers and Hayley was introduced to many of the major store owners via Thrive’s champion Bronwen Lankers-Byrnes. The Spar outlets in Hout Bay were the first to adopt the programme and carry it forward beyond the July 3rd. With this initial success, introductions to other Spar stores took place. The campaign is now at a stage where two formal presentations to the WCs Spar’s marketing department have been made. The possibility of this particular retailer rolling out a plan of action in this province is looking very promising indeed.

Hayley – we salute you!

Hear more from Hayley in Rethink the Bag’s short documentary “Baggage” below:

Celebrating Indigenous Trees in Your Garden

In honor of Arbour Month in South Africa, Greenpop’s Matthew Koehorst has provided us with some lovely tips for growing indigenous trees in our very own gardens. Whether big or small, these remarkable plants can make a great addition to your home while helping to sustain healthy, functional ecosystems.

Join the Treevolution!

By Matthew Koehorst- Head of Department of Planting and Sustainability at Greenpop, a Cape Town based Tree Planting and Environmental Education organisation.

September is Arbour Month in South Africa and a great opportunity for us to reflect on the massive diversity of beautiful indigenous trees that our country is lucky enough to have. Southern Africa is home to around 1700 different species of trees, all of which are adapted and suited to their local conditions, and all of which have a valuable role to play in their native ecosystems. Many indigenous trees are also fantastic for landscaping and can add a lot of value to your green spaces at home.

Trees serve as a great addition to gardens and landscapes for a variety of reasons. They provide edible fruits and medicine, fix nitrogen into the soil, attract beneficial pollinators, stabilise soils, provide shade, act as windbreaks and add beautiful form to your landscape.

Planting a tree should be considered a long term investment on your property as they typically take several years before being of substantial size and presence. Most plant nurseries stock indigenous trees. However, specialists in the field are more able to provide good advice for your tree requirements and to recommend the right trees for you needs. It’s a good idea to think through the following factors when considering the purchase of indigenous trees:

  1. Space available- How much space do you have and how big would you like your tree to be? Indigenous trees can range in size from 3-5 meters all the way to 20 meters plus. It’s important to consider the habits of the roots of your tree and whether you are planting near any piping, drains or power lines.
  2. Purpose of planting—Why do you want to plant a tree? Is it for shade, a windbreak, to attract birds, to provide a screen from your neighbours, for its natural beauty or perhaps something else?
  3. Soil type and water availability- What is the soil like where you want to plant and will you be able to meet the water demands of the tree? Some trees prefer sandy soils, other clayey soils, and many are well adapted to a range of soil types. Similarly, some trees require small amounts of water and are relatively able to look after themselves, while others require larger amounts and may need more care and attention in getting established.
  4. Budget- How much money do you have to spend? The prices of indigenous trees can vary from R20 for a young and small tree, all the way to R5000 and above for large, well established landscaping trees. Deciding how much you want to spend on your tree will effect the size, type, and quality of the tree you can purchase.

Types of indigenous trees

There are many species and families of indigenous trees, each with their own characteristics, benefits, and habits. When purchasing a tree, understanding what personality you want your tree to have will go a long way in helping you make a decision. Here is a very short list of some popular trees for landscaping and garden use:

Yellowwoods- Afrocarpus species (previously Podocarpus)

A yellowwood tree stands in all its glory. Picture by: Matthew Koehorst.

A yellowwood tree stands in all its glory. Picture by: Matthew Koehorst.

These beautiful and substantial slow growing trees can grow massive, in nature up to 30m and more and are South Africa’s national tree. They provide great shade, have fruits that attract birds, and are very attractive trees. However, they do take around 10 years before they are of susbstantial size.

Wild Figs- Ficus species

Wild Figs

The Ficus family is massive with over 800 species worldwide. In South Africa there are several species including Ficus sur and Ficus natelensis which are great for larger gardens. These sprawling trees are beautiful and provide fruit for birds and great shade. However, they may have invasive roots so don’t plant them near buildings or sewerage systems. They are fast growing.

Acacias- Vachellia species

Acacia Tree

The Vachellia family (previously Acacias, but renamed recently) consists of tough and hardy nitrogen fixing trees, typically with thorns, that are well adapted to drier conditions like central and northern South Africa, though they grow well in many regions. They attract pollinators, fix nitrogen into the soil, provide shade, and can provide protection and security due to their thorny nature.

There are obviously a huge variety of other indigenous trees that may be suited to your specific region and area, whether you live on the coastline, in the mountains, or on the highlands of our beautiful country. For a very comprehensive list of indigenous trees and their characteristics to help in your decision making, visit www.plantzafrica.com for access to the South African National Biodiversity Institute’s amazing free resource.

We’re lucky enough to be spoilt for choice in the tree department in South Africa, so get out there and plant away.

Happy planting!

Manners and Murmurations

How to be on your best behaviour when meeting a mob of meerkats

By Melissa Baird

I’ve been on several journeys to meet creatures that have taken me to extremes I probably would have avoided under ‘normal’ circumstances, like jumping into jelly fish infested waters in Mozambique to swim with the wild dolphins or walking through a spider (huge and yellow) canopied forest to catch sight of the toucan in its wild environment. So when I received an invitation to meet the meerkats I was utterly delighted because they are within the province I live in and it didn’t involve international travel. Plus, my best friend wanted to join me as seeing meerkats in the wild was on her vision board and bucket list. Two wishes we could make come true.

Contemplating the entrance to the Cango Caves

Contemplating the entrance to the Cango Caves

We chose the iconic route 62 to take us all the way to the Klein Karoo and, as the Overberg region faded into the rear view mirror, the landscape changed to the short scrub that epitomises the Klein Karoo. Although I have driven this route a number of times, I felt a new sense of wonder as the scenery offered up its treasures of simple beauty. It takes about five hours to reach De Zeekoe driving from Cape Town. Oudsthoorn is a mere ten minutes away from the guest farm and there are many delightful adventures to choose from for those who love hiking, cave exploring, jumping out of aeroplanes and playing in the great outdoors.

I remember being put on the back of an ostrich when I was four years old (I still have the picture of a gleeful little face smothered in feathers – the ostrich looked pretty happy too) and noted that ostriches are still truly wild birds. We stopped alongside the road on the way to the utterly gob smacking Cango Caves and within a few seconds a whole flock of curious birds came up to the fence to look at me looking at them. It was a strange moment when I realised I may look just as odd to them as they did to me, but I didn’t want to ride them or eat them; just admire their remarkable beaked faces and huge glossy, long lashed eyes.

De Zeekoe is a family run guest farm and the staff are warm and friendly which is a great treat having just survived a five star experience at a hotel that shan’t be named who had robotic staff and charged you for using the internet after check out. Not so at De Zeekoe; the room we stayed in was gorgeous, the beds dreamy and our look- out point gave me an uninterrupted view of the setting sun and flocks of birds returning to home base. After a delicious dinner with home- made bread and butter and an excellent wine from their comprehensive wine list we decided on an early night because we had to be up at dawn to meet our guide for the meerkat introduction.

DeZeekoe's vista across the Klein Karoo

DeZeekoe’s vista across the Klein Karoo

The Klein Karoo at dawn sounds like song birds singing and as the sky changed out of its dark hued clothes in favour of pink and tangerine swirls I watched the blue moon (the second full moon in one month) fall back into the horizon like an iridescent lozenge and took short breaths in the ice cold air. At breakfast I had read on one of the sugar sachets, “The miracle is not to fly in the air or to walk on the water but to walk on the earth.” I was feeling that as I stood on the piece of earth that forms a small part of an 80 hectare conservancy that is home to about 44 families of meerkats.

Rudolph, our guide for the encounter, gave us a lesson in manners (things we had to observe) in order to make our encounter with the meerkats as successful as possible. I felt like I was being briefed before an important meeting but I was distracted by the African shell duck, thick billed lark, Cape sparrow, malachite sunbird and scrub robin that were playing in the bushes around our tea table.

The 'blue moon' setting as the dawn wakes up the sky

The ‘blue moon’ setting as the dawn wakes up the sky

There are only three other places in the world where meerkats can be observed but two of them charge extortionate prices and involve feeding of the animals, which according Rudolph “is a zoo act”—not an act of quiet observation. Rudolph was a treat and his knowledge of the meerkats wholly entertaining as he clarified that he was fluent in English, Afrikaans and nonsense.

The meerkats are part of the Shy 5 grouping, four of which are nocturnal – the aardvark, bat eared fox, aardwolf and porcupine. There is nothing shy about the meerkats however and they love to frolic in the day but, before games, you have to wait for them to emerge from their burrow – one by one. The first meerkat to emerge (looking like a bandito) is the sentry and without any ado he popped his little head up over the burrow to find seated in front of him a row of humans, sitting down bundled in blankets against the bitter -3C morning. There are places colder than this Rudolph assured us, like Steynsberg in the Greater Karoo where the curtains freeze to the window frames.

As Rudolph was reinforcing the fact that we had to be super polite, we were given lengthy descriptions about why the meerkats are utterly not. As the meerkat sentry stared into the distance, his lithe little body propped at a right angle on his little striped tail; his paws were in reverse Namaste’ pose as he ruminated on the possible dangers out there before murmuring a little encouraging sound and the next one popped up out of the burrow. These sudden appearances of the family unit took about an hour before the whole mob were standing with their tummies facing the rising sun that would serve to warm them up enough to begin a day’s foraging and gallivanting before returning to the burrow at dusk. Rudolph said he thought their tummies acted like little solar chargers and as my frozen fingers tried to write notes I wished I had some sort of device to keep me warm too.

Poised, purposeful observation from the meerkat scouts and family

Poised, purposeful observation from the meerkat scouts and family

Despite the elements, this extraordinary few hours of contemplation of a creature I have been curious about was charming and a perpetual smile settled as I observed their charm as each in turn looked up, looked out, and looked from left to right for things we cannot see or hear.

Despite their tiny size, they are great excavators and can dig twice their body weight in one minute and they do not tolerate strangers, do not share their food, and, despite the cute quotient, do not make for well adjusted pets. Rudolph said if left to their own devices they could kill a puppy. Apparently some tourists have complained about the meerkat observation – one American with his ridiculously large camera chastised him for not having ‘control’ over the animals, and one horrified Russian was furious the animals weren’t in cages.

Thankfully our group was more evolved and were happy to sit and watch them unbound and free as the rising sun warmed us all enough to be able to truly drink in the space that held us all. Every creature on earth has a personal space bubble and Devey – the man who has spent his time with this particular family of meerkats noted that theirs is about 250 meters. They have selective hearing which is why we could talk but were forbidden to stand up as that would take us out of the submissive stance of the seated group.

As they warmed up they began to play like kittens and their murmurations increased. I looked around at the horizon and the snow capped mountains. At my feet was a funnel webbed spider’s web covered in beads of ice slowly melting.

Once warmed up enough, the mob scuttled off in search of food, and for males beginning their search for territory, a possible female meerkat to steal away from her family unit to join him. Yes they do that too.

“What is it about the games we play that keeps us together in this world?” I wondered as my friend and I thanked Rudolph for such a treat and headed off to our world to find something equally good to eat. We were glowing and happy and full or our own murmurations. Much later that day, as the sun was setting and my friend was taking pictures, two ridgeback puppies emerged from the farm house to playfully cause chaos, tumbling on her and licking her ears and chewing my notes to self. I laughed at their strategic intervention reminding us to keep playing.

To book at DeZeekoe Guest Farm and meet the mob – visit http://www.dezeekoe.co.za/oudtshoorn1

 

The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth

By Cormac Cullinan and Melissa Baird

On 22 April 2010 the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth (the Earth Rights Declaration) was proclaimed by the more than 32 000 participants in the People’s World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Cochabamba, Bolivia. This pivotal event has created an opportunity for people around the world to take the lead in addressing the key challenges of the 21st Century and prove that regardless of what governments do, global organisations and communities will make the 21st meeting of the Convention of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( COP 21) a success by signing a People’s Convention to establish an International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature.

The formal establishment of the Earth Tribunal is an important next step in the process of developing systems of governance designed to ensure that humans live in harmony with nature. The more organisations and individuals that show their personal and professional support behind the tribunal process, the greater its authority and the more effective it will be in exposing the need for far stronger and more creative international responses to our pressing environmental problems.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ― R. Buckminster Fuller

Article 9 of the draft People’s Convention for the Establishment of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal provides that “the convention may be signed by representatives of a nation, tribe or other traditional group of indigenous peoples, any organisation that wishes to promote the effective implementation of the rights and duties in the Earth Rights Declaration in respect of a specific geographical area or areas, or any specific being such as a river, or species; or any local community.”

This means you can endorse the international tribunal in your personal capacity and lobby organisations and communities to become signatories to a Peoples’ Convention that will formally establish the Tribunal here.

In Paris on the 4th and 5th December this year, the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature will hear a wide-range of environmental legal cases covering issues like megadams in the Amazon, mining, oil and gas exploitation and responses to climate change that further commodify nature and attacks on those who defend their part of the earth.

The Tribunal judges are highly experienced and respected individuals from many continents and represent many cultures including indigenous people, who base their decisions on the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth which was adopted on 22nd April 2010.

This is our unique opportunity to unite with people and organisations around the world to start creating a world that focuses on regeneration of the Earth’s resources and people.

Endorsement by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond TutuRights of Nature International Tribunal

“Successfully addressing climate change and healing the damage which industrial civilisations have done to Earth will require more than new technologies and market mechanisms.  It will require a fundamental transformation of our relationships with Nature.  We are not the masters of Earth, entitled to dominate and exploit her “natural resources” for our own selfish ends, but privileged participants in a wondrous and sacred community of life. Bringing about this transformation and creating viable human communities that live harmoniously within the Earth community will require committed and concerted action. The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth calls upon each of us to embrace our kinship with all the beings of the Earth community and to recognise, respect and defend the rights of all. Now is the time to answer that call.”

The Wonders of This Bag

If you haven’t heard already, there is a new fireless slow cooker that is doing more than just providing scrumptious food—it is changing the world, one meal at a time. Sarah Collins has taken a traditional cooking method and transformed it to help improve the health and quality of life of families throughout Africa and across the globe. The “Wonderbag” is a revolutionary slow cooker that is both portable and does not require any electricity. Simply bring your food to a boil, place it in the bag, slow cook it, and serve! Keep reading to learn more about how this wonderful bag is combating the health, social, economic, and environmental problems that Africa is currently facing.

Wonderbag Process

By Grethe Mattheus

Most of us know the beautiful design and numerous everyday benefits of the Wonderbag, but few people really grasp how far the ripple effect from this non-electric, portable, slow cooker stretches. The story of Sarah Collins and her drive for sustainable impact is not only a proudly South African entrepreneurial success story, but one that truly shows the power of connecting hearts and homes around the world.

Sarah’s original inspiration came from the memories of her grandmother’s economical cooking methods and her deep connection with African women. Years later, and on their way to 100 million Wonderbags sold worldwide, her entrepreneurial upbringing and strong focus on building relationship with local communities, has proven the perfect synergy for a brand that is recognised from the midlands of Natal to the hallways of the United Nations.

In a middle-class existence it is easy to forget about the alarming fact that 3 billion women around the world still cook over an open fire each day and face the danger of death caused by smoke inhalation. Statistics show that over 4 million people die from this cause and 50% of these premature deaths are children under five. The simple act of preparing a meal in a developing country has huge challenges for many. Often low-income households use firewood for fuel to cook food and this not only results in deforestation, but many hours often spent by women looking for wood. These are hours that take girls out of school and mothers away from caring for their children. How amazing that, as Sarah states, “the oldest technology in the world” can contribute towards a solution for this problem and bring an innovative answer to rural and urban communities alike. Whether reducing smoke from an open fire or carbon emissions from a suburban household, this ShweShwe bag proves that innovation is not always new.

Building a sustainable social enterprise not only requires a value creating product, but also creative means to reach the target market. Through personal experience and relationships with rural communities, Wonderbag is maximising its impact by constantly finding new ways to get their product into the hands of the people who need it most. For this purpose the Wonderbag Foundation has built a model that focuses on empowering and educating communities through partnership organisations, activations and monitoring & follow-up programmes. This ensures wide distribution, deep impact and real transformation. The Wonderbag Journey forms a community of hope around the globe, starting with Wonderbag donations to The Wonderbag Foundation, linked to online purchases from all over the world. The Foundation ventures out on giving trips and distributes the bags through partner community relationships in Africa. There, families are trained on how to use the bag and are empowered to understand the health and environmental benefits of using the bag. The Foundation also monitors health results through local clinics. One of the best parts of this positive impact cycle is that the time saved by women using Wonderbags are used to train these women to develop skills that will contribute to building a stronger social and economic climate in their community. For every one of these families in the developing world that uses a Wonderbag the positive impact can be quantified and measured. Every bag used saves 1.7 trees, slowing deforestation rates; saves 1000 liters of water per year; saves 1248 hours spent collecting firewood per year and reduces up to 1 ton of carbon emissions.

To put the cherry on top, this organisation with an international footprint, still sources all their raw materials from South African companies and the product is thus truly 100% locally made. Wonderbag is an inspirational example of a holistic approach to addressing a social and environmental need and a testimony of change agents building a better South Africa through passion and innovation.

For more information visit: wonderbagworld.com or wonderbagfoundation.org

 

Saving Our Rhino

Every day we lose another rhino and a species edges closer to extinction. But there are champions keeping watch, protecting our true national heritage. From the Frontline: Saving our Rhino, a short film created in support of the SANParks Honorary Rangers, shows us just how tirelessly these volunteers are working to counteract the current poaching crisis. Watch this.