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Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

The Wonder Cave certainly lives up to its name. Only open to the public since 1991, the cave consists of a huge chamber the size of a rugby field with wondrous stalagmite and stalactite formations. Situated in the Lion and Rhino Park on the northwestern outskirts of Johannesburg, it is certainly worth a visit. 

You enter the Wonder Cave by walking down a steep, long flight of stairs to the elevator shaft (see slide show). Then you can either take the cage elevator down into the chamber or you can take the adventurous route, as we did, and abseil down into the cave.  

We hit upon this novel way of entering the Wonder Caves in the quest for a “cool” birthday party for my son Sam. Needless to say Sam went off first without a trace of fear, thrilling at this adrenaline-packed method of entering the cave. Sitting waiting my turn amongst a dozen twelve-year-old boys didn’t do my nerves any good. I am not a cool customer who thrills at opportunities to risk my neck. 

Eventually my turn came. I was harnessed up and made my way nervously to the edge of the lift shaft. I turned my back to the looming darkness beyond the small platform and listened as Mark Gray our instructor attached me to various ropes with metal links and gave instructions. I have abseiled only once before and my brain was not relishing the up coming debate between it and my super-strong self-protective tendencies. 

Very slowly I inched backwards to the very edge of the ledge and gradually let the rope catch my weight. I leant out into the darkness as the adrenaline in my body surged and my brain entered into its anticipated debate. And then without the hesitation of my previous abseiling experience, I let go and descended into the cave. I barely had time to register the risk when my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness and the wonders of the cave lay exposed for me to see. I tried to descend as slowly as possible as the beauty and extent of the stark, natural formations revealed themselves  

Reaching the safety of ground was a non-event. My body went through the motions of unharnessing itself from the abseiling equipment, while my brain froze up overwhelmed by the scenery around me. The excited chatter of the boys soon broke the spell though and it was back to the business at hand. Who was coming down next? 

Once we had all completed our abseil, a tour guide took us around the cave and explained the various limestone formations. It is amazing to think that many of the delicate-looking, million-year-old creations actually weigh several tons. We heard the tale of the Italians who originally discovered the cave in the 1890s and mined it illegally for limestone. And how they hadn’t known the actual extent of the cave because they had had to mine it in darkness – lanterns couldn’t be used in the cave due to the lack of oxygen.  

Our guide told us how the entrance to the cave was “lost” for many years after this, until the new owner of the farm went walking in the veld with his son who kicked a rock into a hole. They both listened for the echo of the falling rock and were astounded at how long it took for them to hear the rock finally fall. Their curiosity led to further exploration and the rediscovery of the cave. Much later they discovered the hole that the falling rock had made in the base of one of the huge stalagmites. 

Many questions and “Oohs!” and “Aahs!” later, our tour came to a close. Reluctantly we made our way towards the exit and crammed ourselves into the lift cage. A minute or so later we were back at our abseiling ledge looking up at the never-ending stairs leading towards daylight.

Photo credits
Clare van Zwieten (Sadly my camera didn’t have the flash strength to take photos of the cave formations.They all came out black.)

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Fires in the Kruger National Perk In August, I travelled up to the Kruger National Park to run the Skukuza half-marathon. While I was there a visitor decided it was his duty to set fire to the Kruger National Park. It was quite an experience driving through a burning game reserve…
click here to read…Running Wild  

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I headed off to the World Cup T20 cricket match between South Africa and the West Indies for my first experience of live cricket yesterday evening.

Despite leaving early, we sat in traffic for ages. Eventually we reached the Corlett Drive turnoff only to be told that that section of the road had just that minute been closed off. I wouldn’t have bothered mentioning this but Ali Bacher was in the car next to us and he was not being let through by the Metro cops either!  We thought he’d definitely be someone who could drive right up to the stadium and slip into an allocated parking bay. (Click here to view Google hybrid map to Wanderers Stadium)

We finally found parking several kilometres away and joined the masses walking to the Wanderers. There were no hold-ups entering the stadium, not even at the tables where they searched our cooler bags for illicit substances like cold drinks. Organisation and crowd control definitely scored 10 out of 10.

Our contraband of Coke and Sprite (we didn’t know you weren’t allowed to bring them in) unintentionally made it past the security checks and we managed to sip on them surreptiously during the game. (I really hate that you cannot bring your own cold drinks into the stadium and are forced to buy a limited range from the appointed vendors. I like what I like and I don’t think anyone should have the right to force me to drink something else. Corporate greed taken too far is what I think.) 

Emma and Sam crammed on the grandstandBack to the cricket…we walked all the way around the stadium and headed for our seats. I was determined to enjoy my first international cricket match – until I saw our seats.

I was slightly dismayed at first to see I would be sitting on a grandstand and not an actual chair, and was even more dismayed when I realised that I was going to be leaning against the legs of the person behind me and the person in front of me was going to be doing the same to me.

By the time the grandstand filled up, we were crammed in like passengers in a rush-hour minibus taxi. Five hours of sitting like this was no joke.  Everyone in the grandstands jumped up and cheered at every opportunity just to get their blood circulation going again. 

Apparently the game was great but I didn’t realise this because I was entering the third phase of this shocking experience… 

Matchstick men. Which one's Herschelle?

The teams came onto the field and started to play. They looked like little green and maroon matchstick men and I had no idea who was who. There was no zooming in to see the tension on the various faces. No nice replays to see what had happened when I was looking elsewhere. No commentary to let me know what was going on. No convenient information bar on the screen, just below the players, to let me know the score and the required run rate.

Sure they have all the game info on the big screens at the stadium but that involves looking away from the game to see the screen, which means of course that something happens on the field and all the grandstandees leap up to unnumb their compressed bums and legs. 

Next were the endless breaks in play while umpires made decisions and players fiddled with their equipment. Seeing as there was no speculative commentary or interesting close up headshots of the teams, my gaze would wonder over the crowd.

Enviously I eyed the spectators sitting comfortably in their boxes, while I waited for the action to start. Minutes later I would glance down at the matchstick men and realise that they had resumed play ages ago and we were an over or two further along in the game. 

The bloody ball was also impossible to keep track of. I’d hear the wack of wood against ball and see the fielders tearing off to some far flung corner and just as the ball was caught, I’d finally manage to locate it. Give me a nice camera shot following the ball on TV any day. Needless to say, my family wrote me off as a complete philistine while they roared their approval of their team.

Cricket lover in his elementThey love watching the game live saying it gives them a sense of the whole game (I need the commentary for this). They say it’s great to see all the field placings at once (big deal) and to know where all your favourite players are (the TV does this for you perfectly). They also love the atmosphere and the crowd support for the SA boys (I can’t deny this). Being at the stadium we also got to see some poor streaker make it 20 metres out onto the pitch before a burly gang of officials leapt on him and dragged him off (TV viewers didn’t get to see this). 

Tonight watching the Zimbabweans playing the Australians was much more my can of Sprite. I lay on my back on the couch, my legs stretched as far as I possibly could. The commentators’ voices were music to my ears, and the close up shots of the players and that elusive ball were a dream come true. If only I had had this yesterday, when Chris Gayle and Herschelle Gibbs were smacking balls all over the place.  

I harped on for ages about how this was the way to watch cricket, while my husband and kids stared disdainfully at me. When it started raining I gloated some more about being warm and dry and stretched further out on my couch. When play resumed the mood lightened as we watch breathlessly, hoping that the Zimbabweans would come through and beat the Aussies.

My gloating came back to haunt me though as the link between the Cape Town studio and the main TV studio went down and crucial moments of play involving the Zimbabwean’s up-set victory were lost. I kept very quiet as dark resentful eyes glared at me… 

Photo credits
Clare van Zwieten

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