Cape Town, South Africa – First Impressions

August 14, 2015

20150827_193358000_iOSAs I exited immigration at Cape Town International Airport, I was met by the smiling face of Ed Scott. Ed and his wife Heather are founder/owners of VIA Volunteers in South Africa www.viavolunteers.com.

IMG_1360They have provided support and guidance during all of my research and planning for this great adventure. If not for them I may not have felt so comfortable stepping out of my comfort zone and into Africa.

IMG_0553The western coast of SA is breathtaking.

Mountains meet ocean in a way that reinforces the mystical aura of Africa. Ed was kind enough to show me the coast straight from the airport and I felt immediately in awe.

20150816_020129000_iOSThen it was off to my digs for the next month – Ashanti Lodge, a backpackers or hostel. Those of you who know me –  know that this was really, I mean really, stepping out of my comfort zone. Ashanti is comfortable, basic, lively, noisy, and friendly. Bathrooms are down the hall and my fellow residents are mostly half my age. But after almost 4 days I am starting to feel a part of things.

On my first evening, Ed introduced me to Andrea, a young Venezuelan volunteer also spending some time at Ashanti. Andrea became my sightseeing partner for this first weekend in Cape Town. Stay tuned and good night for now.

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Doha, Qatar

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Someone once told me that if you are flying to a faraway place (for which there are no non-stop flights) pick a really interesting stopover city. When I was researching flights to South Africa, London seemed to be the most common stopover city. But then there is Qatar Airways, now flying out of Philadelphia with very reasonable fares. Their stopover is in Doha, Qatar. The stopover is 19 hours, just enough time to see a good bit of this very small country.  If you fly business or first class, QA will provide a hotel room, a tour, and access to their world class airport lounges (gourmet meals, fine wines included). If you fly coach, you may get the hotel room, depending on availability.IMG_0409

On August 13, 2015 it was 104 degrees and humid in Doha, so the hotel room with its air conditioning and shower were a welcome benefit.

Doha is the cleanest city I have ever visited. Not once did I see a single display of graffiti. The buildings are all in various shades of tan so that the blowing desert sand does not dirty the exterior look.  New buildings are being fitted with windows that clean themselves (don’t ask….I didn’t understand the explanation). Qatar is oil rich and it shows everywhere. But in this ancient area of the world it is disconcerting to be surrounded by all that shiny newness.  The city is growing…..stand on any street corner and you will see several construction sites. I’m not sure how sustainable it is. Surrounded by ocean, but with little fresh water, Qatar uses expensive desalination processing to provide water to its continually growing population. Oil prices are expected to remain in a slump for at least the next two years. For now the people of Qatar are living in the moment…..the shiny, glorious moment.20150814_011211000_iOS20150814_005959000_iOS

Continue reading Doha, Qatar

I’m glad I went….but

IMG_1100I think yoga and meditation are good for the spirit and the body. Not that I have a lot of experience with it….just some yoga classes at my local gym and a meditation session or two. When I wrote about transitions last week I thought a few days at an ashram would be a worthwhile transition activity from work to retirement. I’m glad I did it, but it will probably be my one and only ashram experience.20150707_135432349_iOS

What I liked: the yoga and meditation. The teachers were very good and the hours devoted to yoga and meditation were generous – 4 hours a day. And I took full advantage. The lectures, chanting and singing were interesting. The setting in the Catskills was beautiful, peaceful. The common areas of the ashram main building were clean, functional, and nice.IMG_1099
What I didn’t like: the food. I had convinced myself that I would be fine with vegan and/or vegetarian meals (most were vegetarian). I have had vegetarian meals prepared by my friend, Joan Fleming, and loved them. But at the ashram, at the end of three days I was weak from lack of food! The accomodations were basic, which I expected. But they could use a good scrubbing. The mood among the residents was off. Most of the people I met had been living at the ashram for months and seemed to be trying to find themselves or find a way to happiness (bliss). They didn’t seem to feel comfortable or happy when they were out in the real world, but I felt an air of sadness at the ashram.
I’m glad I went. The experience confirmed my interest in yoga and meditation….and my love of meat!

Transitions

20140818_151648000_iOSHappy Independence Day! For me, today is a personal independence day of sorts. I retired from a very long and rewarding career in commercial banking. I’ve worked with some really talented and hard working people over the years and I will miss them. But it’s time for a new phase, a new life, and new adventures. This week I am thinking about transitions. Retirement is a big one!

I  knew I would have to find something interesting and rewarding to fill the void left after the end of a career that was interesting every day. So how to transition from the fast paced life of the fully employed to a fully engaged retiree? With the help of Holly Bull at The Center for Interim Programs, I have planned an exciting year of travel and experiences.  My goal was to marry places I want to visit/live with experiences that would help grow my world view.  I don’t want to just be a tourist, but rather part of a community.  So I will spend a couple of months volunteering in South Africa; studying French in France and Art History in Italy.

But this week is about the transition. So what better way to go from long, stimulating days of work and responsibility to a slower pace of learning and helping, and experiencing new and wonderful worlds?  How about an ashram in the Catskills?  Works for me….I think.  Yoga and meditation will be a new experience and hopefully a smooth transition to a new life. Wish me luck.

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