50Travels

Travel is a privilege. In my 50th year, I reflect on some the lessons my travels have taught me. From rats in Malaysia, monks and revolutionaries in Ethiopia, viticulturists in France and Chile to poets in North Korea and dog breeders in America, there is much to remember with gratitude. And I reveal my favourite travel destination …

I turn 50 in 2024. An arbitrary milestone for some, but for me a wonderful opportunity to give though and thanks to all that have shaped me – all those memory-making moments with family and friends.

Last month I stated by sharing a Spotify playlist of the songs that have contributed to my character. It has been very special to get WhatsApps from people as they listen to it and reminisce about what many of those tunes mean to them. And the times we may have listened to them together. Thank you.

This month, I don’t want to share an exhaustive list of places I have been to, but rather some of what I have discovered about the meaning of life on a few of my travels.

A favourite book of mine (both to read and to gift) is Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel. As the back cover says:

“We are inundated with advice on where to travel to; we hear little of why we should go and how we could be more fulfilled doing so. The Art of Travel  is a philosophical look at the ubiquitous but peculiar activity of travelling ‘for pleasure’, with thoughts on airports, landscapes, museums, holiday romances, photographs, exotic carpets and the contents of hotel mini-bars. The book mixes personal thought with insights drawn from some of the great figures of the past. Unlike existing guidebooks on travel, it dares to ask what the point of travel might be.”

The point for me is to learn, and through that learning, to enjoy. Travel makes it almost impossible to be prejudiced. Experiencing people and places that are so different from your “usual” and your 0wn “normal” challenges you and allows you to see the value in “difference”. That is why I love to travel to places where I know very little, where there is no cellphone reception (this used to be easy, today not so much). I like difficult and challenging travels. City or rural, with money or on a tight budget, solo or with others doesn’t matter. Every trip is superb. But off the beaten track has special allure.

I am deeply lucky that I have travelled a lot in my own country and all across the world – from a young age. I loved roadtrips across the vastness of America with real maps and using highlighters to plot a journey. Today, Waze does the trick and shows the shortest routes. I remember needing travellers’ cheques and pre-approval to take them out of the country. Now I tap to pay, using my watch or phone.

Road map of America

I have a tattoo (my first) of Africa. As a proud (South) African, I have made it a mission to explore my own country and continent. South Africa is extraordinarily beautiful – and our people equally so. Criss-crossing her continues to fill me with joy. And my biggest lesson, each time I get to a new place, is how much we have in common. We all just want happiness and security for our loved ones and ourselves. Which is why I am frustrated that our common purpose is (usually) ignored and we focus on the negatives. And that we allow the crappy politicians and poor leaders to distract us. Ordinary people can and must make South Africa great.

Our continent was/is at times called “the dark continent.” Such drivel. Highly functional, “civilised”, cultural communities have been on our soil for thousands of years. Seeing the underground cathedrals in Lalibela, Ethiopia is as awe-inspiring and humbling as sitting in the Notre Dame, France. The engineering feats are beyond my comprehension.

St George’s, Lalibela

Burkina Faso’s bi-annual Masked Festival is story-telling, entertainment and courtship at its best. A spectacle of magic realism in real-life. A country that my travel companions loved far less than I did but one that reminds me often to be grateful for sustenance – an egg from a nun, from her sole chicken, can be more precious than a meal at Tortellini. Enough is often far less than we imagine we need. And sufficient is ample.

Masked Festival, Burkina Faso

Rwanda taught me presence. Sit with the gorillas and don’t take pictures. Capture the silverback’s power in your mind, not your camera. Being fully present in a moment means you will remember it for ever. I also re-learnt that from deep trauma and tragedy, good things can blossom. Our past (as a country and as individuals) need not define our future. We can, and I suggest, must, pro-actively make choices for a better future.

Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana, Eritrea, Zambia, Mauritius, Tanzania, Egypt, Morocco and many other African countries constantly reveal to me how ingrained Africa is in my being. I’m hoping to join the Gerewol festival in Chad later this year – a festival where women have the upper hand in choosing a partner and the men need to up their “beauty” game 🙂

Men with perfect teeth for the Gerewol festival

I have been to all the states in the United States of America – except two (North and South Dakota). My first trip there was in 1991 with my brother Cobus and we visited the Jansohn family. After that, many family and solo or friends holidays with Uncle Franz, Auntie Vanora and Tahnee. These are some of my happiest memories. Watching a drive-in movie with Tahnee in the Napa Valley and learning who Andy Kaufman from REMs Man on the Moon is, is just one of the millions of general knowledge titbits this country taught me. A sadness that the moron Donald is what many identify the USA with – when it is so much better than that doos.

America also gave me Burning Man and my Black Rock City family. Ray, the Brooks and Frierman families, Marko, Raspa, Harley and a myriad of other extraordinary humans who helped steer the HR philosophy of Etana Insurance (many principles came from the Playa) and my own views on the world. A nod to them when I go back to Afrikaburn later this year.

TED and the ideas which stem from it was a gift from my friend Christo and has led to many wonderful North American jaunts. The TED community, notably Kate, Diane, John, Nikki and the TED Active crowd, challenged my thinking (and my liver!) to not be complacent. To think more. Deeper. Better. With meaning and contribution in mind.

This year I am returning to North America – very excitedly for a bear trekking safari with Barbara, Jamie and Rikus. Canada and Hawaii – via Barbara – has taught me the value of making the effort to bridge geograpy and time – as Luhrmann’s Sunscreen song suggest we do – to maintain friendships. Watching the biggest surfing wave in Maui, chatting Willie Nelson, driving through the snow with Father Christmas, sipping Quails Gate delicious wine – or just chilling, spending time with Barbara or other overseas friends has been one of the most special gifts of my life.

Jaws, Maui

I’ve had a few bucket list destinations – Easter Island was one (mystery of the Rapa Nui Moai still intrigues me) and celebrating Easter and my birthday on Easter Island was spectacular. I learnt here to remember when skinny dipping and drinking gin and tonics in a pool with newly-made mates that hotels have security cameras and checkout staff’s knowing grins can make one blush 🙂

Maoi on Rapa Nui

Lebanon was another. Travelling there with Kurt and seeing the immense wealth on the one hand and poverty on the other, reminded me of the huge gini coefficient difference in my own country. With the privilege of travel also comes the responsibility to serve and to improve your own country. In Sarajevo in the mid 90s an elderly women knitted socks for my mum in “darkest” Africa. A women who had shrapnel in her back was concerned about my mum in Africa! Perspective if ever I needed it.

Which is also what I got in Little Rock Arkansas. How did an American President come from such a small place I wondered flipping through a file with Clinton’s diary. I realised that I was way busier than the leader of the free world. And also immediately how ridiculous that was. I was, at the time, working for a small insurer, in tiny South Africa. Not deciding the fate of millions. And so whenever I get stressed and “too busy”, I remember that I am not running a country. To breath, to do my best and to keep perspective.

North Korea was a place I had long wanted to visit. And while I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and my travel mates, I still wonder and worry about this trip. Everything is so controlled in that country. Everything. And my nature – which pushes too hard fro individualism at times – had to exert major self-control. What did I learn? I suppose the lesson I know so well and did my masters on – there is not one version of reality. Life is not black and white. It is a multitude of greys. And then it changes. And changes again. Be clear about your own convictions but challenge them often. Be open to and delight in being wrong and changing your opinions when new information is gathered.

North Korean leaders are treated like gods

China in 2000 was challenging. Fascinating but challenging. Then Christo lived there and it was fun (as was India when he lived there and we travelled all over – Varanasi still reminds me of the dignity of different burial traditions). Then it was Olympics in Beijing and Ramon and Shaun did their thing. And then I was there in 2018 when my brother Stephen lived there. In 18 years the county has changed radically. Radically. As has Dubai – a little backwater when I first stopped there versus the mega luxury phenom it is now. Countries can change. As can organisations. And people. Don’t argue the impossibilities too much. or why things “can’t” work. Just start. Today, In a year, things will be way better. In 18, very much so. In 50, who knows 😉

After my mum’s death, I was in Jordan for Round Square as St Stithians Council Chairman. And then on a Caribbean Cruise with Michele and other mates. These spaces adn places allowed me to process. To deal with my grief. To celebrate and to acknowledge what my mother had taught me. To move through death. And to ensure that you always, always say the things you want to while your special people are alive. One of the biggest gifts you can give yourself. Travel allows me to think – and dream – much clearer and bigger.

Bhutan taught me that I struggle to breath at high altitudes and that certain travel companions don’t care 🙂 That karaoke is not the same everywhere (but Rikus still wins us cash or alcohol!) and that happiness is indeed a choice. And that difficult hiking is a fun accomplishment.

Taktshang Goemba, Tiger nest monastery, Bhutan

Europe is so small and yet has a massive imapct on my life. A few of the playlist songs referred to earlier relate to trips I took as a kid with my mum – It’s a long, long road to Tipperary 🙂 Stratford-Upon-Avon, where my hero Shakespeare is ever present made my 10 year old heart bounce with joy. Visiting Kruger House in Clarens, Switzerland confused me – how did a South African president die here? Travel made me curious to learn more. To question and to find answers.

Kruger House, Switzerland

My head is full with a plethora of memories and learnings from travels. Each one has contributed to whom I am today and for that I am immensely grateful. And a massive THANK YOU is due to all my travel partners – I loved all our adventurs.

There are so many more places to explore. But my favourite destination remains the one I find in a book.

You see, travel is not just physically going to another place, It is also, and especially, going somewhere via literature.

As a high school student, I selected, directed and acted in a play for our inter-house competition called The Bet – based on an Anton Chekhov short story. The narrator takes a bet to not see anyone for 15 years to win a large sum of money. At the end of his isolation, he shares that he was never alone or bored as he read and travelled far and wide.

I too am never bored or alone. Reading and going places via the pages of a book is definitely one of the very, very best parts of my life!

Happy travels everyone. Bon voyage!

Listen to Carel in conversation with Relebogile on 702 about the joy and importance of travel: https://www.primediaplus.com/the-series-edition-on-once-in-a-lifetime-experiences/

Carel is an investor in people and businesses, believing that 1+1 = (at least) 22. Working with a few basic concepts – best encapsulated in his believe that unless we are dead, anything is possible – Carel aims to build long-term sustainable value with like-minded individuals and companies, while having (a lot of!) fun.