2017 – Building on 2016’s Lessons

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December is an interesting time of year for me. Within a week you have Christmas: a time to take stock and be appreciative of family, friends and your life as it is; and New Year: a time to reflect on another year passed, plan towards what you want and get excited about what lies ahead.

I feel being overseas gave me an advantage over both and to be alone in Iceland allows a rare opportunity to have an inordinate amount of time to think. Surrounded by immeasurable beauty, it’s wonderful to get lost in my own thoughts evaluating my life. Where I’ve come from; how I’ve changed and what my intentions for my future are. I’m struck by the deepest sense of calm and connection in that week and I’m filled with appreciation.

Pure contentment.

Absolute admiration for this life we have and the experiences we can create.

My 2017 begins with this incredible sunrise.

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I was originally going to spend today writing and have a ‘quiet one’. With new information, however, I’m on my way again with another two and a half hours’ drive. Every turn around the next approaching mountain brings a new feast for my eyes. Iceland is like an experienced waiter; constantly bringing a new dish just as your current one is finished, complemented with a fresh glass of wine to create a taste sensation.

My eyes are twinkling with delight.

Just take a look at this terrifyingly beautiful glacier that looks like a sweeping tidal wave cascading over and between the peaks; frozen in time, their rich blue demonstrating their purity. I wish the scale could be truly conveyed in this picture.

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I’ve been blessed with many memorable New Year’s days; such varied and notable experiences like being with my family high in the Swiss Alps (also surrounded by snow) and dancing in the summer heat of Franschoek surrounded by happy smiles, authentic human beings and nature.

Today I get to add to this list: Jökulsárlón – Glacier Bay.

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I haven’t actually gasped out loud many times in my life. This is one of them. As a result of global warming this glacier has retreated nearly 4 km creating a lagoon filled with docile icebergs. It’s not that wide but its damage is not visible from the shore – it’s 250m deep!

Glaciers, icebergs and fragments of ice keep my soul captivated every second.

A stroll down to the beach (also black), brings a contrast to these sleeping giants: chunks of ice litter the shore as the sea declines its gifts.

Time is the sculptor; the beach is the gallery and the ocean the curator meticulously placing them across the dark sand for our delight. I could spend hours here in summer; but conscious of the time and not wanting to drive in the dark I reluctantly trudge off taking it all in one more time.

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This is the start of my year.

A thought from the beach starts to echo in my mind:

Without emotion and experiences, essentially each day is the same. If we can control how we react to our surroundings we have the power to shape our days so that there are far more good ones than bad. The only reason we say a day (or year for that matter) is “good” or “bad” is because of the lens through which we look at it – a lens which is ultimately created by the experiences we have.

As if the day isn’t to be outdone, I get to drive back and see the stage from the other side with another masterful sunset as my companion.

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This fortuitous man has the pleasure of being ‘introduced’ by one of my Austrian hosts K to three Icelanders: I, H and S. Incredibly, S had just recently spent three months travelling around South Africa. I consider this a real treat to be able to chat to them about their homeland and get an understanding of their culture, as well as experience their love of their island. Nothing better than feeling the passion that shines through people’s eyes as they talk fondly about their home.

By the end it’s settled: I’m coming back in summer and they are coming to Cape Town in 2018.

I look forward to both.

Slightly apprehensive about the 29 hours journey heading home having never done this length before, I wake up at 03:30am. Not being a morning person I’ve realised certain things are easy to get up early for and travel is definitely one of them.

I needn’t have worried; it was surprisingly breezy (barring an almost faux pas in Copenhagen resulting in me reaching the plane just in time to board). Perhaps it’s because I have twenty one days of experiences to reflect on. The special people I’ve met. The breathtaking beauty of three previously unexplored countries. Or calculating the distances I’ve travelled.. In the end I cover 26 643km by air; 1 832km by road and 84km by foot.

With so much time alone to reflect on my travels together with the varied array of experiences I have had means I get some incredibly valuable insights.

This is what I’ve learnt (or reaffirm in some cases):

  1. Positivity. A simple smile, hello and “how was your day” can kick start some of the great conversations of your life. Don’t be shy to take the first step with this. Small gestures can transform your experiences; you don’t need to make huge changes or seek out the best guru.
  2. Be still. Being completely alone in silence and solitude (no one in sight) is an invigorating feeling. I love this – the other day a friend of mine typed alone as All-one. When we get in touch with our true inner essence we experience our connection to everyone and everything. We are, in fact, never alone because we are All-One.
  3. Road trips. There’s nothing quite like them! Make sure you have a decent soundtrack to match – music can play such a key role in your experiences; especially if you are alone.
  4. Be open to asking, all knowledge is learnt. We’re not supposed to figure everything out on our own. Getting help and asking for it should be normal but most of us don’t do it. Don’t be afraid to ask. We can’t know everything.
  5. Duality of life. Everything can be a double-edged sword depending on your circumstance or view point. Snow is great to ski on but scary as hell when you need to drive on it. Learn to be cognisant of the bad side of the coin; but focus on and appreciate the good.
  6. No excuses. Don’t let ‘oh it’s so expensive’ stop you from exploring your home. You’ll figure it out. I ate 1 meal a day for 4 days in Iceland (maybe that’s why I’m actually 1kg lighter after my holiday). No one ever regrets the experiences they have.
  7. Travel alone at least once in your lifetime. Many may find this vastly outside of their comfort zone, but you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to meet interesting people along the way and experience adventures you might never have had if you were travelling with someone.
  8. Human beings. Culture, language, geographic location actually mean nothing. We truly are all the same. Embrace that. Start thinking of Earth as your home and not just the country you live in.
  9. Real connection. True connection could be the next revolution. Looking people in the eyes; seeing smiles; hearing laughter and different accents; hugging people – this is true connection and what feeds your soul. Technology has its place; creating deep meaningful connections is not one of them.
  10. People watching. Being alone means you have no one to talk to. Avoid your iPad or phone and watch people instead. Learn to sit in your discomfort and that being alone can be really fun. Watch how people interact, recognise your own behaviours in others and get an outside perspective on what you are like. It’s also interesting to see how differently we behave in the presence of beauty: some quietly admire the view; others try find their special pose in pictures to be forever remembered; others methodically try to achieve the perfect scenic shot with no humans in frame.
  11. Appreciation. Iceland could change in no time at all from a wonderland to a harsh intimidating and unforgiving place that I sometimes battled in; when this was the case it made me think of how tough it must be for those with disabilities. Difficult suddenly becomes near impossible. Twenty minutes for you could be an hour for the same task for someone else. Be grateful for the blessings you have.

This was an incredible journey. A real blessing to see old friends and make new ones. My travel bug has definitely grown with the feeding it got in 21 days – I look forward to the next adventure. But the best gift I’ve been given is a running start in 2017 and I’m truly excited about the milestones for this year. Writing two more books and preparing a Ted Talk just to mention a few.

I’d like to take a moment to thank you all for your support and taking time out of your days and lives to read my thoughts and experiences. My wish for all of you is that you find fulfilment in your daily life. Whatever fulfilment means to you; and perhaps that’s something to think deeply about? Learn to experience magic every day. I feel blessed that one of my ways to experience this is taking a blank page and transforming it into pieces like this. I love writing and I’m truly grateful for this gift each day.

Let’s see what richness 2017 brings for us to share.

Live with passion.

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