RIP Chester Bennington

Linkin Park’s lead singer, Chester Bennington, committed suicide on 20 July 2017. The news shocked me as like so many kids born in the 80’s, the band’s music – which Bennington wrote – was a big part of my teenage years and beyond.

Bennington left behind a wife and six children. Some may cry ‘how selfish’, but if you can’t live with your wife and children if you can’t live with yourself.

“I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter”

Bennington did not have the easiest childhood. He was molested by an older man claiming to be his friend and turned to hard drugs to cope with depression. These issues spilled into his later years, perhaps a lesson that if you don’t deal with those demons, they could come back to haunt you.

I am not trying to explain away his life ending choice, but you can’t talk about it without mentioning Chris Cornell. Bennington was really close to the alternative musician and clearly took his suicide in May 2017 to heart. Bennington killed himself on what would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday. Both men hung themselves.

“Crawling in my skin
These wounds they will not heal
Fear is how I fall
Confusing what is real”

These are the kind of lyrics that hit home. Here we thought it was a show, tapping into teenage angst and rebellion, a mere marketing ploy to some. But after Bennington’s death, perhaps there was more to lines such as these.

Bennington seemed to have kicked his depression in the last few years, often attributing that success to his new wife. He even gave inspiring talks on how he had turned his life around. On the surface, all was calm, but we can never really know the private battles people face. Those heavy moments behind the scenes where you feel utterly alone.

“Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do…”

RIP Chester Bennington. Your light went out too soon.

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Three days with the sweet people of Watamu

The realisation of a beach holiday did much to dissipate the Post-Tournament Depression that descends upon so many ultimate players.

Our smiling trio, dubbed Team Beach, boarded a not-so-small twin prop plane that sent us east from Nairobi towards the warm waters of the Indian ocean.

Team beach

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On the plane, I sat next to a guy who said he worked for the airline. Odd, considering all the selfies he was taking and snaps of the fields through the clouds. Nonetheless, I asked him for advice on transport to Watamu from Malindi. He said he would sort me out when we landed.

Sure enough, he made some phone calls and a Helen would pick us up outside. Now words such as ‘big’ or ‘vast’ are not ones you use to describe Malindi International Airport. It took us all of four minutes to disembark, grab our luggage and walk a few metres to the exit. But when we walked outside, there was a beaming Helen with my name scribbled on a piece of foolscap, the ink barely dry.

Our hosts at Paki House were great. Our smiling trio enjoyed a warm welcome in more ways than one, despite being in the dead of winter. The humid air forced us to get into beach gear pretty quickly. Second on the agenda was water, as you can’t drink what comes out the tap.

A short shopping trip by foot with our host Enoch resulted in an ATM visit, 12 litres of water from an Indian shop and some fruit from a local store. Upon return, Enoch whipped up some absolutely delicious mango smoothies with what I had just bought and we were pretty smitten sitting on the breezy porch overlooking the pool.

Watamu is Swahili and translates to ‘sweet people’, which is quite true in reality. However, Watamu and surrounds are also known as Little Italy, given the number of Italians still living there. For the most part, these are the leftovers of colonialism, as East Africa was split up amongst the British, Germans and Italians in the late 1800s.

As such, there is a touch of Italian flavour in some of the architecture, names of resorts and of course, food. And it was at one of the many Italian restaurants where we found ourselves having lunch. The fish, Italian ice cream and local beer were all delicious, but the unfriendly owner was far from it. Tipping is not customary in these small towns and our confused waiter took his dilemma to the spectacled owner who pocketed the cash and said “Thanks…”

James on our red chariot for the day

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But that turned out to be somewhat of a blessing in disguise as it forced us to look for other options for meals. Sensing this, our other host Donald mentioned they could cook for us for a small fee and offered to take us shopping. So it was off to the beach to find the catch of the day.

After walking past a 200+ kg blue marlin alone in the back of a tuk-tuk, we found a fresh snapper and went into town with the fisherman and his posse to get it weighed. Our trek took us through old-town Watamu, with dusty streets and small colourful homes punctuated by friendly residents taking advantage of the final rays of sun.

In the fish shop, a feast was set at the table with men circling…it made for an intersting scene. We paid for the 3kg fish as the call for prayer rolled through the streets. Of course, I thought aloud. It was Ramadan and Watamu’s large Swahili-Muslim community had been fasting for the day. Some pounced on the food while one kind man invited us to eat with them. We pointed to the fish, said our goodbyes and grabbed the rest of the ingredients on the way back to Paki House.

Enoch, Donald and Patience prepared us a mouthwatering snapper dish with a light tomato and garlic sauce served with basmati rice. It was outstanding and we took some solace in the fact that this time, our tip would reach the right pockets. Aside from eating like Kings and Queens, of course.

Easing our way into the tuk-tuk life, we went to the Gedi Ruins the following day. Here, we found the ruins of a 12th century Islamic community, complete with a Great Mosque. It should come as no surprise that the port city of Mombasa just 100km south of Watamu has the highest concentration of Muslims in Kenya.

The site had old stone walls covered in rich green moss, aided by the relative shade of the forest canopy above us. Some of the trees looked just as old, with one growing on top of a wall with it’s roots drilling down into the ground, virtually keeping the wall in place. The place oozed both history and mystery.

This tree found its way back to the soil

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Such was the area’s ties to Europe, that the Portuguese attempts at monopolising trade would lead to the abandonment of the growing town, which held an estimated 2500 inhabitants at it’s peak. Well that, and the frequent raids from the cannibalistic Wazimba tribe in the 1500’s. It must have been a rough place to live.

On a noticeboard outside the town’s second general supermarket, we had seen an advert for sunset yoga at a place called the Treehouse. This place had an incredible view, a view I was looking forward to after the tuk-tuk had to change to the lowest gear to get up the windy road through the bush.

We did yoga in a circle at the top of the Gaudi-styled white building with a 360 degree view of the ocean and the palm-tree-littered inland. As we breathed out and did our Namaste’s, our Cape Town-taught yoga instructor Morris said, “…and now you can watch the sunset.”

On cue, the big red ball hit the horizon and as the palm fronds swayed in the sea breeze. We realised this wasn’t Morris’ first rodeo.

Yoga with a view

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After an evening eating the rest of the fish – this time made into a coconut curry – and drinking too much beer, it was time for snorkeling. It was here where we met most of the other tourists in the town, also taking advantage of the calm day.

Our boat, named Millennium, picked us up and we putted close to the white shoreline. Once stopped a few hundred meters out, the crystal clear water surface was just two or so metres about the reef, meaning we had little work to do to see the wonders of the ocean.

While the fish were beautiful and plentiful, the coral was not. Coral bleaching is an issue on the Kenyan coast and perhaps one in every 60 coral – and there sure were thousands – we saw was vibrant and healthy. At the end, the boat driver tossed some bread crumbs in the water, causing a fish frenzy all around us like an overpopulated fish tank.

The trusty Millennium Falcon dropped us off at the beach and we decided to take a stroll to town to get some lunch. And here is how we learned why it was off-season in Watamu.

Our Millenium Falcon

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The constant onshore winds bring with them tonnes and tonnes of seaweed which builds up on the beach and dries out. It doesn’t smell or anything, but some places there isn’t a towel-sized space of white sand.

Because of it’s status as a protected marine reserve, local government is not allowed to move the seaweed and residents must wait for the wind to change direction and with the aid of the tide, nature will take it all back. This was strange, given the diggers driving on the sand doing construction on a fancy resort right next to the seaweed. Clearly, the rules can be broken.

That was Watamu Bay, which is considered the main beach. But there are many small bays along the picturesque coastline within walking distance of each other and many don’t get the Harbinger of Seaweed breeze. This is where we spent our time.

We should have learn’t our lesson the first time about it being off-season. In town, a local said he would walk us to where we wanted to go, another Italian restaurant that had been suggested to us. Papa Remo. Our man Bekker was friendly enough and took us through the old town again and back onto the beach, telling us it was a shortcut. This was another subtle clue we missed. A short cut for a man who walks seven kilometres everyday and has no job is not really a shortcut.

After some stunning scenery, we arrived at a beachhead where the tide was high, blocking our path to the next bay, where Bekker assured us the restaurant was, even though it looked pretty remote. If we timed it between the waves, it would be over waist high at best. This was a no go.

So much to Bekker’s disappointment, we had to go back to the road, the long way around. We had walked for over an hour on this shortcut in the midday sun after an early start and moods soured even more when we found Papa Remo’s to be closed. Not just the restaurant, but the entire resort was a ghost town behind a thick set rusty chained gate. I’d be lying if I said there was no swearing.

Bikes are taxis in Kenya, and one pulled up to see four sweaty strangers standing under a small tree. Bekker sent him to town, since we had marched beyond the outskirts, to get a tuk-tuk for us.

Hunger and anger had become one as we arrived at a different Italian restaurant – about 100m from where we met Bekker – and sent him on his way with a small tip he arguably didn’t deserve. We feasted on more superb seafood and ice cream, which quickly drowned that memory, before heading back to Paki House for a much needed rest.

With throwing arms starting to itch, our final afternoon was spent throwing on the beach as the sun went down behind the palms, silhouetting the coconut pickers who were scampering up the palms with nothing but their hands and feet. Boats were coming in with the day’s catch to waiting crowds, with the smallest helpers been given the biggest things to carry.

We had gone full circle, as we were in the same bay we bought the snapper on the first night. Only this time, we were doing our best to take it all in, because we didn’t really want to leave that stunning place.

Hakuna Matata, Watamu.

Afternoon crowds welcomimg the days catch

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Battles

A woman the wrong side of 60 buys a can of Black Lable beer and puts it straight in her bag. A guy with superga’s whiter than fresh snow reads a self help book. An overweight lady a few seats left of me finishes her oversized muffin and chases it with a softdrink. Another clutches her seat as our flying tin can hits some turbulence. Parents behind me battle with their toddler, we’ve begun our descent and he can’t equalize the pressure in his ears.

Private battles are everywhere if we’d just open our eyes to see them.

How different would the world be if we did?

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The Warrior Within – Warrior Race Review

When I fell in the cold mud for the umpteenth time, I questioned my very state of being. Why am I here? Why we do this to ourselves? Why do I even have legs? The African sun beat down on my dirty face as I stood up and tried to move forward, the mud almost sucking my once blue Salomon’s off my feet.

Event #5 of the Warrior Series took place at the scenic Holla Trails just outside Ballito on the 3rd of August 2013. The race featured 3 events on the same day. Warrior Brats was a chance for the young ones to get involved in the action over a 500m obstacle course. The immensely popular Warrior Rookie was a 9km run with 15 obstacles along the way. Finally, Warrior Black Ops, described as ‘the beast of all obstacle courses’, was 21 km of mud, cane trails and cargo nets with over 30 obstacles.

When I signed up for the Black Ops, it was advertised as an 18km run. Having completed a fairly demanding 16km trail run in stunning Shongweni Dam a couple weeks prior and having a regular gym routine, I felt fairly confident going into to the race. But after having seen some of the obstacles in the arena and heard that we’re running an extra 3kms for free, the butterflies in my stomach woke up.

The race briefing was led by a fired up American guy who loved yelling. He reminded us that while it was a race, we should all help each other out on the obstacles. Following that, there were a few war-cries to get the runners pumped up and then off into the chilled morning winter air we went.

The first few obstacles were quite tame. Then came the mud. There were four 8 foot mounds of earth with 6 metre stretches of muddy water in between. I hopped in and didn’t even touch the bottom. I’m sure there that’s where everyone lost their energy gels, water bottles, caps and really anything else that wasn’t attached to them. By the last bottomless trench, my supposed moisture wicking vest was more of a hindrance than anything, so I hung it on a post and bade it farewell.

There were many obstacles over the 21km. To take you through each of them would take almost as long as I took to complete the race. So, in the interest of time, I will take you through the memorable ones.

The first obstacle that had some fear factor was the barbed wire mud pit. It required one to leopard crawl through the mud under the barbed wire. All it needed was an M60 machine gun on full auto firing over the wire and I guess it would have been just like every World War Two film you have ever seen, except with less shouting. Soon after, the drainage of my shoes was tested again as we scaled a 20 metre tower and had to jump off the top into more water.

There was a climbing wall and some ropes before the next obstacle of interest. We had to choose a log and flip it end over end up a hill. Just as I was getting into a rhythm, my log flicked up and whacked me in the chin. I got quite a fright and there was some blood, but after a quick check everything seemed to be where it should be. I asked the marshal to check my teeth and while he wasn’t exactly a dentist, he said I had nothing to worry about.

After some pretty single track next to a little stream, we arrived at the tire drag. This was properly gruelling. You grabbed the rope around the tire and dragged it through the warm marsh. The endless switchbacks funnelled traffic which really churned up the surface and your tire would inevitably full with water making the going tough.

The sun was really pounding down now, and there was no breeze in this part of the trail. There was some respite with the river crossing. We simply had to pull ourselves across using a big rope. On the other side, there was a picturesque campsite overlooking a dam with a dead tree perched on a small grassy knoll in the middle. The cool down and the endless green scenery made this an enjoyable part of the race.

Some nice open running lead us to some tire flipping, after which we were told to carry these 20kg sandbags to a point and back. The problem was that point was about 250m away. No matter where you tried to carry the bag, if you lost your concentration, you started to tip and the bag would fall. The uneven ground made things tougher still.

Heading towards the end of the race, I was suffering big time. My stamina had left me and there was no company around to tag along with. The monotony of the dirt roads and the crunching of the gravel seemed to never end. There was an interesting route change when we turned right into the sugarcane where a metre wide channel had been cut through the tall cane for at least 500m. The trail jinked left and right and you could never see more than 3 metres in front of you. I felt truly away from it all.

After making it to the final water table, I found it bone dry. I learnt later that nearly 80% of the water and energy drinks had been stolen a day before the event and the race organisers had tried to get as much as they could in a short space of time. Either way, this didn’t help me as I my mouth was dry and I really needed a drink. My lack of liquids was showing as I began to cramp as well.

The final obstacles of the course were soul destroying. There were about 6 of them all within the final kilometre or so. The 20 metres of alternating height monkey bars was where I lost my sense of humour. I tried a couple times and ended up in the mud. If you can’t complete an obstacle you pay for it in burpees, anywhere from 25-50 depending on the severity of the obstacle. I got down and did my burpees.

One of the final obstacles was less of a challenge and more of a lesson in pain. Nicknamed “The Taser”, it required us to run over thick mud and through live hanging wires. There were too many to dodge, and too low to crawl under. You simply had to grit your teeth and sprint through. Whilst trying to psych myself up, watched people face-planting in front of the jeering crowd. The shocks were rendering their legs useless. I got zapped right near the end and my left leg went dead straight. I stumbled but mange to catch myself after a few profanities.

There were many chuffed people posing for photos at the end with their mud stained faces. I was not one of those people. After chilling out for a short while, I made my way to the car and checked my chin in the side mirror. It was still bleeding and very dirty so I thought its best to let the medical tent have a look. After successfully avoiding stitches, I recognised a few people from varsity days sitting in a forlorn circle with various joints strapped up. Apparently the cargo net had fallen down because there were too many people on it.  “It was terrible. I was crawling through bodies” said one.

Overall, despite the water shortage and collapsing cargo net, it was a very successful event that made waves throughout the trail running community. To see people so broken at the end but already getting amped for the next one in the series means the creators are really onto something here.

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From a Bunny’s Perspective – A Rocktober Review

I am fortunate to be a part an Ultimate Frisbee team. I love my team like brothers and sisters. Here is a review on a tournament we recently attended.

“I have a wedding to go to”. And that was it, we did not have enough girls to go to the tournament. 10 guys were left standing at the altar. But then a message of hope came from afar: Two lovely ladies were looking for team to join, and the Prawn Bunnies snapped them up. Rocktober was a GO!

Saturday

Our first game was against a fit and fast Maties. We had heard that they had upped their training regime and it certainly showed on the field. We traded points and ended up on 7 each at soft cap. Despite the lack of wind, the brains trust decided to throw a cup and it came off very well, leaving the Maties handlers with few options. We took the next 2 points without a sweat and won the game 9-7.

Our second game was a much tougher assignment as we faced former winners Ghost. With some slick offence and a couple great skies, we found ourselves 3-1 up. Despite the early lead, Ghost’s heavy hitters remained on the side-line. They eventually brought it back to 4 a piece with patient disc. Ghost’s zone defence cramped up our handlers and they established a lead we could not surpass. While the final score-line was 10-6, we felt we had done ourselves proud.

The heat of the Highveld was at its worst for our third game of the day against UCT. With the temperature in the low 30’s, both teams toiled hard for points. Our leaky man defence was eventually put to the sword and the youngsters raced away to a 13-4 victory. Mentally, we were just not in that game.

Our final game saw us take on the newly formed Wits team. The bye and the much cooler afternoon air left us feeling refreshed, and it showed on the field. The inexperienced Wits handlers could not deal with our cup defence and we forced turnover after turnover, racing to an 11-0 lead. Eventually, some miscommunication and fast offence from Wits lead to their only point much to the joy of the Wits side line. Final score: 13-1.

Sunday

A much appreciated bye made sure we were well rested before we faced a spirited and fast Mozambique outfit. We exchanged points early on, but our cup defence started to expose Mozambique’s lack of handlers and the turnovers began to rack up. We finished strong with some great hucks leading to a 10-5 final score.

Next up were the Golden Oldies. This team had more experience than Jake Whites World Cup winning side and quality all over the field. We were nervous. Thankfully, the wind was starting to pick up which played into the hands of our cup. Initially, they worked our cup around effortlessly using 4 handlers and the odd popper. They made it look so easy. But yet again, our stoic cup began to force sketchy throws which saw us score a couple upwind points. We lead into soft cap where there was a much disputed time out call by a Bunny which left the side line outraged, but it was within the rules. We scored that point and never looked back. We beat the grizzly oldies 11-6.

In our final game of the tournament, we faced a much improved Polokwane outfit in the 5th/6th place playoff. Three years ago they had one player who kind of knew the rules and a lot of cutters chasing errand throws. But this year, they meant business. It seemed we were always chasing the game, with tons of accurate hammers turning our cup around and leading to easy scores. Our tired legs lead to an over reliance on our long game which was nevertheless keeping us in touch on the scoreboard. Hardcap was reached and we played universal point where we pulled to them and set up our cup one last time. Patient disc saw Polokwane eke out a memorable 11-10 win with, you guessed it, a hammer into the endzone.

In Sum

Considering  The Prawn Bunnies were already down on personnel even before they suffered early injuries to important players, we did ourselves proud. I am sure there would have been many questioning our stunning 6th place finish at Nationals in April. This performance has backed it up and we will continue our upward trend.

There are a few players who deserve a special mention. Cathy Pineo unfortunately tore a ligament in the very first game, but she made herself part of the team and was a constant source of support. The rest of our girls, Amy Bray, Joy Waddle and Ella Alcock ran their hearts out and were still smiling at the end of the day. Hats off to you ladies, you were superb. Finally, congratulations to Jarrod Banks and Amy Bray on winning MVP Male & Female of the Tournament respectively. Which this space: There is much more to come from the Prawn Bunnies.

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AKA James Franco

The morning started like any other. A yawn, a roll over, a deep sigh and a butt-scratch. He reached for his smartphone, checked the time and scrolled through his newsfeeds. After the 17th update about Miley Cyrus he put it back down on the bedside table. He was late, he should hurry up

Grapefruit. He would have grapefruit for breakfast. It made him feel healthy and reminded him of better days, days before the dreadful Cape Town winter took away his summer body. He had been invited to Ultimate Frisbee a few months ago, those guys and girls get pretty fit, perhaps he should have gone

He gathered his wares for the day: suede wallet, smartphone, backpack, water bottle and K-Way jacket. Anyone would think he was going hiking, but alas, it was a Tuesday. He needed a pee, quite badly, but it would have to wait. He hustled out the front door, shut it with purpose and spun around to open the gate. Then he realised his error. Keys. For the love of God, they are inside. There he was, almost like James Franco in 127 Hours: Stuck between the security gate and a hard place.

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The End of Your Comfort Zone

I want to take advantage of the fully functioning body I am fortunate to reside in. I want to run as fast as I can with the wind at my back. I want to do all the things I am capable of and more. Running is not difficult; it must be over a mountain. Swimming isn’t tough either; unless it’s through waves in the sea. A walk in the outdoors shouldn’t be a stroll with a picnic; it should be a five day endurance event interspersed with cave dwelling and cliff diving.

Most of us live with the safe boundaries that we create ourselves. Life within this space is peaceful and benign, void of any danger or adventure. This is non-sense. We should be out there experiencing life to the full potential, falling down and getting up again. Imagine we could capture that early teenage spirit (assuming you aren’t a teenager) where there was more focus on the rewards of an action rather than the consequences. That spirit where failure was unknown and confidence was King. It is that very thought process that allows teenagers to be adaptable to their circumstances. Tear down those boundaries and see just how capable you are.

Nowadays many of us are too concerned about our appearance. We voluntarily sit for hours in front of a keyboard crafting our digital selves and selecting a profile picture that portrays us in the best possible light. We post a picture of ourselves at the club as a heads up to everyone that we’re hip. We list Fight Club and Trainspotting as our favourite movies as a reminder of how edgy and cool we are. We are so busy talking about ourselves on social media that we can’t relate to other things or people anymore. More importantly, we are losing touch with ourselves.

To combat this, we simply need to get outside and try new things. I believe that there is no greater way to learn about yourself than to be alone and doing something you have never done before. Whether its scuba-diving, trail running, painting or even yoga. Get out there and give it a go. The more extreme, the more you learn.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Where is yours?

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