Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Grand Visions

When I was about six or seven years old, my family embarked upon the longest and most exciting family holiday we ever took - from Pietermaritzburg, Natal, up and over the Transkei, and into the Eastern Cape, ending up in Port Elizabeth. And then back again. 

I suppose it was maybe three weeks. 
For a six year old, it felt like the whole summer. 

Twenty-something years later, the details of the holiday are a bit fuzzy. I remember we had a 'new' second-hand car, with a radio, bought just before the holiday. We had cheese biscuits that Granny Iris made for the road trip - they were shaped like the beer bottle tops she used to cut out the dough - and stored in a large Quality Street tin. My little sister and I spent hours choosing a jewellery box for my mom in a souvenir shop at Kenton-on-Sea, where we had no lights after dark since electricity hadn't reached Kenton yet. It was covered in shells and shaped like a heart - something like this: 

We thought it so beautiful - well, we were only six and three years old! 

I had a new blue short suit - an all-in-one number, with thin spaghetti straps. I tried to wear it every day, and I remember sitting on the hard linoleum floor with beige and white tile-effect patterns in a laundromat, watching it spin, when my mother couldn't let it go one more day without washing it.

And I had a Dennis the Menace comic book which I read and re-read, in which Dennis and family went on a road trip too, involving root beer - and the Grand Canyon.
I hardly remember Dennis' adventures in that comic book, other than the root beer - couldn't understand why Dennis was allowed beer - and that he was also in the car for days upon end. And the pages after pages of the excitement of the Grand Canyon. I knew that it was something special because Dennis was even more excited than he was about the root beer - and he loved root beer.

I've been away for the last ten days - travelling the Canyons of the West in an adventure tour bus; being blown away by the beauty of Utah (Utah! Who knew?!), hiking mountains, through deserts, swimming in rivers and lakes, sleeping under stars, laughing so hard at karaoke in an almost deserted bar in Page, Arizona;  hunting power sockets in supermarkets to charge my camera at every opportunity, and making new friends. 

Bryce Canyon, which I'd never even heard of, was totally my favourite - its other worldy hoodoos making David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust songs swirl around my head: 
But it was the mother of all canyons, the Grand Canyon, that brought a big lump to my throat, smarting of a few tears just behind my dark glasses. 

It might have been the dust of course, or the exertion, but I don't think so. 
At first, I thought it was the beauty of the sheer scale of what lay before me. After 12 years in England, I'm used to field upon field, village upon village, and in the tube, no personal space at all. 
Half way down Bright Angel trail, where this was taken, it was still just soooooooo....well...Grand (capital G), and it was then that I remembered my Dennis the Menace comic book. 

I think I can explain that lump - it wasn't just the scale of the scenery that lay before me, but the scale of possibility too. 

How far I'd come - from a small town in my adopted South Africa, then isolated from the rest of the world, reading about the Grand Canyon in a 1980-something white Volkswagen station wagon - via an adulthood in Britain, fighting to find my way in one of the most aggressive cities in the world, being brave enough to sign up to a love affair that supposedly had me earmarked for Australia - to having to make a hasty redirection that led me instead to be in the United States, sleeping under the stars, hiking with strangers who were fast becoming friends. 

And how it was okay not to be sure of where I'd land up eventually, because if this is my journey - well, it is sure one hell of a ride, and I couldn't be more blessed or excited.



Carlyj2 said...
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