NOTE: I originally wrote this post before January 6th, when pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol and mounted the biggest threat to American democracy since the Civil War. I’m having a hard time feeling quite so positive today, on January 7th, but this post still honors the way I felt 24 hours ago and will hopefully feel again soon.

I originally planned this to be a 2020 year-in-review post. 2020 was a crazy year for most people in the world and I was no exception.

Sunrise in 2020
One of the last sunrises in 2020.

In 2020 I celebrated ten years in South Africa and 1000 total blog posts. I took a couple of great road trips (see here and here) before covid hit. I blogged nearly every day for the first 100 days of South Africa’s lockdown. I documented an inspiring food relief program in Melville. I experienced the death of the Melville Cat. I made amazing new friends in Katlehong and helped organize a couple of walking tours there.

And of course there was the pandemic-related insanity we all experienced. I spent more time alone and did more emotional soul-searching than I’ve ever done or ever will do in a single year of life. I cried so many ugly tears of sadness, frustration, and rage. I didn’t take a single flight in 2020. I logged onto a seemingly infinite number of Zoom calls. I walked hundreds, possibly thousands, of laps around my house. I binged on Netflix and a million podcasts and listened to Fiona Apple and Taylor Swift for days on repeat.

I’ve decided the two paragraphs above are all I need to say about 2020 at this point. I’ve already written volumes about that year and there are plenty of other 2020 year-in-review posts floating around. I’d rather make this post about the start of 2021 — or rather, the magical week I just spent crossing over from one year into the next.

At the end of 2020 I met someone, in a most fortunate and unexpected way, which in hindsight feels like a winning a million-dollar lottery jackpot that I didn’t buy a ticket for. Due to a series of pandemic-related coincidences, I wound up alone with this person on a farm — super remote despite being only 30 minutes from Pretoria — for seven full days over New Years.

It was one of the most enjoyable weeks of my life, made all the more extraordinary because it occurred at the end of what was objectively a terrible year for basically everyone. I feel really lucky to have experienced such a wonderful week at such a strange time.

Here are a bunch of pretty photos from the week.

The house where I stayed with Thorsten, of Dagwood-sandwich-eating and Wonderboom-sketching fame, adjoins the Dinokeng Game Reserve in northern Gauteng. The house sits behind a natural swimming pool filtered by a man-made wetland.
Matt's house at night
It’s the kind of architecture that makes photographers look good.
Game room shower
Definitely the best shower I’ve ever used.
Pool from below
It’s hard to convey how beautiful and interesting this pool is without actually being there. But I’ll do my best.
Pool reflections
Roof over pool
It gets really hot in Dinokeng at this time of year, so this grand roof is necessary. One of Thorsten’s friends observed the roof looks like a dragonfly, which is fitting as there was always a gang of colorful dragonflies flitting around the pool. The wetland, which filters the water in the pool in the same way that plants in a natural pond would do, is behind the walls at the back.
Wetland behind the pool
The wetland.
Heather on the pool
Me trying unsuccessfully to look like a hip travel influencer. (Photo: Thorsten Deckler)

Over the course of seven days, we spent a lot of time sitting around the pool eating photogenic snacks.

Breakfasty snack.
Lunch snack
Lunchy snack.
Toasting marshmallows
At the Okay Foods market outside Dinokeng, I spotted a bag of “Flamin’ Mallows” by a company called King Candy. I could tell right away these weren’t those pink-and-white, too-sweet, fruity-tasting marshmallows you usually find in South Africa, but rather legit, American-style toasting marshmallows. So we bought them and made s’mores on New Years Eve.
S'mores
Graham crackers don’t exist here and we didn’t have any Marie Biscuits — the most popular graham cracker substitute in South Africa. So we used Salticrax. The result was delicious: Thank you, King Candy, for your incredible ‘mallows.

We spent hours listening to the birds and admiring the sky, the clouds, the sunrises and sunsets, and the impossibly bright full moon.

Dramatic clouds
Dramatic clouds.
Sunrise on New Years Day
There were a couple of insane sunrises but the best one happened on New Years Day, which I’m taking as a good omen for 2021.
Sunset at the farm
Sunset on our last night.
Full moon
I could not believe how bright the moon was.

The property also includes a dilapidated, beautiful-creepy old ruin that was once a house but now serves as a braai area and outdoor kitchen.

The ruin at Matt's farm
The ruin.
Another look at the ruin
Another look at the ruin with Eddie, the property’s manager, and Thorsten inside.
Thorsten at the ruin
Thorsten in front of the ruin.
Wine in the ruin
Ruin still life.

So that’s how 2020 ended and 2021 started for me. I don’t want to jinx things, but I could not have asked for a more spectacular — or improbable — ending-beginning. Aside from the continuing horrors of this pandemic, I am so freaking happy.

Sunrise

In case you’re wondering where this blog is headed in 2021…We’re back to a semi-strict lockdown in South Africa, with a new covid-19 variant raging and more positive cases than ever before. So I’m going to lay low and re-focus on my memoir project, which fell by the wayside at the end of 2020. I’m really excited to get started again.

For those of you who are still supporting me on Patreon — you guys are total troopers! — I sent you a voice note yesterday. Expect new written communications by the end of this week.

I wish improbable happiness to all of you in the coming year.

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