Tag Archives: South Africa

Birthdays in strange places

We very often get calls from people wanting to spend that “milestone” birthday in somewhere exotic – somewhere away from home – perhaps where you are not reminded about this new (scary) number that is now attached to you. Don’t you know we are all 21 in our own mind’s eye!

It got me thinking about some of the strange birthdays my kids have celebrated growing up in Africa. As a mom you always want to plan something different for your child’s birthday – like an evening out at a show or maybe the Science Centre or Calaway Park. We didn’t have the luxury of these places in the little kingdom of Swaziland where we lived so one year we booked the camp at Mlilwane Game Sanctuary – we took two huts, one for the boys and one for the girls. It was very rustic so sleeping bags and pots and pans were required to be packed. The plan was to get out there in the afternoon in time for a walk with the game ranger and then cook dinner on the fire under the stars and bed down for the night.

The best laid plans of mice and men!!

We set out for the game walk. There were no lions on Mlilwane – mostly buck, zebra a couple of rhino so we weren’t really too worried. But we had forgotten about Twinkle Toes – the ostrich. She was a bit irritable and well known to the rangers. Sure enough half way through our walk Twinkle Toes turned up. Now ostriches might look harmless but they are described as one of the world’s most dangerous birds by Britannica. They have incredibly strong legs – wikihow describes them best in this extract –

” Ostriches can be found in the wild, on safaris, or on ostrich farms. But regardless of where you find them, treat them with the utmost caution. Although they do not prey on humans, they have been known to injure and kill when provoked. Extremely fast on foot, they can deliver mortal blows by the sheer force of their legs, never mind the lethally sharp talons at their toes. The best thing you can do is steer clear of them, keep your distance, if you don’t bother them. It is unlikely they will bother you. Failing that, ducking for cover and hiding works best. As a last resort, you may even have to fight them. “

So we were understandably wary of Twinkle Toes and you can bet your bottom dollar she turned up on cue. The game ranger immediately shouted to everyone “down- on the ground now!”. The kids had already been briefed and dropped to the ground huddled up like little tortoises. Twinkle Toes strutted around poking her head here and there and our little team stayed as still as little rocks. After what seemed like eternity she clucked off, obviously disappointed.

Big adventures and lot to talk about on the way back to the camp where the birthday cake was cut and the song was sung and everyone pretty well staggered to their sleeping bags all very tired from a day in the sun. Except for one little lad who decided to water the bushes before he retired for the night. He didn’t realise that his little rainstorm had woken up a sleeping hippo just behind the bush. It was only when he heard the grumpy snuffling that he realised just who he had disturbed. Like a true African he zipped up and made his way quietly back to his sleeping bag.

Now those were good birthday parties!

Being ticked off

Now when I thought about writing this blog I thought that was a great title. “Being ticked off” – but then I bethought myself and wondered if this is an expression that is known or even used in Canada.

Growing up in the UK and then in South Africa ticked off could be one of two things – maybe you got told off at work or at school as in “My boss ticked me off because I was late” …. or maybe you got annoyed or fed up with someone and then you would say “She really ticked me off when she told me she couldn’t come to our meeting”.

So now that we are all clear on what being ticked off could mean in different contexts let me share a tick story that really ticked me off but even today provides a good chuckle.

When we lived in South Africa we would love to take a road trip driving from Johannesburg all the way down to Cape Town passing through many of the little towns along the way.

While spending an overnight in one of these small towns we decided to head out for a walk one afternoon. We left the path and climbed over tree trunks and undergrowth really enjoying the solitude of being away from everything. As we sat down on a huge fallen tree trunk just to catch our breath we reflected upon how lucky we were to be able to enjoy such an idyllic spot.

Then we noticed them…..

The ticks.

Oh. My. Goodness. The scenic tree trunk that we had used as a bench was the home to a nest of ticks. And yes – they were all over us. Now it doesn’t matter whether you are in Africa, Asia or good old Canada. Nobody wants tick bite fever. And we had to do something about it – quickly.

Remember – were were in a tiny little town – not even a hospital or clinic – but then a brilliant idea…. this was farming country. There HAD to be an agricultural supply store. We headed over there without a moment’s delay.

“Do you have any sheep dip?” – we asked. Now we did not look like farmers, we did not sound like farmers and we were strangers (in this part of the world everybody knows everybody else) – so understandably the fellow at the agri store was a bit puzzled.

“What do you want sheep dip for?” he asked. Um …. this is embarrassing, but we sat in a tick nest and now we are covered and even as we were explaining this my imagination was running riot imagining these little ticks …. well ….. I will leave that to your own imagination.

When we explained he first had a good laugh and then provided us with a package of powdered sheep dip – we beat a hasty retreat back to our hotel and filled the bath with hot water and dumped the whole package into it.

“OK, you first” said my husband (the perfect gentleman!). Yuck it was disgusting. And I had to wash my hair in it. We both walked around for days smelling like chemical disasters. The smell of sheep dip is pungent…. but we never got tick bite fever – and we will never just sit on a log in the forest without checking it properly.

We still talk about it today – I guess that is what makes travel so special. The time passes quickly but the memories remain and turn into good stories….

“Now kids, did I ever tell you about the time that me and Grandpa got into a bath full of sheep dip?”

Would you like fries with that?

Trying to decide which country will be the cheapest for your next vacation?  Maybe you should consult the Big Mac Index – the latest evaluation having just been released.

bigmac meme

Basically the Big Mac index is a comparison of what it would cost to buy a Big Mac (if it was available) in different countries around the world using the price of a Big Mac in the United States and then comparing what the price would be in other countries.  It gives a pretty good idea of where in the world you could go to and where your dollar would stretch further – or where it would be more expensive.  Pretty nifty test.  Here are the latest figures as at 12th July.

big mac index

So according to this South Africa would be a really good place to go on holiday – it is cheap, cheap, cheap to eat out (and drink out – after all it is the land of the vineyard).  We know this particularly from the sticker shock when South African friends and family come to visit.  Consider – they pay about $1.50 to $2.00 (Cdn $) for a pint of beer.

Britain and the whole Euro area look pretty good too and naturally these numbers are aggregates so some places in Europe will be much cheaper than others.  Friends who have chosen to winter in Spain rather than Phoenix come home with tales of amazingly cheap fresh vegetables and bottles of wine for just 4 Euro.  This is interesting because it also reflects where people are travelling and despite recent terrorist attacks in Europe tourism there still remains strong, with the exception of poor France where bookings are down.  That’s a shame as it is one of my favourite places to visit and river cruises offering Southern France and Bordeaux are just such a win at the moment.

Surprises on the list were Japan and Russia.  I have always seen Japan as a very expensive country to visit as real estate is at a premium and hotel prices are high but perhaps once you are there eating out or shopping is better and cheaper than in the States.

And Russia is hopping!  River cruises and tours regularly sell out to this fascinating country.  Maybe the revived interest is due to the on again off again Trump Putin romance being front and centre in the news.  It has certainly given the country lots of exposure and seeing reporters filing their newscast with the beautiful and exotic Red Square in the background can certainly do no harm.
red square

The full article makes for interesting reading https://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21725034-dollar-has-slipped-over-past-six-months-still-looks-dear-big-mac

My advice?  Go travel – eat local – avoid the Big Mac and if you are looking at a country where the cost of living and/or eating out is expensive then go as all inclusive as you can such as a river cruise with tours, meals, wine and beer included.  It will seem more expensive at first glance but once you secure your price in Canadian dollars and take advantage of those early booking offers you will end up on the winning side!

Dung beetles and insect cocktails

Now before you freak out let me say that no self-respecting dung beetle is going to find itself inside a cocktail.  Dung beetles are far too important for that.  Their job is to get rid of all the nasty bugs in dung and therefore cut down on the spread of disease in the local animals.  They are industrious and hard-working and have even been imported into New Zealand to help cut down on the bugs that spread disease among sheep and cattle.

Dung beetles have been around for ever and have been appropriately honoured for their role in nature.

Just watching a dung beetle at work is fascinating.  As they roll the ball of dung it gets bigger and bigger and they just keep going.

When you do your next African safari you will get the chance to observe them “in the wild” and participate in a fun game with your game ranger seeing how far you can spit out a ball of rolled dung – usually Impala as their poop is small like marbles.  You certainly wouldn’t want to try to spit out elephant dung!!  It’s not obligatory but it will make you feel closer to the dung beetle.

So there! Maybe after this you need a drink.  Well you won’t find a dung beetle in a cocktail any time soon.  However you may find other insects in cocktails that are becoming more popular.  Strangely.

Not sure how you would feel if you were presented with this cocktail –

This is an Aztec-themed drink served in a skull-shaped mug and garnished with a paper cone stuffed to the brim with buffalo worms.  Apparently Grey Goose vodka goes very well with worms or crickets.

Or how about this one from Thailand?
Or this one from who knows where….

It’s part of the fun people – watching dung beetles, spitting out impala poop and drinking weird drinks.  Watch out insects …. here we come.


In a drunken stupor – what not to do in the wild…

walk with the lions

Africa seems to be getting more interactive.  Now you can walk with the Lions at Victoria Falls.    Some of my clients have expressed reservation about this activity and I can’t say I blame them having seen these magnificent creatures close up.

I recall being in Sabi Sands game reserve on an evening game drive with my children and nieces when they were quite young.  We had come across quite a large pride of lion headed up by a very big male with an impressive mane.  We sat quite still in the landrover while the lion walked right around us.  My niece was in the jump seat right at the back and was watching the lion walk right under her.  There was a lot of whispering, quiet crying and lots of clutching – but what a moment to remember!

There are always those visitors who don’t quite get it that these are wild animals. We would be quite amazed when I lived in South Africa about stories of tourists who would get out of their vehicles for a photo opportunity with a pride of lion.  Lion vs Tourist?  Lion wins hands down every time – sorry paws down every time.  However this incident takes the cake – how a drunken man takes on an elephant.  Luckily for him the elephant was confused and backed off.  Probably realised that the idiot charging him was “in a drunken stupor”.


Look at this idiot.  Poor elephant is quite bewildered.  He is probably thinking to himself  “Seriously?  Doesn’t this guy know he should get back into his vehicle before I really lose it.”

st_crocodile_apOr here’s another “beaut” as the Ozzies would say – (courtesy of Fox News) A drunk Australian tourist decided to end a night of drinking by trying to ride a crocodile. The tourist, who was visiting Broome Crocodile Park in Western Australia, broke into a reptile park and climbed onto the back of a 16ft-long crocodile called Fatso. Luckily for him, Fatso was nonplussed, until the man tried to sit on his back. That’s when he got annoyed and bit him on his leg. “Saltwater crocodiles … once they get hold of you, are not renowned for letting you go,” Broome Police Sgt. Roger Haynes said. “He’s lucky to have escaped with his life.”

Also worthy of “notable mention” – In a scene out of the movie “The Hangover”, Angry-Penguintwo British tourists in Australia though it was a brilliant idea to break into an animal park and steal a penguin. Rhys Owen Jones, 21 and Keri Mules, 20 broke into Sea World on Queensland’s Gold Coast during an alcohol-fueled escapade where they not only stole a fairy penguin, named Dirk, they swam with dolphins and let off a fire extinguisher in a shark enclosure. The two admitted to a court in Queensland that they could not remember much about what had happened the night before. They were ultimately located because they had taken to Facebook to brag about their hijinks before passing out from all the booze.

You have to wonder – who are the animals and who are the humans?


Air Zimbabwe grounded

Well – that’s a surprise… not.

Bob, as Robert Mugabe is “affectionately” known, has run Zimbabwe like his own personal fiefdom.  His family’s lavish shopping trips to Harrods are well-known while at home in Zimbabwe people starved.  We had stopped booking Air Zimbabwe long ago because of the unpredictability of the flights.  Schedules were ignored when the plane was required for the President or Mrs. and passengers would be left stranded. So all those ex-Zim residents who return yearly to visit friends and family would go the route of flying into Johannesburg and then flying into Zimbabwe on South African Airways or BA.

Even then it is not that easy as there is always that issue of “the visa”.  Mmmm, how much will they charge this time.  Explaining this to clients planning a trip to Vic Falls is tricky.   The visa could be $50 US or it could be $75 US – but really it could depend on the mood of the officer on duty.  I try to explain it away with the reminder that “well – this is Africa you know”.

It was inevitable that something would happen to Air Zimbabwe after having had one of its planes impounded in London due to unpaid debts.  This is the reason they stopped flying into South Africa because of the threat of having another aircraft impounded.  By the end of last year its pilots had had enough and walked off the job.  Why?  Well it wasn’t about pensions, benefits or how much they were being paid.  It was simply because they weren’t being paid at all.

Full article at http://www.timeslive.co.za/africa/2012/02/24/air-zimbabwe-suspends-all-flights

Africa is calling me back

I’m homesick.  That’s weird … because I am home.  Canada is my home now.  So why am I homesick and for where?  I was born in England ……. nah…… not homesick for England. 

I grew up in South Africa – and that’s the problem.  I have this sudden longing for the bush.  They say you can take the girl out of the bush but you can’t take the bush out of the girl. 

There’s something healing about being out in the African bush – and yet it can be a harsh place.  Nature rules and there are the hunters and the hunted, the victors and the victims.  To see a lioness stalking her prey is thrilling and yet some part of you always wants the poor antelope or zebra to get away.  Run! Run! You feel like shouting as the poor buck zig zags across the veldt in panic.  The lioness is clever, fast and strong and the antelope seldom wins.

On my last trip to the bush in Sabi Sands Game Reserve we came across a huge pride of lion after the kill.  The huge black-maned male could barely move he was so full.  He lay with his belly distended, his paws flopping in the air, right in the middle of the track, dozing in the midday sun. 

Oh I ate too much

His pride lay around him licking and cleaning and grooming and you could still see the traces of blood on their whiskers and chins.  It was a hot day and our ranger knew that they would not move for hours but they would be thirsty later on.  We would return after sunset.

 Sure enough once the sun had gone down and that strangely fast coldness had descended on the bush we found the pride again – this time stirring from their slumber.  As if in answer to an unspoken signal they slowly made their way to their feet and one by one ambled off down the track.  Our ranger told us there was a water hole some way in the distance and we followed in the landrover with the large floodlight on the front.  The light did not seem to bother them.  From time to time one of them would stop and turn back, gazing at us, eyes lighting up in the headlamps of the vehicle.  More curious than threatening.

 Finally they reached the water-hole.  All the females lined up – like a Radio City chorus line – along the edge of the waterhole.  With beautiful symmetry they hunched down on their powerful forequarters and daintily lapped up gallons and gallons of water.

We sat in the landrover – speaking in whispers – thrilled and awed by Nature’s beauty.

Heads down ladies

Oh yes – I AM homesick for the bush.

Back from Tahiti

Well I had to come back to work I guess.  They wouldn’t let me stow away on the lovely Paul Gauguin so I really had no choice.  Check out my story about Tahiti and you will understand why I really have to go back there soon.  In fact I am planning a return in May 2011 so stay tuned for more on that.

The South African World Cup is getting closer and flights into South Africa over that period are either hugely expensive or just not available.  Some wholesalers are holding group space with hotels and game tickets included but this does not help the expat South Africans who want to go back to visit family over this time.  Nevertheless this is a great opportunity for South Africa.  As I saw when I went back in November last year the development of roads and facilities in cities all over South Africa have provided much needed employment – especially in areas such as Mpumulanga (near Kruger National Park).

You have no doubt read about the Canadian man who was shot in Mazatlan.  That has raised a lot of questions in the media as to whether or not Mexico is a safe destination.  The Mexican Tourism officials are working hard to soothe travellers’ fears and it really is a shame that they have been hit with this now.  I certainly haven’t noticed a significant number of people not wanting to travel to Mexico – the main concern seems to be with getting the right deal.  And let’s face it – you could just as easily be attacked in downtown Calgary.

And finally could we really have a non stop flight from Calgary to Dubai?  That would open up so many destinations such as Africa and the Indian Ocean islands including the Maldives.  Air Canada is crying “No Fair” – but I like the idea of a night or two in Dubai on my way to South Africa.  We’ll see.