Saturday, September 27, 2008

Noon Gun / Lions Head: 27th Sep

Made it

My Last day at LSB and I decided to hike up Lions Head rather than Table mountain. Andy out of LSB said its a better climb with great views so he convinced me to do it instead. To be honest, after 5 nights of severe drinking in a row, I do not think a hike to the top of table mountain was advisable!

Andy kindly offered to give me a lift to the start of the hike as he was going to take photos of the noon gun. I hadn't a clue what he was talking about but it seems that at exactly 12 noon each day they fire a large cannon in Cape town. I accepted the offered and tagged along with him and Chris (also from LSB) to see it. I'm from Belfast so I should be used to big explosions but I was not expecting it to be so loud!

After the gun I was dropped off at the start of the lions head trail to begin my climb. It was a great walk with some great views along the way. Towards the middle / end the walk basically turned into a rock climb which even had ladders at some really steep points.

After just over an hour I reached the summit feeling really pleased with myself for making it up - until I seen 6 year old kids also making it up and mums nonchalently arriving with babies on their backs. It put a bit of a dampener on what I had done!

Another 2 hours of walking, walking and sometimes crawling brought me back to the backbackers.

Table Mountain

Lion's Head

That night as it was my last night in LSB I decided to open my bottle of port and see if anyone at the bar wanted any. I ended up sharing half of it with Mike the security guard. Then it was out to the Dubliner where I met up with the two Irish girls from plet bay for a Quiet night before finally falling back through LSB's door and finishing off the bottle of port with Mike the security.

The next morning I left LSB to head over to the Water front - suffering badly!

Glossary Update:

Quiet Night
Irish Expression: Rather than drinking heavily in 5 differnt bars and a night club until 2am you stay in the same bar drinking even more heavily until 3am.

German (from Dortmand area) . To have a shit.
- told to me by my two German canoeist friends.

Cape Flats Township tour: 26th Sep

I did not enjoy the township tour but then I don't think you are supposed to enjoy it. I think its something everyone has to do when you are in South Africa and I found it informative and interesting. However I felt uncomfortable standing in a hostel room having someone explain how many families have to live in it. I know that some of the money from the tour goes directly to the local communities but I still felt slightly ashamed for being there.

The tour I did was very good. We first went to the District 6 museum to learn all about what happened to the people of that area. In the 1960's and 70's over 50,000 people were forcibly removed from their homes to make room for a white only area. The buildings were bulldozed and the people relocated to townships in Cape Flats. We only had 20 minutes to try to see the whole museum which just wasn't enough time but it was still interesting to see as much as we could.

We then went to a shebeen and had some umqombothi, a home brew made from fermented maize with a creamy look and sourish taste.

After that it was on to the hostels to be shown around by a local guide. This part of the tour felt a bit like a circus with up to 5 tour buses converging on the same place and being shown round by a local guide. The guide showed us where he used to live alongside 2 other families in a small room inside a hostel building. Then everyone moved across the road to see a lot nicer accommodation for the lucky people who were able to get out of the hostel accommodation. Between the two were some craft stalls set up just for this particular part of the tour where people could buy gifts.

Next was the healer man with all his traditional remedies. Again slightly setup as he changed out of normal gear into his traditional clothes when we arrived before answering questions and explaining some of his methods. There were more craft stores outside the place for after the visit.

For the next hour or so we toured some of the other township areas both black and coloured before our last stop at a creche were we could play with some of the small kids that were there.

As I said it was well done and informative and I am glad I did it but I would just rather not do it again.

I made a point of not taking snaps on the tour (it just didn't seem right) except at the shebeen and the healer mans place:

Ummmm Milky Milky!

Healer Man's Place:
I seen some really hideous things inside!

One of the traditional remedies?

Things I have learnt:

Over 2 Million people live in the townships outside Cape town with Khayelitsha being the biggest and worst. When we were travelling through the area I did notice that the shacks had house numbers - we passed ones which started with 5000.

You can actually buy ready made shacks - we were even shown a place that sold them.

Here are some links if you feel the need to find out more about it.

District 6 Museum

BBC Picture Story

Cape of Good Hope: 25th Sep

My Second Guided tour was to the Cape of Good Hope which was run by Baz Bus.

Although it was a great tour it did have the feel of a school outing. Our guide did seem to want to treat us like a group of school children rather than adults - which was fair enough cause she gave us all lollypops at the end of it (yum yum)

First stop was an optional boat trip to seal Island - which I decided not to take as I would be seeing loads of seals when I am doing the Shark Volunteering. Instead I had a cup of tea and toastie with an English girl Rachel who had been on the wine tasting tour the previous day. It turned out that noone who went on the 1 hour boat trip enjoyed it as they seemed to cram so many people onto the boat that it looked more like a refugee boat than a tour one. We on the other hand had the fortune of having the local alco sitting beside and slurring about the history of the place.

There was also a very big seal which sat on the harbour getting fed by a local guy who was trying to get some money by getting people to take pictures of the themselves feeding it. Apparently the man and seal have been doing this for 23 years. Its not exactly ethical but I was told that the seal was free to come and go as it pleased.

Next stop on the trip was to a shark watch post overlooking a surfer beach. Here miss Madelan, sorry GUIDE Madalan, gave us all juice and biscuits while we looked around for whales and sharks. We did not see anything but on down the coast towards Simons Town we did have great views of whales - including a couple who actually breached. Again the big shits did it where I didn't have my camera focused so no photos.

On to the Penguin colony at boulders where we wer given half and hour to walk round taking photos. Me and Rachel overrun the time by 5 minutes and Miss Madelan was not pleased (I thought she was going to make us stand in the corner of the bus!)

p.p.pick up a penguin

After the penguins we drove to the entrance of the Cape Hope Naional Park and once inside got on our bikes - literally, Part of the trip is doing a cycle ride for about 20 minutes through a part of the park. All the bikes had seen better days with most of them having very poor brakes and just about all of them being stuck in one gear. If they were all the same gear it would have been fine but each person seemed to be stuck in either 1st or 5th. This meant that you would have one person peddling like crazy to get anywhere while the next person would fly past them with one turn of their foot. I brought up the rear as I was one of these people and was constantly having to stop and wait or else I would speed into the back of the other people.

Tour de Cape Hope

Lunch consisted of two rolls (Miss Madelen insisted on only 2 rolls each) with cold meat, salad, more juice and oranges that did a good impersonation of rocks. Then it was on to the actual cape where we were given 30 minutes (really into her time keeping this woman!) to climb up the light house and back again. Then we went to Cape of Good Hope itself - in an orderly fashion (No running allowed!) to take school group photos.

Finally it was back to Cape Town (having been given our lolly pops for being such good children). I felt sure we were going to get a gold star as well but we didn't.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Quick Post

I am a bit behind with the posts because there is so much to do in Cape town and my Lap top has run out of juice and I have to get it charged up at the backpackers - but bear with me as I have found a really cheap internet cafe to work on!

South Africa - What I have Learnt


I won't go into detail about South Africa politics as I could spend all week going through it but here are some facts I have learnt which will give you an idea of what the government is like here. I am not absolutely sure that each of these facts is entirely true as it my be hearsay but:

The Minister of transport was found to have a fake drivers licence.

The Minister of Finance has apparently been bankrupt not once but twice.

The Minister of Health believes that Cabbage and beetroot soup is a cure for aids.

The president elect Zumo has 728 outstanding charges of fraud against him. These charges will probably be dropped once he becomes president.

Apparently Zumo also had unprotected sex with an HIV positive woman but he said he had a shower afterwards so he was safe enough.

Update today(26th): I wrote the stuff up above before all the crap that is happening with the Mbeki and the government! All everybody in the backpackers can think is "Great the rand has gone down in value!"


I thought that English was the first language for most South Africans but most whites speak Afrikaans first and each of the black tribes has their own language. In fact in South Africa there are now 11 official languages (from the previous 2 during apartheid). This can make for some quite crazy politically correctness. The craziest seems to be on TV where programmes seem to interchange between languages at a drop of a hat. For example in some soap operas the people will be speaking English one minute and the Afrikaans the next.

I was watching a football game where the commentary went from English to Xhosa then to Zulu every 10 minutes - it was loopy!


For being a very christian country a lot of people still look to the old ways. This is no where more apparent than in some of the ads in papers. Here witch doctors advertise such things as:

Get back lost lovers!
Make women fall in love with you!
Make instant money using spells and charms.
And the best:

Penis enlargement - extra 18 inches in one day, same day ejaculation guaranteed or your money back! (Must try them!)


There is no getting away from the fact that South Africa is still racist. Up in Mpumalanga it seems to be extremely bad but it is not just whites and black. Even amongst the blacks there is racism between each of the tribes - especially the Xhosa and the Zulu. Everybody already knows about the xenophobic attacks on immigrants in the country.

There is a bad undercurrent in parts of this country that could erupt into open conflict if it is not careful. Basically the whites have the land and the money and the blacks have the power. I get the impression that while Mandela is still alive and while the world cup is still going ahead then everything is fine but if either of those two things change then the country could rush headlong into a Zimbabwe situation. I hope it doesn't happen as it’s a really beautiful country with a lot to offer.

I have been told the following (not sure if it’s true)
Amount of revenue generated by tourism: 46 billion rand
Amount of revenue spent on security: 47 billion rand.

Wine Tasting - South Africa Style

On the second day in Cape Town I went on a wine tour which was excellent!

At 9 o'clock in the morning I was picked up at the hostel along with several other people and then we went straight to our first tasting (oh I had A jagermeister at the backpackers before I went just to put me in the mood).

At around 10am we arrived at our first vineyard and were given the tour of the place including how wine both red and white is made. we then had our first tastings - about 6 in total.

We all made the usual gestures about taste and bouquet but to be honest nobody knew anything. Some people did throwout some of the wines they did not particularly care for into a spitoon - I just thought that was sacrelige!

At 12ish we arrived at our second place which appartently is owned by an ex springboks rugby star and we had our lunch of a very nice lamb burger while our guide explained about pinotage wines and blended wines.

After lunch it was onto our third place for more tasting which included some port and brandy tasting. We were shown the correct way to hold and taste brandy. I hate brandy and no matter which way I tasted it it still burnt the gob off me! They did, however have a very nice port which the group decided to purchase enmass (we wanted to try to get a discount but they woundn't haggle with us drunks)

The last place we went to was the best - because it made its own goat cheese and although you were only supposed to have 6 tastings you could get away with more. The set up was to get a wine then go round the corner and get some cheese. Of course we all though in our state that when we came back from the cheese that the waiters would have forgotten who we were and we would be able to start off a fresh - I mean we had forgotten!

I ended up buying 3 bottles of wine to go with my port (it was a bargain!) before we headed back to Cape Town.

As it was national Braai day once I got back I got out my previously purchased steaks and burnt them on the Hostels Braai.

I then went across the road to MAMA AFRICA to meet up with all the alchos from the wine tasting and continue our boozing. There was a very good african band on using drums and xylophones

I did have the sense to go home at a decent time as I had another tour in the morning. The wine tasting was nothing like what I expected - thank God!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lost - one Liver, Last seen in Cape Town

Well I have arrived at Cape town. I got into the longstreet backpackers (recommended by intrepid world traveller Susan) at 10pm. After putting my stuff into the dorm I went down to their small bar to have a couple of beers and chat to their manager - an English guy from South London.

I then bumped into two English guys who I had shared a dorm with in Plett. They FORCED me to go up to the Dubliner Irish bar along with 2 Yorkshire lasses and some other English guys. I rolled into bed at 3am. Oh dear I am here for a whole week!

At the moment its lashing with rain - i mean really lashing! My jinx has come with me. I don't think I will be doing too much today - except book onto the wine tasting tomorrow :)

Just one other thing:


Finally City are winning big time and of course I am not there to see it!

Mossel Bay

I only stayed in Mossel bay for one night as I had to get to Cape Town for for Tue. I stayed in Mossel Bay Backpackers which was nice but probably had the worst beds I have slept in so far. I decided to use try to take it easy as I was way over budget and still sore from my canoe venture.

Mossel bay is another nice, safe seaside town. After getting settled into the hostel I went down to the point and had a beer watching surfers and whales. There was also some young idiots playing around in the surf while large waves washed over them.

That night I just booked onto the Braai the hostel does and because I had an hour to kill before hand went to the local bar - which turned out to be Irish! Unfortunately being Sunday it was closed. Just as I was checking the locked doors two Irish girls arrived as well so we all went up to the English bar up the road for a drink instead. They turned out to be from Cork City and Limerick. I did the 'do you know such and such questrion' with the Cork girl but she did not know anyone (imagine coming from Cork city and not knowing the McCarthy Sisters!). As for the Limerick Girl - when I said I knew somebody from Newcastle West all she said was everyone from there was mad.

After 1 drink they said they had to go back to their hostel as it was getting dark (I have this effect on women!) and the Limerick Girl gave me 20 rand for the Mojhito she had. After they left I went to pay the bill and discovered it was actually 30 rand for her drink - bloody typical Limerick people - short change you any chance they get! .

After heading back to the hostel and eating the prepared Braai I headed back to the point area along with an Austrian, Brazilian and Swiss Guy who were the only other people staying at the hostel. We went to the aptly named Dros bar and my 'take it easy' overnight stop turned into a semi major boozing session. It was only stopped from being a complete session by the bar closing. I have arranged to meet some of them again in Cape town.

I just hope I survive Cape Town intact - I think I may be doing quite a lot of drinking!

Drinking in Mossel Bay

Monday, September 22, 2008

South African Transport compared to Irish Transport

The first thing you discover about South Africa's Roads is that they drive on the left hand side. I did not know this before coming but apparently South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zambabwe all drive on the left. I just wonder what happens at border crossings with other African countries - is there some sort of Scalextrix skid chicane where they speed from one side to the other? The other thing that I found unusual was the 4 way stop sign. Rather than have a roundabout for crossroads without traffic lights (which are called robots for some reason!) they have stop signs at all 4 junctions and it works too. Everyone comes up and gives way to other cars until its their turn.

I can just imagine the carnage that such a system would create in Ireland where the word 'Yield' used at junctions seems to actually mean 'I will Yield to no car'. In fact in Ireland traffic lights go straight from red to green in order to avoid people jumping the yellow lights. This is because when going back from Green to Red the sequence seems to be:

Green = Go
Yellow = Go very fast
Red = I can still make it!

In South Africa everybody is required to pass a driving test and have a full licence in order to drive. In Ireland you can drive by yourself on a Provisional Licence. This means that in Ireland you can drive your car to the driving test, take the test and fail (basically be told that you are unfit to drive a car) then get back into your car and drive off!

The last thing about South Africa compared to Ireland is that here 4 wheel drive is required - especially for the game drives and other dirt roads. As such quite a lot of people have 4x4 especially toyotas. In ireland - especially South Dublin quite a lot of people also have 4x4 for such arduous duties as taking the kids to school, overtaking on the inside lane and looking down on other people in normal cars. I think the only time they put their SUVs into 4 wheel drive mode is when they are backing onto the grass for a music festival.

Wilderness 19th-21st Sep

My original plan was to go to Knysna rather than wilderness (because they have a brewery and there is a guided tour) but I was warned off going there as it was 'dead'. So I came to Wilderness instead which has proved to be a very good decision. I stayed at the beach house backpackers which overlooks the beach (ok there is a road, a train track and some houses in-between but you can definitely see the beach from it (I am sitting looking at it now). The place is run by an Irish woman from Cork but she left there when she was quite young so has no Cork accent at all (Orla will be disgusted at that!)


Before I even put my bags down I asked about Paragliding and was told that if I wanted to I could actually do it that very afternoon. So at around 3:30 I and two Germans were taken along the coast to some sand dunes where we did a tandem paraglide. I have never done this before so had no idea what to expect. I got kitted up while the instructor got the paraglider ready. Then we took off from a tall sand dune, went 50ft sideways, and crashed headfirst back into the sand! After we had clambered to our feet and I had brushed off the sand from my butt and teeth we tried again - this time successfully (with a couple of scares involving lifting feet over thorn bushes). Once we were up in the air we went along the edge of the dunes getting more and more lift until we must have been about 200m up. It was all very tranquil and not really scary at all. The only slight problem was that I had failed to hoist myself completely into the seat so was effectively being held up by a strap around my groin - slightly restricting to say the least. After 20 or so minutes it was time to go back to our launch site but the wind had died down so with at least 100m to go we came (thankfully gently) down to earth. I then had to struggle back over the sand to the car while my instructor unencumbered by my weight was able to get his glider back up in the air and float back by himself (pig!).

That night after going for a brief walk with the two Germans into the village to see a food fair which consisted of about 3 stalls and a woman doing Karaoke we came back to the hostel and sat by the fire with the other backpackers. Everyone was talking about the unusual coldness for this time of year ill prepared for it (obviously they did not know about my jinx!)

Canoeing.(oh why do I do it!)

The next day the two Germans (still can't pronounce their names properly!) and me went canoeing up the river that is near Wilderness village. When I say near I really mean about 2 miles away which we had to walk in order to get to the canoe hire place. Once there we hired out two two-man canoes with me in one and the 2 Germans in the other. They were big stable canoes with a middle section between the two seats where you could put your belongings in watertight containers. Going up the river was fine - we took our time and after about 40 minutes of paddling through some really nice scenery came to a sandy bank. From here we could leave our canoes and follow a track up to a waterfall. The 'track' turned out to be an elevated wooden walkway (not very rustic at all) which after 30 minutes leads to a waterfall which had about a 5m drop. After seeing the waterfalls at Enkosini all I could say was "Is that it! I could piss higher than that!" The Germans were even less impressed as they had been to Victoria falls as part of their trip.

We walked back to the canoes and then started our return down the river. After about 20 minutes we came to a section which had had a slight cross wind when we were coming up - nothing to be concerned about at the time. Only now the wind had picked up and instead of going with the wind we were going against it. The Germans managed to get their canoe through it reasonably easy - which left me in by myself in my large 2 man canoe.

Every time I tried to paddle against the wind it just caught the front of the canoe and forced it sideways and backwards. The whole front of the canoe was acting like a sail and as much as I tried I could not move it forward. I then had what I thought was a good idea at the time - paddle from the front rather than the back. So a clambered into the front nearly capsizing the canoe in the process - it actually wobbled so much that it took on some water. But I was in the front and kneeling down I used all my force to paddle the canoe as fast as I could forward. Unfortunately I had failed to realise that at the front of the canoe you have little or no steering so the wind just caught the back of the canoe and I ended up in an even worse position than I was before. I had to get to the back of the canoe again. So rather than try to stand up I decided that I would sit on the mid section and then gently slide back into the rear seating compartment. The gentle slide became a backwards tumble with my feet stuck in the air and my arse on the water filled floor. I was able to lift myself back into the seat and start paddling again. In the end I used a corkscrew type navigation to get me through the worst of the wind. I would paddle over to one side of the river, turn the boat downstream, and paddle as fast as I could against the wind until the boat was caught and pushed sideways and backwards. I then let the wind turn the canoe and back paddled it round so I could start the process all over again. With each corkscrew I went forward about 10feet until eventually I got to a calmer part of the river.

The Germans in this time had merrily canoed far down the river. At the time I was thinking that I didn't know what their surnames were but I bet it must be Kuntz! To be fair they did wait for me down river and there was nothing much they could have done to help me.

After arriving at the hire place we all hiked back the 2 miles into town. After pizza at the backpackers I ended up having an early night and had to take pain killers to help me sleep as I was so sore.

Things I have learnt: A two man canoe is called a two man canoe because it is for two(fit)men - not one unfit overweight Irish guy!

Next stop Mossel Bay


Friday, September 19, 2008

Pettenberg Bay 17th-19th Sep

Plett is a much nicer place than Port Elizabeth. Its a touristy town at the end of a river with miles of beach on either side. The baz bus dropped me off at ALbergo backpackers and after getting settled I booked myself onto onto the Sea Kayaking that afternoon.

So at 2:30 I headed down to the beach which was about a 20 minute walk away down a steep hill (why are these places never on the beach!). At 3 o'clock I met my instructor Lance who promptly told me that he was going to have to cancel because it was too windy. Looking out at the surf we would have to go through I was kind of thankfull it was cancelled. Yet again the weather was my undoing. He asked if I could reshedule for tomorrow - but not in the morning because he had to go to the ciroprator. He then said that he could arrange other things instead and asked if I would like to do bungee jumping. I thought "well its no wonder you need a ciroprator if you go about throwing yourself off 200m high bridges attached to knicker elastic!". I trudged dejectedly back up to the hostel then cheered up when I realised that I had saved 250 rand and was therefore well within my budget for the day. This meant that i could drink copious amounts of alcohol and without any guilt!

The Albergo is a nice friendly backpackers which has a bring your own braai each night. I spent that night chatting and drinking to all the other backpackers while burning a couple of hamburgers I had npurchased earlier. The place was mainly filled with German couples aswell as 2 English girls from Southhampton and 2 English surfers who I shared the dorm with. We all drank ourselves sensless while playing games of pool in the backpackers bar.

The next day I decided to go and do a walk on Robbenberg nature reserve which had been recommended to me by the two Southhampton girls. I had to get a taxi out to the place which was a long peninsula with a cliff walk. I arrived to be met by a force 9 gale. I had asked the taxi driver on the way if this was typical weather for this time of year. He said he had never seen winds like this before (the Ray Finn jinx has arrived). The walk was great for the first half. I was on the sheltered side of the cliffs so the wind was quite calm. - it was a really nice walk to the point and all along the way you could peer down and see fur seals splashing around in the water. At the end of the peninsula you could actually get down to the shoreline where I tried, unsuccessfully, to get photos of some seals porpoising just 30 yards away from me. I think they were toying with me because every time I tried to take a shot they disappeared under the waves and as soon as I dropped the camera from my eye they reappeared. I figured thay must be female!

The walk back was slightly longer than I anticipated. I decided that I would walk back to Plettenberg along the beach. Wrong move - the beach must have been about 3 miles long and every step was like walking on sand (which it was!). 6 hours after I started out on the walk I arrived exhausted back at the hostel. This obviously called for some major drinking to get over such an ordeal.

I met up again with the 2 Southhampton girls who were now joined by 2 Irish girls and 2 guys who had arrived that day and were sleeping in the same dorm.

Naturally I did the usual thing when being introduced to Irish people:

Where are you from?
Oh really do you know such and such!

And where are you from
Port Arlington.
Really, do you know Kevin Hogan?
No - but I know his dad!

Its a small country (but I wouldn't want to carpet it!)

They have a game called 6 steps to Kevin Bacon (look it up the internet) where you try to trace knowing people through to Kevin Bacon. Maybe they should do it for Kevin Hogan:

Local Priest > Bishop > Pope > President of Guyana > Kevin Hogan. Easy!

Anyway, where was I!. We all went out on the tear going to some bars round the corner. After several beers and even more yega bombs and springboks we were all fairly well tanked up. The two girls and guys paired off with each other. Me and the two Irish girls (both teachers so complete drunkards! just talked and drank and danced.

At the end of the night the two English couples had disappeared back to the hostel. One of Irish girls commented that she hoped they weren't shagging in their dorm.

They needn't have worried - cause when we got back I heard one of the couples humping away in the shower beside my dorm! They had the water running to try to drown out the noise but it really didn't do the job. I was trying to figure out which couple it was but its hard to tell who somebody is from grunts, moans and the occassional head bang on the shower door!

This morning the only thing to point to what happened the night before was a bra hanging up on one of the hangers. I only hope they didn't do it on the sink as well - I've to brush my teeth in it now.

Next stop Wilderness.

Fur Seal - Robbenberg Peninsula. I also seen Right whales when walking back along the beach.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

South African Food

I have been in South Africa nearly 2 months now and have discovered all sorts of good and not so good things about the place on my travels.

Lets start with the second most important thing (after beer) Food.

South Africans love their meat. I have already mentioned the Braai which seems to be even more of an institution here than in Australia. (I have been kindly informed that braai day is on 24th Sep - so I can expect every household in Cape town to be out burning meat on that day)

As well as the usual chops, steaks and pork sausages they also like to do boerewors which are spicy sausages (quite nice). They also do potjiekos which are layered stews with the meat at the bottom (quite often venison of some sort - eg kudo) followed by various vegtables layered according to how long they take to cook.

They also have biltong which is dried meats - basically beef jerky but which can be from any animal - especially kudo and other antelope. I have not tried any yet. I will try to pluck up the courage before I leave.

But the best thing here when it comes to meat is their pies. Every supermarket, deli and even petrol station has a pie section and they are fantastic. As well as the usual Cornish pasties and mince beef you can get vegetarian (if you really want to!) and my favourite spicy chicken peri-peri. They also have the meatiest sausage rolls I have ever had. There is a pie place just outside Port Elizabeth which does venison pies and the best sausage rolls I have ever tasted. Mind you we did go there just after my 3 day vegetarian stint at Kariega so I think a rancid piece of leather would have tasted good!

All together now "Ray, you fat bastard, you fat bastard, you ate all the pies!"

Another staple food which basically sustained me in enkosini were rusks. Not farley rusks for babies but a type of dried bread which you dunked into your tea (to stop chipping a tooth).

Mealie Pap which is maize porridge is the most widely eaten food in South Africa and I had some at the boma (sort of traditional all-you-can-eat buffet) at Kariega. It is supposed to be very bland. I thought it was mashed potatoes and had so much kudo stew with it that I never really noticed any taste.

I have not eaten any seafood (because I don't) so I can't really tell you anything about it. I have also joined JBA - Jungle bars anonymous - it has now been 2 days since my last jungle bar - and counting!

Horse riding on beach: Kariega


I am now on my journey to Cape Town using the Baz Bus - the backpacker transport. Its not exactly how I imagined it. In the web site and on posters they have a picture of a medium sized bus with what seems to be about 50 people standing around and on top of it waving and laughing. The impression you get it is that its a mobile fun palace. In reality its just a (rather expensive) method of getting from A to B and to be honest thats no bad thing. I mean if all them people in the poster were to actually try to fit on that bus there would be mayhem!

Our driver Luzoco is friendly enough and did try initally to stir us up but lets face it we all left Port Elizabeth at 7am and all we want to do is relax.

The good thing about the Baz Bus is that it takes you door to door so you don't have to cart your luggage to and from bus stations. The bad thing is that you do not get to mix with the locals - it almost has an apartheid feel to it. To be quite honest with todays situation in South Africa I don't really care that it does - especially after hearing from a couple on the bus about two people they met who used buses in Durban and ended up getting robbed and having everything taken from them.

We have just dropped off most of the people at Storms River where the supposedly highest bungee jump in the world is (I thought it was in New Zealand). The only time I ever hung suspended by elastic was when I was 10 and got my pants caught while climbing over a barbed wire fence. That was more than good enough for me thank you very much!

Baby elephants - Kariega - I will just stick a photo in after each post to keep you interested.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Port Elizabeth - 'The Friendly?' City

Port Elizabeth - The 'Friendly' City

Can't say I really like Port Elizabeth. I have been staying here at Lungile backpackers which is ok but nothing special. I'm in a 4 bed mixed dorm with 2 German Girls and a Japanese Guy. The 2 'bunk' beds are actually 4 normal beds stacked on top of each other. I am on the bottom with one of the german girls on top of me -( there I go again - stop it now! ). The bed above me has some nice graffiti on its underside and one large stainmark which some previous person has helpfully pointed out in pen by saying "that is pee!". Thanks.

Port Elizabeth itself is just a large port with nothing much to see. Where I am staying is the more upperclass area. It has a nice seafront and lots of tacky hotels and restaurants. There is even a rather touristy casino and leisure complex with lots of cafes and gift shops - but because its off season there is nobody around. Also near the hostel is an Oceanarium which looks really rundown even from the outside. They have dolphin displays daily but there is no way on earth that I am going into the place. Its bad enough that they should have creatures like dolphins in captivity but what makes it worse is that this whole coastline has dolphins aplenty swimming in their natural habitat.

As for other activities. It does offer quite alot in the way of things but every single thing can be done better at other places. We (Claudia and I) did try to book onto an Eco-cruise to see penquins/dolphins etc but they were charging way too much money. For these next two weeks I am going to have to look after my money closely and decide carefully what excursions I want to do or I will never get to South America!

By the way my Jinx seems to have followed me to Port Elizabeth because the two German girls found out yesterday that its not as 'friendly' as it says. They have the same South Africa lonely planet book as me which states that Port Elizabeth's Sea front is 'one of the safest in the country' . What a pity the guy that robbed them at knifepoint, in broad daylight, yesterday didn't know that! They told me that he took a handbag which had everything both of them had: Credit cards, money, cameras and photos of their 2 month journey in Africa so far.

They have 2000 rand left to last them for 6 weeks and are currently trying to get money wired to them from Germany. I was very sympathetic to their plight but all I can really think is:

What the hell possessed you to carry all your stuff in one handbag! I have since distributed all my things from my small rucksack to various parts of my anatomy (Some things are chaffing!)

Tomorrow its on to Plettenberg and hopefully some sea Kayaking amongst whales!

Cute zebra from Kareiga - just before it was ripped to shreds by a lion - only joking!!!!

Claudia Poli - Unsung Hero

I thought I would give Claudia a special mention in my Unsung heroes category even though she is not directly a conservation hero.

When I heard that we were going to be getting a Swedish volunteer at Enkosini I immediately made the quiff about Swedish meatballs and Swedes liking their meat. The fact that she was a vegetarian put paid to that joke. Hey look it was all men at the time - don't judge me!

Even though she was the only female and also vegetarian did not seem to phase her in the slightest. In fact she immediately took over doing most of the cooking (and cleaning!) - even for us meat eaters. We did of course protest but she was having none of it. The fact that she was a really good cook helped matters.

She then persuaded me to go to Kariega - which I shall be forever thankful to her as it was great. Again she tried to take on all the cooking - but this time there was also Ingrid and Jenna to help. I lit the fire!

For the final 3 days it was just me and Claudia volunteering at Kariega so I made the ultimate sacrifice and let her cook vegetarian meals. It was tough but I survived!

So I add Claudia to my list of unsung heros for having to put up with me for the last 4 weeks.

PS Before you lot ask. She is half my age! Anyway she doesn't drink - not my type at all!

Claudia - for a Swede the woman was always cold!

Jacques DeKlerk - Unsung Hero

Jacques DeKlerk (I hope I spelt the surname right) was our volunteer coordinator at Kariega which basically meant that he had to lok after us for the last 2 weeks. He has only been doing the job since January but has already proved to be very adept at it.

His enthusiasm for the job is great and his knowledge of the animals (especially birds) and plants can keep volunteers interested on even the longest game drive.

Some things about him:

He likes nothing better than to whip out his 18 inch canon and point it in the direction of birds! He has even won a couple of competitions with it - ok Raymond enough! What I really mean to say is that he likes to photograph our feathered friends with his canon camera and 500mm lense. His ability to identify a bird (especially flying birds of prey) is very impressive.

He is also good at seeing and identifying animal tracks - though he could be just making it up as I wouldn't have a clue anyway. '4 Lions passed by the qhere very recently' 'Really how can you tell?' 'Cause they are over there looking at us!'

He goes above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to making sure the volunteers enjoy their time off. Off course this usually means forcing them to drink alcoholic beverages such as Straw Rum and springbok cocktails but could also mean having to get on a horse and use his own car to transport people around.

Finally he has big conservation ideas about what he would like to do with Kariega which hopefully he will see happen,especially if he becomes conservation manager, though who is going to be the new volunteer cordinator then?

PS He has a nice girlfriend and a nice mum:

Jacques and his Mum

Monday, September 15, 2008

Port Elizabeth

Quick Post (on top of other posts below)

I have now finished at Kariega and am now in Port Elizabeth at Lungile backpackers.

I will be heading on the Bazbus to Cape town over next week and a half so my posts will be smaller but more often.

Will try to keep the posting going. Keep reading!


Am I a jinx?

The one bad thing about Kariega has been the weather. It hasn't been raining (unlike in Ireland where its been raining all summer - hee hee) but it has been windy sometimes blowing a freezing gale. This obviously makes watching animals a bit harder but has not really spoilt our enjoyment. It just means that instead of being out in a t-shirt and shorts I am usually wearing a fleece and wooly hat.

I am now beginning to think that I am a bit of a jinx when it comes to travelling. Enkosini have already had their fair share of fires fanned by high winds and in other trips I have had slightly bad weather too.


Egypt: When I went there to scuba dive, they had their worst rains in 50 years (its in a desert for god's sake!). The rains were so bad you could actually swim down the street outside our hotel.

Florida: They had a hurricane just before I arrived and were therefore still recovering with a drop of 10 degrees in temperature.

Australia: The day I arrived in Cairns the temperature dropped by 10 degrees and the day I left it went up by 10 degrees.

Stop Press:

I am a jinx! This last day at Kariega started with hugh winds - the worst yet. I woke up to find that the gate to the volunteer centre complex had been blown open - which meant the lions coould have strolled in at any time. I had to quickly close it. then this afternoon it started raining hailstones as big as marbles. Now we are in the middles of a huge thunder storm with lighning flashing all around us and the lights constantly flickering off and on - will probably get a full bla



I couldn't go to Africa without featuring lions! In the time I have been here I have learnt quite a lot about them from people like Mitch and I have seen quite a lot of them in Kruger and Kariega.

Things I have learnt:

Canned hunting is big business here in South Africa - especially for white lions. The lions are bred and then released into a small reserve for rich business men to hunt. Because the lions are used to humans and because the reserve is so small there is no real 'sport' in the hunt. Infact these days you can even hunt lions on the internet. Apparently you can logon to sites where you control the direction of a gun (through a paid hunter) to shoot a lion or other game in your lunch hour. They then chop it up and send you the head for you to hang on your wall as a trophy.

Male lions have a claw on their tails! Noone is quite sure what it is for but it seems to be a remnant from past evolution.

When a lioness starts walking towards your vehicle you start backing up!

Lions are incredibly intelligent. They have been known to herd antelope towards fences in game reserves in order to trap them. In Kruger park they chase giraffe onto roads where they slip and fall on the tarmac.

Views of Lions:

In Kruger the best view i got was of a pride of lions eating a zebra. They were mostly hidden in trees but you could see them gnawing away on the legs.

However the best view was of the pride in Kariega. There is a old disused quarry near the volunteer station. On thu last week we went there to get gravel for making concrete for a new braai Just as I was about to jump out of the game vehicle Jacques said we had better look round the corner first. Its just as well he did as there were all 4 lions just round the bend. We sat watching them for a while from the quarry and then one by one they walked right past us down the road. We tried to go after them but they decided to do an about turn and head back up to the quarry - which prompted a quick reverse back up the road!

Another featured animal - flies which are currently flying into my beer as I am writing this - little f"£kers.

Lists update

List update for 15th Sep

Beers I have drank:

Mitchells Forester Draught. According to Jacques its the best beer in S. Africa. It is good on Draught but there is also a Mitchells bitter which I will hunt out on my travels.

Things I have lost/Broken:

Sunglasses: 2nd pair broken. I have decided to give up on sunglasses and just wear glasses instead - I can actually see things then!

Cap: I am surprised that I have been able to keep both my baseball caps for so long. I think I left one on the bus from Lydenberg. It gave me a good excuse to buy a Kariega Cap. I also bought a Kariega T-shirt. My plan was to buy a T shirt from each of the conservation places I visit but they only had Medium in Enkosini which was 'slightly' too tight for me.

Animals I have seen:

Rain Spider 5th Sep Kariega volunteer centre.
I don't normally repeat animals I have seen but in this case I will make a special exception. This is because the rain spider I seen on the 3rd was about 1/4 of the size off the one I seen on the 5th. As I seen this spider (which was about the size of my hand) right beside my bed there was no way I was going to sleep with it around! So I got an empty large margarine tub and proceeded to stalk it with my headlamp on. After several unsuccessful attempts I managed to catch and take it outside. My mother always told me that when you throw a spider out you are supposed to place it on the ground and tell it not to come back. I decided that rather than do that I would fling it as far as I could and run like fuck.

White breasted Cormorant: 8th Sep Kariega (canoe trip) (J)

Cape Cormorant: 8th Sep Kariega (canoe Trip) (J)

Yellow-billed duck 8th Sep Kariega (J)

Jackall Buzzard 5th Sep Kariega (J)

Crowned Eagle 10th Sep Kariega (J)

Secretary Bird 9th Sep Kariega (J) In the distance. I am hoping to get a proper view of one before I leave Kariega.

Sandpiper (yet to be identified properly) (p)

Speckled mousebird 8th Sep Kariega (Ingrid - I never get to identify any birds here!)

Fiery necked Nightjar 9th Sep Kariega (nightdrive) (j) (great view of another one in spotlight fliting about on 11th)

Yellow-billed barbet 8th Sep Kariega (J)

Black headed Oriole 8th Sep Kariega (ME) (p)

Paradise Flycatcher 8th Sep Kariega (Ingrid)

Southern Double collared sunbird 7th Sep Kariega (ME) (p)

Fiscal Shrike 8th Sep Kariega (J)

Red winged starling 7th Sep Kariega (me)

Giant Kingfisher 12th Kariega (j)


Kariega Game Reserve (sorry for the large post - did a lot)

A bit of info on Kariega Game reserve (it means steenbok in Xhosa which is daft as there has never been any steenbok found here). Its touted as a 'Big Five' reserve as it has Lions, Leopards, Elephants, Rhino and Buffalo, but the chances of seeing leopard are very remote. Seeing the others is virtually guaranteed. Its really 3 small reserves of 3000 hectres each. The main section contains a single small pride of lions (2 male, 2 female) and a single herd of elephants (17 in total) There is not enough room for any more than that. It does have a lot of antelope and other game (lion fodder). The lions have been there 4 years and have been given periodic contraception to stop them breeding. Somebody, however, cocked up somewhere as one of the lionesses has just given birth. Nobody has seen the cubs yet as they have gone into hiding. Hopefully we will see them before we leave.

Our volunteer centre is right in the middle of this section of reserve - surrounded by a fence which is NOT electrified. The reasoning behind this is that the animals should be conditioned to associate any fence as being electrified and so should not try to climb over (or just barge right through in the case of elephants). I hope we never have to put this conditioning to the test! It does also mean that the centre is completely safe from robbery - who needs a 'muti' when you have a pride of lions as guard dogs!

The other main section of the reserve is where all the paying guests stay and has the buffalo, rhino and other game such as hippo, giraffe eland etc. It even has a single gemsbok and two female ostrich. There were a lot more ostrich but they were originally placed in the lion section and the lions basically had KFC any time they wanted it.

The last section has just recently been purchased and is not completely up and running yet although it does have some stock on it.

My last two weeks as a volunteer have been very varied and rewarding in work, leisure and socialising

Here is a quick rundown of what I have been doing (in a vaguely cronological order)

Game drives: Basically every trip here is a game drive - even going over to reception or the workshop means that you go through lion or rhino country. Most days have consisted of at least 2/3 hours of animal watching. This has included some great views of the lions, rhino, zebra and some fantastic birdsightings.

Black wattle removal: Black wattle is a non native tree from Australia which is invading areas all along the Eastern Cape. Part of the work the volunteers carry out is to remove both large trees and saplings. For chopping down the large trees we were given machettes. YES they let me loose with a machette! Ok it was blunt, and a saw would have been a lot better but I still felt like a real bushman (Ray Mears eat your heart out!)

All that 'Maddog Machette Ray' would say about the Kariega Masacre was 'The mouse made me do it!'

Braai Night: Saturday's are reserved for town trips and on the 6th after our trip to Port Alfred for internet and shopping for essentials we had a braai night. As this was Ingrid's last weekend it quickly degenerated into a boozing session which included springbok cocktails and drinking some Hakkiesdraad, a drink distilled from lychii. The bottle has barbed wire wrapped around it which is a good indication of what it does to your throat. At 4am having drank most of my 3 days supply of booze (and some of Jacques) I retired to bed.

Things I have learnt: Its a great feeling to have a drunken piss, out in the open, looking up at the stars while listening to lions roar in the background.

Said bottle being held by Ingrid - it was perfectly in focus whenI took it honest!

Canoe Trip: Our Canoe trip on the 8th was not as pleasant as it could have been. This was partly due to the paddles which seemed to have been designed to transfer as much water as possible from the river into the canoe but mostly because of the crosswind which kept blowing us into the bank. Still it was enjoyable and I got good views of some birds. Kariega also have a boat for more sedate cruising but its being fixed at the moment which is a bit of a bummer.

Things I have learnt: DO NOT try to take photos of flying birds in a canoe as you tend to try to follow the bird rather than keep an eye on the canoe's balance. Luckily after several wobbles the canoe steadied itself!.

Nightdrive: One of the advantages of being a volunteer (over guests) is that Jacques can take us on nightdrives which we did on the 9th. Everything was going great, we seen a jackal scavenging on a lion kill, got great views of the elephant herd on the top of a hill (we nearly missed them!) and cornered a genet up a tree. Then just as we were about to enter rhino country we heard a noise from the wheel which turned out to be a long length of barbed wire caught around the cv joint and axle. Jacques and myself had to get out of the vehicle and cut the wire free. Luckily this did not happen on the lion part of the reserve. Ingrid (the Scottish wannabe volunteer) had already told us about another breakdown of the volunteer vehicle, this time on the lion section - with the lions lying 3 feet away. Apparently they had to wait for another vehicle to come and shoo away the lions before they could be rescued which took over an hour (with one male volunteer lying terrified in the front passenger seat and one female volunteer texting her mother to say 'I love you!'). This could possibly explain why, once we had removed the wire, Jacques drove the broken vehicle back through the lion section like a rally driver. One good thing to come out of this is that we got a loan of a better vehicle for the rest of our stay.

To compound the bad luck after the night drive, we also discovered the next morning that Jacques 4x4 had a flat and we had to change to the spare tyre.

Things that I have learnt: 4x4 spare tyres are very bouncy and my chin is not.

New Section: Another advantage of being a volunteer is that we got to see the new section of Kariega which has a lot more vegetation but also has a riverside drive and a footbridge put together with wire strands for handrails and badly holed chickenwire for walking on. I went as far as the middle before reversing back (turning round on the bridge was not advisable!)

You want me to cross that!

'Stalking' (sort of!):
The day before our return trip to the school we went hunting for of all things trees! It was arbour week in South Africa so as part of the community initiative we were going to plant 4 trees at the school. We initially looked for wild plum but the elephants are very fond of this tree and had eaten any saplings. Instead we went looking for wild olive. We did eventually find one sapling which we proceeded to dig up in double quick time (we were in lion territory after all) the rest of the trees we were able to get from the volunteers own nursery. All this leads me on to...

School II - the revenge!:
I have to say that after my first attempt at teaching I have a new found respect for any teachers I know. Myself and Claudia were to do the same class as last time and this time we thought we were better prepared. On the Satuday town trip we had bought new colouring books and toys for the playground. As we arrived the children where lining up to go into their classrooms. They then proceeded to sing! It was all very african harmonic and it almost brought a tear to my eye. We just about controlled the classroom for the first hour with the colouring. Then the real teachers came and ushered the kids outside to help plant the trees. The headmistress made speeches to the kids and Jacques took photgraphs as we helped plant each of the saplings (right beside the dead twigs from previous plantings). Then it was back to the classroom for more colouring. This time we totally lost control and soon took the kids out to play.

We had bought a football, a hulahoop, a frisbee and 3 tennis balls to help try to keep the kids amused. Claudia tried using the hulahoop and tennis balls for educational games like 'what is your favouite animal'. I just grabbed the football and along with half the kids went kicking and screaming around the playground (to hell with education - kick a football!) After 10 minutes of running around the kids had managed to burst the football and bent the hulahoop out of shape. After another 15 minutes all the other toys had disappeared never to be seen again and the kids started getting bored again - which meant they started punching and kicking each other (and me).

Finally 11:30 they lined up to get their free food and it was time for us to go. I have to say that I woke up that morning dreading going to the school but I was sad when we left - but I'll get over it!

PS Ingrid - if you are reading this all the kids in your class passed the exam you set them so well done!

Things I have learnt: Its no good shouting at kids in English when they only speak Xhosa - you just look stupid.

Prickly Pear Spearing:
I thought that this was going to be fun but I was wrong. Prickly pear is another invasive species and the way they deal with it is to spear the stem and then inject poison into the holes. I had this vision of me, spear in hand, masaai warrior like, attacking these spikey plants. I even started humming 'The Bare Necessities' on the way. As well as us volunteers Jacques also had to pick up two high school kids who were on work experience at the reserve - both in short shorts (what the hell is it with these people!). We were doing the spearing near to the buffalo so Jacques had to find out where Kariega's 4 Buffalo where before we could proceed just in case. I had already figured out that if the buffalo were to charge us, a well placed tug by me would render one kid running with his short shorts round his ankles. So I was safe!

It was when we started spearing the cactus that it ceased to be fun, They were all about to flower. This meant that as well as 3 inch thorns sticking out the plants were also producing hair-like miniature needles that got on your clothes and hands and proceeded to embed themselves into your skin. You never told us about that Ingrid! (in your defence Jacques said that you had not worked on flowering plants).

After doing one section of cactus - which resulted in needles sticking in everywhere (I am still removing them now two days later!) we were to move on to another setion. Instead we ran into the buffalo (almost literally) in the middle of the road and a stand-off ensued which we lost resulting in us having to reverse back up the track as the buffalo nonchalently advanced. We went and did some black wattle sapling pulling instead (Thank you buffalo!)

Horse Riding:
Last Saturday we went horse riding near Kenton-on-Sea. My bum was only just getting back to normal after the quad madness of Enkosini but it was still one of the best experiences of the trip so far. We first picked up Jacques girlfriend Monique who was coming with us. Then we went to meet Jono the guide and get kitted out. We started off riding up through dunes until we came to an absolutely fantastic looking beach which we trotted down onto. Once on the beach Jono got us all to start cantering down the shoreline. Over a year ago I got 2 lessons on horse riding. The lessons showed me the basics like how to sit, how to hold the reins, how to turn and how to trot. Of course when my horse started going like blazes down the beach all that training went out the window and all I could think was: Oh shit! Oh shit! Don't fall off! Don't fall off!, Ouch! Ouch! Me arse! Me Arse! Great fun - once it was over!. Afterwards we went to Homewoods - the pizza place in Kenton-on-Sea and proceeded to have some cheesecake washed down with draught beer while watching Rugby (Tri-nations Final). A great morning's entertainment.

Well more of a tree platform next to the volunteer centre which is a great place to watch the sunset while watching antelope feed beside the house. I only did this once - on the Saturday night after the horseriding (with aching legs) due to the weather but it was a very memorable experience.

As I said its been a great two weeks except for the weather.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Quick post

Hi All

I have not finalised some of my Kariega posts (did not know I was going to be on internet today) so I have only posted two posts. I will be in Port Elizabeth on Monday when I start my travels to Cape town backpacking so I will update more then.

In mean time it seems that some people are actually reading this blog so a couple of things. Could you please click on the google ads. If you do I actually get some money - not alot but put it this way the more money I make the longer I will be away so its in your own interests to do so.

Also say to other people so they can click too - MAKE ME MONEY!

Oh one other thing bold italics in the mails have extra text if you place your pointer on them - just in case you did not know.

More to follow.

Greg Mitchell - Unsung Hero

Unsung Hero, Greg Mitchell - Enkosini co-owner

Greg Mitchell or 'Mitch' could be described as a mild mannered, soft spoken gentleman, who uses his diplomacy and people skills to help the cause of conservation. Of course if anyone described him as that he would probably brow beat them to death with his handgun!

Mitch used to be a sergeant in the South African Army, with stints in Angola and it shows. If Mitch tells you to jump you don't say 'How high' you say 'Off which Cliff?'. Given the choice between running into a bush fire and Mitch's wrath I'll take the bush fire any day. If diplomacy means shouting and swearing a lot then he would be president of the country. He is a self confessed people hater - it doesn't matter who.

Having said all that his passion for conservation is overwhelming and infectious. He used to work with lions (what else!) and was a vigorous campaigner against canned hunting. Enkosini was originally a lion sanctuary but because of his outspoken views he rubbed up too many people who had money to burn (or rather bribe people). The lions he was protecting were taken away from him under the pretence that Enkosini was an unfit environment - something that was totally untrue. He is still hopeful of seeing his lions again - assuming they have not been sold to the highest bidder.

Now he and his partner Kelcey are trying to turn Enkosini into a mountain game reserve where conservation volunteers can come and work, do hikes and horse back riding amongst wildlife and spectacular scenery. Unfortunately the current political situation in South Africa is making this dream virtually impossible. Already mining interests have come to check if there are any minerals worth extracting (thankfully there weren't). At any time the government might decide to do a compulsory purchase of the land based on farm valuation, not the potentially more valuable eco-tourism. If that happens all the time and money that they have ploughed into the place will have been for nothing. With any luck the place will be completed and they can finally start stocking it with game.

One other thing about Mitch. He may be as hard as nails but when it comes to animals he's soft as shite. My residing memory of him will not be the manic roaring at people to put out fires but him running around the grounds of his house shouting 'here wicky wicky' so he can get his beloved vervet monkeys in to the safety of his house.

Greg Mitchell, a peoples man - um, no! A conservation hero - definitely.

Booking agents Rant

Time for another rant!

Conservation Holidays aren't cheap but I always thought that most of the money you hand over when booking one went to the project or organisation that you were working with. How wrong was I! It seems that all those great websites that have all these wonderful volunteer projects - both conservation and humanitary take up to 60% of the money themselves and give nothing in return.

Organisations like I-to-I, GVI or Gapyear take the lionshare of your money for doing next to nothing. All they are is glorified booking agents. A lot of them don't even give you information on how to travel to your project - they just take the money and run.

Enkosini as a booking agent seem to take the least percentage and at least you know any profit goes to conservation but I would not bother with any of the other sites.

My advice is if your going to go for a volunteer holiday then find what you want through the booking agents site then trace the actual organisation and contact them directly. If they say that you have to go through their booking agency then tell them to go Fuck themselves! There are plenty of places that you can go to (eg Eco centar in Croatia) without giving a shitload of your money to a third party so they can piss off to Benidorm in a big yacuht

Shower of Bastards thats what they are.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Kruger photos

I have been having trouble getting photos posted - I might have to give up but here are some Kruger ones.

Kariega - 3rd Sep

First a quick update of Enkosini. The house and chalets were saved from the fire which they managed to put out. The next day they had another fire in a different part of the reserve which they also managed to put out so everything is back to normal.

In the mean time I have flown to Port Elizabeth and have started working on Kariega an up and running game reserve near Grahamstown.

What a difference to Enkosini! Here they have proper buildings for the volunteers and inside plumbing! I have my own room (being the only male volunteer) and have duvet covers (heat!). The kitchen is the same size as the whole ranger house at Enkosini. Its luxury. For my very first morning I was treated to the sight of impala and wildebeest grazing just outside the fence that surrounds the volunteer complex.

After breakfast on the first morning I was presented with my biggest challenge so far on this trip. More terrifying than a bushfire and more energy zapping than a 10 mile hike - teaching kids at the local school!

As part of Kariega's community project, every Wednesday volunteers spend the morning trying to teach the local children English using school material donated by previous volunteers. The class we were given contained about 25 children of various ages which were split amongst 3 volunteers. I got the youngest kids - 5 in total who were all about 5 or 6 years of age. The plan was simply to let them colour in pages torn from a colouring book. I would hand them a colouring pencil each and then when they wanted a different colour they would hand back the one they had and ask for the next pencil (hopefully asking for the colour in english).

It went fine for the first 2 seconds - the first kid asked for a red pencil. Then all the other kids asked for red pencils! Luckily I had more than one set of pencils. After 5 seconds and seemingly every 5 seconds after that the kids all wanted to change their pencils so I was constantly taking pencils in and handing out other pencils. One kid decided to hoard every pencil he got and refused to give back any. The concept of trying to use English to ask very quickly went out the window and they just pointed or simply took the pencil they wanted from me. They then started taking the pencils from each other which resulted in fights over the pencils or the colouring paper. After 30 minutes they started wandering off to join the older kids groups. By this stage the other groups were also wandering around the room and the whole place was turning into complete chaos. Jacques, our volunteer coordinator arrived into the room to see how things were going. I asked him what time it was to which he replied 10:30 - only another hour to go!

At about 11 we were allowed to take all the kids out to play until their break at 11:30. Initially we couldn't think of anything to play until I suggested 1,2,3 red light. That worked for about 5 minutes then we moved on to blindman's buff - me being the blindman which meant that all the kids got to kick and thump me while a ran around with my fleece over my head.

At 11:30 we could relax as it was now break time. It was at his point that we seen why a lot of these kids come to school - free food. All the kids lined up to be given a handout of rice and beans. I was told later that some of children walk over 5 miles a day to get to the school. It put everything into perspective.

We will be back next week, hopefully better prepared. In the mean time I am determined to get some balls or something so they can play properly outside.

After lunch we were taken on a drive around part of the game reserve by Jacques then we went to near by Kenton on Sea for Pizza and beer. Great pizza - got a take away one for the next day (diet is not going well)

As an inauguration ceremony for new volunteers I also had to take shots of springbok and some local 80proof rum - which tore the back of my throat off. Ingrid, another volunteer joined in the shot taking (she claims to be Scottish as she was born in Edinburgh but has an English accent - she certainly drinks like a Scot!)

Finally it was back to the volunteer house, wherein Ingrid produced some chocolate liqueurs for the end of the night. Good way to end my first full day at Kariega.

List update for 5th Sep

Beers I have drank:

Urbock Bock beer 7%
According to the off license ower it is only brewed once a year. A nice beer - basically rocket fuel.

Some beer called tasve or something which was ok but nothing special. I just tried hoking for it in the bin to see what it was called but its been covered over by food. Perhaps too many urbock drank at his point!

Millbrook lager: On draft at the restaurant in Kariega, It seemed to have some sort of sediment in it but was not a wheat beer - not good!

Animals I have seen: never got to update this on last post so will do it now. Any ones with J beside them were really identified by Jacques the volunteer coordinator at Kariega - So I've been cheating!

One of the downsides to living in reasonably comfortable accommodation is that some animals also like to do the same so the following ones I have spotted inside the volunteer centre:

Mouse: 3rd Sep Kariega volunteer centre - specifically my room at 2am in the morning. I must admit I nearly jumped up on a chair when I seen it but after a while you get used to it.

Rain Spider: 3rd sep Kariega volunteer centre - again my room - its a bloody great big spider which was sitting on my wall at two in the morning - oh and has now just reappeard from behind a picture.

Cockroach: 4th Sep Kariega volunteer centre - kitchen everytime you go there at night!

Other Animals

Black backed Jackel 4th Sep Kariega

Eland 5th Sep Kariega (p)

Gemsbok 4th Sep Kariega

Red Hartebeest 4th Sep Kariega.

Blesbok 4th Sep Kariega.

LEOPARD! (tortoise) 4th Sep Kariega - slightly easier to spot then leopard!

Ostrich 4th Sep Kariega.

Black headed Heron: 5th Sep Kariega (J)

African Goshawk: 4th Sep Kariega (J)

Yellow-billed Kite 4th Sep Kariega (J)

Jackell Buzzard 5th Sep Kariega (J)

Crested Eagle 3rd Sep Kariega (J) (p but very bad shot)

Crowned Lapwing 5th Sep Kariega (J) (p)

Hoopoe 3rd Sep Kariega (ME!)

Spotted eagle owl 3rd Sep (J - but I could have got it - eventually!) (p)

Crowned Hornbill 5th Sep (Ingrid seen them first!)

Stonechat 5th Sep (Same as at home!)

Red winged Starling 5th Sep Kariega (Me)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The end of Enkosini? 29th - 1st Sep

My last few days at Enkosini have not the best days of my life to say the least.

It started out fine. On the morning of the 29th we had to tow one of the quads to a local farmer so that repairs could be carried out. Ranger Chas rode the towed quad which meant that I got to drive his. Up until now I have been a passenger on the back. Quad bikes are not designed for taking passengers but then I don't think that matters when there is a fire and you have to transport people from one place to another fast. (sometimes 3 people on dirt tracks at 50mph). There are no seats for passengers, only bars which means your arse gets really sore. Having never been to prison I have nothing to compare the feeling to but I would assume it would be like having somebody drag you over corrugated Iron on your backside.

After the quad Chas took me, Claudia and Nick back to Enkosini Falls so we could actually go for a dip. After an hour of hiking (mostly downhill) we arrived at the falls. This was when everything began to go pearshaped. Just as we were starting to relax Chas got a call to say that there was a fire at the other side of the Reserve. We had to go back to the main road as quick as possible and wait fot instructions. So the one hour hike downhill now turned into the most gruelling uphill climb I have ever done. I felt like my chest was going to explode - obviously I was bringing up the rear being the old unfit codger (just think of beer I told myself!).

Eventually I got to the road. We (the volunteers) were instructed to go back to the ranger station and wait because the fire was too dangerous for us to work on. We spent the rest of that day in the ranger station listening to the radio for communications on how things were going. They did manage to put the fire out and the next day Mitch took the fence workers to Joberg on an errand while the rangers kept an eye on the burnt area.

Everything appeared to be fine but at 6:30 the next morning we got the f word call again and we all had to go to the far side of the reserve. Another fire had crept round the mountain near to the previous one. Because it was so far up the mountain all we could do was watch and wait until it came down far enough to tackle. While we were waiting another plume of smoke started rising from the North of the reserve - near to the main house. This one was potentially more dangerous than the first one so everyone had to leave to fight it.

We spent the rest of the afternoon battling with this second fire succeeding eventually in getting one side of it out. The other side was creeping down a deep ravine which there was no way to get to - all we could do was watch and hope it would burn itself out.

That left the first one again. Two rangers, Adam and Scott (there are only 3 btw) had been trying unsuccessfully to control the first fire. By this stage Mitch had returned from joberg so we all went back to the first fire to assess the situation. It was nearly 11pm by the time we got back to it. It only took Mitch a second to decide that the wind was too strong and had made it unstoppable. It too was now heading directly for the main house. The only thing we could do was to go to the main house and douse all the buildings with water. From being nearly roasted in the afternoon while tackling the flames we were now to become freezing cold as we turned hoses onto the chalets and other buildings thatched roofs (the only way to get the water pressure high enough for the roofs was to place your thumb over the end of the hose which meant it went over everything - including you).

At 2am, everyone zonked out on the sofas in the main house to try to get some sleep and wait.

At 5.30 this morning Claudia and myself had to be transported back to
the Ranger station to pack as we had to head off to joberg. As we left all we knew was that the rangers were out fighing the fire as it moved towards the house.

At the moment I am writing this post from the comfort of my hostel bed in Joberg. I do not know what the situation is with the two fires (I have no way of contacting them as we did not get time to exchange numbers). I will hope to get an update in the next day. I only hope that the end of my time at Enkosini is not also the end of Enkosini.

List update 31st Aug

List update for w/e 31st Aug

Beers I have drank:

Hansa Pilsner: South African 4.5%
Hansa Marzen Gold: South African 5.2%
I prefer the gold to the pilsner - probably because its got more bite!

Animals that have bitten/peed on me:
My first proper animal bite - from Guyas, one of Mitch's vervet monkeys. I was just standing, minding my own business when the wee shit jumped up on me and bit me on the back!
I can see it now when I am at the Shark project: Everyone is comparing shark scars just like in the scene from Jaws and then they get to me and I show them my wound. "What did that Ray, a Tiger shark?" "No a 1 foot high monkey!"

I also nearly got bitten by a large spider which happened to be sitting on the ranger toilet seat one night. Luckily I seen it in time - I doubt it was venonous anyway. Got me thinking of another movie scenario:
Me running into the Ranger station shouting
"I've been bitten by a venomous spider I need somebody to suck out the venom!"
"Where were you bitten"
"Here" dropping my trousers.
"Yeah right Ray! Nice knowing ya!"

Items lost/broken
Nothing! In fact I even found my phone!

Vervet Monkey Sanctuary

Return to the Vervet Monkey Sanctuary - Da Da Da!

On the 27th Aug we went back to the monkey sanctuary. Primarily this was to build a pond in the new enclosure but it was also to show Claudia (new volunteer) what the place was like. On the way there we bumped into one of Mitch's old friends who invited us all out to a local Africaan pub. So that night we went to 'On the rocks' a pub/restaurant near the vervet sanctuary.

On arrival we were met by the sound of live music eminating from the open air bar. Music which turned out to be duelling harmonicas - the place would be best described as slightly red-necked. The only women other than Claudia and Juliet (a monkey sanctuary volunteer who we rescued for the night) were Mitch's friend's wife and the owners wife. After the live music we were entertained by one of the harmonica players as he put on his Kevin Blady Wilson CD and then sang along to songs such as:

Santa ya c£$t wheres me f"£king bike
D.I.L.L.I.G.A.F (Do I look like I give a F£$k!)
Stick ya f"£King phone up your f"£king ass
and the clasic
Do ya f"£k on first dates, (Does your dad own a brewery)

I got him to place them all on my USB pen for downloading later!

Then it was time for food. We were all asked what we would like to eat (That is T-Bone steak and chips alright for everyone) Claudia told them she was a vegetarian which prompted the initial reply "oh so you want chicken" then after checking what they had they came back and asked her if she ate fish. Eventually she got pizza and some salad.

After dinner (which was really good - and paid for by Mitch;s friend!) we were inticed with an after dinner shot of sambucca. Except for Mitch and his friend nobody else drank the shots so I had to step up to the plate and drank the rest of them (it was my duty after all). Nick who is an 18 year old american and has never had a drink had a "springbok" a concoction of amorohla and creme de menthe. Next morning he had a hang-over and puked up - welcome to alcohol Nick!

Finally once our food had settled everyone started dancing - to country music (I nearly puked at this point!) Nick and Juliet (both yanks) started line dancing. At one point I joined in by doing some of my badly attempted Irish dancing (arms by side and legs flinging around like I was having an epileptic fit). After a while we were able to decide what to play on the juke box (the juke box being the harmonica player's laptop) and found some reasonably decent music. This prompted some of the other punters to start dancing. I should point out that all white South Africans seem to wear shorts all the time - obvious enough for a hot country but some of them wear really short shorts and some of them just should not be allowed to wear shorts - like the "stout" guy who started dancing and trying to feel Juliets ass.

Eventually it was time to go back to our tents at the monkey sanctuary. All in all it was a great nights entertainment.

The next day we built the pond (or rather stood around watching Mitch's workers build the pond). Apparently vervet monkeys love to swim and Mitch is determined that the monkeys in his enclosure have as much water as they want. The water situation for the monkeys in the sanctuary is not good. In the large enclosures there are drip taps that the monkeys can use themselves but for the ones in the cramped cages (some of them are stuck in bird cages!) they only get a drink of water twice a day. They are not given bowls. It must be torture for them. Claudia could not wait to get out of the place. Thankfully after the pond was finished that was exactly what we did.