All creatures great and small….

When you contemplate a trip to Africa – especially East Africa – you think about the Big Five – the Lion, the Leopard, the Elephant, the Rhino and the Buffalo and of course I was thrilled to spot these on my recent trip to Tanzania – all except the elusive leopard.

Our guide however opened up a whole new world of “game spotting” to us in the most unexpected way.  We spent a fascinating twenty minutes watching a dung beetle rolling and pushing its dung ball round and round.  Periodically he would climb on top of the ball just to check out the terrain.  Who is the dung beetle’s enemy?  Well birds for one as well as bats, reptiles and other insect eaters who would just love a juicy dung beetle – a bit like us during lobster season on the East Coast.

Such patience … watch …

And what about the safari ants?  We have all had ants in the house and what a nuisance they can be.  We stopped and watched columns of ants – thousands and thousands of them – marching across the road.  You have heard the story about elephants being afraid of mice – well it is actually these safari ants they are really afraid of.  They can climb up an elephant’s trunk and hang on with their pincers and there is nothing the poor elephant can do to shake it out.  Our guide had seen elephants bashing their trunks up against tree trunks in an attempt to get rid of this pesky intruder.  They are so scared of ants that they can smell them and avoid them like the plague and as always in Africa there is a way to make nature work for everyone.  Local villagers who farm water melons have a terrible time with the ellies who just love the sweet taste of watermelon and when you bear in mind that elephants consume between 400 and 600 pounds of vegetation a day.  That’s a lot of watermelons.  The villagers know the elephants hate the ants so a few bags of sugar sprinkled around the field attract the ants and voila!  You have an instance elephant proof security fence!

The best small thing about Tanzania – the children!  Our visit to a local kindergarten was heart warming and entertaining.

 

 

 

 

 

Waste not, want not

I just watched Gravity – what an amazing film.  It really has some tense moments and I found myself clenching my teeth throughout most of the 90 minutes.  One thing though that stuck in my mind long after the happy ending was the debris in space that caused all the problems to begin with.  Don’t we just do that all over the world – leave our rubbish to spoil the environment.  Now we are doing it in space.  Wow.  Pretty bad behaviour.

Everest is another example.  When you plan your ascent you are asked to take a plastic bag to the top with you so you can bring some garbage down off the mountain with you.  Shame on those climbers who scattered their litter all over Everest.  You would think someone who would love mountains so much that they would be prepared to pay the large amount of money it costs to fly there, get to base camp, buy all the equipment would at least have the common sense to want to leave the area in a pristine condition.

It reminds me of the first cruise I ever took – on the Odysseus part of one of the cruise lines now defunct and not operating.  She was just a 12.000 ton old cruise ship but we followed a magnificent 21 day itinerary from Durban all the way up to the Seychelles.  We stopped at remote islands like Aldabra where the giant tortoises roam and browsed through markets in the Comores where the women all wore white paint on their faces and swarmed around my little blond haired boy in amazement.  Yes it was a remote and beautiful part of the world but one of the passengers who liked to fish off the back of the boat came and alerted us that every evening there would be a mass dumping of orange garbage bags off the back of the ship.  We were appalled and some people argued with the crew who just shrugged their shoulders.  They had no other method to deal with the disposal of garbage and I guess this was the way it was done in those days.  Shame on them!

Even in Communist Poland everything was recycled – of necessity perhaps – but it was done.  When you wanted toilet paper you would take your paper products to the recycling depot.  It would be weighed and then you would receive the equivalent amount of toilet paper in return.  That puts a whole new meaning to the phrase “I need to go”.  Yes first you had to go and recycle.

Nowadays there is far more scrutiny on how players in the tourism business work with the environment, which is a good thing. So next time you head up Everest bring back the best souvenir of all – your rubbish!

Things you ask your travel agent

My lips are sealed

My lips are sealed

Being a travel agent is sometimes like being a priest.  People have to tell you things that you cannot ever tell anyone else and sometimes people have requests that might seem bizarre.  But again the rule applies – My lips are sealed.

That’s why I was surprised but intrigued to read an article posted in an Australian publication where travel agents listed the sort of things that customers had asked them.  Maybe the Australians are very different to us?  I don’t really think so but some of these questions / requests had me scratching my head or giggling with delight.

Here are my favourites -

“I received a request from a client to drive his Mercedes SL500 for eight weeks while he was on holidays and take it for its regular service. As a good agent, I kindly accepted!” …. Hey I will do that for anyone.  Honestly!  I won’t even charge a fee.

coin-slot-tattoo“A client wanted to stay at a casino in Las Vegas that has slot machines in the male toilets. I couldn’t satisfy this request as casino rules state there must be cameras on all gaming machines and of course, no cameras are allowed in bathrooms.” … I would say he has a problem.

“I had a male client ask how many pairs of underwear should he get his wife to pack for him!” …. She should have told him he should be doing his own packing.

crying baby“I answer the phone to a new inquiry … ‘I would like to send my child unaccompanied to Montevideo’. I explained that on the particular route there are some planes changes and that it could be tricky, asked the ‘mum’ how old was the minor. She answered, five months! When I informed her that it was not possible, her response was, don’t the airhostesses take care of them?” …. I would love to hear what flight attendants have to say about that!  As if they don’t have enough to do already.

Well I guess this means that one day in the far distant future when I write my memoirs I can “tell all” ….. or maybe not.

(extracts from Twisted Travel at news.com.au)

 

Ridiculous things to do on a cruise

old cruise picUsed to be that a cruise was something you did to get from point A to point B – like a trans-Atlantic cruise or the trusty mail ships doing their regular run from Southampton to Cape Town.  In those days everyone dressed for dinner and clothes were packed in trunks – and there was lower class, middle class and upper class and never would they meet or eat together.

Boy have things changed!  These huge floating cities have everything you would have imagined to be on Coney Island and more!  The competition is fierce between cruise lines to offer a new feature and we have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.  Here’s a list of ridiculous things to do on a cruise and I am not talking about the hairy chest competition -

Stand in a line up to get into a large glass bubble which rotates over the ship for half an hour.

quantum

 

 

 

 
Stand in a line up to get into a pressurised large tube where forced air pushes you up off your feet so you can imagine you are skydiving.

RipCord

 

 

 

 

 

Go for a walk on a glass pavement suspended over the ship (be sure to wear your undies).
walkway

 

 

 

Get off the deck and out of the sunshine – go put on your ice skates and go to the ice rink…. really?

Wait for an hour on a sea day standing in the boiling hot sun until someone gets out of the hot tub so you can squeeze in with a bunch of half naked people you don’t know.
crowded_jacuzzi

 

 

 

Help – I am deserting ship!

Dirty little secrets

borderI love watching Border Security – the documentary series that follows the events at the border both at airports and on the road.  Having spent so much time in airports myself it is just fascinating to watch what people will try to take into another country.  It’s not just the drugs but the other stuff – like weird food or tens of thousands of dollars in cash packed in your checked luggage ????

But come on!  Have you ever brought anything into Canada when returning from a trip that you didn’t declare?  What about that fancy purse you bought in Vegas?  The one where you cut off all the tabs and filled it with your personal stuff and then ditched the old one at the hotel?  C’mon – you know you did it!

Just filling in the declaration form on the flight is bound to bring tears to your eyes when you jot down a list of what you spent.  This can’t be right, you think to yourself.

Just say you do get stopped at a “random” check.  OK so you’re clean.  But what the heck were you thinking about when you bought that apron in Florence for your best friend?  You know which apron I mean – the one with the close up and very very personal picture of David?
embarrassed-chimpanzee

 

 

Or why would you have 10 individually wrapped bars of soap in your suitcase as well as eight shower caps, six bottles of shower gel and two coathangers?  Really?  Not to mention the three cans of olive oil and two tins of truffles.  These are not generally a problem (except maybe to the hotel from whence you filched said coathangers) but you really run into problems with some food items.

Talking of smuggling food reminds me of a time back in Swaziland where we had a Cholera epidemic.  The Swazi authorities decided to ban all fruit and veg from coming across the border in South Africa.  Well the fact of the matter was that most of our fruit and veg came from South Africa and nothing was coming into the Swazi shops.  I’m talking lettuce, cucumbers, apples.  Those who had green thumbs were to be envied and if you went to a dinner party and there was a lettuce salad you were the bee’s knees!

???????????????????????? So…. we went shopping in Johannesburg and I confess I could not resist the package of Granny Smiths green apples.  I just had to have them.  Now the border guards were pretty thorough and would search the cars for evidence of edible contraband.  Clever me though had an idea.  Let’s put the apples in the engine under the hood just before we get to the border and then we can stop around the corner and take them out again.  Easy peasey!  Until the very friendly Swazi policeman asked for a ride into town.  Oops!  We drove and drove and I could just picture in my mind my lovely packet of apples bumping along next to the battery under the hood.

FINALLY – we dropped him off with much thank you’s and clapping of hands as the Swazis do….. whipped around the corner and stopped to open up the hood to find…… yes – a very large soft package of stewed apples.

That will teach me!

Last night I had dinner in Mozambique

Anthony Bourdain enjoying peri peri chicken in Mozambique

Anthony Bourdain enjoying peri peri chicken in Mozambique

Well not actually in Mozambique but it sure felt like it.  Nando’s in Calgary’s North East just had all the trappings plus the amazing food of Portuguese Africa.  It also had all the atmosphere of a Mozambique family restaurant – very loud, very noisy, amazing food, lots of children.

The last time I had dinner in Mozambique was way back during the civil war between Renamo and Marxist Frelimo.  I was living in Swaziland at the time so it was just a short 4 hour drive from Mbabane to Maputo (formerly Lourenco Marques).  It was however a drive punctuated by many road blocks and we were never really sure whether they were soldiers or not.  They did have guns but they were also a pretty ragged looking bunch.  Yes I know what you are thinking.  We must have been crazy!

The Polana Hotel today

The Polana Hotel today

Arriving into Maputo was a shock – many of the buildings were abandoned only half built and had stood that way for a long time during the war.  The gracious old Polana Hotel was still standing and packed full of Eastern Europeans and Russians as the Frelimo Government had strong friendships with the East.

Fast forward to today and Mozambique has moved into a new era.  Brand new shopping malls  in Maputo and fantastic beach front and island resorts.

Indigo Bay Island Resort

Indigo Bay Island Resort

Indigo Bay in Bazaruto – clients of mine described their visit there as “absolute paradise”.

 

 

 

Ibo Island Lodge

Ibo Island Lodge

Ibo Island Lodge is another great choice.  Three historic mansions on the beach in Northern Mozambique now converted to this luxury seaside resort.

Mozambique is the new hot destination in Southern Africa and for those who want to combine some safari with beach time an extension into Mozambique is a great choice.

One thing you can be sure of – you will get that great Mozambique style cooking with lashings of peri peri and the best prawns ever!

I think I can, I think I can

TRAINAre you a train buff?  Does the clickety-clack of the train tracks put you into an instant coma?  There’s a reason why people love train travel – and even more so in these days of Nasty Rotten Cheepo Airlines.  Train travel is so civilised by comparison.  The seats are wide – lots of leg room and you get a view.  Train journeys for the most part seem to be far more “on time” than flights and there is something quite thrilling about stepping onto a train with your luggage without having to go through numerous security checks.

Some favourite train rides?  Definitely the one from Zurich into Ötztal in Austria comes to  mind.  Of course everything in Switzerland runs on time.  It’s almost where time was invented.  So when I asked the station master in Zurich what would happen if my train was late he was unable to understand me.  “Trains in Switzerland are never late” he said with a frown.  Oops!  Riding the rails through the spectacular Swiss countryside was a wonderful experience and yes – our connecting time between trains was 3 minutes and the trains were exactly on time.

Likewise our high-speed train from Lyon to Paris was another joy.  Spoil yourself if you do this trip and upgrade to the comfort seats.  The two-hour ride flew by as we munched on freshly made sandwiches accompanied by – what else? – French wine!

trainsleeperBut when I think of train travel I cannot shake off the memories of travelling around Britain on the train – sometimes on very long train rides from Scotland down to the South.  If we were lucky (like posh people) we would get a compartment.  The train steward would come around with blankets and pillows and we would make up the bunk beds and argue about who was going to get the top bunk.  There would be a neat little cupboard which would convert into a private wash hand basin between the bunks but you still had to head out to the end of the corridor for the public loo.  When you pushed down the pedal to flush the toilet you could see the sleepers below rushing past.  That was a source of great fascination.  “Mom, mom – are the train tracks full of people’s poo?”

train toiletAnd then that scary moment when you went into the dining car and to get there you had to cross over that jumping moving surging connector floor thingy that linked the two carriages together.  So much excitement – no wonder we never slept on those overnight train journeys.  Just the rocking of the train and the click clack of the wheels -

got to get there
got to get there
got to get there
got to get there

I think I can
I think I can
I think I can