Category Archives: Africa

Dog Day Morning in Johannesburg

It’s the best day of the week for the dogs of Johannesburg.  That’s a Monday – and it is Piki Tup day.  What an ingenious name for garbage collection – a real African winner.  piki tup

Now the dogs of Johannesburg are generally confined to the front yard behind walls and gates – standing (or lying) on duty to sound the alarm should a stranger think of entering.  Just another layer of security in a city where this is considered the norm.  But you have to agree that any dog would get a bit bored with this – especially if it is just the same old people each day walking past the gate on the way home after work.  So Piki Tup day is – EXCITING!

dogs

You can hear the truck before it arrives.  Hanging onto the sides of the truck are the “pickers” – no automation here – all human interaction.  As they come down the street they announce their arrival with loud whistles…. and the dogs go crazy!  Doesn’t matter if they are the biggest meanest looking Rottweiler or the littlest short-legged, stomach-just-off-the-ground dachshund.  They jump.  They bark.  They run back and forth in front of the gate.  They yell to their mates “Hey here comes the Piki Tup…. come on guys…. can you bark a bit louder?”

It’s not just the Piki Tup trucks that cause such excitement.  Before the trucks even approach, the streets are full of bottle pickers who comb through the Piki Tup bins for anything that can be recycled for money.  What an amazing job they do.  Certain types of paper, plastic and all sorts of bottles are transferred from the wheely bins into huge and unwieldy contraptions balanced on wheels – sometimes cannibalised from baby strollers.  It’s African entrepreneurship at it’s best.  Out on my morning jog I passed by one such bottle picker who filled the street with his beautiful baritone as he sang an old tribal song.  I didn’t know the words – maybe something similar to the Walking Song but this was a Bottle Picking song.  Whatever he was singing about I felt I could just close my eyes and be transported to the depths of rural Zululand.

bottle pickers

I am with the dogs!  I love Piki Tup Day!

You don`t know history

No, really.  Forget Stonehenge, Angkor Watt, the Parthenon, Pompeii …

Yes I know that sounds like sacrilege but it’s true.  Unless you have seen Ancient Egypt you ain’t seen nothing yet.

How come you can visit tombs in the Valley of the Kings in lower Egypt where the paint is still fresh and vibrant looking after 3000 years…. And today we can’t get a paint job for the house that will last at least 10.  It’s mind-boggling.  Let’s consider – the ancient Egyptians were working on sophisticated engineering projects like the pyramids, irrigation, surgical instruments and the use of medicinal herbs while our ancestors (North American / European) were living in caves wearing animal skins.  Makes you think?

If you have a fascination for ancient history – for all things related to what we are today as human beings and how we developed – then Egypt has to be the next place to visit.  Put this country on your bucket list.  There are more important archeological and ancient historical sites in this country than Tim Hortons locations in Canada.

Another very good reason to visit now is that the Canadian Government has lifted the travel ban for Egypt.  The Arab Spring brought democracy to Egypt but it also brought a swift decline in tourism numbers.  Hotels, river cruise operators and tour guides have all suffered through this decline but savvy tourists who visited the country over this time experienced almost private experiences at the pyramids, the tombs and the temples.  Consider the numbers – before the Arab Spring over 200.000 visitors a day arrived at sites such as Luxor and the Valley of the Kings and Queens.  To enter some of the tombs you might feel as if you were at DisneyWorld without an express pass with wait times in line ups of up to 45 minutes for each tomb.  Your photographs of famous sites such as the Temple of Edfu might resemble Times Square on New Year’s Eve due to the number of people visiting.

My experience was very different.  Although there was a fair number of tourists our guide made sure we were up early every morning to get out to the sites in order to be the first people there.  I was able to wander around the terraces of the temple grounds and feel that I was the only person there.  A real opportunity for wonder and reflection.

Some tombs cost a little extra to visit – for example the tomb of King Tutankhamen.  Just four of our group decided to fork out the extra $16 to see his tomb.    Wow – now that was an experience.  The original mummy is there in a sealed glass case.  My husband and I dawdled and the other couple left the tomb.  We just couldn’t believe that we were experiencing a private viewing of King Tut.  Priceless!

Another reason to go now….. plans are afoot to close the original King Tut tomb and replace it with a replica.  There has just been too much damage and the concern is that they want to protect these incredible ancient wonders.  Some tombs are already closed to the general public and not accessible with your permit to visit the Valley of the Kings.  You can still visit these tombs but it will cost …. Some permits cost in the region of $3000 a visit.

Apart from the pyramids and the tombs and temples you will be charmed by the Egyptian people.  They take hospitality to a whole new level and I can honestly say that I felt like an honoured guest wherever I stayed.  Yes it’s hectic and the traffic in Cairo is a nightmare, the streets are dirty, the muezzins call to prayer will wake you at 5 am, the street vendors are persistent in their extravagant compliments as to your smile, your hair, your eyes – anything for a sale.

I loved it….. and I will return.

You should go too.

Air Zimbabwe grounded

Well – that’s a surprise… not.

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

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

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

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

Insomnia in darkest Africa

2.14 am …….I can’t believe I am camping out in a small two man tent in the middle of the African bush and there isn’t even a fence between us and them … the predators.  How did I talk myself into this?  Even more curious… how did I talk my sister into this.  She hates spiders and creepy crawlies so much that she sprayed our tent with DDT and now we can hardly breathe.

This wasn't what I had in mind

2.35 am ….. Holy cow!  What is that noise?  Sounds like hyenas.  Oh… there goes the garbage can.  They must have found the leftovers from the barbecue.  Ugh, I hate hyenas – I know that sounds irrational but they look so primitive and evil.

3.05 am….. Hell’s teeth.  What’s that shouting.  It sounds like Peter.  He’s in the other tent with the kids.  What should I do?  He’s banging on the side of the tent and shouting “Voetsak” (get away in Afrikaans).  Is someone trying to break in.  How do you break into a tent anyway?  Shouldn’t I rush over there and save my babies….. mmmmmm …. where’s that Tiger Mom in me?  Oh yeah – we’re in Africa, not India.  So where is the Lion Mom in me?  Hang on a minute.  It’s gone quiet again.  He must have scared them away.  I’ll be brave and stick my head out of the tent and shout over to him.   zzzzzzzip  zzzzzip – “Are you ok Pete?”  “Yes, go back to sleep”.  Sleep?  Who is he kidding?

3.15 am ….. so what happened to the Ranger.  He said he was going to take the rifle with him and if we needed anything in the night just shout.  He must be as deaf as a post. Shame such a young man too!  Just hope we don’t get a herd of marauding elephant through here.

3.45 am …… I wonder how Trish manages to sleep with her hat on.  She’s had it on all night.  Says it keeps the spiders from falling on her head.  Yawn….

4.15 am….. Oh how lovely – an owl in the tree over us hooting away.  At least it will keep us company.

4.50 am ….. Wish I had the rifle.  I would shoot that bloody owl.

5.10 am….. Hang on.. I think dawn is coming.  I can see a pinky light through the mosquito netting of the tent.  Maybe we can get up now.   zzzzzzip zzzzzip – Oh wow look it IS daytime.  And here comes our trusty ranger with his rifle.  “Hi!  What a night hey?”…. He looks puzzled “Really?  I dunno.  I had my wisdom teeth out yesterday so I took two percocet and slept all night.  What’s wrong?  Why are you looking at me like that?”

Really!

Africa is calling me back

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

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

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

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

Oh I ate too much

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

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

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

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

Heads down ladies

Oh yes – I AM homesick for the bush.