A Day For Rain

Rain. Of the non-cheetah variety.


I’m sitting here on this Durban day and it’s pouring with rain and it’s made me long for Rain. Rain. The most hardcore cheetah you’ll ever meet.

You know that feeling when you’re sitting at Mugg and Bean and you’re waiting forever for your chicken salad and white wine and when they finally arrive you’re suddenly way too exhausted to tuck in so you just sit there staring at the table and panting? And then the guy sitting at the next table over notices that you’re not doing so good and he’s like, ‘Damn I want that wine‘ and just just takes it? Then the old lady at the table across from you gets in on the action and swipes your salad?

No, you don’t know the feeling. Because we’re not cheetahs.

Cheetahs never have their food handed to them. They have to work like crazy any and every time they want to eat. And by the time they’ve managed to stalk their prey (which can take hours), chase it down, trip it up and choke hold it, they’re just too tired to eat.

It can take them half an hour to get their breath back to the point where they can start consuming whatever they’ve caught. And in the wild, thirty minutes might as well be a lifetime. Anyone who happens to be nearby is going to try and take their chances and steal the cheetah’s kill. We’re talking everyone from lions, to baboons to vultures. They all know how vulnerable the cheetah is, and they’re not afraid to act on it. Everything about the cheetah is designed for speed. They’re not fighters.

Here she is. This is my girl, Rain. She’s Pilanesburg royalty and I’ve had the privilege of watching her make a few kills over the years. This cheetah princess is a real champion to have survived life in Pilanesburg all these years. She can teach you a whole lot about competition.

The hottest girl in the North West Province.

On this day In 2014, she amazed my guests and I by taking down an impala right in the middle of the road. Ten minutes later she managed to drag it into a bush to hide it from prying eyes (and jaws).

Rain resting up before lunch.

If you’re ever on safari and get to see a kill, you’re SO DARN LUCKY! Sure it happens every day, because animals like, survive, but you certainly don’t get to see it every day.

When safari guests get on to my vehicle and I ask them what they want to see, ‘a kill’ is often right there on top of the list. It’s something you need to be ready for but you can never be really ready. Nothing prepares you for it. Your brain can’t help you and National Geographic documentaries can’t help you either. I’ve had guests sick and screaming and in tears during kills. I’ve also had them laughing and cheering. It’s emotional. It can be gory and gruesome and thrilling, but it’s life at its rawest and something that’ll stay with you forever. Love you Rain, and thanks for all those memories. Love.

Hoofnote: The collar. ‘Ugh, but it has a collar!’ And wouldn’t you rather have photos of animals without collars? But in places like Pilanesburg, putting collars on cheetahs and other animals of ecological interest is really important and teaches us so much about how they use and interact with a particular space. A space we’ve put them into. When you see see an animal in a game reserve with a collar on, it’s for a good reason. I promise. Never let a little band of leather take away from the experience of a lifetime.

‘Pack For a Purpose’ and Have Way More Space in Your Luggage for Tacky Giraffe Curios

I kind of love that Pack for a Purpose is taking over the world. I first heard of it in 2012 when I was working at Madikwe Safari Lodge, a place I would SO highly recommend, especially if you’re traveling with ducklings. People ducklings. Madikwe is a terrible place to bring birds.

Image from http://www.madikwesafarilodge.co.za. You know I used to have my own images and you also know my hard drive crashed and I lost every safari photo I’ve ever taken and now I just have to borrow or steal photos, like this one…

Guests would often show up at our lodge and sign a bunch of indemnity forms and get handed their room keys and then plonk a bag down on the table and say ‘oh yeah, here’s all my Pack for a Purpose stuff.

Huh? What was this ‘Pack for a Purpose?’

Turns out it’s a pretty rad system. You know how when you travel to Africa you want to bring back a ton of stuff like wooden giraffes and beaded giraffes and stuffed giraffes and giraffe bangles and giraffe earrings and giraffe tea towels and giraffe t-shirts and giraffe mugs (I’m just using my mom as an example here) and like, so many kikois? Pack for a Purpose can help you make that space in your suitcase. Here’s how:

Must. Buy. Tacky. Giraffe. Souvenirs.

The most gorgeous kikoi towel ever. If you pack for a purpose you’ll have space to bring back 10 of these from Africa. Win!

What they do is partner with various hotels and safari lodges in South Africa (and in other countries, but let’s focus here) and those lodges in turn partner with local projects that need stuff. More often than not, the charity in need of stuff is a school or orphanage who needs school supplies or clothes. So what you’d do is look up on the website what your lodge’s charity needs, then head to Walmart or your closet before you leave home and find all that stuff. It’s like a scavenger hunt. But funner. Then you’d stuff all the stuff in your suitcase, give it away when you get to Africa and voila, more room for giraffe paraphernalia and kikoi towels. Beautiful.

As a safari guide, I’ve found that so many of my guests want to do something for the local people but they don’t know what. Thy don’t know what’s acceptable and what’s not or where there are boundaries. That’s okay. It’s a touchy subject.

I think that all but the most ignorant tourists (and there are a few) can see pretty quickly when they visit a place that there’s this crazy huge disparity between the fancy lodge where they’re staying and the people who live near it. I’m asked often whether they should give money to community schools (no) or candy to children (no). That’s asking for trouble.

Trust your safari guide for advice? Beware the blonde…

It’s a sad fact, but in Africa, you can never be sure where your money actually goes, so it becomes really important to choose your channels wisely.

And that’s why I love Pack for a Purpose. They’ll make sure that the right things get to the right people. A project like this is really the first baby step you can take on the road to being a super-cool responsible traveler.

This is how the good people at Enkosi Africa packed for a purpose…

Take a look at the website here: Pack For A Purpose

And I’m going to ‘big up’ all the companies in my gorgeous country that partner with them, below. If you’re off on safari soon and you see the lodge you’re headed to on this list, then get excited!

Happy packing y’all…

Safariosophy loves you: 

Absolut Tours & Safaris

African Game Lodge

Amakhala Game Reserve

Ant’s Nest & Ant’s Hill

Antrim Villa

Bayflowers Guest House

Berluda Farmhouse and Cottages

Blyde River Canyon Lodge

Blyde River Wilderness Lodge

Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat

Camp Jabulani

Cape Cadogan Boutique Hotel

Cape Splendour Tours & Safaris

Cathedral Peak Hotel

Chitwa Chitwa Private Game Lodge

Cliff Lodge

de Pakhuys

Fugitives Drift Lodge

Giltedge Africa

Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre

Isibindi Zulu Lodge (SUPER LOVE)

Jenman African Safaris

JP Kleinhans Safaris

Kariega Game Reserve

Kwa Maritane

Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers

Lion Sands Game Reserve

Madikwe Safari Lodge (SUPER LOVE)

Makalali Private Game Lodge

Mateya Safari Lodge (SUPER LOVE)

More Quarters Apartment Hotel

Rocktail Camp (SUPER LOVE)

Salute Africa

Samara Private Game Reserve

Savanna Private Game Reserve

Spier Hotel

Tau Game Lodge

The Backpack

The Cavern

The Oyster Box

The Peech Hotel

The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa

Tuningi Safari Lodge

Ulusaba Private Game Reserve

Wilderness Touring

ZuluWaters Game Reserve

This was me at Isibindi Zulu Lodge last week. You want to go there.

But Anna, my safari destination isn’t on this list. Now what?”

Pack for a purpose anyway. Bring pencils and school supplies and clothes and things to South Africa anyway and ask around when you arrive. Your lodge should be awesome and happy to help you get your donations to where they’re needed most.

This is such a great way to make your whole safari experience better. Promise.

Need to know more? Need more advice? Email me, little safari-going kittens.

Love Safariosophy.

My Child is a Green Cauliflower and Lives at 1B4 Permapackers

So I’ve been holding off on writing this one. You know when something really special happens and you want to tell everyone about it and you can’t because no matter what words you choose, you know can’t possibly do the thing any justice? That’s kind of how I feel about 1B4 Permapackers, also known as Nkwazi Eco Backpackers.

But I’m going to try.

But I’m going to fail.

But I’m going to try. Isn’t that what matters?

Be beautiful.


So really, it’s one of those places you’ll need to see for yourself, and I feel like it’s my duty to get you there somehow. Deep breath. Here goes…

I want to start with what’s wrong with the world. The safari ‘industry’ where I make my home is seriously flawed and it sometimes makes me want to rip all my hair out and throw those blonde hair clumps at the nearest hippo. Sorry hippo. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I’ve already written about my endless frustration with plastic bottles in safari lodges (there is no hate deep enough…) and I want to scream about these so-called ‘eco-lodges’ that stick themselves with a label they simply don’t live up to. Not by a long-shot.  Let’s talk about lodges that run on 24/7 on diesel generators when they can be run on solar power. Let’s talk about the recycling program (‘super-sarcastic air quotes’) in our national parks that encourages gullible tourists to separate glass from paper and then just dumps everything in the same nasty dump anyway. Let’s talk game drive vehicles and their crummy emissions. Let’s talk about mass water wastage and hour-long showers in South Africa’s current drought. Let’s talk about food shipped in at massive cost from goodness knows where, when it could have been grown right at the lodge. Actually, let’s not talk anymore. Let’s just do something about it. And I’m wild for the fact that somewhere DOES do something about it. Thank you, 1B4 Permapackers.

Lush life.


At 1B4, their goal is total sustainability and they’re well on their way to being off-the-grid, despite being so new to the scene. Isn’t that awesome? Your brilliant hosts, Courtney and Mike are more than happy to show you how they’re living it with their extensive organic gardens where they grow everything from passionfruit to moringa to peppadews and tomatoes and beets and spring onions and coconuts and bananas and pretty much everything else you can possibly grow (with a lot of love sprinkled over the top) on KZN’s tropical North Coast. They’ll show you their epic compost chicken pen (heck yes!) and the system that uses your shower’s water to grow bananas. Seriously. Oh, and the recycling bins where you separate cans from glass and know that it all goes to the RIGHT place in the end. Nothing goes to waste here.

A passion for passion fruit…

So good.


And if it’s not enough just to look, you can get involved with every step of the process by helping plant seeds in the garden or harvesting the yummy produce. They even run a volunteer program where you can immerse yourself totally and begin to learn the art of permaculture. In case you didn’t know, that’s the art that’s going to SAVE THE WORLD. So you should probably learn it quickly. You’re already guessing why I love it, right? This place totally embraces Safariosophy and what it means to me.

Find some truth.


I met the owner Mike, a fellow safari guide, way back when we worked together at the same backpackers near Kruger Park. I’ll admit it wasn’t the greatest place, so I’m not even going to name it. That unnamed lodge delivered what you’d expect from a typical South African backpackers. It was a little too unclean, a little too uncomfortable and a little too rundown. Travel marketers like the term ‘rustic,’ but you can definitely take ‘rustic’ too far… But what it did was inspire Mike to go better. Like, way better.

I love that Courtney and Mike have taken their experiences with lodges and made their own into something so clean and comfortable. But above all else, it’s something true. Their experience really shows. Accommodation wise, you’re faced with choices ranging from genuine eco-camping to sunny dorms to fabulous luxury rooms. You’re also faced with the absolute newest and cleanest bathroom you’ll ever come across when traveling on a budget in South Africa (promise!) as well as the prettiest, most well equipped country home kitchen. All that delicious fresh organic produce in bowls all over the place? You can buy it then and there.

Home from home.

Straight from the garden.

I super-want this kitchen.


At 1B4, I lived on gorgeous boiled eggs from their happy chickens, mixed with peppadew freshly picked from the gardens. Happy chickens are so important and these are the first eggs I’ve eaten in South Africa that I know for sure come from happy chickens, and that means a lot to me. A big chunk of my university grant was spent on ridiculously expensive eggs at Marks and Spencer that promised to be from happy chickens in the Cotswolds, but even then I couldn’t be sure. I could have just been won over by the fact they were blue and green. I figured they’d have to be happy to lay boutique eggs…?

But back to the lodge, where the common areas are cool and cozy with an honesty bar, hammock, couches and a pool table. Also, good luck finding a cleaner swimming pool…

It sparkles…


My time here was so inspiring. This place made me want to get hands-on and I loved the morning I spent ‘helping’ Courtney with planting and soil mixing. I learnt a whole lot too, which is one of the aims of 1B4. Although as a total permaculture amateur, there were times when I felt like an excited puppy just running around behind the real work, wagging my tail and knocking stuff over. But it’s the enthusiasm that counts! I definitely want to know how my green cauliflower seeds grow. I feel rather invested in their well-being now. Those tiny seeds are like my little green children. I’ll need photos of the day they get big enough to graduate to bigger boxes in the greenhouse, and even more photos later when they go on to join the ‘big garden.’ Go forth and grow wide, my darling veggie offspring…

My hands haven’t been this dirty in a long time. Love.

Other plants which are awesome but clearly not as awesome as green cauliflower.


Oh and there are actual excited puppies there as well. Yep, puppies! Lodges with pets are always a bonus and at 1B4, the three dogs become your best friends right away – no questions asked. It’s like proper unconditional love. You’ll feel pretty darn special when Lula, Hunter and Falkor are following you around everywhere with giant smiles on their smiley doggy faces. I even nabbed all three of them one night to use as fluffy hot-water bottles. They did good.

Fluffy puppies


Please go and experience it all for yourself. While other places just like to give themselves the badge, this place is truly honest and ‘eco’ in every sense of the word. It’s also by far the friendliest and most down to earth place to stay while you’re exploring the North Coast and it’s only a five-minute drive from Zinkwazi Beach, which is totally one of my favourite beaches. The birdwatching in the area and on the Zinkwazi Lagoon is kick-ass rad. It’s here I had my first glimpses of a Finfoot and an Anfrican Emerald Cuckoo. And if you’re planning a safari in the area and you’re not really sure how to go about it, speak to Mike. He runs the best private safaris in KZN (at least until I start running my own private safaris…!) so you’re in excellent hands.

Beautiful things to be found on Zinkwazi beach…


I don’t know what else to say about 1B4. I only hope I’ve given it some of the shine it deserves. If you go there and you love it, then tell me about it! I’d love to hear from you. Just don’t tell me if you plant any green cauliflower. I’m pretty possessive.

Beauty and Truth, Y’all. Love Safariosophy.

The practical stuff: 1B4 Permapackers is just off the N2 at the Zinkwazi turnoff. Go towards Darnall and you’ll see the sign on your left. Prices in the low season start at R120 for a campsite, R180 for a dorm and their private luxury rooms range between R550 and R800 and are well worth it. You won’t find better value accommodation anywhere on the coast.

Check out their website at: www.1b4permapackers.com or phone them on 0827450442 because I promise you’ll want to spend some time with them and learn more about who they are and what they do. Y’all gonna get hooked…

Did You Know? The Hippie Barn Owl Edition

I always look for any excuse to share this picture. It’s the day my bff and I lined up a bunch of barn owls on our living room sofa and took photos and giggled at their hair and the irony. And it was totally okay because we were rehabbing them (legally I might add) at the time. We’d named them Dawkins, Freud and Einstein. Einstein’s in the middle.

Best. Photo. Ever.

Barn owls. They are not smart. When I was younger owls were a symbol of intelligence. We’ve all heard of the saying ‘wise old old.’ It’s rubbish. Sorry.

Owls have got eyes and an ocular system that’s so darn huge and complex that it takes up pretty much ALL the space in their heads leaving almost no space for a brain. Their brains are tiny and capable of very little power beyond, ‘catch that mouse and live another day.’

Sometimes they need all the help they can get…


In the epic tie-die photo, these siblings are clearly at different stages of development. Just look at Einstein’s hair! When barn owls lay eggs, they do it over a long period and lay an egg every few days or so. Within one clutch, you can have babies who are almost ready to fly sharing a nest with pink squirmy things that haven’t opened their eyes yet. It makes sense, after all a female barn owl can’t carry 10 full sized eggs at the same time, so she produces one, then another and another. Result? An awkward middle child or seven sitting on a tie dyed couch somewere.

And you know how I have a lot of respect for super-adaptable animals who have managed to survive just about anywhere on the planet and under any conditions Earth throws at them? I’m thinking waterbears here, but barn owls work too. You find them on every continent except Antarctica, and as we ruin our home and that warms up, I’m sure that barn owls will thrive there as well.

Love. 

Owls can be ‘edumacational’ 🙂

Desiccation: A Little Taste of ‘Dung Beetle Soap Opera’

*So I’ve been writing A LOT over the last couple of days. My next book, Dung Beetle Soap Opera hit the 90,000 word mark, which feels pretty darn great. I felt compelled to write the following chapter after waking up yesterday morning and looking in the mirror and realizing just how terrible my skin looked.  But then I got thinking and it only looks so awful because for almost a week I’ve only been drinking coffee and wine. Where was the water? Absent. That’s how important water is. Especially for your skin. So here’s the chapter y’all…

*Any bit of terrible formatting is WordPress’s fault. Not mine. And feel free to submit any feedback – better now than in a 1* Amazon review…

Great Words in the English Language: Desiccation

Do yourself a favour right now and before you read any further, grab the first squeaky clean cup or glass you see and head to your nearest tap and fill that glass to the brim with water. Take a good sip and place it down in front of you where you can see it; where you can ‘ponder’ it. That’s right. We’re going to ponder water.
When was the last time you did that? Truly ponder water, I mean.

My water right now. Durban water. #amwriting

 

Over the years, you’ve probably been exposed to some crazy facts about your glass of water. Stuff about how some of those molecules have passed through the body of a triceratops. That’s all true. They have. Note the term ‘passed through.’ That means it’s dinosaur pee. Sort of. Also, your single glass of water contains many septillions (it’s a real word) of water molecules. What’s a septillion? It’s this much… 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. So it just got much easier to believe that at least one (or a billion) of them passed through a single megalodon two million years ago.

We end up drinking velociraptor urine on a daily basis because water stays with us in a never ending cycle. From the ancient and seriously unpalatable ground water I lived on and choked down in the Kalahari, to the gorgeous fresh spring water you might stumble across on a wilderness hike in Kruger, it’s all been somewhere else and inside something else at some point. Through such processes with lovely names as percolation, transpiration, evaporation, condensation and precipitation, water constantly moves across the earth from one place to another; from one state of being to another. It’s a beautiful thing.

But its versatility isn’t what I love most about water. What I love most about it, is that it probably wasn’t always here. Did you think it was? Did you think that early earth, in all it’s general instability and lack of viable atmosphere could have held in any water? It couldn’t. And it’s not like we can just grow some new water whenever we need it. It had to come from somewhere. It’s fair to say that we don’t know for absolute certain where our water came from, but the current theories suggest it might have showed up via some pretty intense clashes with comets and asteroids, most of which are quite frozen as they zip about our solar system. Isn’t it cool to think that earth’s most generous giver of life might not be earthly at all? Look at that glass of water in front of you. It could be extraterrestrial. And even if it turns out one day that it isn’t, it’s still billions of years old. Love.

Water. It’s such a crucial element of the safari experience. And, you know, everything else. But let’s talk about how our safaris revolve around water. To begin with, we like to drive to waterholes, hoping to find animals drinking, even if it’s the middle of summer and the bush is full of water and animals are a lot less likely to be at waterholes. Yet we’re always drawn to them anyway. Because they’re magical. A safari without a nice sundowner at a waterhole just doesn’t feel like a safari at all.  

As guides, we’re taught first aid with a special emphasis on treating dehydrated tourists who have underestimated the importance of water intake. It’s a pretty easy fix. Just give them water. It just isn’t right when it’s the guide who’s suffering from dehydration, but it does happen. Especially to me. Almost everything living on our planet has evolved its own way of holding on to its sweet, sweet water. I’m not so good at it, apparently. I get dehydrated. A lot.

So let’s talk desiccation. Desiccation. It’s one of the best words in the English language. It means, ‘to remove the moisture from something.’ And unless you’re a professional mummifier, I’d hope that you don’t like to see things get desiccated. It isn’t very nice.

So how does nature take a stand against the everpresent forces of desiccation?

The answer here is going to be hugely simplified. We think there are close to ten million eukaryotic life forms on earth, and as I’ve already mentioned, every one of them has their own way of dealing with the problem. Each and every anti-desiccation method is as unique and special as the species it belongs to. 

Shall we start with bullfrogs? I’m wildly in love with the giant African bullfrog. I’ve still yet to see one in the wild, because they spend a lot of their time holed up in mud, in some sort of hibernation waiting for a little rain. It isn’t enough to simply bury themselves in mud. Mud dries and they can still desiccate. The horror. So they cleverly shed a few layers of their skin, which surrounds their froggy bodies in a parchment-like cocoon layer. The cocoon stops their water from leaking out and the giant bullfrog lives to see another rainy season. That’s the plan, anyway.

Most of the herbivores on the African savanna drop an incredibly dry ‘dropping pellet.’ The water particles that animals manage to glean from their daily grazing or browsing gets held back. Why excrete it when you can keep it for later? That’s water management. The giraffe is an expert at this and giraffe poo is often almost dry to the touch the moment it comes out. That’s what makes it such a great candidate for poo spitting contests.

Oh dear. It’s a stock image. But when my hard drive crashed I lost ALL of my safari pictures. I used to have my own photos of giraffes drinking water. These days I just have to steal them. Photographer unknown.

 

Reptiles and birds share a method of desiccation avoidance. They concentrate their urine to keep as much water as they can. That’s what their white ‘poop’ is.

Tortoises store most of the water they drink in a little sac called a bursa, where they can use it later if they need it.

There are also plenty of animals with water storage systems so advanced that they can get away with hardly drinking water at all. Gemsbok can go months without drinking because they’re adapted to get their water from the plants they eat. Same goes for some of the smaller antelopes like steenbok which are almost never observed drinking. These are animals who are built to survive a serious African drought. When the rains fail, it’s the highly water-dependent animals like zebras and wildebeest who go first.

Birds of prey are also adapted for drinking very little water. When a raptor does drink, we say it’s ‘bowsing,’ which can mean it’s not feeling its best. The English word ‘boozing’ actually comes from the old falconry term ‘bowsing.’ Cool, hey?

An animal that doesn’t store water particularly well is the elephant. Even an average sized elephant needs to drink more than a hundred liters a day. You can imagine the pressure that a resident herd puts on small waterhole. They don’t just mess up a waterhole for themselves, they mess it up for everyone else as well. As it is with their food, elephants lose their water almost as fast as they consume it. Pick up a fresh elephant dropping and you can actually squeeze the water from it. Survival experts will tell you this is a brilliant way to find water when you’re really desperate. Some even say the drinking elephant ‘poo juice’ will temporarily give you the enzymes you need to be able to digest grasses. I’m not so sure about that one. And I’ve never met anyone who professes to have tasted the poo juice. How desperate do you have to be to drink poo juice? Probably very desperate. But at least I’m giving you options.

Now I’m moving away from the word of the day, which is desiccation. But any excuse to talk about poo juice. Let’s get back on track…

How do plants avoid desiccation? Simple. In drier environments, huge leaves with big surface areas are a rarity. Instead, trees and plants are more likely to have very small or very highly compounded leaves, which leaves the plant with a smaller area where water can be lost. You’ll have seen succulent plants with bug, thick juicy leaves. Those leaves are bursting with water and the leaf cuticle holding that water in is usually waxy and waterproof. A plant in a dry area can also send most of its water underground into its roots where it’s less likely to be sucked out by the sun.

There you have it. Desiccation can usually be avoided with some forward planning and some good evolutionary tactics. We’re programmed to avoid drying out. But when you’re on safari, there’s usually so much happening that you simply forget to drink. I can get so entranced by a herd of impalas that I’ll just stare for hours with my jaw hanging. I’ll be baking under the African sun and losing water at a terrifying rate through every one of my pores, but I’ll still forget to drink. Because I’m just so darn excited. But drink! Drink and drink and drink. You need to. But not alcohol! If you’re an adult you know that alcohol just dehydrates you. I’ve also been on too many safaris (as a GUEST not a guide) where I’ve woken up on day three only to realize I’ve had nothing but wine for three days. That’s not good. Wine is a poor substitute for water, no matter what the bible says.

So drink, beautiful souls. Let’s avoid desiccation together.

Yep, I just googled water. That’s what this image is.

Photo of the Day: A Frozen Baboon Spider

Shame.


I once found this pretty girl frozen to a bucket during one of Mpumalanga’s miserable winters. Oh my goodness, I truly hate being cold. It turns out Miss Bucket Spider just needed some thawing in the sun and she was fine a few hours later. These are some seriously resilient animals. When baboon spiders aren’t frozen, they can live for more than a decade.

Baboon spiders look scary, but they’re harmless and rather charming. I’ve had tons of peaceful encounters with them over the years. And I love them wildly.

Hoofnote: Spiders on the brain tonight because I spent my whole day working on Dung Beetle Soap Opera. And there are so many spiders in it. Love. 

A Sweet Break Between Safaris: Monkey Bay Backpackers, Ballito

This is Africa.


You know when you’re small and your parents take you to a ‘jungle gym’ and in that jungle gym there are all sorts of great things you can climb on and tons of little nooks and hidey holes to discover and squash yourself into? And also, there are like, places where you can imagine the floor is a huge lava flow or it’s an ocean and you’ve got to jump across it to slay a mutant dragon alien and SAVE THE WORLD? And you know how you’re supposed to stop going to these places when you reach a certain height? And once you reach that height and you get denied entry and all you can think is, ‘But… I’ve got a world to save… and a curly slide to hurtle down… But… But…

That my friends, is the very worst part of becoming an adult. Why do you think I’ve spent so much of my time above a certain height (adulthood, ugh) as a nanny/babysitter. The jungle gyms. Access. Heck yeah.

This past week I stayed at a place that brought back some of that joy that you can only feel if you’re swinging from a rope into a ball pit. Yep. A place kind of like a jungle gym. For grownups. Complete with little tree houses, hidden hideaways, hammocks to swing on and an enchanted cat with mystical powers:  Monkey Bay Backpackers in Ballito. Love it.

Magic cat.


You can’t not love a space like this…


There’s all kinds of reasons why I ended up Ballito last week. Most of them aren’t nice. So it was a pleasure to be staying somewhere so darn welcoming, comforting, and best of all, jungle-gymish. Want to talk happiness? Let’s talk treehouses. Let’s talk fun little places to pitch tents. Let’s talk endless coffee. And let’s not forget the best charity bookshop in South Africa, right across the road. Paradise.

Book haul! Yeah…


I looked at other places to camp in the area. The competition is there and some of it looks great, but it’s just too expensive. I’m a safari guide. I don’t do expensive. And give me friendly faces any day. One of my big motives for staying at Monkey Bay was its in-your-face surf vibe. They offer board rental and lessons. There are boards stacked  right outside next to their cute ‘surf shack.’ Heck, you find the place by looking for the giant BILLABONG logo spread across the whole street-front. And what did I do on impulse instead of booking a surf lesson? I went for a walk-in tattoo. That’s no surfing for me for at least two to three weeks. Why didn’t I just surf?  Goodness me, The decisions you need to make in Ballito:  Surf? Or tattoo? Sushi? Or pizza? Beach? Or Birdwatch? Shop? Or massage? And the best part is that it’s all so affordable. Mostly. What matters is that Monkey Bay is the perfect base for all of this delicious stuff, especially when you’re making your way between safaris in the Eastern Cape and safaris further north in Natal. The tourist trail is a beautiful thing. Live a little, y’all.

This beach.


Oh well. The need to try out their surf lessons is reason enough to return to Monkey Bay. And I will. To do everything. And I need to because I spent almost a week at the lodge and I didn’t even see it all. There were just so many hidden corners and quirky little spots to discover. I’d walk down a path and I didn’t know where I was half the time. And that’s awesome. Jungle gym. Good vibes. Despite being in the middle of all the action (like, SO close to the beach boardwalk and to Dominos Pizza and the famous Mo Zam Bik Portugese restaurant) Monkey Bay is a little tropical paradise. The bird geek in me loved the ever-present purple crested louries, yellow bellied greenbuls, natal francolins and the absolute love of my life, the red capped robin chat. Sunbirds and weavers flitted about between the lush vegetation and I was constantly waiting to see what bird would emerge next.

True words…

Gorgeous, birdalicious gardens…


Big credit to the staff too. Mike the owner was great for conversation and Lucky was an absolute champion. Ever upbeat, this dude was born for hospitality. He always seemed to be around, popping his head up all over the place at all hours of the day, constantly offering help with something or a sharing a great story or just flashing a wide smile. He made my stay. And thats why we backpack, right? To meet awesome people. That’s another thing I loved about Monkey Bay; there were enough nooks to cram yourself into if you wanted to avoid people, but there were so many inviting communal areas where you could engage with friendly travelers. Do both. In equal measure. And I did…

I actually had a conversation with a fellow guest containing the sentence, ‘and we hitchiked here from the Free State with a bird in my bag and it flew into that fan there and died instantly…’ And while I kind of wanted to back away slowly, I let her speak instead. And made a quirky new friend in the process. The kind you have for a short time. But that’s the soul of backpacking. Just don’t hitchhike across the country with Indian Mynas in your handbag. Please. That’s weird.

We just couldn’t control the weather during my stay at Monkey Bay. That’s one thing I’ve learned whilst working in the hospitality industry for so long. If you’re a lodge, or a guide, or anything other than a paying tourist, the weather is always your fault. Rain? Lodge’s fault. Cold? Why didn’t your guide cancel the game drive? So here’s where I have some real understanding. Really people, please stop blaming the place you’re staying at and the beautiful souls who work there. Please. They stress about bad weather the same way that you do. Even more so, because you’re stressing and that makes them stress. It’s a vicious cycle with no winners, so rather just chill. The rain we experienced during my time at Monkey Bay was the heaviest they’d experienced in nine years and was so important to relieve the awful drought we’ve been having. But I’ll be honest. It sucked. And while it devastated my tent and made my stay a challenge at times, the poor lodge had serious floods and damage and leaks and mudslides and all sorts to contend with. And they dealt with it with a smile. That says a lot about who they are. They get massive points for that.

Pre-mudslide.



Now if there’s ever an upside to having a tent buried by a small mudslide, it’s the fact that I had the opportunity to explore Monkey Bay’s other accommodation options. After two very wet nights in my small tent, I was upgraded to a night in one of their safari tents (love love love), followed by the exclusive treehouse the next night (ensuite bathroom – score!) and back to another safari tent the next night while I waited patiently for my tent to dry. Again, big thanks to Lucky for the help here.

There was nowhere I loved more than this happy tent..


I have to say I couldn’t get enough of that first safari tent. A bright, cozy space with a comfy couch was just what my spirit needed after a good soaking. It’s where I’d stay again the next time I return to Monkey Bay. Not that the campsites aren’t amazing. They’re all private and set up on a hill, with fun climbs to reach some of the higher ones. Mine even had an ocean view. Not only do you get your jungle gym, you can set up a tent in it…

My office by day…

My office by night. So many fairy lights. Love.


Importantly, for a girl on my own, I always felt safe and comfortable at Monkey Bay. I didn’t feel compelled to ‘lock stuff up‘ and I’d often leave my little mobile ‘office’ complete with Macbook set up in a communal area and never worried about it. I’ve stayed at backpackers all over the country and while some have obviously had more money pumped into them, very few have had real heart pumped into them. Quirky. With soul. Love it. I’m going to be back.

Chillax.


The technical bits: Camping at Monkey Bay starts from as little as R100. The dorms are about R150. The safari tents cost a little more but are SO worth it, and the fancy treehouses are R500. All you need to know is here: http://www.monkeybaybackpackers.co.za

Hoofnote: I so want to hijack their ‘Landy Cab.’ That’s a horrible thing to admit, but that car is gorgeous. And you can travel around in it. And get picked up from the airport in it. And it’s epic. When it’s mine, I’ll take you on safari in it. Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, anyone?

Anna wants a Landy Cab.

What the Moose? The Kestrel Edition

Hello. Look at into my alluring dark eyes… Mmmm…


Are you a birdwatcher? If yes, keep reading. If no, keep reading, but take extra time to admire the photo. Isn’t he pretty? He’s a Greater Kestrel. A baby Greater Kestrel.

I’m a birdwatcher and one of the most frustrating things in the world is JUVENILLE RAPTORS. Ugh.

Ugh, because they quite often look nothing like the adults. So if you have to spend years learning to tell the difference between 30 different brown raptors, you’re going to have to do it all again because the babies are super-complicated. But why? 

Even through baby brown raptors kind of make you want to toss your bird book into the nearest lake and watch it sink to the bottom, there are many reasons why babies just look so darn different.

Here’s a few:

Camoflage: Let’s take a really striking raptor like a Bateleur. As an adult it’s black and white and orange and incredibly pretty. Babies? Drab. Drab drab drab. Their brown is so lame it’s almost an olive greens colour. But, what blends into trees better? Non-descript olive greeny. That’s what. A baby raptor’s colour actually keeps it protected and not just in one way either…

Competition: Generally as a rule, we like our kids. We want them to survive. We can identify a human kid by its size, but because baby birds quickly reach the same size as their parents, it’s not so easy there. Hence, the colour. An adult bird can identify a baby of the same species and know right away that it’s not a threat, because like, a baby bird is not about to take the territory you’ve held with your wife-bird for the past 12 years.

So yeah, frustrating but evolutionarily beautiful. Baby brown raptors.

Hoofnote: Some raptors can take years and years before they take on their adult colouration. That’s a lot of time with a ‘free pass;’ sometimes as long as seven or eight years.

Hoofnote 2 (because I can): The Greater Kestrel pictured above gave me one of the biggest moments of my life when he suddenly swooped down from the sky and killed a fiscal shrike, all on his own, with no ‘mommy training.’ I think the look on my face as I let him eat his kill says it all… Love.

Proud bird mummy…


Scary Video Alert: What to Bring on Your South African Safari…

While I’m embarrassing myself, here’s a video I made a few years back…

It’s on a topic I feel really close to: packing for your African safari. My goodness, people bring the most ridiculous stuff with them! But more about that later…

I think it’s important to know what you’re getting into before heading to an outdoor shop and falling into the hands of a ‘sales consultant.’ So here it is, ‘What to Bring on an African Safari.’ 

And OH MY GOODNESS I WANT MY HAIR BACK!

*Massive geek alert*

Photo of the Day: Lions of Opportunity

Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.

We all know that leopards are big opportunists. They’ll eat everything from buffalos to tiny spiders. Mouse walks by? Boom. Cricket walks by? Boom.

But lions,  not so much. Because they tend to live in big groups, it doesn’t work so well. They need BIG food. A lion grabs a scrub hare and it has eight other jealous lions to deal with. But sometimes it happens.

This little Kalahari Prince managed to nab himself some sort of bird. Looks nightjarrish to me…

A Little Plague of One

It’s a plague of locust. Singular. Shame.


We’re seeing plenty of these rather spectacular Green Milkweed Locusts around here at the moment. They’re fabulously beautiful but also poisonous – the bright colors are kind of a giveaway there. ‘Aposematic’ coloring. Great word. 

‘Astronomy’ on Safari: Never Seen The Southern Cross? You’re Not Missing Much.

I think there’s a lot of us out there who have had this experience on safari:

You’re coming to the end of a four hour game drive. It’s dark. You’ve seen animals. Cool. But now it’s REAL cool. It’s cold. Downright freezing. And you’re hungry. So very hungry… Your body is still on the vehicle but your mind has raced ahead of you to the lodge, where it’s already snuggled up in front of a log fire with a gin and tonic in hand and a tray of delicious canapés before it. Darn you, mind.

But your guide. He’s fresh out of ‘guide school.’ He doesn’t know you’re cold. He doesn’t know that you can already feel the Bombay Sapphire trickling down your throat. He hasn’t learned to read his guests yet and he needs to complete the ‘guided experience.’ It’s in his programming. He can’t not do it.

You can see the lodge now. It’s right there. Car stops. Everyone exchanges glances and pulls their blankets a little tighter. What’s happening? The lights go off. There’s a sound coming from the driver’s seat. It’s so monotonous at first that it’s barely audible, but like gentle ripples subsiding on a pond, it slowly comes in to focus…

“… know that we cannot see the North Star here because we are not in the north where you can see the North Star?” 

Without skipping a beat or adding intonation, the monologue continues…

“Here in South Africa we have the southern cross and you can see it right now and it is four stars that make a cross in the sky and it can tell us where south is and in some African cultures they see four giraffes instead of four stars and you cannot see this cross in the north where you are all from so it’s special just for us.”

And now he’s on a roll. Depending on the season, you’re probably also about to see Orion or Scorpio. Slowly. Coldly. And without the flashest of flashes of passion. 

And all of this is kind of okay… If he hadn’t given the exact same speech last night. Word for word. And you know, gin is waiting…

Never seen the Southern cross? You’re not missing much…


Constellations are boring and they don’t make sense to me. It doesn’t look like a dog. Nor does it look like a lion. Or a wolf. Or some guy fighting some other guy. Even the famous Southern cross is just four random stars that look like a deranged ‘X’ if you use your imagination. THEY DON’T EVEN POINT TO SOUTH. You need to use your imagination for that too. Ugh.

So our tiny brains have this tendency to reduce the entire universe to just a few little pictures. Awesome. It doesn’t set me on fire.

For the past couple of days I’ve been trying to put together an astronomy presentation that I can hopefully one day deliver to our lodge guests. Yawn. Right?

Wrong.

I dont want to go anywhere near Canis Major.  That’s not what I see when I look up into our Milky Way. That’s not what blows my mind. And trust me, on a dark night, on my glorious beach, my mind is BLOWN when I look up.

I don’t even know where to start. 

Okay, I’ll start here: I get blown away by light years. We get to look into the past EVERY SINGLE DAY. And not just a little into the past, but sometimes thousands and millions of years into the past. Some of those stars we look up at? They’re already gone. They probably exploded in big dramatic ways that we haven’t even seen yet. Or they just used up all their energy and got cold and tired.

And also? Photons. I get all excited by the way that a long time ago, a star like Rigel (using it because it rhymes with Nigel) would have started producing photons deep down inside its core. It may have taken millions of years for a single proton to make its way up to surface (like it does with our sun) before getting shot out of Rigel’s photosphere.  From there, these itsy bitsy photons spread across the galaxy and when I look at that star, that very same photon that traveled the universe for just over 864 years, hits me in the eye. Me. You. That photon was MADE IN RIGEL. And it smacked you in the face. Literally. It’s kind of like reverse space travel – all the good stuff just comes to us.

But then stars don’t have to come to us when we really are stars. Everything we’re made of comes from a star dying and bursting all of its stuff all over the place. So, happy 13,600,000,001st birthday to all the gorgeous little particles that make up your beautiful soul x

I also go all wild for the way a neutron star can spin at 500 rotations a second and just a teaspoon of it can weigh 10 million tons. That’s not one of my exaggerations. That’s a teaspoon that weighs 10 million actual tonnes.

Hello, neutron star…


Also, have you heard of gamma ray bursts? Those are fun. And they can sort of happen at any time, anywhere. If we found ourselves directly in their firing line, they could wipe out life on our insignificant planet so quick that we’d never even know about it. Ditto if the physicists at CERN accidentally create a black hole one day. Those things probably won’t happen, but still. Love. And now I’m just talking about stuff I really don’t know enough to talk about, so I’ll stop here…

Mmmm… gamma ray burst…

Conclusion? Down with constellations. They’re the most boring things up there. I want my astronomy talks to be full of gamma radiation and dark energy and gravity and Big Bang theory and most of all, Big Wonder. Because that’s what it all is. Big. Wonder. The stuff that truly sets my heart on fire. As a guide, that’s what I want to share. You can learn about Orion from your trainee guide on your next safari. Trust me, they’ll have a whole speech about it. (Eish, that last line was bitchy. But I meant it. So…)

Hoofnote: Okay. I lie. I’m a social anthropologist and as boring as constellations are, I’m kind of fascinated with WHY we like to use stars to find our places in the world. And as such, I’ve come across a gem of a book that I finished reading (reading, skimming over, same difference) yesterday about how various South African cultures used to read the sky. Best part is that it’s FREE and you can download it here. It can be heavy going, but it’s good stuff. And it’s free.

Click here: 

http://www.getaway.co.za/book-reviews/free-book-download-venus-rising-peter-g-alcock/

Just Look At This Gold Banded Forester! Look at it…


Yeah, it’s probably the most kickass of all of the kickass butterflies in this place. It’s also local to this area and this area alone. Another reason to come visit me. Gold Banded Foresters. Joy.

There aren’t a lot of birds to satisfy my cravings down on my little patch of beach, so lately I’ve been getting all high on butterflies instead, and the Gold Banded Forester is one of the ones that just smacks you across the face and makes your heart stop.

Hoofnote: it’s time to fall in love with butterfly names. Here’s a few to get you started…

Wanderers, Jokers, Pansys, Fig Tree Blues, Ant Blues, Hairstreaks, Silver Spotted Coppers, Skollies, Vagrants, Policemen, Sprites, Playboys, Rough Coppers, Pies (heck yes!) and Pirates… 

Fabulous, no?

When a Sunset Tells You All You Need To Know About Life, the Universe, And Everything.

This was the sunset I experienced tonight.

Yeah, it’s a little crooked. It wasn’t me. It was the curvature of the earth. (Or maybe the hurricane force winds that wouldn’t let me hold my phone steady.) Nope, I’m going with earth curvature. Darn you, planet.

But picture this: good people clutching white wines, Savanna Drys, neat scotch and chomping on biltong, cashews and corn nuts next to the biggest freshwater lake in South Africa while the sun sets and the sky drizzles and the wind howls, but not as loud as we laugh because we’re all in such good company and checking out terns and pipits and sharing sweet old safari stories.

If I found out tomorrow that someone had accidentally transferred 100 million rand into my bank account, I would do two things. Firstly, I wouldn’t own up to it and would never, ever tell the bank. Honesty has no place in financial matters. Secondly, I’d keep on doing the same job I’m doing now. Albeit with a better car. And a house in St. Lucia. That’s how you know you’re in the right job. Love.

So long, and thanks for all the fish y’all x

Safari Destination Review: iSimangaliso Western Shores KZN

I kind of love it when I get all surprised by a place. Like iSimangaliso’s Western Shores. Yummy yummy.

Welcome! Just don’t expect a friendly welcome from the staff…

I’ve just spent the morning there and a scan through TripAdvisor last night (thank you Ocean Basket, for the sushi and wifi) had me prepared for a derelict park devoid of animal life. What I found was a charming little game reserve with kick-ass birds and SO MANY ANIMALS.

When you stay in St. Lucia, you’ve got a big choice for safaris. You can travel out a bit and hit Hluhluwe Imfolozi or Mkuze, or you can stay local and try iSimangaliso’s Western, or far more popular, Eastern Shores. I’ve done Mkuze and I’ve worked in Hluhluwe. So… No. Locally, I’ve visited Eastern Shores before. Despite the great birding and the fact that I’m a beach chick, I couldn’t stand Eastern Shores’ biggest attraction – Cape Vidal beach. Cape Vidal is packed with tourists, psychotic monkeys and creepy staff who just seem to ‘hang around’ and stare. And the place lacks any sort of infrastructure. Sure it’s a pretty beach, but I live ten steps away from iSimangaliso’s Mabibi Beach, which is way, way, way better. So I’m spoiled. I love being spoiled. I don’t love Cape Vidal all that much.

Cape Vidal. Windy windy.


So that left Western Shores. Something new. Really new. So new that it only opened a couple of years ago. A gamble indeed as I was taking my mom on safari. Birds alone wouldn’t cut it today.

Check in was typical of all South African game reserves. A sullen cashier unwilling to make eye contact and mumbling ‘bird hides… No petrol… No food… Elephants are not happy…’ And ‘We only have the Big 4. No lions.’

‘Cool. I’m not even into lions,’ I replied as I took my entry permit. I didn’t know there was a ‘Big 4.’ Apparently there is. Subtract lions. Add wild dogs and cheetah to make Hluhluwe’s ‘magnificent 7’ and Great White Shark and Southern Right Whale to make Addo’s ‘Big 7.’ Ugh. Massive eye roll. 

Through the spiffy, impressive entrance gate I found gorgeous palmish scenery. It’s really nice on the Western Shores. It just lacks the sand dunes that characterize Eastern Shores. I’m into those sand dunes. But it’s okay.

I really loved that in the whole morning we only came across two other cars. Great for us, but not so great for the park on a Saturday morning. I felt bad. This place deserved to be busier.

It’s real pretty, y’all..

Love.


I was on the lookout for elephants. Living at the beach these days, I find myself missing elephants the most. We saw plenty of signs, but no elephants. I don’t think we needed them. 

There’s gotta be elephants somewhere…


We saw herds of giraffe, wildebeest and zebra to rival any other park.

My mom and her psychotic giraffe obsession was well fed. She was in South Africa for two weeks and wore a different giraffe T-shirt every single day. I was impressed.


And did you know that waterbuck can congregate in the dozens? I didn’t. Until Western Shores. We also saw kudus, red duiker, nyala and bushbuck. All were skittish and weary of cars – the sign of a properly WILD game reserve. Love.

Dude. Waterbucks everywhere.

You thought I’d pose for photos? Heck no.


Charters Creek has the feel of a place that used to be a big deal. Now it’s only a big deal to the resident zebra herd. iSimangaliso hasn’t made any effort to preserve the place and it’s already gone to ruin. Ouch.

Really?


We’re missing a few planks…


But the rest of the park feels shiny and new. The hides and bathrooms all had a good vibe about them and the aerial walkway was cute. The 350m walk to get there through thick, unfenced bush was exciting. Especially with a mother who uses a walking stick to get around. No possibility of rushing up trees to escape a buffalo for us…

The aerial boardwalk


The whole park was easily accessible with an impractical  rental car (like ours) and we covered the entire reserve complete with stops to identify 79 different bird species and take 721 photos of giraffes, in one morning. I didn’t feel like we missed out on anything. The experience felt lovely and complete. A good safari.

I’d go back. Maybe even tomorrow.

Beetle cuddles!


Edit: The next day we went to Eastern Shores. Definitely not as impressed. The scenery was better, but it felt like one long drive to Cape Vidal. Western Shores felt like a classic SAFARI and I’ll still recommend it any day. Love.

I can’t deny that Eastern Shores has the better scenery…


The technical bits:

Western Shores (and Eastern Shores) are open from 5am to 7pm in summer. You’ll pay about R50 per person and another R50 for your car. Bring your own food – neither park has any food and they totally won’t let you exit and go to St. Lucia for lunch and come back without paying all over again…

Photo of the Day: A Stalkish Leopard

Leopards are still in my mind as I had one of the coolest leopard sightings of my life a couple of nights ago in St. Lucia. So here’s a photo of another memorable leopard sighting last year in Pilanesburg…

I’d been called into a leopard sighting and could see the traffic jam far ahead of me.

As I made my way to the jam, this gorgeous leopard appeared next to us. It had given the rest of the crowd the slip and we had it crouched down low and hunting impalas all to ourselves.

Gotta love it when that happens 🙂