Friday, December 21, 2007

The best trip yet

Exactly two years ago today I met the sweetest little boy in Karachi, Pakistan.
I’d flown half way around the world for only one reason: to meet him.
He didn’t have a name just yet, but his mom was pretty sure she knew what she was going to call him. It was the name she’d been thinking of for a little boy since she was young.
For those three weeks I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life – meeting wonderful people, seeing beautiful places, and becoming a
Today, he’s a bopping two year old, full of life, and darn smart.
And he’s going to be a big brother. Correction: he’s going to be a great big brother.
Knowing how long the journey was to bring him home, and how loved his new little siblings will be, I cried buckets when she called to tell me the amazing news.
I am so happy for him and my dear friend and her husband and family.
I wish every story had just as happy an ending.

Eid mubarak.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Stateside - the sequel

Well – I’m back.
Physically, anyhow. Mentally I’m still stuggling. I think that’s mostly the pre-Christmas thing, and it’s rapidly becoming worse as I enter panic flat spin over Christmas gifts.
Yes I could have shopped for everyone in Africa, and no, I could not possibly have brought it all back with me.
As it was, I had three very heavy and overloaded suitcases, and three items to carry on to the plane, with a fourth bag tucked inside.
It was a disaster at the airport.
Actually, it was a disaster all day. I managed to shove all three suitcases and the carry-ons down my apartment stairs, and load up my little Renault. It occurred to me that a lot of people can pack everything they own into their car. I am not one of those people, obviously, because I know damn well how much more crap I have at home.
No sooner had I left the electrified fence of my complex for one last time, when a tire blew. I’ve actually never had a flat in my life – and have only vague ideas about how I would change a tire. I’m pretty sure it happened on Who’s the Boss, with hilarious results, but having neither Angela or Tony nearby, and not keen on learning a new skill at the side of the road in Johannesburg, I flipped on the hazard lights, and drove very very slowly to the office.
It was kind of like being in a parade – everyone stopped and stared, pointing and gesturing. I smiled serenely at them, nodding, and acting as though driving on the rims was perfectly normal.
By the time I reached the parking lot at work, the rubber was hanging in shreds, and the wheel was practically off. But, my luggage and I made it – so no problemo.
True to form, no one in the office batted an eyelid as I walked in. Actually, not many people were even there. Guessing correctly that absolutely no thought had been put into how I was going to get to the airport, I inquired about a taxi. I was handed a couple of phone numbers, and spoke to the companies – one of which “doesn’t go to the airport anymore” and the other of which had no cabs available that day.
Pretty typical.
Any other ideas? Nope. Also pretty typical.
I picked up the phone to call my client. It might be in poor taste to ask your client for a ride to the airport, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and she, at least, would be happy to help.
Thankfully, another woman in the office, overhearing my predicament, offered to help, and managed to get me a lift to the airport.
I had more than six hours before my flight left, but I wasn’t in any mood to hang around anymore, and left immediately, stopping by the client’s quickly to say goodbye.
There were about a million people at the airport. A million plus me, trying to push a badly overloaded trolley through the crowds.
The woman at the baggage weighing station looked at me with not an ounce of sympathy, and pointed me in the direction of the “excess baggage” area. I took one look at the crowd I’d have to push the cart through, and just left it. An airport worker half-heartedly tried to convince me to take my belongings with me, but I assumed an air of importance, and brushed him aside.
1,000 rand for an extra bag seemed a reasonable price to pay, and I checked in as fast as possible, giddy with relief when the three suitcases disappeared down the conveyer belt. I headed to the lounge to wait.
Two glasses of wine, one bag of peanuts, and three magazines later, I made my way to the gate, and boarded the plane. Again, I was met with looks of disdain as I explained to the flight attendant that I needed to fit not one, but three pieces of luggage somewhere in the crevices of the cabin. Thankfully, not everyone was being as stupid as me, and there was actually some extra space for my stuff.
I’ll spare you the details of the 8 hour flight to Senegal, and the remaining 10 hour flight to New York. Suffice to say, I watched every movie they had. I think I watched Hairspray twice. Something about John Travolta in a dress made me giggle. Maybe it was the altitude.
Now an expert at the “way too much luggage” game, I rocked the baggage claim at JFK, and found a cab with a trunk big enough for all my shit.
I only had one more obstacle to go in order to get everything into my sister’s apartment: the stairs at the bottom of her building. Poor Gus the doorman – he didn’t know what to do. Trained to be helpful at all costs, he was helpless in the face of the barrage of luggage. Nevertheless, he gallantly held the door open on each of my five trips up and down the stairs. Good man.
I was now officially stateside, jetlagged, and dying to meet my new nephew.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Well - just because I'm back on this side of the Atlantic, doesn't mean that I don't owe you a few posts that didn't make it.
I have a few written that just need posting - and gosh darn it - that's what I'm gonna do.

Here's another word of the day:
Sac a papier. Say it mean, with a French accent.
Meaning: paper sac.
But apparently, according to my French buddies on safari, in France, you can actually use it as an obscenity. As in "You ignorant pig dog. Sac a papier - I should run you through with this sword." Or something.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Hello, and yes, I am fully aware that my last blog post is gathering much dust. As Christmas madness, the return trip home, oh yes - and work - all loom, I'm endeavouring to finish the blogs of the Botswana trip, the doom-signifying prevalence of men in capri pants, and fun things to do with 5kg of scuba weights in a plane. Patience.
Here - enjoy a picture of my nephew talking to me on the phone as you wait.
Isn't he clever?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sleeping on Safari

So many things to blog about, so little time.
The problem with camping in the wilds of Botswana, is that you don’t have access to your laptop when blog-worthy things happen. Then you get back to civilization, have a sandwich, and it starts seeming less vitally important to get this stuff down. Not to mention, that your office is super-chilled to -20 degrees Celsius (perhaps in an attempt to remind you of home?), and your fingers literally are too cold to type.

That being said, you really must know about this:
We went camping in Botswana on an honest-to-goodness safari.
There are many things that you should know before you attempt such a thing. The footprints of animals that come through your camp at night (explained in last blog) is one of them.
Here is another.

When you are trying to fall asleep in the middle of Botswana in a little canvas tent, thinking about how your guide said that lions see tents as big things like rocks, instead of yummy things, like canvas-wrapped dinner, and you hear a couple of twigs crack to your left, then another one not as far to the left, and then you hear a very low rumbly sound, kind of like you might imagine a lion would make if it is purring, and then you hear the cook’s voice whisper urgently from his tent to the guide “Gideon, Gideon a lion is coming to eat us (items in italics are my translation from Tswana language) –-- you would do well to lie very still, and think calm thoughts so that the lion cannot smell your fear, and suddenly make an evolutionary leap and figure out the whole canvas tent thing.
You would also do well to refrain from waking up your slumbering partner, for fear he will wake with a start, sit up, mutter something, and attract the lion’s attention.

You will be surprised how relieved you will be in the morning to find out that it was only a large elephant and a hyena in your camp, instead of a lion.

Really, you should take earplugs. Lions tend to roar, and they do this every half hour or so. Especially after they’ve killed something, or want to talk to their lion buddies a couple of kilometers in the other direction. If you don’t take ear plugs, you will quickly learn the difference between one lion roaring to his buddies, and 32 lionesses doing their group roar to celebrate elephant for dinner. Once you start trusting that the lions won’t attempt to unzip your canvas tent, then the sound of lions roaring all night gradually becomes less exciting, and more annoying.

Don’t even get me started on the noises hippos make.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Safari Update

Just spent a week camping in the wilds of Botswana. Awesome trip. Awesome group of people. Awesome animal sightings.
And, more importantly, some seriously funny blog posts.
Gotta do laundry first though.
Stay tuned.
Here's a teaser to keep you interested:
You know it's a good time when you wake up every morning and check to see what wild animals came through your campsite overnight and left tracks.
Big paws with no claw marks are lions.
Smaller paw marks with claw marks are jackals.
Big round lily-pad things are elephants.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Just for a laugh....

Walk into downtown Joburg and ask "Which way to Soweeeeto?"
If they don't kill you first, I guarantee they'll die of laughter.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How to make a buck in South Africa

If South Africa were a more litigious society, there are some things a lawyer might find particularly enticing about life in this part of the world. Particularly lucrative, shall we say.

Elevators that trap pregnant women between the ground and the first floor (yes – like Europe, they call the floor above the ground floor the first floor). Screeching to a series of halts, and plummets, the elevator grinds to a halt about a foot above the intended landing area, forcing said pregnant woman to crawl out, and send an all-staff email in warning.

Gross negligence by locksmiths who, instead of cutting a simple door key properly, cock it up so that one’s parents are trapped outside one’s apartment for 5 hours, unable to get in, and unable to contact you on your mobile, because you have wisely left the mobile on the dining room table with a note for them explaining you thought it better that they have the mobile for the day to avoid being trapped in the apartment complex with no link to the outside world. (For more reading on this subject, see post #2 “The importance of a blackberry”). (Now that, Alanis Morrisette, is actually ironic.)

Gross ridiculous gaping holes in main roads, marked by a single pylon, if you’re lucky, causing unnecessary swerving, and lots of accidents.

Manslaughter in the second degree by anyone and everyone who smokes in this country – which actually is anyone and everyone (possibly even said pregnant woman’s fetus, for all I know) – since smoking anywhere and everywhere is pretty much a-ok.

Ill-placed hills of sand in the middle of major roads, with not even a pylon, resulting in more swerving, cussing, and general bad temper.

Complete lack of street lights, reflective paint on street signs and highway information boards, and cows in the middle of highways, causing premature death due to stress trying to read the signs and find one’s way back from the Pilanesberg after dark because one just “had to go and see the elephants again”. After one white-knuckle ride home, you’d think one would have learned. But you would be wrong-o.

Probably quite inadvisable lack of cabs* or cab chits after work functions involving beer from 8am until way way way after dark, resulting in three, count’em, three, vehicles being written off after encounters with aforementioned sand hills, gaping holes, and probably a couple of cows too.

*Although – here’s a great idea that is actually happening in Joburg: You’re drunk. You don’t want to drive, but you also don’t want to leave your car – because you are in South Africa. You don’t drive – you call: Toot n’Scoot. Some dude answers your call, drives over on a collapsible scooter. He puts the scooter in your trunk, and drives you and your car home. Then he pulls out his scooter, and off he goes, like the shining scooter knight that he is. Brilliant.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

New nephew just arrived!

My new baby nephew has arrived - just got the call from New York.
Healthy, and apparently already stubborn, little guy is hanging with his parents now after a very long day.
Congratulations to Wes and Nanci - who will be the best new parents ever.
Can't wait to meet him in December.
Very very very excited.

If you’re gonna launch a car....

If you’re gonna launch a car, and for those of us in advertising working on automotive accounts, it happens – here are some helpful best practices to keep in mind for your launch party. (Momentum – feel free to use these. I won’t charge for the ideas.) (And yes - this was a successful launch - I'm only being a jerk about a couple of details).

-Make sure there’s a signature drink named after your car. Preferrably something diabetes-inducingly sweet, bright blue, with a cherry in it. Serve in martini glasses for ultra-classiness.

-Make sure your host is “Mr. Magic” – a dude from Canada who’d be right at home at Casinorama.

-Make sure that you slowly lower your vehicle from a hole in the ceiling on a swing contraption with lots of fireworks and sparkly lights.

-Make sure that your feature act is the girl group formed from three finalists from South African Idol, performing a medly of huge ‘80s hits like Bonnie Tyler's “I need a hero” *

-Above all, make sure that you and your clients get up onstage, uninvited, and proceed to dance with said feature act. Make sure that you get in some photographs that are probably going on that feature act’s website. Make sure that there are lots of fun antics where Dealers dance around with the singers, and sales people do air guitar. And most importantly, if anyone tries to get off the stage and stop dancing, make sure the bigwig client (think at the CAR level, or higher) bars their way, announcing “Nobody goes anywhere!!

Now THAT’s a car people are gonna want to buy.

*Also the theme song for a brilliant 1984 TV show called Cover Up, starring Jon Erik Hexum - quite the babe until he accidentally shot himself in the head, died, and was replaced, as if we wouldn’t notice. Why do they do stuff like that? Remember when Bo and Luke Duke disappeared, and their cousins came on the show? Brutal. Talk about jumping the shark. I never noticed until I checked out a rerun recently, but Daisy Duke wears panty hose. Seriously. Isn’t it hot in Georgia? Why would she wear those? Weird.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Think smarter. Not harder.

As someone in advertising, I am no stranger to the phrase “Think outside the box.” It is very easy to say, but harder to do.

Here’s a little lesson in thinking outside of boxes, South African style.
Let’s say you are on your way back to the office from the client’s office, and as you approach the security gate, you realize you have left in the boot of your car the little slip of paper that needs to be signed by the client, then handed to the security guards at the gate as you drive out.
(The only reason it is in the boot is because you had to put your purse in there to avoid being smashed-and-grabbed, but that’s another story.)
So, you quickly pull over, jump out, run to the back of the car, and attempt to open the boot. It is locked.
You run back to the driver’s side door which is closed, and, oh shit, also locked.
You can’t quite believe you have done this.
Your car is still running.
The doors are locked.
Your purse, and mobile, are in the trunk.
Oh shit.
(In Afrikaans: “kak”.)
You assess the situation.
You are locked out of a running car, at the side of the road, in South Africa.
Eish. (also “oh shit.”)
No need to panic. There’s a construction site in front of you. Surely one of these guys can break into your car.
Putting on your best “I’m just a dumb girl” face, you explain that you are just a dumb girl, and have locked your keys in your car. With the motor running.
Two burly, but helpful construction guys come over to assess.
And as men will do, they find a piece of wire, and proceed to jam the wire into the side of the car, attempting to open the lock.
No luck.
They then force the door away from the frame, the wire into the car, and attempt to hook the door handle from the inside.
This carries on for about 45 minutes.
In the meanwhile, your client has driven by, and after laughing at you, calls your office, explains that you are just a dumb girl, and can they send a locksmith
The burly guys, frustrated, give up, wish you luck in all future endeavours, then take off.
You sit at the side of the road for another half hour, thinking that this is the least safe place in the world to be a dumb girl.
Finally, your guardian angel appears in the form of a guy in a locksmith truck.
He’s the locksmith.
Now, here’s the lesson in thinking outside the box:
Instead of messing with the lock, hooking the doorhandle, cutting a key, or whatever else locksmith’s do, he takes one look at the situation.
He inflates a little thingy in the frame of the door, gets out his bit of wire, and goes straight for the automatic window opener.
The car is running.
The easiest thing to do is not defy physics in an attempt to pull the door handle from the inside with a bit of wire.
It’s to push the damn window button down.
At this point you may feel even dumber.
But wait.
After 10 minutes of the locksmith trying to hit the window button with his piece of wire, we still seem to be making no progress.
At that point, yet another construction worker appears, and asks:
“Hey – did you know your passenger window is going up and down and up and down?”

Now at least the locksmith feels dumb too.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Contest Winner Announced

Bit of housekeeping: Long overdue announcement of the contest winner.
With the actual tally of shoes in my closet, pre-purchase of scuba boots, sitting at 14, that makes eLiz the lucky lucky lucky winner.

Grand prize: free stay at casa de Helen in Joburg for as long as you like. I’ll even give you a set of keys.

Secondary prizes to a select few who entered: almost-free stays at casa de Helen in Joburg. Price of entry: one bottle of wine. Red, please.

Thanks to all who entered.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

TIA (This Is Africa)

Sometimes you get a chance to run around with loaded guns and shoot at things.

At the time, this may seem like a crazy idea, but you should do it anyway. It is fun.

Sorry - no full story tonight - too tired.

Pics instead.

Friday, September 28, 2007

More interesting things I have eaten so far….

Mopani worms. They actually look more like caterpillars, and they’re not bad, just chewy.

Tripe – aka Serobe. Take a cow, cut it’s intestines out. Wash, boil, spice, cut, and serve. No matter what you do, it will still taste like crap. Thankfully, having tried it once, I now never have to try it again.

Pap. Think grits. It’s boiled corn meal, and is served with just about everything you’d normally get potatoes with. Pretty darn good rolled into balls and fried.

One interesting thing I will not eat:

Walkie Talkies

Take some chicken feet (the “walkie”) and chicken beaks (the “talkie”), deep fry them, then see who will eat them.

Not me.

Walkie Talkies

Thursday, September 27, 2007

And the next flight back to Toronto is when exactly?

No no no no no - this will not do.

I was not informed that when the rains start, which they did today, giant enormous spiders with big hairy legs would come crawling out of nowhere and cover everything.

I only have two phobias - sharks, and spiders.
I have tried to be brave about the sharks.

But this is not cool.

Any spider big enough to need its own passport is seriously a problem.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Selachophobia mostly conquered*

OK – I try to keep these posts funny – but sometimes when cool stuff happens, funny or not, I gotta report.

Went to Mozambique over the weekend to take my open-water qualifying dives to complete the SCUBA course I started a couple of weeks ago.

At 2am Friday morning, Chris, my divemaster, picked me up in his bakkie, along with his sister, her guy, and friend Karen. Driving through the night, we arrived at a jammed border crossing at about 11:30am, and were finally at Ponta d’Ouro, Mozambique around 1pm.

Apparently, taking credit cards to Mozambique is pointless, and there are no ATM’s, and crossing the border costs 172 of your last 300 rand. No big deal. Who needs to eat lunch when you’re wearing a bikini for 4 days straight?

First thing to note upon entry to Mozambique is the kids running along the road yelling for you to throw sweets from the car. Most of them are little kids, but every once in a while you get some 14 year old whose voice has just changed grunting “Sweets.” Classic.

Friday night – chaos. A simple trip to the beach had resulted in my only bathing suit malfunctioning. (Read: the little plastic D-ring that joins the front and back halves of the bottom snapped as I was sitting on the beach. Slightly awkward situation. More awkward had I not noticed it before I stood up). Table-mates consulted at dinner. Puzzled looks ensue until offending bikini bottoms brought from tent to provide visual.

Now - you know that coloured nylon ribbon you put on birthday presents, and then you take the scissors and scrape it so it curls real pretty? Well, they use different colours of that stuff to tie on your scuba equipment so it doesn’t get confused with another diving school when you stay at one of these dive camps. My group was using blue.

Homemaker tip: aforementioned nylon ribbon can ALSO be used as emergency bathing suit repair, should you be staying in a one-horse town that doesn’t take credit cards, and therefore does not have emergency bathing suit purchase options. Be sure to tie the right knot to avoid surprises post-wetsuit removal. Quick-witted divemasters are also an asset when they point out that instead of blue ribbon, you should use pink, because it matches your suit better. Clever people, these divers.

Happy to report that nylon ribbon held up the entire weekend. Take that, Project Runway.

Saturday morning – my first open-water dive.

Pretty much fully panicked and kicking myself that I hadn’t re-read any of the course material, I listened carefully as Chris recited the skills we’d be reviewing in the ocean. Now was probably not the time to back out, but frankly, this whole breathing underwater thing, in the ocean, with sharks, was seeming like poor planning.

Some minor issues on the surface trying to convince brain that sinking 16m down was a good idea. OK, actually, full on panic, complete with coughing, sputtering, and inhaling of sea-water. Thank goodness no-one was left on the surface to see that little episode. Which also was disconcerting, because that meant I was alone floating in the sea. Luckily at that point, divemaster came back, grabbed my hand, and dragged me down.

Once at the bottom, everything was cool again. Actually – it was frickin awesome. We did a couple of skills, then got to enjoy the rest of the dive.

Dives two and three proceeded similarly, minus the panic-attacks, with a few more skills being tested each time.

Dive four is the final qualifying dive. You need to navigate with a compass, and hover. No big deal – at this point, I wasn’t worried at all. Plus, I’d just practiced navigating in the parking lot. Easy.

As we climbed into the back of the bakkie to get taken to the launch, we heard from another group coming back in that a whale shark had been spotted in the bay. We made for the water, encountering a massive jam in the parking lot on the way, delaying us. Lindsey was beside herself – she’s been diving for years, and has never got the chance to swim with a whale shark. Finally hustling into the boat, we headed out. Skipper Wayne and divemaster Chris kept watch for the shark. Only a few minutes out, they spotted it.

“Masks and flippers on. Weight belts on” yelled Wayne. I quickly consulted someone as to why we would willingly throw ourselves into the ocean wearing weightbelts, but not air tanks. Apparently our wetsuits are too buoyant to allow us to free dive without weights. Not entirely sure that freediving near a shark was my first choice, I followed suit and put on my weight belt.

“OK – everybody in the water. Stay away from its tail, and don’t touch it” yelled Wayne.

And for some reason, I jumped.

For the first few seconds, all I saw was dark green water as I swam in the general direction of the shark.

Then, all at once, a huge shadow was in front of me. A whale shark, swimming serenely, yet surprisingly quickly. I gulped, then started swimming as fast as I could to keep up. Now thankful for the weight belt, I dove down to swim beside it. This thing was huge.

A word on whale sharks: this one was small at 6-8m, with most of the bigger ones getting up to the 20m mark. They don’t eat people, only plankton, and they are the biggest known fish in the sea.

I couldn’t really keep up to it as it swam, and had to back off as the tail came swinging lazily at me. As it changed direction, I took a chance and swam in an arc to the left. Not too long after, it came round, heading straight at me. And then it glided by, swimming past us again, and out of range.

Huge grins on everyone’s’ faces as we clambered out of the water.

At this point, my brain kicked in, after shutting itself down in preparation for sure death, and I reviewed the fact that I’d just jumped into the water after a shark.

No issues on the 4th dive – navigation skills checked out, and we cruised the reef, spotting an octopus, sea turtle, and a bunch of other fish that some people were pretty excited about. Frankly, I’m still on the “hey – I can breath underwater” stage of diving. I’m sure once I know what the fish are, I’ll get excited about them too. Either that, or like antelope-y things, I'll never care that much about some of those fish.

The dive over, we headed onto the boat to return to shore.

Not quite.

A couple of humpback whales had been spotted a few hundred meters more offshore, and Wayne was going to find them for us. In the distance, we could see a mother and calf breaching and playing in the surf. As we got closer, they turned and headed in our direction. We watched for a while, then decided to head home. The whales had other ideas, and scared the crap out of Wayne coming up literally feet from the boat.

Whale-watching now officially over, we turned the boat and headed for shore.

Not so fast.

Now, because it was one of those days, a group of dolphins swam by.

Everyone looked at eachother.

“OK folks, masks and fins on. Stay in a group, and in you go” Wayne commanded, as we leapt into the water for the third time this dive.

He took the boat in a wide circle around us, and the dolphins played in its wake, zooming through our group, under and around us, squeaking as they went.

Once they’d had enough, we clambered into the boat, now wondering if there was anything left to show up.

I briefly considered retiring from diving so I could quit while I was ahead.

Pretty sweet way to spend a weekend.

Now I gotta look into an underwater camera.

*Note: Actual conquering of selachophobia not entirely proven yet. The true test will be when I encounter some of the ones that could actually eat me, like great whites. Getting thumped with a giant whale shark tail could be bad, but not as bad as getting your arms ripped off. Great whites tend to do the latter.

No, they're not my pictures - but they're pretty cool shots of divers and whale sharks.

woord of the Day **

**(you must be over 18 to read this post)

Doos. [DOO-uss]


Here’s how to use it in a sentence:

When sitting around the fire in Mozambique (more on that later), talking to Lindsey (caterer extraordinaire – Food for Friends, Pretoria), if she asks what Afrikaans words you know, and you say “”Dankie", which means thankyou. Oh, and also “doos””, and her face kind of chokes a little, and she asks “and what does that mean”, if your answer is “box” you will soon learn a little lesson in Afrikaans. In fact, it does mean box, but is also a euphemism for a little something else that we may also use the euphemism “box” for in English.

When you speak further with Lindsey and her partner, Elvin (that is definitely spelled wrong, sorry), you find out that it’s a brilliant word to yell in traffic when someone cuts you off. Kind of like another word that is also a word for box, but is much less polite, and very satisfying to yell when you’re dealing with a doos on the road.

Alternatively, according to Elvin, even better than to call someone a doos, is to call them half-a-doos, because: at least you can use a doos, but a half-doos is good for absolutely nothing.

"Where did I learn such an obscure word in the first place?", you might wonder. Blame the client. We were literally sitting in a meeting talking packaging, when he broke out the Afrikaans word for box. Everyone giggled, but I assumed that was because he’s from America, so throwing out Afrikaans words is unexpected and funny. Not so much.

Luckily, Joburg has lots of badass traffic where I can try out my new word.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Big game hunter

Last Sunday, after scuba lessons, I decided that another trip to any mall would cause brain hemorrhaging, and irreversible mental trauma. Instead, I drove to the Pilanesberg – a game reserve that is about 2 hours from Joburg.

OK – well 2 hours if you know where you’re going and have a map. 3 hours if you are making shit up as you go along, and trying to follow the directions in the Footprint guide to South Africa, which insanely tells you to go via Pretoria, instead of up that road near Fourways Mall, which must be easier and faster.

Nevertheless, I was determined to do something out of the city, so I went.

I was interested to note that upon arrival, they do give you a nice cartoon map of the reserve, but they do not offer any suggestions as to how much you should roll your windows down, if at all, when confronted with a pride of hungry lions. Nor do they suggest what to do if charged by a pissy bull elephant, how to shake monkeys off your antenna, or how to get un-impaled from a rhino that has charged you.

I’m a sensible person though – so I came up with a plan for each of those scenarios. You never know.

I am most proud of my plan for taking photos. I tend to get a wee bit caught up while taking photos. So caught up that the idea that I may be figuring out the f-stops of a picture of a pretty little antelope, while a lion is coming up behind me, is not remotely hard to imagine. I decided that if the antelope was on my right, I would do up the passenger side window (remember what side of the road I’m on), and if the antelope was on my left, I would do up my own window. Sheer genius, really. Years of university education, finally put to good use.

How much fun was it when I spotted my first zebra? Truthfully – on the grand scale of things, zebras are cool, but I’ve seen lots of them. They are not the most exciting animal you could ever see in your life. But, because I was driving, and in full control of where I went, it seemed very exciting that I, advertising girl from Toronto, had found a zebra all by myself. Similar shrieks of glee were to be heard as I then found warthogs, elephants having a bath, monkeys, rhinos, and wildebeesties.

I did have to reconsider my actions and admonish myself a bit when I started saying “hello warthog”, “hi monkey-guys” etc. with every new discovery. There are limits to how silly you are allowed to behave, even when you’re on your own. However, I won’t apologize for telling an antelope-thingy* how pretty it was, but that I wished a lion would come along and eat it. That’s just good journalism.

Highlight of the trip was the discovery of a viewing blind set up for observation of a watering hole. (Even more of a highlight would have been if a lion actually killed something while I was watching.) As it was, a couple of wildebeest came down, had a drink, then ran off. But still.

Actually, come to think of it, even more of a highlight would have been if a lion came into the UNGUARDED OPEN-TO-THE-WILDERNESS parking lot where you park your car, and head into a flimsily-fenced in area to reach the blind. The coolness of that possibility did not occur to me, since I was busy shitting my pants, trying to walk confidently to the little gate, and head to the blind without being eaten. I did consider waiting in the car for a few minutes and hoping for some fat, tasty-looking German tourists to come along. That way, the lion would be sure to pick them over me, and I would come out with some great shots. No such luck.

Travel tip: despite the fact that staying at the watering hole until sunset is a very tempting idea – considering lions tend to hunt more wildebeest and German tourists at night – it does make it difficult to get back through the park in time to exit before they lock the gate at 6:30pm. Especially when the speed limit is 40km/hr. Best not to attempt that, as it’s really stupid. It also makes driving back to Jo-burg along un-lit highways that cattle like to stroll on, just a wee bit dangerous.

*Anyone checking out my photos on Flickr will notice that I actually have no idea what any of the antelope things are called. It is discriminatory of me, but things that look mostly like deer, ain’t that interesting. Unless they have big horns, of course, like Kudu’s. Kudu’s are cool. And tasty. Gazelle-y things or antelope-y things are very nice, but more interesting if they are a lion’s lunch.

Smells like Disneyworld

Last Saturday I visited Montecasino. I’ve been driving by this place for weeks now, which has been designed to look like part of a Venetian village. No kidding. I almost caused an accident when I tried to take a picture from my moving car, as I merged onto the on-ramp. But it was a really good angle, and I’m working very hard to bring you the best reporting I can.

I decided after my scuba lesson last Saturday that I would take my laptop, take a look around Montecasino, and then find a nice coffee shop and do some work. Sometimes the thought of spending another minute in my apartment makes me want to commit a hate crime, or something, so I figured a change of scenery would be in order.

Things started a little bit badly when I was accosted by a combination parking-bully/carwash bully. I endured several pointed insults as to the cleanliness of my car, while I patiently explained that I LIKE my car dirty, and that no, I would not be purchasing a carwash while I was in the mall.

That taken care of, I made my way into the mall, and was amused by the following sign (look carefully. Bottom row):

Things were looking up.

Let me tell you. I have been to Disneyworld, I have been to Madame Tussaud’s, I have been to the floating islands in Peru. I know cheese. This place had clearly paid close attention to the cheese-masters. I stepped from the heat and dust of Joburg into a full simulation evening in an Italian village. Complete with sunset, fountains, plastic pigeons and about 300 slot machines. When they say Monte-CASINO, they mean casino.

Gagging slightly, I made my way around the village muttering under my breath “holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap. This is unbelievably wrong.”

My trigger finger twitched as I struggled internally with the two sides of an argument in my head. “I really really need a picture of this ridiculous place. How else can I prove how ridiculous it is?” “But then you will look like a tourist that is impressed. That waiter over there is watching you – he will think you are a dumb tourist.” “But I REALLY need to document this insanity.” “Fine, have it your way. But you look like an ass.”

And so, because pictures are worth far more than words in this case, I bring you evidence of Montecasino.

Please note: Anyone planning on visiting: I will not take you anywhere near this place. I would rather return to the home affairs visa office wearing sign saying “rob me, I’m lost, frightened, and very rich.”

Why yes, in fact, those ARE fake pigeons. At Montecasino, they spare no expense.

And yes, it was a bright sunny, hot Joburg day....outside. Inside: a cool evening in Italy. By a fountain. Near a slot machine. With fake pigeons.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A trip downtown

Friday morning I woke up early, and jumped in the car to head down to the Home Affairs office to extend my visa.
Visitors from Canada do not need a visa for visits of up to 90 days, however, since I’m here until Christmas, I need an extension.
I had called the office the day before to make sure I was headed to the right place.
I checked my maps and made sure I was very clear about where to exit the highway, which streets were one-way streets, and roughly how I would find the right place.
My plan was to head downtown, find safe parking, get the visa extended, and be back in the office for 9am.
It was a good plan. Sadly, things did not work out that way. Likely because driving to downtown Joburg ain’t a really good idea. Ever.
I did manage to get right downtown on the M1, but missed my exit.
Here’s another quirky thing about South Africa. The street you are looking for may be called Rivonia Road. On all the maps, it’s called Rivonia. On the highway signs, it’s called Rivonia. But just as you get to what you think is the exit, it’s called Rivoniaweg. And in the split seconds you have to react to the tiny off-shoot, it’s hard to decide if Rivonia, and Rivoniaweg are the same thing.
I have since learned to ignore whatever suffix they add to the word. Rivonia = Rivoniaweg = Rivonialaan = Rivoniawhatever.
In this case, I was looking for Smit. The sign said Smitwesslkjsljd, or something equally ominous.
Being completely terrified of taking the wrong exit and ending up in Hillbrow (think Compton, Regent Park, Jane and Finch), I did not take Smit-whatsit.
After that, the M1 South goes over a big bridge, and you are screwed for a very long time, until you have a choice – get off on the Soweto exit and try to find a place to turn around, or get off on the Randburg exit and try to find a place to turn around. No contest. I’m definitely not going to Soweto on my own, having just narrowly avoided Hillbrow. I don’t know what the deal is with Randburg, but I do know it’s not Soweto.
So I figure out a series of highway interchanges and a couple of illegal right turns, make my way back to Smit, and end up on what I believe is the correct street for the office: Harrison.
I notice very quickly that I am the only white person driving around down here. I decide this is something to be concerned about.
I put on my best “Hell yes, I drive down here all the time, what’s it to you?” face.
I hide the map book under the seat.
I circle the block looking for “safe parking” – i.e. gates and guards and razor wire. Hmmmmm – not so much. There are a lot of very helpful looking parking bullies running around – but they keep pointing at spots on the street. I decide that there is probably no faster way to be robbed and murdered then to park my car on the street, have it stolen, and try to find a taxi. If you’ve been paying attention you know the following: there are no taxis; do not park your car on the street. I can only assume the last points – robbed and murdered – would be what happens to you if you do park your car on the street, then try to find a taxi.
I notice that out my right hand side is the office I need to go to. I can’t actually see a door. In fact, the place looks pretty run down. I have a bad feeling the door is actually in the small alley beside the office.
This is not turning out as I had hoped.
I circle the block one more time, hoping to have safe parking jump out at me.
I have almost made up in my mind that even if I do find safe parking, there is no way in hell I am actually getting out of the car, getting my purse, and walking into the alley to find the office.
I see a very nicely-dressed young man cross the street, and proceed to try all the doors on cars parked along the curb. (I am desperate to take a picture, but decide that a shiny camera is like a big “Come rob me” beacon.)
OK, that’s it – I’m out of here. Let them deport me, I am not getting my visa renewed here.
And then I make a slight error in judgement. Reasoning that if I just head west, I’m bound to hit a street to take me back to the highway, I pass under an overpass, and down a street that does not look like it goes anywhere I want to go.
This is very very very bad.
“This is not a good street” I say. “This is very very very bad.”
Wasting no time, I do the only thing I can – I make a u-turn. Now – this isn’t quite like I’m driving up the wrong street, I’ll make a nice neat u-turn at that stop light up there. This is more like – I’m driving on the Gardiner Expressway, and I’m not happy with where I’m going, so I’m just going to spin into oncoming traffic, hope they stop, and carry on my merry way.
Which I do, all the while wearing my “Hell yes I can make a u-turn here, what are you going to do about it” face.
I think it was the sheer audacity of the move that actually caused traffic to stop. Whatever it was, I got the hell out of there, found a street heading north, and somehow found the M1 north.
I was at my desk by 9am. I still have to figure out how to get the visa extended.

Friday, September 7, 2007

слово of the Day


As in "where the hell have you been - it's the Rugby World Cup, and we must now all head to pubs and get drunk and sing rugby songs."

I have just joined an office rugby world cup pool.

I picked the All Blacks vs. France for the final. I really know nothing about rugby, except for the following:
  • they're called "tries" not touch downs.
  • you can drop the ball as many times as you like, and somehow that's fine, you can pick it up again and keep running.
  • there are things called scrums which look pretty agressive, and you're not supposed to touch the ball in there. C'mon - as if there's not some kicking and pushing in there. Please. I watch hockey. I know you're not 'supposed' to kick the puck, trip a guy, or run the goalie. I presume the same amount of following the rules happens in rugby.
  • some of the guys wear these funny little leather hats, which make them look a little like Corky from Life Goes On. (I'm just saying.) I take it they're to protect their ears from vicious Tyson-like attacks when they're in the aforementioned scrum.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Palabra of the day

Traffic light. As in, "Turn right at the next robot."

Why is it called a robot? The story I heard is that traffic lights are considered a new technological thing here, and therefore, people refer to them as robots. Sounds like crap to me. This country has computers and mobile phones and even snazzy iPods, yet the traffic light is the big shiny new technology? Don't think so - sounds a bit insulting.

Anyhow - it's very common to get directions here guiding you robot by robot.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The fun never ends

This is my first mobile post - I hope it works. Normally I would fire up my computer and add a post the old-fashioed way. The way my grandfather, and his grandfather before him did. However - tonight I am facing yet another unique challenge on this trip - no power.
My situation is especially unique since - while it is fairly common to have power outages in this area - mine is the only apartment affected. In fact, it was out earlier today too, and I'd been informed that the problem was fixed.
I've just walked in the door - and nope - problem not fixed. Power still out.
I'm pretty happy that I bought a bunch of emergency candles a little while back.

What I'm not really happy about is that I've just called the owner who has rudely stated that I "must have done something wrong."
What that something is she cannot quite say. I suppose that her degree in electrical engineering does not cover "stupid foreigners who try to switch the lights on." What on earth could I have been thinking?
So I'm sitting here in the dark, watching my blackberry run out of juice, thinking how ironic it is that the exact same thing was happening exactly one month ago today as I sat trapped in my apartment with no adaptors, and no one to call.
And then, as now - the issue is not something inherent to Africa or its relatively young infrastructure. Nope - pure and simple - it's human error - or more to the point, indecency.
Happy month-a-versary.

Word of the Day*

As part of my never-ending quest to bring you new and inciteful information, I formally introduce: Word of the Day.

Today’s word is “Howzit”.
Pronounced, well, like it looks really. Emphasis on the first syllable. HOWZ-it.
General greeting.
So instead of “Hey, how’s it going?” you would say “Howzit?”
It may derive from the informal Afrikaans greeting "Hoe's dit?" (lit. "How's it?").

There – now you can feel smart for the rest of the day, knowing you’ve learned something new.

*There is absolutely no guarantee that there will actually be one word every day. There will most likely be one word every day for about 6 days, then one every 2 or 3 days, then I may forget to add any new words at all until October, when I will make a lame excuse as to why, and then shower you with 7 new words. Anyone who has an issue with that is welcome to send me a new word for inclusion on the blog. It can be any word. Actually – best words of the week all win prizes. I smell a new contest.......

Sunday, September 2, 2007

There is no theory of evolution, just a list of creatures Chuck Norris allows to live.

Honestly: Catwoman, Kickboxer (starring Jean-Claude VanDamme), Afro Café (in Zulu, or something) or, wait for it…Walker Texas Ranger.
This is my TV viewing choice this evening. Quite a decision dilemma.
I wonder what their criteria is for program selection? Either they’re operating on a tiny budget that only allows them to buy used DVDs, which they then air. Or, the guy picking this stuff is so deprived of regular social contact, shunned by all who know him for his just plain lameness, that he’s lost any sense of reality.
(Oh my god – does Chuck Norris perform the title theme in this? Wow – remind me to go buy the soundtrack.)
This is horrendous.
Walker’s fiancée is a hostage. If Nortez, Ortega’s brother, is not found and handed over to Ortega in 24 hours, she gets it. But will Ortega keep his word and release her? Will he?
(When does the karate start?)
Dammit – Nortez has been handed over, but like the evil scum that he is, Ortega is reneging. They had a deal, you bastard. They had a deal.
Methinks Chuck is going to start kicking some Mexican ass.

OK – screw the contest, I’m now starting a telethon. It’s called “Save Helen’s Sanity – Give Her a couple of bucks to get cable.”
I think Bob Geldoff is organizing a concert. I know for sure Bono’s coming. He just SMS’d me.

Oh wait – things are looking up. Dallas is on at 10:30. Sweet

Thursday, August 30, 2007

New blog template

Had to change it - that narrow column of text was driving me mental.
I did try to figure out how to edit the HTML myself. I learned some HTML a few years back, and actually put together a few websites for friends. (No I will not tell you the names of them because the tech guys will roast me for my brutally basic abilities). But who's kidding who - there's these nice templates just sitting on blogger ready for me to use. Who am i to reinvent the wheel.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Breaking Booze News

I believe I’ve found a liquor store. Finally – after 24 days – I have located somewhere to buy some booze.
You can buy wine in grocery stores – so I have the vino covered. But if I ever wanted a nice gin and tonic, or tequila shooters, some quiet Friday night, I previously have been screwed.
(Note: Woolworths here is a higher end grocery store. You can buy wine there, but all of it has a “Woolworths” sticker on it. Kind of like the Oprah book club. And like the Oprah book club, nothing makes me want to buy a book, or bottle of wine LESS than having a big “Woolies” sticker on it.)
In England they call it an offlicence, in Ontario, it’s the LCBO – or the ‘elsie” if you’re super cool, like me, and Fiona. Here – no beating around the bush. No euphemisms or references to the government. It’s: the bottle store. Plain and simple.
I was driving around at lunch yesterday (driving replaces walking, which, frankly, you’d be stupid to do, unless you like being robbed) and decided to take a little tour. So far I’ve been heading to work, or to Sandton – south of where I live. I’ve actually never bothered to head north, towards the prison. I think, for fairly obvious reasons. It’s a prison.
At any rate, the road past the prison goes on a bit, then through some new developments, and eventually out to a main road.
There is a kick-ass broken down restaurant there which, whether I eat there or not, likely not, will make for some good pictures.
Continuing up something-or-other road, I found a new little mall.
Now – here’s the thing about these little strip malls. They are surrounded by security fencing, and in the parking lot are about 30 guys in fluorescent yellow safety jackets directing traffic. OK – that was the polite way of saying it. They are very aggressive, and run after your car wind-milling their arms trying to make you park your car in the spot they deem appropriate. When you’re ready to leave, they stand directly behind your car, and motion for you to back up – even though you know that doing so will likely result in them being flattened. I have thusfar tried to pretend I don’t see them, in the hopes that they will think “Shit – this foreigner doesn’t see me – I better get the hell out of the way so she can just back up in peace.”

Anyways – point of that is that it’s tricky to just cruise into a little mall, drive around a bit, and see what stores they have. You really have to commit to the idea, and stick to your guns about ignoring the parking bullies.
Yesterday I was feeling brave – so I drove in, cruising slowly – looking simultaneously at the other cars and the stores, and studiously not looking at the parking bullies.
Then I saw it – the bottle store. I think I actually let out a little cry of victory.
Even better: it’s called Loco Liq.
Haven’t been in yet. But the fact that there’s a little Mexican restaurant right next door makes me think this may now be my favourite mall-away-from-home.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Yummy Monkey

Some photographic proof of the monkey gland sauce incident.
(That's not a little monkey finger, by the way. That's a fry.)

I have since researched, and found that monkey gland sauce is no longer made with monkeys.

What the hell is it then?

I'm guessing it's one of those mincemeat things - where it used to literally be minced meat, but now is just a tasty concoction that frankly, tastes damn good spooned right out of the jar. Not that I'd ever do that with mincemeat, or with peanut butter and honey. That's immature.

Please note : no monkeys were harmed in the making of this post.

Contest Clarification

For the literally thousands of you keen on winning THE BIG PRIZE, here's some clarification to your questions:

Miss SA does have tile floors, and they are very slippery - I have fallen over twice already, and I wasn't even drunk. The one time I thought I was screwed, because I was carrying my handy-dandy burglar-proof chair over to the door, wearing socks, no slippers - mistake - and I wiped out and smacked the chair into one of the giant enormous mirrors. Either that thing would have shattered, killing me instantly with about 20 feet of mirror shrapnel, or I would have had to pay to replace it - also a near death experience, I'm sure.

Anyway - the point of that was to tell you that I am counting slippers in the tally.

The suitcase, or suitcases, are standard 26" uprights from the Bay. They might be 28", there were two options when I bought them. I thought I was getting the bigger one, but for some reason I think I ended up with the 26" one.

I will count tonight, and let those of you who have made guesses know if you're in the ballpark.

And yes - all this clarification could have been avoided with a good SRD meeting. What was I thinking? These South Africans are screwed if SRD's and CRM is left up to me.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Jozi Jazz

I finally feel as though I’ve seen a bit of real Joburg. The Standard Bank Jazz Festival was held in Newtown this year, right in downtown Jozi – and is an area that has previously had serious crime issues, but has been undergoing a bit of a renaissance in recent years.
Friday night, we left from the agency – JT, Thabang, and I, driven by Archie. We pulled into a parking area he’s used before, and he spoke to the attendant about guarding his car. Apparently, you can follow any one of dozens of “parking attendants” that line the streets, but unless you know what you’re doing, very often they turn out to be phony. If you pay them in advance, good luck finding them, or your car, when you return.
With over 30 minutes until showtime, we elected to grab a bite first. The restaurant we popped into was crammed with people – and they were all locals. Much better than the tourist restaurants of Sandton, that’s for sure. Our bellies, full, and 20 minutes late, we headed back to the huge marquee tent for an evening of jazz.
Apparently, a 7:30pm start is more of a vague guideline than a hard and fast rule, because the concert didn’t actually start until about 8:45. Nevertheless, the first act came on – and what an act. Freddie Jackson – who in his day was a bit of a hit, I take it. Picture a black Liberace, complete with effeminate pelvic thrusts, and squealed vocal riffs, and you’ll start to get the idea. And this guy – who was the opening act – just would not stop. He used to be a hit, and dammit, he wasn’t going to let the dream die. He sang until almost 10:30. While the crowd seemed to really be getting into it, it was far from good. It was pure cheese. If you can imagine getting stuck watching Gowan open for the Stones, and rocking out just for the pure nostalgic hilarity – that’s kind of what was happening.
After pulling 16 or so very eager young ladies on stage, and looking like he had absolutely no idea what to do with them, he thanked the audience and his God, and got off the stage.
Next up: Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu – a famous husband and wife South African team. Now the crowd was really on its feet. What an awesome experience – to be part of a loud, singing, dancing, joyous crowd – in a city I’ve been trying not to fear for the past three weeks. It was one of those real moments you get every once in a while that are hard to describe, but that make you feel like you just evolved another sense, or learned something really valuable.
Anyhow, I take it that seeing these two in concert is a rare occurrence these days, and they have a slew of local hits that are very good. They’ve both gained fame in their own right – but even never having heard them before, I thought they were terrific.
At about 12:30 am the headliners came on: George Duke and Stanley Clarke. These guys were incredible. They were the stiffest black guys I’ve seen since I’ve been here (picture a black Jerry Seinfeld with a bass guitar, and Newman on the piano) – but their talent is unbelievable. Their fingers move so damn fast – it was like heavy metal jazz. The crowd stayed on its feet to the end – mostly because of the music, but I think partly because the temperature had dropped to about five degrees.
At 2 am, completely frozen, tired, but very pleased with ourselves, we headed back to the car – which was still exactly where we parked it – and headed north to the suburbs.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Interesting things I've eaten so far

Kudu: some sort of antelope-like thing. Tastes like venison.
Lot’s of steak: that’s not really interesting, but there sure is a lot of it here.
Vegetables”: when you see this on the menu – be sure to ask what you’re getting. In most cases, unidentified vegetables turn out to be creamed spinach, and mashed squash. Not bad. But not exactly what you’d expect.
Pap: a fairly tasteless grits-like concoction. You can get it with just about anything.
Muesli: again, not interesting – but don’t use the word ‘granola’ – they have no idea what you mean.
Biltong: In Canada we have jerkey. In South America, they have charkey. In SA - biltong.
Monkeygland sauce: no idea what it’s meant to be, and hopefully it’s not made of what it says it’s made of. Kind of tastes like spicy sweet and sour sauce. I dipped steak in it. Not really sure why.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Yay - visitors

A warm SA welcome to the digital pitch team, Jordan, Colleen, Mike, Scott, and Mark R. It has been very nice to have visitors already, and I have practiced both my driving and direction skills touring them around a little.
Some photographic evidence does exist of our Saturday night debacle - which - as i now MAY have internet at home, might actually get uploaded.
Stories to follow.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Facebook Update

For those of you at home trying to reach me through Facebook - please be aware that it is website non grata in the office, and has been banned due to it's evil and disruptive powers.

HOWEVER, all is not lost, for if i ever get my 3G (read: wifi) card back (it has blown up, or something) then I will not only be happy as a pig in shit with internet at home, but I will be able to bypass the web security and log on to beloved Facebook again.

Don't give up hope, quad squad, I will update my status again.

[I will, however, not watch that video again - it is depressing. I bought a straight iron, and made room in my luggage for it. My hair is lovely now.]


I will begin to include footwear descriptions in the blog, so those of you paying attention can guess just how many pairs of shoes I managed to squirrel away in my suitcases.

[Note to eLiz – the Sunday hike involved: hiking boots]

The prize: well, it is very exciting and amazing and you would kill your own nanny for this thing, which also includes a free stay at Miss South Africa's apartment in Johannesburg. Think about THAT.

End of an era

OK, so i'm out of the industry.

P*rn allegations seem to have been cleared up. Thank you IT.

Here's proof of what once was: (hmmm, rather fuzzy. Sorry)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Zebras and dassies and wildebeests, oh my.

Sunday I woke up at 8:09, swore, and jumped into some clothes, wolfed down some cereal, and ran out the door to my car. I had planned to meet up with a hiking group about 35km south, still within the city, just south of Soweto.
Not really having any idea how to get on the highway, and then how to get off and find my destination, I had originally planned to leave at 8am sharp, giving myself a full hour to get there and meet them at 9am. By the time I pulled it together, it was about 8:22am. Very late.
Luckily, Sunday morning in Jozi isn’t too busy on the roads, and I put the pedal to the floor of my little Renault, and sailed down the M1.
So far, getting used to driving on the left side of the road hasn’t been too bad – but I still have a lot of little habits it’s going to be hard to break. I reach for my seatbelt into the midair between the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat every single time. I walk to the wrong side of the car every time. And unfortunately, drivers sharing the highway with me have to be very careful on my left-hand side, as most of my car is hanging into the lane to the left of me, I’m so used to having my body closer to the left side, rather than the right side, of the lane. (Anyone who was able to follow that explanation – bravo.)

Anyways, after a minor wrong turn and panic (number 79), I pulled up to a serious looking group of hikers.
Tony, a Brit, now living in SA and leading these hikes hosted by the local conservation society, greeted me warmly, having given me detailed directions over the phone earlier in the week.
We set out a few minutes later, and Tony pointed out animals and plants of interest as we went along. Consulting with Tom – a hike leader dressed in camo shirt, and army-issue canteen – the decision was made that we’d head up the ridge “to stay downwind of the animals.”
What fun. Like real hunters.

On the way up, we saw:

  • Dassies (aka rock rabbits) – picture big guinea pigs; apparently the fact that they climb trees was a source of laughter from the locals, but having no preconceptions about whether dassies do or do not climb trees, I admit the joke was lost on me.

  • Weaver birds – apparently we saw four different types; again, some subtle differences may be lost on me.

  • Yellow mongoose – clearly a greedy little thing, was hanging out near the cars to pick up any food it could get.

But the coolest part of the day was as we reached the top of the ridge, there were a pair of zebra ears just visible. As we got closer, we could see an entire family of zebras watching us. They continued to stand there as we moved closer, until we were no more than 150 feet away. Behind them ran a group of about 20 black wildebeest. They kind of chased each other randomly in circles. The zebras moved off a few feet, and we could see some more in behind.
Naturally, the camera and zoom came out.

Apparently these hikes, which happen two Sundays a month, often encounter animals like zebras and wildebeest, but it’s relatively uncommon to be able to get so close.

(I will eventually get my photos online. Bear with me. I have included a representative shot of a zebra here, as a visual reference. The bit about the lion might not be representational. The bit with the motorcycle is totally true though.)