A Travellerspoint blog

Lake Maggiore - Cabriolet A-Go-Go

Mamma Mia...No Dancing Queens here

semi-overcast 72 °F

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We Survived the Storm...

...but the day was grey, clouds of the heavy variety clinging passionately to surrounding hills and valleys. Things looked marginally more hopeful 'up-the-lake', so, armed with maps, umbrellas, sweaters and swimwear (always be prepared) headed South.

Soon after crossing the Swiss/Italian border (take your passport just in case they are interested), our pretty little cabriolet's dashboard lit up like London's Olympic Stadium, with bleep and bong musical accompaniment. NO OIL and NO TYRE PRESSURE. So dear reader...remember back in my Ibiza blog when I said, check your spare tyre, well, it seems anyone renting a car these days requires a mechanic's course.

That sorted, and roof down as a yellow thing in the sky pushed it's way through the gloom, we wound our way along the lake shore hoping to come across a waterside cafe. They don't seem to exist. Traffic going into Cannobio was backed up so we swung off up the hill and meandered through villages, past countless churches and saw hardly a soul. No coffee shops either.

Back down at lake level we stopped in Stresa. I know; hilarious isn't it. I wonder how a name like that affects Real Estate prices? Yes, there are winding cobbled streets and a wide boulevard lakeside but this is definitely a coach party stopover spot. We did spy a larger-than-life Ferrari billboard incongruously propped between a perfumier and a sunglasses shop when we finally had coffee.

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It was the only thing I wanted to buy, even though it wasn't for sale.

We stopped a few miles on at the first almost-lakeside restaurant we came to. It was so awful I can't even begin to describe it. I guess visitors to England presume everyone makes perfect Yorkshire Pudding. As we Brits know that's not the case. SO WHY WOULD WE PRESUME ALL ITALIANS KNOW HOW TO MAKE PASTA?? And miserable staff...Mamma Mia. Was it the weather? The economic climate? The end of high season? Whatever it was, Charm School had three perfect students at this place. (Apologies for not naming said restaurant; I've obliterated it from memory)

Underwhelmed and believing in the power of positive thought that Ascona would now be basking in sunshine we headed 'home'. Longing for tea and cake, as much as some of the Italian hospitality we've experienced during every other visit to Italy, we stopped at Cannobio. It was quiet now but Mamma Mia...more potential students for that Charm School.

Oh, Eden Roc, how over-joyed we were to see you nestled in the...gloom. Another storm was brewing. No matter. It was twice as ferocious as last night's. Never mind. Vodka, tonic, ice, lime. Perfect. Ducks clustered concerned on the heated swimming pool. Cute. A covered walkway to dinner at La Marina, which, from the outside, resembled that service station with the Pringle-style sloping roof on the A1, and Shepherd's Bush (revamped) tube station on the inside. Amusing especially as everyone was 'fully blinged'. The food was fabulous AND EVERYONE SMILED.

I'm puzzled. What's going on Italy? Where are those flirty smiles, dishes of Mamma's perfect pasta and bubbling pizza and hot, strong Espresso? Perhaps tomorrow......

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 03:12 Archived in Switzerland Tagged lake clouds border ferrari pasta stresa lake_maggiore swiss_italian_border mamma_mia cannobio Comments (0)

Lake Maggiore - Storms at Operation Sunrise

Who Goes There?

all seasons in one day

WE FLEW RYANAIR
It was late Mr. O'Leary so no trumpets on landing...but still the passengers applaud. WHY DO THEY DO THAT? I can understand being thrilled when a Delhi rickshaw 'driver' gets you to your destination more or less in one piece but honestly...the guy up-front in a plane? He's got every widget and whatsit available to, well, airline pilots hasn't he?

Milan was hot. We rented a cabriolet. It had no petrol. And...tunnels are VERY noisy when you don't have a roof?

So, we waved Hello and Goodbye to Lake Como and pressed on to Lake Maggiore crossing the nonchalant Swiss border and arriving in time for cocktails at the Eden Roc Hotel sitting gloriously at the lakes's northern tip.

From our balcony we have panoramic vistors of water, sky and mountains as well as the La Casetta Restaurant; location of infamous Operation Sunrise:

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...covert activities that hastened the end of WWII in Italy. Wild Spitfires wouldn't have kept my other-half (he of a mind-boggling memory for historical facts and figures) from dining there. It didn't disappoint but the wind had got up, clouds were swirling and we could no longer see the hills. Until they were lit up by lightening.

These Swiss certainly know how to throw a good storm! Ten minutes in, I realised I was the only one laughing (of the terror and/or hysteria type) as most fellow diners fled, clutching their drinks, into what must have been 'the meeting room', where I am sure they had a wonderfully bonding experience; just like those peacemakers. But it was a dignified grey haired elderly lady who took my breath away; she didn't flinch as flowerpots, chairs, cushions and over-excited waiters flew around her. Was she a spy of old?

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 09:49 Archived in Switzerland Tagged switzerland ascona hotel_eden_roc operation_sunrise lake_maggiore cabriolet Comments (0)

I Don't Like Bats....at Kanga

sunny 22 °F

I don’t like bats. Any bats; bats in the belfry, bats in our attic, bats when I walk the dog at night, bats in the bedroom...not any kind of bat. And all that nonsense about how cute they are; faces like a small fox (I don’t much like foxes either; they remind me of bats), they won’t hurt you, won’t come near you, won’t drink your blood, people keep them as pets, they eat mosquitos...blah blah blah.

My phobia (cemented when a 'professional' attempt to rid me of my fear went spectacularly pear-shaped as "lovely" Eric the Fruit Bat wrapped his leather-like wings around my face as his claws slipped off my arm) had not occurred to me as I sat, vodka and tonic in hand, looking out at Kanga Pan in the World Heritage Site Mana Pools National Park, watching a solitary elephant also having his sun-downer, and chanced to look up into the magnificent Mahogany tree spread umbrella-like over Camp’s dining table. DON’T ASK ME WHY I DID IT. I DON’T KNOW. And there they were; thousands of the damn things, hanging upside down, just waiting to swoop, tangle their claws in my hair, crawl inside my shirt and have a suck at my neck. No...I don’t know what kind of bat they were. I didn’t ask.

It’s embarrassing when you shriek for a reason that patently is not obvious to your dining companions, one of whom you recently learnt is to be your Guide for the next six days. I instantly saw it going through his mind; “Oh, Good Lord. Why have you sent me this one?” Dilemma? Do I confess to my inherent terror of these things swaying in the gentle African breeze a mere four feet above my head or keep schtum and fabricate a leg-creeping bug. I might have pulled it off if things hadn’t changed. The shriek was clearly a macabre signal. They were flying everywhere in ecstatic glee; swooping off branches, out over the water, back again, around the table (could they go under too?), up onto their perches. Their little pointed teeth might even have been showing whilst they laughed (ok, I made that last bit up).

Reader...I fear I let the side down. British stiff upper lip? Not a chance. “I’m SO sorry but I really don’t like bats,” I told him, wondering if a wee tear might help. If he knew the teenage expression, “Go figure” now was his chance.

But, you know what, our 6ft 3ins Zimbabwean guide Fisher (no relation...honestly), just gave me that smile I was to come to recognize over the following week and I knew it would be alright. Clearly he knew a potential-hysteric when he met one and knew normal 'bat-platitudes' would have fallen on deaf ears!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 06:18 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged elephant guide bats kanga fisher world_heritage_site mana_pools sun-downers chitake_springs Comments (3)

To Take or Not to Take...Antimalarials

That is the Question


People living in Africa will tell you they don’t take anti-malarial medication. They have their reasons, which are many and varied. However, one such, “I never take the stuff” long-term SA resident pal of ours contracted it (again) after our trip to Botswana a few years back and he wasn’t exactly feeling great I can tell you.

After lengthy discussions with a highly respected Johannesburg based Consultant Physician this Spring, I would now never take a risk on vacation. His descriptions of a young healthy Camp manager’s cerebral malaria, resulting in organ failure, coma, blood transfusions and desperate weeks in ICU, were enough to give me the heebie-jeebies. With symptoms sometimes staying hidden for weeks, I figure you should be ok if they emerged in Africa where doctors are well trained to deal with it, but a rural English village? I don’t think so. And, if it’s the aforementioned cerebral malaria...well, that could be curtains before you even get to hospital for a diagnosis. Malaria is still the world's biggest killer.

I have tried all manner of antimalarials over the years. There’s no gentle way of putting it...they all made me feel utterly lousy (nausea, nightmares, sweats, aches and pains) and I do confess to sometimes having stopped courses before their allotted time.

But, before our latest trip, the aforementioned Physician advised me to always take my pill after an evening meal and with a large glass of warm milk. The first 24 hours were not fabulous with the usual disturbed sleep etc. On the second night, (our first under canvas in the dark-beyond-dark bush) my other-half shook me awake from what he supposed to be a screaming nightmare (it wouldn’t be the first). But, Hey Ho, TraLaLa...it wasn’t me. It was HYAENA running around Camp. “Oh, that’s good”, says he, going back to his slumber. Me? I lay there listening to what sounded like a gang of marauding teenagers dealing with their munchies in the Camp’s kitchen. And, yes...I had palpitations. After that? No problems whatsoever...apart from warring baboons, rutting impala, roaring lion and what’s that bloody bird that wakes me up every morning at 4am? Oh yes; the lovely ground hornbill, which are supposedly rather unusual in certain parts of Africa. Not ours!

Some folks say munching garlic will keep dreaded mosquitoes away. Really? What about the smell; it wouldn’t just be the bugs and Devil you kept at bay would it? Readers of my previous posts will perhaps recall I have no sense of smell so this wouldn’t be an issue for me, but you do want to socialise with your travelling companions don’t you? And where the heck would you get enough garlic? And what is enough? How many cloves should you eat? Skins off or on? See...it doesn’t sound helpful or hopeful does it?

So, what should you do?

1. There are a myriad of antimalarials available. Making a choice can be overwhelming and worrying. Do call your local Travel Clinic for advice giving them a detailed trip itinerary. Cambridge is my nearest (+441223 367362). They are well-informed and bang up-to-date dealing with travelling students, day in/day out.
2. Plan ahead – don’t leave it to the last minute.
3. Remember Africa has malaria hot-spots, which can change from one year to the next.
4. Antimalarials are expensive and not usually available on the NHS so shop around. Asda pharmacy is amongst the cheapest.
5. Take it at the same time every day; I doled ours out after dinner.
6. If they are making your feel awful do try with a glass of warm milk or perhaps you would be better taking them straight after breakfast?
7. Don’t listen to anyone else’s, “why are you bothering with that?” or “try these instead”. Stick to your plan.
8. A small minority of individuals taking antimalarials containing Larium experience off-the-scale screaming habdab side-effects, (similar to mine listed above but ten-fold). However, go on those internet forums and you’ll see both sides of the coin. Personally I don’t want to even toy with the possibility of becoming psychotic. Malarone is my prophylactic of choice and seems to be one of the most commonly prescribed.
9. One of the worst times for being bitten is at night especially if you are eating outside when bugs of all description will sometimes appear in clouds around any source of light. Cover up: long sleeves, scarf, trousers tucked into socks. (read clothing list here) Spray your tent before you go out and again when you come in. Spray your clothing too – it really helps.
10. Some sprays are noxious in the extreme. A great 100% natural, Deet free, alternative “clinically proven to protect against malaria” according to its scientific blub, is INCOGNITO anti-mosquito (see details here) . Made in the UK it comes in a 100ml spray bottle and is available on the internet.
11. I suppose my best piece of advice is to plan your trip. If you can’t face taking medication pick locations that are malaria free or go in the dry season. Just watch out for snakes...but that’s another post!

All my talk has been of Africa, but funnily enough my two worst experiences of being eaten alive were in West Scotland (midge), where I resorted to wearing a fly-fishing head net for three days, and Malaysia (mosquito) where my idea of a quiet little hour of solitude by our host’s pool set in tropical gardens turned into a scene from a horror flick.

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 07:31 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged tent mosquito milk lion hippo malaria garlic spray deet anti_malaria ground_hornbill travel_clinic Comments (0)

What Women REALLY need on Safari

What to Pack and Why

all seasons in one day 85 °F

Ladies throw away the travel agent’s "What to Pack for a Safari" list - most mean diddly-squat. While I can’t aspire to be the woman who has travelled most widely in Africa I have given it a bit of a go in recent years. I hope this list (and reasons for its various inclusions) helps.

But be aware, this blog post is not for those of you into DIY camping. I haven’t done that since the Lake District when I was 20 with three girlfriends when we had to bribe three unlikely looking lads with chocolate biscuits to put our tents up resulting in my tent-mate Carol sleeping with the tent-peg mallet in her hand all night. Debs and Sue had their tent demolished by cows at 5am and it never stopped raining.

But maybe it was Debs who slept in her velcro rollers and had her frilly negligee with her who had the right idea? Read on...

This list covers three/four days under 4-5* canvas but would be the same if, like my last trip, you have nine days (or more) in three different camps.

  • Contact the camps on your itinerary as to likely weather conditions; they are on the ground and by far the most likely to really know. You will need to adapt this list accordingly, i.e. no jacket, hat, gloves if it’s going to be hot, hot, hot all day and night (typically Oct-March).
  • Bags: You MUST take small squashy bags if travelling by bush plane. Use more than one if necessary and remember they can receive some pretty rough treatment. Make sure they lock and are water resistant.
  • Packing: Practice. If you are going to be moving from camp to camp you want to be able to pack with minimum fuss/time. N.B. wear walking boots on the plane to save space.
  • Clothes: Natural colours – brown, khaki, sage green. You will upset the animals (especially your Guide) if you wear bright blue, red, yellow, white etc and stick out like a sore thumb in the bush.
  • Fabrics that breathe and dry quickly – cotton, silk, linen, wool.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY...it’s all about layering, layering, layering.
  • Trousers: two long pairs. Not tight – you must be able to move around freely, climb up and down into vehicles, pull down easily for a pee al fresco. One pocket should be secure for tissues, lip salve, sweets etc. (don’t drop anything in the bush). The Gap periodically do great pairs but keep an eye out wherever you are shopping. My favourites are an old pair by J Brand with legs that narrow at the bottom so I can pull socks over the top to stop bugs and thorns. Plus they are stylish, which makes you feel good. Remember – you will probably be wearing them all day. Jeans are too heavy and take up too much space. If you are walking your guide won’t let you wear them anyway.
  • Shorts: one pair relatively close fitting down the leg and stopping just above the knee. If they are short and baggy you will have to watch what you are flashing and what’s crawling where.
  • Skirt: I do have one khaki Top Shop skirt with lots of pockets I sometimes take if I think there will be ‘time-off’ and it’s hot.
  • ‘Safari’ shirts x three: My favourites come from Safari Gear. You need a collar for sun protection and long, loose roll up sleeves. A good length to tuck in when it’s cold and possibly tie up when it’s hot. ‘Proper’ safari shirts are lightweight (the ones with mesh backs are fabulous), can be washed through at night, have drying hooks and will be wearable again by morning. They are also sort of sexy; don’t ask me why, they just are. (I’ve also found great ones for cooler days in H&M, Zara and Massimo Dutti; not as ‘custom-built’ but stylish)
  • Long sleeved thermal t-shirt x 1: (Woolies in SA do a perfect pink-beige colour) These provide a vital extra layer on freezing cold mornings (I’ve slept in mine too) or late night drives, take up no space, are silky to wear, wash and dry in a couple of hours.
  • Woollens x 1: I have a dark brown cashmere cardi from Brora http://www.brora.co.uk It’s always the first thing to go in my Africa bag, even if I know it's going to be hot. It’s stylish, feels luxurious but is totally practical being hip length and baggy in the sleeve to accommodate all my layers.
  • Jacket x 1: The absolute best is a water/windproof jacket with a detachable fleece lining. Try Peter Storm, North Face or American ‘outdoors’ websites such as http://www.cabelas.com Camps provide massive waterproof ponchos with rug-type linings, which are fabulously warm and cosy but pretty cumbersome. I find it’s the wind that’s the problem on vehicles early in the morning and at night. If you really don't want to bother taking a jacket do take a fleece.
  • Scarf x 2...at least: These are ESSENTIAL. Have a long one that wraps around a few times plus a regular sized silk; lovely round your neck. A touch of luxury is a good thing!
  • Lingerie/sleepwear: For my relatively small boobs I take one bra, plus two bra/vest tops (M&S, Uniqlo) which I wear under everything unless it’s very hot when I wear just a bra and shirt. If you are blessed with big bazookas make sure they are well supported – safari vehicles can really bounce you around and you might need both hands to hold on! You all know the “one on, one in the wash and one clean” knicker mantra and pj’s are ok (and a good idea if you spend a night sleeping out under the stars when privacy might be a bit of an issue), so I always pack my ‘sensibles’ plus a couple of frilly panties and a pretty nightie too for a touch of girlie’ness amongst all the khaki.
  • Hat: This must have a brim all the way round. Mine’s called Kenya £99 from Lock & Co. http://www.lockhatters.co.uk but my daughter bought a fabulous one from Zara this year. Don’t ever be tempted to go hatless. Forget about your hair. Guides get nervous if you do not wear a hat. You will notice everyone who works in the bush wears one; there’s a good reason... sunstroke happens fast and makes you horrendously sick. A woolly hat/beanie is a good idea too if it’s going to be very chilly.
  • Gloves: Another well-worth-it ‘extra’. Push them into the corner of a bag and watch others be envious!
  • Boots: A pair of leather sturdy walking boots . Mine are ancient, gortex lined and shabby but I can walk all day in any weather and not suffer. DO NOT TAKE A VIRGIN PAIR ‘SPECIALLY’ FOR YOUR TRIP. I see lots of people in dark coloured trainers but wonder if they would be supportive enough for a long day’s walking?
  • Rubber flip flops x 1: or khaki crocs (hideous & available at J’burg airport. I haven’t been able to face buying any but ‘others’ swear by them) are useful for outdoor showers or lounging ‘in tent’. Many camps do not like guests wearing anything other than closed in shoes when walking around due to biting beasties such as spiders, snakes (which like toes) etc.
  • Socks x 3: THESE ARE VITAL TO GET RIGHT. I swear by pure cashmere. Brora's (www.brora.co.uk) are the strongest and do good colours. They don’t rub as have no hard seams. Others include Smart Wool Hiking Socks from USA (available on Amazon). These are worn by many a guide...but I can’t get them small enough for my size 3 feet. My other half swears by R.M. Williams too. Make sure they are long enough to go over your trousers in case you are walking through really prickly or buggy country.
  • Yoga pants x 1: I always change into these on the plane. In camp I find them perfect in the afternoons after a shower and I even wore them for dinner some nights when I just wanted to be cosy after a long day’s walking.
  • Swimwear: lots of permanent camps have swimming pools so pack your favourite with a little wrap or dress to pop over the top.
  • Do you need anything fancy? No, but remember I am talking about safaris under canvas. At permanent camps where private jets land on tarmac runways, suites have Sky TV and you sometimes wonder if animals are remote controlled, you will see ladies dressed to the nines with cocktails in perfectly manicured hand. Tented camps, whether they are mobile or in a permanent position, are different; everything is more relaxed and guests eat together at the same time. However, sometimes it does feel good to put on something that doesn’t scream ‘safari’. At some camps (eg Mana Pools, Zimbabwe) there are no drives/walks after sunset so you do have time for your bucket shower and a quick change. In those cases I might fling on a fresh shirt and maybe a slick of lipstick. In other camps, where night-drives get back way after dark, camp staff will want you heading straight for the boma (campfire), drinks and dinner. Walking around camp in the dark is 100% verboten unless accompanied by a guide and if everyone wanted to ‘glam-up’ dinner would never happen.

EXTRAS:

  • Glasses/Contact lenses/sunglasses: take extra pairs. One weird thing I discovered in Zimbabwe this year; I could see much more clearly in the bush without sunglasses.
  • Sanitary Wear: There is no subtle way to say this: Africans quite understandably have a fear of blood. As HiV education increases so does awareness. Be considerate. Take nappy sacks for towels/tampons and place in the bins provided. Realise that even if your camp has a flushing loo its contents are not going into a Western World sanitation plant. With drop loos (hole in the ground and a bucket of earth/sand with small spade – not as bad as it sounds!) make sure you shovel in three times what you think you need. If you have a nose bleed please burn tissues on the campfire if you can.
  • Toiletries: Stock up on mini everything; hotel sizes are brilliant and ask your beauty therapist for free samples...especially hydrating face masks which are perfect during your afternoon rest time. A recent discovery; a wipe down with one of those airline freshen-up wipes during a long trek is cleansing and cooling and readies you for another few miles. Camps will provide shampoo and soap but often not hair conditioner or sufficient body lotion. Decant – don’t be weighed down with big bottles of anything. My necessities include Fem Fresh wipes, ear-plugs, Elizabeth Arden 8-hour protection cream as it’s brilliant for everything from chapped lips to sore bits and pieces, handcream and body lotion. I use SkinCeuticals Sheer Mineral UVDefense SPF50 sunscreen on my face, hands, neck and chest – it comes in a small bottle, has no parabens etc and doesn’t make my face erupt like most other makes.
  • Medication: PACK IN YOUR HAND LUGGAGE. However entertaining you think it might be you really don’t want to consult the local witch doctor during your trip. So, if you know you are prone to; cystitis, thrush, migraine etc pack enough medication. Camps will have comprehensive First Aid kits to deal with cuts, diarrhoea, colds etc but if you like particular brands take them with you. Malaria pills go without saying and I will write a short post about that specifically (read it here). Bite cream – hydrocortisone (the strongest you can get) is best. Camps provide bug spray for you and your tent. Detol mixed with water is brilliant for keeping tsetse flies at bay.
  • Laundry: I have never been to a camp that didn’t do laundry within 24 hours and (generally) do it beautifully. Some don’t like to launder ladies panties (or chap’s underpants) but provide solution/powder for DIY. Things dry so quickly in the bush I often rinse my own shirts and socks out too.
  • Torch: You will be provided with one but I always take my small maglite for reading in bed or taking to the loo at night.
  • Binoculars: This is another essential; when something truly amazing appears you don’t want to wait for someone else’s.
  • Camera/Kindle/Ipads: DON’T FORGET YOUR CHARGERS! N.B. A Blackberry charger will also charge a Kindle. Although many tented and mobile camps don't have electricity they will (usually) have a charging facility available at some point during your stay.
  • Creature Comforts: If there are things you know will make your trip more pleasurable take them. I can’t travel without my small feather pillow, Velcro rollers or big cashmere pashmina ‘blankie’. I would rather do without clothing than leave them behind.
  • Forgot something?: Almost every airport in Africa will stock safari clothing – it might not be the best or your style but it will do if you are in a mess. J’burg airport is probably the best but even little Victoria Falls airport sold pretty good safari shirts.
  • Tight on space?: If it’s a toss-up between a pair of trousers or a shirt choose the trousers...shirts dry faster.

HAVE A GREAT TRIP!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 09:43 Archived in South Africa Tagged tent pool hat yoga swimming_pool packing_list shirt shorts list bushplane tented_camp safari_guide what-to-really-take-on-safari trousers chargers sanitory_wear tampons Comments (3)

Hwange Elephants - "Surreal Experience"

Too Many to Count in Zimbabwe

sunny 82 °F

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If, like me, elephants are 'your thing', Somalisa Camp in the heart of Hwange National Park, is the place for you.

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I wonder if there is anywhere else on our planet where herd...after herd...after herd arrive to quence their thirst...from a swimming pool less than six feet from your sun-lounger?

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Being this close you can look straight into their beautiful eyes, pick out individual lashes

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and map every wrinkle.

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Do something they aren't sure of and out go the ears, up goes a sniffing trunk and out comes a noise so loud it resonates in your gut. It is a surreal experience.

Some days we counted in excess of 140 elephants around Camp. Perhaps you will sit on your tent's veranda in the afternoon as a herd of 27 plus walk past in single file

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quiet steps getting faster and excitement levels rising as the smell of water gets ever stronger.

Or will you sit on a sofa with cups of tea and amazing carrot cake as a couple of herds wait patiently on the facing hill for their turn? Look to your left; there's a group of young bulls waiting with varying degrees of calm. As darkness falls and temperatures plummet, sit by the campfire and absorb the all encompassing 'sound of elephant'...sniffing, sucking, belly rumbles, ear flapping and off-the-scale in velocity (and smell apparently) farts! Trunks whip back and forth and then there's the aforementioned trumpeting; a reminder that these magnificent animals are wild, untamed and unpredictable.

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Listen carefully to safety procedures. In other words; don't ask those two big boys wandering around Camp to stand still for photos or think you can creep up on them unobserved. Elephants kill people. This isn't a Disney movie; it's the Bush.

Down at the waterhole, where a pump ensures water never runs out, it's mud baths all round. Can anything beat watching elephants rolling, legs in the air, covering themselves in the thick unctuous stuff with obvious glee? Trunks act as snorkels and then gently wipe mud from their eyes.

You soon learn to pick out each herd's ruling matriach and specific individuals by the notches and holes in their ears. There are some real characters like the young (teenage) bull who was always alone and often seemed confused. We decided he must have pushed his mother one step too far and had been told to go and 'find himself'!

Babies are nurtured and guided by Mum, aunts and cousins as they attempt to clamber up the rocks surrounding the pool. Down at the waterhole they slap the water with their small trunks, flipping them around as though they really have no clue what they are there for

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....life is just a game isn't it?

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 09:05 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged elephants tents swimming_pool waterhole kwange somalisa carrot_cake hyeena Comments (0)

Ibiza - "I'll Miss Thong Man"

Time to Go Home

semi-overcast 25 °F

We packed up, said goodbye to the Italian Tupperwarers (not really), asked Thong Man what colour he'd be wearing today (not really) and headed off to Plaja d'es Cavallet.

The drive there is 'interesting' for more reasons than one: you follow a very narrow road passing between the salt beds, Spanish drivers will not give way on narrow roads, don't say thank-you when you do and obviously don't give a flying **** if you end up in the drink.

Once at the beach (apparently the chosen choice for gays although it certainly wasn't obvious) we had a quick look around but left as the wind was blowing a gale and we didn't need sand-exfoliation when we'd worked so hard on our tans. The bar/restaurant looked stylish, cream loungers with big pads (the best). There is an efficient car park and we couldn't decide if the 'security guard' was for real or a guy who just liked the uniform, which included an alarming selection of leather pouched belt-hanging penknives.

We headed west literally just around the headland. That's one of the joys of Ibiza; everywhere is close so if somewhere not right for you, jump back in the car and whizz on to the next place. Platja Les Salines was wind-free and more hectic than Sunday. Food not as good today; house salad came with hair and the sparsely covered pizza was generally pretty yuk. Was it because it's busier I wonder? Doesn't bode too brilliantly for High Season though.

Showers (1 euro...but you need 2 if you are going to rinse as well as lather!) are freezing; I think they try and pass that off as 'eco'...I think it's just Taking the Mick. Quick change in the car park then off to the airport.

Oh, Ryan Air...you filled me with joy. Have you been reading my blog? THERE WAS ICE FOR MY VODKA AND TONIC! They wouldn't heat up the baby's bottle for the family behind us, however. Poor little soul screamed all the way; his ears were obviously about to explode. At least we weren't going to Australia.

p.s. check your hire car; we discovered ours had no spare tyre!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 06:09 Archived in Spain Tagged driving gay pizza families hair salad plaja_des_cavallet_beach platja_les_salines ryan_air Comments (0)

Ibiza - "All Manner of Culture"

And...Thong Man

sunny 27 °F

This morning we 'did' Eivissa's Dalt Vila/Old Town. Again...go early, parking is hell otherwise. Blue lines on the roads mean you can park anytime (2 euros/2 hours). Don't go near the yellow markings; you'll get towed.

We hiked up to the Castle and Cathedral where views are spectacular. I didn't notice the smell from rubbish thrown over the walls...told you this was the best sense to lose! Maps are a help but we were told to 'wander and get lost'. So, do turn into alleyways, up steps that seem to lead nowhere and through tunnels. But don't panic, this isn't Venice! There are information signs here and there - spin them round to find your language (took us a while to work that one out!).

Back at the hotel we hit the pool for a touch of panic-tanning surrounded by Tupperwarers...by now brazil nut coloured, and...oh joy...Thong Man is back in a miniscule yellow number!

Early evening finds us back in Eivissa (use an offical carpark at night as two hours street parking won't be long enough) and participating in the cultural activity of...shopping. In between the tat there are some good shops, especially round the pretty square of Placa des Parc, where bars are numerous, children play and dogs sniff...all very Spanish.

Sit anywhere as dark starts to fall and you'll see it all; guys in full glitter suits with platforms akin to stilts, eyelashes that defy gravity, boobs with tassels, tans with no white-bits and, best of all...a transvestite dressed as a Virgin stewardess!

p.s. do you think Thong Man's worn a different colour every day and we've missed it?

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 05:09 Archived in Spain Tagged parking shopping castle maps thong old_town transvestite tupperware cathderal Comments (0)

Ibiza - "Beaches"

Is it worth it?

sunny 28 °F

In search of a quiet beach we 'did' the north of the island. There are too many to mention here without boring you rigid. Here's a short list:

  • Cala Sant Vincent had calm water and was larger than most but it does have the ubiquitous chips and beer cafes lining its promenade.
  • Portinax is ghastly with waterslides/flumes etc.
  • Tiny rocky coves such as Cala Xuclar are 'do-it-yourself'. We almost didn't make it back up the track from this one...wheel spin, dust and tears of hilarity.
  • We chose Pulta Galera (just a bit further up from Portinax) It's a pretty small cove with fishing boats, calm water and dive centre. A charming chap runs the beach bar and plays relaxing beach music. Fab fresh sardines at the restaurant opposite. 2 loungers plus umbrella 15 euros.

Beaches on the east coast are more tricky; you park at the top of the cliffs and walk down. Okay at the start of the day but some people at s'Aigo Blanca looked like they were going to throw-up by the time they got back to their cars! Is it worth it? Only you can decide.

p.s. some names are spelled in a myriad of ways but you should be able to work it out. Tupperwarers still thriving!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 03:35 Archived in Spain Tagged beaches north cala galera dive_centre cala_sant_vincent portinax zuclar pulata sardines Comments (0)

Ibiza - "We Hired a Car"

We Went to the Beach

We hired a car...maps are 'quite' helpful but if you venture off the red/yellow roads things can get a little tricky. No matter; everyone is helpful and smile even if they haven't a clue what you are on about. Persever and you will find someone who speaks English.

We'd heard that Platja de ses Salines was Ibiza's most beautiful beach...it is certainly long, clean, good for swimmers and fantastic for people watching. It's close to the Airport but we didn't see or hear a plane all day and the salt factory at one end isn't too much of a blot on the landscape.

Go early; at 1030 we practically had the choice of loungers (there are doubles for couples) but by 1200 it was pretty hectic. €24/two beds plus umbrella. Towels €4 each. Showers are a cheeky €1! Be warned, in high season police control traffic and have been known to break up fist fights over parking places! Hard to believe...it was idyllic today.

The Jockey Club is directly on the beach and is a cross between St. Tropez's Le Club 55 and Plettenburg Bay's Lookout. We booked a table on the front for 2pm as soon as we arrived...by 2.30 queues were forming for tables. Food is great; signature pizzas thin and crispy. They will serve you on the beach too; popping corks hint at jugs of mimosa made right next to your lounger, all adding to the general relaxed vibe.

But don't get the impression this is just for the young and beautiful...Salines suits everyone, including wrinklies and children. There is entertainment galore: gorgeous girls selling beach fripperies out of Mary Poppins sized bags, men with their pretty 'nieces' or 'god-daughters', muscled men in the smallest Speedos handing out Club tickets while happily lifting housewives off the sand for 'look-what-I-found-in-Ibiza' photos...

We headed further west for cocktails at Cala Comte's Sunset Ashram (don't let the name put you off), which has a truly glorious view, and paella at S'Illa des Bosc, which overlooks a tiny picture postcard cove only reached by boat or by clambering down rocks. Sunset isn't until after 9pm in Ibiza but worth waiting for.

P.s. didn't see the 'lovers' today...but the Tupperwarers are still at it!

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 08:10 Archived in Spain Tagged beach ibiza salinas carhire the-jockey-club cala_comte s'illa_des_bosc sunloungers Comments (0)

Ibiza - "First Day"

Is That What I Think It Is?

sunny 28 °F

Queuing for a Ryan Air flight at Stansted is never an uplifting experience. This was one of the worst but not due to the norm' cattle herding nightmare. Rather it was down to age; how come everyone else looks like they should still be in school...although tattoos on show here weren't seen when I was still in my first flush of education! Butt skimming shorts, yards of bling jewellery, painted nails, false eyelashes, oiled skin...and that's the boys...all on their way to the Balearics and specifically Ibiza.

Yes, I've read all the Ibiza horror stories in Heat magazine; actually, I haven't but the Daily Telegraph does hint at it now and again, and the hairdressers is a valuable resource for this kind of...'experience'.

While i am thinking about it here are some of my Ryan Air tips:

  • put your 'other' head on
  • accept you will not understand any announcements
  • accept there will be no ice or lemon to go with your vodka
  • take your own food
  • if you rest your head on the seat in front in desperation at least you are safe in the knowledge no-one will put their seat back because they can't
  • take your own sickbag
  • take heed of baggage size/weight restrictions; they will nail you if you are excess in any area...and the argument that you weigh a quarter of the passenger next to you will fall on deaf and uninterested ears

Our hotel (I will name it when we've left) in Santa Eulalia is pretty fab...once we'd had the air con, shower and leaking fridge fixed. At 7pm last night we thought we had the whole place to ourselves but, I apologise in advance for any offence caused, an Italian delegation of Tupperware reps has arrived. Are they truly discussing the latest way to store cold pizza? Whatever, they all have jolly bags and commandeered vast blocks of pool sun loungers straight after gargantuen breakfasts, so we headed for the beach largely populated by the same blue rinsed and turtle wrinkled individuals we'd seen last night cheering on the two transvestites doing an admirable rendition of Abba's Waterloo at the hotel down the promenade.

Après lunch (2pm'ish) boobs of every shape and cup size arrived in all their glory. Personally, I thought some of the grey haired chaps might need resuscitation but it seems they are old-timers and not much phases them.

5pm sees us back at the pool where the 'Tupperwares' have turned warm shades of nut and cherry and the cast of Look-At-Me have arrived providing people watching opportunities on a stratospheric level. Oh...and there's a man in a thong. WHAT HAS POSSESSED HIM?

Just looking out at the Med and down at the pool from our glorious balcony with a vodka and tonic (with ice and lemon), my Velcro rollers well in place...one has to make an effort you know...I can see two 'young things' necking like there's no tomorrow... Maybe there won't be for that particular relationship...will we find out in the morning?

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 23:30 Archived in Spain Tagged beach hotel pool thong abba ibiza transvestite balearics tupperware santa_eulalia Comments (0)

Okovango Delta - "You Never Know..."

Okovango Delta - Botswana

sunny

This trip nearly didn't happen...rain had been constant and we'd been warned Xakanaxa Camp was almost under water. But a chink in the storm clouds saw us pop safely onto the landing strip in our diddy bushplane.

And what a sight..the Delta rendered almost fluorescent green in its brilliance. And the "Mud, Glorious Mud"! Such excitement as our Land Rover seemed to take on amphibian characteristics, launching down flooded tracks and into big brown gloopy puddles, its snorkel exhaust puffing as we passengers clung on with ridiculous grins.
Puddles!

Puddles!

Raised tents at Xakanaxa Camp are splendidly traditional with crisp cotton linens, hurricane lamps, writing desk, hair dryer (I know...how fab is that). Bathrooms (hot showers) are open to the elements and a shopping heaven for naughty vervet monkeys who, if you are not following Camp advice, will be sharing your lipstick at their nightly Show and Tell. A raised king size bed (inside) and two loungers (outside) are perfectly situated centre stage for any impromptu performances in the Xakanaxa lagoon and on the banks of the Khwai River, a mere stone's throw away.

Tent View

Tent View

Camp Tent

Camp Tent

Hippos the world over clearly have some great jokes; Xakanaxa's keep you awake all night, finally giving their audience a rest at around 3am. Newlyweds at the other side of Camp 'enjoyed' the added excitement of hyaena running around outside their tent throughout the second night, and while the groom slept through its special brand of humour, his bride didn't think it was anywhere near as hilarious as the hyaena obviously did!

Guides in the Delta (especially at this time of the year) need x-ray vision. Olli didn't disappoint with his uncanny ability to spot things binnocular-free. An example: dusk at the boma, cocktails, guest chatter in full flow, Olli's eyes narrowed and out came the finger, pointing across river to a dense reed bed. "There's a (rarely sited) sitatunga." He'd done it again.

This part of Botswana is a joy to behold with prolific species of game and birdlife. Now, is it just me who comes over all Liverpuddlian when vultures are spied on a branch? (Do watch Jungle Book, if you haven't already, then you'll understand) For four days we watched and...the vultures watched. Us perched in our vehicle, them perched in dead trees, as a pride of lion slowly demolished their buffalo kill. It was a fascinating example of bloody mindedness (lion) and patience (vultures). On the fourth day my companions begged to, "give the corpse a miss today" - the stench was unendurable, flesh green and writhing with maggots. Absolutely riveting. I loved it.
DSC_0101.jpg

With no sense of smell I am always blissfully unaware of nostril shrinking horrors. It was the same at Muscat's fabulous Fish Market, and the backstreets of Cairo and Mumbai. Of all the senses to lose this is the only one that comes with benefits!

'Drives' on the river are equally thrilling. With Camp's traditional dugout mokoro canoes waterlogged we retreated to a motorised variety. The seeming maze of passages through reed beds heighten those 'what if' feelings as hippos bob, crocs slide, fish flip and birds swoop. Pulling up onto an area of reeds for sundowners while simply watching the birdlife going about its business is sublimely relaxing and uplifting. Have you ever seen young Marabou storks? What a vision. Talk about 'bad hair day'.

Sunset in the Okovango Delta

Sunset in the Okovango Delta

Game drives in a wet Delta are full of the unexpected. Lush grass and tree-leaf hide all manner of game; like the resting leopard we unknowingly drew up alongside. Just the rise and fall of her tummy amongst the bush's leaves catching my eye. Magic. That's the joy of Africa; what will turn up, be spotted or heard with your next twist and turn? You never know.

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 05:08 Archived in Botswana Tagged monkeys water tent mud lion hippo leopard kill vultures okovango_delta xakanaxa_camp bushplane hyaena Comments (0)

Three Weeks in Johannesburg - "Drive...it's Ok"

Johannesburg, South Africa

all seasons in one day

Extreme circumstances took us to Johannesburg for three weeks. Unusual isn't it. J'burg's had a lot of bad press so perhaps it's not surprising most visitors are simply passing through, en route to safari, or business men/women who will spend all their time in offices, hotel rooms and shopping malls.

They are missing out. This is a great, vibrant city...so get out and about.

Taxis are crazy expensive so we hired a car. I know...I've read the horror stories too. But, honestly, we didn't have a moments worry.

I'm not advocating just jumping in your Fiat Punto and heading off into the nether regions of an unknown city; you wouldn't do it in New York, Tokyo or Paris would you?

Main roads in J'burg are like those in any big city. Signage is good. Avoid peaktime/school pick-up rush hours. Secure parking is plentiful and cheap. Parking on the street in the J'burg Village areas is easy and problem free. N.B. In Parkhurst you have to pay a street warden to park.

IN BRIEF:
Do: pay extra for a Garmin (SatNav); we brought ours from home with an SA download from a previous trip
Do: attempt to get a map, it helps to have a rough knowledge of where you are in relation to Soweto, Sandton etc. Have you noticed, hire companies don't give out maps these days?
Do: have a good idea of where you are headed
Do: charge phones, take water
Do: keep your tank full

Don't: keep windows open at junctions
Don't: buy from road sellers unless you are truly desperate for a toy ukulele, phone charger or fake sunglasses. N.B. The boys holding black plastic garbage bags are collecting just that....they want your plastic bottles, newspapers; anything they can recycle for cash. It's an idea for UK Community Service....there is less litter on the main J'burg roads than those in my rural Suffolk.
Don't just drive blindly; you will panic and get lost. Not good anywhere. If any area gives you a bad feeling get out of it. (I got lost in Watford once...not a good experience!)

Hazard No. 1: FIRST GENERATION DRIVERS: The black elite have new found wealth and know how to spend it. The only problem is there is every possiblity their parents didn't drive so they have limited road experience. In this city of 10 million trees, spectacular sunsets and plentiful parks you will see four-wheeled wealth unlike anywhere else including Monaco, Los Angeles or Hong Kong. At any given moment you can find yourself in the company of Mclaren, Lamborghini, Bentley, Aston Martin, Ferrari. Porsche and Range Rovers are like Ford Fiestas.

Hazard No. 2: MINIBUSES: These wing around the city all day and most of the night picking up and dropping off workers. They stop anywhere (middle of the road included) and don't signal. Expect them to do the most crazy manouvre imagineable and then you won't be surprised.

ABOVE ALL: Have fun. Take your time. Look around. Hilarious things happen. Take the morning we were sitting in waiting traffic watching a smiling..."Oh, look at me. I'm the lucky sod who got to drive the digger today"...construction worker slowly, but surely, reverse a JCB into a 5ft deep trench. Perhaps we shouldn't have laughed but the Site Manager's performance was Oscar worthy.

And what about the female radio presenter who wished all children, mummies and daddies a "beautiful day" and then went on to thank a listener for sharing her morning's experience of witnessing a commuter throw himself under a train. "She's even sent me pictures". You couldn't make it up.

Favourite eateries next.

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 07:38 Archived in South Africa Tagged taxi driving sunsets fun maps car_hire minibuses gamin first_generation_drivers Comments (0)

Yoga/Pilates Retreat - "Ups and Downs"

Sierra Nevada, Spain

all seasons in one day 60 °F
View Sierra Nevada, Spain on haveyoubeenyet's travel map.

Eight Suffolk 'girls' (age 38-52); marathon runners, pilates instructor, chiropractor, beauty therapist, teacher, journalist, swimming instructor. All friends. Plus four unknown others...poor souls. All worried. "Does retreat mean the same thing as detox?" Fret not...none of that was going on during this trip. When rain still poured on the third day, a bird's nest landed on the hearth when we lit our fire, we'd gorged on chocolate, all nails were painted and our rustic hacienda was fast losing its charm, the vodka was backflipping out of the freezer when whistled!

Pilates is my thing but we hadn't been doing much of that, what with lack of space, the weather and all. Those Yogis were going through their contortions though. N.B. Yoga is not a spectator sport. Downward Dogs in your face? I'm sure I don't need to be more specific. I was, however, longing for the humming and meditation bit so I could lie down and tell those back home I had 'done a yoga class'. But, as competition for the slots in front of the 'instructor's' fire was dangerously fierce, I retreated (clutching my hottie) to Tom Cruise saving the planet on my, 'thank God I didn't forget to pack' ipad instead.

When the sun finally shone, we 'retreated' to the pool. Not heated. I did ten lengths...it took a hot bath to get rid of my shade of blue. Three glorious Pilates sessions crammed into the next 36 hours on a terrace overlooking the mountains reminded some of us why we'd come. That and the laughs. Next time India?

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 07:05 Archived in Spain Tagged friends yoga retreat pilates laughs Comments (0)

Craft Market - "Just Looking"

ZIMBABWE VICTORIA FALLS

sunny 82 °F

Shopping for local crafts in Victoria Falls requires time and patience. Visit the High Street's row of brightly coloured shops if time is short and you don't want to negotiate a price. It's also a good place to get a feel for what's available.

Crossing the road to the Craft Market "Just Looking" should become your mantra. Vendors are persistent, the mere hint of a smile on your part will be seen as an invitation to start negotiations and the uninitiated faint-hearted might find themselves with a 4ft wooden giraffe under their arm quicker than a tsetse fly bites.

However, if a 4ft giraffe is seriously what you think will look 'just great back home', ask the price at a few stalls to get an idea of what they are asking. Fix in your mind what you are prepared to pay. Once you have spied the perfect specimen, open negotiations. The vendor will tell you an outrageous price, offer slightly lower than what you are prepared to pay and don't be afraid to walk away. Chances are he (vendors seem to be men in this particular market) will come running after you down the street. A successful back-and-forth by my daughter resulted in her buying a beaded warthog for $10; asking price $35.

Vendors will want to buy your shoes, caps, t-shirts and sunglasses. If you need room in your suitcase this could be an easy way for both buyer and seller to get what they want...arrange to come back later if you think walking back to your hotel naked a tad risky!

Keep your money in separate pockets and only carry small bills unless you want your change in beaded elephant keyrings.

Most importantly; stay cheerful and always be polite. Conversations about football always go down well...even from us girls.

Close by is the delightful Elephant Walk courtyard of shops with a colourful cafe ($2 for two cups of excellent coffee) selling fresh cakes right in the middle...perfect place to leave bored men! N.B. Guinea fowl birds made from seed pods were $1 each here but $5 in the market...so don't presume the 'market' is always going to be a better deal. Shops here are more up-market and include a fabric shop, spa selling Zimbabwe products containing baobab fruit and marula, a modern art gallery and an excellent, highly informative, permanent exhibition of ancient African tribal art, costumes, cooking utensils, tools etc. You will also find crocodile skin belts, bags, wallets, which is possibly a little disconcerting for the crocs in the pool around the corner. You can be lowered into their pool in a cage to get 'up close and personal'. Why would you do that?

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 08:34 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged shopping victoria_falls craft_market negotiation_skills african_art_exhibition Comments (0)

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