12 easy ways to be kind to the planet. #Earth hour starts at home

Earth hour is a good excuse for a party, hopefully it also makes us think, educates and changes us.

Being kind to the Earth and reducing your carbon footprint begins at home with little things.

12 simple ways to love the Earth.

1. HAVE A CLEAR OUT.

We are all slaves to consumerism in varying degrees. This means we accumulate “stuff”. Pass on what you no longer need, plenty of places will be thrilled with your junk, clothes that have shrunk, shoes that hurt you, impulse purchases or that hideous vase aunty Mabel gave you as a wedding present and you will never, ever use. …………….I’m sure you have got the idea.

2. REDUCE.

Accept the challenge to reduce your rubbish by half, or more. Most schools have recycling programs, use them. Look at your electricity and water bills and make a concerted effort to lower them.Sometimes just being mindful can change your habits. Get creative, brainstorm with friends and family for tips and ideas. Kids will surprise you with their suggestions. Compete with your friends.

3. DRAW UP AN ENERGY SAVING PLAN for your home  Being green can be expensive so plan, budget and make a start. Start with the little things. Replace old globes with eco friendly ones. Use solar lights for outside areas. We have more than enough sunshine.Turn off lights when you exit a room. Don’t spend 10 minutes daydreaming in the shower.

4. TRAIN YOURSELF to think like an eco warrier. Once you start realising how much we all waste, how easy it is to save, be it water, electricity or petrol, you will start finding it easy to recycle, think twice before you buy something, find creative ways to re-use “stuff” or local places to pass on your unwanted goods to.

 

RE-USE       |       RECYCLE       |       REPAIR       |   SHARE

SAVE    |    WATER   |     ELECTRICITY    |   PETROL   |    MONEY

TOP TIPS

5.  Walk to your local shop if you only have a few things to buy. Good for your health ,your pocket and the atmosphere.

6.  Water your lawn with your washing machine and shower water. A length of pool hose attached to the outlet pipe works like a  dream. The enzymes in washing powder are good for your lawn, bonus!

7.  Solar powered geysers can be expensive. A water saving shower head and a geyser blanket do make a difference, as does turning your geyser down to 60C, and turning it off during peak times.

8. If you enjoy gardening start removing water greedy plants and replace with indigenous ones. Succulents all flower at some point, love being ignored and require very little water.

9. Buy fresh produce as much as you can. It is generally cheaper, better for you, reduces wastage as you shop for what you need, and it does not require unnecessary packaging.

10. Do not drink bottled water, ever ! SA water is perfectly safe to drink, it comes out of the tap. So much better than in a plastic bottle that will take a billion years to biodegrade.

11. Use a cold wash on your washing machine. It really does work.

12. Tumble driers are for emergencies only. Fresh air and sunshine usually do the job just as well.

H A P P Y    E A R T H    H O U R    E V E R Y O N E 

A four day ShotLeft to Oudtshoorn.

1. The Cango Caves and an Ostrich farm experience are iconic to Oudtshoorn, but this underrated town and surrounding area has so much more to offer. Please dont think you can “do” this area in a day.

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DAY 1. Coming from Cape Town on the R62  leave early and allow for 7 hours to travel the 380 km to Calitzdorp, where an overnight stop at the hot springs 25 km south of the town is the best way to wash away the any last remnants of the city.

A stop in Robertson, 150 km from Cape Town, for wine or brandy tasting, browsing the shops on the main road and a cup of coffee at “Spaces” after you have explored this cave of unusual goods.

A 60km circular detour along the R317 to Bonnievale for some cheese, wine estates along the banks of the Breede River, a river cruise  if you have the time, and scenic winding roads will take you back to Robertson. Just 16km on from Robertson, Ashton Kelder is well worth stopping at.

For me, lunch is always in Barrydale, and allow for at least an hour to wander around this arty village. InKaroo Jewellery always tempts me to buy something sparkly, and I can never resist the preserves and bottled delights at either Clarkes or the Country Pumpkin.

From Barrydale it is 125km to Calitzdorp. If you are a port lover, stock up on your favourite Boplaas port, and do pop in to DeKrans wines before heading to the hot springs at Calitzdorp Spa.

DAY 2. You can either travel on the R62 , just 51 km to Oudtshoorn, stopping to see the Rietfontein Ostrich Palace on the way, or, as I prefer to, take the Kruisrivier road that leads you through the Red Stone Hills along a silent, winding road before rejoining the R62.

Oudtshoorn is a large town with plenty of accommodation available.  Check in, dump your bags and head for either the Cango Caves or an ostrich farm.

DAY 3.  Make an early start and take a drive you will never forget. Be sure to take a camera. Leaving Oudtshoorn, head north onto the R328. Known as the Cango Route, there are plenty of attractions on the 50km you travel before reaching the start of the mighty Swartberg Pass. Olive estates, Karusa Winery and Tapas, Kobus se Gat country pub, Wilgewandel Holiday Farm and Bella Mia Olives and Pottery to name just a few.

Then take your time as you navigate the Swartberg Pass, stop at the viewing points and marvel at the genius engineering of Thomas Bain. The building of the pass was completed in 1886 and used only by carts and wagons. The first time a car  traversed the pass was in 1904. On completing the drive over the pass, you can either carry on for about 10km to the town of Prince Albert, well worth a visit, or turn right onto the R407, continue on to the N12 and drive along the prettiest pass in South Africa, the Meiringspoort Pass.

This will take you into De Rust. Visit the Village Art Scene, enjoy a donkey cart ride, and do not miss the Doornkraal winery just out of town or Mons Ruber  directly opposite. Pot stilled brandy, witblits and entertaining conversation await you. From there a drive of 25km will take you back into Oudtshoorn.

DAY 4. Leaving Oudtshoorn take the N12 to George on from there you are onto the N2, 480km to Cape Town. A stop in Swellendam for a leg stretch and a large slice of cake with coffee at the Old Gaol  before getting back on the road.

One last stop at Dassiesfontein  for a browse around, and to buy the biggest, best pies you have ever seen to take home for supper.

This #shotleft is so easy to do, four days, or you could easily stretch it to 6 or 8, about 1000km to travel and countless options to entertain, educate and enjoy. The journey there is half the fun. Thats what roadtripping and shotleft is all about.

Kenya and Uganda. 8 unexpected delights.

1. The birdlife.

I was so focussed on gorillas that I never gave any thought to the bird life.

We saw enormous Maribou Storks hovering over Nairobi , impressive African Eagle on the Nile, the dainty Masked Weaver, all types of Kingfishers and the multi coloured Superb Starling, to name just a few. East Africa is a birders feast. A dedicated birdlife post is presently under construction.

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2. The  African Sausage Tree.

The fruits sway in the breeze and at first I thought they were light weight seed pods. Then I was given one which after lugging around for a few days, I dumped. They are solid and very heavy, and as you will soon understand, I decided I had no use for it at all.

The uncooked sausage like fruit will cause painful blisters to the mouth if eaten, and green fruits are allegedly poisonous. It is commonly used as part of  traditional beer making and aids the fermentation process.  When crushed the pulp is a remedy not only for ulcers, but for syphillis as well. Good to know.

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3. Modern Masaai man.

They danced, they jumped high into the air, and they took us on a tour of their village and huts. They made a fire by rubbing hardwood and sandpaper wood together, and told tall tales of hunting and killing a lion as part of a rite of passage into adulthood.

Then they asked if we had any questions. “What is the beaded pouch around your waist for?”

Expecting the answer to be a knife, lucky charm or some useful tool required for herding cows, dodging giraffe or evading lions, I was utterly delighted that the answer was so proudly given as “for my cell phone”

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4. Jackfruit.

I am not an adventurous eater, but I really enjoyed Jackfruit. I was having my hair braided in Jinja, it was way past lunchtime and the guestimated one hour was turning into three.  Rosie, the lady who was doing my hair offered me some and it would have been rude to refuse. After 3 hours of weaving plaits into my hair and talking non stop, we were best friends.

The Jackfruit is about the size of a watermelon and is high in starch and fibre. The skin is rough and nubbly, but the fruit inside is a yellowy butternut colour. The only way I can describe the taste is like a blend of banana and mango. Very filling and totally delicious. Later that day I had it cooked like a French fry, a totally different taste but just as good.

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5. Ankole Cattle

We were told by our guides not to photograph these unusual animals under any circumstances. Initially we understood it to be illegal, as we had been told the same about certain bridges, military men and specific buildings. Apparently it is legal, but the herdsmen or owners of these beasts have been known to charge tourists up to US500 for a picture and can become aggressive if thwarted. We were dying to take some photos but did want to risk trouble in a country that spawned Idi Amin.

Arriving in Queen Elizabeth National Park we were clicking feverishly after being told that we had permission to photograph this herd. These cattle make regular cows and bulls look like Cinderellas ugly, boring sisters. They come in all shapes sizes, colours and patterns, and the size of the horns varies. Placid and friendly, they came right to our chalet to eat a small tree and then ambled off unconcerned by 4 camera wielding tourists, clicking and shrieking in their midst.

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6. Boda boda or motorbikes

A very popular form of transport, these generally 80 cc Boxer motorcycles amazed me. The do not travel very fast, no helmets are worn, and they carry anything. We saw 5 people on one bike, 2 men and a ladder, a wheelbarrow, crates of eggs and anything else you would think impossible to transport by motorcycle.  Legislation has been brought in making the wearing of crash helmets compulsory, but the Minister decreed that she would allow a 2 year phasing in period, as the law had been met with very little compliance. The average speed is probably about 40km per hour, but in the cities the traffic congestion makes it a much faster way of getting from A to B. In the rural areas the main form is transport is a boda boda or a bicycle. What I loved was the pride of ownership. Riders waiting for a fare would either be preening, laughing or polishing handlebars. Many of the Boxers had the tanks decorated in brightly coloured, fringed fabric.  I really regret not making time to do a tour of Kampala on a Boda Boda, I was told it was well worth it and quite safe,  and helmets are provided!

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7. Names and signs

Initially disappointed that  almost all signage was in English rather than Swahili, I soon became fascinated by the never ending names on almost every building we saw.

Not limited to the cities, even the smallest villages and tiniest clusters of dwellings on the side of the road boasted quirky, creative signs. Often citing European or American cities somewhere in the name,  many signs were a mishmash of delusions of grandeur, African humour or descriptive promises.  Capturing signs on camera could be a trip in itself when travelling in Kenya and Uganda.

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8. Countdown Traffic lights

Entering Nairobi I was very taken with the traffic lights. As the light changes colour, so a countdown from 90 seconds begins.

I am sure this prevents frustration, jumping lights and aids the order in the crazy traffic. You can use it to your advantage by knowing if you have time to jump out of your car to buy something from the side of the road, make a cell phone call, or retrieve something from the boot. I think it is a brilliant idea. Sorry, never got around to getting a photo of one.

 

14 day Nomad Masai Mara & Gorilla Tour. 6 random tips.

1. Pack extra batteries as there is so much to photograph.

Kenya is littered with giraffe and other wildlife and Uganda has more shades of green that I have ever encountered. Access to electricity is not a sure thing, and in some places the power supply can be rather hit and miss.(For South Africans, read ESKOM!)

 Photo opportunities are everywhere, even through the window of the bus. Be warned if you sit at the back your photos might all have  “Emergency Exit” on them. Silly me!

2. Take Guide Books.

Chances are you will not be able to buy one once you are on the truck. No time and limited access to shops. 

I found a great one for a mere ZAR200 at Bargain Books before the trip and it was so good that we decided if we saw anything and it was not in the guide book, it did not really exist! It certainly added value to the tour.

Wildlife of East Africa | A Photographic Guide by Dave Richards.  First Edition 2013. Published by Struik Nature. It has information on climate, geographical regions, mammals, birds, snakes, plants and trees. 

On returning home I bought the Bradt Guide to Uganda, Philip Brigs & Andrew Roberts7th Edition June 2013.  ZAR 378 and

DK Eyewitness Travel: Kenya, 2013.  ZAR 350. Both guides have comprehensive information on all aspects of the respective countries. 

All 3 guides are highly recommended, so you can also know what could, eat, sting, bite, poison, stampede or impale you. 

3. Figure out the currency before the trip.

If like me you are not so good with number and doing sums in your head, it is worth getting the conversion clear before you depart.

Kenyan shillings come in denominations of 50,100,200, 500 and 1000.

The exchange rate to South African Rands is 1 Kenyan Shilling = 0,12c, or 1 South African Rand = 8 Kenyan Shillings.

Then you go to Uganda and the banknotes come in denominations of 5 000, 10 000, 20 000 and 50 000 Ugandan shillings.

The exchange rate to South African Rands is 1 Ugandan Shilling = 0,0043c,  or 1 South African Rand = 235 Ugandan Shillings.

Prices are also quoted in US dollars. None of the above are quick and easy sums to do in your head. Going from  1 Rand = 8 shillings to 1 rand = 235 shillings is also confusing. By the time I had done the sum in my confused head and was ready to barter, the traders had packed up and gone home.

So, figure out a quick and easy multiplication or division that will give you an idea of the value, and have it off pat before you try to bargain. Dont do what I did and hold the money out and ask “what colour would you like?”

4. Take gloves for the gorilla trek. We had the hiking boots, waterproof jackets, long pants and light backpacks but the most useful item were the gardening gloves given to us by friendly strangers in our camp at Lake Bunyoni.  In some parts you need to pull yourself up and the only vegetation is a very prickly nettle. So easy to grab hold of with gardening gloves. Coming down after seeing the gorillas the gloves came in handy again, when too tired to walk without falling off the path, we ended by sitting down and sliding and slipping in the mud to the bottom. Gloved hands are great for steering to avoid trees, rocks people and small animals.

5. Allow for extra days before and after the tour.

The 14 day tour starts in Nairobi, and the 7 day tour begins in Kampala. Both these cities offer numerous attractions and require a day or 2 to explore. We arrived back in Nairobi at 4pm and were flying out at 4pm the following day. We thought this would give us plenty of time to do a little site seeing and shopping. Wrong! We did not understand East African traffic. We were advised to leave for the airport at 11am to drive  just 15km to the airport. Nairobi has a population of 4 million and I think they all drive cars, all day.

In Kampala the traffic is even more insane even though the population is only pegged at 1.65 million.  We hit the the outer limits of the city late on a Saturday afternoon, and arrived at our hotel at 10:30 at night. It took close to 4 hours negotiating insane traffic.

The pace of the Nomad Masai Mara and Gorilla Trek tour is hectic with loads of activities and sights packed in to the 14 days. This means that every day starts at anything from 4:40 am on the actual day you trek to the gorillas, to 5 or 6 am on regular days. Expect to be happy but wiped out by the end of it. A few days of sleeping a little later and just relaxing before returning to normal life and “post holiday depression” is a good idea if funds allow for it. ( I could not even afford a park bench as I can’t resist buying silly tourist trinkets, paid  US 20 to have my hair braided and generally overspent as I never quite managed to master the Ugandan hundred million shillings for a cooldrink thing)

6. Talk

Talk to your new family on the truck and get to know them from day 1.  Unless you are truly a terrible person you will end the tour with new friends, and hopefully offers of a bed if you are ever in the area, in a variety of foreign locations.

Talk to the locals, from shopkeepers and hotel staff to street vendors and the drivers of your game vehicles. Friendliness is greatly rewarded and everyone has a story, fairytale or entertaining load of nonsense , all which add to your overall experience.

We never got a sensible answer to our questions about this sign, however we were told that you should obey it as if you don’t you will be late, or miss work, and that is bad for the economy. 

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On Tuesday 11th February 2014 I trekked for 6 hours and spent an hour with a gorilla family in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Thank you, Nomad Tours for making this possible. You have no idea how proud I am of myself.

Gorilla Trek. Confessions and Adventures of a drama queen

In one of my pre trip posts I expressed my over the top concerns for possible “wildest Afrika like ” things that could happen to me. 9 concerns of a drama queen

In response to that post I have to confess to the following.

1. I did not get lost in Nairobi, but I almost missed my flight to this hyperactive city.

My mind does not process flying times. It locks onto the departure time without considering the fact that prior to take- off, I need to check in and board the plane. I also just love airports and could spend all day wandering around, shopping and of course finding the smoking lounges. This is where I usually emerge from and hear the dreaded announcement “this is the final call for passenger Brown”. Hearing this I then generally blush profusely and start to run.

However, this time, I never even heard the announcement, and was looking at  a delightful collection of shoes before wandering to the boarding gate, thinking “oh, no queue, good for me, I am early”

Then a really nasty and mean official informed me that the gate had closed 3 minutes ago and my bags were being taking off the plane.

I went cold, then hot, and fought the urge to cry. Fortunately Liz, my travelling ninja friend went into assertive mode and told the official to stop being ridiculous. A few firm comments later and we were ungraciously told to get on an empty bus to be taken to the plane. The bus did not move until I asked the driver to please drive, which he did rather grudgingly.

We then collapsed into a heap of nervous giggles, shaking, crying and laughing, and vowing to be first in the boarding queue for all future flights. ( Proudly, we achieved this on both  return flights)

2. No animals had me for lunch, but I could have been pudding twice.

We are in a private game viewing vehicle about to cross a really narrow road over a river when we spot  lions. Wide eyed, we leap up, cameras clicking frantically.(after I found my reading glasses so I can adjust my camera settings) Then we spot the kill on the waters edge. A half eaten water buffalo. The driver, in an attempt to afford us a better view, starts to drive up the steep embankment, but stops half way up.

Click, click go the cameras, “go higher up, go further back, go to the top” we shout as we all clamour for the best view, the money shot.

And then we are rolling backwards, downhill and not quite in line with the really thin road over the water. And the lions are only a few meters away. Looking at us thinking… hmmm pudding.

By some miracle, the wheels stay on the road by millimeters, the vehicle behind us stops our path as we collide with its bull bar and our vehicle restarts with a roar and we fly up and over the river, the embankment and in stunned silence continue on our game drive.

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Almost pudding encounter number two was when we were in the forest with the gorillas. We were standing up against dense foliage, marvelling at this gorilla family who were a mere 8 meters away from us.

They had seemed quite content for us to silently photograph and observe their antics, when a protective mom decided she was not happy with this.

With a mighty fang baring scream she charged us.

We had been briefed and told to freeze if such a thing happened. We all froze except for Maciek, the dentist / photographer, who I swear lept over my head. To their credit, the tracker, ranger and guide acted instantly, pushing us behind them and waving pangas, rifles and sticks while shouting loudly, shielded us from being possible pudding.

The female gorilla came to a halt a meter away from us and sat down. She eyed us for a few seconds before turning around to check on her little one and wandering back to the rest of her group. We all started breathing, videoing and photographing again. Thrilled, petrified and secretly delighted by the experience.

Photograph courtesy Johanna Stenkilsson Steen

Photograph courtesy Johanna Stenkilsson Steen

3. The water never made me sick, but I did not read the instructions on my anti malaria tablets.

It is the morning of day 1. We will be meeting Marilyn our truck, Norman and Servius our guides, and our other travel companions.

We have strict instructions to be ready at 7.40am. Efficiently, we got organised the night before. By 7 am we are washed and dressed and about to head off for breakfast. Being responsible, we take our various tablets required to survive our mature years, and add our anti malaria tablets to the cocktail.

Off we go to the dining room, excited for the adventure that is about to begin.

Then Liz, who is never ill, says to me. “I think I might be feeling a bit funny”

I sympathise and carry on shovelling eggs, french toast, unknown yellow things and pineapple chunks onto my plate. I kindly bring her some black coffee and a piece of toast.

I start eating and my stomach does a little quiver.

I ignore it, but it persists.

I convince myself that it is nothing more than sympathy pain. After all, Liz and I have been friends for 26 years, a perfectly normal reaction to a best friend’s nausea.

Then I can’t swallow and I start to sweat.

By now, Liz is the palest “mzungu” in the dining room. We get up and start walking briskly back to our room to get our bags.

Room checked, heavy bags in hand, backpacks strapped on, feeling pale but brave we walk out the door.

and then

I drop my bags and run

I am impressed by my aim, as from the entrance to the bathroom my last few meals fly  out my mouth, and make it into the white porcelain.

It is noisy, it is colourful, it is extremely unpleasant.

For 10 minutes, all I can do is groan and try not to move, shivering  in a pathetic heap on the floor.

I think I even regurgitated meals I ate in South Africa.

Finally, I feel human, and relieved, shaky, and smelling slightly chunderish, I emerge into the African sun to meet my fellow travellers.

A great start indeed.

TIP: Never, ever, ever take anti malaria medication on an empty stomach.