Friday, June 28, 2013

a quickie

We have company and I am waiting for them to come back for the day. So I grab a few minutes for a post.

The visitors are the folks I visited last year in Chiang Mai. My cousin's son and family live in Mai Rim, teach at an International School there. They have visa issues, so Mom Mary and Daughter Maeve have come to Singapore to visit the Thai Embassy and get visas. In fact they are only in Thailand for a few more months. They are moving to Italy, the north, near Lake Como. Gorgeous country. And George is nearby. That would be George Clooney. Yum.

I wanted to talk more of safari, but how quickly memories fade. That is the real reason I keep this blog. Yes, to stay connected, but I will have a record of our adventure. 

A few things of our South Africa trip, that I wanted to mention. At Phinda we had wonderful food, beautiful meat, freshly baked everything (there is no corner bakery) and everything done very au courante. Crisp vegetables, beautifully presented. 

When we came in for coffee to start the day there would be some wonderful bread/toast/brioche, whatever. There was a wonderful crunchy bar that I raved about to the cook. The next morning she gave me her recipe! Printed out on the computer. How's that for full service!

When planning the trip I went through an agency "&beyond". When the trip was getting bigger ($$$) I said we were making it our 30th anniversary trip. In fact on our anniversary I will be in Canada and Tim will be in Singapore. So. 

Well every hotel we went to, we had the champagne on ice, glasses, and chocolates...whatever. At Phinda we came home from a night drive, and dinner, and came back to the cabin filled with maybe 50 tea lights, to a hot bubble bath and champagne! Tim poured my champers, I put it on the table by the tub, and climbed in. The table was a chunk of a tree trunk, beautiful, but not level. As I sat in the bubbles. I watched my glass slowly creep to the edge and fall to the floor. The romance of the moment was lost as Tim is down on hands and knees collecting broken glass in a towel. But it was a lovely thought.

We stopped along the east coast at Port Elizabeth. We rented a car and snooped around for 2 days. Then flew in to Cape Town. We had bumped in to a fellow pilot friend of Tim's on the flight to S.A. and he was going to be in Cape Town (he is from there and was back visiting family) and we met up with him in Cape Town. Synchronicity, you've got to love it. 

We went one evening in Cape to a restaurant celebrating African cuisine. A tasting menu of 14 dishes. Fabulous. And entertainment. Dancing and singing. This was very much a touristy thing, but bumped up to real quality food and entertainment. We went early and had a drumming (djembe) lesson. Tim was hilarious. He does not have to be musical to be a pilot and that is a good thing. (He is hopeless with music. I looked over and he was in heaven but no where near the beat!)

I had lunch today with a friend from Toronto. I used to volunteer at Wellspring and Lynda Morrison was the director. I had heard she had moved to Acadia U. and I contacted her and she emailed me back. I had not answered her email for several months. Well, at my book club Skype, Marny, a friend of mine from Wellspring days just mentioned that she thought Lynda was in Singapore. I emailed Lynda right away, she was leaving the next day, and we connected and had lunch together. The synchronicity of that is so wonderful. If Marny had not mentioned Lynda (out of context in the book club Skype) it would not have happened. 

Company's back. I will post photos in a bit.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


We are off to Taipei. The air is terrible here. As some of you know from the Globe and Mail. It is on the BBC. It is all day news (like CNN) on the Singapore tv. The psi should be under 100 and it is over 300 and close to 400.

Indonesian farmers do slash and burn to prepare their fields for their palm oil crops. The prevailing winds send the smoke from their burning to Malaysia and Singapore. It happens every year but nothing like this.

It is very weird here. Everyone with masks. Like a heavy London fog, but it stings your eyes and gives you a sore throat. There are flecks of ash blowing around. Hospitals are very busy with asthma patients.

Tim has 4 days off, so we are flying to Taipei. Now that is a joke. Going to China for cleaner air.
Everything is relative, right?

So we fly off tomorrow, back Tuesday. We have a young friend, Amy, teaching ESL outside Taipei and if we are lucky we will connect with her. And apparently there is a museum in Taipei that would be a three day visit- treasures from China, from the Forbidden City.

We are so very lucky to be able to escape. I never do forget how blessed we are. They say that this could last for weeks. In 1997, the last time it was really bad, it lasted July to October!!!

So I have lots more on South Africa, which will come.

very weird here

I don't know if it has made the news at home, but we are in a very weird Singapore right now.

I remember experiencing weather last year sometimes where the air was acrid with smoke. A little in the air might be the Chinese burning paper tributes to their ancestors in the incinerators outside each building.

But when we came home from South Africa, the air was thick with smoke. I have sent pictures of the view off our balcony. I would take a photo to show you what it is like now, but you wouldn't see anything! I see only the apartment across the way, no water, no ships, no downtown skyline. It is like a thick London fog.

 I usually have all the windows wide open and only close the bedroom at night and put on the air con. I now have the whole place closed up and the main air con on. The air should not read higher than 100 something. 100 is high and uncomfortable, and aged and pregnant are told to stay indoors or wear masks. The reading here is 200 whatevers.

Tim, at Tiger, has been advised to wear some kind of mask when he does the walk around on the airplane, before take off. The Singapore tv station has had a special all day long on the haze.

The cause is the slash/burning of the Indonesian farmers. They ready their fields for planting by burning off the field. Singapore and Malaysia are in the down wind of Indonesia. The Singaporean and Malaysian governments are trying to negotiate with the farmers of Indonesia.

This haze happens every year, but this is the worst in 16 years. The whole city is under a pall. There is quite a strong wind, but it does nothing to move the smoke away.

You know like in a fog, cars come silently and people seem to appear out of nowhere. It is strange, mysterious, and unpleasant. I even went to the gym twice today because it has air con and there is no way I want to go for a walk in this air. Tim just came in on his bicycle wearing a mask!

We are thinking of going to Taiwan for his days off this weekend, to get fresh air! HA Now that is a laugh! (China having terrible air quality- but anything is better than what is here!)

This is the man I fell in love with thirty years ago.
More to the point I have stayed in love with him.
He is a stinker for having his eyes closed in a photo and he never smiles full on.
He has assured me that in this photo he is wide-eyed and grinning!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

safari episode two

So here I go again, trying to describe something that was so huge, so unbelievable, so wonderful. Good luck.

Phinda is a private game reserve. It has three focusses- give back to the land, give back to the wildlife, give back to the community. It does all three, masterfully.

We went on game drives 6 a.m. - 10 a.m., and 3 p.m. - 8 p.m.. You start in darkness and end in darkness. So you start in cold and end in cold. South Africa's winter is now and the temperatures dropped to probably 10'. And out in the Land Cruiser, with no windshield it was colder. In the dark and particularly in the rain!

We had cold mornings, a delicious bite to the air (a Singaporean talking here) and by sunrise, the sun started to heat the day. We had a hot August day (actually stinking hot- I would not want to be there doing a safari in their summer!) a perfect September day (brilliant blue sky, and a warm sun that you can smell), perfect October day (brilliant sky, but a wind to make it a little on the fresh side), a grey November day (overcast and cold) and an awful November day (cold, grey, pissing rain, and blowing wind). We had it all.

The nights were cold driving back to camp, but cosy on arrival. Our very glamorous cabin with the turn down was toasty. All except the night of the "November rain". We needed a hot shower to get the appendages to move. The one very warm "August" day, we sat the afternoon at our plunge pool, saying hello to the impala that visited us, they seeking a little saline refresher. The pool was too cold to plunge into, because of the very cold nights. But I did yoga on the deck, with monkeys as audience! And we had an outdoor shower that was lovely that day. Monkeys at the shower too!

We would get a call at 5:30, come to the lodge at 6 a.m. for coffee and a bun. On our return at 10ish we would have a very full breakfast. Home baked bread, croissants, wonderful in season fruit, yogurt that must be 30%bf, and they even had delicious decaf coffee for me. Roughing it in the bush! We would loll around till 2, trying to think hungry, so we could face a fantastic lunch, on the deck, watching baboons playing in the trees, and be ready for a 3 o'clock drive. Till 8, and in to darkness. To arrive back to a wonderful dinner. The food was first class, and it was hard to think we were off in the bush.

Upon arrival, we were assigned to a ranger for our 5 days. Ranger Barry was a Zulu, trained for 7 years, lived just off the reserve with his family. The Toyota Land Cruiser sat 8. Six guests, and Ranger Barry and his spotter Chris, also a Zulu. Chris sat up front in the spotter seat, which was  a single seat that stuck out front of the front of the vehicle. He would leave his "office" and join us when we were near animals. His coming in the vehicle kept the integrity of the outline of the vehicle, which was what the animals were comfortable with. He also would be back with us, and the two rangers had a "guitar" on which they put "strings". (a rifle with bullets.)

These two were amazing. A big part of the safari is educating us city folk. They would stop and show us prints. Know when they were made, where they had come from, and where they were headed. These guys know all the animals. Know the ages, family lineage, and know their activities. When we had a spotting, Barry would phone it in so all the other rangers could update their info.

He asked us the first drive what we hoped for. I said I wanted to see "the big five" My friend Kate had referred to "the big five" I had no idea what they were. They are not the biggest of the animals, but they are the most difficult to track and "hunt". Well, by drive #3 we had seen 4 of the 5. The five are elephants, lions, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, buffalo, cheetah. Now we saw these giants at close range. Calm, curious, comfortable, and they were awesome. A bull elephant was coming down the sand path we were on, so Barry pulled to the side and this magnificent 4 meter tall bull walked past us 2 meters away. Also a mature male lion. On the path, we pulled over, he looked at us and walked on, meters away. That, my friends, is breath taking.

We tracked four 4 year old lions, two female, two male (ruff just starting), for two days. They were hungry and looking for food. The third day we saw them just finishing off a wildebeest, and were licking their chops, and lolling. Full bellied, meters from us (the two males "spooning, with one's paws around the other).

We watched a bull elephant cross our path. Then one crossed behind us. So Barry reversed quickly, not wanting to be between the pack. And a good thing he did. We watched about 30 elephants cross, with one little baby. Where they were all about 3 meters tall, this baby wasn't one meter tall, and dancing, and skipping along. It was gorgeous!

We tracked a male mature lion for several days, looking for his two females. He was hungry, lost, and tired. Then we were there when he found them, nuzzling them, batting them, grooming them.

The cheetahs were eluding Barry (and all the other rangers). We had been tracking them in the bush in the vehicle. Tracks but no cheetah.  So Barry and Chris set off on foot, with their guitar with strings on it, and they told us to STAY in the vehicle. They did ask if one of the guys could drive the Land Cruiser. With an affirmative, they set off on foot. After a hour, they called on the walkie talkie to come, gave directions, and we found them. Then, with Chris out of his office and sitting with guitar on his lap we found them. Cheetahs are magnificent. It was so worth the hunt. ( leopards have no stripe down their face, cheetahs do.)

I will continue this another post. I will attach a few of my photos this time. But Tim's photos will be coming along soon.

King of the Jungle

They look like they are related to camels!

Major BIG and a matter of feet away!

He was feet away too!

Zebras are gorgeous!

Pretty magnificent!

Chris in his office, and Ranger Barry at the wheel.

Buffalo. Sure doesn't look like North American buffalo

Well worth the hunt! AMAZING!!!!!!

My pictures of rhino and hippo are not very good. The animals are so well camouflaged that you can't see them in the pics!

More to follow!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Oh, my, my, my

We just had an experience of a lifetime.

I had mentioned that our South Africa trip was getting bigger ($$$) than usual. Worth every penny. By changing our thinking, and making this our 30th anniversary trip (seeing as on our day I will be in Canada, and Tim will be in Singapore- it was an easy sell!) it was very special. And it was in spades!

Firstly, because we said we were celebrating our 30th,  to our agent, we had champagne every place we stayed!

But it just was breath taking. I can not do it justice in one post, so I am going to do several.

I mentioned that my dear friend Kate said we HAD to do a safari, and had to go to Phinda (silent "h"), stay at Vlei Lodge, and to do so, contact &Beyond, their agent. Well, they put together our 10 days in SA, and it was fabulous.

We flew to Johannesberg (10 Hours, 5 hour time change) and on to Durban, a short flight east to the east coast of South Africa. We stayed overnight at a lovely inn in a residential area. A short walk to the beach, and in a huge wind, a walk on the beach in to a little town on the outskirts of Durban. We were made very aware of the security in SA. Barbed wire every where. A panic button on the bed table for in the night! Otherwise it seemed like Victoria, BC. We found the SA Rand very favourable. We had been told SA was expensive, but the Rand has suffered, and that worked to our advantage. To eat out was very reasonable, beer cheap cheap, wine even cheaper, and good SA wine.

The next morning we were picked up and transferred to a small airport nearby, and in a small (Cessna 172? 4 seater) airplane, took a 1 1/2 hour flight to Phinda's airstrip. Up the coast 30 minutes, a beach lined, huge wave shoreline. Inland over miles of sugar plantations, beautiful green waving in the wind, like wheat. To Phinda.

We were met by a Phinda ranger, of course in Khaki, in to a Toyota Land Cruiser, of course, and a 30 minute drive to the camp. On the way we saw beautiful zebras, maybe 10 meters from us.
The lodge is simple but beautifully done. I hope some photos will do it justice.

Phinda sits between Lesotho and Swaziland (if you know where they are!) south of Kruger Park, and is Zulu land. They have managed to give back to ancestral owners 9,500 acres dispossessed in Apartheid. It was derelict farmland and is now a conservation reserve in perpetuity. Phinda is a not for profit Game Reserve. It made money only 2 years ($22,000) and strives to work with a zero balance, putting back in to the land, the animals, and the people." Phinda "means "return". They are living up to their name.

It has 56,000 acres of land acquired in 1991, land which was being farmed very uneconomically, and starving the land of resources. An "against all odds" project. The land is unique in that it has seven different habitats: savanna, bush veld, coastal grassland, mountain range ( Lemombo), marsh, forest,

We stayed at Vlei Lodge, vlei meaning meadow. A central lodge with 6 out cabins, along sand paths in light forest. We were maybe 50 meters from the lodge. We signed a very wordy release of liability form, and they did have some very strict rules. No way go out at night in the dark unaccompanied. Call for a ranger escort. The cabins are not fenced and have night visitors. The night before we arrived a lion had got in to a fight between two cabins. Our first night we had elephants at our cabin. Big huge foot prints in the sand. Like snow shoes. One morning as we left our cabin at 6 in the morning (in darkness still) there were 2 rangers in conversation on the path at our door. I thought "oh what a coincidence". It was no coincidence. They had tracked a leopard to our steps in to our cabin, and could not find where they went from there. So we had a flashlight escort to the main lodge!

At our first safari we were given the drill. No standing up when animals are in sight. They are comfortable with the presence of the vehicle, but if the outline of the vehicle  changes shape, that would alarm them. The rangers were incredible at driving up and around to give us good photo ops.

On that, oy. I bought a new camera, my old one died. I even practiced with it before going. Bought an extra card for lots of photos, and then forgot to take the charger for the battery. So guess what? I became very reliant on Tim for photos. I will post some but his are super. We will give you  drop box address and you can go see them all.

Another oy. I forgot my coat. Very hard in 80' weather to grab your winter coat as you head to the airport. I knew it would be cold, but it was freezing. I think my blood is thinner. It was see your breath cold in the early morning. Then in to the open jeep and get colder. I wore layers and the same layers every day. The very coldest day it rained and we were driving home. They handed out ponchos, and I pulled the hood right around tight, and was happy I wore glasses because it was pelting. There is no windshield in a jeep, so...

I will attach some photos but more to come. I have to do this safari in a few blogs. So stay tuned.

Not many of getting there. JUST WAIT!!!
This is the coastline of gorgeous South Africa, from our little plane on the way to Phinda.

This is sugar plantations inland. I don't know what I was expecting, but not lush green plantations.

This was from the drive in to Phinda. Hadn't even dropped our bags. He was maybe 3 meters away. GORGEOUS.

  More tomorrow.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


I did it again. I should have said that Durban is on the east coast of South Africa. I made the same mistake one other time. I think to myself it is west of here.

Duh!  That makes it west right? So anyway, Durban is on the east cast of South Africa.

getting excited

Next Wednesday we are going to South Africa to Cape Town and to a safari. It is going to be our 30th wedding anniversary trip. (I have designated that because it is so expensive!) (And I will be in Canada and Tim in Singapore for our actual anniversary.)

I know safaris are expensive, and we have been spoiled with these little long-weekend excursions. But this looks like it will be fantastic.

I once again had to go to google map to see where we were going. Of course the southern tip of Africa. We fly to Johannesburg then to Durban. So we fly to the northern end of S.A. inland to Jburg. Then out to the west coast about halfway down to the tip to Durban. That will take all day. 10 hours to Jburg, but 5 hour time change. Then on to Durban. We will be met at the airport and have a hotel on the coast. The next morning we will be picked up and taken to the airport again, for a little (1 1/2 hr)  flight, in a little plane  to our safari. Google &beyond Phinda Vlei. Then you will know as much as me about what we will be doing. We will be there 4 nights. They have a safari early morning (cold) back for breakfast, and another safari at dusk (cool again) and back for dinner. Mid day warms up considerably. We have our own plunge pool at our private house. (Apparently elephants are known to come and drink!) There are only 6 villas on the property so a small group for the outings. I believe they have afternoon science stuff to do.

We will then fly to Durban and fly to Port Elizabeth, about 1/3 the way down to Cape Town. 2 nights there, with lots to see. Wine country, gorgeous orchards, and the rest I will know better in a few days. Then we drive to Cape Town and snoop around there. They say it is a great city, and the wine country is fabulous. I will let you know.

It is exciting to think we will wear socks and sweater, and be cool. We even have a fireplace in our cabin! The simple pleasures!

We have a friend of Elizabeth's visiting with us- Askan. A friend from Children's Aid Foundation days. He is a lovely guy. We took him to the new aquarium. It is huge and fantastic. As only Singapore can do. Biggest in the world. But of course. It just opened a few weeks ago.

The aquarium has over 100,000 marine animals. The glass walls are vast (again they have one that is the biggest piece of glass in the world. It was breathtaking. The colours, the mesmerizing movement, the coral dancing, They have a touching pool, where children, supervised, can touch. I will attach way too many photos, some videos that I hope open for you. I was blown away. It was gorgeous.

There was a brochure there from Mother's Day. I guess they don't get the significance of some things in English, but an ad for something for Mommy Dearest. All I can see is that movie with Bette Davis.
In the brochure was an article on Susur Lee. He has a restaurant here, but it was a charming article about him, about in Toronto, (He credits his long ponytail to his mother. She had the adage hair is money.

The SSO sent out their brochure for next year. I have never seen such a luxurious brochure. 80 pages of glossy photos. Even lots of the musicians. Their programming looks fantastic. Mahler 1, Verdi Te Deum, Bach St John Passion, R Strauss Heldenleben, Don Juan, Symphonia Domestica, Schumann 1st and 2nd Symphonies, Shostakovich 5. I could go on and on. I simply want to go to them all. But I want to keep myself free to travel.

Oh such difficult decisions. Like is tough sometimes.