Africa First

Blogging my journeys through this exotic continent!

Places to Visit When in Africa

vic-falls-bridge1[1]Having lived here in Africa for almost 5 years, I can safely say that I have been to some of the most beautiful places on Earth. Nothing compares to the experience of being up close with wild animals. I remember how beautiful yet frightening it was to see a gazelle being chased down by a lioness. How the poor gazelle tried to outrun its predator but failed.  I remember feeling grossed out seeing a wake of vultures feeding together at a carcass. I have learned later on that vultures are the only animals that can stomach eating rotten flesh and that they help prevent diseases spread by rotting corpses.   I have seen the smiles of locals and how accommodating they were. I have visited some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and believe it or not, they are in Africa.

Despite the negative picture the media paints us of Africa; we cannot deny that it is a beautiful country. It has been my home for the last 5 years. In the years that I have been here, I can safely say that I know some of the best places that travelers need to visit when they find themselves itching for a little African adventure. Check out the list I made below.

TABLE MOUNTAIN

Where: Cape Town

Table Mountain is named as such due to its appearance—it is a flat topped mountain that overlooks Cape Town. Just like any hiking trip, the climb can be very hard and taxing, but the view from up the mountain is just spectacular. You can see all of Cape Town from up there. If the idea of hiking up the mountain does not appeal to you, don’t worry; there’s a cable car service to the summit.

ROBBEN ISLAND

Where: Cape Town

Robben Island is famous for many things such as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also home to the prison where South Africa’s prisoners hid during the Apartheid era. Nelson Mandela was once imprisoned in Robben Island too.  According to Africa’s history, that Robben Island was once a leper colony, a place where mentally ill patients were sent and a defense training base.

Usually, the people leading the tours to Robben Island are former political prisoners who have a lot to share of Africa’s political history.

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

Where: Phalaborwa

If you think the view from the Table Mountain is spectacular, then wait till you visit Kruger National Park. This place is the very definition of breathtaking. It boasts of a diverse collection of flora and fauna—336 types of trees, 34 types of amphibians, 49 kinds of fish, 112 different kinds of reptiles, 147 kinds of mammals, and a whopping 507 different species of birds.

THE CRADLE OF HUMANKIND

Where: Krugersdorp

Situated just 50 km away from Johannesburg, The Cradle of Humankind is made up of a complex of limestone caves where scientists have discovered fossils dated back to the birth of humankind. It is said that man’s earliest known ancestors evolved from the Cradle of Humankind.

I hope this list can help you guys if you ever decide to visit Africa. It is a place that will leave you with some amazing impressions and wonderful, unforgettable memories.

Gorilla Trekking Tips

One of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve had while living in Africa would have to be the time when I saw mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Up close.

The first time I was invited to a Gorilla Trekking party, a few years ago, I did not hesitate to say yes. I wanted to go even though I was uncertain as to what I would see or how I would feel. I said yes, in the spirit of adventure.

When I first saw the gorillas, I felt as though I were meeting some old, distant relatives—albeit more hairy than me. I took a lot of photos of the gorillas, but then I had to put my camera away so that I could just observe them. Please note that I was just a few feet away from these animals. I watched them without bars, fence, glass or rumbling safari car. Nothing stood between us and the gorillas and they calmly let us watch them. Up close, we were able to get a glimpse of what it is to be part of their world.

If anyone of you decides to go on a safari adventure in East Africa, do consider visiting the mountain gorillas in Uganda, Congo or in Rwanda. Gorilla trekking is fun, but it is unlike traditional safaris as it requires more active participation. My advice is that you plan ahead so that you won’t come unprepared in case you face challenges along the way. If you do push through with Gorilla Trekking, here are some helpful tips to make your experience a memorable one.

WEAR THE RIGHT CLOTHES

When picking out clothes for this activity, remember two things: muddy trails and changing weather. You might want to wear shirts made of synthetic materials that dry quickly. It can get quite warm and muggy in the forest, so be sure to wear comfortable clothing. If you and the group stop to rest after a few hours of hiking, it’s best to cool down with clothing made of fleece. It’s also necessary to bring a raincoat or a waterproof rain jacket as rainstorms normally happen in the forest. Always wear pants made of synthetic material. Avoid wearing shorts.

WEAR THE RIGHT FOOTWEAR

I’d suggest wearing above the ankle boots. You’ll likely walk through ankle-deep or even knee-deep mud and everyone knows this is no fun. Sometimes the mud could even suck the boots right off your feet so wear gators over your boots.

BRING ENOUGH FOOD AND WATER

There are no stores where you can buy food and water on national parks so, be sure to pack a liter of water and some snacks with you. I suggest packing energy bars as they don’t take up too much space in the bag and they can stave off hunger for a few hours.

These are just some of the things you need to know when getting ready for Gorilla Trekking. Once you’ve reached the destination, be sure to take a lot of photos to document the success of your Gorilla Trek.  Have fun!

 

Birthday Barbecue in Africa

Our son’s birthday is nearing in a few weeks and I’m getting pretty excited about throwing him a party. Planning a birthday is really exciting but it’s expensive and can be very tiring as well. Good thing I have my wife help me out with the party planning. Parties won’t be complete would good food and I ask our son what kind of food he’d like to have on his birthday and he said without any hesitation: “I want barbecue and ice cream!”

If there is one thing in the world that I would not tire of eating every day, it would be barbecue. I reckon my barbecue addiction must have rubbed off our son because he seems to love it just as much as I do. Now, I love barbecue but here in Africa, particularly Johannesburg, it seems to be a national obsession. In fact, men here seem to take pride in barbecuing. There’s even a reality show on South African TV called “The Ultimate Braai Master”. Braai is the Afrikaans equivalent for barbecue, I guess.

I’m pretty excited about barbecuing meat for my son’s birthday only I have a teeny problem with that—our barbecue grill broke a month ago. We could just buy barbecue from the nearest barbecue joints but our son wouldn’t want that—he’s always bragged about how his dad makes the best barbecued pork briskets.

Fortunately, my friend, Kade, volunteered to help us out. He owns an electric smoker, which he claims, is a lot better than traditional smokers. He said I could borrow it if I don’t have time to buy a new BBQ grill. I was a bit confused because, as far as I know, smokers are used for smoking meat. How would that help me with grilling barbecued meat?

We went over to Kade’s house and he showed me his electric smoker. Electric food smokers, he said are efficient and versatile. They can smoke, grill and barbecue meat, fish and vegetables. He showed me how the device works and I can say I’m pretty impressed. The fact that this smoker can be used indoors was impressive as well.

Learning how to operate the smoker was easy so I got the hang of it in just a few minutes. I thought the vertical electric smoker couldn’t impress me more until Kade showed me how to barbecue meat using it. He just set the timer and said we could leave it alone and the meat be done by then. He said I could just set the device and let it do its own thing. With this I could cook barbecue while watching TV, surfing the net or talking with my friends on the phone. Who invented this device? I want to give him/her a big thank you hug! Haha!

Because I got curious about electric smokers, I did some research and learnt a lot of useful things about it on the internet. It seems that Wikipedia has got everything you need from reviews to basic information about electric smokers. I’m definitely getting an electric smoker, but for the meantime I’ll be using Kade’s for my son’s birthday bbq party. I can’t wait to start using it!

Staying healthy and Nourished in Africa

Hello everybody!

With so much of the current news surfacing from Africa concerning Ebola I’ve decided to make a post about a much healthier and happier topic – maintaining proper nutrition and supplementation while abroad in Africa.

Whether you are constantly on the move or settled in one place for awhile, it can be easy to forget to keep close attention on your health.

I am always sure to keep some supplements on hand. since I personally avoid meat products when traveling in Africa (hold the bush meat, please.)

While the variety of supplements i carry will vary, there are a few staples that I always keep on hand. These include vitamin A, omega 3 (EPA & DHA) and vitamin b12. You’ll never catch me without them in my pack.

While I don’t slouch on getting enough calories in the day (trust me, this girl can eat!) the best and most abundant forms of some essential vitamins, like the ones listed above, happen to be found most prominently in meat.

B12, for example, is the most complex vitamin around and can only be found in animal products. This is because bacteria in an animal’s gut are what produce this vitamin.

Vitamin A and omega 3 are in the same category, as you can find small amounts of vitamin A and some forms of omega 3 in plants, you are likely not going to get enough of the vitamin or instead encounter hard to absorb forms.

And why do I pay so much attention to carrying around these supplements? I mean your average traveler or expat isn’t likely to have numerous bottles of vitamins littering their equipment bag while abroad.

For one, many people are just unaware that they need these nutrients and might not be getting enough. Or, maybe they do have an idea that they could become deficient but don’t seem to care enough to take action!

I personally do know quite well what might happen if we don’t keep our nutrient levels up. For example, here are a few symptoms that can result from deficiencies of vitamin B12 alone: anemia, bone marrow promegaloblastosis, gastrointestinal symptoms, pernicious anemia, GAVE syndrome, sensory or motor problems, diminished touch sensation, subacute degeneration of spinal cord, seizures, dementia.

Yikes!

I have a family history of dementia in my older relatives, and I am not taking a risk of enhancing my probability to develop it.

To summarize, while traveling in Africa can be beautifully distracting, it’s a really good idea to keep on top of your health.

While I am a staunch advocate for keeping your health in top shape now, I didn’t used to be. And it turned out to bite me in the butt! My first tour of Africa I came down with a severe illness. I still don’t know what it was, but I should have noticed the warning signs leading up to it. It was the first time I gave up meat since I was a young girl, and I wasn’t doing anything to make up for the sudden decrease in nutrition. On my third month I got incredibly sick, but the month leading up to it i could feel myself weakening. It’s in these times that you are the most vulnerable to infection.

So I recommend that you follow up reading this article by looking into your own diet while you’re abroad and see what vitamins or supplements might work best for you!

Staying healthy and Nourished in Africa

Hello everybody!

With so much of the current news surfacing from Africa concerning Ebola I’ve decided to make a post about a much healthier and happier topic – maintaining proper nutrition and supplementation while abroad in Africa.

Whether you are constantly on the move or settled in one place for awhile, it can be easy to forget to keep close attention on your health.

I am always sure to keep some supplements on hand. since I personally avoid meat products when traveling in Africa (hold the bush meat, please.)

While the variety of supplements i carry will vary, there are a few staples that I always keep on hand. These include vitamin A, omega 3 (EPA & DHA) and vitamin b12. You’ll never catch me without them in my pack.

While I don’t slouch on getting enough calories in the day (trust me, this girl can eat!) the best and most abundant forms of some essential vitamins, like the ones listed above, happen to be found most prominently in meat.

B12, for example, is the most complex vitamin around and can only be found in animal products. This is because bacteria in an animal’s gut are what produce this vitamin.

Vitamin A and omega 3 are in the same category, as you can find small amounts of vitamin A and some forms of omega 3 in plants, you are likely not going to get enough of the vitamin or instead encounter hard to absorb forms.

And why do I pay so much attention to carrying around these supplements? I mean your average traveler or expat isn’t likely to have numerous bottles of vitamins littering their equipment bag while abroad.

For one, many people are just unaware that they need these nutrients and might not be getting enough. Or, maybe they do have an idea that they could become deficient but don’t seem to care enough to take action!

I personally do know quite well what might happen if we don’t keep our nutrient levels up. For example, here are a few symptoms that can result from deficiencies of vitamin B12 alone: anemia, bone marrow promegaloblastosis, gastrointestinal symptoms, pernicious anemia, GAVE syndrome, sensory or motor problems, diminished touch sensation, subacute degeneration of spinal cord, seizures, dementia.

Yikes!

I have a family history of dementia in my older relatives, and I am not taking a risk of enhancing my probability to develop it.

To summarize, while traveling in Africa can be beautifully distracting, it’s a really good idea to keep on top of your health.

While I am a staunch advocate for keeping your health in top shape now, I didn’t used to be. And it turned out to bite me in the butt! My first tour of Africa I came down with a severe illness. I still don’t know what it was, but I should have noticed the warning signs leading up to it. It was the first time I gave up meat since I was a young girl, and I wasn’t doing anything to make up for the sudden decrease in nutrition. On my third month I got incredibly sick, but the month leading up to it i could feel myself weakening. It’s in these times that you are the most vulnerable to infection.

So I recommend that you follow up reading this article by looking into your own diet while you’re abroad and see what vitamins or supplements might work best for you!

Why I needed to visit a Dermatologist in Durban

Traveling through Africa has both positive and negative experiences.

During the years spent in Africa, I was able to visit many different countries and had the time to experience the local culture and meet with real people. The advantage of spending a lot of time in one area, is that you can totally immerse yourself into the local community and really get to know the people around you.

One time I remember, was working in an orphanage in the township of Kwamashu, which is about 20 miles north of Durban, South Africa. This township is know for its high levels of crime and poverty and due to the ravages of the AIDS epidemic there are many households that do not have parents. What that means is that both the mother and father died and that the grandparents are left to take care of the grandchildren.

Which in South Africa is not an easy thing to do as the social grants provided by the government of South Africa, only amounts to maybe $100 per month. That is hardly enough to feed one person, not even to speak about an extended family. In many cases the children then end up living in orphanages as there were no other options. Normally when a child ends up in an orphanage in Soth Africa, there is very little chance of the child being adopted.

Anyway, myself and Laura, a women from Wales came to this orphanage for a 6 month period and we actually lived on the premises as it was considered too unsafe for two white women to travel into the township every day. The living conditions were not ideal and we had no running water. All ablutions had to be done with buckets and we used sponges to bath ourselves.

After about 2 months of being there, my skin started to itch and a rash appeared on the area around my wrist. I thought that maybe it was only dirt accumulation and thought nothing off it. I got one of the local girls who lived in Kwamashu to go to the pharmacy and get me some salve which I could put on it. Instead the girl went to the local Sangoma (witchdoctor) and brought me back some foul smelling ointment which I had to put on my arm and keep covered with bandages.

After a week of this natural treatment, I realized that the rash was not getting better, but worse. When i took the bandages off, the foulness assaulted my sense of smell and I realized that I would need professional treatment. We phoned around trying to find a Dermatologist in Durban and made an appointment to go in a soon as possible. That afternoon the head matron of the orphanage and myself took a communal taxi to the city of Durban and in the suburb of Umhlanga, we went to visit a Dermatologist.

The dermatologist took one look at my forearm and diagnosed that I had scabies. Scabies is caused by a tiny insect and I probably got it by being in direct skin contact with another person that was infected. The Dermatologist reassured me that it was nothing seroius and he prescribed a lotion which I had to put on my body from the neck downwards before I went to sleep and then wash it off the next morning. This was to be repeated again after one week.

I was relieved and went back to the orphanage with the lotion in hand, but what the matron and I did as soon as we returned to the orphanage, was to look at everybody and to see if we could find similar symptoms with other. We did find 3 children that also had the same problem and immediately phoned the Dermatologist in Durban to make an appointment for the children to go and see him.

Shooting Guns and Cameras in Africa

No trip to Africa is complete without a trip to Kruger National park to see the big five. The park was established in 1898 by the government of the South African Republic and it became the first national park in South Africa in 1928. It is almost 8000 square miles of savannah with areas for the people that live there and the accommodations for tourists. It is about a five hour drive from Johannesburg. “The big five” is a term that big game hunters came up for the hardest animals to catch on foot in Africa. The hardest animals to catch are the Rhinoceros, Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Lion and the Leopard. All five are known for their savagery when cornered by hunters.

I am a hunter. I have been one all of my life. I have several guns and I reload my own ammunition as well (I even have a portable reloading press I take with me everywhere!). I spend more of my time shooting at targets than anything else but every couple of years I shoot a deer or a wild turkey for meat. I only hunt animals that I can eat. Hunting for trophies is just not my thing. I am looking forward to my trip to Kruger National Park but the only thing that I will be shooting is my Canon Rebel.

I flew to Johannesburg and stayed overnight in a hotel before continuing my journey onto the park. I rented a car and it took me about five hours with light traffic to get there. I arrived there about noon the first day and there was still plenty of time to head out on safari.

We headed out in a jeep and I noticed that our guide carried a very large rifle. He saw me looking at it and explained that it had tranquilizer darts in it just in case any of the animals got aggressive.

“You can never be too careful here. You don’t want to become dinner!” he said winking at me.

The first day out I saw a, a herd of gazelles, a tower of giraffes, one elephant, and several crocodiles basking in the sun. I got some great close-ups with my zoom lens on my Rebel. But the big cats were elusive on the first day.

The second day out I took a helicopter ride over the park. We went up for about two hours and I got some great shots of waterfalls, hippopotamuses basking in the sprawling river, lush vegetation, as well as desert. It was quite fascinating to see the vegetation close to the water space dissipate into desert or grasslands. On the way back we saw a herd of wildebeest being chased by two lionesses.

My bird’s eye view was the only chance I got to see any of the big cats. They were quite elusive in my one week visit. I had a great time though despite not seeing the cats and I would highly recommend that everyone should travel to Africa for safari at some point in their lives. Seeing the animals in person is so much better than watching it on your television, and shooting them with digital images instead of real bullets is even better!

Crossbow Hunting the “Big Five”

As I have lived in Africa for the past five years, I have grown accustomed to the traditions, the sounds and the beauty which Africa provides on a daily basis. I had no idea my time in Africa would result in such amazing adventures and that I would gain such valuable life lessons, skills and experiences which I will be able to carry with me to the remainder of my days. I also had no idea at how absolutely marvelous the bow hunting in Africa truly was and that I would be living in a hunter’s paradise.

The African “Big Five” is the term locals, and avid hunters, use when referring to African Elephants, Lions, White Rhinos, African Buffalo and the African Leopard. When I first moved to Africa it was my goal to closely encounter each of the “Big Five” and to be able to hunt an African Buffalo. The African Buffalo has always been on my bucket list, and it is arguably one of the most esteemed hunting adversaries in all of the animal kingdom. The African Buffalo is not only extraordinarily intelligent, but also moves to various parts of water and land as the temperature of the day changes, so can be very difficult to accurately track.

After countless years of hunting more common game like deer and elk, I was ready, or so I believed, to begin my hunt for an African Buffalo. I had undergone months and months of strength training so I would be in great shape and able to endure long periods out in the bush and felt I was ready for this next hunting adventure and challenge. I also was equipped with an extremely powerful, accurate and well built bow – the PSE Excalibur (I’ve read a lot positive reviews on this site). The PSE Excalibur weighs in at 90 pounds, is built of heavy carbon shafts and also special German made broad heads. I knew I had put in the necessary work and was properly prepared and that I was also going to battle armed with a state of the art crossbow. It was now my time to begin my greatest hunt, and adventure, and see if I could capture the illusive African Buffalo.

I do not have a trophy room at home; in fact, I do not have many tokens or evidence of my past hunting experiences beyond my memories. I do have countless photos of my hunting adventures, but most of them include pictures of me and my father together making memories which would carry me through the years since my father passed away. My father and I always dreamt of visiting the great nation of Africa together, exploring the safari, taking in the sights, eating the local cuisine, and of hunting an African Buffalo together. As I embark upon my latest hunting trip and finalized all preparations, this trip is about far more than bagging one of the most sought after game; this trip symbolizes the years my father and I spent together high above the ground in a tree blind, all the years he spent teaching what makes a good crossbow, how to handle myself in the woods, and how to respect the creature being hunted. Today symbolizes a historical day and is a day I will tearfully spend with my father, even if he is no longer with me. As I embark upon this great journey, I may or may not capture an African Buffalo, but I already have won and thank Africa for all it has given to me….and to my father.

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