Olive Oil – The Life Blood of Italy

Last week I met Gabriella, for lunch at a winery on the south coast of NSW not far from the village of Milton and the town of Ulladulla. Cupitt’s Winery sits snuggly on a hillside overlooking a lake and in the distance, the hills rise up to meet the clear blue autumn sky.

Over a delicious lunch and a glass of mulled wine (to keep the autumn chill out of our bones) we reminisced about the time that we’d first met in Italy in October 2012. We were both attending a week-long photographic workshop at the magic destination of Dievole winery in Tuscany.

Dievole is the quintessential Italian experience. The rolling Tuscan hills are covered in olive groves and vineyards where the vines leaves are changing to vibrant reds, oranges and rusts in the crisp autumn weather; quaint hillside towns and villages; cafes where you can sit in the sun sipping strong coffee and let time pass you by; small family-run restaurants serving fresh, local produce such as autumn truffles, freshly picked mushrooms of many shapes and colours, fresh farm cheese and a variety of meat and poultry. Every meal was an excuse to try something new, a specialty of the area prepared by the chef in his/her own style, or that of his/her mother and grandmother and all the generations of cooks before them. Culinary traditions run deep in the Italian kitchen and are held in awe by those behind the stove.

Sunrise over the Vineyards - Tuscany

Sunrise over the Vineyards – Tuscany

We woke early on our first morning to find the valleys shrouded in mist which created an ideal atmospheric “shoot” for our first photographic excursion. During the week we enjoyed many wonderful forays into the countryside, towns and villages snapping away to capture “the moment”.

One excursion I remember most fondly was visiting a nearby farm and oil press. Which was in the midst of its annual harvest and oil production. The owner gave us a tour of the press which was “all systems go” at the time as many local farmers had bought their olive crop in for pressing. At the end of the production line the oil was decanted into a variety of cans, bottles, flasks and any other suitable containers that could be mustered for the occasion.

Olive oil is a staple in Italian cooking and runs in the veins of every Italian. We were treated to the fabulous experience of tasting the year’s production on-site. In the pressing room, there is an open fire-place where crusty bread was toasted over the coals then doused with lashings of rich, peppery olive oil fresh from the press, on top of which were placed generous slices of pancetta and pecorino cheese. This mouth-watering combination was washed down by the vineyard’s red wine.

We stood next to the fire, chatting to the hum and clatter of the machinery as the giant stone wheels whirred around pressing the olives and extracting every last drop of liquid gold.

Categories: Cooking School, Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Namibia – Birth, Death and Marriage

Marriage is a loose affair in Namibia, and for that matter many other parts of Africa. Polygamy is still practised in many tribes. It is a common custom that after years of marriage the husband will select a new wife to join his household. The number of wives depends on his wealth. A wealthy man owns a large herd of cows, goats and sheep that will enable him to pay the bride price. He will also need stamina to service multiple wives as there is an expectation that everyone will share his bed. Hence, families are large, complex and extend over many locations and tribes.

Family succession is an important issue that has to be resolved. The family always looks to the headman for leadership and to make decisions that will affect them all. These decisions can be trivial day-to-day issues such as family arguments, or important matters such as marriage and property disputes.

When the husband decides it is time to select his successor as head of his family, he elects the eldest son of his sister. He asks his nephew to come to his home and stay with his wife or wives for a couple of weeks so they can “get to know each other”. During this period, the husband leaves the village and goes off hunting or visiting distant friends and relatives. Meanwhile the nephew is taken into the family and is given all the rights and respect of the husband.

On the husband’s return, the nephew moves out of his uncle’s house and the uncle resumes his position as head of the household. On the death of the husband, the nephew comes to his house and takes his uncle’s wife or wives to his own house and they then join his family. Hence, in a tribe, everyone is related by blood or by adoption. There is a shared responsibility for the caring and nurturing of all children. No child is ever left homeless should something happen to his parents.

Another important issue is inheritance. This importantly determines the person’s status and ability to pay a larger bride price to attract more desirable women into the family. If inheritance is determined after death, should the man not have selected his nephew by the time he dies, the tribe believes that the dead person was “witched”. To determine who will then take the dead man’s wives, family and possessions, six eligible men of the tribe are nominated to carry the “witched coffin” until one of them feels that the dead man inside the coffin moves. This signifies that the ancestors have chosen his successor and the person who “felt the coffin move” inherits the wife or wives, house, cattle, possessions and children.

Many people have conveniently blended their traditional beliefs and values into Christianity. I met Jonas’ uncle Nicky. He and Jonas are like brothers as only a few years separate them in age – they went to school together and now both are guides at neighbouring camps in southern Namibia.

Nicky is devilishly handsome, with a wide warm smile that showcases his perfect white teeth. He is wearing a large gold cross around his neck and when I asked him how all these tribal customs rest with his Christianity, he replies,”he is very comfortable”. He can reside in the belief that both can co-exist. It seems that the people “cherry pick” what they like from both belief systems and blend them into a framework which dictates their current social and spiritual norms.


For example, when Jonas was born he was given two names. Those being: Jonas from his grandfather, who was a Christian and a tribal name of “Kakumbire”, which translate to “he didn’t pray when he passed away”. The name Kakumbire came about when Jonas mother was pregnant with Jonas, his grandfather was very ill and everyday it was his custom was to offer a Christian prayer. However, the day he died he did not pray and hence this sentiment was captured in Jonas’ Himba’s name, “Kakumbire” -“he didn’t pray when he passed away”.

Traditional spiritual customs are not the only things that co-exist with modern practices. Male circumcision is still widely practised. When the village has a number of children to be circumcised they call in the “specialist”. Each family has to buy a new blade and pay the specialist $100 Namibian (AUD20.00) each. After the deed is done, they apply a paste of paraffin and roasted herbs, which is then applied to the wound. This is slowly worn off as the cut heals.

However – the most painful tribal practise is the knocking out of the four bottom teeth in the females and males. Luckily this is not commonly practised by modern Himba but is still widespread in the tribal areas. The headman is designated to carry out this ritual by taking a nail and hammer or two stones and knocking them against the gums where the roots of the teeth are. This sounds horrifyingly painful, and no doubt it is. This practise occurs at puberty and is important part of the Himba culture that easily identifies them as Himba apart from wearing the distinctive traditional Himba clothing.


The traditional costume and grooming includes dressing the hair, particularly for the women. They braid their hair thickly with a mixture of red ochre and animal fat. These braids are finished off with large fluffy pompoms of hair at the ends. The women “bathe” their bodies all over with the red ochre/fat mixture, which makes their skin very soft and it becomes like a burnished brown colour. Their necks, ankles and arms are ornamented with a variety of jewellery, belts and metal work. They wear around their waist a small skirt of goat hide which covers their bottom and in front a small cloth for modesty.

Categories: Animals, Elephants, Giraffe, Hippos, Leopards, Lions, Namibia, Oryx, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, White Rhino | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Namibia – Gin and Tonic With The Lions

The white saltpans of Etosha National Park in the central north of Namibia are vast. The saltpans stretch over 20,000 sq km. Etosha means “great white place” and was once a super-lake. Today, it is dry, flat and hot with very few rivers and creeks which only run during the rainy season. At that time, as the saltpan fills, thousands upon thousands of water and wading birds migrate to it. There are also many man-made waterholes which surround the enormous saltpan that stretches as far as the eye can see. The most amazing of all the animals that congregate around the waterholes are the Etosha elephants. These wonderfully huge creatures are intriguing to watch as they come to the waterholes to drink and “bathe” themselves in the white mud which then turns them into huge ghost-like creatures.

The elephants happily share the waterhole with a variety of animals including many antelope and zebra. However the elephants seem to have an intense dislike for ostriches. One young male elephant takes this enmity to an extreme – every time an ostrich approaches the waterhole, the elephant sucks up a trunk full of water and gives the ostriches a good hose down. The ostriches reply to this indignity with much fluffing of feathers, flapping wings, shaking of tails and stomping of feet while retreating to a safe distance to wait for another opportunity to approach the waterhole when this rambunctious elephant had his back turned.


Waterholes are often places where old and sick animals come to die. The heat of the plains and the rough, rocky ground are hard on old feet and the grass is often dry and brittle. These weary animals make their way to a waterhole in the hope of sweet, soft grass and the coolness of the water. It is interesting to observe this cycle of life as it turns a full 360 degrees. Eventually, these aged, sick or wounded animals become the life giving meals to a whole range of other animals from the big cats, to the scavengers like jackals and hyenas, and of course the vultures, storks and buzzards circling in the sky that will their descent onto the carcass.

On my last game drive in Ongava, my guide Bono suggested that we visit a distant waterhole with the hope that we would see the resident pride of lions which we had tracked in the morning. On arrival at the waterhole in the late afternoon we saw at a short distance, in the thick bush that surrounded the waterhole, a number of giraffe nervously approaching the waterhole. They were cautiously eyeing the open ground around the waterhole as this is a very dangerous place for any unwary animals. Sure enough, there was a huge male lion and lioness lying in the grass metres from the waterhole. The giraffes, pushed by thirst, approached the waterhole but the sense of self preservation made them reconsider and they retired back into the thick scrub to wait for a safer time to drink.

We sat there quietly for some minutes and out from the long, thick grass emerged another lioness and followed by six cubs around eight weeks old. They made their way to the water’s edge and, one-by-one they lined up and started lapping the water. As if this sight wasn’t wonderful enough, another three females with older cubs around six months approached with a huge male sporting a magnificent, thick black mane. They all clustered around the waterhole and drank freely and loudly.


I was amazed how the sound of their lapping carried to where we were sitting some 10 metres away. The lapping of all those thirsty tongues was like the sound of many small hands softly clapping. They continued to drink for quite a while until their thirst was completely sated, as this would have to last them through the night while they hunted.

As each of the lions took their fill, they lay down beside the waterhole and relaxed or grabbed forty winks while the younger cubs played. The cubs spent their time wrestling with each other or sneaking up on the lionesses to grab their tails, bite their hind legs, or crawl over their mother if she was lying down and grab a quick drink of milk. The lionesses were patient up to a point, but if the wrestling became too vigorous, she would get up and go over and give the cubs a soft hit with her paw to quieten them down.


The least patient of all in the pride were the large males. One had removed himself from the group and was keeping close company with a female and discouraged interaction with the cubs. The other male was quietly lying by the water, and every now and then, a cub would approach and try to engage him in some fun. This was quickly rebuffed by a deep growl, a quick flick of his tail or a swat of his huge paw. Everyone seemed to know that these big boys were serious and not into games with the kids.

Sundownders are part of the ritual in the African bush; as the sun set, Bono prepared our gins and tonics. We then sat in the Land Rover with our drinks and watched this magnificent family of 20 lions play, relax and communicate with each other. They were completely uninhibited by us and walked up to the Land Rover and around us to investigate noises in the bush with sharp eyes and keen ears.

My heart skipped a beat and I looked to Bono for reassurance when a very large and fit female approached the jeep and stared at us through the windscreen for five minutes. She was only one leap away from joining us in the front seat. Satisfied that we did not pose a threat, she ambled off to join her sisters and cubs.

Much of this playacting by the cubs is in preparation for hunting. The cubs stalk each other and then pounce on their brother or sister and try to wrestle them to the ground. When they are old enough to follow their mothers into the bush for a real hunt, the adult females will bring to the ground a small quarry so they learn how to kill it by choking it around the neck. Then it will be their turn to try their skill at stalking and bringing down their own prey. There will be many lost opportunities along the way, but eventually, they will take their place as part of this finely tuned hunting machine.

It was a wonderful opportunity to watch and study the lions as such close quarters. Their social and familial bonds are very strong and totally cohesive if the pride stays intact. This is the responsibility of the alpha males in the pride, they need to protect their home range and spend much time proclaiming their ownership by marking their territory, sending out loud calls to warn off any intruders and protecting the females from any threat.


The younger adult males will be pushed out of the pride by the alpha males. These young males will then form a coalition by themselves or join up with other solitary males and become a bachelor group. They wander the bush looking for other prides that they may be able to join, or as they mature, they will try to challenge the resident alpha males. If victorious, the young lion will take the place as alpha male in the pride. These fights are vicious and often deadly.

When a young male is victorious, he will lay down the law to all the females and, if there are cubs in the pride, he will kill them. The females will then come into heat and he can then mate with them immediately to ensure that his genes are carried onto the next generation.

It was a very moving, but nerve wracking experience, sitting in the African wilderness with a huge pride of lions moving about only feet away. They are intelligent, strong, socially organised and formidable. These magnificent animals are indeed king of the African bush!

Categories: Animals, Botswana, Elephants, Giraffe, Lions, Namibia, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, Zambia, Zebra | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Namibia – Action at The Waterhole

Next stop is Ongava Camp just outside Etosha National Park in Northern Namibia. Ongava is set in 33,000 sq hectares of dry savannah grassland with large areas of mopane forests intersected by rocky volcanic crags, rugged forested hills and a myriad of dry creek beds. It is a thirsty, dusty landscape and the occasional waterholes are dry but patiently waiting for the next rainy season. During spring temperatures are in the mid 30’s and unbelievably 45 – 50 in summer. In summer it is just hot, hot, hot day and night!

My guide for three days is Bono, a very handsome man around 30 years old, with a quiet and respectful manner but with a quick turn of wit and a devilish sense of humour. I am fortunate to spend these days in his company learning so much about the African bush, the wonderful and unique animals, his life history and his future aspirations plus the challenges that face the people of Namibia.

The accommodation at Ongava is in 12 large comfortable tents with en suite bathrooms with open air showers (definitely not recommended for use after dark or before down as you may be bathing with a lion, a hyena or a leopard). The open air dining and bar area sits at the base of a dolomite hill and fronts onto a very busy waterhole where a procession of animals come day and night to quench their thirst.

The journey home to my tent each night is an edgy experience. I am accompanied by Rio who is the camp sharp-shooter and his trusty rifle as you never know what predator you may meet during your trek back to the safety of your tent.  We make our way from the main lodge to my tent which is the second to last tent in camp (more time for that hungry lion to size me up as his next meal). Rio is in the lead with rifle gripped in one hand and torch in the other. He walks slowly while shining the torch around the surrounding bush and trees as we make our way through the dark. The hot breath on his neck was not that of a lion bearing down on him but me only centimetres from his back gripping onto his arm for reassurance. Why is it always at times like these that nervous chatter turns to the weather?


The waterhole in front of the camp attracts numerous animals day and night. These include impalas and gazelle with their delicate fine legs and beautiful big eyes set in their pretty faces. They remind me of ballerinas “en pointe”. Their graceful movements and agility is remarkable as they prance and jump skittishly about. Bigger antelope such as the kudu are ever watchful and anxious, the males with their magnificent horns that spiral upwards of a metre. There are also the fantastic oryx with their black masked faces and horns that are straight black sabres pointing directly skywards for a metre. Hartebeest with deep red-brown coats and curved short horns. Zebras pushing and shoving each other like kids in a sweet shop trying to be first to the counter. Their shimmering coats of black and white stripes make it difficult to tell the number of individuals in the herd. Their markings “en masse” appropriately give credence to the collective noun for zebras which is “a dazzle”. And dazzle they do!

Then comes the graceful and so impossibly tall giraffe – they carefully splay their front legs apart so their heads can reach the water. I am amazed that such a tall and large beast can be so graceful. They have a slow and rhythmic walk and when running the break into a smooth canter.
Did you know that:
• they have a black tongue which is 18 inches long
• they are rarely heard but can moo, hiss, roar and whistle to communicate with one another
• giraffes have the longest tail of any land mammal – up to 8 feet long, including the tuft at the end
• ancient Romans and Greeks thought that the giraffe was a mix between a camel and a leopard. This is where their scientific genus name of “camelopardalis” comes from
• their heart is 2 feet long and weighs about 25 pounds and pumps about 16 gallons of blood/minute
• mother giraffes form a type of day-care for their young. One of the females in the herd will stay behind and baby sits all of the youngsters while the rest of the females go out foraging for food
• despite its extreme length, the giraffe’s neck is actually too short to reach the ground. As a result, it has to awkwardly spread its front legs or kneel on its front legs in order to reach the ground to drink water
• it is the tallest animal in the world – males stand 16-18 feet
• females use their hooves as weapons only to defend their young. They are strong enough to kill a lion, which is the giraffe’s only real predator
• they can gallop 31-37 miles per hour
• males are known as bulls and  females are known as cows
• giraffes rest standing up and only sleep 5 minutes at a time. When sleeping, the giraffe generally lies on the ground, tucking its front legs under itself, then curls its neck back and rests its head on its rump
• they spend between 16 and 20 hours a day feeding.

The waterhole is a dangerous place – this is where all the animals gather, the strong and the weak, the old and the young. Here is a great opportunity for the predators to strike and get a quick meal. Everyone is on guard and often sentries are appointed as lookouts, ears and tails twitch and there is much nervous shuffling of hooves but the need for water far out ways the fear of predators.


At night, there were some special visitors – a small group of white rhinos came to drink. There is a mother and baby who is around three years old and is already two thirds her size. They silently appear out of the darkness like silent grey ghosts. Their huge bodies and large square heads swinging low as they walk, their bulk is in stark contrast to their soft footed and silent approach.

Categories: Animals, Botswana, Elephants, Giraffe, Leopards, Lions, Namibia, Oryx, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, White Rhino, Zebra | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Namibia – Jonas’ Story of Love and Marriage

My guide while I am staying in the Kulala Wilderness Reserve in Southwest Namibia is Jonas. He is 35 years and has two sons –Milton Marvellous who is 15 and Gilbert Donald who is an energetic 10 year old. When the boys were small Jonas’ former partner died, and as is the custom, the children were collected from her family and have been raised by Jonas’ parents in their Himba village in the far northwest of Namibia. Tribal identity is very important in Namibia and quickly establishes an individual in a social and ethnic hierarchy.

The roots of the Himba come from the isolated northern areas of Namibia and even today there are groups that practise a very basic and ancient nomadic herdsman way of life. However, Jonas’ traditional home is in a permanent village, but life in the village is still firmly rooted in tribal customs and practises.

Jonas tells me that he has a fiancée now and plans to marry her in December. The auspicious date was selected by meeting with the headman at the “holy fire” in his village. The holy fire is the focal point of the village and this is where all the important meetings and decisions occur officiated over by the village’s headman. They believe that the holy fire is the avenue by which the headman communicates with the ancestors. Jonas and his fiancée initially wanted to marry in August but the ancestors decided that the 29th December was a more appropriate date. However, this can be delayed a whole year should a close member of the family die in the intervening period, and as a matter of protocol, the wedding will be postponed to another auspicious date.

Bride price is always negotiated as a matter of protocol. The usual price is four or eight head of cattle depending on the groom’s status and how hard the negotiations go. If the bride is working or even better, if she is educated or qualified, the price can escalate. The dowry can be $20,000 Namibian dollars, which is approximately AUD $2,500. During the negotiations, the representatives of the groom approach the bride’s house and they sit down quietly on the left of the headman and elders. No one talks as they wait to be formally greeted by the headman and elders – only then can negotiations begin. Negotiations can be a protracted affair, lasting for many days, even weeks, with much to-ing and fro-ing from village to village until the “contract” is finalised.


The wedding festivities and ceremonies are held over a weekend so that the guests and family from far and wide will be in attendance. On the wedding weekend, the official party go to Jonas’ fiancée’s house where the head of the family consults with the ancestors at the holy fire and instructs the bride on her new role as wife and mother, and the expectations of her new husband and his family. He also instructs her to obey her husband and particularly the mother and father of the groom. She will leave her own family for good and now be considered a part of her husband’s family.

The procession, including daughter-in-law to be, then moves to the house of the groom where they sit before the head of the house and the holy fire to once again consult the ancestors. The headman of Jonas’ household tells the fiancé how she will be treated as part of their family and that she will be respected as a beloved daughter.

That night after partying, feasting, dancing and after much alcohol is consumed; all the guests and family retire. Once everyone is asleep, Jonas will creep into his fiancé’s bedroom and fully clothed (minus his shoes) he will get into her bed and lie with his back to her. His best man will be there to ask any questions of her regarding any issues that might be worrying the groom to be. Just before dawn, Jonas must sneak out of the house without anyone seeing him. Should he be discovered in the house he will have to pay the bride’s parents a penalty of two or three goats or a case of brandy. This ritual is repeated the next night.


Finally on the third day, the wedding formalities are conducted. Everyone dresses in their finery, a new suit for Jonas (his only suit which he will probably wear to his children’s weddings and he will probably be buried in it too), a large white wedding dress for his finance and the eight best men and bridesmaids will need to be newly suited and dressed for the occasion.

The festivities include the slaughter of two cows to feed the masses of invited and uninvited guests. The number of guests can be in the hundreds and of course there will be lots of singing, dancing and drinking of alcohol. The wedding feast will be stewed beef, lamb and goat, maize meal porridge all washed down with sour milk.

At the appropriate time, Jonas and his new bride will retire to a specially built wedding hut constructed out of mopone timber. In here, they will consummate the marriage, and auspiciously if the ancestors are smiling on them, a child will be conceived that night.

Categories: Namibia, Oryx, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Oryx of Namibia – Beauty, Power and Grace

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the southwest of Namibia, there is a narrow strip along the coast called Sossuslei. Here you will encounter the famous giant red dunes stretching as far as the eye can see. The wind has carved wonderful contours, ridges, gullies and spines into them. Behind the dunes are flat valleys sparsely covered in grass the colour of pale yellow gold. These plains are intersected occasionally with dry creek beds, where groves of small trees add a welcome ribbon of green to the landscape. In the distance, the stark rocky hills and mountains rise up steeply from the valley floor. They make a striking contrast to the grassy plains and are dramatically coloured in hues of black, blue, red and purple to create a rich palette.


This area is in the Namib Desert and is part of the 50,000 sq km Namib Nauluft National Park. This “sand sea” was formed when the ephemeral Tsauchab River was blocked by sand and now the dunes stretch for 400 km along the coast. To the west along the coast there is a cold current that runs the length coast, bringing cooler winds and a little moisture and the escarpment that runs parallel to the coast is some 100 km inland.

Kulala Wilderness Reserve is 40,000 hectares in area and home to oryx, ostrich, springbok and some small carnivores where occasionally, cheetah and leopards can be sighted. It is a dry place with a very low rainfall of less than 4 inches or 100 mls a year. Amazingly the animals have adopted to these harsh conditions and have developed many unique and ingenious survival mechanisms.

The climate is hot and dry in summer and cold and dry in winter. What little rain there is, will make the many ephemeral rivers and creeks run and this is a boon to many animals who are near death from thirst by this time, such as the magnificent oryx. They trek each day, or every second day, to the nearest source of water which can be hours away from the grass plains where they eat what little grass is left at the end of the dry season.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The oryx are strikingly beautiful antelope and have developed some unique physiological changes to cope with the heat and lack of water. The blood that circulates from the heart to the body is then sent to their muzzle of their nose where it is cooled. This cooled blood is then circulated to their brain. Also, they do not urinate very often and have a specially adapted muscle in their anus that extracts moisture from their faeces before they defecate.

They live in herds and the newborn calves are able to run with the herd immediately after birth. Both males and females possess permanent horns and are of equal length. The horns are narrow, and straight and are lethal — the oryx has been known to kill lions with them. The horns also make the animals a prized game trophy, which has led to the near-extinction of the two northern species.

The social system of the oryx is unusual, in that non-territorial males live in mixed groups with females, or with females and their young. Groups are composed of 10 to 40 males and females of all ages and both sexes.

The dominance hierarchy among oryx is based on age and size. As they grow, calves test one another in what look like games, though in reality are tests of strength. As the hierarchy becomes established, the need to fight is reduced. Ritual displays replace actual contact, except when evenly matched individuals may have to fight to establish their rank. Along with lateral displays, oryx perform a slow, prancing walk and sometimes break into a gallop. When several males are making these displays, they may clash horns.

Herd composition in the wild constantly changes according to need. Oryx wanting to drink, for example, form a group to go to water, or females with young form a group that moves more slowly. The result is a social system that allows for individual needs but retains the advantage of group living. Oryx range widely over a large area, but their keen sense of smell alerts them to rain in the area, so that groups quickly assemble, often in herds of 200 or more, to feed on new growth.

Categories: Animals, Cheetahs, Leopards, Namibia, Oryx, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Namibia – A Story of Hope

Agnes is a 23 years old Namibian born in an isolated village in the north east of the country. I had the pleasure to spend a few days at Desert Rhino Camp in northern Namibia and here I met Agnes – a very modern African woman. Agnes has embraced the modern age and the opportunities that are now on offer to the new generation of liberated females of Namibia. This trend to modernity is a rarity here in Africa where the tribal norms are prevalent and strongly reinforced by custom, tradition, and tribal law.

Agnes tells me that she was a safari guide for three and a half years before being promoted to the role of Camp Manager. The notion of a female guide set the cat amongst the pigeons with her male colleagues. Guiding in their book is very much a man’s job. Surely, a girl can’t know the difference between an elephant and a lion? But Agnes laughed off the resistance, and quickly learned her craft, including changing flat tyres on the jeep, fixing starter motors out in the bush and using a wide variety of skills and bush craft to ensure her guests were safe and sound while in her care.

Her aspirations reached new heights with her promotion from Guide to Camp Manager. She is undertaking a degree in Environmental Law from a South African University and is now approaching her final year. She is hopeful that the safari company will offer her a role in their Environmental Department on completion of her degree.

However, her modern outlook and attitudes are tempered by her tribal roots. Every time she returns to her village, a two day journey away from camp, her parents quickly denounce all her modern ideas and practices. They remain traditional and uphold the African way of life as far as the role of a woman, marriage, family relationships and children are concerned.

When I asked Agnes if she has any siblings she said shyly replied “yes 13”. This number, even for Africa is considered a large family. She said that her father “had been a very busy man”. Apparently, nine of her siblings are from nine partners. Agnes and four other siblings are from the union of her mother and father. Amazingly, in her village the traditional custom of strong familial bonds means that all siblings born outside the current marriage are collected from the other partners and then raised by the wife. Consequently, Agnes’s mother has raised 5 of her own children and nine step children.

Her parents are forever badgering her to marry. They are perplexed why she, at age 23, should still be single. Her father is often proposing possible suitors to her, such as suggesting that she marry one of his friends who was 52 years old. She said, “Daddy have you lost your sight and your mind? I want to marry for love”. This sentiment left her father perplexed. He believes that companionship and finding a woman to look after him are more important, than the so-called notion of “love”.

A chink of light from the modern world has crept into Agnes’s family. When Agnes returns home she takes a large bucket of KFC chicken pieces, apples and oranges. This feast is quickly devoured during the first day and everyone is happy and appreciates Agnes and her modern food. However, the next day when all the food is gone, old habits and traditional values reappear, and Agnes’ parents revert to telling her what is wrong with her life and that her values as a modern single girl don’t bring them any happiness or grandchildren.

As a joke on a later visit to the village and the family, Agnes took home a photo on her phone of an Asian gentleman that she had met at Rhino Desert Camp. Arriving at the village, after the bucket of KFC was consumed, her parents like a broken record, asked her about her marriage prospects. She replied with a broad smile, that she had found a wonderful man and she wanted to marry him very soon. She showed her parents the photo, to which, her father proclaimed that he had been taken seriously ill and needed his blood pressure pills. He then took to his bed for the rest of the day. From his sick bed he would look at Agnes with baleful eyes, moan loudly, roll over and face the wall in a state of depression.

Western values and marital fidelity are not practised with much rigour or enthusiasm amongst most people of Namibia. People live together and have many children out of wedlock to multiple partners. The children inevitably end up being reared by the grandparents. However, if a couple decided to marry it is a rigorous, drawn out and expensive affair. Firstly, a man with daughters is considered to be very lucky because at the time of the marriage, a dowry has to be paid to her family by the bridegroom’s family. This is often four cows, or is in the case of town people, the equal price of such. This price can vary upwards if the bride’s parents are not convinced that the potential groom is a suitable match or that there may have been some earlier indiscretions or wrong doings in the groom’s past.

Even though Agnes expresses modern ideals and appreciates that her gender has achieved a level of liberation, she confesses to me wistfully, gazing out on to the Namibian landscape, if she could meet a good man, have a baby and live in the bush, she would be in heaven.

Life for Agnes is a paradox, and no doubt, one that she will be in a constant battle with. My hope for her is that she will achieve her intellectual potential and career ambitions, as well as, find a good man who she loves and rather than being forced into a marriage where she will be a slave to him and their children and have to live with the consequences of his inevitable infidelities.

Being a modern and liberated woman in Africa is a struggle however, many women believe that the fight for equality and self determination is valuable. Go Girls!!!

Categories: Black Rhino, Botswana, Elephants, Language, Lions, Namibia, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, Zambia | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Namibia’s Hidden Treasure – Black Rhino

I am on my way to see the elusive black rhino of Namibia.

My flight from the Southern Namib Desert is in a small 6 seater plane. My two fellow passengers are Americans – the chap is interested in everything and happy to chat and ask questions as we fly over the amazing scenery. However, his wife sat tensely, gripping the edge of her seat, and quietly under her breath, muttering requests to God to get us down quickly, and preferably on an airstrip.

The route to Desert Rhino Camp in Northern Namibia traversed a huge sea of red sand dunes, approximately 35 kilometres wide. As far as the eye can see is sand, sand and more sand. On reaching the Atlantic Ocean, we headed north along the Skeleton Coast, which is famous for the hundreds of ship wrecks, sea lion colonies and deserted mining camps. As we flew over these sights I wondered about the foolhardy individuals who tried to eke out a living in this God forsaken landscape with promises of unimaginable wealth. They lived with sand from horizon to horizon, not a tree or a blade of grass to be seen, constant wind and the threat of starvation or dying from thirst were daily reminders of the inhospitality and harshness of the landscape. All that is left of this human folly is an abandoned train line and some flimsy wrecks of houses and mine workings.

Finally, after three hours of bouncing around in a little plane I land at Desert Rhino Camp, which is about 35 kilometres inland from the coast. Desert Rhino Camp is to the south of the Kunene region in Namibia. This area covers 450,000 hectares and is made up of rolling, rocky hills, flat-topped mountains and other geometrically shaped outcrops that graphically punctuate the skyline. This area is called Samaraland, named after the indigenous Sama people.

I am collected from the plane by Raymond, my guide for the next three days. A new experience awaits me as we drive to the camp, which is a 45 minute trip from the airstrip. We set off in the Land Rover, and in the first 5 minutes my bones are rattling, my teeth are chattering, and I am gripping on for dear life as we bounce, crash, rattle and roll over tracks that appear to be impassable by vehicle. After 45 minutes of this, we arrive at Desert Rhino Camp and I am met by my host Agnes, with a welcome drink and a cold towel to wipe off a thick layer of dust.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The stony landscape is a challenge to modern machinery. The Land Rover spends 90% of its time in four-wheel drive as we negotiate rough tracks comprised of boulders, stones, gravel and sand. Bouncing along over these terrains, the guides have christened the experience “the African massage” where every muscle gets a work out – particularly your bottom. There are occasional river and creek beds where permanent springs release a trickle of water for the desert adapted inhabitants. The most amazing of these are the elephants and black rhinos.

The camp is situated in a wide valley. The tented accommodation is comfortably airy with artful African touches in the decor. The dining and sitting area is a large open tent giving great views of the surrounding area and the mountains beyond.
This conservancy is well known and praised for its work in protecting and fostering a large population of desert adapted black rhino. I was lucky enough to see these on my second day. However, the journey was long, hot and arduous over incredibly rough terrain.

When the call came over the two-way that the trackers had found these elusive creatures, our guide revved up the Land Rover and we took off at rally car speed. After 15 mins of bone rattling driving and sweaty palms, we arrived on the scene to find a mother and baby (2 years old) on the hillside about 200 metres away. We were lucky to have a 15 min viewing before they ambled off over the crest of the hill.

At Desert Rhino Camp there is a permanent patrol of rhino conservation officers, who leave HQ at dawn every day, and somehow within the 450 sq kilometers they’re able to track and find rhinos. Their role is to record where the rhinos are, what the rhinos are grazing on, the spread of their home range (as they are solitary animals and establish their own domain) and their general condition. They photograph them and complete a visual checklist, which is then sent off to Headquarters where all this information is put into a centralised database.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The trackers are an interesting group of men. Denzil, Marten and Danziggy, spend weeks out in the field away from their families and have a variety of backgrounds and experiences but they are united by a common bond to preserve the safety of the rhinos, unlike their neighbours to the south. South Africa is losing a rhino a week to systematic poaching and it is believe that this is the result of corruption at the senior government level.

Danziggy tells me that his grandfather was a poacher when finally, after many years, the law caught up with him and he was thrown into jail. While in jail, he was approached by a lady who was starting a rhino conservation programme. She visited all the jails and in a deal with the Namibian government, paid them to release all the poachers into her care. She then employed them and skilfully utilizing knowledge to look for rhinos and to track their movements so she could educate the locals and lobby government to do more regarding their protection.

Danziggy was only a boy when this happened and sadly his Grandfather died only few years later. His Grandfather had nominated Danziggy as his successor and so he was offered a job when he was only 13 yrs old. He was taken out of school and lived in the bush where he spent time with the trackers observing their craft. He quickly adopted their passion for the rhino. His mind was made up; he chose to take the job as a conservation officer and not complete his education. Following his Grandfather’s example was more important to him.

What is a Black Rhino:
• An adult black rhinoceros stands 132–180 cm (52–71 in) high at the shoulder
• An adult typically weighs from 800 to 1,400 kg (1,800 to 3,100 lb)
• Two horns on the skull are made of keratin with the larger front horn typically 50 cm (20 in) long, exceptionally up to 140 cm (55 in).
• The longest known black rhinoceros horn measured nearly 1.5 m (4.9 ft) in length
• For most of the 20th century the continental black rhino was the most numerous of all rhino species. Around 1900 there were probably several hundred thousand living in Africa. During the latter half of the 20th century their numbers were severely reduced from an estimated 70,000 in the late 1960s to only 10,000 to 15,000 in 1981. In the early 1990s the number dipped below 2,500, and in 2004 it was reported that only 2,410 black rhinos remained.
• The black rhinoceros had been pushed to the brink of extinction by illegal poaching for their horn
• A major market for rhino horn has historically been in the Arab nations to make ornately carved handles for ceremonial daggers called jambiyas. Demand for these exploded in the 1970s causing the black rhinoceros population to decline 96% between 1970 and 1992.
• The horn is also used in traditional Chinese medicine, and is said by herbalists, to be able to revive comatose patients, cure fevers, and aid male sexual stamina and fertility
• Black rhinos has a reputation for being extremely aggressive, charge readily at perceived threats and have even been observed to charge tree trunks and termite mounds
• They will fight each other, and have the highest rates of mortal combat recorded for any mammal: about 50% of males and 30% of females die from combat-related injuries
• The black rhinoceros is a herbivorous browser that eats leafy plants, branches, shoots, thorny wood bushes, and fruit

Categories: Black Rhino, Botswana, Elephants, Lions, Namibia, Travel, Uncategorized, Zambia | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Holiday Rental Abroad – A Checklist for a Hassle Free Holiday – Part 2

OK – now you know what “must have”, you can start looking and the first step is ….

Research, research and then some more research.

Sounds like a lot of hard work – but it is not if you look in the right places.

1. The internet
This is the easiest way to find a villa/apartment. But you may be overwhelmed by the volume of choice. My tip is refine your search as to the
• Location
• Type of accommodation
• Key characteristics that are important to you such as pool, golf, mountains, seaside etc

So examples search strings could be:
• “Luxury villa” + Tuscany + pool
• Budget + “holiday accommodation” + Italy
• “Apartment to rent”+ Venice + “San Marco”
• Beach+pool+villa+amalfi

When your internet search is delivered, look at the first few sites and see if they carry the stock of accommodation that you’re looking for. If not – refine your search string.

Don’t spend too long on each site but bookmark (add to your favourites) the websites that look interesting to come back to later for an in depth search. I tend to shortlist about 5 sites.

Now that you have your rental checklist of “must haves” as well as a shortlist of sites, the fun really begins.

Most sites have search criteria from which you can select, so plug in your “must haves” – number of bedrooms, rental period, pool, location, etc. Now carefully read the detailed descriptions and inclusions of each of the accommodations. If the details do not match your “must haves” there is no point getting hooked on the pretty pictures – move on. When you see a property that matches your criteria either print off the details and pictures, or bookmark that particular property.

I admit that I have a secret pleasure. Once I have a shortlist of say 10 properties I love to get into bed that night and read the detailed descriptions and peruse the pictures at leisure without interruption. I have found that during the night, while I sleep, one or two properties percolate up through my subconscious and in the morning, I have the shortlist in my mind. I then rate the property descriptions by most liked and least liked. That way I can concentrate on a handful of “most liked” properties for in-depth investigation.

Above all, make sure you carefully read what has been described, not what you “want” to read. It’s all too easy to “think” you read about some attribute only to find when you excitedly arrive at your destination that the swimming pool you’ve been dreaming about is in fact a paddling pool, or some such other disappointment!.

2. Ask friends and associates for referrals
Referrals are a great way to source accommodation. If other people have had a good experience when dealing with a particular vendor or renting a particular property, then half the hard work is already done for you.

However:
• Trusting someone else’s opinion is great as long as you have similar tastes and/or requirements.
• How long ago did they rent this property?
• What could have changed since then?
• Has the property been well maintained?
• Is the same vendor and or agent managing the peoperty?

3. Check out the bona fides of the agent/vendor before you send any money
I hear loads of people say they are nervous about dealing with vendors over the internet. I completely understand and have felt the same in the past. The following are a few tips that I use to check the bona fides of the vendor I am about to deal with:
• do they have a corporate website
• are there testimonials on the website
• check out the reviews the villa/apartment on Trip Advisor – contact the most recent reviewers and post a question
• start an email conversation with the vendor and get more information about items and conditions that are on your “must have” list
• ask for a phone number and call them
• ask for references from previous clients
• make sure that you have adequate travel insurance before you send any money

Money, Money, Money!

Once you have the numbers of participants confirmed, you need to receive a non-refundable deposit from them. This deposit is refundable only if other participants take their place. Otherwise other members of your group will have to absorb this extra financial burden.

OK – Now you have your ideal villa/apartment sorted it is time to get the finances sorted.
Show me the colour of your money
When renting with friends and family members you need to make sure that you get a firm financial commitment from them prior to you parting with any of your own hard earned cash. You certainly don’t want to commit to renting a 6 bedroom villa and then a month before you leave on your holiday, someone pulls out of the deal and leaves you carrying the financial burden.

So my advice is to get all your companions to “show you the colour of their money” (and commitment) early! Well before you have to make your initial deposit payment to the vendor.

I work on the basis that the individual cost will include:
• rent
• optional outgoings (air-con, heating, pool, chef, maid service, etc)
• housekeeping (this covers groceries, wine and liquor, household incidentals, etc).

What about housekeeping?

In the past I have found that asking everyone to chip into a housekeeping kitty prior to leaving is the best and the most hassle free way to manage the day-to-day expenses while you are living it up in your villa or apartment.

I have loaded the housekeeping kitty onto a designated credit or debit card for the sole use of making your purchases or getting cash from the ATM. I keep all the receipts and regularly reconcile these against the housekeeping kitty. This is the best way to make sure that everyone feels that there has been an equal contribution to the running expenses and also, as the organiser, you are not out of pocket.

Depending on your anticipated lifestyle, and the group that you are renting with, the housekeeping kitty can vary from $100 per day to $200 per day. That should be ample. Towards the end of the rental period if there are surplus funds in kitty, I have also paid for some meals when out at restaurants, entrance fees and bar bills etc.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In the next blog I will give you some ideas of making the most of your holiday such as:
• discovering those exciting out of the way adventures
• finding the best local produce
• dining with the locals
• shopping
• making your villa a home away from home .

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Language, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Holiday Rental Abroad – A Checklist for a Hassle Free Holiday – Part 1

“La Dolce Vita“

A Guide to Renting a Villa/Apartment

Do you want:
• a hassle free Italian vacation?
• to experience living in Italy and being part of the local scene?
• to be not just another tourist
• to eat great food just like the locals?
• to experience “la dolce vita”?

Yes?

Then the answer is; rent a villa or an apartment and get in touch with the real Italians and the unique experience of living the Italian dream.

Renting a villa or an apartment is a sure-fire way to have a fun holiday in Italy. Going to the local supermarket and doing your groceries, getting to know the butcher, the baker, the fruit and veggie man, the wine merchant (really important!), eating fabulous food at restaurants the locals go to, and discovering all those hidden out-of-the-way places that are not in the guide books.

I hear from lots of people that they would love to do this. But for many it just seems too hard, or they don’t know where to start, or they are afraid they will get ripped off.

I have rented apartments and villas all over Italy (and other countries) and I would like to share with you my guide to hassle free renting. Here is a checklist that will help you along on your journey:

Work out precisely what type of accommodation and location you want:
1. Who will your companions be for this rental; just you, or are your family joining you, are your friends coming along as well, and how well does everyone know each other?
2. How many bedrooms and what type of beds will you need in each room – – single, double, queen or king and is the linen provided? Also – be careful if bedrooms join each other, or you have to walk through a bedroom to the shared bathroom/toilet. Very difficult if you have a call of nature in the middle of the night.
3. How many bathrooms do you need – bath or shower? There is no point on having 12 people in a villa and have only 2 bathrooms/toilets. If the bathrooms are not en-suite, I work on the basis of one shared bathroom to 4 people. Separate toilets are a good idea if you have a large number of guests.
4. Is there a washing machine? Finding and then washing your clothes in a laundromat is no fun when on holiday.
5. Is there an outdoor entertaining area? You will want to eat your meals “al fresco” and enjoy those wonderful warm evenings.
6. Is there a pool? Usually pools are open from late May to October. Also, are there any costs incurred in running the pool?
7. Is there air conditioning or heating? Will you need to use this? Italy can be stiflingly hot in summer and freezing in autumn and winter, and importantly, is the cost included in the rent? If not – how is it calculated and paid for?
8. Are there extra cleaning services available and what is the cost per hour? When you are on holiday the last thing you want to be doing is scrubbing the toilets. It is a good idea to organise at least one to two extra cleans a week if there are a large number sharing over a period of a few weeks. Often, there is a weekly clean included in the weekly rental.
9. Is there a chef that will come to the villa and cook for you? Does the chef bring all the ingredients and is this included in the cost? Having a chef is a great idea if you are not in close proximity to restaurants, and after all, you are on holiday and you don’t want to cook dinner every night. Also, you can learn a few cooking tips to impress your friends when you return home.

I remember a holiday where I organised a chef to cook every second night. He was very open to showing us a few of his cooking techniques however most of my friends were uninterested in cooking lessons but when this Adonis turned up there was not one female left on the couch. Not only did he bring all the ingredients, prepare the food, serve and cleared the table, he then washed up and left the kitchen spotless. Worth every Euro I say!


10. What is the access to the villa? Are there many stairs or a steep pathway to your front door? Remember – everything that you carry in also has to be carried out and that includes your suitcases, groceries/wine, and no doubt, the many wonderful purchases that you will make during your Italian vacation. Also remember that all the trash has to be deposited in the communal garbage and recycling bins on the street.
11. Check the restrictions for car parking. Is there off-street parking and for how many cars? If not, what are the restrictions for on-street parking?
12. Is the accommodation in a quiet area? Check out Google maps/earth, or ask the vendor if it is close to a busy road, train line, industrial or commercial area. I once rented an apartment on a pedestrian only street in Taormina, Sicily. Great I thought – a really central location and no cars. Alas, people partied till the wee hours up and down the street and then all the commercial deliveries had to be made before 7.00am. Thank goodness the windows were double glazed.
13. Is there an Internet connection and/or mobile phone coverage? We are now totally reliant on easy communication and expect that we can call our family and connect to the internet anywhere we go. However – that is not the case in Italy. Find out if your accommodation is connected (wi-fi or dial-up) and is there a cost to you.
14. Is the accommodation child friendly? Stairs – internal and external, a fenced-in garden, a fenced- in pool area, is the garden area safe for children (water features, steep cliffs etc)?
15. Do you want to be close to a village or town? This is important because you will need a car to get around if you are in the countryside. If you have a car and you rent accommodation in a town or village what are the parking arrangements/costs?

16. What services does your local village or town have? Restaurants and bars, supermarket (co-op), specialty food vendors, bank and/or ATM etc, doctor, chemist, etc
17. What are the closest transport links? Train services vary in Italy from rapid express to very, very slow! What is the closest airport and car hire place?
18. What area of Italy do you want to vacation in? Are you hankering for a remote location to commune with nature? Or, are you an urbanite that needs to be near all the action? Or are you someone in between – nature and action? Check out what your locality has to offer: culture, art, music, scenery, nature walks, parks, gardens, boating, beaches, golf and tennis etc, shopping, wineries, food, historic locations, museums etc…
19. Consider the time of year that you take your holiday in Italy? Spring (March to May) and Autumn ( September to November – however take note that late October and November can be cold) are the best. Summer (June to August) can be really very hot especially late July and August. Note – Italians take their holidays in August and tend to holiday in Italy. Consequently, many shops and restaurants will be closed and the prime holiday destinations such as the seaside, islands and the mountains will be very crowded with holidaying Italians.
20. What are the costs?
• Rent per week/month (Remember to ask for a discount for longer bookings or when making low season bookings).
• Rent per week/month (ask for a discount for longer bookings or low season bookings)
• Money transfer costs/bank fees
• Consider the exchange rate – are the rental costs quoted in your currency or the Euro
• Security deposit (refundable how? and when?)
• Chef – paid directly to the chef or the booking agent/vendor
• Extra maid service – paid directly to the maid or the booking agent/vendor
• Extras such as – air conditioning, heating, pool etc
• Are there any other staff such as a gardener or housekeeper who may need to receive a tip?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

OK – now you have your list of “must haves”, you can start looking….

Next blog we will discover how to go about finding your ideal villa or apartment.

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Language, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: