All posts by John

Wells, orphans and mosquitos

Last Saturday we arrived back from our final bush trip at Ebakika where we dug a well, built a latrine for a school, built a tree nursery and did a talk at a couple of local schools about cleaning your teeth as well as handing out toothbrushes. This was the toughest trip of the three that we have been on while on the pioneer programme as the work was a lot more physical, think mixing lots of concrete by hand, digging lots and carrying countless bags of sand up a hill, and everyone was beginning to get a bit weary from the previous work. Also this time there were no beautiful beaches to escape to on a day off and on one of our days off we were confined to the campsite as it was general election day.

The well was our favourite project and the one that the villagers got most involved in, they loved teaching us new words and hearing us repeat them, usually to fits of laughter from them. We had great fun one afternoon when the heavens opened and turned the latrine into mud wrestling pit, I got a bit of the action and Viv was an amused spectator.

We really loved the villagers here, particularly the children. Everywhere we went was greeted with choruses of the few English phrases that they have previously been taught – ‘Hello’, ‘How are you?’, ‘What is your name?’ and variations on that theme including ‘Hello goodbye my name!’ The children also got involved in the projects, mostly helping to carry sand or help out at the well.

Other notable moments were finding a scorpion in our tent, Mark breaking his finger and Charlie getting malaria. On our very last night there we were treated to an fantastic performance from the two local village bands with dancers, a really high note to end our bush trips on.

Back in Fort Dauphin Viv and I organised a Christmas day at the orphanage where we made decorations and decorated the school room with the orphans as well as playing musical statues and pass the parcel with them outside. It gave us a really warm glow to have brought a bit of Christmas to the children, the delight on a little boy’s face when he got a watch in pass the parcel was just priceless.

Viv had been feeling particularly tired all week which we put down to the hard work but on Thursday night she developed a fever and on Friday morning it was confirmed as malaria. It isn’t actually as serious as it sounds and the treatment is straight forward as we have caught it early so she’ll be fine in a couple of days and was looking much, much more spritely this morning.

And that’s about our travels almost over. We have until Tuesday left in Fort Dauphin then it’s on to the capital Antananarivo for a couple nights then we fly to Johannesburg on Thursday where we’ll spend the day with Martin and Joanne and later that day we step onto our homeward bound flight arriving in Heathrow at 5.15am on Friday, just 6 days away! We’re getting so excited at coming home and can’t wait to see all our friends and family we’ve been missing so much.

And now I really can say to most of you ‘SEE YOU SOON!!’

A very brief post…

The only internet cafe in town is down at the moment (and has been for the last 2 weeks apparently…) so I’m using an azafady office coputer so will have to be very brief as time is very limited.

We arrived back from Sainte Luce yesterday where we successfully completed the house for the maternity nurses, a well, planted critically endangered trees and collected their seeds and made a few more improved stoves. I have now had 8 parasys and am currently sporting a rather fetching tropical ulcer (responding to antibiotics thankfully!), Viv has still escaped any such nasties.

We are currently enjoying the luxuries of town such as running water that is clear rather than the brown eggy smelling substance we pumped from a well and into a bucket to clean ourselves with in the bush and food that isn’t beans & rice, although the fish meals were excellent. We have now become food obsessives and many group conversations revolve around all the lovely foods that we currently have no access to and are longing for when we get home.

Our time back in Fort Dauphin is limited as we’re back to the bush on Thursday for a bit more well building with a latrine thrown in for good measure.

Only just over a month till we arrive back home – getting very excited by it now!

Veloma!

Back from the bush

Right, expect a brief and badly typed email with lots of typos and uncorrected spelling errors. Blame the french keyboard and wobbly monitor screen.

Madagascar is going well for the both of us and the group is now gelling well and we’ve just come back from our first trip to the bush just up the coast in Hovatra. We had a range of jobs to do while we were there, the first of which was building vegetable gardens for some villagers so that they have better nutrition in their diets and also giving them the opportunity to sell the produce. We spent many hours bashing clay into powder and then using that powder to make cement from which we made improved cooking stoves for some villagers which are 6 times more efficient than their present stoves which means that they have to chop down less indiginous forest. My highlight from the stove building was entertaining about 30 assembled villagers while the stove was being constructed with lots of singing and dancing – they loved watching these strange foreigers dance and found it hilarious. although that could have been my dancing! We’ve both taught a couple of English lessons at the local school and also painted the new school building that was built by the last group of pioneers. Viv also dug herself into a hole, quite literally, by digging a latrine that was as deep as she is tall. Fortunately she made it out before it was put into active service! Our time in Hovatra was rounded off with a bit of health education where we did a play about washing your hands after you’ve had a poo after which I became a local celebrity with many children greeting me by my character name, Rokoto, when they saw me around the village. It was a really awesome place to start off as we felt so warmly welcomed by the villagersm particularly the children and the projects we did had a very clear benefit.

In other news we’ve eaten a lot of beans and rice, drank some moonshine with the local village chief, voluntarily woken up at 5.30am every day and had maggots removed from feet (me).

If anyone wants to call us the number to use is 00261 324 356336 and best times for calling us are from 4pm your time till about 7ish. (from 3 till 6 when the clocks go back). You can even write to us as letter will be delivered to us in the bush – see the a couple of posts ago for the address. You have until next Tuesday night to contact us as that’s when we’ll be back in the bush until the 19th November.

Don’t forget also that Rightee is selling charity christmas cards and limited edition photographic prints on our behalf – get your orders in quick! All the details can be found here.

Apologies for everyone I’ve intended to, but haven’t, emailed. We’re getting very little internet time at the moment and there just isn’t the time. I’ll be hopefully seeing you all face to face come Christmas anyway so can have a proper catch up then.

Veloma!

Quick post from Madagascar

Salama!

Going to keep this brief as dont have much time and this french keyboard makes it infuriatingly slow to type!

We arrived last Thursday and are currently having lots of orientation lessons about the work of azafady and have spent two afternoons carry sods of earth to and fro.

We have a Madagascqr mobile that you cqn call us on. The number is 00261 324 356336. It quite cheap to call through skype apparently. Best time to call is from 4pm your time till about 7ish. (from 3 till 6 when the clocks go back)

Finally, Rio Tinto mining company are evil and want to destroy much of Madagascar’s remaining forests and you should buy stuff from traidcraft as they are one of azafady’s main sponsors.

Veloma!

John and Viv

Madagascar and fundraising bits and bobs

Quick post just to let you know about a few bits and bobs prior to us jetting off for Madagascar.

We don’t think we’ll be able to remain in as good contact while we’re there as we’ll be spending a large part of our time out in the bush and the internet is pretty rubbish apparently when we’re near the town. If you do want to get in contact with us while we’re there you can write to us at:

John Hobson/Vivyan Lisewski,
ONG Azafady,
Pioneer Programme,
BP318,
Tolagnaro 614
Madagascar.

Please don’t send any parcels as they are unlikely to get through!

As part of our Azafady fundraising Rightee has set up a website with details about photographic prints and greetings/Christmas cards that you can order from him – all profits will go towards our Azafady fundraising efforts. Go to http://www.rightee.com/charity to take a look at the prints and cards and to get details on how you can order.

Thanks once again to everyone who has donated and helped out towards our fundraising efforts – we appreciate it so much! Could any of you who have donated via the website or sent a cheque to Azafady and haven’t received an e-mail of thanks from us please let us know as some donations may have fallen down the cracks and we’re trying to chase them up.

In other news it’s congratulations to Viv who has had an unconditional offer from Edinburgh University for one of only 14 places to study ‘Plant Taxonomy and Diversity’, well done Viv! The course starts in September 2007 so at some point next year we’ll be moving up to Edinburgh.

I’d also like to apologise to so many of you whom I owe a response to an e-mail, we couldn’t get on the net in Namibia and now we’re in last minute rush territory before we go. Please keep writing, it’s great to hear from everyone and any lack of response on my part in no way reflects that I can’t actually be bothered to pen a reply.

And I think that’s about all we have to say for now. It seems that we’re now entering the last chapter of our travels and doing the voluntary work seems a fitting way to finish up the travels after having been self-indulgantly travelling for over 10 months now.

After Madagascar we will be returning home, we touch down at Heathrow before dawn on the 22nd December. We’re so looking forward to seeing many of you around or shortly after Christmas, until then, goodbye!

From coast to coast

I’ll start this post by mentioning a little from our time in Mozambique a little under a month ago, if I can remember back that far that is. Well, here goes… Our main reason for going to Tofo beach was so that I could get a bit of diving in as this is one of the world’s top dive sites and I was definitely not disappointed. Discovering the world that lies beneath the ocean waves has been one of the major highlights of my travels and the diving off Tofo beach was the highlight of that particular highlight. I dived with Tofo Scuba who I can recommend as an excellent dive charter, but enough about them and onto the diving… In a word it was amazing – most of the sites are deep going down to about 30 metres and the main draw is the the manta rays that drift gracefully into cleaning stations to get parasites and other rubbish removed by lots of smaller cleaner fish. It was quite a sight when I saw my first cleaning station, these two huge (3m across or so) manta rays circling around with a trail of little yellow fish in their wake, it was really beautiful. On a later dive a manta passed right over my head, within about 2 metres, with me just suspended in water agog as this giant creature that was so nonchalantly and gracefully drifting within such close proximity to me. And as if that was great enough most of the dives were also accompanied to the melodies of passing whales singing to one another. This was definitely the first time that I have dived and become so wholly immersed (no pun intended) in the experience. As well as the mantas I also saw many lion fish up close – they’re a personal favourite of mine, the first octopus that I’ve ever seen, a giant whiptail ray, a loggerhead turtle and quite a few massive potato bass and so much more that I shan’t even begin to bore you with. It was such an fantastic place to dive.

From Mozambique we travelled to Johannesburg to stay with my cousin Martin, his wife Joanne and their son Michael. We were so warmly welcomed and had a wonderfully restful week that even managed to encompass seeing lots of lions and a couple of giraffes at a rather lavish and somewhat surreal kids birthday party where the only type of food on the menu for the children was sweets of many lurid colours. I wouldn’t envy the parents after that party with sugar-crazed children running amok everywhere.

I think at the time some home comforts and a hassle free week (dealing with the Madagascar embassy excepted) were just what we needed and it was really great to get to know Martin & family properly.

From there we were with renewed energy to tackle the last leg of our travelling proper in Namibia. We hired a car, an old skool MK1 VW golf with a modern interior installed and duly named ‘Steve’, and set off on the long, straight road to Namibia. Along the way we stopped off for the night at a campsite that had emus and springboks running around everywhere. I found the emus rather scary, especially after what that one that Rod Hull had did to him. I just made sure that I didn’t get up on any roofs and resolved that if I did I check that the area was clear of emus first. It did give me a bit of hassle though when I was trying to get to the car from our tent – I kept getting fronted off and had to take an alternative route and hide from it for a bit. Still, when they’re not being scary they’re pretty funny creatures them emus although maybe best left to the Australian outback where there’s a lower roofs per square mile ratio.

From there the road became increasingly straighter, dustier and deserted. As if to emphasise the fact some tumble weed really did blow across the road in the front of the car! Our first stop was at fish river canyon – a pretty damn impressive canyon formed by geological activity and, less surprisingly, the fish river. Next up was the town of Luderitz, a place that looks much like a traditional German town (Namibia is an ex German colony) stuck right on a windy coast at the end of 300km of desert and wilderness. The Diaz peninsula was the real highlight here – a landscape that looked more like the moon than the Earth and that also had an abandoned Norwegian whaling station slowly turning to rusty ruin, great for some decay photographs! One of the really fantastic things about Namibia is that there are so few people so it’s possible to enjoy so many of the country’s great wildness locations as just that – it’s rare that you see another person while out and about.

Just outside Luderitz is the long abandoned diamond mining town of Kolmanskopp. We had a fascinating wander around all these buildings that were slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding sand dunes. I have a real thing for derelict places and was in my element here, snapping away at the decay.

Stifling dry heat aside, travelling in Namibia is almost as much fun as the places you stop and see. Most of the travelling is done on dirt roads through these amazing desert landscapes past a smattering little mountain/large hill ranges. Before visiting Namibia our impression of the desert was of a vast expanse of shifting sands, what we hadn’t appreciated was how wonderfully diverse and beautiful desert landscapes can be as we travelled through 100s of kilometres of hardy pale desert grassland, desert scrub, karoo and dunes, and all of this without another soul in sight.

From Luderitz we stopped off at the most remote wilderness spot – a farm (Namtib Biosphere Reserve) 30km from the nearest road on a campsite with nobody else on it and 3km from the farm. All around we could see nothing but hills and desert. As night drew we witnessed one of the most amazing sunsets of our travels as the dust turned the horizon a thick red once the sun had ducked out of sight. Gradually as the sunset faded the stars started to come out in force until the sky was overflowing with tiny points of light tightly packed into the expanse of sky all around us. The number of stars that you can see when there is no light pollution is really breath taking – the milky way looks like a grey slash running across the sky, always pointing to the southern cross – an ever-present star formation from our travels, one that you cannot see from the Northern hemisphere.

Next up was my original raison d’etre for wanting to visit Namibia – the shifting red dunes of Sossusvlei. I had wanted to go since seeing some amazing photos of the dunes and wanted to see and capture something similar myself. Well, I wasn’t disappointed as on our first day there we drove out to the dunes just before sunset when the low sun lights the towering dunes from just one side leaving the other side in heavy shadow and accentuating the carefully sweeping form of the dune’s ridge. It was a beautiful and majestic sight. The next morning we up before sunrise to get to the dunes for sunrise. Again, the dunes looked really beautiful in the low light and went on a few walks over and along a few dunes and saw a couple of dried up lakes – now just baked and cracked salt-whitened earth. We were glad of being up early as by 10am the temperatures has become stiflingly hot and we had to retreat back to the (overpriced and shabby) campsite to take refuge in whatever shade we could find.

I should mention now that our diet for the last week had been rather limited due to the scarcity of supermarkets (there are none, except in the big towns which we were a long, long way from). Coupled with the cooking facilities being just a braai (BBQ) at every campsite all we ate was braaied boerwors sausage sandwiches for dinner and cheese sandwiches for lunch. Fortunately the sausage was very nice and readily available at every campsite and I had lots of fun perfecting my fire making technique every night.

Next up we visited the nearby Namib Naukluft national park that had far better camping facilities, friendlier staff and was reasonably priced. We spent a couple of days here and did a couple of pleasant walks totalling about 28kms through dried up river beds, down steep sided gorges and over hills. Back at the campsite I had to chase off the ‘very naughty’ baboon who came marauding through the campsite now again. we didn’t fancy taking a baboon damaged tent to Madagascar with us!

On our way back down to South Africa we stopped off at the ‘Quiver Tree Forest Restcamp‘ in Keetmanshoop to take a look at the quiver tree forest and Giant’s playground – bizarre piles of rocks for miles around. The real highlight of our time here though was the wild meerkats who lived on our campsite and would scamper around digging in the sandy soil here and there looking for grubs. We have both longed to see meerkats since seeing the famous wildlife on one episode “Meerkats United” and was simply awesome to be able to see them in the wild for real, and to have them so close to where we were staying was such a bonus. They were fairly tame as well and a nursery of young meerkats came right up to Viv to investigate her. The bloke who ran the campsite had a menagerie of other animals that had been rescued for various places including three cheetahs, a huge warthog and a week old springbok.

From there we had over 15 hours driving in 2 days to get back to Johannesburg where we are currently back at Martin and Joanne’s house. We both enjoyed Namibia hugely and would love to go back in the future. For pure beauty of landscapes we think that it rivals New Zealand, it really is a spectacular country.

We do have lots of pictures from Namibia but unfortunately there was no decent internet cafe to upload them so for the time being you’ll have to live with the just the words.

Only a couple of days left in South Africa now, we’re flying Madagascar on Thursday for the start of our voluntary work and currently getting very excited by it!

Horny animals with big teeth

Ey up all!

It’s been a few weeks since Viv’s last post and about time for another update from the road…

We didn’t do an awful lot in Durban, just chilled out and spent a bit of time on the internet, got a visa for Mozambique, got lost on a bus and ate a curry in half a loaf of bread. We did manage to get lost on the bus and ended up with a long walk back through a fairly affluent part of Durban where the roads were lined with rather grand houses, each with it’s own security guard outside and the walls topped with electric fences. The streets were almost deserted. Crime really is a big problem here and this is reflected in the seemingly extreme measures that people will go to protect themselves and their property and that walking in city centres is almost taboo – everyone takes the car.

After Durban we headed for Eshowe and a dose of African culture that had been missing from the last couple of weeks. Oh yeah, that and FREE BEER! We arrived at our hostel when we went to have a nosey at the bar we were told that we’d have to wait until the bar opened at 12 till we could start drinking the free beer. “Free beer?!” we said in disbelief, but it was true we could drink as much of the beer that they brewed on the premises as we liked. It was actually very nice and as close as we’ve come to a proper British pint on our travels (still too cold and with too many bubbles for my liking) and it came in a pint glass rather than the poxy ‘continental’ measures you tend to get elsewhere – awesome!

Oh yeah, about the culture. We went to see a Sangoma healing ceremony up at a little Zulu village in the hills above Eshowe. We sat in this little rondavel hut with the assembled villagers and waited for the Sangoma healer to arrive and when she did the roof almost lifted off the place as she started a dance in front of the villages and they reciprocated with drums, shouting and dancing – an awesome spectacle to watch! After that we were plyed with whiskey, beer, a donut, some sweets and an apple. There was a group of blokes who seemed to be there just for the free booze, of which they helped themselves to copious amounts. After that there was much more dancing, chanting and drums during which a trainee sangoma woman went into a trance and seemed like she was possessed, it was a fascinating specacle to watch. The villagers then lined up to be healed or to ask the ancestors for help with court cases, money or blessings in marriage, one last round of drums and chanting and it was over.

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Our time in Eshowe was rounded off the following day with a pleasant walk through the woods where we had to tread carefully to avoid stepping on these huge locusts that were everywhere and looked pretty disgusting. Apparently if you do stand on one they release an awful smell so I’m rather glad that we avoided them! Eshowe is a very pleasant low-key town, it was nice to get a taste of what South Africa is like in a smaller and untouristy town where daily life goes on unfussily around you.

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Next stop was St Lucia where we took an excellent trip out to Hluhluwe/Imfolozi game reserve on an early morning game drive. On wildlife spotting trips we never expect to see half the exciting animals that you’re told live in a particular place but this trip we got very lucky with. It started with an early sighting of a white rhino up close and then loads of zebras including a really cute little foal. I then got my first sighting of the animal that I most wanted to see – a giraffe! Sod the ‘big five’ that everyone seems to go about I wanted giraffes and they were duly delivered! There was then a sighting of some lions who we witnessed prowling around a herd of zebras but eventually having to give up the hunt as the zebras had spotted them and wandered off. We were really lucky to see lions and even luckier to seem them hunting – it was an awesome spectacle. Another great sight was the fantastically quirky 2 foot tall secretary bird (yes, it looks like a secretary) prowling about the bush, eventually spotting a snake or lizard and going in for the kill by stamping on and then eating it. Secretary birds are ace and were one of Viv’s favourite sightings from the trip. We also saw the rarer black rhino, many, many antelopes, buffalos, warthogs, baboons, vultures and, eventually, elephants. We went all day without having seen an elephant despite numerous sightings and then when we had stopped for a toilet break a large bull elephant wandered right past us! On the way out of the park we even saw another two elephants. This day really was one of the highlights of our trip, we’d got so lucky with not only the variety of wildlife we saw but also how up close we got to see so much of it, not to mention the quantity too – it seemed there was an exotic creature around every bend. A truely, utterly awesome day and a far less touristy experience than we would likely have got had we chosen to follow the hoardes to Kruger game reserve.

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The Greater St Lucia wetlands were also great and provided us with some up-close viewing of hippos chasing off crocodiles and abundant birdlife (there were also loads of exciting birds at Hluhluwe/Imfolozi too). We went snorkelling in the sea here where the water temperature was rather cooler than comfortable but I got to see a cuttlefish swimming around, changing colour and going spiky when I approached it. A little further out to sea we could see dolphins riding the surf and beyond them whales sailing by the coast. Unfortunately we had used up all of our wildlife spotting luck so our St Lucia night drive did not reveal any leopards, genets, hyenas or porcupines but we did get to see, and hold, an endearingly cute little chameleon. I’ve wanted to see a chameleon since I was knee high to a grasshopper after reading The Mixed Up Chameleon so it was fantastic to eventually see one. They’re a lot smaller than I had imagined and have these funny little two footed feet and goggle eyes. Chameleons rule!

From there it was to Swaziland and Mlilwane game reserve where we had a little thatched rondavel all to ourselves set in the most idyllic spot inside the game reserve with fantastic views of over the valley with warthogs, impala and zebra grazing right outside our front door. This is one of, if not the, most peaceful spot that we have yet stayed at, it felt indulgantly relaxing and was so peaceful. It was a pleasure to listen to the light twittering and squabbling of the birds, the grunting and chewing of the warthogs and the wind rustling the leaves on the trees. In the evening we ate barbequed impala around a bonfire and set the world to rights in chats with other travellers, our voices lubricated by cheap red wine in a box. We were even treated to a spectacular electrical storm over the hills, a real favourite of ours.

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We went for a beautiful walk through the park on one day, again surrounding by all this amazing wildlife at close quarters. The real highlight for the walk for us though was the birds as we got to see almost all of the few remaining birds that we had not yet seen in our “Common Birds of Southern Africa” book – the ‘snakebird’ African Darter, a paradise bird and a bittern. There was a forest on top of the hill which had been almost totally flattened by the wind three weeks ago – it was quite a sight all these trees snapped like matchsticks and creating an obstacle course for us to clamber over.

Although we only saw a very little of Swaziland we very much enjoyed it and had such a relaxing time.

From Swaziland we caught a cramped bus to Mozambique and arrived in the capital, Maputo yesterday. Initial impressions are that it is quite a crumbling place, having suffered from a lack of investment for a number of years but that edge of tension on the streets that was palpable in South Africa is not apparent here and the locals seem friendlier. Tomorrow we head up the coast to Tofo beach where I’m planning my third bout of scuba diving for the trip, this time hopefully with whale sharks and manta rays for company.

One last thing to mention is that we have been playing copious games of backgammon, probably more than is actually healthy, after ending our long search for a travel backgammon set after Rightee got us thouroughly addicted to the game in Koh Tao. This infernal game has also brought out the worst bad loser streak in both of us, me after a continued bout of appaling luck resulting in me getting hammered almost every evening for a week and latterly Viv after the luck decided to even itself out resulting in Viv removing herself from the situation after exclaiming “ok, fine! you’ve double, triple, quadruple backgammoned me. I don’t care!”, which she clearly didn’t. It’s all good fun though and we always have a good laugh after one or other of us has thrown a tantrum after losing, at least nobody can accuse us of not playing to win!

And on that note I shall leave you after another rather mammoth post. All semblance of brevity appears to have deserted me of late.

Au revoir!

Cape Town

Apologies all for the length of time it has taken us to get round to writing a post, we’ve just been in a lot of places where the internet is either non-existant or prohibitevely expensive, couple that with needing to prioritise sorting out fundraising for our voluntary work (still time to donate!) has resulted in minimal blog action.

We arrived in Cape Town on a crisp winter’s morning with the magnificent sight through the aeroplane’s window of table mountain rising above the city as we approached the runway. A great day for climbing table mountain as there’s a cold front on the way, we were told by the taxi driver who took us to our accommodation in the centre of Cape Town. We were too tired that day after after the long flight from Bangkok and in the day’s ahead the weather did indeed take a turn for the worse, not that it bothered us too much as we just wanted a few easy days to adjust to South Africa without much of an agenda.

Those first few days were spent relieving ourselves of the guidebook-induced paranoia and slowly becoming a little bolder and venturing further from our base. In those first few days we went to the theatre to see an excellent play, Sizwe Banzi is Dead, set in apartheid South Africa which proved a good introduction to that era in South Africa’s history. After also seeing a strange French film where there was wine served beforehand we were feeling very cultured, if only I’d remembered to pack that black polo-neck and cravat.

Just as we were about to start getting down to some serious sight seeing Viv was alerted to a little passenger that she had brought her all the way from Thailand. His name was Amoebic Dysentry and after a visit to the condescending and rude doctor, some sickness inducing pills and a diet of bananas and soup, Viv had at last seen the back of her unwelcome passenger.

Our first post-illness trip out was to Boulder beach where there are hoardes of African penguins waddling up the beach and nesting beneath the bushes. When you get close to their nest they waggle their heads at you in an inquisitive fashion, I waggled my head back at a few of them and felt that we had something of a rapport going. I stopped short of inviting them down the pub for a pint for fear that penguins, not being used to the drink, would end up spilling beer all over their feathers and I didn’t want to be the one responsible for what a pint of porter could do to a penguin’s plumage. Unfortunately the day was rather soured when we got mugged in Cape Town on the way back and this was at a time and place that the tourist office had told us would be safe. Fortunately the muggers didn’t get much, about a tenner in cash, and we were unharmed if a little shaken. We now don’t venture out at any time approaching dark and not at all in city centres. We’re really dissapointed to have to live like this but for the sake of our safety this is what we’ve chosen to do.

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We have also been on an excellent tour around the Cape Flats townships. The tour really highlighted the stark difference between the haves and the have nots – families living three in one room, one family to one single bed and seas of tin shack housing. Despite this the communities had a really buzzing vibe about them and the residents who we saw appeared to be happy and looking forward to a brighter future as the Government’s wheels slowly turn on the project of getting everyone out of temporary housing and improving their welfare. I would hazard to say that they are all thankful that such an abhorrent regime as apartheid is over for good and that their lot in lifemust surely be greater now.

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Our time in Cape Town was concluded with a fabulous walk up the stunning table mountain to see the other-worldly rock formations on top and equally as alien plants. The fynbos vegetation, unique in the world to this part of South Africa, is so striking when you see it in its natural habitat. The plant-o-rama was rounded off with a day at the vast Kirstenbosch botanical gardens, surely one of the biggest in the world and a superb guided walk to Cape point where we saw wild ostriches, lots of interesting birds, a whale that turned out to be a clump of sea weed and even more fynbos. As is traditional for this trip we also got piss wet through on the walk when the heavens opened, and then dried off nicely in the wind before getting piss wet through once again. The problem with getting wet in a South African winter is that because its warm almost year round nobody has heating so it you get wet, and it’s cold, you stay wet. A few extra blankets on the bed soon saw us warm up though.

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The final thing to add was the unexpected pleasure of getting to meet up with James, my housemate from University days, and his wife Sam on their honeymoon. I’ve little doubt that the highlight of their South African honeymoon will have been the night spent with Viv and I in a restaurant!

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We are quite a way up the coast from Cape Town now but that story will have to wait for another day for a feel that quite enough rambling has been done for the time being.

Thanks for the emails that we’ve received in the last few weeks, but failed to reply to thus far, rest assured a reply for each and every one is in the pile marked ‘to do’.

Adios!

Your help needed! – John and Viv’s charity fundraising challenge.

In October we will be going to Madagascar for 10 weeks of voluntary work out in the jungle. During this time we will be living in a tent and will pretty much eat nothing but beans and rice (mmm, lovely beans and rice!). We also need to learn French, and fast, as that’s the only language spoken on the island. We’ll be working on projects to help some of the poorest people in the world and to protect the rainforest habitat of Madagascar’s lemurs.

As well as donating ourselves to charity for ten weeks, we’ve promised to raise 4000 English pounds for Azafady and we need your help! Azafady are a UK registered charity, more details below.

Being half way across the world makes it a little tricky for us to organise events and the like to raise the money and this is where we call on you, our esteemed friends, families and other assorted waifs and strays, to help us out. There are a number of ways in which you can lend a hand, most of which need not take up much of your valuable time or even money. Anything that you can do to help us will be rewarded with our eternal gratitude and beer. Anyhow, those options are:

  • Volunteer to sell raffle tickets (we can provide them)
  • Come up with your own (wacky or not wacky) fundraising ideas
  • Remember us for existing or planned charity events
  • Donate directly. You can donate your life savings through our special Azafady web page or send us a cheque (just email one of us and we’ll send you an address).

We’ve started the ball rolling ourselves by donating 1000 pounds. This more than pays for any costs Azafady might incur from us being in Madagascar and we’ve also paid for our flights and transportation. That means that any donations or help from you will go 100% direct to the charity.

Ok, that’s the begging letter done with, what follows is some information about Azafady and the work they do that our fundraising efforts will directly support.

WHO ARE AZAFADY? – They’re a UK registered charity (no 1079121) and Madagascar Non Governmental Organisation.

Azafady means ‘please’ in Malagasy. The charity aims to help the people of Madagascar by providing sanitation, clean drinking water and basic health care and the environment by promoting sustainable livelihoods and improving conservation research.

Last year alone Azafady gave access to clean drinking water to around 4000 people, access to basic health care to at least 10,000 people, planted thousands of trees, numerous gardens and created small income generating industries in 5 villages.

SOME FACTS ABOUT MADAGASCAR

About the People:

  • Most people live as subsistence farmers, their extreme poverty (70% living on less than $1 per day) drives deforestation as they clear land to grow crops.
  • 10% of children will die before they reach their 5th birthday, most from preventable diseases.
  • Only around one quarter of the population currently have access to safe drinking water.

About the Environment:

  • Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the worlds and sits 400 km East of Mozambique.
  • 80% of the plant and animals species in Madagascar are found nowhere else on earth, this includes the critically
    endangered Lemurs, two thirds of the worlds chameleon species and the cancer treating rosy periwinkle.
  • 85-95% of the original forest cover has been destroyed, mostly due to slash and burn agriculture.

To solve the environmental issues Azafady aim to tackle poverty and promote sustainable livelihoods to ease the pressure on the forest. To that end Azafady is as much a humanitarian charity as an environmental one.

Please help, we live pretty cushy lives compared to this lot. Even if it’s just one less bottle of wine or one less Chinese takeaway, the money could go towards helping some of the poorest people on Earth and protecting a habitat that’s really on its last chance. Without intervention it will be gone forever, extinction isn’t reversible.

And lastly……. Some quotes from famous people

SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH on Azafady and Madagascar in 1999.

‘Although this immense island has now lost much of its vegetation, its forest still survives on the South East Corner and it still contains spectacular populations of monkey like Lemurs and much else besides. At the moment the forest is gravely threatened by short-term development and by the risk of fire. Project Lokaro [a conservation initiative of Azafady] aims to save it.’

GERALD DURELL on Madagascar in 1994

‘It is essential that the world realizes the biological importance of the island and the plight of its people and hurries to the rescue of this extraordinary corner of the globe’

Chilling in Chiang Mai

What have we been up to in the last couple of weeks? Erm, not a lot to be honest. After over 7 months of fairly fast-paced travelling we decided that we were long overdue a bit of a break to slow things down a bit.

The three days of travelling to get to Chiang Mai from Luang Prabang in Laos was a test of endurance involving 12 hour days sitting on hard wooden seats on a noisy boat. It was the closest we’d come to relenting and opting for a flight instead but we have made it all the way through Asia without flying and it would have been a shame to have cracked now so the more environmentally friendly, but far slower, mode of transport it was. As it turned out we were glad to have taken the boat as the boat journey was interesting and we got to meet fellow travellers Dave & Mey on the boat and have since spent much of our time in Chiang Mai with them, having a lot of fun in the process.

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Last week we took a trip out to the Elephant Nature Park, a bus ride away from Chiang Mai. They do really great work rescuing elephants from lives where they have suffered unspeakable brutality at the hands of their owners. Although seemingly little publicised, cruelty to elephants is endemic in Thailand – an attitude that doesn’t seem to fit with a Buddhist country who has the elephant as a national symbol. What we learnt was that in almost all cases a working elephant is an abused elephant and most spend their lives in misery. On a previous trip to Thailand I have been elephant trekking, suffice to say that I would never go again and would implore anyone to do the same. The day itself was a fantastic experience – we got to meet the elephants and feed them crazy amounts of bananas, pineapples and cucumbers. Elephants are definitely clever creatures as they rejected the cucumbers – a sure sign of intelligence! After that we got to wash them in the river requiring the stealthy skills of elephant turd avoidance as the floating feaces drifted by. It was so much fun spending time with the elephants and seeing their different personalities and social groups – a really worthwhile and enjoyable day, even the bit where we got charged by a baby elephant and another elephant stole my shorts and swung them around with its trunk!

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That aside we did a significant amount of football watching (an unpleasant experience when England are involved given the crap performances), went on a day cookery course a nearby organic farm and otherwise spent a lot of time relaxing and drinking with Dave and Mey.

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One thing I feel I should mention here, as it was particularly prevalent in Chiang Mai, is the stupid squeaking shoes that so many South East Asian parents insist on making their offspring wear. The shoes have an absurdely loud squeaker (like in a dog toy) in the soles so that every time the child takes a step they squeak. They drove me insane especially when you’re lying in bed with a hangover and all you can hear is an incessant squeak, squeak, sq-squeak from downstairs. ARGH!!! They definitely top my list of the most irritating and pointless inventions ever.

Anyway, back to the story. After Chiang Mai we headed to Bangkok where we met up with Rightee at the airport and then spent the next couple of days being drunk, having hangovers, groaning at England matches again and forgetting to retrieve clothes from laundry shops once we’d left Bangkok.

From Bangkok it was down to the southern island of Koh Tao where we have done more drinking and relaxing as well as a great day’s snorkelling yesterday and not a lot else. Tonight we are going to have the usual tortuous couple of hours watching England.

And think that just about rounds things up for the moment, pip pip!