who ... moi?

a social butterfly: scared of much, but not of many. never lets the truth get in the way of a good story. not a fan of acronyms, snakes and angelina jolie. a HUGE fan of Fathead.

this blog is black for ENERGY-SAVING reasons.

thanks for your understanding.
if it's too dark, put your glasses on old one.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

this time for africa

finding a fellow saffa out here is about as likely as finding black pepper or hot water. not very.

when we have stumbled upon one of our countrymen, it's usually followed by squeals of glee and jubilation (from Fathead, of course … not me, I'm way to calm and collected for that kind of public outburst).

we all know why saffas don't really get out much, globally speaking. for one, there's the rand. for another, we're at the tip of africa on the way to and from nowhere. it's tough for us to take a break from our careers, filled with fear that there won't be an income source awaiting us, on our return. we live good lives, but save little… you know the drill.

so when we do meet said souls, it's great to reminisce about the land we miss and love. it's wonderful to have your ear buds comforted by that familiar accent. and for some reason, no matter where we're from, we slip as much Afrikaans as we can into our conversation.

of course we meet tons of other nationalities. all of which are enthusiastically fascinated when they hear where we're from. the europeans' eyes twinkle with excitement at the possibility that they might one day visit the south of africa, the american's nod knowingly, pretending to know where that is, and the locals automatically blurt out "waka-waka eh-eh" like it's some kind of universally understood greeting … which, i suppose it has become.

naturally we rave about how awesome our country is, because it is awesome. but often we're told that they've met other south african's who've told them horror stories about home. in this fictional land you can't leave your house after 6pm. there is hatred on the streets. everyone is under constant attack. we live in self-imposed prisons behind heavily-armed gates. no one has a job.

now before you all go banging on about "yes, but…" please understand that i'm not saying we are without our share of problems.


of the travellers we've met:

98% of those from the UK are on their way to live and work in australia, because they can't find jobs back home and the nanny-state mentality of their society has become so intense they've chosen to try and make a life for themselves half way across the world.

in denmark, the xenophobic government is so controlling that they've even put an age restriction of 26 yrs onto being married in an effort to drive out the turkish immigrants who follow a different culture of young, arranged marriages. we spoke to a danish couple who said "we're embarrassed to be danish"

a french girl we met is wandering the world trying to find a home, because she cannot afford to live in her own country

the current leader of italy is apparently a madman dictator who controls all press and makes changes to the constitution and laws without any input from the people

this is to name but a few of the many stories we've heard, from all over the world.

all i'm saying is take off your malema-tinted glasses and see the things that we do have going for us. look at your situation in a global perspective and understand it relative to the world as a whole.

when you go overseas, you are an ambassador for our country. please behave appropriately.

i'm not sure why some of us leave our wonderful home and choose to over embellish the troubles we face. people will believe anything, so be careful with your words.

encourage foreigners to visit us, meet us, break bread with us, crack open a castle with us.

we are awesume. don't you forget that.

Monday, December 6, 2010

making the most of it

right … so we were on our own. no help from the locals then … this was going to be interesting.

we eventually managed to hire motorbikes, and set off back up the only road in tat lo in search of, well, anything really. the exploration took us down muddy inclines and slushy paths. 

in parts, i was all "hell no" and got off the bike, preferring to walk while Fathead negotiated the dangerous gauntlets.

we discovered a small village where the children, unclothed, ran amok amongst pigs and chickens, and the elders lay propped up in doorways escaping heat-induced exhaustion. a few of the locals waved us over, pointing into the heart of a forest "waterfall, waterfall".

we clambered off the bikes and followed them down a muddy trail, and then around a small bend we saw a beautifully high and narrow waterfall tumbling down into the river, on the banks of which we stood.

" I recon we could get to the top" someone said.

so back onto the bikes we went, and chased the river's course deeper into the mountains. eventually we reached an end point, where the road curled up on itself at the top of a forested hill. a small path lead us down into the thick of the trees, and at the end we stepped out at the source of the waterfall.

there's something very exhilarating about standing the edge of a sheer drop-off, spring water chasing itself through your legs, like lemmings off a cliff face. we'd not realized the height we'd gained riding up, but the enormous boulders we'd seen from the bottom now appeared to be pebbles.

one thing i can tell you with certainty is that when you stand somewhere that human beings seem out of place you inherit memories that don't fade.

if you've never stood at the lip of a waterfall, put it on your bucket list.


tat lo

i'd never really been to a "one horse town" until i got to tat lo. it was a necessary stop to break the epic distance between the southern border of laos, and it's centrally located capital, vientiane. it also sounded kind of interesting – set in the middle of the bolaven plateau, there was promise of amazing landscapes,waterfalls and exquisite coffee plantations.

the bus we'd caught from the mainland choked along what the laotians would define as a "road" : a path worn into the bush, which you and i might call "an over-grown trail".

somewhere between bumhole alabama and the middle of nowhere, it came to a stop and we were ordered to disembark.

on the left hand side of the dusty path, a forest sprawled over what must have once been a wooden street stall. to the right, a broken down truck which had been dismembered of all its essential parts, and judging by the coating of rust, this dissection had happened quite some time ago.

behind the motorized ruin, one lonely hotel sat at the foot of a swing bridge. this was as far as the bus could go. we, apparently, had arrived in the bustling metropolis of tat lo.

while i was trying to contain my rage aimed at the driver, who by this stage had unpacked our luggage and in the process, dragged my backpack through a trough of clay, some of the residents of tat lo (of which there must be a total of 23) approached … hands held flat and open.


"pay what?"

"you must pay"

"what must I pay?"

"24,000 kip each"

"three dollars? each? for what?"

"you in tat lo now ... must pay for here"

welcome to the south of laos, people.

there was a whole lot of repetition of the above conversation, while some of the foreigners just stormed off across the rickety bridge in a rage.

hands were flung.

voices were raised.

eyes were rolled.

bargains were made.

in the end, we decided to dump our bags in the lonely hotel, while two of us could suss out the town and find a home for the night. shortly thereafter we realized that we were in the only hotel in town, and that the "toll" had been a tourist scam – leading you to believe that there was an entrance fee to cross the bridge and "enter" tat lo … when in fact, this tiny, dirty road strip with the ghost truck, the wooden shack, hotel california and the swing bridge was, in fact, tat lo.

but the hotel was clean with big rooms and flushing, western toilets. the rooms led onto a communal balcony, which overlooked a beautifully peaceful grassy river bank, with white water splashing from the belly of a loud and jovial waterfall.

it wasn't friendly and our welcome hadn't exactly been warm. but it was quiet, and we had the whole place to ourselves. so we did what any respectable backpackers would do when they're abandoned on the side of a trail that leads to nowhere : ordered several icy cold beer lao's and joined the sun as it wound down its exhaustively hot day.

 click HERE to view full FB album of Tat Lo


Sunday, December 5, 2010

natural wonders

for the remainder of our time on the island, we decided to move to cheaper accommodation – which actually had far more character than our previous place. we checked into a sweet little bungalow, rustically nailed together on the river's bed. in the mornings we lazed on hammocks as the river rushed beneath our deck. when evenings came, fellow travellers gathered on our balcony for sundowners. it was a very special place.


don det lacks many things … flushing toilets, hot water, electricity to name a few. what is certainly does not lack is raw, natural beauty. the immense delta of the river swells and tumbles on relentlessly. birds animate the skies. the sunsets blaze, unobstructed by little more than a few mangrove trees.

this part of the mekong that joins cambodia to laos, is also home to a very special, extremely rare and endangered creature – the fresh water Irrawaddy dolphin. the chance of spotting an irrawaddy in one's lifetime is close to none, so when we were offered a boat ride to possibly glimpse a dorsal fin, we obviously took it.

the locals try their best to keep track of the small pod, and we were told that they were last seen on the other side of the cambodian border. we would need to cross over, back into the country we'd just come from. the small wooden dug-out chugged along slowly, fighting the power of the current, for what seemed like several very uncomfortable hours. eventually we reached cambodia and then suddenly, the deafening engine was killed and we floated ashore of one of the many smaller islands.

we climbed off the boat, walked up the bank and there we sat, slightly confused as to what we were meant to be doing there. then as the silence settled, a school of about 10 irrawaddies appeared. they seemed less playful than their bottlenosed cousins, shyly breaking the surface with their stubby snouts and timid fins. and while their less-than-flamboyant natures didn't allow for any amazing photos, it was so special to be there viewing something that few people of our modern times have ever seen.

leaving the island, we floated away for as long as the current would allow us before starting up the engine again. i really appreciated the locals' apparent respect for these animals, and their awareness of keeping distant and quiet. the dolphins appeared to share in my appreciation, and swam right up and around our little wooden vessel as we left.

crossing back into laos, we followed the river's flow until we stopped at another island – on the other side of which, we were told, rumbled the largest waterfall in asia.

khone phapheng waterfall is not high, nor does the water cascade down into a bottomless mist.

what makes this waterfall the largest in asia is its frightening volume of water. the falls are a low wide landscape of deadly rapids.

the spray coming off them travels for hundreds of meters across.

the noise is deafening.

it's like no other waterfall i've ever seen.