Monday April 21, 2014
While exploring the Garden Route on a recent family vacation in South Africa, we came upon the "Safari Ostrich Show Farm" a few miles outside of Oudtsdoorn. Oudstdoorn is the ostrich capital of the world and I'd long harbored the dream of riding an ostrich. In Africa my dreams tend to come true.
We started off with a tour of the farm, and lucked out being the only people there, so we enjoyed a private tour with Darnie, a wonderful guide. My two sons were hooked from the start. We got to watch tiny babies hatch in the incubator, touch and feel various ostrich eggs, shells, feathers, leather and learn everything there is to know about these fascinating birds.
After a tractor ride, an anatomy lesson, hand feeding of the birds, standing on ostrich shells, feeling a "full" ostrich shell, and sitting on an ostrich for a photo-op, we were ready for the finale -- riding an ostrich ourselves! Unfortunately the weight limit is around 80 kilos, so my husband was designated camera man. Which ended up not working out, as video requires a steady hand, and it's hard to stay steady when you are on the ground laughing.
We signed some indemnity forms (which in this part of the world means you're about to have a lot of fun), donned some work pants and got ready to ride. To keep the ostrich calm as you mount, they place a small bag over its small head. The whole thing is less than dignified, but I was too busy figuring out how to wrap my legs around its chest and get a decent grip on the wing bones in order to avoid falling off. Two handlers were on hand to help so if felt somewhat secure at this stage. The bag was removed, my ostrich could see, and we were off!
Wednesday April 16, 2014
My dear friend Emmanuel de Merode was ambushed on Tuesday while driving back to Virunga National Park from Goma. He was shot multiple times in the legs and stomach. Emmanuel underwent surgery in Goma and is now in stable but critical condition.
Emmanuel has been on the forefront protecting mountain gorillas in the DRC. He unfortunately joins many fellow Rangers that have been shot at in the line of duty. These are are the true conservation heroes of our time. They are fighting to protect the Gorillas and their habitat from loggers, rebels, charcoal sellers, bushmeat purveyors, and now oil companies. It is thought that he was targeted. It's ironic that the Virunga Park has just re-opened for tourism at this time. I don't believe the ambush was a random event, so hopefully those planning to visit, will still do so. The support and money that comes through tourism is vital to continue the conservation efforts and prove to the local community that tourism is a viable economic option.
If you can, please donate to one of the many excellent projects the Virunga National Park continues to support. If you don't have money, but do have a little time, read through some of the blogs and spread the word! A new documentary about Virunga has just been released and may come to a town near you.
I am sure you all join me with thoughts and prayers for a speedy recovery. Emmanuel and those like him, are sorely needed on the frontlines.
Sunday April 13, 2014
African athletes are legendary in long distance running events. In the London marathon, that took place this weekend, Kenyan athletes Wilson Kipsang and Edna Kiplagat won both the men and the women's race respectively, with fellow Kenyans also taking second place. The top ten finishers in the men's race were all African except for two runners. Long distance races at the Olympics are also dominated by East and North Africans. But you don't hear enough about marathons being run in Africa.
If you want to run a marathon and be on safari at the same time, I'd highly recommend heading to Kenya at the end of June for the Safaricom marathon. The race takes place in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and runners will be up against non-human contestants as well, zebra, impala and maybe even a rhino or two. More than 2000 runners will take on the challenge and the money raised will go toward wildlife conservation and community projects. The mere possibility of spotting a lion while running, would certainly propel me to the finish line.
Other Marathons Taking Place in Africa in 2013/14
Running a marathon is always a great excuse to travel. So why not try one of these marathons and run in the desert, mountains, savannah, or forest. All of these marathons can be combined with safaris, treks and cultural tours.
- Marathon des Sables (extreme 6 days) - Western Sahara Desert, Morocco - 4 - 14 April, 2014 (just finished!)
- Two Oceans Marathon - Cape Town, South Africa - April 18/19, 2014
- International Peace Marathon Kigali - Kigali, Rwanda - May 18, 2014
- Big Five Marathon - Entabeni Game Reserve, Limpopo, South Africa - June 21, 2014
- Knysna Forest Marathon - Knysna, South Africa - July 12, 2014
- Amazing Maasai Marathon (Ultra) - Mt Kenya, Kenya - September TBA, 2014
And for more dates and races check this African marathon calendar
Image © Safaricom Marathon
Wednesday April 9, 2014
It's hard to visit Rwanda and not spend a lot of time thinking about the 1994 genocide. As the 20th anniversary of the genocide is upon us, we are reminded again of the horror of those 3 months. When you're in Kigali, you just look around and realize that everyone over the age of 20 has lived through a total nightmare. It didn't help that when I traveled to Rwanda a few years ago, within ten minutes of landing at the efficient Kigali International airport, I was standing at the gates of the Genocide Memorial Center.
The Genocide Memorial Center is a heartbreaking place. It's not just the exhibits, the videos, and piles of human bones that makes it so, but the fact that underneath slabs of stone in the pretty museum gardens, lie the bodies of over 250,000 people. If you're interested in more details, read my review.