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Anouk Zijlma

Anouk\'s Africa Travel Blog

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The Thrill of Riding an Ostrich

Monday April 21, 2014

Anouk riding an ostrichWhile 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!

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Chief Warden of Virunga National Park Shot - In Stable Condition

Wednesday April 16, 2014

Eman de MerodeMy 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.

Running Wild for African Marathons

Sunday April 13, 2014

Safaricom Marathon, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, KenyaAfrican 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.

And for more dates and races check this African marathon calendar

Image Safaricom Marathon

Kigali Genocide Memorial Center

Wednesday April 9, 2014

kigali memorial center genocide hutu tutsi rwandaIt'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.

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Myths About Africa

Friday April 4, 2014

Maasai on Cell PhoneAfrica is dangerous, violent, poor, backward, diseased, corrupt ... let's see, what else can be said about Africa? It's very upsetting to people like myself who have been raised in Africa and traveled extensively throughout the continent, to hear people talk about it this way. There's a lot of fear, ignorance and misunderstanding about Africa. I think most of it stems from the fact that people have no real concept of the sheer size and diversity of the continent. In fact, some people even think Africa is a single country (that includes former US Vice President candidate Sarah Palin).

The focus of the news being reported from Africa does not help much either. You can hardly blame people for thinking about Africa in largely negative terms when all they hear about is war, famine and AIDS statistics. The only positive news stories tend to be about long-distance runners from East Africa winning marathons. And no - not all East Africans run very fast for long periods of time. Or rather random articles like this one from The Guardian claiming my old home town in Malawi - Blantyre, is the "World's Top City". I loved it, and perhaps it is for those expats who can afford to eat international cuisine, but "world's best"?

The obvious solution to dispel any myths about Africa, is to actually go and visit a few African countries yourself and see them with your own eyes. Barring that, please read my latest piece on Top 10 Myths about Africa.

Image of a Maasai man checking cattle market rates and doing a little mobile banking -- Getty Images

Merzouga -- Gateway to Morocco's Sahara

Tuesday April 1, 2014

Merzouga, MoroccoMerzouga is a dusty little town located right on the edge of the magnificent Erg Chebbi dunes. You may recognize the dunes from desert scenes in films like SATC2 (2010), The Mummy (1999), and Sahara (2005). If you're in Morocco it's certainly worth spending at least a night in the desert. Ride a camel out to camp and enjoy some traditional Berber music under the brilliant starry night sky. There are lots of hotels to choose from in and around Merzouga, ranging from luxurious Kasbah's, to small Riad's with cool rooftops to sleep on. The best time to visit is during the cooler months from October to February. It's a great place to ring in the New Year if you are looking for something different to do. Read more about Merzouga, how to get there, what to do and where to stay by clicking -- Merzouga Travel Guide.

More About: Morocco's Top Attractions l Best Things to Do in Morocco l SATC2 in Morocco

Traveling to The Afterlife in Style

Friday March 28, 2014

Fish coffin, GhanaAnyone who has spent time in Ghana, quickly realizes that funerals are a major social event. The celebratory aspect of many funerals I saw, was rather uplifting. I love the idea of celebrating someone's life at their passing. The Ga people who live in the Accra region (along the coast in Ghana) decided to add a colorful twist to their funeral rites in the shape of the fantasy coffin. Ga people believe in the afterlife and the fantasy coffins help transport the dead to their new life, in style. The coffins are designed to represent an aspect of the dead person's life as well as embody hope for a successful, safe afterlife. Often coffins represent what the person did for their livelihood, so fish for fisherman, bibles for preachers and vegetables for farmers. They can also depict a vice, hence the popularity of beer bottle coffins.

I visited a fantasy coffin workshop while in Accra. Among huge beer bottles, shoes, crabs and chickens I discovered that the Bedford Truck is currently the most popular fantasy coffin on order. It reflects the generation who is passing now, the Bedford truck was king of the road for decades in Ghana. Anyone can order a coffin, it takes about a month to make. I was very tempted to order a large airplane, to reflect my love for travel, and it seems like a wise choice of vehicle to take me to the afterlife. But I take heed from the Ga, it's bad luck to have a coffin hanging around the house, and I'm not ready to head to the afterlife just yet.

More About: Fantasy Coffins l Images of a Fantasy Coffin Workshop l Ghana's Top Attractions

Volunteering in Africa - Expect the Unexpected

Tuesday March 25, 2014

volunteering blog what to expect volunteer africaThere are two things I tell people who want to volunteer in Africa, both seem to disappoint. The first is you should expect to pay if you want to volunteer. There is enough unemployment, no need for you to take a job that a local person probably needs far more than you. Africa does not lack hard working people, talented people, or even educated people, it lacks money and employment opportunities.

Secondly, don't expect your volunteer work to make a huge difference. It may help, but the person who will learn the most will be you. As long as you go out on your mission to Ghana or teach in a Ugandan primary school with this in mind, you'll be fine.

And I am really talking about the short-term volunteer here, obviously not the surgeon working with Medecins Sans Frontieres. They really do make a difference, and probably got inspired by a short-term volunteer stint when they were young. What got me thinking about this is a tweet I stumbled upon by Nick Kristof who linked to an insightful blog post by a volunteer in Senegal. It's from a few years ago, but still relevant -- here are some excerpts:

I expected to feel a little culture shock. Instead, I am closer to feeling reverse culture shock- my host family, in some ways, is more modern and "American" than I am.

I have been carefully conservative in my dress here, a Muslim country. I wear khaki pants, and blowsy collared shirts, raiment that I am aware might make me look like a missionary. Meanwhile, Vivienne prefers sparkly tops that are dangerously low cut.

My host cousin preens about the house singing Justin Bieber's "One Time" and at night Muslim calls to prayer waft into my bedroom window.

I have dished myself scoops of mashed potatoes with a silver spoon but also worked to roll balls of rice, funneling them into my mouth with my bare hands.

Read More: Volunteer in Africa l Conservation Jobs in Africa l First Time in Africa

Image Lauren Himiak and School Kids - Volunteering in Uganda

Avoiding the Crowds on a Kenyan Safari

Friday March 21, 2014

Flying into Lewa Conservancy, KenyaDespite the travel warnings, Kenya remains the most popular safari destination in Africa. It has abundant wildlife, a good infrastructure, scheduled flights between national parks, and excellent beaches to wash off the dust at the end of a great safari. But Kenya's popularity as a safari destination has come with a price -- overcrowding. Kenya offers the best bang for your buck when it comes to wildlife viewing, but because of this, you may find yourself in a minibus queue to see a lion. It's not the "Out of Africa" experience most people envision when they think of a safari. But have no fear, you can still enjoy a unique safari in Kenya (even on a budget), when you go on safari in a conservancy.

Conservancies are large tracts of land, often adjoining National Parks, that eco-tourist operators rent from local communities or private ranches. The agreement is based on the understanding that the rented land is not used for grazing cattle or farming, but left alone for the exclusive use of wildlife, and a small tourist population armed with cameras. It's been a win-win situation for both wildlife, tourists, and traditional cultures like the Maasai and Samburu who live in these areas. By opting for a safari in a conservancy, you not only help support the local community and wildlife conservation efforts, but you also guarantee yourself a unique safari experience.

Find out more about Kenya's Conservancies, and how you can book a safari to avoid the crowds in Kenya ...

More About: Kenya's Parks/Reserves l Kenya's Best Luxury Lodges/Camps l Masai Mara

Mastering The Safari Bucket Shower

Tuesday March 18, 2014

Filling up the Safari Bucket Shower, Serengeti Mobile CampIf you're lucky enough (or smart enough) to have booked an eco-friendly safari, where your accommodation is under canvas, you will undoubtedly have to master the art of taking a bucket shower. In many of the more comfortable camps, this is no mere bucket of cold water and a little scoop cup. The bucket shower has been elevated to a simple piece of engineering that entails a proper shower head, soap rack, faucet (tap) and lovely hot water. After a whole day of wildlife spotting, you really look forward to this shower, almost as much as a gin and tonic. But there is an art to making your water last long enough to shampoo your hair. Read on for tips on taking a bucket shower so you're not left removing your soapy suds with a towel...

More About: Safari Bucket Shower l What to Pack for a Safari l When to Go on Safari

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