Best Wild Animal Encounter – Ever!

Wildly in Love

Wildly in Love

A few weeks ago I decided to risk it and asked you, my ‘followers’, for some fun blog topics to challenge me beyond my comfort zone. One of those received was, ‘Best wild animal encounter’. Well, growing up in Africa and being treated to many bucket-list type of safaris gives me loads of material and an unfair advantage over those of you who might be more familiar with the concrete jungle and animals of a different kind.

My gut response to that kind of topic, though, is to automatically respond by saying the best way to encounter a wild animal is definitely not at close range and I have a few stories to keep us sitting around a campfire from dusk ’til dawn as well as a good dose of advice (that comes from studying just enough psychology to do a fair bit of damage).

For now, though, I’m going to start with my favourite story.

The four of us – the Husband, the Children, and I – were slowly making our way down the footpath at Boulders Beach (part of the Table Mountain National Park) to watch the African penguins as they went about their daily manoeuvres. Every now and then we’d hear a rustle as the penguins scuttled about in the beach vegetation. To give you a taste of what’s to come, I can’t resist mentioning that they used to be called the Jackass penguin because of the braying sounds they make, until somebody decided that it was a bit non-PC. Personally, I think it adds a little perspective and character to their antics and I’m still rather fond of their maiden name.

Finally, we reached the viewing platform. A small group of penguins swimming gracefully caught my eye. They were close to shore and were bound to make an exit when the most hilarious thing I’ve ever seen happened. Like surfers they caught the next wave, but instead of gliding onto the beach as the marine experts they are, they were tossed and tumbled about reminiscent of toys in a washing machine, spat out onto the beach like amateurs in a total wipe out.

They bounced up like a teenager who’s taken a tumble in front of her class, humiliated but playing it cool. Shaking the water off and getting their balance back they clustered together as if to compare notes on who recovered the best. As I was about to turn away, I noticed two penguins looking into each other’s eyes and suddenly they appeared to kiss. The remaining peers all looked off into different directions, awkwardly waiting for this romantic moment to pass. If you’ve seen the various Madagascar films or the spin-off Penguins of Madagascar, all I can say is that these guys were the inspiration for Kowalski and Co.

Normally, romantic encounters in the Animal Kingdom are not as elegant as this couple were and I think I’ll say no more on this, except that I’ll leave the details for a dedicated nature programme on television.

Now for Wordy Cara’s words of advice on wild animal encounters:

1) If you find yourself driving a car in a nature reserve/national park, do NOT drive up the animal’s backside. I’m sure you don’t like a shopping trolley up yours, so give it a bit more thought, especially when following an elephant who’s having a rough time with his sky-high testosterone levels and looks like he’s crying. It’s called ‘musth’ and although it only happens to boy elephants I can only equate it to a woman at the wrong time of her cycle who’s just discovered lipstick on her man’s collar.

2) Related to point 1, you suspend the right to complain if you annoy the animal to the extent that you end up with a wrecked car, on all the social media you can imagine and with a nomination for the Darwin Award.

3) Related to point 1 and 2, you should be banned from ever entering a nature reserve/national park/zoo/circus if your actions resulted in the untimely death of the animal you provoked.

4) Persons who should be exempt from any of these points are those who have been unfortunate enough to have been guided by an ‘expert’ who has no clue what he/she is doing and who should, him/herself, be banned from owning, running or visiting a nature reserve/zoo/circus (in fact, could we just leave animals out of a circus unless they decide to submit their own application to join one due to their unbelievable sense of self-confidence and talent?). Rather go into the field of fleecing tourists by letting them have their photos taken with life-size photos of wild animals at an obscene price. It’s less messy that way and saves a few lives.

5) Do NOT ride a bicycle through a nature reserve on your own and especially not when the pedals squeak. This sounds like an obvious point that needs no mention, but I have almost WITNESSED what could have been a live kill. Briefly, we were seated in a game-drive vehicle at the crack of dawn, admiring three male lions in their prime. Suddenly, we heard a ‘skweeek, skweeek, skweeek’ approaching us and one of the male lions jumped up into his starting blocks, staring intently through the bush at the approaching sound. The tracking game ranger at the front of the vehicle lifted his hand slowly in a warning and it was only then that we noticed the reserve employee on his bicycle just over 50 metres away. Looking at it from the lions’ perspective, I visualised a prime piece of fresh steak seated on a serving tray with two wheels. Luckily the employee could back-pedal quicker than the lion could dismiss the fact that he had actually just eaten breakfast, even though he still felt slightly peckish. So, stick to the authorised and organised bicycle tours… if you must.

6) Capturing that incredible moment on film when a lion/leopard looks through your car window is awesome! Well, the fact that he’s looking through the window is a slight indication that he’s a bit too close and if your window’s open and your arm is extended beyond the outline of the car, the reality is that you might never get to see that photo or your camera or your arm ever again. The fact you’re a coward and you let your kids do it on your behalf is even worse. Sunroofs also count as windows. Keep your body parts tucked safely inside before they’re plucked off you.

7) Do you like it when you hear a pimped-up ride pull up next to you as you sashay down the pavement with the occupants catcalling, whistling and yelling all kinds of proposed shenanigans at you? I didn’t think so. Don’t tease wild animals if you don’t feel confident you’d be the last gladiator standing.

8) I love that moment when a stranger comes up to my kids, dangles sweeties in front of their face and then shoves them into my kids’ hands without asking me. Actually, I don’t for many reasons. DON’T FEED THE ANIMALS! I can’t make it any clearer and neither can the signboards, unless you think it’d be cool to take a baboon for a drive down a coastal road with the top down. Have you seen the size of a baboon’s teeth? Would you let someone with an uncovered, unwashed and chafed-looking backside sit in your ultimate set of wheels? Would you like the product of the food you’ve just given the animal and an upset stomach to be all over that pretty leather interior? NO, NO, NO! If it’s alive and not in special care, that means it’s getting food from its natural source. Leave well alone or start allowing creepy people to give your kids sweets.

I could go on with this list of do’s and don’ts, but I don’t want you to end up feeling like you might have to consider scratching a safari off your bucket list. Truly, seeing a wild animal at a safe distance is one of the most magical moments you could ever experience. The absolute peace and oneness with nature you feel as you hear a giraffe chewing the juicy leaves at the top of a thorny acacia tree in the morning sun or the far-off hysterical whooping laughter of a hyena at nightfall is incomparable.

Remember to do everything the game ranger tells you, but just take the story of ‘why the warthog’s tail stands up’ with a pinch of salt.

Tongue Twisters and Other Misadventures in a Foreign Language

Tongue TwistersVisiting or living in a foreign country brings adventure, new tastes and smells, great discoveries and loads of fun. It also brings – often with a nasty surprise – the challenge of having to deal with a foreign language. Coming from a country that has 11 official languages (along with loads more unofficial ones thanks to South Africa’s colourful history), I am no stranger to different sounds and words, but I am no multilingual aficionado, able to seamlessly chop and change languages as I please.

After the Big Move to Germany, I would start a question, request or brief chat in German, then apologise profusely for my poor German language skills, explaining that I had just arrived in the country. The person I would be talking to would look at me wide-eyed and puff out their lips with adoptive pride and reassure me that my German was very good indeed for someone from the southern tip of Africa as I bowed my head in false modesty. You see, I wasn’t being entirely honest with them if you count the year of German I had at school when I was 13 and the five or so cramming sessions I had before we made the big jump across the ‘pond’. Plus, I had managed to master first-year University-level isiZulu during my degree years ago and I felt rather cocky and self-assured of my linguistic abilities.

Oh my, how I’ve learnt. After almost three years of going to class once a week (when the kids aren’t sick or on school holiday), I haven’t progressed as much as I expected and now my modest protestations of language proficiency (or lack thereof) are met with motivating attempts from those who know me far too well by now – my neighbours, pharmacists, doctors, sales assistants, cashiers and my German teacher (bless her for not banging her head on the desk or flinging herself down the stairs when she has to repeat the same concept or word for the umpteenth time). It’s embarrassing, but speaks volumes of the depth of their kindness in being so encouraging, even though I suspect I am a disappointment to them.

So, it was with great admiration and delight when we recently boarded a train to embark on our big weekend adventure from our city to Paris and I heard the announcements in French, German and English. “Wow!” I thought to myself, “These people are an inspiration”. At first, the announcements were impressive as the gentleman reeled off instructions and updates in all three languages and then I started to notice little discrepancies between the German and English versions. We were close to France when he gave an update in French without any hesitation; then came the German, which seemed alright; and then the English, “We will already apologise that there is a 30-minute delay”. Then, in German, he said something along the lines of, “If you would like more information (pause as he realises that he’s messed up)… I will give you more information when I can.”. Now, I know that pause meant he knew he messed up, because it’s what I do while I scramble through the Rolodex of words in my head and try to match them with the mastermind code of grammar.

The next announcement in English had me in stitches, “Laydees and jennelmen, we are no longer on the fast track, so we will go on the tracks and we will be 40 minutes later”. The kids were understandably a little confused, so Husband helpfully (?) decided to translate, ” We’re completely lost, but the driver says he’ll take the ‘agterpaadjies’ (back tracks in Afrikaans) and we’ll get to Paris only 40 minutes later than planned”.

By this time I was beyond mirth. I was gleefully loving every mistake I could discern. It was just so good knowing that everyone makes mistakes. We do our best and thank goodness nobody has ever been as wicked as I was laughing at this very brave fellow’s slip-ups.

As I said, every now and again, I am brought back to earth with a bump. Wrapping my mouth around words and sounds that my tongue just isn’t as agile for as it should be. The worst is when you confuse your second or third language sounds with what should be those of your mother-tongue language. My best example is the German ‘S’ (a ‘shhh’ sound) and the regular English ‘S’. It’s gotten so bad now that I cannot say Stellenbosch without my first attempt sounding something like ‘Shhtellenbosch’, which makes me appear to have enjoyed far too many jolly trips sampling the offerings of its world-renowned vineyards. Oh so much still to learn…

If I can give you just one word of advice – actually I need to give two – rather sacrifice your pride and memorise at least a few key phrases like “Excuse me, do you perhaps speak English?” in the language of the country you are visiting. I cringe when I hear tourists stomp into a shop, braying for some help in English, giving the absolute impression that the language of their host country is inferior to their own. Sometimes a pathetic attempt at another language conveys a more sincere message that you appreciate their culture, respect them and are at least trying. It is more often than not met with kindness, even if not reciprocated with the requested language.

The other piece of advice I do have to share with you is to NEVER, ever ask, “How much does that cost?” in the foreign language if you cannot at least count or do mathematics in it. The blank look the sales assistant gets from you just gives you away as being another dumb tourist who can’t afford to pay…

Let’s Shake Things up a Bit!

Shake it up!

Shake it up!

It’s the start of the year, but it’s hard to get going, right?  There’s much to be achieved, but you just don’t know where to begin?

Let’s have a bit of fun with this blog – I’m going to let you challenge me: In no more than five words, give me a topic you would like me to write about. Keep it CLEAN (I’d like to keep my family-friendly status), but QUIRKY! I’ll try to rise to the challenge – it might not be in the form of a regular post, but I’ll do my best to keep it fun, or poignant or whatever the writing voice dictates…

An-ti-ci-pa-tion… The Sweetness in Life

An-ti-ci-pa-tion

An-ti-ci-pa-tion

I have a sweet tooth. I also have a strong grain of impatience running through me, alongside equal amounts of guilty conscience and indecision. This makes for interesting viewing when I’m standing in front of a pantry cupboard. I know what I want, that I want it now, but can’t have it and that I don’t know what to do next. Ultimately one of the competitors has to win and it’s usually Impatience that makes the rash decision, swaggering off with the spoils of the pantry.

Now, you know I am not really going to go on about sweets and temptation. You’ve seen the soap box I’m about to get on and you know I’m about to natter on about something a little closer to the heart. It’s all about anticipation – looking forward to something with great excitement; something you have to wait a little longer for and that doesn’t just manifest with a brisk click of the fingers.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading many blogs over the past couple of months and one, written by a mother, got me thinking. She wrote about how she would like her daughter to be able to look forward to milestones, especially in this day and age of instant gratification where we tend not to value the things that we would’ve had to wait for or work towards just 10 or 20 years ago. I shared it on Facebook and then, after reading a friend’s comment on it, the topic really got me thinking.

A special memory came to mind. I recalled how, at the age of eight or so, I had saved up over months to buy a double-screened hand-held Nintendo game. I had saved Christmas money, birthday money, exchanged Easter eggs for money, worked hard at creating much-needed chores around the house and then did those chores until I had saved enough to buy my game. I still have it and it still works many, many years down the line. How interesting it is to note how well we take care of things we have to work hard for.

So many things come too easily these days. On the flip side, I suppose it would almost be impossible to save up over such a long period of time and still expect the same item to be available in the shops. Things move incredibly quickly, marketers have perfected playing the game of supply and demand, and we play a key role by rushing off to buy the next best thing the minute it hits the shelves, discarding the functional items we consider newly obsolete.

The true problem comes in when we start treating people like those newly ‘obsolete’ items. We’ve become so geared towards looking out for the latest thing, perpetuating this horrible concept of FOMO (fear of missing out) that it begins to manifest in our attitudes and decisions. Commitment becomes a commodity, traded in for something better than what we have. We make tentative plans with friends and then discard them when something more appealing comes up. What happened to the days of, “Sorry, but I have a prior COMMITMENT”? What are we teaching our children? What are they learning to care for?

What we really need to do is to take a step back and consider the people and things (yes, it’s important to like things too – but more important to see them in perspective) that we hold dear to our heart. It’s so good to take time out to think about what makes us tick, what prompts us into positive action and what gives us the joy of anticipation. Some things just take on a more colourful glow when you have to wait a little longer for them, when you have something to look forward to. Anticipation – the sweetness in life!

Oh, and just before I forget… I have to confess that I often confuse procrastination and anticipation, but more about that another time.

Guilty Pleasures… Who’s to Blame?

Pleasures Copyright 2014 Wordycara

Pleasures
Copyright 2014 Wordycara

It’s a Happy New Year and people are making their resolutions, discarding bad habits and hoping to sustain better ones (better habits AND better bad habits). Just so we’re clear on this – I don’t do resolutions and this blog is not going to be about how to ‘start afresh’ and ‘be a better you’. I’m not qualified (through successful experience or otherwise) to lecture you on this general topic. There’s enough reading material out there and you’re welcome to read it.

So, apart from this very obvious New Year’s theme, I’ve been sifting through the debris in my head, left after the excesses of the Festive Season festivities, searching for a gripping topic to kick off my blog for 2014. Let me tell you, writer’s block is no way to start a year and, if I’d had the foresight to know, I would’ve resolved not to have it and would’ve banished it to the land of terrible sitcoms before it could muzzle the voice that does the writing in my head.

With the thoughts in my mind flatlining and desperation increasing exponentially, I grabbed a nice, warm cup of caramel-flavoured coffee (bless that company for removing the ‘limited edition’ status on that flavour and making it freely available – at a fair price – to me all year round) and inhaled inspiration!

“Guilty Pleasures!”. The topic exploded in my mind and the letters of the alphabet did somersaults, “We’re back in business!” and then I sighed. The problem is that that I have a problem with the word “guilty” being right next to the word “pleasures” when it comes to things I like doing, eating, saying or appreciating.

For me “guilty pleasure” is something that happens when a person runs off with another person’s partner. In that case, there’s guilt and, of course, there’s pleasure (maybe even for the partner who’s left behind). Now, when I’m talking about eating French toast and reading a book – yes, yes AT THE SAME TIME – it’s certainly a pleasure and I’m certainly not feeling guilty about it either. I can’t apologise or feel bad about combining two of my favourite things. I’m not hurting anyone else and I don’t intend to stare ahead at the blank dining room wall, trying to allow myself to mindfully absorb and savour the flavours of my food. I’m a great multi-tasker when it comes to eating (not recommended with talking though) and reading (I can read in a car – just not when driving – and sometimes in the dark with a very faint light). It follows, then, that I am able to enjoy every single bite of my food and every word on that page AT THE SAME TIME!

I have so many more pleasures that I don’t feel at all guilty about – going into the city without the children and buying stuff just for myself (they have their turn), reading a juicy, gossipy and laugh-out-loud kind of novel that is termed ‘chick-lit’ (the Irish writers are so good at these)… Actually, I have to interrupt myself just to note that I don’t like the term ‘chick-lit’. It implies a level of silliness associated with giggly teenage girls who are actually over 30 and should be reading solid, classic literature. These novels have grains of genius running through them – witty asides that comedians dream of and accurate portrayal of feelings that only you thought you had and that some psychologists wish they could tap into. Right, now that I’ve made that clear, I’ll continue with some more pleasures… sitting outside and admiring a beautiful view instead of cleaning the house, eating freshly baked, hot bread with butter (not margarine), watching a kids/teens’ movie (with or without children/teenagers present to justify it) and listening to music from the 80s… I could go on.

When we talk about a “guilty pleasure”, but actually mean a fairly benevolent, harmless and delightful pleasure then we’re allowing that voice of our faux conscience to take over. Life is filled with enough challenges and expectations set by ourselves and others, so it really isn’t necessary to add rueful feelings to some of the things that give us unadulterated joy (no pun intended… well, actually… yes – pun intended). Come on, surrender the guilt and let’s put the blame on that person who called it a “guilty” pleasure in the first place! Have a very HAPPY NEW YEAR!