Author: Clients in Action

A Gringo in Rio

As I drove from Copacabana through downtown Rio on my way to the Aeroporto Galeao yesterday morning I realized that during my six day stay I really only managed to scratch the surface of this vibrant and breathtakingly beautiful city. Sure, I looked down on to the metropolis from both Pao de Acucar and Corcovado with the impressive Christo Redentor, I walked the promenades of Cocacabana and Ipanema, ambled through the heart of the city and sipped ample caipirinhas in pulsating Lapa, but how I wish I could have latched on to a Carioca, the term used for a native inhabitant of Rio de Janeiro, and had him or her reveal the true heart of Rio to me.

img_1052Trying to make my worthless Rand stretch as far as possible I was determined to avoid pricy hotels and taxis and thus have been spending much wifi time searching for affordable accommodation and accessible local transport. I downloaded the AirB&B app on my iPad and was astounded at how many people have registered rooms of varying descriptions to rent on this site. I have to make peace with the fact that I will probably never again travel as cheaply as I did in the East, so settled for a room for 470ZAR inclusive of breakfast at a place that boasted 100% best view of Copa. AirB&B encourages communication with your host, so I asked Thiago which bus would take me from the Rodoviaria (bus terminal for us nao falam ingles) to his establishment, and was told that would be the 190, and with further help from googleMaps I had a fair idea of where I was heading. Of course I never took into account that my bus trip across town would coincide with rush hour traffic, so by the time I eventually made it to Copacabana it was two hours later and pitch dark. The young lass sitting next to me on the bus took pity on me when I showed her my address, and she spouted forth in rapid fire Portuguese, and said something to the effect: “do you realize that it is very steep where you are going, and are you going to shlepp that heavy looking wheelie bag up there?? And as luck would have it I am going up that steep hill myself and please follow me”. It seems that no one walks up these hills, but gets into a little VW combi bus conveniently waiting for passengers  at the bottom, pays 2,5B$, and once it is filled to capacity you set off up the hill and get dropped off at the closest point to your abode. By this stage I also realized that I was actually in one of the many favelas, all perched picturesquely on the steepest Rio hillsides. My address was on the Ladeira Ary Barossa, and had I understood some Portuguese I would have known that Ladeira means slope. But where exactly on this Ladeira my 100% Best View of Copa was, as anyone’s guess. After a lot of conflabbing it was decided to drop me off at the  Babylonia Hostel, surely that was where I must be staying. No, that was not my destination, but they were kind enough to phone the number I had written down and a few minutes later I was collected by Vera, my AirB&B hostess who wheeled my bag up another 200 meters or so on a busy narrow walkway and finally I got to see the sparkling lights of Copacabana and the bay beyond. It truely was worth it.

Waking up to this breathtaking sight with a cup of the best Brazilian coffee each morning was surely good for the soul.On day 2 in Rio I joined the Free Walking Tour of Downtown Rio which suited my penny-pinching pocket and had the great fortune of meeting two wonderful young people from Bogota, Colombia, Nicolas and Kelly, who I spent a boozy Caipirinha filled evening with and added to my ever growing family of adopted children from all over the world. I have no doubt they were sincere when they invited to entertain me once my travels took me to their stomping ground.

Ever the Tommy-Tourist, but while sitting peacefully on one of the busy streets of Copacabana sipping the obligatoryimg_1137
caipirinha I had time to reflect on the relevance of traveling solo. I mentioned it in one of my earlier blogs while I was traveling through India that I feel forever the observer. You become much more in tune with your surroundings and pick up nuances of daily life that you might easily miss when you are with another person. So it is that you marvel at the multi-cultural community living in this sprawling city where the dress de regueur is board shorts and tee shirts for men, and it is not uncommon to see them entering an eating place only clad in a speedo, spandex rules with women and if you are not wearing trainers it would have to be havaianas.

Staying in the favela of Babylonia also gave me a bit of insight in how the other half lives. The first favelas were created by returning soldiers that had nowhere to live at the end of the 19th century and were then of course joined by the hordes of freed slaves. Favelas are by no means restricted to Rio de Janeiro, but similar to Johannesburg’s Soweto and Alexandra they attracted the most attention. They are certainly slum areas but can by no means compare to the absolute squalor of the Mumbai slums or our own squatter camps in South Africa. What I knew of favelas before I came here had mainly to do with the rampant drug trading prevalent in these areas and that of course it was too dangerous an area to enter. I only managed to get a tiny glimpse of life in the favelas, but let me tell you, real people live there. There is a very visible police presence called the Police Pacification Unit and we in South Africa could learn something from their waste management programs. At no time did I ever feel unsafe even when getting home  well after dark.

img_1058And of course I would walk down the hill in the morning but at the end of a busy tommy-tourist day I  would walk as far as the motorbike taxi rank and ask one of the young drivers to take me up to Thiago’s. On the first day I still attempted my bargaining prowess learnt on the streets of Bangkok but no! It will cost you 3B$, take it or leave it!

I have bought myself a little Portuguese phrase book and have mastered the art of hello, goodbye, please and thank you and hopefully by the end of my Brazilian sojourn I will have added some more pearls to my vocabulary, but I can only repeat it again Eu amo a Brazil!! And that is straight from GoogleTranslate!

And She’s on the Road Again

This was not the original plan. From the outset I was going to get this whole travelling malarkey out of my systemimg_0390
before my 60th birthday and I did give it some thought whether after extending the first leg of my adventures to the East by 2 months I could make a whistle stop visit home and attend my god daughter’s wedding, visit with the aged mother and then flit off to the great continent to our left for the last three months preceding the daunting 6 – Oh at end of March. And then I had an epiphany standing under a hot morning shower (yes, I do a lot of mulling while showering) and the long and the short of it is that I came to the realization that life does not end at 60 and why rush a good thing. So here I am: sitting on a balmy São Paulo evening on the balcony of my little AirB&B room that I have rented from the delightful Egnaldo and Guilherme, sipping my 3rd Cerveja, listening to iPad music through my newly acquired Minion Bluetooth speakers and putting pen to paper once more after a 5 month literary break.

I cannot tell a lie; the butterflies ahead of this 6 month stint were no less than before my initial trip last year, and it did not help that I had heard all sorts of stories of drug muling, kidnapping, muggings and theft in South America. I even bought a very fancy “travel glove” to fit over my brand new Osprey wheelie bag with a secure combination lock which hopefully will deter any would-be thieves of trying to rob me of my belongings while I am on some or other bus trip through this continent.

But the minute I set foot on South American soil at the Guarulos Airport I realized I must have attained some travelling prowess, because I immediately decided I was going to test the local transport system, mainly because I did not want to spend 140 Brazilian Real (>R500) on a taxi. Yes, she’s also become become a penny-pincher! And I did it all with cool and calm adroitness.  I was directed to Terminal 2 where a friendly soul gave me a public transport map of São Paulo and told which bus to catch into the city and from there which metro would take me to
my final destination (I did know that my accommodation was close to the Ana Rosa metro station) and with that I hopped on to the first bus that had Airport Transport written in big letters on its outside. In hindsight, I think think there might have been a more direct bus, but I did manage to get into downtown São Paulo and with further help from kind locals I managed to find my way to Egnaldo and Guilherme who greeted me with a big hug like a long lost friend. At no stage did I feel intimidated or scared and the friendliness and caring of the locals here truly overwhelmed me.

My host Guilherme, a young student, has kindly offered to show me some of the São Paulo sights over the weekend so seeing that “flexibility” is my middle name I have decided to only depart for Rio de Janeiro on Monday and see whether there is maybe more to this city than what everyone else has told me.

Surging water draws wanderers

Jilly and Peter Wyche send greetings from Epupa Falls, Namibia. “The sound of the cascading Epupa Falls, Namibia Retire Successfullywater of the  Kunene river is awesome. What an experience thus far (3 650 km) from home, having a wonderful time on this safari, seen amazing scenery and meeting many lovely similar travellers en route. “

Mosque, Museums and Imams in Istanbul

Rhys and Norma Rolfe, Chartered clients, are on the road again … this time in impressive Istanbul. 

DSC00010 Our road trip from an uninteresting Eastern half of Greece to a thriving Western Turkey has been very interesting. The agriculture looks good, the towns and cities have so many new houses, flats and factories, all looking unbelievably nice. The roads, however, are not good and the driving terrible. The wind along the coast was very strong, which made driving difficult – in fact, so strong, it washed a ferry onto the beach.

We arrived in Istanbul at noon, in roaring traffic and mad drivers. A city of 15 million looks amazing. The new buildings and developments are staggering, and the city is clean! Our camp site is in the center of the old city and very convenient for seeing all the important sites. The people we have met have been friendly and most helpful, but a little pushy. Not too much English is spoken and it takes a while to find our feet, and way around. The call to prayer from the Imams is a bit unnerving, sounding like a pack of wild dogs.

Istanbul is one of the safest cities in the world, but a huge police presence is evident and we have certainly not felt DSC00013threatened. We have heard so much about pickpocketing; well, up to now, we have seen nothing of that … touch wood!  We have certainly seen the police using their skills and apprehending people.

We found The Blue Mosque amazing, and the Hagia Sophia Museum was fantastic. Hagia Sophia Museum building started in 400 AD. The Basilica Cistern built in the sixth century was also breath-taking.

For those of you who thought that tulips came from Holland are wrong. They originated in Istanbul.

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Holiday Hotspots

Rian Bornman, co-founder of PnP Travel, recommends 10 Hotspots for South African travelers, both locally and abroad, to escape the winter chill … or to enjoy year-round.

The Oyster Box Hotel 21. The Oyster Box Hotel in Durban offers bed, breakfast, dinner and massages.

2. Be treated like royalty at the Hyatt Regency Oubaai Resort and Spa.

3. The Cathedral Peak Hotel is tucked away in the mountains … and the perfect place to tuck into a book, or trek on a trail.

4. Get away to the gamepark – Black Rhino  Game Lodge – and enjoy your own safari.Cathedral Peak Hotel

5. Zanzibar offers the utopian Karafuu Beach Resort – paradise on earth!

6. Loll at the poolside at the Centara Poste Lafayette resort in Mauritius.

7. Visit the Green Isle in Ireland for an unforgettable experience.

8. Phuket and Bangkok beckon you to this Thai getaway.

Europe9. Embrace the treasures of Europe in 10 days and visit Munich, Prague, Budapest.

10. Enjoy Whale watching and spa treatments at the Arabella Hotel in Hermanus.

Visit www.picknpay.co.za/winter-travel to see if you can still catch the specials to these marvelous destinations.

Rwanda Gorillas – a remarkable experience

Mountain gorillas are unique creatures; they have been poached almost out of existence and are therefore highly endangered.  Seeing them in their own habitat is an exceptional experience, and certainly one for the Bucket List. Chartered clients, Brian and Ronelle Baker have just returned from Rwanda, and share their amazing experience with us.

Each gorilla family has a name, and we were part of the Kwitonda group.  With our guides, Afrika (also our driver), Francois and Kalista, and porter, Elisa, we set off

AE9A0967from the rendezvous point for all mountain gorilla trekking, the edge of the Parc National des Volcans. We were given beautiful walking sticks with a gorilla motif carved on top and these were useful as we trekked through some rough terrain.

There are 10 gorilla families that are habituated (accustomed to human visitors), some families that are used for research, and some families that are considered to be wild.  Only eight tourists are allowed to visit a gorilla family for one hour per day … but to get to your gorilla family for that one hour was very challenging – the trek is not for the faint-hearted! Your guide chooses on your behalf which gorilla family you visit, based on your fitness.  You can trek for one hour and see a family of three gorillas, or you can trek AE9A0924for two and see a family of 23 (that was us!). I am grateful not to have been judged able to complete the six-hour option!

Gorillas are not big animals; I thought they’d be much bigger, even having done my research. The females don’t get much heavier than 120kgs, whilst male gorillas (silverbacks) can weigh up to 227kgs. The babies are born weighing about 1.4 to 2kgs and are the cutest little things you’ve ever seen. Amongst our gorilla family were two silverbacks, the biggest one appeared to be enormous when lying down, but also seemed quite at ease with all of the people around him – eight tourists, two trackers, two guides, three “security” (guys with AK47s), and about four porters (although the porters do not come close to the gorillas and remain in one place whilst the rest of us “visit” with the gorillas).

AE9A1301There were many enthusiastic juveniles being playful and active. This became quite a scary moment for me as a youngster used my right leg as a swing pole to get down the edge of the mountain – fortunately, Francois was right next to me so I could clutch onto him!  It all happened so quickly that only much later did I realise what had happened. The 7 metre rule memo obviously did not get to the gorillas – you’re not allowed to get closer than 7 metres to a gorilla, pretty much impossible with such a large active family who keep moving up and down the unfriendly terrain!

The experience of looking into the eyes of a gorilla is profound – you’re not supposed to make eye contact, but it’s almost impossible not to.  I felt as if we needed to sit and chat for a time, to find out about each individual’s life and habits; but, as the allocated time for the “visit” is so short, you just have to breathe in the experience and, in Brian’s case, Baby Gorilla front take photos and more photos and try to enjoy the moment.

Our hour with these gorgeous creatures zoomed by and we had almost to be forcibly removed from the top of this mountain!  By now we’re all sweating up a storm, as it is hot and humid.  After another very strenuous two hours, we made it down the hill and out of the national park, across the fields and back into our vehicle.  I’ve never been so happy to sit down in my life!

A once-in-a-lifetime experience, highly recommended, but very tough going.

Advice for adventures

More facts about the trip …

  • We flew Rwandair, leaving from OR Tambo at 8:30 am and arriving in Kigali at 12 noon.
  • We were met by a Primate Safari representative who gave us a run-down on our four days in Kigali.
  • Afrika, our driver, whisked us off in a landcruiser to Ruhengeri, the base for gorilla trekking – a 3-hour trip.
  • At Gorilla Mountain View Lodge, we had supper and watched traditional dancers perform – very different from African dancing in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • If you intend to do this trip, you need to be fitter than you think you are: the humidity is intense, the altitude 2600 metres above sea level, the rain forest dense with slippery undergrowth and steep inclines. At times, our guides hacked through vegetation to clear a path for us.AE9A0367
  • Fire ants are aptly named, and crawl into whatever gap they can to grab the first bit of flesh they can find: up your legs, under your jeans, over your socks. I had a few fall onto the back of my neck from the trees, but fortunately, my porter saw them and took them off before they could do a trek of their own … down my back!
  • We did a whistle stop visit to Hotel des Mille Collines – the site of the filming of Hotel Rwanda. If you’ve not seen the movie, do make the effort to see it, bearing in mind that, while not a true reflection of events, it does give an idea of what happened in Rwanda in April 1994.

Facts about Kigali and Rwanda …

  • There is great deforestation except in the national parks – the guys with the AK47s were there to protect the gorillas and also to keep the locals from attempting to enter the national park.
  • The Genocide Museum is a very interesting visit indeed. I am amazed at how Rwandans have survived the genocide and turned their country around in 20 years – remarkable to say the least.
  • Rwanda lost one million lives in the genocide in April 1994, the Congo 3.5 million. The central African area is still not “stable” so Rwanda spends a lot of time and energy on peace keeping.
  • Their philosophies are most interesting: if you intend to cut a tree down, it is illegal; if it must come down, you need to get a permit and then replace the cut down tree with two more. However, there is still much slashing and burning to create charcoal
  • Ronelle marchingPlastic bags of any kind are banned in Rwanda, we always plastic wrap our luggage when we travel, and before we could take our cases out of the airport building in Kigali, a customs man had cut the plastic off to keep it in a secure area where it will be recycled.
  • Each rural family is given a cow by the government to encourage subsistence farming
  • $5 per person per year is charged for education and another $5 per person per year for education
  • 62% of parliament consists of women, the only place in the world with such a high percentage

Some notes on trekking …

  • The gear is important; take leather gloves, the nettles sting through the cotton ones!
  • All the bug spray in the world, sprayed over your jeans, gators (which we hired there), shoes and socks, will not prevent them pesky fire ants from finding a bit of juicy flesh to bite!
  • Take anti-histamine cream to rub on them bites!

Gorilla's

Mistakes make great give-back!

Chartered clients, Laura and Ray Wilson, are enthusiastic participants in the sport of lawn bowling.  Bonnie Espie, also a Chartered client, is a volunteer puppy raiser for the South African Guide Dogs Association. When she and the Wilsons connected at a Chartered function last year … it was serendipity.  Here are their stories.

In the words of the Wilsons

Many of us have tried to play bowls, either on holiday or on a very social basis, and don’t have a clue on what to do or how the game is played.

Most of us know that the bowl does not run in a straight line, but tends to bend. The bend is a built-in bias on one side of the bowl, marked with a small circle and a small “picture/decal” as opposed to a large circle and large picture on the other side.

Anyone can throw or roll a WRONG BIAS, a result of not concentrating when you are about to deliver your bowl, or IMG_2874from changing your mind from wanting to bowl a forehand or backhand, and then not checking to see what side the SMALL PICTURE/DECAL  is on. It is not only the beginners that deliver a wrong bias, we even get Proteas, Provincial, District and first league players doing it.

So I took on the task of collecting money from anyone who delivered a wrong bias at our club, in the amount of R5.00 a time, and decided to donate the proceeds to a charity or some other deserving society.

Now this is actually a fun contribution, because when the bowlers have finished their game, they usually come into the bar for a drink or two, and I approach them with an old car hooter (that announces to all that they have delivered a wrong bias) and duly collect the R5.00.

Over the years, the amount has grown to R2000, which means collecting from about 400 people. The handover of the 2014 collection was on Saturday, 13 December, and it was to The Guide Dogs Association, via Bonnie Espie, whom we had met at a fun day that Chartered had organised at the Bryanston Sports Club.

By the way, the large group of Chartered clients had such a ball on that fun day, that the company may start a quarterly league or fun day from early 2015.

We have a coaching clinic every Saturday morning from 9:15 to 10:30 if anyone is interested (starting again from mid-January).

What makes my heart sing, asks Bonnie Espie

Puppies do!

It’s so lekka to find a way to ‘give-back’ and love doing it!

IMG_2851I am a puppy raiser for the South African Guide Dogs Association. This means I get to take a seven-week old bundle of exuberance home, and approximately 10 months later, return a hopefully well-mannered one year-old dog ready to be taught by a qualified trainer to become the key to a blind or disabled person’s freedom.

Imagine my delight when at a well-organised and competitive fun day of Bowls with the Chartered team, I discovered that Ray and Laura Wilson ‘fine’ members of the Bowling Club whenever they have a wrong bias. The accumulated funds are handed over to the South African Guide Dogs Association at the end of the year.

I was invited by Ray and accompanied by 15 week old guide dog pup in training, Finley, to collect the generous donation.

Finley is my current pup, and she will go on to enhance the mobility, independence and dignity of a person who will love her as much as I do.

SA Guide Dogs Association (SAGA) trains dogs, not only for the blind, but service dogs for people confined to wheelchairs and for autistic and special needs children. A lesser known fact is that SAGA also trains practitioners to teach long-cane and daily living skills to those who would not be able to own a dog.

It only costs a visually or physically impaired person R105 to receive a guide or service dog (R5 for the dog, R100 for training, including 3 weeks accommodation, meals and all equipment).

Much needed funds for raising these special dogs come from donations, generous sponsors and ‘time’ given by IMG_2841volunteers. The need for ‘vollies’ volunteering for the association is huge, from various administrative tasks, to assistance in kennels and, of course, puppy raising. Please visit the website and see if you would love to assist.

For me, the journey of raising the pup, exposing it to the big wide world, and giving back my juvenile darling ready to be trained is an incredible journey of fulfillment … a journey filled with kitchen mishaps, chewed carpets, missing shoes, but topped with busting pride at seeing the confident pup that I raised, skillfully guiding someone down a busy street.

Thank you to Chartered Wealth for the great networking opportunity; you never fail to surprise me with great ideas. Thank you, Ray!

More details: http://www.guidedog.org.za

Following ancient pilgrim paths

Norma and Rolfe Rhys Retire Successfully 1Norma and Rhys Rolfe show amazing tenacity in the face of rain and snow storms, to complete their pilgrim walk …

“We have just completed 290 km of the Camino Pilgrim’s walk in Spain in 13 days. It has been a most incredible and unforgettable experience. Norma and I have been very fortunate in being able to share this opportunity, and having the health to do so, for which we Norma and Rolfe Rhys Retire Successfully 2will always be grateful.

You can read more about the Rolfe’s adventures by clicking here. Also on our website are some local Holiday Hotspots worth visiting – click here.

Travellers trip the light fantastic

Ian and Anne Fuller witnessed the awe-inspiring Northern Lights in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, north of mainland Europe, midway between Norway and the North Pole. They say it was a tad cold – minus 7 degrees and snowing … but this did not detract from the amazing experience!

Northern Lights Retire Successfully