Friday, November 26, 2010

Toy Train and lost Curry : Danger On The Shimla Toy Train Ride.

The following story appeared on a good friend's site -Trains On The Brain recently as my guest post contribution-Lost Train of Thought and Flying Curry. In April 2006, our tour from Delhi to Kathmandu with Intrepid Travel was diverted as we could not cross the border into Nepal. The height of the pro-democracy demonstrations and strikes had caused massive traffic snarl ups and delays at the border, and there was no surety of even crossing into Nepal. So, sadly our tour diverted, and spent more time touring Northern India instead. There were many good compensating places of interest, but Kathmandu and hiking in the Himalayas was an experience we had long dreamed about. So we took an impromptu trip up to Shimla, to at least get up off the hot plains, and go hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas. We had heard about the Toy Train and never realised what a great trip it was. Really interesting. But, those carriages were hot and cramped. And after a long, frustrating day of delays, a husband should heed the warning signs....
BTW the first part of the title was arrived at courtesy Ray Wylie Hubbard, a well know Country singer. I was thinking of a title and realised I was listening to his CD by the name- Lost train of Thought.  It seemed to fit so well. Man I love this guy!

Shimla Toy Train by A.M.Hurrell

Lost Train of Thought and Flying Curry.

On the train from Kalka to Shimla, nestled at 2,067 metres in the Himalayan foothills of India's Himachal Pradesh state, one can easily daydream into that time of the Raj in India, when the colonial administration and it's baggage would transfer annually to its summer capital of Shimla to escape Delhi's desiccating heat. Completed on 9th November 1903, the 96.5 KM, 2' 6'' narrow gauge track snakes over 864 bridges or viaducts, and through 102 tunnels, the longest being 1143 metres. As you ascend from Kalka, you'll find yourself viewing the same point several times, but each time passing by a little higher up, on a tortuous route that winds in hairpin bends from one side of the valley and back upon itself again and again, until finally cresting and into the next valley.

We had caught the train from Delhi to Kalka, and there transferred onto the Shimla Toy Train. Passengers crowded aboard and crammed their luggage into any available space. I had insisted on buying a curry and rice before boarding for Shimla, and placed it very carefully in the overhead luggage nets. In the tiny, cramped, knee-touching compartments, more luggage got shoved up there. The young Indian couple next to us were making the most of this enforced intimacy, with a very uncommon- for Indians- display of fondling each other. But Shimla does have a magical, romantic mood about it, and I guess some people can't wait.

I was fascinated not just by the feat of engineering, but by the views from the heights out over the valleys where April displayed Nature's springtime colour palette. One valley painted purple with flowering Jacaranda, the predominant tree. Then into the next valley where yellow and gold glistened through the azalea thickets, and a change again to deep orange when slowly entering the next, as the flowering tree species changed with the altitude. I was spellbound, in a deep reverie at Nature's marvellous display outside, almost hypnotised by the clicketty-clack, and constant transfer from gloom to brilliance to gloom as we exited one tunnel, over a viaduct, and then into another. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to a very familiar female voice complaining of something dripping on her head, but I was sure she'd sort it out easily ...and we were just entering into a valley of huge candelabra tree euphorbia and they just looked so wonderful to me.

As I moved to get a better glimpse of a particularly statuesque specimen, my train of thought was lost abruptly, as a very cold, drippy curry and rice missed me by a centimetre and went flying out my window! Thrown by my very tired, hot and furious wife. Dang! I was just starting to feel peckish.

The look of incredulity from our fellow passengers is etched in our minds. A fiesty European lady throwing a perfectly good curry out the window, and myself wiping the splatters from my face must have provided some welcome entertainment from the amorous couples antics next to us. So much for being eco-conscious and not littering the environment also.

Ladies do not like curry hair shampoos, and will not let their man forget about it for a long time either. Luckily for me, we would spend 4 days at magical, romantic Shimla, making it up.

Shimla from our hotel window.

Shimla station is a short walk to the city. Negotiate with the baggage wallahs who will crowd around to carry your bags. They are a good investment as the walk uphill in the thin air at 2067 metres altitude is tiring. They also know the best hotels or backpacker places to stay to suit your budget. You will have many options, and we found it was a simple matter of stopping and inspecting rooms at the many hotels we passed until we found good, clean rooms, rather small but with exceptional views looking out over the city and the mountains.

Our room ceiling.

Our room was mirrored around the walls and ceilings, truly suitable for magical, romantic Shimla, a city that we found was a honeymoon destination for Dehli's newlyweds, and amorous train couples. An added bonus was the troop of languar monkeys that slept every night outside our windows, which explained the bars and netting, neccessary to stop them ransacking our room. Must have been some holes, as a couple of happy languar were spotted cavorting across rooftops.... with our travelling companion's brassiere.

View looking out over the Mall.

Shimla itself is built upon several ridgelines, and quaint, pastel-painted, crammed together housing literally tumbles down the hillsides. Narrow, winding streets, and alleys lined with shops and street markets make it highly interesting to explore. A very good place to buy woollen knitwear and other winter clothing.

Places of Interest.

The Mall. Shimla's city centre where you'll find a good range of restaurants, and Post Office. At the Tourist Office ask about the area's local treks and walks. Also day and longer tours around the region.

Christ Church. Located at far end of The Mall. The stained glass windows are very worthwhile viewing.

Temple of Hanuman or Monkey Temple. 2 kms walk from The Mall, to the highest hill at 8,000 feet. Be wary around the monkeys. They are known to bite so don't have any food visible to tempt them.

While Shimla's places of interest can be cruised through in a day, it's main attractions are the train ride getting there, it's atmosphere of decayed colonial beauty, or as a point from where to enjoy hiking in the surrounding hills. Shimla is the ideal place for rest and recreation after your hard slog around Northern India.
The local shoe repairer just off the Mall.


10 San Bushman Tips For Survival In The Kalahari Desert.

 For my MatadorU first assignment, I have posted the following blog up over on my Assignment blog called 'Resoled Holes In My Soles'. It's an issue I have been following for 2 years now and sadly, no resolution. I hope you enjoy the post. It's a very sad situation when one's own Government chucks you off your land, and denies the very basics of life to it's people. The last link to the Africa Geographic report gives a balanced view of the situation.

Survival in a desert environment may depend on a little bit of knowledge, and how ingenious you are or what you are prepared to do.

1.You will know when you stumble across the Hoodia Gordonii plant by the masses of prickles you will need to carefully remove. Slice the flesh and chew. Sour and unappetising but your hunger pangs will disappear. San Bushman chewed this when undertaking long journeys between food sources. Now being farmed extensively in South Africa as the basis for a new wave of diet pills to combat obesity. Protein compounds of Hoodia Gordonii are reputed to block our hunger reflex.

Hoodia Gordonii

2. Look for termite mounds. A fungus (Termitomyces reticulatus) growing at the base is edible, and mixed with a few termites provides valuable protein. Generally found just after the rainy season. And yes it does rain in the Kalahari, but the soil being so sandy will not retain rainfall, and water drains right through it like a sieve leaving the ground totally dry.

3. Snakes are not to be killed except in a survival situation. Good flesh eaten raw, rather like juicy fresh raw chicken.

4. Slice off the snake head, be careful with those fangs, then peel the skin down, turning it inside out ( the way you’re not supposed to remove a condom ever! ) then reverse the process so you have an empty skin which will provide a handy container for any water you find. Easily draped around your neck to cool you down.

5. Look for water in the morning. Dew, or condensation may be found in plant or rock cavities. Plants such as Tsama melons and Gemsbok cucumbers are a vital Bushman source of water.

San on the hunt.

6. Don’t waste your pee: save it in your snakeskin. Your first pee can be drunk in a survival situation.
Another vital use -The noonday sun can fry your brains when it hits 50 Celsius in the sandy desert with no cover to find shade to shelter in. Find the lowest spot in any dune valley. Scoop out a trench and lie within it. Cover yourself with the cooler sand excavated from the bottom layers. Then mix sand and your pee together, and plaster your face and head with this cooling mix. The pee evaporating from this mix will keep you survivably cool. Stay covered in your pee mix until the hottest time of the day is over. Move on only during the cooler times, early morning, evening or night.

7. If you have the means to hunt, take the suckling babies. A baby antelope, or baboon that has freshly suckled will have a stomach full of curdled milk supplying life saving liquid and nutritious food. The squeezed stomach contents of a dead antelope or other ruminant will yield water, not appetising, but not too unsafe in a desperate situation.

This tusker was 3 metres away from us when we spotted him behind the bush.

8. Converging animal tracks usually lead to water, diverging, away from water. Elephants requiring 200 litres of water a day will move from water point to water point. They dig seep holes in depressions in dried up riverbeds. You may need to dig these out further and suck moisture up through a hollow reed. Fill your snakeskin also.

Animal tracks may lead to water.

9. Knowing how to survive an elephant charge may save your life. An elephant charging with its trunk held high is making a mock charge, sending you a warning to back off. Calmly walk slowly backwards, being careful to avoid slipping in that mess on the ground behind you.

10. An elephant charging with its trunk curled back low and tucked out of harm’s way behind its tusks is serious, and they are not stopping. Should you survive this charge please let me know so I can complete my 10 tips for survival.

Far from being submitted in jest, many of the ‘tips’ given above are possibly a true indication of how many Bushman ( also called San or Baswara ) are now having to survive in this modern day, when their own Government denies them basic access to water. There is an appalling situation in Botswana where Bushmen have been evicted from their ancestral lands within the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Reserves are created to protect and maintain the environment. Bushmen have been living in harmony with nature for over 30,000 years, and are as much a part of this environment as any animal or plant within that protected Reserve.

Water rights of Indigenous People is enshrined in Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, and reaffirmed by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in November 2002 by this statement-

“Water is a fundamental for life and health. The human right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite to the realisation of all other human rights.“

On July 30 2010, the United Nations General Assembly declared that safe and clean drinking water is a human right, calling it a “landmark resolution” that sends an important signal to the world.

Is the Government of Botswana failing to meet its obligations as a member of the United Nations?

Could it be that the government views the Baswara's occupation of their ancestral lands as giving them ‘title’ to the diamonds now being mined there, and that their dispossession off the land ensures the Government gets the royalties?

What other reasons could there be to evict Bushmen from their ancestral lands, but at the same time allow diamond mining companies to despoil that land within the Reserve?

Below is an extract from this website-

‘The Bushmen launched further litigation against the government in a bid to gain access to their borehole. The case was heard in Botswana’s High Court in June 2010 but the judge later dismissed their application.’

Further reading here-


Friday, November 19, 2010

First steps and new boots.

Just signed up at MatadorU. Going to be a struggle for this guy with limited formal education, but a long learning period in the real world of business. So I've had to start another blog for all my assignments and needed to write an 'About Me' page for that blog, so here it is.

Riding the Bamboo Express, Battambang, Cambodia, Jan 2008
About Me 
They reckon I was born kicking and screaming 3 weeks early, walking at nine months and always impatient to put leather to the road. Left school at 15, moved out of home same year, travelled almost every weekend to another part of New Zealand, then moved cities and I’m sure during my teens my family never knew where I was for months on end. I think we found each other again, around the time I met my travelling partner …. my wife. We have been travelling together for many years now, and shoe leather has worn thin many times but being the canny, crafty shoemaker I am, they get Resoled often.

Kay and I married, saved hard, set sail for UK and an Overseas Experience that has set the foundation stone for our lives together. We are testament to the fact that you can raise children, pay off the mortgage, chase your career, even operate your own business AND travel. Ok, the big overseas trips and long term backpacking went on hold, but travelling is an attitude of mind we realised, and with 3 kids under 5 in nappies we bought an old caravan and towed it around New Zealand... and they were happy days, too quickly gone except in memories and a few faded photos. Those days you can’t get back.

Ah, but the kids have flown the nest now - well they got a boost actually - and we are back travelling the world with enthusiasm. 40 countries so far including Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Japan… getting rather bored with Asia …so Africa! Now that’s where we’re at, and I’m heading back next May for my third volunteer project in Namibia. Kay will meet our daughter in UK and sip wine in Normandy. I’ll probably be wishing I was with her as I’m dying of thirst in the Namib Desert.

Favourite places-

The scenic vastness of Mongolia and throat-singing. Camels braying.

The scenic vastness of Namibia and a Herero family singing farewell. Baby desert elephant squealing for its mum.

The scenic vastness of Scotland and bagpipes playing Dark Isle. Mist thrush singing it’s heart out for its mate.

Yes, I’ve gone off claustrophobic Asia.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Land: Tora Coastal Walk.

 New Zealand is noted for it's walking tracks and hiking trails through pristine native forest and mountainous scenery. We really are blessed with a country that is so easy to get around, such varied scenery of mountains, glaciers, untouched native forests, active volcanoes and unspoilt rugged coastlines and beaches. And with no dangerous wildlife to bother you, we can tramp our trails not having to care about snakes, or surprising a bear, and we can swim in any lake or river without fear of crocodile attack. It truly is a trekkers paradise. 1,000's annually tramp the Heaphy Track,  the Tongaririo Crossing, or the Milford Track  all known as some of the top rated hiking tracks in the world. But there are plenty more, and in this series of My Land topics on New Zealand, together we'll explore a few of the shorter, less arduous tracks.

 If you're like me, you may be getting on a bit, and finding the trail is getting tougher with 3 days food and gear on your back, but you are certainly not yet at the stage for hanging up your boots and mouldering away in that zimmer frame, chasing the old girls around the rest home. With that in mind there are some very pleasant walking tracks, developed to allow all age groups and abilities to stay on the trail, merely by portering your pack for you between each night's accommodation, leaving you to lightly wander the forests and hills, with just a daypack for the essentials of water and a packed lunch. So much easier. Cheating almost?

 In 2005, three entreprising farm couples commenced Tora Coastal Walk, situated on the Southeast Wairarapa Coast at the bottom of our North Island, an easy walk through farms, native forest, rolling hillscapes and coastal scenery. And the best part is they arrange for your main bags to be portered to each night's accommodation, and  they will have your beer and wine chilled ready and waiting in the fridge for quenching that thirst you have worked up. It's a 3 day and 3 night walk, fully catered with gourmet local food. "Depending on weather conditions and the farming calendar you may dine on venison, paua fritters, fresh blue cod or succulent lamb."  Lip smacking scrumptious.

Accommodation these days has been much upgraded since our group of friends had a team bonding session on the trail 6 years ago. Old shearers and farm labourers huts were used then, basic but clean and cosy once we'd stoked up the fire to heat water for the showers. I can remember no electricity in the second nights stay, but candles made the place very cosy. Today  facilities have been upgraded to ensure you'll enjoy your experience even more.

 Day one is 19.3 kms of about 7 hours walking through open farmlands,or  native bush clad gentle slopes, but with a couple of steep high hills. You'll be wandering through small herds of cattle or flocks of sheep. Don't worry, they are just curious, and if you get down on all fours and bark like a farm dog they'll round themselves up and keep their distance. 
 Towards the final stage of the day's walk there is one high hill to climb, being the toughest challenge of the whole walk.But the 360 degree views from the top are worth it

Standing on the top there are amazing views right along the rugged coastline, with hardly a human settlement in sight making the climb to the top well worthwhile.

 Day 2 is an easy coastal walk of 8 kms along a shingle road but you'll be able to beach walk some stages also. We were were not lucky enough to see seals but there was plenty of marine bird life.

 And cheaters.
 Yes cheaters. Not the long legged, spotty, furry African kind but a unique weird kind of feminine wiley beast, that challenges their males to be first to the next roost stop. Then when miles behind and out of site, dangles a gamey leg at a passing prospect 4WD, piles aboard their host and hunkers down and whizzes past their males to scoop all the chilled beer at the next stop!

Night 3 dining. Note the empty bottles and 4 flushed faced women!

Day 3 is an easy walk of 4 hours, with an extra option to do a 1 hour return walk up to the ‘Bugler’ for stunning 360 degree views of the area. The rest of the walk takes you back to your start point of 3 days earlier and you'll finish around 2.30pm.

Overall our group of 10 Kiwis and 1 stray Australian, Terry from Sydney, who had flown over to join us, had a thoroughly enjoyable walk, and no sore backs or shoulders either. Food was excellent. Those ladies know how to present good fresh food and cook it well. And there was more than enough. A very memorable experience, and one we keep meaning to repeat!

For more images and information on the Tora Coastal Walk, go here  Tora.

Happy hiking!


Monday, November 15, 2010

Who Let the Dogs Out?!

                                               Have you ever seen so many happy dogs?!

Africa's Painted Dog, Lycaon pictus also called African Wild Dogs are critically endangered. Numbers are so low in some countries, or now non-existent, and urgent conservation action has to be taken, and is by several organisations.
Back in July I wrote about our family's rescue mutt Lilly, and how we had also ' adopted' a Wild Dog pup  My family's new dog.  at  Naankuse   a wildlife rescue and  rehabilitation centre in Namibia, where our family had volunteered in 2009. Naankuse in June  had just taken in 14  young pups from a den on farmland in the  Maketti strip where they would face persecution, and adopting pups was one way of raising funds for their keep.

As a volunteer project I wholeheartedly endorse Naankuse for their efforts in wildlife conservation, and in the support by way of health, employment and housing for several San Bushman families, and education for their children. We have been following progress with the raising of these 14 pups since they were first taken in by Naankuse. As Namibia's Wild Dog population is estimated to be less than 200, taking 14 pups in, may prove their best chance for survival, and for establishing a breeding program. Now let's get this straight, Naankuse do not breed wildlife in captivity. All cats there, lions, cheetah, leopard, caracal are rescued and rehabilitated back into wild areas away from population centres or farms, or if that cannot be achieved, then they are given huge enclosures to live out their lives. It certainly is not set up to be a petting zoo. But you can view the retained animals.

With these wild dogs, there is a chance a successful breed and release program could be started as a first stage in arresting the decline of this magnificent animal. Volunteers celebrated the transfer of the pack into their newly erected large enclosure. But first they had to be lured into cages for transport to the enclosure and then released.

So far a job well done. There were once approximately 500,000 African Wild Dogs in 39 countries,  now  there are only about 3,000-5,500 in perhaps only 14 countries. Requiring huge areas of land to range over, most African parks are too small for them, and they will roam into human areas, often being killed by farmers protecting their stock.

I'm a fan of these wonderful Painted dogs  as we have one ourselves. Just a shelter rescue mutt, but she's my friend each day at work where we trot off together each day. She'll howl along to Dolly Parton or Emmylou Harris yodelling , and bark to let me know if clients approach.
Spot the difference-

Yep , my Lilly wants to play ball.

All photos are courtesy Naankuse. Except for my Lilly.
Learn more about Africa's painted dogs here- 


Friday, November 12, 2010

Why I'm still a handsome guy.

Some years ago I began to practise a self taught form of immediate meditation. I didn't realise it was like meditation until I started reading about Buddhism and came across meditation techniques, and thought yeah, that's similar to what I'm doing, but I don't take all day over it. And I don't count breaths, nor stare at my belly button for hours. I've been on a long journey since 1972, trying to understand and develop intuitive abilities. Why? Well it has been a guide throughout my life, and has lead me down interesting pathways in my career and family life.

1972, NZ Territorial Army training. Our intake was one of the last to train with the Sten submachine gun as the Army was adopting the US AR-15 M16 Armalite. The Sten was a cheap, blow-back action sub-machine gun, mass produced during WW11, which could fire 9mm rounds on single or automatic. Our platoon was ecstatic because all of us testosterone driven kids would finally fire a sub-machine gun instead of the single fire FN SLR  we were lugging around. Heavy brutes.

Sten gun, Pic ex Wikipedia.

Our platoon was briefed by the Armourer NCO about the Sten's capabilities, how to use it, safety and then finished off with a quick summary of known problems, explaining that because the Sten and it's ammo were old, and cheaply mass manufactured, it could experience blockages, where a round gets stuck in the spout. If you pull the trigger again, or on auto, then the next round colliding with the stuck round will blow up the gun, and send the breech block backwards taking your jaw with it.

"But don't worry chaps because in all my 19 years in the Army, I've never seen it happen!"

Our squad were second up on the firing mounds to fire 10 rounds single shot, aimed with the gun held up by our faces for sighting. I pulled the trigger once, then again...and my finger froze... as somewhere in my mind a voice said "Don't pull the trigger, Jim!"
I froze, finger on the trigger, and I just knew I cannot fire again.
"Soldier, keep firing !" yells the Rangemaster .
"No Sargent. I'm not firing"
"Keep firing. You're holding up the squad!" he yelled again.
I made safe the weapon, stepped down off the mound, and presented the gun to the advancing irate Sargent.
He checked the weapon, opened the breech then looked down the bore and went white! I still remember the look on his face as he realised there was a round stuck in the bore.
Had I pulled that trigger again, I'd not be the handsome fellow I am today! And he'd ordered me to fire....

A hurried conversation between NCO's and Officers and the gun was sent off to the armoury. Then the Sargent comes over to me, and asked me how I knew.
What could I say...a voice in my head? They'd send me off to sick bay.
"I just knew, Sargent." I said.
"You couldn't just know, Lance Corporal".
I shrug my shoulders and repeated, '' I just knew, Sargent".

A voice in my head... Well since then it has happened many times often when a danger might present, or a major decision is required. Either as if someone has spoken to me, or as a very strong impression that something has to be done a certain way, or an event or decision needs me to take a certain action.

It's a very strong certainty of knowing the correct decision.

It's called instinct, or intuition, many of us have it, most of us ignore it in preference to using logical or rational thinking. Over the years that event has stuck in my mind and I have tried to heighten that ability.

A quote from a Buddhist website-
"Detachment, objectivity, is an invaluable aid to clear thinking; it enables a man to sum up a given situation without bias, personal or otherwise, and to act in that situation with courage and discretion."

My way is just a quickie way of finding that detachment from the moment, voiding your mind of any thoughts, ignoring any outside influences, knowing the difference between feelings of want or greed, objectivity, etc, and just allowing a 'reading' of what your inner self, or your intuition is telling you about any situation you are in, or any dilemma you are facing. Allowing your intuitive response to occur rather than swamping it with our rational, logical mind. Can be done very quickly.

We all have intuition, well most of us anyway, but we're never taught to use it and instead we blanket, smother, or discourage it, because our education, and our social conditioning teaches us that whenever we make a decision we've got to have logical reasons for making that choice or taking that action. Hey, you can't just do it! You've got to have a reason, a logical reason. The figures have got to stack up.

After a while you begin to read what your instinct is telling you.And it's always right, often contrary to the logical analytical answer.
But more of us may be able to develop their intuition by adopting a similar meditation technique.
After all, it's just another way of altering your consciousness, and all the religions and beliefs in this world adopt different means to achieve the same inner peace, the same type of answer from within, perhaps?

Readers might like to read this story, it's true by the way, about an incident that happened when visiting Tuol Sleng, Phnom Pehn, Cambodia.
The Traveller World Guide
In strange, intimidating, or new situations, or when needing to make a decision I try to use my perceptive abilities, by practising a form of quickie meditation, blanking out my mind, ignoring any outside influences, and seeking that immediate inner intuitive response. Over the years this ability to sense influences in my surroundings, or happenings to loved ones has been a rather interesting journey.
There are many more stories.......


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Three Very Courageous Women In The Elephant Wars.

The previous post -Elephant Wars In Chad : SOS Elephants talked about a new website set up to seek support for this organisation.  Much of the information about SOS Elephants in my post has been written by a very enthusiastic woman, Meredith Kirkpatrick. Conservation of wildlife would be in a far worse state than it is today, but for the amazing work a relatively few dedicated individuals do, in seeing the need for an organisation, and gathering other followers together to work on much needed projects. I asked Meredith to  provide a bio about herself and how she met her friend Siggi  Hosenfield, another keen supporter of Stephanie Vergniault, because these 3 women are  instrumental in creating the framework for others to combine forces and effort in fighting for the survival of Chad's elephants.

Elephants out on a date at the local watering hole.

This is Meredith's story-

It was at a very young age that I discovered two things that would be very important to me throughout my life. These two things would be a necessary food for my soul. Like water is to the body. That is nature, and the wildlife that calls nature’s intricate web, “home”.

While growing up I had my fair share of hardships just like any other child, but I was lucky in the fact that I grew up with nature all around me, and it suited me. I was in my element, stuffing my pockets full of tiny tree frogs, catching lightning bugs, fishing all day under the shade of the forts I had built dotted along the river to protect what I truly believed belonged to me, my sister ,and the occasional lucky friend who joined us. I would run wild through the woods until the moon was high in the sky, and my eyes could no longer stay open despite what my heart wanted. As I drifted off into my dreams, I would curl my fingers under my nose and smell the fresh earth caked under my nails. The smell brought me back to nature. It brought me back home.

The day that I discovered how powerful I was as a human, and the impact I could make on the world around me, is as clear to me as if it had just happened yesterday. I set off on one of my daily fishing adventures. I packed up my wheel barrow with my poles, tackle box, worms, and of course my dad’s old painter’s bucket for my fish. I would normally catch spotted sun fish and yellow perch. I would bring them home at the end of the day, and clean them for my parents to fry.

However, on this one particular day, I caught a catfish, not my typical spot or perch. It was the biggest fish I had ever seen. I put the fish in the bucket, and because nothing else would fit in the bucket, my fishing day had come to a close. I packed up and headed home. 30-40 min later I was ready to show my mother what I had caught. I opened the bucket and to my surprise the fish was still alive! Gasping for air! To put it short…..I lost it. I threw my small body on the ground and screamed out in terror at the thought that I had caused the fish to suffer and to suffer for so long. My mother tried to calm me, but the only thing that would satisfy me was to get the fish back to the river, back in its home. My mother threw me and the fish in the car. We sped down to the cul de sac where the trail lead out to my favorite spot. I carried that bucket to the river and cried the whole way. Once I got to the rivers edge, I very gently put the catfish back in the water. It sat in one place for a bit and then it finally swam away. I was inconsolable for the rest of the night. I was terrified at the thought that I had the power to take life from something that wanted to live so badly. It was the first time I realized how powerful I was, and right then I knew I wanted to help to teach people how to protect nature and wildlife. I knew , even that young, that I wanted to give back to nature and wildlife because it gives me so much everyday.

With all of that said, I am always on the lookout for others who share my compassion and drive to protect wildlife. That is how I came to find one of the most amazing women I have ever met. I came across an article written about Stephanie Vergniault  Stephanie Vergniault who had started an organization in Chad, Africa called SOS Elephants. She had come to Chad to help with the elections, but while she was there she found herself in the middle of a full blown war on elephants. She started to work with the local communities, and local armed forces who where just as concerned as she was about the Ivory Wars. I had to meet her! I wrote her immediately and told her I wanted to help her in any way I could. We began talking back and forth about all the things she needed. She quickly introduced me to Siggi Hosenfeld, who has been working closely with Stephanie on raising awareness about SOS Elephants. Besides being one of the most positive people I have ever come across, Siggi is a wildlife photographer and a conservationist. She has traveled extensively throughout Africa working and volunteering on various conservation projects.

Knowing that there are women like these out there fighting for the survival of one of the most important keystone species of our time brings me a feeling of hope. A hope that all of us can find that fight in us, as I did as a small girl on the banks of a southern river shore. A hope that we can band together and stand up for all the wild lands and the animals that inhabit them. They need us, as much as we need them.

SOS Elephants are creating an orphanage for baby eles who have lost their mothers to poachers.

Thanks Meredith. Wonderful story.
We will be supporting SOS Elephants  and have made a donation. Can you?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Elephant wars in Chad : SOS Elephants

Elephants are being massacred in many parts of Africa, at an alarming rate, fuelled by rising affluence in China and the rising demand for ivory.  Incredible to think that we will wipe out a species just so we can make some trinket out of their teeth. As travellers, think about it before buying another souvenir that might just look great hanging around your neck or adorning your wall. What great animal died to provide it?

 Elephants are a special interest for me. I have been up close to them unexpectedly, Moonlight Nightmare  and in Kruger Park and was fascinated by their gentle nature as long as you gave them space and heeded their warning signs. Our largest land animal has an intricate social  behaviour and displays a very high intelligence. Their interaction with their environment is essential for the well being of other species, by digging seep holes for water, by keeping the savanna open, making pathways that help serve as firebreaks, and also dispersing seeds. Our world will be poorer should they disappear.

My experience with desert elephants while at  EHRA in Namibia fuelled an interest in Mali and Chads desert adapted elephants. And I have been following news of Stephanie Vergniault's work combating poaching in Chad -
 The unseen elephant wars in Chad

Stephanie Vergniault inspects a recent killing.

Central Africa is one of the last regions with a sizable population of African elephant, but their numbers are only a fraction of what they used to be. In Zakouma National Park in Chad there are an estimated 600 elephants. Twenty years ago there were 40,000. saving-elephants-in-chad
20 years........!

20 years of this!

Today , I have received this brief on a newly founded  website  that I now wholeheartedly support.

 A small donation can be easily made at their website by Paypal.

SOS Elephants was founded in 2009 by Stephanie Vergniault after she realized the dire situation the elephants of Chad were facing. The poaching of elephants for their ivory was on the rise, while global awareness of the problem was down. SOS Elephants hopes to change that. SOS Elephants’ mission is to be dedicated to the preservation of elephants and their habitats throughout various African regions by employing methods in research, education, conservation and counter poaching disciplines. Specifically we strive to:

• Make the global communities aware of the fight for the survival of the African Elephant.

• Educate local communities and global communities alike about the important role the African elephant plays in the environment and the ecosystems we depend on.

• Work with and support local communities in ecotourism, something that elephants have a major role in.

• Contribute to the conservation of the African elephant and their habitats through conservation and education by promoting sustainable communities and livelihoods.

• Aid local anti poaching tasks forces in their fight against poaching.

• Provide a safe house for elephants that have been orphaned by the hands of poachers, in hopes that one day they can be released back into their wild environments

A small donation can be easily made at their website by Paypal -
Thanks. We need you!

Elephant culling issue.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The effects of the Christchurch Earthquake.

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch , New Zealand  at 4.35AM, Sept. 4th this year. Our hometown was lucky to escape such a large shake with no loss of life, and relatively few casualties. This has been a traumatic event, and we have been keenly interested as we have many family and friends living in our South Island's largest city. It is hard for us to truly understand the full effects the quake had upon people at the time, and more so the after effects as aftershocks keep rocking the city. The stress of living with daily tremors  must be debilitating for many.  It has not been surprising for us to hear friends have been prescribed motion sickness pills as many minor shakes have been recorded daily.
I've never written about my home city's quake, as I believe it's not my story to tell. The story rightfully belongs to those who experienced it. The following story is from a Christchurch friend who experienced the horror. We'll call  him ''Grumpy"
....he's probably got every right to be.

In the same way that so many remember what they were doing on November 22 1963, (Dallas Texas) or August 31 1997 (Paris tunnel) the people of Christchurch will always remember what the were doing in the early hours of September the 4th 2010! If we had had the extra few days on the Sunshine Coast then this would not be indelibly etched on my memory.

Suddenly I realised I was awake. I wanted to be asleep but something was happening. There was a scream. It was my wife. There is the sudden realisation that we are experiencing an earthquake. The noise was horrifying! Something like a cross between a Boeing taking off and a London tube rushing from the tunnel to the platform!

Later you are told it lasted around 30 seconds. However at the time everything is in slow motion. I guess that’s the adrenalin.

Some how we manage to remember “door frame” and we are holding each other in a door frame. Walking anywhere is impossible; it feels like extreme turbulence or a rough crossing on Cook Strait. The dog is a bit bemused by all of this, but he picks up on our anxiety and has a good bark. While that may work for him it doesn’t do a lot for us, but when we grab his collar he decides it’s no longer his problem and he settles down. I wish someone would grab my collar.

The house continues to heave in a sort of cork screw motion. I thought, “So this is the big one!” We were very conscious that it is getting a lot stronger. 30 seconds can be an incredibly long time.

We had felt absolute terror! I can’t say I have ever experienced it before and I never want to feel it again.

I expected the house to collapse, but it didn’t. The power has now gone off. When it all settles down I tell my wife I’m going to get the torch. I’m told to put shoes on and I remark, “It’s no time to worry about what I’m wearing.” I feel a bit stupid when I’m reminded that our pictures may be off the walls and the floor strewn with glass. Shoes on, I go and get the rechargeable torch from the bracket and with enormous relief find that was where it was supposed to be and it worked.

There is aftershock after aftershock so we decide to get in our 4X4 outside. In a very short time we have grabbed medication, hearing aids, and mobile phones. We must be really old! We even manage to grab camping gear and throw it in the back of the truck. None of our friends believe we were capable of all of this. When I reflect on back, I am staggered that we were that organised and calm.

The truck hadn’t been started in a month so getting behind the wheel I hoped the battery was not flat. It seemed to take for ever to start. Apparently that’s just how diesels work. Once it coughed into life we just moved to the middle of the road, away from any possible falling debris. The shocks after the main jolt are called aftershocks. This implies they are minor. We had a series of ‘5’s”. A 5 is a significant shake. It is very noisy. The family car was rocked a meter down the gentle slope of our drive. We were sitting in the road watching everything move. Again it was in slow motion. The neighbours were coming out now and one group, worried about Tsunami leapt in their car and headed for the hills and the quake epicentre.

At least the truck radio worked. Very quickly details were available. We sat there desperately trying to get family on the mobiles. Remarkably they were still working. Unfortunately with the power off, cordless phones didn’t work at the other end, and others were inconsiderate enough not to have their phone turned on in the middle of the night. It seemed highly likely that this was the sort of event that killed people. As we finally tracked everyone down we had an immense feeling of relief.

Just like in the movies the day dawned and we moved into a period of calm. We could check everything and take stock of it all. We were lucky, a few things had broken but there was no visible damage to our house. We would be back to normal quickly, put this behind us and a laugh about it all. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a movie and it would not be quite as simple as that.
Just one of many buildings damaged or collapsed.

I've asked Grumpy to supply a follow up article , based upon living with the after effects. How do people go about rebuilding their lives, homes and businesses ?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Travel Competitions

Each month I'm updating my Travel Competition  list you'll find on the right hand side under "About Me".

Keep checking there, new competitions links are added  whenever they are announced.

The latest offering from Intrepid Travel has just got to be an incredible opportunity. Go to their site Intrepid Travel and follow the simple instructions for a chance to win 30 trips in 30 days!
And remember to place an entry every day! Good luck everyone.