After a number of years living in South Africa I, like many, have come to realisation that traffic lights or ‘robots’ as they are locally known, don’t work as well as they should. Faulty signals take up a hefty portion of the daily radio traffic reports and are about as commonplace as the faithful pothole in and around Pretoria and Jo’burg. Many have come to accept that they are a part of everyday South African life…but then again, why should anyone just have to accept this? Lead SA! Taxes are there for a reason…as are the lights (in most instances!). Either stop the cowboys from installing them in the first instance, or fix them so that they don’t break as often. Continue reading
One of the perks in my line of work is that I occasionally get to visit some pretty interesting places where an airport needs constructing, expanding or fixing. I’ve now been to more countries on the African continent than many other South Africans, including my wife – although she’ll probably agree that this doesn’t speak volumes.
One of my favourite locations to date is Skull Island – a fictional name for the actual island which I concocted in order to protect its location and our client’s identity (it would be a sin if it mutated into another Lanzarote or Zakynthos because of my post :)). The island could quite feasibly have been a filming location in Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong movie, but alas I see from IMDB that Jackson used some poxy excuse of an island off the coast of Wellington, New Zealand. I suppose I can’t blame him for missed opportunities; he makes some good films and very few people have heard of, let alone visited the Skull Island to which this post refers.
The journey to the island was a perilous one, with the exception of the initial SAA flight leg from Johannesburg. We landed at a transit destination where our party had a 2 day layover before catching a connecting flight to Skull Island. Due to the innate nature of many African countries, where fortune favours the dirty rotten scoundrel, an escort was organised to assist us getting out of the airport with passports, personal effects and limbs intact and to arrange transportation to and from the airport and our hotel without being hustled. Our troop transport had seen better days – I felt like dialling up duct-tape headquarters to let them know that I had found their perfect marketing tool. The shocks were AWOL, one of the balding wheels on the car I was riding in had three nuts securing it to the hub and judging by driving styles, I’m almost certain that our chauffeurs were part-time African stock car racers. Tear-arsing down the wrong side of a street in order that they could offer a ‘tout suite’ service was second nature to these boys. Seat belts (when working) were a must.
Somewhere close the end of August 2011 (if memory serves correctly), I boarded a plane on the way to Zimbabwe for a week of client-consultant-contractor networking. Our destination, a private hunting camp on a stretch of the Zambezi between Lake Kariba and Lake Cahora Bassa, which separates north-western Zimbabwe from Zambia. Two members of our party had purchased hunting concessions for a lioness and leopard. Secretly I hoped that the guy who had ‘bought’ the leopard would be unsuccessful, since they are one of my favourite animals; a real treat to see in the wild.
The rest of us were left to choose between accompanying a hunt, relaxing in the camp and Tiger fishing. I opted for the latter as I didn’t see myself waking up at 4am in the mornings to spend the entire day in the bush stalking big game on foot. The Zambezi scenery would no doubt be spectacular and something I’d kick myself if I missed.
Although I was excited about the experience having never visited the country before, I was also slightly hesitant due to the fact that I would essentially be landing in Robert Mugabe’s back yard. He is not the fondest supporter of whites and the British at the best of times, having passed land-acquisition laws against white farmers and dabbled in many other non-ethical practices, contributing to the imposed sanctions on the country by foreign powers. Some screws needed tightening somewhere. Travelling on a UK passport to Zimbabwe would be a little like sticking my middle finger up at the immigration officials as I passed through Harare airport (or so I thought). Continue reading
Day 4 – Leaving on a Jet Plane
Today was sadly our last day in Paris, but with a flight that only departed at 11:30pm, we effectively had the entire day to mill around and visit anything which we’d missed and/or felt like revisiting. We prepped for the day and then arranged to leave our luggage in the hotel’s bag store until our return. Rue Cler was on the menu for breakfast, where we sat and ate and watched the Parisian world go by one last time. We also visited L’hôtel des Invalides and lounged on the Esplande des Invalides (aka the big grass patch out the front of des Invalides).
Strolling across the Esplande, we turned and walked along the south bank of the Seine towards Pont de la Concorde, where we crossed the river into the square – Place de la Concorde. We’d visited here on our Day 2 Segway tour, where our guide informed us that the square had been where guillotine executions were hosted during the French revolution, with two of the most famous beheadings being those of King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette.
Guillotines long since removed and a gifted Egyptian (Luxor) Obelisk erected in the centre of the square where one particular ‘Louisette’ once stood, Place de la Concorde is a now a tourist hotspot and the finishing point of the Tour de France. It has unrestricted views up the Champs Elysée to the Arc de Triomphe and marks one of the entrances into the Jardin des Tuilleries. It also has two matching maritime themed fountains.
Day 2 – Segway!
My wife addiction to Segways began following our first Segway tour of Washington DC whilst on our honeymoon. Ever since then she’s wanted to buy ‘his and hers’ so that we can take the dogs for walks around our estate and/or pack them in the back of the Navara should we go somewhere where we ‘might’ need them. I had visions of us cruising around the Kruger Park being stalked by hungry predators who weren’t in the least bit interested in testing out our toys. At a maximum speed of 20km/h, there is no way that we’d be able to outrun anything!
Out of interest, I logged onto Segway’s South African website and found out that you can lease the units for R2500 per month (£190 in real money), with inclusive maintenance plan and insurance. This isn’t at all bad considering that petrol prices are increasing and SANRAL is trying to push forward with open-road tolling in Gauteng. With a claimed 38km range I could actually make it to work (21kms using back roads) in approximately 1 hour, ensuring that top speed is maintained throughout. Whether or not I’d be able to make the return journey alive is another question – there are potholes, taxis and other oblivious road users to contend with, as well as prospective thieves who might attempt to jump me (no anti-hijacking accessory is listed under the optional extras); and finally my wife’s non-supportive ‘NO’ when it came to actioning my idea (such a party pooper).
Anyway, on with the story! I booked a Segway tour of Paris as part of my wife’s engagement present, which incidentally coincided with a public holiday in France (the streets were much quieter than usual). It is an awesome way to get around a city without expending too much energy and you can map out any sights you’d like to visit again on foot. Stefanie our Canadian guide, who works as a part time Segway tour guide and art teacher was excellent and made the 3 hour tour informative and fun. In our small group we whizzed around Paris, stopped to listen to the history behind many of the main sights, statues etc. take photos and perform ‘extreme traffic manoeuvres’, whilst Stefanie controlled that traffic with her ‘palm of power’.
I’m currently penning a series of posts on a recent week-long break in London and Paris with my wife; part of our belated 1st year anniversary present from us, to us. Subconsciously I opted to write and publish a post about our evening out at the Moulin Rouge first – this was effectively our last night in Paris before returning home to South Africa (think George Lucas’ Star Wars films if artistic licence is required).
This post is split into 3 parts and commences when the wheels of our small and half empty Fokker 50 turboprop, left the tarmac at London City Airport on a chilly English morning headed for Orly International, just south of Paris. Our pilots, quite possibly retired Air Force struggling to relive their youth, banked heavily during our steep climb-out through thick clouds and high crosswinds. This upped the severity of turbulence on board and introduced the unnerving sensation of side ‘slip’, whilst the negative G-force kneeling on my shoulders momentarily transformed me into a mini-me. On the plus side, their antics afforded me unobstructed views of London and Canary Wharf through my cabin window…which was pointed near-vertically downwards. A full-restraint harness definitely wouldn’t have gone amiss, in the event that our captain decided to throw in a barrel roll for good measure. This was to be an interesting hour and a half’s flight! Continue reading