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Kian Barker
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Shakabarker Tours

Kian Barker

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info@shakabarker.co.za

Family matters

Greetings and salutations,

Generally our tours are couples and small families traveling together. This means that on any particular night or day there is a “getting to know each other” on the vehicle or boat. Sometimes there are a few families that travel together. When these families reach St. Lucia the parents and kids are pretty well acquainted. Parents engage in the usual dead rooted conversation, whereas their kids are in a different level of conversation. Conversation that I can only describe as social media induced verbal discourse. Conversation seems constantly updated and fired up by each and every kid that is on the web- Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and any other trending social media tool.

In August we get half the world visiting St. Lucia and in this case we had four families on our vehicle with a lot of social media bonding that had taken place. Kids sat at the back of the vehicle and their parents in the front section. Silence lasted for part of my introduction, with intermittent glows from the back of the night drive vehicle as each and every kid connected to the Internet and harvest 'to talk about info'. Once my intro was done the verbal gates opened and social events of the world were verbalized and laid to rest or whatever happened to such information. It often didn't not seem the quality, “just talk about it”; eventually someone would say something and back to the phones they went. Well I could see there was a little challenge coming up and possibly the largest generation gap ever experienced by mankind was like 'now!'

Fortunately parents managed to exert some control over the banter and chatter at the back of my vehicle; serval, buffalo, hyena never made a difference. Even the amazing stars had little or no effect. Finally silence arrived, but then for everyone, silence was essential and close to being a situation; if anyone did not concentrate on the events outside the vehicle, they would not have been able to post anything on any social media or post the event to the point that they may have missed some critical points. This was during an amazing night drive that produced some really noteworthy sightings and at every sighting - parents attempting to shush their or collectively the children at the back of my Unimog.

Well, as we drove down vlei loop, a very productive section of the Cape Vidal game tracks on the Eastern Shores, we chanced upon a female white rhino about ten meters from the road. “Nice”, I thought, good sighting, but not so nice as the “social media chatter” went unabated. Suddenly to the right of me I heard a crunching and munching barely meters from my Unimog. Swinging my spotlight to the right I discovered a black rhino barely three meters from us. Silence was immediate and everyone seemed to realize how important it was to be quiet. I thought, “Yup, all the kids were formulating social media posts.” Dead silence filled the back of my game drive truck.

There I found it, an interim cure for social media chatter; sandwich yourself between two rhinos in the middle of a dark night, in Africa and the results can be quite astounding.

Hasta la vista!

The Knait Whrydah

Posted by Kian Barker | 52 Comments

Getting wet with Kobus

This group of antelope typifies the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Here we have a group of Kobus. “Kobus” is the genus name of the waterbuck and it has a related cousin, the reedbuck. These two species love water, even to the point that they have ducks' feet.  They do not take to the water for a paddle on a daily basis, but they require this "foot wear" to survive in the wet, water-logged conditions that they prefer.  This area is South Africa's largest wetland and certain features like, for example, the Mafabeni swamp qualifies as the largest peat swamp in the Southern Hemisphere. This is clearly a good reason to find loads of hydrophilic antelope, although there are a number of other species too, like Puku, Red Lechwe and finally Mountain Reedbuck that are found elsewhere.  But our two species are well represented in this area.

Waterbuck.  

The easiest way to recognise this beauty is by the large circular marking on its rump.  One guest mentioned,"It is like an unfortunate birth mark".  There are a whole host of other humorous jokes relating to this characteristic waterbuck feature. Here, we have a remarkably large population of this antelope and they are great, especially in the sense that they are very co-operative when it comes to photography. They tend to stand and stare.  The fact that they are grazers is also good because they are normally found out in open areas of grassland, unlike kudu that characteristically disappear behind bushes and trees just at the critical moment when you are about to click the camera trigger. 

What aquatic features enable the waterbuck to be so well suited to wet conditions?  They have a few unexpected abilities that are often not mentioned. Firstly, they have specialized feet, almost duck feet, or slightly webbed feet for navigating marshlands. These webbed feet enable them to walk through the marshland without sinking too deeply into the mud. Their toes open out and a flap of skin between their toes traps a small balloon of mud. This prevents the animals from getting that "sinking feeling".   Marshy wet areas also have a lot of blood -sucking critters, so waterbucks have special sebaceous or oil glands. These glands are presumed to produce an insect -repelling substance, which is not only repugnant to insects but also to predators. Ask any lion! Even the early hunters and pioneers avoided wasting effort on hunting these water-loving antelope.  If you are thinking of keeping a waterbuck as a house pet, avoid it.  If the large size of this antelope does not put you off, remember that you will need plenty of Chanel No.5;  they smell terrible as a result of their oily secretions.  

Waterbucks have a rather interesting social life. Here, they are considered the only antelope with the ability to produce twins. This is thought to be a response to the wet and dry cycles we experience in this area. In dry years more single births are seen. During wet years when there are more flooded areas, twinning is more prevalent. The male society is rather interesting. Males have a great sense of social duty and throughout the year a single male is generally seen with a group or harem of females (not the case with the Traglephids). The bachelor male waterbuck group together - play golf, drink beer, flip through the TV channels and leave the toilet seat up - just kidding! These bachelor groups have two generally accepted functions: the first is that there is safety in numbers (not too sure why, as predators don't like to eat them); the second function is that they are always scrapping or rutting. These little fairly aggressive fights ensure that these animals learn fighting skills, until they reach a mature age, when they can challenge a dominant male for his harem. Sometimes they may not be successful and they become satellites or sneakers; when the dominant male is not looking, they will sneak into his harem and have their way with his females. This is nature's way of ensuring a little more genetic diversity.  This information is once again only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to waterbucks. Taking a tour into this Park should give you access to additional information on these and many other animals. 

Reedbuck - the indicator species

Many years ago this area, before it became the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, had little or no commercial value in terms of tourism potential. So a plan to tame or utilize this area was put into place. This involved planting 14 000 hectares of pine trees into the wetland! You may wonder what was public opinion regarding this measure? As we needed timber, it was regarded as acceptable; just as cattle farming destroyed thousands of hectares of rain forest, and just as surface strip mining irreversibly changes the soil composition, just as the war in Iraq was decided upon without an EIA (environmental impact assessment). Many years later however, there was a need and a mind change and we then started protesting against this wanton environmental abuse. Trees were then removed and we re-invented the wheel by bringing back the natural environment and we all got excited about the eco-tourism potential of this area!

Where does reedbuck feature in this explanation? In nature, there are animals that respond to man's often unintentional interference in nature. This was seen in the mid '50's in the Kruger Park. Wild dogs and hyenas were shot off as they were considered vermin. Natural fires were stopped and as a result of this, the impala population went through the roof. Changes in the management policies (least disturbance management) had generally reduced impala numbers and things were looking better, although the Kruger elephants were a bit of an issue - a case of time accumulated biomass. In this area here, the reedbuck played an interesting role… 

When the pine tree planting commenced, it was started in the grasslands.  After ten to fifteen years, the grasslands disappeared under vast swathes of exotic pine trees. The reedbuck were then displaced and moved to areas where there was grass. Since the tree planting was extensive, there was much grazing competition in the remaining grassy areas. In addition, the pines consumed vast quantities of water that dried out many of the small lakes and swamps, changing a traditional wetland into a dryland, making it more like savannah. The option used was to cull reedbuck numbers to ensure there was no over-grazing or trampling. Over an estimated period of thirty years, approximately 20 000 common reedbuck were culled and the population decreased from 14 500 to a paltry 2500 in the early 90's. It was then that eco-tourism raised its beautiful head. At this stage it was decided to stop the culling and initiate a rehabilitation programme to re-establish the original eco-system. Pine trees were being grown more successfully elsewhere and the price of pine wood was very low.  Over the following years, clear felled areas were not replanted and in September 2007, the last pine trees were removed from this Park. This formed the basis of rehabilitating the Wetland.

Where are all the reedbucks? The numbers have increased, but possibly not at the rate that was expected. This has been a difficult rehabilitation to measure.  Annual censuses are conducted and it has been found that the reedbuck population has not increased faster than the waterbuck population.  Waterbucks have a nine month pregnancy as opposed to reedbucks that require only six months.  Two factors could be attributed to this difference or anomaly. Waterbucks can produce twins, and reedbucks are eminently more edible than waterbuck.  There are also more predators that are able to catch and consume reedbucks as opposed to waterbucks.

When next visiting the Park, you are far more likely to see waterbucks, but look carefully and you will notice reedbucks lying close to the ground in all the little swampy areas. When they feel threatened, they lie on the ground. The reedbucks near St. Lucia Village are in small groups of two's and three's, and as you pass Catalina Bay there are bigger groups of up to eight. The area around the St. Lucia gate was only recently rehabilitated, whereas the area near Catalina Bay has never been afforested, so as a result reedbucks are found in larger groups. I invite you to check them out on your next visit to iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Posted by Kian Barker | 3 Comments

First place without a race!

St. Lucia village is a great place to take a night safari. Our Eastern Shores night trip starts in town. This may involve the sighting of a bush buck or hippo in town. St. Lucia village is surrounded by the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site, so our resident animals and game see our unfenced habitat as much their village as the human residents see it as theirs. Every Shakabarker trip starts in town. We then drive into the park that surrounds our and their village.
There is a huge variety of animals, large and small, to be spotted on our tours. Some a little more tricky than others. Leopards are always first and last to be mentioned, and I sometimes think that there is an over emphasis on leopards and carnivores. My philosophy is that we are 'going to experience the night', although this is not what many visitors have in mind. They want to see a big and ferocious CAT. There is never a second that one can get away from the leopard pressure. Visitors imagine that every set of eyes, distant or near, lit in our spotlights could be a cat.
Recently this whole leopard in the bush thing was delivered a mortal blow. The subsequent effect was weird. It was like getting first prize, but never running a grueling race; having cake ingredients, but suddenly -before you - a perfectly baked and iced cake. I have to admit the chase, exertion and competition are often as important as the prize or reward. Yes, you guessed right..... as we left town we had the most perfect leopard sighting on the outskirts of St. Lucia village... A sort of Err... Um moment. Another lesson in life and achievement for all of us!
Hasta la vista!

The Knait Whrydah
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Lone donkey in pajamas

Imagine a double track winding through a verdant grassland. A simple track passing over shallow dunes, undulating like a frozen sea swell. The track disappears into the darkness, as our spotlight does not reach the end of this nocturnal route we have chosen. Alongside this track is a fence line, it seems to have a kinship with the fence, together in a parallel relationship, but never meeting. On the edge of the reach of my spotlight is a dimly lit, lone zebra. A weird trio of animal, fence and road.

Every night we choose this path, they are together, the zebra could leave and join another zeal or dazzle of zebra, but it chooses not to. For the past three years, a lone zebra, walking up and down the fence line that separates St. Lucia town and part of the Park within the main section of iSimangaliso. Up and down on a lone fence line and sand track. From time to time a herd of zebra visits this zebra, but they are separated by the 'Wall of Berlin' - the town fence line. Although the herd of zebra is blissfully happy in their own company, the lone zebra seems miserable on its own and not happy with other herds of zebra on its side of the fence. And this is the 'aah' factor.

If you are a social animal do not attempt to jump the fence or the cattle crossing. This particular zebra decided to jump the fence to get to the greener grass on the 'other side of the fence' possibly hoping 'his' herd would follow and appreciate his great gastric idea and adventurous spirit. Not so; it seems the rest of the herd turned back. This zebra 'turned into a field', the rest turned back and hence he waits to re-unite with his zeal or dazzle!

Hasta la vista

The Knait Whrydah

PS. This donkey in pajamas has the great animal 'aah' factor, second to a newly hatched flap neck chameleon.

Posted by Kian Barker | 387 Comments

Then it is a set up!

Strange things happen in the dark. Some are strange, some are weird and some - it is not possible to see half of what is happening, so there is supposition. Then there are the curve balls. In this instance, a perfectly well explained situation, was explained and I was bowled a curve ball. Although at the end of it, it seemed as though the FBI may have half raised the suspicion on this one.

Picture a giant hippo skull, bleached white by the African sun. The location, out on the edge of a verdant grassland, the final resting place of an aged hippo, that had her lights snuffed out in an ill-fated matriarch dispute. Now visualize a double vehicle track, that passes through the grassland to the last resting place of momma hippo. Daily and nightly we traverse this road to explain the sad demise of a once fierce herbivore, that fended off crocs and bull sharks from her bloat of fellow hippos.

During our short forensic zoological stop, hippo skeletal and dental attributes are discussed. However, to illustrate the dental make up of hippo, we propped the femur bone into the jaw of this hippo, to make the whole story process more visual. So this bleached hippo skull has its mouth open with all the 'ivory' clearly visible. On a recent hippo skull stop and discussing hippo dentition, an American voice from behind me asked,”Is this a set up?” Well I then explained how we propped open the jaw, but the actual final resting of this hippo was as it happened. The response, “Then it is a set-up!” I was flummoxed by this comment and wondered how much of Disneyland was a set-up! FBI agent?

And on we went into the African darkness, stars above were bright, the land was dark and I had no idea about the actual 'set-up' and what the desire was to elucidate this 'set-up'! Right till the end I was in the dark. Figuratively and literally. Just dark and I wondered?...

Hasta la vista

The Knait Whrydah.

Ps. Huh?

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Paid to wet my pants!

Greetings and salutations,

As kids, there were always series of weird initialed and not initialed names that one would use to illustrate a silly situation. When someone was absent it was a Mr G. Host; if someone was really funny they were referred to as Hugh Moore; lastly the person that wet his bed and wrote the book - Rusty bed springs (when beds had springs) author was I. P. Nightly. But this account has nothing to do with involuntary body function, rather a co-erced situation and eager night drivers. Night drivers being guests wanting to explore our World Heritage site - under conditions of 'hell or high water" in the dark.

In August last year we had rain that settled the dust of a prolonged dry period. August is our busiest month, loads of eager happy tourists drift in and out of our town, 'giggling' the wildlife and scenery. At any other time of the year if rain interrupts a nocturnal activity, we can reschedule, however in August, it tends to be a little hand over fist. Those that get a night drive will virtually brave any conditions to get out into the bush on a 'scheduled' night drive and if there is rain or whatever, pressure whatever and whoever to ensure the tour goes out.

In early August we headed out after dark on such a tour. The start was good. However, the wind and rain eventually found us. Collectively, wind and rain are a problem, either on its own is not a problem. If it rains without wind, there is little rain that enters the front of my vehicle with the front windows folded down; if the wind blows - we all get shooshed hair styles. In the case of wind and rain, I effectively become the windscreen! My OMC 352 straight six naturally aspirated Unimog has windows that fold down, so I get almost 360 degree spotlight view. When my windows are folded down in the wind and rain I get to be the windscreen, using my hand as my face's windscreen wiper. But this is not all...

After an hour or two in the rain, rainwater starts to trickle down the front of my jacket and onto the seat of my chair. Eventually no matter what you are wearing (and any rain suit is really designed to repel and allow water to run off and your body to breath through the fabric, but not to soak), you end up soaked! When you soak, you effectively get to wet your pants! I did, I do and I get paid to do it at night! Done it and will do it again.

Hasta la vista

The wet Knait Whrydah!

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The Game Changer!

This is an incident of blood, guts and munching. Generally our nocturnal tours are fairly passive. Loads of information, fantastic sights - all spotlit for the benefit of our guests and generally just happy, especially the hot chocolate time when it is a chance to hop off our vehicle and feel the night. Stars are often spectacular. So just a great gelling moment with mother earth and nature.

But it was when the 'game changer' arrived things rapidly escalated to death, crunching bones and the smell of bile, barely meters from a very quiet group of guests. And as I mentioned, most of our sightings are benign. This event started off in a very benign manner. Two hyena pups playing with each other. Nipping at each others ankles in the manner they do! Behind them, only a short distance away I noticed the flashing eyes of other larger hyena that seemed to be busy with something a little more serious.

After moving closer, we discovered they had cornered an injured waterbuck that had no intention of giving up and becoming a hyena take away. We watched this stale mate as two hyenas only became frustrated with their lack of bite power to kill and consume their quarry. After twenty minutes I suggested we head for other areas of the Park and return to see if these two bone crunching nocturnal monsters had any success. Hardly 500 meters down the road we encountered the 'game changer'! A large female hyena was heading towards this stale mate with nerve racking intensity! We turned and followed her.

As she arrived at the waterbuck stale mate, she immediately greeted the other two adult hyenas and they started with the end. Sadly the end took over fifteen long minutes of bellowing and struggling before the waterbuck's eyes dimmed and it passed into the world of peace and quiet. Their strategy was to distract the waterbuck from all sides. Every now and again they would dash in and deliver a bone crunching bite to the rear of the waterbuck. The wounded male slashed at them with well aimed horns, repeatedly making contact with the hyenas on their heads, but it was about persistence and the smell of blood and victory that won out this day, at night. Sadly the hyenas devoured the waterbuck for fifteen minutes before it died. Thereafter it was a case of a massive dissection of intestines, liver, lungs and heart until bloodied to their chests the hyenas rested and we departed.

We needed something stronger than a cup of hot chocolate and there was little to say. When we stopped 3kms for our hot beverage break, we passed two pups heading with speed towards the killing field. Truly remarkable the 'bush telegraph'. There was no doubt that they knew the exact location of the kill.

Coffee, tea and hot chocolate were welcome treats.

Hasta la vista!

The Knait Whrydah

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A strange strange kudu!

Night drives in Africa are generally filled with weird and wonderful animals. Often we think that all animals go to bed at about the same time us humans head off to Club Duvet. In fact for African animals, Club Duvet is a day activity, the night is for being out and about. In the case of other animals, they never seem to sleep and finally others are active into the late evening, sleep during the middle of the night, then get going in the early hours of the morning.

Zebra generally feed for 16 hours per day. Although quite a gastric feat, it relates to their digestive system and plays an important role in the relationship they have in 'managing' their grasslands. So through a typical night drive there are animals doing all sorts of things, some maybe resting, others hunting and other looking for greener pastures. And on this one particular April night drive we had a rather strange encounter with a passing animal while we were enjoying a cup of hot chocolate at 22h00 in the total darkness.

One of my guests, hot chocolate in hand mentioned that there was a kudu walking up the road, where we had stopped and was about to pass our vehicle. Our safari vehicle was between us and the road. As a precautionary measure and armed with years of guiding, I popped my head around the back of the vehicle, but carefully retracted my head and asked everyone to 'stay still, remain where they were'. Passing our vehicle, and illuminated by my torch, was a very fat and healthy black rhino. Luckily one of the rehabilitated black rhino, generally rhino with a calmer disposition. He was heading off to greener browsing! Needless to say everyone heeded my instruction.

After finishing our hot chocolate we headed back towards St. Lucia with a lot of excited people onboard my vehicle. It was one of those strange nights when very little happens until the last hour. Hyena and leopard graced our return journey, plus a couple of buffalo. Finish strong and we did!

Hasta la vista!

The Knait Whrydah

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Good Night!

Greetings and Salutations,

Generally when you are offered the salutation of "good night", it implies the future. Basically that you are about to wander off and find a bed to put your head down. Alternatively you are about to head straight to your bed and put your head down, without any need to wander about looking for a place to rest your wary head. Sleep is good. However, this scribbling has little to do with sleep and more to do with being awake. The awakeness is also related to a series of events that culminated in a "good night".

So it was impossible to anticipate a "good night", or hoping to have a good night, as few can predict what happens on a Shakabarker night safari. Most people not on the night tour, would generally be having or should be having a good night, while us, out in the bush, were having a culmination of a series of interesting and remarkable events to make a good night. Then when we returned from our good night, those that participated in the safari would be able to go off and get a good night ..... Of sleep. Two "good nights" in one evening.

So how was this all possible. Some nights on the #Eastern Shores are just perfect. All the animals are just at a critical distance from our passing vehicle. Co-incidental timing or Zen timing. And what was this trip all about, just about everything big, small and distant. Stars were perfect, chameleons were plentiful and all the big mammals were at a convenient distance, from our vehicle or on the road. On our departure there were hippo in the quiet hamlet of St. Lucia, once in the Park, a huge herd of bachelor buffalo, 15 in total. A sound of seven bush pig, hunting hyena and a nonchalant black rhino. This all interspersed by loads of general game and nocturnal birds. One of those nights that it was impossible to swing a cat without hitting something that goes bump and squeak during a "good night".

So that is a good night. Sometimes a good evening too!

Hasta la vista!

The Knait Whrydah.

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Rain, rain, rain(29.11.13)

Greetings and Salutations,

Always intrigues me that the most commonly asked question on the internet is: "Is it going to rain?" But since it has rained, how much? should be the question.

Past three days we had a total of 76mm. Last night was the cherry on top, a total of 45mm in a 24 hour period. This was all good soft soaking rain. A lot better that the giant storms over the highveld and surrounding areas, some places receiving hail
stones the size of golf balls!! Glad mother nature has kept her local meteorological conditions above belt ,in our tropical paradise.

Hasta la vista

The Knait Wrydah

Posted by Kian Barker | 1 Comment

Eco-bling bling titanium tipped toes.

Greetings and Salutations,
 
 "If you go down to the beach today, you are in for a toe surprise." Yes that's right, walk barefoot on our iSimangaliso beaches and you will end up with delicately "salt and pepper" dusted toes and even the soles of your feet. 'Nope, not oil'  I oft repeat. Adding that whoever makes the observation that there is oil on our beaches, I make them realise this is
incorrect. Our St. Lucia beaches, and in fact a good portion of our coast line, has rich deposits of titanium, zircon, ilmenite and pig iron. Good quantities of these and other chemicals. Unique mineral bonanza, and by losing your toes in the sand, these latent chemicals gently cling and hug your toes and feet when you leave the beach.
 
You leave the beach with feet adorned with ancient volcanic minerals transported from afar. On close inspection, the glittering dark designs are totally eco-friendly. Few realize the value of these elements. St. Lucia may well be the only World Heritage site where you can get Eco-bling-bling toes when walking upon our pristine beaches, beaches that stretch from St. Lucia to our Mocambique border. Definitely a to do. A great thing to do that is totally Eco-friendly.
Actually this may have never been, had it not been for SLAG - St. Lucia Action Group, established to contest sand dune mining in this area. A bad name only for the previous apartheid government, but not for the then victorious South
African public. Possibly a rare case when a public petition actually worked. At the end of the petition signing, more than 1.5 million citizens had saved our iSimangaliso mineral beaches, then St. Lucia. Beaches that would remain unscathed by sand mining. A devastating process that would have reduced our dunes to zero. The natural forest would have been stripped and the whole dune pumped through a massive industrial dredger. Still, until today, we have the Eco-pleasure of these magnificent sand dunes, the highest in Africa. So if you go down to the beach today, you are in for a pleasurable sand surprise.... and pat yourself on the back because public opinion and action did it! Your titanium tipped toes show it!
 
 
Hasta la vista
 
The Knait Whrydah on the beach
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Reddit, reddit

Greetings and salutations,
 
For the past twenty years my routine has been to do night drives, with something like the regularity of the nesting behaviour of leatherback turtles. A regular thing, and possibly more so in the case of Zululand in this respect. Darkness is special here. Sometimes quite a sensory overload; especially regarding the sounds and smells. In this case it was all about the sounds.
 
Frogs and their nocturnal behaviour are always a great feature of these nightly excursions. We seldom see them - rummaging through the wetland to fish out a frog or two could potentially prove a health hazard. Apart from the threat of hippo and crocs, being sucked into the mud is also a major danger. Since chivalry is not dead in Africa, ladies are offered first option to go frogging, then the gents, and finally the guide. This usually means that all and sundry remain on board in the safety of the Unimog safari vehicle.

Back to a couple of nights ago, we were parked next to a pond of lively frogs.  I was pontificating about frog communication techniques and how sound is ideal for nocturnal courtship in the reeds. In addition to this, there would be a lot of mating going on as a result of an approaching low pressure system that would inevitably bring rain. One of the guests decided to concentrate on the idea of frogs mating, and asked if they mated every night. I replied that they "ask similar questions about humans." It went down like a lead balloon! I suppose we would have not seen it fall, but the dull thud of lead hitting terra-firma would have startled any animals in the vicinity who were minding their own business.
 
Hasta la vista

The Knait Whrydah

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Australian Chivalry, it is alive and well.

Greetings and salutations,

During late May we have a large passenger Cruise-liner dock at Richards' Bay. This ship had the capacity to carry 2000 passengers and 1250 staff to attend to their needs. This area does not get many Australians. In one moment we received more Australians than have ever visited this area in a couple of years. Some had visited this area, but for the most it was a first time. The harbour was a buzz with buses, coaches, kombis and game drive vehicles. All transporting guests in a variety of directions.

Since my guests had a one hour drive to the Umfolozi Park, it allowed a little time to get familiar with them and hear about their lives in Australia and what decided them to visit South Africa. With the usual introductions out of the way we started chatting about all sorts of topics including 4x4. If you own a Land Rover and you find someone that has the same vehicle it is easy to strike up a lengthy conversation. Often these conversations, are interrupted animals and sightings along the way.  By the end of the day you usually have new tales of Land Rover ownership.

Well one charming couple that had spent quite a bit of time traversing the outback in their trusty Discovery (love-hate for most) Enjoyed their time together and apart. When apart his wife was checking rivers crossing before Jim drove their vehicle through the river. At this moment I said: "err..." What about the crocs. He seemed unconcerned and I said: "Australian Chivalry!!" Seemed really strange. But his wife said that she was quite happy to be the depth tester. And would
not want anyone else to take her job. "Okay", I thought "Whatever blows your socks off". Although I could see one day he would do it and there would be a croc waiting right there. In fact she was so good at this task that other 4x4 user would be willing to wait for her to clear a river and pass after the crossing was safe of the best route was found. Unless it was a little Dwarwinian thinking. Either or - it worked and she had been doing for a decade or two.

I will never think of a river crossing in the same way again. This is something Land Rover will never be able to reproduce and sell as an optional extra.

Hasta la vista

The Knait Wrydah.

Posted by Kian Barker | No Comments

Strange Question!

Greetings and salutations,
On every tour I undertake, be it on land or water, there always seem to be a string of questions the visitors need to ask of the guide. Generally most are routine, although I offer a huge amount of info at the beginning. Occasionally I get a request to repeat a certain amount of the introduction info; while other questions add to everybody's experience, and these often help other guests understand the animals and the Eco-system.

The iSimangaliso Park is an extensive and complex area of eight Eco-systems, each interlinked in many intricate ways. These interlinking pathways are large and small, and it takes the first hour or so to digest and think about the information to get to a point of some understanding of the complexity of this speciality environment. Usually there are a variety of animals that we happen upon. Only a major catastrophe would result in us not seeing one of them. Hippos are guaranteed. Plenty of them, and we certainly discuss them in great detail. How they fit into this wetland, and how they relate to man and how they behave towards the other residents in the St. Lucia Estuary. But then after all this deep discussion I was thrown a curved ball on this particular tour, and still wonder about the ultimate answer........... Do hippos think they are funny?

Generally I have a response, but this question defeated my armoury of answers. Try as I may, at that moment I felt like George Bush must have felt when he was told that Obama had won the American election. I ummed, erred and aahed, and never produced a sensible or certifiably convincing answer, apart from the fact that there is a lot more communication between social animals and solitary animals than we realise. Since this is the case, it is possible they may have some feelings, humorous or otherwise.

Yes, humorous or not, that is the question.

Hasta la vista

The Knait Whrydah

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Collecting Guests

Greetings and Salutations,

One of the things I encourage my staff to do, is use certain polite phrases or terms. It just seems more courteous and professional. It is an attempt to bring hospitality closer to home and ensure a better comfort zone. So on our
tours we have guests, not pax or clients. We "collect" guests; we do not 'pick them up'! When we have guests helping with the tours, like making a salad or assisting with a spotlight on a night drive, we show our gratitude and thank them.

In one particular instance I thanked a female guest who had operated the spotlight on a night drive.  Women, as I have mentioned before, are better than men, except if the men are hunters. Anyway she was really great and
located lots of animals with the spotlight. At the end of the trip I said 'thank you' to her and added that 'if she ever needed a night time job, let me know'. Well she said she already had one! At this point I was at a loss for an answer and she rapidly put me at ease by saying she was a night duty mid-wife. More recently I was caught out with my own wise crack. I stopped to collect a group of young ladies and their parents and when I greeted them, they said happily: 'you have come to pick us up!' I added that you pick up prostitutes and collect....' but I was cut short and told that they were hookers, in fact they were The "Hookers"! The expression on my face must have elicited their response, which was 'No, really! Our surname is "Hooker!"'. In social situations there is a an apt term called a pregnant pause. In this instance full term had passed and then some...

After introducing the tour we headed out into a darkened landscape of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, I had a great time with the "Hookers". Game was plentiful, nocturnal animals bountiful, hyena did their best. On returning to town I dropped off the Hookers and on returning home was glad not to be asked: "How was your evening, Darling?" What do you say?: "Spent the evening out with the Hookers", or: "The Hookers paid me to take them out"? or, "Had a night out with the Hookers"? Because that would have been how the fight would have started...

Hasta la vista

The Knait Whrydah under the radar

Posted by Kian Barker | 8 Comments

Strange Question!

Greetings and salutations,

Every day we head out on a tour, be it land or water based, there always seems to be a string of questions waiting to be fired off. Generally most are routine, although we offer a huge amount of info at the beginning, occasionally we get a request to repeat a certain amount of the intro info, other questions add to the overall experience and often help other guests understand the animals and the Eco-system.

The iSimangaliso Park is an extensive and complex area of eight Eco-system. Each interlinked in many complex ways. Large and small are these interlinking pathways and it takes the first hour or so to digest and ruminate information to get to a point of some understanding. In between there are a variety of animals that we happen upon. Only a major catastrophe would result in us not seeing one of them. Hippos are guaranteed. Plenty of them and we certainly chat and discuss them in great detail. How they fit into this wetland, how they related to man and their behavior towards the other residents in the St. Lucia Estuary. But then after all this information I was thrown a curve ball and still wonder about the ultimate answer: Do hippo think they are funny?

Generally I have an answer, however this question defeated my armory of answers. Try as I may, at that moment in time I felt like George Bush when he was told that Obama had won the American election. I ummed, erred and aahed, and never produced a sensible or certifiably convincing answer, apart from the fact that there is a lot more communication between social animals and solitary animals. And since this was the case it was possible they might feel some feelings, humorous or not.

Yes, humorous or not.".

Hasta la vista

The Knait Whrydah

Posted by Kian Barker | No Comments

Down the Road

Greetings and Salutations,

Recently a trip with group of Russians and Checs turned up a different comment on dung beetle biology. This particular Umfolozi day turned out to be particularly hot, rain threatened, then dissipated several times. After breakfast we headed down towards the Seme loop and the prospect of rain had brought out the dung beetles in large numbers, their numbers seemed to relate to the size of the dung balls they were balling and shoveling across the landscape, especially along our same traffic tracks. The usual barrage of question and info about larvae and environmental benefits were garnished with suitable answers or so I thought. After the third tennis ball sized dung ball that seemed to have a mind of it's own lumbered across the road, the eastern Europeans noticed that there were in fact two beetles involved with each dung ball, one was furiously trying to control the direction and speed of a mountain of dung, while the other clung, cool as a cat to the truant dung ball. So the Chec says, 'the one is working hard, the other be Russian!' needless to say it was impossible to add a comment, but only a chuckle.


Hasta la vista

 


The Knait Wrhydah on day shift.

Posted by Kian Barker | No Comments

To Cape Town and beyond

Greetings and Salutations,

A thoughtful diary: The Argus in Cape town and Route 62 in the Western Cape.

To Cape Town and beyond

On the 6 March we all tumbled into a little Suzuki Jimney in St. Lucia. Small as these little 4x4 Suzuki's are, 'our little car of happiness' was eager to deliver us safely to our destination. Speeding at 120kmh! Comfortably and economically. A pleasure and with a purpose. One passenger for an eye surgery appointment, one for an international flight, and me for a domestic flight to Cape town. The joys of co-operation! We had all saved and got where we wanted to go. I would say however, with a certain amount of confidence, that an eye op would not be an expressed desire for myself.

Cape Town is always a very pleasant destination after a hot St. Lucia summer. The flight was great. At one stage large summer clouds got the pilot off the auto pilot and onto his sticks. High thunder clouds stood up like giant aerial sentinels. They questioned our flight path. We therefore swung to the port an starboard a couple of times in order to find the safest route to Cape Town. It must be a little boring for the average pilot to have an auto pilot. Just looking at them in their cabins, I am sure they try to find a couple of storm cells and then plot a route to the centre of this meteorological activity, just waiting to take charge of their giant mechanical bird to punch the 'seat belt button' and swing the giant beast a little to the left and a little to the right.

Cape Town and the Cape Town atmosphere is always great. A giant iconic edifice of a mountain, so recognisable and definitely known worldwide. I need to travel, short distance or far, just somewhere over the horizon and back again. Returning is good as well. Happy to be away and happy to be home. Gives us time to think and have some objectivity about away and at home. You can even be away at home, when you have traveled. Just need to think about where you have traveled. We all need to do this, and think about life many years ago when no one travelled. What then? Travel brought a different dimension to our minds. Neither is it about visual perceptions. You can get that from in front of a tv or at a movie. But to experience travel, that is the real pleasure in life.

In Cape Town airport the first stop was luggage and collecting a hire car. Thereafter freedom of the road - off to the Strand, a beach walk and some window shopping. An alternative option for window shopping was the local fish sales area. The fishing boats had returned from a day at sea, so I checked out what was available and fresh. Freshness was in two forms: one was the fisherman's sales pitch, and the other that of my fishing and fish experience, no fish was in any inspirational state, so I opted for a bottle of wine for Dean and Fiona, something that improved with age! Both in taste and aroma!

Strange how an abode of a previous visit can be just as good as I remembered. I suppose we choose a destination that suits us, and, embellished with good friendship, this makes it all the better. The evening with Dean and Fiona was spent catching up on all our varsity friends. Loads to talk about, and Dean is the Gate Keeper of this info. He has the knack of networking. Conversation was garnished good meal and wine. Since the Argus was a couple of days away, I thought it best to abstain from the alcoholic antonym of fish. Sensible and not so strange that my body never desired wine as they were grapes of wrath in the fermented form.

Getting Psyched and roadwise.

Before the Argus, you have to sign in. The Argus expo is a major international bicycle/cyclist event. There is loads cyclist gear to see and buy. Never have I seen so much merchandise disappearing off the shelves. From Gu to tube glue. Frames to footwear. There were endless shoppers, many not even cycling, but mostly cyclists. Weird, as everyone was slim and trim, and well proportioned due to the hours that they had spent flogging the tar. Millions and millions of collective miles to make an event of 35 000 cyclists. Not just the miles, but the equipment, flights, accommodation, just mind-boggling and blogging stuff.

Once in the Argus Expo Hall, you are signed in to the race, and your fate is sealed: a great feeling! Once done, a little break from Zululand was on the cards. So with my bike I headed to Langebaan to knock on the door of a friend who lives along the Atlantic coast. Also a great place to do a little cycling and sight-seeing. As is the case when travelling, cycling in a new destination is good. Travel by car is good, but a cycle is better, although some of the vast distances we desire to travel are just too far for the average lifespan of a bicycle or cyclist. It is essential to go up a couple of magnitudes in speed, efficiency and volume of greenhouse gases to get there. Foot, cycle, drive, fly. Satisfied with a 15km cycle across and back Langebaan Village was sufficient to clean out all the flying cobwebs and head to dinner with Marna at the Mykonos Harbour. Could not understand why I had never been here before! Great dinner destination. Loads of sailing boats in the harbour, a great sunset and a pretty regular cuisine. Often there is a choice when it comes to restaurants. Good food, marginal setting. Good setting, marginal food. Therefore at this point I would like to introduce a third option - price. Good setting, good cuisine, big price. Franchise food is often okay. Not much imagination, but generally edible.

We ate and chatted. Marna organized me with a great self-catering option where it was necessary to drive a short distance along the Langebaan lagoon beach to access my accommodation. Close to Pearlies. Only two units, right on the lagoon beach, where the seagulls and terns fly overhead, and the view of my accommodation was overlooking Schapen Eiland. All good and indecently good value for money. I heard the owners had owned this property from 'before Pa fell off the bus' so they could do what they wanted in the business sense and still make money..

The Day after the Argus Expo and registration

The following day it was back to Cape Town after an early morning trip to the West Coast Park. At a Pearlies breakfast Marna and I chatted about slack packing and other tourism related issues. The setting was great, menu original and price good. But waiting to hit Cape Point in a healthy state never allowed me to explore other parts of their breakfast menu, like cold smoked salmon omlettes and Farmers Breakfast of steak, boerewors and a half dozen eggs. Loaded with my health breakfast I was immenently closer to racing against 35000 other cyclists.

Cape Town was having a little rain, Muizenburg more wind and rain. Going through Muizenburg was necessary as current road works were coming to completion. This meant that the Argus was being re-routed through this charming coastal town. Not knowing the route, I decided it would be prudent to scout out the new and improved cycling section, which would mean avoiding the Boyes drive section. My scouting took a while, as the roadworks are a mess from hell. Residents have complained incessantly about the digging and engineering required to recreate a drivable morsel of road.

So bad were the delays that after one inspection of a short 5km stretch, which took 45 minutes, I decided to escape via Fish Hoek and Ou Kaapse Weg. A little windy, but a view to die for. Back at the Strand I went via a back route that skirted Khayaletsha. At Strand I took on the fish sellers, but not to be outdone by their salesmanship, I inspected all the fish gills, at least all of the yellowtail gills. Dinner would be with Dean and Fiona and they had requested fish. The purchase completed, I headed for Heldervue and my second night in Somerset West. As we were preparing to lay two freshly prepared yellow tail fillets upon the fire, they received a call from their son. He wanted to be collected from Cape Town. This entailed a 45km trip into Cape Town, so the grilling of fish suffered an immediate pregnant teenage pause.

Off we headed into Cape Town, only to discover a slightly drunk and opinionated teenager - "grrrr...". He showed little gratitude, however this was to be expected - red light flashing, called teenage thinking. He had considered a train ride home "a rip off!" Obviously did not want his Dad to shoulder the responsibility of him thinking that he was not considering both options - parents transport and a rip-off train ride! The train ride would have been R17, the car ride cost R120.00 in fuel. There was little point in trying to have an argument. It was a long and tense ride home. Apart from difficult conversation and a couple of drugged people on the highway, we survived. On returning, the fish's pregnant pause ended, and it was loaded onto the fire. Perfectly cooked we scoffed it down with salad and other accoutrements.

The day before Race Day

Writing a diary has intrisic timing often dictated by regular day sessions: all about a day or a moment in a day, sliced between yesterday and tomorrow. It makes it easy to jump back and forth between all this activity, once you have written everything down. A great way to store your life and the small excerpts can bring back great memories. A good diary also acts as a trigger, because sometimes our memory fades, or we think it does. A good diary is like a brain tonic. Your memory jumps to life at the mention of little events that clearly would had been forgotten without the necessary daily diary trigger.

The day before a race day can be more nerve wracking than the race itself. My mind was not really on the race day, as I needed to collect my 'support' crew and head for new accommodation that would accommodate all of us. Accommodation near Koeberg. It always seems strange that people are willing to live next to a nuclear station, especially with all the info available about radio active energy and the effects thereof, although there might be a critical distance that makes it OK. In my opinion, St. Lucia Estuary is about the correct critical distance from Koeberg, about 2000km away. I feel very healthy at that distance, but brief spells under the haunting stare of a nuclear reactor may not be that bad. A nuclear charging for race day?

Tessa, a doctor by profession and progression, drove us to the airport to collect the rest of team Shakabarker: a meritorious team, consisting of Terry and Anel, who arrived with great gusto and fanfare through Arrivals. Suitcases and Anel on the trolley barged into Arrivals, and Terry, larger than life, pushing the trolley. This was our first flying race away, and it seemed the flights got Terry all fired up. He was in fine form and had loads of jokes and humour to be shared with the World, and all those present. After their arrival we headed off into the streets of Cape town back to Melkbos. Fortunately the start of the Argus at Melkbos was closer than the Cape Town Airport. Oops.

Race Day and a mix up of energy drinks

Getting up at 4h20 is never easy. Mixing energy drinks and race fodder for the race before sparrows have woken, is never that easy. One drink turned out to be a cocktail of protein and carbs. I realized this a little late, but decided nothing ventured, nothing gained. During the race the mixed-up drink tasted pretty good and mmm... I thought, I will have to try this again and call it the Cape Town Teenager. I did mix more when I mixed my drinks at a brief stop to tackle Chapmans Peak.

The first race was to get to the start of the Argus. Outside Melkbos there were a few cars, some with bikes attached, 30km from Cape Town. In it was unusual not to see a car without a bike inside or outside the vehicle. Thousands of bikes and cyclists in the early dawn with pre-race nervousness. Once kitted and ready cyclists were guided into the starting pens.A massive moment of anticipation. The babble of cyclists being caged into starting groups, colours aplenty, and loads of excitement. Two helicopters buzzed overhead. Slowly the early morning darkness gave way to dawn. The first cyclists were off to a good start. Soon it was my 'Uplaah!' and we were off. Okay, being the sixth group was great, four hours later the last group departed - teehee! This was mid morning by the time they got away, the sun had it's way with their skin and energy.

The initial surge of adrenalin usually sends every cyclist over the first ridge to Hospital Bend. Thereafter it is strategy, palletons and slip streaming. The wind was particularly strong. Roadside support was good, lots of cheering and clapping, although I guessed that after 35 000 cyclists, the level of enthusiasm would have diminished slightly. The full force of the head wind found us before Muizenburg and obstructed us all the way to Partridge Hill. Group riding was essential on this leg of the race.. After Partridge Hill, a tail wind found us. There is nothing like a good tailwind, although occasionally the wind was tunneled in the opposite direction and a little headwind here and there was sent to test our remaining strength. One break before Chappies allowed for a muscle rest and refuel. Armed with muscle and body refuelled before Chapman's Peak. A single one minute stop seems like eternity, with cyclists zipping past me. However the physiological value of a short stop outweighs a few lost positions. Soon I past them. Cape Town did not seem too far. But reaching Suikerbossie, Cape Town jumped a few kms into the distance. Chapmans was relatively easy, but soon after Chappies followed Suikerbossie. Even though I was stronger than in previous years, the hill worked it's deceptive magic. Finally over the top and away to finish along the Atlantic. Lots of water and liquid energy carried our palleton on home. In the Argus you are the palleton, no one cyclist is known, this final palleton is like a nameless beast. Tyres on the road and cyclist at the top, cranking away, through the palleton you shift, moving to the back and front, a swarm of energy and colour. No names mentioned, you just got to know what to do and where to ride. Relentless riding. Heads down and one common target. A common enemy with unknown comrades, toward the end and elation.

The end is always spectacular, loads of support, you arrive like a giant wound-up spring. Your whole body is still going at full speed and you stop! Like a raging bull with no longer a matador to chase. You've stopped and that's it! Errr... Medals. Thousands of cyclists pushing you forward, wih free energy drinks being pushed into your direction. Slowly you regain a lower heartbeat and the 'bull in a China shop' becomes a meek calf. Lying down and resting. At the end, you are with thousands of cyclists - chilling. Every tree has a little colony of cyclists. Then like perpetual motion, the whole organism starts regrouping, slowly trickling away on the other side of the end, towards Cape Town and their ride home. I did this as well, and found Terry and Anel where I had left them in the predawn dark, but now in the blazing sun.

We tripped back to Melkbos for a quick shower, a power snooze and then the road to Oudtshoorn was ours. First a stop to meet with Terry's cousin Ashley at Bloubergstrand for a late carbo lunch. Lunch and pizza, then off to the airport for a bike drop offand onto the N2! Sir Lowry's Pass always gives parting travellers a great view over False Bay. The falseness of this bay is a bit of a misnomer, as it is a great destination. A certain charm and warmth. The next part of our journey was to see as many craft and curio shops as possible, this we did and then some.

Not far over Sir Lowry pass is Dassisesfontein.. Go there, and you will never need to visit another craft shop again in your life. It is charming and has the most extensive gift, homemade goods, art and hardware selection, I have ever experienced. It is doubtful if ever a successful stocktake could ever be completed (and if a stocktake will ever happen). There may well be staff members that were sent to complete a stocktake and have still not returned from the mysterious depths of this Pandora's Box of crafts, curios, antiques, food fridges, freezers, cellars and pantries A crazy storehouse of stuff. Being there could cause a pathological condition in someone who had to buy or have everything possible that was for sale. An hour later, we were still ferreting out all sorts of weird wrought iron WW2 collectables, and more. On leaving, my comments were that this would be difficult to equal. It was. Other stops were different and we even came across more character than craft. We persisted with stopping for craft and characters and always succeeded. Even came across a whole town that was characterless. Terry in the end was voted Mr Route 62! Not far after Dassiesfontein we decided Riviersondend would be our statement for the most unlikely place to seek and find accommodation. After a short trip into town, we avoided a person with a bottle of Jik offering accommodation, and opted for Lovell's BnB. Cosy and sufficiently three star.

Breakfast was a little eclectic, a rather unusual mix of fruit, cereal and yogurt. The English component arrived with a small bowl of skins on spud wedges. All good and fully loaded with carbs and more, we headed towards Swellendam and Route 62. This route is through the small Karoo. Although we were recommended to stop at the place with animals painted on the roof, there was little shopping potential, as the craft section consisted of shelves of mainly commercially manufactured goods: goods that were manufactured in a craft-like way, but still commercial - untouched by human creativity. The caramel cheesecake was good and Terry amused and was amused by some of the staff preparing for a local function.

From here to Swellendam was not far and a couple of art and pottery stops didn't yield much. Once on the road to Barrydale, we felt we were in better hunting grounds. But we found a strange mix of fortune and fair. Each town along this route was totally different. It was impossible to anticipate anything. Strangely, certain attractions never delivered any quirky value, others were just a straight forward surprise.

Barrydale after all the beautiful mountain passes put the 'e' and the 'l' back in eclectic. In fact all three 'c's as well. There is an interesting collection of shop stops along the R62 in Barrydale. Many of the people who have grabbed opportunity here, are from other cities and towns, bringing new concepts and artistic expression. Nothing existed here before they came, but a catalyst seemed to exist and it inspired the newcomers. Although the recycling shop left a lot to be desired - "a bit rubbish", the rest was on target and each uniquely original for a small town. Concepts and shops ranged from jewelry to weaving, and the eateries were varied and ideal for the foodie craving in you. There were lots of bikers along this route. Harleys to Hondas, loads of travel groups, all enjoying the mountain passes and open roads. Just outside Barrydale there is Ronnies Sex Shop. The story is well known and I have decided to open my own. But since there has been an ex or two along the way in my life, I decided I should call my shop "Matha's se' x shop, nou Kian's se winkel". You need to understand a little Afrikaans here. Or ask a friend!

Not far past the Little Karoo sex shop is Klapperbos Restaurant and Craft shop. Very stately and had only opened a mere eight months prior to our arrival. Beautiful, crafted and renovated from a very posh Karoo farmstead. The effort and thought that went into this operation was remarkable, especially considering the distance - it was half way from nowhere. A great quiche lunch, with a very generous portion of salad. Strange how a salad becomes more of a delicacy in the desert than the flesh of livestock. Everything was good in this place. The owners were also very pleasant and obliging.

Ladismith was the complete opposite. We collectively agreed that if Ladismith went missing off Route 62, no one would be sad or notice. We had three major destination blanks in this town. The famous cheese factory did not allow visitors to tour this facility and the two cheese shops were less than inspiring. The one only stocked Cheddar and Gouda, and the other sold stuff that you could purchase in any regular shop in any major centre for the same price or less. Staff and service were also less than inspiring, although our spirits were slightly lifted by the wine shop.

Oudtshoorn was next, with a couple of spectacular passes and a brief stop in Calitsdorp. We avoided the famous Calitzdorp port and loaded up with dried fruits and goodies just before The Dorp of Calitz. Calitsdorp,.... I think you need a lot of port to live in this Klein Karroo dorp/town. Although it has great Karoo scenery, where your vision is uninterrupted for tens of kms. Totally different to the average politician's vision. We headed onwards. Oudtshoorn was getting closer and it was not always measured in kms, but rather ostrich numbers. I was amazed at the numbers in this area.

The town itself is charming, although our first stop did not require charm, rather a shop for dinner. We had bought lamb and ribs in Ladismith, and the rest of the braai was from the Oudtshoorn Pick 'n Pay. Terry met a long lost friend, then we headed to De Rust and Lidikwe: a great destination wedged in a grand rocky mountain range. In the morning and evening these red rock formations painted the sky red. Rugged and dramatic. A stunning oasis, tame springbok, blue duiker and loads of other animals. Water is the ingredient of any successful operation here, have enough, can do anything. And this operation did well. Needless to say after visiting my ailing Aunt in De Rust, thereafter a quiet braai of Karoo lamb and corn. Perfect weather. Karoo has that meteorological magic. Good stuff.

In the morning after venison pancakes and a continental breakfast, we headed back towards Cape Town, first De Rust for a community craft shop. Zipped through Ladismith, but stopped at Klapperbos for lunch, and took another break in Barrydale to load up on Ostrich biltong and other nibbles. Thereafter over the hills and far away, we landed in Melkbos for the evening with chicken lasagna and homemade ice cream at Tessa's place. We spent the evening regaling our Route 62 encounters and opinions. Breakfast in the morning saw us through to the airport and home. Home sweet home.

Hasta la vista

The cycling Knait whrydah

Posted by Kian Barker | No Comments

The dentists chair.

I have a great dentist. Actually I have a dentist with a great chair. The minute I sit on his dental chair I fall asleep while he and his assistant are prepping. This relaxed state brought me to the conclusion that I should get hold of a whole lot of dentist chairs for my lounge. I would decorate them in zebra patterns and bring alternative, pain free experiences on these chairs in my lounge. Seems like a visit to a second hand dentist chair website is in the offing. However this is not really the main theme of this diary byte. Nooooo! I would like to point out that I did escape from the dentist with a clean bill of teeth, but sadly with a bill of money to pay.

While chatting to my dentist prior to his probing, and during the oral inspection, he mentioned that the dental industry is in a bit of a financial recess, to put it mildly. Currently there is not much money available for people to invest in oral surgery. People are not investing in good dental work like implants any more, instead they are leaving gaps, rather than have a gap appear in their bank accounts. This is as a result of not having readily available funds, but also the average Joe Soap is cutting back on medical aid. Since my dentist has the gift of explanation, and is a personable professional man, I suggested he should skipper one of my tourist boats. As he is also an avid deepsea angler and therefore already has a skippers license, he would easily fit into the tourism profession. I also added that when the tour was finished, his guests would be able to speak properly and may want to come back to his surgery without any encouragement! We laughed and I walked out without my mouth anaesthetised, and being able to speak coherently.

Hast a la vista

The open mouth Knait Whrydah

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A shooting star

Greetings and Salutations,

On our night drives we usually make a special effort to look at the heavenly skies. Obviously clear nights are essential for star gazing, but if the clouds look ominous, we cover up to ensure our sensitive bits (electronic or not) are not exposed to any inclement weather. Clear nights are what we aim for, filled with many stars and planets. I then point out to all our avid night trippers, that we are going topless for the stars.

Topless is good as it allows not only for great star gazing and also witnessing the odd shooting star, but also for clear observation of bush babies and other sundry nocturnal species of animal, perched in trees directly above our vehicle.

On one particular occasion I was hosting a particularly attractive group of girls. When I announced that we were going topless, one of the girls said.'you wish!' So, with that in mind, I waited for the next falling star, and made a wish!

Hasta la vista

The Knait Whrydah

Posted by Kian Barker | No Comments

Spotlight, not light err..

Greetings and salutations,

Talking about the non-tourist type, there are those who are here to inform tourists, and there are non tourists who think they know everything. Recently, I had a Japanese film crew here over the weekend: a company that is solely dedicated to filming and producing documentaries about World Heritage Sites. As you may be aware, the crew is one thing, and the equipment is another issue. Traveling on an international flight must be quite a challenge for them, what with loads filming checklists, and to check the 'checks and balances' and all must be in place, and will be payable by cheque. Methinks you would need to be a Czechoslovakian to cope with all the cheque and checklist co-ordination. Anyway, the film crew arrived, having reserved a whole Unimog in advance for their narcissistic video-making venture. Prior to departure there was much fiddling with cameras and equipment. Since night drives usually depart at 20h00, I arranged this one for 19h00, just to guarantee we would depart at a sensible time and return before sunrise. In theory - all good.

In the process of loading the Unimog, one of the crew mounted a large spotlight on the roof of the vehicle. For a moment I thought it was an re-enactment of Pearl Harbour. So I listened for the gentle hum of aircraft in the distance, but only the sweet melody of painted reed frogs was apparent. After seeing the numerous cable ties and duct tape going into mounting this spotlight, and the impractical position they selected, I warned the camera crew that this positioning of the light would not work for two reasons. Firstly, operating the spotlight would be impossible, as the operator would have sit on the canvas roof or hang over the side of the vehicle. Neither of these positions would have looked good on the medical claims form or make for the smooth functioning of a spotlight. They however, persisted. I even suggested an alternative position where the spotlight operator could sit under the roof, in a position behind the light, for ease of operation. Nothing doing. Okay. After a good interrogation from the producer and director as to what we would see on our nocturnal excursion, we headed off to the best hippo grazing sites in St. Lucia, the first being located near the Ski boat Club. So, fully loaded with confidence, an armoury of information and camera equipment, we set off. Seconds into our journey, it came to a very abrupt and sudden HALT.

Barely 200m from our departure point, a tree changed our confidence level from ten to nearly zero. A tree that most folk would not normally see as a threat or hindrance, managed by its mere presence to decapitate the precious spotlight. Bearing in mind that a Mog is three meters high at the back, and the lowest branch of this tree was three meters above the ground; and their spotlight was three and a half meters above this total, the combination of measurements was a disaster waiting to happen. Within a moment this tree had removed and catapulted the light off the top of the Mog, dismantling the duct tape and cable ties, and sending a rather expensive spot light through the air on a silent nocturnal flight path to meet Mr Macadam. Clattering metal, popping glass with a final tinkling sound suggested that this spotlight had met a rather dramatic end, and now lay in it's final resting place.The spotlight ended up twenty meters behind the vehicle, in the middle of the road, looking like a wounded lamppost. The Japanese film crew said an assortment of uncomplimentary things. Some were said in haste and others with deep emphasis and passion. I never understood a word. Maybe under hypnotherapy I would be able to repeat the words, but a Japanese hypnotherapist may not have appreciated what was said about the truant spotlight that night.

After recovering a really sad-looking spot light, I felt it had suffered the revenge of some mysterious arboreal attack plan. We continued our not so merry way. The vestiges of the spotlight bracket, cables and duct tape were removed by the crew, not unlike undertakers clearing a funeral site. It was lowered like a dead favourite pet into the back of the mog, with all the due silence for a dead loyal pet.

If there was ever a session of good photography to be had, we had it. The main purpose of the evening was to get grazing hippo, and that is what we did. The second, third and fourth request from them was no different from the first. A full house. The first was a hippo walking past a 'hippo and croc' hazard sign. This was followed by two baby hippos grazing next to the Mog; and finally a large male hippo nonchalantly grazing in the open. Again right next to us. You could even see his four-toed feet and big black toe nails. Fortunately the spotlight saga was buried in the success of our evening, and the film crew and I returned to Hornbill House in high spirits, after recording some very unique wild life moments.

Hast a la vista

The Knait Whrydah

Posted by Kian Barker | 265 Comments

Aardvark family

Greetings and Salutations,

One thing is for certain the more time spend out at night increases the probability of rare and unusual sightings. One recent even not even a week ago produced an aardvark, but a little one, maybe 5kgs. Aardvark are difficult when it comes to estimating there size because of their weird shape and the fact they are scare. So give or take a couple of kgs on this burrowing ant eater!

Eating ants with a long sticky tongue must be like eating a sandwich filled with beach sand, either of which has any gourmet appeal. Not even tomato or sweet chilly sauce to accompany this ant engulf process. I have always thought eating pronutro without milk was bad enough, but this would certainly take the cake, tart and biscuits. And about aardvark, on the Eastern Shores it is a rare sighting, a couple of times a year. But barely 400m this was around two corners we happened upon mom or a large adult aardvark. I felt like a cliche was in the offing! Two in one light or night?

The rest of the trip was great as per normal, although certain guests may have got a little tired of hearing about our incredible luck!

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A bumper night

Greetings and salutations,

Some nights are just too full to be filled with anything more. Even though there is more to be looked at. This happened on Saturday 29 Sept 12. The best aspect of this tour was that I was with a group of photographers and they giggled away. Now giggling in this sense has nothing to do with abdominal muscles, but everything to do with gigabytes of digital data.

The first section of our trip was on the old airstrip. This section of the park was burnt about 3months ago. Currently it is loaded with game. A phenomenon I have termed the Noah effect! It is when hundreds if animals gather on these burnt areas because of the fresh grass. There were reedbuck, red and common duiker, impala, bushbuck,water buck, a genet, and zebra. Just amazing. As we thought we had seen it all a freshly 20 minutes wobbly zebra foal appeared. Barely able to walk, it wobbled it's way around it's mother. It was still wet! By the time we left, the mom had chased off a couple of other intruding zebra and the foal was gaining strength.

Not far into the Park, two rhino that were virtually sleeping on the road, block our way. Now i am always nervous about the safety of our rhino, thankfully these rhinos moved off the road and over a ridge. At least out of the sight of any passing vehicles. Barely 100m from the rhino a young hyena was sniffing. I think we as humans sleep a lot, but I would guess that the average hyena spends more time sniffing than humans spend sleeping. Sheesh and we were barely 2 km from the Cape Vidal gate!

A little more zigzagging through the Park, loads of frogs serenaded our journey right up to hot chocolate time. After our beverage, a few lazy hippo still in the water on vlei loop, we headed south back to St. Lucia. But at our hot beverage break one of the guests asked for the most elusive member of the big five, 500m after our hot beverage break a large leopard bounded across the road and into thick bush. Did a Bin Laden on us, this leopard did. Very shy. Nice, very nice. We saw bush babies and a couple of other animals. At this point no one was interested! We all had reached animal saturation. I think some of the remaining animals were a little surprised at the fact that they were ignored. So be it, what a night - a good night!

Hasta la vista

The Knait Whrydah

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A cat and a rat.

Greetings and Salutations,

Sometimes and more often than not, I get a wish list. These requests or wishes are varied and either I will comment "you're easy to please!" or "that'll be extra!" and after our usual introduction we head off into the darkness. So in this instance we were on one of our regular night safaris, into the iSimangaliso wetland park. Winter here is considered warm in comparison to the rest of South Africa. Some nights are even balmy, tropical warm. The added bonus is that the grass is less and hence animals are easier to see.

So out we headed and en-route, the chatter turned up a request for a 'cat and a rat'. Neither of which make very predictable appearances in my spotlight. By the time we stopped for hot chocolate, we had bagged over 80 bushbuck, several kudu, chameleons, waterbuck, reedbuck and more. Stars were phenomenal as the recent rain had cleared the sky, so a brilliant tour. However not a meow or squeak! And the clink of enamel meant we were packing up the cups to head for our final nocturnal chapter.

Down we went to Mfazana Pans through the dune forest archway and as we entered the grassland, there on top of a ridge was our cat! A stunning male leopard, he seemed intent on the road ahead of us, as he was ignoring us. Although we could not find what was keeping his curiosity focussed. This sighting was great. Then my attention was averted to the rat component of the wish list request.

Hmm..." I thought, with half an hour left, let's see what we can pull out of the hat! And yes, not a cat, but a porcupine! Happily lumbering down the road not more than 2 km from our exit gate was Africa's largest rat. These rats can reach 40kg. Nice. Even I was amazed at Mother Natures generosity. Now I am thinking what sort of statistical probability equation would be required to get this series of events into some statistical logic. But on that note, there is a wonderful saying that you get .liars, damned liar and then statistics". But one thing is for sure we got a cat and a rat, but never got the statistics!

Hasta la vista

Kian

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Two ways to confuse a German in Africa

Greetings and Salutations,

In all my years of guiding, I discovered there are a few topics that turn heads. Even certain one's that cause confusion. Two in particular that are applicable to Germans. Try discuss these with Germans and there is wide spread confusion. The first is understandable, the other relates to the clever use and often incisive ability of the German culture in 'clarifying' names with clever nomenclature. So even though there is a certain level of confusion or denial, acceptance is imminent when an explanation is offered.

The first is cricket and certainly more than half the world's population will sport a quizzical expression when asked about the technicalities of 'the sweet sound of leather on willow'. However there is another situation that creates a certain amount of confusion when it comes to a certain outdoor activity. This one has no connections to certain Colonial culture. When on safari in this area, we often happen upon the odd Buchell's coucal. This bird is a regular feature on any afternoon or early morning safari. If not visible, it has a very distinctive call that has been given it the nick name of 'the bottle bird'. Producing a sound like a bottle being emptied of it's watery contents.

Germans when they arrived on the great content of Africa appropriately named this bird the Tiputip. Now if you spent a few moments of time and mention this name to any traveling German on the continent of Africa, there is immediate denial. And I mean immediate, a similar sort of response can be garnered from asking them about cricket. Do not even mention the different formats of the game. Like 20/20, ODI's and a test series. Nooooo! Well, there is certainly more logic in the name Tiputip, than cricket, once you have successfully passed the denial stage. It just takes a little investigation with the assistance of Wikipedia to gain a little insight into the very appropriate use of the name Tiputip! Tippi Tup was a notorious slave trade based in central Africa from 1837 to 1905, a Swahili based on the tropical island of Zanzibar. But the full spelling of his name was Hamad bin Muhammad bin Jumah bin Rajab bin Muhammad bin Sa'id al-Murghabi, The behavior of this particular bird is to enslave any food on thorns or any pointed article if they have caught more food than they are able to consume. If impaled in the correct manner, it will stay alive until the "Tiputip" is ready to consume the enslaved morsel. Some German ornithologist obviously knew his history, but never realized the apparent confusion this name would produce into the modern World. Believe it?

Hasta la vista

The Knait Whrydah

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Guests are not always right

Greetings and Salutations,

Each day in the business of tourism, there are new faces and some welcome backs. Welcome backs are great for your business. Firstly because you are doing something right and secondly if you offer good service it saves you on advertising. Advertising is costly, but without it a business would never get off the ground. This little anecdote is about new faces, not welcome backs. We need new faces because not everybody wants to do the same thing again.

In the process of welcoming new faces there is an educational process. Lots to talk about, facts, figures and advisory info. St. Lucia is unique because we have hippos that roam our streets at night. In our winter months there are more nocturnal hippo visitors than summer. It is this time of the year that they seek out the freshly manicured and watered lawns, it is due to the lack of fresh grass in the neighboring game reserve that makes them the largest nocturnal visitor. It is on arrival that we educate new guests about this situation.

Couple of months ago I had a charming couple that arrived to stay for several nights. After going through all the activities in St. Lucia, on closure I mentioned there had been stacks of hippos roaming the St. Lucia streets. I suggested they should rather use there car as meeting a hippo on our streets could prove nerve racking. I was a little surprised at their response "you are schmiling, vee don't belieff you!" errr.. What do you reply to something like that. You are trying to be hospitable, without being overbearing. Also giving good advice to improve the stay of your valued guests. 'Now they do not believe you!' I left it at that.

In the morning I have never met two meek and almost embarrassed looking guests. They hardly looked up from their plates and mumbled they should have taken my advice. As they had opted for Alfredos Restuarant, while enjoying some good Italian pasta, two hippo had walked within ten meters of their table en-route to someone's backyard. Their en-route was MacKenzie street, the main street in St. Lucia. So nervous were they, that they had begged Freddy the owner to give them a ride back to Hornbill House!

Local advice, listen and make an informed decision.

Part Two

Now, one thing is not taking local advice, the other is expecting to change the environment to suit your needs. Africa is unique and it is certainly not Disneyland. Disneyland is contrived to suit and manipulate expectation. Predictable and not very Eco-friendly. There are no subtleties, none, you get jerked around in a sugar filled haze or something along those lines. Africa offers slightly different scenarios, what you put in, you get out. Added to this, time is on your side. For certain wildlife experiences in Africa you really need to wait a long time. But that is not all, certain places the animals and animal activity dominate daily or nightly events.

Our lodging is called Hornbill House BnB, through a total stroke of luck we have hornbills that visit our facility.These trumpeter Hornbills make a great big noise on arrival and departure. This usually takes place at or near sunrise.At night we have bush babies that cry for part of the night, just the way it is, great atmosphere and adds value. Rather this than a busy road, screaming roller coasters or thumping disco music. However a couple of months ago we had an American guest that complained about our hornbills and bush babies! Weapons of mass destruction came to mind. Did this person want to nuke the landscape for want of better sleep? Or a deathly silent lunch time siesta? Not sure, fortunately one thing was certain she was never coming back, bush babies and hornbills are staying.

Africa is alive in St. Lucia, viva Africa, viva!

Hasta la vista

The Knait Whrydah

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Costumes, cozzies and bathing suits!

Greetings and Salutations

Sometimes and rarely you start a tour laughing, uncontrolled laughter. You just cannot get a grip on yourself and get serious. It happened the other night. This particular mirth related to a difference in terminology. It was a South African thing. Although our English is derived from England, some colloquialisms have crept into our language and phrases. These little nuances can be amusing, in this case it escalated into a serious belly, stress relieving laugh, one of those just give-up on being straight faced. I tried and it did not work after one of my guests started laughing. When he explained his mirth, my imagination fled like an impala being chased by a cheetah!

I have always believed that any tour should be preceded by a thorough introduction on the area with a historical and future perspective. This is what initiated the mirth, as during the intro, one of my guests, a gent by the name of Rob asked about Cape Vidal and I said remember to take your costumes. In South Africanese a custom in this instance is a bathing suit. A useful item of clothing for Cape Vidal. But I clarified it by saying not a Micky mouse costume or any other sort of apparel relating to Disneyland or the Renaissance. At this moment Rob burst out laughing, adding that it would be very amusing to see Micky mouse snorkeling at Cape Vidal! This made matters worse at I imagined Marie Antoinette hopping into snorkel at Vidal in a giant period dress. 'order, order!' order took a while to be restored. Once we finally giggled our way through the intro, we enjoyed a very light hearted tour.

Sightings were mainly obscured by heavy mist after nearly 50mm of rainfall. But a reasonable leopard sighting, bumper sniffing buffalo and good general game when the mist lifted certainly made a success of this humorous tour. A good tour and happy people went to bed.

Hasta la vista

The Knait Whrydah

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The interruption of the...

Greetings and Salutations,

One of the interesting aspects of an extended tour is that you get to know your guests a little better than on a short two or three hour tour. Recently I had a very successful trip to the northern nether regions of iSimangaliso. Successful it was, as we were virtually swamped with turtles. Loads of them, big and small. Although I will get you all worked up about turtles and being on a sultry, tropical beach.

This short anecdote is about a strange topic, in fact one of the strangest topics and a starry peaceful moment on the beach. Turtle trips require a healthy amount of information, but once this is all out in the open, good conversation follows about related turtle issues. Although at one stage when I needed to mention some important facts about these remarkable beasts, one of the guests mentioned that on that moment it presented "an interruption to the transformation of Buddhism in the United States of America" what?..... At a later stage did I only realize what was on the go. All eight of my guests had been on a two week silent retreat. Two weeks of not talking. As you can imagine, their chatter was non-stop. And the range of topics, which included the expansive topic of revising Buddhism in America. The turtles intervened and the subject was put away til our return journey.

Although another interesting moment did arise. It was one of those moments that demonstrated their mental training and physical discipline. Halfway through our walking session we stop for a little peace of mind and to watch the stars, moon and gentle waves gently massaging the beach. It is a special moment and these American Buddhist knew exactly what to do, they perched on the beach and quietly stared to the east. In the half darkness they sat like cheetah, absorbing their surrounds in harmony with nature. A supreme peace and peaceful moment allowing their souls to soak-up an unfettered harmonious place.

Shortly we were back in the turtle action, looking at hatchling and tracks of the adults!

Hasta la vista

The Knait Wrhydah on the beach.

Posted by Kian Barker | 1 Comment

Sellings beds to BnB's

Greetings and Salutations,

In the BnB industry you get to meet loads of people. People from all walks of life. I think it is possible to meet just about every profession. You name it and they have stayed at a BnB somewhere in some place. This is especially true when we have conferences and delegates move into the hinterland for a little adventure in the form of a safari, river cruise or something a little more energetic like a paddle, walk or bike ride. Then there are the reps. Loads of them staying one night and moving on after bacon and eggs.

But then there was one character that came to stay and do business whether I liked it or not. He was slick amid confident. And my guess was that he had managed a sale in every BnB and wherever he stayed. His market was captive. You almost felt obliged to give him an ear. This is especially true if you have a small personal BnB and desire the best for your guests. Well this character sold beds. Beds, beds and more beds. Often reps will not sample any of a BnB products. But in the morning due to his patronage of sleeping in a bed, he would provide a quote for new beds and move off to the next BnB. If he did not have enough time a quote followed and even a phone call. Way to go to get results and sales.

Hasta la vista

The Knait Wrydah.

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Intense, no chalets?

Greetings and Salutations,

In the tourism game you meet a huge number of people. Some are genuine tourists, others are business professionals and for the rest some are just traveling for want of nothing better to do. Finding out about the various destinations in any country takes a little traveling too. Now enter the travel writers and journalists. In both cases they are looking for information either to inform or interest readers. So some of it is "I would like to do that"' the other is how to make contact with the place you would "like to do that".

In the case of travel writers there is a lot of specific detail to be collected, collated and selected to give traveller the right stuff to make for an interesting holiday. It takes time and effort, interviews with product owners are essential. They also need to read through dozens of brochures, articles and maps. So it is intense. The intensity really goes up a couple of notches when they participate in an educational. Because here the writers and journalists are being driven, flown or shipped from one destination to the next. Eventually it can be very over whelming with all the information.

Recently, I had the pleasure enjoy the company of a well respected travel writer and she was chatting about one particular education that had a very tight schedule. They had gone from one lodge to the next, only spending a minimum amount of time at each one. So I commented: "that's intense!" and she replied "no in chalets!" and in the end we agreed that chalets were a better option for travel. More flexible and less equipment to pack and unpack. Viva la chalet.

Hasta la vista

The Knait Wrhydah

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There is a hyena on my road...

Greetings and salutations,

Currently we are gripped with the issues of electronic tolling or e-tolling. It is a massive issue with thousands of disgruntled motorist putting the gruntle back into disgruntled. There seems to be no end to this issue and the battle lines have become well defined as there are few grey areas. Me thinks it will take a while before the fat lady sings. In fact people say she is still slim and has not chosen her song to sing either. A matter of wait and see what transpires from our court rooms and how the media deals with this issue. There is slot to come.

Locally it appears as though our local population of hyena have decided to get in on this act. Recently we had regular hyena sightings on one particular stretch of the Cape Vidal road. A couple of young pups were involved and then we discovered why. Why, they were in the same spot every night. Well these ingenious carnivores of the night had set up a den under the road. Now with all this etolling on the go, I was just wondering if hyena could be more divisive than we realise.

Currently, with the position of their den, it is in the perfect position to stick out their heads and take a nip out of the tyres of anyone or everyone. A type of toll. Fortunately there are not too many in the Park. Natures way of keeping a natural balance. But if the converse was applied, visitors might leave this Park with very knobbly tyres, not unlike those of the average 4x4.

Good driving and if you have a desire to admire the stars or a hyena or two, give us a call.

Hasta la vista,

The Knait Wrhydah

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Hornbill House

Hornbill house bed & Breakfast

Hornbill House is a spacious Bed & Breakfast establishment situated in the residential area of St. Lucia, within walking distance of the beach and the estuary mouth, and as the name suggests, is host to the raucous Trumpeter Hornbills which are frequent visitors. Owner, Kian Barker, can offer a wealth of information on the attractions of the area and organise tours and outings.

Guests have the use of the salt water swimming pool and the barbecue facility as well as the lounge with television and there is ample secure parking in the grounds.

A full english and continental breakfast is included in the tariff while the main street of St. Lucia offers a number of good restaurants for dining out.

Three tastefully decorated, comfortable double en-suite bedrooms (twin beds), each have their own private sitting out area overlooking the gardens are equipped with ceiling fans and each bedroom has an en-suite with a shower. Tea and coffee making facilities are available.

The St. Lucia World Heritage Site is a bird watcher's paradise and famous for a variety of tours and activities, including World Heritage Tours, Night Safaris With Chameleons, Bikes & Hikes, Zulu Cultural Tours, Big Five Safaris, Turtle Tours, Estuary Boat Cruises, Deep Sea Game Fishing, Horse Ride Safaris, Off Road Car Hire, The crocodile centre and Whale & Dolphin watching (June - Nov).

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