Travel Words of Wisdom – No. 54

30 09 2008

“Let’s go this way.”  “No, let’s go this way.”  “No…”   (Rock hyrax, Serengeti)


“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.”


– Henry David Thoreau



Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan

Safari A-Z: N is for Night Game Drive

29 09 2008

Things that go bump in the night.                        (Etosha, Namibia)

There is a quiet and intermittent ticking coming from the cooling engine. Everyone sits silently in the open-backed vehicle, mouths open, listening intently for any noise from the surrounding bush. Hands swat at mosquitoes while eyes strain for the slightest movement as they slowly grow accustomed to the engulfing darkness. From the right, there is a low rolling rumble, a deep breath and a heavy rustle. The guide gestures with his hand.  We can see nothing. He turns on a hand-held spotlight, and there, no more than 30 metres away, a herd of elephant drifts almost silently past us.


It’s not possible to do night game drives everywhere in Africa. Many parks restrict movement after dark in an attempt to curtail the activities of poachers. But where they are available, they are amongst the greatest and most unique wildlife experiences.


During early morning or late afternoon, it is rare to have a disappointing game drive in any park in east or southern Africa. Even the drive from a park gate to a lodge or campsite usually rewards with giraffe, antelope, zebra or elephant. Night game drives are different, however, and it is not unusual to return from several hours of searching having seen almost nothing. While it is much more difficult to find the Big Five than during the day, there’s a much greater likelihood of finding some of the lesser-known nocturnal species that the vast majority of visitors will never see. Things like honey badgers, anteaters, porcupine or certain wildcats. But any encounter at all at night takes on a magical quality that makes it truly unforgettable.


Close to the equator, darkness comes in the early evening and the intense heat of the day quickly evaporates leaving a biting chill. The best night game drives take place in open-backed or open-sided vehicles with nothing providing separation or protection from the mysteries of the night. The driver and guide scan the bush with a powerful hand-held spotlight, hoping to catch a hint of movement or the reflection of a pair of eyes. Sometimes, the vehicle is just stopped, the engine turned off, and you just sit in the bush and take in all the sounds.


Sitting amid a pride of lions and listening to them grinding into the bones of a kill is a daunting experience that sends rippling chills down one’s spine even in broad daylight. But at night, when you can only see the lions that are in the spotlight yet can hear them all around you and know there is nothing to stop them from leaping into the open vehicle except habit, that terror is taken to primeval levels.


But not all is dark at night. African hares bound through the long grass ahead of the headlights, their comically-long ears and enormous feet evoking smiles. Heads dart towards movement in hopes of a leopard, only to find a small nightjar flitting through the bushes, while the notoriously-shy shaggy brown hyena watches warily before loping off into the darkness like Bigfoot on all-fours.


Taking photographs on night game drives is very difficult, but then that is what daylight is for! Night game drives provide you with a unique opportunity to not so much see the wildlife you’ve travelled so far for, but to sense them, feel them and hear them.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Travel Photography 101 6.5/18

26 09 2008

Confessions, musings and tips from a snap-happy wanderer.

Let your photography be a reflection of yourself.







…or a reflection of things around you. Whether a window, a gleaming metal surface or a mirror, always keep an eye open for an interesting reflection. Once you find a good surface, move around until you find something good to capture in it. Some of the best results come from a juxtaposition of old and new or from two very different materials or structures. But remember to focus on the reflected image and not on the reflecting item itself.











Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan



What a pane!             (Santiago, Chile)

Simply First Class

25 09 2008

“Quick, check for pyjama smugglers!”    (QANTAS Boeing 747, Perth, Australia)

Upon setting foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong proclaimed “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Earlier, after summiting Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary had uttered the less famous “We knocked the bastard off.” When I recently conquered the most-pointy of pointy-ends and attained the comfiest of comfy seats, my first words from the first class cabin were “…like, awesome.”


Although I had been blessed by business class, first class had remained an elusive Nirvana hidden behind heavy grey curtains. Having enjoyed the luxuries of the second cabin, I would console myself that first class couldn’t possibly be better than the splendours of its less aristocratic neighbour. Much the same way as someone claims that their rusted 1988 Ford Pinto is just as good as a Lamborghini Countach because both get you from A to B, I claimed that first class held no interest.


They’re both lies.


My upgrade had come moments before boarding and “Mr Adventure Blogger” had been directed to the left, through those curtains and into a sumptuous secluded cabin of barely a dozen enormous thrones. The only thing missing was a chocolate fountain and toga-clad serving wenches.  I was divested of my jacket, handed pyjamas and asked if I wanted a drink. Although craving water, in my desperate bid to blend in, I instead requested champagne. My attendant slipped away.


When no one was looking, I buried my trashy war novel in my carry-on and retrieved a more classy freshly-purchased historical biography. I then attempted to look intelligent, important and thoroughly unimpressed.


“I’m sorry sir, but I’m afraid we only have Dom Perignon.” My attendant gravely announced upon his return.


I politely stammered that it would do and was handed a tall glass flute of bubbling bliss. My companions had changed into their pyjamas, but I resisted the temptation lest the moment I slipped into something more comfortable, the airline realised the error of their ways and slipped me into something less comfortable: economy.


My seat was more sophisticated than an early NASA spacecraft and more intimidating. I could barely find the seatbelt never mind the reading light or hidden magazine bay, and the thought of trying to master the controls in the massive armrest left me in a cold sweat. Straining my eyes to the very corners of their sockets, I attempted to follow the examples of my nonchalant companions.


Once the door was closed and I felt safe from eviction, I grabbed my jammies and disappeared into the spacious washroom. I slipped out of my clothes, hung them on a hanger, sampled all the hand lotions, aftershaves and towels and grabbed a chocolate truffle on the return to my seat. My clothes were whisked away to a wardrobe and I was handed a very large a la carte menu to select from while my glass was re-filled.


After a fantastic feast served on a large tray that had mysteriously materialised from deep within the recesses of my chair and which was adorned with a crisp white table cloth, cutlery and small silver condiments tray, I was presented with a dessert trolley of staggering variety. My attempt to feign disinterest was under severe siege. I fought to maintain my outward stoicism but the profiteroles, tartlets and ice creams taunted until I nearly lunged like a malnourished Great White after a juicy Ahi. Clearly, this was a standard test to see if I belonged. With shaking fingers and a twitching eye, I denied my bourgeoisie tendencies and selected the smallest of delicate pastries…and emphasising my right of abode, a glass of dessert wine.


With dinner cleared away, an assistant came to make my bed. As I sat on a neighbouring vacant seat, mine was reclined fully flat and prepared with fluffy pillows, blankets and sheets. The lights were dimmed, and I slipped into a 35,000 foot slumber, gently rocked by light turbulence.


After an equally impressive freshly-prepared breakfast, my clothes were returned to me from the wardrobe. When everyone else was distracted, I quietly stuffed my souvenir pyjamas and toiletry bag into my carry-on. The aircraft taxied to the gate, and while the creased, bedraggled, exhausted and smelly masses were held back, Mr Adventure Blogger was thanked for his patronage, wished a safe journey and directed to immigration ahead of the heaving hordes.


It was only when I collected my luggage from the carousel that my fraud was rumbled. As my fellow Firsties gathered their Louis Vuitton luggage, the absence of a gold ‘Priority’ tag on my well-worn nylon number stood out like a ball gown at a Monster Truck race. There was an audible gasp from my former fellow pointy-enders and looks of distinct disdain that I encroached on their royal realm and was actually merely one of… those.  I collected my bag, and with my pyjamas hanging out of my carry-on, slinked away to the airport shuttle and my budget hotel beyond.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Travel Words of Wisdom – No. 75

24 09 2008

“Are you sure we’re going the right way? And what does ‘anthropomorphise’ mean any way?”    (Antarctic)

“Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.”  
 – Ernest Hemingway


Photo and post:  Simon Vaughan

Basic Swahili Words and Phrases

23 09 2008

Hakuna matata!!!                         (Sunset over Stone Town, Zanzibar)

Just as authors, adventurers and explorers of centuries past brought the cultural wonders and riches of distant lands to their fellow countrymen and women at home, so Elton John and Tim Rice enlightened much of the 20th century western world to Swahili. Well, not quite, but few people who hadn’t travelled to East Africa likely knew what Hakuna matata meant before ‘The Lion King’ was released in 1994.


Swahili is spoken by approximately 50 million people in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the DR Congo. Although English is also widely spoken in most of those places and certainly anywhere frequented by the majority of tourists, it’s always nice to have a smattering of words and phrases to raise a smile, leave a good impression and avoid matata mengi! 



Hello – Jambo
Welcome – Karibu
Goodbye – Kwaheri
Yes – Ndiyo
No – Siyo/Hapana
OK – Sawa sawa
Please – Tafadhali
Thank you – Asante
Sorry – Pole
Excuse me – Samahani
No problem – Hakuna matata
What is your name? – Jina lakonani?
My name is __ – Jina langu ni _
Very good – Nzuri
Where are the toilets? – Wapi choo?
I don’t understand – Sielewi
Sleep well – Lala salama

Buffalo – mbogo
Elephant – ndovu/tembo
Leopard – chui
Lion – simba
Rhino – kifaru

Many problems – Matata mengi



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

How To Avoid Getting Stranded

22 09 2008

“If it’s a desert island, why wasn’t he called ‘Man Sundae?”  (Cape Tribulation, Queensland, Australia) 

For most of my life I rather fancied being stranded on a sun-drenched white sand desert island, but only if it included a few umbrella’d drinks, a bountiful supply of food, a comfortable bed, a fan wallah and a way to get home whenever I became bored. Realistically, it’s not likely to happen unless my private yacht runs aground on Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island just after he’s re-stocked and left for several months abroad.


However, the possibility of becoming stranded overseas is a real one on the rare occasion when airlines or tour operators become bankrupt. And unlike Man Friday and Benn Gunn, there’s little romantic about it when it happens to you even if it’s in some idyllic bliss.


Although you can not be 100% safe, there certainly are precautions you can take to minimise the chances of being a modern-day Robinson Crusoe…except without the straw hat and talking volleyball.


1)     Perform a little due-diligence into your airline or tour operator. A quick internet search should find out the organisation’s background and basics of its financial or labour situation. A search for news stories should give you a hint if something’s not right.


2)     Book through a travel agency. Not only are travel agencies covered by government-mandated travel compensation funds in many places, but people in the industry have an ear to the ground and often hear about financial problems or instability before anything makes it to the press or the public. In addition, your travel agent can assist you to re-book your trip or to get you home in the quickest and most economical manner if the worst happens.


3)     Pay by credit card. Most credit card companies will still refund your payment if a company goes bankrupt before you have received your goods or services. If you pay by cash, you don’t have that protection.


4)     Check insurance. Some insurance companies include coverage if your travel provider goes bankrupt before you travel or will assist you if you are stranded away from home. Have your travel agent advise you on any available protection.



Given the hundreds of airlines, charter companies and tour operators throughout the world, bankruptcies are still very rare. However, since vacations are still great luxuries for most of us and something that we work very hard to be able to afford, choose very carefully, and eagerly anticipate, the more we can do to avoid a life experience as trying as Madonna’s “Swept Away”, the better!



Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan