Friday, 5 May 2017

The Most Magnificent Sighting in Kruger Park

I've written about Kruger National Park before, and I'll do it again. You can't stop me. I've posted some pictures of the incredible animals we've seen there in a previous entry. And there's another one coming.

But nothing will match the absolute glory and natural splendour of the creature I stumbled across at a picnic site on our most recent visit to the park. 

I assume it's breeding season because this male specimen appeared to be in rut. At least that's what I think because his plumage was on full display. 

As is the case with any creature in the animal kingdom, the male struts around ridiculously in an attempt to lure a mate, and this was no exception. 

Without further ado, I give you the South African Boer:

Magnificent.

Note the intricacies of his garb.

First, the ever popular two-toned shirt. Here, they simply call it a khaki shirt (though they also come in shades of blue or green). I assume it's because in Afrikaans, the word for "crap" is "kak," which makes khaki a catch-all phrase to describe this peculiar fashion choice. Because the Boer knows he's got stiff competition from other aggressive Boers looking to mate, he isn't content to don apparel in just one colour. In fact, the lighter shade draws attention to his broad shoulders and ample breasts. This particular one has some intricate designs on the fabric to show his senstive, artistic side, along with the words "Off Road" to let his potential mates know he's not one of those sissy city Boers. 

But the Boer in rut isn't content to stop there, even though the shirt alone is striking enough. Drink in the stunning short shorts. The minimal length maximises thigh exposure. I've heard an expression here that goes "the nearer the bone, the sweeter the meat." It was in reference to lamb chops, but it seems to apply to apparel as well, and the Boers are very proud of their sweet thigh meat. I actually had to take several pictures because these shorts are not only sartorially spot-on, they also have the added advantage of highlighting the dominant males' testicles due to the shorts' snugness, which seems to be highly desirable to Boer females. The only way I could get a picture of him that would be appropriate for a family-friendly blog such as this was in mid-stride with the crease concealing his mate bait. You need to use caution around rutting Boers, because if they sit down directly in your line of sight, you may see more than you bargained for and will have to rinse your eyes with gallons and gallons of bleach afterwards. Also, if you look closely, you'll notice extra cargo pockets in this specimen's hot pants, because the two pockets in his shirt are simply not capable of carrying all the thousands of phone numbers suitors keep throwing at him. 

This particular male has opted for somewhat conservative socks that just peek above his boots, but it's not uncommon to see the Boer wearing socks that come up to their knees, which drives the ladies wild as they imagine what glorious treasures lie beneath the woollen covering blocking their view. 

And the outfit wouldn't be complete without the ubiquitous slip-on boots. These are effective for keeping both snakes and women away. The Boer will earnestly tell you this attire is pragmatic for work on the farm, but you'll often observe Boer males in groups - far from their farms and clearly not going to work - dressed exactly the same. 

If you're ever in South Africa and want to see one of these beauties for yourself, your best bet is to travel to one of the smaller towns; I haven't seen them in large herds in Johannesburg or Pretoria yet, but if you're lucky you may see a lone Boer who has been waylaid on his migration route. To really see them in all their splendour though, you need to be at least an hour outside the major city centres. 

I'm very grateful that I'm from Canada, and we have absolutely nothing that anyone could conceivably make fun of us for. Because who could possibly find fault with the Canadian Tuxedo?

Certainly not THESE guys. (source)

And there's nothing more beautiful than the Salmo Dinner Jacket. 

Nothing to see here. Other than pure, unadulterated Canadian awesomeness. (Source)

OK, fine. Maybe we're just as bad. Your turn, South Africa. Let 'er rip. 

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Giraffes Are Morons

This post is going to be short and sweet. I've been swamped with work, screwing around, and writing a guest blog for the website that inspired me to start blogging in the first place, the wildly popular Joburg Expat. You can check out Part 1 here.

Also, we spent the last several days in Kruger National Park, which is my favourite place on Earth, and that's really saying something because I've been to several In-N-Out Burger locations. This last trip will pull at least a couple more posts out of me, but I thought I'd share something in the meantime. 

I assume you all have friends. Like, at LEAST one. If not, it's probably because you wear Crocs with socks or something ridiculous like that, and you deserve to die alone. Anyway, in your group of friends, you probably have a Billy. Billy is that guy who your circle of friends just tolerates. He's not a bad guy; he's just a moron. Nobody particularly likes him, and nobody particularly dislikes him. He's just there. If you're thinking to yourself "Wait, there's no Billy in MY group of friends," chances are, YOU'RE the Billy in your group.

Billy is always late to the party and can be counted on to do something stupid that will mildly embarrass you and your peers at every social function. 

Animals are no different, and I was fortunate enough to catch this gem on my dash cam a couple of days ago.

Meet giraffe Billy:


Billy is an idiot. 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Thoughts on Watching My First Blue Bulls Rugby Game

Since we've moved to South Africa, we've made some great South African friends. And American friends. And German friends. But that's it (step up your game, rest of the world). Anyway, one of our American friends had some extra tickets to a rugby game in Pretoria and invited us to come with her (thanks, Louise!)

Let's set something straight right off the bat: South Africa has weird sports. They play cricket, which as far as I can tell is pretty much just a bunch of dudes standing around on a field complementing each other on the whiteness of their uniforms. And every once in a while. somebody says something someone else doesn't like, and the offended party throws the ball on the ground. As far as providing riveting entertainment, it's right up there with darts. 

And when they talk about hockey here, it's field hockey. I guess that's kind of legit. I'll reserve judgement until I've watched it. 

Soccer is obviously huge here, but watching dudes aimlessly run back and forth across a huge field avoiding contact with each other is pretty much the human equivalent of NASCAR, which my brother loves. But my brother is a nincomboob (I love you, Dave, but you know it's true).

But from what I can tell, rugby is king in South Africa. I love NFL football, and this is the closest I'll get here, so I was stoked to go.

The game was last night (April 15, 2017), and the local heroes are the Blue Bulls. They were playing the Argentina Jaguares, who arguably have a much cooler name. Here are my thoughts

1. I need to find a Blue Bulls jersey

2. OK. Nevermind. Found them. They look awful. Vodacom is the sponsor, and I'd basically be buying a Vodacom logo with a small Blue Bulls logo added as an afterthought. Also, it looks like the designers travelled all the way to 1995 to get inspiration. Hard pass. I'll just wear my Seahawks jersey next time.

3. This stadium is HUGE!

4. This stadium is empty.

5. Wow. The players are super touchy feely with each other.

6. Well that's nice. Sometimes the guys feel bad for tackling each other and get together in a giant hug to make up.

So cozy.
7. Man, that's some pretty aggressive cuddling.

8. Apparently "CUDDLE HARDER!" isn't a standard cheer. My bad. I got a little excited there.

9. OK, so the hits aren't as big as the ones in the NFL, but I'm really getting into this. 

10. South African fans are super drinky.

11. What's this? They're getting in a line. All right, looks like a guy is gonna throw the ball and the guys are gonna try to get it.

12. What in the sweet living...

13. I swear to everything good and holy they just lifted this guy up by his behind.

I'll bet he didn't even take him out to dinner first.

14. I can see how this all went down when the guy who invented rugby was trying to explain it: "Listen, fellahs. You know how football is awesome? Let's take a bunch of stuff from that sport. But we can only pass the ball backwards. Also, we get to wrap our strong arms around each other in giant snuggle parties a bunch of times. And hear me out here- I know there's other ways to lift dudes up, but what if we did it in such a way we got to grab a handful of ass every time we did it?"

15. As far as homoerotic sports go, rugby sits somewhere between bobsled and men's pairs figure skating.

16. Everybody's cheering. I think somebody just got a basket.

17. Nice! The ball got kicked into the crowd. Some lucky person got a game ball!

18. Nevermind. Apparently, you need to throw the ball back if you catch it. I guess there's not enough money in rugby to afford more than one ball.

19. Doesn't look like the locals like it when you refer to their team as the "Blue Balls."

20. Another goal! So much sportsing!

21. They've played Sweet Caroline over the loudspeakers no fewer than 752 times. 

22. I just noticed there are cheerleaders. They look bored out of their minds.

23. We win! The Blue Balls have done it! After what I witnessed on the field, I can just imagine the guys are REALLY looking forward to the locker room.

While I didn't understand about 92% of what was going on, I've gotta say I got super into the game. I promise I'll be back. Even though rugby is pretty much the Top Gun of sports. 

Thursday, 13 April 2017

South African Customer (dis)Service

Look, I don't want to get a reputation for being negative towards life in South Africa because honestly, I dig it here. I love seeing the impossibly huge, blood-red sun rise every morning on my way to work, burning the dark into cinders. I adore the people here- if somebody isn't going to kill or rob you, chances are very likely you'll find yourself at their house for a braai. The weather is full of glorious sunshine that wraps itself around you like your favourite blanket and terribly beautiful thunderstorms that make it easy to understand where legends come from. And the customer service is...well, they try. Sometimes.

A fitting metaphor for South African customer service. They will screw you. Very slowly.

There are countless stories of endless frustration with South African government agencies floating all over the internet. And to be honest, I still have nightmares from when I had to get my Traffic Registration Number, so I'm not in the mental state to be able to write about that yet. If you're so inclined, you can read a couple great blogs about that sort of thing by some of my favourite bloggers, Joburg Expat and 2Summers.

Instead, here's a simple post about the mundane task of everyday shopping.

As I've mentioned, the weather here is absolutely mind-blowing, so we tend to spend much more time outside than we did in Canada. We sorely needed some new lawn chairs, so we picked a couple up from Game, which is a store here that's very similar to Wal-Mart, except instead of blue, all the branding is a delightful Pepto-Bismal pink, which should have been foreshadowing, because even a simple purchase there will smite you with immediate heartburn, nausea, and explosive diarrhea.

We found 2 lawn chairs that we decided we actually really liked. And when we got home, we decided we liked them even more, so I went back a few days later to buy 2 more. One thing about stores in South Africa is that there is rarely consistency. Even though it's the same company, stock from store to store varies widely, and when something runs out (which is often), nobody seems to know when the next shipment will arrive. Needless to say, I considered myself extremely fortunate to find 2 of the same chairs, just sitting there, waiting for me to buy them!

However, right away, I knew there was going to be a problem. For whatever reason, there were no tags to scan on the chairs. And worse yet, there was no barcode on the shelving. Because I anticipated this minor glitch would become a massive issue, I pulled up the Game website on my phone and found the chairs. Cool. It very clearly had a picture of the exact same product with the item number (007404496) and the model number (LF60040-P) right there! No problem.

I confidently sauntered up to the cashier and said, "look, I know these don't have the prices on them, but here's all the info you need to punch them in on your computer" and reached out to hand her my phone. She studiously ignored the crap out the phone I was thrusting towards her and staunchly told me, "There's no tag on the chairs."

"Yes, I know there's no tag. I already mentioned that. Here's what you need right here."

"But I must have a tag."

"OK, I know usually you would scan a tag, but in this case, there is no tag. The item number is 007404496. You can enter that in your system and the pricing will come up."

"But....there's no tag."

"Are...are you kidding me? I thought we went over this."

"You must bring me the tag from the shelf."

"There isn't a tag on the shelf. Or anywhere else. Trust me, I looked. That's why I have the item number here. It's 007404496."

At this point, I was beginning to feel desperate. I looked around me frantically, much like someone on a deserted island feverishly scanning the horizon for a life-saving helicopter. I managed to make eye contact with a nearby cashier who was uninterestedly watching this whole thing go down. I asked if maybe she could help out.

"Themba works in that department. I'll call him," she said.

About 2.7 seconds after he was summoned on the store's speakers, Themba came racing into view. I'm not making this up- he wasn't walking casually, he wasn't walking briskly, he wasn't trotting. Themba SPRINTED to the front and offered me a massive smile:

"Can I help you, sir?"

"Yes, Themba, I love you more than words can describe. You're my knight in shining armour. Please come home with me. Bring everyone you care about. Let's become one big, happy, efficient family. You've completely restored my faith in humanity!"

Is what I wanted to say.

Instead, we explained the situation. Themba went racing off with my hopes and dreams in his hands. I was confident Themba would solve my problems. He worked in that department, after all, and he seemed to really GET customer service. At this point, a smile had begun to creep onto my face. My ordeal was almost over! After a few short minutes, Themba came running back and looked at me, the 2 cashiers, the long line of people that were now waiting for their chance to not get served, and confidently declared:

"There's no tag."

Themba, Themba, Themba. The offer is off. You're no longer welcome to replace my real family members.

The elephant is Themba. The road is my hopes and dreams.

The second cashier at this point, and only at this point, thought it would be a wise choice to call the manager to help. After several long minutes, the very visibly annoyed manager strolled up. After a brief description of our problems, she grabbed my phone, punched in the product number (007404496) and walked away without uttering a word.

The cashier acted like this wasn't what I had been telling her the entire time, that she hadn't burned a good part of my day away, and that there wasn't a huge line behind me as a result of her refusal to accept that there may have been an alternative solution to having a physical tag. Her ability to completely ignore the utter cock-up that had just happened was impressive. All she did was tell me the total, take my card, and hand me my receipt. No big deal.

I'm happy to say I kept my cool the entire time and was nothing but polite, but believe me when I say I pictured in my mind all kinds of scenarios that would have earned me a visit to the police station. Which would have been no big deal, cause I probably could have bribed my way out of it anyway (you'll understand if you've been reading my last few blog posts).

To end a long story, I now have 4 of those fantastic lawn chairs. And I will never own more because the cost of obtaining them is far higher than the non-existant sticker price alone. What I'm saying here is, don't count on enjoying them when you come visit me. They're going to remain unsitten in, because if they break, my mental health can't suffer another visit to Game to replace them. And I really really like them, so I don't want to risk ruining them. You can sit on the ground and look at them with the rest of us.

*Update- Valerie (and others) have asked to see these fabled chairs. Behold:

OK, maybe I oversold them. Still, they're mega comfortable.


Monday, 10 April 2017

Update: 66.6% of South African Traffic Police are Corrupt

A few months ago, I made the bold claim that 100% of the traffic police here are corrupt. Based on my personal experiences at the time, that was the honest truth. To be fair though, I thought I should post an update, lest you get the impression honesty is hard to come by in South Africa. I'm pleased to report that while I was stopped two more times since then, I only encountered one more corrupt police officer, bringing my average to 66.6% corruption. Not bad.

When I'm driving, and especially in South Africa, I don't speed, I don't use my phone, and I follow all other applicable traffic rules. It's definitely not because I'm a good person. Anybody who knows me will tell you categorically that I'm not. It's just that I'm a giant wuss and don't want to see the inside of a jail cell. Not even if the cell is filled with chocolate and Betty White.

Despite following all the rules, I've still been pulled over three times (so far) by South African traffic police. I already wrote about the first time. The second time, I was driving on a very busy highway just before Christmas. They call Christmas "Silly Season" here, and it's because the highways get rather crazy, and in an effort to combat the insanity, traffic police set up roadblocks roughly every 30 metres to make sure everyone is following the rules. Or, more specifically, so that rule-breakers will offer bribes in order to continue breaking the rules. Because virtually every driver here is breaking some sort of rule (speeding, talking on their cell phones, driving a distinctly un-roadworthy vehicle, impaired driving, or any combination (or all simultaneously) of the above), the traffic police get frustrated by drivers who are following all the rules, so they try to extract a bribe anyway.

In any case, I was selected to pull over and confidently pulled out my Canadian driver's license. The officer took it without looking at it, started to walk away, glanced at it, stopped in his tracks, stared confusedly at it for several moments (much like a cow would stare at a new gate), then walked back, handed it to me and told me to have a nice day. While I'd like to believe he just let me go because I wasn't doing anything wrong, the truth is he probably just didn't know the rules regarding foreign driver's licenses, and because there were so many other police around, he assumed at least one would be honest and report him for soliciting a bribe, so he just let me go rather than taking the effort to check if the licence was, in fact, legit. So it was probably just laziness/incompetence rather than a genuine effort to do the right thing, but I'll give him a pass.

The next time was a couple of months later, and it was a smaller roadblock, so I knew this wasn't going to be easy. Not wanting to prove my internal monologue wrong, the officer skipped the "I'm going to pretend like I'm NOT corrupt" charade and went right into the whole bribery dance. After I produced my licence, she seemed to accept that it was valid. Then she asked for my traffic registration number certificate, which is an extra piece of paper the South African government makes people get before they can buy a vehicle, not because it makes any sense, but because it helpfully adds another layer of inefficiency to life here. The thing is, you only need that to BUY a car. Not to drive one. I do have one, though, because I had to buy a car here. That being said, nobody in their right mind would carry the original with them because a) it's not required by law and b) thefts are so common here that losing it is a very real possibility, and nobody wants to go through the pain of replacing it.

However, I happened to be driving my company vehicle, so I didn't need a traffic registration number at all. I informed the officer of this, but also told her I did have an electronic copy on my phone if she wanted to see it. She said by law I needed to have the original. I countered with the fact the law actually says I didn't need it. I'll save you all the details, but this went back and forth for roughly 18 days. I knew she just wanted me to offer a bribe and be done with it, and I'll give respect where respect is due- this woman had endurance. But so do I, and I had the time to kill. Eventually, she just asked how much money I had in my wallet. I told her I had none, and she asked to see. Of course I refused, and then she asked me what I had in the cooler bag on the passenger seat. This was starting to seem entirely familiar to the first time I got stopped. The only thing I had was an iced tea that I was saving for the Potato, but she asked if she could have it. I asked if I could leave once I handed it over, and she said yes, so I caved. She got an iced tea, and I got to continue about my day.

So that's 2/3 corrupt traffic cops, and one that just didn't feel like doing his job. I'll keep the tally going for as long as I'm here. If I can get below 50% corruption, I feel it'll be cause for celebration. However, I expect the more likely scenario is the police will just continue providing me with material to write about, and for that I thank them.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

11 Things I Wish I Could Get in South Africa

Because I'm incredibly lazy, I'm happy to accept suggestions for my blog. My friend Erin wants to know what we miss from back home. So here you go:

1) Graham Crackers

Destiny's child was two random ladies that history has forgotten and Beyonce. You know who nobody has ever heard about? The Two Musketeers. The Good and the Bad wouldn't exist without the Ugly. Nobody ever leaves the house feeling complete without first checking their pockets for the holy trinity: wallet, phone, keys. My point here is that everything great in the world has three parts.

I rest my case. (source)
And nothing in the world is better at reminding you that you deserve to die fat and alone while simultaneously making you not care because you DESERVE to experience heaven in your mouth than a delicious, gooey s'more. Whoever decided that simply roasting a marshmallow wasn't enough, that chocolate needed a companion, and that Graham Crackers weren't desserty enough, was a) probably American, and b) a genius. However, South Africa doesn't take kindly to genius, so they've banished every great idea to ever grace the planet. OK, that's probably not true. But they don't have Graham Crackers here, so they deserve to get made fun of. Just not to their faces. Cause everybody here has guns.

I'm not the only one feeling the pain.
2) Normal Freaking Tortilla Chips

Remember when you had a perfect life? You had a loving partner, a ton of friends, and a career that fulfilled you? Then one day you decided to smoke the pot. A slick looking dude rolled up to your office on his Razor scooter, pulled a marijuana out of his backpack, and said he'd share it with you. After inhaling the seductive smoke straight from the pit of Hades, it was a short trip to downtown smack town, and after the 5th time your wife found you passed out on the bathroom floor with a needle in your arm surrounded by My Little Ponies, she kicked you out, and because you were homeless, you lost your job, and now you're living in a cardboard box selling your body for bags of chips, and not even good chips. Off brand chips. Sound familiar? Didn't know what you had until it was gone, did you? Same thing happened to me. Except I didn't deserve any of it. And instead of my family, house, and job being ripped away from me, it was nachos. Pretty much the same thing.

I mean, they have nachos here. You can order them at any restaurant. They just happen to taste like despair mixed with skunk colon. Here's the thing- they use flavoured tortilla chips for nachos here. There's an ungodly powder on them, and then they stack the usual toppings on, resulting in a terrible pile of darkness and misery. The guy who first said "you don't know what you've got until it's gone" was definitely talking about nachos.

Pictured: an actual plate of South African Nachos
The good news is I met some new friends because of the dismal state of nachos here. Still relatively new, I was naively asking at a restaurant if they made their nachos with plain tortilla chips or the flavoured ones. I was assured they were plain, so I excitedly ordered them. Of course they weren't plain. But the waiter knew I WANTED plain chips, so he very helpfully lied to me in order to make me happy, Which is a common thing here. But anyway, an American woman at a nearby table overheard my desperate plea for regular nachos and came over to tell me to just let the dream die. And since then we've become friends with her and her family, so there's that.

Since then, I HAVE found bags of unflavoured tortilla chips at Woolworths, which is awesome. But they're about $678 for a tiny little bag, so I'm going to indulge only on special occasions. Like when I'm hungry and want nachos.

3) Pepsi

Yes, I know pop is bad for me (or cool drinks, as they refer to pop here, which makes no sense, because most of the other liquids they drink are also cool, but South Africans seem to make confusing the rest of the world their sole purpose). Don't judge. And I'm more of a Pepsi than a Coke guy. I know, I know. I make terrible life choices. I had two kids. You don't need to remind me.

The thing is, though, that South African's don't really like Pepsi. At any given gas station, you'll see an entire cooler filled with Coke. Just Coke. Not even other kinds of pop made by the Coca-Cola company. All Coke. And if you're lucky, you MAY find one row of Pepsi. But never Diet Pepsi, which I like.

There's a simple reason for this. During apartheid, a bunch of global companies pulled out of South Africa to show their distaste for you know, the whole "not treating people like actual people" thing. Pepsi was one of them. Coca-Cola had a meeting and decided, "you know what, it's not THAT bad" and kept on selling Coke, which gave them a stranglehold on the market. Pepsi came back once apartheid ended, but it's been difficult to catch up ever since. Coca-Cola still dominates the soft drink landscape by a long shot. As it turns out, having questionable ethics is a sure way to succeed.

Just ask this guy. (source)
4) Arby's

I like Arby's. Whatever. Don't get all judgy. Statistically speaking, there's a 356% chance you picked your nose today. With your finger. You're gross too.

5) Affordable Toys and Books

OK, so I've got two young kids. I even sometimes like them. And I don't want them to grow up to be idiots, so I like to buy books for them. The Potato particularly likes the How To Train Your Dragon series. However, each paperback book is about $30 CDN, which is, if you haven't already guessed, absolutely batnuts crazy. Getting anything shipped here from North America is prohibitively expensive, so there's not a lot of options. I expected to get robbed at ATMs and gas stations in South Africa, not at bookstores.

Enter Book Depository. Although they are based out of the UK, they offer free shipping worldwide. It's more expensive than buying books back home, but much more affordable than buying them here in South Africa. So I've kinda got the book thing sorted out.

Toys are another thing. They are generally 2-3 times more expensive than buying them in North America. And forget about buying branded items (Disney, Transformers, etc). Worse, they don't even throw in a free tube of lube with every purchase, which is much needed after paying their exorbitant prices for toys. For now, I've spray painted a large ball of barbed wire for the kids to play with and called it Black Beauty. The nice thing about young kids is they're stupid and will believe anything you tell them.

6) A Working Postal Service

Remember when I said you could just order books online from the UK and it was way cheaper than buying them here? You should because it was like, literally 2 paragraphs ago. Anyway, about that...

I ordered the full set of How To Train Your Dragon books for the Potato because that's my way of making up for being an overall terrible parent and human being. It was supposed to take 10-14 working days to arrive. I thought that was pretty good. That was also when I was still fresh off the plane and thought anything worked as expected here. The books were shipped right away, and then after waiting the 10-14 days, then another month, I contact Book Depository and mentioned something may have gone awry. They seemed entirely unsurprised and re-sent the books, telling me that if the first set arrived, to please let them know.

In about 3 weeks, my second set of books showed up. Awesome. At least it worked this time. I've got to hand it to the customer service team at Book Depository- they were awesome and efficient. Then, about another month later, the books arrived again. It turns out what I thought was the second set was actually the FIRST set, and it had just taken over 2 months to get to me. Because that's entirely normal here, which I found out when I started receiving Christmas cards from friends and family back in Canada in late February.

To be honest though, I'm just surprised both sets showed up at all. It's a pretty well-known fact that the postal workers here do their Christmas shopping at work. And by that I mean they simply take likely looking packages home. It's totally a thing here, and everybody just seems to accept it. But even when packages DO make it through, the postal service is hilariously inefficient. It makes me feel bad for criticising Canada Post when they go on strike every other month.

7) Common Sense When it Come to Packaging

You know how you open up a package of food, then take what you want, then re-seal the bag, thus locking in the delicious freshness? Yes? South Africans don't. Ok, I guess some food is packaged normally, but try buying hot dog buns here. Or hot cross buns. Any kind of bun, really. Be prepared to eat them all in one sitting.

Like a lot of things here, everything looks normal at first glance.

The horror!
Look, South Africa. I KNOW you've heard of bread bag clips (unbelievably, I had to Google search "what's the name of those things that hold bread bags closed"). I've seen them on your bags of bread. Could you MAYBE just port that technology over to your buns? And use normal bags. The ones you currently use rip wide open when you glance at them wrong, causing the whole world to go prematurely stale. There's no way to close these things at all. Plastic wrap just glides across its smooth, shiny surface, then clumps together in an environmentally unfriendly wad several feet away from the food it's supposed to be protecting.

You know what's worse than crappy packaging on food though? No packaging on your bread-type items. Spar, I'm looking at you. There will be loads of delicious bread- cheese bread, savoury bread, buns, etc- sitting in piles on a table in the store. People walk up to the table, touch every single loaf in sight, smell it, cough on it, put it back, and choose another one they haven't coughed on (though 57 other people probably already have). Then you put it in the bag yourself, which is sitting right there next to all the bread. But the bread isn't in it. Cause hygiene is vastly over-rated.

8) The Absence of Huge, Disgusting Bugs

Know what I miss? Walking into any given room in my house and not fighting down the urge to bolt, screaming like a little girl, out of the room, using my children as shields against the crawling nightmares that Africa has spawned and unleashed into the universe.

While I'm getting used to fighting through swarms of ants to reach the bedroom and battling bat-sized moths, the one bug I really can't abide is the mole cricket. These things look a little bit like regular crickets if they bred with the lovechild of a demonic hot dog and that creepy girl from the movie The Ring.

These are in my back yard all the time. So annoying. (source)
I'm not even going to post a picture of them because I don't want to give you nightmares. If you really want, you can Google them. These end up everywhere. And they burrow into your lawn so you can't find them. They also make a sound like regular crickets, but much louder. I'm not even exaggerating when I say it hurts your ears when you get too close. Their call can be heard up to 600 metres away, which attracts countless other mole crickets and thoughts of clubbing yourself to death with an overpriced Elsa doll just to embrace the sweet, sweet silence of death. And no matter how many times you set your house and yard on fire and start a new life in another South African city, they come back.
This is literally the least frightening bug they have in South Africa
I miss the days when the biggest pest I had to endure was Justin Trudeau.

9) Public WiFi

Have you ever been out and remember a savage meme that you want to send to your friend? You send it, right? Because in Canada, it's normal to have access to WiFi wherever you are. And if you don't have WiFi, cell data is still relatively cheap, and it's totally worth using it to slay your friends with a sick burn. In South Africa, not so much. SOME restaurants offer free WiFi if you're eating there. A whopping 50 mb of it. Which is enough to check your e-mail. Then you're cut off. And cell data is ridiculously expensive here, so you have to think long and hard about whether or not you want to use your phone when you're not home. In fact, if you're dying right in front of me, I'd have to consider you a very close friend before I'd use my mobile data to look up emergency numbers to help you (here's another fun thing about South Africa: there's no 911. There are a bunch of different emergency numbers, and each one is roughly 43 digits long. There's no way I'll ever remember them). And even if you're my close friend, I'd have to decide if I want to use my precious data to save your life or send you one last fire meme. (Spoiler alert- you're probably going to die laughing).

10) Working Traffic Lights

In Canada, we kind of take for granted that things, you know, WORK. You plug something in, it works. You use an ATM, it works. You look at me at my job...ok, bad example. South Africa is fun because you're never bored. You can never get into a routine because sometimes the power will randomly go out. Sometimes it's the water. Sometimes roads are blocked off because of massive protests where people burn tires and everything else in the immediate surrounding area. And you will ALWAYS find traffic lights- or robots as they call them here- that don't work. Not all of them. But always a couple, no matter where you go. It has to be much more complicated than it looks to make these work. Or maybe people just don't give a crap. But I can tell you that when the drivers here are already insane (I talked about it a little bit in this post), the lack of functioning traffic lights becomes even more of a problem. It's not like anybody really pays attention when they do work though- red lights seem more like loose suggestions than hard and fast rules, especially when it come to the taxi drivers. But that's another story. At the risk of sounding lame and boring, I miss order and rules.

11) Sriracha Sauce

They don't have it here. I'm super bummed about it.

*Edit- thanks to a couple of readers, I've found Sriracha Sauce at Woolworth's. But it's not THE Sriracha sauce- it tastes a little off. However, it'll do for now!

I could go on and on. The staggering lack of efficiency, the roads, the absence of customer service, and a thousand other things. That being said, the good here FAR outweighs the bad, and I'll be sure to make a post that outlines the things I'll miss when I leave South Africa. That post will be much longer than this one, I assure you. I do love it here, and I'm slowly learning to deal with the things that once drove me bananas. I do still miss chocolate chip cookies though- South Africans can't do those worth crap. Get it together, guys.

Friday, 24 March 2017

The Best Moment of My Life

I always thought the best moment of my life would go something like this: 1) I see something awesome, like a massive shark or snake or bear or better yet, a bearsnark. 2) I pass my beer to someone 3) I make the awesome thing even awesomer, probably by riding it or something cool like that. 4) I get remembered as a legend.

None of that happened. Yet. But I did see some dogs, and THAT was the coolest moment of my life. Like, I mean, I got married and had kids and stuff, but ANYBODY can do that. And to be honest, my kids are only 3 and 6 now. It's too early to tell if they're going to turn out OK or not. I'm going to reserve judgement until they're about 30. And these were African wild dogs, which are one of the world's most endangered mammals, so that's something.

My mother in law arrived from Canada on Jan 5 to torment visit us for the next several weeks. To get here from Vancouver is more than 24 hours of straight travelling and a 10-hour time difference, so jet lag is brutal. Because nobody has ever accused me of being a nice guy, we loaded her up early the next morning for a 4 hour drive to Sabi River Sun, where we would be staying for the next week. While the resort itself was beautiful, the main draw for us was its location: it was a 15 minute drive to Kruger National Park, which has been my favourite place on earth since my first visit 10 years ago.

Although there are several places to stay within Kruger, we chose to stay outside the park, for the simple reason that while driving around looking at wildlife for 13 hours each day for a week is awesome, kids are awful and will make you regret having them if they don't get a change in scenery every once in a while. Staying at the resort allowed us to explore other areas around the park, like God's Window and Bourke's Luck Potholes.

I somehow resisted the urge to pee off the bridge. 
Anybody who knows me knows I love animals, so I was looking forward to this trip for several eternities. After settling into our room (actually, it was 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and a loft for the kids), we decided to watch the hippos wander onto the resort's golf course for their evening feed. Oh ya, I forgot to mention: the resort has freaking hippos and crocodiles in a large pond at the edge of the property, and every night the hippos come out of the water to fill their fat faces. Except not this time. After waiting on a viewing bridge for about 30 minutes with several other families, the security guard finally felt he should mention that because of the recent rains, the river behind the property was full, and the hippos hadn't been coming back to the resort for the past several nights. Why he didn't tell us this earlier, I'll never know, but we DID hear at least one hippo grunting in the bush behind us, which got us excited to see wildlife in Kruger the next morning.

Kruger's gates open at 5:30am (at least in January- they do change slightly depending on the season), and with superhuman effort, we managed to be there by 6:40. The area in which the part is situated has been having a massive drought for at least the last year. And it decided to break literally the day we arrived at the park. It was rainy, cloudy, and miserable: not ideal conditions for taking pictures. However, just minutes after driving into the park, we saw some vehicles stopped on the side of the road. If there's just one vehicle, it could be anything. There's nothing more frustrating than stopping behind a parked car trying to see what they find so interesting, only to find they're somehow captivated by a freaking impala. These things are the McDonald's of the park. They're everywhere and provide a quick, easy lunch for predators, but you get sick of them after about 670 sightings in under an hour.

People who stop for these are the reason Trump won the election.
But if there are more than a couple of cars stopped, you can bet it's a predator of some sort, which was exactly the case here. Right in front of us, a leopard was sitting on the side of the road! This was crazy- many people go to Kruger several times before they spot one of these elusive cats, and here was my mother in law's first time, and she saw one within 5 minutes. After determining that he couldn't get to anybody in the cars, the leopard sauntered away into the bush.

And the rain continued. And continued. We watched the rivers carefully, as they were coming precariously close to the bridges we crossed, but things seemed under control, so we continued on, seeing elephants, a hyena, giraffes, and a billion types of antelope. And then we came across this:

 The water over the bridge is MUCH deeper and moving MUCH faster than the picture shows. We watched for about half an hour to see if someone would risk it, with much the same anticipation one has when watching a trapeze artist: hoping they make it, but also kinda hoping they won't. The ordeal ended in the most boring way possible- nothing happened, and we turned around and left.

Over the next few days, we were fortunate enough to see all the Big Five (leopard, lion, rhino, elephant, and cape buffalo), although never on the same day. Each day we saw four out of the five. I'm not going to give you a play by play of every minute of every day. What I WILL tell you is that we saw lots of these:

This is the exact moment I learned how to drive in reverse super fast

And these:
The scientific name for these is "stabby boulders."

A pile of these:

Apparently these cows are a big deal here.
 And several of these:

OK, so HE puts his kill in a tree above him and everyone thinks it's awesome. I do it and people call the cops. 


I have roughly a boatload more pictures, but you get the idea.

All this stuff was awesome, but early one morning, we couldn't go down the road we wanted to because it was still flooded, so we had to take a different route. And I'm glad we did, because that's where we saw a pack of wild dogs just hanging out on the side of the road! I've been told that people here have gone to the park dozens of times and never seen wild dogs, and they were definitely on the top of my list to see, but I never thought I'd actually run into them. African wild dogs hunt in packs, and are some of the most fearsome, beautiful predators in the world.


Behold, the majesty...

OK, I also got some other pictures too:

You probably recognise her from a bunch of rap videos.

This is nature's way of letting you know an animal is totally OK to pet. 

This one was particularly interested in my bite-sized three-year-old.

If they were in high-school they'd totally steal your lunch money.

We watched the dogs laze around much longer than anybody else in vehicle wanted. Then I remembered we have this really cool book: it has pictures of all kinds of African animals, and when you press a special wand against one of the pictures, it plays the corresponding animal call. And it just happened to have the hunting call of the African wild dog. Never content to let sleeping dogs lay, of course we busted that sucker out. I didn't really know what to expect, but holy guacamole did they ever respond! All at once, the pack jumped up, fully alert, and stared right at us, clearly wanting to eat the crap out of us. So we did it again. This time the pack started running down the road, chasing after-or running away from-the rival pack they heard. I don't think the rest of the people watching had any clue what got the dogs running, but I'll remember that experience for the rest of my life.

Everyone tells me that winter is the best time to go to Kruger because the vegetation isn't as lush and you can see further into the bush. Maybe that's so, but I know we came out of the park with a bucketful of memories, and as a bonus, we saw tons of baby animals as well, so I'm glad we went when we did.

I have no idea how to end this, so here's a pile of pictures to distract you while I disappear in a cloud of smoke:

I've literally dated worse. 




These guys are super handy when you need to open very large bottles of wine.



All I see is bacon in training.