Adventures with Meerkats

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Ostriches aren’t the only animal to visit in Oudtshoorn. Turns out this town, just north of South Africa’s Garden Route, is also a pretty sweet place visit meerkats too.

If you need a refresher, meerkats are cute little mongooses that live in the deserts and grasslands of Africa. Think Timon in “The Lion King.”

Better than the Disney cartoon, Meerkat Adventures takes small groups to see meerkats in their natural habitats. But the trip is not for those who like to sleep in. Watching these critters requires arriving at the site before dawn, when they arise.

After making the booking, tour guide and researcher Devey Glinister provides all guests coordinates and a pre-dawn meeting time from where he will guide the group via car to the viewing spot, which changes daily. He and his team study the meerkat families and know which hills they sleep in and where they move to.

Upon arrival, Devey and his team provide tea, coffee and a light snack (like delicious homemade rusks for dipping!) before settling around the hill and viewing the sunrise. From there, everyone watches with baited breath for the first meerkat to pop his head out, which could take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more.

My 4 a.m.-awoken, barely-functioning self fell asleep about three times in the waiting process, and I honestly don’t remember how long it took us to see our first meerkat, but I’ll guess somewhere around the 30-minute range. During the waiting time and after, Devey shares with you all kinds of information about meerkats, including the different family roles and survival habits. At some point, you watch the sentry, the first guard meerkat, pop out of his hill to check for predators, eventually followed by the rest of the family and the alpha at the very end. Together, the family grooms, basks in the sun and continues to watch for predators before moving on to start their day and the tour ends.

The whole process takes 2-3 hours and costs R 550 ($38.15). Great experience for wildlife lovers and those who wants to do something a little different on their trip. Vehicle required. For more info visit  http://meerkatadventures.co.za/home.html.

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Welcoming Summer with Detroit’s River Days

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Twenty years ago, the Detroit International Riverfront was an unremarkable industrial setting full of parking lots, overgrown brush and broken concrete – a sad site for a major international border. Now, thanks to public and private investments and the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, the 3+ mile border along the Detroit River has become the Detroit RiverWalk: a magical pedestrian space along the river perfect for playing in fountains, riding carousels and people watching.

Hence the birth of River Days – an annual festival celebrating the development of the riverfront and an opportunity to show off all of the great experiences available on both land and water to visitors.

Now in its tenth year, the event features activities for people of all ages. Kids can enjoy activities including carnival rides, face-painting, crafts and a special children’s stage featuring animal performances, magic shows and storytelling. Adults can enjoy numerous live bands throughout the weekend, including big names such as the B-52s and Patti Labelle, as well as yoga on the riverfront. Boat tours, circus performances, jet ski demonstrations and zip line rides round out the festival, creating a fun, high energy atmosphere that is sure to surprise and delight.

Admission for the event ranges from $3-$5 with proceeds benefitting the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy and their efforts to continue to create and expand a vibrant community space on the waterfront. For additional information visit www.RiverDays.com.

What It’s Like to Eat an Ostrich

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I’m not a big meat person. I’m not even an adventurous food person. But I decided to take advantage of my time at the Highgate Ostrich Show Farm in Oudtshoorn to try ostrich during my visit and was pleasantly surprised.

Fun fact: ostrich meat is really good for you! Despite coming from a bird, it’s actually a red meat, but one that is leaner than beef with fewer calories and fat than even chicken. It’s also rich in protein and iron, making it a pretty good choice, meat-wise. As for taste, you’ll have to check out the video!

 

How to Awkwardly Ride an Ostrich

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Weather-permitting, many of the ostrich show farms in Oudtshoorn will allow visitors ride an ostrich as part of the tour.

If you want to see how to do this awkwardly, check out the video below:

 

Featured Female Traveler: Erica Hobbs – Michigan USA

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Featured Female Traveler: Erica Hobbs – Michigan USA

Excited to be a “Featured Female Traveler” on Miss Maps!

Miss Maps

Meet Miss Maps’s Featured Female Traveler of the week: a 31 year old public relations professional based in Detroit, Michigan.In addition to her 9-5, Erica Hobbs is busy running her own travel blog, Erica in Wonderland. Complete with videos and stories from Asia, South Africa, and beyond, Erica in Wonderland also brings it back home with local stories from her native Michigan.

Her first trip abroad was to the Mediterranean Island of Malta, from which she traveled slightly north to Italy where she had the chance to study abroad Since then, she’s been able to place Thailand, India, and the UK on the top of her ‘favorites’ list.

Erica Hobbs attending an Indian wedding with new friends in Mumbai - MissMaps.com Featured Female Traveler Erica Hobbs attending an Indian wedding with new friends in Mumbai – MissMaps.com Featured Female Traveler

E: One of my favorite destinations is India, because it is like visiting another world. It is a complete bombardment to the senses, often to the…

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Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Ostriches

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Long necks, funny faces, pretty feathers, really, who doesn’t love a good ostrich?

In South Africa, you can get your fill of them in more ways than one. Native to the continent, ostrich farms in Oudtshoorn are a popular traveler site where you can pet ostriches, ride ostriches, eat ostriches and learn WAAAY more things about these fascinating creatures than you ever thought you needed to.

My friend Sara and I paid a visit to Highgate Ostrich Show Farm, where for 140 rand ($9) and an hour and a half, we took part in all of the aforementioned activities. Our charismatic guide Danian packed tons of information into our tour. Based on this, please find…

Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Ostriches:

  • Ostriches are used for many things with multiple uses for their leather, eggs, meat and feathers.

  • One ostrich egg is the equivalent to two dozen chicken eggs.

Ostrich Egg

  • Male ostriches have naturally blue skin, female ostriches have pink skin.

Ostrich Blue Skin

  • Ostriches typically have one mate for life.

  • Sometimes a male ostrich will take up with two female ostriches, then the farm has to incubate the eggs themselves to prevent fighting.

Ostrich Trio

  • Ostrich eggs are very strong.

Strong Ostrich Eggs

  • Ostriches are fast and have strong legs, they can break your back and kill you.

  • If an ostrich runs at you, play dead.

  • When you play dead, an ostrich may come and sit on you for awhile. That’s cool, wait it out.

  • Ostriches are extremely fast, and can run up to 43 miles per hour.

  • Male ostrich feathers are the pretty ones, used for costumes and decorating.

  • Female ostrich feathers are better used for cleaning, like in feather dusters (no comment). Ostrich feather duster

Hope you learned something :).

 

 

 

Experiencing Michigan’s Prettiest Art Fair in Palmer Park

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Often set in busy downtowns, it’s not often the location of an art fair is as pretty as the art within it. But that’s not the case for the Palmer Park Art Fair in Detroit, arguably the loveliest art fair in the state. Set among the quaint backdrop of Palmer Park, visitors enjoy a quiet relaxing atmosphere among the ducks, hills and historic log cabin as they peruse art booths spread around the lake.

 The boutique art fair started in 1976 and lasted for about a decade before closing for about 25 years. The fair was revitalized in 2013 and has occurred every May ever since, even featuring some of the same artists as the original fair.

Art-lovers can choose from work from about about 100 artists, including prominent local artists and those from out of state. The show features 2D and 3D pieces as well as wearable art, including paintings, sculptures, jewelry, furniture, photographs and more.

New this year, the art fair includes work from local teenagers at part of the Mint Artists Guild, an opportunity for young artists to showcase their work and get a taste of what life is like as an artist.

Additionally, the fair features live music performances, art projects and food trucks, creating an interactive experience for attendees.

For more information visit www.PalmerParkArtFair.com.

Hemel en Aarde, tasting South Africa’s “Heaven on Earth”

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When people think of South African wine country, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Constantia are the first places to come to mind. But wineries actually exist throughout South Africa, including in the Hemel en Aarde Valley next to Hermanus, my favorite mistake by the sea.

Literally meaning “Heaven on Earth,” Hemel en Aarde wineries specialize in pinot grigio and chardonnay. While I’m not particularly wine savvy, I had a great time exploring the best Hemel en Aarde had to offer on my wine tour with Hermanus Wine Hoppers. True to the name, the tour is run in a hop-on, hop-off style, with a circulating safari vehicle that travels among nine different vineyards in the valley. In the interest of saving time (and my liver), I opted for three: La Vierge, Newton Johnson and Creation, where I enjoyed a delicious three-course meal at their award-winning restaurant.

Regardless of whether or not you drink, a tour through Hermanus’ beautiful countryside was well worth the visit.

Below are some photos of the experience:

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A Visit to Zwelihle – An Inside Look at a South African Slum

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I knew a little about the slums or “townships” of South Africa. Remnants of the apartheid era, townships were the segregated, underdeveloped settlements created for non-whites to live in, usually on the periphery of the cities. Through movies and general apartheid knowledge, visions of tin shacks on dirty streets filled my mind and something I wanted to understand first-hand on my trip.

Since my shark-driven tour of Hermanus proved fruitless, I signed up for a tour of Zwelihle, a township within Hermanus of about 22,000 Xhosa people.

I did the tour with my new friend Sara I’d made at the hostel. Neither one of us was sure what to expect and wanted to be sensitive not to treat this community as a tourist attraction, but our guide Willie made us feel right at home. Short, round and jolly, Willie’s ebullience was infectious. With a bright smile on his face, he walked us through Zwelihle, proud to show us anything and everything.

To me, the township looked basically how I thought it would from what I’d seen in the movies. Away from the charming seaside of downtown Hermanus, Zwelihle lay flat in the middle of field, surrounded by an occasional hill in the distance. The roads, some paved, some dirt, were lined with tin shacks built within feet of one another. The houses stood on dry, dusty grounds on which lay sparse patches of grass and litter. Some of the homes had fences, even barbed wire. Others had brightly-colored laundry airing. Many had satellite dishes.

Most corners had a Spaza Shop, a Coke-themed tin shack which Willie explained meant “unregistered,” essentially a convenience store where people could buy food, drinks and general household items. Men gathered at these Spaza Shops to chat and laugh, women did chores outside the homes, kids played on the street. Willie smiled and greeted them all.

Willie explained there were different types of homes within the township. Many people, such as himself, rented the shacks for 200 rand a month (about $12.40). Those houses had running water and electricity, he said. Further within the township were flimsier shacks with no running water or electricity and public shared toilets. Willie told us these were free but available only to the disabled or elderly, or single mothers who qualified.

Though apartheid ended more than 20 years ago, the income discrepancy between white people and non-white people was clear, and the demographics of the township I saw appeared to be the same as it did when the township was formed.

Willie said finding work was difficult in the township, especially, he said, because of an influx of immigrants from poorer, surrounding African countries taking many of the jobs and keeping wages low. He also said the government was building better quality public housing on the land directly across from the township.

For me, I am grateful for the opportunity for the glimpse into a world so entirely different from mine and the warm hospitality in which it was experienced. I don’t know the future of South Africa, but I am curious to see the developments ahead.

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An Ode to Hermanus – My Favorite Mistake

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I’m a planner. The minute I confirmed my South Africa trip, I immediately purchased a guide book to research and get organized. But one of the best things about travel is that you can’t plan everything. And oftentimes, it’s the unexpected which makes for the most memorable experiences.

Like Hermanus. Hermanus is a small coastal town outside of Cape Town, on the way to, but not quite on the Garden Route. I had stumbled upon it in my reading as the South African destination to whale watch. Unfortunate for my whale-loving heart, I was several months off-season. On the other hand – there was one other sea-related aspect of Hermanus that caught my attention: shark cage diving.

Shark cage diving is fairly unique experience limited to only a handful of locations throughout the world. The excursion involves taking a boat out into the ocean, being lowered in a cage a few feet under water and watching as sharks attempt to eat the chum located just outside the cage. You know, a few feet from your head.

Now, aside from the random bungee-jump excursion, adventure tourism is really not my thing. And while I liked the idea of being able to have said “I was sort of almost eaten by a shark,” my fish-phobic self didn’t know if this was something I’d actually have the courage to do. Additionally, time was limited, and my friends wanted to head straight to the Garden Route. It was looking like I’d have to give it a miss.

But somehow after a couple days in Cape Town, this voice in the back of my head saying “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” got louder. The morning of our scheduled departure date I made a snap decision: I was going to Hermanus. And as my companions didn’t share my adventurous sentiments, I was going to approach these sea predators alone.

I said goodbye to my friends, rented a car and headed east to the Hermanus Backpackers Hostel to await my sea fate. Nervous, I went to check in and book my excursion. I had come all this way, damn it, this was going to happen. I knew not to expect whales, but it didn’t dawn on me that the sharks would be anything but excited to meet me as well.

To my dismay, I learned that not only were there no whales, but there no sharks. In fact, there had been no sharks for weeks, despite it being a year-round occurrence and “why didn’t you call ahead?”. Since the trip cost about $100 and was only exchangeable for another trip if there were no shark sightings, the hostel recommended I explore something else in Hermanus.

No whales, no sharks and no time to catch up with my friends, I looked at my options: a visit to the local township and a wine tour. While not my original plan, I signed up anyway for the next day and headed to town for dinner.

Despite being in a coastal town, the hostel was not actually located on the coast or even visibly close to it. Nestled in a quiet residential street, the same was true for its visible proximity to the downtown. As I followed their map to the city, I really had no idea what I was in for.

And then I saw it.

Straight ahead, green and blue ocean that stretched for miles with white waves crashing against faded orange cliffs all along the shore. To my left a sleepy yet charming seaside town full of restaurants and shops. A small green mountain guarded over everything.

I was in love.

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The day was fading, so I quickly found a lovely seaside restaurant featuring fresh seafood, local wine and stunning views. The restaurant itself was mostly full, so I opted to dine alone outside and enjoy the view in the cold. As I sat down, I was greeted with a complimentary glass of local sherry and a blanket and immediately began to relax. I ordered the shrimp meal and a glass of pinot grigio, something Hermanus is famous for, and enjoyed one of the most beautiful, delicious and relaxing meals I’d ever had.

Hermanus 6

The next day proved to be equally as incredible as my first impression to the city, with the disjointing experience of a South African slum on the one end, followed by an afternoon of wine tasting and fine dining on the other, a fascinating experience showing both ends of life in South Africa. (Stay tuned for more on that).

As I returned to the hostel, relaxed, slightly tipsy and ready to leave for the Garden Route in the morning, I heard the morning sea report from the staff: they had seen sharks after all.

While I didn’t have the time to wait another day, I decided I didn’t care. Stunning views, incredible food and an eye-opening look at South African life, my spontaneous trip to Hermanus ended up being one of the best mistakes I ever made.

For the sea life, I’ll just have to return :).

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