Sunday, July 30, 2006

Beginning of an Adventure......

Finally! I'm now in Cape Town. And I'm in an internet cafe!

My current view

I'm just glad I've reached Cape Town safe and sound. My original flight path was to fly from Heathrow to Frankfurt and then on to Cape Town with Lufthansa. However, the flight from Heathrow was delayed for 1 hour, causing me to miss the connecting flight to Cape Town. Hence I spent a night in a hotel in Frankfurt at the courtesy of Lufthansa.

Advert at Frankfurt International

The next day I had to take a flight to Paris, and then from Paris to Johannesburg with Air France, followed by a domestic flight to Cape Town with South African Airways. And sadly enough, all these troubles were caused by Heathrow's ageing systems and poor planning. I've been through quite a few airports during this journey...Heathrow, Frankfurt International, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Johannesburg International, Cape Town International....and I've to say that Heathrow is the worst of the lot. Poor planning, old systems, and inadequate ventilation led to long queues and rising temperatures (both literally and metaphorically). All the other airports were made of shiny metal and glass, very modern and contemporary. While Heathrow is just a grey lump of concrete shit. It beggars belief, considering that it is one of the largest airports in the world...

South African hospitality!

Anyway, enough of me bitching about airports. Cape Town is a magnificent city, dominated of Table Mountains. It is winter now. The weather at the moment is.....fresh is the word that comes to mind. It is not cold (temperatures are around 18 deg C in the day and around 4-5 deg C at night). It is very green at the moment. Trees and grasses are growing every where due to the rains. Due to Cape Town being at the coast, the fog from the seas blow inshore into the city in the early morning, and by noon, the sun burns it up, leaving it clear and bright. It feels like a coastal city in America (eg California, Miami) with wide boulevards and multi-million beach front properties.

Table Mountains dominate the sky line

However, all is not bright and white (pun not intended) in Cape Town. Just a few kilometers out from the airport on the way to town, I pass by slums where poor Africans live. And in the city itself, it is dangerous to hang around at night. The street kids take over and they can snatch wallets and cameras from you.

City Hall, with cloud-covered Table Mountains in the background

I was taking some pictures of the City Hall, where a street market in its parking lot was being taken down for the day, when a lady (I later found out that she was the market manager) told me to be careful as the kids might snatch my camera away. She was telling me to go home and come back on a weekday as the kids take over the streets after 5pm on the weekends (and it was 4.45pm already!).

Armed security

Rest assured, I reached my hostel safe and sound. Houses here are alarmed, protected by razor wire (some be electric fences) and guarded by armed security personnel. I've been to quite a few places in my life, and I do definitey get a vibe that some areas here are really not safe to be traveling alone.

Razor wire

Apart from crime, things here are slightly cheaper than Bristol. Food is excellent and really cheap! The oranges are huge and filling! People are generally friendly and welcoming (could they be thinking that I'm a rich tourist?). You can find street markets in the city centre selling African handicrafts to local food and fruits.

Street market

On Tuesday, I shall be starting my White Shark placement in Gaansbaai (about 2 hours drive from Cape Town). Hopefully, I'll have some really great pictures to post here soon!

"Wellekom! Wellekom to Afriika! Give me monie! Thank you!"

Monday, July 24, 2006

Packing Up & Moving Out

I've been packing up all my stuff as I am moving houses. I find it quite a traumatising experience each time I move. As you're packing your stuff into boxes, you find things which have laid untouched and forgotten in places like behind a shelf or cupboard. And as you hold them in your hands, you spend time reminiscing how they end up with you. Each little thing you find tells its own story. And then you find things which you have to decide whether to bin it or to take it away with you. The dilema comes when your sentimental self finds it too valuable to throw it away and your logical self tells you that there is no space for it. Most of the time, I just have to bin it with a torn heart.

Material things aside, I find it psychologically taxing as well, as I'm leaving the comfortable and the familiar behind and going into the unknown. Memories of people and friends at Hodgkin House will always be remembered and cherished, both good and bad. But I think the change is good for me, even though it is stressful. I'll probably feel that I'm stagnating and start getting really attached to the furniture if I remain any further.

On another note, I shall be leaving for Cape Town on Wednesday ( hurray! more packing!) to do a conservation project involving great white sharks (see: Depending on the availability of internet access, I shall try to update this blog as often as I can of my adventures in South Africa.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Animal Encounters X

The Greater Flamingo

There are six different species of flamingo. The greater flamingo has the widest distribution of them all. Flamingos are found in wetland habitats; on coastal lagoons, mud flats and inland at large shallow lakes which may be very saline or highly alkaline. Flamingos stand up to 150 cm high, on long legs. They weigh around 3 kg. The head is a peculiar shape - and when feeding, the bill is placed in the water upside down. Water is sucked in through the partly-opened bill. As it is squeezed out again by the tongue, a row of spines or lamellae along the edge of the bill filter out the food particles.

"Blup! Blup! Blup! Blup!"

Flamingos are filter feeders, living off algae and tiny animals such as shrimps, molluscs and insect larvae which live in the mud at the bottom of shallow pools. In some years, the pools that they feed in are teeming with life and there is plenty of food to feed chicks with. In other years, the pools are nearly empty. As a result, flamingos do not breed every year, but when conditions are just right.

"Shoo duckie!"

Flamingos are gregarious birds, living in groups called flocks or 'stands' numbering from a few individuals to tens of thousands. Whether feeding or nesting they remain closely packed together. Pairs are monogamous - they stay together for life. They can be very noisy, having a deep goose-like 'honk'. At the beginning of the nesting season, flamingos perform mass courtship displays, where hundreds move together in a coordinated walk.

Check out those sexy bendable legs!

Flamingo feathers are tinged a wonderful rosy pink colour, due to coloured materials called carotenoids in the tiny shrimps that they feed on. If they don't eat the shrimps, their feathers turn pale. In captivity, they are fed special food that contains these natural pigments to ensure that their feathers are coloured.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A Mother's Love

My mom is coming tomorrow! She's coming to visit me for 10 days. I love her so much. I have to say that without her, I wouldn't be the man I am today. My mother has been through so much for me. She taught me values and manners. She taught me honour and pride. She taught me many things. Now before you start sniggering and calling me a mother's boy, consider my situation first. My father was a working man. He would work from 9 till 5, Mondays to Fridays, half-days on Saturdays. After work, he would have his dinner and read the papers. The interaction with him was considerably less compared to my mom. Then came the divorce when I was 15, and I stayed with my mom after the separation. Hence he was never around much during my teens.

Regardless of my situation, I have to say that for most males, the mother is the dominant figure in their lives. While for females, it is the father. Hence the saying "mother's boy" or "daddy's little girl". It has also been said that when the sons or daughters grow up and look for potential mates, they try to get a mate which bears the qualities of their mothers or fathers. I'm not saying that I'm looking for a girl just like my mother, but my mom is the best woman in the world (in my opinion of course) and ..... I'm just gonna keep my mouth shut and have an open mind ;-) I could be wrong but I think this is the general opinion.

So no matter how old I get or what I do, in the eyes of my mom, I'm still the small little boy that cried at the first day of school. Go give your mother a little hug ......oh don't forget about daddy too!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Pleasant surprise

I've just received a letter from the University today informing me that I've been nominated to receive the Wertheimer Memorial Prize ! Apparently, this prize is awarded by the Society of Merchant Venturers to a student in his/her final year for making the best contribution to the life of the Faculty and to his/her fellow students. Sure I did organise a few things but ......a bit of an overkill here. I think they've got the wrong person. Still I'm not going to turn them down ;-) Above and beyong the call of duty eh? Man, I hope this sweet run doesn't end......

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Animal Encounters IX

Slender-tailed Meerkat

One of the most cheeky small mammals from the African continent. They are only about 24 cm long with a 20 cm tail and weigh only a few hundred grammes, yet their character is so much bigger. Their bodies are rather skinny and their limbs slender. Their eyes are surrounded by black smudges, which may help to limit the glare of the sun in the desert. A series of dark bands runs across the back. They often stand up straight on their rear legs, with front legs held neatly in front of their chests.

Mother and baby

Meerkats are active by day, taking shelter in their warm burrows against the chill of the night. The burrows are complex and may have up to 90 entrances and several different levels. They usually stay within sprinting distance of this burrow complex, but launch food-hunting missions out into the surrounding area. Together they will cheerfully attack potentially dangerous prey such as scorpions, returning to the burrow with choice items of food to feed the young.

Ever watchful

They are sociable animals, living in groups of about 10-20, and they take turns to act as look-out from a high branch or rock, warning the rest of the group of any approaching danger. Their mainenemies are birds of prey. They often stand up on hind legs while on guard. The colonies are close knit with each meerkat taking on special duties e.g. sentry, baby-sitter, and hunter, to benefit the group as a whole.

Baby meerkat

Alert, inquisitive, adaptable and living in areas where there is often little human activity, meerkats are currently not threatened.

Bonus: The other baby in the zoo

Baby prairie dog

Since I've already done an article on the prairie dogs (refer to Animal Encounters V), I'm not going to say much here. I'll just post some photos of the young one. Enjoy.