Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tony Park Parkcast Episode 4: Ivory

Jimbob talks to Australian author Tony Park about his new novel set in Africa, Ivory.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hellooooo, breakfast.

Suffering suckotash... click on this pic to enlarge it (if you have bad eyes like me). This is a real pic I took of a lioness in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, taking a very close interest in some national parks workers (to the right of the pic) who were repairing the water pump at the Dom waterhole.
Feel free to email this pic to millions of people around the world, with my blog address attached, so that I will become famous.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Let the slideshow begin

The famous Martie Goddard (see interview below) has inspired me to get posting on the pic-front, Legion of Fans (LOF), so herewith for your enjoyment (I hope) are a few random snaps from the 09 safari so far...

You never know when you're going to see a leopard. Mrs Blog and I have had some of our best leopard sightings in the middle of the day and this one (above) was one of those. We were on our way from Pretoriuskop in the Kruger Park to the luxurious Tinga Private Game Lodge (the setting for my fifth book, SILENT PREDATOR) to visit a reader who had booked out one of Tinga's two camps in its entirety for his 70th birthday.

Mrs P and I were more intent on thoughts of a gourmet lunch and a splash in our private plunge pool than animals, and it was a stinker of a day so we didn't expect to see much. As we crossed the river near the Delaporte water hole, not far from Skukuza, Mrs B yelled out "STOP." which is a sure sign that I'm either snoozing and veering off the road, or that there is an interesting animal to be seen. Fortunately it was the latter.

"Oh baby, come with me to zee casbah... I wish to 'old you in my arms and..." We came across Pepe le Pew (above) and his significant other near Dom pan in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (there is, as you can see, no particular order to these pictures. This one was taken a few weeks ago). This very healthy mating pair of lions were at it, in true lion fashion, about every 10 minutes. It's good to be the king of the beasts, but hard work sometimes.

And here he is (above), showing his Angry Dragon face. These two lions were both collared, which made taking pics of them quite hard. However, they were both in magnificent condition.

Here's the male again, looking quite tough, but in fact he's (literally) shagged out.

Moving right along, and again in no particular order, above we have a picture of a Yellow Billed Kite teaching a frog how to fly.
Mrs Blog and I sat for ages at Guvalala Pan, in Hwange, watching a squadron of Kites snatching frogs from the waterhole. Kites aren't (as far as I know) great fishing birds, but the masses of forgs in the waterhole represented a target-rich environment for these Top Guns. Time after time each bird swooped and picked up a big fat frog. Sometimes they were successful, and landed nearby for a meal of frog's legs and gizzards, but often the slippery suckers would slide from their talons.

This frog (probably one of the lucky ones, if he survived his first flight) bounced, dambuster-bomb-style, along the surface of the pond.

And to round things off it's back to Kruger again. I took this pic in the Tinga Private Game Lodge concession, on the banks of the Sand River. This lady and her family were busy devouring a kudu, and she'd taken a breather (a panter, actually) to try and digest her dinner.
This sighting was during the fabulous SILENT PREDATOR SAFARI in which eight lucky readers enjoyed some truly magnificent game viewing in between their bubble baths and sumptuousfeasts at Tinga.
If you're interested in coming on safari with me in Africa in 2010, drop me a line at tonyparknews(at)gmail (dot) com and I'll put you on my newsletter distribution list. The newsletter will have details of future tours, and more pictures to make you wish you were here, with me, in Africa.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Martie Goddard interview...

If you've visited this blog before you'll know that the diminutive Mrs Blog and I spend six months of the year in Africa and six months back in Australia.

On an average trip we’ll spend two to three months in the Kruger National Park. The wildlife is great here (where I am right now), the camp sites have electricity, and there are shops in the park selling cold beer. What more could you want?

We like to think of ourselves as Kruger regulars, but our experiences pale into insignificance when you consider that Martie Goddard, who is camping near us in Malelane Camp in the south of Kruger, is spending A WHOLE YEAR in Kruger. She’s traveling solo in a caravan.

She is, in her own words, living her dream. Martie is also writing a blog, and unlike me she actually does have a LEGION of fans. Last month, Martie had 132,000 hits on her blog, and this month she’s hoping for 150,000.

I won’t tell you how many hits I get a month, but suffice it to say, I would be a very happy man if I had nearly as many hits on my blog as Martie has on hers, and if as many people read my books as read Martie’s blog I would be a very rich man.

Martie has become something of a celebrity here in the park, and has been interviewed on national radio. You can read Martie's blog, in which she posts pictures of interesting animal and bird sightings on the South African National Parks' website here.

While cooking an extraordinary dinner for Mrs Blog and me on her braai (barbie), Martie agreed to be interviewed by me on the eve of her 171st day in Kruger.

(To all Martie's regulars who were wondering why she didn't blog last night, I'm afraid I'm to blame, but as a consolation, here is the interview...)

TP: Who is Martie Goddard, in 25 words or less?

MG: Let me get a beer first. I’m 45 years old, South African, with two children, Megan and Carmen, aged 25 and 21. Megan teaches children with special needs and Carmen is in her final year of wildlife management studies. I’m married to Stephen and we live in Doha in the Middle East. We’ve lived there for 11 years. Isn’t that 25 words already?

TP: Yes. Why are you spending a year in Kruger?

MG: I always tell people life is too short not to do what you really want to. If you come here for five, 10, 15 days, it’s never enough. So why not a year? Here I can bring Kruger to people who can’t come here, and there are many people in the world who know about Kruger, but don’t have the means to get here. Even in SA there are people who might never be able to come here.

TP: So it’s not just the world’s longest holiday?

MG: No. My husband says it’s not a holiday. That’s why I can’t have a beer at 7 in the morning. He says this is my job – and writing my blog.

TP: What did Stephen say when you told him you wanted spend a year away from home?

MG: A few months before we left, he sat me down and said, ‘you know what, we’ve never actually discussed you going!’ At first he didn’t believe I was going to do it. Then I got a second job, teaching English in Doha (at the moment Martie’s main job is as the PA for an investment company). I taught English in the evening in order to fund the trip. I think Stephen only realised it was serious because I messaged him to say it was 40 days until I left.

A lot of people probably thought I would go for a month, three months or six months. Maybe I didn’t think I’d make the whole thing, but I’ve always been someone who will see something through.

TP: What’s the longest period you’d spent in Kruger before this.

MG: 14 or 15 days.

TP: Why Kruger – why not travel around South Africa or some neighbouring countries for a year?

MG: Apart from going to the Masai Mara I’ve never wanted to go to other game parks. Maybe one day I’ll go to the Okavango (in Botswana – scene of my next novel, TP), but to me there is no place like Kruger.

TP: What makes Kruger so special?

MG: Every day is different. No day is ever the same. The facilities here are great, and I feel safer in Kruger than what I would in Joburg, Cape Town or Durban. I’ve never worried about going to bed at night.

TP: You feel safe, that’s good... but what’s been the scariest thing that’s happened to you the last 171 days.

MG: I got chased by an elephant between Letaba and Phalaborwa. There were people parked looking at something and I drove up to them. The guy said ‘there’s an angry elephant’. I’ve never been scared of elephants and I saw this one grazing. I drove past and as I got next to him, about 25 metres away, he started running. He was breaking every tree and branch in front of him to get to me, so I reversed the Slug (the Slug is Martie’s bakkie/pickup) at about 100kph! The elephant kept coming. All I could do was just shout. At that point I shouted in Afrikaans: “Stop jou donder!” (stop you thunder – it’s like a swear word, but not that bad).

TP: What’s been your happiest moment in the past 171 days?

MG: There have been so many. I’ll have to think about that one. Every day is happy.

TP: Do you ever get sad or lonely?

MG: I don’t get lonely, but I do get sad. I speak to thousands of people every day through the blog, by email, and the people I meet in the park, but I do get sad and I miss Stephen, and I think that’s just natural.

TP: Just on that point, is this a good thing or bad thing for a relationship, or does it depend on the relationship?

MG: It depends on the relationship. But Stephen flies for a living so he’s away from home quite often. This (with me being away) gives him the opportunity to blow the house down with his stereo speakers and his music. He says he’s blowing the cobweb out of the Bose!.

TP: How hard is it camping by yourself?

MG: In the beginning it was very difficult, because I didn’t know how to do things. Stephen came with me (for the first 10 days) and showed me how to tow a caravan and set it up. He showed me how to tell if the caravan was level, but then when it came to showing me how to put up the caravan’s tent he didn’t know how to do it! We had to get someone to show us how to do it!

It was quite funny. Stephen bought the man who showed us a bottle of whisky. He told me after that to only ask the women in the campground for help, and not to buy a bottle of whisky for everyone who helped me.

I met some nice people at Letaba, John and Norma, and gave me a checklist to go through before I pack up and set up the caravan. I still SMS John sometimes for advice and I got a message today from Norma saying he worries every time I have to move.

Now, though, camping’s a piece of cake.

TP: Your blog is very successful. Did you ever think it would take off like this?

MG: No. When I left, I said to Stephen. if only one person reads it I’ll be happy. If one person got to be closer to Kruger because of the blog I’d be happy.

TP: What’s the oddest thing you’ve been asked by someone on the blog?

MG: People ask me to find animals and post pictures. Someone asked me to find a meerkat, but I told him I’d have to drive for days to find one (there are none in the Kruger Park). Someone else is waiting for a dung beetle, so I’m waiting for the rains to come so I can take a picture of one.

TP: Favourite animal?

MG: I don’t have one. I like them all.

TP: Favourite bird then?

MG: I’ll go with my husband on this one, because he thought it was so rare when he first saw one: the lilac breasted roller. When I started seriously into birding I realised this was one of the most common birds in Kruger!

TP: Favourite beer?

MG: Hansa.

TP: Are you the luckiest person in Kruger or the craziest?

MG: I think I’m both.

TP: Could you live here full time.

MG: No,

TP: Why not?

MG: I think I could do the blog for a year, but not full time. Without the blog I would have been bored, and lonely. The blog takes a lot of my time, but I couldn’t do it forever and live like this forever.

TP: What’s the best thing about living in caravan as opposed to living in a house or flat?

MG: Sheesh, no man, living in a house is much better than living in caravan!

TP: Let me ask that question another way… what do you miss most about living in a house?

MG: To have a full bathroom; and to have a nice couch and fully equipped kitchen. However, I do like cooking on an open fire.

TP: What’s the one gadget you’re really pleased you bought or brought with you?

MG: It was actually a gift - an ice maker. Beer has to be cold.

TP: What’s the most useless thing you bought?

MG: The storm straps for the caravan awning - they were so short. People told me I had to have storm straps (broad nylon straps that stop a caravan’s awning blowing away), so I bought six of them, but they were all too short – only three metres long!

TP: What advice would give someone going on a long camping or caravanning holiday by themselves?

MG: I’m not an expert and I’m still learning most of the way. Take every day as it comes. Enjoy what goes wrong, as well as what goes right.

TP: What’s the most touching or memorable comment or email you’ve had from a reader?

MG: A woman emailed me to say she used to come to Kruger with her husband, but he had passed away. She’s over eighty and because her husband liked Kruger so much, she scattered his ashes at Pafuri picnic site (in the far north of the park) under the big sycamore fig. Unfortunately the tree was uprooted in the 2000 floods and washed down the river into Mozambique, so she told me her husband is now floating in the Indian Ocean somewhere. Her sense of humour was fantastic.

TP: Would you do all this again?

MG: Yes, I’d do it again. I don’t know if my husband would allow it, but I’d definitely do it again. I enjoy it, and I love the different things I see each day. Also, once I’ve been in Kruger for nearly a year, how could I just come back for five or 10 days?

I would never have been able to do this without the support of my husband and my family and my friends

TP: You’re seeing Stephen in 12 days time (he’s flying out to meet Martie for some mid-trip R and R) What’s the first thing you’re going to say to him?

MG: Engel, (this is Afrikaans for ‘angel’, not fridge, which is what I thought), I miss you and I just want to touch you, you are real!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Coming soon.. an interview with Martie Goddard

Martie Goddard is a South African woman who has been living in the Middle East for the last 11 years. She's currently spending a year touring the Kruger National Park from top to bottom, all by herself, in a second hand caravan.

Martie is something of a local legend and I'll be posting an interview with her here soon. Watch this space...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thank you all.

Yes, I know I'm very busy, but I've found some time to catch up on my shameless self-googling and can report that all of you Australians who bought IVORY propelled me to number three in the September ranking of the top 10 Australian authors , as resported by the Bestselling Books website .

Thanks. I owe each and every one of you a beer.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Big news next week

Phew, Legion of Fans (LOF), this relaxing life of leisure I lead can get exhausting sometimes.

The small but perfectly formed Mrs Blog and I are slowly but surely getting our camping life sorted out here in the Kruger National Park. I have lots of news for you, but I also have one book to write and two to edit, so I plan on blogging in short bursts for the forseeable feature. I also have to resurrect my Getaway Blog, so be prepared to be diverted over there for the weighty, meaningful stuff.

Here, all you'll get is fluff, pictures (to come shortly once we get around to downloading them) and shameless self-promotion.

On the shameless self-promotion front, my latest book, IVORY is officially (make that supposedly) out now in South Africa.

I've been reliably informed by my publishers that October 4 was the official release date, but I haven't seen any in the shops yet. If you are one of our South African readers please feel free to stamp your feet and pound on the counters in your nearest Exclusive Books or CNA branch because if they haven't got my book in yet, then they jolly well should have.

In coming blogs I'll be talking about the newest edition to the Blog family, "Broomas", our bouncing baby (well, 12-year-old) Land Rover Defender; my appointment as Patron of a wildlife charity (seriously); the most evil vervet monkey on earth; the price and quality of camping gadgets in South Africa; and the perils and pitfalls of registering a vehicle in this country (but I won't be doing that until I actually have finished registering Broomas, just in case some vengeful bureaucrat is keeping tabs on me on the blog while my application for a Traffic Registration Number is being processed).

Too much news, too little time, too much writing and editing to do, too much beer to drink.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Everything that could go wrong did go wrong

No, I'm not talking about the rest of the Silent Predator tour - that was fantastic. We had a wonderful time in Cape Town and even got upgraded to the luxurious Table Bay hotel (the Raddisson, where we were supposed to stay, is also a lovely hotel, but it was undergoing rennovations that weren't completed by the time we arrived).

I've had some great feedback and no death threats from the lovely people who went on the tour, and the indefatigable Mr W from the Africa Safari Co is already hinting that we could be safari-ing again in 2010, so start saving.

As to the title of this post, things went a little less like clockwork after the tour, when Mrs Blog and I flew to Zimbabwe.

For a start, our friends who look after our trusty (if aged) Land Rover, Tonka, were finally kicked off their farm. They'd survived a couple of rounds of potential evictions in the past, and had thought they were relatively secure under a deal they'd done with a local seed company. Much of what they were growing at the time of their rushed removal was seed maize - ie a crop that would have supplied seed for the so-called "new" farmers who had taken over formerly white-owned farms in Zimbabwe.

In reality, the vast majority of farms seized under Comrade President's land grab are overgrown and ruined. Little wonder, then, that the seed company stood by and let a johnny-come-lately would-be war veteran seize our friend's farm.

I say "would be" because it's rare to meet a genuine veteran of Zimbabwé's liberation war who actually received a farm and contined to work it. Many farms have gone to relatives and cronies of Cde President (not a few to his wife), and party hacks.

The power sharing deal between ZANU-PF and the MDC is not working. There seems to be more of a power vacuum in Zimbabwe, as evidenced by this latest land grab. Although our friends have a legal right to be on their farm, the local police refused to intervene, even after the invader in question threatened farm workers' lives if they tried to support their employers.

Ai yi yi yi yi. Or eish, as we say here in South Africa (where I'm writing this from).

Anyway, it is no small measure of our friends' big-heartedness that they managed to clutch start old Tonka and evacutate him from the farm shed as well. There was no time, however, for them to get Tonka's list of ailments (hangovers from our last trip) seen to, and we were unable to get him back to tip-top health in time for Mrs Blog and I to attend the Hwange Game Census (an annual event we take part in, in Zimbabwe's biggest national park).

So, Mrs B and I made the decision to leave Tonka in Land Rover hospital in the capital, Harare, and bus it to Bulawayo, in western Zimbabwe.

When I think of buses in Africa I usually think of livestock riding on the roof and grim faced people inside the coach crossing themselves. Not so the Citylink Shuttle from the Rainbow Hotel in Harare (the hotel formerly known as the Sheraton). No sirree Robert... this bus had a hostie, and complimentary chicken burger and coke included in the price. (oops, I don't mean the hostie was included...)

We even had a TV. For most of the trip the TV played Dolly Parton songs, although the last half hour of the journey to Bulawayo featured a DVD of Michael Jackson live in Budapest. I don't know what was funnier - the late Mr Wacko grabbing at his chrome codpiece (this had the party of be-suited African bureaucrats in the bus rolling in the aisles), or the catatonic fans.

In Bulawayo we were able to hitch a ride with an occaisonal commentator on this blog, The Black Mustarfa. He and his lady travelling companion were in a rented South African 4x4 and also headed to the game count in Hwange.

Just when we thought something might have been coming right on the Zimbabwean leg of our journey it started to rain.

The idea with the game census is that the count is held over the night of the last full moon of the dry season. In theory, there is little natural water left in the national park, just before the rains come, and animals will congreate around the remaining water holes and be easy to see (by the light of the moon) and count.

The 2008-09 rainy season, however, was a doozy and there was water everywhere. That meant that rather than congregating, animals would be spread out all over the place. To make matters worse (for us counters, not for the animals), it rained steadily from the time the count kicked off, at midday, and the precipitation increased to a full-blown thunderstorm by about nine that evening. Clouds covered the full moon.

As a result, Mrs Blog and I, along with our first-time counting friends from South Africa, counted absolutely zero animals.

On the bright side, we did see a nice herd of about 500 buffalo the day before the count, and some elephants, giraffe and a nice pair of mating lions on the day after. So, there are still some animals left in Zimbabwe.

We hitched a lift back to Bulawayo with some other counters, and passed deserted, overgrown farm after deserted overgrown farm.

But the land was greening-up and new shoots were appearing almost before our eyes. Even if we hadn't seen many of them, and even though there is poaching on a serious scale in Zimbabwe, I knew that the animals were out there, somewhere.

Everyone on the count offered to help Mrs Blog and me, and I promised them all that Tonka would return, as soon as he was fixed.

The national parks staff were glad to see us again, and had done a good job keeping Robins Camp (where we were based) as spic and span as they could on a next-to-zero budget.

My friend the farmer, back in Harare, was putting on a brave face after losing his home and his livelihood. We went out to Lake Chivero, near the capital, and watched him immerse himself in his favourite sport - sailing.

All is not right in Zimbabwe - far from it - and just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong, but as Mrs Blog and I boarded a plane for South Africa I realised I couldn't wait to get back next year.