South Africa part 2- safari time!

So ( basically a month ago now) after our few days in Cape Town (where I didn’t get to a parkun because our plane landed on Saturday morning after they all ended) we had a 2 hour flight to Jo’burg, and then a 4 hour transfer to our safari place. Yes, four hours. We had chosen the safari as it looked amazing and also was malaria free, which due to the last minute nature of our trip suited us. But mainly because it looked amazing. We could have flown to Botswana as it was close to the border, but changing between countries didn’t seem that easy. So it was either get in a tiny and very expensive plane, get drive, or drive ourselves (we are glad we didn’t choose the final option in the end as I think we would have been horrendously lost).

Anyway, the drive was interesting- the outskirts of Jo’burg seemed like a big US city, with huge motorways and service stations. But soon we were driving on little roads through small villages, past townships and farms, and the more “traditional” African landscape. I loved seeing the painted buildings- we saw a school with numbers and the alphabet painted brightly all over the building. The last hour of the journey was on a very bumpy unpaved road (this was warned about when we booked it)- the drive was not slowing down and I think my Garmin thought I was running as it was jiggling us about so much!

The reserve we were staying in had bookings only, and when we were waiting at the entrance hut for them to check our booking, a giraffe walked across the road in front of us! It was all so exciting! We were still nearly an hour from the lodge. We arrived there just before 4pm, and they told us we could make the safari if we wanted to. Of course we wanted to!

Rhinos on our first day. I loved seeing them- they were so gentle and peaceful. Our guide told us that all other animals were reported over the radio, but because of poachers they never disclosed the rhinos. It was heartbreaking. They also told the guests how many of the other animals that were there, but even the guides would not be allowed to know how many rhinos were in the park. 

We were to have the same driver and tracker for our stay, so they asked us about what we would like to see. Around sunset they found somewhere to stop (which felt a bit weird at first- getting out of the vehicle after seeing all of these animals) and we had drinks and nibbles, and then continued in the dark, with our tracker shining a torch back and forth (very hypnotic). It was then back for dinner at the lodge, which that night was a sort of BBQ around a fire pit (loads of salads and veggie options).

Our lodge- the balcony did have a small fence around it but it looked right out into the bush and we saw so many animals from here.

We were there from Tuesday evening to Saturday morning, and each day went like this:

6am wake up call. Head up to the main lodge (in the dark you had to be accompanied by security guards as they were cautious about the wild animals)- there was tea, coffee and  rusks (looked like biscotti) if you wanted. Then we got into the open sided jeep things.

It was so cold, so for the morning ones they provided hot water bottles, blankets, and these huge ponchos with fleecy linings- I had it all!

6.30am – Head off and look for animals. The guide was amazing (she was a zoologist) and had so many facts about the animals. It was mainly us and a family of four, so we had a lot of space in there, and no-one crowding to see the animals. She was so respectful of the animals too- she would stay a long way back and would turn off the engine if we were close. Sometimes with the elephants she would show us certain behaviours that meant they didn’t want to be disturbed, so she would back away or leave them.

Sometime after sunrise the safari would stop (the park had special designated drinks areas- nice and wide and open so we would not be surprised by a leopard)- in the morning I went for hot chocolate, but there was coffee and tea too. Plus freshly made muffins (a different one each day- banana, lemon poppyseed, apple cinnamon, chocolate chip..).

One of our morning stops- there were some caves nearby so we walked there (with our guide)- she found that hyenas had been sleeping in the caves overnight!

Then we would climb back on and see more animals before getting back to the lodge.

The landscape was not what I expected- it was far more tree-covered- I was expecting vast plains, but it was much more varied. We saw baboons here- this was an old waterfall and what looks like rock was actually solidified algae.

9.30am approx- Arrive back (welcomed with hot towels)- we could either shower first, or go straight to breakfast. There was a buffet with all the cold breakfast items imaginable (cereal, pastries, toast, fresh fruit platters, yoghurts, even cheese and meats), plus a menu, although they would also cook anything- I had French toast one day which was lovely. On a couple of days I stuck to the cold things, and then on another day had French toast again, even though it wasn’t on the menu, they offered it all.

You had a view of the watering hole from the veranda where breakfast was served and so every day we saw different animals there- zebra, kudu with their amazing twisty horns, warthog, wildebeest…. pretty special indeed. They have artificial watering holes as the reserve is on old farmland and so they needed to create places, although there were some natural ones on the reserve, as well as a river.

10.30-3.00 ish- This was time to chill in our room. On a couple of days I went for a short run on the treadmill, as there was an open air gym (no running in the bush was allowed).

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5K was enough for me as it was so hot. I wore my parkrun 50 t-shirt so I felt like I was sort of running one in SA! On another day I went for a neck, back and shoulder massage in the spa (the exchange rate is very good so it was very reasonable indeed)- this was amazing but I put “medium” pressure, and goodness knows what firm would have been like!

There was lunch from 12-2pm, but we didn’t bother as we were always full from breakfast. We spent time reading on the veranda, or listening to podcasts. It was brilliant because you would look up and see animals wandering past. One day a huge herd of elephants went by, including a baby so tiny it was almost hidden under the stomach of another one.

One day we saw loads of giraffes and I ended up watching them for an hour. They were so funny- they would walk, then freeze, then very slowly much on the leaves, and then a few minutes later take a few more steps.

I loved seeing the warthogs too- they put up their tail as they go to leave, and that indicates “follow me”- they trot along in a very comical way. I could have just sat there and watched the animals go by for the whole time, even without the drives.

3.00pm- Afternoon tea was served on the veranda- this was basically iced tea, some savoury canapes and then some sort of freshly baked cake- again often we were not that hungry but most days I had something small.

3.30pm – The afternoon safari set off. This started off nice and warm, but you needed to bring jumpers and coats because it soon got very cold with the air rushing past, especially once the sun went down.

We saw lots of lions on these drives! Here are some lions eating a buffalo- the bone crunching sounds were graphic! They had special “locks” so that only a limited number of cars could be at each sighting- so they would not disturb the animals. Our driver would move the car to a few different positions so we could get different views. She told us that if a lion came up to the car, they would see the vehicle as one item so as long as we sat still we would be OK.

One evening was my absolute favourite- we saw two female lions, two older cubs, and three tiny cubs. The male lion was also there but hard to see as he was behind a termite mound. Honestly it was amazing how well camouflaged they were- they are huge but once they like down even if you know they are there they can be hard to spot. The cubs were so playful with each other, it was just amazing.

The tracking was amazing to watch- the driver and tracker would be peering at the floor for prints- on one of our stops they pointed out various ones to us- we could identify the big cat prints because of the dents in the bottom. We also saw rhino ones- bigger than dinner plates! Our guide knew so much about the birds too- we saw a lot of hornbills (so I constantly had that line from Lion King; “Kings don’t need advice from little hornbills for a start” going around my head), plenty of very pretty birds (I did write them all down) and an eagle.

Sometime around sunset we would find a place to stop, and here we would have sundown drinks. They asked before they left if we wanted anything, so they had freshly made iced tea for me, beer for Andy- some people had cocktails. They also got a little camping stove and cooked kebabs- veggie ones for me, and then they would cook meat ones. There were also snacks like pretzels, raisins and that jerky thing.

We saw many beautiful sunsets. Then we would climb back up and the tracker, sat on the front, would hook up a huge spotlight and gently sweep it left to right, right to left as we drove, looking for eyes reflecting. They had a policy that they would not shine it on animals that should not be out at night as it could confuse them, so if they saw animals like that they would switch off the beam and drive past.

Our first lion sighting was our second evening- this male lion was known to be very calm around vehicles and had been seen near to our camp. At first we found him walking along the road (they prefer to as it’s easier than going through the thorny bushes) but later we saw him again as we were heading back to the lodge.

7.30pm (approx)- We would arrive back (again welcomed with hot towels) and then shown to dinner- sometimes it was around the fire pit, others up on the balcony. One night we were the only guests there, so they set it up for us in our room which was amazing.

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They even lit us a fire as it was a bit chilly. The chef would always come and speak to us, and the food was just fantastic. There was always a starter, soup, main and dessert- nothing too large, and so full of fresh vegetables and fruits. Plus the vegetarian option was not a different version of the meat course, it was something totally different. On the day we had dinner in our room we had aubergine carpacio to begin (three slices of seasoned crispy aubergine with some lovely vegetables), then carrot and potato soup, a traditional African dish of baked spiced lentils with some fresh salsa on the side, and then sticky toffee pudding.

When we sat in the main part of the lodge you could see the watering hole as it was lit with a sort of faint orange light- a couple of evenings we saw a rhino there, and one night a hyena!

Then we would have to try and stay awake for a bit and let dinner go down before going to sleep as it would be starting all again in the morning.

We didn’t manage to see a leopard, so we have been told we need to go back as that is the last of the big five (we managed to see lions, elephants, rhinos and buffalo all in one evening once!).  It was totally amazing, and I am so glad that we managed to get there and juggle it around our house move. We managed a safari drive on the morning before leaving for our (four hour….) transfer, and I don’t think I could ever get bored of them. There were some guys who left a day early because in their words, “once you’ve seen one elephant, you’ve seen them all”- what??? We saw so many- we saw some younger ones play fighting- they pushed over small trees as a show of their strength- it was fascinating. Also those guys wanted to see lions but didn’t manage it- I am not sure why they didn’t stay to try and see a lion.

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When our guide found out I was a teacher, she offered to make a cast of a lion footprint using plaster of Paris, so on one of our drink stops we walked along a bit until we found one, and then went back later to collect it. They packaged it up and I am glad to say it survived the flight home.

Andy got some amazing photos with his zoom lens, so now we have the tricky decisions of which pictures to print!

Would you ever consider a safari? 

Heading up to Manchester

Last weekend we were off to Manchester. We had originally looked at driving up most of the way on Friday, and then doing some parkrun tourism before driving the rest of the way, but we could not find anywhere suitable (eg a parkrun close by to a hotel) on the way, and didn’t really fancy that drive, so we booked train tickets instead.

It meant I headed to Panshanger parkrun- now it’s very local to me and took me 6 minutes to drive there! I think it’s about 5 miles away so potentially I could run one way (and get a lift back if my dad is going) but the only way I know is on dual carriageways with no pavements, so I need to look into that. Anyway, I was still aching after body pump, so I started at the back, although this ended up being very stop-start as it’s very narrow. I enjoyed it though. 31.20 (my 72nd one).

Then it was a bit of a rush to get showered, finish packing and drive to the train station (Milton Keynes)- we stopped on the way to get some lunch for the train. We had a bit of a panic in the car park, as it was pay and display (honestly, what a stupid idea for a train car park- what if the train is delayed…), and the machine would only do one day tickets, not the weekend rates as advertised. I tried to call them but got no answer, and I didn’t want to miss our train so I took photos of the signs and then rushed to the platform. (I called them later and they were not worried and said we could buy a new ticket online after midnight).

Anyway, the train journey was lovely- we had seats in the quiet carriage so we listened to the film podcast and looked out of the window.

After checking in to our hotel (this took about 30 minutes- Disney has shorter queues!) we headed out for a little wander and to find some dinner- in the end we went to Northern Soul for an epic grilled cheese sandwich- they are so massive we easily could have shared.

Then we walked out to the city stadium to see The Stone Roses.

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First up were Public Enemy, which was just very confusing- a lot of shouting the names of people in the group- I don’t think Flava Flave even knew what day let alone what time it was (and yes, he still had his massive clock on).

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It was lovely as the sun was going down – a bit like a festival.

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Then the main event- they were awesome although there were lots of idiots in the crowd letting off flares the whole time. Ian Brown even had a go at some of them- they are really dangerous, but people still kept doing it. It was so weird though as so many people were getting up and going to get more drinks the whole time- seeing drunk people try to negotiate steps carrying four pints was amusing at first, and then got annoying as I was right by the steps so kept having to move so I would not get soaked. Plus even though they claimed it was a non-smoking venue (even electronic ones) but so many people were blatantly ignoring it. We saw one person told to stop, even though the same marshal was watching the whole time. Anyway, the band were great- my ears were ringing after.

We walked back to the centre as the trams were totally rammed.

The next morning we went to Bill’s for breakfast- I was very sad to see they don’t do the peanut butter French toast any more, but they still did the pancakes and they were super.

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We then checked out of our hotel and had a few hours wandering around the shops before getting the train home- another good journey with podcast listening.

Do you like train journeys? It is so much easier than driving, plus you get right to the city centre.

3 Things All New Bike Riders Should Do*

Hello, I have a collaborative post for you today from Ellie Jo. There have been a few posts on my running club website all about a new local cycling group. Now, it’s not for me, but it does seem to be having a bit of a boom at the moment, so read on if you are interested:

There is no better way to travel during the summer than on a bike. Not only is it fun, but it’s also a fantastic way of boosting your fitness levels and burning calories. It’s also considered one of the most environmentally friendly forms of transportation. So you can exercise and travel, while still being kind to the environment. With benefits such as these, it’s not hard to see why so many people are getting back on their bikes. If you haven’t ridden a bike since you were a child, you’ll naturally be excited to start pedalling. But you need to do these three things before taking your new bike for a test run.

Get your bike insured

Whether you want to use it for leisurely rides or competitions, you need to get your bike insured. It’s no secret that new bikes can often be expensive. This makes them an appealing targets for thieves. So if you’re uninsured, and your bike is stolen, you can’t get a replacement or money back. This also applies if your bike is damaged accidentally during a fall or crash. These are more likely to occur when you’re just starting out. So it’s crucial that you have insurance cover before taking your bike out for the first time. Look at bike insurance comparison sites online to see which package offers the best protection at an affordable price.

Buy two locks

Buying two bike locks may seem excessive. But the protection and peace of mind they provide makes them a worthwhile purchase. If thieves see that your bike has multiple locks, they will be deterred from attempting to steal it. Many bike insurance companies will require that you have a secure locking system too. There are many different styles of bike lock to choose from, many of which claim to be the best. Narrow down your options by reading reviews online and by asking other cyclists for their recommendations. Choose two bike locks and learn how to attach them before setting off. Ideally, they should wrap around the wheels, frame and the object you are attaching it to. Never lock your bike onto old posts and fences which could be easily dismantled. While it might seem time consuming, a bike theft only takes seconds to occur. So always take the time to do it.

Be prepared

If you’re planning on cycling through towns and cities, you need to prepare yourself for these busy surroundings. Cars and lorries will overtake you and pedestrians will step out in front of you. You might also come across other more experienced cyclists who disregard the rules of the road. This can make cycling stressful and less enjoyable if you aren’t fully prepared. If you’re feeling anxious about cycling on the roads for the first time, you might benefit from taking a cycling course. This will give you the skills and confidence you need to be a safe and competent cyclist. Look for courses in your local area and join up as soon as possible.

Once you’ve completed these important things, you can head out on your first biking adventure.

 

What tips do you have to add about cycling? I used to cycle to and from the bus stop when I went to uni, and always used to make sure the lock went through the frame and the wheel, but I saw lots of bikes get stolen (wheels left behind), and Andy had his saddle stolen once. If I were to get my bike out I would take it to a shop and have the brakes checked out, as I don’t think they would be safe at the moment. I also would add a helmet is a must.

Muggy runs

So, suddenly after getting back from holiday, it seemed like summer had arrived. Well, the warmth anyway. We arrived home on Sunday morning (I will get around to a recap of the safari because it was pretty special, but that may take a while)- our flight got in around 5am so we were home by 6.30. Because there is only one hour of time difference, there isn’t any jet lag, which after a 12 hour flight was new to me. We had a very efficient day doing lots of unpacking, but I didn’t really fancy a run that day.

My running since then has picked up:

Monday- A loop that turned out to be 4 miles- it was so hot I had to keep on stopping to cool down, as a lot of it wasn’t in shade.

Tuesday- Club run- we had the most awful violent thunderstorm at work, so I thought that our planned 8 mile route would be changed to something shorter, but over this way there was no thunder so we did a hilly 8.3 mile route (normally reserved for a Sunday morning longer run)- it was so sticky and sweaty, and we all had flies stuck to us by the end. Good, but super tough.

Wednesday- Walk after work.

Thursday- Attempted a different route which I thought would be shorter than my Monday route- turned out to be 4.3 miles so a bit longer! Again, very hot.

Friday- After work I did a lot of unpacking, collected post from our old place, popped to town to spend my birthday vouchers (got a Sonos for my office), caught up on work, and all before Gogglebox!

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Saturday- A mile run from town, a mainly walk with sprinting thrown in tail run at parkrun, and a walk into town later on.

Sunday- 9 miles in the rain. I tried to use mapometer to sort out a route, but as I went off road around the lakes for a bit, it got confused, so in the end I had to loop around a bit more to get the miles in. I have a 10 mile race in a few weeks time so wanted to make sure I was OK doing that distance still. The rain was refreshing and luckily didn’t get too heavy. We did a bit more unpacking and were pretty much done! Not too bad at all.

Monday- Little walk to the shops after work, avoiding the showers.

Tuesday- Shorter club run. This was fantastic- we were allowed to run in the grounds of Hatfield House as most of the people had passes, and it was lovely to be off road and away from the traffic. The scenery was stunning too- the sun came out and at some points you are running through woodland, but other times it is huge fields of wheat, almost shimmering in the sunlight.

Wednesday- I finally found a loop that is just over 3 miles long! That is the minimum distance that I think is worth a hair wash, and I am not really keen on out and back routes (plus they look so boring on Strava) so I was keen to find a loop. Although I do enjoy running, sometimes if I am tired after work or have lots to do, the temptation is to cut it short, whereas on a loop, once I am on it I keep going (even though I know I could turn around). It doesn’t quite make sense, but I prefer it. Anyway, it was sunny and hot when I left, and as I turned one corner I could see the most enormous black cloud- luckily I was home before it emptied!

Today I have booked onto body pump- this is the first time since I fell over in the half marathon and hurt my back. It has seemed fine, so I am hoping it will be alright although I am going to use very light weights. Fingers crossed!

How have you been coping in this muggy weather? Are you good at finding new walking, cycling or running routes or do you stick to the same ones?

Tail running around the lake

So this weekend my car was being serviced (over in St Albans) so when I booked the date I had offered to tail run, as I had to drop it off at 8.30am, a mile from the parkrun start. Perfect. I thought I would potter around in town after (partly why I thought I would tail run as I didn’t fancy wandering around town all sweaty) but it turned out my parents were back from holiday the day before, so Dad said he would do that parkrun, the drive me home for breakfast at theirs. Even better.

It was a rather sticky morning, and by the time I arrived at the start my glasses were fogging up from the warmth- not sure why that happens as they are fine when I run, but as soon as I stop they fog up. Anyway, I collected my fitbit tail runner vest (more like a dress, you’ll see) and chatted to one of the scanners who I work with. Then over her shoulder I saw my dad- they had been in Namibia for over 3 weeks (before our house move) so it was great to see him. My brother had also come along for the run, so we had a chat before the run started. There was another tail runner (tomorrow is the St Albans half marathon so I think they had a lot of offers for volunteers)- I quite like that, it’s happened at Panshanger before and means you can chat and not impose on the last few runners as some of them don’t like you hovering behind them.

There was a big turnout (343 runners) including this person wearing a full on lion costume (in support of the remain campaign). Much respect in that heat!

From their facebook page.

As we started it occurred to me that it was going to be a bit harder, because this route goes along the path to the lake, three laps of the lake, then back along the park. I’ve only even done it at Panshanger which is one big loop. Keeping track of the back runners would be more challenging. One guy told us he had MS and that if he overheated his legs would go numb, so we were not to worry if he was on the ground so long as he was talking. Another guy (who is one of the RD’s) was coming back from a knee operation so wanted to walk it in under 50 minutes. He thought he would be with us for the whole time, but in fact he went a long way ahead as there was a lady with her eight year old son (we learnt he was eight as she was shouting at him after a few hundred metres things like “you are so unfit for an 8 year old, you should be able to run more than 100m/ if you don’t do any exercise you’ll get fat… later someone heard her say “no pudding for a week”-  that poor boy is not going to have fond memories of running…)- he was struggling and kept stopping, so we had to stop a bit of a way back because it was a little awkward.

We chatted to the marshals briefly on our way past (it was strange thinking “we will see you twice more”)- one guy was great and cheered on “the fitbits” each time we walked past!

On our first lap my dad and brother went past on their second (or possibly third). I did think then that perhaps a one lap course has advantages. It was nice to look around the lake and see a stream of runners, but as we started our second most of the runners were peeling off for the home straight. On the second lap we came across the guy with MS, who was sat down. He was worried he was at the back, but we reassured him we were only on our second, and soon after he overtook us and headed to the finish. Then the lady and her son decided to stop, so then we had to find the next final runner- he was right at the other end of the lake so in our final lap we had a bit of a speedy run to catch him up. We walked the rest of the way together, and he was very pleased to finish with 49.08- well under his 50 minute target.

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See! Look at my vest- more like a dress!

After that we headed home for pancakes cooked by my mum (Andy drove around to meet us there), and a look at their amazing safari photos before I went to collect my car.

I was having a look and the last time I ran at St Albans was March 2015, when I was marathon training- Dad picked me up, we ran parkrun and then I ran home from there. It was the first parkrun I did, and it was my only one until Panshanger started up, so it was good to go back there. I think I should go in the autumn sometime and see if I can get close to my pb, as it is a faster course, but most weeks my local ones are going to win out I think.

(That was run number 71 for me, 21st time of volunteering)

Did you like exercising when you were a child? Do you have a junior parkrun near you? Apparently there is a group of people keen to set one up, but because of all the parks being used for football on Sunday mornings they are finding it hard to find a suitable location.