Friday, 18 July 2014

Mandela Day

Today we celebrated Nelson Mandela's birthday, the first one after his passing. It's a tradition to do 67 minutes of service to the community on this day, in commemoration of the 67 years that Mr. Mandela spent fighting for freedom. Earthstompers has participated in different community projects for each of the last three years.

We were invited by The Backpack Cape Town to an event organized by Uthando South Africa at Isikhokelo Primary School in Khayelitsha Township. The school has an existing community garden, which they wanted to expand. We worked with the primary school students to dig up patches of grass and plant herbs, vegetables, and flowers.  Many hands made fast work, and we had some very enthusiastic shovelers in our group!

The students gave us a warm reception back in the school hall, showing off their singing, marimba playing, and dancing.  My favorite was the "Gum Boot Dance."

I must say, I feel that the students gave me more than I contributed to them. It was a really lovely event, and I was impressed by the school the headmaster, the students, and Uthando's organization. I want to make it a habit to do service to the community more regularly.


Thursday, 12 June 2014

Earthstompers on wild animal attractions

South Africa is a beautiful country, filled with great people, beautiful scenery and amazing wildlife. Tourism is growing steadily (above the world average of 4.5%) and one of the main reasons for this is the incredible wildlife we have in South Africa.

An industry that grew along with tourism is the touching, riding and interaction with wildlife.  Animals from Southern Africa and in some cases from India, Madagascar, South America are kept at these "wildlife attractions", where tourists can see, feed, touch or ride the animals. This is often offered under the pretense that a wild animal is orphaned or injured, and has been rescued for its own wellbeing.  This is true in some cases, but unfortunately in many cases, it is done for one main reason - tourism profit. 

What comes along with a wild animal being "safe" for humans to ride, touch or feed is often cruel or intense training. This is done behind the scenes, so all we as guests see is an incredible animal up close. This seems pretty neat, and it's exciting to interact with these wild animals, but we just cannot justify what it takes to make this interaction possible. 

For this reason, Earthstompers has decided not to offer animal attractions on our tours where wild animals are trained for human entertainment. We much prefer the awesome National Parks and game reserves that South Africa has to offer, where tourists can see these animals in their natural environment. We visit Addo Elephant National Park every week on our tours, where guests can see elephants, lions, kudu, warthogs, wildebeest, lions, meerkats, impalas, buffalo, and so much more.

I know many of you reading this have been on tours with us in the past where we would visit places where you could feed elephants, pet cheetahs, etc.  We must admit, it is exciting to see these spectacular animals up close!  But we have grown as a tour operator, we must look at the bigger picture, and once we have learned what these animals might go through for our entertainment, we just cannot support these attractions in good conscience. 

Please note, we are not making allegations of animal abuse at any specific attraction, and we are not criticizing other tour operators who patronize these attractions.  We are merely saying that these kinds of attractions are not in line with our ethos at Earthstompers. 

We hope you will support us in this decision!  Please ask if you have any questions about specific attractions, we will continue to make decisions as we go with the best information we have available.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

This is no April fool's joke!

I’ve been taught as a child to always stay humble, keep your feet on the ground and show a lot of appreciation for opportunity instead of bragging. Well I really appreciate the good place that Earthstompers is in at the moment, but I would like to brag a bit. I will come back down to earth after this blog post and work even harder to keep the high standard we set over the last 8 years, but firstly I want to brag a bit, I want to show off!

I want to brag a bit with having the best staff. Nicole, Steph, thank you for being so great at what you do. Thank you for bringing back happy clients week after week! Chrissy, thank you for organizing my life and organizing all tourists and keeping Earthstompers up to the latest trends. You all work so hard and always go the extra mile for Earthstompers. I want to brag because we use the best accommodation, serve the best food and do the coolest activities. Thanks everybody for your hard work.

I want to brag about 65 excellent reviews on TripAdvisor, ALL of our reviews are 5 stars. I want to brag because we are ranked number 10 of 173 tour companies, and number 15 of 336 activities in Cape Town! I want to brag because we won “Awards of Excellence” 3 years running!

I want to brag because 2013 was our biggest year ever, but in January 2014 we hosted 233% more guests than in 2013, February 83% more and March 23% more than the previous year! This gives us 72% more guests already than in 2013, with April, May and June also looking like it is going to kick 2013’s butt!

Now I’m finished bragging, I’m coming back down to earth, I’m going back to work, I’m going to work as hard as always to make sure I can write a brag blog again in 2015. I’m keeping my feet solidly on the ground but my chest will stay swollen with pride.

Hendrik Human

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

A Kruger trip I'll never forget (warning - graphic content)

fish eagle
Last November, we put together an epic 16-Day tour for 11 Italian tourists, beginning in Cape Town, traveling along the Garden Route, heading up the Wild Coast, through the Drakensberg, and ending in Kruger National Park. You’ll have to ask Hendrik about that drive, but for now I’d like to share what turned out to be a Kruger experience we will never forget.

Sunday, we arose before the sun and had an incredible day of game viewing. It is such a privilege to have a large, well-managed National Park in South Africa. Kruger is really one of a kind, and I think it’s something that everyone should experience. 
beautiful young male lion

giraffe, with a huge herd of buffalo in the background

dung beetles
hippopotamus, with a stork in the tree
impala, with his oxpecker friend
grey go-away birds
purple roller
lion having a midday rest
pride of lions - 7 visible
the hard-to-find leopard
lion family
two of the 21 rhinos we saw
cheetah. pregnant, or maybe just eaten?

Monday, the Italians went on another full day game drive in the park, while Hendrik and I decided to go for an early morning guided bush walk.
The bush walks take place between 5-8am, and are offered at several different locations in the park. The walk is lead by two
Kruger Park rangers. Bush walks are normally about seeing the birds, plant life, and small creatures in the Park that you miss when whizzing by in a vehicle. The rangers are armed, in the rare case the group should be threatened by one of the larger animals. In most instances, if a large animal is seen on foot, it can be observed at a distance.  Or if the encounter is a little too close for comfort, the group can slowly back away, to make sure the animal isn’t scared or threatened. In the briefing before the walk, the rangers said, “Whatever you do, don’t run.”

We had a nice morning of hearing various birdcalls, looking at the flowers, checking out the insects, and seeing evidence of the bigger animals – tracks, nests, dung. We were walking along single file, when we heard a rustling in the bushes about 50 meters away. 

“Oh look, there’s a hippo!” said the lady near me.

“RRRRRUUUUUUUNNNNNNN!” said the ranger. 

The hippo came charging at us like you can’t believe. No mock charge. No time to fire warning shots. I’ve always heard that hippos are fast, and I am here to confirm that they can outrun humans.

We scrambled up an embankment and into the bushes, and got behind a big thicket while the ranger covered us. 

We then heard gunshots…the rangers were firing at the hippo.

It had been running straight at us, and when the ranger stopped to fire, it avoided him and went around the tree for us. It was about 10 meters away when the ranger fired the first shot.

It stumbled backwards a few meters, looking shocked that it had been hit. 

Although it was clearly hurt, it made like it was going to come at us again.  After about 30 seconds, the rangers fired a final shot to end its suffering and to make sure we were out of harm’s way.

I have since learned that hippos kill more persons than any other animal in Africa – nearly 3,000 per year. The males are very territorial, and aggressive at defending their stretch of river.

I don’t share this experience lightly. There are a range of emotions we felt, during and after the incident.  I’m obviously sad and sorry for the hippo.  I’m thankful for competent rangers, who did exactly the right thing. If they hadn’t acted swiftly, one (or more) of the seven of us would have died. It was scary in the moment, but even scarier afterwards to think about how very close we were to being maimed or killed. 

I’ve since been questioning whether we should have been walking in the bush, when that kind of danger is present. I feel like we were na├»ve for traipsing around in the animal’s territory. But I also must recognize that this kind of incident on a bush walk is a rare occurrence – when we got back to the Kruger gate and spoke to the manager, he said nothing like that had happened in the fourteen years he had been there. 

I have to recognize our rangers, Patrick and Peter, who were so well trained and courageous. I can say with certainty that the rangers had no choice but to shoot in this particular situation. You could see afterwards that the experience shook them up, but they acted with upmost professionalism. Two of the other guests on the walk were game rangers themselves, and they complemented our rangers on how they handled a very difficult situation.

Would I recommend a bush walk for our guests? I’m not sure at this point.  Both Hendrik and I had been on bush walks before, and it has been a big highlight of previous trips. It’s really a way to appreciate the natural environment in a way that you don’t often get to do. It builds a respect for nature, for the intricate design of the natural world, for the way our ancestors used the various plants and animals. We have even considered doing a multi-day guided walk in the park, but for now, I’m going to sit that one out.

We have hesitated telling the world about this experience, because most people won’t understand how to put this into context. I don’t want to perpetuate the negative image of wild, scary Africa – this is an experience that happened in a National Park, and a rare experience at that. Not all that different from what a bear encounter could be like in one of the US National Parks. I also don’t want to glorify the killing of the animal in any way. I share this solemnly as a real, first-hand experience that I will never forget.


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

15 Ways to be a Great Tourist

This post is inspired by a great article I read on the Getaway Blog: How NOT to behave on a game drive.  You'd be surprised at some of the antics that I've seen from tourists on game drives and as a part of our tours. Yes, I know that you paid for your tour, but that doesn't take away the need for good etiquette!
So here are a few tips from a well-seasoned (my girlfriend would say crotchety...) tour guide on how to be a great tourist.
  1. Smile and have fun. This is the most important and made it to number one on the list. Leave your problems at home, it is free to smile, you are on holiday. Nothing like a beautiful smile to lift the spirit. Have fun, this is why you came here.
  2. Respect the locals. You are a visitor in another country. You are in South Africa, the rainbow nation; we have many different languages, religions and cultures; respect this. If you do not understand, ask your guide, but don’t make assumptions. South Africa has a very interesting history, be sensitive about this, ask questions, be open minded, visit museums and educate yourself to better understand.
  3. Ask plenty of clever questions. Don’t just sit there and wonder about things. Ask the guides. They have plenty of interesting facts and stories to share with you. If the guide does not have an answer, there will always be Google.
  4. Be punctual. Don’t always be the last one on the bus. We know you are on holiday and everybody wants to have fun and sometimes we stay up a bit late and have a few extra beers, the wine is awesome and the booze so cheap, but please be on time. Your guide and fellow travelers woke up early as well and the other guests are never happy if they have to sit in the car waiting for that one late guest. The guide plans their itinerary carefully for the day and you do not want to be the reason why others miss out on an activity.
  5. Phones & wifi.  This is the first thing clients ask when walking into a restaurant or into the accommodation. No, I refuse to put Wi-Fi in my vehicles, look out the window at our beautiful country, talk to the other guests, listen to the guide, this is why you are here! Things have changed so much, less talking, more social media, there is nothing more anti-social than social media around a dinner table. I understand you dived with sharks, saw the Big 5 and did a bungy jump and you would love to share this all on Facebook, but at least make some time for socializing with your group. When traveling in South Africa it is all about good food, good company a cozy fire and a great atmosphere. Make use of this. Get your face out of your phone. Talk to the people around you, there are plenty of interesting people that traveled all over the world and did all sorts of things. Wi-Fi is widely available, use it, share your experience, but be sensible and sociable. 
  6. This is not a zoo! When on safari you are driving through a natural habitat where animals roam free. (Except if your tour operator decides to take you to one of these private zoo-like Game Reserves). The rhino is not tied to a tree or in a cage. If you want a guarantee to see everything, go to the zoo, watch Discovery channel or stay for a month. Be patient, be alert, help the guide look, you will see plenty of spectacular animals.
  7. Be sensitive. You will be traveling with other clients from other nations. Some countries are at war, some countries have a president you don't like and some countries do things differently than you are used to. Be sensitive and open-minded about these things. Take the opportunity to get to know someone whose life and nation is different from your own.
  8. Speak the language. English is the language of business in South Africa. Most mixed group tours are conducted in English. Yes, sometimes it is strange to speak English with your German boyfriend, but with other guests from other cultures and other languages on the same tour and in the same vehicle it is just good manners to speak a language that everybody can understand. Most South Africans speak English as a second language, you will be able to communicate. Please enquire for a tour conducted in your mother tongue should the English be a bit rusty, Dutch, French, German, Spanish and Chinese guides are widely available! Also not a bad idea to learn some of the local words before you go to a country.
  9. Your guidebook can be wrong! Don’t be obnoxious and interrupt your guide all the time. You are not a safari guide; you did not grow up in South Africa. If you are an expert in any field, share your knowledge in a humble manner. Yes there are many different stories about where Knysna got its name from. Why do the whales come to Hermanus? Ten different possible answers. There are different opinions on things. Do not sit with your head in your guide book all the time and double check all the facts your guide gives you, rather become part of the conversation and say what you heard or read and make it a discussion point. 
  10. Try the local food and drink! We love our food and wine in South Africa. Food is fresh, local plentiful and prepared with love and passion. The food is part of your travel experience, be adventurous. You are only here once, stay away from Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants and McDonald’s, you can have that again when you go back home! Do not leave South Africa before you had a braai, potjie, bobotie, bunny chow, biltong, pap and off course our excellent selection of local wines.
  11. Be a responsible tourist. Use reusable water bottles, our water is safe to drink. Make use of recycling bins provided. Support local tour operators, locally-owned accommodation, local communities and businesses. Abide to rules in National parks, do not feed animals, swim in between flags on the beaches and listen to lifeguards. You can also buy a tree to reduce your environmental impact of your travel. See our partnership with Greenpop
  12. Be safe. Listen to the locals, if they tell you not to go some places after dark, don’t! You can have a great time in South Africa, just be clever and take precaution like anywhere else in the world. HIV/AIDS is real in South Africa! Enough said, look after yourself!
  13. Pack light and sensibly. Don’t be the guest with the biggest heaviest bag that breaks your poor tour guide's back whenever he has to take it out the van. What do you have in that bag? Your sister?! You do not need all that stuff you move along every day and it is a nuisance to load and off load all your belongings. Pack light, you will make your own life and the tour guide’s life much easier.
  14. Tipping is not a town in China. Tip when in a restaurant, these waiters work for a low wages and most of their money comes from tips. If you enjoyed your time in the Cango Caves and your guide was a rock star, show him/her some appreciation. 10-20% tip is acceptable in South Africa. Also the other way around, if you are not happy, do not tip!
  15. Review your experience. I was one of them, never reviewed anything, but since I've been using review websites for all my travel needs I've started to review most experiences. This is just fair if you use review websites to also share your experience. If you had a great time, tell the world, if you had a not so great experience, contact management or your agent and then share your opinion with the world. This will take 5 minutes of your time, but can change another travelers whole travel experience and keep all companies on their toes!
In summary, we can provide a great tour guide, great accommodation, great scenery, and great attractions, but the guests are really what make or break the tour experience. We get interesting, intelligent, fun, adventurous, serious, not so serious, humorous and not so humorous, boring and fun guests from all parts of the world. I have many lasting friendships from my tours and the guests also become friends for life. (I even met my wife-to-be in one of these environments.) When traveling in groups, keep these pointers in mind because YOU are a part of the tour package.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The early Christmas spirit - Santa Shoe Box

Over the last 3 years we participated in the Santa Shoe box Project with PG Tops Travel and Tours. Santa Shoe boxes are sponsored by companies and individuals, filled with goodies, and given to children at Christmastime.

See more about the project here: Santa Shoe Box Website

Check out the cool Packing Party Video from Sunday: PG Tops Video

We would just like to thank the PG Tops Travel and Tours for arranging the Santa Shoebox Project again this year! We went to the packing party on Sunday and it was great fun. It is a great feeling to know we help make these children’s Christmas special. This was the 3rd year that Earthstompers contributed towards the Santa Shoe boxes and we will definitely be part of it again next year.

Well done Yolanda, Pieter, Roelf and Bianca.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Winter 2013 Newsletter

Wow, it’s almost spring. This winter really did not feel like winter. It feels like winter outside at the moment, but after the great weather we had last week and after spending almost a month in the scorching heat of the US it really felt like winter was shorter than other years. 

Another reason why it never felt like winter is that it never got QUIET! The tours have been running week in and week out without stop since our peak summer season. Normally this time of year we are ready to get going again after a good hibernation. This year we have not had time for a hibernation - our winter season was 50% busier than last year!

The spring flowers have arrived on Route 62 and along the West Coast and the whales have come all the way from the South Pole to spend spring here in South Africa.

Can you see the whale tail??

Earthstompers Does America
We spent about a month in the US visiting family and promoting Earthstompers to our ever growing American market. Americans are now second behind the Germans as Earthstompers' biggest market - they have even passed the Brits! We went to see a few new agents and did some training for existing agents. The Americans are really impressed with our products and we are expecting a lot of growth still to come from the American market, especially with the Rand being so weak against the US Dollar. It is such great value for money for Americans to travel to South Africa.

We had some good fun in the US, but one thing is for sure, once you leave South Africa you appreciate it so much more. We are so fortunate to live in such a beautiful country with such stunning people, great food, awesome scenery, wonderful climate and a laid back and relaxed feel. It made me realize again how much we have to offer in South Africa and what great service providers we are. Technologically we are way behind the US, but in service they can learn a lot from us down here at the Southern Tip of Africa.

Mandela Day
We recently celebrated Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday on 18 July (Mandela Day). Mandela Day is about taking 67 minutes and spending it in service, commemorating the 67 years Nelson Mandela spent fighting for human rights.

The Earthstompers tour group was on their way from Plettenberg Bay to Addo and joined forces with Stormsriver Adventures to spend their 67 minutes in Stormsriver Village with the kids from Stormsriver Primary handing out stationary and snacks. Our guests had a blast, but more importantly the children loved it and there were plenty of smiles to go around!

South African Youth Travel Confederation (SAYTC) Annual Conference
This year's SAYTC annual general meeting was held in Soweto, and what an event!  It was so much fun, great speakers, great parties, dancing the night away to reggae tunes, bringing back 1995 Rugby world cup memories with a live performance by PJ Powers, lots of “networking”, Soweto bicycle tour and plenty of laughter and good times! We would just like to thank Deborah, Tara, and Gavin from SAYTC and Lebo and Maria from Lebo's Soweto Backpackers for all their hard work and dedication in making this such a big success! Soweto is really a must see for tourists and South Africans alike.

Earthstompers is Turning 8!
Look out for Earthstompers 8th birthday celebration in January 2014! Can you believe it? We’ve been operating tours along the Garden Route and Addo since 2006!  We’ve decided instead of having a big party in the middle of peak season to spend our money wisely and donate a tree to Greenpop for every client joining our weekly Garden Route and Addo Adventure Tour in January. This is our way of thanking South Africa and its communities for allowing us to host foreign guests in this beautiful country.