Thursday, 26 February 2015

Up close & personal with the Great White

Today’s blog comes from Franzio Fortuin, our Earthstompers intern.  He recently had a chance to participate in Shark Cage Diving, one of the AMAZING optional activities we offer on Mondays of tour.  Thank you Marine Dynamics for giving him this opportunity!


It’s common amongst us humans to have mixed feelings when it comes to “sharks”. I myself had my doubts about them, mainly because they look like they are constantly hungry and you are on the menu.

But I recently had a change of heart towards my friends from the ocean.  I was privileged enough to get an experience of a lifetime: I went Shark Cage Diving.

Outline of the day's activities
The day starts with an early pick up in Cape Town at your accommodation between 4 and 6 in the morning. We then had a 2-hour drive to Gansbaai; once we got there we enjoyed a lovely breakfast and a briefing about the dive.  We got into our diving gear, which consisted of a wetsuit, goggles, and boots (the company provides all the gear you need – you just wear your swimming costume). The water can be anywhere between 12º C and 20º C, so the wetsuit and boots help you keep warm.

After we were dressed we got on the boat, and soon we were off to see some Great Whites. We went to “shark hotspots”, where they typically see a lot of sharks, and we indeed saw many sharks (including quite a few large ones!). We spent some time at the shark hot spot to give everyone a proper chance to meet the Great Whites.

The cage is attached to the side of the boat, so 8 persons at a time can get in the cage and go below the water to see the sharks as they swim by.  Visibility is usually 6 - 8 meters underwater. Those not in the cage still have a great view from the boat deck of the passing sharks.

Snacks, drinks and hot chocolate were served on board to the guests, which is a nice addition. Once everyone had seen the sharks more than a couple of times, we headed back to the shore. Before we got on the bus again to head back home they served us with some nice hot soup and some bread to warm us back up.  All in all, we were out on the water for about 3 hours.

This experience was probably one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my life. Having a space of less than 2 meters between me and the largest predatory fish on earth was absolutely breathtaking. To me, these animals are amazing creatures that deserve more respect and conservation then what they are currently receiving, because in actual fact they are an endangered species.

But the sharks weren’t the only thing that stood out in this experience. What also caught my eye and stole my heart was the brilliant staff of the shark diving company Marine Dynamics.  Every single person who I came into contact with was informative, helpful, professional and just down right friendly. What really stole my heart was the sincere passion and commitment these people have towards their job and I could see that every person took pride in his/her position whatever it may be.

Not only does Marine Dynamics offer amazing service to their clients but they offer lifesaving service to the most important element of their company, the marine life. They save on average 100-130 birds per year, including the South African Penguins who are also an endangered species. They have now started to build a Rehabilitation Centre in Gansbaai called the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary (APSS) that is due to open this month. The aim of the centre is to get injured animals to a safe and secure facility in time to start its rehabilitation much faster and increasing its chance of survival and to restore the natural balance for the wildlife in Gansbaai. The APSS was founded by Gansbaai local, owner of Marine Dynamics and life-long birder, Wilfred Chivell. And this is not all, please read more about the many conservation efforts Marine Dynamics is involved with here.

These are two of the reasons why we at Earthstompers choose to work with Marine Dynamics: to give our clients the best service and quality experiences, and to support a company that looks after the environment and the marine life that calls it home.

I am Franzio Fortuin, up close and personal with the great white of the ocean.   

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Ebola! In South Africa?

“Fear of Ebola highest amongst people who did not pay attention during math and science class” - New Yorker Magazine :-)

I know many blogs and articles have been talking about Ebola; but I would just like to emphasize a few of the facts again, as it seems some were not paying attention in geography class either!

Many people think Africa is a country; Africa is not country but a continent, Africa consists of more than 50 countries.  Africa is 30,221,532 km2 (11,668,599 sq. mi) in size; this is the second biggest continent of the world. The continent is bigger than China, Japan, USA, India and Europe combined.

West Africa is where the outbreak of Ebola began. Countries are considered high risk, and include Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
East Africa is Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, famous for wildlife and safari holidays, with no Ebola cases.
Southern Africa is where South Africa is found (our home - Cape Town and the Garden Route) along with our neighbours Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.

I understand that distance these days is not an issue with air travel, but just so you understand how far Cape Town actually is from West Africa I will compare distances for you below:

West Africa to:
  • Madrid, Spain – 3600 km – 2236 miles
  •  London, United Kingdom – 4936 km – 3067 miles
  • Recife, Brazil – 3026 km – 1880 miles
  •  New York, USA – 7061 km - 4388 miles
  • CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - 5797 km – 3602 miles

Yes people, Cape Town is much further from the Ebola outbreak than Europe and South America.

Is there Ebola in South Africa?
No cases of Ebola have been reported in South Africa or in Southern Africa (that includes our neighbours Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique), so no you cannot get contaminated with Ebola in South Africa. SOUTH AFRICA IS EBOLA FREE! The last case in South Africa was in 1996, no cases reported since then. The craziest part of it all is that your chance of getting Ebola in South Africa is not as high as getting Ebola in Europe or in the USA where there have been confirmed cases of Ebola in the last few months.

South Africa has been monitoring for Ebola at all incoming airports since the start of the Ebola outbreak, unlike many cities in Europe and America that only started with monitoring of passengers in the last weeks/months.

Still concerned about getting Ebola in South Africa?
You cannot get Ebola if you do not come in to contact with a person’s body fluids that has the virus, this virus does not get spread through air like flu. (Yes, your odds of touching somebodies blood while on holiday are not that great, only if you have some weird fetish that we rather do not want to discuss!) So no, you cannot get Ebola in South Africa because nobody here has Ebola, so you cannot get in touch with those body fluids. People getting Ebola are the unfortunate family members and the very brave and unselfish medical personal that are in direct contact with these patients daily.

Your chance is bigger dying of lightning strike, car crash, plane crash, shark attack or even falling off a chair than catching Ebola – are you never going to sit on a chair again? These are just a few facts that came up when I googled. We have not even touched on terrorism threats or public violence in your own home country. Yes, you might be safer along the beautiful Garden Route of South Africa than you are back in your hometown.

Please people don't panic, don’t cancel your planned dream holiday, don’t make any hasty decisions. Do your research and come to Cape Town and the Garden Route, we do not have Ebola down here; we do not even have malaria down here. We just have awesome sunshine, beautiful scenery, beautiful beaches, great food, great wine, many adventures, great people, some awesome wildlife and nature down here.

I’m not a writer, journalist, scientist, geography expert, doctor or Ebola expert; I'm just a tour operator sharing my views on Ebola in South Africa. In no way am I trying to underestimate or undermine the seriousness of this disease. Ebola is sad and real and we have to take utmost care to get this under control.

Of course you must take great care of yourself and your loved ones when traveling, but the panic, paranoia and stupidity regarding Ebola is making me sad and angry. Tourism figures for next year in South Africa are already starting to suffer because people are making hasty decisions and are not being realistic. Think before you talk and think before you act! All that is changing in South Africa is that summer is here, the weather is getting better and better and the tourist season is already upon us!

As you can see, life goes on in South Africa!

Greetings from a sunny and warm Cape Town

Hendrik Human

Friday, 17 October 2014

Franzio's Blog

This week we are giving our blog over to Franzio, our intern from Boland College, who will be helping us in the office in 2015.  Welcome Franzio.  :)

Have you ever had that feeling that you had to be exactly where you are in your life and had to go through all the things you did to find yourself where you are at this given moment in time?  I do.  I know you might have that feeling of “why do I have to be the one who’s life is not that glamorous and doesn't have all the things other people do” well… I've been there, but I managed to drag myself out of that hole and on to the bend of it for now.

I grew up in a family of five, three children of which I am the youngest. Ever since I can remember my parents could never go all out and just give me and my sisters everything we asked for, because they just didn't have the money. My dad had a job (well he had many jobs) but he just couldn't manage to hold on to it for very long. My mother also had a job for a while but her salary had to pay the bills and put food on the table. So I never had anything just handed to me, if I needed money for something I had to work in the garden of our neighbours or wash their car or do an odd job, I've always had to work for everything I wanted, and that’s one characteristic I still own today. With that same mentality and hard work I finished school and passed matric with a bachelor’s degree, the first for our family. I had the capacity and ability to enroll at a University but sadly I didn't have the financial capability to do so.

My first year after I finished school I went to look for colleges that offered bursaries to people who can't afford to go to a University. And I found one in Paarl called Boland College. I went there and enrolled myself. In my first year I finished the year at third best student at the college, putting my stamp down as a force to be reckoned with. In my second year my dad lost his job and my mother was also unemployed, we had it hard at home but I never showed any of it at college because in that same year I finished the year as top student, I refused to believe that I was destined to follow in my parents footsteps. I studied hard even if sometimes there was no power, I had to make a choice “will I just let up and drown in my misery or will I stand up and fight for what I wanted from life, my circumstances fueled and pushed me on to do better and be better than everyone else.

I am now currently in my final year at Boland College and I am the front runner for a number of major awards at the college to name a few: top student at Boland College Paarl, top student of all the Boland Colleges in the Western Cape. But my personal and most prestigious event in the year was when I won a tour with Earthstompers Adventures for being the student that showed the most potential and interest in the Tourism Industry while we went on the College’s annual three day tour. I now have the divine pleasure to spend time in the offices of one of Cape Town’s best tour operating agencies, Earthstompers Adventures.

False Bay
Being granted this opportunity means that I can now start to build my future in the image I want it to be. I went on the tour last week with a number of international tourists and it was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I had to travel from Paarl to Stellenbosch at 05:00 in the morning because my pick up point was at Stellenbosch train station so I had to catch a lift with our neighbour who works in Stellenbosch only downside was that my pick up time was 08:30, which made it a further 3 hour wait. But the day started awesome, the first people I met was an interesting couple from the UK, Shara and Will. I really had my breath totally taken away almost around every corner for the whole duration of the tour, the first time came when we drove through False Bay and saw the beautiful Atlantic Ocean waters, looking across the water we could see Table Mountain and Devil's Peak in the far I was actually trying to control my emotions. And as always in the Cape we saw only a bit of the thousands of plant species we find in the Cape Floral Region.

Hang around with this guy, you will find the whales!
In no time we were in Hermanus doing some whale spotting from the cliffs in Hermanus, wow it was absolutely amazing. After trying to spot some whales I took a walk through Hermanus and took some awesome pictures with the Hermanus whale crier and some soldiers and their equipment who were there for an exhibition during the whale festival, man I have to say I gained a new respect for our soldiers in South Africa. 

Our tour group
The evening we went to book in at Cape Agulhas Backpackers, the most Southern backpackers in Africa. There I started to chat with more of the other tourists, and they were really amazing people, not that different than South Africans actually. I tried to learn the names of all the people on tour like: Katherine, Hendrik, Roy, Amy, Janik, Carlo, Steffi, Danielle and some others as well.

The food we had for dinner was out of this world amazing, I'm a South African and I have never tasted a potjiekos (stew) that tasted that amazing, and I wasn't the only person that thought so - everyone that finished their food said the exact same thing, okay maybe in a different language but it meant the same thing every time “delicious”. The next morning for the first time I woke up with a beautiful view of the pool outside the sliding door of my room, as for someone who has to share a room with someone else every night, that was really amazing to see and experience.  

Karusa Wines
On the second day we went to Oudtshoorn, and it was a long drive but it was really worth it. We enjoyed a nice meal and did some wine tasting at Karusa. After that one of the highlights of the tour took place …the “Cango Caves Adventure Tour”, my arch nemeses. I am not a guy for tight spots where I can’t get out or could get stuck, and the caves are exactly that. So you could say it was a sense of “fear factor” for me, and I have to say it was amazing so “Franzio fear is not a factor for you”. I came out on the other side alive.

Wilderness National Park
I was making good friends with the other tourists and we began to talk a lot more and even started to learn a little bit of German from the guys on tour. We had to do some canoeing in Wilderness and once we reached the top after a little hike we had a swim under the waterfall that flows downstream again. That water was so cold but it was so much fun to just do it.

Bloukrans Bungee
But I have to say highlight for me of the tour was the bungee jumping from the highest bungee bridge in the world, which was undoubtedly the best part of the whole tour I still get shivers when I think about it. After I made that jump I thought to myself “I would have never made it this far if I gave up back when it all seemed to be too much to carry for a young person like me” but I am here and I am fighting for what I want and want to achieve.

I am currently spending some amazing time in the office with two really influential, motivational and inspiring people; they are the owners of Earthstompers Adventure Tours, Hendrik and Chrissy Human. Winning this tour and being where I am right now proves that you don’t have to come from a rich family to gain success in life, all it takes is hard work, dedication, commitment, a never say die attitude, people that believe in you and a dream that’s worth fighting for.

I am Franzio Fortuin and this is my story. 

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 naïve 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.