Skiing misadventure: Meribel, France

After many years of discussion and planning, my friend Richard and I finally got the chance to travel over seas together. What started out as small, quick family ski trip turned into the ultimate boys week away to the French Alps. We were fortunate enough to stay in a catered chalet in Meribel, situated in the heart of The Three Valleys, considered to be the prettiest of all the resorts.

Meribel is at the centre of one of the largest linked ski areas in the world, ideal for all abilities of skiers. While all the others on the trip were veteran skiers, this was my first attempt at trying anything like this. I’ve been to the Alps before, and love the snow, but being from South Africa I’ve never had the opportunity before, and to be honest I was petrified. Historically if something could go wrong, it went wrong with me. I was so worried that, before we left, I met with my lawyers to get my affairs in order just in case I fell off a cliff or hit a tree at a million kilometres an hour. Before you mock me for being melodramatic, we were at the same resort Michael Schumacher had his fatal accident, so I was not prepared to take any chances.

My first attempts at skiing did not go so well. As a big guy, with very large feet, I wear a size 12 or 13 shoe, so finding skiing boots that could fit was a bit of a nightmare. The biggest pair they had were so tight that I could not put any weight on them for more than 10 minutes before crying like a little girl. Nevertheless, being a man, I sucked up the pain and signed up for two private lessons. Because of my size and weight, coupled with the fact that my legs had become jelly, it was very difficult for me to stop and hitting a tree at a million kilometres an hour started to look almost certain, that’s if I didn’t accidentally kill a few bystanders in the process. About half way through the first lesson the instructor, a veteran with over 30 years experience, sat me down and said: “For the safety of both yourself and everyone on the mountain, I recommend that you abandon the sport entirely and take up something less dangerous, like knitting.”

After buying him a beer and looking at my options I realised not all was lost, and decided to trade in my ski boots & skis for hiking boots, spending the rest of the week hiking through the Alps, exploring all the little french towns hidden throughout the mountain, and making the most of beautiful surroundings. To be honest, I think I enjoyed walking through the Alps more than I ever would have enjoyed skiing, so much so that I would gladly do it again. Let’s not forget the amazing catered chalet we stayed in, where we were very well taken care of and stuffed with great food and lots of wine. I cannot wait for the next “ski” trip!

Phi Phi, Thailand

While most people take a day trip to visit the Phi Phi Islands, I had the opportunity to stay on the island in a private bungalow on a beach accessible only by boat. Unfortunately my Phi Phi experience was not off to the greatest start as my hotel in Phuket had forgotten to organise my private transfer to the harbour, so I ended up squeezing into the back of a minibus taxi full of asian tourists.

During the two hour yacht transfer I managed to get sunburnt, the fault of which was totally my own - but with the stunning views of Thailand I could not just sit in the yachts bar & miss the landscape. Crystal clear waters, rock faces you see only in movies, dense rich jungles hiding white sandy beaches - as we circled the main island there was not a single non-beautiful sight to behold.

My resort, the Phi Phi Holiday Inn, was the final stop on the yachts journey. The yacht, being too big to go ashore, dropped anchor a few hundred meters from the resort & all the guests were ferried to shore by traditional fishing boats - such an authentic & memorable experience. As the boats ran ashore I was escorted to one of the resorts restaurants for a complimentary drink while my bags were offloaded & moved to my room.

The resort was not a traditional hotel, instead it comprised of many private bungalows, some of which were on the beach, some in the jungle, & some up the hill. Having originally booked a garden bungalow I was upgraded to a beach front bungalow & a more exclusive part of the resort with its own swimming pool & dedicated restaurant. Awesome, right? Yes, but unfortunately my bungalow was at the very end of the resort, so going to reception or the beach-front restaurants & bars was quite a walk, which in Thailand's heat made it rather uncomfortable. Thank goodness for room service!

The resort itself was amazing. There were plenty of dining options, there was an amazing beach-front bar, a quaint little gift shop & general store, a beach-front spa, & the resort organised events & tours every day so quests could go snorkelling or have speed boat tours of the island, etc. The resort also encouraged guests not to carry cash & all expenses were put against the room & paid for at checkout. My bungalow was modern & well equipped, had a lovely balcony, the bed was unbelievably comfortable & the room was very well air-conditioned. The views of the ocean from my balcony were stunning - Phi Phi is without a doubt the most beautiful place I've ever seen.

Unfortunately because of my skin cancer (sun burn) I spent most of my time in my bungalow applying aftersun & lying in my bathrobe watching movies & relaxing. I did not get to see as much of the island as I would have liked, nor did I actually once swim in the crystal clear waters. This just means I have to come back. That being said, while in Thailand I held an eagle, rode an elephant through the mountain jungles of Phuket, had some custom shirts & suits made, had dinner on a yacht watching the sun set over the Big Buddha, & so many other amazing experiences which I will never forget.

My only regret is that I did not have any friends with me. At times I did feel rather lonely, but that did not stop me from having the time of my life, & finally having the break I needed to see the year through. Thank you Thailand, you've won me over. See you again soon!

Phuket, Thailand

Having travelled Europe quite extensively, I wanted to try somewhere new this year. I've been wanting to visit Asia for quite some time, especially Thailand & Vietnam. The great thing about Thailand is there are always great deals to be found, there are no visa requirements & for once the South African Rand is actually stronger there. I've not travelled overseas since december last year, & while that does not sound like such a long time ago, it's felt like a life time thanks to getting the new business up & running.

Normally, when I do anything, I dedicate months of research & planning before I make any arrangements. This time, however, it was a very last minute decision. I realised quite quickly that if I didn't take a holiday, & by that I mean get out of the continent where no one could find me, that I would not survive the year without burning out. So in the span of a week I met with my travel agent, planned & paid for my trip to Phuket & Phi Phi.

While trips to Thailand are often quite affordable, I opted for a completely bespoke holiday suited to my wants & needs, which did mean a little more money. All of my tours & excursions were planned & paid for before I even left the country, most of which were private so I could go at my own pace & do what I wanted. I also stayed in 4 star accommodation & was offered specials & discounts at the hotel spas & restaurants.

Despite the additional expense, this was by no means a luxurious trip. Thailand is still developing & is in many places quite dirty, there are no rules of the road & if there are I couldn't fathom them; its a place most snobs would mock & run from. But that's exactly why I love it! The people are genuinely friendly & in no way pretentious, the landscape (albeit not the cleanest) is stunning, & everything is so cheap. I love the lunacy of it all. In many ways it reminds of Kenya. I honestly though I'd hate Kenya. It too is underdeveloped, dirty & hot, but I totally fell in love with the place, & the same can be said for Thailand.

That being said, it's a little too hot for my liking. By the end of the trip I had started to acclimatise to the heat, however, I don't know if I could ever get used to it. Luckily all my hotel rooms & transfers had air-conditioning.

I only saw the islands of Phuket & Phi Phi, & even so did not see & do everything I could. I'm definitely planning on coming back. Bangkok is still on my bucket list, as is experiencing the Thai night life. There's just so much to do & see in this stunning country, & next time I'm brining friends with me.

Rest in peace, Cobba

Transient

Not a lot of people know this, but I'm actually a huge animal lover, especially when it comes to birds. I've always found them to be the most loving, charismatic and majestic of all creatures.

My whole life I've always wanted a cockatoo, but unfortunately as a youngster I had no real money or, to be honest, the maturity needed to raise such a bird. Early in the year 2000, after years of raising budgies and a few love birds, I finally convinced my mom to let me get a cockatiel. Not quite the cockatoo I'd always wanted, but I was happy nonetheless.

I remember walking around this enormous Aviary surrounded by all kinds of beautiful and exotic birds, many of whom seemed happy to greet us. In the corner of my eye I spotted a little fellow lying on the ground. Still young and looking a little scared, I kneeled over to him and spoke gently to him. I eventually gathered the courage to pick him up, the breeder suggested holding him against my chest - my heart beat apparently calming him down. I looked into his eyes and knew right then that was the bird for me.

For years I woke up early every day before school so that I could take him, now lovingly called Cobba, and hold him against my chest speaking and whistling to him. I would rush home after school every day and try train him to come to me, climb onto my finger and sit on my shoulder.

He loved to explore. We'd often walk through the house and yard, I'd put him somewhere and watch as he walked around exploring - the pitter patter of his little feet against the ground - his head feathers shot straight up, until he got fed up and found his way back to his cage.

He was a real fighter. He didn't like being touched by other people and would often hiss and attempt to attack people who got too close to his home. Not me, however. He would always run up to me and would often eat out of my hand. He was never fond of touching, so I could never scratch his head, but he loved to cuddle or climb under the covers and explore before popping up by my head and playing with my hair.

After my mom died, and after leaving school things changed quite a lot and I was forced to grow up rather quickly. Before I knew it work became my life, getting up at 4am and coming home often after 11pm. Although we spent less time together, I would come home every evening and whistle and talk to him, letting him know I still cared. While most of you went home to your parents, siblings or lovers, I went home to my bird. In many ways he got me through the tough times, listening when others wouldn't, cuddling when other couldn't.

Over the years he aged gracefully, becoming that little bit more grey but always full of energy. Cockatiels can live for quite some time, on average 15 years. I very much took this for granted, often thinking he'll always be around and that there'll be plenty of time to spend together when things settle. Settle they never did.

A few weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, I was running out to have coffee with a friend. Passing his cage as I normally do, I stuck me head in to say "morning my boy, how's my little man doing?" to my now 13 year old friend. I was horrified to find my poor little Cobba shivering, weak and covered in blood. I quickly got him out of his cage but could not find how or why he was bleeding. I wrapped him in my jacket and called to my aunt to drive us to a vet.

As she drove I whispered to him, mostly trying to calm myself down, saying he'll be alright, and that I loved him very much. I was truly petrified I was going to lose my little boy. As we rushed him into the emergency room, I sat there in the waiting room realising how old he had gotten and for the first time contemplated the fact that he wasn't going to live forever and that this was probably the beginning of the end.

Luckily, it was nothing serious. He somehow cracked a nail and, as those of you know, can lead to a excessive blood loss if not dealt with quickly. This was the first time in 13 years, his whole life, he'd ever gotten sick or hurt. So I laid to rest my concerns, thinking he's still got a few years left in him.

This past weekend was the Top Gear Festival in Durban. Being an avid fan of both the show and the festival I had booked my tickets, flights and accommodation at the beginning of the year. Having left straight after work on the Friday I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to Cobba, leaving him in the care of my aunt.

I returned home late the Sunday evening to find a weak, shivering and wheezing bird fighting to catch his breath. Once again we rushed him off to the 24 hour emergency clinic. Cape Town had been rather cold the last few weeks, I feared it may have been a chest infection.

The vet gave him some antibiotics and recommended we leave him in and oxygen tank overnight. While I was not allowed to stay, I called periodically to follow up on his progress. I fell asleep with the impression he was doing well, so much so when I called in the morning they said I could pick him up.

On arrival the vet told me that they had turned off the oxygen after I hung up, and while en route he'd gotten worse. I went through to visit him, the sight of which broke my heart. Never before had I seen my little man so weak, wheezing, with each breath in and out gasping for air. I wasn't allowed to hold him because he was in the oxygen tank, so I softly spoke to him just letting him know I was there.

While the vets were doing their best, they were not exotic bird experts and they recommended I contact an expert in Paarl. After consulting with the expert it was decided he was too fragile to move so they would need to continue treatment there and keep him in the oxygen cage for the rest of the day to see if he would improve. Once again I was sent home.

Not 3 hours later I received a phone call, Cobba had not gotten better, in fact he had gotten worse. The vet said that she did not think he'd survive the hour, and that if he did survice the humane thing to do would be to put him to sleep. After hanging up I did something I've never done before, not even when my mom died: I burst into a frenzy of tears.

I quickly rushed to the vet. As she lifted the cover off the oxygen tank I saw my little boy lying almost lifeless in the food bowl, his head tilted up gasping for air. I quickly unzipped the oxygen cage and peered inside, he turned to look at me. He tried to move towards me but was too weak. I gently picked him up, his little feet that would normally wrap around my fingers just resting on my skin, motionless. It was time.

I wrapped him up in my hand and cuddled him up against my chest. He pushed his head into my neck and closed his eyes as I whispered to him how much I loved him and how he was my boy. While I knew I was prolonging his suffering I wasn't ready to let him go just yet. I burst into tears once again, trying my hardest to fight it.

Old age had finally gotten the better of him, so much so he couldn't fight the infection any longer. He was, however, able to hold on long enough for me to say goodbye. I knew this day was coming, I just wasn't prepared for it to be so soon.

He's breathing became more and more faint. I stroked his head and kissed him gently before begging the vet to end his suffering, handing him to her to administered the injection. I asked to hold him in my arms till he was at rest, I didn't want him to die alone and scared. I rested him against my cheek and continued to whisper to him till his last breath was drawn.

I stood there, my faithful little companion lying lifeless in my arms with tears pouring down my face. After all these years together, after all the highs and lows, there I was, left all alone to face the world without him. Heartbroken.

While I'm not ready to say goodbye to my loving friend and companion of over 13 years, say goodbye I must. He was by no means perfect, but I know he loved me and I hope he knew just how much I loved him. He leaves a hole in my heart nothing and no one else will ever be able to fill.

Rest in peace, my boy. I'm going to miss you oh so very, very much. Thank you for being my little man.

 

Top Gear Festival 2013

This year saw the return of the Top Gear Festival to Durban. Being an huge fan of both Top Gear, the Festival, and Durban I couldn't help but indulge myself with a little trip up country, and flew in specially for the event/weekend.

This would be my fourth official Top Gear event, having attended the Top Gear Live show in Cape Town, the first Top Gear Festival in Johannesburg (what a disaster) and last years event.

We opted for the Ultimate tickets, entitling us exclusive entrance to the Ultimate Village, free food & drinks, as well as the best seats for both the Street Circuit and the Top Gear Live show. We sat right in front for the Street Circuit which, while being awesome, was deafening. Have a look at some of the videos on my YouTube channel and you'll see/hear the Redbull F1 car race past us and almost burst our eardrums.

We managed to organise the exact same seats for the Top Gear Live show as previously, however, this year we were in the fourth row. As you can see from the photos below, we were so close to Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May and The Stig, we could almost touch them.

Every year has been an improvement, and I've got my travel agent on call waiting to plan the next trip which as far as I know will again be held in Durban.

"WISH I WAS HERE" pledge

Zach Braff, aka JD from Scrubs, is intent on making another movie after his 2004 indie hit Garden State and he needs our help to pay for it.

Inspired by the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign that raised $5.7 million dollars from fans to turn the series into a movie, Braff launched his own crowd-funding effort.

Braff is seeking $2 million for his new movie called WISH I WAS HERE that will be a kind-of sequel to Garden State. Braff, who will also star in the movie, has already written the script with his brother Adam, focusing on the struggles of a 30-something married man named Aidan.

Being a fan of Garden State, and eager to do my part, I've pledged a few dollars toward the campaign and strongly urge everyone else to do the same. In doing so I've crossed off the "Contribute to something great" item on my Bucket List and can't wait to see the new movie!