The Best (Human) Guides to South Africa. Call Them Now.

I am a firm believer in having real, live guides — especially when you’re traveling to a country you have never visited before. Humans enhance your trip more than a book or website ever could. They will tell you stories and help you brainstorm activities that you never dreamed were possible. They’ll show you the insider spots that you would never know to look for without a local.

With that in mind, here are my favorite guides in South Africa — a vast and varied country with wildlife, culture, booze and so much more.

1. Theo Pieters

Your Ultimate (Human) Guides to South Africa

A former police officer, and now a veritable “fixer” and director with White Rivers Exploration, Theo was invaluable to me during my South Africa trip. Acting not only as a bodyguard (which I needed in downtown Johannesburg), he was my driver, guide, and, eventually, friend. It is because of Theo that I learned about the Adrenaline Driving School, where I learned how to do a J turn and how to flee from from hijackers (should the occasion arise) in the Ultimate Driving Course.

He’s also responsible for introducing me to Vincent Barkas of Protrack Anti Poaching, the wonders of biltong and wors and … almost everything else.

Related: On the Frontlines of the Rhino “Genocide”: Saving a Species on the Brink

Though he’s based in Johannesburg, Theo travels all over the country, so you can ask him to meet you anywhere. He will also tell you fun stories about the times he did security for Celine Dion and John Legend.

Email: Theo.pieters@whiterivers.co.za

2. Dimi Roro

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Want to know the real ins and outs of Soweto and Johannesburg? Dimi is your lady. Thanks to her, I got to see the shebeen queen of Soweto, the Muthi healer, and Faraday Market. She’s fun as heck and she knows everybody. As a journalist, she also knows how to get almost anything done.

Email: Dimiroro007@gmail.com

3. David Forrestimage

A historian, David, who works with the South African Tourism Board, is a must if you are interested in South Africa’s past. He knows almost everything about anything historical and is delightful company. Based in Johannesburg, David can travel all over the country and is happy to meet you wherever you go and suggest itineraries.

Email: davidforrest@telkomsa.net

Related: Road Trip: The Nelson Mandela Tour of South Africa

4. Velile Ndlumbini

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Located on the Eastern Cape, Velile is a managing director ofImonti Tours. A lot of people skip the Eastern Cape when they go to South Africa, and that, my friends, is a huge mistake. Not only is it jaw-droppingly beautiful, but it is steeped in history. It’s where Nelson Mandela was born and raised, and Port Elizabeth is like stepping back in time. If you do make it to the Eastern Cape, Velile is your man. Trust.

Email: velile@imontitours.co.za

WATCH: How to Have the Greatest Sleepover of All Time With Baby Cheetahs

A Broad Abroad

A visit with baby cheetahs in South Africa

A visit with baby cheetahs in South Africa

WATCH: On the Frontlines of the Rhino “Genocide”: Saving A Species on the Brink

When most travelers head to Africa for a safari vacation they are hoping to spot the “Big Five.” That is shorthand for the big game— lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino. But, if things don’t change and soon, they will only ever get a chance to see the “Big Four.”

To date, there are only 26,000 rhinos left in Africa — 80 percent of which are in South Africa, mostly in Kruger National Park. Last year, 1,004 rhinos were killed in South Africa. So far this year, the number has climbed to 618, with the toll in Kruger at 400.

Since 1992, Vincent Barkas has been on the front lines of what he calls the “Rhino Genocide” in South Africa. His small unit of just over 100 men patrol the area just south of Kruger in Hoedspruit, South Africa, searching for rhino poachers.

In the small area that Barkas patrols there are 2,000 rhino — 126 of which were slaughtered in the first six months of this year.

Vincent Barkas patrols for rhino poachersKeep your hands off our horns. (Photo: Storm Signal.)

The rhino’s horn, which is biologically similar to our toe nails, is believed to cure everything from cancer to impotence in countries like China and Vietnam. And now that those countries are experiencing an economic boom, the demand has climbed even higher.

“It’s just gotten out of hand,” Barkas told me. “There’s no incentive not to poach. The money is so good.”

He noted noting the price of  rhino horn is now up to $9,000 per gram. Meanwhile, Barkas’ men live in sparse conditions. They work in pairs and spend up to 30 days and nights patrolling the bush — sleeping in tents barricaded with thorn bush gates.

Adding to the difficulty of their job is the fact that they face fully armed men and aren’t allowed to shoot their guns – they don’t even have money for handcuffs. When they catch someone, their shoelaces have to suffice to bind their hands.

Poachers aren’t the only threat. In 2011 and 2013, two of Barkas’s men were killed by lions. “The biggest killer in the bush is complacency,” Barkas sighed. For all this hardship, he is paid a mere $300 a month.

the small crew of Protrack anti rhino poachers

Rolling with the underpaid, heroic crew of the Protrack Anti-Poaching Unit. (Photo: Andrew Rothschild)

They have tried to deter poachers by posting signs that the horns have been poisoned. It makes no difference. They try cutting the horns themselves to spare the rhinos death by poaching.

“We have to leave 8 inches above the snout and they will kill for those 8 inches,” Barkas said sadly.

The poachers aren’t who you would expect. In the last year, Barkas and his teams have caught businessmen, veterinarians and even schoolteachers, trying to make an extra buck off the endangered animals.

rhino poachers arrested by the Protrack team

Some of the poachers caught in the weeks before we got there. They paid a $300 bond for illegal weapons and were out on the street the next day. (Photo: Paula Froelich)

“The woman we arrested last week drove a brand new Land Rover and had a huge house,” Barkas said. “The rhino horns have created a false economy. People make money, buy new houses and cars — but then need more money to keep them.”

Barkas himself looks like he would fit right in somewhere in Kentucky (Ed Note: my family is from Kentucky. I love Kentuckians).

Barkas the anti poacher

This is the face of the man trying to save the rhinos from extinction. (Photo: Paula Froelich)

His face is leathery and weather-worn. He wears a camo trucker hat that says ” SHUT UP + FISH” on it. A  Jack Daniels lighter sits on his desk amid empty cans of red bull.  He smokes non-stop. The walls of his office are plastered with a macabre collage of photographs: rhinos with their faces blown off, undergoing autopsies, and pictures of poachers they’ve caught.

slain rhinos killed by poachers

The group discovers a fallen rhino. (Photo: Andrew Rothschild)

The poaching became a serious epidemic in the nineties.

“Everyone warned us the rhino killings would start,” Barkas said. “But we didn’t act until it was almost too late. It’s the demand from Vietnam and China. You used to be able to legally kill the rhinos for trophies with a license. So the rhinos were killed, and just their horns were glued to a piece of wood and sent out of the country to the East as ‘trophies.’ So the demand for the horn started up again.”

“This is not a Rhino War,” Barkas says, “it’s a rhino genocide. We can’t play by their rules – they have none. We have to only work certain hours, our staff needs time off. The poachers don’t take time off. They will kill them any time of the day or night. The poachers are winning the physical and economic battle.”

As I drove around with Barkas and his team, I saw a lot of wildlife… but no rhinos. The only rhinos I did see were at a roadside eatery set on 10 acres, which had three for viewing. And although their horns had been lopped off, they were still behind electric fences, monitored by cameras, wearing radio collars and watched over by several armed guards.

Related: These Are the Safaris You Need to Do Now

“Even those three rhino are under threat, because look — they still have some horn left,” said our driver Theo. “Someone will probably get them this year. It’s inevitable.”

By Barkas’s estimation, the rhino in South Africa will be gone within the next two years unless something drastic is done. Now.

Want to get involved or train with the team? The Rhino Protrack team takes volunteers, donations and applications on its website or Facebook page

The Broad (Who Is Abroad – Most Times, Anyway) Is Now The Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo! Travel

What?? Look at me - so happy!

What?? Look at me – so happy!

Yep, you read that right: I am now heading up Travel for Yahoo! And I’m beyond excited. So, things at A Broad Abroad will be… a little slow for a while. I got a relaunch to do. Bear with me, and sign up (on the right hand side) for a subscription so you’ll get all the updates emailed to you! But things are about to get real exciting real fast.

After the jump, the full press release!

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Meet Candace: The Girl Cross Dressing Her Way Across Afghanistan

This is Candace - to local Afghans, Candace looks like a Hazara man. This let Candace get away with a lot. I was a little jealous.

This is Candace – to local Afghans, Candace looks like a Hazara man. This let Candace get away with a lot. I was a little jealous.

One of the reasons I travel are the people I meet along the way. In Afghanistan I met Candace – a 28 year old Australian of Chinese origin – who about a year and a half ago decided to quit work and travel… cross dressing her way across the most volatile region in the world .

“I thought I’d only be gone for about six months but it’s been a year and a half so far,” Candace said. She started in India, made her way through Pakistan, China and into Afghanistan. Along the way, because of her hair and her style of dress, everyone assumed she was a man… which let her get away with a lot more than any woman could have. Candace and I met up at the Afghan Ski Challenge in Bamiyan where she agreed to be videotaped and, after the jump, she tells us what Afghans really think of white people and which tribe members makes the worst husbands:

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Did Banksy Hit The Darul Aman Palace In Afghanistan?

The Puppy looks awfully Banksy, no?

The Puppy looks awfully Banksy, no?

On the edge of Kabul, Afghanistan, framed by the snowy peaks of the Hindu Kush, lies the Darul Aman Palace, the former home of Afghan King Amanullah Khan. Built in the 1920s as part of a modernization campaign by the King, it now sits ravaged by thirty years of war. But it never had a peaceful history. According to Wikipedia:

Darul Aman Palace was gutted by fire in 1969. It was restored to house the Defence Ministry during the 1970s and 1980s. In the Communist coup of 1978, the building was set on fire. It was damaged again as rival Mujahideen factions fought for control of Kabul in the early 1990s. Heavy shelling by the Mujahideen after the end of the Soviet invasion left the building a gutted ruin.

Over the years, the Russians, the mujahideen, the Taliban, local artists and the Americans have all left their mark – and it’s known amongst select few as a sort of gallery of war art. I was recently allowed inside as one of the guys I was with knew the guards (always helpful to have friends in high and low places!) and as I was wandering around, saw the most amazing graffiti art… which looked like something out of the Banksy playbook. I was assured it was just an homage – but… you never know.

After the jump, more amazing graffiti and pictures of the actual palace:

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A Happy Homecoming

I obviously love to travel… but I love coming home to Karl Froelich even more. Especially as, every time he sees me again he reacts as if we’ve been separated for years behind the Berlin Wall circa 1982 and are reuniting for the very first time. Again. And again. There’s nothing like being really, lovingly missed. In the video above, I ambush Karl on the street after having been on the road for three weeks (in Afghanistan, Dubai, San Francisco and England)… see the adorably awesome reaction of a small dog who hasn’t seen his mother in three weeks.

After the jump, pics of the reunion:

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