In this episode of A Broad Abroad, I meet the Cape Town Shark Spotters Network, a group that watches the waters off Cape Town’s beaches to warn bathers about an abundant and deadly predator: the great white shark…
Monwabisi “Monwa” Sikweyiya has spent almost every day for the past eight years on the cliffs overlooking Muizenberg Beach, just outside of Cape Town in South Africa. The former surfer and his co-workers take five-hour shifts at a time looking for one thing: great white sharks.
For years, even before the movie “Jaws,” the giant predators have fascinated (and terrified) people, and for shark enthusiasts and researchers, this beach is one of the places to go cage diving and fishing for great white sharks.
“There are lots of seals and penguins here, and that is their diet,” Sikweyiya said. “So they come to these beaches to feed.”
The dubious Dawa (medicine) man of Carnivore restaurant – the ultimate tourist trap in Johannesburg which is like the Epcot Center of South Africa (providing you and all its guests with a real, live South African experience!) … promises his drink will soothe all your pans and ills and make you happy. Which it may. If you aren’t AA or an angry drunk.
Why go: You’ve seen animals like zebra, elan, springbok and crocodiles from a Jeep, now why not experience them on your plate? Just like a real African! Carnivore, which prides itself on giving tourists the ultimate realness in African experiences, is the meat eaters ultimate Epcot center. Adding to the Epcot-ness is, at least three times a night, the servers and other staff with beat drums and sing and dance across the dining area (which, in keeping with the theme, has zebra patterned nylon seats).
Take Note: Crocodile oddly takes like fish. We’re talking fishy fish. And Zebra? Stick some slices on rye, with a little bit of horseradish mayo and that would make a mighty fine sandwich.
Fun fact: There’s a “Dawa Man” – dawa is the word for medicine, and the “medicine” on offer is a sickly sweet vodka, honey, lime and sugar drink. “It’s the medicine for everything,” our Dawa dude told us. “It makes everyone happy!” Unless, of course you are one of those people who are angry drunks. Or an alcoholic.
I’m a huge fan of getting up close and personal with the locals… especially if those locals just happen to be 2 feet long, furry, and endangered. So, when I heard I had the chance to cuddle with a group of baby cheetahs, my first thought was: “Oh hell yes! We must do this immediately.”
The Cheetah Outreach center on the edge of Cape Town, South Africa, is “an education and community-based program created to raise awareness of the plight of the cheetah and to campaign for its survival,” according to its website. Their motto is “See it. Sense it. Save it,” and for a mere $12, you can go and pet baby cheetahs. For the same amount, you can get your picture taken with an adult cheetah (hence, the rise of Tinder cheetah pics in South Africa). Sadly, I arrived too late for the adults — but not the babies!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.