April and May News

What a busy world it has been recently. Those Vikings up north sending “ash instead of cash” (I know you’ve heard it before, but it’s still worth putting in!) and sending airports into turmoil. Once again that hardy breed of tour operators burning the midnight oil getting their guests hopefully home. As they say – it ain’t over yet until the fat lady sings. Lets hope not as the sister fat lady next door may well also blow hot air, and then we’re well in the…! Then the elections in UK causing quite a stir, but thankfully the Scotsman is out and we now have DC and NC. I don’t think that will last, as the Libs tend to run the moment something “bad” has to be done. Give it 6 months. GB resigns to be replaced by…? I can’t believe a Yank was the first to cross the channel with balloons. Surely that has been done before.

BP upsetting the apple cart somewhat in the USA with their oil spill. BO pretty slow to step in and assist, but very quick with the finger pointing (Like all good socialists). 1st time something as bad as this has happened so a bit new for everybody.

Down here in SA there was the murder of the white right winger, Terreblanche. That caused a stir with threats of a right wing backlash (they haven’t got it anymore). Not helped of course by the big mouth, Malema (the youth league plonker). Not one grey cell in the guy’s head. When they gave out brains, he thought they said drains. The ANC are really struggling to control their own. Also it is “strike season” here in South Africa. It was the trains; we’re just waiting to see who is next in line. The Democratic Alliance (DA) are doing very well having won 2 more by-elections from the ANC.

Can you believe it – England won something. The 20/20 cricket in the West Indies, thrashing Australia in the finals. What a pleasure! Now the Ashes to look forward to this Xmas! The Football World Cup fever has taken off here with teams arriving already. Not long to go.

One I found in the archives and feel I need to send it to improve morale - perks of the job!

Down here in Garonga Land we have the solar power working nicely, and the heater pumps for the geysers also. The biogas basically needs more food waste which is difficult when you are working below normal occupancy. April we achieved 57% occupancy for Safari Camp and 15% for Little Garonga, and then May was 20% down on last year achieving 45% occupancy for Safari Camp and 15% again for Little Garonga. Disappointing indeed. However on much more exciting stuff many congratulations to Stefan and Stephanie, and Warren and Gigi for tying the knot here at Garonga! We wish you all the best. Also a warm welcome back to Brenda, Michael and Alan and Gwen. Great to see you back after many years.

The bush is incredibly lush and green having had over 200ml in April (it just didn’t stop!). This is very unseasonal, but I think guests are sick of being told that when staying here. This really assisted a lot for up to the next rains which may not come until November. Depends what those Vikings get up to up north. First they rape and pillage England (admittedly many moons ago), then they try and pinch our cod, then they pinch our cash, then to put a cherry on the top, they send out “that stuff”. Send the navy in!

On the game front due to the late rains the ellies have been frequent visitors around the Camp. The lions have been playing “hard to get” (come on guys, do your stuff!), but overall pretty good game viewing considering the density of the bush. The leopard have been seen on the odd occasion, but otherwise good sightings of rhino, cheetah, lions. The plains game has also been frequent on Garonga with large numbers of giraffe, impala and wildebeest around. On the guides themselves we welcome Josia, and say a sad farewell to Alisa whose time elapses at the end of May. She got many very favourable feedbacks from guests. Well done and good luck. On the game front it would really be great if any guests would like to share their photos on our site. Please feel free to send them to us as we do have a folder on our website for guest’s pictures. Then at the end of the year we can have a competition for the best picture and either offer 4 nights at Garonga complimentary or, as it is difficult now to travel half way across the world, I will offer a lush dinner voucher for two. What do you think?

I’ve been away for most of April and some of May… selling in UK in April (only 2 days late back due to you know who). It was great seeing old and great supporters of Garonga. Ben, I trust you managed that climb and got back OK (Your Bergen wasn’t heavy enough when I tried it on!). Driving around Gloucestershire was fantastic. The GPS sent me on some very strange routes indeed and I saw hamlets which I thought only existed on Robin Hood film sets. It was incredible. Horses, dogs, ducks and geese running around – beats the London set. I also chanced upon Jaci from “Jacis Safari Lodge” in London as she was doing the same pretty much. We rv’d in Harrods’ food hall as we normally do and spent 3 hours lunching and munching champagne, wine and oysters! You can’t beat it. We raised our glasses to Al-Fayed just before he sold the shop to the Qataris! Thanks Jaci, but no Jan! He was gallivanting around Zaire! So the UK trip was a great success and many thanks to Sue, and Alison from Ethos Marketing for putting up with me.

Then it was a week back at Garonga before departing again for the Classic Safari Camps of Africa (www.classicsafaricamps.com) AGM held this time at “The Fort – Onguma” in Namibia. Absolutely stunning! Congrats to Andre for setting up such an awesome property. It overlooks the salt pans and borders with Etosha. We had a few days there discussing tactics and all that before moving down to Durban for the Indaba Travel Show. Classics had an incredible stand and won a “Gold Award” for best stand. Many congratulations Pauline. We also held a very successful margarita party on the stand. The show went well seeing agents and operators who you don’t really get to see from all over the globe. It was also a chance to show off the new international airport near Durban. Apparently it is great! Once the show was over it was eventually time to go back home to Garonga after nearly 6 weeks away on and off. First time in 13 years for so long a time. It was great being back, also enabling Zele to go on a well earned leave after staying on an extra week. Also a big thanks to Vanessa from reservations for only taking a weeks leave to cover over my absence. But she is about to go on 3 weeks leave now, and so I’ll be manning the desk. Could be fun.

It is VERY quiet at the moment and will be until the FWC starts. Then busy for about 3 weeks, but then July is looking terrible. I’ll have to start moonlighting!

Lets not forget the troops out in Afghanistan (help for heroes!!). We gave away a 4 night package for a H4H charity auction in early May, and are hoping to contribute towards the Aston Martin H4H charity auction soon as well. It was fantastic to see David Beckham go out there to support the troops. I take my hat off to him as he seemed incredibly humbled by the whole experience! A pity more don’t follow his example.

Finally and unfortunately on a very tragic note, I dedicate this newsletter to Olmah (the chef) who died suddenly on the 18th May. She will be sadly missed by us all. She was totally dedicated, quiet and unassuming, but never afraid to go beyond her comfort zone in the kitchen. Here’s to you Ollie “up there”, and to your 4 children! We miss you already!

Keep well out there!
All the best
Bernie

February and March News

Slowly we’re sliding into autumn and those fresher mornings and evenings are becoming a welcome respite against the long hot summer that we’ve had.

Apart from the normal claptrap going on in politics nothing really to write home about. Here in South Africa the “loudmouth” of the ANC Youth League has been caught out; two range rovers, a number of houses (including one in Sandton), and a deal with a mining group which earned him quite a few dollars to say the least; then he has been clamouring for nationalization of the mines!

The country is slowly gearing up for the FWC event, with roads being a nightmare, and the threat of strike action by the unions. Only 3 months to go, and no David Beckham playing, better still, No Victoria! No Wags!

A smiling Phyllis - Village Chef for the Skeleton Staff Crew; probably wrong time to use Skeleton in this instance!

Here down at the camp life has been busy. In February we achieved a 53% occupancy rate (best February on record), and our cousin up the hill 13%. In March we were closed for our annual clean up from 01-24, and so with the few remaining days we achieved a 43% occupancy and 8% up the hill. In the two months of February and March a very warm welcome back to Reg and Liz and Pete and Sally (3rd time for Reg and Liz, and second for Peter and Sally). Also to Philip and Gerti with their 7th Cavalry guests for the horse riding safari and on that note we welcomed back Barney with them on her 21st birthday! Happy Birthday Barney! A great surprise for us and also for her. Also many congratulations to Jens and Stefanie for tying the knot here at Garonga – we hope you had a really splendid day. In March great to see Manfred and Sigrid back again.

It has been very hot over these couple of months with lots of intentions of more rains, but to date only 12.5 mm. It could be a long dry winter ahead unless we get a deluge which is uncommon at this time of the year. The bushveld is still looking in great condition though, with plenty of water and grass. On the Safari front the Boys and…Girl (Alisa) have been producing some excellent game viewing; 4 sightings of leopard in February, and good lion, ellie, rhino and cheetah sightings. The female Garonga cheetah, “Aya” has possibly gone back through the fences from where she came from – The Karongwe Reserve which is right down on our southern boundary. As long as she is safe and sound. Nobody has seen her for a number of months. Anyway hopefully all well and not something to be concerned about. Alisa has been playing her part extremely well filling all of our guests with enthusiasm about the “Bush”! Well done!

The Project team for a Green Garonga

On the cheffing front we have one more month really (April) of official summer Routine. So am now getting them concentrating on winter stuff. From mid April to August, late breakfasts, no lunches or picnics, and then a high tea at about 1530 hrs. Dinner of course as normal but with those fireplaces blazing (maybe). It is actually great fun in winter; fresh clean skies; no rains (normally!). A great time to come and visit. Don’t be put off by the FWC – give it a crack! I will play rugby on the TV at home and we can have a braai! None of this mincing or poncing around with a round ball! As ever a recipe will be attached. Does anybody give it a go? If you have any suggestions drop us an E-Mail.

“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is that we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright

The Biogas System with a Happy Skeleton Staff Crew smiling - a bit scruffy mind you!

Now here over the closedown a great deal has been happening behind the scenes. Apart from the hard work going on getting the camp cleaned up etc, we have installed the solar panels to offset some power from the main electricity grid; heater pumps have replaced the electrical geysers in the rooms. They use 80% less power than a normal electrical geyser and stay hot for a much longer time, plus take only 15 minutes to heat up if starting from scratch. We will always ensure they are on a goo hour before arrival of new guests. Then there has been the installation of the Biogas system which will power the staff kitchen instead of using LPG. And finally, which is what I am most excited about, the installation of the water treatment plant. Basically all water is filtered, and cleaned before it is pumped down in to the main waterhole in front of the main camp. This will increase the size of the pan and hopefully attract a lot more game. All these projects been a huge investment, and hopefully sets Garonga up for the future!

You, as guests, can also contribute, towards the whole carbon offset programme (basically to offset your carbon footprint) we have started with the Nomad Trust. Basically you can contribute as much or as little as you want ( from R 10 to R 100 or more if you like) based on the figures given to you by the trust. You can either offset just for your Garonga stay, the traveling it takes to get to Garonga from within SA + your stay, or your whole trip. They give you all the info! You contribute how you like. This amount goes into the trust until there is enough money within the trust to plant 1 ha of Spekbom trees somewhere in the eastern cape. It is a brilliant programme, and entirely voluntary. Obviously it is not just Garonga involved in this trust. It is transparent and upfront. It is supported by Rhodes University and the department of Land and Water Affairs.

I’ve just had a walk around and see that the monkeys have ripped the little gazebo tent at Little Garonga – bad enough to have to replace. Ummmm!

The Solar panels

During the closedown it has also given me the opportunity to go out and sell Garonga. A workshop was done in conjunction with our marketing rep. company here in SA, “Africa IN Focus” whereby we did a number of lectures on our products (there were 7 other products) to tour operators in Durban. It was a great success and thank-you to Andrew and Tamarin who organized the event, and also the operators who managed to get away. Then the following week, a workshop in Cape Town at a very nice location – The Bay Hotel in Camps Bay! But, God it was hot!! Now CT has many incredible spots, bars etc, but I was introduced to this one called “The Grand” (A bar) on the beach just beyond the waterfront; behind the Raddisson Hotel. It is one helluva Bar. It is literally a short walk from the main soccer stadium. Very trendy, but…great cocktails! There is another Grand in Camps Bay and Plettenberg Bay; it is neither of those!! It’s a bar; so we have to get it right!

Now am shortly off to the UK also on a sales Trip, which I’m very much looking forward to. April is a great time of the year.

To finish off I’ve just watched the medal parade of a number of servicemen and women who have received awards for gallantry in Afghanistan. It must make us all feel very humbled by their experiences and incredibly proud of our servicemen and women. Therefore even more reason to keep supporting Help For Heroes and the “3 Rifles Battlegroup” who have lost a number of soldiers and a number of wounded in their 6 month stint in Afghanistan. Keep the money rolling in.

Late May, early June and first 12 days of July there is still plenty of availability. We look forward to welcoming you here at Garonga! Keep well and have a great Easter!

All the best

Bernie

January News

What a month! The tragic events in Haiti; a country that just has not got off its feet after one disaster after another. Amazing how teams still find people alive after so many days! We can only wish them ever changing fortunes in the near future.

December and January  were interesting! British Airways threatening strike action over Xmas (now that’s how to win over the public! Sack the plonker who suggested
that one!), and then here in sunny SA, SA Airlink had a number of problems with their fleet. Congrats to those who persevered through all of this and the travel operators
who were burning the midnight oil to ensure guests arrived at their destination!

Then, January and all that lovely white stuff (no, not Cocaine)! Didn’t it look nice. Same travel problems with guests arriving a day later, sometimes two, and again the
stalwarts of the travel industry burnt the candles both ends again to ensure you all arrived. Quite a challenge for the start of the year! Then the amusing stories of being
sued if you cleared your pathways in front of the house of snow. Nobody else was going to do it. They are a strange breed that H&S lot! Reminds me of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Got to have a giggle there.

France banning some wearing of the Burqa. Good news. I saw an interview between a French journalist and the good old pompous BBC. The BBC asked her why in France they can’t be as “liberal” as The UK.

She replied that in France 75% of the Muslims believe they are French first and Muslim second, whereas in UK 55% think they are Muslim first and English second! Put that in your pipe BBC!!

In the UK there was the long awaited public enquiry on Iraq. Some very interesting things coming out there. Of course TB will get off the hook. What was so obvious was the differing views and statements by all. So no consistency at all, which would point to no clear mission statement by TB at all.

Climate change conference in Copenhagen – who really thought they would agree on anything. They can’t make a decision in their own countries let alone bringing the whole lot together in Sweden. The biggest mass collection of “professional puffers” ever. No wonder it was hard to breathe over that time – they were using excessive oxygen to decide on… nothing! Now UK and Europe are in one of the biggest freezes ever; Global warming apparently?

So election fever has begun in UK. All the promises, baby cuddling, and pretence of what they think they know what is best for us. One example – big problems ahead for the unknown, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and now Yemen and Somalia. You would have thought this would increase their budget for defense wouldn’t you? So they decrease it by 20%. Doesn’t that make you feel so much safer? Put the guy out of his misery and into a strait jacket!

The cricket! What a cracker of a series between England and SA. Up and down like a yo yo. I think South Africa can take Pieterson back though! But such a good advert for test cricket. A draw was a decent result even though over here they say we hung on by our teeth, but hey, if you can’t bowl them out then that’s all part of it. Don’t cry about it SA! And you had at least two S.Africans in the English team and you still couldn’t win!

Here in SA things still gearing up for the FIFA WC, but stories of ridiculous price hikes by, guess who? Airlines; now that’s a surprise. And in Cape Town exorbitant costs by hotels predicted just to really rip you off. There was a big push by SA tourism last year to not do this, but obviously there’s another agenda there. Also good to see more airlines being diverted, cancelled, bags being mislaid – a good start to the FWC. Could be an interesting month in June/July.

Down here in sunny Garonga we have just managed to get our best annual occupancy since opening – 55% for 2009. December for Safari Camp was 47% and Little Garonga 40%. January was 38% for Safari Camp and… Well just over 4% for little chap up the hill. January is always quiet once the Xmas Buzz has gone. However a warm welcome back to Maureen, Alison from Ethos UK, and finally to Mark and Sussane and family, who, this time stayed at Little Garonga exclusively. Many congrats to Robert and Alexei for tying the knot and saying “I do!” here on the sleep out deck. Their flights were delayed by the whole nause, but their calmness and resilience was truly impressive!! Also many congrats to Michael and Alison, and finally to Dieter and Birgit! We actually have quite a few weddings lined up for 2010, and what’s even better now is that we can also source a small Choir and Dancers if guests would like that option.

So overall a very good year for us thanks to all of you!

The veldt is looking very lush and green after almost 210mm of rains in December and January. Just what was needed. Water everywhere.

We have had the ellie herds through the riverbed in front of the main camp on a number of occasions, and the stray bull very often as well. What has been great though is that the eland are still hanging around the airstrip area. The cheetah brothers  have also been seen a number of times waiting for “easy pickings” near the strip as that is where all the plains game congregate in early evening and with so many young. The wildebeest bulls all got together once and charged at the cheetah who took flight. The next afternoon we saw them on a kill with a young wildebeest. Aya, the female, no sign as yet. On more good news – one of the rhino cows has just given birth; jaffeth found it the same day with guests – a first for him. The Lions have been up to their tricks again playing “hard to get”. Obviously not trained properly at the “lion school”. The viewing has been very good however.

Sleep outs have proven very popular over the festive season and in January. I just keep forgetting to turn the remote camera off. I must try and remember this for 2010!

On the food side the Girls have been doing very nicely, except once when a recipe did not go according to plan! Lessons learnt. Debbie came over in mid – December doing five days of hectic refresher training. This was much appreciated by all of us. Thanks Debbie and see you again in March. We had a very traditional
Xmas dinner on the 25th and all went nicely even the silly hats! Actually we only had 4 guests in Safari Camp and so Mark, Susanne and family came to join us all from Little Garonga and I had invited Ross (reserve warden) and his wife Audrey (reserve research boss and ecologist) also and so we had a nice big gang there. Great fun it was. Bread sauce and all!! A recipe will be attached. Give it a bash; I’ll send you a good wintery one!

On the staff side, we welcomed back Andrew who came to take first aid refresher training for 4 days between safari department and general staff. All went very well, and so lots of doctors and nurses wanting to practice suddenly. Wilgent, security, was nominated as being the most improved and professional. Handy to know. Better
give him an increase. Unfortunately we have had to lose Julius (guide); due to health reasons. A big loss as he has been with us since we started. We welcome Alisa (guide) having just completed very successfully the Bushwise guiding course. She was top in rifle shooting so please don’t “nark her”!

I took the front-line staff and invited friends and ex – staff to Rissingtons Inn at Hazyview for their Xmas dinner getaway… Thanks Chris for a great time and fantastic food and company.

Plans for 2010: I have finalized the “green route” for Garonga with Henk from Cape Town. We start in March with hopefully a “green Garonga”; we will of course keep you posted. We close in March (01-24) for our annual clean up and so this is the best time to install all the solar panels which will be behind the main camp out of view, and
all the other systems to be put in place.  Also the curio shop will be displaced and a new one built by the main entrance.  To be honest the current one has “expired” and it needs a completely fresh new look and also a lot bigger. I have plans afoot with Trish (interior designer for Garonga since inception) and am sure you will enjoy
it. There will be therefore some building of the shop happening from March. It will be minimal impact but it will be there. We will place guests furthest away where possible and concentrate any noise mostly during game drive times. Allow about 2 months or so. Am waiting for the plans etc. So the final idea will be to meet and greet and also check out guests from the new shop, so it will combine. It will be enclosed under thatch with aircon and have a nice vibey, funky feel to it. The old Shop will be the “safari office” giving them space. If anybody is concerned please drop me a line on safari@garonga.com

We are trying a number of packages between ourselves and  Ants Nest, and Tongabezi (Both Classics Properties). Something will be on the site soon. A charter company is flying from Kruger Airport direct to Livingstone twice a week at very reasonable rates indeed, and then if flying with them from Tongabezi to Garonga via Kruger Airport the hop from Kruger to Garonga is free! The only down side is that they operate twice a week, but this would work with a 7 day package. I’d suggest starting at Tongabezi. I have also managed to find some very reasonable air charter rates direct from Wonderboom (near Pretoria) to Garonga or vice versa. The company would also road transfer you from Joburg International to Wonderboom for a small fee.

On the wedding side we now have a choice of photographers, and also a choir and/or dancers if needs be. Weddings seem to be really picking up here in SA.

Just to keep supporting H4H charity – a number of casualties; they need continuous support. There is also the 3 Rifles BG out in Afghanistan at the moment that is doing its own charity.

Finally (gasps of relief) just a huge thanks to all our guests who have visited Garonga and sent such great comments to Trip Advisor!! As a result we won one of the awards (All Inclusive category) and came 3rd in the top 10. It is only due to you, and now we need to improve more!! Thanks ever so much.

Have a great 2010! Keep well and all the best

Bernie