Fishing Competition


Despite my fear of piranhas (a very healthy fear, if you ask me), I was determined to give piranha fishing a try myself. I mean, how many times in my life would I get to fish in the Amazon? The more appropriate question would have been “how many times had I fished – ever, anywhere?” There had been a couple of occasions in my pre-teens but I now suspect that my Dad did everything for me all the while making me believe that I had some skill.

Anyway, by the time I got going with my rod/ stick thing, Hemingway (a.ka. The Husband) had already caught about six piranhas in succession and was looking mighty chuffed with himself. Now, I know that I need to grow up and simply accept that he will forevermore be better than me at basically everything related to sport and/or the outdoors.

But I can’t.

And so, given that Hemingway has never expressed any interest in fishing whatsoever in the ten years I’ve known him, I decided to take him on. After many failed attempts on my part, Ricardo, (the junior guide) decided to intervene in an attempt to be helpful and took hold of the fishing rod.

With me.

Fishing “a deux”.

At the age of 30.

How cute.

I felt like saying: “I know, that you know, that I know, that you are the one actually doing the fishing here, so for goodness sake, LET GO!!!!!!”

But the poor, sweet Spaniards had caught their one piranha each, taken their photo with the monstrous fish and were now plastered to their seats, drenched in sweat and yawning up a storm. So I played pretend fishing with Ricardo.

E V E E E E E E e e e e e e e N T U A L L Y, I (Ricardo) had something.

I (Ricardo) pulled it up out of the water.

It didn’t look like the same species of piranha the others had caught. It wasn’t bloated like a blaashoppie, with reddish bits on the edges. Instead, it was slender and silver.

I was thinking, “maybe, I (Ricardo) have caught a really RARE type of piranha. That would be cool.”

No such luck, as it turns out. I don’t think Ricardo had the heart to break the news to me because he just kept quiet and looked at Victor.

“It’s a sardine,” Victor announced.

Awesome.

So that’s the story of how, in a two square metre stretch of water, infested with piranhas so starved they had begun to feed on their own family members, I – The Fabulous Fisherwoman from Keurboomstrand – caught the one surviving sardine.

Piranhas and Havaianas

Piranhas and Havaianas: it’s got such a good nursery rhyme ring to it, I couldn’t resist. In reality, however, flip flops and piranha fishing are not a good combination. In case there were any lion-petting type tourists on our Amazon cruise, our guides specifically told us to wear closed shoes on the morning of the fishing expedition, “unless you want to get a pedicure”. This is apparently Amazonian for ‘losing a toe’ – or ten.

“Who wants to fish first?” Victor (our guide) asked when we’d reached what he deemed to be a piranha-infested spot (right next to the bank of the river, by the way). Before you could say ‘anaconda’, The Husband – ever the competitor – had practically flown across the skiff to grab hold of the make-shift rod. His only real competition besides myself and a lovely, soft spoken Spanish girl, was the Spanish girl’s boyfriend, Ramon. Ramon didn’t react at all to Victor’s fishing offer, so my Hemingway-esque other half needn’t have risked his life for the rod.

Anyhoo. He did. He survived and he set about fishing, like a man. Within seconds he had a podgy little silver and red thing flailing about madly on the end of the line, before he lost control almost completely, causing the Piranha to writhe and bounce on the floor of the our suddenly SUFFOCATINGLY SMALL skiff.

The scene that ensued resembled what I picture happening at a book club after someone has just pointed to the floor, yelling “MOUSE!” In an attempt to save our toes (closed shoes or not), we three terrified tourists were jumping on top of our seats, screeching uncontrollably (Ramon included), praying and trying not to fall overboard. In his defence, my Hemingway really did try to control the wriggly little b*gger. Unfortunately, he failed miserably. As a result, the purportedly lethal fish continued to convulse unpredictably across the length of the skiff’s floor while we shrieked in terror. And then Victor saved the day. If there was ever proof that looks can be deceiving, Victor is it. He is boyishly adorable looking with the kind of podgy little cheeks that your grandmother would like to grab and go “gootchie gootchie GOO” to. But when he stabilised that writhing Piranha he was the Camel Man incarnate. He grabbed hold of the fish (which honestly looks like a harmless  blaashoppie and if we hadn’t been warned about its dangers, I might’ve been the lion-petter in the group) with both hands and managed to get it still enough to show us its teeth.

Then he further educated us on how vicious these things are. He told us about an American tourist who’d refused to listen to him and lost a piece of finger in split seconds. He told us that the chef on our boat had lost part of a finger AFTER he had gutted a piranha – the fish was practically in pieces but the biting reflex was evidently still intact and so it promptly munched off a piece of his finger right there on the chopping board. He told us that piranhas have been watched by scientists, completely devouring a 300kg cow – down to its carcass – in 18 seconds. He could see us mentally dividing our weight into 300 to figure out how long we’d last. He showed us a bloody gash on the piranha’s body apparently caused by his fellow piranhas when they’d gotten a bit peckish.

As sweet as it was to think that Hemingway had possibly saved this dudie’s life, I was going to make sure he was going straight back into the water with his buddies. I didn’t want any ‘impulsive’ piranhas outside of Victor’s brave hands.

Amazon 101: What They Don’t Teach at Brownie Camp


It turns out that even the luxest of luxury, airconned Amazon cruises require a teensy bit of outdoor savvy. Not exactly being the camping/trekking/hiking type, I knew I didn’t possess too much of this. Boy, did that turn out to be an understatement.

First of all, I get that a rainforest is a forest where it rains. Duh. But who knew that it rains so much in parts of the Amazon that entire villages get temporarily sub-merged by the river during the rainy season? Okay, “entire village” equals miniscule hamlet with four open-sided huts and 50 people. BUT STILL!! And how is this relevant for travellers aboard the lovely “Aqua” riverboat? I’ll tell you how. During our briefing on the first night, I nearly spat out my Pisco Sour when they told us to “be prepared to rough it in the bushes during your excursions. There are no ablutions in the wild – ha ha ha ha ha”.

Ha ha ha. Heeee-larious.

Yes, of course there’re no ablutions in the middle of the Amazon jungle, you eegits, but why do you have to take us away from the safety of this magnificent mothership for FOUR HOURS on the trot? What do you think we are? Camels? So I nearly spat out my cocktail for two reasons: partly out of shock that I would have to pee in the bush on our five star holiday and partly because I didn’t want to swallow another millilitre of liquid before I was safely back in my cabin, post excursion.

But it gets better. As it turned out, even the most die-hard outdoor enthusiasts would have had a hard time doing their business in the bushes. That’s because we did not come across one inch of terra firma on our first excursion (nor on very many of the subsequent excursions, for that matter). The jungle simply emerged from the water all around our little excursion boats (skiffs) but there was no sign of the land the trees were anchored to. So unless you were a boy, and happy to heed the call of mother nature over the side of the skiff, in the company of the six charming Canadian retirees you had dinner with last night, each and every one of us had to cross our legs and try to drown out the sounds of the Amazon gently lapping against the boat.

Second lesson: protection from Amazonian mozzies does not simply mean covering up and slapping on some Tabard. Not at all. During the briefing Aqua recommended we use a spray containing at least 40% DEET. Now, I’m no farmer but something from Std 3 science is ringing a bell here. DEET? Isn’t that, like, illegal? I mean we’re only in a national park in the middle of the endangered Amazon Rainforest, aren’t we? Needless to say, my save-the-pandas side went out the window the next day, after I counted no fewer than 38 mozzie bits – on one limb. The leetle b*stards had munched me silly – THROUGH my pants. The pants I’d bought specially for the trip since my wardrobe doesn’t exactly contain clothing for jungle jols. Thereafter I wore my only other pair of outdoor longs (also purchased solely for the trip) morning, noon and night. By Day 5 they could basically stand up by themselves, not to mention that they smelt divine.

But that’s not all. On the day of the great mozzie attack, The Husband and I were walking in the jungle (on one of the few occasions we were actually able to access dry land) behind Victor, our naturalist guide. I say “walking” but we were actually trudging almost knee-deep in water. (When we saw higher ground to our left, we rushed towards it but then Victor told us to stick to the middle of the mud as there’d be snakes to the right. Nothing like the threat of an Amazonian serpent to send me diving back to the centre of the swamp.) Anyway, for our first and only jungle walk, we were covered from neck to foot in clothing to try to protect ourselves from insects. We were sweating like pigs in the sweltering humidity and furiously swatting mozzies away from our heads. Victor looked at us in our cute little tomato red Cape Storm waterproof jackets and said:

“You know, mosquitos are attracted to the colour red.” Ah, right – like bulls. We knew that.

That’s what they DON’T teach you at Boy Scouts and Brownies. (Not that I was ever a Brownie. Even at age 10, I wouldn’t have been caught in a long-sleeved poo-brown tunic and floppy hat, after school hours).

Did they get it from their mammas?


I was both shocked and relieved when the character of Samantha Jones on Sex & the City came out with the line: “Since when did tanning come back into style?” I was like: “since when did it GO OUT of style?” I’ve been sufficiently indoctrinated by those who “didn’t know when we were young” (i.e. my mother) to have grown up knowing that the sun gives you wrinkles, but I’ve also inherently understood that it’s just not cool to be pasty. And so when Samantha uttered that line, I thought, “Oh my God! In the States, tanning is like smoking – it USED TO be super cool, but now it’s all about health and longevity.” The pressure to grill oneself in tan cans and to frazzle on deck chairs has fizzled out!

Alas, alack. If, indeed, tanning ever did go out of fashion, I can confirm that it’s back with a bang amongst the pooling population at Hotel Faena. It has taken me a couple of days to realise that there are actually umbrellas here. Tons of them. They’re dutifully dotted between each and every deck chair. It’s just I hadn’t noticed them because I’d never seen them in use. Any form of sombrero also appears to be wildly untrendy in these parts. With my super practical floppy travel hat I look more out of place than the woman who has her legs permanently spread so the sun won’t miss a spot. And the fact that the deck chairs on either side of the pool face one another, means that the person opposite her gets one helluva view.

I reckon it was destiny that placed me at Faena’s poolside shortly before the advent of the New Year. Just in time to remind myself of my annual New Year’s Resolution: To Get in Shape. Basically, the men can be divided into two categories: they are either fat or they sport six packs. The women, on the other hand, belong overwhelmingly to one category: the “body-to-die-for” one. The Europeans are all slim and in great shape but the Latin American chicks are in a league all of their own: they pretty much look like versions of Giselle Bunchen from neck to toe (above the neck looks pretty good too). It’s either something in the water over here or else they really did just “get it from their mammas”.

Which gets me thinking: is it really nature or is it nurture – i.e. is it in the genes or in the gym? Hmmm. Tricky one. I reckon I’ll need to ponder this over cocktails until the New Year kicks in.

Faena Forever


The Faeana Hotel & Universe.

Sigh.

Warning: it’s going to be hard not to sound fawning, but it’s such a phenomenal universe that we’ve had a hard time tearing ourselves away from the mirrored pool bar, the gentleman’s club-style “library bar” and the Versailles-meets-modernity red and white resto.

For all the arrogance supposed to be exuded by “portenos” (residents of Buenos Aires), the staff could not be nicer. The pool-side service has tended be a bit laid-back-Latino-whenever-wherever but the waitrons are so divine, it’s hard to get hit up about it. They’ve got things so right that as the temperature starts dropping from afternoon to evening, the pool temperature begins to rise slowly, slowly… Mmmmm.

And my personal fave: Dear Guests: Naturally Cocktails May Be Consumed In The Pool. Naturally. (They’re served in plastic cups that look exactly like the real glass deal, for when the co-ords are a teensy bit shaky). On the downside, guests may be accompanied by their offspring. Having said that, this does not seem to be the general trend so being roused from your margarita-induced slumber by a chorus of “Marco Polos” is fairly rare. Not counting kiddies, the average age is exactly what you’d want it to be if you were between 20 and 45 and single. This dawned on me on my first evening in the pool when I overhead a conversation between two Californian playboys:

“Yeah, if ya stay at the Four Seasons, everyone there is like, OLD, man.”

Looking around, I realised he was so right. Maybe for this was one of the reasons why we bumped into an SA acquaintance and his two, single, thirty-something mates at the pool on our first night. The guy was so tanned I didn’t recognise him at first. “Argentinian women are so incredibly beautiful,” he was saying. (Can’t argue with you on that one, Bru.) “But I think the Argentine men are greasy”.

Er, ja. Keep telling yourself that, mate.

Cape Town International

I’ve always reckoned that a good rule of thumb on 'planes is that if your neighbour hasn’t proved to be Chatty Pants in the first ten minutes, then you’re home free. A couple of weeks ago, though, I realised that I’m going to need to modify this theory on the free booze flights (the few that still exist). Two mini bottles of Chenin Blanc down, my 60-something neighbour decided it was time we met, JUST as we were preparing to land. By this stage all my leave-me-the-eff-alone-accessories had been dutifully packed away (laptop, I-pod, book) and I was left with little option but to speak back.

He was an ex-Joburger who’d emigrated to CT and was a die hard Kaapener my whole life before converting to Jozi-ism. Invariably, we had the “why-Cape-Town-is-so-much-better-than-Joburg” debate. My favourite. No, really. In the same way as Jews for Jesus are even more fervent than their reborn counter-parts, I am constantly shooting my mouth off about how FAN-tastic Joburg is.

Anyhoo, after old Chenin Blanc had run through all the obvious CT selling points (wine, mountains, wine, the new stadium and wine), he launched into his promotional pitch for the new airport. “It’s bigger, better, faster, classier, sharper, hotter, cooler, hipper, better,” etc, etc.

Great,” I thought, a week later. Because, you see, yesterday, I walked Cavendish square STUKKEND for a Christmas present for my darling husband – aka “the-man-who-has-everything-or-if-he-doesn’t-he’ll-buy-it”. (This characteristic of his is fantastic when you need any make or shape of electronic device – pronto, but it’s less fun when you need to buy him a present.) However, given old Chenin’s sales pitch on the super new, super fab airport, I figured I’d simply pick up something there. So NOT. Unless you are looking for a wooden Giraffe carving from not one but TWO curio stores (out of a total of about 8 shops), do not leave your holiday shopping to the last minute. Needless to say, my husband cannot be left cooped up in a security enclosed retail space without being absolutely compelled to contribute to consumer spending. Bless him. Even under the utterly miserable retail conditions in Cape Town’s new international airport, he managed to get some gadgets. (All I can do now is hi-jack his goods and wrap them up as his Christmas gift).

On the bright side, though, Cape Town really has made airport security a mega-priority. I was lucky enough to experience this first hand when I witnessed three uniformed policemen trying to sweet-talk the Premier lounge receptionist into smuggling out free drinks for them. But she was hardcore and she wasn’t having any of it. “Can you see the cameras?” she responded, wagging her finger at them. “There they are”.

Nice one, officers.

Failing in that little endeavour, the Kaap se Coppers decided to amuse themselves in other ways. I happened to be standing at the reception desk at the time.

“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” the one asked.

Mentally rolling my eyes, I replied that I didn’t think so as I tried to stay on the right side of the law. (I don’t think he saw the irony).

Naai, man,” he said, “aren’t you on the TV?”

Much better, dude.
For that you can have a celebrity smile.

Pinky & the Brain

Our South American adventure started out even before our 5am alarm this morning. That was when I realised that I had not married my husband for his prowess in the kitchen, but rather for his mathematical genius (to give our unborn children a chance in life, and all). For some reason (ask me not what), I was utterly convinced that we were leaving Cape Town at 10am this morning, travelling for 9 hours to Buenos Aires (which is 5 hours BEHIND SA) and then landing in Buenos Aires at 2pm THE NEXT DAY – i.e. 24 December.

Thank God someone in our team has a functioning brain. At 4:30am this morning, hubby woke up with a start, declaring that the little travel itinerary I’d verbally relayed to him did not make logical sense. I mulled it over, frowned, drew a time-line, got our my calculator. No indeed it did not.

B*gger.

With no job, reports, no deadlines, basically NO responsibilities, except to book a frigging holiday – I still manage to c*ck it up.

Muy bien, Natalie.

The upshot of all this is that we had nowhere to stay on our first night – peak season in Buenos Aires. Fortunately, Father Christmas must have decided that I’ve been a good girl this year because when I got through to Santiago on the night shift, he said: “No problem, no problem. We see you later.” (Gotta love the laidback Latinos). Crisis (and divorce), averted. Who needs higher grade Maths, anyway?