Monday, March 31, 2014

Charlotte in South Africa

Charlotte has just got back from an amazing trip in South Africa where she volunteered at African Dawn (Wildlife Sanctuary, Rehabilitation Centre and Endangered Cat Breeding Centre). She kindly agreed to write a guest post for me about some of the incredible experiences she had.


One of the highlights of my trip was the hand in trunk walk at the Elephant sanctuary. We had a two hour drive from Eastern Cape- East to Eastern Cape- West, leaving African Dawn at 5am to drive to Plettenberg Bay. I personally thought the drive was great, the scenery and sunrise was fantastic (everyone else in the taxi was sleeping so they didn’t see much...).

After paying the fee, our guide met us and guided us to the elephant sanctuary and talked about African elephants- behavior, appearance and what they eat. He then briefly introduced us to 4 elephants, one male and three females called Jabu, meaning happy (18 years old), Tandy meaning love (17 years old) and Marula (my elephant 19 years old).  

After meeting the elephants we got to choose the one we wanted to walk, I went for the leader Marula- the largest female who was known for being very cheeky and walking quickly. She likes to shove you into bushes but still holds onto you no matter what with her trunk. After dealing with her shoving me into bushes we stopped in the shaded, forested area. The keepers talked about each elephant, their individual personalities and showed some examples of the animals expressing natural behavior and doing tricks. We then interacted and stroked each elephant and the keepers taught us about the their senses, body and behavior. They made us stroke their faces, horns, feet, belly, ears and tail. On the way back we fed the elephants apples, once they finished eating they walked off holding onto the tail of the elephant in front of them (which I thought was very cute).

We then went to a room outside and our guide explained the elephants’ anatomy, how they give birth, what baby elephants do to survive and how they sleep. This was really interesting and a great way to end the day. The staff were incredible, extremely knowledgeable and friendly.

After walking the elephants you will have very dirty hands from their trunks. Marula and Jaboo both had part of their trunks missing; poor treatment from previous owners had resulted in having to remove the tips of their trunks.

SWIMMING WITH SEALS- Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape

Swimming with seals at Plettenberg Bay was incredible. We had to wear a lovely wetsuit that made us look like penguins, very flattering (ahem), flippers and snorkel. The speed boat took 15 minutes to get to a cliff side where there were hundreds of seals (including very scary male seals that were fighting and falling off the rocks). We jumped into the water and all the baby seals came towards us. They would come very close and nibble our flippers. One baby seal kept playing picaboo with me, it would pop up from under the water and squirt some sea water in my face, shake its head from side to side then dive back under water. But it is worth noting that mother seals are very protective and easily threatened, one particular seal would bark loudly at me if her baby came too close.

We swam with them for 45 minutes which was an amazing experience as seals are very friendly, interactive and quite cheeky!

BUNGEE JUMPING- Bloukrans bridge 216 m (709 feet) Highest bridge jump in the world

My thought process here was: 'Hey its the worlds highest commercial bungee bridge in the whole world, sure I'll jump off it'. And I didn’t give it much more thought than that until we arrived at the location... and the sheer height hit me.

We filled out the forms, paid, got weighed and strapped into a full body harness. A few people decided that it was not for them and would prefer to just watch. We walked along the 451 meter long bridge to the center, where we were greeted by three members of staff dancing around to the music playing in the background. Given that I cannot dive, the staff told me that they would push me off. I watched a few people go first and then before I knew it, it was my turn. The staff helped me hobble over to the edge (with my toes hanging off the bridge) and said to look at the camera and smile then on 3 jump- in my video you see me look up at the camera and say 'Wait what am I doing again? What am I doing ? OH MY GOD!' and half jump/shoved off, arms flailing everywhere and screaming my head off. Elegant and composed as always. 

My thoughts before jumping were: 'If Pocahontas can jump off a cliff; then why cant I jump off a bridge where I’m attached to ropes?'. The feeling you get as you're jumping at the start is very scary as you feel helpless trying to cling onto something but then the sound of the wind blowing past you feels amazing and the views were stunning (even though it was very blurry). The rebound was surprisingly not that bad, it just made me feel a bit confused as I was spinning around. Jumping off was scary but not as bad as just hanging at the bottom waiting to be picked up. Hanging by a rope, you feel like your ankles are slipping out and all the blood rushes to your head and fingers. At this point I was panicking because you’re just hanging there swaying back and forth for a while, the only thing keeping me calm was the sound of the river below me. Eventually, one of the staff came down to bring me back up. He attached me to his harness and pulled us up. 

Bungee jumping was the best thing I have ever done and I am so glad that I did it in South Africa. Next, skydiving! I think it has turned me into an adrenaline junkie. 

I already miss South Africa so much, the people were just lovely, very lively and so welcoming. I cannot wait to go back!

- Charlotte

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Morandi- West Village

I had been meaning to eat at Morandi's for a while as I had heard good things. And so we headed off on a rainy day to try it out. 

This cosy Italian restaurant embodies the rustic and authentic Italian cuisine most foodies look for in NYC. The food is fresh and the atmosphere is great. Portions are not huge but then I am not normally a fan of over sized dishes that you can't finish. 

The pasta was fantastic and the staff were great. We were seated straight away and they answered any questions we had about the menu. 

It looks like it would be a great place to eat outside in the summer. But it does get quite busy, so do book ahead!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Commerce- West Village

I had heard great things about this restaurant and had been aching to try it for a little while. So I was excited once I finally got round to making a reservation. Tucked away in a quiet unassuming West Village street, this cosy restaurant is very popular. And boy does that show on a Friday evening. Despite my reservation and arriving on time, we had over an hours wait before we were seated. I am not going to lie, this was not the most pleasant experience. We were crammed in by the hectic bar like sardines (imagine the Northern Line at rush hour). The delays and cramped conditions led to a few upset customers complaining but the staff did an amazing job working under high pressure with tempers flaring. We were given complimentary drinks and the food that followed then made up for the less than ideal start.

The bread, oh the bread. Normally I try to avoid eating too much before my food arrives so as not to fill up on bread. But the Commerce brings a bread-basket to end all bread-baskets, with a variety of hot, home made rolls that are impossible to resist. From freshly baked tomato and pesto to soft salty pretzels to cheese and bacon mini rolls… the bread-basket did not last long.

I opted for the Winter Vegetable in Thai Red Curry: fresh, delicate, aromatic and seriously tasty. The Steak Diane was elegant and cooked to perfection. 
For desert I ordered their famous Coconut Cake. While this is not normally my favourite desert, I had heard such good things that it just had to be done.  First of all, it is huge. Everyone at the table ended up trying it but even then I still left about a third (maybe I did eat a little too much bread after all). Second of all, it is delicious. Just go and try it. Be prepared for a moist slab of coconut deliciousness.

Their cookie was a great choice for those who want something sweet but who know when enough is enough (yes my eyes are frequently bigger than my belly). The Birthday Cake comes complete with a candle and is just as big as the Coconut Cake.
Overall, yes the hour wait standing in a seriously crowded room did initially put me off but the staff was fantastic, the atmosphere was good and the food was just amazing.