Alex on the road

Posted by admin in Blog January 24, 2013  |  No Comments

He he

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Presentation to the Pilot Team for the City of Cape Towns Responsible Tourism Pilot Project

Posted by admin in What's on @ The Backpack April 17, 2012  |  No Comments

I was asked to do a presentation on what Recycling means to us at the City of Cape Town’s Responsible Tourism Pilot Project – Some of the challenges we encounter (like having to get up in front of a group of people and speak has to be my biggest challenge!) – the good the bad and the difficult obstacles that we endure daily. Afterwards I was asked by some of the delegates to share my thoughts so I thought if anyone wants to have a gander they could find it here on our blog. So here goes……
Where do I start ??? there’s so much to do – it all seems so overwhelming- just thinking about recycling can send anyone into a depression.
Here are some suggestions: Start small take one step at a time. I can guarantee, you will fail along the way but don’t give up!
You might start to find yourself buried under plastic bottles, bins full of them, alley ways full of them and not know how to stop the huge wave of them, being scared to stop selling water as it means you could lose a huge revenue stream.
Finding space where to put all the stuff that quickly gathers a momentum of its own.
The look and feel of recycling –it is so hard finding something hip and funky to put it in so your guests actually see it and use it. It sort of does have to be in your face and even then it’s a challenge to put the cigarette stompies (butts) in the ashtray provided!!
Finding the right company to recycle with – this takes time and money and has teething problems! Eventually you might find the right company that works for you. Stick with them as long as possible they are like hens teeth.
The cost of recycling or being green – is not always cheap. In fact it’s really rather expensive especially when you retrofit and not custom build. Trying to work out if you are ever going to recoup the money you spent – you probably won’t for next umpteen years but you will sleep better and know you have shown your kids, your friends and your parents a different way.
Educating yourself and your staff is a huge challenge. Using the recycling in the best possible way and not the laziest easiest way. For example I had a look in the Sappi bin the other day when the team was filming at the Backpack (for the RT workshop video) and we needed “waste paper” to put in the bin and found it full of very expensive brochures that would be quite fine to be back on the shelf and used again. At a cost of about R35.00 per brochure I am sure all the travel companies would love it if all their outlets were able to recycle brochures. Our staff are happy to put them in the bin and “recycle” them to the paper trash. That is the easy way out. That is not the idea behind recycling.
Some things we wouldn’t do again:
Buy the can crusher that cost an arm and ten legs without seeing it fully operational!
The solar lights at the home fair exhibition that work for the duration of the show but not once installed along your footpath.
Start on all fronts and go big. It’s about being sustainable. So if it means getting those Sappi bins in, collecting bottle tops or starting a worm farm with just a few bins do that.
You feel great!!!You get to meet the coolest people – look around here. I love my egg man and his wife they are such lekker people – they deliver the eggs and take back the trays, my friend’s sister who makes our organic cleaning products and the guy who comes to fetch our oil to make his diesel. Perhaps it is because we are small compared to the big hotels that we can use people that can’t handle big companies – we know those suppliers and trust in what they are doing, that they are coming from the same ethos as us.
Once you start cutting down and you do manage to do a lot of things better it’s such a natural high. You can’t beat the feeling!
We are making a better place for everyone. Since I have started on our journey at work I have carried this into my home and don’t buy from big chain stores as much as I used to with all the packaging that we pay for and then it becomes our responsibility to dispose of it.
Create jobs and awareness not only recycling jobs but crafting (e.g. bottle tops and coke cans) community cooking as in start up tours in the Bo Kaap – who ever thought we would be making cook sisters with Tannie Aminah in her kitchen 10 years ago!
People who inspire me
1. Firstly it’s my business partner Toni as she is never scared of a challenge – she has taught me that it’s no shame to fail and have tried. And boy I can tell you there are many things forgotten along the way that we tried and failed at but eventually you will find the way that is right for your company.
2. Paula Thompson from Woza Moya –who started a respite centre for people who came to die and then when they got better had to create work for them to keep them sustained and started her beading project and food garden there are now over 200 crafters there.
3. Rosie from Baphumelele – who we have watched grow exponentially and when you see that little baby girl of two months old being fed, burped and loved makes you feel you are never doing enough!
4. Pat Featherstone – who is a wonderful gardener and awesome teacher and if you ever get the chance do a weekend course with her at Soil For Life don’t hesitate do and take everyone in your family your children, your housekeeper your gardener as her classes are understandable by everyone.
5. Road trips through South Africa – take the back roads, the road less travelled -they are so inspiring, so creative and so exciting.

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The Silver Bullets Road Trip

Posted by admin in Blog, What's on @ The Backpack February 17, 2012  |  No Comments

To wake up each morning and to recognize that Lee and I have THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD is an understatement and a privilege! We have been travelling around the Eastern Cape for 14 days – Lee and co-pilot joined me on Day 7.

Day 1;
Tai (my son) and I set off along the Garden Route to Myoli Beach (AFRO VIBE BACKPACKERS). It was awesome – on the beach, on the sand, with insane views of the beach. kite surfing, wake boarding, paragliding, surfing, diving, you name it they have it – a pro adventure operation,Phili Phili like I have not seen in South Africa. Lyle and Niels and all their staff were amazing. Young, fun and making a difference with their sport and mentorship program. The rooms were great, with awesome views. Delicious food served in the cafe. You need at least 2 days here.

Day 2 & 3: St Francis Bay to a family friend who owns the most magnificent Beach House THE BEACH HOUSE ST FRANCIS BAY.
This old money chic Beach House is self-catering, comes with the most amazing chef, Sylvia and a housekeeper, Caroline who can arrange your shopping too if you like! Petrea and Lionel are world travellers and a must-to-meet couple.
From R10 000 per night sleeps 10 you will not be disappointed.

Day 4,5 & 6 Grahamstown – University Town. Stayed at High Cape Corner Guest House – simple, friendly and clean. Mad Hatters Cafe next door is probably the best place to eat. Closed at night.

Day 7 & 8: Caught a shuttle to Port Alfred to catch the Baz Bus. My first Baz Bus ever and boy I was blown away. Bus driver Jay has been working for the Baz Bus for 15 years. He is an absolute gem. Has a heart of gold – delivering bread daily to an impoverished village, subsidising it with his own money . He has many social outreach projects. Try sit up front – he is so excited about life, his job and his country. The Baz Bus is an excellent way to travel. Door to door. My word what else could an independent traveller ask for? Dropped off at one of my favourite spots, Bucanneers. Everyone loves this place and it is not hard to see why. (review on TA)

Day 9 & 10: Setting off to Bulungula. Such excitement! 2 hours after leaving Bucanneers we arrived at Qunu, one of the 3 Nelson Mandela Museums. Wow! The lookout point is simply breath taking. The free guide tells you where Madiba lives, where he went to church & school and where he threw rocks from his favourite playing spot. A thought provoking art exhibition is the cherry on top. Artists trained at the museum. The drive to Coffee Bay is long and hard. You have to imagine playing a video game – perhaps called the Transkei Adventure – mind the goats, cows, donkeys while you are dodging the traffic overtaking you on the inside. Its an exciting ride. DO IT ON A SUNDAY! Dave from Bulungula says you can drive your car all the way to Bulungula car park. However, I would check first . If it has been raining I would never do it!

Bulungula is MY NEW FAVOURITE PLACE – it is leading all of us in SA by being the fairest product of all. My review on Tripadvisor:
My words cannot describe my experience of Bulungula. On arrival we were given a tour of the rocket showers and compost toilets. Not only was it the best shower I have had throughout my whistle stop tour of the Wild Coast but Bulungula was spotless. No need for mirrors.

Bulungula operates at it’s own pace.

Delicious pancakes served on the dunes at 4.30 at R30, Fishing at 8 am with Mkuseli R50 no luck with a fish but yet another opportunity to engage with the community. 10.30 am a vist to the Bulungula Incubator. The hub of social activism from their well looked after and organized pre school. A delicious lunch of Xhosa bread and jam. The menu is simple, the food is cheap and delicious. An afternoon massage R100 definitely well spent and sunset fishing. Everyone working at Bulungula is chosen by the community! I have never experienced a commercial tourist venture of this nature anywhere on my travels. Bulungula is Ethical, responsible, sustainable and so much fun. Totally synchronized with its surroundings. You can choose from so many activities: canoe, horse riding, visit to the village, woman power, hiking. You pay the guides directly.

You can do it all or just soak it all up. Check out their handmade craft – lemon grass soap , stylish bags, felt hats clothing, walking sticks, beads and water bottle crochet carriers. It is my new favorite place.

Day 11 – Walk to Wild Lubanzi
3 Silver Bullets, Dave, Rejane and our guide Molwane set off at 11.
If we can do the hike, well then so can you! We had delicious sandwiches made at Bulungula for lunch and arrived at Wild Lubanzi around 3.30. Lubanzi is clean and friendly. They made a hearty meal for us all. The highlight was the bread making lesson at 6am with Rahel, Aidon’s wife. The only downside to this place, was the lack of community involvement after leaving Bulungula. I guess it was a shock for me. However, the bed was comfy, the view was awesome and an excellent overnighter on the hike to Coffee Bay.

HIKING TIP IF YOU ARE ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT OF THE BAZ BUS: Catch the shuttle to Coffee Bay and get Bulungula to pick you up. If you are planning to hike start at Coffee Bay, overnight at Wild Lubanzi and then onto Bulungula. Make sure you do it this way around – to end up at Bulungula. Tip: Guides – they get ALL the guiding fees, if you book a guide from Bulungula. The guide will walk to Coffee Bay to pick you up. We used Molwan – he is also a canoeing guide. Batman is one of the more well known guides and he LOVES helicopters.

DAY 12:
Coffee Bay is not for sissies. If you love psychedelic colours and all things from Goa, then you have to go to Coffee Bay. Coffee Bay has a variety of accommodation, if you are not wanting to party and go wild and want a comfortable bed and good food, we recommend you stay at Sugar Loaf.

If you want to party you can choose between BOMVU BACKPACKERS which has had a serious facelift and crazy Karl has been banished to his drumming and travelling and his daughter Denise has taken it over. The layout is amazing, the food is good and the staff are super friendly. I heard some of the best drumming I have ever heard.

COFFEE SHACK is where we stayed. Book the “ENSUITE” which is across the river and away from the party. They make great coffees and all their staff are incredibly friendly. Plus they are Fair Trade so you know your money is ending up in a good place.

Day 13: Off to Hogsback and Away with the Fairies. The drive takes about 5 hours and if you are interested in SA’s political history you will enjoy the ride through Dutywa, Butterworth, Bisho (where Steve Bikos’s remembrance grave is), King Williamstown, Alice and Hogsback. Stunning views from Away with the Fairies. A great place to hike, mountain bike and look for fairies. The backpacker could do with a facelift. Book Fodors Nest if you stay there or try TERRA KHAYA an eco lodge 5kms out of town.

Hogsback, Fort Beaufort ( Fort Hare University – the only University where Black South Africans could attend during Apartheid. Both Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko graduated here), Adelaide, Bedford, Cradock. We tried to visit the Remembrance Garden of the Craddock Four. One of us spooked while driving through an enormous cemetery so we turned around! Damn!!

Day 14: Owl House Nieu Bethesda – you Have to go there. The drive in (we took the dirt road) is worth it. A village in the middle of no where made famous because of a crazy, creative and awesome artit Helen Martin. Photos can’t describe this place. Our hosts, Ian and Katrin are characters and have created so many beautiful spaces, from their craft shop, restaurant – Ian you are a Master Chef mate, pub and of course the variety of accommodation they offer. Lee reckons you have the STYLISH BACKPACKERS IN SOUTH AFRICA, and I reckon you have the best beds, pillows and you get simplicity right. Their craft is simply amazing – the cheapest mohair scarves (R120)

Day 15: Lee has to be the best driver and finally I have learnt that the backseat is a much better place for me and the driver. I am the world’s best backseat driver. The roads, or ribbons as Lee refers to, are incredible. There are so few cars, no trucks, taxis and the sheer emptiness of the roads, allows you to really enjoy the open spaces.

We woke up early, and thankfully Ian found us petrol and some rather handsome farmers place. Went back to the N9 along a tar road (so there are 2 ways into Nieu –Bethesda). The Silver Bullets cruised into the Valley of Desolation. A breeze in our flip flops and parasoles. Snakes –concurring our fears. It is simply breath taking and I can only imagine what the Four Corners must be like.

We glided through Graaf Reniet, Aberdeen, Willowmore, De Rust (direction), Prince Albert. -The craft shopping along the way is just the best. The tannie at The Dagga Boer Farmstall half way between Aberdeen and Willowore reckons she only sells Dagga before 6am and that day she had sold out! The craft in her shop was the best prices for mohair shawls – for a beautiful shawl/blanket.

We visited the Jewish cemetery – it was the most well kept, pretty Jewish Cemetry I have been to.  Ian recommended we stop and have lunch at Sophias in Willowmore.

Another “you have to stop here” – Sophia’s shop is an experience, filled with boere remnants, wedding dresses, lights, furniture and delicious home made lunch. Once again super driver Lee excelled and we drove through the Meiringspoort Pass. Wow!

Sophia recommended Vergeet My Niet. A gem in Prince Albert – a small farm, with a beautiful pool in a stunning garden. Had dinner at the Gallery thanks to Brent the owner who found a table for the 3 Silver Bullets – it was Valentines Day. Every meisie in every town wore red. The food was delicious. Lynden and I put the pilot to bed and dashed off to Marion and Brian Finches’ new spot. What another treat. A haven for bikers, rock n rollers and people who love Jack Daniels. Brian you rock and Marion you too have created a unique spot.

Day 16: Homeward bound. Early adventure up the Swartberg Pass – it is something every South African (and visitor) must do at least once in their lives. Chjoo it is scary but beautiful. Meandering through Calitzdorp and Barrydale where Lee – the best shopper in SA, found exactly what I was looking for. Handwoven Cotton. Heaven on earth. R180 per metre for handmade. Lynden by now has had enough or Lee and I stopping at each and every craft shop from Hogsback to Montagu. SUPPORT LOCAL CRAFT – it is cheap and to die for. Iced Coffees with Phillipe (ex Oak Lodge) and his beautiful kids.

Can’t wait for the next trip!

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South Africa named “Best Hostel Country” in Hostelling International’s 2011 “HI-5ives!” awards

Posted by admin in Blog December 09, 2011  |  No Comments
South Africa named “Best Hostel Country” in Hostelling International’s 2011 “HI-5ives!” awards

South Africa was named the “Best Hostel Country” in Hostelling International’s  2011 “HI-5ives!” awards.
Hostellers who left ratings on the website during 2011 have had their say and awards have been handed out in the following five categories: Best Hostel Country, Best Overall Hostel, Friendliest Hostel, Most Comfortable Hostel, Most Efficient Hostel.
All award categories were based on ratings received during a 12 month period, from 1 November 2010 to 31 October 2011. During those 12 months, a minimum of 5 customer ratings in average per month was required to qualify. A hostel can only win one award category each year.

Best Hostel Country – South Africa:

The 35 hostels in South Africa have pulled in the best ratings overall for a single destination. This is a fantastic accolade for a network which was formed just one year ago. Ranging from fantastic beach side retreats to gateways of some of the best safari parks in the whole world, every SA hostel has something very special to offer an adventurous traveler—Cape-Town–The-Backpack-064048.en.htm

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Toni and Lee on Chippa’s Township Tour

Posted by admin in What's on @ The Backpack November 21, 2011  |  No Comments

I am usually proud to be a South African, love my work and every morning get so excited to get to The Backpack.  Today showed me another side of South Africa, one that I have seen a few times but never did I feel so sad after a tour. Chippa our guide was excellent to say the least, to see where he grew up and against all odds he has made something of his life.  I am honoured to know him and work with him.  The walking tour of Langa is not the usual township tour.  It is different – because you walk, and the longer you walk, the harder it gets.  I am a privelaged white South African, working hard to make a difference, and yet after today, I support the ideals of the ANC Youth League.  I did my first township tour in 1996 when the hostels (the less than humane living conditions for migrant men workers) were allowed to bring their wives. 3 families sharing one room the size of my bathroom, each family with an average of 6 members. From 60 people upwards living in a 4 roomed apartment. With little ventilation, so TB and other diseases are passed around with ease. Sex?  Well that’s open for all and all ages – as Chippa says, “there are no role models here”.  I can’t imagine how Cape Town deserves to be called ” a wonder of the world” or the design capital of the world’ or the “hippest city in the world” But rather it should hangs its head in shame.  From 1996 to today, township life has got worse – in Langa alone 49% are unemployed.  If there is any tour in Cape Town that you have to do, it should be a walking tour of Langa.  Why Langa? Within a few blocks there is Beverly Hills of Langa, alongside the most extreme poverty I have ever seen. Bucket toilets that are cleaned once a week.Where are the politicians?  Surely, some of them have experienced this life for themselves.  They should be ashamed – spending taxes on fancy holidays, renovating mansions and driving posh cars. It is no wonder that I see more Malemas on the horizon and this time I will be on their side. Malema is accused of hiding behind causes of the poor – but how can we hide the poor?  Thank you to all my guests that have bought a township tour – your contribution makes an enormous difference to many peoples lives in this suburb that happens to be the oldest township in Cape Town. Thank you Chippa and all your colleagues who allow us into their private lives – human zoo – maybe?  South Africa is different from many countries, in that tourists and journalists regard South Africa as a country filled with hope – well from their mouths to God’s ears. Viva South Africa, Amandla South Africa!

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Quick visit to Hout Bay

Posted by admin in What's on @ The Backpack November 18, 2011  |  No Comments
Quick visit to Hout Bay

Tuariq, Jenny and Conroy during a quick tour of Hout Bay before going to ABC For Life Fundraiser (November 2011).  Jenny is a volunteer at GCU Academy in Heideveld

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Eating Out v.s Eating In

Posted by admin in What's on @ The Backpack October 21, 2011  |  No Comments
Eating Out v.s Eating In

This past week Toni and I went out to see what was in our neighbourhood to recommend to our guests and of course we like to keep up to date with whats out there. There were a couple of places that were on my immediate list. The first one  we went into -  Skinny Legs and All – we were feeling oh so lucky as we got the park right outside the door (that should have been a sign!!!) and the window seat, looked around the sparse interior and then the even sparser menu which claimed whisps of lettuce in the salad – my mind was working overtime ……… and we looked at each other and both moved right out the shop as fast as we could. There did not seem to be a thing we wanted on the menu. Sorry girls! loved the name, did not think much of your menu.

…So off to our second choice Hemelhuijs a little walk around the block (the city is full of places to eat so we really are spoilt for choice) It has such a lovely interior and it has just changed its winter outfit from Black walls to spring Greens and looks lovely,  fresh and exciting.  Here I was not that impressed with my salad in the end I did not like the prawns at all. They were glassy and tasteless and not white and juicy and would not hurry back here at all  but for the fact that Toni had ordered the steak and kidney pie and that was awesome!!  Crispy flaky top lovely bits of meat in a  delicious gravy and hot all the way through. Well done will it another try.

But back to my picture. I had some smoked salmon at home and brought it to work this week and asked Dave our Chef what he could do with it. It was breakfast time and he immediately said Salmon Eggs Benedict and I said YES so this is  what turned up on my desk and it was soooooooooooooo delicious that we have put it on our menu for Sunday morning as a special so come on and give it a whirl I can guarantee you will not be disappointed!  So eating in for me was the best experience this week.

Daves Salmon Eggs Benedict

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Coffee Bay – Surfing, community and landscapes – Eleni on the Road

Posted by admin in What's on @ The Backpack July 21, 2011  |  No Comments
Coffee Bay - Surfing, community and landscapes - Eleni on the Road

Wonderful village walk on the Wild Coast


Well, surfing was unbelievable! Third or fourth attempt and I was up! Yippee!!! There were a couple of bruises the next day, but it was absolutely worth it. Plus the water was WARM! Divine. Anyone who goes to Coffee Bay must go do a surfing lesson, especially since its super duper cheap, you can’t go wrong.

Monday was a Village Walking Tour around the neighbouring villages. We were shown around how the locals live their daily lives. They have to sometimes walk a few km’s to get their drinking water, and that all their food is made on fires, as there is no electricity in their homes. It truly makes you grateful for what you have in your own home. The tour group was welcomed into one of the local family’s home for lunch, where as is their tradition us ladies, sat on the floor and the men sat on chairs. The main item on our lunch plate was PAP! (that is traditional mielie-meal porridge a staple of the nation made from maize meal)

We were also shown how they do the traditional clay face-painting. There is a photo of Tina and how they painted her face. I have also attached a photo of me, during one of our resting breaks, where you are able to see the absolutely stunning view from the hills in villages.


Our last night ended with the entire hostel playing killer pool! While everyone afterwards was shown the real way to drink a flaming sambucca! UGH!

Tuesday saw me heading back to Port Elizabeth before my “Groot Trek” back home to Cape Town. And Tina and Lize carrying on their journey to Cintsa for one night and then onto Hogsback for a night or two.

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Eleni on the Road – meeting up with friends

Posted by admin in What's on @ The Backpack July 18, 2011  |  No Comments

Well, friend 3 is here. Me! I spent a day and a half travelling with the Baz Bus to Coffee Bay
to meet Tina and a friend of hers, Lize, @ Coffee Shack for a few days break.

Coffee Shack has been amazing. My first night here was a full moon party! Perfect timing i think to arrive @ a hostel. Got to meet people from all over the world, even from my new favourite place, Canada!

On Saturday a bunch of us, possibly all suffering from slight headaches, went on a 3 hour hike to the Hole in the Wall. A must do for anyone who come to Coffee Bay. Majority of the walk was right along the coastal line so there where amazing views, where we even got to spot a whale or two. The hike was hectic, but absolutely worth it when we got there! Feeling the pain for it today.

Sunday has finally arrived and its the day of rest! Well until this afternoon. Lize and i are going to brave the surfing lesson while Tina lies on the beach reading, unless we persuade her otherwise in the next few hours.

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Travelling up the East Coast – by Tina from The Backpack

Posted by admin in What's on @ The Backpack July 15, 2011  |  No Comments

I’m a full time student / part time employee at this awesome place called The Backpack and Africa Travel Centre. Since I had July holidays coming up, I decide to take those weeks and travel the East Coast – going up to the Transkei and gradually making my way back down to Cape Town.

I was fortunate to have Baz Bus sponsor me with a 3 week travel pass – to use and miss use as much as possible! Therefore getting to know their traveling service a little better. I started my trip on the 7th and I am currently 8 days in.

My first stop was Wilderness where I stayed at The Beach House (regrettably I never had the chanced to sample their famous, much talked about pizzas).

Day number two I decided to go visit Albergo Backpackers in Plettenberg Bay. I’ve stayed at Albergos a couple of times before (thanks to a friend who shared her ‘happy place’ with me 4years ago). Since then we always try to visit when in the area and it never dissapoints!

Plett was also where my friend, Lize, joined in. I love traveling alone, but company makes the trek a little sweeter sometimes. Port Elizabeth came after Plett. We stayed the night @ Lungile Backpackers and was up bright and early the next day, finally on our way to the Transkei. Hoorah!

So that’s where we are now. We are staying at The Coffee Shack, a place that helps us fill our days with surfing, cliff jumping, cave -ing, hiking, volleyball – ing, to name but a few! Friend number 3, Eleni (who works with me at The Backpack), is joining us tonight. Fantastic timing, since we’re kicking the weekend off with a full moon beach party.

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