Archive for May, 2010

Credit Card Follies

May 31, 2010

Okay, consider this a public service announcement for those very few of you who’ve not figured this out yet.

Having not traveled much in other than official business capacity…and not much overseas travel even at that…I learned a few things on this trip to ZA.  Yeah, even at my tender age of mumblety-three.

So, first – – Show of hands…which idiot forgot to tell the credit card people that he was going to ZA?  Yep, I’m the only one with my hand up in the air.   I got to the end of the first week there and, trying to make a purchase of a day petting the elephant (no, not a euphemism), was informed that my Visa card had declined any further purchases.  Okay, on the good side, they did notice a ‘slight’ irregularity in spending and shut down the card.  That irregularity being that 98% of previous purchases were made in the Wilds of Ohio (the other 2% within the confines of the U.S. of A.).  Actually, I’d prefer they shut down the card if there were charges starting to pile up from Notusualkastahn or some such.

On the bad side?  They shut the card down at the end of the business day on Friday.  No one to talk to that could start the card back up until Monday.  Now, come to find out that there IS a number to call, separate from the main bank office.  Just never knew (since, again, I never called to let them know).  We had tons planned, but little cash money to do anything.  Yeah, I had an AmEx card, but not a lot of folks accept that because of the higher than normal fees they charge the merchants to accept that card.

Finally getting it straightened out on Monday, I was again able to use my card…just in time for the number to be scammed somewhere (I’m guessing it was the grocery store, but really can’t be sure).  Since the second week was mostly at Girl Child’s village, I didn’t need to use the card much.  Until we tried to pay for something the following Saturday.  Now that was festive – –

Called an automated number I’d gotten from the bank on Monday to find out why the card wasn’t working.  That call went something like —

“We’d like to confirm your last 5 charges.  Please press ‘1’ if you did make the charge and ‘2’ if you did not.

“$124.15* from company XYZ?”  [pressed ‘1’]

“$43.50 from company MNO?” [pressed ‘1’]

“$4,315.90 from company ABC?”  [SMASHED key ‘2’]

“$2,540.70 from company JKL?” [CRUSHED key ‘2’]

“$32.30 from company RST?”  [calmed enough to press ‘1’]

they looked **just** like this, i'm sure

Ended up having to call back to talk to a human to get the card canceled and the charges refused.  And back again stuck with what little cash I had on hand (plus the meager cash reserves of Daughter Person) and the AmEx (hoping I could find places that would take it).

So, tip #1 from your Uncle GnuKid?  Call your credit card company to let them know you’ll be spending money in another country.  They’ll be less likely to freak out and shut down your card.

Tip #2?  When you call, make sure you get an international number you can call, even on weekends, to work out any issues.

Tip #3?  Careful of over-reliance on AmEx to save your butt.

Tip #4?  Plan extra cash on hand (knowing full well you don’t want too much cash…there are issues there as well…).

My tip for avoiding getting your card number scammed?  Sorry, troops.  I’ve got nothing.  Neither did the credit card company.  If someone really wants your number, they’ll figure a way to get it.

In the end?  All was well enough…the trip was not ruined (though did have a blemish).

And to the twit who tried to charge some R30 000 on a credit card that wasn’t yours?  Thank you… your greed actually saved me from having to pay.

=-=-=-=-=

*yes, a bit weird that I was making purchases in Rand, but the system already converted them to Dollars for the phone call.

ZA Commissary

May 27, 2010

A few words and pictures concerning the food in South Africa.

I enjoyed the menu options in the various places we ate.  Some, however, especially caught my attention.

We ate at a pancake house before site seeing one day.  Their pancakes are just like ours, except they roll them up like crepes and fill them with all kinds of good stuff.  The pancake side of the menu from that one – – –

Damn fine good eating!

What caught my attention on that latter was the text at the heading of the column.  I’m still wondering why there was a question mark after the “Please be patient”.

And had to chuckle at the other side of the menu where the omelets were listed – – –

"Almost"???? Ummm.... how "Almost"?

At a different restaurant, we demurred on eating dessert.  Might be because of what they were serving – – –

Hope Mickey and Minnie don't know about this...

The most popular fast food restaurant, according to Daughter Person, is KFC.  No, I didn’t eat there, but was tempted just to see if it was the same as ‘back home’.  Likewise, I didn’t eat at Subway, but did get a picture of their menu board – – –

Prices pretty comparable to the stores in the states, too.

Also in the ‘food’ theme, on the way back to Girl Child’s village, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up supplies for her for the following month or so (since it’s not easy for her to get to the store that often).  The choices and availability of foodstuffs was not that different from back home.  The prices?  Yeah, a bit different for some items.  Cheaper for some things, more expensive for others.  What really struck me was that each aisle of food had what I call an “Aisle Captain”.  There was at least one person in each aisle we went to.  They were in charge of that aisle, making sure it looked good, was kept stocked, and customers were helped.  Won’t see that in the States, I’m thinking.  Their presence made taking pictures there a bit difficult, feeling a bit sheepish (baaa!!) about snapping pictures of food.  I did get a couple I wanted to share, though – – –

Well, we ARE in Africa, right?

And, a tribute to truth in advertising, Daughter Person got some butter for herself and her host family – – –

Yep, I may as well just spread it around my gut...

How did stuff taste?  Like food… Some restaurants were very yummy, some not so.

Just like back home…

There Oughta Be A Law

May 21, 2010

It’s Friday, people.

The weekend beckons.  The work week winds down.  Let me reiterate that… DOWN.  Not up.

One of the teams I consult with is a bit dysfunctional.  Not only the team itself, but the project that they’re working on.  As such, it gets a lot of oversight from senior management in my organization.  Today was just such a meeting.  Scheduled from 1300 – 1500… a mere two hours and a couple hours before the end of the work day, it had the feeling of not interfering with the start of my weekend.

However, I know better.

Given that the team and the project are dysfunctional, the meeting did not start on time.  Nor did it end on time.  That two hour block of time, which I knew in my heart would forever be lost to me, edged its way to four hours.

Four.  Fucking.  Hours.*

And to what end?  Nothing was really accomplished during the meeting other than “change that word ‘happy’ to ‘glad’ if you will”.  You know, real impact changes.  There was pontificating by the pompous, mouth-breathing senior managers.  There was toady-ing, sycophantic agreement from the I’m-faultless-but-know-I’m-a-mere-peon leader of the team.**

I had an appointment with Dear Friend to go to the gym to work off some of this never departing baby fat.  The scheduled time approached.  Passed.  Excessively passed.  No gym today.***

And, almost losing intelligent consciousness and feeling my brains fleeing my skull in self-defense, I noticed something.

Now, to preface, I have what is known as Hamster Bladder or “TB” (Tiny Bladder).  If I drink a cup of coffee, I end up, none to soon afterwards, feeling the urge to have to pee.  And, amazingly (call Guinness World Records), seem to pee two cups of coffee in return for the one input.  It’s not awful.  But annoying at times.

Now, I need some perspective from my readers – –

During that four hour meeting, I had to go pee at least twice honestly, having drank (drunk?) a couple water bottles before and during the meeting.  I also left another time when I didn’t have to pee just to avoid screaming over the inanity of the meeting.

Now, I know there are “pee camels” (Dear Friend being one of them).  Those are people who seem to have bladders made of cast iron.  They feel no discomfort for a long time.  Nonetheless, I was mightily impressed that, of the 13 people in the meeting****, 4 (maybe 5) of them never left the room!  For four hours, they did not have to go use the necessary room.  How?  Give me perspective people.  I know I have Hamster Bladder, but is four hours a long time or not?  Okay, maybe they were using a “Coachman’s Friend”*****.

(And, in reality, I know it can be done under duress.  Attending a concert with Dear Friend, we snagged awesome spots right at the front of the stage.  But, to do so, we had to get to that place at least two hours before our band of preference was scheduled to play (with many other bands playing beforehand).  But, the place quickly filled up.  To avoid losing my spot, and after at least two beers, I was able to avoid leaving to hit the facilities for two or three hours, yet still enjoyed the show.  It can be done.)

But, above and beyond the excursion into the bladder-tory habits of people … it’s just plain WRONG to have a meeting run that long on a Friday afternoon… especially one that sucked!

I’m glad the weekend is here…

I’m having another bourbon, thankyewvurymuch!

=-=-=-=-=-=-=

*Yes, I came right home and became a tad inebriated on bourbon to forget the experience.  Why do you ask?

**…who also seems to have his wardrobe perpetually locked into the 1980s.  Even his deputy has offered to take him clothes shopping to bring him up to date.

***On a good note, Dear Friend found it necessary to skip gym as well, instead brilliantly deciding to imbibe alcoholic refreshments with members of her work tribe, washing away the detritus of their work week as well…

****And, yes, I did sit and guesstimate the salaries of the people involved in this useless goat rope of a meeting.  Horrendous waste of time and money.

*****Now, I couldn’t find a picture, but I know it used to exist.  A device with a condom like thing you put over your junk, with a tube leading to a reservoir that strapped around your leg.

Ohio GnuKid

May 19, 2010

Daa-da-duh-daaa, daa-da-daaaa….*

In a break altogether from pictures from the trip, we take you now to an adventurous day during my ZA trip.

Daughter Person wanted to do everything while on holiday with me.  Of course, there wasn’t enough time in the day (nor Rand in my pocket) to be able to do so.  One thing she really wanted to do was go white water rafting** on the Sabie River.

I was not thrilled at the prospect.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think going white water rafting is a thrill***.  But, in my mind, you can do that anywhere.  Back in the good old U. S. of A.  there are places to go within a half day drive of where I live.  Why would I want to come all the way to South Africa to do something I could do in my (relatively speaking) back yard?

But, the excitement in Girl Child’s eyes countered any arguments already dying on my lips.  We were going to go.

Prepping for the trip, our guides gave a pretty concise overview of what to expect, how to handle the rapids, and what hand signals meant.

On that latter, had to laugh when he indicated one hand signal where he put both hands to his head, opened his eyes extra wide, and opened his mouth in an “O”.  This meant, and I quote, “What the fuck are you doing?”

Knowing my lack of skills in handling watercraft, I paid particular attention (and actually remembered this advice from my earlier experience white water rafting) to what you do if you get tipped out of your (in this case) two-person raft.

–  Put your feet downstream (so as to keep sensitive body parts from the likely rocks)

–  Go with the flow and find a spot you can safely exit the water

–  Most importantly, look professional and smile…there will be cameras and people watching.  You want to make a good impression on both.

Girl Child and I set off with the group going downstream, safely and joyfully passing the first extremely small and slow rapids.  We were enjoying ourselves, seeing the other rafters, watching the birds along the banks, and following the talented guides who made it look easy.

Coming through a particularly narrow section, one of the guides pointed to the river bank and urged those of us who could to come over and look as we paddled past.

A crocodile… okay, not a huge one.  Only about 4 feet long.  But there he was, only a few feet away from us.  Very cool.

A few more rapids down the way, I did the inevitable (though I tried not to) and fell out of the raft.  Following the advice of the guide (especially the “look professional and smile’ part), I let the swift current take me downstream.  Yes, I bashed my knees on a few rocks (Ow!) and couldn’t get out of the water right away, but was finally able to climb up a rock on the side.

Triumph!  I successfully made it.

…then…

Oh, SHIT!  I was just swimming in crocodile infested**** waters!

Glancing around furtively, I made sure there were none in the immediate vicinity of my rock.  But still, I was a bit shaken (not stirred).

Daughter Person did a dandy job of maneuvering the raft on her own to come and pick me up.

The rest of the trip went well, with much laughter and even a planned swim (the guides claimed it was safe).

Indiana Jones?  He can have those adventures with dangerous critters.

But I still had a great time.

=-=-=-=-=-=

*Okay, so it’s difficult making recognizable music in a blog without attaching a video or some such.  That was supposed to be the theme from “Indiana Jones”, but…[sigh]

**Thus the lack of photographs.  No water resistant camera in this man’s rucksack.

***So, the last time I went was in university some mumblety-three years ago, but still…

****Yes, I do realize one 4-foot crocodile does not necessarily qualify as a dangerous infestation, but it’s my story and I’ll embellish it any way I want…nyaah!!


Signage

May 17, 2010

And now a brief respite from the wildlife photography.

As many of you know, I like signs.  Signs that tickle my funny bone or give me the “Baroo?”* .

Some may remember my visit to Scotland where I captured a few of my favorite signs there.

Here are a few from South Africa (with apologies to my ZA friends if I chuckle inappropriately…it’s what I do).

We passed this truck on the first day.  Daughter Person claims that I should have this sign permanently affixed to my car as a warning to others.**

"Abby Somebody...Abby Normal?"

For those State-siders, here’s the full picture.  In the States, our trucks would have the sign “Wide Load” (though in this case it was pretty damn long too).

Full construction set on one truck

Also on the road, I saw a sign twice.  Unfortunately, I was driving both times and couldn’t get the picture.  But, it made me go “Baroo?” nonetheless, so I recreated it.

Vampire owls, maybe?

Also on the road, I saw the following.   And here all along I thought we were in South Africa and not in the Western US.

Didn't see any cowboys though.

Driving through one of the towns, we saw this one.  It just tickled me.

Not the good stuff...just 'ok'.

On this next one, I’m not sure which one is “Fresh”, but the combination just caught my eye.

No, we didn't try either

During our travels, we did some site seeing at a place called “The Potholes”…a very deep canyon cut by a river.  The words were in English, but the pictogram was universal.

But he's falling silently at least

And this was near the parking area.  We didn’t go down this path.

Still wondering about some of these

Now that last has me a bit baffled.  I’m not picturing an eight year old tugging at his father’s shirt, “Please, Daddy, please…can’t we go to Lichen World?  Please?”  And I’m still not all that clear about what the hell ‘Blindfolds and Sticks’ or ‘Tapping Rail’ are meant to be…maybe we should have gone down the trail to see.

Now, I’ve got a few more ‘sign’ pictures, but I’ll tuck them in with other posts…I have to milk this thing for all I can, right?

Wheee!

=-=-=-=-=-=

*I like that phrase.  Stolen with great glee from Stephanie…explanation here.

**No, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…little twit.

All In The Family?

May 12, 2010

The next day, after a walk in the dunes behind the lodge, we went to another national park.

And there they were . . .

I was hoping to see them.  Waiting to see them.

And right by the road, the family reunion started.

GnuKid?  Meet Mr. Gnu – – –

Dad? Is that you?

And, of course – – –

Ain't they cute?

Fellow GnuKids!

Made me a happy boy… well, that and some of the other critters we saw.  For example – –

Giraffes and Warthogs

and…

Right by the road!

and…

All in all, we saw 22 rhinos that evening...

and more to come…

I’m Sure

May 5, 2010

That day, after seeing the monkeys at breakfast, we were immersed in African critterness.  Animals only seen on TV or in the zoos were now right outside my car window (or not too far from the boat on a tour we took).  Now, before you start thinking there are critters wandering all about in ZA, most of these were seen in national parks.  Sort of like if us Americans wanted to see a bear or an elk, we’d wander to Yellowstone national park.  Still, that did not diminish the awe and excitement felt in the least.

First that day was the hippo and croc boat tour where one of the first we saw were a mama hippo and her little one.  Okay, I use that adjective “little” in a slightly skewed context.  That sucker was big even though he was just a toddler.

Mom and baby

Further down the way on the tour, we ran into a whole flock… herd?… pod… ummm… flock… pack… whatever…

Just hanging out...

And, yep, that’s a crocodile just lazing in the background.  They know not to mess with each other.

On the boat, they passed around a hippo tusk.  Hippos have four of these tucked in their heads, just to give a perspective on their size.

No, I've no clue who the lady is holding the thing...

After the boat tour, we wandered into a nearby national park on our way to swim in the Indian Ocean.  This park was where I first got REALLY close to critters.  These female Kudu were just hanging out not 5 feet off the roadway.

The ladies...

And a mister Kudu–

Kudos to this Kudu

Saw some other critters, but didn’t get good pictures of them.  Ended up snorkeling at a beach where I got my first chance to swim in my third ocean (Pacific and Atlantic being the first two) – –

Nope, not my sand castle

Ended up this day taking a side tour of the park before heading back to the lodgings.  Found a smaller pond with some hippos in it, just at sunset… I’m liking this.

The money shot...

A hell of a first day…

[happy sigh]