Tuesday, July 22, 2014

5 Things El Burro Is Doing Right

Ask me to recommend a restaurant in Cape Town and I'll point you in the direction of El Burro every time. Not only because the food is truly delicious, but because they have got a few key things so right, that you can't go wrong dining there.

1. Twitter

First of all, their address and phone number are both in their Twitter bio, saving me the time and data of clicking through to their website. Secondly, and most importantly, they take bookings on Twitter. Something that many restaurants could learn from.

2. Owner Managed

This is an important one. In an industry of franchises and often barely-literate managers, it's easy to see why owner-managed bars and restaurants like El Burro are always fully booked. Even in the middle of the week in the middle of winter.

3. Keeping It Simple

Their menu doesn't have 340 items listed and they don't cater to people who "like to have options" just for the sake of it. You go there for good quality, authentic Mexican food and that's what you get.

4. You Get What You Pay For

People who want to complain about the price of a frozen margarita that contains real lime juice must go to a Tex-Mex place and have faux margaritas that contain real  manufactured flavourants. It's not bad, it's just not the same. El Burro uses quality ingredients and the result is a quality product. I've heard people say "it's expensive for Mexican" but I'm sure they're comparing Doritos covered in cheddar cheese. They obviously don't know that rib eye steak with thick cut chips and chepotle butter is Mexican too, and authentic at that.

5. The Vibe

Thanks to all of the above, you are guaranteed to enjoy a great vibe any time you go there. Festive evenings fuelled with tequila and waitresses that smile. You won't hear the manager shouting at his staff or have a waitress giving you a dirty look for ordering a glass of water. And that's what makes this one of my favourite places in Cape Town.

*This isn't a sponsored post or anything, I just genuinely think they are doing an amazing job.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What I've Read Recently

I find great pleasure and comfort in the fact that Kindle has made it possible to read embarrassingly chick-lit books on the sly. I mean, I'm comfortable with reading ultra-cool novels like Game of Thrones in public, for all to see. But when it comes to books that are about women in their forties struggling with cheating husbands, expanding girths and unruly teenagers, completely with pun intended titles, I prefer to read these on these in the comfort of my own Kindle library.

I have to admit though that there's something to be said for this eclectic library of mine. If you were to ask me what kind of books I was into, my answer would probably be to just hand you Kindle library as an explanation. I go through phases. I'm into laugh out loud Marian Keyes novels on holiday, but I prefer long and wordy reads like Janet Fitch's White Oleander when I'm feeling lonely. Of course, I become obsessed with subjects and people, so you'll find some curve balls in there too (cults, Amish people, etc)

Here are a few of my favourite reads from the last while. Don't expect any kind of consistency, please.

Daughter of Empire: Life As A Mountbatten
Pamela Hicks

I am obsessed with the Royal Family. I don't know why. But I even bought a book about Will and Kate's love story and read it in broad daylight for all to see. Daughter of Empire is a beautifully written memoir by Lady Pamela Hicks, whose father, Lord Mountbatten was a cousin of the Royals. It tells the story of her Downton Abbey-like lifestyle and eclectic parents, growing up in India and home visits from Ghandi. Her mother and father lived separate lives, with a lover each, but their family still somehow stayed together. Here started my newest obsession: Mountbatten himself.

"Pamela Mountbatten was born at the end of the 1920s into one of Britain's grandest families. The daughter of Lord Louis Mountbatten and his glamorous wife Edwina Ashley, she was brought up by nannies and governesses as she was often parted from her parents as they dutifully carried out their public roles. A solitary child, she learned to occupy her days lost in a book, riding or playing with the family's animals (which included at different times a honey bear, chameleons, a bush baby, two wallabies, a lion, a mongoose and a coati mundi). Her parents' vast social circle included royalty, film stars, senior service officers, politicians and celebrities. Noel Coward invited Pamela to watch him filming; Douglas Fairbanks Jr. dropped in for tea and Churchill would call for 'a word with Dickie'." - amazon

The Rosie Project
Graeme Simsion

This book made me laugh out loud, while also teaching me a lot about antisocial personality disorder and what that entails. It was wildly interesting, funny and sweet. I finished this book with the realisation that more than one person I know and struggle to connect with has some sort of anti-social personality, and that somehow made me feel more connected to them. Think of this book as a sort of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, for grown ups. (I cried in this book)

"Love isn't an exact science - but no one told Don Tillman. A thirty-nine-year-old geneticist, Don's never had a second date. So he devises the Wife Project, a scientific test to find the perfect partner. Enter Rosie - 'the world's most incompatible woman' - throwing Don's safe, ordered life into chaos. But what is this unsettling, alien emotion he's feeling?" amazon

Naive Super
Erlend Loe

If you're 25 or thereabouts, this book will resonate with you. The narrator is struggling to come to terms with the meaning of life, and his place in the world. He decides to hide out in his brother's New York apartment and finds comfort in making lists (I can totally relate). This book is slightly absurd, and I absolutely loved it. It's a quick read, but I thought about it for months after I'd finished it.

"Troubled by an inability to find any meaning in his life, the 25-year-old narrator of this deceptively simple novel quits university and eventually arrives at his brother's New York apartment. In a bid to discover what life is all about, he writes lists. He becomes obsessed by time and whether it actually matters. He faxes his meteorologist friend. He endlessly bounces a ball against the wall. He befriends a small boy who lives next door. He yearns to get to the bottom of life and how best to live it. Funny, friendly, enigmatic and frequently poignant - superbly naive." - amazon

Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage.
Rob Delaney

I've followed Rob Delaney on Twitter for years and I favourite almost every one of his Tweets. They say that it's the funniest people who harbour the most pain and depression, and I tend to agree. His writing is hilarious and his story is inspiring. I loved him before but after reading his book I love him even more. I think I even cried in this book.

"Rob Delaney is a father, a husband, a comedian, a writer. He is the author of an endless stream of beautiful, insane jokes on Twitter. He is sober. He is sometimes brave. He speaks French. He has bungee-jumped off the Manhattan Bridge. He enjoys antagonizing political figures, powerful retailers and the Kardashians. He listens to metal while he works out. He broke into an abandoned mental hospital with his mother. He played Sir Lancelot in Camelot. He has battled depression. He is funny as s***. He cleans up well. He and Margaret Atwood have a thing going on Twitter. He is lucky to be alive." - amazon

Jenna Miscavige Hill

Falling under the umbrella theme of "cults", Sientology is one of my many passionate, but brief obsessions. I wanted to know more about the inner workings of this cult religion and I couldn't put this book down until I'd finished it. Jenna Miscavige Hill is the niece of Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige and was raised in the church's Sea Org before literally escaping in 2005. 

"Piercing the veil of secrecy that has long shrouded the world of Scientology, this insider reveals unprecedented firsthand knowledge of the religion, its obscure rituals, and its mysterious leader—David Miscavige. From her prolonged separation from her parents as a small child to being indoctrinated to serve the greater good of the Church, from her lack of personal freedoms to the organization's emphasis on celebrity recruitment, Jenna goes behind the scenes of Scientology's oppressive and alienating culture, detailing an environment rooted in control in which the most devoted followers often face the harshest punishments when they fall out of line. Addressing some of the Church's most notorious practices in startling detail, she also describes a childhood of isolation and neglect—a childhood that, painful as it was, prepared her for a tough life in the Church's most devoted order, the Sea Org." - amazon

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And other concerns)
Mindy Kaling

In my opinion, Mindy Kaling is one of the female superheroes of our time. She is funny, smart, unapologetic, human and real and her writing is hilarious. I loved reading her stories of growing up and realising her dream of becoming a writer. I want to be her when I grow up.

"Mindy Kaling has lived many lives: comedienne, actress, obedient child of immigrant professionals and, now, writer. With a blend of witty confessions and unscientific observations, Mindy writes about everything from being a timid young chubster afraid of her own bike to living the Hollywood life, dating, friendships and planning her own funeral - all executed with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls." - amazon

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Thinking About Death (In a non-morbid way)

I really enjoyed this article I found on Huffington Post this morning, shining the light on 29 year old woman, Caitlin Doughtry, who works with death and dead people every single day. And far from being morbidly fascinating, she's actually incredibly interesting and really funny.

When I was 8 years old, I saw a young girl fall from a balcony in Hawaii, where I grew up. The shock and horror -- and the sickening thud -- stuck with me. Later, in college, I was drawn to learning about the death and burial rituals of other cultures, how people around the globe have approached death for centuries. Maybe I was still trying to reconcile what I'd seen in my childhood. But I knew I wanted a more positive relationship with death. - source

The mortician first heard the call to public service five years ago, around the time she began working at a crematory in Los Angeles. It was her first real job in the industry. The work was more challenging than she expected, and she was surprised by many of the processes and practices. A lifelong fascination with death had not prepared her for the harsh physical realities of fire, ash, and bone. Surprised to realize there are still some things you just can’t Google, Doughty recognized the world sorely needed someone who was willing to share basic facts about the death industry. She decided then and there that her life’s work would be in public education. - source

I'm really into sex-positive and body-positive thinking, seeing both those things as topics we should be discussing in a healthy, positive way, for instance; not referring to having sex (one of the key activities you were born to practise) as "being naughty" or "doing the dirty" etc. But I'd never really heard of or thought about the idea death-positive thinking before.

I recently watched The Fault In Our Starts and actually ached with sadness. I cried so hard I thought I would maybe actually never stop. Death is just so sad. And so terrifying. I left the movie thinking "someone dying is literally the worst thing that could ever happen to me". Which kind of shocked me, since it is going to happen to literally every person I have ever met, including myself.

So it was refreshing and sobering to come across a woman who is working to help us understand death, the processes after death and helping to bring a little light to a subject that seems so dark.

#gotoReunion: Hiking To Mafate Village

It’s lunchtime and the drum beat of a traditional Maloya song crackles through the radio as I take a sip of fiery Charette rum. A cat cheekily jumps onto my lap and makes itself comfortable and I'm happy to stroke its ratty fur. “How do you say ‘I love cats’ in French?” I ask Nico, our tour guide. He laughs and rambles something off to himself in French. “You don’t need to tell us. We can see”.

It’s a bright and sunny day and we’ve just sat down at a plastic garden table and chairs, covered with a colourful table cloth and adorned with bottles of local rum, infused with the leaves of orchids known as Faham. We are surrounded by the most incredible views of sharp cliffs and greenery, and at least eight cats. 

We’ve hiked almost 3 hours through magnificent terrain and up steep inclines to get here – the cirque of Mafate in the middle of Reunion Island. As I take in the view, my heart pounds to the drum beat of the music being carried on the wind and I breathe deeply, still shaky from the exhilarating hike.

One of the most unique places in the world, Mafate is know as “an island within the island” in Reunion. Home to just 800 people in 3 small villages, Mafate can only be reached by foot. There are no roads leading in or out of the cirque and locals need to either hike four and a half hours or fly by helicopter every time they need to leave the village. Groceries are delivered weekly by helicopter and in an emergency inhabitants are airlifted out.

It’s a Monday and hitching a ride with us on the way to the starting point of the hike was a young teacher on her way back to the cirque, where she teaches during the week. She’s very fit and we had hardly started walking before she had already disappeared along the route. On Friday afternoon she’ll hike back down to the starting point to be picked up by her lift and spend the weekend at the coast. It's the same routine for doctors and other specialists.

We are having lunch at a small home-style restaurant in the tiny village of Cayenne - one of three small villages that form Mafate. Most of the people who live in Mafate work either for the National Park, or in the tourism industry, providing food and lodging options for the many tourists that hike these parts. It's popular for hiking enthusiasts to hike in for the weekend, staying over at a home-stay and hiking the surrounding area.

The food is delicious and traditional – big bowls of steaming rice, beans, duck and rougail saucisse (a delicious dish of chopped Creole sausages in a sauce of diced tomatoes, small pieces of green mango, crushed ginger, chopped onions and peppers) line the table and we pile our plates high, starving after our hike. We clink our Dodo beers - “cheers” to the morning’s activity. Cats weave through our legs and try to jump onto our laps for an opportunity at a bite. With just 30 people living in this small village, there seems to be at least one cat for every human.

There are a few different ways to hike into Mafate, with varying levels of expertise required. We were short on time (and to be honest, energy) so we opted to be lifted on the back of a pickup truck to a point in the Rivière des Galets (the people’s river) from where we would only have to hike around 2,5 hours. For the more energetic hiker, an 8 hour trail starts at the beautiful Maido Peak – a must-see view point that overlooks the entire cirque of Mafate.

If we’d had more time, I would have loved to spend a couple of days exploring the area and getting to know the people. The views are breathtaking and everywhere you look you’ll find another photo opportunity.  

After lunch, three local boys play soccer on the helipad while we wait for our air-lift back to town. The oldest of the three shyly comes up to me and says something to our hiking guide in French. “He wants to speak to you” our guide says. “Of course. Hello” I smile at the boy. He looks about 11 years old and I can tell he is nervous to speak English.

He takes a deep breath before looking directly at me; “” He’s so shy but his English is good considering he lives in a remote village in the middle of a French island in the Indian Ocean. “I’m Natalie, what is your name?” He laughs and relaxes a little. I shake his hand and the guide asks him something in French.  The boy nods. “You’re the first South African person he has ever shaken hands with”.

We’ve been chatting back and forth for a few minutes, simple sentences like “How old are you?” and “Where are you from?” when, more confident, he asks “What is your phone number?” Suddenly, his eyes go wide and he blushes a deep red while shaking his head furiously. The tour guide is in peels of laughter and the poor boy can’t explain fast enough the fact that he has confused phrases. “When is your birthday?” he finally asks, still blushing.

Our time in Mafate has been short and very sweet and a faint thud-thud-thud-thud can be heard in the distance as a helicopter swoops into view, landing effortlessly and precisely to pick us up. I am always excited to fly in one of these incredible machines and I bend down low as we board, my heart pumping hard once again. There’s something about flying in a helicopter that makes me feel like I’m some kind of heroic movie character and as we take off I look back at Mafate with a head full of beautiful scenes and a heart full of joy.

Hike to Mafate 

Experienced hiking guide, Ludo Marconnot
Fly out with Helilagon Helicopter

My trip to Reunion Island was sponsored by the Reunion Island Tourism Board, in conjunction with Destinate, to promote their #gotoReunion campaign. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

#gotoReunion: Definitely Try Paragliding

I've never quite been able to fully comprehend the term "whoop for joy". I've read it in books and stories and I know that it generally means to bubble over with excitement to the point of not being able to contain it, but I couldn't honestly say that I had experienced this sensation myself. Not until I went paragliding over Reunion Island.

As my instructor pulled the parachute cords left, then right, we swooped through the air, dipping low and flying high as the wind rushed past our ears. Below us, jewel tones of azure blue, bright turquoise green, emerald and cobalt sparkled in the sun.

As Matthew, the instructor, pulled down right, we dipped down low and slowly started spinning in a giant loop. A spiral of blues and greens whirled up at us and my tummy dip backflips as my heart beat a drumbeat in my chest - but I wasn't scared, I was thrilled!

Deep, deep inside me, that primal joy that rarely finds it's way up to our hearts started to bubble and fizzle it's way up to my smile. With gravity pulling my shoulders back and only the wind (and Matthew) to hear me, all the joy and childlike excitement that my body contains boiled and bubbled up, through my chest and out of my mouth.

"I'm whooping!" I thought, as shouts of "Whoo-hoooooo!" came rushing out of my mouth and tears streamed from the corners of my eyes, whipped away by the wind. "I'm flying and I'm whooping!"

- Paragliding on Reunion Island 

Monday, July 7, 2014

So you want to #gotoReunion?

I have only just surfaced after returning from Reunion Island on Thursday last week and I'm busy going through all my videos, pictures and thoughts to start telling the stories of this beautiful island that I have truly fallen in love with.

A mid-week, mid-winter's afternoon at La Saline les Bains

While I was there, I was sharing small snap shots of the trip along the way on Social Media and I've had some great comments and questions from followers and friends. The good news is that people are curious and South Africa has started to take note of the island just some-2000 km's from our coast.

I've had lots of emails and Tweets from people who are planning their trips, so I thought, while I'm processing my stories, I can share one of the Q&A email conversations that might answer one or two of your own questions.

Street Art Heroes: Kid Kreol and Boogie in front of one of their pieces in Saint Denis

From: Sarah 
Hey Natalie

I guess this is the beautiful thing about having a blog, you get random people like me emailing you potentially annoying questions ;)

Your blog about Reunion has left me dying to go there! Which means you did a really good job with it :)

I've done some looking around and I'm at the point where I've Googled myself into a bit of a corner.

Is it possible to visit reunion for a week without spending tons of cash? If it is could you recommend places to stay that won't break the bank but are still in nice areas and generally some tips on traveling there on a budget?

I'm more interested in experiencing the culture, swimming and going on a few hikes than staying in a five star hotel!

To: Sarah
Hi Sarah,

Thanks for your email! I'm really happy to hear that you're keen to visit Reunion - it truly is an amazing island!

I can recommend Hotel Les Filaos ( in Saint Gilles les Bains. They have a special rate for South Africans - 60 Euro per room per night, (including breakfast) and are located within walking distance of the lagoon and a few cool restaurants and bars.

If you're keen on hiking, I HIGHLY recommend hiking into the village of Mafate and spending the night there. It's a remote village that can only be reached by foot and it is truly unique. You can get driven to a starting point from where the hike is about 2,5 hours or you can start at a point called Maido peak, from where you'll hike 8 hours.

For culture; the food, music and street art are a great place to start. Try the Creole food at La Marmite in l'Hermitage beach and on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights there is live local music at Coco Beach. 

There's lots of amazing street art in Saint Denis and in Saint Gilles. If you can, try to do some research on Kid Kreol & Boogie - a street art duo who are creating visuals to illustrate the island's myths and legends, previously passed down verbally. You'll see their work a lot in Saint Denis, the island's capital.

I hope that helps a bit, but if you need more, check out or email me with your questions :)

Sunday afternoon sunset in l'Hermitage

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Welcome to Reunion Island #gotoReunion

I recently had the opportunity to visit the magnificent Reunion Island for a week. If you don't know where it is, don't feel weird. Surprisingly, it's only a 4 hour flight from Joburg and lies just 200 km's south-west of Mauritius. So basically, South Africans should be visiting the island a lot more often than we do. In fact, I'm going back again tomorrow! (Lucky me!)

This is a video I made earlier in June when I visited for the first time.

I'll be joining international travel bloggers from the USA, Brazil and the Netherlands for a week of Reunion Island exploration. They are: Keith Jenkins from Velvet Escape, Matthew Karsten from Expert Vagabond, Priscila Reis Magalhaes from Brazilian blog Voali, Matthew Ryan Brown, video magic makerNational Geographic Channel Adventure Ambassador, Yann Macherez, Kati Auld from Getaway; Selene Brophy from News24 Travel Island Guide and Meruschka Govender from Mzansi Girl.

"I think I see a fish … or a whale …" It’s just after 8am and I am in a microlight, mere metres above the turquoise blue waves of the Indian Ocean."

I wrote about my experience for Reunion Island Tourism's new blog which launched today. Read it here. If you want to know anything about the culture, nightlife, experiences or want to see pictures of what the island looks like, check out the awesome blog, which features everything there is to do on the island.

Follow the #gotoReunion campaign, which kicks off tomorrow in real time on the new blog: Welcome To Reunion Island. For daily updates, follow me on Twitter @NatalieRoos and Instagram @tailsofamermaid.

The #gotoReunion campaign is sponsored by the Reunion Island Tourism Board and supported by Destinate and iambassador.