Cape Town

Paws for Thought on Lions – No Matter What They’re Made Of

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There I was, guiding mom through the busy crowds at the V&A Waterfront when I got such a fright I almost tripped over my own paws. Which never happens… well, apart from that time I got startled by a bicycle changing gears right behind me and landed up splayed on the floor completely unintentionally.

The reason for my shock? Out of the corner of my eye I saw a lion…. Standing there in the middle of the Waterfront!

Now, I admit I don’t know a lot about lions. I’ve never met one, so I don’t know what counts as normal behavior for them. But it certainly looked like a lion, so I wasn’t going to get up close and personal in case it gobbled me up.

I was relieved when mom told me to walk past, though I did find myself checking over my shoulder a time or two, just in case the lion started to follow us. I wanted a little warning if we suddenly had to run for it!

Then, on our way back from our trip on the Cape Wheel, which mom told you about last time,
there were fewer people standing around the lion and mom obviously thought I might like to make friends. I’ll admit I was hesitant, but I do trust mom, so I thought I’d give it a try. But I was going to be really mad with mom if the lion gobbled me up, I assure you!

As I got closer to the lion I sniffed – I mean, if I did get out of this alive, at least I’d know what a lion smells like. But the lion didn’t smell like an animal at all – more like a wall, or a rock I recently found in the garden. Nor did the lion move so much as a muscle. It just stood there. And I began to think that maybe the lion wouldn’t gobble me up after all.

So, I decided to try and make friends. The photo shows me reaching up and sniffing the lion on the nose. Even though I was pretty sure it wasn’t a real lion by this stage, I still think that was very brave of me, don’t you?

But the lion didn’t seem to want to make friends. Even after I sniffed it on the nose it just stood there, as if petrified. And I know that’s the right word, because mom explained to me that petrified actually means to be turned to stone. She told me that when she explained that it was a stone statue of a lion and that I was never in any danger of being gobbled up.

So, I didn’t actually get to meet a lion. Or to learn how a lion smells. Or how they behave. And maybe stone lion’ statues just aren’t cut out to play. I just don’t know. But at least I didn’t get gobbled up!
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Up, Up and Away – Fiji and I Visit the Cape Wheel

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Sometimes I’d love to be able to read Fiji’s mind. Like when we were 40 metres above the ground on the Cape Wheel carousel in the V&A Waterfront.

I wasn’t sure how Fiji would react to being sealed into a fairly small compartment and then seeing the world disappear from beneath her paws. To be completely honest, I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to react to being sealed into a fairly small compartment and knowing the world was going to disappear from beneath my paws… um, feet. Especially since I don’t have a great head for heights.

When all’s said and done, both Fiji and I were absolutely fine with the experience. Fiji peered out the window with interest while the carousel made its first circle, then lay down and went to sleep. As for me, I found the entire experience wasn’t too bad, although I did have a moment when Craig and Fiji decided to exchange places and the compartment started swaying wildly. At least, I felt like it was swaying wildly – it was probably only moving gently. Anyway, to get over my stab of panic that we were about to plunge 40 metres to the ground and be crushed in the first ever Cape Wheel accident I grabbed for a handhold and held my breath. And everything was fine.

I was impressed at how well Fiji dealt with the experience – far better than I did – and she stepped off the ride wagging her tail happily. I still think she was more excited when coming face-to-face with a stone lion a short time later… but I’ll leave that story for her to share with you herself.

I did want to note that the Cape Wheel has several compartments that can accommodate people in wheelchairs – I was impressed with how well they’re accommodating the needs of travellers and sightseers with disabilities. And guide dogs, too. Though I would have liked there to be the option of an audio description of the view as the carousel rose and fell – after all, since there are 4 rotations in each ride there’s plenty time to describe the sights.

Louis on the Block – Another Great Place for Guide Dogs

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It’s really not hard to find an enticing restaurant in Cape Town, no matter what type of food you’re looking for. I’ve already written a number of reviews of places that welcome Fiji and this is another of those. But this restaurant, Louis on the Block, in Bergvliet, has an added bonus – they’ve made their venue accessible to people who are mobility impaired as well.

Craig, Fiji and I have eaten at Louis on the Block in Children’s Way, Bergvliet a number of times. Not only do we enjoy their delicious, reasonably priced food and good service, but I’m always impressed by how disability-aware they are.

My guide dog, Fiji, is always warmly welcomed into the restaurant. On one momentous previous visit Fiji was offered not just a bowl of water but a snack as well, which she was most put out when I declined. I know some of you may be thinking it was unfair of me to deprive her of her snack when Craig and I got to eat. Here’s the thing: if Fiji learns to look for food at restaurants she’s slipped over the line into begging – and a begging dog is downright unpleasant for everyone!

What really impresses me about Louis on the Block is that the restaurant is also accessible to those with physical disabilities. Though there are steps up to the main entrance, they have a second stepless entrance that’ll easily accommodate wheelchairs. The tables aren’t crammed together so the space is fairly easily navigable, and the restrooms are also spacious enough to allow access to a wheelchair.

Over the years I’ve been to a large number of restaurants that are happy to accommodate my visual impairment and my guide dog. Sadly I doubt the same is true for a person with a mobility impairment. So it’s really great to experience a restaurant that is so aware of the needs of all their customers, no matter what!

If you’ve never been to Louis on the Block in Bergvliet, Fiji and I would definitely recommend you give them a try –with apologies from Fiji for not being able to vouch for the food herself.

Bluebird Market: A Great Place for Dogs – and for Humans, Too!

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Another place Fiji and I go on a regular basis is the Bluebird Market, in Muizenberg. It’s a great place for the Lakeside and Muizenberg communities to spend a few enjoyable hours with good food, local wines and craft beers, diverse people… and a whole lot of dogs!

As a fussy vegetarian I especially enjoy the range of vegetarian food on offer – from scrumptious Falafel wraps to the most amazing cheese/chilli spring rolls. But don’t be worried you’ll go hungry if you enjoy meat – my husband has never complained about the numerous meat options on offer.

Since the market is welcoming to dogs Fiji loves going there as well. Interestingly I’ve observed that she seldom gets overly excited about the other dogs running around and, in fact, will sometimes do little more than lift her head to observe a passing dog and then go back to sleep. It would be a lie to say she always behaves like a perfect guide dog – with so many people and so much food it’s hardly surprising she’s tempted to sniff around to see what snacks she can find for herself. We try to discourage her but well, I’m sure you know what Labradors are like when it comes to the possibility of food!

I’m not sure the Bluebird Market would be easy for someone with a mobility impairment to navigate their way round. There are simply too many people and too little space. Having said that, the market building is equipped with ramps with a gentle gradient with the only exception being the step up into the book shop on the premises.

From my perspective as a blind person, the only problem I have is that the market is generally full and loud, which can make it hard for me to orientate myself in the building. But then I don’t think it would be much fun on my own so I always have a sighted guide there to assist me if I need to get around. Having said that, I regularly have total strangers offering me assistance there so Fiji and I could probably manage on our own should we ever need to.

Overall, both Fiji and I really enjoy the Bluebird Market and would recommend it to any friends – human and canine!

Reflections on Autumn- With an Occasional Squirrel Appearance

Cds 2016 11 26 08 56 32Cape Town is a beautiful place. Anyone who’s been here will tell you that. And it’s not just visitors who feel that way – as residents we know it, too! But sometimes it’s easy for us to take that beauty for granted since we’re constantly surrounded by it.

Unlike Durban (the city I grew up in), which has a fairly uniform climate, Cape Town has very distinct seasons which impacts on life in Cape Town– in both what we wear and what we do. Naturally, the change of the seasons affects Fiji and I as much as it does everyone else.

Now that the autumn coolness has started settling into Cape Town my morning walks with Fiji have taken on a slightly different character. Gone are the unpleasantly warm summertime walks that see both Fiji and myself heading for a long cool drink of water on our return home. Gone are the days we dash from one teensy piece of shade to another, desperately trying to stay out of the blazing sun as much as possible. Gone too are the days of gusting wind that make it hard for us to walk since we can’t hear the sounds of approaching cars.

Thankfully those problems generally pass with the summer. Instead we’re able to walk down the road with comfort and ease. In fact, the walks are so pleasant that I often find my mind wondering as we progress, with the gorgeous scents of the lush vegetation enveloping us as we pass. Of course, every now and then my mind is snatched back from whatever pleasant reverie it’s stolen off to because Fiji has seen, scented or heard The Dreaded Enemy – yes, autumn is a busy time for squirrels in our neighbourhood – but even Fiji doesn’t seem to be as manic about trying to chase them as she does earlier in the season.

Today as I was breathing in the scent of a lavender bush I took a moment to reflect on the beauty of the moment – standing there with a keen and happily wagging young guide dog, the scents and sounds of nature all around us… despite the occasional car or train that flashed past us – and I was once again reminded that Cape Town truly is an extraordinary place to live! Now, if only the winter rains would come and break the drought…

Starting the Tour of Local Places Fiji and I Are Welcome

NewImageA little while back I said I wanted to start a series of articles recognizing places that were welcoming to my guide dog. Here’s the first of those articles.

I live in Lakeside, in Cape Town. Our closest shopping area is the Old Bakery Centre, so named because it used to be a bakery. When we first moved into the house I would regularly wake to the scent of freshly baking bread – Mmmm…

So I want to take you on a tour of some of the local shops and restaurants who not only accommodate, but go out of their way to welcome my guide dog and I – and the Old Bakery Woolworths is going to be our first stop.

Fiji has been trained to walk straight to the counter where the tills are located in Woolworths. Whenever we enter, the employees greet me and either offer assistance immediately or politely ask me to wait for a minute or two while they finish up with their current customer. Then they assist by collecting the items I need and bringing them so I can look at them before I pay. Admittedly it’s a small Woolworths and my needs aren’t overly complex – besides which, I keep my shopping list short since I’ll have to carry everything home in a backpack.

On occasion I accompany the assistant to select the items I need, especially if I’m buying fresh produce, but usually I stand out of the way and let the assistant manage the process. Yes, I am aware that there are several apps and other assistive technology devices that would let me shop pretty much on my own and maybe one day I’ll do so. For now I just find it easier to shop this way and the assistants are amazingly efficient in how they help me. And it makes a huge difference to me.

I’ve heard of so many cases where a visually impaired person has been refused entry into a shop because they have a working animal with them. We’ve even had a few instances where it’s happened to Fiji and me, even once in a different Woolworths. So I’m truly appreciative of the amazing service I receive at the Old Bakery Woolworths in Lakeside.

The next stop on our tour of local places where my guide dog is welcome isn’t far away. In fact, next time I want to tell you about the coffee shop/pizzeria right next to Woolworths, who also look after Fiji and me as if we’re royalty.

But that’ll have to wait for another day…

Appreciating My Reality

Cds IMG 0065It won’t surprise you to know I have a fairly extensive global network of blind and visually impaired people on social media. I also listen to several podcasts by and about people who are visually impaired. Recently I’ve been amazed how often I’ve heard stories of people being refused access to places and services because they have guide dogs.

Which got me thinking – Fiji and I have been working together for just over 2 years. Add that to the years I worked with my previous guide dogs, Leila and Eccles, and you land up with a scarily large number.

In all that time I’ve really never had a major problem accessing places and services with my dogs. Sure, there have been times that I’ve been challenged about bringing a dog into ashop or restaurant, but we’ve always managed to resolve the problem then and there.

And yes, there have been times I’ve become frustrated at the increasing amount of bureaucracy that’s required when travelling by air with Fiji but, believe me, the administrative hoops Fiji and I have to jump through are minor compared to what some of our international colleagues have to.

I’ve also heard horror stories from friends in other cities in South Africa, so maybe Cape Town is just a really special place. To be fair, I haven’t experienced problems in Johannesburg but Fiji and I haven’t really travelled much together outside of Cape Town– at least, not yet!

Fiji and I regularly go to new places and make use of services and are usually welcomed and treated with respect. So I want to start acknowledging some of the places she and I go and acknowledge their fantastic service to us. .

Why not suggest a few places you feel we ought to try – if we can get there, we’d be happy to do so and share about our great experiences. And we’d love the opportunity to show the rest of the world what a great place Cape Town is to work with a guide dog

First Impressions

Cds IMG 0766It’s Wednesday morning and as I sit here listening to the rain pouring down in Cape Town I find myself reflecting back on the week I spent in Ghana… was it really only a few days ago???

My overall impression of Ghana is that of warmth, the warmth and humidity of the weather, the warmth and friendliness of the Ghanaian people I encountered, and the warmth of the experience of spending a week in the company of people I hadn’t previously met but with whom I shared some unforgettable experiences from which I believe long-lasting friendships will develop.

I’ll share some of the specific experiences that made my time in Ghana so special over the course of the coming weeks but perhaps a few initial impressions won’t be amiss here.

I found the Ghanaian people both welcoming and friendly – without a single exception. Now, I know this just isn’t possible – that there must be Ghanaian’s who aren’t friendly, or are simply having a bad day, but I didn’t meet any of them. From the woman who sold me two beautiful Ghanaian dresses, to the bus driver who had just spent an hour changing a tyre after we had a blowout on the journey back from the conference; from the receptionists at the guest houses to the hawkers touting their wares outside the conference venue.

And wow, are the Ghanaian’s creative and entrepreneurial in the way they market their produce. For most of our 6-hour bus journey the sides of the road were lined by small counters selling everything from under-carpet felt to vegetables, from pottery to peanut butter, from metal gates to (and I’m not kidding) coffins. Basically, I’m pretty sure that if you needed an item, someone would be selling it!

It’s obvious that religion is a cornerstone of Ghanaian society. We were amazed at the number of churches we saw – often several on a single street block. Also, most of the songs we heard on radio, both in the bus and at the guest houses, were religious in nature. I don’t know if there is a causal correlation between the prevalence of religion and what I was told about the reduction in crime and occurrences of HIV and AIDS, but certainly religion forms an integral part of everyday life in Ghana.

I also found it curious that most radio and TV I heard was in English. Then I was told that English is the official language of Ghana, which I found interesting in its own right.

A final observation about Ghana that was curious to me. I would have thought that the climate in Ghana would have made it an ideal place to grow almost any and everything. And yet it seems that much is imported – we saw fruit juice from Spain, milk from South Africa (when you could find milk at all), and the most frequent mobile phone outlet we saw was South African – MTN. I’ll freely admit that I missed some of my dietary staples, like cheese, which I didn’t see in Ghana so was craving by the time I returned home.

Those are a few of my general impressions of Ghana – watch out for more articles on specific aspects of my time in Accra and Kumasi in the next few weeks!

Louis on the Block, Bergvliet

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It is really not hard to find an enticing restaurant in Cape Town, no matter what your preference in cuisine happens to be. I am constantly amazed at the number and variety of restaurants we have. But I sometimes wonder if finding a restaurant is as easy for someone living with a disability?

Disability access is a subject close to my heart. I’ve decided to write reviews of places that impress me – and those that horrify me – in terms of how accessible they are. I suppose my recent article about the SAB Newlands Brewery should technically be considered my first, but this is the first that will appear under the Accessibility Review category.

Recently Craig, Fiji and I had dinner at Louis on the Block in Children’s Way, Bergvliet. Not only did we have a great, reasonably priced meal with good service, but I was impressed by how disability-friendly they were.

My guide dog, Fiji, was warmly welcomed into the restaurant and was offered not only a bowl of water but a snack as well, which Fiji was distraught that I refused on her behalf. Now, while it might sound very unfair that Craig and I got to eat while Fiji did not, the truth is that if she learns that she might get food when we do she will learn to beg – and a begging dog is downright unpleasant at a restaurant.

What really impressed me about Louis on the Block was that the restaurant was also accessible to those with physical disabilities. Though there were steps up to the main entrance, they had a wider door that was easily accessible to a wheelchair..

No, I didn’t happen to notice it. Nor did I ask (though I must do so when going to restaurants in the future). But at one point in the evening the restaurant’s owner and one of the wait staff crossed to the double door to assist a lady in a wheelchair to enter and join one of the tables having dinner.

The whole experience left me feeling very positive about the restaurant and enhanced my enjoyment of the evening.

Well done for going the extra mile, Louis on the Block!

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