Things to Learn from Way down South

Aug 8, 2013 by Rita Pizarro

It’s the middle of the hot and humid summer, everyone is sweaty and tired as soon as they come outside. It’s hard to stay cool, but my daughter Daniela and I had plans to stay very cool for a couple of weeks. In order to do so, we had to travel very, very far, way down south to where it’s not summer but winter right now: We went to South Africa!

What a magnificent country, we had sightings of amazing wildlife on game reserves, we saw mountains with snowy caps, beaches, lighthouses, islands, bays, forests, plains and sand dunes, vineyards, expansive farmland, villages and big cosmopolitan cities. What diversity both in the landscape and the people.

In our short two weeks, we saw so many magnificent animals I started a long list of my sightings, including all of the so called “big five”. Many, many more in game drives that are much different from just going to the zoo to see a captive animal outside it’s ecosystem. It is so much more exciting to be actually looking for an animal. Looking for tracks or any other sign of them being there and then finding them in their environment while you are in an open air vehicle. No wonder South Africa is a premier tourist destination, with everything from amazing game reserves and national parks, beach towns with world famous surf like Jeffrey’s Bay’s “supertubes”, high octane activities such as cage diving with white sharks or the tallest bridge bungee jump in the world, wine tasting for every budget and palate in beautiful vineyards surrounded by amazing mountain ranges, to world class shopping and entertainment plus one of the “new natural wonders of the world” which is Table Mountain in Cape Town; South Africa has something to offer to almost everyone.

The diversity is amazing, but one thing remained the same wherever we went: Superior service, friendly staff and a welcoming and personalized attention from everyone that hosted us whether it was a week or a day on Lodge at a game reserve or a Bed and Breakfast…

The secret to make us feel so welcomed was on the small details: a small welcome note with my name on it when checking into the lodge, someone to bring the bags to the camp, small hot towels and a drink upon arriving from a game drive, a bath full of hot bubbly water, the bed turned down and the mosquito net ready for the night after a long night drive. So many little things that said, “We care and we want you to be comfortable”. The food was amazing also; the way it was served was great too. Every morning a new carved pumpkin or cabbage to adorn the breakfast bar, choices for dinner that were taken at lunch, even the drinks to go on a drive were carefully selected to match each guests preferences and vegetarian entrees were available every night for the few non meat eaters (including myself). The presentation of the food was beautiful, with a very European feel and influence. We were offered tea and muffins quite often. I learned to like rooibos (the preferred local tea with no caffeine) and though the trip was not favorable to my waistline, our culinary experience was better than I expected. We even went “Cheese tasting” in Fairview which is located in the wine lands close to Cape Town.

South Africa is a country that has learned that tourism is important for their economy. Many of the game reserves are former dairy farms that dropped fences between one another and joined forces to reintroduce animals and try to establish a balance with the predators, water, and local grass to feed the antelopes etc. They completely changed their game plan in life. For generations they had been farmers, then became conservationists and at the same time hosts in the hospitality business. This shows how amazing changes can happen both in the land and in people’s lives. The change has been great not only for the conservation of many endangered species that are found in just this corner of the earth, but also for the economy of the families who owned the dairies and the people who now work at the reserves. We were very happy to know that our money helped directly with the conservation of the Rhino which is much endangered due to poaching of its horn mostly to Asian markets.

So, as I enjoyed my trip, I realized that in our little beach town of Puerto Peñasco we have so much to learn from way down south. We can learn (as an example) how fishermen (akin to dairy farmers?) could change their livelihood by entering into the hospitality business and how paying attention to detail and making guests feel really welcomed can increase the return rate of our guests and improve our economy. We can learn that change can be good and that even after political turmoil (as in South Africa) the riches and beauty of the land can bring people who will want to spend their money and come back because they had a great time. That the visitors will tell their friends, just the same way I tell mine, what a great time they had at the beach, how great the food was, how nice they were treated and best of all that they can’t wait to come back with their whole family the next time.

Rocky Point is very privileged geographically not only because the Sea of Cortez offers beautiful sights, amazing tidal changes, warm waters and great biodiversity, but because we are just a drive away from many major US cities. Vacationing in Rocky Point is a whole lot faster (it took us over 30 hours to get from Phoenix to Port Elizabeth in SA, plus the well known hassle of flying in a commercial airline) but a whole lot cheaper than almost anywhere else. For a big family the ability to drive down instead of flying frees up a lot of money for other activities; restaurants, boat rides, tours, massages, nights out or concerts.

Maybe we could offer trips with a purpose where we help conserve our own very rare and almost extinct cetacean “Vaquita de Mar”, or we could have trips for people who want to help build nests for the osprey (who nests mostly on power lines which often become fatal). A trip with a purpose other than just relaxing or drinking on the beach makes people feel good about their money going to a good cause, whether it is conservation, helping others or the all new popular adventure tourism.

As a town we are coming back, occupancy is much higher, rental prices are increasing, real estate prices are coming back but we are still behind in our style and we need to change and keep people interested in coming back by offering more things to do, better service, personalized attention and making each of our visitors want to come back again and again!

Go out there and think of something new, try it out, put it to work, ask for feedback, and see how change can and does happen and see that there are many positive things that can be experienced from it.

P.S. August heat is so much more tolerable when you are neck deep in the fabulous waters of the Sea of Cortez. See you at the beach!

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