The Stories I Love to Hear

Working at Gift Experience South Africa has some pretty memorable moments in it. Some of my favourite are hearing feedback from our customers. I love to hear their stories – how their experience went, the excitement around the occasion and sharing their photos with them afterwards… Talk about job satisfaction!

I recently went to go and see some of our experience providers in Johannesburg and surrounds and this trip opened my eyes to even more stories, but those told from the perspective of the experience providers dealing with our customers. I have to share my favourite with you!

My all time favourite is the one told to me by Stephan, the owner of one of the flying schools we work with on the East Rand. He told of how the one weekend, a very old gent in his 80s arrived for his hands-on flight accompanied by his grand-daughter and family. The old man used to fly Sabres and other fighter jets when he was in his youth during the Korean war and, while old and limited in mobility, was still an active driver and it was his dream to sit behind the controls of a plane again. We’d chatted with his grand-daughter prior to her purchasing this experience as a birthday gift for him and I recalled her checking whether he would be able to fly. We’d done our homework and the answer being in the affirmative, here he was about to embark on a grand adventure full of reminiscing.

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With a little assistance, Stephan and the very helpful instructors managed to get him inside the cockpit of Stephan’s personal plane and Stephan took the controls and taxied them over to the runway. As they’re waiting to depart, the old gent turns to Stephan, a healthy sized gent himself, and says; “Sonny boy, in my day I flew fighter jets and I’d really appreciate being able to do this take-off by myself.”

Now, each plane has dual controls for instruction purposes and, while it’s common practice to allow students to keep a light hold of controls during take-off and landing, the instructor will normally handle this part of the flying experience. Generally though, taking off is a little easier and less complex than landing and students are allowed more leeway in participating for their first flight in the take-off. Stephan, giving it some thought, agreed. Although he admitted to me afterwards he was very nervous about the arrangement and had his hands close to the controls throughout. Needless to say, the old gent sent the small two-seater into the air with a textbook perfect take-off. Stephan couldn’t fault him and settled back to let him have some fun at the controls.

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A few loops above scenic areas later, and the old gent once more put in a request. This time for a very tricky “touch-down” which involves bring the plane in to land and just before the wheels hit the runway, taking off again – it involves a high degree of skill and Stephan once again was put on the spot. His precious plane in the hands of an aged ex-fighter pilot…. Would his reflexes be quick enough? He needn’t have worried. It seemed that all those years and years of high intensity flight training had never left the old man, despite decades having passed since he last flew a plane. Stephan admitted he couldn’t have bettered the touch-down himself.

The two of them ended up having so much fun, a 25minute flight stretched into 90minutes of sheer joy as loops, mid-air stalls and many more touch-downs took place. I must admit, I wondered what his family must have thought of it all! This old gent had a birthday experience that took him flying back across the years to some of his best flying memories and Stephan? Well Stephan met a legend that day and he’s still telling people about him.

Stories like this one remind me of why I do what I do. These feel good stories where we, alongside our awesome experience providers, help people to have extraordinary experiences and have stories like these to tell make this job so worthwhile.

Want to try a flying lesson? Why not hint at your next Christmas or birthday gift and tell them to get it here:

Deserts, Dunes and Fatbiking

So I was recently in Swakopmund and got talked into doing the desert fatbike tour. I’ve not been on a bicycle in 6 years…..

So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I clambered upon the seat of my heavyweight, fat-wheeled mountain bike to begin a tour that would take me across sand dunes in one of the oldest deserts in the world and which would open my eyes to the science-defying wonder of the fat-bottomed bike.

It was with great relief that the start of our tour went off without a hitch. Apparently the old adage of “it’s just like riding a bicycle!” holds true in terms of the memory stakes and I managed not to embarrass myself in front of my fitter group members. We cycled through a section of Swakop town, dodging the odd taxi and heading over towards the Swakop river – at the time just a dry river bed.

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Just before crossing the river bed, our guide, Richard, once again reiterated sand riding policy which involved high gear ratios, much spinning and remembering not to stand on the peddles as this causes the front wheel to dig in and you to take flying lessons across the handle bars… encouraging stuff really!

Then we were off! Spinning madly across the river bed and our first small set of dunes, we soon had the whole gear up gear down thing sussed and started marvelling at the wonder that is fat tyres on a bicycle! The effect of the increased weight distribution was driven home each time we stopped and put a foot down in the sand…. My feet sank well down – much further than that of the bike tyres!

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Richard was a mine of information with a mixture of fact, fiction, geology, history and more being shared with us. I learnt a whole lot more about the origin of the Namib desert dunes, the type of wildlife as well as dune creation and movement on this trip.

All the time we were climbing further and further into the dune field. The ride became progressively more challenging with the group needing to identify where the sand was firmer allowing for a smoother climb versus the softer thicker sand that would grab at your wheels and bog you down. Then, the challenges started arriving. Up to now, we’d been climbing constantly but we were suddenly faced with some very scary descents – some appeared completely convex! Richard’s instructions weren’t terrifying at all: Pedal like mad, make sure you go over the top at speed, don’t stand up, ensure you keep your weight back behind the saddle (like how?) and don’t brake…. Don’t what??

The first descent was by far the scariest… but I stand here, a survivor of the tale so it was definitely better than it looked. Then the climbs and descents came higher and faster until all too soon we were done and out of the dune field. Then began the long slog home.

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This memorable tour is a must for its fun, novelty and interesting and patient guides. Just make sure you’ve had a more recent cycling experience – my tender buttocks are still feeling the saddle and it’s been 5 days…..

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