Reg and Eileen Baker

Summer CSANews Issue 67  |  Posted date : Jul 22, 2008.Back to list

It seems to be a long way to go for a 'snowbird migration.' However, Reg and Eileen Baker have followed the sun to South Africa for the past 13 years. I asked, why South Africa? In reply, Reg asked if I wanted the humorous reason or the serious one. “Both,” I answered. Reg, who is 82, started with humour.

"Well, there was too much wrinkled skin in Florida. I thought it might be catchy, so we went in another direction. We chose South Africa. We like the country. We like the people. We never feel insecure at any given time. And once you're there, it's a bargain.”"

Onto the more serious reason; Eileen explained that their first trip years ago was arranged by a friend. The Bakers were part of a 12-person tour. “I loved it so much, I said to Reg 'we're coming back'! Reg, who enjoys his wine, took one look at the Paarl Valley and agreed. The next year, we stayed for three months. We have now been there 13 times.”

The Bakers have used various carriers to arrive at their distant destination. While it was possible to stay in Europe to catch up with the time change, in 2008, they chose to take an onward flight to Johannesburg after only three hours at Holland's Schiphol airport. Eileen explained that by transferring to the southbound flight in relatively fast fashion, it eliminated the necessity of bringing along winter clothing for Europe plus the required summer togs for South Africa's more moderate clime. They spent a night in Cape Town, getting their body clocks reset before picking up their rental car for the drive to their apartment on the Strand. They were now seven hours ahead of eastern standard time.

So far as prices are concerned, gas is comparable to North America. A good meal (Reg suggests trying his favourite calamari steaks) with an appetizer and wine is priced around 300 rand for two. With an exchange rate of nearly eight rand to the Canadian dollar, that works out to less than 40 dollars. And how's this for a fine dining experience – this year, our snowbirds decided to go to a much acclaimed member restaurant of the Relais et Chateaux group. While enjoying a pre-dinner drink at the bar, they ordered their appetizers and entrees. The chef arrived to discuss how they wished their choices prepared. Following dessert, their cheque was presented. The entire meal, including a bottle of fine wine, came to under 100 dollars. That covered everything; tax, tips and bar bill.

The Bakers do not go to the same apartment every time, but they do love the Strand, overlooking the water and only 30 minutes from the 'best vineyards in the world,' according to Reg. Eileen says that their unit was very nice and featured a balcony, washer, dryer, microwave, stove, fridge and freezer, and satellite TV with cable. The Strand is only a half-hour from Cape Town, just 20 minutes from Stellenbosch, where there are two large sophisticated shopping centres. “We tell our agent, Tertius Spies of Exotic Tours, that we want to arrive here, leave from there and, after a couple of months or so, do a little looking around. He rents the car, the apartment, organizes our tours and then says, you owe me so much money. I send the payment from my account to his account. He is great at what he does.”

So far as their home is concerned, a daughter lives just four doors from the Bakers. Their teen-aged grandson clears the snow. A rugby player, he was delighted when his grandparents brought back a South African Springboks team sweater for him. His younger brother is 'under contract' to keep the plants watered, collect the mail and check the house on a regular basis.

Keeping in touch with home is relatively easy. “I read a newspaper each day. Satellite radio helps, and we get the BBC and CNN. Every couple of weeks, I phone our daughter,” Reg says. “I ask her to tell me what's going on in the family that I really don't want to know.”

So far as medical attention is concerned, South Africa is top-notch. Eileen felt the need for a checkup and was able to see a neurologist within 20 minutes of her arrival at the clinic. She then saw a cardiologist and had a nuclear medical test. The next day, a doctor and two aides paid her a visit. One day later, she had a report that 'everything's fine.' The final bill was less than$1,000.00, of which Reg's insurance still in force from his working days, paid $800.00. “I don't know what that might have cost in Canada, but in the U.S., it would have been over the moon”!

“I really want to stress,” Eileen said, “that we never, ever encountered any criminal activity of any sort. We never go to places like downtown Johannesburg after dark. We try not to look like tourists: no cameras, jewellery or bum-bags. I carry my purse under my arm as the locals do.”

The Bakers have a lot of valid reasons for going on their long snowbird migrati