Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

A Little Bit of Africa in NYC

August 20, 2009

There was news recently that the Denver Zoo bestowed upon the Bronx Zoo a pair of hyenas siblings. Most people would probably not really pay attention to this, because, let’s face it, we have bigger things to think about.  But, I got a little excited (for about 5 minutes) because it reminded me of the time I saw real, actual African spotted hyenas. In AFRICA. I may have mentioned that going to zoos is definitely one of my favorite attractions, but the overall concept makes me a little sad (animals cooped up for our viewing pleasure and all).  But seeing these guys in the wild, well, it was also a little sad, because they’re a depressing animal (more on that in a bit), but it was also a little thrilling.

Hyenas. Just a link in the scavenger chain.

Hyenas. Just another link in the scavenger chain.

You’re riding in a safari tank alongside these dog-like animals as they lope around (their front legs are longer than their hind ones, giving them a distinctive gait), essentially invading their natural habitat. They sense you, but go about their natural instinct – which is to scavenge after other animals’ kill. If they know a lion pack has just finished devouring an elephant calf or kudu, it knows there could be a good meal in store for them.

This hyena is trying to find the lions' kill.  And so are we!

This hyena is trying to find the lions' kill. And so are we!

Spotted hyenas (like the kind above) have the ability to crack open bones and eat the marrow and everything.  That’s pretty intense.  They also make a unique sound – commonly referred to as laughing – that’s quite eerie. They tend to get into scuffles with other scavengers or the animals that may still be eating their own kill (who should technically get the first dibs, no?). So of all the animals in the African safari, the hyena is probably one of the least respected.  And they are creepy. But, an essential component to the circle of life, I suppose.  Cue Lion King.

I heart Africa!!

Oh, and welcome to NYC, hyenas!

Guest Post!

June 8, 2009

I usually travel to faraway places with an accomplice a companion…and many of my friends are travel-addicts just like me. A few of my friends are so well-traveled, I wonder if they might actually visit every place on the planet in their lifetime. I thought it might be interesting for you, my dear readers (reader?), to hear some travel stories from those folks – so below is the first in what I hope will be many guest blog posts about places I’ve yet to visit (but hope to someday).

My first guest blogger is my dear college friend, Tanya. She was born in Pakistan and has family living all over the world, so she has international travel in her blood. When she studied in Florence for a semester during college, she was officially bit by the travel bug and vowed to live abroad someday. Well, she lived up to that pledge, and is going on three years living in Zurich, Switzerland after being granted a transfer by her company. Zurich’s turned out to be a convenient hub for travel, and the fact that she gets eleventy-million vacation days helps a lot too. With that background, I leave you with Tanya’s missive on her trip to Morocco…

Setting the Stage

Morocco is a concoction of Spanish-Arabian sights and specialties. One can travel through the old souks (markets) of Marrakesh for unusual herbs and spices, drive over the Atlas Mountains for spectacular views, rock climb through the world famous gorges, hire a camel to trek deep into the desert or even wind surf in the coastal town of Essoueira.

Despite sleeping below seven (7!) canvas blankets while listening to camels groaning, spending a night deep in the Merzouga desert is an unforgettably peaceful experience. The native Berber people live life with such simplicity yet make a mouth watering tajine of meat, chicken or seafood helping foreigners feel the warmth of home. Speaking some Arabic can save you money in the markets and speaking some French can save your life especially if you venture off the beaten city path.

Monoxide Miracle in Morocco

My friend Michelle and I headed off into the deserted roads for the faraway gorges armed with our bags and freshly hired “car and driver” from the nearest travel office, but, OOPS, we forgot our common “carbon” sense. We had no driving plan, let alone a hotel reservation, so when we arrived in places we liked, we relied upon the 20 years of guiding experience from our driver, Mohammad. We chose to stay at a newly built B&B, and while it was very charming it, unfortunately, had no heat. We were on an off-roading/rustic adventure, so we chose the charming and friendly host over fancy facilities.

We asked the host to heat up the room with a small heater (or something, anything) while we had dinner. When we got back to the room (after 27 rounds of rummy), the room was cold since the charcoals in the small cement fire pit had lost their flame. Due to the cold, we skipped our bedtime beauty regime and tucked ourselves under five blankets. Within the hour, I could not get a deep breath of air, feel my tongue, my legs, nor properly speak to Michelle. After a few futile efforts of trying to speak or hear, I attemped to get up and immediately tumbled to the ground like a ton of bricks, apparently diving into delusional convulsions (or so Michelle told me). Reminder: We were in the middle of no-mans-land-Morrocco where there was no hospital or doctor for 60+ miles. Our neighbor heard the noise, broke down the door and carried me up to the roof to breathe in some fresh air (and puke my lungs out). This was all the result of carbon monoxide poisoning (which occurs after the inhalation of carbon monoxide (CO), a significantly toxic gas being colorless, odorless, tasteless, and non-irritating, so it is very difficult for people to detect).

Based on the effects, we guesstimate that I took in 800 ppm which according to the toxicity scale leads to “dizziness, nausea, and convulsions within 45 min; insensible within 2 hours.” The next level result is death within 2 hours. Sooooo, the lesson is, unlike us, please be aware that an open fire in an enclosed room is LETHAL.

Read this link to arm yourself with knowledge about CO poisoning (which we didnt have) that every person and traveler should be aware of.

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Despite this frightening story, the photos from Tanya and Michelle’s trip to Morocco were just unbelievable (due in part to Tanya’s great eye). Below are some shots to give you an idea of what the desert was like~

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Tanya and one of the many friendly faces she's met along her travels.

Tanya and one of the many friendly faces she's met along her travels.

Bungee Tales, Part 3

April 2, 2009

If you’ve caught up with Part 1 and Part 2 of Bungee Tales, then welcome back!

Luckily, two brave souls in our group of six committed to jumping, and the rest of us cowards strapped up “just in case” and proceed to the “Flying Fox” – a zip line / short cut to the bungee launch pad. We went in 2’s and enjoyed the fun swing ride over a vast canyon of…I don’t know, I didn’t look down!! Here’s a Youtube video of some dude doing this. We get to the launch pad where there is a DJ booth (the last thing I expected) and essentially a “we’re all scared and crazy and WAAHHOOO!” party happening in the middle of the 4th highest bridge in the world while traffic drives across the bridge above us. There are about 6-10 other people in various stages of fear-conquering, some still contemplating their own jump, and other just returning from theirs with a look of complete elation on their faces. Our brave friend Stu, a South African native who has done this very bungee before, show no fear and goes when its his turn. We kind of can’t believe his nonchalance. Then Tanya, who sort of changed her mind after having a while to think about it, has to go next. HAS TO. As in, once you are strapped in and the guy explains that “this bungee can hold 47 elephants etc,” you have no choice. I won’t sugar coat it.

She got pushed:

Please note- this is not the ideal form for bungee jumping, but tends to happen when you're pushed on the count of 3.

Please note- this is not the ideal form for bungee jumping, but tends to happen when you're pushed on the count of 3.

So there you have it. I watched Tanya go over the edge and while I watched the live video of it, decided I wanted to do it too. It just looks so amazing. Then I watched her get reeled up by the crane (a person repels down to you to help you at the same time, because you are hanging so far down) and said, “I’M NEXT!! I think.”

A photo essay on FEAR: CONQUERED, starring the 710 foot-high Bloukrans Bridge:

Prayers to the appropriate higher powers while being strapped in.

Prayers to the appropriate higher powers while being strapped in.

Tip-toeing to the edge of the bridge and trying not to look down (this is key).  DO NOT LOOK DOWN!

Tip-toeing to the edge of the bridge and trying not to look down (this is key). DO NOT LOOK DOWN!

On the count of 3-2-1 BUNGEE!

On the count of 3-2-1 BUNGEE!

Freefall for 7 seconds, then you bounce back up and...do it again! It took a while to stop bouncing.

Freefall for 7 seconds, then you bounce back up and...do it again! It took a while to stop bouncing.

AND THEN THIS HAPPENS.  (which sucks)

AND THEN THIS HAPPENS. (which sucks)

most favoritest person in the world comes down to rescue you and pull you up. SO HAPPY TO SEE THIS PERSON!

most favoritest person in the world comes down to rescue you and pull you up. SO HAPPY TO SEE THIS PERSON!

Very small man goes for photo opp while holding my entire weight on the EDGE OF A 710-ft BRIDGE. But I just go with it because I'm on an adrenaline high.

Very small man goes for photo opp while holding my entire weight on the EDGE OF A 710-ft BRIDGE. But I just go with it because I'm on an adrenaline high

Yup.  Did it.

Yup. Did it.

Well, at the end of the day, all six of us ended up bungee jumping. Even one person who had a severe fear of heights. So it all goes to show that you really will jump off a bridge if everyone else does too…hee!

Lion’s Enemy?

March 31, 2009

You might have thought that lions in Africa had no predators – but think again. Man, and more specifically, local farmers, are at odds with the natural hunter in order to preserve their cattle. 60 Minutes took a sobering look at an underground poison industry used to control these cattle attacks, which has led to a decrease of up to 85 percent of the lion population over the past 20 years. View / read it here.

I'm protective of my fellow leos...

I'm protective of my fellow leos...

Bungee Tales, Part 2

March 23, 2009

So we’ve established that I arrived at the highest bungee jump in the world (at Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa) quite determined that I would most definitely take the plunge. At the time, I had no idea what “710 feet high” looked like. Until I saw the bridge:

That's hiiiiiigh!

That's hiiiiiigh!

To give some scale, that's one of those ginormous buses (which looks like a speck) toodling along the bridge.

To give some scale, that's one of those ginormous buses (which looks like a speck) toodling along the bridge.

At which point I swiftly changed my mind.

Here’s me contemplating my fate and watching jumpers from across the way (which were barely visible given the huge canyon / stream situation)…

To jump or not to jump?

To jump or not to jump?

Wait, so then how did this happen??? HELP!

Once you're strapped, there's no turning back.

Once you're strapped, there's no turning back.

…Next up – THE JUMP!