it's not you, it's me

5.31.2010


We're taking a little break from posting for a couple of days. We hope you guys will still be around when we come back. It's really nice having a travel journal where we get the most amazing feedback and suggestions from people around the world. We'll be back with tales from Egypt, Belgium, and New York.

In the meantime, the photo above is from our safari in South Africa. We woke up at 4am (quite the feat for us, really) and drove straight to this watering hole. There was a bird or two lounging around, but other than that, it was eerily quiet. We just sat there and admired the sunrise.

lion

5.28.2010


Undeniably, the most exciting animals to see at Kruger National Park are the lions. Pretty much all the animals in Kruger can be seen in zoos around the world, but there's something incredibly thrilling about seeing a massive lion in the wild.

We went 3 days in a row without seeing any, and were starting to worry we wouldn't spot any at all. We were still grateful to see the other wildlife, but it was annoying to know that the lions were in the park, and that we hadn't seen them.

On the 4th morning, we left the gates of our base-camp at the crack of dawn. After about 10 minutes of driving we noticed an animal walking along the side of the road ahead of us. The shape, and the way it was walking, made it evident to both of us that our luck had turned. With the sun still lingering on the horizon, we captured a few disappointing photos but were in shock and awe of the beast that had strolled within inches of our vehicle.

The next day we headed off in the morning to leave the park. With the drive back to Johannesburg ahead of us, we knew we could hang around the park until noon, before we would need to leave for good.

Just before lunch we rounded a bend and found several cars stopped on the road. We approached and noticed that a group of lions were relaxing under trees.


As we watched, they walked across the road, between cars, sat affectionately with each other, nibbled on grass, and slept. These guys were significantly larger than our "friend" from the previous day. The behaviour of these cats was remarkably similar to that of the domestic variety; they couldn't have cared less that we were around.


We were so close that we could actually hear them "purring", but it was more of a deep rumbling noise. It might have been somewhat frightening if they weren't so lethargic.

This is our final post in our "Big Five" series - charging elephants, hidden leopards, unpredictable water buffalos, endangered rhinoceroses, and the majestic lion - we feel incredibly fortunate to have seen them all in their natural environment.

rhinoceros

5.27.2010


Our rhino sightings were definitely less frequent than other animals. On each day we could would almost be guaranteed to see several giraffes, elephants, or zebras, but rhino sightings were very sporadic.


Kruger Park contains two types of rhinos: the black rhino and the white rhino. Both types are actually gray in appearance, and there are only subtle differences between them. We primarily saw white rhinos, but we saw a single black rhino, wandering by itself (not pictured below).


There was a poster in one of the base-camps showing a rhino carcass that had been left by poachers. The poachers will saw off the horns and leave the animal to die. Even within the highly protected gates of Kruger, poachers are still able to wreak havoc. Apparently ground-up rhino horns are (mistakenly) thought to be aphrodisiacs in some Asian countries even though the horn contains the same "ingredients" as your toe and finger nails.

Rhinos are understood to be blind, and we heard that they will just randomly charge at things, so, again, we tried to keep our distance. Sometimes the animals would just come out of nowhere, so all you can do is hope that they're not going to run into your car.

an afternoon at kruger

5.26.2010

water buffalo


It's hard for us to think about African buffalos (or water buffalos, as they're known locally) without being reminded of the Battle at Kruger video. Secretly hoping that would we see an epic battle between animals, we visited the watering hole (Transport Dam - where the video was filmed), only to find a lone hippopotamus. However, we did see our fair share of water buffalos in other areas of Kruger National Park.



We were often surprised to see animals grazing by themselves in the park. Twice we saw water buffalos, on their own, making their way through fields. For some reason, we assumed that they needed to stay in groups at all times for survival. Since it was just the two of us in the car all day long, we had some very interesting (and sometimes uninformed) conversations about animal behavior. One of Mina's pet peeves is anthropomorphism, but we couldn't help but making up narratives about what the animals were up to (we were driving for a long time).


Water buffalos seem like a rather ordinary animal to have included in the "big 5", but their inclusion is because of their unpredictability. The term "big 5" has it's origins in hunting, and the water buffalo (despite being an herbivore) can be a very unrelenting, aggressive, and dangerous creature. Several hundred people in South Africa are killed every year by them.


We noticed that they were always aware of our presence. Zebra's and giraffes didn't seem to care about us, but water buffalos (and wildebeests) always seemed to know when we were nearby and they actively moved away. We treated them like the elephants; took a few photos, and then moved on - quickly!

-Alex


leopard

5.25.2010


Whenever we approached a stopped a vehicle during our little self-drive safari at Kruger National Park, we began to search for what the people inside might be looking at. There were a lot of false alarms (people fumbling with maps), but every now and then we were able to see an animal that we may not have spotted on our own.

On our first day in the park, we drove by two vehicles sitting at the side of the road and couldn't tell what they we looking at. We noticed one of the drivers point at a tree and immediately noticed an animal sitting in it. The viewfinder of the camera confirmed it; we had our first (and, unfortunately, only) leopard sighting.


It was amazing to see how camouflaged it was in the shade of the tree. For the rest of our time in Kruger the leopards eluded us, so we're glad to have seen at least one.


After about ten minutes, the leopard hopped out of the tree and disappeared into the long grass.

elephants

5.24.2010

Before arriving at Kruger we read that animal sightings are never guaranteed and that some people have visited the park and left without seeing anything. Either these people are not including elephants in "anything", or they are blind. We actually had to actively go out of our way to avoid elephants.

Our first sighting was a lone elephant tearing down a tree as a snack - less than 50 feet from the road. As we continued on we saw elephants much closer and also further away. None of them seemed to care about us.






Our luck ran out later in the week when we approached a group of elephants feeding near the side of the road. As usual, we kept a respectable distance and avoiding making any noise. As we were taking photos we both suddenly got a very uncomfortable feeling from the closest elephant. We had read some Kruger self-drive tips before we left that mentioned keeping the car in gear in case you needed to make a quick getaway. This tip came in handy, as the elephant began to charge the car. Mina was hit by debris/mud flicked from it's trunk as I sped off down the road.

It was clear that the mother elephant was just being overly protective of the baby behind her. Here's a photo from just moments before the incident:


The experience left us slightly rattled, and definitely made us more cautious around the elephants going forward.

The next day we were driving on a single lane dirt road when we spotted an elephant walking towards us on the road ahead. We continued to reverse as it followed us. It may have been paranoia from our prior experience, but you can judge for yourself:


Despite these experiences, it was awesome to see the elephants in their natural habitat, bathing in the river alongside herds of antelope, feeding with their young, and trumpeting their trunks (not towards us, thankfully).

wanderlist *by marisa*

5.22.2010

Marisa sent us an incredibly detailed email before we visited the Galápagos Islands with all of the information we needed to plan our trip! She has been so helpful and we have kept in touch since. She works for a company called Southern Explorations, a small adventure travel company based out of Seattle. Although we didn't use her company, you could tell that she loves her job. She said that everyone at Southern Explorations has "a genuine passion for travel and for the people and the environments of Latin America". Here's Marisa's wanderlist:

1. Take the trans-siberian railway through Mongolia and Russia
2. Go photo crazy at the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia

3. Summit Mount Kilimanjaro

4. Explore rural and urban Japan

5. Eat and practice Italian in Puglia, the heel of Italy!

6. Hike, eat, and live like a local in Crete
7. Volunteer at a children's school in Africa

8. Walk the entire French Route of El Camino de Santiago

9. Take a polar plunge in Antarctica

10.
Go backpacking through New Zealand, head to toe

Thanks for your list Marisa!

kruger

5.20.2010


Hippos, warthogs, and zebras are a few of the animals we snapped shots of while we went on our first African Safari at Kruger National Park.

The elusive 'Big Five' is what people want to see when they go on safari. Martha Stewart was in Cape Town while we were there (didn't happen to spot her) and she boasted about how she saw the big 5 on her twitter account - but we think she's a cheater because she went to a private game reserve.

Once we arrived in Kruger, we were just happy to be amongst all of the wildlife in their natural habitat and would get excited just seeing a colorful bird... but, after the first day, we were on a mission. 'The Big Five' includes: water buffalo, African elephants, leopards, rhinoceros, and, of course, the lion.

The giraffe isn't part of the big 5 but we just really like this picture that we took on the first day. There were so many - grazing, walking by our car, and just being giraffe-y.

If we showed you all the pictures we took during our five days there, this would become an animal blog. So, we've decided to condense things to our favorite experiences. We'll be starting on Monday. Thanks to everyone who follows along and for all your nice comments - we hope you'll enjoy the upcoming photos as much we we enjoyed taking them!

mini road trip

5.19.2010


From Johannesburg, we rented a car to drive to Kruger National Park. It was a straightforward drive through some great scenery (well, for the last 2 hours anyway).


As the sun started to set, we started to worry. The signage for the park was vague and it seemed to be taking a lot longer to get from the main highway to the gate. As each minute passed the road got darker and darker as the sun disappeared under the horizon. Finally, the gate appeared in front of us!


Darkness engulfed us as we checked in at the gate, and we were told that we (as well as another group of tourists) needed to be escorted to our base-camp. Soon after leaving the gate, the escort jeep slowed to a stop and we saw a beautiful giraffe, eating the leaves from the top of a tree, in the moonlight. The escort jeep stopped for a second time a short while later. At first, we couldn't see what was going on, then, suddenly, a group of hyenas started surrounding our car. So, we knew within minutes of entering, that Kruger was not going to disappoint.


{Apologies for the blurry photo, it was a lot darker than it looks here.
We didn't anticipate that we would start seeing the wildlife so soon!}


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