Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for April, 2013

I wrote this two weeks ago and never posted it, but figured I should because I love my home…

I’ve been homesick during my time abroad here and there. But I have never been more homesick than I am now.

When something horrible happens to a place you love and to people you don’t even know but you love anyway because they too are from the place that you love, it’s hard to put into words how you feel. My life, my generation’s life is unfortunately not unfamiliar with tragedy. There are events that you recognize as being bad when you are young, but you don’t understand the full reality of them until you are a little bit older. And there are things that happen in other parts of the country and other parts of the world that you do understand because you are older now, you’re twenty years old and you understand what it means when suddenly 26 innocent people are gone. But, at least for me, you say a prayer, think about ways you could help, and you sympathize. You sympathize.

But now, even though I wish more than ever that I didn’t, I empathize. I know what it means to have a home that is threatened, to have that place that you love scarred on one of the happiest days in the city. And all you want to do is be with the people you love. I want my mom to tuck me in and listen to how I’m feeling. I want to rest my head on my dad’s lap while we try to watch a funny classic to take our minds off everything. I want to curl up on a crappy apartment couch surrounded by all my friends from Boston College. And I can’t. Because I’m here. In South Africa. In one of the most incredible cities on the entire planet. And I can’t stop thinking about how Boston is the only place I want to be right now.

The devastation caused on Monday is horrifying. It’s hard to stop thinking about the three people gone, about all those people at the finish line. But what Dennis Lehane wrote in the New York Times was true. They, whoever they are, really did mess with the wrong city. Because Boston is strong. Boston doesn’t back down. Boston is a family. And none of that is going to change. We cheer on complete strangers who run in cow suits, we scream out to Jessica even though we don’t know a Jessica, we hand out water and bananas even if no one wants to take a banana from some rando on the side of the street. When I think about Monday, I get choked up, I may start to cry, but I also think about how strong Boston is, and how much I love Boston. It is my city, and the city for millions of others.

And I cannot wait to come home.

Read Full Post »

Chapter Seventeen: The Rhino Man

Today, I’m going to tell you the story of a man. A man by the name of Badass Rhino Ranger Andy. In reality, his name is not in fact Badass Rhino Ranger Andy. He is just Andy. But I call him Badass Rhino Ranger Andy because he is in fact the most badass person I have ever met in my entire life.

Badass Rhino Ranger Andy

Badass Rhino Ranger Andy

Let me back up a little. For our last adventure on the trip, we traveled to Matopos National Park. 2WayTravel has never actually taken the trip along this route, but because of the way the holidays fell this year, we were able to take the extra time to stop at Matopos. Next to the lion encounter at Vic Falls, it was my second favorite experience of my 11 days.

Our campsite was by far the most rustic of all the places we stayed, but it was also the coolest. That rustic feel just made it more awesome. Within the hour after our arrival, we loaded into open air trucks to go on our rhino drive. That is where I met Badass Rhino Ranger Andy. He immediately came across as a badass, namely because he was barefoot and he gave us a pep talk about how he really wanted to teach us about the rhino, not just point them out to us. Soon after we entered the park, we got out of the truck to go on a twenty-minute walk through the bush to where the rhinos had been spotted. This is when I really began to respect Badass Rhino Ranger Andy. I was wearing sneakers, and as we trekked for this short amount of time, I am not even kidding when I say I had at least six ginormo THORNS go through the bottom of my shoes and start to poke my feet. I had to stop so many times to try to dig them out. Badass Rhino Ranger Andy, he just kept on walking. No thorns are gonna stop him today. Come to think of it, I’d say Badass Rhino Ranger Andy shares many traits with the badass honey badger.

We saw rhinos. I mean we really SAW rhinos. We were within about thirty feet of where these two bulls were hanging out. I think they definitely saw us, but they just watched us, made sure we weren’t going to do anything crazy. All of us got our photos taken with them in the background. We spent at least a half hour just sitting there and looking at them. Rhinos are truly incredible creatures. They kind of look strange and maybe not so interesting when you see them in pictures or online, but in person, they are majestic, just as (if not more) majestic as the elephant.

DSC_0893_2

DSC_0884_2

We saw some more hippos as well at a watering hole we stopped at. Badass Rhino Ranger Andy showed us the different warning signs one of the cows was giving us. Apparently she had given his group a bit of a scare the day before by charging out of the water!

More on Badass Rhino Ranger Andy, because he’s pretty badass. He stopped his truck very often to point out different things. He knew so much about all these different plants. He was once accidentally stabbed while out in the bush pretty badly, but by using four different kinds of plants, roots, and leaves, he didn’t even have to go to the hospital. He also partakes in poacher hunting. Apparently there is some kind of “shoot to kill” law on poachers. We were all convinced he must have killed a man in his life, but he missed shooting and killing a poacher by a hair. He also has an army buddy, and they do these week survival trainings in the bush, and Badass Rhino Ranger Andy always comes out on top. He also explained tracks to us. He could point out where a rhino had laid down, and at one point he stopped the truck to show us some tracks of a hyena running. Then we drove a little bit further until he stopped again to show us how the hyena had come to a stop and was resting on its haunches, watching its prey. So cool!

He really has no tolerance for poachers and he was not afraid to share his views, talking about beating information out of them, killing them. It was kind of startling, but after thinking about it, I don’t blame him. He’s had friends who have died trying to protect the rhino, and since the beginning of 2013, as of the last week of March, 188 rhinos had already been killed in Southern Africa by poachers. He also showed us two different rhino skeletons. One was of a black rhino that had died of arthritis. We saw the wear on the joints and the otherwise healthy skull. Then he showed us the skeleton of a white rhino that had been killed by poachers. First, it had been shot through the head with a silenced rifle, then it’s horn had been hacked off. It was absolutely awful to see the huge difference between the two skulls. The markings on the top of the nose and the huge absence of where the horn would have been were sickening. Andy said that a lot of times, poachers first paralyze the rhino instead of killing it so the rhino can’t move, but they still feel, see, and hear every part of their horn being sawed off. And all for something that is made out of the same material as our fingernails.

At the end of our drive, Badass Rhino Ranger Andy showed us some very cool cave drawings from the Khoisan people, dating to at least two thousand years ago. Then he stopped the truck again, turned it around and showed us the Southern Cross, a constellation only seen in the Southern Hemisphere. After giving us a final thrill of doing a bunch of donuts with the truck around a tree in the black of night, he drove us home to our campsite.

Badass Rhino Ranger Andy is a badass. But he is also one of the most incredible men I have every met.

Read Full Post »

I know, I’m a terrible person. I’m sure I have left you all on the edge of your seats this past week or so with no blog post!

Once we crossed into Zimbabwe, it was on to Victoria Falls. Which is actually also the name of the city that the falls are in. New to me! After we set up camp and officially signed up for all our activities, it was time to see one of the wonders of the world.

We had been told that there was basically no point in bringing our cameras with us unless they were waterproof. I brought my pocket camera with me and kept it in a plastic bag. Good thing because I literally got SOAKED!! It was as if I had just jumped into a warm pool with all my clothes on. The water seemed to be coming from below us from the bottom of the falls and then back up to drench us. It was absolutely amazing! It was so much fun to be with everyone and be all wet and screaming about how awesome it was that we were at Victoria Falls. The roar was incredible and the water was so powerful. The falls themselves were pretty impressive, but walking along the paths to see them isn’t the best way. The mist and “rain” becomes so thick that it’s hard to get the whole majestic feel that you can get from above…hint hint.

On our way back to the campsite, there were a bunch of guys who were trying to sell us old Zimbabwe currency as we were walking. I didn’t realize this, but at one point Zimbabwe was so bankrupt and the currency was so inflated that they actually had million, billion, and trillion dollar bills! And ten billion dollars would buy you something like one loaf of bread. Eventually the US bailed them out, so now Zimbabwe uses US currency! It was so weird to see Lincoln on the 5 dollar bill in Africa! We kind of went crazy with this little taste of home; we kept on smelling the bills…US dollars have a very distinct scent!

At the campsite, there were a ridiculous number of feral kittens. It was crazy. Only one of them was brave enough to let me get within two feet of her and pet her. When I went to get ready for bed, I had my headlamp on. I happened to swing my head one way and suddenly there were five glowing sets of eyes watching me!

I got up the next morning with part of the gang to go on an encounter that made all of my dreams come true…LIONS!! There’s a specific program that rehabilitates these lions that are born into captivity. When they are cubs, they are made familiar with humans, who try to teach them the skills needed to survive in the wild. As they get older, the lions are exposed to prey and nearby prides, eventually joining one. Then they have their own cubs that are now in the wild which helps increase the population! First we went to see a brother and sister who were in a large cage. They were 18-months old, so they could no longer do the lion walk with humans. Still they were incredible. They played with each other a bit, even kind of playing with us! I stood at the corner of the fence with my camera ready, and the girl lion would play this game with me where she would walk away from me and then sprint towards me on the way back until she stopped right at the fence! A little freaky, but I held my ground.

The next part was with two 13-month old female cubs named Tule and Tamile. I almost started crying when we first saw them. They were absolutely gorgeous and sweet and beautiful, and we each got a full photo session with both of them. I have so many pictures of me with the gals. =) I really just wanted to lie down next to them and rest my head on them, but the guides said that wasn’t a good idea…As we were walking back to the bus, we each got to walk alongside Tule and Tamile for a few minutes. They didn’t mind us at all! I’m not even joking when I say it was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Dreams do come true!

My next activity was at 10:30am: a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls! It was a little pricey, but I felt like I had to do it. It truly is the best way to see the falls. I don’t know how to describe it except by saying it was breathtaking. The rainbows, the water cascading over the edge. Magical. Take a look at the pictures!

Before my elephant ride at 3pm, I went with Laura to the open market. I went there with 500 Rand. I came back with 0 R. That’s what these guys do. They make you buy stuff, and it is very hard for them to take no for an answer. If you bought even the tiniest thing from one guy, they would send it over to another guy to have it wrapped up, who would then start showing you his own stuff. I wish I had brought some things to trade. They really wanted my hairtie, and apparently ibuprofen is a hot commodity to barter with!

Went on my elephant ride afterwards, not too much to say there. I thought it was going to be more of elephant-back safari, but it was more of just a ride. I was on an elephant named Dumpy—strange name. Learned some pretty cool facts about them from our guide. One tusk is almost always shorter than the other, and the shorter one is their primary tusk, meaning they use it for fighting or breaking down some trees. Fun to be back on an elephant!

Overall it was an incredible experience to be there. Absolutely exhausting, but totally worth it of course!

Next time, Badass Rhino Ranger Andy.

Read Full Post »

Elephant Video!!

Took this while on the sunset cruise in Chobe. Check it out!

Read Full Post »

Chapter Fifteen: Chobe Chobe

Pictures from the Delta are up! Have a look under the gallery section!

Didn’t know what to put as a title, and saying Chobe alone is soooo boring. ChobeChobe!

Alright, so I’m not gonna lie, the delta was an amazing experience, but the thought of getting back to flush toilets and showers was HEAVEN! We had to take the hour mekoro ride and hour truck ride to get out. In the truck, I played the movie game with Maggie, Evan, and Corey. One person says the name of an actor, the next person has to name a movie that actor has been in, and the person after that has to name another actor who was in that movie. Not gonna lie, I won by a landslide. =D

After stopping in Maun for lunch, we loaded back into Buddy to drive to Planet Baobab, our campsite for the night. It seemed like a pretty short ride, but I was out like a light, so I actually have no idea. There was of course a huge Baobab tree in the middle of the site, a nice big chlorine-full pool, and a sweet bar. I say sweet not only because everyone was excited for drinks, but also because it was really pretty. Great sitting area, these kind of funky cool green chandeliers. It was kind of weird that all of the chairs were made out of cow patterns—very scratchy! And even though the shower’s water pressure was minimal, it was bliss.

Baobab

Baobab

Because our bus got very close over the past few days (and therefore Bus 2 is wayyyy better than Bus 1), we decided to play a harmless little prank on Bus 1. While the rest of us kept watch on the Bus 1 members at the bar, four others went to their campsite and switched five of the tents. Nothing was lost, nothing was completely out of whack, just five tents were in a spot that another tent had previously been in. When they found out, Bus 1 went kinda crazy. They even started blaming each other! Honestly some of the people really overreacted. Relax, guys, take a chill pill, because it’s absolutely hilarious. I don’t think they ever figured it out until we told them on the flight home! Operation Mayhem was a success.

Chobe National Park was next on our itinerary. As I was taking a peaceful little nap on the bus, a huge bang jolted me awake. We popped a tire. We all got out of the truck and hung out in the road for an hour—it was a two-lane highway, so we set up little warning signs for other drivers. Realized that changing truck tires are a lot harder than regular car tires, especially when the popped tire is on the inside!

Tire fixed, we made it to Chobe in plenty of time for our sunset cruise. It was absolutely gorgeous. Immediately we saw elephants, and one was in the water! We got so close to it, maybe twenty feet away! There were baboons hanging around and hippos too! Sunset was a great time to see all the animals come down for a drink. The elephants were at the water in herds, and we saw quite a few babies. This was also the first time we got to see those hippos up close! Again, we were maybe twenty to thirty feet away. Two of them even started fighting so I got some great shots of their teeth! It was so beautiful to be on the Chobe River, the views were gorgeous, on one side was Botswana, on the other side was Namibia. It was perfect.

Angry Hippos!

Angry Hippos!

DSC_0320_2

DSC_0278 - Version 2Fell asleep hearing some crazy sounds. I was told that they were elephants, but I was convinced that they were lions…or else elephants sound very lion-like at night. That was kind of freaky. I love hearing elephants, but I like to know where they are…

The following morning, we all got up early to go on the optional Chobe game drive that we signed up for. Saw a lot of the same animals, a TON of impala, which are a lot less skittish than I thought. I could have reached out of the truck and touched them! Saw a giraffe as well, and at one point a water buffalo suddenly appeared right next to the truck. That was frightening; apparently they are more dangerous than hippos, probably because they have more possible interactions with humans. One truck got to see a lion, but we missed it…ah well. On to Victoria Falls!!

DSC_0392_2

Anecdotes:

  • It’s kind of sad, but on this trip, elephants kind of become like pigeons. I know that makes me sound jaded, but it’s true. They are literally everywhere!! In Victoria Falls, we were told that it’s not a good idea to walk along the road at night because of the elephants!
  • The saying T.I.A. (This is Africa) is actually used fairly often. I thought it was just a thing they said a lot in Blood Diamond, but I was wrong! Example: “Agh, my hot water ran out.” “T.I.A. bru.”
  • Saw some Pumbas and their babies!

DSC_0454_2

DSC_0458

Read Full Post »

From our campsite outside of Maun, we got picked up and driven to our meeting point in the delta. We had been told to pack lightly since we would be traveling part of the way in mekoros, which are low dugout canoes. I stuffed everything I needed into my backpack, leaving my duffel bag behind on the bus.

The truck ride was almost two hours long, and the last hour of it was all over dirt roads, over little rickety log bridges, and even through water. Saw some wildlife along the way, but what was really cool was the housing we saw. There would be some brick or concrete little buildings, but there were a lot of huts made from branches and straw. Very cool. After spending two days with the people who live in the area, it’s so amazing to me to think that they live their entire lives in the delta. Occasionally they will head into Maun, but that’s a small town they only visit a few times a year! So interesting to think about that.

A home in the delta!

A home in the delta!

We reached our first destination point, and a flock of mekoros was waiting for us. I shared one with Hannah, so it was two people per boat plus the driver. The drivers were both men and women, and they had to use four or five extra canoes for our food supplies and tents! The driver uses this very long wooden pole (nowadays they just go out and buy one. The wood they need is not easy to find!), and he (or she) pushes it into the bottom of the river, kind of climbing their hands up the pole as the mekoro moves. If they need to steer, they stick the pole further out from the boat and push off. Really incredible skills! The ride was beautiful, even though I was occasionally smacked in the face by a bunch of reeds. The sun was shining, everything was calm and peaceful, and Adam broke out his guitar. Perfect.

Mekoro Ride

Mekoro Ride

An hour after being in the mekoros, we landed at our home for the next two days. It was a designated campsite; I believe our guides do these trips into the delta a couple times a year. There were a few water buffalo skulls strategically placed for clearly aesthetic reasons. 🙂 We set up camp, and Maggie was my tent mate. Our guide, Phil, introduced us to the area and, most importantly I guess, showed us our bathroom: a hole they had dug for us all to use…yay…it was definitely an experience. It was okay at the start, but when you start seeing little creepy crawlies down there…I get chills just typing it. However, most of the time I was more worried about a mosquito biting me on the butt…sorry everyone, probably too much information…

All grossness aside, we had quite a bit of downtime before our afternoon game walk, so I journaled for a bit. Then Maggie, Hannah, and I went down to a nearby watering hole; it was hot as hell out, and we definitely needed to cool off. Hannah and Maggie had brought biodegradable soap with them that they graciously let me use, so we all took “baths” in our bathing suits. At one point, I had to just stop and look around; I said to myself, “I’m taking a bath in the freakin’ Okavango Delta in Botswana! This is amazing!”

In the afternoon, we went on a little teaser game walk; we’d be doing our big five-hour one the following morning. We split up into two groups, and, pretty soon after leaving our campsite, we spotted a herd of elephants. So cool to see them in the wild!! I went absolutely crazy with animal pictures on this trip. The sun was setting, and we saw (and heard!) a couple of hippos as well as a herd of zebras. Philani that night made spaghetti bolognese and revealed a cake for Maggie. He made a chocolate cake. From scratch. On an open fire. Made entirely of branches. The guy is talented.

Elephants!

Elephants!

Getting up early again (5am) for our big game walk, we trekked through the bush for a long time. Our guide pointed out a bunch of things to us, including some hyena tracks that were only about a football field away from where we slept! Billy was none too pleased. During our walk, we saw impala, wildebeest, and a TON of zebras. We actually got so incredibly close to them I was so surprised. The wildebeest were way more skittish than the zebras; they’d sense us half a mile off and start running. Zebras not so much. They kind of just watched us. Made for great photo ops! We also found a zebra skeleton, and Billy and Laura went crazy putting it back together. Our guide must of thought we were all insane to be so delighted by the skeletal puzzle.

Zebra sighting!

Zebra sighting!

That afternoon was when I think I made my mark with the group. We were playing a game, and I (unexpectedly to them) pulled out one of my crazy voices, which they all thought was hilarious and dubbed “the yeti…” Yup, there she is. So happy to be part of the clamily! (Delta clams+bus family=clamily)

We had a beautiful sunset mekoro ride. Maggie and I shared a boat, and our driver was named Janet. She made us two pretty lotus flower necklaces. Once we got back to camp and had dinner, our guides performed five songs for us, four of which were in Setswana. They all sounded so good, with some really nice harmonies! For one of them, the guys put padding in their butts and stomachs to pretend to be old men, and for another, they all hopped around the campfire pretending to be bullfrogs. Us Americans decided we had to sing for them too, so Adam pulled out his guitar and we did a big sing-along to end the night and our stay in the delta.

Watching the sun set from the mekoros

Watching the sun set from the mekoros

Me with my lotus flower

Me with my lotus flower

Sunset over the delta. Great way to end our stay!

Sunset over the delta. Great way to end our stay!

Anecdotes:

  • When driving along the roads in Botswana and Zimbabwe, besides scenery, there are always countless numbers of cows and donkeys.
  • In Setswana, “dumela” means good morning, and you answer back “dumela-ma.”
  • For our second night in the delta, Maggie and I stayed up for almost two hours killing approximately twenty-five mosquitos that had found their way into our tent. Maggie was an expert mosquito-assassin.
  • Malaria pills must be taking immediately after eating a big meal. Otherwise, nausea and ickiness set in.

Read Full Post »

Alright, so I got back from my eleven day trip through Botswana and Zimbabwe Sunday night, and I have so much to tell. Definitely going to be breaking it up into a couple of entries.

At 4:15am on March 21st, I was picked up along with the other students and taken to the airport. We flew to Johannesburg (saw a nice sunrise from the plane!) where we were divided into two groups. Hannah was my group leader; she works for 2WayTravel and was actually a study abroad student herself three years ago! Although the trip is organized through 2Way, the trucks that we used are from Nomad, a big African travel agency. Our truck’s name was Buddy (all the trucks are named after famous musicians, I believe). Philani was our cook, and Peter was our driver. The trucks were actually pretty nice. Plenty of seats, a little table towards the front to play cards on, a working sound system for iPods, and lockers for all our stuff. We piled in and started our long ride to a campsite outside of Palapye, Botswana, driving from about 10am until 7:30pm with a few stops in between.

I shared a tent with a girl named Rebecca, and the tents were so much easier to set up than I thought! When we go camping at home, our tent always seems so complicated. For this, you just laid the tent out, set up the poles, and hooked up the tent. The campsite was fine, toilets, showers, the basics. That night, the campsite provided food for us, and there was a nice bar, so everyone was excited about that. I was exhausted but stayed up a bit to get to know everyone; basically, I had signed up for a trip knowing no one on it while everyone else knew each other. I’m just going to list the people on the trip with me so I don’t have to keep reintroducing them 🙂 : Rebecca, Billy, Chris, Malorie, Laura, Maggie, Kathryn, Caroline, Evan, Mitch W, Mitch S, Corey C, Corey F, Adam, Matt, Lavasjah, Jamie, Hannah.

Anywho, that night while we were eating, the sweetest little kitty came over to our table. I of course went crazy, baby talking it and feeding it some nice chicken. She even took it from my hands! She was all black with a little patch of white on her chest and green eyes. I sat her between Hannah and me for a little while. Nice way to start off the trip!

The next day we got up early again to head to Sitatunga Camp in Maun, which was another six hours away. On average, I would say we woke up everyday at around 5 or 5:30am, and most of the drives took at least five hours, with only a couple being two or three hours. The campsite was about the same, not as nice of a bar area, but it had a pool so we all took advantage of that! It was Maggie’s birthday starting that night, so she got a nice bottle of champagne, and we hung out at the bar for a while. I tried a springbokkie shot, which was a little bitter at first but then actually pretty good; it’s made with crème de menthe and Amarula. After a while, some of us made our way to the campfire by our tents, where Adam pulled out his guitar and played for us. He’s a really great musician and played a song of his own plus a bunch that we could sing along too, like The General by Dispatch and Send Me On My Way by Rusted Root. I went to bed a bit earlier than everyone that night; I was exhausted and a little anxious about the next day because we would be going into the Okavango Delta and staying for two days!

Anecdotes:

  • Cape Town seems to be very diligent about car safety and drinking. I saw a sign that said, “If you drink and drive, you’re a murderer.” Don’t think you’d see that in the states!
  • No one in Cape Town or South Africa seems to know how to make a Kahlua and cream, but somehow, everyone in Botswana knows exactly what it is.
  • Philani, our cook, is from Zimbabwe (aka Zim), and Peter, our driver, is from Kenya. Both really nice guys.
  • Through much of our driving in Botswana, there were no rest stops, which meant using the bush as a bathroom; I was a successful first-timer!
  • I received twenty mosquito bites on this trip.

Read Full Post »