Moai on Easter Island

Moai on Easter Island

Sunday, April 27, 2014

World's Tallest Building in Dubai

Dubai Creek in an "older" section of Dubai
Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall
The last few days have been spent in Dubai.  Okay, the first day was mostly spent sleeping and hiding from the heat.  I didn’t get to my to my hotel until 3am after a 9-hour flight so I deserved some sleep.  I wandered a bit through an older part of town near my hotel and called it a day.  The next day I headed to the fantasy land of the Dubai Mall with the shark tank and fountains and giant waterfall—all at the base of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. 

I won’t say I was disappointed by the view from the observation deck on the 124th floor, but Dubai is even more dusty and brown from above as it is from the street (once you look past the shiny buildings and fancy cars and all that other useless stuff that too much money can get you.)  There were also 80 floors above me that might have offered a better view, but I was still more than 10 times higher than the tallest building in Montana.

Shadow of the Burj Khalifa

Dubai was my first experience in the Arab world and it was certainly a unique blend of cultures.  There are people from over 150 different cultures living there in a relatively small area.  It is also like Las Vegas with more money.  I could have done without the stop there, but I’m glad I did. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Penguins in Cape Town

African Penguins
I’m writing this as I fly over natural gas fires in Saudi Arabia.  They are a bright contrast to the darkness and dimly lit cities below.  They also represent another foreign world to me. 

I should be in Istanbul right now, but thanks to the lovely Turkish Airlines I’m 13 hours later than planned.  Bummer because it took away half a day of my short time in Istanbul.  But much to my amusement the angry Arabs and Irish on the flight provided excellent people watching with their yelling and ranting.

Cape Town from Table Mountain

Turkish Airlines did put us up in a fancy hotel for a few hours though.  But the time sitting around in the airport and transport to and from the hotel was more than double the time actually spent in the hotel.  I did get to see the bill (footed by Turkish Airlines) from my few hours in this hotel and it was a bit more than the cost of this flight.

Top of Table Mountain

I left Cape Town a few days ago with having completed my goal of playing tourist by hiking up Table Mountain and seeing the penguins.  With such a short time in some of these places on these trips I feel like the best way to see is unfortunately to be your typical tourist.  But Cape Town was great.  I would love to go back and send much more time there.  If you combined the skinny jeans and hipsters of Portland, OR and the money and beaches in San Diego and the breweries and good food and diversity of both you would get something akin to Cape Town, South Africa.

I'm finally posting this from Istanbul, where my luggage was finally delivered.  How do you delay a plane for 13 hours and not put a single piece of luggage on it?

Ostrich Foot

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Long Train to Cape Town

The last day of my safari consisted of a long drive back to Johannesburg with a few stops at some viewpoints.  I used the time to edit photos and try to catch up on some sleep. 

After a day and half of rest in Joburg I hopped on the train to Cape Town.  It was supposed to be a 26-hour ride through South Africa and I was excited to sleep and see some of the country.  Well, I did sleep a lot.  But the scenery didn’t offer much.  Most of it was similar to driving along I-80 through Utah and Nevada.  But there were a few baboons and funky looking antelope along the way.  

Mountains and vineyards started to appear just as the sun went down for the 2nd time on this trip.  The sun was only supposed to set once during this trip.  Yes, I’m writing this on hour 29 and I hope to be in Cape Town sometime within the next three hours.  Last night someone stole a long section of the electric cables (that power the electric train engine) above the rails ahead of us.  The train company was trying to get a diesel engine to come and tow us to the next section, but apparently the cables were replaced before that happened.  I’m not complaining about the delay at all.  It has given me time to finish photos and catch up on some sleep.  Expecting such delays, the train always has enough food on board for a second dinner for everyone.  I was telling the cab driver in Cape Town about it and he said that people steal cables every day along the rail lines. 

I kept my camera in its case on the train ride because there wasn’t much to photograph and it was just nice to sit and enjoy the view for a bit.

The African Bush

My tent for the week.
During the next few days in Cape Town I hope to see the views from atop Table Mountain and watch some penguins.

The last leopard of the trip.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Kurger National Park: Part 2

White-backed Vultures
African Elephant
The days on this Safari start at 5:30am for coffee and a muffin and we’re in the trucks by 6 to drive into the bush looking for animals for three hours until we return to camp to a huge breakfast.  Then we’re free until 2:30 (to nap and edit photos) when there is a snack, big enough to be a lunch, and leave for another drive and rush back to the camp by 6pm because the safari companies are fined if they are out past that time so it is easier for the park to properly patrol for rhino poachers.  Then dinner is from 7:30pm until about 9.  I think everyone else then heads to bed, but I end up staying awake for another two to three hours uploading and starting to edit the hundreds of photos from that day.  I kept up with editing photos the first two days, but I’m writing this on day five and I’m almost halfway through the photos from day three.

Martial Eagle
I’ve never really been on a guided trip before.  It is great being a client.  It is so nice to not have to think for once.  I just have to show up when they tell me to and there is food and the plans are already made.  And the food is absolutely amazing.  

Burchell's Zebra
African Hawk-Eagle
Marabou Stork
The last few days have been pretty slow when it comes to spotting animals.  Hippos were the most exciting things for me, but there we drives when we’d hardly even see an elephant.  But the drive this evening changed that.  It started out slow, with just a few warthogs and impala and a giraffe.  After almost an hour we spotted another leopard (the third of the week) lounging in the middle of the road.  We were the only vehicle around, and only four of us in it, and watched it for about 20 minutes taking photos and video (I’ll put up videos in another post soon). We eventually left the leopard and all decided that if we didn’t see another animal for the rest of the evening we’d be happy.  Less than ten minutes later we saw a lion…and another….and another until all ten lions (a male, three females and six cubs) emerged from the grass on a hunting mission.  We followed them down the road for a while since they didn’t seem to want to get out of the way for us.  They ran back into the grass and we drove ahead to the rhinos that we’d spotted in the distance at the same time as the lions. The two white rhinos didn’t stick around long when we drove up, but we ended up seeing eight more before the end of the day.  After turning back toward the camp we ran into a heard of over a hundred water buffalo, a few dozen vultures, an elephant and a few zebras.  Besides seeing a kill I don’t think anything could top this drive.  I could go home happy now, but I still have 2 days left. 

African Elephant

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

First Few Days in South Africa and Kruger National Park

Kruger Sunset
I spent the last few hours of the London-Johannesburg (Jo-burg) flight staring out the window and the relatively road-less land in the southern half of the African continent.  The few roads I saw looked made of only dirt.  The landscape drastically changed within about 45 minutes of landing in Jo-burg.  The barren landscape turned into what could have easily been any suburban area in the US.  The whole city seemed like any other city in the developed world.

I didn’t explore the city much at all because I’ve walked around enough cities in the last week and have some more to come next week that I actually want to check out.   My first night there I went out to dinner with my friend Alex who lives near Johannesburg.  He said, “here in Johannesburg we’re very first world, but just remember, you are still in Africa.”  Then he told that I shouldn't leave the walled/gated compound of my hostel at night due the part of town I was in. 

White Rhino
Rhino Poop!
I had planned on renting a super long telephoto lens and extra camera body for wildlife in Kruger and it was going to be delivered to my hostel in the evening and I had to pay for it in cash since I wasn’t going to their shop.  The closest ATM what more than half a mile away so I got some good exercise that day because I made a few trips back and forth so I wasn’t carrying hundreds and hundreds of dollars all at once.  I don’t know how many miles I logged that day, because half the time my debit or credit card would be declined at the ATM and I’ve have to go back and call the bank on Skype and tell them that it was really me using my card in an “at-risk” country, despite having already called them and notified them of my travel plans

Spotted Hyenas in the rain.
Burchell's Zebra
The next day I got picked up early in the morning for the five hour drive to Kruger National Park.  We drove through poorer areas and shantytowns on the outskirts of the city.  The landscape for the next few hours reminded me of the Central Valley in California with a few million less people.  Citrus groves, macadamia nut trees and tree plantations lined very well developed (thanks to the 2010 World Cup in the area) highways.  The horizon was dotted giant coal fired power plants with coal mines every few miles to fuel them.

Nile Crocodile
Kruger National Park:
When it comes to wildlife, Kruger is like the Yellowstone of South Africa.  If there are cars stopped along the road it means there is some sort of animal there, even if it is only an Impala.  I say “only” because I’ve already seen thousands of them.  The guides call them the McDonalds of Kruger for a few reasons: 1. They have an “M” in black on their butt, 2. They are absolutely everywhere and 3. Most carnivores eat them.   The driver laughed at me when I asked him to stop so I could take some photos, but since they are everywhere we’d never stop to check them out. We finally did stop.  They are smaller than I expected…a large male is probably only about three feet tall.  I now compare people stopping to see them to people stopping to see a deer or chipmunk in Yellowstone.  Elephants are becoming the same; they might be compared to stopping to see an Elk in Yellowstone—a bigger deal, but they are still everywhere.

A small group of the hundreds that I saw every day.
African Elephant
As soon as we entered the park we saw a few hundred impalas, a water buffalo and a baboon within the first five minutes.   We got to the fenced in camp and I settled into a permanent safari tent (with a fan and fridge) situated right next to the electric fence with a sign telling me not to feed the hyenas that roam outside the fence at night.

One of six lion cubs we saw during a night drive
White Rhino in the bush
Our only game drive that day was very productive sunset drive where I got my first taste of real African wildlife: 3 elephants, a warthog, 2 kudu, 2 white rhinos, 3 giraffe, a lioness with 6 cubs, a martial eagle and 3 banded mongoose—all in 3 hours. 

African Bush
I’m in day four right now and have seen pretty much every major animal except for a cheetah.  More to come next time the internet is working.

The only wildebeest we saw
Those things are huge!