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Elephant orphan with caretaker at DSWT, Karen

Baby Elephants, Hungry Giraffes, and Other Cool Stuff in Karen

Karen is a suburb of Nairobi named for Danish farmer Karen Blixen (a.k.a. Meryl Streep), author of Out of Africa. The area was developed on the site of Blixen’s early 20th-century farm, where Out of Africa was filmed. I spent two days of my weeklong trip to Nairobi exploring Karen, which is anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour (or more) from downtown Nairobi, depending on traffic. It’s an alluring place — quiet, heavily forested, scattered with colonial estates and shady tea gardens. I decided to write a separate post about Karen because it’s so different and far-removed from central Nairobi. Karen is also filled with great tourist attractions. Karen’s 6 Best Tourist Attractions Here are the six coolest things I did in Karen. 1) The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust If you like animals and have time to do one thing in Karen, visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT). Baby elephants! DSWT is legendary in the animal conservation community — the first organization to raise orphaned elephant calves and integrate them back into the wild. Daphne Sheldrick, founder of the trust, developed a special a formula that substitutes for elephant breast milk and pioneered a process in which elephant calves are raised […]

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White lion sitting up

The Astonishing, Confounding Story of South Africa’s White Lions

Last weekend I visited the Global White Lion Protection Trust, a private reserve devoted to protecting white lions and returning them to the wild in South Africa’s Timbavati region. Almost from the moment I arrived, I began to think about how I would write this blog post. I’d been expecting a typical fun weekend in the bush — hanging out with my blogger friends, eating good food, and seeing wildlife in a beautiful place far away from the big city. Sunrise at the Global White Lion Protection Trust, which borders the Timbavati Nature Reserve, which borders Kruger National Park. I got all of those things, and a lot more: Dramatic tales of near-death experiences; an outspoken fashion-model-turned-lion-woman; scientific discussions; mystical stories of spirits and stars; horrific accounts of evil lion-hunters, past and present; a sunset parade through the wilderness with a giant white lion puppet; adorable children singing about the majesty of the Star Lions; and half a dozen Shangaan medicine women stomping the dry, brown earth, gasping through perfumed smoke and screaming into the heavens. I got all of this in just over 36 hours, book-ended by two seven-hour journeys in the back of a van between Johannesburg and Hoedspruit. Several days later, my mind is […]

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Sunset on the hiking trail above Walkersons

48 Hours in Dullstroom

Last weekend I was invited to spend two nights at Walkersons Hotel and Spa in Dullstroom, a holiday town halfway between Joburg and Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga Province. I had been to Dullstroom briefly once before, and while I found it quaint I wouldn’t have considered spending a weekend there. Dullstroom is known as a fly-fishing destination and I don’t fish. A man fly-fishes at sunset on a dam at Walkersons. (Photo by Ray) However, I’m not one to turn down a weekend at a five-star hotel. So I went to Dullstroom and brought Ray with me. In the end, we didn’t want to leave. We arrived at Walkersons on Friday afternoon and I was useless for the first five hours, having suffered a bout of food poisoning the night before. I collapsed onto the cloud-like bed and slept until dinner. Our suite at Walkersons, which looked out onto the lake. But despite my slow start we managed to do a ton of fun things during our two days in this tiny town. Here’s a run-down. Where We Stayed in Dullstroom Walkersons is an English-manor-style hotel on a sprawling estate just outside Dullstroom. The main building, with its 19th-century antiques and fox-hunt […]

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Pop-Up Travel: Dullstroom Bird of Prey Centre

It’s been a while since I wrote a pop-up travel post — a post about a place that I traveled to a long time ago, nearly forgot, then remembered and decided to write about. Today’s pop-up travel post features the Dullstroom Bird of Prey & Rehabilitation Centre, a rehabilitation centre for raptors that I visited during last year’s #MeetSouthAfrica small-town road trip. I can’t believe I waited so long to write about this visit as it was actually one of my favorite travel experiences of 2015. Norman, a five-year-old greater kestrel at the Dullstroom Bird of Prey & Rehabilitation Centre. The Bird of Prey Centre’s primary mission is to rescue and rehabilitate birds of prey — usually birds who have been injured or improperly handled by humans — and reintroduce them to the wild, if possible. (The centre releases about 200 birds every year.) Some birds can never be released for one reason or another; those birds receive a permanent home at the centre. The centre is open to the public (with a small entry fee) and conducts daily flight displays at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The main purpose of the flight displays is to provide exercise and training for the […]

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24 Hours in Kasane: Monkeys, Warthogs, and Elephant-Eating Dogs

Last week Fly Airlink sent Anna-Belle from and me on a whirlwind 24-hour trip to Kasane, Botswana, as part of a campaign to promote Airlink’s flights around Southern Africa. View of the Chobe River from Chobe Safari Lodge.  Kasane — which is approximately 90 minutes by plane from Joburg — is a tiny town whose main claim to fame is Chobe National Park. (Read my 2013 post about another whirlwind trip to Chobe.) We stayed at the Chobe Safari Lodge, which is just a few minutes outside the park on the banks of the Chobe River. While it would have been nice to spend more time in Kasane, I did a surprising number of interesting things in the short time that I was there: 1) Took a nap in my beautiful room at the lodge, under the mosquito net.  Even though my room was air-conditioned and I never saw a single mosquito at the lodge, there is something romantic about sleeping under a mosquito net. 2) Walked around the grounds of the lodge, which was a mini safari unto itself. Vervet monkeys frolicking on the grounds of the lodge. They’re very cute and fun to watch; just make sure you keep the door to your room […]

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Fun Fish Photography at the Two Oceans Aquarium

Visiting an aquarium is one of those touristy activities that I don’t normally seek out. I grew up in Baltimore, home of the National Aquarium, and I think I subconsciously believed that my home aquarium is the best in the world and there is no point in visiting any others. This was wrong, of course. Ray suggested visiting the Two Oceans Aquarium during our Hello Weekend trip to Cape Town back in June and it was one of the best activities of the weekend. I had forgotten how much fun aquariums are. I also realized that the Two Oceans Aquarium is a really fun place to take fish pictures. The aquarium’s entrance hall. Instagramming the fish. We arrived at the aquarium about an hour before it closed so we didn’t get to spend a ton of time looking at the exhibits. But we did have nearly the entire aquarium to ourselves, which was great. And I was there long enough to learn that Two Oceans Aquarium, besides being a lovely tourist attraction, is a world-class institution doing great things to conserve South Africa’s underwater ecosystems. (Read about the aquarium’s conservation work and sustainable practices.) Fish. (Update: Two Oceans Aquarium tweeted me to […]

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Wild Cats Belong in the Wild: #AnimalRightsInTourism

I hadn’t planned to write a blog post today, and I don’t normally use my blog as a soap box. But then I woke up this morning and heard about the #AnimalRightsInTourism campaign. If you live in South Africa or the United States, you probably saw last month’s terrible story about an American tourist who was killed in the Lion Park. The Lion Park, about 30 minutes north of Johannesburg, is a zoo-like game reserve where tourists go for an up-close look at lions and other big cats. One of the biggest attractions at the Lion Park is lion-cub-petting, in which visitors enter enclosures with big cat cubs (up to six months old) and are invited to interact with them. (The tourist was mauled by a lioness in the drive-through section of the park. Despite warnings to keep car windows up, the woman had her window open.) I confess that I’ve never been to the Lion Park. But about four years ago I went to the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve, not far from the Lion Park, which offers similar activities. I knew nothing about these cub-petting programs at the time, but while I was in the reserve I saw a couple interacting with a tiger cub and felt really unnerved. First, […]

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Pop-Up Travel: Addo Elephant National Park

I visited Addo Elelphant National Park about a year-and-a-half ago as part of a blogger trip to Port Elizabeth. Addo is one of South Africa’s largest national parks and one of the best places in the world to view elephants in the wild. There are more than 600 elephants living in Addo, up from just 11 when the park was proclaimed in 1931. I only visited Addo for about half a day. It rained the day we went and our safari was cut short. I guess this is why I never got around to blogging about it — I figured I’d get back to Addo sometime soon, take more pictures, and write a full-length post. But alas, I haven’t made it back yet and my Addo elephant photos are languishing. So here are a few of my favorites. A small herd of elephants bathing in a dam (small lake) in Addo. This young elephant was cruising the shore close to our vehicle. Still cruising. Now stopping for a drink. End of sequence. Heavy rain moved in around this time and we had to return to the camp. Addo Elephant National Park is less than an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth and makes a […]

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Africa: On Foot

I squatted as close to the ground as possible. Tiny rocks dug into my palms. I hardly breathed. The rhinos — first I thought there was only one, but then I saw two, three, and four — walked closer. Not running, but walking steadily. Closer. Close enough for a child to throw a stone at. The rhinos’ horns looked huge and very pointy. I heard a loud click. That was Mike loading a bullet into his rifle. “Hi there, rhinos,” said Mike congenially. “We see you. We’re not here to hurt you.” Ray crouched in front of me, just behind Mike. I briefly thought that if this was my last moment on earth, at least I would die with someone I love. The rhinos stopped moving, but continued to stare at us with mild curiosity. We stayed there — six of us, including Mike — for what felt like several minutes. The soles of my feet ached but I didn’t dare shift them. The rhinos probably heard my heart pounding. Mike turned his head slightly, a huge grin on his face. “You can take photos, if you want,” he whispered. The rhinos fanned out on the road in front of us. The idea of spending the last moment of […]

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Screech of the Hadeda

On August 8, 2010, I published my first blog post from South Africa. The first photo in that post was a picture of a hadeda in my back yard. A hadeda at the Lucky 5 Star — my first South African blog photo.  I’ve mentioned hadedas in passing over the years but I’ve never devoted a blog post to them. This is inexcusable, I now realize. The hadeda is more than a bird; it’s a Joburg icon. If you live in Joburg — whether it be in Melville or Mondeor, Sandton or Soweto — you probably awaken to hadedas every single morning of your life. You might love them, you might hate them, or you might have become immune to them. But the hadeda is always hovering on the edge of your subconscious, standing silently a few feet away or scaring the crap out of you as it launches into the air with a deafening screech. The hadeda (pronounced HAH-dee-dah, scientific name Bostrychia hagedash) is a large ibis, recognizable by its long beak and clumsy demeanor. Hadedas live all over sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in grasslands. But they have adapted exceptionally well to cities and especially to Joburg. I met this hadeda earlier in the week at the Rietfontein Nature Reserve […]

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Some Very Special African Penguins

Last month, during my blogger weekend in Port Elizabeth, I visited the SA Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (SAMREC) in Cape Recife. SAMREC, a small, volunteer-run non-profit, rehabilitates sick and injured African penguins and other marine wildlife. It’s also an education centre with fun exhibits and games relating to marine animals. An eerily life-like stuffed penguin in the SAMREC education centre. When penguins come to SAMREC and…don’t make it, SAMREC Director Libby Sharwood takes them to her taxidermist. 

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Elephants, Crocs, and Hippos (and More Elephants)

I was skeptical about signing up for a day trip to Chobe National Park during my visit to Victoria Falls. Everyone knows that wild animals sleep during the day and the best times to see them are early morning and late afternoon. I was afraid that paying $175 to visit Chobe between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. would be a waste of money. I was so wrong. I have never seen so many wild animals in my life, especially my favorite wild animal: the elephant. Elephant family.

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