May 15, 2018
The Colorful Streets of Bo-Kaap // Cape Town, South Africa

The Colorful Streets of Bo-Kaap // Cape Town, South Africa

May 15, 2018

From the pastel-hued townhouses of Notting Hill to the colorful island of Burano, I'm a sucker for all things color. Bo-Kaap is a neighborhood less than two miles away from the coast that adds a little something extra to an already beautiful Cape Town. Bo-Kaap, formerly known as the Malay Quarter, is known for its bright colored houses and cobble stoned roads but before all the color, all the homes in the area were painted white. Bo-Kaap dates back to the 1760's when rental houses were built and leased to slaves. These people came from Indonesia, Malaysia, and the rest of Africa to work in the Cape and were known as Cape Malays. 

While these houses were being leased to the Cape Malays, they had to remain white. When slaves were eventually allowed to buy and own property, the rule was lifted and all the houses were painted bright colors by their owners to express their freedom. Bo-Kaap is also home to South Africa's oldest Muslim mosque. The Auwal Mosque began construction in 1794, but Muslims were not allowed to worship in public until 1804. Besides being easy on the eyes, Bo-Kaap is also rich in history. The Iziko Bo-Kaap Museum is a great place to immerse yourself in Bo-Kaap's culture and learn more about the Cape Malays and their history.  

Bo-Kaap is also home to cute boutiques, jewelry and diamond stores, and some great Cape Malay cuisine. It's a great daytime destination while in Cape Town and walking distance from City Centre and the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. After spending the morning in Bo-Kaap, Lyndon and I walked over to the Watershed to do some shopping and the walk was about 30 minutes which wasn't bad at all. Some parts of the walk wasn't exactly pedestrian friendly, but we made it even in the summer heat.

When in Cape Town, I highly recommend making a quick stop in Bo-Kaap and walking around their colorful streets. The neighborhood is fairly small and you can spend as much or as little time there as you want. While you can explore Bo-Kaap anytime during the day, I would try to void walking around at night or exercise caution when doing so... plus you can't see the fun colors in the dark!     
                

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April 17, 2018
The Lion Prides of Hwange National Park

The Lion Prides of Hwange National Park

April 17, 2018

Warning: This post contains pictures of lions being lions... aka hunting and eating other animals.

When going on safari, almost everyone wants to see the "Big Five" which consists of the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and the Cape buffalo. The term "Big Five" originated from big game hunters referring to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt, but the term is also used by non-hunters and in the tourism industry today. Out of the five, the most popular would have to be the king himself. Seeing lions in the wild is such an awesome experience. Lions are one of the most dangerous predators in the world and while on safari, they are just a few feet away from you. At first, it can be nerve-racking seeing lions get that close especially since most safari vehicles are open but once you get comfortable with the idea, you will start to enjoy their presence.

During our stay in Hwange National Park, we got to see two different prides, both with cute little cubs. The adorable little guy above (with the two different colored eyes) was super curious and wasn't afraid to get close to us. At one point, he was only a foot or two away from my side of the vehicle and I'll be honest with you, I was a little on edge. I know adult lions are completely aware of safari vehicles, but little curious cubs might decide to check out what's inside. Lyndon assured me that I would be fine, but the cub and I made eye contact which made my heart race a little bit!

What's more exciting than seeing a pride of lions? Seeing them hunt! On one of our afternoon game drives, we saw a pride of lions relaxing at Ngamo Plains. They were all just laying around (which they do a lot) since they do most of their hunting in the evening or early morning when it's cool outside especially in the summertime. But who else was also at Ngamo Plains? A herd of Cape buffaloes (hundreds of them) and some scattered wildebeests enjoying one of the watering holes. As the herd slowly made its way back to the forest, the lions took notice. They usually don't hunt during the afternoon, but when your potential meal is right in front of you, you have to take a chance.

We saw the lionesses slowly start to stalk and oh man, it was so awesome. For such large animals, they are so sneaky and quiet. This was already a treat to see, but it got even better when one of the lionesses used our vehicle as cover. She stalked her way over and used our vehicle to shield herself from the Cape buffaloes and wildebeests. Lions are such smart animals. Safari vehicles are such a big part of their everyday life now that they use them to their advantage. I've seen pictures of cheetahs climbing on top of vehicles, much to the guests' surprise, to get a better vantage point. Unfortunately, the lioness crept over a little too far and one of the Cape buffaloes saw her and started making a bunch of noise. Their cover was blown. Lions are not fast like cheetahs, they use the element of surprise and their pride to hunt. Once they realized that all eyes were on them, they went back to what they do best, relaxing. Fun fact, lions can sleep up to 20 hours a day!

We didn't get to see a "kill" that afternoon, but on two separate mornings, we did get to see two different prides enjoy their breakfast. The "Stumpy Pride" named after their queen bee because of her stumpy tail killed a Cape buffalo while the other pride enjoyed a wildebeest.       


Lionesses do most of the hunting in the pride but male lions also do help when they are trying to take down larger prey like Cape buffaloes or giraffes. When hunting alone, lions are about 18% successful, but when they hunt as a pride, this goes up to 30%.

As I mentioned above, one of the prides killed a wildebeest sometime during the evening and were just finishing up when we spotted them. The wildebeest was pretty much skin and bones as the last lioness got her share. You could see the vultures and jackals patiently waiting for her to finish so they can get their turn. It's funny how there's a nature hierarchy, and all the animals know where they stand within it. At last, the lioness with a full belly, left to join the rest of her pride as the vultures and jackals made their way to the carcass. In a weird turn of events, I guess the lioness didn't feel like sharing and went back for the wildebeest, scaring off the scavengers. Then she started dragging the carcass with her all the way back to the rest of the pride! I guess it wasn't a "sharing is caring" kind of day.

Lyndon told me multiple times during our trip that our trip was definitely not the norm. I was seeing things during my first ever safari that Lyndon never saw before or it took him years to finally see (and he's been on countless safaris). Seeing lions stalk their prey and seeing them enjoy their kill on the same trip? I said it before, I'll say it again... I was so incredibly lucky!

We had so many highlights during our trip that we actually made a list of all the cool stuff we saw so we wouldn't forget anything when we got back to the States. Lions definitely made the list and I can't wait to post about our other highlights, including a pretty crazy walking safari!


To see some of the stories I mentioned above "in action", check out the video I put together of our Africa trip!


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March 14, 2018
Photo Diary: Hwange National Park's Cheetah Family of Three

Photo Diary: Hwange National Park's Cheetah Family of Three

March 14, 2018

During our time in Hwange National Park, Lyndon and I got to spend some quality time with a mama cheetah and her two adorable cubs. We were extremely lucky and got to see them multiple times throughout our stay in the park. Some people go multiple safaris without seeing a single cheetah, so I know what we saw was something special.

When we first spotted the family of three, we were on a morning game drive with Camelthorn Lodge. Vusa, our guide, spotted her laying underneath a tree in the shade with her two cubs. What started out as excitement quickly turned into worry as we learned that two days prior, she had four cubs with her. What made it even more heartbreaking was her continuing call to her two missing cubs, which made it clear to our guide that they were most likely killed and weren't just hiding in a safe spot.

Cheetahs are the fastest land mammal and can reach 60 mph in just three seconds, but their speed still makes them vulnerable to humans, lost of habitat and prey, and other predators. Cheetahs are listed as vulnerable and there are only an estimated 7,100 cheetahs left in the wild. Cheetahs have it rough, they don't have a pride like lions or a clan like hyenas, but they hunt the same prey and are viewed as competition to other predators. Because of this, their cubs are often killed to "eliminate the competition".

While male cheetahs will stay in pairs or in small groups (most of the time consisting of brothers), female cheetahs are loners and will only spend time with their cubs. The gestation period for cheetahs is three months and on average, a female cheetah will give birth to two to five cubs at once. Cubs will stay with their mother for 18-24 months. In that time, she will teach them everything she knows, especially how to hunt. After 18-24 months, they are off on their own and will need to hunt and fend for themselves. 


Cheetah cubs are tiny, weighing between 5 to 10 ounces when they are born. Because of their small size and vulnerability, nature gave them a pretty funny hairstyle to help protect them from the unpredictable wild. Notice the tall long hair that runs down their backs and tails. This is called a mantle. The mantle helps cubs appear larger than they really are and to help camouflage them into tall grass. Most interestingly, it also makes cheetah cubs look like the feared honey badger. Honey badgers are known for their aggressiveness and their "DGAF" attitude... the perfect animal to mimic. There's a super funny YouTube video about honey badgers, definitely check it out. 

At first, the cubs were skittish of our vehicle which was to be expected since they were only a few months old. They would constantly look over at us and would try to hide behind bushes and trees, but mama cheetah (who has been around thousands of safari vehicles in her lifetime) would let out a little call to reassure them that we weren't going to hurt them and they would quickly scurry back to her. From the first time we saw the cubs to our last encounter with them, we could see a big difference in their comfort level with the safari vehicles. The first few times we saw them, it was just our lone vehicle following them. Our guide kept his distance to make sure he wouldn't scare them. That's how all animals in these national parks get accustom to having safari vehicles around. Fast forward to our last encounter with the cheetah family, us and three other vehicles are now following them and even with four vehicles around, the cubs looked more comfortable having us nearby.  


Not only did we get to see mama cheetah and her cubs, but we also got to see two male cheetahs while in Hwange National Park. One of them could have been daddy cheetah, but we will never know. What was so cool about seeing the two male cheetahs was that we got to see them hunt and run... fast! They spotted a small impala herd in the nearby distance, and as you can see below, they were on high alert. They started off just casually walking towards the herd, cheetahs are fast but the closer they can get, the better. But the impalas aren't dumb animals, they also spotted the cheetahs and their fight or flight instinct took over and they started running. The cheetahs gave chase, going after the baby calf in the herd, and wow are cheetahs fast. Our guide tried to follow the impalas and cheetahs but they ran into some trees and bushes and we lost them. Another vehicle on the other side of the bushes and trees said the impalas got away.

That evening after our afternoon game drive, Lyndon and I went back to our tent and right by our door was a baby impala! It had to be the one the cheetahs were chasing and got separated from its mother and herd. Our guide told us that it would not survive the evening alone and hopefully the mama impala will come looking for it. Nature is a funny thing. One minute, I was hoping the cheetahs would have a successful hunt so they can eat and the next minute, I'm hoping this baby impala survives the night and that nothing will come eat it.

Seeing these cheetah (and as often as we did) was definitely one of the highlights of our entire Africa trip. There was another family that was leaving Linkwasha Camp the day we arrived and they never got to see any cheetahs during their three day stay, so we were so incredibly lucky. Cheetahs are such amazing animals and it makes me sad to think about how there might not be any cheetahs left in the world in the (near) future. Cheetahs are one of Lyndon's favorite animals (it's between them and the leopard) and I have to say, they are quickly becoming one of my faves as well.

To learn more about helping cheetahs, check out the Cheetah Conservation Fund.               


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