Blog

Lo Logramos!

Four hours up and five hours down…

An exhaustingly magnificent hike up La Campana, a beautiful mountain situated 2000 meters above sea level.

The guides say that it takes the average person 5 hours to reach the top, so why did it only take us 4? Well, please, let me explain.

Our incredibly exhausting journey began at 10:00 in the morning when we started to hike. They notified us that the first part, 3.2 miles, should take about two and a half hours to complete, but then they broke the news… “You must arrive to La Mina, the end of part one, before 12:00 p.m if you would like to continue and trek to the top”. They wished us luck, chuckled, and we doubtfully began our journey.

  

Here’s the thing. They say that the first part is the “easy” part, so when we were dying on our way to La Mina, we had no idea what was waiting for us on the second “actually hard” part. My legs began to feel like they were on fire as I took step after step, up the “easy” steep hills of dirt and jumped over the occasional large rocks blocking my path.

The “easy” part

There was no stopping us. We had our minds set on getting to the top, so we only had one choice – we were going to do this two and half hour “easy” part of the hike in two hours. No problem at all. With essentially no rest breaks, little time to chat, and no opportunities to eat, we made our way to La Mina! And guess what time we arrived?

11:57 a.m.!

Three whole minutes to spare.

We were so proud of ourselves and so excited to sit, rest, breathe, drink some water, and eat a snack… but then came the next messenger of bad news (the park guards) to tell us that if we wanted to go to the top, we had to depart in that very moment. He also let us know that it typically takes two and a half hours to conquer this part, 1.25 miles, however we must begin to descend at 2:00 p.m, regardless of whether or not we make it to the top. So what did we do? We took one look at each other and in unison shouted “Vamos!” and we continued on. I looked up and began to tremble in fear, unsure of how I would ever make it to the top. The activity quickly changed from hiking to full on rock climbing, arms and all, folks.

We continued on.

Jumping onto huge rocks and pulling our entire body weight up with our arms. Dripping with enough sweat to fill a bathtub. Balancing with our arms out like an eagle. Laughing every few seconds at how impossible the task in front of us seemed. But we persevered.

After what I thought was a broken ankle, many tears, a ton of laughter, loads of sweat, a bit of frustration, and a whole lot of perseverance, together, fashionably late (Chilean style), at 2:05 p.m we arrived at the tippy top of this 2000-meter mountain. I was greeted with an astounding panoramic view of the ginormous Andes Mountains and the glistening Pacific Ocean. I was speechless – partially because I could no longer breathe, and partially because the view I was soaking in was truly astonishing and overwhelming.

Lo logramos! (We did it!) and it was definitely worth the blood, sweat, and tears (there surprisingly wasn’t actually any blood, but sweat and tears just doesn’t sound as good). I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the beauty of this country, and my view from the top of La Campana really helped me to do just that.  Viva Chile!

 

Self-Care

I wake with a foot planted on me. I am immediately angry. So is the owner of the foot. Who’s to blame: me for sleeping on a trail or them for stepping on a sleeping body?

 

I narrowly avoided the above situation. We had just come back from caves filled with tragic stories of indigenous exploitation and deep darkness. I was tired, so I dipped out, dodging camp prep to hideaway in my sleeping bag.

 

You see, for the 3 nights before our camping trip near Lava Beds National Monument, I had stayed up far too late talking. Talking is good and I’m often conflicted about bedtime as the best conversation seems to happen late at night, under the blessing of the stars. This week I’d thrown caution to the wind and now it had caught up to me.

 

So I slipped away and settled down on a trail. I’d figured there’d be less bugs around there and that no one would use said trail.

 

What I didn’t see then, and I see now, is the irony of my chosen spot. In my lack of care for myself, I had blocked the trail for them..

 

In my time here at the Oregon Extension and our reading about mushrooms, I’ve realized our inter-connectedness. We are not, and have never been islands.

 

In our modern lives we can delude ourselves into thinking this is not the case. Two summers ago I had convinced myself it was. Selfishly suicidal, I figured my life had little impact on anyone else. If I took my life or continued to live as if my life did not matter to others, I felt there could be no impact.

 

Here I see clearly the fallacy. With chores spread across us all to keep the place running, any absence or laziness must be made up for by another.

 

If I decide I don’t want to wash dishes today, my roommates bear the burden. If I neglect my farm chore, someone else must move the giant compost pile.

 

Here, I cannot skate by under the impression that I am independent of any other.

 

In modern life, it seems we can. A book we read, Nature’s Metropolis, broke down the fallacy that is the separation between the city of Chicago and the surrounding country. Often, they are viewed as entirely separate.

 

But a catastrophic crop failure in the country or paltry demand for food in the city will quickly expose this faulty premise. In fact, we see a parallel here. If the country is treated poorly and fails, then so too does the city.

 

So we come to a paradox. In order to care for others, you must first care for yourself. After all, a sick Jimmy can hardly move a giant compost. Nor can a sick Jimmy do without lots of tea and hot herbals and naps, none of which are very productive (though they are all enjoyable).

The Mid-Autumn Festival

When the sun sets and the moon shines brightest, Singapore streets, shops, and restaurants boast glowing harlequin paper lanterns, a wide assortment of mooncakes and tea, and traditional Chinese crafts and festivities.

Every year, Singapore’s Chinese community celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, which marks the end of autumn harvest and gives thanks to the gods, especially the Moon Goddess. As the story goes, Chang E, the wife of a ruthless king, drank an elixir of immortality to save her people from him. Chang E ascended to the moon and became the Moon Goddess.

My housemates and I decided to check out the Mid-Autumn Festival at Gardens by the Bay. Large, intricate lanterns took the form of flowers, fish, a rooster, a dragon, and moving cranes. They casted soft ambers, reds, and purples against passersby’s faces as they made their way around Supertree Grove. The Grove offered a vast array of stalls showcasing traditional Chinese art, some of my favorites being sugar art, rice writing, and silk painting. Many stalls sold the usual handheld paper lantern lit by candle wax as well as a more modern, battery-powered, plastic lantern.

And oh, food galore. I didn’t know it was possible to love food more than I already do. Adjacent to the lanterns and the Supertree light show, food vendors sat shoulder-to-shoulder on the street market, catering to a salivating throng of customers. Everything was cheap, most items $5 or under. We pooled money into a towering tornado potato stick, dragon breath (a frozen cereal-like snack dipped in liquid nitrogen), scallion pancakes, sotong balls, popping candy, a mystery iced “blue tea” and okonomiyaki topped with dancing bonito flakes.

Absorbed by the sights and smells of the food market, we accidentally missed most of the first Supertree light show. On the bright side, we were able to save a spot on the grass and watch a few traditional dances while we waited. This light show actually takes places two times every night, but for the Mid-Autumn Festival, they had changed the list of songs to include soothing Chinese melodies as well as some good oldies like Blue Moon.

Grabbed the perfect spot

As the night came to a close, we wandered around the craft stalls, bought some delicious tea, and tried our best to take pictures next to the lanterns (the lighting was not the best; we made do with impromptu lighting with our phone flashlights).

On the way back to the MRT, I spotted a few couples and families sprawled on the grass or benches, gazing quietly at the moon and enjoying one another’s company.

Check out this video! (It may begin halfway through… Be sure to click on the beginning one it’s started to view the full video!).

Market Days

No matter where you go in Cape Town, you can always count on being able to find a good market. There are lots scattered throughout the city, whether they are food markets, craft markets, or markets with both! Each weekend in Cape Town, I try to make it to one in order to scope out some new souvenirs or try some new tasty food. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve made it to so far:

Old Biscuit Mill

This market is one of the most popular in Cape Town and has the largest variety of foods compared to any other market I’ve been to. They are only open on Saturdays, so it is usually pretty crowded, but it is definitely worth squeezing through the crowds to get some delicious food. There are so many food stands, it’s almost overwhelming. Each stand has something completely different than the last. Each time I go, I try a few different things because there is so much to choose from. Some things I have tried at Old Biscuit Mill include mac and cheese balls, crepes, a bacon & egg hash, and apple & honey tea.

On the opposite end of the market there are various stands, storefronts, and shops to browse through. Most of the stands are higher end, designer products or art workshops that you can peak into. It’s a fun way to spend a Saturday morning, browsing through the stands while eating something new each time!

Hout Bay Market

Hout Bay is a fishing area in Cape Town right on the ocean. The market is on the harbor and is similar to Old Biscuit Mill in the sense that there is plenty of food and lots of stands and stores. At this market there is more of a mix of traditional African arts and crafts along with some trendy clothing and jewelry stands. It’s fun to walk around and see such a wide variety of products and art. Once you reach the far side of the market, there is a good selection of food stands to chose from, as well. They have everything from dim sum to waffles to veggie paninis. Everything smells so good its hard to choose what stand to visit! Also, on Friday nights they have live music which makes for a very lively vibe and a fun night at the market!

download

Greenmarket Square

Greenmarket Square is the largest craft market in Cape Town located right in the city center. There are over a hundred stands here with art, crafts, jewelry, and more. It is mainly a market for tourists to buy souvenirs, but there are some locals that come as well. Because it is mainly for tourists, the vendors overprice their products to be much more than it should be, but you are able to bargain with them until you come up with a more reasonable price for whatever you would like to buy. During orientation, our RAs gave us some bargaining pointers to prepare us for the vendors at places like Greenmarket Square, which have come in handy so far! One tip they gave us to help lower a price is to show interest in what you want and then start to walk away and say you’re going to look around some more and then decide. They will then insist you come back and pay a reasonable price because they don’t want your business to go to someone else’s stand. Bargaining can be a bit overwhelming, but it is still fun to walk around this market and see all the beautiful things everyone is selling.

gms

Market on the Wharf & The Watershed 

Along the V&A Waterfront (an area in the city similar to Navy Pier in Chicago) there is the old Watershed building that has been converted into a market with little shops and vendors selling clothes, jewelry, and artwork. Similar to Old Biscuit Mill the items are mostly higher end, but there are still some unique African crafts throughout. Right next to the Watershed, there is the Market on the Wharf, which is a nice food market with lots of selections to choose from! There is an amazing bakery there where we tried some donuts and pastries. We probably exceeded our sugar intake for the week, but it was definitely worth it. These markets are right at the Waterfront, so it is nice to be able to walk around and see the rest of what the V&A has to offer, especially the great view of Table Mountain.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekends here in Cape Town so I can discover more good eats and fun art at these markets!

Fiestas Patrias in Chile!

 

“What are your plans for the 18th?” “Are you ready for the 18th?” “I’m so excited for the 18th!”

People were exploding with excitement about THE 18th as I sat in confusion. All I thought was, “Can someone please clarify what in the world THE 18th is?”

Very quickly I was able to understand all of these phrases being thrown around among crowds of Chileans and the meaning of THE 18th.

During the week of September 18th, the streets of Valparaíso explode with Chilean flags, people dancing La Cueca (the national dance of Chile), massive amounts of grilled meat (“Asados”), and so much joy, as Chile celebrates its independence (similar to the 4th of July in the United States). However, it is not just a one-day celebration; rather the entire week is considered a holiday and everything closes, giving everyone the chance to celebrate. It is clearly known by every Chilean that THE 18th refers to the 18th of September, regardless of what time of year you mention the 18th.  And I was blessed enough to experience THE 18th for myself.

“Fondas” or “Ramadas” (essentially what we know as fairs, but with way more food and way more people) take place every day of the week, and every hour of every day. There are rides, games, drinks, food, and hand-made crafts covering every centimeter of the space that has been designated for this crazy celebration. The micros (the city transportation) fill with people at every hour of every day hustling to these celebrations to simply enjoy time with family and friends, and of course, to dance La Cueca.

La Cueca is another sign that “fiestas patrias” (the week of celebration) has arrived. There is an insane amount of Cueca music being played in every place in Chile, as people dance the night away… and the day… because it’s really always a good time to dance La Cueca. All celebrations will incorporate some designated time and space to participate in this dance. I had the opportunity to learn La Cueca and participate in the Chilean celebration through this form of dance (which by the way, I did not do very well, because I wouldn’t consider myself a dancer haha). However, I couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity to learn about and try to understand the Chilean culture and appreciate the things that they value and that are unique to them.

The smell of “asado” fills the air on every street of the city as families, friends, schools, churches, and any and every person gather in small groups to enjoy massive amounts of deliciously grilled meat. “Asados” are an important part of this week in Chile, as they create space for Chileans to converse, share, and enjoy time together.

The 18th will always have a deeper significance for me after this week in Chile, and for that I am very grateful! Viva Chile!

Fun fact about the 18th and 19th in Chile: There is a law that states that every house, business, and building must clearly hang the Chilean flag outside during these two days, and if they don’t, they can be fined. Chile takes this celebration very seriously and wants every person to take part and be involved.

Daily Life in Freiburg

Week two in Freiburg provided me with the opportunity to finally immerse myself in the daily life of this city. Though we did have two hours of German per day, our only other class was an “Integrative Seminar” course, which has mainly been giving us informative background on the EU and its current state. This has given us plenty of time to get lost exploring the city and helped us to get a sense of what the rest of our semester will be like while we are in Freiburg.

Franziska, my German teacher, gave our class an assignment to walk around and ask questions about the Münstermarkt, which is essentially a large open-air market held in the main town square of Freiburg. And these shop owners are dedicated. Münstermarkt runs every day of the year except for Sundays, including throughout the winter months. It also isn’t your typical farmer’s market – Münstermarkt has souvenirs, flowers, ‘Holzkunst’ (or wood art), wine, and various other items.

The market surrounds the church in the town center, pictured on the right. Here is one of the many stands selling various flowers and plants.
The famous “Lange Rote.” Many Euros will be spent at this stand in the coming months…

Both locals and tourists frequent the market, and many of the stands are quite well-known. From the cheesecake stand ‘Stephans Käsekuchen’ who are famous for their secret recipe to the hot dogs on steroids called ‘Lange Rote,’ the options provided at Münstermarkt are delicious and relatively affordable for a college student like myself.

Only locally produced fruits can be found here, so you won’t see any bananas or pineapples, but the quality and relatively cheap prices of what they do have certainly makes up for it.
Lunch from the Münstermarkt.

After completing our assignment, my classmate Medina and I managed to make it all the way through the market with only four purchases. We then walked through the city center and sat down at a little park to eat away at our delicious lunch pictured above. All of the food sold at Münstermarkt is produced locally, and the produce we bought there was some of the best I’ve had. When in Europe, one finds it incredibly easy to get past minor speed bumps like seeds in your grapes.

A slide some of us stumbled upon about 10 minutes from the city center. I’m not ashamed to say I went down it 3 times.
Need a place to socialize and get a good German beer? The Biergartens are the place for you.

Another great thing about Freiburg are the Biergartens, the best of which is located at the top of a hill right next to the city center. Though we got there slightly too late for it a couple of nights ago, you can catch an incredible view of the sun setting behind the city. Combine that with the delicious local beer and you’re in for a treat.

Speaking of hills, Freiburg is in the region of Germany which produces the best wine, and there are vineyards draped along many of the hills that surround Freiburg. The vineyard pictured above is one I see every day on my tram ride to class. As I discovered a few days ago on a run through a large vineyard by my apartment, they are also a common place to find students gathering for picnics in the evenings. One of my roommates says there are castle ruins somewhere around these vineyards, and on future runs I hope to find their whereabouts, so I will keep you posted…

Exploring Durban

After our Kruger excursion during spring break, we still had the rest of the week to travel, so my friend Noelle and I decided to go to Durban. This is a city on the eastern coast of South Africa known for its beaches, warm climate, and Miami-esque architecture.

We were able to spend a good amount of time on the beachfront. There’s a 5 kilometer promenade that connects several of the beaches to make it easy to walk or bike between them. Our first day we ate brunch at a restaurant right on the beach and walked along the promenade for a while, seeing the different beaches until we ended up at Ushaka Marine World. This beachfront area has an aquarium, water park, and lots of restaurants and shops. We decided to go to a restaurant at the end of the pier for a snack, admiring the view of the city.

IMG_2991
View from the restaurant on the pier

The next morning we came back to the beach nice and early to go stand up paddle boarding with one of our friends from UCT, Tristan, who is from Durban. We had to get there before the wind picked up and made it too difficult to balance on the water. It was fun paddle boarding with the waves and trying to keep our balance when waves swept under us. After an hour or so of paddle boarding (and falling off the paddle board) Tristan gave us a little tour of Durban. Our first stop was the Kings Park Soccer Stadium, which was built for the 2010 World Cup. It’s not used much anymore for sports because the field isn’t big enough for rugby, and that’s the main sport played here. However, it is used a lot for concerts and tourism. There’s even a giant free fall swing at one end of the stadium so people can swing through the stadium to get their fill of adrenaline.

IMG_3037
The World Cup Stadium (if you look closely you can see people near the top getting ready for the stadium swing)

After admiring the stadium, Tristan took us to a part of Durban called Umlhanga. This is a little beach town on the northern end of the city that’s much quieter than the central part of Durban. We walked along the beach here, which was pretty rocky and had a lot of crabs and coral growing along the rocks. It was a very pretty beach in a quieter, charming part of Durban.

IMG_3043
The rocky Umlhanga beachfront

We then went to get some bunny chow, which is curry served inside a half loaf of bread. Its a popular South African dish that’s supposedly the best in Durban, so of course we had to try some while we were there. You eat it by scooping the curry with the piece of bread that was cut from the middle of the loaf. Once that piece of bread is gone, you pick up the loaf with two hands and dig in. It was a pretty messy experience, but still good!

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 5.21.21 PM

The next day, Tristan invited us to go to the Hilton Art Festival, the second largest art festival in South Africa. It was held by his old boarding school, so he was super familiar with what it had to offer. There were plenty of food vendors, art stands, and art displays scattered around the campus. We walked around admiring all of the different crafts and artwork, and also saw a show. Shows are a unique part of this art festival, and there are dozens of live performances throughout the weekend. We saw one called James Cairns vs. Humanity, which was an improv show based on the popular card game Cards Against Humanity. It was very well done and really enjoyable!

We got to the festival pretty early, so we had a lot of time left to explore the surrounding area and drove to a few places nearby. The best place we stopped at was the Mandela capture sight, where Mandela was captured and arrested  in 1962 for encouraging workers’ strikes and leaving the country illegally without a passport. There was a long walk to freedom pathway which had markers spread along the way with significant events in Mandela’s political and personal life. At the end of the walkway there was a statue comprised of many irregularly shaped poles. When you stand in the right place, the poles lined up to form Nelson Mandela’s profile. It’s a magnificent piece of art with a lot of meaning as well. I{m glad we ended up at this very thoughtful and educational spot.

IMG_7485
Nelson Mandela capture site statue

We made the most of our short time in Durban and were able to see and experience a lot! And thanks to Tristan, we were able to see some places we wouldn’t have known about without a local Durbanite. What an amazing week it was, and now we are headed back to Cape Town and classes!

Coming Home?

To fully understand where you are going, I think you have to understand where you are coming from. Study abroad for many of my peers is a new and exciting experience unlike anything they have ever done before. For me? Not so much. See, I lived in Prague, Czech Republic, from when I was 8 until I was 16. Coming to Freiburg for the semester is not necessarily diving into the unknown for me. I went swimming a while ago and I’ve just been drying off for a while, anxiously preparing for the next jump and anticipating whether it will still feel the same.

The first few days were a blur. Between jet lag, meeting the 74 other students in the program, and finally moving into our apartments, it was a whirlwind. As part of the European Union Program here in Freiburg, we focus heavily on the European political scene. Our first class two days ago was our Integrative Seminar, which will primarily be a study of how the EU functions, how it is structured, and what purposes it serves. Actually, the only classes we take until the first of our three week long trips throughout Europe are this Seminar and two hours of German each day.

Downtown Freiburg

The city itself is wonderful. Though it has mostly rained on us so far, Freiburg is just big enough to be a lively city and just small enough to learn how to get around quickly. If you come to Freiburg expecting stereotypical German culture, you may be surprised. Though everything is still very pünktlich (punctual), this southern German town is very easy-going, eco-friendly, and quite welcoming.

Along the lines of experiencing this new culture, I had my first dinner with my new housemates. There is something about sitting around a table for an hour engaged (or at least trying to be engaged) in conversation that truly makes living abroad finally seem real. Because I am only living with German students who attend the local university here, I am looking forward to interacting with the people I will be living with not only to experience the lifestyle of Freiburg, but also to hear and speak as much German as possible. So far, I have been able to get recommendations on where to go for runs and which bakery is the best bakery in the area. Accomplishing simple things like these are essential to the experience from what I have seen, because they give you confidence and comfort moving forward.

After the craziness of the first week, we got our first chance to get out into the countryside today. A short train ride followed by a brief bus trip left us in the small town of Sankt Peter, where we had the opportunity to explore the Abbey of Saint Peter.

Abbey of St. Peter
This church was built in the baroque style which was much more colorful and bright than most cathedrals you will find in Europe.
The beautifully painted ceilings of the Abbey.

I could have probably spent another half hour in the Abbey, but naturally our German trip leader Karin ran a tight ship in order for us to get our hike started on time. The hike was about 3 hours long and provided us with a great opportunity to take in the rolling hills and beautiful woodlands, while also getting to get to know the other students in our program. Also on the trip was Jona (the German version of ‘Jonah’), a student studying at the University of Freiburg who basically functions as one of our RAs. He shared with us that he grew up in one of the small villages like Sankt Peter in Germany and explained how he got into american football on accident while trying to help his aunt find the right channel to watch the lottery. His goal is to teach German and coach football in America once he finishes his studies. One career path I am interested in pursuing is working for a European soccer club, so it was fascinating to see how we each have such a similar passion for each other’s culture. It is also a reminder of how connected we truly are despite growing up in completely different environments.

Cow sightings along our 8 km hike.
This area of Germany in particular heavily focuses on sustainability, and even outside the cities you will often find solar panels draped across roofs.
Our final stop was Himmelreich, which literally translates to ‘heaven kingdom.’ I certainly wasn’t going to disagree.
On the left is Schwartzwald Kuchen, or Black Forest cake, which combined nicely with hot chocolate and delicious strawberry ice cream.

Our hike finally ended in another small town, where we stopped for some traditional German Kaffee und Kuchen, or “coffee and cake,” at a building that used to be a farm, and has now been renovated into a hotel/restaurant that helps employ adults with mental disorders. I myself am not a coffee drinker, but the hot chocolate and other items pictured above were the perfect treat to finish off our hike.

I still can’t decide if this week has seemed to take forever or if it has gone by in a flash, but I am finally starting to feel somewhat settled. The initial anxiety has mostly worn off and I am ready to finally get into a rhythm this first week of classes. There is a lot to look forward to, but for now I’m off to bed…

A Typical Week in Singapore

Whenever someone asks me, “What do you think of Singapore so far?”, I’m never quite sure what to answer. Even though I’ve been here almost a month, the experience so far was basically a surface-level, touristy view of Singapore (hence the Singaporientation blog) and settling into the daily cycle of classes, eating, and studying.

Sorry, doesn’t sound so exciting for future study abroad students, right? But after the honeymoon period of studying abroad ends, that crosswalk is no longer a crosswalk in Singapore but a normal crosswalk, not the famous hawker center, but just another place to eat. It’s kind of sad, but after this liminal period, I do feel like I’ve moved onto a new stage: reality. Many people have this idea that reality is dull, but to be fair, reality is as interesting as it gets.

The following are my day-to-day adventures:

 

On Safari

We are halfway done with our semester here in Cape Town, and that means Spring Break! Here they refer to it as vac, short for vacation, and we get a week off of classes. So that means time to travel!

On Saturday we took an early flight to Kruger National Park and were met by three safari cars at the airport. The cars were trucks with raised rows of seats in the back with open sides so we could have the best views of the animals on the safari. We then went straight into the national park, the largest reserve in South Africa, and went on an afternoon game drive, hoping to spot the Big 5. The Big 5 include Elephants, Buffalo, Lions, Leopards, and Rhinos. Only a few minutes into the drive, one of the guides spotted two leopards up on a rock behind some bushes. It wasn’t easy to spot them, but after looking for a couple minutes I was able to see them moving around on the rocks. Our guide, David, told us that leopards are the most uncommon of the big 5 to spot, so it was pretty cool that we saw two right off of the bat!

Leopards on the rocks

After admiring the leopards we kept driving through the park and were able to see a herd of buffalo crossing in front of us, lots and lots of impalas (a type of antelope), a beautifully colored bird called known as the lilac breasted roller, some zebras, a hornbill (the type of bird Zazu in the Lion King is), a group of baboons, and some hyenas with their pups. It was crazy to see so many animals just in our first of four game drives and seeing each in their natural habitat and how they behaved was amazing. When observing the zebras, they were standing in pairs, side by side but facing opposite directions. David explained that it looks like they are trying to hug each other but they are actually protecting each other and watching out for predators. It was neat seeing them stand like this!

The next morning we got up before dawn and headed on our first game drive just after sunrise. Because it gets so hot during the day, the animals are more active early in the morning and later in the evening. So, people usually are luckier with animal spottings during these times. Despite starting our drive very early, the park was pretty quiet and it took a while to sight some animals. However, throughout the morning and early afternoon we got to see quite a lot. Some of the highlights were seeing a family of giraffes snacking on some trees just feet from our car. We stopped to watch them and they crossed the road right in front of us to start munching on a new set of trees. It was so cool being so up close to them and watching them interact with each other! Not much longer we encountered a rhino nearby the road, and stopped to look at him. David explained to us how serious of a problem rhino poaching is, even in Kruger. Poachers will come and remove the horns of the rhinos and leave them to die, which is bringing them closer and closer to extinction. This was only one of several rhinos we saw throughout the day though, so it was reassuring seeing so many in one day.

A little later on we spotted a couple of monkeys across the road from us. They then ran across the road and into a tree directly next to us. We were watching the handful of monkeys climb the tree when someone in our car noticed more across the road, and a few dozen monkeys started running from deep in the bush out across the street into the tree to meet up with the others. It was crazy to see so many monkeys running together at once; some of them were carrying babies on their backs and stomachs as well, which was a cute bonus. Another highlight was seeing a honey badger, which might not sound like it would be exciting, but they are one of the most rare species in Kruger! They are nocturnal, so seeing one during the day (seeing one at all!) was pretty neat.

A monkey and her baby in the tree

After a quick break back at the lodge for lunch, we got picked up for an evening game drive on our way to eat dinner in the bush. We headed out right before sunset, so it got dark pretty quickly. Since it was dark, the car came equipped with two heavy duty flash lights that we used to try and spot some animals. A little into the drive a couple of girls said they saw something in a tree, so the guide backed the car up to where we could see the tree and we shined the lights towards it. It turns out that there was a leopard sitting in the tree eating whatever prey it had just caught. Even the guide was amazed that we were able to see such a cool sighting at night. Seeing another leopard was crazy in itself, but seeing one in a tree at night was even crazier! We also saw a family of elephants a little later on, including two babies. One of the older elephants saw us and started to approach the vehicle and raise his trunk at us as a way of protecting the others, so we headed out to let the elephants be.

The elephant approaching our vehicle

We made our way to the middle of the bush where a traditional South African meal was being prepared for us. We got out and there were a couple of guards holding guns that were there to watch out for animals during our meal (we even had to have a guide walk us to the bathroom with a gun if we had to go). The food was delicious and the view of the stars from the middle of the bush was incredible. We could see them so clearly and were able to point out a few constellations. It was such a unique experience being able to be out in the bush and made for a great end to our safari experience! Even though we didn’t get to see all of the Big 5, since we didn’t spot a lion, being able to experience African wildlife so up close and in their natural habitat was one of the coolest experiences of this semester so far!