Living in Mauritius (by Audrey)

For readers who don’t know, Mauritius is an island in Africa about a two hour flight away from Madagascar. It takes about four or five hours to drive around the entire circumference of the island. Mauritius is very modern. Spacious and nice houses line the beaches. Mega malls are sprinkled around the island. In Cyber City there are huge glass skyscrapers. It is a very culturally diverse place. The main religion is Hindu but there are mosques in every town as well as churches and lots of other smaller worship sites of countless other religions. The three main languages spoken in Mauritius are Creole, French and English.

It was a bit of a culture shock to arrive there. Our apartment was very chic and modernly designed. Everything was black and white, sparkling clean. A shiny black table, white furniture, stainless steel fridge. A large pool and gazebo sat proudly in the courtyard visible from each and every apartment. Sugar Reef apartment complex was shockingly different than the cheap dirty motels we had been staying in while in Madagascar. We were baffled/happy to find 24 hour a day electricity. Running hot water was a welcome luxury, and the lack of mosquitos and humidity made us laugh in delight. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Madagascar. But I also loved Mauritius. They were reverses of each other. Both beautiful in opposite ways.

Our apartment was about a fifteen minute walk from the Flic en Flac public beach. At the beach were countless food vendors selling creole delicacies; picnic tables (made of cement) were spaced out beneath the large trees, which provided shade. The snorkeling was absolutely fantastic. There was almost no dead coral and their were tons of funky fish.

We took aerial dance and circus lessons for the month that we were there. Ollie learned to juggle; I learned to walk a tight wire; we both failed miserably at unicycling. The no handles, no brakes thing makes a big difference. Oh! and so does the one wheel. We learned some awesome new aerial tricks, can’t wait to show everyone in Denver! Our instructors Shaheen and Nicolas were incredible! It was so much fun learning aerial from Shaheen and watching Nicolas successfully ride the unicycle!IMG_1092
I was also very lucky to get to ride at a stables called Club Hippique. My instructor Aurelie was a good teacher even if she did yell so much her face turned purple. I was a bit terrified of her. She had this tendency to yell at me to “Do it AGAIN!!!!!” when I was jumping. Of course, all the other girls spoke French so she had to explain everything twice. Sometimes her translations had my mom and me cracking up in the car.  For Aurelie, crop = crap, butt = ass, and legs = leeeeeeeeeegs. “Audrey! With your crap!” she would holler, “Push with your ass and leeeeeeeeeegs! I said canter!”

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We also made some great friends in Mauritius who had us over for a Mauritian dinner; and whom we had over for an American dinner. Lisa, the mom, is from Atlanta and Ben, the dad, is from the UK. Kira and Nisha, their daughters, are ten and five. You can read more about all the people we met in a different blog post!

It was so nice to live in Mauritius for that time. To do normal things like go grocery shopping. Do road school in our very own living room. It was so much fun to meet people, see them in the grocery store and say hi. Taking aerial and horse lessons was just like a refreshing break. I feel so fortunate that I got to have that. Especially after being in so many places where kids would have no chance to do those things.

I just want to say Thank You Mauritius for a wonderful month!

Earthquake in Nepal (by Jenni)

Before the earthquake hit in April, we had planned to spend the month of May in Nepal.  There is a wonderful new program in Pokhara called The Learning House (you can google it).  We had arranged to volunteer there and stay with a Nepali family for the month.

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Learning House Grand Opening

Luckily for us, we were not in Nepal on April 25th.  After the earthquake, we were in frequent contact with The Learning House.  We also contacted several volunteer aid organizations to help us decide if we should go to Nepal as planned.  We really did a lot of research and had a very good idea of what to expect.

Our plane to Nepal was quite large.  I suspect there were at least 300 people on it.  Of them, there were only a handful of women.  Including me and Audrey, there were about 10 women on the plane.  Our family looked to be the only foreigners headed to Nepal on this flight.  The plane was full of men heading home to help rebuild after the devastation.

As we began our descent to Kathmandu, the energy on the plane was palpable.  I can’t begin to guess how many flights I have taken in my life; but, I have never experienced anything like this.  Every person on the plane was eagerly trying to see outside.  A quiet came over everyone.  At one point, everyone (except us, cause we didn’t know what was happening) started laughing.  Then they quickly quieted down again, but not back to silence.  There seemed to be a sort of relief.  I certainly felt relieved.  Throughout our approach and landing, we did not see a single sign of the earthquake.  We saw cars driving on the roads and everything seemed normal.  My eyes teared over as I felt a tremendous sense of contentment.  I was absolutely sure that we were doing the right thing.  Of course, we saw collapsed buildings as we left the airport.  Our hotel for the night in Kathmandu had just reopened the day we arrived.  There were workers everywhere patching up and repainting damage from the earthquake.  The next morning, we headed to Pokhara.

While we were prepared for what to expect in Nepal, no one was expecting another earthquake.

The 2nd major earthquake in Nepal occurred on the first day of our trek.  As luck would have it, we were having lunch on a balcony perched on the side of a cliff.  At first, we thought that a big wind was shaking the balcony.  After a second or two, Corey and I realized it was an earthquake. We immediately moved to more solid ground.  I think that the earthquake lasted about 8-10 seconds.  After everything seemed safe, we finished our lunch and continued our hike.  Our guide got information pretty quickly that let us know we were very far away from the affected areas.

In the middle of that night, Audrey woke up after having a dream about the earthquake.  We found out later in the day, that she actually woke up following an aftershock.  On the final morning of our trek, I was exhausted and having trouble getting up and going.  Corey and Oliver were already down at breakfast when an aftershock motivated me to hop out of bed and start the day.  We haven’t been aware of aftershocks since then.

We have had the opportunity to do some volunteer work for earthquake relief.  We found a group called Helping Hands putting together earthquake relief supplies.  Corey and Oliver jumped in right away and starting helping them.  They were so impressed with how hard Oliver worked that they awarded him a special certificate.

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That’s Oliver, lifting his body weight of rice, lentils, and salt.

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We have also helped buy and load supplies into a truck that was headed up to set up a base camp for earthquake relief in remote areas.  Remote areas have been devastated and received no help from the government at first because it was focusing on Kathmandu and bigger towns.  The help these small, remote villages have gotten has all come from people getting together and taking what is needed to them.  A group of Nepali men with close ties to The Learning House loaded up a jeep and started going up the day after the earthquake.  They have taken supplies up to remote areas several times now.  After driving up, they have to hike several hours carrying supplies.  They set up a base camp to help facilitate getting to more remote areas.  Aid workers are just now getting to the first areas these young men have been helping since the beginning.  There is quite a race against time as monsoon season is just starting and there are so many people without shelter.

Trekking in Nepal (by Jenni)

Last week, we went on a 4 day trek to Poon Hill in the Annapurna region of the Himalayas.  Our trek turned out to be one of what I believe (and hope) will be a defining moment for our family (and this entire year).  It was grueling; and I mean really grueling.  It is funny that this particular trek was recommended as “an easy 4-5 day trek” for us because we have children.  I should have taken note when someone mentioned beforehand that we may want to hire a porter in case we ended up needing to carry the children.  I can guarantee that in Colorado, every part of the trek would be rated as difficult to very difficult.  We started out at around 3000 ft elevation and hiked to our maximum elevation of about 10,000 ft in 2 days.  That is like starting out below Denver’s elevation and hiking up to Breckenridge!  It was crazy steep.  There was one section called “the 3500 steps”.  We had heard about that section and when we got to the sign, Audrey asked our guide how many of the 3500 steps we had already climbed, because the sign was posted after we had ascended what seemed like thousands of steps.  Our guide just smiled as he told us that the steps were just about to start.  I counted at least 4000 steps before we stopped for the night.
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As for how the trek affected our family, we were hiking for 6-8 hours each day.  During that time, we would pair off and have nice long discussions.  We also really supported each other during particularly grueling parts and celebrated every little triumph with each other.  The kids almost didn’t bicker at all.  We found out that Oliver actually isn’t really human, or at least not only human.  He has been reading the Percy Jackson series and it is clear that he is, at the very least, a demigod.  He would run up and down the trail singing and jumping from boulder to boulder.  He would even look for the hardest way to go rather than the easiest.  When we would stop at the end of each day, he would jump right up and start playing, then ask if we were ready to keep going.

Audrey was also amazing, but in a different way.  While she likes nature and being outdoors, she would usually prefer to read a book than do just about anything else. However, she ended up really getting into it.  On our last day, we kept running into a group of Nepali women who were on their way down from their village.  We ended up passing them.  Around the last 2 hours of our trek, we came to a town that had actual roads and vehicles.  After we hiked past the town and crossed the road later, we saw the women in a taxi heading down.  Audrey said that they were lucky to be taking a taxi, but it is more fun and interesting to hike the rest of the way down like we were doing.
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Poon Hill

Another earthquake has hit Nepal, as you probably know. Certainly we didn’t think another big quake would hit so soon after the April 25 quake. We are doing fine, and only felt tremors during lunch of our first day out trekking. It was scary enough feeling the mild shaking which lasted ten seconds or so. We leapt off the restaurant deck where we were eating onto the seeming safety of the tral. Very saddened for all those who have been hit again or hit anew. We offered our prayers for them atop Poon Hill with sunrise views of the Himalayas.

 
Be well.
 

THE KTM CRAZINESS

Continental Pivot:  Finally Asia, Just Not How We Thought It Would Be // It’s Saturday Through Tuesday, Must Be Kuala Lumpur // Can We Get A Flight For Tomorrow? // Frantic: Is This What Adventure Looks Like?

What a difference a day makes.

Friday 23 April, we were planning our several-day Mumbai layover enroute to Pokhara, via Kathmandu; we were eager to see Mumbai, and equally eager to move on to Kathmandu for a few days, then make our way to Pokhara where we would work at The Learning House. We were about to contact Michelle, to nail down the details of our stay there. We were contacting another friend to see about meeting up while she is in Nepal with a medical group — again, pre-quake, this group is a yearly venture to help treat women in Kathmandu valley; and we were finalizing hotel reservations and plans for Mumbai and Kathmandu.

Saturday 24 April, the earth shook in Nepal. Just before bed (and after a splendid day exploring the north west coast of Mauritius), the first emails from home with the news arrived which filled us with sorrow, sadness, confusions, and yes, even relief — for not being there — and regret — for not being there; we had planned to spend a substantial part of our time in Nepal helping out; and now, when help was surely needed we couldn’t be there; in no time, all the concerns arose — can we go into a disaster zone; should we go, especially with children; when they learned the news over breakfast Sunday, our kids asked if we could go and help; we’re proud of them for having that impulse, but also aware of the need to protect them; water and food shortages, power outages; possible spread of disease and unrest; all this came to our minds; and yet, we couldn’t shake the conviction that going on to Nepal would somehow be right — we could now help, and perhaps now more than ever; to make the decision foggier, there was no news about Pokhara; all the attention being focused on Kathmandu and Everest; we did hear from our contact in Pokhara that there the quake had done relatively little damage, and life was getting back to normal, although there was anxiety and concern; was it that we were not hearing about Pokhara because it wasn’t too bad there — no point reporting normalcy — or, was it just because it is more isolated, and the media is pitching the parts of Nepal everyone knows about, KTM and Everest?

Sunday 25 April, the news is of severe aftershocks and more destruction; entire villages falling down hillsides; are we insane even to be thinking of going? are we being too afraid and sheltered to be thinking of not going? While we are still many hours of air travel away, it seems we are already there, because we have booked flights; on the other hand, we are far away, and it would be easy to let life go on in ‘some other channel’, aware of the news, praying for the sufferers, and wishing godspeed to rescue and medical workers rushing to in to help; among the many odd twists, our time in Nepal was actually better planned than several of our stops, and we felt happy for having things pretty well sewn up ahead of time; well laid plans.

With all these conflicting thoughts, we hurriedly read numerous news accounts; all bad and getting worse; we sent messages to numerous aid organizations, consulates, friends to try to get information; our last few days in Mauritius were full of anxious debate and concern; and … what if we don’t go to Nepal, then what? More time in India? Go elsewhere in Asia? We set out the map and considered; consulted online travel sites — after all, not having planned to go to Myanmar, or Vietnam, or Bhutan, we don’t have guidebooks and haven’t done research, but we began to consider where and what to do, putting our ‘quick-study’ hats on — even one crazy proposal to drive from Mumbai to Beijing; I can’t recall who was the crackpot that floated that one; we’d need to change flights, make different hotel plans and more; did you know that Google maps can’t deliver drive times into or inside China? Not from a Mauritian ISP anyway; our parents asked us if we were going to cancel; my Mom started sending daily dispatches of news about every aspect of the disaster in Kathmandu. What is this outburst of planning? Absent the earthquake, in normal operating modes, there is a mild tension between planning for fun and planning for education; but now, are we doing this to shield our kids or shield ourselves from having to think about whether and how to shield our kids?

Over the next several days, we kept gathering news, thinking, talking it over, looking into options, and continuing to enjoy Mauritius, having some new-found friends to dinner, snorkeling in what seemed an endless aquarium, finding boxes to send packages to friends.

In the end, we decided to go ahead and stick with our plans; a big part of this was getting reassuring news from Pokhara, but equally, our family’s desire to be of some help to the people we had been planning to meet and work with at The Learning House; we would skip Kathmandu, and go straight to Pokhara.

Then we went to the airport on Thursday April 30, and found we’d made a rookie mistake. We didn’t get visas for entry into India; thought they were given “on arrival” — they’re not — and there appeared no way to get them in a day or less; so we were turned away by the Air Mauritius check-in agents, who said India would deport us — not an experience we wanted to add to our travels … and yet we are willing to go to a disaster zone … go figure, maybe being illegal immigrants lacks panache — and now, another crazy pivot in our emotions, having spent several days in high stress deciding to go, considering options, to be on the brink, packed, and ready, and then be turned away; it was a little hard to believe it was real; sitting in an airport at 8:00pm with hungry kids, moved out of our apartment, dropped off our rent car, carefully spent down nearly all our cash, stranded and feeling stupid; the glamor of travel.

Still in the airport, we began to search for information about visas, flights, and of course hotels; obviously not going to resolve this in minutes or hours; we settled on the Holiday Inn near the airport; an easy choice; the kids — we all — needed dinner, and we wanted to be close to the airport in case we got an opening, or needed a rent car, or to hire a taxi; airports turn out to be anti-communities, highly purpose-driven affairs, providing just what people need to go somewhere else; WiFi at the hotel got a good workout as we searched for alternate fares and itineraries to KTM; as we tried to figure out visa options; as we looked at costs for changing tickets versus buying new; by 2AM, I gave up the search and tried to sleep; I slept badly, and dreamed of horned devils gleefully running around smashing my piggy banks and throwing wads of cash into a bonfire as I stood, trapped waist deep in the sand, unable to move; we spent the entire day in Holiday Inn in touch with our travel agent exploring different options; to get a flight in a few days, leaving Mauritius May 5; to go today (May 1); or May 2; to skip Nepal altogether and give up on this leg– yes, even after deciding, we now had the opportunity to re-think our plans all over again; we contacted Indian and American consulates to inquire about expedited visas — but as May 1 is a holiday in Mauritius no one returned calls or emails; so this decided the visa issue — there would be no stopover in India, but we could transit through; or we could by-pass India by way of JNB/DOH or JNB/SIN; after umpteen emails, we finally got booked on a flight out of Mauritius to Kuala Lumpur; but for about 24 hours, we were stranded — in paradise, perhaps, but in a Holiday Inn near the airport in paradise sitting in front of the computer, the iPhone, the iPad; all of them burning with different plans, options, possibilities, all the possibilities collapsing into multi-thousand dollar bonfires; all ending at “sold out” or “route not available on Saturdays”; entertaining multiple options at once, and hence, having multi-part conversations, a flood of mumbled interruptions of over-focused distraction, in a superfastIhavetosaythisbeforethethoughtleavesmyhead sort of way, butifweflyintoDelhiorMumbaiwhat’sthedifferencewecan’tstaywithoutthevisas and a reply like IfoundahotelinSingaporeifweendupthereandrentingacarfromtheairportifwestayhereitsavailablebutthreetimeswhatwe’vebeenpaying; we even spoke to the (startled) kids this way, but louder; and I addressed the reception desk in this tripped out on cortisol rapid fire tone, then had to tell myself to slow down and speak clearly about one.thing.at.a.time.

The stress reset metabolism; lunch time came and went unnoticed; the only thing that mattered was the countdown to various flight times and whether we could get there from here, and how much of a hole it was going to blow in our finances; the big idea became how to skip through India, either via Mumbai or Delhi, to avoid the need for a visa by not staying but just transiting; this meant that instead of spending a few days getting to Nepal we’d be there sooner than we ever planned; how strange that between the earthquake and our unforced error, we end up not only going to Nepal but hustling to get there sooner.

We sent dozens of emails, made phone calls, read web sites, and were in rapid and repeated touch with our travel brokers, who pulled out a five-star performance; at the end of the day — really, like 5:30pm, we were finally confirmed on a flight out of Mauritius to Kuala Lumpur at 8:40pm; but this seemed a little unreal; we were already planning to go to KUL later, in June; we had briefly considered a re-routing through KUL, or just going there and skipping Nepal, but this idea hadn’t had much time to simmer; instead a version of it came from our travel broker; and, the incredible thing, it was at the right time and wasn’t any more expensive than changing flights in and out of Mumbai to different days, as we had been exploring; staying there a few days gives us a chance to pick up supplies that we may donate to some relief groups, and get any last minute items we might have shopped for in Mumbai, something racing to Nepal would not have allowed; staying there a few nights was cheaper than continuing on to KTM Saturday straight after we arrive in KUL; the weird thought occurs that the Saturday flight isn’t THAT MUCH more than the economy flight on Tuesday, but if we did take it, we would arrive in a disaster zone in business class; but we decide to try and pull a few bills out of the bonfire; so we plan to stay in a hostel, the Reggae Mansion –what else could it be called — prior to heading to KTM (but it turns out that after being dropped off at the wrong location, and walking to the Reggae Mansion, their only available room is too expensive, so we go to the Swiss Garden hotel, which is its own [mis-]adventure involving a taxi driver who doesn’t know the way and honorably won’t take a potentially infinite fare, a 40 minute midday walk, and zombie front desk agents).

We decided along the way, pretty early, that we won’t stay in KTM, and we have some trepidations about even getting through the airport, but we have heard that flights and airport service are resuming, and are hopeful we can get to Pokhara smoothly; there, although we won’t be doing disaster relief, we will be helping Nepalis; that feels right; and we won’t be immersing our kids in the terrible scenes in KTM, but we won’t be shielding them from the reality of natural disasters either.

The Kruger, part 2 (by Jenni)

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Hey, lazybones! Wake up . . .
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. . . . or you’re gonna miss THIS!

We scheduled a sunrise safari in Kruger and ended up having a private safari because we were the only ones signed up for the crazy 4:30 am game drive.

The drive was pretty uneventful and I was pretty much regretting getting up so early.  Then, near the end of the three hour drive, we came across a male lion walking down the road. We followed right behind him for quite some time before our driver sided up to him. The lion stopped and checked us out a bit. I was quite unnerved because he paused right beside me. These game drives are in open vehicles with nothing but some canvas between us and the wild. They gave us pretty good guidelines to follow to keep from agitating the animals. But, after my experience at the lion park, I was very uncomfortable. I made sure not to make eye contact and even pulled my head to where he couldn’t see me when he was looking up at me. The driver pulled forward and the lion turned and walked in the tall grasses next to the road for quite some time and we followed him.

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Errrrrrgh! Lions, lions, always with the lions!

Corey, Oliver, and I took a daytime drive that would have taken about an hour going the speed limit. It took us four hours because of all the stopping we did to see animals. The views were beyond beautiful! We saw a herd of elephants go into the river to cool off while we were cooling off at the Oliphant camp.DSCN5339

We took another sunset safari drive and I can’t believe what I am about to tell you. Well, first of all, we got to see white rhinos really close up. Then, we saw a male lion drinking in a small pond. As we watched him walk through the bush, we came across three other male lions eating a freshly killed buffalo. Our driver knew something was up when he saw a tree full of vultures. It seems that vultures will gather when lions kill an animal and will stay until the lions finish, before going in for the scraps.

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Waiting their turn.
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Lion, tuckin’ in to his buffalo steak.

The lions were quite close to us; but I wasn’t concerned this time because they were much more interested in the buffalo than in us. At one point, they had a little tiff over who got to gnaw on the head. They were snarling and pawing at each other until one gained control of the head and froze to keep the others off of it. It was like something out of National Geographic! As we left the lions, we came across a hyena heading their way. Our driver explained that since the wind was toward the lions, the hyena would not smell the fresh kill and was unknowingly walking toward his own death since the lions will kill him if he comes too near.

Ostrich Farm, South Africa (by Oliver)

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D’you say somethin’? ‘Cuz I thought I heard something’ just now.

We got to feed the ostriches and you would expect that their beaks and their strong necks would hurt.  But they don’t hurt at all; except for when they nip your fingers.  It happened to Audrey and Dad.  And, they said it hurt.  But, it happened to me on the thumb and it didn’t hurt at all.

We also got to ride the ostriches and the ostriches have a belief that if they can’t see you, you can’t see them.  And so, what the guides would do, is put a fabric bag over their head and walk them to the mounting block.  And then, we got on the ostrich with the bag still on its head.  Next, our guide pulled the bag off the ostrich’s head.  The ostrich would run because it would be scared.  Audrey thought it was horrifying, but awesome.  I thought it was awesome and fun.  At one point in my ride, the ostrich stopped and then took off again.  So, it was a little jerky, but still really fun.  How you got off the ostrich was by sliding off the back of it.  The wings were on top of my legs.  When I was sliding off the back of mine, my ankle got caught on the wing.  And the jockey was pulling me to get off; but, the wing was caught on my ankle.  And so, it sort of pulled me.

Beforehand, the guide kept on saying that we were going to have neck massages.  But, our family didn’t know if we were going to give the ostriches neck massages or if the ostriches were going to give us neck massages.  We finally got to that stage and it ended up that the ostriches gave us neck massages.  How they did that is that there are a few ostriches in each enclosure and there was a bucket of feed.  My Mom, Audrey, and Dad, held the bucket in front of them with their backs up to the fence.  And then all the ostriches would come up to them and reach their necks around the person’s head to peck at the food.

A little deeper on the left, please, oh, right there.
A little deeper on the left, please, oh, right there.

Their necks would bang on the person’s neck, giving them a neck massage.  I was too short to have the neck massage.  So, I had a head massage.  I put the bucket on top of my head holding onto it with both of my hands.  And then, the ostriches would peck on it and their force would bang the bucket against my head.

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Next time your 8 year old says that he’s bored, just get three ostriches and a bucket …

Ostrich eggs are really big and strong.  We all got to stand on eggs and they didn’t break.  One ostrich egg equals the same as 24 chicken eggs.

I got a couple of ostrich feathers while we were there.  It was one of my favorite tours I have ever done in my life.

South Africa – first impressions (February 2015; by Jenni)

Our arrival in South Africa marked the first time we had to fill out an Ebola screening form before entering a country. They also did a thermal body scan of every person entering the country to check for Ebola; I am assuming it was really checking for fever and anyone with a fever would then undergo further screening.

So far, South Africa is more like the US than any other country we have visited. The drive from Johannesburg to Pretoria seemed a lot like driving anywhere-USA (except that you drive on the left side of the road and the driver’s side is opposite of what we are used to). Housing is also very similar to what we are used to.

The day after we arrived, we visited a lion park near Pretoria. Now, this part is definitely different! The animals in this park are born in captivity and they have an active breeding program to supply zoos all over the world with lions. They roam free in very large areas and are given fresh meat to eat. To see them, we went in a big safari truck. Basically, we were in a cage.

DSCN3531Before the drive started, we got to visit and play with some lion cubs. Again, these lions will never be in the wild, so they are allowed human contact until they are six months old, and become too dangerous. The four of us got to play with four cubs. Three of the cubs were white. I was petting one of them while it was drinking from a pond; then Oliver came over to pet it with me. Suddenly, one of the others jumped on Oliver’s back to play with him. When Oliver stood up, the cub was on its hind legs and was as tall as Oliver. Oliver got a big paw print on the back of his shirt.

We also saw and learned about zebras (including one nursing a baby), two types of antelope (with lots of babies), ostriches, wildebeest, cheetahs, a wild dog, hyenas, meerkats, and a pregnant giraffe. While we were on the game drive, the truck stopped next to some lions. This beautiful young white male came and sat right next to IMG_2783where I was seated on the truck. I was struck by his gorgeous blue eyes, and couldn’t help staring at them. Bad idea. He leaped up to attack me! In an instant, his front paws were on the metal cage right where my head was on the other side! It was amazing! Audrey was right behind me, and we were both pretty shaken up. We were very glad for the protection of the cage.

Because we were on an evening drive, we got to see a pride of lions being fed. The rangers had chained two of the legs of a large animal (probably a horse) to a tree stump. While we were there, they opened a gate for the small pride (a male, six females, and three cubs) to come to this area to eat. It was an incredible thing to see. Five of the lionesses went for one leg, and one went for a leg of her own. Then, the lion showed up and the lone lioness made way for him to enjoy a whole leg for himself while all nine of the others shared one together. One of the little cubs made the mistake of trying to join the lion. The lion snarled and grabbed the cub in his mouth and tossed him aside. At first, the little cub appeared to be dead. His mom pulled him away and tried to revive him. After a couple of minutes, he stood up and his mom stood over him protecting him. The little cub wasn’t bleeding and just seemed to be stunned. The rangers were getting their vet involved to be on the safe side.

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Two Africas

We are currently spending some time visiting the Centre ValBio near Ranomafana National Park (slow it down and repeat, then you’ll get it: Ra-no-ma-fa-na; see?). It is impressive for both the scientific work done here as well as conservation and community support. Before this, we stayed on the SW coast in Mangily, where Jenni and Audrey got PADI certified for open water dives. Oliver and I had planned to surf, using skills we picked up in Muizenberg, ZA, but the surfing turned out to be on the reef break nearly a kilometer out. No place for beginners. To get down to Mangily, we took a drive that was 500 km in seven days, due partly to stops to see sights but largely due to road conditions on the “National Road” or N7. We’ve seen lemurs, chameleons and baobabs, bazillions of freaky bugs, birds, frogs and snakes and plan to see more. Also, traveling across Mada, unavoidably, we’ve encountered extreme poverty. Really incredible, ‘are there really people living like this’ kind of poverty. We knew Mada was poor, but had not realized it is one of the poorest countries on earth not embroiled in civil conflict. The people are hospitable, friendly and quick to smile. But it is a world apart where many people toil with manual tools to eke out a bare subsistence.

Strangely, cell phones have penetrated where no phone or power lines run, and where a water well is an unusual sight. It is unclear what impact they will have on mores, customs, or the economy. So far, the Orange and Telma signs everywhere leave the picturesque tranquilly regnant. Everywhere there are beautiful views: women carrying impossible loads on their heads, adolescents driving their zébu in the road, endless rice paddies, dusty and dingy Catholic churches put up in the time of French rule, stick and mud huts, and a roadside rum operation that skates by its legally dubious status for want of an energetic enforcement of law. The camera loves Mada. And yet, one cannot help wonder what life is like for those inside the frame of this picturesque wonderland.

Before Mada, we were in South Africa for a month, including a safari in Kruger, a week around Pretoria, and two weeks in the Cape Town area, all of which was splendid, albeit with the historical scars there to be seen if you cared to look. Cape Town was especially nice with its position between mountain and sea, and a robust selection of culture and recreation, from surfing to concerts in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. In Kruger, we met a couple from Cape Town who invited us to join them and some friends for a braai. Once we had made our way to Cape Town, we joined Lyn and Alan for dinner, which was a delightful evening and a highlight of our trip. We were jealous they had spotted a leopard; they envied our lion encounter, but we all relished the good fortune we had to see many extraordinary animals in their natural habitat.

Interestingly, while we were in Cape Town, a minor crisis erupted when a minority party (EFF, Economic Freedom Fighters) interrupted President Zuma’s State of the Union speech, and ended up having all its members forcibly ejected by police. This, after already opening the session with a discovery of jamming devices in place to block all kinds of info in or out of the Parliament. So for the next two weeks and more, we heard recriminations, new daily disclosures about who ordered what, whether the Prime Minister or President knew, and so on. South Africans we talked to were mortified, and worried about how all this would seem to the outside world. We assured them that Americans were by and large mainly interested in domestic affairs. Woven through all the press fall-out were accusations that the ANC was reverting to apartheid style rule (think about that charge for a moment!), seeking a one party state, and about to destroy the ‘rainbow government’. The country is full of hope, and justifiably proud of overcoming apartheid and transitioning peacefully to a new Constitution. At the same time, as we learned, the language of political controversy is loaded with the most extreme images and emotions. There seems to be a real concern that  what was achieved in 1989-1995 will all fall apart. Earlier, about a week before all this, Prime Minister Mbete had referred to the EFF leaders as ‘cockroaches’ which was apparently a term of choice for the victims in Rwanda during the genocide. So the use of that term also brought intense debate with calls for the PM to step down from her post. She issued a full apology, but stayed in office. The people were neither satisfied nor stupefied.