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South Africa*Kruger National Park

Africa has been on my bucket list for a long time. It FINALLY happened and man, what a fantastic experience. I can’t wait to go back.

I saw the Big Five – Lion, Leopard, African Buffalo, Rhino and the African elephant within the first few days of starting our safari. My favorite, the leopard. WOW, which we were told, pretty much lets you see it when it wants you to see it. Otherwise, good luck. Thank you Ms. leopard, I was in awe.

There were thirteen of us in the group, not including Lucky, our tour guide extraordinaire. We called ourselves the Lucky 13. 🙂 In the group were my parents and 10 other Americans. We had this trip planned for 2020 but you know what happened then. The company we went with was OAT travel and I have to say that the interior of the trip (the safaris, the excursions, helping us with the visas, transports, hotels, etc.) was fantastic. But the exterior (the OAT online/ in office staff, the information, etc.) was not so great. We received different information every time we called, which we had to do because it took weeks to get back an email response. And because of that misinformation, my parents and I ended up paying about $1000 more because of things we needed to add – hotel rooms, flights. But that is all I will say about that because this post is about the fabulousness of our Africa experience.

First up is Kruger National Park. We were in three different National parks – Kruger in South Africa, Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and Chobe National Park in Botswana. All of them were a bit different. OAT broke up each safari stop with a more restful place so it wasn’t all safari safari safari. We stayed in each place for three nights and then would move on to our next adventure, the trip in total (with our Cape Town extension) was almost a month long.

We flew into Nespruit from Johannesburg and stopped at a road side market on the way to Kruger Park. I bought some delicious macadamia nuts and a handmade carved wooden statue of a kudu. And I must add that I NEVER saw that again – the kudu statue nor someone selling the nuts. Some people didn’t buy anything because it was our first stop but later regretted it. So if you like something and especially if it’s a road side event, BUY IT. Don’t just think that you will see something like it again. Here are the two men who make the wooden animals. They were so happy to talk to us about their craft.

We drove inside Kruger National Park which is the largest of South Africa’s parks, with a total area of 7,500 square miles, Kruger is also one of the largest parks in the world. Bordered by the Limpopo and Crocodile rivers, the land spreads a stunning 200 miles at its widest point. Once inside the park we switched vehicles to take us to Buffalo Rock Camp. About 10 minutes from camp we saw a beautiful elephant just hanging out. The welcome committee! When we arrived in camp, we were shown to our tent/cabins where we had a little time to unpack. Isn’t it lovely? The bathroom with shower was in the back – it was outside but had a roof and walls that had an opening at the top.

Then we met back up for a drive out – Saw many impalas, a few warthogs, an African eagle and some hippos playing in a lake. Next, stopped for a sundowner drink of Amarula Liquor which is a cream liqueur from South Africa. It is made with sugar, cream and the fruit of the African marula tree. Then it was dark and we drove back with a spotlight on to try to see night animals. We did see two hyenas finally. It was cold! We all called it a night after dinner since we had a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call. We were given a hot water bottle (which they called a bush baby) to keep us warm. Since it was dark you must be escorted to your room by a person with a rifle and a flashlight. That night I heard some animal making strange sounds out there. The camp is completely open so animals can walk through at any time – hence the people walking you to your room when it is dark with the rifle. If it’s light out you can walk to the lodge yourself – It’s only about 75 feet away. Just be sure to give a good look! 

The animal noises I heard at night were hyenas fighting. WOW. Such a strange noise. We left around 6:30 a.m. where one of our first sightings was A LEOPARD!!! OMG what a gorgeous creature. Simply amazing. He was perched on top of a termite pile and stayed there for at least five minutes while we were all trying to take pics and get a closer look with the binoculars. Just look at this beautiful creature.

So now we’ve seen three of the Big Five – c’mon lions and rhinos! We went back for lunch and headed out after that for some more sightings where we saw zebras, giraffes, warthogs, steenboks (they are so cute), hyenas and near the end we stopped to take a picture of the sunset and there was a HUGE baboon in a tree with lots of baboon family around. After about ten minutes they started heading down the hill towards us – we were outside of the jeep taking pics of the sunset!!! We quickly made our way back to the Jeeps and watched them move from the hill to the other side where it was higher and rockier. Really cool to see the whole family progression. Do you see the big guy in the tree? And some of the family too his right and the ground.

The national park is home to 147 species of land mammals—the highest number in Africa—including all of the “Big Five” (lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros). Thousands of zebra roam Kruger as well, but no species can keep up with the impala, which number more than a million here. On this day the park was having a few free to the public days so the park was a bit busier than normal but the cars needed to be out of the camp by sundown. We were driving around 6:00 pm and there were cars driving by us so fast. Why? They needed to leave! It was almost sundown and they were going to be fined. But as karma has it a huge pack of buffalo were crossing the road and just stood there. They were not going to move out of the road so they were definitely going to be late.

OAT Travel likes to include discussions about sometimes difficult topics. That night we gathered at the lodge for an enlightening conversation about gender stereotypes in South Africa’s game lodges—and how more and more women are challenging these outdated stereotypes that still exist in the game lodge and conservation world. The conversation was led by a female game ranger at Kruger. We learned that less than 30% of entry-level nature guides in South Africa are women—and in more specialized roles such as trail guides, less than 8% are women. And just 13% of head chefs in South Africa are female. She shared what it was like for her to break into this traditionally male-dominated industry. Kudos to her for being determined and fighting for what she wanted.

More animal noises last night! Wake up call person said to be a little careful because there were hyenas and possibly a lion in the area! Yikes. That got my attention. This was our last day in Kruger and we still hadn’t seen a lion or a rhino. But Lucky said he was feeling lucky. 🙂 We headed out again at 7 a.m. and within fifteen minutes we were rushing to see another leopard! As I’ve said, they are not that common to see so it was a treat. She was beautiful. Hanging out on a fallen tree for about five minutes before she decided she was tired of us.

Then not even thirty minutes after seeing the leopard we found ……. A pride of around 8-9 lions gathered around a buffalo kill. AMAZING. There were two large male lions and two female and then a few cubs which were around 3-4 months old. Just chowing on the buffalo (sorry and thank you mr buffalo). The older males were fighting a bit about whose turn it was to get a bite with a vulture circling overhead. They were about 90 feet away and in the brush so it was hard to get a really good picture but so cool. And the sounds!!

So luck was on our side. Next up, a rhino. The guides knew where they liked to hang out. It was about an hour or more drive but it was worth it. Because there it was, the first one was pretty far away walking through large bushes but I got a picture. The other was by a watering hole but it just wanted to rest in the shade and show us its backside. The Big Five – CHECK.

And that was our adventure in Kruger National Park. We arrived back at Buffalo Rock Camp around 3:00 where we relaxed until 5:30 – it was hot! Then it was a discussion about elephant dung (which was EVERYWHERE). It was actually very enlightening. Here are a few uses for elephant dung: If you forget insect repellent you can burn a dried piece of dung to keep insects away. You can also burn it and inhale the fumes to get rid of a headache or a nosebleed. Lucky actually did this because he had a headache and he said it went away! And as it turns out, elephants are a great source of biogas. This is due to their herbivorous diet and the large amounts that they excrete daily. Their dung produces gas for stoves, heat and can even generate electricity. Good job elephants! How about a picture of one from Kruger for you.

A HUGE thank you to everyone at Buffalo Rock Camp, especially JB and Nico – you made the experience so nice with your warm hospitality and happiness. I love that the place is powered by solar energy, leave the smallest possible foot-print in this pristine wilderness. That night we had a dinner under the stars, good conversations, some wine and went to sleep dreaming of the all the beautiful animals that we had already seen.

animals · arizona · beauty · birds · earth · familia · hike · love love love · planet · restaurant · Road Trip · touristy · travel · usa

5 Fun Things to Do in Phoenix AZ

My parents moved to Phoenix, AZ a few years ago in their perfect retirement community. And every time I’m there I find so many fun and cool things to do, which I’d love to share with you!

Sharing is caring, y’all.

  • Take A Hike! Get your butt outdoors and breathe in the fresh air. Plus some exercise always does a body good. There are many great hiking trails but Camelback Mountain is the closest to my parent’s house so that’s the one I hike. Two main trails lead to the summit of Camelback, a camel-shaped mountain just 20 minutes from downtown Phoenix. Both are rated extremely difficult. The Echo Canyon hike is the more rugged of the two and requires steep climbs and scrambling over large rocks. The Cholla Trail, while a little bit less strenuous, is also a little bit longer. The beginning of the hike is easy, with switchbacks and even terrain. The last third of the trail requires scrambling up steep grades with drop-offs on each side. Both hikes are a little under 2.5 miles long. Plan on taking two to three hours, depending on your condition, to make either of the round-trip hikes. Please don’t forget to bring lots of water to stay hydrated!
  • Go See A Show! It doesn’t matter if it’s theatre or ballet or opera or a concert. Whichever is your jam go do it. There are just so many opportunities in Phoenix to find something that you would love. I recently saw Wicked at the ASU Gammage theatre. Great show! Great theatre. In August, The Book Of Mormon (SO GOOD) will be performing there.
  • Visit A Museum! I love the Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix. It’s one of the best places to experience the myriad cultures and art of American Indians of the Southwest. Since its founding in 1929, the Heard Museum has grown in size and stature to become recognized internationally for the quality of its collections, world-class exhibitions, educational programming and its unmatched festivals. Dedicated to the advancement of American Indian art, the Heard successfully presents the stories of American Indian people from a first-person perspective, as well as exhibitions that showcase the beauty and vitality of traditional and contemporary art.
  • Eat At A New Restaurant! Before seeing Wicked at the ASU Gammage we went to have an early dinner at Durant’s Steakhouse. We got there five minutes before actual opening hours, walked through the back entrance (through the kitchen – do it, be a regular), ordered martinis (extra dirty for me) and a brandy old fashioned for mom before we were seated. And speaking of seating, we slid into our red leather booth surrounded by red velvety wallpaper before having an excellent meal. Don’t get me wrong, Durant’s is not somewhere to get a quick, cheap eat. But if you want a culinary and cool experience go check it out. Quick fun fact – John Wayne, Clark Gable and Joe DiMaggio all frequented Durant’s.
  • Check out something just outside of Phoenix! Last time my mom and I went to see Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright‘s winter home and school. Ever since I was young I loved architecture and touring mansions – the Marland mansion in Ponca City, OK and don’t think I went completely insane in Newport, RI – The Breakers!!! Marble House. WOW, just wow. So definitely check out Taliesin West. But THIS TIME we went on a boat ride on Saguro Lake with my aunt and uncle who were visiting. Saguro Lake is about 45 minutes Northeast of Phoenix. The 1,200-acre lake is 10 miles long and reaches depths of more than 110 feet at its deepest point. Its 22 miles of shoreline include rocky crags, canyon walls, marshland, and desert shrubland. The area also offers a variety of recreational activities (kayaking, hiking, fishing, sailing) including a scenic and educational riverboat cruise. We took a ride on the Desert Belle riverboat, a 90-minute narrated cruise on the lake. Let me clarify, the Captain didn’t speak the entire boat ride, there were lots of groovy tunes and time to breath in the nature. Besides hundreds, if not thousands of Saguro cacti we saw a bald eagle and a bighorn sheep!!! I was super stoked about the sheep. I highly suggest to bring your binoculars.

Have a ton of fun on all your adventures. And I’d love to hear what you love to do in and around Phoenix. 🙂

animals · beach · catalonia · fiestas · let's learn spanish · Majorca · Mallorca · menorca · spain

Sant Joan Festival

It’s that time of year again! Sant Joan festival in Spain. Many different versions around Spain – tonight in my sleepy Mallorcan town we will be heading to the beach for some BBQ, lighting LOTS of candles around us and possibly dip our toes in the ocean. This is all to celebrate the summer solstice.

BUT the best one to experience is in Menorca. The Sant Joan festival in Ciutadella. Which is CRAZY! Looks super cool but I would rather have the tamer version of it. And it allowed me to come into full contact with the horses! Something I doubt would be possible for me at the Sant Joan festival.

Check out these pics from the Sant Joan festival in Ciutadella. Insane in the membrane.

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and this …..

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Wowzers. That is A LOT of people. But that is the Sant Joan fiesta. Es normal.

The smaller festival that I attended the other year in Menorca was in Es Mercadal and called Sant Marti. The horse is the common hero of all the local saint’s day festivals celebrated in all the Menorcan villages during the summer and clearly shows how authentic the island customs are. The drivers and horsemen, dressed up in the outfit called “de just” (of the just man) in a combination of black and white and they ride Menorcan-race stallions in a long procession or parade (qualcada) which goes through all the main streets and squares of the town.

During the two days of the holiday, strict protocol is observed, mixing religious acts which are closely observed, with moments of collective fun especially during the “jaleos” which take place in the main square and where the horses, horsemen and public take part to an equal extent in the show.

And this Jaleo is what we went to on Sunday morning at 11 am in the Plaça Constitució. It was, in a word, fantastic. First, the riders rode in a procession through the street showing off themselves and their gorgeous horses. And then the fun begins! They ride into the public circle in twos while the spectators (me!) try to touch the horse while it rears up. This went on for about an hour. I am allergic to horses. Seriously, all I have to do is look at a horse and I start to get welts on my face and arms. But after 15 minutes I was ready to get into the game. Screw allergies! It was so much fun.

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and

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If you get a chance to go to the Sant Marti or the Sant Joan festival I highly recommend it. And make sure you wear clothes that can get dirt, sand, horse slobber and more on it. NO HIGH HEELS! No. Muy ridiculo – and don’t think I didn’t see it.

Happy Summer Solstice! xo

animals · cats · happy happy joy joy · hi there · love love love · Majorca · she's crafty

Kitten Development Stages

Welcome to adorableness!

I’m not sure if it’s the same where you live, but here in Mallorca we have many feral cats. And feral cats mean pregnant cats and pregnant cats mean kittens. Recently we had a little grey cat show up and I tried to catch her in time to get her spayed but ehem, nope. And now we have some kittens!

While they are so stinkin’ cute I needed to refrain myself the first week or so to not touch them and just let them be with mama (aka Carla)

Week ONE:

Kittens are born with their eyes and ear canals closed. They do not have any sight or hearing and will most likely stay close to the mother. Their main activities will include eating, sleeping and passing waste. The mother cleans the kitten regularly, and this also helps stimulate the newborn.

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We weren’t sure exactly where Carla had the babies. We thought it was in the abandoned lot across the street but at about day three we found her with FOUR(!!) babies on our old lounge chair on the back upstairs patio. We had a bike on the lounge chair with a cover over it and she had made a little nest in there. Hi Carla!! Shhhhh kittens sleeping.

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And then about five days later she brought her babies down and placed them on our couch!!! Sadly, one had fallen off the lounge chair and died. 😦 So we are down to three kittens. But she carried them down one by one, each time nursing them and getting them quiet before going to get their sibling. But when they were all on the couch mama really settled in with them. And now we were getting close to week two.

Week TWO:

The eyes will begin to open, but vision will be blurry. The kitten will start to develop its sense of smell.

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Isn’t that just the sweetest.

Well, that couch is THE main couch and Carla and the kittens couldn’t stay there. We fixed up a nice box with a blanket Carla had been using before the birth. And then we moved the kittens over to the box. Well, sadly Carla did not like that and she took the babies away. This time to the lot where we thought they were born.

And then came the rain. Mallorca was cold and had a lot of rain for several days. I was hoping she would come back with them because it was so cold and wet. Finally a few days later she did. Three kittens and Carla were in the cat basket upstairs one morning. And I was so relieved! They were all good.

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Their eyes were open (all blue at the moment) and kind  of stumbling around a bit. We have been giving them lots of time with mama but also picking them up a bit and petting them to get them slowly used to humans. I need them to be sweeties and not wild, feral cats! We are looking for homes for them but who knows, maybe we’ll end up keeping them.

Week THREE:

The kitten may have blue eyes at birth, but this will change as the kitten ages. You may start to see this change in the third week. Hearing begins and starts to improve, and you may notice that loud or abrupt noises scare the kitten. Because of the change in hearing, the kitten’s ears will begin to stand up.

The sense of smell continues to improve, and the kitten will begin to pass waste without prodding from the mother. Teeth may start coming in this week, and purring might commence. Your kitten may also go mobile and start walking this week!

And they have slowing started trying to walk with mama’s encouragement. I seriously can’t get over the amount of cuteness.

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Can you handle it!? We are almost to the fourth week. Where they really start to get their own personality and getting a bit bolder. This is where I leave you but I will be back with updates as we get into the next weeks.

Week FOUR:

The kitten will start working on balance and will walk more. The head is usually large compared to body size, so your kitten may be wobbly while moving around. The kitten will begin to explore the surroundings, and you may find yourself on the hunt!

Evaluate any harmful items, chemicals, plants or small openings to minimize risk to the kitten. The kitten will still be nursing at this time, and you can start the introduction to the litter box. Don’t be afraid if the kitten tries to eat the litter; this is normal.

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