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Archive for the category “travel”

A Little Solo Camping

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A Little Solo Camping

H. Bradford

5/21/17

I was feeling a little stressed out last week, so I decided that I was going to go camping.  The stress stemmed from the fact that I felt that my plate was a little full.  I sometimes put in a little too much effort into some activist activities.  For instance, I devoted more time than I should have to researching pollinators and Frida Kahlo for recent presentations.  While these papers were for informal settings with friends, it made my week feel a little like finals week!  I needed a little break, so I set off on a solo camping adventure.  Honestly, I have never gone camping alone before.  Really, until just last year, I had never even gone camping before.  My first real camping experience was my trip to Africa last summer.  I will be camping again this June in Central Asia.  Go big or go home, I guess?  Local adventures are also fun (and cheaper).  For a small dose of adventure, I checked the Minnesota State Park’s website and decided to go camping at Wild River State Park because the park was hosting two birding hikes in celebration of International Migratory Bird Day.


Wild River State Park is located about fourteen miles east of North Branch, MN on the St. Croix River.  I don’t recall visiting the park before, but I may have visited it while I lived in Cambridge, MN as a teen.  It was about a two and a half hour drive from Duluth.  I left on Friday at around noon and arrived by the late afternoon.  I stopped for lunch along the way and also picked up some DNR approved firewood outside of the park.  I had reserved a campsite that was several sites away from other reservations, as I wanted to be alone.  Upon arrival, I checked in, set-up my tent, and read a little from the Frida Kahlo biography.  The campsite was fairly busy, with many of the sites reserved.  I was a little surprised to see so many massive RVs, complete with trucks, bicycles, grills, and scampering hordes children.  From six to nine pm, each of the campsites seemed to be a Thanksgiving feast of grilled foods.  The campground itself was a little too chaotic to be relaxing.  I walked around a little to orient myself, then hiked for the next three to four hours along the various trails near the campsite.   Thankfully, the trails were quiet.  I only saw a handful of hikers once I was away from the campground.  I was immediately struck by the bountiful birdlife.  The forest was alive with the sounds of numerous birds, which flitted by with frustrating speed.  I noticed several bluebirds and a rose-breasted grosbeak during my hike.  I also heard an owl later on, but could not identify it.  Another highlight was a pair of noisy ravens.  Beyond the birds, the forest was teeming with trilliums and other wildflowers.  Since it was warmer than in Duluth, the season was further along, with more flowers and foliage than in the north. DSCF6175 I wore myself out with walking and settled back down at my campsite.  I build a fire, but didn’t actually pack any foods for cooking as I was only going to be gone for less than 24 hours.  Instead, I nibbled on the snacks that I had packed while watching the fire and listening to the sounds of the forest.  It was very calming and empowering, since it provided me mental space from the daily demands of work and activism.  It was empowering in that I felt proud of myself for hiking alone, driving there myself, setting up the tent and fire, and entertaining myself with my own company.  The only downside was that it would have been nice to pack a lamp or candle so that I could have written in my journal after sunset.  I also forgot to pack extra batteries.  I also managed to forget to pack my glasses and a pair of flipflops.  My headlamp went dead and it made using the restroom difficult.  Despite these shortfalls in my planning, I enjoyed staring at the fire and remained with it until it died.  I then retreated to my tent for sleep.  Even after using the bathroom twice before bedtime, I inevitably awoke in the middle of the night to contemplate answering nature’s call or trying to wait until morning. DSCF6192 DSCF6208 My sleep was uneasy.  I certainly felt worn out, but I tossed and turned.  My mind was full of thoughts and ideas.  I was also excited about my mini adventure.   I am not sure how many hours of sleep I managed to obtain.  By five in the morning, the birds were singing in full force, so I abandoned my efforts at sleeping.  I woke up early, packed up all of my things, and nibbled on granola while studying bird books.  I found a used book on warblers of the Midwest from the Superior Public Library book sale.  At about seven in the morning, I left the campsite for the boat landing on the St. Croix river, where a bird walk was scheduled.  I was the first birder to arrive.  Two seasoned birders began their work listening for songs and scanning the treetops.  They adeptly identified birds by their songs and picked them out even as they zipped through the sky.  I was not very skilled at identification, but at least saw some familiar birds and took notes on what the others saw and heard.  I am not sure how every birder I meet is so skilled.  There must be beginners like me.  It takes years of studying to identify birds.  Where are all of the novices?

(Some of the photos are blurry, but it should depict a Scarlet tanager, black and white warbler, American red start, yellow rumped warbler, and Eastern bluebird) Once more birders arrived, we hiked around for two hours.  The goal was to record all of the species of birds we saw that morning so that the data could be compared to other International Birding Day counts at the park.  There were bluebirds and Baltimore orioles.  We saw tree swallows living in bluebird houses.  A female wood duck flew overhead.  An Eastern kingbird showed off the white markings on its tail feathers.  A few house wrens had taken up residence in some ramshackle abandoned bird houses.  We also saw many warblers, including a blue winged warbler, yellow warbler, golden winged warbler, palm warbler, black and white warbler, and American redstart.  The warblers were quick and kept to the top of the trees.  A flash of yellow would sail by overhead and everyone immediately knew what it was.  Faint chirps were also readily identified.  I stood there, stupefied by the variety of quick moving, similar looking, yellow birds.  Since this hike, I have gone out birding around Duluth and Superior and managed to identify some more warblers.  Maybe someday I will know them as well as the other birders.  In all, I wrote down over twenty birds that were new to my life list.  The group counted over fifty birds for the total species count.


Following the count, I decided to go on a final hike.  I drove to the visitor’s center, where a scarlet tanager was hanging out in a treetop.  An ovenbird sang in the distance.  The visitor’s center was soon visited by a young black bear.  I wandered along a trail for a short final hike.  Along the hike, I saw several more scarlet tanagers and Baltimore orioles.  I also saw a yellow bellied sapsucker and a group of cowbirds.  With the final hike out of the way, I set off for the two hour drive home.  But, the birding adventures had helped me with my bird identification skills.  For the past several evenings since then, I have tried to memorize bird songs.  Auditory bird identification is not a skill that I have spent any time developing and I can see how useful it is.

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Learning to identify birds is challenging.  There is a lot of information that one has to gather in a short amount of time.  Birds are very quick, so size, color, beak shape, flight pattern, song, behaviors, etc. are some of the data that one must collect within a few seconds.  The reward is a better understanding of the inhabitants of the natural world and a keener eye for the hidden details around us (at least in regard to birds).  Another bonus is the ability to add a bird to a life list.  I like lists.  They make me feel accomplished, since it allows me to quantify and organize some aspect of my reality.     Even camping adds to my lists, as it added to my list of state parks I have visited.  More than an odd obsession with quantifying my life, camping offered quietude and self-efficacy.    It also offered a relatively low cost sample of adventure.

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Travel and My Fears

 

Travel and My Fears

H. Bradford

5/21/17

I am getting ready for another trip and I feel a little afraid.  This time, I am traveling to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan for three weeks.  Like always, I will go alone, though I will meet up with a group of strangers after a few days in Ashgabat.  From there, we will embark on an overland camping trip through the stans.  When I first fantasized about the trip, I imagined the wonder of seeing the dehydrated remains of the Aral Sea.  I imagined myself following the Silk Road through ancient, exotic cities.  I would traverse the rugged formerly Soviet states, admiring mosques, monuments, and a few remaining statues of Lenin.  It seemed very intrepid.  All winter, the trip was abstract.  I read books about the history of the region.  But, now that the trip is less than two weeks away, a new reality is setting in.  I am going to have to bush camp in the desert with scorpions, cobras, and several days without a shower.  I am going to have to navigate Ashgabat alone as a solo female American traveler.  Turkmenistan gets a fraction of the tourists that North Korea gets each year (about 9,000 compared to 35,000).  I am also moderately terrified of contracting dysentery, typhus, or any number of food or waterborne diseases.  (I do have some antibiotics from last year’s trip and was vaccinated last year against a variety of illnesses).   Also, ATM use in those countries is unreliable, so, I will have to carry a lot of cash and hope it is enough for the duration of my trip…and that I don’t lose it or have it stolen.  Internet is somewhat patchy in those countries and my cellphone does not work out of the country.  I have faced that same dilemmas before and fared alright, but, it does make me a little worried.

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The Darvaza gas crater in the Karakum desert- one of the places where I will be “bush camping” in just over two weeks from now.


Fear is not new.  I’ve always been afraid of travel.  Usually, there is this brave person inside of me, who is full of fantasy and confidence.  That person decides on some adventure, which looks great as a portrait in my imagination, but is not as fun as a lived reality.  Let’s call that person “Brave H.” For instance, when I was 19 years old, I decided that I would go to London and Paris alone.  I came from a town of 250 people and had never been on an airplane or road in a taxi.  Go big or go home, Brave H. says…until I am actually trying to figure out how airports work, on my first plane ride, and going across the ocean.  In retrospect, it is really no big deal.  That sort of travel seems easy.  But, to 19 year old me, that was a pretty big deal.  Over fifty countries later, I am still afraid, but the fear changes with new challenges.


Last year, I went to Southern Africa for an overland camping trip in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.  As the plane took off, I was pretty terrified.  I was terrified before then.  I had never actually gone camping, but somehow Brave H. signed me up for three weeks of it…in Africa.  I was afraid of being alone.  I was afraid of being the victim of crime- sexual assault in particular.  I was afraid of becoming very ill.  I was afraid that I was not up to the challenge of camping or the long days on bumpy roads.  I was a little afraid of insects, snakes, and animals.  Somehow, it wasn’t as bad as I feared. In fact, it was wonderful, fun, and even much easier than I imagined.  It took a few days of camping to come to the conclusion that I was going to make it.  Any small hardship was more than compensated for in the form of astonishing landscapes and animals.

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(A view of Victoria Falls from a helicopter.  I had a lot of anxiety as I had never been in a helicopter before.  But, overcoming fear and anxiety does have its rewards).

I was afraid the year before when Brave H. decided it was a good idea to visit Belarus and Ukraine, entirely alone.  After all, Brave H. wanted to see Chernobyl.  Brave H. wanted to visit a nature reserve outside of Minsk and partake in the weird splendor of the Cold War remnant.  So, that is where I went.  I don’t regret it.  Kiev was really beautiful and there was so much to see.  Minsk was not really pretty at all, but unique.  Neither place was teeming with tourists, adding a sense of bravery to my adventure.  I only spent a few days in each place.  I think that traveling often has waves of fear.  For instance, there is the anxiety of getting from the airport to the hotel without being ripped off or taken advantage of by a taxi driver.  Upon arriving at the hotel, there is elation after overcoming the first challenge.  After that, there are anxieties around finding a currency exchange, navigating the metro system, walking alone in the park, the other individuals staying in the hostel, the mysterious military parade, getting turned around, trying to find the monument to Baba Yar, etc.  It is like this on every adventure.  The ups and downs of figuring things out and staying safe in unfamiliar places.

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I have felt at least a little afraid during each of my trips.  I don’t particularly like being afraid, but I do like the feeling of accomplishment from figuring something out or successfully completing a task or adventure.  I suppose it makes me feel stronger and braver.  Of course, this only serves to inspire Brave H.to dream up bigger adventures and greater challenges.  I am not a robust, energetic, extroverted adventurer.  I am cowardly.  I like books and birds.  I enjoy museums and botanical gardens. I don’t really care for being dirty, lonely, terrified, tired, or sick.  Brave H. won’t stand for that.  Nope.  Life is too short.  I want to see interesting things and test myself.  Granted, there are people who test themselves far more.  For instance, there was a woman in her 60s on my last trip who went scuba diving with alligators in the Zambezi river.  Brave H. wants to be her.   Normal, nerdy, cowardly H. does not like water or all the pressure from being under water.  The same woman climbed mountains and scuba dived all over the world.  She also traveled to the “Stans” for an overland trip.  I will never be one of those amazing adventurers that I meet when I am out traveling.  The ones who inspire Brave H. to concoct an adventure or dream of new challenges.  I will always be afraid.  As I test myself, the boundaries of the fear extends to the next horizon.  I hope that horizon takes me to interesting places.  Maybe I will trek up mountains (at least smaller ones that don’t require actual climbing gear).  Maybe I will learn to scuba dive.  Maybe I will never do those things.  Maybe there is a limit to how far the boundary can be pushed.  It may be limited by experiencing disease or a discomfort so great that it pushes me back into my comfort zone.  Whatever happens, it is my hope that I can one day be that old lady who inspires others with her fearlessness and zeal for life.

dscf4256Brave H. thinks she is a bad ass.   Well, maybe someday it will be true.

Orniscaching?: Birding and Geocaching

 

Orniscaching?: Birding and Geocaching

H. Bradford

4/17/17

This weekend I went on a Feminist Frolic and tried geocaching for the first time.  I downloaded an app to my phone and found one awesome, mushroom shaped cache with our group.  The event was a Cache in Trash out event, so we also collected some garbage from the park as part of the adventure.  It was a fun time.  Although it seems that there is a lot of jargon and rules regarding geocaching, I am eager to continue with this new found hobby.  I think that the best thing about this activity is that it involves spending time outdoors while investigating nature for a hidden world of secret treasures.  I was surprised to see how many caches appeared on the map of Superior.  To think that all this time there have been hidden items all around me!  I also like the collective and individual nature of the activity.   Geocaching creates a sense of community, since many people have visited the same site in pursuit of the same time.  The community is evident by the logbook and online logs about the site.  The activity also builds community since it can be done in groups and appeals to all ages.  As for the individual aspect, it can also be done solo, as I did today.  So, it can feel like an individual quest to follow in the path of many others to a common destination.


After trying the activity for the first time on Saturday, I decided that I would head out on a birding + geocaching adventure.   Adam decided that he was interested in coming along, so we headed to Cloverland, WI to the Roy Johnson Wetlands.  I also wanted to visit the Davidson Windmill to try to find a cache.  So, we set out on an adventure to the rural areas outside of Superior.


Early on, I became quite frustrated.  I soon learned that it is very hard to operate a car, a camera, and the geocaching app on my phone.  I also learned that there is very spotty cellphone reception in that area.   I hadn’t downloaded the maps for geocaching which made this aspect of the adventure impossible.  I was angry at myself, since I wanted to try out my new activity.  I also became angry because I saw various hawks on wires and flying over the farmland.  However, they either flew away before I could identify them or I was unable to stop.  Adam wasn’t keen on the slow driving and stop and go, as he wanted to head to Cloverland.  I was unhappy with trying to juggle driving, birding, and caching.   In any event, I passed up several birds on the way to the Windmill.  Thankfully, my phone sort of worked at the Windmill, but after milling about for 20 minutes, I failed to find the cache.  This was a very bad start to our journey and heralded the end of my attempt to geocache.  Instead, I would focus on birds.


We traveled to Cloverland and went on a short hike, but didn’t spot any birds.  We continued down a dirt road past an old barn, where Adam said he’d seen an owl in the past.  Adam spotted a dark, moving object in a tree near the barn.  This was hopeful!  However, it turned out to be a porcupine.  The porcupine lifted my spirits a bit, and we continued onward.  Our drive did not yield any unusual birds, but we pushed on towards the Roy Johnson Wetlands.


Not far from the wetlands was a trail or narrow road, which ascended a muddy hill.  We hiked up the hill and our luck with birding changed.   The top of the hill featured a small pond with a nesting goose.  The road was flanked by scraggy bushes, where small birds flitted back and forth.  They were too quick for me, but I managed to photograph a robin and a dark eyed junco.  By then, the sun was setting, so our time was limited.  A large hawk flew by, keeping low to the ground as it hugged the curves of the marshy landscape.  I captured a blurry photo of what appeared to be a light gray hawk with a white underside.  I believe that it was a Northern Harrier hawk.  Finally, as we continued a little further down the trail I spotted what looked like a chickadee with a yellow bottom!  Of course, this little bird did not turn around, so I had a hard time determining what it was.  My best guess is that it was a yellow-rumped warbler.   Spotting these two birds redeemed the adventure, though by then I was already over my earlier frustration over my lack of organization and inability to juggle my activities.  I decided that I would try geocaching + birding the next day!

Today, I woke up and realized it was cold and windy out.  This put a damper on my outdoor adventures until the late afternoon.  Once the sun peeked out and the wind seemed less intimidating, I hurried to Park Point…determined to make geocaching and birding work.  I set out alone and on foot, which is the key to balancing these two hobbies.   It also helped that I had cellphone reception.  With my bird books, camera, and phone, I started hiking!  The hike was pleasant and birds were plentiful.  Several birds of prey flew overhead.  However, they were too fast for me to identify.  One was quite large with dark banding under the wings.  I am new at identifying birds, so this usually involves photographing birds and then comparing them to the bird guides.  I admired the birds as they passed by, then continued into the woods.  I spotted a red-breasted nuthatch and then a quick moving bird that bounced from branch to branch and tree to tree.   I spent quite a while observing it, trying to photograph it and commit its features to memory.  The bird had a bright yellow crown and solid white or gray stomach.  Its eyes were masked with a black stripe.  I assumed that it might be some kind of warbler.  There are numerous warblers and I don’t really know how to identify any of them.  However, using the bird guide, it seems that the bird most closely resembled a golden-crowned kinglet.

Near where I spotted the golden-crowned kinglet was a cache.  I looked around, but did not find it.  However, there were several more up the trail, so I continued.  Along the way, I found two caches.  This was great!  But, I failed to find a third cache further up the trail.  As I had a meeting at 5:30 pm, I hurried along, trying to find one more cache before I had to turn around.  I managed to find one more, but failed to find one more for lack of time.  With that, I turned around and hurried back to my car.  The hike back yielded two more birds of prey.  One of them had distinct black wing tips on its underside and a head that was darker gray than the rest of its body.  Its underside appeared to be lightly barred.  I was confused, but I think it may have been another Northern harrier hawk.   Finally, I saw one last bird of prey at the top of a conifer.  It was smaller than the others and of course, hard to see.  I moved around to try to view it from different angles.  It may have been a female merlin, but I can’t know for sure.  I also spotted a common merganser.

Prior to Saturday, I did a little birding at WI Point and Loon’s Foot landing.  Many of the ducks I had seen in the previous weeks have seemingly moved along.  I did capture a picture of a female cardinal though.


In all, it seems that geocaching and birding compliment each other.  In both activities, I am searching for something.  Both have highs and lows.  It is certainly disappointing to miss a cache.  It is also frustrating when I struggle to identify birds as they are too quick or I am just not skilled enough.  However, these struggles make identifying a new bird or finding a cache all the more exciting!    I know that some people do both activities at the same time, but oddly, there is no name for it (that I saw online anyway!).  Since geocaching seems to have developed its own language, I think I will call it orniscaching!

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12 Things I did for My Birthday: 2017

 

 

12 Things I did for My Birthday: 2017

H. Bradford

2/12/2017

   Today is my birthday, which is normally a pretty big deal.  However, I have been very busy lately.  As such, celebrating my birthday feels a little more like a chore this year.  It is just one more thing to add to my “to do” list.  Yet, I really want to push myself to celebrate.  I feel that I have been in a black hole of work and activism, so taking time to celebrate is a very important “to do” list for the month of February.   With that said, here are some of the things that I did this weekend for my birthday.  Of course, my birthday celebrations usually last the entire month of February, so this is just a sample of what the month has in store for me.  Why bother?  Well, I happen to like being alive.  I won’t always be alive…so I best enjoy it while I can!  I won’t lie, this year’s birthday weekend was a little less fabulous than most years.  But, I did my best to make the most of it.

1. Worked:

Ten hours of my birthday consisted of working.  This isn’t the most fun way to spend a birthday.    Work has been a little stressful this weekend.  I can’t go into details, but I work at a domestic violence shelter and things can get a little stressful at work.  So, yep, there you go, I spent a good portion of my birthday working.

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2. Felt Sick to my Stomach

I worked on Saturday night, but felt sort of bloated and gross.  My stomach discomfort continued on Sunday.  I could not sleep well.  The howling wind outside of my window and my heavy stomach kept me awake.  I could hear the crows cawing in the creaking trees outside.  I even had a dream that there was a giant crow in my bedroom window.  In the dream, I debated if it was a crow or a raven.  The thicker beak and wedge shaped tale told my dream brain that it was actually a raven.   In any event, I had planned on going to a Darwin Day celebration hosted by the Lake Superior Freethinkers.  That was supposed to be the highlight of my actual birthday.  However, my stomach felt unhappy, so I decided to stay in bed.  I actually called in sick to work because I felt that if I moved around too much, I might become sicker.  I try not to call in sick, but I figured that I didn’t have to push myself through a shift on my birthday.   Thus, aside from working, I spent a good portion of my birthday in bed.  Thankfully, my stomach eventually felt less icky (after 12 hours in bed).

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“Caw, caw, wake up!  Wake up!  Will you throw up?  Is it just diarrhea? Caw, caw!”


 

3. Drank Tea:

Wow, who would have known that February 12th is Hot Tea Appreciation Day?!  At least it has been hot tea appreciation day since it was established in 2016.  I certainly appreciate tea.  It is my caffeinated drink of choice.   While working on Saturday night, I took time to drink some Bhakti brand Fiery Masala Chai tea while at work (I really like the flavor of this tea, which we actually have for residents).  Well, whoopee I drank some tea.  Still, sometimes having hot tea is like a bubble bath for my innards.  It is the little things in life.


4. Read:

I’ve been pretty good about reading lately.  On Friday, I finished a really interesting book about the environment history of Russia.  Saturday, I started on a very short book.  It is Anton’ Treuer’s Ojibwe in Minnesota.    The book is a very quick read that offers a basic overview of Ojibwe history in Minnesota.  Here are a few interesting facts:  1. The 1898 Battle of Sugar Point at Leech Lake was the last conflict between a U.S. tribe and the military. 2. Ponemah on the Red Lake Reservation has never held a Christian funeral.  3. The Ojibwe and Dakota formed an alliance, wherein they shared territory and were at peace for 57 years- before the better known conflicts after 1736.

 

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5. Full Moon Snow Shoe Hike:

On Friday, in celebration of my birthday weekend, I went on a full moon snowshoe hike with UWS’ outdoor adventure program.  I signed up at the last minute and wasn’t sure if I wanted to attend a three hour snowshoeing excursion before working a 10 hour shift.  I went anyway.  The night was lovely.  At the beginning of the trip, the sky was clear and the temperature was about 35 degrees F.  The outing offered me a good view of the full moon (which was experiencing a partial eclipse) as well as some wintry constellations like Orion, canis major, Taurus, Gemini, etc.  Because the moon was slightly dimmed by the eclipse, the constellations were easier to spot than during a regular full moon.  The snowshoe hike itself was along Lake Superior on Wisconsin Point.  We clambered up the ice hill along the lake and continued that precarious path for about an hour before turning around and heading back.  I imagined that I was walking along a glacier or ice cap in Greenland as I carefully trod across the small mound of snow and ice.  It was fun, but it wore me out!  Thankfully, I survived my night shift on Friday night.


 

6. Watched Documentaries:

 

Since I took Sunday night off of work,  I had some free time for some sedentary activity.  I filled this time by watching documentaries and videos about the “stan” countries on YouTube.  I am planning on traveling to several of the “stan” countries this summer, so I have been reading about them lately.  I read a book about the Great Game in January and finished a book about early communist policies regarding the stans earlier this month.  I read a book about the Silk Road in December.  I am slowly increasing my knowledge of the stans, which I will meet in person in June.  Anyway, on Sunday night I watched a BBC travel series about the “stans.”  I also watched a short video about Turkmenbashi, the former dictator of Turkmenistan and another short news video about upcoming elections in Turkmenistan.   I have enjoyed learning about this region of the world.  Nevertheless, like always, I have some anxiety about the upcoming trip.  I worry the most about health, but also the conditions of travel.  This trip will involve overland travel and camping.  The camping conditions will be more rustic and challenging than my previous trip to southern Africa.  Am I up to the challenge?  On the bright side, I will probably get to see part of the Aral Sea and the giant gas crater in Turkmenistan.

 

Gas crater

 


7. Fed the Squirrels:

After finishing work on Sunday morning, I decided to head to the grocery store to pick up a few items.  I decided to pick up some hazelnuts and leave them out for the squirrels in my yard.  I know that Flappy’s favorite food was hazelnuts.  Thus, the nuts were a little Valentine’s treat for my squirrel friends.  I love squirrels.  Happy Valentine’s Day to my favorite rodents!

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8. Went for a Walk:

I went for a walk with Dan in the Superior Municipal Forest on Saturday evening.  I didn’t actually want to walk, as my stomach was already starting to feel a little iffy.  But, it was nice to be outside and I felt better once I was walking.  I chalked the iffy stomach up to nerves or stress from a busy weekend at work.  Perhaps that is all it was?  Perhaps it was just a very mild bug?  Who knows.


 

9. Ate Mexican Food:

After taking a walk on Saturday, Dan and I went to Guadalajara Restaurant.  I really like Mexican food.  After eating, I felt bloated and that feeling didn’t go away for about 24 hours.  I don’t think that this is what made me feel ill today, but probably added to my uneasy stomach.   Oh well, it was worth it since I really do like Mexican food…


10. Drank Lime La Croix:

So, two of my twelve activities involve drinking.  While most people probably have a drink on their birthday, it probably isn’t tea and lime sparkling water.   Well, I am a teetotaler.  I have never drank an alcoholic beverage in my life.  Oddly enough, I have not smoked a cigarette or tried an illegal drug.  I am not against these things and don’t look down upon people who do these things, but when you haven’t done them there is a certain momentum to maintaining the identity of a teetotaler.   And, I have plenty of other vices…such as junk food.  However, my drinks of choice remain unsweetened tea and lime La Croix.  I was very happy to find 100 cans of La Croix in the kitchen when I finally rolled out of bed today!  Thanks Adam.   February 12th should also be Lime La Croix appreciation day.

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11. Booked a Trip to a Sloth Sanctuary

Next November, Dan and I are going on a trip.  We haven’t been anywhere together for about seven years.  He rarely gets time off of work and really isn’t that interested in travel.  Thus, for the most part, I travel alone.  However, in November 2017, he was able to take some time off of work, so we are going to go on a cruise.  While this trip is a long while away, I booked a trip to visit a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica today.  I thought it would be a small way to prepare for that trip and brighten my mood about being sick.   I am more of a squirrel person and Dan’s favorite animals are toads.  Still, sloths are really cute.  And, my bloated, slow digesting stomach…coupled with my lack of energy….certainly makes me feel like a sloth today.

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12. Wrote a Blog Post

Last year I wrote a blog post about 12 things I did for my birthday.  I didn’t work on my birthday last year…and I wasn’t sick, so I had a bit more time/ability to do fun things.  Despite it all, I think I successfully managed to squeeze some birthday fun out of my weekend.  Perhaps it isn’t the most fun I’ve had for my birthday, but the month isn’t over!

Thanksgiving in Texas

 

Thanksgiving in Texas

by H. Bradford


This Thanksgiving, I visited my brother in San Antonio, Texas.  I love visiting my brother since I feel that we can sometimes have interesting discussions.  I also like that my brother likes to be active, so he usually is up for going for a hike.  The trip to Texas was an opportunity to spend time with my brother and my nephews Layton and Orrin.  My mother also went to Texas for Thanksgiving, so it was an opportunity to be together as a family.  I have never been a huge fan of the holidays, but I always like to travel.  This makes the holidays less constricting for me, as it offers the opportunity to explore and try out new traditions.

The Commissary:

My brother lives on a base, which makes visiting there unusual.  The base is a little like a college campus in that it is an enclosed community with housing, recreational centers, shopping, food, a service station, a museum, etc. all located in one area.  A person could probably live quite well without a vehicle, as most needs can be met within walking distance of base housing.  The housing is somewhat similar, with some variation in the style of homes used for various ranks of officers.  A base is a planned economy, so as a socialist, I can appreciate the logic, planning, and uniformity.  Of course, it is planned within the context of capitalism and in the interest of capitalism.  As such, the market shapes what appears on the base.  For instance, there is a Subway and Chic Filet (I believe).  Which fast food places appear on the base are less about the needs of the soldiers and the military than about contracts and prices.  Still, since many Americans have experience living in college dormitories or bases, these living situations make socialist living seem less far fetched.  In any event, the base is a planned community of America’s working class, poor, and people of color.


On my first day in San Antonio, my brother brought me to the commissary to buy some food for our Thanksgiving meal the following day.  The store appeared like a grocery store like any other.  In my imagination, I thought it would be like a Sam’s Club or a giant warehouse of supplies.  I enjoyed observing what foods the people were buying.  For instance, corn bread and collard greens were among the Thanksgiving foods on sale.  I noticed several carts with these items in them.  These are not typical Thanksgiving foods in Minnesota.  I also noticed that people purchased small sized marshmallows to put on their sweet potatoes.  In Minnesota, I have observed that large sized or medium sized marshmallows are more common.  Finally, I purchased a turnip.  The clerk had to look it up in his produce book, even though I told him it was a turnip.  The clerk insisted it was a rutabaga and it was actually listed as such in his produce book.  This is not correct, as turnips and rutabagas are two different vegetables.  A turnip is an ancient vegetable named Brassica Rapa.  A rutabaga is a new vegetable that is a cross between a turnip and a Brassica Oleracea (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc.) which is usually larger, yellowish inside, and less bitter.  In any event, it was fun to go to the grocery store to explore the differences in Texan Thanksgiving v. Minnesotan.


Government Canyon:

On Thanksgiving day itself, I visited Government Canyon.  Earlier this spring, I visited Government Canyon recreation area.  At the time, the park was flooded in areas.  This made seeing the park’s dinosaur tracks difficult.  I wanted to return to the park, since I felt that a hike on Thanksgiving Day would be a constructive start to the holiday.  Visiting the dinosaur foot prints was a Thanksgiving pilgrimage to the ancestors of the modern turkey.  After all, turkeys and chickens are believed to be more closely related to dinosaurs than other modern birds!  In fact, one of the earliest galliform fossils  (from 85 million years ago) was discovered in the Austin Chalk near Austin, Texas.   Government Canyon contains the footprints of Acrocanthosaurus and Sauroposeidon, which are believed to be from 110 million years ago.  At the time, Government Canyon was a beach along an ocean.  The tracks themselves were only discovered in 2014 when a drought uncovered them and scientists excavated them from the muddy riverbed.

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We thought that we would find the park deserted on Thanksgiving Day, but we saw several groups of hikers during our four hour hike.  The terrain can be rocky and inclined, so both times I have hiked there I found it challenging enough to feel worn out by the end of the endeavor.  I kept my eye out for birds, as another homage to the turkey was an appreciation of other birds.  However, the bird life was absent.  I did see hundreds of butterflies though!  It made me wish that I had brought a butterfly guide.  It also inspired me to try to take up the hobby of butterflying.  I don’t think I have ever seen so many butterflies as I had in Texas.

 

Thanksgiving Dinner:

After the hike, I got to work making Thanksgiving dinner.  I prepared sweet potatoes (sans marshmallows), buns, and wild rice, mushroom, and cranberry stuffing.  I also wanted to introduce some new traditions to Thanksgiving, so I made quinoa and the “mash of nine sorts.”  The mash of nine sorts is a Cornish recipe which uses nine ingredients, including turnip, potato, leek, parsnip, rutabaga, cream, salt, pepper, and carrot.  I have made it before, but this time, it did not turn out that great since it had a much stronger turnip flavor than usual.  In the past, I used a turnip from my garden, which was smaller and resulted in less dominant turnip flavor.  I like the recipe since it is associated with fall and Samhain.  My brother purchased a small turkey breast probably because of the symbolic attachment to meat at Thanksgiving.  Tiffany made mashed potatoes and green bean casserole.  As a whole, the meal was not dominated by meat, as 90% of the offerings were vegetarian.  I wanted to follow my theme of bird appreciation through a vegetarian thanksgiving, but oh well!


Before we began eating, we each put on a turkey hat (which my nephew Layton made in pre-school).  Whomever wore the hat had to say something they were thankful for.  We did two rounds of this, which made for a silly time (as a group of adults donned a paper turkey hat and gave thanks).  I also discussed a book I was reading about the history of Thanksgiving (including the social construction of the First Thanksgiving, Native American critique of the holiday, and the historical imagination regarding pilgrims).

The Journey to South Padre Island:

On Black Friday, our family set out for South Padre Island.  I was excited to see more of Texas, but I quickly learned that the route between San Antonio and South Padre Island was pretty empty.   San Antonio does not extend into endless suburbs.  It simply ends.  Once it ends, the landscape becomes expansive with farms.  There were few towns along the way.  There wasn’t much for trees or wildlife to look at.  Just cattle and farms.


Things became a little more interesting a few hours into the drive with the appearance of thicker patches of palm trees and the growing use of Spanish language.  It struck me that southern Texas reminded me a lot of southern Africa.  This is because there were various thorny acacia trees (though nowhere near the amount in southern Africa where it was the dominant type of tree).  This is also because there was a lot of impoverished people of color with speckles of nicer homes and farms owned by white people.  As we went further south, I also saw more birds.  I jotted them down in my notebook.


Cracker Barrel

My great grandparents spent their winters in Harlingen, Texas.  We aren’t sure where they lived, but we stopped there to get a late lunch.  My mom wanted to go to the Cracker Barrel, despite some protests.  I tried to be open minded about it as I don’t have much experience with the chain.  I thought it might be a fun southern experience.


I found that the menu wasn’t very vegetarian friendly, but that a person could patch together sides into a “Vegetable Combo Platter”.  Vegetable is used loosely, since most of the sides were not vegetables.  I settled on some southern sounding sides like grits, corn bread, and fried okra, with some actual vegetables to balance it off (steamed broccoli and another item that I forget).  I felt pleased with my patchwork of sides.  My mom seemed to like the place, but it was sensory overload for most of us.  The place was loud with music and a crowd of diners.  The entrance was a maze of Christmas trees, toys, and decorations.  To reach the reservation desk, a person has to thread their way through narrow passages, accosted by Christmas music and overpowering holiday scents.  Yep, that is Cracker Barrel.

Schlitterbahn:

We arrived on South Padre Island about an hour later.  By then, the air was muggy and the landscape appeared fully tropical (though it is subtropical).  South Padre had a ghost town feel.  It felt like a mall at closing time or a concert after clean up.  It was the off season after all.  There were no college students.  No flocks of families.  Just a few lonely souls shivering in the breezy 70-80 degree weather.  We stayed at Schlitterbahn, a German themed water park.  We had a massive room with three beds and two pull out couches, a kitchenette, and a view of the Gulf.  The park itself featured a water slide, some kiddie pools, a bar inside of a pool, and a tubing course.  I am not a water park person.  In fact, I have never been to a water park before.  But the room was nice!  While the rest of the family went to check out the waterpark, I went for a walk along the beach.  I ended up drenched by a sudden rain and then attacked by swarms of mosquitoes.  Throughout the weekend, I avoided the waterpark.  However, on the last day I did go down the water slide twice and spent some time on the tubing course.  That was an adequate amount of time for me.  A highlight of my stay at the waterpark was the long walks that I took along the beach at night.  On one of the nights, we found dozens of moon jellyfish and man-of-wars washed up on the beach.  That was interesting.

 

South Padre Birding and Nature Center: 

My favorite part of the weekend was visiting the birding center.  Of course, this was not quite as interesting to the three year old and five year old in tow.  The rest of my family returned to the waterpark, but I stayed behind at the birding center.  I circled the wooden walkway a few times, recording all of the birds that I saw.  I wrote about this experience in my year of birding blog post, so I won’t add too much detail.  Only, it was great!  It was also neat because many of the people there were from other countries.  It seems that they were there specifically for the opportunity to see the migratory birds!

Dolphin Watch and Shrimp Haus:

In the evening, we went on a dolphin watching tour.  There were dozens of dolphins, but it does not take many dolphins to become desensitized to their existence.  I suppose it is the law of diminishing returns.  The last bites of a cake are less wonderful than the first.  The first dolphin is more exciting than the last.  The first fifteen minutes of a boat tour is more fun than two hours in…   Oh well, we did see a lot of dolphins and it seems that it relaxed my nephews, who both took naps during the boat ride.


This was followed by a culinary adventure at Shrimp Haus, a German themed shrimp restaurant.  The entire menu was seafood!  Seafood is my very least favorite food.  Looking and thinking about it disgusts me.   I ordered the salad bar.  But, my salad tasted suspiciously like shrimp.  I thought that perhaps it was just my imagination.  I had a few more bites.  I poked around.  There was no sign of sea food.  Maybe the smell in the air was tricking my taste buds?  NO.  To my horror, there was shrimp in the salad dressing.  The humanity of it.  I was disgusted by this.  I felt angry.  I entirely lost my appetite.  This sounds over dramatic, but for some reason I just really really really hate seafood.  It isn’t a vegetarian thing, as I am not ideologically committed enough to vegetarianism to have such a visceral reaction.


Zoo Lights and the San Antonio Botanical Garden:

Our drive back towards San Antonio took us on a more interesting alternative route.  I was surprised to find a border crossing 100 miles from the Mexican border.  For a moment, I thought that we had accidentally crossed into Mexico.  Nope.  I guess that the U.S. has secondary border posts to snag undocumented people who might have gotten through the first border post.  That is pretty terrible!  It creates a corral for undocumented people living between border posts.


On Monday, we went to the Botanical Garden and Zoo Lights.  The San Antonio Botanical Garden is wonderful.   It is expansive and diverse.  There is a pond with ducks that is lined with Texan trees.  There are various areas that represent different ecological zones.  Near an area filled with cacti, acacias, and aloes, there is a birding station, where we watched various birds.  There is also a vegetable garden, Japanese garden, orangerie, buildings for ferns and palms, etc.  A person could spend an entire day wandering around the botanical garden.  We spent several hours.  Orrin, the 3 year old, seemed to enjoy it well enough, even if it is a pretty sedate place with not a whole lot to offer children.

In the evening, we all went to Zoo Lights, which is an event wherein the San Antonio Zoo is decorated with x-mas lights.  Layton and Orrin love the zoo, but it was past their bedtime, so both were a little cranky.  Zoo Lights was interesting, since it sought to create the illusion of winter.  There was a snow machine which produced a thin cloud of snowflakes.  There were “warming stations” with fires and s’mores, even though the temperature was in the 70s.  Workers dressed in fake velvet with fake fur trim, wearing mittens and hats.  Granted, it probably felt cooler to people who were not used to the “real” cold of winter.  There were looming inflatable Christmas characters, a boisterous light and sound show, and all sorts of things which probably tormented the animals to some degree.  The parents looked equally tortured, as they pushed and carried their tired children through the gauntlet of lights and “holiday fun.”  Still, the zoo created a fun atmosphere, even if unlike Bentleyville, the cocoa, cookies, and s’mores weren’t free.

 

One Last Day…

My last day involved returning to Cracker Barrel with my mother (since Tiffany had to return a defective Christmas decoration that she had purchased).   My mother had an earlier flight, so she headed off after our final farewell to the Cracker Barrel Colossus.


The departure of my mother left Tiffany, Orrin, and I to spend some time together.  We went to the Japanese Tea Garden.  Then, we went on the kiddie train near the zoo.  Orrin loves the kiddie train.  I am not sure if I have ever been on one.  It was fun to see Orrin enjoy himself so much, even though he admitted that the kiddie train made him feel sleepy.


My brother finished work in the early afternoon, so we went on a final hike together.  On the ride to the airport, we briefly debated workplace democracy, which he quickly dismissed as a stupid idea.  Then, it was time to leave!  So, my time was cut short from defending the idea that workers might be able to control their own work places.  There is never enough time…


In the end, the trip had a good mixture of many things.  I enjoyed some hikes, plants, and birds.  I tried out a water slide and the Cracker Barrel.  There were debates over Donald Trump and work place democracy.  There was a landscape of dead jelly fish.  There was a lot of culinary compromise (I’m looking at you Shrimp Haus…my haus of pain).   There was a surprise border crossing, palm trees, x-mas lights, a turkey hat, and a family Thanksgiving dinner.  I am thankful that I had the opportunity to see my family and that we had so much fun during my time off for Thanksgiving.

 

 

Packing for an Overland Trip

Packing for an Overland Trip

H. Bradford

12/7/16


This post is probably somewhat boring to anyone who is not planning on travelling in the near future.  However, if you ARE considering doing an overland trip, I compiled a list of items that I thought were useful for the trip, including some things that I didn’t pack but should have. dscf3584


Useful Items:

Headlamp:  If you are traveling to southern Africa in the winter, a headlamp is essential.  Our days began between 5am and 6pm and ended around 6pm.  This resulted in packing and unpacking tents and supplies in darkness.  Because the days were just as short at a Minnesota winter, there was a lot of time spent in darkness.  The days are very short.  Thus, the headlamp is essential for walking around at night, using the bathroom, showering, packing, setting up the tent, etc.  Also, be sure to bring batteries!

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Gloves:  I did not pack gloves, but would have really liked work gloves or garden gloves.  Pulling mattresses and supplies off of the truck dries out the hands and gets them dirty.  Wrestling with a stubborn tent mangled the skin of my hands.  By the end of the trip, my hand were dry, cracked, and permanently caked with dirt.  They looked like the hands of an old sailor or mechanic.  A pair of work or garden gloves will keep your hands clean and protect them from scratches and the enormous amount of dirt on everything.  I would definitely pack gloves if I did it again!


Lotion:  I never really care that much about dry skin.  It is something I hardly notice.  I never wear lotion on my hands or body.  During the trip, my skin became disgustingly dry.  Skin peeled off like snowflakes, but far less gentle and pretty.  My skin took on the texture of a crocodile.  I eventually bought some lotion, but it was a losing battle against the arid climate.  Namibia, Northern South Africa, and parts of Botswana are pretty much deserts or desert-like Karoo climate.  I have never lived in a desert or spent time in one, so I was not at all prepared for the extreme dryness of my skin. fscn1343

This is me sans lotion.

 


Warm Clothes and a warm sleeping bag: I was also unprepared for how cold it was.  While planning the trip, I had checked out the temperatures of each place.  These temps seemed warm enough.  However, I learned a few important lessons.  1. A high in the 70s doesn’t matter if it is only at that high for an hour or two and the rest of the day is closer to the daily “low” temperature.  2. It feels colder at night when you are sleeping (and not moving around). 3. Wind and dry air make everything feel colder.  4. Deserts are cold at night.  5. Don’t underestimate African winter.  6. Everything feels colder when you can’t retreat indoors for warmth (in other words, a cool day here might be punctuated with time inside.  There, because the truck is not heated or air-conditioned, a person is always exposed to the ambient temperature conditions).  I eked by, using the clothes I had to layer. However, there were a few very cold nights.

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This didn’t feel very tropical.

A Cheap Rain Poncho:  I packed a cheap rain poncho.  It only rained once (on the first night…though it was a significant and terrible rain).  I used the poncho again at Victoria Falls (then threw it away to save space in my bag…yes, this was wasteful, but I needed to shed some items..).   The poncho saved me from packing an umbrella or actual raincoat.  Since most of the trip was through dry areas, the cheap poncho was all I needed.

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Wetter than it looks.

A Clothesline and Clothespins:  I packed a Bungee cord, but an actual clothes line would have been much more useful for hanging hand washed clothes.


Bar Shampoo:  To save space in my bag and avoid travelling with bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and detergent, I purchased an all-in-one camping bar soap which boasted that it could be used for shampoo, soap, and detergent.  It was called “All Natural Trail Soap” by Trascentuals.  The soap dried out my hair, making it feel like straw.  This added to my overall feeling of dryness.  However, I liked the scent, that I didn’t have to worry about packing numerous soap items, and that it came with its own plastic container. shopping   Fast Drying Microfiber Towel:  Since we never stayed in one place very long, a regular towel would have became moist and smelly. The microfiber towel that I brought dried very quickly, stayed fresh, folded compactly, and was unusually warm for how thin it was.  The towel was about $15, so not too spendy and worth it! shopping


Powerbank:  The truck is available for charging phones, mp3 players, cameras, etc.  However, it is only available when it has stopped for the night.  This means that everyone scrambles to charge their devices.  Sometimes the outlets might be full.  Further, once the truck is shut off for the night, there is no ability to charge things.  Thus, I found it useful to bring a power bank.  This allowed me to charge my items more frequently.


Packing Cubes: Overlanding involves a lot of packing and unpacking, often in the darkness.  Packing cubes makes it easier to find certain items.  For instance, I put all of my leggings and bottoms in one cube.  In another cube, I kept shirts.  In a smaller cube, I kept socks and underwear.  This made packing and unpacking far easier.  Though, even with the cubes, I seemed to always be losing things.  I bought really cheap packing cubes, so a few of them broke (zipper busted).  Don’t buy the brand “HiDay.”

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Padlock:  This is useful for the lockers on the truck.  Every passenger was assigned a locker for their items.


Handkerchief: Handkerchiefs are often worn by cowboys, farmers, gangsters, anarchists, and bank robbers.  I am not really badass enough to pull off the handkerchief look, but I wear them anyway.   I found mine incredibly useful for a variety of reasons.  1. While in Namibia, the truck filled with choking dust.  I was wearing a handkerchief, which I pulled up over my nose and mouth to protect myself from the dust.  2. Bad Smells: it is always useful to have something to protect against a bad smell.  3. Cold Wind: a handkerchief can offer some protection against cold wind (which occurred in open vehicles while looking for wildlife). 4. Bad hair: You can cover up bad hair with a handkerchief. 5. It is an easy to pack accessory that pulls an outfit together! dscf3967 Diva Cup:  Periods are never really fun when travelling…or really, ever.  They are especially not very fun when you are in a vehicle for many hours and are unsure what the bathroom conditions will be at each stop.  I found that a diva cup is useful, since it can be used for longer without leaking and does not require special disposal, such as pads and tampons.  The downside is that it is harder to sanitize it while travelling.


She-Wee: I packed a female urinal, but never used it.  I never used it because the places with the worst bathroom conditions were also the places without running water.  I didn’t want to haul a urine soaked female urinal around all day, waiting to rinse it off.  Still, it is kind of fun to have…if nothing else, it entertains the imaginations of fellow travelers.  Maybe some hardcore camper out there would find it useful.  Someday I will whip mine out….and use it proudly….peeing as freely as any man.  Until then…

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The Wildlife of Southern Africa by Vincent Carruthers:  This book offers a good overview of the most common birds, mammals, reptiles, plants, and fish of Southern Africa.  It helped me construct my list of species I had spotted and gain quick knowledge of the natural environment.


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A Stargazing Guide:  I deeply regretted that I did not pack a southern hemisphere stargazing guide.  In fact, the very first thing I did when I arrived in Windhoek was download a starmap and some astronomy books to my tablet.  Namibia is a great place to stargaze, since there is endless sky that is uninterrupted by light pollution, buildings, or trees.  Furthermore, people in the northern hemisphere do not get to enjoy many of the unique constellations of the southern hemisphere.  Once I downloaded a guide, I did my best to familiarize myself with the southern hemisphere’s sky.  Don’t miss out on the Southern cross, constellations named after scientific instruments, the center of the Milky Way galaxy, and Magellan cloud!


Ginger candies:

Unfamiliar foods, bumpy boat rides, long days on the truck, long periods between meals, etc. can upset a person’s stomach.  So, when I travel, I always bring ginger chews with me.  I find that they settle an upset stomach and ease motion sickness.  I didn’t get sick on this trip, but I did chew on ginger candies when I had mild stomach upset.


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Travel and Overcoming Fear

Travel and Overcoming Fear

by H. Bradford

When I was younger, I never really considered going to Africa.  Although I could make some basic differentiation between countries and histories, it always seemed like a place that that was scary.  It was a place where there was war, disease, poverty, crime, and uncertainty.   It is only in becoming an activist, and by extension, becoming interested in issues of racism and anti-colonial struggle, that I developed any interest in Africa at all.  In subtle and not so subtle ways, racism shapes the way that many people view Africa.  Racism is such an inescapable American experience, that it is not possible to think of Africa as a continent in the same way we think of other continents.  With that said, I recognized a long time ago that I was afraid to travel there.  I was afraid to get sick or that something bad would happen.  I feared this more than other destinations.  But, I often tell myself, “life begins where fear ends.”  Yeah, some Indian mystic said that.  I would almost rather that Cecil Rhodes or Theodore Roosevelt said it.  I believe that the things that we fear limit our lives.  I have a lot of fear, but I don’t want to let fear limit what I do in life.  My life is already limited by my geography, gender, class, place in history, etc.  While I can never overcome fear, I can at least challenge it from time to time.  So, that is one reason why I wanted to go to Africa.  I simply didn’t want to miss out on going out of fear!  And, after figuring out where I wanted to go and how I wanted to go about it, I started to feel a lot less fearful.  Of course, my brother injected some more fear into my mind.  He was also of the impression that Africa was a monolithic continent of war, poverty, and disease.  He had a rough time visiting some Pacific Island nations and questioned if I was ready to take on the third world.  Life begins where fear ends…so, I set off anyway, despite some advice to reconsider.  Thus, here are some reflections on my fears, some scary situations, and how I overcame them.


Lions:

I have never actually been anywhere where the wildlife is something to fear.  In Minnesota, we have bear and wolves, but both mostly leave people alone.  Deaths connected to bear and wolf attacks on humans happen by the handful in a century in Minnesota.  In southern Africa, this wasn’t the case.  There is so much wildlife in some areas, that it hardly seems real.  There is a false sense of security, since animals are everywhere.  They hardly seem wild at all, as they become a normal part of the adventure.  However, while camping in the Okavango delta, we met some lion researchers.  A group of lions was staying on the other side of the river from our camp site.  In fact, I could hear them at night.  Elephants also were known to pass through the campground from time to time.  This made for a very interesting night of sleeping, as I could hear many animal noises outside of my tent.  A tent is not a very secure sleeping arrangement in the midst of lions and elephants.  Worse than this, I had to use the restroom at about 4 in the morning.  This involved unzipping my tent and walking through a narrow path…a path lined with tall grass…about 200 meters to the toilets.  Now, I was very afraid.  It was dark out and I had to walk through a gauntlet of grass that seemed like the perfect hideout for a giant cat.  I overcame the fear by trying to be rational.  A.) What are the chances that a wild animal has been waiting in that very spot for my passing?  B.) How often our tourists actually killed by wild animals?  C.) I need to use the restroom so what other choice is there?   Still, there is nothing like the darkness of night, the call of nature, and the sound of unfamiliar animals to draw out a primal fear of being mauled to death.


Fear Level: 3

Fear Strategy: Trying to use reason

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Scorpions:

Early on in the trip, I became fixated on scorpions.  While there are snakes and spiders to worry about, scorpions made me feel the most uneasy.  No one else seemed to share this concern.  There is something villainous about scorpions.  Even their dens are shaped like the letter v.  V for Villain.  Some scorpions glow in the dark.  Some are deadly.  Even a relatively benign scorpion could create a sting that might require medical attention.  Doctors and medical facilities were not always easy to access.  Now, to overcome the fear of scorpions, I became angry!  I actually told myself, “I am not going to get stung by some f’ing scorpion.”  I would say this as I checked my bag, shoes, the corners of the tent, and under the mattress.  The anger created determination to hunt down the little villains and prevent them from ruining my day.  Anger creates action and purpose.  Some say it leads to the dark side, but, clearly they have never dealt with scorpions.  Oh, I didn’t see any scorpions the entire trip.  I saw some scorpion holes and one or two were spotted near our campsite.  However, no one was bothered by them.


Fear Level 2:

Fear Strategy: Anger

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Even the home of the scorpion looks menacing.

 

Spiders:

I do not have a phobia of spiders, but at the same time, I rarely find them to be a welcome addition to my life.  While in Namibia, I went on an educational hike with a San guide.  The purpose of the hike was to learn more about San culture and survival techniques.  The guide was wonderful and taught us many things about the wildlife.  Towards the end, he spotted some spider tracks and began digging into the sand.  Soon, he uncovered a spider tunnel and grabbed the spider in his hand.  The spider was folded up, gently sleeping in the cold, early morning.  This was a pleasant way to “enjoy” a spider.  But, just when I thought that I was safe, the spider uncurled itself, doubled in size, and hurled itself towards the group.  I actually let out a scream.  Yes, I screamed.  I was so surprised by the sudden explosion in the spider’s activity that I screamed.  This was embarrassing.  The guide talked about how he and his father lived around deadly animals, yet remained calm.  He said that when confronted with a deadly snake, like a black mamba, he learned to remain still, even letting it crawl over him, and it would go on its way.  Finally, he said that people who fear/hate spiders, snakes, or other creatures are the same people who hate San people.  This made me feel bad for my fear of the spider, or for that matter the scorpions.  Fear sometimes comes from a lack of control, experience, or understanding, so I can see why people who fear animals might also fear people.  At least for me, I find that my fear of creatures lessens as I have more experience and knowledge.  Thus, I tried to reframe my fear.  The spider was actually quite beautiful, my my reaction was because it surprised me.  As for scorpions, my relationship remained pretty antagonistic, but I guess it is neat that some of them can glow in the dark and spray their venom.  They are 430 million years old, so we are evolutionary embryos compared to their long history on this planet.  I can appreciate their place in the world.  I think they have a fierce looking appearance.  The constellation Scorpio appeared brightly in the Southern Hemisphere sky, a reminder of their hidden existence all around me.


Fear Level: 1

Fear Strategy: Cultivate Understanding

fscn0308

Sickness:

I have emetophobia, or the fear of throwing up.  This is an actual phobia.  However, my fear has diminished over the years as I have been thrust into confronting it.  I work at a Domestic Violence shelter, thus I am constantly exposed to a lot of germs and vomiting.  I have become pretty sick over the past few years, with a very memorable bout of extreme nausea and explosive diarrhea on my flight back from Prague.  I have had to accept that I really don’t have a lot of control over vomiting.  Yet, the fear remains.  Travel to less developed countries results in exposure to more diseases and more challenging food and water situations.  Overcoming this fear requires all of my fear strategies.  I need to be reasonable.  I need to give up my need to be in control.  But, at the same time I make preparations in case the worst happens.  As such, I always pack ginger candies, pepto-bismol, and Emetrol.  These things can stave off mild digestive problems and comfort major digestive episodes.  I also try to pack a plastic bag in my purse, so that if I must vomit, I have a baggy for it.  One part of my fear is that I will have to vomit, but that there will be nowhere to do it (thus I make a mess on myself, others, or the floor).  These precautions allow me to face the digestive unknowns that travel present.   At the same time, I have to be rational.  A person can get food poisoning here in the U.S., and often this does happen!  So, even though our water sanitation and refrigeration is more predictable, nowhere in the world is safe from sickness!


Besides my phobia of run of the mill vomiting, I was worried about more serious health risks.  It seems that almost every traveler that I speak with has some horror story of a great sickness they obtained.  Sometimes it is malaria.  Sometimes it is dysentery.  These tales often end with the traveler waking up in a foreign hospital or passing out somewhere, only to be attended to by a friendly denizen of their destination.  One story resulted in an unconscious trip directly to the Mayo Clinic.  Travelers laugh about these stories, since they lived to tell them.  They terrify me.  Well, I really don’t want a story like this.  So, again, I sought out some pre-trip preparation.  This brought me to a travel clinic and resulted in a barrage of vaccines, malaria pills, and anti-diarrhea tablets.  However, it also bought me the confidence that perhaps I wouldn’t become deathly ill.  Thankfully, I didn’t!


Fear Level: 4

Strategy: Preparation, Reason


Sexual Assault/Crime:

Another one of my travel fears is that I will be the victim of sexual assault or a crime.  South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the world.  40% of South African women have been raped.  This is a terrifying number.  I have never been sexually assaulted while traveling, but as a solo female traveler, I worry about it.  This is why I often join up with groups when I travel (though I try to do activities on my own, I like to have a group so that if something were to happen, there is a group that expects my return).   I don’t know what I can do to absolutely safe guard myself against sexual assault.  I don’t drink alcohol.  I avoid walking alone at night (though the next items on my list will show that this doesn’t always work out).  I am not a very social person, so when I travel, I am not really hanging out with men.  Still, it is impossible to avoid all risks.  While sexual assault is usually perpetrated by someone known to the victim, there are instances of strangers doing this.  The best I can do is try to be alert of my surroundings.  At the same time, I know that because of rape culture, if anything happens to me, I would be blamed for being foolish, going out alone, or putting myself in danger.  It angers me.  Maybe the best defense against being raped is to fight against rape culture.


I also worry about being the victim of a crime.  This is a more plausible concern, since muggings and pick-pocketing are common travel experiences.  My trip was going to end in Johannesburg, which has reputation of having a high crime rate.  At least as of 2010, 50 people were murdered each day in South Africa.  I think my fear of crime did limit my enjoyment of Johannesburg in particular.  I did not stay there long at the end of my trip.  Even the resident taxi and shuttle drivers said that it was unsafe to drive after 9pm.  I went on a Hop-on/Hop-off tour, but that was about all I did in Johannesburg (and that tour was far less eventful than the Cape Town one, which you will read about next!).  Beyond limiting my time in Johannesburg, I was afraid of having my money stolen.  While I am certainly wealthy compared to the majority of people in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, I am not a wealthy person.  I had a fixed budget.  Having money stolen would have been a hardship.  Also, because many of the places I travelled did not have ATMs or accept my Mastercard Debit card, I carried almost all of my money with me in cash.  This made me feel particularly vulnerable.  However, I did take a few precautions.  A.) I wore a money belt under my pants.  B.) I carried some money in a bra (I purchased a sports bra with re-moveable pads and put the money where the pads would have gone.  This was cheaper than buying a special travel bra).  C.) I carried a fake wallet with some expired cards, a few dollars, and some old IDs- so that I would have something to give someone in the case of a mugging.  D. )  I secured my travel purse zippers with carabiners, so that it could not be easily opened.   Thankfully, I have never been the victim of a pickpocket or mugger.


Fear Level: 4

Fear Strategy: Preparation, Reason


Hop on Hop off Bus from Hell:

Hop on/Hop off Buses are super dorky and ultra touristy.  You ride around in a giant red double decker bus while listening to an audio recording of your route.  Cities all around the world have them, and Cape Town is no different.  After returning from Robben Island, I thought that catching the Hop on/Hop off bus would be a great way to see the city, but also head to the Table Mountain.  Yes, the Hop on/Hop off bus actually went all the way to the Table Mountain!  It was a really extensive route with a lot to see.  So, off I went.  I made a stop at the Table Mountain, took the cable car up, and explored.  It was wonderful.  I felt like it had been a productive day.  Then, I took the bus back to the harbor.  I had studied the time table and the buses were in operation for another hour when I arrived back to the harbor.  Thus, I decided to stay on the same Hop on Hop off bus to do part of another loop (as this would take me back to near my hotel).


All of the tourists disembarked from the bus at the harbor.  I didn’t worry, as I figured that I was alone because it was near the end of the day and no one was interested in doing the loop at that time.  So, I stayed on the bus.  The driver said nothing and continued on the route.  Only, after a few stops on the route, the bus deviated from the route.  The driver picked up some friends and began making unofficial stops.  The bus veered further and further away from the route.  The recording stopped.  The bus deposited the driver’s friends.  I grew increasingly terrified with each passing second.  Finally, I just asked to get off of the bus- as I had no idea where it was going and no one seemed to mind the one white tourist who was sitting in their midst on what was clearly NOT the scheduled tour.  In retrospect, that particular bus was probably done for the day, even though the routes themselves had another hour.  I was terrified, so I disembarked…


Fear Level: 6

Fear Strategy: Flee

hopon-hopoff

 Run for your life!

This is part two of the previous story.  I thought my day was going to end with a Hop on/Hop off Tour.  Instead, the bus went rogue and I got off!  The only problem was that I wasn’t sure where I was or how to get back to my hotel.  The other problem was that it was getting dark.  After all, it was winter and the sun set pretty quickly once six pm rolled around.  As the sun set, the area took on a sinister look.  Markets folded up.  Businesses shuttered their windows and doors with metal gates.  I had a map, but I didn’t want to look vulnerable by opening it up on the street.  So, I ducked into a Burger King to study the map.  This was difficult, as I was not on the street, with the ability to compare streets with the map as I moved.  I ducked in and out a few times.  I thought I had a general idea of which way to walk, so I set off.


There are some things I try to do while wandering around in unfamiliar places if I feel unsafe.  One, I try not to look lost.  I try to walk quickly and confidently.  Two, I try to find a group of women to follow or walk with.  There is safety in numbers.  Well, there were zero women.  None.  Not one woman.  There were plenty of men loitering outside the closed businesses, socializing, smoking, and talking.  I was the only tourist, white person, and woman around.  It was scary to be different.  People asked me for money as I walked by.  I walked quickly, ignored everyone, and tried to just keep moving, even though I was lost and terrified.  A man grabbed my arm as I passed through group.  After that, I jerked my arm away and started running.


I don’t remember being that afraid before.  I am really glad that although I am a terrible jogger, I can run for a half an hour to an hour.  I kept jogging.  I watched an arm guard walk a car dealer to his car.  I jogged by police, asking them for directions.  They looked at me as if I was crazy.  There was a concern look in their faces as they told me how far I had to go to my hotel and how to get there.  I kept jogging.  I stopped at another hotel to make sure I was going the right way.  The bellman also looked concerned.


I finally made it back to my hotel.  This was met with relief and a rush of adrenaline that I had made it.  I made it!  I survived the crazy bus and my jog!  Was it wise to run?  Travel advice always says to be inconspicuous and purposeful.  Jogging draws attention.  However, I figured that if anyone wanted to hassle me, it would be too much trouble if I was moving too quickly.


Fear Level: 8

Fear Strategy: Flee

dscf4167

I am a terrible runner.  But, I am thankful that I CAN jog.


Keep Calm and Don’t Get Trampled On:

There is a time to run and a time when it is not good to run.  I think that getting off the bus and running when I was afraid of my surroundings in Cape Town was an okay time to run.  I will end with a story about not running.  Now, I had camped in Africa for over 22 days before arriving in Matopos National Park in Zimbabwe.  Throughout my trip I went on many wildlife drives.  These drives consisted of sitting in an open vehicle and searching for wildlife, often at watering holes.  There were many close encounters with wildlife, but at no point were we allowed to disembark from the vehicle.  This was the pattern throughout Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe thus far.  As such, when we went on our final wildlife drive in Matopos National Park, I assumed that it would follow this same pattern.  I was mistaken!


After driving some ways, the truck stopped and we were allowed to get out of the vehicle for a quick refreshment from the cooler of sodas.  I assumed that we would resume our drive, but the guide informed us that we were going for a hike.  This was really exciting!  I wasn’t offered many hiking opportunities because hiking is not safe in animal reserves.  Then, we were told that not only were we going to go for a hike, we were going to try to sneak up on some white rhinos.  Okay…what?


The guide was a rhinoceros expert who had actually been on the Animal Planet.  He told us that we could get close to the rhinos, as they couldn’t see very well.  However, our ability to get close to them required us to move carefully, stick together, and NOT RUN.  So, if anyone in the group got scared, they were not allowed to run or leave suddenly.  Our safety depended upon everyone in the group’s ability to remain collectively calm.  We were told that if we ran, we could get charged and trampled.


The group had some hesitations, but we headed out together in some scrubby brush and tall grass.  It didn’t take long before we spotted some rhinos.  We slowed down and those at the front of the group crouched in the grass.  By crouching and moving slowly, we were able to follow the small group as they grazed.  We took turns moving to the front to get a better view and better photos, tenderly stepping our way closer.  It was a little frightening.  Rhinos are enormous.  These enormous endangered animals were just a few feet away from us.  Each time they moved or stepped closer to us, I became a little afraid.  It seemed impossible that they didn’t see us, yet, they kept munching on their food and minding their own business.  Eventually they moved on, deeper into the thicket.


Fear Level: 4

Fear Strategy: Staying Calm

dscn1383

Trying to be as cool as a cucumber.


This isn’t a comprehensive list of every one of my fears!  And, I fear that talking about my fears makes light of the real conditions that people live in.  While it is funny to talk about my fears, it is not funny that so much of the world lives in conditions of poverty, disease, and danger.  At the end of the day, I get to return home, where there is clean water to drink and no threat of polio or typhoid.  At the end of the day, while I fear having money stolen, it would not sentence me to grinding poverty.  Nevertheless, I hope that the discussion of my fears helps to offer insight into how fear can be managed.  The world is amazing.  Fearless people inspire me.  I met a medical worker who traveled to West Africa during the ebola crisis as a volunteer.  That is fearless.  I met a woman who was in her 60s and went scuba diving with crocodiles at Victoria Falls.  Amazing!  I also hung out with a young Korean woman who was traveling across the entire continent of Africa all by herself, with limited English skills.  That is pretty fearless!  I will probably always be more limited by fear by those people.  Some fears can be overcome.  But, sometimes there is no negotiating with fear and you really do have to run!

My African List

My African List

H. Bradford

This past summer I went on an overland tour of Southern Africa.  This involved traveling on bumpy, dusty roads for hours on end and camping.  It also involved travel with two dozen strangers from around the world.  The social part of travel is always very challenging.  I don’t make friends very easily.  If everyone is an ice cream flavor, perhaps I am avocado, cardamom, or red bean ice cream.  SOME people may like these ice cream flavors, but few crave them.  Time and time again, I have been stuck with groups of strangers.  I have watched from the sidelines as strangers become friends.  I have seen people who hardly knew each other, part in tears.  There are hugs and sorrowful farewells.  All the while, I am empty and alone off to the side.  The My Little Ponies were right: friendship is magic.  I have seen the magic do its mysterious work all around me, but so rarely on me.  That is how I feel when I travel with groups.  I feel that everyone will become friends and that I will leave alone, just as I arrived.  Ireland, Russia, Korea, Eastern Europe, the Baltics…for the most part, this is the most common outcome.  I certainly have friendships that I cherish, but struggle to make friends when I am plopped together with strangers.  Most of my friends are fellow socialists, atheists, feminists and activists.  However, I don’t find too many of these folks when I travel (unless traveling for a specifically political purpose).  So, like many times before, I found myself with a group of strangers.


The strangers around me were certainly interesting.  They were nice people.  I could converse from time to time.  However, I didn’t really connect, as it often happens.  While the others began to have more fun with each other, becoming more comfortable…I could feel myself drift further away.  So, I began reading and just looking out the window of Ottis, the behemoth of an overland vehicle.  Everything outside of the window was fascinating and unfamiliar.  There were scrubby deserts of giant aloes, mountainous orange dunes, cruel spiked plants, and brightly colored birds.  Everything was strange to me.  As strange as a Dr. Seuss book.  All of the trees.  Every bird.  All of the stars in the sky.  I decided that I wanted to know everything.  I craved knowledge.  I hungered to know the names of all the unknown things that surrounded me.  Thankfully, I brought a guidebook of southern African animals, plants, and birds with me.  I began to make a list.


It wasn’t long before the list became an obsession.  By the time we arrived in Etosha National Park, I used our lunch breaks to wander around the campsite trying to painstakingly identify all of the trees and birds I could find.  I walked alone, baked in the midday heat, looking at leaves and bark, trying to compare what I saw to the guidebook.  Of course, this made everything very exciting.  While the others became excited when they saw lions or zebras, I started to become elated each time I could add anything to the list.  Even a new mouse or weasel was exciting.  I actually was more enamored by the ensemble of three species of vultures I saw in a tree, than the lionesses eating a giraffe below them.  Three more birds to add to the list!  Some animals, reptiles, or birds moved too quickly to be identified, which was met with immediate disappointment at the lost opportunity.  In the Okavango delta, I found almost a dozen species of butterflies in one area.  I spent a few hours chasing butterflies, waiting for them to land and spread their wings so I could quickly eye their markings.  As a result of all of this classification work, I quickly became more competent in the natural world around me.  I could identify birds or trees that I had seen earlier in the trip.


Socially, the list didn’t win me any friends.  However, it made me stand out.  It suddenly became a trope in the group.  Each time a new species was seen, it was pointed out to me so I could add it to the list.  Or, from time to time, I pointed out species to others.  I was the weird girl with the list and a “junior naturalist.”  The list opened up some conversations and questions.  Did the list connect me to them?  More likely it set me more apart, as I was in my own little African scavenger hunt.  I am sure the list was an emblem of my supreme nerdiness.  At the same time, the list made each moment more meaningful.  It gave me a goal.  I obsessively searched for more creatures to add to it.  I decided that I wanted to document 200 species.


The list was also a ritual and distraction.  Sometimes things were a little challenging.  We often awoke early each day.  I was usually the first person awake, as I wanted first dibs on the shower or bathroom.  This meant that most days began in the wintery darkness of 5:30 am.  Sometimes it was earlier.  Each day involved setting up and taking down a tent.  Again, this was usually in chilly darkness, as the winter sun rose late and set early.  The day’s weak heat disappeared very quickly in the dry, cloudless sky.  There was also some cleaning and food preparation that needed to be done.  Rolling up sleeping bags.  Packing and unpacking.  Jostling for long hours on extremely bumpy roads, sometimes through choking clouds of dust.  There was no heat or air conditioning.  Everyone had a pretty good attitude.  But, I think that the other group members obsession with wine and daily drinking was a way to cope with some of these hardships.  Because I don’t drink, I had no similar comfort.  My list was my best distraction.


With that said, here is the list, with a few notes on some of the species.

Birds:

  1. Blue waxbill
  2. Southern ground hornbill
  3. Black collared barbet
  4. Hammerkop
  5. Gray lorie (Goaway bird)
  6. Egyptian goose
  7. Secretary bird
  8. Red billed hornbill
  9. Black Winged lapwing
  10. Crimson breasted shrike
  11. Cardinal woodpecker
  12. Pied kingfisherfscn0934
  13. Bank cormorant
  14. Spur winged goose: This goose is not actually a goose, but in its own family.  It is also poisonous to humans because of its diet of blister beetles.
  15. Little bee eater
  16. Fish eagle: An iconic bird of the Okavango Delta.
  17. African jacana
  18. Malachite kingfisher: One of several kingfishers seen in the Okavango Delta.fscn0867
  19. Red Collared widowbird
  20. Ostrich
  21. Greater flamingo: I saw a flock of flamingos by Walvis Bay.
  22. Cape gannet
  23. Reed cormorant
  24. African darter: This bird has a neck that is slender and crooked like a snake.
  25. Sacred ibis
  26. Helmeted guinea fowl fscn1064
  27. Cape sparrow
  28. Sociable weaver
  29. Cape white eye
  30. Karoo korhaan
  31. Great white pelicandscn0360
  32. Great white egret
  33. Yellow billed hornbillfscn0514
  34. African pied wagtail
  35. Red eyed bulbul
  36. Dark canting goshawk
  37. Cape glossy starling
  38. Pied crow
  39. Kori Bustard:  Everyone called this a Kori “Bastard”  I corrected them on the spelling for popularity points.
  40. Green wood hoopoe
  41. Dark capped bulbul
  42. Spoonbillfscn0993
  43. Lilac Breasted roller: Probably the prettiest bird that I saw!
  44. Marabou stork: This was on my must see list.  It is bald headed, scavenger stork.fscn1055
  45. Red billed oxpecker
  46. Squacco heron: One of several herons spotted in the Hwange National Park area.
  47. Gray heron
  48. Cattle egret
  49. Purple heron
  50. White faced duck
  51. Gray headed gull: I was excited by this one, though everyone else had negative opinions of gulls.
  52. African Skimmer
  53. Yellow billed stork
  54. Caspian tern
  55. Laughing dove
  56. Magpie shrike
  57. African crowned eagle
  58. Trumpeter hornbill: A magnificent large hornbill spotted near Victoria fallsdscn1202
  59. Black kite
  60. Hooded vulture
  61. Fork tailed drongo
  62. Black crake
  63. Red winged starling

Mammals:

  1. Hyrax: It’s closest relative in the elephant!dscn0188
  2. Gemsbok: Survives on water from their food, thus surviving extreme dry conditions.fscn0491
  3. Springbok
  4. Kudufscn1348
  5. Cape fur seal: I saw hundreds of seals in a colony!
  6. Hippopotamus: These were first viewed from a canoe!fscn1283
  7. Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra
  8. Southern Right Whale
  9. Bottlenose dolphin
  10. Impala
  11. Elephantfscn0584
  12. Giraffe
  13. Plains Zebra
  14. Cape ground squirrelfscn0513
  15. Meercat
  16. Chacma baboon
  17. Red hartebeest
  18. Blue wildebeestfscn1322
  19. Black backed jackal
  20. Steenbok
  21. Black rhinofscn0600
  22. Honey badger:  There was a honey badger or ratel at the watering hole with a rhino.  Proof that the honey badger don’t care.
  23. Leopardfscn0712
  24. Slender mongoosefscn0774
  25. White tailed mongoose
  26. Banded mongoosedscf4007
  27. Aardwolf
  28. Spotted hyena
  29. Warthog
  30. Striped mouse: not the most exciting find.
  31. Vervet monkey
  32. Cape buffalo: The last of the big five that I saw. fscn1114
  33. Waterbuck
  34. Sable antelope: the largest of the antelopes fscn1019
  35. Lechwe
  36. Tree squirrel
  37. Elephant shrew
  38. White rhinoceros
  39. Cape hare
  40. Vesper bat

Invertebrates:

1.White lady spider: A large, terrifying white spider that lives in a tunnel.fscn0308

2.Broad banded yellow butterfly

  1. African monarch

4.Green veined chiraxes butterfly

  1. Painted lady butterfly

6.Orange tip butterfly

  1. Purple tip butterfly
  2. Red tip butterfly
  3. Scarlet tip butterfly (so, I basically saw several species of “tipped” butterflies in one area)
  4. Autumn leaf vagrant butterfly

11.Meadow white butterfly

  1. Gaudy commodore butterfly
  2. Guineafowl butterfly (a great name for a great butterfly spotted near Victoria Falls)
  3. Lion ant (one of the small five!)
  4. Common garden snail

Reptiles/Amphibians:

1.Painted reed frog

2.Tinker reed frog

3.Nile crocodile: It was pretty exhilarating seeing my first crocodile sluggishly flop into the cold, early morning water of the Okavango delta.fscn1343

4.Web footed gecko

5.Bushveldt lizard

  1. Bouton’s skink
  2. Common flat lizard
  3. Water monitordscn1106

Fish:

  1. Catfish (not sure what kind)

Plants:

  1. Wild sage
  2. Large fever berry
  3. Marula
  4. Night lily
  5. Day water lily
  6. Quivertree
  7. Camelthorn
  8. King protea
  9. Peach protea
  10. Tree aloe
  11. “Ostrich Lettuce”
  12. Mopane tree
  13. Bread leaf camphor
  14. Pencil Bush Euphorbia
  15. Paper tree
  16. Red thorn acacia
  17. Namaqua fig
  18. Broom karee
  19. Shepherd’s tree
  20. Strangler fig
  21. Crane flower
  22. Red grass aloe
  23. Red ivory
  24. Natal bottlebrush tree
  25. Papyrus
  26. Sausage tree:  (This was one of my must see trees!)
  27. Poison apple
  28. Lowveld clusterleaf
  29. Jackalberry tree
  30. Cape reed
  31. Rush- juncus krausii
  32. Sedge- cyperus dives
  33. Sedge- cyperus obtusi florus  (I was trying REEEEAL hard to get to 200)
  34. Wild hibiscus
  35. Tree fuchsia
  36. Boabab (Another iconic African tree)
  37. Leadwood
  38. Wild basil
  39. Khaki plant
  40. Khat
  41. Tree Euphorbia
  42. Candelabra tree
  43. Red milkwood tree
  44. Natal wild banana
  45. Tree wistaria
  46. Broad leaf ficus
  47. Zimbabwe teak
  48. Lavender tree
  49. Coral tree
  50. Ana tree
  51. Umbrella thorn
  52. Boer bean
  53. Transvaal Sesame
  54. Buffalo thorn
  55. Bead bean
  56. Nyala tree
  57. Small green thorn
  58. Giant raisin
  59. Greenstem corkwood
  60. Knob thorn
  61. Paperback thorn
  62. Morning glory (of some kind)
  63. River bushwillow
  64. Wild date palm

An Overview of Overland Travel

An Overview of Overland Travel

H. Bradford


This past summer I went on an overland trip through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe through Nomad Overland Adventure Tours.  I chose Nomad because they included The Great Zimbabwe complex on their itinerary, they were reasonably priced compared to other companies, they had good reviews, and their website looked appealing.  The tour that I chose was “Four Country Trek” which involved 25 Days of camping…in southern Africa.  I had never actually gone camping in my life!  So, this is the review of a novice camper.  Because it was my first time camping, I did have some misgivings.  I feared that I was not be up for the adventure.  My brother tried to talk me out of it, or at least talk some sense into me.  However, there are plenty of people who go to Africa on overland camping trips.  I am sure I am not the weakest or least adventurous of this lot.  Am I?  Well, maybe I am.  Who knows. dscf3967


The Flight:  I flew from Duluth, Mn to Cape Town, South Africa.  This in itself was an adventure, since it involved a flight to Amsterdam followed by a flight to Cape Town.  This resulted in over 20 hours of flying time.  It was pretty amazing to fly over ALL of Africa.  I arrived in Cape Town at 11 pm and was glad that I purchased a transfer to my hotel, or for that matter, a hotel.  While I try to be a frugal person when I travel, I have found that it is nice to stay in a hotel when I first arrive somewhere, rather than a hostel.  This allows my body and mind time to adjust to my new environment rather than being immediately thrust into the discomfort of hostels.  I was happy to have a hotel for my first two nights.


Cape Town: I spent the next day exploring Cape Town, which was the most beautiful city that I have ever seen.  It is hemmed by cloudy mountains, strange forests, and the meeting point of two oceans.  My solo adventures in the city involved visiting Robben Island, going on a Hop on-Hop off Bus Tour, a visit to the top of the table mountain, and wandering around the waterfront.  It also involved a 45 minute frantic jog back to my hotel through darkened streets after a man grabbed me by the arm.  That is another story for another blog post.  I will only say that Cape Town was wonderful.  I particularly enjoyed seeing a hyrax (a rodent like mountain animal which is related to the elephant) and a variety of unique plants (the Cape is one of several plant regions, which families of plants found nowhere in the world).   Oh, our tour guide at Robben Island was once a prisoner on the island and was once part of the Black Consciousness movement. dscn0186 dscn0110


Registration and the Truck:

The next morning, I went to Nomad’s office to sign in for the trip.  This is where I first met the people who would be traveling with me, the guides, and the truck.  Our overland truck was named Ottis.  Ottis could fit 24 passengers.  We were each allowed a soft duffel bag or soft backpack with a daypack and assigned our own locker on Ottis.  Ottis contained all of our tents, cooking equipment, a freezer, electrical outlets, food supplies, a water tank, and basically everything we would need for our camping journey through southern Africa.  Ottis was a sturdy truck with the capacity to take on the worst bumpy and dirt roads on our trek.

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The People:

There were about 24 people on our trip, so Ottis was packed!  We were squeezed onto the truck pretty tightly.  The passengers came from all over the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Germany, Belgium, Canada, France, United States, Netherlands, Denmark, South Korea, Switzerland, and Japan!  I was one of three Americans on the trip.  As a whole, it seemed that Netherlands and Dutch speaking Belgians made up the majority of those on the trip.  This is perhaps owing to the fact that South Africa was originally settled by the Dutch and Afrikaans is closely related to Dutch.  Just as there was a wide spread of nationalities, there was a wide range of ages.  Most of the people on the trip were in their 20s, but there were a few people in their 30s, as well as some adults who were in their 50s and 60s.  It can generally be said that everyone was well traveled and had a spirit of adventure.  It can also be said that everyone was at least somewhat athletic, with several individuals who had trekked up mountains or hiked extensively.  Many of the travelers enjoyed pursuits such as scuba diving, mountain climbing, skiing, biking, hiking, skydiving, etc.  Compared to the others, I was definitely on the lower end of fitness and propensity for adventure.


The Guides: Both of our guides were from Zimbabwe, which was great since I was most excited for my time in Zimbabwe.  The driver, Dingi, was a little older and generally had a good sense of humor.  Dingi was patient and never lost his cool as we faced long, arduous days on dusty roads.  Prince was younger and had spent some time working and living in the United States.  Prince did more of the cooking than Dingi and was a fabulous cook!  We all helped to prepare meals by washing and chopping vegetables, cleaning dishes, or otherwise helping as needed.  Prince worked his magic over the rudimentary burners and campfire to create flavorful southern Africa meals.  Both of them worked from before 5am to after 10 pm each night.  They did not get breaks between tours, so they worked non-stop from early spring to December.   They both tried to have a good attitude about it, as even the hyper-exploitative conditions paid better than jobs that they might find or not find in Zimbabwe.  Their low wage is bolstered by the tips they receive at the end of the trip.  So, as a note to fellow travelers: be sure to budget tip money.


The Camping:

My introduction to camping was my first night in the Cederberg region of South Africa.  We stayed at a campsite that was adjacent to a farm/vineyard.  A burly Boer regaled us with tales of leopards that pass through the farm.  I went to bed feeling giddy with my new adventure.  However, that night it rained very hard and became chilly.  My tent got wet inside.  I got wet.  I was miserable as I had to take apart my tent in the rain, pack it up, becoming covered in mud.  This was not the best introduction to camping.  This was one of the worst nights.  I will note that camping was much colder than I had prepared for.  I thought that it would be warmer…after all, it was Africa.  I come from Minnesota, where winter can involve 110 inches of snow and weeks of below zero temperatures.  I could not believe that winter in Africa could possibly be cold.  I was wrong.  There were nights that were near freezing, especially in desert areas.  I did not prepare myself well enough.  My sleeping bag was not up to the task.  So, there were some miserable, shivering nights.  However, there was also a sense of accomplishment and adventure.  Each day we had to get up early and take apart the tents.  Each day we had to put them back up.  It ended up being more work than it sounds like.  Also, because it was winter, the sun set early.  We were always putting up and taking down tents in the darkness of winter.  We chopped vegetables and did dishes in the dark, coldness of desert night.  It was fun, challenging, and beautiful all at once.  I never felt demoralized, but I also counted the days to my next warm shower and bed.  Thankfully, our longest stretch of camping was about five days.  Then, we had a reprieve in a city, where we stayed in a hotel.  This would be followed by another stretch of camping, with the eventual reward of a stay in a city.

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Showers and Bathrooms: The shower and bathroom situation was better than expected.  To be fair, I expected that I would probably be digging a hole and burying my pooh.  I also expected no showers or only cold showers.  In actuality, the bathroom situation was pretty good in South Africa and Namibia, which public restrooms at gas stations (which could be accessed for a fee).  The camp grounds featured flush toilets.  Showers tended to be either extremely cold or burning hot, with no way to moderate the heat.  This made showering a challenge, but since I was always extremely dirty it was worth the challenge.  Showers often did not have any lights, which meant showering with a flashlight or headlamp.  We did “bush camp” in Namibia for one night, which meant there were no showers and only an outhouse.  Really, I don’t mind outhouses.  In Botswana, the toilet situation took a turn for the worst.  The gas stations no longer had public toilets or running water.  I remember at one point, I had to use the toilet, but there was no toilet.  So, I had to trek away from Ottis, our bus, to find a secluded area to do my business.  However, ALL of the trees were variations of acacias.  Each tree was covered in terrible sharp spikes!   I squatted by this not very concealing, thorn covered tree…which jabbed by butt with a nasty thorn.  I pulled up my pants in disgust!  I was so angry that I couldn’t even answer nature’s call.  I felt angry at nature…angry at these mean trees that were neither concealing nor kind.  There was also a public restroom in Zimbabwe which was basically a tennis ball sized hole in a cement floor.  Despite some minor challenges along the way, I had access to flush toilets for most of the trip and a temperature controlled shower at least once a week. dscf3896


The Food:

The food was far better than I expected.  Each day that we camped, we started the day with a modest breakfast.  The breakfast consisted of cereal, tea, instant coffee, toast made over the campfire, fruit, and granola.  Sometimes the guides would make us bacon or eggs, but I never had these since I don’t eat meat and I prefer a light breakfast.  Each morning, I basically ate toast, fruit, and tea.  Our lunch was usually taken very quickly at a rest stop.  So, this usually consisted of cold sandwiches.  I ate a lot of cucumber, cheese, and tomato sandwiches on the road.  Since we made bathroom stops every few hours, there were opportunities to buy snacks and drinks.  Dinner was more of a production.  Once the tents were set up, we helped prepare dinner by cutting vegetables, setting the table, washing, or whatever else was needed.  Prince tried to make traditional foods, but also catered to my vegetarian diet.  I was the only vegetarian and didn’t ask for any special treatment.  Despite my protests, he always made me something special.  Our evening meals consisted of cooked squash, sweet potatoes, mealie pap, chakalaka stew, game meats, fish, pasta, curry vegetables, etc.  The food always tasted fresh and delicious.  There were always plenty of vegetable dishes and I never felt hungry.  Also, I usually get sick when I travel.  However, I did not become ill the whole time!  So, my digestive system handled the food very well. dscf3691

 

 

Health:

Before I went on the trip, I visited a travel health clinic.  Actually, it was my first time doing this, as usually I have not been too worried about my health while traveling.  I was given a variety of vaccinations, including yellow fever, meningitis, Hepatitis A/B, and typhoid.  I was also given malarial pills and anti-diarrhea pills.  I was told to take the malarial pills before beginning the trip.  Really, I was the only person on Ottis who was taking malaria pills (until Botswana).  Oh well, at least I gave my body a long time to get used to the malaria pills. I had no symptoms from the malarial pills other than vivid dreams.  I took them at night with my dinner, rather than at breakfast, since I did notice they gave me a little diarrhea and it was easier to deal with diarrhea at night rather than during the day while on a truck.  Otherwise, I had no major health issues during the trip.  Because it was winter during the trip, I really didn’t see any mosquitoes.  I had a few bites on my hands (since the spray was washed off), but mosquitoes were not very active.  Winter was also useful because snakes, scorpions, and insects in general were dormant during the trip.


The Days:

The days were usually long and involved a lot of driving.  There were places where the roads were extremely bumpy and dusty, resulting in hours of a slow slog through clouds of red dust.  At one point, the vibrations from the bumpy roads caused one of the windows to shatter into thousands of pieces.  We used a mattress to cover the window until it could be repaired.  I usually awoke before 5am, however I rose early to make sure I had enough time to shower and take down my tent.  I never wanted to make people wait for me.  Usually, we were sleeping by around 10 pm.  On days when we were not driving, we usually ended up in a vehicle …as we did wildlife drives to see animals!


The Excursions: Many of the activities were covered in the activity package I purchased.  However, many of the stops had the option for some optional excursions.  Many people did not partake in these optional excursions due to the price or the fact they wanted to relax after spending time on the road.  I went on several optional excursions, which I found to be fun, but not necessary.  For instance, I went canoeing on the Orange River.  I thought this was a good activity because I wanted some exercise after being cooped up in the truck.  While I Swakopmund, I went on a tour of the Cape Seal Colony via a boat ride.  This was also well worth the money, since when are you going to see hundreds of seals on a beach and in the water?  The land was dotted with the swarm of dark bodies.  I also went on a night wildlife drive at Etosha National Park.  Once again this wasn’t necessary, as we had a drive earlier in the day.  However, it offered me the opportunity to see nocturnal animals such as hyenas and an aardwolf.   This tour was freezing cold, as we were in an open jeep.  However, a group of hyenas brushed by our vehicle, a few feet away from us.  I also went on a helicopter ride over Victoria falls.  This was spendy, but worth it, because I had never been in a helicopter before and it offered the full view of Victoria falls.  Nevertheless,  a person could be perfectly satisfied without spending any money on extra excursions- as there was plenty to see and do without these excursions. dscn1225 Money: On a day to day basis, I didn’t spend much money.  I don’t drink alcohol, which was popular with other passengers.  I also tried to limit my snacks, as I didn’t want to gain weight (from the sedentary days on the truck).  Most days did not have optional excursions, as there were included activities such as walks, wildlife drives, or city tours.  My main expenses were water, soft drinks, and supplemental snacks.  This made me feel less guilty when I splurged on a helicopter ride.  I don’t like buying souvenirs, so I waited until the end to pick up a few small items.  In the end, I had money left over in my budget as I had not spent as much as I thought.


Highlights:

  1. Seeing rhinos and elephants acting aggressively towards each other at a watering hole.
  2. The Great Zimbabwe Ruins
  3. Climbing Dune 45
  4. Seeing the Cape Seal Colony
  5. Visiting Robben Island
  6. Taking the cable car up the Table Mountain
  7. Sitting a few feet away from lions eating a giraffe (in an open vehicle)
  8. Squatting in the grass a few feet away from a wild white rhino!
  9. Seeing 200 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and plants
  10. Sitting in a canoe- watching hippos in the Okavango Delta
  11. A helicopter ride over Victoria falls
  12. Star gazing in the Southern Hemisphere
  13. Visiting Cecil Rhodes grave
  14. Spotting a leopard!
  15. Spotting all of the Big Five: Lion, leopard, cape buffalo, rhino, elephant
  16. Seeing my first elephant, first lion…first zebra…first….etc.
  17. Scurrying across the border to Zambia..by myself
  18. Seeing both sides of Victoria Falls
  19. Meeting lion researchers in Okavango delta
  20. Surviving!

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Overall:

Overland camping involves long days in a crowded truck on bumpy roads.  In the winter, it was uncomfortably cold with late sunrises and sunsets.  I was covered in dirt and my skin became extremely dry.  However, it was still less challenging than I thought it would be.  It involved early mornings, effort, and cooperation.  Nevertheless, I think that anyone with a positive attitude, patience, and open mind could enjoy this kind of trip.  The reward for sleeping in a tent, is waking up to fresh, brisk mornings and nights under the expansive and exotic sky of the Southern hemisphere.  The group effort and shared discomforts builds camaraderie.  There is also something nice about sitting in a circle around a campfire with people from around the world.  They all have stories about where they have been and what they have done.  It is inspiring.  The days on the truck are also rewarded with sights of birds and animals that you would otherwise only see in the zoo.  There is something wonderful about seeing these animals in nature, behaving as they would naturally (eating one another, fighting, or showing indifference to each other).  Each day I saw or experienced something completely unique and fascinating.  It enlivened my curiosity and made me feel like a child.  With that said, I highly recommend overland camping!

My Little Archaeopteryx

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The first time I learned about archaeopteryx, it was when I was a child.  I loved dinosaurs. In odd continuity to my adulthood, I had a childhood passion for nonfiction.  One of my favorite books was a dinosaur book with a green glossy cover.  The book contained archaeopteryx towards the beginning.  The fossil was fascinating and beautiful.  Its body arched backwards with the elegance of a ballerina.  The fossil was unique because it had impressions of feathers.  It was a link between birds and dinosaurs.  Although it didn’t feature prominently in my dinosaur book, I committed the name and a few facts to my memory.  In my dinosaur book, archaeopteryx was considered the first bird.

 


Years later, I reconnected with archaeopteryx while I was in London.  In my early 20s, I spent a semester in Ireland.  Afterwards, I explored the UK a little, which involved a few days in London.  I ended up at the Museum of Natural History, which, unknown to me, happened to be hosting an Archaeopteryx exhibit.  I happened upon the special exhibition room with astonishment and delight.  This was it!  The museum had obtained a German specimen of archaeopteryx in 1862, though it usually is not on display.  This fossil was accompanied by a small collection of other German archaeopteryx fossils, along with the Chinese “fuzzy raptor.”  I wandered through the room, awestruck by my good fortune, as the exhibit was scheduled to end later that month.  It is still one of my favorite travel memories and one of the top things I have seen in my lifetime.


Another opportunity to see feathered dinosaurs arose when I was in China, staying with my friend Rose.  Beijing’s Geological Museum of China hosts a collection of feathered dinosaurs from Liaoning province.  Just as archaeopteryx was a groundbreaking fossil discovery of the 1800s, the Liaoning fossils were groundbreaking in the late 1900s (late 1990s to 2000s).  The less easy to remember sinosauropteryx was discovered there in the mid 1990s.  It was the first non-avian dinosaur with filament like feathers.  It was a downy dinosaur.  This discovery implied that all dinosaurs may have had feathers.  Volcanic activity in the area preserved the fossils very well, leaving ashy impressions of feathers.  This has allowed scientists to learn more about the evolution of feathers.  Feathers evolved much earlier than thought and were much more common.  My own impression was that the fossils were not as pretty as my original archaeopteryx.  They were dark and sooty.  Still, the fossils were fascinating and plentiful.  They were also more horrific.  The fossils looked more like mummies or freeze dried birds than bony impressions from a time long ago.  I would still say that this was another one of my top travel highlights.  The Great Wall might be impressive, but what is more impressive than the vastness of Earth’s history and the mysteries of all the life that existed millions of years before our own lives?

 

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I’ve been thinking about getting an archaeopteryx tattoo for a long time.  It has a lot of meaning to me.  It represents my childhood curiosities and hopes for the future.  Like many children I wanted to be a paleontologist.  However, I didn’t know the word for paleontologist, so I mistakenly called it “archeologist.”  I even dressed up in a khaki outfit and brought cow bones to my kindergarten class, for a career themed show-and-tell as an “archeologist.”  No one corrected the error.  Not that being an archeologist wouldn’t be cool.  It also represents some of the neat things I have seen while traveling.  Finally, as an atheist, it has meaning to me as the original archaeopteryx was seen as important evidence of evolution.  In a time when evolution was a new concept, archaeopteryx offered this very clear link between dinosaurs and birds.  All of the feathered dinosaurs have offered important insights about evolution.  And though the new discoveries have made archaeopteryx less important (or just one of many feathered dinosaurs, and certainly not the first), it is still the most recognizable and memorable.

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The main thing that has held me back from getting the tattoo is actually dissatisfaction with my body.  I wanted to get the tattoo on the underside of my arm, but fear that my arms look a little too flabby.  The tattoo was going to be a reward for developing awesome arms.  After about two years of waiting, I decided that I am not going to magically become more toned.  Perhaps I should embrace it.  Like the archaeopteryx, I too have wings.  I have tiny little flabs of chicken wings.  We are one.  Alas, I am flightless… and you, archaeopteryx, may have taken flight.

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