About Me

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Hello! Welcome to my online travel-food-life journal/virtual scrapbook. I am a poet, playwright, journalist, editor and basic jack-of-all-trades writer. I was born in El Salvador and raised in Minnesota. I have just returned home from a year and a half in South Africa.

23 November 2011

Kgalagadi: Here Come the Birds (and Happy Thanksgiving!)

As I mentioned before, there are over 200 species of birds in the Kgalagadi.  Whenever and wherever you are, if you are quiet, you will see some member of the feathered family – from the world’s largest bird (the Ostrich), to the world’s heaviest flying bird (the Kori Bustard), to small, iridescent beauties (the Cape Glossy Starling.)  They are a great reminder to look for beauty even in the harshest places.

It’s an extraordinary place for bird lovers, especially because the sparse vegetation makes it easier to spot them. In fact, we stopped most often to take pictures of birds, and they were – of course – the most difficult to capture.  Every time we had the perfect shot, the little (or big) buggers would turn around, walk into the shade or fly off. 

Still, we managed a few good shoots – or a few really great shots and a fair number of nice ones :o).


PS: As you enjoy an altogether different kind of bird, I want to wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving!  We are going to be lucky enough to be having a big Thanksgiving celebration here in Cape Town.  Of course they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here but our friends the Glasses are keen to experience this most classic of American holidays.  We’re having 2 turkeys!  One American style and one Salvadoran style!  Pies, mashed potatoes, curtido, salsa … It’s going to be EPIC, like a full 48 hours of cooking!   I’ll be taking pics and posting recipes (which might be nice for Christmas) …  SMOOCHES KIDS!

Here's one of our favorite shots, A Tawny Eagle in flight.

Here's a juvenile Tawny Eagle.

An African Hoopoe, this was one of the ones that kept teasing us, flitting up into the tree whenever we tried to get a shot.  This is the best pic we got, too bad because it doesn't do justice to his stunning plumage!

The gorgeous Bateleur.

The first animals we saw in the park were these ostriches, look how nicely they posed for us!

This crappy picture is the best we got of ostriches taking a dust bath (to get rid of parasites), it's quite a beautiful, if slightly bizarre sight.

When you see ostriches up close you truly appreciate what odd, strangely proportioned animals they are!

And here's an ostrich momma with the kids!

Another favorite shot, this is the Swallow-tailed Bee-eater.

A raptor defending his/her turf.

A White-backed vulture.

Classic vulture profile.

Here are a pack of both White-backed and Lapped-faced Vultures feeding.  

The Kori Bustard, the heaviest bird capable of flight.

A not so pretty picture of a very pretty bird, the Lilac-breasted Roller.

A Black-shouldered Kite.

The kooky Secretary Bird. 

This gorgeous Laughing Dove greeted me in the early morning light.  

Eat your heart out Tucan Sam, this is a Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill.

The next few shots are all of the Cape Glossy Starling.  I was trying to capture its blue-green iridescence. 

A Kalahari Scrub-Robin.

A Northern Black Korhaan.

A Spotted Eagle-Owl, just as the light was fading.

This is a sociable weaver, hundreds of these handsome little guys live together in huge nests.

Close up of an abandoned sociable weaver nest.

It's a bird party up in here!  We haven't been able to identify the little guys, but the big one is Cape Turtle-Dove.  If any bird experts can help identify them, please let me know!

21 November 2011

The Kgalagadi (a.k.a the Kalahari), an Introduction and Overview …

So, where to start?  How do I possibly begin to describe a once-in-a-lifetime kind of an adventure?  A place of such intense and difficult beauty? 

First, let me at least tell you what I’m planning for these Kgalagadi posts.  I’m gonna do an introduction and overview today, and then I’m planning on writing up posts and sharing my favorite pictures of each animal/animal group in the next few weeks.  Among them will be giraffes, cheetahs, birds, lions, hyenas, herbivores, etc.

But before I do ANY of that, I want to thank the Glass family for helping us make this trip possible.   This incredibly generous family loaned us ALL the equipment we used on the trip – the tent, table, coolers, the cooking stuff, mattresses – everything!   We would not have been able to afford doing this trip any other way (or maybe we could only have stayed a couple of days).  So THANK YOU Glasses, for sharing not only your equipment, but your love and passion for this amazing place.

 Also, big thanks to the Larsens, who loaned us books and chairs and gave us great tips and advice.

The Glasses and Larsens on my birthday (which was also the day before we went to the Kgalagadi.)

So, now, the Kgalagadi.  First the name.

“Kalahari,” the spelling that is commonly used outside of South Africa is the English version of “Kgalagadi,” which in the Setswana (Tswana) language means “the great thirst.”  “Kgalagadi” is how it is referred to throughout South Africa so that’s how I’ll refer to it from now on.  Oh, and it’s pronounced HAH-LAH-HAH-DEE. 

The full name of the park is the Kgalagadi Gemsbok Transfrontier Park.  It’s made up of two adjoining national parks: Kgalagadi Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and Gemsbok National Park in Botswana.

The park is enormous, one of the largest conservation areas in the world at 15,000 square miles (38.000 square kilometers).  To put that into context, that’s bigger than Massachusetts, Hawaii or Maryland.  And the park is only a small fraction of the whole Kgalagadi Desert, which covers parts of three countries (South Africa, Botswana and Namibia) and at 350,000 square miles (900.000 square kilometers) is almost 100,000 square miles larger than Texas.

So, yeah.  Big.  Really big.  And a difficult place.  As a semi-desert, the animals and plants that inhabit the area are uniquely adapted to survive long stretches without rain.  And the temperatures are extreme.  On one day, we woke up to 46 degrees Fahrenheit (8 Celsius) and the afternoon topped out at 110F (43C) – and we were told we didn’t have it too bad!

But for all its arid, demanding nature, this place hosts an amazing variety of life, from plants to insects to predators to birds – there are over 200 species of birds alone.

And there is the human history of the park – from the San who have lived in the Kgalagadi Desert for 20,000 years, to the official setting up of the park (to protect the nearly disappeared gemsbok) in 1931.  Seriously, there is so much to learn about this place … much more than I can write about here, but I’m linking here (the official website) and here and here for some more sources.

But all of those facts and figures don’t really explain WHY we went, do they?

I guess it boils down to fascination.  Aaron and I both grew up watching cheetahs chase and lions laze (oh shut up, I know I’m too fond of alliteration) on PBS (shout out to my tpt peeps!)  How could we not go?  We were curious and excited to see these things for ourselves.

Also, Aaron and I are both concerned about the environment, about the impact of unchecked human activity on this fragile world of ours.  We both felt it was important to experience the Kgalagadi’s precarious environment for ourselves, to see a place of such tenuous beauty – to remind ourselves why conservation is not just important, but absolutely necessary.

In the 7 days we were there, I can tell you I fell in love.  Despite the heat, the waking up at 5am, the cracked lips and stiff neck from driving for 12 hours looking for animals.  I would go back in a heartbeat.  I hope in the next few weeks of posts I can share with you at least a little bit of why….

They say that once you get the red sand of the Kgalagadi between your toes, you'll always want to go back ...

So there you go, that’s just the tiniest sliver of info and feelings and thoughts about the Kgalagadi … but I thought it was as good a place as any to start …

Stay tuned for more very soon …

18 November 2011

Augrabies Falls National Park: Hidden Falls

So after surviving our monkey raid, we secured the camp, and it was out to explore the park. 

And can I just say, I LOVED this place.

In fact, one of my only regrets about this whole trip is that we didn’t have one more day at Augrabies.  It is absolutely amazing and is centered around an enormous waterfall.  It’s stunning – there in the midst of a sparse and arid landscape is this beautiful cascade and river valley:

 A flood months ago washed out numerous viewing platforms, I can't imagine how high the water must have been:

Here’s a little bit about the park from its official website
“Few sights are as awesome or a sound as deafening as water thundering down the 56m Augrabies Waterfall when the Orange River is in full flood.   The Khoi people called it ‘Aukoerebis’, or place of Great Noise, as this powerful flow of water is unleashed from rocky surroundings characterised by the 18km abyss of the Orange River Gorge.  Picturesque names such as Moon Rock, Ararat and Echo Corner are descriptive of this rocky region. Klipspringer and kokerboom (quiver trees) stand in stark silhouette against the African sky, silent sentinels in a strangely unique environment where only those that are able to adapt ultimately survive. The 55 383 hectares on both the northern and southern sides of the Orange River provide sanctuary to a diversity of species, from the very smallest succulents, birds and reptiles to springbok, gemsbok and giraffe.”

While at the falls we saw these technicolored lizards, called Broadley's Flat Lizard:

Then we took a drive and enjoyed the vistas:

Here's a little hyrax hiding from the hot sun:

Though they look like rodents,
Hyraxes (known as "dassies" in South Africa) are actually the elephant's closest living relative!

We stopped to hike up “Moon Rock”:

We stopped at 2 more picnic spots (the only places you can get out of your car in this part of the park), where we saw more of the river, amazing views and some incredible rock formations:

Here's a female Boardley's Flat Lizard:

And Aaron discovered a new kind of sun-basking lizard.  She’s called Lazidous minne-salvadoreƱius:

And then we kept driving.  This landscape is a bit like being on Mars:

We didn’t see many animals (we were out in the middle of the day when most animals take it easy in the shade) but we did see this tiny springbok with its momma:

Then, after a quick snack back at camp, we went on a hike, and OH.  OH.  Just OH.  Best hike of my life, ever.  Mostly because we lost the trail and ended up scrambling over huge rocks, scuffing our knees and generally feeling like kids again!


And the most amazing part was that we stumbled onto another waterfall!  We didn’t even know it existed and I swear, I almost cried.  These pictures do it NO justice.  Sincerely, it was as beautiful a place and moment as I can remember.  I felt like I had discovered a little private Shangri-La.  There was not another soul in sight and it was just … SIGH.  No words.

The next morning we were off to the Kalahari … where the amazingness continued …