Welcome to SKJ Travel ... my narrative and photographic blog where you can join me vicariously as I adventure around the world. People say to me all the time, "You should write a book about your travels." Well, my friends, this is essentially it. And in this age, an online blog is easier, displays a bajillion more photos, needs no publisher, and reaches a wider audience than print. The down side: unlike a formal book or essay, I'm just writing casually off the top of my head, but I hope, dear readers, you will feel as if I'm having a conversation with you. In the archives you'll find posts from some of my travels ... these are the "letters to home" style accounts of what I did. To read my formal articles, they're listed in each archive home page, or visit one of the blue buttons above, or see the Travel Essays section (right side below archive -- mostly documentaries). Friday Photos are updated weekly, and Tuesday Tales are updated sporadically. You can follow SKJ Travel on social media at:
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I saw her on the opposite bank of the river, her head drooping down and walking an unhealthy-looking gait. She sat down in the grass and vomited. I could see, even from across the river, that it was only stomach bile coming out, indicating that she had been vomiting for some time to have reached this point of only bile. She was sick and alone. It was that time of day when afternoon is late but evening is early, and the air was finally starting to cool down.
On my side of the river, her two sisters kept looking across. Busy nursing four children, they alternately laid down in the shade with them and stood up restlessly, eyeing their lone sister. They were clearly very keen to cross the river and be reunited with her; she was too sick to cross herself. There was one big problem that was preventing a happy reunion: crocodiles.
One of my favorite fiction authors is Daphne DuMaurier, and probably my favorite short story of hers is a short vignette describing a little family drama, a family who comes to the park and its pond every day. In your mind's eye as the reader, you conjure up images of all the characters. In the very last sentence, DuMaurier reveals that this whole story has been about a family of swans, not people. She so anthropomorphized the birds and their drama that the reader willingly presumed the story was about people. I always admired that skillful writing and have wished and tried to imitate that technique. But I've never been successful, and I tried it with this tale, but scrapped it, I just couldn't pull it off. The first tip-off that I'm not talking about people may have been two sisters nursing four kids, haha. Plus, I can't wait till the end to start inserting photographs, I want to include too many. So, no, this isn't a human tale, but a brief one about lions. Two lionesses and four cubs on my side of the river, and a lone sick lioness on the opposite bank. And between us, a whole mess of crocodiles.
This is the first safari I've been on where we really had time to settle in and weren't just trying to see as many animals as we could in a short amount of time. We were there long enough that we could spend some quality time with individual animals or families. So on this afternoon in the Khwai Concessions of the Okavango Delta region, when we ran across the small family unit, we spent the whole rest of the day until dark with them. Watching the cubs alternately play, suckle and rest. Of course play time was the best!
But sleepy and snuggle time was super sweet to witness, too. A little reversal of the usual ... the mom snuggles up to her cub who caresses her head. After awhile the cub started licking mom and cleaned her ears up real good.
And now it's time for a big yawn to wake up!
Hope you weren't too frightened by that last photo, it's pretty scary!
The two mothers occasionally nudged each other with affection and seemed to silently communicate their mutual desire to reach their sick sister. They would get up and move the family down the road a little ways and sit contemplating the river. Now, I know you may think I'm anthropomorphizing the lions here, and I don't know how to convey to you the tangibility of their desire, but I assure you it was there. They desperately wanted to cross the river to get to her.
They gathered the cubs up several different times and struck out through the marsh toward the water. Only to be thwarted each time by a crocodile. The cubs seemed to sense the danger even before they got there. The mothers would continue forward until they verified a crocodile was waiting for them, then the whole family would turn around and retreat. They would play and sleep some more, then move down the road to a different stretch of the river, gather together and try crossing again. Again to be turned back by crocodiles.
We kept following them bit by bit as they tried over and over to cross. We were rooting so hard for them. And the sister on the other side matched their movements, moving down the river whenever they did. (I don't have a picture of her, I felt so sad for her being sick, I didn't feel like capturing that on film.)
Just as night was falling to where we could barely even see the lions anymore, the family reached a particularly narrow spot in the river and gathered together to try another crossing. Surely, we thought, at this narrow stretch they can make it across. We ourselves couldn't see any crocodiles. There was a fallen log near the water that the lionesses climbed up on to survey the crossing, and suddenly one of them jumped up straight into the air and batted at a crocodile who'd been lurking on the other side of that log. She let out a bone-chilling roar and growled as she swiped viciously at the croc.
The family turned and began retreating yet again, but it was too dark now for us to track them. They disappeared into the night. The little family and their stranded sister. I don't know what happened to them. A drama with no conclusion. That's the way it is when you can only pass through. The next day we moved on to an adjacent park, but the lions still filled my head and heart ... I felt so wonderfully fulfilled while I watched them play and interact the day before, and now I feel a melancholy emptiness where the gate to their story remains open, and will always remain so.
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Female lions are commonly called a lioness. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard reference to a “leopardess,” but I’d like to submit it for your consideration as an addition to the common lexicon of African wildlife.
At the time I began my latest safari in Botswana, leopards had been the big cat I least appreciated and knew little about. I’d seen only one in the true wild, from a distance, mostly hidden by tall grass. I can’t tell you why they were the big cat of least interest to me, why in contrast to cheetahs, lions and tigers, I was somewhat apathetic about them. The animal I most wanted to see close up on this particular safari was a leopard simply because I had essentially not seen one before -- something to tick off "the list."
Early one morning in the Kwai Concessions in northern Botswana, our studious guide got us on the trail of a moving pack of wild African ("painted") dogs, which are one of the rarer animals to encounter in Africa. We found them taking a break, ten resting adults and eight manic puppies romping and playing with the exuberance possessed by all species of children. We watched them until the adults abruptly got up and, upon some seemingly telepathic cue, all took off into the thick weeds. Our guide valiantly attempted to keep up with them and to forecast where they were headed in order to keep ahead of them so we could see them (we were hoping they were going to make a kill). It was a thrilling chase as we drove frenetically through the maze of vehicle tracks, catching glimpses here and there of the dogs running, trying to parallel them as they ran through the bushes where we couldn’t drive, hoping to intercept them up ahead.
Suddenly the vehicle stopped and our guide said quietly with great satisfaction, for he knew the dogs might lead us to this prize, “Leopard.”
I was so beside myself with excitement, squealing, “leopard! leopard!” that I actually did not see where it was. “Where? Where?”
“Shhhhhhh,” our guide had to counsel me. “You need to be quiet! She’s right there. A female.”
I scanned the bushes frantically and then … there she was, peering through a portal in the bush, standing on a fallen log like serenity itself, as if the word had just been created right then around her – she was its embodiment, as if she exhaled the concept and it enveloped her, and as she stepped out of the bushes, it lifted gently from her and escaped into the world. But she was the genesis of serenity. Silently, she stepped down from the log, placing her large paws gingerly on the ground. She moved with the measured grace of royalty, regal in a splendor not ostentatious, rather, of composure and gravity.
I had been practically panting with the thrill of the chase going after the dogs, careening through the bush in pursuit. When she emerged and strode toward me, I’d like to say that I poetically held my breath, that the world stopped spinning. But I was mouthing the words, trying not to make a sound, “Oh my god! Oh my god!” A curious juxtaposition of my wild and gangly excitement over her calm elegance.
She walked a short distance through the weeds right toward me.
Then she turned away and stood in profile, sleek and feminine with a fluidity of form, her tail artistically curled with the white tip pointed up. She sat down with a detached dignity as if nothing was going on around her -- no wild dogs on the hunt, no humans ogling and clicking cameras. She stood up and walked some more, her gait so smooth, like a puck sliding across glassy ice. The majesty of her presence wasn’t that of a queen, a matriarch, but of a princess, young and desperately beautiful. A leopardess.
The dogs, historically antagonistic toward leopards, came in closer and she prudently retreated into a tree, adeptly navigating the organic fractal of tree branches as if they were but ripples on water she parted like a porpoise.
She was not a cornered animal, frightened and cowering. She simply removed herself from the reach of her adversaries until they moved off, and then she descended to disappear into the bush like a whisper from the mouth of a dream.
While we continued to have many more outstanding animal encounters, this one of the leopardess emerging from the woods remained singularly magical because it was so much more than just a visual encounter to touch this animal's nature as if it were as tangible as her fur ... a nature which is calm but not gentle, for it is predatory. Within this contradiction of a powerful predator making such delicate passage through the bush, lies a profound poise.
A couple days later, we saw another leopardess posed on a trail sign, completely self-possessed, like the first one.
She alighted to the ground and began stalking an impala in the distance. Leopards can direct register, placing the back paw in exactly the same place as the front paw, enhancing their predatory stealth. With intense focus on the impala she lowered her body and lifted each paw slowly and purposefully, placing it back down as if the earth was an eggshell that would crack under a more careless weight.
She sat down in the bushes and pondered the unsuspecting impala until a pair of kory bustards bumbled in and gave her away with a set of alarm calls.
The impala left. And before she left, the leopard princess turned her spotted head back toward me briefly.
The milky eyes of a leopardess belie a dispassionate peace. They are like no other I've ever seen in the animal kingdom ... rendering her an impassive observer of her world. I don't know how to explain it or describe it, but this indifferent countenance is ethereal.
She stepped into the bushes and disappeared into her secret world. But I learned then that a leopardess is never completely absent from the landscape. For in the rounded contours of her paw print, she leaves behind a soft longing in the pith of the souls who watched her. I think if she were not to emerge from the bush again, she would break the heart of Africa.
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Well here it is ... another penguin post from Antarctica. It's the final post I'll make about penguins, and in fact the final post about my super phenomenal experience on our 12-day cruise to Antarctica, which I leave with you just as I depart for a very different southern environment -- back to Africa, back to elephants and lions and all the safari animals, whom I love dearly, but I think at the end of the day, I'm going to have to go with penguins as my number one all-time favorite animal to be around and to photograph. (even if an awful lot of my photos didn't turn out so well) (and even if I have to breathe through my mouth sometimes to block out the stench) So this last post is titled "For the Love of Penguins" in recognition of that. There's no theme to this selection. Just some more pics and depictions of penguin life that I like for one reason or another. Haven't seen my other penguins and can't get enough? See Part 1 and Part 2 of the Penguin Diaries
There's something special about lone penguins. There's something special about penguin pairs. There's something special about penguin clubs. Let's see ... is there some kind of penguin number that is not special? Maybe clusters of 13?? I don't know. There's even something special about hundreds of them trilling, commuting and pooping in their metropolis colonies.
If I were forced upon some horrific pain to choose one of the above as the ultimate penguin number, I guess I'd have to say, "two." Because it's a compromise between the lone penguin and any other higher group number. So the charming individuality shines through comparably with the entertainment value of penguin interactions. I guess. I don't know. Honestly, I'm just making junk up to pretend I have a method to my posting mayhem and madness. haha. So here ... just please enjoy some penguin pairs.
This chinstrap pair was making their way along the volcanic beach together, the one tagging along just behind the other like a little brother saying, "Hey, I'm coming, too!" On the appropriately named "Penguin Island."
Penguin buddies at Mikkelsen Harbor. I always like a good reflection.
Penguins, as I've already mentioned a bunch of times, are so caption-able. Clearly in this captured moment below, the one penguin is asking the other for directions, and he's pointing with his flipper where to make a right turn.
I like it that the penguins are not species-ist. They all hang out together just fine ... such as this gentoo and adélie, interested in the same thing over their shoulders. Oh wait ... except the adélie seems to have spied me!
But probably the most adorable penguin pairs are little twins in their parents' nest. Gentoo penguin females lay two eggs each time they breed. They're incubated for a little over a month before hatching. It was about as common to see a nest with two chick as with one in the colony of gentoo penguins at Yankee Harbor. Supposedly the two eggs hatch within only a few days of each other. There were clearly a number of chicks who were still awaiting the arrival of their sibling, but here are some more shots of sibling chicks. All I can say is, what a joyous treat our last day with penguins to find the colony brimming with little fuzzball babies.
Here's another bird pair we had the privilege to see on Penguin Island ... the southern giant petrel. It's hard to get a sense of scale from the photos, but I assure you their wingspan is safely within the definition of "giant." I thought the white one looked somehow almost ethereal against the blue sky.
I haven't yet talked about the skuas -- the sinister birds that stalk the penguin colonies looking for unattended penguin eggs and chicks to snatch and dine on.
Here you see one swooping in (on the right) toward the rocks to scan for a meal.
Although penguins win the Oscar for anthropomorphic expressions and drama, this skua couple put on a good show. The one on the right is clearly getting a royal chewing-out by the one on the left and has had about enough, "Alright alright already! I get it; shut up! Leave me alone!"
It was very difficult (at least for me) to catch any good photos of the penguins swimming. It was so fun when they swam around our kayaks, flying out of the water in little pods. Here's one I got from the ship deck.
Whenever they congregate in calm, quiet groups (i.e. not stretching their necks and calling loudly into the air), they often make me think of some kind of gentleman's club, haha, like they're smoking cigars and drinking brandy and discussing the latest in politics. Or that smaller groups have gotten together "to discuss this in committee ..." whatever "this" might be. I think in the first pic below, someone said, "Check out that broad over there." Half of them are gawking and the others are like, "Whatever. She's not my type."
Some of the most charismatic penguins are those who stand out alone in a crowd. There is pretty much always one of them in any group -- somebody standing the opposite direction of everybody else, or looking straight at you when nobody else is, or like this adélie below standing alone. The look on its face is terribly funny to me ... kind of confused and quizzical.
But the adélies often have the most comical expressions, in my estimation. Their stark eyes and sunken cheeks I think help form their unique expressions, accentuating their beaks and eyes.
I've mentioned in the other two penguin posts how amusing the penguin highways are to watch. Just the fact that they're truly like little commuter roads similar to what people use is funny for these particularly anthropomorphic creatures. It's one of the most endearing aspects of their lives. So here are few more pics of their commuting life along the penguin highways.
Gotta look closely to see the little penguin head just sticking up above the surface of the snow, carefully making its way past a seal waiting like a troll on the highway. I envision that the penguin is carrying a little briefcase with him.
One thing particularly fun about holding my finger down on the shutter button on "continuous" shooting mode was seeing the sequences that emerged afterward like those flip-books we (people my age) had as kids or a stop-motion animation or something. Even if the photos come out unfocused and ill-framed, it doesn't matter, the event captured is still ... well, usually hilarious. Sorry, penguins, but everything you do just makes me laugh. For example, here is a sequence of a gentoo penguin biffing it as he's cruising a highway on Brown Bluff.
And he's back up! Like nothing happened.
And as we've already learned, all this commuting between their rocky nests inland and the ocean waters is to feed themselves so they can produce, incubate, hatch, feed and raise their chicks during the short summers in Antarctica. These little fuzzballs .....
..... will grow into these charismatic characters. I have to say I love the gentoos the most. They have a certain attitude about them that's just incomparable anywhere else in the animal kingdom with which I'm familiar. This guy: "I'm a penguin!" I've posted some of these pics on my Facebook page and they've received some excellent captions ... have fun making up your own. :)
Attitude! I got some good caption suggestions for these, but to me the first penguin is clearly scolding its spouse or child for messing up that rock somehow. "Look here, mister! Just look what you've done. I told you not to make a mess, now clean it up!" And the next penguin thinks he's a total bad-ass.
But this chinstrap is looking pretty confident with his dapper look. The Sean Connery of penguins?
The anatomical part of the various Antarctic penguin species that I love most is their feet. Why their feet? Well they do stand out for their size, and especially on the gentoos and adélies with their bright color. But their endearing quality is the sound they make slapping along on the snow or in the puddles of melted snow. I loved when I'd be looking one direction photographing, and then I would hear the pitter patter of penguin feet coming up behind me, I'd turn around and there they were, stopped behind me or carrying on walking beside me. I'll just never forget that special, unique sound. It fits their character so well. Here are a couple shots showing off those goofy floppy feet.
Probably the most revealing thing I can say about Antarctica is that I typically do not travel to the same country more than once. There have been exceptions. It's not because I think I've tapped out any one country -- heavens, no, I'm not even close, not even my own country -- it's just that the planet is so huge and there's so much more to sample. I guess I'm a gal who seeks the big picture. So I spend a few weeks in this country and then that country, and then I look at a globe and see how many others there are, and just have a hard time going backward. And if I do revisit a country, I generally see different regions and sights than the first time. However, I would happily repeat this Antarctica trip, even the exact same itinerary. To many people, Antarctica sounds like just a frozen wasteland, but oh my goodness, what silly people. It's truly a remarkable place.
Iconic Antarctica ... penguin on the floating ice. This fella looks rather forlorn, wondering what happened to his buddies. "Hey guys?" It's sad and comical at the same time. I just want to pick him up and hug him. Goodbye Antarctica!
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In the little bit of research I did before landing in Buenos Aires to decide what we should do, one recommendation I consistently ran across was a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento a short ferry ride away in Uruguay. (Well, "short" depends on which ferry you take.) So after a couple days in the hustle and bustle of busy Buenos Aires, we took the early morning fast ferry from Puerto Madero to spend a very laid-back, relaxing day strolling the streets of Colonia del Sacramento. We didn't have a map to tell us where to go to see the old colonial town center, so we just kind of wandered around a bit, but it was not difficult to stumble upon.
On our wandered-way winging it to the town center, we strolled down lovely tree-lined cobblestone streets in a kind of tree tunnel.
I had read somewhere that green Austral parrots made some of these trees their home. I wondered if they would be easy to spot up in the green trees. But there was no doubt when we came upon them because of the racket they made with their voices! No, unfortunately, they're weren't speaking Spanish, like you might expect a parrot in Uruguay would be, they were speaking Portuguese. The town was, after all, established by the Portuguese in 1680 as a defensive outpost. I know very little of this language, so the only thing I could really understand from them was "bom dia" ("good day"). hahaha. Kidding, of course. Nah, just a lot of bird language. I didn't get pictures of them but I was excited to find them. (I did manage a couple shots later in Argentina, in Patagonia.)
Eventually we saw signs on the road pointing us toward the historical central town square. Following those, along the way we walked through some interesting abandoned buildings. I like it when people take decay and turn it into an artistic canvas. Very common to see these days in my urban travels, and I approve of the evolution of graffiti.
Of course evolution is a slow process ... The vines and bushes may get the last word on this building.
A street in transition ... further down on the left you can see it kind of alternates being traditional slogan-ist graffiti and colorful contributions.
The historic colonial center is quite small, arranged outside a military fort around a central town square. There are a surprising number of houses (eight) that have been turned into little museums around this square, portraying the history of the area and the daily lives of early inhabitants with various artifacts on display. A visitor can buy a reasonably priced all-inclusive ticket to see all the ones that might be open that day. At the ruins of the old city fort, we climbed up a modern lighthouse for a nice view.
A meandering walk through the streets is at least as entertaining as a careful tour of a museum. The old city center seems to have decided that antique cars will be the signature "statues" along their cobblestone streets. I don't know the history behind this, when or why people started putting antique cars out and either spiffing them up to run or re-purposing them into planters. But it's a unique feature that draws the tourists' attention.
As we had left the dawn of winter in Colorado to come to South America, the profusion of brightly colored flowering bougainvillea trees was a delight that I particularly basked in.
This spectacular beauty below was in the yard of a house that doubled as an art gallery. Can you spot the kitty on the tree roots near the back? (try opening pic in a new tab). The gallery appropriately had kitties lounging on the furniture. I think they belong in a gallery as much as they do in a bookshop.
There are numerous cafes around the town square in which to enjoy a pleasant lunch and beer or the highly-caffeinated national drink, yerba maté. Erik was keen to try the traditional method of drinking it because he drinks maté chai and tea at home all the time, but in leafless mixes (like the chai or berry-flavored drinks, etc.) We stepped into a cute little tea shop and sat on the back patio, where, similar to the antique cars on the streets, they had re-purposed old kitchen appliances into planters and surfaces for flower pots.
This is the traditional set-up for yerba maté tea -- a cup, which is typically made from a type of gourd or other natural material, full of loose tea leaves, which comes with a thermos of hot water and a long, metal kind of straw with a strainer in it to suck the water from the leaf-laden cup. And by laden, I mean literally full of leaves. You can only pour a little water in at a time because of the density of leaves, hence the thermos to keep the water hot. You let the water settle a bit down through the leaves and then stick the straw in and suck up yerba-infused water, and then pour in more. It is not something you can slam ... rather, a slow and ritualistic process. We saw people walking along the streets with this whole little kit in their hands, drinking as they walked. And every single souvenir shop in the city sells these kits, and the gourds are usually engraved with various designs.
But we capped off our pleasant day in this town with a stop at a pub closer to the ferry terminal to kill time with some beer until our scheduled departure. We sat at a table on the sidewalk and made friends with the urban domestics. Erik made a particularly close pal with this sweet little dog.
So, I would echo the sentiments that I read and pass on the recommendation to take a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento if you have the time while visiting Buenos Aires. There is a lot to do in Buenos Aires, but it makes for a pleasant interlude in city life and bustle.