Cecil the lion

My original intention was to post a follow-up post about moving today, but I can't not say something about this.

As many of you know, Seth and I (and his family) were in Hwange National Park during the first week of July. It is possible that we were actually in Hwange during the time that Cecil was killed, or at least during the time that Dr. Palmer and his hosts were trying to lure him out of the park. The story surrounding Cecil has been particularly painful for us, and it has been difficult for me to read stories about him since, in a way, it is somewhat personal for us.

On one of our last days in Hwange, we saw a pride of lions. It was the only time during our trip that we actually saw lions, and the group we saw was composed of adult females and "subadult" (teenaged) cubs. Our guide told us during our stay that there was a very famous male lion (likely Cecil) that hadn't been seen in a few weeks, and that the guides all feared that he had been poached. (I have since confirmed with our guide that this pride is, in fact, Cecil's former pride. I spoke with him briefly today, and they are understandably heartbroken over the loss of Cecil, whom they used to see nearly every day in the bush.)

An adult female lion heading off on a hunt
The issue of poaching in Zimbabwe is a pretty huge problem. Many species that are endangered are still hunted for their skins, furs, ivory, or horns, or, in Cecil's case, simply for the thrill of the kill. How drawing a lion out of a national park with raw meat and then killing him from afar gives a man a thrill, I couldn't tell you. For example - we were not able to see rhino on our visit to Zimbabwe, and our guide explained that the poaching of rhino had gotten so bad in Zimbabwe that the remaining few surviving rhino had been transported to Botswana, where poaching laws are much more strict. (They have a shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach to poachers.)

Because a man with too much money, too little excitement in his life and too little empathy for other living things chose to kill Cecil, a national icon and a crucial part of Hwange's delicate ecosystem has been removed. Male lions, through poaching, are less prevalent than female lions. They are solitary by nature, and thus easier to kill. Their iconic manes also make them a target for the heartless with tens of thousands of dollars burning a hole in their pockets. The killing of adult male lions like Cecil threatens the ability of lions to reproduce, and continues to threaten an already dwindling species.

A lion cub following his mother on a hunt

Obviously, poaching is an issue of corruption. Americans, in particular, that have a vast amount of wealth and nothing to do with it are willing to spend sums of money that many Zimbabweans have never seen before. It is easy to exploit the needs of the poor in countries like Zimbabwe in order to pursue a glamorous kill. This is not culling - lions do not need to be culled. They were doing nothing wrong, and they are far from overpopulated. They do not need to be captured and fenced in order to protect them - the government of Zimbabwe needs to put strict laws in place regarding the punishment and extradition of anyone caught poaching animals in an environment that is not strictly regulated for culling purposes. They have a right to live in their natural habitat without the threat of poaching.

For those of you whose argument is that the $55,000 Dr. Palmer gave to that hunting company goes directly to conservation efforts, you're wrong. About 3% of any fees paid by poachers actually gets used by the parks. "The vast majority of their expenditure does not accrue to local people and businesses, but to firms, government agencies and individuals located internationally or in national capitals. As the quote above demonstrates, expenditure accruing to government agencies rarely reaches local communities due to corruption and other spending requirements."*

I've seen a lot of blowback on social media about the issue of the "Black Lives Matter" movement versus the killing of Cecil the lion. Many people are upset that the killing of one lion is garnering international media attention, while the killing of black men in particular in the United States does not garner the same coverage. Here is my opinion: The seriousness of this issue does not lessen the seriousness of another issue. To say that I should care less about poaching and more about the killing of black men in the United States is 1) to assume to don't care about the Black Lives Matter movement and 2) to lessen and degrade the seriousness of an issue like poaching. I can be outraged about both. That is a thing, that is possible, and I - and many others outraged by Cecil's death - do care about the unjust treatment of black people in the US. It's okay for people to care about more than one very serious issue.

I'm really heartbroken over the killing of Cecil. I hope that Dr. Palmer is extradited, fined and jailed. He is a coward and a heartless man, and losing his practice is not enough of a punishment. I am glad this has drawn international media attention to the issue of poaching, and hopefully will encourage the government of Zimbabwe to crack down on poaching in their national parks.

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Making big changes for important reasons - We're moving!


It's official.

Seth and I are moving back to Indiana. (For those of you that don't know me personally, we currently live in Washington, DC. I have lived here for five years.)

People are asking me if I'm excited.

I am! I guess! I mean, there are some major pro's and con's to this decision. It's sort of like weighted grading, though - the reasons we are moving (the "pro's" if you will) are comparably more important to us, and weigh more heavily on our hearts, than the reasons we are sad to leave DC (the "cons").

I am leaving a lot behind in DC. I have a stable job, I provide us with health benefits, and I am deeply ingrained in the climbing community here. We love a lot of the aspects of DC life, too. There is a ton to do, a lot of it is free, the city is very focused on fitness and eating well, and politically it is much more closely aligned with our views and opinions on important issues. The people in DC are very focused on education, and the area has some of the best schools in the country. Nearly everyone is highly educated, and understands the importance of engaging in discussions and debates on various issues. All of that makes living the lifestyle we envision easy, and not much thought has to be put into living the life we want to live.

But, we are moving back to a lot of really important, heavy stuff. Our parents and families are in Indiana, and considering the fact that we eventually want to start a family of our own, I can't imagine raising my children somewhere where their grandparents wouldn't be around. That idea is just beyond imagination for me. I was super-close with my grandparents, and I want both our parents to be able to be around our kids as much as they want. Having that support system is going to be super important to us. I have a few very close girlfriends in Indiana that I miss. One is pregnant, and two have small children. I missed their births and have missed the first year to two years of their lives, which has always weighed heavily on my heart. Being around as they grow their families and as we start ours is really meaningful and important to me.

Oh, and then there's the issue of actually being able to afford a home and be able to dig ourselves out from under our crushing mound of student loan debt. There is that.

I know what we are doing is right, and I know in the grand scheme of things, this is going to be a positive change. But for some reason, this change is scary for me! This is the first time in my life that I've faced a big change and felt any sort of fear. I moved to DC in 2010 with no fear. I knew no one here, I'd never been to DC, I didn't know my roommates, and I was increasing my cost of living exponentially (we are talking moving from a three-bedroom townhouse at $800 a month to a three-bedroom apartment at $2700+). But I wasn't afraid! I told my girlfriend yesterday, I must be getting old.  Change has become something that makes me cringe.

I am excited, though. I'll get to see my family whenever I want, we have a super-awesome support system, and finally getting to settle down is going to be awesome. We'll finally get to start building a life! And that's awesome. I've also been offered a job I have wanted for a very long time, so I'm hoping we will be able to work that out, as well! I know we are going to be fantastically happy in Indiana, in the long run, and we will be able to take our DC lifestyle and values with us as long as we live consciously and deliberately.

There's so much coming up and so many different things we're going to be doing and pursuing once we get to Indiana, I'll be publishing another post in the next couple of days with our plans for the next few months. Stand by for another update!

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Africa, Part 2: Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

This post is a continuation of this one, where I detail the first three days of our safari vacation in Zimbabwe. This post details our overall itinerary and plans for the trip prior to our leaving on vacation.

A side note before I write this: It has recently come to my attention that Blogger does not play well with Internet Explorer. If you are accessing my blog from Internet Explorer and the formatting looks wonky, try opening it with another browser. :)

And now, on to more Africa photos and recap!

After spending three days and nights in Victoria Falls at the Victoria Falls River Lodge, we transferred via light aircraft to Little Makalolo in Hwange National Park, also in Zimbabwe. The plane that we took to this camp was a little 12-seater, and we were told prior to our trip that because we were taking such small planes that we had a strict luggage requirement of 44 pounds per person. We were also told not to take any baggage with frames or wheels, which basically limited us to duffels and carry-ons. We took these requirements very seriously! We all stressed and packed meticulously, and when we had our baggage weighed at the Victoria Falls airport, it turns out we had each only packed around 25 pounds each - a shoulder bag and a backpack for each of us.

When we landed in Little Mak (at the air strip they affectionately refer to as the "Little Makalolo International Airport, consisting of a bathroom and a landing strip), we saw a family with an inordinate amount of hard-sided, wheeled suitcases. We got our bags off the plane and met our guide, Eustace, who was assigned to us for the duration of our stay. He went to get our bags off the plane, and asked one of the other guides where the rest of our bags were - to which the guide of course responded that we had no other bags. Eustace was baffled! He was like "Really? No other bags?!" Apparently we are the only people that took that requirement seriously, but traveling light was awesome! There's definitely no going back now that we've done it that way! So much more convenient and streamlined, and much less stressful and tiring!

On our drive to Little Makalolo, we encountered our first [legitimate] herd of elephants. It was what the call a "breeding herd", of females and babies. (In fact, most of the elephants you see on safari are in breeding heads, as males are solitary.) It was just amazing. It was so crazy to get close enough to see detail and to be able to hear them flap their ears - in addition to seeing their protective behaviors and the formations they take when seeing humans.

Little Makalolo is quite a lot different than the River Lodge. First, it has a much higher concentration of animals (particularly elephants). Second, it is located far out into the deep bush, and third, it includes only six tents, so the maximum number of guests at one time is 12. These rooms are also solar-powered, but unlike the River Lodge, are not climate-controlled. It gets chilly in your room at night, but your bed has lots of fluffy blankets and hot water bottles, so it's actually really snuggly and nice! Seth liked it so much we are considering saving some energy by doing that at home during the winter months. :) The camp is run by Wilderness Safaris, a luxury safari operator with a strong focus on ecological responsibility and preservation. This is one of the reasons we chose to travel with them in the first place - foremost in our mind was that the companies and camps we visited were not exploiting the parks in which they were located.

The bathroom at this lodge also included indoor and outdoor showers, as well as an outdoor tub!
From our room, Seth and I could actually see a large watering hole where elephants would come to drink at practically all times of day. It was really incredible to be able to wake up, make coffee brought to your room by your guide, and look out the front door to the sun rising behind a herd of elephants drinking from a watering hole. It was really insane.

At the watering hole itself, Wilderness Safaris has actually built a log "hide" that guests can crawl into and sit and watch the elephants come and go without being super conspicuous. On our first evening, we sat and watched two breeding herds (as well as some males) come and drink from the watering hole. As an aside, our guide told us that if a baby elephant can still walk under its mother's belly, it is likely less than a month old.

Though we did not see giraffe in Little Mak like we saw at the River Lodge, we saw an incredible amount of wildlife, including hundreds of elephants, zebra, jackals, impala, kudu, sable antelopes, lions and a ton of bird life.

African eagle owl. Our guide said it is rare for anyone to get a photo this good. The red light is because during night safaris, the guides use red lights so we can see the animals without hurting their eyes.

Our guide, Eustace, with elephant bones

A lilac-breasted roller. The underside of their wings is that bright teal, but they were too hard to catch a photo of in flight!

A jackal
One of the evenings we were on safari, we stopped our truck so that Eustace could use his binoculars to search the surrounding plains. He saw a pride of lions off in the distance, which was really exciting as we hadn't yet seen lions. He radioed another guide that was closer to the pride, and we set off to go and see them.

The pride we found was about eight lions, four adult females and four cubs, primarily what they call "sub-adults", or teenage, lions. They were sunning themselves on a termite mound, which is exactly where our guide had told us we were most likely to find them. This was sort of a crazy night - we were on a plain with around 100 elephants, a pride of lions, and off in the distance, a few sable antelope. As we were watching the lions, they spotted the antelope and began to slowly, one by one, get up, stretch, yawn and walk toward the antelope. For a hot second, we thought we were going to see a kill. (I would have been traumatized, so I'm glad we didn't, personally.)

The elephants spotted the lions, and we got to see how elephants react to the presence of lions. They started stomping their feet, and flapping their ears, and trumpeting (so loud), in an attempt to chase the lions off. One of the adult female elephants also decided she had had enough of our presence, and started doing the same behaviors toward our truck. Eustace pointed his finger at her, said, "YOU!" and she backed off. It was crazy how much was happening at once! Seeing our first lion pride, watching them stalk antelope, watching elephants try to chase off the pride and maybe-potentially getting stomped out by an elephant. This was my face: 0.0

I would have to say that that was probably one of the best nights of my life. After the lion-elephant-antelope chaos, we drove to the other side of a nearby watering hole to have our "sundowners", or drinks and snacks. It's there that we got some of my favorite pictures from the trip.

We may or may not have also witnessed elephants mating (hence the dust in the last photo), which was a little ridiculous (we also saw ostrich and baboons mating during our time at Little Mak, and I am happy to imitate the ostrich mating dance for anyone that wishes to see it. It's pretty hysterical).

To anyone that loves to travel and experience new things, to get outside your little bubble and really explore life, yourself and the world: I highly recommend an African safari vacation. It is a large financial sacrifice to be sure, but with some smart saving and planning, it will change your life. Wilderness Safaris, specifically, is an absolutely fantastic company with some of the best accommodations and guides available (but that's another story to be told another time).

After saying goodbye to our wonderful guide, Eustace, who we had bonded with for the last three days, we boarded our flight back to Victoria Falls in a tiny little four-seater plane, where I sat in the back and cried because I was so sad to leave. Africa feels like home to me now, and I can't wait to go back.

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Africa, Part 1: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Hello, all!

I'm so sorry this has taken me an entire WEEK to write! AH! We have just been so busy post-vacation that I haven't even had time to sit down and start this yet. We culled our photos, (we probably took around 2,000 and managed to knock that down by half), uploaded them to Facebook, started photo books, and ordered our last "souvenir" (a Mammals Guide recommended to us by our first guide, Nofias). That's in addition to regular adult-y things: two full-time jobs, training for my upcoming bouldering competition, and showing our condo to prospective renters.

In other words, this week has been SUPER CRAZY! But I'm glad to get to sit down and finally start writing this for you now!

Long story short, Africa changed my heart. It is a gorgeous, serene, moving, and incredible place to be. The people are wonderful, funny, boisterous and kind. I could literally have stayed for the rest of my life if, ya know, duty didn't call back in the States. Seth and I are a couple of hippies, and being there made us think a lot about ecological conservation (what are we doing to our planet?!) and the ethical conundrum of zoos that aren't exclusively conservation-based. It was insane to be able to literally see the whole Milky Way and a sky literally covered, skyline-to-skyline, in stars that we as Americans cannot see anywhere in our country (except maybe in North Dakota, but even then I doubt it could touch the African night sky). It was also sad to see all these animals in their natural habitat, then come home and see photos of zoos....really makes you think, why are they there for our viewing pleasure? Definitely brought up some thoughts on issues we hadn't fully considered before.

All of those issues aside, I know you all are wanting to see photos, and I don't want to disappoint. Here is a recap of our vacation, with some photos (though, if you're my Facebook friend, you've seen way more than these!):

I wrote about our plans and overall itinerary in this post. I left DC in the evening on June 26th, and met Seth and his family in Chicago. We left that night and landed in Zimbabwe in the afternoon (Zimbabwe time) on Sunday, June 28th. It was a super-long trek with layovers in Chicago (for me), Munich, Germany, and Johannesburg, South Africa. We spent our first night (just one night) at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, a less expensive and non-all-inclusive lodge in Victoria Falls. We chose to stay there our first night because of the lower cost and because we knew we would be too tired to do any activities. We showered, rested, and had dinner and drinks out on their huge veranda overlooking a watering hole, where we got to see buffalo, warthogs, and elephants come in for a drink. It was lovely and relaxing, and we got to see our first of many gorgeous African sunsets. :)

We transferred the next day by van and boat to the Victoria Falls River Lodge, also in Victoria Falls but along the Zambezi River. This lodge has only 13 rooms with two guests per room, and is not fenced. It had some of the most beautiful accommodations I've ever stayed in, and it was awesome to be situated in the bush with no fences so animals could come and go freely on the camp itself. The whole camp runs on solar power, but allows for the rooms to be climate controlled, which was nice since it was winter there (80 degree highs and 30 degree lows).

Here are some photos of the lodge and our room:

The bathroom had an indoor and outdoor shower!

And some photos of animals on the grounds of our camp:

Monkey action shot
A male impala grazing next to one of the rooms

The second night we were there, I woke up to a loud "thud-scraaape" outside our tent. I woke Seth up, because obviously, I was like, "Oh em gee, it's a lion, we're gonna die." And Seth of course was so excited he got out of bed and started tiptoeing around our room, looking out the windows, trying to see what it was. Turns out, it was a herd of buffalo. They had come onto our camp to graze and were grazing all around our tent. We could see three of them, but there were at least two more based on what we could hear. It was CRAZY. We stood shivering in the dark watching them grazing and walking within five feet of our tent for about 20 minutes before we went back to bed. (I assume, now, that the noise that woke me up was one of them running into our deck.)

This camp offered morning (6:30am) and evening game drives and river safaris, as well as a trip to Victoria Falls. These are some of our favorite photos from our game drives and river safaris:

A male waterbuck leaping away from our approaching boat
A male buffalo grazing
A male kudu antelope (one of Seth's favorite photos)
The first giraffes we came across - one of the highlights of the trip for me

A baobob tree with a hole in it, a very unique growth pattern for this type of tree
This baobob tree used to be pictured on Zimbabwe's national currency. Our guide told us it is over 1,000 years old.
Warthogs (our guide called them "The McDonald's of the bush", because they're everywhere.
One of many beautiful African sunsets

A male sable antelope, apparently an unusual find on safari - and we saw two!

We also got to visit Victoria Falls, the tallest waterfall in the world, while we were staying at the River Lodge. We got SOAKED. We didn't even bother putting on ponchos, because YOLO. Unfortunately we didn't get any photos of us completely saturated, because our camera was in a wet bag - probably a good decision. I was literally completely soaked to the skin, that's how much water rebounds off the falls. It was basically pouring rain. It was SUPER COOL. And actually really fun to just let go and get soaked!

We had a hitchhiker when we got back to the jeep. ;)
No, we did not provide that monkey with that lolli.
The staff at the lodge was wonderful. They even set up a private picnic for us (with a full, actual gourmet lunch and servers) on the island across from the lodge. It was crazy - we even got to see a hippo on land! They are HUGE!

If you're planning a vacation, I highly recommend you consider Africa. It is very expensive, but with some planning and saving it would be the trip of a lifetime for anyone that loves to travel (and especially those that love animals!)

What do you think? What would have been your favorite part??

(Part 2 at the Little Makalolo Camp in Hwange National Park, coming soon!)
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