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Exploring Simon's Town, South Africa: Penguins, Art, and History

Exploring Simon's Town, South Africa: Penguins, Art, and History

I am a lover of the sea. Between exploring the Namibian desert and touring the South African bush, I was feeling landlocked! Luckily, Simon's Town is a quiet, coastal neighborhood on the cape peninsula of South Africa. Famous for its views of False Bay, Simon's Town offers the "closest encounter with penguins in the world."

I flew from Johannesburg to Cape Town late in the evening of June 9th. I was coming directly off of a 5-day safari tour, ready for the final 4 days of my trip to Africa.

It was a rainy day my first day in Simon's Town. I was there to SCUBA dive but I had to wait for better conditions. Instead, I made the most of my first day there exploring this little seaside village.

My First African Safari Tour: Days 4-5

My First African Safari Tour: Days 4-5

After a terrible experience witnessing unethical animal tourism, I was ready to finish up my safari tour on a better note. The rest of Day 4 for me could only get better—and it did!

I had a nice time getting a personal tour of the tree house lodging where I was staying. I even spotted some baby warthogs on this walking tour. Then I had a final game drive in a very special reserve. There, I saw cheetah, lion, and rounded out my Big 5 sightings with a white rhino!

On the ride back to the airport in Johannesburg, we stopped at Blyde River Canyon. I caught gorgeous views of mountains, forests, and the river below. It was a great final 24 hours on my 5-day safari tour in South Africa!

My First African Safari Tour, Day 3

My First African Safari Tour, Day 3

The 3rd day of my 5-day safari tour was spent inside Kruger National Park. On the other days, the tour took me to private game reserves on the outskirts of the main park. This time we would be going in for a full day of safari adventuring!

This post will be filled with photos and anecdotal stories to provide some context for various animal sightings throughout the day. The goal of the day was to see as many of the "Big 5" animals as possible. We missed spotting rhino but were lucky enough to see buffalo, elephant, lion, and leopard! I saw many more animals, too, such as wild dogs which are super rare!

Our safari vehicle encountered so much throughout the day, including a run-in with a very disgruntled (and aroused!) elephant. It was during that encounter I learned the meaning of "Elephants have 6 legs."

My First African Safari Tour, Day 1

My First African Safari Tour, Day 1

Finally, the day had arrived for my first ever African safari tour! In early June of this year, after a week in Namibia and a weekend exploring Pretoria, I was pumped to search for and see the Big Five animals (and more) of Africa.

This first day of the tour involved bonding with others on the drive to the reserve, a sunset game drive with tons of wild animals sightings including elephant and lion, and a BBQ dinner in the African bush.

I honestly could not have asked for a more fulfilling first day. Hopefully, this perfect day wasn't going to spoil me for the remainder of my 5-day tour!

 Visiting The Cheetah Conservation Fund In Namibia

Visiting The Cheetah Conservation Fund In Namibia

As a lover of cheetahs, I was very excited to learn that the "Cheetah Capital of the World" is Namibia. But, with less than 8,000 left in the world, the chances of seeing the endangered cheetah in the wild is very low! Still, I wanted to see these beautiful creatures in person and in the most ethical way possible.

Before I traveled to Namibia, I researched and identified the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF). After carefully assessing their ethical practices, I booked 2 tours with CCF.

In this post, I share a full review of CCF. I include how I got there, what I learned about cheetahs, my experience seeing the cheetahs, and learning about CCF's efforts to save them.

I'll Never Do It Again: Bayou Tour In Louisiana

I'll Never Do It Again: Bayou Tour In Louisiana

Compromising my ethical values is something I do not do very often. And it never feels good doing it. But my bestie was coming with me to NOLA for the weekend. So I said yes to a swamp tour I had warned would likely be unethical to the animals. I've never been so upset about being right.

The last time I was in NOLA, I "broke into" the local zoo. Although I didn't pay to get in, walking around there reinforced my ethical standards around animal tourism. I've written about this before, such as with the Monkey Forest in Ubud. Basically, my standards are don't support it unless it's highly regulated and the interaction is as natural as possible.

The Bayou Tours in Louisiana broke these rules. And I say the plural word "tours" because it's more than just the one we went on. While I learned a lot about the wildlife and swamp ecosystem on the tour, I cringed as the tour guide fed marshmallows to the animals. That only scratches the surface. Read on to learn more about why I'll never support tours like this again!

How NOT to see alligators in the Florida Everglades

How NOT to see alligators in the Florida Everglades

In travel or in life, there is a plus side to every failure. That is the lesson I learned from my failed attempts to see alligators with Jono while visiting the Florida Everglades.

This post has 4 failures describing why I did not get to see any alligators in southern Florida. Some of the reasons were beyond my control while others were absolutely my fault.

If your mission is to see alligators, make sure you do not do what I did and learn from my mistakes!

I Broke Into the Audubon Zoo and Had An Epiphany

I Broke Into the Audubon Zoo and Had An Epiphany

 I have a confession: I accidentally broke into the Audubon Zoo while visiting New Orleans.

Well, perhaps breaking in is an exaggeration. I wandered in through the exit without realizing I was bypassing the admission fee.

Sometimes people make honest mistakes in their life. Sometimes they take advantage of loopholes. My situation fell somewhere in between. And I'll tell you why I felt guilty about it. No, I did not feel guilty that I didn't pay. I felt guilty because I had an epiphany: The caged animals in that zoo are a mirror image of the human race. 

Allow me to explain.

I saw Bison, America's First National Mammal, in Kentucky

I saw Bison, America's First National Mammal, in Kentucky

I've decided to hold off on writing more about Nashville this week in order to honor the bison. If you haven't heard, President Obama signed a bill this past Monday to make the bison America's first national mammal!

I was lucky enough to see this incredible beast (and over 40 of its bison friends) roam the open prairie one state over from Tennessee last month. We saw them while on a day trip to Land Between the Lakes which stretches across the border into Kentucky.

A two-hour road trip outside Nashville brought us across the border for a very close encounter with these historic symbols of strength and intimidation. Let me say that again: A very close encounter. I'll let you decide for yourself just how close you would get!

Cockfighting in Bali: Observing and Understanding Balinese Rituals

Cockfighting in Bali: Observing and Understanding Balinese Rituals

When we travel the world, our own beliefs and comfort zones are often challenged by the cultural differences we encounter. I was reminded to keep my own beliefs in check one morning in Bali when I stumbled upon a cockfight outside of Ubud. After my attempts to engage with Macaque monkeys in an ethical manner the day before, I now found myself standing as an observer to a bloody, testosterone-charged death match between beautiful roosters.

In my opinion, it's an incredibly inhumane tradition—one I felt uncomfortable taking part in as a reluctant voyeur. At the same time, it was just that: A tradition. The cockfight is one of those travel moments that reminded me about how much our culture shapes our beliefs and behaviors. You don't have to agree with those of others, but you can try to understand them.

Monkey Forest Road in Ubud: Ethics and safety with wild monkeys

Monkey Forest Road in Ubud: Ethics and safety with wild monkeys

Have you ever wanted a monkey for a pet? Ever since I watched Disney's Aladdin as a child I have wanted to have a friend like Abu (sorry, Genie). I've had such a strong obsession with the idea of making friends with a monkey, I've managed to ignore all the reports of monkey attacks on humans and poo-thrown at zoo keepers in the media. This kind of passion led to my arrival at the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud, Bali.

With reports about the monkeys stealing tourist's cameras and biting them for food, I was careful to take the necessary precautions. I also ensured my interactions with them were not forced while I was there. I wanted to be certain I would meet my new friend as ethically and safely as possible. The result was an incredible amount of cuteness, lots of rambunctious monkey behavior, and even a few selfies captured with these friendly and curious cousins of mine. I also got a lot of the action on video—a must see at the end of this post!

Humpback whales singing underwater: A Niue diving experience [Video]

Humpback whales singing underwater: A Niue diving experience [Video]

While diving in Niue I had the most incredible animal experience. Several pods of humpback whales were in the area. They were singing and talking to each other the entire time we were diving. We couldn't help but eavesdrop on the conversation as it only got louder and LOUDER.

By the time my fellow divers and I were preparing for our safety stop, the whales' singing became so loud I was sure they would emerge out of the deep ocean blue ahead and swim right by us. My camera easily captured the beautiful cacophony as we waited to ascend to the surface.

Arriving to Niue: First impressions of “the rock”

Arriving to Niue: First impressions of “the rock”

I was expecting Niue to be a small country. But there was no way I could have anticipated just how small and remote it is. Jono, my Kiwi partner, and I traveled from New Zealand to “the rock” of Polynesia at the end of August.

Upon our arrival, we realized the entire country is the equivalent of a rural village dropped onto an island in the middle of the ocean. With its approximately 1200 human dwellers (and possibly twice as many chickens), we felt like we were getting a true getaway from the fast pace of life. You’ll understand why if you ever have the chance to go, or you can just keep reading.

Photo highlights: Diving the Great Barrier Reef

Photo highlights: Diving the Great Barrier Reef

Early last week, I posted a video sneak peek of my adventures diving the Great Barrier Reef. In this post, I share my very best and favorite photos taken with my Olympus Stylus TG-3 camera (waterproof up to 15m). It’s the camera I used for the video and it’s the same one I’ve been using since I started my travels over a year ago.

I love this camera because it tells me how deep I am and warns me when I’m getting to its depth limit. As a result, I was able to take photos worry-free on nearly all 11 dives I did while living on board the ScubaPro III.

Wildlife of Phillip Island, Victoria: Penguins, koalas, & wallabies

Wildlife of Phillip Island, Victoria: Penguins, koalas, & wallabies

When my friend Cyndi asked me if I’d rather see the Great Ocean Road or see the Little Penguins, the decision was an easy one to make. After only getting to see one penguin in New Zealand, I was ready to see more. And on Phillip Island, I was guaranteed to see many.

If that weren’t enough, Phillip Island is also home to the Koala Conservation Centre where I met even more of Australia’s wildlife. After penguins, I saw koalas, wallabies, and tons of exotic birds some of which laughed us right out of the park!

Wild horse tracking in Te Aupouri Forest of New Zealand

Wild horse tracking in Te Aupouri Forest of New Zealand

Like most Westernized countries, New Zealand has many domesticated horses. On any given drive across the country you’re bound to see them fenced in on grassy hillsides, being ridden by tourists across a country road, or jumped by locals for prizes at field day events.

Wild horses, on the other hand, are a rare sight to see. I was lucky enough to track some down and witness their majestic beauty as they freely trotted through the Te Aupouri Forest and galloped across the dunes behind the 90 Mile Beach.

Cheap, self-guided snorkeling in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Cheap, self-guided snorkeling in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand

I’m all about finding my own fun while traveling—and at low cost. Part of deviating is looking for ways to explore a new place without paying for a tour guide to show you around. Sometimes self-guided tours take you to unique places that turn out to be just as good as the tours or better!

This was the case the day Jono and I arrived in Paihia in Northland New Zealand. We had a whole day free to fill with whatever we chose. So we went snorkeling in the Bay of Islands on our own for just $20 each. Here’s how.

Southland coastline to the Moeraki Boulders: Wind, humor, and a penguin

Southland coastline to the Moeraki Boulders: Wind, humor, and a penguin

I had no idea what was in store for the next few days. In order to escape constant rainy weather in the Otago region, Carolina and I decided to drive south until we hit ocean. Unfortunately, we ended up right in the middle of the storm anyway!

All was not lost. We got to witness amazing windswept coastal scenery and a show of rainbows against the storm as we set up camp. The weather broke when we headed up the east coast and camped near the Moeraki boulders. From there, I executed a mission to see wild penguins for the first time.

Did I succeed in my mission?

8 reasons to visit Pai in Thailand

8 reasons to visit Pai in Thailand

Throughout my first two weeks in Thailand, I kept hearing people tell me about a place called Pai (pronounced pie). “Have you been to Pai yet?” “Are you going to Pai?” “Oh, you have to go to Pai!” I learned it’s a small, hippie town with a feeling not unlike the Thai islands. The only difference is it’s located in the Northern mountains surrounded by rice farms. I’m not always one to do what everyone else is doing, but I loved the life on Ko Tao so much I was craving more of the island feel.

I booked a van for the equivalent of $4.50 along the insanely windy 3 hour route between Chiang Mai and Pai. I had no plans once I got there. I figured I’d spend 2 or 3 days just to feel the place out. I'd find out what to do and where to go after I arrived. Being completely open to seeing and doing anything, I ended up staying 7 nights and having an awesome time! In fact, I want to go back. So this is my list of reasons to visit Pai, or go again!.

Flying with the fishes: Learning to dive off the shores of Ko Tao, Thailand

Flying with the fishes: Learning to dive off the shores of Ko Tao, Thailand

When I left Bangkok for Ko Tao, I had no idea what I was going to decide to do once I arrived at the dive resort where Astrid works. I have always wanted to take a SCUBA diving course and get certified, but I never thought I’d do it in Thailand. Between the excellent instruction I received, the great underwater visibility, and the diverse tropical fish and coral reef, I made the best decision to learn to dive off the shores of Ko Tao.

After the 9 hour bus and ferry ride from Bangkok, one of the Big Bubble resort taxi drivers picked me up from the port. Five minutes later, we arrived at the resort where I met KaiNui who is one of the master divers at Big Bubble. He introduced me to a list of dive options and their prices. The open water diver certification course involved watching a video, receiving short instruction in the classroom, and going on 4 dives, 2 the first day which were mainly training focused and 2 the following day which were for fun and practice. The course cost about $300 USD and included 4 nights’ accommodation in their bungalows. Normally there are up to 6 other divers in each training group, but because it was low season for tourists on the island, I ended up having a private instruction for the group price! You cannot get this kind of deal back home, so I was immediately in.