Archive for October, 2011

Africa 2011, Part 4.

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Let’s bang through a bunch more herbivores before we hit some animals that would happily eat your feet. We saw some wildebeest just, you know, hanging out. The one in the middle is an adolescent, and I know this because he is smaller and browner.

Buffalo! They’re big, they’re ornery, they look like they’re nursing the worst hangover ever. The buffalo family structure is similar to the elephant family structure, in that the ladies n’ babies hang out together and the older males do their own thing. The Moomins and I saw three males right near us. One was even accompanied by a passenger cattle egret riding on its back.

And I saw a buffalo skull by the side of the road. I could not figure out what the little stick-like protuberances were coming out the horns, so I asked a ranger. He said there are these little worms that build these houses on stuff like trees and apparently dead buffalo horns. Question answered.

Woeful vervet monkey. He was sitting on the lawn looking mournful. When we arrived, instead of getting all Machiavellian and planning how to steal all our foodstuffs, this guy thought we were too loud and moved away from us to write emo poetry in his journal or whatever. I took a picture of him. Being woeful.

Normal evil monkeys full of plans and thoughts about how to simultaneously take your snack and give you rabies, thereby saving valuable monkey time.

In keeping with the theme of primates, we also saw baboons. Twice, actually. Once was at a neighboring camp where the baboons had (not surprisingly) figured how to open the baboon-proof garbage cans. How, you ask? They watched humans do it and then did it themselves. I’m starting to think the only baboon-proof garbage can is a garbage can with a pin code you type in.

The other time was a really cute interaction on the side of the road. There was a troop of baboons picking through the grass looking for tasty grubbins, and this mom baboon was sitting there with a wee baby in her lap. As we’re watching her, the baby decided he’s a big boy, he’s ready to go out on his own, so he started crawling over his mother in an attempt to take on this big bad world. “Peace, lady! Thanks for the boob juice but I’m out!” And she just looked down, took her hand and gently pushed the little feller back into her lap, like, noooo, you’re not going anywhere.

He tried this a bunch more times, all with the same result. Finally he got so frustrated he started sucking his thumb. It was precious. I wouldn’t be surprised if all the ladies within a two-mile radius started ovulating.

Ground hornbills! I call them Death Turkeys. They’re weird birds. They can fly, but they really don’t. They like to walk around. This group is all males, I believe.

• | • | • INTERMISSION  • | • | •

Saw a bone. Don’t know what it is. Don’t know what animal it belongs to. There ya go.

• | • | • INTERMISSION OVER  • | • | •

Yeah, so, lions! I saw a bunch of ’em. I saw two females walking in the bush.

I saw a male walking next to the road.

But the coolest one of all was just pure dumb luck. We were driving around and we saw four lions, two males and two females, walking away from us. We pulled up where they looked like they were heading but alas, they were gone. Apparently they had a kill right down at the bottom of this dip beyond our line of vision, which bummed us out. But then – magic! One of the females probably didn’t want to eat with the other lions, so she grabbed one of the carcass’ legs and brought it up by the side of the road and ate it for twenty minutes right in front of us. We rolled down the windows and heard the bones crunching and everything. It was so cool.

Um, you got a little something, uh, on the side of your…never mind.

And then after a while she turned her head around and faced towards us and we were like, HOORAY! Awesome photo! Cricket totally got this one. Thanks, boo.

While we were sitting there in our car, more and more people pulled up in cars and tour buses all around us, so getting out was a colossal pain. Here’s a picture of what was in front of the car. Imagine the same thing going on behind the car. Lions are a big deal.

Also, hyenas! Last time, we saw one hyena cross the road for a second and that’s it. This trip, way more betterer hyena sightings. Let me set the stage. The gates of the park are open to the public from 6a.m. to 6p.m. You can drive around all you want. If you want to go out for a night drive, you need to sign up for a night drive, which is taken on a tour vehicle with a ranger. You and the other tourists shine dim headlights into the bush looking for reflective eyes. You can see a lot of cool stuff on night drives. I saw two civets and a genet, but they moved too fast for me to get a shot. I did get a shot of an angry elephant mom. The glittering eyes really make this extra-intimidating.

Then a while later she started nursing (awwww).

We saw a scrub hare. I learned the difference between rabbits and hares. According to the ranger, rabbits are born blind and unable to move. Hares are born ready to run.

Oooh, we also giraffes sitting down, about fifteen of them. They looked like a forest. It was amazing to see because they almost never do that – it leaves them vulnerable.

I even saw an eagle owl far away. He hated the light and wouldn’t turn around, but I could feel his searing hate even through the back of his head.

But the most important thing we saw were two baby hyenas in the road. They like to lie in the road at night because the asphalt is warm. These two little guys were lying there all sad because their mom was out hunting.

And we were so psyched about seeing this. We figured that was it. But no! We went out for a morning drive the next day and would you believe it, they were still there! And the mom hyena was there with them! Totally awesome. We woke them up as we drove by, so the little ones started making squeaky giggling noises and the mom rolled over to feed them. Our minds were officially blown.

The little one on the right with his butt up the air is so cute.

Look how close they are to the car. Look at that.

The Moomins developed an unhealthy obsession with one of the baby hyenas. “Her” hyena. She named him Flower, because The Moomins thinks that the splootch pattern on his back looks like flowers.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about one of the cutest things that I have ever encountered.

Africa 2011, Part 3.

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

More beasties! Pretty much everything I talk about pertaining to Africa will be beastie-related, so you should just prepare yourself right now. Okay, let’s check out some big birds that can claw your face off.

This is a bateleur. It’s big, it’s bright, it will kill you.

Fun side story: The indigenous African languages (like Swahili) don’t have the “r” sound. They just don’t have it. Due to that, when Africans who were brought up without European language influences try to speak English, interesting things happen. Either they roll the hell out of the “r”, or they ignore it entirely. My favorite phrase from this trip was when a guide took me on a night drive and informed us that the rangers perform “contrrrrolled bens”. I had no freaking clue what that meant and was lost for a while. A few minutes later he said, “We have contrrrrolled bens all in this arrrrea. We ben with fayah, and that makes new grrrroth.”And all was made clear.

So, when we were driving around and saw this bird with a French name, the guide said, “That is a batalee…uh”. You could see him hit a wall with that stupid tongue-curling French “leur” sound. Here’s what it sounds like:

Other eagle-type birds that I’m too lazy to research the names of:

Community spiders! Cricket is obsessed with these things. Quick recap: the fluffy white globs of web in trees are nests filled with hundreds and hundreds of tiny spiders. I have never seen these wee spiderettes, only the nests, and I am a-okay with that. These clots of Grandma’s hair are everywhere. Finally Cricket got a shot that made him happy.

Termite mounds! These things are so, so very big. I took a picture of one with an enormous tree on it to give you a sense of scale.

Billions and billions of termites live in it. Interesting facts I learned about these termites: They don’t eat plant matter or wood. They bring back plant matter and/or wood, and a special breed of mushroom that is only associated with them grows in their giant city, and they eat that, forming a perfect simbiotic relationship. Also, the worker-termites can control the temperature and humidity in the mound within 1 degree either up or down by opening or closing various holes, causing evaporation or a cross-breeze or whatever they need, which I think is so cool (no pun intended). Finally, if the queen dies (she’s a foot-long egg-laying machine), the termites will realize that their colony is dying out, and when the rainy season comes, they will just magically grow wings and fly to a new area to form a new colony. I love that. It sounds made up. “Oh, our society is going to end? Well, fine, I’ll just grow wings! Poof! Ya like that?! I’m the termite David Copperfield!”

Giraffes! I love giraffes. In Africaans, they are called “camel-horses”, because they look like a camel and run like a horse. Actually, their closest relative is the Okapi, which is a stripey-legged creature most common in the Congo. No camels, no horses. They have seven vertebrae in their neck just like us, and a special valve at the base of their neck to make sure the blood gets to their brain by increasing the blood pressure. It’s like their neck is a perpetual boner. The most common type of death for a giraffe is a heart attack because of that. Really. Once they become an adult, no one really eats them. They just stand there, and then they tip over and crumple to the ground and they’re done. My favorite thing about them is the 18-inch-long prehensile blue-black tongue that they use to delicately pull leaves off spikey trees. I tried desperately to get a shot of the thing, but it’s out then it’s in and by the time you pressed the button, my snakelike tongue nemesis was gone. Sadness.

Beautiful giraffes being tall:

Beautiful giraffe showing lustrous eyelashes:

(insert Lion King “Circle of Life” intro here) HAAAAANIMANNNNYAAAAA NAAAAPAAAATIII NAAAPAAATAAAAAA mmmmmmmmmm…..

The sunsets in Africa are very photogenic every day. Cricket and I took a bunch of photos.

Vultures! I don’t have to tell you about vultures. They eat the dead, they’re big, they’re bald. That’s it. Ironically, considering how freaky-freaky they look, they are extemely photogenic. Got some good shots of ’em.

Since there’s a river that goes through Kruger Park, there are water-oriented creatures. There are crocodiles doing their impressions of logs.

There are kingfishers. I saw two kinds of kingfishers on this trip, the regular and the giant, and both of them were staring at the water with an intensity I only wish I had. They were practically willing the fish to them. With the power of their minds.

And there are hippos. I saw hippos in a setting that looked like it had been staged. In this picture there are hippos (with an egret standing on one’s back), there’s a dead tree filled with stork nests (which are huge – a full-grown man can stand on one) and on the shore are a whole bunch of storks. It was great.

Tomorrow – carnivores! And some intense cuteness!

Africa 2011, Part 2.

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Let’s look at more herbivores, shall we? How about zebra? By the way, I am now broken because in Africa they don’t say “zee-bra”, they say “zeh-bra” and guess what? Now so do I. I learned a few fun facts about zebra while I was there. For example, if you shave a zebra, it’s skin is all black all over, so a zebra is black with white stripes as opposed to white with black stripes. Also, the reason you won’t see anyone riding one ever is because their spines are very flexible and if you were to sit on them, their spines would snap and kill them. I already knew this, but maybe you didn’t: their hind-kick can kill a lion, so lions have to attack them from the front if they’re going to try to eat them. Additionally, they are very skittish and most people only get pictures of their stellar rumps, so I feel really lucky to get some shots of them not nervously heading off into the underbrush.

Zebra eating as the sun sets.

More zebra eating.

Zebra mommy with baby (awwww).

We saw two profoundly cute types of antelopes. One is the steenbok, or as Cricket calls it, “an impossibly small impala”. I am smitten with them. They are very wee and the males have teeny horns and and I wish to snuggle them forever. Here’s a picture I found on the internet to give you a sense of scale.

That’s full-grown, people! And here are the pictures we took. My favorite thing is the little black smudgy on their nose. It makes it look like they’re wearing little Halloween skeleton masks.

The other precious antelope moment was with a mommy and baby bushbuck. Cricket, The Moomins and I had stopped in a small rest stop during our one of our game-sighting drives, and we went in to pick up some nibbles and water. On the left there was a female bushbuck eating, and one a little hilly area was the wee one looking like a drawing from Disney’s Bambi.

And then they both walked past us and, despite our pleas, refused to let us pet them and give them kisses. Because they’re selfish.

This is also where we had our first encounter with a highly aggressive hornbill. Hornbills are in the toucan family, I believe. This one wanted Cricket’s chutney-flavored chips something fierce. (Chutney-flavored chips are glorious. I’ve always said if you want to learn what is popular food-wise in a country, go to their chip section.) Hornbills get ornery and assertive in an attempt to get at your grubbins. Cricket kept having to make loud noises and wave his arm to keep this hornbill at bay.

After we finished at the rest stop, we all got into the car cautiously so as not to infuriate the bird even further, and after Cricket closed his door we heard a loud PLAPTH! against his side window, which caused all of us to jump. Mr. Hornbill had resorted to flinging his body against the car to get at the delicious snacking contained therein. “Must get… PLATPH!… at…PLAFTH! …chips!!” We left in great haste to prevent the hornbill from doing any damage to himself or to our rental vehicle.

I also saw a whole lot of elephants. I think elephants are the greatest. The craziest thing about them is that they are huge with no camouflaging spots to break up their great grayness, yet they can walk behind a scrawny leafless bush and disappear. Like, your eye can’t pick them out. I took a photo to show what I mean. This guy is a solid four or five tons, he’s fifteen feet away from me, and he’s behind two six-foot-tall crappy bits of scrub. And he’s invisible. The only reason I knew he was there was because he was swinging his trunk around.

If you can’t see him, I made a rough cutout for you.

Amazing, huh? So it’s extra-off-putting when they just materialize out of nowhere right next to you. Here is one hanging out doin’ what he do (which is eating).

Not surprisingly, we saw a whole heck of a lot of elephant babies. This one might have been the cutest. He didn’t know how his trunk worked, but his mom was pulling leaves off a tree, and he wanted to as well. If he was an elementary school student, he would have gotten a “good effort!” sticker. The little guy was trying so hard he didn’t notice the tiny ditch next to him and fell over in it. It was all very precious. The whole time his mom was like, “Doin’ great, kiddo. Momma’s gonna keep defoliating this acacia, but you let me know if anything important happens.”

And here is my sole solitary picture of a duiker. A duiker is another kind of extremely cute little antelope similar to the steenbok. I desperately wanted to see one up close, but alas, it was not meant to be. This is closest I got.

Africa 2011, Part 1.

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

I’ve been to Africa numerous times, but this trip was one of the best. We saw a ton of animals, ate a bunch of delicious food, and I even bought a couple pieces of beautiful art. Our first stop upon arriving in Johannesburg was to immediately hop on another flight to Kruger Park where Cricket and my mother (who from hereon shall be known as The Moomins) stayed for five days. The cool thing about Kruger is that every trip is different. On my last trip with Cricket in 2009 we saw a two leopards and two snakes, but only one hyena for a split-second and barely any warthogs. On this trip we saw a whole bunch of lions and hyenas and hippos, but no leopards or marabou storks or snakes. Every trip is different. A good rule of thumb is to go with high hopes and low expectations and be psyched about whatever happens to saunter into your path.

First, let’s start with the impala. Since there are over 100,000 in Kruger Park, you see them everywhere all the time. Which is great, because I think they’re so pretty. If I had been alone in the car, I would have stopped to say hello to each and every one, which would have taken forever and ever. Luckily, Cricket kept me from falling into a total impala spiral.

An interesting fact about impala: they always look so neat and tidy because they are always grooming themselves and each other. They have teeth like little combs that they rake through their fur all the time. They also have strategically-placed black spots on their bodies because ticks are attracted to dark skin, thinking that the blood is closer to the surface in those spots. Then the impala can easily pick the ticks off of those dark areas.

Impala drama! Males fake-battling with each other. I like to listen to the horns clatter together. Since it’s October, it’s spring there, so the males are practicing sparring. By the way, if you ever go to Africa, I highly recommend that you go in their spring because everything has babies. It was wonderful. “Do you like this full-size animal? Well, how about seeing a version standing next to it in half-size?” That never gets tired. If I had a nickel for every time someone said, “Aww, look at the baby!” I would have a great many nickels.

We also saw a ton of guinea fowl, which made me so happy because they are a highly comical bird. They are prone to freaking out and running with this high-stepping gait that does not suit their body shape (the shape of a teapot cozy). Add in the spots, the bony crest and the dinosaur face and you have a winning creature.

Guinea fowl eating.

Guinea fowl roosting.

Guinea fowl napping on the ground.

Another cool thing is we got to get really up close and personal with warthogs. I will go into specifics about one in particular later, but for right now, here are a bunch of warthogs pretending to be lawnmowers. They are born with callouses on their front knees and they tend to just shnuffle forward on their knees eating grass like horribly unbalanced coffee tables.

I know I said this last time but I just want to reiterate it, if it looks like an animal is right next to the vehicle, it’s because it is. I took pictures to prove it.

An especially cool thing was seeing a whole lot of rhino. We saw only white rhino (Cricket saw an extremely rare black rhino while trekking through the bush by himself, I’ll see if I can get the photograph from him). White rhino and black rhino are named incorrectly. It’s a bad translation from Afrikaans. Instead of “white” they meant “wide” because the white rhino had a long flat horizontal lip, as opposed to the black rhino, who has a prehensile upper lip that comes to a point. Some other interesting facts: The white rhino’s head is so heavy, it can’t really lift it up. White rhinos are grazers, meaning they eat grass, and black rhinos are browsers, meaning they eat leaves off of trees, which is where they use that prehensile lip.

Here’s a picture of a mommy rhino and its baby (awwww).

Various other rhinos eating or resting or drinking.

And we saw kudu, which is a large antelope. I used to call it a deer until I got chastised by someone, because deer and antelope are different. Deer shed their horns antlers every year and antelope keep their head-protuberances for their whole lives. Kudus are big, y’all. Like 550 pounds big. The easiest way to identify kudus from other African antelopes is the male has big spiral horns, but something that both the males and females share is the hairy hump on their shoulders and what I call “bird-dropping-lines”. If you look on their sides, they have thin faint white lines trickling down which look like a dove landed on their spine and let it all out. The Moomins’ favorite kudu characteristic is the white goatee. I like the white line between their eyes. We agreed to disagree.

Tomorrow will delve into elephants and hyenas (warning: a whole lotta “awwws” and “look at the baby” coming up with that one, so prepare yourself).

I’m baaaa-aaack (from Africa).

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

I had an amazing time, I saw an astonishing variety of animals and it was generally fantastic. I’m going to start blogging about it tomorrow once I’ve sifted through the over 1,000 photos that were tookened. In the meantime, please enjoy this video of a hartebeest plowing into a bicyclist while he rides around in the bush:

Me and elephants. It’s gonna be awesome.

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

It’s time for my bi-annual trip to someplace other than here, and so I’m headed off to Africa in two days for two weeks of fun and sun and large herbivores that can stomp me to death. I can’t wait. My goal is to see a bushbaby. I’ve never seen one in person and I think this time is my lucky trip. For your edification, this is what a bushbaby looks like:

Sea Creature Costume (part 1 of what’s going to be like a million).

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Now that I’ve decided to go to Burning Man, I want to have a super-rad costume for it. And since I’m going to invest an insane amount of time and energy into it, and not a meager amount of funds, I want to get as much use out of it as possible. So I’m making a sea creature costume. That way I can use it for Burning Man, two Halloweens and the Mermaid Parade. That’s me, always thinkin’. I’ve been thinking of a design that will allow LEDs to be placed all over the costume, and then I have to take battery packs that run the LEDs and their hiding areas into account, so I’ve been contemplating this for a solid week now. I did a bunch of research on sea flora and fauna and came up with a look. Lotta browns, lotta greens, a bunch of tomato red, some purples and almost no blue. Look at this collage I made. The only blue is because the jellies are in an aquarium. Otherwise, almost no blue at all.

And I made myself a drawing so I had some reference point.

There’s headdress/facscinator with a crab and some tube worms, then there’s the beaded necklace that looks like kelp, followed by the two sea slug bracelets, the corset covered in scales, and the hoop skirt with starfish. This drawing doesn’t include the snail shells on the shoes or the jellyfish umbrella. CRAZY amounts of work. I’ve already started beading the necklace. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to yell, “Hey, pipe down! Can’t you see I’m working on my kelp necklace?!”

I have decided on what I would get if I got a tattoo.

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

I commute into Manhattan every day and in the process I have learned the art of riding Metro-North. The morning and evening commutes are peachy – everyone is very quiet and absorbed in their Kindle/Nook/iPad/archaic dead-tree reading material. However, one day this week I was coming in late and I took the 12:05 train. These people are not regular travelers. They are tourists, or people with children taking them to a museum or a zoo, or unemployed people. I usually cut them some slack because they aren’t regulars and don’t know the proper protocol (summary: “Sit down and shut up”), but this particular trip was fraught with emotions. There were a bunch of nondescript white people scattered around the car, and in front of me was two Hispanic ladies. They were chatting about whatever and didn’t hear the conductor say that this was an express, so they couldn’t get off at Fordham. He told them that they would have to go to 125th Street and hitch a train back to get to Fordham. Fine. At this point, Primary Hispanic Lady gets on her cell phone (don’t do that) and starts having The World’s Loudest Conversation Ever (definitely don’t do that). She sounded like this (start at the 30-second mark):

But we were all trapped in this metal tube that reflects sound like nobody’s business, so even though I had my headphones on she was slicing through my podcast and my skull like one of those boats in the Arctic that punch through the ice and leaves crunchy piles all around it. This is my podcast experience:

“So, Chris, tell me about the latest book you’ve read –”


“– excellent novel that really evokes –”


“– that last one I read that made me feel –”


This went on for a good five minutes. All the white people were looking around, silently trying to figure out who would get up and talk to her. Finally, this gray-haired fella walked over, got her attention and made the “quieter, please” gesture. Primary Hispanic Lady apparently misconstrued this to mean stop talking in English, so she continued to have her insanely loud cell chat, but now in Spanish. I wanted to explain to her that even though I couldn’t understand what she was saying, it was still, shall we say, dampening my travel experience. It now sounded like this:

“I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys –”


At some point the super-trendy late-teens Scarsdale lass sitting across from me looked at me and shrugged her shoulders as if saying, “Eh, ethnic people, what are you gonna do? Am I right, Fellow White Person?” And I wanted to say, “No, no no, I am not in your camp just because I share your honkitude. I have traveled on the train with a large quantity of splendidly rude white people. Please do not try to commiserate with me.” By then the train trip was over (hooray!) and the Primary Hispanic Lady turned to Secondary Hispanic Lady and said, “Did we miss 125th Street?” The Scarsdale Trendy Girl leans over and, in the most passive-aggressive way imaginable, smiled and said, “Well, if you had been listening to the conductor…” then flipped her hair like they did in teen 80s movies and stalked off. I’m surprised her feather extensions didn’t fly out, she flounced so hard. At that point I became torn because I couldn’t decide if I hated Primary Hispanic Lady or Scarsdale Trendy Girl more. I decided that I hated everyone everywhere and I wanted to live on a mountaintop where I could just watch all the internet’s cat videos until the end of my time here on earth.

Moral of story: I’m thinking of getting the word “misanthrope” tattooed as a tramp stamp on my back.