Archive for November, 2011

Independent Shops fer Christmas!

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

While I know many people want to get up at the ungodly hour of 2 a.m. to get the big deals (not me, never me), I am a big fan of getting stuff from independent, smaller shops. Part of it is altruism, and part of it is because sometimes the stuff is just more interesting and fun. So here is a short list of some of my favorites in case y’all wanted to go “small business” and “handmade” this season as well.

It says “Girl’z Lyfe” (that spelling gives me agita as well, it’s not just you) but it has cool things for both sexes. And they carry a lot of Fred and Friends products, which I love.

Shana Logic does skew a bit more girly and tweeny, but they have all handmade things and their selection changes fairly regularly.

And there’s PlasticLand. They focus mainly on vintage fashion, but PlasticLand also has quite the selection of Fred and Friends as well as other curiosities for your home and self. Check out the rad old-style ornaments.

In addition, there’s a woman I once met who made the best truffles – really creative flavor choices. She has since made her order quantities much higher (when I first bought from her you could get 30 truffles, now the smallest order you can place is 120 truffles). However, her work is impeccable and I highly recommend asking for the “Vinie” truffle, which is pink peppercorn and dark chocolate. Maybe buy 120 and split them up, then distribute them to a variety of people.

And don’t forget, there’s always Etsy (here’s my review of a few stand-out shops) and the stores in your town/village/city/floating island. Also, if you come to Manhattan, there’s a holiday fair in Grand Central and one right nearby in Bryant Park, and then there’s ones in Union Square, Columbus Circle, and St. Bartholomew’s at 50th Street and Park Ave. Lots of small business and handmade art at all of those.

Happy Thanksgiving!

St Francis of Assisi Day.

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Before I left for Africa I went to the annual St. Francis of Assisi Day Celebration in The Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It was a good year, not the best year I’ve ever seen there, but good. It would have been vastly improved had the raptor n’ owl guy been there, but alas, he was not. Sigh. However, I did have an “am-I-in-a-dream” moment when I was watching the procession of animals come down the aisle, and…hey, is that Edie Falco holding a baby kangaroo? For no reason whatsoever?

Yup, yes it is.

There were a lot of the usual suspects at this year’s procession. Not that they’re bad, just expected. Like this lovely cow.

Some llamas and an alpaca:

A wee pig:

The tortoise that, due to all the foliage around him, unfortunately looks like he’s being served for Thanksgiving dinner:

A dromedary and a yak and a duck and that woman who clutches the fennec right up to her chest so it’s impossible for me to get a decent photo, they were all there.

There were two distinctly new additions to the beastie-parade. There was a macaque (oooooh) and a coati (ahhhhh).

But, as always, the real winners were the people of New York and their pets. Were there demented owners who insisted on putting bows in their dogs’ hair and pushing them them around in strollers? You betcha.

A guy brought his turtle to be blessed.

But the most impressive blessed creature of the day was the British guy who brought his…wait for it…jellyfish to church.

There are two of them. I circled them because, you know, they’re see-through and therefore difficult to spot.

A bunch of other people took a whole lot of stunning pictures that people emailed me all day. They are far, far superior to my photos, so please enjoy.

Several unrelated things.

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

1. This new (to me) web comic that Cricket has introduced to me is swell.

Here are some ones that make me especially happy.

2. A friend of mine came into the city from out of town and went to KidRobot because she had a coupon. She bought some Dunnies, one of which was an avocado. I own about six or seven of them, but once I saw the avocado one, the FIRE was LIT within me once again and I had to have more Dunnies (specifically the avocado one). A Dunny, in case you don’t know, is a bunny/humanoid-shaped figurine, often made of vinyl. Its natural state is plain white, so artists are commissioned to make designs that go on them. Those are semi-mass-produced, and then artsy folk such as myself can collect them and have wee 3″ sculptures all over our respective homes and/or workplaces. I went on Amazon and, sure enough, they had the one I wanted, but you can’t get just one Dunny, can you? (Answer: No, you cannot.) End of story: I now have nine new Dunnies coming in the mail. If I keep going at this rate, when I die my phenomenal clutter will AWE THE MASSES.

3. As you may know, I work in the sparkly district of Manahattan. Not the diamond district (47th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues), the rhinestone and costume jewelry district (peppered on 6th Avenue between 27th and 37th Street). And let me tell you, things get GAUDY. For example, even though I walk past these glittering treasures and become immune to them, from time to time something leaps out and accosts my eyeballs in a manner that I cannot ignore. Like this necklace.

Once again, WHO WEARS THIS?? It looks uncomfortable and stabby, and I don’t think it would lay right on a woman’s decolletage, all pointing out at different angles and whatnot. Not good. But it was positively glorious next to the newest addition to this window.

That’s right – wacky phones from Spencer’s Gifts completely bedazzled in high-end rhinestones. I don’t even know where to start. First of all, they’re crappy plastic phones that are now weighed down with small chunks of glass, so if they were going to break before, they’re definitely going to now. Also, when you hold them up to your face for a long time, the rhinestones are going to leave dents on your hands and face. Pretty! Then you’re gonna leave sweaty hand-and-face debris all over them, and you know how easy it is to clean something that is rhinestone-covered with a rag or paper towel. I must have stood in front of this window for a solid minute, jaw agape. You really need to imagine this window as the morning sun hits it, blinding the crap out of all the passersby. Sometimes I think these stores are just fronts for the mob, because who has this in their house? I have no idea how these stores stay in business. None.

Advertising is totally heading in the right direction.

Friday, November 11th, 2011

I work in advertising, so I really should be on board with the tactics and manipulations of a product’s perception that my agency (and all the other agencies) do. However, when I see advertising, I want to know the product you’re selling, what it does, and how much it costs. That’s it. I don’t want to have this ephemeral mist of words and images trying to create a mood. I hate car commercials where a deep-voiced man talks about performance while they show a corner of a vehicle like a tail light, and the the speedometer and then the Cadillac logo and that’s it. That tells me absolutely nothing about the car. I think a great many people are agreeing with me and so there is a backlash against woo-woo artsy commercials and more sensible, straight-forward advertising. This week I was thrilled to see this banner ad:

And then I read about this commercial for the movie The Immortals. From what I understand, this is a real commercial and not a fan dub. If this is true, then that’s perfect. I was on the fence about this, but I’m going to see this film now.

Africa 2011, Part 10 and finished.

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

In the last few days of my trip I did two things that are very out-of-character for me. One was riding an elephant. It’s totally terrific. They move very calmly and you can acclimate yourself to the rocking motion they have while they’re walking. Then you can let go of the handles and look around. This particular elephant ride was unique because the guide-fellow decided that the scrub-brush was too dry and uninspiring, so we ended up walking through a series of small islands. I was also pleased with the lifestyle these elephants have. They only do two one-hour walks a day, and the rest of time they are free to graze across the street in a natural reserve. They can come and go as they please, but because they are herd-oriented animals, they come home together every night to a big paddock. They sometimes go a bit rogue. One day, one of the females saw some wild elephants that she liked, so she went off with them. She showed up again ten months later and was pregnant. And a different time the herd came home with an orphan elephant that had been abandoned. He’s part of the herd now too.

Three people ride on one elephant – the handler and two guests. To get up onto your elephant you have to go up a set of stairs, like the kind they have for small planes.

All of us walking through the islands. The Moomins and Drea rode on the promiscuous wandering-away elephant named Mashimba, the one I mentioned above, and Cricket and I rode on a large, 35-year-old male named Marula who has a soft spot for babies. He’s the one the orphan follows around all day. It’s just precious. Mishi rode on the teenage love-child of Mashimba.

To get to the islands, we had to go through water. The handler said, “Give me your legs,” so I wrapped my legs around his waist and that water came right up to my pant leg. If you look in the second picture, you can see the little orphan elephant holding on to our elephant’s tail. Awww.

The handler has a bag of horse snacks, and don’t think the elephant doesn’t know it’s there all the time. Marula kept flinging his trunk over his head and pinching his prehensile nose-fingers at the handler, like, “Gimme snacks! Do it now!”

Here’s what things look like when you’re on top of an elephant.

Here’s a great shot of Cricket and me sitting there looking like Hannibal crossing the Alps. We would make excellent royals based on this photo.

This is Mishi giving the little orphan snacks from the snack bag. Awwww.

After you ride you get to feed your elephant, which might be my favorite part, because you really get to feel the way the trunk works. It’s surprisingly delicate and precise for such a large, heavy column of fleshitude.

And then we got to pet the orphan elephant! So sweet! Drea’s favorite animal is the elephant, so she very quietly had a meltdown while petting the little guy. He was covered in wiry bristles all over and I could have pet him all day forever. Here’s Drea standing next to her elephant trying not to poop herself with delight.

The other extremely cool thing we did was swim in Devil’s Pool. What’s Devil’s Pool, you ask? Well, when Victoria Falls is in full water capacity, the water pours over in a great rushing way. However, when it is the dry season, the water quantity ebbs and at the top of the falls is a pool of water, right near the edge, that you can swim in and cheat death. Here’s a diagram I made to help.

I won’t lie – I was scared. But then when I got there, I realized that in order for me to die, I would have to exert quite a bit of effort. There’s a four-foot wide rock shelf right before the edge, and I would have had to climb out of the pool, walk over that and then fling myself into the crevasse. So as long as I followed the guide’s instructions, I would be fine. First, he had us paddle out to a little rock outcropping in the middle of the river. Then, in order to avoid the current, we had to paddle in a specific line right to the Devil’s Pool because if we drifted too far to the right, we would get washed off. Here we are swimming. Mishi likes this picture because we all look like ducks.

First the guide jumped into the pool to show us how it’s done (how it’s done: jump into the middle). I want to point out that he is wearing a bathing suit bottom, he is not going commando.

And everyone jumped in…

…except me. I slithered down the rocks on my ass, because I am a hero.

It was amazing. The water was rushing over us and around us and it wasn’t cold, but it was refreshing. I could have stayed there all afternoon.

The guide pulled us up by our armpits so we could sit on the inner edge of the rock ledge.

And then he held our legs so we could look over the scary falls into the water.

Here’s a video I found of some other people’s Devil’s Pool experience. It’s pretty much identical to ours.

That was all the crazy risk-taking I needed for, well, for ever, really, so the next day when Cricket, Mishi and Drea went rappelling and bungee-ing and swinging in an enormous gorge, I went as support and took pictures for them. The first time Cricket jumped with the combo-bungee-swing, he didn’t scream. When he got back to the top I asked him why and he said because it wasn’t really scary (!). I told him that made me sad, so he said he would do another jump and this time he would scream his nickname for me, which is Bucket. Drea videotaped it. My favorite part is when the pendulum part begins and the harness gets right up in his giblets. You can hear the tone of his scream change dramatically.

Alright, I think that covers everything. It was a fantastic trip and I highly recommend going to Africa to anyone. If anyone has any questions or wants to see any of the other 1,000 photos that were taken, please let me know and I will happily share them with you.

Africa 2011, Part 9.

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Continuing with the Chobe River boat ride:

Skimmers! With juveniles! Skimmers are a neat-looking bird because their lower jaw/beak is longer than their top jaw/beak. They fly along the surface of the water and scoop things up with that long lower part.

Elephants! So many elephants. Along the river we saw a male elephant eating roots. Because of the recent drought, roots are still edible. This guy had great technique – first, he would kick the grass to loosen the root, then, using his trunk, he would shake the dirt off of it. Then he would eat. Drea got a video of the whole process:

Other elephants: Elephant throwing dirt on herself.

Large troupe of elephants coming down the hill to drink, looking very imposing.

And look at the babies! We saw a ton of elephant babies. Literally, it was a ton. They’re very heavy animals. See, I made a funny there.

We saw a wee baby elephant drinking. They don’t know how to use their trunks at all until they are older than six months, so this little guy had to hunker down and bring his mouth to the water. Awwww.

I saw something I had never seen before and that I found fascinating: a clearly disabled elephant that was full-grown and functioning with a herd. You would think he would have been picked off by predators, but no, he was moving along with the rest of the group. I called him The Elephant Elephant, after The Elephant Man. Look, his spine is all jinky and his leg is wack and I don’t know what’s going on with his hips.

Bee-eaters! That little fellow who is flying by popped out of the hole directly above him at the top of the picture, the ones that’s only a tiny bit bigger than his body. It was amazing to watch him go in and out of there, getting food for his kiddies. To re-enter in he would fly-fly-fly and then fold his wings a nanosecond before he shot back in – perfect timing.

Other bee-eaters.

One of the neatest things we saw was a kingfisher pulling a hummingbird impression. In order to stay directly over the water, the kingfisher flew into the wind. Aside from the flapping, he didn’t move an inch. It was quite impressive.

And finally, spoonbills. They have spoon-shaped bills. I love it when ornithologists call it like it is.

So that was Chobe in Botswana. Amazing. It really is different to see the animals from the water.

When we got back to the hotel (at about four in the afternoon) we went for a walk and passed by a pond, where we saw something really weird. There were two or three trees full of weaver birds, hanging upside-down flapping their wings and shrieking.

Here’s some video Drea took:

One of the weaver’s nests had fallen to the ground. They’re really impressive up close. They don’t use spit or mud or poo, just woven grass. Mishi tried to pull it apart and she was astonished by how difficult it was.

The next day we found out there was a feeding in the backyard shrubbery of the hotel. Eight zebras and three giraffes live on the hotel grounds, and while they were wild animals, the hotel game warden had a special relationship with them. He was laying out large plastic containers of grain when we wandered over. And sure enough, at about 2:58, all eight zebras showed up for snakkies. And they had a baby with them (awww).

Zebra yawning. Looks like he has dentures, don’t it?

The little guy wanted some milk from his mom, but she was otherwise occupied with stuffing her face full of grain, so he sadly rested his head on her butt and waited while she slapped him in the face with her tail. It was precious. Drea got footage.

And then, like a floating dream, the creamiest-colored giraffe emerged out of the trees. I’ve never seen one that pale. I thought it was so lovely.

It was kind of an idiot, because it just stood there. It didn’t eat or anything. It just stood there. Then…it picked its nose with its tongue! And Cricket got the shot! I was ecstatic. Finally I got my giraffe-tongue pic!

The giraffe’s pregnant mom was off to the side eating leaves off of trees, and no joke, we were standing mere feet away from her when she decided to drink so we got to see her go down into her drinking posture right in front of us. It was breathtaking, like watching an Ent from LOTR bend down.

Afterwards we walked back to the hotel and saw this insane-looking flower. I don’t know anything about it except that it huge and it looks fake and it is not.

But the real icing on the cake was when we went to the main building for dinner that night and a vervet monkey was sitting on the wooden roof. I had explained to Mishi earlier that they are often called Blue-Balled Vervets because their testicles are a festive shade of cyan. Now this guy was sitting directly above our heads which allowed me the opportunity to get this super-special photo.

Vibrant, aren’t they?

Next, we cover me being a daredevil for about two seconds and spending the rest of the time watching other people be daredevils, and then that’s it for Africa.

Africa 2011, Part 8.

Monday, November 7th, 2011

Okay, now we have moved onto the country of Zambia, specifically right near Victoria Falls (or, as it’s called in the Kololo/Lozi language, “Mosi oa Tunya” which means “The Smoke That Thunders”). First thing, the sunsets continue to be very pretty.

We went to Victoria Falls during the dry season, so the falls were not in full…fall-age. The normally large and rushing waterfalls were sparse and there were gaps between them.

Here’s a bit:

Here’s another bit:

Here you can see the “smoke that thunders” part:

And here’s the most important thing I noticed. It appears that Africa is not as litigious as society as America, because there weren’t really any railings. Note the people standing right near the freakin’ edge of an undoubted death-plummet:

The attitude there was, don’t be a dumb-ass. If you die, chances are it’s your fault. And, in fact, two people died while we were there. Both of them were indeed dumb-asses and attempted to cross the rapids you see at the bottom on foot. They found the bodies downstream. I like that attitude. This is not a country where they have to put warnings on everything. “Do not use toaster in bath!” “Do not use curling iron while sleeping!” “Coffee might be hot!” I found it a pleasant respite from the usual.

So, The Moomins and Cricket and I arrived at the falls after picking up two additional people: Cricket’s sister Mishi and my niece Drea. Mishi was on vacation, but Drea was there on an eight-week overseas study thing. She’s becoming an engineer and she was there to improve the plumbing situation in some of the townships. We had many long talks about toilets.

The first day we were in Zambia we took a bus to the nearby country of Botswana for a game drive on the Chobe River. If you thought the crossing between Canada and America was laid-back, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Here is the border office between Zambia and Botswana.

Here is a poster outside the border office.

Here is a chicken guarding the border office.

We brought our passports and various disenchanted people stamped various things of various pages, and then we took a boat to meet our combi on the other side. Before we took the ride down the Chobe River, we viewed the area above (which is a national park) from the land.

Chobe from land:

Juvenile birds whose name I forgot keeping cool under a tree:

A warthog with impressive mutton chops:

An impala that was ripped apart (most likely while still alive) by wild dogs:

And then wild dogs. This was very thrilling because wild dogs are very rare, and that’s a good thing because they are one of the closest things to perfect killing machines. A group of lionesses kill about two-thirds of the prey they go after, but wild dogs kill 99% of the prey they go after. When they look directly at you it chills your blood because you can imagine they’re weighing you and guessing your speed and how they will take you down, and you know they would too. Also, they make a horrifying noise when they’re excited or hungry, it’s very shrill and hurts your ears.

Here’s a video of wild dogs killing and eating an impala (I’m warning you, upsetting, because I don’t think that impala is dead yet when they start eating it):

And here’s a video where the wild dogs make that noise (imagine it being way, way too loud so that you want to put your hands over your ears):

But these wild dogs were just hanging out under a tree avoiding the mid-day sun. I love the dappled pattern on their fur.


We saw quite a few animals rummaging through poo for seeds. It might seem gross, but you have to remember that elephants only digest 40% of what they eat, so 60% falls out the back ready to be consumed by others.

We then got on a boat and slowly navigated around the islands and grass piles. The first thing we saw was an open-beaked stork, and as no surprise to anyone it might have been my favorite animal of the day solely based on the fact that it looks like it was birthed from the mind of Edward Gorey. I mean, look at it. It’s practically like one of his drawings come to life.

The next thing we saw was an antelope called a red lechwe, and it might be the most beautiful antelope ever. It’s like the supermodel of antelopes.

While we were sitting there looking at the lovely lechwe, on our right was a fish eagle. I started to sing “God Bless America” at it, but everyone else in the boat told me to kindly shut the hell up. It’s just such a patriotic-looking bird.

Did you know the fish eagle can turn its head around? I did not.

And on the left of us, big lizard. Real big. Right near the boat.

We trundled further on, and then we got to a big chunk of shore where there was an astonishing variety of creatures. First, more lechwe:

And then buffalo:

And elephants and many more lizards and a whole bunch of different birds, etc. What was funny was how little each animal cared about the other ones. We watched a gigantic lizard walk right past a sacred ibis (which is a creepy bird due to it’s mummified-looking head) and neither one gave any semblance of a crap about the other.

The buffalo were pretty great. One was drinking in the most ungainly fashion:

And one was in the water (which came up to his chin) eating the grass on the shore. What made this so amusing to me was because you couldn’t see his legs or most of his body, it looked like he had just flopped down on his face and given up on life and was being despondent in the grass. And then a bird came over and I visualized a conversation (please make the voices sound like New York construction workers):

“Hey Steve.”
“Hey Mike, what’s up?”
“Nothing. Just feelin’ blue.”
“Aww, that’s a shame, Mike. How’s Tina?”
“She left me, took the kids. The house is real empty.”
“Wow, I didn’t know it had gotten so bad. We should go out for a beer sometime this week, eh?”
“Yeah, that’d be nice.”

We also saw hippos in the water. That was the only animal the boat steersman was wary of. We stayed way way away from them.

Hippos grazing on land:

Hippos in the water:

Sleeping hippo:

Yawning hippo:

We finally saw a lilac-breasted roller. On my last trip to Africa I desperately wanted to get a picture of one of these birds, but every time I tried, they flew off. This time Drea got a terrific shot of one. I may or may not have clapped my hands like a small child at Christmas.

We saw various cormorants and darters (which might be part of the cormorant family, the guide was a bit vague about this).

Geese! Egyptian geese, specifically. Many of them had wee goslings following them around (awww).

Crocodiles! There were two nine-year-olds laying like furniture on the shore.

There was one that eating a fish as it swam past us.

And once when parked the boat on the edge of the grass, I discovered a little fellow right in front of the boat. He was adorable, about a foot long.

A Sable!

This was a super-big deal. They are known as “the shy antelope”, so seeing one at all is a big damn deal. That’s why the video I found in my travels around the YouTube sphere makes me scream with rage and jealousy.

Look at all the freakin’ sable. That’s like the world population of sable. And babies! So very jealous.

The trees on the edge of the water looked amazing. Their roots specifically were intense.

Guinea fowl being photogenic on a root cluster:

Next entry: A continuation of Chobe with elephants and more elephants.

Africa 2011, Part 7.

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

Cricket had made the decision before we left to go to on a three-day walk through the bush (with guides and whatnot, not all by himself, that’s guaranteed death). Therefore The Moomins and I had three days to just hang out and do our own thing. We went on a game drive and headed over to the rest stop that we had stopped at previously (the one where the hornbill attempted to punch his way through our car door with his body to get at our chutney-flavored chips) (it’s almost worth it, those chips are delish). The day we went there, it was on a busy day. A whole bunch of people were having a pleasant lunch, or they would have been if two varieties of hornbills and a bevy of other creatures were not trying to take the food off the plates. It’s pretty intense, attempting to have a meal.

Look at that one hornbill totally taking the tomato. It weighs more than you, buddy.

The Moomins was feeling a bit hungry, so she got a grilled cheese sandwich and we sat on the edge of the rest stop. Slowly, we started accruing a bunch of different little animals. Like these:

I felt like Disney’s Snow White: Except these are not the kind of forest-dwellers who help you feel better when you are down. These are the kind of things that steal your food from your pocket while you’re lying on the forest floor crying because the wicked queen turfed you out the castle. Cute, yes. Fluffy, yes. But not nice.

Look how they stare at The Moomins waiting for scraps. With malice.

Finishing up Kruger Park:

This is a Frankolin. Watching them run is hysterical. They run like they ate some cheese and they’re lactose-intolerant and if they don’t hustle hustle hustle there’s going to be apologies and embarrassment all around. Never gets old.

This is a fever tree. The bark is used in indigenous medicines to reduce fevers, hence the name. I like them because they look like they were painted with a thick coat of glow-in-the-dark paint.

Oxpeckers on a giraffe having some kind of oxpecker argument.

The sign outside the Kruger Gate. I appreciate what the designer was trying to do, but…that’s a fail right there. I swear I sat there for a good solid minute thinking, “Refyole? What is that, the name of this gate?” Good try, though.

Alright! That’s it for Kruger. Before we all headed to Zambia, A. was nice enough to take us around the countryside to look at some of amazing scenery in and around the Blade River. We drove two hours to see something called “God’s Window”. However, when we got there, a cloud had taken up residence right where the viewpoint is. The fog was so thick, you couldn’t see five feet in front of your face. I would not be deterred, though. Here is a picture I insisted we take of The Moomins gesticulating towards where the beautiful view would be if we could see it.

This is the three of us posing in front of this supposed view.

Cricket then complained that I always squint in photos (I do a great deal, me and sunlight do not get along) so right before we took the next shot, he quickly put his hands on either side of my face and hoisted up my eyelid skin. He’s so thoughtful. He’s almost as thoughtful as I am photogenic. SO PRETTY.

Then, I had a brilliant idea for a photo. I said to Cricket, “Wait right here,” and I hustled over to the other side of the parking lot, completely out of view due to the fog. Cricket then heard me making a noise, like I was gargling my own tongue. AAAAAAALGHBLAAAAACHHHAAAARG. And then I emerged from the mist doing my best horror movie monster impression. Cricket thought it was fabulous. If we ever meet in person and you ask me nicely, I will happily do a rendition for you. It brings tears to the eyes.

We all got back in the car to head off to non-foggy vistas. Our next stop was Bourke’s Luck Potholes, which is so picturesque it looks fake, like the background in a MGM musical from the forties. A. said that the rock there is soft, and the potholes were created by harder-rock pebbles and sand whirlpooling in circles for years and years, creating those round pits. I think they’re very beautiful.

We then went to an equally idyllic spot where there’s a different waterfall. And there was also a very weird-looking lizard.

And finally we made it to God’s Window and took some decent photos of what turned out to be a very lovely view. Also, at no point did Cricket stick his fingers in my eyes and hoist my face-flesh to his liking, so that’s a plus.

Tomorrow we will dive into Zambia and a bit of Botswana. More beasties await!

Africa 2011, Part 6.

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Just because we’ve explored the wonders of Gizzy the Lesser Bushbaby, we have not finished with the magic of Africa, but no, there is still more to see. While staying in Marloth Park, Cricket took a saunter around the grounds. Remember how I said that is all open, no fences, and anything can wander in and out at will? Cricket acquired some excellent photos of that precise thing.

Note the man on the porch and his proximity to the warthog.

Now note the giraffe pretty much eating that house.

We had two personal interactions with beasties while in Marloth Park. One was when we went a neighbor’s house for dinner. She had put papaya pieces in a dish she hung from a tree, and wild bushbabies came and ate from it.

The second one was when we came home that night in the car. Cricket parked the vehicle under the tent-structure-thing next to a combi. (I don’t know why they call it a combi. Perhaps it is because they combine the look of a Jeep with the comfort of a pew of a Protestant church.) I got out of the vehicle and immediately heard a pretty big scrabbling noise on the gravel, like a picnic table trying to make a quick getaway. I took a glance under the combi and saw a very large, very toned gray ass-cheek. Now please consider the fact that it’s dark and I’m in the middle of nowhere with all kinds of nature all around me. I quietly turned back to the vehicle and said, “Ummm, there’s a big animal under that car and I’m going pee my pants if someone doesn’t get out of the (word) car right now (other words).” The warthog (it turned out to be a warthog) went his merry way and Cricket, The Moomins and I made our way into the house so I could have a heart attack and die. I took a picture the next day so you could appreciate the terror I went through. Seriously, people, it was scary.

Back to animal sightings. A male bushbuck:

A tree with perfectly round green orbs hanging from it that look exactly like Christmas ornaments.

Glossy Starling (my favorite of the ordinary, every-day birds).

Not a Glossy Starling.

A stork nest. They can support a lot of weight. Apparently a full-grown human can stand on one.

Two butterflies MAKIN’ LURVE.

A PortaPotty in the middle of nowhere. Really. Near nothing. At first, as we came over the hill I thought it was the Tardis from Dr. Who. Turns out, no, lone crapper. I like to think it’s because some park workers were collecting thatch in that area or something. Cricket likes to think it’s because even the animals want to poop in solitude (and blue plastic).

Sausage pod!

This long-tailed bird is called a shrike. I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to yell out, “SHRIKE!!!” in a German accent. (It’s very satisfying.)

Waterbuck! Fun facts about waterbuck: They have a white circle on their butts like they sat on a freshly-painted toilet seat. (Perhaps Cricket is right and they are using the PortaPotties…) Also, the adults taste terrible due to their sweat glands, so no one eats the adults. I kind of want them to be like insects and be insane vibrant colors, the ones that signal “I am poisonous!” or “I taste like an abandoned NY subway station!”, but, unfortunately, they are just brown.

A baboon sitting on a warm rock at sunset.

A banded mongoose. He looks like he hates us.

Super-teeny little birds. They were far smaller than sparrows. They are called waxbills and I love them so much! I wish they lived in this climate. They would definitely up the cute ante of this boring temperate zone we call home. All we have are chipmunks and deer. So lame.

We had a cool herbivore moment one midday. We were driving past a watering hole. Watering holes were especially important when we were there because there hadn’t been rain in quite some time. There was a giraffe. I shall call him Thirsty. Thirsty was standing next to the watering hole when we got there, getting emotionally prepared to drink when dun! dun! dun! a herd of zebra showed up and he got all shy.

After a minute or so, a hornbill flew over and scared all the zebra off to the left. I don’t know how a rinky-dink hornbill scared all those zebra, maybe he told them an offensive joke about their respective mothers, but whatever, they all hastily moved off to the side. Now we were all excited in the car because we figured Thirsty would get his drink. But no! Elephants! A whole herd of elephants showed up and monopolized the watering hole. Meanwhile, three of Thirsty’s friends showed up. They watched Thirsty watch the elephants drink, and then they’re like, “Ahh, the hell with it. C’mon Thirsty, there are other watering holes.” But Thirsty wouldn’t leave. He just stood there looking parched and sad.

After about five minutes, the elephants were done and they walked past our car…

And finally, Thirsty felt comfortable enough to let down his guard and have a drink. I won’t lie, we might have cheered a little in the vehicle. Hooray for Thirsty!

Tomorrow I’ll finish up Kruger Park and move on to Zambia.

Africa 2011, Part 5.

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Not everything we saw was big. Some of the best things we saw were small. For example, we saw a slender mongoose. He ran into the ground cover before Cricket could get a good shot, but we at least got a photo of him giving us the stink-eye from behind a log.

One of our coolest animal encounters involved mongeese. (I don’t think the plural of “mongoose” is “mongeese”, but I like it better and this is my blog and I’m not being graded by a schoolteacher, so there it is. I want to start a national campaign, by the way. I read somewhere that the singular of “sheep” should be “shoop”, and goshdarnit if I can’t stop thinking about that. Can we all get behind The Lone Shoop English Language Amendment, team?) Once again, dumb luck. We were out one morning, and I wanted to take a picture of a tree with some of its bark ripped off. Some of the trees look like they’re bleeding, and it makes a hell of a photo.

While I’m taking the photo of the tree, Cricket, who is looking out the opposite window, says, “What are those things all over the anthill?” A family of dwarf mongeese had taken over an abandoned anthill and they were coming out for their morning sun-warming. And bonus, big lizard near their front door!

I squeed for several minutes over that. What’s especially interesting is that we came back the next day and the anthill was empty. So we just happened to be there at the right place at the right time.

Another cutey-cute moment was when The Moomins and I were filling up the tank at the small filling station. The attendant said (now remember what I said earlier about the letter “r”), “You should look up in that trrrree. Theh ah bets theh, hanging.” Both The Moomins and I thought he said, “Birds”, so we walk over and are looking for birds and then we see them. Two insanely cute fruit bats hanging there staring at us, occasionally swinging a tiny bit in the wind. OMG, I was so excited. I took fifteen or so photos of these guys in the hopes that something would come out. I may have to print one of these and frame it on my wall because I love bats so much. Their foxy faces and leathery wings fill me with happiness. It looks like their ears are almond slivers held on with masking tape!

We saw a whole bunch of reptiles as well. We saw both the male and female amana, which appears to be some kind of iguana. The male is the blue-headed one.

We saw both male and female skinks. The female appears to have lost her orange tail, but still make a lovely couple.

There was a highly camouflaged skink on a tree stump that drove Cricket and me slight crazy. I could see it, and he couldn’t, but there were no landmarks near him, so the conversation sounded like this (please imagine through gritted teeth): “He’s right there next to the – okay, you see that stick? Not the brown one, the browner one! Okay, follow my finger. You’re not looking at my finger! Okay, do you see that leaf? Not that leaf, the crinkly-er one! He’s next to the leaf. What do you mean, you still can’t see him?!??” etc. Finally Cricket saw it and we had to take a picture of it even though it’s not a particularly exciting skink just because we went through all of that hullabaloo.

One day there was a water monitor truckin’ it by the side of the road. I don’t know where he was going or what he was going to do when he got there, but he was moving and no one was going to get in his way.

We got a blurry-but-still-usable shot of his tongue. That’s a pretty great tongue.

The Moomins spotted a wee baby leopard tortoise one day. He was the size of a man’s fist. I voted to scoop him up and give him cuddles, but I was outvoted by the incredibly boring people I traveled with. So no tortoise-cuddles. Bah.

The best thing I saw on this trip, though, without a doubt, was Gizzy. Do you remember before I left, I said I wanted more than anything else in the world to see a lesser bushbaby? Well, we went to this place called Marloth Park and stayed in a B&B-type house belonging to a woman named A. Marloth Park is adjacent to Kruger Park, but it’s a series of timeshares where the animals just roam around you and your house. There’s no giant protective fence. It’s kinda great, and also like taunting death when you go from your car to the house (which is the only time you’re really exposed to the toothy clawed ones). A. was taking us around the first day on a game drive when I tentatively asked, “Are there any bushbabies around here?” A. paused and said, “You know, it’s a secret, but I have one. You’re really not supposed to, but a cleaning woman found him abandoned as a baby and I took him in and fed him and now he lives with me. Would you like to meet him?”

(I don’t remember the next few seconds.)

I tried to be a normal-type person and I said, “Yes” in what I hoped was a normal-type-person voice, and A. said, “Well when we get home tonight he’ll be up and you can meet him. He might even jump on your shoulder.”

We went around for a few hours looking at various beasties being awesome, but all I could think about was meeting this little primate. Bushbabies are primates and they have little human Gollum hands with teeny fingernails. Finally, after about a hundred years, we got back and A. said, “What would you like to do now?” I gave up on being normal and yelled, “Bushbaby!” Luckily she laughed and said okay, so we went to her house. She said his name was Gizzy, which is short for Gizmo. Then she wandered around for a little while saying, “Hello Gizzy, hello, where are you?” Finally A. looked on top of her bureau and said, “Oh, there he is.”

OH MY GOSH WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT THING. Then it jumped down and onto my shoulder holy eeeeeeeeeeee

What I’m thinking in that picture is if it possible to shove him down my shirt and then run away with him forever and ever. I then made a foolish mistake and decided I should pet him. I started to stroke his fur and Gizzy did not care for that one bit, no he did not. He made a chk-chk-chk noise and bit me on the finger with his teeny-tiny teefers. It only made me love him more because he thought he was a big killing machine, grrr. Here are the toothmarks. He couldn’t even break the skin.

Here are a few of the millions of pictures of Gizzy.

Here is Gizzy eating bananas.

Here is Gizzy after he took his banana back up on the top of the bureau.

Bushbabies are amazing. They can jump, boy. I found a video of Senegalese bushbabies boinging around their enclosure. They look a little bit different – longer faces, longer ears – but they bounce the same. It’s pretty great to watch.

Here’s an interesting fact about lesser galagos, as they’re also called. Before they jump, they pee a tiny bit on their hands for traction. I expected A.’s house to smell like pee, but it didn’t. When Gizzy landed on The Moomin’s arm and his little feets were wet, she said her arm didn’t smell like anything. I think that is just the greatest thing ever. They have non-stinky pee. And they are so so soft, like chinchillas. They are truly perfect little beings. I miss Gizzy. Sniff.

Addendum: This one is called Gizmo too! So smootchy!