Year in Review: Beth’s Thoughts

I’m on the plane right now on our last flight from Honolulu to New York. I’m in a good mood even though I’m enduring a 9-hour cramped coach ride, flanked by two crying babies. The guy in front of me immediately reclined his seat all the way back (leaving about 3 inches from my nose to the seat) and he is farting non-stop. (I’m not kidding! Don’t laugh at my pain – I hear you!!) It’s so bad I have my earplugs in my nose.

I’m looking forward to seeing family and friends while I’m reviewing the year’s events in my mind. What did it all mean and how do I feel? 

Santorini, Greece. Some places really are as beautiful as you imagine.

I can tell you that it’s a powerful thing – and such a privilege – to see the world. Experiencing these far away places firsthand and fulfilling the dream to travel has made me feel more complete. Watching and reading news from around the world feels more tangible… it makes more sense to me. Setting out to do something bold and accomplishing it has brought a real feeling of satisfaction.

At the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

There were so many challenging and rewarding moments. You know the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” I can’t tell you how true that is. Certainly nothing had ever tested our marriage so much. But one year later, we’ve learned how to navigate the daily tasks of life on the road and how to cope and support each other when things go wrong. 

So Many Moments

Tri-shaw driver, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Astonishing...

Seeing a billion stars at night while camping in Uganda.

Amusing…

Negotiating to buy things in India.

Breathtaking…

Whale-watching in Kaikoura.

Scary…

Turning a corner near Taksim Square and walking into a wall of riot police.

Love locks on a bridge in Amsterdam.

Heart-Warming…

Sitting down to a home-cooked meal made by Wanchuk’s Mom in Sikkim.

Heart-Stopping…

Enduring a rollercoaster-like ride dubbed “dune bashing” in the desert near Abu Dhabi.

Surprising…

Finding a snake in our bathroom in Bali.

Peaceful…

Floating six miles up in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia.

Ornate tile work at Topkapi Palace, Istanbul.



Eye-Opening…

Learning about the genocide in Rwanda.

Mesmerizing…

Watching the hand and body movements of traditional dancers in Southeast Asia.

Mouthwatering…

Eating street food in Penang.

Fun…

Dancing on a bar on my 40th birthday in Zanzibar.

Shocking…

Walking around Delhi, India.

Frustrating…

Our main camera lens breaking just as we entered the Serengeti.

A water lantern display with 'supertrees' in the background in Singapore.

Traumatic…

Getting into a car accident in Sikkim.

Enlightening…

Witnessing various religious rituals across Asia and the Middle East.

A billion stars lit up the sky while camping in Uganda.

Meaningful Connections

At a local orphanage in Nairobi, we met Caroline, a girl my parents have sponsored for the last seven years. 

More than sightseeing, our travels provided an opportunity to interact with people and experience local life around the world. When language barriers meant few words could be exchanged, it’s remarkable how far a friendly smile, wave or acknowledging look went towards bridging the communication gap. I recall the conversation we had with a young man in Mumbai who later emailed me some of his favorite songs. The family we stayed with at a homestay in Indonesia. The women I danced with in Rwanda and the girl my parents sponsor in Kenya. The school children we met in Chiang Mai. The young warriors of the Masai tribe I let listen to my iPod. The men we played hackeysack with in Myanmar. 

Woman in a market in Luang Prabang, Laos.

School girls in India.

My Favorite Place?

A bowl of asam laksa, a fish-based noodle soup, in Penang.

It’s a hard question to answer because each place was so totally unique. How can you compare for example, New Zealand to India? You appreciate them in different ways for very different reasons. And yet still, you have your personal favorites.

The reasons why you love or hate a place can be hard to articulate why. It’s the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people, the culture… it’s just a feeling you get from being there.

My Top 5


JAIPUR, INDIA
Also known as “the pink city,” the buildings here are made with pink-painted sandstone. The streets are full of life and color with cows and camels mixed in with the tuk tuks and trucks. We had one seriously heart-stopping tuk tuk ride, saw a Bollywood film at an old movie palace, and a fun time negotiating with the shopkeepers.

A gate into the old city of Jaipur, India.

Dancer in Ubud, Indonesia.

UBUD, BALI, INDONESIA
“Enchanting” is the perfect word to describe Ubud. Known as the spiritual and cultural capital of Bali, there are countless temples, ceremonies and dances every night of the week. Women make offerings of flowers and incense and place them in spirit houses and on sidewalks. There’s a real community here (not all tourists) and chain businesses and clubs aren’t permitted. Take a walk through the rice paddies or monkey forest, eat at an organic café or take a yoga class… and enjoy.

INLE LAKE, MYANMAR
Inle Lake was one of the most scenic, unique and friendly places we visited. Here we witnessed local life in floating villages, the fisherman who row boats with one leg, ancient stupas and monasteries, floating markets and gardens.

Life on the water in Inle Lake, Myanmar.

SERENGETI, TANZANIA
Shortly after entering the Serengeti we stopped at a viewpoint. The view was incredible. It was that classic African landscape you could see for miles and miles and miles. It was one of those moments where you tear up and think “I made it here… I’m actually here and it was worth every difficult step.”

Looking out onto the Serengeti.

PRAGUE, CZECHOSLOVAKIA
I fell in love with every corner of the city and could not put my camera down. The elegant art and architecture and the old bridges and churches were lovely.

Pretty Prague.

Like a Dream

Now that we’re back, and everything is so familiar and comfortable again, it almost seems like a dream. Only the dream actually came true. I would say to anyone reading this that it’s incredibly empowering to take steps towards filling in whatever feels “missing” in your life. It’s incredibly empowering to make your biggest dreams a reality. What are your dreams?

John Lennon Wall in Prague.


THE BLOG CONTINUES IN 2015

Look for more posts about our adventures in Southeast Asia, as well as the rest of our photo galleries in the coming months.

Year in Review: Jon's Thoughts

“What was your favorite place?” It’s the hardest question because they were all my favorites. Each of them had their high points and low points, and together they make an incredible story filled with places, people, and adventures. Looking back at our Photo of the Week collection is incredible and just reminds me of our year-long unforgettable adventure.

Before we started, I had visions of far off lands with fantastical jungle temples, and stunning vistas. With the year of travel behind me, I still have those visions, but they are filled with real memories, and context. It shattered ideas and conceptions I had about the world, and spawned so many new ideas and thoughts. A bit like knowing how the magician performs his act, it doesn’t ruin the show but gives a new perspective. The Taj Mahal is no longer just a stunning building but is situated amid the noise, dirt, and life of India. The Serengeti is not just the domain of lions, but also the realm of the guides, safari cars, and the Masai. Of all the souvenirs, photos, and memories we brought home with us, the most valuable thing we gained is this context and perspective. It makes the world a more real, complete place. It makes perfect sense, but it takes real experience for it to click. Of course people live near the temples of Angkor Wat, and on the Masai Mara. These things exist in a vacuum only in their portrayal on TV, or in that vision in your mind.

Traveling has made these places really real, no longer just an idea, but a real, in-the-flesh experience. 

Taking care of an elephant in Chiang Mai, Thailand

As important, if not more so, was the experience of being with my wife all year long. Many would not have made it, spending as much time as we did together. We’ve come to know, trust, love, and rely on one another so much more this year. We’ve joked that this year must count as at least 5 years of marriage because we’ve been so inseparable. The other night in Hawaii we were walking back from dinner, and Beth mentioned that she had no idea where our hostel was. Navigation has been my job and she just didn’t pay attention to that anymore trusting me to get us around. Just as I’ve come to rely on her for all sorts of things like remembering what time things are, or finding incredible things to do. The longest we were apart was a few hours when I went back to Dubai to get a replacement lens for the camera. Not that there haven’t been some ups and downs, just like with everything else on the trip, but the closeness, support, and knowledge of one another has grown immensely during our travels. I couldn’t have done any of this without her, and it would have been half the experience if I was alone. Plus I would have missed breakfast every single day since I would have forgotten what time it was.

Home cooked meal at Pemla's 

Meeting the people of the world has been an eye-opening and heartwarming adventure in and of itself. Those who so lovingly invited us into their homes like Pemla and Trish, to those we met only in passing, and our friends and family we met up with along the way, all have left their stamp on our travels. Having a chance to interact with people has taught us a lot about the world. Meeting a group of women in Rwanda who lived through the genocide, and playing hackey-sack with a family living in a floating village of Inle Lake in Myanmar, are memories just as precious as seeing the Taj Mahal. Having the chance to stay with Pemla and Wanchuk’s extended family made Sikkim so much more of a special place, and one of the unexpected high-points of the entire trip. 

Thinking back over all that we did this year, it’s hard to believe it all. Beth and I reminisce about things like when we had dinner at the Rock in Zanzibar, or saw the sunset in Santorini. There were tough times too. Like when I had a stomach bug in Ubud, or when Beth got Malaria in Kenya. Blended together, the challenges and amazing moments were like different spices in a stew that emphasized and strengthened the whole.

The Rock restaurant in Zanzibar

If traveling were easy would it be worth it? The difficulties make it more of an achievement, and the struggles and victories make it all the more real. 

 

Travel is experience, difficulty, accomplishment, enjoyment, and reality. What we had the chance to experience this year made the world a more real and even more fantastical place than I ever thought. The whole thing is my favorite place. Ups, downs, places, people, and most important of all, life.

Kids wave from their house in Inle Lake, Myanmar


THE BLOG CONTINUES IN 2015

Look for more posts about our adventures in Southeast Asia, as well as the rest of our photo galleries in the coming months.

Surviving Malaria in Africa

It’s amazing the impact that a tiny little mosquito can have…the sheer amount of pain and suffering it can cause. I learned this firsthand when I got malaria just a few days after landing in Africa. 

We were on day 3 of our overland tour when it hit me…

The night before we were treated to a delicious meal of Mexican tortillas, soup, bread pudding and ice cream – a rare night we didn’t cook our own meal at the campsite. So when I didn’t feel great the next morning I figured it was just the after effects of a rich meal. 

We headed out early for our first game drive. The 45-minute bumpy drive to the park was not exactly pleasant on an upset stomach but once we arrived I used the restroom and figured my stomach would settle down soon.

Entering the massive Lake Nakuru National Park, we saw all kinds of wildlife and beautiful landscapes. And just 20 minutes into it I was feeling so nauseous that I requested to sit up front with the driver. 

As each minute went by I felt more and more ill…

We stopped at a rustic squat toilet and that wasn’t the only unpleasant thing. Ugh, this was India all over again! “It must have been the ice cream,” I thought. Damn – I knew I shouldn’t have eaten that ice cream! 

There was just one problem with that theory though… no one else in our group was sick and everyone had eaten the same thing.

About an hour and a half into the game drive we stopped at a viewpoint with another squat toilet. Allow me to paint a rather grim picture. Something that looks like an outhouse with a jagged hole smashed into a concrete floor. Toilet paper? No. Sink? Ha! You must be joking. I won’t even describe the smell. And I was stuck there for way longer than I would have thought possible. It was downright scary. 

At this point, I started to feel a fever. But incredibly, I just figured I was hot because it was a hot day and I had been sitting in the sun in the safari car. It never occurred to me that what I was experiencing was my body reacting to malaria. 

We were riding around in a car like this on the game drive.

The car became absolutely unbearable. I felt every bump in the dirt road in my stomach and felt that at any moment I might throw up. It reminded me of the traveler’s sickness I had in India but man…this was far worse. I was mystified and couldn’t make sense of it. And here we were in the middle of this HUGE national park and there was no way out. The driver explained that we were nowhere near the park entrance. There was also the rest of the group to consider. This was hell.

By the time the safari ended and we re-joined the rest of the group on the overland truck, I knew I had to get out. I was in a dazed, feverish, horrible state and there was a six-hour drive to get us to Uganda that night. I didn’t know what was going on or what to do. I only knew one thing with 100% certainty – there was no way I was getting on that truck.

Was this the end? I had finally made it to Africa and was on my very first game drive. I was on a tour I had booked a year and a half earlier and centered our round-the-world trip around. This can’t be happening. 

And then it got worse – our tour leader (herself a malaria survivor) told me it could be malaria. She made arrangements to get us help and accommodations at a homestay in Nakuru and said we could arrange transportation to catch up with them in a day or two.

How Did I Get Malaria?

You’re probably wondering… was I taking anti-malaria pills? Was I using mosquito repellent? The answer is yes but neither one provides 100% protection against the disease. Anti-malaria pills are not full proof. Most of them are around 80-95% effective. I was on the best pill that money can buy (5x more expensive than the rest) – called Malarone – and I still got malaria. 

The incubation period was incredibly short. I had gotten a couple bites in the first few days and was in Africa for 5 days when it hit me. In most cases the incubation period is between 7 and 30 days, but certain types are shorter or longer.

I had been in Europe two months prior – so I didn’t pick it up there. It had to be one of those first few bites in Nairobi.

Powerful Pills

After settling into the homestay, we went to a clinic to get tested. They pricked my finger for a blood sample and confirmed it was malaria. This was frightening to say the least but the odd thing was, it was no big deal to the Kenyans. Everyone assured me, “You’re going to be OK.” They weren’t worried or in any way alarmed. Getting malaria is so common in Kenya, it’s akin to getting a bad cold. Our driver said nonchalantly, “Oh yeah – I had it just two months ago.”

Next, we saw a doctor who gave me two options: 

  • Get 1 injection, or
  • Take 4 pills over 2 days

I figured the pills were a safer bet and the doctor told me they would “knock it right out…really powerful pills.” 

What he gave me was ARTEQUICK – containing artemisinin, as well as some antibiotics and pills to bring the fever down. Certain types of malaria have been found to be resistant to artemisinin, but lucky for me, it worked. Just 24 hours after taking my first 2 pills I was feeling better. I had thrown up, I had no appetite and no energy, my stomach was still in a bad state, but it seemed I might survive. It seemed the pills were working.

These pills saved me...

This was by far the worst sickness I have ever experienced, but the worst of it lasted only two days. Over the next couple of weeks I had trouble eating and dealt with various side effects, but gradually I got back to normal. It wasn’t easy, but not willing to let go of the dream, and with Root by my side, I made it through. There had already been more than 5 months-worth of travel challenges and frustrations but getting malaria was a new low. There were moments when I said to Root, “I think I might really be done now,” and was contemplating a flight back to New York.

Taken For a Ride

We caught up with our group in Uganda but it was a grueling and expensive journey. The people that took care of us were the employees and wife of a man named Peter. They were so caring and so kind. But Peter only saw dollar signs at the opportunity to help us. As the owner of the homestay and local tour company he offered us transportation back to our group for $1,239. 

Yes, you read that right.

Tragically – we misunderstood Peter and thought he was going to charge us half of this. When we realized it, he insisted our travel insurance would cover all costs (and by the way it didn’t cover a dime.) I was too weak to argue and it was obvious we were stuck. The alternative would have been to catch a bus to the border, manage through the chaos of the border crossing in Uganda, find another bus on the other side and somehow make it to our campsite – safely. I’m sure this would have made for some great travel stories but I was in no condition to deal with it.

Our overland truck

Our tour group on the truck

So we got there. We paid the money and the main thing is – we got there. We had such a great group and tour leader and I’m so grateful for that. Everyone was so nice and so concerned for me. I’m grateful I got immediate treatment and the treatment worked. And I can’t tell you how much more grateful I am for first-world, quality medical care.

How To Avoid Getting Malaria and Other Mosquito-Transmitted Diseases

{Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or an expert, but here’s what I’ve learned from my own experience.}

DEET: It’s toxic and smells bad but you need to use it as soon as you get off the plane and don’t get complacent. The repellent you use should have at least 25% DEET but does not need to contain more than 30%, since there is no increase in effectiveness above that. Lotions work better for me than sprays or aerosols – probably because they just provide better coverage. Buy your repellent at home and bring it with you. I found it difficult to find products with DEET in Africa and Asia, but we did have luck in finding them at major airports at pharmacies like Boots – a UK chain.

MOSQUITO NET: If I were to go back in time and do the trip over, I would definitely pack a mosquito net. I would use it everywhere in Africa and Asia that did not provide one. I didn’t want to carry the extra weight and I worried about how I would rig up the net in hotel rooms. But looking at the different types of nets you can buy in this guide, I would have chosen the ridge-style net and brought a ton of string with me… safety pins, hooks, etc. I can’t tell you how many nights I woke up to mosquitoes biting me. In countless hotel rooms in Southeast Asia, we really tried to stay on top of killing whatever mosquitoes were in the room so they wouldn’t get us at night but if we missed just one, it would get me. 

True story: One night we stayed in a beach hut in Dar Es Salaam. The beds had mosquito nets. After settling in, I shined my headlamp up and saw at least 8 mosquitoes swarming an inch above my net. Scary!!

DUCK TAPE: One of the most useful things you can pack. Use it to patch any holes in your net or the nets provided to you. Also make sure to tuck in the bottom of your net under your mattress and keep your hands and feet away from the edges.

VACCINATIONS AND MALARIA PILLS: Don’t leave home without ‘em. Don’t get lazy about taking your pills. Most people in our group were on Doxycycline. Malarone has the least side effects and we just got the occasional mouth sores from it. I know they say to take it 1-2 days prior to traveling to an area with malaria but I would take it 7 days before.

LONG-SLEEVED PANTS AND SHIRTS: Covering up certainly helps and especially at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are out in full force, but the reality is – it’s hot in these places and you won’t be covered up all the time. Just make sure to use your DEET!

LUCK: Honestly, there’s a certain amount of luck involved. All 24 people on our tour got bit at one time or another but never got malaria.

On Safari in East Africa: Best of the Rest

From our first moments in Nairobi, to the rustic campsites on our overland tour, and of course on the many games drives and treks, we saw a vast array of exotic and unique wildlife. More than we could ever write about, and some so shy or rare that we only had the chance to get one or two photos. We've selected the best of these to show you.

In Uganda, we trekked through the hot and humid forest to visit a group of chimpanzees at the Budongo Forest Reserve. Thankfully the walk was pretty flat, and completely worth it when, after an hour of searching, we found a group of chimps. Some were high up in the trees, but we got close to this male who was enjoying some jack fruit.

This little guy looks like a rodent but isn't. It's a hyrax, which are more closely related to elephants and manatees. 

We saw vultures throughout our trip in Africa, but the most were in the Masai Mara. The plains there were littered with bleached white bones, and the occasional group of vultures snacking on a corpse.

On Safari in East Africa: Gorillas

They told us to put down our hiking sticks and bags, we were close. Since I couldn’t take my bag, I quickly put a few camera lenses in my jacket. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get close-up shots because we would be too far away. After walking just a few more steps, avoiding the stinging nettles, I realized that I had been very wrong. Not more than 10 feet away, was a gorilla placidly eating some greens. I wouldn’t have a problem at all getting some close-up photos.

The day had started much earlier before the sun came up. We had eaten breakfast and packed lunches before heading to the Volcanos National Park headquarters. After some coffee, we met our guide who told us that we would be trekking to visit the Umubano group of gorillas. Piling into a truck we were warned that we would get a “Rwanda Massage”, which basically means that the road is entirely unpaved and extremely bumpy. 

The gorilla family we visited.

Our trekking group.

After a half-hour bumpy “massage,” we arrived in a very small village on the side of the mountain and began our trek. The weather was a bit cool due to the altitude but after walking for a bit through the nearby fields we felt warm. We passed through an even smaller village with houses made of sticks and mud. Upon reaching the stone border wall of the farmland we met up with several more helpers who were armed with rifles. Water buffalo live on and near the mountain, and the possibility of surprising one of the dangerous beasts was the reason for the rifles.

The stone wall also marked the end of the easy part of the hike. We ascended through denser and denser jungle along muddy trails. Often we had to stoop to fit through low openings in dense bamboo. The trail was lined liberally with stinging nettles that would occasionally even pierce through our pants and gloves. Throughout we saw interesting plants, flowers, and fruit on our hike. I even saw a bush banana, though for some reason I didn’t get a photo even after asking our guide what it was. Finally we reached a kind of clearing and our guide told us to put down our bags, and we met the gorillas.

After traveling thousands of miles by air, hundreds by truck, and hours hiking up the mountain, we had finally reached the gorillas. We were awe-struck to be so close, and the gorillas couldn’t have cared less. It was as if they were in the middle of watching their favorite show. The knew we were there, and only seemed worried that we might interrupt them.

We saw several gorillas in the group, and shortly after our arrival, another came out of the brush with a baby riding on its back. While we were cooing over the tiny infant, our guides were busy moving through the jungle. They made grunting noises to let the gorillas know where they were so they wouldn’t be surprised. After awhile they led us through some dense brush where we met Charles, the silverback male head of the group. 

We had dodged through some dense bamboo, and come out into a very small clearing. Charles was sitting on the other end, and our guide was helping usher us into the area. Suddenly, Charles got up and started to walk toward our group. Our guides quickly helped us move to make way for the silverback. He walked right through the middle of our group, passing within just inches of me, and brushing up against the woman in front. He paused for a second, the guides later explained that he was showing us who’s boss, and then walked into the brush. I looked up to see that Beth, who had been just behind me was a good 5 feet away now. We just smiled at each other for a second knowing that the long journey and trek was worth all the effort.

On Safari in East Africa: Red Colobus Monkeys

Following our time on the mainland we took a ferry to the island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania. The island is unique and exotic, and it’s where we encountered one of the most endangered species of primates in the world – the Zanzibar Red Colobus monkey. With less than 2,000 individuals remaining, conservationists are working to protect their shrinking habitat. 

Isolated on this island for at least 10,000 years, the Zanzibar Red Colobus has some striking features including a crown of long, white hairs that fan out around the face, fiery red fur, pot-bellies and small heads, four fingers and no thumbs.

Leaves are a favorite food – but not just any leaf – they pick around and inspect them to make sure they are young leaves. They also eat unripe fruit as they are unable to digest the sugars in ripe ones. 

Babies are carried, clinging to the belly of the mother, for 6 months. After that, they can move around on their own but may continue to be carried by the mother for more than a year.

FACT

Colobus sometimes belch in each others’ faces as a friendly social gesture.

 

{ video: Red Colobus Monkeys }

On Safari in East Africa: Hippos

We had a spectacular month exploring East Africa – a real dream come true and centerpiece of our trip. It was awe-inspiring to see first hand in the wild what we had only seen in zoos. Handpicking the best of the best of the thousands of photos we took, the On Safari in East Africa series showcases the animals we were privileged to see in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

Hippos

One of the scariest moments all year was the night we heard a hippo munching grass right outside our tent. Mind you – camping in Africa was a great adventure and it was awesome to hear wildlife at night. Unique bird, insect and animal noises we’d never heard before – and totally different in each new place we went. But this was not a noise I wanted to hear. Hippos are one of the most dangerous animals in Africa! That night we were camping near a river with tons of hippos, and given that they feed nocturnally, we could expect them to be grazing on the grass around us.

In these situations, you really don’t want to have to get up to go to the bathroom in the dark. If we did have to go and we saw a hippo we were told to not make a sound, don’t panic, keep the light of your headlamp on the animal and move slowly – backwards – back to your tent. It’s noise that will really upset them, so when I awoke to hearing a huge munching sound right outside our tent I was so panicked I froze, barely breathing so as to not make a sound. I also heard the distinct sounds that hippos make so I was convinced that the animal was indeed a hippo. I heard it munching on the right of the tent, then to the left…this continued for a couple of very long hours until it finally walked away.

Hippos are violent! One day, while on a river cruise in Uganda, we saw two hippos fighting right in front of us. You could see the power of these massive animals splashing and biting each other in the water. The photo on the right shows blood where one was bitten.

Hippos spend most of their days in water to keep cool under the hot African sun. Their eyes and nostrils are high on their heads, allowing them to see and breathe while mostly submerged.

This cute little hippo by the shore with its mother is around three months old. Baby hippos are born underwater and have to swim to the surface to take their first breaths.

FACT

Hippos are quite agile. They can easily climb steep riverbanks at night and travel several miles to graze before returning to the water. They prefer to eat alone and can eat around 150 pounds of grass each night.  

On Safari in East Africa: Buffalo

We had a spectacular month exploring East Africa – a real dream come true and centerpiece of our trip. It was awe-inspiring to see first hand in the wild what we had only seen in zoos. Handpicking the best of the best of the thousands of photos we took, the On Safari in East Africa series showcases the animals we were privileged to see in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

Buffalo

In the dictionary, next to the word grumpy, there should be a picture of an African Buffalo – the grumpiest, surliest animals we saw on safari. Whenever we saw them, they would turn and look at us like we had rudely interrupted their morning coffee. We weren't interrupting much since usually they would be lounging by the river, or near a mud hole. When actually bothered or attacked, a buffalo herd forms a protective circle around their young. They will even attack and kill lions and their cubs. 

Despite their placid cow-like appearance, their nicknames include "The Widowmaker" and "The Black Death." Buffalo gore and kill more than 200 people each year. They are known to ambush and attack hunters that wound them.

Male-only groups of buffalo, so-called "loser" groups, are formed by older males. When they have grown too old to defeat the younger males for breeding rights, they leave the herd and set out on their own. These "losers" will often find one another and form groups for protection.

Like many animals, buffalo are plagued by insects. You can often spot them wallowing in the mud or bathing near rivers to rid themselves of the biting bugs.

FACT

The horns of adult males have fused bases which form a bone shield. The shield, called a "boss", can even deflect bullets.

On Safari in East Africa: Leopards and Cheetah

We had a spectacular month exploring East Africa – a real dream come true and centerpiece of our trip. It was awe-inspiring to see first hand in the wild what we had only seen in zoos. Handpicking the best of the best of the thousands of photos we took, the On Safari in East Africa series showcases the animals we were privileged to see in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

Leopards

Leopards are extremely difficult to spot in the African bush. They’re shy, secretive and nocturnal. So it was incredibly lucky when we saw one on a game drive in Lake Nakuru, Kenya. In fact, it was Root who spotted it, nestled in a bush near the road and he shouted to our driver “Stop! Leopard!” and he slowly backed up the car. I was in the front seat with the window down and when the car stopped I was looking directly into the eyes of the leopard about 8 feet in front of me. As you can see from the photos below, its eyes were amazing. Such a beautiful creature. After a few seconds it turned its attention to some antelope nearby and started to slink its way through the grass towards them.

FACT

Leopards are incredibly strong and known for their climbing ability. They can carry carcasses weighing more than 110 pounds up into the trees and this is how they protect their food.

Cheetah

One of the very first animals we saw in the Serengeti was the cheetah. Built for speed, they are sleeker and lighter than leopards. They are so fast they don’t have to stalk their prey as much as the leopard. Their eyes are very exotic looking, with black "tear stripes" running from the corners of their eyes. These help block out sunlight, which aids them in spotting prey.

FACT

The cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world, reaching speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. They can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just 3 seconds.

On Safari in East Africa: Rhino

We had a spectacular month exploring East Africa – a real dream come true and centerpiece of our trip. It was awe-inspiring to see first hand in the wild what we had only seen in zoos. Handpicking the best of the best of the thousands of photos we took, the On Safari in East Africa series showcases the animals we were privileged to see in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

Rhino

Amazingly, we were less than 20 feet away from the largest, meanest looking animal ever – a rhinoceros and her cub. Since we had trekked out into a swamp from our campsite, and since rhinos can run much faster than people, we were very thankful to have the rangers with us. Here at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, we got to see not only a mother and baby, but a group of 4 other rhinos as well. The sanctuary is the only place to see wild rhinos in Uganda due to poaching, prolonged human conflict and other issues.

Rhinos are the second largest land animal behind elephants. An adult white rhino can weight more than 7,000 pounds. We were surprised by the giant footprints we saw on our trek.

Birds, like the oxpecker, are often found on rhinos. Not only do they eat the ticks which feed off the rhino, but they also may alert the rhino to nearby predators. The birds help to make up for the rhino's poor eyesight. 

FACT

Despite their thick armor-like skin, rhinos are prone to sunburn. They often wallow in mud or dirt to protect themselves from the sun.