Posted by Emily Block | 1 comments

South Africa, back in Cape Town

    As far as epicness goes, today was almost as epic as it gets!  I fulfilled my #1 lifetime goal of petting a cheetah!   (Yep, that's right!  Petting a cheetah came before world peace and winning a nobel prize in my priorities.)  But that came this afternoon.  This morning I was up at 7:30 after 11 hours of sleep.  So yes, I went to bed really early last night and it was worth it!  I wasted some time mucking about on the ship and then headed to the Waterfront (shopping area) once Alyssa (roomie) woke up.  I was really proud of myself that I decided not to bring a wheelchair.  Yesterday was such a rotten day in terms of blood pressure and today, with being able to take midodrine, I was fine.  :0)  I got some things for future orphanage visits and found air popped popcorn at the grocery store!  I'm really addicted to popcorn and I haven't had it in weeks.   I also found some Kinder eggs at the grocery store and bought a bunch for some of the professor's kids who have never tried them.  (I was horrified when I found out that they didn't even know what they were!  I had no choice but to educate them in the wonders of Kinder.)

  As we were shopping, I started to feel a bit tired but not too bad.  Then I noticed I was slurring my speech and having trouble swallowing.  I stopped, turned to Alyssa and said, "Don't freak out, but I'm about to have one of those weakness spells.  I will probably keep slurring my words, and I will have trouble walking and will shake.  I've been told it looks scary, but don't worry, I'm fine."  She took it like  a boss, shrugged, and said, "Ok, just let me know if you need anything."  Within a few minutes I was pretty weak and doing my uncoordinated "zombie walk."  I had trouble holding my shopping bags, so Alyssa had to help me which was awesome of her.  People were staying, but not picture taking today.  haha  I did start to get worried about how I would get back though as I was rapidly loosing my ability to walk and had no chair.  I managed to make it to a taxi and they took us back to the dock.  It was still a ways to the ship (and up 5 flights of stairs!) so Alyssa ran ahead and got my wheelchair for me.  Then I could get to the base of the stairs, but there was no way I could get up.  I was starving and had a field program to go to in 20 minutes so I was a bit stressed.  After conferring Alyssa and I decided that she would go talk to the staff and ask if she could bring me out some peanut butter and bread since I couldn't get on the ship go eat lunch.  There was much confusion, but in the end she was able to get some for me and bring it down.  That girl seriously deserves a metal!  As I was waiting I got lots of erm...attention from people.  I guess I looked pretty bad because people kept trying to call the doctor.  haha  It all turned out well though.  I ate the peanut butter bread, got on the bus using my arms to get up the stairs and started to feel better during the drive.  Like always, I was exhausted after the weakness spell was done, so I dozed a bit on the way to the cheetah place.  By the time we got there I was feeling SO much better.  Only a little week, and the adrenaline from an imminent cheetah encounter took care of the sleepiness.  I still brought my wheelchair, but hardly used it.

The place we went was really interesting.  It was a winery/cheetah breeding and education program/meerkat rescue/bird rescue/dog training center.  I'll start with the dogs because they are the first ones we saw.  They were part of a really neat program where they were trained and then given to farmers to chase cheetahs away from livestock.  Since cheetahs are non-confrontational, they just run away as soon as the dog barks.  That way the farmer had a safe herd and didn't have to shoot the cheetah.  I thought that was genius!    The dogs were absolutely beautiful too.

Then came the cheetahs!  We poked around the enclosures and then Hemingway, our cheetah ambassador came to meet us.  It was 100% apparent that this was not a domesticated animal.  The handlers had to be very attentive to his signals to make sure he didn't get spooked and attack or run us over.  We had to approach from his back in groups of 1-2 and only pet him on his side.  No sudden movements or loud noises.  This was serious business.  

(I think it's clear who is leading who here.)
As I waited my turn to pet Hemingway, my heart started beating rapidly, and not because of dysautonomia.  When I was nine years old, I couldn't think of anything better than petting a cheetah and not much had changed since then.  And I was about to experience this for myself!  His coat was amazingly soft.  I knew cheetahs coats were soft from my years or obsessively researching them in grade school, but it was even softer than I imagined.  He was panting due to the heat, but otherwise very relaxed.  As I was petting him, he turned his head and looked right at me.  It was a moment.  :0)  I was one of the lucky ones to get to pet him twice before he decided he had enough of these tedious humans and dragged his keeper back to his enclosure.    Truly the best of experiences.  There really aren't even words to describe how amazing this was for me.

I thought anything else would be ending on a low note, but the other things we moved on to after saying goodbye to Hemingway were actually really fun as well.  We toured the birds of prey enclosures and ended up in a small seating area for a bird presentation.  This was nothing like I had seen in zoos back home.  The birds were really friendly and came to visit each of us so we could pet them and take a closer look.  I guess if birds are hand raised, they see themselves as more human than bird.  After the presentation, we had some time to tour the bird facilities and interact with some of their ambassador birds.  There were some birds (including a baby!) chilling on posts where we could pet them.  They really enjoyed it and made cute cooing noises and would turn their head to be scratched in the right place, just like a dog.  Someone had an ipod so we held up one of the headphones, put on Airplanes and he started rocking out!  Some owls are really sensitive to beats and they enjoy dancing.  I wish I could upload the video to show you!  I also stopped by an owl enclosure to have some of the owls land on me.  

Birds open their mouths to cool off.

(This unhappy camper was brought in today after being hit by a car.  Luckily, he only had a minor concussion and after a few hours of observation, he was slated to be released.)

Humans are genetically engineered to find this guy irresistible adorable.  
"I am not amused."

Everyone else then went wine tasting but as I can't drink and am from California where I can go wine tasting all the time, I opted to stay with the animals.  I'm sure no one is surprised there.  I hung out with the owls more and then went back to the cheetahs of course.  I watched the 9 month old sister cheetahs play for a while which was really cool.  In some ways they act just like house cats, but it is still very obvious that there are differences too.

   I reluctantly left them playing to head back to the bus.  I was supposed to meet up with the group there at 4:30 and it was 4:20.  But on the way, I was distracted by a craft center and just had to look.  And then there was a guy all set up to make pottery and I had to watch. And then he said I could make a pot so I just had to put on the apron and make one.  I was really nervous about being late, but I thought that this was something I always wanted to do, and it was worth the dock time if I was late.  I'm so glad I decided to break the rules a little for this one!  Jimmy, the pottery guy (with no relation to my sphincter of odi), showed me how to make the pot and helped guide my hands when it started to get a bit lop-sided.  He was very patient with me as a new student.  The feel of the wet clay spinning beneath my hands was new and interesting.   I could feel every part of how I was shaping the pot.  I definitely need to take this up once I get home!  Once I was done with the basic shape, Jimmy helped me make a lip to the pot and decorate it.  For my first pot, I was extremely happy with how it turned out!  I'm a little sad that it probably won't make it all the way home as I won't be able to fire it but this was more about the experience for me.  I washed the gobs of clay off of my hands (and arms) and took a closer look at my masterpiece.  Usually, the pot has to set for at least thirty minutes before it can be removed from the spinning wheel, but since I was in a hurry, Jimmy let me take the mini spinning plate with me so I didn't have to ruin the pot.  I can't even begin to describe how cool this guy was.  After I made my pot, he started helping a timid little boy and was so wonderful with him as he taught the kid how to make his pot.  He was one of many people who I knew for only a few minutes, but will remember for a long time to come.  

  I hurried back to he bus with my heart pounding because I was 12 minutes late.  I felt horrible for making everyone wait, but I had no regrets.  :0)  When I got to the bus it turned out that everyone was even later than I was, so I was the first one back!  What a relief!  

   Normally this busy and weak-spelly day would have been too much for me.  However today, I got back from the field program and went right back out with my friends for more fun!  I used the chair, but still felt very accomplished.  Hannah showed me this awesome restaurant that had burgers to die for.  The one I ordered had fried egg, bacon, and cheese on it.  SOOOO yummy!  I even almost ate the whole thing despite my shrunken stomach!  Then there was some shopping and story swapping with some other SASers we met up with as we waited for the shuttle back to the boat.  IT was quite an awesome day and now I can't wait to sleep and be ready for my last day in Cape Town tomorrow!

Om nom nom nom!

And also, Hannah and I met at the zoo in the Bahamas and we were looking back at pictures at dinner and we are wearing the exact same outfits as then!  Weird!  


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Posted by Emily Block | 0 comments

Safari! (Day 3)

   I could have stayed at the lodge for the whole rest of the trip I think.  It was so comfortable and the days were filled with really exciting encounters.

I forgot to mention in the last entry that last night I took a bath complete with wonderfully smelling bath salts. ( I was in my bathing suit of course because the tub was out in the open.)  At first, I was afraid to relax because I made the water too hot and was afraid I would pass out in the tub.  haha  As it cooled down, I was able to fully relax and it was wonderful!  I think I will have to start taking baths again when I get home!

Back to today, we had one last game drive before it was time to pack up and go.  Since everyone but one other girl was going on a special elephant back safari, we had the car all to ourselves.  
The rest of the group setting out to meet the elephants.

This game drive was especially rewarding because we tracked the lions all over the place.  (As opposed to stumbling across them or getting tipped off by the radio.)  We found the tracks right outside camp and followed them over 3 km!  

We then lost the tracks and were about to give up when I spotted one of the lionesses!  EVeryone congratulated me and I felt like a biology super hero.  haha  We watched them for quite a while as they napped.  We then drove on to give the zillions of other cars a chance to see them too.

On the way tracking the lions, our guides showed us a bunch of really interesting things about the plants as well.  We saw a tree that had poisonous sap that people used to kill fish.  Animals like rhinos and buffalo rub their horns on the tree so they poison their opponent when they fight, and to repel insects.  PEople also use the sap to get rid of tooth infections.   We also saw a tree stripped of bark by hungry elephants and got to hold some safari toilet paper.  

We also had the rare treat of seeing a hippo out of the water!

And some Mufasa I mean wildebeest nervously staring in the direction the lion's sent was coming from.  

Capping off the 4 our of 5 Big Five animals we saw, we stumbled across a buffalo wallowing happily in the mud.

I thought we were all done, but then we found the herd of elephants again on the way back to camp!

I should also mention that we encountered the most rare and interesting creature of all.  Wild girl with neck brace!  haha  Whenever we passed another tour group, they would openly gawk at me, which I am used to, so it's ok.  One man actually took a picture of me and then showed it to his friend and they both laughed.  That was a little more than I was used to, but at least I could provide some entertainment I guess.  I would have given them an autograph too if they had asked for it.  Or you know, told them to suck it.  It depends on what mood I'm in.  :0P

BAck at the lodge, I did some quick shopping and then packed up and checked out.  The ride to the airport was really fun!  We were running late so we sped at 60km/hr through the bush and over the bumps!  It was also very beautiful.  

The trip back was pretty rough on me.  I was exceedingly POTSie which hasn't happened in quite a while.  I slept a bit on the plane and that helped.  I was glad to get back to the boat and get to bed early tonight.  


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Safari (Day 2, Part 2)

In the interest of time, I'm going to just caption the pictures for this entry.

Second breakfast was the best meal of the day.  The croissants were better than ones in France, the bacon was thick sliced and delicious, the sautéed mushrooms were perfect, and there was even pineapple smoothies to drink.  I hardly ever eat a whole meal at a time, but for second breakfast, I went back for seconds!

I decided to go on two extra excursions while at the lodge.  The first one was an elephant interaction!  I was the only one from my camp going, so I got a whole safari car to myself!

And I saw elephants!  Most of them were playing in the water or eating grass.  

I got to get up close and personal with them as I fed and pet them.  Their skin feels so strange!  It's like a really squishy rock with big bristly hairs covering it.  

My what big teeth you have...
An interesting note is that two of the elephants started getting a bit frisky and we had to run and leap into the jeeps to avoid being trampled!  It was really scary and exciting!  Everything was fine though.  The trainers broke them up and poor Mr. Elephant bull had to do without some lovin' for now.  

The second excursion I went on that afternoon was to a endangered species center.  Their original, and main goal is to rescue and breed cheetahs, but they also take in all kinds of endangered animals.  This zebra came to them as a baby who was trapped on a fence.  

It was raised by sheep, so it thinks it is one!  Sheep are notoriously good at raising other species because they are too dumb to realize it's not their own kid.  

And cheetahs!  This one was allowed out and about to check out the males and pick one to breed with.

And what is better than a cheetah, a few feet away?  A bunch of baby cheetahs a few feet away!  They were purring and very playful.  (Cheetahs are the largest cat that purrs, by the way.)  And what is better than a bunch of baby cheetahs a few feet away?  Nothing.  How could you even think there is anything better than that?  :0P

There were also some wild dogs.  These poor things stink to high heaven because they all pee on each other.  The lower one is in the social order, the more it get's peed on. And I thought high school was rough!

It may be wild, but it's still a dog.

On our way back, the baby cheetahs wanted to play so they sat under the vehicles wheels until the guide gave them some attention.  haha

These unfortunate looking birds are really cool!  They are humungous and very smart.  When the guide called one's name, it came running!  These birds take a long time (7-9 years!) to mature and start mating.  When they do mate, they mate for life.  Awwwwe!

   This tested my gag reflex for sure.  Nothing is wasted at the center, so all the bones are thrown to the "vulture restaurant" when the animals are done with them.  And let me tell you it did not smell good.

The birds were happy though.

On the afternoon game drive, I decided to give in and wear my neck brace.  All of the bouncing was getting to be very hard on my joints, especially my back and neck.  I may look a bit silly, but I was much more comfortable!

The lioness makes a reappearance!  

She came right up to our car!

And was scouting out something she must have seen off the road.

Just to show how close we were.
Also, we made friends with a giraffe.  

Yes, this is our guide holding elephant poo.  As one of his jokes, he told us that to tell if it was male or female elephant poop, you had to taste it.  And with that he popped some into his mouth.  Yuck!  He said he was just kidding about the male female thing, but that it was perfectly safe to eat the poo of herbivores.  Apparently it's only the meat eaters that have dangerous poo.  He asked if anyone wanted to try it.  Only two of us were brave enough and I am proud/ashamed to say that I was one of them.  It really didn't taste bad at all though.  It tasted just like hay which is kind of a pleasant taste.  Now kindly forget I ever mentioned that I ate elephant poo.

Next we came across a herd of wild elephants.  They are SO much fun to watch.  They are very active.

This was an albino elephant who was a few years old.  Still a kid.

And a nursing young elephant.

This is just about the happiest elephant in the world because it has a stick.  I guess that once one elephant starts playing around with a branch, it becomes the most sought after commodity in Africa even though there are hundreds of ones just like it.  Siblings are the same everywhere.

We also got half-heartedly charged by one of the elephants.  Someone in the car stood up and it freaked the elephant out so it started lunging at us.  It wasn't a big deal though because we got out of there in plenty of time.  The guide was pretty pissed at the kid though.  

We were really lucky to see this baby elephant that was born only a few days ago!  It was still very wobbly which made it all the more endearing.

We finally spotted a male lion!  This was the daddy to the cubs we saw earlier.  They were all hanging out on the road, playing and napping.


And a jackal.  It stared us down like it knew it ruled the underworld.  


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