Sunday, November 27, 2016

Oh! The Gift Shops You'll Visit!

There's a lot of cool stuff we didn't buy. I'm pleased with how little of it we bought. We didn't buy the plush African dog. We didn't buy the recycled plastic beads. We didn't buy the bowls, the animal figurines, or the nature books in Afrikaans.

But we could not avoid all the stuff.

JT got a traditional rattle ($1, fell apart in the car on the way home). He later got a candy tank ($2, fell apart in the car before we left the safari). Everyone else's stuff was more expensive than his, but he got a little cheap something everywhere we went and was very happy.

Princess fell in love with a stuffed cheetah named Pretty. Superstar wanted a lion named Fuzzy.

Together, they combine their ecoplush powers to become ... pretty fuzzy.

Joy got a spoon whose handle comes from a springbok horn, a couple serving trays with elephants on them, and a napkin holder made of cast iron shaped into an owl. The napkin holder broke so it's now wall decorations.

I got clothes for birthday presents from myself (a hat, a purple bow tie, and new shoes when mine broke). I got some stuff at the Voortrekker monument you'll meet in a later post. But since we have now done the posts for Pretty and Fuzzy, it seemed a good time to mention them.

In South African restaurant, meals eat you

After the safari, petting the tiger, and wandering through the more zoo-ish part of the zoo (skipping completely their reptile house and children's playground), we thought it was high time we got some lunch. Very nice sandwiches - some of the best grilled cheese any of us ever had and my Dagwood sandwich lived up to its namesake. But the thing to remember isn't the food, it's sitting next to taxidermy that's ready to eat you:

And then there's the life-size elephant sculptures outside with a ladder so you can climb up and take pictures.

No bears in South Africa. Sorry.

But there are LOTS of other animals to see that didn't make it to the other posts, like:
Cape buffalo, various antelope varieties, and warthogs (aka Pumba)

Adults can pet the baby leopard, but kids can't

Squirrels and varieties of cranes

Baby rhino and a Klipspringer (who gets nearly all its water from food)

Baby hippo.... and that's not even counting all the varieties of big cats: jaguars, leopards, cheetahs...

Sunday, November 13, 2016

... and Tigers ...

After the grand tour of the Rhino and Lion reserve, we paid for a special opportunity: TO PET A BABY TIGER!

Here are Joy and Princess, quietly walking around the kitty. Joy pet first to show it was safe, then Superstar and Princess, then I finally got a turn. JT - perched safely on my shoulders - didn't ever quite trust himself with the critter, but was happy to be as close as that.

I was surprised at first that his fur was not as soft as most of the cats' we've owned. It was coarser ... kinda like Superstar's hair. So if you want to know what a tiger feels like, ask my son if you can brush his hair, I guess.

It makes sense on further reflection. I mean, they weren't exactly being bred for silky smoothness and they don't use conditioner.

The great bit was that at one point the tiger leaned over and took a playful nip at me! He grabbed my pants. I stepped back slowly but firmly and got dislodged. No problem.

Then he tried to play with Princess. That caused a bit more panic. She was NOT happy to have a kitty reaching out to eat her, so she cowered back. The tiger ripped a tiny hole in her dress.

We decided after that we were probably done petting the animals, though they also had a lion, a cheetah, and a leopard that could be pet - some by kids and some only by adults.

Today at Primary, Superstar told everyone that petting the tiger was his favorite thing in South Africa. He says, "He was really soft. And he was washing and I got to feel his wet, soft fur."

Princess has fewer happy memories: "He ruined my dress. But somebody fixed it. I don't know who. That's all."

Lions ...

The Rhino and Lion Reserve has three predators: wild dogs, lions, and cheetahs. Unfortunately for us, the cheetahs were well hidden when we came out and the wild dogs liked the shade also, so there's not much to see there. It made us very thankful we went to the cheetah center to see them both.

BUT! We got a GREAT view of the lions! They sleep right next to the bus path!

These are white lions, not albinos but definitely lighter in shading than the more golden colored lions we normally think of.

At one point we had a couple lions walk right next to the bus (videos below!). We were instructed to be especially quiet then, lest they jump us. With no net or fence or anything between us and them, I thought that rather good advice.

Rhino and Lion: Right up to the car!

We drove into the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve in South Africa and wound our way across the bumpy roads. It's part of the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO world heritage site.

R&L is halfway between a zoo and a nature preserve. There are still enclosures that keep the predators separate from the prey, but otherwise it's just one big open expanse. Our guide mentioned that if they didn't separate the predators, all the prey would hide along the edges of the reserve.

The great thing about the reserve is that they set up watering holes and feeding spots right next to the road. Large groups of animals congregate where it is easy to film them.

So before our tour even began, we saw zebras, sprinbok, rhinos, ostriches, boars, and more right next to the road. ... and sometimes on it!

The kids in the tour truck

On our way out, we saw a giraffe too.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Hello, Mockba

When I landed in Berlin nearly 20 years ago, I kept noticing what felt like these big differences between US roads and German roads - the cobblestones, the cars parked on the sidewalk, and of course everything European about the road was different.

Now, familiar with European road signs, I land in Moscow and am struck by similar/familiar everything looks. I can follow the road signs, so I could theoretically drive here if someone would hand me directions. Even though many of the letters are wildly different, I can figure out the names of some businesses and what they sell (ресторан is a restaurant; аптека is an apothecary = pharmacy; банк = bank).

 Course, it's easier to identify some businesses than others:
Image result for McDonalds in RussianImage result for burger king in Russian 

Partly that's my development and experience, but it's also amazing how much convergence there has been over 20 years. I bet you 20 years ago Moscow at night did not look like "random western European city." Today I see all sorts of US and European brands that I'm confident were not here in 1996. On the other hand, the reason I'm describing a city as a set of brand names is just because I arrived at night and the neon signs are most all I can see and identify. 

I may have a different idea seeing the city in the daytime, but that's at least my first impression.