Weirdo Looks for the Lorax

OH HI! 

I always do this when I start blogs: I’m really keen on it for like 30 seconds and then forget about it for a year. But here I am again, eager to share some travel tid bits, so thanks to my two loyal fans for sticking with me.

I’ll write a post about why I’ve been away some other time but for now…

Back to travel! I left off on my trip to L.A., surfing with dolphins. The evening after that rousing experience, we all drove out to Joshua Tree National Park to meet up with eight other people for a weekend of camping. We stayed at Black Rock campground which was easy to access but not very far into the park. This requires driving into the park to do major excursions, not that I’m complaining.


The park is home to endless…well, Joshua trees (aka yucca) – these curiously cartoonish plants that make you feel like you’ve strolled right into a delightful Dr. Seuss book. It’s also a Mecca for rock-climbing and bouldering.


We spent two nights eating homemade chilli, shivering our timbers, and having memorable campfire singalongs to, from what I recall, mostly Flight of the Conchords songs. During the day, the Joshua Tree veterans of the group suggested Ryan Mountain, an easy 3 mile hike offering stunning views of the desert on the trek and from the top.


Yes, the sky was that blue.

Anyway, this is pretty much mostly a photography post so enjoy the pics. And get down there; it’s much better in person!

Camping tip – I know it seems obvious but I can’t stress enough – dress warmly – especially at night. I’m Canadian and came in snowboard gear and still thought I was dying of hypothermia by 8pm. For the same reason, bring a good amount of firewood as well.

Next up, I make an impromptu trip to Costa Rica and realize life has taught me absolutely nothing.

Weirdo Surfs with Dolphins 

Hollywood has never intrigued me. The last time I was in Los Angeles I was somewhere between the ages of 8-12 and the bustling glitz and glamour wasn’t my cup of tea and still isn’t. I’m not a hippie/hipster or anything, I just don’t understand the obsession with famous people nor the necessity of purchasing items of clothing simply for the name. I’m pretty much just self-involved and poor.

Anyway, I made a little weekend trip down to LA on the first weekend in February for several reasons:

  1. Needed sunshine. Raincouver was sucking the soul out of me
  2. There was an open spot to go camping at Joshua Tree National Park (to write and link to in another post)
  3. There was a statutory/bank holiday here in British Columbia (side note: this holiday is called Family Day. This started in BC four years ago because the gap between New Years stat and Good Friday stat holidays were too long so we threw another holiday in there. Canada, eh?)

I originally planned to fly into San Francisco to hang out with my friend Anne Marie before heading to Joshua Tree, but it was Super Bowl weekend and tickets were alarmingly expensive (refer to above reference of me being poor). So I flew into LA to stay with another friend, Lindsey (side note: Anne Marie, Lindsey, and I know each other from six days spent on a tour in Uganda back in October. Another win for travel).

I arrived expecting the smell of judgement from well-dressed passersby with my poncho and backpack with sleeping bag strapped on so that my silhouette was mildly reminiscent of Quasimodo.

Instead, I was greeted in Santa Monica with smiles from people walking to and from the pier, questions about where I’m from and, most excitingly, the glorious glow of sunshine.

  
I spent the evening meeting some of Lindsey’s surf buddies and begging for a board and wet suit to borrow, not heeding the warnings of the water being extremely cold. 

We went to Sunset Beach the next morning with my expectations of ice cold surf but dear God – it was spectacular. Still need a wet suit for “winter” surf here, but I spent my first few years of surfing in the Canadian waters of Tofino so to me, this was summer surfing.

  
Ever since I got caught in an undertow a few years back, I’ve been cautious so I stick to smaller breaks. I was sitting a little further from the majority of surfers, enjoying the feel of water lapping against my legs and wind whipping through my hair when I notice a dark fin rise up about arms length on my left side. I’m petrified. Not five seconds later, another fin rises up at the nose of my board. 

I’m frozen. I start screaming, “Lindsey!” but even I could barely hear myself because my throat has swollen shut from fear.

Another fin appears; they’re circling me. I’m not sure how much time has passed but suddenly I hear a cheery voice: “Well, that’s not something you see every day! You’ve got some luck in ya.” What. WHAT? Who are you and why aren’t you calling for help, I’m about to be consumed by three sharks.

A paddle boarder appears beside me. “Don’t worry! They’re just dolphins. And they seem to really like you!”

A breath I didn’t know I was holding exhales out of my mouth and suddenly I’m giddy with excitement. This is so fucking cool! I see a set coming in that I’m sure I can catch but I’m admittedly too terrified to put any more limbs than necessary into the water at the moment so I sit it out until the dolphins finish inquisitively brushing up against my leg and my board and move on.

I tell Lindsey about this later and she’s stoked: “Oh my gosh – you have dolphin energy! This is going to be a good day.” We’re gab excitedly about it on the way home.

And then, several hours later, she says something that makes me want to simultaneously throw up and strangle her: “Did you know dolphins rape people?”

What.

“Yeah, there are like nine cases a year.** It’s cool though; they’re still really lucky.”

Next up, we camp at Joshua Tree National Park and my Canadian blood doesn’t come through for me.

**Cases of dolphin “rape” are actually attributed to dolphin sexual aggression which you can read about in this short scientific journal summary. Although, I don’t know why you’d want to.

Weirdo Plays With Fire(works)

Total hyperbole. Didn’t touch fireworks or go anywhere near them. After the JPP incident, I’ve been scared to death of them; I like my hands.
This entry will be relatively short as:

  1. My photos are redundant if you follow me in Instagram
  2. I no longer have Facebook to showcase my posts so I don’t even know who reads this anymore

I wanted to write as I haven’t traveled in awhile and my frequent work travels throughout Western Canada have become mundane so here’s a short recap of my most recent trip.

  
I rang in 2016 with six close friends in Ucluelet and Tofino – my favourite Pacific North West beach spots located on the most western coast of Vancouver Island. They’re little towns about 35 km apart, located in the beach and popular for beach-goers, PNWers, and surfers willing to brave the freezing temperatures (we don’t really have anywhere else to surf up in Western Canada, anyway).

We stayed at The Cabins in Ucluelet (I like to call it Ukee; I’m not sure if this is acceptable by the locals but I walk into shops happily saying it anyway). The beaches here are more appropriate for whale watching, relaxing, swimming and paddle boarding, but it’s much more affordable during peak seasons. I, of course, intended to take pictures of the cabins because they were ridiculously adorable and cosy, but I, of course, forgot. I guarantee that the photos they have on their website – at least of our cabins (Port Side) – are an exact replica of their reality.

They’re literally a 90 second walk to Terrace Beach as well, and the sunsets are pretty unreal.

 
Yeah, I sat out here for a bit, continuously taking photos. This is what my camera roll looked like: 

  

Anyway, we rang in the New Year in style – old school jams, fireworks and champagne on the beach under a stunning blanket of stars that I wish I could’ve captured. It was a blissful and sweet entry into 2016.

  
Tofino is only about a 25-30 minute drive away and these are the beaches you want to hit for surf. We went out to Long Beach and the Chesterman’s. For you surfers out there, I highly recommend North Chesterman’s Beach for the high, clean swells. Photos below are a mixture of all beaches and taken with the sun in my eyes and a dying iPhone 6.

   
  

   
If you’re looking to rent and/or get surf lessons, I’ve only ever gone to Long Beach Surf Shop in Tofino and Relic Surf Shop in Ucluelet and they are both fantastic in gear, lessons and staff alike. Storm in Tofino has some pretty sick apparel options as well.

Tuff (I give nicknames to everything) isn’t quite a complete visit without checking out the Tofino Brewing Company – I adore their Blonde Ale.

Next up, I have no idea. I’m currently in flux in several aspects of my life so who knows where I’m off to next! 

Weirdo Looks For Prostitutes

  
I had that TLC song running through my head all the way into Amsterdam. You know, Red Light Special. I was like, 11 when that song came out and I hadn’t a clue wtf it was on. It didn’t help that I grew up in a strict Christian home and was only allowed to listen to hymns so I used to listen to CrazySexyCool under the covers on my Walkman, periodically pausing to make sure my parents didn’t catch me. Anyway, what was I talking about again? Oh, right. Why I had TLC on the brain.

I had a 7.5 hour layover on my way home from my African Adventure so I thought I’d pop into the city. I didn’t know much about what I could do for four hours at 6am except that the Red Light District was close to the train station and it was, as told, a must-see.
 

I don’t know why, but I thought the Red Light District would be, well, red. I imagined bright neon lights announcing “Red Light District” and prostitutes and people selling weed on every corner. Now maybe that’s what it’s like at night or on Christmas, but at seven o’clock in the morning it was so inconspicuous that I almost missed it (I actually did miss it. I walked past it about four times before I figured out where I was).

I didn’t see much. No neon lights, only three lovely ladies dancing lasciviously in a store window, and no one asked me to buy ganja. I was kind of disappointed.

No matter. I wandered aimlessly around the city centre, peeking into shops, drinking coffee, and marvelling at all the sex and marijuana paraphernalia.

How “special” are them sammiches?

Not much else of a story to tell here except that it was both a refreshing and melancholic little trip. Part of me was thrilled to be stepping foot in big-city Europe again and part of me desperately missed the rural freedom of Africa. All of me was freezing as fuck because I didn’t think to take a sweater with me in my carry-on.

  

If you’re wondering, it took about 15 minutes to get to Amsterdam Centraal from Schiphol Airport, costing €5.60 each way. Well worth the trip but allow yourself at least an hour to get in and out of customs/passport control.
 

Next up, nothing really. Already planning the next adventure and Africa, I think I’ll be back much sooner than you think.

Weirdo Looks For Baby Moses

IMG_1487 

I have no idea how Cleopatra found a baby in a basket on this wide, rushing expanse of water. That’s how the story goes, right?

I spent my last few dreamy African days on the banks of the Nile River. After returning to Kampala following my Troop to the Gorillas, a couple of guests at my Kampala hostel strongly recommended a little island about two hours away in Jinja with a most unappealing name of Hairy Lemon (I’m terrible with accents so at first I thought they kept saying Holy Lemon, which, having been brought up in a Christian home, I thought was fitting for a Nile River island, but alas…). 

The first thing I read about this place was: to get to the island, you must stand on the banks of the Nile and strike a gong, after which a boatman will collect you. I was sold.

My ride

 
 
The Island was a purely tranquil delight. There was only one other guest during my stay so it was the perfect way for me to relax, unwind, and happily reminisce the adventures of the past 18 days. 

   
 
I stayed in the Kigelia Kabin, which had room for four people (full board with meals included for $42 USD/night), but seeing as I was only one of two guests, I had the whole banda to myself. It overlooked the Nile, where I sat, read, drank endless cups of coffee and watched chickens, monkeys, lizards and various other small wildlife putter around next to me.

    
When it was hot, or I heard the gleeful screeches if white water rafting tours floating down the river, I’d wander to the riverbank, read, tan, and amusingly observe.

IMG_1504

#omgsunset


Next up, I go home after a short layover in Amsterdam and a trip to a “coffee” shop.

Weirdo Goes Tarzan In The Jungle

I literally swung off trees. Mostly to catch myself from slipping down the muddy slopes of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or to frantically leap from beehives, but whatevs. Me, Jane.

I spent my first six days in Uganda on a Topdeck “Troop to the Gorillas” Tour run by Acacia Africa and I can’t recommend these guys enough. I’m not much of a tour person and this was my first (more than three-day) tour, but it was full of awesome people, an incredible tour leader (Elton) and driver (Marc), delicious food, and great ease in knowing what, when and where you’re going next. We covered so much ground from Kampala to Lake Bunyoni, including a visit to Queen Elizabeth Park, chimpanzee trek, gorilla trek, optional day trips to Kigali and we still had plenty of time for some downtime at the lake to catch up on postcards, journals, reading, sleeping, cleaning your belly button, or whatever the hell you wanna do. It’s vacation, after all. TIA.

Mountain Gorilla 1

The biggest reason I was there was to see this guy and about 19 of his family members and the experience was so surreal that it’s been four days and I still can’t properly put my emotions into words. My camera handling was shit that day – whether due to my overwhelming excitement or damp jungle conditions, I don’t know – but most of my photos are blurry. After awhile, I stopped taking photos and just watched in awe, fear and respect.

Bro's not havin' it

Bro’s not havin’ it

Out of the family of 20 that we saw, there were three silverbacks, one of which was notorious for charging. During debriefing, we were reminded more than thrice how to react if a gorilla charges you:

  1. Don’t yell
  2. Don’t look him in the eye
  3. Don’t run away

About two minutes into our first sighting, notorious Rumanza was just chillin’ out by his tree and I guess he wasn’t cool with eight people interrupting his “me” time, so he charged and I did the exact opposite of all of the above. Hey man, all logic goes out the window when a 400 pound silverback rushes at you. I may have peed a little but I blamed it on the rain.

Bring it on, Rumz

Bring it on, Rumz

I like this tree. This is my favourite tree. Leave me alone under this tree.

I like this tree. This is my favourite tree.

I'm shy

I’m shy

Next up, I relax in Jinja in denial by The Nile.

Weirdo Gets Serious

  
I wanted to quickly pen this before I head to Uganda. Throughout my experiences thus far, nothing was as terribly haunting as my visit to the Kigali Genocide Museum. Note that there are no pictures of the site as I couldn’t bring myself to take any.

I arrived admittedly flippant with whatever knowledge I could gather from the infamous movie and some quick Wiki searching the night before. I’ve been to various war museums and memorials, but nothing could prepare me for what I learned and saw here. No matter what history has proven, I still cannot comprehend the cruelty us humans are capable of.

I won’t attempt to accurately outline the events that led to those fateful days in 1994, and I won’t risk trivializing it with some clever remark. There is a plethora of information on this recent and horrific genocide available at your fingertips.

1,000,000 deaths. 100 days.

If you get a day, or even half a day in Kigali, please visit this memorial, if not even just to witness the beautiful country Rwanda is successfully striving to become.

Weirdo Spews In A Treehouse


There’s something magical about living in a tree. That is, until you get really drunk one night and nearly kill yourself falling out of said tree trying to get to the communal toilet before you start projectile vomiting both your dinner and what little is left of your 31-year-old integrity.

I spent the last four days on the coast of Kenya, flying into Mombasa and riding out to the pristine sands of Diani Beach. I was meant to travel from Nairobi to Mombasa by night train, but my train was cancelled due to it “running two days late”. Strange, considering it only runs every two days and the train two days following mine was cancelled as well. TIA!

The Treehouse

I stayed at a small backpackers sanctuary across the beach called Stilts Backpackers. I have mixed feelings about this place for reasons apart from the spewing incident. The staff, manager and owner were extremely friendly and helpful, but my first impression was skewed by the fact that they didn’t receive the change in my reservation and didn’t seem overly concerned about it. To be fair, I booked my stay through Hostelworld so the mix-up wasn’t entirely Stilts’ fault.

The location was superb; it’s right across the road from 40 Thieves Bar and thus only a 5-7 minute walk to the beach.

While my own stay at the hostel was great, on my last night, two incidents occurred that did not involve me but were concerning to say the least:

  1. One guy’s treehouse was broken into while he was out and half of his belongings, including passport, were stolen (passport was found tossed aside on the property later the next morning).
  2. One cottage of four girls’ was broken into while they were sleeping. The locked door was kicked open, but one of the girls was quick-thinking and got him in the face with pepper spray before he ran away.

I left the morning after these incidents and am unsure of who the perpetrator(s) was/were and how they got past the guards on the property, but even more concerning is that the owner, while helpful in advising the affected guests of alternative hotel options, appeared unapologetic and unconcerned. Regardless of whether or not this type of thing happens often in Kenya or anywhere else in the world, I wasn’t impressed with the response from the staff.

The Beach

Anyway, on to the reason I endured planes, cancelled trains, automobiles and even boats to get here…


Diani Beach is nothing short of spectacular. I won’t post too many pictures of it because it’s pretty much the default background on everyone’s computer and/or tablet monitors throughout the winter months: sun, turquoise waters and fine, white sand.

Things of note:

  • It’s virtually impossible to get five minutes alone, especially as a lone female traveller. I love conversing with locals, but being approached every few minutes for a sales pitch or even just a little chat was – and I’m embarrassed to say – irritating after awhile. Just let me tan, dammit.
  • Souvenirs and knick-knacks on the beach are expensive so if you come down here, don’t be afraid to a). find out the asking price, b). slash it by at least 70%. This is something else I have mixed feelings about: what’s two extra bucks to me, really? But it’s all part of the game.

I used up an entire bottle of bug spray here (the insects on the coast are really gross and really fucking weird looking) and by the time I finally got enough alone time to try and take hot-dog legs pictures, the clouds were building up for a flash storm. No matter, the rains were warm and I was in paradise.

Hot dog legs are so 2013 anyway, so here are my toes.

Weirdo Loses Her Shit Over Baby Elephants

Elephant

I’m not sure where my love for elephants came from. It might’ve been Dumbo, it might’ve been the first picture I saw of their long luscious eyelashes, it might’ve been the self-comparison of the size of our noses…whatever it was, it continues to this day and, although I saw several herds in the Masai Mara, visiting the elephant orphanage in Nairobi was a dream come true.

Elephant Eyes

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a conservation charity dedicated to rescuing and nurturing young elephants and rhinos that have been separated from their mothers at a young age and still rely on their mother’s guidance and milk. There are Keepers on the orphan sites that feed the babies and help prepare them to be released back into the wild when they are ready.

Baby Elephant Herd

Bro in the back can’t be confined. He be like “Ain’t nothin’ gonna break my stride. Nobody gonna hold me downnn, oh no.”


Most people know that elephants and rhinos are often poached for their tusks and this is a common reason that their babies get abandoned. There are other reasons, of course: the mothers die of natural causes; babies get stuck in human wells, water holes or traps; herds are attacked by predators, etc…but the point is, these animals’ tusks provide no value to human life whatsoever so there is absolutely no point in them being on the market.
Elephant Orphanage Viewing TimeThere are 29 babies at the orphanage and public viewing times are between 11am-12pm daily with a $5USD or 500KSh entrance/donation fee. While it appears to a be a theatrical event with crowds of spectators surrounding the rope-enclosed ring, it’s actually quite organic as you watch the elephants feed, splash around in the water and play with one another. Some of them will come right up to you, curiously nudging your hands or face and playfully spraying you with mud and dirt.

It’s glorious.

Get outta my way, bro

Get outta my way, bro

I can feed myself, dammit

I can feed myself, dammit

Lemme buy you a draaaank

Lemme buy you a draaaank

Ostrich bomb

Ostrich bomb

For $50USD a year, you can foster an elephant and the funds go to the whole conservation. And, if I’m ever back in Nairobi (which I intend to be), I can drop by in the evenings and watch them prepare and put my foster elephant to bed.

I picked this little guy, Kauro, because he came right up to me, lifted the rope fence with his trunk, and started chasing after me for what I can only assume was a snuggle. And I love snuggles so he feels me, bro.

Kauro Snuggle Bunz

Kauro Snuggle Bunz

Weirdo Excessively Uses Lion King References

Masai Mara

I keep saying I visited the Pride Lands but it turns out not as many people as I’d hoped understand my references to The Lion King. My group kind of thought I was a weirdo yelling out “PUUMBA!” every time I saw a warthog. No matter; my trip to the Masai Mara was still amazing.

I saw three of the Big Five animals: lions, elephants (!), and buffalo. Missing and rare were the leopard and rhino, the latter of which there are apparently only 20 in the 1,510 km2  park (citation: my tour guide, Joshua).

Coming up from a morning cap

Coming up from a morning cap

Wee one, can I take you home?

Wee one, can I take you home?

Dude's just not having it

Dude’s just not having it

I have about 700 more pictures (about 400 of which were just me trying to figure out the settings to my sister’s camera) but as you can see, my shutter speed, ISO, white balance (I’m just throwing words out there, I don’t know wtf I’m talking about) are all a bit off so I’d like to edit them a bit before posting larger versions.

Safari VanThe whole safari itself was pretty incredible and I’d definitely recommend three days/two nights as the perfect amount of time for it. Two days is too short considering the 12 hour round trip (3 hours of which are on a jarring dirt road) from Nairobi, and four days may have been too long as each morning started between 6-7am and ended about 10 hours later. I’d say from the full day game drive, I saw animals about 70% of the time, but otherwise it’s a lot of driving on dirt roads. That being said, there would likely be a lot more animals around during migration. I booked the Masai Mara Camping Safari with Explorer Kenya and they were great, but these guys, along with many other tour companies, sort of all function under the same umbrella. They all depart daily and spread out their guests amongst each other depending on traveler budget and pick-up areas in Nairobi.

We camped (glamped) in some pretty fancy schmancy tents at Lenchada Tourist Camp that included full beds with mattress and clean bedding, mosquito nets and ensuite bathrooms with flushing Western toilets and hot showers. Wish I’d remembered to take a picture of the campground but after 12 hour days on the road and on game drives, my brain was a bit mush.

Cheetah ChasingOne thing that bothered me a bit was watching all the safari vans and trucks chase down the animals, especially the big cats, each time they emerged. I respect the Reserve and the protection against poaching, though, so I suppose privacy is a small price to pay for their lives. Still, it makes me wonder if they’re really able to live in a natural environment with so much human interruption going on around them. I’m not educated enough in the matter to form a strong opinion, but it does make me pity them a bit when they seem to just want to be left alone.

We may have chased these honeymooners out of some yada-yada time

We may have chased these honeymooners out of some yada-yada time

Anyway, the whole experience was nothing short of phenomenal and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I may try out the Serengeti National Park and take my little guy along with me next time.

Little side note on bringing kids on a safariGreat idea and I’m not being sarcastic (my high school math teacher once told me to stop using sarcasm as a defence mechanism and I’m still struggling with it 15 years later). However, I’d strongly recommend waiting until they’re at least 6-7 years old. This doesn’t come from my own experience, but from conversations with other travellers with children. We also had a one-year-old on the first day of our safari and, while I fully condone starting kids out young, it’s really fucking hard to have a baby on a trip like that (6 hour car ride, 2.5 hour game drive, tenting, etc). I can’t imagine the parents enjoying it all that much as most of their time was spent trying to get the munchkin to stop crying.

Some unedited highlights:

I don't really get zebras. Like, why aren't they brown or grey like the other prey animals. I CAN SEE YOU, ZEBRA

I don’t really get zebras. Like, why aren’t they brown or grey like the other prey animals. I CAN SEE YOU, ZEBRA

Momma Cheetah and her cub cats trying to cool down

Momma Cheetah and her cub cats trying to cool down

This one time when my son was 4 he almost choked on one of those balls from the Hungry Hungry Hippos game and I've hated hippos ever since

This one time when my son was 4 he almost choked on one of those balls from the Hungry Hungry Hippos game and I’ve hated hippos ever since

Everybody's got a water buffalo / Yours is fast but mine is slow / Oh, where we'd get them, I don't know / But everybody's got a water buffalo-ooooooo

Everybody’s got a water buffalo / Yours is fast but mine is slow / Oh, where we’d get them, I don’t know / But everybody’s got a water buffalo-ooooooo

The King after a kill. That's a wildebeest and this is like Simba's revenge for the wildebeest stampede killing Mufasa even though it was Scar who let him go, the wildebeest technically killed him, those bastards

The King after a kill. That’s a wildebeest and this is like Simba’s revenge for the wildebeest stampede killing Mufasa even though it was Scar who let him go, the wildebeest technically killed him, those bastards

Vultures and jackals finishing off a wildebeest. Circle of Life, am I right

Vultures and jackals finishing off a wildebeest. Circle of Life, am I right

You can pretty much find these guys everywhere but they're not easy to chase down. They're also easy to miss 'cause they're eating all the damn time

You can pretty much find these guys everywhere but they’re not easy to chase down. They’re also easy to miss ’cause they’ve got their heads down eating all the damn time

Nice butts

Nice butts, ellies

Masai women and children selling goods on the way into the Reserve

Masai women and children selling goods on the way into the Reserve

I just want to point out that I’m still uncertain of how Masai/Maasai is spelled as I’ve seen it both ways on both the internet and around the Reserve. If anyone knows and can confirm with a non-Wiki reference, that’d give me some piece of mind.

Next up, I’m flying to Mombasa and staying at Diani Beach for a few days and work on my much needed tan.