Archives for November, 2013

Maboneng

Nothing beats a local introduction to a misunderstood place, and for that, I owe everything to Meruschka. I am no stranger to South African cities. Last year I spent six weeks exploring South Africa’s schizophrenic East Coast-West Coast divide, delving equally into Cape Town and Durban for this year’s National Geographic documentary, “The World in…

Monday I’ve never been so intrigued by the sex lives of animals as to gawk at the television when David Attenborough is narrating mammalian copulation, but TV is quite a different matter than sitting ten feet away from a grown male lion as he impregnates one of the lionesses in his pride, with a growl.…

The Big Tree

With every new mile, South Africa continues to surprise me. One minute I am watching a thousand black-feathered ostriches kicking up the pink dust of the dry Karoo. The next, I see the ocean, wild and white, thrashing the immense sand dunes along the coast, and then, just as the road sign welcomes me to…

Elephants are big creatures, weighing up to 15,000 lbs (much more than a car), and while they are intelligent and gentle, they can also be potentially dangerous to humans, simply because they are so big, versus our own species which is relatively small. Seeing elephants on safari is always remarkable and exciting, and occasionally (if…

The Cave

Limestone caves are like McDonalds—they’re pretty much all the same and they’re pretty much everywhere. The overbearing similitude of karst caves dissuades me from prioritizing them as tourist attractions—when you’re underground and it’s dark, you could be in France, Vietnam, Mexico, or the Luray Caverns of Virginia—all places where what’s happening on the surface is…

I Heart Ostriches

I admit that my job lands me in some pretty special situations (in the lap of a panda, next to mountain gorillas, or among several thousand baby fur seals), but nothing prepared me for the marvelous wonder and utter cuteness of a little newborn ostrich as it breaks out its giant shell.

South Africa offers some of the very best scuba diving in the world, and in my opinion, any passionate diver should make it a priority to travel here and explore the extraordinary underwater landscapes on offer. For example, diving the Aliwal Shoal is incomparable—nowhere else in the world will you encounter the massive schools of…

“Actually—I just finished high school!” explained the boy behind the counter. He was tall, and young—only 19 years old, standing alone in the shaded stone farm building with shelves of wine bottles that shone, gold, pink, and red. He wanted to call in one of the wine experts, someone who knew “more about wine than…

“This is not the real Africa,” she said, peering over the tops of her glasses—as if her eyes were searching for the real thing, somewhere out there. “It’s not?” I wondered aloud, tired of this clichéd slant against Cape Town. “What is it, then?” “This is more like the Riviera—La Côte d’Azur,” she motioned vaguely…

Back in ZA

I thought I’d been selected for a secondary search. The man motioned at me from behind the table, lulling me away from the security line at Johannesburg’s Oliver Reginald Tambo International Airport—and so I grabbed my bags and dropped them on the table. But it was all just a ruse—as I stepped closer, his uniform…

Superlatives are the bane of travel publishing. Magazines tend to shout their hot pink sans serif headlines, boasting the highest, remotest, southernmost, fanciest, nicest, cheapest, most sophisticated, most beautiful, and most wonderful; in short—the best. But who decides these things, and what exactly constitutes the very best travel experience? Playing with pandas in China? Riding…

I never in a million years ever believed I would get to spend time with gorillas in the wild. The shock of living the pages of National Geographic magazine, over and over, is what makes this 125th Anniversary Expedition so spectacular. For me, Rwanda marked the final stop in what has been, truly, a life-changing…

More than the lions or the elephants or the hippos—it’s the smell of Africa that I find so intoxicating. Right now, in November, it’s the smell of the driest dust—grey Kalahari sand so fine you can taste it on your teeth at the end of the day—and the smell of the promise of rain. Scientifically-speaking,…

There is literally an elephant in the room. For a moment, at least, his trunk is in the room, dabbing the edge of the open door with his quivering nose, as if feeling his way with fingers. Then Lizzy shoos him away with both hands and the pleasant clip of an African accent. “Go away…

Tracking lions all day and all night is tough work, with long hours, little sleep, and great physical effort. “Dereck and I almost have to be like athletes,” says Beverly Joubert, who has spent most of her life dedicated to the high adrenalin sport of wildlife photography. With such a busy life and travel schedule,…

No matter where our plane lands on the globe, we run into family. Indeed, the real perk of National Geographic’s 125th Anniversary Expedition is the chance to meet up (almost everyday) with our crack team of National Geographic Explorers–in the field. In Palau, we had Sylvia Earle, and when when we arrived in Botswana, we…

I didn’t always travel like this (I am quite content just riding Greyhound), but for those of you who’ve asked what it’s like to hop about the globe on a private jet, I’m happy to report that as modes of transportation go, this one has several real advantages:

No discussion about global warming is complete without a nod to the Maldives, the paradisaical Indian Ocean archipelago that spans the equator, comprised of around 1,200 islands. Indeed, the geographical term atoll comes from the Dhivehi word describing these low-lying coral isles that almost seem to float on the flat blue surface of a tropical…

In the Kingdom of One Million Elephants, I only saw two. He was just a baby, huddled against his larger mother with wrinkly skin and sad, wet eyes that blinked against the bright sun. His trunk gripped a shoot of green leaves like a toy, and waving it in the air, the young elephant moved…

She’s the happiest woman in the world with a dour message of doom. “Half of the world’s coral reefs are now gone—or at least in a state of severe decline,” says Oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, Sylvia Earle. She’s reporting a tragic truth that I’ve witnessed firsthand—bleached and broken coral in the Caribbean, Hawaii and…

Approximately five million jellyfish live in Ongeim’l Tketau—give or take a hundred thousand. This South Pacific city of Cnidarians only came to the world’s attention in 1982, thanks to an article in National Geographic Magazine that detailed Palau’s endemic jellyfish species, Mastigias papua etpisoni, found only in this single marine lake and nowhere else in…

So far, I’ve been to about ten countries that each claim to be the happiest country on Earth. In Iceland, in Denmark, in Holland, even in India once, someone pulled me aside to claim that their country is the happiest. I never disagree; I just simply ask, “How do you know?” I’ve taken enough Stats…