Saturday, June 12, 2010


The last leg of my trip was in Japan. So after skipping from San Francisco to Johannesburg back to San Francisco then to New York and back to SF AGAIN, I finally made it to the land of the rising sun. I was actually here 2 years ago but my brother and his wife moved to Tokyo in March so this was a great opportunity to see what life would be out there! Without the pressure of sightseeing I could just enjoy the Tokyian experience and focus on the best part - the food!

My brother's place was fantastic! Very centrally located and a whole lot bigger than I would ever have guessed. My brother and sister-in-law were working during the day and I spent my time visiting places around Tokyo and eating as many delicious things as possible. We would meet in the evenings for dinner and merriment so it was a great, relaxing 10 days.

Check the time on the clock behind the sushi chef - that's right, sushi before 7am. Jetlag is a pain but at least it makes for a perfect way to visit the Tsujiki fish market. YUM.

See how the fat glistens on that toro? Yeah, awesome.

Fish market comes with all sorts of hazards.

I did make 1 (half-hearted) effort to do some sightseeing. I went to Kamakura, which is about an hour outside of Tokyo and features either the oldest or biggest buddha in Japan (I don't remember which. I've seen a lot of buddhas in my time). The best part was the sheer amount of old people and young kids - insights into the shaping demographics of Japan I guess. Either that, or they really like fieldtrips in Japan.

There was a ramen festival outside my brother's building - YES.

A $100 melon!

We went to a baseball game - Giants vs Dragons - though it might as well have been the Giants vs the Dodgers with the same colors and fonts. At least the mascots were different and way cuter. Baseball in Japan was definitely a different experience. All the chants were organized with bands and chants that were all sung in unison. It was incredible.

Me and my bro!

I came across the most systemic and organized beer festival in my life. There was a hug system with wristbands, tickets, renting mugs, returning mugs, eating spatzle and best of all there was actually a Bavarian band in full leiderhosen. I can't even explain it.

THANK GOD for the plastic food in the windows. I would never be able to order without pointing at what I wanted. And they were so realistic! Can you tell which one is the real deal?

I don't know, maybe they were shooting a commercial? I came across a camera crew filming these dudes in Sailor Moon outfits. Yeah, I don't get it either.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Cheetahs on the run

I had to save the best for last – the cheetahs. The main reason I chose PAWS was because I would have to chance to work with these unbelievable cats. Cheetahs are sort of the underdogs of the safari. Though they are stunning animals and the fastest land animal (they can go up to 75mph), they aren’t exactly equipped to last (they lose all the time to leopards and other predators) but are also being hunted to extinction because of their predilection for farm-raised animals.

They are such inquisitive cats and will come pretty close to investigate. They are also really vocal, whistling, huffing and even purring! A cheetah purring is so loud it kind of sounds like an incoming helicopter.

We were also incredibly lucky to be there during their health examinations. Africats has about 50 cheetahs that they’ve collected from traps, as former pets and such, and release as many as they can after they’ve been rehabbed and treated. About 16 are supposed to be released in May so we got to assist in grooming and cleaning them while they were checked by vets. AMAZING!! We were really up close and personal, which you’d never be able to do with a wild animal. Especially Georgia, who will always have a very special relationship with a cat names Spud :).

They get a full workup during the exam, including teeth and eye checks, blood work, vaccinations and even sperm count.

Their fur wasn’t as soft as it looks and they actually don’t do a great job grooming themselves so we had to comb all the burrs out and delouse with flea powder.

I got to hold hands with a cheetah!

We even got to feed them though they would hiss and paw the fence when we got too close.

Team Africat! I again got so lucky with the other volunteers. They were all Brits but we had so much fun together and it was nice to have such a varied group. Thanks, guys!!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Africats roar

Another great thing about volunteering with PAWS is their affiliation with Africats. Africats is dedicated to saving, rehabbing and releasing cheetahs, leopards and other big cats in the wild. Part of our work was tracking, feeding and cleaning enclosures for these cats so we got to see them as not many people do since they are so elusive in the wild.

Clive, the leopard whisperer. For research, many of the cats are radio collared so we spent a lot of our afternoons tracking them and monitoring where they go.

MJ, a female leopard, taking it slow.

Mufana on the hunt. Leopards really are the king of the jungle and the most ferocious and intelligent hunters. They are just built to take down anything.

Wahoo used to be a former pet and now can’t be released back into the wild due to his affinity for humans. But we got to watch him play and eat, which was so amazing.

Sadly, wild dogs are coming very close to extinction because they hunt so much cattle. These guys are just about to be released and will be hunting on their own.

That’s Pooh, a spotted hyena, lounging after a kudu kill. We didn’t get a good look at him but hyenas are amazing creatures. Not at all scavengers, they hunt and are just as ferocious as leopards and bigger too. On one tracking trip, we were caught between a hyena trying to steal a kill from a leopard! It was a little scary.

Monday, May 03, 2010


For this holiday I didn’t want to just vacation like a tourist but also wanted to do some good for the world. I found this really great organization called PAWS (People And Wildlife Solutions) in Namibia that is working to reverse the damage that cattle farming has done and restore the land for cheetahs, leopards and other animals to roam freely. Sadly, cattle farming has destroyed the soil, left behind dangerous wire fences and rusty traps, and introduced endemic plants like thorny sickly bush that have pushed animals out and overtaken everything.

Clive and Roma have created a fantastic program that not only has us busting our butts but incorporates phenomenal access on game drives and detailed information on the land, animals and the nomadic San people that used to roam, all in the most beautiful setting surrounded by bush and a great camp (best showers EVER). Every morning we worked, fence rolling, bush cutting or maintaining roads/camp. It was actually pretty grueling – think huge thorns on everything, unruly rusty wire fences and unrelenting African sun – but it felt so good to be doing manual work.

See how big those trees are? Now add the sharpest, stickiest thorns that covered everything and you get the idea. But it was so satisfying when they fell.

Peter and Felix work for PAWS and they’re so hard working and patient with our ineptitude but also fun to be around. Peter loves Akon and is definitely the party type while Felix is much more introspective and always asking philosophical questions. Really great guys!

See that pool? Its like an oasis or mirage hanging out in the middle of Namibia. I was there everyday to escape the heat and it was just perfect, maybe a tad too cold but very refreshing!

I could get used to this…

The afternoons were spent going on game drives and learning about the land. It made for a good mix of work/holiday and some great animal shots:

How weird does this bird look? It’s a yellow-billed hornbill but looks almost prehistoric.

Oryx are everywhere! They would just stand and stare at you with those huge horns.

I LOVE giraffes. They are hysterical with their heads sticking out of the trees. They’re even better when they run, it’s a wonder they don’t fall over.

We were incredibly lucky to see this guy! Aardvarks eat ants and termites and look kind of fleshy.

We had porcupines pretty much every night to eat our food scraps. They look like ballerinas with all those quills, right?

Wildebeests are ugly. Sorry, but they really are.

Another favorite! These are dik-diks and they are just as cute as their name implies. They are the smallest antelope at about 12lbs but don’t tell them. Dik-diks are quite proud and will stamp their teeny feet when they stand their ground.

I can’t imagine that’s comfortable.