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I Don’t Believe In Bucket Lists

I Don’t Believe In Bucket Lists

There’s something about the term “bucket list” that rubs me the wrong way. It seems to imply that in order to do the things you actually want to do with your life, you have to be scared of your impending or eventual death.

That’s bullshit.

It also rubs me the wrong way because instead of making plans to fulfill their dreams right now, bucket-listers put their wish lists off until “some day” where more often than not, they then get too old and tired or less passionate to go and live out their younger, distant dreams. Putting your deepest wishes on a pedestal instead of just going for it and living the life you want to live seems like a waste of time to me.

Mike and I recently had a life or death scare, where the ship Mike was on for work was hit by a drone. All of his possessions were destroyed in the blast, including the chair he had been sitting in not 30 minutes before. He was completely unharmed, but also, strangely, unfazed. Mike said if he had died, well…he went out in an interesting way and had lived a wonderful life with no regrets.

I, on the other hand, was much more affected by the “what-ifs” and the possibilities of if things had been slightly different…it was a torturous and unproductive exercise, but nearly impossible to avoid in these circumstances.

But after taking a step back from the initial shock of it all, I realized that if I died rightthissecond, I’d be sad that I wouldn’t be able to live longer, but I would die without regrets and without any wish for my life to have been different.

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Me in Turkey, April 2013

That’s a very powerful and empowering realization. At 27 years old, I live my life exactly as I want, no fears or regrets.

Granted, I’m a privileged person with the financial means to make it happen, which makes a huge difference, but I’ve also been open to the right opportunities and have worked hard to get where I want to go. Knowing my priorities in life make decisions easy for me–will I regret not doing this? Yes? Then I’m going to do it. If I work extraordinarily hard at my job, will it open up more opportunities, freedom and flexibility? Yes? Then I’ll do that too.

One of my goals when we moved to Spain was to live in the present. To stop looking so far ahead that I forgot to live and appreciate the now. All of the traveling that we were able to do during those short 10 months very much made that possible for me. I can say that I’ve accomplished my goal (for the most part, I have my moments of course) and am a much happier person for it.

In order to fulfill that promise to myself to live in the present, that means bucket lists are not a part of it. Goals and dreams are definitely a part of my life, but they are actionable and I always feel as if it’s not a matter of “some day” but a matter of “when.”

Also, after a scare like we had, life is just too short to do anything else.

How do you feel about bucket lists? Do they inspire you to go, do, or are they distant dreams?

Our Next Trip: Ecuador, April 2014

Our Next Trip: Ecuador, April 2014

If you follow me on Pinterest, you’ll notice that I’ve started a board on Ecuador and if it isn’t obvious, it’s because we’re planning our next vacation there! We’re taking about 9 days to explore Ecuador. Ecuador is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, which means that Mike and I get to experience what we love above almost all else – nature. (Food is one of the other things we value above all else too, it’s a tough call between the two ;))

First up, we’ll take three planes and a two hour canoe ride deep in the Amazon to Napo Wildlife Center.

Your Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest Experience (EntireVersion) from Napo Wildlife Center Ecolodge on Vimeo.

We’ll spend 5 days here, hiking and experiencing the wildlife. You can bet that I will get some great video of our experience here.

After our time in the rainforest, we’ll fly back out (after another 2 hour canoe ride of course) to Quito. In Quito, we’ll visit the Equator museum and Cotopaxi National Park.

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After that, we’ll try to stop in Mindo, Baños and Cuenca.

We might try the “Swing at the Edge of the World” which looks terrifying but awesome:

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Read More About It Here

We’ll go on a cocao tour in Guayaquil:

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And overall, we’ll just have a beautiful, beautiful time.

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I’m looking forward to Ecuador for so many reasons. I get to travel to a new continent, it is a beautiful and diverse place, I get to experience wildlife in its natural habitat again, which we loved in South Africa, and it will be a new challenge for us as it is very different from our previous vacations. Hopefully our Spanish isn’t too rusty and we’ll be able to get by, though I’m sure that the Spanish in Ecuador sounds very different from the Gallego we heard in our corner of Spain.

There is quite a lot of prep work to do for this trip, including preparing physically for the high altitude, buying appropriate clothing for a rainforest hike, and we have to replace our video camera since our last one broke.

It feels like this trip is coming up quickly!

Iceland, September 2013

Iceland, September 2013

Iceland was an incredible, incredible trip. We chose to go to Iceland because of it being one of the most volcanically active countries on the planet and because its natural beauty is just staggering. Think about it: mountains, volcanoes, black sand beaches, volcanic caves, beautiful hikes, natural hot springs, whale watching and glaciers all rolled into one country. It was a no-brainer.

Watch our video here:

If you can’t tell, it was an incredibly demanding physical trip. Climbing glaciers and volcanoes isn’t for the casual hiker, which I am. I still did it, but I was slow and a bit embarrassed at my physical abilities (or lack-thereof).

Regardless of my huffing and puffing, it was all worth it. It was incredibly gorgeous, it was a small enough country to travel to almost all of the major cities in 9 days, and I can really see myself going back at least once again.

I’ll leave you with my favorite photo from the trip that makes me look like such a badass, right?

Iceland Glacier

Turkey, April 2013

Turkey, April 2013

Our trip to Turkey in April was the first time I had ever embarked on a group tour, and we chose On The Go. We toured the country for two weeks and got to see almost every major sight the country has to offer.

Overall, I would say that the group tour is not for me. While I had no issues with the people we were on the tour with, it wasn’t at the pace we wanted to go and the tour company stayed at hotels outside of the main city centers, not giving us the opportunity to explore very often on our own. We did what we could on the evenings where we could get a taxi, but many of the dinners were buffet-style at the hotel, which usually broke my heart.

It would have been difficult to travel the country on our own though, so we tried to take as much of it in stride as possible and enjoy the sights.

If you are curious about our itinerary, we took this tour from On the Go tours. 

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Topkapi Palace

The tulips were in full bloom while we were in Turkey, and they were absolutely gorgeous. The architecture of the buildings was otherworldly, which is what attracted me to Turkey in the first place. The intricate design, the beautiful domes, the bright colors…it was all exactly what I wanted to experience, and it definitely did not disappoint.

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The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia

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Different ruin sites and Ephesus

You can’t go to Turkey without seeing many many ruins. It was amazing how much survived the centuries, and it was interesting to get a glimpse into how ancient people lived. There was a bath house in Ephesus that had a room full of toilets (aka holes in some marble) where men would gather and do their business in a social manner. The mere thought of that horrifies me.

I can’t say that I would center another trip around going to ancient ruins. While interesting for a day trip or two, I wasn’t so interested that I’d make a whole trip out of it. Mike tells me that Greece is amazing though, so I’ll probably want to go there.

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A ravioli dish with yogurt and chili oil, fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, Turkish delight, Baklava

The food in Turkey was not quite as flavorful as we had anticipated. While a major area of the Silk Road where spices were traded, it was odd that many of those spices were not incorporated into their dishes. The lamb stews were very good in a tomato-based broth and we liked their little raviolis in yogurt sauce, and of course the plethora of Turkish delight was a must.

Most stops and stands sold freshly squeezed orange and pomegranate juices, which were very nice and delicious.

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Turkish rugs (we almost bought one!), silkworm pods, a woman in process of weaving a rug. 

The Turkish rugs were beautiful. We stopped at a cooperative that helped women in the community by giving them skills and fair pay for their work. We learned how they took silkworm pods and made thread (an amazing process) then watched as women wove the rugs by hand with immaculate attention to detail.

After learning about the process, they took us to a showroom where they displayed rug after beautiful rug, with flair and music. They encouraged us to take off our shoes and walk on the carpets, which were incredibly soft. Mike and I were interested in a particular style of rug, which was blood red and just gorgeous. Noting our interest, they took us into a back room where they displayed more rugs and kept bringing down the price.

I was freaking out because I HATE bartering and I didn’t really want to buy a rug, but Mike thought it was fun and kept talking them down until they couldn’t go any lower. Then we had to finally turn it down, which made me feel awful and guilty and terrible. If we had gotten that rug, it would have been a wonderful piece to have, but with our dogs, I wouldn’t feel comfortable enough with them running around on it to make it worth it.

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Pamukkale, where there are natural hot springs leaving behind mineral deposits that are snow-white. It was absolutely insane and we wish we could have stayed here much longer. 

Pamukkale was a big attraction, bustling with people. We had to walk barefoot on the rock and through multiple pools to get to a point where there were less tourists. The bottoms of the pools were sharp, slippery, and felt AWFUL, but we stuck with it and got a whole pool to ourselves where the sand was much softer. It was worth it to keep going! There was one man who kept lingering by our backpack at the edge of the pool, so I stared him down and kept rolling video on him. He eventually went away, seeing that I wasn’t going to turn away from him, but be aware and keep an eye on your stuff.

I wish we could have stayed a day or two in Pamukkale, and unfortunately since it’s in the middle of the country, it’s not the most easily accessible place, so I’m not sure if we’ll ever find our way back on another trip in the future.

Then we went on to Cappadocia, where we took a hot air balloon ride and had possibly the most breathtakingly beautiful balloon.

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It was gorgeous, it was amazing. There were so many balloons in the air that it was mind-boggling. We saw a few bump into each other, and even heard a week or two after we left Turkey that two balloons ran into each other and a couple of people died. But for the time we were there, it was nothing but magic.

Also in Cappadocia, we saw a Whirling Dervish performance, where men came out and spun in circles for what felt like an hour, but was still probably 10-15 minutes. I don’t know how they didn’t fall over, but it was fascinating to watch.

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The last dancer pictured was a woman whose dress lit up and it looked like a spaceship. The performance had dancers perform cultural dances from each area of Turkey. It was mesmerizing and interesting, as dance seemed to be a large part of the ancient culture in Turkey, but our culture has nothing of the sort short of the chicken dance and the electric slide.

Overall, Turkey was a very interesting country. About a week or two after we left, rioting started in Istanbul. It’s interesting to see this country and culture on the brink of change and social upheaval. The headscarves were very noticeable, as was the role of women in that society. I tried not to pass judgement because it is their culture, not mine, but I certainly thought about how my life would be different had I been raised in their culture or a similar one. Despite all of that, the people were friendly and welcoming.

The land itself is one of the most consistently beautiful countries we had been to. The landscape was diverse: mountainous and lush, beaches, ancient ruins, hot springs, etc. To be totally honest though, it wasn’t one of our favorite trips. It could have been mostly attributed to the fact that we were a part of a tour and didn’t get to explore as we wanted to, but seeing how much ground we had to cover in two weeks, it would have been much more difficult to do it ourselves. We enjoyed ourselves, to be sure, but it’s just not the way we’d prefer to travel.

New Year, New Adventures

New Year, New Adventures

Yesterday, this happened:

We booked a trip to Turkey for April 6-19 of this year.

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Hot Springs “Cotton Castle” in Pammukale

Hot Air Balloon Rides in Cappadocia

I was the one who pushed for this trip, researched it and booked it, and it’s the first time that I’ve truly taken “ownership” of one of our travels. Mike usually does the bulk of the research and planning, so I’m proud that I’ve stepped up and taken this on.

I chose Turkey for a few reasons:

  1. Look at it. Holy shit it’s beautiful. Turkey has a vastly different landscape to anything else that we’ve seen before. The amount of geological, architectural and geographical eye candy is almost too vast to wrap my head around.
  2. I have never experienced an Islamic culture before and would love to learn more about it and seek to understand it. I will have to cover my head at times, but I have no issue with it in order to just experience something so different than what I’ve lived and seen. I wish to wipe all preconceived notions of the Islamic culture from my mind with this trip and truly make my own observations and conclusions based on experience.
  3. Turkey is a blend of cultures that manifests in absolutely beautiful and exotic ways that spills into art, architecture, textiles and food. I want to bustle through the markets and experience the bartering, the spices, the atmosphere.
  4. Food. Come on, you guys know me by now!! Turkish Cuisine is something I don’t have a lot of experience with and I want to learn more through authentic experiences (um…by eating it).
  5. Anyone who has been to Turkey has said that it changed their life, was one of the best trips they had taken, etc etc etc. We’d like to see for ourselves.
  6. I wanted a challenge. I wanted something exotic. I wanted a place that would be awe-inspiring and also a place that could cause me to reflect and think on the world in a broader sense.

This is the path we will be taking:

We’ll start in Istanbul and go counter-clockwise through Western Turkey and end back in Istanbul.

Now, here’s for the part where I feel a little…unsure. We’re taking a tour of the country with a group, On The Go Tours. I’ve never been on a tour with others and I feel a number of contradictions inside of me based on this tour:

  1. I feel like less of a traveler since I’m not DIYing this trip
  2. I’m nervous to be around other people all of the time since Mike and I have our own pace, rhythm and style of travel. I like not having to answer to a group for anything & doing what makes us happy.
  3. But…I’m already going to be slightly out of my comfort zone with this trip, maybe I shouldn’t push it and just experience these things instead of stressing about the details.
  4. This country is huge, there is a lot to see and doing it ourselves could be stressful as it’s unlike anywhere we’ve ever traveled before.
  5. Renting a car & purchasing gas would be very expensive and if we get lost or have car trouble, it could be a much bigger issue in rural Turkey.
  6. But…isn’t that a part of traveling and shouldn’t we just do it anyway?

So we chose a tour because we wanted to see as much as possible without needing to stress about details, car rentals, multiple bus rides, etc. And if we don’t like this experience for Turkey, we’ll know better next time to DIY, but we’ll still get to see most of the sites that we want to see on this trip.

Our tour group will be relatively small ( I think up to 22 people) and it will hopefully attract other travelers like ourselves that we can get to know. Since one of my favorite parts of our South African safari was getting to know the other travelers, I am excited to get to know others like us to swap stories with.

I’m very excited!! Turkey will definitely be a very different country than any I’ve experienced before and I’m looking forward to expanding my horizons once again.

We have some other things brewing in 2013 in terms of travel too, so I’m hoping that this will be the first trip of a few this year!

Home

Home

Home seems like an inconceivable concept to me now as I face the end of this incredible journey in Spain. I can’t quite wrap my head around the prospect of home and all that it entails. One one hand, I am so, so excited to get back to everything and everyone that I love and miss–I feel like I could cry at once again owning my own car and having the independence to go anywhere I please. I can’t wait to be able to get back to my city of Philadelphia and explore how it’s changed and how it’s exactly the same. I’m eagerly looking forward to being able to eat Indian one night, sushi the next, and perhaps Ethiopian the night after if we so choose. I am ecstatic to get back to a place where I can communicate and express myself effectively.

But of course, while I am very excited to get back to familiarity, I am so, so sad to be leaving this slightly more exotic and interesting life behind. Telling people that I live in Spain has been something to be proud of–it says that I have challenged myself, I have stepped outside of the expected norms and I am learning new things and new ways of life every day. Living in Spain also had the benefit of a mind-boggling amount of opportunities to travel and experience even more in the past 10 months than I have for the first 25 years of life.

I am not the same person as I was 10 months ago. I feel like everything inside of me has been woken up and shaken to the core.

The life that I thought I wanted and the path I was sure I would follow has changed completely. I now question everything that I have ever wanted–was I conditioned to want these things because of my environment, upbringing and peers, or do I really want something based upon the people my husband and I now are? Do I really need the things that American Marketing says I need? Sometimes, the answer is “yes, absolutely” while other times, I am repulsed at the compulsive, needy creature that I can be and instead crave the simplicity I’ve experienced abroad.

Living in Spain meant that I was free to explore myself–who I am and who I want to become. Living within another culture and in another place forced me to do some serious self-reflective thinking about my life personally, professionally and emotionally. I was pushed to dissect very dark spaces in my mind as I struggled to adjust to a new life.

As I was alone without friends and frustrated with people and a language I didn’t understand, I couldn’t help but be either constantly angry at myself for not appreciating everything, being too stupid to learn a language, or being too stubborn and hating certain aspects of living abroad. And if I wasn’t angry at myself, I was angry at others for simply being different and unfamiliar or just plain unaccommodating. I learned that the anger was mostly just fear–fear of making the wrong choice, fear of being lonely, fear of change and fear of the real person I was without the comfortable bubble I was so used to. Looking at the world I lived in as an outsider helped me hold a mirror up to my own life and ask myself some very difficult, philosophical questions about who I am.

Asking those questions and getting over my fear and anger was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It took about three months to get over the bewildering shock of it all. And when I realized that I was actually just fine (imagine that), my worldview shifted entirely.

I saw people outside of myself. Of course, I always understood that there are people outside of myself, but I started to really see what people in the rest of the world were experiencing. I realized that life is more meaningful when you seek to understand and appreciate those outside of yourself and others like you. I realized that life is more satisfying when you accept diversity and differences instead of push back at them with fear and anger. This worldview tells me that while my personal experiences in life are important (i.e. I want to live my life in a way that is exciting and fulfilling to me), understanding and empathizing with people who are not like me is essential to living a good life.

As soon as that clicked, I was fascinated rather than frustrated by the differences I saw in others around me. The opportunities to travel and see more excited me and made me utterly ecstatic to be experiencing life in Spain. Suddenly, I couldn’t imagine living my life any other way. I couldn’t imagine living without cultural enrichment in my life.

Now, I return home as a slightly different version of myself. I am more mature, more patient, and more understanding of the world, though I know I still have a long way to go. I am going home with a fire lit in my heart to experience everything I can in this world with a passion to never stop learning.

I know that home will be difficult for me, and perhaps just as much of a culture shock as I experienced as I first entered Spain. Everything and everyone will be loud because suddenly, I will understand what they are saying–the good, the bad and the annoying. I will be thrust back into the commercial America that made me eager to leave in the first place. I will be back in the homeland of t-shirts and sweatsuits and the Jersey Shore cast. I shudder at the thought.

I will also have so many more choices than I’ve learned to live with during my time abroad, which can be a good but overwhelming prospect. I will be amazed or completely bewildered by television since I’ve missed almost a year of it. I will be surprised to realize that my once-favorite snacks are either as amazing as I remember or just not as great as I’ve hyped them up to be over 10 months of missing them. I will be more firm in my decision to be organic as the choices are much more available. I will go back to my beloved farmer’s market in Philadelphia, which I have missed desperately. I’ll be back on the job market and back in a much smaller house with much much closer neighbors and no ocean view to speak of.

There is definitely another transition ahead. As much as I’ve learned about myself while abroad, my journey is far from over as I reenter the life I left behind and reevaluate the values and possessions I held dear just 10 months ago.

I am sad to see Spain go. I am sad that this incredible, wild, amazing, wonderful, life-changing moment in my life has come to an end. I leave Spain with a hunger for more of the world and to go, do, see everything, but there is a new reality to contend with and now I must learn more about balance.

There is no doubt in my mind that I am a better person due to my travels. I am happier, more fulfilled and more ready than ever to tackle the next phase of my life. I am so excited to get back into the workforce and make new strides in that part of my life. I am also excited to rediscover everything I love about Philadelphia and what I missed so much about it. Most of all, I’m excited to see where the next chapter in my marriage goes as Mike and I have grown so much as a couple in the last year.

Home. It’s going to be another adventure, another adjustment, another opportunity to learn even more about myself and what lies ahead.

Cape Town, South Africa Video

Cape Town, South Africa Video

If you need a refresher of our 4-day Cape Town extravaganza, here is the first recap and here is the second recap.

We had a wonderful time overall in Cape Town and would go back in an instant. Here is the video of our trip!

Cape Town, South Africa from Mandy Weger on Vimeo.

Today, we’re leaving for Ireland and it couldn’t come at a better time. We’ve had a ton of issues with our house here in Spain, the main one being that we have been without hot water for over a week. Our landlady won’t respond to any calls or emails, the repair people won’t fix it because she owes them too much money, and the list goes on and on.

So this trip is very welcome, as I am dying to take a hot shower once again and just get away from this house that seems to be falling apart around us.

If going back to New Jersey wasn’t so appealing a few weeks ago, now it is looking MUCH more like home. I suppose it’s a good thing to look forward to going back home, though these less than ideal circumstances is not the best way to leave Spain behind.

We are very much looking forward to Ireland though, and I’m going to soak up that sweater weather as long as possible before I return back home to the sweltering heat! How are you guys surviving over there in those temps??

I’ll try to check in here and there, but I make no guarantees! You know how our traveling works!

South African Safari: The Video

South African Safari: The Video

So you guys already saw the lion kill video from our time on safari, but that’s not all we saw! We saw some truly incredible, amazing animals and it’s still my favorite trip that we’ve taken. Everything was so unbelievable. We got so close to animals that I have only seen in zoos and it is a much different feeling when you know that the animals are wild and the car you’re sitting in is nothing but an inconvenient tissue for them to tear through.

Putting together a video for the safari was difficult because we took some amazing footage of all of these animals, but no one wants to go through and see hours and hours of our amateur footage when the National Geographic channel is showing much more amazing scenes.

So I made a short and sweet video set to the theme of Planet Earth (at Mike’s request). It captures a lot of the best moments we got on camera.

South African Safari from Mandy Weger on Vimeo.

Here is one of my favorite photos from our entire safari, when a lion cub was a bit skittish of our vehicle and climbed a tree in front of us. Moments after this shot, he fell out of the tree, but he was just fine!

I also got some amazing photos of leopards!

What always struck me the most about the lions and leopards were their eyes. Their eyes were always so incredibly gorgeous and I feel lucky that I was able to get so thrillingly close to these beauties.

Sometime soon I’ll edit some of my other favorites and do a gigantor safari post!

What do you think after seeing the safari video? Do you think an African Safari might be in your future?

Mom & Dad’s Visit to Spain

Mom & Dad’s Visit to Spain

Apologies for my absence last week, but I had a good reason! My parents came to town!!

We were so busy bouncing around and showing them everything we could that I just didn’t have a lot of time to sit down and write.

I have my latest video here to recap Mom & Dad’s visit!

Today, my younger cousin is coming to town and she’ll be with us for a longer stay–nearly 2 weeks with us here at our house, and then I will travel with her to Barcelona for nearly a week before she heads back home. I am nervous because I have never traveled without Mike, but I’m also excited because it gives me the opportunity to prove to myself that I am capable of navigating an unfamiliar city just as well.

I know that I’ll be taking Rachel on quite a few adventures in the coming weeks, but hopefully I’ll have some time to sit and write more since we don’t have to be nearly as fast-paced with all the time we have.

How was your week? Have you ever traveled internationally with your parents? How did it go?

The Real Safari Experience: The Hardest Thing to Watch

The Real Safari Experience: The Hardest Thing to Watch

Warning: The following video and photos contain extremely graphic content. This is nature at its most violent and cruel.

I went in to our South African safari with the hope that I would see some truly fantastic animals at close range to observe them in their natural state. We had a wish-list of things to see, and over the course of 7 days on safari, we checked off nearly everything.

Most memorable, most haunting, most life-changing was when we checked off seeing a kill from start to finish.

(Change your settings in the video to HD for the best viewing experience)

On the morning of May 16, 2012, Mike and I went with our guide Grant on a short bush walk around the property of Motswari Safari Lodge in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve in South Africa. During this walk, Grant pointed out the different types of plants and showed us how he tracked animals. While on this walk, we saw extremely fresh footprints of more than one lion. Grant told us that he’d try to track them down for us later while we were on our night drive.

That evening, when we set off on our night drive, the lions were not far from where we had just walked a few hours earlier.

It was still hot and the lions were inactive, though showing signs of restlessness. It didn’t look like they’d be up any time soon though, so we moved on to other animals (including walking on foot to get closer to some rhino!).

A few hours later, on our way back to the lodge, we checked in on the lions and saw they were awake and alert. Though they had looked thin while we saw them in the afternoon, we could plainly see their ribs through their skin as they stood, sniffing the air.

Having these massive animals sniff the air, looking hungry and ready to hunt while only feet from our vehicle was thrilling, though I of course felt safe the whole time.

We went back to the lodge for dinner and a good night’s rest, and the next morning headed out for what would be our final drive of our trip before we boarded a plane back to Spain.

It was a good morning, to say the least. We got close to two curious young hyena males and then found ourselves amidst a herd of over 100 elephants. We could have called it a day and a trip right then and it would have been amazing.

But Grant, getting a call on his radio about something bigger, took us racing to another scene: the three lions were at a close-by camp and had greatly injured a male buffalo.

There were a few circumstances that made this particular area exceptional for us as viewers, as well as for the lions as predators. For us as viewers, the camp that the kill took place on was a private camp, which meant that only certain vehicles were allowed access to it. Motswari vehicles were allowed. Also, for us as viewers, since the lions had cornered this buffalo on this camp, the grass was not very thick or tall, allowing us full visability.

For the lions, this was incredibly convenient because it was in the open, where they could easily keep an eye on and defend their kill, they had trees nearby for shade, and there was a watering hole about 50 yards from them so they could easily drink and groom themselves over the next few days as they fed.

So there we were, in nearly perfect circumstances to witness what we had wanted to see since the beginning of our safari: a kill. But the buffalo was laying down and Grant informed us that the lions would wait until it stood up and started moving before they would take it down. We didn’t know when or if that would happen during the time we had left on our morning drive.

But lo and behold, the buffalo got up, got moving, and the six of us in that vehicle were able to witness the kill in full. Well, I suppose you could say five since one woman hid her face and was not able to watch.

Nothing prepared me for this. Nothing. No movie, no nature show, no experience from my past prepared me to witness the absolute and total agony of the buffalo. In my mind, there has always been “alive” and “dead.” Movies and nature specials show the hunt of an animal, the attack of the animal, and select shots of the feeding of the animal once its dead.

I had never in my life witnessed the process of “dying” until this moment, and I can say that it really has changed me in some subtle but profound way.

The blood and guts I could deal with. The cries of the buffalo were much harder as he looked at all of us, head lifted off of the ground, tongue out, panic in his eyes, screaming. It was chilling, but I couldn’t look away. I knew I was witnessing something important in my life, and I’m glad that I saw everything in its full, raw detail. It took forty minutes from the beginning of the attack for the buffalo to die.

The smell was also something that I was not prepared for. The smell of death was always the smell of formaldehyde to me, but now…now I associate a completely different smell with death, and it’s one I can’t describe.

I could smell the blood once the buffalo was on the ground, but once the stomach was open and once the innards were dislodged, the smell of this buffalo dying permeated the air. Even for days after, I felt like the smell was on me, following me. On the airplane going home, I could still smell it. When I got home and looked through the photos, I could smell it. Especially when I watched the video footage over and over again as I edited it, could I smell it.

I never thought of my sense of smell as being my strongest sensory memory, but the smell of this buffalo has truly haunted me.

We couldn’t help but be amazed at him though as he clung to life even while so much of him had been ravaged. His cries turned to soft mews, and I willed him to go toward the light, even though I don’t believe in such things. It was heartbreaking to see.

Right before his eyes started to roll, his eyes darted back and forth listlessly. And then his eyes rolled back in his head, he fell silent, his jaw fell slack. Grant said “he’s gone” and the rest of the world went silent, as the sun popped out from behind the clouds, shining ironically over such a gruesome scene.

And even now, I am still amazed at the magnificence of the lions. I recognize that nature doesn’t have to be fair and it doesn’t have to be nice and neat, so I also feel very much for the lions. These three lions, who had been orphaned young and as Grant told us, had to hunt for scraps of food as cubs, were survivors.

While I was sad for the buffalo’s agonizing and painful death, I could accept it more easily because of its necessity.  Even with blood covering their faces and manes, I was struck by how beautiful of creatures the lions are. Even after watching this video over and over through the process of editing, I still feel happy that these three lions had done everything they could to survive.

I know that the footage is gruesome. I know the cries are hard to hear. I know the photos aren’t easy to see. But this experience has truly given me a greater appreciation of the world we live in. It’s something I will not forget, and I’m grateful I was able to witness something so few have.

Thank you a million times over to Motswari Private Game Reserve and our guide, Grant Murphy for giving us the opportunity to witness this truly incredible event. If you’d like to see Grant’s photos and his write-up of this experience, visit his post here on Motswari’s blog.

If you’d like to see more posts and videos of our safari experience, stay tuned!

Cape Town, Day Two: Ken Forrester, 96 Winery Road, Rust en Vrede Wine Tasting, Mama Africa

Cape Town, Day Two: Ken Forrester, 96 Winery Road, Rust en Vrede Wine Tasting, Mama Africa

Day two, we had some wine tastings scheduled. We started the day at Ken Forrester’s winery, which as I mentioned we had tried his wines in Philadelphia at Tria a few years ago.

It was quite a way to start the day at 11 o’clock! We saw Ken, but as he seemed to be tied up in a meeting of some sort, we didn’t want to disturb him so we just enjoyed the wine and the weather. Since fall is my favorite season, I was absolutely in love with the weather we experienced in South Africa!!

Right down the road from his winery is his restaurant, 96 Winery Road. It was fantastic. We each got a different wine flight to go with our meals which included four very generously poured glasses. I started out with a salmon appetizer that was divine, and Mike had a sweet potato soup. For my main, I had a duck pot pie with cherry sauce and Mike had a filet with hollandaise sauce. Dessert was a tasting of lemon treats, which was nice and refreshing.

From there, we went to Rust en Vrede and had a private tasting set up with their marketing manager, Warren. Warren was fantastic, he showed us around and kept the wine and conversation flowing for nearly three hours. From speaking with him, we got a much better idea about life in South Africa, and he seemed interested in American politics, so we had a lot to talk about! We truly enjoyed our time with him and we enjoyed the wine equally as much.

As we were leaving, the light was so beautiful that we just had to grab ahold of the moment.

We stopped back at Wedgeview briefly for some tea and about a 30 minute rest before we were out the door again to Cape Town to eat at Mama Africa, another recommendation of Terri’s at Try Anything Once.

Mama Africa had live music going and had a very touristy atmosphere that we probably wouldn’t have stopped into unless it had been recommended. But since it had such a wild and exotic menu, we found it to be a fun stop to have gone to. Since I wasn’t terribly hungry, we ordered an alligator kebab appetizer to share, and I got a traditional South African lentil and vegetable soup for dinner. The alligator was a bit like a fatty, chewy piece of chicken. I wasn’t a huge fan, but it was still fun. My lentil soup was nice though, and I was very happy I didn’t go for any other food as it was thick and filling. Mike ordered warthog, and we found it to be very tender and not quite as gamey as we had expected it to be. The band was fun and definitely made the evening’s atmosphere since they were so talented.

Would you ever try alligator or warthog? What’s the strangest game meat that you’ve ever tried?

The highlights of the day were definitely our lunch at 96 Winery and our time spent with Warren at Rust en Vrede. It was a more relaxed day than day one, but we were exhausted by the time we got back to our room.

I will have to go a bit out of order moving forward with the recaps, as the morning of day three needs a video accompaniment that I haven’t completed yet!