Saturday, June 16, 2012

Africa Needs Lions

You know that feeling you have when you walk away from something great, that pit in your stomach, wondering if you are making the wrong choice and wondering if you return would it ever even be the same again. I seem to be very familiar with that feeling...leaving Texas, then leaving London and most recently, leaving Antelope Park in Zimbabwe. It is unsettling how attached I became to a place in just three short weeks. I say short because it went too fast, but it's a place that you settle into the routine by the second day. And it is a comfortable routine, one that is very easy to live by. The 6 am mornings don't seem so early after a couple of days, daily walks with lions start to feel commonplace, even scooping poo starts to feel like a privilege. It's a privilege because it is a necessary part of a much greater plan and because of the people who are there working alongside you with the same common goal, to save Africa's lions. Everybody associates Africa with lions and lions with Africa. But what very few people know is that Africa is losing its lions at an alarming rate. Fifty years ago the numbers were at 450,000. Twenty five years ago, 250,000. Today, just 20,000 wild lions left in the whole of Africa. Try and imagine an Africa without the lion. It could happen within our lifetime and it would be our fault. Trophy hunting, poaching, human encroachment on their land. It's easy for some to disconnect themselves from this issue or even not believe that it is an issue, but I promise you, if you ever have the privilege to look into the eyes of a lion, it's something you'll not soon forget.
When I booked my trip to come volunteer at Antelope Park I had high expectations for my time there, but what I didn't expect was how strongly this cause and these lions would take hold of me. Waking up at sunrise to the mist rising off of the river.

Taking the cubs on their morning walk, watching them stalk and chase impalas with only their natural instinct to rely on. Having a pack of horses charging head on, interrupting your volleyball game. Having elephants trunks poking and prodding you in search of a treat.

 Riding a horse into the bush within feet of zebra, giraffe and wildebeest. Having a bonfire with your new friends listening to the lions roaring into the darkness. Sitting just inches behind a chain link fence while seven fully grown male lions charge full speed straight at you in a battle of dominance to claim the largest pile of meat as their own.

Hand feeding cubs their vitamin A supplements and getting lion kisses on the palm of your hand.

 Riding in the back of a truck through the bush with the sun shining. Walking the cubs for 6 hours through the bush so they can become familiar with their natural environment and practice their hunting.

Taking the temperature of a full grown lioness rectally while she has been darted to take a blood sample to test for FIV.

Riding in the back of a truck with a dead zebra to feed to the lions.

Having an elephant kneel down so you can climb up onto its back and go for a ride. But best of all, watching a pride of hand raised lions, living on their own in stage two, taking down zebra like its a joke all while raising the 5 cubs they have produced, which are the future of this program and the proof that it is working and that it will work.
Antelope Park is magic in every sense of the word and I have no doubt that ALERT is the organization that will save the African Lion. It is a hard task to try and write my feelings about my time at AP and the things ALERT is doing there in one blog post, but it is easy for me to say that being a small part of it has been one of the greatest privileges of my life.

For more information on what ALERT is doing and how you can help please visit

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Reality Check

I leave in less than 17 hours...this is probably not good...

Friday, January 27, 2012

It's Official

Today I turned in my resignation from a great company that I have been with for over 6 years and has given my opportunities I never imagined which have literally changed my life in every way. 

I love to think back to moments in time that changed the course of your life without even realizing it. Six and a half years ago, I had a very dear friend who was going through a very hard time.  I was working at Target at the time and I was pretty unhappy sporting the red and khaki everyday, especially on the weekends. After I got off of work one night at about 11pm I decided to stop by said friends house to see how she was doing.  Another one of our mutual friends was there, who I hadn't  really seen in a couple of years. I was moaning about how terrible unloading freight trucks at 4 am was whilst being forced to wear red and khaki and this friend mentioned that she had just gotten a new job, they were hiring and she would try and get me an interview. I asked what she did. She said that she messed with numbers on spreadsheets. Easy enough.  Plus, I would get to work with fun, young people. Plus, I wouldn't have to unload trucks at 4 am. Plus, I got to sit. All day. Plus, I got lunches catered. Plus, they wanted to pay me way more. Plus, I didn't have to work weekends. Plus, not only did I not have to wear red and khaki, but I could wear whatever I wanted. Even pajamas. You get the point. 
Since that day six and a half years ago, my job has seen me form amazing friendships, travel all over the US on an expense account and pay me to move to London.  A city I have wanted to live in since I first came in 2003. I pretty much hit the jackpot. Sometimes I don't know how I got so lucky.  I have never been one of those 'charmed' people. You know the type, the ones who always get what they want or didn't even know they wanted. The ones who coast through life with no clue what life is really like for 'the rest of us'.  But these last couple of years I have had to literally pinch myself because I can't believe how freaking awesome my life is, for me.  I know I haven't always chosen the most 'traditional' path, but I have stumbled along, down a path that is perfect for me.

When I moved to London, I didn't know what to expect. I did expect that two years would be forever and I'd be on a plane home exactly two years later when my contract was up.  I wasn't worried about meeting people or having people to do things with. But I had absolutely no idea that I would meet people here who would be friends for the rest of my life.  It is cliche to say that when you are away from your family, that your friends are your family. But it couldn't be more true. You spend holidays, birthdays, sick days, bad days and good days with these people and they become something more than just your friends. 

So it is for those reasons, and so many more, why I am so desperately sad to leave London.  I love everything about this city other than it's proximity to my family and maybe it's lack of good Mexican food, but even that has become bearable. But after several years of saving, planning and dreaming; an idea that was planted in my head on my first trip to Africa back in 2008 by two Aussie backpackers on their gap year, will now become my reality. I'll be leaving London on March 5th, headed to Texas for family time, a wedding, the birth of my 3rd neice and then, sometime in April, I'll head down to South America and make my way East until I end up back in Texas sometime the following year. I'm pretty sure my parents are horrified, but they are doing a good job of being supportive, as they always are.  After the 'incident' last year in India where I went 'off the grid' for three days, I know this next year will be torture for them. Sorry parentals.

So here's to my last 5 weeks in London.  I'm going to try and blogercise a little more because I want to remember what these last weeks in my city feel like.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Paperboy - India Edition

Many times while driving Tikka across India we said to each other that it felt like we were in the middle of a serious game of Paperboy.  Nintendo should really look into making a Paperboy would be wild. Below I have outlined a list of all of the "obstructions" we had to deal with on the road as well as a "danger reading" so that you all might better understand what it is like to drive in India.  Please keep in mind that this is while driving an auto-rickshaw, slightly smaller than a Smart Car and with no doors and only 3 wheels.

Danger Proposed - Scale of 1 to 10, 10 being "knock your socks off dangerous" and 1 being mildly offensive.  Will give both a day time and night time reading as they can vary greatly.

Buses - Day(15) Night(15)

Seriously, I don't even know how to describe the way the buses drive in India. They are absolutely fearless and love a good game of chicken. They will pass any vehicle on the two lane "highway" at insane speeds only to throw on their brakes mere inches in front of you to load or unload one of their many passengers.  These passengers can come from inside, outside or on top of the bus...they are everywhere.  We saw some of the most horrific wreckage along the roadsides, almost all involving a bus.

Trucks - Day(12) Night(15)

These were definitely the most common of all obstacles that we encountered on the roads, also known as "Goods Carriers" or lovingly known by me as "Gods Carrier".  Trucks were just a hair behind buses in the danger rating because even though we were driven off of the road by countless trucks, they seemed a bit (and I use that word loosely) more cautious than the buses. The trucks were all painted and decorated to the nines, usually with an enhanced horn that would rival The Dukes of Hazzard's Dixie horn.  Actually, I lied, they put it to shame. The trucks drove with the same reckless abandon as the buses, barreling down the highway, no matter which direction traffic was going.  There were countless times we had to slam on our brakes or drive off of the road to avoid head on collisions.  The first day we were screaming and gasping at our shock of their recklessness.  By day two we would just pull off the road then pull back on without so much as a mention, it had become so commonplace.  At night the trucks became all the more dangerous as they liked to drive with their highbeams on full force which were conveniently eye-level for us rickshaws, rendering us as good as blind.  For good measure they liked to flash them a few times right as they approached you, as if we couldn't see them!

Tractors - Day(5) Night (7)

ALOT of renditions of "She thinks my tractors sexy" were sung on this trip.  John Deere should seriously consider moving himself to India.  Tractors don't provide a substantial amount of danger other than they are very slow moving and must be passed on oncoming traffic to get around them.  They are usually carrying exorbitantly large loads, usually with a few people on top for good measure. The are slightly more dangerous at night because they usually don't have tail lights so you never know when you're about to come up on one and have to slam on your brakes.

Cars - Day(7) Night (8)

Man, people in India sure are anxious to get where they're going! Cars seem to drive at least 3 times the posted speed, have no regard for vehicles smaller than them and also enjoy flashing their brights at you at night.

Rickshaws - Day(5) Night(6)

In India, rickshaws are actually taxi's.  So you can imagine the many looks of confusion we got by people trying to flag us down for a ride at the point when they realized that the 'shaw was painted like a blue elephant AND that three white girls were driving! The rickshaw taxi service between towns works similarly to the bush taxi in Africa.  You just stand anywhere along the road and flag down the 'shaw, hop on, then hop off when you get where you're going. We fit 3 of us in the shaw pretty comfortably with our luggage.  The rickshaw taxi's usually had over 20 people on them at any one time!  People on the roof, hanging out off the sides, sitting in the drivers lie.  Really they were just annoying because they hating being passed by other rickshaws, so a game of leap frog usually ensued.  I should also mention here that rickshaws headlights are directly linked to the accelerator.  Not ideal at night if you are trying to slow down or brake, you lose your lights.  This included our headlight as well.

Motorcycles - Day(7) Night(9)

Motorcycles don't really pose much of a threat to other vehicles or regular rickshaws, but to us, three white girls driving a rickshaw, they posed a threat but more to themselves.  Since they were exposed to the elements, not unlike ourselves, they usually wanted to pull up next to us and have a full conversation (all while driving 50 kph).  You know, like where are we from, what are our names, why are we driving a rickshaw, will we marry them, if we "want to make the sex with them" know, the usual. No worry that a truck is coming straight for you.  Wait, let me actually whip out my camera phone and take a picture of the three white girls.  Great. Now that I'm satisfied with my picture, let me pull in front of you then slam on my brakes so that I can crane my neck around with more skill than an owl and stare at you some more.  At night, only more dangerous since 99% don't have working tail lights. I should also use this space to mention that a minimum number of riders on a motorcycle at any one time in India is 4.  One dad driving, one mom sitting side-saddle with her child sitting on her lap or behind her and her newborn infant squished between her and her husband.

Ox Wagons  - Day(4) Night(10)

I guess the ox lost the lottery to cows when it came to choosing a holy animal because they had the unfortunate chance of being born with a hump on their back that is perfect for hitching a wagon up to.  After the tractor this is the most popular form of transporting goods or people from town to town in India, and much more economical I imagine.  During the day these posed little threat as they were very slow, very visible and took up only a small portion of the lane.  At night, however, this is a different story.  Clearly ox aren't born with tail lights or reflectors on their bums, but maybe Darwin could get around to that, and their owners don't think to add any to their wagons.  As a rickshaws headlight really only provides a minimal glow onto the tarmac and only provides visibility about 5 feet in front of the 'shaw, you can sneak up on these ox wagon's pretty quickly during the night.  Most of the oxen have bells around their necks, but have you ever heard an rickshaws engine being pushed into overdrive, it's not exactly a purr.

Bicycles - Day(2) Night(10)

I think India is where all bicycles go to die. If I could bring one thing back to India with me next time, it would be a truck load of bicycle reflectors.  So many people ride bicycles on the highways in India and NONE of them have reflectors on them making them invisible at night, well until they are 5 ft in front of you and when you are going 50 kmph that is not very helpful.  Although some bicyclists try and thwart this by carrying small flashlights with them at night, but it looks more like a firefly in the distance than an appropriate means of warning drivers you are on the road.
Herds of Cows, Goats, Sheep - Day(4) Night(10)

I'm not sure shepards in ancient time herded their flocks on main thoroughfares, but hey, maybe I'm wrong. It seems to be the popular trend in modern times in India though.  More importantly, who even knew that people still herded animals on foot with a shepards stick??  More of an annoyance than a danger during the day, as you'd clearly see the animals and usually just involved a little brake action and some patience.  However, it seems a common theme is developing, at night this is just plain ridiculous! We did bump one cow with the flat side of our front end late one night in Bihar.  But hey, it was bandit country and we'd been told to slow down for no one.  When a cow suddenly appears in your 5 foot viewing radius, the best you can do is slam on the brakes and lay on the horn. I'm fairly certain that when we made contact we had almost skidded to a halt and the cow ran into us more than we did him.  No, not buying it?  Anyhow, it was just a love tap and no cows were injured.
Dogs - Day(2) Night(3)

Dogs are not pets in India, they are rabid, feral creatures who wander the streets and terrorize tourists with their rabid saliva.  Okay, so maybe not, but our health professionals here in the UK put the fear of Rabies in us before we left that so much as a lick from a rabid dog would do us in.  (**one guy on our trip actually did get bitten by a dog and had to go get a series of 5 rabies shots!) Anyways, the dogs just hang around the roadsides, cross the roads without looking (usually a honk will get their attention) but you never know if their going to scurry off the right way or the WRONG way!  Every once in a while, one will get a wild hair and start chasing/attacking your car.  They seem to be all the more feral at night!

Pedestrians - Day(1) Night(8)

Many folks decide to hoof it where ever the need to go, and the most identifiable way to do this is by walking on the highways.  Usually not next to the highway, that would make too much sense.  Sure, I get it, you have no other means of transportation.  Fine.  Walk yourself and your toddler down the highway full of insane buses, trucks, motorcyclists.  But for crying out loud don't do it at NIGHT!  Usually they stick to the edges so we're in no real danger of hitting them as we (rickshaws) only take up about 3 feet of the available lane, but if a truck/car/motorcycle is coming towards us with their brights on pedestrians become absolutely invisible on the road and we generally tended to vear towards the outside edge of the road for safety.  Not that a pedestrian would do much damage to Tikka, but I wasn't looking to have that on my conscience.
Suicide Women - Day(0) Night(10)

We only encountered this once on our trip, thank goodness, but apparently it is something that happens in India frequently.  One night as we were driving at night, we came around a bend and Annie slammed on the brakes and swerved.  There was a woman sitting in the middle of our lane, completely motionless.  She didn't budge during the whole process.  She was right at the blind point in the bend, so any other vehicle, such as a truck, that doesn't have the same agility as the rickshaw would most certainly hit her.  It was an extremely sobering experience.

Potholes - Day(10) Night(15)

This is more of an annoyance rating than a danger rating, but you wouldn't believe the state of some of the roads we encountered.  There were potholes that could have been filled with water and been a childs splash park!  I was tempted to get out and lay in some of them for reference, but I refrained because of all of the aforementioned road conditions.  It felt like we were sitting on a industrial sized power plate for days, I'm surprised I escaped without adult-onset shaken baby syndrome. There were times where we were seriously driving less than 5mph for stretches of over an hour to navigate the roads.  We did have to have our suspension replaced once, and I'm sure they had to after we returned her as well!

Rocks - Day(5) Night (7)

This category should really be a sub-category under the Trucks.  Whenever the trucks break down, need to change a flat or just feel the need to stop in the middle of the road for an unknown reason, they generally feel the need to grab a few large rocks from the side of the road and place behind and around the side of their vehicle, to fend off any other vehicles that might get too close to them.  Thing is they don't remove these rocks from the road once they are ready to move on. Thus, you are left with a smattering of ill placed mini-boulders in the middle of the road.  Not a problem for most, but could do some serious damage to our pint-sized 'shaw!  Obviously harder to spot at night.

Police Traffic Checks  - Day(4) Night(5)

What these little diddies happen to be, are actually just a couple of barriers placed in the middle of the road that you  have to slow and weave your way through every so often. More of an annoyance than a danger and a total waste of time. Although, oncoming traffic has to go through the same set and rather than taking turns the larger vehicle usually wins.

Speedbumps - Day(5) Night (10)

Again, this is more of an annoyance rating than a danger rating.  Speed bumps in India can range in number anywhere from one to a series of upto 9 small bumps directly after one another.  Usually to avoid turning your insides into mush, these are best traveled over while in 1st gear.  These are usually placed at the start and end of villages, towns, cities, etc obviously to protect their inhabitants. However, they are not limited to these locations.  Any 'ol place will do.  They aren't painted, marked or signed so usually you have no idea one is coming until you are right on top of it.  These were our best practices in extreme braking. In fact, I believe that if we were not so well versed in braking for speed bumps, that cow would not have made it. These were the bain of our existence.  At night, as you guessed, even worse.  You try going over 9 speed bumps at 50 kph and see how your insides feel!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Here is a list of things that we lost from either inside or off of the rickshaw during our two weeks.

1. Three cowboy hats (day 1)
2. One Pillow, twice
3. One headlight
4. One pair of flip flops
5. One Texas flag
6. One gas funnel, countless times
7. Countless empty water bottles
8. Annie

Things not recovered.

Headlight, it was useless anyways

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Day 14-the finish!

No phone for the last two days, finally back in Delhi with service again! We left Guwahati at 6 am for the last 100 km to Shillong...all uphill, all winding roads and TONS of traffic!! Took over 5 hours, ran into lots of teams on the way. Tikka wasn't happy being forced uphill and tried to make us think she wasn't going to make it a couple of times, but we kept pleading with her and sweet talking her and she made it in the end just 34 kms short of rolling over 30,000 km on her...we put 3820 on her ourselves! Made it into Shillong during the victory parade so we hooked a U-turn and joined in at the front! So much fun seeing all of our new friends again and swapping stories over many well earned beers. Missed Annie terribly, didn't feel right finishing without her!
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Day 13

went on elephant back safari this morning and saw a massive rhino!! There was also a baby elephant with us, we felt like kindred spirits after our two weeks with Tikka. Made it to guwahati tonight after some pretty terrible stretches of road. Had KFC for dinner, finger lickin' good! Tomorrow is lasy day, 100 km to Shillong, can't believe it is over!!
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