Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

Democracy works when you take action!

In 6th grade Social Studies class, we’ve been learning about how our ancestors fought in the American Revolution so that we could have a say in how our country should be run. Our students visited the Boston Tea Party Museum, and participated in a meeting to decide how to respond to the king’s taxes.Meeting.png

Then we got to go on a ship and throw some tea overboard!

We also walked on the Old North Bridge, where the famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” was fired.

Many colonists died in that war so that we could have the system of government we have today.Have a Say in the World

The students have been studying the democratic process, and they learned that people in our country have the right to voice their opinions. Each class voted on an issue that they were passionate about, did lots of research, and figured out how to use their voices to work towards change through our government’s system. It was a lengthy process with a lot of discussion, but ultimately they got to see what Democracy in Action means.Vote Now

One class decided to explore the issue of safe gun policy, and they were happy to learn that Governor Baker recently signed a “Red Flag Law” which would allow family members to take away firearms from people who are a danger to themselves or others. The class collaborated to make a website to encourage citizens to write to their representatives asking for this to become a Federal law. RedflagWebsite1

Another class was excited to dig into the topic of immigration, and they voted to focus on the issue of children in detention. After doing a bunch of research, students found out that citizens have until Nov. 6th to voice their opinions on a proposed rule that would take away the current 20 day maximum for holding children in detention. Many students had ideas for what to say to members of government about this proposal, and they figured out how to make a public comment, so they could show the adults in their families. One group of students in that class made an Instagram post to get their ideas across, while others preferred writing letters with their opinions. Public Comment.png

There are many ways to make your voice heard, whether you are old enough to vote or not. Please stand up for whatever you believe in, and be a part of our Democracy.

The Night Skies of Southern Africa

July is winter when you’re south of the Equator. The days are pretty short and the nights are cold!Evening Light.pngDuring what I considered to be my “summer vacation” trip, I wore my down jacket every night in Southern Africa. We were often waking up before the sunrise and setting up our tent as it was getting dark.

 

Each night, we would set up our tents, and then explore the campsite a bit while one of our guides, Norman, cooked for the group.Cooking

Sometimes we’d use this time to shower, help chop vegetables, or just relax after a long day. As an animal lover, I’d often be off checking out the local flora and fauna. Birdie in tree

One of my favorite things to spot were these beautiful nests, which were all over, and always seemed to be on the brink of falling off:Nest

The sun would usually set sometime before food was ready.Another sunset.png

Once dinner was prepared, we’d gather around a fire, eat, and chat about our day. Our other guide, Justice, would often give us a briefing for the next day to come.

 

After dark, there were even more bugs to spot, on nearby trees (like this cricket), or sometimes on the walls of the bathroom, like that big one we had also seen at Fish River Canyon (hand for scale):

 

After dinner, we were usually so tired we just went right to bed. But sometimes, we stayed up with our cameras, trying to capture the beauty of the night sky. The Milky Way is really bright when there aren’t street lights around! Can you believe there are this many stars?Milky Way.png

In the morning, we’d have to take down our tents and head out for the next day’s adventures.

After more than a week of camping, skin dry and dirty from the cold, dusty wind, we arrived back in Cape Town to a posh hotel for our last night of the trip. Somehow, we got upgraded to a bigger room than we paid for, and got a view of the sunset over the ocean.

 

We hadn’t expected to do much sky gazing in Cape Town, where many less stars were on view due to the bright lights of the city. However, something unexpected happened. We met up for dinner with a woman I met 17 years earlier, on my first visit to Cape Town. Through the power of the internet, I had located her and asked if she’d like to meet up. She suggested a restaurant downtown, and we arrived without a reservation but got seated on the patio, overlooking the harbor. Old Friends.png

As we waited for our food, we kept seeing people with cameras, looking up at the sky. IMG_55AC62824EDD-1.jpegWith the help of our smart phones (finally back in cell reception land), we learned that there was a lunar eclipse that night. And our seats on the patio gave us front row seats!

In addition to the full coverage of the moon, as the Earth’s shadow blocked it from the sun’s light, Mars was huge and red, at its brightest just to the side of the moon.  It was an incredible sight. I didn’t bring my camera with my zoom lens, so just watched for hours and took bad photos with my cell camera.

Luckily, this was the longest eclipse of the century. It started at 7:15 and reached totality at 9:30 PM. But then it stayed totally dark for 1 hour and 43 minutes. During that time, it was visible, but just a kind of deep red glow. We drove back to the hotel in time for me to grab my zoom lens and capture it as the eclipse started to recede again.

Lunar Eclipse 1.png

It was a truly magical evening, and I was glad to capture it, at least a little bit, with my camera. A fitting end to a trip full of beautiful skies!Lunar Eclipse 2

Fish River Canyon, Spitzkoppe, and the Weird Rocks of Namibia

I’ve written about Namibia’s salt pans and desert dunes, so by now you must be picturing Namibia as a flat, dry expanse. The school year began, and I got busy and stopped writing about my summer adventures.

But if I stop here, your image of Namibia will be wrong. It IS quite a desolate country, with only two and half million people in the whole country, but it’s not as barren as you might think. We first glimpsed Namibia from our campsite in South Africa, gazing across the Orange River.Orange River.png

The next day, before heading to the official border crossing, we canoed along the border. CanoeingThe water fowl and jutting rocks were a beautiful distraction from the freezing puddles of water inside our awkward blow up canoe. Here’s my best shot of an African fish eagle, the North American bald eagle’s long lost cousin:African Fish Eagle

From here, we entered Namibia and drove straight to Fish River Canyon, one of the biggest canyons in Africa. We watched the sun set and took a million photos.Sunset.png

Here’s a video that tries to capture the experience of being there, not knowing where to focus my attention, because there were so many angles to seeing this place:

The next morning we went back to see the sun rise there.sunrise.jpgIt was really peaceful (and cold)!

I made a balloon Namibian flag to celebrate our arrival! Lots of members of my group posed for photos with it:

Looking out at the amazing Fish River Canyon was beautiful, but it was only the beginning of the interesting rocks we were about to see. It seemed like everywhere we drove, there were mountains out the window. But not the kinds I’d seen before.

And then this scene, with bonus zebras. Wow.Drive by zebras.png

I played around with the time lapse mode on my phone.

And then I was trying to listen to an audiobook but kept getting distracted by this odd landscape: Moon 1

Then our guide stopped the truck and we had some time to wander the “moon landscape” which is actually what they call it. Is this what you imagine the surface of the moon to be like?

A few days later, we visited Spitzkoppe, an area further north, famous for their rocks. So well known, in fact, that bushmen painted on these rocks thousands of years ago.

Spitzkoppe 7.png

The rock paintings were pretty awesome to see. It’s estimated they were painted between 4,400 BCE and 100 AD.

It was an interesting area to walk around. I especially loved seeing how the trees interacted with the rocks, and all the birds building nests in between.

It was also really fun to climb the rocks!

From up high, we could see tons of little dassies, also called rock hyraxes. They’re adorable. They look like rodents, but it turns out that their closest living relative is the elephant.Dassie 1

They came down to check us out up close too, hoping to get some of our lunch. And they succeeded. Dassie 2

As we were cleaning up from lunch, we spotted a few rock agama lizards. The breeding male is a shimmery purple color, and it was a pretty spectacular color! Rock Agama 2

Action shot — notice the tongue.Rock Agama 3

I hope these photos give you a taste of how varied and interesting the landscape of Namibia really is. Yes, there are safari animals and a huge desert, but this country is so much more than that. Spitzkoppe 8

Birds of Etosha National Park

Given how many amazing birds we saw in Etosha National Park, I felt like they deserved their own blog entry. They’re small, but there’s lots to see. Looking.png

I have to start with my favorite, the lilac breasted roller. It’s the national bird of Botswana, and I first saw it there back in 2011. It continues to be one of the most beautiful birds I’ve ever seen. How could I choose a favorite photo? I’ll include only four:

Lilac Breasted Roller in flight

Also, you are probably familiar with the biggest bird of Etosha, right? The ostrich is a silly looking animal, but also quite interesting. The males are black and the females are grey, so this one is a male:Ostrich 1Not sure what kind of dance is going on here:Watering hole - ostrich fancyAnd one more shot in front of the salt pan:Ostrich Springbok Wildebeest and salt panAnd a little video of how they run!

We saw a number of other really large birds at Etosha. This one is called a kori bustard. Bird proudKori bustard

These are called secretary birds! They’re huge too!Secretary Birds.png

Not quite as large, but with beautiful “hair” is the grey go-away-bird. Yes, that’s really what they’re called, because of their call. Birds - gray.png

Some birds eat meat, and they look a little less friendly. According to our best identification efforts, we think this is an ovambo sparrowhawk:Bird eating fleshAnd a southern pale chanting goshawk:Bird - Falcon?

And, of course, vultures eat dead meat and they’re pretty intimidating:Vultures 2.pngYou might be able to tell that the vulture on the right is way bigger — it’s a different kind called the lappet-faced vulture.Lappet-faced vulture.png Here are some white-backed vultures with a jackal and an even bigger, uglier bird called a maribou stork. Ugly bird with vultures and Jackal and other bird.png

Some of the most common birds were quite unusual to my eye, like this cape glossy starling:Bird - Shimmery

Another super common bird was the helmeted guinea fowl. They’re the chicken of Southern Africa: Guinea Fowl.png

One morning we woke up early to walk to a watering hole that was near the campsite. Unfortunately, there were no big animals drinking. Just hundreds of guinea fowl: Quiet Sunrise and Watering Hole.png

Maybe you need to see the video to get a sense of how peaceful it was, the sounds of the guinea fowl and their quiet sounds.

That morning, we also spotted this red-billed hornbill, which made the early wake up worth it.Bird Red beak.png

At a different watering hole, we saw this great egret. Most of the time, we weren’t able to get so close, because it is forbidden to get out of your vehicle, but at certain campsites, there are watering holes with viewing platforms surrounded by glass. So, I was in the “cage” and not the bird, and we were able to get really close. Egret.pngSo many expressive faces! Egret Faces.JPG

There were many more beautiful birds, some not identified or I wasn’t able to capture a picture.Bird tail.png

I totally had a moment with this little owl, maybe a pearl spotted owlet, but didn’t have my good camera on me. So all I have is the memory and this blurry phone picture:Owl.png

The challenge of capturing these creatures with photography was a lot of fun. Sometimes I was happy with the results, and sometimes not.Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 10.32.57 PM.png

Sometimes I caught the bird in his natural habitat, and sometimes just on the ground. Red-headed Finch.pngAnd sometimes I just marveled at the nests themselves, often quite spectacular:Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 10.30.21 PM.png

Which is your favorite bird?

Night Safari at Etosha

Another SunsetThe night before we got to Etosha National Park, our guides asked us if we wanted to sign up for a night safari (at additional cost). We said yes, of course! The more animals, the better! But after a long day of animal spotting, driving around in the truck on bumpy roads, and breathing in dust, we got to the campsite late, and we were exhausted. Sunset at CampsiteThere wasn’t enough time to eat dinner. We rushed to set up our tents before the sun set.

I had bought some cup o’ soup and cheap ramen, so I shared with the other members of my group so we could snarf down some food before hitting the road again. We got to our jeep just in time for the guide to give us blanket ponchos and hit the road. He told us that he would try to text the animals to let them know we were coming, but no guarantees we’d see much. We braced ourselves, unsure if we had made the right decision.

The night safari turned out to be a fabulous choice. The guide / driver had a red light which he used to try to spot the reflective eyes of animals. We hadn’t been driving too long when we spotted a bat-eared fox, which was ridiculously cute: Bat Eared Fox

As we drove along, the whole jeep was trying to spot creatures. Often, one of us would see something move, and yell, “stop! On the right!” Almost always, it was a springbok — not so exciting. We started saying, “It’s always springbok,” and laughing, because more times than not, that’s what we were seeing. Springbok.png

But it wasn’t always springbok. Watching giraffes running through the night was a spectacular sight.

Running Giraffe.png

We also spotted a small-spotted cat, which is basically the wild version of a house cat. They aren’t very common to spot in the wild, so this was really exciting! Once we spotted it, the guide was able to switch to his white light and the cat didn’t run away too quickly.Small spotted cat.png

The scrub hare is basically an African bunny. Less exciting. Scrub Hare.png

Steenboks were at least a little more interesting than the springbok, because they’re little and cute. But still kind of deer-like:Steenbok.png

We had seen a bunch of blackbacked jackals during the day, but at night they’re kind of spookier:Jackal.png

The guide drove us over to a watering hole where we spotted a leopard! Too far for me to get in a photo, but definitely there, walking back and forth along the shore. There were also massive numbers of elephants, but yeah, it was night and hard to get a good photo. The light was powerful but the guide didn’t really care about the elephants because… leopard!Elephants at Night

Then the guide drove us over to the spot where we had seen the zebra carcass and group of lions earlier in the day. Some members of my group recognized the spot (not me, because I’m directionally challenged). Once the guide spotted the lion, he off-roaded the jeep and we drove through the fields right to the lion! I’m not going to lie — I was a little bit terrified to be so close! Lion gazing over carcassHe kept the light to the side of the lion, so as not to blind her or anger her.Not in eyes

Lions are pride animals, so the guide explained that there was a group of 7 or so who had made this kill, and the others were probably off getting a drink or something. This was the guard. She was sleepy and full, so not interested in attacking us. Phew! (I have photos that show more guts but they’re really gross so I’m sparing you the disgustingness with the magic of cropping):Lion and guts

At this point, we were pretty happy with the night safari. But it was getting cold and everyone was tired. We were huddled up in our blanket ponchos trying to stay warm as the wind whipped by our faces (and it was probably in the 40s anyway — winter in Namibia is not warm).  I made small chat with our guide, who was super nice. I told him that we still needed to see a hyena before the night was over, and within 5 minutes, there was one standing on the road in front of us. I’m magic!

Hyena Red LightHyena

I tried to wish for a few more animals, but apparently I only got one successful conjuring. We never spotted a honey badger, though apparently they are easy to see at the campsite and we just missed it. We did get back to dinner waiting for us, a really yummy shepherd’s pie type dish. And we never saw a cheetah or a pangolin (google it!), but that just gives me more reasons to go back some day.

So yeah, totally worth it. Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 4.00.56 PM.png

One more blog entry on Etosha National Park coming soon — Namibian birds are much more interesting than you might imagine.

Big Animals of Etosha National Park

Me and Tofu San on Salt Plan.pngEtosha National Park is a mecca for animals. It’s really big, about the size of New Jersey, and overall, the climate is pretty dry. There’s a huge dried out lake, called a salt pan, in the middle of it. The salt pan is the size of Rhode Island, and looking out over it feels like looking out at the ocean. The salt pan is flat and goes as far as the eye can see. It makes for great photographs where you can mess with perspective.

Because of the scarcity of water at Etosha, animals congregate at various watering holes around the park, some natural and some man-made. This makes it easy to spot a lot of animals at once. Apparently, the animals help each other out spotting predators — each brings a different skill, whether strong hearing, vision, or smell. Here’s a little video that I took — see if you can spot the giraffe’s tongue and the elephant drinking:

Etosha Booklet.JPG

At the entrance gate, I bought a handy little booklet which has photos of the animals found in the park, and checked them off there. In total, we counted 50 different types of animals over our two days there — 23 species of mammals and 27 types of birds.  I don’t have photos of every single one, but I’ll share a lot here!

The youngest member of our group (who is 11) kept count of what we saw, so I’ll list the big animals here, roughly from the most common to the least.

Springbok (more than 1000) — we saw them everywhere!Spring bok.pngTraffic.png

Plains Zebra (also more than 1000) — this is a different type than what we saw at the watering hole in the desert, which was the Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra. They’re just so beautiful — check out the nursing colt in the bottom photo.

Blue Wildebeest (~500): They’re quite majestic, and apparently, also sometimes called a gnu!Wildebeest - running.png

Oryx / Gemsbok (~85) — I think these are my favorite of the deer-like animals:Oryx.pngWatering hole - oryx.png

Giraffe (~65) — I’ve seen them before, but they don’t cease to amaze me. I loved watching them drink, and their run is very clunky but also poised:

We saw two young giraffes flirting and playing, and it was the cutest thing ever:

Black-Faced Impala (~47) — these guys are called the McDonalds of Southern Africa, because they’re everywhere, and it looks like they have the letter M on their butts:Impala.png

African Elephants (~35) — So majestic and beautiful. From afar, of course. They’re dangerous to approach!

Greater Kudu (~30) — Yet another type of antelope / deer type animal, but with the curliest horns. Here’s a male and a few of the females in his group in front of the salt pan.Kudu and salt pan.png

Red Hartebeest (~20): I love their long faces. They’re big guys, like the wildebeest. Red Hartbeest.png

Blackbacked Jackals (~14): They are smarmy little canines who try to steal leftovers from other animals and apparently carry rabies. They hang out with vultures. But they’re very cute. Jackal 2

Banded Mongoose (a bunch) — they were at the campsite where we stopped for lunch. Very playful!Mongoose.png

African Lion (4) — We were lucky to see a group of lions with their kill. A bloody zebra.Lion with flesh.png

We weren’t too close, but we went back later that night on our evening safari and drove right over. Check back to see those pictures. Yikes.  In these ones, taken during the day, you can see the jackals and vultures keeping an eye, to swoop in when the lions aren’t looking. Lion Jackal Vulture dueling over zebra carcass.png

Warthog (3) — They’re pigs, but Lion King made them famous. Warthog.png

Black Rhinoceros (2): They’re very endangered, and it’s much more likely to see white rhinos in other parts of Africa, but the black rhinos are more common in Namibia. One way to tell them apart? We were told that the black rhinos always have their babies behind them, and the white rhinos always have their babies in front, like humans (not sure if this is a real “rule” for humans, but interesting nonetheless). Rhino face offRhino with salt flat behind

Leopard (2) — I had never spotted a leopard, so I was pretty excited about this one. They’re beautiful!Leopard walking.png We saw it stalking a red hartebeest, but then ultimately deciding to take a nap under a tree. Leopard watching.png

Other smaller animals included the ground squirrel:Ground Squirrel.png

And the Damara Dik-Dik, the smallest of the antelope family:Damara Dik Dik.png

As you can see, there were A LOT of animals at Etosha. How many animals you can spot here? What big bird can you see? Watering hole - busy.png

Check back soon, because the birds of Etosha were incredible, and they deserve their own post. In addition, I’m going to do one extra Etosha post just on our night safari, which was both amazing and terrifying. There’s too much for one blog entry, let alone one photo!Watering hole - big guys.png

The Living Desert, by the Sea

The Namib Desert runs along the coast of Namibia, and it’s pretty incredible to see the ocean on one side of the road and sand dunes on the other. I couldn’t get them both in one photo, so here are two photographs side by side, and you’ll have to imagine 🙂Ocean Desert.pngActually, I attempted to film it out the window of the truck, as we drove, and you can sort of experience what it was like:

One minute, you’re looking at flamingos in the ocean, and the next, you’re sweating buckets in the desert.  Ok, first, you probably want to see the flamingo photos! See if you can spot the pelican in there too. flamingos 2

I am really interested in animals, so I went on TWO different desert walks to check out what lives in the desert. We took jeeps out into the desert and tried to find tracks to point us to living creatures. Jeeps in DesertWhile the guide was telling us about the desert, trackers were out looking for creatures, by identifying tracks in the sand. Trackers

The sand itself is interesting to learn about, because there are so many different minerals which make it appear with all sorts of colors.Colors.pngThe black part is actually iron, which is magnetic. Check out what happens when the you put a magnet up against the sand!Iron in hand

Beetle.pngThe Namib Sand Sea is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it’s the only desert in the world able to sustain life through fog. The fog brings in little pieces of detritus from plants, which bugs eat, as well as drink up the water in the fog. Then, other bigger animals, like geckos, can eat a beetle and it’s like a drinking a whole water bottle! They get their water from eating insects.

We were lucky to see lots of animals in our hunt, beginning with a male Namaqua Chameleon, who did not seem at all fazed to have a giant group of humans surround it. Maybe he had seen these guides before, who came bearing worms.

Chameleon.png

The chameleon was pretty pleased to get fed worms. Their tongues are incredible, and I’m not sure this video captures how cool it is to watch them eat:

Want to see that in slow mo?

Chameleon Feast.JPG

Next up, the trackers spotted a Namib day gecko, which got scared and dropped his tail when the guide picked him up. The tail kept moving after it was detached! That’s a way of distracting predators so that the gecko can escape. Whoa.

Here’s a shot of the little guy, unfortunately, without his tail:Day Gecko

We also got to see a Shovel-Snouted Lizard, who was a real cutie:Shovel Snouted Lizard

On the less friendly side, we saw the most neon yellow scorpion I’ve ever seen. Ok, I’ve never seen a yellow scorpion, but apparently the Namaqua thicktailed scorpion is not so uncommon here. I’d rather not get in the way of one of these.Scorpion.png

Scorpions are closely related to spiders, which can be a little creepy as well. This one is really interesting though, because it makes a trapdoor in the sand.  Trapdoor Spider.pngThe guide found it by digging underneath the trapdoor, which I believe I stepped on, but he still spotted it. Unsuspecting bugs step on the trapdoor and then the spider gets them! Totally incredible.

Sideways Movement.pngBut onto an even more frightening animal! I don’t think of myself as a snake person, and especially not when they’re venomous, but it was pretty exciting when the guides spotted a Peringuey’s Adder, or Sidewinder Snake. The guide said that if you get bitten, you won’t die, but “you might wish you had.” Their venom attacks in two ways, with a neurotoxin and a cytotoxin, so you could end up having to get a limb amputated. There’s no counter-venom, so you can only treat the symptoms. Awesome. Our guide seemed surprisingly calm, considering he was barefoot. Mostly the people in the group just seemed excited to see the way this snake moves sideways. Which is pretty cool, but I tried to keep my distance.

Actually, the snake definitely seemed way more afraid of us, than we were of it. When first picked up from a bush and dropped onto the sand, he buried himself into the sand to hide. Hidden Snake.pngIt’s amazing to me how all of these animals have ways of hiding — the spider under his trapdoor, the gecko who drops his tail, and the camouflage of the chameleon. Even the scorpion wanted to hide! Below is a different chameleon, by the way, but the same species as the other one, who was so much paler! He’s camouflaging with the bush.Hiding Animalds.jpgOne animal that wasn’t shy was the tractrac chat bird, who came right over when we stopped for snacks. The birdies apparently know that the guides carry worms to feed to the lizards, and sometimes the guides will share with the birds too. Some great photographs were acquired as a result.

Before this trip, when I imagined the desert, I had no idea how many creatures could live in the sand! My eyes are opened!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Journey Through the Namib Desert

I’m just back from almost a month of traveling, and I have so much to share! The deserts of Namibia were so different from other places I have traveled, and I wanted to start by sharing about one of my favorite days on the trip.Tofu San Dune 45The Namib-Naukluft Desert is considered the world’s oldest desert, and it’s huge — about the size of Massachusetts and New Hampshire combined. It runs up the coast of Namibia.Namibia Map.png

In the morning, our truck arrived for our first hike — up Dune 45. Truck and Dune.png

The climb was exhausting, but amazing. Dune 45 Pano.pngThere was so much so see, from the little beetles scurrying across the sand, to the expansive views across the desert.

Here’s a little video that captures some of the feeling– sorry it’s hard to hear because of the wind!

After a morning hike, our shoes full of red sand, we headed to another part of the Sossusvlei area — here, we saw evidence of the salt and clay pans that are so common in this area. Salt areaCracked EarthTexturesWe took a jeep to get closer to the main area we were going to visit, but then had to walk a ways to get there.

Finally, we arrived at Deadvlei, a dried up marsh where there are trees that are about 2,000 years old. They’ve been dead for about 600-700 years, but they don’t decompose because it’s too dry. It was quite an amazing landscape. Me at Deadvlei

By the time we got back from here, it was close to 2 pm and we hadn’t eaten lunch yet! My group pulled up chairs around our truck, and tried to find corners of shade to rest. Lunch.pngWe still had one more hike to get in this afternoon, to the small Sesriem Canyon.

And then stop for apple pie!Apple pie

We camped that night at a beautiful spot in the desert, arriving just in time to set up tents before the sun went down.

We were traveling in a large group, so the process of setting up tents and getting ready for dinner was quite a process, but we got it down to a science. Our group came from all over the world — South Korea, Kenya, Germany, Israel, Austria, the Netherlands, and guides from Zimbabwe. We were truly an international bunch!

Camping.pngIt was a particularly great shower that night, and a delicious dinner (sausage, garlic bread, cheesy squash, corn on the cob, and champagne). Then we hung out around the campfire and chatted.

After dinner, we walked over to the campground’s watering hole, where we watched zebras drinking, as well as a one-horned oryx who pushed all the zebras aside when he wanted a taste. Zebras at Watering HoleOryx at Watering HoleAs you can imagine, we were ready for some sleep after this sunny, busy day. Being south of the Equator, it was winter in Namibia, so days were short and we packed a lot in.  It was hot during the day, but got quite cold at night. So we curled up in our sleeping bags and went to sleep.

Not every day was quite this exciting, as some days we spent many hours driving on bumpy roads! But check back soon, as I have lots more to share, and the next post will include more animals.

New Mexico: Our Nation’s Heritage

Plate.pngI hope all of my American friends had a relaxing and fun Fourth of July yesterday! I thought this would be a good opportunity to remind everyone about our country’s history, which did not begin with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. We hear a lot about the British empire, but many other groups of people helped shape the country we live in today.

Petroglyph5See these drawings from Petroglyph National Monument? They were carved into the rocks 400-700 years ago by Native Americans and Spanish settlers — that means that even the most recent ones were created before the Mayflower landed at Plimoth in 1620.  Last February I visited New Mexico, where more than 10% of the state’s population is Native American (Tofu-San’s mini friend came along for the trip).

There are now 23 tribes in New Mexico, and each is considered an independent “sovereign nation” with its own government and way of life.

Today, Native American culture is woven into New Mexican life for all residents, but it was a very different place before the arrival of Europeans. I visited Puye Cliffs and Bandelier National Monument to see the archeological remains of the cliffs where people used to live.

Bandelier

The rows of holes you see are from support beams that used to hold up a roof or floor, so this area would have been a multi-leveled home. We were able to walk around on the cliffs and see reconstructions of homes, to get a sense of how they used to live.

The Spanish arrived in New Mexico as early as the 1540s, and pretty quickly, the Native Americans were forced to change their lifestyle. Taos Pueblo is a Native American village that has been continually inhabited by the Taos people for over 1,000 years, and tourists can visit today to see what life is like. While there’s a large community of people who still work there and are involved with the Pueblo, about 10 families still actually live there, and follow the traditional lifestyle without running water and electricity. It’s a beautiful place, quite cold when we visited so there weren’t a lot of other visitors.

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The building you see above is kind of like an apartment building for Native Americans, though traditionally there weren’t doors. People entered from the roofs, with ladders. With a guide, we were able to walk around the village, go into shops, and explore.

As you can see above, Christianity is common in this Pueblo, but that wasn’t the original religion of the Native Americans. Today people still practice traditional Native American spirituality, as well as Catholicism brought by the Spanish. In fact, I was surprised to see the remains of this church built by the Spanish around the same time that British colonists were beginning to arrive on America’s East Coast.

Old ChurchThis church represents the fortitude of the Taos Native Americans, who fought hard to maintain their lifestyle despite advances of the Spanish. It was destroyed twice, in 1640, and rebuilt only to be ruined again two hundred years later, in 1846. Both times the people of the pueblo fought hard to save their home. New Mexico is full of stunning places — I can imagine how heartbreaking it would be to live here and then have people invade

Kasha Kitiwe Tent Rocks

Many Americans, especially those who live on the East Coast, focus on the British when they are thinking about our country’s history. While it’s true that the British did a lot to  shape our nation, so many other people made our nation what it is today. New Mexico is a good reminder that Native American culture is key to the history of this land, as is Spanish culture.

There are indeed dark parts of our country’s history. I hope you are able to take some time this week to celebrate all the different groups of people who make America beautiful.

South to Cape Town, and then North!

It’s officially summer vacation, and so it’s time to announce the next big adventure. In a few weeks I’ll be headed back to one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited: Cape Town, South Africa.  Then I’ll be going on an overland trip north, mostly through Namibia!

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Cape Town, with the beautiful Table Mountain just behind

I took the photos in this post back in 2001. It was my first trip to the African continent, and I was working as a private tutor for an American family who was traveling around the world. As part of that adventure, we stayed in Cape Town for 6 weeks, and I marveled at this city where pretty much anywhere you stand, you can see stunning mountains, gorgeous ocean views, or both. These first few photos were taken from a boat, looking back at the mainland.

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This mountain in Cape Town is called Lion’s Head

When I travel, I mostly try to go to new places I’ve never been, but I’m excited to see this city again after being away for many years. The beauty of the Southwestern most corner of Africa is truly spectacular. Here are a few pictures of my visit to Cape Point many years ago:

It might not be obvious from looking at these photos, but the beaches here are covered with baboons, who can be quite nasty if they want your food.

We also saw some other wildlife on the way out to Cape Point, including a stop at Boulders Beach, famous for their African penguins.

Cape Town is also really fascinating politically. It is one of the places where Nelson Mandela fought to end Apartheid, the legalized system of racism that reigned in South Africa for more than 40 years. Here are some photos I took on Robben Island, where Mandela was kept in prison for 27 years (that’s his actual jell cell):

Mandela got out of prison and ultimately went on to become the president of South Africa. He helped end Apartheid, led global efforts for peace and reconciliation, and won many honors before his death, including the Nobel Peace Prize.

View from Table MountainCape Town is a model for how to fight for systemic change on many levels. The city made headlines this year because the government announced “Day Zero” for April 12, 2018 — the day when the city would run out of water and taps would run dry. Cape Town’s citizens took action, and made huge reductions in their water use. While the water crisis there is still serious, the city has moved the date of “day zero” out to 2020.

I can’t wait to stand on top of Table Mountain again. Whether the weather is cloudy (like the day I photographed Lion’s Head from up top) or clear, with views of the city, it’s an inspiring place to be.

Dassie at Table Mountain

I went up twice during my first visit to Cape Town (via cable car, although it is possible to hike). There are even little friendly critters, called dassies (officially the rock hyrax), which look like little rodents but are actually most closely related to elephants.

Most of this upcoming trip will actually be in Namibia, though we begin and end in Cape Town. I’ve never been to Namibia, but I hear great things. South Africa Namibia Map.pngThere are watering holes to check out wildlife on safari, vast expanses of desert, and the biggest canyon in the African continent. Do yourself a favor and do a GoogleImage search for Namibia. Or just check back in a few weeks to see my photos. Apparently Prince Harry and Meghan Markle took their honeymoon in Namibia. I’m not sure if me and the royal family have the same standards for camping, but I’m guessing not so much.

Summer is already in gear, and the African adventure isn’t my only learning experience planned for this vacation. I’ve already done some volunteer work supporting immigrants who are fighting against deportation, which has been heart wrenching and fascinating. After the visit to Southern Africa, I’ll also visit San Francisco to see friends for a week. And… I had some adventures during the winter and spring that haven’t been posted to this blog yet, so check back soon.

Which parts of this beautiful planet will you be exploring this summer? How will you be making new friends across differences in race, culture, or any other identity? As always, I welcome guest posts from members of the IACS community, and I love to hear from any readers, near or far.

“The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.” 
― Wade Davis

 

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