Celebrating World Penguin Day!

20170330_100529The African penguins are on the second floor of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, past the top of the Kelp Forest and adjacent to the Splash Zone. The area was empty of people when I first arrived. I sat on the carpeted bench and watched as child after child discovered the exhibit. “Penguins!” they’d exclaim with the face lighting up. Many sea creatures scare people because they are potentially lethal–jellyfish and sharks–but everyone appears to find the penguins charming and funny.

The penguins at the Aquarium are fed daily at 10:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. There is no special ticket required to watch the keepers feed them fish and answer questions from the audience. There are also interactive displays to expand your knowledge of penguins. African penguins are among the most threatened species because of their dwindling food supply and habitat, but the Aquarium stays upbeat.

The Aquarium is part of AZA Species Survival Plan, a zoological conservation program that is keeping endangered animals alive and maintaining their genetic diversity through collaboration and sharing of, in this case, the birds around the U.S. When I compare the rich, stimulation that African penguins have in the wild with the sterile, almost two-dimensional exhibit space, I have to remind myself how they can be ambassadors that inspire people to care about what is happening to these wonderful birds in Namibia and South Africa.

Need a penguin fix and can’t get to Monterey? Watch the live Penguin Cam!

Over in South Africa, an organization called SANCCOB is leading the way in studying, rescuing, and rehabilitating wild African penguins. Through their Chick Bolstering Project, SANCCOB biologists monitor African penguins in the wild and bring abandoned, injured or starving chicks in for care. Together with colony managers, they also rescue and hand-rear eggs that have either been abandoned by their parents or when the adult penguins were found nesting in areas outside of the protected colony area. Last year Monterey Bay Aquarium Aviculturist Monika Rohrer journeyed to South Africa to volunteer with SANCCOB.  (from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s website)

On quiet days when there are few visitors the penguins get to go for a stroll outside their enclosure. Watch the penguin parade.

Taste of Cape Town in Adelaide

Since eating at Africola in Adelaide I have been thinking of South Africa. Specifically I have been thinking about flying to Cape Town to see the penguins and to enjoy some time in the bush looking at animals.

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The decor is fun, but my favorite part was the sign on the door that asked patrons to leave quietly out of consideration to the neighbors. Hint, hint Rind in Midtown.

I read about Africola in Travel+Leisure magazine. I made my reservation on a website similar to OpenTable. It gave me the option of a table or at the bar and since I was dining solo–I chose the bar.

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Not sure if you can appreciate the deliciousness of the cauliflower above. It was amazing. I could have just eaten it for dinner. I wish I had the recipe. I even bought cauliflower when I got home at the farmers market. But it just tastes like cauliflower. meh

The service was terrific. With a gin and tonic and dessert my bill was about $65 US. I tipped even if it is not the custom in Australia.

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Got to love a restaurant with Nelson Mandela on the menu and cornbread for all patrons.

If I could eat like this at every evening meal in South Africa I would be very content. South Africa is not in my budget for 2016… Perhaps in 2017.

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Yes this dessert was too chocolatey. Never thought I could say that… it was out of balance. Only misstep all night.

Happy World Wildlife Day

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I am running out of time to celebrate World Wildlife Day! One of my favorite travel purposes is to view and enjoy wildlife doing their wild thing. (Not that, get your mind out of the gutter!) I especially love penguins. I have made a point of viewing penguins whenever I go to New Zealand and now Australia. Most of the time I was not allowed to take photographs, so I went a little crazy and took hundreds of photos of these Fiordland penguins when I had the chance.

My son Tevis is knocking around Asia for the next 9 weeks and he has discovered a fascination with elephants. I understand this. I could watch elephants all day. I have fond memories from the one time I was able to go on a wildlife safari in South Africa. Here he is experiencing elephants at the Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Park.

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From salmon swimming upstream, to an echidna meandering or a koala sleeping to a giraffe browsing on tree leaves, they all help me get in touch with wonder and add to my already huge appreciation for God’s creation.

What is your favorite animal to watch in the wild?

Stage 7: Never Give Up

Oh my spirits flagged midday. I had a successful shopping excursion to get warmer clothes for the Alps. Just as I gave up on France having sunshine it popped out for bit this afternoon. Since I packed for the weather I experienced in Europe last July, I have plenty of sundresses and not enough long pants and layers. Thanks to a big sale at Go Sports I have a ski jacket and a hideous pink turtleneck (both will go to Goodwill in Paris before I fly home). I also received kind help from a couple from Perth in the pharmacy who recommended the Strepsil for my throat and shared their around the world travel plans. 

When I got to the train station I learned that I had 2 trains and a bus to get to Nancy. I took a deep breath and dove in and it all worked like clockwork. I checked into a better hotel and turned on the television for my daily ritual of “how many kilometers to go?” I waivered for a bit in my room. I could not figure out what day it was, what stage. I looked out the window and wondered, “Why am I doing this?” And then I started out and I met a lovely couple from South Africa also staying at my hotel and walking to the Tour finish line. 

With about 3 hours to wait, there was already 2-4 people deep along the barricades before and after the finish. I picked a spot just 20 feet after the finish with only 2 people deep. I set up my REI chair and did some knitting. Now that I have seen the caravan a few times it is easy to just relax and enjoy the atmosphere and not stress over catching stuff. Interestingly they do not toss swag near the finish line. I guess even though there is an hour or more before the racers arrive, they do not want to have any hazards on the course.  

I love being small and slipping through the crowd to get to the finish in the first place, and then my height is a disadvantage. Once the crowd starts to squeeze in I wish I were as tall as my brother Dean (+12″) and as broad shouldered so I could hold my ground. Ah well, crowd behavior is similar the world over. The finish was so close everyone around me called it for Peter Sagan. He is a favorite with fans and even has his own hard core fan club. (In fact they were so noisy with the air horns during the awards presentations that the gendarmes hustled them out of the VIP section.)

Even the actual winner Matteo Trentin thought Sagan must have won. Until the officials told him he won. The photo finish is my inspiration for today. Never give up. 

I stopped for a bite to eat on my way back to the hotel and I realized that whatever day it is, tomorrow I am headed to Mulhouse and will see Harriet and Brian and Grace and Nora. I am loved and they are adored. I am getting my second wind. Life is great. 

Watch this video for one of the most thrilling 1 kilometer of the Tour 2014: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x21awbk_en-the-flamme-rouge-the-last-kilometre-stage-7-epernay-nancy_sport

Addo Elephant Park

Guest blog by Mara V. Connolly

Photo by Mara V. Connolly

I arrived at Addo Elephant Park, South Africa’s 3rd largest national park on Christmas day right at opening at 7am by myself in a borrowed car.  The park is unique, encompassing 5 of the 9 environmental biomes that South Africa.  The section of park I was entering is home to the bulk of the  550 strong elephant population, lions, spotted hyenas, zebra, kudu, black rhino, buffalo, and much more.  I was beside myself that you could actually drive yourself through such a park, amidst predators and animals big enough to topple your car.  I was about 2ks into the park taking a photo of a black headed crane when the borrowed car stalled.  Interesting.  The car never restarted and I quickly ascertained that I was dead in the water.  The park map had the park manager’s number who cheerfully answered my Christmas wish call for help!  He came along within about 30 minutes and promised to send a couple guys to help me and sternly told me to wait IN MY CAR.

Photo by Mara V. Connolly

As I sat by myself waiting, I saw a massive Kudu cross the road in front me, a gorgeous bird of prey I later learned was a chanting goshawk, and 3 wart hogs chasing each other around a bush.  Several people asked if I was ok as I waved them off because nearly everyone thought I’d spotted something REALLY good to sit idle for so long.  Two wonderful brothers stopped and checked every fuse (they were electricians) and spark plug in the car ruling out a hoard of nasty reasons the car might’ve died.  As they had their heads under the hood and I dutifully stood watch, a Swedish tourist drove by asking us if we knew there had been lions spotted in the very spot we were early in the morning.  I later found out there was a lion kill only 100 yards from where I spent two hours!

Mara and elephant

Nothing we tried revived the car so the two awesome park workers were working on tying a rope to my car when a herd of elephant came over the hill right toward us.  The moment was one that crossed all culture and language.  6 adult elephants and 9 baby elephants paraded within a 100 yards of us.  We all stood mesmerized by the beauty of the scene.  After the elephants were out of sight, I got a tow out of the park and promptly signed myself up for guided game drives.  The gift of the car dying was that someone else drove me around all afternoon leaving me fully attentive to taking photos.

Photo by Mara V. Connolly

photo by Mara V. Connolly

I had an EPIC Christmas day seeing over 400 elephant, and a variety of other creatures.  To put the day into perspective, I spent the next day on an even longer game drive and only saw about 30 elephants.  We did see two lions at a distance the second day which is a special treat as there are only 11 lions in the park.

Photo by Mara V. Connolly

The other gift I received for now being on foot and having time on my hands that I wouldn’t have had if I’d driven the park was finding two “hides” where you are sequestered in a nearly hidden structure that allows you close viewing of a bird nesting area and a watering hole for elephants.  I happened to arrive at the elephant hide just as the herd of elephant that likely passed me in the car arrived to drink and frolic in the water.  Being at ground level so close to the herd was amazing as you heard all the sounds from grunts to calls to the sucking of water to simply hearing them walk.  The experience was special as you literally felt as if you were in the situation, witnessing the creatures first hand.

Photo by Mara V. ConnollyPhoto by Mara V. Connolly

The last gift I received for the car dying was that my accommodation changed as my friend could only find one hotel who would agree to picking me up from Addo.  What great fortune as the Zuurberg Mountain Inn also runs game drives and one of the guides picked me up and let me join the end of their drive back up to the top of a mountain above Addo.  An epic way to end an epic day.

Mara V. Connolly is a professional photographer, coach, facilitator, resume writer, and leader.  Her life purpose is to be radiant illumination igniting passionate possibilities. You can read more blog posts from Mara at http://maravconnolly.com.

Boulders Penguin Colony

photo by Mara V. Connolly

Guest blog by Mara V. Connolly

During my recent trip to South Africa, we traveled to Cape Town where on the eastern side of Cape Peninsula lies the Boulders Penguin Colony, a part of the Table Mountain National Park system that includes Cape Point, the Cape of Good Hope, and Table Mountain.

Boulders is home to a declining, and endangered rarity of land-based African Penguins, often called Jackass Penguins as they bray like donkeys.  The Boulders website stated that in the 50 years from 1956 to 2009 the worldwide population of African Penguin breeding pairs declined from 150,000 to 26,000;  an 80% decline over 50 years attributed to human interference from habitat destruction to oil spills. Boulders colony also declined from 3,900 birds in 2005 to only 2,100 in 2010.  (http://www.sanparks.org/parks/table_mountain/tourism/attractions.php#boulders)

Photo by Mara V. Connolly

photo by Mara V. Connolly

For 550 South African Rand (about $5.50 US at the time) you gain entrance to both Boulders Beach where you can lounge and swim amidst penguins who also appear to be vacationing from their colony a couple of beaches down the way, and the Boulders Penguin Colony itself that you view from boardwalks.

photo by Mara V. Connolly

We arrived just after the park opened at 7am to having the place all to ourselves.  We started at the colony and were amazed at the flurry of activity going on with hundreds of penguins and cormorants making a racket of noise.  The “braying” of the penguins had me in amazement because when I closed my eyes and listened, I envisioned a whole herd of donkeys, yet when I opened my eyes, a whole beach of tiny little penguins belting out ‘hee hawing’ is what confronted me!  Watching the penguins’ transition from beach to the ocean was awesome and mesmerizing.  They are go from being intensely awkward and limited on land to graceful and powerful instantly by tipping over and freeing themselves in the water.

Photo by Mara V. Connolly

After a thorough investigation of the colony we headed back to the beach which was now thoroughly crowded a short hour later.  Still, an incredible experience climbing over boulders to the outer beach area with curious penguins watching us as much as we were watching them.  Floating about in the frigid ocean with penguins gliding around you is an experience of a lifetime.

photo by Mara V. Connolly

Mara V. Connolly is a professional photographer, coach, facilitator, resume writer, and leader.  Her life purpose is to be radiant illumination igniting passionate possibilities. You can read more about her leadership adventure at http://maravconnolly.com.