Cdnpearly's Blog

Pearl's musings

Big Cats, Little Kitties: African Style November 25, 2014

Cheetah

Cheetah, Idube

Cheetah

Baby animals

Leopard in a tree with a  kill

African Painted Dogs

Cheetah, Idube

Cheetah, Idube

That was my safari wishlist.

When I was in South Africa 2 years ago, there weren’t any cheetahs in the Sabi Sands area, but this time…we saw cheetahs several times!  Lucky us!

Lioness and cub, Mala Mala

Lioness and cub, Mala Mala

These remarkable cats are fast, lean and breathtakingly beautiful.  Their facial markings are mesmerizing.  And to see them casually stroll down a trail, well you can only imagine how they would look sprinting after prey.  We were fortunate enough to witness a cheetah stalking a steenbok at dusk.  Depending on which team you were rooting for it was either a disappointment or a win!  The steenbok survived!

We saw 2 sets of “kitties”!  We found some adorable lion cubs in Mala Mala where we stayed for our first day on safari!  Check out the cub sleeping with his foot on his mom’s head!

Lion cub, Mala Mala

Lion cub, Mala Mala

The remainder of our safari was spent at wonderful Idube.  As you may recall, this is the camp we enjoyed on my first African trip.  It was the perfect spot, so naturally we returned here for trip 2!  As expected, Idube delivered another epic safari experience!

Leopard cubs, Idube

Leopard cubs, Idube

Rob the Ranger and Ronald the Tracker and their uncanny sixth sense about the animals and the land provided one amazing sighting after another…with so much interesting information and background.  And this is how we came to find these darling leopard cubs!  You can see they are very well camouflaged.  I don’t have my video loaded up yet, but their behavior was 100%  “domestic kitten”!  Tasha (certifiable cat lady) was entranced!  Even I (certifiable dog lady) was charmed!

Thanks to Rob and Ronald’s brilliance we encountered a pride of 6 lionesses, meandering through the bush.  Rob pulled up at a random trail head and the next thing we knew, a parade of these beautiful cats walked up to our jeep, and continued on their way, as they circumnavigated our vehicle.  Without a doubt, it was one of the most thrilling and authentic moments of my life.

Lioness Parade, Idube

Lioness Parade, Idube

Lioness Parade, Idube

Lioness Parade, Idube

Cue “Circle of Life” song from The Lion King for the next bit…

We came across a small pride of lionesses enjoying a late night snack.  As we approached the site, the unmistakable scent of freshly killed impala pervaded the air–there really isn’t a comparable smell.  I’m not sure if there was a feeding frenzy before we arrived, but the group now seemed to be sharing the meal amicably…each getting their fill.  I didn’t take any photos of this because a) it was too dark to get a decent pic and b) it seemed so graphic.  You’ll just have to use your imagination…or not!

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Leopard, Idube

Our last night at Idube, Ronald spotted a hyena during our sundowners (sunset drinks).  Suddenly the hyena took off and the next thing we knew we hurriedly packed up our refreshments and ventured in the vehicle.  A leopard had made a kill and was storing it in a tree.  Leopards are the only cats that haul their food into trees for safe keeping.  Other creatures who might steal the leopard’s prey cannot climb trees–so it’s a good strategy.  Anyhoo, we arrived at the tree.  And who should be circling the trunk but the hyena we saw at drinks!  Evidently news travels fast in the wild world of the safari!  It should be pointed out that while it is a violent and “dog eat dog” world in the bush, there is no waste.  Killing is not for sport–it is for survival.  As the leopard ate the impala, the hyena waited below for any scraps that might fall.  Eventually, the remains would fall from the tree where hyenas and vultures would finish it up.  Thus the Circle of Life continues…

And so, I was able to scratch most of the items off my wish list!  Still waiting to see the elusive African Painted Dogs!

Next up:  more animals!

 

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Tourists on the loose! November 2, 2014

IMG_3483Our final few days in Cape Town we were 100% tourists.  Instead of opting for in-depth, one-on-one experiences like our Table Mountain hike and the Cape of Good Hope excursion, we opted for the Double Decker Hop-On-Hop-Off bus!

With trusty maps in hand, cameras slung around our necks, and copious sunscreen applied, we ventured onto the big red bus. Cape Town has several routes canvassed by the HOHO* Bus.  Our first stop was the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.  It’s a beautiful property, showcasing many specialized florae.  Paths meander through native species, trees, historical plants and medicinal/traditional flora.

Since it was early springtime, many of the trees and plants were not in

Jonkershuis

Jonkershuis

bloom–likely in a couple of weeks it would be spectacular.  Still, we really enjoyed our stroll through the garden.  Cape Town and Santa Barbara seem to share a similar climate in that we observed Jacaranda, Coral Trees, and many succulents we see here at home.

Jonkershuis

Jonkershuis

From the garden we rejoined the HOHO Bus route to the legendary Constantia Wine Estates.  This region is as rich in history as it is in its breathtaking scenery.  Groot Constantia has been an important vineyard since 1685, with connoisseurs like Napoleon (he had cases of Constantia wine shipped to him whilst in exile on St. Helena!)

Tasha and I enjoyed a tasty lunch at Jonkershuis–recommended by Albert.

Camps Bay

Camps Bay

Next day, we took advantage of the HOHO Canal Tour–it was a leisurely cruise through the very ohlala waterfront area, home to many celebrities…alas we didn’t see any.

Back on the HOHO Bus, we hopped off at incredible Camps Bay.  You’ll recall that we saw Camps Bay from the peak of Table Mountain earlier in the week, but really to appreciate its beauty, you need to be at sea level.  It has a Malibu feel to it–beautiful ocean, beach and people, great restaurants, high property values etc.

Bo-Kaap

Bo-Kaap

Our final stop was at Bo-Kaap.

Bo-Kaap

Bo-Kaap

This historic neighborhood was my favorite part of Cape Town.  Our HOHO tour guide lead an informative and respectful tour through the cobblestone streets and brightly colored homes.  He explained that the homes were originally built for slaves.  Dutch settlers brought Asian slaves to South Africa and gave them homes–so slaves could live as family units, separate from their masters.  After slavery was abolished, these former slaves painted their homes with bright colors as a statement of

Bo-Kaap

Bo-Kaap

freedom.  Houses in this enclave maintain these hues as an historic homage to their residents’ story.

Tasha and I both felt somewhat uncomfortable walking through neighborhoods, taking pictures** etc.  However, our Uber driver assured us that residents were very proud of their homes.  They never dreamed that their neighborhood would be of any interest to anyone.  The driver had first hand knowledge of this since his grandparents and parents were born and raised in Bo-Kaap.

Happy Anniversary Pauline & Graham!

Happy Anniversary Pauline & Graham!

We also had the great fortune to meet up with our dear friends Pauline and Graham!  We celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary at Karibou.  Congratulations!  And more about Pauline and Graham in the next post!

GOLD!  At Albert’s excellent

Gettin' Down at Gold!

Gettin’ Down at Gold!

recommendation, we spent our last night in Cape Town at a wonderful restaurant called Gold. Per Albert’s suggestion we

Gold Drum Teacher

Gold Drum Teacher

arrived at 6pm to take in the drum lesson.  As super keeners, we were the first to arrive and sat in the front row, center to take full advantage of the instruction!  30 minutes of bliss!  Our teacher was AWESOME!  We were remedial amazing talented fun students!

Following the drumming, we enjoyed a fabulous dinner featuring a tasting menu of African dishes from all over the continent.  Tasty!  Even with my precious Canadian taste buds!

Tasha & "Friend"

Tasha & “Friend”

The pièce de résistance was the troupe of singers/dancers that circulated throughout the restaurant.  I think you would have to be a hunk of wood to not resonate with that lively music!  So, as I chair danced to the rhythm, the troupe pulled me up to join them in a dance.  Full disclosure:  I am a terrible dancer!  However, I gave it 100% effort and as a result, I was invited up a second time!  Tasha was singled out by an admirer!

Albert!  We had the best time and it was the perfect finish to our Cape Town experience!

*HOHO = Hop On Hop Off

** Our tour guide explained that we were all welcome to take photos of the homes, but if we wanted to take pics of the residents, please ask permission first–fundamental manners, really.

 

Cape of Good Hope, 2 Oceans and Some Penguins! October 26, 2014

Long Beach, South Africa

Long Beach, South Africa

Hout Bay, South Africa

Hout Bay, South Africa

A full and complete day!

On our recent South Africa holiday, Tasha and I spent an entire day exploring points south of Cape Town.  And it was epic.

Sandra from Africa Dynamics set us up with a wonderful tour guide–Albert Pote.  Albert picked us up at our apartment and the day started with a stop at Hout Bay–a little fishing village with a lovely marina.  Lots of sea life makes this a popular spot to view seals.

From there we wandered down the coast and over some hills with incredible vistas including beautiful Long Beach.

 

 

 

Tasha and the ostrich!

Tasha and the ostrich!

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Cdnpearly and the ostriches

Albert stopped at an ostrich ranch.  He taught the finer points of feeding these HUGE birds!

 

Pincushion

Pincushion

From there we entered the Table Mountain National Park.  The pincushion flowers were spectacular.

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Two Oceans Restaurant

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Two Oceans Restaurant

Two Oceans Restaurant

Two Oceans Restaurant

Lunch was at the incredible Two Oceans restaurant at Cape Point.  Albert had arranged an amazing table overlooking False Bay.  The restaurant is open air and the views are as good as the food!  Birds and baboons also enjoy the Two Oceans, so squirt bottles are placed strategically along the railing–guests and staff “encourage” the creatures to move along with a well placed squirt of water!

 

 

 

 

Cape Point

Cape Point

Following our lunch, we took the Funicular (cable car) to the top of Cape Point.  It was bustling with tourists, but Albert expertly guided us to the best vantage points where we took photos and simply soaked in the location–the southern-most tip of Africa.  Also, we could see the delineation of the two oceans–Indian and Atlantic.

Cape of Good Hope

Cape of Good Hope

Well, actually, that’s not quite true–the oceans don’t seem to mind where they co-mingle!  However, tradition suggests that Cape Point is the meeting place of these 2 bodies of water.

Albert recommended hiking between Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope.  Since the weather was glorious (again!) and the views promised to be spectacular, we strolled along the well maintained board walk/path hugging the coast line high above the beach.  Tasha and I loved every moment of this hike.

 

 

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African Penguin

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African Penguins, Boulders Beach

From here we traveled north and stopped at Boulders Beach in Simonstown where the ever popular African Penguins hang out. These adorable creatures were formally known as Jack Ass Penguins due to their distinctive mating calls!  Everyone loves penguins!  So it was pretty busy here, however, once again, Albert knew the best place to view and take pictures.  A lovely boardwalk lead us through a wooded area where we saw the penguins’ burrows (nests).  As we approached the beach we were delighted by these sweet birds–waddling on the beach, swimming in the surf, falling/jumping off boulders in the water…mesmerizing!  Definitely worth stopping here for awhile!

Cape of Good Hope

Cape of Good Hope

And just like that, our very full day of sightseeing drew to a close!

If you have the chance to explore this remarkable area, I recommend a tour with Albert.  He immediately understood the type of activity we enjoyed and tailored the day to suit us.  Albert’s knowledge of the area, history, culture, sights etc. was impressive.  He also suggested some other activities to take in during the rest of our holiday–and offered to help us book reservations.  We took him up on his generous offer and in my next post, you’ll see how much we really enjoyed them!

 

 

Feet on the Table! October 16, 2014

Table Mountain

Table Mountain

Lucky me!  I returned to Africa for 2 weeks recently with my good friend Tasha, including 6 days in beautiful Cape Town!

Having never been to Cape Town before (technically I have been to Cape Town before–so my mom says, when I was an infant…but that’s a story for another time) I wanted to make sure we hit all the well known spots…and Table Mountain towered above all the options–literally!

My research on Trip Advisor lead us to Hike Table Mountain and Riaan.  His hikes are currently ranked as the Number One activity to do in Cape Town.  After completing Riaan’s survey and some email back-and-forth, a route was selected:  Porcupine Ravine to Maclear’s Beacon, and across the top of Table Mountain where hopefully we would ride the Funicular (cable car) down to the parking lot.

Our path up the mountain...

Our path up the mountain…

Riaan picked us up at 6am and we were joined by a Canadian couple.  Within a few minutes we were ready to begin.

It is daunting to look up…waaaaaay up…to the top of Table Mountain and realize that we were going there!

I suspected that I might have been a little deluded over enthusiastic about my fitness level on Riaan’s survey when I was sweating like a pig winded on the approach to the trail head!  Riaan however, chatted easily as we walked along the path–pointing out beautiful and rare orchids, as well as many other plants.  He provided a thorough and riveting history of Table Mountain (it’s older than the Himalayas and it was 3 miles higher than its current elevation at its creation).

Porcupine Ravine Summit--view of Camp's Bay

Porcupine Ravine Summit–view of Camp’s Bay

Riaan immediately assessed the strengths and weaknesses of our group and offered the perfect combination of challenge and support for us all.  The Canadian couple were experienced hikers (the Rockies are their backyard) and I was at the other end of the spectrum–a “bag of hammers” struggling with a nagging shoulder injury and weak quads!

Despite my fitness deficit, Riaan patiently and expertly got us all up the Porcupine Ravine where we enjoyed an early lunch and a breathtaking view.

While we basked in the warm sun, gentle breeze and a 360 degree panorama, Riaan explained that we were very lucky to have the perfect day to climb Table Mountain.  It’s not uncommon for visitors to climb into full cloud, heavy wind–miserable conditions with no view!  And to add insult to injury:  the cable car shuts down in high winds, so the poor souls who have struggled to the top now have to hike down as well!  Fortunately for us, this was not the case!

Everlasting

Everlasting

Table Mountain Lakelet

Table Mountain Lakelet

Riaan lead us across the top of the Table to the highest point on the mountain–it’s a remarkable mesa (hence the “Table” moniker).  Beautiful spring flowers, lush green vegetation set against the ancient rock formations were stunning.  We didn’t encounter another soul on our trek–it felt like our own private mountain.  It was worth all the effort of climbing to experience this natural wonder.

A peaceful lakelet suddenly appeared and I took advantage of a small puddle to rest my weary feet on the “Table”.

Hiking towards the cable car structure we noted a couple of phenomena:

Table Cloth starting to descend

Table Cloth starting to descend

1.  The Table Cloth descending.  Table Mountain is known for changeable weather patterns.  One of these is a thick blanket of cloud that sweeps up the backside of the mountain and spills over the top and front.  It looks like a lovely white table cloth from a distance…not so lovely if you’re climbing in it!

Feet on the "Table"

Feet on the “Table”

2.  Crowds of tourists swarming the cable car/gift shop area.  After the quiet solitude of the 7 hour hike, the onslaught of people was jarring.

Our group braved the mob and took the quick and easy trip down to the parking lot where we met a taxi to return us to the car, and home.

Hike Table Mountain is, without a doubt, the only way I would recommend to experience this icon.  Riaan is the perfect guide and host–he knows these mountains like the back of his hand.

Next up:  The Tip of Africa and The Cape Of Good Hope

 

 

 

Olympic National Park August 2, 2014

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Marymere Falls

Crescent Lake

Crescent Lake

Recently I travelled to Olympic National Park in Washington State.  I’ve never explored Washington beyond working at a conference in Seattle years ago.

It is a beautiful spot in the world for sure.

cdnpearly on the ferry

cdnpearly on the ferry

We flew into Seattle and rented a vehicle to reach our destination.  The drive to the park included a ferry ride from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and then across several large bridges.

The weather was perfect–sunny and warm.IMG_2796

Arriving at the NatureBridge campus I was amazed at the lush greenery and the peaceful vibe.  Located on the shore of Crescent Lake, the historic property showcases many charming cottages and a dining hall that takes you back to bygone times.  I heard rumors that this location was a favorite of IMG_2840President Roosevelt!

Lake Crescent is unbelievably clear, with a teal blue color that reminded me of the Caribbean.  I actually looked forward to waking up early to enjoy tranquil mornings on the dock!

Our guide provided many opportunities to explore the area.

We canoed across the lake to hike The Spruce Railroad trail that was repurposed from an old train track. Wood from these forests was used in World War 1 for creating airplanes…to make it easier to get the lumber to the plane manufacturer, a rustic train track was constructed.

Tunnel on the Spruce Railroad trail

Tunnel on the Spruce Railroad trail

One of the most thrilling parts of the trail was through a tunnel.  Abandoned rail road ties littered the ground and made for challenging navigation.  I have some claustrophobic tendencies, so I was somewhat terrified reluctant to go through the gaping chasm that ended in the center of the earth tunnel.  Emerging on the other side was a relief!  It was a growth opportunity for me for sure!

Second Beach

Second Beach

Storm King Summit

Storm King Summit

One day we climbed Storm King.  This mountain overlooks Crescent Lake and provides a good burn for the quads as you ascend.  The views at the top were worth the effort, even on a misty day!

This region is also known for the Twilight movie(s).

Evidently Second Beach was the setting for some of the well known scenes (full disclosure:  I have never read the Twilight series or seen the movies).  We hiked along a beautiful trail that opened up onto the beach.  Interesting rock formations and the marine layer rolling in and out like the tides…well, I could definitely picture vampires, werewolves and whatnot cavorting here!

banana slug

banana slug

barred owl

barred owl

In addition to these “imaginary” creatures–we saw a number of other wildlife.  IMG_2871The ubiquitous banana slugs…a barred owl…a snake…ducks…crawfish…a deer…And the flowers were spectacular.

 

What an amazing experience.

Scottish Broom

Scottish Broom

 

Rachel the pig

Rachel the pig

We made a quick stop at the Pike Place Market in Seattle–saw  Rachel the pig and grabbed a tasty fresh salmon sandwich.  And then it was time to go home…IMG_0658

If you haven’t had the chance to explore Olympic National Park, I definitely recommend adding it to your list!

 

 

The Epic Birthday Week December 21, 2013

I recently celebrated my birthday!

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a mix of scorpio and fire horse (Chinese zodiac), but I really believe that my birthday should be is a national holiday.  In fact, I go as far as extending this special day to a full week at a minimum and I have stretched it to an entire season if warranted.

IMG_1984Anyhoo, my Canadian BFF:  Cyndi, also celebrates a scorpio birthday so she flew down for a full week of festivities…

And now  I give you “The Epic Birthday Week”!

Cyndi arrived in beautiful Santa Barbara late Saturday night…IMG_1991

Next day we took a class at The Painted Cabernet.  As my readers will recall, this is a local art studio/wine bar.  Our “Venice at Sunset” masterpieces are stunning!  AND I won a free class while I was wearing the honorary Birthday Tiara!  Following the class, we enjoyed a lovely meal at The Palace restaurant–one of my favorite places in Santa Barbara…cajun food in a happy, festive atmosphere.  It was tasty as usual!

The BacaraMonday we enjoyed a spa day at the Bacara.  IMG_9191This 5 star resort is magnificent.  They featured a local’s special:  Bliss Day.  Cyndi got a massage and I got a facial, followed by a complimentary glass of champagne and access to the facilities for the day.  It was a spectacular day, so we lounged poolside for hours…felt like we were celebrities on a weeklong holiday!  We even managed to dodge those pesky paparazzi that constantly stalk us!  😉Santa Barbara Art Glass

IMG_2008Tuesday we took a glass blowing class with Saul Alcaraz at Santa Barbara Art Glass–always a great experience.  We each made 3 spheres with various colors and finishes.  Saul expertly lead us through the process and we are both delighted with our globes.  So pretty!  Thanks Saul!  A lovely lunch at the Arts and Letters Cafe and then off to Other World Tattoo for Cyndi’s birthday tattoo!  J did a fabulous job!  Cyndi opted for a forearm tattoo that says “Courage begins at the wound” in gaelic.

IMG_9201Wednesday we drove up the coast to see Hearst Castle in San Simeon.  The weather was idyllic…so sunny and warm.  As we approached the castle, I mentioned that there was a legend claiming some of Hearst’s exotic animal collection could be seen in the hills…although I have never seen any, and I have never met anyone else that had.  Don’t you know we saw 13 zebra right then!  It was amazing! Hearst ZebraIMG_9204We selected the Designing the Dream tour–it’s a relatively new offering available for a limited time.  I recommend it.  It’s a longer tour–1.5 hours and a smaller group.  We were 6 in our group plus Mary K the guide.  She was amazing, having worked there for many many years.  We wandered around following the tour, basking in the late afternoon glow.

The Burton Inn in Cambria was our over night destination.  We were greeted with a complimentary bottle of wine and recommendations of a nearby restaurant featuring live music and appetizers.  Once we settled in, we ventured out to the charming streets of Cambria.  An hour of apps and guitar music was followed by a tasty dinner at the Sow’s Ear.

Piedras Blancas LightstationNext morning we headed north to Piedras Blancas Lighthouse

Sidebar:  I have been to that stretch of rugged coastline before and it gave an Ottawa blizzard a run for its money in terms of cold and wind!!  Me and my hearty Canadian parents were miserable in spite of the epic views and wildlife!!IMG_9232

Back to Piedras Blancas on this trip…we met up with our guide who toured us around a number of the historic buildings and natural phenomena on the site.  Since it is a designated area, no one is allowed to just arrive and traipse around–you must be escorted with an official docent.   Lucky for us, a tour was available on Thursday morning!  I had prepared Cyndi for a blustery gale…lots of layers and warmth!  However, we arrived to a balmy day with light winds and sparkly sunshine.  The guide remarked repeatedly, “It’s NEVER like this here!”  In fact, he explained that life on this remote outpost was arduous for the light keepers and their families…getting supplies was challenging due to the treacherous surf and high winds.  The constant cold also took its toll.  However, based on our perfect day, you would never imagine their hardships!

IMG_2047Next we stopped at the Elephant Seal rookery–about a mile south of the lighthouse.  It is the season for adolescent seals to congregate.  For the most part they lounged around and ignored the adults–typical teenagers!  Every now and then one of them would get a little feisty and engage in a tussle….and then return to sleeping and sun tanning!

A meandering drive South and we arrived back home, refreshed.

Brophy Bros.Friday was an odds & sods day where we did errands and picked up our glass…had lunch at Brophy Bros. to celebrate Cyndi’s actual birthday.  And Saturday at the crack of dawn (literally) Cyndi flew home to Canada.

It was a jam-packed epic week of art, creativity, nature, scenery, decadence…I thoroughly recommend it!

I just wonder what we’ll do for next year’s Birthday Week???

How about you?  Do you make a fuss for your birthday?  Let’s hear some stories!

 

Creepy crawlies of the safari! Africa: Part 4 November 17, 2012

Along with the Big Five and the Also Ran’s of the safari, there is a stratum of creatures that also deserve mention.  I call them creepy crawlies.  As my readers will recall, I’m not enamored with lizards (see Fauna Troubles post).  In fact, I recently experienced a near coronary when a small lizard appeared on my car’s dash board as I hurtled down the 101 in rush hour…

Nevertheless, I feel these African snakes/bugs/lizards should have their moment in the sun. So, here goes…

This beautiful Emperor Moth was a lovely center piece on the outdoor bar at Idube.  It’s quite big–likely 2″ across.

We came across this lonely terrapin in a quiet pond…And that concludes the pretty creepy/crawlie section of my blog!

We saw a couple of crocodiles on our drives…They weren’t too active, but still thrilling to see them in their natural habitat.

These giant millipedes were everywhere.  They look slimy, but they actually have a hard shell.  A memorable incident involved one landing on my leg as we toured around.  I must have made a distressed sound (I’m pretty sure I blacked out for a moment)…in any case, Rob and Ronald both whipped around quickly to see what was up.  I, paralyzed with fear, could only watch with relief as Rob the Ranger plucked the beast and gently flicked it away.  Normal breathing resumed after a few minutes!

There were lizards!  All sorts, all sizes!  After spending some time around these guys, I actually feel much better about the little lizards that hang around our yard!  It’s all in the perspective, people!  Rob has a real affinity for lizards and snakes.  I trusted his assessment of the threat level(minimal) and actually touched this one–a rock monitor!!  Click here for video footage of the event!

During our last night drive, we came across this scorpion.  It glows when in the presence of a blue light–which one of the drivers happened to have on hand!

And then this happened!

Yes folks, that is a 2m python!  It was crossing the trail in front of us, at night.  Ronald’s eagle eyes spied it and Rob screeched to a halt and before we knew what was happening, he had the snake in hand and it was wrapping around his arm.  Pythons are constricting snakes, btw.  Rob cheerfully brought the snake jeep-side so we could have a really good look at it. Click here for video footage of Rob carrying the snake.  I’m not sure what possessed me, but I touched it!  What a rush!  It’s true that travel stretches you in the most unexpected ways and I must say, that touching both a big lizard and a huge snake were growth moments for me!

So, which creepy crawly did you like the best?