Cape Buffaloes in the Night

You haven’t really heard your heart beating out of your chest until you’ve driven into a herd of wild, ornery Cape buffalo at twilight in the back of an uncovered game vehicle. As the truck lights went dim, we were left with a single spotlight, aimed upward, over the herd of 150 or so silently grazing animals. The indirect light caught the eyes of the dark beasts and while we watched, they wandered within 10 feet and blinked back with glowing eyes. I held my breath.

Using a zoom, from far, far away, I saw my first Cape buffalo.

It was our second night drive into the South African bush at Sabi Sand Game Reserve. We’d already spotted the Big 5 (leopard, lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo), so every new encounter felt like icing on a heavily frosted cake. We’d finished our sun downer drinks while facing a rhino and her baby across a watering hole, when our tracker got a call on the radio saying the Cape buffalo had been spotted. And so off we sped through the dwindling light, all 10 of us tourists happily bouncing in the back of a Land Cruiser, waiting to see what we might encounter.

The rangers and trackers usually kept mum as to what animal we were headed toward. The radio conversation was conducted in a combination of Afrikaans and Tsonga, so tourists weren’t disappointed if an interesting animal wandered out of bounds for their lodge. After six game drives and some pointed questions to our guides, we quickly learned to understand the words for lion and leopard. Or so we thought – picking them out of an actual sentence was really just dumb luck, given the jargon and multiple languages.

As we continued our high-speed chase, I could feel the humid, fragrant air permeate my skin and blow through my hair. I exhaled.  It felt good to be ingesting that much clean oxygen and breathing in part of this place that was so far from my home. I giggled at the sheer fun of the ride and how few worries I had about anything at that moment.

We rounded a final bend and our ranger tapped the brakes and turned off the headlights. Straight in front of us, across one of the few open areas in this part of the bushveld, was standing a herd of the deadly Cape buffalo. Of course, we drove right into the middle of them all. I held my breath. The tracker, whose seat was welded onto the hood of the vehicle, kept his spotlight directly out of the eyes of the mildly curious animals, but illuminated them enough for us to see them as they wandered past.

We were told we could take pictures with a flash, but my hands were so unsteady from the rush of being this close to an animal whose head was literally bullet proof, I didn’t bother to try for a shot. And honestly I wanted to kill the Englishman in front of me who took shot after shot with his two foot lens and flash. That didn’t seem to be a good idea AT ALL. Despite the reputation of the Cape buffalo, not one animal looked even remotely interested in testing the nerve of the vehicle before it. Eventually the flashes stopped and we all sat in silence while the grazing animals moved around our vehicle. It’s that silence that I began to welcome on each of the successive game drives. When everyone has shot all the photos they can, and we just sit for a moment, taking in the wild of where we are while animals go about their business of survival. I exhaled.

After a few more minutes watching the herd move around us, our ranger turned back to ask us the same question he did after every animal encounter. “Shall we leave them in peace?”


Silver City Las Vegas

I used to go to Las Vegas every year. But I was in my 20’s and those kinds of things were acceptable. Now, I only return to get my occasional dose of neon tinted heat, $15 drinks and general revelry.

English: Las Vegas Strip

The Strip in all its glory.

The novelty and flash has dimmed a bit, and visits now leave me feeling unsettled. There’s always been a tarnished silver lining to the world I see in Las Vegas. It’s as if this over-the-top city is at the expense of someone or something else. Part melancholy, part mania, all covered with a thick veneer of glitter and excitement.

I know other people have a different view of this city. It’s about fun or removing your inhibitions, so we’re told. But isn’t that what makes us who we are? Our real lives, inhibitions and all, get us from one day to the next, and it seems disingenuous to toss that aside, for however long we are there, to be something we are not.

Las Vegas seems particularly adept and asking you to leave part of yourself at home before you visit, so it can be replaced by a louder, brighter, more exciting version. And that is where I think I see sadness – that some have accepted the notion they must leave themselves behind if they are to really enjoy all the city has to offer.

I don’t know of one person who doesn’t have a “crazy Vegas story,” myself included. No one has a “crazy Cleveland story,” or a “crazy San Juan islands story.” What is it about the city that asks us to leave all that we know to be reasonable and acceptable, in trade for experiences we would never consider anywhere else? And anyway, isn’t travel about leaving behind the everyday in exchange for something grander, if only for a little while? No, I tend to believe we take all of us with us when we travel. I cannot leave behind my inherent shyness, but the anonymity of travel makes it bit easier to overcome.

This isn’t to say Las Vegas isn’t worthy of a vacation for vacation’s sake. It’s a great hopping-off point for some mind blowing natural and man-made wonders. Even on The Strip, the garish glitz and seediness can be avoided at finer hotels with gardens, art galleries, and shows. And as a Seattleite, I can appreciate the heat of a 75 degree day in February. But I can no longer idealize a Las Vegas trip as a way to “lose myself,” or somehow get away from who I am. Next time I go, I’m taking all of me along – from the inner cynic to the shy observer. We travel well together, and in fact, have become inseparable.

Sequim by the Sea

I traveled to this small town by the sea more times than I could count in the last two decades. It was my grandfather’s home, and it required traversing a mountain pass, navigating a city and setting sail on a ferry just to get there. But in this place between the Olympic Mountains and the Straight of Juan de Fuca he was at home, and he loved it.

A view across Sequim Bay to Mt. Baker

My last trip to Sequim, WA was quite different. This time, Gramps came with us in a small plastic box as we traveled out to sea. With few words and a swirl of milky-white water, our family carried out his final wishes on a cloudless, perfect day.

It takes more time to grieve a loss than I imagined after his quiet death, no matter how expected or relieving that death may be. But this little town will always be there to remind me of the life he lived, how much he mattered to me and what we shared in spirit. And so I wrote:

Sequim By the Sea

A gentle breeze

A silent rocking

That thin strip of land that

juts out to sea.

It was here he made his home,

where mountains meet water

and rain turns to sunshine.

The light is cast in lavender

and time makes its way

slowly down the horizon

to the rhythm of the ticking clock.

The place that knew him best,

and now a place to rest.

I’ll Always Love You, New York

It’s never easy to visit a place you’ve heard about for your entire life. There are so many opinions and impressions already in the ether, you feel your own experience will be just a version of someone else’s trip. At least, that’s how I felt about New York City.

As a distinctly west coast girl, New York City was always the magical place that could transform dreams into reality, pass you over like lightning and break you down to your core. It was raw and honest, and always, always…out there somewhere. It took armour of many sorts just to survive, or so I thought. I was prepared to meet this city with my game face on.

When I finally touched down, I felt a welcoming I didn’t expect. That first afternoon of arrival, I walked through Central Park, felt the springtime warmth and saw the beauty in the nature and humanity huddled there. The rest of the trip was like a whirlwind, but I felt at home. I could handle this city, with its grid-like neighborhoods, status-leveling public transportation and a surprise around every corner. This city could be mine, if I wished it so.

The full heartbeat of New York City cannot be understood in just a few days time, I am certain. But I did catch a glimpse of the openness, the wide-open acceptance to come as you are, and the feeling of belonging people must have felt for generations. It’s true, the city does break you down to your core, but that is where we are all human and just like one another. I think that’s what makes the city easier to handle – because however marginalized we may feel in other parts of our lives, in this city, we can live, just as we do everywhere.

Wanderlust in the DNA

I am a traveler from a long line of of travelers. I was raised to look at the world through a lens of all the places I could see, one day. As soon as I could carry my own bag, my mother took me by the hand to visit places I had never heard of before- Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Bangkok, Singapore, Santiago, Sydney.

It was an unusual upbringing, made no less strange living in a small rural community where most were farmers and ranch hands. Ah, but there are blessings to be had with a single mom raising an only child. Live cheaply, save religiously, travel boldly. I continue to live that motto. After all, there are still wilds I have yet to wander. The more I travel, the more I want to write. To share what I see and feel is in the spirit of a place.

Several months ago, I was awakened by a very vivid dream, and this is what I wrote:

I had a dream of Africa. South Africa to be exact. Cape Town, or so it would seem. Sunset, large ocean bay, tall coastal rocks, a community by the sea. Maybe I will go. Maybe I will see Cape Town. What an adventure on the other side of the world! And all because I dreamed of a road that led to the ocean where it met a town I had never seen before.

In a few short weeks, I will step off a plane in Cape Town. I can’t wait.