by Brian Deiters, Australia and New Zealand specialist
During my 15-day New Zealand trip, I rented a car and explored many of the highlights of both the North and South Island. The most unforgettable part of the trip was spending three days in Aoraki and Mount Cook National Park.
From driving along the blue glacial waters of Lake Pukaki and hiking the Hooker Valley Track, to helicopter landing on the Southern Alps with a view of Mount Cook, visiting the park was a once in a lifetime experience.
by Shannon Burke, Africa specialist
On my recent trip to South Africa, my most memorable experience was witnessing a face-off between a rhino and some lions. We were driving through a layer of fog on an early morning game drive in the Amakhala Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape when a blur of movement up ahead caught my eye. In front of us were two young female lionesses on top of a rhino running through the fog! The rhino had a small rhino calf (our ranger told us 6 months or younger) running alongside her. It was the most surreal scene I’ve ever witnessed – it’s unusual to be lucky enough to see lions hunt, and they very rarely go after something as big as a rhino.
In a split second, the lionesses were off of the rhino and chasing from behind. The rhino charged ahead, finally guiding her calf to stand against a bush while she stood guard in front. In the distance, an older lioness and the male of the pride were walking slowly towards the young lionesses, who were circling the rhinos. They seemed to be saying "go ahead, learn the hard way how crazy it is to take on a rhino." The older lions sat back while the younger ones circled. The rhino swung her horn violently in the direction of any lion that moved. In the 4x4, we were completely still. The air was charged with energy. Eventually, the lions lost interest and ambled away. It was a completely wild interaction to witness first-hand!
by Victoria Schennum, Mexico and Peru specialist
Upon arrival in Peru we started our trip to the Peruvian Amazon. We ventured into the depths of the jungle, taking a 7 hour boat ride up the scenic Tambopata River to arrive at the remote and wild Tambopata Research Center (TRC). On our third day in the jungle, our guide Listen invited us to watch a soccer match taking place that afternoon (in the 95 degree heat) between the guides and the rest of the TRC staff members. Listen had previously told us that guiding at the TRC was his favorite place, partly because of the abundant wildlife but mostly because of the soccer matches that would take place each day.
Listen guided us into the jungle through obscure paths that we would never have been able to navigate on our own, and led us out into a clearing in the jungle where a dusty football pitch had been fashioned. The players were thrilled to discover they had an audience when we emerged from the overgrown paths. We sat on the side of the pitch and watched as the guys ferociously played in the dust and the sweltering heat, some of them wearing odd shoes or none at all. The energy was raucous and palpable and it was such a joy to be a witness to this lively and perfect happiness that was caused by something so simple as a soccer match.
As we spectated and the whooping and banter picked up, we were astounded to see troops of monkeys swinging in to the sidelines, swooping and jumping in the canopies above the pitch.
There were spider monkeys, titi monkeys and tamarin’s, dozens of them attracted to the action and seemingly cackling and giggling at the players as the ball got kicked off side in to the jungle.
It was a completely surreal experience and we had not yet seen the monkeys so interactive and interested in humans or such a vast number of them during our time in the Amazon. Having the opportunity to watch the secret soccer match was incredible, but then topping it off with the monkeys in the peanut gallery was amazing. It was certainly a moment I will never forget.
by Blair Peterson, Southeast Asia specialist
During my three week journey in Malaysian Borneo, I had the incredible opportunity to put my endurance to the test and summit Mount Kinabalu. At 13,435 feet, Mount Kinabalu stands as one of the highest peaks in Southeast Asia. Climbing step-by-step alongside my mountain guide, I made my way up, arriving at the base camp around mid-afternoon. Here, I enjoyed relaxing with other climbers from all over the globe, sharing travel stories and a few Tiger beers. As the sun set, I made my way to bed, as I had an early start at 2:00 AM to begin the last of my climb to the summit.
A short 5 hours later, my alarm was buzzing at the ungodly hour of 1:45 AM and my guide and I were out the door and into the dark, right on schedule. I followed the beam of light coming from my headlamp as we climbed to the summit. As we climbed, I could feel the air get colder and my breath getting short, but I knew it only meant I was closer to the top. Finally, my guide pointed up to the sky towards the summit. Just as the first rays of sun light were peeking over the mountains, I had reached the top. I felt a rush of triumph as I watched the sun rise and shine on the land below me -- I was truly above the clouds. I enjoyed the beautiful view as I relished in my accomplishment - I had just summited my first mountain! Although it was difficult, the climb was truly a highlight of my journey. Standing at the peak at 13,345 feet up and admiring the remarkable views below was unforgettable.
by Lauren Burzalow, Southeast Asia specialist
On my trip to Indonesia, the most unique and memorable experience was definitely my stay on a traditional Klotok river boat in Tanjung Puting National Park. Each morning we woke up on the deck of our simple boat and heard the sounds of the jungle waking up as we watched the sunrise. By the time we started cruising we were being treated to the sight of completely wild orangutan, proboscis monkeys, crocodiles, macaques, monitor lizards, and a variety of bird life.
Our first day we pulled up to one of the research stations where we were able to witness a feeding of the rehabilitated orangutans in the park. They spend most of their day in the wild, but the elevated feeding platforms supplement their diet. All of a sudden, the trees around us started to shake and from every direction the orangutan of the community descended on the platform. Watching all of the different age groups playfully interacting and enjoying their lunch was incredible.
The best part of the day for me was when all of the orangutans stopped at once, and suddenly amidst some intense shaking in the trees a huge alpha male, Tom, showed up with two females. All of the other orangutans immediately left the platform so that he could eat. However, one cheeky adolescent kept sneaking down the nearest tree, stretching out as far as he could, and snatching bananas and sugar cane while Tom wasn’t looking! It was hilarious, because it is exactly how I think of adolescent humans acting and really showed how human-like they are.
by Samantha Sutherland, Africa specialist
My dreams came true when I landed in the Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana. I have been dreaming of coming to this region for years and I was finally there. It was idyllic. My initial thoughts were I could stay here forever. I found myself in an African oasis full of flat plains with patches of bush and palm trees. Driving to the camp we were surrounded by zebras gathering for their annual migration. I had finally made it!
I was most looking forward to my long awaited encounter with the meerkats. Here, you can observe the different colonies and watch their behavior during their morning routines. It was one of the coolest experiences being so close and following them search for food and look out for each other as they take turns standing up keeping watch for predators. If you sit down you can even get lucky enough for them to climb up on you as they are always looking for the highest vantage point.
One of my most memorable experiences however, would be the afternoon we took quad bikes out for a ride onto the salt pans. They were unlike anything I have ever seen before. When we stopped to watch the sunset my guide explained that I was standing in the middle of one of the largest salt flats in the world which used to be Lake Makgadikgadi covering an area larger than Switzerland.
At that moment, I just sat down to take it all in; no animals, no bugs, no people for miles - just silence. It was breathtaking and a moment I will never forget.
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