Friday, October 28, 2011

Wonders of the World

The large southern most island in South Korea, Jeju Island, is in the running for one of the new seven wonders of the world (one of 28 finalists to be exact). This island faces competition from the likes of the Grand Canyon, the Underground River in Palawan, Philippines (where I've been!), the Matterhorn, the Amazon, the Great Barrier Reef, Mt Kilamanjaro among others. Do I think Jeju Island is deserving of this honor? No. While, Jeju is certainly pretty and certainly quite different and rather you unique compared to the rest of Korea, I wouldn't put it even in the top ten most beautiful places I have traveled to. Sorry Korea! You have many good qualities but unfortunately in my humble opinion your tiny peninsula just doesn't match up to some of the other extraordinary, beautiful, and awe inspiring places around the world. Do I think Jeju Island has a chance to win this honor? Yes. Unlike other countries, likely virtually all of South Korea's population of 50 million has access to the internet and is connected to several methods of voting (okay maybe not ALL I'd like to think newborn babies can't vote but you never know). Combine this connectedness (apparently that's not a word?) with extreme patriotism and extreme promotion of Jeju Island on the part of Korea. You never know what could happen. But this post is not about Jeju Island's worthiness to the honor of a wonder of the world, but about one the wonders of Africa (sadly not in the running for a wonder of the world, but more deserving than Jeju Island in my opinion). And by the way if you feel like voting for the new seven wonders of the world click here. You have until November 11th.

Drive to Maun
Last weekend, my dad and I drove the 10 hour (well more like 9 when drive fast, not that we were doing that or anything) drive to Maun in northern Botswana--the gateway to the Okavango Delta, one of the seven wonders of Africa (I did look this fact up). If you do not know what the Delta is, it is perhaps one of the most unique ecosystems in the world. And this fact is what intrigued me upon first arriving in Maun. As we drove north in Botswana the already limited greenery (we are currently waiting the start of the rainy season) grew even more scarce. The few times we exited our air conditioned car made us notice the steady rise in temperature. While, we still spotted the frequent cow, donkey, and goat, along with increasing numbers of ostriches on the side of the road, I often wondered how these animals were surviving without any water that I could see and EXTREMELY limited vegetation. By the time we entered Maun the main landscape was scrubby, dry bushes and trees sitting atop white sand. Yet what else was intermingled in this rather desolate and dry landscape? A network of small rivers covered in vivid green reeds and other vegetation. The Okavango Delta is a chunk of the Kalahari Desert that has been overrun with runoff from waterways in Angola. Basically an excess of water just soaked up into the desert creating a haven for a diverse collection of wildlife.

Sunset from our campsite. 
Mokoro ride. 
After seeing almost no birds (birds chirping in the morning were once the signal of spring for me) or wildlife (besides the occasional dyed toy dog) in Korea, witnessing the unique birds of the Delta was incredible. We spent one long hot day on the river, taking a traditional Mokoro boat through the reeds. I saw a small crocodile sunning itself, scores of birds that I can't remember the names of, and my skin once again reminded me why it probably in fact belongs in northern europe, not southern Africa (sad days). Our second day was spent in the vast Moremi game reserve in the hopes of catching a glimpse of some of the large and various numbers of wildlife there. We were not disappointed. I've been lucky enough on five game drives to spot virtually all of the major African animals up close, but I had not ever seen male lions close enough to consider getting National Geographic worthy photos of them. After a few hours of driving, successful game spotting, and lunch, our driver seemed determined to find lions for us, in spite of the extreme heat which causes most animals to run for shade (especially lions). We drove up and down various paths with no luck, but suddenly we spotted the flick of a tail off in the distance. Success! Our driver navigated the vehicle off the main road (much to my surprise) and parked the vehicle right next to a tree where four HUNGRY male lions were napping. Lucky (or perhaps unlucky) for me I was born for the most part without a healthy dose of fear and instead proceeded to snap photos of these magnificent beasts. The driver informed us that as long as we did not move abruptly or stick any body parts out of the car (keep in mind there are no doors on this vehicle) we would be fine. For about fifteen quiet minutes we watched these great beasts. They almost seemed harmless as they yawned and dozed in the hot afternoon sun. It was amazing that while we could see their ribs clearly and knew they probably hadn't eaten in some time they made no move towards our vehicle where three humans sat, virtually defenseless. I was half tempted (don't tell my father) to put something out of the car just to see how they would react. Apparently lions react to quick movements and can notice differences (ie if a wildebeast is among a herd of zebra the lion would be able to spot the wildebeast but not necessarily the zebra). Finally, we drove away much to my dad's relief and I could check this sighting off my to-do list. Rather than try and describe anything further in words I leave you with photos (unedited).
River on the way to Moremi game reserve. Sunrise. 
One of many elephant sightings. Botswana has the largest herd of elephants in the world at 100,000. 

Hippo getting ready for his daily bath. 

A lone hyena. 

Our company during lunch break. 

Thanks for posing for me. 

Hopefully you're not eyeing me as lunch. 

The striped horse. 

 As for everyday life in Botswana, my life has settled into a rhythm of running and mountain biking, going to the gym, enjoying the sun, and filling out lots and lots of applications. Most recently I've been writing research proposals and modifying personal statements for grad school apps. Oh joy! I wish I could just skip all this and get back to school already. Ironically enough I am also teaching English to Koreans living in Botswana. Which is neither fulfilling or exciting to me but it does involve a supply of kimchi and money. Two very good things. In less than two weeks I will spend a long weekend in Cape Town then back to Seattle and Oregon for my brother's wedding. I have booked roundtrip so unless something amazing comes up between now and December 5th I will be back in admirably dull Botswana. It's a little weird to think that it's been almost two months since I left Korea. It feels like a year. I've already forgotten some of the customs that became so normal to me there. But this fact just confirms for me that it was a good decision for me to leave. And I'll leave you with that. In the time it took for me to write this post we had our first official rain! And for once in my life I enjoyed it! :)


  1. Seeing your pics of giraffes makes me want to ride one!

    I'm so pumped to see you in Seattle! Have fun in your sunny, kimchi life until then! :)