Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A Drive on the Wild Side: Yellowstone National Park

I know I make a lot of reference to places and occasions from South Africa, but this is like my base of knowledge and so I will use it just to show that there are some brain cells floating in my head. And the great card of reference taken into account now is the “Rainbow Nations’” abundant supply of wildlife. From those pesky lions who most times refrain from wandering well-kept backyards, to those obnoxious things commonly known as Brothers, we have them all and many more. So considering this, I can almost count myself an expert on the ways of the wild. But when you enter the realms of another country, you will surely become as intelligent in this matter as our darling President Zuma and his knowledge on matters of state.

On the vast plains of Yellowstone there are many animals that wanderer about, causing many tourists to ooh and aah. Upon entering this park the bets started flying around the car. Kate was going to see Yogi Bear in his natural habitat, unfortunately she did not realise that Yogi Bear lived on her television screen, but then again we are talking about Kate. Carmen was adamant about seeing a wolf. I was all for seeing an Elk, I liked the sound of the word not the way the animal looked. And Kevin? He wanted to see a deer. Obviously living in New Jersey, where it is more common to have a deer in your backyard then a dog, had not deterred his appreciation of this fine creature.

We had not been in the vicinity of the park for more than five minutes when there sitting like a beast was a creature I had never before seen. It had the most frightening head on this very out of proportion body. So like the tourists we were and almost burning the brake pads out we came to a stop right beside this beast. Out the cameras were whipped, as we clicked away, being careful not to get too close. And while we were having this impromptu photo session cars were passing by with terrible facial expressions and holding up fingers that should have been left down, and not to mention the out of tune honking that was going on with the cars. Maybe they had just not yet seen the beast. I thought, when they see our awesome pictures they will feel deep regret for their unsatisfactory display of drama. So on we drive feeling very chuffed that we had spotted an animal so soon. Lady Luck must be taking a seat in this car. Two minutes up the road was a long line of cars parked on the side of a narrow road, with tourist spilling out of their cars aiming their very expensive foreign cameras far into the distant. So we pull in behind the last car and take our cameras out and start pointing, at what we are not quite sure of yet. And then I spot it, another one of those beast things standing so close by. I yell out excitedly to everyone that I had found it. I was going crazy. And then some kind person went on to inform these na├»ve souls that what I had just “found” was a Bison. By now I’m going wow, pretty neat. The name even sounds beastly. And then the next words poured out of his mouth, “They’re as common as cows here.” Now all I’m thinking is, I stopped to take a picture of a cow? What levels of tragic tourist had we dropped too that I cow would make an interesting focus for a picture?

The creature we had indeed been looking for that time was a wolf. A man with his ultra this and mega that with a super whatever camera had spotted it many miles away and so we had waited patiently to see it. When we spotted what looked like a movement in the bushes over the mountain, we determined that this was the wolf, snapped a picture of that moving bush and then headed on our way. Carmen’s wolf had not come out into the spotlight that time, but another opportunity would present itself. Driving around the park in the late hours of the night, after coming back from a rodeo, we were rushing along glad not to be travelling at 2 miles an hour. When suddenly in front of us this insane person had not come to the conclusion that he could at least up his speed to 5, so there with brakes leaving fire trails behind us we came to a sudden jolting stop. And what was there right by us, sniffing the very same air we were sniffing? A wolf. A very big and very magnificent wolf.  With the full moon shining down on it, it looked utterly unreal. And if I had not turned my head to make sure Kevin was sitting in the drivers seat, I would have almost thought it was him standing there in his werewolf form. The wolf did kind of strut about like Kevin, with a theme song of “I’m sexy and I know it,” blaring in its head. So Carmen had now really seen her wolf.

The next was Yogi Bear. After trying to inform Kate that Yogi Bear was not really real and failing (everytime we came near to the truth she held this expression on her face as if we had just told her candy was not really good for you and chocolate was not a food group on its own, it was that bad!), we decided to just tell her that he was on vacation and we would see his relatives instead. This made her happy enough. So as all the times before we had spotted this ridiculously long line of cars on the side of the road and so out we jumped cameras in hand rushing to who knows where. People stopped us asking what we were going to see and we very wisely answered, “To see that animal over there,” waving our fingers in every direction. The crowd on the top of the hill was ten feet deep so we wiggled our way through curious about what exactly we would find on the other side. And there was Yogi Bears little niece ambling along the mountainside with a throng of tourist following her like the paparazzi. The very brave or not so wise (depends on how you view this) Kevin and Carmen rushed up to take close ups of the bear. They were so close that when little Yogi’s niece had a tiny sneeze they could feel her blow them away. Kate and I, knowing that our cameras contained a wonderful zoom function opted to stay very far behind. Then the unexpected happened, the bear turned around and started walking towards the people! Kate and I who were 500 000 feet behind the crowd turned tail and quickly sprinted to the opposite side of the road, while Kevin and Carmen moved closer. At that moment if something had happened I was already planning what I would write in their obituaries, “Friends who had temporarily lost use of their brain failed to regain their sanity when they made friends with a bear. They are now living with the spirits of the long departed, and I hope they never regain their sanity because I just know Kevin will be kicking himself that Shana and Kate turned out to be smarter.” They did manage to safely displace themselves from Yogi’s niece and we ended up with some really great pictures in the process.

So I got to see some really unique creatures on this vacation and see the wild side come out in my friends. To all the places I have been to so far, I really did enjoy Yellowstone. It was a place of which I knew nothing so I was like those tourist we all get annoyed of, it was a really invigorating experience to be like that. I’m already booking my next trip there; I hope I will spot some of you with your fancy gadgets popping out of cars on the side of the road when I stop by next time.

Safe travels! 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

A Wonder in Time: Yellowstone National Park

When thinking of Yellowstone National Park all I can think of to describe what this place truly is, is out of this world. It is really like nothing else on this earth. So any descriptions made to this unique wonder will be a stand-alone, breathtaking one. I can only give but a glimpse of the awe this place will inspire in you and nothing more. To experience this place unconditionally, you need to be standing there amongst the tall grasses, swim in the contradictory rivers and watch with wonder all the animals that amble along.

With Mount Rushmore behind us, and Yellowstone National Park slowing approaching, I must admit I never knew what to expect from a place such as this. In South Africa the natural beauty of our landscape is quite riveting. Every tiny corner of the country will offer something different, and satisfy all your curiosities. Living in the craziness of New Jersey, and just a mere hour from the sleepless New York City, where a growing green patch of land is hard to come by, I did have my reserves about this park. What could really compare to the beauty of my home?

The drive in to the park was like a sudden and miraculous epiphany. Amidst the smoke of the cities and buried by the stressed out days we live, was a place that could transform and renew. In this country where politics and economics are the rule of the day, was a place where nature ruled in all her glory. Yellowstone was (almost) untouched by anything human. Forests were left to grow as they pleased, bears roamed wherever they wanted and lay down to rest in any place the need struck regardless of the passerby’s gawking stares. Rivers ran crystal clear through valleys and into a giant lake that sparkled with the diamond water drops that filled it. Wolves were not a great mystery seen only by a few, but their commanding presence in this wilderness demanded our attention and respect. It was a site that made you forget, and at the very same time remember. Gone were the memories of how over-worked you were and bone-tired you felt, and in their place were sweet memories of a childhood spent in the very wake of nature.

Yet the most bewildering aspect of this park was in the geysers that shot water at regular intervals high up into the air, the allure of the hot water springs that captured your imagination at all the colours thrown out and the goofiness of the mud pots as they bubbled away like the unappetizing concoctions of children. These are sights that will rarely be seen anywhere else. And it is a place that captures all your senses; the smell of the rotting sulphur burns your nose as you wonder if the egg salad sandwich you wanted for lunch would be the best choice, the heat from the hot springs wrap a warm blanket around you as you walk along, the sounds of the tiny explosions rivet you, and as you feel your feet pound along the hard earth you come to realise that you are living in this moment and not a dream state of artistic fascination.

John Muir, a man who because of his dedication to preserving the magnificence of all the natural exhibits in America and made it possible for me to be standing here today many years later, said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more then he seeks.” During those long walks in the heart of this park, I did find a lot more then I was looking for. I found the beauty in new friendships, the thrill of experiencing something new and the hope that we could still appreciate the untouched and untainted.

Safe travels!

P.S since this was such an amazing trip, more stories to follow about the shenanigans of four young adults and the stories that made this park real for each of us.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

A Day with Murphy

Murphy’s Law. This law was created to make my life that is already challenging- because of slow thought processes- a lot more difficult. I do not like this Murphy who created this useless and unnecessary law, but I live with it. And if I must say, I do come out smiling in the end or something that kind of looks like one if you squint an eye or two. Saturday was that kind of day for us. It started off with the best of intentions to be on top of my game, but because of circumstances it all fell flat.

Kevin is a great friend. He plans all these really wonderful things for us to do like shooting expeditions, camping trips and all sorts of interesting and crazy adventures that I would never even consider. So a couple of months ago Kevin found this amazing Groupon for Spiderman: Turn off the Dark, the Broadway musical. An experience of New York City will never be complete without a turn to see a play on Broadway to refine your cultural sophistication. And according to Kate, plays and such things add a few more brain cells to my brain cell deprived brain. This was definitely a must. The day approached, the excitement was intense. Our show was in the afternoon, but I had work for a couple hours in the morning. With some careful, thoughtful planning we worked out a schedule that would ensure no leeway, but we would get there in time. Now I want to say before I go on that I cannot wake anyone up. It’s a trait I do not have, and one I do not want to acquire either. And it was my job to ensure that Kevin and Kate woke up on time. That’s the first time Murphy’s Law came into play. We left the house like a little late (about half an hour), but things were still going well. Excitement had fallen a few notches by now, replaced by a couple frazzled nerves.

Now there are a couple different ways to get into New York City from New Jersey. You can take a cab and be expected to take out a small college fund to pay for this ride, the advantages are that you can disregard going to college and find another plan for your future. The trains are also another way in, but in the city that never sleeps being expected to go home at 12:30am on the last train really puts a damper on things, I swear this scheduled was created by parents to impose strict curfews on teenagers. But the best options is catching the path train that runs 24 hours a day and leaves every 10 minutes, this fitted more into our lifestyle, it did not leave us on the edge of bankruptcy or deprive us of a great time. So we arrived at Hoboken, paid an arm and two fingers for parking and walked over to the station that was… closed!  Oh boy, Murphy again. Fortunately for us, there was another station very close by, unfortunately for us there was traffic and road works and terrible New Jersey drivers.

So to cut this endless tirade of examples of how Murphy seemed to be throwing these giant obstacles in our path, we made it to New York City, sprinting down ten blocks to reach the theatre and only missed one scene. Not too bad, we earned a free workout and got to experience Broadway Street at another speed.

Spiderman is an amazing play for its special effects and props. Spiderman took my breath away when he flew above my head on ropes that were too thin to hold life and limb together. The Green Goblin costume was magnificent with its bold colour and how life like it was. The props on stage were on a whole new level, displaying the scenes on a three dimensional element and actually making you feel as if you’re sitting there viewing the streets and scenes of New York City amidst the hustle and bustle. Yet, I must say that I did expect more from this highly raved about play, the acting although good was not phenomenal. I walked away somehow feeling as if I had missed something, or was still waiting for the dramatic climax. But the play was an experience I really did enjoy.

With the play done, and Kevin still being an extraordinary person, he had booked this extravagant cooking class for us. So with some time to kill we waded our way through a swamp of overly Christmas dosed tourists to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. Kate, Kevin and I all managed to get lost at least once each, so counting this as too much of an invasion of personal bubble space we headed downtown to our cooking lesson. Our stomachs having a conversation amongst themselves, we arrived there eager to create our own meal and put the first morsel of food into our bellies for the day. And then Murphy peeked his nasty head in again. Our cooking class should had been more aptly defined as a preparation class, there was no cooking occurring at this location. Our bellies were now loudly declaring their displeasure at this, so managing to rebook we went for a walk to find a place to eat.

“Lasagna,” in Chelsea is the best Italian restaurant. We ordered three different meals wanting to sample a wide variety of their wares and were amazed at the mouthwatering exquisiteness of the food. The pumpkin ravioli was like taking a bite of thanksgiving, and the four cheese lasagna was just right without being too cheesy. And to round off a superb meal we had the most delicious white wine. The staff was really friendly making us feel as if we were sitting at home with a group of friends, very easy going and great atmosphere.
Our next stop was at a local pub called, “The Malting Pot.” It had just recently opened and already was packed. I was scraping shoulders with the person next to me and using the guy behind me as a leaning post. The drinks available were not the typical beverages supplied, but they allowed you to try out your adventurous side for a night. I was not that adventurous, but I really enjoyed meeting Nick and Holly there and catching up.

So in the early hours of Sunday morning deciding it was time to go home, we walked to a path train. And that terrible Murphy person made his presence known yet again. All the paths trains were closed, because of Hurricane Sandy, a few weeks had gone by and she was still making her presence known.  Just our luck. So there went our college fund and the chance to a bright and knowledgeable future as we had to take a cab back to New Jersey. We did make a new friend that night though; the taxi driver was a really interesting person.

So Murphy turned out in full force that night, but we managed to stumble along and have a very memorable night with great friends and wonderful experiences and learning how to be a little more schedule orientated next time.

Safe travels!