Thursday, April 17, 2014

Great White Shark Encounter

"Did you notice the top 12 inches of the cage don't have bars?!  Doesn't that seem like too much?" Jan nervously asked Yemi as we watched the crew prepare for our dive.

Yemi was excited for his close encounter with a Great White, the ocean's most feared shark. Jan was a bit anxious and getting more sea sick with each lapping wave.  But considering this activity was on her bucket list, there was no way she was backing out!

The crew mixing the "chum" that attracted the Great White Sharks

The chum attracted sharks in about 10 minutes. Yemi went down into the cage with the second group. Right away, he had a thrilling experience when the massive Great White repeatedly attacked the corner of the cage mere feet from his position. The coldness of the arctic waters were the last thing on his mind as he plunged under the water when each beast would swim by trailing the bait.

The shark kept attacking the cage!  Yemi was about three feet from the corner of this cage.
Jan went in the next group and if the thrilling screams Yemi heard from the deck are good indications, she had an equally exciting experience. The first pass of the shark she experienced was when it came straight toward her in the cage and turned at the last minute, so close that its side fin actually entered the cage as it passed. A few minutes later a Great White leaped out of the water and snatched the floating seal decoy about five feet in front of Jan, prompting her scream that had the crew laughing.

Jan was directly in front of this shark!

Being so close to such a beast of nature is something we won't soon forget.  It felt like we were living our our "Shark Week" dreams.

Seasickness had taken its toll on Jan.  We had different attitudes during debarkation.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Eyes In the Wild

Hippos are the deadliest of the "big 5" animals to humans.

There's nothing sadder than seeing an elephant perform in a circus once you are educated on the brutal training they've endured to be there. And while zoos play an important role in conserving endangered species, it's still disheartening to see a tiger or lion pacing along a 20 foot corridor in its cage.

Our visit to Kruger National Park in South Africa allowed us to see all of these animals in the wild.  It was an experience we will never forget.

There are no words to describe how it feels to be 10 feet from a pack of lions that just returned from a hunt...or the excitement of hearing the male let out a long roar followed by a yawn.

Kruger lion lying down

There are no words to describe the excitement in your stomach when a giraffe walks down the middle of the road toward you, navigating around a herd of 50+ zebras...all of which are ignoring you as they graze and flip the flies off their backs with their tails.

Kruger animals

There are no words to describe the adrenaline you feel as you zip your car into reverse so a family of giant African elephants can cross the road where your car just stood. 

African elephants crossing road in Kruger

There are no words to describe the anticipation you feel of what lies around the corner as you see literally HUNDREDS of impala eyes reflecting in the beam of your spotlight on a 4:30am drive. It was such a liberating feeling to be a guest in their world.

Note all of the eyes on the right side of the photo.  They are impala, zebras & wildebeests.

There really are no words to adequately describe the amazing safaris we experienced during our two short days in Kruger National Park. Luckily, pictures are worth a thousand words so we will give it a shot.

The lions weren't the only ones hunting at sunrise.  This 4:30am safari was our favorite.

We saw a leopard!  They are very elusive - this one ran out of the tree as soon as we stopped.
From reptiles to birds & mammals, Kruger National Park had something to see around every corner.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Month #5 - Jan's Homesickness & Yemi's Fernweh

Cape Town South Africa couple overlooking bay
Taking it all in...
Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

Jan managed to leave an all-you-can-eat BBQ hungry because she passed so much of her food through the fence to the stray dogs lining the sidewalk in Iguazu, Argentina. She has a way of adopting stray dogs in each town. When they see her coming down the street, they run to her to see what leftovers she has secured. As happy as she is to put food in a stray dog's belly, the truth is that she is really missing our four-legged boys. While she is truly enjoying our travels, she has finally reached the point where she can't wait to get back home where she has no leg room in bed, is awakened at 6:30am to a cold nose reminding her it's breakfast time, and has a daily two mile walk scheduled, rain or shine.


Yemi is another story. "Fernweh" is how Yemi describes it. It's a word he learned while living in Germany that has no direct translation to English but is essentially the opposite of homesick. His only concern during our final weeks is that we live each moment to the fullest. He doesn't want to find himself sitting at his work desk four months from now wishing he had taken more advantage of each of our days on the road. He could easily travel another 3+ months by his estimate before he has a desire to return home.

We have started talking to recruiters in hopes of getting some job leads before we return to the States, but it's almost impossible to secure interviews without being there so we are just doing our best to network. We are also starting to organize things like short term health coverage and temporary housing. We plan to have everything done soon so that we can just enjoy the last month. It's going to fly by!

Oh, what a feeling, out on the run
Drinking up the rain, soaking up the sun
Laughing a little bit more with every mile. 
Oh, what a freedom, like your sailing the wind
Not looking back, not forgetting where I've been,
Smiling as I watch the years roll by. 
I'm learning how to take it day by day...
On my highway. 
-On My Highway by Jason Aldean

We love the motto on this t-shirt!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

City of Paradoxes

Did you know that the richest black person in the world, Aliko Dangote, is Nigerian? In fact, Nigeria has some of the most affluent people in Africa.  Yet it also one of the poorest countries in the world. Despite this poverty, it was recently ranked one of the happiest countries in world.  Uh?!

"Yes, Nigeria is a country full of paradoxes," Yemi's dad explained. Perhaps there's no other place that reflects this more than Lagos, where we spent a couple of weeks and experienced this sense of inconsistencies many times.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; 
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; 
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.
- Charles Dickens

During our trips around the city we were chauffeured by Yemi's parents' driver, Alfa. This sounds like a luxury to most westerners, but in this country having private drivers and house maids is normal.  This is yet another paradox for a country that has a per capita income of only $2K.

Prior to visiting Nigeria Jan had only seen people carry things on their head in National Geographic magazines.
The paradoxes are everywhere you look... For example, Nigeria produces about 2.5M barrels of oil per day, making it one of the largest oil producing countries in the world.  Yet during our stay the country experienced a fuel scarcity so severe that Alfa, our driver, spent entire days queuing at gas stations and sometimes even purchasing fuel from the black market that had developed.

You can even find unexplained ironies in everyday life.  Would you believe that shorts are uncommon and sunglasses are even more rare for the locals in spite of the stifling heat?  The list goes on.

Agege Market in Lagos

We experienced the paradox of rich & poor ourselves when Jan and Yemi's mom visited the traditional market of Agege situated behind dirt alleyways along abandoned railroad tracks one morning, followed by us sipping wine and partying with a billionaire in an area called Lekki that very evening.

Our time in Nigeria wasn't spent doing any kind of sightseeing or touring; it was spent with people and taking in these kinds of elements of the country.  Just like people, Nigeria is multidimensional with layers of complexity and contradictions. Some can be explained and some are head scratchers, but on the surface it is all very interesting.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Memory Lane

Yemi and his sister Funmi

It's no secret that Yemi is very adaptive to new environments - so much so that it is easy to forget that he left home when he was at the tail end of his teenage years for a country where he had no close family or friends. Jan has called him the mayor of many of the cities we've visited on this trip because in a matter of days of arriving in a new city he is exchanging greetings to everyone on the street as if they're old friends.

However, watching Yemi reunite and interact with actual old friends and family in Nigeria was even more fun to see.  He took a great trip down memory lane during our two weeks in his home country.

Home is where you make it.
- Old Cajun man in the movie Joe Dirt

During our stay in Nigeria we visited Bereton Nursery School where Yemi started his education in Port Harcount, eastern Nigeria. Jan could feel his excitement as he struggled to summon memories of himself crying after being dropped off by his mom. 

He was even more giddy when we visited the University of Lagos, the last school he attended before moving to the US. Here his memories were a lot more lucid as he excitedly showed Jan around the Engineering Department where he spent much of his late teenage years. "My name would've been #40 on that list," he exclaimed as we scrolled down the alphabetically arranged name list of the examination results board.

Outside study area of UNILAG's Engineering Department
Yemi had only been back home to Nigeria once in 2006, so most of our time was spent reuniting with family and friends that he hadn't seen him for eight, or sometimes even 14 years. Yet, their love for him was palpable and it seemed like they just picked up from where they left. The way they welcomed Jan was so genuinely warm that it was overwhelming at times.

Yemi's Uncle Ayo

Yemi's real cousins.  All close family friends are referred to as cousins in Nigeria, which understandably confused Jan on many occasions.

The UNILAG crew