August 27, 2014

Surfing in Mentawai

If world-class waves you're in search of, look no further than the Mentawai Islands off the coast of Sumatra in Indonesia. Strong rip currents and sharp corals don't deter brave surfers from breaks like Telescopes, where the waves can grow up to ten feet tall and can stretch as long as two football fields.
The Best Mentawai Islands Surf Video from my drone, Phyllis. June 2014, by Paul Borrud from The Bird on Vimeo.

The largest of the islands, Siberut, is a lush tropical rainforest. The other islands, like North Pagai and South Pagai, and are dotted with resorts catering to adventurous singles, couples, and families. What a beautiful place to escape to!

July 26, 2014

8 Things to Love and Hate about Washington, D.C.

It's official. Instead of heading left, I'm heading right. While I'm sad to leave family and new friends behind in D.C., I'm really excited to be moving closer to friends and loved ones up here in New York. My year in D.C. was a really great experience. I grew to appreciate the city as more than just a tourist wandering by the landmarks dotting our nation's capital. Below is a quick run down of the things I loved and hated about life in the District.

The People

The interns, the foreigners, the politicians, the lobbyists, the non-profit hippies, and the preppy college students...they're all drawn to D.C. After a while, you start to wonder if you'll ever really connect with anyone who was born and raised in D.C. or has lived there long-term. I only met a handful of them. Over time, though, I grew to appreciate the eclectic mix of people D.C. draws, no matter how long they stay or where they're from.

The Streets

D.C. is really good at maintaining clean, green streets. I've also noticed the warmer climate encourages botanical creativity. The variety of shapes and colors of District houses - from Victorian, to federal, to modern - is wonderful. Although modern, sterile apartment buildings seem to be popping up left and right, each neighborhood maintains its own unique character. There's a certain charm and feel about this city that gives it great distinction above other cities in America.

Reagan National Airport

Easily accessible by Metro, taxi, or car, this is one of the easiest domestic airports I've traveled through in the nation. Even without TSA Pre-check, I'm generally able to navigate through security in 10 minutes or less. They've recently upgraded their shops, too. Unless there are weather delays (watch out for summer afternoon thunderstorms), there always seems to be a seat available in the waiting areas. Flight deals vary by season, and I've flown to New York City for as cheap as $150 round-trip.

The (Free) Museums

Yes, everything the guidebooks say about visiting the Smithsonian museums and the zoo in D.C. is true - they're free and they're pretty great. You can pay to go to some of the other museums and art galleries, but in my opinion, there is more than enough to see and enjoy for free. From my tour of the Capitol building, to my runs through the zoo, and my periodic visits to wander the halls of the National Gallery, I will always treasure the times I spent sightseeing on weekends.

Click here to continue reading the things I won't miss about life in D.C.

July 14, 2014

Music Monday: St. Lucia

I'll admit, it's been a while since I've gone to a concert, which is why I was excited to swing by one of the Capital Fringe Festival events this past Friday night. There was a great energy in the air and it seemed well attended. All this time I've wondered where DC has been hiding it's funky, creative side, and now I know.
capital fringe festival 2014 the dangles
Speaking of great energy, I'm currently listening to Brooklyn-based South African musician Jean-Philip Grobler, otherwise known as St. Lucia. Whether you're stuck in the office or taking some time off to enjoy the beach this July, his peppy, 80's-esque songs get me moving no matter the environment. He's touring this fall, so check him out on Twitter or Facebook for more info.

July 11, 2014

A Quick Update

I'll get straight to the point: this has been an incredibly busy summer. I'm redesigning this website (long overdue) I can't wait to get it up and running. I've been traveling most weekends: to Montreal, Baltimore, Delaware, New York, and Connecticut (you can always follow along on Instagram). I'm also making big changes in my personal and professional life: the result of many months of patience, dedication, and love. Everything is moving in a positive direction and it feels great when hard work starts to pay off. However, it has also meant spending time away from updating this blog, which makes me sad.
While I'm preparing to get back on schedule with posts, I thought I could at least share a few special things I've contributed elsewhere. On the African Wildlife Foundation blog, I'm sharing some of my favorite safari memories from my time living and traveling around southern Africa. You can also follow along on the AWF Instagram. As well, the 2014/2015 AWF calendar recently mailed (a membership benefit) featuring Nature's Best Photography (these are some seriously stunning photos) and wildlife trivia (written by yours truly).

I hope you enjoy browsing these photos and anecdotes as much as I enjoy sharing them. Thanks so much for following along! x

June 5, 2014

Virginia is for Lovers

Recently, I drove with friends to Gloucester, Virginia for a wedding. The wedding party stayed at the historic mansion, the Inn at Warner Hall, located on a plantation created by George Washington's great-great-grandfather. It was a beautiful setting for a wedding and a relaxing weekend escape.
The whole car was hungry as we departed from D.C. mid-afternoon, but we refused to settle for rest stop cuisine. We all agreed we'd know our lunch stop when we saw it. Crazy Cajun's bright pink pig was just the beacon we were looking for.
Continuing down the back roads to Gloucester, we drove past wooded forests and farmland. Gloucester itself features a quaint, walkable downtown area with several shops and restaurants. The town is only a short drive from colonial Williamsburg and historic Jamestowne.
The room was beautifully appointed in colonial style with modern amenities, just as you'd expect it to be. Besides its history, what sets the Inn at Warner Hall apart from other area accommodation is its location on the banks of the Severn River. As the moon rose above the plantation on Friday night, we all gathered around the fire pit to roast s'mores and toast to the weekend ahead.
On Saturday morning, Andy and I were up before the sunrise to take a few photos we knew the real wedding photographer wouldn't have the chance to capture. Later on, I took one of the Inn's kayaks to do a bit of river exploration. I skirted along the edge of the Severn River and sat in stillness, listening to the sounds of the forest as the sun beat down on my shoulders. I shared a moment with a great blue heron and for a moment, felt nostalgic for kayaking in the Okavango delta. I could feel all of my stress melting away.
This was my first time spending time in Virginia, and based on this experience, I would definitely go back to the area and explore further. The drive from D.C. is about 3.5 hours and there are direct flights to Newport News and Richmond, making this a viable option for a weekend getaway. Outside of weddings and events, the Inn offers regular nightly accommodation and meals. They will not let you in if the property is booked, so I recommend calling in advance.
For this type of warm weather weekend trip, a bag like the Everlane Weekender is just the right size. Inside my carry-on, I packed some of my spring beauty essentials: a bright summer nail polish, a delicate floral perfume, a botanical scented leave-in conditioner, and delicate stud earrings from one of my favorite South African designers.

May 29, 2014

One Country, Two Edits

The New York Times review says it all. "'Blended' is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It will make your children stupid." The premise is simple: after a failed blind date, an American single mom (Drew Barrymore) and dad (Adam Sandler) are forced to get along when they bring their families on a South African vacation. Filmed at Sun City, a casino and leisure resort outside of Johannesburg, this movie is out of touch with reality:

Within the same week of the Blended premiere, South Africa Tourism released a new promotional video. For many travel writers and photographers, conveying the essence of such a diverse and unique country like South Africa can be a challenge. I think this video beautifully and accurately encapsulates what South Africa has to offer all of our senses:
Obviously both films serve different purposes and audiences, but what an interesting contrast of two depictions of the same country.

P.S. All of the highlights shown in these videos can be found within my AFAR Cape Town Guide and Justin's AFAR Johannesburg Guide. Check it out!

May 19, 2014

Authentic Rwanda

Capturing an authentic sense of place is something I value when photographing or writing about a destination, and that's exactly why this film caught my eye. If this doesn't make you want to drop everything and visit Rwanda, I don't know what will.
RWANDA from MAMMOTH on Vimeo, discovered via Getaway magazine.

May 12, 2014

Music Monday: Kongos

I became familiar with the rock songs Come With Me Now and I'm Only Joking while listening to the radio in South Africa, but wasn't until recently that I started hearing the Kongos on American airwaves. The band is comprised of four brothers who grew up between London and South Africa, but now call Phoenix their recording home. They seem to incorporate a variety of influences into their music, including their father, which makes it hard to describe exactly who they sound like. This summer, they will be opening for another famous family act: the Kings of Leon. One of my favorite songs, Escape, is slightly different than their other rock songs:
And I also like the bluegrass feel of Hey I Don't Know:
For more from the Kongos, you can follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook

May 6, 2014

Virunga: The Movie

Recently, I had the privilege of attending a screening of the documentary Virunga. This film brings to light some of the issues surrounding the current prospection for oil deep within Virunga National Park, the Democratic Republic of Congo's (and Africa's) oldest national park. The story that unfolds is both thought-provoking and worrying.
The tense moments were balanced with smooth transitions to scenes of Virunga's landscapes and thriving, charismatic wildlife. The aerial scenes, covering vast swaths of verdant forests, and moments of cheeky glances from mountain gorillas helped to ease the serious tone of the film. Caregiving and stewardship are two core themes, and the story of André Bauma and the Senkwekwe Gorilla Rehabilitation Center is particularly heartwarming.
At the end of the film, these themes seem to unravel, and I am sure that is the point. Everything becomes uncertain when the M23 rebels inch closer to the park boundaries. Any threat to tourism or natural resources could have terrible consequences for not only the characters the movie follows, but hundreds of thousands of others who call this landscape home (including some 800 mountain gorillas).
Like the scenes of ominous, bubbling of lava inside the park's active volcano, the film seems to sadly foreshadow the recent the shooting of the Belgian director of Virunga National Park, Emmanuel de Merode, just a few weeks ago. He is currently recovering in a hospital in Nairobi and has plans to return to Virunga.
You don't have to be an animal lover or Africa buff to understand what is going on in this movie. It's the thrilling account of those who dedicate their lives to the protection of a unique and fragile UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you have the opportunity, go and see it. For more information on this park, have a look at the websites of: AWF, IGCP, WWF, and Virunga National Park.

April 28, 2014

Music Monday: Vusi Mahlasela

South Africa observed Freedom Day today, the national holiday commemorating the first post-Apartheid elections held on April 27th, 1994. For today's Music Monday, I was keen to know a little more about "The Voice" of South Africa, Vusi Mahlasela. Growing up in a township outside of Pretoria, Vusi was influenced by American music like Motown and James Brown, as well as African musicians, like Miriam Makeba and Fela Kuti. He is known for his songs about freedom and kindness, and is just one example of many South African artists and musicians who used their creative talents to express their views during the Apartheid movement. Here's a clip from one of his TED performances: 

For more on Vusi and the Apartheid experience, watch him travel around his hometown with fellow South African Dave Matthews on Series from South Africa: Part 4. Then, see him join the DMB live performance of Everyday here
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