I talk about travel and food and documentaries and overthink everything and like to spend a lot of time by myself but also like meeting people not like me and I'm moving to London from Chicago in August and am wondering whether I'll need to stow ranch dressing in my suitcase because some things are too good to leave behind. If those sound like things that also interest you, welcome aboard.
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How much would we both hate me if I made a “monkeying around” pun?

Agreed.

Yesterday was perfect.

What was supposed to be a 2-hour lunch turned into day drinking until 7pm. We started at Little Goat, where I had a drink called “The Wildflower” before moving on to rosé with my patty melt. My boss toasted me; highlights include him calling me “fucking awesome” and telling the table I was his favorite. (As my partner and another copywriter sat there and listened. Boss has never been one for tact.) Boss got into party mode and decided we were all going to Sixteen on the Trump Terrace for drinks. But first we stopped at Au Cheval for pickleback shots. You see where this is going.

Hours spent at Sixteen, drinking more rosé, talking about dumb things, talking about big things. Receiving unsolicited but appreciated career advice. Partner, Boss and I stayed and continued drinking, even after our other coworkers left to go do some actual work. We met back up with them later at Howell’s & Hood when Boss decided it was time to take the party somewhere a bit more affordable. 

Had a couple delicious cucumber vodka, jalapeño, lemon-something drinks at Howell’s. Decided 7 hours of drinking was probably quite enough, thanks, for a Thursday. Walked back to the office to pack the rest of my things and then made the trek to the train that takes me back to the suburbs. Parents were waiting for me at the station. We all sat down to have dinner together and it was quite apparent to everyone at the table that I was drunk. This is probably what they envisioned for their baby girl back in 1987.

I’m in pretty good shape this morning, minus a headache that refuses to be chased away by Advil. Throw a few prayers up to something because I have two more days of this nonsense.

Last day of work for the foreseeable future (!) Thank Jesus my head hurts too much to stress about that at the moment.

Ugh. So creepy.

Okay, fine. What redeeming and interesting fact can I share about hyenas?

Oh, their poo is white because they have the strongest jaws of any animals, allowing them to CRUSH AND EAT BONES, which means lots of calcium intake, which means white shite.

Like I said, so creepy.

Whoever made them the villain in The Lion King was spot on.

Leopards and cubs

Leopards are wily as shit. Besides the shade-thrown-at-the-hyena story, we also followed one leopard in the dark when she was tracking something. (These animals are all habituated to the jeeps, so they go about their normal business without paying any attention to us humans.) A leopard when it’s onto something is an intimidating sight. Look at that third photo. That leopard looks straight manic.

The cubs are, predictably, adorable. They have not a care in the world; they bat at each other and roll around in the sand and do all the stereotypical cub things you’d think/hope they do. Don’t be fooled though. That guy in the second photo has already killed a mongoose and some other small creatures on his own. 

Besides the spots, I never really knew the difference between lions and leopards. Try this on for size: leopards can climb trees! They sleep up there and drag their kill up there (yes, deer-sized antelope creatures) like it’s no problem at all. They seem like harder workers than lions and I found them more interesting to watch. 

But I also couldn’t help thinking they looked a bit evil.

(Which is really just part of my theory that all cats are terrible.)

Canoeing down the Zambezi

I didn’t expect Zimbabwe to be so beautiful. (Looks like I underestimated a lot of Africa before this trip.) I expected the plains and dry grass, but those mountains? Those mountains reminded me of Cape Town, which felt like an entirely different trip by this point.

So many hippos live in the Zambezi. They have to come up for air every few minutes and it’s quite fun to see them with just their eyes and maybe ears sticking out of the water. They’re actually one of the most aggressive animals toward humans, far more dangerous to us than a lion, our guides said. But they left us alone during our canoe trip. One pod stood up halfway out of the river to grunt a warning at us, but nothing more.

I didn’t know crocodiles would be so skittish. They were one of the harder animals to get close to on safari, because as soon as they hear you, they dart into the water. They don’t like to get close to the boats and can stay underwater for half an hour, so we didn’t see many from our canoes. 

The elephant in that last photo wasn’t keen on us. He swayed and trumpeted and made a big show of acting brave before running away. Elephants are funny like that.

The trip down the river was a peaceful one, two hours to just be quiet and enjoy nature from a different vantage point.

Sisters.

This is a Cape buffalo not in the process of being eaten. They’re fairly uninteresting, uninspiring creatures but I will tell you a story kind of about them.
Our guide at Vundu, Alistair, was a good guy but perhaps not a great guide. His time management skills were terrible, which is a big deal when you’re trying to find a leopard on the prowl. His storytelling abilities were also dodgy at best; he’s one of those people who tells six stories built into one. Here is an example, in which the point of the story was to explain the strength of a Cape buffalo.
"You know, Cape buffalo are some of the strongest animals out here. Far stronger than a lion. 30 lions couldn’t take down one healthy buffalo.  They wouldn’t even try. My friend, Owen, used to hunt quite a bit and one time, he and a few friends decided to hunt a Cape buffalo. They tracked it for three days and got a bullet in it once each day, but still this buffalo was not dying! So finally they came to a head with the buffalo on the fourth day. They got 22 bullets in it and it STILL didn’t die! Then the buffalo charged Owen and killed him, threw him off a cliff. And then finally, six days later, that buffalo died. But wow, what a fighter!"
His friend, Owen, DIED in the MIDDLE of the story. We all whipped our heads at each other, looking around, wondering if we’d heard correctly. We had. That was just a classic Alistair story. Nonchalantly and with no change in expression telling us his friend was thrown off a cliff by a buffalo.
RIP Owen. (But did you really need the buffalo that bad?)

This is a Cape buffalo not in the process of being eaten. They’re fairly uninteresting, uninspiring creatures but I will tell you a story kind of about them.

Our guide at Vundu, Alistair, was a good guy but perhaps not a great guide. His time management skills were terrible, which is a big deal when you’re trying to find a leopard on the prowl. His storytelling abilities were also dodgy at best; he’s one of those people who tells six stories built into one. Here is an example, in which the point of the story was to explain the strength of a Cape buffalo.

"You know, Cape buffalo are some of the strongest animals out here. Far stronger than a lion. 30 lions couldn’t take down one healthy buffalo.  They wouldn’t even try. My friend, Owen, used to hunt quite a bit and one time, he and a few friends decided to hunt a Cape buffalo. They tracked it for three days and got a bullet in it once each day, but still this buffalo was not dying! So finally they came to a head with the buffalo on the fourth day. They got 22 bullets in it and it STILL didn’t die! Then the buffalo charged Owen and killed him, threw him off a cliff. And then finally, six days later, that buffalo died. But wow, what a fighter!"

His friend, Owen, DIED in the MIDDLE of the story. We all whipped our heads at each other, looking around, wondering if we’d heard correctly. We had. That was just a classic Alistair story. Nonchalantly and with no change in expression telling us his friend was thrown off a cliff by a buffalo.

RIP Owen. (But did you really need the buffalo that bad?)

Lionesses and their cubs

We mostly watched lions sleep when we saw them, but on our second safari day we witnessed them feasting on a Cape buffalo kill. As I said earlier, the sight and sound were not for me, but it was a crazy thing to witness from 5 feet away. (I chose the less graphic photos to share; you’re welcome.)

skinnies-and-stripes:

passtheranch you should try some, it can’t be the worst thing you’ve tried recently.

I don’t know whether to be thrilled or terrified.

skinnies-and-stripes:

passtheranch you should try some, it can’t be the worst thing you’ve tried recently.

I don’t know whether to be thrilled or terrified.

You’re probably thinking the angle of this photo is off or distorted.

Nope, that is a giraffe with a crooked head.

Which only made me love him more.

Did you know a herd of zebras is called a dazzle?

We did our best Stefon impressions every time we saw them.

Meet Dark Mane.

He’s at the tippy top of the pecking order at Mala Mala. His domain is a cool 66,000 acres. His pack is called the Four Brothers; he and three other male lions (yes, they’re his actual brothers) wrestled control over the land from another pride years ago.

These guys are assholes. They showed up one day and, to prove their dominance, ATE a lion from another pride. ATE HIM. It’s not uncommon for lions to fight one another for territory, but to straight up eat one? That’s just a show of dominance, a warning.

Now they basically get to knock up whatever lionesses they want. They will kill any lion cubs that aren’t sired by them. And, as is traditional with lions, the females do all the hunting and then these guys swoop in and feast on the kills. 

Just look at that middle picture. That is the face of a creature that does not give a shit. All he needs is a crown on his head and perhaps a monocle to cement the majesty. Ten seconds after he lifted his head and everyone got the shot, he went back to napping. Which lions can do for 20 hours a day.

The life of an apex predator, man. 

We are now entering the safari portion of the trip. Prepare to learn a lot of useless information about animals.

In the meantime: the African sunset, second best only to Krabi’s.

This is some Lion King shit, y’all.

[A number of these photo credits goes to my main squeeze, who dabbles in photography. You can check out Matt’s Africa flickr album here.]

Two weeks out

I look at my countdown app and it says 12 days, 14 hours until London and the gravity of that is somehow not sinking in. People keep asking if I’m excited or nervous and I keep responding I’m in logistics mode because that’s the only thing I really feel at this point. Another common question: no, we haven’t started packing, but I’m not worried about that. It shouldn’t take too long to pack two suitcases each. We’ll save that for next week.

Instead I’ve been doing the million other little things you don’t think about. And those that you do. Like setting up appointments with estate agents. And gathering the documents we need to open a checking account. And figuring out what I’m going to do for a cell phone. And arranging transportation from Heathrow to our Airbnb flat. And buying a new computer to replace the computer that hasn’t worked in 3 years because I spilled an entire plate of spaghetti on it, rendering the keyboard defunct. And trying to wipe the hard drive of old said computer and realizing I can’t even do that so now I have to remove the hard drive and either burn it or smash it with a hammer or something, I don’t know. It’s a constant scratching off and adding to my to-do list.

And then work turns out to be super busy the second half of last week, to the point where your boss is telling you it’s fine to expense a $100 cab back to your parents’ home in the suburbs if it means skipping the train to stay at work several hours later. And then working the weekend, which I never thought would be a thing my second to last week of work. It seemed like less of a big deal when sandwiched between family time and a bridal shower.

There’s the constant nomad’ing, trying to see everyone and spend time together without saying goodbye. His house. My house. City. For the three nights this week we did see each other, we slept in three different beds in three different zip codes. It seems like my little navy carry-on has become permanently affixed to my hand. As Nicole wisely put it, this is the limbo period. It doesn’t feel overly good or bad; it feels.. constantly unsettled.

Now I’m down to 5 days of work, of which only two (please baby cheeses) should be crazy. I’m spending a few nights with my best friend and then a few with my parents. I have a (3-hour) goodbye work lunch on Thursday and a big industry party that happens to fall on my last day, Friday. And our family & friends goodbye party on Saturday night to top it all off. After that, we’re looking down the barrel of one week, but no work, so maybe things will feel a bit more under control. Or maybe it’ll be even more chaotic, who knows.

What is it going to take for this whole thing to stop feeling surreal - my feet on the plane? I hope sometime in the next 12 days I come out of logistics mode and back into spastic levels of excitement, but it is 0% surprising that this is how I feel. I’m a planner and an organizer to my core, and I’ve had the last 8 months to be over-the-moon happy about this. Now we’re down to a couple weeks and it’s go time.

That’s what I’ve got. A couple weeks.

A Zimbabwean engagement celebration

On our second to last night at Vundu Camp, we were all eating dinner around the bonfire. Six of us - my family and Matt, our two family friends, 8-10 strangers from Washington/Idaho, and a father-son duo from Queens, the former of which is definitely part of the mob. Aka a good-sized crowd.

When dinner was finished, they announced they were going to bring out a cake for dessert. People started clearing tables and moving things out of the way, so we did the same. When the local chef stopped in front of our table to put the cake down, I figured this was the only free space to do so. The cake had vanilla frosting and two words written on it in the local language, which I could obviously not read. I thought maybe this was an early birthday cake for my mom, until the camp owner said, “We heard we have an engagement to celebrate?”

Matt and I both froze, as neither of us enjoy being the center of attention. Nick, the camp owner, announced that the groom had to make a speech. Right then and there. Matt had literally ten seconds notice. He rambled off something forgettable, fine considering he’d just been put on the spot.

Next Nick said we had to cut the cake, wind our arms together and each take a bite. Matt cut two really small pieces, we each grabbed one, we intertwined our arms, and put the cake in our mouths. Everyone who worked at the camp yelled, “NO! NO!” and we quickly spit the cake out, thinking we had gotten the order of the traditions wrong. The camp owner’s father-in-law made some comment about it being elephant poo, which I assumed was a joke.

Then the local, all-male staff began doing - what I assumed would be - a tribal dance. After a few seconds, they began aggressively humping each other and I realized this was still part of our “celebration”. What I did not realize was Nick was going to make Matt and me get up and dance in front of the entire group. I straightened my pants, stalling for time, wondering what the f kind of dance we were supposed to do just the two of us? We certainly weren’t about to dance like we were in a club. Slow dancing would have been awkward. An attempt at any sort of tribal dancing would have been suicidal. 

Mercifully, Matt took the reins and made the decision for me by doing exactly what the staff had - aggressively humping me. I just kind of jumped around. The entire group was REAL into it. People laughing hysterically, applauding, whistling, etc. Because he committed so wholeheartedly to the humping, we got to sit down after 30 seconds and the whole extravaganza was over. I actually thanked Matt later for humping me.

We came to find out that the cake was, in fact, made of elephant dung. Basically, what I’m trying to tell you is I had elephant shit in my mouth at one point during my vacation. It tasted wheaty and dry, like an uninteresting loaf of bread, so it must have been old.

Our family friends captured the dance on video. I’m debating whether I want the world to see it.