It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Shark Week! Typically, I’m not one to give into hype. I still have never seen an episode of Game of Thrones, and I probably never will. So then, why is Shark Week such a big deal?
I’ll tell ya why, because sharks are f*cking awesome.
1. They’re Earth’s OG
Sharks first appeared over 400 million years ago, meaning they outlived FIVE massive planet extinctions. Not even the dinos can keep up with these underwater ballers.
2. They Get Hangry
Talk about being #relatable. Sharks that are on the hunt for their food will stop at no cost until they are fed.. sounds a lot like me when I’m ready for lunch. But, unlike us, sharks will only eat once or twice a week.
3. They’re misunderstood
Don’t judge Jaws by its cover. Sharks are often depicted as mindless killing machines. In reality, sharks don’t hunt humans. They actually think we taste pretty gross. But, if a shark mistakes you for a seal, the only way for them to know the difference is to take a bite.
4. They live in awesome places
To get up close and personal with these bad boys, you have to visit some pretty badass places. The “Great White Shark Capital of the World” is located in Gansbaai, South Africa. Located about 2 hours south of Cape Town, Gansbaai offers experiences where you can dive into their environment. These excursions are very safe because the most dangerous animals are in the cage… the humans.
5. They’re both feared and loved
Niccolo Machiavelli has said, “Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.” Sharks say, “You can love me, but you’ll also fear me.” While yes, sharks are far less ferocious than we are led to believe- I still wouldn’t want one sneaking up on me. But how can you hate such a beautiful beast, whose presence keeps an entire ocean ecosystem balanced?
So, I will not only give into the Shark Week hype, I’m adding to it. Follow along with our #SharkWeekSaga if you think sharks are just as Jawsome as we do!
The internet has brought light to many different holidays, from National Donut Day to World Penguin Day and everything in between. Today, we’re honoring a holiday that has a far reaching significance to both groups and individuals.
April 27th is celebrated as Freedom Day in South Africa, commemorating the first post-apartheid elections in 1994. On the first anniversary of this holiday, Nelson Mandela stated,
“Few of us could suppress the welling of emotion, as we were reminded of the terrible past from which we come as a nation; the great possibilities that we now have; and the bright future that beckons us.”
The term freedom can mean different things to different people. For those who have never felt trapped, “freedom” is a broad word. To be free, unrestrained, unbound, allowed. But, for anyone who has lived under a grand sense of restraint, the meaning of the word freedom digs deeper.
Freedom is the oxygen of the soul.
When we are denied freedom, our growth as human beings is being stifled. Suppressed. Denied. For South Africans under the apartheid regime, freedom was determined by the color of your skin. In other instances around the globe, individuals are being denied their freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom to marry the person they love. Bound by rules, laws, and judgements; there is a hell on earth that exists, and it is a life without freedom.
But freedom isn’t strictly systematic. Freedom, or lack there of, can exist in relationships. Abusive partners, denying their supposed loved one the freedom to enjoy life. To enjoy love. Preoccupations with materialistic wealth, or visions of success, rob an individual of the freedom to live their life in a way that is altruistic. Mental illness, denying their host-body the freedom of a clear mind.
Freedom isn’t free.
If you believe in something, you fight like hell for it. Nelson Mandela said, “As I walked out the door toward my freedom, I knew that if I did not leave all the anger, hatred, and bitterness behind that I would still be in prison.” Freedom begins within. You cannot conquer the outer world until you are free within the world that you have created for yourself. Your mindset. Your attitude.
As I sit here, and proudly practice my right to the freedom of speech, I think back on a life I once lived that wasn’t so free. It was a life of being controlled and manipulated, with freedom being the light at the end of the tunnel- but it always seemed too far to reach. But I fought, and I trekked, further and further, until I escaped the cage in which I was once held prisoner.
Today I celebrate my own freedom. I celebrate the freedom of my Mom, and my Sister. I celebrate the freedom of South Africans in their equality of voting rights. But mostly, I am celebrating the freedom of every single individual who knows what it feels like to fight like hell for what they know is right. What is just. What is free.
Albert Einstein once said, “look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”
If we were to rewind back to the 90’s…
Lil Lauren was adjusting her butterfly hairclips before school, watching Zooventure on Animal Planet. The thought of going on an African safari was a distant dream, but one that has been fueling with desire since I was a little girl. I’ve always loved animals, and wondered what it would be like to experience them in their natural habitat.
My travels have taken me to zoos and aquariums throughout the country– from Omaha’s Henry Doorly to California’s Aquarium of the Pacific. The opportunity to visit a South African National Park was one that I could not possibly pass up!
During my stay at the Black Rhino Lodge, we went out into Pilanesberg National Park for both morning and evening game drives. Whether the sun had just risen or was turning in for the night, mother nature blessed us with some beautiful views and animal action!
Here are some life lessons I learned from these beautiful (and not so attractive) creatures…
Does this mud bath make me look fat…? An African Bush Elephant can weigh up to 13,000 lbs! And yet, a herd of 30+ were walking right along side of our jeep at an inaudible pace. I was surprised to learn how easily an elephant can sneak up on you! While you may not hear an elephant stomping towards you, you can certainly feel their majestic presence.
Before we went out on our first drive, my ranger said – when you get so close to an elephant, you know what a safari is all about. We were a jeep of 10 humans, outnumbered by elephants (and elephant babies!) in the middle of a dirt road. I was a visitor on their turf, as they just went on with their daily business.
The massive stature of an elephant brings upon a sense of awe. You know what they say, speak softly and carry a big stick. Well, elephants walk softy and carry a big… tusk. Humans could learn a thing or two from these bold creatures. Personally, I have a hard time listening to the loudest person in the room. What they have in volume, they often lack in content. While the elephant in the room may be the most apparent, it will not be the loudest.
For 40 minutes, we sat and watched a lioness hunt her pray- a group of zebra (which is called a dazzle.. fun fact!). She must have been stalking this group for quite some time before we arrived. The unsuspecting group trotted across the road, like a traveling buffet. The lioness sat, still, within the shadow, with ears back, hiding her stature.
The lioness sat without movement as the dazzle grazed around her, but she did not pounce. You would think that with this relative closeness, the cat would make her move. But we learned that a hunt is just as dangerous for the predator as it is for the victim. If the lioness were to trip on the rocky surface, she is outnumbered by these powerful zebra that could easily kick her while she’s down (quite literally) to her death. So she waits. And waits, and waits, and waits, until the perfect moment to strike.
And we would have waited with her…. but breakfast was calling our names.
A rhino’s skin can be as thick as 2 inches! But despite their thick skin, they’re sensitive creatures. Rhinos like this guy in the picture love their mud baths, which help protect their skin from the sun and from bug bites (which are just as irritating for animals as they are for humans). If a rhino is walking along and gets scraped by a thorn in the bush, they’ll feel it!
As humans, we build up our metaphorical thick skin over time. This coping mechanism allows us to withstand whatever negativity is thrown our way. Those with thick skin are tough, and can withstand criticism much more effectively than those who take everything to heart. But, we must not allow our skin to become so thick that we are completely callous. Even a rhino can feel the scrape of a thorn on its thick skin.
The Big 5 gets all of hype! In the bush, we learned about the Ugly 5..
& The Wildebeest
Now, Hyenas and Vultures are named on this ugly list not only for their appearance, but for their predatory, scavenging ways.
The Wildebeest is something the French would call jolie-laide.. or, so ugly it’s cute. You forget about their awkward statue and patchy facial hair when you see them trotting along side their pal, the impala.
Beauty goes far beyond looks. Don’t let the haters bring you down, Wildebeest. While you may seem a bit disproportionate, or made from “spare parts”, you’re a delightful creature to be around and were put into this world for a reason.
We’re all felt like the Wildebeest at one point or another. Not as beautifully patterned as the Zebra. Not as graceful as the Cheetah. But, when you learn to love its uniqueness, you can see what a beautiful beast the Wildebeest is!
Our ranger, Darrell, spotted this bird in his peripheral while rushing back to the lodge for breakfast. He quickly put the jeep in reverse, and parked us in front of this colorful beauty. Ruffling through his copy of “A Bird Guide”, he opens to the page that exhibits the Lilac Breasted Roller. Although this bird is aesthetically pleasing, its call is quite ugly. In contrast, the melodious calls you often hear, come from the most mundane looking fowl.
Referred to by Darrell as “the most beautiful bird in Africa”, the Lilac Breasted Roller is also a part of Zulu folklore. Before a couple were to be married, they must be tied together by the elongated tale feathers of this bird. If the knot became untied, they were no longer granted permission to be married. It is rumored that this is where the phrase “tying the knot” came from!
Visiting Pilanesberg fulfilled all of my wildest dreams, quite literally!
While this may have been my first time on the African continent, I know it will hardly be the last. As a long time animal lover, I’ve always had much respect for these beautiful creatures. But, this trip has opened my eyes to the world of wildlife preservation. Poaching is a terrible reality, and a deadly crime. Drought is another plague that haunts not only the wildlife, but the humans of this environment. We must not take for granted the luxuries we have access too. What we consider to be every day norms is somebody else’s dream.
Albert Einstein was right.
Looking deep within nature helps us to look deep within ourselves. Every one, and every thing, has a story. Whether or not we are open minded enough to learn their story is up to us.