South Africa: my Opwall experience part one

Fig. 1. Study of the Olifants river from the Struwig Eco Reserve

I should have started writing this post shortly after the topical events occurred. However almost a year later, my lethargic ways continued to engulf my once-motivated spirit, so fully, that I completely forgot I even had this blog. Sorry for the delay.

As a pat on the back for having graduated high school (and frankly because I would have wasted my time in a gap year), I volunteered for a two-week biological excursion with Operation Wallacea in South Africa. This would be my first time in the continent (excluding a family trip to the Canary Islands more than a decade prior) and I was beyond exhilarated – and the fact that my best friends would be present added even more to my adrenaline-pumped packing party with Toto's Africa, the full Rodriguez discography, and soundtracks from Disney movies Tarzan and the Lion King making up my playlist. I was more than ready to spend one week in the bush, and another by the ocean. 

Our Opwall group was stationed in Kruger National Park for the first week. Crucial activities we had to do for Opwall's environmental research projects included bird point counts, habitat assessments, game transects, I could go on. If you follow mine and my best friend Kata's amateur travel Instagram, you might have already seen a few pictures from our trip, which I will post again here:

Fig. 2. The Olifants river, where an array of animals would gather every morning

Fig. 3. Game drive sunset

Fig. 4. We spotted this impala carcass during a tracks and signs lecture. Nearby plotted like seeds on the ground were several balls of hair, presumably from the dead animal. These two signs suggested this was the dinner of a leopard, who are known to remove the hair of their prey and carry them up a tree so they may feast undisturbed.

Fig. 5. Difficult to spot, but here stood a male buffalo. Usually solitary animals, buffalos are one of Africa's Big Five, also including lions, leopards, elephants, and the mighty rhinoceros (currently endangered).

Fig. 6. My experiences with giraffes were almost transcendent...their gigantic eyes and fixated glare brought me to question my existence as a human being. The grace these animals have is indescribable.
Fig. 7. "30/06/2016 – We were lucky enough to see a herd of elephants while on foot. 'The perfect spotting', our guide called it. We were able to observe them without them noticing us."

Fig. 8. Junior Martial eagle

Fig. 9. Baboon family on the run – I grabbed my camera too late and was only able to snap the last of the group
Fig. 10. "On our last walk, our guide brought us along the Olifants river to show us two hippo carcasses; one rather small, one very large, both dead due to starvation."

Fig. 11. The most curious (and the only) mongooses I had ever seen in my life. Their level of cuteness makes it unbelievable how feisty they can be. (Clue: they fight snakes!)

Fig. 12. The picture I am most proud of: an African wild dog at full stride, two of which we spotted hunting. Incredibly mobile and fast, I was lucky enough to capture the rare animal. There are only around 320 left in the South Africa.
Fig. 13. Antelopes in the Balule Game Reserve, Fig. 14. Antelope studies (impala and bush buck)

Even while my pictures and captions describe roughly what we did, our first week in South Africa entailed so much more. Lectures about wildlife preservation and entomology only cover the tip of the iceberg when it comes to other activities Opwall had scheduled for us. More information can be found here. If you are a student interested in biological sciences (with a keenness toward ecology especially), Opwall offers great programmes and volunteer expeditions that are worth every penny. Not only is it a wonderful opportunity, it is very much a life-changing experience. Even students that do not care for the subject field will love it – I guarantee it.

Part two: Sodwana Bay coming soon.

Rocio x

Mount Pinatubo

To keep you occupied while I conjure up a new post about my two weeks in South Africa, here is a collection of photos my friend and I curated for our travel instagram account (here) when we wandered through the mountains Botolan, Philippines, for a school project.

On this path commenced an hour-long drive on a 4x4 across volcanic ash.

"Mt. Pinatubo, Philippines, December 2015 - IB students get out of the classroom and take a hike up Mount Pinatubo"

Along the trail, we spotted these Aeta kids who reside somewhere in the mountains. They posed as soon as I brought out my camera.

"The 7 km hike through ash, a jungle and over rivers brought us to the breathtaking crater at the top of the volcano"

(all drawings by me.)

Until the next post,


Berlin: Day Four

The final full day of our stay in Berlin, also finally published a year after it's happened.

That day had a schedule not too different from the one before: wake up early, get dressed, breakfast at a tourist attraction. That tourist attraction was no other than the Fernsehturm, a building rounding about 368 m tall, and boasting both a sweet retro interior and a 360º view of Berlin.

Below is the view of the glass ceiling of the elevator that took us to the revolving restaurant located at the sphere:

We came, we saw, we ordered breakfast. We also took photos of the view with our unfortunate and unflattering reflections across the thick glass panes.

After we had eaten, we took the kids to the zoo by train. Zoos are not necessarily things I endorse or enjoy going to, but that was the plan anyway. I did, however, get to see a wondrous display of small jellyfish; something I'd usually avoid on a dive trip.

Our small detour ended quickly, and we decided to head to check out the Kaufhaus des Westens (often shortcutted to KaDeWe) while the kids ran off to a parkour park in Spandau.

Hiding my envy that the kids got to rope around and chill in floating cars, I was still able to enjoy a beautifully crafted Insalata Caprese at the department store's luxurious food court.

We still had a lot of time left to explore the rest of KaDeWe (which we did) and after a few hours of wandering around and replacing ridiculously expensive items where they were previously displayed, we walked around the area furthermore before ending our day -- and hence, our trip -- reunited with everyone at a wonderful Turkish restaurant called Osmans Töchter.

Thanks for your patience and for sticking with me even though this post is so incredibly behind!

Be back very soon with stories from South Africa and Liechtenstein,


Berlin: Day Three

Well, it's about time.

We woke up bright and early that day and (if I remember correctly) walked past bustling roads and street corners to what we could distinguish as a German Ziggurat. Throngs of people gathered outside in the sweltering heat, all but to look at the spectacle called the Reichstag. The building is home to the national parliament and is one of the most important structures in Berlin. A site with a dominant historical background, the public is permitted throughout the day to tour the building…after lining up for perhaps an hour or two. Having arrived at the Reichstag by foot, seeing the long queues among tourist-heavy crowds was like being splashed in the face with hot coffee on an already-boiling day. Thankfully, though, a quick mention of reserving a seat at the indoor restaurant had us being motioned in by a security guard. We gave our names and passports to a man with a checklist, who might I add, was awfully, awfully nice. (May many happy things bechance you, sir!)

We waited at the gate for about five to ten minutes before being led in by whom I could discern as interns. We entered and proceeded to take an elevator to the roof, where a small restaurant was stationed. Once again, we gave our names and were seated at a table indoors. Despite being part of a considerably large group of tourists, only a few actually decided to have breakfast at the Reichstag's rooftop restaurant like we did. After us, there was only one other family and a couple of girls, who, astonishingly, sat outside under the warm sun. The inside was much cooler and closer to the bathrooms and service area. One red-haired waitress went around the bar and gave us our menus. What they offered was very select; only three types of breakfast sets were printed on the fine paper. We eventually ordered two types, and all because one included Nutella.

After breakfast, we headed to the world-famous dome. Climbing the spiralling ramp gives guests a panoramic view of the city. Down below, the Reichstag's history is presented in a display that goes around whatever that mirror thing is called. Empty as the place may look, the dome was actually packed with people going up and down the ramps and buying ice cream from the indoor vendor. We took our time here and downstairs, where we had the most gorgeous central view of the building.

The Reichstag was only a few minutes away from the Brandenburger Tor, so we decided to go by foot and take in the sights along the way.

At the Tor, we were greeted by many street buskers and charities. The slight echo of xylophone notes reached us from the other side. We crossed and saw a gloriously face-tattooed man in an old-timey plaid vest, matching flat cap, and giant red bowtie, cranking a wooden machine where the music had been coming from. His audience was massive for a street busker, and his other hat was full to the brim with euros. Children danced happily in front and adults took photographs to show their loved ones. We continued down Unter den Linden, Berlin's most famous boulevard.

The walk down Unter den Linden was as delightful as cold ice cream on a warm day. The sidewalk was lined with shops both luxurious and quaint, and the streets boasted an overhead meadow of luscious green. After stopping for a quick lunch, we continued our walk and decided to head to the Museumsinsel. There, we found a wide array of elaborate buildings including the Berlin Cathedral and the Alte Nationalgalerie.

The queue at the Alte Nationalgalerie (like all other tourist attractions in Berlin) was incredibly long. Though my intial wanting to see the museum almost urged me to line up as well, I realised I would miss so much of Berlin if I had decided to wait in line instead of explore. So explore, I did; and I did along the Spree.

Of course even after seeing beatufiul historical bridge after beautiful historical bridge, I could not help but be saddened by passing the central train station, in which I would depart in two days time.

Berlin: Day Four coming soon.


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