My 60th Birthday Photo Safari

c6e6553c-6d3e-4031-a5f7-58555357393fWe all curse COVID every chance we get. That wretched virus has hurt so many in so many ways. I was one of the lucky ones: so far it has only robbed me of the 60th birthday African photo safari that I was so looking forward to. Greg and Danny, however, arranged an amazingly marvelous and surprise substitute.

On my birthday I received a gift-wrapped safari hat and binoculars. Hmm… Then I opened a box with a laminated ticket from the local arboretum (photo above). It was for an African Photo Safari on Saturday morning at 10. What in the world could it be? The arboretum doesn’t have animals, especially not African ones. Both of the men in my life were mum; it was to be a surprise.

e9913795-cd24-4fbf-9c77-f2a90df4c9aaOn Saturday morning I packed up my camera gear and put on my sunscreen, and we went to the park. Upon arriving we suddenly started hearing sounds from the savannah! What?! Turns out the sounds were coming from a wireless speaker in Greg’s backpack. Next, Danny’s phone dinged with a text message.

“Hello, Dianne, and welcome to our private safari tour. My name is Ubiyaongashalita and I will be your guide today.”

What? No group tour? This was all planned by my two incredible dudes???!!! That professional-looking laminated ticket was a fake?! Was there really a guide? Or was Danny making this all happen? How exciting! And confusing. I sure did feel loved. And a bit skeptical…

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Just like I imagine a real safari to be, the animals weren’t just waiting around like in a zoo; we needed to know their habits and habitats and search to find them. The guide instructed us via text how to locate each animal on our tour. How cool! The clues were very helpful, e.g.,

“The first animal we will look for is the monkey, a tricky animal that does not respect human laws and is always looking to steal their food.”

 

There was a nearby community garden, so I knew that monkey would be in there. But what was I looking for? A stuffed animal? My husband and son acting like monkeys? I had no clue. The first animal, therefore, was by far the most difficult to find. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

It turns out the animals I was looking for were those one-to-two inch tall kids’ toys—far from easy to spot in a huge park! More clues followed, such as:

  • “The alligator hides deep in the jungle where there are a great variety of plants, and it ‘bathes’ in lakes and lagoons.”
  • “Gorillas, being our cousins, can be very ‘handy’ using tools and making shelters.”
  • “I think now you are ready to meet the king of the jungle. He likes to rest in the shade of trees on the savannah.”
  • “The cheetah hides in bushes next to flat land. This way the cheetah can wait till an animal comes close, pouncing and sprinting after it.”
  • “Now let’s look for the brave rhino. His tusks are sharp as ‘steel,’ a ‘monument’ to strength. Rhinos can tip over cards with ease.”

To give you an idea, the alligator was in a birdbath in the middle of a flower garden; the gorilla was on a fence post in front of the tool shed; and the rhino was on a steel statue of something tipped-over. Some of the clues contained puns—that’s when I knew that Danny had written them: “Rhi-no you are loving this tour” or “The meerkat is so small we ‘meerly’ missed it!” It turns out Danny had visited the park the night before after work and placed the animals there. How did no one that morning pick up any of my treasures? I was amazed that they were all still right there, hidden in plain sight!

To get the shot I had to lay on the ground, kneel, stretch really tall, get dirty and sweaty… the photography bit was definitely realistic. Fortunately I did not have to run away from anything chasing me!

Another extremely cool aspect of the safari was that it included sightings of the Big Five: the leopard, lion, African buffalo, elephant and rhinoceros! All five in a single morning; can you imagine? Greg had very resourcefully purchased a coin for each of the Big Five animals. In the video below he presents me with the Rhino coin from Zambia.

The safari was a whole lot of fun. One of the biggest joys was watching the reaction of the people who were also enjoying the park. “What’s that sound?” “Did I hear an elephant?” The kids got so very excited! “Daddy, I hear a stampede!” Quite a few of the kids got jealous, though, which made me feel bad but was also pretty humorous: “Mom, I want a toy zebra like she just found. Let’s find some for us!”

The final animal on the safari was the elephant. The clue included these words: “In my village we commemorate the elephant with a dance, usually done in pairs. You and your husband should try it.” Of course the elephant was on the base of a statue of two dancers! Below is me doing the happy dance as I receive my final coin. Geek alert!!!  😉

After the safari we went to the only African restaurant that we could find in the Urbana-Champaign area. It was really good and the air conditioning was most welcome, too.

I still hope to make the trek to Africa and participate in a photo safari. In the meantime, however, I’ll be busy putting together a shadow box of my animals and coins! Bless you, men! I do love you dearly and am so very blessed that you are my family!

Photo Safari and Hike in Delfín

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Panoramic photo of the first estuary, right by the new bridge in Delfin

On Mothers’ Day Greg and I took a photo safari up north of Delfín, to where Greg has been riding his bike the past few weekends. We took a cooler filled with drinks and lunch, so we could have a picnic. It was a truly gorgeous place to visit. I imagine those who live in Delfín hike this area often. But for me, it was my first time going up quite this far, and I highly recommend it. It made for a most wonderful Mothers’ Day!

The area where we went parallels the railroad tracks, and is full of estuaries. It is secluded enough that it lends itself well to really enjoyable hiking. I loved how we could hear the surf so loudly, but the second we got back in, even just a little bit, we couldn’t hear the surf anymore.

The beaches felt so private to a “city girl” who lives on the malecón. A man lives up next to the tracks (see his home below), and there are lean-tos that I suppose were built by the railroad workers to shelter them from the sun during construction or repair of the tracks. The grass up this way is really cool. It grows so thick, and the wind whips it all one way or the other. You could tell the area floods during high seas, as there was sand and beach debris everywhere. I was especially fascinated with the railroad trestle. I grew up next to one in Wisconsin, and the reflection of this one in the water was quite captivating. About five minutes after we crossed the trestle the second time, sure enough, a train came by. I was quite happy we were, by then, getting out our picnic! Click on any photo to enlarge it, or view a slideshow.

We saw loads of gorgeous flora and fauna—birds, reptiles, insects, mammals, trees, flowers, plants and cactus. We found quite a few different bones and skeletons along the way as well. It was a bit too overcast for my taste and for great photos, but, on the other hand, it made for comfortable hiking. I will most definitely hike up this way many more times.

To get to Delfín, just drive north on Camarón Sábalo to the road to Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay. Turn left and go past PBEB, and just keep driving. Eventually the unpaved, very rustic road will fork. The right-hand fork takes you through a ranch and out to the highway. The left-hand fork is the one we took. We planned to park at the estuary by the train trestle, and hike north from there. However, we ended up spending quite a bit of time at the first estuary right by the new bridge, as it was filled with every kind of waterfowl you can imagine—herons, storks, ibis, pelicans, spoonbills… We also spent a significant amount of time at the second estuary—just walking around and enjoying ourselves. So, in the end, we didn’t end up hiking north of there along the dirt road, as had been our original plan. I guess we’ll just have to go again!

Please, share with me one of your favorite hiking spots!