African Penguins

South Africa’s Penquins

By T Dietz

South Africa.  A semi-arid land with plateaus, coast and inland plains, and desert.  Not a topography you’d guess to find penguins – but indeed it is.  We found our team of intrepid explorers in Cape Town South Africa during the Southern Hemisphere winter – July.  Upon arriving in Cape Town from Dubai we would have a couple of days to explore the harbor city before heading up to Krueger.  Our first full day in Cape Town had us heading to Western Cape province and Boulders Beach part of the Table Mountain National Park.  Boulders is home to a colony of African penguins (Spheniscus demersus, Linnaeus 1758) or jackass penguins, due to the donkey-like braying sound they make.

The Boulders penguin colony established itself there in the early 1980s by two breeding pairs. African penguins are closely related to three other penguin species, magellanic (Spheniscus magellanicus, Forster 1781), Humboldt (S. humboldti, Meyen 1834), and the Galapagos (S. mendiculus, Sundevall 1871). The African species of penguin only reside in the waters around the south-west coast of Africa.  In addition to their black feet they are easily identified by their black face mask and the whitish-pink skin above their eyes.  This area is highly vascularized and involved in thermal regulation by acting as a heat exchanger.  The birds are also known as the “owls of the sea” due to their vision which can focus in and out of water and in low light conditions.

From an estimated population of 4 million in the early 19th century, there remains only about 50,000 of these endangered penguins and they face a high risk for extinction (estimated by 2030).  This penguin species decline has been largely traced to declining fish food stocks caused by overfishing and global ocean temperature rise. (Data source: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2017)

Upon arrival at Boulders we traveled a complex of boardwalks that led us down to the colony. Once down a few stairs you come upon numbered nesting boxes made of fiberglass.  These burrow-shaped boxes are an attempt to better protect the rapidly declining population.  African penguins are monogamous, breed year-round and they lay their eggs in burrows dug in sand or guano, scrapes, or under boulders or bushes.  Many of the penguins have taken up residence in the boxes preferring them to their more natural method – and providing an added protection to their eggs.

There were lots of individual colony members on rocks and in the sand along the boardwalk.  Within a few feet in most cases.  They don’t mind nipping at fingers and its wise not to reach out as those beaks are designed to grab and gouge both fish and combatants.  The penguins generally appeared to ignore us as they went about their business.  As we reached the end of the boardwalk overlooking the beach we had a spectacular and close up view of the majority of the colony.  There were plenty of animated interactions among the penguins and several entering and exiting the ocean with various animated displays. 

African penguins have been known to remain at sea for up to four months.  Juveniles will move up to 1200 miles away from their birthplace and interestingly travel west if born on the east side or north if born from the west or south.  The penguins will generally return to their birth colony to breed themselves.  (Data source: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2017)

After our time with the penguins we headed further south about 30 minutes to the Cape Peninsula which includes Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, the most south-western point of the African continent.  A beautiful rocky promontory that includes a powerful lighthouse that helps ships navigate around the cape.  Along the southern and southwestern cape coast is where the Atlantic and Indian oceans collide.

Whisky & Whiskey

A Night in Scotland

By Rick Kakouris

We’ve often mentioned our enjoyment of a post adventure whisky, or a simple evening with a wee dram. One of our early articles, “Whiskey: Novice or not”,was an evening spent with friends, sampling a wide selection of our favorite brown liquors.

Recently, some of our fellow adventures had their own evening of camaraderie and whisky tasting, and they we kind enough to share their tasting notes with us.

From Rick Kakouris comes “A Night in Scotland”.


A friend of mine over the years had collected 18 different bottles of Scotch & whiskies.  We recently gathered at his house to taste and rate the various offerings of Scotland and around the world.

Our process was simple, we had a loose scale for grading that went from 1-4, but mostly judging the drams with categories ranging from Smokiness to Smoothness, and what we called the “Whoa” factor. This being a “total surprise” either good or bad. We broke the selection into a series of flights and found our tastes and opinions ranged as follows…

Flight #1

  • Benromach
  • Balvenie 12
  • Cutty Sark Blended
  • Connemara

The first flight of 4 saw a combination of blended and single barrel.

The first offering was Benromach, a Speyside single malt.  It was very hot the first sip, but then mellowed into a smooth taste at the finish.  Very little smokiness.

The next offering was Balvenie, a DoubleWood (matured in 2 different casks) 12 year old.  It was definitely smoky, but it was not smooth on the back end.  There were differing opinions on this one.

Next was an old standby, Cutty Sark Blended.  It was too familiar for me to rate fairly, but others found it palatable.

Connemara followed, which actually snuck into the tasting.  It was an Irish Whiskey, and it was unanimous that this was the best of the flight. Because we’re all such history buffs, perhaps we had a small leaning towards Ireland and its history of Sir Henry Sydney

Flight #2

  • Arrus
  • Johnnie Walker Blue
  • Covent Garden Reserve
  • Dalmore 12

The Second flight consisted of two blends and two single malts, all 10-12 years old Scotches.

The first Scotch from this flight was Arrus, a blended malt that was made specifically for a tasting at the distillery.  It was enjoyable with a hint of floral and peet that was smooth on the back end.

Next was Johnnie Walker Blue, an expensive blended Scotch Whiskey.  It did not impress the gentlemen and did not seem worth the high price tag.

The next offering was Covent Garden Reserve.  A single malt, which was hot in the beginning and never settled down. All gentlemen agreed it was not their favorite.

The final offering was Dalmore, a 12 tear highland single malt.  This was a delight.  The smoky yet incredible smooth taste was one to savor.  This was by far the best of the second round.

Flight #3

  • The Famous Grouse
  • Glenffiddich 12
  • Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve

The third flight was haphazardly chosen (probably do to the tasters degrading lack of sobriety)

The Famous Grouse was offered first and was very well received. It was a delight on the tip of the tongue and wrapped you in warmth at the end. (can you tell at this time we are slowly slipping away?) The Famouse Grouse was popular with a number of the gentlemen, Mr Last leading that charge. However Mr Cook and Kakouris were not as thrilled over the selection.

The next to be tasted was Glenfiddich which was a single malt 12 year, matured in the Valley of the Deer, this for some reason was important to Mr Last.  It was a common single malt with no particular flavors coming to the front. (Maybe it has something to do with the deer).

The final offering in this round was the blended Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve.  This was a better offering than the Johnnie Walker Blue.  The smokiness and longevity of the warmth as you swallowed was quite enjoyable. It was definitely popular amongst the gentlemen.

By now the rating portion of the tasting had fallen off slightly.  The numbers on the paper seemed to move a little and were distracting.  Famous Grouse and Johnnie Walker Gold were chosen as the best.

Flight #4

  • Highland Park
  • Isle of Jura 10
  • Isle of Jura Origins
  • Isle of Jura 16

The next flight was again a combination of blended and single malt.

The first tasting was a Highland Park single malt, Mr Last being enamored with the Axe on the box cover.  Mr Kakouris ranked this one high on the Whoa factor.  The first sip immediately grabbed you with a floral hint and good smoke.  It was extremely smooth and begged you to have more.

Next was the Isle of Jura single malt 10 year old Scotch. It was hot initially but mellowed as it went farther back on your tongue. This was ranked around the middle of the choices for this flight.

The Isle of Jura continued to be featured as the next bottle was Isle of Jura Origins, a10 year single malt.  There was nothing special about this offering, it was good and had a mellow charred taste.

The last Isle of Jura was Diurachs Own, a 16 year old single malt.  This was hot in the beginning and never settled down, but it was also incredibly smooth.  Highland Park was the common favorite over the Isle of Jura 10 year.

Flight #5

  • King Robert the II
  • Tamnavulin 12
  • Timorous Beastie

The final flight of the night was a selection of 3 unique Scotch’s.

King Robert the II blended which was not the best of the 3.  It was smoky but never really smoothed out.  It was a common Scotch.

The next offering was Tamnavulin, a single malt 12 year old Speyside.  This was a very good Scotch.  There are not enough oooooo’s in smooth to describe this one. It was by far the best choice of this flight as agreed on by all gentlemen present.

The last Scotch was Timorous Beastie which had a pleasant looking mouse on the bottle.  In this gentleman’s opinion it was the only pleasant thing about it. It was smoky, hot, and not smooth at all.  The other gentlemen were in agreement.

In the end, after all the merriment and good company the Irish Whisky was chosen as one of the favorites.  The gentlemen then retired to the drawing room for Brandy Old Fashions.

Sharks and 007

Of Sharks, Wrecks, and 007

By T. Dietz


Spring 2014 and we were all set for a summer adventure to Thailand.  And then, in May, the Royal Thai Armed Forces executed a coup d’etat.  The US State Department recommends against travel to Thailand.  Although it didn’t appear to be overtly dangerous, as this is not a too uncommon occurrence in Thailand, we opted to postpone the trip until the following year.  Where to go.  I’d always wanted to drive the Florida Keys and so a quick re-planning effort had us heading to south Florida and then on to the Bahamas.

Writing this now after all the hurricane devastation in south Florida and the keys leaves a sense of sadness for the folks making that part of the world home.  We wish them a speedy recovery.  Here I’m focusing in on our Bahamas diving experience, I don’t want to imply there wasn’t grand adventure in driving the keys, stopping all along the way at just super cool spots and spending time in Key West including Hemingway’s house and some spectacular fishing with my boys.

The Bahamas –  an area comprised of over 700 islands, cays and islets and was from 1718 a British colony that gained independent status in 1973 but retaining its Commonwealth status.  Nassau, the government seat is located on New Providence Island which is also where Stuart Cove’s dive outfitter is located.  It’s a special place in that thousands of famous and not so famous folks have dove from here.  There are lots of photographs, some with autographed thank you comments, on the wall highlighting many famous clients

Our first shark dive was at the Shark Wall.  This site is close to the Shark Arena where the sharks are fed so they mill around hoping for a feeding.  This provided lots of encounters from curious Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezii, Poey 1876).  My boys had eyes wide as saucers as the sharks worked their way around us, never coming too close as they were focused on finding the free meal ticket.  Once back on the dive boat one boy couldn’t stop speaking about the encounter while the other one was dead silent – I wondered whether that one would head back down for the feeding.

As we approached the end of our surface interval (allowing nitrogen to be off-gassed before heading back under) one of the dive guides started suiting up from head to toe in heavy chain mail and what looked like an old motorcycle helmet.  This was going to be interesting.

The Shark Arena.  Stuart Cove runs an up-close encounter with dozens of Caribbean reef sharks.  The arena consists of a circle of rocks big enough for you to grap between your knees as you kneel on the sandy bottom.  The chain mailed guide has at his disposal a box containing fish chunks and a pointy ended spear to present fish with and to ward off too chummy sharks.  The boys and I found three rocks close together and remembered the warning to keep your hands in front of you on your body. Anything hanging out there could look like a presented fish chunk.

The dozens of Caribbean reef sharks and one nurse shark and one very larger grouper are clearly acclimated to this event.  They are highly motivated by the free meals being presented and enter and exit the circle with torpedo like speed, zooming in between the divers in the circle and over their/our heads.  In fact, the boys and I were “rubbed” several times as sharks swam by.

Nassau and New Providence Island where it is located are featured in two of the classic James Bond, 007, films, Thunderball, from 1965, and its remake Never Say Never Again, from 1983.  Part of Casino Royale, from 2006, was also filmed in Nassau.

Our next dives were on the James Bond Wrecks. A 92 foot freighter was obtained by the film studio and sunk.  This vessel became the Tears of Allah from Never Say Never Again.   In the very clear waters you can see the wreck immediately upon entering the water.  There are a number of openings in the hull including the famous torpedo holes that were cut into it for the movie.  Bond escapes from a tiger shark attack using the sunken vessel.  The marine life is plentiful on the wreck with lots of coral and fish both inside and out.  We entered the wreck through its deck and after some exploring exited through the torpedo hole. Below is a photo credited to Stuart Cove and highlighting the torpedo hole.

Before we headed in to see the Tears of Allah, we were given a compass heading from which to find another 007 wreck, the Vulcan bomber set from Thunderball.  In the movie, the evil SPECTRE hijacks atomic warheads from the plane. Just a few minutes swim off of the Tears of Allah’s bow we found a crude metal pipe structure covered in corals and teaming with fish.  This had been the internal architecture for the Vulcan bomber.  It originally had panels attached to give it the appearance of an aircraft but now it resembles more a jungle gym than anything else – it’s been called the monkey bars by many.  Despite its shortcomings, it was its provenance that provided the allure. Stuart Cove gets the photo credit for the Vulcan bomber.



A Gentlemanly Shave

Truefitt & Hill

By Brian K. Brecht


It was time, the beard had to go.

Having finally arrived in London since that obscure thought of “I think I’ll not shave until London”, it had been four or five months since the off-handed comment between Rick and I, and I was ready to have the beard gone.

We were a day into our trip, and now, day 2, adding to the fact that my luggage had not arrived with me, I convince Rick a side trip through London’s St. James Place was exactly what we needed to do today.

In my planning the trip I had toyed with the idea of getting a traditional shave at a barber shop called Truefitt & Hill. Half the reason to grow the beard was so it could be shaved off once we arrived in London.

Truefitt & Hill is listed as being the oldest barbershop in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records in April 2000. Established in 1805, the year of Nelson’s battle at Trafalgar and while George the III was on the throne, it’s 212 years of service has seen monarchs, statesman and celebrities come through its doors and is one of the few barbers who continues to hold a Royal Warrant from His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.

The Royal Family, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra were all patrons of this iconic establishment. It continues its proud traditions and its high-end clientele to this day, so if you were going to grow a new beard, for the sole purpose of shaving it off, then of course, why wouldn’t you go to Truefitt & Hill?

My suspicion was that I’d be lucky to gather some shave gear to replace my missing toiletries, however imagine my surprise when, upon walking in with no appointment, I asked if I could get a shave? With a very pleasant, “of course sir”, this was shaping up to be an exceptional morning.

I had become a fan of the traditional hot towel; straight razor shaves a number of years back. The ritual and process of the shave attracted me at first, but once I’d actually gone through the experience I found it to be not only incredibly enjoyable and relaxing, but the results of the shave, the smooth skin and manly indulgence was something I could quickly grow accustom. In this world of three blade, four blade, or five blade razors, all of which are meant to shave you “closer than ever before”, we seem to have lost the elegance and ritual that men used to allow themselves during their daily grooming. To say nothing of the fact that I believe it provides a much better shave. More on that in a later post.

This day of the trip (the 19th of October) was a bit of a flex day in our schedule as we weren’t sure how we’d handle the jetlag. Also we had a couple options for sight seeing and didn’t know which way things would go. As it turned out, on our way to Abbey Road, we had the morning to kill so the detour through St. James Place worked perfectly.

Rick and I were escorted to a small waiting area just past the lobby. While we waited we admired the signed pictures from Churchill, and Montgomery, the famed British General from WWII, and snapped photos of the plaques declaring the royal warrants and proclamations.

It was still early so it was as though Rick and I had the shop to ourselves. No one else had come in and soon my lovely barber Ola, collected me and settled me into the waiting barber chair toward the back of the salon.

Truefitt & Hill – London / St. James Place

Her voice was quiet and demeanor relaxing and pleasing when she asked what I wanted done this morning.

I had asked Ola to shave the sides of my face but keep the goatee. Trim it up a bit but leave some of the length at the chin simply for some fun. She understood and immediately proceeded to tilt back the chair and prep me for my experience.

She applied a cotton band across my eyes, so she could begin trimming back the growth from the last six months. The detail here was interesting because she didn’t just delve in with a pair of loud electric trimmers. The sides of the beard were first removed with a pair of hand clippers before shaping around the chin and mustache with the electric.

Soon after a hot towel enveloped my face, warming my skin and whiskers just prior to her removing the towel and beginning the application of the hot lather.

From here most of the experience was lost in a haze of relaxation. I’d hear quiet instructions, “lift your chin, turn your head…” but most of what I was aware was the soft pleasant conversation Rick and Ola were having while I drifted in and out of semi-consciousness. With eyes closed I was only aware of the sounds and smells that lingered in the salon. The pleasant sent of shaving cream, steam radiating from the hot towels, and the sounds of clippers and shears doing their work.

As expected the entire experience was exceptional. What I enjoy about a straight razor shave is the relaxation. There is a numbness that comes knowing a highly trained hand is wielding an open razor blade across your face. You can sense the controlled hand paired with the delicate touch. It is both invigorating and relaxing.


The shave ended all too quickly but not before a final hot towel, followed by a cool towel to close the pours and tighten the skin.

Coming out of my haze I reached up to find smooth cheeks and a manicured beard and mustache. My skin was tight and had scent of lightly perfumed shaving products.

It was a fantastic shave and a wonderful experience. As I was checking out I took a lengthy view of the amazing selection of shave brushes, soap bowels, straight and double edge razors in the cases.

I couldn’t leave without a meaningful souvenir and with Ola’s help, selected a beautiful black-handled razor, and a thick tulip shaped brush. Ola threw in a selection of Truefitt & Hills shave balms and cologne, and I couldn’t resist putting on some of the “West Indian Lime” aftershave, Churchill’s prefer sent.

This is an experience I’d recommend every gentleman to try at least once. For myself, it’s something I’d easily go back for again and again. Unfortunately, Trueffit and Hill no longer has locations in the US. So I guess I’ll have to head back to St James Place as soon as I can.


Adventures in Africa

Wide Mouth

By T. Dietz


South African winter – 2009.   Africa, the continent of adventure, exploration, and of beginnings.  We shared a story a while back about influential books from our lives and one of those was “Wildlife in South Africa” 1947 by Col. J. Stevenson-Hamilton (Late Warden, Kruger National Park beginning in 1902).  I was finally here, on the continent, for an adventure that touched deeply my long desire for experiencing this storied and at times enigmatic land.

Our landing pad for this adventure was the private Sabi Sand Game Reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park.  An incredibly well-preserved wilderness that has been in the Bailes family since 1926 but only open outside the family since 1993.  Our mini lodge was unlike the moving tent safaris of British fame but offered an un-paralleled base camp experience. This trip had many moments of downright natural magic as anyone who’s been to Africa can attest.   Here, I highlight the rhinoceros (of Greek origin, rhino-nose and keras-horn) from the trip.

The White or square-lipped rhinoceros, Certotherium simum (Burchell 1817) is not white but gray, similar in color to the black or hooked-lipped rhinoceros, Diceros bicornis (Linnaeus 1758, Gray 1821). There is a much-repeated story that the origins of the White Rhino’s name emerged from an anglicized pronunciation of the Dutch word whyde or wijd (amongst other spellings) – the term used by African Dutch settlers to describe these square mouthed beasts.  However, there is no definitive account. According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Species Survival Programme, the African rhinoceros was first shot and described by Anders Sparrman in 1775 although these ungulates were observed and described during the time of the Dutch East India Company’s settlement of Cape Town beginning in 1652.  Burchell was also credited with discovering the white rhinoceros in 1817 and named it Rhinoceros siumus and not giving it a common name. John Barrow, a private secretary to the South African Governor George Macartney, spent from 1797-1803 in S. A. and published in 1801 his description of the white rhinoceros from observations taken in 1798. Several academic publications attempt to decipher the history of southern African rhinoceros classification, distribution and naming but historical and chronological gaps remain.  

The black rhinoceros name derivation is believed to have occurred as a way to distinguish it from the white rhinoceros and possibly from covering itself with mud from dark local soils. However, the most noticeable difference is the black rhinoceros’ prehensile lip providing it with the ability to feed on leaves and twigs from trees and bushes unlike the white rhinoceros whose mouth is adapted to feeding on grasses.  Black and white rhinoceros can interbreed and produce reproductively competent offspring.

The rhinoceros is the second largest land mammal behind the elephant.  Many folks might not realize that there are five species of rhinoceros and that not only Africa has or have had them but also North America, Europe and Asia. The total global count of the five species is now less than 30,000. Contrast this with counts over 500,000 at the beginning of the 20th century (IUCN YE2015 estimates).

White rhinoceros (Certotherium simum, Burchell 1817); Africa; two horns; approximately 20,000 of the Southern White sub species which I saw C. simum simum but only 3 of the Northern White sub species C. sumum cottoni (all three are in captivity 2 females and one male)

Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis, Linnaeus 1758, Gray 1821); Africa; two horns; approximately 5,000

Indian rhinoceros or Greater One-Horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis, Linnaeus 1758); Nepal and northeastern India; one horn; approximately 3,500

Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis, Fischer 1814); Borneo and Sumatra; two horns; furry and the smallest species – their coat helps them in high altitudes; approximately 100

Javan rhinoceros or Lesser One-Horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus, Desmarest 1822); Java; one horn; rarest of all rhinoceros species and one of the rarest larger mammals on earth; approximately 60

Our Ranger explained that Krueger is a special place for rhinoceros. The National Park has played a pivotal role in the recovery efforts of the species.  White rhinoceros were extinct in the Nwatimhiri bush of Krueger by 1895 and the last one in the Lowveld (low field country) of Krueger by around 1896. The white rhino was relocated back to Kruger in 1961.  The last black rhino in Kruger was seen in 1936 but reintroduced in 1971 (Environmental Affairs Dept of the Republic of South Africa).

Encounter One

Krueger and the surrounding wilderness areas, including Sabi Sands, has very little rain in the winter allowing for better wildlife viewing through sparser vegetation.  The Land rover pulled up to a local watering hole so we could observe a pride of lions taking rest and refreshment. This was the first encounter with lions as well but I’ll save that for another time except to say it was mesmerizing to be so close to these fantastic animals.  The lions were lazing around the watering hole when you could see a young male become instantly alert.

There, coming through the bush, was a large female white rhino and her calf. I’ve seen lions and rhinoceros at zoos before but nothing can really prepare you for seeing them in their natural setting and you sitting feet from them out in the open.  Almost instantly, the male lion’s alertness passed along to the many females in the pride. And then just as quickly, the lions returned to a seemingly uncaring state. We had been expecting to the see the lions as the guide informed us that they had been at this spot for several days.  But the unexpected appearance of the rhino mother-calf pair added to the excitement. They were however, not in full view but rather half camouflaged by bushes. The pair appeared to ignore the presence of the pride about 50 feet off to their side as they approached the watering hole.

Rhinoceros have poor vision but impressive olfactory and auditory capabilities. One can easily observe their constantly changing ear direction in order to pick up potential threats.  African rhinoceros have no real natural predators other than man, however, they must protect their young from lions, hyenas, crocodiles, dogs and the like, and this is where their keen sense of smell is important as well as for understanding competitive rhino territory.  Also in the rhinoceros predator alert arsenal is their symbiotic relationship with the Red-billed oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus, Stanley 1814).  A bird that eats ticks off of the rhino and is hyper alert to danger.  Unfortunately, we saw no oxpeckers during the encounters we had with the white rhino.

The mother and calf were present at the watering hole for only a short time before disappearing back into the bush. It’s not surprising to see different wildlife sharing a watering hole.  The mother rhino clearly believed she could protect her calf in the presence of the lions. Rhinoceros hydration requirements are high and they must have access to water within their territory – which can range to around 5 square miles.  


Encounter Two

The next day we came upon a herd or “crash” of rhinoceros, several males, females and calves.  The bush and trees were a bit more crowed in the area we were observing from but, despite pushing ever slowly through the thicker bush with the Land rover for a better vantage point, we did not appear to disturb these magnificent creatures.  Now that we were in a clearer area, we could easily see the rhinos milling around several trees and with limited bush cover. The animals ranged from about 30 to 100 feet away.

Then, something other than our rover caught their attention and fast.  In a choreography of sorts, they began quickly backing rearward toward each other with the calves at the center.  Later at camp, our ranger discussed the rhino encounter and explained that the white rhino is known to circle up around their calves, facing outward to protect them.  The crash stood there in their hub and spoke formation snorting and kicking up a bit of dirt for at least 20 minutes. I only have an initial photo of the formation as I went to film mode for the remainder of the encounter.  We stayed and observed the tense behavior until they relaxed and tried to identify the root cause – to no avail.

Encounter Three

Back out on safari, we came across two different rhino settings.  The first of the day was another mother-calf pair that moved gracefully around a grass grazing area.  There was lots of nuzzling of the calf and lots of curiosity towards us from the calf. As we pulled within 50 feet of the pair, the calf became curious of our rover.  It took several back and forth trips before it chose to wander closer and closer and within 10 feet or so of the us. And then with its closest visit it returned quickly to its mother and chose not wander off again.  The mother rhino showed no sign of interest in us nor of her calf venturing near. Rhino young have better eyesight than their adult members but it appeared the calf was very much trying to scent us.

The white rhino is the largest of all the rhino species and they can move fast and with agility. When disturbed we saw not only the protection circle formed but burst of speed that kicked up quite a dust storm.  The white rhino can reach speeds of up to 40mph. In a more heavily bushed area we came upon about half a dozen rhino that became extremely agitated by the presence of a new comer (on left in the photo) to the group.  It elicited an interesting reaction of several of the group running hard and kicking up dirt in a broad circle and returning to face the new entrant to the area. And just as quickly as all the excitement ensued it ended with heads down and grazing resumed.  

Rhinos obviously use their horns for self-defense against not only predators but for dominance fighting during mating season.  We were not to see a male on male or female on female fight but watching the charging around one could easily see how things could turn deadly and quickly.  A rhino will charge hard at objects it feels are a threat. It’s been reported that among the black rhino population almost half of males and one third of females die from fighting each other.

In each encounter with not only the rhinoceros but with the other species observed I never once wanted to move on to see what’s next.  I’d have stayed all day observing, photographing, filming, drawing whatever animal we were near. I was grateful for each next encounter but leaving each one left a terrible feeling like I’d never see something so perfect again.  

I had not really given any thought as to why people on safari that ride in the trucks are not attacked by the predatory wildlife until we drove up very close to so much dangerous wildlife.  It is interesting that in all of our encounters we were effectively ignored by the vast majority of the animals – I’d say the elephants were the most attentive to our presence. It turns out that as a unit of people and vehicle the animal sees us as an entity so much larger than its usual prey or predatory threat it just ignores the object.  It also fits with making yourself look larger when confronted with say a mountain lion in the States. So, as they say, stay in the truck!

Finally, it’s wrong when speaking of the majestic rhinoceros to not at least mention their decimation at the hands of man – for their horns.  A substance made up primarily of keratin just like in your fingernails and hair, and to have been proven to have no medicinal value. I mention above the severe decline in the worldwide rhino population over the last 100 plus years.  

The demand worldwide remains incredibly high for the myth of magical and medicinal qualities from the horn. On the black-market rhino horns sell for more than gold by weight peaking several years ago at roughly $65,000/kilogram and believed now to have fallen to lower levels based upon the rhinoceros plight.  The demand is still great as amply demonstrated by a brazen killing of a rhinoceros for its horns by criminals at a Paris zoo in early 2017. It has been illegal to buy or sell rhino horn within South Africa since 2009.

Irish Heritage

Kissing the Blarney

By Brian K. Brecht


It’s was a beautiful Irish day as we cruised across the N72, leaving Annascaul and the Dingle Peninsula, on the western side of Ireland in county Kerry. Two hours ago, we left Inch beach in bone chilling cold and blowing ocean mist. Now, with a harrowing navigation through the Blarney town square and being the cause of a minor traffic jam, we pull into the parking lot of Blarney Castle in warm sunshine and 60 degree temps. The sun is out and I was more excited than you’d expect to be here.

The history of the Blarney Stone is well known; I’d argue by many other than those of us of Irish decent. According to legend, the stone has a rich history and rumored to be many things. Possibly the Stone of Ezel behind which David hid from King Saul, having been brought back to Ireland from the Crusades. It’s also said to be “Jacob’s Pillow, brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah, the oracular throne of Irish Kings. Or that it was given in gratitude to Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster as a gift from Robert the Bruce after MacCarthy’s support of him at the Battle of Bannockburn. Regardless of its multiple origins, the tale goes that a witch, having been saved from downing by one of the MacCarthy’s, professed “that if he would kiss a stone on the castle’s top, he would gain a speech that would win all to him”.

Having had Grandparents who instilled a proud Irish heritage within the family, it was always a story I heard and something that always remained in the back of my mind.

When my grandfather finally retired, my Grandparents Ray and Dorothy began a wonderful “Senior Citizen” travel plan, seeing things across the globe they never thought they’d experience. Grandpa, again a VERY proud Irishman, always wanted to see Ireland and in 1985 it finally happened. There were wonderful stories from their trip, but it was a photo of my Grandmother that stuck with me over the years.

There she was, at the time being 75 years old, stretched over backward kissing the fabled stone. If anyone knew my Grandmother, you could believe she was granted the gift of eloquence.

For Rick and I, this trip was about achieving things we’d wanted all our lives, and seeing the things which had inspired us during our time together as friends and brothers. I was proud of the fact that at 50 I was seeing things that my grandparents hadn’t been able to see until their retirement years.

So while planning this trip, I coaxed Rick into the idea that on the way back to Dublin we’d stop by Blarney Castle. I don’t think he really understood my deep desire to do this, but as ever, it didn’t matter. It was all about the adventure.

Blarney Castle sits inside what is now a beautifully manicured 60-acre park. With paved paths, close cut lawns, and perfectly trimmed trees, I’m sure the grounds don’t look anything at all like what they appeared in 1446 when Cormac MacCarthy build the third structure on this site, what is now Blarney Castle. Rick and I purchased our tickets and began the lovely stroll through the grounds, stopping to toss some stones into the peaceful stream along the path, all the while seeing the stone edifice of the castle in the near distance.

One of the things Rick and I appreciated the most was the state of the castle itself. Having spent the week seeing all the restored and polished history, we loved that this castle was a ruin. Walls had not been repaired, floors remained missing, the remains of what once was is evident and powerful. There is no polish here, so what you get is a real example of the fortress this castle used to be.

We get to the top of the rock outcropping the caste is built on, and begin following the signs to the Blarney Stone itself. The path winds you through the various passages and up the four to five floors that once nested inside the walls of the stronghold. Some areas still have sections of floor in place, others, you find yourself staring into the void where perhaps a grand hall or private bedchamber once existed. I began to quickly realize, the narrow walkways and steeply worn steps could very easily be treacherous. Obviously at that moment we were in no real danger, but I couldn’t help but think, “Wholly shit! My 75 year old Grandmother did this?!” Even after all these years I was still finding things that amazed me about my Grandmother.

Climb, climb and more climbing, after 127 steeply worn steps, we found ourselves atop the battlements of Blarney Castle. I was happy we didn’t find some teeming mass of cranky tourists. By the time we reached the top it was just an older couple and us. They went through the ritual and then finally it was my turn, I was really here.

The process to kiss the legendary stone is simple. You walk up, you lay down, you lean back, you kiss, you get up. But in its early days, there was a real danger to kissing the Stone. These days there are iron rails to grab on to and an iron grate right below to ensure no one actually falls through; after all you are 130+ feet in the air. But I have to say; I secretly wished those didn’t exist. What’s the point of the adventure without some danger? Nonetheless, I reverently went through the process.

You could tell the elder gentleman sitting assisting folks in the process, must have found this monotonous. He had a set speech he gave, mindlessly as though it was second nature. It was so fast and he had such a thick accent I couldn’t really catch what he was saying but it was the same each time and obviously something he said day in and day out. “Lay back, hands on the bar, lean back……. back further……, back further…..back fur… there you go, kiss the stone, up you go”. It seemed silly but again was all part of the charm.

So there I was. I laid down, I leaned back…. leaned further back, …. and back still, kissed the stone, gave it a good one cuz, you know, I’m the only one who’s ever done this, pulled up, and I was done. And there I was, having been granted the gift of eloquence. I was sure I felt different,…didn’t I?

Honestly, I did feel different. Perhaps not from an old Irish legend, but because I knew I had been in the exact same place my Grandmother had been some 31 years prior. And I was there with one of my best friends, who like me found meaning in following the footsteps of history and my Grandmother.

We took a little more time among the battlements, grabbed some photos of the grounds but then it was down and on the road. We needed to get to Dublin by evening as Trinity College and the Book of Kells waited for us tomorrow.

But today, I closed a chapter I had been mentally reading since childhood. And I did something that for me, perhaps fulfilled a little family history of my own. Perhaps something one of my girls might repeat some day.



“There is a stone there, that whoever kisses,

Oh! He never misses to grow eloquent:

‘Tis he may clamber to a lady’s chamber,

Or become a Member of Parliament.”


Lava Beds


Lava Beds

By T. Dietz


Having flown a good part of the skies over California, I had yet to explore the northeastern reaches of the State. With a clear outlook I took off in the T206 to investigate, at least by air, one of our Nation’s least visited National Parks, Lava Beds National Monument.

A smooth hour and half (approx.) flight brought me into the northeastern portion of the Cascade Range. We’d been having snow in the higher elevations on the front end of our predicted El Nino weather pattern and mountain tops stood out white in sharp contrast to the green forests.

There was no need to hunt in trying to find the lava flows. They were amazing in their size and the way they blanketed the landscape.

The photos show some of the cinder cones, lava flows and pit craters that exist here. But the park also has examples of spatter cones, lava tube caves, and fumaroles, amongst some of the best examples of textbook volcanic activity. The area has been the site of significant volcanic eruptions for the last half-million years.

In addition the park has examples of glass flows and one of America’s Prisoner of War camps where Japanese Americans were sequestered during WWII.

The lava beds were also the site of the only Indian war (the Modoc War of 1872-73) fought in California. The Modoc Indians held up in a natural lava fortress fighting ten times their numbers in US Army troops for five months. Native American petroglyphs are preserved in the monument.

The fly over was a visual delight and a quick landing in the town of Malin set the stage for another flight to take advantage of the opportunity to explore a few (25 are open for exploration) of the more than 500 lava tube caves.

Science and Cocktails

Doc’s Lab

By T. Dietz

Ed Ricketts, the marine biologist that collaborated with John Steinbeck on “The Log from the Sea of Cortez “ (1951) is forever etched in the minds of Steinbeck’s fans, as the basis (by Steinbeck) for ‘Doc’ in several of his classic novels. Brian and I have written before about our admiration for Steinbeck’s compelling stories and the museum in his honor.

In the 1930’s and ‘40s, Ricketts was a community centerpiece in Monterey, CA. Its been written about extensively how Ricketts and his lab regularly drew in, often for days on end, a diverse range of characters from scientists, philosophers, writers, artists and musicians to the local societal periphery. So of course it was a “must see” destination during our initial explorations of Steinbeck and Cannery Row. So it was a happy surprise to find a new reference to Ricketts, right in downtown San Francisco.

In 2014, a new San Francisco restaurant and basement performance venue opened in the remains of the famous comedy/musical performance venue, The Purple Onion. The restaurant honored Ed Ricketts and his inspiration for the arts, sciences, philosophy and community by taking the name “Doc Ricketts” and the cave-like basement performance venue took the name Doc’s Lab.

I had been looking forward to hearing the Electric Squeeze Box Orchestra, an impressive up beat jazz group and was dumbfounded to find out they played weekly at Doc’s Lab – a venue I hadn’t heard about. The subterranean space is perfect for performing and listening and has a great and well stocked bar. All it needed was Ed Ricketts and Steinbeck around to drink, story tell, and philosophize.



The River of Doubt

The River of Doubt

By Brian K. Brecht

In May of this year we posted about Michael Canfield’s book, “Theodore Roosevelt – In the Field”, where we highlighted our new found exposure to the non-political life of Theodore Roosevelt. Since that reading we’ve continued in our fascination of Teddy and his life outside of the Oval Office.

This time, we found ourselves lost in the 2005 book from Candice Millard titled “The River Doubt”. Where “In the Field” spent most of it’s time in Roosevelt’s pre-presidential life, “River of Doubt” focuses solely on the time after his presidency. In fact, it was the loss of the presidency that eventually turned Roosevelt’s eye toward South American and an “uneventful” speaking tour through the Amazon.

Roosevelt’s 1912 presidential defeat weighted heavily on the now ex-president, and Millard sets up the desire to journey to the Amazon well, emphasizing Roosevelt was “hunkered down” at Sagmore Hill, and “the telephone, which had rung like sleigh-bells all day and half the night, was now silent”. His family was so concerned about his mental state that they dispatched Dr. Alexander Lambert, his physician to pay him a visit.

Eventually an invitation from Argentina’s Museo Social organization, a group of forward-thinking business and political figures, would entice Roosevelt enough to head south for an extended speaking tour. Aside from the soothing of a bruised ego, the trip would also afford him the chance to see his twenty three year old son Kermit.

As the trip plans are made however, opportunities to explore begin to turn a quiet speaking tour (Roosevelt brings his wife and cousin on the trip) into a plan for one last grand adventure, an expedition to map the unexplored River of Doubt, one of the many unmapped tributaries of the great Amazon River.

As with many great adventure or exploration biographies, Millard exposes the plans and preparations for the expedition. Along with specific personalities that were hired for the trip, she unravels a number of variables and poor decisions that led to a number of the difficulties Roosevelt and his team experienced during the trip. In contrast to his African expedition that had impeccable planning, this trip was sorely lacking in expertise and had a plethora of false credentials.

Though not a story that is “stranded and beyond all hope”, its not far off. The team that Roosevelt leads, along with his Brazilian co-commander Colonel Candido Rondon, experience a level of difficulty and extraordinary effort, it’s a wonder how any of them survived. At one point, on what at the time seems like his own death bed, Roosevelt says to his son, and friend George Cherrie “boys, I realize that some of us are not going to finish the journey. …I will stop here.”

The book balances the flaws that existed in Roosevelt, while once again shining a light on the determination and tenacity that was Theodore Roosevelt. A perfect companion to “In the Field”, and an enthralling journey all unto its own.

The Tongariro Crossing


The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

By T. Dietz


Darkness – there are varying degrees. On this night, 27 June 2017, it was a darkest night and we were in the last one third of a three and a half hour drive from KatiKati near the Bay of Plenty, on New Zealand’s North Island to the Tongariro National Park (TNP) in central NZ. The we here is my wife Leslie, and sons Connor and Colin. I strained my eyes for what seemed like a never-ending drive using only low beams in a fog. Other than the not so occasional dead possums on the road that my headlights picked up, I could not make out any real distinguishing landmarks.

We arrived late at the Park motel, one of the few places to stay in TNP, and checked-in with a very quiet Kiwi behind the desk. Back out into a cold, 20F, moonless night we headed to extremely sparse but clean and comfortable rooms. Our goal for this adventure was the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, considered one of the world’s top one day treks.

As soon as we off-loaded our bags in the rooms, I put on a warm hat and started to leave. “Where’re you going?” my wife said, questioning my heading back out into the cold night. “Outside for some dark sky” I replied. It was cold, we were at about 2,600’ and the pitch black-moonless night of our drive remained. I knew I’d get to see the Milky Way clearly by walking to a spot that blocked the light from the sodium-vapor lamps around the motel. Not just that wispy, smoke-like white river in the sky I’ve seen before, but this view had dense purples and pinks like I’ve only ever seen in photographs. Not even during my time in Africa have I seen this intensity. 20 minutes later I headed back in to rally all the troops to follow me back out into the cold to behold the universe, and they did and they were wowed. Mission accomplished. Leslie even got a fantastic photo of the Crux or Southern Cross. The density of stars made it difficult to pick out Virgo, Jupiter and Saturn, all of which were on the menu this night.

Back in the room I sorted and checked through the required gear for our trek and loaded up my pack, Colin doing the same. We rose excited and easily at 0600 on a cold and dark morning, rechecked the gear, filled the hydration packs, and I put on my son Cooper’s watch. Colin and I headed outside in the 18F crisp air to await our pre-arranged transfer ride to the trek’s start. The very few cars in the lot had a thick frost on their windshields giving them that freeze-dried appearance.

Tongariro is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the fourth national park established in the world. The Park borders on Lake Taupo, a lake resulting from the eruption of the Taupo Volcano, a super volcano. According to the Geological Society of New Zealand and several other sources, Taupo Volcano eruptions are some of the largest the earth has seen in modern geological times. Lake Taupo resides in the super volcano’s caldera from an eruption (the Oruanui eruption) about 26,000 years ago.  At the heart of Tongariro are active volcanos having erupted as recently as 2012 – Mt. Ruapehu, Mt. Ngauruhoe, and Mt. Tongariro.

We chose to have a guide (Josh) accompany us on the trek despite the good weather, principally to enjoy hearing about the history, myths, geology and biology of this magical place. This trek would offer more than just spectacular vistas and adventure.   It would allow for some important adventure time with my youngest son.

We were a bit over-geared up but smart for doing it. Weather can turn quickly on the trek. When we started, the temps were in the low 20’s(F) and it climbed slowly to the mid 30’s(F). Perfectly clear skies at the start were followed by a slow cumulous build up over the course of the day. The weather can be very unpredictable in the winter so we were well prepared despite the great outlook. Our guide indicated he has been on several rescues of folks that have inadequate clothing or fallen because they started on a nice day that quickly turned poor.

The trek launched at the Mangatepopo parking area where we were greeted by a dramatic pink and orange colored sunrise. With the rising sun, the morning highlight was snow-capped Mt. Ruapehu to our South. We would have a couple from Japan with us but not for long. With day packs secured and layers on for the cold start we headed out to a flat expanse with imposing volcanoes straight ahead. We had heard there would be a group of about 20 hikers behind us so we started out at a fast clip to create distance and isolation. Josh encouraged us to move at our own pace but wait at the base of Devil’s Staircase, Soda Springs. The roughly flat, platformed track had several thinly frosted-over streams crisscrossing underneath and glistening frost-coated scrub brush was all around.

Dominating our forward view was Mt. Ngauruhoe. For Lord of the Rings fans, Mt. Ngauruhoe was Mt. Doom in the movies. The imposing mountain remained in our view until our decent down from the Red Crater. Climbing Ngauruhoe would be for another time. It’s an ascent that takes about 2 hours and a descent that can be only 20-30 minutes. The track we continued on gradually started to climb as we approached Soda Springs and the last relief facility for a few hours.

Here at Soda Springs we parted ways with the Japanese couple. Colin and I took our time stripping off layers, hydrating and anxiously waiting to get climbing. When Josh and the Japanese couple showed up they were already in distress from the hike so far. We would need to leave them behind, to be united with another team coming up later, and a decision made for them to turn back or complete the journey. They ultimately decided to go forward and arrived about 4 hours behind us.

Colin, Josh and myself attacked the Devil’s Staircase with speed (at least at the start).

This steep, one hour plus climb has a combination of wooden stairs, rock stairs, rock cuts, chain grabs and pulls, and volcanic rock paths all to assist in the climb. About 30 minutes into the climb my legs were getting heavy and breathing heavier. Colin forged quickly ahead while Josh and I hung back for a few minutes. Another 40 minutes or so that included 3 more stops, had me at the top with Colin who was resting comfortably and informing me of his 20 minute lead. Watching Colin taking in the views with eyes and camera, I knew he was enjoying himself.

Over the course of the climb and as we approached the top of the Devil’s stairway, the large volcanic boulders gave way to a field strewn with much smaller volcanic rock.

We then followed the ridgeline up and to the north to our highest point of the day, Red Crater Summit at 1,886m (6,187ft). Standing at the summit and on the south end of Red Crater we could see the varied, volcanically active, landscapes all around us. It felt like it was a trek of discovery as so many are for the first time. Although thousands have trekked here before it was ours that day. In fact, the crossing can see thousands of people in a single day during the summer but we had few and in sections none to contend with. I peppered Josh with geologic and biologic questions to which he stood up quite well. This remarkable, other worldly landscape was captivating and it becomes clear why the Maori peoples sought myths and stories to describe this place.

Josh told us of a Maori legend of an epic battle of the mountains where Mt. Taranaki wanted the beautiful Mt. Pihanga all to himself. Mt. Tongariro won his love in an epic battle by erupting in anger. Mt. Phihanga, Tongariro’s love laid down in Lake Taupo after the battle and upon seeing her reflection refused to leave her spot. If you look closely in the photo below you can see her lying face up in the waters of the Lake in the background. Mt. Taranaki’s fate was worse. He cried in despair and uprooted himself leaving the other mountains and gouged a deep trench on his departure. The gouge’s depths were filled by waters from the remaining mountains and formed the Whanganui River.

While taking in the view of Red Crater and the surroundings, we had our first strong sulfur smell from the volcanically active area.

We could see others making their way up the Devil’s Staircase and anticipated they would stop for lunch at the Red Crater Summit. From there we took the short but steep descent down to the Emerald Lakes.

The Emerald Lakes – I felt like walking into a picture as I had viewed the lakes many times online in preparing for our trip. They are quite a sight in person with active fumaroles nearby highlighting the landscape with white steam. Colin took a few minutes to throw a fairly large sized rock into the first and largest lake, only to find it bounce as it hit clear, thick ice covering the green/blue mineral colored water. A second pointed rock dislodged by Josh and tossed by Colin found itself impaled in the ice to
everyone’s satisfaction.  I chose to use my trekking poles to ease the descent down to the Emerald Lakes and after a time, northward for the trek across the edge of the Central Crater plateau. The track then ascends to Blue Lake. The Central Crater highlights lava flows that emanated from Red Crater long ago. The scoria, a dark and highly textured volcanic igneous rock, was loose and unstable on the descent and resulted in more sliding then walking.

Blue Lake feels like an isolated place as the volcanic prominences keep it isolated from other views on three sides. The lake is an acidic body and sacred to the Mauri peoples. It’s disrespectful to touch the Lake’s water or eat/drink at its shores. We took a brief respite away and above the Lake to fuel up and enjoy the view. From Blue Lake we continued around the west side to an ascent to North Crater and its level lava surface. Here a whole new vista presents itself as you can view Mt. Pihanga, Lake Rotoaira and Lake Taupo.

As we zigzagged our way down to Ketetahi Hut we encountered new fumaroles created by one of the 2012 Mt. Tongariro eruptions. The Temaari craters on Mt. Tongariro’s northern slope erupted. The August eruption had flying rocks while a November eruption produced only an ash cloud. Expert advice for a trekker if there is an eruption while on the track – RUN don’t hide!


The August eruption produced volcanic rock that pummeled the surrounding area with one rock going straight through the roof and a bunkbed at Ketetahi Hut. Luckily no one was staying there that day. From the Ketetahi Hut we continue the descent adjacent to Ketetahi Springs and private land that Josh explained contains a scared hot spring that is off-limits except for Maori priests who use it to wash deceased priests. Its easily an hour and a half down from these springs to the car park so it must be quite an undertaking to bring a body up to and back from the sacred springs.

On the descent we crossed paths with two volcanologists, one with a very heavy looking equipment pack, on their way up from the car park. A brief conversation revealed they were on their way to take readings with their test equipment from one of the newer fumaroles. We continued the descent on the well-kept route down to the Mangatetipua Stream. Until we met native lowland forest again, the trek until that point had been devoid of observable wildlife. We were finally hearing bird sound and as Josh pointed out the New Zealand Bellbird [Anthornis melanura (Sparman 1786)] in particular. He mentioned that many more birds used to be around but that possum and rat predation has taken a toll on their numbers.

As we approached the last 45 minutes of the trek we came across a lahar hazardous area. I was unfamiliar with a lahar by name but not its devastating potential. A lahar is a volcanic mudflow or debris flow that can, with the strength and consistency of wet concrete, take out most obstacles in its path and can move quite quickly. Josh informed us that a lahar from this area caused a train to fall into the Whangaehu River on Christmas eve in 1953 taking 151 souls.



We finally arrived at the Ketetahi car park for pick up. A bit tired and toe sore mostly from the downhill but also a bit sad that this adventure had come to an end.   We had finished the 19.4km (12.06mi) trek in 6 hours 15 minutes and traversed almost 2,100m (6,890ft). Colin of course pointed out that he could have shaved at least an hour off of the time if he hadn’t had to wait for me on the climbs. On the van ride back to the Park Hotel I asked Colin what were the highlights of the day. “everything, except I didn’t get to use my ice axe”. He then said “Pop, would you climb Denali with me for my 18th birthday”. I smiled and said “I’ll try”.