Wednesday Wildlife – The Leopard

We saw the leopard slinking low in the desiccated grasses of the Welgevonden Game Reserve in South Africa’s Limpopo region. I almost soiled myself, not out of fear but of excitement. I have been to almost every major game reserve in Southern Africa, yet never to have once spotted this dotty kitty. Until now – this was a huge moment for me and my underpants.

One solitary male on a discrete hunt for food. At first, I celebrated the sighting, treasuring every second that I could watch him sleekly moving through the dry bush. A sighting like this – a once in a lifetime – is too often over in seconds.

Leopard by Thea Beckman 1

But a hunting leopard makes use of lofty vantage points to spy potential prey and, in one fluid movement, our male launched himself up the bole of a tree and took up sentry. Leopards are shy animals and extremely unsociable, which likely explains his unimpressed expression with being watched and photographed.

Leopard by Thea Beckman 3

Legs (and litchis) dangling out all over the place, he remained in suspension for the better part of 20 minutes, while lazily surveying the surrounding bush and staring at us with piercing, tawny eyes. On average, leopards weigh between 60 and 70 kg and can live up to 15 years. What is most exceptional about these cats is that they can drag prey heavier than themselves up a tree, where it can hang safely out of the reach of other predators and scavengers, offering the leopard a consistent source of meat for several days.

Leopard by Thea Beckman 2

The heat, the altitude, and the lack of action took its toll and he let rip an enormous yawn, offering us a glimpse at teeth that could crack your neck like a cheese stick. Seeing this leopard quite honestly constitutes one of the high points of my life and if you’ve seen one, perhaps you’ll understand why. They are truly beautiful, extraordinary animals.

Travel Tip Tuesday – Not Packing the Kitchen Sink

Every time I fly, I pack lighter and I pack smarter, because the mental and physical anguish from my previous baggage-laden trip still lingers. I’ve learned to talk myself out of taking that extra sweater and how to wing it in situations where I could have used something I forced myself to leave behind, such as nail clippers (use your teeth) or a hair dryer (wear a hat). By packing smart, you can save yourself many hundreds of dollars on chiropractor bills for your shattered vertebrae when you return. Mobility is key when travelling and you should be able to get from the airport to your hotel on public transport without sweating, grunting, and screaming obscenities at the small house you’ve brought along with you.

Here are some essential tips on packing smart and traveling light:

Never buy large travel bags 

Heavy packing for travel

If you are physically restricted on how much you can pack by the smaller size of your suitcase, you’ll find yourself packing smarter. Therefore, when buying a travel case, force yourself to opt for the slightly smaller option of the style/colour you like. There are some truly enormous suitcases out there and while they may be useful for housing your impressive collection of erotica, used for travel, they will only compel you to shove more and more stuff in. You know, just in case.

Leave bulky clothing at home

Unless you’re headed for the Swiss Alps or Antarctica in the middle of winter, layer your clothing rather than pack a variety of heavy sweaters and bulky jackets. If you do need to take a warm jacket and heavy shoes with you, wear those on the plane – don’t pack them in your luggage.

P.S. Always research the weather and climate of your destination to help you pack accurately!

Don’t bother with bath and hand towels

There are few wastes of space quite as gratuitous as bath towels. Wherever you stay – whether it’s with a friend or at a backpackers, hostel, or hotel – there will be towels available for you to use. It’s better to spend €1 on renting a towel at a hostel in Barcelona, for example, than it is to haul that extra weight around with you. Even if you plan on spending your holiday on the beach, sneak the hotel towel out with you or take a sarong and dry off in the gorgeous sun!

Buy your toiletries there

Unless you’re travelling to cities that are notoriously expensive or are so remote and impoverished that they don’t even have a drug store, it usually works out better to just buy your toiletries there, especially at the local and inexpensive “dollar stores”. Also, soap is almost never necessary to bring with you – most accommodations will supply that.

If you  still prefer to take your own, go with the smaller volume containers or buy empty travel bottles and fill them with the appropriate body care items. This will help you avoid having to carry around the combined weight of your toiletries, which could sink a small country.

  • Gem of Advice: Always wrap liquid toiletries in a plastic or a zip-lock bag. With the dramatic changes in air pressure experienced in the plane’s baggage hold, there is more than just a remote possibility they’ll crack open and drench all your possessions in floral-scented, soapy ejaculate.

funny toiletries humour

Choose versatile clothing

Every article of clothing you pack must work hard to earn its place in your holiday suitcase! Don’t pack fussy clothing that needs to be ironed and folded carefully before it’s suitable for wear. Opt instead for clothing that’s comfortable, is easy to tour around in, and can have layers added to it for warmth on cooler days or in the evenings. Every item of clothing should have multiple possible combinations with the other clothing you’ve brought so that you’re able to put together as many outfits with as few articles as possible. Avoid colours and patterns that are hard to coordinate, and fabrics that show up stains. All it takes is one overzealous swill of wine at a trattoria in Florence to leave a blouse unwearable for the entire trip.

Cotton is the enemy

According to die-hard travellers who insist that you can get by on two pairs of underwear, two T-shirts, and a single pair of jeans for months, never choose cotton clothing for smart packing. Cotton is heavier, takes ages to dry, and tends to stain easily and absorb smells. And no-one wants their clothing soaking up their travel smells like a thirsty sponge.

Pack for one week

Overstuffed travel bag

Regardless of whether you’re travelling for a month or longer – only ever pack enough clothing for one week. Make use of the laundry rooms most if not all accommodations have or the local laundromat (there’s something oddly satisfying about doing your laundry alongside the locals). It is way easier to do this than it is to haul around all that extra weight with you. Rely on versatile clothing choices and different combinations to make it look like you’re not wearing the same thing all the time.

Smart Packing Tip

Roll up your socks and underwear and shove them inside your shoes. This not only saves space in your bag, but it also prevents your shoes from looking like flattened road kill upon arrival.

Speaking of shoes

They take up a lot of space and tend to weigh down your bag, so only pack three pairs at the most. You’ll need one pair for comfortable walking and travelling, one slightly smarter pair, which can also be used for touring, as well as going out at night and, if necessary, a pair of sandals or flip-flops for the beach or meandering about a town. You do not need to pack a variety of “going-out shoes” unless you’re planning a trip to Las Vegas or Paris Fashion Week. 

too many shoes

Condense your technology

Nowadays, there’s an app for appsolutely (*snort*) everything. For the travel addicted, there are some FABULOUS tools at your disposal and many of them – like TripAdvisor – are completely free! Best of all, they weigh bugger all and are far more convenient to use than any physical book guide. These apps give you access to interactive maps, suggested itineraries, up-to-date “tourist” information, and convenient portals through which you can book tickets into various attractions. You can also lighten your bag of its load by downloading reading material onto your phone, iPad, laptop or Kindle.

Deal only in absolutes: if you don’t need it, leave it

Remember, wherever it is you’re going in the world, you will probably be able to get whatever you need there. The items you take with you from home should be indispensible to your travels and not “what-ifs” and “maybes” and “just in cases.” Rather replenish or replace your stocks at your destination than take your entire bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen with you.

Introducing “Wine of the Week” AKA Thirsty Thursday

South African Winelands

Who doesn’t get thirsty on Thursdays? You’ve managed to crawl through the majority of the work week, nailed the meetings you were dreading, and survived the voluminous injection of caffeine into your bloodstream. The weekend is so close you can practically smell your sleep-soaked pyjamas and boozy breath!  Surely we’ve earned ourselves a glass of wine (or three)?

In the immortal words of Barack Obama: YES WE CAN!

Look no further for recommendations! Every week, I showcase a wine I’m absolutely loving, which may come with a little history/science lesson on the cultivar (grape varietal) used to make it, depending on my mood. I will be posting these on my Facebook page, Wander Woman Thea and on my Instagram account (@wander_woman_thea) so go ahead and like or follow. Let’s be friends!

I’ll also chat a little about the nose (aromas) and flavour profile of the wines, which may sound enormously pretentious to those of you who are yet to discover the wonderful world of wine, but isn’t, I assure you.

I know, I know… The first time I heard someone describe a wine as smelling of “green peppers, grapefruit, and pencil shavings” I mirthfully snorted in their face. You’re joking, right?

“Apparently not,” said their withering stare.

Here’s the simple logic behind the nose of the wine and I’m using the example of green peppers here. The chemical that causes a green pepper to smell the way it does – a sort of savoury, herbaceous, and vegetal smell – is called methoxypyrazine. That very same chemical compound is found in wine, particularly in the cultivars originating from the Bordeaux region of France: Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and so on.

So while there is obviously no green pepper in your wine, you can detect this aroma because the wine contains methoxypyrazine. The same applies for a spectrum of other fruits, vegetables, substances, and inanimate objects. The chemicals or, in the case of fruits, sweet-smelling esters that give them their trademark smell are present in wine to varying degrees. This is what you’re smelling.

It takes time and repeated wine swilling, sniffing, and quaffing to begin to identify these aromas. With practice, your brain will tie up its hair, slap on a pair of reading glasses, and start cataloging these smells, building a useful library, which you can draw upon to sound really smart the next time you go wine tasting with friends.

With that brief lesson out of the way, I have but one final side note for you before I proceed to tell you about the absolutely lip-smacking, eye-closing, panty-dropping wine I’ve discovered.

Opinions are like a**holes

The selection I make each week is entirely my own and is most often based upon (1) my personal tastes, (2) the wine region I’m currently exploring, and (3) the wine I think is best suited to the season. With that said, I will do my best to present a fair variety of both red and white wines of various cultivars and blends.

You should also know that I live in South Africa so most of my recommendations will come from here. South Africa is one of the oldest “New World” winemaking regions in the world and a progenitor of wines that can and do compete with the most internationally recognised and acclaimed vintners out there. In other words, if you love wine, you’ve got to add South Africa, and particularly Cape Town, to your bucket list. The wine here is phenomenal.

Here are my weekly selections thus far:

Idiom Zinfandel (Primitivo) 2014

Wine of the Week 1

From the foothills of Sir Lowry’s Pass in the Helderberg valley comes a Zinfandel of such sexy, sultry delight, my relationship with it feels personal. This red wine bursts with ripe fruits and berries, is velvety in delivery, and has an incredible nose of fynbos and eucalyptus. Actually, this characteristic is present in most of Idiom’s wines and is a testament to the intimate relationship between the vines and a terroir dominated by fynbos and stands of Eucalyptus trees.

What I absolutely love about this Zinfandel is its exceptionally perfumed nose. If a sun-beaten bush of fynbos bonked a cherry tree and they made a baby, this is what that offspring hybrid fruit/flower would smell like. On the palate, these fynbossy, almost minty aromas unfurl into a beautiful, silky red wine that’s perfect on a cool spring evening and, in my opinion, with or without food.

Zinfandel is a moderate tannin, high acid red cultivar that’s mistakenly believed by many to originate from the United States. In fact, DNA fingerprinting has confirmed that Zinfandel is an ancient Croatian cultivar that is genetically identical to Primitivo, an Italian cultivar.

Excelsior Evanthuis Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Wine of the week

Named after a race horse reared on the estate, the Excelsior “Evanthuis” Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is a wine of exceptional weight and character. A deep inky red in colour, this wine, which hails from the Robertson Wine Valley (an approximate 2 hours’ drive from Cape Town) is big and seductive with syrupy black currants and violets on the nose, and dense fruit flavours supported by a strong tannic backbone. In other words, it’s bloody delicious and since we’re still waiting for the weather to get the memo that spring has arrived here in the Cape, it’s perfect to enjoy right now!

The cultivar itself requires little introduction. Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s most widely recognized red wine grape varieties. And if you thought that Napa Valley was the only region that did a good job of producing “big Cabs” think again. Our warm climate combined with the tender, loving maritime sea breezes that flow off of the Atlantic Ocean create red wines of enormous flavour, elegance, and structure.

La Bri Barrel Select Chardonnay 2016

I began my career as a professional wine drinker with a heavy preference for dry red wines. It was only with my first sip of an obnoxiously wooded Chardonnay (rich, buttery, caramel flavours) that my eyes were opened to the possibility that, hey, I could actually like this stuff! And so I began trying every wooded Chardonnay I could get my paws on. My initial obsession with heavily wooded white wines has calmed down and now I seem to have achieved equilibrium, which explains why La Bri’s Barrel Select Chardonnay 2016 makes my heart quiver.

Chardonnay from Franschhoek South Africa

This rich and rounded Chardonnay from Franschhoek (South Africa) has been crafted from grapes growing on La Bri Wine Estate’s oldest vines, which were planted in 1991, making them older than Justin Bieber. Genteel, gracious, and multi-award-winning, this fabulous Chardonnay boasts flavours of oatmeal and shortbread with a vivacious undercurrent of tangerine. It’s absolutely delicious and well-suited to any weather.

Say hello to the other side

Here in South Africa, one of the most popular white wines is Sauvignon Blanc, which, unfortunately, the public seems to enjoy extremely young. Mere months after the year’s harvest has been pressed, fermented, and bottled,  the young Sauvignon Blancs are whisked to market and sold for a trifling R30 to R80 ($2 to $5).

Marketers describe them as “zesty, fresh, tart”.

I describe them as pissy.

In fairness, not all young Sauvignon Blancs will turn your face inside out, but when you consider what a bit of age does to these wines, it’s a travesty to consume them so young. Why not wait for them to age a little? You know:  open their eyes, develop a bit of character, and sprout a pair of boobs?

The saturation of bottle store shelves and restaurant menus with young wines is precisely why I felt an aversion to white wines for so long. It was thanks to an accidental tasting of a super rich, opulent, and golden Chardonnay that I actually stopped to take stock of “the other side”. In that moment, I realised that, hey, not all white wine has to taste like your flat mate forgot to tell you that he’s been storing clean pee in the refrigerator in case of a surprise drug test at work. In fact, the world of white wine is enormously diverse and bursting with fruit, fabulous flavours, and a damn good time!

So, if you align yourself with any side of the red wine / white wine divide, I urge you to try a beautiful Chardonnay like La Bri’s Barrel Select 2016 and let it open your eyes to the other side [*insert Adele soundtrack here*]. For red wine lover’s, it’ll open your eyes to the world of white wine and for white wine lovers, it’ll open your eyes to wines that aren’t super fresh, young, and pissy.

Get with it!

Funny thirsty Thursday picture

Today’s Thursday, which means that I shall be publishing another “Wine of the  Week” post. If you haven’t already done so, get your butts on Facebook and give my page a like (Wander Woman Thea) or follow me on Instagram (@wander_woman_thea) to see what indulgent tipple this week brings. I’m all about sharing the love so drop me a message if you want me to follow you back, especially if you’re as passionate about food, travel, and wine as I am.

Let me know what wine you’re drinking today!

Introducing “Wednesday Wildlife”

I may have shifted my attention to travel but a fascination with wildlife and birdwatching, in particular, remains a stubborn fixture on the landscape of my unorthodox personality. As a part of my new venture, therefore, I shall be posting a weekly picture of an animal or bird that I have taken on one of my adventures. I would like to introduce to you… *appropriately lengthy drumroll*… Wednesday Wildlife! Aren’t I original?

Hold on… I have a better one: Wander Woman’s Wednesday Wildlife! Isn’t the alliteration maddeningly satisfying?

Anyway, enough of that tomfoolery. Before I got around to repurposing this blog to travel, I let rip with the Facebook page, Wander Woman Thea, which I urge you all to like, follow, share, interact with, drool over, and even fondle yourself inappropriately to. What I don’t know can’t hurt me. Over the past few weeks that’s been going, I’ve posted three Wildlife Wednesday features – or, I should say, #WildlifeWednesday – so in an effort to bring you all up to speed, here are those posts.

The Cheetah

Wednesday Wildlife post 1

On a recent trip to Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, I had the incredible life joy of seeing my very first ever cheetah in the wild. We approached this male by foot and got within about 15 meters of him, where I swooned over his kitten-esque antics. Did you know that cheetahs purr? Also, they are the fastest land animal in the world, able to reach speeds of 80 to 120 km/hr in short bursts. I shit you not.

An excerpt from my article for Southern Vines magazine about the reserve:

“Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is a malaria-free, big five private game reserve located three hours’ drive from Cape Town in the Little Karoo. Believed to have originated from the Khoikhoi word for “desert”, the Karoo is a semi-desert region of unique and desolate beauty, marked by tough, low-lying shrubs, hellishly thorned acacia trees, otherworldly succulent plants, rocky koppies, and russet soils.”

Read full article here.

In other words, get your butts to South Africa and come explore our truly gifted natural heritage. Also, because I love to travel and will use any excuse to get out the house, especially to play tour guide to a foreign visitor, get in touch with me if you do make it to our fair shores. Just please don’t axe murder me.

The Owl

Wednesday Wildlife post 2

This absolutely gorgeous creature is a spotted eagle owl, which I photographed in the golden late afternoon light of a game drive that culminated in a glass of chardonnay overlooking a dry river bed.

Sunset chardonnay

There, just in case you didn’t believe life could get THAT good.

Spotted eagle owls are medium-sized, as far as owls go, yet are one of the smallest of the eagle owls. Interestingly, they are a big fan of bathing and so can often be seen around water or on exposed branches or on the ground with spread wings during summer thunderstorms.

Nestled into a thicket of rather nasty Karoo Acacia thorns, this guy glared smugly and somewhat angrily at us, confident that none of us would be stupid enough to breach his/her boma of razor sharp thorns. Of course, human nature is by definition a balance between high intelligence and sublime stupidity. Needless to say, we took our pictures and left the owl alone to its angry vigil.

The Baboons

Wednesday Wildlife post 3

If a picture could speak a thousand words, this one would be a “50 Shades of Grey” novel.

These are Chacma baboons AKA Cape baboons and they are one of the largest of all the monkeys. Indigenous to Southern Africa, they live a highly social life with a defined hierarchy, at the top of which is the alpha male, quite easily one of the most intimidating of all the African animals. Quite honestly, of all the sounds I have heard in the bush, I find the resounding, explosive bark of a baboon to be far more terrifying than a lion’s roar or the hollow clink of an empty wine bottle (and knowing that it’s the last one). An angry male baboon could easily give Chuck Norris a thorough bitch-slapping.

Baboons spend the vast majority of their days foraging and grooming each other as a way of strengthening social ties and, well, just feeling loved.

The Mousebirds

Wednesday Wildlife post 4

These three stooges, who are warming their undercarriage in the mid-morning sun in a coastal bush at De Hoop Nature Reserve (southwestern Cape coast of South Africa), are speckled mousebirds. Mousebirds are gregarious and enjoy the company of other mousebirds, as we can see from the amount of love biting going on in this picture.

Fruits, buds, and berry eaters, mousebirds are named after their appearance (small, greyish bodies and long tails) and foraging behaviour; scurrying around in the bush in search of food. They are the only bird order that is confined entirely to sub-Saharan Africa and – get this – could actually be considered “living fossils” because the 6 species that exist today are the only survivors of a lineage that was massively more diverse in the early Paleogene and Miocene (thanks, Wikipedia).

Another magazine excerpt from an article I wrote about the reserve:

“The seamless confluence of a variety of vegetation biomes and landscapes in De Hoop Nature Reserve has attracted an enormous diversity of birdlife, from iridescent sunbirds and large raptors to swooping aerial birds and gaily coloured flamingos. In a single day, in fact, you could quite easily rack up a bird list of over 100 species, so abundant and varied it is (over 260 species of birds have been recorded here).”

Read full article here.

Wednesday Wildlife with me

That, my friends, is all for today! I will be posting these pictures along with an explanatory blurb every Wednesday at 9am SAST. Of course, if you like my Facebook page, Wander Woman Thea, you can get all of this delicious intellectual goodness delivered right to your feed or inbox. You can also find me on Instagram at @wander_woman_thea.

Happy hump day!

Dear followers… we need to talk

Dear Why? Because Science! friends, family, and followers,

For six years, I’ve been in a relationship with this blog. Together, we made beautiful blog babies, learned metric tonnes about the natural (and sometimes unnatural) world, connected with science enthusiasts from around the world, and even made lifelong friends out some of those connections. Our relationship was a richly fecund source of ideas, inspiration, and creativity and it even became the bedrock of a book, Why? Because Science!

However, as much as science remains at the forefront of my interests, I have a new love. Well, truth be told, it has been my love all along but now it beckons to me the way an emotional affair seduces you out of an old, stale relationship. And that love is travel.

I’m leaving you for travel

ugly-baby-crying-pictures-563

What I’m saying to you all is that I now intend to chronicle my adventures as a traveller and all the bizarre foods, fine beverages, tips, tales, and tipsy tales they come hand-in-hand with.

I have agonised over whether to start a fresh blog or evolve this one to become the platform for my new adventure. On the one hand, it feels somewhat like moving a new lover into a home you shared with an old one – it feels a little disrespectful to the old relationship. On the other hand, Why? Because Science! is not my partner, it’s my intellectual child, which means that I can damn well do what I want with it!

Said more respectfully: it is time for me to move on.

New travel blog announcement

I am sad to say goodbye to science, even temporarily, but if I am to maintain a happy and healthy relationship with my creativity, I need to migrate with its flux. And its powerful current is carrying me towards travel writing.

What does this mean for you?

You all came on board with Why? Because Science! because of your interest in science. But now I intend to transform this very blog into a travel blog, which will become a chronicle of my adventures on my home turf of Cape Town, South Africa, as well as abroad. In other words, if this creative journey were a train ride, we’re no longer heading to destination science; we’ve switched tracks to planet travel. If this bores the pants off of you, I understand that you will be getting off at platform “screw this, I’m out!”

Just remember to put your pants back on before you disembark.

It is, however, my sincerest hope that you stay on the train, which brings me to the fun bit. Where exactly are we going?

Destination known…sort of

travel the world

My new venture/adventure already has a name and it’s (insert lengthy drumroll) Wander Woman Thea. Yes, it’s cheesier than Swiss fondue and that’s exactly how I like it.

This new blog is essentially a tell-all of my extreme, borderline obsessive passion for travel and it will provide readers with all kinds of value and entertainment, from travel tips, advice, and thrilling stories to green monster provoking pictures and gut-busting travel anecdotes. Wander Woman Thea will endeavour to connect with, satiate the curiosity, and expand the minds of travel, wine, and food lovers from all over the world.

And, yes, it’s all written in my trademark irreverent style laced with saucy innuendo, bad puns, and tequila jokes. The Facebook page is already set up, which you can check out here and follow and share with all of your friends.

Are you in?

It has been a pleasure and privilege writing about science and having you join me for that adventure. Now, I’m riding off into the sunset (on the back of a T-rex) to a new destination.

Why?

Besides science, I’m obsessed with travel and adventure.

Here we go!

riding_into_the_sunset

The Scientific Method in Memes

the-scientific-method-in-science-memesW

Internet Memes: A Definition… or Approximation Thereof

For those of you who don’t know what a meme is, it’s a kind of visual or graphical internet trend or fad. Each of the above pictures is commonly used to express some sort of humorous comment or quip. The veloceraptor, for example, is often referred to as ‘hypothesaurus’ or better still ‘philosoraptor’ and says things like: “If practice makes perfect, and nobody’s perfect, why practice?”

The white cat, on the other hand always looks clever while making really bad yet somehow funny science jokes such as (and this is the worst I could find): ” would’ve gotten you flowers, but I never botany.”

*insert tumble weed into the desolate wasteland that is your sense of humour*

So now, if you haven’t learnt something about the scientific method, you’ve found out what a meme is, which makes you just that little bit cooler in the eyes of your 15-year old niece.

Cool Things Col. Hadfield Taught Us About Space Livin'

Colonel Chris Hadfield is pretty much the modern face of space exploration. In this video and others that have been uploaded to YouTube, he demonstrates the awesomeness of zero gravity and the various peculiars of space living, answering age-old questions asked by children everywhere: How do you sleep in space? How do you wash your hands? What food do you eat?

Video Source: “Cool Things Col. Chris Hadfield Taught Us About Space” Uploaded by Mixtape Master on YouTube channel www.youtube.com/watch?v=uy50lRbOpW8