Tourists Amazed By Serengeti Wildebeest Calving

wildebeest, Serengeti
February is a special time on the Serengeti. Right now its population of some 1.5 million wildebeests are giving birth to an estimated 8,000 calves a day, the Tanzania Daily News reports.

The East African nation has seen some 16,500 tourists come to watch the event in Serengeti National Park, including 5,800 domestic visitors who are part of a growing African middle class that’s boosting tourism across the continent.

This mass calving happens every year. All the pregnant wildebeests give birth within the same period of a few weeks, a process called “synchronized calving.” The animals give birth while standing up or even moving around, and wildebeest calves are walking within a couple of minutes. Once all the pregnant wildebeest have calved, the whole herd heads out.

These adaptations help protect the calves from predators. You can bet that hyenas, lions and other sharp-toothed critters are flocking to the area along with the tourists. Wildebeests are also hunted by humans to make a kind of jerky called biltong. This is legal in some parts of Africa although, of course, not in the park. One Tanzanian scientist estimated that half the calves will get eaten or die from other causes during the wildebeest’s 600-mile migration.

[Photo courtesy user zheem via Flickr]

Happy International Pretty Brown Girl Day!

International Pretty Brown Girl Day
Today is International Pretty Brown Girl Day, a movement launched a few years ago that seeks to “address the harmful messages about skin tone and beauty in media” and is “for little girls of all ethnicities to send the message that brown skin is indeed beautiful.”

Knowing a couple of pretty brown girls who are facing racism here in Spain, I understand the reasoning behind this, but I don’t think it goes far enough. Instead of merely aspiring to be pretty, girls are better off aspiring to kick ass, so by the power invested in me by myself, I hereby declare today to be International Kickass Brown Girl Day.

This is inspired by a little Nepali girl I met many years ago. I had just come back to Pokhara from trekking the Annapurna Circuit and Base Camp and needed to return some gear to a rental shop. As I entered I saw the proprietor was gone and had left his daughter, who could have been no more than 10, in charge.

Two burly young Israeli guys were there arguing with her. They were returning some gear and didn’t want to pay for that day, even though it was early evening. The girl insisted that they pay an extra 100 rupees (a little more than a dollar) because the shop was about to close and there was no way she’d rent that gear that day.

The Israelis didn’t see it that way.

“No, we don’t have to pay!” they shouted, towering over her and acting aggressive. They actually puffed out their chests and clenched their fists… at a little girl.

Shit, I thought. I’m going to have to jump in and protect this kid and there’s no way I can take both these guys. Hopefully the neighbors will come in time to help.

Turns out she didn’t need me. She furrowed her little brow, stuck out her slim little hand with the palm up and said in the most forceful voice imaginable, “NO! You pay me 100 rupee!”

They backed down.

It’s one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in 25 years and 36 countries of travel.

Little brown girls have it tough. Disproportionately poor and discriminated against, many still play sports, go to school in underdeveloped areas, and kick ass in various other ways. So check out the gallery for some inspiring images, and be sure to celebrate International Kickass Brown Girl Day …

… because girls who kick ass are automatically pretty.

This photo shows girls in a rural school in Ethiopia. Most don’t have electricity or running water at home and have to walk several miles to get an education. Photo courtesy Almudena Alonso-Herrero, a kickass pretty brown woman who used to be a kickass pretty brown girl.

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Mosquitoes Becoming Immune To DEET, Study Suggests

Deet, mosquito
According to a new study, mosquitoes are learning to ignore DEET, the BBC reports.

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine tested the responses to DEET by the Aedes aegypti, a type of mosquito that can carry yellow fever and dengue fever and is thus particularly dangerous to adventure travelers.

In a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers say that while mosquitoes are at first repelled by DEET’s smell, they soon become accustomed to it and can return bite the wearer. Electrodes attached to the insects’ antennae show that they adjust to the scent of DEET and simply stop smelling it.

This is something I’ve heard campers and hikers comment on for quite some time now. Spending time in mosquito-ridden Missouri, I’ve noticed this trend myself. Missouri has about 55 known types of mosquito, including the Aedes aegypti.

An earlier study has raised questions about DEET being a neurotoxin. It looks like science’s next task is to find a better insect repellent.

I’ve also noticed that mosquito coils, which do not have DEET as an active ingredient, no longer seem to work on Missouri mosquitoes either. I enjoy sitting on the porch swing of my friend’s house reading. It used to be that a burning coil set nearby would keep the bugs away. No more. The last time I tried it the little bastards were attacking me so much I actually put the coil under the porch swing so the smoke rose right onto me. The mosquitoes didn’t seem to care. I soon retreated inside.

[Photo of Aedes aegypti courtesy US Department of Agriculture]

The Anatomy Of A Perfect Hotel (In Tangier)

hotel ,Tangier
A hotel can make or break your vacation. We’ve all heard stories about crappy dives ruining someone’s trip. Hey, we’ve written about plenty of them here on Gadling. But every once in a while we come across a hotel that exceeds our expectations.

Hoteliers, take note. This is how to do it right.

While fleeing the Spanish Christmas to Tangier, we took a relative’s recommendation and booked a room at La Tangerina Guest Home in the Casbah. The first good impression came before we got there with their detailed website where you can view all ten rooms – a big help in deciding which one to take. We selected Room 3 for 65 euros ($86), one of the cheapest. There is also a smaller, cheaper room, and some larger suites suitable for a whole family. The price includes breakfast.

Since we assumed there would be the usual hassle at the North African airport, we booked a taxi through the hotel. We later found out they didn’t overcharge us like a lot of hotels would – another point in their favor.

La Tangerina is located on the northern edge of the Casbah overlooking the protective wall facing north to the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s part of an old private residence. Only the Sultan’s family and hangers-on were allowed to live in the Casbah, so the building has a good pedigree. There are four floors built around an inner courtyard. The ground floor has a couple of lounges opening onto the courtyard and the dining room is also on this level.

%Gallery-175868%We got to sample the kitchen the first night. I had an excellent tagine. Breakfast the next day included bread, cake and msemen, a sweet flatbread popular here in Morocco that quickly became my favorite. Service was fast and the food consistently good.

The rooms are tastefully decorated with bright walls and old prints of Tangier and Morocco. Bathrooms are modern and everything was cleaned daily. In a cage outside our door was a happy little canary I nicknamed Parsley. That’s an inside joke between the Spanish and the Moroccans. They don’t think it’s funny; I think it’s hilarious.

We didn’t spend much time in the room, though, because the rooftop terrace was where we really wanted to be. The terrace offers sweeping views of the Strait of Gibraltar. There’s a covered divan if you want to take a nap, chairs and tables if you want to sit and read, and an upper sun deck for tanning. We spent a lot of time lazing around up there, drinking mint tea and eating amazing little Moroccan sweets. We had a nice surprise when we checked out and discovered they were free!

The terrace really makes this hotel and induces a certain laziness that cuts into sightseeing time. That was fine by us because we wanted a relaxed holiday. It also served well for a New Year’s Eve party with some of the other guests. While Spain is due north of Tangier, it’s in the next time zone and so we got to watch the distant flare of fireworks at 11 p.m., and then have a second celebration at midnight.

Luckily for us, this hotel serves alcohol, which isn’t always the case in this Muslim nation. The Moroccans make some fine white wine, although the red we tried was too young for our taste. There was also French champagne on hand for New Year’s Eve.

All in all, La Tangerina is one of the best hotel experiences I’ve had in 33 countries of travel. The management gets everything right, from the beautiful terrace to little touches such as the bowl of free tangerines in the courtyard. The one thing I didn’t try was the hammam and massage service. I suspect those are excellent as well.

Would you like to give a shout out to your favorite hotel? Tell us about it in the comments section!

For more on what goes on behind the scenes in a hotel, check out McLean Robbins’ series “The Birth of a Hotel.”

[Photo by Almudena Alonso-Herrero]

St. Andrew’s In Tangier: A Church With Muslim Art

Tangier
Being in Morocco, Tangier is a mostly Muslim city. Being a port, it’s also a mixed city with a long history of Christian and Jewish influence. That interesting blend comes out in the language, music, art and cooking. You can see Tangier’s mix of cultures everywhere.

Even in the churches.

The Church of St. Andrew is an Anglican congregation close to the Place du Grand Socco. The first thing you’ll notice is the church tower shaped like the square, Moorish-style minarets so common in the mosques here. The only difference is the English flag flying from the top and the lack of a loudspeaker to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer.

Entering the churchyard, you’ll find a shady oasis of trees, shrubs and a well-manicured garden. Cats lounge amid the headstones, which include several for the fallen from various Allied armies during World War II. This part of the property looks like a regular English churchyard except for the palm trees and lack of moss on the headstones. Go inside, however, and you’ll see something quite different.

The interior has several Islamic touches. The doors have rounded arches and elaborate carvings. The carved and painted wood ceiling looks like something from a Moorish palace. The arch just before the altar is the most elaborate and looks like it came from a Muslim palace. Arabic calligraphy spells out the words “bismi-llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm” (In the name of God, the most Gracious, the most Merciful), which is the first line of each Surah (chapter) of the Koran.

%Gallery-175720%So how did a verse from the Koran end up decorating an Anglican church in a Muslim country? The story starts in 1880, when the Sultan, Hassan I, gave land to the British expat community in Tangier so they could build a church. One was built but soon proved too small for the growing Christian community and so the present church was built in 1894. It was consecrated in 1905.

The design includes Islamic styles as a way of recognizing the friendly relations between the UK and Morocco and to honor the memory of the Sultan’s donation. The work was done by Moroccan craftsmen.

St. Andrew’s is by no means unique. During the height of Islamic civilization during the Middle Ages, European art and architecture borrowed frequently from Muslim styles. European artists copied Islamic styles and even included Arabic calligraphy in Christian works of art. Check out the gallery for a couple of surprising examples.

Don’t miss our other posts on Tangier! Coming up next: The Anatomy Of A Perfect Hotel!

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]