Go On A ‘Beach Safari’ In Tanzania

Sanctuary Retreats, a company that deftly mixes both adventure and luxury travel, has announced that it is adding two new lodges to its already impressive portfolio. Starting June 1, the company will offer guests the chance to stay at either the Sanctuary Saadani River Lodge or the Sanctuary Saadani Safari Lodge, both located in Tanzania. These two new destinations will offer guests a wonderful boutique atmosphere while still providing a safari experience unlike any other.

The Sanctuary Saadani River Lodge falls inside the Saadani National Park, one of Tanzania’s premiere wildlife destinations. The park sits along the Indian Ocean, which gives it a different feel from the some of the country’s other top safari destinations. This lodge features 18 treehouse-style suites designed to complement the natural environment in which they are set. Comfortable balconies overlook the passing Wami River, which is home to all manner of creatures including hippos, crocodiles and flamingos. And at the end of the day, guests can indulge themselves with a relaxing massage in the on-site spa.

Activities available at the River Lodge include mountain biking tours, walking safaris, game drives and more.For a completely different experience, travelers will want to consider a visit to the Sanctuary Saadani Safari Lodge, which actually falls on a secluded beach along the East African coastline. Located on the park’s southern border, this lodge offers easy access to the white sands that line the shore of the Indian Ocean, allowing guests to spend their days exploring the untamed bush and then return to the premises for a little relaxation on the beach. There are few places in Africa that offer this type of access to amazing wildlife, tranquil shorelines and luxury suites with abundant amenities.

Activities at the Safari Lodge include game drives, snorkeling, dolphin spotting and much more.

These two lodges are just a sampling of what Sanctuary Retreats has to offer. The company has boutique lodges throughout Africa, as well as Egypt, China and the Galapagos. If you’re looking for an adventurous escape without skimping on the luxury, you’ll definitely want to review everything they have to offer. In June, they’re even offering a special in which visitors can book four nights for the price of three.

[Photo Credit: Sanctuary Retreats]

A Canadian in Beijing: Shannon’s Wings

Today is the one-year anniversary of my friend’s death. One year ago today my friend committed suicide and I had never before lost a loved one to the concept of choice. It was shocking, to say the least, and I struggled hard to work through the meanings, the messages, the learning, the processing, the feelings. And, that work is never truly over.

She took to the sky and her wings were hers to exercise, I know. But, we all miss her. We only have the feathers she left behind and a lot of unanswered questions. The word of the year has been: acceptance.

Here I am in Beijing – so far from my little country town (where she died) and Montreal (where she lived) – and yet it feels like Shannon is just next door, living across the hall. As it happens with significant things in our lives, when the time of year comes around again that marks the passing of time since that event, everything seems to be a reminder of her as though she’s really close by. Thoughts themselves seem to manifest outside of my mind into the so-called randomness of life. That is how it has been for me these past few days. Shannon has been in everything my eyes have lingered on; she has been in every conversation that has sparked my interest; she’s even in my lessons at school.

We learned the word for suicide yesterday and it came up again today: Zi Sha 自杀 . Seeing as Bejing is twelve hours ahead of Montreal at the moment, I felt that was fitting. Both days full of reminders to mark one day back home.

I also had a great chat with an artist yesterday about the concept of breathing, cross-species communication, flight. All of these topics were in Shannon’s art and as I chatted with this artist in Chinese in a dimly lit café over cold beers, I felt as though I could have been chatting to her in English on a dimly lit country porch over red wine. Same vibe. Same style of conversation. Language, country, gender irrelevant.

This week began with a visit to a bird sanctuary, as well, which also symbolizes my friend. She loved birds and drew them regularly. She collected feathers and repeatedly photographed, carved and painted a dead sparrow that she found that had apparently frozen to death. It lay frozen in time and it captured her interest in a really special, poignant way. This image has now become symbolic of her life, her yearning for release, her curiosity about the other side.

The bird sanctuary was an accidental discovery. My friend and I stumbled on it while walking around and exploring the countryside. For just 6 kuai a person (with our student cards – less than $1 Canadian), we were able to stroll through the park and visit all the birds. But, nothing is an accident, really. The timing of this discovery was right in line with the significance of this time – a commemoration of my friend.

I took copious pictures of birds from all over the world, not just China. So many colours and shapes and sizes. I was amazed by the diversity of birds in this small sanctuary. Put a sparrow next to an ostrich and it seems uncanny that they’re both birds (Just look at those ostrich feet!) Put a turkey next to a flamingo and it’s hard to see how they’re from the same species! But, they’re all beautiful in their own way… (be nice to the turkeys, now!)

There were these super large birds whose Chinese name I have forgotten. (Does anyone know what they’re called in English?) They were the most interesting to me because they appear to be so animated with their large eyes, their slouched and hobbled walk. (The opening shot on this blog is of this bird and below is its full body.) It reminds me a kid’s cartoon whose name I have also forgotten, or the way judges in court are often depicted with their hunched shoulders, spectacled eyes and long gowns resembling black feathers. The fact that they’re so big also made it possible to read expression in their eyes, which is something you can’t normally do with birds. I told them (silently) that I was sorry that they were trapped in there. They looked at me with disgust. We were both helpless in that moment.

I walked away from their large cage feeling a rush of wanting to release them all – every bird in the park – and let them take to the sky. I know it’s not responsible. After all, look at the effect of starlings on North America just because of one man’s desire to have all the birds of England in Central Park? But, the urge to release a winged creature is something that just rushes up in me when I see a bird in a cage. I want to use my opposable thumbs to help them return to the wide open spaces above it all…

And, of course, along the exit pathway there was a full wall that showed birds that have already gone extinct and when. Many of these extinctions are a result of development, pollution, hunting, and of course a lack of human foresight that led to thoughtless decisions or loss of habitat. It struck me that perhaps it is possible that some of these birds simply went away. Maybe they just didn’t feel like staying in this world in the way that it was and has become. They left.

It’s possible. Anything’s possible.

Shannon’s date of extinction was June 12th, 2006. For me, her face was on that wall too. I miss her.

I miss you.

Tampa Bay’s Big Cat Rescue

It was an easy breezy Saturday morn when I set out from my home with a close friend of mine to check out Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue. The animal attraction is only a good five miles away from my place and after three plus years of living in the area the perfect opportunity finally presented itself and I took the bull by the horns or in this case I should say the cat by the tail, or wait whiskers… Bad joke, guys. In all seriousness, please don’t grab any cat by the whiskers.

The Big Cat Rescue is a sanctuary for wild cats and I believe one of the worlds largest. The BCR provides a permanent retirement home for more than 100 lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, servals, caracals and sand cats to name only a few exotic felines. Most of the cats come from a turbulent past of cross-breeding, circus stages, and other sad tales which I’ll touch on later.

When we pulled up into the unpaved lot of the rescue leaves were blowing everywhere and there were several cheery volunteers up early waiting for each visitor’s arrival. Before entering you have sign off on a few simple rules. For instance teasing the big 400 lb. tiger is not advised and getting too close to the smaller servals could result in a nice bath of feline perfume. Follow the rules and you’re bound to have an enjoyable trip through the grounds. Our guide for the day was Denny, a volunteer who had been with the BCR for quite a while and a passionate animal lover. He jumped right into leading us through the path of the sanctuary. He described each cat like they were one of his grand-children and told the rest of us how we could get involved volunteering with the organization.

The group walks down the path to check out the next big kitty on the property.

If I’m not mistaken this would be Nikita and if I have the right cat then Nikita’s story is just the beginning of several horrific animal abuse tales Denny shared with us. To say the least, Nikita was found chained to a wall in a crack house during a drug bust in Tennessee.
I’ve never been a huge cat lover to be honest. I’ve lived with cats on occasion, but never by request really. Seeing all these beautiful animals, I could easily understand why someone might want to own one for show, but would imagine they’d be hell to take care of once they gain three times my weight and their teeth and paws grow into mighty fangs and claws. Denny revealed that a good many of the abused cats came from wealthy homes with owners that didn’t know what to do once the cats got a little bit bigger. There were some stories of cats being starved to keep them from growing so that they could be used in photographs with people and children. Our guide was also packed with information on what happens when animal and man interact when they very well shouldn’t. Most stories ended in a human being killed and the animal accused of murder though it was only doing what came natural. I could go on here, but I wouldn’t be nearly as good as our guide Denny or any guide leading the tours at the Big Cat Rescue, which is why I suggest if you’re in the Tampa, FL area to pay a visit to this attraction and sanctuary. Here are just a few more photos from my adventure in and out and details below on how to make your own day trip down.

Meet Cloe, a snow leopard with a very unusual away of saying hello or perhaps she is warning us to get away. My friend found her behavior very, very odd.

This African Lion, Cameron relaxes with his back turned to our group. He turned his head occasionally so that we could get a glimpse of his beautiful side profile, but otherwise stayed put.

Zabu is far to lazy to strike a pose for us during our visit, but after hearing the story of this white tigress I can happily excuse her for being so bored with our presence and cameras.

My memory fails to remind which bobcat this is exactly. I want to say Raindance, but in any event check out the BCR site to read the stories of this bobcat and the others. From escaping being slaughtered for their fur to departing owners that couldn’t tolerate their urinating on the floor they are as heart-wrenching as the rest.

Again, I can’t recall the name of this tiger. There are many at the BCR that come from the circus.

If you can’t make it to the Big Cat Rescue in person, start by paying a virtual visit to their website. It is loaded with pictures, information and more importantly ways to contribute to the organization and how to adopt one of the cats. Join them during one of the feeding tours or experience the animals during a night tour when almost all of them to come out. The night tour is one that I’m hoping to take part in one of these days on my next visit and sounds like a real treat as mentioned by my day guide, Denny. To find out more about the various tours, programs, hours, prices and how to get to the Big Cat Rescue click here.