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Unbelievable Excursion and Finishing the Program

It’s been a while since my last post, but that’s because we spent the last 6 days traveling to the northern part of Botswana! We visited the Okavango Delta, which is where a lot of the wildlife lives in Botswana. Specifically, our stops were in Maun and Kasane. While we stayed in Maun we visited the Khwai community and while we were in Kasane we visited the Moremi Game Reserve, Chobe National Park, and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. It was a jam-packed couple of days, but I’m going to try and go into as much detail as possible.

Day 1: We drove from Gaborone to Maun. This took about 15 hours and was completely exhausting.

Day 2: We visited the Khwai community, which is a community that is deep into the Moremi Game Reserve. This community has to be accessed by safari vehicle, because the road going to it is dirt and is very bumpy. The drive from Maun to Khwai was supposed to be about 3 hours; it took us 5. There are two roads to get to Khwai, but one of them requires that you pay a toll. Unfortunately, we got about forty-five minutes down this road before someone realized we’d taken the wrong one. We had to turn around to get back to the other road. Additionally, two of the people in our group rode on a smaller truck that kept breaking down. On top of that, the truck with 9 of us in it was behind the smaller one for the entire ride and we got sandblasted for the entire drive. I’ve never had so much sand in my eyes (or probably my lungs!) in my entire life. The plus side is that it made my skin very smooth. We finally arrived at about 4pm and left to start back to Maun at 5:15pm or so. The sun sets at about 5:30pm and our vehicles were open-air. We spent the fourish hours back to Maun huddled together under blankets, singing at the top of our lungs to stay warm. It was definitely a bonding experience!

Day 3: We drove from Maun to Kasane. This drive was not as bad–maybe like 10 hours? It was still a long day and we were very excited to get to our chalets and go to sleep.

Day 4: This was absolutely my favorite day. At 6:30am we went on a game drive in Chobe National Park (the animals are usually out early in the morning and in the evening) and saw so many amazing things. The sunrise was incredible, and we started the drive off with seeing some impalas. As we moved toward the Chobe River we started to see some buffaloes drinking and grazing. The best part, though, was when we drove up to a hippo and her baby. The baby was so young that it still had its umbilical cord attached, and our safari guide said he thought that it was probably about five hours old. Its mom started walking over to the river and it got up to follow her but had to stop and lay down a few times to rest. Then, once it got in the water, it didn’t know how to swim. It kept going under and bobbing back up. I’m hoping it figured out how to swim so its mom wouldn’t have to help it!

This was the mom and baby hippo we saw on the game drive. It was so small!

Later that day we went for a boat ride on the Chobe River. I think this was my favorite activity of the entire excursion. We saw a couple of crocodiles, including a few that were outside the water. We also saw a lot more buffaloes and a few hippos who did this thing where they opened their mouths super wide to show that it was their territory. There were a lot of elephants eating grass who didn’t seem to mind at all that we were right beside them. There was even one that was walking up the middle of the river. We also came across a little beach that had kudus, impalas, and a family of baboons on it. This included a baby baboon that was tumbling around and playing, which might have been the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Sunset happened while we were on the water too, and it was incredible. I would do the boat ride every day if I could.

Here’s the baby baboon from the boat ride! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything cuter.

Day 5: This was our day at Victoria Falls, which is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. We visited it during the high water season, so the amount of mist from the falls made it seem like it was raining. I was really happy that I had my raincoat with me! The whole place was beautiful, and I hope that someday I can go back when it’s low water just to see it look a little different. There was not much wildlife here, just a few monkeys, but the waterfalls definitely made up for that. At first it was cloudy, but as we kept walking the sun came out and there was a double rainbow. It was just such an incredible place.

Victoria Falls!

Day 6: We drove back from Kasane to Maun. This was probably a 13-hour drive, and we got back around 9pm which was good. I took the opportunity to start packing (I leave for home on Thursday!) when we got back.

This will probably be my last blog post from the trip. Tomorrow we will have some presentations, visit an HIV hospital, and have a last big dinner altogether. Botswana is an amazing country and I would love to come back someday to show my family around. I’m going to miss it, but I’m definitely ready to go home. I miss sleeping in my own bed and my family!

Quick Update

It’s been a while since my last post, so I don’t have to much to update y’all on. We’ve had a relatively relaxed weekend, but we did visit a cultural village on Friday to learn about Setswana culture. It was really cool to see things like dances that are traditional here. Today, we went to see Aladdin and it was so good–I’d definitely recommend it.

Somehow it worked out that out of 12 students on this trip, one person’s birthday was June 7 and four people’s birthdays were June 8. Last night we had a big dinner to celebrate everyone’s birthdays, and it was great! We had cake and the restaurant had a little area where we could dance and let us be the DJs.

The big theme for me from the last few days, however, has been that I’m sick. I woke up a few days ago with a cough and unfortunately it’s just continued to get worse. I was feeling better, but now my throat is sore and I have a lot of sinus congestion. This morning I woke up to find that I probably have pinkeye. I haven’t had pinkeye in so long that I don’t even know when I last had it. Tomorrow I’m planning to go to the clinic on campus and hopefully get some kind of eye drops or medicine to help that go away. One thing I definitely did not expect from this trip was a head cold and pinkeye, but it just goes to show that you have to be prepared for anything and everything. This is the first time I’ve been far away from home and sick, which has been kind of tough. Prayers for a speedy recovery would be much appreciated!

Giraffes and Zebras and Impalas

I can’t believe it’s already been over a week since we got to Gaborone. Part of me feels like the time is zooming by, and another part of me thinks it should’ve already been more than that. We started classes on Tuesday, and the guest professors we’ve had have been amazing. I’m learning so much about Botswana and the culture here.

One of the zebras we saw at the game reserve!

Yesterday ay we visited the Mokolodi Nature Reserve, which was amazing and by far my favorite thing we’ve done on the trip so far. We went on a game drive and saw so many animals. The first animals we saw were kudus, which basically just look like big deer. After that, though we started seeing giraffes. I’m not sure how many of them we actually ended up seeing, but there were so many. They were so graceful. We also saw some impalas and zebras! Our professor told us that out of all the times he’s visited Mokolodi, he’s never seen zebras. I always thought zebras wouldn’t be camouflaged well because their environment was mostly brown, not black and white. It turned out though that they were hard to see through all the vegetation. We ate lunch beside a lake in the reserve, which was awesome. As someone who’s big on parks and nature, this was a pretty amazing experience. I wish we could do that every day!

One of many giraffes we saw peeking at us over the bushes!

Today we had a day to rest before doing a hill climb tomorrow. I’m a little nervous about that because we’ve been told that it’s very challenging, but I’m looking forward to some hiking time!


‘Dumela’ means hello in Setswana, the language spoken here in Botswana. We’re trying to learn some words but that’s the main one. It’s really important to greet everyone you see here, even if you don’t know them.

I’ve never been so relieved to get off an airplane in my entire life. I only ever want to be on a plane for that long again so that I can go home in a month. Thankfully, the flights and customs were all uneventful (we went through customs in South Africa, not just Botswana, so I got another stamp for my passport!) I hope that it’s just as smooth when it’s time to go home.

One of the buildings on the University of Botswana’s campus

The University of Botswana is very different from NC State. The people here have been very hospitable and are happy to help us with whatever we need. It’s definitely different here than at home, like the Internet. We thought we would all have to physically connect our laptops to ethernet cables only to find out when we arrived that they now have wifi in these dorms. Unfortunately, when you try to use the wifi it doesn’t work. Luckily, there’s something you can use to turn your laptop into a hotspot you can connect your phone to. I can’t do that on my laptop (Chromebook problems), but the other NC State student in my suite can and is letting me use hers.


This is called The Three Dikgosi Monument and is of three important chiefs who were a part of why Botswana is so successful.

Over the last few days we’ve been exploring Gaborone. We’ve been to the mall (not the same as at home–I’d consider it to be more like an outdoor shopping center) a few times to get necessities and to do a little souvenir shopping and went to visit a monument as well. I got a super cute wooden zebra. We also had orientation today and toured the campus. While we were touring we saw a mama warthog and three of her babies walking around the campus looking for food. It was definitely the most exciting thing that we’ve seen so far!


This was the warthog family we saw on campus!

We start class tomorrow and later in the week we’ll be visiting an orphanage, which I’m excited about. I’ll make sure and post again later this week or early next week!

Gliding Through Everglades

This is definitely the coolest park sign we’ve seen so far



Summer kicked off with a trip to southern Florida to visit the parks there. We started off in Everglades, which is a park I was not all that excited about. From what I’ve heard of Everglades, it’s basically a giant swamp with some really awesome animals. After visiting the park, however, that’s not at all what it is and it’s now one of my favorite parks.

The first day we were there we went on a boat tour (not an airboat, just a normal boat) with the hope of seeing manatees. We not only saw several manatees, but we also saw a bald eagle! When we saw the manatees I think I got the most excited I’ve ever been about seeing wildlife in the parks. The tour guides on the boat told us that when you’re looking for them, you need to keep an eye out for what looks like coconuts floating in the water. What you’re actually seeing is the manatee coming up for air, but it looks just like coconuts. It took me a while to see them at first, but soon we were seeing some right beside our boat. They look like really big rocks until you realize they’re actually moving.

Manatees! They swam right under our boat.

We did an airboat tour on the second day in the park. This was probably what I was looking forward to the most about Everglades, and I was not disappointed. The airboats are very loud, but we’re planners and bought earplugs ahead of time. The company would give you cotton balls for your ears but I’m guessing that with how loud it was with earplugs, the cotton balls would not have done much good. We saw a lot of alligators on the tour, which was a little scary. They were very calm, but they look like they could eat you in one bite. After the tour was over, I got the chance to hold a baby alligator. He was not slimy like I’d been expecting, but was cool and smooth.

This was the little baby alligator I got to hold. I was so nervous but it was really cool!

Our last day in Everglades we went on a tram tour that took us out to an observation tower. We learned that the little oasis-looking areas in the park are the results of alligators wallowing down, which fosters plant growth and attracts birds. At the bottom of the observation tower was a pool that had twenty-seven alligators in it (that were visible!). I was thinking there were probably a ton more that were just in the shadows and hard to see. We also saw a lot of turtles, including one kind that had a pig nose. On the way back to the visitor center, we saw a huge (I mean gigantic) alligator sitting beside the road. A group of cyclists rode by and stopped to take pictures. While they were doing this, he opened his mouth and stood up (we all started gasping and backing to the opposite side of the tram). We thought he was going to chase the cyclists, but instead he pooped and sat back down. We had the unfortunate seating location that was facing his rear end.

Everglades turned out to be so much more than a swamp. I learned so much there and am so glad that people like Marjory Stoneman Douglas fought to get the land protected.

This alligator is the one who got up to poop.

The Smallest Park

This was the hot spring you could see and burn your fingers in.

Spring Break is not long enough to go too far away and we’ve done a lot of the parks east of the Mississippi River, so for this break we decided to drive to Arkansas to visit Hot Springs National Park. I’d never seen the Mississippi River before, so it was very cool to check that off my list. This was another park that was unusual because it is in the middle of civilization. The hot springs themselves feed into bathhouses, and there’s only one spring you can walk up to and see (yes, I touched the water and yes, I burned my fingers).

Hot Springs is my least favorite park that we’ve visited so far. I tend to like the parks with more nature and less civilization more than the ones that butt up to a town or city. We also went in early March, so the trees didn’t have leaves which makes a big difference in how a place looks. However, it was cool to have a spa day and visit one of the bathhouses. My favorite part about the park was the observation tower that had a little museum in the top of it with the history of the area.

On the way back home we stopped in Memphis and had lunch on Beale Street before walking around the shoreline of the Mississippi River a little. I’m not sure I would go back to Hot Springs, but it was a cool experience anyway.

Park sign!





Great Basin and Arches

2017’s ski trip to Utah took us to two parks, Great Basin and Arches. Of course, I’ve been to Arches before, but I definitely wasn’t going to turn down the chance to return to my favorite park!

The obligatory park sign photo!

Our first stop was Great Basin National Park, a little park in eastern Nevada (almost Utah). I think that of all the parks I’ve visited, this is the most remote one. The park ranger told us that the closest towns with decent grocery stores were Cedar City, Utah (near Zion, about 2.5 hours from Great Basin) or Las Vegas (4.5 hours away). Getting to this one from Salt Lake City was a long process, but absolutely worth it. The road to the park is Nevada Highway 50, which was referred to at the gas station on the state line as “The Loneliest Road in America”. I can absolutely believe it. The roads in that area were the epitome of what I think of when I think of the west–mountains in the distance and huge, flat plains in front of them. It was absolutely incredible. We left shortly after sunset, and the sky was so pretty when we left.

The sky made this view so different from the first time we went!


I was excited to visit Great Basin. It’s home to bristlecone pines, which I learned about in my horticulture class last year. Unfortunately, going in the winter means that the road going up the mountain is closed. I’m still sad about that, but it just means I get to go back! We did get to do a tour of the Lehman Caves, though, and those were very cool. The caves there were much smaller than Mammoth Cave (obviously, since Mammoth is the largest cave system on Earth), but they were beautiful. We learned on the tour that Native Americans used to bury their dead in the caves and were able to see the natural entrance and the light of day when they shut the lights completely off. 

On our way back to Salt Lake City, we stopped back at Arches. I was determined to see the Delicate Arch in the snow, so we went to the visitor center to buy crampons. For the most part the hike was dry and easily doable, but there were a few steep spots that were almost solid ice. There were a lot of people trying to do it just in normal tennis shoes which looked really scary. It was worth the scary hike to return to one of my favorite places I’ve ever been!

This was the view as we were leaving the park. I made my family stop the car in the middle of the road because I thought this was such a cool shot!



Fall Break in Cuyahoga Valley

I’ve been to a lot of national parks (well, not that many, but for having started this journey less than two years ago it’s a lot!), but Cuyahoga Valley National Park was the first one I visited that was in the middle of civilization. It was a very new experience for me, and it was not one of my favorites.

Cuyahoga Valley sits right outside of Cleveland, Ohio and is very different from what you’d typically think of for a national park. It has some beautiful natural features, like Brandywine Falls, but it also has so much in it that was not natural. People still live in the park, and Interstate 271 cuts right through it.

This boardwalk goes to Brandywine Falls. The trees were so beautiful there!

We got out of the car to hike to Blue Hen Falls, and the highway was right beside the parking area. You could hear the traffic noise along the entire hike, which was just so odd to me. My experience with the parks so far has been the peace and quiet of hard-to-get-to areas.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t like Cuyahoga Valley. Its natural features are very beautiful, and I think it’s great that the people living in the area cared enough about the river and land to get it protected. I’m happy whenever there are natural features protected. I would like to return to this park in the future and see it when it’s nice and green. It was beautiful in the fall–the leaves had just started to turn, and it was a little bit windy. Every now and then a gust would blow through the trees and these amazing yellow leaves would come down like rain. I stood there for a few minutes just watching and soaking in how peaceful that looked.

Cuyahoga Valley is not my favorite park, but I’m glad I was able to go. The trip was short, but we enjoyed it!

I’m 16.6% of the Way There!

I’m 1/6th of the way through the parks y’all! This weekend we arrived in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, my 10th park. Technically, we’re a little more than a sixth of the way there, but there are 59 parks and 59 is prime. So we’re going with a sixth.

This is my 10th park sign! Only 49 more to go!

I usually go to the mountains in Boone, so I was shocked at the size of the mountains around Asheville. The Smokies are a lot taller than the Blue Ridge Mountains (the ones in northern NC) are, which I never knew. I was excited to see that the leaves are already beginning to change here. There was less of that around the bottom of the mountains, but as we climbed in elevation, there was more and more color. Most of the trees were turning yellow, but every now and then there was one that was an incredible shade of red (which is my favorite color!).

This is one of the 31 elk we saw. He was probably only 20 feet away when I took this picture.

We did one hike on the first day since we didn’t get into the park until around 1:00. It went to 2 waterfalls, both of which were huge and gorgeous. I got some great photos while I was standing on rocks in the middle of the river (or creek? Maybe it was a stream? I don’t know) with the sun coming through the trees and making the water sparkle. The second day, however, may have been my favorite day in any of the parks for a few reasons. The first is that as we entered the park in the morning, we saw a bear! Great Smoky Mountains is home to a huge population of black bears, and we’d been really hoping to see one out and about. We came up on a group of stopped cars and there was a male bear making his way through the woods. I made my dad pull the car over so I could get out and take pictures of him as he crossed the road.

We also saw a huge herd of elk. I didn’t know this, but Great Smoky Mountains is known for its elk population. We were sad as the day went on because we hadn’t seen any, but we stopped at the visitor center for wifi (State had just beaten FSU in football and we wanted stats) and saw a few of them making their way into the fields behind the visitor center. In total, there ended up being 31 elk there. They were primarily females who were sticking with one dominant male (he had 12 points on his rack), but soon there were 7 or 8 males who were there trying to find a female (it turns out it’s breeding season right now).

We did a hike on the second day, but the first night I dislocated my knee again and didn’t want to do a whole lot of walking. This trail also had some really incredible waterfalls on it. I think that waterfalls are probably a pretty big draw for that park. Overall, I liked Great Smoky Mountains more than I thought I would. Part of that is due to the amount of wildlife we saw, but just in general the park is very pretty and large. I want to go back someday so I can do some of the things we missed this time!


Shenandoah (The Park, Not the River)

My ninth park was Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. We went there a few weeks ago, right before school started back. This park, while small (as most of the parks on the east coast are), has the highest concentration of black bears in the country. The ranger we spoke to said that at any given time there are between 400

This park has 4 entrances. We took this on the only sunny day, when we left through the southern entrance.

and 600 bears inside the boundaries of Shenandoah. Unfortunately, we made the trek up there during a rainy weekend. Bears don’t like to get wet, so they were all under things to keep dry. My only goal on this trip was to see a bear, but that didn’t happen.

Shenandoah was one of the parks that came around in the 1930s. Much of the road that runs through it as well as the retaining walls was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which gave young men jobs during the Depression so they could help their families. All of these original walls are still there. as strong and beautiful as ever. Shenandoah is also home to Rapidan Camp, which was the presidential retreat prior to the building of Camp David in Maryland. Visitors to the park can walk through Rapidan Camp and even go in some of the buildings; others are accessible only by ranger-led tour. We didn’t visit Rapidan–it was a long walk and as I mentioned, most of the weekend was rainy.

The second most spectacular sunset I’ve seen, right behind the one in Zion.

We did hike despite the rain. I have to say that the hikes in this park were not my favorites. One of them was up a very long trail to what was supposed to be the best view in the park. It was raining the entire hike, but we were too hot in our raincoats, so we just got wet. We got to the top to see the view to find a very thick fog. I just sat down on a rock and laid my head on my knees. It was the most disappointing thing.

The second big hike we did was to a waterfall. I will never again make the mistake again of going on a trail where you hike down before you hike up. I’m pretty out-of-shape, and at one point on the way back up by heart rate was 140 beats per minute. The hike was nice and the waterfall was beautiful, but if I ever hiked it again I would need to some serious exercising beforehand. I would absolutely rather go up to a view then down to one. It was pretty steep, to the point that we would stop every 300 feet or so because we couldn’t breathe.

Shenandoah is #8. Not because I disliked it, but I spend a lot of time in the mountains already, so I think it just didn’t feel like a unique place to me. It has way more bears, but in general the views are similar and the types of hikes are as well. My next stop is Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so I’ll be interested to see if I feel like it’s just more of the same as well!