Thursday, February 11, 2010

Explore the Wildlife Down Under

On the Australia Discovery Student Adventure, your itinerary will take you on a headfirst dive into local biology. Australia is rich in diverse specimens, making for exciting encounters on your Discovery Student Adventure.

Some destinations are made all the more great by that which dwells there – the fauna. Australia is one of the places best known for the wide variety of creatures that call it home, from the iconic koala and kangaroo to the more intimidating crocodile. All Australian animals are fascinating. If you’re lucky, you’ll have the excitement of coming across a few local critters on your adventure. Here are a few interesting points about the wild inhabitants of Australia:

  • The flying fox is a large fruit bat that you can find roosting in the trees of Queensland — it truly looks like its name describes. In Australia, its closest genetic relative is actually the human. We have more than 95% of the same genetic makeup!

  • The saltwater crocodile, with its very impressive smile, has blood with an amazing resistance to infection. Even if wounded and in stagnant waters, the crocodile can fight off infection, thanks to the incredible antibiotic properties of its blood. This quality has made crocodiles figure prominently in recent HIV and other medical research.

  • Koalas smell like cough drops from spending their lives in eucalyptus trees.

  • Kangaroos can become impregnated and delay the pregnancy for months until environmental conditions are more favorable, essentially keeping the fetus in stasis.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Pace in South Africa

The South Africa Discovery Student Adventure trip ends with a memorable stay in the bush at Kruger National Park where you’ll experience some amazing encounters!

There is a definite rhythm to Africa. It marches to a beat that’s held steady through thousands of years of history, so that when you move away from the frenetic pace that comes with any urban setting, you feel it through the land itself. South Africa’s northeast corner, home to the famous Kruger National Park, holds that rhythm throughout the bush and all the inhabitants that call it home — I would argue the insect life could rival the best metronome!

One of the best ways to experience the rhythm of the bushveld is to take a morning walk with the rangers. The walk takes you out through the bush to experience it firsthand, and if you’re lucky, you’ll experience it with lion cubs!
The rangers head a lion breeding project that aims to introduce healthy lions into the Kruger ecosystem to counteract the existing population’s instances of tuberculosis, so when the program has lion cubs (up to the age of about 5 months) in house, they take them out for their daily exercise and bush experience. Walking with cubs while seeing and learning about the bush is exciting and, for most of us city dwellers, a bit surreal. The cubs were quite the characters, as our pilot students could attest , but Prince the Yellow Labrador is also quite memorable. Prince has helped raised many lion cubs with his ranger owner and he has the scars to prove it — not scars incurred in dangerous encounters, but from wrestling and playing with oversized kittens who are still learning how to use their sharp claws and teeth and who have no idea they outweigh their “pride leader.” The “mini pride” walks through the bush each morning, playing and exploring; rangers don’t need to worry about cubs wandering off into the bush or running away from them — where Prince goes, the cubs go. Walking with lions made for a very memorable morning with the most unique traffic. Lions may be king, but even kings (or Princes) do not hurry an elephant!

Passports 102

Make copies of your passport both for travel and to leave at home where someone can find it easily on your behalf. These copies are crucial in replacing your passport in the event it is lost or stolen during overseas travel.

While counting down the days to your departure, save yourself grief by putting your passport away somewhere safe where you can easily find it on the exciting day you are ready to head to the airport! Not to make light of others’ stressful situations, but here are some of the more interesting passport disasters we have heard:

  • “My dog ate my passport.” Oddly enough, older passports (those soft cover passports) are irresistible to our canine friends. One student searched in vain for their passport, only to discover it in the doghouse, slightly worse for wear. A teacher’s Labrador opened her backpack, where her group’s passports were awaiting their China visas, and snacked on the passports when she wasn’t looking. So wherever you keep your passport, make sure you don’t disclose its location to Fido!

  • “My car ate my passport.” Who knew someone could top the old “My dog ate…” line? One family put their passports on the dash of their car and with a quick braking, found their travel plans halted as the passports fell down between the dashboard and the car frame. Luckily their mechanic was a close friend who could rush to assist in dismantling and retrieving so that they could still make their flight!

  • “My little sister/brother/son/daughter/grandchild decorated my passport.” While your little dear may have created something worthy of hanging on the family fridge, your passport isn’t worthy for passing through immigration once non-official marks are made inside.

Don’t leave your passport out within anyone’s temptation!

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