South Africa’s Kruger Wild Animal Park: Wild and Wonderful


I’ve visited South Africa on three different occasions and found it incredible each time.  I would go at the drop of a hat.  I still need to take my family with me, and yes if you were wondering.  I would do that.  Something that holds a lot of people back is they are sincerely worried about this world we live in and they see Africa as a whole as a place that isn’t safe or ready to be explored.  In my various adventures in Africa I’ve found South Africa to be a great hub to explore other parts of South Africa.  It does feel like that hut surrounded by barbed wire that protects me from the wild animals like in Kruger wild animal park, but then I realize I’m the one that’s in the cage.

After you’ve been to Africa and been on safari, a zoo will never be the same.  As I suggested, you are the one that’s in the cage.  During the day you venture out in your car, and in our case it was a rental car with insurance.  Our little car was chased by bull elephants a couple of times and we drove through herds of buffalo, zebra, and numerous horned antelope and other horned beasts.  Before nightfall we’d drive into a gated area that would keep the wild animals out.  We’d share stories with others and see what large animals had been spotted. 

The big 5 are on everyone’s mind.  You have to see what of the big 5 you can check off.  In our 3 days of driving around never once crossing an existing path, we saw them all but the leopard. 

  1. Elephant
  2. Rhino
  3. Lion
  4. Buffalo
  5. Leopard

Why it doesn’t include the Crocodile, the Hippo, Hyena, Giraffe or Zebra or other animals that are just as huge I don’t know, but I did see them as well.  I’d also recommend tracking down a troop of baboons.  It isn’t enough to just see one of these animals, you need to see them in hundreds and it again changes your perspective.

Kruger Wild Animal Park is a must.  If you visit South Africa you should definitely plan to do it.  There are other less wild parks where you can get closer to the big cats, but the wildness of it all will change your perspective forever.  This is the Yellowstone of wildness for Africa.  I later spent some time in Botswana that made me rethink what I thought was wild, but really this is a great introduction into the wilds of Africa.  As well having spent some time in Kenya and Tanzania, I think this is a great place to start.  Tons and Tons of animals and you can do this on your pace.  They’ve even got maps that point out the climates and what to expect in the various ecosystems.

Eric Harlan, a Microsoft engineer and I ventured out into Kruger with his massive camera and a very expensive rented lens that made the far off animals seem within reach.  It was Eric’s first foray into the wild, and he to this day refers to the changes that took place on this trip.  Not just the animal wild and crazy, but our walking border crossing into Mozambique to Maputo.  An incredible experience I’ll have to share in another post.  Eric and I have since been on a few other trips, but Kruger stands out.  We flew into Johannesburg, stayed with a good friend in Joburg.  The next morning we rented a car and were in a hut in the park that night.  It was a good drive and we barely made it before they closed the gate, but it was a beautiful drive.  After 3-4 days in Kruger we went into Mozambique and got the human side as well as in Swaziland before arriving in Durban where we did our speaking gig at TechEd Africa before flying to Capetown for the first SharePoint Saturday event in Africa… 

If you want to go on a guided safari you have lots of options.  First you can take a guided tour and they will track down the animals for you.  As well, you can take your vehicle into the park and at each of these self enclosed villages that often include bungalow, or beehive huts, and more primitive tent spaces.  You decide how primitive you want to go.  At these places you can pay to go on a morning or evening walking tour, or go out on a safari on a huge truck that can go on special routes and get quite close to a watering hole, or a night safari that has exclusive access to the routes during the dark.  They are all freaky and I highly recommend them all.  Each of them is a real experience… having a guide with an elephant gun in the front and one in the back… and walking through grass thinking wasn’t that a lion roar and it was, is truly exhilarating.  Very raw.  We tracked down some rhinos grazing who eventually smelled us and ran off, but not before we were about 10 feet away… and followed some buffalo and zebra.

When you stop for lunch at one of these rest camps you can eat gazelle or other meat that you’d never thought possible didn’t think you’d ever eat Wildebeest.

At night we tracked a lion, a bull elephant who pushed our safari truck, and spotted a family of hyenas with tiny little 3 babies.  Incredible experiences.  It was amazing to see these animals in their habitats on their terms.

It’s unreal when you see a HUGE elephant looking straight at you and there’s nothing more than a little metal or tiny little glass window between you and them.  On the walking safari, you feel very vulnerable.

Do I recommend these experiences.  Oh, definitely.  Is it safe, you’ll have to ask your guide what his stats are.  These are experiences of a lifetime… 

Kruger Wild Animal Park

Above is a video of footage from my camera mixed with some photos that Eric took.  He snagged the lion photo as well.  Getting that lion photo was a real experience.  We had gone two days without seeing a lion, and we really wanted to see one.  On our maps we tracked down the area where we should see one, and asked as well around camp.  We saw a car that was stopped and pulled up quietly behind it.  A man in the car had a camera pointing into some tall grass.  We must have sat there for 5 minutes before we saw a tail swish and realized what we were waiting for.  A group of lionesses were sunning.  Over the next half hour we’d get nearly out of the car (not recommended and anything more would be against the rules) to get the best viewpoint.  All of a sudden they jumped up looked around… (maybe smelled us?) and then ran off.. it was beautiful and an experience I will cherish.

New Baby Penguin First Encounter Footage from Antarctica

Cute Little Baby Penguin Chick

Mother feeding baby penguin
Mother Gentoo Penguin Feeds Baby

The most popular comment right now on my baby penguin youtube video is an upset viewer comment saying… “I can’t believe you &^%$ stopped filming!”

A lot of the traffic I’m getting right now is traffic from my popular baby penguin video filmed on a trip to Antarctica where I met a baby penguin that has never met humans.  The baby penguin video has gone viral.  My encounter was surreal.  I was given the advice to not approach the penguins, but it was ok for them to approach me.  Additional advice was to kneel to as to avoid looking tall and intimidating.  I took the advice to the next level and laid on the rocky shore.  What ensued was an amazing encounter of man and bird.  We calmly spent an hour on the beach interacting with our new found friends.

Here’s a video where my baby penguin friends get comfortable and jump on my stomach.  Very close up footage of the baby Gentoo penguins.

Curious little baby penguins

These cute little guys were curious.  They pick at my clothes and in waiting for their parents to bring back food they are looking for anything they can get.  This little one jumps on my legs.  In the background on the water you can see a research vessel.  As well you can see the older penguins waddling around.

Chubby little gentoo penguin jumps on my legs. Sorry it’s only 23 seconds.

In this next video you get a more holistic view of the beach.  There’s Paul and Ricardo, with Michael off further in the distance having his own encounter.

Baby Penguins just chillin on the beach… not threatened at all. Just curious.

I hope you enjoyed the new footage.

Viral Baby Penguin Travel Video Goes Mainstream


In my previous post, I shared how my traffic on my baby penguin video started to take off.  I was getting requests from various people asking them if they could use my video, and others looking for rights.  Analyzing the traffic was fascinating.  The 15 minutes of fame as one commenter mentioned continues as the baby penguin video really takes off.  I knew this was going big when I was getting requests from ABC Good Morning America and Yahoo.  What I didn’t know was when it would end and I sure wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything to make it end early.

It was this morning, that I got a tweet from someone saying… they came across my video not only on Yahoo, but on their home page!!  I was super excited.

One thing I’ve been careful about it making sure to have them include this, my travel blog http://travelingepic.com in the credits.  I’ve been traveling for years, and have visited over 120 countries since 2008.  Many recent comments ask how that’s even possible.  Five years ago I left Microsoft to pursue more travel.  I was traveling once a quarter or so during that time mostly to Europe or Australia, and about once a year to Asia, but I was very anxious to see South America and more of Asia.  I left Microsoft and started at Quest Software where during the first two years there I was on the road over 200 days and travelled outside the U.S. during about half that time.  As a software evangelist, I would speak at over one hundred conferences of my choosing including nearby SharePoint user group communities. (SharePoint is the product I have built expertise in, and have been working with nearly 12 years.  Hence the name of my technical blog http://sharepointjoel.com, rated the best SharePoint blog recently by the community.)

The requests keep coming in.  Being on the homepage of Yahoo this morning was huge for me.  I was really hoping that the ABC World News Diane Sawyer would go through, but I’m sure some more important news bumped the penguin video.

I’ve been working on a new Video that I hope you’ll enjoy.  If you like Baby Penguins, you might like Wild Baby Monkeys from Bali.  Would you guess he jumps on my head?

This cute baby monkey surprised me by jumping on me and trying to take my camera

Here are a few other places where my baby penguin video has been showing up…

Serious Mainstream Press: CBS, ABC, FOX

including a few places in the UK.  ITN actually added music and voice over, the stories themselves have been getting richer and richer.

I’m really pulling for the Ellen Show or Tosh.0, if they are listening.  I’m in love to tell my story!

Behind the Scenes: Baby Penguin Meets Human for the First Time


joel and penguin

On Saturday I noticed I was getting a bunch of comments on my baby penguin video, a video recorded from a SharePoint trip to Antarctica.  I blogged about my travel, photos, and videos on a travel post Antarctica the final frontier.

I LOVE to travel and hope you enjoy my travel blog http://travelingepic.com .  I’ve traveled to over 100 countries and this blog is focused on sharing the best of what I discover and share my adventures.  You can follow me on twitter at @travelingepic

 

 

I’ve uploaded 80 videos to Youtube.  Up to this week I was feeling a little better than average with over 100,000 views to my collection of travel videos and assortment of a few tech videos.  Today I’m at a quarter of a million, and trending upward fast!

 

I figured something had to have happened.  I found a couple of clues that many of you might be interested in.

1. My video was listed on youtube.com/videos through a featured area called “Tastefully Offensive,” this is where my search for answers began.  From there I found it was proudly displayed along with a number of other videos.  The number of likes at that time in the hundreds made me realize it was getting an unusual amount of traffic.

2. Next I turned to the newer analytics platform for answer

I can clearly see the number of views, but right next to the number I see a little stack diagram. Clicking on that… you can show video statistics.

3. In the statistics we can clearly see an incredible spike.  On the 18th I had about 500 views on this video, and the 19th multiple activities stemming around sayomg.com, which then led to dailypicksandflicks.com picking it up, and then youtube /videos.  While the numbers in the chart seem trivial, the answer is that’s really where the spark came from.  I am now getting at peak around 10,000 views per hour, and it’s hard to tell if it’s slowing down or if it’s just an around the clock thin

4. Many would think that’s where it ends.  It’s not.  These sites helped spark off some larger ones.  The media feed off of users and the liking, and commenting.  When a certain volume gets reached, the video is seen as more viral.  I have google search alerts setup for when my name or username is used on any web page and sure enough, I was notified when CBSNews posted a blurb about my video.

5. Today some very interesting email from a variety sources started flowing in.

Viral Spiral

“I am Head of Research at Viral Spiral, the world’s leading management company for YouTube videos- including “Charlie Bit My Finger”, the most viewed viral video of all time.
I have recently seen your “Baby Penguin meets human for the first time” video and we would be very interested in representing you, as we feel your Channel has real commercial potential.”

I replied.  Let’s discuss.

Good Morning America & ABCNews

I’m writing on behalf of Good Morning America and ABC News. We absolutely love the video you posted on YouTube showing “Baby Penguin meets human for the first time,” ([http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdmQ9nMkI-g]) and we’d like to share it with our viewers!

We would like to request permission to show this video on GMA (and across our ABC News shows and platforms, which is seen worldwide and on all media).

I replied in the affirmative and answered the follow up questions around ownership.

Yahoo! Video

Hi Joel,

I work with Yahoo! Video and we are interested in featuring your video where you meet the penguin.

We want to feature it on Yahoo!’s Network (Yahoo’s owned, operated, and partner websites, applications, programs and services using Yahoo’s embeddable video player). This email is our request to use your Video.

If you agree to grant Yahoo! an irrevocable, world-wide, non-exclusive license to exhibit your Video, by any means and in any media, on Yahoo!’s Network, please reply to this email with the term AGREE in caps.

Since this wasn’t going to be exclusive, I didn’t see why not.

Cheezburger

Hi,
I work for a network of websites, Cheezburger, and we are interested in purchasing the rights to your video “Baby Penguin meets human for the first time.”

Purchasing the rights, sounded much more involved, and I was just beginning to enjoy the viral parts of this… why sell?

(Emails all trimmed to secure the privacy of those I was communicating with)

6.  Clicking Youtube’s watch page vs. Embed player.  Click on the words embedded player for much more detailed referral statistics, but also note more than half of all views make it through the watch page.

 

7. Is a video viral if it’s only on one website?  Probably not.  Well here we go…

 

Now we can clearly see the video was picked up on all sorts of sites, and while the numbers may still not add up to 116,000 it’s a good start.

 

In the analytics we can see the referral information as well as it relates to Youtube itself.  While the users may mostly be using the YouTube player, the vast majority of referrlas are coming from outside travel including mobile, and many many referrals outside of YouTube.  We get an idea of who those people are by looking above.

As well I look at likes, favorites, and watch closely on percentage of likes to dislikes.  You want to keep the ratio high.

Doing a search on google, I can see the stories are going live and the video is popping up in all sorts of interesting places…

Huffington Post UK

 

 

 

CBSNEWS

What’s Next?

<Update 6/3/12>

The video went mainstream.  Home page of Yahoo! Discovery, Fox News, Fox News TV on “Red Eye,” KSL News Radio Interview with me about my video (radio program here in Utah).  It’s been on TV in Japan and Costa Rica as per friends in those countries.  Just got an email from Nickelodeon.

My channel is up to 600,000 views.  This includes the 100,000 prior to the penguin release.

Traffic has slowed down, but that is bound to happen.  Now it’s much more selective conversations on bigger deals.  I’m also learning a lot about monitization on YouTube.  I hope to have a post on the results of those tests.

 

<7/21/13>

Update I debate how I should have handled the promotions.  It seems the ads seem to discourage sharing.  For this reason I have been considering turning off ads across all of my vids.

I’m up to over 800,000 views on the baby Penguin video.  Amazing.

Antarctica the Ultimate Final Frontier in Travel


Baby Penguins
Baby Penguins

As a global traveller, on this planet there is nothing more remote than Antarctica.  It is way bigger than it looks on any common map.  That place is just so vast. 14 million square miles and 1.5 times the size of the U.S. and is 98% ice and 2% barren rock.  In fact we learn that the largest countries in the world are Russia, China, Canada, but actually if Antarctica was a country it would be #2! See largest countries by area.  According to the CIA’s World Fact Book there is a population of 4,400 in summer to 1,100 in winter, with an additional 1000 in research boats off the coast.  In January, I had the chance to visit Antarctica on a research and speaking mission.  I wrote about the background details of this trip on my technical blog in a post called – Sharing The Point Antarctica.  We stayed on the Antarctic Russian base right next to the Chilean base and small Chilean village Villa Las Estrellas, and visited the Chinese base “The Great Wall” station, and saw the Uruguayan base.  It was an incredible experience as you can imagine.  Ice and barren rock sounds pretty boring, but this was anything but boring.

Villa Las Estrellas

The recent 100 year anniversary of the race to the south pole, and the Russian drilling at lake Vostok with 400,000 year ice history that may have been burried in ice for 15-25 million years, have put Antarctica in the media.  In 2012-2013 the Russians want to put a robot in the massive lake under the ice.  The lakes in Antarctica are recognized as the most ancient and inaccessible ecosystem. Exciting times! (Villa Las Estrellas  Chilean Base and village with blue roofs, grey buildings in the back is the Russian station)

If you’re planning on going to Antarctica there are a few ways to do it.

1) Cruise – There are a number of cruises that cruise around Antarctica.  The best way to reach Antarctica is by small-passenger cruise ship. Many tour companies run Antarctic cruises and expedition programs, providing a wide range of Antarctica travel options, ships, itineraries, dates and prices.  Pay particular attention to the excursion options.  Some, especially many of the large cruise companies do NOT include the ability to go to the mainland or even stop at the Antarctic islands, but just allow you to see it.  You want to look for Zodiacs that shuttle passengers from ship to shore and provide scenic tours or helicopter shuttles or flight-seeing… just depends on if you want boots on the ground. There are various options from Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia.  Antarctic Peninsula trips usually start from Ushuaia, Argentina. That’s the worlds most southerly city, known as the end of the world and is a great destination in it’s own right.  There is a limited number of visitors to Antarctica to help preserve it.  Something to be aware of is the Drake Passage can be pretty choppy. Those that don’t need the excursions may like the bigger boat.  Just do your research, so you’re not disappointed.

STP Crew
STP Crew

Our STP Crew on the gravel runway in Antarctica (l-r): Mark Miller, Dan Holme, Paul Swider, Ricardo Munoz, and Michael Noel

For our research and speaking engagement we chartered a 6 person jet with the help of our sponsors: AvePoint & fpweb

2) Plane – There is a gravel landing strip on King George island at Frei Base, Teniente Rodolfo Marsh, which houses the Presidente Frei Meteorological Center, one of the main meteorological and navigational stations in the Antarctic. In our research we went with Victory Adventure Expeditions which offers both cruise and fly options.  We were doing a number of stops in South America and decided the overnight option would give us the most flexibility and keep our entire trip under 2 weeks.  You do really have to plan ahead.  The plane we went on had minimum and maximum 6 passengers. The step up from that was min 33 max 70.  As well, there is a narrow window of end of Nov to early March for trips and they fill up. There are day trips as well as overnight.  We did the overnight option.

Antarctic Ice Field
Antarctic Ice Field

The scenery, fauna and marine life are the main attractions for the tourist; this place is one of the few in the world that has remained untouched by men, this is why it constitutes one of mankind’s most important biosphere reserves.” I agree.  The animal life is wild.  Mind blowing in terms of the diversity and how protected it has been over the last 100 years.  I hope it does continue for many generations and forever.

Really, we just laid down and these imagebaby penguins came right up to us.  On day 2 we visited a penguin colony with 3 different types of penguins a very rare occurrence. (Gentoo, Chinstrap, and Adele)

As well, we visited the other side of the island where we ran into a herem of elephant seals.  One male and 13 females.  Apparently that’s it goes.  We thought we’d join in the fun.  It was interesting to see that only the male had the major long elephant snout.

Curious little baby penguin

The penguins were amazing.  We went around in Zodiak’s and would see penguins swimming along with us and jumping out of the water like dolphins.

For me it was seeing the animals in their habitat and walking around on Antarctica which felt like being on Mars.  Not that I’ve been on mars, but definitely felt like another planet.  There aren’t any trees or bushes, just liken, moss, and strange grasses.  While some would describe it as a barren wasteland, the reality is it’s some of the richest fauna on the planet.  Tons of different kinds of whales, various seals and sea lions, elephant seals, various sea birds including various cormorants,  sea eagles, and we saw a huge albatross.

The conditions were great while we were there.  While we were glad we brought our snow clothes, the wind wasn’t too bad.  Our Chilean guide brought us to a couple of different glaciers.  For the zodiac rides we wore these orange Life suits that apparently can float.  They did give us the suits and we wore our normal clothes under them.

Zodiac Rides in Antarctica… Unreal

It was like a cartoon.  We rode past massive glaciers with penguins following us jumping out of the water at one point we had 40 of them jumping along.  As we approached one small glacier we saw two penguins perched on top.  We even witnessed one of the large glaciers calving.  The sound we first heard was this very deep moan and cracking sound.  It was a bit freaky.  Then we all started looking and finally large chunks busting up into the water which then created a pretty good swell which reached our boat.  Our guide knew how far to stay back.  He was smart.  I really wanted to get closer, but he knew the safe distance.

The biggest surprise to me was the flora.  I knew there were penguins and different types of whales and seals.  Tons more than I imagined, but what I didn’t know is that 2% of Antarctica is currently rock.  What is exposed during summer isn’t just barren.  There is green!  The plants are extremely hearty, these plants aren’t much of plants anyway.  They are liken, moss, and algae.  There is moss that even looks like grass!

This incredible penguin colony looks like they are hanging out in grass.  What I found fascinating was these baby penguins.  They haven’t learned to be afraid of humans.  There’s been so little interaction that it must feel like what Darwin experienced when he went to the Galapagos and studied birds of different islands coming up with “the origin of species.”

Baby Penguin sleeping on me
Baby Penguin sleeping on me

Interesting to be talking about Darwin as on this same trip I’d visit the Beagle Channel and see all sorts of birds and nests that have been in the same area for hundreds if not thousands of years.  This little guy and I would check each other out including having him jump on my chest.  In the course of the exchange I’d have his baby fur up against my face.

Life in Antarctica… can you imagine?  What would life really be like? A Bank, a post office, a cafeteria, a school.  Yes to all of these, the Chileans have really built a village that the other stations use. We saw a couple of Chinese Great Wall Station workers come and barter with the Chileans.  Apparently they don’t stay isolated.  Despite the fact that these are different countries, the lines are very blurry when it comes to Antarctica.  The Antarctic treaty keeps the peace, it doesn’t solve any of the disputes.  We visited the monument that marked the nations that signed the peace treaty including Russia, China, U.S., Britain, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and more.  Michael provides more detail on this.  A link to his blog is at the end of this post.

We all sent post cards from this post office. My kids got my cards in the mail… 3 months later.

I built a series of videos to answer some of these questions… What is life like in Antarctica. (Most of these are less than 1 minute.)

One night, the one we had, it didn’t get darkish until around midnight.  Michael and I both were thinking, come on this is the place to take the polar plunge.  With all the ice in the water, this has to be the ultimate travel challenge of either pole.  We did it.  We both encouraged each other and ran into the water and dunked and threw water all over ourselves and ran back into camp half dressed or less.  One tip for you if you visit the stations and bases.  Bring gifts.  Michael had all the Russians we met getting really friendly.  He brought vodka.  One of them had mentioned we could use their Banya.  This was the perfect moment to jump in the banya (spa) and warm up… Unfortunately our directions weren’t as clear as we thought they were and we were afraid to knock on too many doors to cause suspicion.  What an incredible moment it was though!  I feel more like a man.

As I wrap up this post I reflect on the Titanic and it’s media mentions and fanfare.  Have we advanced as a society in relation to water travel?  I have to think it’s very ironic we had a cruise ship go down this past year when our cruise ships are unsinkable.  I think it’s important to reflect on our infalibility.  We have weekness, we do stupid things.  The captain and his men failed to correct.  I don’t know the whole scenario of either incident, but I do know we must learn from our mistakes or will we repeat them.

Penguin Skull
Penguin Skull

In conclusion. Antarctica is truly a life changing experience.  You really do leave life as it is, and look back at it from another perspective.  Travel does that to people, and Antarctica, the final frontier does that to the extreme.  Many ask how to top a trip like this… space? the Moon? Mars?!!  I definitely felt like that after this trip.  All trips will be compared from a nature perspective for sure.  I went to extremes to the ends of the earth and I came back a changed man.  I think you will too.

Enjoyed my post?  I recommend reading these other posts on this fantastic trip.