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Monkey Love

We have never met, but you have been traveling with me for quite some time now. I count you among my very devoted followers on Twitter and am always grateful for your comments and interest in my travels, especially now, here, in Africa.

A few weeks ago I showed you all how I used my indestructible iPhone to kill a bothersome tsetse fly. I held the little crushed insect in my bare hand and sent the picture out to the world. Immediately, you tweeted back, “Your life line is the strongest I’ve ever seen! You are living your destiny!”

To have my palm read so quickly by someone so far away (around 8,000 miles) was a rather mystical use of technology, but I am grateful to you for it. I love that you saw past the dead fly and focused instead on my life line, which you were happy to report was longer than that of the tsetse fly.

Nothing reinforces the magnitude of life like going on safari. All day, one is surrounded by living creatures, and all day long, one is reminded of the fragile nature of life and ever-present mortality. No matter the national park, I am always seeing babies and carcasses. The two of these things combined makes for a strange emotional journey from a sense of joy to the macabre and sullen scene of a skull in the grass.

My letter to you is particular meaningful as this is my 400th blog post for National Geographic TravelerNational Geographic TravelerNational Geographic Traveler. That’s a whole lot of bogging over the past three years and I suppose it is some kind of small anniversary. On four hundred occasions I have logged on and told a story about a place or person or thing in the world.

As I sit down on this Sunday and stare at this blank screen, I wonder how I might commemorate the past 399 blog posts. There is such a wealth of wonder to choose from in the world and I feel blessed to have been able to experience its wide span.

And yet, right now my thoughts are consumed by the creatures of Africa, and as darling and vivacious as they are, none has melted my heart more than the vervet monkeys that bound through the beige grass, spiral up tree trunks or pitter-patter on my tent roof, excited to sneak in and tear my bags apart. Vervets are little people really, and like so many animals, we can learn so much from simply stopping and watching them.

In safari vehicles, I am the annoying passenger that demands we wait and so I can watch the Vervet monkeys playing, living, interacting. For so many, they have already edited out the Vervet monkeys as too common, small and insignificant–“You’ve seen one Vervet monkey, you’ve seen them all.”

Well, not so fast–because like people, Vervet monkeys are entirely unique, as is their whole civilization, with its shared mothering and family alliances. I think you would appreciate watching them as much as I have–it’s not unlike a good Southern drama. They are some of the busiest creatures I have seen on the savanna, always doing something, and when they are doing nothing, you can tell they are planning their next move.

Also, did you know that Vervet monkey mothers recognize their children simply by its scream? I don’t think you could say that for that many human mothers although I once babysat a small child who had such a particular way of screaming, I could recognize it from a very long way away.

And so, I dedicate my 400th blog post to Vervet monkeys–perhaps the most social creature on Africa, who seem to have a kind of Twitter all their own, though in this case, I use “twitter” in its original onomatopœia form. We humans revel in social media, but all this technology does is facilitate our inherent primate dynamic.

Yes, vervet monkeys are the social media network of Tanzania’s wilderness, and while none of them are following me, I am following all of them for miles, enjoying their pleasant and silly, anthropomorphic antics.

I could talk to you about monkeys all day, but instead, I am sending you a few of my favorite photos from various parks in Tanzania. I send you best wishes from this amazing country and thank you for reading along so far. Here’s to the next 400 posts-

Your Friend,


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