Back on the Water

On Thursday April 12, I manged to get back on the water to go paddling.  We were off to Africa in late February and upon returning home in mid-March I developed bronchitis which kept me off the water for a couple of weeks. Almost two months without a padding “fix!”

In any event,  my schedule permitted me to join my BASK friends for the Thursday Lunch paddle on April 12. Our journey took us from Ferry Point to Point Molate.  We paddled past the tanker pier at the Chevron facility in Richmond. Note the words on the superstructure of one of the tankers “Protect the Environment.” Seems a bit ironic. We had blue sky with puffy cumulus clouds and calm water. There were four of us and our paddle covered eight miles. You can view a track of the paddle here.  As we approached the San Rafael Bridge, I was struck by the graphic element of the bridge with the clouds and I thought it might make an interesting black and white image. What do you think?

 

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African Safari: Day 4

March 6. My cold is no better and I did not get a good nights sleep.  I’m cursing myself for not including cold medicine with my things.  As thorough as we were on the planning and packing; taking anti-malarials, spraying our clothes with permethrin to ward off mosquitoes. Bringing “safari” colored clothing. I should have anticipated the possibility of catching a cold given the nature of air travel.  In any event, we’re on the road at 7:00 and the first wildlife we encounter is a pair of cheetah’s feasting on a wildebeest. You can tell from their distended stomachs that they’ve had their fill.

Not long into the drive, I’m feeling quite exhausted. It takes all my concentration just to stay awake, and even so, I’m dozing off as we’re bouncing and jouncing along some very bumpy roads.  Joann thinks I’m looking pretty pathetic. At one point, I’m watching wildlife using the telephoto lens, standing with the camera perched on the top of the truck and I catch myself dozing off . Heaven forbid I should fall asleep and drop the camera. One doesn’t simply open the door and step out of the car to pick something up you might drop. In any event the day progresses and I’m putting everything I have into photographing wildlife.

Later on our route we stopped for a herd of wildebeest with a number of young. This is a calving ground. Wildebeest cows like company while calving. Being in a herd provides protection from predators. The calves can typically stand and run just a few minutes after being born. Within two days they can keep pace with a running herd.

We also saw a pack of Bat-Eared Foxes, with huge ears and a bandit’s mask. These animals feed largely on insects and their ears act like twin-dish antenna. They can hear dung beetles up to a foot underground.

Our track for the day covered 36 miles and we returned to camp in the early afternoon. You can view a track or our route here.

 

African Safari: Day 3

March 5. My birthday. I have a cold and I’m feeling quite wretched. If I were home I’d be in bed. But I’m on a safari and I don’t want to miss the show. I tell myself that if I were a  high stakes wildlife photographer, I’d be going on a game drive. A cold shouldn’t stop a professional photographer should it? I feel like this is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.  It’s 7:00 when we hit the road.

We watched a hyena wandering through the grass, definitely on a mission, seeming to follow it’s nose going this way and that trying to follow the scent. Before long it became clear that it was following a kill on which a flock of vultures were feeding. The hyena approached the vultures warily, and then simply snatched their lunch and trotted off.

Most of the day was spent exploring the open savannah and the kopjes. One of the highlights of the day was watching the young wildebeests.

The kopjes are always fascinating; rock outcroppings with green trees and shrubs in a sea of grass. Our travels over the day covered 83 miles, taking us to Naabi Hill camp, our camp for the next two nights. You can view the track of our travels here.

African Safari: Day 2

March 4. We’re going on a lion hunt! Early start. At 5:00 AM our steward hails us with “good morning.” He unzips the tent and leaves us a tray with a pot of coffee and fruit. Then it’s breakfast in the dining tent: porridge, fresh fruit, eggs, sausage and toast. At 6:00 we’re on the road. David tells us our objective today is to look for cats. It doesn’t take long before we find a koppie (a rock outcropping on the savannah) which seems to be a hangout for a pride of lions. We watch as the pride returns from their night time hunt. Their bellies look full, so it seems they had a successful outing. The pride includes a number of cubs ranging in age from perhaps six weeks to several months. We spent the better part of an hour and a half watching them and photographing their activities. Most of the lions just wanted to lay in the sun and nap. The cubs wanted to play.

 

At 8:10 am we leave the lions. Soon David had us poised to photograph a pair of cheetahs. I’m using my Nikon D800 with a 200-500 zoom lens. This is a substantial piece of equipment, and handling the camera and lens requires support.  The drill is to stand up slowly and stealthily and place a beanbag (a device to help hold the lens steady) on the top of the truck, and then to put the camera and lens on top of the beanbag. This is a new drill for me. I’m used to photographing architectural subjects with wide angle lenses and a sturdy tripod. Shooting wildlife from the top of a truck proves to be a challenge.  It takes me a few days of practice before I’m feeling comfortable with the drill.  I’m starting to appreciate how much skill it takes to photograph wildlife.

The cheetahs moved on. One of them passed quite close to our truck and David was concerned it might climb on the truck. We continued our game drive. Close to noon David suggested we stop in the middle of the road and have our lunches while a herd of wildebeest and zebra were crossing. This is the start of the wet season and the zebra and wildebeest are on migration following the rain and looking for green grass.

 

After lunch we continued, stopping for a family of warthogs with the mother nursing her young. We also stop for Thompson’s gazelles and  a pair of jackals. By mid-afternoon, we were feeling like we had put in a full day and we headed back to Seronera Sametu Camp

Dinner was a special treat. Being that we were the only guests in camp the staff moved a dining table out under the stars, and the three of us, David, Joann and myself, had a exquisite dinner by candle light with a campfire crackling near by and the stars twinkling overhead. For dessert, we were presented with a cake that said “Happy Retirement Joann.” It seems as part of our safari itinerary we indicated that our safari adventure was in-part a  retirement celebration. A fun surprise. We were so stuffed we could hardly touch the cake.

 

Our day’s drive covered 62 miles. You can view a track of our route here. You can also view a more extensive gallery of photos from our safari here.

 

African Safari: Day 1

Two weeks have passed since we returned from Africa and I’ve managed to edit my photo collection down to a few images (143 to be exact) that I think tell the story about our adventures. We’re rewinding to March 3, the first day of our Safari. Our adventures began when we boarded a small plane in Arusha for our flight into the bush.

Our flight took us to the Seronera Air Strip in the middle of Serengeti National Park, a dirt airstrip with a small terminal. We landed at 11:30 in the morning. Our guide David walked out to the plane to greet us. We spent a few minutes in the terminal while David resolved some issue regarding our park permit. Then it was off to the Land Cruiser that would be our base for game drives for the next eight days.  I’m quite thankful that we had an experienced guide. Traveling the parks in Tanzania involves paperwork. Having a guide that knew the language and the customs was quite helpful. Our destination for the next two days was the central woodlands of the Serengeti. It doesn’t take long on a game drive to appreciate how abundant wildlife is and the variety. Impala, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, and baboons were among the first animals we spotted on our drive. If feels surreal sitting in a car and watching zebras amble by.

 

For lunch we headed to the Retina pool to watch hippos, and with a picnic area there, David broke out the box lunches. We didn’t have high expectations for the food and we were surprised at how much was packed into our lunch boxes: a skewer of beef kabobs,  hard boiled egg. quiche, ground beef patty, a Kat-Kat bar and an apple. More than enough for our needs. Our guide, David, collected what we didn’t eat and gave it to the the washroom attendant. After lunch we continued our game drive adding warthogs and leopards to our list. We spent some time watching a mother leopard with her cubs playing in the grass at the base of a tree. The cats were a fair distance from us which made photography a challenge. As we watched though the mother leopard climbed up into a tree where she had stashed a wildebeest kill and I managed to capture a photo.

It’s very easy to get caught up watching wildlife; watching animals and talking with our guide about animal behavior and such. The afternoon seemed to pass quickly as we made our way towards our evenings accommodations at Seronera Sametu Camp. Not far from camp though, the road became very muddy and David started to speculate about the possibility of bushwhacking, should we become mired. Fortunately, with expert driving, slipping, sliding and mud flying, we made it to camp arriving about 6 pm, with plenty of time for a shower before dinner at 7:30. Seronera Sametu Camp is a tented camp, meaning the guests stay in tents. Camping is pretty luxurious by our standards. The tents are quite large, with queen size beds, desks, a sitting area, a private bath with flush toilet and a shower. For a shower though you have to order ahead so that the stewards can heat water and haul it up a pole for a gravity fed shower. Even so it feels like a luxury to have a hot shower in a tent.  Being that we were the only guests in camp we felt well taken care of. We were instructed to stay in our tent after dark, or call for an escort should we want to leave the tent. Walkie-talkies were available to communicate with the staff.

Our first day’s game drive covered about 45 miles. You can view a track of our route and an elevation profile here. You can also view a more extensive gallery of photos from our safari here.

Reflecting on Culture

Earlier this week I was driving down a street in my home town, Marin Avenue in Albany, California. It’s only been a few days since our return from Tanzania. There is a orderly stream of cars moving along. The street is lined with neat single-family homes. There are no people on the sidewalks, no bikes on the bike path, just an orderly stream of traffic, each car with a single occupant. Each of us in isolation. I’m struck by the the contrast to our experiences in Tanzania. Where are the people, the humanity,  the motorbikes, the thousands of small shops, the roadside vendors and the people going about business? My own neighborhood seems stark and sterile compared with vibrant throngs of people on the streets in Arusha. A stark contrast in cultures. I feel like a fish, having just returned to my fishbowl, and having a whole new perspective about water. I see my own culture as one where people are isolated, insular, each in our own carefully constructed realities, where fear, suspicion and anxiety are prevalent. I wouldn’t even notice this if it weren’t for the opportunity to step into another culture. Even a brief visit gives insights about my own insecurities and biases. As we visited with the people in Africa, I began to appreciate a people that seem less anxious, less fearful, and free to express themselves. One morning as we toured the market place in Moshi, I wanted to photograph some of the people. I had been informed to be cautious about photographing people; many people do not want to be photographed. As I worked with our guide, Sophie, I found, that while some people clearly did not want to be photographed, others were more than willing, and became quite expressive. As we passed one little butcher shop the butcher invited Joann into his shop to pose for a photo, nearly grabbing her off the sidewalk. His enthusiasm and joie de vivre were infectious and something that seemed to create a bond of friendship, transcending our cultures. I doubt that such and interaction would happen on the streets of Berkeley.  I doubt that my idea of “normal” will ever be the same having spent time in Africa. Or if life does start to look normal, that will be my cue to plan anther trip.

 

Maasai Boma Visit

As part of our African safari we had arranged to visit a Maasai boma. The Maasai are an ethnic group that inhabit Kenya and northern Tanzania. There are some 120 ethnic groups in Tanzania, The word boma refers the the enclosures in which the Maasai live.

When we arrived at the boma, our driver, David, introduced us to the village chief. The first order of business was to negotiate a fee. We agreed on a fee of $50US, which we paid in small US bills. It seems that the tourist economy in Tanzania runs on American dollars whether it’s tipping a porter or paying a hotel bill. Small bills are preferred since there is really no way for the locals to break larger bills.

Having completed our transaction, the villagers invited us to join them in their traditional greeting. Jumping, chanting and prancing. Once we had been suitably greeted we were entertained with a lion dance. What struck me about the people was their genuine openness, and the passion they put into their activities. Even though we were just tourists the villagers were quite friendly and clearly have a passion for their culture.

Following the dancing we were given a tour of the compound including an a visit inside one of the mud huts, and a tour of the school where the younger children learn English. The older children have the job of tending the sheep, goats and cattle. At night the livestock is brought into corrals in the boma. A fence of very thorny acacia branches surrounds the boma which serves as a defense against predators.

Once our tour was complete we were offered the opportunity to buy trinkets that the villagers sell with the hopes of generating some additional income. We were warned ahead of time that the villagers might prevail on us to buy trinkets, so we were happy when they politely respected decision not to buy.