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.


African Safari: Day 6

We’re enjoying some quiet time; taking the afternoon off at Sanctuary Kusini, a very pretty little wilderness camp. My afternoon nap was punctuated by thunder. We have dark clouds and rain, where this morning there a puffy white clouds and blue sky. Today marks the sixth day of our safari. Our adventures really started when David, our guide invited us to climb aboard our Landcruiser. By mid-afternoon we had seen impala, giraffe, lion, hippos, zebra and wildebeest  Later that afternoon as we approached camp, David became concerned about the road conditions; wet, muddy and slippery; speculating that we may not make it to camp. We persevered though slipping and sliding mud flying, the truck fishtailing left and right, and eventually we made it to camp. The next day, we stopped in the road and ate our lunches in the car while a heard of wildebeest and zebra marched by on migration. Stay tuned for the next episode.

Up the Creek

On Sunday February 20, I paddled my kayak up San Rafael Creek, launching from Loch Lomond Yacht Harbor. The original plan was to meet with a number of fellow paddlers for a paddle across the bay.  With high winds predicted, crossing the bay did not sound like a wise thing to do, so I cancelled the organized paddle. Being the trip initiator though, I thought I should show up at the launch site to intercept anybody that might not have gotten the word about the cancellation.  No other kayaks showed up. From the launch site it’s just a short distance to San Rafael Creek, and for the most part, staying close to shore provides protection from the wind. I decided I would go on a solo paddle. I was wearing a full dry suit for protection should I end up in the water, my personal flotation device (PFD, lifejacket), and I had a marine VHF radio and cell phone which I keep in a Lifeproof case, along with my trusty little Olympus Tough TG-4 waterproof camera which has become my go-to camera for paddling. I was also curious to know how my new boat, the Pygmy Ronan, would handle in the wind. So I put my boat in the water, climbed in and took my time paddling up the creek as far as I could go. Being solo I was able to poke along and explore the yacht harbors and boats without having to keep up with the gang; free to do my own thing. Here are a few photos I captured along the way. Happy to report that the boat handled the wind better than I expected. Many kayaks tend to “weathercock” meaning they turn into the wind, which adds to the effort required to get the boat to go in the direction you want. Skegs and rudders are often used to correct for this. I’m thinking I may be fine without any modifications. Shortly after I returned to my launch site the wind picked up and I was happy to be off the water.  A round trip of 5.5 miles. If you are curious about just where it was I was paddling you can see my track here.

Arches of the Alabama Hills

Following up from my previous post, after our Christmas morning breakfast of quiche, we broke camp and went about to explore some of the arches in the Alabama Hills. The Alabama Hills are  a collection of rocks and hills at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just west of the town of Lone Pine just off of US Route 395. The rocks here have eroded in such a way as to form some fantastic shapes and arches which lend themselves to some amazing photo opportunities with the background of the Sierra. This was a popular spot for filming movies in the 1940s and 50s and there is a Museum of Western Film History located in Lone Pine.

Our explorations took us on a short dog-friendly hike that went past several arches including the Mobius Arch, perhaps the most notable arch. This is an ideal location for early morning photography, with the morning light catching the Sierra.  By afternoon when the sun crosses the crest of the Sierra the mountains are back lit making photography more of a challenge.  If you wish to visit the arches you can find an on-line map here.  There are apparently hundreds of arches scattered throughout the area, but a handful are easy to access. A Google search also found a guidebook to 72 of the arches. You can also view more of the photos I captured here.

Holiday Getaway


Wednesday, December 20, after working a long day and into the night to keep my clients happy, we pointed our rig to the mountains for a holiday getaway. Part of our plan was to see how our camper performed under winter conditions, camping in a Sno Park for the night. Our drive took us through Sacramento and up highway 50 heading towards Hope Valley, one of our favorite mountain destinations. For many years we’ve visited Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley just south of Lake Tahoe; a delightful place to stay any time of year. Along the way we stopped at the Silver Fork Store in Kyburz to buy a Sno Park Permit; a requirement for parking in a designated Sno Park. We bought an annual pass for $25, figuring we may be doing exploring other winter wonderlands this winter.  We had the camper up, snug inside just as it was getting dark and the temperature was starting to drop.  A dinner of hot soup and bread felt good and we turned on the propane heater, and pulled our our books to read. It was snowing lightly as we settled in but it cleared in the night. I got up at 4:30 for a quick rest stop and stepped out into a crystal clear night, with stars shining above and sparking off the snow. The thermometer was recording an outdoor temperature of 10 degrees F and inside the propane heater was keeping the cabin at 50 degrees or so, a temperature that we decided was a bit warm for our winter sleeping bags. In the morning we woke up to a sunny day. Popped the top down and headed for breakfast a Sorensen’s Resort, three miles down the road. After a hearty and delicious breakfast and fresh coffee, we continued our journey down the East Side towards Bishop.


San Francisco’s Wave Organ

San Francisco is full of hidden surprises. The morning found me in San Francisco, having made my way to the Marina District to look a a project I’ll be photographing for a client. Having left the project I was in no hurry to make my way home with such a clear crisp day and the waterfront of the Marina beckoning me. I was on foot, having arrived by way of public transportation using BART and bus. Looking at a map and I noticed something at the end of the jetty labeled “Wave Organ. Unique acoustic sculpture on the bay.” I was intrigued so I made my way to the end of Marina Green Drive and on out to the end of the Jetty.  The Wave Organ is a wave-activated acoustic sculpture.  The concept was developed by Peter Richards and was installed in collaboration with sculptor and master stone mason George Gonzales. Installed in 1986. To really appreciate this you need to sit on a bench and just let the sounds wash over you; a very subtle and gentle experience.  In addition to the wave organ, the location offers a spectacular view of San Francisco Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz in the distance.