Not Yet Decrepit Traveller: Blog https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog en-us (C) Not Yet Decrepit Traveller (Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) Wed, 30 Dec 2020 15:27:00 GMT Wed, 30 Dec 2020 15:27:00 GMT https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/img/s/v-12/u739968627-o438099840-50.jpg Not Yet Decrepit Traveller: Blog https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog 120 86 India - exploring Delhi https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2020/8/india---exploring-delhi NEW DELHi 2013

When we got off the plane in New Delhi, the smell hit us like a slap. As we drove through crowded, chaotic streets we certainly knew we were entering a different world!

 

 

Our hotel was very comfortable and attractive with great service. We had the clothing for India pressed – it had been languishing in the ‘India’ case for more than a month.  These Indian laundry wallahs are super-efficient! Everything was back in a couple of hours. I was most impressed.

 

'Wallah' is a British name which is patronizing - but very handy and used by Indians themselves – there are dhobi wallahs (people who wash clothing) and Delhi wallahs and shoe wallahs, the list goes on and on - here's a rickshaw wallah. I have no idea why so many of them hold a cloth in their teeth.

The first two days, we had to get up at 3.00 a.m. London time to meet the guide at 9.00 a.m. Indian time. Not easy, my body clock had not adjusted and I was dead to the world when the alarm went off! We had a very interesting first day in Old Delhi, but it certainly was confrontational in terms of smells, squalor and filth. I’ve never seen so many flies in my life, even in Australia which is pretty bad.

The begging was not as upsetting as I feared. There wasn’t much pressure, no sights of people deliberately disabled that I had been steeling myself to endure. Most people were charming and friendly, while old Delhi was certainly exotic!

It was difficult to get good photos – first in the car, trying to take photos out of the window; then jolting along in a rickshaw trying to get a steady shot around the back of our rickshaw wallah – we found it was better to shoot backwards. We walked along dirty alleyways with great crowds jostling – many potentially fantastic shots were a bit blurry!

People were always smiling and when asked if I could take a photo they responded positively and generously. Meeting the people was truly a highlight of our  time in India.

The Sikh temple was way out of our comfort zone! I had been warned to take cheap shoes, easy to slip off, so I could leave them at the door of the temples and walk round in my socks so as not to be stepping on a floor that was none too clean and gobbed with spit here and there. However, the Sikh temple required everyone to take off their shoes, socks, and walk through a pool of water to ‘wash’ their feet. The water had already washed gazillions of other feet much dirtier than ours and we cringed - but survived without foot rot!

 

It was an interesting temple, quite like a mosque inside. Our guide explained that they run a soup kitchen for anyone who is hungry, and don’t badger people for money. We gave the gentleman in white a contribution, though he never asked.

Their holy book is kept in the shrine under gilded columns with a canopy. A group of men chant and play sitar all the time, honouring the book, which is taken to another room to be 'put to bed' at night.

Part of the temple complex had a pool like a Roman bath, full of huge catfish. A guy stripped off to his flimsy underdrawers, handing each item of clothing to his wife. I went to take a photo, but a guide started shouting. Francesco thought he was shouting at me. 'Stop taking photos,' Francesco ordered me urgently in an undertone. In fact, the guard was shouting at the guy in his underdrawers, who went into the pool and commenced tipping water over his head with a silver pot and washing himself. You are not allowed in the water, and the guard was furious with the bather, not with me! Sadly, having been told to desist from taking photos, I have none of this guy performing his ablutions.

The following day, we went to Indira Ghandi and Mahatma Ghandi’s houses. It was fascinating, especially Mahatma Ghandi's house.

The not yet decrepit traveller is not intrepid, and I was paranoid about what I ate, not wanting to get 'Delhi belly'. My husband was more adventurous, but outside Indira Ghandi's house he was overcome by cramps. He had to go to a public toilet just outside the gates, which smelt atrocious. As I waited I was invited to try the patties sold by snack wallahs....needless to say, I politely declined although they looked delicious!

Hordes of schoolchildren kept patting my back.  When I looked around, they smiled shyly and said, ‘Hullo!’ Our guide said quite a few from out of town have never seen a European, and we encountered a lot of curiosity.  People often asked us to pose with them for photographs to show to people in their home villages.

 

Long crocodiles of schoolchildren with hands on the shoulders of the child in front filed through Indira Ghandi's house with never a glance to right or left, filed outside again and went back to school!

 

Well educated Indians speak excellent English, often better than we do in terms of vocabulary, and they use archaic words like ‘dastardly’, saying things like ‘And how is your good self?’ I found it most appealing. Here is a school 'bus' with children coming home from school.

The next day we went to the Tomb of Humayun which is very well proportioned and gracious. It is considered the predecessor of the Taj Mahal.

Tomb of Humayun

The vicissitudes of travelling in a group manifested themselves when I saw a picturesque pair of cleaners in the grounds and took a photo. I knew immediately that it was slightly out of focus and went to take another, but the group called me 'Hurry UP, Roz!' There was no time to attempt to capture a better image.......Grrrrr!

We hurried on to the Qutab Minar, a Muslim tower built much earlier. Its red sandstone was very ornately carved and aesthetically pleasing in its simplicity. Nearby is an iron pillar which has never rusted, despite being there for about 1100 years.

The Muslim monuments are set in lovely gardens. The Farsi word for walled garden, 'pairi daeza',  came into the English language as the word 'paradise'. There was a lot of walking and climbing steps which I found pretty hard with my severely arthritic knee, but managed.

Driving anywhere took forever. The traffic is mad, with whole families on motorbikes and ladies sitting sidesaddle on the back of scooters with their graceful saris draping over the wheels - an accident waiting to happen!

We were constantly astonished by squalid encampments of people along of the road. Chaos, dust and rubbish was everywhere, people fast asleep in the middle of it all on the ground or making lunch in assorted pots and pans in a little shelter they'd created against a fence, while tiny babies played on the median strip of chaotically busy roads.

The guide told us some of them were gypsies and others were people who work on the road and move along as they finish one section to camp alongside the next part they are mending. I think many were homeless and he was fudging. (An Indianism!)

Here is today's offering from the Hindustani times: 'Ragging' - the teasing of new students at university. I've read many of these words in Billy Bunter's Annual back in the 50's!

Everywhere, people were selling food and carrying incredible things on bicycles and rickshaws - a wardrobe, a stack of bamboo ladders, piles of steel rods for concrete reinforcements.

Trying to get photos was very hard while the bus was moving. Usually the most striking things, like  cows in the middle of the road, whisked by while I struggled to focus.

We lunched at a large touristy restaurant with a gigantic, confusing menu. We ate vegetarian food throughout the trip on the basis that undercooked veges are less likely to harbour bacteria than undercooked meat. However, a spicy crumb topping caused me to start coughing again.

I was still coughing hours later. Indian spices are pretty rugged. I'm already tired of eating safe food and trying not let water get in my mouth or nose while washing my hair!

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) blog delhi india new photography travel https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2020/8/india---exploring-delhi Mon, 31 Aug 2020 10:45:00 GMT
Ranthambore Part 2 Tigers at the River https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2020/8/ranthambore-part-2-tigers-at-the-river Ranthambore Part 2

Continuing on from our wild ride to the river in Part One:

We were amongst the first at the narrow road alongside the river thanks to our excellent guide Nafees Mohammed and our skilful driver Meena – and our own tenacity, hanging on for dear life as our jeep careered wildly towards the river with three of us in the front seat, as described in Ranthambore Part 1!

I could see the urgency to get there and secure a good spot was well-founded – we had the wooded slope on one side and the drop to the river on the other. It was single file with no possibilty of securing a better spot, unlike the scrum around the tigers at the meadow.

So now that we were here……were they going to come? We waited with bated breath………….and then.... these majestic animals – still only sub-adult cubs but already truly regal Bengal tigers – came stalking down the forested hillside towards us, headed for the river – Nafees was right!

Arrowhead began inspecting the trees and marking them with her scent, sometimes right next to our vehicle. It was easier to get a clearer shot of this magnificent tigress without the grasses of the meadow in front. It was hard to get all of her between the tree trunks, so this is a portrait shot.

We were all parked up higgledy piggledy along the narrow road. Like animals in Africa, the tigers ignore people in the vehicles – it is as if we are in a mobile hide. However, unlike Africa, the people stand up and shout, gesticulate, negotiate for a better spot, and fool around with their cameras.

It’s mayhem, and the tigers mostly ignore that, too – but you can tell they aren’t comfortable. There is relief in sight, though, as they go to a place where the vehicles can’t follow – the river below! Arrowhead finished marking her territory and then led her cubs down to the water.

Other big cats except the jaguar don’t generally like the water. However, tigers are perfectly at home in it.

Arrowhead is testing the temperature, or so it seems.

A tiger cools itself via its paws. They revel in the cool water, particularly in India’s brutal summers. We were there in early spring so it wasn’t all that hot, but the tigers gratefully refreshed themselves nevertheless.

Arrowhead’s cubs were soon playing chasey games (well, that’s what we called it when I was a kid!) They raced through the water after each other and we struggled to keep up with their surging movement while taking photos.

It was such a pleasure to see them enjoying their freedom from mother's tight discipline in the meadow!

I nearly rejected the following photo. It was dark and the difficulty of tracking the fast movement shows in how the cub is nearly out of the frame. However, I liked the feeling of movement and the cub was in good focus.

I cropped it down, cloning to remove the paws of the cub on the rock above the head of the cub in the water, and using content aware to add a bit to the top of the frame. That gave more room to its ear. I was then able to lighten my subject, lift the shadows and draw attention to the cub.

Original of Cub Surging ForwardOriginal of Cub Surging Forward20200316_133904_untitled_A36I1282.DNG

The next image is the result. I will not be able to use this photo in competitions because I have removed parts and added parts - even though I have not done that to the subject, only to the surroundings. However, I am really happy to have retrieved it from the bin and can edit the original RAW file in a different way for competitions.

The cubs were loving the freedom after being bossed by their mother to stay still and leave her alone back in the meadow. They charged after one another enjoying a game of tag like all kids! I love the tail flicking up water as this girl chases her sister.

Meanwhile Arrowhead enjoyed some peace and quiet at last. One cub came over for a cuddle and was tolerated briefly.

AffectionAffection20200316_133726_untitled_A36I1218.DNG

Arrowhead had not changed her stripes, however. After a bit of smooching the cub was well told off!

Mother just wants the children to go play and give her a break.

Giving her sister the stink-eye! Having been rebuffed by her mother, this sub-adult tiger cub is warning her sibling to stay away! The interaction between this family was priceless – I learned so much about them in a few short hours!

The jealous sister remains on guard, not letting her sibling come near their mother. Like all the domestic cats we have ever had, they put on a nonchalant air – the one, innocently pretending she never gave her sister the stink-eye, the other, pretending that she hasn’t been driven off but is actually just sampling the water weed.

It wasn’t long before the cubs were playing again. Cubs are not given names until they become adults. This young tigress is powering through the water with her muscular shoulders showing that even though she is still a ‘teenager’, she is already a force to be reckoned with. It was such a privilege to spend time with these magnificent animals, biggest of the cat family.

Tiger Playing in the RiverTiger Playing in the RiverRanthambore, India

Having a lighter Sony A7R Mk IV with a 70-200 lens meant that I could zoom out and get the two cubs in the frame. They were letting off their pent-up energy in the water, then leaping up onto the rocks to chase each other. They were having so much fun – the only cats apart from Jaguars who are at their ease in water. It brought a smile to all our faces to see them enjoying their natural habitat!

Arrowhead led her cubs away from the river on the other side where we could not follow.

Playing ChasyPlaying Chasy20200316_133921_untitled_A36I1297.DNG

Regretfully we realised that our magical morning with this tiger family was coming to an end.

As Arrowhead marked her territory the cubs curiously clustered around the tree smelling her scent.

My last sighting of Arrowhead’s family was the more cautious of the two cubs, tentatively advancing a paw to test the water as she follows Arrowhead and her bolder sister across the stream and out of sight. I love the expressiveness of that delicately poised paw!  

We then had to hurry up and get out of this zone, before the National Parks' 'curfew' kicked in. There are new, very sensible rules to give the tigers a break from humans. Everyone must leave the tigers' preferred zones of 1-5 at lunch-time, but can stay in Zones 6-10 until 3.00 p.m. If guests have an all-day pass, they are allowed back into Zones 1-5 after 3.00 p.m.

It was another crazy bumpy ride, as we tried to reach the boundary in time. I daresay tigers are not too bothered by mugger crocodiles which we saw by the river but other wildlife needs to watch out!

We passed through the beautiful park, seeing some of the other animals which are the prey of tigers - like this hog deer in the next image.

Birds were constant companions as we made for the boundary. White-Throated KingfisherWhite-Throated Kingfisher

  

My neck with three compressed discs was very painful after all the jouncing in the morning. I decided to return to our hotel for the afternoon. I felt no need to be greedy - we were blessed to see so much and learn an enormous amount about this little tiger family while enjoying their interaction. My husband isn't that committed to photography so he was very happy to go back for an afternoon nap after our 4 a.m. start!

Our daughter and her husband remained. Since it would take a good hour to drive to the hotel and another to drive back, Nafees arranged for a taxi to pick us up at a park gate and take us back to our hotel, so that they would have a full afternoon looking for more tigers.

Off we went through the village with its vibrant market.

We enjoyed a peaceful afternoon recuperating - and when they arrived back I was sorry to hear they had not seen any tigers but also selfishly relieved that I had no need to beat myself up about missing anything because I had wimped out of the afternoon like the old lady that I am!

 

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) enjoying play India mother mother with cubs motherly reproof photography playing ranthambore sub-adult cubs tiger cubs Tigers tigers bounding through the water tigress travel Travel blog https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2020/8/ranthambore-part-2-tigers-at-the-river Thu, 20 Aug 2020 08:13:30 GMT
Tigers of Ranthambore https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2020/5/tigers-of-ranthambore TIGERS OF RANTHAMBORE

PART ONE: ARROWHEAD AND HER SUB-ADULT CUBS

In early March 2020 we left Australia and went to India for a trip organised a year ago. We arrived and that night India closed its borders, which was a shock! As far as we knew, India had less than 100 cases of COVID 19, and my husband said they would be extra careful because they suffered so many losses in the Spanish Flu. They were careful, all right – those temperature-taking gun things were everywhere - we have never had our temperature taken so many times, in the airport and the hotel! They even took our temperature when we came back into the hotel from the front driveway, where we spotted hawks soaring around the façade.

We rang the Australian Embassy in Delhi next morning and asked, ‘What shall we do?’ They told us to keep going because we were in India and domestic travel was still functioning. We stayed in our room nearly all the time because we were being extremely careful. We have explored Delhi thoroughly before. This time we were there only to photograph tigers in four national parks. We walked in the hotel garden, which basically meant around the pool, and spotted three-striped squirrels - interesting to wildlife photographers!

After a few days in Delhi we headed off to Ranthambore, which is in Rajasthan, south of Delhi. This involved a short flight to Jaipur and a 3-4 hour taxi drive to get to our hotel near Ranthambore National Park. Our trip to Ranthambore was very capably organized by Camazon, recommended to us by a friend. I have photographed an old atlas map and written Ranthambore on it to help you visualise the location.

On the flight we took extreme care with masks, gloves, and sanitizing our seat area. Our daughter and her husband had joined us so we hired two taxis for extra space on the long drive. Our daughter was grateful she didn’t have to sit on the uncomfortable little fold-down seat in the back with the luggage! (I was sent this photo by our contact at Camazon)

 

Our guide, Nafees Mohammed, rang and asked if we would arrive in time to go out and try to spot a tigress who had made a kill near the fort – for an extra 10,000 rupees. We were game and excited about the prospect – after all, we were there to see tigers! This was his phone photo, sent to whet my appetite a few days before.

Strangely enough, our driver turned out to be his nephew, and they had a dialogue about when we would arrive. Nafees was waiting when we pulled up at our hotel. We quickly got the photographic gear together and hopped in the Gypsy, as they call the jeeps there. (Below is a photo of a jeep sent to me by the travel agency when I was planning the trip. The windscreen is folded down.)

 

We roared off to the Fort hoping to see the tigress and her cubs. We had no luck, but while sitting outside the gates had wonderful opportunities to photograph other wildlife like this langur monkey. Peacocks are everywhere at Ranthambore! A friend and top wildlife photographer had said that his project this year would be to capture a flying peacock. He was supposed to join us later but couldn’t, owing to the borders being closed.

After watching and photographing peacocks perched on dead trees in front of our jeep, I felt sure that one of them was preparing to fly. I can’t hand-hold the heavy Canon 1DX Mk II and big 200-400 lens with inbuilt extender. Using a tripod and gimbal, I focused on this peacock. It was very awkward in a vehicle but I was glad of the tripod supporting the weight, because I had a long time to wait!

At one point, another peacock on the same dead tree took off and my attention was distracted.

I began to despair that my chosen subject would ever take off, but he was in the best spot and I gave myself a stern talking to: “Keep your eye on the prize!’, I told myself – and eventually, he flew! It was a huge thrill to get a photo of this beautiful bird flying, showing the gorgeous colours of his wings as well. There was a lot of backlight which made him more of a silhouette, but I have cropped the photo and lightened the bird, while trying to minimise the noise which was the inevitable result of that.

We returned to our hotel and got settled in, had a hasty meal and off to bed as early as possible after making sure all the gear was ready, batteries charged, settings right for an early morning start. I didn't take photos of the hotel, so here is a ring-necked Parakeet.

The next morning we had the great privilege of seeing a rare brown fish owl. It is a beautiful owl with lovely feather patterns, and opened its eyes a little so we could see that piercing gaze. If I were a mouse on the forest floor I would be transfixed!

We also saw a Scops Owl but he kept his eyes firmly closed as he prepared to sleep the day away in his accustomed hollow.

Striated Scops OwlStriated Scops Owl

That day was really frustrating. Our excellent guide Nafees Mohammed and skilful driver Meena tried and tried to find tigers. We drove around for hours and hours without any luck. Our daughter, who has been to India before to photograph tigers, said that it was bumpy –but I had no idea HOW bumpy!

I have three compressed discs in my neck, so I took a neck brace – but I was soon also clutching a neck pillow around my neck as well - and even then it was a trial and tribulation as we lurched from bump to bump with the occasional ditch or rock to make it even worse. However, I suppressed my groans and we saw animals such as this chital and sambar deer in beautiful forest settings.

We paused at a Sambar Deer carcass to check whether a tiger might come to eat it – they are not unduly fussy about whether they killed it or not – food is food. However, neither the tigers in the park nor a crocodile seemed interested.

Further along, we saw a mugger crocodile basking by the river. We are very happy to see any form of wildlife, and the park is beautiful with its varied terrain and watercourses.

We ate a picnic lunch out in the park to avoid spending hours driving back to the hotel. We were waiting near a place where our guide thought a tigress might cross the road. Waiting for a long time, we felt very drowsy after all the travel and getting up at 4.30 a.m. Eventually we nodded off. (My husband went to sleep first, then woke before us. He photographed the sleeping beauties - but accidentally took one-second videos!)

Then someone wanted to go to the loo, so we had to drive out of there to get the nearest toilet. I have to say the toilets were not pleasant. Take your own toilet paper unless you like to use a spray hose. It was very stressful to try to keep clean. Hand-washing with no soap was substituted for by anti-bacterial wipes and gel. Trying to be socially distanced from other people wasn't easy either!

When we drove back to where our guide had expected to see a tigress, we heard a coughing call which we were told was a male tiger …..and spotted the tigress beating a hasty retreat up the hill! She was avoiding the tiger, our guide told us. We must have missed her crossing the road while we went to the loo. Should’ve held it! Not the best view of our first tiger - but our own fault.

We passed by a picturesque lake with buildings from ancient times. Google tells me the area was used as a hunting park for the pleasure of the Maharajahs of Jaipur until the time of India's Independence.

Then a bus was spotted parked on the side of the road out of the park, with all its passengers trying to see something over the wall. We stopped and clambered onto the seats to peer down into the bushes. A tiger! However, it was asleep and far away.

On the way out of the park we saw the Brown Fish Owl and Scops Owl again. Here is the brown fish owl in its habitat – a real highlight of the day in the beautiful forest.

We retreated to the hotel exhausted and rather disappointed not to get clearer views of tigers. However, we had lots of wildlife photography behind us and were well aware that tomorrow would be another day. This is a barasinga or swamp deer.

All I wanted to do was tumble into bed! We went to grab a bite to eat and learned that we could upgrade to the suites above the lobby and main part of the hotel. No photos of the hotel, we were concentrating on wildlife, so here is a photo of a red-vented bul-bul.

They’d had some cancellations due to the borders being closed and I was the squeaky wheel, I guess. After our first night I had asked if they had any quieter rooms. Ours backed onto the local village, with constant horn noises all night as people drove through the town – Indians honk their horns to let people know they are coming on the chaotic roads. The shrill motorbike horns were the most annoying. (My husband took this photo.)

I was super tired and almost felt like saying no. The suites were up a flight of stairs, not great for my knee – but it was much quieter and the rooms were extremely spacious. We packed up and moved, then unpacked again and put everything away. Next morning we were up at 4.30, having got to bed much later than I expected thanks to our room move. We drove to the park, where we saw a Chital (Spotted Deer) in the early morning light.

If you go on any trip to see wild animals, be aware that you need plenty of layers! The dawn drive in an open vehicle creates a frigid blast. It was spring and the days were warm, but at dawn it was freezing. We wore shirts, scarves, face-coverings, a hoodie cardigan, wind jacket with hood, and hat. (Phone photo of my husband, taken by our daughter.)

We drove past the fort high on its hill and spent hours searching for tigers. It began to seem that we were out of luck again. There are 35 tigers in a park of 1,334 square km, and you have no guarantee of seeing any of them.

Nafees received a call from another guide who had spotted the female and her cubs! A mad dash ensued, with me hanging on to my  cushion and neck brace for dear life, suppressing squeaks of pain. (My husband took the photo - that grey thing is my neck cushion.) The scarf served to keep my cap on as we drove along, as well as keeping me warm.

We inserted ourselves into the scrum. I had no idea that it would be so crowded! This was Zone 2 and you cannot get in there if you don't have a full-day pass - half day passes can only enter Zones 6 -10. I did a lot of research with the help of friends and Camazon. We paid twice as much for full day safaris in order to get into the zones most likely to have tigers. Luckily our guide and driver were skilful at securing a decent spot while respecting others. This phone video I took shows Nafees negotiating a change of position.

To be honest, I was shocked, after the rules in Africa of only three vehicles at a sighting! In Africa one vehicle must withdraw before another could come near to the animals. At Ranthambore it's on for one and all and many people want to get close enough to take phone photos! There was a lot of shouting and negotiation as vehicles were being manoeuvred about so people could see. We are in the second vehicle. If you zoom in, I am the white blob behind the folded down windscreen. (This was taken by one of the other guides and shared with me by Nafees.) The face of the tiger closer to the camera is showing distress at the melee.

Anyway, there we were with three tigers! Awesome! This was a rare privilege considering how few tigers there are in a vast space. It was fascinating to watch the tigress Arrowhead and her two sub-adult female cubs. These are the cubs, which are not given names until they have survived to adulthood.

I had help with the heavy rig. The tripod was not helpful because I had to scramble up and stand on the seat to see. Sometimes the driver, Nafees or our daughter supported the heavy lens as it sagged in my hands. Sometimes I gave the Canon to Nafees and took shots with the lighter Sony with its 70-200 lens. (My husband took this - and accidentally made a one-second video of it!)

I'm wearing a mask, as I did the whole time. I developed an allergic reaction to the dust and pollution of India on a previous visit, so I searched for masks without success in February 2020. They had all disappeared - no-one knew why at the time. In the end I ordered masks from the chemist and got one packet. I washed and re-used them. It certainly prevented the allergy reaction. (My husband took this phone shot.)

This is Arrowhead. It was super-exciting to have an up-close sighting of this most regal of the big cats. They are even more magnificent and imposing in reality than I imagined. She is a powerful and dominant tigress who has taken possession of the fort area, Zone 2, at Ranthambore, like her mother before her.

It was absolutely fascinating to see the tiger family interacting. Mother was looking for some peace and quiet, but like young ones everywhere, the kids were restless.

One went over to Mum for some affection. Arrowhead just wanted to sleep, but she tried hard to be a good mother. Here she is giving her daughter an affectionate lick – but you can see from her body language – leaning away, a slight wrinkling of the nose – that she just wants to be left alone. It no doubt sounds familiar right now to parents in this period of lockdown because of COVID 19.

Sometimes the kids just don’t know when to stop, and mother tiger Arrowhead is fed up with the persistence and neediness of her cubs. All she wants is some peace and quiet!

Arrowhead is over it with her bothersome cub, and is not being PC about it!

I had a good position looking over the top of another vehicle if I stood on the seat – so long as the kid in the red hoodie in the other jeep didn’t move into my shot!

However, Oliver said he mostly saw the trunk of a tree, so I asked Nafees (our guide) if he could come into the front and sit on the bean bag along the folded down windscreen. Then Sarah joined us, and it was a tight squeeze with the three of us in the front seat. (This phone photo was taken by Oliver in a different part of the park).

I was perched on the roll bar while standing on the seat, the other two were sitting on the bean bag carefully so they didn’t put weight on the folded-down windscreen. In the next photo, a cheeky Rufous Treepie has taken up residence on the beanbag.

Having seen off her annoying cub, Arrowhead groomed herself like any domestic cat.

She then gave a gigantic yawn and prepared to get some sleep.

As Arrowhead flopped down for a snooze, her chastened daughter retired hurt and prepared to lie down with such a look on her face of teenaged chagrin - priceless!

It wasn’t long before cub number two came over for some attention. She got more than she bargained for and you can see her thinking, ‘Whoa!’

The drivers and guides were yelling at each other and jockeying for position. Nafees had our vehicle move a bit so someone could get in, which left us with a not so good view, although of course other people have to see, too. I could not believe how crowded it was around the tigers!

The National Parks Authority have changed the rules so that everyone has to leave Zones 1-5 at lunchtime. Those with full day passes move to Zones 6-10 when the half-day people go home. This gives many tigers a break, because Zones 1-5 are generally the most sought-after zones for tigresses to establish and hold their territory.

Arrowhead is now the dominant tigress and has the prized Fort area, Zone 2. (My husband took the photo above.)

As Arrowhead tried to get some sleep, one of her daughters came over to get some affection - and got a good telling off instead.

That was IT!   Arrowhead decided she had had …. ENOUGH!

She got up with a very peeved look on her face. The two cubs – well, butter wouldn’t melt.

ArrowheadArrowheadArrowhead has Had Enough!

As Arrowhead expressed her displeasure, our guide urgently said ‘She’s going to the river! Sit down! Sit down!’ That was somewhat of a problem for us. You may recall that to get a good view, our daughter and her husband had moved, and we three were all in the front seat area!

 

Arrowhead began moving off and the cubs soon followed. I couldn’t sit down till the others returned to the back seat. As Oliver attempted to move along the outside of the vehicle the driver took off! Oliver tried to get in over the back door while we lurched over the rocks. There was a muffled curse as he tumbled into the back seat, hurting his ankle and hitting the camera on the door.

 

 

Sarah was still trying to get into the back through the middle of the jeep, so I couldn’t sit down but remained standing on the seat holding onto the roll bar behind me like grim death as we swerved around a corner. I really thought I was going to fly out in front of a  very pissed off tigress!

 

 

Eventually poor Sarah managed to get over the roll bar and I was able to slide down into my seat. What a ride! I have never experienced anything like the crazy urgency in Ranthambore to seize the advantage – but thanks to @nafees.mohammed.12 and Meena our driver, we did get a great position to see what unfolded at the river – and thanks to our own tenacity we were still in the vehicle! Phew!

 

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) Bengal tigers discipline India mother and child photography Ranthambore Ranthambore Fort social distancing threatened species tiger tiger cubs tigers tigress travel travel blog travel writer wildlife https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2020/5/tigers-of-ranthambore Fri, 15 May 2020 03:35:14 GMT
Tswalu, the Kalahari, Part 3 https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2019/8/tswalu-the-kalahari-part-3  

TSWALU PART 3

Home went three very satisfied photographers. We headed to the lodge with its impressive central column. In front of the fire we met the manager and a group of people who, it turned out, were there to plan the renovation of Tswalu. We were asked for our opinion. It is a lovely camp in every way and the staff are delightful.

There wasn’t much to criticize except the bumpy path - but then our daughter mentioned that her shower was outside in the open air, which in mid-winter was exceedingly cold for drying off afterwards! She hadn't complained so we had no idea, but immediately offered her the use of ours. The team said they would take on board our suggestions.

My husband and daughter selected a very nice bottle of Pinotage to accompany our dinner in the outside boma. It was marvellous to witness the enthusiastic, talented children of the Tswalu staff singing so melodiously and rhythmically dancing around the fire in a way that made my knee hurt! I had a longer video than this which really showed off their talent, but it was too big to load onto my laptop from the phone, so I am using this shorter one.

In the morning we drove into the beautiful dawn landscape of the misty valley. We were told on the radio that there was something interesting to see by another vehicle, and headed into that area. Suddenly, we set off a stampede of a crash of rhinos!

Mothers and babies dashed in panic into the bush, some with tails up - for all the world like giant warthogs. I was caught on the hop with a shutter speed that was too slow for their movement, so this image is quite blurry.

Then a male rhino charged us! Apparently it was in an amorous mood and we had interrupted its courtship which put it in a very bad mood. Luckily, Kyle’s imperative yell stopped it in its tracks and it did not gore our vehicle.

We continued on, seeing a yellow mongoose. They are very small and quick - I was delighted to capture one. 

Our mission that day was to see the lions which were on the other side of the road, so we proceeded through the gates in the big electrified fences on both sides of the road. Fez came in from his perch up in the front of the vehicle. He was our tracker and normally sat in front, indicating with elegant hand gestures when he spotted interesting tracks or an animal.

We hunted without any luck for a lioness which had just had a litter of baby cubs. We so much wanted to see cubs, but she was adept at concealing them. Fez and Kyle skilfully followed their tracks. Those babies walk a long way! At one point Kyle and Fez told us not to get out of the vehicle, and walked up to the top of the sandy dune where they thought the lioness may have concealed her little ones.

The gun was carried because this was a dangerous situation. The lioness was known to be unpredictable and aggressive at the best of times, let alone with young cubs. However, she was too good at concealment and they found nothing.

Kyle told us that he was taking us to see a spectacular sparrow weaver’s nest and to close our eyes. When we opened them, there was a big nest – but also a very impressive beautiful brunch laid out in the middle of the desert!

We had a most enjoyable picnic on a ridge with a stunning view of the desert scenery. Glamping at its best!

The picnic was left to staff to clear away, and we headed off again, finally finding a black-maned lion of the Kalahari.

We waited patiently till he decided to get up from his comfy bed, finishing his yawn with an impressive snarl before heading off to hunt.

On the way home, Fez spotted an aardvark! We were thrilled – not only had we seen the rare aardwolf, but now we had also encountered the aardvark we hoped to see when we chose this safari camp in the Kalahari.

We walked after it. I managed as best I could, hand-holding heavy Big Bertha and the 1DX Mk II, and got some decent shots although I was really frustrated that the aardvark always seemed to have its snout buried in the earth! The word ‘aard’ in Africaans means earth, and this animal finds its food in the earth as does the aardwolf – both animals eat termites and ants.  

I was delighted to at last secure one image with most of the snout visible. The tongue is long and sticky, the ears big and sensitive to hear the termites scurrying beneath the earth. The light was golden, low and from the left as the sun set. The others followed the aardvark further but I could not manage it, to my great disappointment.

Fez accompanied me to the vehicle to keep me safe, and we had a long chat about family and the things which meant a lot to us.

My man took my camera and lens. I trawled through the photos he had taken, but unfortunately they were all blurry - the light was dropping, and being still a beginner, he didn't think to up the ISO or change the aperture, so the shutter speed was too slow.

As we set off the next morning on our last day, two giraffes popped their heads up from the other side of the trees to check us out. It was a gorgeous photo opportunity as the  rising sun lit the trees and giraffes with a beautiful golden glow, set off by the dark blue hills in the distance. Colour wheel magic!

We continued on our way. We had a long drive to the escarpment ahead. We were heading to the old hunting lodge, now refurbished for lunch picnics. I was primed by Kyle to expect delectable cheese sandwiches toasted on the fire.

The red dirt road wound on picturesquely in front of us.

Beside the road, we spotted a cheetah mother and her sub-adult cub with a kill. They had feasted until their bellies were blown up like balloons - and so was that of their kill.

When one finished, the other one took over to eat some more although they were extremely full. Who knew when their next meal would come along? I have heard that only one hunt in five is successful for cheetahs - despite their speed, the prey are very agile and usually have greater stamina.  

As we moved on, we could not resist taking photos of how the light threw one hill into shadow, the rest of the landscape brightly lit.

The red sand road led us onwards towards the escarpment. Eventually we reached the lodge and I managed the few stairs well to get down to the level of the building.

A fire roared on the hearth – but no toasted sandwiches! It is surprising how ridiculously disappointed I was, having been told all about how delectable these particular toasted cheese sandwiches would be!

I had to make do with other goodies. We had a wonderful view of the valley as we sat at trestle tables enjoying our lunch.

We moved out onto the terrace to be rewarded by the beautiful sight of the plain we had just traversed.

This whole valley had been divided into little farms. Their cattle ate the fragile bushes and trees and ruined the delicate balance of this desert environment. We posed up in front of the landscape, which was now restored to its natural desert vegetation by the present custodians, the Oppenheimer family.

Driving back, we saw monkeys agilely leaping up the steep rock face. My shutter speed was a bit slow for this one - even with some experience, it's hard to remember to check that in the heat of the moment as you strive to quickly capture fast-moving animals.

In the evening we had our last date with the habituated meerkat colony. Kyle presumed that we would want the sunlight behind us, but with one voice my daughter and I pronounced, ‘No! We want rim light!’

By that time an old tripod had been found by dear Kyle, who went to so much trouble to solve my decrepit old lady problems!

We set ourselves up to photograph into the sun so we could get a halo of sunlight around our subjects.

The next one was taken by my husband, whose photography is coming along very well!

We took photos as the meerkats came home to their burrows before the sun set. While our daughter lay on the ground, a meerkat piddled on her second camera! Her father saw it happen, but only got a photo after the deed was done.

We watched the meerkats carefully grooming each other before going to bed, removing any unwanted passengers like fleas.

The alpha meerkats gracefully accepted lots of attention from others which were lower in the pecking order.

It was extremely interesting to learn that all this assiduous grooming not only established bonds and reinforced the pecking order, but also removed parasites like ticks and fleas before they entered the burrow. This ensured that the burrow would not become infested.

The meerkats headed into their burrows to sleep, and we drove back to the lodge. We saw a Great Horned Owl on a tree near our bungalow! I tried to get a good shot but it was very dark and without a tripod I didn't do too well. I had to lighten it and created a bit of a halo around it, too. At least it brings back the memory.

We returned to the lodge for a last dinner. We had invited Kyle and Fez to dine with us and consulted with the chef beforehand to order foods both of them would like - which turned out to be curries! It was a delightful evening, finding out more about two people who so clearly loved this land.

Next day our daughter headed off early to see and photograph the meerkats again, but I wanted to pack and get ready for our trip home, 'con calma'. As it was, we were all packed up and had a pleasant breakfast at the lodge, while she galloped in at the last minute and frantically grabbed a few mouthfuls.

I was happy not to be put under that much pressure - it's symptomatic of my advancing age, I guess! We sadly said goodbye to Kyle and Fez, who had made our visit such a pleasure. The other staff were also wonderful, and we would gladly return to Tswalu!

We took off. Flying by private jet back to Johannesburg was not too shabby! We were looked after superbly at the Fireblade Terminal's private lounge, and had a very civilized lunch, followed by a comfortable wait with our feet up for transfer to our International flight.

One of Gerry’s Wildeye team, Michael, brought my tripod and gimbal plus the broken camera and lens to the lounge, and picked up the gear I had hired – now that’s service!

I was super grateful to the Wildeye team for helping me overcome the major disaster that happened in Tanzania. (Read my blog on Tanzania if you don’t know what I’m talking about!)

Our time in Africa was over. We were sad to leave. It has become one of our favourite destinations on earth, and the wildlife is quite simply beyond compare. It is heart-breaking to see so many species brought to the brink of extinction because of human behaviour.

If you wish to try to help, I recommend charities I have researched and to which we donate, like the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust; Panthera Cats; the Jane Goodall Institute: Roots and Shoots; Hisi Global; Save Pangolins Official; pangolincrisisfund.org/; African Parks Network; Wildnet.org; and Sea Legacy.

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) a crash of rhinos Aardvark African dancing African picnic cheetahs with kill Fireblade Glamping golden giraffes Great Horned Owl Kalahari black-maned lion meerkat grooming photography rim lit meerkats travel blog Tswalu Motse Lodge yellow mongoose https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2019/8/tswalu-the-kalahari-part-3 Wed, 14 Aug 2019 06:15:00 GMT
The Kalahari : Tswalu Part 2 https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2019/7/the-kalahari-tswalu-part-2 TSWALU PART 2

The red, red road was leading us to the pack of painted wolves. This is the new name for wild dogs. I hate the way names of animals and birds keep changing, but in this case the new name is more appropriate because they are most closely related to wolves, with a beautiful mottled coat of caramel, dark brown, and white. This adult painted wolf shows their big ears, long legs, and flag of a tail.

Tswalu’s painted wolves had a litter of 13 puppies! The first thing we saw was the puppy pile. All the little ones had fallen asleep in a heap. It was remarkable how well their colouring blended in with the colours of their environment in the dappled shade.

I managed to capture this little fellow off on adventure all by himself.

They were just beginning to totter about like toddlers, insecure and falling over one another. So cute! It was a bit of a nightmare for photography though, a confusion of puppies! I have heard now that 13 has become 11 – it’s a tough life being a highly endangered painted wolf or wild dog.

 

One of the most interesting things about painted wolves is their highly developed social structure. These 13 puppies were being cared for by the ‘teenagers’ (sub-adults) from a previous litter of 5. This one seems to be giving a naughty puppy a disciplinary stare.

Feeding time for the puppy pile! In the following photo, the sub-adults are regurgitating semi-digested meat for the puppies, which cluster around them eagerly, making wittering noises to stimulate the regurgitation reflex.

Painted wolf on the lookout! There is plenty to guard against for this highly endangered species. Habitat loss due to the constant expansion of humans drives painted wolves into smaller and smaller areas. This makes them very vulnerable to apex predators like lions and leopards, which see them as rivals for food, and will kill them if they can.

Tswalu have protected painted wolves and cheetahs by keeping them on one side of the fence bordering the road through the middle of the reserve, while lions are on the other side. This cheetah is much safer on this side of the wire fence alongside him.

Painted wolves are particularly susceptible to the hidden killer, distemper. At Tswalu the entire pack was wiped out by distemper. Fortunately the pack had become quite numerous so some of their number had been sent to another sanctuary before this happened.

Those painted wolves were brought back and founded this new pack – the first litter being of five pups, the second the big litter of thirteen that we saw. It was decided to inoculate this pack – human intervention to be sure, but considering the harm humans do in reducing their habitat, to my mind it is right to help this highly endangered species.

We returned to the camp and enjoyed a dinner in the boma, an enclosure in the open air designed to keep predators out. The cold air re-activated my cough, unfortunately.

We retired early knowing it would be a pre-dawn start in the morning.

The next day was the anniversary of the day that our son was killed in a car accident when he was still a teenager. It is still hard for us decades later. Despite feeling emotionally low, we headed off in the early morning as usual. How healing nature is to the soul - as golden light gilded the grasses, we felt comforted.

Somewhere in Africa, on this trip or an earlier one, we saw a rhino mother and baby. The mother was pregnant, and wanted to rest. The baby kept giving little huffing noises, trying to encourage her to rise and go explore.

It was so like little ones the world over which are bundles of energy and want their parents to be in perpetual motion! This mother is clearly saying, 'Alright then! I'll get up! Just stop bothering me!'

I can’t help wondering how come those people from Asian countries who drive the trade in rhino horn seem incapable of empathising with creatures which have babies, love them, and are pestered by them - just like we humans. 

We headed out a long way towards the blue hills surrounding the plain, the clouds turning pink with sunrise.

An ostrich regarded us with some alarm, powerful legs ready to run.

We ventured further afield searching for game, and came upon a pair of cheetahs. These were brothers, which usually stay together and help each other hunt all their lives.

Although cheetahs could never take down a giraffe, these two had a very attentive audience keeping a close eye on them.

The giraffes followed closely as the cheetahs paced elegantly through the bush.

They stopped to check out smells and mark their territory every so often.

As we neared the hills this herd of oryx (also known as gemsbok) looked so atmospheric against the red hillside! It was a delight to see and photograph the scene.

A red hartebeest checked us out from the rocky hillside, outlined against the sky as we headed back to the lodge for lunch and a midday rest.

When we headed out in the afternoon, we were looking for aardvark – one of the three animals we came to see at Tswalu – the pangolin, tick, the meerkat, tick, and the aardvark – but this one was proving elusive and we searched for hours.

Then suddenly Kyle exclaimed excitedly, ‘An aardwolf!’

An aardwolf? I’ve never heard of one – didn’t even know they existed. ‘What? Where?’

Then we spotted this strange creature  a fair way off amongst the tussocky grass.

It is a member of the hyena family, living on a diet of ants, termites and their larvae. They eat up to 250,000 termites each night! It was a pretty creature as hyenas go, with its caramel coloured coat and big ears for hearing termites or ants scurrying underground.

It had stripes and a luxuriant thick fur coat, this being winter, The amazingly bushy tail was nearly as big as its body. I must say it was fat and healthy on its diet of termites.

We were extremely lucky. They normally only come out at night, but sometimes in winter they venture out by day to avoid the extreme cold. This was a very rare sighting.

Heading home, we enjoyed the sight of the blue hills across the plain. In Australia the hills are blue looking due to the trees emitting eucalyptus oil into the air from their leaves – I wonder if that is why these hills looked so blue, too?  

Agile Kudu bounded up the rocky hillside, then watched us with wary attention.

Then in the dying rays of the sun as we headed home to the lodge, I spotted a clan of really wild meerkats! These ones were not habituated like the ones we walked to photograph at their burrows. They all went on the alert, regarding us with many pairs of wary eyes which caught the low light.

I called out to Kyle to stop, and was rewarded by just a couple of photos before it became dark. I loved this sighting more than that of the habituated meerkats - to see all those eyes watching us and the meerkats contrasting with that deep rich red sand was magical!

We had seen wonderful sights, spotted an extremely rare animal, and captured photos of a gang of wild meerkats in their own habitat - it had been a day in which nature was a balm to the wound which still exists despite our son having died so many years ago.

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) aardwolf baby rhino cheetah brothers endangered Painted Wolf puppies photography blog rare animals travel blog Tswalu wild meerkats https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2019/7/the-kalahari-tswalu-part-2 Sun, 14 Jul 2019 10:15:00 GMT
Kalahari, Tswalu, Part 1 https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2019/6/kalahari-tswalu-part-1 THE KALAHARI : TSWALU PART 1

Early in the morning we headed to ‘Fireblade’, the Oppenheimer private airport terminal at Johannesburg airport. We were flying to Tswalu, in the North Cape area of the Kalahari Desert. Tswalu is a 100,000 hectare reserve now owned by the Oppenheimer family who are strongly committed to conservation. We saw photos of this area after Steven Boler bought dozens of farms to create the reserve, leaving right of first refusal to Nicky Oppenheimer in his will. Farming had totally devastated the fragile arid land, a story we Australians could relate to - desert lands cannot sustain intensive farming.

The Oppenheimers now own and operate the reserve. Tswalu means a new beginning. They allowed the land to regenerate and brought in many thousands of animals, including critically endangered animals such as the black-maned Kalahari lion.  They did not introduce elephants, which could destroy the fragile ecosystem.

This view shows the Korannaberg Mountains across a plain of now flourishing desert vegetation.

We flew to Tswalu on their luxurious private jet with a couple of skilled lady pilots, one of whom had the longest eyelash extensions I have ever seen. Here is a travel tip which will no doubt have the men rolling their eyes, so avert your eyes, men, while I tell the ladies! 

My daughter gave me this tip, and it works. If you don't have lovely long eyelashes and you care about this (as I do) get eyelash extensions before you go on a trip of this nature. Not ridiculously long ones, but natural length. Why? Because putting mascara on in a dark tent before dawn is very difficult, and if you get caught in a rain shower or splashed in a boat, you will not have panda eyes. If you have eyelash extensions, you can get up and go without all the bother, and look half decent in any weather. Just saying.

My Sherpa is looking pretty serious. The big camera backpack got its own seat and seatbelt!

We were met by our guides Kyle and Fez at Tswalu airport under a thatched, open-sided structure which was heavy with sparrow weaver nests. They made us very welcome and drove us to the Motse Camp, a series of thatched roofed bungalows which blended into their environment.

Our family bungalow was very spacious and well appointed, with two bedrooms which had ensuite bathrooms, separated by a kitchen and living room complete with a fireplace. It gets seriously cold in the Kalahari at night. 

The views from the windows took in the open plain and grazing animals such as these kudu. It was a joy to look out of the window, and totally private for each of the bungalows. We freshened up before heading back to the main lodge to have lunch in the outside dining area

The first thing that caught our eye was the cutest little mouse in a tree! Immediately, lunch was forgotten and the photographers were taking photos!

It turned out later that this was actually a black-tailed tree rat – so tiny, cute and fluffy that I never imagined it was a rat. They rarely come out in the daytime but sometimes in winter they emerge during the day. We were very lucky!

On our first evening we had the rare privilege of seeing the highly endangered pangolin. I don’t usually say where we see rare and endangered animals which are poached because of an ignorant notion that their scales, blood and body parts are medicinal. However, the security at Tswalu was exceptional and I hope that their protected pangolins flourish.

We walked in to see the pangolin, which I found difficult with a gammy knee. I struggled to hand-hold Big Bertha and the 1DX Mk II. In the end our daughter took pity on me, and took some shots for me with my gear. The pangolin was hiding in the grass under a tree, and we did not disturb it, so all these photos only feature bits of the pangolin!

It is hard to understand how 14 tons – 36,000 tiny curled up dead pangolin bodies - could have been found in a container in Singapore, allegedly coming from Nigeria and bound for Vietnam, which is the second largest consumer of pangolin parts after China. This happened previously in Malaysian Borneo – 33 tons! In total, 47 tons in 2019 alone. How can these poor little creatures survive?

I have heard to my utter disgust from a friend who has many business contacts in Vietnam and speaks fluent Vietnamese, that Vietnamese known to them declare, with smiles like naughty children, that they know rhino horn and pangolin scales are not really effective as cures, but buying them proves how wealthy they are.

In other words, it is a status symbol for the rich - wiping out an entire species so they can flaunt their wealth.

I have also been told that ground up rhino horn is mixed with cocaine for the same reason – to prove you can afford it. How utterly repugnant! So much for people in the western world who prate that they respect the ancient customs of other cultures. This is not an ancient custom, it is an evil expression of materialism.

That night, before dinner, we chatted in the main hall with other guests on couches in front of the warm fire.

Most camps have shops with suitable gear, so before dinner I went and bought a nice warm Tswalu jacket! The quality was excellent and it served me very well. The Kalahari desert is freezing at night even in summer, but this was winter and minus temperatures were the rule as we set out in an open vehicle before dawn.

I had a grizzle about our bungalow being the second furthest away from the main lodge. We had to negotiate a long, rough brick path which was ill-lit at night to get to the dining area. I was having enough trouble walking without that! We had booked a year ago and asked for quarters close to the main lodge way back then - I was not a happy decrepit camper.

They said everything else was booked out - but did provide me with a wheelchair which my long-suffering family members pushed back and forth to the main lodge. To be fair, the staff offered to push it for us but we found it quicker and easier to do it ourselves.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner in the dining room, accompanied by wines chosen in the cellar.

I tried a warthog schnitzel which was very tasty - the food was excellent. I was presented with a delicious chocolate cake for my birthday which we shared with the other guests. It was a lovely, thoughtful gesture - the service at Tswalu was extremely good, friendly, attentive and unobtrusive. We made friends with people here, and are still in touch. I would happily go back to Tswalu.

When we got back to our lodge we quickly prepared for bed, knowing that we would be getting up very early and going out before dawn the next morning. It was really comfortable, with reverse cycle air-conditioning to take the chill off the air, and we had a lovely warm fire lit for us in the sitting-room. The wood burned exceptionally well, being so dry in the desert climate.

Next morning early, we were treated to a breakfast tray in our quarters, which was most welcome and meant I didn’t have to hobble back and forth to the main lodge. There was a small postern gate in the wall around the lodges near us, so Kyle brought the jeep around to it. Everyone was most attentive and helpful in view of my inability to get around easily. Off we went to see the meerkats at dawn. We traversed open bushland, where the dew on the grass was lit golden by the rising sun.

I was devastated to learn that we would be getting out of the vehicle to walk to the meerkats! It wasn’t all that far and I could make it with some help to carry my heavy gear, but I had given my tripod and gimbal to Gerry to look after in the belief that I could take photos with the heavy lens resting on a beanbag on the side of the vehicle!

My husband took the photo above. I was almost in tears because I cannot hand hold the camera and lens, having had a stroke ten years ago. Kyle saved the day with an ingenious bit of improvisation. Off he went and scouted around, finding an oryx horn that was just the right length. The tip fitted neatly into the hole in the gimbal mount which was still on my lens.

So there I was, the decrepit traveller, with an oryx horn monopod, swaddled in every layer possible plus a rug, because it was seriously COLD - nights below 0 degrees centigrade in winter. At least I could now take photos - what a relief!

The meerkat lookouts made sure it was safe.

I crouched on the little stool they had procured because I can’t get down on the ground or stand for long periods. I was so grateful to Kyle and Fez, who took turns holding the oryx horn to steady it. (Although I must admit at times their hands would wobble, and I had to fight to keep the camera and lens still enough to get good images!)

Kyle has a gun because although every precaution is taken to ensure the area is safe, it is possible that predators might happen by. In that case a gun would be an absolute last resort to keep everyone safe. Thankfully, it wasn’t necessary.

Finally, I was taking photos of the animal I had come to Tswalu to see in the wild.

We were photographing with the rising sun behind us, giving great light as the tiny and industrious little meerkats began emerging from their burrows. Our daughter lay down on the ground and got a great low angle. I wish I was that mobile! (Taken by her father.)

These meerkats are habituated to humans and tolerated us taking photos. They checked out their surroundings to make sure no predators were about. If they saw a hawk, eagle, snake or jackal, the lookout would give a warning call, and all the meerkats would disappear into their burrows in an instant. My husband took the photo below.

Others assiduously cleaned the burrow entrances, sending sand flying as they had a good tidy-up, like any housewife with her broom on the front stoop!

It was as well that we concentrated on getting good photos, because all of a sudden, as if at a signal we didn’t hear, the meerkats stopped their cleaning, looked up, then suddenly scampered off like lightning into the bush to look for a grub or tasty scorpion. Voracious little hunters, they also eat insects, lizards, small rodents, birds, and fruit.

We packed up our bits and pieces and headed back to the vehicle. My significant birthday trip was proving eventful, to say the least - but in spite of all, I did have some good photos of the little cuties I had come to the Kalahari to see. Their family structure is very close, with each member acting to protect the rest of the 'gang', as they are called. Only the alpha pair are allowed to breed, and any other female which becomes pregnant is ejected from the group by the alpha female. It is brutal but effective, ensuring their survival.   

Guides always look for an open space to take time out, so that they can be sure there are no lurking dangers to their guests. We stopped for a coffee and to stretch our legs at a waterhole with a cleared area around it.

My husband took a photo of African ground squirrels nearby, nicely focussed on the one further away. 

After a welcome break and toilet stop behind a bush, we all got back into the vehicle and headed off back to the lodge for lunch. On the way we passed a beautiful sable antelope checking over its shoulder to make sure it is safe. They have been endangered in the past, but are now coming back from the brink.

Lunch was eaten hastily in order to lie down for a nap. When you get up that early you take every opportunity to catch up on lost sleep! Plunge pools and the like are lost on us - we are so busy taking photos that all we ask of the camp is a comfy bed, decent lighting for when you get up in the dark, great guides and good food!

Oh, and a coffee first thing in the morning, or I am liable to look like this:

Animals generally sleep in the middle of the day, so the best time to see them moving about is morning or evening. As we set off on the evening game drive, a few warthogs posed up, which is very rare!

In general you see a rear view of them scampering off into the bush, up tails all, but this time they gave us a good opportunity to take photographs and see their strange, heavy heads with a fine set of curling moustaches and curving tusks.

Further along, a giraffe demonstrated how tall he was next to a tree – perfectly designed to graze on their taller branches.

We headed along the red sand road towards the dark blue hills, ready for more adventures, which I will relate in my next post.

 

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) African ground squirrels black-tailed tree rat landscape meerkats Motse Camp oryx pangolin photography rhino travel blog' travel tip warthogs https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2019/6/kalahari-tswalu-part-1 Wed, 19 Jun 2019 06:00:00 GMT
Mala Mala Sable Camp Part 1 https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2019/4/mala-mala-sable-camp MALA MALA

The next morning we were driven to the small plane airport area at Joburg airport. After a pretty long wait we flew to Mala Mala Sable Camp, on the edge of the Sand River near Kruger National Park.

Walking through the camp we saw a rare antelope, the Nyala, close to one of the suites. I took a shot with my phone as we walked to our room. Gerry later told me that the Nyala had probably learnt that it was safer from predators if it stayed within the camp.

We shared a family suite with our daughter, who had a separate sleeping area with a bathroom. I was delighted to find that the lighting was good. Lighting inside the wardrobe as well was such a help before dawn, we could see what we were choosing to wear without a flashlight! The suite was recently renovated and very attractive, with lovely views across the mostly dry riverbed.

My request for two blankets rather than a quilt flummoxed them and I ended up with a throw instead, which was inadequate, it being winter. Not being interested in the niceties of wardrobe lighting and putting out our toiletries (although he expected me to lay out his things where he could find them), my husband went out and took a nice close-up of the nyala, which was habituated to humans. The photo was a bit blurry but I did a pretty good job of fixing that in post-processing.

We went out on our first game drive, with Gerry van der Walt of Wildeye as our private photographic guide. He had managed to get me a substitute 1DX Mk II and 200-400 Canon lens with inbuilt extender. Yay! Hats off to Gerry! I could continue my birthday trip with my birthday camera, albeit a hired one. It worked very well, although the camera had some presets which it jumped into from time to time when I pressed something I oughtn’t, frustrating me with a high key image or something else I wasn’t aiming for!

This photo isn't mine but it's an example of unintended results - it was taken by my man who somehow managed to have the ISO so high that it blew out the photo completely. I also tried to fix this in post, but it was almost impossible. If I look wierd, it's because my face was too blown out to retrieve, and also because I wore a neck brace on the bumpy roads of Africa, having discovered after suffering terrible pain last time that I have two compressed discs in my neck.

Gerry is a top photographer and great teacher, with a personality trait I value most highly - a great sense of humour! Although I still had the flu, I was gradually improving. It was a pleasure to experience Mala Mala with Gerry and Andrew, who also turned out to be good fun. Andrew was a wonderful guide, predicting animal behaviour with great accuracy.

We crossed over the causeway, where a pied kingfisher was hunting.

This leopard is really at the end of a yawn but looks so fierce! I have seen a leopard once in Botswana, but Mala Mala was an outstanding place to see leopards, we learned so much about these apex predators and their behaviour.

I was able to get my first ever spot-lit shots of a leopard after dark fell on our first night. Andrew held the spotlight - it was an  amazing experience to see a big cat in its true element, the night. Gerry told us the correct settings to use in Manual. I was really surprised and thrilled with what I saw on the back of the camera – it looked as though I had nailed my first shot! It reminded me of William Blake’s poem ‘Tyger Tyger’. You could definitely say “Leopard, Leopard, ‘Burning Bright,’” of this image.  

At Mala Mala they have ethical spotlighting. I take it to mean that they do not spotlight prey animals in case they are blinded and made into easy prey, and only spotlight big cats when they are not hunting, so that their ability to see in the dark is not impaired, thus damaging their chances of capturing prey. Nonetheless, this leopard gave us the evil eye for interrupting his noble pose.

I converted this image to black and white, which I thought gave it more drama. The leopard then stalked off into the darkness, presumably to hunt. My shutter speed wasn’t fast enough for the moving leopard as he headed into the night, so the image was too soft. However, it is effective nevertheless. So often I forget to adjust the settings in the heat of the moment. I’m improving all the time but have far to go.

 

 

 

The next morning we were up before dawn. Luckily dawn is later in winter, so it wasn’t silly o’clock. The blessing of coffee arrived at 6.00 a.m., as we’d requested. Our daughter galloped off to have breakfast with Gerry and Andrew at 6.30 but I couldn’t face walking there and then back to the bungalow for my gear. The suite we were staying in was not close to the main part of the lodge and that was difficult for a lady with a bung knee. The steep descent to the vehicles had me inching along painfully slowly. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After watching me crab my way inch by inch to the vehicle on the first two game drives, Andrew arranged to come around to the back of the lodges from then on, and that was much easier – shorter and flatter. One can’t help wondering what part of my request to be close to the main part of the lodge they didn’t understand. It was made a year ago – but maybe there were no family rooms closer?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were soon heading off into the darkness. The sun began to rise. A lion sat in the grass as the pre-dawn light turned his mane into a halo – it was a pity the grass got in the way! The next lions we found were in a clear space by the river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soon the lions were on the move, and Andrew told us they would be crossing the river. He quickly took the vehicle to the other side and positioned us perfectly to photograph the oncoming lion from across the water. Being an excellent photographer himself, Andrew knew what sort of angle a photographer would want. It makes such a difference if you have a guide who understands photography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrew told us the lionesses didn’t like water and usually tried to jump over it – just like a cat! We waited for the right moment, and I got the shot - but my shutter speed wasn’t quite fast enough. I have to be more aware that my lens at full extension needs roughly twice the shutter speed of the focal length to work well - so, as a rough estimate: 400ml lens = 1/800 sec. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lion obviously had designs on one of the females – but..... she had a headache!

 

 

 

 

 

 

He was persistent, and she turned on him fiercely – definitely not in the mood!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once Andrew had found a suitable, predator-free spot, we got out for breakfast and stretched our legs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After breakfast, Andrew took us to a spot where the ‘Piccadilly female’ was warming up in the early morning sun, yawning and grooming herself before beginning her day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

She had a good stretch when she decided it was time to move. Andrew predicted this beautiful female would go down to the river to hunt. Once again he understood how to position the vehicle to give us the best possible angle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrew wanted us below the road, looking up at the leopardess as she came towards us over the road. He bush-bashed the jeep through tangled undergrowth and trees broken by elephants - and now us! We didn’t do much harm, however, the bushes sprang back after we had passed. We waited breathlessly. Was Andrew right? Would she come this way?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then she came! Stealthily but purposefully she advanced across the road exactly as he had predicted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of my favourite images from the trip, her paw stepping onto the road. Those eyes transfixed me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She stalked closer to the vehicle, deadly purpose in every line of her body. It seemed like we were on the breakfast menu!

 

 

 

 

 

 

We watched in awe as she made her way past us, down to the riverbank to await the impala coming down to drink.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There, she concealed herself in a darker patch of grass. Andrew moved the vehicle to the riverbank further back so that we could watch what happened. I am not fond of watching a predator kill a prey animal, but this life and death story was unfolding as the beautiful, delicate impala nervously gathered on the bank.

 

 

 

 

 

 

They were very wary, suspecting something was wrong, but they had to drink. They inched forward, some moving ahead but then timorously heading back to the herd still on top of the bank. Note that the males were the ones turning back!

 

 

 

 

 

 

We realised that we were probably contributing to their fear, so we moved back, and then further back again. Not so good for photography, but it is important not to interfere with the wildlife. We were very patient and spent over an hour waiting and watching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were zebras with the impala. They tend to act as lookouts. When the impala finally made it down to the river, the zebras were amongst the first to drink. Two of them then positioned themselves right in front of the patch of dark grass where we had seen the leopardess conceal herself. They were watching carefully - in the wrong direction – she was right behind them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the impala were drinking nervously, then leaping gracefully back through the long grasses in front of the zebras. We had our cameras trained on the dark patch of grass behind the zebras. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then one doe made the fateful decision to go behind the zebras instead of in front of them. This was what the leopardess was waiting for! A clatter of shutters going off like machine gunfire alerted me as I stared down my long lens at the patch of dark grass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘What?! Where?!’ I gasped as I struggled to work out what people had spotted. A long lens is like a telescope and you can’t see the whole picture, it took ages to haul Big Bertha around and refocus in the right place. It turned out that the leopardess had repositioned herself to one side, right behind the zebra on the right. That zebra bolted off in fright as she snagged the doe out of the air in a split second and took it down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only Gerry captured what happened - on video - and that video had to be slowed down a huge amount before you could see how neatly, swiftly and economically this consummate stealth hunter snatched the doe mid-leap. This is a screen shot - if you want to see the video, check it out on his Instagram feed @gerryvanderwalt

 

 

 

Screenshot

 

 

 

She then emerged into the open only seconds later with her prey. Leopards have teeth positioned so that they can break the neck of a prey animal in one bite, and this is what had happened. The doe was dead before she hit the ground. She looks as if she was pregnant at the time, which is sad but a part of nature. The leopardess had a sub-adult cub to feed, and their survival depended on her making a kill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instant death was a much preferable outcome for the doe than what our daughter saw when lions began feeding on a bellowing buffalo, a truly harrowing sight. I took this image in Botswana but it illustrates the point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our experience in Botswana was made all the more horrible when a lady photographer in another vehicle dedicated to professional photographers from America began bellowing ‘Get in there, baby!’ as lions plunged their heads into the belly of a downed buffalo and emerged dripping with gore. The blood lust of it made me ashamed to be a human being.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to Mala Mala, where I was relieved to see that this doe was not going to experience any more pain and suffering.

 

 

 

She had died almost instantly. So often our fate is decided by the choices we make, and the decision of that doe to go behind the sentry zebras was her death knell.

 

 

 

All the impalas had fled to the hillside and stood there, huffing out their distress calls. My husband captured this great image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The leopardess dragged her kill across the dry riverbed to another stand of tall reeds and grasses. Leopards often take their kills up into trees to avoid having it taken from them by lions or packs of hyenas, but she had chosen the more dangerous option of feeding on the ground. We could only hope that the leopardess and her cub would be able to eat safely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to camp for lunch, we drove around to the back of the camp where I could walk in more easily. There we saw how close this leopard was to our accommodation. We had kept the doors of our family suite closed in order to keep the baboons out, but now we had another reason!

 

 

 

For more, see Part Two of Mala Mala.

 

 

 

 

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) Africa big cats hunt huntress impala leopard burning bright leopards lions photography predator prey sentry zebras spotlit leopards travel blog https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2019/4/mala-mala-sable-camp Thu, 04 Apr 2019 03:45:00 GMT
Mala Mala Part 2; South Africa; Kruger National Park https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2019/4/mala-mala-south-africa-kruger-national-park-big-cats-lions-leopards-predators-prey PART TWO Mala Mala

During the much appreciated break, I should really have downloaded my photos from the morning, but I was too tired after the early start. Like my husband and the lions, I took a much needed nap! We then prepared to head out again.

After the break, we couldn’t find the leopardess or her cub. We worried that she might have had her kill stolen from her by lions, which were very much in evidence, snoozing in the warm sand of the riverbed. Were they sleeping off a feed, after attacking her and her cub to get her impala kill? Were the leopards dead?

The lions were all over the place, totally relaxed, looking quite ridiculous as they snoozed upside down.

We continued on, encountering elephants crossing the road as we eased our way along giving them the right of way. The big matriarch headed across the road peacefully, while a young male indulged in a bit of aggressive display behaviour, before deciding to follow the example of wiser heads. 

Did we see this rhino here? I’m not saying where I photographed it, whether I photographed it this year, or on a previous trip to Africa. I don’t want pond scum using my website to locate rhinos for the ignorant trade based around the completely erroneous idea that rhino horn will make a blind bit of difference to your health or your sex life.

That evening we were searching for the leopardess and her cub right on dark, not sure whether they had survived the decision of the leopardess to conceal her kill in the grass, instead of hauling it into the safety of a tree. Could this lioness scent the kill?

We were just about to give up when, to our huge relief, the sub-adult cub sneaked past, so close to the wheel on my side that I barely got off a shot! Note to self – always keep an eye on your shutter speed as the light disappears, it can drop dramatically in seconds. There’s movement blur because dark was falling and my shutter speed was too slow for the conditions. However, I like how the movement blur shows his fearful, furtive body language as he tried not to be detected by the lions while re-joining his mother to feed on what was left of the impala.

We were very happy to know he had not been killed. From there we followed some amorous lions in the dark, using the spotlight for a while as the lion eagerly followed a female who was being exceedingly flirtatious.

Back at the camp, I left my card downloading to the laptop and hard drive backup. We all had a quick shower and freshened up before dinner. The evenings were very enjoyable with good company and the camaraderie of sharing our experiences with Gerry and Andrew, not to mention the wonderful rhythms of African singing from some of the staff.

Each night I re-set my settings for the following morning – nothing can be more frustrating than taking some images and wondering what’s wrong with them, then remembering you still have your settings from last night for spotlit lions or leopards! I put the batteries on to charge and quickly got ready for bed because our ever-efficient daughter was already trying to sleep! We slept soundly, despite the sounds of lions roaring in the night.

In the morning we headed across the causeway where the pied kingfisher seemed to be a permanent fixture.

Our eagle-eyed daughter caught a glimpse of a mongoose. These little creatures mostly live on insects, earthworms, birds, lizards and rodents. However, they are well known as being very good at fighting venomous snakes, particularly the Indian grey mongoose. They are wary and quick. It is rare to get a decent shot of one so I was happy with this image, cropped a lot because they are really small.

Further along was a large herd of buffalo, grazing contentedly on the riverbank, where the grass was lush and green.

They watched us carefully, deciding we were no threat. Buffalo are amongst the most dangerous animals in the African bush and fiercely defend their own. There was a mother amongst this herd with quite a young calf and she was especially vigilant.

They saw that we were no threat, and decided to head off into the bush. I noticed a small rise on the riverbank, and asked if Andrew could position the vehicle so we could photograph them jumping up it as they heaved themselves up the steep river bank in a cloud of dust.

I'm not saying where I saw this rhino, or whether this photo is from four years ago. He turned to face us, framed by spiky thorn trees which made me think of how beleaguered and vulnerable these armoured tank-like animals really are, surrounded by the danger of poaching wherever they may be. People blame the poachers, but the real culprits are those who buy rhino horn. #ifthebuyingstopsthekillingcantoo

We then came upon the lions waking up.

This lioness drew back, seemingly saying “Woah, sister! What big teeth you have!”

The lionesses sharpened their claws on a handy scratching post, just as our domestic cats will do with the furniture.

One of them approached so close that she filled the frame in this portrait of her battle-scarred face.

Later, dark fell, and we caught this glimpse of the queen of the night going out to hunt.

Next morning the first thing we saw was a waterbuck. My husband took a wider angle image with my second camera and 100-400 lens.

Not having my second camera at any stage of this trip because he had it, I took a portrait shot with BB, my 200-400 with 1.4 inbuilt extender. I’m not whinging though, I let him use my second camera because he is my beloved sherpa!

Next, we saw a young giraffe and its mother. Again, he took the wider angle shot.

I zeroed in on a closer version of the mother and her young one.

Elephants crossed our path – this is his shot.

I did a closer study.

We heard that a pair of male leopards were in a stand-off in another part of the park and headed over to see. The rule of two vehicles on any sighting meant that we waited until another vehicle headed off to check out something else. The old leopard king of this territory was drooling foam, which is a sign of stress. This shot by my husband illustrates that behaviour.

A young gun had come around to challenge his sovereignty. The pair of them were giving huffing grunts, posturing and patrolling.

I read a book, ‘The Territorial Imperative’ by Richard Ardrey, a long time ago. It analysed the way animals guard and maintain territory.

It pointed out that, unlike man, whenever possible animals do not fight if they can avoid it. Instead they posture and parade, hoping to intimidate the other without physical harm which can be fatal to an animal that must hunt to live.

The two of them marked territory, paced and foamed at the mouth, staring intently at each other. In the end, the older leopard backed away and vanished into the bush. It seemed that a new leopard king may have arrived.

As evening drew on, we went over to the airstrip, where lions were roaring in the dark, a chilling sound. It was a great spot to see the lions which would normally be concealed deep in the bush.

Having another vehicle with their spotlight side-lighting the lions was perfect. This suggested the outlines and made for a very dramatic 3-dimensional image. The lion and lioness were sprawled out on the airstrip, calling to each other.

In fact, the happy couple were exhausted from their marathon sexual encounter – when the female is in oestrus they mate every fifteen minutes for five days.

We had to laugh – they were so worn out from all of their hanky-panky that they could barely lift their heads off the ground to roar!

The day had come to an end. We had seen things we have never seen before. Next day we were heading off to our next destination, so we packed as much as possible bearing in mind that before leaving, we were going out on an early morning game drive.

Next day we got up before dawn as usual and headed out. We found a leopardess just waking in the early morning light.

  She stretched and prepared to move off.

 When she headed off straight down the steep slope Andrew followed her!

OMG that stony track was so steep, I was terrified we would flip over - but Andrew drove very skilfully and we got to the bottom. However, where was the leopardess? We searched and searched, which involved slewing about on very soft sand in the riverbed, sometimes seeming as if we might get bogged.

I’m not good at being calm about potentially getting bogged when I know I have to be flying off somewhere else in an hour or so. When we were asked if we wanted to continue searching, I made the deciding vote of ‘No, let’s go back to camp and finish our packing!’ We got back to camp and packed away the camera gear. I couldn't find a lens cap, but our daughter produced a very useful universal rubber lens cap.

 I had been using the beanbags in the vehicles with great success. Gerry offered to take my tripod and gimbal back with him to Johannesburg and look after it till after we went to our next camp. We called and asked if they had beanbags in the vehicles at Tswalu. My husband was very keen to lose some weight, and I wanted to make it easier on him. I made the fateful decision to leave the tripod and gimbal with Gerry. It was going to come back to bite me, but I didn’t know that!

We posed up for a group photo by the vehicle with Gerry and Andrew of Wildeye SA, who'd made our visit to Mala Mala truly awesome, then piled in and off to the airport.

All our arrangements in Africa were made by Encompass Africa: https://encompassafrica.com.au, a team we trust who ensure everything is organised seamlessly. We have travelled with them twice and our daughter many times more!

I am not being paid to mention the people who made our trip special, I just feel that I should give credit where credit is due.

 

 

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) buffalo elephants giraffes Kruger leopard standoff leopards lions at night mongoose photography pied kingfisher territorial dispute travel blog waterbuck https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2019/4/mala-mala-south-africa-kruger-national-park-big-cats-lions-leopards-predators-prey Tue, 02 Apr 2019 07:30:00 GMT
Tanzania - The Serengeti Part 2 https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2019/2/tanzania---the-serengeti-part-2 DAY THREE

Disaster struck! Life does not always go according to plan, and this disaster was (for me) even worse than what happened in Tanzania, The Serengeti, Part One. We were in a very basic tent with a zip. Once we realised our camp was in a grove of trees, the favourite haunt of the tsetse fly, we opened the zip no more than was absolutely necessary, then swiftly zipped it up again. One morning in the dark before dawn, my husband told me he had put my camera with its big heavy lens outside the tent. I was ready, so I stepped outside and noted that he had put it out on the tripod through the zip and not opened up the legs enough. After nearly 50 years of marriage one lets some things go through to the keeper. I chose not to complain at what my beloved Sherpa had done, although I thought it looked unsafe. I eased my way past without touching it.

 

The guide was waiting with a torch and I stupidly handed him the camera backpack instead of asking him to get the wobbly looking rig on the tripod, which is too heavy for me to lift. There was a crash behind me. I jumped, and turned around. My new significant birthday camera, the 1DX Mk II, and my trusty Canon 200-400 lens with inbuilt extender had fallen over! Maybe it was me walking on the tarp that did it. Bad language was deployed as I sprang towards it, hoping against hope that no damage had been done.

 

 

Even worse language turned the air blue as I discovered that it had fallen backwards, with the heavy 200-400 smashing down onto the camera. The camera mount was broken, and also the lens mount! Both wrecked. I informed my husband frostily that I was taking back my 5D MkIII with 100-400 lens which I had lent him, and he could take photos with his X&!#@ phone! The men in camp looked on in awe as this Valkyrie stalked to the safari vehicle in a towering rage. 

 

I announced in tones that brooked no argument that I wanted to hire another  1DX and 200-400 teleconverter lens when we got to Joburg, to use on our next safari at Mala Mala. Candice kindly got onto the satellite phone, and asked if Gerry van der Walt, who would be our private photographic guide at the next camp, could organise this for us.

Then off we went, a very silent group. In keeping with my mood, it looked stormy.

Our daughter had worked out a way of taping Big Bertha onto my last remaining DSLR, the 5D Mk III.

We came across a mother cheetah was calling plaintively for her sub-adult cub which was very shy, so we moved away in order to give it the security it needed to link up with its mother again. 

By breakfast time all was forgiven. I slipped my hand into that of my guy and we were at peace again. We had our coffee on a rise above the river, seeing some very large crocodiles.

 

Continuing on, we saw another cheetah with her sub-adult cub feeding on a kill the mother had made. They hastily gorged themselves, before anything else like lions or hyenas could come and drive them away from their kill. Their bellies looked fit to burst and they had to stop for a rest!

 

Luckily they were able to eat well and then head off across the endless plain without being disturbed.

 

 

After lunch back in camp and a much needed nap in the hot tent, we headed off again. I had been trying to keep Big Bertha steady on the morning game drive but not succeeding very well over the rough terrain. When we got back in the rain a guy took my heavy gear and ran to the tent with it but threw it down on the couch with the 5D Mark III underneath the heavy long lens. Luckily no harm was done, but I decided to take BB off and put on the 100-400. I was worried that the taped on heavy lens might ruin the mount of the only decent camera I had left.

After lunch and a rest, we headed off again. Driving across the plain behind a silly family of francolins who just would not get off the track, we came across one of those interesting stories of the way life plays out in Africa.  First, we saw a lion making repeated threatening dashes at something. I didn’t have trusty Big Bertha anymore, so I couldn’t get quite as close to my subject with the shorter 100-400 lens and had to crop these images.

 We got closer and discovered that a cheeky jackal was pestering the lion guarding its kill. It wanted to grab some scraps. We held our breaths as it came dangerously close time and again. The lion kept chasing the jackal off until eventually the king of the beasts got sick of it, and just lay there panting.

Another vehicle was beside us watching that cheeky little jackal risking its life for a feed, but after a while it drove off. Quite some distance away, it stopped, and a man got out for a comfort stop. Immediately the lion was on the alert. He wasn’t agressive, he was scared.

 

Maybe sometime in his past he was shot or saw another lion get shot by a human on two legs. When you are in a Safari vehicle, they know from previous experience that you will do them no harm, but this man on foot spooked our lion and he fled. 

The lion having run off in fright at human activity, the jackal wasted no time in moving in to take advantage of its luck. The lion had eaten well but there was plenty left for a jackal. 

The jackal did well to grab as much as he could of the lion’s kill as fast as possible. It wasn’t long before the hyenas turned up.

 

The hyenas saw off the jackal and grabbed portions for themselves, running off to devour their prize elsewhere as hyenas do.

 

 We patiently waited as this saga developed. The people in the other vehicle who had departed had missed the way this story unfolded.

Vultures waited their turn to come in and clean up the last scraps. No waste, no litter - unlike humanity, everything was used.

Our day was over – we had waited long enough to be rewarded by a demonstration of how each animal has its place in the saga of life and death.

We wended our way home, again making frequent stops to capture the stunning sunsets of the Serengeti grasslands.

DAY FOUR: MORNING:

The weather looked threatening.

We got caught in a rain shower and after a while of sitting in the rain with covers over our cameras, poor Benedict and his spotter had to get out and put on the hood.

We saw more cheetahs in the Serengeti than anywhere else in Africa we have been. The large expanse of the plains without human encroachment gives the cheetah wide open spaces to hunt and room to get away from lions and leopards, who will kill cheetahs if they can because they are rivals for food. The cheetah often uses termite mounds to see the surrounding countryside. The grass was so high that we quite often could not get a clear shot, even when the cheetah was on top of a mound. I was wishing those millions of wildebeest would arrive to eat the grass down, but they were taking their sweet time and did not turn up while we were there.

This cheetah was being carefully watched by a giraffe. They use their greater height to keep on eye on predators. Then the cheetah mother spotted something and headed off to hunt.

We tried to follow but there were rocks in the way and we were forced to go around.

I do not enjoy seeing killing but I would so much like to see a cheetah running! However, by the time we got there, she had already caught her prey and was feeding. Her very skittish cub was slinking around furtively in the grass and would not come to feed, so after a while we headed off to allow him or her to come in and eat.  

On the way back to camp, I was delighted to catch sight of the extraordinary looking secretary bird. The origins of this name are much debated. One theory is that the feathers jutting out behind the bird's head reminded 19th century Europeans of the quill pens that secretaries tucked behind their ears, while its grey and black body was reminiscent of their tailcoats. (source www.howitworksdaily.com).

(Not a good photo, due to having a shorter lens I had to crop a lot and lost quality.)

Here I have posted a photo of a rhino taken somewhere in Africa, on our last trip four years ago. I remove the location data from my photos, and am not saying whether we saw rhinos or not in the Serengeti. Sadly, certain unscrupulous people who want to feed the demand for rhino horn will use public posts to locate this highly threatened species, thanks to an antiquated, ignorant notion that rhino horn is 'medicinal'. It is keratin, the same as our nails and hair! I have read a long article about the motivation for using rhino horn. As the interviews proceeded, the relatives made it clear that they knew rhino horn was not going to save their dying relative, but they bought it anyway. Why? To them, it proved that they were willing to spend huge amounts of money on rhino horn, not because it worked, but because they wanted to make a statement about how far they were prepared to go - for appearances. For this, a whole species is on the brink of extinction.  

Further along, we saw wildebeest playing. They were scampering, around swerving and dodging between the others. Perhaps they were practicing and getting fit for the great Migration which was to happen after we left. This was a deliberate choice on our part - we did not want to see the wholesale killing that goes on. We know that the crocodiles hadn’t eaten for 6 months, we know apex predators have to eat, but we don’t have to choose to watch and revel in the killing. Mind you, I'd love to capture the excitement and the dust rising as they leap down the bank into the water, trying to avoid the jaws of death.

On the way back we saw a journey of giraffes outlined against the sky. Our daughter asked Benedict to stop so that we could photograph them. I tried, but did not have Big Bertha and it did not turn out well.

Here is a better capture of a lone giraffe taken earlier with the 1DX Mk II and Big Bertha.

This was a trip fraught with lowlights, but they were just bad luck and no fault of the camp, where we could not have been made more welcome. The guiding, the wildlife, the immensity of the stunning landscapes of the Serengeti fully lived up to our expectations. The awesome photographic opportunities more than made up for any setbacks.

We packed up and ate lunch, then were taken to the airstrip, where we waited……and waited.  

I rigged up my ever-handy pashmina as a sunshade in the hot car.

Taken with an i-Phone X

The plane was one and half hours late! Luckily I mentioned to the pilot that our two hour gap to catch our flight from Nairobi to Johannesburg had now been reduced to half an hour. This made them aware of our plight.

On our second stop we had to fill out immigration forms and an American family of five on the plane with us took ages and ages to fill their forms out. It turned out they only had one pen between them. If I’d known I would have offered them as many pens as I could gather together! We were chewing our fingernails off to our elbows as their three children painstakingly filled out the forms in turn. The pilots were anxiously glancing into the holding room we were in. At long last they finished the dratted forms. After we got going again, the pilots radioed ahead for us to be picked up off the plane and helped to find our flight to Johannesburg. We silently urged our plane on!

Taken with an iPhone X

When we arrived the welcoming committee said they would make sure our luggage got to our flight, and we were ready to race off. However, the American woman whose family were on a later flight made a lengthy fuss about the luggage. We had to wait for the guide they sent to deal with her concerns for what seemed like ages! Finally, we were allowed to get moving. I have had to use wheelchairs in airports because my knee is severely impaired by arthritis. However, the wheelchair that was supposed to be waiting for me was not forthcoming. We had to RUN through Nairobi airport which is HUGE, to find check-in and get booked onto our flight. My hobbling run was a sight to see. I was destroyed by the time we found check-in but our fleet daughter had gone ahead and ensured we could board.

No photos of the mad dash through Nairobi Airport, but here is a last sunset over the vast plains of the Serengeti.

The four hour flight had us arriving very late. Blessedly, a wheelchair was waiting this time – although the staff were not best pleased that they had to work so late! Then the lift didn’t work. I had to get out of the wheelchair and take the escalator down, then limp the rest of the way to the baggage carousel. What would have happened if I couldn't walk at all? It has made me very aware of what disabled people go through on a daily basis.

Of course, the luggage did not arrive. 

Taken with an iPhone X.

We finally made it to our hotel at 2.30 a.m. A terrible time to arrive, especially as I was very ill. We were given a lovely penthouse suite but unfortunately it was at the top of four flights of wet, slippery external stairs, a real struggle for my poor knee. After a quick shower I rinsed out our underwear and we fell into bed without any nightclothes. It was bitterly cold and I was glad of a duvet, which I normally find much too hot.

(This photo was taken elsewhere. I felt terrible, and didn't even think of taking photos!)

The next day we had to call a doctor. I was really ill with bronchitis. She prescribed many drugs and bed rest for the day. The others went to buy enough clothes to be going on with and we hoped our bags would arrive.

I languished in bed, cheered by a warm open fire in our sitting-room.

Luckily we were there for two nights, giving me a day of rest. Although the bags didn’t turn up until late the next evening, we were ready to head off early the following morning to our next safari, near Kruger Park. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) 1DX MkII airport nightmare camera broken cheetahs crocodile hyenas jackal Jackal vs. Lion kill late plane lion lost luggage photography rhino Secretary Bird Serengeti landscape travel blog vultures https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2019/2/tanzania---the-serengeti-part-2 Thu, 07 Feb 2019 00:30:00 GMT
Tanzania : The Serengeti https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2019/1/serengeti TANZANIA : THE SERENGETI: DAY ONE

By this time the little niggling cough I had in Arusha had turned into a full-blown flu. I was wearing a mask to try to avoid giving this nasty virus to anyone but no time to rest, it was time to head to Northern Tanzania. We packed the gear, then headed to the airport. We flew by small plane from Ngorogoro to Serian's Seregeti Mobile camp in Lamai, close to the Mara River on the northern side.

It turned out to be a very long way, with our small plane landing three times to re-fuel and pick-up/drop off passengers. The build-up in my sinuses increased with each landing, until I was stone deaf and had to ask my husband to shout in my ear any instructions given by the pilot.

Eventually we reached the absolute end of the line as the light began to fade. We spotted a swift-running river - could that be the Mara River, famous for wildebeest crossings? We knew that Lamai mobile camp was close to the Mara.

The plane landed and we were picked up by our guide, Benedict, and his spotter. As we wended our way towards the camp, we saw very striking open plains with the odd acacia tree. We were told that these plains are uniquely suited to grasses because there is a shallow depth of nutritious soil overlying carbonatite rock derived from magma. This rock was laid down by a gigantic eruption of Ol Doinyo Lengai, the 'Mountain of God' in the Maasai language, and makes it very difficult for trees to get their roots down far enough. Occasional acacias which succeeded are scattered picturesquely here and there. 

I told Benedict that we had chosen this mobile camp because it had won an award for the best guiding the year before, and we cared more about seeing wildlife than creature comforts. No pressure, Benedict!

A mobile camp is a tented camp, it was basic compared to the luxury lodges but we were OK with that, or so I thought, of which, more anon!

 

A note about packing for a trip to Africa: You can see our two soft duffel bags next to my husband. They are much lighter because they have no wheels, which is very important when you consider that the limit for one person is 15 kilos. We bought an extra seat, which meant we could carry 20 kilos each by distributing the extra 15 kilos amongst three people. For the rest of our trip, the limit was 20 kilos, so this made sense. We took very little clothing, as the camps wash your things – the rule is, one outfit on your back, one in the wash, and one extra for a day of travelling when you can’t wash. The recommended colours of khaki or brown are a wise choice. Tsetse flies are attracted to blue and black, it is best to avoid those colours.

We wear gilets like the one you see my husband wearing. They have big pockets which will hold whatever we need, wallet, passport etc. in secure zipped inner pockets. At a pinch the gilets can accommodate a couple of camera bodies and lenses, plus an iPad and even a laptop when commercial airlines make a fuss about cabin bag weights. It is legal, and considering that we weigh far less than some of the people you see getting onto planes, it seems fair enough. A soft zip up bag bought in Africa completes the cabin baggage and holds necessary toiletries etc., and we have one camera backpack each.

We were greeted by Candice, an American woman who looked very much like a model with her thin frame and Nefertiti head. We had learned in Arusha that ladies have extremely short hair to cope with the heat and dirt and inadequate water for washing, but wore wigs. I learned from Candice that this can be a wig that is an elaborate plaited bun, and their short hair was plaited up, then the bun placed on top of the head. This is not Candice, but a girl who gave me permission to photograph her short hair in intricate braids.

We were shown our tent and the washing arrangements were explained. There was a copper sink and a bucket with a ladle that you could use to wash. We were asked if we wanted a shower, which we did, and how many buckets. We opted for one, as the men of the camp have to lug heated water and then tip it into a pipe which runs to the shower and we didn’t want to ask for too much.

However, it was a bit of a shock when the water started gushing forth before we had undressed! It turned out that the shower had a control which had been left in the open position. My husband got a very short shower and I got none! At least the toilet flushed, a great luxury.

We then had a very pleasant meal carefully prepared by the camp cooks, who are justly proud of their efforts and had taken great trouble to cater to our vegan daughter. Conversation around the communal table was lively, it was interesting to meet other guests.

That night by inadequate light we prepared our camera gear and laid out our clothes for the next day so we could hopefully find them before dawn next morning. I was trying to get my other half to take responsibility for charging his camera batteries at least!

TIP: One of the most useful things I have ever learned is to take a power board. There are a multitude of things to charge, from camera batteries to mobile phones and laptops, and often the number of plugs is inadequate. This one only has four plug holes, but you can take one with as many as you think you need. If you have a power board with multiple plugholes, you can charge many things at once and need only one conversion plug.

I’ve learnt to re-set my camera settings at night to what I want the next morning. If you’ve been shooting moon shots and have your settings all wrong for fast-moving wildlife the next morning, it does not go well in the dark before dawn. By the time I get everything charging, the photos downloaded and resetting the cameras for both of us, my man is comfortably in bed reading. I still have to clean my face with the ladle of water, set out my clothes so I can find them the following morning in the dark, and get ready for bed.

That night I wore the mask so as not to infect hubby with my coughing. However, it did not go well for me. I coughed up such a storm that I vomited into the mask. It got on my hair as well. Ewwwwwwwww! I leapt to my feet and raced into the bathroom. Not having hot, running water suddenly became a problem. I did the best I could to wash my hair with dippers of water from the bucket. It being full winter, the water was icy cold! All night long hyenas giggled around our flimsy tent and I worried that they had smelled the vomit. It is astonishing they do not realise that a few bites from those strong jaws would breach the walls and we would be easy meat!

Next morning we had the much-appreciated luxury of coffee and an oatcake brought to us at 5.00 a.m. It was dark and freezing - we were there in July. I must say I prefer sleeping in cold conditions than sweltering in a hot tent! We were not allowed to leave the tent in the dark until a guide came with a flashlight to collect us and deal with any predators. We left our washing out ready to be taken away and washed while we were out, such a blessing.

I had not been sick for a year, but I must have picked this virus up just before we left Italy, and it was ruining my very significant birthday trip! I felt abominable but no use whinging. I wore the mask in the vehicle to try to ensure no-one else caught what was turning out to be a horrible flu. Dawn broke, an incredible sight.

The mask at least warmed the frigid air blowing into my face in the open vehicle, which would have made the coughing even worse. Benedict and his spotter were doing a fine job. I saw and photographed Topi for the first time.

We saw a Wattled Lapwing, a Lappet Faced Vulture, Gazelles, a Giraffe staring at us from the middle of an acacia tree, Eland and Wildebeest, also known as Gnu. These are my husband's photos, taken with the 5D Mk III and a 100-400 canon L series lens.

We caught up with a pair of cheetahs which were fiercely guarding their kill from hyenas that hung around baiting them and hoping to steal it from under the cheetahs’ noses. Male cheetahs travel in coalitions, often brothers. That makes it easier for them to defend their hard-earned meal.   

The hyenas hovered hopefully at a distance, waiting for their chance.

I was very happy with the performance in low light of my birthday present, the 1DX Mk II with my 200-400 f4 Canon lens with a 1.4 inbuilt extender allowing for a reach of 560mm, nicknamed Big Bertha. I've had BB for four years and it has always taken great images. I gave my other half my second camera, the 5D Mk III with the 100-400 lens lent to us by our daughter. He acts as my Sherpa and carries the heavy gear, so he deserves it.

However, it was frustrating not to be able to use it as my second camera with the 70-200 lens to photograph animals that were closer, like this leopardess who came right alongside the vehicle and stared up at me. This image was taken on safari in Botswana four years ago. My friend kept squeaking, 'She fancies redhead for lunch!' Meanwhile I struggled with Big Bertha, but could not achieve focus because the leopardess was just too close!

My husband took the following image of oxpeckers lined up on a zebra's back. (He prefers to be anonymous and use the Not Yet Decrepit logo but I always acknowledge when I use his photos.) After about 3 hours we had coffee and breakfast out in the field, the guides having ensured we were in a safe location to get out of the vehicle and stretch our legs/go behind a bush.

As we sat by the river bank enjoying a break, we saw crocodiles sunning on a rock. Benedict told us that they were awaiting the arrival of the wildebeest for the Mara crossing, and had not eaten for six whole months!

A butterfly visited us while we were stationary and sat on my husband's finger while he chatted with Benedict.

We continued on, seeing a contented and well-fed cheetah lying in the shade.

Like any cat after a meal, he fastidiously gave his face a good clean.

As is the normal routine on safari, when the sun gets high and the animals sensibly sleep away the heat of the day, we returned to camp for a carefully prepared lunch buffet shielded from flies. I should really download and edit photos, but by then we are usually exhausted and have to have a nap. I forgot to take this photo till the day we left, we had the two beds together as a double. It was awfully hot in the tent in the middle of the day – and this was winter! I cannot imagine how it would be in summer. Unbearable. A big plus at this camp was the comfort of the mattresses and pillows.

I discovered that my underwear had been carefully removed from the washing and left by the basin. This has not happened in any other camp before. I washed them myself and hung them wherever I could, to dry in the afternoon heat. When I asked about that in the evening Candice said, ‘But men do the washing!’ I replied, 'They wash my husband’s underwear but not mine. A bit sexist, isn’t it?’ She did not think so – but I bet if women were doing the washing, the men’s underwear wouldn’t be set to one side for them to wash themselves! I did not add that comment, as I don’t want to offend.

  We snatched a nap despite the heat, then rose and prepared ourselves to go out on an evening game drive. The sun was still a burning hot hole in the sky as we passed herds of grazing animals. They often eat different sorts of grasses, and are also complimentary in that they will warn the others if they spot a predator.

I was thrilled when our daughter suddenly called out, 'Bat Eared Fox!' "Where, where?' was my response as I searched with Big Bertha. It has the magnification of a telescope and sometimes it is very hard to locate something at a distance. Eventually I thought I had it, and fired off some shots. Despite the long grass obscuring most of it, I was delighted to find that I had achieved focus on the ears and even the eyes behind the grasses.

Though not my first ever sighting like that of the bat-eared fox, it is always a pleasure to see one of the most beautiful birds in Africa, a lilac-breasted roller, so-called because they roll in flight. 

I was determined to get a good shot of one flying. Last time I was in Africa I messed it up because my shutter speed was too slow. This time I cranked up the shutter speed, no problem with the ISO because it was still very bright, kept my focus on the bird, and waited. Unfortunately it flew away from me, so this is a bum shot, but nevertheless it shows their colours in flight.

There had been good rains and the grass was as high as an elephant’s eye! We were told that when the wildebeest arrive in their millions for the crossing of the Mara River, this all gets grazed down to a lawn.

It was a thrill to see this very young baby elephant with its family, but very frustrating from a photographic point of view because you could hardly see it for the long grass!

It began suckling from its mother on a small mound, so I managed a reasonable shot of this interesting behaviour.

 

It was getting on to the end of the day, and the blazing sun sank behind this acacia with the typical dramatic colours of an African sunset, some say due to dust in the air.

On the way home I spotted a pink moon. I called out to Benedict to stop, but by the time I grabbed the 5D with the wider angled lens from my man, it was already much lower in the sky. Our daughter in the back with two bodies and a wider angled lens probably got a better image than this one.

When we got back we figured out the shower better, and were ready to dash in the minute the men came with a bucket of water. It was lovely to feel clean! Then it was time for supper before we retired, exhausted. This was only our first day, but it had been very eventful. 

DAY TWO

By this time we had discovered by daylight how to zip up the heavy canvas door and hook up the window covers. That meant we were not kept awake so much by moonlight and hyenas cackling around the tent. I coughed a lot but we did get a bit more sleep and were ready for action before dawn as usual.

 

Off we went in the dark, bumping along rough tracks as the glory of dawn lit up the sky.

We had been driving across the grassland for a while when we came across a lion and two lionesses lying in the ruts of a track crossing ours.

This was most fortuitous because we were able to get clear photos of the lions. Otherwise the grass would have been way too high. The darkness of the track behind and the grass arching towards the lion made a lovely frame in the gorgeous soft golden early morning light.

I felt a sting and slapped at the place. A dull greyish green fly alighted on the dashboard.  It was a tsetse fly! Our guide was laid-back about it and said that he had been stung countless times and never got sleeping sickness. I can’t say I was greatly reassured. Luckily I had been wearing loose layers and a scarf but our daughter was less fortunate. When we stopped for coffee and breakfast, she showed us that she was covered in welts with large yellow circles  around them.

I had a big array of medicines from Malarone for malaria to prophylactic doses of antibiotics in case of bacterial infections or stomach bugs. I only had one type of cream for bites and allergic reactions but I gave it to her. The poor kid was super itchy but never complained. I reacted fiercely by flicking my scarf at any fly which got into the vehicle and swathing my face with my scarf and sunnies. Benedict said I looked like a member of Al Shebaab! 

We continued our morning game drive, passing gazelles which looked startled. Prey animals must remain alert at all times, relying on each other to give warnings if any predator is sighted.

We are always fascinated in the African bush. We don’t have to be seeing the big five, we take great pleasure in the smaller things, like a tree with perfect sparrow weaver’s nests,

 

or a ‘sounder of warthogs’ charging off into the grass, up tails all – I have almost never seen a warthog except with its tail up running away!

Our stop for breakfast by the river on this day was made tremendously interesting by a herd of hippopotamus which had all hauled out onto a little beach to soak up the winter sun. It is rare to see so many on land. Their skin pinkened as they warmed up, like the walruses in my blog on the Arctic.

Their antics kept us amused for ages. Hippos are very aggressive and quarrelsome, there were always fights breaking out. 

Then the baby hippo tried to come up the beach. The mothers like to keep them close and safe in the water, Benedict told us. However, this little guy really wanted to come out but another hippo came over and repeatedly monstered him so that the baby had to turn and make a dash back into the water.

In the end, the baby’s mother came hulking into the shallows and mean hippo thought better of terrorizing her baby!

By then it was time to go back for lunch and a siesta in the very hot tent. Luckily I always bring along a little electric fan which made a huge difference.  Afterwards we headed off for the evening drive and saw a lion off in the distance.

He came on and on until eventually he got so close that I struggled to get his whole face in the shot as he fixed me with his gaze from only a few metres away. It was one of those moments I wished I had my second camera with a wider angled lens, but it was with my husband in the middle seat. I always sit next to the driver to avoid too much bumping because I have two compressed discs in my neck, so I was right down at his level.

I seldom feel threatened by predators when I am in a vehicle, but he stared so intently right into my eyes that I began thinking, ‘Oh, well, he’ll get a mouthful of Big Bertha before he gets to me!’ He then decided to pass by - you can see the side of my windscreen in this shot, giving an idea of his proximity to the vehicle.

He was followed by a lioness. We waited, then drove after them slowly at a respectful distance. They entered a copse of dense brush and trees. The rest of the pride must have been hidden inside. It was too stony for us to get close. Benedict drove around to the other side, and we could hear little cubs squeaking away but because of the stones we couldn’t get close enough to see them.

We waited for ages, hoping they would come out and we could see the tiny cubs. Buffaloes came by and checked us out, but the lioness was staying put in the shade and protecting her babies.

Eventually dusk began to fall and we gave up, heading back to camp. I asked Benedict to stop several times so that I could take photos of the sunset.

 

Another day had come to a close. New people had come to the camp and we had an enjoyable time chatting over dinner.  We usually stay in a place for 4 nights so that we can get three full days of safari.

We retired early, as there was much to do.

 

Each night I download all the photos taken that day onto the laptop and the back-up drive. I keep the memory card as a third back-up, and change the card when we move to a new location. I carry plastic holders for each memory card and write what was on that card on a slip of paper which I include in the plastic holder. They then go into a separate card holder for used cards. It works for me as a portable organisational and back-up system so I have my photos in three locations.

We fell into bed, exhausted - safari is a very intensive experience - but so worth it for the animals but also the open grandeur of the Serengeti plain, which was awesome.

 

 

 

 


 

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) animal photography cheetah clothing to wear on safari hippo jackal landscape lion packing tips Serengeti tented camp travel travel blog tsetse tsetse fly wildebeest https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2019/1/serengeti Wed, 16 Jan 2019 11:35:00 GMT
Travel to Tanzania and Arusha https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2018/11/Tanzania Travel to Tanzania and Arusha

Travelling to Tanzania is not easy. We flew from London with Qatar Airlines with a transfer in Doha onto a flight to Arusha. That seemed the best route from Europe. One advantage of going from Europe is that the time zone is more or less the same, so there is no problem with jet lag. It took 12 hours in two six-hour legs. This is Doha Airport, a big hub.

Qatar Airlines was very comfortable on the first leg. The lounge was excellent. On the second leg, however, we had a smaller, older plane without the flat bed seat - the whole point of booking business class. Due to me having to use a wheelchair in airports, we arrived last on the plane, a departure from the normal rule. The hostess was flustered because everyone had piled their luggage into the overhead lockers for our class - there was no room for our bags, even though we had paid extra. The hostess told me to put my cabin baggage at my feet for take-off which is most irregular. It was highly uncomfortable for my bad knee, twisted as it was by the luggage arranged around my legs for six hours.

This phone photo is of a Kenya Airways plane over Johannesburg as our daughter struggled to come to Tanzania from New Zealand.

She flew from New Zealand to Perth; then Jobannesburg; then Nairobi; and finally Arusha. It took two solid days, counting wait times in airports. Her connection from Johannesburg to Nairobi was running late. To add insult to injury, at Nairobi airport she was required to fill out a visa for entering Kenya and hand over the money, even though she was in transit. She was beside herself standing in the queue, thinking she would miss her plane to Arusha, but a kind airport employee helped her get through in the nick of time.

When we travelled back to Australia we returned to Johannesburg and from there took a direct flight to Sydney, an eleven hour flight.

The following phone photo is of the airport at Arusha for small aircraft - I neglected to take a photo in the midst of the confusion at Arusha International Airport. Both were chaotic in their own way, but the crowds were much greater and the queues far longer at the International Aiport.

 

Be aware that arriving at Arusha airport is chaotic and very taxing for people who have been flying for a long time. First, there is a bunfight lining up to get a visa and filling out the forms, which are not handed out on the aircraft and must be done after you all spill off the plane. The prize goes to the fleet of foot, and I am definitely not in that category. Second, there is a very long wait to go through customs with said visa and all the other documentation plus fingerprinting and sometimes an eye scan. Only one lady in customs seemed to know what she was doing. Following all that, another scrum to get our bags which had been dumped in piles as we tussled with customs. Then, just when we thought our ordeal was finally over, our bags all had to be X-Rayed. Tempers frayed and someone was heard to say irritably that it was a lot to go through to enter a flyspeck at the arse end of the world!

We drove for ages on narrow roads, giving way to many a crazy truck driver, minibus, or other rickety forms of transport.

We went on to Katambuga Guest House, which is set in coffee estates outside of town.

We were greeted by a warm fire and painstakingly prepared food - a winning combination!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last leg of the journey was a very long dirt road with tremendously large potholes. Our daughter, arriving later after dark, commented that if she didn’t have so much experience of travelling with Encompass Africa: www.encompassafrica.com.au, whose arrangements she trusts completely, she would have been terrified! Being driven alone along this rough back road in the dark, she would have wondered if she was being kidnapped if she did not have the utmost confidence in Encompass Africa's arrangements.

The guest house was very pleasant and welcoming, with a lush garden and pool. The rooms were very spacious and comfortable. It had beautiful views from the garden, not of Mount Kilimanjaro but another mountain in the area, Mount Meru.

 

Luckily when we saw Mount Meru in the evening we seized the day and took photos, because the next day it was shrouded in mist. I wanted to photograph Kilimanjaro that day, but it was also coyly hidden. We took photos in the garden, seeing some lovely birds.

Instead of photographing Moumt Kilimanjaro, we spent the next day looking around Arusha. The Tanzanite Museum was interesting, and we were fascinated to learn the origin of the word carat. However, there was heavy pressure to buy and we are pretty sure our guide got a cut.

We walked around Arusha, our guide pointing out a highlight - a brick tower with a Coca Cola sign at the bottom. Coca Cola did not build the tower, but they pay for cutting the grass around it. The scene on the road leading out of town was very colourful.

We drove along busy roads which reminded us so much of India and China, with their inventive use of what people had to hand, like this lady cooking her home-grown corn to sell.

The people improvised cleverly with what they had to make a living, and got around with huge loads.

I took some photos of the passing scene but was warned to be very careful as my phone or camera might get snatched. This man already had one and was making happy use of it!

We then went to the market. I felt most uncomfortable. The people stared at us with what seemed like hatred, put up warning hands, averted their faces and in the universal gesture, rubbed their fingers together if we so much as looked at them.

They wanted payment if we took a photo. I don’t mind paying if that helps them out, I have much and they have little. However, we had limited small change in American dollars. I paid this lady but even then she kept her face averted and was far from friendly.

We ran out of American dollars. I started taking photos of produce for sale, like these irons designed to be filled with hot coals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We asked our guide why they seemed to resent tourists so much. He said they thought everyone who took photos was going to sell them for lots of money – which is certainly not true of me! It’s all about the memories and sharing our experiences, not for profit.

A young boy began following us around the market trying to sell us a limp bunch of coriander. By then we had run out of money. He looked so mournful that in the end I asked our guide could he pay in local currency for me to take a photo and buy the little lad’s coriander. I guessed that sad-eyed little boy had been told not to come home till he sold it, poor lamb!

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) Arusha Arusha market Arusha township Katambuga House Mount Meru photography Tanzania Tanzanite museum travel travel blog https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2018/11/Tanzania Sun, 25 Nov 2018 06:13:04 GMT
Ngorogoro Crater https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2018/11/ngorogoro-crater The next morning we took a small plane to Ngorogoro Crater. A bit of advice for those travelling in Tanzania where the luggage limits for small planes is only 15 kilos per person because of the high mountains they have to traverse. In most other countries like Botswana and South Africa it is 20 kilos.

After a lot of weighing and checking, I could not see how I was going to be able to do it. we had 10kg of camera gear each, leaving only 5kg for all our clothing, toiletries, laptop and so forth. In the end we decided to buy one extra seat on the Tanzanian flights between the three of us, giving us an extra 15 kilos -5 kilos each, which allowed us to pack 20 kilos each, in line with our next safari. It was a great idea, I highly recommend it.

 

We carefully steered clear of the passing traffic on our way to the airport for small planes outside Arusha.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was time to board our plane, having paid a 'consideration' to someone to watch over our bags and make sure they were loaded onto the right plane, after I had discovered them in a pile for the wrong one!

We arrived at Gibbs Farm and were most impressed. It is not cheap, being a 5* hotel in a beautiful location, with lovely gardens and luxury cottages for guests. However, it is like an oasis of much needed calm and relaxation after some pretty torrid travel. From the high vantage point of Gibb’s Farm you look out over splendid views of the plains below. The accommodation was extremely comfortable and the food was excellent.

We arranged a much-needed massage after all the bumpy roads, after which the others went on a bird walk which was one of the many interesting featured activities. I rested my knee which was not happy after all the travelling. I had also developed a cough, and feared I had caught a virus. We ate a delicious meal at a delightfully secluded table looking out over the spectacular views.

We were only staying two nights, checking in after our journey from Arusha, going into Ngorogoro Crater the next day, one night more, then off to the Serengeti. We said to the manager that we wished we could stay longer, and he commented, ‘Everyone says that!’ We definitely would have been happy to stay longer in this oasis of calm.

Our guide, Albert Samweli of Shimesa http://www.shimesatravel.com, was excellent. He had picked us up from the airport and was taking us to the crater the next day. He suggested a civilized hour, but we asked if he could get us to the gates when they opened, which necessitated heading out before dawn - Ngorogoro is extremely popular with tourists. We knew there would be big crowds later on and wanted to make the most of our photographic opportunities.

 I cannot stress highly enough that if you go to Africa on the trip of a lifetime, it is worth every penny to pay extra for a private guide and vehicle. This is particularly so when you are a keen photographer because you can choose when to leave and come back. You also have a say in how the vehicle is positioned to capture the action, get better light falling on the animal, or to achieve a less messy background. You can also stay as long as you want with the animals, without some tourist in your safari vehicle with the attention span of a gnat wanting to move off because nothing is ‘happening’.

Next morning we got up at 4.30 a.m. and trundled down to the vehicle with our camera backpacks and other gear in the dark, then drove for about an hour to get to the gates. Albert went through the check-in procedure, warning us not to allow the baboons roaming about to get into the car.

The crater wall is enormous and was shrouded in mist, this phone video shows the eerie sight as we drove around the rim to get to the steep road down into the crater.

Trees all around were festooned in Spanish beard moss from the constant damp. They were beautiful with their typical acacia shape. This one has many sparrow weaver nests dangling from its wide branches. I took this photo inside the crater, once we were out of the mist. Can you see the lilac breasted roller perched top left?

We were there before the madding crowds, which enabled us to see and enjoy the beautiful environment of the crater with its lovely lakes without a constant stream of other traffic.

 

 

The grazing animals were in good condition, you could see they felt safe with plenty of water and feed, and as far as we could see, not all that many predators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was hard to understand why the wildebeest would scale the crater walls and go join hordes of other wildebeest streaming across the Serengeti Plain, to jump into the Mara River with the gigantic crocodiles which had been waiting seven months for the wildebeest and zebras to return and give them a good feed.

Albert, our guide, said that old and sick animals do not choose to leave the crater, which makes perfect sense to this decrepit traveller!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The crater was epic in size. I took this photo which has a pair of elephants in the middle distance giving a sense of scale. The power and cataclysmic damage of this enormous volcano exploding is unimaginable!

The absolute highlight of our visit was seeing a lion family with seven cubs! I was thrilled. I’ve been to Africa but not seen any babies till now, and these two cuties were adorable hidden amidst the wildflowers. 

They had chosen to gambol in a field of flowers fairly close to the road. Vehicles are not allowed to go off road in the crater so we couldn’t have been more fortunate that they were within reach of our long lenses.

The babies played happily and then went to sleep, as babies do. Other people who had pulled up alongside us chose to leave. Being keen photographers, we waited. Babies sleep, then wake up, if you are patient you will be rewarded.

They woke and played some more, this time some of them chose to play with dad. I could not believe how tolerant the male lion was with his offspring.

Tolerant DadTolerant Dad

Time and again they took a swipe at him and he closed his eyes, patiently allowing them all sorts of liberties.

 

The lioness slept as the little ones tried all sorts of tricks on dad and tried his tolerance to the limit.

Is that the Milkbar?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                           

 

Is this the milkbar?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then the lioness got up and walked off. The lion was soon overtaking her. The cubs did not follow. They knew more than we did about what was about to happen.

It seemed that the male was particularly mellow because he was about to enjoy some afternoon delight!

The male lion had such a look of pleased satisfaction on his face afterwards! This was my husband’s favourite photo.

The female went back to sleeping and the cubs went back to pestering dad. At one point the lion gave the lioness such a look, it could easily be imagined that he was saying ‘Will you give over sleeping and come help me with the kids!’

One cub pounced on dad!

Eventually a cub went too far and got told off for his temerity, but we were charmed by what a tolerant father that lion was.

Many prides have a coalition of males, often brothers, who rule the pride. The lionesses when in season will share their favours with all of the males in a short period, to ensure that none of the lions is sure whether these are his cubs or not. Apparently the lions can tell roughly when the cubs were conceived and will not kill the little ones if there is a possibility that they are the father.

This lion family, however, seemed to be just the one male and female with cubs, although they may have absented themselves from a bigger pride for privacy. Maybe the male was especially kindly with the cubs because his love life was very satisfactory!

Eventually we reluctantly tore ourselves away to give space to other vehicles as the late starters arrived and the tourist invasion of Ngorogoro Crater hotted up.

Moving on, we paused to take photographs of the gorgeous grey crowned cranes, which are endangered. These beautiful birds were on my list of things to photograph and although they were quite far away, I was able to get good images of this pair feeding in the grassland. (Although this and the next photo are heavily cropped.)

I was delighted when this couple came together so elegantly in the mating dance. They both raise their family, and maintain a family structure for 9-10 months while looking after the eggs and young.

Hippos were enjoying a good wallow in the mud and moving from one wallow to another, festooned with ox-peckers which theoretically keep down ticks and other nasties, but also feast on the blood of their hosts and are not above keeping wounds open for this purpose.

We saw other fascinating bird life of the region as well, including a Kori bustard with beautiful, intricately patterned feathers.

An African wattled lapwing was so close to the vehicle that I could barely get it all in the frame, since my other half had my second camera with the wider lens.

African Wattled Lapwing

Flamingos were pacing through the lake in stately fashion, but too far away to get a good shot. We could not get closer on account of marshes between us and the lake.

We stopped to watch squabbling hyenas. They have a very distinct pecking order, and although the brown one was bigger than one of the others, his attempts to feed on the carcass they had found were fiercely rebuffed by the other two.

We had a picnic lunch in a lovely position overlooking the water, and then decided to call it a day. The crater was filling up with tourists and we’d seen a rich panoply of animals with the highlight being that happy lion family.  We felt that we’d had a wonderful day, and elected to return to Gibb’s farm early for a nap and to pack for our onward journey the next day.  

Ngorogoro Crater was far more beautiful, lush, and epic in scale than I ever imagined. I'd heard stories about how it wasn't worth seeing, being spoiled by tourist hordes. However, thanks to our daughter who had been there before, we chose to leave early and did not regret it. I loved our experience there. Here is a panorama of the crater taken from the crater wall as we wended our way home.

On our last night at Gibb’s Farm night we saw a bush baby which came in to a feeder they have set up. I had waited for ages with my good camera before dinner to take photos of it, but it refused to show up. Then, walking back to our room after dinner, we spotted it! We didn’t have our cameras, but I seized my i-phone X. For anyone who claims that phone photos are just as good as those taken with the heavier SLRs, I can only say that it depends on your subject matter - but a moving small animal in the dark......not so much! I am ashamed of the terrible quality of this image, but the camera you have is worth two left in the room!

Those bush babies are nowhere near as cuddly as I imagined!

Farewell to beautiful Ngorogoro Crater - next day we were off to the Serengeti.

 

 

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) African Wattled Lapwing Endangered Grey Crowned Crane flamingos Gibbs Farm hippos hyenas Kori bustard landscape lion cubs lions Nogorogoro Crater packing tips photography private guide travel travel blog https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2018/11/ngorogoro-crater Sun, 25 Nov 2018 00:30:00 GMT
Norway in a Nutshell https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2018/4/norway-in-a-nutshell This was a huge day. It would be better to do it with an overnight stop in Flam. If my travel agent had advised me of this a year in advance when we booked the cruise from Bergen, instead of one month in advance when the Norway in a Nutshell booking time came up, we might have stayed overnight en route. However in her lackadaisical fashion, this did not occur to her until we had already made all our onward arrangements. We could not cancel and re-book everything at such late notice, because all our dates were carefully dovetailed. Grrrrrrr.

It was me that booked the Norway in a Nutshell trip instead of my far from proactive travel agent. I should have done it myself at the beginning, but thought that’s what you paid travel agents for – to take care of travel arrangements for you!

We went to Central Station on the tram the day before to pick up the Norway in a Nutshell tickets. The hotel was chosen for its handiness to the station – but had the smallest hotel rooms I have ever been in! Apparently it is quite typical of Norway. The rooms were beautifully designed, functional and sleekly modern but…..hardly room to swing a cat! I guess the hotel rooms are designed for a healthy Norwegian hiker with one solitary backpack, rather than an almost decrepit mad keen photographer and her other half, equipped with one suitcase for Australia, one garment carrier for London and Hong Kong, and two duffle bags for the Arctic - plus two backpacks of photographic gear! I had quite a hissy fit when my husband lumped all the bags onto the bed in the morning and expected me to reorganise everything before breakfast!

 

The idea was to send everything we didn’t need on the train to our Bergen hotel with a great service called Porterservice AS,  run by Vidar Aaen Phone: +47 906 10 009 porter@porterservice.no    WWW.porterservice.no My husband said it would have been the end of a perfectly good 45 year old marriage if we had tried to lug the bags on and off three trains, a bus, and a boat, so it was well worth it! We paid 250 NOK (about 25 sterling) per bag. Worth every penny. I got the luggage transfer people to come to the hotel at 5.30 a.m. We left the bag for Australia in the unlocked hotel luggage room – that’s very common in Norway and works well. We picked it up on our way back home through Oslo.

Luckily I had read ‘Just Wanderlust Blog’, which said you should take a packed lunch because there was no time to spare for buying lunch between the various legs of the journey. At the station we bought enough food for breakfast, lunch, and an evening snack, plus water. As it turned out, the train to Myrdal had a bar with coffee, sandwiches etc. and we could have bought supplies there - but after that it was just too rushed. We found our platform with the help of a nice young man – it did not have Flam or anything else indicating we were going on the Norway in a Nutshell trip, just Voss.

It turned out that we had to head for an end destination of Voss, and get off at Myrdal, then take the train to Flam. The first leg to Myrdal took nearly 5 hours, from 6.25 a.m., as we steadily climbed into the mountains. A sign in the carriage showed our altitude.

I realised we should have specified, when picking up the tickets the day before, that we wanted to sit on the left side of the train - the scenery was better on that side. However, we didn’t, and got seats on the right side. My other half had a long nap lulled by the rhythm of the train, but I couldn’t sleep for animated loud chatter and bursts of laughter from four hearty Norwegian ladies sitting in front of us.

 

It turned out they were pumped and ready to roll when we got to the top of the pass where the scenery really was stunning, with meandering trails wandering beside beautiful lakes with impressive mountains all around.

They and most of our healthy, happy, fit looking Norwegian fellow travellers disembarked to go hiking or bike-riding along the trails.

At Myrdal we got off the train and waited about 10 minutes for the Flam railway to arrive.

Bear in mind that the front of the train to Flam is facing the opposite way from the train you just got off, and aim to be facing the front. Photographers, try to get opening windows, which are only at the front and the rear of each carriage.  We hustled to a window that I could open to take photographs. Sometimes the right was perfect for the sights, but sometimes the left was better!

 

If I had my time again, I would stay overnight in Flam and make the trip back to Myrdal to take photos out of the other side - but thanks to a gormless travel agent, we had no chance of choosing this option.

The scenery on the Flam Railway truly was amazing, with soaring mountains and beautiful waterfalls, punctuated occasionally by little patches of brilliant green grass on which sat super neat matchbox houses.

Rivers ran through the valley and splendid waterfalls came foaming down from the heights, spray like smoke all around.

 

Little boathouses and sheds were usually the traditional rusty red.

Guess who insisted on putting the backpack with my heavy long lens on the railway rack above our heads, even though I told him it would be fine between us on the floor. He wrecked his shoulder and ended up in a lot of pain.

When we arrived in Flam we were confused about which boat we were supposed to get on. There was no guidance at all for Norway in a Nutshellers. Fortunately there was an information booth. They told us we needed to get on the black boat leaving in half an hour. We just had time to go to the bathroom, then get in the queue. There was a café but you'd have to be pretty quick to get a bite to eat.

We went up to the top in front of the captain’s bridge, but there was no seating. The only seats were inside. Taking photos through grimy windows? No way! My partner suggested we go onto the lower deck and sit on a bulkhead below the captain’s bridge. My legs were dangling because the bulkhead was too high - but for a decrepit traveller, far better than one and a half hours of standing!

From the bulkhead we could get up and go to the rail when great photo opportunities presented themselves. It was a spectacular trip, particularly in the latter part of the journey after we turned the corner into the narrower part of the fiord. Until then it had been T-shirt weather - we were unbelievably lucky. However at this point the wind of our journey got bitterly cold with the boat really pushing up the fiord.

 

I put on my Arctic parka and was glad of it. I had a battle with hair whipping around my face and in the end put up the hood too. Along with nearly all our fellow passengers, my husband went inside out of the wind. I stayed and took photographs. The scenery was utterly magnificent. Next to me was Selfie Girl, so involved in taking photos of herself that she didn’t feel the cold.

I did not take photos of her, but later realised it was part of the story, so I asked my beautiful niece Carla to pose for me. She posed up on a bitterly cold morning with a fan blasting cold air at her, to replicate how windswept 'Selfie Girl' had been, with hair all over her face. Carla was an incredibly good sport about being my model and frozen near to death. With help from a Photoshop savvy friend I later superimposed the images of my model 'selfie girl' onto my own landscapes.

On the boat I had never seen so many selfies taken, head tilted this way and that, smile, smirk, grimace, hair flying one way, hair flying another way – and not one photo of the magnificent landscape without Narcissist Selfie Girl in front! Maybe she was writing a blog too, which relied on her being in every scene posing away. I far prefer to remain incognito but I've noticed on Instagram the nubile young beauties are the ones with all the followers! No hope for me, then, my following will remain small.

I hasten to add that Carla is not a narcissist but was a splendid model who helped her aunt with many a problem of how to get this video loaded!

As we neared the port of Voss, I went into the cabin to find my man – who had fallen asleep! Through the most stunning part of the journey! I hope my photos give him an idea of what glorious views he missed. Festooned, it must be admitted, by electricity wires. Norway is an amazingly beautiful place but humans do impose themselves on a landscape!

A bus was waiting for the Norway in a Nutshellers – it was nearly full but a very nice young Taiwanese woman let me sit by her in the front. I was so grateful - I get carsick in the back of a bus going around hairpin bends! The recommendation was to sit on the right hand side but beggars can’t be choosers. I was on the left, with my good Samaritan in the window seat. She chatted with a Taiwanese man and his wife in the other front seats. I took a few photos through the bus window, leaning across my kind companion.

The scenery was spectacular as the bus teetered around hairpin bends, winding its way down to the next town. It was terrifyingly steep but taking photographs took my mind off my usual white-knuckled fear on precipitous mountain roads. When we disembarked from the bus, we were all tired and became somewhat frazzled when we realised we had to wait about an hour till the train came. I sank down wearily on a seat to nibble my last sandwich. An interesting drama began unfolding between the Taiwanese man and his wife. He started yelling and threw a plastic wrapped package at her. It landed on the floor.

Another person retrieved it and gave it back to him. It was a roll his wife had given him to eat. He thanked them politely in English, then yelled at his wife even louder in Chinese. All of us in the waiting room were embarrassed and looking the other way. His wife got up and walked out of the station, most offended, to look at the calming scenery. 

 

He grizzled away to himself, poked the despised plastic wrapped package back into a shopping bag, pulled it out, shoved it back in again, left the carry bag on the floor. Off he went, muttering angrily. He came back, went to look for his wife, couldn’t find her, sat down again. She came in eventually, and he started screeching at her like a banshee. She announced loudly to the embarrassed people in the waiting room that he had threatened to kill her, and flounced off outside again. He sat squawking angrily to himself. She came in and tried to calm him. He let himself be mollified when she extracted a large bread roll with a different filling from the bag.

We must assume that he had threatened to kill his wife because he did not like the contents of his roll! It seemed he preferred the meatier option. Despite being close to the end of our tethers at the end of a very long day, we felt pleased that we had shown a bit more self-control and resilience than tantrum guy! It will be our benchmark from now on: ’At least I did not have a very public hissy fit because my wife gave me a roll with the wrong filling!’

Eventually the train came, and took a little over an hour to get to Bergen, passing more lovely scenery on the way.

Tired out, we took a taxi to our hotel, the Clarion Admiral, and were cheered up immediately by a lovely view of those iconic houses of gorgeous brown and rust red hues. Our luggage was there already thanks to the porter service.......and it was not a rainy day, which is apparently an extraordinary state of affairs in Bergen!

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) bergen blog boat bus fiord landscape mountains norway in a nutshell photography selfie girl train travel https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2018/4/norway-in-a-nutshell Mon, 09 Apr 2018 06:15:00 GMT
Grizzly Bear Safari, British Columbia https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2018/1/grizzly-bear-safari-british-columbia GRIZZLY BEAR SAFARI

We made this trip with Gerry van der Walt of Wildeye, and travelled to Tweedsmuir Park Lodge in Bella Coola by small plane. As always, it was a logistical nightmare to get the heavy camera gear all packed and distributed through the cabin baggage so that it was not too heavy for the weight specifications.

For some reason I was expecting a more flat, coastal terrain, maybe because the salmon swim upstream from the sea. However, our destination was many miles inland. We had quite a hairy flight in a small plane over spectacular mountains to get to it, with a fair bit of dipping and swooping as air currents seized the plane and rocked it about.

We landed and were driven to the lodge, which was located in the very beautiful valley of the Bella Coola River. The members of our group were accommodated in log cabins with a fabulous view of imposing rocky mountains.

Tweedsmuir Park LodgeThe view from our cabin.

We had a meet and greet with our fellow photographers, and the schedule was explained to us. We dined very well in the main lodge. We knew most of our group already and had a convivial evening.  Photo credit Zelinda de Cruz.

Next morning we were up with the dawn but had a choice to make: Coffee….or go down to the viewing platform to see bears? Easy…..Coffee! We enjoyed our coffee - but as we came out we spotted a bear walking through the cabins and along the little lake.  I grabbed the camera and took a quick shot but only got his backside disappearing into the grass.

We were not allowed to walk down to the viewing platform with our gear until the bear was well gone. He was a big, aggressive male. We heard about how a male had attacked the cubs of a mother bear in front of horrified guests some time ago. He killed one cub before the mother came out fighting. Mother bears are very fierce in defence of their young and despite being much smaller and lighter than the male, she managed to rescue the other, injured cub.

Grizzly bears are dangerous creatures. It turned out our daughter had gone down as soon as it was light enough to see, having been presented with the same choice as us: Coffee?....Bear?.....But her choice was ……Bear! I took this image later.

She had luckily got inside the electric fence and up into the viewing platform before this bear came through, so she got excellent shots of him coming up from the river beside the viewing platform shown in the photo below. When we and the others were finally allowed to go down to the hide …..nada….not a bear to be seen. Looks like coffee first was a bad choice.

We had a yummy breakfast, and then went on a river drift. It was very hard to keep my long lens, dubbed Big Bertha, steady. I can’t hand-hold it. Even on the monopod I struggled to keep it still enough to get a shot. There was a lot of movement with the boatmen paddling, the boat skipping or scraping over rocks, and the river current swinging the boat around.

We found a bear which obviously had far too much to eat and was wedged into the fork of a tree, sleeping off its binge. The bears need to feed as much as possible to store adequate fat for their winter hibernation. This one was napping before returning to stuff itself some more.

It seemed pretty comfortable with one leg braced on the trunk and its back against a small tree. Every so often it would half open a bleary eye and scratch its overly full tummy.  The ISO had to be very high to get a good enough shutter speed in the dark conditions so my photos were quite grainy but full of character nevertheless. I used Luminance to get rid of grain, in this one maybe too much!

The tree in which the bear snoozed had a blue rope swinging from it for children to jump into the river pool below.

I guess swimming for kids down at the river is off for now!

The bears were pretty well sated, scooping up exhausted, dying or dead salmon and eating a few bites before moving on to the next. This year (2017), over a million salmon come up the river. No wonder the bears had more than enough to eat! Bears are essential to the health of the forest, they carry salmon carcasses into the trees and fertilize the forest floor.

I lost track of time as we were busy, busy! However, I think it was the next morning that my husband somehow managed to be late. We were all in the vehicle waiting. First Gerry, then Phil, went to look for him. Eventually he was found, luckily just in time, because when we got down to the boats there were bears on the other side of the river from the boat ramp! I think the photo below illustrates how bears came to be given the pig-related names sow for a female and boar for a male.

The guides were worried that we wouldn’t get there in time - because of my husband. How embarrassing. I’m so glad we made it. Just imagine - his name would be mud if we didn’t! We took these photos standing on the opposite bank of the river.

After a good while those bears moved on downriver and it was safe for us to get into the boats. I really enjoyed drifting downriver.  It was peaceful and soothing with the river water chuckling along, plus stunning scenery of rainforest and spectacular mountains.

The next day we got up and my man looked out of the window. He said, ‘It’s pissing down rain. I’m not going out in that!’ We had a leisurely coffee in our cabin and I wrote up yesterday's experience. At breakfast Gerry had a conference with a few people and it was decided, sensibly, not to go for a day hike with a picnic lunch! I was relieved, my knee is not up to day hikes, though everyone tells me it will be fine and I struggle on trying not to whinge.

Instead, Gerry held a session on Lightroom, while some of us went down to the roofed viewing platform on the river bank. Phil very patiently taught me about taking panoramas using multiple images and then blending them in Lightroom. This one was taken on another day. There's a bear in there, can you find it? You have to be very careful to only get one frame with a moving subject in it or the combined panorama will not work. I was happy with this panorama.

I took a few photos of rain falling, with varying success.

Three hours later nothing much had happened except that mosquitoes came calling. I amused myself trying to capture one perched on Big Bertha, admiring itself in the mirror. We had repellent because I’d read a useful blog shared by Zz, about the possibility of mozzies and horseflies, and a stench from dying fish when photographing the salmon run. We didn’t have a problem with smell, no horse flies, and the mozzies only arrived on that one wet day. We were lucky.

Then I needed to go to the loo, as you do after three hours of waiting. We went up to our cabin, me saying ruefully that I was sure something would happen after I left. We were just preparing to go up and join in the Lightroom session when I spied Phil hurrying up from the hide looking frantic.  A mother and cub had arrived just after we left! But of course!

Phil is such a dear for coming to tell us instead of taking his own photos.

We grabbed our gear and hurried down to the viewing platform, me hobbling much faster than usual!

We got some great photos of the playful year-old cub hunting with far more enthusiasm than skill.

It was so cute, jumping, pouncing, looking disappointed when it didn’t catch a salmon.

Hmmmmmmm........what do we have here?

Zz and Linda arrived in a hurry after Phil alerted those doing the Lightroom session, and I gave Linda a space next to me with a good view. We all got some great images of the little one shaking itself on the sand bank in front of the viewing platform.

She lost her balance, just like a kid who has made herself dizzy.

The cubs stay with their mother for three years if I remember correctly. Males try to kill the cubs so the mother will become receptive to mating again. This mother was very vigilant, keeping an eye out for males. 

The mother was far more businesslike in her hunting than the cub, looking to put on sufficient fat to get her through the winter hibernation.

This photo shows her snorkelling, with her eyes below the water surface looking for salmon.

There are plenty of dead and dying salmon along the edges of the river but the bears prefer fresh if they can get it. We saw a few disdainful sniffs before the bears turned away from a salmon that wasn’t fresh enough!

The mother forged on upstream with her baby valiantly leaping through water too deep for it.

'Wait for me, wait for me..... momma..... please, wait for me!'

In the end they turned back and wended their way around the bend of the river out of sight of the viewing platform. What a fabulous experience! I was thrilled to have seen a mother bear and her cub, it made my day!

After lunch (the food was excellent and the company most enjoyable) we went on a series of short walks to see bears, but had no luck. Smooth river rocks proved very difficult for me to walk over, and I had a fall in the forest. No bears, but we did see a tree which bears had been using for a scratching post. The stripped bark began way higher than our heads!

Our guide pointed out a sad story in the sand – fish roe, bear prints, and white bald eagle poop. A female salmon had gone down to the sea, matured, and struggled about 70 km back upriver to spawn, but her life was taken by a bear. The roe, a special treat, was eaten before she could fulfil her purpose. The eagle came along later to get some easy pickings left by the bear.

The next day began with a plan to walk and then wait for a bear or two to hove into sight, instead of going on lots of short walks. We walked. Quite arduous for me. I had stem cell treatment to my knee this year and it is OK on flat surfaces - but the forest floor and rocky beaches? Not so much. I digress to show a photo of the mother and cub on the river bank.

We waited on a river beach for bears to show up. I sat on a rock. Most uncomfortable. Tried another rock. Knee got twisted. I hurt the other hip when I tried to get up. I hate the fricken walks! I should have stuck with my plan to stay at the lodge, try to cadge a ride on a boat, or go down to the viewing platform….they saw a mother bear and three cubs from the viewing platform today!

Practised slow shutter speed photos of the river rushing around rocks.

Then we went to another spot. Walk, pain, rocky beach, sat on an awful ridgy rock. Changed to a more comfy rock under a big fern. No bears. One of our number took a most unflattering photo of me under my fringe of fern looking like the wrath of God and shared it with everyone because she likes it! This is not her photo, I am incognito in this one - the way I like it!

If a bear came along the beach there's a chance it might not see me -which is good. I think we all know who would be last in a stampede of humans running away from a bear!

Took photos of the others on the beach. Did not share anything I thought was unflattering.

Lots of photos were taken of fish just under the water. They hover there, our guide told us, waiting for the right conditions of river flow and temperature.

The salmon are poised over the perfect sort of gravelly riverbed with water flowing over it quickly to give oxygen to the maturing eggs. That day the river was higher after the rain. The river level makes a difference to whether the salmon spawn or not. When conditions are just right, the females lay their eggs which the males fertilize. Then both males and females die.

We learned a huge amount, not just about bears, but about the salmon, too. They are absolutely crucial to the rest of the animals which depend on them for food. Salmon farms at the mouth of rivers can infect wild salmon with diseases and have an extremely detrimental effect on the whole ecosystem. These wild salmon have died naturally after breeding.

While waiting for a bear which never came, we started a competition to see who could snap a salmon jumping out of the water. Many and many a splash was photographed! It was incredibly hard to predict and have the camera pointed at the spot where the next jump would come.

I deleted hundreds of failed attempts at salmon leaping when it came time to edit about 5,000 photos, mine and my husband's - he never edits, but he helps carry my gear so we both do the heavy lifting in our different ways. Grateful thanks to Gerry for teaching me survey mode – it makes a huge difference. I'll post a bird photo here instead of another splash!

In the end our daughter won hands down by spotting a salmon jumping and then training her camera on a spot in front of its trajectory. The salmon obliged by leaping again and she nailed it! I didn't, so here's a shot of a curious bear instead.

On the way back to the vehicles I asked Zz to take a photo of me and my Sherpas. My husband is Sherpa number one, of course. Phil is Sherpa number two with Big Bertha on her tripod. He is a perfect gentleman and helped me so much, I am eternally grateful. Gerry joined in the fun and acted the part of Sherpa number three – though I don’t really have that much gear! One thing we really like about Gerry is that he has a very lively sense of humour.

I look like one of those old-fashioned lady explorers with my coterie. Photo credit to Zelinda de Cruz.

On the way back I asked if we could stop to take photos of an old trapper's cabin, now returning to the forest.

I loved the river drifts - no pain for my knee as we drifted along enjoying the spectacular beauty. The sound of water purling over rocks, the boatman skilfully guiding us through the rapids chatting about his life and the area, the brawny mountains piercing the sky above verdant green forest along the river banks – pure magic! We often saw birds, another highlight - like this heron.

This time we didn’t see bears until nearly the end of our drift. Then we came upon a magnificent male bear fishing.

 

     He was very active, plunging into the water repeatedly to pounce on a fish.

Our position was not the best – another boat had arrived before us and the boatman had jumped into the water to hold it. We had to hold back so as not to run down on top of this boat, so they got front row seats and we were further back.

Even so, it was a fascinating sight.

He paused for a foot itch. (This photo is heavily cropped because we were further away.)

We all did our best to get good images, though an even longer lens would have been a help under the circumstances! I was very pleased with my image of the bear looking our way, with an unhappy salmon dangling from its mouth.

We spotted a bald eagle in a tree above. I took a few photos, then gave Big Bertha to my husband because he had a better angle as the boat swung around. This is his image.

The bear emerged from the river with a salmon and began walking along a log. Perfect composition! I grabbed my camera back and trained Big Bertha on the bear. Focal point in exactly the right spot........Yessssss!!!! But later I realised my man had changed the shutter speed while photographing the bald eagle. The speed was too slow and my images of the bear climbing up the log were not tack sharp, especially the flopping salmon. Dammit! It does not pay to share your camera.

We were having dinner on the final evening and my other half disappeared. I went to look for him. He had spotted deer grazing on the lawn in front of our cabin and was taking photos of them from our verandah. Below is one of his photographs of the lovely delicate creatures.

 

The light was fading fast but I had a turn and was very pleased with this one I took of a fawn's head.

On our last morning at the lodge we went down to the hide at sunrise. Even though no bears appeared it was ethereally lovely. The rising sun suffused the mountaintops with golden light. The river wound its way mysteriously into the distance while early morning mist lingered over the water. The Sony a7R Mk II does splendid panoramas and I was very pleased to capture the full glory of this scene which we had been enjoying every day, before we headed to the airport. 

We had a great time at Tweedsmuir Park Lodge where we were very well looked after. The Wildeye team of Gerry and Phil were fantastic. A significant part of what they do well (apart from acting as sherpas) is to focus on the photographic experience of their clients rather than concentrating on getting their own shots. Each client is given lots of attention according to their needs and we have chosen to do several trips with Wildeye for this reason. Thank-you so much, Gerry van der Walt and Phil Symonds!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This last image of our group was set up by Gerry on the lodge steps just before we left. Gerry and Phil in the foreground, our daughter and I in the middle (I'm the shortie).

 

   

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) bella coola british columbia bucket list canada grizzly bears landscape salmon run travel blog tweedsmuir park lodge wild animals wildeye safari https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2018/1/grizzly-bear-safari-british-columbia Fri, 12 Jan 2018 05:15:00 GMT
Awe Inspiring Arctic Part 4 https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2017/9/awe-inspiring-arctic-part-four

We moved down Leiberfiord from Texas Bar until we reached Monaco Glacier at the end of the fiord. It is the biggest glacier in the area. Off we went in the zodiacs. This time we were with Gerry, Chris and Phil. They are all great photographers and fun people to be around. Chris was using a Leica and a film camera, I was in awe at how he changes a roll of film, so swift and professional!

It was freezing, with tiny snowflakes. Nan was blown away by how they each have a perfect, individual pattern. I remember that from the Ice Hotel. I’ve never seen it again till now – I think they are drier in the coldest places on earth and that’s why - bigger, wetter flakes don’t have those delicate, lace-like patterns, each snowflake having its own intricate structure. My breath was forming clouds in front of my face but the glacier was stunningly beautiful with the sun trying to beam out from the clouds. It was an extraordinary sight, with little ice floes and the sun reflecting on the water.

Gerry van der Walt of Wildeye is very helpful and positive. At his suggestion I took some portrait (vertical) orientation shots as well as landscape (horizontal) images and I was happy with this one of Monaco Glacier. However, I was discontented with the sky, thinking I had a spotty image – but then I realised it was tiny flakes of falling snow!

We saw a bearded seal, the big white whiskers adorning a tiny head on the end of a hugely plump sausage-shaped body. He languidly waved one flipper, snow falling from it onto the ice floe.

In the same area there was a walrus. Both of them had hauled up onto small ice floes. We were careful not to disturb them - they need the opportunity to warm their bodies and rest.

The water was calm, the reflections almost mirror-like. Birds like Northern Fulmars were happily adapted to the frigid conditions. My husband took this image which clearly shows the beautiful markings of this bird. To be honest, despite searching, we don't know what it is. Can anybody help?

The glacier made cracking noises and our zodiac shuddered every time it hit even a tiny ice floe. I watched in considerable trepidation as the craft with our daughter in it edged very close, dwarfed by the face of the glacier. What if the glacier calved? There was an ominous creaking noise and a small piece fell off, but fortunately, nothing huge! I had the lighter Sony. The focus had been playing up. Rather than having an instruction booklet, you look up your problem on the internet. The only trouble was, we were out of signal range for the whole trip. I squeaked with joy when it finally secured good focus on what I was told were rare Arctic gulls. However, this was the birding equivalent of the bum shot - the photo doesn't show enough frontal features to identify them conclusively as such. Back home in Australia, I found out that the issue with focus wasn't a camera fault - some obscure thing had been changed in the menu, possibly when we had the sensor cleaned after a dusty trip in the Kimberley.

We headed back to the boat with the guys boyishly planning a prank. We were going to be the first to get back. They decided to usurp the two ‘thrones’ always taken by 'the Dolly Sisters'. They got their beers and grabbed pride of place. I couldn’t resist a photo of their roguish faces!

That night after dinner, many went ashore at Virgohanna to see the whaling station. We heard the story of how Andrée, a foolish and famously over-confident would-be explorer, prepared his folly. He wanted to fly over the North Pole in a balloon. Completely ill-conceived, the trip was disastrous. They took off from a place noted for wind which came down off the mountains.

Surprise, surprise, the balloon was pushed downwards immediately by the wind, with the men madly jettisoning weight to try to keep it from plunging into the sea. They succeeded, but had thrown most of their food overboard. In the end the balloon crashed on land. Despite their efforts to survive, he and the two idealistic young men he had enticed into his wild scheme perished.

I chose not to go ashore and scramble around the whaling station in the night-time. I  struggle to walk on level surfaces even in daylight. Later we heard that several people had nasty falls on the slippery rocks in the dark. I was glad I had wimped out. They saw the whaler’s graves, opened and scavenged by polar bears, and the enormous whaling station where blubber was rendered. We heard that whales towed there for processing  bobbed on the water in such vast numbers that people could walk on their carcasses from one side of the bay to the other.

We eased into a very peaceful small fiord with marvellously tranquil water and superb reflections. Words can't describe how truly stupendous Svalbard is, formidable and daunting in its hostile frigidity, yet completely fascinating in its sublime wild beauty. It was a privilege to experience the pristine nature of this remote wilderness, largely unsullied by man.   

Our last day and everyone is feeling regretful to be soon leaving this place of wonder.

We went ashore at Alkehornet. As always, given my bone on bone arthritis, I was in the group on the ‘short hike’. I felt very dizzy and kept losing my balance. Our group slogged up a short steep slope from the beach. I felt even worse. A surgeon who had dropped out of the long hike group and joined our lot said,  ‘Are you feeling short of breath?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you feel dizzy?’ ‘Yes.’ A few more questions made me feel as if a heart attack was probably imminent as the ground heaved beneath my feet.

Then, obviously having made his mind up that I was not going to die, he said, 'Right. We have to go up this ridge’. Weakly, I replied, ‘I don’t think I can.’ He set off up briskly. Someone whose husband is of the same profession said to me later, ‘Typical surgeon!’

I had no choice but to try and follow. We had one crew member with a gun trying to watch over our group in case a polar bear found us and fancied a tasty morsel or two. The group were not allowed to split up.

We straggled along in the surgeon’s wake as he strode out in search of deer. Our group became more and more strung out as we attempted to follow him to the top of the ridge. Our gun-toting guard didn’t know what to do when his charges failed to stay together.

Then our guard got a message from crew members on the ridge.They had spotted deer down the easier slope where I had hoped to go in the first place. Our fit and able walker was off, setting a rapid pace back the other way. He soon left the rest of us dotted across the hillside, our guard in a panic looking from the front of the line nearly a kilometre away to me at the tail end tottering along. The land was going up and down. I looked like a drunk and felt nauseous. Belatedly, I realised I had severe vertigo.

Then a shout went up….an arctic fox had been spotted coming down the loose scree of the mountain slope ahead! How thrilling! Our surgeon took off like a racehorse. My husband forged ahead with Big Bertha. That meant I couldn’t use it - but he managed to get some in focus!

The fox, not bothered at all by the attention, wended its way down the slope towards the others who were way ahead of me. The photographers later complained bitterly because  someone who shall remain nameless had planted himself right in front of them to get an excellent view of the descending fox, and photo-bombed their shots! I was way back so his positioning didn’t bother me at all. I had nothing but a 70 -300 lens but I took photos anyway. My images are a testament to the full-frame Canon 5D Mk III. This has been very heavily cropped, but the detail is such that you can marvel at how the fox's summer colouration changing to winter white blends in perfectly with the scree-strewn hillside.

On we slogged towards the deer, our group strung out across the shaley face of Alkehornet with little rock flowers sheltering in crevices.

The poor crewman with the gun was in a blue funk as the leader disappeared over the ridge. No prizes for guessing who that leader was. Luckily no polar bear came along to snaffle the straggler (ME!) The sphagnum moss was soft. It did my knee no favours as it yielded spongily at every step, but eventually I reached the play-fighting deer.

I staggered up to the others to find my husband with Big Bertha, photographing a stag lying down. I wrangled Big Bertha for myself and propped it on a rock, getting some pleasing images of the stag’s head with the beautiful rich autumn colours of the sphagnum moss behind.

We took many photos of the deer. They were so warmly rugged up in thick fur that they resembled caribou. Some were practising their fighting skills. A member of our party approached so closely that you could see the wrestling deer saying, ‘Back OFF! Can’t you see we’re busy?’

I was destroyed by the time we got to return to the boat. Our short walk had turned into three hours of far more arduous hiking than I could imagine being able to complete.

Never mind, the images of Alkehornet in its warm autumn colours were more than adequate compensation, while across the bay we witnessed the beautiful changing light.

On our last night in the Svalbard Archipelago we were treated to a magical tranquil evening, with reflections of the mountains mirrored on the water.

Our daughter suggested we bought champagne for everyone, to celebrate an unforgettable experience and the cameraderie we had enjoyed with our delightful companions. ‘This champagne is a gift from the First Family!' said Chris, ever the life of the party. A little glacial ice, anyone?

After breakfast we lugged the bags up those steep stairs from our cabin – luckily Gerry and Phil gave us a hand with the heaviest ones. We were dropped off at our hotel first. Feeling intense vertigo, I lay down and slept. After lunch our daughter went on a 5 hour hike with some of the others and a guide. They saw a magnificent arctic fox in full winter coat! It was not at all shy and she got some stunning images.

When I felt better we went to the museum, which was very interesting - but obviously I would much rather have taken photos of the arctic fox! It is very frustrating not to be able to do the things I could do when I was younger, but I was truly blessed to be able to  experience the frigid wonderland of the Svalbard Archipelago. I will never forget the purity and stunning beauty of the Arctic.

It took more than 3 weeks to get over the vertigo.....I was starting to wonder if it would ever leave me. Next year I think I’ll stick to dry land! 

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) alkehornet arctic arctic fox arctic gulls bearded seal landscape monaco glacier photography reindeer travel blog walrus https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2017/9/awe-inspiring-arctic-part-four Tue, 26 Sep 2017 03:00:00 GMT
Awe Inspiring Arctic Part 3 https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2017/9/14 We were getting closer to the sea ice and seeing plenty of incredibly rotund seals, but no polar bears. We tried to photograph the seals but could only get them from afar, they were very wary and as the boat drew nearer they all slipped into the sea, first one or two, then a wholesale exodus.

Our guide told us that the male bears have taken to staying on the sea ice so they can get at their natural food but the females have to go ashore to give birth in winter. Throughout the long winter they feed their cubs incredibly rich milk, while having no source of food themselves. This is normal, but now the sea ice is too far north for the mothers to reach it after coming out of their snow caves. They make their way as far north as they can, yet with the ice so far from land it is impossible for them to reach it, because their cubs still cannot swim far without freezing. Already female polar bears are having one cub to try to survive themselves - they scavenge, eating bird's eggs and what they can find, but what they need is to get to the sea ice where they can hunt their natural prey, seals.

We got to 83 degrees north before we found the sea ice. It was very close to the North Pole, but we were still on mostly open water. All of us were out on deck or up on the bridge with binoculars, scanning assiduously for polar bears. Our guide was getting very tense about our failure to find them.

The sailing ship we had spotted earlier at Kennviken saw two male polar bears on the ice and sent us the coordinates. Sadly, despite making all possible speed, we only found their footprints by the time we got there. Though we hunted all afternoon, they were not to be found. One doesn't realise the vastness of the Arctic and how scarce polar bears are becoming. It made us all very sad as we reflected on humanity's careless use of fossil fuels and the advance of climate change which is impacting so heavily on the environment of these specialised, unique creatures.

What is that little red thing on the ice floe? You may well ask.

It was decided to tie up to a large ice floe overnight so we wouldn't have to slog back to land to anchor. We were at dinner, but noticed a crew member out on the ice floe with a peg and cable to make the boat fast. We began drifting away. Our trusty crew member was digging his feet and skating across the ice. Chips of ice flew as he was towed across the ice floe rapidly, towards the freezing water! Every photographer leapt up to grab their cameras. By the time we got out on deck, the crew member had let go of the rope to avoid a potentially fatal dunking in that gelid sea. We took photos as he was left far behind in this icy wilderness while the boat was laboriously turned around and came back.

By then he had hammered home the peg that was to hold us for the night. They threw him a cable which he tied securely to the peg, then scrambled gratefully back on board. We drifted all night, tethered to the ice floe.

We returned to dinner. That night our meal was a culinary triumph with blanquette de veau and profiteroles with two kinds of icecream filling plus cream! We all abandoned our abstemious eating and gorged!

That evening we enjoyed a very lovely sunset. When I went to the back of the boat to capture this image the chef was out there smoking and drinking in the ethereal beauty of the scene. I tried in my broken French to compliment him on the delicious meal. God knows what I really said!

In the morning we began our journey south to a bay where polar bears might be found. The seas were very rough once we left the calming effect of the sea ice. I had to put on a patch again and lie down. We scanned for polar bears without success but saw eerily beautiful landscapes with splendid light effects. I thought this one worked well in black and white.

Later we saw a far-off storm which was dwarfed by the immensity of this stunningly beautiful landscape.

We went into Rijp Fiord which is not far from Greenland. After lunch, my husband retreated to read, saying he was tired of being cold. I gave him a lecture: 'You can read your book anytime but most likely we will never be in the Arctic again!!!' I dragged him out to drink in the wild beauty of the pristine landscape. 

In the evening we headed south to Leiberfiord which meant going out to sea. It was a WILD night! The boat was plunging wildly, smashing into the waves, grinding through ice floes. Things were falling off shelves and coming loose, stuff was shifting around on deck and crashing against the cabins up there.

I was glad I'd had a queasy premonition and got ready for bed early. I've had a stroke which destroyed the balance nerve from the middle ear to the brain. I've learnt to balance using my eyes, but could never have kept steady on my feet! The others were upstairs having Krakens, a delicious hot chocolate and spiced rum drink they'd invented. I heard later that it was a battle for them to get down to their cabins as the boat heaved up and down. I fell into bed with every sort of seasickness meds I had. I found it particularly hard to bear when the waves became choppy and we started going sideways in a corkscrewing motion. In our bow cabin the scrunching was so loud that sometimes I feared we had smashed into one of these!

I survived the threat of seasickness thanks to all the meds. I’m pretty sure some of the others had a bad night - next morning we were amongst the first four in to breakfast which was a record for us! In a stunning bay we visited a trapper's hut with spectacular views, named 'Texas Bar'.

This tiny little outpost of a human presence in such a vast and stunning setting was set up with a picnic table out front and a scene of domestic bliss inside, even a washing line over the pot bellied stove. As a photographer, I was annoyed to find the distance from one side of the cabin to the other was so small that I could not show this in one photo.

We explored the area around the bay, finding rivulets making marvellous patterns upon the sand and admiring the spectacular views enjoyed by the trappers, in surely one of the most extreme, inaccessible places on earth.

See if you can spot their cabin so tiny at the foot of the mountain in this image.

We walked to the cairn at the end of the promontory. I was happy to return to the boat. More able-bodied fellow explorers like these two gave me a hand to get down the shaley slopes to the shore before they hiked off to the glacier.

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) arctic blog landscape photography sea ice seal svalbard texas bar trapper trapper's cabin' travel https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2017/9/14 Thu, 14 Sep 2017 11:00:00 GMT
Awe-inspiring Arctic Part 2 https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2017/8/StunningSvalbard

We anchored in beautiful Magdalena Fiord and I had a better night without the engine noise boring up through my pillow.

We were just having a wake-up coffee in bed next morning when one of our party hurried down to tell us they had spotted a polar bear and everyone was taking photos of it! Yikes! I battled to find my stuff and get heavy gear and mountain boots on quickly - but by the time I got on deck it was gone! Damn and blast. Should have gone out barefoot in my pyjamas, despite the cold!

Photo by Sarah Zito@lifesafariphotography.com

The poor starving creature was scavenging for what it could find along the rocky shore. We all dashed to get our heavy gear on and into the zodiacs to try to find it. In the end we spent hours freezing and never saw the polar bear again. It was snowing and my old lady plastic poncho came into its own! It kept the wind and snow out and I was fairly comfortable but my husband got sopping wet from waves splashing over the side.

In the afternoon, seals were seen not far from the boat and another trip in the zodiac was organised. I was not feeling well after our freezing wet morning, and both of us declined, thinking we could see the seals quite well from our boat. It goes without saying that those in the zodiacs then went off round the corner and disappeared for ages. I was gutted, thinking they had spotted a polar bear. Then they returned - no polar bear - but they had found puffins! Soooo jealous!

Photo by Sarah Zito@lifesafariphotography.com

We woke late next morning and had a mad scramble into all the layers, then went to explore the abandoned Swedish scientific research centre of Kenvikken. We were not the first. Passengers from another ship were exploring the icy wastes. Wooden buildings in the settlement had shutters to keep out blizzards. They were dwarfed by the enormity of the frigid Arctic and one couldn't help but feel how harsh and hostile the environment was for those who worked there. This member of our party, checking out the sauna, has a gun. One or two of our guides carried guns at all times in case of a polar bear attack. It would be dreadful to have to shoot one when they are becoming so scarce. Who could blame them for going after a food source on their territory? Luckily that did not happen on our trip.

The Swedish researchers had made themselves as comfortable as possible, with a sauna and other mod cons. The loneliest dunny in the world sat out away from the other buildings - 'dunny' being an Australian term for the outhouse toilet!

We explored the buildings. Bleached whale bones framed a doorway and skeletal remains  of various creatures lay on the snow.

The other party of travellers regained their ship and sailed away. I quickly grabbed the Canon 5D with its 100 - 300 lens and steadied it on my husband's obliging shoulder to grab a shot before the sailing ship disappeared over the horizon. It was a wonderful sight which for me evoked the insignificance of mankind, dauntlessly pitted against the majesty and purity of the vast Arctic landscape.

Then we, too, began the charge north trying to find sea ice (pack ice), which is receding more and more every summer. It took nine hours of sailing before we ended up finding the outer edge of the sea ice at 83 degrees of latitude - not that far from the North Pole! We briefly relished being the northernmost people on the planet.

Later we found out that in October 2016, the year we were there, the sea ice moved south later than at any other time in recorded history.  This would leave the mother polar bears even worse off and possibly unable to survive because they could not reach the sea ice where fat seals, their main food source, were clearly flourishing and fat as butter.

Our expert wildlife guide was giving a talk about polar bears when an alarm rang. The bridge had spotted a blue whale, a very rare sighting! Such excitement! We all raced on deck to take photos, some of us still in T-shirts but insulated against the cold by the wonder of this sighting. For this one I managed to prop heavy Big Bertha on the side of the boat. It was truly a marvellous experience to capture images of the largest mammal and one of the rarest creatures on this earth. Our guide told us that once a blue whale fluked, it would dive for 20 minutes, so we wouldn't see it again.

However, this one was like the humpbacked whales we've seen in Queensland waters - it played around the boat, diving and returning, with a definite awareness and interest in our presence. It was a female with a calf. Perhaps that is the reason it didn't vanish underwater on the first dive. Even the calf practising its dives was bigger than our boat!

That night we photographed an icy wonderland in the evening light. A lone walrus comfortably ensconced on an ice floe showed just how much at home these animals feel in such a vast, forbidding environment.

We donned all our layers and went out in the zodiacs the next morning, but no luck, no polar bears, no nothing and although I was wearing every stitch I owned, it was FREEZING, despite the fact that this was late summer/early autumn. In the afternoon walruses were spotted on an ice floe. Off went the zodiacs again with us aboard - we were determined not to miss out this time! Bouncing up and down in the zodiac made it hard to get good focus but I was fairly happy with this image taken with the Sony A7R Mk II, the kit lens 24 - 240mm at its full stretch of 240 mm.

That night we ground our way through ice floes as we headed north. The noise in our bow cabin was positively scary at times. Our boat has a toughened hull but it is not an icebreaker. Once we got out of the fiord and into the open sea, the boat plunged up and down like a merry-go-round horse. I used the patch for seasickness plus seabands plus Zofran and fortunately avoided spending the whole night heaving in the freezing bathroom.

When we heard water sloshing around in our bathroom I got worried. We reported it to the watch officer and were assured that water comes up in the pipes if air gets into them. We tried to keep it at bay with our towels - otherwise we got an icy surprise when going to the toilet barefoot in the dark of night!

We were up at Seven Islands by this time. This is the most northerly part of Svalbard - Ross Island, wreathed in cloud.

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) arctic blue whale kenvikken landscape magdalena fiord photography polar bear puffin ross island seal svalbard travel blog walrus https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2017/8/StunningSvalbard Mon, 28 Aug 2017 01:15:00 GMT
Awe-inspiring Arctic https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2017/8/awe-inspiring-arctic/svalbard We arrived in Longyearbyen, excited about our upcoming photographic expedition with Wildeye to explore the Svalbard Archipelago.

The mountains dwarfed the settlement.

 

A signpost at the airport showed how far it was to other cities in the world from this, the world's most northerly settlement. We worked out that it is 13,979 kilometres from Longyearbyen to our home town of Brisbane, Australia!  

Longyearbyen signpostPhoto credit to Sarah Zito @ lifesafariphotography.com                                                                 Photo credit to Sarah Zito @ lifesafariphotography.com

The taxi driver told us a polar bear mother and cub passed by at the foot of the mountains on the other side of the water just yesterday. It sounded promising. We dined at our hotel, the Radisson Blu, and had a very enjoyable meal with the image below as our view.

I woke up in the morning with a COLD! I've been healthy for 6 months - and now I get sick just in time for a trip we booked a year ago! I felt very miserable. We headed into the town and saw indications that this was a very different place. It had a frontier feel, with dog sledders coming into town. We noticed signs which read: 'Please do not Park Your Dog Here' and 'Do Not Leave the City without a Gun'. (This was because polar bears pose a danger to humans.)

                                                                   Photo credit to Sarah Zito @ lifesafariphotography.com

It was the end of August but snow was already beginning to fall on the mountain tops and it was seriously cold! In Australia I had been scoffed at by my husband for buying so many layers - but now he and our daughter went shopping for warm gear and gumboots.  A tip for readers who are thinking of doing this trip - buy gumboots in Longyearbyen, it beats trying to pack heavy gumboots which take up so much space. They have excellent cold weather gear for sale - but it's not cheap!

We were picked up by a bus in the morning to go to our boat. Gerry van der Walt of Wildeye and his trusty offsider Phil Symonds were a huge help with our gear. We had so much STUFF! Many warm layers, hiking boots, gumboots, and of course, mountains of  photographic gear. It was a nightmare of logistics trying to get it all onto the boat but finally we were in the saloon. Phew!

The gear! We set sail and had a meet and greet, which was suddenly interrupted because our first polar bears had been spotted! Everyone piled out on deck. It was the mother and cub which had passed by Longyearbyen the day before. Huge excitement, but even with Big Bertha, my 200-400 Canon lens with inbuilt extender, they were so far away as to be no more than blobs. Would we see any more? We were all tremendously excited and felt that it was a good omen.

Colour comes with the varied blues of the sea and stunning turquoise of glacial melt water, but overwhelmingly the impression is of an extreme environment in which survival would be a struggle. Even so, I found the pristine landscape alluring and utterly beautiful. In the Arctic, warm colours are only added by the setting or rising sun. The sun set very late at 11 p.m. and the sky never became completely dark so we couldn't see the Northern Lights. Nevertheless, the soft colours of sunset fanning out from the mountains were magical.

Apart from sunset and sunrise, the landscape was almost monochromatic. As the sun sank lower and lower in the sky, we listened as fellow photographer and keen historian Steve told of Shackleton's epic journey with five companions in a small whaleboat over these icy seas to get help for his stranded company of men left behind on Elephant Island.

The journey took 16 days in which they were constantly wet and had to chip ice off the sails and boat with frostbitten hands. They slept on top of the ballast rocks amidst water sloshing around the bottom of their boat in these freezing conditions. At one point they barely survived a gigantic wave. Incredibly, they made it to South Georgia thanks to an extraordinary feat of navigation and endurance. They made it ashore through heaving surf, then found their way to the settlement where they got help and went back to save the others left behind.  The photo below, taken with a long exposure as dark fell, evokes the menace of this frigid, hostile environment.

We all shuddered as the scene before us brought home what they were forced to endure, struggling for survival in such a forbidding place.

Day one of our photographic adventure in the Svalbard Archipelago was over. We dined with an intrepid crew of cheerful photographers that night. The boat was French with a friendly, helpful crew and we had high hopes of the cuisine. Our companions were tremendous fun - ready for anything to get the perfect shot, adventurous..... and above all, with a great sense of humour!

We retired to sleep. Our cabin was pretty small, it was a real trial trying to find space for our gear but we more or less made it possible to find the things we wanted when rushing to dress and get topside to make the shot - with one notable exception, of which more anon. There was an en-suite bathroom which was a luxury, but we searched for a shower. Finally we realised there was a shower rose in the ceiling, and the bathroom itself became the shower! Everything had to be put away so it wouldn't get wet, towels put outside the door - and this is the first time I have ever seen a shower curtain to prevent the toilet getting wet!

Our bed was right up against the wall and I was on the inside, so I had to clamber over my husband to get to the loo in the night. Not so good for an aging semi-decrepit traveller or her husband. We weren't expecting luxury but the boat was comfortable. Photographic trips are not cushy luxury cruises and the people you meet are generally optimistic, hardy, and more interested in getting a great image than the creature comforts. I am more of a glamper at heart, but my inner princess was relegated to a back seat.

Next morning we donned many, many layers. Suffering as I do from hot flushes, I became boiling hot and desperate to get outside once I had donned three layers, waterproof pants, a parka, neck warmer and hat covered by my hood. I burst out onto the cold deck sweating as I tugged on the lifejacket, getting it back to front once in my desperate hurry to cool off! A crew member informed me gently that the way I had it on, I would sink, and helped me adjust it.

When everyone was ready, we left Polaris 1 and set off in tiny zodiacs to see walruses.

We needed every stitch of clothing and wished for more, once we were out there buzzing along in our zodiacs, frigid water slopping over the side and the icy wind augmented by the wind of our passage. On a spit of land we all clambered out of the zodiacs into the gelid sea and sloshed ashore through gently waving seaweed. Those gumboots had already come into their own, as had the special booties and two layers of socks inside the gumboots!

Then the keen photographer in us took over and we snapped away madly, getting who knows how many gazillions of photos of an ugly of walruses.

Walruses lie in the sun to warm their bodies which become pink as blood comes to the surface, perhaps you can see that in this photo.

One walrus even got too hot, and headed into the water to cool off. One of our world class photographers later showed us close-ups which seemed to show that this walrus was in the throes of a sexual urge! Nothing of that shows in my decorous image, but I liked the angled line of the sea washing onshore as he wallows in the frigid water.

Then it was back to the zodiacs again and around to the other side of the spit on which the walruses lay. One of our party called them 'aubergines' and you could see the resemblance! We sat in the zodiacs watching. The icy fingers of wind found their way under my parka and froze my kidneys as we sat for ages - but I got what I considered to be my best image, the walruses captured in their natural habitat with moody clouds overhead. Never mind the cold - I was a happy photographer!

As we headed off to the end of the spit to see birds, two very curious walruses followed us. On was only a metre away. I was lined up to take the shot when my dearly beloved, who was in front of me, leaned forward into the frame, saying, 'Hullooo!' to the walrus. He photobombed my shot! Hell hath no fury like a photographer bilked of a shot by their husband, of all people! The image I did get shows how close these formidable creatures came to our tiny craft.

I took my longest lens, which I call Big Bertha. It is a 200-400 Canon f/4 L IS USM with inbuilt1.4x extender, on a Canon 7D Mk II. In the next photo, it is the same as the one closest to the camera. I cannot manage the weight of it without a tripod and found even a monopod impossible to use in the little zodiacs. All the others got down in the bottom of the rubber craft and used the cushion to steady their lenses, but my knee is bone on bone - if I got down I would never be able to get up again! 

In the end I used either the Canon 5D with a 16-35 mm lens, or the lighter Sony a7R MkII with a 24 - 240 lens. Thanks to my encroaching decrepitude, I took mostly landscapes and animals in their environment, rather than close-ups - but that turned out to be a marvellous experience in itself. The Artic is pristine and stunningly beautiful. In the end I captured very satisfying images. There's a seal on the ice floe at the bottom of this mountain - the Arctic Paparazzi in the photo above got close-ups, but I was pleased to capture the whole scene.

The others went on a hike, looking for deer. I can't walk that far so I stayed on the boat. I was not sorry to lie down - my cold had worsened sharply out on the freezing sea and I'm sure the others thought I had brought the plague to Svalbard!

They visited an abandoned shale mine and went on to find a magnificent stag, which promptly lay down against the rock face the minute he saw them.

My husband, the not so decrepit half of the team, took this photo, which he calls 'The Bum Shot'!

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(Not Yet Decrepit Traveller) arctic arctic fox blue whale landscape photography reindeer seal svalbard travel blog walrus https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/blog/2017/8/awe-inspiring-arctic/svalbard Mon, 07 Aug 2017 04:30:00 GMT