Wednesday, December 2, 2015

SKOMER ISLAND WHERE YOU’LL FIND PUFFIN MAGIC

The stairway to heaven must look something like this
May of 2014 brings around an opportunity to do a little wildlife photography in the Great British Isles. A huge contrast to the plains of Africa, but nevertheless an opportunity to spread the proverbial African wings to distant shores.

Skomer Island lies off the coast of Wales. As such the priorities change somewhat when it comes to packing. Water can now be classed as the enemy instead of the usual African dust and clothing suddenly is a lot heavier.
Adorable little bunnies hide in the bluebells all over the island
Travel from London along the motorway is thankfully quite swift once one breaks free of the confines of the M25 and before too long the narrow windy tracks of the Welsh countryside make for a new driving experience. I strike out onto the A40 and head towards Haverfordwest. My iPhone Maps suddenly becomes my very best friend when I hit those unmarked country lanes. An African in a teeny weeny little car picking its way through the hedgerows must be a sight for sore eyes. I have vision after vision of my mangled body being pulled from the hedges after a head-on collision with another car. I arrive at the meeting point, marked Dale Princess on Google maps where the island ferry embarks.
Stretching my wings
Carrying bags and gear along narrow steep paths is a new experience that reveals all too soon my non existent levels of fitness. A daisy chain gang to load the ferry is another new experience and soon we are on our way across icy seas.
Little groups of Puffins congregated like this all over the island in some kind of ritual that definitely needed some explanations.
Skomer Island lies a couple of kilometres off the coast and the landing platform is another quick learning curve for the unfit. I decide I will not count the stairs but suffice it to say that if there weren’t some much younger healthier individuals helping to bring the luggage up to the top it would have taken more than just an hour or so for me to have hauled myself up the stairs with my gear. 
Little puffs of white flowers translate into a cloud of magic.
Finally we arrive at our unexpectedly comfortable digs. No extra comforts but serviceable and the biggest comfort of all is hot water. That, on its own makes for comfortable living. Luggage is strewn around the room, cameras emerge along with all the rain gear and its off across the island to find the puffins. The ever present rain is looming on the horizon but just as I would ignore the rain in Africa I ignore the rain in Wales.
Puffins need to stretch their wings.
Finding the puffins is not an onerous task at all. The discovery of the phenomenon that almost the whole of the island aside from some bluebell fields and pathways is one giant nesting site leaves one to wonder at the marvels of nature.
If we could see angels, this is what their wings would look like - on puffs of clouds
Day two on the island and the rain seems determined to set us back but braving the wind and rain at the insistence of one of the group we head out again. This time we find a different spot and we are privileged to see some of the other species that populate the island’s cliffs. By the afternoon we are not discouraged at all despite the inclement weather and the afternoon finds us in a field of flowers being thoroughly entertained and entranced by these singular little feathered folk who are impervious to our presence.
Bunny heaven
Hiking around the island lugging camera gear on your back is a new challenge for me. In Africa the norm is to be in a tin box on wheels and my fitness is seriously questioned on my quest. However, I find the bracing, cool air fuels my body to exceed its levels of activity. Limited time prevents me from exploring the whole island and indeed gives me cause to return once again. But in the meantime the thrill of spending time in nature with its creatures outside of a hide or a mechanical hide is quietly satisfying. I get time to study the birds behaviour and their interactions in the many little groups spread across the island. I desperately miss the British version of Roberts (which does not exist) but which I find fulfils such an important part in informing me of the intricacies of the African bush. Unfortunately, despite the island being overrun by researchers and bird counters no one seems to be able to answer those questions that we Africans can find at the flick of a page or the click of a button. I make a note to go in search of what I would call “The Roberts” of Europe.
Another little congregation of Puffins
As the end of the short trip draws closer I get to see the Manx Shearwater as it comes hurtling back to the island late at night. The experience of having to stumble along in the pitch dark with not a light in sight is faintly medieval in its nature and in sharp contrast to what I am used to where the dark presents clear danger. The island is also overrun with big fat bunnies who hop along the footpaths and appear to be in heaven as there are very few predators to send them scurrying.

I think this is Puffins in love
The sharp contrasts between an African bush experience and this relaxed back to nature expedition are expansive. Tranquility and peace reign on this little island and the quaint, quirky Puffin has nothing more than storms to fear (and maybe man in his careless way). I leave the island regretting of course that I did not plan to stay longer but know that at some stage I can do this again but I would have to make it soon as I am not sure how many more years I will be able to schlep a 500mm lens on my back.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Elephant Day 2015


The African Elephant up close - almost posing for his photograph.
It is Elephant Day today. For quite some time now I have been banging on about the Elephant Crisis that is sweeping through Africa. Those damned Chinese ivory carvers and their clients combined with bad governance by African leaders are keeping the momentum going, fuelling poaching and illegal trade. The losers in this story are the elephants that are dying at a rate of 15 per day. It can’t go on.

So, besides Robert Mugabe and Jacob Zuma giggling and dismissing the frantic appeals by conservationists there is a large population whose concerns are more around filling their bellies and keeping starvation from their doors along with those who are filling their overfilled bellies and lining their pockets. And then there are those who, if they cared to listen, could perhaps be doing something more about this sad state of affairs.

Why should you care, I hear you say? Well, let me tell you a little story that took place only a few months ago. And maybe, after you have read this little story you will be motivated to care a little more, and care enough to add your voice to the growing numbers of objectors out there who are raising hell and together, maybe, we can stop this wave of destruction.

It is December, almost Christmas and it is hot in Limpopo, a northern province of South Africa. The air is thin and the little rain that is falling comes in short sharp spurts causing the paths and roads through the African bush to turn into mud traps just waiting for an unsuspecting vehicle to come on by so that it can suck its tyres deep into its folds and keep it there for at least a little while.

The Mapungubwe Reserve is a disappointment as far as wilderness experiences go. It is carved up out of bits of landscape that are disconnected and not easy to navigate. However, on a piece of the reserve there is a 4 x 4 trail that is given quite a lot of exposure in the media. It is to this trail that we head with our Jeep Rubicon that is a vehicle that defies bad terrain. In fact it eats up bad terrain for breakfast.
Breeding herds abound in this northern area of South Africa
Initial entry to the trail through an unlocked, unsupervised gate is relatively easy but it is not long before the rough terrain is evident. Navigation is slowed dramatically as signs are faded and have been pushed around by large animals that evidently don’t need any navigational help. The Jeep grinds along rolling over rocks and through little clearings. The sun is still fairly low on the horizon as we pass a lone bull elephant standing casually scooping up huge mouthfuls of long green grass. He is not near enough for a photograph and we move on.

We round a bend and in front of us we can see very definite evidence that the vehicle that had made its way on this track before us had fallen foul of one of those wonderful mud holes that suck you down and keep you tight within its grip. We get out of the vehicle to assess whether we can make it through the deep gashes that have been cut into the clay base. We decide that it would be advisable to gather some of the surrounding dead tree branches and to fill the previous vehicle’s tracks as it would give us a better chance at staying clear of disaster.

We start collecting bits of old branches and pressing them firmly into the soil when suddenly a deep rumble rolling out across the African bush reaches us. It is an elephant rumble, the kind that sets your senses alight and you realise that you are moving in someone else’s backyard. We exchange looks and decide that it must be the bull elephant we have just passed. By our estimation he was far enough away from us to give us time to work the trail and we carry on with our task. Throughout the fifteen odd minutes we labour the rumbles grow closer and closer. We jump back into the Jeep and start up the engine.

A bit of discussion, a bit of driving, a bit of sliding and we are through the mud hole safely. We smile in satisfaction that we have not got ourselves into trouble and we can progress knowing that we are conquerors of the bush. The track starts going up a small incline that is not much of a challenge for our vehicle and soon we are pushing the nose of the Jeep over the rise. However, it is only the nose of the vehicle that can go over the rise as in front of us, as far as the eye can see is a herd of around 100 elephants. It is a breeding herd with elephants of all ages and sizes and we are slap bang in the middle of the herd.
And here it is, the larges breeding herd I have ever seen.
Instantly, following the best advice we have had, we cut the engine and we sit tight. No sudden movements, no loud sounds and certainly no panic. The elephants glance our way and we note that they are watching us intently while they continue grazing. They lumber on slowly pulling up huge chunks of luscious green grass. It gives us time to start focussing on various individuals and I am lucky enough to be able to keep my camera in the window while getting fantastically close up shots. At no time do we see any indication from the behaviour of the herd that we are in any danger.
Surrounded by elephants one has to hunker down and not give rise for any alarm.
The matriarch comes ambling by with a tiny little elephant in tow, perhaps only a few days old. She is followed by what I assume is another one of her calves who is quite curious. A trunk is extended towards the open window of the car and we are “sniffed” for approval. The vehicle gets the same treatment all around the front bumper as the young sub-adult makes his way past us.
Just a few days old this little elephants ears are still very furry and pink. A privilege indeed to get so close to something so young and fragile.
At best this 4 x 4 trail we are following is judged to be a 5 - 7 hour drive and we are still at the start of it. We are worried we may not make it out off the trail before dark if we don’t get going. The elephants, however, are in charge of when we can make our move. We patiently wait for the larger part of the herd to move by before we start up the engine and reluctantly have to leave them behind.

My heart always beats much faster when I get so close to these magnificent beasts, their little rumbles fill the air around you and if you are allowed to sit in such close proximity to them you too feel a lot more special. It is a feeling that surpasses our normal senses, a feeling that is difficult to describe but it is a feeling that only Africa can give to you. With respect comes acceptance and if you respect these glorious sentient beings they will give you the room to be a part of Africa too.

So, on Elephant Day 2015 let us raise our voices in unison and let us ensure that this, our African heritage, does not fade out and disappear in the sands of time.

Do you want to learn some Elephant-Speak. Follow this link to National Geographic and get your headphones on!


Monday, August 10, 2015

Sabi Sands Reserve - Lions on the African Plains Forever



The magnificence of a Male Lion with his mane in full flow
In the wake of the what has to be termed a Paradigm Shift for lions in the wild and on Lion Day I am reminded of the many experiences I have had with lions on the plains of Africa.

Getting close to lions ranks right up there with being some of the most exciting experiences that any one person can hope to see today. It is the one factor that I think has galvanised the world into action post Cecil the Lion. However, it is one thing seeing a single lion strutting his stuff out there in the African bush and an entirely different experience when one is privy to the might of the pride.

In areas where lions are pressurised by other pack animals such as hyenas, the pride becomes paramount to survival and as such even male lions that can be solitary will form their own prides which we call coalitions.

Happening on a coalition of male lions in the bush is a heart stopping event. The sheer power that a male lion demonstrates just by its presence is magnified a hundred times by the appearance of four or five male lions together moving in unison through the tall grass their thick manes swinging through the air as they gracefully pick their way forward.
African animals do not pass water without drinking.
It is late afternoon and the sky is stormy and grey. Not ideal weather for photography but as a diehard Safari-er with a camera in hand there is no question as to whether I will be on a ready vehicle or not. Not far from the Lodge we encounter our first pair of lions who appear to be mating. They are nervously watching the surrounding bush. Suddenly, it becomes evident why they are nervous. As they beat a hasty retreat heading off into the East four magnificent male lions emerge from the brush. Their intent becomes evident as they head for the river we have just crossed.

An ideal photographic opportunity is in the offing. A river filled with water will impede the progress of the lions, however, they are moving across the plains and a river crossing by lions is not an everyday event.
Cats do not like water. Neither do lions, even if they are the mightiest Kings of Africa.
Soon we are positioned on the opposite side of the river and I have a prime position. The nose of the vehicle is just at the waters edge and is turned ever so slightly  downriver. I am able to get my lens low and I can wait for the shot.
Warily moving through the water, lions feel very vulnerable in situations that they can't control.
The lions approach the water and stop at the edge to slake their thirst. No African animal will pass a water source without quenching their thirst. But, unfortunately, the water is moving too fast for a reflection shot. However, the first lion scans the opposite bank of the river a gingerly dunks his paw into the water. The paw seems to have a life of its own and shoots back out spraying water into the air. Determination wins the day and inexorably he puts his paw back into the water. Soon he is up to his knees and the displeasure of the experience is written all over his face.
Up to his belly in water this lion is not comfortable
Wide eyed he keeps scanning the horizon and soon the other males have joined him in the crossing. It is a heart stopping moment. He completely ignores me and moves right past me so that I can almost reach out and touch him as he goes by. One by one the four males move past each one intent on scanning the horizon.
The demise of an arch enemy, the hyena is despatched without ceremony.
Soon they are on the other bank and the exciting moment has passed only to be followed by an almighty roaring and screeching. A lone young hyena has strayed across the path of these mighty beasts. Within seconds the hyena has been despatched his life ended far too soon.


As the sun sets we are privy to the call of the lion as it rolls across the plains. It reverberates right through my body as if I don’t exist. It is a call that I yearn to hear and that keeps me wandering through the African plains. It is the call that lets me know I am home.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Hwange Game Reserve - How could I not write about Cecil ....

My new title for my blog Travelling Light has a multilayered meaning and travelling light certainly also has something to do with how lightly we tread on the earth. It is my personal aim to make my own footprint as light as possible and to do as little harm as possible to my environment and the earth around me and it is in this light that I felt I should reflect a little on the past week's momentous reaction.
This lion is not Cecil but a magnificent specimen who roams the plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania
It is indeed strange what galvanises the human being into action. This last week we have seen momentum growing around the barbaric and senseless killing of a lion called Cecil. Before last week very few of us knew who Cecil was and probably most didn’t care. And then we can add that some still do not care. But then along came a crossbow hunter (Walter Palmer) from the great USA who decided that it was great sport to kill a lion in a most inhumane manner. 

The shocking part was that the lion was wounded and the very (un)professional hunter guide decided not to follow it up immediately, because you see, they had lured the lion from a National Park (Hwange in Zimbabwe), by dragging a dead carcass behind a vehicle, then turned a spotlight on the lion so that it couldn’t see a thing in the dark, and then allowed the “hunter” to shoot. With all those odds, he still missed the right spot and so the lion went bounding off. Forty long hours later they ended his misery with a bullet.

This story of extreme pain and suffering has set the world on fire. Every social media platform has been inundated with this story and now its also hit mainstream press with Jimmy Kimmel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LzXpE1mjqA leading the way in television.
Cubs like these ones photographed at Phinda in South Africa are the next ones who will die because of one mans greed and bloodlust.
The question I have today is why does it take a story of a lion dying to get the armchair conservationists to become so incensed that they have managed to close this man’s business down and send him into hiding.

I want to look at the poaching statistics for a minute here, as I think despite the fact that this hunter paid the princely sum of US$55 000 (converted to the funny money ZAR715000 - more than what most average South Africans or Africans for that matter will see in their lifetimes) this so-called hunt ranks up there with the poaching incidents of the world.

Hot topics on this issue are elephants, rhinos and then one that doesn’t get enough press coverage, the lowly little pangolin.

Shocking statistics have been revealed in the past few months about the decimation of the elephant population of Africa being led by the poachers and hunters in Tanzania. Statistics have it that between 30 000 and 50 000 elephants are being slaughtered each year. To put this into perspective between 1979 and 1989 the elephant population crashed from 1.3 million to 600 000 or as in another report 100 000 elephants killed in 3 years in Tanzania.  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/08/140818-elephants-africa-poaching-cites-census/

Then we move onto the not so official statistics of the rhino poaching crisis in South Africa where the Minister Edna Molewa has decided not to reveal the statistics about current rhino deaths. Last year we lost 1 215 rhinos and there is no reason to think that they have got on top of this yet. However, in a spectacular ostrich-like move the Minister seems to think the problem will go away if she buries it.

And then, let us look at the pangolin debacle that is not getting the news coverage it should. According to the statistics at least 10 000 pangolins are being slaughtered, trafficked and eaten each year.  If you want to follow this then you only have to follow this link to read some more about the precarious existence of the worlds pangolins.  

And lastly, the sizzling hot topic of the moment that has fired up the world. Cecil the Lion and the fortuitous release of the documentary Blood Lions that I did not want to watch but which I now will have to watch, if not just to keep myself updated on this sad and at the same time infuriating state of affairs.  
Cubs photographed in the Serengeti, Tanzania. Cubs of this age are killed by rival males when the pride male is "taken" out. 
These specific issues do not highlight all of the issues and we only have to look at the issues around the Arctic and the polar bear, the seals that are slaughtered for skins and body parts, the dolphins that are murdered each year, the sharks that are being decimated for their fins so that some moron can have some soup and the list goes on. And these atrocities are not limited to the animal kingdom as it has long been known that poaching is fuelling wars that are causing untold human misery.

My question today is for the world. If we can shut down Walter Palmer’s dental practice in a week of intense objection, why aren’t we objecting on a daily basis about the other issues that are even greater than that of Cecil the lion? Why aren’t there daily tweet storms going out and why aren’t we naming and shaming those responsible for these atrocities.

A rather disturbing report that emerged through the media storm is that the hunting fraternity is donating very heavily into keeping their little sport going. To the tune of US$750 000. Here’s a small reference to their work (Safari Club International)
http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/MIDNR/bulletins/11072c0. However, it would appear that only 3% of the huge amounts of money spent actually reach the communities and people on the ground.  http://blog.wildernessprints.com

So now that we have been galvanised out of our armchairs and into the streets we need to keep the momentum going and we need to spread not only the word (in insults and comments), we need to take action and make the world sit up and wonder why Cecil the Lion is so important, important enough to make the headlines on mainstream news.

Someone else has the same thinking … read more here…

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Ndutu, Tanzania - The Ins and Outs of travel to Ndutu


Sunset in Ndutu
Where in the world is Ndutu? - click on this link to find out where.

The first in what will be a series of posts with travel advice which I hope that my readers will find a font of information that will help to make travel to the world’s destinations just a little easier and more comfortable. 

Why go to Ndutu at all?
Ndutu is probably the most southern tip of the Great Wildebeest Migration and it is where the Wildebeest will come to calve every year. It also lies between the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti.  I can wax lyrical for many a day on the magic of the Serengeti and how it should really be on everyone’s bucket list. It is truly one of Africa’s remaining wildernesses where animals roam completely free. There are no fences to hem the animals in and they are left free to be the wild animals of Africa as they should be.

To get to Ndutu
By air you would have to fly via Nairobi, then transfer to Kilimanjaro International Airport. You can either transfer to Arusha Airport and fly into the Serengeti or you can do a road trip via the Ngorongoro Crater and onto Ndutu. Currently there are 5 flights per day from Nairobi to Kili (as it is referred to). 

From Nairobi Kenya Airlines and Precision Air (Tanzanian airline) fly 5 flights daily.
From Europe there are only 2 direct flights - Condor fly from Frankfurt and KLM fly from Amsterdam.
Other airlines that fly into Kili are RwandaAir from Kigali, ZanAir from Zanzibar, Ethipian Airlines from Nairobi and Addis Abbaba, Air kenta Express from Nairobi and Mombasa and Air Burundi from Bujumburra.

You can fly from Arusha to Seronera in the Serengeti on a daily basis. www.flyezee.com can offer a selection of flights at different times of the day.
The volcanic dust creates the most amazing photos at sunset.
The Weight Factor
Although the international airlines have generous baggage allowances of 20 - 23kgs plus hand luggage this is not the case with the smaller charter flights.  Travelling Light is the watchword for chartered flights in Africa. Baggage allowances drop to 15kg per person and sometimes could even include your carry on bags weight. Double check these allowances when making bookings.

Alternatively:
A road trip from Arusha heading out towards the Serengeti a veritable smorgasbord of destinations are on offer.

There are many operators in Arusha who will take you in their 4 x 4 Safari vehicles. They will organise your stay for you according to your budget.

Places along the way:
Tarangire Park, known for its elephant population.
Lake Manyara, known for its tree climbing lions, elephants and baboons. Also in this area are the Colubus Monkeys.
Ngorongoro Crater - very commercialised but still well worth a visit to see.
Ndutu - Lions, cheetah, wildebeest calving, zebra and many other plains animals and birdlife
Serengeti - Anything from lions to hyena to leopards cheetah and other plains animals.

On my trip I went with an operator Maasai Wanderings www.maasaiwanderings.com 

Where to stay
There are no permanent Lodges or camps in the Ndutu area. Special permits are granted to operators to have mobile camps along the riverbed. This ensures that the area remains as pristine as possible for the animals to enjoy. I went with a Tour Operator Maasai Wanderings who are based in Arusha. They have a mobile camp and the experience of bucket showers and buffalo grazing next to your tent at night is one for the books. www.maasaiwanderings.com. There are several other operators in the area and a quick search on www.tripadvisor.com gives one a load of choices.

When to travel
The most popular time to travel to Ndutu would be around February as it is then that the Wildebeest are calving and they tend to do so at Ndutu each year. However, it is extremely hot in February so a certain amount of discomfort will be experienced. 
The wildebeest on the move creating clouds of dust.
The Dust
It is also very dusty in the area as a fine volcanic dust has settled over the whole river bed and as such camera equipment needs to have good covers to keep the dust out. Do not consider taking one camera body and interchanging lenses. Sensors will suffer. Get lenses onto cameras before entering the area and keep them firmly on the camera until your next destination. Consider taking along a light cotton scarf that you can wrap around your face to keep the dust off you.

The Sun
is brutal in February. Sunblock, hats, sunglasses, long sleeved shirts and even pants are highly recommended. Lots of face creams for your skin after you have bathed.

Keeping Clean
You are more than likely to be in a camp where you will have a bucket shower. Water is in short supply in the area and the water is not potable. So the tap water provided can wash clothes and your body but drinking water comes from bottles.

Your clothes quickly turn a better shade of brown and collars and cuffs will be dirty after just one day. It is therefore advisable to take along khaki gear that can be washed and hung out to dry but you will have to use your shower water to do this as there are no laundry facilities. Innovation is the name of the game.

Armed with this knowledge you should be able to book yourself a trip to Tanzania’s most remote wildernesses. Don’t be put off by any of the discomforts described here, they are well worth the sacrifices you will have to make to experience what is one of the world’s most awe-inspiring destinations.


If you would like to travel to Tanzania in a small, personal group with some photography/inspiration in mind, send me an email to christine@christinelamberth.co.za and you could travel with me on my next trip.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Ndutu, Tanzania - The Very First Time

There is nothing quite like the first time. The first time for anything seems to occupy its own little domain in the brain almost as if an extraordinary place is created within your head. And so it was with my first time for a cheetah kill.
The cheetah in the distance.
Tanzania’s Ndutu plains do not have a replica anywhere in the world. The vastness is difficult to describe. It is a flat, open space that appears to have no end. There are no hills or trees from horizon to horizon.  This is not a place for the fainthearted or the foolish. Fortunately I am in a safari vehicle driven by a local Tanzanian who needs no directional instruction.
She ignores our vehicle as she scans the horizon.
The sun has just emerged from its slumber and the honey gold glow is gently spreading over the plains. Uncannily my guide spots some movement far off in the distance and he deftly manoeuvres the safari vehicle over the scrubby bush. The progress over uncharted scrubland is both exciting and alarming. Visions of rocks and warthog burrows come to mind but in the moment it is only fleeting as all is focussed on the agile feline picking her way across the savannah.
Each bush is examined carefully.
Intent on her early morning search she completely ignores the approaching vehicle. She carefully picks her way through the scrub. At each leafy clump she carefully scans under and around the minuscule bush. I have little time to admire the graceful sinuous movement as she investigates each bush. Suddenly she freezes, body taught, head down and then with alarming speed she rises in the air tail erect and the chase is on.
Suddenly, she freezes looking intently into a bush.
The object of her focus is a scrub hare who in turn is now making a determined effort to get away from the cheetah. The hare darts erratically from bush to bush with the cheetah in hot pursuit. Each  desperate movement from the hare is followed by the cheetah launching into the air pouncing down where the hare has just been. The inevitable happens when the hare runs out of cover from bushes and has to make a run for it. 
She springs into action.
The superior speed of the cheetah comes into its own and in a billow of dust the hare flies into the air, legs flailing. The dustball envelopes both cheetah and hare and it is not too soon before our curiosity is sated. The cheetah emerges with the hare firmly gripped in her jaws. The lifeless body testament to the efficiency of a big cat’s mercilessness.
The hare flies into the air
The hare and cheetah are enveloped by the dust.
The Cheetah emerges with the hare in her jaws.
She looks for a spot to settle down.
We watch mesmerised as she finds a suitable site and settles down to devour her morning snack. As I reflect on what has just transpired I cannot but feel that I am incredibly privileged to be able to witness the raw beauty of Africa. 
After breakfast she sits in the sun for a while before heading off.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park - Kalahari Dance

October in the Kalahari is hot. Not just mildly hot, it is scorching. As such tents and other accommodation without air conditioning are stifling by midday. The only option is to find a spot in some sort of shade, make sure the little bit of air movement can catch you and then sit still. My plan is to wet my kikoi (a wonderful piece of cloth bought in Zimbabwe some years ago), take a bottle of water that I have frozen in my equally wonderful Engel fridge, place the bottle on my lap, throw the wet kikoi over my head and wait for the heat of the midday sun to pass. 
Yellow Mongoose and Cape Cobra

The Mongoose stays just out of reach of the Cobra
Sometimes, through some divine intervention, I manage to nod off and the time passes quickly. Today I am rudely awakened not only by the strident screeching of some starlings but by some urgent words. “If you want some shots you better get up fast”. The kikoi gets thrown to one side and without thinking I grab my camera. And then I look. In the distance, under a lonely tree there is a confrontation in progress.
Time to back away

Trying another angle
A Cape Cobra with its flashy yellow scales shining brightly in the sun is standing erect, head flared and body coiled. Standing just outside of reach is a pair of Yellow Mongoose who are determinedly harassing the reptile.
Back again to see what he can do
I hotfoot it over to a nearby tent, throw myself on the cement plinth and watch through the lens. Anyone who has tried to take photographs in the Kalahari on a hot summers day at midday will know the challenges of what happens when the animals are in the shade and there is all that glare around. Poor camera, that has now to try to take readings from light to dark with the highest contrast of lighting possible. Besides fiddling with settings and focus etc I am fascinated.
The snake strikes out to make the mongoose back off
As the mongoose moves towards the snake it rears up and pulls in the hood slightly, then the mongoose back away again and the snake relaxes slightly flaring the hood again. The intimidation works and the mongoose lies down just out of reach. This is a dance, Kalahari style. Backwards and forwards, step to the side, step back and step forwards again. The footwork goes on for the better part of an hour before the snake starts moving menacingly forward. 
Time to try to make an escape
The mongoose does a quick little step again, this time backwards and the snake takes its chance and heads towards the dustbin that appears to offer a little bit of protection. The mongoose however has other ideas and darts forwards lunging towards the snake. The yellow scales are pulled back tightly as the snake makes a “run” for it. 
The hood fully flared to make himself as intimidating as possible
A nearby tent becomes the next haven of safety for the snake hotly pursued by the mongoose who is still a little wary. The snake rears up and spits venomously. The mongoose does a quick sidestep and the venom hits the ground kicking up a puff of dust.
The tent refuge that is not working too well
The Cobra desperately tries to bury itself under the tent but is not successful and it has to reorganise itself under the protection of the canvas. The mongoose still will not back away and there is another confrontation of reared heads and sidestepping. Finally the snake, seeing some rocks and bushes nearby, makes a desperate attempt to slither away. 
The mongoose moves in again
The mongoose still warily pursues the disappearing tail of the snake but it finds a convenient hole in the rocks and the excitement is over. No kill, but a lunchtime story to be retold. The Kalahari rocks!
Just before the escape the snake goes down and then quickly moves away



Best place to stay:

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park Wilderness Camps.
Book online at www.sanparkshttp://www.sanparks.org/tourism/reservations/
For campers who don’t mind the rustic try the Botswana side of Kgalagadi -

  • Parks and Reserves Reservations Office
  • P O Box 20364, Boseja, Maun, Botswana
  • Telephone No: (267) 6861265, Fax No.: (267) 6861264
  • Physical location: Next to the Police Station in Maun.
  • OR Parks and Reserves Reservations Office
  • P O Box 131, Gaborone, Botswana
  • Telephone No: (267) 3180774, Fax No: (267) 3180775, Email: DWNP@gov.bw


You should take note that this is an extremely popular destination and that you have to book 10 months in advance to get space. The time to log onto the booking system is on the first of the month at the beginning of the day.




Monday, May 25, 2015

Rorke's Drift - The Art Aspect

When I told people twelve years ago that I was moving to Rorke’s Drift I was met with blank stares, dropped jaws and incredulity. One person in particular derisively quipped back at me that “there is nothing at Rorke’s Drift..did you know?”. Luckily I can unequivocally state that she was so far from the truth as to be laughable, but I won’t berate her too much. What you find at Rorke’s Drift depends entirely on your level of curiosity and whether you have an enquiring mind and soul, or maybe not.
The work of Bhekisani Manyoni who was one of the printmakers who studied at The Rorke's Drift Art School
At the time of the Defense of Rorke’s Drift in 1879 the Swedish missionary Otto Witt was living in the house built by James Rorke in 1849. He vacated the building during the Anglo-Zulu conflict but returned once it was all over. In 1882 a sandstone church was erected on the site, a primary school was established and an old-age home. The Swedish mission also established a theological seminary to train Lutheran priests at Rorke’s Drift. It was not until the apartheid government was elected in 1948 that things would change dramatically at Rorke’s Drift. 

As a result of the area being declared a “white” area the Swedish Lutheran Missionary Church decided to relocate their seminary in the early 1960’s to Umpumulo (now known as Mapumulo) not too far from Stanger. At the same time Berta Hansson a visiting Swedish Art Teacher and Bishop Helge Fosseus of the Missionary Church of Sweden hatched an idea to start an Art and Craft Centre in Zululand. Fast forward through the all the little details and we meet Peder Gowenius who together with his wife Ulla, graduates of the Konstfackskolan in Stockholm, arrive in Rorke’s Drift in and around 1961. Their brief was to research the material culture of the area and consider the opportunities for marketing of arts and crafts among the local Zulu people with an emphasis on encouraging the women to produce work. 

Current work being produced by the potters at Rorke's Drift's ELC Art and Craft Centre.
After a trip around Zululand and then up to Johannesburg where they met Cecil Skotnes who taught at the Polly Street Centre they went back to Ceza Mission Hospital near Nongomo in 1962 and started teaching TB patients at the hospital how to weave, spin and sew as well as other art forms. They became critical of the government whom they felt were trying to keep the Zulu people from learning sophisticated art forms in preference to indigenous craft skills such as basket weaving. The thought of opening a school had its origins in a nurse Allinah Ndebele who was seconded as a translator for the Gowenius”. She had impressed them immensely with her ability to assist with their teaching and the Arts and Crafts Advisors Course was established to train therapists to help patients at other hospitals. They set up this course at the Seminary in Umpumulo. The students were expected to spend 50% of their time producing work for sale in order to help cover costs for their tuition.

Vases that come out of the Pottery Studio at the ELC Art and Craft Centre
In 1963 they made the move to Rorke’s Drift and with a lot of support from Sweden a weaving workshop was established. This was later expanded to a pottery and a printmaking studio. In the 1970’s the Centre not only produced beautiful carpets, pottery and prints it also saw the first black art students studying full time towards an art qualification all the while enduring raids by the police in an attempt to harass everyone living on the Swedish Mission Property. 

Some of South Africa’s most significant black artists studied at Rorke’s Drift. Amongst them are Azaria Mbatha, a printmaker of note, Sam Nhlengethwa, Thami Jali, John Muafangejo, Cyprian Shilakoe, Pat Mautloa and Bongi Dhlomo to name but a few. 

Then came the the devastating closure of the Art School in the early 1980’s but the weaving business thrived with carpets being sold to people all over the world. Both the pottery and printmaking studios continued production. Inevitably though without the on site guidance of the Swedish teachers the Centre went into decline in the 1990’s and almost ground completely to a halt.
Original work that tells a story from the ELC Art and Craft Centre
Some new life arrived in the person of Christiane Voith from Germany in mid 2000 and the Centre has now seen some new ideas and new life breathed into it. Much needed refurbishments have been done and the Centre has a production line going again. However, the sadness of time remains prevalent in the workshops as year by year crafters and artists age and retire and no one is there taking their place.
A carpet woven on the looms of the ELC Art and Craft Centre

The work executed by the Artists now at Rorke's Drift emerges as an art form born out of the history of the people. It is relevant in its place in the Art Landscape of South Africa and deserves pride of place in art collections around the world. The ELC Art and Craft Centre is just another place that visitors to the area can explore and enjoy. On the floors at Rorke’s Drift Lodge are some of the carpets that have come from the Rorke’s Drift Centre. We need to realise that unless we support this Centre of excellence, soon it will be no more and will only be found on the dusty shelves of libraries and archives.
Another carpet from the ELC Art and Craft Centre graces the floors of Rorke's Drift Lodge