Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sun pillars and storm clouds

I looked out of the window of my apartment to watch the sunset this evening as I normally do when I have the chance and was greeted with a sight I'd not seen before - a sun pillar was clearly visible, rising vertically from the setting sun. The ice crystals which had been present in cirrus clouds throughout the day were reflecting the light from the sun off their lower and upper surfaces and sending it straight to me (and everyone else) giving a faint upper tangent arc and a distinct pillar, rising perhaps 30 degrees into the sky - a really lovely sight and of course the camera was on hand.

ice pillar
ice pillar 3
I thought I'd put up another photo from a wonderful cloudscape a couple of days back when the cumulonimbus rolled into town and gave us a pretty impressive thunder storm:
cumulonimbus over Santiago b
This photo hasn't been played with at all, but I used a circular polarising filter to take it:
cumulonimbus over Santiago

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mozambique continued

At the last count we had driven 19 hours from Kruger National park to Inhambane and beyond, a couple of hundred miles north of Maputo, tackling potholes, dirt tracks, border police, drunken revelers, a confused GPS, local buses and a rat (the rat didn't come off very well) before collapsing in a beach hut with a few friends.

The next morning we woke early, despite the exhaustion from the day before and gorged ourselves on local avocados, similar in size and shape to an American football, bananas, croissant and coffee and took stock of the situation.

We quickly discerned that the situation we found ourselves in was not far from paradise, with a 30 second walk into the warmest sea I've ever swum in, baking sands and stunning seafood aplenty.

I shan't go through a blow by blow account of our 4 days on the beach but will mention a couple of highlights.

One of the most fantastic moments came on the second night, when we headed to the beach, the almost full moon lighting the scene, guitar and gin to accompany us and the gentle crashing of waves sending us into a relaxed delirium. As if this were not enough, we were treated for the next couple of hours to a wonderful lunar halo display, the likes of which I'd not seen before. These photos were taken at around midnight:

lunar halo 1
lunar halo on the beach
Other highlights from the stay were a trip out to sea as we attempted to go swimming with the largest fish in the world, the whale shark. We spent a couple of hours in rather choppy seas searching for the telltale shadow of this beast, jumping into the water occasionally to cool off. After an hour or so we had pretty much given up hope when we found a pod of dolphins and dove in with them. They were playing hard to get, so Ben headed off on his own, splashing around in the water to get the attention of any animal which may have been around. Sure enough after a couple of minutes he called over to his spot in the water where a whale shark had passed right underneath him. Sadly none of the rest of us saw it, as the animal quickly dived down out of reach of us and our snorkel gear.

Ben, Ryan and I decided to swim back to shore (a little less than a kilometer), and as the others disappeared in front of me I suddenly felt extremely vulnerable, not because of anything that may have been lurking in the water, but through my own lack of swimming experience. I was a couple of hundred meters off the shore line, and beginning to flounder when the boat with the others pulled along beside me and I dragged myself into the boat, feeling rather ashamed at having bitten off more than I could chew. It was only later that I discovered that Ben had played for some time on the South African national waterpolo team and so my attempts to keep up with him had been so futile.

Since this incident I've made it a new resolution to improve my swimming fitness, and after a disastrous couple of attempts at swimming a kilometer in the pool here in Santiago, managing 50 meters at a time with coughing and spluttering, one week in I can quite happily go for the kilometer with just a single break in the middle. Some time ago I mentioned about the total immersion swimming technique which I read about in this book a couple of years back. The technique seems very intelligent to someone who is a physicist but not a natural swimmer, the idea being that to propel yourself through the water your arms are actually a pretty rubbish form of propulsion, but the twisting of your body, to push water down its length is a lot more efficient. This video gives an example of this technique and is frankly about the most beautiful swim stroke I've ever seen:

The four days on the beach passed all too quickly but it was the first time that I had truly relaxed for a long long time and there were moments where I didn't think about work at all - an enjoyable and unusual luxury.

Anyway, given that I'm back in Santiago now I have a great deal of work to be doing, getting ready for a talk here, and a trip to Cape Town next month where I hope to start a new collaboration...better get back to it for now.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The crossing of Crocodile Bridge

As promised, despite the volcanic activity which temporarily held up the release of this video, I can now post the video of the tentative steps we took in crossing crocodile and hippo infested waters on a flooded bridge, the true damage of which was unknown to us. It doesn't look like much, but the sound of the rushing water and the knowledge of its contents made for a slightly nerve-wracking few seconds:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ugli fish

Tis the season to eat lamprey...

I headed down to the Southern edge of Galicia, where it borders Portugal (a noted absence of guards with AK-47s at the frontier was welcomed!) with some friends this morning to sample the legendary lamprey, an animal which I first came face to face with a couple of years back when I took this photo of the creature in a fish tank outside a restaurant in Santiago.

It's not the most beautiful of fish in the world but I had been promised that, like monkfish and a few other beasts, it tasted a whole lot better than it looked.

Santiago is not the place to sample the best lampreys, but the South of the province is legendary for their fresh fish and fantastic preparation (warning, the squeamish amongst us should perhaps skip this) - the animal is cooked in its own blood, making a rich, luxurious sauce.

We made our way through the Al Barino and Ribeiro wine regions, stopping off in Ribadavia to see the Jewish quarter of this ancient town and wander the streets for a bit, before heading to a pulperia nearby for a little tapas to get the stomach juices going. Traditionally the best pulpo is found inland, where it is taken after freezing at the coast - the non-frozen pulpo is generally quite a bit tougher.

We arrived at the restaurant a little after 3 and started with a cold dish of smoked, stuffed lamprey (lamprea rechea). I have to admit to being a little disappointed with this dish, as the fish is both tough and the flavor of the smoke overpowers the subtle strengths of the meat itself. The stuffing was also nothing to write home about.

When the main plate came along however it was an entirely different story. The simple dish of lampreys stewed in their own juices and served with crutons and rice is not an elegant looking piece of cuisine, but the flavour and texture of the lamprey are truly wonderful. I was taken aback by the amazingly smooth flavour of the meat, somewhere between a white meat and rich fish taste, it's really a powerful meal and I would recommend it to any foody in the area.

Finishing the meal with postres and coffee we made our way to the border with Portugal to burn off a few calories with a walk around the riverside and watched the clouds roll over the hills for a while:
border between Spain and Portugal near Lama

On getting home, just in time for the sunset, I set up the camera from the window of my flat and watched not only a green flash, but a blue flash, as the sun disappeared behind the hills. Sadly I only managed to catch the green flash on camera, but I'll keep a look out over the next few days for similar conditions.
Green flash

Anyway, no time today to go through any more Mozambique photos but hopefully a couple of evenings this week should see that finished off.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

African adventure, part V, South Africa to Mozambique

and so began the most ridiculous day of the trip, if not the decade...

We knew that it was going to be a long day so we arose at 6, and were packed and in the car by 6.30, ready to leave the Lower Sabie camp in Kruger National Park where we had spent the last three days. It was good friday and the storm from the night before was easing off, but hadn't completely ceased. The roads were wet and we feared that this might mean trouble later on as we headed into Mozambique.

We didn't count on the trouble arising quite as soon as it did. We went South to the Crocodile bridge exit of the park and an hour later, after saying our final farewells to the giraffes, elephants and herds of impala (having failed to see a single rhino in the trip) we draw close to the gate. Between us and the gate however was Crocodile bridge, a bridge unlike any I had seen before, submerged as it was in water in the middle section, the river surging over it for a good few meters. In our non four-wheel drive such a sight filled us with dread. The only other way out of the park would mean a couple of hundred extra kilometers, so we sat, watching the water flood over the bridge and working out our possibilities. M suggested getting out of the car to take a look at how deep the central section was submerged but reminding her that crocodile bridge was so named for good reason put this plan out of the picture.

Thankfully ahead of us were a few other cars, also working out their plans of attack. First a couple of 4x4s braved the water and got through safely, the wheels submerging in the center by a good foot or so of racing waters. After this another estate made it through, tentatively but safely and so, with baited breath we made our way towards the torrent. We have a video of the moments driving through the floodwater, as the possibilities of a single slip raced through our minds but the video is not in my possession at the moment, I'll attempt to upload it as soon as possible. Anyway, thankfully we did make it through without any problems but with slightly heightened blood pressure and pulse-rates.

After a little bureaucratic arguing (lack of certain necessary tickets etc.) we made it out of the park and back onto the public roads of South Africa, making our way towards the boarder control between SA and Mozambique. We had been told to expect chaos and delays of up to a couple of hours, but there were factors that we hadn't taken into account.

It took another hour or so to get to the border control, or at least close to it, with pretty reasonable road conditions and only minor drizzle along the way but as we draw closer a thought dawned on us. This was not just any day but Good Friday, a public holiday in South Africa and a day that many would be traveling for a weekend break into neighbouring Mozambique. The queue that greeted us was truly monumental and we ground to a halt in a completely stationary line more than a kilometer from the border itself. Trucks, families in 4x4s, businessmen, South Africans, Mozambicans and holiday makers from abroad filled the road with an exodus of vehicles of biblical proportions....and nothing was moving save for a line of cars which seemed not to care about the thousands in front of them and would simply drive along the other side of the road only to be turned back at the frontier.

We got out to speak to people and find out what the situation was, a friendly South African woman walking with me to the front of the line to see what was going on. The gun-toting police at the front-line were pretty friendly and helpful given the situation and explained that we simply had to be patient and that we should sit tight for the next few hours.

A couple of photos of the queue, and us, sitting patiently:

After walking to the front of the line and trying to get through the pedestrian section (as advised by our helpful SA lady) and getting turned back by a rather less friendly man with a gun, we spent the next couple of hours in the car getting to the first post.

Eventually we made it in and started the bureucratic process of exporting ourselves and the car into Mozambique. K dealt with the car's paperwork and was sweet-talked by a guy who very kindly helped him fill in the forms for the car, pushed into the line for us and promptly disappeared, telling us that he would see us on the Mozambican side with the correct pieces of paper. Having been scammed enough times in my life it seemed sensible not to go with this option so K filled in the forms himself, stood in the queue and got a new copy of all the relevant documents. We had a little trouble later on on the other side when we claimed to know nothing about the guy waving a duplicate copy of our documents and asking for money. Thankfully this didn't deteriorate into anything worse.

So, SA side dealt with we made our way into no-man's land and towards the Mozambican side of the border control. At this point things took a turn for the crazy. It turns out that Mozambique is the only country in the world to have weapon on its flag, and they have wisely chosen an AK-47. These you see all over the place and although these days the country is relatively peaceful, there is a constant reminder of the violent past that it has been through, devastating the land (there are still areas of the land unsafe to walk on because of the landmines), the infrastructure and the economy along the way. At the border control you are met with a difficult situation, not wanting to put a foot out of line, but simultaneously realising that you simply can't take the kosher route.

The black/white divide is of course enormous and as soon as you arrive as a car load of white people you are approached by dozens of Mozambicans offering to help you out. At first we turned all of these down, making our way to the queue, and wanting to go through all of this in the most official way possible, but it soon became clear that the chaos would make this almost impossible, with a dozen lines all merging and circulating to different desks with a plethora of forms, punctuated by perplexed looking white-folk and helpful looking Mozambicans. After getting thoroughly confused for a while we found a 4x4 full of Afrikaans South Africans who had just successfully had their documents sorted out by one of the badged unofficials. We figured that if they had got through the process in one piece this way then it was probably the best option, and indeed this seemed to be the way that 99% of the SA holiday makers were getting through the controls, only a small fee being paid at the end.

We handed over our documents to the guy who seemed friendly and completely unofficial and saw him disappear into the distance. I walked around for a bit, bumped into the woman who had helped us out on the SA side and asked her if what we were doing was sensible. Yes, she replied, as long as you don't lose sight of your passports! My heart sank, realising what it would mean to lose our passports, sat in the middle of no-man's land without an embassy in sight and a million other people dashing around. The ease with which someone could have taken our passports was frightening and so we ran to find the guy who had our identities in his hands. Thankfully it didn't take too long to find him and he was busy filling in the forms for us. From this point on, we stayed with him, making chit-chat and keeping an eye on our passports at every second.

After an hour of filling in forms and waiting for him in various queues we were ready to go, paid him his fee, took a deep breath and headed towards the point where we would have to give the forms at the very border itself. Thankfully this passed completely without incident, as the woman took the forms without looking at them and placed them on top of the large pile of other forms which had collected through the morning.

By this point 6 hours had passed since we left the camp and we were only at the border - we had expected to be at this point within a couple of hours at the most.

As we drove into Mozambique the contrast with what we had previously seen was startling, with huts dotting the hillside along the road, people all over the streets, selling foods cooked in pots precariously placed on mosquito infested puddles and police all along the roadside stopping anyone they thought might not have the right documents, or at least who might have enough cash to improve their lunch options. We had been warned that the police would stop you for the slightest possible speeding violation or traffic infringement, but through some miracle we weren't stopped at a single control point.

We also noticed quickly the number of trucks and cars stopped by the side of the road with punctured tyres, and as we sped along in our polo estate the possibility of the same happening to us didn't do much to still our anxieties.

Having traveled a reasonable amount, I've never really experienced shock at arriving in a new country, always prepared for stark differences, but the immediate chaos and contrasts on going from SA to Mozambique was really quite astounding. I simply hadn't expected such a distinction, though knowing the history of the two countries, I probably should have.

We made our way towards Maputo, where our GPS was guiding us on the way up through to Inhambane, further North on the coast. The roads, though busy were not slow and we stopped by the side of the road to get something to eat, having eaten almost nothing since the night before. We stopped into a gas station and picked up some fairly tasteless meat sandwiches, but at this point we were fussy.

We passed around the outskirts of Maputo and it quickly became clear that we had not escaped the worst of the Good Friday traffic as those in the capital having a half day left for work and headed out of the city. we ground to a halt in the chaos of the ring-round going around the city and edged forwards for the next 3 hours, attempting to avoid hitting anyone or being hit by one of the kamikaze local mini-buses packed like sardines and tilting dangerously to one side or the other. These mini-buses would cause us no end of stress for the remaining journey.

Getting out of Maputo at around 3 we started on our way to Xai-Xai, the next major stop along the way. The road between the two was pot-holed and full of people and the crunches which we had to endure every time there was no way to get around a collection of holes in the tarmac jarred our spines at every encounter.

We were due to meet our friend Ben up in Inhambane and with the GPS had no worries about getting there, but we had no address, and the lack of mobile signal left us rather worried. Buying a local sim-card didn't seem to help either as it refused to work in any of our phones.

We took the route to Xai-Xai in the fastest time possible given the conditions and arrived there around 7 in the evening, exhausted from being on the lookout for pot-holes literally every second of the way. We stopped into another gas-station and filled up on terrible sliced cheese and even worse croissant (this wasn't our will to disregard the local fare, but simply the only obvious option available at the time). Eventually we found a small shop in a hut which had a phone an I used by best Portuñol (Spanish with a mock Portuguese accent and a few noted phenomic transformations thrown in when appropriate) to ask to call out. We got through to Ben, hoping that he would tell us that we should stay in Xai-Xai for the night and make our way to Inhambane the next day, but he said that it was worth pushing on - the tiring option but probably the best.

We got back in the car and drove for the next two hours on something akin to a pot-holed beach, attempting to avoid falling into ditches, crashing into other cars (something that others didn't quite manage as there were a couple of horrific accidents along the way), or getting stuck in the sand. During the day, passing the slower trucks had been ok as one could normally see how far away the oncoming cars were. The darkness brought with it new dangers as it was impossible to gauge the distance and the sand and dust thrown up by the trucks made this doubly difficult. After this we had another few hours but at least the worst of the major road had been dealt with.

We played games and sang songs to keep ourselves awake and alert and somehow made our way safely up North. As the time drew on it became increasingly difficult to stay awake but the promise of a bed and a bite to eat at the end was enough to keep the sparse quantities of energy recycling. Finally a little after midnight we made our way into Inhambane, having avoided all the drunken partygoers who had lined the streets at the local drinking shacks along the way. At this point the GPS was as tired as we were and started to get confused with where to go and our final destination was not on the system at all. We managed once more to get through to Ben who gave us directions to get to the beach hut and we headed out of Inhambane and onto the dirt tracks. An hour later we knew we were in the right area but phoning and finding that we had taken a wrong turn drained our last ounces of energy. Ben, Ryan and Ode drove to us and guided our final kilometers to the beach hut where, after 19 hours on the road, with a total of a half hour break we were finally able to collapse in what appeared to be a little piece of paradise.

19 hours on the road where every second you are watching out for animals, drunkards, potholes and oncoming maniacs is outrageously tiring and it took a good couple of days of doing nothing to recover from this. The fact that K had driven the whole thing without anything but vocal help and encouragement makes the man a true hero. K, we salute you!!!

After the chaos of the drive up,  we'll have a few photos from a far more relaxed few days!

Friday, April 16, 2010

African adventure, part IV

Final photos from Kruger, I promise! After this we move on to Mozambique...

A couple more from the roads around Lower Sabie, of wilderbeest, and a bull elephant, framing itself nicely in the trees.

The last night in Kruger we headed for a night drive. The tour took us out at around dusk and we spent  a good couple of hours being driven by a guide with quite incredible eyesight. At regular intervals he would stop the truck and point out a chameleon in a tree, or a tiny wild cat hidden in the undergrowth, absolutely invisible to the untrained eye.

The highlight of the trip was certainly a leopard with its cub that had been spotted close to the side of the road. The leopard probably came within about 15 meters of the jeep, which, being open-sided leaves you feeling rather exposed. I would love to have had more chances to photograph the big cats, but they are pretty elusive creatures, and we were extremely lucky to see the mother and child. I'll post it again just for good measure:

As the sky darkened, many of the night animals came out and we spent a while seeing birds of prey, sitting in the trees by the side of the road. These fish eagles and owls were rather beautiful to see, certainly in comparison to the vulture that we saw earlier in the evening (no decent photo of the vulture I'm afraid):
fish eagle 2
fish eagle
The largest species of owl in the world, an eagle owl:
Eagle owl
And so, the next day we arose at 6 in the morning, to the passing edge of a storm, and unaware of the events that would unfold in the following 24 hours. This to come, perhaps tomorrow...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

African adventure, part III

Ok, we're almost there with the photos from Kruger, though I've got the shots from a night trip to go. Tonight, again I don't have so much time so I'm just going to post the photos with the most basic of text.

The last two days in Kruger we stayed in lower Sabie and spent our time driving around the Southern parts of the park (though only a small fraction of the possible routes).

One of the highlights of the whole trip was to find two pairs of giraffes play-fighting. As they stood next to one another they would take it in turns to hit the other with their heads, their necks swinging round mallet fashion. Occasionally they would appear to get tangled up and the dance that ensued was rather elegant to watch.

One of the fighting pairs:

giraffe pair 2
not so aggressive!
giraffe pair 1
taking a break, pushmepullyou style:
pushmepullyou giraffe style
and the other pair, going for it:
giraffe play 1
Just along the road from this we saw some rutting impala:
impala rutting
Impala are absolutely everywhere in the park, but even when you've seen tens of thousands they are still remarkably beautiful to watch in action:
imapala leaping
impala on the lookout
OK, hopefully the last day from Kruger tomorrow and then I'll update on the craziest day of the journey, through the border controls and into Mozambique.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

African adventure, part IIb

I have a few minutes now to add an update on the adventures in Kruger National Park. We had arrived late in the evening, almost being shut out of the camp site, but with some luck and a large dollop of looking like possible lion food we had been let in.

The next day we rose around 4am, ready for a morning walk. We started off in an open sided truck, heading off in the pitch black to our starting spot, intercepting the hyena (posted here) before arriving as the sun was beginning to lighten the sky and it was no longer too dangerous to walk around.

With our two guides we had a briefing session, were told to walk in silence (sadly one of the others on the walk ignored this important point, probably scaring off a lot of the animals) and in single file behind the two gun-wielding rangers.
From K's album:

The walk lasted a couple of hours and for the first five or ten minutes, the idea of being out in the wild, with rhinos, elephants, hippos and lions on the lose was quite an intimidating one, but once we got into the rhythm of walking the alien sensation went away. Along the walk the rangers pointed out a large variety of animal tracks and droppings, with which we could identify rhinos, elephants, a few different antelope and more. For a while we tracked a herd of water buffalo but sadly they got wind of us before we found them. A few water bucks stared us out for a short while and a herd of zebra found their way into our path, but nothing terribly dangerous showed itself while we were walking.

Finally we took a break on a rock, overlooking a small waterpool where a male hippo was taking a break after its night time excursions, coming up and going down to cool and take air every few minutes. A lone croc was also in evidence but the two lay in the water calmly as the day heated up
hippo head hippo ass
We were back to the camp by about 9am and made our move South to the next site where we would spend the following two nights, Lower Sabie, one of the most popular spots and one of the best for seeing wildlife.

The trip down was our first day of driving in the park and we saw a huge number of interesting animals on the way, from a pack of lions, hiding from the heat under a tree, to a dozen giraffes munching by the side of the road, baboons and macacs, and lots of elephants through the day.
baboon scratching
Just next to the lower Sabie camp we also found an artificial dam, which had plenty of animals cooling off. We spent some time photographing the pelicans, the hippos and the crocs in the distance before noticing that there was a crocodile just a couple of meters from the car, waiting for someone stupid enough to put a foot outside the vehicle. My hanging out of the car with the camera had probably got its attention but thankfully it didn't get any closer!
Around the base of the tree in the very largest version of this photo you can make out the resting hippos:
tree reflection
The croc, just waiting to get a bite:
OK, enough for now, I still have a large number of photos from the park to go through and the processing takes quite a while. Tomorrow I hope to update with some strange behaviour from pairs of giraffes, antelope on the run and a night time excursion into the wilderness.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

African adventure, part IIa

I have a horribly early start tomorrow morning so no time to write, but the pictures more or less speak for themselves. This is, give or take, the photos from the first 24 hours in Kruger plus a couple of random ones from later on. I have another dozen or so to process and will do so when possible. Click on the photos to see them on the flickr site.

Monday, April 12, 2010

African Adventure, part 1

We begin back in London, two weeks ago where I have already given a detailed overview of the gastronomic treats that met us in perhaps the most multicultural city I've explored in detail. I'm going back to this stage to catch up with a couple of photos from London and to introduce the other key players on the adventure over the last two weeks.
cheese in Borough market

Having gone to Borough market and tried a variety of wicked cheeses in Neal's Yard Dairy we took our wild boar pie and sat on the South Bank between the Globe theatre and the Tate Modern, with St Paul's in the background. Here are my traveling companions M and K sitting on the South Bank enjoying their first pork pies:
K and M in L

We would later have gone to look around St Paul's but the extortionate cover charge put us off completely. The same was true at Westminster Abbey, though Westminster cathedral was free to enter and a lot more peaceful that the Abbey appeared.

After London we spent a night at my parent's place in Oxford and sampled some of the most traditional of Oxford's nightspots including the Turf and Freud's for a few pints of ale and a cocktail for good measure. From Oxford to Heathrow and Heathrow through Dubai, 16 hours later we were in Johannesburg, taking a taxi to a friend's place. Dinner with our friend's mother gave us a chance to realise quite how ill-prepared we were for the coming voyage as she donated binoculars and a half dozen books on the wildlife we would later see at Kruger, both of these are absolutely vital!

Early mornings quickly became routine on this trip with only a few days where we slept in past 7 am. The next day was no exception as we picked up our hire car at the airport and made our way North East to one of the entrances to Kruger National Park. K was driving the whole journey, and getting used to the left hand side of the road was made harder by a potholed path leading the 7 hours or so to the park. After a few nasty sounding crunches K became used to the width of the car and on this stretch of road at least we made it through relatively painlessly.

The road between Johannesburg and Phalaborwa on the mid Western side of the park is pretty stunning and takes you to the North of the Blyde river canyon, which was one of many places we didn't have time to visit, though given more days I would love to take a canoeing trip through it.

A couple of the stops we made along the winding road which takes you from the plains surrounding Johannesburg to the mountainous terrain which leads towards the park:
On the way to Kruger
on the road

We had a leisurely lunch outside the park and made sure we had enough supplies to last a couple of meals before heading to the gate and discovering that we were far too late to get to our booked accommodation. A misunderstanding of the timetable meant that we could get in, but would have to spend the night in the car in the middle of the park with no protection from wandering hippos. Luckily we managed to get space in a different camp and as the sun set and the moon rose we made our first tentative steps, metaphorically speaking, into the park.

It was only a few minutes until we came across our first wildlife, a jackal out on an early evening prowl as the air cooled and the night time animals started to stir. It took me a little while to get used to taking photos from the car so the first hour or so didn't produce anything terribly remarkable. It was only a few minutes later that we came to our first really big surprise as K slammed on the breaks in order to stop us hurtling into the side of an elephant, crossing the road with its calf. We stopped, excited as little kids but not quite knowing whether this was a normal sight, or whether we had been very lucky, or indeed whether the fact that there was mother and baby together made this a dangerous situation. In fact it turned out that elephants are all too common and need to be regularly culled these days in order to stop them devastating the rest of the park, and in general unless you get between mother and calf you're not in too much danger.

It's not the greatest elephant shot by any stretch of the imagination, but given that it was the first it has some historical significance.
elephants in Kruger - not the greatest, but the first
We raced on quickly after this, aware of the possible price of arriving late at the gates and paused only to watch the moon rise over the tree-lined hills in front of us.
Moonrise over Kruger
Arriving finally at the camp, the gates were closed, and it's only now that I realise our idiocy as we got out of the car to call the guards. Still, they came and realising that we were probably stupid enough to get eaten if they didn't have pity on us they opened the door and let us into the Letaba camp site.

We paid our dues and set up a morning walk for the next day. Realising that it would mean a 4am start we made our ablutions, had a quick bite to eat and tucked down for the night, malaria pills consumed and mosquito spray covered.

For now I'll just set the scene for the next day as we got up in pitch darkness and made our way out into the camp in a large, open sided truck with a couple of rangers, guns in hand, ready to lead us into the jaws of whatever lurked in the bush. Within a few minutes the light from the truck reflected off the coat of a hyena, the brightness shining off the eyes as it stared us down. Hyenas have an enormous pair of front legs and chest, with incredible musculature and teeth which crush bone. The latter being noticeable in their white, calcium-filled droppings.
 Early morning Hyena
So, that takes us around 36 hours into our African adventure and there's plenty more to come. I'll slowly process the photos as I have time and will post them up here as soon as I can.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Back in town

I've just arrived back in Santiago after the most incredible couple of weeks in South Africa and Mozambique. Lots of stories to tell and a huge number of photos to go through. Over the last three days I've clocked up a total of 5 hours sleep so I'm going to try and catch up a little this afternoon before things start again in earnest tomorrow morning in the office.

For now I'll start the ball rolling with a shot (one of around 300 I have to go through) from Kruger National Park in the East of South Africa at the beginning of a night drive when a leopard came out of the underbush to look for its cub. I fired off a series of shots and got this as she stared right back at us. Many more to follow: