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Monday, August 3, 2015

africa - a pictorial recap

Africa has been calling me since I can remember. To be able to go on a photographic safari has been on my bucket list for the longest time, and one item I thought I'd never be able to tick off. A number of elements fell into place for me to be able to go on the Pete Dobré Photography 2015 Africa trip. I was able to live and photograph a dream and it was epic. 

I really wanted to bring home with me the sounds and the smells of Africa. I can look at photographs all day long but to saturate all other senses was very important to me. The scent of Wild Sage will forever more bring Africa to mind. Sweaty horses will remind me what elephants smell like, and I just can't describe how strong the aroma of fresh Rhinoceros dung is.  The tenting in the bush was one of my key highlights from the whole trip. To hear lions roar in the night, elephants pushing down trees not far from camp and the laugh of the hyena during those night hours when we were zipped up in our dome tents will never leave me

To explain why the flannel shirts.... Pete Dobré Photography only wears red flannel shirts. Its his trademark as well as his red hat and odd coloured socks. Its just who he is. So as a bit of fun, the rest of us 7 (1 from New Zealand, 3 from Hawaii and 3 from Australia) organised ourselves with a red flannel shirt to surprise Pete with. It became our unofficial uniform. It was quite a conversation opener when one of our crew was asked by a tourist or by a local "why the red shirts". It was all a lot of fun and a nice way to compliment Pete. This shot is part ofour crazy crew on the Africa trip. We had a party of 8 for our 21 day safari so having 4 in each jeep gave everyone plenty of room to get their shots without photobombing the others.

There's a saying in Africa - "This is Africa" or TIA. It refers to the fact that things don't always run to time. In fact it seldom does. Time moves in a different rhythm over there and not many locals have a watch, let alone wear one. Things do get done, just in Africa time and always with a smile. 

Case in point... we landed at Victoria Falls Airport with 3 hours to clear customs and make our way to Lokuthula Lodge, have a much needed shower after 30 hours of air travel and then get to the boat for the Sunset Hippo Cruise aka Booze Cruise. Well that was the plan but it didn't account for TIA.

Customs took quite a while. We were lucky enough that at mid afternoon we had the shade of the building to queue in as most of the people waiting were outside the tiny office. I'd hate to be waiting in the full summer sun. The winter there is like our spring weather here.

So it took all three hours for our party of 8 to clear customs and we hightailed it to the Lodge to drop the bags, pick up the camera gear and get to the boat that was waiting for us. The boat did have other guests on board and I hope we didn't offend their sense of smell too much or by our tardy arrival.

The breeze in the hair was lovely, the beer was cold and we saw hippos. And our first elephants on a far shore. Sunset was lovely but I did enjoy the full moon rising in the twilight so much more.

I saw via Facebook a local lady take this flight in a microlight over Victoria Falls quite some time before my trip. I just had to show Pete and he was excited as I was to do it. 5 out of our party of 8 took a flip on the Microlight over Victoria Falls. I had an extended flight to fly over the adjoining game park to see wildlife from the air.  :)

When we were at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge we were in the elephant bunker for an evening of photographing the animals coming to the waterhole for the day's end drink.

We were very very very blessed to have 2 herds of elephants come to water at the same time that particular evening. We were surrounded by 60 odd elephants. The armed guide who drove us there late evening and stayed with us said he had never seen so many at one time at this waterhole. EVER.

We had 3 hours of amazing time with the elephants and could have easily stayed for more. The guide made an initial run for the vehicle (some 300m away hidden from the bunker) but had to come back as there were 100 odd Cape Buffalo between us the the vehicle. There were also 2 sets of male buffalo fighting, so the guide came back for a while before trying again. This time he made it and drove the vehicle right up to the face of the hide for us to quickly get in. By now it was very dark, with only the floodlight of the Lodge up the distant hill. The guide drove out with no lights on and eventually we made it back up to the lodge.

The whole experience really was quite an emotionally connecting one with the elephants as we had such an intimate time with them. Family is everything to elephants. The very first one that came to the waterhole on his own (he was a bachelor and stayed away from all the herds) actually threw a rock with its trunk into the narrow gap of the hide (40cms) and hit me in the shoulder, narrowly missing the camera lens by an inch. My son wanted me to bring home a special rock from Africa, so I picked up this one that the elephant tossed in and kept it. It has a very special story and the elephant chose the rock. And I have it all on video which really rocked my son’s socks.  (pun intended)

And just to make the whole experience so much more special, someone else who we met later was in the hide for the next 2 nights after us and only saw 3 elephants in total. How very lucky were we !! 3.7.2015

African Fish Eagle. Chobe River. Near Kasane, Botswana.
Of all the bird calls, this is the one I remember the most. Its piercing and it carries on the air for such a long way. It's haunting yet beautiful. 4.7.2015

A little boy in the street of Kasane. People are happy here in Kasane. The crime rate is one of the lowest in Botswana. The people look after their own. If you've done wrong, the village will deal with you. And as a direct result, there is virtually no crime. I felt very safe here and it was one of the few places that I did feel comfortable to be walking around on my own. 

Kasane is where I got my African Corn Row braiding done to my hair.  (Its been in just over a month now and I'm having help to get it out on Friday. There's a LOT of fake hair to unbraid and comb out with the help of conditioner). I do it all again in a heartbeat.

Never smile at a Nile Freshwater Crocodile. He was HUGE!
Up close and very personal on the river in Chobe National Park, near Kasane. Botswana. 5.7.2015

It was important to me to capture the iconic African sunset shot with the red sky, the boiling sun and the black silhouette of the Thorn Tree. Having an elephant in the shot as well was just more than I could have hoped for. Chobe River. Kasana. Botswana.  5.7.2015

A bull Giraffe gently caresses his lady on the rump while she's licking the mud for mineral salts. Chobe National Park. Botswana.  5.7.2015

12 fascinating giraffe facts.
-Giraffe are already extinct in at least seven countries in Africa. 
-Just like human fingerprints, no two giraffe have the same coat pattern.
-Giraffe feet are the size of a dinner place with a diameter of 30cm.
-Giraffe tongues are bluish-purple and between 45 - 50cm long.
-Both male and female giraffe have ‘horns’ already at birth. These ossicones lie flat and are not attached to the skull to avoid injury at birth. They only fuse with the skull later in life.
-The giraffe is the tallest mammal in the world. Even newborn giraffe are taller than most humans.
-Female giraffe give birth standing up. Their young fall about 2m to the ground and can stand up within an hour of birth.
-About 50% of all giraffe calves do not survive their first year.
-A giraffe's neck is too short to reach the ground. As a result, it has to awkwardly spread its front legs or kneel to reach the ground for a drink of water.
-Giraffe only need to drink once every few days. Most of their water comes from all the plants they eat.
-To protect the giraffe’s brain from sudden changes in blood pressure when it lowers its head to drink, it has valves to stop the backflow of blood and elastic-walled vessels that dilate and constrict to manage flow. 
-NASA has done research on the blood vessels in giraffe legs to get inspiration for human space suits.
-A giraffe's heart weighs approx. 11kg and is the biggest of any land mammal. It is used to pump 60 litres of blood around its body every minute at a blood pressure twice that of an average human.

Why do elephants have a mud bath? It protects their skin from sunburn, insect bites and from losing too much moisture to evaporation. After the mud comes the dust bath.Chobe River. Botswana, near Kasane.  5.7.2015

The colour in the sunsets here are stunning due to the burning of reeds to grow crops (I'm unsure of what) in Namibia (country across the river) and the smokes hugs the horizon. We were above the Chobe River as the Botswana sun went below the horizon and gave us stunning light which was diffused through the dust from the elephants. They had just swum back to the bank and were dusting themselves.
Chobe is just breathtaking.  6.7.2015

Safari is not only about the Big 5. Its also the little things too. The trees, the lilies on the river and the prolific birdlife. If you're a Birdie, you need to visit Chobe River. And a few days will not be enough for you. 
This is a Jacana or Jesus Bird as it appears to walk on water. It's actually running on lily pads. It has the most amazing long toes, nearly as long as the rest of the leg. This particular morning on the Chobe River was glass. And we had it all to ourselves. Tourists sleep in and have late breakfasts, and by the time they go on the water, they have missed the best of the day. This morning was just like a mirror. By the time we came back, the other boats were just heading out, a little breeze had come up which rippled the water losing the glass effect as well as the bow waves from all the vessels on the river.   6.7.2015

Whilst we did not see one lion or cheetah during our 3 weeks, we were so very lucky to see 9 different Leopards.  Most of them were during our Khwai Bush Camp Safari. Botswana. They are a very elegant cat. 8.7.2015 

Swagged it in dome tents in the mobile bush camp near Khwai River. All the sounds of the night were amazing. Elephants crashing down trees, lions roaring and the hyenas chuckling as they ran through the camp one night with a stolen lid from the camp kitchen trailer.  No fences out here. The dried elephant poo was a great welcome doormat. 8.7.2015

Watching this herd of bull elephants having a bath was such a visual delight. There was a little one who was in the water for the entire time we were there, which was about 2 hours. He was such a little character. This shot of him reminds me of Dumbo with the really big ears. When the ears are wet they look like soggy cauliflower leaves. In this shot he was having a big head shake which really shook out his ears. I'll never forget this time with the elephants from Khwai River. Botswana.  9.7.2015

A cheeky Jacana used the head of a bull Hippopotamus as a stepping stone in the Khwai River.  Hippos sound much like cows and they snort water very loudly out of their nostrils when they think you might be a threat.  We were very very wary of Hippos. That video that was getting around the www with the Hippo charging up through the water behind a boat was from the very same boat and river that we were on at Chobe River. So massive respect and wide berths around these animals.

Apparently is not very often you get to witness 'a kill' when on Safari. So to watch a pack of 4 African Wild Dogs take down a young Kudu was an experience that I'll never forget. It was very confronting and uncomfortable and I will not trivialise how hard it was to photograph. All I could think was 'keep shooting and I'll cry later' And I did cry. I didn't have a very good mental health day that day. The 4 dogs had their fill before 2 Hyenas ran in and stole the carcass. The noise and dust was intense as all the dogs and hyenas fought for it. One Hyena took off with the carcass and the other was the decoy to keep on fighting until the first Hyena was in the clear.
The Circle of Life. Sabi National Park. South Africa. 16.7.2015 

The Muizenberg Beach Bathing Boxes where a visual delight on a dreary grey day. Many many years ago the gentry would come to the beach from Cape Town in their horse and carriage. They would wear their finest clothes as they traveled to display their status to any other traffic. They would tie up the horse behind the bathing box, and change into their neck to knee bathing costumes and sun themselves on the beach. The water was far too cold to swim and only a brave few did. The whole exercise was more about being on show to their peers.  17.7.2015

There are many many hiking tracks in and around Cape Town, especially to the summit of Table Top Mountain. Dave, one of our crew, is super fit and decided to power on up the mountain himself instead of taking the Cable Car.  It was all the more impressive as he just wore thongs. He did mention when he motored past a party of hikers, in full hiking gear, he heard them say (with a loud American accent) "Did you see that guy??? He's only got flip flops on!!"  What a giggle . He reached the summit in 45 minutes. Normally around about a 2 hour climb. Rock on Daveo!!!

The bright and beautifully coloured houses at Bo-Kaap. Cape Town. South Africa.
The Bo-Kaap is a Capetonian suburb situated at the foot of Signal Hill. The area is well-known for the picturesque coloured houses, Cape Malay Cuisine and Muslim culture. Most pictures of the Bo-Kaap area show the narrow streets with the houses, all painted in different colours. But why are the houses painted in these bright colours? What is the story behind these coloured houses? 

The original residents of the Bo-Kaap descended from the slaves that the Dutch brought in from Africa and Asia during the colonial period. While the beautiful views from Signal Hill and the picturesque houses have attracted many (foreign) investors to the suburb, most of the current Bo-Kaap residents have a ‘Cape Malay’ background and are Muslims.

As part of their religion, they take part in the Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. At the end of this holy month, a three day celebration called Eid al-Fitr (the Festival of Breaking the Fast) takes place.

In Cape Town, hundreds of Muslims gather at Green Point every year in the evening of the last day of Ramadan. They wait for the sighting of the moon, which marks the end of the holy month. It is generally customary to dress up in bright colours, a tradition Capetonian Muslims also take part in. In addition, many Bo-Kaap residents repaint their houses at the end of the Ramadan as part of the celebrations. The residents usually discuss amongst their neighbours what colours they will be using, to prevent clashing colours and to make sure that different colours are picked.

It is often said that the different coloured houses have now become no more than a tourist attraction, but the rich history and culture behind it should not be forgotten.    20.7.2015

Beautiful Maiden's Cove on the rear side of Table Top Mountains with the 12 Apostles leading away to the horizon.  The wind here is so strong trees can't grow straight.  Just as I finished up photographing down on the beach a bus of young Springbok Rugby players ran down to the water's edge.   A few dared to go into the water for a dip. They were brave souls as the water temp at this time of year is a very chilly 14 degrees centigrade. Wind chill getting out of the water is much lower. 20.7.2015

Out of the whole trip I take home the memories and the wonderful friendships that have developed amongst our crew. Never to be forgotten and always cherished.

I'll posting images onto my 'Africa - Living a Dream' album on my Tiff Firth Photography Page for a while. I've 6000 odd images that are the keepers. I've already dumped the rest so I reckon I know what I'm doing until retirement    ;-)

Pete Dobrè has had such an enormous response to his photography trips to Africa that 2016 had already sold out, but now he is taking bookings for a second group to experience Africa in 2016. He also has a trip to Namibia in 2016 that is filling quickly. 2017 bookings are open now for both Africa and Namibia trips and will close off soon as he needs to complete the 2017 reservations with the tour groups in Africa shortly.  He can be contacted on 0408 446 289 or email via his website which is www.petedobre.com.au

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