A Photographic Safari in Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

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A Photographic Safari in Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Discovering the enchanted (and enchanting) Mana Pools

(As always, all pictures here are with iPhone unless specified. Mana Gallery coming very soon!)

I can’t begin to say how astonishing this trip was, in so many respects. Being able to be shut away from the world makes the notion of time fade away. It felt like I’d been in Mana forever, and in the same instance, this past week went by in the blink of an eye.

I’ve been following Wild Eye for the last 2 years, amazed by the great social media interaction and the quality of the guides’ interventions, in posts, stories, podcast, videos, vlogs…I promised myself to travel with them one day, thinking about it every morning on the tube, stuck in rush hour, letting the Wild Eye podcast whisk me away to Africa.

About 10 months ago, Johan (personal website here) connected with me on IG and told me about a Mana Pools trip he was hosting the following year…at the time, the price was a little overwhelming for my bank account..but I was motivated. After testing his patience, I finally booked the trip in January, making full use of the payment schemes Wild Eye offered - paying deferred instalments every 2 months. Before I knew it, October 2018 had rolled by and it was time to travel to Zim. Having never received any form of photographic tuition before, I was beyond excited. New techniques, new perspectives, and the opportunity to travel to one of the most incredible National Parks (in my opinion) - Mana Pools. Plus, it was time for me to play around with my new beast, the 5D mIV.

So here it goes, here’s the story of the 6 photographers who joined Wild Eye guide Johan on an incredible photographic trip…from my perspective.

Mana Pools (Zimbabwe), mid October - let me tell you, it was HOT. Temperatures were between 38-42 all day everyday.

But man, it’s worth it. Mana is extremely rewarding for those who are passionate about wildlife, jaw-dropping light and beautiful landscapes. One of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen, when the sun sets and that magical orange light filters through the woods. It’s also properly wild. Located by the banks of the mighty Zambezi in Northern Zimbabwe, the National Park is downstream from the Victoria Falls.‘Mana’ means ‘four’ in Shona, as it has four pools of water close to the Zambezi, eat one a biodiversity hotspot at micro level. It was also one of the most challenging places to photograph - I found. Dust, strong light, lots of small dead trees and grasses obscuring shots… but so very worth it. I learnt A LOT on this trip and definitely progressed…even if it also comforted me in my current mindset as a wildlife photographer, style and creativity wise.

Day 1 - Arriving and discovering Mana - Tuesday 9th October 2018

I was up early in Harare, having spent the night at a friend’s house - very, very excited to leave for Mana. Arrived at 7:30am at the airport after the best homemade granola breakfast and ginger tea, (and having said goodbye to wifi for a week) eager to meet Johan and the people I’d be sharing sweat, grime and giggles for the next week.

I was introduced to Anthony, a vet from Florida, Devin, who worked in Nairobi, Jaco and Hennie, son and father from South Africa, both dentists, and Karthik a techie from Chicago.

As always, trips to Africa are an excellent way to learn patience (something I can’t say I have…perfect practise), as Africa time is always a little (understatement) random. Let’s just say we were lucky to take off that day. TIA, right (nb: I hope you’ve seen Blood Diamond, otherwise please watch it before you read on)?

Plane seated 8 people, comfortable but with the first 2 seats facing backwards. ‘Heaviest people in the front’ - well that was settled, I got the backseat. Remember I’ve mentioned some flying anxiety I’d made my peace with? This flight tested it quite a bit, though it was only very bumpy leaving Harare and as we passed the escarpments into the Lower Zambezi Valley. Lots of air pockets. Jaco probably felt it more than I did. But we were alive and ready to safari. ‘Welcome to paradise’ Johan declared as we stepped off the plane. Red dust, my long lost bush smells and blazing heat.

 views from the deathtrap

views from the deathtrap

 the deathrap

the deathrap

Our super-ranger Kevin (check @Kaylo_zim on IG) was waiting to pick us up…little did we know we were in for a week of non stop laughter and messing around. Apparently, Mana Pools is TEAMING with sable antelopes…but you need to know where to look. Of course, we had the best sable-and-unicorn-tracking guide out there (nb: if you don’t get the sable jokes, that’s fine. They’re a super rare antelope species that can apparently be found in Mana, according to Kevin, but not too sure we should take his word for it…anyways, it stuck from day 1, and he owes us a sable sighting) . Oh, and we did do a bit of photography, of course.

Arriving at Mwinilunga Tented Camp was la crème de la crème. Imagine being on a deserted beach: we had the camp to ourselves, right on the banks of the mighty Zambezi river. Tents were simple yet spacious, comfortable in their sobriety. Bucket shower at the back, and, ultimate comfort, flushable toilets. But especially, the beaming faces of Tess, Dave and their son Andrew, camp owners and manager, who were there to greet us.

 views from my tent

views from my tent

 my tent

my tent

 scones and jam and creme oh my

scones and jam and creme oh my

And the food…oh man. My growingly famous appetite was satisfied by Tess’ cooking. EVERYTHING was homemade (i still don’t get how she did it - no proper kitchen and insane heat, yet we were spoilt with the most delicious meals ever. She’s officially my Bush-Mum. A healthy average of 10-15 rusks a day to start off in the morning, 2-3 muffins alongside them, and my palet was satisfied). It was lovely to meet everyone properly over lunch - I was the only girl, definitely the only one born after 1990, but I was used to it and preferred it that way. So many interesting people sat around me !

As the day grew hotter, and until 3:30 (game-drive time), some of us stayed around the lunch table to chat. Out of nowhere, Devin (unfortunately I promised not to reveal his niCkname under any cIrcumstAnce ) has a slight backwards movement - ‘um there’s a snake in my lap’. We look to the floor as we hear a little thud, and Johan’s very calm voice ‘that’s alright, stay calm, just let it pass’. A small, bright blue and grey snake glides under my chair and into the bush. ‘Only a Spotted Bush Snake, they’re harmless’ says Johan…before grinning in rellief, ‘though I was already thinking Mamba or Puff Adder when you said that’.

3pm rolled by, and with it delicious homemade scones with cream and strawberry jam (homemade, of course).

 a scenic picture of a tree

a scenic picture of a tree

Our first game drive was the perfect opportunity to dive back in, get used to the forest and dust, the game of lights and shadows Mana played, and, in my case, familiarising myself not only with my gear, but with photography (was a few months rusty).

We spent a few moments with lions but they were far and hiding behind a tree so moved on relatively quickly. Found some ellies (cows and babies) by the floodplain as the light was going down. Nothing groundbreaking, but so very sweet to be out in the bush again, smelling, tasting, sweating and observing….on foot this time.

Because yes, in Mana, you can walk. The week prior to this trip, a German woman succumbed to her injuries after an incident with a cow defending her young. Since the Park opened in the 70s, the law has stated that any visitor can discover the wilderness on foot, namely to make it fair for locals who couldn’t afford to go with guides and rangers. Regardless of the debate as to whether this should be sustained or not, only a tiny number of casualties in 40 years (6) have actually occured. The wild has to be respected and treated with caution: awareness is key. And yes, it’s preferable to be with someone who knows what they’re doing. Either way, being able to walk with animals is a fantastic opportunity, not just from a photographic perspective, but because of the privilege that is to be fully submerged in the bush.

 sunset!

sunset!

That night, we were all shattered, and I was looking forward to sleeping after dinner…that was until i discovered I had a lovely hairy, 8 legged visitor just above my head. I really don’t tend to mind spiders, but I can’t say I’m particularly in love with them…especially when I have no clue what their bite does. Anyways, I always travel with a mosquito net in my bag…except it’s for a single mattress, not double and was purely useless here. I literally battled with it through most of the night, getting tangled in it, until I decided I couldn’t care less if the spider crawled in my bed, and took it down. Slept so much better.


Day 2 - Ellies and….more ellies - Wednesday 10th October 2018

Up at 4:30am, gone by 5:15. Johan has a good feeling (the rest of us as well, after some coffee, and me with a few homemade rusks (nb: for those who haven’t lived and have never tried a rusk before, they’re these buttery short-bread-biscotti type biscuit that South Africans have for breakfast or snacks - these ones were pure heaven)). Reaching the floodplain, we come across one of the biggest bulls in the area. Boswell has incredible huge tusks….and he’s a ‘stander’. Basically, he gets up on his hind legs, breaks branches of sausage and fig trees, bringing them down to provide for himself, as well as smaller bulls who follow him and can’t stand. These creatures are incredible caring, and you can see why. He was accompanied by a smaller bull, literally following him everywhere.

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We spent the entire morning with them, waiting for the ‘provider’ to stand or stretch (reaching out to feed on the lower branches). They moved to the banks of the Zambezi to drink - such a superb sighting. It was so cool to just sit there, maybe 20m from a Africa’s largest mammal, who was seemingly completely oblivious to our presence.

 Waiting a while for animals to cooperate gives plenty of time to focus on other things, like sausage trees - taken with my Canon

Waiting a while for animals to cooperate gives plenty of time to focus on other things, like sausage trees - taken with my Canon

 yoh (credit to Johan, peaking with his wildlife photography)

yoh (credit to Johan, peaking with his wildlife photography)

Temperatures were slowly rising, and after 3 hours, we decided it was time for a coffee break (and rusks…and muffins). From 9am onwards, the light starts to get really harsh. So we called it at morning and headed back to camp.

 my hero who only stuck around for the nap

my hero who only stuck around for the nap

With the short night I had, I was also very ready for a nap, so crashed after brunch at around 12. I’d attempted to download my pictures on Lightroom to do some editing but, as with everyone else, our computers were seriously affected by the heat. They were ventilating like mad, and the simple effort of importing was tough so I let it rest a bit as I napped. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this giddy after a nap, waking up completely disoriented in a puddle of sweat after 1:30 of deep sleep. Oh and a little lizard I’d noticed on my tent flap the day before had found its way in… I was really hoping it would stay, to eat other critters that decided they liked my tent.

After delicious cakes, time to go again. We drove for an hour or so, into the Albida forest - the plan was to find an elephant we could photograph in the setting light. We found a young bull - a stander - in the perfect setting. Potential was hugeeee. Setting up our gear we followed him around, he wasn’t moving too much, just eating, breaking branches, and eating again. The light was going down but he was showing no signs of moving into the rays of golden light, and he also seemed to be a little annoyed by our presence. So we chose to give him his space and to start looking for anything else that walked in the light. And when I say ‘the light’ i mean ‘THE light’. The most beautiful, mystical, stunning light ever, it felt absolutely unreal (nb: this is an euphemism). It made baboons look good, impalas look splendid. Cascades of pinkish orange light here and there, I was dazed. Kevin often told us people got lost (emotionally) wandering in the forest. It made proper sense. You’re just attracted to the Mana light, unable to detach your gaze from it, and it was with a lot of reticence that we went back to the car… but ‘lions in the area guys’ Kevin announced.

Strangely, from that moment onwards, I caught myself daydreaming of that light as soon as I closed my eyes. It was probably the heat playing tricks on my mind, but I saw elephants in golden lights framed by the windows formed by Albida trees. Not unpleasant at all.


Day 3 - When animals change your plans….Thursday 11th October 2018

I slept like an absolute baby. Spiders in my tent (note the plural) but couldn’t care less. This morning’s plan was to go work the forest, with sunrise light this time.

 gorgeous sunrise

gorgeous sunrise

Well, it was, until we drove straight into THE ultimate pack. The ones we’d all secretly been hoping to see. Wild dogs. 4 adults and 4 pups. They were literally on the road. In 2 seconds we were out, lenses ready. These dogs move fast. Soon they were trotting towards the river, and we quickly followed, at a (very) brisk walk.

 dogs on the road

dogs on the road

Wild Dog sightings are both rewarding and special. These impressive creatures are critically endangered, and they play like proper dogs, jumping, yelping and sniffing each other’s butts, but don’t be fooled by their puppy dog eyes and round fluffy ears. They’re systematic, efficient and deadly hunters, relying on teamwork to track, trap and tear. These guys hadn’t eaten yet and it was quite hilarious to see them half heartedly attempt to take down a warthog. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a warthog run so fast, it was properly sailing through the air, probably halfway across the world by now. They then decided to run off somewhere again, but our excellent ‘bloodhound Kev’ (read on to find out how he gets the nickname) took us to them, following great decision-making by Anthony, who, after consulting the forest gods, inspired us to walk after them.

They were playing and running all over a moss covered ditch. Two pups inquisitively came up to have a sniff at us, maybe 4-5 m from the tips of Johan and I’s lenses. Adrenaline, excitement and awe were pumping through our veins, it was so clear from the look of utter delight on everyone’s faces. Dogs bouncing everywhere, moving, yelping, whining, jumping, playing, rolling….one of the most challenging photographic subjects I’ve ever encountered - the rest of the group agreed. Really made us question our abilities as photographers because quite frankly, we were at a loss. Cropped tails and feet, dogs photobombing each other… composition required speed and superhuman precision.

And then suddenly, out of nowhere, they ran out of the ditch before disappearing into the woods.

Time for a rusk. We drove to the most beautiful of locations, right by the river. Some hippos graced us with their presence and we just sat there, contemplating.

It was on our trip back that we came by a very special elephant crossing in front of us, looking for shade in blazing heat. She had very prominent orange eyes, coming very close to the car. Probably one of my favourite sightings this week

 Orange eyes crossing

Orange eyes crossing

 orange eyes. Taken with the canon

orange eyes. Taken with the canon

It was nice to get back for brunch, especially because our meals with Tess and Andrew are always filled with laughing and messing around. Dave was away in town to look for fuel - Zim is going through a period of complete transition, politically and socio- economically, and shortages of everything ranging from fuel to food are occurring across the country. It makes things harder when there’s no / very little cash to go by as well. But I was touched by the love between Kevin and Andrew (they’re brothers in law). Andrew has Down’s syndrome, and he’s the sweetest camp manager I’ve ever met. He always made sure we checked for lions before going to bed.

 Kev, Andrew and I (and Tony in the back) (and a sable somewhere). Don’t mind the messy hair, by this point I hadn’t seen a mirror in 3 days. (Credit to Jaco)

Kev, Andrew and I (and Tony in the back) (and a sable somewhere). Don’t mind the messy hair, by this point I hadn’t seen a mirror in 3 days. (Credit to Jaco)

To cope with the heat we tried showering with our clothes. Dry in 15 minutes. Laptops were ventilating and literally dying. The afternoon game drives were H.O.T. I felt like Meursault in the Albert Camus’ The Stranger. So off we were when soon enough, we stumbled across the dogs again. There’s an expression - ‘flat cats’ - applied to lions passed out in the grass, and you can barely see them, let alone photograph. Well, we had flat dogs. Patience is a virtue apparently, so we waited. An hour rolled by, they were clearly having wonderful dreams, and we were sweating, picturing them playing in golden light. Around 4-5ish, they simultaneously all jumped up, wagging their tails and sniffing their butts, before descending towards the other side of the mound. But we were ready. Laying down in the dry river bed (apparently, when the river dries up, fish descend through the mud and hibernate there) we waited for the dogs to make a royal appearance in the golden light.

They didn’t.

It’s sooo much more fun to make a bunch of dirty photographers wait for hours, playing in the shade (where their dark colours got mixed up with the shadows) instead of the beautiful golden light.

 Golden light ft some stubborn pups. Taken with the Canon

Golden light ft some stubborn pups. Taken with the Canon

They were literally on the edge of the light, but never crossed the rim. And then boom, they ran off in the distance with the adults, messing a bit with an ellie before disappearing in the thicket. Amazing to watch, frustrating to contemplate the possibilities.

 my tribe of baboons <3

my tribe of baboons <3

But, it’s all about the experience, right? (lol). No, in all honesty, it was great fun, I even managed to get Johan in prime Baboon position on camera.

Beautiful sunset as we were heading back, quick shower and then dinner. Tess had so many anecdotes, the ones she reserved for dinner were great - like when her pet croc (who bathed in their swimming pool in Harare and had its own luxury red heat lamps) believed he was a dog and followed him through a burrow to bathe in the neighbour’s pool. So many good times around good wine and food… big melancholic moment typing this up.

I think it’s worth paying Mwinilunga a visit just to eat and feel like you have a home in the bush.

ALSO, NO SPIDERS IN MY TENT TONIGHT.



Day 4 - Johan gets stuck in a Baobab - Friday 12th October 2018

4:30 wakeup, gone by 5:15, you know the drill. We were determined to work the Albida forest in morning light. Honestly, best decision ever. That light made hyenas look stunning (not usually a fan of them as a photographic subject. Interesting thing about Hyenas, in some parts of the country, locals avoid them at all costs because they believe a witch is riding them, sitting on their slanted backside), although again, the animals weren’t really cooperating. We stayed there the whole morning, watching ellies, elands, impalas and more ellies wander through the forest with the famous blue haze. Kevin then took us to this huge Baobab tree, that was a couple thousand years old - we could go inside, there was a small slit in the bark so I slipped through, and watched as the others attempted to follow. Filmed and giggled more like, but apparently there’s a trick to do it, Johan had done it before, of course (no comment). Minutes later no progress, so we called it a day and I came back out.

 apparently if you get lost, hide in a baobab

apparently if you get lost, hide in a baobab

 (i sketched this - continue reading to see the result)

(i sketched this - continue reading to see the result)

 Johan’s struggle, an insider’s view

Johan’s struggle, an insider’s view

Kevin then showed us a hidden, not-so-little red metal tube sticking out of the ground. It was about a meter high. ‘A study in 2001 looked at what the water level would be like if the government goes forward with a dam project that would bring this entire area underwater - that red pole indicates the level the water would reach should they go ahead with the project’ he explains, pointing to the valley. It may seem like nothing, because of Mana’s international status (UNESCO World Heritage Site) but the fact that audits have been made means the project is serious. The Zambian side would be flooded as well, and that’s the only solid argument holding the project back. No one talks about issues like these, or the conservation problems Mana is facing - like why the tree are’t growing any more. 30 years ago, a dam was built near the border with Mozambique - the Kariba Dam. Plains that used to undergo a massive flood once in a while no longer did, and the current large concentration of impalas and elephants in the area make it hard for the young plants to grow. Little research because little amount of funds…and awareness. Stay tuned for an upcoming article feature on Conjour I’m working on :)

It’s also super cool to have game come to you, when you’re lazing around camp. These ellies zigzaged between our tents before going for a quick bath in the river. They made us VERY envious.

 first game sighting all day …from camp. Probably because we gave Kev a camera (as seen on the left, next to the rare sable antelope),

first game sighting all day …from camp. Probably because we gave Kev a camera (as seen on the left, next to the rare sable antelope),

The afternoon game drive was quiet, dead quiet, in terms of game. We drove around the Floodplain, the Albida forest, Chisako and Long Pools and nothing. Light was starting to become golden and we hadn’t settled for a subject, Johan was breaking a sweat (so were we), and all we saw were baboons and impalas. When suddenly….Mum and two calves walk by. In the floodplains. With the Zambezi in the background. And the sun setting. What else to ask for??

We’re out in a flash, lenses ready, giving them space but praying for magic orange dust and some cool ‘ellies in the light’ scenes. So try to lightly jog, with heavy camera equipment, ducking, checking settings, shooting, recomposing, running in a squat-like position (the bush is your gym). Best experience ever, just because the scene was so breathtakingly beautiful. I wasn’t paying attention to my camera most of the time. Picture this, pinkish orange dust coming from the ellies’ movements, the Zambezi ablaze as it reflected the setting sun. Literally lasted about 20mins tops until the ellies decided to disappear into a not so photogenic area and the rays were gone. Time for a sundowner, before heading back.

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That night, we had some large, tusked visitors wonder around tents. They’re SO loud, and when you can sense a big bull a few cm from your head on the flip side of the tent, noisily munching and making a ruckus with fallen leaves (aka his food), you don’t feel like sleeping. I’d also battled with a tsetse fly that had landed in my tent, but thankfully, turned out the tsetse didn’t appreciate me whacking it with my laptop towards my tent opening. Let me tell you though, the stress is real when you can’t actually get in your tent because a giant bull has decided to have his dinner just by it, and you have to let it be cause you’d rather not be trampled. In pitch darkness. Another episode this patience and virtue business. But having an elephant munching outside your tent is still really thrilling. I was nervously giggling to myself like a madwoman. Jaco and Devin confirmed this the next morning.

Day 5 - Bloodhound Kev, swimming in the Zambezi, and more doggies - Saturday 13th October

Forest was quiet allll morning. Nothing nothing nothing. So much for good feelings, but at least we had some great banter. I’ve been hearing the South Africans in the group saying ‘yoh’ (pronounced yawww) all week whenever something was shocking, good or bad, I love it. Yoh, what better place to practise than surrounded by South Africans in the bush?

 action shot of Bloodhound Kev

action shot of Bloodhound Kev

We drove past a guy in a 4x4 with headphones on, listening to the frequencies emitted by the collar on one of the Wild Dogs for conservation work…basically tracks dogs for a living. Naturally, we decide to follow him. As we reach a dried up pool, we find the researcher car, alongside another game drive vehicle guided by a very famous and iconic local guide - very old school. ‘Stretch’ has been working in Mana for 40 years, and experienced the park’s golden era in the 80s, when fewer people travelled there. It seems he’s built himself a reputation, known as ‘a grumpy old guide’ but we caught him on a good day and man I’ve never seen anyone fire so many jokes per minute.

Anyways, he led his guests on foot into the bush as the researcher was coming back (‘Dr Dog’ for Stretch - they have a bit of a contention between them). Kev - who happened to be friends with him - got him to take us tracking the dogs… using the high frequency radio. Needless to say, we found them fairly quickly, disturbed by a hyena chasing them towards the floodplains. The researcher left us to it and we followed the dogs for a while, before deciding we’d find them quicker by car, and doubling back. We reached it fairly at the same time as Stretch’s team, astonished by the speed at which Kev had managed to track the dogs (our footprints were fresh next to the dogs’). Praising ‘Bloodhound Kev’s (quoting) incredible tracking skills, he applauded them non stop for a 5 good minutes. The rest of us were laughing our heads off in the car. Needless to say, had Stretch really known what had happened, he would have shredded our Bloodhound Kev to bits.

By then the light was harsh and there wasn’t much left to see, the dogs were probably not going to move, so we had coffee at Tess’ other camp, her main one, right at the edge of the river, behind the floodplain.

Torture is having a beautiful body of enticing blue water right under your nose and knowing you can’t swim - well, not unless you’re up to have crocs and hippos tickle your belly. But an entire herd of elephants bathing beneath our eyes…too tempting. So Tess and I rolled up our trousers and waded (calf deep ) in a small marshy part of the river. Sadly disgruntling - nothing but muddy (mmm we thought poo-ey but rather not think about it) warm water. The whole expedition lasted about 10 mins, but hey, we bathed with elephants (sort of).

 brunch

brunch

 spot the eyes

spot the eyes

 ‘swimming’ in the Zambezi

‘swimming’ in the Zambezi

3:30 - we’re off, tracking dogs away from the car and deep into the floodplain. Flatdogs again, the heat is intense. Ellies around us as well… so. much. potential. The wait begins. Literally surrounded by men and huge lenses (heavy as well, I’ll need to double my gymming by the time I win the lottery and buy all my dream lenses). One thing though…It’s really not about equipment, but the experience. Obviously, very excited for the day where I’ll shoot a 400mm f/2:8 but for now, soaking it in.

And then… dogs on the move. Again, they settle in a wide moss covered- ditch…we were reluctant to go with them this time because it so happened that a huge elephant bull was about 10m from us, on the other side, scratching its tusks and trunk against a dead tree. Keeping an eye out, we edge closer towards them and slowly inside the ditch. The elephant turns his butt towards us and - quite literally - slumps against the tree, seemingly fast asleep. Could not care less about a troop of humans madly clicking their shutters as the pups ran all over the place. A beautiful moment. Not much pinkish orange dust (cheeky dogs avoiding light again) but pups drinking, running up and down - I don’t think any single one of us could get bored of watching them. They are unpredictable (queue anticipating their next move to at least attempt to compose properly) so you just can'’t get bored.

Stretch (who was there as well, finally managed to catch up with the dogs), suddenly points to the setting sun - ‘guys the light is stunning, you won’t get much more out of the dogs, but there are a lot of elephants near the river’. Sun is setting faster than we can click, and the scene is absolutely breathtaking. It’s a challenge to get a correct exposure but man. The elephant silhouettes. The huge red orb (really hard to get in camera without having everything else fully black), the river reflecting the orb. An absolute dream. It was over in 10 minutes but what an evening.

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Mana was showing off for our last night. Sundowners and messing around (have YOU tried squatting a heavy lens in the bush? Honestly people complain they can’t keep fit, but with all the gear, who needs a gym?) before heading back for our last dinner.

 my two works of art, colorised.

my two works of art, colorised.

It felt a little like everyone was trying to prolong the dinner. No one wanted to pack in the dark, and especially accept that this was our last night in the wild. Tess presented me with the guest record book, so obviously I started writing a novel. Tradition stated someone had to draw in it…the crayons went around the table and back to me, so I got ready to draw stick elephants (woman of many talents here). I also ended up drawing the most memorable moment this week - see if you can recognise what I’m on about.

We stayed a bit after dinner, talking travel, camping and more travel dreams. But most of all, we looked at the stars. Shining so brightly, with a beautiful croissant moon. Hippos making a ruckus, elephants walking by, hyenas coming close. Like every night but this was a little different. Last few moments to take it all in, sitting around the fire.

Nostalgia vibes were strong.

(I’m actually quite proud of my ellie and Johan drawing, this was in semi darkness, as we only had candles and headlamps to eat, go about and well live at night).

Day 6 - Mana on show part 2 - Sunday 14th October 2018

Bidding tearful (well in my case anyways) farewells to Tess and Andrew, we set off. Wasn’t an easy goodbye…

 shooting in a pile of impala dung. Yum

shooting in a pile of impala dung. Yum

A few minutes into game drive and chill, and boom, doggos. We spent the whole morning with the Wild Dogs - and they weren’t in flat dog mode. Finally, some golden dust around them as they played close to those special golden hour orange rays. We also happened to be laying in a pile of impala dung, and tsetses were happily buzzing around us. What’s not to love. As the light grew harsher, we decided it was time to say goodbye - lions were calling. They’d taken down an eland and were resting under the shade of a nearby fig tree, panting in the heat (flat cats all over again). It was 7:30am, and it was H.O.T. We come across another guide - a croc had taken down a baby buffalo by one of the pools. Mana reallllyy didn’t want us to leave.

Our initial flight back was scheduled at 12:40….but if it’s too hot, well, planes don’t usually make the take off, and tragically, they crash. Hence, we all agreed an earlier flight was better just for the sake of making it out alive from the park. By 9, we could really feel the 42ºC.

We got to fly a lovely big and comfortable Navajo (praying to avoid the VERY bumpy and hot small Cessna 2o6 that was also there to bring guests out - one of us had to be sacrificed to ride it though).

All to soon it was time to say goodbye to really cool group, and terrific guide. We met as guests and left as friends, and I look forward to travelling with these boys again. Yoh, Wild Eye did not disappoint, travelling with this company has been beyond great, on every single level. Asante sana for everything !

 Can you spot the sable ?

Can you spot the sable ?

6 Comments

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A road trip in Namibia - Travel Journal (Part 2)

Day 6 - Getting lost on a straight road and reaching Damaraland - 25th June 2018

A lot of you have been asking if we remembered to turn off the lights - thanks for your concern, and the answer is YES. The reason we now remember to actually turn them off is because every time we opened the door after shutting down the engine, the car would make a really angry beeping noise. Not knowing why, we assumed it just wanted to warn us that our doors were open, in the most annoying way possible (we insulted it a lot). Well, just next to the Tropic of Capricorn two days ago we made the connection between both, and suddenly felt very self-consciously embarrassed. At least if the battery runs out, it won’t be because of the lights.

I woke up at 6am this morning after a cold and short night - this B&B was adorable but all the windows were open all the time and it was freezing in the rooms and breakfast area. Quick shower and repacked my entire suitcase before Anne emerged from her sleep and we went for breakfast. It was dark and foggy outside, we’d planned to have left at 7:30 - which we did! On time for once  - because today was a loong drive and we wanted to do the detour by Cape Cross to see the seal colony. 

So. Many. Issues. 

First, as we set off, the car was cold and full of condensation, so the windscreen was impossible to look through. Then, the fog was so dense we couldn’t see where we were going - Annie was driving and I was directing. Street names were impossible to read, and cars were only seen at the last minute. 

 visibility

visibility

 fog on the inside

fog on the inside

 this was when we could actually see the signs

this was when we could actually see the signs

We managed to find our way to the C19 towards Henties Bay (Hentiesbaai), but the visibility conditions were getting worse by the minute.  Heat on full blast (we were rapidly baking ourselves to get the screen to clear up, but the process was SO slow). I therefore decided to manually wipe the condensation away in an effort to help Anne in at least having an idea of where she was going. Of course every minute I had to start again but it was better than nothing. 

After a good 20 minutes, we could see through the windscreen again but the fog hadn’t cleared up. I triple checked the map - we couldn’t miss Cape Cross, there was only one road leading to it, along the eery Skeleton Coast. It was a ghostly and depressing drive, with only sand and grey fog around us, and the occasional beam of bypassing headlights. 4th check on the map, 45 km to Cape Cross from Hentiesbaai, which we’d just passed, we’d be there in about 40 mins tops (speed limit was 100km/h). Except that an hour later we were STILL driving on that same gloomy road (we could see the Ocean now though) and nothing. It didn’t make sense. Another 10 minutes and suddenly, a signpost indicating the upcoming ‘Mile 108’ in a few kilometres made my stomach sink. Mile 108 was supposed to be 35km after Cape Cross. We had managed to get lost on a straight road. 

U-turn and here we go again. Lucky we’d left so early - we’d really wanted to arrive early at the lodge and actually enjoy the afternoon there. The Cape Cross detour adds a minimum of 2 hours to the journey though, so considering we just lost 50 mins in the wrong direction and another 50 to get back….we might as well have slept in and left much later. It turned out that with the incredibly thick fog, we had completely missed the signpost indicating to turn left towards the Cape. 

 it was clean, once upon a time. Facing the grey Atlantic

it was clean, once upon a time. Facing the grey Atlantic

250 000 seals yelling, wailing, barking, suckling, fighting and…smelling. They stank terribly We didn’t stay long, but it was fascinating to watch them roll and loll around. This place is where Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão landed for the first time in Namibia, in the 14th Century (though the country was only colonised much later by the Germans, in the 1800s). 

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That done, we were ready for some sun again. About 5 minutes after we turned inland, we escaped the cold fog and were almost sweating in the Namibian sun. What a pleasant contrast. Quick change of clothes and driver and off we were again. It was almost noon. 

 the joy of a CLEAR sky

the joy of a CLEAR sky

The road was incredibly scenic - for a change ;). I didn’t think Namibia had more landscapes to hide but how wrong I was. Wide plains with purple mountains in the distance outlined our drive to the small (and sad) town of Uis, where we stopped for fuel and were harassed by locals to buy their gemstones. This town used to be very industrial, providing employment though the exploitation of tin, but the mines shut down as Namibia became Independent. So now the locals go in the mountains and find heaps and heaps of rose quartz, Kgalagadi Jade and many many more sorts. As we refuel, a young man comes up to us and we start chatting. He wants to sell us some stones. I ask for the price of one but he tells me one is too expensive so I need to buy 5. Logical. ‘It is how business works’ he tells us. I really only wanted one, but he insisted I take more, because in fact, all he wanted was N$ 100 (about £7) and felt bad that I only get one for that price.

 ostrich crossing

ostrich crossing

The wide plains gave way to smaller ones in a backdrop of high, round, red boulders, the dirt became orange, and we were oo-ing at every new bend in the road, especially as we passed a signpost bearing a warning regarding elephants: we were officially in Damaraland. However, we’d been driving for 7 hours and were starting to get tired. A short stop on the side of the road to buy some handmade jewellery from a Herero woman (they have incredible dresses and hats as their traditional clothes) gave us the opportunity to stretch our legs, and once again off we were. 

The 72km from Uis to Tywfeflontein on a bumpy road (hi African massage) were scenic and strenuous. We were both drowsy, and I need to concentrate on the road, so got rid of the air con and lowered the windows. The warm wind was extremely comforting, and slowly again, the landscape started changing. The boulders disappeared, and dark brown and purple escarpments made up the majority of our surroundings. A ‘Doro !Nawas 5km’  signpost was probably one of the most comforting things this week, after the apple pie of course. 

9 hours after we left Swakopmund, we were sitting by the pool of this absolutely incredible eco-lodge (owned by Wilderness Safaris), sipping rooibos and eating chocolate brownies. Doro !Nawas is a Damara name, and has a ‘click’ sound in the middle of it - the Damara people have four types of clicks in their language.  It means 'dry rhino', because there used to be loads of desert-adapted rhinos, that moved further into the mountains as people settled here. 

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We’re exhausted and drained, but in absolute awe of this place. The people are sweet - had missed this after 2 days in cold Swakopmund - and the food is splendid. Not to mention the 360 views around Damaraland. We have the opportunity to shower and sleep outside of our rooms - definitely must be tried! For now though, dinner by the fire, an incredible prickly pear and toffee cake for desert and bed. Early day to track desert elephants tomorrow….

 

Day 7 - Desperately searching for elephants in Damaraland - 26th June 2018

Breakfast at 7am - was the best breakfast so far: PANCAKES. Although the one at Galton House was really good too. 

We then left at 7:30 for our first game drive on this trip to track desert-adapted elephants, with Regie (short for Reginald). These eles are essentially African elephants, exactly the same species, except that they’ve adapted to harsh and dry living conditions: they’ll eat anything, drink much less water and that’s about it. They’re also smaller in size, and have longer legs. 

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So we set off, excited to see our first elephants, and we started tracking. After about an hour, victory, a lone bull with pretty large tusks (they also usually have tiny tusks) was quietly munching away at a thicket. I’ve never seen elephants  in such a jaw-dropping setting, and Anne and I were incredibly happy to be able to observe this special bull.

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Apparently, he had separated from a big herd the night before, so Regie left him in in peace and the real tracking began. We found, then lost, then found, the lost etc fresh tracks that we followed for about 5 hours with no luck. None of the other guides on the radio had found them and they’d all given up. We were determined however, even if it meant late or no lunch. He was such an amazingly dedicated guide, and I think quite nervous at the idea of not finding them. ‘These desert-adapted elephants give me stress’, he says to us, as he reaches for another lemonade in the cooler box. We saw kudus (mother and baby), steinbok and a lone chacma baboon, but no eles. 

‘I have one last space I can take you to and otherwise it means they are in the mountains and we cannot find them’, he tells us, as we traversed a beautiful golden plain. He stops once, checks his binocs - nothing. Anne and I look at each other disappointed, were we really this unlucky? 

Drives on, stops and checks. We look at the direction he’s observing - nothing. Suddenly, ‘yes!’ he exclaims. ‘Let me tell you, they are at two o’clock’. We look, hearts beating. Still nothing ( the biggest terrestrial mammal is incredibly hard to find, they just look like big rocks). Anne has her binocs and I’m squinting -we’re supposed to  be looking on the flank of a very far-away mountain. A tiny, tiny light grey speck maybe stands out, but the mountain is so far away the tit could just be our imagination playing tricks. It was them. 

The guides’ ability to spot animals has always fascinated me. These guys have hawk-like eyes. 

Anyways, ‘hold on’ he says, swerves off road and drives bumpily towards the mountain. As we get closer, we notice four eles around a tree - the matriarch, her sister and its calf, and a younger bull. The baby was passed out under its mother (it was getting hot…and the light was hash), and they were tranquilly resting and cooling themselves down by blowing dust through there trunks. 

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My camera had its moment again - I realised it has in fact something to do with the shutter that sometimes gets stuck after I release it, making it permanently in autofocus. At least now I know what’s wrong with it, and can ‘dig it out’ so that it can function. We stayed with them for a while before driving off to meet a bull making it way towards the same little group. The landscape was so dramatic, it was absolutely stunning to see this big bull slowly and elegantly walk past us in a backdrop of impressive mountains and sand dunes. Damaraland isn’t your typical desert, it’s a mix of rock, sand, low grass and shrubs, with lots of fry river beds and their oasis. 

After lunch (my taste buds and stomach are in a happy place here), we couldn’t resist the call of the enticing pool. As we went up to eat some homemade cakes for tea, this young waiter names Karl came up to us for a chat, and taught us to play African Casino - a game the Damara chiefs would play to win land or get new wives. It can go on for ever, it’s worse than monopoly; it’s played using stones and a box with circles carved into it. He taught us a few Damara words, and the four different clicks in the language - so complicated, but beautiful to the ear. 

Karl was a funny one. He whipped out his phone in the middle of our conversation and got the lock screen to appear - a picture of him, topless. We naturally ignored it, but he clearly needed the recognition - ‘woops’ he says, looking at us. ‘That’s me by the way. I am a bodybuilder. I lift weights every day in my compound’. Anne and I glanced at each other then looked away, hiding our desire to burst out laughing. 

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Still smiling, we left him to his work and went on a small hike, exploring the nature around the camp. Colours for sunseet were properly African...you can see I had fun with shadows. The rest of the evening went by peacefully. Having no wifi here is splendid. 

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The staff sang for us at dinner. Their voices are so pure…rhythm is in their blood and under their skin. We left the table with a happy smile on our face, excited for the night outside - obligatory after our outside shower. A very special element about this place is that not only can we shower outside, we can also pull the beds out and sleep under the stars. In this case, the moon, because guess what, in the one place specially made to look at the night sky…it’s the full moon. So tomorrow will be all about waking up at 5am to admire the stars from our beds. The shower outside was cold though, the weather decided to get windy just as we stripped down. 

A few bats are flying over us as I type this, and Anne’s main concern is about what sort of things will be flying around us (‘are all the mosquitoes dead [in the dry season]?’). I’m surprised I’m not either, A few years ago I would never have been able to do this, but it’s very pleasant. The moon is so so bright though…

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ALSO we’ve found a name for the car. All of your suggestions were amazing, and we had a good laugh discovering them. So thank you. But we wanted something local and unique - you’ll learn it in the final post :) Bonne suit x

 

Day 8 - Reaching Etosha - 27th June 2018

In all honesty, I slept badly. I think Annie did as well, I drowsily remember hearing her roll the bed back in our room at around 4am. The moon was just so bright. It was like having a torch stuck above our eyes. I was determined to see the stars though so stayed the night. My first alarm at 5:20 am proved to be useless - the moon was still up. At 6 as well. Urgh. Eventually, I realised it would be pointless, but something interesting was happening to the moon as it was setting - it was becoming blood red. Sleepily, I fumbled for my tripod and bigger lens, I’m not too sure how it will turn out. 

Our last breakfast at Doro was melancholic….we ate in silence as the sun rose in a pink sky. I had three servings of fruit, eggs and pancakes, and we created sandwiches with their delicious homemade bread. Each took a muffin and two pancakes, wrapped them in tissues and got ready to say goodbye to everyone. Micheal, Karl, Regie, Agnes (lovely Agnes who was like a mother to us) and all the sweet sweet members of staff will be greatly missed. They sang for us again as we left. 

Because of our endless road to get to Damaraland, we’d missed out on the visit to Twyflefontein, a World Heritage site where San cave paintings dating from 8-6,000 years ago were discovered in the 1920s. So we quickly detoured there, and were in awe when our assigned guide entering the site took us to the first set of paintings. They’d been drawn using rose quartz (the strongest local rock) on sandstone, and the reason they have been so well preserved is due to the dryness of the landscape. 

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These engravings were used for educational purposes as well as spiritual ones - in terms of education, the bushmen created hunting maps, drawing watering holes or footprints of the animals they could hunt. A very famous one, the ‘lion man’ shows a lion with a human handprint on its tail and holding something it is mouth: the bushman who drew it then reincarnated as a lion. 

We dropped off our guide, Anne-Eli to her local village on the way back (i had to sit on my suitcase in the back, our monster is actually huge because of our two spare tyres), and then, time for Etosha (Anderson’s Gate). Baboons on the road, everywhere. 

 baboons and monkey butts

baboons and monkey butts

The road was pleasant, we listened to the really great wildlife photography podcasts Gerry Van der Walt makes (not just about photography, but all things Africa, wildlife, bush, travel, business related). We reached Etosha in no time (for once, only a short drive - most was on tarmac, so that means 120km/h), arrived at our camp and cooled down by the pool (we can feel the African sun a looot more here) before setting off on our first self- game drive. 

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It was really cool to finally see some game, and also see Anne’s reaction when she saw zebra and giraffe for the first time. They were everywhere. We saw loads of eles (though few photographic possibilities, but it was really just about the experience). We also had no more food left, and dinner at the Etosha Safari Camp (a very relaxed / ecclectic campsite that also had small rooms) was expensive, so we bought snacks for dinner at the tourist shop in Okaukaukejo, one of the main campsites inside Etosha. Dinner was biltong, nuts, fruit and yogurt in a mug we found in our room. Breakfast will be huge tomorrow and we will be hungryyyy. 

 dinner

dinner

 Can we just take a moment and appreciate Etosha Safari Camp's intricate and elegant design

Can we just take a moment and appreciate Etosha Safari Camp's intricate and elegant design

 'the omelette' - dubbed by Anne

'the omelette' - dubbed by Anne

I can finally post all the blogposts I’ve been writing over the last three days because we have a tiny bit of wifi, but it’ll probably take forever*. We’ll see. Tomorrow we cross the park to get to Onguma…it will be superb I think..

*30/06/18 note: this was wishful thinking. Northern Namibia has terrible wifi, so am currently battling with the one in Windhoek..

 

Day 9 - Getting mounted by horny elephants (well, almost) - 28th june 2018

We woke up from our omelette at around 6:45sih, and opened the door to a superb sunrise. Breakfast and we were offff for a full day of game driving to cross Etosha and reach the eastern Von Lidequist Gate. Spoiler: we spent 10 hours in the car. I think all blood has left my gluteus maximus. 

The first few hours were…uneventful. Zebras everywhere - even Anne who was so desperate to see them yesterday was blasé. We probably saw around 1000 in total, if not more. Giraffe, oryx, kudu, more zebra, heartebeast, impala, springbok and wildebeest were everywhere. But nothing else. Waterhole to waterhole, same thing, not one big five or cheetah. 

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We’re also probably going to have to change a tyre, but right now we’re pretending it never happened and that it’ll hold for another three days. Essentially, Etosha is full of potholes, and as I swerved to avoid one, I drove over a rogue thorny thicket branch, hoping the car would just pass over it. Except that it got stuck between the front right tyre and the bottom of the car. We managed to get rid of it but our hearts were already sinking, imaging that the thorns must have penetrated the tyre for us to drag it the way we did. Finding the nearest rest stop, we climbed out of the car, and indeed, a thorn was sticking out of the tyre. It was small and looked very superficial, so we broke the outer bit and hoped the other part inside would hold and stop the air from coming out. 

We continue,, finding anything but leopards, rhinos and cheetahs. I had my camera and 70-200mm balancing on my lap, ready to break and shoot, and Anne had the map sprawled out checking the waterholes we could stop at. 

After a while of just zebras though, we switched over and decided to start making our way to the East. 

Anne loves elephants. I do too, but I had a terrifying experience in Botswana a few years ago and so my greatest worry for this entire trip - what I desperately wanted to avoid - was to come across elephants on the road after a bend or something. 

So we drive on and I direct her towards a waterhole near the Salt Pan (that we went to check out, see below).

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In the distance, we see an elephant, delicately drinking, with the Pan in the backdrop. Beautiful. I take a few shots and on we go.

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Suddenly, just after a bend, I whisper ‘STOP STOP’ pointing at 1 o’clock. Anne hadn’t seen it - an elephant was literally on the side of the road. She immediately stops the engine as she realises what’s going on and we sit there, in awe but very aware of its size (towered over the car). It was a huge bull, who happened to be in must - aka high hormone alert, which means more aggressive. He was eating but kept looking in our direction. At some point it decided to walk towards us, before stopping to eat again. As it went slightly more into the bush, we realised we had the opportunity to pass. Gently, Anne starts the car and moves off slowly  - we really had to avoid any sudden movements - and was we pass him, he starts shaking his head and showing off, clearly wanting to impress us and tell us who’s boss. I urge Anne to keep the same slow pace and we passed him with no problem. Our legs were shaking - he had been very very close. 

Anne’s desire to see elephants up close was now fulfilled. We drive along a beautiful, beautiful road to the next waterhole called Springbokfontein. Huge numbers of different animal groups could be found everywhere - giraffes, oryx, zebras…we take a turn and suddenly, 4 musty elephant bulls on the road, staring right at us. This time, they weren’t as chill as the previous one. Two start coming inquisitively towards us, but with an attitude. Again, they make it clear who’s boss. Shaking their heads, waving their trunks - moving back and forth. It was all show but Anne was scared to bits and I wasn’t feeling particularly brave either (not at all even), but panicking was the last thing to do. I had flashes of a mother elephant charging us in Botswana, as I started thinking of how ironic it was - the one thing I wanted to avoid happened multiple times in the space of an hour. We were within safe distance and the car was turned off. Now was not the time to suddenly back away, we just had to keep quiet. Having the side of their heads moist wasn’t the only indicator they were horny, all of them were erect and happily displaying it. 

They came SO close. Both of our phones were dead and I took pictures through the windscreen with my camera, I think they turned out ok, but it was more of a ‘moment’ experience than a photographic one. They walked by, advancing behind us but the biggest of the 4, with incredible tusks came within 1m of the car. By that time, Anne just wanted to drive away and avoid elephants at all costs. 

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Except that I noticed they were going towards the other waterhole, Okerfontein, and that it would be a really good idea to watch them mess around the water. So we drove there (leaving them an exaggerated amount of space, they were far in the distance) and arrived as they were drinking. What a sight (and poor Annie again, having to put up with my urges to observe animals she clearly  wanted to steer well away from). One of them started rolling around in the water, and the droplets from when they lifted their trunk to drink shone in the strong sunlight. It was so beautiful. Also, the fact that they were quite far away meant that we were, somehow, much more relaxed. 

In total, we spotted 14 elephants today, 6 of which were close and stressful musty encounters. After the waterhole we had another one in the middle of the road ahead of us.

Finally, we reached the eastern side of the park, chilled at a waterhole to watch giraffes drink, and then as the sun was setting we left Etosha for our lodge - Onguma Bush Camp. It is superb, and the sunset was magnificent. Couldn’t take pictures because I stupidly missed the lodge driving way too far and so we lost 30 mins driving past and back to the lodge, during which the beautiful sunset had consumed itself. 

Onguma is magnificent, but they’ve been having some issues with a stinkbug infestation - Anne’s phobia. So whilst she was laughing at my fear of hornets and wasps in the desert, karma has struck and our room (we have a mosquito net) has these little bugs everywhere. 

After the best banana cheesecake for dessert, and a shower, the only thing we want now is a bed and a well deserved night’s sleep. 

 

Day 10 - Game drive and chill - 29th June 2018

‘Impalas have an M shape on their butt. It is the M that is standing for McDonalds..Impalas are the fast food for the predators’ - Victor, Onguma Guide. 

Never heard that one before, but Victor’s calm and serious voice - randomly blurting it out of nowhere - created a stark contrast that really amused us on our final evening game drive. 

But first thing first. 

After an early breakfast by the waterhole this morning (scrambled eggs are really amazing in Namibia…actually, anything tastes better in Namibia was the general consensus we both reached) we drove to Etosha ready to find some game. 

Well, we saw…elephants. All innocently drinking this time though, nothing too bad. After spending some time at each waterhole, we decided to call it a day and got back an hour before lunch, confident that our guided game drive with an Onguma guide and vehicle around the Onguma Reserve would be much more fruitful. 

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Onguma has an incredible waterhole (though sadly very little game visits is- probably because of other loud tourists), right beneath the dining area and swimming pool. Following our sunbathing-anywhere-we-can trend, bikini were on and we rested by the (very cold) pool. Hard to imagine this is winter, especially in Northern Namibia, where it gets much warmer than down south. We were asked to book lunch and what we wanted as we were having breakfast, and prices were ultra reasonable. So we each chose delicious sounding sandwiches, made with homemade wheat bread, fresh veg and different toppings. 

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Well. Remember at school when the menus looked delicious and you end up with a sad, sad looking plate? Well our sandwiches were like that. DRENCHED in mayo, it was the only thing we could taste. Half the ingredients were missing. We then decided to ask for a fresh juice to get rid of the taste of bad mayo, but it was all applteizers and the sort of drinks that would only have made things worse - we felt genuinely sick. 

The only cure was to sit by the pool in the sun and hope the cake / tea time would come fast. Bravely, we swam in the cold water for a good fifteen minutes, until we couldn’t take it any longer, and napped in the sun, waiting for the afternoon game drive. 

There’s an extremely sweet waiter here, who takes such good care of Anne and I. He came to us with a plate filled with the cake they were serving  - more of the drop dead delicious banoffee cheesecake of last night (many of you know my passion for anything related to bananas and cake). With rooibos tea, we were in paradise, the lunch episode long forgotten (not really, we still have shudders reminiscing it). 

 

Everyone was waiting for us in the safari vehicle (we were NOT late, for once) and off we went. Anne wanted lions, I wanted any cat at this stage. Some people in the car had never been on game dries before, which was quite sweet - especially when they gasped in wonder at springbok, impala, zebra, and gnu - but it meant stopping for any wildlife sighting and over the last two days we’ve probably seen 1000 of each. Light was beautiful though, my favourite time of day with early morning, and Victor, our guide, struck gold as we took a turn and encountered three cheetahs, a mother and her near-adult cubs. Finally, a cat! Especially these ones - Namibia has the highest population in the world, but they’re actually quite hard to come across. We stayed with them for a while, the light was perfect. Other Onguma vehicles joined us, but we had the best views. They’re such delicate creatures, with their blood red eyes and exquisitely elegant morphology. They were lazing around, but it was a magical moment. 

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After an hour of observing them, we drove on, stopping for more gnus and zebra…but still, no lions. Finally, Victor took us to a superb spot for sundowner and that was it. Eating biltong in front of a gorgeous sunset, overlooking a superb plain. Not bad for our last night in the bush. When we thought it couldn’t get any better  - dinner was amazingly good. Oryx fillet in red-wine sauce - cooked to perfection, the meat just melted in our mouths. Hadn’t had such good meat in a long, long time. The cheesecake we had for dessert was also delicious. We both have a weird feeling of nostalgia as tis wonderful trip, filled with beautiful people, landscapes and wildlife is coming to an end. I think we’re also dreading the 7 hour drive back to Windhoek tomorrow, it’ll be long and exhausting. We’ll try and squeeze in a game drive in Etosha and visit the AfriCat Centre in Okonjima if we have time, but we definitely don’t want to arrive in Windhoek after nightfall.

 

Day 11 - Confusing Namibian logic, juice and red lights - 30th June 2018

I woke up at 6am, we’d agreed on breakfast at 6:30 am to be able to do a quick game drive before leaving for our 7 hour trip back to Windhoek. Anne had an upset stomach, and wasn’t feeling well, so I went to breakfast and got her a big bottle of mineral water, and let her rest before our huge journey back. 

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I went for a quick game drive but had literally so little time, could only stay at the nearest waterhole to the gate (Klein Namutoni) and although the light was superb as the sun as gently rising, only guinea fowl, pond birds and other unidentified bird species were found at this source. I knew I should have gone to the other, but I preferred staying 30mins at this one, enjoying the bush wake up, than 5 at the other and have to rush back. 

I met Anne in the breakfast area, we packed some lunch, hugged Matheus, the sweetest waiter ever, goodbye, and off we were. It was L.O.N.G. We really wanted to visit the African Day Care centre, near Okahandja, 2.5 hours from Windhoek and around from Etosha, and I was sticking to the 120km/h limit like glue.

Except we really got annoyed with Namibian speed signalling and logic. These past 10 days we’ve been sticking to the limits, mentally cursing them but respecting them nonetheless. Some made no sense, a sudden reduction from 120-100-80 in a very short span of time, and keeping to 80 for 500m before back to 120 (which they never tell you to get back to, you have to guess when the 80 zone is finished). 

ANYWAYS. We had a 1pm booking at AfriCat, we could make it but it meant no stopping. I see the speed reduction to 80, and that it’s only for 500m so I slow down, but not to 80 by the time the panel was passed. Was still in the process of slowing down when out of nowhere  - of course, it’s always like that - we see the police car parked on the right and an officer running towards our direction, indicating to park. My heart was sinking, I was probably over 80, or at least when he flashed it, and I cursed myself a good few times. 

‘This was an 80 zone’ he tells me. ‘I believed I was on 80, was I not?’, hoping that by some miracle I had reached it in time. 

- ‘You were at 96’. 

S***. 

But he goes on, with a wide, almost malicious smile - he was clearly loving this. ‘The problem is that I have nothing with me to make a receipt. So to pay the fine (350N$, aka approx £27) you need to drive back to Tsumeb (100km away) and go to the police station and pay there’. Then he looks at me, with another smile. ‘So what can we do’, he adds. 

I was determined not to go down that road. Suddenly, a car honks, and a driver stops a few meters ahead, u-turns in the middle and comes to greet him. He leaves to chat, for a good ten minutes, with his friend. ‘Just run off’, suggests Annie. It was so tempting. He comes back, and I was sitting there, madly trying to come up with solutions.

‘Can I not pay at the nearest town (Otavi, 20km away), at the police station?’

-‘No, because it is not the same district’ - that was, in fact, probably a lie, because we’d passed a sign saying we were in a new district. He was just presenting the situation in the most inconvenient way. 

-‘Can I give the money to you and you write a receipt and give it to the police station? We don’t want to have to drive at night to get to Windhoek, and my friend is slightly ill.’

-‘No, but what else can we do?’ - he still has that toothy grin. 

-‘Please, please for this time could you let us off?’ I beg, with my nicest smile, using a soft, desperate voice (this was absolutely authentic, at this point we WERE desperate, time was ticking, and we couldn’t drive all the way back. 

-‘Yes, I could let you go for this time’. That smile though. Still doesn't move.

We sigh in relief. ‘We have some food or drinks, do you need anything?’ I say, hoping it would suffice to say thank you.  ‘Yes, some juice would be good because I will be thirsty when I get back’. I bought him his juice and we were off. Between this and elephants, I would take on eles any day. 

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On we drive. More weird speed signs, and I was so paranoid. I was still at 80, not daring to go faster, and everyone was overtaking so I decided to go for it. Also, at the exit of a big town, they had built the panels in the wrong order, so 100km/h was before the 80km/h. Talk about confusing. 

We reached Okonjima (where AfriCat is) 20 mins too late, so we were refused entry, and set off again, frustrated. Anne was feeling better, we swapped seats, and she did the last 180km. So many useless speed signs, again. They were everywhere. 

Finally, we made it to Galton House. We smell, we’re sticky, tired, but so, so happy. We still have a bit of money left, and wanted to go shopping for local products and jewellery - except everything closes early on Saturdays. Also, we realised that if I had issues with distinguishing right from left, Anne had trouble stopping for red lights. Woops.

 

The shower was heaven. We hadn’t showered yesterday (no time before the game drive and after dinner we just needed sleep). But yet again, the logic escapes me….no comment needed, just look at the shower…

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Dinner was equally very replenishing, just because we ordered soup and vegetables to change from all the meat and carbs we’d been stuffing our faces with all week. The members of staff here are really lovely. Actually, everyone we met has been incredible kind…to be expected, but it always comes off as a surprise. Not used to such warmth, friendliness and kindness coming from complete strangers.

I've now won my battle with wifi and uploaded everything to date. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I've loved writing them! 

Day 12 - Suitcase battles and Sad partings wtth /Gaisa

I battled with the internet well into the early morning to upload all of my posts. But because of ~ le trépied ~ my suitcase was not cooperating, so I’d planned on getting up early and re-packing. I had about 5 hours of sleep, and getting up to the cold Namibian mornings, in the dark, to pack, was not fun. Breakfast helped a bit though, and we prepared our final make-shift pack lunches for the plane..and the huge layover (especially Annie’s) in Joburg. 

Our Ultimate Safaris shuttle driver was really cool. We had a proper Namibian / South African house party going on in the car for the 45min drive taking us to Hosea Kuto International Airport. 

Both our flights home weren’t pleasant - Anne was flying 12 hours to Amsterdam after a 9 hour layover in Joburg and I had 11 hours to Paris with 5 hours at the airport. But we also didn’t get much sleep - smelly neighbour for Anne and well for me, one word: babies. I suppose being a -sleeping-on-our-front person doesn’t help finding a comfortable position on a small and hard plane seat. Also, airlines have got to figure out their food menus. Please. I then got ripped off by a French taxi driver because the SNCF was on strike AGAIN and then locked out of the building because no keys and it was 7am so no one was awake. The travel karma continues. More travel stories to laugh about when we’ll have recovered from lack of sleep. 

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The hard part was saying goodbye to the car. We had named it  ‘/Gaisa trare khoes’ (/Gaisa for short…hard to pronounce, even for us) - which means ‘strong woman’ in Damara. The ‘/’ is one of the soft clicking sounds coming from the front of the mouth (cf Day 7). We even had issues with that click, and it’s the easiest to make.

One of the suggestions we had for the name of the car that made us laugh the most was ‘the colonialist’ - but we were too attached to it to name it at such. Fondly nicknamed it the tank as well.  

Parting with /Gaisa symbolically ended our trip. Most of the trip ‘moments’ happened with our big girl, from excitement, to scares, to frustration with road signs and the road in general, to our hazy control of the first gear, to fits of laughter, to deep philosophical discussions about food (the list goes on and on) but especially about how amazing our Mums are. A huge part of our car discussions revolved around our families and Mums in particular, about how grateful we were to have kind, loving, beautiful and especially brave souls who worry for us - sometimes excessively - and sacrifice so much. This past year has been full of challenges, but your strength continues to amaze us…we’re so proud to have you by our side. You’ve produced passionate, independent and curious girls, and we owe you a lot. So thank you. (Also we still love you, despite the fact that you didn’t pick us up from the airport at 5:40 and 10:30 am…). 

It was a beautiful trip. From A-Z. We had complications, yes. We had moments of doubt, yes. But it’s actually what made this experience unique. Who on earth manages to get lost on straight roads? Stories to tell and to laugh about. 

Part of me was even a little disappointed to end up not changing a tyre, but apparently we were told it was the ‘very smart thing to do’ to break the thorn and leave the other half in, rather than pull it out. So some mechanical skills (lol) were put to use. 

A lot of people ask me if I’d like to live or consider moving to Africa. My current answer has always been and is still ‘no’ because it would take away the magic of rediscovering the bush every time, of falling in love all over again. Maybe it wouldn’t, who knows. But one thing is for sure, I’m a proud European, and I do sort of enjoy being able to eat raw food without wondering if I’ll be sick (my immune system and digestive in particular has a tendency to be quite weak - I usually bring back little African parasites with me home). Both Anne and I are happy to be home, and eat a tonne of vegetables, after the 2 weeks of meat, meat and more meat. With lots of bread in between. The food was delicious, don’t get me wrong. But I miss having a full plate of veg on the side of whatever I eat, and will be glad to have a somewhat more balanced diet again. Lost a lot of weight and muscle mass on this trip, and I look forward to resume training again. We both know we’ll be back, I’m glad Anne has this certitude. I’m going to sound repetitive but it was such a cool trip. We were way out of our comfort zone, particularly when we were introduced to /Gaisa (that first gear though…and the lights…) but that’s what makes it all the better. So many people made this trip special, at every single of our stops. So thank you, thank you, thank you. Namibia you’ve wowed me again, and we’ve only seen portions of your beautiful land. 

Next stop for me will be camping on the banks of the Zambezi River in Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe, and hopefully two weeks in Kenya straight after (if all goes well). I am already down for another road trip (or on horseback?), this time to discover an unknown country, why not camp on the car ? So many possibilities. We didn’t see much of the big five, and I have yet to tick off baby leopards and a live hunt on my list of sightings. Of course we need to come back, or do something similar again. 

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Thank you for following this adventure, it was so, so pleasant to discover your comments, messages, likes and shares. We loved sharing this adventure with you - it became a thing, 'this goes on the blog' - and I'm glad some could find interest in it. If you need any recommendations or have any questions in prep for a similar trip or just curiosity,  just comment below. Will be overjoyed to reply :) kahus! (pronounced key eyos) [thank you - Damara language].

 

 

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A Road trip in Namibia - Travel Journal (Part 1)

13 Comments

A Road trip in Namibia - Travel Journal (Part 1)

A few words of intro

Namibia….a name that brings a warm fuzzy feeling to my heart. The country where it all began. 7 years ago, I travelled to Africa for the first time, landing in Windhoek just before sunrise. It was dark when we left the plane, and so the first thing that hit me was the smell. A beautiful, rich, happy smell that the African bush ensnares you with. As we were waiting to fill in the visas, the sun started slowly rising, revealing the Namibian landscape surrounding the airport. The love story had started, I was hooked and I felt it physically. Ask any traveller who has been to Africa and you’ll get a smilier description….it’s special. There’s something about this continent that supersedes us completely. 

Fast forward a few years, to my recent 21st birthday. What better gift to my universal entrance to adulthood than travelling back to where I realised that whatever I would end up doing with my life, Africa would be a part of it? I’ve been wanting to go back for the last three years. Tight budget and other adventures to be had kept pushing back the date. Kilimanjaro or Namibia, Virunga or Namibia…it was always in the back of my head, but somehow I knew it wasn’t the right time. 

 Dune 45, 7 years ago - had smaller legs

Dune 45, 7 years ago - had smaller legs

I’ve been wanting to go back because at 13, I believe my appreciation of the continent, as well as what I saw and learnt was very, very different to my now accustomed self to solo travel in Africa. My photographic skills have also improved… or so I hope. Rediscovering Namibia with a different eye (both artistic and in terms of experience) is something I’ve been really looking forward to. 

So here it is. Driving across one of the most dramatic countries in Africa landscape-wise (might I add that although I love driving I’ve started fairly recently - this is a challenge I’m looking forward to) for 2 weeks with one of my closest friends from uni and my camera equipment. It’s daunting but incredibly exciting. For practicality and sentimental reasons, I directly contacted the local eco-tourism company I had travelled with for the first Namibia trip - Ultimate Safaris

I hope you’ll enjoy our adventures. Hopefully nothing too dramatic like getting bogged in the desert or not having issues with break fluids, but interesting enough to spike your curiosity. 

 

Day 1  - Landing in Windhoek, and sunbathing prep for the road ahead - 20th June 2018

Something a little interesting about my travels is the relation I have with flights. I love flying - used to be terrified and had flight anxiety, but the more I flew alone, the more I got used to it - it it just so happens the I seem to have bad flight karma. 

Every time, something happens - severely delayed, lost luggage, missed connection, over-friendly neighbours, rude neighbours, etc. So it was a big surprise when my last trip to Kenya went extremely smoothly on the way in. 

Anyways, in my mind, this was it: I had finally broken the streak. My connections to Amsterdam were great, and I was ready to take on a new life of comfortable flying. As Anne and I board the plane, the last ones to leave the gate, we gushed at how empty it was. We get to row 20, each of us have a window seat, and we wait. Minutes to departure tick one after the other and still, no one sits next to me. Not believing my luck, I start making myself comfortable, checking the time - 3 mins till the gate closes. 

Of course, as a good friend of mine recently told me, never smile before the plane is moving. A class of 30 school kids ran into the plane, having clearly sprinted from wherever it was they were coming from. A young boy -who, of course,  was sick all night - took the seat and that was it. Although...I woke up a few times at night to find myself surrounded by a starry night sky, it was absolutely gorgeous. 

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But these are details. Instant happiness hit me as I stepped outside. It kept intensifying upon arrival at Galton House, our first stop. We were simply amazed by Ultimate’s (once again) formidable organisation, and Europcar’s professionalism. In Europe they’re terrible but here it’s literally top notch. It turns out it’s not a car we’re going to drive, but a tank. The Ford Ranger is ENORMOUS.Not gonna lie though, getting used to it will take more than just the drive to and back from Joe's Beerhouse. It took me forever to park it (another guy rushed in the parking space I was attempting to move into because I was taking so long) and it feels heavy to drive. And Windhoek is so hilly. We'll get the hang of it though, I'm sure....

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And we also get two spare tyres, because yes, two 21 blonde Europeans know how to change a tyre. Really hope it doesn’t come to that though. 

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What better way to prepare a 3000km road trip than to nap by the deliciously (painfully actually but still good) freezing pool, under the blue Namibian winter sky (I wish British winters were like this) eating homemade cake? Particularly after the journey we had. I had been travelling since 5am the day before, and I don’t think anything came even close to beating the feeling of completeness both Anne and I had by that pool. 

 

 

The Africa effect is simply beautiful. 

 

 

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Day 2 - From Windhoek to the Namib Desert - 21st June 2018

Early start (well not so early Africa time but we still need to get used to it). Breakfast at 7:30 - we stuffed our faces because small budget means limiting food expenditure for more activities, so lunch is usually made of cake we get upon arrival or some tortilla wraps filled with feta and ham we bought in a local super market. 

I did the first 100km driving from Windhoek until Rehoboth, getting used to the car and also overtaking huge trucks on small roads. 

 Stage 1 - From Galton House to the Namib Desert

Stage 1 - From Galton House to the Namib Desert

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The landscape just kept getting more and more beautiful as we drove south. No reason to be apprehensive of the gravel roads, they’re super wide and we rarely meet other drivers. A little bumpy, but actually quite fun. Everything is so…quiet. the immensity of our surroundings are delightfully overbearing and humbling. 

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We drove down to Spreetshoogte Pass, following a more scenic route to get to Solitaire (the most random coffee place in the middle of nowhere, world famous for its Apple Pie), and stopped for a bit. The vantage point overlooked dramatic ridges, and we could make out the beginning of the Namib-Naukluft National Park’s red and purple mountains. Our reaction was simultaneous: jaws dropped as we parked near the edge and got out. 

 

 

 

Next bit took us to Solitaire. I didn’t understand where Moose, the iconic bristly moustached German baker was, until I learnt he passed away in 2014. His Apfle Schtrudel was amazing - I have a vivid memory of rich, warm apples in buttery crust from the last time I stopped there - but it seems like the recipe was well preserved. Following our growing routine of ‘cake for lunch’ we indulged in the perfect pie. And off again. 

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In total, we were on the road for about 7 hours. These two stops were really welcomed, and the landscape was stunning, but fatigue definitely made its way towards the end. 

The Desert Homestead Outpoust is really well positioned, facing huge plains and gorgeous purple mountains. I think the both of us will enjoy basking in the sun after the visit to Sossusvlei and the sand dunes tomorrow morning. 

 Cheeky and I

Cheeky and I

We still had the energy to go horse riding for the sunset though. A fifteen minute drive took us to the neighbouring ranch, where Willy, our really chill guide met us with the horses. We were joined by a group of 4 British friends, and off we rode into the sunset. Cheeky, my mount, kept foraging for food along the way, although she mastered the whole walking and eating situation pretty well. Again, the immensity of it all was really intense.

 Annie and her mount

Annie and her mount

The sun was setting, the bush was awake, and the light golden. Willy took me galloping whilst the others started their sundowners, and we joined them just as the sun disappeared into behind the mountains

 Willy mastering the art of the selfie for International Selfie Day&nbsp;

Willy mastering the art of the selfie for International Selfie Day 

 Sundown and chill

Sundown and chill

 that's a star btw. not the moon. SO BRIGHT

that's a star btw. not the moon. SO BRIGHT

Which meant that the ride back was…under the starry sky. And that the drive back was in pitch black night (woops…not really meant to drive around at night because of game). I was trying to figure out how to maintain the full headlights on (it seems you have to keep pushing the paddle towards you) as we were going back, when Anne told me to stop the car. An Aaardwolf slowly crossed in front of us, less than 10m away, looking at us inquisitively. I’d never seen one before and it was gone before we had the time to react and take a picture. They’re so elusive that coming across one was an incredible stroke of luck. 

Dinner was beautiful and set the mood for some star gazing…Orion’s belt is shining bright.

 

 

 

Day 3 - Exploring the Namib-NauKflut National Park and sunbathing under the desert sun - 22nd June 2018

Getting up was hard. I’d stayed up late to battle with the wifi and post the blog, and we’d had a pretty tiring day. But we wanted to get to the park gates at sunrise, to catch the golden light above the dunes, and their enticingly beautiful game of shadows. We left as the sky was starting to brighten. The first half hour towards the Park entrance was utterly serene: the heavens were on display for us, boasting a pastel palette of the rainbow. We’d forgotten our map but it’s pretty straightforward - everything is straight and the roads are well indicated. 

Finally reaching the park after around an hour, we got ready to pay the trance fee when the warden just smiled at us and said ‘don’t worry have fun and pay later’. I love this country. The drive towards the famous Dune 45 began. Being more of a morning person, I was the driver this time, although pulled over every 5 mins to take pictures of the dunes and bypassing lone oryx (oryxes? what’s the plural for this word?). Perks of travelling with a photographer i suppose….poor Anne aha. 

 The Gemsbok&nbsp;

The Gemsbok 

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views

I must say, sticking to 60km/h on this beautifully smooth tarmac road was really hard. We have to of course, also because the car is equipped with a  tracking device and they can fine us for negligence if we overspeed. Most of the accidents in Namibia happen for exactly that reason, paradoxically making the safest country to road-trip in Africa the one with the highest death toll on the road. 50 times more deaths on the road than in Europe (the video the Europcar guy showed us said so ). Anyways, bottom line, 60km/h is slow. But gave us plenty of time to enjoy the views. I parked the car in front of Dune 45, one of the only dunes you can walk on, we slathered on sunscreen and up we went. 

 
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A side note to this would be that because of my stopping along the way for photography, we arrived way past the time we’d initially planned for. Also we left late because we took forever to get ready. It actually turned out that all the crowds get there super early morning. So as we were starting our ascent, everyone was coming down. At one moment, we had the dune to ourselves. Completely. Considering how popular this place is becoming, I really appreciated this - some of you are aware of my aversion for mass tourism…

 quickly became clear shoes were a drawback

quickly became clear shoes were a drawback

 before my camera had its moment - notice the smile

before my camera had its moment - notice the smile

It was SO windy. Reaching the top, we started making our way back down, defying the howling wind (quite literally) and the sand it was blowing all over us. I was busy (again) taking pictures, and Anne had already reached the car when the wind blew away my lens hood (which, annoyingly, keeps falling off, even when properly fixated). The issue here was that it got blown to the other side of the dune. Imagine me chasing a light plastic object on the side where all the wind was blowing the sand. I felt like I was in a sandstorm. Apparently, so did my camera because next thing I knew as I got back to the car - it had stopped functioning properly. Only thing I could do was press the shutter, and even then, the autofocus was out. My screen was frozen, couldn’t change any settings. I felt physically sick. As I took us to the next part of the park, I was still quite upset. I know cameras aren’t everything, and the experience is so much more important. But still. 

The road to Deadvlei really cheered me up though: only 4x4s were allowed and it was incredibly satisfying to drive through deep red sand to reach an astoundingly aesthetic salt pan. It was just plain fun to make use of the car’s off road abilities. 

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 My iPhone really doesn't do this place justice - head over to my gallery to see what it SHOULD resemble :)

My iPhone really doesn't do this place justice - head over to my gallery to see what it SHOULD resemble :)

By I don’t know which miracle I managed to temporarily fix my camera. I think it’s still a little temperamental, but I think it should hold until the end. The sand was so violent, it may have just needed a moment to regenerate. I gently blew around the mirror to get rid of any grains of sand, and as I fixed on a new lens, it was back on track. I was determined to keep it away from sand though, which is why I changed into a spare dress I’d taken, and wrapped my t-shirt around the camera. Anne and I both looked like we were going to a fashion shoot rather than climbing dunes to reach a salt pan ‘full of dead trees people travel to the other end of the world to see’ (Anne Blanken, 2018). 

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It was gorgeous. The wind was blowing salty mist from the pan (sand included…but I was ready) and we walked through the smaller dunes to reach the famous Deadvlei. We got a few weird looks from the people coming our way, dressed to hike rather than sit on a beach, but for what it’s worth, being bear foot with a floaty skirt / dress seemed way more comfortable in the heat than heavy boots and safari vests. The sand was everywhere, the less you had on you, the less it was a hassle. 

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As soon as we got back from our 2 hours drive home, we rushed to the pool and sunbathed in the desert all afternoon. We currently have the lodge to ourselves, which, given the whole aversion for many tourists (only the irresponsible and annoying ones, I promise) is pretty cool. 

As some of you know, I have a terrible phobia of wasps and hornets. I’ve done everything to get rid of it, it's much better now, but I still get paralysed with fear at the sight or upon hearing a deep buzzing noise. Obviously, a source of water in the middle of the desert attracts big bugs and so I would quite frequently be seen running to and from the pool, in an effort (useless, of course) to protect myself from the offending creature.

We had bought pineapples on our first day in Windhoek for our lunches, so our lunch was not cake this time, but freshly cut pineapples - with a swiss army knife - by the pool. Can it get more basic? 

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The sun slowly set and we made our way to dinner, amazed at the idea of having an entire lodge to ourselves. As we were waiting, one of the members of staff shyly came up to us…’excuse me but…you have left your car lights on’. This is the 4th time in three days. I think the only way we’ll learn is when we definitively run out of battery. They don’t turn of automatically, and during the day, you literally just forget they’re on. So they’d been on all afternoon…

 
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Dinner was an amazing combination of the best soup I’ve had in a while (sorry Mum) and Oryx steak. Game meat is by very far my favourite, and this steak was perfect. Tomorrow is a driving day to Swakopmund, by the coast, where the temperatures will definitely not favour sunbathing. The place where desert meets the ocean, where two giants collide, naturally cannot be forgiving. 

 

Day 4 - From Sossusvlei to Swakopmund: 6 hours and 10 different landscapes - 23rd June 2018

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My alarm woke up me in the black of night (well no, it was 6am, but winter here means pitch black night…except for the thousands of stars above our heads). As I’ve mentioned in one of my previous Instagram posts from the Kenyan coast, I ALWAYS manage to plan my trips when the moon is at its brightest, which makes astrophoto completely besides the point….in the evening. So there I was this morning with my tripod, capturing the night sky and hoping for less noise than two months ago in Kenya. Let’s just say the results look promising ;)

I’d also made friends with Arnold - a member of the Outpost staff - who I had to keep up till late as I was working on my blog in the main area - only area to have a bit of wifi, and he had to wait on me. Which meant we had a lot to talk about, and he offered to take me on an early morning hike before breakfast. So as the stars started to disappear, I got ready and met him for the hike. 

The light was incredible. We hiked up a steep rocky hill (climbed more like), and the sun had already risen when we reached the top, but the shadow overcast across the plains was simply superb. The same fairy circles we saw in the Namib-Naukflut NP were present here - they’re a really interesting phenomenon and not much is known about how their origin. Essentially, they’re round patches of red soil, rimmed with low grass. Quite mysterious but very gracious to look at.

 Top of the ledge&nbsp;

Top of the ledge 

 The fairy circles

The fairy circles

The hike lasted for about 1:30, and the usual delicious breakfast was well appreciated. We stuffed our faces again, and took some homemade, warm, baked with love chocolate muffins with us for the road. Off we were again. 380 km towards the coast. 

 The skirts and the Tank- doesn't get more badass I think&nbsp;

The skirts and the Tank- doesn't get more badass I think 

 Much needed Apple Pie &lt;3&nbsp;

Much needed Apple Pie <3 

We drove past Solitaire again, where we stopped for a refuel (and especially for the Apple Pie) and I started chatting to John, the hot-air balloon pilot. He gave Anne and I a fascinating briefing about the Solitaire Concession and its conservation objectives - I may have landed a photography job at the same time: he was curious to hear about my work. John was really awesome, spoke most European languages, had flown hot air balloons across the world, and his determination for conservation to success was really heartwarming. So John, if you read this, thank you! 

 

 

 

(We forgot to turn the lights off again when we parked in Soliatire….).

 

The road was incredibly scenic - views just kept changing every half hour (until started getting deeper into this part of the Namib). As we left the Sossusvlei part of the Namibia behind us, the landscape turned into long golden plains, before we drove down through the Gaub Pass, a little canyon that seemed to come from nowhere. I particularly enjoyed driving this part - short turns, going up and down…the car may be a monster (we’re trying to find good name for it, suggestions welcome) but it’s really pleasant to drive, particularly on roads like these. And then once we were out of the Pass…it felt like we were on the Moon. I don’t know if you watched the Teletubbies when you were younger but Anne and I did, and after the Moon, we had a very similar setting to that of the children’s show (all the credit goes to Annie for this brilliant analogy). Of course, an obligatory signpost picture was order as we passed the Tropic of Capricorn (well actually I just really needed to stretch my legs and re-apply sunscreen to my burning right shoulder which actually didn't end up red, thankfully). 

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We then reached a little rest area, where I pulled over for food because it was 2pm and the Apple Pie was far away. That was a bad idea. The place was beautiful - rocks here literally sparkle. They have part of their composition that resembles silvery glitter, 3 quiver trees were nearby and the view was impressive. The issue was that as soon as we opened the cooler, 5 gigantic paper wasps and another unidentified wasp species swarmed around us, and our food. They then decided to go INSIDE the box, and we couldn’t - well, Annie couldn’t, I was standing at a safe distance - close it. To be honest, they were around me too. After a good 15 minutes of dodging, ducking, limboing we managed to get the cool box in the car, and had our lunch inside. 

 Lunch views

Lunch views

 Safely protected from flying monsters

Safely protected from flying monsters

This part of the drive was perhaps a little less fun. We had French 80s music blasting on in the car since the Pass, but the plains were getting longer and emptier. No more red or purple mountains in the backdrop, trees were getting sparser…the inhospitality of this area of the desert, as we drove towards the stark coast, was clear. After each small hill we would hold out breath and hope that the end was close but ….it kept on stretching out towards the horizon. Anne took the wheel for the last hour or so and we were both pretty relieved when the first sand dunes and the mist rising from the ocean could be seen. 

 for 2 hours. We were allowed to drive at 100km/h though, made it a bit more bearable&nbsp;

for 2 hours. We were allowed to drive at 100km/h though, made it a bit more bearable 

We arrived at our cute little Bed and Breakfast, the Swakopmund Sands Hotel, literally 2 mins from the Ocean. The smell in the air reminded me of home, or where I spent my childhood summers in France, on the Southern West Coast (still do). No sunbathing possible here, we added on three layers (and a bikini, just in case) and went to the beach. I couldn’t help it, stripped off my jeans and ran to the waves. The water was fine, it was just windy, and it felt so good to be in the brisk Atlantic again, as the sun was starting to set.

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Day 5  - An ocean of dunes and water, featuring Kürt - 24th June 2018

We had the full day in Swakopmund…although I think we can both agree that staying only one night in Swakop could have maybe been better. We both found the town so…ugly (in that it was quite soulless). Architecture is very German, and the colours are dim. You can sense the industrial influence from the surrounding uranium mines, which isn’t really fantastic. Admittedly, it is pretty cool to have the fog from the Ocean hanging on the shoreline before revealing blue sky for a few hours, and then coming back, and the beach itself has beautiful rolling waves that bring me to a happy place, but that’s about it.

 We slept in a bit, woke up at 9am and had a big breakfast, scavenging toast, ham, salami and peanut butter for our lunch, and walked around town for 45mins. There frankly wasn’t much to see. 

 Foggy Swakopmund

Foggy Swakopmund

We then drove to Walvis Bay (or should I say Walvisbaai) to meet up with a guide taking us with his 4x4 to the sand dunes, towards Sandwich Harbour - which we didn't end up reading because the tide was too high.. 

He was quite a man. A 75 year old croc-wearing German named Kürt, who happened to have a very pronounced German accent. We couldn’t help giggling when he said words like ‘kaput’, quite frequently. He was such a character. As Anne rightly declared, the fun we had this afternoon was as much due to the gorgeous landscapes as it was to Kürt himself. His jokes on ‘the ladies’ (which clearly weren’t really jokes) made us cringe and smile uncomfortably in the back seat, and the rest of his punchlines and attempts at humour were terrible..making the situation funnier than what he was saying. 

Dune cruising was hilarious. Kürt would speed to the top of the dune before letting the car dip and glide forwards, on dunes sometimes inclined at 35%. A French couple was also with us, and the woman, who was at the back, kept gripping Anne’s leg in fright as we rallied across the dunes. It was exhilarating and we both had a giddy feeling in the pits of our stomachs (maybe also because we’d just eaten the sandwiches made in the morning…). Imagine us smiling broadly and nervously giggling in false anxiety as each new dune was approached. 

 The dune sea

The dune sea

 Sandwich and frizz

Sandwich and frizz

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The REAL treat was when Kürt (pronounced Kouuurrrt btw) parked the car halfway up a dune, and told us to walk the rest of the way. Annie and I sprinted to the top, half falling over ourselves, but gasped with joy when we saw the view. The powerful Atlantic waves were lavishly rolling towards the giant sand dunes, their thundering rumble contrasting with the stark silence of the desert. We just stared, speechless. 

IMG_8083.JPG

After pictures and more staring, I had the brilliant idea to take off my trainers and socks, to be more comfortable (I think anyone can relate to the really annoying feeling of having shoes filled with sand). As I was taking off the second sock, a stronger-than-average gust of wind just….blew it away. Typical. I was really having issues with wind and objects. It hadn’t gone far but was unreachable nonetheless so I had to wave goodbye to it. 

 hello

hello

 my sock...(the black speck in the middle)

my sock...(the black speck in the middle)

 the Ocean is 200m below me...perspectives change drastically in the desert, which is why dune driving can be so dangerous

the Ocean is 200m below me...perspectives change drastically in the desert, which is why dune driving can be so dangerous

Anne and I ran our barefoot selves down the dune to the car, waited for the French and we were off to a second view point. Because the wind was so strong, I suspected my camera would do its nut again, which it did but I knew the drill now. Sand was flying everywhere. 

 Kürt's jackals

Kürt's jackals

More dune sailing, until Kürt brought us to a halt at the bottom of a dune for oysters and snacks (‘The McDonalds of the desert’ he said as he unpacked everything, trying and failing to make a funny joke). Namibian oysters are famously huge and tasty, just because the water here is so full of nutrients, so it was a real treat. Now Kürt also really wanted to be a ‘cool’ guide and introduced us to his friends…4 jackals who knew exactly where and when he would be because he doesn’t just feed them, he STUFFS them with food. Any snacks left on the platter (there was a lot) he just threw at them, to Anne and I’s annoyance. They came very, very close to us, and although they’re extremely cute animals, they’re still wild and carry diseases. He laughed away our critiques, saying that ‘everyone did it’ - of course that makes everything better. 

I must admit though, so far we’ve eaten more game (oryx steak, marinated kudu, springbok carpaccio…) than seen some. I was expecting more gemsbok and springbok in Sossuvlei, though I suppose it must be because of the dry season. Praying we’ll see some desert adapted elephants in Damarland and lots of game in Etosha…

We chose to go to Kucki’s Pub, a chill and famous German place to have dinner. On the way back to the car after we had finished, we noticed this man coming towards us as we got in it. I locked the doors as Anne fumbled with the keys to drive off before he reached us but she had trouble with it. ‘I can’t fine the hole Alice’. 2 minutes later (2mins is a long time when you have someone outside your car trying to get you to lower the window), still struggling to insert the keys - ‘F*** me Alice, it’s not going in’- I was (very usefully) just sitting there laughing as she swore some more and the guy outside frantically tried to speak to us. FINALLY contact was made and she pulled away. We spent the 2 min drive home wondering if we should have given him the benefit of the doubt, but oh well. Car parked, we rush to the hotel reception, eager to just get in our rooms and sip rooibos (it’s COLD). Issue was, we’d forgotten reception closes at 8pm and so we were locked outside, unable to remember what Sandra the receptionist had told us. Of course, we’d also forgotten to bring the small phone Ultimate Safaris had provided us with, so no way of calling them. After much more exploring, swearing, and trying to fit more keys in keyholes, we discovered a new part of the B&B leading straight to the corridor where our room was. 

A bit of football on Afrikaans TV before bed - we’re looking forward to leaving Swakopmund and getting back inland, eager to find the warmth of the people and climate again. The staff from our B&B have been ADORABLE though, but that’s about as far as it goes.

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My interview about Photography and Conservation

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My interview about Photography and Conservation

This is the interview I gave Yussef Rafik (website: yussefrafik.com) regarding why I do what I do. Really interesting questions. I hope you enjoy it! 
 

Throughout my ‘Conservation Conversations’ blog series, I have spoken to a wide range of people working in wildlife conservation, but one area that I am yet to gain an insight in is the role of a wildlife photographer.

Dabbling in a bit of wildlife photography myself, I have on several occasions come across the huge positive impact photography can have on conservation issues, particularly in terms of raising awareness. However, I’m interested in finding out more about how it can be used in conjunction with socio-ecological aspects to trigger emotion and get people talking. Thankfully I know a fantastic wildlife photographer who fills this role perfectly - twenty year old French Londoner, Alice Péretié.

Alice’s photography and pursuit of adventure has taken her to many different countries, particularly those on the African continent. She fell in love with Africa the first time she lay foot on Namibian soil in her early teenage years. She vowed to go back, and has since then been doing her best to stick to that promise every year.

Alice began to develop an interest in photography and animals at an early age. Originally wanting to be a vet, she would spend ages watching National Geographic programmes and flicking through various wildlife documentaries on the different Sky channels. At the age of seven, Alice began to take pictures and slowly learnt how to use a disposable camera. Over the years, she then progressed on to using digital compact cameras and finally DSLRs.

The ability to freeze a moment in time is something that very much appeals to Alice, not for the sake of remembering the moment, but rather for seeing it as a moment of raw beauty, power, emotion and tranquillity, and then being able to engage people in conversations about the emotions that come to them as they look at her work. She enjoys freezing a unique moment in time that will never be witnessed or happen again.

 An humbling encounter, Virunga, DR Congo, August 2017

An humbling encounter, Virunga, DR Congo, August 2017

Alice finds that wildlife photography a particularly relevant tool for conservation, whether that be talking about ecosystems, biodiversity, socio-ecological resilience, or the complex intertwined interests of human and non-human stakeholders. Conservation is commonly misinterpreted by those outside of the scientific realm, because the extent to which it directly and indirectly concerns society is often ignored by most, so she finds that sparking conversations about her photography (and in particular the emotions that it generates) can be a good way to open their minds to the reality of the situation. That is the main purpose she wants her work to have.

As a current Arts and Sciences student at UCL, Alice’s degree is entirely focused on sustainable development, wildlife conservation and project management. As a final year student, she has chosen to write her dissertation on a community conservancy (100% Maasai owned) in Il Ngwesi, Northern Kenya. It’s been acclaimed as highly successful and used as a model all around Eastern Africa, and Alice wants to find out why. She’s looking to find the best practice methodologies that are used there, as well as seeing what lessons could be taken away, from both a social and ecological perspective (which, by the way, she believes we should stop constantly separating). 

Alice would be very interested in pursuing a career in impact funding, community ecotousism, or CSR consulting because her key areas of interest are education, environmental awareness and conflict resolution.

So let's get into the questions....

 

As a wildlife photographer, how do you capture emotion and show the importance of conservation issues?

When I started photography - at a relatively young age, with a disposable Kodak camera - I was always drawn to nature, i.e. landscapes and animals. The main thing for me as I grew up, and started developing my photographic eye was to play on the aesthetic - ‘le Beau’ as we say in French, essentially, that which automatically commands human attention and attraction. 

It started with eyes. When I was younger, I focused on capturing portraits, but really looked at how the animal’s stare could transcend the viewer. Obviously I was really inexperienced and I don’t think many of my first DSLR pictures had that effect, but some did and it was enough of an incentive for me to go further, learn more technique and repeat. Now though, I tend to zoom out and capture the animal in its landscape, to show the relevance of looking at whole ecosystems rather than individual keystone species. I even include human elements in my pictures now, because actually, humans form an integral part of what I like to call the socio-ecological landscape, and we can’t just ignore them, or make an abstraction of them. Any conservation initiative has a much higher chance of failure if we ignore the social aspect of things. 

In your opinion, what poses the largest threat to wildlife conservation? Is there anything that can be done about it?

I think it’s a mix of things that create dangerous synergies. A few of the big conservation biology names like Barnosky, Brook, and Pearson - whom I had the opportunity to read and study at university - all agree on the idea that Nature is pretty resilient - one threat can be dealt with through a ‘natural’ toolkit’. But when you start combining climate change (which I think is really destructive on a food web level, disrupting blooming and egg laying patterns which has drastic impacts on the entire system) with habitat fragmentation due to human activity, or invasive species, or pollution, then it starts to become trickier to resist or adapt. 

For example, if climate change leads to a southward movement of a suitable habitat for a species, but that it can’t follow the new niche because of human activity then what happens? Driven to Extinction by Dr Richard Pearson (2011) is a truly excellent book - and not too pessimistic either, which I find really important - to get an understanding of the changes, visible and invisible to the naked eye, occurring worldwide. 

 

 Protective mother on Lewa, Northern Kenya, August 2017

Protective mother on Lewa, Northern Kenya, August 2017

 

Is there anything we can do?… big question aha. I believe so. Essentially, I think the first thing is the mindset. A lot of people don’t seem to even think the environment is a priority, probably for political reasons, or to distinguish themselves from the ‘vegan trend’ - thus holding a more reactionary position. For others, it could be because personal satisfaction or capacity for survival must, I think, be met before people start thinking about wider societal issues. In general, I believe it’s a lack of understanding or prioritisation. 

There are wide misconceptions about what conservation actually is, or its effects on society. I think the main solution is education, or at least, integrating the relevance of nature on both instrumental and intrinsic levels. A new paradigm that becomes relevant is what I refer to as ‘relational’ - which is a set of values that transcend all other levels: you build relationships with your environment, either because you derive something from it (material, spiritual, aesthetic,etc.) and you build a pact. The point is essentially to overcome the historical, philosophical and metaphorical divorce our societies have with nature (which could be tied to the Biblical period where Man was kicked out from Eden and had to ‘dominate the earth to survive’), and reconnect with that which is around us. 

Humans in modern societies have become more and more individualistic - so how do you integrate the environment in a way that is acceptable for the egotistical self? It becomes easier when you build relationships with your environment because you - or the total sum of identity, ego, and super ego which all guide our actions - will see interest in the preservation of nature. You fully and consciously recognise you are part of the biosphere. It’s not about viewing the environment as a theme anymore, or an underlying issue. But something we’re a part of and that supersedes us entirely. 

Who was your biggest inspiration growing up?

Tough question. I’d say Harry Potter but I feel like it’s too cliché. There were a few people I looked up to. My horse-riding teacher - one of the bravest people I know, who went through a lot, and just never gives up. Her determination through adversity has always really impressed me. Both of my parents as well, they’re both such passionate and kind hearted people, and I think that I was really lucky to grow up surrounded by these values. I never really had any TV / political / famous person that I looked up to just because I was a little dubious about the whole media star side of things. I like to keep things simple, and looked to what I thought was more relatable. Although I would be lying if I said I didn’t love Attenborough’s shows, or follow Mike Horn and Bear Gryll’s adventures. 

In my recent years however, I have been really inspired by Albert Camus and Charles Baudelaire, two of my favourite French authors (a philosopher and a poet, respectively). Their way of conveying nature, both human and natural, and bringing them together is beautiful, and I think very finely analysed. I would recommend reading ‘The Outsider’, ‘the Myth of Sisyphus’ and “Summer’ to anyone interested in seeing the world and life in a different light. Oh and also, I was really inspired by the Ancient Greek Myths and Gods. They personified Nature and abstract ideas to make them attainable, and respectfully turn towards them, which is something I find beautiful. 

 Young Maasai Giraffe in the Serengeti, Tanzania, September 2016

Young Maasai Giraffe in the Serengeti, Tanzania, September 2016

 

Is there an animal that you are yet to photograph but would like to?

Hmmm…. I would love to photograph whale sharks, as it would also mean learning underwater photography technique. Otherwise, snow leopards. In fact, leopard cubs would be awesome because I’ve never seen them in the wild and I’d love to. They really are my favourite!

What do you enjoy most about wildlife photography? Are there any drawbacks?

I love being immersed in the bush, and the experience of it all. The reason I love Baudelaire so much is that his poetry calls upon all five senses - he wanted his verses to ‘correspond’ and ‘respond’ to one another, like through the mechanisms operating in synesthesia (when something you experience like food / music etc. triggers another experience, like seeing a colour, or remembering a smell or a memory). 

When you’re photographing wildlife, you have exactly that. You can smell, you can hear, see and feel and sometimes even taste what’s around you. It’s transcending and I love it. 

The photography part of it is maybe a way for me to immortalise that correspondence of senses, at a personal level, but then it’s also a way for me to drive conversations around what the environment means to us. I like how the artistic voice becomes a powerful medium to trigger reactions. Current drawbacks would be technical and personal. I’m never really satisfied with my work. I always want more out of it and I feel like I lack confidence in what I do. I’d like to change that, and I think it goes through learning, failing and learning again so that’s something I am dedicating more time to. 

Nature break or city break?

My first instinct is nature break. I love it, and being immersed in nature ‘feels’ right. Whenever I run away, it’s to be lost in the middle of nowhere. I love being outside, and by that I mean in the middle of nowhere. On a mountain, on a beach, in a jungle, exploring, hiking, climbing, swimming, riding, etc. In general, I like to travel alone, just because I find I’m so much more open to meeting new people and learning about others. Plus, I feel braver afterwards. It’s always a little intimidating at first, but I think throwing ourselves outside of our comfort zones from time to time is important. 

 Trekking for gorillas in Virunga, DR Congo, August 2017

Trekking for gorillas in Virunga, DR Congo, August 2017

I’m also secretly terrified of flying insects (the really loud ones especially), even if they don’t sting. It’s the noise that scares me, which is ridiculous and it’s held me back from so many things, so I’m determined to confront it and just see what happens. Can’t say I wasn’t relieved not to encounter Congolese hornets whilst tracking gorillas in Virunga though!

On the other hand, this question actually also makes me think about what we see as ‘natural’ and ‘non natural’. The city is full of life, and maybe the fact that we let them go to waste so quickly (pollution, littering etc) could be linked to the fact that we already see it as a degraded natural space. I am really for the development of green cities. The trees in our garden are as natural as the trees in the countryside! But it doesn’t change the fact that I prefer waking up to the sound of cascades or wave breaks as opposed to honking cars. 

How important is ecotourism? And what do you think the future holds for it?

Ecotourism is a funny one. By definition, travel is unsustainable. But we still do it, and I like how we have the opportunity to have less of a negative impact. Sustainable tourism is a crucial point to develop, because air travel has the largest carbon footprint, so we have to mitigate it one way or another. Eco tourism also implies that you be respectful of the places you visit. This may sound obvious to some, but cultural practices differ from one place to another and I have seen some shocking things. I think the basic tourist needs to be educated and aware of the local socio-ecological realities. Ecotourism is good for that. 

I think ecotourism is crucial but we must be weary that it doesn’t become a ‘green-washed label’ that’s just hiding unethical or less ethical practices. I’d like to see eco-something become a norm, and for that to happen we have to make it desirable for those who will consume it (it’s a product essentially). I think that today, consumption is a way for us to exist, so what we consume tends to define us and the ways in which we believe other people see us. So I think ecotourism is important but it has many challenges - how do you make it accessible? Do you even want to make it accessible? A lot of luxury lodges defining themselves as ‘eco-touristic’ are beyond affordable. On the other hand, the luxury side of it makes it attractive to the very portion of the population who can afford it, and who wants to consume it, because it’s exclusive. Conservation needs large amounts of money, so which is more efficient?

What is it about Africa in particular that you love so much?

Everything. The smell, the sounds, the people, the landscapes, the happiness - joie de vivre - and the innocence despite difficult realities. It’s beautiful and I literally fell in love. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. The feeling is very hard to describe, but ask anyone who has been to Africa and who keep going back: they’ll make the exact same description. 

The list of places I want to go to is huge, and I keep coming up with new destinations that I want to go to. The only thing is, because I have an aversion for mass tourism, I always seek to go to places off the beaten track. So usually it’s remote, hard to access, potentially dangerous and expensive, which limits my travel abilities for the rest of the year (#StudentLife). 

 Smiling at the top of the Baranco Wall, 4100m amsl, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, September 2016

Smiling at the top of the Baranco Wall, 4100m amsl, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, September 2016

In general, I try to travel to places in Africa where I know the presence of visitors is needed, like Virunga. I am dreaming of going to Zakouma in Chad, and to the Central African Republic to see the forest elephants. Ideally, I would also like to go back to Virunga to explore the central sector up in Lulimbi, and climb the Rwenzoris Mountains (mountains of the moon). 

After Kilimanjaro, I realized how much I enjoyed summiting, and I’ll hopefully soon be preparing for an Aconcagua summit for 2019. The next climb took me to Mount Nyiragongo (Democratic Republic of the Congo), an active strato-volcano in the Goma Valley!

Tell me about your dissertation. What do you hope to find out from the results?

Oh my dissertation. It was a long, long journey. Felt like I was crossing a desert. It was fascinating. And the topic I chose was very complex! Essentially, I was looking at conservation through a socio-ecological lens, focusing on a case study in Northern Kenya: The Il Ngwesi Community Conservancy, or the first 100% community conservancy to see the light 20 years ago. The local Il Laikpiak Maasai decided to turn their land into a Group Ranch for conservation, deriving revenue from eco-tourism, to bring development in one of the poorest areas in Kenya as well as help mitigate the effects of the drought both ecologically and socially. 

They want to restore the declining Elephant, Grevy’s Zebra, Wild Dog, and Gerenuk populations, amongst others, and especially reintroduce the critically endangered Black Rhino to their land. What I wanted to see is why this particular project is working so well. As I said in the previous answer, ecotourism isn’t ‘all white’ and usually, local indigenous populations suffer from conservation initiatives - most of the money doesn’t go back to them, they were historically evicted from their lands in the name of a ‘pristine environment’ and this can create tensions. Sometimes only the local elite benefit, so it reinforced inequality etc. The mistake made is usually to see local communities as uniform structures, and misunderstanding their social organisations can induce tensions and conflict, which can also hamper conservation efforts. 

 

 Cheetahs on Lewa, Northern Kenya, August 2017

Cheetahs on Lewa, Northern Kenya, August 2017

 

I worked out that trust as a driver and security as a direct benefit from conservation initiatives were the two things that really stood out. Security in terms of safety and security in terms of land tenure and control. The Maasai communities from Il Ngwesi were economically, spatially and politically marginalised, and being able to have an international presence through eco-tourism drastically reduced this. Once the benefits (100% of the profits go to the community) became noticeable, more and more members - who were at first sceptical - started adhering to the project one way or another. New issues arise with development and access to education, creating new inequalities between the educated (usually the younger generations) and the ‘uneducated’ - to be understood as those who do not have access to modern and westernised education, and thus the technological jargon - where new values replace old ones. 

Maasai are not conservationists by tradition, quite the contrary. They would chase away the animals, and actually come into conflict with them to defend their livestock, which is an essential element for their status. But now, the Maasai from Il Ngwesi are strategically positioning themselves as ecologically focused and conservation oriented. What I found fascinating was how at first, it was purely instrumental - ‘Milking the wildlife’ like they would milk a cow…but now they appreciate it on the same levels, if not more, as their livestock. So I think dealing with visibly shifting cultural practices is a challenge because at the same time they want to preserve their ways of life. 

 

What would you like to do after you graduate?

I have a few projects that I’m looking into. On a personal level, properly setting up my freelance photography and website design business. Not something I want to be 100% reliant on, but a way for me to sell my work and talk about conservation. I’m also taking this year to travel more and set up this education project I want to develop in Kenya, where I want to create a systematic bursary system. 

Finally, I want to (if not in conjunction with the former project, perhaps at a later stage) help guides and rangers develop photography skills and get them to have a photographic voice. We always see the white male western photographer (this has nothing to do with feminism or a post modern analysis of wildlife photography, it is simply an observation), and it is very rare to come across world famous Kenyan or Congolese photographers. So I really want to see if there’s something I can do there, because I’ve met a few locals who love taking pictures!

What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Be free. Finding your passion is not easy. Inspiration came from reading philosophy and literature, as well as putting myself way out of my comfort zone. That’s how I learnt, and sometimes it was the hard way. But I want to challenge myself: if it works out good, bring on the next step. If it doesn’t …why? What do I need to change? So I would say: open your heart and open your mind. Take your time, but not too much. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be humble. 

20120415-Botswana 2012 (6) copyAPERETIE.jpg

 

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me Alice, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for this! I really, really enjoyed writing this, and what I love is that I even learnt stuff out of it as I was typing up my answers. 

If you’d like to see more of Alice’s work or buy a print from her (the funds of which raise money for Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya), then head over to her website: aliceperetie.com

Also, be sure to go follow her on Instagram!

 

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Trekking (and tracking) for the gorillas in the DRC

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Trekking (and tracking) for the gorillas in the DRC

Looking for my relatives

I'd set my alarm for 6am, and was up an ready as soon as it rang (despite my bed being SUPER comfortable). It was slightly drizzling, and the two volcanoes you can see from the camp on a clear day were totally covered up. I don't think I've ever had a breakfast as good as the one I had here. The guacamole. The eggs. The toast. Simple but the flavour was more intense than anything I'd ever tasted. 

As the trek started, I was besides myself with excitement. We were going to track the tragically famous Rugendo family, spotted by the trackers an hour away from the patrol post. “An easy hike” I’d told myself, almost disappointed at the idea of finding them that quickly.

Little did I know that my quench for tracking, trekking and exploring was about to be satisfied. 

 This basically says the Rugendos were an hour away. LOL.&nbsp;

This basically says the Rugendos were an hour away. LOL. 

 this boy knew how to flute. check the  video

this boy knew how to flute. check the video

 Over the fields we go

Over the fields we go

After over an hour of walking through fields along the border of the park, we stopped. Something wasn't quite right. It turned out our radio was broken, and now had no idea where the trackers had gone. They’d just had time to tell us the gorillas had moved deep into the forest. 

 our trail&nbsp;

our trail 

Pierre -the head of the gorilla tracking ranger unit -who was guiding us, looked at us and smiled. 'Allons dans la forget alors, il faut trouver les gorilles et mes hommes!' (Let’s go into the forest then, we need to find my men and the gorillas!). The trail was inexistant, it was just us and a machete. Up and up we went, higher into the forest, cutting at vines and trees, dogging branches, ducking under fallen trees. After a lot of sweating (guess what, the Congo is a hot and humid place), removing ants who had sunk their delightful pincers in our flesh -one got in my bra, I have literally no idea how  - and desperately trying to stomp those suckers off our boots and clothes...we still hadn't found the Rugendo clan. My heart was slowly starting to sink, as the rangers didn't answer our 'do we have any more info on their location?' questions. 'Things aren't looking good', I thought (I'm usually an optimist, I swear). Oh and did I mention the ants? 

 masks on

masks on

 

After more than three hours of dodging monster ants, sweating, beating down vines and branches, and finally reuniting with our trackers, one of them suddenly stopped dead. 'Ecoutez' (listen), he said. We heard soft noises emerging from the bamboo thicket. Pierre looked at us, smiling broadly. 'Il faut mettre les masques' (It's time to put on our masks).

 

Bringing a finger to his lips, he motioned us to move slowly towards the thicket, through a freshly macheted pathway. 

 

 THICK. FOLIAGE. EVERYWHERE. (taken with my Canon)

THICK. FOLIAGE. EVERYWHERE. (taken with my Canon)

I gasped. I had my camera around my neck, with a 70-200 f/2:8 lens, and I trembled slightly as I armed for the shot. A huge silverback was tranquilly munching away at bamboo sticks, 3 metres away from us, royally ignoring the group of intruders who had just barged in on his meal. Not gonna lie, the focus was hard to get with the thick foliage and leaves all over the place, but the manual focus became my best ally here...avoided the tragic autofocus betrayal. The sun made exposing tough though, with the gorillas being so dark. 

Things were more important than taking pictures however. The timer was set for an hour, and I wanted to make the most of this privileged encounter. 

But there was more.

The rangers beckoned me to advance further, passing through the thicket, only to emerge into a small sunlit clearing. Another gasp. Two babies - one of 7 months and a much larger one - were playing around in a very human like way. A female joined in and they started cartwheeling and rolling all over the clearing. They looked at us inquisitively, wanting to play. 

 

“mhm rhmm” - the rangers make a deep sound, as if they to clear their throats, to speak to the gorillas, as a reassuring warning to stay back. 

 Heart melter (taken with my Canon)

Heart melter (taken with my Canon)

Another noise, from behind me, made me whirl around. A ranger just cut a little passage towards another thicket, a few metres away. There stood Bukima, one of Virunga’s most famous males. He was bigger than my first encounter, much more impressive. He sat there, in the shade, on a higher part of the clearing, dominating the rest of us as we looked up at him. We were crouched in a humbled position, awed by the clear power emerging from him. It. Was. Incredible. No other way to describe it. 

More noise, the babies started messing around again. My heart melted every time the youngest one looked at me. 

Gorillas have something grave about them. Sullen and so full of dignity. They look at you with curiosity yet it feels like they know everything about you. Their orange eyes gaze deeply at you, and I felt  like it was a gentle X-Ray, confronting me to my conscience and soul.

 Without wanting to anthropomorphise them however, I can still say that encountering them on their territory, with the trust they granted us, was one of the most thrilling, intense, and humbling experiences ever. I felt tiny, not only physically, but because these impressive creatures, who suffered brutal losses in their family, and yet still authorised us on their territory. 

To paraphrase Dian Fossey, the more you learn of the dignity of a gorilla, the more you seek to reflect on your own decisions as a being who has the power to make a difference.  Let's use these experiences to build relationships with our environment,  progressively reducing that perpetual nature/culture dichotomy, and moving past the debate of preserving nature for its intrinsic or instrumental value. 

 

That hour flew by so quickly. I wish I could have had more time with them, and more than ever recommend getting at least 2 gorillas permits. It was an hour of PURE JOY. I had been a little worried about bugs and, well, more ant attacks, but I didn't even notice the mozzies, wasps and flies (this is coming from a flying-bug-phobic). I was rolling around on the ground to avoid the cartwheeling gorillas (you're not allowed to touch them, despite the juveniles charging up at you to play - I hope you're good at dodging). 

 Dignity&nbsp;

Dignity 

 

It was really sunny by the time we caught up with the gorillas, which, again, meant exposing for them was tough, so make sure you prepare for extreme lighting, or potentially grey skies and rain. Seriously, do your research, you don't want to be frustrated because you have to keep fiddling with your gear. Also, you're not allowed a backpack in the gorillas area, you leave your stuff behind with the trackers and porters. Just take your camera (i'd stuffed my pockets with a battery, a smaller lens that I didn't use, a small compact camera that I didn't use either and sunscreen).  

 

We were really lucky, just because every time I stepped foot outside of my tent it started raining, EXCEPT for the 5 hour gorillas trek span (it was the dry season, so I would recommend to pack a few things to protect your camera gear and backpack). As soon as we reached Bukima Camp again though, all hell broke loose, hail all over the place etc.

Oh and I almost forgot - I would recommend taking a porter just because it supports the local economy, and it's 10$ (not inclusive of the tip, which you are sure directly goes to them) per person helping you. Most people live with less than a dollar per day...food for thought. 

Everything was organised in the state of the art, ethical way. The treks are highly supervised, allowing no more than 6 people per trip, and rules are made clear from start to finish. You sign disclaimers and agree to conditions that are explicit from the moment of your booking. 

To read my full Virunga experience, check out my last blog post. To view my Virunga pro pictures, have a look at my gallery.  If you have any questions, feel free to comment below. Or any thoughts, points of discussion, go ahead! I'm all for feedback.

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Travelling to the DRC: From the heart of Kigali to the 'Heart of Darkness'

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Travelling to the DRC: From the heart of Kigali to the 'Heart of Darkness'

Welcome to my travel and photography blog! Feel free to comment any questions below or contact me if you'd like advice on going to the DRC :) Most of the pictures here are from iPhone, but if you want to see my pro photos, check out my Virunga Gallery.

Why the DRC?

At the ripe age of 15, I did a work placement for my school at WWF - UK.  That’s when I heard about Virunga National Park for the first time. A few months later, they officially launched their campaign against Soco, a British company seeking to drill oil in the National Heritage site - which was completely prohibited by Congolese law.  

 Car Views (post storm)

Car Views (post storm)

At the time, Virunga was closed to tourism because of the M-23 rebellion and the civil war tearing the region apart. Yet, remarkably brave people remained and continued their incredible conservation work to support the critically endangered Mountain Gorillas, and protect the luxuriant Virunga forest.

4 years later,  as a young conservationist completing her second year at university, and preparing an internship at The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, I thought it was the right time for me to visit Virunga. Things were more stable politically, although with Kabila cancelling the elections in the DRC -meant to take place on 21st August 2017 - I didn’t know if I’d have another opportunity. 

The Preparation

I spent my Reading Week - that week where you’re supposed to work and do extra reading and do all of your essays - doing my research, emailing Virunga and different companies who could take me there and dreaming of gorillas and volcanoes. 

I figured out a budget, stalked people on Instagram, tracked rare visitors down and made up my mind. I wanted to go.  

 Getting borderline&nbsp;

Getting borderline 

By May I had everything I needed money-wise, and chose  to go with Inspired Journeys. Initially wanting to organise everything through the Virunga website, I found it easier to go with a company which dealt with the logistics but handed me to the park as soon as the Rwandan-Congolese border was crossed. The best of both worlds. I had a car from Kigali to Gisenyi/Goma booked, Congolese visa payed for and the process eased, emergency evacuation included and someone to help me cross the border - I’d heard nightmare stories about that part. 

Inspired Journeys were great all along. Small details which made me really happy about my choice - such as creating my personalised travel webpage with all details and itinerary, or providing me with a luggage tag and Cap upon arrival. Kind and efficient, as well as reassuring considering I was about to travel alone to one of Africa’s supposedly most unstable regions. 

The work Emmanuel de Merode has been leading and achieving for the past 20 years is incredible. My time at Lewa helped me define my own ideas about wildlife conservation - led sustainable development, and helped place words on the direction I believe conservation should be taking. Working together, merging synergies, and doing it for the people. “Making conservation about people”. 

 Finally realising I was going to the DRC

Finally realising I was going to the DRC

When everything was booked, the realisation of where I was going in August hit me. I confess, I felt nervous and slightly terrified at the idea of venturing alone into the alleged Heart of Darkness. But still, I was excited. 

Getting to Virunga National Park

Summer days went by quickly, my conservation internship at Lewa too (great experience, more about it here) and soon, it was time for me to fly out of Nairobi to Rwanda and repack my bags for an extraordinary adventure. I was a little nervous about Rwanda Air, mostly because they have a 10kg hand luggage policy and my camera gear weighed 12kg lol. Obviously couldn't put my lenses in hold, so I hid my camera in my jacket under a scarf as I boarded the plan and when checking my luggage. (The worst were Qatar and Emirates, with a lovely 7kg policy...perfect pre-travel additional stress). 

 

Things to know for The Congo - no international flights are permitted to land in Goma, and driving from Kigali is simpler than flying in from Kinshasa.I’d booked an Airbnb (lovely house and hosts, would definitely recommend if you’re ever in Kigali) to be ready to roll early the next morning.

Also, I was dazzled by Kigali...beautiful clean and modern city, trendy restaurants and brunch areas - Shokola was by far my favourite place (above). I rediscovered the word "living" when I had my first freshly made passion fruit juice. This place was a on a whole new level of Brunch. 

I can’t say I wasn’t slightly anxious that Monday morning when I woke up. Everyone I’d met who’d been to Virunga on the Congolese side had assured me it was one of the most beautiful places they'd ever seen, and their most intense experience yet. I was excited -so excited- but had simply no idea what to expect. 

It was better that way. I was all the more amazed. You get to Gisenyi after 4 hours of driving through the Land of a Thousand Mountains, including past the Dian Fossey Memorial. A small lake-side town, so beautifully constructed, so clean and so modern.

 Lunch stop an hour from Gisenyi, in Rwanda (taken with my Canon)

Lunch stop an hour from Gisenyi, in Rwanda (taken with my Canon)

Very representative of Rwanda, I found. Then you cross the border…and it’s delightfully hectic. People and chickens everywhere, sounds of construction noises, a lot of dust… and music. Inspired Journeys had someone ready to help me cross the border and ease the visa process. I’d been worrying for nothing. Everything went smoothly, and pretty fast too. After 15/20 mins, I had my visa and I was in the Virunga National Park 4x4. The officers at the border were all quite sweet, and curious to see a 20 year old French girl on her own with two bags and a camera around her neck. 

 Goma

Goma

We drove through Goma to pick up two armed rangers (both women, Virunga has 18 female rangers ) and then off we were for a 2hour and a half journey to Bukima Tented Camp, my first stop. The differences between Rwanda and the DRC were flagrant, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. In a sense, yes, Goma was ashen and hectic, but it was easily comparable to some parts of Nairobi. 

It was actually so much more alive - loud African or reggaeton beats resounded through town, accompanied by the constant rhythm of honking cars and motorcycles. Smells of food rose into the atmosphere, and chukulus rolled bumpily on down the road. As we left Goma, the landscape turned into miles and miles of cultivated land. The pressure put on the land grew more and more apparent as we got closer to Virunga. Incredible to see that immediately behind the park boundaries were acres of potato, carrot, lettuce fields. The conflict between man and wildlife, and now with forest too, was more than evident. 

Driving past Mt Nyriagongo was very humbling. Its high crater was puffing out white smoke which seemed so pure in contrast to the grey rainclouds announcing the usual thunderstorms. 

 Mt Nyriagongo

Mt Nyriagongo

The trip to Bukima, although beautiful, seemed so long. Perhaps it was my incredibly urgent need to go to the bathroom which had started well before I even crossed the border, worsened by the bumpy “road” (the tarmac abruptly ends a few kilometres out of Goma… “that’s when there was no money left for the road” tells me Oscar, my Virunga driver for this transfer). So it was a volcano attacked dirt road for most of the journey. A proper African massage. But in that particular instance, all I cared about was reaching the loo - and fast. I would have been more than happy to stop on the edge of a the “road”, but there were people -and fields- everywhere, so I decided to suck it in and wait. 

Virunga National Park stop 1: Bukima Tented Camp

Finalllly we arrived. I reaaaalllly couldn't hold it any longer and rushed towards the camp manager to ask for the bathroom before we sat down and talked security/ insurance policy. After taking care of all the disclaimers (reassuring), I finally took it all in. Bukima was absolutely gorgeous. A simple camp, ideally placed - a few minutes from the Bukima control post - and overlooking the two volcanoes - Mt Mikeno and Mt Nyiragongo. I got my tripod out and started taking some long exposures. It was cloudy, and rainy, but still well worth it. 

 Bukima Views (taken with me Canon )

Bukima Views (taken with me Canon )

That’s when I met the other guests staying at Bukima. There were 4 of us in total, the others being a lovely American couple and their private guide, Ethan Kinsley. Coincidentally, Ethan also happens to be the co-founder of Inspired Journeys. They adopted me, sort of, and let me tag as they were doing the same circuit I was through Virunga. It was so interesting to gain insight  from Ethan who had come to Virunga many times, and I think my experience was just so much richer than it would have been otherwise. 

Also, for all the avocado lovers out there, the Democratic Republic of the Congo produces THE BEST ones I have ever, ever tasted. They’re very fragile and don’t travel well, so the only was to taste these exquisite gems is to come here. But my breakfast of fluffy French toast, with scrambled eggs and homemade guacamole made my day. With fresh fruit, of course. 

Stay tuned for my next post and advice on trekking gorillas in the DRC!  For my Virunga Gallery, click here :) 

Virunga National Park stop 2 : Mikeno Lodge

So Mikeno is an entirely different story. It’s located in Rumangabo, Virunga NP’s headquarters essentially. The station was the Park’s last standing structure during the Second Civil War in 2011. 

 Mikeno views (taken with my Canon)

Mikeno views (taken with my Canon)

We passed huge UN trucks (wasn’t clear what their exact purpose there seemed to be…many locals feel like they just sit around rather than actually working towards something. Interesting debates and discussions to be had!) on the hour long trip to Rumangabo. 

Mikeno is an absolutely stunning place. Monkeys all over the trees, and built overlooking the entirety of the National Park. You can see the forest stretching out towards its northernmost sectors…there was a tranquil aura about it that contrasted with the bustling livelihoods bordering the Park (except maybe for the Congohounds yelping in the distance for food and love, and the natural forest sounds of course). My thoughts were mixed about this. A beautiful, mystic and elegant place, yet disconnected from the reality happening right outside its walls. 

On the other hand, tourism is such an essential component to achieving VNP’s conservation objectives. For too long Virunga was a fortress-like protected area, completely excluding neighbouring livelihoods relying on charcoal, bushmeat, fishing and agriculture for food and income. Social justice and equity are inherently tied to human-wildlife (and environmental) conflicts simply and evidently because it was not in their interests to accept the Park’s boundaries. Tourism and private donors are what is slowly but surely driving the Virunga Alliance Plan to success. In a sense, this is completely on track with my position on sustainable development and environmental conservation: how interests and local actors MUST be taken into account to start envisioning conservation success stories. 

So although I felt slightly uncomfortable (which strangely, never occurred to me in countries like Tanzania where some parts of the country are also pretty bad. Perhaps driving through highly encroached areas triggered it more in the DRC, as well as the imaginary tied to the country’s reputation and statistics…) with the idea of sleeping in a simple yet luxuriously spacious and comfortable cottage (there was a bathtub, running hot water, and a king size bed, a fireplace…elegantly and beautifully designed) and eating really delicious food.

 Rumangabo

Rumangabo

I definitely don’t regret spending a night there though (the warm shower was mooore than welcomed, well needed after a muddy, sweaty and ant-ridden gorilla trek, just before Mt Nyiragongo). 

As soon as we got there, I walked around, visiting the Senkwekwe Gorillas orphanage, excited at the idea of meeting André, who has dedicated his life to taking care of what he now considers to be his children. It’s not easy, seeing them in captivity and a small, caged enclosure (the three residents are always brought in after 4pm for the night), where they bang themselves against the bars, squeezing their arms through the bars and reaching out towards you. But then again, they wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild. They have a second chance here, as ambassadors and carefully looked after by a man who loves them dearly. 

The Congohounds 

I then moved on to check out the Congohounds. These guys are the elite poacher tracking team, used for patrols and securing areas, or looking for animal carcasses. It was just before their feeding time, which was blatantly obvious. They were patrolling around their enclosure, coming up to me with begging eyes before realising I had no food. 

I was lucky to meet Julie, Virunga’s tourism manager, introduced to me by Ethan who knew everyone there. We chatted well into the night around a fire in the main area and with a bit of wine, talking politics and education. 

All of them seemed a little worried in regards to the uncertainty of the looming constitutional obligation for Kabila to resign by 31st Dec 2017. Sadly, despite a seemingly more peaceful situation around the Southern Sector (Virunga is cut in Southern, Central and Northern, I was in Southern), the Park is home to various conflict groups, rebels and militias, whose most impacting activities towards VNP are driving insecurity, illegal logging for timber, and poaching. But I’m hopeful, and I believe in the work Virunga is doing. The amount of development generated by the park is incredible, and a real key towards peace building. 

I must stress however, that I never once felt threatened or in danger. I was accompanied at all time, by at least 2 rangers in any activity I undertook. 

 

Oh and also I had a little visitor at night. There I was, enjoying my huge bed space, trying to fall asleep when I felt one of my pillows move slightly, as if something was treading on it lightly, followed by a small bustling noise. I reached for my phone and turned the torch on…to see a frightened dormouse climbing up the curtain above the bed, and then disappear in the thatched roof. Cute. 

Nyiragongo was a fantastic experience (most scenic hike ever, more so than Kilimanjaro), if you’d like to read about it, and what I recommend you do to prepare for it, you can read my upcoming blog post! 

 Earth's belly (taken with my canon)

Earth's belly (taken with my canon)

 

Conclusion? GO!

Virunga has had a special place in my heart for a long time, and visiting a place doing so much for the people surrounding the park was crucial to me. I wanted to see for my own eyes how a haven of security and development had emerged in a country torn by violence, injustice and corruption.  De Merode’s thorough understanding of the different levels of justice and rights to the land fascinated me. 

Today, the 4 million people based around the park, who live with less than a dollar a day have a reason to stop illegal logging for firewood and coal. They have a reason to stop killing gorillas. They have a reason to stop ambushing rangers. Incredibly, beautifully, it seems to be working  in the Southern Sector, potentially even in the Central Sector of the Park as well.

The Congolese I met were welcoming, warm, life-loving people, who had music and rhythm, in their blood. Thank you for your patience and constant good humour !

 
 Jean-Louis (taken with my Canon)

Jean-Louis (taken with my Canon)

 

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Some thoughts on Wildlife Conservation and Sustainable Development

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Some thoughts on Wildlife Conservation and Sustainable Development

 What do Rhinos, beadwork jewellery, HIV and football have in common?

After completing my two-week intensive conservation internship at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (Kenya) to become a Young Conservationist and Lewa Ambassador, I came back with more than just photographs and memories (via Honey Guide Safaris).

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I came home with a more precise idea of what conservation is to me, and how I want to get involved. (Hopefully, this will start through the prolongation of my internship in London as more the just an ambassador).

Part of this role comprises of fundraising for Lewa, and I would greatly appreciate any donation. I also sell prints, the funds of which will go to Lewa! My new galleries will be online very soon ;)

 

 

PLEASE SPONSOR ME HERE: https://give.classy.org/AliceYoungWildAndLewa

For the time being, however, here are some brief thoughts about conservation and sustainable development, based on what I learnt, saw, felt and loved. 

 
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Conservation isn’t just saving animals for the sake of a happy family (or me) bringing home a picture of a lion, telling tales of beautiful sunsets and sundowners (does help though). 

It’s so much more than that. Two beautiful quotes I heard during my time at Lewa perfectly summarise what I believe conservation should seek to depict and represent. 

“Milking the rhino” - James, our Maasai Guide (note : SERIOUS eye opener)

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The Maasai are famous for their ancestral traditions, and have always heavily relied on cattle. Milking the cow’s literal sense was derived by James to show how tourism can become the Maasai’s- or any tribe/ community’s - new main source of revenue. Lewa is so heavily involved in different community service programs, be it for water, health, education, youth, women empowerment, security through different programmes, such as their HIV treatment services, women micro lending programmes, youth football teams or spring water stations…

They have achieved an immutable form of respect from the neighbouring communities, who now understand the importance behind saving rhinos or any form of wildlife/ species/ ecosystem. 

On rhinos, Lewa’s incredible security system (now used as an international and national example for wildlife monitoring and security software) and ranger training (they have 4 GORGEOUS tracker dogs) means the Conservancy has achieved zero rhino poaching rates over the last 3 /4 years. People from the community trust Lewa enough to warn them of any growing discrepancy amongst villagers or strangers. 

 

“Making conservation about people” - Ian Craig

 

In a sense, this refers to James’ rhinos. But it highlights the key links between wildlife and people, creating a relational tie between humans and nature, rather than solely instrumental. This interdependence is especially explained through Lewa’s CEC (Conservation Education Centre), where man is presented to the pupils as an integral part of wider ecosystems, and how we can harmoniously co-exist.

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This is a truly beautiful message, and I firmly believe Lewa’s avant-gardist model should not only be supported but studied to enable other communities, conservancies, nations to learn to sustainably manage people, wildlife, health, education, the environment….

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More generally, I was extremely touched to see how driven the people I met who work at Lewa were about their wildlife. They had that same, burning passion in common, ready to give all of their energy in the name of protecting animals, both for the sake of wildlife but for what this meant for the lives of the surrounding communities. What does planting two trees when you destroy one mean if the one you cut down for firewood hosted a bird’s nest? Why not cut certain branches off the tree, and plant trees before you plan on cutting ?

I loved how part of the activities proposed by the CEC in their education programmes are planting trees. So interesting (and refreshing) to see relational education (what I call teaching children to build relational ties with the environment, see KWA, 2016) in practice. One of my most beautiful memories will be to have accompanied the children we met on a game drive, some seeing lions for the very first time. 

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In my time at Lewa, I learnt about how two different types of soil will have an impact on livestock, water, food, and wildlife. I saw water stations bloom in a land where the drought has been severe for the past three years. I saw rangers smile proudly when they explain that they do what the Kenyan police should be doing, yet don't get the credit for it (but they don't care, because they know the people know). I was lucky to see a newborn baby sleeping against his mother’s breast at Lewa’s main clinic, which provides some of the best services in Northern Kenya. I danced with Maasai women, who belong to a culture trying to adapt to modern laws, and ways of being. I visited Lewa’s backbone, the very unsexy logistics department, which holds the entire organisation together, but of which no one speaks about.

Driving conservation without seeking to include people who depend on the very land to be conserved and hosting protected species will most probably be vowed to fail, or result in poaching, illegal logging and, at times, violence. Wildlife manages itself perfectly well on its own if given the chance to. Which is why showing communities what saving rhinos can bring them is probably the smartest way in which the species can avoid extinction. 

 

This model is slowly growing, but funding is, of course, key to its safekeeping and development.

 

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So please, help me support this incredibly innovative and inspiring way to promote strong relationships between people and wildlife. 

 

Asante sana,

Alice

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Kili Advice

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Kili Advice

This post is to compliment my previous one, which was more of a narration (see Climbing Kilimanjaro).  You'll find a more global approach, based on my experience, and on what I would have liked to have known beforehand. Hope it helps, and if you have any questions, feel free to comment! Again, all phone pics. 

 Morning Porridge - Meet the team &lt;3

Morning Porridge - Meet the team <3

Also, for general info - I went in September 2016. It's still the dry season, though towards the end of the month some rains will occur. We summited on the 16th, and had no rain (or snow after 2000m), but 2 weeks later Kandoo (the company we climbed with, which I DEFINITELY recommend) posted a shot of hikers in the snow. Make sure you have waterproof clothes. I didn't (long story) ...was terrified it would rain.  

 Dust EVERYWHERE (this is in the pre-tent, which is covered)

Dust EVERYWHERE (this is in the pre-tent, which is covered)

1) Bring kilos of wet wipes, and face wipes as well (the baby wipes were quite aggressive for my skin, but at that point I didn't care). Hand sanitiser as well, as the dust will be engrained in your skin. Dust starts to become an issue by day 2. It was EVERYWHERE. The wind didn't help either. I'd even recommend a face mask to limit breathing some in. 

2) Bring snacks you know you'll want to eat, and that won't freeze. I had loads of dates, and managed to overdose on them, but their surcharge in sugar was vital (don’t think I’ll be eating some anytime soon though to be honest). Also, bring some isotonic supplements. Caro had some and they were great for rehydration and mineral deprivation.

3) Thin liner socks to go under your big thick ones - summit night is COLD. Ww had -15/-20 (with the wind) . Liner gloves as well. If you're prone to getting hot really quickly, don't necessarily disregard these, as they'll help avoiding blisters anyways.

 The stuff we were leaving behind - they all chose something from the orange mat.&nbsp;

The stuff we were leaving behind - they all chose something from the orange mat. 

4) Bring a huge bag with you, filled with stuff you don't want / need, to give to the porters. And leave what you won't be using behind. They need it. I borrowed most of the clothing I had, so I left small things like socks and a balaclava...would have loved to leave more though. 

5) Photographers - I carried my DSLR and 17-55mm f2/8 lens in my daypack, which, with 3L of water and food weighed around 8kg. It was completely fine with me, but if you actually want to take pictures it will be easier if you have it around your neck as you walk. Else, you won't take many pictures if you have to keep taking it in and out of your daypack. Spare batteries goes without saying. Nico and Graham had tripods in their daypack on Day 1, and they ended up in their main bags. Great for night pics though! I borrowed Nico’s. You won't need one during the hikes -no time. I also had a go pro, but didn't use it as much as I thought I would.

 Carried my camera EVERYWHERE

Carried my camera EVERYWHERE

IMPORTANT - Don't be afraid to take a DSLR with you. If it gets too heavy in your daypack, you can always stow it in you duffle bag, or ask a guide to help you carry it. Phone batteries are unreliable when things get really cold. 

6) As mentioned in my previous post, I brought a deck of cards and some of us played with Robert (our lead guide) after diner. It was great for bonding and messing around. Always a nice thing to do after a long day :) Nico and I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with the guides as we hiked. We learned loads - like “Poa kichizi kama ndizi ndani ya frigii". Literally means “I’m cool like a banana in the refrigerator” when you want to say “I’m well” in a chill way. “Mambo” (what’s up?) and “poa” (I’m cool/ good) were the most frequent expressions we heard. 

 Snack break. "Anyone want a date?".

Snack break. "Anyone want a date?".

7) It's the adventure of a lifetime. You will go far beyond your limits, however fit you are. My recommendation is : get some cardio training done as well as hiking and you'll be fine (unless you suffer from altitude sickness....take Diamox for prevention, and if you do get AMS then get as much rest as you can, drink more water and EAT. Some members in my group felt it badly. Food helped loads !)

8) If you're doing Machame, go for the 7 day option if possible. The last three days are exhausting - in 36hours you sleep for about 5(very badly too, as it's mostly naps) hike for about 18hours and get lunch breaks. The night you summit, you have already hiked earlier in the morning to go to base camp. Without the 7th day, you get a full hiking day, and 2hrs sleep before summiting. Summit night is long and cold, so compromising your chances after all of the preparation and planning, and travel, by not giving yourself more time to rest -and especially to acclimatise- is a bit of a shame.

 Living the high life. Sandeep took this one

Living the high life. Sandeep took this one

 and this one as well.&nbsp;

and this one as well. 

 Sneaky shot of Sleeping beauty at Shira

Sneaky shot of Sleeping beauty at Shira

9) I’d recommend sharing a tent, even if you’re traveling alone. If someone snores, everyone will hear it :p So you might as well enjoy some company, especially if you feel sick at some point. I felt safer having someone next to me, knowing that if I had an issue at night, Nico was there to help, and vice-versa. I usually always prefer to be alone, but in this particular case having Nico was not only plain fun, it was also super reassuring. 

10) Take Diamox. Taking it doesn’t make you a “lesser man” as I’ve heard one guy saying, but not taking it does if it means suffering and complaining about mild but painful AMS for a week. A group we met had their trek ruined by a guy who thought Diamox was for the weak -he complained day and night. In our group, those who didn’t take it at first started it two days in. Climbing Kili in less than 11 days is dangerous, you’re not giving your body enough time to acclimatise. Diamox supposedly helps your body absorb more oxygen. Does make you pee a lot more though, which, 7L of water in, means getting up at night.

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Climbing Kilimanjaro

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Climbing Kilimanjaro

Welcome :)

I've been wanting to write about my experience for some time now (hard to think it's already been 5 months!) To share it of course, but also for myself. I realised that every time I told the story, I relived it fully. So I thought writing it down must be on a whole other level of re-immersion. And… reading multiple blogs and recounts of other people’s treks helped a lot for the preparation and anticipation. So if my advice/story can be of any help, then why not?

 

My next post will also be on Kili, but will be more advice based...don't want to bore you :p I hope you enjoy reading this first post. The pictures are all iPhone, the DSLR ones being in my gallery

 

Below, you’ll find a more or less detailed account of my climb (I’ve tried to include as much as I could…this definitely doesn’t do the actual version justice of course, but nothing ever will). 

 

 

 

 Robert, Gerard, Eric and Micheal&nbsp;

Robert, Gerard, Eric and Micheal 

 

Meet Our Guides

We went with Kandoo - which I would recommend any day any time. Guides were very pro, lovely, funny and considerate. Food was amazing, which is a must for this type of adventure. They rank first with the KPAP (Kilimanjaro porters association) and that was important as we chose our operator.

Thank you Robert, Gerard, Erick and Micheal for being the best guides we could have hoped for. And of course, what would be Kili without Nico, Graham, Sandeep (known as Sandy), Jenny, Caro, Becky, Rafma and Trish?! Mr. Delicious and his cooking obviously, and Phillibert, Joseph an Michael who accompanied Nico, Graham and I to the summit for sunrise. I never stopped laughing and giggling and was honoured to be dubbed “Baby” of the group by the guides (my age…). 

 

 Ashante Sana Kilimanjaro

Ashante Sana Kilimanjaro

 View from the terrace &lt;3

View from the terrace <3

WHY KILIMANJARO?

Well.

 Park View Inn - View from the terrace. Not bad eh?

Park View Inn - View from the terrace. Not bad eh?

As you’ve probably grasped considering my website, I have a thing for Africa. After travelling to Cape Town a year ago, to visit some cousins, I learnt climbing Kili was very possible, and did not require any ice experience. It is, after all, only a trek. So with my best friend Nico, we decided to go for it. Elbrus or Mt Blanc are closer, but there was just one problem - they aren’t in Africa. Plus, both of us are keen photographers (see Nico’s website here: nicolasvecchioli.com), and so it was a good excuse to visit the country afterwards. 

ARRIVING IN MOSHI

We were so excited. We'd chosen to get an extra day after we landed to avoid starting to hike immediately upon our arrival (which I would certainly advise on doing). So on Saturday, we walked around Moshi, the town at the foot of Kili, and started learning some Swahili.

 

We each bought "good luck bracelets" -which we both still  wear- and spent our days on the hotel's roof terrace, looking up at the mountain. It seemed unreal to think we were about to spend the next few days on its flanks, clambering up towards Uhuru ("Freedom") Peak . It just stood there, completely unaware of our existence. We met our team and guides that afternoon.. And what a team! I am forever grateful to have met such amazing people. We were going to spend the next 7 days sharing (almost) everything. 

 Moshi. Proudly sponsored by Coca (Thanks Nico for the pic)

Moshi. Proudly sponsored by Coca (Thanks Nico for the pic)

 Moshi Mosque in the distance . Spoiler : lovely wake up call in the middle of the night&nbsp;

Moshi Mosque in the distance . Spoiler : lovely wake up call in the middle of the night 

 Fresh faced and clean

Fresh faced and clean

 Learning Swahili

Learning Swahili

FROM MACHAME TO BARAFU

We trekked through a jungle-like habitat at the foot of the mountain, before gradually climbing towards a more lunar landscape as we approached the summit.

Day 1- Moshi - Machame Gate in African minibus. Machame Gate - Machame Camp (3100m)

One thing we learned / reconnected with, was TIA -This is Africa. In other words, “departure at 9am” could mean 9am or 1pm. We left Moshi at 11:30pm, after a very interesting bag weighing session. Robert, the lead guide, simply picked them up and estimated them - “13.5kg. 11kg. 12.5kg…”. Quite impressive. The bus ride was also very TIA. Aka there were 40 of us, some which we picked up gradually along the way, including ports, cook, guides and hikers, in a 15 seat minivan.  

 TIA

TIA

I managed to get ripped off - I needed a sunhat- and we stopped in a place some of us could complete our gear. I finally agreed to buy a much too expensive hat (apparently there would be no other way to get one). As we drove off, and stopped to pick up another guy, 3 street vendors rushed to the windows....with arms full of sunhats. For 5$. I was furious.

Further small en-route delays meant we started our ascent after lunch. By that time, we were super excited, and just wanted to start hiking. Finally, at 2pm we hadd the green light to get going.

BUT Pole Pole. The most important words on Kilimanjaro. It means "go slow", setting the pace for the trek. Going any faster means failing to summit in most cases.

Although we had an amazing sunset amidst the trees, we arrived well after nightfall, which meant things started to get quite cooler after sundown. Hot chocolate had never been so welcome.

 

 Me and my 40$-i-got-ripped-off-hat...

Me and my 40$-i-got-ripped-off-hat...

 Machame Gate selfie - typical gate selfie with a Sandy special

Machame Gate selfie - typical gate selfie with a Sandy special

 Pole Pole&nbsp;

Pole Pole 

 Graham and the typical sign-selfie

Graham and the typical sign-selfie

Day 2- Machame Camp (3100m) - Shira Camp (3900m)

 Group pic ft Erick's finger

Group pic ft Erick's finger

 Mt Meru in the distance

Mt Meru in the distance

 Our beautifully discreet orange tents &lt;3

Our beautifully discreet orange tents <3

 

The next few days were all very intense, each in their own way. Getting to Shira Camp was tiring, we gained a little less than 1000m under the blazing sun and breathing in huge quantities of dust.

And yet we laughed so much, especially as we managed to get some Swahili slang out of the guides (e.g - the famous Hakuna Matata’s cousin: “Hakuna Matiti”). We reached Shira just after 12:30, which meant food upon arrival. Lunch -like all our other meals- was delicious. The afternoon was dedicated to napping... and selfies in our bright  orange tent. We explored camp as well: it was absolutely beautiful. The clouds were continuously moving around the mountain edge, adding a slight mystical perspective to the camp’s views. 

 

 

Below- Cool kids and smelly feet.....

Day 3- From Shira to the Lava Towers for Lunch ( 4600m), descent to Baranco Camp (3950m)

I remember Day 3 as quite tiring, considering we walked 8hrs at high altitude. Lunch at 4600m was windswept - we got attacked by the tent. BUT we were surrounded by literal lava towers, which was quite cool. And half the group seemed to be napping. The hike down to camp was loooong. It also involved a lot of singing and serenading. And more selfies. ALSO, I discovered Micheal's favourite song was "Papoutai", (by Belgian artist Stromae ....words are in FRENCH). 

 Strike a pose

Strike a pose

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 Upon arrival at a camp, the general “rule” is to go straight to the “Sign-in Hut” and fill in your details. There was no queue for a change, which meant less selfies and more rest. That night, Nico, Sandy and I stayed a little later after diner, and taught Robert how to play the Chimney Sweep card game. We renamed it Baranco though -much sexier. Some very welcomed quality time with the guides.

To the right- Robert vs Nico. Highly tense moment of the game. A proper mountain experience. 

After playing....a little bit of night photography. My first....and I loved it. We had a full moon that evening, and although it was freezing, we braved the night to sit our cameras on Nico's tripod and shoot 25'' pics. We probably woke up the entire campsite with our laughing, but the fresh air and the altitude made us giddy. Oops. 

 

Day 4- Up the Baranaco Wall to Karanga Camp (4000m)

The fourth day was dedicated to climbing up the Baranco Wall. Such a cool way up, although harder for those with vertigo.

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Karanga camp was astounding in beauty. By far my favourite one. We properly felt above the clouds…the camp was kind of sloped and inclined towards the cloud cover… which was pink when I emerged from my nap, as the sun was starting to set. Put another way: we slept more vertically than horizontally. I had a little nose bleed incident which lasted 30mins or so. Weakened me a lot, and I can't say I didn't panic a bit (typical). I had no idea if it was the altitude or just the shock due to putting some warm water on my face and the air temperature. Still, another little game of Baranco post-diner, before an earlier bedtime - this was our last proper night’s sleep for the next 48 hours. 

 Queuing in Karanga

Queuing in Karanga

Day 5- From Karanga to Base Camp, the Barafu Huts (4600m)

As we set off the next morning for our trek to Base Camp, Nico and I were discussing our overall rating of the toughness of the trek. Before reaching Barafu Camp, we were (I can’t believe how naive we were) saying that it was tiring yes, but not as challenging as we had expected. In fact -and I’m quoting - “we didn’t have any AMS, we slept perfectly well and ate like lions”. Our only worries had been waking up every night and having an internal debate as to whether to brave the freezing night to pee or not (obviously our “want-to- stay-in-the-snug-sleeping-bag-and-not-have-to-get-dressed-and-leave the-tent” argument lost every time). So, at that moment we weren’t exactly disappointed, but we felt it was much easier than expected. That was halfway up to Base Camp. 

 Posing for Base Camp

Posing for Base Camp

 Pre-summiting meditation

Pre-summiting meditation

And then as we approached Camp, and so, gaining altitude, it started to become colder as we were engulfed in a huge cloud. We were hungry, and most of the group started to get violent headaches, even more so than previous times. I was worried because of the previous evening’s nosebleed, hoping it was insignificant. We just wanted to get into our tents asap and sleep as much as we could before ‘Summit Night”. Our guides told us to get some rest after lunch, and before diner, which we tried to do, considering the night ahead of us. It was more like a very light nap. I fell asleep quite quickly, but woke every half hour or so. It was peculiar. My body felt awkward and I was a lot more conscious of each movement than on “normal” ground. I could feel my body burning anything I fed it, or anything I drank. It was rest without rest. So it was definitely a weird feeling. At least I had no headaches or nausea. 

SUMMITING

 3 head layers, 8 body layers, 2 pairs of gloves, 2 pairs of socks and 2 trousers and still almost froze to death

3 head layers, 8 body layers, 2 pairs of gloves, 2 pairs of socks and 2 trousers and still almost froze to death

And then, it was time for the final ascent from base camp (at 4600m) to the top of Kibo Crater at 5895m. Again, after diner, we had 2hours to rest before our guides shook us up at 10pm. Ascent at 11pm. Outside temperature: -15ºC, with wind, chuck anther 5º off and that's what are exhausted bodies walked through. 

I was so tired, I remember just counting down the hours until sunrise because the cold was burning my fingers, my toes and my legs. Every time someone in our group stopped to eat or pee, the battle to stay awake started. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep, and for the cold-induced pain to stop. I didn't have altitude issues, so my breathing was fine, but that was it. My feet, fingers and legs were burning from the cold…despite wearing an extra pair of socks Sandy had given me (can never thank you enough for that, mate). My water had frozen less than 2 hours after we'd left camp, and taking my gloves off to eat was not an option. So metre by metre we climbed. It was steep and rocky, so we were on our all fours quite often, and the group gradually detached as we all had different progression speeds. I remember asking myself a few hundred times why on earth I'd decided to go and climb a mountain. I could have been in my bed in London, warm and snug, instead of shivering and suffering with 60% fewer oxygen in the air. 

And finally, finally, Nico, Graham and I arrived at Stella Point - the base of Kibo Crater- at around 5am. It was still dark, but we were just 45mins away from the top of Africa. I had been fine during the entire ascent but I suddenly found myself feeling very faint as the sun rose, and being me, I panicked. The air was incredibly thin, each breath in felt empty, and all I needed was sugar. Obviously, I thought I was dying and that my brain was shutting down.

So after Graham and Nico had sat me down and stuffed my mouth with dates, sweets and energy bars, we slowly made our way towards Uhuru Peak. And honestly, I have never, ever, ever seen something as magnificent and as gorgeous as the sun rising over the glaciers and eternal snows of Mount Kilimanjaro. The sea of clouds was pink, and the light over the ice-fields was incredible. We were all completely exhausted and so HAPPY (no other word for it) to have made it, after such an arduous and strenuous ascent. Things were peaceful at the top… we were too dazed and in awe to be able to do anything other than grin stupidly at each other. It was perfect. We summited on September 16th 2016, at 6:16 am (well around then, but it felt cooler to put it that way). 

 Giddy with fatigue and happiness. and swollen because of the altitude

Giddy with fatigue and happiness. and swollen because of the altitude

 Stella Point on the way down (it was dark on the way up)

Stella Point on the way down (it was dark on the way up)

GETTING DOWN

 Post Uhuru. We look fresh....

Post Uhuru. We look fresh....

Day 6- From Uhuru (5895m) to Mweka Camp (3100m) and Day 7 - to Mweka Gate. 

The way back down to Base Camp was super fun. It took us less than two hours to run down (literally) what we had painstakingly crawled up in 7/8hours. To get to Camp, we trudged through massive dried up lava plumes (felt a bit like skiing). 

The trek down the mountain on the other hand, was less fun. In 36 hours, we had hiked for 20 and slept for about 5. The rest was meals, packing or unpacking, or trying to rest unsuccessfully. As soon was we'd summited, and arrived back to Base Camp, our bodies started shutting down. And yet we still had to push them to Mweka Camp at 3100m, which we reached for diner. Again, the next day, another hike down - our very last one- to reach civilisation. My nose was bleeding liberally at that point due to fatigue. And Nico and I couldn't walk properly for three/four days after we'd started our Safari because of the descent. It was so worth it though. Now that i’ve forgotten the pain, I would go through it all over again just to relive those unique moments. 

 
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We had a beautiful ceremony at Mweka Camp, “the tipping ceremony”. It is quite impressive, as the porters open and count the money in front of you, whooping and singing. Mr Delicious had baked us a cake (still find it extraordinary considering we were on a mountain) and we were all dancing and laughing. It is tradition to give a speech as the envelopes are handed to the porters, and I was voted (without my consent haha) to deliver it. Robert’s excuse - “Aleesi you are the baby of the group. You can do it”. I entirely improvised - I needed the words to come straight from my heart- and can only hope my words did the porters and guides justice, and accurately reflected our experience. 

 
 

And then all too soon it was finished. Back through the rain forest to Mweka Gate. The pictures speak for themselves....

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And then came the time to shower. After 7 days of sweat, dust, grime, more dust, and even more dust. Of course, everyone showered at the same time, except for me, and I had no hot water left. Still felt good though, maybe not as amazing as everyone said it did...

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MEMORIES

Kilimanjaro remains the toughest thing I have ever done, mentally and physically. It was beautiful, exhausting and cold. And dusty. And my most treasured memory.

The toughness of the climb isn't really relative to how strong, how fit and how much training you've done. The more cardio you do, the stronger your lungs and heart will be and the easier it'll be to breath up there. It's more the exhaustion of summit night, and the cold. Add to that AMS -Acute Mountain Sickness- which thank goodness I didn't get, and honestly it's intense. But the experience is utterly personal. I can only give advice based on what I lived and my understanding of others’. I consider myself to be quite a physically fit person, in the sense that I do a lot of long distance swimming, dancing and hiking. Add in a few workouts, and the blessing of a very slow beating heart, and my overall fitness levels were way more than what was required for Kili. Still had a hard time. 

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And yet...it's ALSO the most beautiful experience i've ever had. Living above the clouds, laughing all day and night with Nico -the best hiking mate I could ever ask for- Sandy serenading us with Justin Bieber, or a bunch of hikers we met telling us our singing was “off” when we collectively joined in on Eurythmic’s “Sweet Dreams”…the list goes on and on. I remember our nervous laughs every breakfast and diner when Robert came to take our health stats, aka heart rate and oxygen levels. The one thing we were scared of the most - not having stats above 80% for oxygen or a super fast heart rate. It was always a mini competition between Nico and I to see who had the highest oxygen - usually around 91%- even at 4600m. (I won, obviously ^^). There was also that one guide who, for some reason, managed to always be in the sign-in queue in front of us at the same time. He was clearly from a group of at least 15 people, and SIGNED IN ALL OF THEM. So it took forever seeing as he needed to put in each of their details he copied out from a piece of paper. I think some of us won’t be eating soup for a while, or porridge for that matter. But man the food was good, even if simple. I welcomed warm food with a huge appetite, and was beyond grateful for it. 

 photobomb

photobomb

Kili means a lot of things to me. I learned a lot about myself, and the long trek is a little like meditating. Well for me anyways. When you’re not talking to anyone, you’re just breathing in and out, lost in your thoughts, and in the landscape. It is a kind of spiritual experience, in the sense that for me, it helped put things in perspective. I was confronted not only by the mountain, but by parts of myself. On a lighter note, I think baby wipes and hand sanitiser will forever remain the best allies we had during the week...the dust was absolutely crazy. It became engrained in our skin. It was quite amazing to see how quickly our supposedly civilised education disappeared in the name of simplicity and personal comfort.

Finally, the key to my successful ascent obviously lays with Sandy -who lent me an extra pair of liner socks - which was under my own pair for Summit Night. My feet would have probably frozen to death (well maybe not, but I honestly don’t know how much more cold they could have sustained).

 

 Number 1 team

Number 1 team

 Many thanks to Caro for this picture. Absolutely beautiful

Many thanks to Caro for this picture. Absolutely beautiful

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