When I first got to Antananarivo I would stare out the window during the commute to work, and started taking pictures with my iPhone through the window of the shuttle.
The water in the rice paddies has dried up significantly (but not all), and much of the effort has shifted to digging up the mud, making bricks which are allowed to dry in the sun, and then baked in a self-constructed kiln in the fields. I now bike or run through the fields 3-4 days a week, and the smoke from the kilns has made the ride a bit more difficult, though the skies become an odd shade of pink at sunset.
Along one of the main roads in town is a large levee, or “digue” (dike) with a path along the top. Often when it is sunny, people will dry their clothes on the grass on the side of the digue.
Mostly young men, but occasionally families, will transport goods through the city using hand carts. Often they appear overloaded. Antananarivo is somewhat hilly, and the uphill slogs often look pretty brutal. Typically there will be someone up front (usually barefoot) pulling with everything they’ve got, and they will enlist the help of 2 or 3 colleagues whose heads and/or shoulders will be fully engaged at the back of the cart.
June and July are winter in the southern hemisphere, but temperatures in the 60s don’t keep people out of the water when there is work to be done. Typically that work involves a few men with buckets bailing water from one field into the next, so that they can start producing bricks.
It’s tough to drive on most roads because the sidewalks, to the extent that they exist, are often home to roadside businesses. This forces pedestrians into the streets, and the single line of cars moving in each direction means I am always cringing because it looks like the right mirror is constantly inches from hitting someone in the face or head.
An official taxi stand.
And every evening the sunsets are spectacular. I am rarely able to get a decent shot from the hill we pass over every day, but here is one from lower down.
Less than a mile from our home is a lake that functions as a water catchment area during the rainy season, but also offers a running trail, a place for young lovers to escape, a livelihood for a small informal community, and maybe a bit of photography.
We took a walk there late one recent afternoon, to try and catch the best light as the sun dropped behind the “Orange” (phone company) building, which doubles as a landmark when we get lost. Along the north side of the lake is a small informal community, living in improvised housing, with chickens, ducks, cows, and garden plots that allow them to keep their families fed along this lake in the middle of a sprawling, crowded city.
We are finding that in Madagascar, everyone smiles and is friendly – if not immediately, at the latest after you greet them in the smattering of Malagasy words we have picked up. They will say “bonjour” but if you respond with “manahoana” you’ll get a huge smile in return. Of course, that makes photography a bit awkward – it’s no good sticking a giant lens in someone’s face after you’ve asked them how they are.
Occasionally, you’ll get people who ask you to take their photos, like these three boys.
Unfortunately, this can be followed by demands for money – which we firmly refused and continued on our way.
As the sun set, we worked our way up into the surrounding neighborhood, a different way than we had come. Narrow lanes winding back and forth, stairways leading to gaps between buildings, unpaved roads with the occasional car crawling between the masses of people making their way home with the day’s groceries. Gradually it dawned on us that we were not really sure where we were, and we asked a trio of older, well-dressed men to point us toward our neighborhood. “In that direction,” one of them pointed out. “but keep your cameras under your jacket.”
Armed only with our smiles and our “manahaonas,” we continued working our way homeward as dusk set in, occasionally pausing to take a photo that caught our “artistic” eye, trying our best to ignore the quizzical looks from the townspeople as they wondered why on earth the vazaha (foreigners) were taking pictures of a shuttered window, or a stray dog next to an empty pizza box.
As the title suggests, this is a continuation of my previous post, wherein I describe Saha Forest Camp and its surroundings…in case an orientation is needed!
We’re not serious hikers. But our local guide had done a good job so far guiding us through the rain forest, and we had nothing planned, so we decided to opt for the longest hike on offer. It would only be about 11km long, but would wind up and down the hills through the jungle, along slick clay paths through an on-and-off drizzle, eventually through grassy hills to his village, where we would visit his home, and then finally make our way through the rice paddies back to the camp, over a total of about 7 hours.
Our hike through the forest was pretty strenuous. We stopped a few times while he went to look for lemur groups known to frequent certain areas, but no luck. As we continued to climb higher and higher, we eventually came to a spot where we appeared to be crossing an earthen bridge across a deep trench, maybe 5 meters deep and 2.5 meters wide. I thought at first it was a dry creekbed, but our “bridge” would have blocked it. Our guide explained that these were defensive trenches dug by the Merina Kingdom in their war against the coastal peoples. [Few people know that the Merina Kingdom was a functioning, relatively advanced state prior to being “colonized” (defeated and occupied!) at the beginning of the 20th Century. The previous link is worth checking out to learn more.] He further explained that these defensive trenches had been dug without shovels – they had used sharp sticks to loosen the soil, which was carried away by others, and they felled trees to create a way across, and after retreating, they would push the logs into the trench.
We continued up the hill until we ended up in a small clearing. A storm had knocked a tree down across the clearing and he appeared pretty concerned. I noticed something odd in a tree in the middle of a clearing and asked – then realized it was some sort of bovine skull. “A zebu skull,” he explained.
He pointed out a couple of leafy twigs – a small brush next to a tree and told us the Malagasy name for this bush meant “light.” And the tree it was next to meant “sacred.” That’s when I noticed the 3-foot tall, flat, arrow-shaped stone standing upright directly in front of the tree.
“The people who have not converted to Christianity [most of Madagascar is Christian], they come up here and they slaughter a zebu and share it among them. This is a sacred spot, and they believe the ceremony will bring them good fortune.” I noticed a small depression in front of the stone, and saw that it was filled with coins. Offerings.
I wondered what we would have thought, had we come upon this spot on our own.
Since then, I have seen another spot like this elsewhere – protected by a small fence after it was discovered on a mine site. Apparently there are many such sacred spots in Madagascar!
After this we continued downhill, and after some time, the trees abruptly ended and we found ourselves in grassy, rolling hills. And we continued to walk.
Along the way, we talked a lot with our guide. I asked him what he had done prior to 2008, when the Camp opened. He explained that he had been a farmer, and had grown rice, and cassava, and manioc. A few cows and chickens. I asked him if the locals were able to grow enough rice and/or vegetables to sell them, and he explained that for four or five of the wealthiest families, this was possible. But for most of the locals, there was not enough land even to be self-sufficient. Land was divided equally among children, and those who had come from larger families ended up with smaller parcels, and they thus couldn’t get through the year on the rice they grew.
The people of Madagascar have traditionally used slash-and-burn cultivation – clearing small patches of forest and burning the brush, thus fertilizing the soil, and moving on after a few years to a new patch of forest. Called tavy, the process has been outlawed as no longer sustainable with a population of 24 million. However, the prohibition is difficult to enforce in remote areas. But the arrival of Saha Forest Camp had put a definitive limit on the expansion of farmland – the community now had an interest in preserving the primary forest for tourism, thus maintaining a habitat for the wildlife.
So I asked if the people who didn’t directly benefit from the camp resented the fact that they were no longer able to get what they needed from the forest – whether it was wood (over 80% of Malagasy energy is supplied from burning wood or charcoal), farmland, or even bush meat. He explained that the Camp brought money to the community – and was used to build schools, roads…all of which required workers. People who didn’t work on roads could make money planting and harvesting other peoples’ rice paddies. Women plant rice for 2500 ariary per day, and men plow the fields for 3000 ariary per day (at today’s exchange rate, one U.S. dollar is worth 3,257 ariary).
Taking into account inflation and other factors, on an individual level people feel like things have gotten tougher. But they make the sacrifice willingly because they know their children will have better education, better infrastructure, and better opportunities.
We passed some boys tending their zebu cattle, came over the crest of a hill and descended into rice paddies for the third or fourth time, slipping in the mud all the way down. Three women were doing their laundry in one of the narrow channels of water that course through the paddies. We climbed out of the valley and walked up the muddy earth road that led into a neat little village with muddy roads, filled with barefoot children, geese, chickens and probably one dog for every house. Sleepy dogs.
Our guide stopped at one of the houses and announced, “This is my home.” Right then, a woman and teenage girl walked up, dressed in their Sunday best, and barefoot. “My wife and daughter,” he explained. They had just come from church, in a village 3 miles away. He invited us into his home.
None of the homes have glass, so there are no windows, just wooden shutters. Malagasy homes are all rectangular, unlike the rest of Africa, where homes are often round. The homes in the village were all oriented in the same direction, which our guide explained, was to take advantage of the direction of the sun and the prevailing wind, which helped cool their homes. There is also a cosmological component to Malagasy architecture.
We climbed the wooden stairs to the second floor. The interior was sparse, and smelled of burnt wood from the many fires that had been built indoors during the cooler season. The sitting room was furnished with “poufs” and the floor lined with long mats. He explained that his wife had made them from rice stalks – each meter-wide mat, the length of the room, had taken a day to weave. He explained that he had two other children, but swelled with pride as he told us they were both studying at the university in Antananarivo. The money he made as a guide paid their tuition.
He explained that his house had been constructed with 30,000 bricks, made from the mud of the surrounding fields. The walls were filled in with a mixture of rice hulls, cattle dung and earth. That he and his wife had built this house together themselves. I asked if everyone built their own house and he answered yes. He then asked how our houses are constructed in the U.S. – the materials, but also whether I had built my own home. He found it curious when I explained that the average American has no idea how to build a house, or make bricks. He asked where we got our bricks and I explained that I wasn’t really sure where they came from – maybe factories – but people specialized in the building of houses took care of that and we just bought the finished product. I think he found this very strange.
As we walked through the rest of the village and snapped a few photos, the girl above started clowning for the camera. We stopped at one house where there was an odd bulge in the ground, and he paused there to draw a diagram in the mud using a stick. He described the exact dimensions of the hole that had been dug underneath, roughly in the shape of a spinning top, lined with fern and then – was it wood? – in the very bottom. I realized he was describing a septic tank of sorts – the fern somehow pulls the liquid out of the waste and siphons it to the bottom, where it is absorbed, leaving behind the solid waste. I didn’t want to ask what happens to that. But noting that nearly 90% of Malagasies lack access to a toilet, I was impressed.
One of the many characteristics Malagasies share with the Kalimantan people in Borneo, thousands of miles away and long-suspected to be the origin of many of Madagascar’s first settlers, is ancestor worship – i.e. recent ancestors are consulted for advice on important life decisions, and their avoidances often revered as fady, or taboos. So as we passed this house, our guide pointed out, “This is the traditional blue balcony” (nearly all of the balconies in his village were this shade of blue). Because I always assume there is a practical reason for things, I asked him why balconies are traditionally blue. He explained, “I don’t know why. The ancestors didn’t know why either, but they always painted their balconies blue.”
OK, that works for me.
Before we leave the village for good, here’s an aerial view. Note how all of the front doors are roughly oriented west, and the long wall of the house roughly north-south.
So the rest of our hike was pretty uneventful. The rain turned into a steady drizzle and we took the most direct route, which was over the red clay roads and through the rice paddies.
We ran into some shy boys curiously watching the two silly foreigners slipping and sliding on the muddy barriers separating the rice paddies, and Anne gave them a packet of candies. Another, older, boy came along and took it from them, and we were bummed about that. But then a few minutes later we saw them huddled together as the older boy distributed the candies between the three of them, one at a time.
We returned back to our rooms sore, muddy and exhausted. Time enough for a nap under the down comforter, until the delicious dinner that would be served in a few hours. Until then, here’s another video from some of the things we saw during our time in and around the Camp.
To see all the photos from Saha Forest Camp, click here.
A couple of hours north of Antananarivo, at the end of a rutted, slick red clay road that meanders for about 10 kilometers eastward from the town of Anjozorobe, where the winding rice paddies finally end in a jumble of primary forest, Saha Forest Camp is perched on a hillside. We arrived at a clearing next to a village made of small, rectangular huts made of mud baked onto sapling frames.
A woman with four children passed us – spaced about two years apart, everyone carrying something, all of them barefoot – and headed into the village. We parked our rented SUV next to another one which had arrived earlier as two men arrived to take possession of our bags and lead us on foot down a 3-400 meter path, across a steel bridge, and up the stairs to the lodge.
Saha Forest Camp is an eco-lodge in the truest sense of the word. As I understand it, the camp was set up by the NGO Fanamby in collaboration with the local, very much rural, community. With 10 “luxury tents” and a common area built on land leased from the community, Fanamby seeks to promote tourism with a minimal footprint, in a way that benefits the local community and also protects the environment. We had hot water and electricity most of the day, but no internet, TV or heat, and the delicious meals were prepared and served by trained local villagers using ingredients sourced from local providers.
Having arrived late on a Friday afternoon, we didn’t want to go on a full “night walk” with tour guide along one of the prepared trails through the rain forest behind the lodge – but we did want to explore a bit. So we grabbed our flashlights and headed out on our own. And we found about a dozen tiny chameleons along the trail leading to our car – all perched at the end of branches or leaves and settled down for the night. So we woke a few of them up.
Getting decent “macro” photos at night can be challenging. The majority ended up blown out or blurry or the wrong part of the picture was in focus. with animals, it’s always good to get the eyes in focus, if anything. So a lot of deleted photos of chameleons from that first night.
Staying on the subject of night photography, I’ll skip ahead to the next night, when we had a guide, and found out just how many things we probably missed completely. We did find more chameleons, but this time more species (Madagascar has about 150 of the world’s 200-odd species) and bigger ones.
None of them were all to happy about being woken up.
Once our eyes became a little better trained, we got better at spotting things. Anne spotted a tiny frog, less than a centimeter long, sitting on a leaf. Sadly, the photo was blurry. But also this stick bug. At night!
I found this dragonfly, and got pretty excited when our guide said “Uroplatus”!
Uroplatus is a gecko that’s virtually impossible to spot during the day. Cleverly camouflaged to look like tree bark, with loose skin that covers the gap between their body and the surface they are on, and a tail shaped and colored like a dead leaf, they blend in perfectly when they sit unmoving on a tree. Our guide spotted the first one, perched precariously on the end of a branch, and completely ignoring us while we shone our lights on it to try and capture a passable photograph.
I don’t know if they lose their tails like most lizards, but this one had an odd little pointy tail. And about ten minutes later, walking along the rain forest trail, I spotted a second one – this one higher up and the photo not as clear, but you can see its leaf-shaped tail rolled up as it hangs in midair.
Sadly, we didn’t see any of the shy, tiny nocturnal lemurs and could tell our guide was disappointed. But in fact we didn’t see any lemurs the whole trip, though they are quite common in this area. When returning to the lodge, however, we did spot a pair of bright green “lights” across the rice paddy. When we decided to go in for a closer look, we realized they were eyes. We’re convinced it was a fossa – pretty common in the area – Madagascar’s odd, dog/cat-like predator. We’re still hoping to see one more clearly to confirm.
Our guide would take us on a 7-hour adventure the following day, hiking up and down the hilly rain forest, slipping in the mud and drizzle, and eventually emerging into the open where he would lead us to his village – and back again through the ridce paddies to the Camp. I’ll tell you about the stories he told and the people we met on that hike, in my next post. Until then, here’s an orchid – one of 20,000 orchid species, of which 1000 in Madagascar, 85% of which exist nowhere else.
So my parents gave me this old camera for Christmas – a large, worn leatherbound aluminum case with shiny nickel fittings, that concealed intricate, shiny brass knobs, dials and gauges, along with a set of pristine red bellows. As my mom put it, it was a bit “like a Chinese puzzle to open,” but I finally figured it out.
This was a No. 3A Folding Pocket Kodak, advertised as a camera that could be carried in a top coat pocket. If you had big pockets – the camera measures 1 7/8 x 4 3/4 x 9 1/2 inches when closed! The 3A Folding Pocket Kodak series was manufactured by Eastman Kodak from 1903 to 1915, in various models including B, B-2, B-3, B-4, B-5, C, and G.
The B-4 – this model – was manufactured from June 1908 to April 1909. Depending on the lens and shutter, original price ranged from $20.00 to $78.00 and took 3 1/4 x 5 1/2 inch images on No. 122 film.
I thought I’d take a look inside the film compartment. A bit more careful twisting and pulling of random knobs, pushing of protrusions and finally the back popped off. And there was the red backing paper of a nearly-completed roll of 122 film!
I knew that, with the move from India, and a planned move to Virginia and eventually to Madagascar, it would be months before I would have access to the equipment and supplies I needed to develop “found film.” So I decided to package it up and send it off to the experts at Film Rescue International. A bit more expensive, but also a notably higher chance of ending up with actual images (yes it’s true, it doesn’t always work out when I do it myself!)
So a camera that’s at least 107 years old – what were the odds that the pictures would actually turn out? Fortunately, back in those days, people would use cameras for years and years – decades – unlike today’s disposable cameras. In fact, if you could get the film (they stopped making it in 1971) this camera would still be usable today.
So thanks to the work of the folks at Film Rescue International, here are the photos:
Really just the first two came out, but I’ll include the other two just in case. Bonus points to anyone who can identify the make and year of the car. My money is on the 1960 Chevrolet Impala.
Normally when we go on a trip somewhere, we end up with 6-10 really good photos worth sharing, which give an overall impression of the experience. But I have been stalling on this post because the number of close-up lemur photos we got is pretty overwhelming. So I’m just going to post a bunch of them below and let you discover these odd and endearing animals yourself.
But first, by way of explanation – Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is east of the capital Antananarivo – about halfway to the coast – and a common destination for tourists visiting Madagascar. We’ve been there before, but like most people, we limited ourselves to the much more accessible Analamazaotra Special Reserve. This time, we decided to hire a driver and guide and “rough it” down the 90-minute stretch of rutted dirt road that took us to Mantadia National Park.
We hiked up and down steep jungle trails for nearly 4 hours, and yet barely made a dent in the park. To give an idea, the map above shows a satellite track of our hike. Well, I forgot to turn it off as we drove southward out of the park. The actual track we hiked is completely hidden under the top dark green circle.
But enough about all of that. We got amazingly close to the lemurs, which not only seemed completely unafraid of humans, but many of them have this comical habit of staring off into the distance like they are intently focused on something else. Enjoy.
This first guy is a diademed sifaka, and yes, he appears to be wearing a radio collar.
The lemurs above are pretty common, relatively speaking, among Madagascar’s 110 or so species – known as the brown lemur. They hopped from tree to tree, grunting, and collected near a high crook between two limbs where there was water. As they drank, water would occasionally drip down on us below.
The black and white Indri is the largest lemur species. The indri is known for its haunting call, which I recorded the last time we visited Madagascar – you can hear it here. Typically one of them will keep a lookout while the rest of the group – anywhere from 4 t0 8 – will feed on leaves. They are black and white, but appear to have a yellow stripe on their lower backs from sitting on branches. They will also hang from their hind legs. As you can see in the photo below, they will let you get quite close. Sadly, lemurs are occasionally taken as bush meat by people who lack access to other protein sources, and even prized as a delicacy by those who can afford to pay for it. This article explains more.
This group of sifakas was jumping from tree to tree – easily clearing 5 meters in a jump. The dominant female is in charge of the group in all lemur species, and she determines where they eat. In the photo below, the lower lemur jumped to this tree and first had to pay his respect to the dominant female above, by licking/cleaning her fur before he could go and eat.
Scientists are still discovering new species of lemurs – usually small nocturnal ones, but not always. They are up to about 110 species. Sadly, their habitats are very specific to each species, and all of them are quickly disappearing as deforestation is not only holding steady, but increasing. Protected areas have been established, but the government does not have sufficient resources to protect them. Some experts predict that in the next 15 to 25 years, all of Madagascar’s primary forests could be gone. This means up to 90% of lemurs will face extinction in the same time frame, because most have thus far been unable to live in captivity. We feel extremely fortunate to have been able to see them, and are hopeful that people will find a way to keep these little primates around.
We’ve had a few weeks to settle into the groove here in Antananarivo (pronounce “tananarive” but more frequently shortened to “tana”) and so we figured it was high time we got out and about with our cameras. There is so much going on, and so many fascinating street scenes to photograph here – but we haven’t really gotten a feel for whether people are OK with foreigners snapping their photos while they go about their daily lives, as they were in Chennai. So for this one we are playing it conservative.
Tana is a different kind of capital city – it is built on hills in the central Malagasy highlands, and these hills are interspersed by low land with a high water table, such that the locals have cleared much of the rich silt that has washed down from the hills to create a network of rice paddies, spearated and demarcated by low “digues” or dikes. On some days, my commute home takes me past a particular curve in the road where, when the clouds are right, the setting sun combines with the standing water to turn everything a brilliant sunset orange for just a few minutes. So late one afternoon, that’s where we headed.
Unfortunately we arrived a bit too early, and everything was still very much blue. People were hurrying home along the road, and they looked at us quizzically as we took pictures of the view they probably passed every day and considered completely ordinary and un-photograph-worthy.
Here we see where someone has marked out for himself an orderly little lettuce field, and one of the wider digues we walked down was lined by banana plants. I’m not sure how people control who gets to pick (and sell) the bananas that grow here.
So to kill some time, we walked through the nearby neighborhoods. Most people were busy with their afternoon/evening chores – carrying laundry, or filling big yellow 20-liter water jugs from the neighborhood water poing. But everyone was extremely friendly, greeting us with “bonjour” and breaking into a wide grin when we not only responded with “bonjour” but also added “manahaona” or “salama”, from the smattering of words we have learned in the Malagasy language mostly spoken by locals.
As the light began to turn more and more orange, we headed down this narrow lane, and as we passed a group of giggly teenage girls, the sound of singing grew louder and louder.
I realized that we were passing the open door of a Sunday afternoon church service. We had passed another church earlier, where two groups of 20-25 boy scouts (scouting is very popular here!) were singing in a circle outside the church, but it seemed intrusive to record the scene. But here I paused to record the singing. As I was recording I heard the group of girls call something out in unison, and as I turned the camera in their direction, they began giggling and ran to avoid being captured on video.
As the sky continued to turn more orange and we rushed to get back to our original spot, we passed this community water point where one of the young men who appeared to be administering the point took a moment to demonstrate his martial arts form to the (mostly) young women getting water. As we walked by, the attention turned to us and our silly Vibram Fivefingers (“toe shoes”), which, in the month we have been here, consistently draw the attention of the locals.
But finally we made it back just as the sun was putting on the best of its sunset performance.
We caught one of the rickety Renault cabs home, excited to look through the photos we had captured, and already planning our next (ad)venture!
Walking through the jungle in Madagascar in search of lemurs, it’s easy to overlook the little things…and trample them underfoot. Bugs, tiny plants, lizards. There are upwards of 100,000 species of insects in Madagascar. We didn’t see the long-necked giraffe weevil, but we saw lots of other interesting creepy crawlies. For instance, this little guy, perched on the door of our hotel room. Twice. I don’t know if it’s a moth or what…
Some other numbers to put it in perspective: 80 species of stick insects. 100 species of cockroaches. 235 species of mosquito. And the world’s smallest bee, at 2 mm in length.
4 following photos by Anne
The butterfly above is one of the few critters I was able to identify. It looks like a leaf with its wings closed, complete with the central vein, and when it opens its wings, they are bright white with black spots. It’s the clouded mother of pearl,Protogoniomorpha anacardii,which occurs all over Africa.
Our guide also showed us a number of termite nests, which are built on the ground, and ant nests, which are attached to trees and can be as large as two to three feet in diameter. And so I saw this one – I didn’t see a single ant – but I found the nest to be….grotesque
And then there were the spiders. Below is what I think is a type of “orb spider.”
And there were LOTS of spiders. Crossing a footbridge, it is not uncommon to see that spiders have somehow strung their webs across the span between trees on opposite banks. Some of them were pretty creepy looking spiders.
Besides insects and arachnids, madagascar has a variety of pill millipedes (Sphaerotherium). I learned about them as we were driving up the rutted dirt road to Mantadia National Park, the driver suddenly slammed on the brakes and indicated there was something in the road. I jumped out and there were a good two-dozen copper-green bugs that resembled two-inch giant roly-poly bugs. Only they are millipedes that can roll up into a ball.
After snapping a couple of photos I had to spend a couple of minutes clearing them from the road so that they wouldn’t be crushed by the passing vehicle. I wondered if the driver thought I was foolish, but when I got in, he said, “Thank you.”
There are some 260 species of reptiles in Madagascar, in just a few types – between 40 to 60 percent of the world’s chameleon species, a handful of tortoises, a bunch of geckos. About 90 percent of the reptiles in Madagascar occur nowhere else. One was the lined day gecko, phelsuma lineata lineata. In Andasibe’s nature reserve, there were these plants that looked like agaves, but grew as tall as small trees, and each one seemed to have its own lined day gecko.
And then there are the birds. Madagascar has about 280 species of birds, 100 of which are endemic. Not as high a percentage as some of the other animal types – but birds do get around, what with wings and all! I wanted to share a few of the bird photos Anne managed to grab. The first is a red fody or Madagascar fody (Foudia madagascariensis); some sort of sunbird, and the Madagascar kingfisher (Corythornis vintsioides). I remember the guide getting particularly excited when we saw a Madagascan green pigeon, saying that birders come for a week on end to try and spot this bird; as well as the nuthatch vanga. We saw both but didn’t get any good photos.
Finally, it’s not just the fauna that are so interesting in Madagascar – it’s also plants…and fungi!
Given that between 9,000 and 12,000 plant species occur only in Madagascar, we were keenly aware of the likelihood that we were seeing the plants all around us for the very first time. Which seemed weird, but then again plants generally look pretty much the same. As do mushrooms, right?
But in one of our hikes we ran into a particular fungus which caught our attention. It’s not endemic to Madagascar, but it’s weird.
At the bottom of a stairway carved into one of the hills was this odd, 10-inch-tall mushroom with a delicate white, veil-like lattice cap, topped with a brown knob that had the full attention of about a dozen flies. This is the phallus indusiatus, or “stinkhorn fungus.” They grow in tropical areas all over the world, but are interesting to see because they emerge from a small egg-shaped fungus in the ground, grow to the form in the photo, and then disappear back into the ground, all in the space of about 12 hours.
One of many interesting things about this fungus is that the brown tip gives off the odor of rotting flesh, which attracts flies, which in turn aid in dispersing the spores. The whole family apparently has this characteristic. But interestingly, one of the close cousins of this fungus, found in Hawaii, has been identified as causing a spontaneous orgasm in 6 of 16 women who sniffed the odd mushroom! We didn’t have the opportunity to test whether this is the case for this particular pungent cousin. And despite its odd appearance, it seems that these are regularly dried and eaten in some markets…not something I would have guessed.
If you’d like to see mor photos of Madagascar, including life forms both great and small, you can refer to this Flickr album.
So it was our first “real” weekend (i.e. the first during which we were not stumbling around in a jet-lagged haze) and we decided to head out of town. We decided to return to a destination we had visited on our vacation trip in 2012, and a place many visitors to the country go and see – the Andasibe – Mantadia National Park area, about 150km from Antananarivo. In short, it was a wonderful trip, with hundreds and hundreds of photos we’d like to share (and this in spite of having brought only my Fuji X100, which has no zoom – but Anne made up for me) and we don’t even know where to begin. So I thought I’d just start with the drive down there.
(next 3 photos by Anne)
Antananarivo (“Tana”) being in the central highlands, we headed east through rolling hills with beautiful panoramic views. The driver we had hired pulled over where we took these pictures and explained how the locals use materials found in nature to build their homes – i.e. thatch roofs and mud bricks – and pointed out that people build a cooking fire inside the home (upstairs, see the soot above the window in the bottom photo) to make use of the heat that’s generated.
So as we were driving along the sun was setting and we passed over this river and I had the driver turn around because the whole thing was lit up orange – by the time he got back the effect had just passed.
A bit farther down the road, I saw there was a pretty good valley view of the sunset and I asked the driver to quickly pull over. In my bare feet, I climbed on top of the SUV’s roof rack and snapped a couple of photos:
So this was actually a tiny roadside village – 6-8 small huts with some vegetables growing out back, and the villagers were amused to see a foreigner – a “vazaha” (which literally means “white person” but is used to mean outsiders, which have tended to be white…) standing on top of his car taking pictures.
With hand gestures I asked if I could enter the village to get a better shot.
As we drove away, the driver said, “They liked you – you are like from the country,” referring to my shoelessness.
We would arrive at the park after dark, and over the next few days I shot a few more pictures of homes located around the outskirts of the park. Few people have electricity, and drying clothing on the grass is common even in the capital, Antananarivo – but I was struck by how they had used found or repurposed materials to build their homes.
Some sobering statistics on Madagascar. Something like 80% of the living things that are on the island occur nowhere else in the world. This includes the 103 or so species of lemurs, its most famous creature – but also some 400 species of frogs, for example. 11,000 plant species – 165 of Madagascar’s 170 palm species occur nowhere else. Six of the world’s 8 baobab species. Time is running out to save many of these species. But then you have poverty – 92% of the people of Madagascar, known as the Malagasy, live on less than two dollars a day.
During the coup regime between 2009 and 2013, nearly all foreign aid was cut off – which at the time represented 70% of Madagascar’s income. We could clearly see conditions have improved from 2012, our last visit, and today. But to me the people, struggling to make it day-to-day, living along the fringes of these marginally protected National Parks containing such a treasure trove of biodiversity, are somehow symbolic of the challenge Madagascar faces. There needs to be a way to make saving Madagascar’s natural wonders and eliminating the poverty of its people, part of a single solution.
When moving to a new home, as we’ve done every 2-4 years for the last 25, we’ve always traveled with pets. When we were traveling with a 100-lb dog requiring (due to his size) a separate booking on a cargo flight, the object of the game was to get to our destination as soon as possible. But with only two cats, the calculus changes – and it becomes preferable to break up long itineraries and give everyone a break. Especially when that break happens in Paris!
After the long transatlantic flight, though, all you want to do is take a nap. Luckily we woke up after a few hours and managed to drag ourselves into the city – a half-hour train ride from the airport. Which left us about 6 hours to paint the town red!
We bought a “Paris Visite” metro pass, which allows you to use the train to/from the airport, and all of the city metros, until midnight. and then we basically bounced around tourist sites. We’ve been there a number of times, so there was no pressure to see any specific site(s).
We made our way up to the Sacre-Coeur and Montmartre, which were packed with tourists, and had a nice crepe and coffee.
We wandered the streets a little randomly and opted to stop by the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.
We ended up having a great meal at one of the countless restaurants just south of the Ile de la Cite and got back to the hotel shortly before midnight, well-refreshed and rested, and ready to complete the second leg of our journey and to start a new chapter. On to Madagascar!
When we were posted in Namibia, we took a trip to Madagascar. The thought was, “when will we ever have this opportunity again?” because plane tickets from the U.S. are wicked expensive. How ironic that a few short years later we should discover that we will be posted there for a two-year assignment (extendable to three!)
Given that a trillion photos were snapped in 2015, the odds of snapping an “original” photo at a tourist attraction or monument/memorial in Washington are ridiculously low, but it’s fun to try and see what you can accomplish.
The Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial is one of my favorite places to visit in Washington. Compared to the other old buildings and monuments in Washington that recall ancient (for the U.S.) history, the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial is a living monument. Besides memorializing a war that happened during many of our lifetimes, it is constantly changing, with the mementoes being left behind behind by these visitors making its recency much more palpable.
The Memorial was quite controversial around the time of its design and construction, with its black stone (from Bangalore, India!) and unconventional design. The Memorial includes two other pieces, the Three Servicemen and the Women’s Memorial, which are placed close enough to interact but not so close as to distract from the design of the black wall.
I went to photograph the Memorial early in the morning – actually well before dawn. The reflective black stone allows a visitor to see his or her reflection simultaneously with the engraved names (58,307 total), which is meant to symbolically bring together past and present. The two 246 foot, 9 inch walls point toward the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, and at night, the row of lights and the interplay of the lit monuments in the distance , along with the reflective nature of the walls, offer a lot of interesting photographic options.
So when I g0t there at 5 something, intending to set up at the apex of where the two walls meet, there was this guy all set up with his tripod up by the Washington Monument end. There was this giant pink cloud passing in the sky. But fortunately he packed up about 10 minutes after I arrived.
I thought it was a cool shot, but the next two ended up being my favorites.
It’s a stunning Memorial to a tragic loss of 58,307 lives. I tried to capture it photographically, probably like thousands before me – but ultimately, there’s nothing like going to see it in person.
I found this rangefinder at an estate sale in Virginia. It’s a heavy, solid camera and it came with a second lens, and despite never having heard of its manufacturer, I decided to add it to my collection. Being from a different era, its previous owner had engraved his social security number in the back of the camera. So we know this camera belonged to Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) Robert Williams, who passed away in November, 2008.
It turns out the Aires Camera Works was based in Tokyo, and it seems they put a lot of effort and research into the Aires 35 V, the last in their “35” series. It was put out on the market in 1958, but Leica’s M3, put out just a few years earlier, had taken the rangefinder world by storm, and other serious photographers were switching to some of the early SLRs. Aires would also attempt to enter the SLR market but wound up folding in 1960.
The camera was sold with interchangeable lenses as options. Mine was mounted with an f/1.5 45mm lens and also came with an f/3.5 100mm lens. Other options at the time were an f3.2/35mm, and an f1.9/45mm lens.
With this lens combination, it would have cost about $180 back in 1958, or just shy of $1500 in today’s dollars! So I was excited to take it out for a spin. I loaded it up with a roll of black and white film and we headed into Washington.
I found the camera a little tricky to operate. Usually changing lenses on modern cameras is pretty intuitive, but I had to consult the owner’s manual to get the larger lens to click into place. There’s also a built-in light meter that works backward from most I have seen: rather than setting the aperture and shutter speed so that the needle on the meter is within a certain range, and I couldn’t seem to make this one work. I ended up using settings that seemed right for the light conditions, and it was only afterward when I re-read the manual that I realized that the needle measures the light, and this is used to indicate possible aperture and shutter speed settings. It’s not really described very clearly.
The other oddity on the camera is the dial on the front. Leicas use a dial in this spot to set slow-shutter speeds. Instead, this dial is used to allow double exposures, single exposures, or allow the film to be rewound.
Despite my inability to use the light meter, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the low-light photos I took. The photo above was taken just a few minutes before sunset with trees blocking the little light that remained. It’s dark, but much better than I would have expected from a 1958 camera in low light. The photos below, taken inside the The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception illustrate this further. I wanted to see what it could do with the stained glass windows – not really expecting a decent photo, but just looking if I could accurately capture the detail in the windows. And for the interior shot of the basilica there was very little ambient light – this is where the f/1.5 lens gave a lot of flexibility.
Outside the basilica the sky was clear and the sun was bright – also great results.
We headed over to the National Arboretum, where I took a few pictures with the telephoto lens. I was reminded that unlike SLRs, you don’t see what the lens sees – so I realized that the viewfinder has an “inner” square that helps frame through the 10cm lens. Focusing was a bit tricky in the bright light, as the rangefinder ‘double’ image was pretty hard to detect, but I used the markings on the lens(es) to double-check that I was focusing properly. Maybe taking it apart and cleaning it will help the focusing.
Again, really pleased with the sharpness and clarity of the photos that came out of this camera – and the detail of the grass and trees reminded me why I like to shoot with film.
I have read in other reviews that the shutter in these cameras tends to stick. I had no issues, but obviously this is something you’ll want to check before buying one of these. In all, I think it was an outstanding camera for its time and the quality lenses that come with it allow the taking of clear, sharp photographs – 70 years after its manufacture!
I hope to run a roll of color film through it when I get some more time. Those photos, and the others already taken with this camera, can be viewed at this Flickr album.
The last couple of weeks, the National Capital Region has been all abuzz about the annual return of the cherry blossoms. I blogged about it the last time I was in the area for a few months, back in 2011, and so I thought it would be good to check it out again this year. Only this year, it would prove to be much more difficult.
I tried driving into town one afternoon and found the crush of pedestrians as dusck approached to be so overwhelming that I turned around and headed back home. So I decided instead to try an early morning foray into the capital. I arrived shortly after dawn, and started out snapping a few pictures on the National Mall before heading over to the Tidal Basin. I should have taken as a hint the number of photographers on the mall.
When I got over to the Tidal Basin well before 8 am, I was shocked at the number of people already there.
In all directions, people were pointing cameras. Posing in front of the water, photographing the trees above them – every imaginable angle and camera type. Honestly, I wasn’t completely sure what the fuss was about – being in this grove surrounded by other people was anything but magic. It turns out that, in addition to the cherry blossom “peak”, it was also spring break for many schools. Impossible to get a decent photo of anything involving cherry blossoms.
So a few days later I decided to try again. This time I arrived well before dawn. I snapped a few night shots at the Vietnam Memorial and headed once again to the Tidal Basin, arriving a quarter hour before “official” sunrise, and waited, shivering, on a bench by the water. It turns out three’s a charm!
When I first saw footage taken on DJI’s new consumer drone, my response was, “MUST HAVE.” I’m now on my second camera drone, the 3D Robotics Solo, and I’m still in search of the elusive magical footage – soaring over the Okavango Delta as a herd of Wildebeest run from some unseen predator, flying in closer to spot the pride of lions crouching in the nearby scrub, ready to pounce. And then you drop a lot of cash, and it ends up being the shaky footage from a model airplane flying over your back yard.
But I still hope.
With 3DR’s latest software upgrade, which now includes a Google Earth representation of all airports, surrounded by “no-fly” radii, and all national parks (also off limits) mapped, I realized if I want to fly the Solo, I’m going to have to hit the road. This is ultimately a good thing, of course – but I had no idea there were so many airports!
So we headed up to a cabin overlooking the Shenandoah Valley, where I was able to (legally) put the Solo through its paces, practice maneuvering it, try out some of the “smart shots” – in which the Solo flies a prescribed route, while keeping the subject in the center of the camera. I flew the drone in a pretty heavy snowstorm – which the manufacturer does not recommend; got grounded while flying over the Shenandoah river in a state park (no published prohibition but whatever) and had the drone careen out of control and crash under a railroad trestle. I am guessing that the metal from the rail line messed with the GPS and/or compass – but it was an opportunity to learn what to do when things go haywire.
In a few weeks, we’ll be off to Madagascar – where it seems each flight must be pre-approved by the Civil Aviation Administration. Always the bureaucracy, but I hope to be able to experience and share some unique views of a place most people only know as an animated children’s film. In the meantime, here’s a little something from Virginia.
Funny story about how I ended up with this one. When you bid on high-priced items on eBay, it can be useful to decide the most you intend to pay, and then submit that bid just before bidding closes. There is always a chance your internet connection is not working, or that you’re confronted with a prompt to log in – and then you lose the bid. So to make sure everything was working, I bought this rather inexpensive camera. And then I bought a 1997 Toyota Land Cruiser. It would appear that the Skylark is one of four “rebadged” cameras sold by Mansfield Industries, a Chicago-based company that redistributed cameras from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. This model, launched in 1961 and the only Skylark that was actually engraved with the Mansfield name, was identical to the Emitax Automatic and the Yamato Palmat Automatic, made by the Yamato Optical Company (Yamato Kōki Kōgyō).
This camera is a fixed-focus automatic-exposure viewfinder camera with a light-powered, coupled selenium meter, Mantar or 40mm lens. According to what little information I could track down, it’s an f4 lens, shutter speeds B, 1/10s to 1/200s. I express doubt because this is not marked anywhere on the camera. Instead, the lens has a lever that can be moved to positions B, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6; other than an A/B/C/Auto flash setting, this is the only adjustment possible on the camera. There is an ASA/DIN film guide inset on the camera’s lift-off back which indicates the appropriate position, but most of the film types listed are no longer available. I had a roll of 400 Kodak Portra, so I set the dial to the highest setting.
Having said all of this, I still don’t understand how the camera works. The camera is literally point and shoot. I assume the selenium meter somehow interacts with the shutter speed setting and light level to determine the appropriate aperture setting. There is a little green square at the top right of the viewfinder which, according to the manual, should only be visible when there is sufficient light, but it doesn’t seem to do anything. So I decided to just have faith in the camera’s designer and shot a roll of pictures in a variety of (all daytime) light conditions. And despite this appearing to be a relatively inexpensive, low-end camera, I was very pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Although there was a lack of sharpness on some of the photos, especially those taken in lower light – which supports the idea of a larger aperture in response to lower light. Maybe I could have compensated by lowering the shutter speed…
Another thing I found odd was that I could take two pictures right after another in the same light conditions, and get two differently-toned photos.
But all in all, a no-frills, easy-to-use camera that produced consistent and decent results. I did lose a few exposures, because it seemed like I was taking tens of photos and yet the counter was moving forward only a tiny amount – and I opened up the camera because I thought the film might not be moving at all (it was). And I’ll end with a photo of the Land Cruiser that will always be linked with the purchase of this unique little camera.
There’s not a lot of information on the ‘net about it, but the Minolta Minoltina-S, marketed upon its release in 1964 as the world’s smallest rangefinder with a built-in light meter is a solid little camera with a fast (f/1.8) 40mm lens. Mine came to me in a box of random vintage-camera-related junk I bought on eBay (see “Confessions of an eBay Junkie”), and it didn’t work right away but was easy to disassemble and fix. If I remember correctly, the shutter speed wasn’t engaging when I tried to change it.
For unknown reasons, the first couple of shots double-exposed – shame, because I think I lost a pretty good shot in the process – but this was the only time this happened in the two rolls I put through the camera. The black-and-white shots were incredibly sharp and detailed for a 50-year-old camera.
The color photos were generally a little grainy, maybe just a bit underexposed.
The advantage of the old cameras like this one that use a selenium meter is that you don’t need to track down impossible-to-find batteries – often finding ways to replace mercury batteries with odd voltages that haven’t been manufactured in years. But the disadvantage is that the selenium light meters wear out over time. The fact that they managed to link the aperture and light speed settings with the meter somehow, and translate the result to a needle/light meter on top of the camera way back in 1964 seems pretty incredible to me.
Often it is possible to compensate once you get to know your camera. Some of my cameras I just overexpose slightly and that’s fine, but I have found others to behave inconsistently. Apparently there are a lot of theories out there as well as factors that can affect the meter – exposure to light over time, long storage in the dark, corrosion, dropping – but as long as your camera is fully automatic (like this one) it is usually possible to compensate and/or use the “sunny 16” rule. The same goes for the rangefinder feature on this camera. Like many older rangefinders, it’s nearly impossible to see the second image through the viewfinder in order to focus accurately. But “going manual” (i.e. estimating distance and setting the focus dial accordingly) worked pretty well, although I didn’t really test the larger aperture settings and shorter distances.
This latest roll of found film is a 35mm roll of (I think) slide film. I say “I think” because I actually developed this some time ago and have been carrying the digital versions only. They were pretty dark and I had to use a homemade lightbox to photograph the negative, invert it and change it to monochrome using Photoshop.
The first picture really surprised me. Ostriches! Having lived in southern Africa, I thought I might have come across someone’s vacation photos from a safari trip abroad.
But as I worked my way through the remaining photos, I concluded that this is likely some sort of safari park in the United States. The biggest clue was this giraffe trying to break out of its enclosure.
Clearly way too many fences for this to be out in the wilds of Africa. From the cars, I’d guess that this roll of photos is from the mid-70s. Well, not just from the cars. If you’re old enough to have owned one of these bikes, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I think I had one circa 1974!
The owners of this roll of film they never bothered to develop were also into horseback riding. I’d guess the kid in the portrait should be in his early 50s now.
The final grouping of photos was of the kids diving into the pool. This may have been a part of the same trip. If all of the photos were taken in the same part of the country, I’d guess these people lived in the southwest. This suggests the safari park in San Diego as a possible location – but nowadays that park does not appear to offer “self-drive” tours. Not many do. It may have been different in the 70s. Nowadays you have to worry about lawsuits.
Nice midair capture!
I’d appreciate any ideas. I’ll include some of the remaining photos below. You can always click on them to enlarge them – but there’s not going to be much more resolution as these are all digital photographs of the negatives.
I love these camera-toting quadcopters. Partly because it’s just fun to fly stuff around (yes, I’m still about 12 at heart) but mostly because of the new opportunities they offer for photography and videography. After seeing the first few videos people had made with them, I was hooked. The problem is, the technology moves so quickly, they’ve come up with something new a week after you’ve dropped a grand on your latest toy. So I sold the DJI Phantom 2 and switched over to a 3D Robotics Solo.
On Friday I finally got around to doing the new registration that’s required by the FAA. I had to use the paper process instead of online, since I intend to use it internationally, but once you send it off, you can fly it for the next 90 days while you wait for the approval to come back. I was in business!
So we headed out of the city to an office park with a lot of open spaces in Melford, Maryland. We got there late in the afternoon and I was getting everything set up – the sun was low on the horizon and the yellow light was reflecting off the snow – and I suddenly realized I had left the SD card at home! Fortunately, there was a Target just 10 minutes away but by the time I got back, most of the best light was gone. So I flew a little and ended up crashing into a tree, losing two propellers!
This ended up being a good thing, as I ended up re-reading the operating instructions that night. The next morning, we were back again at sunrise and everything went off without a hitch. This is the video that resulted:
My initial impressions of the Solo are really positive. I have read reviews that suggest the latest version of the DJI Phantom is a better value for the money right now, but I ended up buying the Solo based on its likely upgradeability, and near-unanimous agreement that 3DR’s customer service is much better. Plus the folks at 3DR say that if your drone crashes or flies away and it’s not your fault (supposedly they can tell from your remote), they will replace the unit for free. And the camera and gimbal equipment attached to the drone!
My initial thoughts are that I made the right decision. The Solo feels much more solid and well-constructed, and their “Smart Shots” work wonderfully (supposedly DJI has something similar in their latest model) and can be customized on the fly while the drone keeps the camera on target. When the unit arrived, the camera controls didn’t work, but the controller told me to contact customer service, who promptly provided a solution that fixed the problem in less than 5 minutes.
Awhile back, I posted about the Petri 7S, one of two cameras my mother-in-law had passed along to me. This post is on the other camera, a Minolta SR-T-101. This Minolta is an SLR that first appeared on the market in 1966 and continued to be manufactured until 1975. From this website you can figure out more specifically when yours was made. Unfortunately, as I write this post, my camera is unavailable to examine in detail, so your guess is as good as mine!
These cameras appear to have either been pretty popular, as I often see them sitting on the shelf in old camera shops. I tend to over-rely on the light meters on cameras of this era, which is a mistake because they tend to wear out at unpredictable rates. So the pictures I took tend to be grainy and a bit underexposed.
And no, we’re not back in India. These are photos I developed and scanned before we left, and they have been sitting on my hard drive. The camera is half a century old, so what’s a few extra months for these photos?
This is my favorite photo in the bunch! A bicycle in front of a wall in India always makes for a good photo. On this particular day, we were walking around southern Chennai, up and down a hill near the city’s airport. In fact, I was carrying both of the cameras my mother-in-law had given me – the Petri with color film, and the Minolta with black-and-white. In some of the spots, I snapped a photo with both cameras:
I also like how the photo below turned out, taken in the interior courtyard of a Hindu temple. Often such temples will be built around a particularly large tree, and different idols and artifacts will be left at the base of such trees.
The camera also did pretty well with moving scenes and street action, although, like all of the shots, everything was pretty grainy. I like the grainy look and tend to use a less expensive film when I’m testing out these older cameras, but some of the photos were TOO grainy.
Finally, a few photos from Chennai’s highest point, overlooking the city from the south. It’s a fun camera to use and I’ll definitely be trying it again once I’m reunited with all of my stuff – but it’s important to overcompensate for the aging light meter – and without a flash, it’s best to work with well-lit scenes.
You never know where your pictures will end up! So far people have been pretty good about asking for permission (as far as I know).
About four years ago I was experimenting with macro photography, taking pictures of odd bugs I found in our back yard in Namibia, when I came across this odd black-and-yellow bug that appeared to be feeding on one of the huge millipedes that appear there (locally called “shongololo” which is way cooler than “millipede”) certain times of the year. I thought it was interesting because it seemed to be carrying a smaller bug on its back.
I uploaded it to Flickr and thought little else of it. Maybe I put it in a blog post, no idea.
As it turns out, however, this bug is an “assassin bug” – one of about 7,000 species. All of which are of intense interest at the University of California, Riverside, where Dr. Christiane Weirauch and her fellow entomologists study these bugs to learn everything there is to know about them. And despite my not knowing (and not tagging) the name of this bug on Flickr they managed to track it down.
In a long(er) blog post in October, I wrote about the benefits of a career that takes you all over the world, and highlighted the fact that being away often helps us better appreciate the natural beauty of our own country – which, ironically, we don’t get to experience all that much.
After spending some quality time with family on the West Coast, we returned to the National Capital region for some training, but with a week left to kill, we had a choice between paying day-to-day rental rates in our future Arlington apartment, or paying the same (slightly less, actually) to stay in a mountain cabin overlooking the Shenandoah Valley. Guess which one we chose?
Once we managed to wrestle the Mini Cooper up the gravel road leading up the hill, we spent a relaxing week enjoying the mountain air, often simmering in the jacuzzi out on the deck (a feature of most of the cabins out there, if you consider doing the same), just enjoying nature.
One of the occasional outings we took, however, was to kayak down the Shenandoah River. Despite the low water levels, the river was a busy place – we saw flotillas of inner tubes, other kayakers, and even a family from our old home in Chennai. But we also saw lots of wildlife – birds of prey searching for a meal, huge trout pushing against the current, dozens of turtles sunning themselves…and in between rowing and jumping from the occasional rope swing, we even got up close to a snake that swam by the kayak. I made a video summarizing the experience:
We enjoyed the cabin so much, by the time I got around to writing this blog post, we had come back for a long Thanksgiving weekend. If you live in the Washington, D.C. area, I definitely recommend this as a tourist destination – it’s just a short two-hour drive away.
We haven’t really seen any real “autumn” to speak of for a number of years, so it has been refreshing to re-experience those surprisingly brisk mornings, doing those runs where the cold air tears at your lungs a little, and the smell of wet leaves…
I keep telling myself to bring a camera to capture it while I can. I have been carrying around my Ricoh Kr-5 – a simple camera but one of my favorites. I think the battery for the light meter is starting to run down but by now I have a pretty good sense of which settings to use in most conditions.
I’m glad I don’t have to rake any of these leaves.
One day at lunch we took a walk around the Foreign Service Institute (FSI – where I’m currently studying French) to see what we could see – there is a surprising variety of different plants hidden away in the corners of the property.
Down the street the local church was doing a fundraiser – selling pumpkins – and they must have had more pumpkins than I’ve ever seen in one place out on their lawn. When I stopped to snap a picture they thought I was a journalist and asked which paper the photo would end up in.
I also carried it with me on a few trips into the capital. These are two shots of the National Museum of Art, from above ground and from below.
There is plenty to photograph in the city but sometimes it’s fun to snap some of the less obvious things.
As the temperatures continue to drop in the Washington / Arlington region, I hope to brave the cold a few more times and do some more street photography. The idea of crisp temperatures as autumn gives way to winter sounds great in theory, but in reality it can sometimes be hard to drag myself away from the heat. In just a few short months we will be back to the jungles of the southern hemisphere, so best to enjoy it while we can.
Today Sierra Leone was officially declared “Ebola-free”, having successfully gone 42 days (two incubation periods) without a new case of Ebola. In neighboring Guinea, where the disease outbreak began, health workers continue to struggle for its eradication, working to save patients only a few miles from Sierra Leone’s border. When I was in Sierra Leone in August 2014, I never imagined it would take so long to beat this disease, which claimed the lives of 4000 “Saloneans”; dealt a massive setback to an economy that was still rebounding from years of war; and virtually destroyed its nascent tourist industry. Causing no shortage of alarm to my friends and family back home, I tried to get out and meet some of the brave people struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy, and see a little of the once-bustling capital – and shared my experiences in a handful of blog posts.
I remember one day getting caught in a massive rainstorm one day while I was downtown, and I sheltered under the roof of one of the buildings along with about a dozen folks who were clearly from the lower economic rungs. I bought a couple of cokes and shared them around as we waited. A group of about a dozen boys – aged 8 to 13 or so – had been playing soccer. When the rain started coming down in earnest (torrents), they simply stripped down completely, and continued playing, barefoot and without a stitch of clothing, on one of the streets of downtown Freetown!
When I think of Sierra Leone, I also think of people like Sergeant Marsh. To explain who Sergeant Marsh is, I’m re-publishing below a post I had previous shared in the (soon-to-be defunct) blog site I put together in my “100 strangers” photography project. Hopefully he and all of his fellow Saloneans will be able to move forward and put this terrible disease behind them for good.
Sergeant Marsh stopped me when I was walking through a market in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and asked what I was doing. “Taking photos,” I answered. He had a very serious, stern look and I thought he objected to this. “Have you been shooting all of this?” he asked, gesturing at the people and the flooded road in the street market. I told him I was a tourist, and I had snapped a few photos. He explained to me that he patrolled this area, and in the market, the vendors all threw their trash in the gutters, which caused them to get blocked, and the rainwater (it had been raining for days) then ran in the streets. It was his job to get them to stop doing this. He introduced me to his colleagues, who seemed utterly bored by the whole thing, and emphasized the presence of the “female constable.” He asked what I planned to do with the pictures I was taking and I cautiously offered, “share them with friends on Facebook so they can see what it’s like in Freetown.” He then insisted that I provide a positive caption – I should upload these photos to the internet, and tell the world that Sergeant Marsh and his colleagues were keeping the streets safe. That people should know this is a safe and nice place to visit. At this point I asked if I could also snap his photo. He agreed, and repeated what I should put in the photo captions, and re-introduced his colleagues.
Check out how sharp his uniform looks. Sergeant Marsh is doing his part to keep the streets safe, and wants all of you to know that Freetown is a wonderful place to visit. I think he’s doing a great job. I hope I run into him again so I can tell him I have made him “stranger number 84″ in my “100 strangers” project.
The last four years have been given us amazing travel opportunities. The world is full of interesting things to see; wonderful people to meet and get to know; and of course this all translates to great video and photo opportunities.
Not only have we been able to experience the vast deserts, wilderness and wildlife of Namibia, but also pretty much the opposite in Chennai, India – with four times the inhabitants of all of Namibia, full of color, sound, smells – and sometimes chaos. And of course lots of nearby destinations: South Africa, Madagascar, Zimbabwe; Malaysia, Australia, Nepal and of course India itself.
But it’s always good to come home. Coming home is mostly about seeing family and friends. But it’s also a period of rediscovery of our own country. Not only all of the cultural aspects we have forgotten about or missed out on, but also some amazing natural beauty. Often it is being away that helps us to “re-see” things we’d have otherwise taken for granted.
We spent nearly a month in Oregon. People sometimes talk about the Oregon rain, but in a way Oregon is a kind of sampler of many of the things America has to offer: deserts, mountains, coastline, rain forests, volcanoes, gorges, white water…the list goes on. We didn’t even begin to touch on all the variety Oregon has to offer, but what follows are a few snapshots of a few simple day- and weekend trips we took.
Coyote Creek Coyote Creek is just a simple creek, one of several that feeds in to the Fern Ridge Reservoir, about 12 miles west of Eugene. For a few dollars you can rent a kayak or two like we did, get up before dawn, and drop in near where the creek goes under the railroad bridge, on the southeast end of the lake.
Hitting the creek early made for some good photo ops as the sun rose and highlighted the mist rising of the creek.
We saw a family of raccoons washing a snack before bed. And having missed breakfast we were happy to help ourselves to the abundant berries growing along the banks!
We paddled as far south as we could until fallen trees eventually forced us to turn back. We saw some sort of birds constantly flitting in and out from underneath the railroad bridge and decided to go in for a closer look. It turned out to be swallows – loads of young swallows who appeared to be just learning how to fly! In between flights they would hang out at their nests, and the adults would stop by and encourage them to fly again.
We followed the creek a bit to the north, as it gradually merged with the lake. The channel continued for about another half mile and we could tell all sorts of waterbirds called the area home. We didn’t get any really noteworthy shots of the waterbirds. But we managed to sneak up really close to some birdwatchers before being noticed!
…and then we loaded up and headed back to the house. It was still early in the day so we had breakfast, and headed out to….
Waldo Lake Waldo Lake is a 10-mile long lake that is entirely spring-fed, off-limits to motorized boats, and surrounded by dense forest. It is amazingly clear and clean, and we went there because I wanted someplace I could safely swim. An amazing experience to swim in this lake – I had forgotten my goggles (but not my wetsuit – an absolute must!) but it didn’t matter – the water is so clean you can just open your eyes while you swim and it looks like you are soaring 80 feet above the lake bottom!
The north end of the lake looked like it had been the site of a forest fire sometime in the last couple of years, and it looked like an interesting place to snap photos, so we went to check it out.
It turns out that this forest fire took place in 1996! This is what a forest looks like after 20 years of recovery.
Despite the mostly lifeless trees, we still spotted some wildlife – such as this American marten.
…and despite the fact that the extremely low nutrient level (the reason it is so clear!) means there is very little life in the lake itself. But these dragonflies that landed on our kayak were working on creating more… It was a great trip, and I hope to be able to visit Waldo Lake again!
McKenzie Bike Trail We also took a couple of trips to one of my favorite places in Oregon – the McKenzie River. One of the things you can do at the McKenzie River is rent a mountain bike and ride it down the McKenzie River Trail. For a reasonable fee, the folks at the McKenzie River Mountain Resort will rent you a bike and drive you to the top of the 26-mile trail, or approximately to the halfway point. Even though it’s generally downhill, I definitely recommend not attempting the full 26 miles if you don’t ride trails quite often.
The trail, rated among America’s top biking trails, generally runs along the river, sometimes with a treacherous drop-off. It’s not limited to cyclists so watch out for hikers, and bring plenty of water!
Some people try and ride the trail as quickly as they can but I recommend taking it slow and stopping for photo-ops along the way. If you’re interested in seeing what a ride down this trail (albeit pretty slowly) looks like, you can check out the video below.
After we finished our ride, we were pretty sore…and hungry! Neither of us are big meat eaters…but for some strange reason, the entire bike ride, I kept thinking about barbecued cheeseburgers. At one point I could have even sworn I could smell somebody grilling them. So naturally when we were done, all I wanted was a burger. So we checked out Yelp and read reports on Takoda’s Restaurant. Supposedly they had a nice outside terrace and good food. My verdict: if you do this bike ride YOU NEED TO GO TO TAKODA’S AFTERWARD. Yes, it was that good…. If you’re in a hurry, you can go into the shop at the gas station next door and buy what they call “chicken on a stick.” People were raving about it online and we had to try that as well. MUST EAT!
McKenzie River Rafting …let’s not forget about river rafting! We had a fun, refreshing and generally wet trip down the McKenzie River with High Country Expeditions. With an excellent guide who made sure we were safe and who told us about the local area, we managed for the most part to stay inside the raft.
As in the case of the bike ride, I brought along a GoPro camera and made a short video of the trip! Proxy Falls Last but not least, if you do make a trip up to the McKenzie, it’s worth stopping by some of the local trails and/or waterfalls. We visited Proxy Falls – a couple of spectacular sets of falls on a total of about 1 mile worth of trail – definitely worth seeing!
On the hike we were wearing Vibram FiveFingers (“toe shoes”). But the paths were so smooth, sandy and warm that I felt inspired to walk barefoot. As we clambered down to the base of the falls, the paths turned rocky but by then I had gotten so many odd stares by hikers in giant steel-toed hiking boots I decided to just go with it. It was fine until I stepped in the water, which was icy cold!
It is difficult to convey the magnitude of these falls using photographs. There were several photographers there with tripods just clicking away. if you look carefully in the photo below you can see someone standing below the falls, which gives an idea.
We had a great time hiking below, and climbing along the edges of these falls, keeping cool in the Oregon forest. The short video clip below tries to convey again the scale and grandeur of Proxy Falls. But it’s best seen in person!
…so that pretty much covers our “summer vacation” – getting to know our home state and country again after years spent living abroad. After our 3 weeks in Oregon, it was time to head back to the East Coast, where we’ll spend about half a year boning up on our French language abilities. And then we’ll be off to Madagascar, where we’ll be sure to have lots to share!!