Posts Tagged ‘leopard’

(Photo Blogging Day 31)

This last prompt is one of the hardest of the month. How do I determine which photograph of the thousands I’ve taken is the best? I’ve been taking photographs since I was 17. Technically, my photos are much better now. I know not to shoot into the light if possible. I don’t have my camera strap in my photos. I understand a little about shutter speed and aperture, and composition. Having a better camera helps, and of course, in that time digital photography has revolutionised how we take photos. Some would say it makes us lazier; we can just take a lot of photos and hope one of them will be okay, or we know that they can usually be improved in post-production. That is true of my approach sometimes. But other times, I know I can try out a whole range of techniques to find the one that works, learning so much more in the process. It only makes me a better photographer.

But wait. This is about my best photograph, not me as photographer. It’s also about my best photograph, not my favourite. I’ve already shown you many of my best and many of my favourites this month. But other favourites have come up in this search. It’s not the scene in the Ourika Valley in Morocco, though that is an absolute favourite, framed by the foothills of the High Atlas, women bending over their washing in a clear river. It’s not the Amsterdam canal in the early evening, with the only colour coming from the light in a window, and the green grass on top of a houseboat. It’s not the sandspit on an island in Australia, or the humbugs (fish) on the Barrier Reef. And it’s not a photo displaying the sheer beauty of New Zealand – perhaps the lupins in flower on the banks of Lake Tekapo, with the snowy Southern Alps in the background. I could go on, but I must stop. So how on earth am I going to choose? I decided to come up with criteria:

  • I eliminated all my pre-digital photos. The quality of a scanned photo to be used on a blog just wasn’t going to be good enough. So that means any photos under consideration are dated from 2004. My photo of the stunning La Roque Gageac village on the Dordogne River in France lost out for that reason.
  • There would be no photos of me, or other people who might not want their faces splashed over the internet. This eliminated the group of donkey-handlers, waiting for their next clients on the cobbled steps of Santorini, with cigarettes and suntanned grizzled faces.
  • No photo clichés, such as sunsets or the Eiffel Tower, or one of my first photos ever, of the Sydney Opera House. This eliminated another strong contender; the sun going down in Fiji, palm trees on a cliff in shadow, the sea a shimmering silver, and a yacht moored just off the shore.

So this is the one I came up with. It isn’t even my favourite leopard. But it’s just too good to ignore. It’s printed on canvas and hung on our wall. I see it every day. I hope you like it. best leopard

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(Photo Blogging Day 30)

My first ever safari was the Night Safari in Singapore about 15 years ago. Essentially a night zoo, my friend who was living there insisted my sister and I visit. We did so eagerly, as both of us had always wanted to go to Africa. It was magic – I’ll never forget the sight of the fishing cats standing by the stream, dipping their paws into the water in an attempt to catch some dinner, or particularly, of the giraffes in shadow. Africa was calling to me even then.

Of course I know now that the reason for a Night Safari is that so many animals are nocturnal. Still, when I finally got to Africa, I was surprised to find that every day we would spend about an hour on game drives in the dark. The tracker would sit on the front of the jeep, and scan the bush with his spotlight. It became mesmerising – we would all follow the movement of the spotlight, hoping to see something. Of course, we never did. Well, not until the tracker pointed it out to us.

Our first sighting was a leopard. The tracker signalled to the ranger (who drove the jeep) to stop the vehicle.

“He thought he saw a leopard,” said Dylan, the ranger, to us. The tracker, Fani, was disgusted with him.

“Oh, okay,” said Dylan. “He did see a leopard.”

We looked out into the darkness, trying to follow the spotlight. Fani managed to pinpoint the leopard, and slowly our inexperienced eyes could make out the two glowing lights of the leopard’s eyes. It seemed impossible that Fani had seen it as he scanned the landscape, catching it for just a split second. But he had.

Over those days we discovered what extraordinary eyesight Fani and the other African trackers have. A few nights later the car stopped quickly. Fani had found us a bush baby. A rare and very special sighting, and one that we couldn’t photograph; any flash would have hurt its eyes, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I do have evidence of a wildcat though, but in general much of what we saw at night was for our eyes only.

A day or two later, my husband turned 50, and it seemed we were driving a long way for our evening drinks that night. We saw some lights in the distant, and as we got closer, we found that a staff member from the lodge had set up a table under a marula tree, encircled by lanterns (to keep animals away), and was cooking up some goodies to go with our champagne. There was of course a cake too. The sky was clear, and our ranger used the spotlight to point out the major constellations. The Milky Way was spectacular that evening, and I fell in love with the night sky in a way I never had before. It was a birthday neither of us will forget.

A week or so later at another game reserve, we took a wild ride as Stuart came across a porcupine one night. The porcupine turned and raced off up the track. Stuart was screeching delightedly as the jeep bounced after it,

“Two years I’ve been here, and I’ve never seen one before!”

It took off into the bush, and Stuart chased it, but it was soon lost in the undergrowth.

Other sightings on our safaris include a chameleon, elephants, leopards, the occasional hippopotamus caught out of the water, and a lioness, its fur stained red around its mouth, finishing off some dinner.

The highlight though was the night we were treated with a dinner in the bush, next to Ulusaba’s observatory. Lanterns and lamps were placed around the barbecue and the outdoor furniture that had been set up for us and our jeep-mates. Stuart periodically climbed up to the highest part of the jeep to scan the surroundings with the spotlight. A herd of buffalo were resting only a hundred metres or so away, but they couldn’t see us and were mostly asleep, so the danger was limited. A clan of hyenas waited nearby, patiently hoping they’d get some of the barbecue leftovers. We were served champagne, and peered through the telescope at various constellations, including the Jewel Box cluster, and Saturn’s rings.

Nightlife. It means what you want it to mean.

Dinner at the bush observatory

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There is always a danger in returning to somewhere you loved, whether decades, years or mere months have passed.  My Floridian friend yesterday returned (for the first time) to the town where we met, back in 1979.  I cannot imagine what that felt like for her.  Likewise, I posted earlier this year about returning to Phuket, and the horror we felt.  We have deliberately refrained from returning to Vietnam, after we both visited before the US embargo had been lifted, before Vietnam really returned to a place in the world after its relative isolation from 1975 and through the 1980s.  (Though curiosity is likely to get the better of us sooner rather than later).  And so we have generally chosen not to re-visit favourite holiday destinations.  Where we’ve returned, it has usually been by chance, or as we passed through a particular place (eg Venice, this time last year).  If I’m honest, this is mainly because my husband prefers to visit somewhere new.  The world is a big place, and there isn’t enough time to go everywhere.

Yet I like going back to somewhere I’ve been before.  I like the feelings of familiarity, the feeling of belonging, rather than the feeling of being a complete newbie, a wide-eyed out-of-place tourist.  I have returned to cities frequently on business, and always enjoyed feeling at home in Manila (approximately 20 visits), or Phnom Penh.  We’ve visited Australia frequently too, and I know the centre of Sydney better than I know the centre of Auckland – but then, Australia doesn’t really count.  Visiting places I’ve been before requires much less organisation, and involves less stress (as I’m the chief travel planner).   There’s a real comfort to it.  So when it was my birthday, I managed to convince (that is, I begged) my husband to return to South Africa, and even to return to one of the same game reserves we had visited in 2009.

As I said at the outset, there are dangers to revisiting somewhere that was so magical on the first trip.  You go with expectations, and expectations set you up for disappointment.  But we knew this, and tried to lower our expectations accordingly.  And yes, there were disappointments:

  • It rained.  A lot.  And that places a dampener (pardon the pun) on any holiday, let alone one where you’re in an open-topped vehicle for up to eight hours a day.  (Not to mention the photographs of us wearing fetching (cough) green rain ponchos!  And no.  You will not be seeing said photographs.)  Some rain was expected – but not days of rain.
  • With the rain came cool temperatures.  It was supposed to be the beginning of summer with temperatures in the early-mid 30s C.  I took a suitcase full of summer clothes.  I didn’t get to wear any of them – bar a couple of T-shirts on the two warm-ish days we enjoyed in our more than two weeks away.
  • With the rain came clouds.  That meant we had no opportunity to see the African skies in the evening.  The one day on safari that the sun came out, and gave us a beautiful sunset, the clouds crowded back in before the stars made it out.  There were therefore no visits to the Observatory, no moments of awe in the darkness in the middle of the African bush looking at the Milky Way.  The night sky was one of the highlights of our last visit.  We were sad to miss it this time.
  • An issue I had with the management.  It only affected a couple of game drives, they apologised, and assured me it a) should have never happened, and b) would never happen again.  But it upset me, and then upset me more because I felt bad for complaining.  I don’t like to make trouble (that’s a whole different post).  Especially not on holiday.

But there were advantages to going somewhere we’d been before:

  • When you’ve been on safari before, there isn’t the pressure to get the same wonderful shots, or to see, for example, a cheetah when you’ve seen one before.  And so you can just relax, enjoy the process of looking for animals, enjoy just being.
  • We felt very comfortable in South Africa on a return visit
  • We could explore it as we wished, having visited most of the “must-sees” last time.
  • There’s always something new to see, even if you’ve been somewhere before.
  • I got to renew my acquaintance with my favourite leopard.

Her name is Hlabankunzi. She’s beautiful. And now she’s a mother.

Three years ago. Younger, but so beautiful.

… next post, I’ll focus on the fun bits!

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