Puppies of the Sea

Photo credit to Mark Gottlieb.

Mark1rays

First, I must offer thanks to Mark, one of the others on my amazing South Pacific adventure last August, for sharing some of his photos with the rest of us. One was this photo of a “receiving line” greeting stingrays eager to check us out (or maybe looking for food). One of them squeezed right in between me & another passenger – sweeping against my arm – that was cool. Note: they kind of feel like wet eggplant. Someone – I don’t remember who – referred to them as big gray puppies of the sea. I’m not in this particular photo; I was with a different group off to the side.

I feel like I’m always apologizing for my frequent absences from my blog, but life does get hectic and other priorities often prevail.

So I’d like to start offering you, those of you who have Instagram accounts at least, some people to follow, not just for pictures of the South Pacific (my most recent vacation), but other destinations frequented by Lindblad Expeditions and others I’ve met on my travels.

Definitely check out:

jaydickmanphoto (Nat Geo photographer & Pulitzer Prize winner)

jackdswenson (Nat Geo photographer)

livingcookiesdream (Chris Cook, naturalist)

adam.cropp (Expedition Leader on my last trip) – he has a thing for drone photography!

Mark may also have an Instagram page, but there are several people with the same name on the site, and I’m not sure which he might be.

I’ll save more for later!

Happy July everyone!!

Flowers of Fakarava

On our first day at the lovely atoll of Fakarava, some of us went on a photo walk with Nat Geo photographer Chris Ranier. (Interesting fact: Chris was Ansel Adams’ last assistant before he passed away.) Chris’ focus (no pun intended) is in telling the stories of cultures through photography which can include even the tiniest of details in the surrounding environment. He highlighted many things on our walk, from the people, their homes, their brand new trucks and SUVs, their puppies (like the one who tried to run off with my socks – but that’s another story), and their vegetable and flower gardens.

I don’t spend a lot of time taking flower pictures at home, but I always seem to be doing it on vacation. (It helps when you have a professional photographer pointing out particularly photogenic flowers.) These two shots I think may be my favorite. I’m sure Chris told us the name of these flowers (or perhaps it was Tom Ritchie on a later walk), but as usual I can’t find it in my notes. I just think they’re really pretty. Maybe you recognize them? You might notice it was raining that day.

Flower2Flower1

Planes, trains, and automobiles…

Just kidding! There’s no trains or automobiles in this blog post. There’s barely even an airplane (well, two airplanes).

As our plucky little group packed our belongings to leave our first campsite in the Okavango Delta (Botswana) en route to Zimbabwe, the usual questions arose. (Usual, at least, for Americans familiar with our airport security). Are there restrictions on liquids? Will we have to take off our shoes? What about electronics? Andre, our tour leader, told us not to worry because there was no security. Airstrip1

As it turned out, there wasn’t even an airport. There was one “building” with fire extinguishers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and one sign. (That’s my friend Bobbie reading it.) Airstrip2

There was just an airstrip, a lonely little windsock indicating wind direction, and us waiting for our two airplanes that began as teeny dots in the sky and grew to be, well, somewhat bigger dots once they were on the ground. Would you like to fly in one of these?

TwoPlanes

Because there’s no airport staff either, that’s our guides Josh and Mike (and Andre, not seen in this picture) loading our luggage. On the right, you can see some of the gals walking to the other plane. LoadingLuggage

Before this, the smallest plane I’ve been on was a 20 (maybe 25) seater over the Gulf of Mexico between Cozumel and Cancun. The size of this plane? Here’s an inside shot. (The backs of those two heads closest to me? That’s Wendy [aka Windy] on the left and Andre on the right.) Guess which row I’m taking this photo from? Yep, the back row! InsidePlane

 

 

 

Meet the neighbors!

When you’re on a safari, or other wildlife-centered trip, you can spend lots of time in jeeps on bumpy roads searching for the animals.

But, then, sometimes you don’t have to. Because they come to you….maybe joining you for lunch….Elephant_Neighbor

Or you discover another visitor enjoying the open-air deck of the chalet next door. (Actually, this is why we were told to close and lock [yes, lock] the doors because the baboons know how to open them and they love helping themselves to anything that looks like fun…your camera, your shirt, your bra….) We saw one young guy scampering off with what looked like a turquoise pair of shorts, or maybe a skirt.

Baboon_Neighbor

And then there are the neighbors who “serenade” you at night. These guys and gals congregated in the lagoon at the far end of the lodge property, just outside Wendy’s chalet. (Remember Wendy aka Windy?) The hippos in this photo are looking very chill, but Wendy said their grunting was quite loud at bedtime. Sleeping was a bit difficult, but having a herd of hungry, hungry hippos munching on the grasses just yards away was worth it.

Hippo_Neighbors

An Elephant Dust-up

I love this little five-photo series of two young-ish elephants having a little dust-up over a watering hole. (For those unfamiliar with the term “dust-up” it means a quarrel or argument.) I like using it here for obvious reasons. The dust they kick up helps capture the motion between the photos, as the elephant on the right chases the other one away.

Elephant Dust-Up 1Elephant Dust-Up 2

Look at those ears! All flared out in indignation. My watering hole! Mine!! All mine!!!Elephant Dust-Up 3Elephant Dust-Up 4Elephant Dust-Up 5

These photos were taken at Mfuwe Lodge in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.

 

Answer to the “mystery bird” photo in my last blog: that was an African Jicana, common to southern Africa.

 

Mystery Safari Photo

Do you know what this is?  To state the obvious, yes, it’s a bird. (I have to include that comment for certain friends of mine who would immediately respond with that answer to the question. Yes, you. You know who are.)

Mystery_Bird

 

But what kind of bird? Hmmmmm……

This photo was taken in Botswana, specifically in a marshy area of the Okavango Delta.

Time for…The Birds!

Well, just one bird tonight, but I think you’ll agree that this little gal (or guy) is spectacular enough to have a blog posting all to itself.

I give you the lilac-breasted roller, one of the more common birds you’ll encounter in southern Africa. (The roller family of birds are so-named because of the acrobatic rolls they perform while flying.) lilac_bird

Isn’t she gorgeous? They’re easy to spot because of their bright plumage and because they like to perch up high in trees like this. I have many photos of these birds from most every location we visited, but this is one of my favorites (even though – if you zoom in – you’ll see the bird is not in perfect focus). There’s a couple of reasons: 1) the soft gray cloudy sky gives it a solid background for contrast and 2) because of the different textures of the two tree branches in front combined with the way they’re blurred because they are not my focal point. I do violate the rule of thirds for photography by having the bird in the center of the photo, but the branches and their textures are in the left third, drawing your eyes that way, so maybe we’ll just think of those photography rules as being more like guidelines anyway.

A leopard doesn’t change its spots…

…and we certainly wouldn’t want them to, would we? Because they are beautiful! This gal certainly is.leopard_drinking1 We encountered her on our last afternoon in the Okavango Delta, drinking from the river. She paused only briefly to check us out (look at that pink tongue!),leopard_tongue2

before sitting down to contemplate her dinner options, or where that handsome male leopard might be, or maybe even the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything [which we all know is 42].

We (our safari jeeps and a couple others) proceeded to follow her for almost a half hour as she leisurely strolled through the bush, apparently with no particular destination in mind or even any concern about us. You can see her pass between jeeps here, stopping only momentarily to look at us and continue on her way. I imagine this happens to this gorgeous gal a lot. (The guides who work the Okavango Delta are very good and know the animals, their habits, and their habitats. They might not be able to find every animal you wish to see, some are too rare or too shy, but they know where the big cats are hanging out!)

She decided she’d had enough of us shortly after this, walking a bit further away (I love this one picture – on the left – because I captured her in the act of lifting her foot and you can see her foot pad). She sat behind a tree for a few minutes and then disappeared into the bush.

It was a wonderful way to say goodbye to the Delta.

 

Fellow Travelers (Part II)

ImageKeeping with last week’s theme of introducing you to some of the folks I’ve met on my travels, this week I’d like to introduce you to Bruce Fryxell and his Flickr pages.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bfryxell/sets/

Bruce was one of the “Houston Nine” as I called us – the unlucky few to nearly miss catching our ship to Antarctica back in 2012. An accomplished photographer, Bruce also took the same Baja trip I just recently did, but in 2013. While Bruce doesn’t yet have his Baja photos up on Flickr, I strongly encourage you to check out his Antarctica work. And be wowed.

 

(That’s Bruce – standing – in action in the Falkland Islands.)

The Houston Nine

A year ago today, I was on board the National Geographic Explorer en route to the Falkland Islands (and, ultimately, Antarctica). But just three days earlier that was all in jeopardy thanks to United Airlines and an unspecified mechanical issue.

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(Five of the Houston Nine)

There we were, 200+ assorted passengers waiting at the gate in Houston International Airport for our flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina, listening restlessly to delay after delay, and then, more than two hours later, cancellation. I’m sure many of you have had this experience but, believe it or not – given the many thousands of miles I’ve flown – I had yet to to suffer anything more than a handful of delays. I guess my luck had run out that evening.

We scrambled to line up at the counter to receive hotel and food vouchers as instructed, while – in my head –  I wailed at the unfairness of it. Those of you who’ve been through this type of ordeal are thinking “What’s the big deal? You’re not the only person who’s ever been inconvenienced.” This is true. But that evening all I could think about was my emotional pain and the terminally ill cat I’d left behind at home in California. (I wrote about her in my first blog entry “Healing Through Horror.”) If I had known this was going to happen, I could have spent one more day with her before she died.

I’m sure many of you have suffered similarly, having flights cancelled while you were desperately trying to get somewhere before a family member passed away, or to the funeral, or to more happy events such as a wedding or a birth. Such pain is personal and probably can’t be readily explained to others. And maybe it shouldn’t have to be. We experience it in our own ways.

Fortunately, I was not alone. Even though I was not taking the pre-arranged group flight to Buenos Aires, there were eight other members of my tour group on this flight: Sandy and her sister Corrie, Bonnie and her brother Bill, Bruce, Gary and Joan, and Jay Dickman, Pulitzer Prize winner and National Geographic Photographer. Although they were meeting me for the first time under circumstances that were not the best, nor was I at my best (being rather emotional), they were supportive and understanding.

We had found each other during those interminable delays, talked, and begun to form a bond. And thank God for Jay. As the lead photographer on our expedition, he had a direct link to company headquarters, and had several phone conversations working out strategies in the event we could not reach Buenos Aires before the group flight departed to Ushuaia (one of two ports in Tierra del Fuego where Antarctica cruises embark. The other is Punta Arenas, Chile.) Our ‘last ditch’ move would have been to fly instead to Santiago, Chile, and then to the Falkland Islands to await the arrival of the ship. (Why Santiago? Because you can’t fly directly from Argentina to the Falklands. Why? Look up the 1982 Falklands War. We were, coincidentally, in the Falklands during the 30th anniversary of the war, but, despite some noise from the Argentinian government, nothing happened.)

It was Jay’s calming influence and his planning that kept the rest of us calm. We knew, that no matter when we reached Buenos Aires, we would eventually get to the ship and to Antarctica. Heck, the ship wasn’t going to Antarctica without him – he was the lead Nat Geo photographer of the expedition.

In one of those “It’s a Small World” moments, many months later while showing vacation photos to my Colorado relatives, they all said “We know him.” (Jay Dickman) Yes, my younger brother, Chris, was an Eagle Scout with Jay’s son. What are the odds of that?

But back to Houston, there was our little group of nine, hotel and food vouchers in hand. It was now after midnight. The food vendors at the airport were all closed, the food vouchers useless. So, we and the 200+ others all flocked to the exit to get our hotel shuttle. I don’t remember which hotel it was that United Airlines told us to look for, but when that shuttle driver showed up, he was completely confused. “What are you talking about?” he asked. “We don’t have any rooms.”

It became a madhouse as people raced in all directions, toward the next hotel shuttle to pull up, and the next, and the next. Gary came to our rescue here, spotting the Ramada shuttle way off in the distance, and sprinted for it, beating everyone else. Gary got us the last five rooms available! While we later learned that many other passengers ended up sleeping on the floor of the baggage claim, the Ramada wasn’t a great prize (other than the clean beds to sleep in). The water coming out of the faucets was rust-colored. I let the water run in the shower for ten minutes past it turning clear before I would get into it.  And, alas, even the hotel bar was closed, so we still didn’t have any food.  And no one had clean clothes because United wouldn’t give our luggage back to us.

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(Gary in action again)

The next day had the Houston Nine back at the airport – finally spending those food vouchers – finally eating! And finally onto an airplane. And even into the air!  After a couple more delays that is – something to do with “an immigration matter” (?) that they seemed to resolve abruptly. One moment we’re groaning at “it’ll be another hour” and the next moment we’re being told to sit down and put on our seat belts because we were taking off “right now.”  There were a few cheers. But only a few. I think most people were simply too exhausted at that point.

You would think that would be the end of the story. After all, the Houston Nine did make it to Buenos Aires in time to catch the rest of the tour group (with a mere 45 minutes to enjoy our rooms in the Caesar Park Hotel, showering, changing clothes, and eating breakfast). And on to Antarctica.

But let me tell you about the trip home from Buenos Aires to Houston. I’ve never before had an airline make such a valiant attempt at completely ruining a vacation. Yes, you guessed it! United also cancelled the return flight! This time we were actually on board the plane, about 45 minutes out, when the pilot announced that the weather radar wasn’t working and that we needed to return to BA. (There were storms along the equator he was worried about, so the return was understandable. However, don’t they do pre-flight checks? They couldn’t have found out the radar wasn’t working before we left the ground? They could’ve started fixing it earlier and maybe we could’ve still left that night. But no.)

So we sat on the tarmac for a couple of hours while they tried to fix it. And kept trying. And trying. And then cancelled the flight. Crew issues. We figured it was the pilots – maybe too tired to fly? – but we learned the next day that it was the flight attendants who refused to continue on. (While still on the plane, I snarkily thanked one of the attendants for the “second time in one trip” cancellation. She glared at me and said “Like it’s my fault.” I admit that my degree of snarkiness wasn’t called for, but, yeah, snotty flight attendant, it was your fault.)

So there we were, stranded yet again. And me, getting all emotional again, because I’d been out of contact with my pet sitters for three weeks. All I could do was wonder if my beloved cat would die on this day, and that I would miss it because of United Airlines.

ImageBut here’s where the sole bright point appeared in all this mess. In complete contrast to the horrible, disorganized disastrous service we received in Houston, the staff in Buenos Airlines met us at the gate. They guided us out to the luggage return where we picked up our bags, and then they guided us out to waiting buses which then took us to assigned hotels, all arranged by them. Being that it was 3 a.m., we didn’t get fed just like on the outbound, but the service – and the professionalism of the employees – was so much better. Why? Why couldn’t the passengers have been treated this well in Houston? They were all wearing United uniforms. Was it just Houston? Or was the difference that one was an American city, the other an Argentinian city? I don’t know the answer. I hope I don’t have any more chances to find out. I think I’ll follow Jay’s advice: when he signed my copy of his book Perfect Digital Photography, he wrote “Don’t fly through Houston.”