I was recently looking through my art (which is all carefully catalogued on my computer and in various other safe havens) and it struck me that my trip to Africa in 2009 was amazingly successful in generating ideas and references for my work. It was my sixth trip back home since I left at the age of fourteen but for some reason, this one made such an amazing impression that all this art poured out of me. One thing that definitely contributed was that this was the first time I had taken a really good digital SLR so not only could I keep clicking away, but I could also get in really close. I have compiled all of the pieces I’ve done from that one trip into the image below. It really is quite incredible how some travels affect you more than others and that trip was a corker!! It was through six different southern African Countries, seeing the most incredible sights. So here is a pictorial record of hundreds of hours at the desk or easel. The montage was thrown together pretty much willy-nilly but it gives an idea of how good that trip was. The scale of each image is not relative, some are much bigger than others in real life. There are three different mediums represented – scratchboard, pastels and oils.
You’ve all probably done it. You’re on holiday somewhere, chasing down that great photograph of a lion or whatever gets you excited, and finally you see your first one. In my case, this is 1994 on one of my trips to Kenya. I was with my wife on a self organised safari holiday, no zebra striped minibuses – just us and our two wheel drive Datsun which could barely clear the raised grass down the middle of the dirt roads (in fact, I had to get out and push on more than one occasion just so that I could get the car moving again, not a good look when there might be lions watching me). We saw our first lion of the trip. It’s in the next photo – can you see it? We could, just, a long way away. Still, you never know if you’ll see another so you take the photo. Even though it’s the old 35mm days where each picture costs you money you take it, and more, just to record that you saw a lion.
Did you see it? It had our pulses racing despite it being a fleeting glimpse somewhere too far away for my little camera.
Oh well, you’ve seen what you wanted but you are a little disappointed. That may be as good as it gets.
Our next lion……..
and the menaces that pinched his meal. Oh yes, they were lining up!
Then the next lions doing their thing
And relaxing without the usual cigarette
Is there a lesson here? Probably not, other than to keep on going. You never know if that great encounter is just around the corner. I guess this could be a metaphor for life in general – just keep on trying.
Here are a couple of scratchboards from my time in Etosha National Park in Namibia. The first is a group of Elephants around the waterhole at Halali. It’s called “Total Protection” because of way the young are protected by the adults. It’s created by fibreglass brush removing the ink in a soft focus fashion, then adding ink back in (diluted in an airbrush), re-scratching, re-inking, re-scratching, re-inking etc as many times as it takes to get the effect I need. Finally I’ve sprayed the whole thing sepia to keep the monochrome effect but also add that little bit of old time feel to it and the sunshine and dust of Africa.
The second piece is a young zebra trotting through the water after its mum in a piece called “Water Baby”. It’s from a zebra at the waterhole at Okaukuejo.
So why is Etosha a strange place? Well, it’s an extremely dry place. It has a vast salt pan which is eerie and beautiful. The park has very little precipitation and as such it doesn’t support a lot of the animals you’d expect. It has no hippo, no buffalo and no crocodiles. Nip across the border into Botswana and in the Okavango Delta or Chobe National Park you’ll encounter as many hippos, buffalo or crocodiles as you might wish to see. Here’s a croc I photographed at Chobe. Believe it or not, this is in the wild and I’m not using a zoom. I’m literally a metre away from this large croc. However, I’m in a boat and it isn’t. It’s also just been fast alseep and is simply releasing heat through it’s open jaws so I’m neither being brave nor foolhardy.
So what’s going on in Etosha? You’d expect, with all that water in my pieces of art, to see all of the missing animals. No, these are man made waterholes, specifically created from boreholes to draw the animals to them in large numbers so we can get a good look at them. It works too. There were so many elephants at Halali, scores of zebra coming to drink all day at Okaukuejo, and at another waterhole, Namutoni, the best you can come to seeing a large predator is the python that swims there yet the air is thick with birdlife.
Is Etosha worth the trip? You bet it is! Not only do you get to see an abundance of wildlife at these waterholes, but if you venture out into the arid areas, you’ll see plenty from little dikdiks to the gorgeous lilac breasted roller, male oryx sparring for dominance, lion and many other animals. If your main love is monkeys however, you’ll be disappointed. There are none at all. In fact the campground pests aren’t monkeys here but go-away birds, red-billed hornbills and jackals – what a fabulous camping experience when those are considered pests!!
Me on the quiet and eeire Etosha Pan
I guess life leads you to a point where you become inspired by certain things or people. I wanted to show a few of my inspirations, a bit of travel (which is always an inspiration) and include a bit of fun along the way.
I’ve always travelled ever since my dad dragged his family around East Africa on safari most weekends, starting from when I was a baby. He put my first snake in my hands at the age of about 18 months and so I’ve never had a fear of them, or spiders and other traditional scaries. Well, not a big fan of mosquitos but since they are great pollinators, we’ll have to put up with them.
As I grew older, the snakes grew longer
and the animals grew weirder
I’m with the duiker, my brother is with the zorilla
And then older still I started to travel on my own with a definite focus on the style of travel my dad had instilled in me. Here I’m seen at Thompsons Falls in Kenya at the age of 20.
One thing my dad didn’t do was teach me any fashion sense (he was no better than me!). My clothes sense wasn’t good and the moustache hung around for thirteen years, goodness knows why?! I’m seen here riding on a sugar plantation in Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa.
Fortunately on occasion a beard disguised the moustache. This is with a gibbon in Thailand. The poor thing was chained to a lamp post and was starved of affection. I shouldn’t have cuddled it but simply had to and it wouldn’t let me go. I wish I could have rescued it.
Of course like most travelling bums I did the usual combination of adventure sports like whitewater rafting and parachuting
I’ve been stuck with my dad’s sense of animal empathy. Here a seagull chick had become stranded off the coast of Scotland and I decided to rescue it.
I literally froze for my trouble. Scotland isn’t known for its balmy waters.
Yes, I managed to do some stupid things along the way. I got myself a tag along with Karen soldiers in the jungles of Burma for five days. This is one of the tribes that’s been trying to get independence from those horrible military rulers of the country and if they could just stop fighting with the other tribes that are on ‘their own side’, they might just do it. I had to familiarise myself with a bit of ‘protection’, not that I wanted to but following the rules was important. I’m sure I’m holding it wrong.
I’ve had some wonderful opportunities in my life, mainly because I’ve sought them out, but some have fallen into my lap. I got the opportunity to dive with minke whales who literally came up to me. These are the ones the Japanese have done their best to eliminate! Shame I only had a crappy throw-away waterproof camera. At one time I had six minkes in my vision, but I’d already run out of film (the old 35mm days)
I was lucky enough to share the last 20 years with a kindred spirit, a wonderful lady who loves the things I love and is seen here with me on top of Mount Kenya in 1994
One thing she doesn’t share with me is my fashion sense. In fact I think she would rather move fifty paces to the left at times. This photo though wasn’t really my fault. We had travelled to Kenya on a shoestring with minimal luggage and decided to climb Mount Kenya at the last minute, so I had to buy some ‘warm’ clothes in the only store left available to me. My choices weren’t good and nothing fit but I still think I look quite dashing – Not!
How could you not be inspired in a place like this. A snow-topped mountain right on the African equator with a glacier like this
Animals find me or I find them wherever I go. Here I am with a Jacksons Three Horned Chameleon wandering around loose at the Nairobi Snake Park, and another one wandering onto my hand in Tsavo West National Park
When you’ve been lucky enough to live a life like I have, it becomes a responsibility to raise the next generation to love camping in wild places. I think I’m having varying degrees of success here
I’m pretty certain one of us has spotted something in Hluhluwe National Park but none of us knows where to look
I did win though with my two boys and I’m sure they’ll continue the fight for a better world for wild animals and wild places
And as for my wife, she hasn’t changed, she’s as game as ever.
And me, I continue to be fascinated by wildlife and the wilderness and that will never change;
from playing with chimpanzees
to feeding peanut butter to cheetahs
to mucking around with large lions in Zambia
to sitting on top of the largest sand dunes in the world in the Namib Desert
to sitting at the edge of a wilderness miracle called Fish River Canyon in Namibia. Yes, like the better known Grand Canyon but without the people and trinkets that are sold there.
Long may this wonderful journey continue and let’s all buckle down and make certain the natural world is there for our kids to enjoy.
And finally, Australia has its blue tongued lizards but did you know that in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, a similar animal has managed to establish itself. Do not approach!!
I’ve camped in wierd and wonderful places all over the world and could be considered an experienced outdoorsman. My friends all know it and talk to me if they need advice about where to pitch a tent, what to carry, etc etc. Here are three stories which show why I’m known as such an expert – NOT!!!
I took my family camping on a whale watching trip at the Great Australian Bight. We camped at Cactus beach and I found a perfect spot for the tent out of the wind. It didn’t look like it was going to rain but rain it did!! Buckets of it! In the middle of the night, our mattress seemed to be floating and when I could finally brave the elements, the rain had stopped and the water had subsided somewhat. This is our tent and the kids have never let me forget about it. The water was up to the car wheels earlier.
In my desire to find a spot sheltered from the wind by those bushes I had set up in the lowest part of the site. Clever!
We camped in the Clare Valley. Well, it was actually on a hill and we were using one of those old fashioned canvas tents that took about three hours to put up, you know the kind – they weigh a tonne and have steel poles. I didn’t even consider the wind because it was calm when we got there. By the time I had erected the tent it was starting to rain so we finished up and left things and drove into Clare for lunch (typically tough camper that I am!!). The wind rose and the heavens opened. When we got back to the top of the hill the tent was about sixty yards away draped over the branches of a tree in two pieces!! We shoved it into the boot of the car and rented a cabin and thanked our lucky stars since it rained for the next three days.
When I proposed to my wife, she thought, like all my friends, that I was the complete woodsman. We honeymooned on the south island of New Zealand. I had spent four months solid ‘tramping’ (Kiwi for ‘hiking’) around the mountains and valleys a couple of years earlier and was very good at it. There was a valley that I wanted to tramp and I convinced my wife to go with me. It would be a four day trip, walk up to a mountain hut at the snow line, stay a day or two and then walk out again. I didn’t factor that at the beginning of the trail we would have to cross a river. No bridge meant wading but the water was deep, all the way up to our armpits. I made two trips, each time carrying a backpack above my head. This river is basically melted snow so we were freezing when we started the actual walk. It was obvious after a few hours that we wouldn’t make it to the hut so we decided to pitch the tent on the banks of the river. We did so about an hour before sundown. After setting up camp, I checked in my bag and found, to my and my wife’s horror, that I had forgotten to pack the matches. I had to explain this to her as she tried to work out how we were going to cook our food, the kind that needs rehydrating.
I then remembered I had a compass and this had a magnifying glass on it. I got a piece of toilet paper and aimed the magnifying glass at the sun and the paper caught fire. Yes!! It will all be ok. The paper soon burnt up so I quickly found twigs and branches and set up a fire pyramid, put toilet paper under it, got the magnifying glass out again and watched, in horror again, as the sun sunk below the horizon.
My name was mud!!
We spent the coldest night ever, eating chocolate, nuts and lollies. The next day we met a school group and I begged them for some matches, blatantly lying that ours had got wet!!
Who’d camp with me!!
This photo was taken moments before I realised our predicament. Strangley enough, almost nineteen years later, my wife is still my wife and still goes camping with me. Never underestimate the power of forgiveness!!