A fountain in a pretty urban park, main street and Independence Square. Can you name this European capital? The country? A good weekend to all from CS&W and EarthPhotos.com.
"Once you're there, you can handle whatever comes at you with a believable grin, common sense and whiskey."
Two good reads today:A Glimpse into a Mysterious African Dictatorship: Is Eritrea on the Verge? from Time
The secret lives of North Korea from The Independent
Eritrea is one of those countries most people can't quite put their finger on on the map (Clue: All you have to do is find Djibouti). The author and African correspondent Michela Wrong's I Didn't Do It for You is one of the only books about contemporary Eritrea I'm aware of, other than an odd, very handsome 2007 coffee table book called Asmara: Africa's Secret Modernist City by Edward Denison. As for North Korea, a couple of things: See this I mentioned last week, and here's a DPRK visitor we talked with on CS&W back in 2009.
I voted for president today here in Georgia. For all our fractious partisanship in the United States, it is my great fortune, and I am thankful to live in an established, mature democracy.
In fearsome contrast, take a look at how things are going in Azawad, a country recognized by no one. Earlier this year "Azawad" was wrenched from Mali by Islamist insurgents. For an ugly reality check, please read A Trip Through Hell: Daily Life in Islamist Northern Mali.
One's on the web, the other's a book.
Enjoy Where is Cuba Going? by John Jeremiah Sullivan, in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine. It's long and meandering, in a good way. Sullivan is as flummoxed by the Florida Cuban community and the embargo as everybody else is, except the Florida Cuban community and anybody who has to navigate through them toward election.
Just one thing - he writes:
"Barack Obama was going to open things up, and he did tinker with the rules regarding travel, but now they say that when you try to follow these rules, you get caught up in all kinds of forms and tape."
Since his wife is Cuban, he can enter Havana under rules that are different from the ones we used on our visit a few months back, so he wouldn't have any experience with the new rules. For the record, there is a little more paperwork than, say, flying to Paris, akin to the kinds of things you have to file to visit, say, Belarus.But it's no big deal.
And staring down the epic Cuban Embargo had us anxious and alert re-entering Miami, but immigration couldn't have been more bored to see us. We might as well have brought along those Cuban cigars I left behind.
I've also just been reading, and recommend Chasing the Devil: A Journey Through Sub-Saharan Africa in the Footsteps of Graham Greene by Tim Butcher. Tim Butcher is a former British newspaper reporter and war correspondent now living in South Africa, who has that knack for travel in places you probably don't want to visit.
His previous book, Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through The World's Most Dangerous Country, in which he retraced Henry Morton Stanley's 1870 trek, was harrowing. In the new book Butcher sets out to cross Sierra Leone and Liberia. There's a particularly frightening section, and touching tribute, to two friends killed while reporting in Sierra Leone in 2000.
It's good stuff. Both Butcher books are worth a read.
I once met a young man named Joseph Oyule on a trip to Mombasa, Kenya. We exchanged addresses and kept in touch for a while. Now, five years later, as I lay on the bed in a villa at the Kingfisher resort in Malindi, 75 miles (120 kilometers) up the coast from Mombasa, Mirja runs in and exclaims: "Guess who's here! Joseph Oyule!"
He just shows up. Takes a two hour bus from Mombasa and a taxi, and here he sits. He’s young, smaller than I remembered, almost timid in his yellow polyester shirt with a too big collar, slacks and big battered wing tips. Joseph, Mirja and I sit and make halting small talk, alone in the still heat at the Kingfisher bar.
Two European female acquaintances are due for lunch, and I can see this particular fivesome isn't made in heaven, so I decide to take Joseph to a beach hangout called the Driftwood, for lunch. We hop a taxi.
The cheetah and the grasshopper live in South Africa, the baboon and flamingoes are from from the Tierpark Hellabrunn Zoo in Munich, Germany and the gorilla at bottom lives in Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda. More gorilla photos here. All processed in Photomatix and Photoshop. Click 'em to make them bigger. More HDRs here.
Whenever I read a story with news like this:
"Rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have taken a major border post after clashes with government troops...."
I think about a visit to a safari camp in Uganda a few years back, just near the border with Congo. It was small, only ten tents and the proprietor, a stereotypical grizzled white African character I'll call Dave, said he'd take out three of the tents and only have seven if he had his way but he was only working for the man, just like everybody else.
This place was down along a river, nice location. Oil had been discovered in the ground nearby, but recently enough that not a lot had been done yet; They were still mobilizing to get at it. Just over a ridge was the Congo border.
A four-wheeler drove up and Dave went to see. Came back after a while and told us it was the head of military intelligence for this sector. Said he drops by to buy a beer now and then, but of course the beer's on the house. The military man makes every visit a "family visit" (Dave sticks quotes up in the air). This time he brought his wife, last time his sister.
I give them some beers, maybe a bite, and we visit a half hour, Dave says. Even though you have to do it, it's not a bad idea. I mean, it's calm over there now (thumb in the direction of the DRC), but it only takes them three or four days to cook up a civil war.
Not that this isn't the safest place you can be, right here. Because it is, he thinks. They've got all the oil guys here. They've doubled the military presence. Never be the same. Still, it's good to have a phone number for the head of military intelligence.
Don't know why, but photography from some places seems to lend itself to HDR conversion better than others. Could be the photographer's inspiration. Some of the best HDR work I think I've done comes from Vietnam (Here are a few), a place I love, and I really liked Addis Ababa and the Ethiopian people a lot more than I'd expected to. So maybe that's it.
The top photo is from St. Mary's Church on Mt. Entoto, outside Addis. In the middle are worshippers at Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox church in Addis, and at the bottom we're back on Mt. Entoto. Click them to make them bigger. All these were shot with Nikon gear, converted in Photomatix and finished in Photoshop with Nik filters.
Unusual promotion on South Africa's Kulula.com - via its Facebook page.
"Inspired by regular VIP travellers with sizeable spousal entourages, the offer is open to all fourth wives when the family travels together on the Jo’burg to Cape Town route."
Here is Chapter Fourteen of Common Sense and Whiskey, the book, including a journey on the famous MV Ilala across Lake Malawi. We're publishing each chapter here on the blog (Track down previous chapters here). You can order the entire book for just $9.99 at Amazon.com, at BN.com, or direct from EarthPhotos Publishing. Here's the Kindle version (just $4.99). Click these photos to make them bigger. More photos and additional commentary are available at A Common Sense and Whiskey Companion. And here's the Malawi Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.
14 LAKE MALAWI
“On your right is area 50. This here is area 28, light industrial area. Across the road there is fertilizer factory and tobacco factory. That is heavy industrial area.”
The national police headquarters came into view on the right.
“That is area 40.”
Just across the street, “Area 43,” Everlasting explained, “Is low industrial. It used to be only area ten, and area ten is still there, but it is full, so they have made area 43.”
“We also have names but our names are too long, so we just say, say, area 12.”
Malawi’s Ministries stood on the left.
“So, is that area 1?”
Logical, I thought.
“No, that is area 20.”
This went on all through Lilongwe.
“Ah, that is area 47. Up there, that’s area 49. National Bank. Bank of the Nation.” The tallest building in Malawi is the central bank.
“This is the Jehovah’s Witness headquarters in Malawi.”
When we met, our driver told us, “I am Everlasting.” We sort of looked away, and then we realized that was his name.
Everlasting was a slow, deliberate speaker, easy enough to understand once you got acclimated. His “S’s” kind of trailed off.
For me, Malawi was a feel good place, and I think these photos show it. Happy people, agreeable, gentle pace of life. Later this week we'll publish Chapter 14 from Common Sense and Whiskey - the book (Amazon, BN, Kindle - Kindle's just $4.99) here on the blog. It's the story of our crossing Lake Malawi on the legendary passenger ship the MV Ilala.
These photos are both re-exposed nine times and recombined in Photomatix, finished in CS5 with Nik filters. There are 384 more HDRs in the HDR Gallery at EarthPhotos.com. Click these two to make them much bigger.
Working on a new e-book about the African safari experience has got me poking around into my photos from Africa. Here's one I reprocessed yesterday. It's a huge, finger-sized grasshopper from South Africa. Click it to make it bigger.
And while we're in safari mode, here's a random, short bit from the upcoming e-book. It's from a walking safari in Zambia:
Rains from November to April flood the Luangwa river system, and from then until November it's perfectly dry. The water will dry and recede and force the animals into greater and greater concentrations, with more and more conflict and danger from predators, but for now, there is peace, there are lagoons for crocs to eat catfish and places for hippos to eat and live apart from the river. The grass is still green and tall and thick, and Aubrey shows us how hippos change the landscape as they come and go from the river, creating an indentation on the water's edge that grows when it rains, collapsing the soil into gullies and washing it into the river.
Other animals use the trampled paths, that extend far up onto land, and sometimes hippo trails even evolve into rivers. We set out away from the river on a hippo path old and wide enough that there's a sandy bottom maybe half a meter wide with the grass on either side. Can't see ahead of us or to either side beyond the grass and Isaac pushes on toward a stand of mopane trees.
Those of us who are reluctant to vacation in a place they might be killed are crossing Timbuktu off our lists, at least for now. As a substitute, I recommend Angry Wind, by Jeffrey Tayler. It's on my list of ten great adventure travel books.
Good news for Judith Tebbutt this morning. As the BBC reports,
"Mrs Tebbutt was seized on 11 September last year from Kiwayu Safari Village, a luxury resort on a deserted stretch of Kenyan coastline, comprised of thatched cottages on the beach.
The couple had arrived only the previous day and were the only guests."
Her husband was killed in the kidnapping and she was taken by speedboat and held hostage in Somalia. She has been released on payment of ransom, and flown to Nairobi.
The Kiwayu Safari Village web site says only this:
"Sorry the website is unavailable due to the tragic events. Our thoughts and prayers are with the affected family."
The resort is described here as
"a barefoot luxury retreat on a deserted stretch of white beach facing out over the Indian Ocean," with prices from $400.
Back last October we had a story about a deadly kidnapping from the small island of Manda in Kenya, about 75 miles south of the Somali border. The resort in that kidnapping, Manda Bay, closed and put up a statement that read in part
"Manda Bay will remain closed until we are totally confident that sufficient security has been provided for the whole area."
They hired a "fast response boat" and reopened December 1st.
Lesson: Take your East African beach holiday beyond Somali speedboat range, down to Mozambique or out to Seychelles.
Here is Chapter Ten of Common Sense and Whiskey, the book. We're publishing each chapter here on the blog (Track down previous chapters here). You can order the entire book at Amazon.com, at BN.com, or direct from EarthPhotos Publishing. Here's the Kindle version (just $6.99). Click these photos to make them bigger. More photos and additional commentary are available at A Common Sense and Whiskey Companion. And here's the Madagascar Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.
Weeks-long rains had very nearly drowned the capital of Madagascar. Water filled the fields around Antananarivo, locally known as Tana, and giant sea birds crowded Lake Anosy.
At the airport, Mr. Andriamanohy Rantoanison, Manou, showed us a laminated card with the prix fixée: 44000 FMG.
It was essential to speak some French here, and Manou the Malagasy (pronounce that “Malagash”) Francophone, Mirja and I did it well together, less from skill than from good will, patience and good humor.
Manou brought us to the Mad Hilton, where they served raisin juice for a welcome drink. You see the same picture of Tana in all of the few guidebooks. Now we saw it too. Your intrepid backpacking-guide author stayed at the Hilton.
Tana sprawled across several hilltops and the Hilton was set back from the town opposite Lake Anosy. In the middle of the lake stood a monument in commemoration of Le Premiere Guerre Mondiale, and along the shore floated leaves that couldn't have been more green. They fairly glowed. Glew?
The sun dropped behind clouds before sunset. New in town, we stayed in our room a few floors up, attacked the minibar and warily eyed the busy, dusking-up streets around the lake.
The Malagasy are not brewers. I spat out a Madagascar-brewed Golden-something. Spat it out. Golden left a wicked curl in your tongue and a sour aftertaste.
Zoma means Friday and it’s also the name for the positively teeming Friday market in Tana.
It's strange to prepare for theft, but that’s what they admonish. Fix your bag to minimize what they get if they slash it open. The Bradt Guide to Madagascar: "The Zoma is notorious for thieves. It is safest to bring only a small amount of money in a money belt or neck pouch. Enticingly bulging pockets will be slashed."
From a hill above Independence Avenue, a sea of white umbrellas washed out ahead in every direction, swallowing up the main square, flowing into busy little eddies beside stairways, up the hills as far as the eyes could see. Up one hill, down the next.
We paused. This was big, sprawling, daunting and dramatic. We clasped hands and dove in.
Some original travel writing this week, about two very different places: Tomorrow we'll publish chapter ten of Common Sense and Whiskey, The Book (Amazon) (Kindle) (BN). Chapter ten is from Madagascar, one of your more exotic places on the planet. Then Wednesday we'll start a few short takes on our Christmas trip up to Finland and the Arctic Circle. They'll come daily in short, serial form, over the following several days. Hope you enjoy them.
Meanwhile, follow along with my friend Laurence Mitchell, who's in Southeast Asia this week.
"The last time I saw Jack the Whipper it was ten a.m. and he was picking a fight with a one-armed clown. "
- Possibly apocryphal, but attributed to Mick the Whip. From a very funny story about purveyors of leather goods who clashed in titanic whip competitions (like Two-Handed Whip Pyrotechnics and Synchronized Whipping) in the 1990s in Darwin, Australia. Heard on safari in Zambia, as told by Denis and Georgina, whose further identity, since they're still running a safari camp at an undisclosed location in Malawi, will be protected.
Here's a ruse we hadn't seen: The local boys use signs with people's names to get access inside the pass control gates, then they make like officials who are going to open up another pass control lane for you, grab your passports and expedite you through the lines, with the acquiescence of the real pass control clerks, for tips.
They're on you like a glove until you tip them, at which point they're joined by the baggage cart cadres just outside the pass control desk. These guys artfully monopolize all the available baggage carts and attach themselves to each arrival.
The pass control expediter got a dollar though he demanded ten. At least his scam was novel. Plus, we kind of needed our passports.
But we'd been through the baggage cart game quite enough on this trip to Africa, thank you, and we simply told the little round fellow who appointed us his (thank goodness we knew enough French), "We don't want your help, we will not pay you, go away," and he smiled and laughed and thought it was all a big joke and didn't begin to move until I rested my hand on his shoulder and repeated the same words slowly and more gravely. Finally he shook his head at the terrible wrong to which he'd fallen miserable victim and slowly walked away, but he was back at the curb for one last try.
Welcome to Abidjan.
- Tuesday, 21 March, 1995, from the collected dairies.
Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire
Common Sense and Whiskey is the companion to EarthPhotos.com, where you can see and buy professional photo prints from 105 countries and territories around the world, and the blog for Common Sense and Whiskey - the book. It's Intelligent discussion about the world out there.