Saturday, 28 February 2015

Sauntering through the Simien Mountains

The Simien Mountains in northern Ethiopia are famous for being the home to the Gelada baboon.
It's also called the bleeding heart baboon for the red patch of skin on the chest, which is especially noticeable on the large males. 
They are herbivorous animals (and are therefore not aggressive like the Chacma baboon) and quite used to humans wandering amongst the troop, providing you  don't get too close.
Canon EOS 5D MkIII, 70-200mm + 1.4 EF Extender
Sunrise over the Simiens. What you see here are the remnants of the high plateau, harder rock standing 1000 feet above the valley floor. It's a spectacular sight in daylight - even better just before sunrise.
Canon EF 70-200mm + 2X Extender @ 400mm, tripod, Cloudy White Balance (to make the colour come out stronger).

At some points this is very reminiscent of Monument Valley in the US, but it is much larger!
Hazy ridges shot on the way back down from 3200 metres to the junction turning for Axum .
Canon EF 70-200m lens + 2X Extender
National Parks guide hooning about, leaning on a large rock overlooking the valley below
I think the two guards were amused at so many cameras clicking away
View from the ridge down into the valleys below the Simien Mountains
Our second guard sporting an ancient kalashnikov assault rifle, a relic from the 17-year civil war that eventually gave Ethiopia freedom from its communist Derg.
Gelada baboons preening each other
A mother gelada baboon putting up with the antics of her tiny baby
Macro shot of the Abyssinian rose

Academy Tour to Ethiopia Group Shot

I could not resist this group shot.
In Ethiopia it's normal to have several guides and armed guards when visiting the Simien National park
And here are the park guards and the guide larking about at 3200 metres, overlooking the escarpment.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

What Ethiopians eat for breakfast

Breakfast is important wherever you are.
This is Ethiopian injera, a dish served for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
It consists of a large pancake made from tef flour which is fermented then cooked on a huge griddle plate onto which are dolloped many vegetarian dishes including dall, spinach, salad, beetroot, potato, chick peas and more. Very tasty.
Herbs and pulses in the local market in Bahir Dar
Raw tumeric
Dried red chillies
Local ladies selling their home grown veggies in Bahir Dar markets. 
All the produce looked exceptionally fresh and high quality.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Churches on the Zege Peninsula, Lake Tana, Ethiopia

Gear Breakages on the Road

It's a sad fact that even if your travel is luxurious, things get lost, broken or just disappear while travelling.  Photographers probably have the worst of it as they tend to travel with an inordinate amount of additional gear, from lenses to computers , cables and of course filters. I got a shock when I pulled my 24-105mm lens out of the bag today to see the filter glass shattered.  It's never happened before and annoying seeing that it was only a week old.  All you need is a tiny nick in the edge of the glass element, then a slight knock, and it cracks.

Just in case I usually travel with a second camera body - in case disaster strikes – luckily I have never lost a camera.  But I have dropped a few resulting luckily in only surface scratches but a larger bar bill for that evening.   I had a scare getting out of a taxi in Dubai recently. My Canon EOS 5D MkIII crashed onto the concrete floor - with no apparent damage, despite the noise it made.  It was only then I realised that it had become detached from my Carryspeed camera strap. On closer inspection it appears that the ball part of the universal joint was excessively worn – essentially the weight of the camera pulled the socket apart sending it onto the pavement. 
Carryspeed (apparently) is locked in a copyright dispute with Black Rapid over patent infringements so I couldn't complain to the company as there is no contact page.  Luckily I managed to get a replacement strap in a local camera store.

Copyright infringement or not, I think Carryspeed has a far better product because it has a better anchoring point on the camera – Black Rapid straps attach via a screw thread into the tripod screw socket. Carryspeed straps attach to a plate which attaches to the bottom of the camera. This plate has no less than 6 tripod screw holes - the plate itself fits Arca Swiss style QR heads so you don't have to unscrew the strap to attach the camera to a tripod.  My new version strap has a far better ball and socket locking mechanism that I hope will never let go of the camera.  If you have one that looks like this model and you regularly use heavy lenses, might be an idea to have the ball socket checked out so you don't experience the same disaster...

Russian Remnants among Religious Relics

A fancy plant holder - bougainvillea growing out of the rear access doors to this Russian BMP APC
We saw this vehicle parked up in the front of the hotel in Bahir Dar - I asked why a Russian APC (armoured personnel carrier) was on display in the hotel - "souvenir of the war from the 70s" was the answer.  At that time the Derg, a socialist revolutionary party took control of Ethiopia backed by the Soviets who, of course, flooded the area with 'aid' - in this case an 8-man wheeled BMP 1 (I think this is the model - most were tracked).
This could hold 8 troops, plus a driver and commander. 
It was not only totally amphibious but it was also designed to provide protection from nuclear and biological warfare as well.
Quoted from Wikipedia: "The  BMP-1 is a Soviet amphibious tracked infantry fighting vehicle. BMP stands for Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty 1, meaning "infantry fighting vehicle".  The BMP-1 was the first mass-produced infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) of USSR.  It was called the M-1967, BMP and BMP-76PB by NATO before its correct designation was known".

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

A Short Walk up the Blue Nile

It was not the best time to shoot rushing waters of the Blue Nile - but we didn't have much of a choice.  We flew into Bahir Dar from Addis at 9am and after a bone-shattering hour on a dirt road arrived at the falls national park.  As is often the case in these places we took on a local guide who was handy for carrying tripods but not a lot else.  Waterfalls don't require a lot of explaining.  Being the dry season very little water was going over the drop - local authorities built a hydro station round the corner that consumes most of the flow headed for the waterfall - but we were lucky in that the generating plant had broken down the week before so the flow was quite impressive.  From here the Blue Nile flows some 5200kms to Alexandria. 

To get the smoke like effect I used an ND 64 filter (which turns the image in the viewfinder almost black) this produced a 4 second exposure and a nice smooth water effect.  While it sounds like the ideal solution, using the ND64 is hard because it's so dark you simply cannot clearly see if the image is in focus or not...

Here's the group crossing a thin suspension bridge next to the Blue Nile falls
Small local boat acting as a ferry to get across the relatively smooth waters of the Blue Nile

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Mercato Madness

Mercato, in central Addis Ababa, is reputed to be the largest market in Africa.  When you are driving through Mercato you feel like it has no end or beginning - it's just an endless stretch of ramshackle huts, shops, sheds and tents, housing every conceivable kind of product.  From donkeys to electrical wiring, (re)polished second hand saucepans, tools, heaters, beds, linen, chillies, kat (a mildly addictive plant leaf that the Ethiopians chew), cars, car parts, tailoring - you name it, it's there...

Some of the donkeys appear to have owners, like these two,
but we also saw plenty of others just trotting off apparently by themselves through the traffic and throngs of people...
I wasn't sure what these two were up to - maybe they had lost their donkeys?
You would not know from this picture  -  this is a chilli grinding shed.
The smell even from the relatively safe confines of the van was almost eye watering.
These shops sell whole large chillies or the powder.
Trying to make sense of the mountains of recycled vegetable oil containers (in yellow) as a visitor is hard but in this section of Mercato this is a living...