Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Kalashnikov Sisters

The Kalashnikov Sisters
Much smaller group shot of my photo tour guests in Rwanda: Tamara and Angela
With an army guy, just for protection (ostensibly against marauding buffalo)

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Golden Monkeys in Rwanda

When you visit the Virunga National park in northern Rwanda to trek for the mountain gorillas you can also spend an easier day trekking (actually 'ambling' would be a better word) to find the golden monkeys in another part of the park.  

Though these primates appear to be plentiful in the area we trekked in, the Golden Monkey is officially an endangered species.

A day after the 2.5 hour slog up the steep sides of the park and the slip-sliding about to locate a family of mountain gorillas, the walk to view the gorgeous Golden monkeys was a doddle. 
The park rangers make it a bit more fun by pretending that we might never set eyes on the animals but truth be told, they have trackers almost permanently in the park keeping an eye on both the whereabouts of the various mountain gorilla families, and the golden monkeys.
We walked for 35 mins through open farmland, potato fields and acres of pyrethrum flowers before having to squeeze through the narrow gap in the stone wall marking the park's boundary (which apparently extends for 75kms - from a distance it's an impressive sight).  The thin gap is to prevent larger animals like Cape Buffalo from getting out of the park.  In the park the terrain is relatively flat as you walk through dense bamboo forests (pictured). As soon as one of the armed rangers appears in view you know the monkeys are not far off. You ditch all your baggage, taking only a camera and walk off for another five or so minutes before coming face to face with your first golden monkey.  As you can see from the shots here, these guys are really beautiful to look at, and are quite used to humans.  You can get as close as a metre or so before they flit off in to the shrubbery.
Young monkeys tumble and wrestle all over the forest floor, while the adults groom each other in the sun.  We were regaled by a large troop - probably 30 monkeys in all, frolicking about among the bamboo.  Getter a good shot of the critters was slightly easier than with the gorillas - for a start they are not black, were a lot more active and often stopped, albeit for only a few seconds, in a perfect pose.



This is an HDR image of the bamboo forest that the monkeys prefer. 
The bush is high enough to provide safety from predators on the ground while providing some cover from flying predators, mostly eagles, circling above.

Wherever you go in this corner of Rwanda, the impressive volcanoes dominate your view.
Mt Muhabura (4127m) is off to the right hand side.
The highest peak, Karisimbi, reaches over 4500m.
Good view of Mt Sabyinyo (3645m) most of which is in the Congo


Under the bamboo, shooting required an ISO of 1600 or higher, but once in the glade in the sun, I found ISO 200 ideal.  Best lens: a 70-200mm f2.8 lens is ideal.
The subjects are close enough for the focal length range while the fast max aperture is brilliant when the subjects sit in the deep shade of the bamboo forest
With your super-active subjects only five foot away from you, anything more magnifying would be too powerful.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Mountain Gorillas in Virunga National Park, Rwanda

Today was 'the big day' for our Rwandan adventure -  we left the hotel at 6am for the 30 min drive to the park HQ. Processing and a briefing took about half an hour - the guides divide up the visitors into groups of eight. As it is low season there were not so many visitors. The three of us were teamed up with three Canadians. We watched an amazing drumming demonstration then left for the hike into the park. 
Virunga has numerous gorilla families. The Rangers know them, and their characteristics, well. We were headed for a group over to the western edge of the park so drove for 30 mins on a dirt track before parking and heading off up the mountain. It took all of an hour to climb up to the dry stone wall bordering the park. At 2800m it was tough going up an incredibly knobbly path through acres of potatoes and pyrethrum flowers. In fact before we climbed through the stone wall we all smeared ourselves liberally with Rid, possibly containing an active ingredient grown in these fields (but probably not). Once in the park I found the going easier simply because it was so muddy and slippery all of us were forced to walk at a slower pace. The vegetation over the wall is 100% tropical rainforest. Impressive to see, slightly less impressive when you are slip sliding along paths being nipped and prodded from all angles by branches, brambles, bamboo and giant nettles. Although I was only wearing a short sleeved shirt, my first encounter with these massive stingers was an increasingly painful upper leg area. I must have walked into a stinger - it was very irritating for about 15 mins then it faded (thank goodness...).

We slithered on for another thirty minutes before we met the Rangers whose job it is to monitor the activities of this family. We dropped our kit, took whatever lens we needed and crept forward. After a few mins I spotted something black amongst the green undergrowth. It was two females lying on their backs sunning themselves. Or at least I think that was what they were doing. Apparently they eat early in the day - then relax for a few hours before moving off to find more food so it was a pretty good guess that they had stuffed themselves full and were sleeping it off. This was a very peaceful group because as the two Rangers cut their way through the dense bush so we could get a better view, the gorillas hardly even bothered to look up.
We nervously lined up and shot photos of this smallish group before moving on to look for the group's two silverbacks. I have to say it was very exciting because it soon became apparent that we were surrounded by gorillas - they were sitting in clearings, under bushes relaxing, seemingly impervious of 10 people making a right royal noise stumbling about in the rain forest. After 100 metres of slashing we found the boss silverback, all 220 kilos of him, just lying on his back in the sun scratching his boy bits rather like an overweight Aussie male in his backyard. It was both fascinating and compelling to see such a powerful and intelligent creature acting like it was his afternoon off.
We spent the best part of an hour and fifteen mins slashing and tramping round this small patch of jungle observing this silverback plus another junior silverback as well as several females. The group is supposed to have 14 members but I don't think we saw them all. A lot of stills were shot during our visit, plus a good few video clips - even a couple of selfies (thanks Angela!).
Despite the flog up the steep volcanic paths, the thin air and the dense bush in the park, it was a totally exhilarating experience. Both Tamara and Angela shot some great images of the gorillas. At times we were less than two metres from the gorillas. It was exciting and a bit scary too knowing that, despite their apparent ease with our proximity, gorillas are still very much wild animals and are powerful enough to inflict serious damage on a human. Thankfully none of our family were drunk on belly-fermented bamboo shoots so there were no drunken displays of aggression ( I recently read about a French photographer who was punched by a drunk male gorilla that was probably high on fermented bamboo shoots).
How do you get great shots of mountain gorillas?
Most shots are in the bush under cover, so choose a high ISO = 1600 or more
Best lens = 70-200mm, preferably with a fast f2.8 max aperture.



The power brick on my MacBook Pro is broken so I could not download and edit my pics for this blog so have pinched some excellent photos from Tamara and Angela and squeezed them into this post using my iPhone. A truly wonderful day!



Saturday, 7 March 2015

A Visit to a Rwandan Genocide Reconciliation Village

Everyone has heard of the appalling genocidal events in Rwanda. I have been lucky(?) enough to visit Rwanda twice and both times I visited the genocide museum in Kigali.
It’s a sobering place as you drift from room to room, reading about the social rifts created by a manipulative Belgian colonial administration, the rise of aggressive social factions within Rwanda and the complete indifference of the West as the country exploded into racial genocide. It’s a confronting museum, not least for the photographic evidence but also for the personal stories and inevitable comparisons with other genocidal episodes in Kosovo, Nazi Germany and again, the German Imperial army trying to eradicate the Herero people in Namibia.


On this visit though we did something a bit different by taking a trip 45 kms out of the capital to a reconciliation village where victims and perpetrators of genocide have lived together in remarkable harmony.

We were met by a group of over enthusiastic kids singing and dancing and were then sat down with the rest of the community to hear the confessions of a man who was responsible for killing many Rwandas.  I don’t want to use the descriptive words 'Hutu' or 'Tutsi' because this was a sort of insane tribal apartheid invented by the Belgian colonists purely to divide and rule. In most examples this categorisation was not based on religion, nor geographical location, nor language, but it was something as arbitrary as your height that determined whether you were one of these two so-called tribes.  The current government abandoned any such labelling of its people, replacing tribal names with the title of ‘Rwandan’ – probably the best thing any government could do following the loss of 1.5 million citizens based on nothing else but your height...

The man admitted to killing several people and how, once the genocidal hysteria had calmed and some sort of order was restored, he was caught by the new government troops and gaoled for seven years for his part in the slaughter.

In gaol he was visited numerous times by Pentecostal priests who encouraged him not only to admit what has happened during those times, but also to confess his actions in front of some of the survivors.  This occurred while he was in gaol - and was probably a cathartic experience for both parties once they both overcame their suspicions and fears.

Eventually he was released and went to live in a small village community that had been set up to try to help the survivors of the genocide.  The village currently has around 25 (perpetrator) families and 50+ (victim) families.  His female counterpart was 12 when the madness started.  She was playing in the bush with her brother when she heard screams and realised that ‘bad things’ were happening (I assume this meant that her mother and father were being killed but didn’t like to ask…).  They hid in the jungle till thirst drove her brother to look for water.  He went into a nearby friend’s house to look for a drink but never came back.  Someone cut his throat with a machete.  She fled into neighbouring Burundi for a while but eventually drifted back into Rwanda In search of relatives. 
She never found them but was helped by the church and eventually ended up in the village we were visiting.  She now has ten children, one way to compensate for having all your living family wiped off the face of the earth in such a traumatic fashion. 
I asked if she was happy and she replied that she was, and like most parents, hoped that her children would be able to be properly educated and lead 'good lives'.



The last of her 10 kids were twins. Here they are sitting patiently while the adults talk abut their experiences

Part of the village experience was the enthusiastic welcome we received. 
Here's one of the village girls shakin' her thang...

Photo Critique Night in Addis

Here are some great shots from our last slide night held in Addis Ababa.
Once again a great bunch of submissions from everyone - I picked five of the best from each submission of 15.

The Holy Book
Pic by Tamara Kitson
Religious teachers in an underground room
Pic by Tamara Kitson
Church doorPic by Tamara Kitson
Vervet monkeys playingPic by Tamara Kitson
Pic by Tamara Kitson
Hornbill
Pic by Angela La Loggia
Pic by Angela La Loggia
Tawny eaglePic by Angela La Loggia

Lalibela
Pic by Angela La Loggia
Biete Giyorgis
Pic by Angela La Loggia
Church priest
Pic by David Jackson

In prayer
Pic by David Jackson

Pic by David Jackson
Young studentsPic by David Jackson
Pic by David Jackson
Pic by Pat Jackson
Pic by Pat Jackson
Pic by Pat Jackson
Pic by Pat Jackson
Pic by Pat Jackson
Discussions
Pic by Kerrie Dixon
Young boy with lollies
Pic by Kerrie Dixon
Young students
Pic by Kerrie DIxon
Pic by Kerrie Dixon
Old man with prayer beads
Pic by Kerrie Dixon
Pic by Kerrie Murphy
Pic by Kerrie Murphy
Pic by Kerrie Murphy
Pic by Kerrie Murphy
In prayer
Pic by Kerrie Murphy

Friday, 6 March 2015

Photo Critique Night in Lalibela

Here are some of the fabulous shots taken by my hard working and greatly improved photographic students.
Some truly exceptional images.
I have selected five from each person's 15 image contribution, in no particular order.

Sunset by Angela La Loggia
In case you are wondering she has a Sony DSC HX300 with an equivalent 24-1200mm telephoto lens!)
Another beautiful sunset
Pic by Angela La Loggia
Cute Gelada baboon baby
Pic by Angela
Close up of a male Gelada baboon
Pic by Angela

Vultures
Pic by Angela La Loggia
Separating the chaff
Pic by David Jackson
Overloaded boy in the Adwa markets
Pic by David Jackson
Colourful head scarf in Adwa markets
Pic by David Jackson
Museum priest
Pic by David Jackson
Squabbling Gelada baboons
Pic by David Jackson
Fashionable Axumite girl
Pic by Kerrie Dixon

Simien National Park at dawn
Pic by Kerrie Dixon
Foot inspection
Pic by Kerrie Dixon
HDR view over the Simien National park
Pic by Kerrie Dixon
Girl in the market
Pic by Kerrie Dixon
Camel train disappearing over the horizon, Axum
Pic by Kerrie Murphy
Girl carrying a heavy load
Pic by Kerrie Murphy
Simien mountains view
Pic by Kerrie Murphy
Road workers on the drive to Axum
Pic by Kerrie Murphy
Camel driver
Pic by Kerrie Murphy
Girl in coffee shop
Canon EF 85mm f1.8
Portrait by Robin
Woman in markets
EF 70-200mm f2.8
Portrait by Robin
Boy with fly
EF 70-200mm f2.8
Portrait by Robin
Woman in market
Portrait by Robin
Woman in coffee shop
Canon EF 85mm f1.8  (currently my favourite lens!)
Portrait by Robin
Sunset from the Mountain View hotel, Lalibela
Pic by Pat Jackson
The collapsed stele in Axum. (It weighs about 500 tonnes)
Pic by Pat Jackson
Classic small boy invention - see-sawing on poles laft on the roadside destined for a building site.
Pic by Pat Jackson
Rest stop on the walk round the Blue Nile
Pic by Pat Jackson
Beautifully simple composition shot at the Royal baths, Axum
Pic by Pat Jackson
To buy , or not to buy?
Pic by Tamara Kitson

Still life
Pic by Tamara Kitson
In the market
Pic by Tamara Kitson
Measuring the grain
Pic by Tamara Kitson
Athletic boy
Pic by Tamara Kitson