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Botswana Part 11 last part and most amazing…

February 12th, 2011 |  by No comments

DAY 14

We get up very early long before sunrise and start talking about our very special day.  As we drive along Michelle who has become an amazing tracker suddenly spots a leopard in a tree and he has something in his mouth. Moss and Russell do not know this leopard and we approach with caution as he is not at all used to vehicles and people. We get a bit too close and he growls deeply and we all feel that familiar twinge in the spine.

Just another spectacular African sunrise

I have seen these for two weeks and still can't get over the colors

Carrying dinner down the tree

Carrying dinner away from us..

Oh NO Not that direct eye contact thing. I really don't want to get eaten. That was Jeff who moved in the vehicle not me...

Buffalo covered with ox peckers

The rest of the day is an unbelievable and rare treat. We are going to have an experience that almost no one gets to do. We meet a helicopter and the anti poaching unit along with a vet and some folks who have been satellite tracking elephants. Jeff is exceedingly dedicated to the preservation of wildlife and has contributed funds to allow an Elephant to be tranquillized and outfitted with a collar tracked by satellite. This is no small feat. Jeff, Michelle and I go in the helicopter and locate a herd of elephants. We coordinate with ground crews getting them near the herd.

flying above herd of elephants looking for one to collar

Ground team is directed to elephant from the helicopter

Anti poaching unit aids assistance

Jeff tries on the collar

The helicopter lands near the herd and the operation begins. First the vet takes out his medicine box and prepares the dart to tranquilize the elephant. The chopper along with Jeff and the vet take off and find the dominant female and as the helicopter hovers low, the vet takes his shot. Everyone is anxious. It takes an average of 8 to 10 minutes for the elephant to go down. The herd senses something and surround the darted female to protect her. The herd is scared off by the helicopter and leave the sedated elephant.

Vet selects the drug for the dart

Preparation of the dart

Final prep of the dart

Dart is loaded into the rifle

Collar is ready for the elephant

Helicopter pics up the vet for the darting

Taking aim at the elephant

Dart is fired from the chopper

The dart in the elephant

She starts to go down and the team must move fast

The helicopter quickly lands and we approach the elephant. She must be turned on her side and everyone pushes to turn her. I am the only one not pushing because I want to photograph this incredible event. Michelle helps do measurements and Jeff is given the task to put on the collar which ways 17 Kilos. The vet draws blood for DNA samples and finally Jeff gets to name the elephant. Jeff chooses Chloe after one of his nieces. The entire event is very emotional. Everything is completed and Chloe is ready for tracking. Michelle gives her a kiss on the trunk and Jeff give her an emotional hug and kiss goodbye. She is given the reversal drug by the vet and within minutes is on her feet. She touches the tracking device with her trunk and heads off.

Everyone helps to roll the elephant over for the collar

Out like a light for just enough time to get the collar on

The wound site is cleaned

Measurements and blood samples taken

Jeff puts the collar on

Hair on the elephants back

Michelle checks out the trunk

Jeff feels the air coming through the trunk

Emotions build as the team gets ready to wake the elephant

Final checks are completed

Jeff has an emotional moment with the elephant now named Chloe

The vet gives the injection to wake up Chloe

The vet notes the time from the injection

Chloe starts to wake up

She is soon on her feet

Once up she checks out the tracking device and collar

We get back on the chopper and head across the bush photographing wildlife from a great vantage point and head to a village called Gunotsogaa Village. We have to make two trips to the village because we bring a guide as well. Michelle and I land first and we are instantly swarmed by smiling children. It is amazing and quite emotional. They want to touch us and everyone wants their picture taken. Jeff arrives about 20 minutes later and we tour the little village visiting a school, a village center for meetings, a little store and eventually we are treated to a dance performed by the entire village. The faces are amazing and there are many stories behind the fantastic array of eyes and smiles.

Flying over the delta to the village of Gunotsogaa via helicopter

The delta from the air is even more dramatic than the ground view

A herd of elephants along the Okavango Delta

The children in Gunotsogaa greet us with excitement as we land

face after face

shy,happy, inquisitive but all kids with big smiles

They wanted to touch us and of course see the pictures

Michelle has even a bigger smile than the kids

And my smile isn't too bad either....

Everyone comes to see us

Amazing color and amazing faces

cute, cute and more cute

Each face tells a story

Every generation comes to say hi

Amazing faces

HIV and or TB infect almost half of the village

sign from inside classroom

The bar and movie theatre. Amazingly the sign on the front says Avatar and GI Joe the rise of the cobra playing now

The village bread store

A dance when a girl is initiated into adulthood.

Even the babies check us out

Amazing color and faces

Another major gigage day for me

Every turn of the camera is another amazing face

Michelle and Seth joke about Jeff adopting 30 or 40 kids

Michelle is swarmed ( and loving it) as she shows the images on the back of the camera

Just amazing, amazing faces and the gigage just keeps growing

Every face tells a story

We eventually board the helicopter and wave goodbye and head back to camp. Along the way we photograph from the air which is simply amazing.

Eventually we have to leave and wave goodbye

The Okavango Delta is painting like from the air

A fish eagle flying next to our helicopter

Even our helicopter becomes a subject

Great herds look amazing from the air

The birds stay on the back as the buffalo bolts through the water

The hippos are not to sure about the helicopter

A thunderstorm moves across the delta

Jeff practices his zebra herding skills for one last sunset. He has graduated and  gets the zebras to move right into the perfect light.

Jeff has become a professional zebra herder

Jeff gets the zebras to run right through the water

Turn around and line up for Seth

We have a fantastic barbeque and continue with editing all the images and I photograph the stars at night.

The stars were incredible

DAY 15

I get up at 3 AM to photograph the stars and then we all meet for sunrise and head out into the bush to find Chloe. We are aided by Poster who quickly locates Chloe. She is fine but a little shy and we don’t want to bother her but are all feeling much better knowing that all is well.

After photographing the stars, sunrise starts and we have Venus with the moon

Poster uses a tracking device to help us find Chloe

Chloe has the tracking device and is fine:)

A few more zebras before we head back to the states

The patterns are incredible

My last frame from Botswana

We go back to camp and have breakfast and head to the airstrip. Russell the king of birdwatching accompanies us on the way to the airstrip. We all start calling out some of the birds and wonder if we will be inducted into the honorary bird watching society. Russell’s wife Bonnie was flying in and we met her briefly at the airstrip. She studies different kinds of grasses and spiders. We figure that being in the bush with Bonnie and Russell might be too exciting for all of us… We board our puddle jumper after clearing the runway of some impala and head to Maun for a transfer to Johannesburg. As we board the flight from Maun the flight attendant announces that they are going to disinfect the plane of bugs and sprays an obnoxious substance in the aisles. Kills all bugs but safe for humans to inhale… Right…..

In Johannesburg we have to form two lines one with males and one with females to be checked by security. The line was long and when we inquired if there was a line for Business Class we were told that there was one for men but not for woman. Too bad for Michelle who had to wait for quite sometime. In the meantime Jeff was flagged by security for a more in depth search. Evidently Jeff get caught last year attempting to bring a ham sandwich into US and it went on his permanent flying record. I guess the ham wasn’t kosher….

EPILOG

So the honest truth is that initially I really did not want to go on this trip. I had been to so many zoos and wild animal parks that I thought this would be essentially the same. I assumed we would have a guide and just like in an animal park in the US someone would say over there we have a lion.. I could not have been more wrong. THIS TRIP WAS ONE OF THE BEST I HAVE EVER BEEN ON and it was wild and very real and the images and light and experience was beyond anything I could have imagined.

This trip would not have been possible without the dedication and commitment to helping animals that Jeff portrayed. While he likes to show the brazen New York where he was born, he is a sweet gentle and amazingly kind human and we need more Jeff’sMichelle and I both want to thank Jeff for inviting us on this incredible trip.  We truly had an amazing time and it far exceeded our expectations – it is going to be a hard trip to top.  The three of us had such a great time together, really good company to spend two weeks in Africa with!

Lastly, I would like to thank Stephen and Brennan Rimer from Journeys Unforgettable www.JourneysUnforgettable.com who customized this trip for us. Stay tuned as we will be doing other African trips with them. Also I would like to thank Russell Friedman and Wilderness Safaris.com. Lastly thanks to Kelly Landen and the crew from Elephanats Without Borders.

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Part 8 – Botswana- frogs, lions, elephants, baboons and the booby beetle..

February 9th, 2011 |  by No comments

DAY 10

Michele and Jeff load the daily artillery

Michelle spots a male lion in a field and we approach. We are within feet and make direct eye contact as he roars and lets us know that he is boss but that he is also OK with us being this close. You are excited but also have a cold chill on the spine being this close to the king of beasts.

Now that is being close to a lion

And this is a little too close, but at least this time he is looking at Michelle and not at me

We then come across a few elephants and head to an area where guides will take us out on makoro. We are in the delta for just minutes and see beautiful reed frogs.

Makoro's are a great way to see the Reed Frogs

Reed Frogs are totally cool

And their shadows are even better....

Lots of other cool bugs

We spend about an hour on the mokoro boats and then continue on in the 4×4’s. It is very sunny and hot today and we are hoping to get elephants in the water. We get them drinking and splashing in the mud but they are a bit skittish and move away as we approach.

Splish splash

Now we are talking. What a way to cool down

Move over I want more room

Great texture and great design

more design....

and more...

Mom cooling off her baby

In the afternoon we find a family of baboons with young that are only days old. We photograph the youngsters riding on the backs and hanging on the bellies of the moms and playing around.

Two ways to hitch a ride

a baboon colony

The young were very curious

After the baboons we head to the water but on the way Michelle lets out a scream. Jeff and I look and apparently a large bug has gone down the top of her shirt. Once she is OK we all laugh and call the large bug a boobie beetle. Joking on this trip has been continuous and when the laughing starts I typically turn on the video on the 5D and craft very humorous sidebars. One of the funniest sidebars in Vumbra Plains is a family that is staying here which is sort of the opitomy of tourists on safari. The dad walks around with a book on animals and the whole family is asked questions Jeopardy style. No one has heard about safari clothes and one of the daughters has a red flashdance outfit on hanging off her shoulder with a white skirt and a large tramp stamp on her back. She is clearly not the brightest clock on the block and I hear her ask if there are sharks in the water. We are in the middle of Botswana in fresh water so I am rather amused but really get a laugh when the dad suddenly asks a shark question and asks the family if sharks lay eggs or are live bearers. After the father explains that they have an egg case, the brilliant tramp says, “so they must be mammals”…. Wow!!!!!.  We hope with a little luck maybe the leopard will eat her. She is not the only amusement in the family because they also have another “daughter” who is about to be married and the son in law to be is on the trip as well. She is rather manly and has a very deep voice and has a tendency to scratch her back with both hands in a bizarre way. We wonder if she is a transvestite.

On the way back to camp an insane African sunset

The sunset just keeps getting better

And right when you think it just can't get any better, it does..

I say goodnight and so does the fruit bat above my doorway

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Part 6- Vumbra Plains- Cross Botswana Expressway and Elephants galore

February 7th, 2011 |  by Comments off

DAY 8

On Sunday for our last day in Savuti we wake up at 3 and pack and head out into the bush.

Another amazing sunrise

We encounter the cheetah from the day before lounging on the runway at sunrise.

Cheetah on runway ready for takeoff

I believe this runway is currently being used

After spending about an hour we head into the bush and come across some elephants that we evidently disturbed. A large male showed his dominance. In plain English he charged us and Michelle let out scream. We wondered if the seat was dry?

A little too close

20110123_Savuti_0035

We drove past the elephants and on this dirt or rather barely dirt road we came across our first sign in all of Botswana. The sign read “Transit Route”. We looked at each other and laughed. Lazi explains that it really is a transit route for trucks and vehicles headed towards Maun. We appropriately nicknamed the road the Trans Botswana Highway.

A hornbill alongside the Trans Botswana Highway

The sign says it all.....

About 200 feet down the road a tree was blocking the superhighway and we had to head into the grasslands and swamp to get around it. We got back on the road and went to the airstrip where we met the puddle jumper to take us to our next destination Vumbra Plains.

When I was growing up as a kid I went to camp and it was genuinely rustic. I assumed that most of the camps in Africa would remind me of summer camp, log cabins and minimum comforts. Vumbura Plains is no regular camp. Vumbura Plains south is beyond luxury. My room was about 1600 square feet. Each tented room has a large, very comfortable bedroom, a sunken lounge, a “sala” and ensuite facilities with a shower, bath, a flush toilet and an outdoor shower under the stars. Each room also has its own plunge pool where you can watch elephants from in the flooded plain in front. The main dining, lounge and pub area are also raised off the ground and are tucked beneath a canopy of cool, shady, indigenous trees with a wonderful vista across the flood plains.  There are 7 bedded camps linked by raised boardwalks and each has its own dining, lounge and bar area although all 14 beds or parts thereof can be utilized for larger parties. All 7 of the luxury tented rooms are raised off the ground on wooden platforms with walkways connecting them to the main living areas. Access into this area is only by aircraft and then by vehicle to camp. The camp is situated to the north of Mombo, in a private concession bordering the Moremi Game Reserve in the extreme north of the Okavango Delta. The Vumbura Reserve offers both land and water activities in a park that has a wonderful variety of habitats and a great diversity of wildlife. The reserve offers an enormous traversing area of close on 130,000 acres. The main activity at Vumbura Plains is game viewing in diverse and scenic countryside. Open 4×4 Range Rovers and walks enable game viewing in the savannah and woodland areas. While the camp is luxurious it also has a spectacular staff that was not at all pretentious. The staff was totally accommodating with a smile for every single request.

As I check into my room I look at the plunge pool and there is a beautiful painted reed frog on the side of my pool. I waste no time grabbing the macro and shooting and then we meet our driver Ollie and head out into the bush. It is about 5:30 PM by the time we head out and we encounter wildebeest, warthogs and elephants and catch a really pretty sunset. We have a fantastic dinner and then I shoot some star trails at night, do a little editing and then pass out.

Nothing like a little tent in Africa

We had to really rough it in Vumbra Plains

More to come…..

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Botswana part 2 – close to the kitties

February 3rd, 2011 |  by Comments off

DAY 4

Day two was beyond spectacular. We headed out at about 4 AM and it poured but we soon encountered the lion pride but this time we saw three cubs and several females. No one would believe that we were able to get as close as we did. The females would allow us to get three to five feet from them. The cubs were frolicking with mom and the rain stopped giving way to beautiful light.

Lion pride in Duba Plains

Young lions jump across the water

After a few hours we looked for the rest of the pride and found them with a  cape buffalo they had just killed.

Cape buffalo and lion pride - the male is done and now everyone can dine

Dinner is being served in the main dining room

Again incredible pictures and just when we thought it couldn’t get any better a large male showed up and came right up to our vehicle. With a completely open vehicle all of our hearts raced as a large male comes within three feet.

Very close, very very close

Eventually the entire pride was together with the young drinking milk from mom and again we were close enough to touch them.

Nursing cubs

So cute and so close

Even cuter and closer

At the end of the day we went back to the cape buffalo they had killed and there was nothing left. We photographed the skeleton, which was covered in flies.

Lions eat a lot very quickly

Nice set of teeth

Don't lose your footing Michelle

The rains then came and when I say rain I mean rain. Gortex ponchos did little to keep us dry. Cameras and lenses were wrapped in garbage bags and then wrapped in ponchos and miraculously everything was fine although we were all soaked.

A few more pics along the way…

Ox pickers on a cape buffalo

Termite mouds abound and black mambas like to make their home in the holes

Bark on dead ancient trees are an array of color

More to come…… Stay Tuned

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Greg Gorman: A Distinct Vision opening at DCOTA in Florida

January 14th, 2011 |  by Comments off

My good friend Greg Gorman is in town for the opening of his show  A Distinct Vision opening January 18th at DCOTA in Florida. Greg and I got together last night and we started out with a 1994 Araujo and then went to the Delano for a little sushi and saki. Today I had the privilege of seeing the show. I am leaving for Botswana and won’t be able to come to the official opening but I can tell you that this is a show not to be missed. The prints are spectacular and the sheer quantity and depth of work is truly amazing. The show features four decades of Greg’s work with images of just about everyone who is anyone from Mick Jagger to Johnny Depp, Mark Wahlberg, Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson Leonardo DiCaprio and more. the show runs from January 18th through March 31.

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Categories: Creativity