Sorry! I couldn’t avoid the obvious pun. 😉
There is an irony in being able to see animals better in the wild than you can at a zoo.
My husband and I had grandchildren visiting over the Christmas break, so we took the opportunity to spend a day at Sydney’s beautiful Taronga Zoo. Now, I love this particular zoo (see: A Tale of Two Tarongas): you get plenty of exercise walking up and down its hilly terrain and the views over Sydney Harbour are magnificent. But, the animals can be a bit shy. As we walked around, trying to spot the zebras and lions, I couldn’t help but remember the wonderful days I spent in Etosha National Park in Namibia (see: Birds and Beasts; At the Waterhole; and Elephant Waltz).
Wildlife watching in Etosha is almost cheating, the animals are so prolific. From the minute we rode out in our pop-top trucks, we would catch sight of beasts on the veld, or around the various waterholes, or in the scrub, or even crossing the roads in front of us. We camped on the eastern side of this huge national park, near the King Nehale Waterhole, and all manner of animals literally came to us. I found it all so exciting I could hardly sleep at night – well, excitement, plus the yelping of jackals in the tent next door, as they fought over jerky some unwise person had left behind, and the vibrating roar of the male lions in the distance …
As yet I’d only heard those lions, but as we drove out of camp before the sun was up on our third day in the park, the guides were buzzing: Lions had been seen!
They – and all the other animals Etosha has to offer – were magnificent!
View from the Truck
Mornings are early on photo tours: it was six thirty, and we were already in the truck looking for game.
It is not long before a wild animal crosses our path – quite literally!
Lions don’t seem so well disguised in a zoo, even when they manage to hide. But, in Namibia, the morning sun bounces off the young male’s mane in exactly the same way as it bounces off the leaves on the almost-bare trees.
Three Young Male Lions
Lions are the most social of the wild cats. Male lions are expelled from their maternal pride around age two or three, when they reach maturity. These three are probably siblings or cousins who have grouped together for companionship and to improve their ability to hunt.
Young Male Lion
The lion’s mane starts growing when he is about one year old, and darkens with age. This male looks to be the eldest of the trio, and wears battle scars on his back.
The Male Gaze
As I aim my camera from the open roof of our jeep, I feel like one of the males is making direct eye contact: it is a breathtaking moment.
Sun in the Lion’s Mane
In mythology, lions are associated with the sun: because of their strength, their golden-brown colour, and the male’s ray-like mane.
Lion on the Road
These magnificent creatures are kings of the park! They stride across the road knowing full well that they are at no risk.
Red Hartebeest at a Waterhole
The morning sun casts these African antelopes in the same shades as the scrub behind them.
The striped pelts of the kudu help keep them camouflaged in the scrub, but with their long, magnificent twisting horns, the solitary males stand out at the waterhole.
Black-Faced Impala – Aepyceros Melampus Petersi
Lines and Curves
I grew up thinking zebras were black and white, but the Burchell’s zebras, which are the most numerous in Namibia, feature brown shading between their black stripes. The stripping makes them less visible to predators, especially in the half-light of dawn and twilight, and protects them from tsetse flies, which apparently don’t like contrasting colours.
Here’s Looking at You!
Zebras might be one of the most common animals in Africa, but they are also one of my favourites. With their strong, stocky equine bodies, zebras are compact beasts. Did you spot the male kudu in the scrub behind them?
I love their punky manes and quizzical expressions. Despite their obvious appeal, zebras have resisted domestication – unlike their closest relatives, horses and donkeys.
A group of kudus stop us in our tracks; young ones first, a large male in the middle, and the smaller adult female bringing up the rear.
“Look Both Ways!”
Zebra on the Verge
The common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) is hardly the best-looking of creatures, but at least we can say we have seen them! They’ve seen us too, and run away with their tails in the air.
Later in the morning, at another waterhole, we find another of my favourites: dainty springboks (Antidorcas marsupialis).
A group of elephants bathes and splashes in a nearby pond. I could watch these beautiful creatures forever!
In the heat of the late morning, we watch as a mother and calf slosh away through the mud …
… and others stay behind to wade, splash and play in the water.
An “Implausibility of Gnus”
Wildebeests (Connochaetes) are, as James Lipton suggested when he coined the phrase an “implausibility of gnus” in 1968, truly implausible beasts! I can’t look at their big shaggy heads and skinny legs without smiling – and humming the chorus of Flanders and Swann’s comical song, “I’m a g-gnu, spelled g-n-u. You really ought to k-know w-who’s w-who!”
“Confusion of Wildebeests”
Of course, a “confusion” is just as apt a collective – even when it is not migration season!
As we leave the waterhole in search of our own lunch, a giraffe watches us go.
I hardly needed food: I was so full of the morning’s experience: so many different animals – in plain sight, in spite of their attempts at camouflage!
But, we were going back in search of lions after lunch – so I ate. 😉 And out we went …
Striking a Pose among the Potatoes
It’s hard work getting food to the market and the table; song, plenty of chatter, and posing for the “tourists” help lighten the load.
Every cell in my body was alive and smiling!
I had sun on my head and dirt under my feet. With my arms swinging and my feet walking, I was finally on the move, and every step was a joy. I love walking – that is, until my knees lock up and my hips inflame, whereupon every step becomes agony …
It was the start of “day one” on a short, “easy” trek in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley, and I couldn’t have been happier to be out and about.
I love Nepal, and when photographer Gavin Gough announced he was running a workshop out of Kathmandu, I jumped at the chance to return to the country. I was so excited that I organised to arrive four days early and go on a warm-up trek with local guide Angfula Sherpa and another photo-tour participant that I knew.
Although it is true that getting there – and getting started – is half the fun, once we were out of the city and out of our vehicle, I was in my element. I had my pack on my back, my cameras on my hips and a smile on my face. Our first day’s walk was from Panauti, a small town southeast of Kathmandu, to the Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery in the tiny village of Namo Buddha. According to Google Maps, it is only 10 kilometres: a walk of about two and a half hours; it took us much longer, as we stopped to photograph every corner, chat to every villager, and sample all the foods along the way!
Join me in the dirt and sunshine of the Eastern Rim of the Kathmandu Valley.
Wing over the Valley
Our proposed “easy trek” is somewhere below me; flying over the valleys and mountains of Nepal gave me a reminder of how rugged the terrain is.
The smog of Kathmandu is as I remember it, and the city boundaries stretch forever. I’m glad I have pre-booked a recommended accommodation down there somewhere!
Sunrise in Lazimpat
I’m up bright and early to try to do some pre-trek stretching on the rooftop of Lazimpat House, and to watch the sun rise over the crowded city.
Panauti Fruit Stand
Our guide, Angfula Sherpa, collected us early. We stopped in Panauti to pick up fresh fruit …
Panauti Fruit Seller
… from a street-side fruit seller.
Our car let us off at the head of our track, near the isthmus between the Roshi and Pungamati rivers. To our right, and across the river: one of Panauti’s many Hindu temples; …
… to our left, on our side of the river: one of the many Buddhist stupas that coexist beside the Hindu places of worship in Nepal.
Soon enough, the vestiges of “town” are left behind, and we are among acres of new potatoes growing in raised beds.
Women on the Road
We are not alone on the dusty road, as Newari people – the long-time residents of this valley – go about their daily lives.
Woman in the Potato Fields
Father and Child
Parents and grandparents along the way are happy to show off their babies. All across the region, young children wear kohl around their eyes to protect against infections and evil spirits.
Houses on the Road
People are slowly rebuilding their lives following the earthquake in April 2015: houses are still coming down and going up. The damage we walk past is both random and heartbreaking.
The Green House and the Shrine
And then, amid the ruins and the simple brick homes, we find this!
Three Generations on the Roof
This elaborate building probably houses a large extended family – as illustrated by the three generations who come out onto the upper balcony …
Mother and Baby
… to watch us pass by.
It may still be late morning, but when we spotted a man making samosas filled with fresh minced peanuts and spices, …
… (while his smiling wife looked after the rest of the shop) …
… we had to stop and wait for them to cook so we could sample a few. They were absolutely delicious!
Sun-Baked Brick Pile
Meanwhile, next door …
… and across the road, …
… clay bricks are being made, laid out for sun-drying, and stacked in piles.
The sun rises towards its zenith, and we continue walking, with our bellies full of savoury samosas. The local women tend their gardens …
Working the Potatoes
… and hoe the potato furrows, …
Woman in the Potatoes
… pausing their work and song to greet us with curiosity.
The flooded potato furrows – like our walk – stretch out to the foothills in the distance.
The sun was getting higher and the March spring air was humming with fresh smells and warmth. We still had a long way to go before lunch time – let alone before our stop for the night. But, so far, every step was a pleasure, and I was enjoying the moment.
Until next time,
It’s back-breaking work, planting rice, but Balinese farmers still have a smile for visitors.
Rice is absolutely central to Balinese society.
In Bahasa Indonesia, the lingua franca in Bali, nasi, the word for rice, also means “meal”. But in Bali, rice is so much more than that: the whole process of growing and harvesting rice is at the very core of the island’s religion and culture.
Since around 900 CE, the Balinese have followed a system of rice irrigation called subak, which arises from the Balinese Hindu philosophical concept of Tri Hita Karana. Tri Hita Karana, which translates as “three causes to prosperity” or “three causes of well-being”, seeks to promote harmony among people, harmony with nature and the environment, and harmony with God. Subak is “a complex cooperative irrigation system which incorporates traditional ecologically-sustainable land management under the authority of the priests in the water temples”, a system so unique that it was UNESCO-listed in 2012 for it’s cultural importance.
Rice cultivation in Bali happens in a continuous cycle, with neighbouring fields often at different stages of maturity. Balinese farmers always plant new fields before harvesting all the ripened ones (see: A Ride through the Rice Fields). The Balinese are the most prolific rice growers in the Indonesian archipelago; this, and their community-based egalitarian farming practices and equal distribution of resources, has allowed them to spend time in artistic and cultural pursuits.
Any time of day or year, you will find rice in the fields, and people tending it.
My husband and I were walking on a main road towards Ubud on a January afternoon when a Balinese man approached us and offered to take us for a walk through the rice terraces. This is the sort of thing that happens in Bali: strangers will offer to take tourists places, and it is usually ok …
Impossibly Green: New Rice
Around the hills of Ubud, houses and boutique hotels border the rice terraces.
Green and Yellow : Starting to Ripen
Every rice paddy is at a different stage of growth.
A Giant Wood Spider (Nephila Maculata/Nephila Pilipes)
Nephila comes from the Ancient Greek for “fond of spinning”: a tribute to the the lovely, delicate webs that golden silk orb-weavers make.
Working the Fields
Rice planting, transplanting, and harvesting is time-consuming work. Men do the planting and transplanting, while women do the harvesting.
We know that our impromptu guide – Nyomen – was a third-born child. By Balinese convention, children are given one of four main names according to their birth order. The “I” in front of his name indicates male gender (females often have “Ni” as a prefix) When they are older, children get a personal name, but these names are not so commonly used.
Rice fields – or sawah – are flooded at regular intervals to soften the ground for planting and to nurture the new growth. The controlled flooding uses water diverted from streams and man-made water channels.
Ducks in the Rice Field
After the harvest, ducks are allowed into the sawah. They clear the fallow fields of eels, bugs, left-over grains of rice, and emerging weeds.
Working the Rice Fields
Ducks in the Rice Terraces
As well as cleaning the fallow paddies, ducks fertilise them as they are herded through.
Rice is seeded in small fenced off areas, where it stays until the seedlings sprout and grow.
Reflections in the Rice Fields
When rice seedlings are big enough, they are transplanted by hand into a flooded rice paddy. This happens with remarkable speed and precision, resulting in neatly spaced rows.
Shrine in the Rice
Shrines to Sri, the Rice Goddess, are dotted around the rice paddies.
From the Water Up
Ducks in the Rice
Although the demands of tourism have resulted in new development, including guest houses amid the sawah, the fields around Ubud still feature a lot of traditional farm buildings.
As we picked our way carefully between the paddies, I could hear the most incredible noise. Some kind of old farm machinery? I asked Nyoman. He laughed, and took us up a small rise to a shed, where the up-and-coming crop of ducks were quacking a right racket!
Grassy hillocks separate the different layers of rice fields. They make for slippery walking!
Sheds in the Rice Paddies
Even though houses sit on the edges of the rice fields, shelters or sheds are shattered around.
Little Spice Finch – Lonchura Punctulata
Commonly known as nutmeg finch, scaly-breasted munia, or spotted munia, tiny little finch hop all over the ripening rice.
Giant Wood Spider (Nephila Maculata/Nephila Pilipes)
A healthy environment is host to a range of species; wood spiders are non-aggressive members of the golden orb-web spider genus.
After a long walk through the peaceful greens, we came back out onto a bustling main street near Ubud, just as our new friend I Nyomen had promised.
The Indonesian government has tried to further increase rice production: by introducing new varieties, by deregulating the subak irrigation system and ignoring the rest periods and irrigation schedules, and by promoting artificial pesticides and fertilisers.
Unfortunately, these more aggressive agricultural practices – and the demand for land for tourism – have put a unique system, one that has prospered for over a thousand years, under threat. I can’t help but wonder how much longer those fields, in their countless shades of green, will last.
I only hope the Balinese can protect their beautiful terraces and sustainable farming practices – for the benefit of all of us!
‘Till next time.
Tufted Daisies (Brachyscome Scapigera) on the Hill
The start of the Porcupine Rocks walking track affords lovely views back over the lodges across the road from the Perisher Mountain Ski Resort in Kosciuszko National Park, Australia.
Is there anything more restorative than mountain air in summer?
Australia’s Snowy Mountains are a wonderful place for summer walking. The bonus of being in the Antipodes is that the height of summer falls across the Christmas – New Year break. It is my chance to take time out to reflect on the old year, and plan for the new …
Whenever we can, my husband and I (with assorted family and friends) spend the New Year period in the Snowy Mountains, enjoying the walks – long and short, the unique flora, and the fresh air.
This year, we took the opportunity to revisit one one my favourite walks: from the Perisher Valley Reservoir to Porcupine Rocks – a large granite outcrop on a ridge south of Perisher Valley. Its a short, but moderately challenging walk with a suggested time of 2.5 hours return. I think it always takes me more than that: the 214m rise in elevation slows me down!
But it is sufficiently rewarding. The wildflowers are in abundance from early January, the rocks and terrain are visually interesting and the views from the top make the last steep climb worth it.
Join us for a summer walk.
The Main Range
We always start our mountain sojourn with a drive up to Charlotte Pass and a short walk on the Snow Gums Boardwalk to have a look over Kosciuszko National Park’s Main Range.
Silver Snow Daisies – Celmisia Astelifolia
We are at about 1,850 metres (6,070 ft) here, so the alpine flowers bloom a little later than in the more protected valleys further down the hill.
Ghost Snow Gums – Charlotte Pass
A bushfire passed through here many years ago; the dead skeletons of old snow gums stand like eerie ghost sentinels on the hill.
Winter Ski Lodges
Although Kosciuszko National Park has an increasing number of summer visitors, many of the ski lodges are only open in winter. Our walk the next day starts on Water Supply Storage Road past empty chalets and continues along Rock Creek.
Tufted Daisies – Brachyscome Scapigera
The grasslands around us – which are under snow in winter – are scattered with cheerful patches of daisies and buttercups.
The Path Up
Were glad of our walking sticks and sturdy boot! Parts of the track resemble a dried creek bed.
Alpine Mint Bush – Prostanthera Cuneata – on the Rocks
The Snowy Mountains were under the ocean some 450 million years ago. Today, the effects of millennia of pressure that metamorphosed the sedimentary rocks – and the subsequent erosion of these rocks, has left a roughly hewn landscape with the harder granite boulders protruding.
Grass Trigger-plant – Stylidium Sp.
The ground either side of the path (and sometimes on it) is boggy and wet.
The hillside is yellow with gorse blooms: in this instance, it is probably the Common Shaggy Pea (Oxylobium ellipticum).
Burned Out Snow Gums
I love the delicate colours of the heath and the granite …
… as we reach the three-way intersection with Porcupine Link Track. In winter, this is cross-country terrain.
Alpine Mint Bush – Prostanthera Cuneata
The smells all around us – especially the Alpine Mint – are fresh and glorious.
As we got close to the top of the hill, …
… the granite outcrops became more dramatic.
Silver Snow Daisies – Celmisia Astelifolia
Finally we reached our target: the ancient, craggy granite outcrop at the top of the ridge.
Looking Over Lake Crackenback
There are good views over the resort at Lake Crackenback from the ridge. Those willing to clamber to the top of the rocks get clear views of Perisher Valley, Mt Duncan, Thredbo River Valley and Bullocks Flat. We, however, played it safe and stayed lower down.
Granite Buttercups – Ranunculus Graniticola
As we work our way back down, we stop to admire the buttercups.
Snow Gums and Gorse
Perisher in Sight
When the ski resort comes back into view, we know we are almost finished.
Find the Fish!
We cross back over Rock Creek and make our way back to the car.
It was a lovely way to end the old year and start the one; I’ll be back in the mountains again when this year turns over.
Till next time …
Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy 2018!
Waratah (Telopea Speciosissima) Flowers
Red and green together always make me think of Christmas. Of course, in Australia, Christmas is in the middle of summer. Waratahs are a spring flower, and the magnificent flowers we came across on our walk in the Blue Mountains National Park near Leura early October made me think of the holiday season ahead.
You never know what you will come across on a walk in the Australian bush!
In October, my husband and I had a brief interlude in Katoomba, the principal town in the Blue Mountains, just a ninety-minute drive from Sydney. Our charming 1930s guesthouse gave us access to the myriad of local arts, boutiques, coffee shops and bistros, as well as endless walking tracks. We opted for a short walk to the Three Sisters land formation in the morning (see: Echo Point), and after a delicious lunch of genuine Brittany crêpes, we set off in the car for the five minute drive to the neighbouring town of Leura to the trail-head of a short walk.
We had decided on the Pool of Siloam and Lyrebird Dell Walking Track circuit simply because it looked easy, and we hadn’t done it before.
It was a delightful two kilometres of up-and-down: through rainforest and bird song; past waterfalls and Aboriginal heritage sites. The blooming waratahs and other flora were a magnificent bonus.
Do come along!
Pool of Siloam Track
From the Gordon Falls Reserve in Leura, it is a short and well-marked walk down to the Pool of Siloam.
The Australian bush is full of subtle colours and rough textures.
Leaf in the Dark
As the track continues down to the base of this cliff, it gets darker, and the plant-life changes.
Under the Falls
This lovely, shaded pool gets its name from Birkhat Hashiloah (Pool of Siloam) in the City of David, where Jesus sent a man to heal his blindness.
Pool of Siloam
Stepping stones lead through the ferny glen, across the trickling Gordon Creek, …
Path out of the Pool of Siloam
… and up the other side.
Gorse Bitter Pea (Daviesia Ulicifolia)
The vegetation changes again, as we rise up out of the glen.
Blue Mountains Ash (Eucalyptus Oreades)
Reaching up to 40m tall, the beautiful straight trunks of the Blue Mountains ash rise up to the sky around us.
Down to Gordon Creek
We climb back down towards the creek, under overhangs of weathered sandstone.
We cross the creek again at Lyrebird Dell – hoping (and failing) to see one of these long-tailed Australian birds as we pass.
There is plenty of interesting flora in the damp shadows.
Edges of the National Park
Back up towards street level, we are once again among the eucalypts: this one with a fabulously gnarly trunk.
There are about 360 species of evergreen flowering plants in the grevillea genus – most with unusual-looking, bird-attracting flowers.
Named for botanist Sir Joseph Banks (1743- 1820 ), banksia is another genus of plants unique to Australia, with around 170 species.
Into the Woods
We walked back through the woods full of birdsong, to return to our car.
Now, as we head into the holiday season, I’m reminded of the sublime red and green waratahs, and I think how lucky I am to have access to such magnificent wild places.
Here’s wishing you and all your family a wonderful Christmas – or a Happy Whatever-you Might-be-Celebrating this festive season – and a Happy New Year.
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