I was reminded of the idiom that says you never know what you have until its gone is one the other day, walking on the Copacabana promenade early one morning with the sun fighting the wispy clouds in trying to come out. I was grateful that the famous black and white stones on the walkway had been worn smooth by millions of Havaianas walking up and down as they didn’t hurt my bare feet as much. My shoes had been soaked early when I got caught by a wave I didn’t see coming and I decided to walk back to the hotel some 4km away with them in my hand. I hadn’t walked anywhere barefoot in ages. But we used to do it all the time in Durban. And the main strip in Rio, Copacabana Beach reminded me a lot of the golden mile in Durban. Only Copacabana is scaled up a little bit and possibly a little more famous. Durban is however not a 10 and 1/2 flight away.
In Indian society, every older unrelated male is an uncle and older unrelated female an aunty (not aunt, aunty). Your real uncle and aunts are given their designations by the relationship they come to be your real aunts and uncles by. Your mother’s brothers are your Mamas and your father’s sisters your Poowas. Or Foi or Aatha depending on the dialect you speak. And you then also have big dads and big moms for the eldest uncles and aunts. Everyone else who is older is designated uncle or aunt and then their name. The neighbour, Aunty Saras (not to be confused with the neighbour-aunty, Saras) or Uncle Sagren who lives down the road. When, as an Indian kid, you don’t know someone by their name you default to some attribute of how they look or what they do with and added uncle or aunty at the front. So the Fowl Aunty was the lady who provided fresh chickens on a Saturday morning, Fisher Uncle or Uncle Fishy was a good fisherman and the Milk Uncle drove the van that sold bread and milk and sweets that came around at 3 o’ clock every afternoon. That’s probably how my mother ended up being the Basket Aunty and then the Sweet Aunty. Continue reading “My mom, the Basket Aunty…”
So full 2 weeks of the New Year have come and gone. If you are still holding on to your resolutions good on you! If have already you broke them for whatever reason, well you only 2 weeks in so you can always wake up, shout “Mulligan!” and start over. If you didn’t make any, you do you as best as you can, because you never know who’s watching and looking up to you! My resolution for 2018 is actually something along those lines, but before we get there some background.
I know what you thinking. “Hold up, hold up, you can’t just be writing a year in review when the year is not yet over! Its not even Christmas!” But let’s be honest guys, as a South African the year officially ends on the long weekend of the 16th December and the new year begins after the 2nd January, maybe only officially the 8th January. The two week period in-between is neither the old year or the new year, filled with the haze of balmy summer nights, sweet over-indulgence, instagram posts and stories and travel to local or exotic destinations; all the while surrounded by dear family and friends. We should really start a petition to get the South African Government to make the 16 December to 1 January summer leave for everyone. So, for me at least, the year ended a few days back already unofficially and therefore I can just! So here are my two highlights of 2017…
It is amazing that most of us can look back and pin-point the turning points in our lives that may have lead us to where we are now, yet at the time we didn’t realise that we were on the cusp of something amazing. I was reminded the other day on exactly one such moment by facebook and it got me thinking about all that it has lead to since. In August 2015 I decided on a whim to make a drive to the Pilanesberg National Park. I can’t remember the exact reasoning but it was around the public holiday long weekend and for whatever reason I had not gone down to Durban so it must have been pure whim that made me drive the 180km to get there.
It was my first visit to the park and I had no idea what to expect or what to do and to be honest I cannot for the life of me remember how much of the day went. What I do remember is stopping in the late afternoon at Mankwe dam to walk out to the bird hide to see what all the fuss was about. And after sitting around for a few minutes there was a little bit of commotion as a pied kingfisher came up to a dead tree right in front of the hide and proudly sat down with his catch. Not being big into birds at the time I did not know what happens next, but the seasoned photographers and birders did and quickly turned their attention to the kingfisher. The bird then started beating the fish about quite rapidly and violently to descale and tenderise the fresh catch before tossing the little meal around to position it and swallow it whole.
I was shooting with my 550D and 70-300mm Ultrasonic lens, which to that point had served me extremely well. But on that afternoon I found myself struggling. The 550D’s frame rate is about 5 frames per second which was decent enough to catch some of the action but missed half of it. The afternoon sunlight was rather harsh and I think even today I would struggle to deal with it. But the combination conditions and equipment limitations (at least in my head anyway) left me wanting to get better. And I think this is where my transformative journey in nature and in particular birding began.
I went back to the park in December 2015 with a new 7D mkii camera body and a second hand 300mmF4LIS lens that I purchased in September and October respectively. And that was my first introduction to some of the beautiful bird species to be seen in the park, including the white fronted bee-eaters and lesser striped swallows. The photography improved and I also got one of my favourite pictures in the park shot from the Rathlogo hide of 4 zebras having a drink. I also went with Tannie Wilma and Oom Hans which in itself was a great experience and possibly the inspiration to do the big year of birding I attempted in the course of 2016.
Through 2016 I did not make many a turn past the Pilanesberg. The park, which played a big role in inspiring the big year of birding as well as the Sanparks challenge I am currently completing, unfortunately took a back seat as I went trekking through the rest of our beautiful country. However I did manage one visit if I recall correctly and spent a nice afternoon at Mankwe dam again shooting a very young baby elephant and it’s protective family.
This year I have been to the park 4 times and each one was special in it’s own rights. The first trip in march for my birthday yielded a pair of cheetah walking through the long grass after the good summer rains. I was actually shooting a ruffous-naped lark when a couple saw me and directed me to follow them as they had been following the cheetahs for a while and they would come of the grass soon. And sure enough, no sooner than I had turned around, the cheetahs emerged casually walking through the long late summer’s grass. I don’t think I made the most of the opportunity but I chalked that down to excitement more than anything else.
I then decided in early June to join Heinrich Neumeyer, the leopard whisperer of the Pilanesberg to try to track at least one leopard down. In the end we did see a leopard on the safari, late in the afternoon when the light was too bad for decent photographs. But we also saw the big five in one day, elephants, rhinos, lions and buffalos to-ing and fro-ing in the early morning light and the late leopard.
I hired a lens to shoot with on the day and fortunately, as it turns out, left my 1.4x extender on the back of it. Heinrich and Gerrie tracked extender down for me so just to make sure I got it back safely I went back to the park a month later, the first weekend of July and went for my second tour with Heinrich. This time around we got got to see not one leopard but 5 and they were all in full daylight, offering some superb opportunities to photograph the notoriously elusive cats. Before the trip in early July I had seen a total of 3 leopards. Two in the dark and one briefly on safari in 2013 when I visited Kapama with Maja. So to see 5 in a day was extraordinary to say the least! I still managed to mess it up though and cut of the tail of one of the leopards crossing the road. Heinrich has promised to find me more leopards the next trip though because he owes me one…
The latest in the string of Pilanesberg adventures was on Women’s day last week. I decided to make a day trip because the holiday being a Wednesday was ideal for a one day sojourn. And I decided to invite a few friends along so we had a full car of photographers. I lead the expedition, given my love for the park, so this was the inaugural Pluckan Pilanesberg Tour (PPT). And while we didn’t get to see any of the big cats and the elephants somehow managed to elude us, it was all in all a great day. Well I think anyway. I did manage to seen two new bird species and photograph one (secretary bird below) and got some half decent rhino shots. Oh and we also saw a brown hyena which is the only hyena species in the park but were cut off just at the most inopportune time. As I said, Heinrich owes me one! I think the last trip made me realise that sharing the experience can bring its own rewards. So the park keeps inspiring me in different ways, mostly to get better with each return trip. And I shall be back sooner than I know it (possibly even by the end of this month) so the next edition of PPT is coming soon!
A fleeting glance across a crowded room,
My eyes meet yours with a familiarity only old friends know,
Your smile and happy eyes the shining light at the end of my tunnel vision,
Yet I know it is a paradox in itself.
A fleeting glance across a crowded room,
You look back and smile,
But with it comes the hint of the pain beneath,
An uneasy fidget and you look away.
A fleeting glance across a crowded room,
And distance becomes relative,
A stretch of my arm would bring you closer,
But you are already 1000 miles away.
A fleeting glance across a crowded room,
I step to bridge the gap,
You turn around and walk away,
And only time is left standing still.
One of the jackets I run in when it gets cold in the winter has a tear in the sleeve. Its a rather old jacket that I probably bought in 2011 when I first took up running and probably gets about 3 to 4 months of on and off use every year. But the tear is not the result of old age. I actually tripped and fell while running one morning. I was going through a load of stuff in 2012, when I could still run 7:30min/km and was distracted by my own thoughts. I turned a corner and didn’t see a paving stone that was out of place but one that I had probably ran past 20 times before that. And as the saying goes, I saw my own ass…
I went down in slow motion. In my head anyway. But I managed to stick my right hand out to break my fall. Being a stubby right hand, the sleeve ends halfway down my palm so actually got the worst of the fall and saved a few grazes. But it ended up with a hole in it. And I ended up just lying on the ground watching the traffic go by.
I picked myself up eventually. But that tear in the sleeve remained. I looked at it this afternoon and was reminded how it got there and of a couple other things as well. That often whatever it is you are worrying about will pass if you give it time. And I was also reminded that there was a time when I was faster. Not too long ago in fact. Which goes to show that the only person you need to better than is the person you were yesterday does not always hold true. Or in my case it doesn’t anyway. But I know how to get better and that I can be better and that’s what counts right? Lastly I was reminded that even though this jacket of my has a hole in the sleeve it still works as it should. We all are a little flawed with our tears. Stitched together with random memories and hope that tomorrow will be better…
Zig Ziglar is quoted as saying you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great. So when a budding photographer recently asked me how they move from shooting pictures using the full automatic mode to shooting using the manual mode on their recently purchased DSLR my immediate response was almost to say turn the dial until it is pointing to the big M and then take it from there. Of course there is more to it than that and for many photographers it can actually be quite a daunting prospect moving to the Manual mode on their camera. Why would you want to move off the automatic mode if the camera manufacturer was kind enough to add in a mode to allow photos to be taken almost as soon as you get the camera? Photos which are perfectly fine 80 or maybe even 90% of the time. All at the risk of completely spoiling photos that you may not get the opportunity to shoot again. Because, of course, if you never start, if you don’t move that dial, then you will find it very hard to learn. Continue reading “The Pluckan easy guide to moving off shooting automatic”
Happy New Year! Hopefully you aren’t like me and haven’t broken your freshly made resolutions yet. Damn that leftover cake! If you have however or if you did not have any to start with , maybe I can suggest a few replacement resolutions to make for your photography in 2017. And this is by no means me claiming to know it all already as most of these resolutions are things I will strive to do myself in the months ahead. Continue reading “The photography resolutions we should all make in 2017…”
The second part of my post on my home town was going to be on the things one should do when visiting Durban. After all, while I may still call Durban home, very soon its not going to be my home town anymore. I’m going to be one of the Vaalies (if indeed I haven’t already become one) who only visits during school holidays to make the roads busier, fill up the malls and make visiting the beach impossible. As soon as I was done writing part 1 of 2, I edited the feature image and wanted to dive right in and have this post done immediately. Then I got to planning and thinking about it and I came to a rather disheartening conclusion. Continue reading “I’m coming home…part 2 of 2”