We have been in Canada since mid September. To be honest, we haven’t really posted much because most of our time here has been taken up with some pretty mundane tasks like opening bank accounts, learning the bus routes, learning for our drivers tests and not too much in the way of travel. So far we are LOVING IT, it really is a beautiful place. We have been fortunate to arrive in autumn, or “the fall” as it known here. The leaves are changing colour as winter approaches and the colours and scenery are breathtaking. Only last week, did I get a chance to go out and capture some of the beauty that is here on the island on which Victoria is. There are forests right behind the city of Victoria and in a matter of a few minutes walk, you can be in forests that look very much like the Knysna forests. Victoria is essentially in a Pacific Rainforest so it is green and lush and the foliage and plant life is abundant.
We are off to Vancouver at the end of the week, Francis and I are thinking that we will probably live there. Victoria is amazingly beautiful, but it might be a little small for the starting of a business. So Vancouver will be the kick off of the plans. We will be in Vancouver for a week while I attend a creativity conference and we look for places to stay there. Victoria has a population of just over 400 000 while Vancouver has a population of almost 3 million.
So, we are excited, but to show you where we have been so far and some of the stuff we have seen, take a look at the pic below…
Mt Kilimanjaro is Africa’s tallest peak and the tallest free standing mountain in the world. It is often the first “high altitude” climb that most people attempt because it is assumed to be reasonably safe and accessible. Francis and I were fortunate to climb this incredible mountain in January of 2011.
Flying into Tanzania from Kenya is an unforgettable experience. The first glimpse I got of the 5895m mountain was out of our aircraft window as we banked sharply to land at Mt Kilimanjaro International Airport just outside Moshi. We landed just as the sun was setting and as we stepped off the plane, we were welcomed by the orange glow of a typical African sunset.
We arrived at Keys Hotel in Moshi Town an hour later and met up with our two fellow climbers who had flown in from the USA. We had brief chats and introductions and then headed off to be ad we were leaving the next day to start to climb.
We had chosen to climb the Lemosho Route to the summit of Kilimanjaro. The main reason was for acclimatisation. The Lemosho route is the longest route and we would be on the mountain for almost 10 days and we hoped that we would acclimatise well in that time. Mountain sickness is something that climbers want to avoid at all costs, and by acclimatising properly, the climber runs less risk of getting ill. We arrived at the gate in the mid morning and our Chief Guide Raj went off to organise our climbing permits for us. Once that was all done and our porters were selected we set off on our adventure.
While climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, we traversed pretty much all the climatic zones on earth. There are 5 different climatic zones that are covered during the climb. The first is on the lower plains where indigenous vegetation has been removed and coffee and banana plantations are abundant. The next zone is the forest belt and resembles a typical rain forest. There was heavy undergrowth, lots of ferns and trees and wildlife is abundant. At this altitude it was warm and moist. We then went up to the Alpine Heath and moorland which occurs from about 2800m up. In this zone, where there are small scrubby bushes and almost no shade. There are lots of flowers, but mostly small shrubs and bushes. The next zone is the Moorland and when you reach this zone, the vegetation starts thinning out and giving way to volcanic rocks and soil. There are no large mammals at this altitude and only occasionally a small bird. The Highland Desert (4000m – 5000m) is what is found next and here you begin to feel the reality that you are now on a mountain. The days in this zone are warm and the nights cold. Once the sun drops below the horizon the cold sets in rapidly. There is no vegetation to speak of, it looks almost as if we had landed on the moon. Massive boulders punctuate the scenery and dry grey volcanic soil is everywhere and gets into everything. The final zone the ice cap zone which occurs above 5000m. At this stage there is nothing but rock scree and volcanic soil and the occasional glacier (which are now melting). The conditions are arctic and mostly below freezing at any time of the day. The oxygen level is about 50% less than at sea level.
Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro
The route that we chose took 10 days of climbing. On average we hiked between 8 and 14kms per day and varied in altitude every day. It was an incredible experience to be on the mountain for so long and to see Tanzania from such an amazing vantage point. Once we got higher on the mountain, the effects of altitude could be felt very clearly. On day 4 I suffered from a bout of altitude sickness. I felt nauseous, light headed, I had a headache in the base of my skull and throughout the day felt as if I was walking “beside” my body. It was not a good day and at the end of the days climbing, I truly felt that I might have to get off the mountain. Altitude sickness is not a joke. Martina Navratilova was evacuated off Mt Kilimanjaro in November because of it. At one of the higher camps on the mountain, we witnessed a few porters suffering from altitude sickness and they had to be evacuated. If it is left unchecked it can ultimately lead to serious injury and ultimately death. I wasn’t taking any chances and when I arrived at the high camp I informed our Chief Guide about how I felt. He looked at me and said in his warm Swahili accent “this is common…but I will fix you, I am a witchdoctor” Ok….enough said, but at that stage I felt so bad that I would have done just about anything to feel better. He mixed up a cocktail of chopped garlic and chopped ginger in a teacup and poured a quarter cup of boiling water over it. He said I must sip this while still hot and swallow the garlic and ginger. Hmmmm it did not taste good, especially because I felt so nauseous, but I did as I was told and went straight to bed. The next morning I woke up feeling better than ever and in fact, never felt even slightly ill again during the rest of the climb.
Each day was tough on the mountain, don’t be fooled, Mt Kilimanjaro is not an easy climb. It is physically taxing and mentally demanding. As we climbed higher and higher, we realised that to get to the summit was going to be tough. This was the real thing. We climbed with an expedition company, its probably the best way to make an attempt of Mt Kilimanjaro. We used a company called Adventure Dynamics, run by Sean Disney, I would HIGHLY recommend them, they are a professional company with a great track record of high altitude expeditions.
The real unsung heroes of the mountain are the porters. These tough men carry anything between 15 and 25kgs of equipment up the mountain. For each person climbing, 5 porters are needed. We were a group of 5 climbers and we had 23 support staff assisting us. Their duties ranged from simply carrying stuff up the mountain like tents, food, the climbers extra clothing, cooking equipment, our dining room tent (yes we ate on chairs and had a dining tent) and even a portable bucket toilet. To say that these guys are heroes is an understatement, they are super human. Many of them climb the mountain each week and are only back home for 2 days before they embark on the next expedition. They are truly the toughest, strongest and most resilient men I have ever seen. Without them, no one would make the summit, of that I have no doubt. These porters work in very tough conditions and there is a non profit organisation that monitors the use of the porters. Read more about the Kilimanjaro Porters assistance project….
Going for the summit
On the eve of our summit, we arrived at Barafu high camp in the afternoon. The camp was at 4600m above sea level and the summit of Mt Kili is 5895m above sea level. That means, on our summit night we would have to climb 1295 vertical meters and would hike 10 km overall to get to the summit and back. No mean feat considering we were breathing much less oxygen and we had hiked about 55 kms already over pretty rugged terrain.
We arrived at Barafu camp at about 4pm and were told that we would get dinner by 5:30pm and then we needed to get to sleep by 6:30pm. We would then be woken at 11pm and we would begin our summit attempt at midnight. This all went well and we were woken at 11pm…to a howling wind that was threatening to uproot our tent with us in it. The sky was clear, so there was no chance of snow, but with the wind chill we were in temperatures that were way below freezing. We put on all our different layers, I had 6 layers on top, 3 layers on the bottom and 2 pairs of gloves. As we started our ascent up the scree slope behind the Barafu camp, I looked up and saw a snaking trail of small lights above me. It was other climbers ahead of us on the mountain, making their bid for the summit. The scene looked amazing, the stars were bright above us, but the wind was horrendous. It was a strong wind coming from the right side and as we zigzagged up the mountain in absolute darkness apart from the small focused light of our headlamps, I realised that I had lost feeling in my fingers and my toes. The wind was howling so loud, that I could not hear anyone talking unless they shouted into my ear. I never wore a balaclava, but decided to use a buff to cover my nose and mouth to protect me from the elements. This was fine until I realised that when I was walking into the wind, the moisture from my breath was freezing on the buff and stopping me from getting air, I would then pull the buff down and suck in air as deeply as I could. After 4 hours of doing this, my lips were split and purple and I still don’t have full feeling back in my bottom lip, possibly a touch of frostbite.
It took ten hours of gut wrenching climbing to reach the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro. The last 300m were the toughest by far. Your body is spent, your mind is finished and all you want to do is get back down to camp. It is sheer willpower that drives people on at this point. I managed to get to the summit at 10am and to be honest, it was a bit of an anti climax. I was absolutely hammered…I could barely put one foot in front of the other. As I stood there and looked out over the plains of Tanzania, it didn’t quite sink in that I was standing on top of Africa. I managed to take a few photos and then headed back down to the camp, which took another 4 hours. By the time I got there I was physically, mentally and spiritually spent. I had nothing left. I remember lying in the tent at 4600m and saying to Francis that I don’t want to see another hiking bag again.
We hiked down to a lower camp that evening and spent the night at 3900m. The next day we hiked out to the main gate at Mt Kilimanjaro National Park.
It was only as we flew out of Tanzania in the early hours of the next morning that I realised what I had done. As we took off from Tanzania to fly to Kenya, the sun was rising and just illuminating the silhouette of Mt Kilimanjaro. I looked at this massive mountainous volcano and realised then, that I had stood on the summit of the tallest mountain on Africa and had achieved a long time personal goal. The reality set in only at that point, it was a quiet realisation that this had been achieved. It was a good feeling to be viewing that mountain from the relative comfort of a plane and think that 2 days before in sheer pain and utter exhaustion, I had clambered to her summit. Finally I could understand those word of that famous song…I’m sitting on top of Kilimanjaro…indeed I had sat there, it was something I will never forget.
Extreme sports and activities are either something you love or something that you vow you will never do. I fall into the category of being an adrenalin junkie, so whenever I see an opportunity to give myself a good adrenalin rush, I take it.
South Africa and more precisely, the Garden Route is home to one of the biggest adrenalin rushes in the world, the Bloukrans Bungy Jump. This is the highest bungy jump in the world…how high is it you ask, 216m high, that’s approximately 70 storeys up on a building….its HIGH. The actual scale of the jump cannot be understood until you stand at the view point from the cliff that looks onto the bridge. When I stood across the valley and looked at the bridge, it was one of the few times in my life that I had some real doubts about whether I would do it or not. I have done some extreme stuff before like rock climbing, scuba diving and even travelling to Antarctica, but nothing prepares you for the sheer craziness of this jump.
The bridge is MASSIVE and the gorge is DEEP. I watched as jumpers plunged head first into the abyss below, they looked tiny in comparison to everything around them and I thought that maybe this was just too crazy.
My wife and I were there with another couple, Christa and Kobus. The four of us watched a few people jump and after a bit of egging on, we decided we were going to do it. The ladies gracefully declined, but us two guys were now at the point of no return and so we went to the booking office to sign up. We were excited and psyched to be have built up the courage to take the plunge, but were told at the booking office that we would have to wait until 16:00 to be able to jump, the rest of the time slots were booked up. We were told that we should take the slots if we wanted to jump as they fill up really quickly and booking is normally essential. We put our names down and then left nervously to go and get some lunch.
We returned at 15:00 and we then had to fill in the indemnity, get ourselves weighed and then get fitted for our harness. Once we had our harness on, we tentatively sat in the Cliffhanger Pub, where there is a big screen showing a live stream of the jumpers jumping off the bridge. It was incredible to see people stepping up to the edge of the bridge and flying off with such ease, my stomach was in a knot and I wasn’t too sure how I would do. At 15:45 we congregated at the harness area and were introduced to our jump coordinator who ran through some final tips and then we walked along the cage walk under the bridge that took us to the jump zone. Once we were there, the nerves really set in. There were 17 jumpers in our group and the nervous laughter and scared faces were testimony to what we were about to do. The staff on the bridge were amazing, they joked, laughed and played great music that made things feel so relaxed that for a while you weren’t aware that you were going to jump until they called the first jumper. He stood up and walked across to the jump coordinator who started tying more ropes and harnesses onto him and giving him a final briefing, the tension was real. With ankles tied tight together, so tight that he could only hop, the jumper moved into the jump zone. The team then attached the bungy cord, double checked it and then led the jumper to the edge of the bridge. The countdown began and within seconds he disappeared and the jumpers erupted with whooping and clapping as we watched him fall gracefully into the gorge below.
Before long, I was called up to jump. I went through all the tying up and last minute checks, the jump coordinator looked at me and said “have a nice flight” and then took me to the edge of the bridge. To say that fear overcomes you is an understatement, your whole mind and body is screaming at you to get out of there. I looked down and saw the thin ribbon of the river below, I felt the wind on my face and realised that there was NOTHING in front of me, just the magnificent gorge. I heard the countdown in the background and then forced myself forward. There was silence and then a primal scream forced its way out of my body….and the pure exhilaration of freefall bungy jumping. After 2 seconds I was plummeting at 100km per hour towards the river below, the wind in my ears was amazing and the sense of peace was surreal. I felt the cord stretch at the bottom and fling me upwards again, then I went flying back towards to the river for the second time, the recoil is 140m, and down I went….PURE ADRENALIN.
All too soon, it was over, I looked up and saw the guide coming down on a rope to come and fetch me and winch me back up to the top of the bridge. The sense of peace and calm was phenomenal and for a few moments, you feel as is you are so alive and everything is so VIVID, colours seem brighter, silence seems deeper and life seems calmer…I arrived back on the bridge and was welcomed by the other jumpers with handshakes and hugs and I realised that we were all united in a common experience, we had faced our fears, jumped into the abyss and lived to tell the tale. Kobus, who jumped just before me made this comment:
“Some will see it as falling – I see it as cutting into life!” which sums it up beautifully.
It is truly a once in a lifetime experience and here are some stats to whet your appetite:
It is the worlds highest commercial bungy jump as confirmed by Guiness World Records
The jump is 216m high, approximately the height of a 70 storey building, the recoil is 140m high, so you get “two jumps” of over 100m
On the way down, the jumper accelerates from 0 to 100km per hour in 2 seconds, faster than most sports cars
The jump has a 100% safety record and has been operating since 1997
The oldest jumper was Mr Mohr Keets who jumped in April 2010 and was 96 years old at the time
So, next time you are in the Garden Route and needing your fix of adrenalin, there is nowhere else to go, it truly was an incredible experience, something that I will never forget….oh and I would jump it again, in a heartbeat….
Booking in peak season is essential, but it might be a good idea to phone ahead at any time of the year to be sure there is space. Below are all the necessary details:
I have had an article published in the Pix Magazine, South Africa’s leading photography mag. It is about Architectural photography and some of the tips and trick that I have used to make buildings and homes look good and dramatic. I am quite excited about this and I will be writing a follow up article in the December issue about how to edit the photos after you have shot the building. So, if you are keen to see the article, go out get the latest issue of Pix Magazine at any good bookseller…enjoy!
In less than 2 weeks time, we return to our homeland after 9 months of travel in South America. I have been reflecting on this and thinking of how I can distill this amazing time into one blog post and its really not easy. Just scroll down and go back to each month since December 2009 and you will see that we have seen and done and experienced so much.
It has been an amazing privilege to have been able to do this at this time in our lives….to coin a cliché, it has been life changing and I really mean that. South America has been an amazing place to explore, we have travelled through Argentina, Chile, Peru and were fortunate enough to go to Antarctica for 11 days. These experiences have shaped our thinking, moulded our ideas and brought us to the cliff edge of things that we never thought we would experience in our lifetime, let alone in 9 months.
We have been to one of Earths Last Edens…Antarctica. A place that truly embodies everything it is made out to be and so much more. It is almost like landing on another planet, a planet untouched by human habitation, unblemished by mans greed and materialism, a place of audible silence and silent magnificence. It is a place unlike any other I have visited and probably will remain so. To say that Antarctica is breathtaking is an understatement, to say it is majestic, does it no justice, you simply have to see it to believe it…and I believe that I will go back and see it again. The reason for this lengthy discourse is because on our way to Antarctica was one of my first crazy experiences that defined part of this trip. Our experience happened in the Drake Passage, the foreboding, treacherous stretch of sea from Ushuaia in Argentina to Antarctica. It was here, while “crossing the Drake” as it is known, that we experienced one of the most frightening experiences on this trip. On the morning of the second day we hit a gale force storm at sea that lasted for 2 and a half days. Massive 15 meter swells threatened to rupture our vessel, the sea angrily frothed and battered our ship. Fortunately it was a former Chilean navel ship and was built to cross the Drake Passage and was designed for precisely those conditions, but still, the water was a dark inky colour and ferociously smashed against the ship as if trying to expel us from the passage. There was a snowstorm at sea, a horizontal snow storm, that iced the ship up, making it look like a white phantom on the black sea. The windspeed was 100km per hour which pushed our ship around like a toy boat and made the 15 m swells even more ferocious and in my opinion more spectacular. In spite of this, we landed in Antarctica, much to the joy of 90% of the passengers who had been able to keep little food and liquid down as the ship was violently tossed to and fro for 2 and a half days, an amazing experience, one not easily forgotten.
Another memorable experience was seeing the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. Before this trip, glaciers held no particular fascination for me, in fact I never really thought much about glaciers. So we left the partly frozen town of El Calafate and drove off to the National Park of the Glaciers. When you enter the park, you can’t see the glaciers, but once you round a particular bend, you get a glimpse of the massive monolithic bulk of the glacier called Perito Moreno. It is a sight that I will never forget, it was astounding, bigger than I ever imagined and more spectacular than any photo could ever convey. Once we got to the top of the hill where visitors can walk on a boardwalk to get a closer view of the glacier, you realize that we are very small beings in comparison to the sheer size of a force of nature that is a glacier. Perito Moreno Glacier towers 75 m above the water surface, its front wall is 5 km long and the whole glacier stretches for 30 km up the mountain valley. It is basically a moving city. It seems as if the glacier itself is alive, glaciers move as a result of pressure from ice forming high up in the valley. So when you stand in front of the glacier, it creaks, crack, groans and sounds like gunshots go off occasionally and this is because this massive ice city is edging ever closer to where we were standing. Millimeter by millimeter, this glacier moves, occasionally visitors are fortunate to witness a calving, this is when a chunk of the front wall of the glacier breaks off and a magnificent display of ice hitting water is seen. It was incredible to be standing before such a gigantic natural phenomenon and to be honest, I never wanted to leave.
Just in case we were short of experiencing natures power, we had the most terrifying experience yet, in Santiago, the capital city of Chile. We were there when an 8.8 earthquake shook half of Chile, the fifth largest earthquake on earth in the past 100 years. You can read about my remembrance of the quake here, but suffice to say that it was only the second time in my life that I truly believed that I was about to die. It is a sobering thought when you are faced with imminent death, I didn’t experience the “life flashing before me” thing, all I remember is that I was praying that it would stop. It didn’t….it went on for 2 and a half minutes, it felt like half an hour. I was genuinely surprised when it did stop and we were not dead, quite a surreal feeling of relief and then the realization that once again, our lives had been spared, but to what end?
We moved on from Chile to Peru and in many ways Peru has been the highlight of our trip. We have loved it here and it really is an amazing place to visit. The Inca ruins and the pre Columbian civilizations remain a mystery. Machu Picchu is a site that still confounds most experts with its architecture, water systems and positioning, but Machu Picchu is only one of many such sites, some still to be discovered, Inca sites. There is a new site that has been opened up in the past few years called Choquequirao. This site, it is said, is bigger than Machu Picchu and in many cases even more spectacular if that were possible…having visited Machu Picchu, that statement amazes me and excites me.
So as we come to an end of nine months, it is impossible to summarise what we have seen, felt, done and experienced on this continent known simply as South America. We have learnt to speak a new language, even though we are not proficient, we can be understood, we have eaten unusual foods, sometimes we have not been sure what it is, but it tasted good, other times we have known what it is and it has been great (delicacies like Cuy, or guinea pig, and Anticucho, cow heart, cooked on a skewer, to name but a few)
Of course the best thing that has happened is that we have met amazing people on this trip, from university professors to cab drivers, you name them, we have met them. People from diverse backgrounds like a polish woman who escaped from Poland and sought refuge in Canada, Russian Jews who fled from Communism and rebuilt their lives in the USA, A Dutch man and his family who live in the Carribbean and are involved in helping the government of Bonaire integrate into the Dutch system. We have met Australians, New Zealanders, Orientals, Asians, Russians, Europeans from just about every country in Europe, Americans and of course Canadians. We have been astounded at how many new friends we have made and how many of them we are sure we will see again.
So at the penultimate leg of this incredible journey, we know we have managed to capture many images photographically, we have tasted new flavours physically, we have felt the violent shakes of an earthquake under our feet, but more than all of that, we have grown richer in this time. We have memories that will last as long as the rest of our lives.
We have seen things that in many cases seem unbelievable, but only when you emerge on the other side do you look back and see just what has happened. It has been an honour and a privilege, “once in a lifetime” cannot encapsulate the true meaning. Either way, we are greatly blessed to have done this and that the next leg of our journey will begin again shortly… we hope that you will travel with us again!
Last week Saturday (24th July) I lead the Ollantaytambo leg of Scott Kelby’s Worldwide Photowalk. It was great fun, with only two photographers in tow, we explored the village in search of unusual and fun images. After 2 hours we were all a little tired and of course needed some coffee. So we finished up at one of the cafe’s on the plaza. It was a good excuse just to go out and capture some images of the life in Ollantaytambo, which for us is coming to an end soon. We have just over 2 weeks left here and then we are leaving…other fun things to see and do. In the meantime, here are some of the images I captured last week!
You might have noticed that I havent put any new posts up for a while, well there is a reason. We have a problem with our Internet Wi-Fi connection. We still arent sure what the problem could be so tomorrow we will hopefully get a techie out to come and have a look. In the meantime, I am editing some images from the Festival that is going on in Ollanta, so once we have connection again, that post will be up…hopefully soon!!