IN THE TRIBE: FACE-TO-FACE WITH MARCUS RUTHERFORD

IN THE TRIBE: FACE-TO-FACE WITH MARCUS RUTHERFORD

 

 

 

IN THE TRIBE:
Face-to-Face with
Marcus Rutherford

Artist and lawyer Marcus Rutherford has travelled with Tribes eight times since 2013 – and always to Tanzania. We chatted with him about his art, his love of travel and his fascination with the nature and wildlife of Tanzania – and with a particular Victorian explorer…

“I cannot get enough of  watching elephants, which have such strong social and family  bonds.”

‘The elephant in the main picture was in Ruaha, playing near a salt lick by the side of a river. The baby elephant is from my sketchbook rather than being a finished painting.’

For the past 45+ years Marcus’s career has been in the law.  He qualified as a solicitor and has practiced most of that time as a commercial litigator in London, but was also working in Africa before he got married.

“There was a point in my life when I thought about becoming a full time artist or illustrator, having done some work for Woman’s Own magazine and illustrations for a cookery book, but there are some astonishingly talented people in what is a very competitive field and it requires a huge amount of luck as well as talent to make a good living at it. Having a family quickly convinced me I had to give priority to earning a living.  Even so, I firmly believed that it was vital to keep my creative interests going alongside my main profession, and I have been fortunate enough to be able to do so.   My range of  interests is huge – only due to my having a very low boredom threshold –  from natural history to archaeology to fine art, cookery, painting, pottery and historical research.”

 

‘Monty, a man in Ruaha, is studying the wild dogs and he recognises this alpha female.’

Your love of nature in all its forms is evident in your art, with subjects ranging from animals, insects and butterflies to birds, fungi, shells and flowers. When and how did that love of nature start?

As far back as I can remember.  I was born and brought up in Africa and it is impossible to ignore the wild life spectacle all around.  There were far fewer toys too, and so the countryside became the playground and seeds and shells were my ‘Lego’.  I was lucky enough to be ‘adopted’ when I was about 7 by a neighbour who was a well-known ornithologist and he took me on field trips and taught me to recognise bird calls.  He also introduced me to Joy Adamson, famous for bringing up Elsa the lioness, who was an amazing artist who helped nurture my interests in natural history.  I am however, still an enthusiastic amateur with a huge amount to learn.

 

‘White-fronted bee-eaters, painted from the birds in Selous.’

Birding is a particular interest of yours. Obviously your travels give you the opportunity to see exotic and unusual species, but do you also enjoy birding at home in the UK?

I cannot claim to be an expert but yes, I love our British and European birds.  The closer you look at them, the more amazing they are.  I get particularly excited at the arrival of swallows, cuckoos and (when in France and Germany) bee-eaters and white storks, knowing that they have journeyed thousands of miles to get here. I always wonder if I have watched those very birds before in East Africa.

I believe you also have experience of foraging for wild foods? What has been your greatest/tastiest ‘find’ and what would you strongly advise people to avoid if they want to forage for themselves?

Our ancestors were hunter gatherers and there is still something incredibly satisfying about finding your own food in the wild.  The most astonishing ‘forage’ was recently in Tanzania, when I went out with a local chap to find chanterelle mushrooms.  In Europe they are delicious and highly prized apricot yellow fungi, but in Africa they come in a whole range of colours from palest yellow, through pinks and orange, to an eye-burning scarlet – but they are just as delicious as the European species.  It can only be a matter of time before somebody realises the commercial potential of these abundant, delicious and gorgeous, mushrooms.  But the caution – unsurprisingly – is to make sure you always rely on local expertise.  Even a good book may not be a 100% reliable guide and, with about 20% of fungi mildly to deadly poisonous, there is always a risk of misidentification.

 

This was a huge beetle I picked up in the Tsavo park, painted from the specimen.  Everything in that park is bigger than usual – the elephants, the lions, snakes and especially the insects.’

You are entirely self-taught as an artist – which techniques/materials do you prefer?

I use a variety of techniques, and I am now most comfortable with watercolour, but not in a traditional way.  I will incorporate the sap of fruit trees to give the paint a gloss and sometimes even use diluted household emulsion paint.  The most important thing is to have the right paper for the right painting, as this will transform the way the image develops.  I do paint in oils, but it takes a few days to adjust to the different way the paint needs to be applied. The good thing with oils is that the scale is satisfyingly big.

Do you paint from life or photographs or a combination of both?

Both, but it is much more satisfying to paint from life.  The trouble is that in order to paint (say) an elephant from life, you need to spend days just watching and sketching them, which seems an indulgence when only on safari for a week or two.  In the same time my modern digital cameras can capture thousands of separate images, which enables me to use a dozen angles to build up one painting when I get home.     

Do you also enjoy learning about the subjects of your art? I know you have a keen interest in flora – that’s a subject with almost infinite possibilities for discovery. Is there a flower or plant that you have yet to feature in your art that you would most like to ‘encounter’ and capture on paper/canvas?

Of course.  Most of us have lost the patience to look closely at something as simple as a flower, or feather or shell, and I think much of the enjoyment of painting them is that it makes you spend time studying the details.  I do love wild orchids, which are not only such weird plants but have amazing relationships with the insects which pollenate them.  On my last trip to Tanzania I was lucky enough to be guided by an expert (thank you Tribes’ Christine!) and I was completely blown away by the sheer variety of colour and form.  If I could do a really successful painting of just one of them, I would be thrilled beyond measure – this is one subject which really has to be painted from a living specimen.

 

Tulips – painted from life.

While on your travels, are you always looking for something that could become the subject of a painting?

Every second of the day.  Observation is the most important skill to master as an artist – far more so than the mere technical ability to handle a pencil and paintbrush, and I am constantly looking at the shapes of trees, leaves and flowers; on the way the light catches the surfaces, and working out the colours which hide in the shadows.   Water  is especially fascinating since it reflects, distorts and shapes objects as well as being a subject in its own right.  But my next challenge,  since I have met him several times in Ruaha, is to do justice to ‘Tom’, a local bull elephant who is as curious about people as we are of him.  We have spent hours watching each other less than 10 yards apart.

Of the paintings you have created from your travels, which has given you the greatest satisfaction as an artist, and which other work (it might be the same one of course!) captures a particularly strong memory?

Hmm – nothing I have painted has ever been perfect, but I was pleased with the Koi carp and butterflies (all on my website).  I am also pleased with the leopard (shown at the head of this page) because the safari guides who have now become good friends (and are highly critical of my work) can recognise the actual animal.  We saw him walking along the road towards us as we drove back to the camp one evening, and he took his time, watching us with those astonishing eyes.  He had been wounded in a fight and flopped onto a rock in full view of us for about an hour to recover his breath.  We were alone, with no other vehicle in sight throughout.

 

I painted these charaxes butterflies years ago – it is really hard to get the wings matching!

As you say on your website, in your ‘spare’ time you are also a partner in a London law firm. Do you specialise in a particular area of the law? And how does that career sit alongside your more artistic activities?

I am a litigation lawyer, which means I spend time dealing with commercial and media disputes in court, and a number of my cases became very well-known news stories in their time.  Clients can be very demanding, but it is possible to keep up other interests although it is not easy, particularly when family demands also take up time.  I am lucky enough to have a purpose-built studio to which I can escape – and a VERY understanding wife.

Your already rather full life now includes a new element – you are writing a book on the Victorian explorer James Jameson. His is not a particularly well-known name, in spite of his family connections to the whiskey family, although he is linked to a fairly grisly episode involving cannibals. What drew you to this subject, and do you feel Jameson has been poorly served by history?

This is a really extraordinary project, which started as I was rummaging through the Natural History Museum’s historic bird skin collection looking for specimens to paint.  Jameson was one of the men who went with Henry Morton Stanley (“Dr Livingstone, I presume?”)  into the heart of Africa in 1887 and he died on the Congo river the following year.

He collected a number of birds which are still in the Museum and two species are named after him.  On 11 May 1888 he found himself a witness to the murder and dismemberment of a child for the purposes of being eaten, and he caused an international scandal when news filtered out of Africa that he had sat and painted six sketches of the entire process.

I have rediscovered his original diaries and papers which are full of amazing drawings and paintings which have never before been published.  My interest is actually in the expedition, not just Jameson, and I have uncovered some truly jaw-dropping stories.  Jameson was not a bad man, but there is no doubt he did have a very unhealthy interest in cannibalism.  Frankly he was not alone in that, and many things were collected by those early travellers for our museums which we would find very offensive nowadays.  I am trying not to judge these men, but simply want to get to the facts which have largely been obscured by time.

 

Emerald cuckoo skins – painted from the specimens in the Natural History Museum with their labels on.

You have travelled with Tribes eight times since 2013, always to Tanzania. Why is your love for that particular country so great?

I did not know Tanzania well when I was living in Kenya and Uganda, but was encouraged to visit by Tracy of Tribes when, in 2013, I had just finished a very tough case and needed to get away on my own for a few days.  What I discovered was an astonishingly varied country which was far less visited than it deserves to be. Most tourists go to the North – Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Kilimanjaro – but I was persuaded to go to the southern parks and fell in love with them. 

I am not a ‘bucket-list’ traveller – for me, it is better to get to know a few places well than visit a lot of places superficially – but there is so much to see in Tanzania that every trip has been an absolute revelation. I cannot get enough of  watching elephants, which have such strong social and family  bonds, but actually the most important thing with any wildlife is to take time watching, rather than just taking a few photos and rushing to tick the next of the ‘Big Five’ off the list.  Even impala, zebras and warthogs are worth spending time with.

What has been your most memorable wildlife encounter on your travels with Tribes, and why?

Absolutely no doubt about it – I went with a friend this year to Mahale to trek with chimpanzees.  The rains had come early, the flight to reach the park through massive storms was more exciting than I had expected,  but we were the only two guests in our luxurious camp and were incredibly well looked after.  I thought that seeing the chimps would be special, but NOTHING had prepared me for the reality.  We were in the middle of an  extended family of about 35 individuals who totally ignored us and got on with their daily ‘soap-opera’ lives with all their jealousies, bickering, sexual politics, love affairs, fights over social status, teenage rebellions and naughty tricks played out in front of us.  It was a difficult place to get to – three internal flights and an hour and a half boat trip to get to the camp and then daily treks of a couple of hours just to see the chimps – but it was an experience you cannot put a price on.  If anybody asks me to recommend a safari experience they will not forget, this is it.

 

I like the impala in the act of jumping away.’

For the last four years your Tribes’ trips have been organised by our consultant Christine, who tells me that each year you set her yet more challenging trips to organise. Clearly you’re not someone for a straightforward ‘package’ trip?

I hold my hands up to that.  I am well beyond the point when I need to be driven for miles to see yet another lion asleep under a bush, but I do like to stop and watch birds and animals big and small relax and go about their daily business.  I am fascinated by the plants and insects, love the snakes, tortoises and reptiles and, if there is the opportunity to see something unusual, I will jump at the chance.  

I was amazed by the Uduzungwa mountains, and have visited Kitulo plateau and a ranch on the remote and utterly tourist-free Kipingere range just to see the orchids and some very rare birds. People visit Mahale for the chimps, but on the treks through the jungles to reach them we saw amazing things which even the guides were at a loss to identify.  Last year I included some dives off the coral reefs of Mafia Island which blew me away – I can see why some people revisit these reefs dozens of times.

I understand that on your trips you have encountered various challenges which Christine has helped you with – she mentioned floods, bridges being washed away and flight cancellations?

It can be challenging to reach the out-of-the-way places I like to visit, precisely because the tourist infrastructure is limited or non-existent, which is why Christine’s (and Tracy’s before her) knowledge and experience have been absolutely essential when I have planned my trips.  Christine has local knowledge, which has got me staying in a range of accommodation from the $800 a night camps to the $5 a night local guest houses.

I have stayed in wonderful places I would never have even known about (the Chili Farm at Morogoro springs to mind) and I have been met and looked after by her friends and contacts in a way which would simply not have been possible with a standard travel company.  Specialist local experts have guided me around the historical sites I needed to visit for my research and I am absolutely sure I could never have managed to plan half of it on my own. 

The best thing (as far as I am concerned) is knowing that when the going gets tough, I can be absolutely confident that somebody will make sure I am all right.  So, when a camp or bridges get washed away, I do not panic because I know I will be fine and there will a bed and a beer waiting for me somewhere.  In my trips I have had at least four separate camps flooded or washed away, countless bridges down and travel plans rearranged at the last minute – I hasten to add it is still a rare thing but, even when it has happened, I have been kept safe and well looked after.

 

I was given boxes of Kenya shells by a collector.  They are beautiful, but it is so much better to see the live shells on the reef.’

Where else in the world would you most like to travel to, and why?

I have still not scratched the surface of Tanzania, so I imagine I will be going back for some time to come.  I am very – VERY – tempted to visit all parts of South America, but will have to learn a whole new lot of birds and animals, new languages and get familiar with new places all over again, which will certainly take time.  If they only had elephants…

Finally, do you have any subjects for paintings on your ‘bucket list’?

I have done a few paintings of bee-eaters which I absolutely love to see all over East Africa, but there are a number still to paint.  They are such a brightly coloured family – who could imagine a bird which is crimson, pink, sky blue and cinnamon?  Or scarlet, green, Prussian blue and chestnut? I haven’t painted Boehm’s bee eater which is not quite as gaudy, but is still a fantastic little bird.  And I would love to tackle a big bird of prey.

My grateful thanks to Tribes for making it possible to enjoy such wonderful and life affirming experiences.

 

‘Young giraffes are so curious, with huge, beautiful eyes.’

All the images on this page are ©Marcus Rutherford. To learn more about his artwork, please visit his website: http://www.marcusrutherford.com/

 

In the Tribe: face-to-face with… Jeff Webster

In the Tribe: face-to-face with… Jeff Webster

In the Tribe: Face-to-face with… Jeff Webster

In this first of a new series meeting some of Tribes’ travellers, Suffolk-based Jeff Webster, a keen photographer who is now retired from a career in banking in London, tells of his and his wife Sue’s love of wildlife, Africa and Antarctica.

When did you first experience wildlife ‘in the wild’?

The answer may not be what you expect! In 1981 Sue and I – who had spent our lives in the suburbs until that point – moved to a rural location near Bishops Stortford. Until then my only experience of wildlife of any sort had been through the television – David Attenborough, of course, but before that (for those who are old enough to remember!) I also watched Armand and Michaela Dennis, who were earlier pioneers of wildlife broadcasting.

That first summer in our first rural home was very hot and one night, sleeping with the windows open to try to let some breeze in we heard a strange noise from the garden. We shone torches around the garden and to our great surprise and delight it was a badger! It had found a group of snails and was snacking away.

That started a love of watching wildlife that has endured ever since. Badgers became regular visitors to our garden. Sue and I would turn off the house and outside lights and sit on the terrace and they would wander into the garden and walk amongst us. We would even invite friends to join us sometimes. The badgers attracted foxes, and we would have visiting fox cubs in the spring. We joined a badger protection group, learnt how to handle injured badgers and dug sets for orphaned ones. Over the 25 years we lived in that house we were visited by badgers thousands of times. Strangely, since moving to rural Suffolk, we have only seen one live badger – and that was an injured one we found by the roadside, which died in my arms.

When did the travel bug bite you?

As a child growing up in Leeds and Manchester my holidays were restricted to family trips to Scarborough and Morecambe.  I didn’t go abroad or fly at all until I was 38 years old, when Sue and I went to Crete, which was the beginning of nearly a decade of Mediterranean holidays for us. However, in 1989 we decided to take a long-haul trip, and did so quite comprehensively, with a trip that included India, Hong Kong and China!

It was quite an eye opener for us both – when you have only travelled in Europe and then you land in Delhi…. I remember the taxi taking us from the airport to the hotel and Sue exclaiming “Good heavens, there’s a naked man walking along the street!”, and our driver explaining that it was a holy man.

On that trip we saw macaque monkeys and Asian elephants and that inspired us to take our first African safari, which we did in 1990, travelling to Kenya with a travel company that we picked because they promised us a window seat in the safari vehicle!

To say we enjoyed it is very much an English understatement – since that trip we have travelled once and sometimes twice every year and have visited every continent on earth apart from Australia.

What are your most memorable wildlife experiences from your travels with Tribes?

In 2011 Tracy arranged a trip to Western Tanzania for us, taking in Selous, Ruaha, Katavi and Mahale. Our main aim was to see chimpanzees in the wild, something we had failed to do with previous trips to Rwanda and Uganda. We very nearly saw them in Uganda – we had walked to be very close to them but then it started raining and they went quiet and that was it! Tracy understood what we wanted and she suggested Mahale because the chimps there are habituated to humans, as they have been monitored for years by, I think, Kyoto University.

The experience was memorable for many reasons – not least the flight from Katavi to Mahale. It was a small plane, of course, and Sue and I were the only passengers. As we flew over the Mahale mountains it started to rain – torrentially. Lightening was crackling around us and the fuselage was battered by the downpour. You know it’s not a good a sign when the pilot stops talking. When we finally landed the pilot said “Now that was interesting.” He followed that up with, “And what you didn’t know is that that’s only the second time I have ever flown solo with passengers”….

The next day we trekked for two hours to meet up with a group of chimpanzees, and Sue and I got our wish. It was fantastic and well worth all the effort – I was 66 at the time, and there was an American lady on the trek with us who was celebrating her 38th birthday and said it was the physically hardest thing she had ever done.

 

In 2010 we travelled with Tribes to Botswana, where we encountered meerkats on the Kalahari scrublands. We sat down and they were all around us. It was enchanting – but also surprisingly cold. We had to be there in the early morning for this and I hadn’t expected to encounter frost in Africa! On that same trip we slept under the stars on the Makgadikgadi Pans. And we were literally under the stars – no tent, just a double bed and the sky above us. Magical!

Old Mondoro Camp in Zambia’s Lower Zambezi is one of our favourite places. In fact, it’s the only one we have every visited twice, and it was there, on a night-drive, that we saw honey badgers for the first time. And last year we went to Zimbabwe where we saw Boswell, the big-tusker elephant made famous by David Attenborough’s Seven Worlds One Planet programme, in which he stands on his hind legs to eat from the higher branches of trees. He stayed on all four legs when we saw him but was still a magnificent sight.

Travel is also about the people that you meet – you must have had some fascinating encounters over the years, both with native populations and your fellow travellers?

I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the American gentleman I met in Zimbabwe last year, who asked ‘Hey man, can you explain the difference between a rhino and a hippo?”.  Sue answered for me – ‘One is endangered and the other isn’t.”

But it’s the poignant encounters that leave the most lasting impression. In 2005 we went to Rwanda, ten years after the genocide. Rwanda was just opening up to tourism at that time and the devastation caused by the genocide was still very much in evidence. I remember the holocaust museum, with its mummified bodies, and the caretaker there, who had survived being shot and bore a bullet hole scar in his forehead.  He asked me to photograph him, “So that the world can see the horrors we suffered”.

Do you prefer walking near wildlife or watching them from a safari vehicle or a boat? I imagine it rather depends on the wildlife…

I like to do it all! That’s why I find Zambia so very special – you can go on walking safaris, night safaris and also boat and jeep safaris. Walking safaris are fascinating. The bigger wildlife spots you long before you spot it, so you start to notice the smaller things instead. I remember a trapdoor spider that lurked underground…

To get closer to the larger wildlife you need to be in a boat or vehicle – though we have at times been a bit too close to hippos while in a boat!

You’re a keen photographer – is this something that you’ve always done or something that became a stronger interest the more you travelled?

It’s something that has become a greater interest the more we have travelled. I started with print film then switched to slide film, as slides take up less space. Now, of course, I shoot digitally. I still don’t have the most expensive kit but I travel with two camera bodies and include a long lens.

Your most recent trip (not a Tribes one) was to Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean. Obviously a rather different experience to an African safari or the SouthWild Jaguar Flotel in Brazil! Tell us about the wildlife you saw on that icy trip.

This is something we have wanted to do for quite a while. Five or six years ago we travelled along Russia’s Kamchatka coastline and after we left the boat it was going on to Wrangel Island. We weren’t sure at that time if politically it would be an easy place to visit but this year on a ‘if we don’t do it now we may never do it’ impetus, we went there.

It is obviously very remote – it’s the last place where woolly mammoths survived – and the wildlife, and the quantity of wildlife, is astonishing. We saw over 50 polar bears, hundreds of walruses and, I’m told, some 250 humpback and grey whales. Birdlife is impressive here as well, notably the horned puffins and the lovely tufted puffins. We were looking out for snowy owls but, strangely, saw just one! Then we sailed along the Northern Siberian coast, where we spotted Arctic foxes and Russian brown bears.

We also met several of the native Inuit people, who have been restricted to one settlement since the Stalin era; I remember the distress of an elderly lady as she reminisced about the village from which everybody had been evicted in the 1950s.

What is the wildlife photograph that you’re most proud of, and why?
On that trip to Tanzania in 2011, it was the end of the season and we basically had Katavi National Park to ourselves, other than an Australian couple who shared our vehicle. Our guide suggested that, rather than driving around in search of wildlife, we park up under a tree and see what unfolded before us.

We were entertained for a while by a lion cub repeatedly jumping onto its father until the adult gave it a whack and it scampered up a tree, gazing reproachfully down on its parent. We then drove down to a riverbed, where three female lions were stretching out in the sun, with four cubs nearby. The lionesses started to walk away and a crocodile walked towards them. They all appeared to be ignoring each other and then something triggered the lionesses and they circled the crocodile then launched an attack. It was quite a tussle but ended in a stand-off, albeit with the crocodile sustaining a nasty gash on its rear leg. Then the lionesses sat down as if nothing had happened – and it’s the shot of the tussle, with the four cubs watching from a safe distance, that I’m the proudest of.

And what was the most memorable photograph to take? It may not be one that you consider your best, but the experience itself makes it particularly satisfying.

There are two. The first was when we were gorilla trekking in Rwanda. We left at 7am and trekked to a family of 46 gorillas. However, the male silverback wasn’t well and, rather as with human ‘man flu’ he involved everybody as he decided to head up the mountain to cooler climbs. It took us six hours trekking up the steep sides of an extinct volcano to find them…

The second photo was taken when we travelled to Borneo and the Malay peninsula one year with the aim of seeing wild orangutans. We saw them in the reserve at Sepilok but hadn’t seen them in the wild, and we had arrived at our last camp and our guide was becoming anxious! Then he announced “The good news is that a male orangutan has built a nest just outside the camp. The bad news is that we’ll have to get up before sunrise to see him.” So, the next morning we all got up and got dressed in the dark and travelled to beneath the tree where he was nesting. Dawn came and there was no sign of him. Then one hour passed. And another hour. People started to give up and head back to camp for breakfast, but we stayed put. Finally, at 9.10am a hand appeared on the edge of the nest and there he was! His name was Abu and it was definitely an experience and picture worth waiting for.

Clearly Africa is a great love – why do you and your wife love it so much?
The wildlife! There are still some elusive creatures that we have yet to see there. On our recent trip to Zimbabwe our guide asked us what we wanted to see. “A caracal would be nice” I replied. He was quiet for a while and then said “Anything else?”

We also love the colour and wildlife of India.

Where else in the world that you have travelled to (not necessarily with Tribes) do you consider to be particularly special?

The Antarctic – it is so special and, with global warming, it is changing all the time.

Finally, if you could only travel to one place – either one you’ve been to before or have yet to visit – where would it be, and why?

Well, Africa is always front of mind of course but I think if it really was a case of ‘this is the last place you are allowed to travel to’ it would have to be the Antarctic.

 

All photos © Jeff Webster

Sunrise in Selous

Sunrise in Selous

Sunrise in Selous

Tribes’ client Patricia McKay experienced a glorious sunrise while travelling in Tanzania with us. And she describes it – and some of the other highlights of her trip – in the most beautiful way!

© Shutterstock – Ondrej Prosicky

“The dawn creeps up upon you stealthily and almost imperceptibly at first.”

Sunrise in Selous

The dawn creeps up upon you stealthily and almost imperceptibly at first. Around 5:30am there is a just perceivable lightening which enables you to make out the shapes of the trees around the camp. The hippos are grunting to each other, some from the lake in front of the tent and others from the land behind it. The more musical grunting calls of the Southern ground hornbills can also be heard.

As the sky above Selous lightens other birds join in until there is a true dawn chorus of trills, twitters and cheeps, none of which I can identify. By 6 o’clock it is light enough to see a bit, and from the comfort of my bed I can observe two small birds in silhouette as they sit together side by side on a nearby palm frond. A couple of hornbills fly over, their shapes dark against the brightening sky.

By 6:30am it is daylight, though the sun is not yet up. I can stand it no longer in bed, so I creep out and sit on our verandah. The first openbill stork of the day flies past, its perpetually open bill showing clearly against the sky. An African fish eagle flaps slowly past on its enormous dark wings, its dazzling white head and tail gleaming in the sun like beacons. In the sedges and rushes in front of the tent a cattle egret stalks past, looking for frogs or insects, or some other such tasty bite. The fish eagle flaps back again, this time carrying a large branch, which it takes to its nest in a palm tree, closely followed by its mate, who bears a similar burden. Out in the lake the hippos are just visible with their pink ears and noses glowing in the first rays of the sun. Every so often a smooth dark back appears above the surface of the water for a moment, only to sink back underwater a few seconds later. The grunting continues together with the odd snort and splash.

By now it is 7 o’clock, and my personal alarm clock goes off in the shape of a Masai warrior wrapped in the traditional red chequered blanket, complete with a wooden staff in one hand and a cell phone in the other, who strolls down the path to our tent to deliver my requested morning wake-up call.

“Hello, jambo – good morning” he calls out until I answer back with a smile and “Hello, good morning – assante!” “Karibou – you’re welcome,” he responds, and strolls off, his job done. It’s time for breakfast!

 

© Shutterstock – Grober du Preez

“…wonderful close looks at golden impala, gleaming in the sunshine.”

My first giraffe

We flew from Dar es Salaam to Ruaha on a small plane which only had seats for 12 passengers, however on this particular flight we were only six in total – four passengers, and two pilots, who welcomed us personally as we boarded. The flight was short and soon we were landing on a dirt runway.

We met our guide Maulidi, and driver Godson,  and were soon on our way for our first game drive as we travelled to Mdonya Old River Camp. We had not even got out of the airstrip parking area before we saw our first animals – wonderful close looks at golden impala, gleaming in the sunshine. I had already told Maulidi that I was particularly interested in birds, and he immediately showed me some Fischer’s sparrow-larks, and the spectacular lilac-breasted roller, both of which were life birds for me.

For the next hour I was held spellbound, as we looked at more and more birds and animals, until we rounded a corner, and suddenly, there he was! My first-ever wild giraffe, placidly grazing on an acacia tree.

We looked at each other for a minute or two, and then, having decided that we were harmless, he casually strolled away to the next bush with the curious stately gait that all giraffes have. It was a truly magic moment….

 

©Karen Coe

Breakfast with the baboons

One of my most memorable events was the bush breakfast that we had on our last morning in Ruaha.  The driver, Godson, pulled the jeep into a small clearing next to a very small pond.  The area was populated by many impalas as well as baboons.  The impalas immediately fled to the far side of the pond while the baboons examined us and then decided we were of no interest.  The very young baboons however carried on with their swinging from branch to branch, for which they were then reprimanded in no uncertain terms!  We enjoyed our breakfast watching all the animals interact.  And to our surprise and delight there was a hippopotamus relaxing in the water of the pond.  He/she graced us with a giant yawn and some grunting for having disturbed his/her early morning nap.  It was a lovely way to start the day and end our stay in Ruaha National Park.  

Except where all stated, all images are © Patricia McKay

Amazing Antarctica

Amazing Antarctica

Amazing Antarctica

Image ©Shutterstock – Pole2PoleImages

For a once-in-a-lifetime experience why not consider a true ‘holiday on ice’? Antarctica is simply glorious – the largest wilderness on earth is untouched, awe-inspiring and about as far as you can get from a ‘run of the mill’ holiday destination.

“The stark landscapes of this polar desert have their own distinctive beauty.”

© Shutterstock – Foto-4440

The world’s highest continent also boasts one of the most severe climates, strong winds and extreme dryness, but the stark, unique landscapes of this polar desert have their own distinctive beauty.

Some 98% of Antarctica is covered in ice which can be as much as 2km thick. But it also has rivers, mountains – and six months of darkness. The main tourist season is the austral summer (November to March), when there is daylight for almost 24 hours a day!

It is impossible to visit Antarctica without feeling as if you were on one of those famous expeditions we all learnt about at school. Today the resident population is primarily made up of scientists, based in several dozen research stations, and travellers can visit both present-day and historic research stations and can also visit the old whaling station on Deception Island.

Exploring the White Continent on board a purpose-built expedition vessel is a fabulous way to experience this unique place. You can relax in warmth and comfort as the boat navigates the icebergs and fjords, then take an excursion on an inflatable zodiac boat to visit Elephant Island, Anvers or Wiencke islands or the South Shetlands, hiking through the snow to get closer to the glaciers and wildlife and visit historic buildings. You can even go sea kayaking and showshoeing, while each evening presentations from expert guides help you learn even more about this glorious place.

Happily, advances in cold-weather clothing mean you can be toasty warm and comfortable as you venture out onboard a zodiac or stand out on deck to watch the Southern Lights put on a spectacular show. The Aurora Australis are not as frequently seen as their northern counterpart the Aurora Borealis, but when they do appear they are astonishingly beautiful, adding purple, orange, pink and gold to the blue and green of the Northern Lights.

 

 

© Shutterstock – Vladsilver

 Along with the vast, spectacular landscapes and seascapes, you also get vast, spectacular mammals in the form of the many whale species found in the waters of Antarctica. Blue whales, orcas, minke, humpback and sperm whales all thrive here in the summer months when they gather to feed in the Southern Ocean.

 

 

© shutterstock – reisegraf.ch

© shutterstock – reisegraf.ch

© shutterstock – Jared Cohn

“The creatures that can survive in this white wilderness are enchanting.”

While you don’t get the wealth of wildlife that you’ll see on a safari, for example, what you do see is very special. The creatures that can survive in this white wilderness are enchanting – who doesn’t love a penguin?  And Antarctica has six different species of this wonderfully charismatic, flightless bird – adelie, southern rockhopper, king, chinstrap, gentoo and emperor.

The ocean is the source of nourishment for most of the wildlife. In order to survive here they need to be warm-blooded and they also need to quite large – those layers of fat are essential. Southern fur seals, Weddell and Crabeater seals, the intimidating leopard seals and huge elephant seals make their home in the icy water and on the surrounding ice and rocks.

In a continent where your spine will be tingling nearly all the time (and no, not because you’ll be cold!) the sight of the highly endangered wandering albatross, that iconic and legendary protector of seafarers, soaring above you is something you are unlikely ever to forget. The snow petrel, with its pure white plumage, is quite lovely, as is the agile Arctic tern. The feisty South Polar skua boasts a wingspan of up to 140cm, while the distinctive, blue-eyed shag, can dive to a depth of more than 100m.

Enjoy an Antarctic Adventure with Tribes

For a luxurious take on an Antarctic adventure, our Antarctic Peninsula Adventure 2021 is hard to beat. You’ll stay on board the splendid RCGS Resolute, with its gorgeous dining room with 270-degree views, heated salt-water swimming pool and sheltered Jacuzzi. Spending time on the 360-degree observation deck is a must, while the on-board laboratory is a fascinating place to learn from the researchers and naturalists. Guests are always welcome on the bridge, so if you want to learn about navigation, this is your chance! 

Our Classic Antarctica Fly and Cruise holiday flies you from Punta Arenas in Chile to King George Island where you board one of the small but very comfortable expedition vessels operated by Antarctica21 and travel through the South Shetland Islands and the western cost of the Antarctic Peninsula.

 

Whale tales

Whale tales

Whale tales

When we planned our family trip to Costa Rica, one key question was ‘where will we have the best chance of seeing whales?’ Tribes’ Alex Neaves recommended the Osa Peninsula, a spectacular region in the south west of the country, combining rainforest with coast – which turned out to be a great suggestion!

We chose to spend five nights towards the end of our holiday at Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge on the Osa Peninsula. This lovely, welcoming place is perched on the hillside overlooking its own beach and is adjacent to the glorious Corcovado National Park. When I say ‘adjacent’ I mean it literally – the private path through the lodge’s beautiful grounds borders the park and you simply step off the path onto a trail in the park.

The lodge is reached by a boat trip past palm trees, beaches, hill-side houses and colourful landscapes on one side and nearly turquoise water on the other.

We kept our eyes peeled for whales, though in truth I didn’t really know what I was looking out for. Would the ocean be full of whales leaping out of the water, twisting and turning in front of us? Or would we only spot a tiny figure in the distance?

On that particular journey we saw nothing at all…

However, arriving at the lodge more than made up for the lack of cetaceans on the journey there. 

It’s a lovely place, set in gorgeous gardens and surrounded by jungle on three sides and the coast on the other. Howler monkeys whooped and grunted in the trees and a pair of long-married scarlet macaws flew low overhead before settling in a tree for a rather noisy quarrel.

That first evening at Casa Corcovado we began what became our daily tradition – the 4.30pm cocktail hour at the lodge’s Margarita Sunset Point.

This beautifully manicured piece of land has a jaw-dropping view down to the ocean and across to Cano Island and has its own little bar that is open for just an hour each evening, so that guests can enjoy a drink and nibbles as they watch the sun go down.

 

 

I sat, margarita and camera equally to hand, and marvelled at the natural show of colour and light we were being treated to.

Then the barman said ‘Look! Can you see the whale?’

We all gazed down to the water close to the shoreline and I felt frustrated as guest after guest said ‘Yes! There it is!’ while my eyes darted back and forwards across the water. Eventually I made out a dark shape for just a fraction of a second, then it was gone. I think that’s what everybody was exclaiming over… If this was to be my sole experience of seeing a whale it was hardly the jaw-dropping, spine-tingling experience I’d hoped for. But I had seen it. Well, briefly… I think. Then the sunset arrived with full, glorious force, and all thoughts of whales were temporarily forgotten.

 

 

The following day we took the Cano Island snorkelling trip. This is a 45-minute boat ride from the lodge, and we had been told that the guests who did this the day before had seen whales, and plenty of them.

35 minutes into the journey we suddenly veered off course, towards where two other boats were sitting still in the water.

“We took another detour when my son yelled ‘dolphins!”

Then it happened. About 30m away, a black, curved shape, slick with water, slid out of the water then back under the surface, looking like a giant, smooth-treaded tyre being rolled along.  A few seconds later came the tell-tale spurt of water – noisier and higher than I’d imagined, and the ‘tyre’ appeared again. This time with a smaller one alongside!

We were in the presence of a mother and baby humpback whale and it was beautiful. No dramatic breaches, no great thrashes, just gentle movements. Cue slightly red eyes and a few sniffs and gulps all round…

We took another detour when my son yelled ‘dolphins!’.  A large flock of seabirds was circling round in the distance. A group of dolphins were on the hunt, creating a ball of fish – those birds knew where to find a good meal! We were treated to the sight of dolphins leaping out of the water and the birds’ impressive diving ability as, wings tucked by their sides, they hit the water with a precision that would put Tom Daley to shame.

Snorkelling in the clear, warm waters off Cano Island was great fun, with a lovely assortment of colourful fish weaving their way amongst the coral. The lodge’s manager Stephen said that he was going to see if he could hear whale song beneath the water. He dove down about 4m then raised both his thumbs; he could hear it. Unfortunately diving while snorkelling is not a skill I’ve yet mastered. I wasn’t alone in this, but my 20-year-old son was one of those who took the plunge (literally!) and enjoyed the most magical experience, as beautifully eerie sounds echoed all around him. On the way back to Casa Corcovado Stephen pointed out jets of water in the distance as he spotted other whales, and we had another mother and baby encounter.

Two days later, my husband and I took a private boat trip with just guide Cynthia and the boat captain back towards the waters around Cano Island. We had no specific timetable, just two to three hours to hang about on the boat, following any whale sightings that might come up. It was possible that we wouldn’t see any, of course…

 

We stopped en-route to drop some cold drinks off to fishermen in exchange for some of their catch.

A magnificent frigate bird had chosen to make the air above their tiny boat his temporary home, continually circling us and them at a low altitude in search of a free meal.

That day turned out to be one of the most special experiences of our lives.

It was a beautifully still, calm day, bathed in sunshine, the water almost mirror-like at times.

We saw several mother humpbacks and their calves and then, drawn by tremendous splashes in the distance, we honed in on a large male.

For at least 15 minutes we sat, probably only about 20m from him, as he thrashed his huge tail repeatedly, then he rolled onto his side and started bashing enormous flippers from side to side, great plumes of water streaming from them, our boat juddering with each ‘smack’. The noise was incredible, a mighty, thunderous crash that you could hear long before you got close to him.

We were so near that we could make out the barnacles and sandy creatures on his tail. It was immensely powerful, stunningly beautiful and also a tiny bit intimidating.

 

Then, between us and this magnificent creature, appeared another mother and her baby. Our guide stiffened and said ‘sometimes the males can hurt the babies’ but, as if riding to the rescue, five dolphins shot in from the side, swimming around the mother and calf, leaping out of the water in a joyous fashion.

They were so near, I could have leant out of the boat and touched them. The mother whale got so close to us that when her back breached the water the only thing filling my camera lens was her skin. Then, as this incredible spectacle continued in front of us, I looked behind and to the side. Four more whales were there, some breaching, some sending out fountains of water… For the next 15 or 20 minutes, wherever we looked there were whales.

All four of us were silent on the way back to the lodge. There were really no words. We had shared an experience we would never forget. I had been moved to tears several times and even writing about it now makes me emotional.

 

Having started our time at Casa Corcovado barely able to spot a whale directly beneath our vantage point by the sunset bar, I ended it a veritable Captain Ahab; albeit definitely not with whale hunting in mind!  My eyes became accustomed to scanning far out to sea, filtering out waves crashing against rocks from the spray from a blowhole and picking out whales several miles away. My ‘margarita’ sunsets now had a new purpose – whale spotting! Each time I saw one, even if it was at a vast distance, it was a thrill. And the knowledge that for every one I spotted there were infinitely more out there, was just incredible.

We’d return to Costa Rica – and Casa Corcovado – like a shot. An amazing country with wonderful people and with unforgettable landscapes and wildlife. And who knows, maybe I’ll get my courage together and learn how to dive down while snorkelling. I really, really want to hear that whale song…

 

 

If you’d like your own Osa Peninsula adventure, Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge is included in our 15-day Costa Rica Wildlife Holiday. Or we can tailor-make a holiday in Costa Rica just for you…

All images © Karen Coe