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/

 

Barefoot Woman

Barefoot Woman

Barefoot Woman

The historic Kaalvoet Vrou (Barefoot Woman) statue stands proudly in South Africa’s Drakensberg Mountains. It commemorates Voortrekker Susanna Smit who, in 1837, said that she would rather walk barefoot back over the Berg than live under British rule. Bridget and Andrew Batchelor went in search of her…

We’re here – but are we there?  We should be, but here is just a small scruffy bit of tarmac behind a rusty fence and an open gateway.  No sign, no explanatory panel – and no sign of a statue.  ‘Drive for 25 kms on the gravel road’ the instructions had said, which is what we’ve done. So, are we there?

“Let’s look round,” suggests Andrew.  “There might be at least a decent view.  After all, the Voortrekkers were supposed to have thought this was the Land of Milk and Honey.”

Out of the car, we are swept by a chilly breeze. It is after all winter here in South Africa and we are quite high up.  But the air is clean, fresh, delicious.  The dust our car had kicked up has settled.  We are miles – correction, kilometres – from anywhere, the only sounds are distant bird-song and the odd hum of an insect.  The sky is an amazing, clear blue.

At the back of the car-park is a gap in the rusty fence.  Two gate-posts sag at different angles.  It looks like humans are meant to be here, and guided off somewhere, so we take the hint.  Around a bend in the path, we stop dead.  The view down, down, down over a succession of rolling hills, lush and inviting even in winter, takes our breath away.  If this is what those Trekkers of long ago saw, then no wonder they thought they had been guided by God to this land.  Even today there is nothing but emptiness; no roads, no farms, no sign of man.

“No wonder they went for it,” I whisper.  “They couldn’t have known the Zulus had got there first.”

We drink in the view in silence.  A piercing bird call seems to accentuate the isolation.  There is just the blue sky and the wind and the emptiness and the promise of a place to settle in peace, to live life as you want without interference, to worship as you please.

After a few more moments of awed contemplation, we turn back.  Andrew says idly “I wonder why someone put a scarecrow up there?”, and points to the skyline to our right.  There indeed is a scarecrow, coat flapping in the wind, seemingly protecting nothing from the odd bird of prey.

We decide to investigate.

We scramble up the steep slope, following a dusty half-path.  As we approach from behind, the penny drops.

 

“That’s her!” I shriek.  “That’s Susanna!  See, it’s a statue, with a bonnet.  It must be bronze or something.  We’re in the right place after all.”

And we were.  On this little ridge in the middle of nowhere, Susanna Smit strode back the way she and her people had come.  

The original sculptor had given her wind-swept hair and skirts wrapped around those resolute legs with their bare feet.  But someone visiting one of the lesser-known Boer landmarks  – a descendant of those stalwart Trekkers, maybe? – had wrapped her in a plaid blanket, fastened with what looked like a giant kilt-pin.  

Someone had wanted to leave a message to future visitors that the story of Susanna had not been forgotten.  To someone, Susanna was a woman of huge courage whose public declaration that she would rather walk back barefoot the way they had come than live under British rule had changed her people’s history.

We walk all the way round the life-sized statue, in awe of yet another Boer statue which told its own story, and of the visitor who had left this tribute, now flapping in the winter wind.  There was no explanatory plaque.  There was no need.  Anyone who took the trouble to come to this landmark knew the story behind what they would find. 

We take some photos, trying to do justice to the location’s loneliness and resolution.  Then we walk in silence back to the car, turning back as we reach it for one last look at the scarecrow figure highlighted against the cloudless sky, forever telling, in one piece of cast bronze, one of the more powerful Voortrekker tales.

 

Images © Bridget Batchelor

Our thanks to Bridget for this lovely piece – and watch out for our ‘Face to Face With’ interview with Bridget, coming soon.

Do you have a Tribes’ travel story you’d like to share?

We love to hear from our travellers with tales of their trips with us. If you’d like to submit a blog post, please contact our blog editor, Karen  – she’d be delighted to chat it through with you!

 

A Nature Adventure in Mainland Ecuador

A Nature Adventure in Mainland Ecuador

 

 

 

 

A Nature Adventure in Mainland Ecuador

When our guests travel with us to Ecuador it’s normally via Quito to the Galapagos Islands, but I wanted to see what else there was. So, from the history and culture of Quito, I took a short domestic flight to Coca in the Amazonian part of Ecuador.

© Shutterstock – Goran Safarek

© Shutterstock – SL Photography

Within a couple of minutes, a young Tapir comes out of the jungle and stands on the bank looking at us.

The flight is only about 30 minutes but the starting and finishing environments couldn’t be more different. The altitude and more rugged habitat of the highlands and mountains is replaced by the humid and lush Amazon rainforest, which couldn’t be more evident than when you step off the aircraft. As you step down from the aircraft a waft of dense humid air welcomes you as you walk from the aircraft to the arrival’s terminal in the newly rebuilt airport, only opened in early 2019.

A 5-minute taxi ride took me to the boat dock where you don a life vest and board the long, covered canoe like boat for the river journey to the lodge. It is a great way to start this part of the journey as within about 15 – 30 minutes of arriving you are travelling down the Napo river amongst the other everyday river traffic. You begin to get a sense of the jungle on either side of you as you pass villages on the river banks and see the winding expanse of river stretch ahead of you.

After about two and a half hours on the river we arrived at the dock where my bags were taken for me on a hand cart and while we walked along a raised wooden walkway into the jungle for about 10 minutes. At the end we board a smaller hand paddled canoe, our bags go in another, but before we set off our guide stops and listens, then begins to call out. Within a couple of minutes, a young Tapir comes out of the jungle and stands on the bank looking at us. “That’s Tony.”, the guide says and while he is wild, he is also quite friendly and curious. I’m 10 feet away and it is probably the closest I have been to a wild animal of that size (like a large pig) in its’ natural environment. Tony seems a little non-plussed and ambles off to do Tapir things.

 

Our canoe is then paddled through a mangrove swamp for about 10 minutes and at this point you can really start to smell the aroma of the jungle, hear birds, insects, monkeys and other wildlife, which belies a stillness underneath it all. It is easier to experience than describe but the jungle seems to draw you in and hold your attention as if you are listening through the natural sounds to the heart of something.

We come out of the mangrove swamp to Lake Challuacocha, where Sani Lodge is nestled among the jungle canopy with its’ more traditional wooden structures. It is owned and run by the Sani Community who are an indigenous people of around 600 inhabitants with stewardship over about 40,000 hectares of Amazon rainforest.

 

© Shutterstock – Mark Richard Waller

It is worth noting that the Sani Community face constant pressure from oil companies to sell parts of their land for oil exploration, pressure which they continue to resist as they protect their way of life and environment. Their aim is to promote sustainable practices so that travellers like myself and like you can experience their way of living in harmony with the forest. They are incredibly friendly and genuinely enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge and stewardship of the forest in conjunction with sustainable ecotourism.

I lived in the Amazon jungle in Northern Peru not far from the border with Ecuador for three years, and I developed a close feeling for it mixed with a lot of respect. So I was pleased when my Sani guide took me on a tour through the jungle to the tallest tree in the area, where the Sani staff have built a covered metal tower stairway that takes you to the top of the tree canopy. At the top there is a metal gangway which reaches out to a wooden platform the staff built into the tree. From this platform, 45 metres (150 feet) from the ground, you can see the tree canopy of the forest stretching out into the distance as far as you can see in all directions.

© Shutterstock – Dr Morley Read

After walking through the forest floor below for over an hour, the view from above is impressive. There is not a single man-made structure (except the stair tower!) to be seen anywhere but neither can you see the ground beneath you, just the canopy of thousands of jungle trees. Primary tropical rainforest is vertically divided into at least five layers: the overstory, the canopy, the understory, the shrub layer, and the forest floor. The overstory refers to the crowns of emergent trees which soar 20-100 feet above the rest of the canopy. The platform I was standing on is in the ‘Overstory’ and the view is breath-taking, we sat up there for an hour and chatted.

When I say chatted, I mean I asked about a hundred questions and my guide, thankfully, responded with the same enthusiasm. What impressed me is their intimate knowledge of the jungle and all the different life in it. They know how to walk through the jungle as part of it, where you and I would hack and stumble and likely get lost. They know which plants are food and which are medicine. They know the signs and trails of creatures, when and how to keep their distance from those with young. Intimate is the correct word for their knowledge as they do, in a real sense, share an intimate and living connection with it.

© Shutterstock – Magda Chonillo

There is an entirely different pace and feeling in the jungle. If you have just come from Quito you might likely just lay on your bed after sunset, which happens around 6pm everyday and is quick, and listen to the night sounds. There are few things like the sound of a jungle at night, a feeling of mystery and the unknown, that may sound a little poetic but it is true for me. We are used to different sounds in the UK, often man made but natural ones also, the jungle chorus at night sounds a little alien but entirely natural and is quite compelling. For me it becomes like a lullaby and eventually puts me to sleep.

The amount of life is also quite compelling, there’s barely a millimetre of space in the jungle that isn’t supporting life in some way. If you walk 50 metres, you’ll pass dozens of different flora and fauna, some of the most important of which your guide will point out and explain. Many jungle plants are studied by pharmaceutical firms for their medicinal applications, for the indigenous people the jungle is their pharmacy and this is part of the cultural heritage they are seeking to sustain and protect.

© Shutterstock – Zaruba Ondrej

A visit to the Amazon jungle is quite safe if approaching this environment in the proper way, taking light weight trousers, boots (provided by the lodge), long sleeved shirt, a hat and following the advice of local guides. Moreover, the rewards are worth it. It is an environment that along with the diverse and abundant wildlife and plants which can be seen, also takes you away from 21st century life in to a remote place which seems, certainly at night, otherworldly yet undeniably natural.

My time here, sadly, finishes and I take the river journey back to Coca and the short flight back up to Quito.

©Shutterstock – Luis Louro

Recreate Rory’s journey with our five-day Sani Lodge Amazon Discovery trip, or enjoy a three-day cruise on the upper Napo River, Ecuador’s primary Amazon tributary.

To explore even more of mainland Ecuador, take a look at our 15-day Highlands and Amazon holiday – or why not enjoy the classic combination; a 15-day Rainforest and Galapagos adventure?

Magnificent Malawi – and a touch of Zambia!

Magnificent Malawi – and a touch of Zambia!

Magnificent Malawi (and a touch of Zambia)

Image ©Shutterstock – Alex van Schaik

I didn’t think that safari holidays got any better than the one to Botswana which Tribes arranged for me in 2015 – until last year!  I had long wanted to visit Malawi, and particularly the Nyika Plateau, but couldn’t find an appropriate group tour.   Then I saw that Tribes ran several 2-centre holidays in Malawi, and these included nearly all the places I hoped to visit, including South Luangwa just over the border in Zambia. Sinead arranged for me to stay at some wonderful places, and a driver to take me.

“Hippos wallowed, and waterbuck, kudu, impala, warthogs and bushbuck grazed.”

Liwonde National Park on the Shire River in Southern Malawi was a fantastic place to stay.  Mvuu Camp overlooked the water meadows, where hippos wallowed, and waterbuck, kudu, impala, warthogs and bushbuck grazed.  On river cruises we also saw elephants and could admire various kingfishers, fish eagles and many other birds as we quietly chugged between the hippos – and over the top of a couple of them!

Drives in the forest found some newly-released lions – to the vociferous objection of  nearby baboons – and, a first and a highlight for me, sable antelope.  Rhinos have also recently been introduced but had not yet ventured far from their acclimatisation site.

Nyika, in the north, was a complete contrast.  On a vast high plateau of open, rolling hills, almost uninhabited apart from the lodge and campsite, were herds of zebra, eland and reedbuck and something I found very special – roan antelope.   Much of the grass had been burnt, as a firebreak and to control bracken, and colourful flowers were among the first plants to appear amongst the regenerating grass.  Zebras particularly were interested in watching the visitors, and keen to pose for us!   Nights were frosty, but the cabins all had log fires in the evenings and this was another amazing and very hospitable place to stay.  Walks and cycling were possible in addition to game drives.  Some elephants had emigrated from another game park, and were due to be joined by others soon to be released from an acclimatisation site, but they evidently preferred the woodland on the lower ground and, like leopards, were seldom seen.

Travelling between game parks, I stayed a night or two beside Lake Malawi, with a chance to swim in the lake.  Even better, at three lodges where I stayed in transit, there were local riding stables and I was able to ride through the forests.   One each at Zomba Plateau and Luwawa were in the same ownership, with lovely, well-kept horses and excellent, friendly management.   Complete novices and experienced riders could be catered for; not having ridden for a long time I rated myself between the two and had a quiet and sociable ride with the respective managers.

 

At Zomba Plateau, I stayed at the famous Forest Lodge.  As with most places where I stayed, this was far from any town.   It is British run, and our host was much involved with the local community, arranging planting schemes, footpaths and firebreaks over a large area. How did he manage to produce such excellent meals, with no electricity and so far from any shops?  All the facilities relied on solar power or firewood.  Local people would call at the scattering of local houses to see if any of their fresh produce could be of interest and, ingeniously, our host had given a local man a loan to buy a motorbike, the loan being paid off by its owner delivering provisions up the long winding track from the market, as required. My (excellent) driver was staying in the town and very kindly charged my camera battery for me.

My tour ended, after a short flight, at the famous South Luangwa Park in Zambia.  Flatdogs Camp was another wonderful place to stay, beside the Luangwa River and just across from the National Park.  We had been instructed not to have any food in the tents, in case the elephants came to help themselves and, on my first night, I could hear the trunk of a passing elephant swishing through the leaves just outside my tent.   At lunchtime two days later, a family group of about 10 elephants strolled right through the camp, later to be seen with a group of giraffes, grazing just beyond the camp.  As at Liwonde, guests were accompanied by guides when walking between their tents and the restaurant buildings after dark.

 

South Luangwa was truly safari paradise: from seeing and hearing hippos, elephants and impala from the camp, to the abundance of animals and birds seen on game drives.   The drivers knew the best places to see lions and leopards, as well as huge herds of buffalos; many antelopes, zebras, warthogs and the odd civet cat.  There were a great many birds too – so much to see that sometimes it was hard to know where to look!  One special morning a group of us followed some giraffes on foot.   Evening drives revealed the smaller, nocturnal, animals including genets, mongooses and a very well camouflaged chameleon – and a stalking leopard.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this very special safari holiday was seeing different species, such as elephants with hippos or giraffes, impala with zebra grazing together in the wild, often with attendant egrets and also sharing predator alerts with baboons and flocks of helmeted guinea fowl.   I should also mention how friendly and helpful everyone was everywhere I went and how well all the organisation worked.

 

EXPERIENCE MALAWI FOR YOURSELF…

There is so much beauty and wildlife to enjoy in this wonderful country. We have a range of fantastic holidays for you to choose from, plus unforgettable experiences such as snorkelling in Lake Malawi.

And, of course, we can always tailor-make a dream holiday in Malawi just for you…

All photos © Janet Van den Berge, except header image.

The unexpected is often the best

The unexpected is often the best

The unexpected is often the best

 

When Dr. Robert Climie travelled to Northern Tanzania with Tribes in January 2019, he wasn’t expecting one of the highlights of the trip to be a simple road journey…

…children waved and shouted greetings…

It was Sunday morning and we had just left the wonderful Tarangire National Park.  We weren’t really looking forward to the three-hour drive to Lake Manyara, despite the possibility of seeing lions in trees.             

After an hour or so on a main road, driving past Sunday markets and various Maasai warriors and their cows (interesting, but not the Big Five) we turned into a small road, happily leaving behind the white-uniformed police who pull you over demanding money for their breakfast.

Heading past a couple of small rather run-down towns and some paddy fields we were suddenly confronted by green cliffs. Peter, our excellent driver and guide, told us this was the edge of the Great Rift Valley. Grabbing our binoculars we scanned the area but could not see palaeontologist Richard Leakey anywhere, which was slightly disappointing.

Our journey started to take us through villages consisting of small houses surrounded by lush vegetation and crops of corn and mangoes. Immaculately dressed families filed out of tiny churches, the children in – I think – their school uniforms, the boys in pristine white shirts and red ties. They were almost immediately replaced by files of similarly dressed people going into the church; clearly there was no rest for the priest on Sundays or the ironing board on Saturday night.

As we carried on children waved and shouted greetings. We waved back but our Swahili was not up to replying. On a few occasions Peter stopped and chatted to the children while we gave them biscuits and the fruit from our lunch boxes – admonishing the older children who ran away with most of the spoils but, to be fair, they always came back and shared!

They all looked very healthy and had very good teeth so we didn’t feel too guilty about the biscuits.

Eventually we reached Lake Manyara National Park. We saw lots of flamingoes and hippos – and the famous lions in trees –  but by far the overriding memory is of the happy, friendly children and not a mobile phone – or even one of the Big Five – in sight.   

 

Let our Tanzania Specialists take you on your own Tanzanian adventure!

If you’d like to have your own friendly encounters while exploring Northern Tanzania – or, indeed, any part of Tanzania – why not have a chat with our experts?

Footloose in Africa

Footloose in Africa

Footloose in Africa

If you’re staying in a lodge or camp outside of the National Parks on your African holiday, you may be given the opportunity to take a walking safari or a nature walk together with an experienced and knowledgeable guide. It’s well worth taking up the offer…

Why?  You may well ask!  Nowhere can you connect with your surroundings quite as much as you can on a walk through the seemingly untouched wilderness of Africa. It’s a very different beast to a game drive or boat cruise – it’s just you, and nature with nothing in between.

I had been living in Botswana for a number of years before I finally embarked on a guided walk, and I wished I had done it sooner. The feeling of being out there, a tiny dot on the landscape, (together with your armed guide of course) gives way to a humbling feeling.  Your senses come alive and start to work in overdrive, particularly when you come close to wildlife. Speaking in hushed tones and hand-signals, your guide will relay more of his or her invaluable knowledge. 

 

 

“Each walk will probably leave you wanting more as you soak up the tiny details and the in-depth knowledge that your guide will pass on to you .”

On one such walk, we came across an elephant a short distance away, browsing and slowly making his way, oh so quietly, through the undergrowth.

As instructed by our guide we stopped, dead still and observed this magnificent gentle giant from a distance.  We were downwind from him, so at that point he had no idea we were there, observing him as he went about his daily business. It’s a surreal feeling. The hairs on my neck started to bristle and I realised I was holding my breath and somehow my senses of smell and hearing seemed heightened.

There is something very different about seeing an elephant on foot, away from the comfort of the vehicle. I consciously tried to file away the feelings, sights and smells of this encounter so that I could relive it at a later date – it was unlike any other experience I had ever had and it left me wanting to repeat it – and I have been lucky enough to be able to do so.

 

Each walk is unique and this can be down to many things –  the area you are walking in, the guides you are with and what you see and encounter on the walk.  You may not come across a lot of wildlife on some walks, but they will never be dull. There will always be tracks to be examined, bird calls to identify, animal droppings to study, plants and trees galore, some with medicinal or everyday uses for local people, it’s a fascinating learning curve and I guarantee you’ll never look at nature the same way again.

Each walk will probably leave you wanting more as you soak up the tiny details and the in-depth knowledge that your guide will pass on to you and file it in your memory banks.  Their knowledge is seemingly endless – I can now identify whether giraffe droppings come from a male or female giraffe and I know the difference between an active termite mound and an abandoned one.

These are just two tiny snippets of what I have learned on various walks in the African bush – there is so much more but we’ll be here forever, why not try it out for yourself and see how much incredible bush knowledge you can pick up?  It will astound you and it’s a memorable experience to boot!

 

If you fancy going footloose in Africa, talk to us about including a walking safari or an experience such as a Maasai walking excursion in Kenya or a walk with San Bushmen in Botswana in your itinerary.

Or why consider one of our itineraries that already feature this experience, including: