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

Taking the Cable Car to Kuelap

Taking the Cable Car to Kuelap

 

Taking the cable car to Kuelap

In 2017 Peru opened its first cable car. Climbing up a steep slope, bypassing a winding road, the cable car makes access to one of Peru most important archaeological sites much easier. No, this is not Machu Picchu – the cable car to reach the iconic Inca citadel is still in the planning stages and may never get off the ground. This is Kuelap, the largest city of the Chachapoyas culture in a remote part of northern Peru…

Kuelap – one of Peru’s most inaccessible historical sites.

Chachapoyas means ‘cloud warriors’ in the language of their Inca conquerors, and it is well-earned name. The Chachapoyas culture was around for a thousand years before the Incas arrived, and they built their settlements high up in the cloud-shrouded mountains. Instead of building their capital in the fertile river valleys, the Chachapoyas people built a city on a high ridgeline which dominates the surrounding landscape. At over 3,000 metres above sea level and encircled by walls which still stand up to 20 metres in places, the Chachapoyas people ruled from their stronghold for over a thousand years until the arrival of the Incas. Built a millennium before work began on Machu Picchu, Kuelap remains one of Peru’s most impressive historical sites.

Until the construction of the French-built cable car, it was also one of Peru’s most inaccessible historical sites. The only way to reach Kuelap had been a five-hour hike from the highway that follows the course of Utcubamba River, or a two-hour drive on a winding dirt road that clung precipitously to the edge of the mountain slopes. Now it takes just 20 minutes by cable car from the small town of Neuvo Tingo, just a short drive from the highway. The views along the way are impressive as the cable car climbs over 1,000 metres in altitude, dropping visitors off at a new visitors’ centre just 20 minutes’ walk from the walls of Kuelap.

With the cable car in operation, there has never been a better time to visit. At the moment, there are still relatively few visitors to this remote part of Northern Peru, but that is bound to change. The cable car station in Nuevo Tingo looks like it has been dropped in from space and is largely an empty shell. Spaces are marked out for gift shops and cafes which have yet to open, and there were just a couple of visitors waiting for the cable car when I arrived. However, there is the capacity to take many more visitors to Kuelap, and visitor numbers are increasing rapidly. The ruins of Kuelap hold a unique sense of ancient mystery, often swathed in clouds and overgrown with vegetation. It is worth visiting now while you can have the site virtually to yourself.

We feature Kuelap in our Lost Peru trip – or can include it in a tailor-made holiday itinerary for you.

Off to market

Off to market

Off to market

There is something fascinating about a market. And when that market is in a foreign country, the attraction is even stronger…

Most of us like to include one or two shopping opportunities on our holiday, whether that’s exploring high-end shops in elegant galleria or perusing home-made wares spread out on a tablecloth on the ground in a Maasai village. But you don’t have to be intent on a major shopping expedition to enjoy visiting a market – it’s a fabulous way to see what daily life is like for the locals as they shop for essential supplies or sell their artisan crafts. It doesn’t have to be a ‘general’ market either – fish markets are fascinating places to visit for example, with the added bonus that there will usually be some excellent fish restaurants close by!

A  market can be colourful in more ways than one. Whether it’s table-upon-table piled high with pyramids of vibrant spices or fruits and vegetables, racks of brilliantly-coloured woven goods or simply the local colour provided by such a bustling environment as you’re surrounded by the indigenous languages and customs, a trip to a market is bound to be memorable. Just don’t forget to take your camera!

 

Images above – header image © Shutterstock – Curioso, inset image © Shutterstock – Dendenal

The vibrancy of Latin American markets

The markets in Latin America are every bit as vivid as one would expect. The Plaza de los Ponchos (Otalvo Market) in Otalvo, Ecuador, sells everything from weaving tools to fresh fruit, while the Flower Market in Lima, Peru, is a gorgeous explosion of colour and scent. Unmissable!

The Bolivian city of La Paz has a range of markets, from the Mercado Lanza food market (a great place to try a salteña – a Bolivian empanada), the Ayni artisan crafts market and Comart Tukuypaj, where you’ll find beautifully-made alpaca and llama goods, to the intriguingly-named Witches’ Market (see photo below). This latter sells herbs and traditional medicines, and fortune tellers will happily read your palm, but it also sells lovely leather goods and woven items. Haggling is fine in Bolivia, so you may get a bargain!

Ferias (farmers’ markets) about in Costa Rica. In addition to farm products such as cheeses many sell honey, wine, clothing and crafts. But even if you’re not in the market (so to speak) for plantains, eggs or balls of string cheese, if you get the chance to visit a feria while in Costa Rica, do go. You’ll find ferias in many towns, with particularly good ones in or just outside Tamarindo, Quepos and San Jose. The Tamarindo Feria (Saturday mornings) sells a lot of organic products and chocolates, cheeses, flowers etc.  and there are often live music performances. The Feria Verde de Aranjuez in San Jose is a large, organic gourmet market and the perfect place to spend a Saturday morning.

 

© Shutterstock – Saiko3p

“The markets in Latin America are as vivid as one might expect.”

While in Chile, look out for local fruits and vegetables such as lúcuma and chirimoya, as well as leather, silver, lapis lazuli, alpaca and wood crafts. Angelmo, the coastal bay just outside Puerto Montt, has a superb seafood market – you couldn’t get fresher fish! It is THE place to try curanto, the South Chilean delicacy of seafood, vegetables and meat cooked over hot stones.

Santiago has plenty of markets, the most famous being Mercado Central, which specialises in fish. Don’t miss trying a traditional fish stew in one of the local restaurants! A short walk from Avenida O’Higgins you’ll find the Santa Lucia market, with a wealth of gifts and crafts on offer. You’ll also find excellent local hand-made goods in Pucon’s Mercado Artesanal, while Valparaiso’s Mercado El Cardonal features great piles of fruit and vegetables, all housed in a historic market hall. Make sure you also visit the fish market in Valparaiso; check out the pelicans, seagulls and sea  lions hovering around hoping for scraps as the fishermen unload their catches.

“You’re surrounded by the indigenous language and customs.”

Local colour in Peru

The town of Pisac in Peru’s Sacred Valley is famed for being the Valley’s highest settlement, for the Inca ruins above the town and for its bustling Sunday market, when traditionally-dressed members of the Cusco region’s indigenous Quechua communities gather to buy and sell produce and supplies. However, there is also a daily artisan market in Pisac, so whichever day you visit the town you be able to buy crafts and gifts and capture all that local colour in some great photos.

In addition to the afore-mentioned Flower Market, Lima has a number of markets to explore, ranging from the Feria Artesanal craft market to Terminal Pesquero, the daily fish market and Mercado de Surquillo, a superb food market. Peru has some 4,000 varieties of potatoes, so the potato displays alone are incredible in Peruvian markets! And if the idea of the Witches’ Market in La Paz appealed, you could well find Mercado Modelo in the Peruvian town of Chiclayo equally fascinating, with its stalls selling essential ingredients for potions and spells.

Cusco and Chinchero have ecellent markets and, for something absolutely exotic, there’s the market adjacent to the floating shantytown of Belén, Iquitos, where jungle village residents sell their wares. If you have a hankering to taste fried leafcutter ants or Amazon worms, this outdoor market in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon is the place for you…

Coast to winelands

There are some great markets to be found in Africa too, from the sophisticated establishments in Cape Town and the Cape winelands to Maasai markets in Tanzania.

The Cape Winelands have some terrific markets in stunning locations, such as the Friday evening market at the Boschendal wine estate in Franschhoek. There’s great food and drink and incredible mountain views. And you get some  amazing views of the South Peninsula at the weekly Cape Point Vineyards Market. Sit here at sunset, marvel at the views, and chow down on wood-fired pizza as you sip a glass of the CPV’s own award-winning wine before browsing for jewellery and crafts.

In cosmopolitan Cape Town you will find a host of markets with a lovely relaxed atmosphere, and you can usually enjoy some fabulous food there.  Oranjezicht City Farm Market on the V&A Waterfront is operated by the innovative team behind the urban farms project. You can buy wonderful breads, honey, fruit, herbs and vegetables here and find specialist stalls selling chocolates, vegan food etc. The market has gorgeous views of the ocean, and is a great place to wander around, enjoy a pastry or crepe etc. The Waterfront’s Old Power Station now houses the V&A Food Market, with more than 40 food and drink stalls, including one with 23 varieties of South African gin!

Cape Town’s Good Company Market (Sunday), based in the Company’s Garden and near to the Art Gallery is fantastic for all the family, with food and craft stalls and plenty of family activities such as pony rides,

Don’t miss Elgin’s Railway market, an Art Deco delight in a converted apple warehouse.  Live music plays as you explore the clothing, jewellery, food and ceramics stalls, and there are some great cafes and restaurant. If you visit on a Saturday you can even travel to Elgin from Cape Town on board a historic stream train, then ride it back to Cape Town after a day at the market.

If you head out to Hout Bay you’ll find more than 100 stalls inside an old fish factory next to the ocean at the Bay Harbour Market. Musicians and street performers do their thing, the air is fragrant with the enticing aromas of freshly-baked bread and, in the distance, Chapman’s Peak presides over it all like a benevolent market manager.

From Maasai crafts to curios within earshot of the Victoria Falls…

Every Thursday afternoon hundreds of Maasai converge on Mto Wa Mbu village, close to Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara in Tanzania, for the vibrant weekly Maasai Central Market, with an even bigger market held there on the 22nd of each month. It’s a really interesting break in your safari itinerary as you taste Maasai food, shop for their crafts etc. There’s also a Maasai market selling crafts and curious in Arusha, and the lively Kariakoo market in Dar es Salaam, which is hot chaotic and fascinating. It is very crowded though, so perhaps think of it more as an experience than a shopping opportunity!

Malawi’s roadside Lizulu Market is aimed firmly at the drivers and passengers in the passing cars and buses, giving it quite a different feel to many other markets. With its piles of fruit and veggies, it’s a definitely a place to get some memorable holiday snaps. There’s also a market in Dedza township. It’s not aimed at tourists, but among the essential items for everyday life here you will also find stalls selling straw hats, clay cooking pots and lovely woven and printed cloth. If you’re in Dedza you’ll probably also want to take a trip to the pottery, which has its own shop selling beautiful items – which can be personalised.

If you can tear your eyes away from the majestic Falls themselves, head to the Big Curio Open Market in Victoria Falls town (on the Zimbabwe side of the falls) where you will find crafts of all kinds, includig Shona sculpture.

Spicing it up in Dehli

As for India, well, there’s not enough room in this blog to do justice to the wealth of markets in the sub-continent! However, if you are in Dehli, pick up your camera and head to Khari Baoli, the largest spice market in Asia. You’ll find it near the historic Red Fort, and the market itself – which takes up the whole street after which it’s named – is a historic institution, heaving with endless shops and stalls selling spices, herbs, dried fruit, rice, tea and nuts. It’s colourful, incredibly highly scented and unique. Fabulous!

Let Tribes take you to market!

Many of our trips include the opportunity to visit a local market or two, and if we tailor-make a trip for you then we can craft an itinerary that takes in just exactly what you require in the market department.

Our Golden Triangle trip, with its tour of Old and New Dehli, is a great way to experience the scents, sights and sounds of the Khari Baoli spice market, while many of our Peruvian itinerarys, such as Classic Peru will include a visit to the famous market at Pisac. Peru for Foodies is a market-lover’s delight, featuring market shopping in Lima –  where you sample the local produce and buy the ingredients you’ll be taught to prepare for lunch – in Pisac and in Cusco, where you will be stunned by the huge variety of potatoes and other produce on offer in San Pedro Market.

Itineraries such as Costa Rica Coast to Coast include free time in San Jose, where you could fit in a market visit, while our Costa Rica Self-Drive Holiday takes you to Tamarindo, and its farmer’s market.

If you’re intrigued by the concept of the Witches’ Market in La Paz, our Bolivia Authentic Experience will do the trick for you, and our Trekking and Culture in Otalvo holiday puts you right in the heart of this Ecuadorian market town.

Those planning to take in the glaciers, deserts and cities of Chile will find visits to Santiago and Valparaiso markets possible on our Chile, Deserts and Glaciers trip, while no visit to Cape Town and the Winelands is complete without at least one (but probably rather more!) market explorations. Try our Cape Town and Winelands holiday or Cape Town, Coast and Mountains.

Our Maasai Culture and Wilderness holiday takes you to the Maasai market at Mto Wa Mbu and finally, if you’re drawn to the idea of market shopping to the thunderous audio accompaniment of the Victoria Falls, our Victoria Falls in a Nutshell Zimbabwe trip will deliver exactly what’s required!

Into the wild

Into the wild

Into the wild

From pangolins to fossas, and shoebill storks to red pandas, we know where and when to send you to give you the very best chance of seeing these incredible species. 

Our colourful new brochure ‘The World’s Top Wildlife Experiences’ brings together some of the incredible wildlife experiences that we are delighted to organise for our clients. Here is just a snapshot of some of the content – plus details of how to acquire your own copy to peruse at your leisure…

Wallow and yawn – the hippo pool

I watched as a lone hippo tried to muscle in on the pool. Hippos are territorial, and dangerously aggressive with it, but Katavi National Park hippo pool attracts hundreds of hippos which come to wallow cheek-by-jowl in the springfed mud. There was a gloopy ripple in the pool as the other muddy bodies grudgingly gave way for another incomer.

This behaviour is unusual. Far more likely is that you will see them in pods in rivers or lakes. South Luangwa is a fantastic place for hippos. You’ll see them wherever you stay here, but hippo-lovers should especially consider Kaingo or Mwamba camps for access to their hippo hide. And of course, most keen photographers are waiting for the hippo shot: the yawn.

 

“On the prowl…”

  • Cheetahs © Shutterstock -Stephanie Periquet
  • Chilean Puma © Shutterstock – Joe McDonald

On the prowl with the cats of Africa…
You might be in the Masai Mara or Serengeti witnessing big cats taking advantage of the wealth of the wildebeest migration. You could be here when three cheetah brothers race off their viewing mound towards a herd of impalas, or when your guide spots two tiny leopard cubs on a rock in Zambia’s South Luangwa. Being in the bush with Africa’s top big cat predators is exhilarating and touching in equal measure, and a joy that, once experienced, must be repeated!

Meeting the Latin American cats
Jungle cat and mountain lion –  big cats that have been persecuted for generations due to their conflict with domestic livestock. But in places without livestock, such as riverbanks and remote areas, they have posed little threat to the livelihoods of fishermen and the likes. As man’s focus has recently changed to think more about conservation, these big cats have had something of a renaissance. Some are even habituated or at least comfortable enough not to run away from humans.

As a result, if you know where to go – and we do – we can take you to places where you will almost certainly get great sightings of these magnificent jaguars and pumas.

In search of big cats in India
Searching for tigers and leopards (let alone the vastly more rare snow leopard) is not easy, but when you see these incredible big cats, I promise your heart will sing. They are mesmerising.

There are under 4,000 tigers left in the wild, most of these are Bengal tigers found in India. There is thought to be a similarly low number of snow leopards, and though the Indian leopard is more numerous it is still at great risk. Come and see them.

 

Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Osa Peninsula is treasure trove for nature and wildlife lovers. It is home to at least half of the species living in Costa Rica – about 140 mammal species and over 400 bird species – many of these living in Corcovado National Park within the peninsula. Much of Costa Rica teems with wildlife, but if you are a true enthusiast and want the very best wildlife experience in the country, Osa is the place to come. National Geographic called it: “the most biologically intense place on earth.”

Osa’s 700 square miles is almost entirely covered in rainforest (with about 700 tree species) reaching right down to the Pacific coast. It’s rare to find anywhere on the planet now where rainforest meets the sea. You come for this incredibly rich forest habitat, but you can also enjoy the coast, see whales in the Golfo Dulce, and go snorkelling at Cano Island.

 

 

  • Resplendent quetzal: © Shutterstock – Ondrej Prosicky
  • Whale breaching: © Shutterstock – nuriajudit

“Two million animals on the move…”

Witnessing the Great Migration
It’s hard to get your mind around 2 million animals on the move. The world’s largest mass land migration is just this though. Vast swathes of wildebeest, as well as huge numbers of zebras, plus Thompson’s gazelle and eland make the arduous journey from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara and back again. They constantly follow the fresh grazing afforded by the rains. This circle of life includes birth, joyous moments of youngsters learning to play and love life, heart-in-mouth river crossings, dramatic narrow escapes from predators, and sadly, death. It’s raw, it can be emotional, it’s an incredible sight.

 

  • Migration: © Shutterstock – Jurgen Vogt
  • Lion: © Shutterstock – nwdph

“We are all nature lovers and we travel for the joy of what each new adventure might bring.”

© Shutterstock – Longjourney

Step into the wild with Tribes

Wildlife-loving world travellers are always planning the next trip and considering what they’d like to see next. Here at Tribes, we’re no different. We are all nature lovers and we travel for the joy of what each new adventure might bring. Since travel is not just a job for us but also a passion (especially when it’s linked to conservation and species and habitat protection), we love talking to people who are equally besotted by the world and its wildlife.

Tell us what you want to find next. The chances are that we might already know, but if we don’t, we will find out for you and hopefully find a way to get you there.

If you’d like your own copy of ‘The World’s Top Wildlife Experiences’, you can download a digital copy here or, if you’re based in the UK, contact us and we’ll post one out to you. Or pick up a hard copy at one of the shows Tribes is attending this year:

 

On the right tracks

On the right tracks

On the right tracks

Header image © The Blue Train

Side image © Imvelo Safari Lodges

There can be a romance in rail travel in foreign countries that’s hard to find in the 11.05am from Ipswich to Liverpool Street. From luxury trains crossing South Africa, Peru or India to  switchbacking up and down an almost sheer cliff face in Ecuador, there’s something rather special about taking to the tracks on holiday.

Image © Belmond

First class all the way…

Cocooned in elegance, spectacular landscapes viewed through picture windows as an attentive waiter proffers a glass of champagne, a fine afternoon tea or splendid silver-service dinner before you retreat to your peaceful, sumptuous cabin, to be lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the rails… a luxury train journey is a thing of beauty.

Thanks to a certain Agatha Christie book and the subsequent A-list star-packed films, the iconic and exotic train that immediately springs to mind is usually the Orient Express. However, let me present some others for your consideration…

The Belmond Andean Explorer  is owned and operated by the same organisation that runs the Venice-Simplon Orient Express and there are clear echoes of that famous piece of rolling stock to be found in what was the first luxury sleeper train in South America.

“Coccooned in elegance…”

Images © Belmond

One of two distinctive, midnight-blue Belmond trains running in Peru, the Andean Explorer is a glorious way to travel from Cusco to Peru’s famed ‘white city’ Arequipa or Lake Titicaca, stopping at points of interest en-route. You get an amazing view of the glorious scenery from the observation car and can even relax with a massage in the spa car.

The Belmond Hiram Bingham is an unforgettable way to travel in classic style to Machu Picchu. Fantastic, 1920s-style elegance transports you back to a time when polished brass and wood were the norm and Pullman carriages were the only way to travel. Crossing Peru’s Sacred Valley, heading to the iconic ‘lost city of the Incas’ on board this superb train is something that’s definitely on my personal bucket list. They take it slow, so you get to enjoy around three and half hours of refined style and impeccable food, wine and service as you look out onto cloud forest, mountains and valleys and ancient towns and villages.

Belmond never forgets that this is a Peruvian adventure. Enjoy a Pisco sour, take in traditional local music performances on board, and savour fine Peruvian wines and local delicacies with a sophisticated twist.

PeruRail…

PeruRail’s Vistadome train, which travels between Cusco, Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu, allows you to enjoy contemporary Andean style and elegance. On board you’ll also be treated to a fashion show demonstating the newest trends in alpaca clothing, together with live traditional dance performances. The rail carriages  have vast expanses of glass, wrapping up to the roof, to help you make the most of the panoramic views.

PeruRail’s Titicaca train crosses the Andes between Cusco and Puno and features 1920s-style Pullman carriages and an open-air observation car which is ideal for photographers looking to capture shots of the jaw-dropping landscapes.

 

 

Traverse South Africa in style

In South Africa you have a choice of luxury sleeper trains between Cape Town and Pretoria and vice versa; the Blue Train and Rovos Rail.

The Blue Train has operated since 1946 and the 1,600-mile, two-night journey is unforgettable. Think of it as a five-star hotel on wheels, with a glorious and ever-changing view and the finest of South African wines and haute cuisine. Oh, and your own butler on call.  The Blue Train also travels to Kruger National Park, and I can think of no finer way to arrive on safari.

Equally sumptuous, Rovos Rail is another wood-panelled piece of handsome rolling stock. Before you even step on board, the exclusive Rovos Rail pre-departure lounge at Pretoria station puts you in the frame of mind for the opulence that lies ahead.

 

Main image and top side image © The Blue Train

Bottom side image © Rovos Rail

“Game viewing as the train trundles along.”

Imvelo’s Stimela Star is a private sleeper train running from Victoria Falls to Hwange National Park. It may not hit the luxurious heights of Rovos Rail or the Blue Train, but, with its cheerful and endlessly helpful staff, recently-restored retro accommodation and excellent food, it’s immensely charming and a great addition to your safari holiday without busting the budget. If you’re staying at Imvelo’s Bomani Tented Lodge or Camelthorn you can extend your rail journey on Imvelo’s Elephant Express, an open-sided single railcar that provides game viewing as the train trundles along the tracks to the lodges.

 

Elephant Express and Stimela Star images © Imvelo Safari Lodges

“A fantastic way to travel across a country famed for its rail tradition.”

Palace on Wheels images © Nav Jyoti TV Studio

See India from the Palace on Wheels

How about an eight-day sleeper train ride through Northern India? The Palace on Wheels maintains the longstanding Indian tradition of rail travel, taking in Agra, Bharatpur, Dehli, Chittorgarh Fort, Jaipur Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Ranthambore National Park, the Taj Mahal and Udaipur en-route. It’s a fantastic way to travel across a country famed for its rail tradition, with guided tours of the famous stopping places.  Of course, there’s a huge choice of rail journeys in India and our consultants often book overnight trains for our travellers; they’re a great way to travel between the game parks of central India for example. These aren’t luxury trains, but are a very convenient way to travel and a fantastic way to see another aspect of day-to-day Indian life.

If you’re a narrow gauge railway fan heading to India, make sure you talk to us about one of the ‘toy trains’, which operate on a number of routes including from Kalka to Shimla or Ooty.

 

All aboard the Ecuador Cruise Train

Here’s something new and a little different – Tren Ecuador is not a sleeper train but a way to see Ecuador at a leisurely pace by rail while stopping at hotels and lodges en route. Two levels of travel are available, Luxury and the upgraded Gold class, with the difference being in the hotels or haciendas you say in on the journey. You’ll travel on the same luxury train, through incredible ever-changing scenery, stopping at fascinating places and meeting local craftsmen and women, visiting markets and enjoying traditional cuisine.

The route includes the dramatic switchbacks along the Devil’s Nose route (see images above and below) – and if your itinerary won’t allow for the full six-day experience, you can board the train just for key sections, including the Devil’s Nose. There’s also the Tren de la Libertad, which crosses bridges over steep canyons and through seven tunnels between Ibarra and Salinas, where its arrival is greeted with the tune ‘La Bomba’.  Salinas is home to the Afro-ecuadorian people, and a visit to this town, with its colourful murals and fascinating museums, is a great way to spend a day.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the available train journeys so, if you fancy getting on the right tracks on your holiday, don’t forget to ask us about the opportunities for rail travel in your chosen destination!

 

Kaziranga and the Big Eight

Kaziranga and the Big Eight

Kaziranga and the Big Eight

AMANDA MARKS

“We have our own Big Five here: the one-horned rhino, elephant, swamp deer, wild buffalo and tiger. I think we should have the Big Eight though, and include the Hoolock gibbon, Malayan giant squirrel and giant hornbill.”

“A tiger just swam across the lake and went into the elephant grass over there”

Our guide, Hrishi, was obviously proud of his park, but I had come with few expectations of what we might see here; perhaps one or two rhinos if we were lucky and maybe a wild elephant – I would be happy with that. I assumed a tiger sighting wouldn’t even be worth hoping for since, although the park has one of the highest densities of tigers, they’re not easy to see here; you’re far better off in central Indian parks such as Ranthambore, Kanha or Tadoba for tigers.

We headed off with a guide and driver in our Gypsy. These are the jeep of choice for Indian wildlife parks since they’re small and light which makes them suitable for the narrow tracks, though if you’re used to African game vehicles you might be slightly shocked by the lack of suspension and space.

We didn’t care though. Within three minutes of driving through the central gate we saw our first one-horned Indian rhino … with a baby! We stopped and Hrishi pointed out that there were also 3 other rhinos in the distance, plus an elephant and three hog deer (one of the three species of deer in the park – swamp, hog and barking). 

“Within three minutes of driving through the central gate we saw our first one-horned Indian rhino … with a baby! ”

AMANDA MARKS

 

As we carried on along the earthen track that wound through a pretty area of broadleaf woodland, we stopped again. A handsome jungle fowl assiduously kept his back to us but there was no missing the striking plumage of this ancestor of our domestic chickens.  Less obvious was the little owl hiding deeper within the foliage but, as it turned out, our guide was a good spotter and didn’t miss much.

The park was a mix of grasslands, swamps and lakes, and wooded areas. It was mostly very flat but, on the western edge, the Burrapahar Hills offered a hazy backdrop in muted tones of grey. As we reached a lookout tower near a large lake, there was definitely some excitement in the air. A group of six people were training their binoculars on a stand of tall grasses at the edge of the water.

“A tiger just swam across the lake and went into the elephant grass over there,” said Hrishi. We had just missed seeing it. A matter of moments earlier and … But no, it wasn’t to be.

 

“We left Kaziranga very happy to have seen seven of his Big Eight!”

We might not have seen a big cat, but we were really lucky with our sightings of wild elephants. Sometimes they hid shyly in the tall grasses, but one family came to splash in a muddy lake and it was joyous to watch them. Wild elephant numbers in India are dropping at a staggering rate and it’s thought there are now only around 27,000, with 1900 in Kaziranga.

The following morning we went to the far west gate and the sound of gibbons echoed round the forest. I hadn’t realised just how rare Hoolock gibbons are, and this is the only ape to be found in India. They weren’t easy to photograph, but you could definitely see them and hearing them was no problem at all. It felt like a privilege to stand beneath them as they peered imperiously down at us.

But it was the rhino sightings that surprised us the most. In two days in the park, taking morning and afternoon game drives from our lodge on the edge of the park (Diphlu River Lodge), we counted 65 of these armour-plated mammals!  Kaziranga has 2400 Asian one-horned rhinos, which is about 70% of the world’s population, and that number is slowly growing. It is the best place to see them, and what an accolade for the protection teams working here; they are doing an incredible job.

Hrishi was disappointed that we’d missed the tiger, but that definitely didn’t spoil our visit as we’d not really coming expecting to see one. In fact, we left Kaziranga very happy to have seen seven of his Big Eight!

Remote North East India trip

If you would like to explore the forests and unique living root of bridges of Meghalaya followed by safaris in Kaziranga National Park, home to two thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinos, click here to view this unique trip.

See Amanda’s blog about the Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya, also in northeast India.