More pictures from different axes of the globe we wander, a sampler of some of my recent travels…
Sunrise over the city of Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. Half as big again as the US state of Texas (slightly smaller than the Northern Territory, half as big again as the nation of the Ukraine, or roughly the same size as France and Spain combined, depending on the audience and frame of reference…), Mauritania has a population of just 3 million mostly-nomadic people. In true Sahelian fashion, it straddles the line between civilizations, with a thin southern strip home to a significant population of African ethnic groups, including the Wolof, and the rest drawn from north African groups with roots in the fairer Moorish, Berber and Tuareg peoples. Sadly, as with many similarly-divided nations, a sense of superiority aligned with the lightness of skin has developed, such that in Mauritania there are ‘white’ moors and ‘dark’ moors, the latter of whom tend to be subservient to and occupy economic positions below the former. Mauritania has the dubious reputation of being one of the last bastions of societally-condoned slavery in the world.
Mauritania is a fascinating place. Much of the population is truly nomadic, and while the African agriculturalist groups have settled close to the Senegalese border (about a third of the population), and another million have begrudgingly accepted a sedentary life in the country’s nondescript capital by the sea, this leaves the final million to be finely sprinkled throughout the rest of this vast Saharan nation, with the result that it is, predominately, devoid of anything. Just vast empty expanses of desert.
We love it.
I took the above photo with my Canon Powershot G6, the little digital point-and-shoot that kept me company during my year in West Africa. No polarizer, no special lenses, and no post-processing. The image of the sky you see there is exactly as it came out of the camera, the colours as they appeared, as the sun came up from beyond the desert above the eastern end of the city. A phenomenal view. I will talk more about Mauritania some other time, as it’s a country that has captured my imagination and left me thirsty for more…
Another trip I will doubtless spend more time talking about in more detail is my brief stay in Nepal, trekking to the Annapurna Sanctuary. Three of the best-spent weeks of my life. The scenery was spectacular, the culture fascinating, the weather perfect, and the company pretty stellar as well. Many very, very fond memories. Among which is not the fact that my camera died forty-five minutes after arriving at the crux of the trip.
Fortunately, on this morning my camera was working. I snapped this of one corner of the enourmous Annapurna Massif, here capturing at least two seven-thousand-metre peaks just as the sun’s first rays lit their crowns. Howling winds tear across the tops of the peaks, whipping snow and ice crystals into the air and leaving them hanging like a fine veil for the sun to get caught in. I have always been a fan of the mountains, and Nepal remains one of my favourite destinations on the planet. Stupefyingly beautiful.
South Africa (2007)
One of the images I carry with me that reflects the grandeur of the African landscape is the awesome skyscape that accompanies it. No memory of the open drylands of this continent is complete without taking in the drama of the clouds that hang above, lending a sense of scale to the scenery beneath. I snapped these cumulus towers building in the early afternoon near Pretoria, when a hot and humid January day promised to turn into a thundery downpour, and which it subsequently did, with gusto. In this image I love the deep blue gradient towards the top of the frame, and the tangible texture of the clouds themselves…
I took this photograph in a small village that was being rebuilt by the NGO I work for after it had been destroyed by a cyclone. We were on Haiti’s Ile de la Gonave, a small island a short distance off the coast of the nation’s capital Port-au-Prince. While Port-au-Prince remains one of the world’s more unsavory destinations, replete with riots, kidnappings, political violence and general criminality- not to mention substantial poverty- Gonave couldn’t be more different. A laid-back Afro-Carribean island with friendly people and gorgeous tropical scenery laid out on coral-white rock and ringed by azure seas, the only thing that reminded me I was actually working while I was here was the fact that we spent eight hours a day rattling around inside a regulation Toyota Land Cruiser, on what I maintain are the very worst roads I have been on. Anywhere, anytime. And I decry anybody to find me a worse set.
Great place though.
As we’ve already ascertained, I love mountains. So I’ve actually been pretty restrained in this collection by not just launching a whole ream of mountain photos at you. Though truth be told, as my photography skills (and equipment…) have improved, the amount of time I’ve had around mountains has sadly dwindled, an error which I plan to remedy as soon as I get the opportunity.
I took a few weeks out from my stint in Niger to join friends in Alberta for some quality mountain time. This generally meant strapping on two pieces of carbon-fibre onto the undersides of my boots and hurtling down steep slopes. I find it hard to conceive of a better way of engaging with God and creation. I snapped this shot of a mountain whose name I’m unsure while we were driving out to Lake Louise (or was it the Bow Hut area…? My memory fails me). It’s not a technically remarkable shot. But the sheer scale of rock, snow and ice is awe-inspiring, and that blue sky behind the white snow gets my heart beating for more. I am desperate to get back to the Rockies with my new Canon EOS 5D…
One of the downsides to travelling to lots of exotic places in my job is being there, and having to spend most of the time working. One of the upsides is those rare days off. On this day, a colleague drove us up to the jumping-off point for the ascent of Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s second highest mountain, a stratovolcano of 5,897m in altitude, and one of the world’s most threatening volcanoes. Part of my trip had to do with supporting a project which is working with communities to be ready for a possible eruption, and so I felt it was particularly justifiable that I spend some time on the volcano itself. A real hardship, given my earlier observations about my love of mountains…
And hardship it was. Quite aside from the powerful winds, the altitude was an absolute killer. We foolishly drove up from 2,000m to 4,500m in the space of ninety minutes, ignoring all calls for acclimitization. Then we hiked up past the hut at 4,800m, eventually tailing off around 5,200m just short of the start of the ice-cap. By the top, I was taking five paces, then stopping for two minutes to catch my breath. Then another five paces… We ended up coming down of the mountain fairly shortly after that, when my colleague began to complain of difficulty breathing.
This woman was one of the villagers with whom the project was working, one of several who wanted to accompany us on our little excursion. I caught her in this brief moment of reflection at the mountain hut at 4,800m, and her bright clothes against the grey stone just stood out. I’m really fond of this photo. It captures something of the mountain spirit of these gentle people. She seemed right at home up there, on the edge of where people survive.
South Australia (2006)
The Flinders Ranges, in South Australia, capture for me the rugged beauty of the interior of this continent. Barren, dry, wild and isolated, they grab my imagination and make me want to explore some more. The five days that my brother and I spent driving around the southern part of the SA outback only whet my appetite. Such a beautiful country, right on my doorstep, sometimes I wonder why I spend so much time jetting away from it. But then I think there’s beauty wherever we end up in the world, we just need to learn how to see it. Certainly for those of us who’ve ended up here in Australia, we have no excuse to complain. It’s a pretty amazing country, really.
Am I allowed to say that as a wandering Kiwi…?