Journey Around The World – Cape Point, South Africa

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013, watercolour painting

Baboons, Dassies and African Penguins                      September 8, 2013

On my last entry, Lyn and I were in Namibia exploring the desert. We made our way south to Cape Town with stops at Sossusvlei, Fish River Canyon and Franschhoek. For my last entry in South Africa before flying to Mumbai, India, I thought I would tell you about our day exploring Cape Point, South Africa, an area south of Cape Town.  It is not the southern most point of Africa, but it was a very interesting day-trip out of Cape Town.

Our first stop on the way to the Cape was Simon’s Town, where we saw the only nesting penguins in Africa. In 1982 there were two nesting pairs of Adelie penguins that had migrated to Simon’s Town. Since then the colony has grown considerably and is now a protected area. I never thought I would be seeing penguins in Africa, but considering the geographic latitude it makes sense.

Our next stop was Cape Point where we encountered baboons and dassies, also known as the Cape Hyrax.  I made sketches of both of these animals.  Nothing to fear from the cute little dassie, but the baboon is another story.  In this coastal park there were several families of baboons that were habituated to human food.  With all the tourists that visit this area the baboons spend a lot of time trying to steal food from unsuspecting tourists.  It makes for great people watching and seeing there reactions to being robbed by the baboons.

As an artist, I found this small region of Southern Africa that we explored overwhelming with the many choices available to paint.  I doubt I will ever finish painting everything I saw here, however in the next blog entry we are heading to Mumbai, India.

Journey Around The World – Hiking and Exploring in Namibia

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013, watercolour painting

Cheetah’s, Rock Paintings and Quiver Trees                            August 27, 2013

After leaving Etosha National Park our first stop was a farm that takes care of wild cheetahs.  In some parts of Namibia the cheetah is considered a pest that attacks and kills live stock. This beautiful cat that can reach speeds of 110 kilometers per hour has lost its territory to cattle farmers in Namibia and was being hunted to extinction.  In the 1980’s one farmer decided that there must be a better way than just killing them and so farmers started to bring him captured, wounded and baby cheetahs which he keeps in a fenced in area on his property.  It is not the perfect solution however it has become a small eco tourism business he calls Cheetah Park. The cheetah’s are kept in a large fenced in natural area and are fed daily.  He also has a few pet cheetah’s that live with his family in another fenced in area around his house. We camped on his property for the night and watched the farmer throw big chunks of meat to the cats from the back of a tractor.  The next morning before leaving Lyn and I got the chance to spend time with the tame cheetahs at his house and this was my opportunity to get some sketch’s done of these amazing cats.

Our next stop was Brandberg Daures National Heritage Site at Brandberg Mountain. We took a small hike part way up the side of the mountain to see rock paintings that date back 2000 years.  I had the chance to sit and sketch some of these paintings.  It was an amazing feeling to sit quietly in the presence of this ancient rock art and in my own way commune with artists from long ago. In the early days of tourism to this site people would throw water at the rock art to help enhance the colours for their photographs.  This caused a lot of damage to the paintings and some of them have faded quite badly.

After this experience we went on to a place called the Spitzkoppe Hills also known as the “Matterhorn of Namibia.”  It is a group of 120 million year old granite peaks in the Namib Dessert.  We had the time to go for a hike up one of these peaks.  There was no trail and so it was more of a scramble up the side through cactus, huge boulders and the odd Quiver tree which has the look of a tree from a prehistoric time.  The watercolour painting I have done at the top of this post shows the incredible colour of the rock in certain lighting conditions which in my minds eye could be what parts of Mars look like.

 

Journey Around The World – Etosha National Park, Namibia

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013

Driving through Etosha Pan in Etosha National Park, Namibia          August 24, 2013

After leaving the Okavango Delta in Botswana we headed west to Namibia and Etosha National Park.  Etosha National Park is one of Namibia’s largest wildlife parks and contains with in its boundarys what is known as Etosha Pan which is a salt flat left over from a long dry lake bed in the Kalahari Basin.  This is a great place to see animals in the dry season as they stay close to the watering holes.

I was able to do a lot of sketches while we were there. These sketches were done mainly in coloured pencil that I reworked back home in my studio with the help of photographs Lyn and I took.  Drawing and painting wild African animals has been a huge departure from painting Canadian Landscapes but I believe that as an artist it doesn’t really matter what the subject is as long as you feel passionate about what you are painting and drawing. As someone once said a picture has to pass through your heart first before you should paint it.

With this idea in mind we camped that night inside of the park in a camp ground which is protected by a high fence and so we didn’t have to worry about the sound of roaring lions in the middle of the night.  After dinner we walked a path that took us to a watering hole where we could watch the animals come down to drink.  With my sketch book I drew black rhino’s just as the sun was setting.  I think that I would be hard pressed to find anything more interesting than that.  They also made good subjects as they didn’t move too much.

 

Journey Around The World – Botswana, Southern Africa

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013, watercolour painting

The Chobe River and The Okavango Delta                           August 20th, 2013

After leaving Victoria Falls it was a relatively short drive south west to the town of Kisane in Botswana.  From here we went to The Chobe River which cuts through the North east corner of Chobe National Park.  We boarded a river boat thinking we would get our first look at some African animals.  What we didn’t expect was the over whelming number of elephants, hippo’s, cape buffalo, crocodiles and lots of bird life that come here during the dry season.  Being in a larger boat we were able to get up close to the hippo’s in the water which you just can’t or shouldn’t do in a small boat such as a Makoro, which was the next boat we were about to experience.

After this great day we continued on to Maun to start our three day camping trip in the Okavango Delta.  The Okavango River flows down from the mountains in Angola and into the Kalahari desert, where the water is absorbed into the sand. The river forms a delta here where we were about to embark on our canoe trip.   The trip to our campsite in dug out canoes called “Mokoro’s” took about two and a half hours traveling through pristine landscape.  Sitting in the bottom of the boat I am seeing the journey unfold from the perspective of three feet above the water as we ply our way through tall reeds and hippo pools.

Our campsite was on an island in the middle of the delta. From our base camp we spent the next couple of days exploring on foot and by canoe looking for elephants, zebra and hippo.  It is an interesting feeling when you are on the ground looking for wild life and your guides are completely unarmed.  It makes you feel like you are part of the food chain.

That being said one of the trips we took in the Mokoro’s,  took us into this deep water hippo pool surrounded by tall reeds. There we were in our little wooden boats looking at two full grown hippo’s at the other end of the pool about a hundred feet away.  After a few minutes of looking at each other one of the hippo’s goes underwater.  We realize rather quickly that there is a stream of bubbles coming towards us.  The bubbles are getting closer and closer and I am thinking to my self that we are so screwed!

Just when it is looking like carnage time the bubbles start moving away.  OK that was fun, lets not do that again any time soon. With all this fun and excitement I did manage to do some pencil sketches and some small watercolour paintings on location. One of the great pleasures of this trip has been the opportunity to paint in exotic locations like this and to share this unique experience with my wife Lyn.

Journey Around The World – Walking with Lions, Zimbabwe

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Walking with Lions, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe                        August 16th, 2013

We had the opportunity to spend some time with two 18 month old lion sister cubs just outside of Victoria Falls.  Lion Encounter is a not for profit organization working to reintroduce lions back into the National Parks of Africa where the lion has become extinct.  There main goal is to increase the overall population of wild lions in Africa.

In the 1940’s according to National Geographic the estimated population of lions was approximately 450,000.  Today it is estimated that there are fewer than 20,000 animals in the wild.

We were somewhat cautious of being part of a lion program that could potentially sell the lions to a private game reserve that caters to hunters.  We were assured that this was not the case by the information and video that we watched that this was about reintroducing lions into the wild through a 4 stage program.  We were seeing the lions in stage one. In stages 2 and 3 they are part of a pride with no human contact. In stage 4 the off spring from the pride in stage 3 are released into the wild when they are old enough.

With that being said our experience with these lions was amazing.  We spent about an hour and a half walking and hanging out with them.  It is one thing to see a show on television about lions and it is another to see them up close.  Later on in our trip we saw wild lions in Etosha Pan from the safety of our truck.  Taking pictures while on the ground with lions allows you to get a lower perspective than if you are in a vehicle.

The pictures that Lyn and I took with our cameras were used later on for the watercolor painting at the top of this post.  Often when I am preparing to do a more formal watercolor such as this one I will do a series of sketches to become more familiar with the details.  One of the things that amazed me about lions was how there coloring blended perfectly into the surrounding bush.  With this in mind I used a limited selection of colors to suggest this in the picture.

As amazing as this experience was I realize that this is somewhat controversial. Our next encounter with African animals would be on the Chobe River in Chobe National Park in North West Botswana.

 

Journey Around The World – Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, South Africa

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013, watercolour painting

An Afternoon at Victoria Falls                                 August 15th, 2013

After our flight from Buenos Aires to Johannesburg, South Africa we took a relatively short flight to Victoria Falls (only 1200 kilometers).  The next day we spent some time orienting ourselves to our new reality.  We were staying in a camp ground for a couple of days before heading out on a truck with Oasis Overland Tours.  Our trip would take us over land through Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and south to Cape Town, South Africa.

Painting streams, rivers and waterfalls are some of my favorite subjects and so a day exploring at Victoria Falls was an inspiring way to kick off a month in Southern  Africa. In the western section of the park is a monument to Dr. David Livingstone a Scottish pioneer, and missionary explorer.  The monument credits him to “discovering” Victoria Falls which is maybe a British Colonialist perspective when you consider that the locals who had probably lived there for hundreds of years called the falls Mosi-oa-Tunya.  So maybe he was the first European to see the falls.

We saw our first monkey’s in the park called Vervet monkey’s and as you would expect they do very well for themselves feeding on handouts from all the tourists.  We saw this in the Amazon Rain Forest in Ecuador and with the Baboon’s at Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.  All along our trip I erred on the cautious side by keeping a safe distance from our monkey friends.

As a former white water raft guide I was very aware that just below Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River is one of the greatest rafting day trips on the planet. If you are an adrenaline junkie this is the trip for you.  Sadly I only had one day to do this and we decided that since I have done hundreds of rafting trips that we would go walking with lions as this would be a more unique experience. This will be my next blog story and was one of the great highlights of our trip to Southern Africa.

Journey Around The World – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013

Exploring Buenos Aires                   August 4th to August 12, 2013

After leaving the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia we traveled south into Argentina. We drove through a number of interesting towns and cities including Salta, Cafayate and Cordoba.  We were excited to get to Buenos Aires which would be our last stop in South America before flying to South Africa.

Lyn and I had been to Buenos Aires a few years earlier but we didn’t stay long enough to really explore “The Paris of The South”.  With eight days available to us we rented a short term apartment and started our grand walking tour.

Our apartment was in the barrio (neighborhood) of Recoleta, which was central to most of the places we planned on walking to.  Everyday we plotted with our trusty map where we would walk to and what we would see.  We met local people that were very helpful with suggestions for us and so our plans were always fluid.  As always I carry a sketch book and a camera in the hopes that I will get some good sketches and photos for future paintings.

The National Museum of Fine Arts in Recoleta was a great surprize with a wide range of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings plus paintings by El Greco, Titian, Rembrant, Goya and many more.  The museum opened my eyes to some amazing Argentinian artists from the 19th and 20th centuries.

High on our list of to do’s was going to a tango show and wandering the antique markets in San Telmo.

Buenos Aires is a city that really comes to life at night.  Many locals or Portenos as they like to call themselves have dinner after 8 and 9pm.  Some bars and cafe’s stay open most of the night.  For us going to an authentic Argentinian Grill  for Parilla (grill or BBQ) was something we managed to do but the restaurant didn’t open until 8 pm and so after walking all day this was a bit of a stretch to wait but well worth it.

Most evenings we cooked from our apartment and shopped at the local mercados for our food.  This was its own adventure.

After a week in this beautiful city we boarded a plane for South Africa.  As exciting as the next leg of our trip would be I felt a little sadness at leaving such an amazing place.

Journey Around The World – Bolivia

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013

Driving South from La Paz  to the Uyuni Salt Flats           July 19 to 24th, 2013

After leaving Puno, Peru on the shores of Lake Titicaca we headed south into Bolivia through the high arid plains known as the altiplano.  We spent a couple of days in La Paz, which is considered the highest capital city in the world at 11,975 feet. We stayed at a small hotel in the central area of the city and made up our own walking tour as we went.

The Witches Market also known as La Hechiceria was really interesting in that they sold witch craft supplies with lots of obscure and strange products necessary to carry out traditional spiritual rituals from the Aymara world. Dozens of vendors line the streets and sell everything from dried frogs, snakes, owl feathers, llama fetus as well as the usual things like post cards and key rings.  Good times.

While I was in La Paz  I read a book called “Marching Powder”, by Rusty Young;  A true story of friendship, Cocaine and South America’s strangest jail. If you are planning a trip to La Paz this book is a cautionary tale and will give you an interesting perspective on drug smuggling and prison life in Bolivia. You can also visit this prison which is now officially closed.

Back on the road to the Uyuni Salt Flats we ran into a road block in Oruro that lasted for about twelve hours which offered me the opportunity to sketch and paint.  When the road finally opened again it was getting dark and so we pulled over to a road side stop to camp for the night. In reality it was more or less a garbage dump and make shift memorial for unfortunate travelers.  I normally only post pictures of my art work for this blog but sometimes a photograph tells the story better.

The salt flats at Uyuni are the largest in the world at 4,086 square miles.  We spent a day driving on the flats and for the most part it looks like snow.  A popular tourist  excursion is to drive to Incahuasi “island” in the center of the salt flats. The island is covered in very large cactus and offers a really good vantage to see the salt flats from a higher view point.  The sketch I did of the Cemetery of Trains was inspired from this day trip.  It is a place very close to Uyuni and unique in its own way.  It seems like the kind of place Pink Floyd would have used for an album cover.

Journey Around The World – Lake Titicaca, Peru

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013

Home Stay on Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru       July 17, 2013

Our trip to Amantani Island started with a day at Puno which is a city on the shores of Lake Titicaca in southern Peru. We found that it was very cold at night even though it was July.  This is in large part due to the altitude of 12,507 ft.
Arranging a home stay on Amantani or Taquile Island can be done easily from Puno.  This was an amazing cultural experience that was another high light of our time in  Peru.  This was also another great opportunity to sketch and gather material for future paintings.

On Amantani Island we stayed at Isabel’s Bed and Breakfast.  There were no cars on the island and so the absence of cars was quite a pleasant experience.  People live a traditional life style of fishing and farming the land. This was another one of those places I could go and paint for the summer that is like going back in time.  It reminded me of the Mediterranean in that it was arid and rocky, plus it was hot during the day.  At the time that we were there they were building a hospital on the island and so things may have changed a little since our visit.

As part of this excursion we spent the following day exploring Taquile Island as well as visiting The Uros, a group of 42 man made islands inhabited by the Uru people.  The islands are made out of totora reeds and have to be replenished with more reeds as they only last for about 3 months in the water. This is the big tourist attraction on Lake Titicaca and is a fascinating place to visit.

 

Journey Around The World – Machu Picchu, Peru

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A Day To Remember At Machu Picchu                July 13, 2013

We boarded a bus this morning at 5:30 am, a short ride to the top of the steep mountain road where Machu Picchu is.  We arrived just as the sun was coming up, and we were able to see an amazing view over the valley.

As an artist I felt like a little kid having a birthday; the opportunity to paint and sketch in a place like this does not happen as often as I would like. The day went by rather quickly and I managed to get a couple of watercolor sketches done.  I also took a lot of reference photo’s in the hope that I would be able to paint some pictures back in my studio.

The sketches I have posted here were all done in my studio almost a year after visiting Machu Picchu.  Sometimes I will do multiple sketches together on one page.  I find that making a collage of pictures together makes a good trip souvenir and is a fun way to do preliminary drawings.