The Chobe River and The Okavango Delta August 20th, 2013
What do you call a herd of Hippo’s?
Cape Buffalo grazing near the Chobe River, Botswana
Cape Buffalo in Chobe National Park, Botswana. Pencil Sketch
“The Tree of Life” Watercolor and Pencil Sketch
A Mokoro is a dug out canoe that is powered by standing in the back of the boat and poling it through the water.
These traditional hand carved wooden boats are called Mokoro’s
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.
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.
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.
Pen and Watercolor sketch.
Pencil and Watercolor sketch of Rodin sculpture “The Thinker” with the Plaza Congreso in the back ground.
Cafe Tortoni is the oldest cafe in Argentina. Pencil Crayon
Pen and Watercolor sketch. Available for sale.
A new landmark in Buenos Aires, The solar flower or steel flower automatically opens and closes with the level of light. Created by Eduardo Catalona
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.
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.
Watercolor and Pencil Sketch looking out over Lake Titicaca from Amantani Island. Available for sale.
Pencil and Watercolor sketch of Isabel, our home stay host on Amantani Island.
Pen and Watercolor sketch from Isabel’s back yard.
Pencil and Watercolor study.
A pen sketch of the bell tower in the main plaza on Taquile Island, Peru.
Pen and Watercolor sketch.
One of my favorite painting trips each year is to the Sunshine Coast which is just north of Vancouver, BC. In past years while I was still working full time as a chef, a couple of weeks away from the grind of cooking was an opportunity to sketch quietly by the lake or in the woods. Now that I am working full time as an artist I guess I can say that this is a chance to get away from my studio and just paint.
The sketches and paintings shown below were all painted on location with the exception of the watercolor of the cedar tree which was done in my studio. Over the years I have done a lot of sketches up at this cabin and these pictures are just a small sample of the last twenty three years. For me this place has given me a lot of inspiration and the opportunity to experiment with my art work.
Pencil sketch behind the main cabin.
Banjo in the water at Pat Lake
A Day in Cuenca June 21, 2013
After leaving Banos, we drove south through the Andes to Cuenca, which would be our last stop before arriving in Mancora, Peru.
Cuenca is a city of around 260,000 people that has become a very popular place to retire. Our impression of Cuenca is that it would be an easy place to live with plenty of cheap restaurants, beautiful colonial architecture, museums and a national park near by for hiking and exploring.
I managed to do some simple sketches while in Cuenca. The sketches were all done in black pen and I gave them simple watercolor washes later on. I don’t always find it easy to sketch in public but that is the nature of the beast.
Sometimes I meet local artists as a result of sketching out doors and so this can be a rewarding exchange of thoughts and experiences. Once I settle in to the place I am sketching I tend to be too busy to notice or care about people looking over my shoulder. All of my out door sketching practice in South America would be a good warm up for painting and drawing in India, but that is another story down the road a bit.
Pen and Watercolor sketch. Private Collection.
Waterfalls and Hot Springs June 18, 2013
As we were leaving Tena we stopped along the way to go caving. This was a mud filled adventure climbing up through a cave with very little light with a stream flowing through it and bats to keep us company. We were covered in mud by the time we got back to the truck and so when we arrived at our camp site near Banos we were happy to have a warm shower.
Banos or Banos de Agua Santa (Spanish for Baths of Holy Water) is a tourist town in the mountains on the edge of the Amazon Jungle known for thermal hot springs located around town. There are also over sixty waterfalls in the area. We stayed here for a few days and explored the town site and hiked to Pailon del Diablo or Devil’s Cauldron which is an amazing waterfall worth visiting.
While on this trip we were looking for places that we would come back to and stay for an extended period of time. Banos is like a tropical version of a mountain town and I would love to go back there and stay for a month or two.
Deep Frying Empanadas in Banos
Shopping at a Mercado near Banos
Visiting a Quechua Village near Tena. June 16, 2013
After spending a week in Quito, Ecuador we loaded our gear into a truck that would be our home for the next couple of months and headed to Otavalo, a city of 90,000 people that is a few hours north of Quito.
Otavalo has a large market that operates everyday. The region is known for its handicrafts and so it is a good opportunity to buy locally made textiles, leather goods, wood carvings, fake shrunken heads etc. We spent more time looking than buying. Traveling around the world with a back pack limits you to purchasing only items that you really want as it means carrying it in your pack for the next seven months or shipping things home.
From Otavalo we drove south east to Tena, which is a small town on the edge of the Amazon rainforest region. Tena is a popular launching point for jungle kayaking and rafting tours.
Our day in Tena started with a drive to the Rio Napo which is a large tributary of the Amazon River. Once at the river our little group were given car tire inner tubes to float down the river on. As a long time river guide used to being in a proper white water raft I felt a bit vulnerable to the elements as I didn’t really know what was in the water.
We were explicitly warned not to pee while in the river. We were told that if you were to pee while in the river there was a good chance that a small fish called the “penis fish” would swim up your urethra and this would not be a good thing. Ok, point taken; I will not pee in the river. I looked into this matter afterwards and found out that the “Candiru” is a species of parasitic fresh water catfish native to the Amazon Basin with one modern day recorded incident of this happening.
All went well and we stopped at a nondescript pull over on the river. We walked through the forest for half a mile until we came to this little traditional Quechua Village that had one foot in the past and one foot in the present. I felt very fortunate to be a guest of the village and to experience a traditional meal of local fish wrapped in banana leaf and cooked over a fire. We learned about many things that day including how this village makes its own special version of “Chicha” which they make with manioc root and plantains and ferment the mash in a large hollowed out log container.
In the watercolor sketch of the kitchen hut there is a log container filled with plantains that will be made into “Chicha”.
A small village along the Rio Napo, a tributary to the Amazon River. Watercolor and Pen. Sold.
A page from my sketch book. Pen and ink.
Woman selling fruit from a wheel barrow. Watercolor and pencil
Pencil and Watercolor sketch of a Quechua Hut showing the fire pit and hanging baskets for smoking food.
Waiting For Our Luggage in Quito, Ecuador June 8th, 2013
Flying into Quito’s new international airport was a roller coaster type landing with a full on brake slam at the end for good measure. There was an older lady from Quito sitting near us and I noticed she was making the sign of the cross as we were descending. She said that this was a normal landing for Quito.
The fun was just beginning as our luggage never arrived and so sadly we headed into the big city with not so much as a tooth brush. Our bags did show up, one bag at a time over the next five days. There was nothing we could do about that and so we made good use of the time and explored the city.
Fortunately we had our cameras and I had my sketching gear. (More important than a toothbrush) The picture at the top of this blog entry is a watercolor and pencil sketch depicting a day of hiking in the hills above Quito. On one of our walkabout’s we came across a construction crew demolishing an old building. All these men standing around looking at a back hoe seemed like a scene I might see back in Canada. I guess construction culture is some what universal.
Quito was a good opportunity to acclimatize to the next two months of travel through South America and to start working on my Spanish.
A page from my sketch book. Pen and watercolor wash.
The View From The San Francisco Monastry
Exploring The Hills above Quito.
Old Man of the Mountains, Pencil and watercolour sketch