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.
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.
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.
Watercolor and Pen sketches from Machu Picchu and The Salkantay Trail in Peru
Watercolor and Pencil sketch at Machu Picchu. Available for sale.
Watercolor and Pen sketch of Machu Picchu. Sold.
A photo of me painting at Machu Picchu
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.
Circus World, Baraboo, Wisconsin. May 28, 2013
Having seen the movie “Water for Elephants” we were curious to stop at Circus World in Baraboo, to learn more about the history of the circus in America.
In 1884 the Ringling Brothers began their first tour as a circus and during the winter months Baraboo was their headquarters. The museum is located on the land owned by the Ringling Brothers and is called “Ringlingville”. Their museum features artifacts and exhibits, including some of the movie set props from the movie Water For Elephants.
We spent the afternoon at Circus World and went to a small circus show at the hippodrome which is a permanent big top which houses the daily circus and magic shows. I found visiting circus world was a look back at a by gone era in America and to illustrate this article I thought that the one artifact that really struck me was of an old pair of clown shoes. I have also included a sketch of the little circus show that they put on daily.
Badlands National Park and The Corn Palace May 26, 2013
Camping at Badlands National Park was a serene experience. It was very quiet with only the sound of the wind and birds. We got up early and explored a couple of the short scenic trails in the park.
We didn’t see a lot of wild life however we had an opportunity to get very close to a rabbit that was staying close to this wooden walk way that he could easily hide under for safety. I found that the rabbit made a good subject for a watercolor study in that it represented life in what appears to be a very harsh environment.
The other three sketches are pen and ink drawings with watercolor washes. I drew them very quickly. The idea is to make quick impression studies. Sometimes over thinking gets in the way of an intuitive process.
Driving across South Dakota we visited the Devils Tower National Monument before we went to the Badlands and then we stopped at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. The Mitchell Corn Palace is a folk art wonder and was first built in 1892 to show case the rich soil of South Dakota and encourage people to settle in the area. When you are driving across the United States it is nice to break up the drive with little side trips like this. Our next little adventure takes us to Baraboo, Wisconsin which is home to the Circus World Museum.
Driving To Badlands National Park, South Dakota May 24, 2013
This morning we were camped at Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park. It was very cold and so we didn’t waste any time packing up. We still had a little more to see before heading east to South Dakota.
Our first stop driving along the Grand Loop was Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River heading towards the north east entrance. It was near Tower Fall that we spotted the bear that I illustrated above.
The bear was on a mission to go some where and so I have tried to give this picture a sense of movement by using line, brush stroke and rhythm.
The watercolor painting of Upper Falls, Yellowstone River was a study done with only red, yellow and blue. Mixing all of your colors from just three colors is a little more work but the resulting picture will have more harmony. I am starting to paint more with a limited palette as I feel that this will improve my work.
As we headed east on Hwy 90 into Badlands National Park the landscape changed to this exotic mix of grass land with sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires. The cattle grazing in this landscape make for an interesting composition in the third picture. I added black pen to this watercolor as I felt the picture needed something to help with the starkness of the black cattle.