Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sabi Sands Reserve, South Africa

In the 13 years since I first traveled to Africa, I have always resisted private lodges and safari guides. Mostly, because I'm cheap. But I'm also stubborn.

I've always believed that you remember a lot better when you learn the hard way. When I stepped off the plane and into Cape Town's airport, I didn't know a thing about going on safari that I hadn't learned from Marlin Perkins on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. In 1969.

So I set out to learn, by driving across Southern Africa at reckless speed in a rented VW Polo.

There was a steep learning curve.

The 27 hours I spent digging myself out of a swamp using nothing but a sauce pan wasn't even the worst of it.

Which is a roundabout way of saying how delightful it was to enjoy a couple of (free) nights at Sabi Sands Game Reserve. Brilliant trackers and guides shared their encyclopedic knowledge during game drives where you actually spotted game, large and small.

It slowly dawned on me that sometimes it pays to work with professionals.

We stopped to photograph a pride of hunting lions, driving off road in the private reserve and working late into the night. And then we went back to camp, enjoyed a lovely meal under the southern stars and slept in a Hemingway-esque safari tent.

Eating tinned curry and sleeping in the dirt will never be the same.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Solstice, Alaska

On this, the longest day of the northern year, the sun never sets at the Arctic Circle. It loops around, kissing the northern horizon and casting an otherworldly orange glow before rising again.

In 1996, I drove north on Alaska's Dalton Highway, past the Arctic Circle roadside pullout, beyond Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range and down onto the broad open plains that lead to the Arctic Ocean. I parked in an old pipeline gravel pit and set up my tripod.

At 175 miles north of the circle, my compass wasn't much use. I took my best guess at true north, put the sun on the left side of the viewfinder and started clicking. Using an old panoramic film camera, I only had one shot at this. In the days before digital intervalometers, I used my watch to time the intervals. Every 15 minutes I brushed off the bugs, cocked and clicked the shutter, and sat back down.

At five in the morning with the sun climbing back into the sky and the mosquitos gathering strength, I packed it all up and went looking for somewhere to catch a bit of sleep.