Travel Photography 101 14/18

29 08 2008

Confessions, musings and tips from a snap-happy wanderer.

Mr Bean stars in Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’    (Melbourne)

The Art of Photography/The Photography of Art


We so often take for granted street art in our own cities. We may pass something every single day and never stop and properly look at it, even though it’s so often these sculptures, paintings or abstract installations that add a bit of life to the concrete jungles in which we spend so much of our lives. When travelling, don’t overlook the street art wherever you are in the world. Take a moment to have a look and if you like what you see, to photograph it.


Those works can tell you a lot about the city you’re visiting and their shape, colour and creativity will add some variety to your other photographs of the more customary tourist sights and attractions.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Lessons Learned the Hard Way – No. 48

28 08 2008

“I’m not scared of the dark!” (The courage of the early morning) – Uganda 

Never opt for the single supplement when camping for the first time.


I had never before slept in a tent…other than once in the back garden when I was very young and had fled my ancient musty mould-speckled heavy cotton shelter for the safety of home long before the sun even thought of touching the horizon. So what precisely compelled me to not only choose the wilds of Africa as the site of my first ever camping experience but also to pay extra for a ‘single-supplement’ for my own tent still remains a mystery to me and my therapist to this day!


My life-long desire to see Africa was so strong that I never even considered just what a camping safari entailed…until I arrived in my first campsite in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. The drive from the main gate had provided us all with our first taste of Big Game. Smiles spanned our faces, until the guide stopped the van and started unloading the tents and other camping gear seemingly in the middle of the park and not more than 30 seconds’ beyond a large lion.


Fortunately, I was not alone in my camping virginity or my very evident fear…but I most certainly was alone in my tent that night. And I’d paid for the privilege of that solitude.


As we sat around the campfire our bravado and forced laughter withered and died with the last embers as we realised it was almost time for us to leave the security of the group and retire for the night, taking our chances with the creatures eager to bite, poison, trample or dismember us. We faked confident smiles, wished each other good nights’ sleep which we knew wouldn’t come and then headed to our tents in pairs.


Except for me, venturing alone, ears standing boldly erect with vestigial prowess straining to every single sound from the encircling darkness.


Inside my tent, I lay in my sleeping bag staring at the canvas. Gradually, the sounds of my campmates and crew faded away until I felt like the last person on earth. In the distance I heard the yaps, trumpets, cackles, snorts and roars, but it was the less identifiable sounds that bothered me most.


First came the sound of something large brushing against the back of my tent that sent me spinning onto my stomach to stare into the black void behind my head. Then there was the low rumble that had me darting to my right in the certain knowledge that it was the empty-stomach of a cantankerous elephant. Next came the almost silent hiss of something blood-thirsty and nasty sighing to my left. This was promptly followed by another brush against the back flaps; a whisper that could have been the wind but was almost certainly a leopard and the sharp meow-like snarl of a clearly small but patently lethal wild cat. I breathed with my mouth open, my eyes wide like those of a mad cow, my heart pounding and my head spinning towards each sound like a scene from the Exorcist. I had no idea what time it was as I was too scared to flick on my flashlight and check my watch lest the light identify me as a midnight snack, but I knew that time was edging inexorably towards dawn and I had yet to have even so much as a sniff of sleep.


I contemplated wearing my airline eye mask, putting in earplugs and taking a sleep-inducing anti-nausea tablet to help with the process, but reasoned that that would make it easier to be eaten. I therefore stayed awake through the night listening attentively to the gusts that were unquestionably my campmates being eaten one by one, the cracks that were the arthritic knees of the demented bull elephant who was about to crush my head and the rustle of the python which was working its way into my tent to swallow me whole.


As we each emerged from our cocoons the next morning, everyone remarked how well they had slept in the fresh air and silence. I nodded enthusiastically in agreement as I cradled a cup of hot cocoa in my hands and donned sunglasses to hide my bright-red eyes and the heavy rucksacks that hung below them.


My second night was better and by the third I relished the sounds of the night as much as the sights of the day and revelled in the privacy of my own tent as much as I would have revelled in the security and somnolence of a tent-mate on the first.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Spot The Photographer

27 08 2008

“How much for the painting at the back?”                          (Ponte Vecchio, Florence)




Spot the photographer.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

The Third Great Adventure Quiz

26 08 2008

Right-side up or upside down?    (Hyena, Serengeti, Tanzania)

Identify the following… 



1) Tangyanika


a) The local name for Kilimanjaro

b) The former name of Tanzania

c) A South Pacific dish of shark wrapped in banana leaves

d) The last king of Lesotho

e) A legendary Japanese sumo wrestler



2) Kuku Paka


a) A Tanzanian/Indian fusion dish of chicken and potato

b) A Polynesian dug-out canoe

c) A long-tailed weaver bird found in Belize

d) A Mayan solstice festival

e) A province of western Pakistan


3) Bongo


a)     An African forest antelope

b)     A type of percussion instrument

c)     The first president of Gabon

d)     A mixed tropical fruit drink

e)     All of the above


4) Siam


a) A Dr Seuss character from Green Eggs and Ham

b) Former name of Thailand

c) The colonial capital of Laos

d) Popeye’s response when asked if he was the Sailorman

e) A type of salamander


5) Bubu Tigre


a) The Surinamese maroon name for a jaguar

b) A river delta in southern Iraq

c) An ancient Cambodian dance

d) The first female president of Vanuatu

e) A mythical monster found in the jungles of Brazil



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan


Answers: 1b, 2a, 3e, 4b, 5a   – Photo is upside down

I Can’t Dance, Don’t Ask Me…

25 08 2008

Victim number one, come on down…                       (Maroon village, Suriname)

At age 10 I was evicted from the school choir because my voice was breaking. In fact, my spoken voice was still an exquisite falsetto that would have been the envy of the most successful of boy sopranos, but my singing voice was then, as it remains now, an instrument of abject aural torture. My choirmaster, in a gallant effort to save my feelings from the inexorable truth, simply stated that vocal manhood was coming early to my diminutive frame and showed me to the door to save her professional reputation and the eardrums of my colleagues.


Sadly, my dancing skills are similarly blighted. My abilities tend to be limited to subtle head-nodding and, when excited, foot-tapping. Any greater participation risks serious public embarrassment for me and possible injury for those nearby as could be witnessed at a Gipsy Kings’ amphitheatre concert some years ago. As the fiery music got the better of my commonsense, my legs became entangled with each other causing me to fall flat on the grass and roll downhill towards the stage. Fortunately, no one was killed and as it was dark I wasn’t asked to leave.


My rhythmic shortcomings haven’t prevented me from enjoying those more musically blessed, especially when travelling – although whenever there’s a hint of audience participation I usually seek safety in the furthest reaches of darkness.


In a roof-top nightclub in an Istanbul back street, a talented belly-dancer was wiggling her wares with time-honoured skill. I was captivated by her riveting rotations and tinkling jewellery…until she grabbed the first innocent victim from the watching masses. I immediately began to retreat to the corner, the familiar cold sweat beading on my forehead. One by one she drew participants forward with relentless enthusiasm and I edged closer to the edge of the roof. I stared skyward at the stars, out over the city to the minarets of the Blue Mosque and hid my face behind my beer glass all in the quest for invisibility…but still she came closer. Just as I was about to plunge onto the street below, she twirled away and returned to the dance floor leaving me and my pounding heart to order another, stiffer drink.


In Madrid, I was contentedly pinned behind a table in a tiny tapas bar and able to enjoy a hypnotic display of flamenco free from fear. In Buenos Aires, I was equally comfortable watching a tango show, correctly confident that the establishment was too refined and the Argentine clientele too discerning to tolerate audience participation. Less secure in Cuba however, I hid behind a shadowy pillar to avoid participating in a sensuous spectacle of rumba.


Occasionally though, participation can’t be avoided and the terror is justified. One such occasion came deep in the Amazonian jungles of Suriname.


One evening we were invited to travel downstream to a small village. The jungle was pitch-black and our able pilot navigated the rapids and shallows by memory rather than flashlight. Eventually, over the din of our outboard motor drifted the sounds of singing and music and we arrived at a small sandy beach, dragged our motorised canoes ashore and walked up to the village clearing.


Once greeted by the chief, we were directed to a hut and asked to change into more traditional attire which consisted of loose cotton tops, neckerchiefs and loin cloths and self-consciously returned to the village’s main hut to the hoots and giggles of the villagers.


After a feast of cassava and fish, the entertainment began. Our small group sat on benches around the inside perimeter and watched impressive traditional dancing that re-enacted the village’s age-old legends and tales of hunts, gods and jungle beasts all to pounding drum beats and singing. Then, my worst nightmare came true. As if sitting cross-legged all night to protect my modesty wasn’t enough, I was dragged onto centre-stage to shake my booty with the best.


My sunburned skin hid my blushes and the intense jungle heat disguised my cold sweat, but there was no hiding my two left-feet before the assembled masses. As self-conscious as a lobster in the tank of a seafood restaurant, I earnestly tried to follow the lead of my partner and instructor, moving in time to the music and attempting to control my flailing limbs so as not to hurt anyone and cause an international incident. I secretly longed for an overhead beam to fall on me or for a jaguar to leap through the open door and drag me into the darkness, but sadly there was no escape. My time as the centre of attention seemed to last forever before my companions came forth and the entire village and guests boogied the evening away to a cacophony of laughs and shouts.


After all-around hugs, we changed back into our own clothes, waved good-bye to our new friends and headed off back upstream to our camp. A million stars illuminated the swathe cut through the jungle by the viscous river, and moonlight reflected in the eyes of lurking caimans and unidentified beasties.


Thankfully, no one commented on my spectacle. Perhaps they’d all been entranced by the magical surroundings and the unforgettable hospitality of the isolated village and hadn’t noticed…or perhaps they’d been scared into silence by the erratic uncoordinated nocturnal spasms of the campmate with whom they were now spending the night alone!


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Travel Photography 101 18/18

22 08 2008

Confessions, musings and tips from a snap-happy wanderer.


Wave!!!                         (Sydney Harbour Bridge and Australian ensign.)

If flags are good enough for Jasper Johns and Charles Pachter, they’re good enough for you!


Every country and most territories and cities have their own flag. In many cases, these internationally recognised symbols have become synonymous with their regions so why not feature them in your travel photography?  Flags are often colourful and eye-catching flying against a clear blue sky, or better yet, when beside a famous monument or landmark. They also provide an instant identifier for the country in which the photo was taken. Look for a good angle or background…but take caution: in some countries it is illegal to photograph the flag.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Lessons Learned the Hard Way – No. 27

21 08 2008

“Now that’s what I call an isolated shower!”   (Seljalandsfoss, Iceland)

Always test water-resistance before starting your travels.


I was to spend two weeks hiking, trekking and camping in Iceland in the middle of summer. Although I wasn’t exactly anticipating tropical conditions, I did think the last week of July and first week of August would be mild and probably sunny despite the island’s northerly location.  Still, taking every precaution I packed a hooded rain jacket, rain trousers, Gore-Tex gloves and boots, thick socks, a woolly-hat, fleeces and long underwear…as well as shorts, sandals, t-shirts and swimsuit. In other words, I was prepared for every eventuality. Or so I thought!


Iceland is a magnificent land of rugged starkness. Its coastline jagged from the timeless assault of the North Atlantic. Its interior chalked grey, brown and black from its volcanic centre. Its lakes and rivers brilliant blue from its pure glacial lifeline and its greens the verdant pulse of a land more geologically alive than any other on earth.


The coast road loops around the entire country, pressed between the sharply-hewn cliffs, the black sand beaches and the crashing waves of the sea. As I gazed up at the cloud-shrouded peaks one morning through the rain-lashed windows of the mini-bus, I mused that it must be a magnificent spot in summer…only to quickly remember that July was as good as it got! By afternoon, strong winds had pushed the clouds away and a flawless blue sky served as a perfect backdrop to the waterfalls, wildflowers and magnificent desolation beneath.


Alas, quicker than you can say Hafnarfjordur, the rains returned with a vengeance soaking the long grasses, pooling in the low-lying areas and driving a drenching fog across the land. I donned my best raingear, pulled the hood’s drawstring tight around my face, zipped up the jacket and tightened my hiking boots before setting off for more spectacular scenery.


The rain belted down but in no way detracted from the pristine views. I have always enjoyed being exposed to the elements when warm, dry and properly protected and Iceland was no exception…until my toes felt their first hint of moisture. I glanced down and the boots were still properly laced with the rain pants over the tops. There were no obvious holes, but there was obviously water around my little digits.


My socks were soon saturated and my toes became chilly and uncomfortable. Like a pin-prick in a balloon, there was no stopping the leak now. My feet began to squelch in the growing wetness. I could feel the warmth flooding from my body as quickly as the water flooded into my boots. The discomfort continued for several more hours and by the time I reached the glorious warmth and dryness of the bus, my toes were white, wrinkled and hell-bent on revenge. I could envisage waking up in the night to wracking bouts of foot cramp for months to come as they got even for their torment.


There was no apparent vent in the seams, no obvious rip in the lining and no holes anywhere. Clearly, my boots had finally expired. The Gore-Tex had died and sucked in the water like a sponge….and it was only the third day of my trip. For the rest of the time I uncomfortably slipped my feet into plastic bags before putting on my boots but the perspiration this quickly generated was almost as wet as the rain it tried to prevent. On the warm, sunny days, I left my boots outside to dry and each night hoped for fine weather the following morning.


The discomfort and inconvenience barely registered compared to the wonders of Iceland, but even now, in the middle of the night when I am fast asleep and dreaming wonderful thoughts of Salma Hayek and sun-drenched desert islands, my toes wrench me back to consciousness with agonising and gut-wrenching cramps. As I hobble to my feet and attempt to end the torture, I can still hear them cackle and taunt as they exact their bitter Icelandic revenge.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan