Travel Photography 101 8.5/18

19 09 2008

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

A particularly full moon as seen from St Mark’s Square, Venice (or perhaps just a street light)

Whether you use photo albums or your laptop, the more diversity you have in your photographs the more rewarding the collection can be for you and the more entertaining for your guests. You obviously still want to capture the main sights and icons, but get artsy and look for the unusual. Watch for shadows, street signs, silhouettes, colours or just unusual shapes or objects. Look all around you and include a few of these in your final presentation and see if your guests can identify what you have snapped.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan


Lessons Learned the Hard Way – No. 36

18 09 2008


The African Darter renowned for always hitting the Bullseye (Matusadona, Zimbabwe)

When fleeing a charging elephant, always watch where you’re going.


Matusadona, Zimbabwe is one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Sitting on Lake Kariba in the Zambezi valley, the park can be explored on foot or from the water.


It was late afternoon and we were paddling along the shoreline, quietly venturing into tranquil bays and small waterways that wound their way into the bush. Before our expedition, the guide had warned us to be particularly aware of hippopotamuses, a creature that kills more people every year than lions or crocodiles. He cautioned us that the first rule when near a hippo is never to get between it and deep water as that’s when they’re at their most aggressive and dangerous. With that we set off.


When the ranger climbed into my canoe, I was initially rather excited. He was not only an experienced canoeist, but unlike me, he also knew what he was doing. It was only when we led the flotilla, ventured closest to the wildlife and ran interference for the rest of the panicked paddlers that I began to regret having him aboard.


From the silence of the water, we closely observed antelope, zebra, jackals and buffalo. Exotic, wildly-coloured birdlife flitted about our heads, while others were close enough to touch.  As the shadows lengthened, all was bliss…until we turned a corner and found a herd of elephant.


I was more than happy to watch them from afar. I have good eyesight and saw no reason to venture closer. They hadn’t invited us over for a chat. We weren’t carrying cakes. What could possibly be the benefit of proceeding forward? I grumbled to myself as my backseat paddler propelled us closer and closer.


We finally stopped just shy of the shoreline and no more than a few dozen metres from the herd. The rest of our party sensibly stopped well back.


The herd was contentedly grazing. Young calves played in the shadow of the adults while their older siblings ran around boisterously. We watched them in excited silence, our paddles idly across our laps, thoroughly enjoying our private audience. One of the young bulls ventured closer to us. I watched him, wondering when my companion would deem it wise to move away, but the elephant seemed uninterested and we remained in our spot.


Finally, the bull noticed us. He trumpeted loudly, threw his ears forward and stomped a few steps forward. I raised the paddle, but the guide whispered to stay still. He said it was just a mock charge and that the youngster was just throwing his weight around. The obstreperous elephant continued his tantrum. Safely in the hands of the guide, I enjoyed the display. The elephant’s ears went back, the trunk dropped, and our friend charged at us with menacing speed. Just as I raised my camera to take a snap, the guide’s paddle plunged into the water beside me.


“Paddle backwards! Paddle backwards!” he shouted.


The canoe shot back like a torpedo. The elephant continued to charge. I thrust my paddle into the shallow water trying to put as much distance between us and the petulant pachyderm as possible. We paddled frantically, finally gaining some momentum. My heart was pounding, the adrenalin was pumping but as the elephant reached the water’s edge and stopped his express train charge, I began to relax a bit.


“Stop paddling! Stop paddling!” the guide shouted, his paddle now countering my backward strokes with a furious frenzy.


Puzzled, I stop.


“Hippos!!!” he shouted, pointing at the little piggy ears, evil eyes and scarred hides that now surrounded us. We were in the midst of a maritime minefield.


The hippos splashed, snorted and hooted their protest of our trespass. Our canoe sat motionless as our guide carefully surveyed the encircling beasts. We carefully headed for deeper water. The hippos quietened down. My heartbeat returned to normal and the white knuckles that gripped the paddle loosened.


“The second rule when near a hippo” he suddenly explained, “is always to watch where you’re going”.


And with that we headed home.




Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Travel Words of Wisdom – No. 24

17 09 2008

“I dunno…I think it says something about pirates.”   Cape Point, South Africa 

“Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



Photo and post:  Simon Vaughan

King Of The World

16 09 2008

The Airbus A380 Quasimodo                   (Singapore Airlines, Sydney, Australia)

I confess that I’m an aircraft geek. I know what range and livery mean, get abnormally excited by new things like wing-tip winglets and love listening to the air traffic control communications when flying on United Airlines. I remember the first time I boarded a Boeing 747, never missed an opportunity to ogle Concorde and I’m presently rather unhealthily obsessed with the new Airbus A380 Superjumbo.


The A380 is a marvel of modern technology. It is not only the largest airliner in the world, but required modifications be made to the factories that manufactured and assembled it and to the airports into which it flies. It has two floors and if configured entirely for economy class, could hold more than 800 people. Instead, the first airlines that ordered them have chosen to include bars, bedrooms, lounges and large flat screen televisions. Far removed from sitting with your knees in your nostrils and your elbows in someone else’s, these levels of luxury and opulence harken back to the early days of aviation with airships, Flying Boats or even actual cruise ships.


All of which has led some people to draw parallels between the A380 and Titanic. Not one to partake in such sensationalistic, overly dramatic tabloid-journalism hyperbole, I would never dream of stooping so low as to mention the similarities between the two. The thought of comparing a grand ship that was the cutting edge of maritime technology in 1912, was the largest ocean liner in the world, boasted the finest in luxury accommodation and complete segregation from the other classes for its first class passengers and attracted large crowds wherever it went with a grand aircraft that is the cutting edge of aviation technology in 2008, is the largest airliner in the world, boasts the finest in luxury accommodation and complete segregation from the other classes for its first class passengers and attracts large crowds wherever it flies, is something that would never cross my mind.


Several months ago I saw the A380 with my own eyes. It belonged to Singapore Airlines and was parked on the edge of Sydney airport. At risk of arousing the interest of vigilant security, I suspiciously traipsed around the entire terminal until I found the nearest vantage point, and then ogled it from afar with an obscene enthusiasm almost bordering on voyeurism. I’d seen the photographs, viewed the video and read all the information. I knew its length and its height, the thrust of its enormous engines and its staggering take-off weight, but when I actually saw it in person it still left me in awe.


The A380 is a beast. It is an absolute giant whose engines look the size of nuclear power plant cooling tower chimneys, whose wingspan is more than double the length of Orville Wright’s first flight and whose tail is the height of an 8-story building. This is one serious bit of awe-inspiring machinery and should be more than a match for even the biggest iceberg.


Singapore Airlines and Emirates are already flying the A380 on their longer routes and next month Qantas becomes the third to join that elite club. Although I dream of crossing the Pacific in one of its bedrooms with a fully-flat bed and all the luxuries of a compact 5-star hotel, I would be quite happy to fill an overhead storage bin with shredded newspaper, a bowl of water and a few healthy-teeth biscuits just to be amongst the first to travel in this magnificent new technological marvel and ship of the skies….even if it doesn’t have lifeboats strapped to its sides.


Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan

The Third Great Adventure Quiz

15 09 2008

“We shall fight them on the beaches…”          (Table Mountain, Cape Town)


Identify the following:



1. Pashtun:


a)     A type of fine cashmere wool often used in scarves

b)     Mahatma Gandhi’s prime minister

c)     The largest ethnic and linguistic group in Afghanistan

d)     The capital of Kyrgyzstan

e)     A large city in Qashqadaryo, Uzbekistan


2. The African rock hyrax (pictured above), is the closest living relative of:


a)     The prairie dog

b)     The elephant

c)     The giant panda

d)     Winston Churchill

e)     The baboon


3. Moshi:


a)     The Japanese equivalent of ‘Hi’

b)     The capital of Mauritania

c)     The town at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro

d)     An Indian dish of dried marrowfat peas

e)     The Mayan name for Cancun


4. Okapi:


a)     A rare African forest antelope

b)     The hat worn by the French Foreign Legion

c)     The first president of post-colonial Nigeria

d)     A palace in Istanbulm formerly home to the Ottoman Sultans

e)     A popular bay on New Zealand’s South Island


5. Baltra:


a)     The current prime minister of Algeria

b)     Ancient Roman ruins near Aleppo, Syria

c)     The southern-most province of Sri Lanka

d)     A type of hot curry-style dish originating in Mirpur, Pakistan

e)     The main airport on the Galapagos Islands



Answers:  1c, 2b (yes, apparently!), 3c, 4a, 5e




Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan


Travel Photography 101 13/18

12 09 2008

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

A feet of photographic genius                           (Sossussvlei, Namibia)


All the greatest artists completed self-portraits.

We all like to have photographs of ourselves during our travels, but for those of us who often travel alone, we generally end up with only a couple of self-portraits taken at arm’s length and which distort your face and leave you with a bleached and flattened nose! If you don’t trust strangers with your camera and can’t be bothered to set yours up properly with a timer, with a bit of creativity you can still get good photos of yourself even when alone.  Try snapping a well-focused reflection of yourself in a mirror, shop window or a reflective surface. Photograph only your shadow or perhaps your feet against a unique or distinct background. Think outside the box…you may just like the view.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Jewel Off The Nile

11 09 2008

“I’m sorry, but do you have a room with a better view?”  (The Mena House, Cairo)

I am more than happy to call a tent my home, to share a dorm room with eleven flatulent souls, to sleep on a dirt floor surrounded by unseen nimble-footed scurriers or to squat in a budget hotel so budget that water comes in a large bucket…but only when the end justifies the sleeps. If the only way to veer from the beaten track is to forgo the flat panel television, the Parisian toiletries and the lush bathrobe, then sign me up! Besides, there’s a sense of achievement and a strengthening of character that comes from filtering the brown tap water before you clean your teeth, of keeping an eye on a herd of elephants in your shaving mirror or covering yourself in wet towels to try to sleep in the broiling heat of an equatorial no-star hotel room.


Of course, adventure travel and the absence of ceiling geckos, one-eyed night watchmen armed with bows and arrows and mosquito-netted bunk beds are not mutually exclusive. In fact, sometimes the very essence of an adventure is not the hardship you endure but the exotic luxury you savour in the most unlikely of places.


As I have grown older, my lust for adventure travel hasn’t diminished in the slightest but my creaking bones do need a little pampering from time to time. When I travel now, I like to splurge on a nice hotel for my first night before moving on to more modest abodes. Nice doesn’t necessarily mean expensive or well known. Instead, I seek a refuge with history, character and perhaps a telephone in the bathroom, a brass toilet plunger and a 12,000 finger massage bed.


In Cairo, the Mena House fit the bill perfectly…except for the telephone, plunger and vibrating bed. Once a sumptuous private home, the Mena House is unique in that the pyramids are quite literally in its back garden. Although it has a modern wing with all the amenities you would expect, the original building oozes opulence and past privilege and is rich with enough Egyptian, Ottoman and colonial grandeur to transport you to a bygone era. In fact, I was wishing I’d packed my jodhpurs…if I actually knew what they were.


It was all so gentrified and evocative that I felt compelled to stroll everywhere slowly with my hands clasped behind my back, nodding reverentially to anyone I passed, and to order only gin and tonic in the bar. A pre-dinner wander through the immaculately manicured lawns of the Churchill Garden had me gazing awestruck at the pyramids which loomed over the flowering hedges. It was only the mosquitoes biting my ankles that brought me back down to earth.


After a blissful sleep, I pulled back the curtains to a magnificent view of the wonders of ancient Egypt bathed in morning light. It seemed heresy to turn on the television so instead I took my breakfast onto the balcony and breathlessly drank in the view as I quaffed my croissants.


All too soon, my indulgence was over. I dragged my dusty backpack down to reception, checked-out, and quietly whispered the name of my budget hotel to the doorman so that he could hail a taxi. He feigned ignorance of its location, but I saw his nose twitch as he passed on my request to the driver. I clambered in and he closed the door with disdain, then wiped his now-soiled white gloves on his trousers.


For the amount that my one night where Churchill, Conan Doyle and Waugh had stayed cost me, I could have spent a week in my rustic new accommodation with a front door that didn’t close properly and a view of an alley between two office buildings. I dropped my bag on the rickety bed, cranked on the deafening air conditioning and headed to the bathroom….to find a telephone and a tarnished brass toilet plunger.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan