Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Powers of Voodoo, Don't Mess with IT.

I think everyone has at least a little fascination or belief in voodoo, a practice that predates many of the world's religions by 10,000 years, and connects western Africans to their ancestors.

I know I do, since baseball players are some of the most superstitious mind freaks in the world of sports. We can't make it through a game without performing a list of rituals. We eat the same thing before every game, some won't have sex before a start,some wear crazy things under our uniforms, such as woman's underwear, to give us good luck, we freak out if we can't find our favorite mitt or bating gloves, we bless our bats, wear rally caps to try and jump start the offense, try to put a spell on opposing hitters bats, we run out on the field making sure not to step on the white lines, if a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter we completely avoid him, not even making eye contact or mentioning the score, so not to jinx his good luck. We have little carvings in the dugout to guide us to a win and some hitters who haven't gotten a hit in a few games, even take it to the drastic point of having sex with a "slump buster," the fattest ugliest girl they can find, to try and take the curse off their bat and get them out of a 0-20 hitting slump. Just watch the movie Major League or Bull Durham, or watch a baseball game on t.v and you will get an idea of how much of a head case we are. Don't mess with voodoo, it's like karma the black magic, eventually catches up to you.

So traveling through Africa, where nothing is safe and dangers lie around every corner, the worst thing you could do is piss off the voodoo priest. So you are damn right I made sure to pay the voodoo priest for his time in blessing my journey, bought a small wood carving from him, that you whisper your trip to it's face,then place a stick in it's mouth to seal what you said, and keep it in your pocket, to guide you on your journey. How many people can say they have been blessed by an actual voodoo priest. If something happens to me now, I must have not paid him enough money.

Voodoo in western Africa is about making offerings,performing rituals,and blessing the spirits and higher powers that govern their lives. Similar to most religions where we prey to a god, the people who practice voodoo, in Ghana, Togo, and Benin, worship to major deities. Voodoo in The Caribbean have taken it too a new level with voodoo dolls and which craft.

Where their religion gets interesting is the different fetishes that they use, such as dried animal parts,animals skulls, natural objects such as wood and rock carvings,and local herbs and medicines. They use them,to cast spells on rival enemies, to help the healing process if someone who is sick,and to guide someone on their journey. It's about black and white magic, which have negative or positive influences in their lives.

If you want to get an idea of what fetishes they use, visit the fetish market in Lome. It's like walking into a movie set of crazy animal skulls,of horses buffalo,antelopes,elephants,lions,cheetahs,monkeys, and just about any other African animal. Snake skins,dried frogs,birds,horns,cut open rats laying on their back, horse cocks, and chicken legs sticking out of skulls, can make the photography really fun. The best experience, is traveling to an actual voodoo village.

While the group wanted to stay in Lome,and visit markets, I decided to take a taxi for an hour out of Lome to Lake Togo, where I paid a local fisherman to take me across the lake to Togoville, in his hand made canoe, which was leaking.

It brought back memories of traveling 200 miles, up the Rio Negro from Manuas on the Amazon River, and then staying in a hut with a family along the river. Then going fishing with the father in his canoe. His dug out canoe, made from a tree, leaked so much water, that when we caught piranhas,and threw them into the boat, we had to lift and move our bare feet,as they swam around.Just like the trip in the Amazon, I had no idea where I was going, just knew that it sounded like a cool adventure.

Once I arrive on the opposite shore, I was pointed up the bank towards the village,by the fisherman,shook his hand and even gave him a tip for managing to keep my cameras dry. I then made my way into the center of the town and came across an old one eyed local, who couldn't use his legs, but used his biceps as big as a body builders,to pull himself around by two sticks. It couldn't have been a better voodoo character to meet. I let him guide me through the village, which was a slow pace. He didn't know much English, just pointed and laughed, and said voodoo if we came across something like a tree or structure that was involved in a voodoo ritual. I didn't dare piss him off by leaving him behind, since he had a laugh that would send chills down most peoples bodies. It was just like the long, loud, evil, stereotypical laugh that you would see in a movie,by a crazy voodoo priest. He only lacked wearing a buffalo skull on his head, blood across his face, and some bones around his neck. Yes,I made sure to tip him.

The journey back to Lome was even longer. I thought I could just walk around the lake to the main road, then just catch a taxi back to Lome. Stupid idea! I followed a dirt road through some villages then out in the countryside for over an hour and half, walking about 5-7 miles in the blistering heat and humidity. Finally running out of water and no longer seeing the lake or any locals,I made my way down through the bushes to the edge of the lake, to see if I could see a town ahead. Which I couldn't, so I walked back to the road, coming across a local with a machete in his hand and dead chicken in the other, who looked shocked to see a white man, then started laughing. I decided at that point my stroll was over, and walked back to town and jumped on the back of the first motorcycle I saw and was taken over a bumpy road for about 15 miles, back to the main road.

I made sure to rest under some shade in a bar, bought a nice cold beer,and had lunch. When I was done,I jumped into a taxi and made it back to our campground. I love Africa!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

No Food For Lazy Man

I am currently just outside Lome, Togo. Staying near the beach in a Swiss owned campground called Chez Alice. The owner has lived in Togo, since the 1950's and must have seen every up and down,that the country has gone through, since she arrived here. While just a small country, it is supposed to be a photographers paradise,except for large mammals, with lush rain forest, waterfalls, and lots of culture. The larges mammals have been shot or scared out of the country.

Togo and Benin, are home to the voodoo culture, that was brought over to the Caribbean Islands with slavery. We have a few days in Lome, hopefully getting our Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon Visa's, so I look forward to experiencing this voodoo culture. Togo was not long ago controlled by the french. The capital of Togo, used to be called the "Paris of west Africa," but like most of Africa, when the Europeans pulled out, so did the money that built these cities and the lifestyle that could afford to maintain it. Traveling through town you see the French influence with it's grand avenues, cobble stone roads, and luxurious hotels, abandoned and starting to be reclaimed by nature.

After a week in Accra,is was nice to move on to another country but already missing, Ghana because of the language barrier. If you travel through Accra, you need to spend a few nights at least,at a place called Big Milly's Backyard, just outside Accra in Kokrobite. It's a good place to get away from the large city. It's a popular place for westerners to stay, that are volunteering in Ghana,and on a break. The compound is run by a British woman, has a local vibe, a few bars, some huts to stay in, a rastafarian culture hanging around, and drumming and dance performances on the weekends.

Ghana was my favorite country to visit so far, since I learned more about western Africa then I did,in non English speaking countries. It was fun to communicate with the fisherman and locals. Most were curious about how we got our truck from Europe to Ghana, and how we would get it to South Africa. They couldn't understand how we drove to Ghana from Europe, because it wasn't connected. We showed them pictures of the ferries that can carry 20-50 vehicles our size, across the Mediterranean and they were surprised. Other locals didn't understand, why we didn't just fly to South Africa. While others, shook their head and didn't see why we would want to drive a truck that far. To most,Cape Town was like the end of the world.

The beaches that stretch along the Ghana and Togo coastline, have the ability to become some of the most beautiful in the world. But because they are scattered with villages,this means they are still occupied by the subsistence lifestyle, with survival being the main priority. The beaches are littered with plastic bags, used as the village toilet, and are dangerous to walk down, for westerners. Developers for resorts, would die to have such beautiful beaches,to build their next mega hotel.

You hear the Ghanaians use the saying, "no food for lazy man," all the time. Since they work so hard, and make fun of those who don't. As western Africa becomes more advanced, someday these hardworking locals will be able to sit back and relax on their own beaches, enjoy a sunset, by ordering a meal instead of preparing it. Then they might understand, why westerners, do stupid things like travel overland across Africa, when they could just fly.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chasing Serenity

We found out today that we will be spending a week in Accra, waiting for our Nigeria visa's to go through. So this will give us plenty of time to get to know Accra up close and personal, and also catch up on what's going on in the rest of the world and in Africa.

Reading the news today, I feel like being in Ghana, a stable country at the moment, is like standing on the only high ground in the part of the world, as flood waters rip apart the countries around us.( Wish the best for my friends dealing with the flooding in Australia)

Tunisia, a north Africa country has just overthrown it's government, tourists are being evacuated. In Niger, two French citizens were kidnapped and executed and two more western tourists were just kidnapped in Timbuktu,Mali their safety unknown to me. Sudan is voting to try and break the country into two parts, which might create some unrest, Nigeria which we pass through soon, has seen lots of bloodshed , since around Christmas, as religious wars continue, between the Muslim north and the oil controlled Christian south. The Ivory coast, which borders Ghana to the west, is closed to us to travel to and Sierra Leone is still unstable, as it stops to catch it's breath from a decade of war.

If you want to get away from the rest of the world, or need a break from a shitty job, where your boss is always riding your ass, and need time to rethink what's important to you, then a long overland trip, is the thing for you. More than a few passengers on my trip, walked away from their jobs,relationships, because they were so unhappy, that they just said to hell with it, and booked a 10 month overland trip through Africa. Yes, you might come across a town ripping itself apart in war or catch Malaria along the way, but that just adds to the adventure. "Those who dare,Win"

Simplicity, has become more and more a part of my life, as I've shed some of the excess fat, that I thought I needed in life. As a professional baseball player, I got caught up in the rich and famous lifestyle, wanting the finer things in life, and thinking life was scored on how many toys you had collected. But after meeting many rich and famous people, I came to the realization that many of them, who have everything, aren't happy in life. There's a quote that goes something like this,"the poor dream of wealth, the rich strive for immortality, but the wise search for serenity."

Serenity is what I try to capture with my camera, because I think serenity is like exercise, it keeps your heart, mind, and soul healthy. You could call me a "serenity chaser', or 'serenity junkie."

Up till a few years ago, I had no idea how fast the world was changing. Now, I can't travel anywhere without seeing first hand how fast it's moving. Sometimes I wish I could be like most people and just stick my head in the sand, and pretend everything is alright, but I can't help but become emotionally attached now.

Every photographer I have met traveling, has a certain soft spot that they keep wanting to document before it is gone. Mine is very simple. I encourage everyone to see the parts of the world soon before they are gone. I'm not trying to be chicken little, and tell you the sky is falling, because it isn't.

I personally like knowing that the world is still untamed. That pirates still operate in the ocean, that man eating animals still exist, that their are places on the planet that yet to have been discovered, small villages yet corrupted by the outside world. That is my Serenity.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Coast Of Ghana and It's History of Slavery.

View Photos of Ghana

Ghana is like a snap shot of what all of western Africa might look like in the near future, as modern technology and western culture intermix, with traditional African lifestyle. I'm sitting in Accra, in the first mega mall I have seen in western Africa, and the last till we get to South Africa.The upscale section of Accra is nice, feels like back home with modern luxury, but the poor side of Accra is one of the crazier and most overcrowded places, I have ever seen.

The coast of Ghana has been relaxing, tropical rain forests meeting the ocean and lined with old slave forts and castles, now surrounded and included in local fishing villages. It adds to the experience to be body surfing the waves with local fisherman returning to their villages. English is spoken in Ghana so for the first time I've been able to communicate when walking in villages, which makes for a more rewarding experience than just waving and smiling.

Ghana was the first western African country to gain it's independence, from colonial power, and unlike the others, didn't tear apart its newly found freedom, with conflict, corruption,and war. It's stability makes it's future look bright,with a mix of beautiful cultures and a higher quality of life.

The people are very public about their religious views, almost all public transportation,and a lot of businesses, express this my including it in their business name. Such as,"God IS The Almighty Plumbing Works, Made From The Blood of Jesus Hair saloon. God is Great Hotel and Butchery. Let God Guide Your Way Furniture Store, and Jesus Loves You Bar and Club

When someone dies, their life is celebrated rather than mourned. They advertise upcoming funerals on billboards and signs, with a picture of the person who just passed away. Walking through town, or driving along the road, you may come across a big group of people dancing and singing, loud music playing, people having a great time, wearing shirts with a person's face on it, and you think you are coming across a wedding or party, but then you see an open casket, with a body in it, and realize it's a funeral. While in Kumasi, a local told us his family was having a funeral for his grandmother who died, and told us we should stop by.

While the country is densely packed with people, making it tough to find privacy to bush camp, the people are very friendly and easy going. They want to know just as much about your life, as you do about theirs. It's not uncommon to have a whole village surrounding our truck, as we set up for dinner. A very happy older man, walked up to our truck while we were parked and in complete shock and surprise, said "white man, you really are white!" We all let out a laugh. While our truck was getting a wash, three locals kept arguing with each other, finally they walked up to our driver, and asked him. " Where you come from, are their robots that look like white people?" He then asked why you ask, and they responded, " we just watched a movie where a white man was very big and strong, looked like he worked very hard in his life, but then his arm got ripped open and he was a robot underneath." You can guess what movie that might have been from.

Traveling along the coast you get the best understanding of Ghana. Castles and forts from a darker period, are an interesting place to visit and take a tour of. You learn about the history of European control, the reason western Africa was so sought have from world powers, and their involvement in slavery. If you want to really get an understanding on slavery, come to Ghana and visit the Cape Coast Castle and stand in the dungeons where they held the slaves, walk through the "door of no return," that every slave from this area passed on it's way to the Americas, and hear the stories from local guides who talk with such emotion about that period. When standing in the dungeons they have a mark on the wall, to show how deep the human feces,vomit, and blood was. The dungeons were almost completely dark,except one small bit of light that let in fresh air. At the end of the tour, our tour guide asked us about our nationalities, we replied American,British, and Dutch. As you would expect the the black locals, who were taking the tour all turned around with an interesting look on their face. One white over lander told us that after they took the tour,a black local turned around and yelled at her,"how can you not feel, ashamed of yourself." She was wearing an "Obama's Girl" t-shirt. Emotions can run a little high.

Our guide showed us two plaques that were close to his heart. The first one was from President Obama, inside the Cape Coast Castle, that he unveiled, when he visited in 2009. It is very inspirational to the people of Africa, who had millions of people shipped off to slavery, but then finally have a black man of African decent, return, as the President of the United States.

Another plaque sits next to President Obama's, that was dedicated from the chiefs of the western African Coast tribes, who are ashamed of their past, for participating in the slave trade, by giving European powers, the land to build their castles and forts,who traded with them, and contributed in slavery by actually going out and doing the work of capturing Africans, to be sold into slavery.

It reads.


Overall, Ghana is a great country to visit if you are new to Africa. It won't completely overwhelm you with culture shock. But at times you still are blown away with the things you see. I've almost given up on taking photos with my point and shoot. The lens is cracked and full of dust, but still taking lots of interesting photos with my professional camera. The fishing villages and slave forts have been the most interesting to photograph in Ghana.

From here we will continue on to Togo and Benin, home of Africa's Voodoo culture and stilt villages. From there we will make our way into the crazy country of Nigeria, which at the moment is in the middle of a battle between the Muslims and Christians. I can't wait to share my photos from my professional camera when I get home. They will highlight more about Africa than my blog ever could.      View Photos of Ghana

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

War on Baboons in Mole National Park.

Link to photos of Ghana and Mole National Park

Entering Mole National Park for me was like a 10 year old on Christmas, about to open his presents. I was excited and giddy. Finally a park in West Africa, big enough and in a country stable enough to still have some of its wildlife.  More than some semi tame monkeys and crocodiles in a pond, where locals teased them with chickens, smacked them with sticks, and even sat on their backs, to prove human's dominance over them.

Mole is the best park in Ghana to see large animals such as the forest elephant, waterbuck, bongo buck, hartebeest, and a few other antelope species. The park is rumored to have hyenas, lions, and leopards, but poaching has forced them to be nothing more than just that, rumors.

Mole National Park is 4,660 sq Km and located in Northern Ghana, near the town of Larabanga. Game drives and walks are offered twice daily(6:30am and 3:30pm) for about 5 and 12 US dollar. The only hotel in the park lies on the edge of a drop off, with an amazing view overlooking a watering hole, where you can sit poolside, or on the deck, and watch animals coming and going.  During the wet season it's the best place to view forest elephants.

 Game drives are more than basic.  So don't expect the nice safari vehicles, you get spoiled in eastern African parks.    The game driver will take you around in his own 4WD jeep.   Windows that may or may not roll down, engines that may or may not start.

 But because it's west Africa, there are no safety regulations.    Photography and game viewing was terrible looking out from the jeep windows,  so they let us sit on the roof.  Far more dangerous but way more fun.  If you were worried about safety, you would be traveling in west Africa, anyways.

 Best view I have ever had from a game vehicle.  But you had to hold on tight, bouncing over rocks, crossing rivers, and making sharp turns.    Only down side your ass got sore and you had to watch for low branches.

The rangers work very hard to get you up close to elephants, maybe too close, because these animals are still scared of humans.  It's an amazing experience when you do get up close.  We followed a large tusker male forest elephant through the forest.  Even though it was only 50 feet from us, we could just make it out.   Terrible for photography but still a memorable experience.

The most memorable experience didn't come with the game drive,  but rather at the camp ground.  Our group stayed at the camp ground next to the hotel, which also over looked the forest and water hole below. Warthogs walked around our group like dogs looking for food, vermit monkeys occasionally darted across.  The baboons were bullies and used their numbers to get what they wanted.

We were warned that the baboons, were very aggressive, were dangerous,  and didn't back down to humans.    It was my day to make lunch from the truck for the group.   So while making lunch I kept an eye out for the troop of baboons.  

Sure enough, the smell of food brought in the first baboon, in only a few minutes.  Like chumming for great white sharks, in south Africa.   View link to see photographs of Great White Sharks. 

After every one ate what we served, we quickly locked up the truck and closed all the windows, and covered the roof, so they couldn't get in.  Baboons are worse than black bears if they get inside open vehicles.   

At first it was great to watch them.  Baboons are hyper animals and love to play.   But these assholes,  were more cunning.  They just hung out, sitting in trees, on rocks, keeping their distance, thinking, eyes constantly scanning for a chance to quickly run and grab some food.  Baboons are fast, strong, have canine teeth bigger than dogs, and are very smart.    I have met more than one African who told me stories about having their arm ripped open, getting bit, or even mugged by baboons.  

Found this Photo on the internet to show you, how a troop of baboons can be a pain in the ass.

Finishing lunch and cleaning up, as fast as we could, we kept the boons at a distance, since we out numbered them. But as people left  the campsite, to get drinks at the bar, more and more baboons began to show up, aggressively trying to chase us away, teeth showing.

Another photo from internet.    Showing the weapons they have in their mouths.

Out numbered, I was forced away from the truck so I retreated to a safe distance and watched them fight over left over scraps.   Like ants they were everywhere on our truck. Then came the moment that, finally my baseball arm would come in handy off the baseball diamond.

One of the passengers on the truck who didn't have lunch, walked back to camp from the bar, and failed to realize that baboons had overtaken our camp. Before I could warn him he walked around the truck into the beehive, full of baboons, and in a cocky way waved his arms and yelled like a crazy person trying to get them to scatter like pigeons. Big mistake!

The whole troop surrounded him and was on him in a split second. The two largest males led the charge, forcing him to run for his life. At this point I really feared for his safety.  

I ran from the spot I was sitting, grabbed two rocks and declared war on the boons. I fired a rock that I had in my hand, like a fastball. Luckily with sniper like accuracy, because I stopped the largest baboon in his tracks which was just feet behind Martin running for his life.  Another second and the baboon would have surely bitting his leg.  

I ran at the troop, firing rocks has hard as I could at baboons, like a mad man. Rocks bounced off trees, rock walls, the smaller baboons ran for their life right away, as fastball after fastball forced them to retreat. No doubt never seeing the speed from a former professional baseball pitcher.

Not wanting to give up their territory the larger baboons, bravely fought back even harder.   It was a full out battle and I had no choice but to fight back.  We were surrounded by  angry baboons.

I started scattering the baboons, but not wanting to hurt them, since it was a national park, I aimed for a rocks, trees, or patches of dirt, near them to scare them. For about 10 minutes it was all out war, neither backing down.  My heart was racing, but I had no time to get scared.  

Luckily, their were lots of baseball size rocks available in the parking lot,  because the baboons seemed to want blood. They just wouldn't give up. Firing a rock off a stone fireplace would send three running for safety, but then another one would running in from another location with teeth showing and I had just enough time to fire a rock at him.    It was like some scene from a monster movie.

But in the end my firepower was more than they could handle.   When the last baboon finally ran back into the forest, I sat their panting for breath.   The passenger who was hiding behind me, said "holly shit man thanks for saving my life," and went running off to the bar to tell everyone what had happened.

The baboons didn't show up anymore for the rest of the time we were there.   I guarantee they will think twice, next time they come across a baseball player.  

Water fall in Ghana after leaving Mole National Park

Water fall on the way to Kumasi, Ghana

Entrance to Mole National Park

Laughed at this sign on the bathroom in Mole. Hair blowing back wards, yet peeing forwards.

Beautiful mud mosque in the town of Larabanga

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Putting the O a, in Ouagadougou

There are few capitals that roll off your tongue like the capital of Burkina Faso. Pronounced, O a Ga doogoo. Hopefully that helps. A geography champion might have known about this place, but most probably haven't.

I'm currently having a few cold beers at Independence Hotel, with the fastest Internet I have had in Africa, inside one of the nicest hotels I've seen in Africa. I shouldn't be allowed in a place like this, because my hair is a mess, my shorts and t-shirt are covered in dirt, from the drive in.

It's like an Oasis, of modern luxury with walls blocking the outside reality. It's obvious from the big buildings, that there is wealth in the country, but it hasn't spread to the people who suffer with the lowest quality of life. The cream, being filtered at the top, for the powerful.

In most cases money coming into a country, is like a rising tide that lifts all boats, but in Africa unless your a big boat, you have a short anchor line and stay stuck in the mud. Every person I talk to about the mess over here, all has the same answer. They aren't sure what is the best way to help. Some come here thinking that it's best to save others,by just handing out money and gifts, some come here to donate their own time to build wells and orphanages, some come her to travel overland to experience the countries and culture, some come to hopefully photograph the last remaining elephants and lions.

I still have countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, DRC, and Angola to pass through on my trip south, so I can't imagine what it will be like in those capitals. The former leader of the DRC, was so rich he had a personal airstrip constructed so Concords could land and personally fly him Pink Champagne from France. Yet his country fell apart, and has been in a constant state of conflict ever since. Anybody who has visited the DRC knows about it's past.

You would think that most Africans, would suffer from some post traumatic stress syndrome, from a history of betrayal,conflict, oppression, colonial injustice, cannibalism, and corrupt leaders. But what I have seen while spending months photographing the people, is some glimmering catch light of hope in their eye. That twinkle, that someday Africans will rise from this pile of ashes, like a phoenix. They patiently wait for a better life, a hero that will guide them and not betray them. They look up to President Obama, as if he is their own President, sing songs from Bob Marley like he's their best friend, and cheer every time they see a black soccer player, in another country, get the ball.

While the pictures I take show a body and mind weathered and broken, from years of hard work, their smiles show me much more. I passed an older lady yesterday, riding a motorbike with a bucket of water on her head, but still waved at me and smiled as she passed. I turned around and watched in complete amazement, how that was even possible, to keep her head so still while riding along the bumpy road and not spill a drop.

The other day while stopped along the road, far from any town, an ancient looking man with ripped pants road his bike up to us, with a huge log tied to the back of it. He stopped for a moment,smiled, said bonjour, shook my hand, and then continued on down the road at a snails pace. I couldn't imagine how long it would take for him to get where he was going.

I meet a guy in Rwanda a few years back, who took me to Hotel des Mill Collines, the real name for Hotel Rwanda made famous in the movie. He told me stories about the genocide that happened their in 1994, where almost a million people were killed in only a few months. He told me about losing most of his family, his mother, sister, and aunt all kidnapped, raped, and killed. I asked him if it made him so angry that he wanted to get revenge on those who did it. Looking down at a mud puddle which reflected his heartbroken face, he looked back at me and said I forgave those who did it a long time ago. I just want my country to move on,to put this hell behind us, but to never forget, so it never happens again.

I will never forget the guy in Bamako, Mali, that put his own safety on the line and stood up to the police to defend me when I was arrested. Who stayed by my side, even when they yelled and threaten him to leave. His smile told me so much,as we shook hands later,refusing any payment, saying only that he loved his country so much and wanted outsiders to feel welcome and enjoy coming to his country. Who knows what could have happened if he wasn't their to translate for me.
There are so many many more stories that I could mention.

I always get asked why I enjoy traveling, being a photographer. While sadly I haven't taken a single photograph of a wild animal, along my entire trip so far, because most have been shot a long time ago, I have been fortunate enough to learn more about the soul of humans than I could have ever have learned reading a book or watching a film back home. The last two months of the trip have given me a wealth of understanding of just what man is capable of, some good, some bad. I question what Africa is going to be be like in 100 years? The amount of deforestation, loss of habitat for animals,desertification, soil erosion, pollution, and overpopulation can be really depressing to think about.........

To answer every one's question for why I like to travel and take photos. The same reason I love coming back to Africa again and again. It's because it's Africa, it's one of the most amazing places I have ever been to. The animals are big and dangerous, the rivers are huge, the landscape's are breathtaking, the culture is beautiful, and the place is rugged and untamed, and I want to soak in every day, minute, second in case this place changes for the best or worst.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

In the Middle of Timbuktu

We are currently in Bobo, Burkina Faso where we spent the New Years, celebrating, then spent new years day washing away a weeks worth of bush camping, off our bodies in one of the countries largest water falls.

The people of Mali were very nice people. Seemed to have a high level of happiness, although I was glad to leave the dirty overcrowded city of Bamako behind. The day after I was arrested in Bamako, another American was walking the street with some Chinese girls he met in town. A van pulled up to them, demanding to see their passports, which they didn't have. Trying to walkaway,because they weren't sure they were police officers, four guys, surrounded them, grabbed them, and threw them into the police van and drove them far from where they were staying. After holding them, they finally were made to pay a fine,even given a receipt,and allowed to go on their way.

But that's Africa. You can't expect things to be like home. What doesn't kill you only makes you tougher. And Africans are as tough as they come. You can't blame them for being hard.

Along a three day river trip up the Niger, I finally found out where the town of Timbuktu was located. It's a small place on the Niger River, in Northern Mali. It's fitting that Timbuktu, would be located in a western African country, because traveling through these countries you do get that overwhelming feeling that you're "in the middle of Timbuktu." Culture shock is the best way to describe your experiences. They make the markets of Marrakech in Morocco, seem like Boulder, Colorado.

Burkina Faso is the third poorest country in the world. Ranked almost dead last in the lowest quality of life. But this doesn't stop them from working their asses off. They don't have time to feel sorry for themselves,or for you to feel pity for them. For the people of Burkina Faso, tomorrow isn't guaranteed. The life expectency is 50 years old, 1 out of 4 chidren die before the age of 4,and over 50 percent of the population is under 17. If you could see how they live their life, you would never complain about how you have it back home ever again. The biggest challenge I have traveling through the country is trying to find internet.

Just driving the roads you get a sense of the everyday struggle. Every vehicle is loaded to the max. Three,four,five,even six people ride on a motorbike. You can't help but laugh at some of the set ups. Trucks are overloaded till you think they would just tip over. Smaller cars are no different. Goats,chicken, and even live cows are tied to the top. It a way that you just can't comprehend coming from a western culture. How they carry the things that they do, or even manage to ride a motorcyle holding a window is beyond me. But because of this lack of safety you see accidents such as trucks who lose their entire half end,cars whose wheels just snap off.

Today we saw the worst accident we have seen traveling along this trip and honestly, actually surprised we haven't seen more like it, the way people drive, ride, and walk through traffic in such dangerous ways. Safety isn't a priority, survival is. Dead Bodies and motorbikes were scattered in the road, from what looked like an accident involving a van. Back home the road would be blocked off and shut down, here they are just left on the road, till police move them, or family comes to retreive them.

But this is traveling through Africa. Nothing is like back home. The photos I have taken will bring some reality to what their lives are like. My point in shoot has taken a beating, almost as bad as an African donkey. So I'm surprised I can still take pics with it.

Internet is too slow to upload pics, will probably have to wait a few weeks before I can. We have another week in Burkina Faso so I can't imagine what else we will see driving the roads.

If you go to Victoria Falls in Africa you can swim in a pool above the falls called the Devil's swimming pool. This falls in Burkina Faso would have to be his hot tub.