Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Posting photos!

For the past 10 days, I have been going through my photos from my trip. Memory card after memory card, up late then up early, filtering the good photos from the bad.

When I find a photo I like, I crop, saturate, and then upload on to my website. I try to keep my photos as authentic as the scene I captured. Anyone who is a photographer knows how time consuming it is editing thousands of photos.

But I'm nearly done and looking forward to having a life again. Please take a look at my website my clicking at my Brian Montalbo Photography banner above. Those who have been following my blog, can see photos that go along with the posts from my blog.

Eventually I'll add photos from my trip into the stories I posted on here. I would like to thank everyone who followed my adventures and gave me feed back and comments. It was an exhausting trip with many ups and downs, but knowing that people were reading my blog kept me motivated to document a place that is unique in the world.

The last seven months took me from the glaciers of Iceland through the jungles of western Africa, down to the southern most point in Africa. I got arrested in Mali, held up by machete gorilla trekking in Nigeria, managed to avoid getting malaria, I dodged the many poisonous snakes and spiders, and most of all, got my cameras and memory sticks back home, in one piece.

If I motivated you in anyway to go out and live life to the fullest, plan a vacation yourself, or realize that life is about the memories and experiences you make, and not the materialistic junk that we tend to accumulate, than I did my job. There is a huge world out there, changing faster than you can ever imagine. Go out there and soak it up before you find yourself regretting that you never followed your heart.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


The country of Netherlands is worth visiting, and for far more reasons than just to party in the liberal city of Amsterdam, where most enjoy space cakes, the red light district, sex shows, Ann Frank Museum, Van Gogh Museum, and beautiful canals.

Try heading out into the country side and explore a small country who's locals enjoy a high quality of life, use an amazing network of windmills and dikes to hold back a rising sea, and allow them to maximize the little land that they have.

So go out and have a few nights of wild partying in the most famous side of the Netherlands, it's why you come to the Netherlands, but don't forget to head out into country side to experience a slower pace, and learn about the culture and lifestyle that has shaped the country's history.

Try on some wooden clogs, taste some great cheese, head to Keukenhof to see the tulips, if you are there in April and May, stand and stare at the photogenic windmills, and take a boat ride to the fishing village of Volendam, across the largest lake in western Europe.

It's easy to jump on trains and buses and travel within the country. Or just walk around in Amsterdam and buy a ticket from the tour operators that will take you to all of them in one day.

Visit Netherlands album on my website. http://bmontalbo.zenfolio.com/p29476172

Vaanse Schans Windmill village

Volendam Village

Keukenhof Tulips

Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa

Addo Elephant National Park is a great place to see elephants, elephants, and more elephants. And lots of elephant poo.   But don't think that is all it has to offer. Addo is unique, in that it is also home to the big seven. The famous big five, the elephant, cape buffalo, black rhino, leopard, lion, but also includes the less viewed whale, and great white shark.

Most tourists find themselves driving around the park along such loops as Gorah loop, that take you through huge herds of elephants, grazing on open grassy fields, that resemble a scene from the movie Jurassic Park.  It's great for photography and allows you to get a great view of the surrounding park.

In other parks,  safari guides try to keep their distance from a huge herd of elephants with young.  In Addo, you just move right through them.   The elephants seem to know their role.

But don't worry,  if too many elephants would seem to get dull after a while,  their is plenty of other animals and bugs to keep you entertained.   Keep your eye out for  kudu, eland, buchells zebra, and Red hartebeest.    It was the only place in Africa I have seen a bat eared fox,  and it was always entertaining watching the many flightless dung beetles, pushing their huge ball of elephant dung backwards.

Great White Cage Diving, South Africa

There are animals in this world that are just so amazing to view in the wild, that their extinction would fail future generations, who would miss out on experiencing them. Just how past generations have failed us, by not protecting areas for our generation.

Sadly, there will come a day when "wild animals" is a word describing a past era, for most of the world. A time in our history, when there was open land free from development, where animals could roam without fences.

For most, it's hard to picture Africa with no wild lions, but the reality is, they say in twenty years, they will be extinct in the wild as well.

The great white shark, is one of these animals, that I hope everyone gets to experience in their lifetime. Their size, strength, and power, is impressive, but it's just the idea of knowing such a massive shark still exists from the era of dinosaurs, that inspires our imagination.

While I don't agree with the way they attract them, using chum, and wrestling against the side of the boat, like cowboys, I still believe that just viewing them will touch everyone in a positive way. And that is the most important way to make sure they stay around.

Since great whites, are one of those animals that can't be tamed, has yet to survive in captivity, and havn't been trained, their future is as dim as the stars over a major cities night sky, and rely on us not betraying them.

An ocean without great white sharks, is like the sky without birds. A symbol of the wild would be gone. Sharks are a keystone species, meaning they are used to measure the health of an ecosystem. They keep the oceans strong by eliminating the weak.

Young smaller great white going after bait.

Click this link to see amazing photos of a great white breaching

Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique

North of Tofo, is the tiny town of Vilanculos, and gateway to Bazaruto Archipelago, which is a series of sandy protected Islands, with excellent diving and snorkling, and very expensive lodges.

While the town of Vilanculos, isn't that interesting , the islands and waters are breath taking. Lodges are popping up along the coast, so in the near future the town will probablly grow, but for now it's a great balance of accomodation with open space.

Before heading out on the boat, I managed to catch the first kiss on live broadcast, of the royal wedding at smugglers Sport Bar. They say an estimated 2 billion people watched the broadcast. It was sure good I had some beers to drink.

The nest morning after waking up, I headed out on my own honeymoon and jumped on a boat that was taking me to the Bazaruto Archipelago. I travelled by dhow, which was a slow process, but we were on Africa time, there is no hurry.

With the sun in my face and a cold beer in my hand, I hung my feet over the side and glanced out aross the turqiouse waters of the Indian Ocean. Fishermen were hauling in nets from the shallows sea, between the island and the mainland. The first Island we stopped to snorkle at was, Margauque Island.

The incoming tide made a river like current along a reef, so you just jumped in and let the current take you along. You have to watch not to cut your feet on the sharpe coral and rocks.

Best thing about organized tours is they have lunch waiting for you when you get out the water. The beach we had lunch on was so white it looked as if it was bleached. After a few free hours to walk the island owned by a Zimbabwe arms dealer, we headed back across the channel to sleep for the night in cozy permanent tents, on our own stretch of coast with noone within sight.

On the way there, I was lucky enough to spot one of the rare dugongs for a second before it dove down again. An estimated 70 live in the area, which is the largest number anywhere in the world.

The next morning we woke up to the beautiful sunrise, packed up our stuff and headed out to our boat, which was now anchored a few hundred yards out in low tide. Wading our way to the boat with bags over our head, we made our way to two mile reef, which is a beautiful place to snorkle.

I snorkled over the biggest clusters of coral I have ever seen, the sea looked like an aquirium. After a few hours of snorkling, the captain took us to the near by sand dune, where if you climbed it gave you and amazing 360 degree panorama of the archipelago.

Once again lunch was waiting for us when we walked back down.
With a full belly we make our way back to Vilanculos. When the days get short and cold up in Alaska, I'll def look at my photos I took of the islands and the amazing Indian ocean waters.

Praia do Tofo, Mozambique

The town of Tofo, Mozambique, is famous for having possibly the largest number of whale sharks and manta rays in the world. The bay attracts a large number that feed in the area. If you time your stay during the peak summer months, you will almost be guaranteed to see them. A large number of jouvinile sharks, call the area home year round, so no matter what time of year, you have a chance of seeing them.

Whale sharks are the largest shark species, reaching over 30 feet long. While completely harmless, like whales, they feed on plankton and are nothing more than a spotted vaccum, with a sharks body.

You can't visit Tofo without heading out, to try and snorkle with the whale sharks. It's one of those experiences that will hopefully leave you with an amazing close up encounter and make you appreciate nature even more. These sharks are a safe ambassador for a species with a bad reputation, and a fading future. Some species won't last past this decade.

The morning I went out to dive with whale sharks, started out interesting. Killing sometime, before meeting the company I was going out diving with, I went body surfing in the warm Indian Ocean.

I swam out into the break, and caught a few nice waves. After riding a wave into the beach, and wading back into the surf, to catch another, I heard a girl yelling to me from a balcony in a restaurant atop a hill.

At first i thought she was messing around, but she was freaking out, and more and more people started gathering on the balcony and pointing out to where I was just swimming.

I could hear the words shark and fin, and her hands shaking up and down in panic. Not the two things, you like to hear when you are in the water. I looked around me to see if I could see the dark shape, even dove under the water with my eyes open, but couldn't see anything. So I made my way out of the water.

More and more people were gathering on the balcony and saying there was a shark in the surf. But from my angle I couldn't see it. Curiosity made me want to grab my mask and go snorkling, but luckily the captain and group I was heading out with, came walking down the beach at that time, so I helped them push the boat into the surf. Watching for any dark shapes, before jumping in.

Aboard I asked if we could check it out, but the captain wasn't interested. Like a kid being led away from a candy store, I could only glance at the water as we raced off the other way, only guessing what shark was in the water. He told me that sharks are sometimes seen along the coast, even great whites

It didn't take long to spot a group of dolphins. Our captain got infront of them and we all jumped in. Sucking in a deep breath, I dove deep to follow them for a few minutes. I could hear their clicking sounds under water. They were in no hurry to get away from me, but they stayed deep so weren't interested in playing with a group of people.

Everytime I went back to the surface, I tried to point out where the dolphins were to the other passangers. Most were still trying to get the water out of their masks and figure out how to use their snorkle. Non of them even saw the dolphins.

With everyone aboard, we were off again, zig zagging our way up the coast, like Navy Seals, in rough seas, splashing us in the open boat, every wave we crash into. It was hard to spot anything in the water, with a windy cloudy sky, that made the water dark. Terrible conditions for spotting whale sharks, but it made it fun riding the boat as is jumped ocean swells.

I scanned the surface hoping to see the fin of a whale shark breaking the surface. You only get 2 hours on the boat, so time was ticking. It would have been disappointing visiting mozambique and not seeing a whale shark. I was told it was not the peak season, so nothing was guaranteed. groups had gone out earlier and didn't see anything.

About 30 minutes into the trip, my excitement soared as I spotted the shape of a medium sized whale shark, about 18-20 feet long, swimming near the surface, right towards our boat. I didn't wait for the call to jump in, I was already heading backwards over the side, like a scuba diver. I've never been good with following directions.

When the bubbles cleared, I found myself face to face with the largest shark I have ever seen. One that made the great whites I have photographed look small, in comparison.

The famous spots were clearly visable, with it's huge mouth and long tail, it slowly moved past me, like an organic submarine. As it swam by the side of the boat, I jumped from, the group all started jumping into the water, like people jumping from a burning sinking ship.

Noone even bothered to look, where they were jumping, three managed to land on the shark, one girl actually sat on top for a few seconds, moving through the water. It was frustrating to watch.

The shark paniced from all the people now surrounding the poor thing, cutting off his path. He started thrashing his tail, trying to turn around and get away from the splashing people, screaming through their snorkle, at the sight of a face to face encounter with a shark.

Leaving the splashing crowd behind agian, I followed the whale shark, as it dove about 20 feet below the surface. I had a one on one experience, for about 10 mintues. After surfacing every minute or so, to exhale and take another deep breath, I dove down to cruise along with the whale shark, his body dwarfing my size.

It was the most impressive sight I have seen while snorkling in the ocean, since I was scuba diving in hawaii and kicked along a rare gigantic sea turtle that was the size of a WV bug, and close to 200 years old. With my arms streched out as far as they could go, I barely could touch both sides of the shell on it's back, it's head was massive. The turtle didn't care that he was pulling me through the water, with me holding on.

Above me I could see boats racing in from all directions to get their clients ahead of the whale shark, with the shark deep noone knew where it was, so people were jumping in all around us, like charges from a destroyer, being sent over board to blow up a submarine.

It was the most annoying sight I have seen since going on game drive in the Serengeti National Park, and having 12 vehicles leap frog around eachother, cutting eachother off,heading off road, and almost running into the lion, trying to get thier clients close to the huge male lion.

Three days prior, I was cage diving with great white sharks, in the white shark captial of the world, Hansibaai, South Africa. It was a similar experience, since you have 8 boats racing out to anchor up next to Dyer Island. Twenty five to fourty five people in a boat, 8 people being stuffed in cages at one time, and sea sick passangers throwing up over the side.

With a few strong kicks the shark decided to leave me behind and he dove deep, into the darker waters. No longer being able to follow it, I headed back to the boat, which I was now a few hundred meters away.

I was told by the captain that a few weeks earlier, a great white shark surprised the guests, by making an apperience. Swam around the boat and then disappeared. So I kept my eyes out for the grey and white shape I have come familiar with, photographing great whites in three locations, around the world, farallon Islands, off california, Seal Island, in south Africa, and Dyer Island ,South Africa.

As much as I would love to view a great white from outside a cage, kicking back to the boat alone at the surface made me look more like seal, so I wasn't really wanting to see one. While I only saw one whale shark that day, it was still an amazing enough experience. One I hope everyone gets to experience someday, before the biggest shark in the ocean is put into extinction.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Coast of Mozambique

I just got done traveling up the coast of Mozambique. If swimming in warm turquoise waters, walking along endless white sandy beaches, sleeping in cozy beach bungalows, island hoping by locally constructed dhows, snorkling next to thirty foot whale sharks, nine foot wide manta rays, and rare dugongs, is something you dream about, then you need to travel to Mozambique and make it a reality.

The country of Mozambique is a reflection of Angola. Years spent fighting has taken it's toll on the people and animals in the country. Poverty has had an anaconda strenth grip over the people, but at least the country is able to grow, after 26 years of conflict.

Thanks to foreign investments, national parks are transporting animals back into the wild after most of them were killed off, coastlines are being set aside as parks, the roads and buildings are being improved, and tourism is thriving, creating thousands of badly needed jobs, for the locals.

It's impossible not to find something that interests you while traveling throughout the country. If you are a culture vulture, then the small villages and markets will keep you busy shopping and trying to turn down swarms of locals trying to sell you things. For those who like history, the coast is littered with crumbling portuguese settlements and mansions and stories of slavery by both the Arabs and Portuguese.

Those who are looking to be active, can choose from a long list of recreational choices. Scuba diving is world class, there are countless places to snorkle, you can rent quad bikes, or wave runners, and go horse back riding. Those who want to just sit back, can pick from many sea side towns such as Vilanculos, Tofo or Inhambane, and relax on the endless beaches, lodges, and enjoy some ice cold Mozambique beers. Monica, 2M, or Laurentina.

Mozambiqe is no longer the secret it once was. Those with money are buying up the coastline, like basketball fans collecting a Labron James rookie card, when he was drafted into the NBA. Thankfully resorts haven't jumped on the bandwagon just yet, to my knowledge. But it's only a matter of time till the Hiltons and Marriotts, invest in places like Tofo or Vilanculos and turn the beach into a coastal Vegas, with cookie cutter tours, high maintainence guests, and a list of things you can't do, because of liability.

For now the only really depressing thing about Mozambique, is that it doesn't have the ability to patrol it's own coastline. For the last 5 years the Asian fishing industry has included the coastline of Mozambique as one of it's places in the ocean, to rape the marine life. The sharks and fishing populations are being hammered fast. Reason I decided to take to travel up the caost of Mozambique before leaving Africa.

An asian drawler, was recently caught illegally fishing off the waters of Mozambique. Behind the boat was 500 miles of long lines. On board was 2 tonnes of shark fins, equivalent to 100 tonnes of shark.
It's not shocking that predictions, put 20 shark species as being extinct by the end of this decade, that includes the popular great white, whale, and basking shark , of which all can be seen along the Mozambique coast. So I recommend visiting Mozambique soon if you want to enjoy some of the most amazing animals the ocean has to offer.

Trying to not end on a buzz kill, it's hard to comprehend Mozambique's bloody past, filled with civil wars, slavery, corruption, and exploitation, when you travel along such a beautiful country. But hopefully like the landmines that used to cover the country, they have put the past behind them, because the future looks bright for Mozambique. As bright as the setting sun from Fatima's Nest beach bar, near Tofo.