Red is the Colour of Night

“Sign here.”

A face looms through the semi-darkness. The boat of Amsterdam rises and falls with the canals; buildings wade through the half-light, broken rafters crumble through dust.

“Contracts are binding.”

I fumble through the notes in my purse for a pen. It all feels too familiar. Delft tiles framed with blue perfection peel across the walls, a cracked lamp flickers. My pen tumbles to the floor. Bending, I notice the front page of The Times. Another girl lost to the undercurrents of the red that lines these streets. That’s the sixth in a year.

Checked-in, he leads me through the breakfast room to a lair of winding corridors and balanced stairwells. I pull my weighted suitcase to the lift door where the sign shows one small person, one small bag at a time.

“Third floor. Enjoy your stay.”

The door slams. My icy hand glides an empty wall.

The Speech

The courtyard was covered in glass; round chairs beside square tables warmed by the sun, cooled by the rain. I was nearing the end of my shift when a man appeared at the door and asked for a table away from the noise. I led him to the courtyard and placed him beneath the sky in the center of the room. He ordered a chai and a teacake, and laid beside him a suit in a black wrapped bag, a pair of polished shoes and a handbag.

I watched from my post as he unclenched himself a limb at a time, rolling waves across his shoulders, twisting his neck this way and that until it was aligned just so. When his meal arrived he pushed it aside, cracking his back like a whip.

In the silence of his mind the day before him loomed across the void.

Dance-like, his hands rose and fell as he worked his way through the notes in his bag. He laid them straight against the grain, flattened the folds beneath the palms and realigned himself, moving his chai aside and putting it back again until he was certain that everything was correct in its place.

I stood beside the pillar and watched.

He began to talk to himself as mimes do, exaggerated, focused, moving through his notes a word at a time in a kind of stop-frame motion reserved for children’s cartoons and drunks. At each phrase he paused, rearranged his face, noted the gesture of his body and planned his route.

At the end of it all he held a Q&A, his shoulders tied to the lobes of his ears. He had marked his course, and as a reward divided his teacake into four equal parts, sending them to the corners of the plate where they were joined to the whole by the crumbs.

He began again.

This time, answers in place, rehearsed and ready, he moved through the words with the softness in the simple gesture of letting go. As his hands rose his shoulders fell, sinking slowly, gently, flowing freely through the silence of his mind.

I looked across the crowded restaurant as he folded his hands to his forehead, pressed his palms to the sockets of his eyes and wept with silent relief, unfolding himself through the years of his life that were held by the notes on the page.

I didn’t see him leave.

When I returned to his table I found a suit, four quarters of a teacake and a folded bill beneath the cooling chai. The shoes were gone. So was the handbag.

In its place a pool of sunlight fell to the floor.

Safari Secrets; Relax, Rewind, Unwind

As a travel consultant I come across a phrase all too often; “I’m not the kind of person who can sit and do nothing.”

It is true that doing nothing can make us a little loopy, yet somehow, in order to achieve pure rejuvenation, the mind and body need to do precisely that. Nothing. Safari holidays follow the patterns of the bush and regardless of your lodge of choice work to a similar flow.

Mornings begin with a sunrise coffee and a crisp game drive. These drives in the wee hours of dawn activate your natural sleep pattern whilst boosting your body with pure, sunlit vitamin D.


The freshness of the day, during the golden hour, fills you with internal energy, whilst your friendly hosts serve muffins and tea and look for animals.

It is not only safari guests that enjoy this time. Each animal, in its own unique way, is celebrating the triumph of a new day. Hunters, filled with the nights kill, rest and relax under the coolness of the trees and the success of finding a meal. Herd animals, having survived the nights hunt, feed peacefully, gathering their strength, tending to their young, seeking comfort in the social interactions of their tight-knit familes.

As late morning sets in and the animals retreat under the heat of the day, safari guests are returned to camp to enjoy a delicious brunch.

Afternoons are spent lulling around the banks of the swimming pool, snoozing in the shade, reading a book, going on a bush walk or simply relaxing in a deck chair to watch the game as it goes about its business and comes down to the waterhole to drink.

With the sun laying low in the sky, guests are once more taken out, wind in their hair, eyes peeled for the sighting of a lifetime. Evening drives carry all of the tensions of the wild. Every ear is alert, every eye sharp as a pinprick. The energy is electric.

It is here that you may be lucky enough to see a pride of lions on the prowl, or a leopard or a kill.

Arriving back to camp after dark provides a rare opportunity to see the nocturnal animals such as bushbabys, snakes, hyena and owls.

By the light of the fire and the sounds of the bush, dinner is served with a side of shared stories, warm hearts and excited chatter about the days events. In pure darkness, far away from the city lights and the sounds of its people going about their business, an early night and a deep sleep is a welcome end to the day.

Safari holidays, in the true sense of the word, involve doing nothing. There is no concentration required. None at all.

It is the most relaxing kind of holiday imaginable. No technology, no chores, no strenuous activities, no driving, no need for effort of any kind whatsoever.

Why then does all this doing nothingness not lead to one going a little mad?

The answer is simple. A safari is the perfect mix of deep sleep, early morning sunshine, lazy pool days, extreme excitement and a connection to nature that can so easily be found in Africa. Game drives bring optimism for the big five you most hope to see, and every brush with the wild is a sense of achievement.

The world is filled with positive energy, excitement and beauty. Every day is different, every day a perfect routine, every day a new start and every day, a memory.

Sit back, relax and soak it all in.

*Original blog post published for Robert Mark Safaris

A Monkey’s Wedding

It starts on the breeze. A crispness, slightly sweet, tangible and light. Deep blue skies are a perfect contrast to the lemony leaves and the soft yellows of the dry african grass. Everything glows.

Animals make the best weathermen. As the storms brew antelope and buffalo lie down, some to keep warm, others to keep their patch of grass dry. In a grand gesture the skies break open in a drum roll of sound and light, cracking through the lands like a whip.


Water, life, showers down, flooding the crusty plains, washing away the dust, the thirst, the parched air. Then, just as suddenly, light bursts through the clouds and the falling rains are cleansed by the sparkling beams of the sun.

This is a time to celebrate in Africa. The freshness in the air, the smell of the rains and the warmness of the sun shining through the storm can only mean one thing…

The monkeys are having a wedding!

*Original blog post published for <a href=”http://www.robertmarksafaris.com”>Robert Mark Safaris</a>

The Surprising Thing About Hippos

Hippos, for all their wallowing in the cool shallows of lazy river bends, are surprising creatures.

Fat, short-legged and remarkably piggish in appearance, the humble hippopotamus is capable of running up to 30km an hour, much faster than a human. Powerful jaws can snap a small boat in half in just one bite.
With their ancestry shared with the likes of whales and dolphins, it is easy to see why they are so well equipped for life in the water.

The eyes have sophisticated membranes that provide the hippo with a set of built-in goggles. When submerged, the nostrils use a flap mechanism to close completely, allowing a hippo to hold its breath for up to 5 minutes at a time.

Despite spending their days in large territorial family groups along the river, hippos are herbivorous grazers who leave the coolness of the water at night to feed on lush green grass. On dry land a hippo is solitary, non-territorial and no more a swimmer than a common dairy cow.

Hippos, unlike many mammals, are unable to swim. Using their built-in snorkel kits for support these aquatic giants walk along the bottom of the riverbed.

They are simply too heavy to float. With nails instead of claws they push-off from the bottom of the river with semi-webbed feet, creating a graceful dance like motion.

They are known as underwater ballerinas.

Seemingly relaxed, hippos are agressive and considered one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about a hippo is its milk. Hippos secrete hipposudoric acid which causes the milk to turn a bright shade of pink.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t taste like strawberry.

*Original blog post published for Robert Mark Safaris

Photography in Focus: What is Shutter Speed?

As a photographer I am asked the same question time and time again by fellow travellers; “What settings shall I use?”

There is no true answer to this and I have found that the majority of those asking would like one of just a few answers – sport, landscape, portrait or night. My answers on the other hand are limited to M (manual) for confident photographers, or the more user-friendly settings TV or SV (time or shutter speed variable) and AV (aperture variable) for those looking for an easy fix. These settings allow you to control the way light reacts to your camera without having to stare a hole in the user manual, and without having to rely on guess-work or risk losing the shot.

The focus of this article is on shutter speed – the TV setting, or SV on some brands of camera.

By choosing this setting you are telling your camera that you would like to control how long your shutter is open for to allow light to react with the digital sensors (or film) in your camera. Your camera will adjust all of the other settings to ensure correct exposure, giving you limitless creative freedom. What can you do with this? Many, many, wonderful things!

Your shutter speed controls the time it takes for the picture to be taken. Sometimes your camera is open for a fraction of a second during exposure, other times it can be open for minutes or hours. Everything that moves in your frame during your exposure will blur. The longer your camera is open for, the more opportunities there are for things to move. Your camera can also move during exposure, which is why pictures with longer exposures are generally shot on a tripod.

To reduce photography into a simple language, movement controls mood, and so your shutter speed controls the atmosphere of your image.

Action Shots

Action images capture drama. They show something frozen in time such as a lion mid-roar or an impala suspended in the air mid-leap. You could show an elephant splashing water with every drop clear and sharp. Shots like these are filled with excitement. They offer a single moment and very often show you something you would never have seen with the naked eye, like a swarm of bees or a fight between two giraffe.

To capture an action shot you need to have your camera open for as short a time as possible to stop any movement. As this is a fraction of a second you need to choose a TV or SV setting that is a small fraction such as 1/500 (a 500th of a second) or 1/250 (a 250th of a second). The higher the fraction number, the shorter the exposure, the sharper the image.

Romantic Pictures

Romantic images are moody. They manipulate reality to make things seem endless, surreal, misty, atmospheric or ethereal. Romantic images use long shutter speeds to allow for things to move naturally during your exposure. It could be that grass sways in the wind, or stars move in the sky to create star trails. Perhaps there is a current in a river that can be blurred into mist, or lots of drops of water flowing over a waterfall can be blurred into a fast, strong fall.

With romantic images the possibilities are never-ending, however, it is important that you always include something sharp to show that the picture is not just out of focus. This can be a house shot against a million moving stars, or the rocks in your waterfall, or a steady tree in the windy grass.

Images like these use TV settings that are longer fractions of a second, like 1/15, or whole seconds which are shown on your camera using a ” symbol. The TV amount of 5″ for example indicates a 5 second exposure. Longer exposures allow for lots of light to enter your camera and work best in low light conditions such as dusk or dawn.

Creativity

Most SLR cameras allow you to select up to 30″ for a 30 second exposure. This is great for twilight conditions, but not long enough to shoot the stars or play with light painting techniques. For images like these you need to use the shutter speed B. This is the bulb setting that allows you to keep the shutter open indefinitely using a trigger remote.

Star trails need anything from 30 seconds to 3 or 4 hours depending on how long you would like the trails to be. The longer the shutter is open for the more the earths’ rotation affects the position of the stars, creating white lines in your image. Light painting is intuitive and usually needs a torch to shine into areas of interest for 10 to 20 seconds.

If you are shooting on TV or SV, you are essentially using one of your cameras build in settings. It will automatically compensate the other settings to keep the exposure correct. For a practice project try shooting the same moving object in two key styles. In one shot, freeze the frame to stop the movement, in the other, use the movement to capture the mood.

*Original blog post published for Robert Mark Safaris

King of the Jungle

Slower than a cheetah, clumsier than a leopard, the regal lion has claimed its place in Africa as “King of the Jungle.”

Lions are unique to the cat family. Unlike other cats they rely on strong family bonds, known as prides, which can be as large as twenty-two lions and cubs living and working together to dominate the African bush.

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Each pride consists of up to three male lions, up to twelve females and all of their young and teenage cubs.

All lions in the pride are related, and territorial. To prevent inter-breeding, juvenile lions will eventually be exiled to fight for territories and prides of their own, insuring the gene-pool for future generations.

The males regularly patrol the boundaries of their land, issuing soft roars to remind bachelor males that his lionesses are taken. Cubs, which are subject to being killed by lions from other prides to reduce competition for territory, are nurtured and raised together by all of their aunts and sisters.

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Social skills learned as a cub are a valuable part of the lion’s success story. Once old enough, cubs are allowed to join the lionesses as they hunt in teams for the family.

Males, weighing up to 400kg, lack agility, making them easy for prey to spot in the bush. Lionesses, weighing just 200kg, are quiet stalkers but lack the strength to pull down a large animal alone.

Hunting together, it is the lionesses who provide the family dinner.

Reaching speeds of up to 80km per hour the lionesses, older cubs and junior males work together to tire their prey for a kill.

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Male lions dine first, consuming up to 45kg of meat in a single feed.

It is no wonder that the lion has been used as a symbol of strength, courage, royalty, stateliness, power, and pride across a multitude of cultures for thousands of years.

Lions, social and dedicated, embody strength, making them the most successful hunters in Africa.

*Original blog post published for Robert Mark Safaris