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Photo entries. The bulk of this blog, obviously. The best of these are featured on the main web site.

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White Out

Riding north on Amtrak's Adirondack train

Stillness through motion.

The world outside the train is white. Light snow has been falling since we hopped off Manhattan. Hours stretch into one another. Short stops in small towns break the rhythm of blurred fields, skinny trees, icy water and dull skies.

Penn Station was true to itself, a zoo, wild characters and wandering travelers. People hunched on cell phones and chewed donuts. Now wi-fi is spotty at best and they are eating on-board hot-dogs that cost more than my laptop.

The ride will last eleven hours. We will have traveled from New York City to Montreal. In the same time, we recently flew from London to Cape Town.

The world’s vastness is relative.

 

 

Posted in: Adirondacks & Photoblogs on February 15, 2014 | Show Comments(2)

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Cape Point Blank – Part 2

A two-part short story of drives to the Cape Peninsula

[This part 2 of 2]

They did come back in an African summer that was their winter. While New York shrank and shivered in a cold early December, they flew south again and landed smack in the middle of beauty.

That second of many visits to Cape Point was a warmer outing and blue skies competed with turquoise seas. The wind, however, kept hauling.

They drove along misty cliffs towards the park. Olifantboos having become a ritual destination, they tracked and backtracked. Then they got back on the road to town, making an impromptu stop at Boulders Beach to pay the penguins a visit.

Boulders Beach penguins

The situation there was dicier. The poor penguins seemed to have bailed from heavily frequented areas of the beach, leaving visitors to their own endeavors.A funny spotted genet, fearless and emancipated, visited a garbage can on the path to the parking lot. A loud altercation with a rude biped followed. Rude bipeds don’t seem to care much about rare animals.

It was for them a sad reminder that the human race remains biologically diverse, and that while some strive to rise above the narrowness of our cave-dwelling past, many still live in darkness and fear the saber-tooth tiger, which nowadays looks like taxes, like the other guy’s church, like a skin color two tones from our own. So these cave-dwellers do the only thing they can: they growl.

Daring spotted genet

My two travelers got back in the car and drove away while one’s anger red-lined, and the memory of the park’s beauty momentarily curled and faded, like paper convoluted by the torture of flames.

But now, long after the fact, an ocean apart, worlds away, they look back, the pictures come alive and the beauty is revived. And so I get to tell you their story. They would want me to.

Posted in: Photoblogs & South Africa on January 26, 2014 | Show Comments(6)

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Cape Point Blank – Part 1

A two-part short story of drives to the Cape Peninsula

Strong of a picnic, four cameras, a SANParks family pass, some time to kill and much freedom to spend, they left the plush Constantia neighborhood under hesitant weather, steering away from Cape Town and towards the Cape of Good Hope.

It was wintertime in South Africa and a rainy May had vetoed shorts and t-shirts in favor of jackets and layers.

The valiant Landcruiser purred as it stretched its legs and leaped in search of infinite openness. It would not reach a dirt road nirvana on that EVA*, but it knew that Cape Point was in the sights and wide open space, forthcoming.

Conscientious surfers

They drove south, reaching the ocean near Muizenberg and cruising through Kalk Bay in foggy spray, the toy-like train tracks shiny wet and the nearby harbor surface stiller than oil. Would-be surfers were flattening the sea dispassionately and dolphins spun across the bay in a school that would soon be over.

As a remote section of Table Mountain National Park, Cape Point is perfectly positioned from the city. Not so far as to cost travel time and force refueling, not so close as to incur the wrath of tour buses by the million. It is reached within an hour, without the need to stop, at full velocity, energy and guts up. Point blank range.

By the time they had flashed their pass at a gated ranger and entered the park, clouds had lifted and with them, spirits. Civilization was locked out to the north and they ventured onto one of Africa’s southernmost tips – as there are actually two famous capes, Good Hope for the optimists and Agulhas (needles in Portuguese) for the pessimists.

A sharp right upon reaching the inner plateau lead them towards Olifantsbos on the Atlantic. Ritualistically, they stopped here and there at the side of the deserted road, jumping out of the car to go check out a flower patch, a strange plant, a lichen-covered stone.

Cloudy Cape

A few drops fell, erratic, like tears of uncertainty in a moment of doubt. At the end of the road, the two residents families were spread out in the fynbos bordering a calm beach, baboons and bokkies. A southwesterly wind decapitated barrel waves further out and a solitary Cape fur seal swam among the kelp strands of a shallow bay, a salty game of catch and no release.

Chilled to the bone, they sat back in the Landcruiser and devoured sandwiches, washed down by a small Gin and tonic that has become synonymous of being adventure-bound.

That afternoon was waning and while there remained plenty of light, they decided to skip the south end of the park – relatively busier – and instead crossed over to the Peninsula’s eastern flank, finding a more sheltered coastline and pure white sand against turquoise frigid waters. Apart from the lighthouse area, there is rarely a need to avoid crowds, in Cape Point. Space is open and often exclusive. One never gets tired of the place.

We should come back this summer, they thought. They would.

* EVA: Extra Valley Activity, from Sun Valley Avenue home base – adjusted NASA term.

 

Posted in: Photoblogs & South Africa on January 18, 2014 | Show Comments(3)

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Silvermine, Table Mountain National Park

Snapshots from a couple of Cape Town hikes in opposite seasons

We’ve been there many times, and if you have been reading this blog for a while, so have you. You will find more images of it in Silvermine on my Mind, A Hike over Muizenberg, South African Flowers and Views of the Cape Peninsula

Silvermine is a section of Table Mountain that is just south of the actual table, separated from it by the Constantiaberg. The area is split in two by Ou Kaapse Weg, a winding road that provides an essential link between the Cape Flats and the Peninsula’s west coast.

The view from Silvermine: Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town in the background

Hiking in Silvermine is never too extreme but systematically yields stunning views and exotic flowers. This is still somehow a mountain environment and weather is unpredictable. The heat can be as sizzling as the cold and wind can be bitter.

I am combining two outings in here, one in Cape Town’s winter, the month of May, and the other in summer, or December. On the first, we did the Amphitheater trail around the reservoir in howling wind. On the second, we simply stopped on our way home to go have a look at a patch of brightly colored flowers where a small fire had triggered new growth.

Posted in: Photoblogs & South Africa on January 11, 2014 | Show Comments(6)

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A Drive Up Chapman’s Peak

Moody weather on one of Cape Town's most scenic roads

A picturesque, cliff-side road leading south from Hout Bay to Noordhoek and then either Fish Hoek or Kommetjie, Chapman’s Peak Drive (Chappies for the locals)  is aerial and exposed. To circumvent Chapman’s Peak, an extension of the Constantiaberg, the drive was carved right into the mountainside, high above the shiny waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Frequent rock falls have yielded the need for advanced protective engineering and entire sections of the slope above the road have been secured with a metal mesh and cemented.

But mother nature often laughs at our efforts, and between our summer visit – during which these shots were taken – and the winter one, severe downpour caused landslides all over Table Mountain and the drive was closed for days.

Hout Bay

These are the same painful climbs I struggled through in high winds a few years ago on training rides and the following Cape Argus Cycle Tour I did with Henri. The view is superb, but while the road was obviously closed to traffic during the Argus, many cyclists take it daily and it is a tricky place where gusting wind and cars make for a very real threat.

And as if it was not enough, the weather, as seen below, can be really moody around the cape. But what an eerie drive!

 

Posted in: Oceans & Photoblogs & South Africa on January 1, 2014 | Show Comments(1)

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Flight

To, from and around South Africa, pictures of flight, because there I will always long to return

This is an aerial medley of two trips to South Africa. Last summer’s flight was on South African Airways, with the Kruger in our sights. Then this winter, we flew Virgin Atlantic. Whoever is cheaper wins our dollars. I wasn’t so impressed with Virgin. When you buy thirty-eight hours worth of airborne time from an airline, the least they can do nowadays is supply you with decent entertainment. Virgin’s video system either had a defective remote or failed to start on time on all four flights.

Dusk or dawn?

London Heathrow was a zoo as always. I should have taken animal pictures.

But whether the vector is a Boeing 747 (Virgin’s a very old one mind you, but it remains the king of the skies, with for only rival the young and eager Airbus 380), an Airbus 340 or a Swing Arcus paraglider, when airborne, one – as Saint-Exupéry said it so well – only sees well with the heart. It’s not about the canned, re-heated food. It’s not about bad movies on small screens. It’s not about frustrating entertainment remotes, nor a seat’s pitch or the lack thereof. It shouldn’t be about security checkpoints and radiation. It cannot be about weather delays and impatient queues.

Flying, whatever the machine, the altitude and the speed, is about poetry. It’s about the beauty all around, and the power within. It’s about dreams come reality, and ambition well used. It’s about defying gravity by borrowing a bird’s gracefulness and Da Vinci’s cunning vision. It’s about looking at the world we live in from a privileged perspective, and smiling, and loving it. It’s about being able to take a moment to clear one’s mind while moving just below the speed of sound, or think as fast as the neurons will fire while controlling a frontal collapse right after take off with the hill swinging back at you.

747 at JFK on departure night

Speaking of flying, and in addition to being hauled commercially back and forth, I managed to get airborne twice in Wilderness, on the Garden Route. It had been years since I’d flown my glider and, with Marie’s invaluable help, it had been duly inspected before time. The valiant wing which has lifted me in the French, Swiss and German Alps, in the Spanish and French Pyrenees, in the south of France and on its Atlantic dunes, in the Dominican Republic, in Utah, in California and in Quebec, was, despite its age, deemed fit for service and in great shape.

Someone taking off from the Map of Africa above Wilderness

However the Western Cape weather did not cooperate. Winds were strong, alternating with anachronistic rain. But finally, near Knysna, a narrow window opened at the Map of Africa and I was able to log two sleds down to the beach, enough for the canopy to inflate, for the lines to stiffen, for my feet to leave the ground and for my heart to soar again.

There will be more flights. I brought the paraglider back home and will seek local alternatives. It has been folded for far too long. Time to stretch my wings again.

Posted in: Airborne & Photoblogs & South Africa on December 23, 2013 | Show Comments(4)

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