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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The day a New Zealander almost got me killed

We awoke at 3 am. The much anticipated day, what we had all payed big money for, and some trained for, the trip to the summit of the Rwenzoris: 5,109 m Margherita Peak. I had prepared my body and mind for this physical challenge for months - nothing could spoil it. Not even being grouped with Jim for the climb (fake names are used for anonymity). Currently reading the complete works of Shakespeare on his Kindle, Jim is one of the most awkward men I have ever met and you will soon learn how his physical clumsiness, lack of physical preparation and proper footwear put my summit dreams - and safety - in peril. "Want some sunscreen?" asked out guide. "No thanks, I like to live dangerously" replied Jim. "You like to have a red face?" I asked. Anyway, we continued our preparations and started climbing with headlamps at precisely 4 am, hoping to reach the summit after 5 strenuous hours of steep climbing and roped glacier travel. After summiting, we would start the descent to base camp, then another 5 km or so to the next camp from 5,109 m to about 4,000 m or so. We carried on, my group taking the lead. In behind, a young swiss/NZ couple who seemed to know a thing or two about mountaineering and bringing up the rear, a Swiss father and son team. Vulcer, the father, is 72 years old. He would be the 3rd oldest person to reach Margherita Peak.
A typical segment of the trail


Rwenzori means "the mountains of the moon"
Getting suited up



This strenuous trek is well described on our tour company's website and a quick google search would reveal to any tentative trekker that it would be no walk in the park. 10 additional minutes of Googling would also reveal that it is significantly more challenging than Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya (Africa's 2 highest mountains). And yet, Jim many times said he had no idea it was going to be this hard. I told him to stay strong and that fatigue is in the mind. With no turning back, maintaining positivity and morale is the best thing I could do. Before this day, I tended to keep some distance behind him - this was to avoid the sound of his heavy breathing and sudden grappling for holds or stumbles which was affecting my mountain vibe. It was evident that he had not done any form of conditioning in preparation for this infamous 8 day challenge. Each time he stretched for a hold, his love handles would bulge out from under his plaid shirt. We came to our second glacier, a very steep one at 4,900 m where the air gets a little thin. Myself, having only traversed my first glacier 30 minutes earlier, was no veteran but I was relishing my first experience, getting right into the techniques. "This is one of the best days of my life!" I exclaimed.
To give you an idea...

First, our guide, then Jim, then me, our fate connected by one rope. After only 2 m of glacier travel, I looked up in horror as my teammate grinded the teeth of his crampons into our climbing rope the way you would stamp on a cockroach that refuses to die. "Jim, you're stepping on the rope." He flung his body up the glacier in a bizare leap of faith, limbs flailing about, crampons scratching at the ice but not taking hold. Imagine a fledgling heron in the Everglades in one of those documentaries, leaping from the nest and trying to avoid the alligators below - thus was the grace and power I beheld above me. I continued to watch in horror as this fledgling heron failed desperately to cling to the glacier or decide on any one technique and stick to it. One of his crampons then flung off and slid toward me. A second attempt, with some coaching from the other guide, was no better. This time, the crampon broke. It was no use, he was wearing some sort of work boots that were bending all over the place and not stiff enough for the task. Then, our guide managed to fix the crampon with some shoelace. I expressed my concerns to him. "I don't feel comfortable climbing this glacier attached to Jim, his crampons have come off twice!" His response was classic: "It's ok, no problem." In such moments, one must simply say TIA. I had to decide fast, should I really do this, considering my insurance didn't cover mountaineering, a small detail which the company seemed to overlook (once again, TIA). Anyway, I weighed the risks and rewards and said screw it, and up we went. I guess the 3rd time's the charm, as they say. We made it over the glaciers! Behind us, the semi-experienced mountaineers were discussing technique with their own guide. "Martin, this is too much rope between us, what if you were to fall?" It's ok, I'm not going to fall" replied Martin cockily. "Not even the best mountaineer says that" replied Jared. I have to say, I did laugh but at the same time it added a little hairiness to the whole vibe of the glacier traverse/climb. Here is another memorable exchange from post-climb: I told Jim "next time get some proper mountain boots." His reply was "well, I showed them to the guides before we left and the said it was ok, so it was not my problem." I didn't bother at that point! Back to our tale. The summit came into sight, I requested my guide's permission to be "unleashed," and I bolted the last 100m to the top. I was a true king on that day. My concerns for Jim's imminent death of heart attack or sudden fall disappeared as I basked in the glory of the alpine sun and the clouds cleared to herald my arrival at this legendary summit.



"One of the best days of my life"

Friday, August 5, 2016

Mt. Kenya: Quest for the African Green Ibis

In Kenya, few birds evoke more mystery than the African Green Ibis. This near-mythical forest bird has eluded me during several days spent in Aberdaires and Mt. Kenya - so we did some intel and returned to Mt. Kenya for unfinished business. Ebird led us to Castle Forest Lodge, a place fit for a king (indeed - Queen Victoria once stayed here). Mfalme approves. As you can tell, it is a true mountain paradise.




We met enthusiastic guide Joseph - I don't think I've ever met a bird guide so energetic. At 6 am your habari ya asubuhi (good morning) is met with an enthusiastic SALAMA KABISA! (extremely peaceful!). Indeed, we did feel an extreme peacefulness in the mist-enshrouded paradise. And yet, a violent fire burned in our hearts - one for the mysterious mountain ibis. In order to see this retreating species, one must intercept them to and from their roosting site, at early dawn or late evening. In between those times, we had a lot of time to kill, so we explored around the lodge, turning up some interesting findings.

Grey-headed Negrofinch

Doherty's Bush-shrike (very shy!)
Jackson's Chameleon, one of the "Jackson Five"
Tacazze Sunbird
 Surprisingly, the Ibis are very noisy birds in flight, and hearing them was not hard. Seeing them, a challenge worthy of team Mfalme. On our final evening, we waited on the porch, beer in hand, for the evening flight. There was a thick smoke from a nearby campfire ebut you can clearly see the ibis in this photo.

African Green Ibis seen from the lodge patio flying to their evening roost

Based on their trajectory that evening, we estimated where they would fly over the road and headed to that spot the next morning before dawn. Amazingly, they passed right over us, circling a couple of times and affording this shot, in which you can see the shiny cheek-patch from my built-in flash. Their silouettes were very clear through the morning mist and their calls a loud Ahhnk ahhnk. They would be the first of 3 epic-ally rare birds we would see in one day.

African Green Ibis flying from their roost

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Carnage on the Savannah

Greetings.

Long has been the struggle over the past year in London. Working tirelessly up to 70+ hours per week has taken its toll, while the cash flow continues at a steady trickle like an over-ranched Salinas creek. The cattle of this picture are the nameless, faceless businessmen that run London and it's education. The vultures that patrol these arid lands, the politicians, who corrupted the masses into voting us out of the EU. I will call these masses the sheep, who dwell mainly in the countryside/midlands, etc. [BREAKING NEWS: British accents do only make Brits sound more intelligent than they actually are].

Meanwhile on the African Savannah, a struggle for life and death rages on just as it has for millions of years. Fleeing far from my 1st world problems, I was joined by rafikis Martha, Jackson and Wilson for an epic quest to finally fill a deep, gaping void in my soul: the lack of leopard. To find this elusive beast, we hired a van to take us to Samburu and Meru for a 3 day Safari. It did not disappoint.

Our driver, Duncan, was a last minute substitution for the bird-savy Robert, a consequence of African organisation. Let's just say he wasn't exactly on the same page as us when it came to birds and budget accommodations. Echoes of simama hapa (stop here) and nyuma kidogo back up a little bit) will be troubling his dreams for many nights.

Now, imagine life as diminutive, ground-dwelling reptile or small rodent on the savannah. Your entire existence consists of avoiding an arsenal of aerial predators, such as this Brown Snake-eagle surveying the savannah from its prominent perch. Nearby, a small lizard falls victim to a Somali Fiscal. Fiscals are relentless killing machines that impale their prey on thorns, which has garnered them the nickname "butcherbird." Pole.



It took this Tawny Eagle mere seconds to rob a baby impala of its pathetic existence.


We continued to the river, where we met a small group of lions.



Up ahead, a land cruiser was stopped, intently watching something we pulled up behind them and it was evident why they had stopped. Sitting in the shade of some shrubbery was a leopard. After some minutes, we watched it wander around, appearing to give zero care for being watched by 2 vehicles. It was a young one as evident by its small size and lack of hunting experience, as it seemed that bounding hare startled it more than the other way around. Suddenly, the non-challant feline took a slight interest in us, only to rub its head against our front tire! As it approached us in that brief moment, I was able to to capture its expression in a photo which I consider the best I've ever taken.





I hope this lousy hunter finds something to eat soon.

Following the river, we spot a pair of ears poking up from a bush. A lioness, waiting patiently by the river. Nearby, a herd of impala grazes peacefully, unaware of the possible impending death.



The herd made its way over the exposed riverbank, ever closer to the lioness but oblivious to the danger. We we waited patiently. I paid a lot to organize this safari and we were all desperate to see blood. Suddenly, the impala became restless and started bounding around. The lioness continued to bide her time for the perfect moment. It came. The impala scattered, one male hesitated and started zigzagging, a rearward retreat blocked off by the river. The lioness capitalized on its hesitation, going straight for the neck. It was all over in seconds. The impala subdued but not yet asphyxiated, it was dragged up the shoreline in a powerful and savage display, its legs kicking in the air as it waited to die.





In nearby Shaba nature reserve, we set out to scout William's Lark habitat for the following day. We were accompanied by an armed guard to this remote area, who agreed to show us the grassy lava desert where this habitat-specific Kenya endemic dwells. His substantial rifle was not for protection against animals, but Somali bandits. By the roadside, a young Grevy's Zebra, who did not have this same luxury. Its mom was devoured by lions. Pole sana. 


A flock of vultures prepares for the evening roost, perhaps the same ones that may have fed on the entrails of the mama zebra. Hard life.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A poem I did

One day I went to Hyde Park for a some exercise
Suddenly, a friendly voice interrupted my pain
A stunning beauty stood before my eyes
And I heard her say my name



Surprised, I hesitated a second or two.
"Hey, are you Tim? You look like a tall Canadian."
"Why yes!" I'm sure she meant handsome too.
But there was little time for conversation



'Cause no sooner had we met each other
When we were into a powerful run
The chit chat would have to wait for later
A high intensity workout means no time for fun



It soon came time for the end of the workout
Grab a buddy by the hand or arm
"Wow...she's fast!" I thought to myself
Noticing more than just her charm



She took my hand and off we went
Nobody could keep up with this team
I could feel my heart rate augment
Not just from the run, I mean



Before I knew it the workout was at an end
"You're walking to Knightsbridge? So am I!"
"Coming to Whole Foods?" asked David and friends
"I think I'll head home, maybe next time!"



We walked often since that day we first met
To Knightsbridge station down the street
Except today's walk was a little different
Because it ended with a kiss, so sweet

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What's crackin' in Lab 2?

With science week around the corner, my students noticed an interesting new piece of furniture in lab 2: an egg incubator. Inside, 15 eggs nestled delicately one next to the other. These were not destined for the canteen, but were hatching eggs, meaning that their mother had encountered a rooster at some point in her lifetime. With some luck, our little eggs would hatch in time for science week. With the help of year 7s’ diligent lab skills, we carefully monitored the temperature and humidity of the chamber. However, things were taking a little longer than eggspected.

Science week had arrived, but still the eggs had not hatched. The place was abuzz with anticipation. A visitor to the building would have thought that the Pope was coming, but no, it was the imminent hatching of the chicks causing the students to be shell-shocked with excitement. 

One day, we could hear peeps coming from one of the eggs, and soon two chicks began chiselling their way out of their calcified prisons with the help of a specialise egg tooth on their beaks. They emerged a day later, moist and blind, but within only a couple of days, students marvelled as they developed their fuzzy down feathers and became extremely cute. Pilgrims travelled from as far as Harris Primary to lay eyes on the chicks, while tutor group 7SA- TS was ova the moon.  

What a fine opportunity to see the biology of birds first hand! And what better symbol of the rebirth of spring with Easter just around the corner?

Now you are probably wondering: where are the chicks now? Did they end up at McDonald’s? Or did they stage a ‘chicken run’? I am happy to say that all of the chicks who hatched are now in the good hands of a few students who have taken them into their families’ respective chicken coops to be raised as egg-laying chickens. I think it is safe to say that a few people will not be eating chicken for at least the next while.

Ode to a deprived traveler

Time to get my Timshel back
responsibilities, bullshit and such
these realities I cannot hack
Restlessness, my only crutch

On a plane for Sicily
Hoping for some babes
the breeze of the sea
a sun tan on my shave

In Palermo, rockin to a beat
busting moves I don't even know
this ritual I will repeat
Depending on cash flow

Mingling, perpetually entering
and exiting my shell
perpetually pondering
a sort of heaven and hell

Waiting to lock eyes with a beauty
One that can heal my hurt
Hoping she will choose me
Of all the dudes on earth

When was the last time a girl made me blush?
When was the last time one whispered in my ear?
The last time life gave me a rush?
The last time I said "fuck yea" to a mirror?

Unleash me, for the love of creation
I want to climb to the tops of mountains
To make my bed under the constellations
To sip the nectar of God's fountains!!!

Fellow travelers, join me in this quest
It is a noble one I promise
If you can remember how to be your best
at living life to the fullest

Let's go see what we can find
when we search for all kinds of beauty
Leave all negative hatas behind
Lets all get retarted in some crazy country

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

From the archives: ridiculous wildlife poses

While perusing through old folders, carefully selecting 7 epic shots for the #challengeonnaturephotography, I came across many magnificent moments of human and animal coming together. Here are my favourites.

1. My most cherished days are those spent as an Algonquin naturalist. Dragonhunting, feces identification, carcass collection, rodent husbandry and animal tastings were routine activities in a week. David was a top ringleader. 


2. The geek's pallet is not restricted to vertebrates. Odonates are high in protein, crunchy with a fish-like flavour and a salty finish. 


3. Meanwhile, in a sick and twisted furor, Peter attempted to breed a zebra clubtail with a fawn darner. Despite belonging to different genera, they may produce viable eggs, according to Ian, since they are both "hooved." 


4. Chantal demonstrates the right technique with some more elegance. 




5. Every year on Thanksgiving, intrepid Ontario herpers abandon their families on a pilgrimage to Snake Road. Here Steve gets the "person who most looks like an animal" award with a box turtle.

 

6. Our comprehensive assault of the local herpetofauna required an amphibious approach. I plunged into this frigid river after these River Cooters. 

 

7. This man! Look at the wonder in his eyes, the sparkle of curiosity as Patrick admires a Green Treefrog. Or is the Green Treefrog admiring Patrick? 
















8. Nick Schmeding looking like a total badass with this Gopher Snake, wrangled at 10,000 ft. in the White Mountains!


9. Not even Steve Marshall can resist the allure of the reptilian form. The legendary entomologist rarely photographs non-insect subjects but when he sees a creature so beautiful, he will point his lens and simply take a single shot.  


10. The easiest way to see a Bactrian Camel is to go to the Toronto Zoo. This one urinated in a continuous stream for 10 straight minutes, then gave Paul a literal tongue-lashing. 


 11. Who has never wondered what it would be like to ride a moose? Come on, you have!


12. If there's anything Andrew loves more than birds it's dogs. Here he's made friends with a local feral dog somewhere. 


13. If you want to settle the age-old mosquito competition, go to Amethyst Lake in Jasper. 


14. The best pose I have of someone holding a Gray Jay goes to Angela.