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SAPHOTOSAFARI'S
"PHOTO ESSAY" OF THE WEEK  / 
JUNE, 2018
"THE BACKROADS OF IRRESISTIBLE BALI..."
THE TOURISTS, BLESS THEM, HEAD FOR THE ISLAND'S STUNNING BEACHES. SAPHOTOSAFARI  TURNS THE CAMERA LENS TO CAPTURE A DEEPLY SPIRITUAL HINDU PEOPLE, VOLCANOES, HIDDEN RAINFOREST LAKES - AND SOME OF THE EARTH'S MOST MESMERIZING CORAL REEFS... 
Slide Show Video 4:19mins 
  
- THIS IS  ADVENTURE TRAVEL AT ITS FINEST!


SPECTACULAR PHOTOGRAPHY... PLEASE RELAX AND ENJOY!


PLEASE NOTE: ADJUST PICTURE QUALITY AND SPEED OF VIEWING AT BOTTOM OF SCREEN AFTER VIDEO STARTS..


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... JUNE, 2018 "IT'S WORLD REFUGEE DAY: HERE'S A QUICK PERSONAL STORY, WITH MEXICAN ROOTS,  TO REMIND US WHY MR TRUMP'S FAMILY SMASHING / REFUGEE BASHING POLICIES ARE SO EVIL..." Our compassion for each other is one of the few human traits that separates us from the laws of the jungle - you know, the ones that apply to most members of the animal kingdom. Lately, I have to wonder if compassion isn't something old school and curiously out-of-date. With the U.S. Border Patrol forcibly removing refugee children from their parents (surely, you've seen the viral video by now, right?) along the Mexican border, we are reminded that all the established rules of law on this wobbly planet - are only as sacred as the people that enforce 'em.

... and a newly-minted American doctor... who came from an impoverished
 Mexican school - just like theirs. 


A few years my wife and I were doing something we do routinely all over the world. We were exploring on the backroads, the margins of often rural cultures that interest us - and give us our excuse to do what we morally feel compelled to do - fucking help others less fortunate than ourselves. I added the expletive (apologies!) to emphaize how curiously out-of-step helping anybody but yourself seems to be in much of the American-dominated world these days. President Trump's staggering wealth seems to be the main justification for his anger and hosility towards - most of the rest of us. Is he afraid these little refugees will steal his lunch?

It was Winter in Mexico's Sonora State and we had the car heater on as the road turned and twisted over the Sierra Madre Mountains - best known for drug trafficking. But we waved at everyone we passed and they waved back! Abruptly,  passing a remote one-room rural school, we exchanged a glance - and braked to a stop. Ah, the moment we'd been waiting for. We'd driven into Mexico with a large blue plastic tub crammed with pencils, crayons, writing tablets, hand calculators, rulers - and whatever else would fit. A wall-mounted pencil sharpener is an indispensible part of this kit. S o there was one of those.The teacher welcomed us as rural people always do so graciously - and the kids giggled with excitement as the goodies got passed around. The school had next to nada, nuthin'. Those sweet kids will probably mostly replicate their parents subsistence lives in the same area. End of story? Not quite...

There are always people in developing countries who dream about a better life - and some of them, against all odds, make it happen. Just a few weeks ago as I waited at the Cape Town airport for my Emirates flight to Bali, there was only a single other passenger for awhile, so we struck up a conversation. Her story? She was a barely educated 18 year old Mexican girl from - rural Sonoro State. Somehow, she managed to get into the U.S. through an aunt in California. She got a job - and at 18 started putting herself through high school while working, then university. Then against all odds she got herself into the U.C.L.A. Medical School -, the oldest student in her class by far. Why was she seating next to me in Cape Town, South Africa. She's just graduated from med school - and had just finished volunteering at a Mozambican hospital - with almost no supplies. She's a pediatrician and has  now begun her residency for the next several years in - Los Angeles. What a gift to the citizens of that city, let me tell you!

Refugees are generally motivated. That's why they put up with all the bullshit tossed at them, by often racist governments and political hotheads who don't want this compassion guilt problem to dent their stuffed wallets. Friends, on International Refugee Day, be gentle - and be generous - those crying children at the U.S.Border Patrol stations - could just as easily have been your kids - or you! All they ask - is an opportunity! Is that too much to ask?

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA / INDONESIA... JUNE, 2018 "HEALTHY SOCIETIES HAVE THREE  ATTRIBUTES: A SENSE OF COMMUNITY, INCOME EQUALITY AND...TRANSPORTATION. TRANSPORTATION? SAY WHAT?

THESE LOMBOK ISLAND, INDONESIANS GET AROUND ON INEXPENSIVE SCOOTERS.
 TENS OF THOUSANDS OF THEM... WHAT'S THAT MEAN?

When I first heard this sociological truism, I reacted, probably like you, scratching my head not about "community" or "income equality", but... "transportation"? I've since come to see the hard truth about this moving around business. Across much of emerging Asia, including Indonesia, the scooter jump starts millions of people into the Middle Class. It's that simple. Add the ubiquitous mobile smart phone - and you're in. How's that? As these collage photos show with a scooter - and used ones are dirt cheap - you can run a delivery business, go shopping with your girfriend and kids (see above!), get to school, check out the distant rice paddies, buy fresh produce at the outdoor market, date (see above!) or take a picnic to the beach 20k's away. etc. 

In short you have the mobility that previously was the franchise of much wealthier people. You know, those people who can afford a car. I live in a developing country, South Africa, and here, maybe 20% of Seffricans actually own a car. And for many of those it's an extremely expensive luxury. Petrol costs $1.15 a litre (15 Rand) and you gonna burn it getting to work or distant shopping malls, outings to the beach or the clinic or - as happened to me a few days ago - to put my wife on an airplane (a three-hour round trip - and $27 of petrol). Maintainace costs, tires, licencing. Ouch. But the entire South African transport infrastructure is built to handle - the private automobile (and huge lorries, of course). The 80% of my countrymen who can't swing a private car are sentenced to waiting endlessly for taxis (and they're not cheap). Cape Town has jammed buses and commuter trains, but they also run on schedules that often don't jibe with people's individual needs. But that's where staggering billions of tax revenues end up - servicing not the poor, but the rich!

Back to Indonesia and the scooter. I rented scooters as necessary for around $5 a day. If you want to rent one for a month - think $50. I loved it. I had total mobility. One day I did a 40k round trip to a famous surfing beach way out in the sticks. No sweat. And I couldn't help smiling on those rare occasions when I had to pull off the road and buy one litre of petrol at a family's bottle stand - so I was set to go for a few more days. Everywhere people wore the satisfied grins of transportation heaven - the simple scooter! I've asked before - and I'm sure I'll ask again: how can we humans be so smart - and so stupid?? How is your country dealing with the critical issue of, yes, transportation? 
Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM INDONESIA... JUNE 2018 "IT'S RAMADAN. EVERYONE ON THIS MUSLIM ISLAND IS FASTING. THE MUEZZINS SING THE PRAYERS AT SEEMINGLY ALL HOURS DAY AND NIGHT - AND I'M ONE OF A HANDFUL OF NON-MUSLIMS. WOULD IT SURPRISE YOU IF I SAID I'VE NEVER BEEN TREATED WITH MORE KINDNESS AND CIVILITY IN MY LIFE?" 


THE STUNNING MOSQUES IN JUST A SINGLE TOWN, SEBULAN, ON LOMBOK ISLAND, INDONESIA.

For me, travel isn't about "bucket lists" or bragging rights back at the office water cooler. I don't mean to sound sanctimonious, but it's about digging down deep, learning everything I can cram into my poor addled brain - getting off the beaten track.  I need to see how people actually live, how they play out their lives, often amidst poverty, and the strains of a have-and-have-not world where technology seemingly has no end of blessings for us middle class inhabitants - but hugely stresses those who don't hold  the magic key to effortless First World living. And that leaves me in a tiny minority of travellers, I can tell you. But not alone...everywhere I turn I see - smiles. Respect for everyone is my secret pass key...

Lombok is the often over-looked, poorer relation of its super-star neighbour, Bali. Bali  is Hindu, Lombok is devoutly Muslim, but with some twists thrown in such as the resident's spiritual relationship with massive Volcano Rinjani, which dominates the north half of the island... The mosques - and the women's burkas and hajibs - are a palete of striking, breath-taking colour!

Juxtaposing the contentious, often violent world of Donald Trump and associates, I'm struck by the kindness and gentleness of my Lombok hosts. They greet me, with infectious smiles. They ask about my travels and well-being. They offer to hoist a travel bag or supply directions. Our shared humanity is central to these encounters, even if often only brief.  This isn't the First World of distracted smart phone users - with their arsenal of tech gadgets. Those people really don't want to be bothered by strangers.

My Muslim hosts completely fail to mention that they're fasting (hungry and thirsty from sunrise to sunset), doing serious physical work in hot, muggy weather. They don't
complain, they endure.  In this time of testing with their faith, they are strong and  resilient. Me? I'm in awe. How is it possible for Lombok residents, to be generous in their poverty, to be honest, to be welcoming to foreigners - who often wear the skimpiest swimming costumes on the island's pristine beaches, rarely say thank you and tip minimally, if at all, for services?

I dunno. Travel is a great teacher in life - if one's open to learning. These sweet Muslims have given me a sobering life lesson in what it means to be human, tolerant and, dare I say it, loving. I urge you when you see those blood-curdling headlines day in and out, to ask yourself -  is there another side to this story - or does "Western" reporting have a corner on the truth. For me, travel, , almost by definition, should be re-writing my  - and your - life script. That's the point, isn't it? To see with your own eyes the truth, as you understand it. Thank you, Lombok, for gifting me a Ramadan visit into the bosom of your Islam - one that I'll now carry with me through the balance of my life...

After a month-long odyssey, I have to confess that both Bali and Lombok blew me away. And this after decades of exploring Planet Earth. I urge you to consider a visit to these gorgeous tropical islands for your future travels! And take some time away from the hedonism of the beach scene. You'll be hugely rewarded. And both Bali and Lombok are brilliantly affordable...
Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM BALI / INDONESIA... MAY, 2018 "I'M EXPLORING BALI FOR A MONTH RIGHT NOW AND THE 'SPIRITUALITY' OF THE ISLAND HAS MY SPIRIT SOARING...." I travel because I'm a passionate humanist and interacting as personally as possible gives me the pleasure, satisfaction and, yes, intellectual jolt I require. On that scale, tiny Bali is off the charts...

I STUMBLED OUT OF BED AT 1:00A.M. IN UBUD, BALI A FEW DAYS BACK TO CLIMB MT BATUR VOLCANO. IN PITCH BLACK DARKNESS, OUR GROUP SCRAMBLED AND SWEATED FOR THREE EXCRUCIATING HOURS ON A BASALT RUBBLE UNMAINTAINED TRAIL . IT WAS TORMENT! BUT I NOTED THAT THE HINDU GUIDES ON THIS PILGRIMAGE CAREFULLY STOPPED TO MAKE OFFERINGS AT THE SEVERAL SACRED SITES. I SUMMITED (SEE INSET PHOTO), BUT I DARESAY THE VOLCANO GODS GAVE MY BODY A THRASHING I WON'T SOON FORGET... I'M NOT JOKING.


Bali has cast an immediate spell on this hard-bitten life-long wanderer. Where is the consumerism? The dreaded chain stores? The conformity of suburban, commuter culture in 2018? The glibness in human interactions? The endless anxiety about not having the latest stuff - or simply enough stuff? Short answer: It ain't here. Bali is about something different. It's quietly egalitarian - there's an equality implicit in human encounters which I find compelling - coming from South Africa with the world's worst, yes worst, income and thus human, inequality.

 Hinduism seems almost a part of every breath Balians take. The shrines and diety statues are omnipresent. Most homes and business daily place crafted small offerings (see photo above), usualy with scented joss sticks, to acknowledge the forces that guide their humble lives. Maybe humble, humility, is just the word I'm searching for to describe the modesty I encounter. No one is strutting about shouting out their demands - and inhabiting a winner/ loser world ala Mr. Trump. The human ego is in check.

I'm finishing up staying this first week in a small family-run bungalow lodging. It seems impossible, but hours after I arrived the father - died. With almost no one else around, but the couple's two grown sons, I found myself holding his grief-stricken widow in my arms while both of us shuddered. A day later the family invited me to a Hindu funeral ceremony at which I was the only non-Balian. I wanted to share this experience of which I knew little and was humbled to have the widow publicly embrace me, again, and say thank you. No, it was me who was privileged and grateful. I can't imagine another moment in a life of discovering my humanity - that has been more intimate and, yes, beautiful than this week. Thank you Bali. What a welcome...

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... MAY, 2018 "DEEP DOWN, WHAT DRIVES MY LIFE OF PHOTOGRAPHY?" That's something I've been wrestling with this week as I prepare for another long-haul, month-long photoshoot - far from my beloved home in South Africa. I'll be flying 18 hours - each way - to reach my destination in Asia. Where in Asia? Oh, I'll be there soon enough and then you'll find out when you re-visit SAPHOTOSAFARI. For now, I'd like to take a couple of moments and flesh out this internal discussion I'm having... with Eric.

THE DEEPLY TRADITIONAL HIMBA TRIBE MAKE THEIR HOME ALONG THE BORDER 
BETWEEN ANGOLA AND NAMIBIA, AFRICA.
YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF THEM, RIGHT? THAT'S WHY I TAKE PHOTOS...

In a nutshell, I strive with my Canon 70D to see what others might miss. We now inhabit a world where literally millions of selfies are fired off each minute, night and day. The Nat'l Geo in all of us means that countless wildlife "battles to the death" are recorded, I guess, daily - you know the ones where the leopard is impossibly killed by the gazelle - it was hoping to dine on for lunch. Video, video, video. Not me, I shoot stills. I get the essence of a situation or I blow it, but that's my benchmark: one chance, one picture.

What continuously amazes me is not what photographers see, but what they don't see. The most ordinary moments in the dailiness of life can make stunning shots. I understand the compulsion to look at pictures of pain or pleasure or gorgeous sunsets or "once off" events that might never occur again. But that's not my ideal photograph. What is? Maybe this brief anecdote linked to the Himba collage (above) best explains what fuels my life-long passion for picture-taking.

Last September, I jumped in my 4X4 in a small town outside of Cape Toiwn, by myself, and drove 2,500 kilometres to the remote frontier between Angola and Namibia. You never had a thought about that geography, did you? Who cares, you're asking yourself... I slept in my sleeping bag most nights. I carried with me small bags of sweet oranges to give as presents to any chance encounters with one the most traditional tribes on the African continent: the Himba. They're not even in a money economy in their remotest locations. They're pastoral: they herd small bands of livestock and forage in the bush. The Himba women have highly stylized appearances - that blew me away...

It was hot (36 degrees). For 200 k's along the Kunene River (crocodiles aplenty!) border I passed just a couple of vehicles on the 4X4 dirt track. There were zero road signs and zero cell towers. I was on my own. But there were Himbas living their small lives. When I stopped to greet them and present my oranges, they were so shy that I quickly realized most had never been photogaphed. With each tiny encounter, I spent a few minutes just letting Himbas get up close to me - to see what a crazed white guy looked like - and maybe even smelled like! We got to explore each other in a gentle way... Then I walked to my vehicle, showed my camera to the Himbas, often curious teenagers, and snapped a couple of quick, unrehearsed shots. That was it. That brief Himba slideshow is on the sidebar to the right of my "Letter" if you'd care to watch it. In a word, it's why I take pictures.

What else don't I know about on this pawed over planet? That simple question drives my photography. Will I find some worthy material on this upcoming Asia outing. I hope so, but that's the risk. There are no guarantees.... I love people, so I will have fun... and share smiles! And, again I feel certain, photography will satisfy me deep down - in a way that little else does.

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... APRIL, 2018 "JUST BE GLAD YOU'RE NOT SOUTH AFRICAN- BORN BILLIONAIRE ENTREPRENEUR, ELON MUSK THIS WEEK. CHANGING THE WORLD IS SOMETHING YOU DO AT YOUR PERIL... You know Elon Musk. The Pay Pal
Space Ex, Solar City (off-grid electricty) and, most famously, Tesla genius with the Midas touch. In his spare time Musk wants to colonize Mars and he has a Hyper-Loop high-speed train dream in his back pocket - that promises to unlock America's transportation nightmare. There's just one problem...

MAYBE WE NEED TO GO BACK TO THE FUTURE...

Poor Mr. Musk is sleeping on the couch at his office - at the Fremont, California assembly plant of his new Tesla model, the one that's supposed to sell for $35,000, not $100,000 like the original Tesla. He's spent a fortune getting rid of human labour at the plant and replacing it with every techie's dream: robots! Unfortunaetly for Mr. Musk, the robots can't crank out the Teslas at the speed required, despite pouring in tens of millions of dollars. (Ps-s-s-t, tens of thousands of customers made down-payments more than a year back and they're getting testy.)  This week Mr. Musk tweeted that "Machines are over-rated and humans under-rated!" My god, man, parse your words! Artificial Intelligence, robotics, algorithms - everybody under thirty knows that the future will be hands-free and humans rich, but irrelevant (Just exactly how will humans make their money???)

Speaking of hands-free, did you see where a driver of one of Mr. Musk's Teslas took his hands off the wheel (he was in assisted-driving mode) and six seconds later was dead from the impact with a concrete road barrier. It happened right in Mountain View, California. You know, G-----'s headquarter town... Everybody's freaking out because robotics preclude errors, right?

So why the photo of my Burmese taxi man, Sweet, with my wife, Lynn, touring Mandalay? Oh, I don't know... We met sweet and spent happy hours touring his neighbourhood. We stopped at his daughter's elementary school and met the teacher and his daughter's classmates. Then we visited the simple neighbourhood hospital where we received a gracious tour with the staff. In fact, everywhere we went people waved and smiled at Sweet and us! It was a wonderful, happy day, I fondly recall years later.

Sometimes I wonder if we have it ass-backwards. Are we better humans beings for traveling in hermetically-sealed Tesla comfort at 120 kph - with assisted-driving? I live in a small town outside of Cape Town, South Africa. We walk. We meet the neighbours , the kids coming and going to school, the odd tourist, elderly people and newly minted families with strollers. We gossip and laugh. What's wrong with me? I thought having lots of jobs was desirable. But apparently the Jobs Demolition Derby crowd (think Jeff Bezos, Musk et al) knows better than me... Did I forget to mention that when we went uphill in Mandalay, I had to jump out and help push Sweet's taxi? We had fun.

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... APRIL, 2018 "GUILTY AS CHARGED: I'M A PRIVILEGED WHITE MALE. SO IS THAT A LICENSE TO LIVE WELL AND BLOW-OFF THE REST OF HUMANITY?  OF COURSE NOT. BUT THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT MOST PRIVILEGED PEOPLE DO. SO IF YOU'VE HAD SOME LUCKY BREAKS IN LIFE, WHY NOT REACH DOWN AND LEND A HAND UP... I DO IT EVERY DAY HERE IN BEAUTIFUL, STAR-CROSSED SOUTH AFRICA AND IT DEEPLY SATISFIES... I just finished a devastating opinion piece in our brilliant Sunday Times newspaper. It's written by an Inidian South African, Shantini Naidoo, and, boy, did it sting. My middle-class American upbringing, my graduate degree (journalisn, of course) my height (6 ft), my lower male voice, heterosexual - I was a shoo-in, apparently, to be a life success. And, candidly, though I worked my butt off at several successful careers, I can't deny for a minute that the cards were stacked in my privileged favour... H-m-m-m.

HERE'S MY SAPHOTOSAFARI OFFICE. THESE  NEIGHBOUR KIDS
GET PLENTY OF HUGS, ENCOURAGEMENT AND MENTORING FROM UNCLE ERIC (ME). BUT, MAYBE, 
THE MOST IMPORTANT INGREDIENT IN OUR RELATIONSHIP IS THE TIME SPENT TOGETHER. KIDS ARE SPONGES. THEY ABSORB  MANY CLUES TO MIDDLE-CLASS LIFE - JUST BY HANGING OUT IN OUR HOUSE. DID I MENTION WE ALSO SHARE COOL DRINKS AND MAKE UP SILLY GAMES WITH THE SOCCER BALL? WE HAVE FUN!

Ms Naidoo put it to the privileged, who are quite obvious here in poverty-stricken Africa "Think about how to use your privilege to change someone's life for the better," she opined. We in the middle-class assume that the secrets of our success are obvious to everyone: Hard work, blah,blah, blah... right?  But so much of it is a complete mystery to my South African impoverished neighbours. In their minds, getting ahead is all about connections, who-you-know or getting a bottom rung-of the-ladder government job with little responsibility, but job security.

My job as a privileged male is to share my self-confidence and knowledge in a gentle way with kids and adults. I say "thank you" dozens of times a day to people who often have almost no material possessions and probably an empty belly to boot. That is my boiler plate we're all equal message. I sweat to make people who don't look like me feel comfortable - so that they can ask questions about my life and how this miracle of middle-class existence is possible. Nothing makes me happier than telling a jobless person following a good chat "you're special, you can make a success of your life." And, ya, I fork over dibs and dabs of money if I sense resolve and aspiration in a young man or woman I'm mentoring. Having a decent set of clothes does wonders for people's egos.And I speak English with them to sharpen their language skills - and inject new ideas. 

Let's face it possibly privileged viewer of this website: you can help bootstrap a young life that might otherwise fall by the wayside. You can reach down and lift up! After 17 years in South Africa, I not sure our American friends and family have a clue what drives my priviliged life. But if all I was doing was counting my money and living well - I'd have a knot in my stomach. So how does Donald Trump look in the mirror? I have no idea...

Best regards,
Eric 

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... APRIL, 2018 "IS OUR BRAVE NEW WORLD DRIVING YOU CRAZY? AN OCCASIONAL LOOK IN LIFE'S  'REAR-VIEW MIRROR" MAY HELP GIVE SOME PERSPECTIVE..."

SAPHOTOSAFARI HAD A SMALL HEART ATTACK WHEN I JUST HAPPENED TO NOTICE 
THIS MONSTER TIP-TOEING QUIETLY ACROSS A KRUGER PARK ROAD IN MY REAR-VIEW MIRROR...

Lately I have this sinking feeling about us, you know, homo sapiens. So smart, but so-o-o-o stupid. Now Mr Trump has decided, all by himself of course, that the world needs a humungous trade war. Great, one more nail in our collective coffin. But looming even larger is our head-long rush into a future of artificial intelligence, autonomous driivng, robotics et al. Democracy already seems to be a victim of our great social media infatuation - where fake news has already whip-sawed through the gullible ranks of millions of Facebooks users and cast grave doubts of the legitimacy of the U.S. Presidential eleection and the Brixit vote. Geez! 

My personal disaster favourite is drones! Jeff Bezos Amazon delivery fantasies aree the least of our problems (but, please, do keep your curtains closed in the future lest Jeff and the drone crowd  see personal matters they ought not to).Here in South Africa it was almost instantaneous: drones went on sale and Kruger Nat'l Park game rangers saw them silently scouring the bush - for poachable rhinos! They were immediately banned in all SA's national parks, so if you come here on holiday it's best to leave your drone at home. Did I mention my neighbour visited nearby De Hoop Nature Reserve on the Indian Ocean? I enquired if he'd seen any giant Antarctic Right Whaleswhich visit the reserve to calve their youngsters. Absolutely. A TV advertising company was filming a mother whale off-shore with a tracking drone peeping down her blowhole. Great video! Dear god that's harrassment... And so it goes, as we proceed at speed into our high-octane future - with blinders in place. I dunno...

Maybe we need to go back to the future? I'm old enough to remember when people actually talked conversationally - without buds in their ears. People back then had friends, not followers. Teen boys had manners, not violent video games posing as their best friends. And physical work, whether walking or trades or farming, etc., meant people weren't obese. Now over half of many popultations  around the world are just that - obese. 

Finally, the European Union and trade pacts were crafted to put an end to ghastly serial world wars. The United Nations was established to keep the peace for sure, but also to assist developing countries with everything from public health to education to child welfare issues and food distribution. Now poof! All this is wobbling off the rails as demogogues and flawed elections skew the political landscape. Friends, the past is a great teacher. Those who choose to ignore it, risk repeating these same mistakes into the future...

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... APRIL, 2018 "GROWN-UPS (THINK POLITICIANS ET AL) SURE AS HELL CAN'T SEEM TO SAVE OUR WORLD... WHAT ABOUT LETTING KIDS GIVE IT A TRY?"

KIDS ARE ALWAYS MILLING AROUND US AND SMILING AS WE WORK THE BACKROADS
 AND BYWAYS OF THIS CONFLICTED WORLD. WE SMILE BACK. THANKS,KIDS, WE LOVE YOU, TOO!


That sounds a little silly, I know. But my eyes bugged out today as the BBC reported that the K-Pop bands from South Korea performing in Pyongyang, North Korea even got to Kim Jong-un and his wife, Sol-ju. They burbled about how moved they were. What?? Sixty-eight years of disastrous warfare, military campaigns, endless name-calling, division of Korea and nuclear stand-offs (with the Americans always weighing to add gravitas) - and now the K-poppers and Young Winter Olympians have finally touched a nerve. Whadayaknow...

Last month, the March For Our Lives movement in the U.S. went into the streets  with hundreds of thousands of non-violent young protesters to finally stand up the toxic American gun-lobby (Now I'm sure to receive death threats!). And instantly became a new nemisis for the Republican Party to worry about come the big elections this November.

Dare I mention the Palestinean youth? They paid with their lives this week, amid a slug of gun-shot wounded, to stand up for their beliefs.

But, really. In my decades of travel (above collage photos) all over creation, it's the kids who run up to my wife and I (or me solo). They're curious. They smile! They want to make friends, not enemies Their innocence is perhaps our salvation. There's just something about cynical, angry grown-ups that buggers everything any good souls try to do to make our multi-cultural lot on this planet pleasurable and prosperous.

South Africa youngsters of all ages smile at me with or without my camera. I get hugs aplenty to boot. Excuse me, who can resist kids' love in this cruel world grown-ups have stapled together with such anger and venon?

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... MARCH, 2018 "BACKPACKER TRAVELLERS? THOSE DOPE-SMOKIN' HIPPIES OF YORE HAVE BEEN REPLACED BY A NEW BREED OF  ADVENTURER. THESE TRAVELLERS QUICKLY GRASP THAT THE MOST CHALLENGING FUN - IS ON THE BOTTOM RUNG OF THE TRAVEL LADDER..."

THESE  TRAVEL MATES I ENCOUNTERED IN MOROCCO RECENTLY ARE 
FROM ALL OVER CREATION...

Having spent decades rummaging around Planet Earth, I've been a keen student of just who is out there shaping their lives with exotic travel. It's not the tour or cruise ship crowd, I can assure you. Instead there's a surging number of "backpacker" travellers that leave professional lives back home to scoop up what they need to be whole people: real life experiences. In New Zealand this time last year, I couldn't count the number of blazing conversations that erupted around nearly every corner. And not just Europeans anymore, either. I gabbled with Chinese,  Malaysian Muslims, Argentinean long-haul travellers, Russians - everybody is out there. And the fun is diving right in - and enjoying your humanity.

2018 backpackers share a common thread: they find the world and all its inhabitants, well, compelling. Lazy minds need not apply. And frankly to come to grips with how people really live, you need to get off the beaten track. I'll be brutally honest; you aren't going to learn merde about our dizzying human diversity talking to people who look just like you - on a cruise ship with an all-you-can-eat buffet. But if you have the DNA curiousity gene, there's a blazing new life waiting for you - with smart, savvy, write-your-script-as-you-travel, mostly young, people from all over the world.

How to fit in? Just be yourself. Talk about what you know and how you really feel about all the newness swirling around you - and your adventure travel sidekicks will fold you right into the conversation, I promise. Travelling solo? No problem. My sweet wife, Lynn, had to work so I spent a month in Spain, Morocco and Portugal all by my lonesome (above collage). Except that I was never lonely. Single women? More than welcome, of course. The current edition of backpacker travellers always welcomes one more voice to the conversation. That's the whole point: get every nuanced shade of opinion talking - and you'll walk away with a fresh, stimulating view of your life - minus the prejudices that bog down much of the rest of humanity.

To all those strangers-who-became-friends over my years of travel. Thank you. I am because you are.  And I'm deeply in your debt!

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... MARCH, 2018 "IF PEACE OF MIND IS WHAT WE'RE ALL SEEKING, WHY HAVE WE CONSTRUCTED A WORLD OF STUPENDOUS FALSE GODS: ENGRAINED VIOLENCE, POLLUTION, SOCIAL MEDIA BLATHER & FAKE NEWS, MOUNTAINS OF PLASTIC GARBAGE, POINTLESS CONSUMERISM AND THE RAPID LOSS OF ONE OF THE THINGS WE HUMANS MAY MOST URGENTLY NEED - COMMUNITY. 


 AT ALERT BAY, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA, THE LOCAL FIRST-NATIONS PEOPLE
(NATIVE INDIANS) CONTINUE WITH MANY OF THEIR TIMELESS TRADITIONS: FISHING FOR SALMON, WOOD-CARVING, TRADITIONAL RELIGIONS, CULTURAL CELEBRATIONS - AND THE EXQUISITE PLEASURE OF LIVING IN  HARMONY WITH THEIR  SURROUNDINGS...

The short answer: I dunno...but as I move around the only world we'll ever know (it's still spectacularly beautiful), I'm baffled at our human choices and the consistency with which we humans stumble, bumble and fumble. We don't seem to learn from our mistakes. Case in point: Cape Town, near where I reside in South Africa, until recently had congestion-free highways and water aplenty. Then it became one of the world's most beckoning destinations for tourists and South African alike. With the aid of new car dealerships opening with appalling frequency, the whole urban transportation landscape locked up! Traffic nightmares are the daily fate of hundreds of thousands of poor souls - just trying to get to work and back. Ugh!

Water? What water. The political apparatus stood by, apparently paralysed, as the population doubled over a decade and then a drought set in. Nobody in power did anything about water conservation or expanded water sources. Brilliant! God please don't flush your toilet unnecessarily! Households are supposed to survive on 50 litres a day - per person. Unamusing, I can assure you.

As I daily scan the on-line editions of the BBC and the New York Times, I rarely find anything that inspires me. It's just more and more gratuitous violence, big business mergers and acquisitions, increasing howls about the technology monopolies - that are quickly strangling commerce and the global media - and politics that's mostly just... self-interest. Pretty skanky times, huh?

But I live in a small town that generally leaves me feeling happy and mentally healthy. We have an abundant sense of, here's that word again, community. I know my neighbours and talk to them regularly, often daily. I walk to our local Spar supermarket, past the doctor's office (I know the two docs), where I greet the owners and the staff. The Post Office, the local churches, even the small Muslim community are further sources of pleasing chats - that nourish the soul. Is that an odd thing to say in this anonymous world we've stapled together. You know the one we treat with contempt - with absolute mountains of plastic garbage on land, or plastic "gyres" as the stuff collects across sprawling swathes of open ocean. Social media encourages our young to withdrawl into small interest groups which too often harbour malevalent agendas. Nourishing the soul doesn't seem to be part of the formula...

All of these problems usually correlate with urbanization, the packing of millions of us into cities. Is this our only choice? I really do pay attention to how others live in my far-flung peregrinations. And my conclusion: small is beautiful. Those Alert Bay citizens in Canada go home in the evening  and problably watch TV and go on-line just like the rest of us. But they haven't sold their souls to... the concrete jungle. Where so many of the rest of us find ourselves unhappily enscounced.

Regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... MARCH, 2018 "CREDIBILITY: YOU HAVE IT OR YOU DON'T... AND IF YOU LOSE IT, SORRY DUDE, YOU CAN'T GET IT BACK..." We live in a world where we have to make choices, relentlessly, that have huge moral implications for ourselves, our families, our communities and, yes, even humankind. That sounds like a pretty tall order, doesn't it? But, hey, if you think about it, you don't pay a bribe to a cop and then have 92% of your credibility still intact. You don't cheat on a relationship or a business contract or school exam and still have 83% of your cred up for grabs, even though it's a bit threadbare around the collar. Sorry, you either have your credibility - or you do not.


THESE ARE SOUTH AFRICAN NEIGHBOURS OF MINE. THEY LIVE IN KRUGER NATIONAL PARK.
THEY DON'T HAVE TO WRESTLE WITH MORAL DILEMMAS LIKE WE HUMANS. IN THEIR WORLD, IT'S
PRETTY MUCH EAT OR BE EATEN... WITH THESE CRITTERs THERE IS NO "RIGHT" OR "WRONG". 

I'm writing about this seemingly arcane subject because, as a professional photo journalist, I spend undue amounts of time making certain that what I publish is... the truth. At least as best as I can undertsand it. Yet, swirling around me is a world where FACEBOOK  fake news, waffling political falsehoods on an epic scale (yes, here in South Africa as well as most everywhere else). Mr Trump and his global minions apparently believe that the truth is whatever harvests the most votes... and it's open to revision on a moment's notice. Mr. Trump this week was opposed to gun control, then for gun control (after the Florida schools shotings) and now opposed again. Really?

But we also inhabit an expedient world in which our personal ethics are tested, continually. Temptations are everywhere. I'm stunned to see the scale of tax evasion (trillions of dollars around the world including huge corporations!), relationship cheating, reckless use of lethal cars via speeding, drinking and driving, ignoring simple safety signs (doesn't Stop mean Stop?), abuse of vulnerable women and girls, even religious hypocrisy used to steal tithed monies, etc. In fact, reading my excellent Cape Times newspaper, I'm daily baffled at the flagrant, wanton disregard of...simple right and wrong. It's ugly, butt ugly.

But that still leaves you to sort out life's complexities - and see that your individual actions and behaviour allow you to look in the mirror, meet with your friends and loved ones, do life's daily business transactions and chart your future - with the simple satisfaction that deep inside you're honest, you're trustworthy... and your precious credibility is intact. Maybe in the end, all we really have in life is our crediblity... or not.

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... FEBRUARY, 2018 "BOMBING CHILDREN INTENTIONALLY? HAS THE WORLD GONE FUCKIN' NUTS? EXCUSE ME, WHERE IS THE HUMANITY? WHERE IS THE COMPASSION...THE  SIMPLE DECENCY? 

t
(INSET) DAYS AGO, THIS  CHILD IN EASTERN GHOUTA , SYRIA CRIED,
 "AT LEAST IN HEAVEN THERE'S FOOD."

I was on a month-long journey with my camera in Turkey a couple of years back. Down along the Aegean coast at Bodrum, there was, among all the luxe yachts in the harbour, this Syrian Family - with two hungry daughters (one is asleep under a blanket). There must be something wrong with me; nobody else even slowed down to gawp! I walked across a patch of harbour park grass and acknowledged the parents with the traditional Muslim greeting, "A salaam a leikum." They nodded, silently. I spoke first in English. Nothing. Then, since they were Syrian refugees, I spoke in my rusty French. The father immediately responded dejectedly, "There's no food." Stifling my tears, I quickly handed him a U.S. $20 bill I keep for emergencies. Gently, I asked for this photo...and staggered away.

This photo has haunted me ever since. The stories and photos this week of the renewed Syrian madness - with Turks, Kurds, Russian, Syrians and Yanks et al piling in just enrages me. 400,000, mostly civilians are being bludgeoned with airstrikes, mortar rounds, the works - while the kids get blown up and their parents tell them, I'm not kidding, "We're waiting our turn to die." And comfort them with "There'll be food in heaven." 

And it's not just Syria and the Middle East. Even in the developed world, yes including the USA, child hunger lumbers on unabated. I see it on my front step daily here in South Africa - and this country is wealthy in so many ways. It's beyond shameful. Why? Two simple reasons leap to my addled brain: (1) Kids don't vote, so the political class really could care less despite the loud protestaions to the contrary. And (2) there's no easy profit potential with these damned kids. They just keep munching away, studying or playing collective tag in the street. Where's the credit card purchases, the new car frensy, the cruise ship holidays??? Ya, kids are just helpless kids, so they just have to take it when crazies show up in American schools with automatic weapons etc. 

There is a single hope: You. You shelter, protect, love and feed these helpless children. I stumbled into this child-nurturing habit years ago, had it re-enforced in places like Bodrum, Turkey, and to this day it fuels my life. A broken camera? You just go buy another. A broken child? Don't get me started...

Regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA...FEBRUARY, 2018 "CALIFORNIA DREAMIN': WHY DO WE HAVE SUCH A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH ...LA-LA LAND? I was last in L.A. a couple of years ago - and I swore I would hate it. C'mon, it's so dilettante decadent! The current ructions about millionaire actresses and male sexual misconduct, etc. is part of the endless Hollywood drama that keeps us, yes globally, riveted. We all wait to see the next spectacular marriage smash-up (today Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux announced their loving divorce after just getting married in 2015. Good grief! You can't have a proper argument in that tiny jot of time...).

DAWN AT FAMOUS MALIBU BEACH. MANY HOLLYWOOD STARS LIVE RIGHT HERE!

So what actually transpired when Mr SAPHOTOSAFARI got off his plane flight at LAX (the airport)? OMG, the first thing I saw was a silver Rolls Royce convertible (top down, of course!) tooling past as my wife and I waited for our cheap hotel shuttle. I swear I almost recognized the actory-looking, hunky black guy in the Rolls (click-click). Then gorgeous cheerleaders from my alma mater (University of Washington) sashayed by - just hours before going on national television against football powerhouse University of Southern California (click-click). Unbelievable! Then came a group of Rohingya
Muslim refugees just taking their first steps on American soil. I calmly whispered "A salaam a leikum" as I often do working in Muslim countries with my camera. They posed sweetly, if nervously, for a brace of photos (click-click).

Friends, I'm embarrassed to report L.A. had me seduced before I ever left the airport. I took the shots above starting up the California coast on legendary Highway 101. It's famous. There are actual celebrities living in these swanky beach houses (possibly Jennifer Aniston???) and what could be more L.A. than a cute surfer - bagging yet another wave. One day we grabbed a taxi over to Santa Monica and its famous pier(!) jutting a few hundred metres into the Pacific Ocean. The beautiful people were there, including women who must have been swimsuit models (click-click) as they looked so "at home" in skimpy bathing costumes! Have you ever heard of Venice Beach? That's where hunky (sorry, there's that word again) guys and cute, curvy women pump iron (click-click). I'm not sure exactly why they do this, but still... it's L.A. - so you won't want to miss this should you find yourself there sometime...

Well, you have better things to do with your precious time than read my regurgitations of L.A., the city I swore to hate, but, in the event, failed miserably. You know, I think in this contorted world we've constructed, where most people are stressed, freaked out, angry or even violent, we all need a little silliness in our lives - and Los Angeles has cornered the market in having mostly innocent fun, being goofy (or seeing Goofy at Disneyland) and letting off some steam. Relax. I can report L.A. is pretty fun, after all. Thank god. My wallet was damn near empty when we left town... 
Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... FEBRUARY, 2018 "SOUTH AFRICA'S EMBARRASSING CAPTIVE BRED LION HUNTS MAY SHORTLY BE HISTORY... " Mostly, living in my adopted country is a daily privilege and pleasure. My wife and I deeply enjoy the company of all Seffricans, regardless of colour, religion or language. We are all keenly aware that we have the opportunity - or not - of making this post-Apartheid nation whole and healthy again. As you might imagine that's an amazing opportunity and...responsibility.

UNTIL YOU'VE SEEN LIONS IN THE WILD, YOU CAN HAVE NO IDEA THE
SHIVERS THAT RUN UP AND DOWN YOUR SPINE! THESE HOMBRES ARE RESIDENTS 
IN SOUTH AFRICA'S HUGE KRUGER NAT'L PARK... AND, YES, 
THEY WORK HARD TO MAKE A LIVING.


But, of course, there are the odd sore points. Among the pet peeves here for many people is the disgraceful canned lion hunting industry. Around the country, about 200 fenced farms raise lions from captive bred cubs to adulthood with one intention - to sell "sportsmen" the right to put a bullet into one of these magnificent creratures. At $20,000 a plugged lion, there's real money in it - for the tiny handful of business people who can stomach the "sport".

Now, sadly for this  "sport industry",  there's a global campaign to put them out of business. Most reputable world airlines won't fly the canned lion "trophies", numerous countries have banned the import of canned lion kills and now, most notably in the United States, Boone & Crocket and  Safari Club International, are refusing to register South African canned lion hunt "trophies" -  or even permit the hunting farms to advertise their wares - as happened recently in Las Vegas at the group's annual convention. It's a shock surprise, really, but the pressure on this "sport" has finally become too raucus to ignore. Even President Trump, always Tweeting his displeasures, has come out against the slaughter. And his sons are serious big game hunters.

You know, I think many of us imagine a lonely hunter skulking around dangerous wild beasts in Africa - and having the skill and courage to slay the odd dragon, excuse me, elephant, rhino, lion or similar. But, friends, those days are long gone. Magnificent, protected parks are where the wildlife mostly is these days and it's the rare African villager who has actually seen a predator - let alone been attacked. All of us need to update our colllective thinking about this priceless heritage, now under assault by poachers (think rhinos and elephants) and wealthy good ol' boy hunters who need to get a life. Killing these gorgeous, scarce symbols of a majestic continent, Africa, is frankly... obscene.

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... FEBRUARY, 2018 "FOR THOSE AMERICAN LEADERS WHO MAY HAVE FORGOTTEN WHAT THEIR COUNTRY STANDS FOR, HERE'S A GENTLE REMINDER..."

SOUTH AFRICAN ADVENTURERS RIAAN MANSER AND HIS ATTORNEY WIFE,
 VASTI GELDENHUYS, FINISH THEIR UNSUPPORTED OPEN OCEAN EXPEDITION.
THEY ROWED FROM AGADIR, MOROCCO, VIA THE CARIBBEAN, 
TO NEW YORK CITY'S STATUE OF LIBERTY. THE JOURNEY LASTED... 172 DAYS.
THEY ROWED 10, 765 KILOMETRES.


INSCRIPTION ON THE STATUE OF LIBERTY

GIVE ME YOUR TIRED, YOUR POOR,

YOUR HUDDLED MASSES, YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE,

THE WRETCHED REFUSE OF YOUR TEEMING SHORE,

 SEND THESE, THE HOMELESS, TEMPEST TOST TO ME,

I LIFT MY LAMP BESIDE THE GOLDEN DOOR...


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... FEBRUARY, 2018 "THERE'S A REVOLUTION SPREADING ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA... AND, UNBELIEVABLY, KIDS ARE AT THE ROOT OF IT. THEY'RE BREAKING DOWN RACE BARRIERS - THAT THEIR PARENTS NEVER COULD." I live in a South Africa that for hundreds of years has discriminated against just about anybody who wasn't... White. But I, and my wife Lynn, don't carry that legacy, or is it a burden, even though we're White. We moved to South Africa 15 years ago to be part of Nelson Mandela's dream of a non-racial Rainbow Nation. We'd been Peace Corps workers for years in Burkina Faso, The Philippines and Lesotho and it just seemed a natural destination for us...

Kids in my neighbourhood outside of Cape Town. Hey, they're kids! 
They just want to play and have fun... and they don't give a damn about skin colour.
In South Africa, that's revolutionary! Uncle SAPHOTOSAFARI is in there somewhere...

We came for the long haul. We bought a lovely old South African country house with big, green shade trees - and settled in. Both of us have careers, but year in and out we've wrestled with the mostly unspoken bugaboo of South African life: race. We love our small, middle-class neighbourhood which has been White for the last 140 years. Other parts of our small town are designated for poorer residents, u-m-m-m, think Blacks and Coloureds. As the years scrolled by, I often wondered if I'd ever live to see Madiba's non-racial dream come true. The schools got integrated pretty well. Sports teams, too. The shopping malls, an hour or so from our town, gradually became colour-blind and a relaxed pleasure for everybody. But the housing patterns were, apparently, cast in concrete.

And then a minor miracle struck! After twenty-plus years of democracy, a Black and Coloured emerging Middle Class restively decided to assert their desire for better housing and safer neighbourhodds for their kids. At the same time, White senior citizens began to pass on... in numbers as it developed. There weren't enough Whites to buy the vacant houses and/or assertive new Middle Class South Africans got the jump on them. Overnight, this past year, our leafy street - got integrated! And what a treat it's turned out to be. The kids are so adorable, sweet and beautiful it would take a flinty racist heart not to be emotionally seduced. I'm Uncle Eric now... and boy, do these kids love to pose for pix! 
 
Maybe, millions of decent South Africans just got sick and tired of tip-toeing around the race issue. But a social media scribe this week asked an interesting question: What could we do to make South Africa a better place to live? Wow! The overwhelming response was to fugettaboutit - skin colour - and love one another. And, by god, that's exactly what's happening on my street. The kids are revolutionaries. And we deeply love 'em all!

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... JANUARY, 2018 "YIPPEE! IT'S DAVOS TIME AGAIN... YOU KNOW, THAT  WEEK EACH YEAR WHEN THE BILLIONAIRES GET TOGETHER AT A POSH SWISS SKI RESORT TO WAX EMOTIONAL ABOUT ENDING POVERTY, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH... THEN, SNIFF, SNIFF -  IT'S RIGHT BACK TO MAKING THEIR STINKING BIG BUCKS


WHO GIVES A RAG ABOUT POOR PEOPLE? ACTUALLY, I DO...
IT STARTED WHILE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE REMOTE AFRICAN BUSH IN BURKINA FASO, YEARS AGO. 
I WAS A YOUNG DEVELOPMENT WORKER. SOME BUG MUST HAVE BITTEN ME, BECAUSE
I'VE BEEN PASSIONATELY DOCUMENTING THE POOREST OF THE POOR - AROUND THE WORLD -
 FOR FOUR DECADES SINCE... TRUTH TO TELL, I HATE POVERTY...AND THE HUMAN GREED THAT PERPETUATES IT...


Our surprisingly excellent Cape Town Cape Times published a major, locally researched piece on  Davos 2018. Excuse me, but I almost gagged. Here are a few stats for your eyeballs. Last year 82% of all global growth - went to the richest 1%. The botttom 50%? They received a big nuthin'! They got zero of the staggering wealth increase. Here's a for instance: Stefan Persson, whose father founded H&M clothing stores, received 685 million pounds from his stock dividends alone. The founder of  Zara, Amancia Ortega, received 1.3 billion pounds. Cool! Except that as Oxfam points out both these companies troll the Third World for cheap labour to sew their garments. How cheap can labour get? Well, in Bangladesh, a profiled female garment worker labours 12 hours a day, often until late ast night, and takes home the princely sum of $900... a year

Screwed over workers exist in every country, including in South Africa where I reside. The USA, too. I see these people every day of my life and it makes my blood boil. Where is the compassion? How can normal human beings turn their backs on helpless children, not to mention adults. No, these billionaires have touchy-feely foundations and public relations programs to deflect criticism about their obscene wealth. But you and I know the truth: there's something immoral about this level of wealth - and all the Davos schmoozing, photo ops and poverty panels can't negate the stench. 

Excuse me there's a knock on my front door. Oh, look! It's another skinny teenage girl who doesn't have a functioning family, a hand to hold... or any love at all. She needs food and a hug.. and I promise not to mention Davos. She wouldn't understand. And I don't either.
Regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... JANUARY, 2018 AT 4:OO A.M. ON A JETLINER, SOMEWHERE OVER THE NORTH ATLANTIC OCEAN, THIS INDIAN WOMAN JOLTED ME AWAKE WITH A PROVOCATIVE QUESTION: "WHY DO ALL AMERICAN CITIES LOOK ALIKE?" I can't sleep on airplanes anyhow, so after a cup of coffee, I began to think of a response. First, though, I conceded her question was existential and profound... 

EVERY  COMMUNITY IN INDIA IS UNIQUE; IN THE USA, THEY'RE MOSTLY INTERCHANGABLE...
H-M-M-M-M...  WHY IS THAT?

First, it didn't used to be an homogenized world. That only commenced after WWII, think around 1950. That's when the Big American Chain Business Model era began. And the efficiencies of the carbon-copy business model were hard to deny. As newly prosperousAmericans excitedly toured their own country, they could spot the Shell gas station, MacDonalds burger joint and Holiday Inn motel at every exit on the brand spanking new Interstate Highways. It made travel a breeze. If Dad got promoted to a new city with his corporate job - why everything was pretty much the same everywhere, so it was easy for families to relocate and get their bearings in a heartbeat. Holiday Inn coined the slogan "The best surprise... is no surprise!" And that's the way it was... and is.

Then the chains got exported as the American airlines expanded around the world. You perhaps, can still remember Pan American Airways... or not. But the petrol stations, hotels, pre-packaged food, movies, music groups... all became pretty much universal. So what's the problem?

Well, for starters we humans have developed unique cultures over hundreds and often thousands of years. It's what makes us feel truly at home when we eat our local food and drinks and enjoy the smells, sights and sounds of our niche world. Some of these compromises, I guess, were necessary. Adrian Wooldridge, writing in this issue of the Economist's 1843 magazine (excellent intellectual fodder!) notes that it also signals "a poverty of imagination". The latest incarnation of this saminess is, naturally, the Internet, social media and Big Data. You think  these near-monopolies care about your convenience, but mostly, admit it, they care about their profits,

Finally, as a serious documentary photographer, working around the world, I urge you to use your camera lens to capture what's unique about your own life and community. I focus on indigenous peoples in my travels because their lives and lifestyles are the most gravely threatened. Fight to retain what makes you unique. Then when you have choices (commercially marketed, of course), you'll be better able to separate the wheat from the chaff, those samey products and services that are truly indispensible, from what is mostly... Mickey Mouse bullshit!

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... JANUARY, 2018 "I LIVE IN ONE OF MR. TRUMP'S 'SHITHOLE' COUNTRIES (SOUTH AFRICA)... AND I 'D LIKE TO SHARE A THOUGHT ABOUT THIS WITH YOU..." From what I can determine from your rambling flow of  tweets, being extremely wealthy is the sole yardstick of success in life. Winners and losers, as you call it. H-m-m-m, I'm afraid we're not on the same page with that idea... Let me explain.

I SHOT THESE PHOTOS, YESTERDAY, IN OUR SMALL HAMLET, OUTSIDE CAPE TOWN. THESE
ELITE FIREFIGHTERS ARE CURRENTLY BATTLING WILDFIRES IN THE MOUNTAINS AROUND US. THEY GET TO THEIR HIGHLY-SKILLED JOBS IN HELICOPTERS. THEN, AFTER A LONG DAY OF PUNISHING HEAT AND SWEAT - AND LIFE RISK - PRAY THE CHOPPERS CAN RETURN TO PLUCK THEM TO SAFETY. I BOUGHT A COUPLE OF ROUNDS OF ICE-COLD SODAS FOR THESE BEAT-TO-SHIT HEROES - JUST A SMALL THANK YOU FOR PROTECTING OUR LIVES AND HOMES... DID I MENTION THEY PERFORM THIS SERVICE FOR ALMOST NO MONEY?

I've written before about serving three two-year tours in the U.S. Peace Corps. This program was begun by an earlier American President, John F. Kennedy. For over fifty years highly-skilled, highly motivated American Volunteers have been serving in 75 or so emerging nations - for, here's the stupid part - almost no money! It's crazy, Mr. Trump, but millions and millions of people get up each morning and physically help others, often less fortunate than themselves. It's still my core life here in South Africa and I need to tell you, Sir, I'm proud as hell of these givers. In many less affluent countries, OK, including your 'shithole' countries, people have highly developed senses of compassion and humanity. They serve their fellow man and strive to live lives of moral tenacity. I know this because I've been moving around the Developing World for half a century now and I see the smiles and the tenderness and, yes, the love, daily. In my humble opinion, it's only. when we start to view our fellow men and women as "revenue streams", "profit sources" and "exploitable widgets" that the trouble starts brewing... Definitely, check out our own Nelson Mandela. There's a book, "Long Walk To Freedom" that millions find inspiring, but only if you read books...

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... JANUARY, 2018 "CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA: IT'S POISED TO BE THE FIRST MAJOR CITY IN THE WORLD...TO RUN OUT OF WATER!
The politicians want to blame Mother Nature for this disaster, but, truthfully, the politicans are totally at fault. These f---wits (excuse my French, tempers are mighty short these days) basically ignored this problem for years. The rainy season is over here in the beautiful Western Cape. The international tourists are flooding (wrong word, sorry) in for the long, warm summer days, only to be met with signs everywhere urging them to not flush the toilet, limit showers to 2 minutes, don't water the garden (trees will die, for god's sake) - and it's poor taste to wash your car - in the country with the shiniest clean cars on earth. Happy New Year, huh?

THIS IS THEEWATERSKLOOF DAM, THE MAIN RESERVOIR FOR CAPE TOWN. 
THERE'S JUST A PUDDLE OF WATER... 
BUT THERE ARE LOVELY DUST STORMS EVERY TIME THE WIND HUSTLES UP... UGH!

My wife and I live in a small town where water is adequate, so we'll manage while conserving mightily.. But around the end of April, Cape Town's watertaps will, literally, go dry. Then the city has announced there'll be 250 water point where citizens can go and get a few litres a day for essentials. What??? There are over 4,000,000 people in the Cape Basin; you do the maths. You need to know that Cape Town has had the smart and savvy DA (Democratic Alliance) governing the city for years. This is a mostly white party that sees itself as progressive. Unfortunately, no one was minding the store as the reservoirs emptied over three years! South Africans tend to put their faith in God, so "Pray For Rain" seems to have been the main back-up plan. Uh...it didn't happen. 

You might rightly ask, "With the Atlantic and Indian Oceans bracketing Cape Town, did anyone think of desalination?" Yes! In fact, the city was offered a massive, 500,000,000 litre a day program by a world-class local desalination corporation, but declined the offer - for months! Apparently, "Praying For Rain" was deemed a lot cheaper... So it's a disaster that will happen; it's no longer on anybody's "maybe" list. I'm sure you'll hear about on the front page of whatever media you see...

I took these photos just this morning. You know what really amazed me? The stunning surrounding natural "fynbos" plant kingdon (one of the world's most diverse), shows zero signs of stress (see inset flower photos) - despite this being the worst drought in decades. Mother Nature hasn't noticed anything particularly our-of-order. I mean some years are wetter than others, some dryer, right? No, this catastrophe is 100% man-made. Rapid Cape Town population growth - with little additional new water storage or desalination - met the dry end of the precip cycle. Bam! A human trainsmash.... Here's a final thought: this water problem is global. Keep an eye on your own political hacks. Water isn't sexy, so it's the last issue to capture the pols attention. Cutting ribbons jumps the queque everytime.

Best regards,
Thirsty Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... JANUARY, 2018 I'M OFTEN ASKED: "WHY DO YOU LIVE IN AFRICA?" I HAVE A STANDARD REPLY: "HOW COULD I LIVE ANYWHERE ELSE!" As a young man
(24-25 years old), I worked for two years in the American Peace Corps in Burkina Faso, West Africa. I did school building and borehole construction deep in the hot, dry, Sahel "brousse" (bush) just south of the Sahara desert. My first wife, Terri, worked at the village maternity where women gave birth on the floor on a sheet of plastic, then often returned to the millet fields, to hoe or harvest, a day or two later. It was a furnace, often around 50c. We suffered endless bouts of turbo tummy and I looked a bit skeletal after two years. Sans any electricity and sleeping under a mosquito to avoid malaria (I contracted it anyhow), we were too damn hot for months at a stretch. We ate a lot of goat meat and rice - with tooth-shattering rocks discreetly hidden in each serving. I lost 20 kilos - and fell in love with Africa...

AFRICANS GIFT MY CAMERA ORIGINAL, UNIQUE PHOTOS... YEAR IN AN OUT.

The Peace Corps is still going. It was the brainchild of a long ago inspirational American president, John F. Kennedy. Returned Peace Corps workers used to claim, with a touch of amusement, that Volunteers coming back from Latin America were politicized, from Asia steeped in spirituality. And from Africa? Volunteers returned from Africa laughing - at the absurdity of life! And it's true. No matter how inane the governments (It's really the same everywhere, isn't it?), how deep the poverty, how lamentable the health care or education systems, African take it all with a grain of salt - and continue finding ways to enjoy beling alive. I've lived in southern Africa for the past 17 years, photograph and travel Africa regularly and always return home smiling, with my equilibrium restored.

We live in a howling mad world these days - where CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, etc. never fail to find more misery to broadcast until most sane people throw up their hands and beg for relief. (I have a confession to make: my wife, Lynn, and I haven't watched television for 30 years... thank god. We read and we talk and, yes, we're working on computers too much.)

Please observe that the Africans in the photo above are all relaxed, generally at peace with their fate in life, for better or for worse. They live in the moment and extract the full measure - and pleasure - of human company everyday. They are not suffering from Road Rage Syndrome, having sleepless nights worrying about their retirement portfolios - or the gyrating Bit Coin market. And they aren't embarrassed to be seen in public without the latest fashion or shoes, or often any shoes.

They are almost always kind and gentle and show a determined respect for everyone they meet, including their transplanted neighbour, me. No one has ever refused to graciously allow me to take their picture. I am in debt to all Africans for any signs of normality I may exhibit from time to time. It's not even inappropriate to say I love Africans. Those faraway memories from Burkina Faso triggered something in me that has propelled me through a lengthening life: always say thank you and never, ever complain about your circumstances - millions of Africans have it infinitely worse - and still return my smiles!

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... DECEMBER, 2017 " OH, C'MON, MIRACLES DON'T REALLY HAPPEN... OR DO THEY? I LIVE IN POST-APARTHEID SOUTH AFRICA... AND LET ME ASSURE YOU, MIRACLES DO HAPPEN. I'm as jaded as you are about our fraught world - stuck like you, in a funk of cynicism. The politics, the violence, the pollution, the global business monopolies and corruption - and the general feeling of despair that anything will get better soon. I think in the Festive Season, now acknowledged around the world not as a religious event, but as a social (and commercial!) extravaganza, we all try a little harder to be hopeful.. and, hopefully, generous to those struggling with poverty and its pain. I live in Africa. I'd have to be blind not to see the inequality and unfairness of life for so many. So at this time of year, most particularly, my wife, Lynn, and I pull out the stops and try to bring smiles to as many faces as possible. It's a wonderful feeling to see kids smiling, let me tell you... So hang the expense!

The kids on our block enjoying their school holiday - just this week.


 But back to this subject of miracles. We were teachers in the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho, surrounded by South Africa, 18 years ago. South Africa was just beginning its new life as a fledgling democracy and Nelson Mandela, with his dream of a "Rainbow Nation" was the new president - after 23 years in prison for the crime of wanting... freedom. Shit, people paid a steep price for Apartheid (White rule over other races) - and I include the Whites, Blacks and Coloureds. It sucked not only freedom, but the joy out of life for millions - of all colours. And the scars ran deep. And for many, still do.

But Lynn and I were smitten with this notion that all Seffricans  (South Africans) could somehow be equal and enjoy the blessings of each other's company. We never went back to the United States. We made our home in South Africa. And we're still completely committed to Madiba's dream all these years later. There was just one problem: progress has been glacially slow. You can change the laws, but changing people's hearts - and minds - is a different matter entirely. Can you imagine your photographer friend Eric walking down the leafy streets in our small town and having adult Coloured and Black people say, "Morning, Master"? This drives me nuts, so with regularity, I stop and engage the stranger and ask never to be called "Master" again... A frequent response: "OK, Master!" This, two decades after Apartheid ended...

But then something wonderful happened this year right in our neighbourhood, actually right around block, right around our house. We got integrated!  Newly emerging middle-class Black and Coloured families are eager for the same quality of life as South Africa's Whites. Of course. And here are their kids, the Born Free generation, in the picture you're looking at above. It's a miracle! It really is.  These kids don't even see anything out of order. They don't carry the wounds from the past. They just want to be kids - and have fun! God, what a sight for sore eyes...

And as I wipe a few stray tears off my face, I can hear these healthy kids laughing and playing with their rugby ball right outside my open front door. Hey, these are the longest, warmest days of the year here, deep in the southern hemisphere, and we have something very special to celebrate this summery Festive Season... I hope you do, too!

Best regards,
Eric



LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... DECEMBER, 2017 "CATCHING FIRE: HOW COOKING MADE US HUMAN"  These are Khoi-San hunter-gatherers. They live rich lives - outside the money economy - in Botswana's Kalahari Desert. They don't have TV, Smart Phones or a bloody computer - like the one I'm writing on right now! 
They are well-fed (they dig roots and capture the odd antelope), never want for water (they hide empty ostrich eggs filled with water all over their hunting territory). And they are not fat...

KHOI SAN TELLING STORIES THROUGH DANCE AND SONG - DEEP IN THE REMOTE KALAHARI
 DESERT AROUND A CAMP FIRE... IT WAS A SPELL-BINDING EVENING I'LL NEVER FORGET.


I've just finished reading "Catching Fire" (by primatologist Richard Wrangham) and it made my feeble brain
sizzle (OK...that's the first and last lame pun!) The author argues that we were just another animal species trying to stay alive, one meal - or mouthful - at a time, until we domesticated the use of fire and began cooking. Prior to this event, as a species we had to migrate to warmer climes in cold weather, were unable to practice agriculture without the ability to cook nourishing grains, etc. And that eating cooked food released huge amounts of protein and energy into our bodies, allowing our brains and physiques to enlarge. Over time, or quite suddenly, we're not quite sure, but cooking with fire became "the hinge on which human evolution turned." 

Cooking permitted us to live in one place (think caves), dry and store food safely for inclement weather periods, raise children with a division of labour and established our sexuality from merely being for reproductive purposes to the social, sexually aware humans that we are today. Stationary living empowered women with the vastly improved ability to raise intelligent children. Men for thousands of years were the hunter-gatherers that you see in my Botswana Khoi San photo. 
Crop-growing agricultural lives led to villages (first along the Tigris / Euphrates Rivers), then a sense of community, then a legal framework for living in communities with close proximity to other people, etc. 

The evolutionary spin-offs of cooked food - and controlled fires - are probably endless. Religion? Innovations like oral, then written histories of tribes and nations to guide the future - with knowledge from the past? I dunno, but I found it deeply pleasing to read "Catching Fire". I better appreciate my life here in southern Africa, where I still comfortably share the landscape with peoples (the Himba and Khoi San are just two of many traditional tribes across Africa). They don't skew their lives with abupt overdoses of social media,technology, mobility and excessive affluence - for which the end outcome is completely unclear at this point. Where will the smart phone lead us? A jobless, artificial intelligence future of convenience. Is that a good thing? A lack of physical work that's already left hundreds of millions of us struggling with obesity. Who's minding the store, I increasingly wonder as our world wrecks havoc on the climate and, truthfully, each other?

Hey, I've already agreed with my wife to toss a couple of small steaks on the braii fire (SA barbeque) this summer evening - deep in the Southern Hemisphere. I may even have a glass or two of this domesticated grape juice we call wine. At any rate, I'll continue my deep thinking about the life pleasures - fires and cooked food have injected into our lives. Might you as well?

Best regards,
Eric 


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA...DECEMBER, 2017 "WHAT CAN THESE GENTLE GIRAFFES TEACH US SO-SO-SMART HUMANS? READ ON..."  Two months ago, I was on a photoshoot in one of my favourite countries anywhere on earth - Namibia - when this Etosha waterhole shot grabbed my attention....

GIRAFFES AND SPRINGBOK TAKE TURNS QUENCHING THEIR THIRSTS IN NORTHERN NAMIBIA'S
SPECTACULAR ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK. SOME DRINK, OTHERS STAND GUARD. THERE'S AN IMPORTANT LESSON HERE...

There's a new (dirt) road that enters sprawling Etosha Nat'l Park from the west side. So far, few tourists know about it. And besides, they've mostly meticulously planned their African holiday with every lodging hired months in advance, so the idea of wandering off exploring the unknown is a non-starter (What about the schedule, Bob??) Your idiot photographer here at SAPHOTOSAFARI rarely has any idea where the day will end, so as on this night, I unroll my sleeping bag, on a pad, in the back of my 4X4 and sing myself to sleep with a lullaby. OK, OK I made up the lullaby bit...

The waterhole was mostly devoid of tourists, which is perfect for me because I adore watching, studying, learning from Africa's patrimony of gorgeous wild creatures. This day was no different. The giraffes and the Springbok took turns quaffing their dry, savannah thirsts. Note: three giraffes are guzzling away, while the other three carefully watch for the too-stuffed-to-jump guys in the inset picture - who, twenty k's down the dusty track, were actually were sleeping off their supper at the next waterhole. Ditto the Springbok. It's always like this in Wild Africa. There are no second chances, no government bailouts, no ambulances poised to rescue your miserable butt after some or other rash behaviour. No, you're some predators next meal - if your attention span dozes off ever so slightly. Which probably explains why there are no fat wild animals; they have to outrun the leopards, cheetah and lions, etc, don't they?


I've lived in Africa for years, nearly twenty actually. You know, one of the things I treasure about living here most is the need to pay attention to the surroundings. I always feel safe because I do pay attention, show respect to everybody - and never stop helping the poorest of the poor somehow stay alive and afloat. That last serious life passion (battling poverty) trumps everything else I do, including my photography. And allows me to sleep comfortably at night. No guilt. This Festive Season maybe you have a few extra coins squirreled away  - that you could share with someone less fortunate than you. And then, keep paying attention at the waterhole-of-life so to speak, so that all your good fortune isn't snatched away ...in a distracted moment.

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA...DECEMBER, 2017 "SOUTH AFRICA'S WILDFIRES REMIND US THAT EVEN WITH ALL THEIR PAIN AND DESTRUCTION, RENEWAL IS AT HAND... It's pretty hard to live in the Developing World - and even much of the First World - and not see the pain of poverty, joblessness, wars, endless wars, famine or the hunger that accompanies so many children's lives, et al. It can seem pretty numbing. I live a middle class life in beautiful South Africa, but no day goes by without staring one - or all - of the above conditions smack in my face. Frankly,...after a lengthy life of Peace Corps service and a passionate interest in ending human discomfort, I, too, have days where hopelessness seems to govern my thoughts... 

VELDT FIRES (BUSH FIRES) ARE A TERROR TO BEHOLD FOR HUMANS - AND WILDLIFE - ALIKE.

December is the beginning of the veldt fire season in South Africa's Western Cape, where I live. These stupendous blazes used to be caused mostly by lightening strikes, but many are now human-caused. As a photographer, I find the fires compelling to follow and document. The fires play havoc with the orchards and vineyards that surround the small town where I live. Farmers and farmworkers join the ranks of Working on Fire and local fire brigades. It's a huge, impressive, coordinated human effort to contain the fires. Sometimes that happens quickly, sometimes not... It's a serious drought year around us here, so concerns about fires are justified... Thousands of jobs depend on protecting the agriculture and the watersheds... We'll see what happens.

But there's another side to the fires that I find deeply inspiring: the renewal. It turns out that the veldt (bush) actually needs to burn occasionally to renew itself, clear out the deadwood and brush and start fresh. That sight is also rivetting to me and my camera. Within a few months, the scorched earth is putting up fresh shoots and quickly thereafter, literally hundreds of different plant species explode in a riot of colourful blooms. It's nature at it's most magical... and mysterious.

Perhaps it's not so different with us human beings. We tend to see the short view and find it depressing... or hopeless. But a little longer view finds hope...blossoming. This week my wife and I attended the graduation at a rural primary school where we provide school supplies. The kids are beautiful! And they're looking bigger and healthier each passing year because of brilliantly run school lunch and nutrition programs. The teachers are super. The school facility is clean and well-managed.  How can we not be hopeful? South's Africa's stunning highways are always under construction and improvement (with thousands of jobs being created). Just what we need: jobs! The stores, supermarkets and malls, are stocked to the rafters with world-class food - and Christmas toys for the kids. I get to tease friends - and strangers - I meet in my daily peregrinations around our walkable little town - and get teased with smiles in return. Our neighbourhood is looking more each month like a cross-section of South Africans. In short, like those beautiful wildflowers after the veldt blazes - there is hope! Aplenty. So keep hope alive in your life... we all desperately need it!

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA...DECEMBER, 2017 "ADVENTURE TRAVELLER'S 'HOT TIP': ARE YOU VISITING OR PHOTOGRAPHING AMONG TRADITIONAL PEOPLE?  FOR GOD'S SAKE KEEP YOUR CLOTHES ON! 
Having spent many decades living with, travelling among and photographing traditional (indigenous) people around our fraught world, the appalling poor taste of many tourists outfits is - just about my least favourite subject. "Hey tourists! Are you deaf, dumb and blind?
A BRITISH COLUMBIA TLA'AMIN VILLAGE DRUMMER GREETS CANADA FIRST NATIONS' CANOERS. 
THE RAISED PADDLES ARE THE TRADITIONAL SIGN REQUESTING PERMISSION TO COME ASHORE.
SUDDENLY THIS WOMAN TOURIST IN A BRA TOP VAULTED INTO MY PICTURE. A-R-R-R-G-H!

Until recently my wife and I have locked up our South Afric an home annually to spend northern summers hand-building a wilderness cabin north of Powell River, British Columbia, Canada. What an adventure and what fun! Including sharing our ocean-view property with bears, wolves and, once, a two-metre long mountain lion! One day looking off the deck while working, I was startled to see a fleet of canoes on the Shearwater Strait far below us (above collage). Lynn grabbed the binocs - First Nations people! - and five minutes later - camera in hand - I was lunging down our twisting mountain driveway in 4X4. I travelled 15 k's to the nearby Tla'Amin First Nations' village. It was an exquisite summer day. You have to live in Canada, where summers are short and winters long, wet and cold to know precisely what that means... 

I was the only non-native on the saltwater beach. The entire village turned out to awaitthe arrival of canoers and their guests from another village up the wilderness coast. A wild salmon barbeque was in the offing! I discreetly did what I am passionate about doing: take photos. I've had an intense interest in indigenous people since living with them as a Peace Corps worker for years in Burkina Faso, West Africa, The Philippines and Lesotho in southern Africa. I just relax. I revel in these moments because traditional people are real, comfortable in their own skins - and not stressed out by the demands of our competitive, contrived, consumer societies.

And then it happened! A Canadian tourist seeing a commotion on the beach from the passing road, ran down with her camera right through the crowd. Splashing right into the ocean, she darted this way and that to get pictures - without a thought of her intrusive behaviour and, um-m-m, outfit. "Ouch!", I thought to myself as the welcoming ceremony attempted to continue. You know, I can't even imagine how someone could be that insensitive, but I see it too regularly in my camera-toting travels. Tourists seem to leave their brains and manners back home - way too often.

So when you have the special pleasure of mingling with traditional people, and I most particularly include conservative Muslims, remember your values and lifestyles aren't  necessarily everyone else's. Look around you - and blend in or stay away! Sadly, it's a huge problem and vastly complicates the blessings of tourism that most countries want to support and enjoy. Do your part, please...

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA...NOVEMBER, 2017  "IS AFRICA'S SMALL, TORMENTED ZIMBABWE A PRECURSOR OF THINGS TO COME - FOR NATIONS AROUND THE WORLD?" You've seen it splashed all over the world headlines this week: The invincible, mighty Bob Mugabe bit the dust. I live in South Africa. I know and enjoy Zimbabweans immemsely. They usually stand out for their excellent social and English skills and they scoop up hundreds of thousands of scarce jobs in South Africa - with their positive can-do mindset. What a disaster then that the country's best and brightest have had to leave Zimbabwe's broken economy to support their families and loved ones. It's nauseating, frankly. The tears flowed freely for many of us in the last few days- as a ray of hope for this crippled country finally erupted.

Everybody loves Zimbabwe and not just magnificent Victoria Falls (above). 
The civilized, friendly people, the scenery, the superb sense of being in Africa... It's all there.

A New York Times columnist this week spoke of "the centrifugal forces tearing countries apart worldwide". I instantly stamped that spectacular quote into my poor brain. For that's exactly what's happening. The right and the left, the rich and the poor, the religious and secular, the globalized and parochial, the tech-enabled and the tech-disabled. At every juncture the political centre  -  the rational  middle ground on which healthy societies build and flourish - is withering away. It's being replaced by extremists, despots and demogogues. Mr Mugabe used democracy to craft a dictatorship and he's not the only one. In Africa there's a strong correlation between the struggle heroes who put an end to colonialism, then went on to cement their hold on liberated societies using the same strong-arm tactics of Mugabe: minimal tolerance for the opposition, wealth accumulation for the chosen few and destroyed hopes and futures of the very people who risked their lives to support them.

But it's not just Africa. Globally, democratic states seem ill-equipped to wrestle with the sweeping, ever-accelerating changes lashing our people-jammed planet. In the Americas, Europe and Asia, the same ill-winds are blowing. What to do? Well, the people of small, strait-jacketed Zimbabwe - in their tens of thousands poured into the streets this week to say "Enough!" In the end each of us - and all of us - must summon a political will that can have painful costs. What is the value of freedom to you? There is wondrously hope for Zimbabwe, suddenly, and also other countries held hostage by their rogue elite rulers. The tide of human affairs surges back and forth. Maybe, just maybe, this is the tiny spark that changes the world for its down-trodden billions - for the better. Despots beware... And bless you, Zimbabweans!

Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... NOVEMBER, 2017  "BREAKING NEWS: IS MASS TOURISM LOVING OUR PLANET TO DEATH?  I'm a travel junkie. But since I'm an adventure traveller professional photographer I'm just doing my job, right? It's all the rest of you that are loving our gorgeous planet to death...with your relentless trips! OK, OK, I apologise for that egregious (idiotic) remark. But the awkward truth is that tourism, me regrettably included, has grown exponentially in recent years, with new booming middle class travellers popping out of the woodwork seemingly everywhere. 


Earlier this year, on a month-long trip to New Zealand, I paid a bloody fortune (don't ask) to stand with tour groups and snap pix of the famous Maori Rotorua geysers (above). Ugh! Then they all piled back on their tour vans and buses and roared off to the next must-see Kiwi attraction. Beautiful Queenstown on the South Island was so runover ( jet boat rides! para-sailing! bungee-jumping! white-water rafting!) - we ran away. But what happened next was a highlight of the trip. We free camped in Mt Aspiring Nat'l Park well beyond Glenorchy - all by ourselves - and had one of the most deeply satisfying moments of our New Zealand adventure. We were bracketed by absolutely stunning snow-capped peaks and a clear, boiling trout stream to lull us to sleep after our evening campfire... No tour groups. None.

South Africa, where I happily live, isn't immune from this tourism onslaught. This week, up the scenic Indian Ocean Garden Route from Cape Town, my wife and I zig-zagged down the narrow, junglely park road to day hike on the Tsitsikamma Nat'l Park coast. It's wild, rugged Africa and a favourite getaway for us to enjoy our solitude with nature. Not this year! Quickly six tour buses, plus tour vans were disgorging their customers by the container load. The pax stood abjectly taking pictures of leaping whales off-shore (we actually wondered if the leaping whales weren't simply oogling the tourists!) It was so congested that park personnel, who are supposed to be securing the park's natural beauty, were instead frantically searching parking spots for cars and campers - all day long. 

But the next morning, although overcast and showery, was a completely different story. At the Robberg Peninsula Park (a long-time favourite over the years), we watched the mass tourism crowd head off for the de riguer snapshots. We simply hiked the other way to visit a cave where archaeologists have sifted through the remains of some of the earliest modern homo sapiens evidence - anywhere on the planet. A few more minutes of crashing waves and cliff-top scenery and we bumped into two Dutch women travellers (above).  We had a blisteringly fun encounter that ended with them willingly posing as  mermaids. Yes! Thank god my wife was standing at my side - laughing - or I'd have some "explaining" to do back home on my computer screen...

Like us, these two women were independent travellers, following their instincts and writing their trip script as each new day unfolded. Those roads-less-travelled are increasingly going to be sought out by serious travellers who refuse to accept canned&crammed holiday tours. These do-it-yourself travellers will be enriched - as travel is supposed to do. And they will return home... smiling. Is your next adventure between the pages of a brochure... or an original life experience?

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA...NOVEMBER, 2017 "IN A HUNGRY WORLD, THESE ONE-SQUARE METRE 'CHICKEN RANCHES' CAN FEED A LOT OF PEOPLE - AND, AS  IMPORTANTLY, CREATE A LOT OF JOBS... AND THEY'RE AFFORDABLE!" I live in Africa. Most people on this continent still don't have refrigerators. Why? Simple. There's no electricity. There should be by now, but we'll leave that festering wound for another day, Okay? So how do you get animal protein to half a billion people? Chicken is a helluva lot cheaper to raise than goats, sheep or cows. And it's portable. Lord knows, I've been on enough Third World buses with chickens stashed in the overhead racks. In fact, if you're going to see the relatives or attend a funeral, taking a couple of live chickens in Africa (and elsewhere!) is always in good taste, no pun intended...

Do you have a passion for small business? This "Chicken Ranch" 
idea is simple and doable. Here are two I built in the Philippines and Lesotho.

To tell you the truth, I wasn't born a professional photographer. Somehow you knew that, right? I have a Masters Degree in Journalism (University of Washington, Seattle), but for some years I was a furniture maker (I loved it...) and I've been around development work in Africa and Asia for years as well. One day in the Philippines (see above "photo essay"), I spotted this one square metre chicken factory in the back of a thumb-worn U.N. booklet. Whoa! Within days, I was hand sawing the pieces and nailing them together. It was brilliant in its simplicity. Empty chicken feed sacks dropped down from the top to keep the precious birds dry and/or warm (the Philippines have raging typhoons and mountainous Lesotho, Africa has - snow), used local bamboo for feed and water troughs. Empty tin cans with oil in them kept termites away and small sheet metal cut-outs deterred rats and mice. Removable trays captured manure for gardens. Hey, I told you it was brilliant! 

Here's how it worked. Day old chicks from the nearby local feed store went in the top of three cages. Two weeks latter they were moved to the middle cage and new day old chicks were added up top. The process continued with three classes of chickens working down through the cages and finishing - at a hefty one and a half kilos each(!) - at about 42 days. They were then available for live sale and quickly sold out. Unlike free-run chickens, there wasn't a 75% mortality rate and the birds were ready to consume F-A-S-T. Not scrawny little road runners after six months. Mortality was generally zero. Some families quickly expanded to multiple, portable chicken "ranches"| and captured the extra profits. In short, it's a great way to add jobs, nutrition and burnish the business skills necessary to organize deliveries, feed, and marketing. Do you know somebody who needs a responsible job and an income? Have at it!

Best regards, 
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... NOVEMBER,  2017 "MY SECRET CAMPSITE? IT'S TUCKED OUT OF THE WAY IN SOUTH AFRICA...WHERE IT'S JUST ME AND THE BARKING BABOONS..." I think like most normal people, I need to get away from it all from time to time. But for many people, that means, what?, a cruise ship trip or a return to our old home town. Or, maybe, a spiritual re-awakening. That's not me. My idea of getting away from it all is to, well, get away from it all. 

DEEP IN A MOUNTAIN CANYON, OFF THE GRAVEL ROAD A FEW HUNDRED METRES,
THERE'S A PLACE WHERE I CAN SERIOUSLY STUDY A CAMPFIRE, THEN SLEEP UNDER 
A SPRINKLING OF STARS. MY ALARM CLOCK? THE LOCAL BABOON TROOP
LOUDLY ANNOUNCES MY PRESENCE AT DAYBREAK...

My campsite is free and there's no queue for the ablutions. Do I feel safe? Of course, there's a pinch of anxiety. But that's part of the allure. No, I'm basically comfortable tossing and turning in my sleeping bag across the long hours of a freezing cold night. I make a simple supper. Desert? It's always a chunk of my favourite imported dark chocolate - with hazelnuts to crunch. I sip a coffee cup of boiling hot water and I listen to the stirrings of my natural surroundings. This is wild Africa and, yes, there are leopards skulking about. But I'm "armed" with a campfire. I sleep inside my 4X4 with the backseats folded down, so I'm not worried too much about being some critter's meal ticket...

But, mostly, nothing happens. And, for me, that's the whole point. We humans inhabit a world of sonic booms by the nano-sceond. We are adrenaline junkies, like it or not. But sometimes having nothing but a campfire to poke, a shooting star for a dream and the silence of the African night can be a catharsis - bordering on euphoria. I'm afraid in this cock-a-maney world we've conjured up, we've rather suddenly abandoned our homo sapiens roots of, oh, the last few hundred thousand years. No, my brief time alone in a remote rock-walled canyon with a small, noisy stream slipping through it - and baboons for companions - would be instantly recognizable to our forebearers. How else can I explain that as I pack up my kit to return to "civilization" - I feel somehow tested, free, confident and self-reliant. Are those emotions we all need to discover in ourselves? As a South African author succinctly put it: "Adversity introduced me to myself." H-m-m-m...

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... OCTOBER, 2017 "SUDDENLY, YOU HAVE NOTHING... NO MONEY, NO JOB, NO ONE TO LOVE OR LOVE YOU... AND YOUR YOUTH IS SPENT. WHAT WOULD YOU DO? IN A TINY TO-HELL-AND-GONE KAROO DESERT HAMLET, SOUTH AFRICAN HELEN MARTINS DID SOMETHING REMARKABLE: SHE PRODUCED ART NO ONE HAD EVER IMAGINED... 

THOUSANDS HAVE MADE THE PILGRIMAGE TO DUSTY, REMOTE NIEU BETHESDA, SOUTH AFRICA
OVER THE YEARS TO  VISIT HELEN MARTINS "OWL HOUSE" AND ITS STUNNING, ORIGINAL CREATIONS...

She thought of herself  as a cross between a camel (unappreciated brute work) and an owl (wisdom and intelligence). Left without options at fifty, after burying her difficult parents in the tiny village where she'd spent nearly her whole life, Nieu Bethesda, she did something extraordinary. Untrained as an artist and with only cement, odd pieces of coloured glass and cast-off bottles for "art supplies", she dug deep and began a twenty-five year career (1950-1976) churning out simple, organic works of art that were so stunningly original, people still gasp - as I did a few days ago - at what the human mind can conjure up. A skirt made from medicine bottles (upper left), owls and humans with glowing glass eyes made from bottle bottoms, camels by the dozens - some with human faces - sculpted by a woman who had never seen a live camel. Her artworks were jammed, willy-nilly, in her back yard where they remain to this day. Her "owl house" was part studio and part gallery. And every nook and cranny still bursts with the woman's creative genius. I kept scratching my head in wonder, as do all Helen Martins' visitors, at the sprawling reach of her mind: Would you think of flattening out an owl's face - and making a bird bath?

Helen Martin's life was not happy (she shocked her neighbours by committing suicide by swallowing caustic acid in her late seventies). But she endured and left a creative legacy that is now called "outsider art". Most artists model their work on other's accomplishments. Helen Martins was so isolated that there were no other "models" to emulate. Focusing on "owls" and "camels" (excuse me, say what?), she just laboured, sometimes with a local assistant and sometimes by herself. There were no wealthy patrons or swishy art sales. There was only poverty, loneliness and, increasingly, isolation. Helen Martins endured. And from her pain came a small gift to each of us: when everything in life falls apart, our minds endure. That miracle we each possess is not to be squandered. Helen Martins used her mind - and imagination - until her final breath. It's considered a fact in dusty Nieu Bethesda (the flinty town where residents refuse to pave the streets...), that on the last night of her convoluted life on earth, an owl hooted outside her window - calling Helen home...

Regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... OCTOBER, 2017 "FRESH AIR: AM I AN IDIOT - OR ISN'T FRESH AIR A BASIC HUMAN RIGHT? Let's see, I'm an American adventure travel photographer who has been living in South Africa with my wife for sixteen years. Naturally, I was on a tourist shuttle in Turkey's Cappadocia region (inset hot air balloon photo), when a Chinese tourist asked the driver to stop.  She got out of the bus, walked into the wheat grass along the road - and stared at the snow-capped peaks. And stared. And stared. Finally, a little awkwardly, a friend helped her back on the shuttle and we got underway again. I shot this photo of her and put my camera down. It wasn't until a few moments later that I saw the woman was quietly shedding tears.... I don't have to tell you why...


A CHINESE TOURIST IN TURKEY DRINKING IN THE CLEAN AIR AND MOUNTAINS NEAR CAPPADOCIA.

She revealed she lives in Beijing where the air is often so polluted, many children have never seen a star. But it could be Cairo, or Mumbai, Sao Paulo, or any other of the thousands of world cities where cleaning up the air usually has to be pushed back a few more years because of tight budgets, corruption - and/or the need to sell lots and lots of cars to further jam the already clogged freeways. Just growing the economy, right? Near my home, Cape Town, South Africa mints the dirty stuff like a new religion. Hemmed in by the Hottentots-Holland mountains, the pollution is seasonally mixed with wood and coal smoke to make a fine toxic brew. H-m-m... The BBC has a headline story this morning observing that 1 in 6 deaths are now pollution-related (9,000,000 people a year). Young childen are the most susceptible...

What to do? Well, badgering your politicians wouldn't hurt, since pollution is political. Los Angeles, California, where I photographed last year, has done a commendable clean-up of its pollution - after the voters communicated their disgust for dirty air. Or consider small cities or towns when you inevitably relocate - and check out their air quality before you move. Does that sound too hoity-toity? My wife, Lynn and I wouldn't consider breathing shit air and we've done just this simple test before each of our moves, first in the States, then the Philippines, then Lesotho, Canada and South Africa. Hey, you are what you breathe! To this day I love taking in a clean breath of fresh air in my small town backyard - and looking at the gin-clean mountains ringing our valley of export fruit and wine farms. There are troops of baboons and leopards in our surrounding mountains - and they don't share the death wish of homo sapiens! 

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... OCTOBER, 2017 "BIRDS, IN THEIR STAGGERING DIVERSITY, TAKE MY BREATH AWAY... MAYBE THE MIRACLE OF BEING ALIVE ISN'T ON YOUR SMARTPHONE AFTER ALL... BUT RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE?"
I'm just like you. I can't believe our world, you know the blue-green round thing to which we are all attached, is in such a crappy, diabolical mess. Whew! Some days I wonder which is worse: the politics or the weather. Those Californians, just north of Silicon Valley and San Francisco, are buckling under wildfires of epic proportions as I write. I know this beautiful terrain, famous for its wine and casual lifestyle. Suddenly, without warning, 15 savage wildfires exploded with 90 kilometre an hour howling winds! People are dying and over 2,000 homes and commercial properties are in ashes... as the fires surge past 100,000 hectares. And I don't exaggerate when I say the pain of Californians is easily matched by the pain in my country and yours... 

THE MAIN GUY HERE IS A CRESTED BARBET. THE OTHER BIRDS, TOP CENTRE, THEN CLOCKWISE:
CROWNED CRANES, LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER, SADDLE-BEAKED STORK, AFRICAN PENGUIN, SOUTHERN GROUND HORNBILL AND ORANGE-BREASTED SUNBIRD.  I PHOTOGRAPHED ALL THESE BEAUTIFUL CREATURES IN SOUTH AFRICA.

Too much of this toxic stew and we'll all go crazy, so that's where our simple-minded friends, birds, come to the rescue. For me, one of the many pleasures of photography is patiently attempting to capture new birds with my lens - and endlessly struggling to get better snaps of the ones I've already "shot". It's so calming! The more time I spend with birds, the more I enjoy the miracle and uniqueness each specie brings into my life. I'm, for better or worse, an ardent believer in evolution, but to imagine the process by which these avians become the artworks they are, stretches my addled brain to the limit!

So ditch the daily calamity of news, occasionally. Put some simple joy back in your life. Pick up your cell phone camera or whatever you have and stake out a likely spot for birds. They come to you, generally, if you sit quietly... Brown, blue, yellow, red or purple, it makes no difference. Get serious about bird photography and you may unwrap a whole new chapter in your life. It's called ornithology, the study of birds. Millions, globally, do it with a passion. And it sure beats listening to those weaselly politicians... promising, promising, endlessly promising.

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... OCTOBER, 2017 "THE LAS VEGAS SHOOTINGS: THE WHOLE WORLD IS WONDERING 'WHY DID HE DO IT?' I MAY HAVE THE ANSWER
...AND I ASK A FEW MOMENTS OF YOUR TIME -TO SHARE SOMETHING SERIOUS WITH YOU. DID I MENTION THAT I'M AN AMERICAN CITIZEN, LIVING OVERSEAS?  Like you, my heart aches for those hundreds of wounded from this insane killing-spree in Las Vegas. And for the traumatized survivors. And for Las Vegas' decent citizens. And, really, all of us. This is a human tragedy. I pass through Las Vegas from time to time and, though I don't gamble, I'm as gape-jawed as the next tourist watching the tacky glamour and glitzy casinos...that draw millions of pleasure seekers.

THAT'S RIGHT, YOU CAN RENT-A-MACHINE GUN IN LAS VEGAS.. AND SPEND
VACUOUS HOURS, OR DAYS, PLAYING THE SLOTS AND VIDEO POKER... ALL BY YOURSELF.

Our shooter's life is being pored over by the police, the media and practically half the rest of the planet. Why would a White multimillionaire, who's a pilot and owned private planes, played video poker with a vengeance  and was retired in isolated comfort - explode with this kind of anger? 

There, I just told you what you need to know to solve this diabolical puzzle. I'm an American and also a student of a country that is increasingly fracturing. I visit the States regularly enough to take the pulse of the place - and here's what I see. The obsession with gun ownership is a symptom of the loss of  financial security, dignity - and community of many, many Americans. The White Middle and Working Class is under enormous stress from technological forces - over which they have no control. As Americans withdraw into ideological groups of like-minded 'fellow travellers', they forfeit the powerful bonds that hold diverse people - and countries - together. And as their fear of others expands ( think refugees, Latinos, African Americans, Muslims et al), their paranoia grows exponentially. It's toxic. In a truly functioning democracy the symbol of the"Statue of Liberty", representing America's humble, diverse roots unites, not divides the public. Not anymore...

The corollary of this withdrawl from society is loneliness, isolation and depression. I live quite contentedly in a small South African town where I engage people of all backgrounds, colours, religions and income diversity - all day long. I feel mentally healthy doing this - connected, really - and eagerly reach out to assist my less fortunate neighbours - every chance I get. Careful, though: the returned smiles can bring unexpected tears to your eyes... Mr. Paddock's life was the polar opposite. He was wealthy and retired early - to do what? Play relentless video poker. Take the odd cruise ship trip. Eat out at fast food chain Taco Bell, as his own brother revealed. He ignored his retirement community neighbours who have said repeatedly about him, "It was like living next to nothing." Other Mesquite residents socialized. Not Mr. Paddock. And I have never heard of him helping others - despite his bountiful bank account. Finally, Mr. Paddock's pointless affluenza got the better of him: he stockpiled guns and ammo and anger...

It would be one thing if this were an isolated case. But the USA, I hate to tell you, has made 'making money' the end all and be all - of being alive. Wealth trumps compassion, community and. dare I say it, love. The sense of positive purpose and contribution that I grew up with in the United States ( including  three two-year tours in the U.S. Peace Corps in Burkina Faso, The Philippines and Lesotho) is ebbing away. Fear and anger - and outbursts of violence - seem to be the tragic replacements. So I gently enquire: is your life connected to your community, social group and loved ones? Your health and happiness surely depend on it...

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... OCTOBER, 2017 "'SELFIE' ADDICTED? PLEASE REMEMBER, SHOOTING SELFIES IS NOT A SKILL ...AND, SORRY, IT DOESN'T MAKE YOU A PHOTOGRAPHEROh relax! SAPPHOTOSAFARI is not going to give you a verbal spanking for having a little fun... But as a student of human behaviour, it has come to my attention that the whole "selfie" schtick is completely out of control. Our adorable singer/prancer Ms Ariana Grande (110,000,000 followers), and other Instagram celebs, basically have crafted their images built around relentless selfie shots foisted on a willing public day in and out. H-m-m-m-m...
I CAN HARDLY SNAP A HARD-WON PHOTO ANYMORE WITHOUT HAVING TO SHOO THE "SELFIE"
CROWD - OUT OF THE PICTURE. GOOD GRIEF! (CENTRE) IS THIS THE LAST LANDLINE PAY PHONE IN THE WORLD?
JUST JOKING, BUT WE'RE EDGING CLOSER TO THAT DAY - FAST. TRAGICALLY, THAT'S ME (MIDDLE, RIGHT) CLICKING OFF A SELFIE IN THE MIRROR. I APOLOGISE...

Well, I wouldn't bring up this unpleasant truth if I wasn't, even in my small 'dorp' outside Cape Town, seeing nearly every sentient being stumbling around snapping these, mostly, idiotic ego massagers. But, if one picture is worth a thousand words, then the bloody "selfie" may well spell the end of thoughtfully composed sentences, actually written down and read by another human being. What an old-fashioned thought, huh?

One of my life passions is recording my documentary truth in photos. Our world is changing at warp speed and each of us needs to make sure that our version of history gets an airing - with pictures. Can you really imagine your grand-children looking at hundreds of your selfies - and have them not wonder if maybe grandpa/ma wasn't smoking something funny? But, of course, by then robots will be doing all the photography - and no one will care about your dusty memories of a mis-spent youth...

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... SEPTEMBER, 2017  "I'M A LOOPY WHITE GUY WHO HAPPILY LIVES IN AFRICA. YOU KNOW WHAT, MR TRUMP, I HAVE SOME SHOCKING NEWS: WE'RE ALL ALIKESO, HEY, GET A GRIP...AND SMILE. LIFE'S WAY TOO SHORT TO GO AROUND HATING EVERYBODY WHO DOESN'T BELONG TO YOUR TRIBE!" I'm the world's luckiest S.O.B. I get to travel around the world, regularly, so when I make this apparently rash statement about homo sapiens similarity, I actually speak from decades of experience. 

I SNAPPED THIS PHOTO IN THE MIDDLE OF BOTSWANA'S KALIHARI DESERT.
THESE KHOI-SAN WERE SHOWING A SMALL GROUP OF US HOW THEY SURVIVE
IN THEIR HARSH SURROUNDINGS - WHEN THEDA'S BLOND PONY-TAIL STOLE THE SHOW...

I'm not naive. I live in South Africa where racism, like most everywhere else, continues to sputter along. Parents transmit the disease to their children, although just between you and me, this latest born-free generation in South Africa (born since Mandela's gift of democracy in 1994) is showing major encouraging signs - even right on the street where I live! But all this huffing and puffing about skin-colour is really just a lame excuse to continue with the status quo ante - the entitlement system that whites, mostly but not always, hope to maintain by rigging the system in their favour

I was in our small-town supermarket yesterday and I had a spare 20 rand note ($1.50) in my hand after paying for my stuff. I turned around and there, below me, was a shy, five year old Coloured girl (another race from Blacks and Whites, but that's a whole other story...) holding her mum's hand. I knelt down and slipped her the bill without a second thought. It was only upon looking around that I noticed all my co-shoppers, yes, Black, White, Coloured, Asian and whatever, were one and all smiling at me  - and watching the exquisite giggle on the little girl's face. Secretly, I think most people want to enjoy our common humanity, but they're afraid of what their peers might think. H-m-m-m...

Honestly, this racist bullshit is a huge burden to carry through life. Hating all these decent people with pigment in their skin? Really tiresome. I'm watching to see what match gets struck in the USA with Mr. Trump and his Alt Right crowd being encouraged to release their "inner bigots", in NYTimes columnist Roger Cohen's smack-on-target phrasing... It's toxic. And if you are afflicted with the curse of racism, I urge you to reach out and smile at people who don't look, or believe, quite like you do. You'll feel immediate relief! I promise. 

Best regards and dare I say love - to everyone,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... SEPTEMBER, 2017  CRAZY MOUNTAIN BIKING IS GIVING A THROTTLING TO... GOLF. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? THIS EXPLODING SPORT HAS ROOTS IN SOUTH AFRICA ...AND THE CAPE EPIC, MOUNTAIN BIKING'S BIGGEST RACE, ODDLY MIMICS SOUTH AFRICA'S 'PAIN & PLEASURE...  I live in South Africa, outside Cape Town. To be blunt, I'm a curious American who discovered life in South Africa was way more interesting (to me)than any thing the Yanks could throw my way. Seventeen years later, my spunky wife, Lynn, and I continue to be rewarded in spades for our gamble... But what does the bloody Cape Epic have to do with us?

NOT LONG AGO, THE CAPE EPIC  WEEK-LONG RACE VISITED  OUR SMALL TOWN FOR TWO NIGHTS OF TENT CAMPING AND CAMARADERIE. THAT GOOFY, GRINNING WHITE GUY IS AMERICAN,TOM RITCHIE, THE INVENTOR OF THE MOUNTAIN BIKE WITH HIS "TEAM RWANDA" MTB RIDERS. THE OTHERS? WELL, HERE'S THE PAIN AND PLEASURE PART...

It's the pain and pleasure. South Africa still bears huge scars from the ghastly Apartheid business that got the boot in 1994. You remember Nelson Mandela? He was imprisoned on Cape Town's Robben Island for 23 years (along with many others) for the crime of... being Black. Yes, being Black.  Believe me, prejudice remains (the pain), if mostly unspoken, so when I met these Cape Epic volunteer race staff (photo left) from the University of Cape Town beaming with comfortable, confident smiles (the pleasure!), I snapped a photo... and shed some tears later.

That bottom photo of the show-off Cape Epic winners and Olympic stars, Burry Stander (South Africa) and Christof Sauser (Switzerland) is South Africa's pleasure and the pain in one picture: Burry Stander was a shoe-in to win the next Olympic Gold Medal in mountain biking - until a taxi in Durban, South Africa, turned in front of him on a training ride. He died instantly. He was twenty-five. He left a young widow. You know, there's something star-crossed about my adopted country. Things almost go right - and then don't. But if  adversity teaches us who we are - and it does - then South Africans are battle-tested. They aren't a nation of frothy consumers. They know life's road is chock full of potholes - and they navigate, of necessity, their  journey paying close attention. They are Humans with a capital "H". And they make me proud, day in and out, to share their pain and pleasure , I can tell you... 

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA / PHILIPPINES... SEPTEMBER, 2017 "HURRICANES ARE
BAD, UGLY NEWS... BUT HERE'S A HURRICANE STORY... WITH A REMARKABLE TWIST... AND DARE I SAY IT, A HAPPY ENDING! Anyone who's survived a hurricane, typhoon or bagio as they're called in the Philippines, has zero interest in a second helping, if you catch my drift. While my wife, Lynn, an archaeologist and I were building an excavated ceramics museum on Mindoro Island in the Philippines we got walloped with three nasty hurricanes... and have a very sober understanding of the pain they can inflict... 



But one vicious hurricane that blasted beautiful, tropical Mindoro... changed our lives. And we weren't even there when it happened. Say what? Here's a quick backdrop: starting about 1,000 A.D. Chinese junks in search of trade opportunities began to ply the oceans from Indonesia to the Korean Peninsula. One sweep past Mindoro Island must have given the Chinese palpitations: tropical hardwood forests blanketed the island. And the Chinese were vigorously searching for wood to construct and expand their fleet of junks and warships. But who to deal with on Mindoro Island which was at the time exclusively populated by the simple Mangyan people (photo above) who have remained basically hunter-gatherers throughout their lengthy history on the island.

So Chinese merchant junks discovered a glorious safe harbour at Puerto Galera and began the process of bartering with the Mangyans for hardwood. They desired to exchange stunning dynastic ceramics (above, also) for the wood products, but encountered one large obstacle: the Mangyans had absolutely no use for jars, plates, burial urns or any of the rest of the stunning Chinese catalogue of ceramics. Being astute business people, the seafaring Chinese worked a deal: they instructed the Mangyans to bury the ceramics with their dead - for use in the afterlife, just as the Chinese, in fact, did on the mainland...

And so it came to pass, that a veritable "library" of five Chinese dynasties was entombed for the ages. Somewhere in the 1800's (the Ching Dynasty) the practice ended and the trove of burial goods was lost to human memory. Lost that is until the latter 20th Century, when, yes, a devasatating hurricane / bagio smashed ashore on Mindoro - and flash floods opened the burial site ceramics to an astonished world! Archaeologists were stunned at the comprehensive collection of nearly 15,000 pieces, a portion of which was segregated from commericial activity.

And it was with these several hundred dynastic ceramics that we built the Puerto Galera Excavation Museum for the National Museum of the Philippines, with generous funding from the Dutch government. That museum to this day is open and ready to welcome you should you happen to find yourself holidaying on the pristine beaches at Puerto Galera. There! That is the only hurricane story with a miracle, happy ending I've ever heard of... But for the moment let's concentrate on easing the misery of our Caribbean brothers and sisters... They are hurtin'!

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM NAMIBIA... SEPTEMBER, 2017 " AN AFRICAN  TRAVEL ADVENTURE 
EVEN I COULD BARELY IMAGINE (VIEW PHOTOS ON SIDEBAR) ...BUT DARE I SAY ANYTHING ABOUT IT? THAT'S ACTUALLY A VERY SENSITIVE  QUESTION... I'm wrapping up a 5,000 kilometre 4X4 adventure from my home near Cape Town, South Africa to the dusty, wild, sublime Kunene River frontier between Namibia and Angola. Where the hell is that you, rightly, ask? Few will see what I saw in person. But I'm a photographer and I can save memories... Grinding along 200 k's of corrugated, splotchy dirt track in 36C heat, I was immersed in a traditional world most people don't believe exists any more in Africa... But it does... a lot.

I'm driving 5,000 kilometres to visit the reclusive Himba Tribe. It's a sensitive task  and as a 
professional photographer, one that I take very seriously...

I'm an independent traveller. I like to follow my gut when I'm out exploring the world. If something grabs my lame brain I like to slow down, stop, check it out. Then re-calibrate the rest of my trip accordingly. I recoil at the apparent determination of so many "independent" travellers to book their adventures on the internet before they ever leave home. But I understand time is precious for today's mostly urban, mostly professionals who can afford trips to say, exotic, Africa They don't want any screw-ups to spoil their holiday. But by that very act they squander the whole purpose of exploring - independently. The spontaneity vanishes. The certainty of packed campgrounds and lodgings at each stop along their journey expands exponentially. But, that's the world that exists now and my hissy fit won't change a thing, will it?

As we privileged travellers who have the risk-taking drive gene venture into sensitive areas of the world, like the region I'm currently immersed in, there are a whole other set of responsibilities that kick-in. I was, frankly, flabberghasted to witness  sealed, air-conditioned sport utes barrel down gravel roads in northern Namibia - apparently clueless to the dust clouds the vehicles generate as they fly by, yes, even the innocent Himbas, along with other tribes in the area. Do they stop and rub shoulders with these beautiful people whose turf they're invading. Sorry, I didn't see it...

Oh, oh, the sensitive subject of photography. When I see people I wish to photograph, 40 years of Third World cumulative experience helps me massage the situation. Here's what I do. I slow down and stop, roll down the window smiling and make eye contact, human contact.  I've been carrying a dozen or so bags of oranges and apples and 1.5L boxes of fruit juice - for gifts. I never hand out shit junk food. or commerically prepared food like candy bars. I slowly walk over to my slightly puzzled, maybe nervous new friends and just give over the little present while we size each other up.. They're looking at me, that's for sure. Himbas are all barefoot. So they took a special interest in my sandals, but also, physically, they studied my body. They don't have much personal experience around outsiders, including - gad! - white guys like me. But, friends, one of the single most common traits we all share as humans is  - curiosity. Curiosity about each other. I let it happen and it's so, dare I say it, sweet. Only when I feel people are comfortable do I make the universal sign of a "box" camera with my hands and press my finger down - gently. My simple request - with a smile - is always accepted. I have my camera back in the vehicle - ready. I take two or three quick shots - and show them the results. People giggle and smile at that crazy invention that you never have a thought about - a simple colour photograph. It is a miracle. And if you've never seen yourself in a picture, which occurred over and over this week, it pretty exciting! 

Finally, I thank everybody - which shows respect. That word, respect, is the simple key to travelling any where on Earth - and being a gracious, worthy, welcome guest...

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... AUGUST, 2017 " IS 'HISTORY' JUST 'YESTERDAY'S OLD NEWS'? OR CAN EVEN KNUCKLEHEADS LIKE ME GLANCE IN THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR - AND GET A GLIMPSE OF THE  FUTURE... WE ALL DESIRE? FUNNY THING, PHOTOGRAPHY SPEAKS TO JUST THIS ISSUE. I live in South Africa. There are days in recent years when I think the main thing democracy has brought to this beautiful, star-crossed country is the freedom to buy a car - and sit in grid-locked traffic. And Cape Town or Joburg et al don't hold a candle to many American cities and urban sprawls across the developing world. Prosperity apparently means cars, cars and cars (think of the jobs car manufacturers will create for your country!), constipated traffic - and the ghastly air pollution that goes with them...

MANDALAY, BURMA AND "SWEET", OUR LOCAL TAXI DRIVER AND TOUR GUIDE...

Some years back I was photographing in Burma, OK,OK, Myanmar, and after an all-nighter on the sleepy train, my wife, Lynn (photo above) and I arrived up-country in Mandalay. Geez, it was like another world after leaving congested Bangkok a few days earlier. Traffic? The economy was stuck in military junta mode, so actually there wasn't any traffic. Sweet, perfectly named I must note, kindly pedaled us from the train station to our modest lodgings and then offered us his budget "City Tour" the next day. Bingo. We signed on. I sat on the back with my camera, while Lynn held the VIP seat upfront. We inched around Mandalay. It was heaven. "Sweet" was quite skinny and not too strong in the muscle-power department. Every time we came to the slightest incline, I jumped off to push up hill (again, photo above). We visited Sweet's daughter's school and the local hospital where a relative worked and the lady kindly  gave us a tour. It was unclear whether the patient's were actually receiving medical treatment or just remained in bed until they recovered or ... well, let's not go there.

You know, I've never forgotten Sweet's Slo-Mo Mandalay Tour even after other trips about the world have piled up in the year's since. It was so, dare I say it, sweet. It was so personal and dizzyingly slow-paced. Sweet held conversations with pedestrians as we glacially pedaled past.I could smell fragrant Mandalay and absorb its exotic landscape. If we'd been on a bus, a mountain bike, Uber taxi or even a Segway, we'd have missed the whole point of Sweet's tour. That simple, stunning day was a metaphor for life, yours and mine. It's not how many air miles we rack up on our frequent flyer cards or phoney 'bucket' lists. It's all about pedaling slowly, breathing in and out and having human experiences to accompany us through this passage we call life... And if, by chance, you take pictures, the very best you can summon, your memories will be enhanced even more. And this final thought: Your personal "history", your memory bank, your past,  just may help you carve the future you desperately seek. Look back for your future...

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... AUGUST, 2017 "THIS MAY AMUSE YOU, BUT I'M A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOJOURNALIST. YES! I REMEMBER SEEING MY FIRST DRONE... LIKE YOU REMEMBER YOUR FIRST... SMOOCHIE! No, SAPHOTOSAFARI doesn't care who you're cuddling up with - it's none of my bloody business. But the drone business - is everybody's business. I think for many of us it was the first salvo of the Brave New World we are racing off a cliff to embrace - with all the predictable, disastrous results. No country had a law to regulate drones or any idea of their staggering impact - on civil society. How could they? Nobody had ever seen one before...

I saw my VERY FIRST DRONE in Canada, way back in 2013...

It was 2013 and my wife and I were in British Columbia, Canada at our sweat-built summer cottage. The wilderness one overlooking the ocean - and glaciers in the distance on Vancouver Island. We could grill affordable fresh sockeye salmon on the barbeque. What more can you ask for? We were happy

In small-town Powell River one day, we traipsed over to the BC ferry dock to snap some photos of mountain bikers, hustling off the boat to continue the next leg of their marathon bike ride. There were bagpipes and cheerleaders and hunky guys and girls parading past, waving at the crowd. Fun! Suddenly, a thing silently appeared overhead. WTF? I, of course, knew about drones, but this anonymous monster was... big. The entire crowd abruptly stopped laughing and ogling the bikers, fell silent and scanned the skies. There was a single question: who is operating this! The race organizers? Local techies? The media? The government? The police? We were all being videoed without our permission - or any knowledge about who was behind the camera or for what purpose. It was a strange sensation... and not a pleasant one. I snapped pix of the drone photographing...us. You may recall that privacy is all-important in free societies... and somehow this drone was over-the-line.

Well, wasn't that an innocent memory, almost like taking baby steps... These days drones  are omnipresent; in the U.S. millions have been sold for - Christmas presents! Local governments, airport authorities, the military, the intelligence community - all are furiously trying to regulate - or get their hands on the greatest spying tool since binoculars. Ha-ha. In recent weeks the AI (artificial intelligence)
departments at U.S. universities are bragging about using paired drones to see through walls (U. of California), new speech technology to plant false words in politicians mouths, etc. (U of Washington) and yesterday I met Suri, on-line of course. Suri is a cheerful robot that looks a bit like a penguin. It (no gender...) will entertain your children, so you won't have to. That's what the promos say! It even reads stories to them from stored software books. If the kids say "Suri, I love you!", Suri shivers with excitement! Dear god, please save us from ourselves one more time...I promise never to ask again...

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... AUGUST, 2017 "GUESS WHAT?? I LIVE IN THE COUNTRY WITH THE WORST 'GINI CO-EFFICIENT' ON EARTH.  THAT'S RIGHT, THE MOST UNEQUAL WEALTH GAP ANYWHERE. WAY TO GO, SOUTH AFRICA. THAT'S QUITE AN ACHIEVEMENT... OMG, HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? This morning I walked up to our small town's lovely SPAR supermarket. I was happily chugging along enjoying my passing neighbours when I spotted a man pulling a 3 metre dead branch along behind him on the tidy Main Street sidewalk. His worn-out clothes created a depressed aura around him. This is a common sight in rural South Africa where farmworkers and villagers shag bushes and small trees for cooking / heating wood. It's been a nasty, cold Winter here (yes, I know you're 'cooking' in the Northern Hemisphere...), so I've been handing out lots of our popular peanut/raisin zip lock energy packs. We package 'em in our kitchen everyday. It's just that they're supposed to be for hungry children. And right now many adults are swallowing their pride - for a bite to eat... The man pulling the firewood branch along Main Street? I only noticed his excruciating poverty because it was juxtaposed with the BMW's and Mercs and well-dressed shoppers all around him...

SOUTH AFRICA HAS THE WORST INCOME INEQUALITY - ANYWHERE. IT'S PRETTY SIMPLE, 
IF THE KIDS DON'T HAVE SHOES, YOU HAVE A POVERTY - AND A HUNGER  -  PROBLEM...
DID I MENTION WE DO GREAT NEW CAR COMMERCIALS FOR EUROPE?

South Africa is still recovering from hundreds of years of ghastly inequality, formalized, as it were, by the brutal Apartheid system which ended 23 years ago. You remember Nelson Mandela, right? He's the father of modern, democratic South Africa, but he's deceased and the current government and the 20% or so of affluent Seffricans (White and Black, Coloured and Indian) really don't seem to show much urgency about this appalling inequality... Excuse me, I just handed out a sack of our peanut packs, apples and a jar of peanut butter to a smart young, impoverished woman we know casually. Her family is hungry again this week. No jobs, no food. Did I mention that in lieu of a proper job, she works as a prostitute to put food on the table? Sorry, I was hoping not to have to mention this grim reality for many women... 

Where was I? Oh yeah, I was discussing this unpleasant matter about my Middle Class neighbours and Yours Truly versus this ugly procession of poor people that never seems to go away! Friends, I'm like you. I want to live and enjoy my life (I worked hard, you know!) and not have to feel guilty about all this human misery swirling around us. Sorry to spoil the party, folks, but there's no moral escape, or excuse, for looking at this inequality disaster and - deciding to do nothing. You like violent protests, prisons, refugees, health pandemics and uneducated, un-parented hungry kids ringing your front door brass bell day and night? You'll love living in my home town... Don't worry, if you're a tourist you'll be surrounded by - and insulated from - this unpleasantness by smiling, affable South Africans of all stripes and colours (photo above). Say, I was just wondering what the Gini Co-Efficient is for your country? Is everybody happy? Or are there some dirty, little secrets nobody wants to deal with...

Best,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... JULY, 2017 " GEEZ, I LOVE TO TRAVEL -
 BUT I LOATHE CRUISE SHIPS... WANNA KNOW WHY? READ ON." Simple. You gotta have a screw loose if you think taking a cruise ship is any kind of legitimate, laudable travel experience. In cruise ships' favour, I'll concede, is the public service they provide in keeping their travel-averse clientele sequestered  from locals and folks, like SAPHOTOSAFARI, with a genuine interest in exploring the planet...

NATIVE CANADIANS (FIRST NATIONS' PEOPLE) PROTESTING THE PASSAGE OF YET ANOTHER 
MONSTER CRUISE SHIP PLUNGING SOUTH FROM ALASKA TO SEATTLE (USA) FOR  
A SO-CALLED "WILDERNESS ADVENTURE". GIMMEE A BREAK!

This past Sunday, I picked up my otherwise excellent South African Sunday Times and in the course of 
enjoying the paper, stumbled across a piece on a cruise ship trip recently completed by a South African white couple to celebrate their 65th birthdays. Promptly, my poor wife could hear me howling from two rooms away! The couple admitted they had not actually set foot in Egypt, merely transited the Suez Canal. Apparently the canal junket was imagined to take quite a bit of courage, but allowed them to enjoy sundowners on the back deck as Egypt's citizenry struggled to manage under the current military regime. We quickly learned that it cost $700,000 U.S. dollars - just for the ship's canal passage fees! Later, when the sun set, 70 chefs, yes SEVENTY CHEFS, pulled out all the stops serving up authentic Middle Eastern dishes. Wow! Sorry, I nearly urped... Still, hundreds of thousands of people annually queue up for shopping, dining and sunbathing - plus theatre shows! - without the hassles of, well, foreigners, language kerfuffles, mosquito bites, strange religions and possibly dangerous people who don't look anything like them!!!

My life story has been about travel and the sensory joy of all of the above. I refuse to apologise. Everyday here in South Africa I meet people whose lives couldn't possibly be more different than mine (read South African, now American comedian, Trevor Noah's sweet, recent book, Born A Crime - to capture the gulf between poverty and wealth in this beautiful, star-crossed country). I learn something new, and edifying, every bloody day from people who often have little in life except their smile, graciousness and well-worn clothes. It's a privilege for me, I can tell you! It's humbling. It causes me to count my good fortune and share my material blessings. It's real and it has made me view those daily headlines blasted at us from the media, with scepticism and a suspicious arched eyebrow. 

This unbelievably complex human experience we share on our crowded planet demands each of us to explore our surroundings with a keen, generous eye - and a repudiation of the cruise ship mentality which is basically,  I've got mine, so screw you.  ...I promise to write my next "Letter" is a sunnier frame of mind!

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... JULY 2017 "SOUTH AFRICA'S SPRINT STAR
WADE VAN NIEKERK RIPS ANOTHER WORLD TRACK RECORD - AND SA'S BEAUTIFUL KIDS HAVE THE 'ROLE MODEL' MAGIC THEY DESPERATELY NEED... It's the dark depths of Winter way down here in South Africa. Some days it feels like, well, Antarctica. OK, OK, I exaggerate. But this is a hard time of year here for millions of impoverished South Africans. Many don't even get enough to eat, while millions of others live lives of style and comfort... H-m-m-m.

And then, and then an extraordinary, ordinary Coloured (no problem with this term) athelete, aged 24, blew off the hatch covers - a second time in under a year. He smashed the 300 metre track World Record - to add to his blistering World Record set in the 400 metres at the Rio Olympics. These aren't ordinary track records. Both were held for 17 years by the legendary American sprinter, Michael Johnson. Many assumed they'd never be broken...Then along came this nobody,  Mr. Van Niekerk.

My neighbour, Jasmine, proudly stands by a collaborative painting of Van Niekerk by our
local African high school students. Kids at remote Wuppertal, South Africa, practice their
Van Niekerk "sprints" during recess. The pride is palpable!

Jamaica's Usain Boldt, the 200m.World Record holder, has been a kind mentor to Van Niekerk. But there's just a slight difference in their circumstances. Boldt has made a cottage industry out of his single feat and has trainers and doctor's and staff galore to groom his physique and, dare I say it, ego. Slight-of-build Van Niekerk is just a poor coloured kid from Cape Town who has a single coach. And she happens to be a great-grandmother who is 74 years old! Recently, Van Niekerk invited the legendary Boldt to a friendly sprint in the little-raced 300m. at the on-going European Games in the Czech Republic. Boldt holds the 200m record, Van Niekerk the 400m record. It's a sports marketer's dream. But Boldt declined, so Van Niekerk raced off with the remainders - and smashed the 300m. sprint record. South Africa leaped to its collective feet, I can tell you!

But the biggest impact has been on South African kids. We just don't have many great South African role models (Nelson Mandela is, sadly, gone) who run around on the world stage like Comedian Trevor Noah (black), Actress Charlise Theron (white) and Elon Musk  (also white). Van Niekerk just electrified kids in this country! The painting above shows Van Niekerk in the iconic moment as he looked up at the clock after his 400m Olympic run. World Record! The primary school kids now want to be track stars when they're grow up. And Mr. Van Niekerk? He's completely modest and unassuming like most Seffricans normally are. I don't think he's going to parlay his fame into Usain Boldt's star-studded lifestyle. It's just not how we do it way down here - in freezing South Africa! Besides, he's finishing up his university degree...

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... JUNE, 2017 "GREAT PHOTOGRAPHS TAKE PRACTICE AND PATIENCE... AND - HERE'S THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET - BLIND LUCK! IT'S PLAYED A HUGE PART IN MY CAREER. BUT 'LUCK' DOESN'T MAKE THE PHOTOGRAPH... YOU DO!" Thirty-six months ago, I was on a trans-Africa tent camping safari from Cape Town to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Putting up a canvas tent, nightly, in frigid weather for six weeks was a pain, but, otherwise, I was in my photography 'groove'. It's where I'm happiest. The boggling African scenery unspooled as we trundled from country to country, landscape to landscape...


SOUTH LUANGWA NAT'L PARK / ZAMBIA
I STILL CAN'T BELIEVE I SHOT ALL THESE WILDLIFE PHOTOS
 IN A BLAZING THIRTY MINUTE WINDOW... 

I was paying close attention to my camera (adjusting settings), as always, one morning in Zambia as our open game drive vehicle slipped into South Luangwa Nat'l Park. We'd tented the night before in an unfenced campground, where wild elephants and, yes, lions wandered through to our dismay! Hey, it's Africa. If you don't want any stress, thumb through the Nat'l Geographic!

It was freezing cold in late July at dawn. Then suddenly something happened that will unlikely ever happen to me again: crazy great wildlife camera shots erupted every few moments (see above). It wasn't just the stunning variety of animals, but the light and the natural settings and the absence of other park visitors. It was a moment of magic, probably never to be repeated for me. I shot dozens and dozens of photos out of habit. Only a handful of the species, including birds, are in the collage above... 

I just snapped pictures, so it wasn't until we returned to camp that I suddenly realized my good fortune. Was it luck or skill that gave me this bounty of African wildlife memories? That's a good question. The luck was in having a brilliant game vehicle driver who was deadly serious about putting me in front of these gorgeous wild critters. The skill was being absolutely focused with my camera settings and learned ability to compose solid shots. Others might not quite understand the fleeting moment being offered. Bear in mind that great photos often appear for a just a second, including pictures of your friends and relations. The first shot is usually the best with people, before they have a chance to put on their fake grins. So concentrate and hustle! Then you'll have the rest of your life to enjoy your "genius" snaps! Did I mention I gave the game drive vehicle driver a monster tip? He earned it!

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... JUNE, 2017  "THE SHORTEST, COLDEST DAYS OF THE YEAR HERE IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE MIGHT SOUND QUITE SALUBRIOUS TO THOSE OF YOU RESIDING IN THE HEAT-STRICKEN NORTHERN LATITUDES..." But not so fast with your conclusions, my friends. We have lots of veldt or bush fires here in South Africa, sadly often man-caused, like elsewhere on our tormented planet. An example? In winter, we just survived the biggest storm to hit the Western Cape (think Cape Town) in 30 years. There's been a terrible drought hereabouts and then, miraculously, we got 104 mils dumped on our little town in twenty-four hours. But the savage winds ahead of the storm created wild fires that destroyed hundreds of homes and laid waste to one of South Africa's prime tourist getaways, the Garden Route - across 100 kilometres. Thank god, we were spared the fires...

STETTYN WINE FARM IS MOMENTS FROM MY HOME HERE, OUTSIDE OF CAPE TOWN. 
I SHOOT PHOTOS ALL OVER THE WORLD, BUT MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, THERE'S A 
BEAUTIFUL REALITY AT MY DOORSTEP... I TEND TO OVERLOOK. 
I know we all think it's greener on the other side of the fence, but the truth is that we do tend to under-appreciate our local surrounds. Maybe familiarity really does breed contempt. I dunno. My wife talks to people in the northern hemisphere regularly who can't really believe it snows in Africa. It does get cold here in June, July and August. Most of us don't even have a wood heater to keep warm, so we just pile on the sweaters. We're Africans, you know, so naturally we are tougher than most everybody else, particularly our arch rugby rivals the faint-hearted Aussies and the Kiwis!

I'll leave you with two other small insights to this photo collage. This same wine farm has brilliant export fruit orchards. Apples, pears, peaches and nectarines just for starters. But that's in the summer. You know, like December and January - when you're freezing-ass cold. Very shortly you might check your supermarket / grocery stores for the new crop of South African narchies or tangerines as they are more commonly known. 

And there's one other thing I need you to know about my photograph: there are leopards and baboons in those mountains.  Now, maybe,  you'll have a clue as to why, having seen the world, I live right here in South Africa. All boasting aside, I'm freezing and need to start a wood heater fire (yes, we're lucky!) in our living room before my shivering wife - tosses me out to the local leopards!

Best regards,
Eric




LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA ...JUNE, 2017 "WHAT CAN WILD SALMON TEACH US ABOUT OURSELVES? Depending on where you live on Planet Earth, you may be gobsmacked to learn that there are still millions and millions of wild salmon plying the oceans. Think Russia and Alaska and Canada, for starters. The beauty of these wild stocks is that we have to do nothing, absolutely nothing ... to reap a harvest bonanza of some of the most delectable food anywhere. By nothing, I mean we have to allow these fish to spawn in the same rivers and streams they've been using since time immemorial. If we ruin these wilderness watersheds, well, there goes the free feast...


I took these photos in Katmai Nat'l Monument, on Alaska's remote Aleutian Peninsula. Enormous Brown Bears were gorging on this seasonal gift. These particular fish were Sockeye or Red Salmon. There are four other species that, like the Sockeye, spend the first year or so of their lives in the fresh water of their birth and then - perform a miracle of sorts - they move into the saltwater oceans of the Gulf of Alaska and Siberia, etc. There, for the next two to four years, they endlessly migrate in the search of plankton and krill. In schools numbering thousands of fish, they feed. Other predators such as seals and sea lions and Killer Whales feast on the bounty, too..

But a tragic commercial fishing issue threatens this splendour. Illegal netting and long-line fishing operations, sometimes with massive canneries on board pilfer the fish stocks while they are immature. Coastal fishing patrols have done a lot to stem this existential threat to the fish, but it persists. Finally, as the fish mature (King Salmon can weigh 50 kilos or more) they return to the rivers of their birth. In Alaska, licensed fishermen must wait until the "escapement" is complete. That's the number of fish necessary to reproduce the run. Then the season is opened and the surplus fish netted and shipped around the world to sate gourmet appetites, uh, like my own. If I'm in Alaska or Canada or the U.S. Northwest, I'll buy fresh seasonal wild salmon. Here in South Africa, we get it only as a treat (costly!), flown in from commercial salmon "farms" in Norway and Chile and a few other countries.

So, how do we learn about ourselves from wild salmon runs. The test is whether we, as humans,  can do nothing. And allow nature to gift us this salmon treasure at no cost. But if we heat up this stressed planet any further, one of the first indicators of our folly will be the demise of these beautiful fish. Don't you buy canned salmon from suspicious sources! 

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... JUNE, 2017 "ARIANA GRANDE: WHAT A VOICE, WHAT A TALENT... WHAT A BEAUTIFUL PERSON! AND YET, AND YET, THERE'S SOMETHING SHE NEEDS TO KNOW... NOW THAT SHE'S BEEN CATAPULTED ONTO THE WORLD STAGE... C'mon, admit it. Once you've seen - and heard - Ariana Grande, you're smitten! Just like her 108,000,000 followers on Instagram. More on facebook. The entertainment world has been crying out for a fresh face, a decent person, a genuine t-a-l-e-n-t for quite a while now. Her Manchester Concert was watched live by 14,000,000 people all over the world. "One Last Time" becomes an instant standard. Her "Over the Rainbow" acappella performance was pure genius. The whole world, well, wept... 

TOURISTS, DOING WHAT TOURISTS DO, IN A CONSERVATIVE MOROCCAN TOWN...

But we live in a world these days where artists, actors and actresses perform on, most literally, a global stage. American TV shows, Hollywood movies, pop music and sports events - from everywhere - instantly garner audiences in the thousands - or millions - with free views on Youtube, etc. What plays well in Los Angeles or London, though,  in terms of dress, language, sexuality, everything - may be seen through  entirely different eyes - and mores - elsewhere on our jam-packed planet. 

I live in Africa (outside Cape Town, South Africa). Men and women here dress and comport themselves very modestly. Across the Muslim world, with some variation,  conservative dress and comportment is the norm. In truth, in most parts of the world people in large cities and small villages are not operating on the same wavelength as Miley Cyrus, Justin Beiber and , yes, our adorable Ariana. When I travel with my camera around our planet, it's normal, typical really, to see local people like these Muslim women in Morocco, down near the Sahara desert frontier with Algeria (above photo). They are looking across the road at the three women in skimpy shorts, who as tourists so chronically seem to do, haven't noticed that all the other women - and men - in this town are completely covered up. Are they blind? No, they're decent people with fine 'eyesight'. But it's just one more manifestation of our global naivete about how our appearance - and behaviour - can deeply offend others about whose lives, religions and cultures we know precious little.

Ms Grande, I've noticed that starting with your Manchester "One Love" Concert, you've been wearing actual clothes, not tiny leotards. Thank you! You are brilliant and strong and a tremendous role model for your generation and women everywhere. I, personally, look forward to the baton being passed to your generation. I'm worn out listening to crotchety politicians and old rockers prattle on about managing our lives and times. It's your turn! Lead, don't follow... And, please, keep your clothes on. It's a small thing - that means a lot to millions of us who want to look up to you....

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... MAY, 2017 "CONFLICTS REVISITED: WAR IS HELL ALRIGHT, BUT THE PEACE OFTEN IS PRETTY BUTT UGLY,TOO. I KNOW... AND MAYBE YOU DO, TOO."  This morning, I was starting my day pretty much as usual with a quick scan of the BBC and NYTimes on-line. Oh god no, I sighed, there's a Times headline about the Vietnam War still buggering the political landscape in the U.S. I loathe reading this stuff, but, you know, I was one of those protesting students that made life miserable for a nation that wasn't used to having it's motives questioned. 58,000 Americans kids died in Vietnam, hundreds of thousands were wounded. And the Vietnamese suffered incalculably more pain. It was a nightmare for everybody... 

Instead of joining the army, I joined the Peace Corps (Burkina Faso, West Africa for two years). Before the war was over, a united United States was fractured, cynical, politically polarized and class-warfare had broken out. In many ways, not much has changed across these lengthening decades; the place is mostly politically dysfunctional. Not good. It turns out Vietnam, unified at gunpoint after terrible suffering, has its own unhealed wounds. And for good measure, let me add that South Africa, where I've lived for 17 years, also has huge reconciliation to undergo... There's enough pain here to wipe the smile off anyone's beautiful face. So what's going on?

MY WIFE, LYNN, AND I JOURNEYED INTO VIETNAM AS SOME OF THE 
 FIRST INDEPENDENTLY TRAVELLING AMERICANS  AFTER THE WAR. LIFE WAS
HARD IN VIETNAM - AND OUR EMOTIONS WERE RAW, BUT HEALING TOOK PLACE
THROUGH THE TEARS... I TRAVELLED RECENTLY WITH THIS  HANDSOME VIETNAMESE 
COUPLE FROM HANOI - IN MOROCCO, ON A CAMEL TRIP INTO THE SAHARA! 
 YOU KNOW, I LIKED THESE PEOPLE A LOT ! 
A new documentary series on the Vietnam War produced by the brilliant videographer, Ken Burns, suggests the Americans (and maybe the Vietnamese) never cleaned up the toxic social 'oil spill' that the war created. When democracy was voted in in 1994, South Africa launched a Truth & Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It allowed South Africans of all backgrounds to spill their guts about the awful things that happened under Apartheid. But it ended before those wounds could heal. I'm not suggesting all the Middle East countries, and other conflicted societies, can sail happily into the future if everybody just says "sorry". But seriously, painfully, relentlessly examining why these shit conflicts erupt over and over and over again, may be the only way to bind up the wounds and get on with  a semblance of civilized life. If nothing else, the innocent children that follow in the footsteps of these diabolical wars deserve the gift of a healthy, reconciled future... 

Best regards,
Eric

  



LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... MAY, 2017 "WHAT MAKES A GREAT PHOTO?BOOKS HAVE BEEN WRITTEN, AD NAUSEAM, ON THE SUBJECT, BUT I'LL REDUCE IT TO A SINGLE WORD: UNIQUENESS... A GREAT PHOTO MUST HAVE SOMETHING UNIQUE ABOUT IT.  Of course, I use that word in the broadest sense. It can be camera angle, colour palate, "quirkiness", strong subject, shock value, whatever. Photojournalists are hard-pressed these days to set the bar too high because of deadlines, low budgets, unruly crowds, or weird photo editors, whatever.
Me? I have no excuse, I'm self-employed. And I need it that way!

E
EXTREMELY ENDANGERED BLACK RHINOS "CROSS-SWORDS" AT DUSK AT A WATER HOLE...

I'm just returned from a photoshoot in Namibia/Africa. For me, it's always amazing for its photography opps. And it's a thirsty country. Water, any water anywhere, is a good place to stake out with a camera - and see what turns up for a drink. On my last trip to Namibia, I was sitting patiently in Etosha Nat'l Park, toward the top of the country, up toward Angola, at sunset. Nada. Nothing happening. Then, abruptly, two very rare Black Rhinos inched out of the bush and headed directly, in fading light, for a drink. This ancient,  beautiful species with "armour plating", is already extinct in most places in Africa. I couldn't believe my good fortune. I concentrated completely. And I clicked off photos as they manouevered to slack their thirst.

When they finished drinking they stood and faced each other. That seemed, somehow, unusual. For just a brief moment, they crossed their horns, perhaps out of comradeship. I don't know. Click! I knew the second the lens tripped off that it was the photo of the trip - and lions were yet to come! In another minute they had vanished into the African dusk.

Good, solid pictures, whatever the genre are rarely gimmees. The photographer needs to continuously update camera settings, concentrate completely and then calmly squeeze off the shot when it suddenly presents itself. The calmly part isn't as easy as it sounds. I hold my arms tight to my body to steady the camera - and even then good shots escape, scot-free, with regularity. Bad lighting is no excuse. Deal with it, like I had to in this picture...

So here's the final proviso for getting that once-off unique shot: shoot lots of pictures regularly. Simple. There's a photography learning curve that's only surmounted with practice, like any other skill. And then one day when life suddenly goes awry, gets hauntingly beautiful, funny, joyful - or pain overwhelms the senses - you'll be ready for your great photo. Luck be damned!

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... May, 2017 " CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA IS IN THE GRIP OF A NIGHTMARE DROUGHT... OR IS IT? I've  lived outside of Cape Town for close to 15 years now. What a treat! It's a Mediterranean climate with oodles of sunshine, perfect weather for growing wine grapes and export fruit and veg. The surrounding mountains boast some of the world's greatest flowering plant biodiversity (9,000 species!). In turn, those plants nourish a variety of wildlife, including troops of baboons and ...leopards who feast on the juicy mammals. Sounds idyllic, right?

CAPE TOWN'S NEARLY EMPTY MAIN RESERVOIR. I SNAPPED THIS PHOTO THIS MORNING
AS THE BELEAGUERED THEEWATERSKLOOF DAM STOOD AT  JUST...15% OF CAPACITY. 
ODDLY, THE NATURAL WORLD DOESN'T SEE A CRISIS... H-M-M-M.


Yes, but there's just one awful glitch. Last year's rainy season was a bust. So far this year, we've had a spritz of rain here and there, but the Cape Basin and Cape Town (with a rapidly growing 4 million people) are bone dry. There's a Stage 4 Water Alert in force - no outside watering for some of the world's most beautiful urban gardens and leafy neighbourhoods. Toilets are only flushed as necessary. I winced as a cute nine year old girl next door lectured me: "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down!" Don't get caught washing your car; the neighbours will call the water police - and you'll get a sock-to-the-jaw ticket! If Winter rains aren't double normal, the drought will continue tormenting humans hereabouts until... well, nobody knows. No one locally has ever seen anything like it...

But there's a flip side to this tale of woe. I'm a photographer and I'm always thrashing around in our beloved endemic plant 'Fynbos'. This morning I had quite a shock. After snapping the empty reservoir, I moseyed on to the background mountains you see in the collage photo (above). Wow! I can't remember ever seeing such thriving Protea Forest: tens of thousands of proteas (above) blooming right up to the tops of mountains. Indigenous birds, like Sugarbirds and Orange-Breasted Sunbirds (above) were having a perfect banquet - slurping up the nectar. After a couple of piddly rains in  the last month, it's business as usual for wild plants and animals. They must be wondering, where, exactly, is the drought?

C'mon, let's face it: we humans are the problem. We recklessly have outgrown our natural habitat, can't plan for future infrastructure like water, won't deal with overpopulation and mass urbanisation (see recent Letter From SA below) and basically, don't want to conserve on an individual basis. As beautiful Cape Town, and surrounds, grapple with this disaster, homo sapiens everywhere is suddenly up against the wall with the limits of growth. How arrogant to see the well-heeled with swimming pools and golf courses attempt to ignore the obvious: we are screwed. So I put it to you:
Just how much more stupid - can the earth's smartest species get? 

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM LUDERITZ, NAMIBIA... May, 2017 "DIAMONDS TO DIE FOR: ONE OF MY FAVOURITE BACKWATER TOWNS IN THE WHOLE WORLD - HAS A TORMENTED HISTORY" Tiny Luderitz, Namibia is truly a one-horse town:diamonds.  I just drove my 4X4 1200 kilometres from my South African home - to make yet another pilgrimage here. Why? Good question. Oddly, Luderitz has it all for a camera junkie like me. Scorching deserts where wild horse are currently dying because of a drought in the desert. Yes. Sand dunes marching along the skyline and currently drifting over the town's actively used narrow gauge railway tracks. Again. Brightly lit exotic off-shore diamond trawlers - light up the Luderitz bay and harbour nightly. 100 year old German churches, mansions and other notable architecture. Plus German cemeteries. There's even a fascinating German diamond ghost town, Kolmanskop, from a bygone era. Luderitz even boasts a concrete cross mounted along the Atlantic coast - where Bartolomeu Diaz and his boat crew stopped off just after "discovering"  the Cape of Good Hope (the southern tip of Africa) in 1488. That's before Columbus went to the New World...

THE DIAMOND POLICE WERE USING AUTOMATIC WEAPONS TO STOP DIAMOND THIEVES 
- WAY BACK IN THE 1940'S... NOT A LOT HAS CHANGED SINCE THEN.

As travellers tackle the final hundred kilometre stretch across duned desert toward Luderitz, they are wise to notice blunt warning signs posted by NamDeb (the Namibian government/DeBeers  diamond consortium). The signs used to advise that trespassers would be shot if caught on adjacent Restricted Diamond Areas; now you are merely warned not to trespass (in which case you would still be, presumably, shot). A couple of days ago, I was walking on the wild Atlantic coastal beach outside of town looking for photo opps. I scrambled up a few boulders to get a better perspective for my photo. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw two uniformed men coming my way at speed along a barb-wire fence-line to the ocean. Oops! Unwittingly, I'd stepped over the diamond line. I beat a hasty retreat to my car and, well, fled. No shots were fired, mercifully, but I got the message. It seems valuable diamonds are still lying right on the surface - tempting poverty-stricken locals to... gamble with their lives.. 

On my last visit in 2015, I photographed a bullet-riddled 1939 Packard (above photo) along a dirt road in the Luderitz desert. A fading historical sign thoughtfully explained that diamond thieves had tried to outrun the police in 1940 and, well,  failed. Justice back then was decidedly... summary. I stayed in a nearby rustic lodging and early the following morning I was off on the long trip back to South Africa. A small cloud of dust followed my car across the desert. Soon I was back on the tarred highway, climbed a small hill and rounded a corner. STOP!! A dozen Namibian police officers, brandishing automatic weapons, were deployed on the hilly fringes on both sides of the highway. I gulped and lowered my window as the lead officer strode up to my car. There were no customary greetings from this man: "Any weapons or stones", he queried in an all-business voice. "Nothing, Officer" I croaked.. A thorough search of my vehicle convinced the diamond police that I was just the simple (minded?) photographer I claimed to be.  Happily, I was soon on my way. My one deep, dark regret? I couldn't snap the photo-of-a-lifetime: in the remote deserts of Namibia, Africa stopped by armed police - suspected of being a 21st Century diamond thief. Damn!

Best regards,
Eric



LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... April, 2017 "STOP THIS GLOBALISED  RACE TO URBANIZE. IT'S A HUMAN DISASTER"... AND ONE WE CAN PREVENT. I live in South Africa - as good a place as any to view the stampede to urban areas. We have beautiful cities like nearby Cape Town, but also boast some of the world's worst townships/ghettos. These are poverty and crime-infested slums, there's no other way to describe them. And each year tens of thousands of rural South Africans abandon their small, rural villages and race pell-mell to live in squalid townships. What gives?

WE'VE HAD THE PLEASURE OF SUPPORTING THIS RURAL FARM SCHOOL,
 NEAR WHERE WE LIVE,FOR THE PAST 12 YEARS. WE BUY ALL THE SCHOOL SUPPLIES
FOR OVER A HUNDRED KIDS - AND THE SMILES INSTANTLY REPAY US IN FULL!
WE NEVER MISS GRADUATION; YOU CAN'T BELIEVE THE PARENTS' PRIDE
 IN THEIR KIDS' ACCOMPLISHMENTS...

It's TV, it's the rumour mill of somebody who knows somebody getting a real job in the city...
and prosperity. It the bright city lights, compared to the routine of living in a poor rural village. Frankly, it's everything. And it's a world-wide plague of epic proportions. But it doesn't have to happen.

I've lived, worked and travelled for much of my adult life in poor, rural landscapes across Africa and Asia, Central & Latin America. Three full tours in the Peace Corps - Burkina Faso, The Philippines and Lesotho gave me a front row seat to this problem. And there's a simple solution, slowly gaining traction.

First, a quick digression. The more I travel, the more respect I have for traditional rural communities. These good people live in their own cultures, speak their home language, farm their plots (yeah, ownership is sometimes an issue, but it's basically all communal land), practice their religion, including Animism in parts of Africa, usually have access to at least primary schools and generally some kind of medical care. Near us, mobile libraries visit rural schools and mobile health clinics make regular village appearances. People feel comfortable in their own skins. The oft-repeated African expression "It takes a village to raise a child" couldn't be more apt. But still the lure of urban life inexorably draws the young, particularly, off to the shiny / grim prospects of city life. Few return, often because of drug use, relationships and grinding township poverty. It's a mess. It really is.

What to do? Well, for starters we could spend some of the trillion or so dollars wasted annually on military bullshit. We need to start making inputs in stabilizing rural life - globally. In Lesotho (surrounded by South Africa), the government provides terrific agricultural support in the form of tractors for plowing fields, commercial maize seed, fertilizer and advice. Small plots are communally aggregated to produce larger and more efficient yields. The harvest is equitably shared. I've seen it; it works! Getting reliably fed is a huge deal in Africa and if your small village is the ticket to ride, you'll seriously consider staying put.

The primary school in the above photo is a good case in point. This little school provides energy-packed lunches for poor farmworkers' kids. That takes some of the food pressure off at home. Believe it or not, the school also has a Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Centre! So these kids can get a real education and the Internet access that cool people everywhere expect. They have active sports programs (like the rugby photo above), clean air, and safe walks to and from school. Later, many get bussed to high school in a nearby town. But most, ultimately, will grow up to be farmworkers on neighbouring wine and fruit farms. That labour situation is carefully monitored these days by the European Union's Fair Trade Commission. 

And you might be surprised to see families with decent small houses, electricity and indoor plumbing, watching a flickering TV in the evenings - with a used car parked out front. I see this system in play every day around our town. Is it perfect? Of course not. But this morning (Saturday) when I walked up to our Spar supermarket, I couldn't help but see the long lines of farmworkers, men and women, using bank credit cards to cash their weekly wages at ATM's. Just like everybody else. They were laughing and teasing. Payday is the same everywhere. And it sure as hell beats a lifetime sentence in a township ghetto...

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... April, 2017  "SOUTH AFRICA'S BIRDS LIFT MY CRUMPLED SPIRITS! SURE, THE WORLD LOOKS LIKE SHIT THESE DAYS, SO, RELAX FOR A FEW MOMENTS AND LET NATURE CURE YOUR BLUES... HEY, SOMETIMES IT'S THAT SIMPLE." In our turbo-charged world of ever accelerating technology, there are days when I, like you, I'm sure, feel overwhelmed. Where is the peace of mind? Where are the simple joys in life that are cost-free? Where is mental stimulation... without the headache? The answer may be closer than you think! Since returning from a fun, but, whoa, exhausting  month of tramping New Zealand, I've needed to sit quietly, shake off a cold and re-acquaint myself with my South African surroundings. It's been a pleasure!


I SNAPPED THESE EYE-DAZZLERS IN 30 MINUTES, SITTING IN MY OWN SOUTH AFRICAN BACK YARD...

Pictured above are, bottom right / clockwise: Malachite Sunbird, Masked Weaver, Fork-tailed Drongo, White-Eye, Cape Bulbul, Southern Double-Collared Sunbird , Cape Weaver and a juvenile Amethyst Sunbird. All these birds have distinctive habits and compete with different strategies in gathering food and rearing their young. I study them intently and learn more... daily. My wife, Lynn, goes out of her way to see that our garden plantings produce nectar or berries as many months of the year as possible. I fill the feeder once daily. There is a colourful frenzy of competition between birds for turns at the feeder (amazingly, everybody gets their treat!), but when it's empty for the day, that's it. It's back to hunter-gathering in the "wild". We don't want a bunch of pet birds at our house!

South Africa is staggeringly blessed with indigenous bird varieties. You may live in a congested city with diminished bird life, but almost certainly, it's there. The birdfeeder (or bird feed seed mixes) is a low-cost strategy to find out what's actually in your 'hood. Finally, dare I mention it there's a super-duper opportunity to take pictures - even with a cell phone. If you sit quietly and don't move much, birds quickly conclude you're harmless - and press ahead with their feeding chores. Even with a raft of bird shots, I always assume a better shot awaits me, so I keep my camera in my lap while I sponge up nature - and get my equilibrium back (and my smile!) from this whacky world we're forced to inhabit. And those hungry birds appreciate your attention. They really do!

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... April, 2017 " IS SOUTH AFRICA'S TREVOR NOAH THE HOTTEST COMIC ON OUR FRACTURED PLANET? YES!  HEY, I KNOW YOU'RE THINKING,  AN AFRICAN COMEDIAN? YOU'VE GOT TO BE JOKING!!! I was in a small town New Zealand grocery store a few weeks back, when I suffered a full-bore case of whiplash. I'm a South African (bottom of Africa, right?) and, there, staring up at me was one of our most precious national assets, the young comedian, Trevor Noah - on the cover of Time Magazine. I did a double-take. Yes, it really was Trevor Noah...

TIME MAGAZINE CALLS TREVOR NOAH "SERIOUS FUNNY" - AS HE SINKS HIS COMIC FANGS
 INTO HIS FAVOURITE VICTIM - THE HAPLESS DONALD TRUMP...


You're wondering I'm sure, since there's never anything funny about Africa, how can you have an African comedian? I accept your ignorance and possible stupidity with my usual gracious smile... African has irreverent, subtle, bone-rattling humour. And Trevor Noah nails it. He was born in Soweto, one of our huge, dismal townships - where poverty meets - intense pride of place! His father was Swiss and his mother, African. I don't bother with tribes anymore, we're all  stuck in the soup together, so I won't mention that she's a black Xhosa. More on this in a moment...

Noah was a big success in South Africa, but three years ago, barely thirty years old, he decided to needed to go to the USA to see if he was really good - or just a platlander, a harmless Seffrican term for - rural rube. Noah had just one modest problem: he didn't know a single soul in America... No one. He flew to L.A. with a couple bucks in his wallet and began trolling the local comedy clubs for cheap-to-free stand-ups. He plugged along, then after a few weeks, he got an open mike audition for the Jay Leno Show - then America's premier week-night comedy showcase. He had a sudden shot at the Big Time! Then, abruptly,  there he was: an unknown young, African comic, striding out onto the Leno set in his trademark T-shirt, jeans and takkies (runners). After gently seducing his audience with his gorgeous South Africa accent, Trevor brought down the house with this short, sweet anecdote: He was a youngster starting school during the awful, racist Apartheid years. He moaned to his Dad that he was miserable - all his classmates were black - and he was half and half. A freak! Everybody hated him! Pause... "Son", his Dad told him lovingly, "Are you crazy?  Everybody loves Swiss-chocolate!"  I've seen the YouTube video: Leno explodes in laughter. The audience gives Trevor Noah a rare standing ovation... Leno invites him to make a return visit as they shake hands - on-air! 

Fast forward. In September, 2015, after just two brief Trevor Noah appearances, Jon Stewart, the legendary host of The Daily Show, retired and handed his iconic show to that little-known African comedian - our Noah. Trevor didn't even audition! Pow. No one could believe it! Suddenly, Noah was Big Time. Then he shortly did something no other comedian on the planet could or would do: he reached for a global audience! Those middle-brow, American white TV comedians haven't a clue how to compete. They can't. They weren't born poor,  mixed-race, in an African ghetto. They don't know the pleasure and pain, the raw, visceral joys of life in Africa - or much of the rest of the world..  And they don't have the funny bone to laugh at life's excruciating absurdities. Apparently, millions around the world relate to Trevor Noah... last week his Daily Show was screened in 170 countries. Thank you Time Magazine... That's a news story to put a smile on everybody's face...

Best regards and good to be home in South Africa,
Eric



LETTER FROM NEW ZEALAND... MARCH, 2017 "NEW ZEALAND! THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING..." New Zealand doesn't even need to break into a sweat to leave visitors goggle-eyed. The volcanoes draped with ancient beech forests, the flame-thrower sunsets followed by drenching downpours, the endless hundreds of drinking-water pure rivers, the easy-going locals including indigenous Maoris - and the elbow-room, the sense of solitude and being able to stretch out...

NEW ZEALAND'S  REMOTE NATURAL BEAUTY ENCHANTS VISITORS. SITTING ON A STUNNING, HAND-TILED PARK BENCH OVERLOOKING THE TASMAN SEA, IN A TINY TOWN PARK EATING A PICNIC LUNCH... OR CHATTING UP A MAORI WOMAN AND HER SISTER WHO ARE WALKING THE LENGTH OF BOTH ISLANDS TO SHARE THEIR POSITIVE SPIRITS, THOSE ARE THE MEMORIES THAT I'LL CARRY WITH ME...

But I don't travel just for the beautiful scenery...you can watch television. I travel to meet people different from myself, but with the same strong curiosity gene, the lifetime instinct to discover what we don't know. And I travel to test myself, to check my endurance gauge, to see what system shocks I can absorb. And on that score New Zealand, surprisingly, flew off the charts.

I thought with a rental van, paved roads and a first-world infrastructure, Kiwi Country would be a snap. I was wrong! The astonishing high prices forced us to sleep night after cramped night in the van (thank god we brought our sleeping bags!) We clocked up 6,000 kilometres on the odometer on what have to be the world's most twisting, corkscrew road system (there are hundreds of one-way bridges and huge mirrors on endless tight, narrow corners - so you don't meet a stranger by accident. Yikes!). We watched the weather forecasts like parents watch children to find sunny weather for my camera shots...  And we met and shared our "war stories" with dozens upon dozens of fellow backpacker travellers. Fun And exhausting.I'm whipped at the end of a month here, truth to tell.

The great good news for travel? The best and brightest Milennials are out in full force to learn how everything works on our crowded planet, to meet complete strangers who become friends, to test themselves against adversity, tiny budgets and loneliness. And to find love and lifemates! I can't tell you how many beautiful young lives I encountered who were doing all of the above. Remember, I gently reminded them, travel has consequences. Home base won't seem so exciting after you've checked out the world. So keep at it. Keep that passion for experience and new beginnings alive!

I'll have some additional thoughts when we're back in South Africa - after twenty-five hours in an Emirates airplane! But first I'll need a helluva good rest...

All best,
 Eric


LETTER FROM NEW ZEALAND... MARCH, 2017 "NEW ZEALAND: EVERYTHING YOU COULD EVER DREAM FOR - AND AN EARTHQUAKE NIGHTMARE..."  I'm an adventure travel writer/photographer. I came to New Zealand this year because it's abruptly on everyone's travel radar - and that's a story I need to cover. And tourists are here in record numbers. And it is amazing! But let's face it, there are a piddly four million Kiwis (New Zealanders) - stretched thinly over two enormous islands  - 1600 k's top to bottom. There are so few locals that your typical South Island New World supermarket is likely staffed by up to 90% overseas Millennials. Yes! They work for good money and then get to play tourist on their time off. Pretty good deal, when you think about it. The buzz with all these savvy visitors adds to the pure pleasure of some of the world's most beautiful scenery. Asians are the latest to catch Kiwi Fever and we're exchanging smiles and trip tips with as many of them as possible. In short: New Zealand  you've got it all - and plenty of drinking water clear rivers and lakes to boot!
 
CENTRE CITY CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - SIX YEARS AFTER A HUGE GUT PUNCH  EARTHQUAKE. MY WIFE, LYNN, POSING WITH A MAORI POLICEMAN AMIDST THE CARNAGE...

There's just one small problem... EARTHQUAKES. New Zealand straddles the Ring of Fire and like Japan, Chile and the other members of this dubious club, a certain uncertainty stalks the land. We did a walkabout through downtown Christchurch a couple of days ago and were thunderstruck by the 2011 Richter 7-plus quake that shattered life here. 180 people died within a few blocks, but the economy imploded with the tremors. Banks, government & the courts, the legal profession, regional businesses were all centred here. Boom! Down they went. Major department stores, hospitals, the city's oldest, iconic church,  small businesses. Boom! They cratered, too. The mess is still hugely depressingly visible, six years later, everywhere - even as new steel re-enforced buildings rise from the ruins. It's a sobering sight and a reminder that life is tenuous even in First World, Middle Class, easy-going New Zealand.

I note another curiosity from the earthquake debacle. Government rushed to put up cheery paintings around all the walled off, dangerously unstable buildings (above photos) and massive amounts of spending have been ordered up (public debt?) to repair and re-assure the populace. But, as one well-dressed businessman told us, it's been a colossal boon for working-class construction workers - with thousands of jobs stretching out years. But the professional class has been hard-hit. Really? I thought the well-heeled knew how to always finagle the system to their advantage and it was the manual labourers who routinely got a kick in the pants. I had an odd thought: Is Christchurch's nightmare a possible metaphor for our destablizing  world of rebellious Brixits and Trump-style raucous politics. I guess earthquakes can happen, without warning, in many realms...

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM NEW ZEALAND... MARCH, 2017 "WHAT'S GOING ON HERE? STARCHY WHITE KIWI COUNTRY - SUDDENLY WELCOMES THE WORLD - I MEAN EVERYBODY... AND THERE'S A SMILE ON EVERY FACE!
It's daybreak
on Milford Sound. Your photographer has seen gorgeous chunks of our world. And yet remote, pristine Milford Sound, New Zealand shoots to the top of my scenery scoreboard.I click off shot after shot is some vague shutterbug's delirium. With every turn of our small cruise boat new vistas are seared into my sleepy brain. I keep shooting with the sun exploding onto wild, cloudy landscapes. This much I know: for an adventure travel photographer it doesn't get any better than this.

Then, with 100 photos safely stashed on my SD card, I start to relax - and look around. I know this group. We're getting the same tour as the rich folks, but for half price because most people don't want to stumble out of bed at 5:00 A.M., drive 120 k's through knuckle-biting New Zealand, dead-of-night mountain roads - to catch the budget-priced Early Bird Milford Sound Special. They are young, they are checking out the world, they are gorgeously fit and they have a gleam in their eye. I'm not sure I have ever seen quite this collection of humanity together before: it's fantastically the Twenty-first Century we've dreamed about... here are mixed race couples, Muslim families, Euro parents with small children, everybody enjoying each other's company. Asia, South America, North America, Europe and Africa. Yes.We share the curiosity gene in common... and the smiles are contagious.

It's just not what I expected in... New Zealand. I thought Kiwis were British heritage types. But they've opened their country to immigrants, student workers and tourists - en masse. The fun and excitement is written on faces everywhere I turn. Total strangers walk up to us and ask "Where are you from?" multiple times a day. We eagerly return the question. Conversations about our seamless, shrinking world erupt with every new meeting - whether it's on a Milford Sound cruise boat or deep in the virgin beech forests on a sunny afternoon wilderness "tramp". It's huge fun. And yields huge hope for humanities questionable future. If it can happen in this deep South corner of the world, it can happen anywhere... And that lovely young Asian woman in the yellow slicker with her Irish boyfriend (above photo). She's from Sweden... I accepted that without question! Are you embracing our bold new world... or still stuck in our embittered, fearful past?  Smile... click!

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM NEW ZEALAND...MARCH, 2017 "SKY HIGH SCENERY AND, GULP, PRICES TO MATCH! SO WHATTAYA GONNA DO WHEN YOUR TRAVEL DREAMS - EXCEED YOUR POCKETBOOK? I'm a proud member of the World's Middle Class. Or at least I thought so, until my sweet wife, Lynn, and I arrived a couple of weeks ago in New Zealand. Geez, the prices here are brutal. We can't afford MacDonald's for god's sake (regular coffee $5-7 U.S.) Motel rooms are easily $100 to $150. And car rentals? Quirky small RV camper rentals are popular (see photo), but at $150 to $250 a day (ouch!) they weren't in our budget. So we rented an eight-seater mini-van - and shoved the movable seats out of the way. We sleep, in our sleeping bags, in the cramped rear quarters... and no whinging is allowed. You want to see one of the most beautiful countries on  earth - there is a price to pay!

JAPANESE WOMEN SAVE MONEY CHOPPING UP A STIR-FRY AT A YOUTH HOSTEL COMMUNAL KITCHEN IN WELLINGTON. A FRENCH WOMAN DISEMBARKS FROM HER JUCY-BRAND CAMPER AT A WANAKA CAMPGROUND. YOU GET A DISCOUNT FOR DRIVING A 'BILLBOARD' ADVERT!

But misery loves company, right? So everywhere we wander (now on the South Island), we meet fellow travellers from all over the world who are in the same price crunch as we are. We laugh at not being able to dine in restaurants (we had one simple Thai dinner for my wife's birthday - no appetizer, desert or coffee - $55 U.S.!), shop for souvenirs or take the unending, enticing offers for bungee jumps, jet boat rides, helicopter flips over glaciers ($350) or para-sailing... Instead we do what the Kiwis do - we tramp. That's right, put on your sturdy tackies / trainers and hike into the most gorgeous scenery anywhere. And on those glorious hikes, every sweaty rest-break leads to another brilliant conversation with fellow travellers from Argentina, Germany, China, the Czech Republic, Britain, Canada, Korea or Kenya, etc. That's right the whole world is dizzy with the beauty of this country - and endlessly inventive in ways to cut costs and still have our fun! Yesterday, we celebrated the end of another happy day with ice cold giant cans of Baltica Beer (on sale: $3.50) from Russia. Wow! With 8% alcohol, there's a party in a single can!
 
Excuse me, we have to dash off to the local New World supermarket (here at Wanaka) to join the hordes overseas travellers carefully stitching together a budget supper - and laughing at the absurdity of it all! Wasn't that a bank president who just tossed a donut in his basket for dinner? Hey, if you're not a hard-core backpacker, skip New Zealand - and take a boring package cruise!

Best regards,

Eric

LETTER FROM NEW ZEALAND... March, 2017 "NEW ZEALAND IS A BOGGLINGLY LONG DISTANCE FROM ANYWHERE.. AND WORTH THE PAIN!" Travel pain? Geez Eric, what are you talking about? Well, I've just survived the longest airplane ride on the planet (one leg 19 hours). My wife, Lynn, and I vaulted into the ozone from Cape Town to Dubai for nine hours in the direction of the North Pole. Then we scuttled onto the next flight from Dubai to Auckland, NZ, for nine hours. Except there was a problem with the landing gear (yikes!), so 450 of us sat biting our finge upon rnails for three hours - then taking off on a sixteen hour extravaganza to New Zealand. The landing gear worked (!); we arrived whipped, but conscious...

Enough whinging! New Zealand is surprise upon surprise upon surprise. I thought, beautiful scenery, but a tad dull. that's not quite the reality I'm seeing...
 
I KNOW, I KNOW, NEW ZEALAND IS SUPPOSED TO BE SHEEP AND DULL, PLODDING SCENERY, BUT NOBODY TOLD ME ABOUT THE EDGY TRAVEL SCENE. THIS "JUCY' BRAND RENTAL VAN FOR TRAVELLERS IS EVERYWHERE - EACH WITH A CHEEKY SLOGAN. THIS ONE SAYS "DON'T PLAY HARD TO GET, PLAY HARD TO FORGET!" AWRIGHT!  THAT'S A RARE PICTURE OF SAPHOTOSAFARI WITH A BLASTING DOUBLE GEYSER BACKDROP... STEAMING VOLCANOES, CUTE GIRLS, RETRO CAR FREAKS...
IT'S SOMEHOW NOT QUITE HOW I IMAGINED NEW ZEALAND.


I travel to debunk myths, prejudices and flat-out rumours. I f you don't see it with your own eyes, you're relying on somebody else's distorted,  skewed view of life... and the world. I trust only my own eyes and ears. New Zealand, like your country and mine (South Africa) is undergoing staggering changes. This starchy, White, Protestant off-shoot of Old England now has immigrants and refugees from all over the Middle East and Asia. On our first wind-swept, rainy afternoon in the capitol, Wellington, we dashed across the street from our backpackers to a stunning New World supermarket where the smiling, youthful employees were from Ethiopia, Cyprus, the Philippines, Pakistan, Burundi and Burma, etc. They're eager, ambitious and filled with hope for a bright future.

 Who can't be stimulated by their enthusiasm for a better life? I certainly am and swapped anecdotes from our immigrant lives in South Africa (from the USA - seventeen years ago). You have to be blind to not see that the world is on the move. We are all in the soup together! The future is post-nation state. Relax, will you? I see smiles in the new New Zealanders no one could even imagine just a few short years ago. And I see hope.

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... March, 2017 "ERIC'S OFF INTO THE WILD BLUE YONDER... YET AGAIN. IT'S FUNNY BUT I NEED TO MEET THE WORLD  OR SOMETHING DEEP INSIDE ME... SHRIVELS UP AND DIES. AM I CRAZY? I'm no better or worse than all the other travellers I'll be meeting on a month-long tramp through New Zealand. In just a couple of hours, my wife and I will be leaving our leafy South African home, clambering aboard our Emirates flight (this isn't a paid endorsement, but Emirates takes incredibly good care of us even in economy, where we'll be ensconced - for twenty-five hours each way

Gliding into Seattle after a fourteen hour non-stop from Dubai over Iran,
 Russian Siberia, the North Pole and then hurtling south across Canada's Yukon - into daybreak over Puget Sound. 

Today's brilliant flight crews are multi-national, multi-lingual and can talk about damn near anything under the sun. These airliners are the front lines of our multi-cultural future on this crowded planet. If you can't enjoy the diversity of people on these long-haul flights, then maybe you need to go back to your "village" - where everyone looks and thinks and acts the same. Not me. I crave the good stuff! I need to meet these people, suspended together for hours on end with nothing better to do than dismantle prejudices - and share the smiles and laughter of new acquaintances from places you may never have heard of before. 

The crew above are pretty typical. Left to right: Kenya (with dreams of owning her own real estate business in Nairobi), Japan (she was a natural leader and readily posed for any and all selfies). And, finally, a Lebanese guy who was Druze! Not Christian or Muslim, but Druze. I immediately said "Walid Jumblatt" (a Druze leader) and our 2:00 A.M. barn-burner of a conversation was off and running. Now when I see a news story about Lebanon, I read it. I got Lebanon... I'm a confessed travel junkie. I need to get my travel hits and meet all these astounding human beings - or go bonkers.

So who will I meet on this journey? Of course, I can't know, but I do know my humanity will be worn on my sleeve. As for all those volcanoes, glaciers, penguins, aquamarine lakes... and Kiwis. They'll be photographed to death by the time I'm finished. And I'll be happy, deep inside, in a way only travel - often to the ends of the earth - can satisfy me. I'll be sending newsy reports and pix, right here, regularly.

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... February, 2017 "OUCH! MY TOUR DE FRANCE HERO, LANCE ARMSTRONG... IS REVEALED TO BE A DRUG-USING LOW-LIFE CHEAT. THOUGHTS ON YOUR CREDIBILITY... AND MINE. I'll be honest. I'm not much of a sportsfan. I know it's pathetic. I was a long distance runner when I was a young buck - and still work-out almost daily. Can you do 180 sit ups? But there's one sport that still resonates with me - cycling. I'm not sure why, but I really get off on photographing the world's biggest mountain bike race - the week-long, gruelling Cape Epic - right here in South Africa (see photo below). I'm a photographer and I know I'll get fun shots covering this race - everytime!

SOUTH AFRICA'S CAPE EPIC: 1200 RIDERS CLIMB THE EQUIVALENT OF MT EVEREST
 - ONE AND A HALF TIMES - AND THEN PLUNGE BACK DOWN OVER EIGHT BONE-WEARY DAYS
 - OF RACING THE WORLD'S TOUGHEST COMPETITORS.

Lance Armstrong was a hero for me in a world where heroes barely exist anymore. And for a simple reason: If you want to win the legendary Tour de France cycling race you have to outcompete everybody else. It's simple, really. You have to be the most determined, best-conditioned, hardest-working, deepest digging bike rider on earth. Armstrong won the Tour de France SEVEN times! Geez! How is that humanly possible?

The short answer: drugs. Fuckwit Armstrong just couldn't say "no". Other riders did it, so why shouldn't he? Armstrong found out. He forfeited his seven Tour de France medals and has been banned from the sport for life... He's integrity and reputation are flushed down the toilet. Whoosh! 

There's a worthy lesson for all of us in this all-too-human tragedy. You have your integrity in life... or you don't. If you lose it, there's no getting it back, no second chances. If you have your integrity, your earned reputation for honesty, treasure it. Almost alone it can get you through this whacked out world we didn't ask for, but must suffer through. You can look in the mirror - and smile! And you won't have a knot in your stomach until the day you die - like the brilliant Mr. Armstrong. 

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... February, 2017 "DROUGHT! OUR WOBBLY PLANET SUDDENLY SEEMS TO HAVE TOO LITTLE WATER... OR, OCCASIONALLY, WAY TOO MUCH. WE BRILLIANT HUMANS ARE GLOBALLY MOVING TO MEGA CITIES AT WARP SPEED. OOPS, SORRY, OUR POLITICIANS FORGOT ABOUT KEEPING UP WITH THE WATER SUPPLY... I live near Cape Town, South Africa. It's a Mediterranean climate with gorgeous scenery and sunshine, protected mountains and wildlife. Who could ask for anything more? Actually, Cape Town has less the 100 days of water remaining in its dusty reservoirs and a slow panic is starting to set in. Droughts happen around here every five to ten years, with varying severity, but our series of dams have reliably buffered any major problems. Oops, the population of this desirable Cape Basin has dramatically increased exponentially in recent years, but our gifted politicians failed to expand the water storage. Simply put, water reservoirs are not sexy... so why spend scarce money on them - when you can build World Cup Soccer stadiums to general applause?   Izzut? As we say in South Africa when we are suffering consternation...

I WAS IN CALIFORNIA'S CENTRAL VALLEY 16 MONTHS AGO. WHOA! THE SAN PEDRO RESERVOIR 
WAS SO EMPTY, THIS WILD ELK HERD HAD TO TRAIPSE TWO KILOMETRES TO QUENCH THEIR THIRST...

In fact, crippling droughts are sending shock waves through country after country - from India to Mexico to Bolivia to Namibia and South Africa to just scratch the surface. Global warming is the agreed upon culprit (excepting, of course, Mr. Trump, who is a climate denier), but anyone who fails to mention soaring populations of us, relentless urbanization and consumer lifestyles that sponge up scarce water
is guilty of the same delusion! 

Our small dorp or village here in suddenly too-sunny South Africa has turned off its leiwater system, the gravity irrigation system that channels clear, clean water out of the surrounding mountains and sends it to
every nook & cranny in our community - to water gardens and keep our huge, stunning shades trees flourishing. Water, as we suddenly are noting, really is the staff of life. But we placid, comfort-loving homo sapiens chose to ignore the drought potential - everywhere - until, I'm afraid, it's a bit too late. The slow erosion of community - the sense of oneness - that imperils our planet makes planning and common sacrifice ever more difficult - even when it's in our own best interests. It's hot out. I think I need an icy glass of water - to cogitate this ugly truth. I just hope something dribbles out of the tap... 

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... February, 2017 "AMERICAN DEMOCRACY UNDER SIEGE: USA CITIZENS ARE STANDING UP FOR REFUGEES AND IMMIGRANTS - AND THEIR OWN SUDDENLY VULNERABLE ...RIGHTS." To the general amusement of friends and neighbours, I'm regularly caught saying: 'Democracy is a full-time job!'  They chuckle lamely. I'm afraid most good people, everywhere around the world, think democracy, once in place, is a self-perpetuating system of governance. Sorry, wrong... As my brothers and sisters in the United States are dramatically discovering... democracy can fly off the rails at a moment's notice: This is no time to go shopping. 

MUSLIM ROHINGYA TRIBESPEOPLE - FROM MYANMAR / BURMA - ARRIVING IN
LOS ANGELES, USA - AS HELPLESS REFUGEES. THEIR FIRST  VIEW OF AMERICA: CHEERLEADERS, WOMEN IN TIGHTS AND STRETCH LIMOS... PLEASE, MR TRUMP, CAN WE SHOW SOME COMPASSION?


I see in the NYTimes this morning that New York State's U.S. Senator (and Senate leader of the Democratic Party in Congress), Charles Shumer, has had thousands of protesters pitching up outside his New York City home to demand he "Show some Spine!" to the Trump Administration. Shumer has publicly wept over the refugee crisis and immigration attacks. And high time. Voters are brazenly holding their elected representatives - accountable. One of the pillars of the Trump stealth victory for the U.S. Presidency has been the gilded, 'silk-stocking' lifestyle of Washington's political class. That 'cosiness' is suddenly under assault - and the refugee/immigration crisis is the visible spark.

I live in South Africa. I know refugees and immigrants aplenty. Zimbabweans are commonplace everywhere here. South Africa is the destination for huge numbers of other Africans migrating for the blessings of democracy and job prospects. The country has brilliantly worked to assimilate immigrants by giving them work permits and study possibilities, particularly for children - instead of the Refugee Camp model so widely used to prevent the victims of this disparate world from integrating and building normal lives... 

I was in Los Angeles a few months back and caught with my camera the shock refugees experience when they travel to distant countries - they can't even begin to imagine. These Muslim Rohingyas, minority Burmese rice farmers who have been brutally assaulted (photo inset news story),  have just arrived in California with refugee status. They quite possibly left behind their most valuable asset - a water buffalo (I've lived in the rural Philippines and can imagine their sense of loss!). And they are grieving that loss and, of course, the loss of their small familiar universe. 

What do they instantly have to deal with in America? University football cheerleaders, women in tights and stretch limos... I walked up to this anxious extended family and said the only thing I could think of :"A Salaam a Leikum". Their faces burst into smiles! They told me in tiny snippets of English, that they were going to Oklahoma state to a refugee centre. There they would undergo immersion into American life skills and English language studies. Where they will ultimately end up - no one can tell them. They are refugees... the world's most vulnerable people.

Mr. Trump you have to have a cold heart, indeed, to turn your back on this refugee crisis, this world-wide human pain. Maybe you're too wealthy to know what fear, uncertainty and an empty belly feels like...

Regards,
Eric
 

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... January, 2017  "TWO SOUTH AFRICANS ROWED A BOAT OVER 10,000 KILOMETRES FROM MOROCCO, TO THE CARRIBEAN AND ON TO
NEW YORK - FOR HALF A YEAR - TO WITNESS THE STATUE OF LIBERTY..."


"GIVE ME YOUR TIRED, YOUR POOR, YOUR HUDDLED MASSES YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE... that's the famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty."  South African adventurers Riaan Manser and his partner, Vasti Geldenhuys, an attorney, routinely do the impossible. This particular act of courage or lunacy, we don't know which, straddled the first half of 2014. No one had ever even contemplated rowing a small boat - THE SPIRIT OF MADIBA (MANDELA) - without back-up support - across the Atlantic Ocean for six grinding months to visit New York. 

I'm American by birth and I can tell you the Statue of Liberty, an 1886 gift from the French people, has been hallowed ground for millions, including my immigrant family at the turn of the 20th Century. Mr. Trump has stepped over the line with his assault on refugees and Muslims. It's shocking. But as Americans are quickly re-learning: in a democracy you stand up for everyone's rights and freedoms - or everyone's rights and freedoms can be trampled... in a heartbeat. 

Regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... January, 2017 "FAKE NEWS: I HOPE YOU WERE PAYING ATTENTION WHEN THE OXFORD DICTIONARIES NAMED  'POST-TRUTH' THEIR 2016 'WORD OF THE YEAR'. I'M NOT LAUGHING, I'M TERRIFIED... ARE YOU? Truth. Real journalists. Ethics. Somehow, it almost seems a bit quaint and naive to mouth these words in 2017. This week we learned (through a real newspaper, the New York Times) that a young Davidson College graduate in the USA made up a fake news story before the election about the supposed discovery of a shipping container with pre-printed ballots inside - inked for Hillary Clinton. He put it up and it went viral - 6,000,000 people read the piece. At one point, he was making $1,000 dollars an hour off the internet advertising. Eventually, he made $100,000 dollars - and he said he did it for the money!

DO YOU FIND FAKE NEWS FUNNY? THEN HERE'S A SILLY ONE FOR YOU! I COBBLED
 THIS COLLAGE TOGETHER IN FIVE MINUTES - JUST CHANGING THE NAME OF THE FERRY
TO AUCKLAND FROM VANCOUVER. HA-HA! ACTUALLY, YOU GUESSED IT - THE PHOTOS WERE 
ALL SNAPPED... IN BRITISH COLUMBIA. (SEE BELOW)

Trump lost the popular vote by 2,800,000, but won the obligatory Electoral College (I know, I know, it's all so weird!) by 70,000 votes. That little ha-ha piece of fake journalism and an avalanche of other fake tidbits hosted on social media, cost Mrs. Clinton the Presidency of the United States - and the Americans and the world is going to pay a helluva gut-punch price. Before Trump is even settled into the Oval Office, he's howling about the legitimacy of the Inauguration head count - and within the last few hours he's been claiming that illegal immigrants - 3 to 5 million - voted for Hillary and cost him the popular vote victory. It's bullshit, of course, but in this Brave New World where the Loudest Shouter apparently wins, we are in for a rough ride.

What can you do? I think we underestimate our individual actions. The old cliche You be the future you want to see... is more true than we suspect. Societies only function with agreed upon rules. And all of us, most particularly our political class, need to take a step backward and re-commit to our children, partners, communities and nations to salvage the truth from despots everywhere. The Ghandis, Kings, Mandelas, Aung San Suu Kyis and moral leaders everywhere didn't change history - by lying through their teeth! Truth is power. Actually, I will be in New Zealand this year, photographing for SAPHOTOSAFARI, and I promise to put up photo essays - that accurately reflect what I see. Screw the fake stuff...


The plain and simple...TRUTH. All shot in B.C.


Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA...January, 2017 "ARE YOU A 'RISK-TAKER'? INDIVIDUALS TAKE RISKS... AND SOMETIMES NATIONS DO, TOO. BUT, IF YOU OR I FALL ON OUR FACES IT'S ONE THING. IT'S COMPLETELY A DIFFERENT ORDER OF MAGNITUDE WHEN NATIONS 'RISK'... AND FAIL. 'TRUMP' USA, AND THE WORLD, WATCH OUT... President Trump has never held a political position in his life. He's a businessman who's now delegated to run the biggest business on earth - the United States of America. Except that politics/business and private enterprise business are two different worlds. Hundreds of senior government posts haven't been filled. Only two members of his cabinet have been approved by the U.S., Senate. A few hundred thousand angry women - many wearing pussyhats - have greeted President Trump as he opened the White House blinds on his first day of work. He's called NATO "obsolete" and routinely attacks the vast intelligence agencies - that are supposed to keep him apprised of our wobbly world. He openly embraces Mr. Putin...

HERE I AM WINGING IT ABOVE TURKEY'S AEGEAN COAST 
A FEW MONTHS AGO. I'M AIRBORNE ON A SHEET OF NYLON, PILOTED BY A YOUNG  TURK 
ABOUT WHOM - I KNOW NOTHING! STUPID? OF COURSE! BUT IT'S ONLY MY MISERABLE 
BUCKET IF I GET KILLED... I'M AFRAID AMERICA IS PARA-SAILING WITH A PILOT (PRESIDENT TRUMP) -  ABOUT WHOM, REALLY, THEY ALSO KNOW NOTHING...

All successful lives need to take risks. The difference between those who succeed and those who fail is 'risk assessment'. I've been a risk-taker most of my adult life (Did I mention I was on Tahrir Square at the height of Egypt's massive Mubarak Revolution in March, 2011... but with an Egyptian guide. I got compelling photos... and lived to tell the tale.) Trump seems genetically incapable of seeking sound advice - guides - he just shoots from the hip. This isn't risk-taking, this is highly reckless behaviour. The whole world will be watching as his hubris, governmental ignorance and ego are tested. I'm a journalist. I love a good story. But, I've got a pit in my stomach that tells me this unruly man's turn at the helm - will end badly. Would you go up para-sailing- with a pilot who's never flown before?  

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA...January, 2017 " 'WORLD GONE MAD' UPDATE... "DO YOU WORRY THAT YOU DON'T KNOW ENOUGH? I'M STARTING TO WONDER IF WE KNOW WAY TOO MUCH... READ ON." 

WHEN I WAS A YOUNG BUCK, I SOLO PADDLED THE BOWRON CANOE WILDERNESS 
IN BRITISH COLUMBIA- 
FIVE TIMES. IT WAS HARD, PHYSICAL WORK. I WAS HAPPY!

It was a simpler time. If you can believe it, in the 1980's there were no cell phones and no freaky hourly weather forecasts. The Bowron Lakes canoe circuit was 110 kilometres, with 7 brutal portages averaging over a kilometre each. At each portage I threw the canoe over my shoulders, grunted the 40 kilo load to the next lake, then returned to transport my kit: tent, sleeping bag, food, fishing gear, bug repellent, etc. I caught Lake Trout for supper... or went hungry. I paid close attention, always, because there were Grizzly Bears aplenty in the surrounding mountains. When I returned to civilization week later, I was all muscle and my mental health ...was superb. I never heard the news the entire time. There were no tweets or Instagrams, just the serenity of epic wilderness. I often thought, paddling contentedly hour after hour, that this was probably the way most people lives had been lived - work, eat, sleep, repeat - for, oh, the past few hundred thousand years.

But, oh, how things have changed. This hour the BBC is reporting, on-line, that Trump is denouncing everyone, including CNN, fights have broken out in the Turkish parliament, the Americans are moving battle tanks into Poland, a Chinese crackdown has set the Bitcoin sliding and Brasil is hunting "fugitives" - I forget exactly why. Apparently, the entire world is coming apart, blowing up or protesting, except where I live - everything is normal. And probably pretty normal where you are...

I'm a journalist and even I am overdosing on too much news. Add to that "fake news", breaking news, celebrity news, sports news (same teams battling over and over... and over). I'm not sure we homo sapiens are equipped to handle these megadoses of news or whatever it is posing as "news".

Roger Cohen, the brilliant columnist for the NYTimes (South African family roots!), writes recently about Western democracies being in the midst of an upheaval they barely understand. Like what? The Smart Phone's impact on the human psyche is scarcely understood. It's addictive. Everywhere I turn everyone under, what 35, is resolutely studying their phone, relentlessly. Are they smarter, happier, better at human relationships?  I doubt it... 

I kinda think we need to take a deep breath, as a species, slow down, play with kids and eat a salad or a bowl of rice or noodles, not a 'horse' for supper (obesity!). Robots, drones, artificial intelligence et al needs to be given a 'pink slip', so a few hundred million more jobs can be created. We are stampeding - we know not where... Anxiety is rampant. As for me, I need to go canoeing more - and surfing the 'net - a whole lot less. Good luck to you as we embark on a New Year. Why not make it a different year - with a fresh view of life?

Best regards,
Eric 



LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA...January, 2017 "WHERE DID YOUR ADULT LIFE BEGIN? FOR ME,
IT BEGAN ON THE HOT, SOUTHERN FRINGES OF THE SAHARA DESERT, IN A REMOTE, DUSTY VILLAGE IN BURKINA FASO... I WAS A SCRAWNY AMERICAN PEACE CORPS DEVELOPMENT WORKER AND THE VILLAGE CHANGED MY LIFE ... FOREVER." It was pretty simple. I had two choices: be conscripted into the U.S. Army (Vietnam) or join the Peace Corps. Even then I wasn't big on killing people or blowing stuff up, so my Big Decision was kind of a no-brainer. In hindsight the army would have been the easier choice, aside from the killing and blowing stuff up part...

1970's: OUR SEBBA NEIGHBOURS STARE IN WONDER ...AS WE VANISH INTO THE HEAVENS.

After months of language, cross-cultural and skills training my first wife, Terri, and I were packed into a LandRover and dispatched to the Burkina Peace Corp's most remote site: the tiny village of Sebba. We asked for the toughest posting (we were tough punks, right?) ...and we got it. OMG. The stifling heat, the daily diet of goat meat and local rice w/rocks, the loneliness (We got a single BBC SW broadcast. - for five minutes each evening.), the endless illnesses, think dysentery, malaria et al. Plus, most people  had never seen a White person - in person - so they, particularly the kids,  burst into tears or ran screaming when I showed up to build schools or wells for livestock. We crossed off each day on the calendar. Two years is a very long time... when you're crossing off every single day. We stopped the calendar business; too depressing.

Slowly, life for us changed. We got to know our African neighbours. We had useful jobs. Terri worked in the local maternity with almost no equipment - and each baby delivered on the floor, onto a washable piece of plastic sheeting. My neighbours had diseases I'd knew nothing about: River Blindness, Leprosy, Shistosomiasis et al. They really were tough; no one complained. They were survivors and they taught us to dig deep. Living and breathing the impoverished lives of  our neighbours - opened our eyes - and in a curious way opened our hearts as well. My university Masters program in Journalism seemed, somehow, pretty tame after Africa (we climbed Kilimanjaro on the way home, backpacking around the world for half a year - before Lonely Planet had even been written...

Years later after a new marriage and a business success with a country inn in Utah (at mountain biking hotspot Moab), Lynn and I jumped back into the Peace Corps - and 17 years later are still in South Africa. I share this with you because life is what happens while we're making other plans. Those early years may not seem insightful, but most of us shape the rest of our lives - while we're young and casting about unfettered. I could have spent my life striving to make money and live well, but I stumbled on something infinitely more satisfying  - in that thirsty small collection of thatched-roofed mud huts: Sebba, Africa. 

No plane had landed at the dirt airstrip for ten years. Suddenly an aircraft roared low over the village, wagging its wings. My neighbours erupted in wild excitement. One and all they ran a couple of kilometres to the landing strip - to behold the miracle: an airplane. To our shock, the plane was for us. My wife's mother was dying of cancer in the U.S. - about which we knew nothing. We had ten minutes to pack. We promised to return - and did - but our Muslim neighbours, I'm sure, thought we were winging our way to heaven. I asked the pilot to circle back over the Baobab tree and our African friends.I shot this one photo of an incongruous place that changed my life... forever. What surprises do you suppose your future holds?

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... January, 2017 "ALRIGHT. NEW YEAR. FRESH START. TRUMP, PUTIN, MAY, ERDOGAN, DUTERTE, MERKEL ET AL CAN'T SOLVE THE WORLD'S PROBLEMS - BUT I CAN. OR AT LEAST A MAJOR PORTION...  YOU PROBABLY THINK I'M HUNGOVER FROM A GIANT NEW YEAR'S EVE BENDER? BUT ACTUALLY, I'M STONE COLD SOBER...READ ON. I don't think the crux of our world-wide problems with violence, terrorism or endless conflicts really stems from religious, racial, or ethnic differences. So what is it? Stripped naked, the problem is poverty. The sanitized word in developed countries is "income inequality". How do I know this? I've spent much of a lifetime working, travelling, exploring the bottom rung of the income ladder. I know poverty. For the past 17 years my wife and I have been resident at ground zero for income inequality: our beloved South Africa. A few million mostly Whites, but now many Blacks in the Middle Class, have lifestyles of incredible comfort and ease. Sure, they work and many work damn hard, but the cheap labour means that even the poorest white families have maids and nannies and gardeners (We have zip. We're perfectly capable of cooking our own supper and making our own beds... Before I get too sanctimonious, I should note that we  grew up in the USA, where domestic help is not common, probably because of the high cost of labour. For us, it's not a cultural habit.) 

THESE DECENT PEOPLE FROM (CLOCKWISE): CHINA, INDIA, ARGENTINA,BURKINA FASO,
MEXICO, THE PHILIPPINES, LESOTHO AND TIBET ARE JUST LIKE YOU AND ME 
- ONLY POOR. AND THEY CAN'T TAKE IT ANY MORE...

This morning I heard our brass bell tinkling, so opened the front door. There, shoeless and dressed in raggedy clothes were three kids, 7 to 10 years old, one girl and two smaller boys. They burst into cheery song wishing me a "Happy New Year"! I listened for five seconds and said: "Stop! No grovelling. They were hoping to get three of the hundreds and hundreds of zip-lock bags of peanuts and raisins that we distribute each year from our front door. I patiently explained that the Festive Season was now over and the free peanuts/raisins program was mostly in abeyance, on hold. When I'd finished my dreary monologue, the three bleated in a single voice, "But we're hungry!" I explained, again, that we weren't able to feed two thousand hungry, bored, restless children - over and over and over. They bleated, again, "But we're hungry!!" Deflated, I went and got three bags of peanuts & raisins. The kids beamed - and flashed those beautiful smiles kids uncork when they get what they need. In this case: food. I did tell them, as I always do, "You're beautiful!" Candidly, I think they know I'm a soft touch...

But soon enough these Little Wonders won't be kids, they'll be grown ups having children they can't feed, adequately educate with employable skills or properly parent - with love. Poverty replicates itself with stunning ease and speed - and disastrous results for our whole planet. You read or watch the news, right? Those migrants, refugees, terrorists can tell you all about poverty - and what it has done to their lives. No future, no hope, no fear of getting hurt or dying - directly leads to most of our intractable dilemmas. When people have jobs and decent incomes they play by the rules. And contribute to society through their compliance and civilized sensibilities. And their children have full bellies - and strive for their own futures.

So why is the affluent world so staggeringly content to go on building walls, barriers, police states and prisons to keep the poor at arm's length? When the only solution is to end poverty - at a fraction of the cost of trying to defend against it. You tell me... If you want to make a New Year's resolution that matters, pitch up and help end this curse of humanity - that punishes everyone - because we're too cheap and too lazy to fix it. 

Happy New Year!
Eric 


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... December, 2016 "'LOVE' WE CAN KINDA MANAGE INDIVIDUALLY, BUT 'PEACE'? IT'S SOMETHING ALL OF US HAVE TO BUY IN TOGETHER... OR WE ARE 'KAPUT'."  It's that nano-second each year when the shopping stops - and the New Year hasn't quite registered with our brains. The world can actually be quiet right now for just a few precious days. Maybe, if we listen carefully we can hear our collective lungs breathing in, breathing out. We can be generous and say things to family and friends we don't feel comfortable saying the rest of the year: "I love you" springs to mind. And there's that other word - "peace" - that gets trotted out and millions raise a toast to it. Excuse me, bullshit, I say.... Peace is about what all of us should be passionate about - all year long. Or we're goners. That's right: P-h-f-f-t! Bye-bye homo sapiens...

A HANDFUL OF THE PEOPLE, I RUBBED SHOULDERS WITH THIS PAST YEAR. THANK YOU ALL!
AS A SPECIES WE ARE QUITE AMAZING IN MANY WAYS, 
BUT, ACTUALLY, QUITE STUPID ABOUT CONTROLLING OUR VIOLENT IMPULSES, EH? ...WATCH OUT.

I've just had another resounding year of meeting the world - head on. Can you believe I took a camel caravan into the Sahara desert (last May) with Berber guides. My accomplices were from Japan, Spain, Vietnam, Korea, Ecuador, Morocco, the Netherlands, China and, me, South Africa. It was astonishing, really. Camels are easily the most uncomfortable transport I've ever been on, but we gritted our teeth and laughed about our sprung crotches(!), the lack of toilets or showers - and sips only of drinking water. We slept out there in the sand dunes, in the pitch black freezing night, but only after crowding around a small campfire - with no other lights practically forever - and listening to Berber drumming. Maybe, that was the moment this hefty travel year that I committed, again, to being fucking peaceable. Peaceable and sharing my blessings, material and otherwise, with everyone I meet... and I'll toss in a smile, gratis! It's so simple, so why is it so hard, for most of us, to see our shared humanity as the only way to pull back from the abyss toward which we all are hurtling blindly. Praying for peace, I'm afraid, won't do the trick. Live it, breathe it and act to make it happen. There's really no other choice, Mr. Trump et al. Our creaky planet won't last another fifteen minutes - if we don't mend our violent ways.... 

Best regards for the season,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... December, 2016 "DO YOU NEED A POSITIVE STORY TO END A DREARY 2016? HERE'S A GREAT ONE: THE FATHER OF THE MOUNTAIN BIKE, TOM RITCHEY, IS ACTUALLY MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE... NOT JUST GETTING RICHER & RICHER... AND RICHER. Tom Ritchey grew up in Menlo Park, California. You know Menlo Park. It's Silicon valley - where young geeks, like Steve Jobs, hatched world-changing technology seemingly every half-hour in their dad's garage. Funny, Ritchey, did the same, pretty much, but with an astonishingly different medium. He had one of those stodgy Raleigh-type bicycles that all the California kids had. But his neighbourhood was one big construction zone with new houses going up everywhere - and mountains of dirt littering the lots/erfs from excavated basements. Ritchey thought, god, what fun to be able to go "cross-country" through this maze - and surprise his mates on the other side of the block. A light snapped on in Ritchey's brain... Out in his dad's garage, he switched on his old man's welder, then beefed up the bicycle frame with extra steel supports - and turned his Raleigh into the world's first mountain bike...


TOM RITCHEY (bottom right photo) ACTUALLY CHANGED THE WORLD WITHOUT 
A MICROCHIP, ALGORITHM OR PETROL ENGINE
MOUNTAIN BIKES DON'T EVEN NEED "AIR TIME"... WOW!

Sounds simple, but you can imagine the complexity of completely redesigning the traditional bicycle. Gears, sprockets, wheels, frame, shifters - everything got re-imagined. New patents piled up. It didn't happen overnight, but the mountain bike revolution, decades later, is still, stunningly, blasting off. It's bloody billions of dollars of business a year. Not just new bike sales, but spandex riding outfits, Go Pros and restaurant meals, lodgings and airline tickets to wild, crazy places like South Africa (yes) to compete in the world's most famous, toughest mountain bike race, the Cape Epic (now aired live on global TV).

 That's where I met Tom Ritchey, right here in the modest South African village, outside Cape Town, where I reside - and where the week-long Cape Epic race overnighted on several occasions. Ritchey was leading a mountain bike racing team from genocide-wracked  Rwanda. He picked up the tab and these Rwandan guys raced their hearts out  - some now in the Olympics. I thought, wow, that's an odd passion for a wealthy American entrepreneur, so what's up? What's up is, actually, boggling in its simplicity and genius...

Some years back, Tom Ritchey found himself divorced and bored. He loved mountain biking - and still bikes 10,000 miles a year around the world. A friend teased him into taking a mountain bike trip to the "land of a thousand hills" -Rwanda. Their mountain bikes were the first apparently ever seen in out-of-the-way Rwanda, best known for Mountain Gorillas, not mountain bikes. Over the several week's adventure, Ritchey had his mind blown by something that he saw: 450,000 impoverished Rwandans grew coffee beans. Most then attempted to carry the beans in plastic feed bags - on their backs - to the country's handful of washing stations. There the beans were cleaned, graded and weighed. And purchased. Results: shit product receiving shit prices... 

Ritchey had an ephiphany: the Coffee Bike. He built the first ones by hand, by himself. They are stretched-out versions of regular mountain bikes, but beefed up to carry loads up to 135 kilos (300 pounds) of coffee beans - or building materials or relatives, or goats or chickens or animal feed, or injured persons, or just going to town for groceries, or, or, or... There are more than 2,000 coffee bikes currently whizzing around Rwanda They are changing a country of deeply impoverished, immobile, land-locked peoples for whom  human congestion was a major contributor to the Hutu / Tutsi orgy of killing...

And one other thing has happened. The quick coffee bike trips to the washing / grading stations (now numbering 100 across Rwanda) has led to big improvements in coffee bean quality - and the prices paid to coffee farmers. They actually now have spending power! Add to this the burgeoning excitement of Starbucks and Costco and other big coffee bean buyers in the aromatic, flavour-rich Rwanda coffees - and this devastated country is getting back it's confidence... and economic prosperity. This one man, Tom Ritchey, accepted  a principle many of us need to acknowledge: with the privileges (of life success), come responsibilities. And, yes, from police forces around the world, to recreational riders, to Olympic competitors - to lowly coffee bean farmers, this individual actually changed the world for the better!
There, don't you feel better? I do, too...

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... December, 2016 "NOW GIRAFFES MAY BE EDGING TOWARD EXTINCTION? ONE OF AFRICA'S ICONIC SYMBOLS  CAN OUTWIT LIONS, 
BUT NOT... US. GOOD GRIEF! You may have seen the stories this past week about the sharp decline in Africa's Giraffe populations. Actually, there are two stories here, one good, one bad. In southern Africa, Giraffe numbers are increasing, but in eastern Africa the usual suspects - poverty, poaching and habitat loss are putting huge pressure on these giant, docile beasts. I admit, I'm gobsmacked. Rhinos (horns) and elephants (ivory) have huge commercial value - dead. But Giraffes? C'mon, gimmee a break... Sadly, tragically, it's true. For Africa's poverty is the enemy of all things wild. Savannah forests get the chop for firewood. Slash & burn agriculture wastes tens of thousands of priceless virgin hectares annually. And the civil unrest born of poverty, unemployment, government corruption, religious intolerance and burgeoning populations leaves thousands of armed men, living uncertain, semi-desperate nomadic lives in the bush. One Giraffe will feed a lot of hungry people...

I WAS PHOTOGRAPHING IN SOUTH AFRICA'S BRILLIANT KRUGER PARK LAST YEAR, WHEN ON A 6:00 A.M.
DAWN PATROL, I CHANCED UPON THIS GIRAFFE  WITH - TWINS. ONLY 1 IN ABOUT 200,000 GIRAFFE BIRTHS RESULT IN LIVE TWINS. THEY WERE SO NEW THEY STILL HAD THEIR UMBILICAL CORDS - WHICH, LIKE ACROBATS,  THEY LICKED EARNESTLY AND  OFTEN... WHAT A PRIVILEGE FOR THIS SHUTTERBUG!


I know Giraffes. They are a favourite of mine for several reasons. Their mysterious, graceful beauty. Their uniqueness; there are a dozen plains antelope varieties, but only a single species that even remotely fills the biological niche of Giraffes. They are so relaxed that when I'm around them - I relax. But they have one trait that spells grave danger for the species: Giraffes are curious...

If I spot a small group of almost any other African wildlife, they immediately begin to drift (or run!) away from me. I have to be quick with my camera - or pay the cost in mediocre pix. Giraffes, as likely as not, will hold their ground, intently consuming bushel baskets of acacia leaves - or peer intently at me to decide whether I'm worthy of a closer look. The longer I sit tight, the better my pictures. It's a very unusual arrangement with Giraffes and I can't think of any other mammal off-hand that similarly flatters my ego.
Although, elephants on occasion come close. That Giraffe "curiousity" gene, is proving to be a death sentence... Bush meat delivered on the hoof to your scruffy camp. Halleluja!

I'm resigned to Africa's great patrimony of wild creatures being preserved in protected parks. South Africa leads the world is huge, stunning, fenced enclosures where wildlife, large and small, flourish. But the trick to making even protected parks safe from poachers is increasingly the recognition that local people, villagers usually, need to have a stake in the success of the wildlife park. And that, put simply, means jobs. Lots of jobs. I'm always impressed at the scale of local bush patrol rangers, road and fire crews and even litter clean-up squads that keep SA's prized parks humming along so successfully - and local and international tourism, with its huge spend, growing. To summerize: poverty leads to all sorts of human disasters, including, unbelievably, the future of those gorgeous, calm, curious orange Giraffes. Maybe, you've noticed, but homo sapiens is a wrecking ball for the natural world. What can you do to help?

Best,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... December, 2016 "BACK TO THE FUTURE?: THIS WEEK I RAN AWAY TO THE AFRICAN BUSH - TO CALM DOWN AND RECLAIM MY SOUL"  My wife was a bit startled (not for the first time!), when I abruptly announced I needed to go "bundu-bashing" - a South African expression for going into the bush. It implies a need to shake-off the dreary dailiness of life and return to our primal roots. I needed to go "bundu-bashing"... bad.

I'm a journalist by training and craft and I helplessly plow through the on-line news. Apparently, the world will soon implode, if my reading about Trump, the E.U. (now Italy!) Erdogan, Duterte, Brasil - don't feel bad if I over-looked your country where I'm sure the misery index is right up there with the best - or worst. The corruption, incompetence, violence and greed of our species really deflates me these days. Is it any different with you? I doubt it...



So I tossed my kit in our 4X4 and took off for the remote Cederberg Mountains, right where they bump up against the Groot Karoo, SA's vast, arid interior. I did something stupid. I took off on a deep backcountry 4X4 track without telling a soul - in leopard country to boot. The summer temps were in the mid-thirties, but I had 10 litres of water with me, so if I broke down, I could walk out at night. Uh, except for the leopard problem. After some hours of brilliant African landscapes  - devoid of people - I regained my composure. I photographed baboon troops and clear rivers streaming across the track. And gin-clear African horizons. NATURE. I needed it.

I overnighted at a renowned bouldering mecca, where rock climbers, often couples, come from around the world to test the pitches, their skills and stamina. It was off-season, so I expected to see no one. I plunked down my folding camp chair and drank in the sunset. Then a moment of serendipity erupted! Twenty metres away sat a gorgeous millennial couple - doing exactly what I was doing: watching an African sunset. Where did they come from? Our brief "hellos" ignited a spontaneous, laughter-spackled conversation. They were from Chile! In minutes, Luis was bouldering up a rock face for my camera, while Vania, a skilled artist, flipped through brilliant drawings - one after another to my o-o-h-s and a-a-h-s. I confessed to being a serious photographer and slipped them my card. I learned Luis has an interest in an Amazon travel company in Peru. We yakked contentedly...

In a heartbeat, I realized once again,  that in our fractured world of a few rich and many poor, with jobs being decimated by our trusting, too hasty embrace of technology (autonomous driving? there go millions of global truck driving jobs!), greed, violence - all have conspired to push whole nations of decent people to their limits. Jobs - if you have one - have no security or few to zero benefits. It sucks, it really does...

You or I can't save the world, but from my enthusiastic encounter with the couple from Chile, I can tell you that there is fun, health and peace of mind in building your life around a hobby or a passion that is not so epehemeral as an office job or life on an assembly line. We all do what we have to do to stay afloat. But this gift of life is far too precious - and short - to permit some politician, Silicon Valley wunderkind, hedge fund guru or work boss to extract the pleasure from us in simply being - alive. In the end, of course, life isn't about the money, but each other. For myself, I can't wait to meet more adventure travel strangers - out in the back of beyond, "bundu-bashing", just like me. And, maybe, "back to the future" - to a simpler time - is where all of us need to return...
Best regards,
Eric 


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... December 2016 "SURE, THE WHOLE WORLD'S GONE CRAZY... BUT THAT STILL LEAVES YOU, YES YOU, TO HELP SORT IT OUT. DON'T LAUGH. MY HERO, NELSON MANDELA, WOULD SPIN IN HIS GRAVE AT THE THOUGHT THAT EACH OF US, AS INDIVIDUALS,  CAN'T MAKE A DIFFERENCE..." These really are the worst of times for countless millions of hammered, decent people around the world ...In your country and mine. As if the gratuitous violence affecting so many innocents weren't enough, we now have "post-truth" as the Oxford Dictionaries' "International Word of the Year for 2016". Donald Trump epitomises this "post-truth" universe: you can say any old bullshit as long as it gets you where you want to go: in his case the Presidency of the United States. This week he's enraging everyone as he back-peddles on everything from water torture, the Mexican paid-for Wall along the U.S. border to his now-aborted demands to make American (U.S.) Muslims register with the government. Now he's let Hillary Clinton off the hook (remember he was going to send her to prison!) and his own political base is furious at this cop-out. Mr. Trump must be the planet's most expedient man... Watch out!

SOUTH AFRICA HAS ONE OF THE WORLD'S WORST GINI-COEFFICENT RATINGS.
THAT MEANS WE HAVE SOME OF THE GREATEST INCOME INEQUALITY ON EARTH.
GREAT, HUH?  SO GIVE UP? OR DOUBLE DOWN... THIS MOTHER STOOD UP FOR 
NELSON MANDELA'S "RAINBOW NATION" DREAM... WE DO OUR BIT AS WELL..
AND YOU?

But with plenty of blame sloshing around in the U.S. and the world, I started wondering, again, about my personal responsibilities to my fellow man. One of the little acknowledged truths of our time is that the affluent have largely abdicated that sense of community, that simple love for our fellow man that makes civilized society possible. Once we wall ourselves off from the poor, people of different religions, skin colours, lifestyles that don't suit us - we diminish ourselves. I live in South Africa and, ouch, these schisms confront me everyday. I've had the great blessings of living, working, travelling and photographing around much of the world over the course of my lengthening life. It's pretty clear to me that we're all cut from the same cloth. I really don't care about the small change that separates us; truth to tell I'm no better or worse than anyone else on the planet. With one small (large?) difference. My wife and I aren't rich, but we are solvent at a level many of us can only dream about. And with that comes responsibility - to help.

 Tomorrow evening we'll be attending graduation at a rural farm school near where we live. Nothing special about that, except that we'll be the only whites in attendance. And come January, for the 12th year in a row, we'll pick up the tab for 120 kids' school supplies at this same school.  Helping. That's the only justification for living the extraordinary lives South Africa so generously offers - us. Whether it's dental work or nutrition or a few bucks or - a smile. We have a huge, joyful task that, honestly, makes our lives worthwhile. Maybe Mr Trump needs to hoard his staggering wealth - and skip paying taxes - but we can't see the pain all around us - and just shrug.  You want a better world? Pitch up!

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... November, 2016 "SAPHOTOSAFARI'S TERRIBLE CONFESSION: 'I LIKE ALMOST EVERYBODY I MEET... DO I HAVE A TREATABLE CONDITION??? OR MUST I SUFFER WITH THIS 'ILLNESS' THROUGHOUT MY LIFE?  The flat out worst thing about President-elect Trump is that he always looks so bloody grumpy.  Lighten up, Donald! Good grief, we're going to have to see your dour puss on the screen nightly - for years. Yikes! (Candidly, I'm only speaking truth to power this way because I figure it will be some time before Mr. Trump gets around to closing down that yapping terrier website, SAPHOTOSAFARI...)

I SAW THIS YOUNG WOMAN BLANKLY STANDING NEXT TO A RED POST BOX. I ASKED HER, 
EARNESTLY OF COURSE, "DO YOU WORK FOR THE POST OFFICE?" SHE GOT IT! WITHOUT
PROMPTING, SHE PUT HER HEAD GENTLY AGAINST THE BOX - FOR JUST A SECOND. 
CLICK! 

Seriously though, I unapologetically adore mixing it up with almost everybody I meet on my backroads planetary meanderings (you know it as...travel). It's  rare that I can't tease somebody into a sweet smile, face to face, to get just the picture I'm shooting for. I mostly use my 18-135mm lens on my beloved Canon 70D camera. And even then, I keep the lens wide open most of the time because I like to be close to my subjects.

I bring this up because of the schism just exposed in the USA by this ghastly election last week: lordy, there are apparently a lot of pissed off people in the Land of Milk and Honey... You know, living and working across Africa, I get to witness extreme wealth and poverty - daily. And here's a little secret; I use my camera, diplomatically, to bridge that awful divide. And I signal with my ready smile and personal approach with my camera, that I see only equals in this world. Mr. Trump may see "winners" and "losers", "rich" and "poor", but he foolishly overlooks the most ethereal, most beautiful thing about being alive - our common humanity. My job, and my life in Africa, gives me an opportunity, a privilege and a responsibility to spread that small pleasure among everyone I meet. The generous rewards are returned smiles, eye contact, teasing, easy laughter... I'll stop right now. I know many, many people on our crowded spaceship are worried, fearful and uneasy at the waves of human migration underway almost everywhere. Relax. Try smiling at people who look different than you do. You'll feel better when they smile back - and if you're quick, you may get a yowza photo to enjoy - for the rest of your life!

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... November, 2016 "'AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL'  SUFFERS A TRAIN SMASH... ONE THAT WAS COMPLETELY AVOIDABLE. YOU THINK YOU'RE CONCERNED... I'M AN EXPAT AMERICAN CITIZEN!" So much of the USA is achingly beautiful. The stunning  public lands and forests and national parks are open to everyone. Gas is cheap and it's heaven to just jump in your car and head out on a 'road trip' - across the sprawling West (collage photos) or wherever. The people are generally easy and relaxed, or used to be, and just having 'fun' is the national pastime... Or was. 

MY BELOVED USA WEST. PETROL IS $2.39 - A GALLON! WHY NOT TAKE A 'ROAD TRIP'
OR HEAD DOWN TO THE SANTA MONICA BEACH IN LOS ANGELES? IT'S ABSOLUTELY FREE  
- AND THERE  REALLY ARE LOTS OF BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE. SADLY, THERE'S A REALITY GUT PUNCH - 
 PRESIDENT TRUMP... 

I've lived happily in South Africa with my wife, Lynn, for nearly 17 years. I hope I won't seem immodest to tell you that we treasure the privilege of helping, mentoring and volunteering at every opportunity here. We morally have to do it! We live comfortably and can afford to be a little generous. I must tell you it's a deeply satisfying life we have in South Africa. But we understand that with our blessings comes real responsibility to help in one of the world's worst distorted income inequality countries...

Switch now to the U.S. where we occasionally travel on family visits, most recently a year ago. Something odd and disconcerting stalks the landscape there. The staggering changes wrought by technology have left tens of millions on the battered sidelines of life. If you're educated and tech-savvy, flexible and mobile life is good. Fantastically good for the substantial, prosperous upper middle class. But that income dichotomy has tragically re-introduced class warfare. The journos that you see preening on CNN and the silk-stocking political class (Hillary Clinton is a perfect example) move effortlessly among the gilded money managers and 'Silicon Valley' technology whizzes. Hillary and her husband, Bill Clinton, routinely gave speeches for $220,000 a pop! Last year they made $10,400,000 (yes, dollars!) - giving speeches!

Is it a surprise that the journalism story of a lifetime - was completely missed by the media and those tech-savvy pollers with their secret algorithms? They don't hang out with angry poor people. Trump tapped into a furious populist vein among the financial casualties of this dysfunctional American family. Desperate for a certain, secure world that largely evaporated with the passing of the Twentieth Century, mostly white working-class Americans reverted to a recipe that still works around much of the world: race prejudice, anti-immigrant fervour, fascist longings for a strong leader who will solve their problems - and the freedom to assault democracy with Second Amendment gun rights, trash talk of imprisoning  political opponents (Hillary) and stifling a free press. I, like any rational person, am darkly worried about the United States of America.

Ultimately, Hillary Clinton bears huge responsibility for this ghastly cock-up. She couldn't stop her compulsive money-grubbing speeches or smell the hypocrisy of her luxury lifestyle - while claiming to defend the poor and soliciting their votes. Her secretive e-mails - while serving in public office - were a symptom of her lack of openness. No, this political disaster was completely avoidable. As for those affluent, happy-go-lucky Americans and their "fun" lifestyles? Well, maybe they are going to have to grow-up a bit - and fast. And find it in their hearts to help America's multitudes of dispossessed. Maturity - and political maturity - are the order of the day. Unless, of course, with the coming of Mr. Trump, it's already too late. The future of democracy in the U.S.A. - and everywhere - is not a part-time job subordinated to living well at others' expense... in my home country or yours.

Best regards,
Eric



LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... November, 2016 "SOME YOUNG PEOPLE ARE MERELY ASPIRATIONAL. SOME REALLY WANT IT - AND A FEW ARE SIMPLY UNSTOPPABLE. HERE'S ONE OF THOSE 'INSPIRATIONAL' SUCCESS STORIES... FOR YOU TO SAVOUR." We live in tough times for millions of Millennials  and millions more non-Millennials. Jobs are being destroyed by the hour (see previous "Letter From South Africa") with our crazy love affair with technology. And yet, some people want it bad enough that they never stop trying, never give up. Here's a favourite small story from my own family's larder...


SURE, IT'S MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK. BUT WHO IS THAT BEAUTIFUL WOMAN
WITH THE ROCK ART? YOU'LL HAVE TO READ THIS EDITION OF ERIC'S "LETTER" TO FIND OUT...

Long ago my Dad grew up in a tiny ranching town in mountainous southern Colorado - the heart of the Great American West. His pals were ranchers' kids mostly. One boy's father had a curious hobby: he liked to poke around in ancient Anasazi Indian ruins in his spare time. Once, my Dad's 10 year old classmate was absent from their one-room schoolhouse for several days. The boy and his father had travelled dirt roads to visit a little-known place called "Mesa Verde" (Green Mountain). When he returned, he had a tiny treasure to share with his friends. My Dad was present when the boy opened his hand to reveal -a small, exquisitely carved turquoise frog. My Dad's jaw fell open...

Decades later, my parents were visiting Mesa Verde, now a national park (photo above), protected forever. They were accompanied by overseas friends from Europe. They were touring the park's extraordinary museum - filled with hundreds of archaeological prizes, excavated at Mesa Verde's numerous cliff dwellings. There was fired and painted pottery, obsidian arrow points and other pieces of brilliant jewellery. Suddenly, my Dad cried out! There, staring up at him from a glass display case was the same turquoise frog he'd seen in the hand of his boyhood friend so many years in the past...

My Dad nervously asked at the museum's information desk if there was any way to find out particulars about the turquoise frog. The curator, sensing my Dad's excitement, asked him to wait a moment. He shortly returned with the Superintendent of Mesa Verde Nat'l Park. It was my Pop's long-lost childhood friend... from a one-room schoolhouse in a small ranching town from another era. Together they laughed and hugged and celebrated the memory of a few excitable young boys - one with a turquoise frog in his hand. And a dream to chase when he grew up!

Best regards,
Eric

P.S. Do I dare mention I married an archaeologist (that's her in the photo inset) and together we built a museum of stunning, excavated Chinese ceramics for the National Museum of the Philippines? That "Photo Essay" is on the Sidebar to the right... Life holds wondrous surprises. Never give up!


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... October, 2016 "UBER-SCHMUBER: OH DEAR GOD, HERE COME AUTONOMOUSLY DRIVEN CARS AND TRUCKS..." Are you worried about your job security? If not, you may well want to read this shocker: this week Uber-owned Otto, dispatched a huge lorry from Ft. Collins, Colorado, USA, to Colorado Springs - right through downtown Denver - on Interstate Highway 25. The precious cargo for the very first autonomously-driven (no driver!) commercial truck load: 2,000 cases of the world's worst beer: Budweiser. W-h-e-e-e! There go millions more rock-solid, middle-class jobs: professional lorry driving  jobs... In September, Uber fleet tested their autonomously- driven taxis in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania(photo below). W-h-e-e-e! Millions more jobs down the drain...


I live in South Africa. Millions, both Black & White, live comfortable, middle-class lives here and drive nice cars. But far more millions are perched on the sidelines of life, praying for the fleeting hope of getting a job. Most have slim education credentials through no fault of their own. Lorry/truck driving pays the bills here; Uber taxis do the same. The idea that whole countries might convert to autonomously-driven cars and trucks - is truly frightening. South Africa assembles hundreds of thousands of vehicles here for domestic and foreign markets (Mercedes BMW, VW, Toyota, Ford, the lot). They are manufactured to the highest international standards. But even those seemingly secure, well-paying vehicle assembly jobs are now being eroded by "robotics". Dominos is experimenting with autonomously-driven pizza deliveries - oven on board! And, of course, Amazon has fleets of driverless drones raring to deliver packages by air - the moment they get approval (bit of an invasion of privacy issue there, if you ask me).

I say WATCH OUT! These staggering downward shifts in employment are at the root of the Donald Trump protest vote in the USA. But all over the world the eruption of racist rants and anti-foreigner sentiment (South Africa included in the latter category) is fundamentally about a jobs pie that isn't growing to accommodate hundreds of millions of young new workers - and tens of millions of laid off older workers. Instead, it's shrinking. One might correctly conclude that the massive Middle East kerfuffle is actually about dreary employment prospects, and not so much about religion or pretend governance. Yech!

We need a simple test for these revolutionary new products exploding onto the marketplace, usually developed by a handful of people who make sudden, staggering fortunes: Will the next "drone invention" create jobs or demolish them? Will we be safer or more in danger? We need to develop jobs incubators, volunteer corps (like the Peace Corps that changed my life in Burkina Faso, the Philippines and Lesotho) and tax systems that reward job creation - and penalize job destruction. I promise you, we all are in this soup together - and we will succeed or fail as a species by how we treat the poorest among us! I know. I live in South Africa and get to look grinding poverty in the eye - everyday.

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... October, 2016 "FAT PEOPLE! NOW EVEN ASIANS ARE GETTING ROLY-POLY! EXCUSE ME, BUT 10,000 DIETS LATER, HUMANITY KEEPS GETTING MORE OBESE. WHAT'S REALLY GOING ON HERE?" No self-respecting media outlet goes a day without trumpeting new scientific developments to help us lose weight. And yet, as I glance around me here in South Africa or in the USA, Ecuador, Canada, Argentina, Tanzania, Egypt or any of the other countries I've tramped about in recently, there's an epidemic of obesity loose on our planet - and we'd better watch out.

CUSTOMERS AT A CABELA'S SPORTING GOODS STORE IN SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH, USA.
INSET: BOTSWANA,  AFRICA'S KHOI-SAN HUNTER-GATHERERS. THEIR'S IS THE WORLD'S OLDEST DNA...
AND NO ONE IS FAT. 

Being fat is obviously linked to diabetes and an unholy long list of other ailments.The cost of treating this self-abuse stretches into the billions - pick your currency. But while each new weight-loss breakthrough (South Africa's Dr. Tim Nokes "Banting Diet" is only one of the latest) gets its fifteen minutes, collectively, we just keep piling on the kilos. And our own children are the worst victims of this travesty...

While we futilely treat the symptoms, I never hear anyone, anyone, probe the underlying causes of this calamity. Until after Word War II fat people were as scarce as hen's teeth. Then the Age of Convenience descended upon us. Led by the Americans, we learned that a life of leisure and comfort was our fated destiny. Television, drive through burgers, car commutes, free pizza delivery!, cell phones morphing into iPods, iPads, Smart phones, desk tops, lap tops - there's been no other alternative for the masses except to be a passive spectator to life. Everybody watches their favourite pro sports - while seated on  the couch, mindlessly chewing away on snacks. 

The insert in my "Letter" photo is of Khoi-San hunter-gatherers living deep in the Kalahari desert scrub of northern Botswana. Hopefully, you'll see my "Photo Essay" on a recent visit with these remarkable people on the adjacent side-bar. These small, sinewy people lay claim to the world's oldest DNA. Not one person was fat, although they all sported nice big rumps for storing energy for lean times... That little bit of Khoi-San blubber is the difference, for them, between life and death. What's our sorry excuse?

Here's the bad news.Moving humanity in its billions into urbanized, sedentary, pre-ordained lives is a catastrophe for the species. No one can talk about it, maybe because the medical and diet industry is making so much excess profit on our collective fat misery. And the politicians are too busy stuffing it in their shorts to care (have you noticed those blimp contenders for the USA White House, Clinton and Trump?) Kinda cruel, isn't it? And isn't it a bit bizarre that people now expect to pay to exercise - at the gym? But it's a self-inflicted wound. And one we can heal ourselves....

At our house, both my wife and I vigorously walk around our small town to get the grocercies, mail, etc - and to meet our neighbours in all their colours and economic disparities (this is South Africa, you know!). And to waggle our ears for the latest local news and juicy gossip. Plus, we work out at home on an "exercycle" and do lots of sit-ups, etc. It feels great! We're in shape and the mental benefits of healthy bodies is one of our greatest blessings. We are lucky... and we know it.

A final fillup: it's only been 60 years - nothing in the curve of time - since this mania for urbanized, easy living commenced. Here's a thought: maybe governments should subsidise their citizens to stay on their farms, small-holdings or in their villages (Did you know that in Africa most people still live in villages?). The air is cleaner, crime rates are vastly reduced, kids can walk to school - and the opportunities to exercise and do physical work as a natural part of daily living - are enhanced hugely. Let's face it, we're eating ourselves to death. And I foolishly imagined that we were nature's smartest species. H-m-m-m...

Best regards,
Eric



LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA...October, 2016 "WHAT DO THE USA, THE PHILIPPINES AND TURKEY HAVE IN COMMON? JUST ABOUT NOTHING, ACTUALLY. SO LET'S JUST HOPE WWIII DOESN'T  SUDDENLY ERUPT..."  I'm an American by birth, though I've lived in Africa for years. I've also lived in the Philippines with my wife for two years, building an excavated Chinese ceramics museum for the Nat'l Museum of the Philippines. Last year I spent a fantastic month in Turkey photographing for SAPHOTOSAFARI. To be brutally candid, I adore Turkey and the Philippines; their people are among the world's kindest, most helpful and most appealing. (I'll let you know what I think of the USA, after the votes for President are counted next month! It's scary, huh?)

THESE ARE TWO OF MY ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE PLACES TO TRAVEL...

So what's the rub? Well, the superpower Americans, at staggering cost, maintain military bases in both of these countries. Historically, one might assume that the Philippines and Turkey would be grateful "client states", basking in the warm protective embrace of the wealthy, sophisticated, brimming with military prowess - Yankees. But that's not what's happening. Au contraire. Presidents Duterte and Erdogan are throwing brickbats by the bushel full at the struck dumb Americans. The Yanks can't take a stick to their own "allies" - and desperately want to maintain the military bases as counterweights to Russia, the Middle East instability and... the insurgent Chinese. Something doesn't pass the smell test here.  The
 USA seems paralysed and hamstrung. Democracy in both Turkey and the Philippines is under savage assault and the Americans are unable to speak up morally, or do much of anything, because of their military bases. H-m-m-m... In chess, it's called 'checkmate'.

I dunno. South Africa has a small, defensive military, which I admire heartily. They work in concert with the African Union in conflict zones around the continent.The government here got scorched in tiny Lesotho years ago (and I was working and living in Lesotho shortly after this bruising). A decision apparently was made to forget the aggressive Apartheid military past, with its endless attempts to intimidate South Africa's neighbours. The subsequent "good neighbour" policy has had huge benefits for South Africa and southern Africa's trade, immigration, etc. There's been general good will among these nation states - and big bucks regional tourism booms because of the ease of open borders. And jobs are created!

Hey, it's 2016. The days of  colonial relationships with other countries is way past its pull-by-date. Ask France, Britain, Spain or Portugal. Better to cajole with the carrot than the stick, if you ask this perplexed bystander... And spend the billions of dollars in savings on ending poverty in our lifetime. And decently educating all kids. Do it, just do it...
Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... October, 2016 "YOUR BRAIN KEEPS GETTING SMARTER - BUT ARE YOU GETTING 'DUMBER'? ONE OF THE WORLD'S PRE-EMINENT PSYCHOLOGISTS WARNS: "USE IT OR LOSE IT!" The mind is a muscle. Around the world, no matter the race, humans have been upping their IQ's several points a decade. Just as improved diets makes us taller, better nutrition also improves our brain muscle. My previous "Letter" rummaged around in "The Cave Where Man Began" - where archaeologists in South Africa have pinpointed the physical setting for homo sapiens (that's us) migration break-out to settle the entire world about 50,000 years ago (see below "Letter"). The trigger for the exodus? Humans were forced by food scarcity to sample for the first time - seafood: mussels, clams, oysters, lobsters and fish. The improved protein load, sourced in the tidal zones near caves at Mossel Bay, South Africa, quickly enlarged their brains (and bodies) and gave modern man the beginnings of language - which radically changed humans' survival prospects. The rest, as they say, is history... our history.

I'M SURE THIS CAMEL IS WONDERING,  "WHAT IS GOING ON WITH
 PEOPLE THESE DAYS? THEY'RE 'LOOPIER' THAN EVER!" OK, I HAVE TO
CONCEDE THIS GERMAN TOURIST WAS USING HER IMAGINATION THIS PAST
MAY IN MOROCCO'S  HIGH ATLAS MOUNTAINS... SHOOTING HER "SELFIE".

Scientists know that about 80% of our IQ is hereditary, the genes that you inherited from your parents. But that remaining 20% is yours to embellish! If you have a rigorous mental life - reading is a great stimulator -  and buckle-down on a demanding intellectual life with your career or hobbies - your brain will respond and grow. Even your life partner choice (should you be so fortunate) matters because of the thousands of hours you'll wrestle with problem-solving in your relationship, be it children or money or whatever division of life skills you sort out. If you more or less don't engage with life, or mostly passively watch TV, etc. your brain "muscle" will atrophy.  Sorry. Brains can grow, but also shrink... And finally, the delicate subject of politics. The disdain for a community's political life - with all its challenges and irritations and necessary commitments of mental time and energy - also is a red flag for your brain's health and growth... Sadly, it's a world-wide epidemic as people retreat into the "video game culture". If you ignore politics or don't bother to vote, you're signalling a mental flaccidness - that's self-imposed -with huge consequences for society.
 
Our esteemed psychologist, James Flynn, in his new book "Does Your Family Make You Smarter?", worries that our Brave New World of Technology is failing to stimulate our brains adequately. Facebook, Twitter (140 character "tweets"), You Tube and the rest of the social media, with their cultures of simplification and glib analysis, are flunking a simple test of brain health: they don't exercise your mind enough. Is this the mental realm you wish to inhabit?  Hey, there's hope. Maybe we can have it all. When did you last read a serious book? It's work! And when did you last take photographs, not "selfies", that forced you to concentrate? I have the great privilege of exercising my brain hourly - with 100,000 digital images to sort through, producing this website... Still, that leaves me with just one awkward question: why am I such a dodo-brain?  

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... September, 2016  SOUTH AFRICA'S "CAVE WHERE MAN BEGAN"DNA SOLVES THE GIANT RIDDLE THAT HAS PERPLEXED ARCHAEOLOGISTS FOR DECADES: WHERE, ACTUALLY, DID MODERN MAN COME FROM? READ ON... IT'S A BRILLIANT PIECE OF ARCHAEO-SLEUTHING... One of the great pleasures of being married to an archaeologist - and living in South Africa - has been to witness the excavation of an Indian ocean cave (actually several) near Mossel Bay, South Africa. Here an international team headed up by Curtis Marean of Arizona State University (USA) has been toiling for some years now with an almost unbelievable theory: the cave site shows stunning evidence of being the physical location of modern man's genesis. This isn't 2,000,000 years - or 200,000 years - of archaeology history - the famous "Lucy" discoveries in Kenya and Ethiopia. Those were our earliest, very primitive ancestors. No, the puzzle being solved at Mossel Bay is where are the origins of people who looked like us, used language, painted rock art and even ornamented themselves with red ochre -  perhaps even the first evidence of women's cosmetics. The story has a breath-taking origin.

MY ARCHAEOLGIST WIFE, LYNN, AND I HAD THE GREAT PLEASURE OF MEETING PROFESSOR MAREAN 
AND HIS TEAM - AND TOURING THE MOSSEL BAY ACHAEOLOGY SITE. 


Earlier versions of humans, actually also from Africa, slowly drifted out of the continent to populate - in tiny bands - other regions. But around 74,000 years ago, in Indonesia, there occurred a super volcanic eruption - at Mt. Toba . This volcano's blast was of such enormity that an ash cloud circled the globe, particularly around the tropical equator. It created a volcanic "winter" for the next six years. It was a catastrophe for the small bands of humans surviving on edible plants and small animals. The cold, darkened, ash-filled skies snuffed out one band after another of these nascent humans. The remnants retreated south - to the very bottom of the African Continent in their attempts to find food and safety. Their fate was grim. Only a few hundred survived. They hunkered in shallow caves - and without any other options began desperately sampling the seafood on the tidal flats in front of them: oysters, clams, prawns, shellfish and... fish. This chance, dramatic occurrence changed the fate of homo sapiens. The new, heavy protein load in their diets caused their brains to enlarge and their bodies to grow stronger as well. The Mossel Bay caves suggest language began here - a stunningly important development for humans. They could now benefit from shared hunting information and establish an oral history of each generation's developing skills and knowledge bases. The tiny, but healthy, population began to expand...  

Finally, about 50,000 to 70,000 years ago with favourable climate changes, our fortified modern humans set out again, this time to colonize the world - one step, one camping site, one successful antelope kill, one live human birth at a time. In a remarkably short span, maybe as little as 30,000 years, modern humans peopled the earth. How do we know? DNA tells us. DNA is like a tree. The earth's people are the branches - and the origins of humanity are the trunk. The DNA trunk of us all is identical; it traces our ancestry back to southern African, perhaps the Mossel Bay cave. The oldest DNA in the world? It's from Middelburg, South Africa, a vertible hop, skip and a jump from Curtis Morean's archaeology dig at Mossel Bay - "The Cave Where Man Began"....

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... September, 2016 CAREFUL NOW! ADVENTURE TRAVEL HAS CONSEQUENCES... IF YOU'RE PASSIONATE ABOUT YOUR TRAVEL, PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT THE WHOLE POINT OF THE EXERCISE - IS TO CHANGE YOU!  I'm, happily,  Exhibit "A" in this "travel has consequences" discussion. Decades ago, I joined the U.S. Peace Corps and served two years in remote Burkina Faso. What an eye opener! I was just your garden variety middle class college kid - until my first encounter with an indigenous culture in West Africa. My African friends and neighbours had nothing in the way of material goods (they did have plenty of malaria, Shistosomiasis (look it up), Unchocerciasis (river blindness), leprosy, measles and TB). I winced - with my good fortune to have been born in the developed world...


THIRTEEN YEAR OLD KATIE, FROM BRITAIN, GETS TO KNOW ZAMBIAN VILLAGE
GIRLS - ON A 5 WEEK TENT-CAMPING EXPEDITION FROM CAPE TOWN
TO DAR ES SALAAM. ONE DAY AT A ROADSIDE LUNCH BREAK, 
KATIE ANNOUNCED, " WE CAN'T EAT THIS WELL; WE NEED TO SHARE OUR FOOD
WITH THESE HUNGRY PEOPLE!" AND, BY GOD, ALL OF US ADULTS - PROMPTLY FELL INTO LINE! 
UH-OH, SWEET KATIE LOOKS LIKE ANOTHER, 'ADVENTURE TRAVEL' CASUALTY...

But these people were so decent, helpful with each other, had strong ties to their family and community. And they were so civilized. No one had much, but they shared what they had. It really did take a village to raise a child. After two years, my view of being a human had changed. Decades later, I'm still doing my adventure travel gigs, but my thinking is different: I'm not the teacher, I'm the student. I look for ways to give, not take. My photography work , in case you hadn't noticed, has nothing to do with living the la-la lifestyle. Instead, I've spent much of my adult life pitching up and pitching in, including two more full tours in the Peace Corps in the Philippines (archaeological museum building with my wife - the archaeologist) and Lesotho, Africa teaching small business start-up skills at a Farmer Training College.

 That third  Peace Corps outing pretty much ended our plans for returning to the United Sates. My wife, Lynn, and I are still in Africa, (South Africa) exploring, sharing our stories with SAPHOTOSAFARI, deeply involved in our community and making, in a tiny way, fractured South Africa whole again - after the torment of Apartheid. We know no other Americans and only the odd European. South Africans and other Africans, like Zimbabweans, etc. are a different matter entirely. They have stolen our hearts (and feeble minds!) for the same reason that those long ago villagers in Burkina Faso changed my view of travel, indigenous cultures and - the meaning of a worthy life. Funny, we haven't had a TV in our home for 30 years; we've had too much fun on our plate to need others to entertain us. Travel does have consequences! Tread carefully...

Best regards,
Eric



LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... September, 2016  ADVENTURE TRAVEL MAGIC: WE STUMBLE ON THE NINJA WARRIOR WINNER  ($1,000,000 PRIZE!) DEEP IN SOUTH AFRICA'S 'BACK OF BEYOND'..." What dumb luck. On a Spring wildflower 'photoshoot' 10 days ago, I decided on impulse, to vault over the Cedarberg Wilderness mountains, 400 k's north of Cape Town and nestle down in a self-catering stone cottage at Traveller's Rest. This is a backpacker lodging of considerable renown. It's truly in the "Back of Beyond", the lovely Ed Abbey expression for those ethereal places where the maps are dodgy and humans few. The real reason we were hunkered down here? It was so that my archaeologist wife, Lynn, could savour some nearby brilliant ancient San rock art. The real-real reason was to deliver books and school supplies to Wuppertal Primary School, in South Africa's most remote community. Are you scratching your head yet?


I need to be honest and level with you. My favourite travel is unscripted, no destination known, make-up-when-you-wake up! And this alleged "wildflower" photoshoot was perfect in that regard; we were free to follow our instincts! The Traveller's Rest lodging has a laid-back restaurant where rock climber's hang out. While we were there there were rock climbing legends from Australia, Switzerland, the USA and other countries. But this one gorgeous couple leaped off the page (see photo). I won't spill the beans, but anybody who has ever heard of the Ninja Warrior television series (7 years running) knows this man - and now we do, too. He has his $1,000,000 in the bank, but money doesn't drive him - or his girlfriend, Laura. 

They live to boulder, climb difficult technical pitches - and lead the relaxed, low pressure life and camaraderie of the international rock climbing community. I was trans-fixed! Professionally, our Ninja champion is, get ready for this, a busboy. That's so that he can quit on short notice and run-off - rock climbing. You know, I learned a thing or two about living from this couple. They are famous - the TV series is huge - but in person they are modest, unassuming, open and... smile easily. I liked 'em! Maybe there's a lesson to be learned the next time you have a work break. Skip the cruise ship or organized tour and sneak off on your own. DO NOT MAKE A PLAN. Six days later Lynn and I were back home with lots of South African Spring wildflower shots (see current 'Photo Essay") - and our own smiles - from an amazing African adventure - without a script!

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... September, 2016 " TESLA: THE HOTTEST CAR IN THE WORLD, SLAMS ON THE BRAKES ...TO RE-WRITE CODE!" Have you ever heard of Elon Musk? He's the South African who went to the U.S. as a young man and became the most important entrepreneur of a generation. (Sorry, Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook is merely an expanded version of his collage dating service website. Whoopee!) No Elon Musk co-founded PayPal (a few crummy dollar billions went into his wallet...), then SpaceEX, which builds rockets from scratch and re-supplies the International Space Station (amazingly,more billions), then SolarCity with his South African cousins, the Rive brothers, and, of course, Tesla the 100% lithium-ion battery operated car, that is, frankly, revolutionary.

Recently, I spent 4 giddy hours in downtown Amsterdam on an airport KLM layover.
The spanking new TESLA dealership is located in an historic neighbourhood - mostly 
occupied by buses, trams and bicycles. The brilliant nerve of these TESLA rascals!

And, oh, what a car! For $100,000 you get a driving machine that practically blasts off doing 0 to 100 k's 
in a few seconds. Stylish, comfortable, built to last, and with one killer feature that nobody else ever thought of: free fill-ups! For the life of the car. Yes, his battery-charging stations are sprinkled all over the U.S.A. and, now, in Europe. Funny, as I walked out of the Shiphol / Amsterdam airport recently I was bowled over to see that shiny, sumptuous Teslas - were the preferred taxis of choice. They're environmentally friendly and don't pollute. I believe that the private, brilliant Elon Musk hopes to end the Age of Automotive Oil - all by himself. Maybe cars can compete in Amsterdam - with bicycles. Whoa... In California and other States when customers convert from their expensive electrical utility to Solar City's free juice, they are able to drive their Teslas into their garage - and charge it for free while they sleep. Cool doesn't begin to describe what Musk has up his sleeve...

There is one tiny glitch in all this automotive delirium. Musk, probably inspired by the Autonomous Driving fever over at G----- (sorry, I'm terrified to use the company's name!), has caught the robotic driving bug. A couple of months ago, a Tesla, speeding along a highway in Florida, automatically changed lanes to pass a vehicle, - and slammed into an all white 18 wheel lorry killing the Tesla driver. What? Unfortunately, the Tesla algorithm misinterpreted the white side of the lorry body - as empty space and serenely moved to occupy the void. Bam! Then shortly later, a Tesla autonomously driving a State of Montana gravel mountain road suddenly crashed off the twisty route. The driver was mostly unhurt and readily admitted that the dashboard speakers were shouting "Hands on wheel! Hands on wheel!" But the man was a Chinese tourist - and only spoke Mandarin! 

Now Tesla is busy bringing out a new, much cheaper car with the same all battery power. Even though it won't be available for a year, over 200,000 future buyers have plunked down their non-refundable deposits. This car is hot! I'd love to drive one, but, no thanks, I'll skip the robot driving feature! What about you?

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... August, 2016 "CREDIBILITY... YOU HAVE IT OR YOU DON'T. IF YOU LOSE IT, YOU CAN'T GET IT BACK. SORRY, DUDE, IT'S GONE." The Rio Olympics sailed along professonally, but there was that particular sour note with four American swimmers in the last few days. Carousing after a night on the town, they concocted a phoney story about police corruption, guns pointed at their heads and robbery. As the whole world eventually discovered, these cocky young medal winners - lied. Heads up! We live in a world where, almost daily, we have to make choices that often have huge moral implications for ourselves, our families, our communities and, well, even humankind - as our Olympic swimmers learned to their dismay. I'm acutely aware living in Africa that whole societies are dependent on the individual behaviour of politicians, for sure, but also just average citizens who collectively determine whether nations flourish - or collapse into despair and failure. Small matters like running robots, bribing police officers, ducking taxes, shoplifting, cheating on business contracts and relationships, you name it, cumulatively what we do as individuals is what we are as civil society in the whole.
These sweet, beautiful Egyptian kids at Edfu, near Luxor,  are too young to wrestle with grown-up
 issues like integrity and credibility. Leave them their innocence. But we adults will be 
held to a different standard... and rightly so.

Brazil, like many countries, including yours and mine, is struggling to reclaim the integrity of its governance and society - from top to bottom. The American swimmers, who basically were CCTV'd on a drunken bender at a petrol stop, infuriated Brazilians and rightly so. They treated proud Brazil as a Third Rate Spring Break destination. They have now had to confess their sins to the whole world - and pay a hefty fine just to get out of Brazil - and the whole sticky mess. But, too bad for them, it's not over. 

The arrogance and bad manners of lout tourists, Olympian or not, is a problem world-wide. When you are a guest in a foreign country, never leave your integrity at the airport carousel. Host country residents, everywhere, make every effort to accommodate visitors - and cut them huge slack - but humiliating your hosts - or police officers aka Brazil, behaving rudely and dressing like a slob will have predictable responses  as our young athletes - medal winners yet! - found out to their horror. They will carry this nasty burden through life. They forfeited their credibility, their reputations and got the comeuppance they deserved. All those years of work and sweat - flushed down the toilet.

If you have your credibility and integrity intact, treasure it. It can get you through this whacked-out world we didn't ask for, but must suffer through... And you won't have a knot in your stomach until the day you die...

Best regards,
Eric 


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... August, 2016 "POOR BUT HAPPY? THERE
ARE SOME W.H.O. STATISTICS SUGGESTING THAT AFFLUENCE IS RUINING THE JOY OF BEING ALIVE..." I'm an 'odd duck' to put it mildly: I was born and reared in the United States, am well-educated with a graduate degree in journalism, reasonably prosperous - and I moved years ago to  South Africa as an absolute first choice. My wife and I know no other Americans here. Our emotional connection to living here is mostly centred on semi-impoverished Africans, some Black, some Coloured. Does that seem odd to you? It doesn't seem odd to me at all...

ON A FIVE-WEEK TRANS-AFRICA TENTING TRIP 24 MONTHS AGO, OUR SMALL GROUP SPENT SEVERAL DAYS EXPLORING BOTSWANA'S OKAVANGO DELTA WITH DUGOUT CANOES  -AND UNARMED LOCAL VILLAGERS FOR POLERS AND COMMUNAL COMPANIONS. WOW! OUR GROUP WAS INSTANTLY ENCHANTED WITH OUR HARD-WORKING HOSTS - AND SMITTEN WITH THEIR BEAUTIFUL SMILES. THE ROARING LIONS WERE ANOTHER MATTER...

Starting with my first exposure to Africa as an American Peace Corps worker in my mid-twenties  (Burkina Faso, West Africa) I felt relaxed, 'comfortable in my own skin', at home. Returning to Africa after years of working in the States in 1999 (Peace Corps, again, this time in Lesotho), I immediately had that same visceral reaction: I like Africans! Why? I puzzled that for awhile, but it's pretty simple, really. Africans traditionally live communally. It takes a village to raise a child is the plain vanilla truth. They aren't competitive in the sense of Americans and Europeans, who jostle to see who has the most income and material advantage. And with the 'Western' affluence comes the pressure to, well, "strut your stuff" - buy a big house, big car, big lifestyle. And one of the certain hallmarks of affluence is - privacy. Oh, how Americans love their privacy!

There's just one simple problem with affluence and its bastard child, privacy. The World Health Organization says people in wealthy countries labour  under depression rates eight times higher than people living in poor countries. H-m-m-m... That got me thinking. Year in and out, I daily walk around my small South African town, doing my errands at the grocery store, etc. all the while interacting with everyone I meet. Sometimes it's just a smile or a couple of coins if I see a child that looks hungry or another impoverished adult without a job. They know me, I know them. I also chat with shopkeepers and their easy-smiling staffs, my white Afrikaner and English neighbours, strangers, everyone. South Africa is very social. I love that - and I need it. On those rare occasions when I'm back in the USA, the country seems intensely lonely to me. There is mostly one person to a car, tinted windows rolled up. The streets lack pedestrians and the citizenry drives huge distances to do simple shopping chores at anonymous, sprawling mega malls. You don't readily talk to strangers; they will likely think you're hassling them. Yeah, lonely is the correct word and it doesn't surprise me that depression stalks the land when we human beings are isolated from each other...

At the root of this privacy/depression conundrum is a withdrawal from community, into the privacy that affluence affords and demands. For 15 years now living in Africa, travelling and photographing among often impoverished people, I never fail to light up when a complete stranger returns my smile. Always. I'm excited to meet people who aren't like me because I know there's a willingness to share our common humanity. In this environment, depression is a very rare companion. I can't help but wonder if the Donald Trump phenomenon isn't born of too much privacy, isolation and the anxieties that go with lonely people - and too much affluence.

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM  SOUTH AFRICA... August, 2016 "HAVE YOU EVER CONSIDERED DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING? IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE..." We live in a world where stupendous amounts of our time and energy are absorbed - staring at our phones, tablets, or in my case, a desktop computer. As I do my travel work, as close to the bottom rung of the ladder as possible, I note that fellow travellers these days infrequently talk, drink in the scenery - or laugh out loud at the obvious absurdity of our collective lives. They just keep staring at their devices. I recently re-read a favourite non-fiction book, The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen. It's a gem of a read that spirits you away to Nepal's remote Inner Dolpo region, where a divorced, frustrated and aimless Matthiessen hopes to encounter cave-dwelling Buddhist monks, who spend their lives in deep contemplation - and re-discover his inner self... and a purpose to his life that he's sorely missing.

I TOOK MY NEIGHBOUR FRIEND, JASMINE, ON MY MOUNTAIN HIKE THE OTHER DAY.
THE ONLY TIME I LET HER USE HER PHONE - WAS TO SNAP PICTURES OF NATURE.
SHE KEPT SAYING, "IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL! IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL!" AND SINCE IT WAS 
NELSON MANDELA'S BIRTHDAY, I HAD HER HOLD UP AN OLD COPY OF TIME MAGAZINE...
DO YOU KNOW THERE ARE LEOPARDS IN THESE MOUNTAINS? I KEPT JASMINE CLOSE BY...

Well, I'm not suggesting that you, or me, toss away our semi-frantic, tech-fueled lives to be monastic cave-dwellers, but I've found myself during this deep southern African winter, taking my camera into the mountains around our small town in South Africa's scenic Western Cape. There, sunny or cloudy, I hike into the blooming protea forest - and I stop. I listen. I look around me. Here's an exquisite blooming Waboom Protea bush. There's a rare Orange-breasted Sunbird and a Sugarbird (both, above photo) - that generally are impossible to photograph because they won't sit still. Oh, there's a twin set of waterfalls that somehow I never noticed before. Stop! An enormous Black Eagle just floated over the ridge above me...

After a while of being still and quiet, I suddenly realize I can think. There's none of the noise or pointless interruptions that distract us so many of our waking hours. I can be calm. So what is the first thing that springs to my lame brain? It never varies. The first rush of churning synapses tells me, again, how beautiful my surroundings are: nature! And the second? How lucky I am! I immediately feel optimistic and, dare I say it, happy. Well, I only pass my "do nothing for a few minutes" advice along because I see a lot of  grumpy-looking people as I traverse my sinuous path through life. Maybe, that American Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, should lighten up and "do nothing". He always looks so miserable and pissed off! Take a break, like right now... and see if your life doesn't seem a little more serene.

Best regards,
Eric 


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... July 25 2016 "NUKE 'EM!: BRITAIN'S THERESA MAY IS ONLY THE LATEST POLITICIAN TO PROMISE TO USE NUCLEAR WEAPONS IF NEED BE. HONESTLY, OUR POLS NEED TO GROW UP AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS NEED TO STAND DOWN!" No week passes without everybody's favourite tough guy, North Korea's Kim Jong-un, threatening to annihilate civilization, with or without due cause. Vlad Putin recently reminded the Western  Powers that he has quite the stockpile of nukes - should the need arise... The Americans, the same. The Isreali's with only slightly more subtlety, given their prickly neighbourhood. Now, as one of her first orders of business as the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, testifying on the Brit's Trident Nuclear submarine program, declared she would push the nuclear button if necessary - without hesitation. Yada, yada, yada... The strutting around of the world's leaders is not limited to male testosterone cases anymore. Theresa May has now joined the nuclear bun fight - with the best of the Big Boys...

I enjoyed a splendid day recently exploring the Rock of Gibraltar. It's something I'd never done - and I was quite excited. The weather was spectacular, the native Barbary Apes animated and the views into Spain and across the Straits to Morocco mesmerising. What more could I ask for. Well, little did I know that a brand new state-of-the-art British nuclear submarine was soon to collide with a commercial ship (news photo above) right next to the "Rock". Izzut? That's South Africa-speak for WTF! The problem with nuclear everything is that once something goes awry, the consequences stretch from merely horrific to, well, the end of the world as we know it. And still this arms race lumbers along. 

You might be surprised to know that there's a South African solution to the nuclear weapons armageddon. Our little nation, down here at the bottom of Africa, once had domestically-developed nuclear weapons - under the bad old Apartheid regime. But even the 'Nats (National Party) saw the stupidity of this endeaver (like who gets their finger on the "button" down the road) - and they disarmed. Yes! How simple is that. SA doesn't have nukes and we won't be starting World War III - when one of our vaunted leaders has a bad day. Because we have only shabby conventional weapons, we don't even bother to threaten our neighbours or the world. We actually try and get along. I know it sounds strange, but there's a word for this condition: P-E-A-C-E.

I know it sounds too good to be true, but why not junk the nukes. Then at least we won't be having nuclear-armed submarine collisions in the busy Straits of Gibraltar - which could have spoiled my otherwise sublime, one-day-in-a-lifetime, tourist visit to the "Rock".
Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... JULY 17, 2016 "HERE'S THE GOOD NEWS YOU'VE BEEN WAITING FOR: NELSON MANDELA IS ALIVE!" This week Nelson Mandela - 'Madibato adoring South Africans - would have turned 98. His passing nearly three years ago is stamped into my memory like few other public events in a long life. I'm a photographer and a journalist and I covered his memorial service in Cape Town. For one of the few times since the ghastly Apartheid business finally ended in 1994 and Mandela became our first democratic President, South Africans - Black, White and Coloured and Indian, rich and poor. Christian, Muslim, Hindu or poor Humanists (like myself) were united in their common grief. If you didn't cry buckets of tears, well, maybe you're not really a human. But this being South Africa, Mandela's death was also a cause for celebration. He walked among us as a common man - after 26 years of imprisonment, most of it on Robben Island at hard labour, breaking rocks into paving stones - for Cape Town's city streets. But Mandela the prisoner never gave up his strident belief that we humans have goodness in us - and wrongs can be righted.


I took almost all these photos at memorial services the week of Mandela's death in 2013. The Cape Town service was in front of Old City Hall. This is where Mandela addressed all South Africans, hours after walking free from prison. Thousands wept and laughed and danced and embraced each other, scrapping the barriers that racism so efficiently constructs - to protect the privileges of one group over another. Those walls tumbled down, at least for a week. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Mandela was eulogised  by world leaders near and far. Obama, America's first Black President, spoke before 100,000 people in one of the most moving addresses of this gifted orator's career. I spilled more tears... I think it suddenly struck home to all of us here: our shared gift of a great leader, walking onto history's stage at precisely the required moment. With an inspirational simple message to build a new nation: "Forgive the past, do not forget it." . To this day, I walk around my small town near Cape Town, travel South Africa with my camera - and everywhere I go if I smile - I get a smile in return. If I have a small chat with a stranger of any colour, economic station or religion, we instantly turn to our  favourite subject: the politics of living peaceably together - in a working democracy. 

May I make a simple suggestion to you to honour this great man's life and Mandela Memorial Day? If you're living in a country that is democratic, then you need to make democracy - and it's complicated machinations - your life passion. Look at the countries just this week, all over the world, that are turning to extremism because their democratic systems have atrophied into dysfunction. It's shocking, isn't it? Sadly, and it's true even in South Africa among many adults, there's a strong temptation because they live in a democracy,  to just feel free to "have fun and go shopping". That inattention to your nation's political life can only end badly. Beautiful Turkey is only the latest example... So have your good times - but never, ever take your eye off of the political well-being of your country. Your freedom - and your life, literally, depend on it. And remember, Nelson Mandela lives on... in all of us!

Best Regards,

Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... July 9, 2016 AN OCCASIONAL LOOK IN THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR CAN SAVE YOU A LOT OF HEADACHES AND HEARTACHE... AS YOU RACE THROUGH THIS CRAZY LIFE WE'VE COBBLED TOGETHER..." Lately, I have this sinking feeling about us, Homo Sapiens. In our hyper, high-octane rush to the future, there doesn't seem to be any retrospection, any caution. It's always Full Tilt Boogie, Full speed ahead.  Whether it's drones or robots or Artificial Intelligence, autonomous driving or the Americans' "guns-for-everybody" mania, I don't hear any thoughtful "what-if" conversations. Jeff Bezos at Amazon wants to deliver packages with drones to save a couple of bucks (and, incidentally, eliminate tens of thousands of delivery jobs along the way), so why should anyone spoil Jeff's entreprenurial zeal. Well, ask a commercial airplane pilot what he thinks about Jeff's passion. Drones carry cameras, duh, and the invasion of privacy issues inherent in that are horrendous to even cogitate. In South Africa's Kruger Nat'l Park drones with cameras - for sale on-line! - recently began spotting endangered Rhinos for poachers to shoot. H-m-m-m... They were belatedly banned in all SA's nat'l parks, thank god.

I WAS PHOTOGRAPHING BIRDS IN SOUTH AFRICA'S KRUGER PARK WHEN A 
CASUAL GLANCE IN THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR - NEARLY GAVE ME A HEART ATTACK!
LESSON LEARNED: THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR IS THERE FOR A REASON, STUPID... LOOK AT IT!

The British Brixit fiasco might never have happened if anyone had glanced back over their shoulder and recalled that foggy history lesson: the European Union was specifically crafted to prevent another WWI or WWII. Too bad the bloody 'crats in Brussels have squashed a few tax haven dreams, etc.  but, c'mon, Europe has prospered and been at peace for 70 years... That's a stunning achievement.

It's been a rough week for Tony Blair and the gun-happy Yanks. They, too, were quick on the trigger with the incessant violence and destabilizing wars that just dribble on and on... I foolishly thought the Vietnam fiasco (more tedious history, eh?), might have caused sane minds in the Pentagon, U.S.politics and the voting public to look askance at unending, unwinnable wars in countries practically no American citizens can actually locate on a map. But no! Full speed ahead. Apparently, no one remembers, but revolutions are started by the poor and disenfranchised, not the smug and rich. The warning signs on staggering income inequality are everywhere to be seen here in South Africa and many, many other locales around the globe. Don't know your history? Don't blame me... We don't seem to fathom that democracy, or any governance resembling it, is a "full-time" job. We might be just a bit more cautious about our collective future without a script - if we studied our past. That 'elephant' in the rear-view mirror cannot be ignored...

Best regards,
Eric
 
LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... June 27, 2016 "WILL THE BRITISH BRIXIT DISASTER TOUCH OFF A "WAR" BETWEEN THE GENERATIONS? SHORT ANSWER: YES!" Who would have dreamed that Mr. Cameron's Brixit referendum would grow worse by the hour? One thing for certain, Great Britain will end up a greatly diminished "Little" Britain. The European Union powers are, understandably, completely unamused by this folly. But my deep concern isn't about British pensioners et al and their "rights" to this and that perk, my nagging headache is what's been done to young people born or resident in Britain - and, for that matter, young people around the world.

5
ON MY APRIL/MAY TRIP TO SPAIN AND MOROCCO, I HAD BLAZING CONVERSATIONS 
WITH EACH OF THESE COUPLES - AND MANY MORE. THESE BRIGHT, 
ENTHUSIASTIC, INDEPENDENT TRAVELLERS ARE THE HOPE OF THE FUTURE.
THEY DON'T SEE NATIONAL BOUNDARIES ANYMORE, THEY CHASE DREAMS AND OPPORTUNITIES
- AND FOLLOW THEIR HEARTS - WHEREVER THAT MAY BE...

The stunned look on the faces of young people in Britain, some were in tears, was the reaction to their life roadmap being torn up by embittered older people.  The elders' lives, for all the usual reasons, are not playing out as hoped. They didn't get enough education when they were young, didn't save or they didn't keep their work skills sharp, etc. Or their "luck" didn't hold up. They view the tech revolution and the changing work landscape as hostile to them - because they don't know the rules or how to play the game. Life is risky business in the best of times and there are always casualties. Government's task is to mitigate the pain of these people as best as possible. But for many, or most, of these older voters, life will just continue to limp along...

 But to dump their frustration, anger and anxiety on young people is beyond cruel, it's diabolical! Every society needs to protect and nourish the next generation - or pay a hellish price for their folly (England?)
Who will be the next professional & working class: the teachers, the health workers, the mechanics, the capable civil servants, if not the best & brightest youth - the very people drawn to London, Edinburgh and other successful urban areas across Great Britain. For them the E.U. isn't the latest TV comedy series or fashion fad, it's all they've ever known. It's as if their elders had just told them a few mornings ago, no the sun doesn't rise in the East anymore, now it rises in the West! It's impossible to change the rules where people work, travel or fall in love - overnight, out of the blue. But that's what the Brixit vote, in large measure fuelled by grumpy older people, just did. The tensions aroused by this calamity will now poison family, community and national relationships. The fall-out cannot be stemmed. And no, Britain will not be allowed to vote and re-vote until their come to their senses. Ugh!

Finally, I'm glum because I sense a failure of democracy, the one man/woman, one vote that propels healthy nation-states. Or used to. Now a two-track world has emerged because of technology, globalization, social media and other momentous changes that wrench people's lives in unexpected ways. Predictably, older people are less adept at being flexible and re-inventing themselves. But the Brixit vote now demonstrates that they will use their ballots to vent their frustration, nurse grudges and get even. They aren't voting for the future, they're voting for the past. And I fail to see how that schism can be bridged, when we're supposed to be voting for the best governance each society can muster. Those new friends of mine from my recent travels are playing out their lives with very little concern for the past - or, critically, geography (their country of birth). Countries that chose to remain stuck in the past - will pay a nasty price: their own flesh and blood, their own children, will abandon family and country to live where life... is still a promise. I guarantee it... Sorry, Britain, you blew it! I'm seventy-one years young - and I vote for youth. Anything else is insanity...

Best regards,
Eric  


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... June 24, 2016 "BRITAIN, EUROPE'S 'ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM', SHOWS THE 'WRONG END' TO ALL OF US... SO WATCH OUT! David Cameron will surely go down in  history as one of Great Britain - and the world's - colossal idiots! Almost on a whim, without ever a thought of the consequences, the Great Prime Minister brazenly announced a Brixit referendum -to appease the noisy galleries in his own Conservative Party. OMG, what a cock-up!


I APOLOGIZE FOR USING THE DIGNIFIED REAR END OF THIS ELEPHANT
FROM ZAMBIA'S SOUTH LUANGWA NAT'L PARK - TO ILLUSTRATE GREAT BRITAIN'S
CONTEMPT FOR EUROPE - AND ALL OF US. 
Predictably, the British pound crashed the most since 1985. Lame-brained Prime Minister Cameron instantly announced his resignation. And the rest of the world? We're now is left to worry and fret about what is in store for our uncertain futures. Markets are tanking globally. And those bloody banks and other globalized corporations resident in London will be hastily looking for office space on the continent, I can assure you. Jolly old England has shot itself in the butt. 

The vote is stunning in its revelations about Britain's population - as well as much of the rest of the world. Those succeeding in our competitive, knowledge-based, meritocratic, technology-dependent world are quite happy with their paychecks, svelte urban lives and the prospects of their well-educated children - with the perfectly straightened teeth. Their world is now almost borderless - as I witnessed on my recent camel trip in Morocco. My caravan mates were professionals from Vietnam, the Netherlands, Japan, Ecuador, Spain, China, South Africa(me) and the Philippines. Hop on a plane and enjoy your holiday - anywhere on earth! Those are the "remain" votes in the Brixit referendum, where Londoners strongly supported staying in the E.U. Of course. That's where the big money, high skill jobs are...

But ignore the "leave" voters at your peril. These are the rural, often under-educated, marginalized British citizens who loathe Londoners, their arrogant privilege and wealth and their willing acceptance that life has "winners" and "losers". It's not just Britain, obviously. The huge Trump voter base in the U.S. and all over the world as population outstrips jobs - and jobs get hammered by technology. The coming era of 'autonymous driving', which will trash millions more jobs, may be the spark that sets off global revolution. I kid you not. 

I live in South Africa and witness the pain of youth unemployment - and unemployment generally - everyday, up close. It's awful! It's intolerable to accept that a handful of people - smart though they may be - should acquire unimaginable riches, while everyone else, including many who are falling out of the Middle Class, should live lives of intellectual and financial squalor. The Brixit vote is a bombshell for the whole world. But if the only conclusion reached is that the eccentric British want to roll back the clock 65 years (Britannia Rules!), this wake-up call for all of us - will be pissed away! Watch out. Stormy weather is in the forecast...

Best regards,
Eric



LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... June 10, 2016 "ADVENTURE TRAVEL? IN MY DECADES OF EXPERIENCE,  TRAVEL OUTINGS USUALLY START OUT INNOCENTLY ENOUGH. IT'S ONLY LATER THAT THE 'ADVENTURE' PART  ERUPTS, WITHOUT WARNING ...THEN WATCH OUT!  I confess, I have a restless soul. Oh sure, for a while I can play a 'conventional guy' life, but sooner or later, well, I panic and have to do something unscripted, crazy and ...hopefully way off-kilter. My three tours in the Peace Corps are perfect Exhibits I, II and II. Burkina Faso, West Africa,  for two years in scorching heat up against the Sahara Desert, building schools and livestock wells. African village kids have never seen an insane White Guy before and run screaming when they see me... I lose 20 kilos with 'turbo tummy'. I love it! 

Years later, my wife, Lynn (archaeologist), and I re-join the Peace Corps to build an Excavated Chinese Ceramics Museum for the Nat'l Museum of the Philippines - with 15,000 pieces dating from the 10th Century Song Dynasty. We live in a guerilla war zone for two years and, on holiday, are practically the first Westerners into Tibet - on a military aircraft. Everyone on the plane has an AK-47, except us! We disappear from the Chinese radar for a month in breath-taking Tibet. I love it!


Finally, after a bruising inn-keeping / restaurant business success in the little Utah/USA town where mountain biking was invented, we are free to do anything we wish - for a limited period of time, of course, until the financial alarm bells go off. We re-join the Peace Corps. Yes! This time we're dispatched to Lesotho,  a small mountain kingdom surrounded by South Africa. We use generous grants from the Irish and Canadians to teach small-business start-ups for two years. Our lovable young adult students, after 24 months of serious studying, actually get small restaurants, cabinet shops, computers, sewing and landscaping equipment with which to start their own businesses. I love it! 

So what could go wrong? Well, for starters, we rented horses one day to explore deep into the Maluti mountains, searching for one of the world's rarest plants: the Spiral Aloe. We find the aloes and take this photo (above) at a brief stop at Africa's second highest waterfall, Semonkong Falls. Cool, huh? Moments later, back in the saddle, my horse, for no reason at all, suddenly plants his feet and stops - sending your reporter whistling between his ears, but with one foot stuck in the stirrup. OMG! The pain in my knee! And my rib cage! Hey, it's Africa, so I claw my way back onto my diabolical equine mount - and return to our Farmer Training Centre. I can't report this health train smash to the Peace Corps doctor because they have a penchant for throwing you onto an airplane and dispatching you back to the USA for further tests - then terminating you from the program - for fear of lawsuits! 

Did I mention, just after the Peace Corps contract concluded, not being able to wake up for several mornings in a row in Mozambique (civil war winding down with land mines still sprinkled along the highway, ha-ha)? I learned my heart rate was down to 15 beats a minute (sick sinus syndrome) and I needed a pacemaker before I slept again! God only knows, but, with me in near cardiac arrest from nerves, we careered for hours to Pretoria, South Africa - and I had the life-saving surgery. Then we continued on our trans-Africa journey through Namibia's recently re-opened Caprivi Strip (guerillas had killed a French family of four a little earlier, ha-ha). I love it!

Fifteen years later, my wife, Lynn, and I are still living in South Africa. We never went back to the USA... It's pretty comfortable and tame where we live near drop-dead gorgeous Cape Town, but the politics are starting to seriously rock 'n roll, AIDS and TB malinger -  and our car was broken into this past weekend for the first time in fifteen years. I love it! Actually, I don't "love" the car break-in part... Friends, adventure travel almost always has consequences... If you accept that equation, fine, plunge ahead with your life. Otherwise, play it safe - and take a cruise ship holiday...

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... June 3, 2016 "'LA MODA': WOMEN AND FASHION GO 'HAND IN GLOVE'. BUT AS THIS FAR-FLUNG PHOTOJOURNALIST OBSERVES WITH TREPIDATION, NOT ALL FASHION IS APPROPRIATE EVERYWHERE... NOW PLEASE, PLEASE STOP THE DEATH THREATS! I must be an idiot (you say you knew this already!) to venture into the land-mine strewn field of women's fashion commentary. But having just returned from Spain, I would be remiss if I failed to note how beautifully Spanish women dress. Even women from other European countries (excepting beautifully dressed Italy, of course!), told me they're all jealous of how effortlessly Spanish women wear clothes. Sexy's the wrong word, although plenty of these lovely creatures are that. Rather, it's "La Moda", that mysterious Spanish women's sense of how clothes and hair, shoes and modest jewelry meld into 'style'. They intuitively know how to produce a look that's refined, comfortable... and often elegant. Jeans, trainers and a hot, new short-waisted black 'motorcycle'
leather jacket elegant? I saw it over and over in Sevilla and, wow, I noticed!


And then, and then, my documentary camera saw something and timidly, hesitantly, I recorded it. Long story short: women's underwear is becoming, well,  outerwear. Hey, what business is it of mine to tell other people how to dress? Actually, it's none of my business. I do my damndest to stay out of other people's private lives - and how you dress is definitely your business.

That said, I spent two weeks in Morocco on this same trip last month. For days, I did what I love and need to do: get down with the locals - and ride buses. You learn a lot about people on a ten hour bus ride. I welcome it as a privilege. Morocco has excellent public transport and even though I was almost always the only non-Moroccan, non Muslim on the bus, I was always treated with utmost respect. - which I reciprocated. But I can tell you that Morocco is a devoutly Muslim country and women, and men, dress conservatively, even if many younger women in the cities only wear an hijab, as evidence of their faith.

When I saw this European woman (photo above) walking toward a mosque in Marrakesh, I cringed. This isn't a fashion statement, this is the worst sort of tourism ignorance - or is it arrogance? When I'm travelling, I am always watching to see how people comport themselves. It's part respect and part the pleasure of blending in... Many, many of my photos happen as a result of small relationships I develop with local people (see "Snapshot" from Turkey, up right now). But their trust in me is dependent on my accepting their life view. I do it willingly. On my recent camel caravan trip into the Moroccan Sahara desert, down on the Algerian border, some of my smart, educated, sophisticated female companions wore the skimpiest shorts - while all the Moroccan women in this remote area wore full burkas, hijabs and, often, niqabs (face coverings). I was uncomfortable to say the least...

I dunno. It's 2016 and the world has way too much other stress for tourism to upset decent hosts. Tourism is a huge financial shot-in-the-arm for many, many developing countries, including my beloved South Africa. Local people may apparently shrug at outlandish tourism dress and/or behaviour, but internally, they don't like it! Wear what you want back home, but when you're out exploring our amazing world, here's a simple 'rule of thumb': keep your clothes on. Then have your fun!

Best regards,
Eric



LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... MAY 20, 2016 "CHINA'S 'CULTURAL REVOLUTION' GETS A "SORRY" FROM ITS GOVERNMENT - AFTER HALF A CENTURY. AS ONE OF THE FIRST OUTSIDERS INTO TIBET (1988), I WAS STUNNED BY THE DEVASTATION..." 
Sometimes, and perhaps more often than we realize, traveller's see things that are what governments would rather you didn't witness... That's exactly what happened to me on an almost first-of-a-kind independent traveller's peek into mysterious, forbidden Tibet, in 1988.

GANDEN MONASTERY IN TIBET WAS BEGUN IN 1409. AT ONE POINT 5,000 BUDDHIST MONKS WERE
RESIDENT HERE. MAO'S RED GUARD GANGS DESTROYED IT WITH ARTILLERY AND DYNAMITE DURING THE 1966-76 "CULTURAL REVOLUTION".TRAVELLER'S NOTE: WE WERE SECRETLY HELPED ABOARD A BUDDHIST PILGRIM BUS OUT OF LHASA, BEFORE DAWN IN OCTOBER, 1988,...TO DISCOVER THIS  NUMBING SIGHT,
... LARGELY UNKNOWN TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD. 
My wife, Lynn, an archaeologist, and I were immersed in building an Excavated Chinese Ceramics Museum for the National Museum of the Philippines with Dutch funding on Mindoro Island. It was on this island that a cache of 15,000 exquisite tradeware ceramics - the earliest dating from the Chinese Song Dynasty in the Tenth Century - had been exposed after a typhoon flood ripped open a burial goods site. Archaeologists were stunned at the breadth of dynasties represented at the Mangyan burial sites - and the world's ignorance of their existence. We were privileged to play a role in this remarkable story.

One day in the second year of our labour, a German backpacker, just out of China, told of a casual encounter with another traveller who said there was a rumoured "backdoor" into Tibet - and gave us the details. Wham! We were in Hongkong a few days later, got tickets into China and promptly found ourselves in Chengdu, in western China. We rode the lift up 14 or so stories in a newish government hotel, knocked on the designated door and were soon, in a cash transaction, in possession of flight tickets to Lhasa! Excited dosen't begin to describe out emotions...

Things looked a little dodgier the next day at the airport when we clambered aboard our Lhasa-bound aircraft. Almost everybody else on the packed plane were Chinese rotation troops - armed with AK47's. We sat strangely mute at the rear of the plane watching the staggering "roof of the world" - the ice-sheathed Tibetan plateau  - slide beneath the plane. Then, abruptly, we were on the airport tarmac outside Lhasa - with Mig fighter jets bristling on the runway fringes. We gulped. I guess we thought someone would meet us and give us our 48 hour tour of Lhasa and send us packing- back to Chengdu. But nobody was around. We got stamped in (no time-limit) and walked out the terminal door. We were free. We didn't ask any further questions, let me tell you. Instead, we set off on a month-long exploration of boggling, untouched, nearly undiscovered breath-taking Tibet. The scenery, the people rushing up to us to see their first Westerners and to gently pinch our arms to double-check we were real, the strong sunlight and the thin air (most of Tibet is above 4,000 metres) was... surreal. Among many adventures, we stayed in the ancient Buddhist Monastery at Rongbuk , smack up against the north face of Everest. The altitude was 6,000 metres. Sleep was out of the question.

And then reality gave us a gut-punch. This was no fairy-tale Tibet. These people were physically and culturally under assault. And there was no more graphic evidence of this than determined destruction of Buddhist monasteries. In the late Sixties and Seventies, Red Guard "gangs" savaged China - and Tibet - in a Mao-inspired frenzy to stamp out China's history. "The past is retarding the future", Mao intoned, and  starvation, summary executions, obscene show trials, mass relocations - and the destruction of China's monumental past ensued. Millions of lives were ruined... 

And there I was with my old Canon A-I, in Tibet,  recording history about which I was largely ignorant. As was the rest of the world. A year later, in 1989, the Tiananmen Square massacre famously occurred when the first greenshoots of democracy sprouted. China's government slammed shut the door to Tibet. To my knowledge, travel ever since in the country has been limited to organized government-approved tours. The shattered monasteries have been considerably rebuilt. But the scars of deeply wounded Tibetans are still carried.

So, fifty years later the world is pleased to hear officially from the Chinese government that "mistakes were made". But much else in "transformed" consumer-friendly, contemporary China remains unchanged. The censorship of ideas and media (both the New York Times  English and Mandarin editions and the BBC are banned) ratchets up monthly. Apple's I-Tunes and movies sites are shut down in just the past few days. Did I forget to mention that both Facebook and Twitter are also banned? And SAPHOTOSAFARI's website? It was viewed in 187 countries last month - and banned in one - China. For the third year running...

Best regards,
Eric



LETTER FROM PORTUGAL MAY 12, 2016 "WE HUMANS ARE SO SMART, WE THINK WE CAN SEE INTO THE FUTURE - AND PLAN FOR IT... BUT HISTORY, LIKE HERE IN PORTUGAL, TEACHES US OTHERWISE..." The raw scenery, the sound and fury of the ocean, the salt smells were so overwhelming - I just sat down on a rock to stare in wonder. And I don't think I'm the first human, at this place, to have had that emotional overdose. I'd just journeyed in pelting rain to see - "The End  of the World", the western-most tip of Portugal jutting out into the Atlantic. For 500 years (the USA is only 245 years old) there was complete agreement among scholars, Christian and Muslim clerics and merchant seaman that Cabo de Sao Vicente, this jutting promontory was, well, the end of the world. If you sailed West from here you went over the edge. Bye-bye...


A 15TH CENTURY FORTRESS SHIELDS ONE OF THE WORLD'S MOST POWERFUL
LIGHTHOUSE  BEACONS. FOR 500 YEARS, THERE WAS GENERAL AGREEMENT THAT THIS PLACE WAS - THE END OF THE WORLD. THE ROMANS AND THEIR NUMEROUS SUCCESSORS, KEEP BONFIRES BURNING HERETO ASSIST MARINERS IN NAVIGATING THE ENTRANCE TO THE MEDITERRANEAN. COLUMBUS SAW THIS BEACON ON HIS WAY HOME FROM HIS NEW WORLD DISCOVERIES. FUNNY, HE DIDN'T FALL OFF THE EDGE OF WORLD AFTER ALL... THE EXPERTS GOT IT WRONG. WHAT ELSE DON'T THEY KNOW,LIKE, TODAY?


As I wind up a month of deeply satisfying  travel photography work, everything across Spain, Morocco and Portugal, at a glance, seems orderly and normal. But it isn't. Tourism is down sharply. And the markers of social trouble are quite glaring if you stop to talk to people - and count the shuttered businesses. When I glance at the BBC or New York Times on-line , the news seems so corrosive. Donald Trump, bigoted and blustering, along with hardliners like newly elected Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines or Recep Erdogan in Turkey or Russia's Vlad Putin or the Chinese, chip away at democratic values we've long taken for granted. Presidents Rousseff in Brazil and Zuma in South Africa are under seige over corruption issues. Youth unemployment is frightening, and obvious, in Portugal, Morocco, Spain and in my home country, South Africa. (While we cheap out on youngsters, we spend gazillions on senior citizens). Brixit, the British upcoming vote on abandoning the European Union has now been seconded in startling polls from other E.U. countries. The uncertainties keep piling up. But most of us just continue our lives as if everything were normal - and predictable... H-m-m-m...

I've had a running, serial conversation with Millenials (GenXers) everywhere I've travelled the past month - on buses, on foot, on trains, in Grand & Petite Taxis - and on camel back (see previous "Letter"). What's my rant? I don't think our crowded planet can possibly continue rocking along... shopping, celebrity fixated and dreaming of dilletante lifestyles. Sorry, the party's over. Our world-wide economic malaise is a function of broken politics, scarce resources,  over population, corruption and - yes, obsession with self . I have a simple refrain: Stop thinking about your miserable self relentlessly - and ask how you can help the people in your community, nation or world - who are screwed over at every turn. I see it daily in my work and I can't you tell the times in the last month I've stopped to just share a smile, spend a moment and leave a coin with an unhappy child, a homeless pensioner or the sick and injured who are dumped out on the streets - left to survive as best they can. I have had the great privilege to travel to the End of the World - and with that blessing comes responsibility - to help, to share, to nurture and mentor... Your feelings about who you are when you're my age - will have a lot to do with the choices you make today. Fun? It's all around us in our friends and families and communities. And just being alive! Life is precious. And it involves a lot more than just getting stinking rich and being bubbly and happy!

Best regards,

Eric



LETTER FROM MARRAKECH, MOROCCO... MAY 5, 2016
"DEPARTMENT OF 'TRAVEL HAS CONSEQUENCES': YOU ARE (YES, RIGHT NOW) - WHO YOU WILL BECOME IN LIFE... SO TREAD CAREFULLY"  I was a young, idealistic, naive American in my  twenties who refused to fight in the ugly and futile Vietnam war. Instead, I joined the Peace Corps and got sent off to a place I'd never heard of - Burkina Faso, West Africa. I built livestock wells and rural schools and was sick a lot with what we will delicately call "turbo tummy"... Kids often ran screaming when they saw me - because they'd never seen a white man before. Tuareg camel caravans, straight off the Sahara desert, made stops in my village to sell two things: salt and dates. An animist shaman danced wildly (and magically) at the funeral of our chief. I witnessed the pain of sickness and poverty - an experience that seared itself into my young brain.No one had ever seen a camera in the village until I started clicking away with an old Pentax. Along the way a funny thing happened: I got tested and I grew up and I became the person that I still am all these decades later. And I still love - and live - in Africa. As with most lives, there was no plan, it just happened...

WE STARTED OUT INTO THE DESERT AT 18:00 HRS - THE EVENING TEMPERATURES
WERE PERFECT. YOUNG BERBER MEN, STRAIGHT OUT OF THE VILLAGE, WERE OUR
AMAZING GUIDES. WE SAW WILD CAMELS. THE SUN HAD SET BEFORE WE ARRIVED AT
OUR TINY, TENTED CAMP ...IN THE  SAHARA  DESERT SAND DUNES.
A couple of days ago  I joined a small group of independent travellers from around the world for a camel caravan trek - deep in southern Morocco, along the closed Algerian border. My companions came from Ecuador, Vietnam, Japan. Spain, the Philippines, the Netherlands, China. And me, from South Africa. Most were in their twenties and wrestling with a life puzzle we all experience: Who am I? Who will I become?

A passion for travel is only one choice in life. There are many others. But as the hours and days of our trip together passed pleasurably in exotic Morocco, a theme emerged over and over. I'm older and I could sense that this group was watching to see the consequences of my casual decision all those years ago to strike out into the unknown, to see how other people lived, to share the joys and disappointments - and pain - of small lives in faraway places, to contemplate different religions and customs and geographies and climates... These travellers were looking for answers...

I'm not rich but I have, to me, an unimaginably rich life. I've had the privilege to  get to know quite a chunk of the world. Our world, which has shrunk so much in my lifetime that we should now probably think of it as - our neighbourhood. So as our little band of adventurers joked and teased and rubbed shoulders for several days in intimate surroundings, I thought again of my time in Burkina Faso, the beginning of my adult life - and the search to discover who I would become. And, fundamentally I realized, I'm still the person I became then... and deeply grateful for my life choices.  May I thank my Morocco camel trek companions for sharing their journeys of life discovery with me. There is no other more important task that we will ever do...  and I savoured every minute of our time together...

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM MOROCCO... MAY 1, 2016 "WHY AM I WANDERING THROUGH CASTLE AFTER STUNNING CASTLE - ACROSS TURKEY, SPAIN AND NOW MOROCCO - SCRATCHING MY HEAD? THAT'S A GOOD QUESTION... THE ANSWER MAY HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH HUMANS (US) BEING, GAAK,... THE WORLD'S MOST VIOLENT SPECIES..." I'm a photographer and I love nothing more than turning my lens on architectural superlatives. Castles perfectly fit that bill. I'm in awe of the Herculean muscles that wrestled stones and mud into arches and parapets and turrets and massive rock walls bristling with cannons - and vats for boiling liquid to be poured on attackers far below...

My relationship with castles began last year in Turkey, then Greece, where Crusaders et al apparently spent most of their waking hours - and gold bullion - constructing gargantuan castles. Last week, for two days I toured the renowned Alhambra (Grenada, Espana). It's surely the world's largest fortified castle - and it is spectacular! Then I lost count of the centuries-old look-out towers and occasional castles shuttling down Spain's Costa del Sol to Gibraltar - yet another fortification of epic proportions - this time built by the British...

IT WAS SO PEACEFUL IN THIS MOUNTAIN OASIS CASTLE IN THE PICTURESQUE
TOWN OF CHEFCHAOUEN, MOROCCO... THE AESTHETICS, THE VIEWS, THE WATER FOUNTAINS,THE GARDENS... THE CASTLE PRISON WITH CHAINS AND CLAMPS STILL ATTACHED TO THE WALLS... YIKES!

I used to imagine that my far-flung travels were justified because many of my questions about life, faith, communities and social structures would be answered. The more travel, the more answers, right? But that's not what's transpired. I have to confess that, for me, the more I wander, the more questions pop up... And one of the grating questions that I puzzle is this: why are we so smart, so adaptive, so resourceful - and so bloody violent. Why can't we divide (share) - but not conquer. Why is the great, universal law of humankind still 'the law of the jungle'...dog eat dog and winner take all. I've expended a good deal of intellectual ferment thinking of ways to help, not hurt, all these remarkable lives that touch me as I travel. My three tours in the Peace Corps were not, for me, frivolous travel adventures; they were commitments of years of my, and my wife's, lives. No matter, the endless wars rumble on...

But if we humans, collectively, can't come to grips with our addiction to violent solutions, we're toast. I live in South Africa. The income inequality, the imbalance of the high-skilled and the unskilled, the callousness of the affluent for the impoverished are issues that can only blow-up, sooner or later. Shockingly, what I see there, I now see everywhere. But these aren't intractable problems; they can be resolved through decent governance and social willpower. Perhaps each of us, me included, needs to extend a helping, more generous hand - or spend our lives building castles - to fruitlessly protect from us... from all those evil people.

Best regards,

Eric
 

LETTER FROM SPAIN... APRIL 20, 2016 "THE SPANISH SEDUCE SAPHOTOSAFARI WITH A SIMPLE MESSAGE: 'YEAH, THE WORLD'S A COCK-UP ALRIGHT, BUT YOU'D BE A 'LEGUME' TO IGNORE THE DELICIOUS PLEASURES OF... SIMPLY BEING ALIVE'." I'm currently photographing in southern Spain, more precisely in ancient Granada, deep in the bosom of the storied, ethereal province of Andalusia. This flinty earth is so steeped in human history that Julius Caesar governed here starting in 61 B.C. A mere 750 years later, the Romans got bounced and the Moors arrived from north Africa, with Islam, in 711. They commenced building one of the architecture marvels of the world, the exqisite Alhambra 'fortress'. It still looms above this smallish, splendid city. In 1492, the Alhambra and the balance of Spain fell to the Christian monarchs (Ferdinand & Isabella). You may recall t was they who fronted the money for a dreamy explorer named Cristobal Colon (Columbus). He promptly sailed off on a voyage to 'discover' the new world. And he did, except that he mistook the Caribbean Islands for India, but no matter, Spain and Andalusia grew rich on the bounty of these slave-produced treasures of gold, silver and spices. After civil war, fascist governance, economic depression, then democracy - and a recent tidal wave of visitors from around the world, Spaniards are still Spaniards here in Andalusia, and they take being alive very seriously... by living joyously!

'FERIA ABRIL' (THE HISTORIC FESTIVAL OF SPRING), CELEBRATED THE PAST TWO WEEKS IN SEVILLE, BRINGS THE ENTIRE CITY TO A STANDSTILL.  COSTUMED DRESS-UPS (PHOTO), BULL FIGHTS AND ALL-NIGHT  PARTIES BEGIN WITH HOURS-LONG AFTERNOON LUNCHES (WITH TAPAS TO-DIE-FOR!). IT'S IRRESISTIBLE FUN! IN GRENADA, YOUNG LOVERS DON'T GIVE A HOOT ABOUT A CLASSICAL GUITAR PERFORMANCE FOR A SIDEWALK CAFE AUDIENCE. LIFE IS TO BE LIVED, NOT SQUANDERED!  

By living joyously, I don't mean living frivolously. I watch Spanish parents play tenderly with their kids, people young and old greet each other with warmth and affection, stay up late and wake up late, and always, always, here in Andalusia, people are ready to laugh at the absurdity of so much of modern, conformist, sanitized life. Live in the moment, their smiles seem to say. Express yourself, be gentle, be kind, be joyous, be alive! And be less driven by the souless materialism  and the shallow appearances of success we so covet these days .
And let your corazon (heart) guide you through this treacherous mystery... we call life. I got Granada... and, oh shit, how it got me!

Best regards,

Eric

 LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... APRIL 13, 2016 "YOUR MISERABLE BUCKET (YES, YOU!) IS CRAMMED INTO THE ECONOMY SECTION OF A LONG-HAUL FLIGHT... HERE'S THE SECRET TO NOT JUST SURVIVING, BUT HAVING FUN!" Late tonight, as has happened so many times before, this lowly writer/photographer will surrender to hours of jetting the length of the African continent (from Cape Town) to Europe and then onward tomorrow... If you're going to explore the world as I need to do, you have to submit to this suspended animation - a lot. Sure the international flights have free food and drinks  and spectacular entertainment systems. And the new planes are big and roomy (yeah, thankfully, I'll be on a 777 tonight...) Still, stifling boredom is the worst Enemy as the hours drag on and on... and on.
MY CO-CONSPIRATORS ON A RECENT FLIGHT INTO ISTANBUL - FROM CAPE TOWN VIA DOHA. FROM THE LEFT:MY SEATMATE FROM INDONESIA (BUDDHIST), A SOUTH AFRICAN COUPLE (MUSLIM), A YOUNG INDIAN MEDICAL DOCTOR (L) AND HER SISTER (HINDU) AND BEHIND THE CAMERA, MR. SAPHOTOSAFARI (NO RELIGION WOULD HAVE ME, SO I'M A MERE 'HUMANIST'.)
So what are you gonna do? No one wants to listen to your whinging about the screaming infants a few seats ahead of you. Me? I look for allies... These people in the photo are my new friends after our once-oft meeting. Your fellow passengers are almost surely from a different universe than your own. So chit-chat. People are eager in this Brave New World we inhabit to learn about other cultures, meet people that are utterly different from themselves, find out what makes other people tick, laugh or gasp across all the idiotic boundaries we still construct to keep ourselves - apart. The barriers will collapse right before your eyes. Fellow travellers will share things with you they wouldn't tell their best friends back home. And why not? You'll probably never see each other again... Except that in my case, I grab quick pix of my high-altitude friends - and I do get to enjoy the pleasurable memories again and again - at will.

My fondest memories of always of people who are the most different from me - your Average White Guy. The Indonesian woman in the photo above had just, hours earlier, left her two small children, a husband and parents with whom they reside, to work a contract job in the Middle East for a year. She was lonely and hurting and missing her loved ones fiercely.  As we made small-talk, I learned that her family are rice farmers with a paddy and a water buffalo. And they are devout Buddhists on Bali, in a country that's otherwise  Muslim. She laughed that small Asian giggle that expresses pain - where other culture might cry openly. I asked, gently, having lived on an island in the Philippines with my wife, Lynn, for a two year Peace Corps assignment, if she even missed her buffalo. Her eyes opened wide: "Yes, I miss my buffalo, too!" she burbled. Pretty soon she dozed off - on my shoulder. It was innocent - and sweet.

You can spend your whole life with people who are almost exactly like you. Or you can clamber
aboard a long-haul aircraft and find out what's happening in our upside down world. Who knows? Someday world peace may erupt aboard your flight as you discover that we are all stunningly similar - no matter the religion, the age, the politics, the colour of our skin or the stinking money. Check it out... You've got hours and hours to kill.

Best regards, 

Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... APRIL 8, 2016 "HOW CAN THIS PHOTOGRAPHER -WITH A USA MASTER'S DEGREE IN JOURNALISM - BE A HUMAN, HUMBLED BY THE WISDOM OF AFRICANS?" Early every morning I start my day with a cup of joe and a quick read of the BBC and New York Times on-line. Gad, what a mess the world is in. And the worst, punching below-the-belt, presidential election in my lifetime is metastasizing month after month after month in the USA. What exactly is the Big Bun Fight about in the Land of Milk And Honey? Inequality is the 2016 buzzword and I, like everyone else on the planet, stands squarely against it! There's just one problem; inequality in America, particularly, is mostly about having more and more stuff. I mean like wide-screen TVs the size of billboards and recreational vehicles the length of city blocks. It's so stupifying in its superficiality that I gulp my coffee and scan the daily rags bug-eyed. Donald Trump's single message to voters is, subliminally, you can't have too much stuff... Really?

THESE  WOMEN - AND ONE CUTE "WHATEVER" GIRL - ARE HERERO TRIBESPEOPLE
FROM NORTHERN NAMIBIA. THEY HAVE VERY LITTLE IN THE WAYS OF MATERIAL
POSSESSIONS, SO INSTEAD TAKE PLEASURE IN THEIR TRADITIONAL HATS AND DRESSES. THAT'S IT!

If you're starting to wonder if a lot of "stuff" is all there is to life, then I recommend you arrange a trip to Africa. Anywhere will do, but I'm partial to southern Africa. The first-world infrastructure will surprise you! You'll find friendly, modest, helpful Africans smiling at you, interested in where you're from, who you are - and generous to a fault. If they have only simple possessions and a little food, there'll be happy to share what they have. Immediately, as you drift out of the cities and travel into the rural, "brousse" or bush, you'll relax. This is a good moment to scope out your surroundings and look carefully at  the African village life I find so satisfying (I've lived in African villages for some years doing development work and teaching with my wife, Lynn). 

African villagers live communally. Children zip around happily playing - without so much as a whisper of  frantic "playdates". People own their own modest houses, so are not evicted for the crime of falling behind on the rent. The chief oversees a legal system that may not be completely democratic, but it needs to be fair or the chief will likely find the rug pulled out from underneath him. He also needs to maintain a good stock of millet or maize or rice for the inevitable droughts that otherwise would send ripples of hunger through his constituent neighbours. Oh, and he lives in the village and not in some faraway city, so he has an excellent idea what problems his community faces. There will be a simple school and parents take great pride in seeing their children receive a modest education. Most villagers are neither neurotic or psychotic and if someone suffers a mental dementia, hey, they continue leading their lives in their community - quite normally. There is a powerful sense of community; loneliness is not an issue.

Wads of money, cruise ship trips or casino holidays are not happening. And nobody grinds their teeth because the neighbour has a bigger new 'highway slider'. Actually, mostly, there are no cars. People travel in taxis  - without complaint.

Well, you  catch my drift. We've built this hotsy-totsy developed world, this world of relentless consumption and planned obsolescence. But are we happy? Try living with a little less shit and you may find renewed pleasure in simply being alive - and sharing smiles, the way Africans do...

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... MARCH 31, 2016 "CAN 'NATURE' MAKE A COMEBACK - OR ARE WE TOO ZONKED ON TECH AND LUXE LIVING TO CARE? READ ON; YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT..." We live in our technology-driven world and many of us assume 'nature' is the backdrop for a hot new video game, perhaps the one with the antlered deer. Gimme a break. For most of the last 1,000,000 years of our specie's history we have been living and breathing... nature. Only in the post-World War II years have we embarked on building 'civilizations' divorced from nature. The American business model of disposable consumer goods and planned obsolescence kick-started a frenzied ignorance of our natural surroundings. Many children in contemporary China have never seen a wild bird - or some even heavenly stars. Belatedly, some of us are having second thoughts about the head-long rush to this universe of plastic and software...

SOUTH AFRICA'S PATRIMONY OF WILD CREATURES IS ALWAYS
UNDER THREAT FROM LAND DEVELOPMENTS, AGRICULTURE OR POACHING.
BUT THESE ANIMALS (THE BIRDS ARE BLUE CRANES) NOW ARE PRIZED 
FAR MORE ALIVE THAN STUFFED - OR ADORNING WOMEN'S HATS. 

In recent decades South Africa has doubled its natural land set asides. Our parks, reserves and protected mountain ranges not only protect wild things, but provide clean water, forests and grasslands that 'stabilize' natural ecosystems subject to the vagaries of wet and dry weather patterns and wind erosion. Desertification is in no one's interest... Importantly these set asides are magnets for national and international tourism. Billions of rands are spent annually here on 'nature'. We all need to unwind and find our 'natural' rhythm in life, whether we know it or not. 

So the next chance you have a chance to read or view on TV one of those plodding nature stories - like the successful re-introduction of the Iberian Lynx in Spain, and next, hopefully, Britain, pause for just a second and contemplate why that matters to you, personally, and to your children... If you like to breathe clean air, drink fresh water and gaze contentedly at magical wild birds and animals - you need nature. And you need to stand up for it (!) when the moneyed interests and politicians in your country try to convince you that - nature isn't profitable... 

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... MARCH 21, 2016 "IN THE USA, THERE'S A NASTY PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST UNDER WAY (HAVE YOU NOT HEARD OF DONALD TRUMP?) WHY IS IT SO 'DOWN & DIRTY'? THE ANSWER IS SIMPLE: THE RICHEST 1% HAVE THE SAME WEALTH AS THE BOTTOM 90%... Sadly, tragically, I am not making this up. In fact the statistics come right out of the pages of the New York Times. As it happens, only Trump The Billionaire has seen fit to exploit the anger of the U.S.'s collapsing middle and working classes. Demagogue though he is, he's reaping the political blessings of this rage. I'm afraid the vaunted Republicans and Democrats, as well, have been caught living well, taking the 'bribes' from banks and corporate America... and 'saving the rich'. Now the entire political system of the last 150 years is up for grabs. Watch out!

THE U.S. SUPER-RICH WITH THE LUXE MOTORHOMES, FANCY YACHTS AND
 OUT-SIZED WEALTH HAVE ABRUPTLY HAD TO TAKE A PAINFUL PEEK
OVER THEIR SHOULDERS AT HOW MOST PEOPLE ON THIS  PLANET LIVE 
- OR MERELY SURVIVE. (L TO R: ECUADOR, EGYPT, THAILAND, LESOTHO, AFRICA)

The rich are rapidly harnassing technology (the greatest jobs destruction machine the world has ever seen) and using their wealth, muscle and insider savvy to corral the planet's resources. The wealth class in the U.S. moans relentlessly (mostly through their elected Republican cohorts) about their burden of taxes even as this nose-bleed echelon of society has seen its real tax rates drop from 30% to 20% (now up a little under Obama). You want to know why the world economy is stalled out, despite the collapse of oil prices? Again, the answer is pretty simple. The staggering rich can't spend their vast wealth, so it just effectively sits there tied up in passive stock market shares, real estate consortiums, etc. It doesn't get spent in retail shops, large and small, food purchases, home renovations, entertainment or in all the thousands of destinations that a balanced consumer economy deploys captial to be the engine of economic growth.

I often teasingly remark that "the experts are always wrong". But I say this only partly in jest. The vaunted economists, most particularly in the U.S., have been so busy beavering away on why stock markets go up and down that they've grotesquely missed the catastrophic importance of this shocking development: economies can't grow unless and until citizens in the USA - and your country - in their billions, have money to spend. Income inequality is sentencing much of the world to a future of poverty, wars, intolerance and hopelessness (my residence country, South Africa, included). The only solution I can see is staring us in the face: Tax The Rich and push that money down to people who will use it  productively to improve their - and their children's - lives. Just do it, politicians, and you'll have earned your fat paychecks!

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... MARCH 12, 2016 "WHAT'S GOING ON IN 'AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL'? GOVERNMENTS AND CITIZENS, EVEN IN MATURE DEMOCRACIES, NEED TO RELENTLESSLY BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE ... OTHERWISE, FORGIVE MY VULGAR LANGUAGE, THE SHIT HITS THE FAN..." I awakened this morning in South Africa to read on the BBC website, then the New York Times, that a major Donald Trump rally had been cancelled in Chicago - after fighting broke out between Mr. Trump's supporters and protesters. Oddly, the rally was held on the University of Illinois, Chicago campus - with thousands attending. Chicago is President Obama's home town. The city is two-thirds Black and Hispanic. The University students are ardent supporters of Socialist / Democrat Bernie Sanders. Did conservative Republican Mr Trump want this confrontation? I wonder...

For thirty years, Egypt was politically suffocated under  career solider President Hosni Mubarak's regime - until the 
country blew-up in March, 2011. I took these photos at the Egyptian Museum during the height of the 
on-going conflict. Ugly business, I can tell you... That's Mubarak's torched party headquarters in the background.

I confess to being an American by birth and  nationality. But I've lived in South Africa with my wife for nearly sixteen years. It's happily our home. It has some of the world's worst income disparity, poverty you can choke on - and a feisty democracy that arm wrestles politics - at every opportunity! I talk politics, one way or another, practically every time I leave my leafy small-town home. Politics is the oxygen, the life-blood that keeps the South African pain threshold bearable. Seffricans of every creed and colour freely moan and groan about our government, race relations, rich/poor frustrations, jobless headaches, a shockingly poor public education system, whatever. It's absolutely thrilling to me, an outsider, to witness this enthusiastic, non-violent public bun fight. We have a living, breathing raucus democracy here - and it can't exist any other way...

On the odd trip back to the United States, including a month in Washington State and California (mostly L.A.) last October, I can't remember hearing politics being thrashed out in conversations - at all. To the contrary, it barely even got a mention. You certainly wouldn't bring it up with strangers (we certainly do here), or spoil a dinner party with the "p" word - politics. In my memory that's how it's been for a long, long time. American democracy has been taking an afternoon nap - for years. Somehow, affluence, living well, personal relationships, sports reports, the weather for god's sake - all trumped having to air uncomfortable disagreements that have political ramifications...

So now it comes to this: in a country armed to the teeth with 350,000,000 handguns, huge Presidential political rallies are called off because of public fighting. I can't even imagine where this nasty election cycle will end up, but the gloves are now off. Political disagreements (racism, income inequality, immigration et al) ignored for decades  now don't have civil ways to be resolved or addressed. Dear readers, watch this dude Trump and the rest of the Oval Office contestants - the Land of Milk & Honey is fast losing its moorings, coming unhinged and careering of the rails. I've never witnessed anything like it since the civil rights movement of the sixties when in one year Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King paid with their lives - for speaking their political truth...

Regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... MARCH 3, 2016 "S-A-L-T! IT'S KILLING US, BUT WE CAN'T PUT DOWN THE SALT SHAKER, RIGHT? HERE'S THE PAINFUL, 'UNSALTED' TRUTH ON WHY WE ARE ALL ...'ADDICTED'..." I'm reading yet another amazing book by the Pulitzer-Prize winning UCLA geographer, Jared Diamond. If you haven't read "Collapse" or "Germs, Guns and Steel" get cracking! These are page-turners by one of the most readable brilliant minds of our time. Diamond for 50 years has annually spent research time in New Guinea, studying birds, but also the proud people, many of whom still have only rudimentary contact with our 'western' world with all its tempting, but corrupting influences...

YOU CAN'T DO 'ADVENTURE TRAVEL' PHOTOGRAPHY ON AN EMPTY STOMACH!
TRAGICALLY FOR ME, I ALMOST NEVER EAT UPSCALE CUISINE ON THE ROAD.
MORE LIKELY IT'S STREET FOOD FROM STALLS... BUT EVEN THESE TEMPTING
MAINS  (PHOTO) ARE SHOT FULL OF SALT...
Here's Diamond's rap on our contemporary salt-induced catastrophic health. Think strokes, kidney failure, heart attacks, sky-high blood pressure - most of these modern day ailments are linked to our self-pickling love affair with - salt. When I was a young Peace Corps worker in Burkina Faso, West Africa, Tuareg camel caravans used to stop in our remote Sahel village and sell dates and - salt. Slabs of salt actually, small portions of which were sawed off for the consumer - at hefty prices. Having grown up in America, I always thought of salt as cheap and plentiful. Not so says Diamond and my Burkina experience bore him out. For thousands of years homo sapiens (us), experienced salt as a a very scarce commodity. Few of us actually lived along sea coasts, but more likely on the Serengeti plains of East Africa. Our kidneys hoarded any trace salt that passed through them, instead of excreting it, and that struck a balance that was about right for our health: a little salt goes a long way...

But after World War II, the American's exploding middle class changed dietary habits that dated back to the beginning of (our) time. Convenience food, takeaway food, pizza, burgers, KFC, fish & chips, 'TV dinners' (Oh, we chuckle now, but then it was the height of luxe living!) And our poor human kidneys kept hoarding the salt, just as they'd been programmed to do down through the DNA ages. We have been sucker-punched and are committing suicide with every tasty mouthful.

So you think you won't use the salt shaker on your dinner table - and cut out the salt, right? Good luck. Diamond calculates that only about 12% of our salt intake is added in the home. The rest? Your industrial food manufacturers thoughtfully add it to almost everything we eat, including yoghurt and ice cream. Oh well, immortality wasn't in the works anyhow, so I guess we just enjoy eating ourselves to an early grave...
That's such a bummer thought, I'm going to drift out to our kitchen and comfort myself - with a nice bowl of popcorn. Oh no...

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... FEBRUARY 25, 2016 " INTRODUCING: 'THE ONE SQUARE METRE CHICKEN FACTORY' ... SAY WHAT??" I've been blessed with several extremely fun and satisfying work lives, including being a Peace Corps development worker in Burkina Faso , the Philippines and Africa's small mountain kingdom, Lesotho. I spent two years in each of these remarkable countries - and, frankly, I am who I am because of it. I became fascinated with the intricacies of survival for the poorest people on the planet. By and large these sturdy folks don't have access to cushy government jobs... or any jobs really. Their lot in life is often linked to subsistence agriculture - a subject still near and dear to my beating "African" heart. I'm a white-boy American by birth, but years ago discovered that the developing world was much more suited to my passions for living. Blame the Peace Corps...

ERIC'S ONE SQUARE METRE POULTRY RANCH...

I put this simple-to-build home small business project before you because SAPHOTOSAFARI'S audience of viewers stretches across 180 countires - many of which have citizens (you?) eager to get a job - and an income. Here's the good news. Many developing countries produce inexpensive day-old chicks for home poultry projects and they are easy to box and ship to other locations via bus or taxi or whatever.  They also sell poultry feed.The day-old chicks go into the top compartment for two weeks or so before being relocated to the middle section. They are finished in the bottom compartment at around as necessary. Total days: 37 to 40.

Things to note: Empty chicken feed sacks are attached at the top of the structure to be lowered in event of wind, rain or cold. Chicks and chickens need to be dry and warm. Empty cans with a little motor oil keep out termites and other bad guys who might eat chicken food or bother the birds. The structure is made out of  whatever cheap wood is available. I used bamboo in the Philippines and pine in Lesotho.The feeding trays are easily made from bamboo. I used metal nailed onto simple wood forms for the trays that catch the manure. The trays slide in under each compartment - and, boy, do those chickens produce manure - for the garden! I got the idea from a U.N. booklet I saw once and then watched with pleasure as students or neighbours got their broiler poultry 'factories' up and running. Do you know somebody who's ready to w-o-r-k and make an income. Hot tip: Some people eventually expand and make two, three or four of the structures, so they always have chickens ready-to-market - for a profit, of course! Good luck!

Best regards,
Eric



LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... FEBRUARY 17, 2016 "DO YOU HAVE TO JUNKET HALF-WAY AROUND THE WORLD TO EXPERIENCE 'ADVENTURE TRAVEL'? YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING! READ ON... Let me guess, you live in an urban setting and this whole adventure travel business ain't gonna happen, right? Think again, my friend.  My rock-bottom basic definition of 'adventure travel' is to do something about which you know almost nothing, or it's a scarce commodity in your life - and tack on a little "risk" to pump up the adrenalin factor. My life-long passion for independent adventure travel is driven by the simple premise: it's the most fun my addled brain can think of. Halfway around the world - great. Just down the road from where I live - great, again. I don't care. I just need the jolt of new discoveries.

POSTCARD FROM OUR SOUTH AFRICAN 'BACKYARD' / mid -February, 2016...

My wife, Lynn, and I needed to shake up our, er, work/life balance and we only had four days to do it (Sorry, we both lead those busy, busy lives that we shackle ourselves to these days!) So with a bit of driving, like six hours, we made it to Plettenberg Bay's heavenly Kuerbooms Campground and pitched our tent - with dreamy views of the Indian Ocean. We indulged in a monster seafood dinner - with a couple cold ones. We slept on the ground with sleeping bags and air mattresses - and seabird cries erupting at odd intervals throughout the night. Yes, we discovered again, sleeping on the ground changes everything.
You even dream differently!

The next morning we rented a canoe and paddled up the Kuerbooms River - yes, there's the SAPHOTOSAFARI picture proof above - for hours. Monkeys, startling birdlife (that's a Knysna Crested Lourie buried in the photo collage somewhere), unending African blue sky and ancient green rainforest with sandy beaches - and the pure pleasure of flexing our muscles and... sweating!  Stupid white boy got sunburned. And, wow, did we have fun! 

We took the backroads home through the mountain-ringed Klein Karoo high desert. I shot oodles of photos. In short, our little getaway was unscripted and just about perfect. And there's the reason: unscripted. That word catches my eye because that's how I always travel. Get off the plane or the bus or the rickshaw or the horse - and see what looks interesting. That's adventure travel, big or small, near or far. I need it. Don't you?
Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... FEBRUARY 6, 2015 "IS THERE A PHYSICAL PLACE WHERE MODERN MAN BEGAN? THAT RIDDLE HAS PUZZLED ARCHAEOLOGISTS FOR MORE THAN A CENTURY... AND NOW IT MAY HAVE BEEN FOUND - IN SOUTH AFRICA -IN 'A CAVE WHERE MAN BEGAN'. " This is not a religious story, but a scientific one. DNA mitochondrial records now confirm that the oldest modern humans on the planet - have their roots in southern Africa.If we viewed ALL humanity today as a DNA branched tree, and one by one we took away the branches, we are left with the oldest DNA at the base of the tree trunk... that 'tree trunk' is in South Africa. These first modern humans probably looked a lot like the Khoi-San people in the photo below, shot in Botswana's Kalahari desert recently on an overland Africa trip I was taking ...


THESE KHOI-SAN HUNTER-GATHERERS LIVE A SEMI-NOMADIC LIFE ON THE KALAHARI 
DESERT. THEIR'S IS THE WORLD'S OLDEST LIVING DNA. WHEN WE SPENT TIME WITH THEM, AT NIGHT AROUND A FIRE OR DURING THE DAY HUNTER-GATHERING, WE IMMEDIATELY FELT COMFORTABLE, AT EASE. WE LAUGHED AT THE SAME JOKES - EVEN THOUGH WE DIDN'T SPEAK THE SAME LANGUAGE. WE COMMUNICATED. OUR KHOI-SAN FRIEND ON THE RIGHT, TOOK THEDA'S BLOND PONY TAIL AND ARTFULLY DRAPED IT OVER HIS HEAD. ALL OF US, BLACK & WHITE, EXPLODED IN LAUGHTER. OF COURSE. WE'RE ALL THE SAME, WE'RE ALL HUMAN BEINGS.

Now let's back up our story 70,000 years. The first tiny, primitive bands of Cro-Magnon / Homo Sapiens had already drifted out of Africa tens of thousands of years earlier. Then about 72,000 years ago, Mt Toba in Indonesia shattered the planet's weather systems with an astounding eruption. The earth's atmosphere, heavy with ash, chilled rapidly.Those tiny bands of humans were snuffed out like so many candles. The rich, warm tropics of central Africa were particularly sensitive to global cooling and the scattered bands of humans that depended on plants and small animals for their sustenence also retreated - until only a few hundred of us remained - at the very bottom of Africa.

At a cave near Mossel Bay, South Africa, a major international archaeology team has been beavering away for several years at what some are calling "The Cave Where Man Began". This is a somewhat figurative phrase because several caves are involved. But what apparently occurred with stunning implications for our beleaguered species, makes a riveting tale. Faced with starvation, this tiny band of people turned and faced the Indian Ocean. There they sampled, for the first time, mussels, shellfish, oysters, fish and lobsters. And a miracle occurred, which directly relates to why I am writing to you today on a computer. That huge protein load from the sea gave modern man a "shot in the arm" that changed everything.

The human brain dramatically increased in size. Sophisticated language, which separates us from all other living creatures, began to develop. Technology in the form of improved spear and arrow points, hunting and survival strategies, combined to give humans expanded food sources and better "staying alive" skills. At the Mossel Bay cave, where charcoal testifies to the use of fire, red ocher, finely ground to powder began to be used for body ornamentation. This indicates that culture was arising, people could express different genders (the first cosmetics!), their association with different groups or different rankings among their peer group. And the red ocher was also mixed with blood and saliva to be used as the vehicle for rock and cave paintings (art). Spiritual symbolism is obvious to anyone who has ever viewed rock art and it represents a huge leap forward in sophistication of our species. These dramatic changes in our ancesters had vast implications...

When the earth's temperatures warmed again, around 50,000 years ago, our newly fortified homo sapiens (us) slowly multiplied and spread out of Africa a second time - and this time inhabited the whole world in about 20,000 years. The ability of language to allow valuable historical experiences to be retained and orally shared with following generations, to direct hunters with verbal maps, to bond humans into effective groups, to parent and imagine improved technology - and a spiritual explanation to explain life -were stunningly important developments. The Mossel Bay cave story continues to be written. Having toured the site with my archaeologist wife and met the director, Professor Curtis Morean of Arizona State University (USA), I can't help but be fascinated by the research. The book, Cro-Magnon, by archaeologist Brian Fagan makes excellent reading if the subject piques your interest.

Humans all over the world, combined, have less DNA diversity than a single troupe of chimpanzes in West Africa. How can that be? It can be because there was an "African Eve", a figurative common mother of us all. We all stem from the same tiny band of people, probably very much like our Khoi-San friends in the collage picture above. The very same people who, tens of thousands of years ago avoided extinction - by a whisker. Our differing skin colours, eye colours, hair, noses and what not, are tiny differences in our genetic code of human DNA... We are all the same. I repeat, we are all the same. So, if possible might we consider treating our brothers and sisters all over the world - with a little kindness? Might we be gentle for a change? Might we smile at strangers, who we now know aren't really strangers after all...
Best regards,
Eric



LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... JANUARY 27, 2016 " WHY DO I TRAVEL TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH... TO TAKE BLOODY PICTURES? GOT ONE MINUTE, I'LL TELL YOU WHY..." I could lie to you and claim I do it for the money, but, hey, I'm not that shallow. These days with billions of digital photographs being snapped seemingingly by the hour, the easy money days - with pix - are long gone. I don't care, I'm not in it for the money. I'm passionate about pictures for another reason, though. Jammed onto this blue/green ball, I figure we need to know as much as possible about each other - and I'm here to do my bit...with a vengeance!

LAKE MALAWI, AFRICA IS R-E-M-O-T-E. OR IS IT?

I clambered out of my tent on the northern beaches of Lake Malawi - one of Africa's giant rift lakes - and this is what I saw. You won't see this on Nat'l Geo, because, well, weather and women are endlessly changeable - and these two shots will never recur. That's Lake Malawi, a sheet of water so huge it creates its own weather. Really? You don't believe me, do you? Well, that just happens to be a water spout dropping down out of the stormy heavens over the lake in the distance. In all my travels across decades, I've never seen this phenomenon before. I just stood there - gape-jawed. The other side of the lake was so far away... it was invisible. Geez, east Africa's rift lakes are big I know, but it took this snapshot to allow me to internalize that truth. And they're very, very deep. Also, those colourful tropical fish you covet for your home aquarium likely come from freshwater Lake Malawi. It's a big business, because saltwater tropical fish can't survive in your freshwater tank, do-do brain! Also, listen up!, no swimming just now; a herd of hippos passed through this area just before my arrival and killed and injured several villagers (hippos are the most dangerous animals in Africa, in case you didn't know)...

But what really caught my eye were these young village women. Africans are so relaxed and naturally sociable, it's easy to strike up a conversation with a smile - and my camera. I do it all the time. OK, a little flattery is often useful - as in this case. The "SELF-MADE WOMAN" top gave me just the excuse to gush, "OMG, you're all so lovely and what a great top you're wearing. I'm a photographer and I would be very grateful for just ...one photo." Well, it turns out that these women were not s-o-o-o busy that they couldn't preen and pose for SAPHOTOSAFARI - for just one photo, maybe two. Maybe three? 

I love this picture because these young African women are natural and unreserved. They haven't been jaded by fashion mags or TV Kardashian dreck. They are simply humans having the chance to meet somebody from another country - or is it another world - another skin colour, another culture. Their pleasure is mine, too. This tiny, inconsequential encounter on the shores of faraway Lake Malawi, Africa,  is exactly why I travel to the ends of the earth - camera in hand. I need to sponge all these new experiences up - big time. Or life is somehow...stale for me. I bet you need it, too. Remember, we're all in this soup together...and it's such a privilege!

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... January 19, 2016 "ARE CITIES THE NEW COUNTRIES?"
I'm a "news junkie". Am I proud of my pathetic addiction? Of course! I fail to see how seven billion of us, with all our
staggering differences, can co-exist without at least knowing what's happening here, there and everywhere. There's just one problem with my fetish: mostly, the "news" these days is only what grabs eyeballs. Let me spell that for you: v-i-o-l-e-n-c-e. sells. That, sports stories and celebrity gossip, coupled with the odd morsel of bummer economic news... And then this morning, the BBC on-line had a thoughtful piece that grabbed my eyeballs: "Are cities the new countries?".


MANY CITIES HAVE MUCH MORE IN COMMON WITH OTHER GLOBAL  CITIES THAN WITH THE REST 
OF THEIR OWN COUNTRIES. H-M-M-M... THE ABOVE PHOTOS? JUST SOME OF MY FAVOURITE CITIES.
I'm kind of unhinged that this thought hasn't occurred to me in my relentless travels. In Istanbul last June, I saw state of the art high-speed trains everywhere that were cheap, silent (electric), clean and fast. Once I'd ridden on one train, I was hooked. Fast-forward to October in Los Angeles, my wife and I spent $45 on a single taxi ride - more than once. And we were not happy! Vancouver has great rapid transit, but Seattle down the road, not so hot - and Seattle has traffic jams to give you a nervous melt-down. London, I've learned,  has high-quality urban, public schools. Cape Town and New York's schools mostly stink. Issues of housing, economic inequality, security, in-migration, job opportunities are common themes across the world's swelling cities. But do these great cities share their successes and failures? Of course not! Diplomacy and all sorts of other "global village" functions are handled by national governments - most particularly warfare which is, of course, not good for most people's health. 

I note in two countries with which I am intimately familiar, South Africa and the United States, that the national governments are heavily stocked with rural state or provincial politicians and civil servants. These people hold their positions, not based on population density, but on political boundaries. Each U.S. state has two powerful national senators, whether it's California with 38,000,000 people or Wyoming with 563, 626 citizens. These small population, often rural states, vote heavily Republican and control the the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and understandably they don't get too worked up about urban crime or how best to teach millions of young scholars in city schools. 

What we have here is another case of we citizens being poorly served by our institutions. The same ones that all of us are supposed to leap up and die for if any other nation-state gives us a figurative "poke-in-the-eye". In our furious rush to urbanize maybe, just, maybe, we need to look around and see who our natural allies really are. And that might surprise a lot of people. It's generally not skin colour, religion, economic station, diet or language that defines billions of us living together in huge cities, but rather how we get to work conveniently (transport) or are we safe in our daily routines (security) and do our children enjoy school of a high standard (education). 

As I travel, I always feel comfortable in the uniformity of the world's cities; maybe that's the natural path to explore in the Twenty-first Century. And leave the nation-states, and their bloody wars - in the dumpster of history.

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... January 12, 2016 " THE DISASTER ON ISTANBUL'S SULTANAHMET SQUARE IS A CALAMITY FOR BEAUTIFUL TURKEY, OF COURSE... BUT FOR EVERY ONE OF US ON THIS FRENETIC PLANET AS WELL..." Forgive me, I'm in shock. Last May and June I spent a month photographing in Turkey. It was simply sublime. Those weren't "tourists" wandering around smiling in a daze on  Sultanahmet Square; those were "us" - in our millions - from all over creation - making the holiday pilgrimage to Istanbul and revelling in it's history, the architectural beauty, the stunning secular Islamic gift of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk - spun down through the decades. But mostly my memories are of the lively, congenial, civilized Turks going out of their way to see that each of  us had a personal experience to take home with us - and treasure. Finally, a place where all faiths,races, languages, nationalities and economic stations could mix freely and, dare I say it, joyously. I was bowled over...

12,000,ooo visitors last year, from Turkey - and all over the world - made Istanbul 
...the hottest tourism destination on earth. No one left disappointed...

And now this! The relentless use of terrorism to advance political, religious and military strategies is apparently here to stay.  No one is safe from the wrath of the dispossessed, the extremists, the hate mongers. Who committed this atrocity? Does it matter? I blame no one; I hold all of us accountable. This isn't a world any longer in which it's ethical to remain on the sidelines, enjoying the good life, while tens of millions fester homeless, impoverished, uneducated, unemployed and staggered by violence, hostility  and contempt from those for whom the comforts of affluence make helping the helpless seem - an unpleasant chore. These inequalities (that's a word you'll be hearing for the rest of your life) lead to the radicalization of young and old alike. Our beloved Internet now permits every grievance to go global - in a flash. Whether it's Paris or Beirut or Tunisia, San Bernadino or Istanbul, there, literally, is no place to hide... 

The mayor of London, the esteemed Boris Johnson, wrote a piece for The Daily Telegraph that caught my eye. He's just visited the Alhambra in southern Spain. He correctly noted the schism between Shia and Sunni Muslims, but also the stunning architectural and cultural contributions of Islam (Note to Mr. Johnson: visit Istanbul). All of us need to stretch to accept our differences and join in appreciating our diversity. I live in South Africa. We strain to understand and cooperate to rebuild this star-crossed land after Apartheid. The dream of a reconciled nation always seems just out of reach. But try we must... everyday. Here, and everywhere else on earth, there is no other option, there can be no turning back.  Our collective fate hangs in the balance, n'est pas?

Best regards,

Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... January 3, 2016 "ARE YOU GOING TO BE A FULL- FLEDGED LIFE PARTICIPANT IN 2016 - AND JUMP RIGHT IN - OR ARE YOU GOING TO CAREFULLY WATCH 'LIFE'... FROM THE SIDELINES?


These kamikaze surfer shots were the very first frames I shot in 2015. Admitedly, I was a bit groggy, having welcomed in the New Year at Cape Town's famous Kirstenbosch Gardens outdoor (it's summer here!) live music extravaganza. But I was jolted awake the moment I saw this ten year old novice surfer with her boogie board. She absolutely threw herself into every wave, got tossed  bum over teakettle - and ran back into the surf to do it all over again. Live life with abandon!, her mischievous smile said. Her actions speak to how most of us wish we could lead our lives, but, unfortunately we have 1,000 perfectly logical excuses for not having fun, for not risk-taking, for not throwing, even occasionally, caution to the winds. I think, particularly for kids this surfer collage is exceedingly important to see and digest. But the
media generally show the most graphic, often violent pix they can get their hands - because they're chasing eyeballs... and profits. If we want our children to be participants in life and not just spectators they need to imagine, well, surfing. A small risk for a wallop of fun!
"THE BUSH FIRE THAT WOULD NOT DIE!" FOR SEVEN DAYS THIS NASTY WILD FIRE RATCHETED AROUND THE MOUNTAINS NEAR MY SOUTH AFRICAN HOME TOWN. TEMPS REACHED 40 DEGREES... OUCH! THESE ARE THE MEN AND WOMEN, HIGHLY TRAINED FIREFIGHTERS, WHO WORKED STRAIGHT THROUGH CHRISTMAS WEEK - AND FINALLY SUBDUED THE BEAST... WE THANK YOU!

But, naturally, your eyeballs are drawn to this photo collage (above) for all the obvious reasons...I just had a fantastic week. I photo-documented an angry "veldt" (bush) fire around our small town here in South Africa's export fruit and wine belt, outside Cape Town. The fire ran all over our mountains with periodic forays to the edge of fruit farms and housing - and our small "dorp" (town). The Working on Fire and Overberg Fire and Rescue  and Cape Nature firefighters make every South African proud. These extraordinary - mostly twenty-something, men and women, racially integrated firefighters - worked shoulder-to-shoulder for seven straight days, sometimes up all night, until, finally, just as 2015 ran out, their dangerous, adrenalin- pumping job wrapped up. The looks on their exhausted faces as they drove down the mountain in a convoy of canary yellow trucks was... unbridled  joy! They were tested to their limits - and they beat that diabolical, bastard fire into submission (excuse my French). Getting a shower, eating and sleeping may seem routine to you, but these front-line shock troops have a whole other take on it, I can assure you.

No, this New Year offers each of us the potential - and the promise - to live our lives to the hilt. To be spectators, but more importantly to be participants in whatever passion we pursue.To make new discoveries (to try surfing... or to pick up a camera and teach yourself photography - it's fabulous, inexpensive fun!), to live and love more deeply, to reach out and help the multitudes of decent people - worldwide - who are relentlessly harassed and impoverished through no fault of their own.  And to enrich and enliven your one chance to live on our remarkable Planet Earth. Do it! There will be no regrets... Happy New Year!
Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... December 20, 2015 "AT THE END OF ANOTHER YEAR, WHAT AM I THANKFUL FOR? I BREATHE CLEAN AIR, DRINK PURE WATER, HAVE A HOME  SURROUNDED BY LEAFY SHADE TREES... AND NATURE. WE FEEL SAFE. AND I LUCKILY GET TO LIVE IN AFRICA (YES!)... BUT THERE'S SOMETHING ELSE THAT IMPACTS MY LIFE... AND IT'S EXCRUCIATINGLY PAINFUL..." As mawkish as it sounds, I still like to take a moment at the end of the year to count my blessings. For me, and for most of us, life these days shudders from one dismal (violent, corrupt, sensational, apocalyptic - take your pick) news story to the next. Yowza! We all have to live our lives and the distractions are so depressimg, aren't they? Eventually, a sane person might conclude that there is no joy left in simply being alive. Excuse me, I beg to differ...

OUR HOUSE OUTSIDE OF CAPE TOWN. NO TRAFFIC TO SPEAK OF, GIN CLEAR AIR AND WATER,
WINTER SNOW ON THE MOUNTAINS, SPRING FLOWERS, SUMMER SHADE TREES, MIRACULOUS 
BIRD AND ANIMAL WILDLIFE  AND... HUMAN POVERTY THAT'S DISGRACEFUL. I'M RIGHT WHERE I NEED TO BE.

 With all our blessings, it's (poverty) that consumes much of my time... when I'm not taking pictures. mentor. Kids, young adults, grown-ups, schools - I have the great blessing of having grown up in the developed world (USA). Though I've lived here with my wife, Lynn, for over fifteen years, that well of information about how things work is an invaluable gift to share. Our South African "born frees" (born since the end of Apartheid) are excited about joining the haves in this world, but many, many of them lack a decent education, the simple social skills, financial knowledge /money management, business savvy and the benefit of travel - my schtick - which helps us assisimilate, often unknowingly, how cultures and commerce function, how some people succeed in life while others flail about unsuccessfully. I carry this "help kit" with me - between my ears - and no day goes by that I don't have an insight to share with friends or strangers about this puzzling world we all inhabit. The nods and smiles I receive in return absolutely make my day. And, at the end of another year, give me a deep life satisfaction I can't imagine existing without...

If in looking around you feel something missing in your otherwise pleasing existence, see if there isn't a small "knowledge transfer" that you can make, cost free, to help jump-start a promising young life. Mentoring matters. And it can be done... free of  cost. Finally, why am I grateful to live in Africa? All those beautiful people living with so little,forces me to dig deep, contemplate my good fortune - and reach out to help. There's a substantial pleasure - and a beauty - added to my life... that I treasure beyond most everything else.

Best regards, 

Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... December 14, 2015 "JUSTIN TRUDEAU'S CANADA WELCOMES SYRIAN REFUGEES WITH OPEN ARMS... AND HEARTS. HONESTLY, I NEVER THOUGHT I'D LIVE TO SEE A POLITICIAN STAND UP - AND SHOW COMPASSION." We live in a world of  expedient, small-minded, mean-spirited politicians who dream of being statesmen, but might be better off selling used cars. Think, the Donald (Trump). Really, the inability to see human pain and misery - and respond to it - is churlish in the extreme. But that's what we get. I leave Angela Merkel out of this chicaney. And now she's joined on the world stage by a smart, young, compassionate Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. My god, finally, a breath of fresh air!

I MET THIS SYRIAN REFUGEE FAMILY IN BODRUM, ON A MONTH-LONG PHOTOSHOOT
IN TURKEY THIS PAST JUNE. THEY HAD NOTHING, ZERO. THEY WERE HOMELESS... AND HUNGRY.
THOSE TWO BEAUTIFUL LITTLE GIRLS DESERVE THE SAME CHANCE AT A DECENT LIFE 
AS ALL THE REST OF US... WELL, DON'T THEY?? MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU (LEFT INSET)
 PERSONALLY WELCOMED THEM TO CANADA ...  

Watch Justin Trudeau! He actually has a moral compass and doesn't need "focus groups" and pollsters to tell him what he thinks. His new cabinet, just sworn in, represents the wonderful polyglot nation Canada has become in many ways thanks to his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who was Canada's Prime Minister in the 70's and 80's. The senior Trudeau opened Canada's immigration doors - to the world. The opposition Conservatives, who were trounced by Trudeau and the Liberals in the recent election, howled about his plan to bring in 25,000 Syrians - from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Currently, these exhausted millions  wait nervously in refugee camps for the developed world to render help. Good luck.

The skinflints and the pikers yelp about terrorism and the "cost" of refugees, while throwing resources into weapons of war without a moment's hesitation. How about a little "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you..." and "Peace On Earth, Goodwill to men... women and children". Remember, your personal safety, your financial health and your cherished civil liberties might be next on the firing line... And thank you, Mr Trudeau... Canada and the world are so proud of you we could pop buttons off our shirts and blouses. You stood up! You know right from wrong...

Best regards,

Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... December 9, 2015 "CHINA'S 46,000 GLACIER'S ARE VANISHING... EXCUSE ME, BUT THAT'S THE WATER FOR MOST OF ASIA..." I went on-line this morning and, as is my wont, brought up the New York Times to check on the overnight news. I got a sock to the jaw! It wasn't the endlessly depressing news about how we violently abuse each other around the world (we're the only species that behaves this way, you know...), but, instead, it was this headline that caught my eye: "CHINESE GLACIER'S RETREAT SIGNALS TROUBLE FOR ASIAN WATER SUPPLY"...

MT EVEREST FROM RONGBUK MONASTERY, TIBET, CHINA... WE HAD THE
GOOD FORTUNE TO BE AMONG THE VERY FIRST OUTSIDERS TO TRAVEL INDEPENDENTLY IN TIBET IN 1988... THE EVEREST GLACIERS IN THIS PHOTO HAVE ALREADY SHRUNK 30% IN RECENT DECADES...

Global warming has always been, in my mind and perhaps yours, in some mental "future file" to be regarded seriously... but not quite yet. Sure, there's a drought in California and a drought across much of South Africa right now, but, hey, droughts come and go, right? Suddenly, with an apocalyptic feel, the global warming / climate change news feels like an ever-tightening noose... Not only are China's glaciers melting by the hour, but the Tibetan permafrost on which villages, towns and cities - and the Chinese-Tibetan railway line - depend are being destabilized. Counterintuitively, torrential downpours and floods are creating havoc in China; 62 % of Chinese cities experienced flooding between 2008 and 2010. You may wish to re-read that last sentence...

Those melting Chinese glaciers are, of course, the source of all the great life-giving rivers of Asia: the Mekong, the Yangtze, the Irriwaddy, the Ganges,the Bramaputra, the Yellow and the Salween. Fellow human beings, we are right now as I write, up to our eyeballs in the fallout from global warming. Future shock... is now.

We think there's nothing we individually can do, but that's not quite the case. How we transport ourselves is significant X 6,500,000,000 people (I get on airplanes, regularly, and am guilty as sin of that pollution offense, but at least I work at home, so I'm not a commuter polluter). We bundle up in warm clothes during our South African winters (June, July, August), but on the coldest days we have a fire in our antique French wood heater. We burn dried hardwood, at least. The Americans largely have central heating - a huge consumer of energy  - and the resultant power plant emissions. We need more solar power and wind turbines - now! Meat takes a staggering amount of water per kilo produced. At our house we eat less each year with more chicken and less beef, the worst offender. Long story, short, we're going to have to reduce our pollution "footprints" drastically.

In Beijing, the Chinese have just declared the first-ever Stage Five pollution alert. Schools are closed, kids are cooped up in their apartments wearing face-masks and traffic and businesses are at a near standstill. Apocalypse Now could hardly be a more appropriate tag line for the global warming drama - that heretofore always seemed to be deferable to the future... The "kick-the-can" down the road game is over, forever...

Best regards, but not "Warm regards",

Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... December 1, 2015 "THE PARIS CLIMATE CHANGE SUMMIT: IF ONLY THE WEALTHY, DEVELOPED WORLD BUYS IN, THEY (AND ALL OF US) ARE DOOMED..." I'm just returned from Los Angeles...and California. The air, finally, is greatly improved as millions of automobiles get more fuel efficient engines and catalytic converters sponge up the exhaust emissions. Plus solar panels are starting to put a real dent in dirty coal-fired electric plants. Hallelujah! There's just one problem. California is the world's seventh richest economy and it's taken them, with all the technological prowess they could muster, decades to deal with their own pollution... What about the rest of the world?

I LIVED FOR TWO YEARS IN RURAL BURKINA FASO WHEN I WAS JUST BEGINNING
MY ADULT LIFE. WHAT I SAW, AND ABSORBED, CHANGED MY LIFE FOREVER...
 AN AMERICAN BY BIRTH, I STILL LIVE IN AFRICA, WITH MY WIFE, ALL THESE YEARS LATER.
HERE YOU CAN SMELL AND TASTE... CLIMATE CHANGE.

Several decades ago in the 1970's, I had my first taste of serious poverty in northern Burkina Faso, where I worked with my wife, Terri, in a village so remote the kids burst into tears and ran away when they saw us for the first time; they'd never seen white people before (maybe just as well!). These archived photos are of a life that still holds hundreds of millions of people in its hot, thirsty grip. My guess is that as the Sahara Desert relentlessly moves South, the small village of Sebba, where we resided, is probably abandoned or close to it.

The great Climate Change Summit in Paris this week will undoubtedly focus on the world's powerful, developed nations. And rightfully so. They generate most of the world's pollution, with China at the head of the list. But for all the disenfranchised poor on this planet, the climate change crisis affects their lives way of of proportion to their pollution sins of commission (think deforestation). They, like these residents of the Sahel, including the stateless Taureg in the centre photo, are not able, litterly, to survive when crops won't grow and life-giving water is a witches brew of disease - or simply not available.

There is a school of thought that the ghastly Middle East ructions, including Syria, and the stampede of refugees into Europe is at its core - also about climate change. Societies have very little wiggle room when their populations can't feed themselves. Anarchy, first slowly and then with increasing velocity, undermines civilized behaviour; the struggle for scarce resources turns violent. The strong take from the weak. I dunno, but if at the end of this Climate Change Summit, there are no acknowledgments - and serious wealth transfer from the rich to the poor - I'll be very suspicious that any curtailment of climate change is in the works. None whatsoever. And I'll wager that our ever-increasing global instability will only accelerate. What do you think will happen?

Regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... November 23, 2015 "SAVING RHINOS IN ZOOS SUCKS... EXCUSE ME, I LIVE IN AFRICA AND HAVE SPENT MANY HOURS PHOTOGRAPHING RHINOS INTIMATELY... IN THE WILD. THERE'S A BIG DIFFERENCE, I CAN TELL YOU..." Zoos lost me a long time ago. Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo for years had their elephants standing on concrete floors - with recurring foot problems. Duh! This past week the renowned San Diego Safari Park Zoo (at Escondido, California) has had to put down Nola, the last Northern Black Rhino in North America (??), aged 41, and suffering from problems of old age. Here's the New York Times front page photo (below, centre):
To ease your discomfort at Nola's "natural" enclosure and the depressed look on the poor creature's face, I've made a collage of wild rhinos I've photographed. Above are two Black Rhinos in Namibia's Etosha Nat'l Park coming for
an evening drink - and a horn cross and White Rhinos in South Africa's Kruger Nat'l Park.
 Good grief! South Africa has 75% of the world's remaining Rhino population. In Kruger Park, there are about 9,000 White Rhinos and 2,000 Black Rhinos - in the wild. I was in the park photographing for eight days this past September and couldn't help but be aware of the massive war being waged to stamp out poaching (If you're a rhino poacher, I hope you burn in Hell. If you buy Rhino horn for any reason, I hope you burn in Hell, too.) Armed rangers with radios and automatic weapons are patrolling the Kruger bush night and day. Camera drones patrol the skies watching for poachers. Military units are deployed. Perhaps most significantly, rhinos are being relocated from areas of vulnerability (think the Mozambique border) to unnamed interior areas of the park where they are protectable. A few hundred animals are being moved out of the park to places like Botswana where poaching is low-level and also to disperse the populations. Poaching numbers are starting to fall. Poachers are often shot dead if they are armed... Remember, this is a war. And South Africa has no intention of losing...

But back to the zoo problem...
Most zoos need revenue and an endangered specie looks mighty good as a gate draw. But the zoo setting completely distorts what "wild" is all about. I couldn't believe my eyes watching the NYTimes San Diego Zoo video of poor, old Nola. "Keepers" were petting her and talking to her like she was  the family dog or cat! You try that behaviour with Africa's wild rhinos and you'll get run over by an express train! And that's the point. Wildlife is wild. Any attempts to "save" these beautiful creatures by cooping them up in zoos is completely missing the point. Give your conservation donations to Save The Rhino, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund or numerous other organizations that protect wild life in wild places - and you are committing to save our precious wildlife heritage sur place - and not in some zoo claiming to save endangered species. I, for one, don't buy it...
Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... November 10, 2015 "ARE YOU BORED, RESTLESS AND WONDERING WHY LIFE IS SO, WELL, TAME? HERE'S A 'HOT TIP': SCOOT YOUR BUTT DOWN TO SOUTH AFRICA. THE CURRENCY IS UNBELIEVABLY CHEAP RIGHT NOW. AND WHAT YOU SEE WILL LIGHT UP YOUR LIFE - I GUARANTEE IT!" I'm no shill for the travel industry. In fact, because I write about travel professionally, I'm careful never to accept freebies or do commercial promotions of any kind. I only hand out my business cards if there are no conflicts - whatsoever.  SAPHOTOSAFARI isn't about travel destination "notches" in your belt, "bucket lists" or anything like that. It's about diving headlong into our amazing diversity of people and scenery, worldwide. It's available to experience and shape lives, like yours and mine, peacefully and for the enrichment of us all. I take up this challenge - through travel photography. I take my 'marching orders' very seriously - and then proceed to have a helluva lot of fun rummaging around on this beautiful planet...

SOUTH AFRICA, MY HOME BASE, IS A PARADISE FOR TRAVELLERS.
THE VARIETY OF LANDSCAPES, THE WARMTH AND BEAUTY OF THE PEOPLE, THE WILD LIFE
AND WILD PLACES  ARE ALL HUGELY DISCOUNTED - RIGHT NOW - WITH THE DIRT CHEAP RAND...
DON'T BLAME ME, IF YOU CHOOSE TO PASS UP THIS GOLDEN TRAVEL OPPORTUNITY...

Here's the deal. Southern Africa is safe for independent travellers; I know, I travel here continually. There are reasonable overland tours to join - or rent a car and drive yourself. The highways are world-class (with spotless petrol rest stops and restrooms!). You'll be dazzled by the friendly locals (black, white, brown or green), their cheerful helpfulness and generous smiles. The famous wildlife parks are superbly run and easy for do-it-your-selfers, whether you're camping or staying in dreamy thatched rondavals. The restaurants have huge variety and the supermarkets are stunningly stocked with all your favourite goodies, including halal and vegan menus. All at half the costs of just a few years ago - when commodity prices were flying high - and so was the South African 'Rand'...

Here's the clincher. You'll get to witness - first-hand - how far South Africans and their neighbours have travelled since the bad old days of Apartheid. There's a prosperous black middle-class. Politics? Of course! We talk politics all the time here across skin colour, religion or economic station. Talk about anything you like - no police are going to knock on your door here: it's a free, democratic country. And proud of it! Of course, you're welcome to add your voice to the conversation.You'll return home thinking this is how life was meant to be lived. Sure, it's imperfect with all SA's remaining poverty, but millions of good people are hard at work, one conversation at a time trying to build decent lives for all. You SA holiday will feel meaningful, I promise.

P-s-s-t! Don't forget to sample SA's lovely, inexpensive wines while you're relaxing after another fun day of discovering an Africa you never imagined. (Wait-a-minute, I think I just wrote a travel promotion piece. Sorry, but it had to be said...)

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... November 2, 2015 "I HAVE ONE SMALL FAVOUR TO ASK ALL YOU WORLD TRAVELLERS OUT THERE... UH, PLEASE KEEP YOUR CLOTHES ON..." I'm finally back from our month-long trip to the USA West. One of the first things I noticed here is that South Africans, both men and women, generally dress pretty conservatively. It's neither good or bad (I'm personally open-minded...), but part of travel, for those of us who are serious about it and travel relentlessly like this odd duck, is the tacit acknowledgement that we are guests in other people's cultures - and need to intrude as lightly as possible...
A few summers ago, I was in British Columbia and through sheer luck happened to be witnessing a
Tla' Amin First Nation (Native Canadian) traditional ceremony. I was the only white guy present as a traditional (right side of photo)) drummer welcomed outside visitors to his village. Those spectacular ocean-going canoes are still in ceremonial use and I was nearly hyper-ventilating at what I was seeing. Suddenly, out of nowhere, came a leaping white woman with bra-top and camera - and short shorts... Yikes. I was horrified, so how do you think my First Nation hosts must have felt?
As I've just witnessed, again, on our long, long return flight, the whole world seems to be on airplanes zipping about the globe to the most far-flung destinations - the more exotic, the better! I've just gotten off such a plane myself in the last few days, returning to one of those very exotic locations - South Africa, my home. All those skimpily-dressed Californians (I'm a photographer and they are beautiful!) would make many Africans anywhere on the continent ill-at-ease - in rural and even urban places. Africans generally dress very modestly. This nice Zulu lady, with the pineapples, we met on a back road in Kwa-Zula Natal Province. She is eager to have a chat with you - or share a smile if the language hurdle is too great - but, please, put her at ease - and yourself - and dress appropriately. There are plenty of gorgeous beaches and resorts in SA and elsewhere where you can dress down  as you please...

In a funny way in 2015, travellers are on the front lines of world diplomacy. I'm serious. Those casual chats you have with Chinese or Chileans or Turks or Zambians or Dutch are critical to our mutual interest in getting along with each on this jam-packed, fraught planet. Governments can't seem to do dip for world peace, so do your small part - for all of us. Acceptable personal comportment is a pretty simple gesture - for the privilege of rubbing shoulders with our disparate brothers and sisters - all over creation. And by the way, those pineapples were unbelievably sweet and juicy. But it's her warm smile that I fondly remember...
Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA, USA... October 20, 2015 "CALIFORNIA'S GIANT SEQUOIA TREES: THE LARGEST (AND NEARLY THE OLDEST AT 2,000 YEARS) LIVING THINGS ON EARTH..." Every so often, in a long life of adventure travel, I'm bowled over, knocked out and left a little dizzy - with a shiver running down my spine. It happened again, here in Sequoia, just yesterday...
DEEP IN CALIFORNIA'S SIERRA NEVADA MOUNTAINS RESIDE THE LARGEST LIVING THINGS ON EARTH - THE GIANT SEQUOIA TREES. WE WERE AWESTRUCK...


Admit it, we live in a cynical time where the natural world takes a back seat to the latest smartphones or drone camera gizmos. We are urbanized and somehow 'nature" sounds s-o-o-o 20th Century. Let me tell you, we proceed without nature at our peril. Our human history of the last 1,000,000 years is inextricably bound up with our natural surroundings. It's only in the last few decades that we human beings have decided that our place at the head of the table trumps processes that have evolved over millenia...Yesterday, as Lynn and I innocently hiked into a grove of the largest, nearly oldest living things on earth (California Redwoods are a few years older), we were humbled, put in our place and chastened for our hubris... In short, we were awestruck.

I imagined that there would be a dozen or so Sequoias, but their are hundreds. Our long day of driving to see them was complicated by the remnants of a huge drought-breaking storm that dumped 100 mm's of rain - and some early winter snow - on the Sierra mountains. The higher our serpentine road snaked into the mountains, the more mist and fog enveloped our car. I imagined the tops of the Sequoias would be wreathed in fog. I really couldn't imagine getting photographs to share with my valued viewers on SAPHOTOSAFARI.

We parked our car and started the 2 kilometre trail down to the Sherman Sequoia grove in dank, gray weather. Suddenly, without warning, there they were, the largest living things on earth. I was thunderstruck! We wandered around in the grove quietly chatting with Americans and a sprinkling of overseas visitors. All had the same simple reaction: they, too, were humbled. We spoke in muted voices. I was quietly snapping photographs when the sun, obscured for days, abruptly, brilliantly, illuminated the ancient forest giants... A small group of international students fron Italy, Spain, France and Germany formed a human chain around part of one of the Sequoias - and took turns racing from their single tripod - to be included in a photo memory with their mates. I clicked away...

Eventually, we trudged back up the trail to our car and slowly wound down the twisting road out of Sequoia National Park. And then a funny thing happened. We booked into a small inn, just outside the park. Implicitly, we knew what we needed to do... Early this morning we retraced our steps to see the Sequoia behemoths one more time. Once more, we stared in wonder.

Tomorrow morning, we leave Sequoia. We do so with a diminished sense of our own importance. And a chastened, renewed commitment to see ourselves for what we are: a minor note in the greater scheme of things,  with only a slim chance to survive the shambles we have made of our planet home. The Sequoia monarchs, truly, have  put us in our place... and they will still be solemnly standing guard in the lofty Sierra Nevada Mountains - when our brief presence here on earth is just a  flashcard memory...

Best regards,

Eric

LETTER FROM USA: LOS ANGELES... OCTOBER 7, 2015 "LIVING AND DYING IN L.A." OR "STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS"...TAKE YOUR PICK.  Our USA West rolling revue finds my wife and I ensconced in Los Angeles for a week's stay. It's as schizoid as ever, but maybe that's the whole point, the enduring truth about L.A. It's where immigrants from all over the world come to match their talents and energy and business skills with the best & brightest. It's not pretty (although some areas are wealthy and stunning - like Beverly Hills and Malibu), but it's edgy, often fun and pushes adrenaline like no place else on earth!

POSTCARD FROM L.A.: PUMPING OIL WELLS, CAR CRASH LAWYERS, WORLD CLASS ART, CUTE TEENAGERS, ENDLESS JETS (HERE, A QANTAS A380 LANDING FROM AUSTRALIA), TRAFFIC - LOTS AND LOTS OF TRAFFIC... AND A LAW TO ALLOW THE TERMINALLY ILL TO END THEIR LIVES SIGNED BY GOVERNOR BROWN. DID I MENTION ALL THESE PIX WERE SHOT ON ONE DAY?
Somehow, this ugly, beautiful, optimistic, hubristic city of angels (and plenty of unsavory types) hurtles along. M-O-N-E-Y is on everybody's mind. And, by god, if you work your tail off and have a  new idea you may get stinking rich in no time at all. Look at the local Kardashian family! Their preening, the bad taste, the family feuds - plus Caitlin Jenner - somehow these Persians understand celebrity and what you do to get your photo on  the magazine covers. Now they're rich... But are they happy? I haven't heard that word mentioned in our brief stay, but one well-dressed African  American woman sitting next to us in a restaurant said people don't talk to strangers because they're - afraid (all those millions of handguns loose in America do have a huge impact on society).

Yesterday, we spent much of a beautiful clear, sunshiny day at the Getty Museum. Say what? Yes, a museum, but one that's unimaginably fun, loose, sophisticated - and, best of all, FREE! J. Paul Getty, an L.A. oil billionaire, left a billion or so to fund this irresistible civic treasure. Located near Malibu on a mountain top with hundreds of unsullied acres surrounding it, visitors,-  rich or poor, of all colours and religions, from all over the world, wander about in a state of dreamy pleasure. An electric tram winds up to the car-free mountain top to deliver visitors to the stunning grounds with sweeping views to downtown sky scrapers, manicured gardens and lawns and the distant Pacific Ocean beaches stretching to the horizon. Even if you're just off the airplane from China or Bulgaria or South Africa (us!) you're given special treatment by the knowledgeable, friendly staff. You get to stand in front of Van Gogh's, Picassos and Monets even if you're the African American nursing mother that I talked to on a tight budget - or part of a public high school class. The cafes and restaurants are mostly affordable, the gift shops ( even for kids!) , are priced humanely and the spectacular grounds invite you to linger, drinking in the views previously reserved for billionaire J. Paul Getty - for free.

In short, it's what people all over the world still imagine the United States of America to be: democratic, bold and beautiful, endlessly reshaping itself and open to all without prejudice. Is that an illusion? Of course. But for a day L.A. delivers on the promise that for 250 years has prompted driven, passionate people to abandon their lives in every nook and cranny of the world for a chance - just a chance! - to live the American dream...
Best regards,
Eric



LETTER FROM THE USA... Sept. 27, 2015 "WHY SEATTLE IS THE WORLD'S HOTTEST (AND COOLEST) TECH HUB ON EARTH..." This week, I'm back in the city where I went to graduate school (University of Washington) and lived for twenty years of my life. It's a shocker: Everything has changed.
And  tech wealth has driven most of the stunning new skyscrapers and handsome civic improvements.  This is the city where Boeing u
shered in the age of jet travel. Then Bill Gates and Paul Allen pioneered computer software - and Microsoft was born. Amazon, Starbucks, Costco (a mamouth grocery retailer across the U.S.) and a host of other tech based companies sprang to life here as well. Having been away living in South Africa for fifteen years, I couldn't help but ask the obvious question: Why Seattle?


THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON CAMPUS THIS WEEK, JUST BEFORE AUTUMN CLASSES
- AND THE NEW ACADEMIC YEAR BEGIN. A CHINESE COUPLE ON HOLIDAY HAVE FUN POSING WITH THEIR SELFIE STICK... 35,000 TOP-RANKED STUDENTS WILL JAM THESE CORRIDORS OF LEARNING - IN JUST TEN MORE DAYS...

Very interesting question with a one-word answer: synergy. Seattle says "Yes" to skilled, highly motivated immigrants, people from everywhere in the world with the "drive" gene. Seattle doesn't care if you're Indian, Chilean, Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese or Korean or Turkish. If you've got the "oomph"  and the "candle power" (brains), these hot shot corporations want you. Google, also, is here along with all the other heavyweights.

Which brings us back to the University of Washington. Gates and Allen (Microsoft) and other wealthy tech moguls have poured major millions in this university. The salaries and the reputation bring the best professors - and the best students jostle to get into engineering and computer science fields. Scholarships are generous (my nephew had a full scholarship in the UW Computer Science Dept, paid for by Paul Allen. Now he's back as a Phi Beta Kappa - to earn his PhD...) But it gets better. These same tech companies hire the U. of Washington graduates. Few students can resist the career enticements of challenging work,hefty salaries and bonuses.

But what really grabbed my attention was non-academic. The city is buzzy with people from all over the planet. Frankly, it's exactly what you'd expect. This synergy doesn't care about your race or religion or how much or how little your parents made. It's all about what you can add to the equation. If you're smart and ambitious and hard-working, you'll love Seattle with its ethnic restaurants and gorgeous scenery and cultural life. But with this caveat: if you're hoping to slip in under the radar, poorly-prepared academically, with a mediocre work ethic and limited life zeal, avoid Seattle like  the plague. It's expensive. Traffic is messy and it's often cloudy and wet... When I read about the anti-immigrant crowd in the U.S., it's often closely linked with Americans who are seeing their middle class perches come unstuck - owing to outdated work skills, poor attitudes and prejudices - and indifferent educations. No, Seattle in 2015 is for people who are hungry to succeed - and willing to work for it!

Best regards,

Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... September 20, 2015 "GOPRO - OR NO... ONE HUMBLE PHOTOGRAPHER'S THOUGHTS ON THE VIDEO SENSATION." We inhabit a world in which the new nearly always receives rapturous applause, until its fifteen seconds are up. Then thud... down it comes. I'm still trying to think of a good reason to curl up on our living room couch and open, excuse me "switch on", my Kindle which I bought a few years back. To tell you the truth, when I'm in the mood to read a book - I want to hold a book. I'm, apparently, not alone. Kindle sales are slumping and physical books are making a NICE comeback...

ON A RECENT MOKORO (DUGOUT CANOE) SAFARI INTO  BOTSWANA'S OKAVANGO DELTA,
I NOTED GOPRO'S ARE IN USE - EVEN IN DARKEST AFRICA THESE DAYS. GREAT! SORRY, BUT I'M NOT A GOPRO KINDA GUY... I SHOOT SINGLE PHOTOS TO CAPTURE REALITY... FOR ONE BRIEF HEARTBEAT.
(Top left: GOPRO practioner; otherwise, SAPHOTOSAFARI. I just realized I'm often taking pictures... of other people taking pictures. Pretty weird, huh?)

GOPRO's are wildly popular. If you've stood goggle-eyed outside any outdoor equipment store on the planet recently, you've watched the videos of kayaks plunging over waterfalls, skiers hurtling down treacherous mountain snow chutes, etc. You pump adrenalin just spectating, at least I do. So why don't I rush out and buy one? Good question.  Several years back, I peeled off a staggering $2500 (ouch!) to buy a high-end SONY videocam. I dashed out and began making little travel stories, edited them, watched them once - and into the drawer they went...

I shoot a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera or "reflux" as I'm prone to comment when I'm unhappy with my photo efforts. Shooting one picture at a time is very demanding if you are passionate about photography. Many, many of the pictures I shoot exist for a tiny, brief  window. An attractive woman's fleeting smile, that bull hippo erupting out of foaming water with jaws flung open, the split second as dawn breaks over primeval Africa, as it did for me at SA's Kruger Park last week. I enjoy photography, I need photography, because to be good at it pushes me to my limits of concentration, technical skill, ambition, reaction speed, assertiveness, composition ability and here's the unlikely kicker: I hone my social skills every time I approach  a total stranger and size up a picture while smiling at, teasing and/or relaxing my potential subject. I'm a documentary photographer and people - all over the world - are a prime component in picture-taking as I practice it.

My happiest moments are distilling a story, a personality, a newsworthy moment, a sense of place into a single picture. When that happens, I know it and a shiver still runs down my spine. When the legions of GOPRO fans switch on their videos (even underwater!), it's amazing, often pulse-pumping, but it's not creative as the I understand my particular, peculiar calling in life... I'm a still photographer, one-bloody -single-shot-at-a-time... and proud to be one!


Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... SEPTEMBER 15, 2015 "H-M-M-M, THE MORE I TRAVEL, THE MORE I NEED A HOME ..." As a travel photographer /writer, I absolutely adore exploring, discovering and re-discovering our beautiful, conflicted planet, filled with mighty mysteries aplenty still to sift through, human diversity for which I can only scratch the surface in a single lifetime and all the uncertainties that propel my curiosity. Excuse me, but that's adventure travel, not swanky cruise ship outings, that I still require after these numerous decades of backroad, developing world peregrinations. This recent trip into Kruger, on my own, ended with a torrential bucketing of rain (80mm overnight!). I found myself all alone along the puddled and muddy, untarred road to deserted Crooks Corner - the most remote place in Kruger - staring across the confluence of two rivers into Zimbabwe and Mozambique. You'll see the crocodile photos up Thursday, but the snorting, grunting hippos were cleverly disguised behind the shrubbery. OK I'm crazy, but not so stupid as to wander into the soaking bush in lion country - just to snap a photo of  a bad-tempered hippo family... When I finally pitched up onto a tar road, somehow the zebras and nyalas seemed - almost tame. I was reminded again that even wilderness is relative...

SOUTH AFRICA'S BIRDLIFE IS FANTASTIC...
THESE BIRDS WERE PHOTOGRAPHED AT MY HOME, IN OUR BACKYARD GARDEN...

In recent months, in support of SAPHOTOSAFARI, I've travelled into Turkey and Greece for a month and, yes, saw the refugee crisis with my own eyes. I've been in Namibia's diamond mining desert ghost town, Kolmanskop and remote Luderitz. At the beginning of this month I was photographing Spring wildflowers in South Africa's Northern Cape Province, then last week for eight days, Kruger Park. Next Monday, my wife and I are off on a month-long winger to the United States West followed, hopefully, with a visit to an unnamed central American country (I'll wait until the chickens are hatched before I count 'em!) With travel I do what all of us need to do in our lives: I test my endurance, my compassion and, in my case, my ability to take pictures under adverse conditions. I explore my ability to meet people about whom I know little or nothing - and leave having learned about their lives and they, mine. On parting, I always have the same deep emotion - I'm a richer, better, gentler life for having made their acquaintance. I need that - or my life doesn't ring true.

So why do these colourful birds in my backyard matter when I have the extreme blessings to regularly probe our far-flung world? Simple. I can't do my travel adventures without a home base. I need familiar surroundings, the smiles of people I know, the giggle of neighbour kids, the local South African weather, food, blazing bio-diversity, the unscripted politics, the local religions (yes, including Islam). Hell, I may even need the racism I battle against, just as Cervantes needed to tilt against his windmills. In a word, I need home.  Don't we all... When we are secure and safe, we can spread our wings, as children or adults, and find out who we are and make our contributions, large or small, to crafting a better world. Without "home", we flounder in life, rudderless and confused, our brief stay on this planet... diminished.  Please say a prayer for those homeless, star-crossed Middle Eastern refugees and their beautiful children... How can life be so cruel?

Best regards,

Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... September 5, 2015  " KRUGER: A LONG-OVERDUE 'QUIET REVOLUTION' AT THE WORLD'S "GOLD STANDARD" WILDLIFE PARK" I'm wrapping up a stunning week of photographing in South Africa's iconic Kruger Nat'l Park. I've seen park management all over the world and Kruger is the gold standard. The staff, the infrastructure, the untouched natural settings that are so huge it takes days to travel from the park's bottom to the top - are all top notch. In between those boundaries, I've been running on adrenalin with new photography ops practically around every bend in the road: a giraffe with acrobatic twins, four (4) male lions trying to sleep off the "hangover" of over-eating (again), billowing clouds of dust as 500 Cape Buffalo stampede to a water hole, a "tusker" elephant stepping out of  thick mopane hardwood forest just as my car inched by this morning - with nobody else around for kilometres. I'll carry these memories through the rest of my life (and I'll be posting some choice shots within in a day or two after I return by plane to Cape Town tomorrow).

HIPPOS QUARREL AT LOWER SABIE IN SOUTH AFRICA'S KRUGER NAT'L PARK

But there's another tectonic event with historic implications going on under most park visitors' radar. To explain that I need to briefly return to the bleak days of South Africa's shameful Apartheid past, now twenty-one years in the rear view mirror. Prior to 1994 no Blacks were allowed into Kruger; it was the favourite redoubt of Whites: safe, exotic, inexpensive and very comfortable with lovely rondaval rest camps, swimming pools and comfortable evenings spent braaing steaks on the grill. The park's infrastructure and management were of a very high standard. From the Whites point of view, even after democracy arrived, it seemed silly to spoil a good thing - and the White park officials didn't do much torock the boat. Our first several visits to Kruger were all-white affairs...

Several years ago the new Black Superinterndent of Kruger, Dr. David Mabunda, made a press statement that floored me. He stated flatly that South Africa was in grave danger of losing Kruger (and other stunning reserves) unless South African Blacks began visiting and claiming ownership of these stirling wilderness redoubts. The reason was simple: Kruger's White visitors were ever more elderly, diminished in numbers and increasingly unable to provide political support for conservation and the park(s).Let's face it, wildlife parks are political in the final analysis, just like so much of the rest of life. If SA's 90% Black population could see no benefit in conservation, Kruger would be toast.

Fast forward to 2015. I'm thunderstruck to see busloads of African school kids coming into the park daily to get their first peek at wild animals and the natural beauty of their unspoiled habitats. They visit first-rate education centres at several of the park's rest camps, with hands-on encounters with massive ivory tusks from deceased elephant giants of the park's past. They learn why rhino poaching is a scourge on their country's reputation. Ecology and lots more. I watched. The kids are enchanted and why not?. I saw a school bus stopped for those 500 Cape Buffalo cantering to a waterhole! You don't have to "sell" Kruger, you merely have to introduce a new generation to its wonders. At almost every stop I've chatted with young Black couples and families who are on their first visits to a wild place. A handsome Black engineer told me he'd been on one of those early school visits and was bringing his young wife with him - on their honeymoon! An older Black man told me an hour ago that he was a Kruger Park Honorary Ranger. Does that sound a trifle lightweight? It's not.He visits the park regularly and returns to his home outside Kruger with a message for his community about the importance - and the pleasure -of wildlife conservation. He is a park stakeholder -a key concept begun in South Africa to see that jobs and responsibility for park welfare is vested in the people living around these sanctuaries.

Kruger is now well along on its transformation from being a bastion of White privilege - to being a source of deep pride for all South Africans. I suppose the stunning wildlife here won't notice the difference, but unborn future generations of people and animals certainly will: Kruger Nat'l Park now, expectantly, really is forever.

It's the middle of the dry season here at Punda Maria, Kruger's exquisite traditional rest camp and it's northernmost facility up toward Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It should be hot; instead it's cold and buckets of rain have fallen since yesterday. I'm happy. The wildlife, pressured by skimpy rations for the last month or so, will be delierous with all the new green groceries!

Best regards,

Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... August 31, 2015 "PLEASE STOP YOUR INTERNET SHOPPING AND NET SURFING FOR JUST A BLOODY MOMENT... THERE'S A HUMAN CATASTROPHE UNDERWAY  FOR WHICH WE ALL HOLD OWNERSHIP..."   I guess it's in our human nature to procrastinate, to ignore unpleasant truths as long as possible in the misguided hope that they'll just go away: P-f-f-f-t! The whole messy Middle East debacle - and the unleashed millions of refugees now stumbling across Europe in the beleaguered hope that someone will toss them a 'life preserver' -  is a perfect case in point. It's a Perfect Storm of our collective human neglect. The Austrian lorry stuffed with dead Syrians pushed me and, apparently millions of others across Europe, into a fit of hand-wringing...

I STUMBLED ON THIS SYRIAN REFUGEE FAMILY IN POSH BODRUM, TURKEY
THIS PAST JUNE. THE OUT-SIZED SAILBOATS OF THE RICH , THE EXPENSIVE NIGHT CLUBS, THE STYLISH
 SHOPS, THE ELEGANT WOMEN - WHY IT WAS ALMOST TOO MUCH TO NOTICE THIS TINY FOURSOME, SLOWLY DYING INSIDE, ON BODRUM'S BEAUTIFUL, TREE-LINED WATERFRONT PROMENADE. I STOPPED, MADE SMALL TALK IN FRENCH, ASKED FOR A PHOTO AND LEFT A EURO NOTE TO GET THEM THROUGH THE DAY.
EXCUSE ME, I FELT LIKE THROWING UP..

I need to inject a history note here, since most viewers won't have any understanding of why the modern Middle East is relentlessly in upheaval. There's no mystery, really. It all goes back to the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement signed between the British and French during World War I. The intention was to finish off the Ottoman Empire (allied with the Germans) and then allocate spheres of influence for control after the war.
"Spoils of War" might be an easier term to frame these colonial intentions. WWI ended with the late arrival of the Americans. The spent, exhausted financially and militarily British and French were too weakened to do much more than draw up post-war maps shaping the contemporary Middle East: the Picot-Sykes Agreement. Suddenly, where tribal and Muslim factions had ruled under the Ottomans for centuries, there were new nation-states with names you'll recognize: Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Palastine, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and modern Turkey (The French and British quickly decamped for home).

 But these orphan states had no legitimacy. Their citizens didn't recognize the political leadership foisted on them or the military rulers pushing them around. And, basically, nearly 100 years later, that illegitimacy still stands. It's a human disaster, but Britain and France and the rest of Europe and all of us are not innocents in the travails of millions of helpless, traumatised people colonized, ignored and brutalized by ugly wars and sectarian violence without end. Isn't it a shame, the world community has spent the last 70 years eviscerating the United Nations? Ha-ha, who needs a "world body" to act when everyone else is paralyzed by inertia and self-interest. These Syrians are you and me... if fate had been only a little less kind to us. We, all of us, ignore their pain at our collective peril... Are there any real political leaders left on this wobbly planet who will speak up? Where is the next Nelson Mandela? Those beautiful Syrian girls are not in school along with millions of other Syrian kids. What does it mean to be human, if we have no humanity?

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... August 25, 2015 "STOCK MARKETS HAVE THE SAME PREDICTABILITY AS... VOLCANOES." China's stock market pain seems to know no bounds. Despite frantic, almost loopy, gyrations by the Chinese government, the Shanghai Index continues to shed points like water off a duck's back. The announcement that the government would invest a giant chunk of China's retirement money in shares set off a 'rush to the exits' around the world. South Africa's Rand reached a new all-time low (we export copper, coal, iron, platinum, gold and diamonds, etc., but those commodities aren't so hot in China's diminished economic growth lately). The Rand has bounced back a bit today along with other global emerging market currencies. We're keeping our fingers crossed...

 MY WIFE, LYNN, AND I TAKE A GASPING HIKE WHILE ENJOYING VIEWS OF MAJESTIC VOLCAN COTAPAXI
5897M. (19347 ft. THAT WAS THEN (2013)... AS I WRITE, COTAPAXI IS UNEXPECTEDLY ERUPTING... YOWZA!

Ah, beautiful Cotapaxi! Ecuador's elegant volcano has been "guarding" nearby Quito sleepily for over a hundred years. When we stayed at a backpackers (the Secret Garden Cotapaxi) under the volcano two years ago, business was booming. Climbers were hiring guides and gear to make ascents to the nearly 20,000 ft. summit.  Otherwise guests were free to hike and photograph the breath-taking scenery. Breath-taking, indeed! I could barely sleep with the oxygen deprived atmosphere, but the last thing on my mind was a volcanic eruption. C'mon. Relax! Only a Nervous Nellie would fret over a volcano that's been dormant since 1906...

There's something about our trusting human natures - that global stock markets prey upon. The naivte of many new investors is perfect fodder for "securities analysts" who sell shares and hedge funds, bonds and sub-prime mortgages like they're, well, money in the bank. Since the market was steadily ascending in China and elsewhere since the last great bloodbath in 2008, who could imagine -  with our short-term memories - an abrupt fall-off-a-cliff debacle like the last few days and weeks. The Great Unknown in all this will prove to be the veracity of Chinese government statistics. There's an increasing school of thought that the Chinese economy is in big trouble - which means much of the rest of the world can expect a slippery slope for months - or years - ahead. Five trillion dollars has already been vapourized with plummeting stock markets, so that a lot of consumer stuff  won't be sold. I recommend - beyond hanging onto your seat through this bumpy ride - getting a camera (even a cheap cell phone one) and recording the world in which you live. As Ecuadorians have found out in recent days, change is a certainty. When is the only unknown. I hear Dutch tulips are.. the next Big Thing!

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... August 9, 2015 "GUNS FOR FUN? SURELY YOU'RE JOKING..." As a boy growing up in America, I owned guns and loved to hunt small game, ducks and the odd Whitetail deer in Wisconsin. Most of the boys in the small city where I lived did the same. But if we plugged a pheasant, we took it home and the family carved it up for supper. I never, ever had any fantasies about packing a handgun (I've never owned one and haven't hunted for decades). But times have changed. There are now 350,000,000 handguns loose in the United States and the staggering human suffering just keeps spiraling upward: 30,000 fatalities a year and 250,000 wounded but survive (often in wheelchairs with their lives ruined)...
GUNS ARE READILY AVAILABLE IN THE U.S. SHOOTING AN AUTOMATIC WEAPON - FOR FUN -
IS BIG BUSINESS IN LAS VEGAS... PRESIDENT OBAMA SAYS THAT HIS BIGGEST FRUSTRATION IN OFFICE
HAS BEEN HIS INABILITY TO REIN IN THE GUN CRAZE... FEW POLITICIANS HAVE TO THE COURAGE TO TAKE ON THE GUN LOBBY.

It's not like this in South Africa - or any other country - to my knowledge. Here 55 police officers have been shot dead so far in 2015 (not all in the line of duty). But nobody argues that this is acceptable. If you're caught with a handgun, you are going to have a chance to explain your transgression to a judge - and likely face stiff fines and even jail time. The presumption is that your weapon is intended for criminal use... Confiscated guns and automatic weapons still rattling around from the Apartheid era - 21 years ago - are melted down and cast into oversize statues of our beloved Nelson Mandela!

At the root of this handgun issue is an enormous misunderstanding of "freedom" in a democracy. Sure, we all want to be free, but to accomplish that takes an enormous amount of restraint, self-discipline, compromise and the giving up of certain individual liberties for the sake of a greater, safer, healthier society. The reason every other country on earth restricts handguns seems apparent to me. Why one country disagrees - at a staggering human cost  - is a mystery to me. A famous American car bumper sticker reads: "The West Wasn't Won With A Registered Gun." True enough. Except that the "winning" of the American West ended over a hundred years ago... And I have a gut instinct that tells me that the U.S. police might not be so trigger-happy, if they weren't terrified that every citizen "incident" might lead to a police officer being shot - dead.

Best Regards,

Eric

P.S. There are millions of licensed, rifle-toting hunters in America. I have no beef with them...
P.P.S. Moments after I finished writing this "Letter", the BBC reported that 8(!) people had just been shot dead in Texas in some kind of family dispute. Next, gunfire has erupted in Ferguson, Missouri at a ceremony commemorating last year's police shooting of a black man... If you saw these bloody shooting statistics from any other country in the world you would instantly know a war was going on. Maybe the USA is at "war" - with itself...

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... August 3, 2015 "I LIVE IN AFRICA. HERE A TINY GIFT OF FOOD CAN MAKE SOMEONE'S DAY... AND A SIMPLE SMILE CAN BRING TEARS... TO MY EYES. I've never met the man in this photo, but I know him well. He has next to nothing. His most important assets are his survivial skills. He's kind and gentle as almost all Africans are and he carries his burden of poverty with grace and acceptance and an easy smile. I was travelling down the Orange River border between Namibia and South Africa a few weeks back on a dirt road and hadn't see a soul for 45 minutes. And then there he was, calmly waiting with his firewood parcel for me to pass... Instead, I stopped.

I'M TRAVELLING A DIRT ROAD IN NAMIBIA. THAT'S SOUTH AFRICA ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE
ORANGE RIVER. YOU CAN WADE ACROSS.  THERE'S NO ONE AROUND FOR DOZENS OF KILOMETRES. THAT APPLE MAY BE
 THE FIRST FRESH FRUIT THIS MAN HAS SEEN IN WEEKS... OR MONTHS.

I stopped and handed over an apple I had sitting on the car seat. I live in a small South African "dorp", or pint-sized town, surrounded by hundreds of hectares of some of the finest fruit orchards on earth: apples, pears, peaches, lemons, nectarines, apricots, pomegranates - the bounty is spectacular. And yet my friend here doesn't get any of it. In a nutshell, that's the problem Europe, South Africa, America, almost anywhere prosperous, have got to wrestle with: millions of normal people, like my roadside acquaintance, refuse to accept their impoverished fate , serial wars and mal-distribution of goods and services, hapless education systems, what-have-you.

My wife and I aren't do-gooders. OK, I lied, we are... But it's pretty obvious after living in some of the poorest countries in the world for decades,  that pushing some of our blessings down the food chain makes sense morally - and it's good business sense, too. The British and French are whacking immigrants, as I write, who are trying to storm the Euro-tunnel and get to their imagined promised land - Britain. Face it, there's no end in sight to this torrent of  humanity now on the march, desperately praying for a better life for themselves and their children. 2,000 have drowned in the Mediterranean this year already. Hundreds of thousands more have arrived in Europe to - an unwelcome. I dunno. It seems to me we need a Marshall Plan for Battling Poverty. Big time. Wealthy nation-states and individuals need to see that it's in their own interest to shelter, feed and educate everyone - or face dangerous waves of displaced humans - who refuse to accept their dismal fate. The cost will be huge, but consider the alternatives.

My Namibian friend above doesn't ask for much. But acknowledging his dignity with a simple smile and an spare apple is a good place to start. After all, it could be me standing there with my firewood bundle - as he sped away in cushy Sport Utility comfort. Our middle-class imagined "entitlements" in life only come with a 24 hour warranty these days. No one can predict what the furure holds. No one. I have to confess, I left my Nambian wood-gatherer with a tear in my eye. How can life be so cruel?

Best regards,
Eric
 

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... July 27, 2015 "THE SIMPLE PLEASURE OF BEING CRAMMED INTO THE ECONOMY SECTION OF A LONG-HAUL PLANE FLIGHT..." If you're going to see the world the way I like to, you're going to have to submit to hours and hours, days sometimes, of suspended animation 12,000 metres up in the ozone layer. Sure the international flights have free food and drinks, spectacular entertainment systems and the new planes are big and roomy. Still, stifling boredom is the worst enemy as the hours drag on and on... and on.

MY CO-CONSPIRATORS ON A JUNE FLIGHT TO ISTANBUL FROM CAPE TOWN VIA DOHA.
FROM THE LEFT, MY SEATMATE FROM INDONESIA (BUDDHIST), A SOUTH AFRICAN COUPLE (MUSLIM),
A YOUNG INDIAN MEDICAL DOCTOR(L) AND HER SISTER (HINDU) AND BEHIND THE CAMERA,
MR. SAPHOTOSAFARI (NO RELIGION WOULD HAVE ME, SO I'M A LOWLY HUMANIST.)

So what are you gonna do? No one wants to listen to your whinging, particularly about the screaming infant a few seats a head of you- up by the business class partition. Those desirable economy seats have actual leg room, so they go to parents with noisy, unappreciative toddlers... Oh well. Here's what I do: I look for allies.

These people in the photo are my new friends after our once-off chance meeting. Your fellow passengers are almost surely from a different universe than your own. So chit chat! People are eager in this Brave New World we inhabit to learn about other cultures, meet people that are utterly different from themselves, find out what makes people tick, laugh or gasp across all the idiotic boundaries we still construct to keep ourselves - apart. The barriers will collapse right before your eyes. Fellow travellers will share things with you they wouldn't tell their best friends back home. And why not? You'll probably never see each other again... Except that in my case, I take quick pix of my high-altitude acquaintances - and then I do get to enjoy the pleasurable memories again and again - at will...

My fondest memories are always of people who are the most different from loopy Mr. White Guy - me. The Indonesian woman in the photo above had left behind her two small children, a husband and her parents with whom they reside, to work a contract job in the Middle East for a year. She was lonely and hurting and missing her loved ones fiercely. As we made small-talk, I learned that her family are rice farmers - with a paddy and a water buffalo. And they're devout Buddhists (Bali) in an Indosnesia otherwise totally Muslim. She laughed that small Asian giggle that expresses pain - where other cultures might cry openly. I asked, gently, having lived in the rural Philippines for a two-year Peace Corps asssignment, if she even missed her buffalo. Her eyes opened wide: "Yes, I miss my buffalo, too!", she burbled. Pretty soon she dozed off - on my shoulder. It was innocent... and sweet.

You can spend your whole life with people who are almost exactly like you. Or you can clamber aboard  a long-haul airplane (I love the Triple 7's) and find out what's really happening in our upside down world. Who knows? Someday world peace might break out aboard your flight as you discover that we all are... mostly the same.

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... July 17, 2015 "NAMIBIA, AFRICA'S DIAMOND THIEVES AND AN ADVENTURE TRAVEL STORY WORTH THE TELLING!" A couple of weeks ago I tossed my camping kit in our 4X4 and, with my sweet wife on a trip to see family in America, headed out solo for a desert rende-vouz in Namibia. I ended up driving 1200 k's in two punishingly long days, much of it on roads that were untarred. For me it was perfect. (You can see some of the photos around Luderitz, Namibia in this week's SAPHOTOSAFARI Photo Essay, just above this "Letter".) I was up early getting great snaps in the sharp Southern Hemisphere winter light - and quit for the day when the sun settled down to "sleep"... My destination, Luderitz, Namibia, was built on diamonds. Today the industry under the control of state-sanctioned NAMDEB (Namibia De Beers), continues at full-throttle - including off-shore diamond-trawling from large and small purpose-built ships. There's a lot of money at stake to put it mildly.

HERE'S THE VIEW FROM MY REMOTE NAMIBIA DESERT CABIN EARLIER THIS MONTH... AND THE
BULLET-RIDDLED REMAINS OF TWO DIAMOND THIEVES' "GETAWAY" VEHICLE, CIRCA 1940...

One evening toward the end of my outing, I rented a remote back-country cabin. As it happened my only two companions were two out-sized Kudu bulls and a brilliant crescent moon. I fantasize about these adventure travel unscripted surprises, so "content" and "happy" maybe understate my emotions. I unpacked my sleeping bag, set an unlit fire in the cabin fireplace and quickly hiked back to something that had caught my eye a kilometre up the sandy double-track - and 10 k's from a tar road.

An old Packard lay rusting (a lengthy process in the desert) alongside the road. It was generously stitched - with bullet holes. A Namibian Heritage sign, also weathering, explained that the police had caught up with two diamond thieves in the late 1930's at this spot. In those days justice was apparently meted out promptly: the thieves never got out of their car. I soberly walked around the vehicle with my camera clicking... and contemplated my lonely overnight position just down the road. Geez, it really was empty out here. No cell tower, either. I made my supper and passed the evening tossing split logs on the fire. I may even have savoured a small glass of port. I did take one more chilly glance outside to watch the moon explode over the cliff's behind the cabin. The Kudu bulls had given up on me and drifted off elsewhere to feed. I pulled up my sleeping bag - and fell asleep, deep asleep. End of story? Almost, but not quite...

The next morning I bolted a coffee and a roll, put an apple in my fleece jacket pocket and retraced my route to the highway, a patch of it in 4-wheel drive because of the sand. A spiraling plume of dust marked my journey across the scrub desert. Uneventfully, I got to the main tar highway, the B4. Just as I began to relax on the smooth-surfaced roadway a little after 7:00 A.M., I rounded a sharp bend on the outskirts of tiny Aus, Namibia... Whoa!

Blocking the roadway and spread out on the adjacent hillsides were 15 Namibian police. All wore bullet-proof vests and all held automatic weapons at the ready. No one was smiling. I braked to a quick stop in front of the officer-in-charge. He didn't ask for a driver's licence, so I immediately knew we weren't doing a 'safety check'. With trepidation I lowered my window. This is Africa; people always greet each other to first establish a simple rapport - before conducting business. His greeting: "Do you have any rifles in the car?" "No, Sir." His second question: "Do you have any 'stones' (diamonds)?" Again, a bit nervously I mumbled, "No, Sir!"

The officers professionally searched my car. The hillside weapons brigade kept on eye on me. Still, no one threatened me in any way. A few minutes later and I was on my way across the Great Namibian Emptiness - that makes travelling in the country so compelling. Small bands of Oryx looked up to watch me pass, then returned to their main pursuit - extracting a bellyfull of vegetation from the sparse desert... Suddenly, I burst out laughing! It had just occurred to me that seventy-five years after the cops caught up with the diamond thieves in 1938 - nothing had changed. Luderitz diamonds were fabulously valuable then - and still are. And disarmingly tempting to filch - for a fortune. Just don't get caught...

Best Regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... July 10, 2015 "THE POPE IN ECUADOR: 'SAVE THE AMAZON... AND TREAT ITS VULNERABLE PEOPLE... LIKE HUMAN BEINGS.'"  I was photographing in Ecuador 22 months ago and I was, I'm sure like other visitors, knocked out, bowled over by the astonishing diversity of plants and animals - but also people. Andean Indians, Africans (who were brought in as slaves 300 years ago), Castilian Spanish, the majority mestizos (mixed race), but also, although little remarked upon, the dispersed tribal populations of the Amazon Basin. This vast, watery jungle represents a massive 40% of the South American continent. While Brasil gets lambasted by environmental groups for its flawed stewardship of these titanic "lungs of the earth", the other Amazon countries are also furiously exploiting the rich mineral and timber resources in their own slices of the pie. Ecuador has major oil fields in the Amazon.These resource riches strongly buoy up the nation's fragile economy. Settlers farm clear cuts haphazardly, loggers nibble with chain saws around the fringes, narcotrafficantes from Colombia slink about in the shadows. And still the great heart of the Amazon is intact and beating... and preservable. For all of us on the planet who like to breathe...


Ecuador's Amazon is open for Adventure travel these days. I was impressed by the quality and
simplicity of our visit. Our guides were local tribesmen. We slept in simple lodgings and travelled in
motorized canoes, just like the locals. But it's a shock to see what squalor Amazon tribes live in when
you contemplate the stupendous oil wealth that's been created from under their feet. Their reward for stewaredship of the priceless Ecuadorian Amazon: zero.

The rainforest we explored was virgin, dark green, sweating and buzzing with sounds of life: parrots, monkeys, toucans and hundreds of other creatures. Or maybe it was thousands...You could almost hear the hum of vegetation growing in tropical conditions so exquisite, it was like a supreme natural force marched out the rain squalls, then the blasting sun, alternating every few hours - for millions of years. I photographed relentlesly, but I also felt small and irrelevant in these mysterious, overwhelming surroundings.

The deeply impoverished villagers that we visited were gracious, as indigenous people always are everywhere I've travelled across these lengthening decades. But like so many other native peoples in our might-makes-right-world, they get hammered, looted, abused, run over in the greedy stampede for extractable resources. The Pope was right this week to demand justice in an uncaring world. But will anyone listen after waving his jet good-bye to Bolivia. I doubt it.

There is one small ray of hope. In South Africa and increasing numbers of developing countries with national parks and preserves to protect, the seed of a crucial idea is germinating. Make the local inhabitants stakeholders, with a vested interest in preserving their natural surroundings. See that they get proper training for jobs to protect and educate the users of these irreplaceable resources. The health care services, the schools, the clean water, infrastructure, the enforced protection of laws that most urbanites take for granted. These local residents are the front-line allies of our stunning heritage environments. The ones that are vanishing... even as I write. Do it in Ecuador. And do it in your country. These tiny, nearly invisible people... loom large in the future health of our planet. Show some respect... You'll be amazed at the return on your investment... in humanity.

Best regards,
Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... July 2, 2015 "GREECE... THE SKIDS: FATE, MY FRIEND, IS RANDOM. YOUR FINANCIAL HIDING MAY BE JUST AROUND THE CORNER... SO HOW, ACTUALLY, DO YOU PROTECT YOUR FANNY..." Do I know poverty? Excuse me, I live in South Africa, one of the most extreme examples of wealth and poverty on earth. SA is a rich country (It is lousy with diamonds, platinum, gold, iron ore , coal, copper - I'll quit now.) It has a hugely embarrassing Ginnie co-efficient (income disparity ranking) that should make for a massive campaign for wealth distribution, just to assuage the guilt. But that hasn't happened with any alacrity that I can see. Taxes go up and up while the electrictiy flickers on and off, the school system is determinedly mediocre and job creation is anemic. With China, particularly, in the doldrums, the Great Global Commodity Rocket - has settled back to earth - and South Africa's economy with it...

GREECE'S CIVILIZATION DATES BACK AT LEAST TO THE 8TH CENTURY B.C., BUT LIKE
 EGYPT, A FEW THOUSAND YEARS OF ECONOMIC "PRACTICING" IS NO GUARANTEE FOR
PROSPERITY THESE DAYS. WHEN I WAS IN GREECE A FEW WEEKS AGO EVERYTHING
SEEMED NORMAL - EXCEPT THE ATM I VISITED.  IT HAD A HASTILY SCRIBBLED SIGN SAYING
"OUT OF ORDER". H-M-M-M.... LUCKILY, I SCRATCHED TOGETHER ENOUGH EUROS TO PAY FOR
MY ORANGE JUICE!

The world's economies are now so interdependent that when, say, Wall Street "sneezes" - the rest of the world catches a cold - or more accurately, double-lung pneumonia, in the latest god-awful wring out. This leaves all of us extremely vulnerable which leads me to share my own rough & ready recipe for survival: "Do it yourself". My entire adult life, I've been adding "skill" arrows to my battered quiver. I'm a trained journalist, professional photographer, development worker specializing in small business start-ups, a professional cabinetmaker (with my own fine furniture business for 13 years). That latter career ended up teaching me carpentry, electrical wiring, plumbing, concrete work. My wife, Lynn, and I now build entire houses - by ourselves. That's right. I comfortably pick up a chain saw, soldering torch, paint brush, skill saw, nail gun or drill. I know boat motors and canoe paddles. I build websites and sell real estate - including the sixteen houses my wife and I have built from scratch or renovated. I travel the world and write about it (too bad for you - you're reading it right now...). I am a public speaker. And, finally, I was an innkeeper and restauranteur... and became pretty much financially secure with that business. This sounds horribly immodest and egotistical and I apologize, but it's my strategy to make damn sure I don't get the rug pulled out from under me when corporation XYZ abruptly decides to toss overboard a few thousand surplus employees. Or the government of the day (think poor Greece!), completely loses its marbles and thinks "job creation" is something ordered up by politicians and paid for by the unemployed and tax-stressed small businesses that are their constituents...

Some of the happiest moments in my lengthening life have been volunteering for subsistence wages (three two-year tours in the Peace Corps). I've avoided tying my emotional sobriety to my checkbook. And that may explain why I take great pleasure mingling with and mentoring some of the poorest people on earth. Everyday.There's a satisfaction in this that cannot be taken away from me. No matter how crappy the economy - local, national or global. Funny, I had just this same thought as I fell asleep in my sleeping bag in the freezing Namibian desert just a few days ago... Simple living (and helping others less fortunate) can be as close to heaven - as I'll ever get! But thank god, I have a few bucks stashed in the mattress...

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM LUDERITZ, NAMIBIA... June 24, 2015 "I JUST DROVE 20 HOURS - AND 1200 KILOMETRES - ALONE TO REACH ONE OF THE MOST REMOTE OUTPOSTS IN AFRICA...WHY??  IN DEFENSE OF THE COLDEST, SHORTEST, MOST BELEAGUERED DAYS OF THE YEAR... THEY ARE A PHOTOGRAPHER'S HEAVEN!" This week I'm in one of our planet's most remote towns, Luderitz, Namibia. Bartolomeu Dias, the legendary Portuguese explorer, rowed ashore here in 1488, on his way around the southernmost tip of Africa. He was to become the first European to sail into the Indian Ocean. But one glance at the towering sand dunes staggering down to the cold Atlantic beaches probably hastened his departure. Or perhaps it was the tormented, black "basement of time" granite that stretches to the horizon south of Luderitz. This harsh landscape launched a diamond "gold" rush a few hundred years later when diamond gemstones were found littering the surface. You heard me correctly, diamonds were lying on the ground, waiting to make hardy prospectors rich. (Don't try that these days; you could get shot!) In 2015, the lore and lure of small-town Luderitz  remains unchanged for me... The more so when it's Winter, the days are short - and tourists are jamming cruise ships in the northern hemisphere. Luderitz, right now, could safely be called tourist-challenged... It's heaven!

I SNAPPED THESE PHOTOS YESTERDAY ON THE BARREN, LONESOME, GORGEOUS DIAS PENINSULA...
LUDERITZ: THE GERMAN TOWN THAT DIAMONDS BUILT, A HOUSE AND CHURCH. NAMDEB, THE DIAMOND PEOPLE,
GUARD THEIR DIAMOND TURF HOLDINGS WITH A VENGEANCE, SO DON'T GET ANY "BRIGHT, SPARKLY IDEAS"...

Yesterday, I packed my camera kit and took a slow meander around the peninsula that ends at Dias Point, the very spot where the great explorer stepped ashore. I saw no one for hours, except, briefly, a single, Namibian labourer at Diaz Point... Otherwise, I shot one of the earth's most stunningly bleak and primal landscapes in all its glory - alone. I was happy. Greater Flamingoes danced in frenzied mating rituals
(unaccustomed to humans this time of year, so I was able to sneak up behind small dunes for the shot above). I dropped to my knees to frame photos of succulent plants. Many are globally rare; they survive only at this one primeval spot. I cocked an ear to better hear bellowing Fur Seals holding their rocky high perches at Dias Point - in the face of giant, crumping swells striking the African continent. And I paid homage to Explorer Dias. Imagine his puny wooden vessel, propelled by patched canvas sails, forlornly pressing south - to what? To where? No one knew. His ill-humoured, poorly fed crew would have been long past seeing any adventure in this bullshit caper. No European had ever sailed this far south on the planet. Columbus hadn't yet "discovered" the Americas. Dreams of wealth and fame must have been slim-to-none as the Diaz party grimly trekked ashore here. The roar of the Atlantic, the raw smell of saltwater and kelp, the barren vistas, the incessant wind - everything was, yesterday, as it was in 1488. For a long-haul traveller like your correspondent, their are few moments more exquisite than this. You can have your summer holiday fling in the northern hemisphere. I'll take and I need that off-season, shortest-days-the-year solitude of Namibia's rough Atlantic coast.

On the walk back across the tidal flats from Dias Point, I spotted a Namibian labourer casually watching me while he worked on his rusty mountain bike . I drifted overto greet him and say hello. His African smile exploded. We did our greetings. I had an air compressor in my 4X4 and together we pumped up his squishy bike tires. Both of us were probably a little lonely and welcomed these few moments together... As I drove off, I noticed a bright orange tangerine on the car seat. I stopped and gave my new friend the orange and a small bag of salted almonds sitting next to it. His African smile flashed, again. When I glanced in my rear-view  mirror, just down the gravel road, the young man was dancing, twirling round and around with his shucked tangerine, joyously savouring every mouthful.. If you live in Africa, you know these travel moments - and they're easily worth the twenty hours and 1200 kilometres of driving to get to this outpost called - Luderitz...

Best regards,

Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... June 16, 2015 "HOW ONE BOY'S DREAM - WITH PRACTICALY NO MONEY - CHANGED THE FACE OF SPORT, TRANSPORTATION AND... POLICING..." I have a casual acquaintance with Tom Ritchie, the grizzled guy in the photo with the two Rwandan mountain bike competitors. The three of them were participants in the world's toughest, most famous mountain race, the globally televised Cape Epic Mtb Race(They slog up one and a half times the height of Mt. Everest -and then come crashing down again to sea level over 8 excruciating days - right here Western Cape, South Africa). Ritchie is a regular guy from a working class California family. As a kid, he used his dad's welding torch to beef up his Schwinn bicycle, so he could do kamikazie stunts at suburban neighbourhood building sites). Voila! The mountain bike was born. My wife and I happened to own and operate a country inn just outside Moab, Utah, when mountain bike exploded there, so instead of starving, we actually made a pretty good living. Thank you, Tom Ritchie!

TOM RITCHIE, THE "FATHER OF THE MOUNTAIN BIKE" (UPPER RIGHT) HAS SPAWNED A MULTI-BILLION
DOLLAR INDUSTRY OFF OF A BOYHOOD ENCOUNTER WITH HIS DAD'S WELDING KIT...

Who could ever have imagined what this little sport would morph into. It's an Olympic event as you must know. Africans, many of whom still live in pretty roadless areas, rely on mountain bikes to ferry coffee beans, lumber, sheep & goats, the family, practically everything along paths and bush trails. Mountain biking is the greatest exercise passion for millions of professional men and women (the bikes aren't cheap!) all over the world, including South Africa, where a local doctor rides past my house several times a week. If you're looking for a partner, short or long term,what better place to join the search than in the community of mountain bikers; you just know they're decent people...

And on my circuitous travels around the world, including Turkey where I just spent a month, police are doing serious patrol work - on Tom Ritchie's mountain bike. It's perfect. It's relaxed and says to law-abiding citizens "enjoy your day". And just between you and me, I'd hate to be a bad guy - and try and outrun the cops down back alleys, whatever...when I'm on foot and they've got bikes! Do you have a novel idea up your sleeve? Just asking...

Best regards,
Eric

LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... May 1, 2015 "GLOBALLY, WE'RE SUFFERING FROM A "NATURE DEFICIT"... WE THINK WE DON'T NEED WILD PLACES, BUT ONE MILLION YEARS OF HUMAN HISTORY BEGS TO DIFFER..."  South Africa has wild places and wildlife that are the envy of the world. My deep affection for wild creatures is part of the glue that binds me to my adopted country. But, in truth, South Africa is a rapidly urbanizing nation (as are most countries) and most of its city dwellers will never see a lion or a cheetah or an elephant in their entire lives. This is doubly true for the majority population here  - Africans - who under the dreadful Apartheid system were prevented from visiting the country's brilliant wildlife parks. They were, instead, maintained as a bastion of white privilege. Even now, with a booming Black Middle Class, the umbilical cord to wild places has been severed and it's proving complicated to entice South Africa's majority to visit one of the world's greatest pageants of wildlife. So what to do?


THIS IS ROOISAND NATURE RESERVE, AN HOUR AND SMALL CHANGE FROM BUSTLING
 CAPE TOWN. IT'S ALMOST UNDEVELOPED EXCEPT FOR A WOODEN WALKWAY AND A BIRD HIDE. THERE IS NO ADMISSION CHARGE... BUT STOP RIGHT THERE... WE REGULARLY HAVE
AMAZING WILDLIFE SIGHTINGS AND CAN'T WAIT TO RETURN AGAIN AND AGAIN...

Well, to start with wildlife viewing can't be pigeon-holed in the "once in a lifetime" category and associated with expensive airplane flights and exclusive lodgings, etc. Most people can't afford that (particularly in a developing country like South Africa). Frankly, these same people are the public constituency that pays taxes to protect wild places and wildlife and they shouldn't have to bleed twice to enjoy their own parks and reserves. So, free or inexpensive protected places in cities or close by, like Rooisand Nature Reserve (above), are critical incubators to get the public excited about wild places.

Often over-looked Rooisand is smack on the Indian Ocean. The dunes behind the wild horses are all that stands between them and saltwater. Wild horses? Yes. They were abandoned over a century ago at the end of the Anglo-Boer Wars between 19oo and 1910. They continue to maintain in two, now protected, small, healthy herds. One day when we visited the bird viewing "hide", a mare had just dropped her brand new foal and shakily stood up to keep a vigilant eye on the curious mares in the herd (inset photo). What a moment! And nobody around for kilometres... Penguins are close by year round and Greater Flamingos, particularly in the wet Winters, are regular visitors. That small Angulate Tortoise is typical of the myriad creatures most people overlook. We always bring  a bird book and have the pleasure of discovering wading birds (avocets, phalaropes, spoonbills, etc.) with each new visit. The cost? Zilch.


South Africa has another brilliant scheme to make it easy to visit wild places, parks and reserves: The Wild Card. This one card offers free admission to all South Africa's national and regional  parks and wild set asides. It cost residents around $60 (U.S) a year, but cheaper regional cards can be purchased. I love this card! Even if we can't get out to the parks for one or another reason, we've stepped up to the plate and plunked down our symbolic commitment to protect those endangered rhinos et al. It actually feels good to carry it around in my wallet.

Where else to look for wildlife? There's your own backyard or neighbourhood park or river course. You'd be amazed how determined wildlife is to occupy every cranny and niche where they can survive. And don't forget kids love wild creatures. Frankly, if we're going to have wild places and wildlife, every one of us must participate. There isn't anything I can think of in this troubled world that sparks my enthusiasm more than the remaining natural world. Pitch up and pitch in! You'll be glad to get rid of your personal "nature deficit", I promise. And if you're a traveller, put South Africa on your "to do" list. Sprawling Kruger and the other parks are superbly run and completely safe. Unless, of course, one of our lions catches you... in an unguarded moment...

*Walter Issacson's new book; "THE INNOVATORS: HOW A GROUP OF HACKERS, GENIUSES AND GEEKS CREATED THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION"

Best regards,

Eric


LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... April 8, 2015 "CALIFORNIA: "WHISKEY'S FOR DRINKING AND WATER IS FOR FIGHTING OVER..." There's an old "Out West" saying recalled this week in the New York Times that put a smile on my face: "Whiskey's for drinking and water is for fighting over..."  It may be that the Golden California of Hollywood fame and fortune has finally run out of luck and water, WATER! for heaven's sake may be the culprit. Luck. Luck and the Americans and Californians have had been blessed with stupendous "luck" for generations, is great right up until - it's gone. Ask any gambler. California is a geographically glorious state - and state of mind. The two get confused, unfortunately. Somehow every crisis over the years - race riots in the 60's, Enron's colossal electricity rip-off, recessions, earthquakes, prison riots, no matter what, the amazing California always manages to shake off the troubles - and leap ahead to the next great boom. Silicon Valley and the New Age of Technology is only the latest miracle to transform California (starting with the Gold Rush of the 1850's), America and this time - the world. So how could a silly little issue like water... bring the state nearly to its knees?


SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA NEVER IMAGINED MOTHER NATURE MIGHT HAVE LIMITS...


Hubris is excessive pride or self-confidence". Pride and self-confidence go a long way to explain how it is that America looms so large on the world stage. These are essential qualities for individuals and nations. But without fundamental modesty to rein in egos, life and ambition become illusions. California has always been able to import anything it lacks, including, of late, brilliant software programmers, etc. from America and the world, including South Africa. It's no real surprise that South African Elon Musk and his SA cousins, the Rive brothers, have started billion dollar businesses where else but in California  (world-class Tesla cars and Solar City off-grid solar / battery breakthrough residential electrical systems). Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, geez, these companies just seem to spring to fruition effortlessly and endlessly... Until now, that is.

Long-range planning is the yardstick by which all governments in the end are judged. California's greed and lack of serious attention to the looming water crisis is in many ways symptomatic of how the place is run. There are minimal rules because that might impede on the entrepreneurial spirit of Californians. It's hard to imagine that 80% percent of the state's water is legally controlled by farmers. How did this happen? And many of those farms are still producing low-value crops like rice and barley or high value crops like almonds (400,000 hectares!) which gobble staggering amounts of water while residential taps cough and sputter. What self-respecting Californian doesn't want a back yard swimming pool, water conservation be damned? And so, as it is so often in life, everything rushes along swimmingly (excuse the pun), until it doesn't... The Sierra Mountains snowpack is at 6%, a record low,  just as the winter wet season ends. Ground water is being pumped with abandon to make up for empty stream beds until, like the Ogalla water Aquifer in Oklahoma, a thousand years of pure banked water reserves are consumed willy-nilly on low-value crops (think cotton) in just a handful of decades. Whole towns and cities there are empty as a result.

I dunno. Homo sapiens (all of us collectively, I'm afraid) are shredding our only planet. Californians (38 million people, 32 million cars) most spectacularly. Where is the wisdom to plan, the restraint to ration scarce resouces. Golden California would have you believe that dreams come true, if you try hard enough. But dreams and drought don't get you where you want to go... I'm certain Californians are praying for rain... as they splash around in their swimming pools. And they're praying that climate change can be pushed back a while longer...  while they continue reveling in the good life...

Best regards,
Eric


 LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA... February 24, 2015 " ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A GOOD JOB, A BETTER JOB OR, ACTUALLY, ANY JOB AT ALL WILL HAVE TO DO? TIMES ARE TOUGH, REALLY TOUGH!  HERE ARE A COUPLE OF SUGGESTIONS FROM YOURS TRULY, A MAN WHO HAS HAD 6 CAREERS - AND ALL WERE COMPELLING, PAID THE BILLS... AND, DAMN, I HAD FUN!"

When I graduated from university (Masters / Journalism), I joined the Peace Corps. I was sent to Burkina Faso - and had my life flipped, utterly, upside down. My job was to build schools and pour concrete bore holes for livestock water points in remote NE Burkina Faso, up by the Sahara Desert with Taureg camel caravans wandering through the village I lived in. Did I mention that the kids had never seen a white person (Tubaco in the local language, Fulani) and ran away crying when they saw me the first time? There were no real medical facilities to treat my relentless dysentery. The road to the outside world was cut off for several months during the rainy season, so goat meat and rocky local rice with the menu items. The weather was scorching, with most days getting into the 40's. My neighbours had leprosy, elephantiasis, river blindness and malarial attacks (I had one that I thought would kill me!). Measles raced through outlier villages - and killed whole classes of youngsters. One other thing also transpired; I had the only camera in a huge area. I started to take documentary pictures of this extraordinary scene I found myself in - and as you may have noticed, never stopped.

Florida St musician playing for tips in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The guy was a genius!

So what on earth did I on the edge of the Sahara have in common with this young guy in Argentina. Simple. We were both starting out, were broke, and decided "Carpe Diem! / Seize the day!" We jumped into life feet first and starting experimenting with the world, minus the parents. What works? What doesn't? The only way to find out what your strengths and weaknesses are, your passions and intolerances, your work ethic, your concentration, your eye/hand coordination - everything - is to apply your life to the real world. Money, ultimately is boring. Doing something that excites you is a way more certain path to a satisfying career or trade or a relationship with a life partner. If your heart isn't into it, you're toast. All the promotions, chest medals and salary increases will be for naught - you weren't true to yourself.

So, in fact, this hurting world is at a brilliant juncture to start your adult life. My one Peace Corps experience ended up being three: Bukina Faso, The Philippines and Lesotho. I didn't make any money, but I learned early that I wasn't an office guy, that I had excellent eye/hand coordination (and became a skilled fine furniture maker with 10,000 hours of concentrated experience and my own business). I felt confident after Burkina Faso, though at the time I didn't understand what that meant or why it is so important in life. Ever since, I and my wonderful wife, Lynn, have always asked at important turning points in our life: Is this our first choice? Are we willing to risk everything to proceed with this dream? And whether it's been starting a highly successful inn and restaurant at Moab, Utah (where mountain biking was invented) or building or renovating 17 houses in Canada, the U.S. and South Africa, climbing Kilimanjaro, adventure travelling the world, mostly on dirt backroads, or being just about the first outsiders to fly into Tibet - on a Chinese military aircraft, we have always  answered "yes" to that question. We have been self-employment cases, and, for better or worse, wrote our own script. I have never awakened once in my life and thought, "H-m-m-m, the economy is no good, so I better not stick my neck out..."

That Buenos Aires kid is doing what we all need to do to kick-start a life, young or old. He's pouring his passion for drums into a micro-business, saying to hell with the money and making the world sit up and take notice - of him. I don't know how rich this entrepreneur is these days - but I bet he's got a big smile on his face. I know it. It's his life - win, lose or draw. Nobody can steal it from him. And no multi-national corporation will be tossing his sorry bucket overboard - when the big corner office guy orders the next down-sizing ... It's a pretty crappy world out there...What have you got to offer?

Best regards,
Eric







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