“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Friday, 31 July 2015

My 40th Birthday Trip to Marrakesh, Morrocco - Friday 31st July

BA2666 from Gatwick North to Marrakech - traded some Avios points for an upgrade to club class - so made the most of the free champagne in the BA lounge to kick start the trip!

Mum had booked us into the gorgeous Riad dar El Aila spa Hotel in the northern quarter of the Medina. Nearest parking is "Sidi Ben Slimane" for taxis to drop you off then it's a short walk through dark, but not disturbing, alleyways to the Riad.
The ceiling in our room!!
We had a beautifully detailed, and huge, suite with 2 bedrooms, a lounge and bathroom all complete with ancient traditional carving and ironwork. Simply stunning. Unfortunately air-con was only properly installed in one of the bedrooms and the other had only a water-filled floor-fan which was struggling in a room with such high ceilings and no windows at all - so it was pretty much a human size "tagine" I was sleeping in! but a very traditionally Moroccan one and very clean and comfortable.

I had no idea what to expect of a Riad (means "garden") but they are truly awesome - from outside they look nothing more than a dingy door in the wall, but as soon as you get inside, they open up into spacious multi-tiered dwellings with spiral stone staircases and full height trees growing up from the courtyards taller than the buildings around them. A seriously peaceful atmosphere and stunning views from the rooftop restaurant and sun loungers.

After having eaten on the plane and it getting late, we decided not to bother eating again but ventured up onto the roof for a taste of the "Grey" Morroccan wine before bed – the stifling heat and crippling CTS pains in my arms meant sleep was difficult unfortunately - but we were glad to have arrived safe and found a welcoming group of people to be staying with.
The alleyway outside our Riad

Basic language picked up so far...
Thank you sounds like "sho-kran"
Goodbye sounds like "mar-salama" and Merhaba means "you're welcome" (whereas in Turkish it means hello).

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Thursday 2nd July 2015

Heading down to the jetty, tired and slightly hungover but happy
The day started with some frantic packing, a bit of breakfast and quite a few coffees. I walked out one last time to see the Little Owls hoping they had moved along their wall closer to the path (and my waiting lens), but sadly they hadn't and were still happily perched watching me some distance out of reach.  Still no sign of the short-eared owls at all though. Other residents had seen them quartering a few times, but I had only had the briefest glimpse on day one.... a reason to return I guess.

Leaving the Island is pretty much like arriving except in reverse... the residents form a chain down the 87 steps to the jetty and all luggage is passed down before the boat carrying all the new arrivals moors up and we chain-gang their luggage back up the steps to the waiting tractor. Thankfully this time it wasn't raining and of course we had a swirling mass of birds to wonder at whilst working. Sadly for me I was not heading in the direction of home, but straight to Devon for a work meeting in the morning, so I spent the short boat trip, and the subsequent 4 hour drive, dreaming of the hotel menu and deciding which food I would order when I got there... you can imagine my disappointment to realise that the hotel I was staying in had no restaurant at all (or bar for that matter!). I was too shattered to go out so demolished the in-room biscuits and crashed. Next time I visit Skomer I will definitely be a little more prepared!
Leaving the island - David returned
again the following week for group 2

Puffin with Sand-eels in the rain - my favourite shot from the trip

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Last Day on the Island

setting up to timelapse the mist rolling in
The weather started pretty awful - chilly, damp and misty so it seemed as good a time as any to try again with the in-camera timelapse (or interval shooting) so I climbed up onto the trig and set up to shoot the mist rolling in over "The Neck" of the island. The mist was rolling quite quickly and so I probably should have gone for a 2 second interval instead of 3. The wind and rain up on the trig also didn't bode well, but a well-placed pair of waterproofs and a solid tripod, extended as low as it would go, gave me a good starting point to get set up. Then came the checklist of things to remember to turn off... instant playback, auto focus, vibration reduction....and the things to switch.... from RAW to JPG, ISO down to 100 (to force some lag on the shutter speed and create a smoothing effect on the resultant footage) and shut off the viewfinder to avoid any light pollution (probably more applicable at night than during the day, but I figured it's a good habit to get into). I let it run for 20 minutes or so during which time the fog/mist filled the frame so the island completely disappeared before clearing again to reveal the land once more. It wasn't anything amazing, but a good subject to practise on.

The afternoon lesson was one of composition and controlling the background - a lesson Gail and I had attended more than once on previous tours with David, so since the weather had cleared, we spent the time chatting outside to two guys from Bawdsey Hall in Suffolk, not far from where Gail lives. They were clothed head to toe in camo gear and carrying the largest lenses I think I have ever seen... they were on the island for one night, hoping to shoot short-eared owls, but were having a bit of a disastrous trip. However, we did find out all about the B&B they run from Bawdsey Hall - sounds incredible and Gail and I have now booked a night's stay there next month to go check it out - wildlife camera feeds come direct to your bedroom and badgers feed just outside. All set up for photographers and fairly friendly Little Owls too apparently - very much looking forward to it already.
The group at The Wick
After the daily dose of Puffin portraits at The Wick, I wandered back for a second stint in the hide with Kurt. Sadly, on the way out I noticed a Manx Shearwater's head poking up through the boardwalk.... there are a lot of bird carcasses littered all over the island so it wasn't unusual to see dead birds on the ground, but on closer inspection, I realised this one was still alive and had got its head stuck in between the walkway planks - not much we could do except report it to the researchers and let them go and inspect it. I was surprised the Gulls had not already found it and put it out of its misery.

Spent our last night up on “The Trig” (Triangulation Pillar) watching the almost-full moon rising and drinking the remains of everyone’s red wine then up chatting til the early hours... smart move Hedger .... only one morning left to get the shots you want!