Lago Biao

Recently, I was able to go to Lago Biao, near Moka, for a overnight camping trip with some friends and their coworkers. Here are some annotated pictures:

Getting ready for the trail.

Getting ready for the trail.

The trail head, also known as a road in Moka.

The trail head, also known as a road in Moka.

Out in to the pale blue yonder! Over that ridge lies Lago Biao

Out in to the pale blue yonder! Over that ridge lies Lago Biao

At this point his was still keeping up. Oh, burn!

At this point his was still keeping up. Oh, burn!

After the rain made everything wet, the sun came out to make it steamy

After the rain made everything wet, the sun came out to make it steamy. Much of this mountain side was burned recently to graze cattle. 

The mythical Lago Biao, only took me 2.5 hr. I think the last of the group was up in 4 hrs. Apparently, the shore of the lake is really marshy, so we didn't see much point going down.

The mythical Lago Biao, only took me 2.5 hr. I think the last of the group was up in 4 hrs. Apparently, the shore of the lake is really marshy, so we didn’t see much point going down.

The crew setting up their shelter made of tarps. I was skeptical. . .

The crew setting up their shelter made of tarps. I was skeptical. . .

Literally not even ten minutes later. I was getting nervous at this point. Glad I brought a tent!

Literally not even ten minutes later. I was getting nervous at this point. Glad I brought a tent!

No need to worry after all, just 5 minutes later and it was back to being beautiful!!!

No need to worry after all, just 5 minutes later and it was back to being beautiful!!! Certainly one of the fastest weather back-to-back flip flops I’ve experienced. 

Quite the epic sunset! Never again will I let Lauren talk me out of taking my DSLR. All these photos are with her point and shoot, which I got to say did a pretty good job.

Quite the epic sunset! Never again will I let Lauren talk me out of taking my DSLR on a trip. All these photos are with her point and shoot, which I got to say did a pretty good job.

Tom, looking rustic, fanning the flames.

Tom, looking rustic, fanning the flames. We cooked chicken in foil packets for dinner. They were tasty!

On the way back to Moka, Pico Basile in the distance. It never ceases to amaze me how small this island is, yet how much bigger it feels.

On the way back to Moka, Pico Basile in the distance. It never ceases to amaze me how small this island is, yet how much bigger it feels.

9 AM, and at the bar, well, you know what they say.... When in Rome, do as the Romans. Killing time while we wait for the ride back to Malabo.

9 AM, and at the bar, well, you know what they say…. When in Rome, do as the Romans. Killing time while we wait for the ride back to Malabo.

Bubi hut, in Moka.

Bubi hut, in Moka. With the ridge near Lago Biao peaking over the roof. 

In short the trip was a blast, and I was really glad I got to go. On the way back to Malabo, we stopped in Luba to get ‘pepe’ soup, a first for me. It was actually really good, and wasn’t as spicy as I thought it’d be. Although, almost everyone added more spice to their soups. ‘Pepe’ soups is a traditional meal made of chicken broth, chile peppers (‘pepe’) and usually a piece of fish. I always thought it’d be much to spicy for me, but I think I’ll have to have it a few more times before we leave.

That is all.

 

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Grilling Fish

A few weeks ago a neighbor asked out of the blue if I knew how to grill a fish. To be honest I thought, “No, but how hard can it be?”

The beast. We weren't sure exactly the species, maybe 'colorado'? Is that a species of fish? Never heard of it before.

The beast. We weren’t sure exactly the species, maybe ‘colorado’? Is that a species of fish? Never heard of it before.

Prep work.

Prep work.

Wrapped in freshly cut banana leaves.

Wrapped in freshly cut banana leaves.

 

The answer to that questions, is pretty easy. Except for one crucial detail, you have to make sure it thaws all the way through. Seems like basic cooking knowledge, but none of us had cooked a fish quite so big. Nor I think did we check to see if it was thawed, whoops.

Anyways, we prepared the work space. Cut slits down the slid of the fish, rubbed salt in the ‘wound’, squeeze lots of lemon all over, rub some rosemary around and it’s ready!

Almost there. . .

Almost there. . .

We grilled it for about an hour in total, but by 30 minutes we were getting anxious not to burn it. So we just started cutting off the cooked parts and continually flipping it, which no doubt made the rest take longer to cook but there was too much too eat.

We're hungry, lets eat!!

We’re hungry, lets eat!!

Everybody brought sides, and a feast was had! BTW, lower left on the plate; mango and avocado salsa. Absolutely took the fish to a whole other playing field.

Everybody brought sides, and a feast was had! BTW, lower left on the plate; mango and avocado salsa. Absolutely took the fish to a whole other playing field. Please, I implore you, try it. You will not be disappointed!

It was an amazing dinner, I think made better by friends and cool summer* evenings.

Stay tuned for tails of recent travels.

 

 

*Every time there’s an evening that’s not stifling hot, I think to my self, “Ah, I love cool summer evenings.” And by cool I mean like <75 degrees F. This one happened to be in the dry season, which made it that much more enjoyable!

Little Flowers and Things

Recently, we had a friend who is living in Abuja, Nigeria come for a week. It was great to get to catch up, and compare tails of living in West-Central Africa. It seems that Abuja and Malabo are quite different, although you might have already guessed that from the fact, alone, that Malabo has about a tenth the population of Abuja. Also, that Nigeria is a functioning democracy with opposition parties. Or that Equatorial Guinea is rather peaceful. The list could go on and on. One thing that our friend kept saying is, “Enjoy the little things.”

We've always said that we're set in the event of a zombie apocalypse!

We’ve always said that we’re set in the event of a zombie apocalypse!

Well, this post is really about one of the little things I really, really enjoy about Malabo, or Equatorial Guinea in general; the flowers. I was fortunate enough to be given a Nikon AF Micro Nikkor 60mm lens by a total stranger, through a friend of the family, this Christmas, and have enjoyed taking pictures of the flowers around the compound. Because the lens is c.1990 the autofocus doesn’t work with my camera (although apparently it works with other newer cameras just not mine), but it has been fun working on my technique, especially as given the distance to the flowers (sometimes < 3 inches), my camera, or big ol’ head block alot of the light.  Anyways, here are some of the little things I enjoy around the compound:

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I hope you enjoy them too.

That is all.

The Southern Beaches

Many of you will remember that I once lamented about how I failed miserably at taking professional quality photos of monkeys on the southern end of the island. Well, the opportunity arose for me to go on the latest rendition of the BBPP expedition. This year was a tad different, as it was more science focused through study of more taxa.

Because some of the scientists who were suppose to come couldn’t get visas in time, this year saw a rather light crew on the expedition. I feel wrong even using that word, expedition, for this years trip. It was much more like an extended class field trip as only one of the participants was not associated with our university.

Luba, Equatorial Guinea: Where the boat leaves from.

Luba, Equatorial Guinea: Where the boat leaves from.

Waking up well before the crack of dawn to catch a bus for the ~1 hour trip from Malabo to Luba isn’t the most exciting way to start a trip. Yet, you could feel the excitement growing as we started to unload the bus, sort the gear, and load it on to the boat. It was with great anticipation that we set on the ~3 hour boat ride. But an hour in that ferver had faded, and naps were trying to be had. I was lucky enough to sleep most of the ride, and woke up just in time to see clouds cover the caldera.

A rare glimps of Gran Caldera de Luba

A rare glimps of Gran Caldera de Luba

By the time we arrived at the first camp, Moraka, clouds had hidden the caldera from view. But it was still an awesome sight to see camp again. Although this year there didn’t seem to be enough tents. . . The turtle researchers who live on these beaches, for 5 months, had the local guys, from the Bubi tribe, make huts covering their tents.

One of the researchers, Skylar, sketching in Moraka Playa camp.

One of the researchers, Skylar, sketching in Moraka Playa camp.

From afar the Bubi huts, covering the tents, are hard to see.

From afar the Bubi huts, covering the tents, are hard to see.

After settling in and sorting the gear we put off research for the next day. It was good thing to because I had a chance to take a little walk to find some monkeys. It was with great apprehension that I set off. I knew that a year ago I spent two weeks in this same area and didn’t get a great picture. So it was to my utter surprise that I came across a group of Golden-bellied Crown Monkeys (Cercopithecus pogonias pogonias) that weren’t too scared by my presence, either that or totally oblivious. But there was just one problem, they were at the top of a steep embankment and I knew there was no way I was getting up it quietly. So I decided to go back and walk about 200 meters down the beach, enter the rainforest and double back to them from the side. I was about 3/4 of the way back to them when I decide to sit and listen to see if I could tell which direction they were moving. That’s when I looked up and saw a Bioko Pennant’s Red Colobus (Procolobus pennantii) one of the 25th most endangered primates in the world, just sitting in a tree.

A female Bioko Pennant's Red Colobus (Procolobus pennantii).

A female Bioko Pennant’s Red Colobus (Procolobus pennantii).

I did end up finding the group of C. pogonias about 20 meters away, and got a few good pictures of them too.

A Golden-bellied Crowned Monkey ().

A Golden-bellied Crowned Monkey (Cercopithecus pogonias pogonias).

On returning to camp, I was on a bit of a high, knowing that I’ve just had some great encounters and taken some stellar shots. The next day it was on to research. Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program recently joined the Central African Biodiversity Alliance, which leads a study of about 9 species looking to develop a theory about how these species evolved and hoping that this knowledge will help with conservation under the effects of climate change.

We were specifically looking at skinks, birds, and mice, taking their morphological measurements and DNA. And when I say we, I mean that I wasn’t actually doing any of this because I’m not certified, I was just helping and doing odd tasks. It was still fun and interesting nonetheless.

Dissecting a skink. One of the odd tasks that I helped with was building this field lab table.

Dissecting a skink. One of the odd tasks that I helped with was building this field lab table.

Stand back, he's doing science!

Stand back, he’s doing science!

Yep, she killed it and literally cut the face off, to take the skull back to a museum. One of the most disgusting things I've witnessed.

Yep, she killed it and literally cut the face off, to take the skull back to a museum. One of the most disgusting things I’ve witnessed. I’ve a picture of her doing it, but perhaps no one wants to see that. . .

While catching skinks, birds, and mice is fun and memorable, we witnessed one of the most impressive lightning storms ever. It’s something that I won’t soon forget, partly because I have this picture:

Lightning kept striking that same place, leading me to think that Principe Island was over there. I got home and looked more closely at a map, and now I think it must be Bata, on the mainland.

Lightning kept striking that same place, leading me to think that Principe Island was over there. I got home and looked more closely at a map, and now I think it must be Bata, on the mainland.

After a week at Moraka, we hike to Moaba (6 hours down the beach). Moaba has become sort of a tourist destination, especially for expatriots, as a road was built to the village of Ureka (1 hr hike from Moaba). One can now drive from Malabo and be in Ureka 2 hours later, whereas it used to take an hour driving and a ~9 hour trek through the jungle over steep terrain. Needless to say, it has helped the people of Ureka, but it has also increased hunting of monkeys and turtles (which are both against the Equatoguinean law). I’ve taken advantage of this road at least 3 times in the past year, coming down to camp for the weekend. So I had met the turtle researchers of Moaba camp before, but it was good to see them again.

Life at Moaba was good. I spent a lot of time out taking picture, exploring, and chatting.  One day I went out looking for Bioko Drills (Mandrillus leucophaeus poensis) and came across a group of about 15 to 20 that were crossing a river bed to eat. I was able to watch the whole group cross the river and snuck up around the left side to get a closer view. It was only later in the day while I was chatting to a documentary film maker that works on the island, that this is probably a bad idea. That is that familiarizing a endangered species in a heavily hunted area to humans, and human presence is probably not a good thing. He gave me some pointers about how to passively watch for drills and I try them out the next day (but didn’t see any, that’s the way it goes, often, for wildlife photographers).

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A group of Bioko Drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus poensis) cross a dry river bed. 

Not a stellar picture, but you can tell what it is; a Bioko Drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus poensis)

Not a good picture, but you can tell what it is; a Bioko Drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus poensis)

This was maybe my 4th time to Moaba, and the first that I had heard of the Heart of Moaba. So I decided I should go look for it, realizing I was too late to go with the group that left about 30 minutes prior. I felt kind of like John Locke, from the show Lost, as I really didn’t know where I was going but was following their footprints. I did a pretty good job, as I was along the trail, but got hung up where you have to cross a group of rocks, then scale a really steep embankment. Anyways, I was mulling around when they came back and told me the way. It was worth it!

The Heart of Moaba

The Heart of Moaba

The Heart of Moaba is something like a cenote, except for the fact this isn’t limestone and the water underneath is sea water moved by tidal forces and waves. It was literally vertigo inducing. Watching the water move up in down was memorizing, dizzying, and it felt like your soul was being sucked out of you. The water usually would move up and down about 30 feet, but every few minutes it was move significantly more. I’d approximate the biggest swing I saw was about 60 feet. Absolutely dizzying.

One of the turtle researchers with holding a pangolin

One of the turtle researchers with holding a pangolin

The last day I was in Moaba on of the local guys found a pangolin that he brought to show us. I’ve seen pangolins before but they have all been hanging dead, for sale, on the side of the road. This was the first live one, and it was pretty cool. Too bad it was really dark that day, and the little guy wouldn’t hold still. Oh well.

I decided to hitch hiking with a buddy back to Luba, where a car was going to pick us up. We knew that the construction workers building the road, military barracks and cell tower brought in lunch everyday, so we figured we could catch a ride back with them. We didn’t know though that it was Chinese New Year, and the only people working were Malian and didn’t have plans to go back to Luba before nightfall. Usually this road is teaming with Chinese construction workers. Well, we did manage to catch a ride with some Chinese tourists (obviously not construction workers) who went down to Casacada de Ureka, for a quick photo opportunity.

That is all.

South Africa – Part 3

After safari, we went to Cape Town for a few days. Cape Town is, in one word, un-bloody-believable. See what I did there? I am already itching to go back. Shoot, I might even just pack up and move there. We stayed in a boutique bed and breakfast in a rather upscale part of town that was so nice I’m kind of disappointed we didn’t spend more time inside. Oh wait, I’m not.

We hired a guide to take us hiking on Table Mountain, and he was great. It was so interesting to have a candid discussion about racial tensions in South Africa with a person who experienced apartheid and who’s uncle was in Robbin Island and wrote a book about their experience in prison. He was a really great guy.

Hiking on Table Mountain

Hiking on Table Mountain

The hike was also phenomenal! We ate lunch by a water reservoir, where you could see all the way to the cape. In all it took us about 6 hours to get to the cable car, which honestly was not even the best part. It was really cool to look out and see the city, and riding the cable car down was fun, but the views over the false cape were absolutely stunning.

The next day, or previous one, I can’t remember, we went on a wine tasting tour in the Stellenbosch region. I was skeptical at first, but our guide was really accommodating. After she found out that I’m more of a beer person, she changed up the schedule and took us to a beer tasting too!

Beer tasting at Cape Brewing Company, it was delicious!

Beer tasting at Cape Brewing Company, it was delicious!

After the beer tasting it was back to wines. Which wasn’t a terrible thing, as we definitely had some good ones. And the scenery wasn’t bad either! We managed to sneak in a olive oil tasting as well, which was interesting. I never realized that the quality of your olive oil matters, but now at least I can tell you if it’s good or not.

Wines and olive oils and lovely views

Wines and olive oils and lovely views

After the wine tasting tour, we were pretty tired and leaving the next day. But we thought we should sneak in a trip down to the Cape of Good Hope before we headed back. Even though we were squeezed for time, our flight out was that afternoon, the whirlwind tour was definitely worth it. We made it down to the Cape in excellent time, and even got to go see the penguins!

A lighthouse shines across False Bay.

A lighthouse shines across False Bay.

Lauren looking at the penguins

Lauren looking at the penguins

I'm pretty sure that this will be our retirement home, just needs some TLC!

I’m pretty sure that this will be our retirement home, just needs some TLC!

Along the way

Along the way

All that really needs to be said about our South Africa trip is that it was awesome, and I’d love to go back!

South Africa – Part 2

Once we got to Thornybush we were floored. We booked our travel through a company that organizes trips using independent companies/ guides. They just do the planning. They’re awesome, and kindly enough upgrade our camping safari to a super nice one with private little houses, for free. Anyways, it was an incredible experience. Everyday we’d get up at the crack of dawn, have coffee and muffins, load up and drive around for 3-4 hours, come back, have breakfast, lounge it up, have lunch, lounge it up  all afternoon, around 4 o’clock go on another game drive, come back have dinner and go to sleep. It was not as I expected a safari should be (roughin’ it), yet it was amazingly pleasant. Of course, our safari-mates (the other people in the vehicle) were really fun, a group of doctors from Australia that all went to med school together, and our guide, Nick, and tracker, Jefferson, were amazing.

Nick was a little bit too into leopards though. I mean we spent hours and hours over the week tracking leopards. At one time Lauren said, “If we don’t see a leopard, so we can stop tracking it and look for something else, I’m going to scream.” To make it worse, the only one that Nick found, we only saw for like a minute before it ran off. We were able to see probably the most amazing thing I’ve seen, a mother leopard teaching her cub to hunt. Nick didn’t find this though, we got a call and drove over to it. The mother would creep up to a group of warthogs, and get incredible close. Then she’d look back and give her cub the ‘signal’ to try to get close. Of course, he wasn’t very good at it, so the warthogs would run off. Then he’d try again, and fail again. The mother would just sit watch, and then show him how to get close again. It was astonishing how sleek, agile, and stealthy she was, and how he was none of those things.

A mother leopard, right, teaching her son to hunt.

A mother leopard, left, teaching her son to hunt.

The leopard cub stalking a warthog. Not doing a very good job though.

The leopard cub stalking a warthog. Not doing a very good job though.

We saw a lot of animals over the week, including all of the big five. We actually saw a black rhino while in the taxi on the way into the game reserve! It was an incredible experience and I am so happy for my friends and family who gave me an awesome birthday present that allowed me to rent a 200-400mm lens to capture these pictures. It was the best investment in a while, and totally worth $300. Now if I could somehow come up with $12,000+ to get one for myself! haha.

King of the Jungle.

King of the Jungle.

Battled scared

Battle scared.

 

Just before I took this picture, this lion walked silently beside the truck and no one noticed til it was going around the other side!!

Just before I took this picture, this lion walked silently beside the truck and no one noticed til it was going around the other side!!

Hello, Mr. Elephant.

Hello, Mr. Elephant.

A different leopard.

A different leopard, Nick didn’t find this one either.

Different battle scars, this time a giraffe

Different battle scars, this time a giraffe

These monkeys would role through the lodge and try to steal food. We watched one take the lid off a sugar bowl and stick his whole face in it, before we had the chance to shoe him away.

These monkeys would role through the lodge and try to steal food. We watched one take the lid off a sugar bowl and stick his whole face in it, before we had the chance to shoe him away.

Guinea fowls

Guinea fowls

Wildebeest

Wildebeest

Cape buffalo

Cape buffalo

Hippopotamus, on the night drive

Hippopotamus, on the night drive