“Deadvlei” from the English word “dead” and the Afrikaans word “vlei” for marsh. It was once an area fed by the Tsauchab River where trees and other plants flourished. Perhaps 600-700 years ago, maybe 900 years ago, the changing climate and encroaching sand dunes conspired to cut-off the water supply, killing-off the trees and most of the plants.
Today, visitors are greeted by an eerie but spectacular sight. Illuminated by the brilliant blue skies, a white clay pan is surrounded by rust-coloured sand dunes which are reputed to be some of the highest in the world at over 1,312 feet (400 metres). And the trees; dead, desiccated, and scorched black by the sun. Truly a forest of the dead.
We headed up into the hills in our van, hoping to come across remote Padaung villages. The dirt track, however, proved too much for the poor vehicle, and we couldn’t proceed much further. There was a road construction crew that we had passed a few minutes earlier and we were able to negotiate the usage of one of their “tractors” that is normally used to haul raw materials.
We jumped into the back of the tractor, and upward and onward we went into the hills, following dirt tracks that we hoped would reach some interesting villages. Even the tractor found the going tough, and we had had to dismount several times to give the thing a fighting chance to negotiate through the rough terrain. Shake, rattle, and roll; sitting on solid metal was pretty uncomfortable!
After a while we were soon at our target, the tractor chugging its way into the centre of a Padaung village. The villagers informed us that we were the first foreigners they had seen since the British left Burma in 1948. I took that with a pinch of salt though. But the journey was worth it, as the village still practised many traditional techniques. This is a photo of a young schoolgirl from the village.
However, we were filled with dread of the return journey in that tractor.
But the pain of the return trip in the tractor was short lived as we, instead, soon ditched the tractor and hiked through the hills heading in a direction that we thought would lead us to a road. The hike was memorable as it enabled us to take in the wonderful scenery and interact more sociably with the people we met along the way. A good day!
I recently spent a few days in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley to visit a few of the local tribes. It was a fascinating trip, and I was grateful to have had close access to these people. I’ve created a photographic gallery consisting mainly of their portraits. Just click on the images below.
Wandering around the small village of the Kara tribe in the Omo Valley, Ethiopia, this old man appeared with striking paint markings, piercing eyes, and beard. It was an interesting look to say the least!
In the Omo Valley, Ethiopia. Towards sunset, the goat herders of the Kara tribe were bringing their goats back to the village. With the red of the sunlight filtering through the dust, I jumped straight in with my camera, sometimes through thorns on my hands and knees, but was fortunate to have captured some beautiful scenes.
The Mursi are one of the many tribes in the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia. They have an aggressive reputation and keep large herds of cattle, but these days increasingly rely on tourists to obtain money by going that extra mile to decorate themselves. The lip-plates are real, but I am sceptical that the other decorations reflect genuine Mursi culture. Certainly not your every-day-wear but probably used often for special occasions.
It was another dawn outing near Kyaiktiyo Pagoda in Mon State, Myanmar (Burma). On the mountaintop, outside the main complex, a woman is lighting a man’s cigarette just after sunrise. The photo was taken in December 2014.
The annual Lake Turkana festivities see around a dozen tribes, mainly from northern Kenya, take part in cultural exchanges and traditional dances. It’s quite a fascinating couple of days and provides opportunities to see local tribes who are not normally on a safarist’s bucket list. For example, I found one local El Molo village to be just a few rudimentary huts loosely strewn together, surviving largely through fishing. A dwindling tribe, the El Molo may soon disappear through assimilation and intermarriage with other local tribes.
With the day’s festivities finished and with the onset of twilight, a few miles from the nearest village, the tribes of the Turkana and Samburu dance well into dusk on the windswept shores of Lake Turkana. Seeing the tribes enjoying each other’s company, it can sometimes be difficult to remember that cattle-stealing is causing much strife between the different tribes. But initiatives such as the Lake Turkana festival will help promote trust and understanding.
A cold night meant a cold start to the day in Namibia, even here right up against the Angolan border. Taking advantage of the cold before the heat arrived, I began exploring the rather small Himba village. Much there was to see with the inhabitants shaking off the night. A particular highlight was when I made eye contact with this boy wrapped in a blanket.
When I took this shot a few years ago in Myanmar, I thought that the photo would be a failure due to the extreme dynamic range involved. It was hand-held, shot into the sun, with the main subject being the Padaung woman in the shade. I revisited that photo quite recently and found, to my surprise, that it actually had a lot of information, and was close to my vision. So here it is in all its glory.