Welcome to Earth Expeditions I will start off with a little background on what led me to an ever-growing passion for photography, wildlife and adventure travel to some rather remote parts of the World.
Here is a quick video extract in under a minute:
I have always had an interest in wildlife photography and insects in particular fascinate me greatly. Many a time I have camped up all night to photograph Ladybirds going through their first three stages of egg, larva and pupae to finally emerge, pump up their wings and develop spots (as when they first emerge they are quite literally ‘spotless’.)
I then started to go out daily searching for insects to photograph as well as general ‘wildlife walkouts’, it matters not about the weather, there is always something interesting to see.
Back in 2008 I joined a voluntary conservation program in Costa Rica, however things did not go according to plan out there and I found myself with no money, no food and no water and the task of getting myself across country without these vital necessities.
As with any adventure there was danger, I escaped a gang of machete men by outrunning them through the forest and many other things happened which have all be diarised and I hope to be a book.
In the end I stayed in a hut at the edge of a forest and having struggled to find food, had to rely on a group of monkeys who would hurl mangos at me when I got too close to photograph them, natural rain water would be collected from the many upturned plants which were like natural goblets.
I was rather skeletal at the end and reading back through my diaries had some dark days where I had to fight off the constant hunger and misery of insect bites, I had never experienced such intense hunger, it never left me while I was out there giving a constant, nagging pull in my stomach.
However, in my time spent there I got to see such diversity in the rain forests and cloud forest of insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds, it was a naturalists dream albeit a hungry one!!!
Below is a little more detail on my time with the monkeys:
How did it get to this? I went from being part of a conservation group working as a team to roaming the forests of Costa Rica alone with no money and down to just one small tin of tuna per day. I soon found myself to be consistently hungry and it became a daily challenge not to keep thinking about food. In fact it became like a game to force myself not to think about it and just ‘get through the day’.
The frustration was that there were mango trees in the area, but the fruit I sought was too high up and I could not get to it, I tried throwing sticks; but to no avail. I tried to think of other ways to get these mangos; but came up with nothing.
However, the unexpected twist in fate that had led me to this situation gave me something really special; time to experience the rainforest and its wild inhabitants closely.
The sounds of the rainforest were enchanting to me; from eerie bird calls to the singing of tree frogs accompanied by the percussion like clicking sounds of the insects; waking up to the loud growls of Howler Monkeys at dawn fast became my natural alarm call.
I soon learnt that the sound of rain meant not only water for my bottles outside the hut, but it was also a signal to run out there and let the rain sooth my mosquito bites of which I had many, this was natures way of cleansing me for the day.
I watched the behaviour of the animals in the area and realised that they too had their daily routines; a group of White Faced Capuchin Monkeys would habitually pass by my hut, moving from tree to tree at around 4pm followed closely by a group of Howler Monkeys.
I quietly followed these two diurnal groups of monkeys with my camera and took pleasure in photographing them at play; a few of the females had babies on their backs and would leap, launching themselves from branch to branch and landing with perfect precision.
The Howlers stayed further back, however the two groups seemed surprisingly tolerant of each other, not quite so of me though.
I noticed early on that two of the Capuchins were acting as ‘sentry guards’ creeping nearer to me and watching my every move, they screamed and bared their teeth each time I took a photograph. As my camera made a loud clicking sound, it was clearly the camera that they were threatened by, not me.
I made my way back to the hut and was sitting writing the diary for the day, when suddenly two mangos hit me one after the other on the leg, aimed perfectly and was a clear warning from the monkeys; to stay away.
This was an absolute blessing in disguise though, as now I had mangos!!!
I decided then and there that I must follow the monkeys daily to get my mangos.
The next day I was ready and trailed them again, the Capuchins were a joy to watch with the adults grooming each other and the young play fighting. However, I needed those mangos badly, so I stepped out from behind my tree and did a little dance to annoy them and sure enough, right on cue the monkeys threw some mangos at me.
It became a game where I would run away then creep back for the floored mangos, before the ants descended, and return to my hut to enjoy them hacking at them with my knife and greedily drinking in the juices.
After a few days of successfully getting pelted with mangos, I decided to leave the camera behind and simply watch the monkeys, it is good to do this to really ‘see’ the wildlife instead of being intent on capturing it all on camera, observing them was quite magical.
I watched the families resting at a spot where the Howler monkeys lay on their backs along branches or would hang upside down by their prehensile tails scooping up leaves and fruit to eat. They seemed to love play fighting also.
Of the Capuchin group the adults looked on while their young played, I looked into the eyes of an adult sitting nearby on a branch; the face was so expressive and human looking and the eyes seemed to be full of an ancient wisdom.
The image below is that monkey:
The monkeys were less threatened that day, as I did not have my camera with me, even the two sentry guards seemed more at ease. I moved slowly from behind my tree sitting in full view and they at last seemed to accept me, it was a special day and I felt extremely privileged to be this close to them.
No mangos were thrown and this time I got back to the hut without being followed by them… or so I thought. However, just as I was in sight of the hut I was suddenly covered in a sweet, hot sticky liquid; one of the monkeys had peed on me!
So much for acceptance!!!
After 5 weeks out there I returned to do a photographic exhibition at the Vale and Downland Museum and did talks about my encounters at public events and on BBC Radio Oxford.
From there I gained some interest from people (including BBC Radio Oxford) who have encouraged me to write a book on these events, it is already written as I kept a diary of my time out there.
I hope to get a publisher interested in this.
Following on from Costa Rica, I found that I could not settle long before wanting to get out and explore more places in my quest for wildlife and adventure!!!
Back in the UK I was once again looking for this next adventure and was fortunate to meet some of the relations of Ernest Shackleton and his crew including Henry Worsall as I had contacted them about their Expedition to complete Shackleton’s quest to get to the South pole.
I got an invite to their presentation on the Expedition of that journey which was fascinating and the question they posed at the end of the talk was:
“This is our Antarctica, whats yours?”
I knew then I had to get out there too!
I was of course very excited to receive this invitation which arrived on my birthday.
Off to London I went and headed to the BAFTA in Piccadilly and met more of the relatives from Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition team (1914-1917). What an absolute privilege.
Princess Ann was there, but far more exciting to me was to be able to read extracts of the original diaries of Shackleton and see his maps and equipment, it was all rather surreal and served as further inspiration to get out there.
I got home from that very special day and knew that I would be going to Antarctica and so started looking at various options.
In 2010 I flew out to Ushuaia the Southern most city in the World and met up with two complete strangers, Rudy from Belgium and Peter from Australia and we trekked and camped around Patagonia crossing into Chile and back into Argentina. We trekked up mountains and ice trekked across ice shelves and into ice caves; it was fantastic!!!
We then travelled back to Ushuaia and boarded the M/S Expedition to head out of the famous Beagle Channel across the dreaded Drakes Passage out to Antarctica!!!! The object was to explore as much of the wildlife as was possible and to cross the Antarctic Circle which we did at 66°33′ S.
Here is an extract of my diary to illustrate the roughness of the seas over the notorious Drakes passage:
Tuesday 2nd March 2010 – Approaching Drakes Passage
“A terrible night followed as we hit Drakes passage at around 01:20am and the ship was hurled about the waves like a cork, it was very difficult staying on the bunk and I got thrown off mine 4 times throughout the night. In the end I tried to sleep with one hand gripped firmly on the edge of the bunk, however as soon as sleep did take over and my grip relaxed off I fell”
Wednesday 3rd March 2010 – Crossing Drakes Passage
“Dreadful, just dreadful, we are still rocking against huge waves and I can hear plates smashing downstairs.
I can only describe this as an inescapable living hell!!!! The hours are so long and I just want this to pass, I cannot move off my bunk as I am so sick, but just lay flat here as I write this.
We are being blown off course and are now heading WEST instead of SOUTH!”
I wrote that bit of diary whilst laying flat on my bunk, the biro would stop working periodically as I wrote holding it upside down, however the seasickness that I felt would not allow me to write in any other position than that, the rough sea crossing lasted for 3 days due to being blown off course.
Once through the passage the seas calmed down and I got up off my bunk and went out of the cabin, down the long hallway and out onto deck in my pyjamas with my waterproof downy jacket thrown over and wearing wellington boots. As I stepped outside for the first time it was just getting light on that early misty morning and I slipped slightly as there were pieces of ice on the wet deck floor. Looking up I saw that it was snowing, the sky was grey and a huge block of ice which looked like a giant glacier mint sailed by the M/S expedition or should I say we sailed past it. This first sighting of ice was quite magical and I was alone up there with not a soul around, just how I tend to like it.
The Russian Ice Navigator would now have to do us proud as we were approaching more ice!
Th wildlife encountered in the Antarctic includes: Gentoo penguins, Adelie penguins, Chin Strap Penguins, Weddell seals, crab eater deals, Leopard seals, Fur seals, Albatross birds, Cape Petrels, Skua birds, Cormorants, Killer Whales, Right Wing Whales and Humpback Whales.
Following on from that I have been on many adventures most of which are written about on here, inclduing Madgascar, the Rainforests of Guyana, Cambodia and Vietnam where I set up my own caving expedition, here is a short extract of it here: