All photos and text are property of Dave Forney and may not be used without express permission.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Planes & Other Stuff from Chad

Here are a few final random shots from Chad. If you missed the other posts I did on Chad, just scroll down after this post to find the previous two, and also check out the Flying in Chad post from April, and the Flying in Chad 2 post from May.

First, some MAF airplanes-in-action shots, way out in the middle of the Chadian desert...

As I've mentioned before, it's difficult to get the proper sense of perspective in the vast, open desert. The photo below was taken from over a kilometer away, with a 200mm lens (the largest I had with me) and a 1.4x teleconverter, and then significantly cropped in post. The plane almost looks like it's being viewed through slightly distorted glass--the result of the shimmering heat waves rising from the sun-scorched gravel and sand airstrip in the foreground.

Here's a shot taken at 24mm. A wide angle lens will automatically tend to diminish the size of background objects. Still, that black hill just behind the plane appears deceptively smaller than it should, even with the wide angle lens, because of the immense, open sky and landscape beyond. In truth, it's an incredibly imposing, glistening-black cone, towering almost exactly 1,000 feet above the surrounding flat sands.

In case you doubt me, here's a telephoto shot of the MAF plane as it flies a circuit to land at the strip above, with the same black cone forming the backdrop. Crazy how distance, focal length of the lens, and objects in the foreground or background can change your perspective hugh?

Here's a shot of our parked MAF plane, appearing tiny against the vast yellow sands and deep blue sky of the Sarah Desert.  I took this shot as I was returning from what was supposed to be a 'short walk' to an intriguing rock I saw, not too far away.  We were waiting for some passengers to conduct meetings with local government officials, and decided to explore a bit. Well, the 'short walk' turned out to be a rather long walk, in the same way that the intriguing rock turned out to be a massive, towering, giant of a boulder (well over 100' high.) I guess its size had been disguised by its distance, which, incidentally, was much further away than the "not so far away" that I had initially thought. Although returning a bit tired and slightly dehydrated, it was actually a lot of fun! In some of the previous posts I included a few shots of some of the things I saw along the way, including some of the desert shots, and the shot of the owl, and of the camels.

We also came across the remnants of a battle, which took place here against the Libyan forces in the 1980's. It's amazing how the dry heat of the desert preserves everything.

If you want to travel long distances here, and you don't have access to a tank, or an airplane, or a camel, and you don't want to walk, your alternate method of transportation across these seemingly endless sands, is probably going to be by 4x4 truck. Traveling by truck through the desert is not just a difficult adventure, it's often an arduous battle against the elements, and can quickly become a fight for survival. Here's a shot from thousands of feet above, as a truck ambles along the deceptively benign looking tracks, meandering through the desolate desert sands.

And here's another, showing the all-to-common outcome. In this case it appears the truck followed the wrong tracks, or perhaps the sands shifted and the tracks changed. The sands are constantly changing with the blowing winds, so the path is constantly changing too. If you zoom in, you can see the people, appearing as tiny ants surrounding the truck, which is hopelessly stuck in a deep sand dune. Imagine digging and pushing and working for hours under the scorching sun, only to get stuck again a few minutes or hours later. And again. And again. That's what it's like to travel by vehicle through this desert. The trip by 4x4 truck from the capital city to the oasis town (where I was flying when I took this photo) can take between five to nine days depending on the conditions and the vehicle and its loading. The MAF flight takes only a few, comfortable hours, and is infinitely safer.

I mentioned above that the sands are constantly blowing and shifting. Here is a picture of a typical, small, remote village. You can see how the sands and dunes blow right through the village, and around the structures. Do you see the trees at the top of the picture? Those are date palms, which are very common wherever there is a water source, and people.

Here's a closer shot of the dates. I had never seen dates on a tree before. They were everywhere in the little villages and oasis towns. From what I came to gather, this region is famous for the quality of their dates. I can attest to the fact that they were delicious!

Over time, the sands can completely overtake a village, forcing the people to move their houses. Here's an example. As I've said so many times previously, life in the desert is difficult and unforgiving. But there are many people who call these places home. And there are those who have relocated to work and minister among these peoples. And they rely on MAF for their transportation.

I hope you've enjoyed my posts on Chad. I was privileged to be able to spend a short time there flying with MAF, where I got to meet some wonderful people who are doing some incredible ministries and works in some very difficult and remote places.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Animal Encounters in Chad

As promised, here are a few shots of some of the animals I saw while in Chad. These first five photos were taken in Zakouma National Park in the southeastern section of Chad.

We flew down there late in the day, and spent the night in the park in order to be able to leave very early the next morning. Our passengers had international flight connections from the capital city that next day, and we wouldn't have been able to get them back in time unless we were pre-positioned to the park the day before. These shots were taken on the short, meandering drive from the dirt airstrip to the lodge.

These northern carmine bee-eater birds were as loud and raucous as they were colorful!

Not so colorful, and with an overwhelming accompanying stench that made our eyes water and our stomachs turn, were the marabou storks and vultures feeding on the rotting remains of a buffalo. The Marabou stork is one of the largest birds in the world, with standing heights reaching about five feet, and weights of up to about 20 lbs. Their wingspan can easily be 7-9 feet across, and the largest on record was 12 feet across! There are unconfirmed reports of them  being even bigger! We often see them circling over Kampala in large groups, at exactly the traffic pattern altitude that our aircraft fly over the airstrip. Several times I've seen them much, much closer than I'd like to from my 'office window.' It would not be a good day, if we hit one of these giant, ugly birds in the air. But they do play an important role, along with the vultures and other scavengers, in a well balanced ecosystem. (I definitely prefer seeing them here, in this environment, as opposed to in the city, where they love to hang out and eat the garbage.)

It was very nearly the end of dry season when I was in Zakouma National Park. The river was mostly dry, and most of the former lakes and ponds were either dust bowls, or were marked only by a dark dirty stain in the dust, with some thick, soupy mud and 'water' the middle. But the animals that live here, like these giraffes, know where and how to find the water they need to survive. These were some of a heard of about two dozen giraffes that were quenching their thirst as the sun was setting.

It was dark by the time we reached the lodge, which is located by a small river. The next morning I saw that the river was almost completely dry. However, there were isolated pools of water that remained here and there. The driver took us to one such pool, very close to the lodge, to show us the resident crocodiles. The pool was about the size of a typical swimming pool, and appeared about as deep (although there was no way to know that.) He turned off the engine and we quietly coasted down as close as we could get on the vehicle track. Then we walked up to the edge and peered down over with our flashlights. I expected to see one or two crocodiles. But what I saw was far more shocking! Dozens of the beasts were everywhere! Some were still in the water, betrayed only by the bright spots of their reflected eyes, but many of them were fully out on the sandy bank, their gaping jaws wide open as they all reflexively either plunged into the dark water, or turned their heads in the direction of the light as if challenging us to get closer. This one held his ground the longest, and he was larger than he appears in the photo. It was pitch dark except for the light of our torch (for you Americans--a "torch" is what the British, and others call it--we would call it a flashlight). Anyway, it was a very impressive scene. The black water was churning and bubbling, and there were sounds of splashing and grunting everywhere. I would never have thought it possible that there could have been so many crocodiles in such a small body of water. Do you see the shadows of the two bats that I happened to catch in the circle of light?

Aside from that one trip to the national park in the south, the rest of my time in Chad was spent in the northern half of the country, which is mostly nothing but desert. It's amazing that any animals can survive in these harsh conditions.

Once, when we were waiting for some passengers in the middle of seemingly nowhere, we (the other MAF pilot, Andrew, and I) walked several miles out into the desert just to "check it out." We saw some large rocks that appeared to be about a five or 10 minute walk away, and they beckoned us. Distances can be very deceiving in the wide open desert, and it wound up taking us probably 45 minutest to get to the rocks. Initially we thought they were maybe the size of a house, but they turned out to be many times larger than that. Of course, we had to climb them, and the view from the top was amazing. While we were up there, we spotted some old bombed-out tanks in another direction, so we headed that way. As we were walking in that direction we came across some fresh camel tracks in the sand--one set of large tracks and one set of small tracks side-by-side. We followed them for a bit, and low and behold, in the distance we saw this mama camel and her calf. They were very skittish, and we weren't able to get close. It's amazing how fast camels can walk! There was no sign of any people anywhere around, but I assume they were owned by someone? I guess it's possible that they could have been wild (I like to think that they were wild) but I know that there aren't very many wild camels left in the world. That said, I've heard that there are still allegedly some wild camels living in remote parts of Chad, so who knows? Lets just agree to pretend that they were wild, even if they weren't. :-)

As I was exploring the giant rocks, I came across a sort of slot canyon--the sheer red rock walls extending 75 feet or more above my head, where they seemed to converge into one against the dark blue sky. As I was gaping at the contrast of red rock and blue sky above, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It was a gorgeous owl, staring at me with huge, striking, golden-orange and black eyes.  Quietly, and slowly I backtracked out of the slot canyon. Then I affixed my longer lens to my camera, got it all set the way I wanted, and then crept back into the canyon and took this picture.

Desert life is harsh and difficult. Only the strong survive! The same, dry, extreme heat which kills so quickly, also preserves, seemingly indefinitely, that which it kills. I came across a several skulls and mummified remains, like the one below, during my little explorations. In the background you can see some old Libyan tanks--another type of 'mummified' remains, which peppered the desert landscape in this area. They are remnants and reminders of a different era--the Chadian-Lybian conflict of the 1980's.

Check back next week... I think I might have one more post related to Chad. I'd like to show you some of the airplane shots, and a few other odds and ends.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Rugged, Beautiful, Desolation of Chad

The overwhelming desolation and seemingly eternal vastness of the Sahara desert is surreal and shocking! The view from my office window, thousands of feet above that rugged, beautiful Chadian landscape left me speechless. The photos definitely do not do it justice. 

At times it seemed like I was looking out over an endless ocean of sand, pierced only by sporadic islands of jagged, immense rocks the size of skyscrapers. I felt small, vulnerable and insignificant by comparison.

I love wide open, surreal landscapes. This area (the two photos above, and the next three photos below) were taken around, and to the Northwest of Fada. It reminded me of the American Southwest--Arizona, Utah, etc.  But the desolation seemed magnified, as there were no roads, no buildings, no signs of humans in any direction. I would love to join an expedition by land through this region--how incredible would that be?!

These rock formations went on forever... at least it seemed that way. Again, their size is deceiving. They seem small in the photo, but I can promise you that's not true. Based on our altitude, and comparing this to other areas I've flown over, but also seen from the ground, these rocks are huge! The spires above are probably 50 - 100 feet high or more, and the ones below jut hundreds of feet above the scorching sand.  Can you see the arch in the rock below, just above the cream-colored sand dune? There were dozens of large arches in this area. In fact, not too far from here is one of the largest arches in the world.

As you continue flying north, the rocks eventually disappear and give way to nothing but sand--sand as far as the eye can see. That's the area where the massive dunes line up like soldiers in  parrallel lines stretching to the horizon. Some of the photos from the last post were taken in that area.  Continuing further to the Northwest, beyond the oasis town of Faya, the desert rocks once again begin to appear. In the next two photos you can see how the rocks and dunes in this area have both been shaped into seemingly endless lines by the harsh, hot desert winds.

The further North you go, the larger and more rugged the rocks get. Check out the colorful sands caught in-between these huge rocks.

As we begin to approach the foothills of the Tibesti Mountains, the landscape gradually takes on the extreme, rugged, desolate appearance that seems to have more in common with the surface of Mars than with our own planet. The sand and rock in this area appears almost monochrome, so I converted these images to black and white, which enhances the light and shadows and better captures the raw, gritty desolation of the region.

In many areas there were seemingly endless, old lava flows, cones, craters, etc., stretching on as far as I could see. Can you imagine trying to travel through this landscape? Yet, there are local people who have survived and thrived here for generations.

And here we are getting into the Tibesti mountains themselves--in every direction, as far as the eye can see, there was nothing but rocks. Jagged rock cliff faces reached hundreds and even thousands of feet above the crumbled rock valleys and canyon floors below. I wander if a human has ever stood on the top of that cliff face below?

Obviously, the previous several photos were converted to black and white. However, in the remaining photos below, I wanted to show you the true colors (or rather lack thereof) exactly as they appeared. You can see that although the shade of color varies slightly over large areas--there's really no vibrance, or dramatic variation within the local areas. It's weird--when I was looking at my photos for the first time, I almost thought I had somehow accidentaly converted them to monochrome. Nope--that's how the landscape appears in real life.

As I've said several times in reference to the previous photos, the size and scope of these jagged ridges and canyons is deceptively huge. This area reminded me of the Badlands of South Dakota, but again, even more desolate and eerie.

As promised, here's a picture of the highest peak in the Sahara Desert--Emi Koussi. I was fortunate to have some incredibly clear weather this day, allowing for some striking photos of this massive, rugged, scarred volcanic mountain. The highest point (at 11,302') is the little peak at the top, right edge of the photo, just on the outer rim of the huge volcanic caldera, which stretches several miles across. At the top of the photo, looking to the south, you can clearly see the edge of the caldera, where it falls sharply away to the barren plains below.

Here's a closer view of the edge of the caldera--the right side of the photo is within the caldera, while the top left corner of the photo shows the outside of the caldera, dropping rapidly away to the rugged, barren valley far below. There were many striking craters, cones, domes, etc. within the large caldera, and I'm sure a volcanologist or geologist would have an absolute blast studying this area. If you happen to be one such person, and you are adventurous enough to plan an expedition here, please do take me with you! I'd love to explore this area on foot. Or on the back of a camel. :-)

Speaking of camels... check back next week to see some of the wildlife I spotted while in Chad.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Sands of Chad

You may remember that back in April I had the privilege of spending some time flying for the MAF Chad program. If you missed those posts, you can check them out here: Flying in Chad and here: Flying in Chad 2. I really enjoyed working with the wonderful MAF staff there, and getting a glimpse into the hugely significant role that MAF plays in helping to facilitate the ministry and work of many agencies who work in some very remote and desolate places.

Chad is a vast and rugged country, offering some of the most immense and inhospitable landscapes that I've seen anywhere in the world. From the comfort of the MAF plane, thousands of feet above the shimmering sands, I was awestruck at the ever-changing colors and shapes of the desert dunes  far below, and overwhelmed with the sheer size of the desert! It was a truly mesmerizing and surreal beauty--soft, silky, pastel colors and dreamy lines, often seeming to stretch from horizon to horizon. This is the largest desert in the world--a desert who's unearthly size and fierce beauty is perhaps only surpassed by her cunning reputation to quickly kill any unsuspecting fool who does not understand or respect her fierce power.  This is the heart of the Sahara Desert!

Over the next few posts I want to share with you some of the awe-inspiring natural-world scenes that I saw in Chad, both from the air, and from the ground (or sand as it may be.) In this post we're obviously focusing on the sand. Who knew that simple sand could be so beautiful? Did you ever see one of those decorative bottles filled with layer upon layer of colorful sand? For some reason I used to think the sand in those bottles had been intentionally and artificially colored by man. Now I can tell you that my theory was wrong--the desert sands of Chad come naturally in a rainbow of colors--more than I would have ever thought possible.

I had a hard time choosing which photos to share--I have many more like these, and they are all unique, displaying a myriad of colors, lines, shapes and shadows.

Keep in mind that most of these photos (in fact all of them except the one below) were taken from the aircraft, thousands of feet above the desert floor. Because of that, it's easy to loose perspective. For example, how big do you think the dune above is? Is it 10 feet across, or hundreds? Or more? There's really no way to know without an adjacent person or vehicle or tree with which to compare it. But I can tell you that if a person were in this photo (and we were far from any sign of civilization, so I doubt there was a person anywhere within a hundred miles or more of that dune down there) then he or she would have been invisible in this image. A vehicle (if it could have plowed through the endless sands to arrive at this dune--which is not likely) would have appeared as a  mere dot. The dune above was easily over a kilometer across, and hundreds of feet high, and it was only one of hundreds, if not thousands, of similar dunes that stretched in a vanishing line to the horizon.

Most of these photos were taken in the middle of nowhere, far from any visible signs of human presence. However, this final photo was taken just a few kilometers from one of the remote, oasis villages where I spent several nights in North central Chad. I had no idea when I took this photo that there were people on the dunes. So imagine my surprise when I first examined this shot on my computer and discovered a handful of people who seem to be 'sledding' down the dunes! Can you see them? They're up near the top middle of the shot, on the left side of the dune, adjacent to where the sun is shining. They appear as little dots, but when zoomed in at full resolution on my high definition screen (this image has been reduced in size for the blog) you can clearly make out the people, and see that some of them are sitting down, and appear to be sliding down the face of the dune. This is definitely a much smaller dune than most of the ones depicted above. But it still gives you a bit of perspective as to their immense size!

In the next post I'll show you some of the other types of landscapes in Chad--the highest peak in the Sahara Desert, some dramatic rock formations, and some of the most other-worldly trenches and canyons that I've ever seen anywhere on planet earth. Not that I've been to any places off of planet earth (despite what my sister-in-law might think)--but the places I'll show you seem to have more in common with the surface of the moon, or an asteroid, than they do with our friendly planet.