More on my adventures with The Hostel Life
Today we had to get up extra early to meet with a guide who was going to take us out in his open air truck to look for more game. Long before sunrise or breakfast we climbed out of our tents and quietly made our way out into the park.
Having gotten so lucky the day before and seeing a pride of lions we were all half thinking that we were already as lucky as we could get. Arrogantly, the other half of each of us was eager to see much more. Elephants and a leopard were on top of our wish-list today. Elephants we expected to see sooner or later. Leopards on the other hand are much more rare, camouflaged and shy. Most everyone we spoke with said that we should not expect to see one on our trip. Demanding the extraordinary while in this remarkable country we set out amongst the giraffe waiting for the sun to come up.
We then spent the next few hours driving around underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, the park is amazing and we saw many animals, from hyaena to blue wildebeast to snakes to giraffes and zebras. Oh how quickly the conditioned mind gets jaded. Then, suddenly, our guide stopped the truck and pointed into the brush along the side of the road. At first I saw nothing and wondered what type of pigeon he might have spotted. How wrong I was! Right there, sitting under the cover of a few branches, right on on the road, was a leopard!
We inched the truck forward ever closer until we were within feet of this massively powerful and jaw droppingly beautiful creature. He/she seemed somewhat indifferent to our presence until we tried to get within 10 or so yards. At this point the big cat got up and walked a short ways into the brush. We followed along for some time hoping to see the leopard walk out into open and cross the road. A couple of times she came close, but then turned back into the woods. In all we probably had 10-15 minutes with this magnificent creature.
After that we called it a day and headed back to the camp. Along the way we saw an adorable group of mongoose hanging out around a sign. It’s hard to believe that these cute little ferret like animals are some of the best snake hunters in the world. We were just minutes away from our camp when suddenly our truck changed directions. Our guide had spotted something he couldn’t let us miss. The Black Rhinoceros is currently classified as critically endagered. Their existence here on earth is in jeopardy. Most will never see one, and our children may not even have the chance should we let them go extinct. None the less, here one was, chomping away on some plants right in front of us.
These animals are huge. With their massive bodies and that huge horn protruding out from its head I really felt like I was looking at a dinosaur. Although completely vegatarian this beast can easily weigh over a ton and is know to be rather aggressive. The thought of all that weight charging horns first is enough to give anyone pause. We kept a safe enough distance, but got plenty close to get a sense of just how enormous this grey, mud covered creature really is. Yet another rare opportunity offered to us here at Etosha National Park.
After that we headed to breakfast letting everyone we saw know just how lucky we had been. That left one burning desire in the group. We wanted to see elephants. We talked to a number of people on the staff of the park and figured out that our best bet was not to look along the southern road that heads straight west through the park below the main lake, but to drive north up another road. We got the name of a promising watering hole and headed out in that direction.
Wouldn’t you know it, luck shined upon us once again. Immediately upon our arrival at the watering hole we spotted a large group of elephants hanging out, drinking water, covering themselves with dirt and having a grand old time. There were young children alongside adults all enjoying the fresh water on this warm summer day.
We spent the rest of the day driving around the park marveling at the vast open spaces teaming with life large and small. Here we were having yet another storybook day in Namibia.
More on my adventures with The Hostel Life
Today we woke up early at the Treesleeper camp, ate breakfast, said goodbye to our new friend Moses and got on the road to head NorthWest to Etosha National Park. We were told that the opportunities to see game in their natural surroundings were many at Etosha, but no one could have prepared us for just how many different animals we would see in such a short time. After roughly an hour and fifteen minutes on mostly dirt roads we pulled up to the gate and headed into the park. Less than two minutes later, just driving up the driveway to Namutoni camp we saw a group of zebras crossing the road and then minutes later our first of many giraffe sightings. Seeing this massive animals cross right in front of our truck stopped us dead in our tracks with smiles on everyones face. After that we pulled into Namutoni to do a little shopping at the gift store, find our campsite and pitch our tents
Once we were all set up at the campground we got back in the truck and headed out to find some watering holes and see what animals were out. Watering holes are where all of the animals must go eventually to get a drink and cool off in the hot Namibian sunshine. Before we even got to the first one we came across a large group of zebras. Adults and children walked around on both sides of the road eating, playing and even getting into the occasional playful tussle.
After that we saw springbok, buffalo, red hartebeest, african storks, mongoose and a large group of giraffe hanging out drinking around the watering hole. It seemed like we couldn’t drive more than a few feet without running into some new animal that none of us had ever seen before in our life. The opportunity to see wildlife at Etosha is far beyond my wildest expectations.
After spending an hour or so shooting video and stills and just marveling mouths agape at the many animals we decided that it was time to get back to our camps. The footage that we are getting here is gorgeous. I can’t wait for everyone to see it. We could shoot all day and into the night, but the weather was starting to worry us. The sky in Namibia is massive. In Windhoek we were at 1660M (5440 feet) altitude so the clouds seemed very close directly above, but due to the flat landscape we could also see for many miles in every direction. Here at Etosha it was very hot and sunny directly above us, but there were storms brewing off in the distance and they seemed to be moving in our direction. Seeing all of the lightning and distant rain we thought about our tents with the windows open and decided to call it a day hoping that tomorrow we would see some of the big cats or any of the other ‘big five’. The big five in Africa refers to the five most dangerous animals, but also the five that most who come hope to get a glimpse of. They are lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceros and buffalo. We got a distant look at a buffalo, but were yet to see any of the others. The leopard is an elusive animal with great camouflage and a reluctance to be near humans. The rest seemed possible to spot, but seeing a lion would be a real treat for me.
We headed back along the dirt roads in our 4×4 pickup truck when we noticed a couple of other vehicles pulled over to the side of the road as if they were looking at something. We pulled alongside and asked a safari guide what they were looking at. He said that there was a lion in the bush. We looked for a few minutes, saw nothing and then headed on down the road. Evan, our Director of Photography, then said that he just barely saw a lion really far back under a tree behind us. We drove for another half a minute contemplating getting stuck in a massive thunder storm and coming home to wet sleeping bags before deciding that we had to turn around and press out luck. I couldn’t be happier that we did.
It took a while, but eventually we too spotted a lion off in the trees. At first I shot a picture of her ears and then two eyes came into view. This was it, an actual wild lion less than 50 feet from our truck. I was firing off photos thrilled to get the smallest bit of fur on film. What happened next I never would have imagined possible. First one lion came forward out of the trees walking right towards our vehicle. ‘Was this safe?’ I wondered as I hung out the window to get a clear shot? Next thing I know I see a little cub, then another, then another. They were bouncing around playfully tackling one another moving closer and closer to our vehicle. It wasn’t long before they were out in the street right right in front of us Mom and Dad keeping a watchful eye on both them and us all the while.
We must have hung out with the lion pride of an hour inching along the road following them back towards the watering hole in awe of just how beautiful and peaceful this family seemed. At times it really seemed as if mom and dad were showing off their family for us. They certainly didn’t see us as a threat or show any desire to be anything other than friendly towards us. It wasn’t until the very last minute before we knew the park was to close that we decided to leave the lions to their wild Namibian home.
Today we woke up early at the Cheetah Conservation Fund to get breakfast before heading to the ‘Cheetah Run’. We weren’t really sure what that term meant, but all of the staff at the CCF had a certain glimmer in their eye when they mentioned it to us. It turns out that this was to be one of those amazing, once in a lifetime experiences that really could not happen anywhere else in the world. Thank you Namibia.
The people at the CCF are world leading experts when it comes to cheetahs. They are quite often developing the standards of practice that those working with cheetahs internationally will reference and/or adopt. When it comes to the small percentage of cheetahs that the CCF houses in captivity it became quickly apparent to the staff that without exercise the cheetah’s health would decline. Sound familiar? Seeing as no one has invented a cheetah treadmill or opened up Gold’s Gym for cats it fell to them to create a stimulus that would arouse a cheetahs hunting instinct and get them running in a somewhat controlled manner. Considering that cheetahs run faster than any other animal with a top speed of over 70 miles/hr (110 km/hr) this wasn’t quite as simple as throwing a tennis ball and asking them to fetch.
If you’ve ever seen dogs running at the track you might have noticed that there is a little mechanical bunny that races around the track ahead of them. The people at CCF developed a cable system that has a motor in the center. There is a series of pulleys which the cable runs around as it weaves its way throughout a field creating a 300 meter (1,000ft) course for them to run. They then attached a rag to the cable. Since cheetahs are natural born hunters the movement of the rag is enough to trigger their hunting instincts. The cheetahs see this rag and take off full sprint after it.
We were set up mere feet away from the cable waiting for these high speed balls of claw and fur to come racing towards us. At times we stood just past a pulley so that the cheetahs would come racing directly towards us turning after the rag in a cloud of dirt narrowly missing us as we stood still and trusting knowing full well that should their attention turn from the rag to our shirt the mood of the day would change rather quickly. Clearly we stayed as still as we could.
I got some of the most amazing photos I have ever taken. There is nothing quite like a cheetah being right in front of your face running at full speed. I don’t think many get so close and walk around grinning the way we all were afterwards. Luckily these particular cheetahs are the most tame ones at CCF. After they were all tired out from running faster than most non-highway drivers they were tired, well fed and content to be approached. We got to pet the cheetahs and take a few pictures with them. A big thanks to the entire staff at the Cheetah Conservation Fund for their amazing hospitality. Dr. Laurie Marker’s love for and vast knowledge of this amazing animal came through in every moment. We are truly blessed to have been able to spend this time with her and these animals.
After a very full morning we got back into our rental and on the road heading to TreeSleeper Camp in Tsintsabis roughly 162 miles (260 km) from the CCF. After letting me get my rally on speeding down the dirt road sliding through mud puddles Evan took back over driving on the left hand side of the road. 3.5 hours later we pulled up to the camp. We were greeted by Moses and shown to our campsite where we were to pitch tents that they provided and sleep up in a platform in the trees. The San are the local bush people in the region. Throughout the years they became experts at sleeping in trees in order to stay safe from lions, cheetahs and other predators. We get to experience this way of life first hand. Luckily these more modern campgrounds have electricity and hot water provided by solar power.
After we got our tents setup it was off to the communal fire pit to see some traditional San shamanic dance cermonies. Mehdy even got to dance with the men for one song dancing in a circle around the campfire till sweat dripped from his face. He just couldn’t keep up with the San people who often dance late into the night celebrating an event in someones life.
After the dancing it was back to our tents and quickly to sleep. Another amazing day in this spectacular southern African country. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store for us.
Mehdy reached out recently. Since I am taking a 1 year sabbatical and can once again travel he invited me to come shoot another show with The Hostel Life. This time we went to Namibia. I arrived in NYC today to spend some time with my love before heading back to the mountain in North Carolina. My responsibilities on the show are photography and sound, but I also wrote a few blogs detailing what happened a few days. Here’s my blog on Day2.
THE HOSTEL LIFE: NAMIBIA – CHEETAH MEET AND GREET
By Devin Martin – Photography and Sound
Today we left the Cardboard Box Hostel in Windhoek in our rental truck and headed North towards The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) outside Otjiwarango. It was about 163 miles (262km) door to door. The last 29 miles (47km) are a dirt road that ends right at the CCF’s gate. We were heading to the CCF to meet up with Dr. Laurie Marker, arguably the world’s leading expert on Cheetahs. There are roughly 10-12 thousand cheetahs left in the entire world. Namibia has 3-4,000, or one third, of the world’s population. Dr. Marker, originally from the United States, moved to Namibia to study the cheetah. She is co-founder and director of the CCF. The Conservation Fund is mecca for studying cheetah behavior and helping modern people to live in peace with these amazing animals. The CCF is open to the public and also houses a number of interns and volunteers doing research.
Immediately upon our arrival we were rushed into the facility for feeding time. A few of the younger, rescued cheetahs that are not able to roam wild are fed meat in a bowl. Our first glimpse of these rather large cats was teeth out chomping on big hunks of meat. Their beauty and their power were immediately apparent. I couldn’t wait to see them up close and without a fence between us. Luckily we wouldn’t have to wait too long.
Dr. Marker greeted us at the feeding and gave us a quick tour of the facility. We got to see the veterinary clinic while surgery was being performed on a dog that got in the way of a warthog’s tusk. The injury was worse than originally expected and they had to stay with the pup throughout the night, but she was doing much better come morning. We saw goats being milked (they make their own goat cheese on site), fed baby goats from a bottle, fed their little puppies bowls of puppy chow and marveled at the wild warthogs and other animals running around the property. If we had any doubts that yes, we are in Africa, they were dashed at the CCF.
After seeing the rest of the animals it was time to get in an open-air truck with our guide, Charles, and go visit the cheetahs out in the bush. We managed to track down five cheetahs. Our guide had a bag of meat that he uses to lure them closer to the truck and we got amazingly close. Some of the photos I got one would assume required a really long lens as the cheetahs face fills the entire frame. I was mostly using a 50mm lens (comparable to the human eye), they were just that close. These animals are considered ‘retired’. They have spent a lot of time with people, but don’t let that fool you, they are all wild animals. I can’t keep track of the number of times my little house cat, Agape, has gotten feisty and drawn blood. Without the proper respect these animals could certainly do a lot of damage. Luckily they all seemed to be well fed and happy.
As late afternoon came we went on a game drive with Dr. Marker, Dr. Bruce Brewer and a few of the interns working at the facility. We drove out into the 20,000 acre bush looking for wild game. We saw Kudu, Warthogs, Springbok, Red HarteBeest, a number of birds and a very unexpected Aardwolf that the whole staff of CCF was excited to get a glimpse of. We were hoping for a leopard but haven’t gotten lucky there yet. Hopefully when we head north to Etosha National Park we will see lions, leopards, and elephants. Personally, I can’t wait to see another baboon. We saw one perched on a post along the road outside of the airport and haven’t seen one since.
Tomorrow we start the day with a cheetah run. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but it sounds like they will be exercising the cheetahs by prodding their hunting instincts and we will get to stand a few feet away as they come running by at full speed. Considering that they are the fastest animal on land this should be amazing to witness.
After Panama City the audience voted that we head to Baranquilla, Colombia. This was the only real option in my mind as Baranquilla is said to have the 2nd biggest Carnival celebration after Rio De Janero, Brazil. That, combined with the fact that we ended up getting hooked up with press passes made this an amazing place to be.
A big part of Carnival is the parades. With press passes we got bussed to the route and then set loose on the parade route. We could literally walk down the middle of the street and the dancers would just work around us…or with us. Anthony and I ran around with Mehdy getting drunk and shooting video all day. I got some amazing photos. Check em out here. And check out the video below featuring The Emergence track To Die By These Kisses. (now available on iTunes)
After Baranquilla we went to the cute little beach front town called Santa Marta. This video is pretty mellow. It features a track of mine called ‘drift’ that I put out on the Gods Own Drunk CD a few years back. (also available on iTunes)
After Santa Marta we were off to Bucaramanga and then to San Gil and finally Bogota. San Gil is known for adventure sports. It’s a really cool little city nestled in the mountains. Anthony was still sick for most of this shoot, so the video below I shot, directed and edited; with Anthony yelling keyboard shortcuts to me across the room. I now know Final Cut Pro!!! (somewhat)
First we went white water rafting. I jumped in a boat with three guides. Mehdy and some friends we met along the way jumped in another. We would go through the rapids ahead of them and then immediately direct the boat into some rocks on the side of the river. I would jump out of the boat, scramble up the boulders on the shoulder of the river and set up the camera to shoot Mehdy’s boat as it came through the rapids. Crazy, hectic and way too much fun.
The next day we went para-sailing. If I had less to do I probably would have been scared out of my mind. As it was I remember getting all geared up in the para-sailing outfit as well as with the HD video camera and my still camera. Next thing I know I’m filming Mehdy’s takeoff and then people are telling me to ‘RUN!!’ off of the cliff in front of me…..and then I was flying. The guides did a some swirling diving stunts and really showed us around. I had Mehdy hooked up with a wireless lavalier microphone and I was wearing a headset, so you can hear me screaming to him at one point and him talking back through his mic.
You’ll also notice what appears to be Mehdy swearing a lot in this video. Mehdy doesn’t really swear that much. He does have a problem with the word little though. It became Anthony’s mission as director to stop him from saying this. Any time we were looking at anything impressive or of stature Mehdy would say it was little. At times Anthony would carry around a handful of rocks to throw or a stick to hit him with every time he said it. Without Anthony there I had too many other things to worry about. But when Mehdy described the massive cliff that we were about to run off of as little, I couldn’t let it slide. So I bleeped out all of his little’s in this video.
Check out more of the pictures and videos on Facebook and YouTube. All but two pieces of the music that you here in the 15 or so videos we released is written, performed and/or produced by me. Maria Mulata contributed one song for the San Gil video above and the percussion you hear under the la Brisa Loca hostel walk through is something I recorded during one of the parades in Baranquilla.
All in all this was a wonderful, stressful, beautiful, weird, sickening, inspiring, erotic jaunt.
I hope to do it again some time.
I flew from NYC to Tampa on February 1st for a couple of days of test shooting. I met Mehdy for the first time ever and got to see my old friend Anthony for the first time in far too many months. We got to see the T-shirt’s Owen is making for us for the first time and had Mehdy’s friend Echo model them for us. We shot, edited and scored episode 1 just in time to leave Tampa. On Wednesday we flew from Tampa to Panama and uploaded the video from the Orlando airport while on layover. We got to the hostel Mamallena some time after 3am. We spent two nights at Mamallena and then moved to the Luna’s Castle Hostel the next day for 5 nights.
Mamallena is low-key hostel with great staff, $1 beers and a hammock in the rec room. A great place to relax; perfect for how we arrived. Luna’s Castle is a different animal. Built on 4 levels of a mansion it has dorms and private rooms on the top level, a kitchen and common rooms on the 3rd level, a screening room, art gallery and other private rooms (massages!) on the 2nd level and a courtyard and a great little bar called Relic on the bottom level. Relic was packed every night we were there with both locals and travelers.
I’m sitting here now trying to compile some of the moments that have resonated the most in the pasts week and, huge surprise, they revolve around music more often than not.
- Standing overlooking the water between downtown Panama and Casco Viejo, shirt off, chanting Hebrew and the chorus to a song I wrote recently to clear my head.
- Running around through Casco Viejo with Ben and Joe of BenandJoe.com talking about the film they are shooting on chupacabras, drinking coconut water straight from the coconut with one hand while shooting video with the other.
- Sitting on the balcony at Hostel Luna’s Castle playing one of the hostels guitars with a fisherman from Alaska and a view of the Panama City skyline
- Sitting in the courtyard behind Luna Castle putting together episode 2 while drinking a Shandy (half beer, half ginger ale) with the the Spanish version of the Black Eyed Peas ‘I Got a Feelin’ blasting on repeat from behind the laundry hanging out in the ghetto next door.
- Riding around in the backseat of hostel bartender Fanny’s car singing ‘Steal My Kisses’ with Anthony to test out his karaoke veritas idea before we unleash it on unsuspecting strangers.
- A late night jam session with me on guitar and vocals and Dariusz on plastic trash bucket drum trying to get the room to sing ‘By The Rivers of Babylon’
- Sitting in the living rooms of the hostel with a guitar singing songs almost not distracted by the fear of people hearing my voice
After a bit of struggle and confusion as to what the vision for each video we were producing was we ended up putting out three from Panama City. One really focuses on Luna’s Castle, the next is a video diary of the cast/crew and the third lays out the decision that we are asking the audience to make to determine where we go to next.
I hacked together two existing tracks and layed down a bassline and high hat on a new track en homage to The Roots song ‘The Roots is Coming’ then added some Don LaFontaine style voice over to score this trailer of Mehdy deciding to up and leave the day job. Main track features Candi on violin.
We’re flying into Panama on Feb 3rd to start shooting the pilot season of The Hostel Life. Get on the website and sign up for email updates to get ready to vote on the details of what we will be doing. If your mom’s not already a fan on Facebook steal her password and become one for her. She’ll thank you later, I promise.
I’ve just joined the cast/crew of The Hostel Life. As I mentioned before, I was scoring some promotional videos to help pitch the show to some networks. I had mentioned to Mehdy, the host of the show, over a few months of working together by phone that in order to write music I need inspiration, so at some point he would have to take me on one of his trips.
I was sitting in my apartment catching up with Benjamin and buying a plane ticket to India. The plan was to fly to Bangalore on Christmas to attend The Art of Living‘s Yes+ Winter Break meditation and service courses and then backpack around for a few weeks by myself hopefully meeting up with some family who would also be traveling in India at the time. I would fly out of Delhi returning to NYC on January 22nd. Literally as I was pushing the purchase button my phone rang. It was Mehdy. He told me that he was planning his next trip, the first real attempt at the show with networks watching. And he was putting together a new cast/crew. It’s going to be a three person team. Mehdy is the host. Luke is the Director of Photography. They needed one more person; a sound guy, second camera, co-writer, editor, photographer, jack-of-all type…and I was his first choice. The travel details will be up to you (the audience), but it is looking like it will be to South America for 5 weeks.
“When do you leave” I asked
“January 22nd” he replied
Interesting right? This was on Monday December 14. I decided that I couldn’t leave for over two months without some more prep-time and out of respect for my day job. So, I postponed my trip to India and will be heading where ever people send us with The Hostel Life. We meet up in Tampa on Feb 1st for a couple of days of test shooting and then we will be leaving the country. We’re going to be moving fast and covering a lot of ground. We will each have a lot of responsibilities potentially both on and off camera.
The success of this thing is going to lie heavily on audience participation. This is truly intended as an interactive guide to traveling on a budget. There will be polls on the website and what the audience votes we do within the budget while showing you how. The idea is to show how you can have an amazing adventure while on vacation for $300-400/week. We’re not talking about sitting in a little hut on the beach. We’re talking about getting off the beaten path a bit and seeing the exotic as well as festivals, fairs, natural wonders, music, doing service in the community and meeting as many unique and interesting people as possible. I think I’m going to document the food that we find in each region as well.
We will be off the grid a fair amount, but are committed to finding the internet every few days and uploading video and other content to the site.
So PLEASE find The Hostel Life on Facebook and become a fan. The page just went up, but we already have over 2,000 fans. A lot of them are from India, which excites me. Maybe they’ll vote the show there next. You can also sign up for email updates on the web site. You’ll probably hear me petitioning for certain outcomes for the polls, so I may need your help steering the ship to interesting places. I never promised to be impartial.
Check out the photos page on the site. I’ve just put up some photos of my trip to Brazil.
Owen Beckmann recently put me in touch with an old friend of his named Mehdy Ghannad. Mehdy is a world traveler who has mastered seeing the sites on the cheap and now wants to inspire and educate others to do the same. To that end he is pitching a TV show called The Hostel Life to a number of networks. It’s basically a reality show that will follow him on his travels. He will be operating on a limited budget ($300 a week I believe) and the fun part is that there will be a website where the audience can interact with him and even choose where he will be going.
Mehdy has asked me to provide music for the clips, and hopefully for the show if it gets picked up. So check out the two vids I’ve got here and then head over to The Hostel Life on Facebook and become a fan. The more people show an interest the better the chances of this thing getting picked up. And who knows, I just might get to do some traveling around myself.