Articles posted by Renee Bish

All posts by Renee Bish

A Galapagos of firsts…

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It was to be a two-week family charter spanning three generations, each member of the trip with their own hopes and expectations. The patriarch was a high-powered business leader and even before we set off we openly discussed his fears of being ‘captive’ for two weeks aboard our luxury vessel. The matriarch was like a sponge ready to soak up as much high powered natural history information as possible – both are ardent conservationists. The four kids, from 6 to 10 years old, were the best prepared youngsters we have ever had the pleasure of leading on a trip. Their preparation already included a deep understanding of Galapagos species, ecosystems and threats, they had arrived fully kitted out with wetsuits and had undergone intensive pool training picking up weights off the bottom of their local swimming pools, honing their water skills to maximize on all the snorkeling the trip had to offer. They spent downtime writing journals, plotting our course on their individual maps, drawing pictures of the wildlife and writing postcards to friends to be posted from the famous Post Office Barrel. The whole thing was a delight from start to finish.

 

 

For Addie, the cutest six-year old you could ever meet her target was to commune with turtles for the first time in her short life. We found turtles by the dozen and the beaming smiles as she lay for ages at a time, spread-eagle on the surface rocking in the gentle swells of the shallows with up to five of the large, indifferent reptiles (as if she were simply another turtle) said it all.

 

 

Cassidy, 9, the go-getter of the quartet was on a mission of proving herself. She swam with the last of us in the water, beat us all to the top of the daunting Bartolomé boardwalk and exceeded her personal best in a hot 10 mile hike along the crater rim of the world’s second largest caldera of Sierra Negra volcano on Isabela Island. Her other, rather inspired, first was to commit one of her ‘baby’ teeth to the tooth fairy in the depths as the ship’s GPS hit 00 00 degrees latitude on the equator.

 

 

Willa, 10, wanted nothing more than to interact with sealions. Her dream was realized at nearly every landing and, with patience and an uncanny sense of which sealion might be the most inquisitive, spent hours during the trip sitting quietly until the curiosity of a young pup got the better of it and Willa was accepted and even became the object of a sense of playfulness from the kindred mammalian spirit.

 

 

Finn, 8, the only boy, of course wanted to see sharks. By the third day he had already broken free of the invisible reins of his parents in the water and was diving down to meet the docile white-tipped reef sharks on their own terms. Good street cred for next term in school!

 

The parents were enthralled by the wonder expressed by their kids and likewise for the grandparents for both generations of offspring.

 

The matriarch relived the magic of the islands that we had shared with her 23 years previously while the patriarch, after the first week and going in to the second had shed all sense of stress and previous reservations, it was almost as if he wondered why he had to get off the boat after 14 days as if he had found his new home!

 

For us, every trip brings something new and in this case it was two things, first a young humpback whale in the shallow waters of Floreana Island that swam alongside and even under our zodiac, secondly to bring our vessel alongside a stunning broad-billed swordfish (our first) sunning itself at the surface of the glassy waters of the rich Bolivar Channel.

Bespoke Ecuador

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We recently had family visit from the UK. Starting with the amazing churches of downtown Quito, said to be the best-preserved colonial center in the whole of South America. Even for non-religious folks the ostentatious splendor of a multitude of Spanish churches and cathedrals, dripping with Inca gold and Catholic artifacts is always a sensory overload coupled with a deep sense of history and subjugation.

The aim, in part, was to open the eyes of young Katie to a different world where travel and immersion in new cultures goes a long way in educating intelligent young minds – or as Mark Twain once said: Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness …

Day two and our sojourn began in earnest. We headed south to one of Ecuador’s highest snow-capped peaks, Cotopaxi (the world’s highest active volcano). With a jeep full of mountain bikes we then headed down the impressive slope of the volcano, from 4560 meters, to the flatter paramo below. A classic cone, Cotopaxi rarely disappoints. Our destination for overnight was to be on the high slopes of Chimborazo Volcano, the peak of which is the farthest point from the center of the planet (due to the bulge in the earth).


On our previous visit, at Christmas with friend from New York, we had stopped at Calpi animal market. With no stalls for the livestock and little or no discernable order we pushed hordes of tethered cattle out of our path to make headway through the throng. The local Indians, dressed in ponchos, felt hats and sandals, joked with us, offering the best price if we would just buy one of their cows. Then we arrived at the pigs. Ten or so piglets per merchant radiated on taught ropes like spokes of a wheel from the stakes in the ground. In a squealing cachophany they were doing what pigs do – all but one – a little chap with a particularly squashed looking face. After some haggling Owen and Ana bought him. Stopping for a few snacks, declining the roasted chicken feet, we bought some fruit, including a few things that the piglet might enjoy. He quickly settled in, as any other passenger might and was quite at home as we continued in the minibus towards Chimborazo. Our quarters were simple and set within a small indigenous community of pastoralists who mostly tended a herd of alpacas. Rosa was our host, a lovely woman whom Renee and I had come to know fairly well over fifteen years of visits. She owned a cow, five sheep, several dogs and now, after a somewhat sad exchange, she owned a pig too. A promise was made that the pig, now named in my honour as Peter, would enjoy a long and happy life and the business of building him a nice place to live was attended to. Many of the human dwellings meanwhile were merely tiny sod huts with a thatched roof, low doorway and a fire set in the middle of the floor, for warmth, cooking and boiling water. The entire insides were blackened with soot.

Arriving back to see Rosa I cautiously asked how was Peter the Pig. “Petercito is wonderful”, she said “And so friendly!”. We were delighted and as soon as we saw him, how he had grown and Rosa’s relationship with him we could not have been more pleased. The following morning Petercito was standing up and leaning over his door. He is keen to go to work she told me. “What work?” I said. He has to go out fertilizing and turning the soil she told me!

We left with a vision of a happy pig in our minds as we followed Rosa, with the communal herd of alpacas in her charge as she led them to the slopes of Chimborazo to spend the day grazing.

Back on our mountain bikes we finished the first part of our tour by riding 35km, all downhill, on a beautiful country back road to Ambato.

You too could join Pete and Renee on a tailor-made trip to Ecuador. Having lived in Ecuador for more than 3 decades they certainly know their way around.

Eagle Hunter Expedition

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Mongola’s weather in the mountains out west might be unpredictable, but the kindness and hospitality of the Kazakhs never waivers. Spending a week exploring their territory involves moving our camp site every day or every other day. Depending on the size of the group we pitch at least a kitchen ger and a communal ger, sometimes two.

These get moved from place to place on an old Russian truck. At night this is a windbreak for the eagles. The food, tents and bedding go in on old Russian ambulance, hailing from world war II. These vehicles can go anywhere. When it is cold you just light a fire under it to thaw the diesel for about 45 minutes and then you are on your way.

We move on horseback riding for up to 8 hours. At lunch we get hot tea or coffee made on a stove that is carried on the back of one of the Kazakhs. Meanwhile our Toyota Landcruisers go ahead to meet us at our next destination (possibly the grazing grounds during a different season for one of our eagle hunters) and all the drivers club in to erect the camp so we can arrive to a comfortable place to eat, drink and sleep.

No sooner do we arrive to our new home and visitors from the surrounding area start arriving too.

All eagles need to be fed and put to bed around our gers. After the cooks’ have fed all of us and a mountain of local people most of our Kazakh riding companions disappear to spend the night in local family gers, leaving us to baby-sit their eagles. We have expedition tents to sleep in but in the cold we migrate into the communal ger with our sleeping bags and radiate around the central stove to keep warm. To make sure we have a comfortable night, someone comes in every 2- 3 hours to stoke the fires.

But as we start tucking into bed one of our friends comes in to serenade us with beautiful Kazakh music about eagles and love.

We also have a few of the eagle hunter’s dogs running along for the entire time. Pete’s challenge is to befriend them all so by the end they are eating out of his hand. Your horse just needs to stumble and someone is there to help. If you are not an experienced rider, someone will lead your horse. Where else can you ride for an entire day in the company of golden eagles, in spectacular scenery, crossing over mountain passes and through raging rivers, seeing no vehicles, no permanent homes and no fences. You camp anywhere, you stop everywhere and go into any ger for tea and an unending supply of homemade dairy products made from either sheep, goat, yak, camel or horse milk. These people are generous and fun and could not do more for us if we asked. Can’t wait to get back to Mongolia next year to laugh with and share our experiences and photos with our Kazakh friends who have become like family.
Renee Bish

 

Outer Mongolia

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I remember from my childhood that there were certain places in the world so far out there that they seemed almost mythical; Timbuktu comes to mind. Others were places whose name equated with punishment – to be sent to the Siberian Salt Mines for example. The threat of banishment was reserved for Outer Mongolia. Oh! I wish I knew then what I know now! Having once again returned from this amazing country I wondered how my upbringing would have been different if my parents, at the height of my naughtiness had bundled me up and sent me to Outer Mongolia.

For sure I would have learned at the ‘School of Hard Knocks’, it is a tough place, producing tough people. I would have learned to coax milk from the stubborn teats of camels, the art of extreme horsemanship, a reverence for nature, camaraderie, the importance of family, deep friendships, a sense of welcoming, survival skills to overcome the harsh winters, religious tolerance, minimalist living, an appreciation of the wide outdoors and a constant longing for the taste of hard curd. All-in-all not bad qualities to carry through life.

Regarding education and worldliness it is always a surprise to us how globally aware a herder in the Gobi Desert often is. Many times, for example, in the ‘developed’ world when answering people that I live in Ecuador they ask “Where is that?” In a nomadic herder’s ger (felt tent), through a translator, when learning I live in Ecuador they might say “Oh!” Between Colombia and Peru. “How is your president doing?” One of the positive benefits of a previous Russian occupation being the Russian radio access.

After a short absence since we were last in Mongolia (Reneé and I for a period even had an apartment in Ulaanbaatar (UB), the capital, for 6 months) we were keen to see changes. Apart from the heavy increase in traffic made up of a huge influx of 2nd hand Toyota Prius’s from Japan I only have good things to report. The atmosphere was friendly, pleasant and much less ‘Russian’ than before. Eateries were vastly improved as was service, hotels and shopping.

Over our journey through the Altai Mountains in the west with the eagle hunters, to the ever-changing scenery of the Gobi Desert we reaffirmed many old friendships and formed friends from past acquaintances. Mongolia, to us is much closer to heaven than the hell of old.
We are all guilty of something (overwork, succumbing to the pressures of stress etc.) and if anybody out there thinks that they also deserve some time in banishment then let us know!
Pete Oxford

 

The Oceanic Society

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Authored by Wayne Sentman

Established in 1969, Oceanic Society is America’s oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to ocean conservation. Throughout our history we have seen how conscientious nature travel can drive conservation and connect people to nature in meaningful ways. Our Expeditions programs have been a core component of how we pursue our mission for more than 40 years. With our Director, Rod Mast, having known Pete and Renee for over a decade now, and with Pete having worked as an expedition guide for Oceanic Society over the last few years, we are proud to be partnering with Pete Oxford Expeditions to develop truly exceptional expeditions.

As a non-profit we are mission driven, with our expeditions we hope to offer world class experiences in nature, both in the sea and on land. We also hope to inspire our travelers through the first hand experiences and education these types of immersive expeditions can deliver, but also wanting everyone along the way to simply revel in the “art” that nature’s beauty provides and nurtures us with. In that spirt we believe partnering with Pete and Renee on select expeditions will allow us all to offer our clients more passion-filled experiences, and allow both of our organizations to become stronger story-tellers so that we can inspire a larger following to create the lasting changes that are needed to improve the health of our environmental.

Declining ocean health is a worldwide problem whose causes—including overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change—are diverse and difficult to quantify. Yet they all share a common cause: human behaviors. Simply put, people put too much in and take too much out of the seas. Fortunately, we have the power—individually and collectively—to improve ocean health by making simple changes to our daily habits. By taking action to reduce our personal plastic consumption, to make better seafood choices, to participate in beach cleanups, to reduce our carbon footprint, or to support ocean-friendly legislation, we all have the ability to improve ocean health.

Each of our expeditions is designed with the intention to positively impact the natural areas and human communities we visit while also delivering transformative nature experiences for our travelers that deepen their connections to nature and promote the adoption of ocean-friendly “blue habits.” Moreover, any profits we earn are invested directly into our ocean research and conservation programs worldwide. Here’s how it works.


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ILCP

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Authored by Susan Norton, Executive Director

Pete Oxford is a Founding Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). In 2015, Pete presented at iLCP’s annual conservation communications event, WildSpeak, on Yasuni National Park’s unfathomable biodiversity and valuable natural history while raising awareness for the threats of oil extraction and road development. Pete was also part of a team of iLCP Fellows on an expedition to the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) to support the health of the reef ecosystem through visual media. The trip helped educate local fishermen about the benefits of adopting digital technologies, specifically OurFish App, for improved small-scale fisheries management.

As one of the most influential wildlife photographers in the world with an outspoken passion for conservation, he was a pivotal player in the formation of iLCP’s mission in conservation photography. With his involvement in the iLCP and through his diverse and dedicated work in nature conservation, he remains a key voice and leader in the field of conservation photography.

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Quito Vivarium

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Pete Oxford, has always maintained a strong conservation vision. He has been a permanent presence in the Fundación Herpetológica Gustavo Orcés (Vivarium de Quito) since its creation. The vision of the FHGO being to contribute to the conservation of Ecuadorian amphibians and reptiles through research and education, Pete continues to donate a large number of valuable, professional images to the foundation.

Always available to collaborate and advise on projects managed by the foundation he has been on the board of directors since August 2009. In this capacity he has been active in many areas within the organization.

Maria Elena Barragán Executive Director FHGO

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Plastic Pollution Coalition

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Pete was part of an eclectic team working with Dianna Cohen, CEO of the Plastic Pollution Coalition in Indonesia. Consisting of scientists, artists, photographers, film makers, activists and conservationists the team was studying ways to address the massive marine plastic pollution problem in Asia.

The Orianne Society

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Authored by Amanda Newsom

This December, the Orianne Society is profiling Pete Oxford, an exceptional wildlife photographer that we began partnering with in 2011. We are grateful to have a wonderful friend, partner and supporter in Pete and are truly appreciative of the work he has done for our organization and for conservation across the world.

Pete originally trained as a marine biologist but now dedicates his career to full-time professional photography along with his wife, Reneé Bish. His images have been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Time, Smithsonian, Life, Nature’s Best, International Wildlife, Ranger Rick, BBC Wildlife and more. Pete is a founding fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and has been recognized by Outdoor Photographer Magazine as one the top 40 most influential nature photographers in the world.

Though Pete predominantly photographs wildlife and wilderness areas, he also enjoys focusing on indigenous cultures and their inextricable link to conservation efforts. He combines his photography expeditions and interest in conservation to write books, as well. Most of his 12 published books are about conservation and biodiversity in Ecuador, the country where this British photographer has lived for the past 29 years.

Pete is a man of many talents, and we at the Orianne Society are proud to partner with him to photograph the species and landscapes we are working to conserve. His work allows us to present our science-based projects with images that encompass the nature of amphibians, reptiles and ecosystems in a stunning and sophisticated manner. He has a talent for photographing animals that can sometimes be challenging to showcase, particularly snakes. This talent likely stems from his innate fondness for the animals—his first pet at age four was a snake—and enjoyment of working with them.

When asked about his time spent with the Orianne Society, Pete says: “Working with the Orianne Society ticks a lot of boxes for me. It is both a pleasure and an honor to work with their small, expert, highly-dedicated and efficient team. As one of the directors of a public display and outreach facility working to preserve reptile and amphibians in Ecuador, I share Orianne’s infectious passion for this group of often maligned animals. It is our hope that using photography as a tool we can reach a greater audience, endear them to the cause and eventually infect them with the same passion.”

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Ecuadorian Volcanoes

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Over the past few weeks we have been doing something that perhaps we should all do more often: take time out and explore locally! Lucky for us, here in Quito, Ecuador our ‘back yard’ includes Cotopaxi National Park, Antisana Ecological Reserve and the Chimborazo Forest Reserve. We have photographed, hiked, cycled and actually relaxed – all in the company of these Ecuadorian volcanoes!

Cotopaxi National Park

We were lucky at Cotopaxi National Park to have a beautiful clear day in a typically cloudy season. The perfectly symmetrical volcano was fully exposed, spewing clouds of vapour from its caldera, there were blue skies above and even the occasional puffy white cloud. Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in the world and a personal favourite of ours. Many a fond memory returns as we set foot into the biome. We remember spending a lot of time camping with Chagras (Andean, poncho-clad cowboys who range the high paramos to round up fighting bulls). Indeed we published an entire book on the Chagra culture, entranced as we were with their incredible unsung way of life. This visit was no exception, we got to ‘hang’ with them again, marvel at the horse tack, the stirrups and longest lassos in the world.

Antisana Ecological Reserve

The Antisana Ecological Reserve is an area well known for having a healthy population of Andean condors. Incredible birds they have a rich history in Inca and Ecuadorian culture. During our time in the park the low cloud cover, brought the condors lower to the ground. Once almost extinct in Ecuador, condors are thankfully beginning to make a comeback, I have even seen one over Quito before now! Nevertheless our highlight of this trip was in fact another bird – the carunculated caracara. These curious and intelligent birds of prey were seemingly everywhere. We were even able to walk up to one with a freshly killed Andean lapwing that it was ripping into. The peak of Antisana Volcano teased our visual sense as it shyly offered glimpses between the clouds, enticing our promise to return again soon.

Chimborazo Forest Reserve

Our most recent trip brought us into the home of indigenous people living in the shadow of Ecuador’s tallest volcano. Chimborazo which stands at over 6,200m and is in fact the farthest point on the planet from the centre of the Earth! Not only were we welcomed by such a warm community but in our travels we were also greeted by another group – though this one much more tentative. We were very pleased to see the population of wild vicuña now thriving after a reintroduction to its native landscape some twenty-seven years ago. The vicuña, for those of you that may not be familiar is a species of camelid which was bred by the Incas to create a famous domestic hybrid – the alpaca. The only wool collected from a vicuña is from its wispy chest hair, one of the finest wools known from the animal kingdom, it is extremely valuable and soft. As opposed to the other domesticated camelid from South America, the llama, (which was bred from the more coastal guanaco to be used as a pack animal) the alpaca also has an abundant fleece of fine, soft and warm wool.

Now, we admit that part of the reason for visiting these areas was purely selfish – we love being outdoors and any opportunity to take new photos of Ecuadorian volcanoes is always welcome. However, there are ulterior, Pete Oxford Expeditions motives at work as well. In just under 3 months we will be leading a couple of 14 day expeditions to the Galapagos Islands, and we have been scouting potential pre or post expedition adventures to share with our friends that are coming! I would say that any of the above would serve as an exciting balance to any Galapagos itinerary, now the challenge presents itself: which do we choose?

As an aside we have only two spots left on the November Galapagos expedition so jump aboard the S/S Mary Anne with us, spend 14 days exploring the landscape and wildlife that inspired Darwin and then maybe explore mainland Ecuador for yourself for a few days in the Avenue of the Volcanoes all close to Quito.

Until next time, keep exploring!

Pete & Renee