africa

The Most Incredible 360 Panorama Virtual Reality Pics Ever

AirPano’s aerial photography and VR videos of the world’s most famous landmarks reveal sights you'd never see otherwise.


Courtesy of www.AirPano.com

Iguazu Falls, on the border of Argentina and Brazil, are the largest waterfalls in the world. The AirPano photographers said that filming them has been one of the highlights of the project.

The photos are immersive. They engulf you. You almost feel as if you’re there. You can swoop around a famous site you’ve always wanted to see — only now it’s as if you’ve developed the ability to fly as well as teleport.

These 360-degree aerial panoramas are thanks to AirPano, a Russian not-for-profit that features 3,000 of these impressive images.

Two of AirPano’s photographers, Sergey Semenov and Sergey Rumyantsev, answered some questions about this ambitious, one-of-a-kind project. –Wally


How did the AirPano project get started?

In 2006, we learned how to take spherical panorama shots on land. In those years, this was not an easy task: It required a special panoramic tripod head, a sufficiently deep knowledge of shooting panoramas, and it demanded a lot of manual work.

At that time, we also had a lot of experience in photography from helicopters and airplanes, and suddenly Oleg Gaponyuk, the founder of the AirPano project, got an idea: Why not break all of the existing laws of taking panorama shots on land, and try to do it in the air?

We figured out how to take a spherical shot in the sky, where it is impossible to use a high-precision panorama head, because the helicopter can shift by many meters while shooting, due to the blowing of the wind.

After several unsuccessful attempts, we finally figured it out, and the result exceeded all of our expectations. The effect was stunning, and the viewer felt like they were sitting in the helicopter and seeing the surrounding landscape with their own eyes.

The AirPano team


What's AirPano’s mission?

When we realized what a stunning impression aerial panoramas produce, we decided to do a project called “100 Places on the Planet Which You Should See From a Bird’s-Eye View.”

We wanted to share with the audience fantastic, awesome, incredible impressions, inaccessible to most people.

After shooting the first 100 places, we didn’t stop there, and now on our website you can find panoramas of more than 300 places of our planet — from the North Pole to Antarctica.
 

Why is this project so passionate for you?

Few people have the opportunity to see the most interesting places on our planet from a bird’s-eye view.

First of all, it would require a significant amount of time spent traveling. Secondly, the best spots are far from civilization, in places with no airplanes or helicopters nearby. Thirdly, the most popular places have restrictions on flying, and lastly, it’s too expensive. Our project gives this opportunity to everyone, regardless of their location or wealth.

As photographers, we have visited over 100 countries around the world, and we have seen unbelievable scenery with our very own eyes. When it became clear that everything can be shown to people in a new way, we decided that we should do it. But back in 2006, Andrei Zubetz and Gaponyuk, the founders of AirPano, had no idea that the project would be so successful.

 

How has the project grown?

In the beginning we had a goal to capture the most 100 beautiful places of the world from above. We have captured all of them and we couldn’t stop. So our current goal is to keep shooting.

Technology evolves, so we come back to places where we’ve already been, but capture them in new format with high resolution. For example, we have now created 360-degree videos of some of our favorite waterfalls.

Victoria Falls, on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe


How do you get those amazing panoramic photos and videos?

We shoot our air panoramas in a variety of ways: large helicopters and a radio-controlled “flying” camera. We use a typical SLR camera with a wide-angle lens. The process is not very long and it takes 30 seconds to shoot a single sphere.


Courtesy of www.AirPano.com

Antarctica


What’s the most interesting thing that has happened on your travels?

We’ve been in 300 places around the world, so it’s difficult to choose the most interesting thing in all these journeys. We’ve been on the Drake Passage on the way to Antarctica, on South and North Pole. We’ve seen a volcano eruption. And we’ve also created aerial panoramas from the stratosphere.


Were you ever in any danger?

Yes. We’ve walked by lava pipes. We’ve captured footage of wild animals on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia and in Africa. We’ve met angry elephant in the savanna, who were following our car. When we were capturing rafting on the Zambezi River, one of our operators fell from the boat.


Courtesy of www.AirPano.com

The Raja Ampat archipelago in Indonesia



We’ve embedded footage of your favorite spots. What did you like best about them?

We are landscape photographers; we love beautiful views. There are the most spectacular views from above and from the ground of these places. There is a powerful energy and untouched nature.


Where would you love to go that you haven't yet?

The main places where we’d like to go are the United Kingdom and Japan. We have tried a lot to get there, but we have problems with getting permissions for aerial shooting. Also we love volcanoes, waterfalls and tropical beaches, so all these directions interest us.



Is It Safe to Travel to Egypt?

Turns out it might actually be the best time to visit the temples and pyramids at Karnak, Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. Tourism has suffered — which makes for less crowds.

Margaret riding a camel at the Pyramids of Giza

Visiting Egypt has always been a dream for us. In fact, little Duke created a set a laminated cards to teach people about Egyptian gods and games.

He pretended the lean-to in the backyard was a pyramid.

He even pickled dead birds (naming them all Birda) and wrapped them in tin foil as an attempt to mummify them.

And when his family visited Toronto, Canada, Duke wanted nothing more than to see the King Tut exhibit.

There’s an embarrassment of riches. Everywhere we turned, there was something amazing that had been built two or three or four thousand years ago.

I was lucky enough to see it in Seattle, Washington, where I grew up.

But Duke’s parents thought the tickets were too expensive. A kind museum guard took pity on the heartbroken little boy and let Duke watch his monitor as the security cameras switched from room to room. In this way, Duke sort of got to see the Tutankhamun exhibit.

Entrance to the main temple at Abu Simbel

The two of us have traveled some places that could be considered dangerous (there was a café bombing in Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square in Marrakech, Morocco, the year before we visited, for example). But for some reason, both of us are intimidated by Egypt. I had such high hopes for the Arab Spring, but the world just seems such a mess now.

So I’m always happy to hear about people who have gone somewhere we’ve avoided, like my friend and coworker Margaret. She was astounded by the sights in Egypt — and enjoyed how empty many of the tourist sites were (though she felt sorry for the locals who are dependent upon tourism).

Moral of the story: There’s only one place where a Wonder of the Ancient World still stands. And there’s no reason not to go.

Here’s Margaret’s interview about her trip, accompanied by her father David’s amazing photography. –Wally

Carriages are an alternative to camels when visiting the pyramids

What made you go to Egypt?

I visited Egypt in the spring of 2016 because my cousin was living there at the time. She was teaching at a school in Cairo, but after nearly five years in Egypt, she was preparing to move on. So it was basically my last chance to visit with a built-in guide. I traveled with my dad, who had always dreamed of visiting the pyramids, along with my uncle, another cousin and a family friend.

A colorful fruit stand in downtown Cairo

What was your itinerary?

We made Cairo our home base, spending most of our time there. But we did travel to Upper Egypt (which, confusingly, is the southern part of the country) to visit Luxor and Aswan.

In Luxor we visited Luxor Temple, the Valley of the Kings (which houses 60-some tombs including King Tut’s), Karnak Temple and the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut.

Our intrepid adventurer in the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, the only female pharaoh

While we were in Upper Egypt, we took a military convoy to visit Abu Simbel, which are absolutely awe-inspiring temples carved into the mountain around 1257 BCE.

 

With all the turmoil going on, were you nervous at all?

I wasn’t particularly nervous, no. My cousin and several family members had visited Cairo over the last few years and never encountered any problems.

I was a little concerned about being hassled or harassed in the streets, especially after reading all the warnings in guidebooks. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much people left us alone.

 

Did you ever feel in danger?

No, I never felt like I was in danger. There is a military/police presence everywhere, and an intense focus on protecting foreigners.

It was a little disarming to pass through metal detectors to go in and out of hotels or museums, but at the same time, it gave you the perception that there was a lot of security.

That said, there were a few instances that reminded us that we were visiting what most consider a military dictatorship. For example, one night we had drinks at sunset at a decaying restaurant/bar built into the Mokattam Hills surrounding Cairo. It was beautiful looking down at the city as thousands of green minarets lit up with the call to prayer, and we were taking lots of photos. The staff warned us not to take any photos to our right, as we were situated over a military facility. It was sobering to imagine what might be happening down there, but as tourists, we clearly weren’t at any direct risk at all.

Margaret’s father, who took all of these photos, jokes that this guy was searching for Pokémon on his phone

What was the best part of your trip?

This is hard, as it was truly a trip of a lifetime. In Luxor, we visited 3,000-year-old statues that were only discovered several years ago, our guide informed us. And the famous avenue of sphinxes at Luxor Temple is only partially uncovered — they simply haven’t been able to dig them all up yet.

That kind of sums up the embarrassment of riches. It felt like everywhere we turned, there was something amazing that had been built two or three or four thousand years ago.

The pyramids, of course, rise to the top. They are much bigger and more impressive than you could have imagined.

I was also shocked by the gorgeous carvings and paintings in the tombs in Luxor. Miraculously, their paint is still bright red, blue and yellow, some thousands of years after they were created.

 

What was the worst part?

Tourism used to make up a good share of Egypt’s economy, but it has taken a steep decline in the last few years. As a result, we did face a lot of attention from vendors at the tourist sites and museums trying to sell us their products or get us to take a picture with them and their camels (for a tip).

It was a little frustrating constantly getting hassled at these sites and in markets or souks, but at the same time, I understood why they were doing it. As several people explained to us, they were struggling to make ends meet for their families, given the lack of tourists.

 

What was the food like?

We ate a lot of familiar Middle Eastern staples like hummus, tabbouleh, lentils, grilled meats and bread. Because of the lush Nile delta, the fruits are really fresh and delicious.

There are very few bars in Cairo, given its conservative Muslim majority, but my cousin did take us to some wonderful places that felt stuck in time, and in those dark, fading establishments, we drank Sakara beer and ate fava beans.

Ahoy! The captain of a felucca on the Nile River

One afternoon, we picked up Egyptian potato chips to bring with us on a felucca sailboat ride on the Nile, sharing them with our boat captain, who stood at the stern and pushed us along with a long wooden stick.

Take a felucca sailboat ride to see the grandeur of the Nile

Another day, we stopped for tea in the famous Khan El-Khalili, sitting in carved wooden chairs amid the bustle of the market, which sells ornate lanterns, carvings of all kinds and antiquities both fake and real.

All this to say for me, as someone obsessed with food of all kinds, the joy of eating in Egypt was more about the experience than the food itself.

 

How were the people?

They were friendly, open, curious and funny.

We were lucky enough to hire Egyptian guides and drivers to show us around the various sites, all of whom were generous with their time and knowledge about their culture. I loved seeing their pride and enthusiasm about the truly remarkable feats of their ancestors.

Everyone was happy to see Americans visiting again, since there has been such a steep dropoff in tourism, and they were incredibly accommodating to us wherever we went.

I did get a fair amount of stares and a few marriage proposals, but it never bothered me too much. And so many people wanted to get their pictures taken with us, which made me feel like a celebrity. For some reason, lots of mothers gave their babies to my very tall dad to hold, apparently to bring them luck? I never did fully understand that, but I loved their openness.

I did get a fair amount of stares and a few marriage proposals, but it never bothered me too much.

The Gullah History of Hilton Head Island

A Civil War battle in Port Royal, South Carolina, the first ex-slaves to be paid wages and a Reconstruction village all play a part in this African-American community’s heritage.

The Gullahs of Hilton Head Island were descended from African slaves and are a key part of the history of the Civil War and Restoration

We liked him right from the get-go. He had a great sense of humor and has been a part of the Gullah community his whole life.

“My name’s Irvin Campbell — but you can call me Irv,” he said.

The blacks on Hilton Head Island were the very first former slaves to earn wages and actually get paid for their labor.

My mom had suggested we take the Gullah Heritage Tour, a two-hour bus ride around Hilton Head Island, South Carolina that highlights a vibrant African-American community.

“The Gullah people are the descendants of the slaves who worked on the rice plantations in South Carolina and Georgia,” said historian Joseph Opala. “They still live in rural communities in the coastal region and on the Sea Islands of those two states, and they still retain many elements of African language and culture.”

The Gullah Heritage Corridor stretches from St. Augustine, Florida up to Wilmington, North Carolina, and Hilton Head Island played a key role in the community.

Not so long ago, Gullahs owned much of the land on the 26,880-acre isle. Today, they own less than 1,000, Irv informed us.

 

The name Gullah comes from a corruption of their original African tribe.

These descendents of West African slaves take their name from the Gola or Gula tribe from Liberia and Sierra Leone. They settled on the 100 Sea Islands in the Hilton Head area. After the Civil War, more than 1,200 freed slaves remained.

 

Gullahs are also called Geechees.

The word is synonymous with Gullah. It means “living by the water,” according to Irv.

Gullah tends to be used more often to describe those living in South Carolina, and Geechee for those in Georgia.

 

Union troops quickly took over Hilton Head Island from the Confederacy during the Battle of Port Royal

The heart of the Battle of Port Royal only took about five hours.

During the American Civil War, Union troops wanted to stop trade in the Confederacy, which led to an attack at Port Royal Sound, off of Hilton Head Island.

It didn’t take Union troops long to gain control of the island, according to Irv. “They didn’t have any opposition,” he said.

 

The Port Royal Experiment involved paying freed slaves for the first time — right near the start of the Civil War.

When the Union Army occupied South Carolina’s Sea Islands, including Hilton Head, on November 7, 1861, it freed about 10,000 slaves. Keep in mind that this was all near the beginning of the Civil War.

The Confederate Army and the white plantation owners hightailed it out of there, and the Union Army found itself in possession of a region famous for growing cotton.

It decided upon the novel idea of an “experiment”: Try paying wages to these contrabands (the awful word used to describe slaves freed by Union forces as well as for those who had escaped). The blacks on Hilton Head Island were the very first former slaves to earn wages and actually get paid for their labor.

Missionaries, teachers, doctors and ministers came from New York and Pennsylvania to educate and help shape the African-American community.

 

The Gullah community used to look after its own.

In the Gullah communities that developed on Hilton Head, everything was shared, and everyone knew each other.

“We’d catch enough fish to feed those families who didn’t have a boat. We took care of each other,” Irv told us.

That's not the case any longer, he added.

 

Hilton Head Island really changed when the bridge to the mainland was built. (And changed again with the Cross Island Parkway.)

After the Civil War ended, Union soldiers auctioned off the island, according to Irv. Northern businessmen, called carpetbaggers for the soft-sided bags they traveled with, bought the entire island and sold it off. Many Gullah families purchased acreages, and for nearly a century, they farmed their land.

But once the bridge that connected the island to mainland was built in 1956, there was an influx of people to the island.

“That’s when families started locking their doors” (which comes out sounding like doe), Irv told us.

There used to be just one paved thoroughfare on the entire island. “We called it the Tar Road,” Irv said.

Later, in 1989, the Cross Island Parkway was constructed, making Hilton Head even more accessible to the vacationers (many from Ohio, as it’s about the max you’d be able to drive in a day) that now flock here every summer.

 

A Mitchelville family poses with a Union soldier

The Reconstruction after the Civil War began on Hilton Head Island at Mitchelville.

In what is now called Fish Haul Creek Park on the “heel” of the island, the community of Mitchelville was created. The government provided freedmen a quarter of an acre of land and the materials to build a 22-by-18-foot house. I couldn’t get over how small that really is. I had a hard time imagining even one person having room to lie down to sleep in a space of that size — especially if there was a stove or table or any other piece of furniture, never mind if an extended family lived together.

The government gave former slaves the material to build small houses and a plot of land to farm on in Mitchelville on Hilton Head Island. It was the first freedman’s community after the American Civil War

Mitchelville lasted from 1862 to 1877, when it finally dissolved.

“Many people realized they could move anywhere else,” Irv said.

Irv’s involved in a project to restore Mitchelville.

 

Harriet Tubman, famous for her involvement with the Underground Railroad, had to see what the Mitchelville hype was all about

Mitchelville’s most famous visitor was none other than Harriet Tubman.

“These industrious new citizens built homes on neatly arranged streets, elected their own officials, developed laws, built an economy and implemented mandatory education for their children,” Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park reports. “In fact, the reports of the success of Mitchelville were so glowing, that the famous Underground Railroad freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman, was sent to Hilton Head to see this bustling town, so she could share the story of Mitchelville’s self-governed success with future freedmen towns.”

 

The most successful local Gullah family would sail off to trade goods.

One plantation was named Spanish Wells for the freshwater wells dug by the first European invaders.

In the 1920s to the ’50s, Gullahs would trade fruit, veggies and wild game on the Simmons family’s property in Spanish Wells. Whatever was left was given to Simmons, who would sail off to Savannah, Georgia once a week to sell the goods. It was a 45-hour journey — and sometimes the winds weren’t favorable, so they couldn’t make it Savannah, and the perishable goods would be lost.

 

Indigo Run Plantation was where the healers lived.

The neighborhood once known as Gardner was home to the Aiken family, the “medicine makers,” according to Irv.

There weren’t proper doctors on Hilton Head, and this father and son handled medical cases — at least the ones the midwives didn’t attend to.

“But Mr. William Aiken took his recipes with him when he died,” Irv said.

 

One of the main crops was rice, which led to fatal diseases — among the white folk, at least.

Rice cultivation needed freshwater ponds, but these bred hordes of mosquitoes, which in turn carried malaria and yellow fever.

Thing is, only the whites were affected; because South Carolina has a similar semitropical environment to Africa, and the Gullahs had sickle cell immunity, slaves didn’t get sick, Irv told us.

 

Many early structures were constructed of an unusual material.

Irv drove us past the ruins of part of a plantation owner’s home — that of William Pope, known as “Squire” because he had so many properties.

The structure looks like an art project, as if there are shells stuck all over it. And indeed, there are: Buildings of this era were made of tabby, which consists of lime, sand and oyster shells.

Squire Pope is the largest Gullah neighborhood on the island. Its original inhabitants were known for fishing and shrimping.

 

Gullah cemeteries are placed by the water.

We passed a small cemetery, which Irv points out is atypical, as it’s situated inland.

"You see, Gullahs bury their dead along the edge of a waterway because they believe that's the only way we can get back to their homeland,” Irv told us. “It’s so spirits can take the waters back to West Africa.”

 

Most homes and schoolhouses were built on stilts.

You’ll see stacks of bricks propping up the buildings. This was because people kept chopped wood underneath so they’d always have some dry wood to cook with and keep them warm.

 

Beach pavilions were once quite a scene.

In the Chaplin neighborhood, Irv told us about beach pavilions. Back in the day, the pavilions would have changing rooms, showers and a dance floor, all under one roof.

We stopped at Driessen Beach Park and headed down the boardwalk to take photos by the water.

“They used to bring in Motown singers, from 1957 to ’70,” Irv reminisced. “We’d drive right on the beach. In 1965, Ike and Tina Turner were here. I remember that one well. I was 18 years old.”

 

Hilton Head natives like their privacy.

When I first came to the island as a kid, I learned that McDonald’s had to build a brick restaurant to fit in with the Hilton Head aesthetic, and that they weren’t allowed to put up their trademark golden arches. I thought that was the coolest thing — a town telling a huge company like Mickey D’s to follow their rules or shove it.

Strict rules remain when it comes to construction projects.

“People come to the island and complain they can’t find anything!” Irv said. “On Hilton Head, we believe in setbacks and buffers. It's the law on Hilton Head that nothing can be built to the curb. And there are strict tree laws. Gotta be setbacks and buffers.”

 

The Stoney plantation was once the main drag.

“This used to be our downtown,” Irv said.

There were four Gullah general stores that sold gas, along with a vast assortment of other goods.

“You could get anything at these stores, from penny candy to a piece of equipment for your horse harness,” he told us.

Then Irv regaled us with a tale from his childhood.

“You could buy all-day jawbreakers there. You’re too young to remember Sugar Daddy [caramel pops]. You could suck that for two days! We’d save the wrapper, suck on it all day, then put it on our windowsill. Next day, what would it be covered with? Ants! We’d take that candy to the water pump, wash off those ants and start sucking on it again!”

Tip: We found a $2 off coupon in one of the free publications, Island Events. Tickets cost $32 for adults; $15 for kids 12 and under.

If you’re spending some time on Hilton Head, there’s much more to do than play golf and go to the beach. Consider hopping on the bus for an insightful tour of the island’s fascinating Gullah heritage. –Wally

Travel Karma

Some trips are blessed, some cursed.

We are all connected, as this detail from a Jain temple in Rajasthan, India shows

My son’s friend went off a cliff on a defective scooter on the Greek island of Poros. He had to be flown to Athens on the orders of the local doctor whose limited English had him explain, “I can see his mind.” In other words, a big gash in the head.

My rented jeep was confiscated when the owner saw a wrecked scooter in the back. My son’s scooter was confiscated when he rode through town during siesta looking for help. Bad travel karma.

We all put one foot slowly behind the other, except for a newlywed groom who turned and ran, knocking his bride to the ground without ever breaking stride. They did not speak for the rest of the trip.


My two friends and I met Ahmed on the train in Morocco from Rabat to Fès. Ahmed was middle-aged, skinny, snaggle-toothed — too much sugar in the mint tea — and extremely talkative. He was a nice man and we had three hours to kill. We heard about his nine siblings and his extended family of 45, who prevent him from selling his father’s riad since he can’t get everyone to sign the papers. Ahmed worked for the leather cooperative.

He wasn’t pushy but he gave us his number. When we called, he sent Abdul, who guided us to the tannery and gave us a tour of the medina, two hours, more than five miles, much of it uphill. He led us through the rat’s maze of streets and the crush of people and didn’t seem to mind that, although we bought leather, we didn’t buy anything else. A nice guy showing people his hometown. Good travel karma.


Bad travel karma can haunt you for years.

We were told by the guide in Zimbabwe that if charged by a lion, we must not run and we must not panic. We set off on foot through Matusadona on Lake Kariba. A female lion crossed the dry riverbed we were walking down. We stopped. She disappeared into the bush. We went on. She charged when we came even with her and her two cubs.

A charging lion makes a noise that shakes the earth, a growl that starts in the soles of your feet and travels to the back of your neck like a lightning striking. We all froze. The guide raised his gun but did not cock it. We stared at her. She stared at us. The guide whispered, “Back up.” We all put one foot slowly behind the other, except for a newlywed groom who turned and ran, knocking his bride to the ground without ever breaking stride. The guide scooped her up with one hand while still aiming at the lioness. The bride and groom did not speak for the rest of the trip. Bad travel karma is a bad start to a marriage.



Good travel karma can be accrued.

In Turkey, Egypt and Morocco, taxis are often shared. You give the driver your destination, but if there’s room, he may stop and pick up somebody else. Sometimes even if there’s not room. Cabs never use their meters and never have change. Pay it forward. How much for the lady in the front seat with the two gallons of olive oil?

A little global goodwill goes a long way, and you may earn so much good travel karma that your Airbnb host serves a lunch of tagine with fresh sardines and warm bread.

 

How to Accrue Good Travel Karma

  • Don’t give money to beggar children; give pencils.
  • Always give away leftovers.
  • Pack used clothes to trade at street markets in sub-Saharan Africa. They can be worn or sold. Used jeans, and you’re royalty for a day.
  • Pose for pictures with people. I am in the family albums of more Indian families than I can count, often with their children in my lap.

Karma goes around and it comes around, the original global energy. –Rebecca

Ads for Ghana Movies You Have to See to Believe

Hand-painted Ghana movie posters from Deadly Prey Gallery are hyper-violent, super-sexualized — and take great artistic liberties.

We had never seen anything like these movie posters from Ghana that were hand-painted on flour sacks

They were the most bizarre movie advertisements we had ever seen. Hand-painted from Ghana, the artists took quite a bit of creative license. When Duke came across a shoutout on Majestic Disorder’s Instagram feed for an opening at Deadly Prey Gallery, I didn’t need much convincing.

We giggled our way through piles of “posters” and ended up buying one for Head of Medusa (actually Clash of the Titans, one of my favorite movies from childhood).

Duke and Wally bought this poster called Head of Medusa, though it’s really advertising Clash of the Titans

Traveling video clubs were formed, consisting of an operator or two, a truck, a television, a VCR, VHS movie tapes and a portable gas generator. Traveling from village to village, these clubs would transform any space made fit into a makeshift movie theater.

As you can see, the movie posters take quite a bit of liberties with their subject matter

As we flipped through the crazy artwork, we couldn’t help wondering, Where the heck did they come from? And how did Brian Chankin, owner of Deadly Prey, begin collecting them? We simply had to get the story.

Brian models one of his collection of Ghana movie posters for sale

Tell us about what the posters were used for.

The posters were first part of a much larger industry called the Ghanaian Mobile Cinema. In the mid-80s, several groups of industrious Ghanaians eager to find business opportunity in the blossoming home video market put together some plans. The idea was to bring movies and a movie theater-like experience to areas in the Ghanaian countryside void of electricity.

Traveling video clubs were formed, consisting of an operator or two, a truck, a television, a VCR, VHS movie tapes and a portable gas generator. Traveling from village to village, these clubs would transform any space made fit into a makeshift movie theater.

How did the advertisements come about?

The clubs were immediately popular, so naturally much competition arose. One village might have two or more movies playing at a time, so an advertising motif came into play.

African artists have long hand-painted their signs for barber shops, pharmacies and other businesses. This hand-painted approach is not only economical in times of high-cost printing, but also highly personal.

Video club operators understood the need to have their service stand out, so they started commissioning work to sign painters and other talented local artists to advertise specific movies they’d be showing.

The traveling cinema flourished until the turn of the century, but soon after then printing prices became affordable, and many more people throughout Ghana had access to in-home television and movies. The hand-painted poster however is still the true standard in local theaters, city and countryside. Though in lower numbers, there are many working movie poster artists in Ghana today making commissioned work, local and international.

 

What were they painted on?

They are painted on used flour sacks. Usually two sewn together together, though it is common to paint on a single sack or a piece of a sack. The smallest I’ve seen measure approximately 32 by 24 inches, while the largest I have measures 85 by 48 inches.

 

How did you come across them?

I first discovered them six-plus years ago, in an amazing book called Ghanavision. It covers posters made after the year 2000. There’s a beautiful two-part monograph on the movie posters made pre-2000 titled Extreme Canvas as well.

We don’t recall this scene in Mrs. Doubtfire — do you?

We noticed the posters have violence on them, even when the movie doesn’t have any, like Mrs. Doubtfire. Why is that?

Violence is definitely a device used to draw attention to the poster. In the case of Mrs. Doubtfire, that was a special commission where over-indulgence was definitely asked for.

Oftentimes, the American, European or Hong Kong movie poster might have been used by the artist as a reference point — however, you’ll rarely find a copy without many many liberties being taken. This is the beautiful thing.

 

Brian took his gallery name from this movie, a cult classic in Ghana

What’s your personal fave?

I have two favorites, both acquired very early in my collecting. Deadly Prey and The Warrior, both by the artist Leonardo for Zaap Video Club, painted in the mid-2000s.

 

How long have you had the gallery?

I’ve been collecting the posters for six years, but first put a name to the gallery and the collection in April 2015.

I closed the Chicago Ave. location in favor of selling online and having local and traveling clients visit me at the studio connected to my apartment. I have intentions of moving to another commercial space, but it’s still being situated.

 

What’s the mission behind Deadly Prey?

My mission is to help talented Ghanaian artists continue to make their living by hand-painting these beautiful, functional signs and posters. It’s a tradition I want to see prosper and continue to prosper. In a day where cookie-cutter mentality is king, especially in everyday signage, this artwork makes the freshest and often most uncanny decisions in subject matter.

 

And how did you get that name?

Deadly Prey is an American exploitation movie from 1987 by David A. Prior. It’s essentially a mercenary movie, much in the way of Rambo, but with way less of a budget. The type of movie you’d expect to see back in the day on the USA channel’s Up All Night show, but not quite well known enough for that.

Anyhow, I love this movie, but it’s by no means a popular movie, aside from a small cult audience. In Ghana, however, this is not the case. It’s been a huge hit ever since VHS tapes of it arrived in Ghana in the late 80s/early 90s. A typical Ghanaian action movie fan would easily list Deadly Prey right alongside the likes of Terminator 2, The Matrix, Rambo: First Blood, Predator or any similar high-budget American feature. I absolutely love this phenomenon, which mainly exists because of these posters.

 

See more (and buy one for yourself!) on Deadly Prey’s Instagram and Facebook pages. –Wally

How to Protect Yourself From Jinns and Black Magic

blackmagic

Black magic in Islam is a serious concern — and the holy writings offer numerous ways to negate magic jinn.

 

I’m torn. Sometimes I think there’s a power in belief. That just by acknowledging something’s existence, you’re giving it relevance, even substance.

On the other hand, I know I can’t just force myself to not think about djinns while I’m in their lands. Heck, telling me not to think about something is pretty much guaranteeing it’ll be top of mind the entire time we’re in Fès.

There’s even one to recite, ahem, before you have sex.

So, I ultimately decided to investigate ways to protect yourself from djinns (also called jinns and, to most Westerners, genies).

Not that I think we’re really in any danger — or that these superstitions will actually help prevent something bad from happening.

But heck, after what happened last time, I figure it sure couldn’t hurt.

Pages from the  Iran Islam Temtem-e Hendi Pictorial Book on Talisman, Charm & Mysterious Sciences in Persian (Farsi ): Instructions on What to Do to Put Demons & Genie ( Jinni ) Under Your Control & Info About How to Make Brass Plates to Avoid Black Magic & Use White Magic

Pages from the Iran Islam Temtem-e Hendi Pictorial Book on Talisman, Charm & Mysterious Sciences in Persian (Farsi ): Instructions on What to Do to Put Demons & Genie ( Jinni ) Under Your Control & Info About How to Make Brass Plates to Avoid Black Magic & Use White Magic

 

Spells, Prayers and Protective incantations

A lot of the sites I found during my research focused on prayers to Allah for protection, such as this one:

“I seek refuge in Allah from you. I curse you with the curse of Allah.”

That seems a bit extreme — maybe it’s best to keep that one as backup if things get particularly dire.

This is one you recite upon leaving your house:

“In the name of Allah, I place my trust in Allah. There is no solution, no way out and no power except by Allah.”

There’s even one to recite, ahem, before you have sex:

“In the name of Allah, O Allah! Keep us away from Shaytaan [Satan] and keep Shaytaan away from what you bestow upon us.”

This assures that if a baby is conceived, Satan will never dare harm it. It also prevents a djinni from “taking part in a man’s sexual intercourse with his wife,” according to IdealMuslimah.

Here’s a nice general-purpose prayer that works all day long. Say this upon rising in the morning, and you’re said to be protected from djinns until you retire in the evening:

“I seek refuge in Allah from Satan the outcast. Allah! There is none worthy of worship but he, the ever-living, the one who sustains and protects all that exists. Neither slumber nor sleep overtakes him. To him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the Earth. Who is he that can intercede with him except with his permission? He knows what happens to them in this world, and what will happen to them in the hereafter. And they will never encompass anything of his knowledge except that which he wills. His throne extends over the heavens and the Earth, and he feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them. And he is the Most High, the Most Great.”

Here it is in Arabic:

أَعُوذُ بِاللهِ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ "اللهُ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا هُوَ الْحَيُّ الْقَيُّومُ لَا تَأْخُذُهُ سِنَةٌ وَلَا نَوْمٌ لَهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ مَنْ ذَا الَّذِي يَشْفَعُ عِنْدَهُ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِهِ يَعْلَمُ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا خَلْفَهُمْ وَلَا يُحِيطُونَ بِشَيْءٍ مِنْ عِلْمِهِ إِلَّا بِمَا شَاءَ وَسِعَ كُرْسِيُّهُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَلَا يَئُودُهُ حِفْظُهُمَا وَهُوَ الْعَلِيُّ الْعَظِيمُ

'A 'oothu billaahi minash-Shaytaanir-rajeem. Allaahu laa 'ilaaha 'illaa Huwal-Hayyul-Qayyoom, laa ta'khuthuhu sinatun wa laa nawm, lahu maa fis-samaawaati wa maa fil-'ardh, man thai-lathee yashfa'u 'indahu 'illaa bi'ithnih, ya'lamu maa bayna 'aydeehim wa maa khalfahum, wa laa yuheetoona bishay'im-min 'ilmihi 'illaa bimaa shaa'a, wasi'a kursiyyuhus samaawaati wal'ardh, wa laa ya'ooduhu hifdhuhumaa, wa Huwal- 'Aliyyul- 'Adheem

This is the one Duke and I ended up reciting every morning before we left the riad. And we didn't have one bad djinni experience! It works!

Here's another, though, to play it safe:

“In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment, thee do we serve and thee do we beseech for help. Keep us on the right path. The path of those upon whom thou has bestowed favors — not of those upon whom thy wrath is brought down, nor of those who go astray.”

And one more for good measure:

“I seek refuge in the Lord of the Dawn from the evil of what he has created. And from the evil of the utterly dark night when it comes. And from the evil of those who blow on knots. And from the evil of the envious when he envies.”

Wonder what that blowing on knots is all about? It appears to be a term for (and practice of) the secrets arts of sorcery.

The black king of the djinns, Al-Malik al-Aswad, in the late 14th-century  Kitab al-Bulhan  or  Book of Wonders

The black king of the djinns, Al-Malik al-Aswad, in the late 14th-century Kitab al-Bulhan or Book of Wonders

 

Other Means of Protection

Finally, I found some types of protection aside from spoken prayers or spells:

dates

The Prophet (peace and blessing upon him) said, “Whoever eats seven pressed dates every morning before eating any food, will not be affected by poison or sihr [witchcraft]!”

Preferably, you’re eating ajwa, a kind of date grown in Madinah, Saudi Arabia.

This is from Al-Bukhari, one of the major collections of Sunni Islam: 10/249, the Book of Medicine, Chapter: Treatment of Sorcery With 'Ajwah.)

 

ablution (wudu)

First think about your niyyah (intention) in performing ablution to cleanse yourself of impurities.

Say, “Bismillah,” which means “in the name of Allah.”

Wash your right hand up to the wrist (and between the fingers) three times.

Repeat with the left hand.

Rinse your mouth and spit out the water three times and rub the teeth with a miswak, a teeth-cleaning twig.

This site has a more elaborate form of wudu that includes putting water up your nose and washing your feet.

Do this and you’ll be protected by an angel and therefore immune to black magic.

 

potty prepping

Apparently, Satan likes to lurk in bathrooms. So before you go in, you might want to say, “O Allah! I seek refuge in you from the male/female Satans.” The Devil apparently likes to hide in “this filthy place, which is the home of Satanic jinn,” according to Al-Bukhari

 

I'm not saying I'll follow all of this advice…but I do feel that I'm going back onto the djinns' turf better-armed. –Wally

 

Safari Advice

What can you expect on an African safari? What are “the Big Five” animals to see? And is it dangerous?

Giraffes at Kruger National Park in South Africa

Giraffes at Kruger National Park in South Africa

Wanderlust runs in the family. My cousin Kelly has taken two trips to Africa lately, including a safari at Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Here’s what her safari was like — and what you can expect if planning an excursion of your own. –Wally

The main rule in Kruger is that you don’t get out of your car.

What was the biggest surprise on your safari?

The biggest surprise was how many types of animals we saw. I expected to see elephants, zebras, giraffes, hippos, hyenas, etc. But I was so excited to see things like wild dogs, white rhinos, warthogs, kudus and even some cheetahs!

And, we saw so many babies — almost every type of animal had their babies with them. You see a lot of newborn animals in the summer (October through March). We were there in January. 

If you want to see babies, try going on a safari from October through March

If you want to see babies, try going on a safari from October through March

 

What was your favorite part?

Seeing the animals. Some people feel they had a successful trip to the park if they see “the Big Five,” which includes elephant, leopard, lion, rhino and buffalo. I did see the Big Five! That’s what you go to Kruger for, and there isn't much else to do there.

 

What’s a typical day like on safari?

We would be on safari early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Then, once we were back in camp by 6:30 p.m., we would cook dinner and talk about what we saw that day.

It’s typical to go to bed early so that you can be out by 5 a.m. to start your safari.

 

What were the people like?

They were great. Of course you’re surrounded by tourists, but a lot of South Africans go to Kruger, too. It’s a special part of their heritage.

The park rangers are very knowledgeable and interesting to talk to about the animals.

 

Did you ever feel like you were in danger?

No. The main rule in Kruger is that you don’t get out of your car.

There could be a lion 5 feet away, lying in the grass. We even went on night drives with a ranger, and I never felt like we were in danger.

On our last day in the park, we saw two lions lying in the middle of the road. We got pretty close to them to take pictures and I finally decided I should roll up my window — got a little nervous there.

 

What was the most interesting thing you ate?

Our friends cooked boerewors [a South African sausage, apparently] on the grill, which was so good.

And malva pudding [which contains apricot jam and is topped with cream sauce] for dessert is delicious.

 

Learn any fun expressions?

Some of the slang phrases we picked up from our friends were:

just now, which really means “in an unknown amount of time.” For example, "We’ll be eating dinner just now" (don’t get too excited, as that could mean two hours from now).

shame is typically used as a response to something negative, but some people use it all the time: "I am feeling so sick right now." "Shame." "I missed seeing the leopard in the tree." "Shame." Or "Our plane doesn't leave until 8 p.m." "Shame."

torch is a flashlight.

biltong is dried meat, or jerky.

 

Any final advice for those who want to go on a safari?

Here’s a special tip: Don’t forget to take malaria medicine!

8 Tips to Get the Best Deals at a Moroccan Souk

The souk in Marrakesh, Morocco is just off of the large square in the media, Jemaa el-Fnaa.

The souk in Marrakesh, Morocco is just off of the large square in the media, Jemaa el-Fnaa.

Bargaining and haggling are a time-honored tradition when shopping at markets. Just make sure you don’t get taken advantage of.

 

Duke and I are unabashed consumers. When we’re on vacation, we’ll hit the markets once or even twice a day if possible. So let’s just say we’ve had plenty of practice bargaining for the best price. I also play hardball (our guide on our trip to the Sahara, Barack, saw me in action and was so impressed, he dubbed me an honorary Berber).

Haggling for everything you buy (food aside) can be exhausting. But it’s part of the culture in Morocco, and vendors look forward to a lively contest of wills. Follow these steps, and chances are you’ll get a good deal when shopping the souks.

Our guide saw me in action and was so impressed, he dubbed me an honorary Berber.

 

1. Scope out the sitch. 

Start out with a reconnaissance mission. When you see something you’re interested in, ask how much it is, as casually as possible. Then make a mental note and move on. Quickly. 

You’ll often see similar items at other stalls, so it’s good to have perspective, to see if you’re getting ripped off.

That being said, if you see something you really want, snag it. You never know if you’ll find it again. Souks are labyrinthine, and there’s no guarantee you can retrace your steps another day. 

 

2. Speak French if you know it. 

Most vendors speak French as well as an impressive amount of English and phrases from Spanish and other languages. I’m not sure that all vendors assume Americans are rich and charge more — but it sure seemed that way. I definitely scored better deals when they couldn’t quite pin down my nationality. 

And don’t worry about being fluent in French. Remember, it’s their second language, too, so you can meet in the middle, skill-wise.

 

3. Be aggressive if need be. 

It’s not uncommon to be inside a narrow stall, looking around and then, when you turn to leave, find the merchant blocking your path. He might have something he’s shoving in your face, trying to excite your interest.

I found that there were times when I literally had to grab a vendor's shoulder and push him out of the way in order to leave.

Note that we traveled with our friend Vanessa, who said the men didn’t accost her in this way. So it might (hopefully) just be a “guy thing.”

 

4. Shop on Friday — despite what you’ve been told. 

Everyone told us the souk would be closed on Friday, that everyone’s at the mosque. Well, Duke and I couldn’t resist just seeing if anyone was open — and sure enough, in the Marrakech souk, we found that about a quarter of the stalls weren't closed. Instead of the usual hustle and bustle, the passageways were relatively quiet, and we scored some great deals, as shopkeeps knew business would be slow.

 

5. Use this formula. 

OK, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. How much should you pay? Here’s what I do: Think about what you’d pay at a store back home. Then divide that in half. You won’t be ripping anyone off, and you’ll be getting a great deal — which you deserve by eliminating the middleman. 

On our last day in Marrakech, we found a fertility doll from Cameroon, covered in beads and horn and metal bangles, that we simply had to have. It wouldn’t surprise me to a see a museum-quality handicraft from Africa like this for $70 back in the States. (Indeed, a Google search revealed prices upwards of $100.) So I divided $70 in two, and decided I’d like to end up at $35. 

 

6. Ignore their opening bid. 

In most places I’ve been, the shopkeeps start with a reasonable offer and you can end up with a decent price by meeting in the middle. Not so in Morocco. They’ll try to get as much out of you as possible. So don’t even listen to the first number they throw out there.

With the fertility doll, the young man started at $200. By this point, I knew better than to even pay attention. I countered with $20. Yes, that seems ridiculous, right? But if they’re being ridiculous, you can be ridiculous right back.

 

7. Give yourself some wiggle room. 

After you’ve figured out what you want to pay, go a bit lower. After all, you need to come up a bit, act as if you’re conceding, unable to escape the vendor’s wiliness. He wants to feel as if he’s won on some level. 

Our fertility doll vendor offered the equivalent of $45 and wouldn’t budge. 

 

8. Walk away. 

This is an especially successful tactic in Morocco. (Not so much in India, btw, where we said goodbye to many an item.) Even though we were just above what I wanted to pay for the doll, I shook my head and dragged a reluctant Duke away. 

“We could pay $45!” he pleaded. 

But I can be merciless. “We’ll go halfway down the block,” I told him. “And if he doesn’t chase after us, we’ll go back and get it for $45.”

We had gotten only 20 feet away before the young man chased after us, grabbing my arm. 

“What’s your final offer?”

I pretended to think about it. “We really don’t need it… $35 is my final offer.”

“OK. OK,” he caved. “You’re getting great deal.”

Yes. Yes, I was. –Wally