Finding My Voice as a Travel Blogger

When I originally decided to start this site, I visited some other travel blogs to see what they were like.   I needed to create some kind of online journal as part of my job responsibility for the month I spent in Senegal with the IBM Corporate Service Corps. IBM lets participants decide what specific approach to take, so long as we create something.  I chose to use this as a starting point for a more general travel blog that would talk about not only my month in Senegal, but also other places I visit.

Observations

I noticed that most of the blogs I looked at fell into one of these categories:

  • “Here’s what I did on my vacation” stories accompanied by selfies and anecdotes.
  • Showcase for hobbyist or professional photographers’ travel photos.
  • Guidebook approach:  suggesting things to do and providing a little background information about the place, along with logistical information such as address, how to get there, cost to get in, hours open, etc.
  • Monetized blogs that promote mediocre products which will generate payouts to the blog owner via affiliate programs.

I gave some thought to where I wanted to fit in, and proceeded accordingly.

African Renaissance Monument
The African Renaissance Monument stands at Dakar, Senegal.

First Steps

I started by posting photos of things I had seen with some narrative about the content of the photos. It was a good place to start, but it felt a bit superficial to me. I wanted to offer more of a back story that would show why I thought the topic of the photo was interesting enough to write about.

I experimented with adding my personal impressions and experiences to tell a story, but didn’t want to go too far down the path of centering myself in a story about somebody else’s homeland. Also, I want to be respectful in how I talk about the people I meet and their culture, so I think carefully before writing about my personal reactions to things.  I try to imagine how one of the people I’m writing about would feel if they were to read it.  Something that looks like a funny story to me might look insulting to people whose homeland I’m writing about.

At this point in time, I have not monetized my blog and I don’t have any plans to.  I suppose it could happen in the future, it’s just not where my priorities lie today.  I do know this – if I do monetize the blog, I will include only affiliate links for products I have personally tried and liked.

My Current Thinking

Now that I have been doing this for 8 months, I’m feeling comfortable that I have found my voice as a travel blogger.

Wedding Procession
Performers lead a wedding procession in this tableau at the Agricultural Museum in Cairo, Egypt.

I like taking photos and sharing them, so I’ll keep doing that.  I like exploring only one topic per blog entry, featuring multiple photos related to that topic. For example, I created a post about the Agricultural Museum in Cairo specifically centered around the diorama showing a rural wedding celebration. There are many other exhibits in the museum, but I wanted to keep that post focused on the topic of the wedding.  I may decide to post other photos of other exhibits from that museum in the future.

Photo copyright 2016 by Jewel. All rights reserved. Performers in a tannoura show in Cairo, Egypt.

I have decided I want to try to include background about the subject of the photo that will go a little deeper than what a typical guidebook might tell you, especially with respect to history and culture.  For example, when I posted my blog entry about the tannoura whirling shows in Cairo, I offered a bit of background about the history behind Sufi whirling and the form it takes in Egypt.

Photo Safari at Bandia Reserve in Senegal

The Bandia Reserve is a wildlife park about 65 kilometers from Dakar, Senegal which features a variety of animals from throughout Africa. Although some of Bandia’s animals are native to Senegal, others were transported in from South Africa and elsewhere.   The park isn’t big enough to accommodate the hunting needs of large predators such as lions; therefore, it features only herbivores such as giraffes, antelope, zebras, etc. The exception is that there is a hyena in a fenced area, and some crocodiles in a stream that’s some distance from where the rest of the animals live.

The Bandia Reserve offers trucks that can be rented, with drivers and guides. Our guide had been with Bandia ever since it opened 20 years ago, so he was able to share with us a large amount of information about the park’s origins and history.  The backs of the trucks are open-air and outfitted with benches which can accommodate up to 9 passengers. It was the perfect size for our group.

A network of gravel roads runs throughout the park. The drivers and guides are quite familiar with all the routes.  They use phones to stay in touch with other colleagues who are taking other trucks through the park, which is how they know where to find the various types of animals on any given day.

Dirt roads such as this one run throughout Bandia Reserve in Senegal.

Throughout the park are a variety of trees that are native to West Africa.  These acacia trees have vivid reddish bark, which contrasts beautifully with the surrounding vegetation.  Senegal lies just south of the Sahara desert with a dry climate whose rainy season runs about 3 months.  The acacia trees and other local vegetation are adapted to these dry conditions.

The acacia trees inside Bandia Reserve have a vivid reddish bark.

When Bandia Reserve was first started 20 years ago, the owners brought in 4 giraffes from South Africa to start their herd: two male, two female. Today, the herd contains about 50 giraffes.  The guide told us they occasionally bring in males from the outside for breeding, to add some diversity to the gene pool. The giraffes are surprisingly comfortable with the truckloads of camera-toting tourists that pass through. Our truck was able to get rather close to them.

There were several mother giraffes in the park with their babies.  I found myself wishing that my late college roommate, Tammy Dudley, could be alive to see those with me.  She had always loved giraffes, and owned a collection of over 100 giraffe figurines.

This mother giraffe and her calf brought a taste of family life to Bandia Reserve.

Many of the giraffes stayed together in a herd as they moved through the trees, snacking on the leaves.

There are a variety of species of gazelles in Bandia Reserve.  We didn’t get close enough for me to snap good photos of all of them, but here are the ones I was able to capture.

The giant eland living in the park were rather spectacular to look at!
This is one of the species of gazelle that lives inside Bandia Reserve.

There are a few small monkeys living inside of Bandia. I only saw this one.

This small monkey near the entrance of Bandia Reserve is near a giant baobab tree.

We saw a group of about 3 ostriches near the herd of giraffes.

The day we visited Bandia Reserve, the ostriches were gathered near the giraffe herd.

It was surprising to see how close these zebras allowed our truck to get to them.

A family of zebras lives inside the park.

When Bandia Reserve first started 20 years ago, a pair of white rhinocerous (one male, one female) were brought in from elsewhere in Africa to populate it.  However, they never produced any young, so today they remain the only two rhinos in the park.  The guides and truck drivers use their mobile phones to keep each other informed of where in the park the rhinos are relaxing on any given day.  It took some time for us to find the corner of the park where they were the day we visited.

A pair of white rhinocerous live in the park.

Bandia Reserve contains many large baobab trees.  These and the acacias are both very representative of the African landscape.  Near the end of the tour we saw this massive baobab tree. It is estimated to be 1,000 years old.

Mauricio Andrade and Marcel Furumoto explore the area around the base of the baobab tree’s trunk. Note how small these full-grown adult men look compared to the tree’s trunk.

The insides of baobab trees are hollow, and this one has been used for many years as a graveyard for the griots (storytellers).  The tree is known as the tombeau de griots. The griots were the elders of a tribe, the keepers of its oral history.  When they died, their bones were carefully placed inside this large baobab tree.

These skulls are actual human remains. They were griots (storytellers), and were honored as the keepers of the oral histories of their tribes.

This photo, taken from a bit of a distance, shows the large size of the baobab tree.

This 1,000-year-old baobab tree serves as the tomb of the griots (storytellers). Look carefully, and you’ll see the skulls under the tree to the left.

At the end of the tour is a restaurant and a gift shop.  In the water next to the restaurant lives a family of Nile crocodiles.  They were shy the day we visited, but we did manage to catch a glimpse of one.

The crocodiles at Bandia Reserve were brought from Egypt.

We visited Senegal in October, which is typically a very hot time of year.  The day we visited Bandia Reserve, temperatures hovered around 93 F (34 C). By the end of the trip, we all wanted to take a siesta.  Our friend Mario Villalobos decided to go ahead and do so while others shopped or picked up snacks at the restaurant!

Mario Villalobos has the right idea.

All in all, I was very enthusiastic about our visit to Bandia Reserve. I’ve been told by people who went on photo safaris in South Africa and Kenya that Bandia is smaller and less impressive.  However, I have never been to these other countries, and Bandia impressed me a great deal!  I’m very glad I went.  For me, it was well worth the time, money, and effort!

In case you’re wondering why I was in Senegal for a month, I was there as part of the IBM Corporate Service Corps.   You can read more about that here: http://roaming-jewel.com/2017/10/17/ibmcsc/