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Sierra Leone, a new beginning.

A never-ending evolution of a vision.

'I kena', which means ‘good morning’ in Susu, language spoken by the Susu people, one of the 14 tribes present in Sierra Leone and the latest country we visited.


It took us a bit longer to write this newsletter, as you may have probably noticed we’re back in Europe. We didn’t communicate it before as we know things can change fast in Africa. So bear with us, as this will be a crucially important newsletter with much news!


It’s time for not one, but two big news.



It’s rainy season in West Africa, a break has been forced upon us.

Nature decides, always, and in this case it dictated a bit of a steer in the project, for good in the end. Our initial plan was to go all the way down to South Africa without stops for one year; doable, but a few issues could have happened such as the rainy season and missing migratory birds. Already back in January we looked at the rain patterns, asked for advice, and after seeing a few videos of people attempting to travel around West Africa during the rainy season, we decided that it may be a good idea to avoid it. We decided to reach Sierra Leone where the rainy season starts around May and finishes in September, and then fly back to Europe for a few months. Honestly, it wasn’t a bad idea at all as we gathered so much material that editing and publishing it while travelling was quite impossible. A few months' break from travelling would help us develop our stories further, polish all the documentaries we’ve done so far and showcase the work around Europe. Decision taken, back in March while in Guinea-Bissau, we agreed on flying back to Europe around early April. We realised our last documentary would have been in Sierra Leone, where collaborators were eagerly waiting for us.



Sometimes projects must take a new direction.

We have been together in this project since February 2020, when Axel called Ario asking him to join forces to create a project which would change their lives forever, and so Ario accepted.


We had an incredible time together, some of which we will remember as joyful moments such as finding the flocks in Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania or the reaction of a teenage girl when she fell in love with the Barn Swallows thanks to our Immersive Experience. Some other moments were tough, such as our proposal of collaboration being rejected various times, or realising we couldn’t find the migratory birds we were looking for in The Gambia.


It’s been an emotional rollercoaster where as brothers we did something not many would, or could do, but it’s time to set our journeys apart. Because of creative and lifestyle discrepancies, Ario is going to be back full-time in Europe with his Yota, whereas Axel will keep going on his own down to South Africa. As you can imagine it’s not easy to say this, it feels like a failure writing it, but looking back, wow if we did something absolutely insane together. We drove 10s of thousands of kilometres together, slept in rooms and hotels together to save cash, got dirty trying to capture the best wildlife story possible to share it with the locals, connected with thousands of people through our exhibitions. These 4 years will always be remembered as our new beginnings, becoming our true selves, following a path where artistic craftsmanship, ethical living and respectful cultural exploration are at the core sense of our lives.


A new beginning.

This is not the end, we haven’t argued when we decided to take different routes (we did it many other times), this is a conscious decision of respect towards the project and our brotherhood. We have many stories to tell, and we will share them over the next months and years, together as we started. After Guinea-Bissau, Axel proceeded on his own down to Sierra Leone where he spent one month looking out for migratory birds in the Outamba-Kilimi National Park. This was a crucial month as Axel had to approach the project with a new perspective, and also come up with a new way to share the story of migratory birds. The focus from now on will be on sound only. As this is a new phase of the project, Axel decided to do the installation for the locals in October 2024, as he needs time to understand how to develop the new experience. From October onwards, when Axel will reunite with his Daphne down in Sierra Leone, the project will take a new shape, all about sounds and music. There are still the Trip Summary and Wild Encounters sections in this newsletter all about Sierra Leone, so don’t click away just yet!


What has happened since we’re back in Europe?

As you may have seen we have presented our project twice in Trieste (Italy), our hometown, where we took over 120 people on a journey of exploration through Europe and West Africa. We felt a strong sense of respect and enthusiasm in the air. We learnt of friends who went early in the morning the day after the presentation looking for birds outside their house, something they’ve never done before, and other people noticing the everyday wildlife. This is what we do, our mission is to spread enthusiasm for wildlife to any human being we cross paths with.


Thank you to Associazione Fotogragica Orizzonti Fotografici and Circolo Allianz for hosting the events!



When you share your work, things happen all of a sudden, and we found ourselves recording a radio episode at the RAI’s Regional HQ (Rai being the Italian version of the BBC) with Chat FVG, hosted by Tanja Marmai and Riccardo Cicconetti. Below is the episode, in Italian only we're afraid but we’ll do more in English also. Huge thanks to Tanja and Riccardo for having us and supporting our project!






From the left Tania, Ario, Axel and Riccardo in the studio, RAI Trieste.

But this is not all, the great Biagio Ingenito has interviewed us and put together a lovely video which went live on regional TV on Sunday 19th of May. Thank you, Biagio for the wonderful edit!






For our English-speaking friends, Earth FM recently shared the final episode of their ‘Wind is the Original Radio’ podcast with Axel as a guest, curated and hosted by the wonderful Melissa Pons. Melissa and Axel talked about field recording, travelling, wildlife ethics and stories from the Wings Across Continents expedition. Thank you, Melissa and the Earth FM team for inviting us and sharing such inspiring stories.






 



Trip Summary: A whole new level of off-road.


Guinea-Bissau, Guinea-Conakry and Sierra Leone.

Travelling alone is not new for Axel, but Guinea-Bissau’s southern border into Guinea-Conakry introduced a whole new level of driving challenges. The border itself was easy-peasy, but driving down a motorbikes-only route tested Daphne’s strength. They made it through the thick bush without many issues, but the big challenge was ahead, the first proper river crossing. This means driving through a damn river with your house / studio / everything, and anything could happen. You can see online how many people get stuck in the rivers with their 4x4s for hours, getting their vehicles half full with water, losing electrical equipment and so on. The fear was quite high, but luckily locals were there and they knew how to deal with it, in less than 10 minutes they were on the other side of the river with no issues. Fitting the snorkel before leaving for Africa was a brilliant idea, without it Daphne would have got stuck in between and probably never left the river. 


After meeting our friends' Passengers d’Alize (who made an episode about our work, link here) for a few days, Axel drove to Sierra Leone in a day or so, no trouble on the road, also because Guinea-Conakry is unfortunately full of mines, and infrastructures like tarmac roads are specially built to let big truck travel all around the country. We would have preferred fewer mines and less tarmac, also because local people don’t make as much money as they should.

Anyhow, this topic for another time, it’s time to visit Sierra Leone.




Approaching the river crossing.


Water level. You may say 'oh it's ok', well, you do it next time ok?



Sierra Leone, a small jewel with a troublesome past.

This small country has savannah, tropical rainforests, beautiful beaches and mangroves; an incredible combination of habitats for a country not that big. Its troublesome history is part of the past, and Sierra Leonians deserve some better time and respect for how they are right now. Politics are currently unstable in the face of media, but the country is overall very safe. We would highly recommend to anyone to visit it as there are so many things to do.


First off Axel visited our friend Peter Nelson at Tasso Island, a historically important location mostly because of its history of the slave trade. Being there felt weird at times, almost like we shouldn’t go there as a form of respect for all the atrocities that happened, but as Peter says, we’re all part of history in one way or another and we must know it to be better human beings. 


Axel’s focus is also shifting towards music, traditional or contemporary, to hear how people relate to nature in this context. The people at Tasso Island are keen on keeping their heritage alive with the help and enthusiasm of Peter, and the local women's singing group called The Fishmongers Club sang a few songs about the local birds in Temne, the local language. Part of the repertoire was also a song about the Whimbrel, a migratory bird we met many times on the coast, also recently in Guinea-Bissau. We are currently working on the recordings and hopefully share them soon with you in another newsletter.





Bunce Island, near Tasso, was where the slaves were sorted for shipping. This is the entrance where men, women and children were separated, not to see each other ever again. It didn't feel 'right' to be there.



Looking out for the singers in extreme heat.

Following the amazing days on Tasso it was time to head to Outamba Kilimi National Park, the oldest national park in Sierra Leone. It is very vast with many areas rarely explored by humans, making it a haven for wildlife such as Hippos, African elephants, Leopards, 13 species of primates, Chimpanzees and many more. Our collaborator and ornithologist Paul Robinson has told us though about the presence of two species we’re interested in, the Wood Warbler and Willow Warbler, both migratory birds. Axel spent two weeks in the field searching for these species, trying to find them, more about it in the Wild Encounters section of this newsletter.




The river dividing the community area from the Outamba Kilimi NP.


We had to take the canoe to visit some areas of the park.

Staying at the campsite was a bit of a paradise; two weeks spent near the river, covered by tall trees, monkeys of many species were always around to keep Axel and the park rangers company. The only real issue was the heat, reaching even 45 degrees midday with high humidity; this meant it wasn’t possible to do any laborious work between 11 am and 5 pm as it was too hot to focus on tasks, and anything electrical would overheat and stop working. What it meant was that work was only done in the morning and evenings, leaving middays to sleeping or reading, and constantly sweating of course.




Full camping setup, not enough to escape the heat.

Following the two weeks at Outamba Kilimi it was almost time to go back to Europe, but instead, Axel and Ario’s dad, Paolo, reached Axel over for two weeks to have a first taste of Africa, and he gave him a full tour of Sierra Leone in 14 days. Freetown (the capital) for 4 days learning about the history of Salone (short for Sierra Leone), sleeping at hotels or paradisiac beaches at Tasso Island, followed by 10 days of wild camping between the Gola Rainforest and Outamba Kilimi NP, sweating like never before, walking many kilometres a day looking for rare species like the Picathartes. Axel and Paolo then headed back to the hotel where Daphne is currently parked, but the last day was a hard one, Daphne started feeling the months of constant off-road. The diesel tank started falling as one of the supports collapsed, and three out of five suspension leaf springs broke. Slowly but steadily they managed to reach the hotel, where Daphne was put in a long hibernation before Axel’s return, only then she’ll get all the repairs needed to proceed down to South Africa.





The solar panel mount broke while going to Outamba Kilimi.



Fixing it in the most African way possible.

The result, field-tested!


Someone is guarding Daphne.
The front license plate was lost somewhere in the Gola Rainforest.

 


Wild Encounters: Follow one to find another one

The title says it, for us this journey is pure exploration and understanding of what is around us. We learnt to keep our ‘wildlife antennas’ on at all times, to make sure we can get any wildlife encounter at any time of the day, as surprises can appear when we don’t expect them.




Getting into trouble to get some Great Blue Turaco recordings.



Axel looking to record some Monkeys.


It was midday, the excruciating heat making anything difficult, but Ramadam Bah, Paul’s colleague, had a brilliant idea, to go and cool down in the swamps near the village. Bare with me, swamp doesn’t sound that great, these are more like small oases with trees and cold water flowing between villages. We took a couple of refreshing dips, but as soon as Axel got out of the water he heard something familiar, a call he heard many times in Europe, a Common Nightingale. What? Here? It was so surreal to hear it in that tropical context. The excitement was high but he had to record it somehow as he didn’t have his professional equipment with him. Took the iPhone out, started the Wildlife Acoustic’s Song Meter app and recorded what could be the first Common Nightingale song recorded in Sierra Leone. The call was not the full one we hear in Europe in spring, but it was a meeting Axel wasn’t expecting at all.






Common Nightingale recorded near Kotor village, Outamba Kilimi NP, Sierra Leone. April 2024


Outamba-Kilimi was the place where we could find the Willow Warbler, but how would it sound? Will it perform in the same way as when it’s in Europe? Only a recording could tell. Paul Robinson had heard them recently, but it was already the end of March and Axel feared it was too late to find them in Sierra Leone. Axel and the rangers visited the location Paul advised a few times the first week, without success. They left some recorders in the area to hopefully record them while not there, but the overheated laptops wouldn’t let Axel properly analyse the files, making any long recording useless for proving the Willow Warbler was there. The location was close to a village where people were living their lives, farming and fishing in the nearby river.





360 recording rig positioned for recording overnight.


Would a Willow Warbler even come so close to humans? Why here with all the rest of the untouched national park available? Many questions asked, and not many answered just yet. But then, one morning it happened. We went to pick up a recorder below a big tree and there it was, the Willow Warbler singing its song, it wasn’t a complete song like the one Axel recorded in the Wadden Sea (Germany) one year prior, it was the ‘rehearsal’ to that, thousands of kilometres away from where it would go in a few weeks. This little bird took his song all the way here, where people speak Susu, and have their ancestral traditions, where pineapple grows from the ground up (who knew that?), to then bring it back to Europe where it was born. Where is this little one from precisely, Germany, UK, Norway? Well, we haven’t done our analysis and comparison with other ones just yet, but Paul has told us this could be a Scandinavian one, meaning it is right now nesting where Moose and Brown Bears roam, listening to people speaking Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish.


Doesn’t this sound absolutely out of anything we can conceive as possible as humans? These animals make these incredible journeys with their own arms full of light material (feathers, let us be poetic), they eat so much their organs move inside their body so they can store more fats for the long journey. Don’t they deserve a medal for their bi-annual ultra-marathon? Their song represents freedom to us, full creative expression for the sole purpose of being the best at what they do because if they fail they don’t succeed in life.




Willow Warbler recorded in Outamba Kilimi NP, Sierra Leone, April 2024.



Willow Warbler recorded near the Arlau River, north of Germany, June 2023.

After this poetic end of this phase, we must say these birds make us feel humble, we feel like we’re a small part of something bigger than ourselves, but this doesn’t make us feel less important. We are all important, anything we do creates some energy which is going to be shared with the people around us. We have a responsibility to share who we are and what we do, we all have. What will happen to us we don’t know, but we know that as far as we tell what we feel and we do what we believe is right in the name of nature, we’re on the right track.


Our work over the next months is to share the stories we found with the rest of the world, showing how much we can learn from these creatures.


 

Sponsors Shout-Out:

Tenba

We’ve always been quite obsessed with backpacks, we must admit, but camera backpacks haven’t been part of our game just yet until we started using the Tenba Axis V2. We’ve been advised this specific model as we knew were going to be in the desert, savannah, where all sorts of dust can enter from anywhere. This backpack has been a lifesaver for Ario’s camera kit, protecting it from every sort of dust and shock. We took our equipment multiple times on canoes, getting carried by fixers and people around, and thrown in the back of pick-up trucks while going off-road, and the backpack behaved so well without scratches on it and the equipment was always safe in the padded compartments. 


We appreciate when equipment is built by looking at its smallest of details, this is when we have one thing less to think about and we can focus on telling our stories.






 

Partners Support:

BirdLife Africa

We are very proud of being part of this journey and collaborating with the many Birdlife partners in West Africa. Each NGO is trained to get the best data and information on the ground to better inform the general public and lawmakers on how to better protect the local environment. Birdlife Africa is working closely with African NGOs to provide workflows, scientific research, equipment and space for the voices of smaller communities to be heard. We hope our work will help all our collaborators to enhance their voices alongside Birdlife’s work.




 

Help us to spread the love for migratory birds.

Would you like to take part in the expedition by supporting us and the local nature reserves? Easy peasy, we have an online shop made just for this!


Our Interactive Postcards, Prints and Albums are available on our Ko-Fi page or Bandcamp.


By purchasing our work you support our expedition, feeding us and helping us fill up our vehicles’ tanks to reach all the migration hotspots where we bring our Immersive Experience, but not only. 10% of the profit goes back to the location where the story has been captured.


What you buy supports us and the local communities we visit, not as a one-off, but in the longer run.


If you’ve got a Print or Postcard already, check your email inbox as you should have received the password.





 

Much love from the brothers,

Axel & Ario

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STUPENDO! Looking forward to more stories - really inspiring


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