Background Switcher (Hidden)

What IS a "Fam Trip," anyway?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Zick laying hands on a very large, very old female black caiman in Guyana.
Photo by Erica Geis

I've been working for weeks now, sorting, editing, cropping and weeding photos taken on my South African safari in February, 2012. It's been at the top of my to-do list since then. I knew, looking at my spring and summer travel schedule, that it would be gruesome, but I didn't think it would take me until August to have the time and mental space to sit down and do the work of processing a ten-day trip. As a visual learner, I'd be absolutely lost without my Canon 7D camera and the souvenir photos I take. When I finally sit down to write the article, I have my field notebook, a stack of field guides, my itinerary, and the photos right in front of me. Then comes the painstaking work of reconstructing the trip. It's amazing how much I forget when I'm staying in a different place every night and have no down time whatsoever to digest it all.

See, I get these press familiarization trips (also known as fam trips) over the transom every few years. My last one to South Africa was in 1994, so maybe I should revise that to "every few decades." At first blush, they look like all-expense paid vacations to places I could never afford to go. And they are, sort of, and they're great, they're terrific. But they're almost always on very short notice (Can you go to Africa in three weeks?) ; you usually have to convey yourself to either New York or Miami to depart, which involves air fares, parking and hotels, and usually  inoculations and necessary but costly gear upgrades, all on your own nickel. My "free" trip to Guyana cost me a bit over $1,000 in such expenses. I had a fabulous trip, and I thanked the Guyana Tourism Authority by writing an article for Bird Watcher's Digest and posting 64 substantial blogposts about everything from Marmite and crab-eating raccoons to colonial spiders in quilt-sized webs to catching and sexing giant caimans at night.  

Mike Weedon standing next to a communal spider web on Turtle Mountain, Guyana, with thousands of seething spiders inside. Eee! Eee! Eee!

I'd also add that fam trips are something else, but they're not a vacation. The whole point of a vacation is to let your brain go wherever it wants to while you do stuff that you like to do, or maybe nothing at all. On a fam trip, you're being rapidly scuttled from one place to the next so you see the most in the shortest possible time. Fam trips often involve all-day bus rides, short flights, and several transfers in a single day. I'm scrambling the whole time, jotting notes about birds and plants and insects and geography; getting weird place names spelled right; getting contact information on lodgings, making notes about the culture and the food, taking photos every few seconds. Firing on all cylinders from dawn to the moment I collapse into bed, to rise again in the dark and have another day.

A Guyanan crab-eating raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus) raiding the power bar stash in my suitcase. Ack!! Ack!! Eee! Eeee!

I am not complaining. I'm just 'splaining, for those who are tempted to think I am nothing but lucky for getting to go on fam trips. Well, I am very lucky. But I am not being asked to go on these things because I'm lucky or particularly cute or highly enthusiastic in a Science Chimpy way. Tourism departments ask me because I work like an organ grinder's monkey to deliver the payback they're looking for, which is articles in Bird Watcher's Digest and blogposts right here. The beauty of blogging about it all is that the information remains online indefinitely, and anyone searching "South Africa birding" can come across these posts. And that makes me very happy, because South Africa's wildlife reserves are like a great big gift to the planet, and I love to share gifts.

So with that as a preamble, I'll kick off a series on my February 2012 trip to South Africa. You're going to like it.

Speaking of "like," thank you, dear readers, for your magnificent response to my last post, "Me, You and BWD." Subscribing to Bird Watcher's Digest, either digitally or in print, is a resounding vote of support for a family-owned and published magazine that, after 34 years, continues to give you the best that it's got. A Zick magnum opus on South African birding is coming up in its pages, with the endless photo salon (I picked 715 that were worth looking at) and my usual loose and jittery commentary appearing here on the blog.


Loose and jittery is why we love you--that and the Science Chimp occasional cries of "eee,eee,eee".

Enjoy your trip!

Ditto on the last comment, and ditto on BWD, the best Birding Mag there is!

Posted by Ray Smart August 14, 2012 at 5:13 AM

Oooo, what a great teaser, with links to distract us while we wait! Wonderful suspense.
Kathy in Delray Beach.

Posted by Anonymous August 14, 2012 at 6:15 AM


Oh hell no.

Thanks, Julie, for your excellent timing. I am headed to South Africa in 6 days. Preparations were aided by Simon Thompson's article in the latest BWD "Tips for Traveling Birders" and now I can look forward to reading your blog posts about the birds of South Africa. Thanks again!

Posted by Anonymous August 17, 2012 at 5:23 AM
[Back to Top]