South Africa offers wildlife in many ways and watching whales even from shore is one of the magnificent wildlife sighting it offers.
On the southern coast from Cape Town all the way up to Durban different kinds of whales can be seen, either from the shore or from the boat during the winter months of the southern hemisphere starting in May and going until about November. The whales are moving away from their icy home Antarctica to calve and rear their offspring.
Hermanus in the Western Cape is also called the whale capitol of the world where you can see whales comfortably from your table on the terrace while having lunch. Personally I experienced once that a mother with her calf was in Camps Bay in Cape Town with people watching them just from the beach.
It is a special moment being so close to these gentle giants and photographers get so many opportunities to capture great images.
Keep that in mind when planning a trip and inquire for the best places to be for he best sightings.
Day 20 Our last full day in the bush and we went back to the waterhole from yesterday. When we arrived the waterhole was empty and that means in times of drought that there must be cats around. And yes, when we got close we saw them. Two male lion were lying at the waterhole. We took a closer look and found out that they weren’t well. One of them was limping and he looked very dehydrated, skinny and his belly looked like a balloon. The other one didn’t look injured but very skinny too. Paul told me that they are brothers and we made the conclusion that one got injured and his brother stayed with him and shared the pain and struggle. It was very touching to watch them and very sad too. When the sun came out they tried to get some shade under a skinny tree about 100 meters away. It took them forever to get there and I was afraid they wouldn’t be alive for long anymore.
When we came back to the camp that morning we had visitors for lunch. A breeding herd of elephants was resting about 50 meters away from our tents under the trees. This was awesome. They allowed us to be so close to them and to share the site. It felt magical.
In the afternoon I wanted to go back to look for the two lions. They were still there under the tree and after a while they started moving again towards thicker bush, probably to find some food. It was very impressing how they carried on trying to survive and how the brothers stayed together. And it was also very sad to watch them and to feel their pain.
We had to go back to Nairobi. On one hand we looked forward to sleep in a bed, having a shower and being at home. On the other hand we had become a good team and we would miss each other and the bush. Anyway, we had to go and Paul drove furiously fast to get quickly back. He also wanted to be with his relative in the hospital and Alex and me wanted to relax, it was after all a Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately the bats had left behind quite a mess in the bathrooms and it was really a shame that nobody had thought about nets to keep them out. The facilities were really nice, except the other visitors. I found out later that every morning people are coming to clean the whole place and it’s fine until the bats come back. Nobody seemed to be bothered by it.
Tsavo East is well known for the elephants and we went out to find some. It was very dry and then the best thing to do is going to a waterhole. According to Paul there was a big dam where we could find plenty of animals. When we got there the dam was dry. Even Paul was surprised. He had never seen the dam dry. Not far away was another smaller waterhole and there the elephants were. It actually didn’t look much like a waterhole, more like a mud-hole, but the animals seamed happy with it. The elephants were standing in the mud, enjoying cooling down. Zebra, warthog, jackals and ostrich carefully tried to sip water from the mud. We stayed for hours.
In the afternoon we cruised through another part of the park and also there were plenty of elephants. Beautiful red colored elephants, from the red soil in the park.
Day 17 We decided to have a quite day with our game drives and also a long rest around lunch. It was just so hot. It felt like being roasted on lave stone and at the same time it was so beautiful, so irresistible beautiful that one takes it all just to be there.
Day 18 We left the campsite at 8.15 a.m. and headed to the main gate of Tsavo West Mtito Andei to hit the road to Mombasa. It was a short drive to Voi where we did some groceries and I got myself some chocolate and a stroll through the market place. The main gate of Tsavo East was just outside Voi and the campsite Ndololo just 20 minutes from the gate. We arrived there before lunch and pitched camp.
When we were about to have lunch a troop of baboons was lining up to get our food. I encouraged Alex to make a statement with the catapult to make clear who is the boss. He would be the one staying in camp when we are out and they would make life for him very hard if he wouldn’t do something right now. He went after them and they got the message.
Tsavo East is huge and doesn’t have many roads. It felt to me like a paradise for the animals, because they can live their lives unbothered by vehicles if they want, yet we had great sightings too. The first afternoon we spotted already lionesses, actually quite close to the camp, on their way to hunt. It was a good start.
When we got back to the camp I wanted to take advantage of the good facilities of the campsite and went off to have a shower. It was almost dark and when I entered the shower I saw them, bats everywhere. I didn’t feel comfortable and hurried up to get away form them quickly.
We heard baboons alarming the whole night. We thought the lions must still be there then and we went straight to the spot where we saw the lioness. Nothing. Paul checked other roads he thought they might have crossed, but nothing. They were gone or deep in the bush.
So we drove over to Mzima Springs, a beautiful lake and drinking water source. They built some kind of a tower in the lake where one can see the fish swimming and look just above the waterline like a hippo. A lovely place and Paul took the chance while staying there to clean our vehicle from tsetse flies. He was not very patient and focused this morning and I heard later that a family member wasn’t well and he was worried. Next to that we had to go to the main gate to recharge our smart card to be able to pay the park fees. Still a consequence from the mixed up itinerary.
We tried to leave worries and annoyance behind when we headed out for the afternoon game drive and we got rewarded. Three klipspringers were playing around on the rocks just next to the road. That was a rare and awesome sighting.
That night I woke up and was afraid. Chewing noise very close to my tent and very loud. I thought this must be something big and my new tent was very small, 1,50 m x 1 m and 70 cm high. I was lying there thinking, if this something big steps on my tent I’m gone, but I told myself too that there was a little roof above the tent and that would prevent an animal from stepping on the tent. I fell asleep again and heard the next morning that it was a giraffe.
There is a place in Nairobi where elephant orphans find a safe home and get all the help to have eventually a normal wild elephant life in the bush. This place is the David Scheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Nursery. The elephant nursery in Nairobi is located at the Nairobi National Park, only 10 minutes away from the closest supermarket in the suburb Karen. Nairobi’s great nature environment gives home to orphaned and rescued elephants where they are hand reared with lots of love and care.
Daphne Scheldrick developed a special milk formula to get the babies through the critical first months of their life. 24/7 care by the Keepers and a meticulous nursery program make it possible that many traumatized and vulnerable elephant babies can eventually have a normal life within a wild elephant herd in the fantastic 12,000 square kilometers huge Tsavo East National Park in Kenya.
It is an amazing program and as a tourist one can get a glimpse by visiting the nursery for feeding time at 11 a.m.. The entrance fee is KSH 500, which is about 5 Euro and the money is spend entirely for the wellbeing of the elephants. The nursery allows insights how the Keepers live and sleep with their elephants and of course absolutely lovely photographic opportunities during the feeding time with immense big bottles.
Read more about the program on their website and put it on your to-do list when visiting Kenya.
The battery of the vehicle was flat again. It was the fridge, draining it. Again with the help of the Masai we got going to our next destination, Tsavo West. Paul told me that we have to drive in convoy and need to be at the checkpoint at 9 a.m.. We hurried there, but only got there at 10 a.m. and it was fine. Everybody else had just got there. The convoy drove fast through the volcano landscape around Mount Kilimanjaro. It was beautiful. Black rocky ground, streams of lava. That’s what makes Tsavo West so special and hot like in an oven. We arrived at the campsite at 11.30 a.m.. What a nice short drive. And it was really very hot and dry.
After a rest we took off for the afternoon game drive. It was thick bush everywhere. The scenery was breathtaking and the tsetse flies were horrible. But it was all worth it. It was very beautiful and the view on Mount Kilimanjaro was the best. On our way back to the camp Paul spotted a lioness, just on the edge of the thick bush and close to our camp. We would come back first thing in the morning to follow up with her and the rest of the pride.
The Masai Mara has spoilt us with incredible sightings, vast landscapes, beautiful weather, evenings at the bond fire, stories from the Masai people and the camp warthogs roaming between the tents.
It was an amazing photographic adventure with plenty of learning moments and fantastic images to take home. We don’t want to leave, but we have to, until we come back for another incredible photographic safari in the beautiful Masai Mara.
Asante sana (Swahili for “Thank you&rdquo Masai Mara.
After the extremely amazing and spectacular game drives of the last days we had a quiet morning. Although a quiet morning in the Masai Mara means many elephants, all sorts of plains game, breathtaking landscapes and a delicious pick nick breakfast on the slopes of the escarpment, with an amazing view.
Well some in our group were a bit bored and found it difficult to see the beauty in the small things after the spectacle we had witnessed. Yet during lunch we agreed that wildlife photography is a lot about patience and that patience is always rewarded.
And it was rewarded. In the afternoon we went straight to a spot were others had just spotted the pride of lion we tried to see in the open during the last game drives, but only had seen some ears and heads far away. At arrival we saw the two male lion resting under a tree. After photographing the two male extensively we carried on to see the rest of the pride, in total 16 female lion and cubs!
It was just such an amazing sighting. The lion were scattered over a clearing and started getting up, yawning and playing. It was not possible to get them all in one photo, but at least about 10 of them at one stage. And then one of the male lion walked over to watch over them. He was obviously in control and not approachable for play! as he made very clear!
Such a sighting makes one very humble and grateful, feeling rewarded for being out there the whole day and patiently waiting that the bush and the wildlife give some glimpses of their beauty and make the photographers heart beating faster!
In the early light of the morning we were out looking for the illusive big cats and we were lucky.
While heading to a spot where male lion with a kill were spotted the day before, suddenly a leopard was quickly glancing at us and just as quickly disappeared in the bushes.
When we arrived at the spot where the male lion were seen, nothing was there, not even a tiny piece of the kill, a young hippo. So we carried on and suddenly a herd of zebra, eland and impala ran out of a little forest. A cheetah came with them, obviously seeing something interesting while being carefully observed by the antelopes and zebras from a save distance.
That was not all. Our driver told us that he had spotted a lion on a termite mount, well at least he could see him, we didn’t, even with binoculars. We headed to the spot and there was a sub adult male lion enjoying the morning sun.
All that happened within the proximity of the camp and during about two hours of our game drive. Not to forget the beautiful sunrise and the several herds of elephant roaming the area as well.
Saying that this time of the year is not high season and no Great Migration is going on, doesn’t mean that one cannot see a crossing. And a crossing is what we saw today.
Several hundreds of zebra were gathering at the Mara River when we approached. They seemed to be determined to cross the Mara River to enter the Great Plains of the Serengeti for better food. Some of them were already on the other side of the river and such a situation usually causes them stress. The families want to stay together and they keep calling each other to encourage the rest of the family to cross.
But that was not an easy task. Plenty of hippos were lying in the river and crocodiles couldn’t be far away. The zebras made a couple of attempts and stopped them when they saw the hippos. After approximately two hours of trying they gathered all their courage and moved into the water, first to drink and then they moved on to the other side of the Mara River. But now the crocodiles were gathering as well and suddenly there were about eight of them heading for the crossing zebras. They were ready to attack. One crocodile was holding a zebra on its back leg, another crocodile came to bite into the other back leg and another crocodile took the zebra by its neck. They pulled the zebra into deeper water and started rolling with it and pulling it under water. It was over for the zebra. Now eight crocodiles were pulling it apart and swallowed whatever piece they got hold of.
This one zebra saved all the others. It kept the crocodiles busy and happy and that meant no other casualties for the herd. It was an exciting and moving sighting and an amazing photographic adventure.
The Masai Mara is probably one of the most famous wildlife areas Africa’s. These Great Plains are dotted with trees and spoilt with an abundance of wildlife. This time of the year is not high season, not the time of the Great Migration, yet the Masai Mara is always wonderful. At arrival zebra, buffalo and topi surrounded the airstrip. And on our first game drive we saw already two cheetah and two male lion, next to giraffes, zebra and several species of antelopes. There seems to be something magical about this place that attracts the animals in big numbers.
But not only the animals are heaven for photography lovers, also the landscape is very photogenic. It’s the place for wide angle lenses and at the same time for zoom as well. The Masai Mara is just a wonderful place to play with photography and to capture lots of beauty.
It was a clear morning. The wind had died and the Mount Kilimanjaro was beautifully visible. We went out to the little mountain/hill, serving as a viewpoint to photograph the Kilimanjaro. It was awesome and I enjoyed the serenity of that moment. A clear, calm morning in this majestic landscape, it was splendid. After a while we carried on with our game vehicle and followed for the rest of the morning the animals from swamp to swamp.
At lunch time the wind was back. 1.45 p.m. a rainstorm, 2 p.m. again a sandstorm, 2.15 p.m. sun and hot. This carried on for the whole afternoon rest time and there was no place without dust. At 4 p.m. I stopped practicing accepting and started thinking again. We need to change that. I got out of my tent and talked to Paul an Alex. We need to move the tents behind the bushes. They looked at me in unbelief but did move the tents, mine first still skeptical. But soon they were happy we did it. It worked!
4.30 p.m. we wanted to leave for the game drive but the battery was flat. With the help of a couple of Masai we got the car going and left the camp. Just around the corner on a smaller swamp was an elephant baby lying on the ground and two adults were standing next to it, watching and not moving. I thought the baby was dead and felt sad for them, but then arrived an elephant bull and the two adult females woke up the baby. It had been very deep asleep and needed some time to get up. I felt relieved.
The sand storms carried on that night, but we had a good sleep behind the bushes … until the mongoose came, shouting at each other and turning the whole place upside down.
Amboseli was very dusty, windy, flat and breathtaking beautiful. It looked like a moon landscape with craters of swamp where the animals meet and enjoy a day at the pool while it’s hot, dusty and windy around. The wind and the dust were challenging. The dust was everywhere. When I was lying on my mattress in the tent I had to close my eyes because of the dust coming in. It felt very much like Lawrence of Arabia. Alex and Paul took it like the Masai did and the animals, they accepted. I watched and learned.
I was awake and just about to get up when I heard a scream and another one and another one. What was it? A bird? When I got to the main house I heard that somebody saw a leopard next to my tent killing a duiker. I was excited. This was spectacular and I would have loved to see the leopard. We were all standing on the veranda with binoculars trying to find the leopard. Nothing. Suddenly while sitting at the table chatting, Richard (the manager) said, I can see him. We all jumped up. I got my camera and only with the big lens I could see “him”. The leopard turned out to be a cheetah and a female, just up the hill behind my tent, feeding on the kill. What a start of the day.
At 8 a.m. I met Paul and Alex at the gate. They managed to get us a new vehicle and new tents. Nonetheless we decided to go straight to Amboseli and to skip Mount Kenya and Aberdare. The first part of the drive would bring us back around Mount Kenya to Nairobi and from there down to the border with Tanzania. We drove back to Nairobi through Meru. It was very different from the other side of the mountain, lush and tropical with many plantations and colorful villages. Everything went well and we arrived in Nairobi at noon, had a stop at a supermarket, our packed lunch along the road and carried on towards the border, 251 km to Arusha and it was 2 p.m. at Ngong junction. One hour later we had a flat tyre, at 4.55 p.m. we arrived at Amboseli Gate and at 5.45 p.m. at the campsite. What a drive, but we were glad we did it. From now on we wouldn’t have to drive far anymore, except the way back to Nairobi, but that would be at the very end.
It was November 2006 and the time of the short rains in Tanzania, normally not the time photographers want to visit the Serengeti, but I thought it would be great to see the savannah during rains and to shoot with the soft light. At arrival in Arusha it was announced that our safari flight to Klein’s Camp in the Northern Serengeti would have a delay and would not be able to land at Klein’s. There had been too much rain and the airstrip’s soil was to soft for a plane to land. After a while a solution was found. We would fly to Seronera in the middle of the Serengeti and from there carry on by 4x4.
During our flight over the Serengeti we got a pretty good impression what was going on. The Grumeti River was full and the plains were flooded. The often-dry Great Plains were wetlands. From Seronera airstrip we carried on in our 4x4 Landcruiser, heading north towards the Kenyan border where Klein’s Camp is situated. The road we were driving on was still all right, although we had to be careful with the patches of black cotton soil, a tricky soil that looks dry and the moment you drive on it, its like driving on wet soap. After driving for a while we got a call via the radio that another vehicle from Klein’s got stuck and if we could help pulling them out. Their position was quite close and we headed to them to help. The vehicle had dug itself deeply into the black cotton soil and we had to be very carefully to not get stuck as well. The guests were standing next to the vehicle with a desperate look in their eyes, but it was soon clear that we couldn’t pull them out. We would get stuck too. So all the guests got in our vehicle and we carried on. The guys would find a solution for the vehicle later, at least the guests were off the road and on-route back to the camp.
In order to get to Klein’s Camp one has to cross the river. When we arrived at the river it was clear that we wouldn’t be able to drive through it, definitely not with all the people on it. We had to drive to a little pedestrian bridge, get out and walk with our luggage over the tiny bridge to reach the vehicle that was waiting for us on the other side. Masai people were awaiting us on the other side, dressed traditionally and with spear and with a big UMBRELLA! It was such a funny sight to see the brave Masai warriors with an umbrella to shelter from the rain.
Well, we finally arrived at the camp and our driver proved to be brave and a good driver as well. He drove through river with the empty vehicle and everything was fine.
We were the last guests arriving at Klein’s Camp for several months. They closed the camp after we had left. The short rains turned out to be very long rains and the camp was only reopened in August of the following year. Nature has always the last word, not matter what humans want.
I obviously needed it so much, a relaxed day at Lewa Downs with a nice and dry room, a shower and everything just working. So, happily I went out on the game drive with my guide form Lewa and it was really fun. He made a Swahili lesson from the game drive and it was lovely.
Twende …Let’s go. My guide Joel was serious about teaching me Swahili. We started cruising on Lewa in the morning twilight when the rolling hills of Lewa are bluish and mysterious, an awesome light for magical shots. All together it was a very nice day and we saw twiga…giraffe, punda…zebra and pumba mingi … many warthogs and eventually simba … lion with ntoto ya simba … lion cubs.
After 9 days in a leaking tent and a long list of other unsolved basics we arrived around 10 a.m. at Lewa Downs Conservancy. Nairobi office was supposed to book me there for two nights, but didn’t. Anyway, they had a tent for me and I said good buy to Paul and Alex for two days. They went to Nairobi to get things sorted that we could reset the whole trip and have a fresh start.
Lewa Downs is beautiful. The landscape is made of rolling hills bordered by Samburu on one side and Mount Kenya on the other. It’s a Grevi’s zebra, rhino and cheetah paradise and it was a pleasure to drive there with only a few other vehicles. I stayed at the Safari Camp, a tented camp with lovely bathrooms attached to the tents, a real luxury of dry tent with shower. It was also a chance for me to reset, to rinse out the anger and exhaustion of the last 9 days and to get ready for the second part of the trip. It gave me the time and peace to reflect on the last days and what I had learned. There was one conversation we had one night at dinner, which had impressed me a lot.
Paul and Alex are Kikuyu. The Kikuyu tribe lives from agriculture and it’s a custom that there has to be always enough food in the house to feed the family and unexpected visitors. They don’t throw food away and it makes them happy and proud when they can feed others.
Paul said, in the village where he grew up was one family who had a TV and always when there was a football game, the whole village came to watch it at their place. He said this family was very lucky and I thought because they had a TV but he continued, because their food got eaten and not because of a TV. This was completely logical for him and I was quiet and touched by this approach. Thinking back to this conversation always helps me to put things in perspective and reminds me of the basic values of life.
This was the morning I wanted to focus only on nature and photography. No signal-search, no phone calls, not even talking about the unsolved issues, just going to the airstrip at the end of the morning game drive to fetch the tents.
It was a lovely morning. We crossed the river and cruised through Buffalo Springs National Reserve, which is connected to Samburu. This area is a bit elevated comparing to Samburu and opens wonderful views on it. The landscape is magical and breathtaking. We saw also plenty of oryx with small ones, Grevi’s zebra and lovely bird sightings. Before we crossed back to the other side of the river we checked at the airstrip for the tents, but they hadn’t arrived yet. We would try again in the afternoon.
Back on the other side we finally found elephant. They were indeed walking along the river, back after the rain from the mountains. We tried to follow and got stuck. Fortunately other vehicles were around and tried to help, but they were mini vans and not strong enough to pull out a Landcruiser. It was digging. Suddenly a vehicles came back shouting at us that there was a lion coming. Ok, back into the vehicle and wait, although we couldn’t see any lion and with all the vehicles around we didn’t really feel in danger. The lion sighting we didn’t see brought also another Landcruiser to the scene and we were out of the dip in fife minutes. About forty meters further around a bush a lioness was lying in the shade. Maybe she was disturbed on her path and waiting that the vehicle was pulled out and gone, so she could continue or she was just enjoying the shade.
We carried on to follow the elephants and were just in time to watch them crossing the river. It was an awesome sighting and a great closure of a good morning.
Back in camp I used the time before we would have lunch to upload and process my photos. I did this in the vehicle, because it was the most comfortable place to do it, but this morning I forgot to close the car-door. Imagine a Landcruiser with two seats in the front and after a bar two seats in the back. I was sitting on a seat in the back with my laptop on the seat next to me. While I was sitting there looking at the screen I felt a presence, turned to the left and saw a baboon sitting next to me on the bar, checking out the front of the car. His back was probably about 30 cm away from me. My hand wanted to waive him away like an insect, but my mind told me it’s a baboon. The next thought was to jump out of the car, but that would have meant to come between the baboon and the door and what if he panics. So this wasn’t an option either. Next thought was to give him space, space to escape and that was what I did. He didn’t even look at me, just relaxed turned around and jumped out. All that happened within about 2 seconds and I’m still amazed how much a person can think and decide in such a short period of time and how long two seconds can be. I was a bit shaken, because he gave me a fright and also happy that I finally did the right thing by giving him space. Alex had watched the whole thing and went after the baboon to give him a fright back, which of course didn’t work. The baboons there knew us and just waited for a chance to check out what’s on the dashboard.
We took off for the afternoon game drive early to go to the airstrip first. The tents weren’t there and there wouldn’t be another flight that day. We decided to phone the office. They told us that they didn’t know where to send the tents and couldn’t reach us all day, so it was our fault that the tents hadn’t arrived. We were speechless. They had sent flysheets earlier to the very same airstrip and now they didn’t know where we were. Senseless to say that this was the limit, but yet I wanted to focus on the game drive and to photograph. I would make a decision later and we continued with the drive.
At dinner I told Paul and Alex that I will pay and stay at Lewa for two nights and want them to go back to Nairobi to fix the vehicle, the tents and all the other things on the list. After that, they could pick me up at Lewa and we would continue our trip. Everything needed to be reset. Now even the cigarette lighter wasn’t working anymore and that meant no power at all.
Meanwhile also the nearby Samburu Lodge didn’t have power anymore. Their generator had exploded the night before and the rangers had to help extinguishing the fire.
Also this evening Alex’s mind was filled with stories. He told us that ones in the Mara at the very same campsite we stayed he was invited by a Masai to watch a football match on tv in the Masai shopping centre Talek. The guy came to walk him over and while they were walking in the dark at one point the Masai told Alex to walk more on the left. He did and after a while the Masai said, there was a lion. Alex started shaking and the first thing he did was buying a torch for the way back. He said, he couldn’t focus on the match. He was only thinking about the way back to the camp and that he had to pass the lion again. On the way back he was shining with his torch wildly and holding on to the Masai guy, afraid that he would run of if there was any danger and Masai can run fast and he would be left behind. He got back to the camp safely and the Masai said, just look in their eyes, they can’t have that. Mmm, I don’t wanna try and on my way to the toilet that night I was shining very carefully on the bushes along the path.
It was Monday and day 8 in a leaking tent. I was determined to fix it today.
We went out for the morning game drive. It was lovely sunny weather and Samburu was lying there in its breathtaking beauty. We were looking for elephants. Paul explained that the elephants retreat into the mountains when it rains, but should come down again with this wonderful weather. We cruised around to cover all possible paths they could take down from the mountains to the river. Another guide told us they saw them and we hurried to get to the area they were seen, but nothing. No elephant at all. After three hours search we decided to have breakfast, on a spot with a cell phone signal. The office would be open by now.
The breakfast was delicious as always and Paul phoned the office in Nairobi. He had to tell his story over and over again to different people. Nobody seemed able or willing to understand what was going on with the tents. They would call us back with the solution. We waited half an hour and then carried on with the game drive and our elephant search. That was actually what I was here for.
In the afternoon was excitement all around. Lions had been spotted and we headed to the area, but first we had to find a signal to phone the office again. Actually quite close to the lion sighting we had a signal and I just wanted to get things solved quickly to get to the lions. But that didn’t happen. Next to the tent issue was a change in the itinerary I didn’t agree with. I had booked a stay at Lewa Downs and because Lewa has no campsite we should camp just outside the conservancy. That just outside turned out to be 50 km away from Lewa, which made no sense at all and as an alternative they offered me a stay at a farm with game. It couldn’t get into their heads that that wouldn’t be bush and no alternative to Lewa Downs, a rhino conservancy between Isiolo and Mount Kenya in the Laikipia area. At the end it all came down to money. I could stay at Lewa, but had to pay the full rate, next to the amount I had already paid for those two nights. I was furious. Here I was, 8 days in a leaking tent, a vehicle with a couple of main issues, a mixed up itinerary, an unacceptable alternative for Lewa and no way that the company was taking responsibility. We ended the conversation with the result that the new tents would be flown in tomorrow morning and I would think about Lewa. And when we got to the lions, they were gone into the bushes. What a waste of time in beautiful Samburu.
Back in camp Alex had prepared again a lovely dinner. He is an excellent cook. No matter what the circumstances, he managed to create wonderful food, although Samburu got a bit on his nerves. He was very eager to have a fire all night, which wasn’t the case in the Mara and Nakuru. And this evening he came up with a couple of stories he had heard about cooks working in Samburu. One guy had kept papaya in his tent and got visited by an elephant. They love this fruit and can smell it from a big distance. The elephant smelled the papaya, but didn’t know how to get to it. So he grabbed the tent with his trunk and threw it up while the cook was sleeping in it. The tent landed in a tree and the cook was screaming. The other people just opened the zip a bit to see what’s going on, but didn’t dare to get out. Fortunately the cook was able to throw out the papaya, the elephant ate a couple of pieces and went off. Another guy had taken meat out of the fridge to defrost it during the night in his tent. The smell attracted a hyena and she managed to scratch open the tent to get in. At that moment the cook woke up and screamed, the hyena panicked, both were moving wildly, the tent collapsed and both tried to get out. Somehow the hyena managed to get out and ran off. Both cooks resigned and never went back to the bush again. Also this night we had our fire burning all night.
After a first canceled jump, Felix Baumgartner successfully did his Red Bull Stratos - Space Jump yesterday, arriving in one piece and well back on earth. He didn’t traveler faster than sound, but he definitely made the highest jump ever, a new record.
How do we know about a new record and thrilling new things people do? We can see them happening, because photography is where the action takes place and somehow it always did. All moments of history are captured in pictures, all records are captured and all attempts and events are captured. The camera is always there, even at places people can’t go by themselves, but the camera can. The camera became us outside us, a third eye we can send anywhere in order to see for us, share for us and proof for us that something was really there or proofs that we were really there. Way forward in future the images of Felix Baumgartner jumping from space will still be there, but he won’t. Images make immortal and always did, from the cave drawings of the first humans to the high-resolution images of today. We obviously like to see to believe, even our own existence.
Watch the video of the Red Bull Stratos - Space Jump. The camera lets you be there in space at the edge of the capsule and its quite a feeling to look down from space like Baumgartner did when he jumped, not suitable for people with fear of height
I woke up, still tired and exhausted, my mattress surrounded by rainwater. I had enough of that. This had to be solved.
We wouldn’t have a game drive this morning. The vehicle had to be fixed and the leaking tents had to be replaced. Paul and I went off to find a signal. He wanted to call the office in Nairobi and finding a signal for the cell phone was quite a mission. I was running out of patience and told him, enough now we are going to use the sat phone. The sat phone can be tricky as well, but we managed to get a signal and I got the operational manager on the phone. I made clear that the situation is unacceptable and that they have to send over new tents. He promised he would do that and the tents would arrive with the first plane. Next thing was the vehicle. The tank needed to be welded and Samburu Lodge workshop could do it. We drove there and I decided to have breakfast at the lodge. It didn’t take long and Paul came to tell me that the generator was switched off, so no welding and we had to come back after lunch. We went back to the camp and I collapsed on my “bed”, still surrounded by water. It was just so annoying that the equipment didn’t meet the basic needs and I was very angry and knowing that that wouldn’t help either.
Paul went to the airstrip to fetch the new tents. He came back with flysheets. I thought I must explode when I saw that. These flysheets were lighter, but to small to cover the tents and new tents were promised. I fetched my sat phone and called the operational manager and the owner. Nobody answered the phone. After all it was Sunday.
We tried to make something out of it and some kind of a weird flysheet construction covered Paul’s and my tent. It had to do till Monday. Phoning the office would be first thing in the morning.
After lunch we went back to the lodge to fix the fuel tank and we could go off for the game drive at least in the afternoon. Samburu is so beautiful and that made the disturbance by poor equipment even more annoying. Samburu’s landscape is breathtaking and the light was awesome because of the rain. Everything looks soft and bluish, which gives completely different shots. Eventually the animals made our day by rewarding us with beautiful sightings like fighting giraffes in front of a blue/gray sky and the green of the acacias. After all a peaceful closure of the day.
Again the night ended at about 4.30 a.m. with hooting matatus and the mullah calling for prayer. We got up to find out there was no water. Fortunately we still got some in our jerry cans. We left the campsite at 7.30 heading north to Samburu National Reserve. The first stop was after an hour and a half at Thomson Falls. A nice place with a small hotel, good facilities and the waterfall. We had breakfast and a walk to the falls. We were awake now for what promised to be a long day.
From Thomson Falls the road goes along Aberdare National Park and then north around Mount Kenya. It’s a clime up to about 3.000 m through a fertile agricultural area. Although the altitude is high the rain and the soil make everything growing in abundance. After two hours and a half we reached Nanyuki. I liked the name and the place. A colorful buzzing African place. Nanyuki is Masai and means “place of red water”. I didn’t see water, but maybe when the Masai first arrived, they found the water colored by the red soil of the area. We stopped and did some shopping to have enough food for our stay in Samburu.
From Nanyuki we drove to Kenron Grill, a restaurant just about one km away from the road to have lunch. When we got there we were the only guests except the local police officers, having their lunch as well. Because our itinerary was mixed up from the first stay in the Mara, the restaurant had expected us yesterday and not today, what meant that there was nothing prepared, what meant the meat was still in the freezer. So we got grilled frozen chicken, but we were hungry, we ate it all.
We left Kenron Grill at a quarter to two and started descending to Isiolo from about 3.000 m to about 1.600 m altitude. It was a beautiful drive, down the slopes of Mount Kenya with a view over the Laikipia area. The vegetation changed. It was dry land, desert like. Isiolo felt different. The market was along the road, it was buzzing, people herding their camels and yet it felt more poor than other places. Maybe because it’s not a fertile agricultural area and people have to fight every day to get food on their plate. We had to register our vehicle before we could continue to Samburu. There had been incidents in the past with bandits on this road and registration is for security. If you get lost they know where you were last and when you departed for Samburu. It was a weird feeling. I had read about this in the Rough Guide and now I was there. Alex told me that there was nothing out there when we left Isiolo, only desert with poachers from Somalia. But he said quickly, that was in the past. It’s much better now. Anyway I was sitting in the vehicle thinking what am I going to do when we get ambushed. Nothing actually. Give them what they want and hope that they are happy with it.
We carried on to Archers Post. There would be the gate to Samburu National Reserve. It was the most horrible road I experienced throughout whole Kenya and the only way to make it bearable was to drive very fast. There were roadwork’s going on to provide a wonderful and comfortable new road, but it was far from being finished. The good thing was, that the roadwork’s had brought many people there working. Small settlements were along the road and it turned out that the drive didn’t feel as unsafe as I had expected. There was something out of Isiolo.
We reached the Archer’s Post Gate at 4 p.m. and lost our fuel tank. Paul had filled up both fuel tanks (the Landcruiser has two) and the rear one had just fallen off. Rangers, Paul and Alex were underneath the vehicle fixing it with ropes that we could continue. It was actually just another thing that didn’t work properly, the fridge (repaired in Nakuru), the leaking tents (still not fixed!!!), my car door (when I closed the window the door fell open) and now the fuel tank. Half an hour later the fuel tank was roped up and we carried on to the campsite. It was 4.30 p.m.. A truck was driving in front of us, it had rained, the truck got stuck and we got in his trail and got stuck too. Everybody out, spates out and digging. We pitched camp at 5.30 p.m. The public campsite in Samburu is next to the river and also next to the rangers headquarter. Alex choose a spot next to the river and close to the facilities. They were challenging.
It started raining again and even with the flysheets (still the heavy ones) my tent was leaking badly. I kept everything packed and in the middle of the tent in case I have to get my stuff out quickly. We all had an early night after an exhausting day. At about 11.30 p.m. I woke up from voices next to my tent and then I heard THE noise. The river. When we arrived the river was low and small, now it was a dangerous stream. This is also called a flash flood. It had rained in the mountains and all the water came suddenly like a wave. My tent was the closest to the river and now just about two meters away from the water. I rushed out, gave Alex and Paul a shout to wake them up, got my stuff in the vehicle, broke down my tent together with Alex and Paul and set it up again on higher ground. That all happened in 10 minutes. It probably sounds quick, but it isn’t. If the flood had got to me, there wouldn’t have been any time to get out. It was about midnight when I was in “bed” again and it was still raining and my tent still leaking. I woke up a couple of times from heavy rain and the noise of the waves coming down the river. This day taught me once again what it means to be in the bush. No matter how tired or exhausted you are you got to take on the challenges.
It was a noisy morning. About 4.30 a.m. the Matatus started hooting and at 5 a.m. the mullah called for prayer. Waking up by city noises in the bush felt weird and suddenly the Nakuru National Park felt like a zoo to me, which is a pity, because it’s beautiful.
The group from the truck got up, packed and took off within 15 minutes. Amazing. We were not that fast, but off for the drive with packed breakfast at 6.30 a.m.
There is a road going around the lake with just a few side roads. It’s an easy course and even school buses come and take the children out for a lovely day with the animals. And there were plenty. In the first place plenty of birds and specially flamingos, thousands along the shore. Our drive took us around the lake through a beautiful fever tree forest. Paul told me that there is one part of the shore where we can get close to the flamingos and we made our way to that spot. As we approached the shore we saw a hyena next to the road. She didn’t respond like a healthy animal usually does, being alert, keeping distance or even run off. This hyena must have been injured. She could hardly walk, her eyes were looking empty, she was behaving like in trance, focused to get to a hiding place, what we figured was a dip next to a drainage pipe, where she lied down, looking exhausted and stressed. We let her alone to avoid more stress for her (we actually didn’t know if it was a male or female, difficult to say with hyenas) and decided to come back later. I thought she was dying.
Just about a 100 meters from the hyena was this broad part of the shore with thousands of flamingos. Vehicles can get there very easily and the rest you can walk and this is actually the interesting part, because there were not only birds, but also rhino and buffalo. At this lake one can really forget very quickly that this is the bush and drop guard while busy with the tripod and focused on shooting birds in the most beautiful interaction and suddenly the photographer becomes an easy target for a buffalo. Nothing like that happened, but it crossed my mind and I kept an eye on the buffalo and rhino. Shooting the birds was awesome and the memory cards were filled quickly. We decided to drive a bit closer to the big mammals and had our breakfast between the rhino, buffalos, zebras, pelicans, flamingos and plenty of other bird species. This was also a good moment to set up office to upload the photos and check emails. Yes, check emails. I can’t imagine a more beautiful location for an office and thanks to the satellite technique nowadays this is possible.
For our afternoon game drive we started again our round trip around the lake and we were very lucky to see colobus monkeys. This is a rare sighting and they were just next to the road jumping in the trees. I actually got a couple of good shots to find out later that I lost them somewhere between uploading and backup. Again a lesson in staying focused and being careful all the time.
Our drive brought us to the dip where we left the hyena in the morning. We approached carefully and yes she was still there and for a moment I thought she was dead, but then she tried to lift her head. She was in a very bad shape. There were no visible injuries, so we assumed there could probably be internal bleedings, maybe a kick from a buffalo or something like that from interaction with another animal. There was nothing we could do.
The night was quiet. I heard again the breathing next to my head, which was a hippo according to Alex, grazing at night around the tents.
We left the campsite at about 8.30 a.m. and headed towards Nakuru, our next stop. Paul said we are taking a short cut to Narok, but this wasn’t really the case. We headed away from Narok and made some kind of a circle back onto the tar road. My guess was that we had to avoid driving through the reserve, like we did on the first day, The itinerary was mixed up and we hadn’t paid the park fee for the last day. Anyway our drive brought us along lots of animals and led us through a flood plane, which was the less nice part. All black cotton soil and wet, which is like driving on wet soap and one makes a good chance to get stuck. But we made it without bigger difficulties and hit the tar road to Narok. From Narok we followed the road back to Mai Maihiu and instead of turning right to Nairobi we headed north towards Naivasha and Nakuru. The drive was without any incidents, at least for us. There was a turned over Matatu on the side of the road. Fortunately nobody seemed to be hurt, although the faces looked in shock.
We arrived in Nakuru and to my surprise the Lake Nakuru National Park is only 10 min away from the city centre. The campsite was just behind the gate next to the ranger post under the cover of fever trees and in sight of the lake with its pink ribbon of flamingos along the shore. It was so tempting to just go there and have a look at the flamingos, but Paul reminded me that just recently a ranger got killed by a lion just in front of the ranger post.
We pitched camp and it was raining again. There was supposed to be somebody from the office in Nairobi with flysheets and a new fridge. He arrived just before dinner and the flysheets turned out to be impossible to use. They were big and heavy, made from some kind of synthetic leather, you use in car interiors. The first difficulty was that we needed trees to hang on the sheets, because there were no poles. When we fixed that, the sheets started soaking water and became even heavier what made them hanging down on the tent which collapsed, because of the weight. Anyway, it was late, we were tired and I just wanted to sleep in a not leaking tent. We postponed the sheet issue to the next morning.
We had dinner and suddenly a truck arrived on the campsite. Such a big lorry transformed into an overland bus. I learned that these trucks are doing tours from Nairobi to Cape Town and stop at the campsites in the National Parks. It was like watching a show. Maybe about thirty people pitched camp and had dinner. This happened like a military operation. Always two people fetched and pitched a tent until the camp was set, without any space between the tents and in a correct circle around the cooking area. It took them 15 minutes to do that. Then a designated group started cooking other groups looked after the table settings and other jobs that had to be done. There was no waste of time and manpower. After dinner within 15 minutes everybody was in the tents and ready to sleep. I was wondering if those people were on holidays.
Early wake up call at 5.30 a.m.. I wanted to shoot a sunrise. We were up quickly and off into the park. Paul had a tree in mind which would make a perfect picture with the sunrise in the back. We were racing. The sun came up quickly. And there was the tree. One of those beautiful umbrella trees set out as dots on the big planes of the Mara. While racing there I had mounted the camera on the tripod and was ready to shoot when we got there. It was awesome. This gracious tree in the golden light. I was happy. It was a good start of the day.
While getting back into the vehicle we heard a lion roaring. We thought immediately of the pride of lions we had left the previous night and headed towards the area. Unfortunately when we got there we only had to follow a trail of vehicles. The lions had settled around a mount. The females and males were lying around in the shade of bushes. The cubs were climbing the mount with their full tummies. They must have had a kill.
It should have been ideal for photography. Blue sky, sun, a pride of lion with playing cubs, but it was hectic. Many vehicles were there and made a half circle around the pride. But when more vehicles arrived the circle became close to a full circle and this is not the background for the lions you want. Some vehicles arrived and drove through the whole scene, the drivers were sometimes very close to drive over a lion’s tail, but it didn’t look like the lion were irritated by that. Maybe we were a sighting for them and they were amazed what a competition was going on in front of their eyes.
In sight a few hundred meters away, another group of vehicles was watching something. The group was growing, so we assumed it must be a cat and they were all looking at a tree, so it must be a leopard. We left the crowded lion sighting and drove over to the tree. Yes, there was a leopard in the tree, but the sighting gave only space for two vehicles and the visual was 2 out of 5. Nonetheless there were six vehicles fighting for a good view on the leopard. It was ridiculous and we decided to come back later and drove back to the lion. We were not the only one to drive back and forward between the lion and the leopard. It was an absurd scene of vehicles racing between the two sightings trying to get in a good position. The whole scene felt like it was all about the humans and their competition and not about experiencing the beauty of wildlife. After a last attempt to get to see the leopard we left. A vehicle had parked in front of the animal, blocking the space for another one, people sitting on the roof and moving constantly, so that parking in second row made no sense too. I had enough.
We heard that three cheetah males had been seen and we went there. It was in a different area and a bit of a drive. Another vehicle followed us. It was a guy on his own cruising around in his Land Rover. He asked Paul to stop and talked to him in Swahili. After that we carried on and he tailed us. I asked Paul what this is about and he told me that the guy doesn’t know the way to the cheetahs and asked him to guide him there. I stopped the car, stepped out, walked towards the Land Rover and stopped him. What did he think speaking sneaky in Swahili to Paul and using a guide I had paid for to get to the sighting. I wouldn’t mind, but ask me too. Obviously the piled up anger from the vehicle sighting race of the morning came onto that guy. I apologized, but since then he kept his distance.
The cheetah were in rough territory. Rocks were lying everywhere and access was difficult. Also there the same story. The sighting gave space for two vehicles and one was blocking it. Sometimes I’m not sure if the drivers just don’t know how to handle a sighting. This one felt like that. The cheetah were beautiful, but my photographs were not. I guess the emotions of the morning distracted me and I wasn’t focused, but the animals were awesome.
We drove back to the camp to have lunch and a rest. That would be the chance to reset for the afternoon game drive. And it did. The lunch was nice and I had a shower and a nap. I was ready to go out again.
The strategy for the afternoon was to go back to the lion and to see what more is coming on the way. Rain came and the light went bluish and soft. The lion were still wide spread around the mount. We decided not to go anywhere else. Just to stand our ground and see what’s going to happen (there was enough space for about twenty more vehicles). It was lovely. The cubs were playing with their mums, some of the females were taking position on the mount to scan the area for prey and the male lion were lying in the bushes. And then the rain started again. I loved to watch one female who was on the top of the mount, trying to hide her head between her paws against the rain. She closed her eyes, waiting the rain to stop. She was beautiful.
We too closed our “eye”, the hatch and went back to the camp, were leaking tents needed attention and Alex was waiting with dinner.
It was in the Serengeti when a pride of lion was lying in the grass, cubs playing and the females keeping an eye on the plains. This is just that incredible thing in the Serengeti that you can overlook the entire area and not only the lion can, also the photographer when looking out for photographic opportunities on a photo safari.
We spotted the lion on a morning game drive and while watching and photographing them a herd of zebra approached. That was promising. Maybe we could witness a hunt! We retreated a bit from the scene to not disturb the animals and waited. The zebra herd was lead by a stallion. He walked in front of them scanning the area, head up and alert. The lion pride had disappeared from earth as soon as they saw the zebras approaching. They were all down in the grass, no movement nothing at all to see of them. Nonetheless the leading zebra stopped about 60 meters away from the pride. The rest of the zebra herd just carried on grazing, but stayed behind the stallion, some of them even playing. The stallion and the herd stood there for at least 10 minutes and just at the moment that the stallion was about to carry on the big male lion of the pride popped up his head. He had been sleeping away from the females and cubs in the grass and had just woken up, wondering where his females are. When the stallion saw he male lion he stopped again, looked at him and them turned around and walked away where he came from. The herd followed him. There was no fast movement of any zebra, no panic, nothing and there was not attack of the lion. The females popped up their heads when the zebras had turned and walked away. Only one sub adult female an after the zebra, but only for a short distance. Nobody joint her. The lionesses are too wise to waste any energy. They knew they wouldn’t have a chance to catch a zebra, so they just carried on with what they were doing before the zebras arrived.
This was an incredible sighting and we decided to stay with them, but move away for now to have some breakfast at a nearby rock. While having breakfast we saw that a buffalo heard was approaching the lion pride and the buffalos had a completely different strategy than the zebras. They had seen the lion and they immediately started attacking them, because they wanted access to a nearby water whole (probably the zebras also wanted to get to the water whole, but they do not have the strength of buffalos). The buffalo’s lion chase made that the pride was scattered over the whole area, which makes the weak. After a few moments also the lion seemed to realize that and organized themselves again. The buffalos were at the water whole drinking. The lion let their cubs under a distant group of trees and each lioness and young male lion took position on a termite mount. They set up an ambush for the buffalos for when they would leave the water whole. Ambush in this case meant that the lion had positioned themselves to take advantage of a hunting chance, but they were completely visible on the termite mounts. They were waiting. After quite a while the buffalos started moving off, but unfortunately for the lion in the wrong direction away from their positions. The lion left their termite mounts and met with the cubs under the trees. All were lying down in the grass again, again not wasting any energy.
Later on in the afternoon, still at the same spot and still lying in the shade and the cubs playing, a heard of elephants approached. And also the elephants made clear that they don’t want the lion around and chased them away. The lion moved off and lied down in the grass away from the elephants. They knew there was no hunting opportunity and again they saved their energy for better opportunities probably occurring during the night.
Being able to follow the lions throughout the day, well actually being with them the whole day in the same spot, was a great photographic opportunity and also a great learning experience from the photographic point of view and animal behavior point of view. They are so much wiser than we are … well probably except that male lion.
It was a good first night in the bush. The sleeping bag I had brought with me was to warm, but that was little concern. Everything else was fine. It hadn’t rained that night, so the tent was dry too.
We got up at 6 a.m. and had a quick breakfast. We planned to stay in the bush for the whole day to see a crossing at the Mara River and it’s quite a long drive to get there. Alex made us a packed lunch and we were off.
We drove to a part of the river where wildebeest had been seen and that meant there could be a crossing. Very few vehicles were waiting in a safe distance from the river to give the animals the space to gather together and get ready to go. It’s all about patience. They start moving and everybody gets excited and then they change directions and the waiting starts again. After a while we thought, just let’s try another usual crossing spot and we headed further up the river.
On our way we heard about a leopard in a tree and we went there first. A female leopard had a kill and was feeding on it. Only three other vehicles where there and it was a relaxed sighting. The female was a bit restless and annoyed by birds that were shouting at her. She went off and on the tree, getting a drink and thinking what to do next. She decided to stay in the tree and to have a nap. The birds carried on with their noise and her ears were flat in annoyance. We enjoyed being with her for hours. The other vehicles had gone to their lodges for breakfast and we stayed alone with her, enduring the increasing heat and the camera always ready in case she was going to move.
Our only source of electricity during the safari (also in the camps) was the vehicle. An inverter transformed the power from the cigarette lighter into power to recharge the laptop and batteries. That meant one had to be very conscious about using battery powered equipment. When and for how long do I need the laptop? When can I recharge the laptop again? The laptop couldn’t be recharged while being in use and only when the vehicle was driving or the vehicle’s battery was full after a longer drive. It would drain to much power from the vehicle’s battery and the inverter switched off automatically when it became critical. For that reason any chance of battery power had to be used wisely. That made me setting up “office” while we were with the leopard. A couple of memory cards were already full and it wasn’t even lunchtime. I had to upload them to the laptop. So while I watched her and had the camera ready to shoot, the laptop was running and the processing had to be watched too. I was tired by noon. We decided to leave her alone and carried on to the river.
Paul and I had different opinions on where a crossing would be possible. I thought let’s go to the main crossing where they usually gather and he thought let’s check first other possibilities. So we first checked on other spots and got to the main crossing as the last option. There were probably about 12 vehicles and they had the good news for us: just half an hour ago about a thousand wildebeest had crossed. We stayed to watch the last 5 or 6 to cross the river and Paul became cross with himself. It made no sense to get angry. It was gone and that’s just how it is with looking for wildlife interactions, you never know for sure what and where it’s going to happen. It’s on their terms.
We started heading back to the camp, a long drive and a thunderstorm building up at the horizon. It started bucketing in an instant. You could hardly see the road and Paul got nervous. He told me later that he panicked a bit, because the road had a couple of deep dips and getting stuck was the last thing you want. When the rain stopped we were on safe roads and were rewarded with the sighting of a big pride of lions. The light just after the rain was soft. The playing cubs and mums looked smooth. A serene scene of family life.
From the lions it was just a short drive to our camp. It was about 6 p.m. when we arrived and still raining there. I fetched toilet paper and dried my tent, organized the luggage that I could remove it easily if it would start raining hard at night, had a shower, a quiet dinner and wanted nothing more than to sleep. I was so tired.
I was on safari in Africa and it was pouring rain and it was hot. It was tough and it was beautiful and it all started in Nairobi.
Departure 8.15 in the morning. The safari vehicle was waiting for me with Paul the driver and Alex the cook. Alex was tired. He had worked a lot and fell a sleep as soon as the vehicle started to move. We headed towards the Masai Mara through the suburb Muthaiga to get onto the road to Mai Maihiu, a more scenic road than the A104 they said. I’m actually not sure if the road was more scenic. For my feeling it took longer than the highway and it was probably not such a good idea, because it was already a long drive to the Mara. Anyway we took this road and it was a good road, built by Italians after the war. After Mai Maihiu the road was really bad. I guess lots of traffic to the Mara from Matatus, safari mini vans up to trucks and 4x4s like us. It was hot, dusty and bumpy. The road went through dry land. Every now and then a settlement or market and some animals, most of them cattle, little wildlife.
We reached Narok after a three hours drive and had a break at a gas station. Narok is a busy town and it seemed that everybody took a break there to get ready for the Mara. Lots of mini vans with tourist, having a last or first (depends where you come from) bathroom stop, a drink and a snack. A good business for the inventive, friendly and persistent vendors. The gas station was fine, except that there was no gas. So, Paul went off to get some somewhere else and we hit the road again.
The tar road stopped shortly after Narok and from there it was a bumpy dirt road to one of the gates. After an hour and a half we entered the Mara through the Sekenani Gate and it was like a miracle. It was dry land until the gate and from there it was green with plenty of wildlife. It almost felt like entering a zoo, like the animals know they are supposed to be there, because it’s the famous Masai Mara with lots of wildlife. It made immediately everything worthwhile, just to be there with the animals. Another 40 minutes drive brought us to another gate, the Talek Gate where we pitched camp just outside the gate at the Crocodile Campsite. This was after a 6 hours drive, including the stop in Narok and we drove just 245 km. The campsite was next to the river Talek and a bit further was the Masai shopping center. We choose a nice spot and two Masai came to help setting up the tents, which was nice, I guess for all of us. Alex the cook was very strict with the kitchen stuff. Nobody was allowed to touch it and he set up his kitchen in a secure cabana, which has the function of a kitchen. Secure means for the food. The animals can’t get to it and that makes the life of the cook much easier. The facilities where ok. Simple but tap-water, shower, a sink and dry toilets. And my tent looked good as well. A light dome tent with enough space for me and my equipment. So, everything looked good and I was ready for a small snack and off on the game drive.
We drove for 15 minutes and there was a leopard in a tree and we drove another ten minutes and there was a pride of lions and a cheetah with three cubs. This is unbelievable. Three big cats in one game drive just around the corner from the camp. But that’s also a result of the Mara of the cell phones and because it’s so crowded with vehicles. The Mara is quite flat and open and when you see more than seven vehicles looking at something you know it’s a cat sighting. If there are no vehicles in sight, just call other drivers and they’ll tell you. I was struggling with that a lot. On one hand you see really lot’s of animals and on the other hand it’s a disaster with all the vehicles on the cat sightings. About fourteen vehicles fighting for the best spot making a game drive a competition and stressful event for all, the drivers, the guests and the most for the animals. There are rules, some kind of, but it seems a sport to get around them. It annoyed me a lot that I had to spend so much energy on anger about vehicles blocking a sighting forever, driving through the picture and getting so close to the animals that they almost drive over their tail. It started raining, or no actually it was bucketing. Great to see and lovely shots of wet cheetah cubs playing with mum. And I was worried about the tents.
When we got back to the camp the rain had stopped and unfortunately there was reason for worry. My tent was leaking. It came through the stitches where bottom and top were stitched together and it was all around. The nice tent became smaller. Luggage and mattress in the middle and toilet paper around as a safety belt to soak up the rain. I told Paul and Alex about the leaking and Paul had the same in his tent. We would call the office in Nairobi the next morning to ask for flysheets to cover the tents and the fridge was also not working, so this was on the list too. The dinner was delicious and I had an early night. A leopard was calling next to my tent. I thought, yes, that’s what I’m here for. Wonderful.
You might have read stories in newspapers or on the Internet about people getting eaten by a lion during their safari. Every now and then these things happen and immediately a fearful idea of the bush evolves. But its not the bush, that causes these terrible incidents, it’s the people.
When people go on safari they either drive by themselves for example in the Kruger National Park or they visit Private Game Reserves. In both cases they are informed about the rules for their stay in the bush which include staying in the vehicle when being on game drives and especially when being at a sighting, staying in the camp, not wandering out of the camp into the bush and not walking unescorted at night. People hear all these instructions and sign for it and yet they forget. It proves to be hard to remember where they are when they stroll through the bush camp, forgetting that its not the park at home or seeing a lion and forgetting its not the zoo and not TV. It might sound very silly when reading this, but it happens and the reason is the emotional experience of being in the bush that makes people forgetting where they are and how to behave. The bush is real and the lion is a real wild animal and not a part of an attraction park. This gets confused and then it goes wrong.
There were cases that a tourist went jogging in Kruger National Park and got eaten by lion. Pray runs and a running person triggers the predators hunting instinct. A woman was sitting at dinner in a lodge and remembered that she forgot her sweater at the pool earlier that day. She got up and walked over to the pool, that was about a hundred meters away in a separate part of the camp in the bush. Lion were there when she got there and she was killed. She had forgotten where she was and that she could not walk by herself at night, only with a guard. Only recently a tourist stepped out of the vehicle and walked towards the lion at a sighting in the Kruger National Park to get a better photo. He was killed. He also didn’t realized that this is real and no TV or zoo. One needs to know the bush to walk around there and the bush is not Central Park.
Digital Photography is a great thing. It makes us shoot away, not thinking and worrying too much, just snapping and enjoying this incredible hobby or profession. But there is a little downside. How to handle all these images? Many of us are struggling with this part of photography and when you’ve got down the road for a while with now good idea how to do organize your images, it becomes more and more frightening to start doing it properly and organizing the archive. Here some tips that might help getting some structure into the huge amount of images we are taking and taking away the fear of doing it.
Reflect & Anticipate. Before you even start taking images think of how you want to find them back and/or think of how you usually find things back. Everybody has got his/her own way of thinking and remembering, the way we go through the drawers of our brain for all sorts of things. Some have a photographic memory others are good with numbers. There are plenty of different ways of thinking. Reflect and identify your way of thinking and remembering. You might like to store the images chronologically by making folders like “day 1 of photo safari”, “day 2 of photo safari” or you rather like to make folders per subject like “lion”, “leopard”, “cheetah” and “landscape”. Only you know what suits you best and fits your thinking patterns. Reflect on that and make an important first step to organize your images. Then anticipate. When you are for example very lucky and on a game drive where you see five different leopards, you want to be able to know afterwards which images where of which leopard. Take an image of the sky or another landmark that does not fit into the sequence of the leopard shots before you start photographing the next leopard. It will tell you later that this was the other leopard, leopard number two and you can put him in his dedicated folder. It works also very well when photographing for example dog shows or horse sports events. It will save you lots of time and nerves when going later through your images to find the one your friend is asking for.
Structure the image upload to your computer. When the moment comes to upload your images to your computer you know already how you want the images to be organized, because you did the reflection and the anticipation beforehand. Now comes again a bit anticipation. Before you start uploading your photos, make the image folders on the computer first. That will prevent the leopard images going automatically into the big folder of all holiday photos, but directly to where you want them. When you have a folder “photo safari”, make a subfolder “leopards day 1” or only a subfolder “day 1”, whatever suits you best to have the structure to find them back later set.
Upload and backup. Your images are on your computer, nicely organized and you can find everything easily when you need it. Now comes the next and final step, the backup. The general rule is that you should have 2 backups and one backup off site. The backups are usually done on an external hard drive, to prevent image loss due to computer problems or theft. Create the same folder structure you use on your computer on the backup hard disks, because your thinking stays the same and you want to find things back. The off site backup can also be a hard drive with your images that you store in a safety deposit box at your local bank. An alternative is to store your images off site is the cloud, but when you shoot big files that will only apply to your very best images. Otherwise it will take forever to load them to the cloud and take a lot of space.
Now you are all set and organized. No worries anymore and free brain space to think about nice photography opportunities instead of how to organize and find your photos again.
Easy software for organizing images is Aperture. I don’t know how it works with Lightroom, but its also used by many people.
Enjoy a photo database without worries and keep snapping away!
It was on a morning game drive in the Masai Mara when we spotted a lioness lying on the grass and holding something between her paws. It looked like a small animal and we thought it might be a hare or other small animal she was feeding on. But she was not feeding. She was holding it and looking around as in despair. As we came closer we saw that she was holding a little cup between her paws and the cub was not moving, it was obviously dead, only a few weeks old. The lioness started licking the cub, moving it with her paws, trying to revive the little body, but it wouldn’t come to life. Between her attempts to revive her cub she was looking up, opening her mouth as if she wanted to scream, but no sound was to be heard, it were silent screams of sadness and pain of the mother of a lion cub. After a while she stood up, grabbed her cub with her mouth and carried it into higher grass. There she put her cub down and stood there looking at it until she moved away to a nearby tree. The lioness lay down under the tree, closed her eyes and rested. She stayed there for hours. In the late afternoon she got up and walked back to her dead cub. Then started eating her cub, maybe in some attempt to make sure that it goes back to where it was safe. After this final act of mourning the lioness left the site and walked back to the rest of the pride that had been waiting for her on a close by clearing. They had respected her need to mourn and she had taken the time she needed.
Nature will bring her straight away into estrus and she will have new cubs with hopefully a happier ending.
Fortunately we live in times of blooming creativity and plenty of opportunities to learn creative crafts like painting, sculpturing, cooking, photographing, gardening, app creating and many more. But it’s sometimes hard to find the right course and setting to learn and to get the most out of it. Here some pointers to help identifying a good course. They apply not only to photography, but also to courses in general.
Make sure the course is about the students and not about the teacher. That means it stimulates the creativity of the students and enables them to develop their own style, guided by the teacher.
Make sure the group is not to big or even go for individual training if it suits your purpose. Small groups provide more attention and space for individual questions and needs.
Make sure you feel safe in the group. It’s a creative course and you will show yourself through your work. You will flourish and grow, if you feel safe to show your work and ask questions.
Make sure you like the course environment incl. location, people, services and other facilities. That will stimulate your creative work and growth.
Make sure it is fun. Fun makes us learn easier and learning enjoyable.
You might think, but I will know all these things only when I’m already in the course. Think back when you did courses in the past. Didn’t you have the right feeling about it already from the moment you booked it? Trust your intuition and you will have a great photo course, cooking classes, painting sessions or any other creating adventure you want to embark on.
Many people go ones in their life on a safari and want to make sure they come home with lovely images. That puts a lot of pressure on the one who is responsible for the photography and one can easily end up buying all equipment possibly necessary, just to make sure to have it in case they need it. There is an overwhelming amount of equipment available and its really hard to make the right choice, but you got to make a choice and if its only for the luggage allowance on the flights. If you are an entry-level hobby photographer, the best you can do is having a bridge type of digital camera with you with a good zoom and a relatively good speed. The biggest problem of the point and shoot cameras is their speed. They are often to slow to capture the moment and the animal is gone. Bringing that good bridge model to start with is a good choice for the less ambitious hobby photographer. No further photo equipment needed.
The more ambitious photographer with an entry level DSLR and interchangeable lenses gets already confronted with more choices. There are flowers and small animals that make great subjects, there are landscapes and there are the elephants on the water whole. For all three different situations are different lenses and the best thing to do would be to bring a macro, a wide angle and a zoom lens. But in reality one ends up not really using the macro lens when focusing on wildlife, unless macro is a specialty of the photographer and he/she will focus on small animals and objects. So, in general the wide angle and the zoom lens will be enough to bring. This lens choice can also apply to the more advanced and ambitious photographer. The next question is the tripod. A tripod is great for low light situations or night photography, but not essential for wildlife photography. A beanbag is the better choice. There is limited space in the vehicle, one needs to be flexible for the always-moving objects and night photography is not really happening. Get a beanbag.
The photographers with the more advanced cameras and lenses have a difficult task in making a decision. The beautiful fixed 400mm/500mm/600mm lenses are great, but they are also heavy, not flexible, need a tripod or monopod to be handled and require space. Already the transport on the international flight and definitely on the safari flight is challenging. But the main concern is their flexibility. In many places the animals are very close to the vehicles and the big lens cannot be used. So, one needs at least two cameras to have a more flexible lens on the other body to capture also these moments. If you want to bring all this great equipment, be prepared to have a private vehicle in order to manage it while being on safari. Also special arrangements for the transfers and flights might be necessary.
Whatever your choice will be, keep in mind to have a fast camera with a fast processing memory card, a minimum 400 mm zoom lens when shooting full frame and a beanbag. These essentials will serve you well when going out to shoot great photos of wildlife, yet having a relaxed safari and easy transportation.
One doesn’t need to go on a photo safari in Africa to end up in adventurous situations. A big event in your hometown can be already enough or a sports event with mountain bikers flying around your head. Actually photographing in familiar places and situations can sometimes be even more dangerous than on exotic locations or in the bush. Familiar situations let us drop our guard easily and then we step backwards into a gutter, fall of a wall, get equipment stolen or misjudging how many things we can do at the same time and loosing it. Well, making mistakes of this kind can be annoying, inconvenient and sometimes painful, but not so quickly life threatening. Making mistakes in the bush and in unfamiliar cultures can have larger consequences. But all boils down to watch your back and if you can’t do that yourself, get somebody to do it for you. When we look through the viewfinder or on the screen of our camera we get drawn into the photo we want to take. All our attention is on photography and we hardly see and hear what is going on around us. We somehow block out the world in order to focus on what we see and capture. The situation is similar to listening to the iPod while riding a bicycle on the streets or sending a sms while driving a car. For that reason, photographers in war zones and other dangerous places have guides with them and sometimes security guards to make their work possible. In the bush, one if not familiar with the environment, has a ranger and often a tracker with them. They find the animals and they take care of the safety. It might sound silly to remind people of “do not step out of the vehicle”, but unfortunately they forget and do it to get closer to the lion for a better shot. That only provides dramatic photos to the people who witness the moment and often ends the life of the other person. One might be tempted to think, how can you be so stupid, but be aware that being in the bush and seeing these animals can mix up very much someone’s mind and emotions. People don’t realize at that moment where they are and the animals look just like on TV and reality and fiction become one and fatal. Always be conscious where you are, what is going on around you, have somebody to cover your back and have a guide when unfamiliar with the surroundings. Listen when the guide tells you to stay in the vehicle. Walking the streets of New York is different from walking the roads of the Masai Mara. Both are safe as long as you know the rules and follow them. Be conscious and mind your guard. Bring jaw dropping beautiful images of your trip home and not images of yourself that could make the front pages. Happy snapping!
First things first, how do you know you want to go on a photo safari? Did somebody ask you to join them or did you think lets do something different this year or were you always interested in wildlife and now you can’t wait to see it yourself? By answering this question you set the first step to choose the right destination, accommodation and mode of transport.
When you join somebody everything is usually already decided and arranged. You only step in. When you think of doing a holiday just in a different way, than you should make a list what you want to see, experience and what is important to you regarding standard of accommodation and transportation. You might like to do a combination of safari, culture/lifestyle and beach to get an impression of Africa’s diversity. For that purpose you should choose a safari destination that offers excellent sightings, easy access and comfortable accommodation. You will travel quite a lot during that holiday to see and experience all the different places and activities, so easy access is important to not loose time and energy. The safari will be only one activity you are doing during the trip, so you want the best, preferably seeing the Big 5 within a few days before moving on to climb a mountain or to enjoy the beach. For that purpose a fly in safari to a Private Game Reserve or great areas as the Masai Mara and the Okavango Delta will be the best options. Check what vehicles the camp/lodge is using and if trained drivers/rangers are available. Be aware that travelling in Africa is different from other places. If you think about booking it yourself on the Internet you can make big misjudgments in planning distances, travel time, accommodation and game drive quality. Rather get somebody to help and advice you with that.
When you want to go on safari and only on safari to enjoy photographing the great wildlife, your photo safari options get broader. You can choose for a variety of wildlife areas, even with different countries in one trip, depending on the time you have available. There is no need to rush things and plenty of opportunity to see the very diverse national parks and reserves with different and rare animal species. For this kind of photo safari it is great to have your private 4x4 Jeep with an allocated driver/guide for the entire stay. It provides the ultimate bush experience and allows you to go on game drives when you want and for how long you want. You got the freedom to make your own plan. Also for this kind of safari the same advice applies. Get somebody to help you with the planning and booking. Distances in Africa are measured in hours, not in kilometers and not knowing the rules of the bush can get you in difficulties. Having your private vehicle can be combined with simple camping or 5 star lodges, depending on the budget for the trip. It demands more time through travelling by car between the wildlife areas, but with the opportunity to see more of the country.
Last but not least, ask yourself what animals you want to see. In some areas it’s easy to see the big cats in others to see elephant. Think about it when you plan the trip, that you don’t end up in an area where leopards are hardly see with the idea to photograph them.