When you plan your photographic safari or team building photo safari to Kenya, Tanzania South Africa or Botswana be wise when you choose lodges and game reserves and not that much in regards how luxury they are, but in regards to the game drives.
When we went recently with a wildlife photography course to the Masai Mara in Kenya, we learned that we couldn’t go to all parts of the Masai Mara during the game drives without paying again the park fee of USD 80 per person per day. We had paid already the park fee, but we found out that this gave us access only to a part of the park, witch can be very annoying when you want to see certain areas, but you would have to pay again. The people from the camp told us that there were intentions of the national reserve authorities to change that, but it would still apply to us. So check that before you go and make sure you go to the interesting areas.
Even more annoying is it when you see a leopard going hunting and you cannot follow with the vehicle, because the leopard is crossing over to a different game reserve. This can be the situation in the Sabi Sand in Kruger National Park in South Africa. The Sabi Sand are part of the Greater Kruger National Park, but are all privately hold game reserves, also called private game reserves. This is actually very good, because you will have better sightings and only three vehicles at a cat sighting, what you don’t have in the national park, but there is also a downside. The private game reserves differ greatly in size and the small game reserves do not have enough land to guarantee good game drives lets say for a three nights photographic safari. For that reason the landowners negotiate traversing rights on each others land. But these traversing rights come with rules like you are only allowed to be on the land until 9 am and then again in the afternoon. But when the leopard hunts and it is 9:15 you will not be allowed to follow. Even worse is when the neighbor does not allow traversing and you have to stop at the border, hearing the leopard kill, but not seeing anything. These situations can occur in the northern and western Sabi Sand and they are really very annoying. For that reason look at the size of the private game reserve when you book your photographic safari to make sure you do not have to encounter these “border conflicts”. Choose a game reserve with plenty of land and a maximum of 6 people on the game vehicle and you will have an amazing experience. Maps of game areas are available online and you can ask your agent to advice.
This is NOT only a post for ladies! Also men can end up with too much luggage and the wrong things packed.
Being on photo safari means being out in the bush, exposed to the elements, yet just to a certain extend. That demands careful packing and not only with regards to the camera equipment to make sure the wildlife photography course is going smoothly, but also to be prepared for all weather situations. And being not prepared for the weather, can influence the photography again, so better think of it.
First of all inquire about the climate of the region you are going to. Do not only look up the weather forecast on the Internet, but ask people you have been there or live there. 20 degrees warmth feel different when there is wind, but who can image how it feels from reading the wind information online. Better ask.
Pack casual, practical outdoor clothes that allow you to dress in layers. By doing that all will be covered, the heat at noon and the chilly evenings. Bring a light rain jacket that can function as a windbreaker and rain cover. Always wear closed shoes when being in the bush. And bring easy slippers for in the camp. Bring a sun hat and sunscreen. The sun in Africa can be tricky and you can end up with sunstroke when being not prepared.
In the bush camps is no need to dress up for dinner (except the very luxury lodges). You can bring jeans and t-shirt to have some change from the safari outfit and to have backup clothes in case all gets wet, but keep in mind when packing that it works best when you can combine everything with everything else. Most of the lodges and camps also offer laundry service. So, there is no need to bring many clothes and to have excess luggage on the safari flights.
Ready to go? Enjoy the fun of photographing wildlife!
Traveling for photography is the most wonderful thing to do; yet one needs to be conscious of the dangers involved to ensure a great experience and fantastic photos.
This applies to all photography travel no matter where in the world. As a photographer one carries expensive photo equipment and this can attract the interest of the more shady kind of people. So, make sure your equipment is insured in the first place. That gives already a peace of mind. But you want to photograph and not to loose it, so take precautions to be safe during your trip. When traveling in a group do not drop your guard, because you think you are fine as a group. If everyone in the group thinks that drops the guard, everyone will be a soft target for thieves. Yet its understandable that you want to focus on photography not thinking of anything else, so, make clear who in the group is taking care of safety and if you travel alone, find somebody to cover your back.
Another important safety aspect is to make backups of your photos on several external hard drives and just as at home, make sure one backup is off site, which means while traveling keeping them in different places and send one backup home, if possible. Read for more details also Joey L.’s travel tips.
Choose safe accommodation as a “home base” from where you go on your photographic explorations. For example when you want to photograph Andalusia choose a hotel that is safe and in a central location to be able to see all you want during day trips. This has several advantages. You can tell the hotel where you are going and when you think to be back. They will be able to follow up on you, if you are not returning as intended. The hotel will also be able to advice with directions and sights you should see and you avoid carrying around all your things or to pack and unpack every day. I do that anywhere that way, in Spain just as in Nairobi. The locals always know where to go, how to get there and what to do in emergencies. Just choose carefully the accommodation.
The advantage of going on pre-organized photographic safaris is that you are traveling with experienced guides and adequate safari vehicles. Yet be careful with the choice of the safari operator with regards to the vehicle and the quality of the guide. For our photography courses in the bush we always choose operators with qualified guides and 4x4 vehicles and this works very well. They are usually from good camps or lodges that provide also safes in their tents or rooms. They are not the cheapest, but provide higher safety. If you rather travel budget and solo, just be cautious and take in Joey’s tips.
This year celebrates the 200th anniversary of Dr. David Livingston’s birthday. He was one of the most remarkable explorers, crossing Africa on foot in 1856 from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. He was the one who spotted the Victoria Falls first and there will be celebrations in the Zambian city Livingston throughout the year.
One hears the Victoria Falls first, before one can see them. Their thunder prepares the visitor for what the eye will see, a 2 km wide and 100m tall curtain of falling water, the largest in the world.
The Victoria Falls can be explored in several ways, often embedded in Africa holidays between photographic safaris, from walking the falls to viewing them from a helicopter or small aircraft. They are impressive and a photographic challenge for photographers. An entire photography course could be dedicated to them, learning how to capture their majestic water curtain the right way to let the viewer give the feeling of being there.
The region around the Victoria Falls offers lots of activities from water activities on the Zambezi to bungee jumping and wildlife interactions in the surrounding game reserves.
Maybe this anniversary year is a good reason to visit them.
In November 2012 Botswana’s President Ian Khama, gave a speech wherein he announced that by the end of 2013 trophy hunting would no longer be allow allowed in Botswana. He said that "Next year will be the last time anyone is allowed to hunt in Botswana and we have realized that if we do not take care of our animals, we will have a huge problem in terms of tourism."
Great. Photography won from trophy hunting. Photo safari won from hunting safari and it was about time. The number of lion had dropped dramatically and other animals like leopard and elephant were also only to often licensed to be killed. But the peaceful adventure of photographic safaris and the worldwide photography enthusiasm of billions of photographers had turned the table on the hunt. Photography has become a peaceful force of conservation. Cameras replace the rifle and the animals stay alive. The photographer goes home with great image-trophies and
And other countries seem to follow Botswana’s example. Zambia has banned trophy hunt, but so far temporarily and Zimbabwe is considering doing the same until final decisions are made. The fine print of the Botswana ban on hunt is not known yet, but it is a major step in the right direction.
Thanks to eco tourism and photography lovers wildlife is preserved. Photography has become a movement.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!