It was ever so much a “National Geographic” experience, three whole weeks in the east African savanna on a photographic expedition. It all started when I agreed with Bruce that I would go to Africa if he would organize the trip and all I had to do was show up. Bruce rose to the challenge and, soliciting the assistance of Don Getty, our acquaintance from the Costa Rica adventure (now close friend Don Getty after three weeks in the veldt) put together a three week safari itinerary that even National Geographic would envy. There were six adventurers that embarked upon the journey, Bruce Hollingsworth and Don Getty (the organizers of the trip), Mike McDermott (who Bruce and I met on our Costa Rica trip), Sharon Ely (a new traveler friend) and Jane and I.
It was a long haul from San Diego to Nairobi, Kenya, where our adventure began. We arrived in Nairobi in the evening and spent the next day adjusting to the time change and rearranging our packing to prepare for the photographic adventure ahead. Bruce and Don had obtained the assistance of Stu Porter in South Africa to arrange for our transportation, guides and accommodations. Stu is the proprietor of Wild 4 Africa Photographic Safaris (www.wild4photographicsafaris.com) and did an outstanding job taking care of the expedition logistics.
Stu arranged to have two large four-wheel drive Toyota Land Cruiser safari vehicles, with driver/guides, available for our transportation and game runs. Each Toyota had three rows of seats enabling each of us to have our own row for stowing camera gear and shooting. The vehicles were modified to have a removable top so we could easily stand to photograph as well. These modified Land Cruisers are not the most comfortable vehicles, but after three weeks of game runs on rough graded, dirt roads, we adapted to their various quirks and concentrated on the task at hand, photographing African wildlife.
In all, we photographed in five major parks in Kenya and Tanzania. In Kenya, we first traveled north from Nairobi to the Samburu National Reserve, then on to Lake Nakuru National Park in the Rift Valley and finally the Maasai Mara National Reserve. From the Mara, we traversed the long way to Tanzania to explore Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. Although the Maasai Mara and Serengeti are adjacent parks separated by the Kenya-Tanzania border, we could not drive directly from one park to the other because there is no official border crossing station for customs and immigration control in the park. Traversing the “long way” between these two contiguous parks provided us the opportunity to experience, through the windows of our Land Cruisers, the hustle and bustle of remote villages and towns along the way.
In the outback of Kenya and Tanzania there are no shopping centers and all commerce is carried out, pretty much, by individual vendors with portable stalls or small store fronts along the main highway. As we drove through the villages we passed colorfully dressed women selling bananas, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, charcoal, and sugar cane stalks from their roadside stands. Carts, pulled by donkeys and oxen, and small motor cycles were loaded to capacity with fire wood, water barrels, tobacco leaves, corn stalks, long wooden poles and planks (to build scaffolds for construction projects), and all matter of household furniture. The motor cycles were also used as taxis to transport people and it was not uncommon to see three people straddling the buddy seat behind the driver.
Getting back to our “National Geographic” experience, the game drives were phenomenal. To catch the soft, early morning light, we six intrepid photographers were in the Land Cruisers and on the “road” by six. We brought snacks for breakfast in the veldt and typically returned to the lodge around one for lunch. Then, out again by three-thirty for some more shooting and home by the six o’clock park curfew at twilight. The wildlife encounters were incredible, like “living” a wildlife film. We were there when a cheetah brought down a Thompson’s gazelle and watched the suffocating bite to the throat. We were there when a young male lion snapped the neck of a Cape buffalo calf and drug it off. We were there when a throng of Nile crocodiles savagely tore apart a wildebeest and voraciously consumed it in the Mara River. We were there when a cheetah called her cubs to a kill and watched the cute little tikes gorge on the carcass with bloody jowls. We were there when spotted hyenas harassed hooded and white-backed vultures to steal the remains of a lion kill.
On the gentler side, we watched massive African elephant cows huddle protectively around diminutive calves as the herd foraged across the savanna. We watched as a colorful adult bee-eater swooped from its perch to catch bees and feed them to its young chick. We watched female baboons carry young on their backs as they fed among the flowering shrubbery. We watched weaver birds build and repair their nests. We watched warthog sows, long skinny tails extending straight up, with its tufty end waving like a cavalry flag, protectively herding their gang of piglets away from danger in a hastened trot. These were “National Geographic” moments to be savored and relished.