MAASAI MARA, KENYA – Another huge game day, so I’m dividing the day into multiple parts. We started at 4:00 am, driving to a hot air balloon launch site and making an hour-long balloon trip across the bush. Zebras from on high.
MAASAI MARA – More game. The Mara Plains Camp generously lent me a Canon 50D (a so-so camera) and a Canon 500 mm telephoto (a helluva lens). The camera has a relatively small sensor and a 1.6x focal multiplier (producing the equivalent of 800mm with the telephoto) but was entirely adequate. Our vehicles were provided with platforms and bean bags in lieu of tripods – this worked very well. The 800mm focal length demands seriously good technique, but when mastered yielded terrific results.
So here are three wildebeest. It’s an odd-looking animal – it looks like it was assembled from the spare parts bin. It looks a bit like a bison, but smaller. Since the Serengeti plain looks a lot like the North American Great Plains (except for the acacias) the large herds of wildebeest give a sense of what the North American Plains must have been like before they were settled.
Our only jackal of the trip. Here’s a link to info about the jackal: Jackal
MAASAI MARA, KENYA – Here’s where this gets intense. In the Maasai Mara we find ourselves in the middle of the Wildebeest migration. Here’s some info on the Wildebeest (also known as the Gnu): jWildebeest entry. Quoting from the Wikipedia entry:
“Wildebeest are known for their annual migration to new pastures. Many documentaries feature wildebeest crossing rivers, or being eaten by crocodiles or drowning in the attempt. Although it is assumed that this migration is a frenzy and that the wildebeest cross blindly, recent research has shown that a herd of gnu possesses what is known as a “swarm intelligence”, whereby the animals systematically explore and overcome the obstacle as one.”
Official estimates place the wildebeest population on the greater Serengeti at 2 million; knowledgeable NGOs suggest that its more like 1.2 million. The migration brings with it teaming game of all species. I’m breaking today’s entry into two parts because of the wealth of images.
Dirt airstrip at Chyulu Hills as we prepare to depart for the Maasai Mara.
Our greeting when we arrive at Maasai Mara. Poaching is a serious problem throughout Kenya and Tanzania – these animals are killed for their ivory.
On our drive from the airstrip to the Mara Plains Camp (a fairly simple tented camp where we will spend three days) we pass these hippos. Hippos are nocturnal herbavors, grazing on the plains at night. In the daytime the stay in the water as a strategy to regulate their body heat and as protection from the sun. A large group of hippos have found this watering hole. The crud on the surface is hippo excrement – they aren’t too selective about where they hang out. They are noted for their bad tempers and can move surprisingly quickly.
CHYULU HILLS, KENYA – Most of the images in the trip are taken with a Nikon D700 and various combinations of long lenses. There is a 15 kilogram baggage weight limit on chartered bush plains, so my photo gear severely limited luxury items like clothing and toiletries. Our typical day started with coffee in camp before sunrise (6:30) followed by a game drive in a Land Rover to catch the activity around sunrise, then breakfast in the bush. Game was not particularly plentiful in this region as it has suffered three years of drought. Impalas from our morning game drive:
I also traveled with my Leica M9, which is not useful for game, but in the places where it can be used produces images that actually do stand out as having an intangible clarity and a three-dimensional quality.
Acacias from our morning game drive. The Chyulu Hills are part of the vast Serengeti ecosystem, which looks heart-breakingly like Out of Africa.
This from an afternoon bush walk.
Here we are at sunset at the end of a bush walk. The man in red is a Maasai tracker; the man in green is armed in case of an unfortunate encounter with wildlife. In Ol Donyo Wuas’ experience this hasn’t been an issue but their view is better safe than sorry.
OL DONYO WUAS CAMP, CHYULU HILLS, KENYA – We spent the morning connecting with our charter aircraft and flying to the Chyulu Hills, where we stayed at Ol Donyo Wuas, the only camp that we are staying at with permanent structures (as opposed to tents). We did a game drive from the dirt airstrip to the camp, and cycled later in the afternoon. Game was fairly scarce – this area has suffered three years of drought.
Kilimanjaro from the air – to the south of us on the other side of the Tanzanian boarder.
Ol Donyo Wuas has built a watering hole fed by the camp’s “gray” water. It’s very popular. Here’s a giraffe getting a drink – the giraffe is vulnerable to predators when it drinks because it can’t give defensive in this position.
Ol Donyo Wuas met us un the bush with elaborate tea and cocktails after our ten mile ride on trail bikes.
Sunset. This happens quickly and doesn’t last vey long in the tropics. We’re almost on the equator so there is very little variation in sunrise (6:30 AM) and sunset (6;30 PM) throughout the year.
NAIROBI, KENYA – We spent the day touring around Nairobi. Starting now and for the rest of the trip I’ll be showing more than one picture a day – typically four or five. I’m capturing 500 – 600 images per day – boiling this down to a single image per day takes more editing time than I have available. Here’s a link to a New York Times article on what to do if you have 36 hours in Nairobi: 36 hours in Nairobi Here we go:
Maria makes a tall friend at Giraffe Manor, a Scottish hunting lodge set in what is now the outskirts of Nairobi (Giraffe Manor)
Lunch at the Talisman Restaurant – this is a large bird in the garden of the restaurant – we had not gotten into the habit of asking about particulars of gender and species is at this point so I don’t have any notes as to what this is.
Maria and Nancy at One Off Gallery – a delightful art gallery owned by Carol Lees. She represents (among many other artists) Timothy Brooke, who’s paintings from the set of the film version of White Mischief adorn the walls of the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel.
HEATHROW AIRPORT, UK – After our overnight flight from New York we made our way-too-tight connection to our flight to Nairobi, an all-day affair which puts us in Nairobi at 9:00 PM local time, way after dark. Total travel time was 20 hours or so with 7 hours of time change from New York. Just after boarding we caught up with our friends John and Nancy Novogrod, who we’ll be traveling with for the next two weeks. John (like me) is a lawyer in New York; Nancy is the Editor in Chief of Travel & Leisure Magazine – the trip to Africa was her idea. Anyway, here are John and Nancy, just after boarding.
Shot with a Panasonic GF1 and 20mm f1.7 pancake lens.