I’m going to try and write a magazine article about the African Photo Safari my wife, Gina, and I took last summer. I’m not done, but I wanted to publish what I’ve written so far. This is Part 1 of 3 parts. I’m open to your comments and suggetions. Thanks, Randy
I stood there, watching luggage come up the ramp from the dark well beneath the baggage claim area and as it reached the top of the ramp, each bag turned and slid down onto the stainless steel luggage carousel. My yellow North Face bag had yet to appear. As each minute passed with no sign of my bag I started to tell myself to remain calm, that there was still luggage coming up the chute, but I couldn’t help from scanning the area for the British Airlines baggage counter. I started to come to terms that I would have to go out on our African photo safari without my bag of clothes and my tripod. I didn’t care about the clothes. My tripod was important to the trip, but wouldn’t doom the success of the safari if it didn’t appear. With all my other camera gear, laptop and electrical gadgets packed in our two carry on bags, I had what I needed to capture most of the images I had imagined. I looked across the carousel at my wife, Gina; I could tell she was nervous, nervous that I would be disappointed and upset that our trip would get off to a poor start. Finally, after watching black bag after black bag come up and be rescued by their rightful owner, I saw a glimpse of yellow, then more yellow with the bold black letters, The North Face. Now smiling with all our bags, nothing could stop us from having the trip of a life time.
As a photographer, Africa had always been on my long list of places I had to see and photograph. For years, I’d admired the photographic work of other photographers and always told myself I wanted to create my own works of art. This is a story of our travels and the things I learned while traveling with loads of photographic equipment.
Our trip to southern Africa had begun almost 18 months prior to our arrival into Johannesburg. I had searched the Internet for travel companies that specialized in putting together photo safaris. I wrote emails to about a half dozen companies with my initial requirements, but only one company responded with something other than a canned auto response. Katherine, at Rhino Africa, wrote back to me in detail about all the possibilities. She answered all my questions and concerns about animal viewing, accommodations, guides, travel and our budget. Finally, after many emails going between Cape Town, South African and Bellevue, Washington, our itinerary was set. We would visit three game reserves, two in Botswana and one South Africa. She recommended Camp Moremi in the Okavango Delta and the Savute Safari Camp in Chobe National Park. In South Africa she suggested we end our trip at Londolozi, located in the Sabi Sands area of Kruger National Park. We were told all three places were special, but different from one another. We would get a much broader experience while seeing the different landscapes, varied animals and meet more people.
After spending the night at a hotel next to the Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport, early the next morning we flew to Maun, Botswana. Maun is used as a hub for the thousands of tourist who visit the many game reserves in and around the Okavango Delta area. Once we cleared Botswana immigration and retrieved our two pieces of checked luggage, we were cheerfully greeted by representatives of Desert and Delta (owners of Camp Moremi and Savute Safari Camp). They gathered our bags and escorted us out to the tarmac where we met the pilot of our small Cessna C-206.
He would be flying us over the Delta for our quick 25 minute flight to Camp Moremi. As the plane leveled out at 3000 feet, we bumped, dipped and jumped along the warm thermal air. My eyes were glued to the colorful landscape below us. With an abundant amount of water in the channels of the Delta I could easily see trails cut through the standing reeds and algae formed by hippopotamus and elephants. Before we knew it, we were descending and approaching the air strip. We landed smoothly on the air strip made up of crushed rock and packed dirt. We made it; we were finally out in the African bush.
Waiting for us was a well dressed young man wearing khaki’s and a matching shirt with the Desert and Delta logo embroided in the upper left hand corner of his shirt. He introduced himself as “Lucky” and he would be our private guide for our two nights in the Delta. He grabbed our bags and placed them in the back row of seats of our extended Toyota Land Cruiser and off we went to camp. On the short ride to Camp Moremi, Lucky pointed out three female lions lying and resting atop a termite hill about 40 yards off the road. I was eager to break out the cameras and start shooting. I didn’t mind that the sun was almost straight up in the sky providing harsh light on our meat eating subjects. After a few minutes of shooting the lions and just watching them we made our way to the entrance of Camp Moremi. Situated on the stunning Xakanaxa Lagoon, Camp Moremi is in the eastern part of the Okavango Delta, within the Moremi Game Reserve. Camp Moremi accommodates only 22 safari guests in beautifully furnished East African style safari tents with private facilities. We were greeted by the General Managers, Luance and Kirsty, a husband and wife team. They welcomed us with refreshingly cold wash clothes to take away the African dust from our hands and face. Our bags were whisked away and we were escorted to the cabana area for a late brunch and orientation.
Once we finished our brunch we were shown to our room, room number 6. It was a nice comfortable tent on an elevated platform. The walls and roof were made up of heavy canvas. We had two twin beds, two night stands, an armoir, desk, table, lamps and power outlets. The bathroom was detached and across the outside deck. The bathroom was big and roomy with a big double walk in shower. The appealing thing about the bathroom was the outside wall; the upper half was made of mesh screen. You could easily hear the sounds of crickets and hippos calling out into the night as you showered. It was a wonderful sensation. It made you feel very close to nature and part of the bush. And of course it was very private.
Moremi Game Reserve supports a diverse habitat and animal population. In the four game drives we took in the Moremi Game Reserve we observed and photographed Elephant, Lion, African Buffalo, Giraffe, Impala, Waterbuck, Hippopotamus, Crocodile, Zebra and many types of birds. The landscape will filled with Acacia and Mopane trees. Parts were thick with foliage and other parts were open grass lands. Our open Land Cruisers traveled over the terrain on well established roads made up of sand. Before we left on our first game drive we sat with Lucky and explained to him the kind of images I had envisioned. I knew the right situations would have to unfold, but at least I had an idea of what I wanted to capture. Within minutes of leaving camp on our first afternoon game drive, Lucky pointed out three giraffe walking through the brush. Soon, a herd of Impala’s were casually eating foliage next to the road presenting themselves as wonderful photographic models. Further up the road we were photographing Elephants and Africa Buffalo. Things picked up and started to get interesting very quick. The Lions we saw earlier in the day were now present and stalking the Buffalo. Lucky didn’t think they would attack the Buffalo during the remaining hour and a half of day light. He said most attacks happen during the hours of darkness. As the Buffalo continued their grazing and wandering through the three foot high grass, they kicked up lots of dust. The air around the Buffalo looked like fog.
I asked Lucky to move our Land Cruiser across the field so that I could shoot into the sun and dust filled air. I wanted to try and capture the Buffalo as silhouettes while standing in the orange/yellow lite dust. As we moved our Land Cruise into position, Buffalo from across the field started to run and within moments we saw three lions chasing the Buffalo. Before we could stop and raise a camera lens, it was over; the three Lions had brought down a single Buffalo. All we could see from our position was a single Buffalo leg and hoof sticking straight up in the air.
We just witnessed a Lion kill which we were told was pretty rare to see. We repositioned our Land Cruiser so that we were only 30 feet from the unlucky Buffalo and hungry Lions. We watched, along with seven other 4×4 vehicles, the Lions tear into the Buffalo. This would become a three day meal for them. As the sun set we made our short ride back to camp. What a great first afternoon. Perhaps having “Lucky” as our guide was a sign we were going to have a fantastic trip.
Each night we met up with the other camp guests for cocktails and dinner in the elevated Moremi Tree Lodge. Giant Ebony trees shade the Tree Lodge which is used as the central point of the camp and houses the luxurious main lounge, a wildlife reference library, dining room and cocktail bar. Over a scotch and soda we met and shared the day’s events with guests from Italy, Germany, Australia and Phoenix, Arizona. The camp staff had formed a volunteer choir and each evening they came out to sing their “greetings” and announce the meal for the night. Our meals were first class. There would be no need to break out the Imodium. After dinner and sharing travel and safari stories we adjourned outside, to the bottom of the stairs to the chairs surrounding the fire pit. There, we continued to enjoy South African red wine, coffee or any other after dinner drink we could imagine. By the nights end we had made new friends from distant parts of the world.
We left Camp Moremi after two nights with sadness. In that short period of time we had bonded not only with Lucky, but with the camp’s staff and Kirsty and Luance. However, they assured us we would enjoy our next Lodge, the Savute Safari Camp, in the Chobe National Park. Lucky drove us to the airstrip. We had to get there about 15 minutes early as we would act as the runway lookout. It was our job to inspect the edge of the forest nearest the runway. We were on the lookout for any animals that might wander onto the airstrip as the plane approached. If we did see any animals we had to chase them away with the Land Cruiser. Fortunately, the plane landed safely and without incident. Our bags were quickly loaded; we said our good byes to Lucky and we were airborne again.
A few more photos from the Okavango Delta: