a safari day

I’m 58, and yes, I’m one of the Baby Boom generation! My parents couldn’t travel, since money doesn’t grow on trees, as they say. However, ever since I was very young, I have been attracted by pictures and the search for strong emotional experiences. Thus, like many children of my generation, I read the adventures of Tintin, exploring the different and diverse regions of the world and even the moon, and dreamed. Whenever I had the opportunity, I never missed a Tarzan film.

When I became an adult with a regular job, I married Danielle. We now have to grown girls, and when we had finished paying back the loans, we started to travel. It was fifteen years ago! “And photography ?” you’re going to ask me. Of course, I started shooting 34 years ago. At the time, I didn’t have very sophisticated equipment, but I’ve since made up for that. With it, I’ve been able to bring back snapshots from many countries, starting with those of our own European nations, then moving to the American West where I traveled from the Canadian border down to Mexico, then India, Nepal, Burma, and of course Africa, which I’m crazy about.

In this report, I’m only going to tell you about the African continent, which has always been the objects of my dreams. And what fascinates me the most are safaris: in Namibia—in one of the most beautiful deserts of the world—but especially in Kenya (two safaris) and Tanzania (6 safaris). These are the suject of my report.


How I go on a safari :

When asked how I leave for a safari, I answer with a question (political? no!): How do you imagine a safari being ? If you prefer the confort of kenyan lodges to camping in the bushes, if you’re more the type to sleep in in the morning than to be an early riser, if you prefer a comfortable bus with soft drinks to an open jeep with a limited reserve of warm drinking water, then you only have to choose between the great number of tours proposed.

This said, my wife being wary of the high temperatures, we chose to leave with FRAM and opted for the “African Enchantment” package. She wanted to discover a part of my dreams. In all honesty, Danielle—who’s not a fan of photography—wasn’t at all deceived. But it wasn’t my cup of tea. I prefer being closer to the animals, at the heart of sensations... in the bushes, if you will !

The equipment I take with me :

Ah, the equipment! A crucial point for photographers.

I need to remind you that I am an amateur photographer, because I don’t earn my living selling my photos. It’s a point I wanted to clarify from the start. I leave with 80 to 100 rolls of film, minimum, for nine days of safari. I only use Velvia and Provia 100F color slide film. I have two traditional cameras: the Nikon F90x and F70. Why two cameras? It enables me to use two different lenses with different focal distances, and especially to compensate for the eventual misfunctioning of a camera (which would be catastrophic if it were the only one I had).My lenses: the 28/70mm F:4.5; the 80/200mm F:2.8; the 500mm F:4.0 (all Nikon). I also use the Nikon D200 digital camera, two “Compact Flash III” cards, 1Go and 2 Go. In addition, I take three batteries and portable computer used to stock the contents of the cards. No problems recharging the batteries: an adapter can be connected to the cigarette lighter of the jeep. This said, I’m obsessed with cleanliness, and every evening, I dust the cameras, paying particular attention to the digital camera.During my last safari in the Serengeti last February, I shot about 2000 slides and 1200 digital images. Of course, the rate of good photos isn’t 100%, and is closer to 70%. As for exceptional pictures, which I send off to international competitions, I’m happy when it’s between 2 to 3% !Some readers will say, what a waste ! I would respond to them that I don’t know of any professional photographer, and I’ve been on safari with some of them, who while shooting away at the opening of a hunt, hasn’t let slip an “Oh shit...”. Do you think they hit their mark ?

So come with me for a day of Safari. You won’t regret it !

We’re in the Serengeti, in the bushes near Moru Kopjes. It’s 5:15 in the morning, I’m awake and am waiting on my cot. The night had been calm and restoring. Only the hyenas had come to look around our campsite kitchen tent around 2:00 in the morning. Now the sound of pots and pans rattling indicates that the water is boiling for the morning coffee. I leave the tent and look up at the sky: it’s marvellous, the stars are still twinkling and a pale gleam indicates that the day will be hot. My friends arrive through the dim light of the morning, headlamps still lit.

“Sleep well ?” Ya responds to Yvain, yawning: “Except for these damned monkeys who came to play above my tent for half an hour.”

There are five of us in the group and the others swallow their coffee yelling, having burnt their tongue. It’s true that we had made them hurry, since Ali (our guide) was already arriving with the jeeps. At 5:45, we’re on our way out of the campground. There’s no way were going to miss the first rays of sunshine on the savana.

While the chauffeur slaloms between the thorny bushes to get back to the trail, everyone’s calm and is already starting to prepare the equipment. We ride along for about an hour before hearing Ali say: “Faru, Faru, over there!” It takes us a couple of seconds to react: you don’t see a rhinoceros every day !

Arriving quietly about 100 meters from the rhino, Ali stops the motor. The sacks of red beans are already in place and the 500mm (or more) telescopic lenses well attached. “Nobody move!” someone exclaims, and we’re off: click, click, click.... No time to do more. Ali starts up the motor again after a couple of seconds, since Faru is starting to charge, and you’re better off not confronting a rhino. I think I had the time to take two or three shots. As for the framing: in the last image, the car was moving...

We get back on the trail, I am standing up with my head out of the jeep to inhale the inebriating odors of the savana. My cameras are set on the seat, wrapped in an old pillowcase to protect them from the dust (an old trick from someone who’s been around).

Several kilometers further, approaching Seronera, I see a herd of buffalos through the binoculars. “Ali, go to the left!” They’re there, calm, grazing on the green grass along the edges of the Mbalageti river. Noone panics, as we know that buffalos aren’t very dangerous, when they’re in a group. With a solitary male it’s not the same thing! As for me, I choose the ideal positioning with, if possible, a heron on its back. It’s 8:30, we have time.

I observe these powerful animals, who one day charged one of my friends. He was on foot, and wasn’t being careful. Walking back, an old male came out of the bushes and charged from behind. He just had the time to lie down, but the beast had burst his spleen. He owes his life to an emergency trip to the hospital in Nairobi by plane, and to his wife who, being of the same blood type, gave him her blood. Without her, he would have died from internal he would have died from internal hemorrhaging. Since then, Michel and Françoise have returned on safari. Like me, they’re really nuts about nature.

“OK”, the group says. We head off, toward Masai Kopjes.

As the sun becomes warmer, we peel off our clothing like onion layers. As for myself, I always keep my arms covered and wear a Saharan hat to protect my neck.

On the way, we encounter several elephants. We’re obliged to stop, since they’re crossing the trail were traveling along. I already have hundreds of elephant photos, but there is an immense pleasure in shooting a baby elephant nursing from its mother.

Masai Kopjes is now in view, but what’s this troop? The tourists of Seronera are packed together in front of a large rock. We head toward this center of attraction and I put my binoculars to my eyes. “Stop 30 seconds, please, Ali.” A large tree had grown there somehow on the rocks, but otherwise I saw nothing. Then, looking just under the branches, I encountered a sign that couldn’t be misinterpreted by a trained eye. No, it wasn’t a liana, but really a leopard’s tail: this liana was moving periodically.

Here was the meaning of this hide of activity of “tou-tou”. “What do we do?” François asked. “Should we go?” “Oh, with all those people, we’d better go elsewhere”, I say. Thereupon, I get shot down by the group. “What ? A leopard, and you want to go elsewhere ?”

In short, I have to submit. The leopard stayed in the tree for three hours.

We picknicked in the car (they’re nuts, the group !). They took some pictures, but I found the light to be poor, and used the time to observe the leopard with my binoculars.

It was a superb animal !

It’s now two in the afternoon, François has his arms bare and is beginning to get sunburnt—he lowers his sleeves. Too late, the harm’s done and tonight in the tent I will here him complaining and pass him the Biafine; being a novice, he forgot to put some in his suitcase.

We are now crossing the great plains of the Serengeti, heading toward Gol Kopjes. It’s very hot. Drying, the perspiration creates white rings on our shirts, while our faces resemble those of GIs in combat.

Whatever you do, don’t rub your eyes.

That’s how, in the Masai Mara, I got a horrible conjunctivitis—in the morning, I woke up earlier than the group, to unglue my eyelids one at a time, and then applied an antiseptic eye lotion.

Enormous troops of wildebeasts extend as far as the eye can see. It’s the beginning of March and their migration path has led them to the South of the Serengeti. The females are giving birth, like most other mammals at this time of the year.

With the wildebeasts were their inalienable companions: the zebras !

And then the antilopes: Thompson, Grant. Oh my, two zebras are fighting: click, click, click.... Yeah, that’s alright !

And now, its half past four, too late to go to Gol Kopjes. I complain, since Gol Kopjes is my favorite part of the Serengeti.

It’s at Gol Kopjes that the largest concentration of cheetahs can be found, and here, we’re able to leave the trail. Two years ago, I was able to photograph three consecutive chases. The chance of a lifetime!

While waiting, we head toward the campsite, passing through Simba Kopjes. It will take us at least a half hour and it’s already six-thirty p.m., too late for the photo ! In the jeep, each of us regain our seat and start dusting off our material, making sure not too take off the lens passing through a pot-hole. That’s how you break them.

The sun is getting really low. I roll up my sleeves, since now there are no more risks. Ali has gotten back on the main trail and the jeep’s metal rattles, shooting off a long train of dust behind us. Passing near Siba Kopjes, Ali looks toward the rocks. He stops the jeep and takes out his binoculars.

Pointing toward a rock, he signals out some lions and straitaway we leave the trail. Quietly, we approach what is to be the added highlight of our day: a female lion is there with her cubs, no older than three weeks, and as the cool evening air is arriving, they have left their den: FANTASTIC !!!

This moment will remain carved in my memory !

But everything comes to an end and we have to leave. Arriving at the campsite, it’s practically dark. Quickly, we set down our material on our cots, close the tents, and set off again, headlamps lit, to clean up. But there’s no question of hanging around: we have to share the water, and when wet, the mosquitos and flies have a feast.

It’s seven o’clock p.m.; not all of us have finished washing up as the facilities are located behind the circle of tents. Behind are the bushes, and at this hour you have to be careful: no use showing your social security card to the lions and hyenas, for them you’re just a superb steak.

Afterward, it’s time for a briefing around the campfire. It’s pitch-black out and the sky is spotted with stars; you can see the Southern Cross.

These moments carve themselves into my imagination and remain there for several weeks after my return. I’m a solitary person, really, and I love the silence and these nocturnal sounds of Africa.

And... the temperature’s agreeable. A little way off we already hear the hyenas, who smell our barbecue and the bones that they’ll be able to steal from our garbage.

We discuss passionately: “Did you see the two hyenas fighting?”; “And did you see the dominant male in hypopool”; “Oh, this morning we nearly stayed there, when the rhino charged”, etc. etc...

After eating under the mosquito-proof tent (yes, you can’t pass over that, mosquitos and Tse-Tse flies abound in the Serengeti, and the Tse-Tse fly has a fierce bite. Well, in Africa everythings not easy, but it’s so fascinating !!!), we get back to our tents, close all the openings, including screens that we had left open during the day.

Why ? Because the animals that might pass by the tent can see perfectly well through the neting, and there might be an accident (it’s already happened).

Therefore, we camouflage everything and we hang our shoes up: a scorpion in your shoe when you get up in the dark can ruin your safari. And then we try to hold out and not fall asleep right away, in spite of the fatigue, in order to listen to the noctural sounds of the Savana.

For a person who hears these for the first time, it’s a real African baptism! But what impresses me the most is the roar of the lion defending his territory. I heard it once at only 100 meters from my tent. I was estatic, but my hair stood on end!!!!! IMPRESSING.

This day was exceptional, it was one of the “Big Five” and days like this don’t come along every day.

 

Thank you to have followed me in my narration.

 

Roger JOURDAIN

at Ambert, 2007 January the 27th.

Thank you a lot Mélissa for this translation.

 

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