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.
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.
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
equipment I take with me :
Ah, the equipment! A crucial point for
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 ?
come with me for a day of Safari. You won’t regret it !
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
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
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.
you do, don’t rub your eyes.
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
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!
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
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.
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
you to have followed me in my narration.
Ambert, 2007 January the 27th.
Thank you a lot Mélissa for this translation.
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