AFRICA reprise- Kenya/South Africa – 23rd Sept 2018 – Day 10

I was up early and offered breakfast though we were promised packed last night. Pretty ordinary – fried egg, samosas, toast, tea. No butter. Hot water with milk.

We managed to squeeze into the small taxi, had to exit at the Nairobi International airport barrier to walk through security while the car and bags drove through. I don’t know how much good that does. More scans before check in; my carry bag could have been a problem at 12kg but was allowed on.. More scans and even shoes off. And then a long wait.

A 4 hr flight to Jo’burg (SAA food and service was appreciated) where we each bought a SIM card for the phones, found the rental car, and drove north to Pretoria.

We stopped on the road to shoot my old University of South Africa sitting on the edge of one of several ridges in Pretoria. We saw our first white beggar, a white woman, standing on the lane marker. Going further on the highway, we passed the ugly, black, reject chromite mine dumps, turning off to Mooi Nooi (pretty girl), where we last lived till emigrating in 1981. And what a mess; so sad to see it. First stop the post office, now a church, and the adjacent fenced-in school. Rubbish blowing around, the houses in poor condition, the shopping centre with high security fencing to protect a further mess. Across the main road from the original homes, is a new centre in better condition, where the orange grove and blue gums once were. Our house is now a 2nd hand ‘shop’; old fridges and bits lie in the garden. I went into the Wimpy bar (like a McDonalds), spoke briefly to the young black serving woman who replied she was not even born when we left! I could not live here.

We continued on the old road to Rustenburg, to pass the lovely Cape Dutch ‘Rondalia’, still a tourist resort, but now hidden behind trees and fences. I loved passing here at night on the Suzuki 425cc as the orange blossom filled the valley. Now ugly shops line the road.

I could not recognise the road as we approached Kroondal; a mish-mash of ugly buildings, rubbish lined fences instead of the neatly fenced wheat fields and trees. David and Pauline have a large thorn bush property south of Kroondal, on the rocky slopes of the Magaliesberg, a high quartzite ridge running east-west, the physical and climatic boundary between the northern and southern Transvaal (as I knew it). We arrived at about 7pm to an emotional meeting – we have become so old! I could hardly recognise David. Dinner was waiting in Pauline’s ‘Christmas’ room, a permanent fixture. There we met their daughter Natalie (again) with their children and talented husband. And a single lady who lives in a small house 200m away on the property. The large ensuite bedrooms are all upstairs, protected by a strong gate at the head. We watched the sinking bright moon from the veranda, reminiscing about the long distant past. The church, the people.

AFRICA- The Mara, Entim Camp, Kenya – 22nd Sept 2018 – Day 9

Last morning. I’m met as usual on my tent path by a warrior with a torch to light my way to the media tent, even though the path is lit dimly by the small converted paraffin lanterns. Its cooler than usual, birds are calling, doves cooing, francolin hooting, and the hippo bellowing and grunting.

“In Africa a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect wood-fringed lake you see across the sun-baked salt plain. You have walked across that plain in the morning and you know that no such lake is there. But now it is there absolutely true, beautiful and believable.” – Hemingway

In the short time, we saw the lion Long Face and his lady. Spent a while at sunrise at the Hippo pool, passed herds of impala, kudu, and a bronze snake eagle in a tree top. It flew up and circled for a while; Ailine & I had the cameras on machine gun speed for a minute!  Passed a pair of jackals (they mate for life), some hyena, a dik-dik doe & kid, and two Ground Hornbills.

Back at camp by 9, final packing, a big breakfast, tips given, goodbye said, and off to the airfield. Several small planes were there, more came and left till our larger Dash arrived a little late. These domestic flights land at Wilson Airport near the city centre. Back to the Serena Hotel for yet another meal, a late lunch with the group. And then depart for Airport Landing Hotel near the International airport for our 9am flight tomorrow. The others remained at Serena. This hotel looked ok on Booking com, but…. its located on a very busy noisy road though the windows seem to block it well. We are surrounded by a shanty town, dusty,street markets, throngs of people – great photo-op, but unsafe. No aircon, coffee etc, just one bottle of water. Clean, though needing attention. WiFi is better than Entim but it failed on facetime..

Its been a great week and long enough to satisfy me, especially with another 4 weeks ahead. I’ve learned a lot about photography, become familiar with the cameras, but much has been due my effort with just a little from others. We went to the restaurant at 7.30 to find only a waitress, cook, and a big guy watching UK football. She brought us a beer and ciders from the bar of limited drinks, but no glasses, and gave us the limited menu. Hamburgers were out so we ordered stew. Ailine and I found the stay funny, so different to Entim and Serena. Room price A$125 and 11 for the stew. The decor of hidden lights, utility tables and cubicles is strangely austere. The stew was ok though the beef was tough. 

AFRICA- The Mara, Entim Camp, Kenya – 21st Sept 2018 – Day 8

A good morning! Lions, leopards, a herd of wildebeest stretching for 2 km (which we didn’t follow as the leopard was of more interest), eland, buffalo, hyena, meerkat, ‘blue jeans’ topi (because of the blue legs), impala, and other antelope. The topi are amusing as they tend to stand motionless on a high point eg an ant hill, staring into space, often in pairs facing opposite directions.

Chasing after the leopards and lions is a constant melee of cars dashing here and there like mad ants once the radio message gets around, each attempting to get the best spot. The Toyotas get a workout on these tracks. The leopards tend to keep to the streams where the vegetation is thickest. My last shot is lovely but for the grass between the camera and the tail. I have spent some time to reduce the ‘misty’ appearance, but there it is. Next time……..These lions are Lolparpit & Olbarnati; my previous image was of an older lion named Hunter. The rangers were there again to ensure order of sorts but it’s a game all play.

We had to pack our main bags at lunch as they leave about 5 am tomorrow. I then lay on a hummock, Tuskers beer at hand to offset the warm afternoon, listening to the constant bird chat, with a view over the plain to distant hills. A few good shots were taken with the iPhone. One of myself, behind me is the lounge tent, and four shots of the old safari decor inside, including photos of those distant times when a shot did not mean using a camera. We used the tent for the photo discussions and when waiting for dinner if it rained. And a last poor shot of our group in the dining tent for lunch. Oh to be back far from the madding crowd!

The afternoon was somewhat quiet; more lions, hyenas, various antelope including eland, and ended with the old lion Scar lying in a shaded gulley on his back, legs in the air (not a pretty sight!) We waited an hour for action before giving up.

A surprise was a stop under a tree near Entim for drinks, to watch the sunset. A pleasant way to end the trip. but that was not the end yet.

It becomes quite cool at night as we sit at the fire before dinner in the dining tent, an amazingly spiced and barbequed lamb, steak, and chicken. This was followed by a jumping dance around the table by the guards and drivers, as this is also David Lloyd’s last night till next year. The table talk, as usual, was dry and humorous which kept us up till 10.

I’m usually up in the media tent till close on power-off time to get this into the blog, so the hot water bottle placed in the bed by the staff is very welcome initially (not my usual requirement). And a chocolate is on the pillow too. Doesn’t take long to sleep, listening to the hippo, sometimes a lion, and the quiet talk of the guards.

AFRICA- The Mara, Entim Camp, Kenya – 20th Sept 2018 – Day 7

Today was largely a bird day: lilac breasted rollers, one of which caught and swallowed a small snake, a red legged spur, yellow bill oxpecker, coqui francolin, and yellow throated warbler, and a pair of north African, pink necked and legged ostriches. And antelope were everywhere.

However, we had several hours following five cheetahs, accompanied by 20 other cars. I captured a shot of one chasing an impala. I just happened to focus on the impala as it was clearly agitated, when the cheetah suddenly showed up. Of only 4 rapid shots, only one fuzzy shot shows the two racing animals, the impala at full stretch just before capture. They are beautiful, graceful animals.

We also spent an hour at a Maasai village on the edge of the reserve, which turned out to be a lot more interesting and fun than I anticipated. Colourful dress, dancing, customs, and of course the objects for sale (I held back owing to the big purchase yesterday). The village is set around a large (50m) circle, guarded by a brush fence and 3 gates. We were taken into one of the small huts, a square pole & mud building with a flat straw roof (it must rain inside).  Despite the size, it is divided into several small ‘rooms’ with tiny holes for windows, so its dark. Very tidy and clean. I also wonder where they get water and where is the toilet? We were treated to the jumping dance, and a ‘Happy Birthday’ song for me (arranged by David?), followed by a demonstration of fire sticks. They rely on our gifts and sales as they cannot grow food owing to the animals. I suspect this is a model village but still worth the visit.

Late afternoon found us with a large elephant family plodding along, as we continually drove ahead to catch them from the front, and later silhouettes were again on the agenda with a giraffe and zebras. An eagle clung high in a tree and didnt move even when we drove underneath.

We had another image review, where I did ‘ok’.

AFRICA- The Mara, Entim Camp, Kenya – 19th Sept 2018 – Day 6

Another good morning. As we drove we brushed against bushes (lipica japonica) than gave a gorgeous smell I can remember. Started with a lioness, but we quickly raced off as a cheetah had been spotted. She (Amani) would occasionally stare down the vast plain below, looking for an opportunity, then lie down again. The kittens pestered her and each other. Only downside was they were facing away from the early light.

And then the driver started at a frantic pace; I was still sitting on the floor  when he hit a rock or mound which threw me into the air – my shoulder brushed the side bar tearing the fleece, my head hit the roof, and the I fell onto the cushions with the cameras around me. My shoulder is bruised and swollen, my coccyx is sore but I’m more hurt by the tear which I have patched with tape to keep the fleece contained. The reason – we were off the track and the wardens were coming. Apparently a large fine can result.

Occasionally we see private 2-WD vans – silly as these tracks are rough. It reminded me of the Rhodesian farm Dad managed; we had a very old Land Rover that needed attention from the German mechanic 10 miles away on the main road. I was tasked with driving it there. He loved LR’s and said they could almost climb trees. When he saw this one he commented ‘This one has been climbing trees!’

Later we drove madly to follow a jackal chasing an small impala for 5 minutes over at least 1 km, till tables were turned when the mother chased the jackal and the kid hid.

We saw the usual antelope and zebras, a few elephants, and then a stunning 30 hippos below us in a very smelly large pool. This entertained us till we had to leave for breakfast at the same place as yesterday. The dark pool surface had white foam which created attractive patterns.

Elena (from Moscow) gave us a 2hr talk on her conservation (Mara-Meru) built over 20 years. She described how they live, breed, the predators (lion), the history (including Amani), how they help them when hurt. Cheetahs can run briefly at 115km/hr under special conditions, 95 on the savannah. They can birth 6 cubs but find it difficult to feed as they get older, so they abandon early, and cubs don’t survive. Best survival is 3 or 4. The locals hate them and leopards and don’t distinguish them; her work is to teach the locals that cheetahs do not do the harm, and have even been tamed for centuries as hunters like dogs. Funding comes from various sources; one is to sell stuff. A beautiful ebony carving attracted my immediate attention – now it’s mine. David Lloyd was keen too but fortunately he didnt buy it a while back.

At 4 we only drove 2-3 km from camp, through thick bush hoping to see rhino, without luck. The sky was overcast most of the time. Wind blew a martial eagle in a tree top violently but he clung on while we and others drove near and even under the tree in which he was perched. Next four large black and white ground hornbill birds fighting over the remains of a wart hog piglet. A pair of lionesses were near, lying most of the time. An occasional head would scan the area and flop back down. One has to have patience. We spotted a buffalo plodding towards us in a deliberate fashion, due to a horn wound we discovered as he neared. He made a direct line for the lionesses who ran 50m away to lie down again. This continued three times till the lionesses lay in a small thicket and he strolled off to the large main herd.

Entim means a small copse; the lantern in a tree trunk is one of many to light the path to the tents.

AFRICA- The Mara, Entim Camp, Kenya – 18th Sept 2018 – Day 5

5.50 and off again after a wake-up at 5.30 with coffee and biscuits. Its dead on time too – I set my alarm for 5.28 and he is here 2 mins later. The bird chorus is awakening, in the distance I hear the river rapids, nearby staff chatting. Love it.

12pm We drove to a different area today, more open grassland savannah, spotted with the umbrella acacias, and divided by green belts of trees along the stream banks. Not as many animals, but still sufficient to keep us busy. The tracks a deeply rutted in the now dry black clay; tracks are often wide as vehicles choose less muddy routes.

We saw a vulture, many giraffe, one couple we watched for an hour as ‘he’ tried is luck without success. An elephant family attracted us for a while, a herd of buffalo, a multicoloured Lilac-breasted roller, and a baboon tribe (one male had been badly mauled). Breakfast was on a river bank, all laid out ready as we arrived. Luxury!

NOTE: I update as the day goes, and sometimes go back to add or correct past blogs.

It is now 12.30, nearly lunch time. I need to find 3 or 4 images for a review at 3, before setting out at 4. The heat is rising, birds are calling, and it’s so good to be away from the current ‘offensive’ culture.  

The afternoon drive was shorter owing to the image review, so we didn’t drive far – perhaps 5 km. I am now very keen to see all the same animals again as I made a pretty serious error in not checking the image type on the 7D which I use mostly with the long lens. The shots are good, but don’t allow for much processing.

We spent some time with a large herd of zebra allowing for many shots, then a beautiful waterbuck, and an elephant. As the sun set behind a ridge we were able to shoot silhouettes of the zebra against the orange sky, and lastly the ‘ostrich’ tree at the Entim entry.

AFRICA- The Mara, Entim Camp, Kenya – 17th Sept 2018 – Day 4

The days are very busy. Up at 5.30, out at 6.10, back for lunch by 12, out at 4, and back at 7pm. The tracks are rutted by driving in the wet, so one is constantly bouncing along. But the drivers are great, safe and knowledgeable, sharing info with others by radio to find the animals. Their understanding of animal behaviour means we are always in a good position to shoot from the left of the vehicle, resting the lens on the bean bags. Sometimes we stand above the roof for a better view.

The morning was eventful, seeing a civet cat, a large pride of lions, a mating pair of lion, a cheetah surveying the plain from a small anthill, a leopard hiding in the bush lining a gulley, herds of various antelope, giraffe, zebra, elephant, hyena, warthogs, dik-dik, and hippo. The variety here is astounding compared to Moremi and Kruger in 1998. The open grass land and the drivers knowledge of where to look probably account for this.

We stopped for breakfast under the shade of a lone tree – tables set up, deck chairs ready. Now THIS is safari at its best. Never thought I would ever do it, but here I am.

The mating lions were interesting to say the least! They were lying in the shade of a small bush on our arrival; several other cars were there but soon left. We waited till the female arose, rubbed the old male’s face, and the act happened in seconds, whereupon she walked off. He sat watching as if to say ‘And now what? We walk AGAIN?’ This happened three times in about an hour, each time she walked away and he followed. This goes on at that rate for a week! At one point she changed direction so that a car was between them. He looked so anxious. We kept moving ahead anticipating their route, so they passed us so close I could have touched them. The many cars clearly don’t deter the animals. At the leopard sighting, there were about 20 cars, juggling for the best position.

We spent several hours following the small leopard as it moved through the bush. At one point a dik-dik ran into a clearing followed by the leopard; don’t think there was a kill.

The hyena we found cooling off in a series of pools in a vlei; one lay staring at us a meter away.

The antelope herds would all stare intently toward the lions approaching, ears flicking, dashing off occasionally, turning back to stare again. The topi are often lone, standing on a raised ant hill, motionless, surveying the land.

The afternoon was not as full as the morning, We rushed to a crossing point several kms away to only see 40 other cars and no action. Apparently there were only crocs and a few hippos in the Mara river, so we left. Besides the usual Thompsons Gazelle, impala, topi, zebra, ostrich, baboons, an elephant at a distance, the best was again lions till close on sunset.

The clouds built up all afternoon, so the setting sun was beautiful on the lions. We did the usual dodging and moving to get ahead as they strolled along, unconcerned about us. A large zebra herd seemed their objective, but they ran off honking. We left rather late with a long drive back; heavy rain drops fell briefly to damp the grey dust leaving that typical pungent earthy African smell, as the orange sun sank behind a range of hills.

We arrived in the dark at 7; a quick shower and download of the photos, followed by a drink in the lounge rather than at the bonfire, due to the rain again, and then dinner, where I tried to restrict the food on the plate. We spent several hours sharing tales before allowing the guards to guide us back to the tents.

Tomorrow we do it all again. I noticed I felt a little dizzy last night and again tonight, and realise its due to the driving. We are continuously thrown around, rather like being at sea. And smoke is in the air due to burning-off grass to encourage new growth.

Good to know the guards are up all night to scare away the animals. I can hear lion and hippo as I write this in bed.

AFRICA- Flight to the Mara, Kenya – 16th Sept 2018 – Day 3

An early start to ensure our gear is loaded on the utility which will take 6 hrs to get to the Mara Camp. We flew in a small plane after a tasty breakfast, to arrive about 11am, to be confronted by 15 safari vehicles going to other camps.

We drove for 30 mins over the bumpy track on the endless grass plain, past various antelope, a multicoloured Lilac-breasted roller and a large elephant family silhouetted against the sky, crossing dry stream beds, now a series of pools lined by trees and thick bush. The plain is well grassed and green, shaded by occasional lone flat topped acacia trees.

The camp comprises tents for a lounge/bar, dining, media, a hidden kitchen, and 8 self contained double bed tents, with shower and toilet, all set on the edge of a gully, shaded by large trees. We were serenaded by cooing doves and numerous twittering small birds. The numerous staff are helpful and considerate. The lunch was so tasty it will be difficult to restrain overeating. The camp manager gave us a rundown on the camp; solar power by day, generator till 11pm. No leaving the tent! Lions have even been through. David gave a run-through on how the week will go, and we then had 2 hrs to sort out gear. I commenced this blog before setting out at 4pm.

We have done well: elephants and buffalo on a lovely stream bed, zebra, impala, topi, warthog, tails in the air, and two very sleepy old lions under a shady bush who didn’t move from 4.30 till 6.30 when we left, and a couple of curious young jackals.

We use two Toyotas; three rows of seats on the rear, one each for David, Ailine and I, plus the driver and David L in the front. The driver ensures we can always shoot out the left side so we have ample viewing. The middle of the rear rows has a seat on the right, cushions on the left, so I could kneel, camera on a bean bag supported on a rail. Very easy to use a large lens. I have taken a lot of shots, still to sort out. I will endeavour to put a few in here later, but time is running out. 7.30, dinner at 8 and up tomorrow at 5.30. (Added final shots Dec 2019)

I have enjoyed today. Privileged to be here and overwhelmed by the stark beauty of this Africa of my birth.

Maasai Mara Grasslands
Downcast Topi?

AFRICA- Flight to Kenya – 15th Sept 2018 – Day 2

Arrival Jo’burg 30mins late at 5:20am. The airport is easy to get around; we had to change from Terminal A to Terminal B. David bought us into the Emirates lounge for the showers, wifi, and food – not that we needed it.

Egoli or Jozi – the Gold City. The gold is almost all mined out, leaving huge dumps (hills) of the crushed rock and tunnels of water, often acidic as it seeps out to the surface. A sprawling city on the 6000ft (1800m) elevation high-veldt, stretching in an arc of smaller merged cities over a distance of 150km along the outcrop of the gold reef. A city of absolute wealth and absolute poverty. My city – I was born in Springs on the eastern end.

But we didn’t see it today, as we continued our flight to Nairobi, Kenya. This will be my only trip here. The plane was old; paint rubbed off the seats by hands and bags. The toilet also in a poor state, but everything worked and we arrived on time at Nairobi, to be met by the courier.

David bought our Visa’s from the Embassy in Canberra a few weeks back but we didn’t have them, only the prints of the order. After a long wait in the visa queue we were told the documents were ok but we now had to join a different queue.

The airport is several km from the city; the road hedged by varied buildings, warehouses, bus/market stops, trees, and smoky fires; scooters, cars and old variegated mini-buses (many with Christian logos) fill the road. We kept the windows up to prevent snatching in the traffic jams. The place has an air of faded grandeur.

Tonight we met David Lloyd and two of the other three photographers in our group at the Serena Hotel. A very small group so we will only have David as the guide, sharing him in two vehicles. He was very tired after 7 weeks of these safaris, the previous one for a group of 14 Indonesians mostly using phones!  We are to meet at 7 at the pool for breakfast, leaving for the airport about 8.

The hotel is very flash, as it should be at the price ($500/night). It is protected by a single guarded entry. The rear is devoted to a large pool and garden, overlooked by two restaurants and a lounge bar, which is where we had a delicious ‘light’ dinner, serenaded by a chorus of very noisy frogs.

AFRICA- Flight to Kenya – 14th Sept 2018 – Day 1

Midnight flight departures are not my favourite. Today we leave at 23:45. What a way to start a 5 week trip. 11 hrs to Jo’burg, a 5 hr wait, and 4 hrs to Nairobi, arriving today at 3pm, 5hrs behind the Perth Time Zone. I should be excited; instead I’m anxious, leaving Hilary to run the B&B alone. And there’s the unknown ahead of me. Seems to get worse as I get older! But its good that daughter Ailine and David her husband are also going – it should be an adventure.

Recalling a travel author’s reply to a question “Have you experienced any dangerous moments on your travels?” His reply, “Yes – then a voice on my shoulder says ‘this is not good but it’s going to be great in the book!”

On board a full SAA plane at 11:20. Met a Sydney couple while waiting who were very talkative about their numerous trips. I could only find China and Russia as places they haven’t been.

The young guy next to me seems only interested in the phone. Dinner was accompanied by a steel knife & fork, so unusual today.

Breakfast at 9.20 Perth time and 1 hr to land.