It’s over and we are homeward bound. The new road to Nairobi takes you into the traffic jams less bumpy and quicker. Quick pit stop at the Club for a shower and swim no less. Suddenly realised at altitude it hurts. Time to head to the airport and a reflective time of the last 10 days.
The success of the trip cannot be judged until the images are sorted and reviewed. The emotion attached to the photo at the time of capture often masks the real appearance of the shot once you get home, so lets see.
Amboseli is about family, it’s about movement and about presence, and dust. Amboseli seems to have a natural motion the movement of dust from every direction even when you do not want it, the movement of the Elephants is quite defining from the lone bulls to the grouped herd.
The Images are nearly completed and can be purchased directly from myself or the galleries. If you would like to pre-order please let me know the initial 3 of 7 are here : www.antonyb.com/gallery_amboseli.html
with regards to the trip and the fun we had here is a short summary and some learnings under each title:
Driving in Kenya
Driving around Africa tends to be a chorus of ‘ow are u’,'sponsor me’,'muzungo’ and a general happy feeling of you being welcome. Everyone has an angle for money of course and most are very polite unless you are in the towns then they have to cross the road in front of you regardless of the speed you are doing, so the just look angry. Villages tend to put in a new speed bump with no markings every now and then and police road STOPS are constant to clearly raise cash and generally harass anyone who catches their eye. Avoid their gaze and you drive on through without delay, until you hit the towns or bumps or bumps of course. In the towns it’s a mass of Toyota 14 seat vans called matatoo’s, death traps on wheels with 14 seats and 27 people at worst count. They stop and pull out randomly from anywhere so you are constantly swaying in and out of near misses. But as long as everyone knows this, the disorders works. Donkeys and stray dogs and sheep don’t buy into this and often cause the worst forced breaks because of their style of crossing the roads at generally the busiest times. I guess they need to get somewhere too.
The car had we believe 27 things wrong with it by the time it was returned. We had picked it up with probably 22 things wrong. Everything from starter plugs to a broken speedometer. From holes In the floor pan to one door handle for 3 back doors. But we loved her. She got us into and out of every situation only refusing to start once which turned out to be loose battery terminals and about 5 inches of caked dust in the filter. Good bang and a tighten on both and she fired up again. You become attached to a car when you live through extremes and this one was no different. The amount of dust we had accumulated in the filter was unbelievable. It was a surprise she ever started. Finally we believed any more corrugated roads and the the rear window would pop soon.
Living in Small Tents
Not tying my outer tent flap up, but rather believing the zip did not work, coupled with the wind strength increasing during the evening ensured at least a good hour of wondering what was trying to open my tent. This was compounded by the ever growing mound of soldier termites under the tent who would rattle and knock with every movement In the tent all night. Outside the animals would call all night and we were visited by a lion and an elephant during the night as well as a sniffy furry thing with a tail no idea what it was. The Escarri (night guard) was asleep most of the time next to the roaring fire, dung beetles constantly fell on the tent sounding more like stones and that was after you had got into the tent ensuring that the giant crickets, spiders and solifuge Spoiders had not accompanied you in. No sleep.
Showers in the Bush
Showering is always tough in a place that has so little water and virtually no need for warm water given the temperature most of the time. But lets face it to remove dust and at the end of a 14 hour day nothing nicer than a hot shower. Isaac our camp cook and all round support in camp was brilliant. A clever square of Masai blankets, and self designed hanging water butt with a shower tap and a roaring fire to heat water ensured we got hot showers every night. The downside was that the winds picked up every evening blowing the cold wet blankets into your shower space, stuff would run over your feet to get a taste of soap or a cheap sip of water and before the moon rose it was so dark everything was done by sensitive touch hoping nothing dropped on the floor. One night I insisted that I would use so little water I could shower without needing to refill the drum. At maximum point of lather it ran out. Isaac to the rescue again, not without his own chuckle or two. A naked lathered man in the middle of a game reserve surrounded by everything Africa can throw at you seems almost a story in itself.
Dust surrounds Kilimanjaro, and now has become a part of me. I have never driven towards a dust devil that is around 30 feet across, let alone through it. This was not a conscious decision, it just changed course and so a car riddled with holes and the open windows acts like an inverted vacuum cleaner. My buddy looked like a grumpy red orang-utan, i looked like someone with a really bad spray tan gone wrong. Nikon and Canon equipment survived and this was day 1 hour 1 heading into the parks chasing the Elephant corridors. Dust pretty much remained the theme for the rest of the week. Only an oasis in my tent existed when I could use the blowers and cleaners on everything I owned. Eventually that filled with dust. But it made all the difference to the shots I wanted to capture, so hurrah to dust I say, now.
Kilimanjaro spends much of its life in cloud, and when the heavy rains come the top gets showered in snow. I was told on several occasions that people spend 2 weeks in Amboseli and never see the top of the mountain. This goes to show just how a little planning and a lot of luck sometimes features in a trip. I wanted to get some shots of the mountain, but for Elephant portraits I did not want the mountain to over power the real subject. As the tallest free standing mountain to be in the lowlands and find Elephants in the exact angles of light I wanted would be both a challenge and luck. The Elephants were magnificent. I had never met a set of more experienced matriarchs. Graceful, defining and just awe inspiringly majestic. The Bulls were often a little grumpy, season was out I guess. I got what I needed and came for.
Joseph our guide was brilliant. He saw things even with binoculars I struggled to latch onto sometimes. He was shocked we worked 14 hour days, I guess that is the difference between what we do and the tick tick tours provided by many places. He brought us good luck everyday and always had a family member or friend to talk to or offer a lift to. His knowledge of the region was superb and certainly made our driving experience a lot easier and more direct. The funniest moment was in the initial tracking of the Elephants he had forgotten to turn his phone off. At the height of an intense moment, nothing like a good reggae ring tone to loose the mood.
Safari’s and adventures are not just about ticking off a bunch of animals you were able to see through binoculars or unaided. They are about the experiences, the understanding of the environment and an appreciation of how fragile most of these places are now both environmentally and human kind.
When you have a chance to go off road in the bush, always think twice. The eco system could be so fragile any damage no matter how small could have huge effects in the future.
I continue with my project ‘Corridors of Life’ in the belief that by capturing and making available images that give a sense of presence and intimacy with these Elephants. The grand scheme is to record moments in the animals life and the environment around to show the flexibility and adaptability of some of earths final giants. I hope you will enjoy the journey and the visual presentations.
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