Flying 3,000 feet on a Safarilink 4 seater airplane, we soared into a white blanket of cumulus clouds where we were abruptly greeted by the majestic snowy summit of Africa’s tallest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro. This ancient volcano is considered dormant since it erupted _ years ago. It borders Kenya and Tanzania, standing over 19,000 feet over the Serengetti plains. We circled the landing strip to allow the Zebra on the runway the opportunity to run into the bush before we landed. We were welcomed by two Masai in their traditional attire of vibrant red cloth adorned with intricately hand beaded accessories made by their wives and parents.
There are three major tribal groups among the many different tribes that live in Kenya – the Kikuyu, Lua, and Masai. The Masai first migrated across the great Sahara desert in first century AD from Ethiopia. They are a pastoral people who perpetuate a traditional lifestyle that has been passed down for over 2,000 years. They are also sharing the delicate balance between man and nature in the entire Southern Kenyan region. They rely on the savannah to feed their cattle, yet must share the plains with thousands of itinerant visitors, some of which are predators who pose a threat to their cattle and themselves. The Masai are experts of this place. In order to protect their cattle and themselves, they have learned to read so many aspects of their environment which would be invisible or insignificant to most urban dwellers: a footprint in the sand, a mark on a tree or broken branch, some droppings on the ground, birds circling in the sky, some barking zebras in the distance.
Immediately from the landing strip in a conservancy in Amboseli called Porini Amboseli Camp, we encountered a diversity of wildlife on our game drive to the secluded tent camp in the bush. The unique long necked ungulate, Gerenuk, stood on his hind legs stretching it’s long neck to browse the leaves higher up on the bush, Zebra and Wildebeest herd together with their babies, and a male Ostrich flapped his wings in a circular motion in a mating ritual. As we drove through the savannah we were eager to catch a glimpse of mighty Kilimanjaro from the ground but she concealed herself behind an elaborate veil of clouds.
Standing in awestruck in our open air veichle, we were amazed as a family herd of 25 Elephant shared their home with us as they browsed on leaves and tree branches. The African Elephant is the largest land mammal on the planet. It’s brain is larger than that of a human’s. They are known to show emotion and very strong connection to their families, even mourning the loss of a family member. While they can often be destructive to many of the trees from which they sustain themselves, they play a unique roll in the ecology, even rooting out poisonous trees like weeds to protect the landscape as gardeners. They communicate in subsonic tones inaudible to the human ear for miles and are known to have great memory. We were mesmerized by watching these majestic creatures from such a close distance. A baby elephant began nursing. Older males showered themselves with dust to protect their skin from the sun and manage the bothersome flies. Matriarchs steadily continued the journey to the watering hole.
Conservancies are established on Masai land adjacent to the national park to increase the living space for the wildlife while creating a sustainable way of living for the Masai to run these small camps and act as rangers in the conservancy.
We were greeted by the chief of a neighboring Masai village near the camp and were invited to visit their homes inside of their Boma. A Boma is a circular enclosure of thick thorny Acacia tree branches, the African barbed wire, to protect their cattle and homes from what lies beyond the safety of its perimeter. We walked to the village through the bush and entered their living space to the sound of Masai women welcoming us in traditional song. Offering an intimate encounter right off the bat. Children ran around, a group of men shook our hands and greeted us. One was clad in the traditional red cloth and elaborate beaded headdress and bracelets , with red henna in his braided hair in warrior tradition for men of his age. He asked me if I would like to learn how to make fire with my bare hands, and began to prepare two sticks to demonstrate the process. The Masai warrior then placed one round skinny twig into a hole he cut into apiece of bark and began to rub it in his hand. He finely ground some goat dung and placed it in the hole. Replaced the stick and started rubbing the stick in the palms of his hands. A spark ignited, he bent over and blew on the spark and placed it on a larger piece of dried dung and continued to blow on it until it ignited, and a large flame lit up his face for an extraordinary portrait. The warm hospitality both in the camp and in the village assured we would be having intimate authentic cultural experiences which are as significant a subject for us to photograph as the beautiful environment and wildlife.
From our side of the world to yours,
Brian and Latai
The vivid colors of Africa were mesmerizing as we drove along the dirt road driving deeper into the wilds of Kenya’s largest national park: red dirt, soft pastel hues of green Acacia trees, azure blue sky dotted with puffs of white clouds falling off into smaller dots towards the horizon.
Tsavo means place of the dead due to the poaching that happened in the 1980’s where Elephant and Rhino populations were brutally murdered for their ivory and horns. The African Elephant population was reduced from 40,000 to10,000 and the Rhino population from 10,000 to extinction in the Tsavo West National Park. This dynamic dramatic landscape has seen its elephant and rhino populations decimated, but is now steadily recovering with the valiant efforts of Kenya’s wildlife Rangers. Observing the wildlife in its natural habitat as they have lived for centuries without man’s intervention, is like looking into the past in the present moment. It is a crystal ball into the future of our ecology, reminding us how delicate the balance can be between our human desires and our Kuleana, honored responsibility, to protect and preserve our natural world as global citizens.
We were amazed to see familiar cinder cones dominating the landscape, and even black rocky lava flows so young that they are still barren. The oldest earth here is 60 million years old, and the youngest is only 280 years old. Beautiful rolling hills and plains host some of the largest wildlife populations in Kenya. Mt. Kilimanjaro’s immense base is our first glimpse of Africa’s tallest peak, still elusive to us, hiding behind a veil of clouds.
Imagine enjoying your beautiful tent with thatched roofing sitting on your private veranda overlooking a waterhole only 40 feet away where a Harem of Gazelle take turns quenching thirst in the middle of the bush. Glamping (glamours camping) is the best of both worlds. At Severin Camp we experienced excellent wildlife encounters, a friendly and knowledgeable staff, and beautiful well appointed accommodations. We awoke in the early morning hours to a Lion sounding not far from camp. We headed to Mzima Springs, a stunning oasis where pristine lava-filtered natural spring waters flow with crystal clarity in the center of a forest creating the Tsavo River. Family of Hippos lounged in the shallow waters at the fountain head where a Crocodile stealthily lay with its mouth open awaiting any unsuspecting animal which might be its next meal. We photographed our way to an underwater viewing room where we viewed life beneath the surface. A baby Crocodile sunbathed on a mossy log and a much larger Crocodile silently waded across the river without leaving a ripple in its wake. A Kenya Wildlife Ranger escorted us throughout the area sharing a wealth of information of the geography, flora, and fauna. He explained that the origin is the spring from the Chyulu Hills, a group of cinder cones that sits on the horizon some 40 miles away. The water soaked through the porous pumice to a sub terrain aquifer that takes 25 years to reach the fountain head of this natural spring. An assorted variety of beautiful Acacia Trees create this lush green forest which offers refuge for all the animals that live in Tsavo’s ecosystem.
Back at Severin Camp, we had a delightful exchange over dinner with over 200 Cape Buffalo within the distance of just 5 meters. The large herd contained of nursing mothers and babies as well as the regal males with their large curved horns like wigs. For a few moments stuck in time, it was as if we were a part of the herd. It was an intimate, one of a kind encounter we were thankful to have been able to unexpectedly experience up close. A few of the Masai sentries stood watch to ensure our safety should the Buffalo wander too close.
The next morning, the clouds revealed for a few fleeting moments the rounded summit of Mount Kilimanjaro with snowy patches glistening in the morning light.
From our side of the world to yours,
Brian and Latai
The roots of the Ambosia Tree dig deep into the earth through the rocks searching for water in the sub teranian springs below. Offering refuge for the Tawny Eagle, shade for a pride of Lions, food for the Masai Giraffe, and oxygen for the planet, not to mention an extraordinary silhouette for an African sunset photograph, the Ambosia is only one of 2 trees that grows in the high alkaline soil of the Kopi plain in the Masai Mara. It is known as the Leopard tree, because the leopard like to perch in its branches to scout its prey or devour its most recent kill away from its fellow predators. Like so many of its co-inhabitants it plays a unique role in the delicate ecology of the greater Serengeti. So many of the plants, animals and peoples of this place are specialists. Some graze the tops of trees, some the tops of bushes, some the tall grass, others the remnant pieces of short grass, some eat the grazers, and others eat what ever is left on the bones of the carrion. And for those of us fortunate enough to experience this amazing cycle of life, we are transported to another world that is both awesome and humbling. The light itself plays a unique roll in the systems ecology with its effect on the seasonal weather patterns that brings the annual rains and the great migrations of herds of Wildebeest and Zebra and the many other species that follows the rains across these open plains. As the sun heats up the savannah, afternoon clouds are formed, white puffy dots on the horizon casting its dramatic contrasting shadows along this expansive panorama.
We flew to Masai Mara from Tsavo West, over the most stunning cinder cones and lava and volcanic landscape. Our guide Samson shared fascinating information in an interpretive manner for us to fully understand and enjoy this dynamic and special place. In contrast to the other locations we have visited so far, the savannah was tall and green and blew in the wind like ocean waves. We banked down a bumpy rocky escarpment into a brown river. The car pitched towards a 45 degree angle on Brian’s side of the vehicle, his face just 4 feet from the water. As we looked up the river we saw a family of Hippopotamus bobbing, twitching their ears, and twirling their tails occasionally eyeing us. To Brian’s consternation he quickly jumped to the other side of the vehicle. We stood in our topless safari vehicle and began photographing this up close encounter.
There is an ancient rhythm in footsteps, blowing golden grasses, clouds dotting the horizon, zebra stripes, cheetah spots, and Kudu horns. The hulking figures of two senior bachelor male Cape Buffalos wallowed in the mud. Baking in the sun, the mud acted as a natural bug repellent. We journeyed on and encountered a herd of African Elephants grazing in the grass in the distance. Samson told us they were roaming on the hillside of Rhino Rock. Latai greeted them with an Aloha and they changed direction and walked directly towards us. It seemed like their gentle curiousity brought them so close that our guide Samson turned on the engine and backed up the vehicle to yield to these mighty new acquaintances. Their was adult mothers and their new borns, the dominant bull male, an adolescent and one older male that which had been recently ousted by the herd, as most mature male elephants are expected to leave the family unit and create their own herd so as not to compete with the bull, lingered lonely in the distance.
Quietly moving in the swaying forest of grass up ahead were two fox-like Jackal trotting through steadily, only to gaze back a few moments at a time before fully disappearing. Samson sped the vehicle up suddenly and exclaimed,”Simba!” Our hearts jumped as we followed a Lion stalking a Pumba, aka Warthog. As we got a closer look on the scenario we saw that both the Warthog and the Lion were limping, but this time the Warthog would getaway. The male Lion gazed off seeming both frustrated, tired, and somehow at peace into the beautiful golden African sunset. Latai photographed some beautiful images of the wind flying through his mane and the sun in his eyes.
On the far ridge in the distance we could see through our binoculars the first herds of Zebra and Wildebeest entering the open plains feasting on the tall healthy grasses. A unique attribute of our Photo Safaris is always considering the photographer’s perspective in these magnificent situations, and our guide Samson moved his vehicle through some bumpy terrain according to the sky ever-changing. Golden light cascaded from the setting sun kissing the horizon with hues of amber, auburn, and crimson, while Zebra, Topi, Wildebeest, Gazelle, Impala, Heartebeest, and Dik Dik silhouettes grazed off to our left. To the right, they stood brilliantly illuminated. It was a classic African sunset.
When we arrived at our well appointed jungle tent at Mara Intrepids on the Talek River, we noticed a large Hippo basking in the sun and submerging itself under the shadow of a large Acacia tree reflecting on the surface of the water just twenty feet away. Further down the river to the left, a large Crocodile lay soaking in the sun to heat itself.
In the morning, we woke up for sunrise and journeyed off into the open plains with Samson.
The morning light illuminating the savannah was an inspiring way to begin the day. There were two vehicles off to the left stopped in the distance. Samson guessed, “Malalaika.” Malalaika was one of the healthiest resident Cheetah’s in the Mara National Park. Her cubs are often healthy and able to survive and grow into maturity, increasing the Cheetah population in the park. She was with her four cubs, adolescents, scanning the horizon for an opportunity for some potential prey. In an instant, Malalaika sprung with her hind legs to the roof of a white Land Cruiser. The observer got close up and personal with the seemingly peaceful and composed mother Cheetah and began taking photos through the sunroof. The young cubs wrestled with their siblings, chasing each other through the tall grass occasionally catching a breath laying on the dirt road. As Malalaika faced east into the the morning light, Latai and I created some beautiful images of her and her family. As our first encounter with five Cheetah only 20 feet away, sometimes moving closer, it was truly a special moment experiencing time slow down, being granted access to view the day in the life of a family of Cheetah.
We watched the first herds of Zebra arriving from the South for the beginning of the Mara’s great migration. Soon thousands of wildebeest, Zebras, and an entire migratory dynamic ecosystem which accompanies them, begin to arrive in the Mara.
From our side of the world to yours,
Brian and Latai
Masai Mara, Kenya
Driving into our next adventure, we got what is known as an “African massage” one of the many we’ve had while on excursion in Africa. An African massage is the natural occuring phenomenon when ones 4×4 safari vehicle encounters the rocky uneven terrain of the African plains. Our bodies were jolted and swaying to the relentless undulating rhythm of the rocky landscape.
The Porini Mara camp is a sister of the Porini Conservancies, an excellent example of a healthy symbiotic relationship between man and the wildlife of the Serengeti. The local Masai tribe has established to reserve this area as a conservancy increasing the domain of the national park. Local Masai men run and operate the small tent camp and act as rangers creating opportunities for their livelihood while protecting and preserving their nation’s precious wildlife. We learned that the Whistling Acacia Tree, which most animals stay away from because of it’s long white thorns and undesirable taste, whistle when the wind blows through the tiny holes at the top, burrowed by ants to make arboreal nests in the tree. The plains were thick We saw resident herds of Wildebeest, Zebra, Thompson Gazelle, Warthog and Topi along our first game drive.
In the morning, we were awoken by the deep guttural roaring of a Lion in the distance. We headed off at sunrise and followed our guide’s intuition toward a riverbank where we first searched for the possibly feeding Lion, as they do most of their hunting at dawn or dusk. We first encountered two young sister Lioness resting in the grass from a recent hunt. One sister had a patch of blood on her right front leg and there was blood around her mouth and whiskers as if she had just had a savory morning meal. We followed the sisters across a deep dry riverbed into an open plain where we were met by another young female and two older male brothers. The Lionesses gracefully strut across the grazed plain until they were no longer visible, hidden by the perimeter of a variety of tall Acacia trees and Orange Leaf Croton bushes, which they rub their bodies against to use as a natural insect repellant. The males took their time crossing the plain, often stopping abruptly and standing in place for awhile as if to check out the morning scenery. Our guide Julius informed us the two brothers were too old to hunt, depending fully on the young females of their Olkinyei Pride for kill. It was a bit humorous watching them pass Gazelle and Wildebeest as if they were uninterested on what would assumably be an easy meal. Brian and I photographed them in awe for the rest of the morning, intrigued by the gentle manner of what is the biggest predator of Africa. The ungulates always kept their eyes and bodies faced towards these majestic cats, perhaps incase one of the Lions had a second thought on simply passing them by.
All throughout our exploration, Quartz crystals glistened in small hill formations and covered the ground marking our path along the well preserved conservation making our journey a little more magical. Altogether, we observed 6 Lions and 5 Cheetah in 3 short days which left us thankful and satisfied leaving the majestic Mara. This primordial natural world inspires a profound connection to a life in the balance, constantly self correcting in brilliant diversity with beauty and splendor.
From our side of the world to yours,
Brian and Latai
Masai Mara, Kenya
The great Rift Valley runs from the center of central Kenya down to South Africa. It is the geological heart of the planet where the very first humans roamed the earth. This is where Dr. Richard Leakey unearthed and named the unique pre hominid species Austriolpithicus Afarensis, which he named Lucy, the first scientifically identified human. The diverse flora, fauna, and people of Kenya are a reflection of our humanity in its most authentic being. Our presence at this ancient valley lake in search of huge flocks of pink Flamingos felt totally different than the other locations we had visited in Kenya.
Tall Yellow Fever Acacia forests framed the marshy banks of Lake Nakuru, Nakuru meaning “salty dust.” We first came upon a mother Zebra & her foal nursing. A Rothschild Giraffe gracefully meandered by. A White Rhino grazed on the tall savannah grass. We approached the lake shore to catch a glimpse of the huge flocks of pink flamingos which can number up to the millions. We had heard that many flocks have previously flown north to find more shallow lakes in dryer regions as the water level at Lake Nakuru has risen 30% in past few years and the Flaminogs enjoy eating in the shallow marshes to find their favorite algaes. However when we approached the waters edge we only saw two small flocks feeding and resting in the shallows. While we were unsuccessful in photographing the pink flamingos in flight at sunset as we had hoped, we were enchanted by the beauty and peace of the twilight which fell behind the forested horizon casting vibrant orange hues into the sky and reflecting off the surface of the lake. A small flock of Great white Pelican, floated by in synchronicity with the setting sun.
Kirinyagi means “place of the gods” in Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest tribe. It is their name for the summit of Mount Kenya, which lies North of Nairobi exactly on the equator. Kenya is an abbreviation of this longer place name and evokes an ancient sacredness that is easily apparent.
Spending time in the wilds of Africa reconnects one to their most authentic self by reentering one to a natural pace of life, with no agenda or destination in mind, focusing completely on the revelations of the journey itself. The present moment is rarely fully felt in our industrialized culture today, where there is always somewhere to be, someone to see, or something to watch on a cellphone, computer, or television, which distracts our attention from the natural world passing us by.
Rejuvenated by the pursuit of light, Africa brings us back to our childlike mind, encountering a new world, a land beyond time to wonder and wander. We are so pleased to offer the opportunity to photograph and encounter the unique people, ecology, and light of Kenya to our clients at Photo Safari Workshops.
As the Masai would say, “Maisha Marefu,” Long Life.
From our side of the world to yours,
Brian and Latai
Lake Nakuru, Kenya