Saturday, March 31, 2012

Day 15 - Tanzania - Fourth day on safari

Day four starts out at the usual 8am time this morning. Unfortunately I can't convince Ben to get a sunrise start again. As it turns out it's probably a good thing. I woke up this morning needing to rush to the bathroom. I'm not going to get too graphic with the details but just say that I've got the worst case of diarrhea that I've ever experienced in my entire life. Since returning home and telling my stories to so many people one of the most common questions I get asked is why I decided to climb the mountain first and then go on safari. Most people think that after climbing the mountain you would just want to come home and rest. In fact, this is the exact reason why I wanted to do the climb first and also the reason most other people do the climb first. The chances of getting a bad case of traveler's diarrhea increases every day you are in a foreign country and spending the extra five or six days on safari prior to going up the mountain just increases your chances of having problems when it's time to go up the mountain. I've been in Tanzania now for eleven days and it's just hit me. Over breakfast this morning I find out that the couple from Denmark are also having the same problem. It's amazing where the conversation turns over breakfast in a tent in the Serengeti. Apparently it was something we ate at dinner last night. The couple from Germany are nowhere to be seen so we are not sure if they are in their tent with the same problems as well. We all ate the same thing last night.
After breakfast it's a mad dash for the tent once again and now I'm getting a slight bit worried about how I'm going to manage the rest of the day. There are not exactly Porta-Potties stationed all over the wilderness out here. Even drinking the bottle of water is flushing through me in a matter of minutes.
Around 8am I meet up with my driver, Ben, and explain my situation to him. He's concerned as well and we decide to hold off departing camp until I am sure that I'm OK.
The schedule for today is to spend a bit more time driving around the Serengeti and then head back towards the Maasai village for a tour and finally end up at the Highview Hotel for the evening. We don't have to actually start heading back right away so we stay in camp until 9am when I finally feel as though I am "empty". I learn rather quickly that if I drink a large amount of water it to will run through me very quickly so I start a process of taking tiny sips every ten minutes or so just to keep some fluids in me. This turns out to work alright.

As we leave camp I still manage to grab a few shots along the way.
This giraffe is just outside our camp.


Next up, another elephant, only my second sighting for the entire trip and I'm excited to get another angle on this magnificent beast. He's alone and I wonder if it's the same one I photographed near the end of the day yesterday?



It's now around 10am and I'm not feeling too well so I ask Ben to go ahead and head back towards our hotel. It's still a five hour drive away. He starts making his way towards the main road, that long bumpy road we came in on, when he notices several trucks parked near a cluster of trees. Could I possible get a cooler shot then the lions late yesterday? Maybe so. Ben heads that way since it's not really too far out of the way of the direction we are headed anyway. As we near the cluster of trees I get a glimpse at what everyone is looking at.

It's hard to see at first but I guess that's the point of these animals blending in with their surroundings.
Driving around to the other side of the tree I'm able to get a better view but we are still very far away. Even with the giant 840mm lens I'm shooting with, this baby is just out of range. Here's a shot that's been heavily cropped to show the leopard lazing around in the tree.

And moving another 20-30 yards down the road I'm able to get a glimpse of a second leopard higher up in the tree.

Both of the images are very heavily cropped from the original 21 megapixel file. They show only about the center 3 or 4 megapixels to give you an idea of how far away these animal were from our road. Unfortunately this looks like my only chance to see a leopard on this trip so we take what we can get. They don't look like they are going to be moving anytime soon. We wait for around twenty minutes or so and as I suspected they don't budge an inch so I tell Ben I'm ready to go. Twende.

Finally out on the main road and I let Ben know that we really need to make good time getting to the park entrance. Time for me once again to pay a visit to the porcelain god. Ben pulls over to put the top down so he can drive a little faster and as he's doing this I see a head pop up from the ditch along the road. And before anyone ask, no, Ben doesn't have to get out of the truck to put the top down. It's all done from inside.

Can you tell what it is? I'll give you a hint. It was watching me eat dinner last night!

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Eventually two hyena's pop up and move away from us. They really are afraid of humans. Who's laughing now?



This turns out to be my last shot in the Serengeti.

We eventually make it to the park entrance and while Ben goes to sign us out, I head to the bathroom yet again and not a moment too soon. We still have about an hour drive to the Maasai village and Ben is hoping I feel better by the time we get there. I am too because I am really looking forward to the tour and the chance to do the famous jumping dance with the young warriors. I'm sure there's at least one I can out jump, right?  As it turns out things are only getting worse. By the time we reach the turn off for the village I'm really feeling bad. Not just needing to go to the bathroom again but weak from the lack of any nourishment in my body. I tell Ben to keep driving and get me back to the Highview hotel as fast as possible. One more stop at the entrance to the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area and one more trip for me to the bathroom. Next stop in about an hour, my hotel.

We finally make it to the hotel around 3pm and I settle into my room. Comfortable that I'm near a bathroom I now eat my box lunch that I was afraid to touch while traveling and start drinking more water. It really seems pointless though as everything I take in rushes through me in a matter of minutes. At this point I remember that I've got a prescription for Cipro, an antibiotic that was specifically prescribed to me for this, so I start taking it. I really need to get past this because tomorrow we are supposed to head into the Ngorongoro Crater. There's two animals I haven't seen yet and the crater is my last chance. The Black Rhino and Cheetahs are both regularly seen in the crater and that would finish off my list of animals I want to capture on film...well, CompactFlash card anyway.

Dinner is served at 7pm and I sit alone because I do not see anyone in the dining area that I recognize. The German and Denmark couples are staying in the Serengeti another night. Dinner is buffet style and I make my way through the line looking for something I think I can hold down. There's not much that seems to fit that bill so I just get a large plate of boiled rice and a few small pieces of fruit. The tiny bananas they have in this country taste so good but I don't see any so I settle for a slice of watermelon. The server makes her way to me to take my drink order and I request two bottles of water. I'm going to need them this evening. These are 1.5 liter bottles. By the time the server makes her way back to my table with my water I can tell already that I need to head for my room. I explain to her that I'm not feeling well and ask for my check so I can depart quickly. A few minutes later I'm approached by another hotel staff member that is concerned about my illness. I tell him I'll be just fine with a nights rest but he insist on bringing me food to my room. I request the tiny bananas and head for my room. Within 10 minutes I have a knock on the door and I'm brought a huge plate of bananas and oranges along with another bottle of water. They really want to make sure I'm going to be alright this evening. It's nice to know they are concerned as I head off to eat and try and sleep. Eventually my body has cleansed itself yet again and I'm able to get some sleep
Ben is scheduled to pick me up at 7am to head back to the Ngorongoro Crater Park so I need to get some rest and hope that I'm feeling better in the morning.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Day 14 - Tanzania - Third day on safari

Day three on safari and not a lot of sleep last night. I was awakened several times by the sounds of hyena's laughing outside my tent. It really is an eerie noise they make. It's now time to get out and shoot some early morning shots in the Serengeti and I meet Ben by the truck at 6:15am. They sky is starting to lighten up towards the east but the sun has still not made it up just yet. As we are driving out I can tell Ben is not thrilled about being out so early and missing out on breakfast. They don't start serving breakfast till 7am.
We are driving out of the camp and more or less headed toward the west then suddenly the road turns toward the south. As we turn I look out to the left, east, and I'm amazed to see the perfect photo lining up before my very eyes. "Tafadhali simama!" I yell to Ben. Another of the few Swahili phrases I've learned the last couple of days, it means "Please stop!". The sun has just risen above the horizon and it's coming up with a few of the iconic Serengeti trees, Umbrella Acacias, in the foreground. I HAVE to get this shot so I get the camera out the roof top as fast as possible and fire off these few shots here.



There's several more shots in the sequence but I varied the exposure throughout and these are the three best. It all happens so fast and just two minutes later the sun has cleared the trees and is already too bright to look at, much less photograph. It's the shot you simply can't get sleeping in till 7 and leaving at 8 in the morning and in a blink of the eye it's already gone.
These shots are taken between 6:52 and 6:54am and about 15 minutes later while shooting towards the west I get this shot. You can tell the light has already drastically changed but it's still a beautiful shot.

A few minutes later and we are near a few trees when I spot a couple monkeys playing around. They seem very camera shy but I manage to get a few shots including the second one below where I swear the little guy is sticking his tongue out at me.  I believe these are Vervet Monkeys but I can't be sure. Hopefully someone can confirm this fact.
 


Next stop, more lions. We are driving along and come upon this family just hanging out beside the road. I'm not exactly sure of the makeup of this bunch but it appears to be two mothers, two older cubs that are maybe two years old and three young cubs that appear to be a year old or younger. I'm really no expert on gauging lion ages so I could be far off but you get the idea.
At a quick glance they almost appear to blend into their surroundings.

We slowly pull up to the area and I'm able to get several wonderful shots of these cubs.




This little girl was quite the ham for the camera. Unusual because most of the smaller cubs we ran across on this trip were a bit camera shy.



Then the mother had to get up and see that everything was ok.

Notice she's wearing a tracking collar. The only animal I saw while on safari that had on a tracking collar.


A couple of great head shots of the other female.


And the cub once again giving me a great over-the-shoulder stare.

One of the other cubs kept her distance but I still managed to snap off a couple decent shots.


By now it was time to head back to camp for lunch and a short break before our afternoon game drive. On the way back to camp we ran into a large group of Cape Buffalo so we had to stop for more pictures.



And this big guy insisted on keeping a close eye on me.



After leaving this watering hole with the buffalo, Ben tells me there's another watering hole nearby that usually has hippos. Want to go? Sure, why not.



We never were able to get very close to the hippos and from what I've been told that's probably just as well. They are very dangerous animals I've heard.

Along the banks of this hippo pond we see this monitor lizard and I grab a couple quick shots before it scurries away.


We head back to camp but before getting there I see a small group of Grant's Gazelles along the side of the road. Sure I've already photographed quite a few of them but these are under some trees and I can tell the lighting is much better so Ben pulls over to allow me to snap off a few more shots.


This little girl must not want her photograph taken so she sticks her tongue out at me.

A Young male pops his head up in the bunch.

Finally we are back at camp for lunch and I'm talking to the couple from Denmark telling them about the awesome sunrise this morning. They are excited to see the pictures so I grab the camera and we sit together while I scroll through all of the images on the camera's LCD.
As lunch is being served one of the camp employees lets us know he witnessed a female lion very near the camp make a kill just a short time ago. He tells our drivers of the location and we all agree to head that way after lunch.
Ben and I are the first to leave camp, another advantage I guess of not having to wait on others, and just minutes from the camp we spot a lion walking parallel to the road about 50 yards from us.

She almost appears to be lost, walking around in a large circle as we stop and Ben turns the engine off.

She's making a very low sounding guttural noise and Ben tells me she is calling for the rest of the pride or her own cubs.

It's truly amazing to be witnessing this but there's no sign of a kill anywhere in sight. Ben tells me not to worry, she'll lead us to it if it's nearby.

Ben tells me to keep an eye out because the other lions will be coming soon. Almost on cue, like it was written into a script or something I spot two small cubs sneaking up on the area in the high brush.


They eventually catch up to mom and she turns around and heads back in the opposite direction we saw her walking first.
As is typical, the younger cubs are very aware of us while the mom just ignores us.




They are getting a bit far away now so Ben starts the truck back up and turns around to follow them. Park rules do not allow the trucks to go "off-road" so we are limited to our possible shots. Fortunately the mom is making a straight line that tracks right along our road and she eventually brings her two cubs to a nearby tree. Laying underneath the tree I notice a grayish mound that turns out to be a small warthog. It's lunch time!


WARNING - GRAPHIC IMAGES TO FOLLOW.
This is nature in the wild, survival of the fittest and today the lions are triumphant over the warthogs.

At first I'm a bit surprised by the cubs reaction to their meal. I really expected them to just pounce on it and tear into it. Instead they take turns sniffing it and sit down nearby in the shade. Maybe it's because we are so close, only 50-75 feet away, and they are bothered by our presence or maybe it's because they are just not too hungry. Whatever the case may be, they take their time before finally starting to scratch and paw at the meal.

Mom sits nearby watching her kids learn how to dissect a warthog.....

As one of the cubs is more interested in keeping an eye on me.

Eventually one of the cubs decides it's time and starts the process of opening up the hog.

It doesn't take long before she's inside.

Mom decides to check in on the work and have a taste herself.

Mom puts those large teeth to work.



Eventually the other folks from camp find us and I snap off a couple shots of them parked nearby. Here's the couple from Denmark enjoying the show and oblivious to the fact that I'm taking their photo.

While the German couple is a bit more aware.

A friend recently asked if I shot much video while I was there. Unfortunately I did not. most of the clips I did shoot were more like this one to show just how close we are as witnesses to such an exciting event. You'll notice the camera pan around to show the cubs eating but you are able to get a sense of just how close we really are to this event. Clicking on the image below should start the video.

Back to the main attraction, the two cubs are finishing off the meal while mom keeps watch on us nearby.

A little more detail on the damage done in a few short minutes. I did warn you that some of the images were a bit graphic.

Finally they are done and retreat to the safety of the tree trunk to keep an eye on us.

This little one all stuffed and ready for a nap.

I'm still hoping to see elephants. Everyone I've spoken to has seen elephants besides me so I tell Ben that should be our goal for the rest of the afternoon. Of course we are in the wild here and nothing is promised. Some will see them, some will not. The couple from Denmark ran across twelve earlier this morning. They tell me they were so close to the trucks they were actually a little nervous.
So Ben and I continue on what appears to be random roads when off in the distance we see several vehicles clustered together and parked. Once again that can only mean one thing. Something worth watching so we head in that direction. As we near the area I'm not seeing anything. Of course I'm looking on the ground. Ben tells me to look up in the tree that is about 200 yards away from our location. He tells me to hurry or I'm going to miss the shot. There are two female lions in the tree but they are slowing heading for the ground. I raise up the camera, focus, check exposure and fire off a sequence of shots just as the lower lion starts to move.


The view I'm looking at through the viewfinder is just amazing and I can tell that one of these shots is going to be my new "favorite" of the safari as long as everything is OK with them. I raised the camera and started shooting so fast I'm concerned for a moment that something is not right, focus, exposure, ISO setting. It's all happening so fast I have no time to check until the event is over and the lions are on the ground.









 
And it's all over. Either I got the shots or I didn't. A quick review on the camera tells me I just may have the best sequence of the entire safari right there.
I'm content to just call it a day at this point thinking it can't possibly get any better then this, even if we don't see any elephants.
As it turns out the day is not over just yet. The lions that just dropped out of the tree are making their way towards the road. There's a puddle of water along the road and they are thirsty. So of course we have to shoot that. As it happens, there were three lions, not two and they are all thirsty.


Just as we are about to pull away from the location I find out what the female above is so interested in. As it happens, it's not us. There are three male lions laying in the grass not more than 50 feet from us. We had our backs to them the entire time we were shooting the lions in the tree. Kind of makes you wonder, what if........

At first I only see this one and fire off these shots thinking that's as good as it's going to get. But then he decides to sit up and give us all a show.



They really are majestic though a bit scraggly looking animals.

Who you callin' "Scraggly"?

Then the second one pops his head up.


And he somehow knows I'm from Vegas so he gives me his best "Elvis" imitation. Thank ya, Thank ya very much.



There's nine vehicles now parked in this one location watching this spectacle unfold around us.

And this big male is tired of the show. He let's us know he's tired too with a huge yawn. I really think it's mainly meant to show off the teeth. He means business.





Time to head out but not before grabbing these last shots of one of the male lions looking off into the distance.


So I'm feeling totally happy with the results of the day at this point starting with the beautiful sunrise image  and ending with these amazing shots of the lions in the tree and the rare shots of these male lions So I let Ben know that I'm OK with heading back to camp. It's actually a tiring day standing up in the truck while being driven around. I'm constantly holding the big camera lens steady and trying not to get slammed against the edge of the sunroof as we bounce along these dirt roads. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be covered with bruises around my ribs from the beating I've received today but it was so worth it. As it turns out it's already 5:40pm and we need to head back anyway. We are supposed to be back at camp well before dark and we've got at least a thirty minute drive to go.

On the way back to camp we run across my first elephant and I'm able to grab a few shots quickly before we must head back.




I really love how the late afternoon light looks compared to the mid day shots. I highly recommend people shooting early morning or late afternoon. Avoid the mid day light outdoors if you can.

On the other side of the road off in the distance I can see movement on a fallen tree but can't make it out till I look through the big lens. It's another female lion, just keeping an eye out on her territory.

That turns out to be my final shot of the day and I'm very happy with the results. Now it's time to get back to camp and have dinner. During dinner I'm talking to the two couples from Denmark and Germany and I tell them about the captures today. Then the subject turns to the noises we all heard in camp last night. At this point it's around 7:30pm, dark outside and you can't see much more then about 20 feet in front of the mess tent. The guy from Denmark says, "Hey, check this out." as he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a very bright LED flashlight. He points it out into the darkness and I immediately get a chill on the back of my neck. There are six hyenas out there watching us, waiting for us to finish dinner. I have to ask myself, "What if?" Our server tells us there's nothing to worry about. They will not come near us while we are all here. He tells us they wait for us to clear out then walk through the mess tent to look for scraps. That's why the place is spotless. Cleanliness is very important here. We don't want to give them any reason to stick around longer then they have to.
Time to turn in now and make sure that tent is zipped all the way up.

Tomorrow, day four, and we wrap things up here in the Serengeti and head back to the Ngorongoro Crater.