Returning to Botswana for the first time since 2008, I hoped to recover some of the rare wildness and freedom I'd felt on that first safari. We set out from Florida companionably, optimistically - only four of us, who had traveled to Kenya together in the past. We were not disappointed. In Botswana, once we arrived near our first camp, we did not travel on a paved road again until we were near our departure time. We stayed in the bush, camping and game-driving through parks and preserves with very few other travelers near by.
In early June, 2015 we flew to Johannesburg, South Africa. The most popular international route to Botswana is via Johannesburg, although our route was influenced greatly by free Delta miles.
Botswana's high season starts mid-June. By arriving the first week in June we paid less for the safari but got good weather and lots of game, while avoiding the heavy tourist travel of late June, July and August.
We spent two nights at the Safari Club in Johannesburg, very near OR Tambo International Airport. Safari Club is small and friendly - you keep your own tab at the bar. I had stayed at Safari Club before. We were cozy with wood burning heating stoves but it was cold outside - winter in South Africa.
We flew North to Maun, Botswana, the traditional starting place for Botswana Safaris. Maun is in the Northern area of Botswana and situated just to the south of the Okavango delta - a large grassy wetland which changes size based on rainfall.
The temperature in Maun jumped to high 60's. A short drive took us to the starting place for the safari - an unmarked dirt road with a white Land-rover waiting.
While I am on the topic of safari vehicles - I have been on a dozen safaris with five different travel companies. The number of vehicles has been between six and two, plus at least one camp van. There has always been at least one breakdown and at least one place where we got stuck. But, only once did that cause a delay in the safari. However, I remember the delay well - being the person who volunteered to stay in camp with the broken van while the rest of the group moved on to the next site.
I was rewarded with wonderful photo opportunities as lots of birds and mammals descended on the site looking for scraps and left-overs.
Botswana safaris are, for the most part, camping with a day or two in lodges. Our 2015 safari was totally camping. The camp sites are in open country, often along streams, so animals are always around. The camp staff keeps a watch to insure safety.
This trip was the safari described in Hemingway's novels - drinks by the campfire in the evening, visits by elephants at night and hot wash water delivered to your tent in the morning. After that one emerged to hot coffee or tea.
Camp food was traditional Botswanan, with an European influence. Breakfast was at dawn, around the fire - hot porridge, scrambled eggs, and fresh pastry. It always hit the spot. Lunches were usually in the field from the chuck-box. Dinners were wonderful and when supplemented with South African wine made for memorable meals. Having a skilled chef and able crew made camp life very pleasant. Even the hanging bucket shower behind each tent was fun and the water was usually hot. What distinguishes this safari from others I have organized is that we were almost totally on dirt roads with no fences, thus the possibility of animal encounters at any time. We were in the bush and civilization was elsewhere.
Getting around in Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa either requires lots of driving or using small private aircraft. The good news about Botswana is that you can be in game preserves most of the time and avoid busy roads.
MOREMI GAME RESERVE
From Maun we drove to Moremi Game Reserve to the North - where we spent three days. It is about a four hour drive from Maun airport- approximately 160kms. Moremi is in the Eastern corner of the Okavango Delta in the north west of Botswana. The delta shrinks in the dry season which causes game to cluster in smaller wet areas. This resulted in our being able to see concentrated groups of animals. The Okavango always has some water.
Moremi is approximately 1880 sq. mi., which is slightly smaller than Delaware. Botswana is 224,610 sq. mi. Florida is 53,900 sq. mi.
Moremi has been described as one of the most beautiful wildlife reserves in Africa. It combines mopane woodland and acacia forests, flood plains and lagoons. It is the great diversity of plant and animal life that makes Moremi so well known. There are many animals - elephants, buffaloes, giraffes, lions, leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs, hyenas and rhinos. The Moremi Game Reserve is also renowned for its bird life.
Leopards are fairly rare. They usually feed early, often dragging the prey up into a tree where they nap, eat, nap and eat. I got this leopard photo early in the morning. The cat had come down for a drink.
Early in the safari, while on an afternoon game drive, we were overtaken and passed by a speeding van and got an unneeded dust bath. Rather than wave fists and shout at the other driver we waited for the dust to settle and raced after them. Most drivers have cell phones or two way radios allowing them to chat. This includes alerting other drivers to great game sightings. This time the sighting was two cheetahs sleeping in some grass. We found a good place to stop but could only see ears above the grass. However after a brief wait the cats decided pose for us.
Moremi is great for bird spotting with nearly 500 species. We occasionally experience some tension between guests who are interested in birds and those who only want to see the big five mammals. There was no tension on this safari.
We saw a vast array of wildlife, including seeing African wild dogs most days. The dogs hunt early in the morning and we usually encountered them after they had been successful in their hunt. The downside of this unique wildlife encounter is that some other beautiful animal was breakfast.
Although just under 5,000 square kilometers Moremi is surprisingly diverse, combining woodland and acacia forests, floodplains and lagoons. About two-thirds of the Reserve is within the Okavango Delta, although the exact amount depends on the amount of rainfall.
CHOBE NATIONAL PARK
Our next stop was Chobe National Park which borders Moremi on the northeast. The drive took a few hours (approximately 180kms), but we were able to spot lots of game and stop for photos. We spent two days in the southern part of Chobe before driving to the north (Ihaha / Serondela Area) where we spent three more days. This included a lovely afternoon boat ride - two photographers to a canoe shaped like the indigenous boats and poled by a local boatman.
This trip allowed some very close looks a water dwellers as well as seeing game along the edge drinking.
The last two days of the safari were spent near Victoria falls, in Kasane. When I visited the falls in 2008 there was very little water. Although the view was breath-taking it was disappointing. This year there were no disappointments.
Behind that sign water was roaring off the top and tumbling to the bottom creating enough vapor to require raincoats to stay even partially dry. While the falls predate human activity in the area, human artifacts dating back three million years have been found. Artifacts have also been found dating 50,000 years ago as well as stone weapons and tools which date as recently as 2000 years old.
David Livingston, a Scotsman is responsible for reporting the falls to Queen Victoria in 1855. The falls carry her name today and the town at the base of the falls is named Livingston. Livingston was guided, however, by maps drawn in 1715 by Nicolas de Fer and a second map drawn in 1750, by Jacques Nicolas Bellin. Their maps had been drawn based on verbal accounts.
The Makololo people, who live today around the falls call them Mosi-o-Tunya - translated to mean the smoke that thunders. The smoke is the mist which rises around and above the falls. The thunder is the roar of the water crashing at the base of the falls.
Our safari ended at Victoria falls. The afternoon of the second day at the falls. We flew back to Jo-Berg - still cold - for an overnight and the trip home.
In the grass by a pond, a leopard
Kenya / WELCOME TO AFRICA
Long the destination of safari seekers, Kenya offers magnificent wildlife in an increasingly modern context.
This page contains a selection of images from visits in 2011, '12, '13, and '14. Kenyan tourism continues to develop and Kenyan hospitality remains strong and warm. There are gorgeous lodges and vast preserves in Kenya with still large populations of accessible animals; there are also many other visitors present to see them. Sticking to the shoulder seasons and exploring less familiar parks meant we enjoyed our visits enormously.
Here are highlights from our trip journals:
DAY 3 - HELL'S GATE TO LAKE BARINGO
After breakfast we visited Hell's Gate NP. The drive in was all we had hoped for; a wide variety of animals and birds and no white vans. At the Visitor center we took a trek with a game ranger. The looming Cliffs and gorges were created as the water from the Rift Valley began to drain. The channels cut by water are truly beautiful. We spent a couple of hours wandering along the trickle of water in the bottom of the canyon until we came to a tiny opening through which the original water had escaped.
DAY 4 - HELL'S GATE TO LAKE BARINGO
After breakfast and breaking camp we proceed to Lake Baringo for a sundown boat ride to view hippos and crocodiles. While they were the advertised attractions the real stars were pied kingfishers and black-faced weavers. In our small boat we were able to drift under willows and watch as weavers actually constructed their nests. The same willows provided perches for the kingfishers who hoovered and returned over and over. We bought a fish from a local fisherman straddling a bamboo raft to use to attract a fish eagle. All went as planned including almost getting stunning shots of the eagle taking the fish from the water. Dinner and overnight were at a campsite on the edge of the lake. At night the hippos came out of the water and grazed beside the tent.
DAY 5 AND 6 - LAKE BARINGO TO LAKE BOGORIA
After breakfast we spent an hour or so photographing along deep orange-red Baringo Cliffs which were home to many species of bird including white-bellied goaways, blue-naped mouse-birds, and bristle crowned starlings. We also photographed black faced vervets and rock hyrex. For those who love birds this is an especially great place. We drove south the next day to Lake Bogoria to see flamingos. We were not disappointed. Thousands of flamingos waded the shallows and provided superb aerial displays as they landed and took-off.
DAY 7 - BOGORIA TO KAKAMEGA
After breakfast we took a long drive across the Rift Valley to the Kakamega Forest. Kakamega is the only remnant in Kenya of a tropical rainforest ecosystem which once stretched across Central Africa to East Africa. The Forest is reported to have over 330 species of birds, 380 species of plants, 400 species of butterflies, 7 species of primates, other animals include chameleons, skinks and lizards.
During our guided walk in the Forest with a local guide we were rewarded with bird, butterfly and primate sightings. This was mostly the result of the guide's sharp eyesight. Binoculars are a must here. The Reserve is under strict protective management. We stayed in a very nice KWS cabin with very welcome hot running water.
DAY 8 - KAKAMEGA TO KISUMU
After breakfast we made a long drive back across the Rift Valley to Kisumu. We had planned on a fishing boat ride on Lake Victoria but gusty winds kept us ashore. However, the landing area we did visit provided wonderful photographs of both fishing and charcoal boats arriving. These were graceful, small, single-sailed boats selling to locals. We camped at the Impala Sanctuary on the shores of Lake Victoria (with a large group of KWS trainees). The Impala Sanctuary may be KWS's smallest park, but we were delighted to walk around photographing birds and be surprised by wandering impala and zebra emerging from footpaths and hedgerows. There are caged animals in the park but we didn't visit them. We did meet a group of happy uniformed school children.
DAY 10 AND 11- MAASAI MARA
Maasai Mara was recent[y named the 7th wonder of the world. It is Kenya's most well know park and may be the best known park in Africa. The Maasai Mara (referred to as Mara) is 320sq Km open grassland dotted with acacia trees. It is watered by the Mara River which forms the border between Kenya and Tanzania as well as the border between Mara and Serengeti Park in Tanzania. The Mara river is where the spectacular wildebeest, zebra and antelope migrations occur every year in July and august. Mara offers a chance of seeing the big five (elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo and leopard) besides other animals like giraffes, zebras, gazelles, impalas, elands, hyena, cheetahs. The first day we did an all day game drive with a cold field lunch. In the Mara it tasted great. We were rewarded with hundreds of wonderful photographic opportunities. One highlight was coming on to a female lion with three small cubs.
On the second day we did something which may have never been done before. We visited a Maasai village like thousands of other travelers. However, on our visit we went inside the village to the livestock yard (the only clear space) and set up a field photo studio. With one tree as our prop we photographed Maasai warriors, small children, mothers with babies and one elderly man. And, we handed each person we photographed their 4x6 photo, inside a plastic envelop.
At first they weren't clear on what we were up to although our guide had explained it. However, as the first prints came out of the printer and were given to the owner the crowd began to grow. We printed until the battery died. That evening we printed until late into the night to be able to take more prints to the village the next morning. All in all, a very rewarding experience.
DAY 2 NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK
After a notably good breakfast in our small hotel we met out guides for the trip and drove 8km to Nairobi National park. This park is a historical game area now almost surrounded by the largest city in Kenya. The southern side of the park remains open so the game can migrate and range free. The park is home to most of Kenya's wild attractions - black rhino, lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, elands and over 400 species of birds.
DAY 3 – 6 AMBOSELI
An early departure from Nairobi took us into the bush country of Amboseli National Park - home to the legendary Maasai tribe. We opened the tops of the vans for a game drive enroute to the lodge. Amboseli is big game country, famous for large herds of elephant, for lion, cheetah, antelope, zebra, wildebeest, buffalo and giraffe.
We checked into the first of the three Serena resorts we would use during the trip just in time for a delicious lunch.
After lunch we set off for another game drive past Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain. Visible from the lodge and the park, its iconic peak remained mostly obscured by clouds during our stay, giving us only glimpses of snow. Meanwhile below the park itself was lushly green under dark blue clouds that made a beautiful setting for elephants and their egrets.
Serena Lodges: All of these lodges were lovely, comfortable, and offered every desirable amenity imaginable inside a game park. Rooms did not contain tvs, radios, or wifi (although wifi was available in lounge for a price). Instead they boasted luxurious local, original, and tasteful decor, quiet airy rooms with balconies, western bathrooms and bottled water. In each we enjoyed extensive fresh and delicious meals.
Each morning after breakfast we set off on a game drive,. Our afternoons varied. We visited a Maasai village. Maasai warriors are famous for their legendary prowess in battle and single-handed acts of bravery in fights with wild animals. This visit featured singing and dancing, which are part of the Maasai daily activity. We also visited a school room of small children and were led through a village market.
Eland - Spiral-horned Antelope
The "red" elephants of Tsavo - dusting themselves with the dirt that gives them the name
Samburu Tribesmen planning a tour day
Pink-backed Pelicans in Lake Navisha
Cheetah in the long grasses of Meru
Hippos beside the bridge
Masked weaver male finishing his nest near Lake Baringo
The less familiar Grevy's Zebra with colt
A pride with cubs at Samburu
Warthog crossing before Rothschild's Giraffe at the Nairobi Giraffe Research Center
Maasai Herd keeping the right of way
Young male lion beside the road
Hildebrandt's starling - just one of the spectacular starlings in Kenya
A Kenyan town in 2011 was likely to be without many cars. Now the roads are much better and cars more prevelant.
Colobus Monkey with an afternoon tidbit provided by photographers
Cuba / THE PAST PRESENT
Obama has made Cuba accessible to U.S. citizens again. All of my images were taken before 2015 of a Cuba most of us couldn't see.
Underwater / WORLDS APART
From the Mexico to the Caribbean to little-known islands of Colombia, from Bali to the Philippines, underwater inhabitants and landscapes are as varied as those on land.
Tasseled Scorpionfish - Philippines
Flamboyant Cuttlefish - the Philippines
Clown fish and anemone - Bali
French Grunts - Providencia, Colombia
White-spotted Filefish - Colombia
Porcupinefish - Provodencia, Colombia
Sargent Major guarding eggs - Mexico
Usually silver with black stripes, the male Sergeant Major stays with eggs for a few days after he has fertalized them. During this time he takes on a distinctive blue color. The purple area beneath him is his nest full of thousands of eggs.
Queen Triggerfish - Providencia Island, Colombia
Basiliscus lizard - Colombia landside
Permit Fish - Mexico
Creole Wrasse - Colombia
Flounder - Mexico
Moray Eel, Colombian waters
Sailor's Choice & Pork fish - Mexico
Juvenile Spotted Drum, off the coast of Colombian island, Providencia
Longnose Hawkfish - Colombia
Bar Jack shadowing Spotted Goatfish - Colombia
Napolean Snake Eel - Bali
Stargazer - Bali
Panamic Fanged Blenny, Colombia
Blue-footed Boobies - Colombia
China / BUSTLE & FLOW
Panda Cub's playful fall
United States / COLORADO
Days of mostly sun in the mountains of Colorado when yellow and orange were defined and every leaf posed.
I WENT TO DURANGO THE LAST WEEK OF SEPTEMBER and saw colors that might not exist in Florida where I live. I immediately made plans to get off road and do some shooting. As most locals know, every river and stream, every creek in Colorado has at least a dirt road which follows the water into the mountains. I knew most of the roads from my childhood and learned about others from my brother who still lived nearby.
I spent one day in the mountains west of Durango where the scrub oak (Gambel oak - Quercus gambelii) dominate at lower elevations (5000 – 7500 feet); then aspen and pine take over and continue to above 11,000 feet which is very near to timberline - the elevation above which no trees grow (in Colorado between 11,000 and 12,000 feet). Although I got wonderful images of Aspen I decided to head north toward Silverton for the very large landscapes which were turning yellow.
Colorado, became a state in 1876, 100 years after the founding of the country (thus the moniker Centennial State). Colorado has the highest average elevation of all states. It's soaring mountains, spotted with high elevation lakes and threaded with rivers is the summer and winter vacation choice for tens of thousands of Americans as well as visitors from the rest of the world.
As you would expect summer is very busy with tourists, winter is very busy with skiers and hunters. Spring brings hikers and fishermen. However, May and September, two of the best months in Colorado are the treasures of locals. May brings flowers, warm days and cool evenings. September brings fall colors - a commonly used description for the state is Colorful Colorado. The name may have come from white clouds, blue skies and green timber-lands but is never more appropriate than in September when the leaves change color.
There are domesticated areas in Colorado with a variety of non-native trees which have spectacular fall colors but the true colors are the mountain aspen, scrub oak and water course cottonwoods.
The Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloidesis which translates as trembling Poplar) is Colorado's only widespread, native, deciduous tree. Outside Silverton I found mountainsides covered in yellow, but the shots I value most are shots of orange Aspen. They were limited in number, probably on their way to becoming brown.
I also found Deer, coyote, squirrels, a few birds and autumn wildflowers. I headed home feeling that Colorado had welcomed this native son generously with local pleasures.
WHY THE COLORS?
If you are interested in why leaves change, I recomment the US Forest Service site. Some of that discussion is summarized here.
Three factors influence autumn leaf color: leaf pigments, length of night, and weather. Length of night may be the trigger for the change. During the growing season, chlorophyll is continually being produced and broken down and leaves appear green. As night length increases, chlorophyll production slows down, stops and the green diminishes. Then carotenoids and anthocyanins that are present in the leaf show their colors – yellows, reds and brown.