Today we ate a leisurely breakfast at our lodge in Arusha, and took off for the airstrip shortly afterwards. The drive through Arusha was slow going, as the hustle and bustle of the once-frontier town is now a city with over a million people. I remember back in 2002 when I could drive through Arusha in about 20 minutes. It isn’t so easy now, as the safari industy is much more developed now.
After boarding our private plane, I felt a sense of relief over me. I was finally heading back to the Serengeti. I had not been back since March of last year. Earlier in my photo safari business, I used to run 6 safaris each year in Tanzania alone. Now that my business has grown, and my customers are asking for more locations and experiences, I have to split my time between Tanzania, Botswana, South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda and Namibia. So it was great to heading back to the Serengeti, where I really cut my teeth and learned how to run a well-run photo safari.
The flight took around 45 minutes, and we landed at the Seronera airstrip where the Thomson Safaris guides were waiting for us with smiles on. Kileo, my head guide, greeted me as his brother.
The savannah did not look very dry, rven though there hasn’t been much rainfall. There was a rain a few days ago, and I guess it was enough to make the plains green. We immediately went out on our game drive, and we had some early successes. Without naming all of the species, we had a lion pride of 5 adults, a leopard and some great scenics of the open plains with zebras.
We checked into camp around lunch time, and as we went to our tents I could hear mumblings like “this isn’t camping” and “if my wife saw these accommodations she would say I wasn’t camping”. You see, I don’t know how to properly describe the accommodations. Technically they are mobile tents that are setup for the season, however down comforters, solar light fixtures, en suite shower and bathroom are not consistent with the word camping. Such as it is, my travelers loved it. Home away from home. And maybe one day I will have the words to describe what these camps look and feel like.
After a hearty lunch, we took off for our afternoon game drive at 3:30. We decided to try our luck with the Makoma Hill area, and tracked down another pride of lions, 8 in total. There were 3 subadult males, and they were at the age where they won’t be allowed in the pride any longer. They are growing up and will need to have a pride of their own soon.
The rest of the afternoon was filled with another amazing leopard sighting, and this time she was only a short distance away in a tree (see image). I prefer dramatic lighting, so we positioned the vehicle to shoot directly into the sun. I love this angle, and it requires shooting in manual mode with some significant exposure compensation. I can live with lens flare, to be honest, as it can add another dimension to an image.
We also photographed 2 adult male cheetahs on a termite mound, and I had a devil of a time trying to get the second male to do anything other than show his back to the camera. Cheetahs are regal and graceful, and I could never get used to shooting them through a lens. The light wasn’t the best, but it was an enjoyable time, nonetheless (I think my friend Hari will ask me about my cheetah sightings when I get home, so this is a reminder for me to remember all of them!).
On the way back to camp, we stopped to watch a herd of giraffes browse just outside of camp. I didn’t come away with any useful images, as I was just starting to get used to a square crop on the camera. With the square crop lines in place, I have realized that I don’t need as much lens as I tought I would need. I am probably needing at least 100mm less focal length to make it all work.
After dinner we all headed straight to bed, as the previous 48 hours was filled with travel and an assault on the senses. Today was one of those days that reminded me of how much I love being out on safari: great wildlife, guides that are good friends, rich photography and that feeling of being in the middle of nowhere.