It was a bit of a homecoming when I landed on the tiny airstrip in the Mara Triangle, one year and a week after my first visit in 2013. At least that’s how it felt. I looked out over the familiar landscape and exhaled—after 20+ hours of travel I’d finally arrived. I was on another Wild Eye Great Migration Photographic Safari and I couldn’t wait to get started!
In the small mobile camp of Dirisha, located in the Mara Triangle, our day began every morning at 5:30 am with the sound of a Maasai warrior’s low voice outside my tent. “Jambo Susan” (Hello in Swahili), then I’d hear the comforting splash of warm water filling a canvas basin.
It was time to get up; In no time we’d be on the move.
By 6:00 am and still dark, I would make my way to the camp’s main dining tent, 30 yards away, to grab a muffin and a mug of hot chocolate. As the other guests appeared, we’d greet each other sleepy-eyed and in a bit of a daze, staring at the horizon as the sun lit up the sky and the Mara River which bordered our camp. Hippos in the water grunted and screeched, birds chirped, and more than once we’d hear the punctuated sound of lions roaring in the shadows or the high-pitched wail of a hyena in the distance.
Dykson, a Maasai warrior, who ran the day-to-day workings of the camp, called me Susie and greeted me each morning by grabbing a mug before I could so that he could prepare my cocoa for me.
Dykson doubled as the resident mother hen, and he took his role very seriously, making sure that we were well fed, taken care of and accounted for. (One could never be too late for a meal, otherwise Dykson was sure to find you, and with the shyest of smiles and a good-natured chiding, he would scoot you to the dining tent before your food could get cold.)
At 6:15 am, we loaded into our jeeps, lugging our gear and readying our multiple camera bodies and myriad lenses for the day ahead. Sammy, our driver and guide, greeted us with his own brand of enthusiastic “Jambo!” that included a hearty clap of his hands and a radiant smile.
Sammy is Kikuyu, the largest tribe in Kenya, and probably one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I rode with him on my visit to Amboseli in June and I requested to ride with him in the Mara. He’s 50 years old but looks 30. I kid you not. His skin is flawless. He says it’s because he eats well, but a lot of people eat well and they don’t look like Sammy. If he bottled and sold his genes he would be an instant billionaire.
I shared a vehicle with two other solo travelers, Nancy from Connecticut and Lori from San Francisco, and we were a great trio. It’s not a given that you’ll get along with your jeep mates but with Nancy and Lori it was easy from the get-go.
Nancy and I knew each other already, she’d introduced herself to me at a Nick Nichols photographic exhibit after seeing my photos online, and since then I’d helped her prepare for this trip, long before I knew I would attend myself. Lori, I’d never met, but according to a post she left me on my Facebook page, she said my blog was instrumental in her deciding to join this safari, and I was thrilled—and very relieved—to see in that she was having a ball!
Both were first-time safari goers, and it was wonderful to immerse myself in their virgin Africa excitement. There’s something about the first time that is beyond magical, for many it’s life changing—it certainly was for me.
In total, there was the camp staff, 12 guests and two photographic leaders, Marlon du Toit and Morkel Erasmus, two talented wildlife photographers that took turns riding with each jeep during our stay.
Though fast friends, they are two very different men: Marlon is on the quiet, introspective side and Morkel explodes with the energy and excitement of a child going to Disney World for the first time.
Together they were an intriguing mix of photographic styles and personality. Both were incredibly generous with their time and experience, helping us with settings, calling out f-stops, suggesting angles or reminding us to try new compositions. Without question, this real-time assistance has done wonders for improving my photographic skills.
Between 9-10:00 am, depending on our sightings, our jeep would meet up with the rest of the guests at some picturesque location for a picnic breakfast. We’d lounge under a tree surrounded by a huge herd of wildebeest peppered with zebra, or in one case, an extra-special sit-down feast on the Oloololo escarpment overlooking plains of the Masai Mara—a place so beautiful it was the backdrop for a scene in the film Out of Africa.
Lunch was either in the bush—we had the option to stay if we wanted—or back at camp. If there was enough time I’d take a shower (an open air canvas stall with a large bag full of piping hot water and a shower nozzle), but as often as not there was little time before we’d head out again and I’d wait until night, washing by lantern light while gazing at the little dipper. It was divine.
Our wildlife sightings were all I could hope for. From The Big Five—elephant, black rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo—to numerous species of oh-my-God-they’re-so-cute baby animals, wildebeest crossings, kills and near kills, and an uncountable number of birds, all nestled in landscapes that made us gasp. (More on all this in future posts)
As twilight rolled around we’d drive into camp around by 6:30pm—the time in which all vehicles must be out of the Triangle—and unload our gear. The majority of us couldn’t wait to download our photos to see what we captured throughout the day and we’d head straight to the media tent where we would find our computers and chargers and other equipment.
While processing photos, I’d sip a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc and swap sighting stories with the others. One night Dykson laid out a platter of spicy meat Samosas and they were so tasty I binged—I could’ve eaten 10 of them. I very nearly did.
Dinner was always buffet style and served between 8-9:00 pm by lamp light, eaten at one large table. The meal would be alive with chatter and afterwards I would sometimes return to the media tent to process more photos, but mostly I headed straight to bed. I’d flop on my cot and read a little but I rarely could stay awake for more than 15 minutes. I was so blissfully tired my eyes would shut before I could pull up the covers and hug my cozy hot water bottle.
Besides, who wanted to stay up anyway? The sooner I went to sleep the sooner I could start it all over again…
****This is the first in a series of stories and posts based on my recent trip to Kenya’s Mara Triangle to see the wildebeest migration.