Maasai Mara, Entim Camp - Last 6 days
Birthday dinner great fun, V had arranged for champagne and a birthday cake. Dinner is eaten as a group with David, our 4 other photogs and V and I all at our own table. Everyone sang Happy Birthday, I made a speech, can't ever resist, and the cake was brought in by all the staff of the camp singing Maasai songs, clapping and in the spirit of the moment. There is only one other group at the camp, 5 Japanese photographers with massive amounts of Canon video and still equipment and their table joined in the birthday singing. Between the balloon ride and the birthday dinner surrounded by new friends, it was one of the better celebrations. Broke up at about 22:30 since we needed to be up at 5:30 for our morning game drive.
For the rest of the week we have been leaving at 6:15 and returning around 11:30, lunch at 13:00, afternoon game drive at 16:00 until about 19:00, dinner at 20:00, bed at 22:00 and the whole thing repeated the next day. Some wonderful shooting opportunities, mother leopard with her cub, a pair of dancing crowned cranes, giraffe against a sunset skyline and many more. We have worked hard for our shots, long, bone-crunching drives on very rough tracks and across rivers with the water up to the wheel tops, but virtually no other cars around and the whole of the Maasai Mara to explore.
David has been an enormous help, not a preachy/teachy instructor but quiet and non-intrusive, ready to answer questions and provide as much depth as he is asked for but also happy to let everyone try things on their own and go at their own speed. I like his instructional style and much good information gained simply by chatting about a particular shot rather than by being lectured on a topic. In fact, the whole week has worked, the camp is comfortable, not luxurious but with everything required to make a 7 day stay pleasant. Food is interesting and varied, vehicles and drivers are very good and the time of the year is ideal. David tells me that during the migration season in August it's not unusual to see dozens of cars jostling for position at a good sighting but at this time of the year it was unusual if there were more than one or at most two other cars any time we stopped at a sighting. Because we are here for photography, in many instances we would turn off the motor and stop for 30 or 40 minutes if there was anything interesting to see and shoot. The only other car that spent at least as much time as we did at a sighting was the car with the Japanese photogs, the rare other cars that drove up, spent 5 or 10 minutes and then drove off.
I had a list of about 5 shots that I wanted and with the exception of one, a leopard resting on a horizontal tree branch, I got everything I came for. In addition 7 days is long enough that you can start to build a shooting rhythm, get a sense of what's working and what's not and enough time to fix it without the pressure of knowing you only have 2 or 3 days to work with.
Finally, what really made it work was spending 10 or 12 hours a day with 6 other people who were equally as intensely interested in creating and making good pictures as I was. Since we don't normally travel as part of a group, the idea of being in tight quarters with an uncongenial group was one of my biggest worries. As it turned out we couldn't have been luckier in our companions if we had set out to organize it that way. Everyone had a great sense of humour and there was much cheerful joking, but there was also a captivating sense of 6 other extremely bright, engaged and creative people trying to make good pictures. Surprisingly, there was very little competition but a genuine interest in helping and supporting each other to do their best work and helpful suggestions were always at the ready when asked for. It was a wonderful experience with wonderful companions and it set the bar pretty high for a repeat performance. Back to Nairobi on Saturday after the Land Rover that I and two of my fellow photogs were traveling in became stuck in the middle of a river which we were trying to ford on the way to the landing strip for our return flight. Water swirled up to the cars sills and I could not imagine how we would get out without a winch. The other vehicle with the rest of our crew had already made it safely across so it was my idea to remove shoes and socks and wade across with my camera bag but after being yelled at about crocodiles and hippos I let it go. Fortunately the other Land Rover drove down the bank and into the river to give us a push out of the hole. It then reversed at high speed out of the river and up a slick, muddy river bank which was at an angle of about 45 degrees; still can't figure out how he managed that.
Serena Hotel was as pleasant and welcoming as we remembered and a good dinner, a farewell drink with our friends at the bar and a long, long nights sleep with no wake-up call.
Flying home tonight and it's going to be hard to return to normal.