Disaster struck! Life does not always go according to plan, and this disaster was (for me) even worse than what happened in Tanzania, The Serengeti, Part One. We were in a very basic tent with a zip. Once we realised our camp was in a grove of trees, the favourite haunt of the tsetse fly, we opened the zip no more than was absolutely necessary, then swiftly zipped it up again. One morning in the dark before dawn, my husband told me he had put my camera with its big heavy lens outside the tent. I was ready, so I stepped outside and noted that he had put it out on the tripod through the zip and not opened up the legs enough. After nearly 50 years of marriage one lets some things go through to the keeper. I chose not to complain at what my beloved Sherpa had done, although I thought it looked unsafe. I eased my way past without touching it.
The guide was waiting with a torch and I stupidly handed him the camera backpack instead of asking him to get the wobbly looking rig on the tripod, which is too heavy for me to lift. There was a crash behind me. I jumped, and turned around. My new significant birthday camera, the 1DX Mk II, and my trusty Canon 200-400 lens with inbuilt extender had fallen over! Maybe it was me walking on the tarp that did it. Bad language was deployed as I sprang towards it, hoping against hope that no damage had been done.
Even worse language turned the air blue as I discovered that it had fallen backwards, with the heavy 200-400 smashing down onto the camera. The camera mount was broken, and also the lens mount! Both wrecked. I informed my husband frostily that I was taking back my 5D MkIII with 100-400 lens which I had lent him, and he could take photos with his X&!#@ phone! The men in camp looked on in awe as this Valkyrie stalked to the safari vehicle in a towering rage.
I announced in tones that brooked no argument that I wanted to hire another 1DX and 200-400 teleconverter lens when we got to Joburg, to use on our next safari at Mala Mala. Candice kindly got onto the satellite phone, and asked if Gerry van der Walt, who would be our private photographic guide at the next camp, could organise this for us.
Then off we went, a very silent group. In keeping with my mood, it looked stormy.
Our daughter had worked out a way of taping Big Bertha onto my last remaining DSLR, the 5D Mk III.
We came across a mother cheetah was calling plaintively for her sub-adult cub which was very shy, so we moved away in order to give it the security it needed to link up with its mother again.
By breakfast time all was forgiven. I slipped my hand into that of my guy and we were at peace again. We had our coffee on a rise above the river, seeing some very large crocodiles.
Continuing on, we saw another cheetah with her sub-adult cub feeding on a kill the mother had made. They hastily gorged themselves, before anything else like lions or hyenas could come and drive them away from their kill. Their bellies looked fit to burst and they had to stop for a rest!
Luckily they were able to eat well and then head off across the endless plain without being disturbed.
After lunch back in camp and a much needed nap in the hot tent, we headed off again. I had been trying to keep Big Bertha steady on the morning game drive but not succeeding very well over the rough terrain. When we got back in the rain a guy took my heavy gear and ran to the tent with it but threw it down on the couch with the 5D Mark III underneath the heavy long lens. Luckily no harm was done, but I decided to take BB off and put on the 100-400. I was worried that the taped on heavy lens might ruin the mount of the only decent camera I had left.
After lunch and a rest, we headed off again. Driving across the plain behind a silly family of francolins who just would not get off the track, we came across one of those interesting stories of the way life plays out in Africa. First, we saw a lion making repeated threatening dashes at something. I didn’t have trusty Big Bertha anymore, so I couldn’t get quite as close to my subject with the shorter 100-400 lens and had to crop these images.
Another vehicle was beside us watching that cheeky little jackal risking its life for a feed, but after a while it drove off. Quite some distance away, it stopped, and a man got out for a comfort stop. Immediately the lion was on the alert. He wasn’t agressive, he was scared.
Maybe sometime in his past he was shot or saw another lion get shot by a human on two legs. When you are in a Safari vehicle, they know from previous experience that you will do them no harm, but this man on foot spooked our lion and he fled.
The lion having run off in fright at human activity, the jackal wasted no time in moving in to take advantage of its luck. The lion had eaten well but there was plenty left for a jackal.
The jackal did well to grab as much as he could of the lion’s kill as fast as possible. It wasn’t long before the hyenas turned up.
The hyenas saw off the jackal and grabbed portions for themselves, running off to devour their prize elsewhere as hyenas do.
Vultures waited their turn to come in and clean up the last scraps. No waste, no litter - unlike humanity, everything was used.
Our day was over – we had waited long enough to be rewarded by a demonstration of how each animal has its place in the saga of life and death.
We wended our way home, again making frequent stops to capture the stunning sunsets of the Serengeti grasslands.
DAY FOUR: MORNING:
The weather looked threatening.
We got caught in a rain shower and after a while of sitting in the rain with covers over our cameras, poor Benedict and his spotter had to get out and put on the hood.
We saw more cheetahs in the Serengeti than anywhere else in Africa we have been. The large expanse of the plains without human encroachment gives the cheetah wide open spaces to hunt and room to get away from lions and leopards, who will kill cheetahs if they can because they are rivals for food. The cheetah often uses termite mounds to see the surrounding countryside. The grass was so high that we quite often could not get a clear shot, even when the cheetah was on top of a mound. I was wishing those millions of wildebeest would arrive to eat the grass down, but they were taking their sweet time and did not turn up while we were there.
This cheetah was being carefully watched by a giraffe. They use their greater height to keep on eye on predators. Then the cheetah mother spotted something and headed off to hunt.
We tried to follow but there were rocks in the way and we were forced to go around.
I do not enjoy seeing killing but I would so much like to see a cheetah running! However, by the time we got there, she had already caught her prey and was feeding. Her very skittish cub was slinking around furtively in the grass and would not come to feed, so after a while we headed off to allow him or her to come in and eat.
On the way back to camp, I was delighted to catch sight of the extraordinary looking secretary bird. The origins of this name are much debated. One theory is that the feathers jutting out behind the bird's head reminded 19th century Europeans of the quill pens that secretaries tucked behind their ears, while its grey and black body was reminiscent of their tailcoats. (source www.howitworksdaily.com).
(Not a good photo, due to having a shorter lens I had to crop a lot and lost quality.)
Here I have posted a photo of a rhino taken somewhere in Africa, on our last trip four years ago. I remove the location data from my photos, and am not saying whether we saw rhinos or not in the Serengeti. Sadly, certain unscrupulous people who want to feed the demand for rhino horn will use public posts to locate this highly threatened species, thanks to an antiquated, ignorant notion that rhino horn is 'medicinal'. It is keratin, the same as our nails and hair! I have read a long article about the motivation for using rhino horn. As the interviews proceeded, the relatives made it clear that they knew rhino horn was not going to save their dying relative, but they bought it anyway. Why? To them, it proved that they were willing to spend huge amounts of money on rhino horn, not because it worked, but because they wanted to make a statement about how far they were prepared to go - for appearances. For this, a whole species is on the brink of extinction.
Further along, we saw wildebeest playing. They were scampering, around swerving and dodging between the others. Perhaps they were practicing and getting fit for the great Migration which was to happen after we left. This was a deliberate choice on our part - we did not want to see the wholesale killing that goes on. We know that the crocodiles hadn’t eaten for 6 months, we know apex predators have to eat, but we don’t have to choose to watch and revel in the killing. Mind you, I'd love to capture the excitement and the dust rising as they leap down the bank into the water, trying to avoid the jaws of death.
On the way back we saw a journey of giraffes outlined against the sky. Our daughter asked Benedict to stop so that we could photograph them. I tried, but did not have Big Bertha and it did not turn out well.
Here is a better capture of a lone giraffe taken earlier with the 1DX Mk II and Big Bertha.
This was a trip fraught with lowlights, but they were just bad luck and no fault of the camp, where we could not have been made more welcome. The guiding, the wildlife, the immensity of the stunning landscapes of the Serengeti fully lived up to our expectations. The awesome photographic opportunities more than made up for any setbacks.
We packed up and ate lunch, then were taken to the airstrip, where we waited……and waited.
I rigged up my ever-handy pashmina as a sunshade in the hot car.
Taken with an i-Phone X
The plane was one and half hours late! Luckily I mentioned to the pilot that our two hour gap to catch our flight from Nairobi to Johannesburg had now been reduced to half an hour. This made them aware of our plight.
On our second stop we had to fill out immigration forms and an American family of five on the plane with us took ages and ages to fill their forms out. It turned out they only had one pen between them. If I’d known I would have offered them as many pens as I could gather together! We were chewing our fingernails off to our elbows as their three children painstakingly filled out the forms in turn. The pilots were anxiously glancing into the holding room we were in. At long last they finished the dratted forms. After we got going again, the pilots radioed ahead for us to be picked up off the plane and helped to find our flight to Johannesburg. We silently urged our plane on!
Taken with an iPhone X
When we arrived the welcoming committee said they would make sure our luggage got to our flight, and we were ready to race off. However, the American woman whose family were on a later flight made a lengthy fuss about the luggage. We had to wait for the guide they sent to deal with her concerns for what seemed like ages! Finally, we were allowed to get moving. I have had to use wheelchairs in airports because my knee is severely impaired by arthritis. However, the wheelchair that was supposed to be waiting for me was not forthcoming. We had to RUN through Nairobi airport which is HUGE, to find check-in and get booked onto our flight. My hobbling run was a sight to see. I was destroyed by the time we found check-in but our fleet daughter had gone ahead and ensured we could board.
No photos of the mad dash through Nairobi Airport, but here is a last sunset over the vast plains of the Serengeti.
The four hour flight had us arriving very late. Blessedly, a wheelchair was waiting this time – although the staff were not best pleased that they had to work so late! Then the lift didn’t work. I had to get out of the wheelchair and take the escalator down, then limp the rest of the way to the baggage carousel. What would have happened if I couldn't walk at all? It has made me very aware of what disabled people go through on a daily basis.
Of course, the luggage did not arrive.
Taken with an iPhone X.
We finally made it to our hotel at 2.30 a.m. A terrible time to arrive, especially as I was very ill. We were given a lovely penthouse suite but unfortunately it was at the top of four flights of wet, slippery external stairs, a real struggle for my poor knee. After a quick shower I rinsed out our underwear and we fell into bed without any nightclothes. It was bitterly cold and I was glad of a duvet, which I normally find much too hot.
(This photo was taken elsewhere. I felt terrible, and didn't even think of taking photos!)
The next day we had to call a doctor. I was really ill with bronchitis. She prescribed many drugs and bed rest for the day. The others went to buy enough clothes to be going on with and we hoped our bags would arrive.
I languished in bed, cheered by a warm open fire in our sitting-room.
Luckily we were there for two nights, giving me a day of rest. Although the bags didn’t turn up until late the next evening, we were ready to head off early the following morning to our next safari, near Kruger Park.