Photographer and Thomson Guest Shares Experience on Safari

Written by Thomson Safaris

Our nyumba (camp) seemed to blend into the richness of the area. It consisted of a main dining-cooking tent, a meeting tent with outlets for battery charging, a lounge area with big comfortable overstuffed furniture, and several sleeping tents. We were three guys, each with our own tent, and two married couples. Staff members took our luggage to our respective tents. We ate a quick, tasty lunch, unpacked a few items, and we were off with our camera gear to the Serengeti National Park. It consists of over 9000 square miles—one of the largest wildlife preserves in the world. It proved to be a wonderful afternoon of shooting. Within minutes we were bumping along on gravel and dirt roads photographing tall giraffes, huge elephants, several female lions, and a gorgeous leopard sleeping in a tree.  I hope my photos will help you grasp the overwhelming beauty of Tanzania, but unless you are there, you cannot fully comprehend it.

There were rules to be followed: We had to stay in our vehicles except for rest stops and lunches on the road. We also had to be back to camp before dark. Thomson Safaris promises that no more than three people will be assigned to a vehicle. That meant that we had three multi-seat vehicles the entire tour. Most of the time we rode with roofs extended skyward. The seat across from me was always vacant, which proved to be a handy place for my big photo roller bag. I used two Canon cameras every day. My professional, full-frame camera was attached to a 70-300 mm L lens. When I could not reach out to an animal far enough, I grabbed my old trusty Canon XSI attached to a new Tamron 150-600 mm lens.  We all used sand bags to prop our cameras. Our driver guides were carefully trained to spot wildlife, and they stopped for as long as we wished. Seldom were we seated for long.

Back at camp, we could request a hot shower. Each tent had its own shower room, and the camp staff filled the canvas bag with water heated to just the right temperature. I sometimes grabbed a short nap, but usually I was busy downloading my photos to my computer and external drive.  Then we met with Randy, our excellent leader. A well-known West Coast professional photographer, he provided big-animal shooting tips and a briefing for the next day. During this time, we charged our cameras and computer batteries using the camp’s generated power. Lights in our tents came from solar power. Dinner at 7:00 p.m. was by candlelight and each night was a sumptuous, well-balanced feast.  It got rather chilly after sunset, and a light jacket felt good. Beds had heavy comforters, but imagine my thrill when I discovered an insulated hot water bottle in my bed under the covers every night. Yes, the Thomson folks know how to manage an African safari to include all the creature comforts. They have been doing it for over 30 years.

Our safari group of seven camped just outside Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park for a total of five days as a part of our 10 day adventure. My wake-up call came each morning at 5:00 a.m. with a subdued “Jambo, Jambo.” That’s a Swahili “hello” greeting, and with it came a stainless steel pitcher filled with hot water for shaving. Each day it was carefully placed on the small table outside my multi-room tent with the handle turned toward my zippered flap. In my vanity area were two big glass wash bowls, two pitchers of cold water, soap, and clean towels. A large bottle of pure water was delivered daily. There was no bed-making, as the camp staff cleaned our tents, made the beds, and replenished the vanity area daily. Shower bags were filled with warm water upon request. The staff were quite friendly and seemed to enjoy their work.

A sumptuous breakfast was served daily at 6:00 a.m. There was always juice, toast, coffee, porridge, and eggs cooked to order. Bacon and sausage rounded out the meal along with pancakes. We lugged our big camera bags, which included sun lotion and insecticide, from our tents to breakfast each morning. That was the last of the carrying for the day. At 6:30 a.m. the camp staff hauled our bags about 40 yards to our three Land Rovers. By 6:45 a.m. we were in our vehicles (two or three riders per Land Rover) ready to take advantage of the soft, dawn sunlight. Mornings were cool with our rooftops extended skyward, but after a couple of hours, it felt like my own State of Texas.  Even before we reached the park, herds of strange-looking Wildebeests were in abundance. They have the head of an ox, the mane and tail of a horse, and the horns of a buffalo. They are members of the antelope family. We were never surprised to see them, as we had heard their weird grunting all night long.

We were always amazed at the myriad number of animals found within range of our telephoto lenses. Wildlife was not always obvious to us, but our trusty driver/guides, Kileo, Robert, and Kumbi, could see them from a quarter-mile away. There were other safaris in the area, so a photo op was usually there whenever a vehicle was seen at rest along the dusty gravel roads. One animal I yearned to photograph was the cheetah. We had been told by our leader that they are not that plentiful. When one is sighted, fast camera action is required, as they are skittish. On day three, I got my wish. It wasn’t just any cheetah. This one, at quite a distance away, was in a striking, high and mighty pose looking straight ahead for prey. With my camera resting on a sandbag, I focused on his head, checked my settings, and patiently waited. To my glee, he suddenly turned and looked right at us. Click! “Gotcha Baby; thanks for the memory.”

Latrine breaks occurred each mid-morning and mid-afternoon (Whew, I made it!). Visitor centers provided clean restrooms with attendants, and coffee, soft drinks, and snacks were sold. Picnic lunches were welcome treats. Our camp kitchen crew packed yummy, colorful meals in stainless steel containers in the vehicles each morning. We ate on real dishes using flatware with no plastic or paper products except napkins.  Guides placed the pans neatly on tables in buffet style. They also provided folding chairs for each of us. When the meals were over, they packed the dirty dishes in divided canvas containers for return to the camp kitchen.  On one occasion I spotted a fellow from another safari taking a photo of our lunch. He said enviously, “You guys really eat well.”

Overall, I am highly pleased with my ROI. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I will enlist others for this grand experience. You have succeeded in making an old man extremely happy.

Jerry H., Highlights Safari