“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”
— Karen Blixen (Out of Africa)
I’ve just returned from my month-long trip to Africa, where I had the privilege of living among lions (and photographing them). They say Africa can steal your heart, and it has mine.
The trip took me to Namibia, Zambia and Botswana (with very brief stops in Zimbabwe and South Africa). Each had its own personality, culture, smells and sights. Each was wonderful in its own way. Here are the highlights of each country.
My travel partner and I spent the majority of our time here, doing a self-drive around the country. For landscapes, it’s by far the most photogenic. The dunes of Sossusvlei, the eerie trees of Dead Vlei, the cool fog and shipwrecks of the Skeleton Coast, the high desert of the Damaraland region, the flat pan of Etosha and more. It’s less about the wildlife (although there is a ton at Etosha) and more about the scenery and geology. Photography here was fun, but it was also a challenge to shoot the same dunes and dead trees in ways that hadn’t been done a million times before. Dust was less of a problem than I anticipated, but you still needed to keep things clean and protected.
Highlight: Tracking Desert Elephants in Damaraland. Gorgeous scenery, not many people, and very cool encounters with the ellies.
Lowlight: I’d have to say Etosha. I’d equate Etosha with the Grand Canyon. It’s very beautiful (and has lots of wildlife), but it’s also the most touristy and developed by far. Lots of day trippers from Windhoek, large tour busses, crowds of vehicles around wildlife, etc.
The focus of going to Zambia was to photograph Victoria Falls. We flew into Zimbabwe and then had a short drive across the border into Zambia. This was probably one of the biggest surprises of the trip, although not in an altogether positive way. We knew going in that we were hitting the Falls at low-water season, so they wouldn’t be at their most spectacular when 10 million gallons per second rush over the falls. Having said that though, the water was really low, so, while we could envision how spectacular it could be, it was merely beautiful. I had planned to do a helicopter tour to photograph them, but at $189 for 15 minutes combined with the low water, I decided it wasn’t worth it.
The other surprise was the tourist infrastructure (or lack thereof) for the falls. We had pictured a fairly developed “touristy” area around such a renowned world-wonder, but it really wasn’t. It seemed like most people stayed near their lodge, hit the falls for a day or maybe two, and then flew out again. The town of Livingstone, near where we stayed on the Zambian side, isn’t really set up for tourists at all. We had pictured something like Siem Reap in Cambodia, which has grown to be a tourist center near Angkor Wat. Nothing like that at all.
Highlight: Cruising the Zambezi river at sunset
Lowlight: The Falls.
We visited two areas of Botswana: Chobe National Park and the Okavongo Delta. Both were absolutely spectacular, especially for wildlife. The topography here is very different from Namibia. Instead of desert, it’s very lush and green. In the Okavongo our lodge was actually on an island and we used a boat to get to the safari vehicles, etc.
Chobe is known for its abundant wildlife, especially elephants, due to the protection of the Botswana Defence Force against poaching. Wow, it certainly lived up to its reputation. We came around a bend and were smack in the middle of a herd of probably 200-300 elephants. They were everywhere and I was in heaven. Lots of other wildlife too: giraffes, impala, baboons, birds, etc.
The Okavongo Delta was spectacular as well. It’s known for the big cats. We saw lions and a very rare encounter with a leopard who came across a herd of elephants (the elephants won). We were also very privileged to see wild dogs hunting, which was a thrilling experience. An unexpected surprise was that we got to fish the Okavongo! I caught a Tilapia and an African Pike.
Highlight: The encounter with the leopard and the elephants
Lowlight: Hmmmm. It rained, but that’s minor when you live in Seattle.
Overall it was the adventure of a lifetime…and we’re already planning on returning.
I also did some infrared with the Holga. Click here to see those.
The next post will talk about gear – what worked and what didn’t.