I've just returned from the most amazing trip.
18 months ago I started researching photographic safaris. I had made a shortlist of tours and countries and after MUCH deliberation, I chose to go with David Lloyd of David Lloyd Wildlife Photography and Amy Shutt of Amy Shutt Photography. Amy & David are a great duo who want nothing more than for you to learn, fall in love and photograph the amazing wildlife of the Maasai Mara.
This trip started with getting up early on a Friday morning and having my boyfriend drive me to the airport in Ottawa. Everything was packed .. I was ready for go! My only concern was the WEIGHT of my carry-on. I had found a used Think Tank Airport Takeoff on Kijiji, planned my gear and made everything fit. I knew it would fit on the airplane but my first challenge was to make sure I didn't have any grief at the first check in. As it turned out, there was no problem, it wasn't weighed and for the next 24hrs I was making my way to the African continent. I flew to Philadelphia --> Doha --> Nairobi on Qatar Airlines (who were fantastic; helpful, great service, and good food). I even got an entire row to myself on the way there and 2 seats to myself on the way home. Knowing I had long layovers, I purposefully booked a seat at the back of the plane that had empties beside it. My hope was that most people had already checked in online and that those seats would still be empty. They were. This means that often you are the first to embark, and therefore get a spot for your carry-on. It also means you are the last to get off, which .. in my case didn't matter, there was no rush so you end up waiting an extra 5 mins to get off the plane. Hmmm let me think about that, an extra 5 mins to wait vs being able to stretch out and even sleep horizontally on a 13 hr flight? Exactly, you don't need to think about it. :)
I finally arrived in Nairobi where a driver met me at Departures. He had a sign with my name and we were able to take off immediately. A 30 minute drive down Mombasa Road and I get to the Serena Hotel. After such a long flight it was so good to drop off my bags and take a shower and relax. Several of us were arriving at all different times throughout the Saturday. I met up with David, Amy and some others for a beer at 7 to just get an idea of the week ahead. We all gathered the following morning at breakfast before checking out and leaving for the Masai Mara!
Flying out to the Mara is done at Wilson Airport. They provide Safarilink charter planes that have daily trips. After getting on our plane, within 45 minutes (1 extra stop at another landing strip in the Mara) we had arrived. I remember when we were coming in for our landing and seeing the zebra run from underneath the plane .. I was in Africa!
We are picked up and brought to Entim Camp, about 30 mins away. Entim is a permanent tented camp right on the Mara River - an amazing location for EVERYTHING. You can see images of the camp here . I was paired up with Allison, a special effects makeup artist from Vancouver. The tents are very nice and include plumbing which is great for taking showers after a hot day in Kenya. There is a dining tent, a media tent that includes 3 iMacs, wifi, lounge tent for drinking some Tusker beer and socializing. I can't say enough about the staff. Wow. So hospitable, so helpful and always ready to help you. Guests are free to walk between the two sections of the camp, however if you want to go down to the river or across, you need to bring a guide with you. This is also required after dusk. Flashlights are provided for each tent, however when it gets dark you are not permitted to walk around without a guard. At first I wasn't sure what this really meant but it became audibly clear after my first night. You can hear EVERYTHING. Sound carries down the river, so even though the hippos sound like they are 10 feet away, they are several hundred. However, there are many animals that migrate and walk through the camp. We had lions, hyenas, elephants, gazelles & zebras. There is no air conditioning in the tents, though each one is provided a fan. Due to this .. it is quiet as a mouse - except for nature. It was truly amazing to just lie in bed, close my eyes and listen to LIFE around me. I won't lie, there were a few times when you heard an attack of some sort or kill on the other side of the creek where it gave you the shivers. I heard a bit of sniffing and snorting a few feet away. It just adds to the experience.
For the game drives, the night before at dinner we are asked what time we would like to be woken up and if we would like coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Our morning drive leaves at 6am so Allison and I asked for our wake up call to be around 5:15. This gave me time to get dressed and ready, shower if needed and double check my camera bag to make sure I have everything. Once you're ready and you unzip your tent, a guard is there to walk you to the main tent. Once we are all there, we get into our vehicles and head out.
The vehicle of choice for safaris in the area is the Toyota Land Cruiser. These are TOUGH. From crossing jagged rocks through a river to climbing embankments, we had great guides as drivers. They have 3 rows and each photographer had their own row. There is a preferred side to photograph from but in some cases you may want to go from side to side and having an entire row allows you this. I had bought a clamp for my Manfrotto ballhead but in the end I never set it up. I used a SafariSack Beanbag the entire time. It was very flexible and allowed me to put it down anywhere within my opening, and very quickly depending on what side the animal was on.
The vehicles try to stay in a certain proximity of each other, partly so they can maintain contact through radio with each other and this helps for spotting animals. One two occasions I went with another driver but for the majority I was assigned the same driver for each game drive. My driver's name is Julias and he had a great deal of knowledge and excellent motoring skills.
We would usually be out from 6am until noon, breakfast is eaten somewhere in the bush around 9am (depending on what we see .. if something interesting was happening we would decide to delay until the action was over). Either in a clear area on the river or in a clearing, the guides would chose a place that was safe so we could get out of the vehicles, stretch our legs and eat without worrying about an animal encounter.
We would head back to camp during the hot time of the day. Generally rolling in between 11:30-12. That would give us time to unload our gear in our tent, maybe copy over files to a laptop, freshen up and then meet back at the main tent for the lunch buffet at 1pm. The food was consistently good and they are capable of preparing vegetarian, vegan or other restrictive dietary needs.
We would rest from 2-4pm and then head out for the evening drive. Below is a list of all the mammals and birds I remember seeing: