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Tanzania

Travel

What to Expect on a Luxury African Safari

Luxury African Safari with Shutter Tours

As a child, I always had this vision of going to Africa and experiencing wild animals in their natural habitat. I could see myself wearing a pith hat and boots in an open vehicle as the untamed Africa unfolded in front of me. Today I am more likely to wear a Tilley hat, flip flops and a long sleeved shirt while on safari in Africa, but the experience is still one of wonder and magic moments that I envisioned as a young boy.

Often when people think of Africa, which is a continent by the way and not a country, (You’d be surprised how many people believe it is a country) their mind goes to stories of Ebola, Malaria and starving children with distended stomachs. As we all know American media feeds us negative stories at a rapid-fire rate and I wanted to dispel some of those ideas and give you a background on what I have experienced by taking tour groups to Tanzania for Shutter Tours.

The Cost of a Safari

Luxury Africa Safari

When you fly halfway around the world to Tanzania, you probably won’t be on a safari for just a few short days. We spend 12 days while we are there and there are times when I wish we could extend it even further because there is so much to see and do. According to Travel and Leisure Magazine, the average safari runs between $800-$1000 per day. Most safaris are all inclusive, so though it may seem like a lot, everything is taken care of except for alcohol, staff tips and things you may purchase.

There are budget safari companies that can get your daily cost down to much less. Our per day price is a bit over $500, but I would caution against using deeply discounted tours. When you are taking a trip of a lifetime, the additional cost to ensure a good experience is worth it in my mind.

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Travel

Visiting the Hadzabe Tribe in Tanzania

The early morning came way too soon as we gathered our gear and jumped in the vehicle for an hour and a half journey to visit the Hadzabe Tribe near Lake Eyasi in Tanzania.

The road twisted and turned with lots of bumps as the headlights pierced the darkness, an occasional truck passed us in the opposite direction on the dusty, dark road. As the morning dawned, the road followed a single power line dotted with individual lights in front of homes that were barely 500 square feet. We made our first stop at the Lake Eyasi cultural tourism office to pickup our guide Michael, who was well versed in the ways of the Hadzabe.

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Photography Travel

Faces of Maasai

Maasai Children

Maasai School Children

When I travel I always like to take photos of people, especially what I would call environmental photos. Taking photos in familiar surroundings puts people at ease and in the digital world, you can share your photos with your subject, especially children to get them to relax and have more fun.

Inside a Maasai Home

One of my goals on the trip was to be able to go to a Maasai village and learn about their culture and spend time asking questions and get a brief understanding of who they are and spend some time interacting in a village where people live on a day to day basis such as in the photo above. Gabriel knew of such a location and I was excited for the day to arrive.

Maasai Herders and sister

Throughout the trip as we got further away from the main city of Arusha, we would see many Maasai tending to their cows and goats. Most of those responsible for keeping these animals on the move and being fed, comes down to boys often under 6-8 years old being helped by an older brother as in the photo above. It was not unusual to see child after child on the side of the road or off in the distance as we whizzed by on the highway.

When we first arrived at the village, we were met by many of the married women in the village and they performed a greeting song for us as you can see in the short video above.

Maasai Men Jumping Dance

The men then came out and performed and then started their traditional jumping song and each time the men take their turn, they try to jump higher and higher.

Inside a Maasai Home

We were then able to go inside a home and learned they take about 4 months to build and are built by the woman. There is not much more than  a simple place to have a fire with an exhaust out the side of the hut and an area to sleep. Men and boys sleep together as do the girls and women. And you can see by the photo above, the beds are very simple as is most everything in their lives.

Maasai men starting a fire

After taking a tour of the home and the homeowner answering many questions, they then shoed us how they make a traditional fire by using a knife and a couple of pieces of wood, something they do on a daily basis in the village I was told. you’ll also notice in the photo above, the guy on left wearing a watch. He told me he attended secondary school in Arusha and many villagers had an interest in my watch, apparently its one of the luxury’s they do like to own. It’s interesting to  me as I look at their culture because they only seem to worry about two times of day, sunrise and sunset.

Maasai Lighting Fire

Once they get the embers hot, they then add it to dried cow dung and this is what really starts the main fire.

Maasai children in school

Next we were able to see children in their school and they are taught English as a second language and they recited the alphabet for us and counted in English as well. The age of the children in the school were between about 3 and the oldest being 11 or 12.

Maasai children

We wandered around the village for a short time and took a few more photo and I thought this one of Ken interacting with the little ones was pretty fun.

Maasai Leaders

Eventually it was time to be on our way, but not before they gave us the hard sell on buying some of their carvings and a few other things they were selling in the village. I picked out a handful of items and then they told me it was $250 Euro’s for everything and I just laughed and handed everything back to them and said I was thinking more like $50. We finally agreed on a price for a few items and then we were able to get a few more photos in the village and it was on to our next adventure down the road whatever that might be.

It wasn’t long after we left the Maasai village, I asked Gabriel to stop again and I was able to get one of my favorite portraits on the trip. As A photographer one of the first things I learned, when I photo opportunity presents itself, you have to take action and get the photo then or you’ll probably never have the opportunity again. Throughout our time driving, every  once in awhile we would see Maasai boys on the side of the road with their faces painted either white or black. I asked Gabriel why only a few boys chose to wear paint like that and he said they were boys who had gone through a circumcision ceremony also known as Emuratta.

Maasai boys after circumcism ceremony

The ceremony is the most vital initiation of all rite of passages in the Maasai society. This initiation is performed shortly after puberty. Young men are eager to be circumcised and become warriors. Once the boys become warriors they resume responsibility of security for their territory. Circumcision initiation elevates an individual from childhood to adulthood. In order for the boy to be initiated he must prove himself to the community. The boy must exhibit signs of a grown man, by carrying a heavy spear, herding large herd of livestock, etc. After the operation is successfully completed, the boy would receive gifts of livestock from his relatives and friends. He would also gain a tremendous amount of respect for his bravery.

Maasai boys with white faces

I was really happy to be able to stop and take a few quick photos of these boys as it was really once in a lifetime shot with the perfect location. I threw on my simple “Nifty Fifty” 50mm f/1.8 lens, allowing me to get some beautiful bokeh in the background with excellent sharpness. They were really good sports about me taking their photo and its one I’ll always be happy with from my trip.

Next up, we stopped at Olduvai Gorge, considered the cradle of man and one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world. It’s famous for Mary Leakey and her find of Homo habilis, meaning “man with skill.” in 1959.  

Medicine Man at Olduvai Gorge

Here we also met a man with skill, a Massai Medicine Man who was there selling his medicine to other Maasai at Olduvai Gorge where he allowed me to take this portrait. 

Note: If you’d like to join me on a trip to Africa in 2015, please use the contact page at the top of the site to be added to the list to send information to in December. 

Photography Travel

The Camera in Your Pocket

Amsterdam Bike Parking

I love shooting with a digital DSLR with a great lens and in my mind they are both a requirement for getting professional quality images while on vacation. But there are some times when lugging around a backpack full of gear gets annoying and I just want to lighten my load and give my back a rest.

Since I upgraded to my iPhone 5s, I have found that in many instances the iPhone handles the job quite nicely and is less hassle than a DSLR. The one other great thing about having a camera in your pocket it allows you to shoot as much as you want. I believe this is key for becoming a better photographer. The more you shoot, the better you will get a feel for how to compose images and what works from an artistic standpoint. The one challenge is to not merely take snapshots, but to look at the scene and determine what composition will make the best impact on your viewer.

If you are an avid photographer, a good challenge might be to put down your pro gear and shoot with an iPhone for the day like I did in this post one day in Seattle. I took it one step further and shot in B&W mode too.

Below are some examples of images shot with an iPhone 5s. All the images below are edited with Snapseed for some added visual effects. Don’t be afraid to play with various programs and edit your images. Most pros run their images through Photoshop before sending to clients, so don’t feel as if its cheating or you should just leave your images as they are from the camera. You’ll find some great tweaks in Snapseed such as the HDR Scape mode. I always bring this mode down to about 25-25% via the slider as I don’t like how artificial it looks as 100%. The Coffee shop and Wine shop images below was enhanced in this mode, just enough to make the colors pop a bit. I also like to play with the Grunge and Drama settings and experiment a bit.

When the digital age came, I resisted moving from film to digital. Then I didn’t want to touch my images with Photoshop, I was still trying to be a purist. Now realize these are additional tools to bring our photography to a more professional and polished level.

Northern coast of africa as seen through plane windowNorthern coast of Africa as seen from the plane. It’s so much easier to pull out the iPhone as opposed to unloading a camera bag to get a shot like this.

Boat on canal in AmsterdamCanal in Amsterdam

AmsterdamCanal boats in Amsterdam

imageWine shop in one of the many narrow streets in Amsterdam

image

“Coffeeshop” in the red Light District of Amsterdam

image Bike parking lot at the central train station in Amsterdam. This composition worked great having the subject in the foreground and with her violin case it even added more impact. Some times patience pays off to wait for the shot.
imageElephants in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania

Morning sunrise in AfricaEarly sunrise in the Serengeti

Panoramic view of Ngorongoro crater in TanzaniaI use panoramic mode a lot when I travel. Learn how to use this mode and you’ll create some impacting images. This is the Ngorongoro Crater, one of the 8 natural wonders of the world. 
imageLunch view of Ngorongoro Crater from the Serena Lodge

imageMaasai children inside a classroom at a village we visited.

Travel

Majestic Elephants

Elephants in Tanzania

Elephants in Tarangire National Park

One of my favorite mammals have always been the elephant and I was in for a real surprise in how many we saw throughout the trip. One of the best experiences I was able to have was when 13 elephants walked right in front of our vehicle our first day in Tarangire National Park. One coming so close I could have reached out and touched it as it passed the back of the vehicle. As you can see in the photo below, I also had my GoPro setup as the procession of elephants passed us. I’ll upload the video once I’m able to edit it upon arrival back home. 
Elephant and GoPro setup

We saw well over 200 elephants during our 2 week safari and at one time we saw over 70 in one group as the migrated in the Serengeti. The photo below is just a small portion of the 70 we saw in this migration.

Migrating Elephants in Serengeti

One thing I was surprised about with Elephants is how they eat Acacia Trees, thorns and all. The Acacia Tree has a very hard thorn and the Elephant will tear them apart and uproot them as I saw on many occasions throughout the trip. You will see trees pulled over as the Elephants do whatever it takes to get to the highest leaves. Having over 40,000 muscles in their trunk, they use their brute force to snap these trees like twigs.

Whistling Thorn Tree and Ants

But there is one saving grace for the tree to protect themselves, this is with the cooperation of Ants on the Whistling Thorn Tree, also an Acacia tree. The Ants build little abodes about the size of a small marble and when the tree is disturbed, the ants all get to work and come out and crawl up the nose of an Elephant and bite them. The longer the Elephant stands there, the more they will be bitten.

Elephant Close Up

I was surprised how close we were able to get to an elephant or even groups of them for that matter. We would stay at tented camps some nights and there was always the possibility of them walking next to your tent at night to feed.

As the trip progressed we saw so many elephants that after awhile we didn’t even stop to enjoy them as the were so numerous. We also saw a couple of dead elephants and Gabby explained as they get older, their teeth wear down and they are no longer able to survive on their normal diet, having to look for softer food. Eventually they succumb due to a lack of food.

We estimated seeing well over 200 during our safari and below are just a few of my favorite images of those that we stopped for.

Elephant in Tarangire National Park

Elephant with hole in ear This Elephant had a large hole in his ear and the only guess was maybe getting it caught on a stick of some sort. Since is was located in a national park, the idea that it was a bullet wound was very remote.

Elephant and an Acacia Tree

This elephant was eating an Acacia tree and a few moments later he pulled half the tree down to get to the higher leaves.

Elephant taking a bath in the Serengeti

Elephants taking a bath

One day we came upon a river and were watching the hippos as they wallowed in the river. We then heard some noise in the brush across the river and out walk three elephants who decided to take a bath. The hippos gave way and shared the river with them without creating a commotion. Something they are unable to do with each other as they become very territorial for their perfect spot.

Elephants at Tarangire Lodge

One day when we were at the Tarangire Lodge, two elephants just walked up to the hotel and started foraging for food. There were even some people who were sunbathing by the pool who were a bit surprised.

Here is a video, sorry its a bit shaky and not focused. I forgot to put my Fuji X-E1 into manual focus mode and its tough to shoot video with that camera.

So if elephants are a favorite of yours, then you really need to make it to Africa to see them in their natural environment. Who knows, they might even join you at your hotel.

 

Travel

Serengeti Cheetah

Serengeti Cheetah

 

Cheetah on Serengeti

“Nine O’clock, Cheetah on our left” Ken yells out as Gabriel and I spin our heads to see the elusive Cheetah not more than 25 yards away from our vehicle. The road is dusty and the windswept Serengeti reaches out for miles with dry grass in every direction to the horizon. Our guide “Gabby” as we call him for short, knows this is the area we are most likely to see a Cheetah as we arrive our first day in the plains after leaving Ngorongoro Crater earlier that morning. As one does a “Game Drive” you are always on the lookout for animals and many times I thought I saw a lion or larger animal to only have it be a rock. Our guide Gabby however, on many occasions could see the top of a lions head in the tall grass over a 100 yds. away.

Ken joined the tour with me so I could understand the business side to bring tour groups to Africa as well as understand animal behavior better. Ken was the former Director for the Honolulu Zoo and is such a wealth of knowledge at was at times mind boggling. Most animals we saw he knew not only amazing facts about each one, but could tell me scientific names of the most unusual birds or animals.

Cheetah on Serengeti

Quickly Gabby stops and immediately backs up  and says that the Cheetah is eating a fresh kill and it’s most likely a Thompson Gazelle. Life can be a bit harsh in Africa as the food chain requires some animals to not always make it. Sure enough as we get a closer look with binoculars and the vehicle, he is right about it being dinner time. The Cheetah is completely oblivious to us and only occasionally looks up to make sure there are no other predators such as Hyenas trying to move it off it’s kill.

Crowds in Africa on Safari

Gabby knows I need to get the best photos so he maneuvers the Landcruiser into the perfect position so I can start getting the once in a lifetime images with the beautiful light coming from the west. We are also fortunate there are no other vehicles around as the scene unfolds around just the three of us. Many times on safari there will be a sighting and guides will radio the other guides and before you know it there are fifteen vehicles all maneuvering for the best position to see the animal.

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After awhile the Cheetah is done eating for a moment as evidenced by her big stomach. She saunters away from the meal and settles into the grass for a couple of minutes, only to stand up and look over the tall grasses to make sure she is still safe. Looking forward, to the side and behind every few minutes she always has to be aware of the surroundings and must eat fast because sooner or later a few Hyenas will show up to challenge her for what is left.

Cheetah on Serengeti

Cheetahs are the fastest land animal in the world and can accelerate from 0-60 mph in only 3 seconds. Their top speed of about 65 mph can only last about 20-60 seconds with only about half their chases being successful. Cheetahs originated about 4 million years ago, making it the oldest cat on the planet. As you look at one in its natural habitat, you are also caught by the beauty of the animal and the certain gracefulness they exhibit even when simply standing in the dry grass.

Cheetah on Serengeti

Eventually we move the vehicle to get one last great view before its time to move to our next destination.  I’m truly stunned at this experience and seeing a Cheetah in the wild is a bonus, but to see one and be so close that you can almost count her whiskers is something that one can only dream about.

Slowly Gabby moves the vehicle towards the east as the dust kicks up,  the wind and warmth of the sun reminding me once again that I really am in Africa.

Note: I spent two weeks in Africa on Safari in November 2014  and will be sharing many posts from that trip as time allows. As I write this I am in Amsterdam and then off to Istanbul, Turkey so the updates will be intermittent until after December 4th. If you are interested in joining me in 2015 for a trip to Africa please contact me via my contact page for more information. 

Travel

Thank You Africa

Africa Campfire

Campfire in Africa

I’m going to work my way backwards on these posts of Africa as I reflect back on the past two weeks that have truly enriched my life. In America we are fed a vision of Africa that is polar opposites of what I experienced here. We think in terms of Third World” and yes in many ways this is true, but in more ways than not the system works better than ours. Tanzanians are extremely proud of their country and their peaceful way of life. They are not so much in a hurry and “Pole Pole” is a common term used here, meaning going at a slower pace. I have to say on my trip, since it was a FAM trip as I was here for business in looking at many hotels and trying to fit in so much more than most people, was far from Pole Pole. On this last day here before I head to Kilimanjaro Airport in a couple hours, I finally have a chance to relax and breathe a bit and reflect on the past few weeks.

Lion in Ngorongoro Crater

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would really make it here someday and then experience this beautiful country. The one thing about being on Safari, you stay at some really nice hotels and eat way too much. There is so much food and at times I had to say “no more please” as they just keep bringing many plates of food. The great thing about being on safari is that you also have an inclusive meal setup, so except for drinks, laundry and souvenirs, you really don’t have to spend any money once you arrive. The staff is always super friendly and they speak excellent English so the language barrier is not a problem.

Maasai Village and Mom and Child

Tanzanians in general seem very happy and they are curious where you are from and want to know about our cities and how we live. Many asked me to take them back to America. I had once conversation with a gentleman who grew up in Tanzania and he said he once took a trip to New York and told me after a few days his “memory bank was full” he was overloaded by the city. Some days I felt overloaded as well with all that I was seeing.

Migration of Wildebeest

We saw tens of thousands of Wildebeest, Zebras, hundreds of Elephants and well over 100 lions and so many variety of birds with beautiful colors and songs. As I write this I am having a challenge trying to distill this trip into a few paragraphs so when I make my journey back to Amsterdam, I’ll have a few days there to decompress and write some posts that may make more sense.

Maasai Jumping performance

I am sad to be leaving Africa and I already miss the Serengeti and NgoroNgoro Crater, where we saw so many beautiful animals in a completely free habitat living life the way they should be. My company Shutter Tours will be working hard to put together a wonderful trip for clients to come and experience a Safari.  For many people a trip here will be life changing and I can’t wait to come back and share it with those that join me here again.