This is my African Blog post, I intended to write one for the section that I was shooting for the charity Agape in Action, however with the amount of time taken and the pressure to deliver on photo and video, coupled with the fact I have to dauntingly deliver a lecture on the subject on the day I return to Australia on the 27th I have decided to compose a record of the events after my return home.
Blog Post -
After an intense week wrapping my head around the function of Agape in Action charity as to accurately portray them I was spent! 2 weeks of learning meeting and shooting with the ever exhausting travel component thrown in made a day of rest necessary. So on the return on the Thursday afternoon to Nairobi from Kwale the coast region of Kenya, about 2 Hours North of Mombasa we crashed. Dinner was an overwhelming attack on our tastebuds after the week with spiced samosas, Masala chips (essentially soggy chips with Masala paste thrown on) and a vegetable pasta with chilli consumed but in excess and also sat really heavy in my stomach at least. I at that point missed the beans cooked in coconut and fat, jipatti (a flat bread), rice, potatoes cooked in tomato and onion and the fresh fruit prepared not to mention mondazi ( a deep fried donuty mixture fried in a triangle for breakfast with banana and jams). Nevertheless we threw it down and moved on to the much needed sleep.
3 AM appeared and then 4 and then 5 and then 6 - I watched the time disappear before our 6 AM departure for the Nairobi Safari, unfortunately for me I managed to get quite sick with a bug which was at least a relief that it had been patient enough to allow me to finish the charity shoot without incident. I struggled on at 6 and boarded the van knowing that opportunities like this are rare in life and one must take hold of them with both hands. The ride was torture! Every bump (and kenyans like their speed bumps) every laugh (Tabby the Agape in Action Australian “Local” and I got on really well so our trip was constant horrible puns and stories) made me feel like rolling over and dying. Meanwhile we arrived at the gate of the Nairobi Game Park greeted by the usual soldier/ranger in their greens. Also it seems we weren't the only ones seeking dawn light, several cars filled with beige coloured tourists with the typical flat safari hat you picture in 1960’s movies were crammed into vans and 4wd’s. It was enough to start my pectoral laugh spasms off again, wondering why tourists thought it nessacary to emulate the cliché’s shown in tales gone by, or wether the teenager in Ray’s outdoors was chuckling at dressing up a Ken or Barbie Safari Doll.
The Park however was a worthwhile enterprise within minutes we had seen 3 of the “Big 5”. Apart from the rhinos showing little effort of being bothered to get up off the ground to pose the park was alive. Zebras, water buffalo, hyenas, monkeys, hippos, several type of antelope, wilder-beasts and the list goes on… All this 15 mins drive from the heart of Nairobi.
From there we visited the David Sheldrick Elephant and Rhino Orphanage which contains over 20 elephants and rhinos all below the age of 5 which have been rescued after their parents had died from poachers or they had accidentally fallen down manmade wells. This was a definite must, the education was great, not to mention anything of the cute cute baby elephants that trundled out for their daily feed; the smallest of which laid claim to a patchwork quilt draped over its shoulders to keep it warm. The elephants rejoiced in the attention, ducking under the rope barrier and playing with the visitors much to the disgust of the carers. The entry fee is really affordable as well only 500 shillings and the equivalent of 5 US dollars with the option to donate more. (Entry times strictly 11-12 AM so your day has to be structured around this visit).
After the 3AM wake and a quick last date for lunch with Tabby of Hummus (amazing) and falafel I elected to make my way to my hotel to rest and make up for the lack of sleep and stomach problems. Sadly saying goodbye to Tabby I headed to the Dusit D2 Hotel in Nairobi. Finding out in the lobby it was very different to other places I had stayed on the trip with several restaurants and bars at the base, and greeted with a glass of fresh orange juice and a moist towelette to wipe my face.The room was massive as well boasting all the creature comforts of a western life which was so strange after the last 2 weeks, if I hadn't been feeling so unwell I would've felt really bad about the transition. I settled myself with a small room service dinner and an hour long soak before disappearing into a mattress I'm sure was made for Harambe.
The next days goal just included one thing and I was going to make the most of it. The ever sought after Giraffe Manor, I’m sure most of you would've seen a picture at some point of your life of this wondrous place. It is an old english manor covered in ivy with a grand entry staircase wonderful grounds and of course roaming giraffes. There are two rooms which are the premium rooms to take first of all Betty’s room with a balcony at the front and Jocks room. These two rooms allow occupants to feed giraffes from their windows as they trundle up the front lawn for breakfast. At 95% occupancy year round it is best to book well in advance to even get a chance of one of these. As part of my shoot it had been arranged that I got a premium room, and Jocks was given to me. I unloaded had lunch and headed across to the giraffe orphanage attached to the premises. Playing and feeding these gentle giants for an hour or so was great, if you stay at the manor you get a personal guide who informs you of any of the giraffe facts you wish to know. The giraffes that visit the manor stay at this orphanage from 9-5 when they head across to the manor for a high tea at the front of the building, this was the first opportunity to play with the giraffes. As they are wild animals you cant approach them close as they can kick in all direction and will head but as well. So feeding has to be directly face on so they can see you. Tea, scones, muffins, sandwiches and giraffes what else can one wish for in an afternoon?
The night continued with the perusing throughout the manor, finding an amazing book by a photographer Nick Brant with brilliant Black and whites of animals mostly on 35mm film. Thats when the drinks came out! An array of alcoholic spirits came out and I got the opportunity to teach several of the wonderful staff how to mix a variety of cocktails for the guests, so if you go back you can thank me for educating a few on a couple of the basic drinks such as an old fashioned, negroni, Margarita, Mojito and a whisky sour (maybe steer clear of that as I don't know how much I'd trust raw egg in Africa). Dinner ensued with the guests all getting to know each other, and can I say while the food was rich compared to my regular diet it was the most fantastic I’ve had in Kenya, with western fusion dishes they while not plated to perfection illuminated and inspired taste buds with unique ingredients with a variety of dishes. I had reached my tether of pushing through my sickness at dinner however and retired early around 9.
The morning here is set to be anyones highlight of giraffe manor being exclusive to guests and the main point of interacting with the giraffes. So after feeding from my room window I wandered down the staircase with the giraffe Vicky following me to the front door and continuing on to the sun room on the end of the building where the staff were waiting with more pellets to feed them through the windows as we ate. For the first hour nobody sat down or ordered food. It was a frenzy of photographs, feeding, filming and selfies. The event even though I’d seen so many photographs was still so novel and I was rapped with every moment of it. I cant recommend this experience to anyone enough even if its one night because of the price make sure you stay from 11 the day before your stay till 10 of the day of your departure and lap it up!
My driver collected me at 8 am which was a little disappointing that i didn't have any more time to enjoy the place but I had a 5 hour drive to do to Amboseli Gape Park in the basin close to the border of Tanzania and containing views of the amazing Mt. Kilimanjaro. The drive was probably at the right time as the sky opened up and dropped a huge amount of rain down so any external activities would've been ruined. Arriving at 1PM at the park we rushed around taking pictures of the animals. I had a private driver so I could direct him wherever to maximise the photography experience. The disappointing thing about being in a national park and taking photos is the inability to leave the car; I understand the danger but it is particularly irksome to try and get good angles and framing with the camera and also not being able to leave the path to get close and take shots with my ever loved 50mm 1.4 Sigma.
Theres not too much more to say about the drive apart from they all have radios to chat to each other and position animals; this is hilarious as when a lion (which is rare to see) is found its called over the radio and the cars rush around in circles, the chain of them ever increasing. The two animals I really missed seeing though unfortunately was the leopard which is rare anyway and the cheeta, but overall a positive experience. My lodging for the night was next on the list and that was the Satao Elerai Camp. There is good and bad things about the place… Ill start with the positives.
- Location is great in the middle of a conservancy so animals wander freely around you.
- Pool and amenities are all modern and clean
- The room is a funky tent which mine opened to views of the mountain in the morning.
- Food was sub par, for the price, I started with entree for dinner of bread and cheese which was not even good bread or cheese with a poorly chopped tomato as garnish, soup which was probably the best thing about the experience if you can say water drops of oil and a couple of vegetables constituted soup, followed by overcooked tear with your teeth duck and fruit for dessert.
- Breakfast and lunch I'm afraid were not an improvement.
- The staff hover… while at Dusit and Giraffe manor the staff were ever seen but stayed out of your way and appeared at every moment you desired, the staff here stood almost at your table asking you if you enjoyed the food they previously destroyed in their kitchen, and constantly asked if you needed anything or questioned you about tipping for nothing. I don't know if this is too harsh but I just wanted to enjoy the experience and didn't all that much need anything.
The last event before I headed to the airport was a walk around their grounds with a guide which was excellent! Finally an opportunity to frame and move how I wanted within reason (they are wild animals after all) his knowledge on flora and fauna was great as well and I walked away happy and knowing a few more things.
Now I'm sitting in the airport from 1980’s waiting for my plane to Belgium! Wish me luck as I tackle glasses of beer, chocolate by the kilogram and waffles while exploring some old cities! I hope i see a squirrel!