The continent of Africa holds a special meaning in the hearts of people. For some, it’s the desire to see some of the last true uninhibited wild places on earth. For others, it’s about a desire to connect with Mother Nature at a spiritual level. For me, it’s a little of both. Africa is an amazing place, filled with adventure, the wilds of nature, and beautiful people. Sharing the experience of that feeling is our mission at Aperture Academy. And for twelve short days, we treated our clients to some our favorite places in the country of Tanzania.
Day One - Say Goodbye to Home
Packing for a long journey is always a bit of rat race. Especially one so far away and as exciting as Tanzania. I always get a little stressed out when packing for such a long trip, even knowing full well that we will have laundry service, I always over pack. It’s also a big commitment, making a journey across the globe to a foreign place, especially when you also have the responsibility of bringing a small camera store with you on long intercontinental flights. Our journey started in San Francisco and through nearly 22 hours of travel time later, it persisted to our destination on the continent of Africa, east side, Tanzania.
After such a long journey it’s always nice to get on the right side of the time. Our first "day" in Tanzania is spent recuperating in our hotel just off the coast of Lake Duluti, Arusha. The sights and smells of this area are reminiscent of the rainforests in Central America. The short spats of rain falling on the broad leaves of tropical plants, birds chirping, and the cool breeze, are all enough to take your mind off the time shift and make you feel like home.
Day Three - Ngorongoro and the Maasai
In the morning was our first official piece of business. Stephen and I met with our group of ten photographers for breakfast and then discussed the game plan for the remainder of their time in country. We introduced them to our professional guides, who would be also be driving us around for the next ten days. After breakfast we loaded up our safari vehicles and headed to the Ngorongoro Crater. The crater truly is a spectacle. It was created when a volcano imploded, and all the material fell into the caldera, which is now teeming with African wildlife. It’s a marvel of a landscape alone, but knowing that Africa's big five exist down there ratchets up the cool factor. After check in (where every room has probably the best view I’ve ever seen) we headed outside of the crater area to a nearby Maasai camp for a village visit. The Maasai people are an amazing look into an ancient culture. It’s pretty cool to think that in a time where we have internet banking, solar power, and manned spaceflight, there are still ancient cultures being preserved by modern ancestors. That’s what the village visits are all about, for the Maasai to show us how they are living representatives of an old way of life, which they preserve to the letter.
After a fabulous night with an amazing sunrise, it was time for our first official game drive. As we woke up we were greeted with a spectacular sunrise which was a great omen to start the day. As we made our way down into the crater, we were greeted by bountiful wildlife, literally everywhere. This was chance for everyone to acclimate to the sights of wild Africa. Around every corner was something new to see, a new animal to photograph, and check off the list. We saw four of the “big five” animals in less than an hour inside the crater! It wasn’t long before we were got our first close-ups of lion cubs playing with their relatives in a pride. In afternoon we spent some time with elephants, and crossed even more animals off our lists with jackals, cranes, flamingos, hyenas and vultures. It was a great start to the wildlife viewing!
After an action packed day in Ngorongoro, it was time to push on to another one of Africa’s natural wonders, The Serengeti. We packed up the Land Cruisers early and made great time to the first Serengeti gate in the Shinyanga Region. We took a quick group shot and popped the tops on the cruisers as we game drove to our next camp on the hills overlooking Lake Masek. After another glorious lunch, we checked into our new digs at the wonderful Lake Masek Tented Lodge, and relaxed for few before our next game drive. It didn’t take long before we found ourselves in the midst of photographing a mother cheetah and her three cubs! For over an hour we photographed her and the small family as they laid the short grass and played around. This mother and her cubs were the perfect subjects and let us grab some truly amazing photographs of their interactions.
It normally would be hard to top seeing any mother and her cubs playing around for an hour, but as luck would have it, we struck gold yet again. In the morning light we happened upon two sister lions and their two cubs frolicking in the high reeds in a marsh not too far from camp. As they bedded down to get out of the harsh suns light, we made our way out to the flat lands and witnessed a cheetah successfully hunt an African hare! If that wasn’t enough, we reunited with the lionesses from earlier and caught their little ones playing around in the low grass, which made for some amazing shots. But in the afternoon, we really got lucky. After finding another cheetah mother and her cub, we came across yet another small pride of lions in an acacia glen. In what could only be described as “perfect,” we witnessed the interactions between the family before two lion cubs perched themselves upon a tree branch and gave us all some of the best photos of lions I’ve ever seen. Lake Masek had been bountiful indeed!
As we were riding the high of the last few days of the absolutely incredible pace, we had to sadly say goodbye to the southern Serengeti. But she wasn’t finished giving up her goods, as she provided us with yet another opportunity to photograph a mother cheetah and cub paying around in the low grass! The light was absolutely perfect and we stayed with her for nearly an hour gobbling up every opportunity she gave us for the perfect pictures. When we returned to Lake Masek, we had breakfast and packed up our things for the drive to the central Serengeti and our next tented camp; Naona Moru. We received our first spat of rain as we drove north, sadly we had to break our tremendous pace and cancelled our afternoon game drive for our first session of post processing. Stephen and I tutored our group for a full two hours in processing images from the last few days. It was a nice respite from the breakneck pace we had been on. It allowed us to stop and marvel at the images we taken, and also to appreciate the crews the manned our tented camps. Naona Moru is quite literally in the middle of nowhere, however the staff there was able to bake a birthday cake for one of our guests as a surprise after dinner! Truly amazing considering our location.
The question on everyone’s mind after yesterday’s adventure was, “could we possibly keep this pace up?” It didn’t seem likely, but after a morning of photographing hyrax, lion, and lilac-breasted roller, we were greeted by the fifth of the “big five!” Leopard sighting! We spent about a half hour viewing this most majestic and elusive creature with her cub lazing in the branches of an acacia tree before returning to our camp for our midday siesta. In the afternoon we drove around under some of the most beautiful skies thus far, but the wildlife was much more sparse than the prior days, so our individual vehicles spent time dialing in some shots of elephants and hippos before calling it a day and having another amazing dinner with our crew at Naona Moru.
Today the plan was to explore the kopje area around the central Serengeti. Kopjes are granite rocks that have been formed by the upwelling and subsequent cooling of molten rock, turning it into granite. Over time the granite stones were uncovered by erosion and led to these rocky oases that dot the landscape. They are a favorite hangout of some of Africa’s big cats. In the morning light he happened upon a lioness that perched herself on one of these kopjes and made for some awesome shots of her looking right into our lenses! In the afternoon we searched for some big predators, but spent considerable time with a makeshift tribe of giraffes. Mostly solo animals, this was an unusual sight as more than twenty of these beasts corralled together to feast on the lower bushes by a kopje. On our way back to Naona, by a small creek, we witnessed a tribe of baboons and vervet monkeys in the trees and stopped and shot them with last available light of the evening. After dinner we had perfect skies for some night photography! We indulged our group by shooting the stars right out front of our dining tent before calling it a night.
Today marked the end of stay in the central Serengeti, and with that we took a long drive up to the northern border with Kenya. This drive was especially scenic, as my car stopped several times to take in the absolute beauty of the northern expanse before arriving at our last camp, KasKaz. Our afternoon was not as fruitful as the past few days but managed to find some elephants and hippos along the Mara river and photographed them before finding a suitable acacia tree for the quintessential African sunset shot. The northern area of the Serengeti is what I imagine when I think of Africa. Open plains, rolling hills, and lone acacia trees. At sunset, we found one of these lone trees surrounded by a herd of cape buffalo. As the sky went ablaze with color, all four vehicles pulled in to position to capture the glorious sunset silhouetting the tree, as we were serenaded by the sound of gently trampled grass by the wild herd of buffalo.
In the morning we woke to a beautiful crimson sky, and managed to grab a few quick photos of the awesome display of color on another lone acacia. From there we headed to the northern kopjes in search of some more big game. It didn’t take very long until we were surprised to find two male lions hidden in the tall grass! With the light absolutely perfect, we managed to grab some fantastic shots of the pair before they walked into a small forested area. But not after ten minutes did we find another cheetah on the hunt! We spent nearly an hour waiting with her to go on the hunt, before she collapsed in the high grass for her morning siesta. We followed suit, grabbed a quick breakfast in the kopjes before return to KasKaz. In the afternoon a couple of cars became fascinated with a dung beetle pair on the road. We pulled over and everyone got out to photograph and video this amazing display of a bug’s life! The dung beetle literally rolls a ball of dung with hid female mate on board, until he finds a suitable place to bury it and his female mate then lays eggs inside. Over time the eggs hatch and the young beetles have a meal to grow and then continue the cycle. We spent another half hour or so photographing a male lion before going back to KasKaz and were elated to find that they threw us a going away party! With a campfire roaring, Swahili songs and champagne topped off a safari to remember. Our glasses clinked, we ate dinner and retreated to our tents with the solemn knowledge that the next day would be our last.
One last morning game drive was all that remained between us and our farewell to the Serengeti. We were greeted again with an absolutely explosive crimson sky and as we scouted the banks of a small creek, we stumbled across a rare black rhino and her calf! The black rhinoceros was once the most numerous of all the species, perhaps numbering in the hundreds of thousands in the early 1900’s. Sadly due to poaching, its numbers have dwindled to around just 5,000 today. Everyone was elated to have shared in seeing two of these extremely rare animals. After the display, we headed back to KasKaz to say our farewells to our hosts, and proceeded to the local airstrip for our charter flight back to Arusha. After a flat tire derailed our first takeoff attempt, we laughed as we helped push our stranded Cessna 208 off the runway while the airline called in reinforcements. Kudos to Coastal Aviation for procuring another airplane for us and within twenty minutes of the call, we had a second airplane on the strip to take us back to Arusha! We took one last group photo and we were off. Goodbyes are always hard, especially after such a long and fruitful adventure. Stephen and I had one last meal with the remainder of our group before wishing them well on their individual journeys home.
Africa is a special place, we hope that you all had as good a time learning from us, as we did enjoying in your adventure. And although Africa is half a world away, it will remain close to your heart forever.
Until next time,
Scott, Stephen and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
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