I owe everyone a bit of an explanation. One day I ended up on the other side of the world without warning, checking in at various airports to ultimately end up in Nairobi, Kenya. How in the world did this even happen? Was I dreaming? Turns out the last two weeks were the unimaginable conclusion of extensive odds being tossed around for about two years. I had been contacted by one Washington Wachira, with the proposition of working together to show more people the birds and wildlife of East Africa. Why this focus on birds? Washington’s TED Talk explains it perfectly (and is also very much the same reasoning that propels me): For the love of birds.
Earlier this month, we met Washington and top drawer driver Sammy – and so began a whirlwind road trip. I’ll write about these in a fair amount of detail in the coming weeks, however I’d like to share a few select frames from a non-telephoto perspective. We only got home yesterday afternoon and this was the folder I dove into immediately. All the images in this blog post were made at either 24mm or 100mm. I encourage everyone to open this on as large a screen as possible, each image can be viewed full screen such that the viewer hears the words “This is Africa” ten times.
What stood out most to me is how Kenyans revere their wildlife. As a result, eco-systems are healthy and vibrant, even within city limits. Nairobi, the nation’s capital, boasts a staggering bird list of approximately 600 species. That’s more than all that has ever been recorded here in T&T! Furthermore, when animals don’t feel threatened, they don’t disappear at the first sign of an approaching homo sapiens. The intimate experiences which result from these interactions are what dreams are made of.
Superb Starlings are the grackles of the Old World. Bold and inquisitive, this juvenile is yet to attain its full adult plumage that comes with a stark white eye. Fearlessly staring at me, I was a guest in its world, even if that world was at a restaurant!
This respect for wildlife meant that one can come upon a sight such as this, endangered Grey-crowned Cranes peacefully foraging together on the wide open savanna. Originally, there were five cranes in this image, but I removed two during the RAW conversion as they were both in unflattering poses. Can you tell from where?
It’s difficult to keep your head when you’re in sensory overload. Almost everything was new to me, from the vastness of the land itself to the jaw-dropping biodiversity to the warm and courteous people. Aside from Cattle Egrets, Striated Herons and a couple others, I was eagerly searching out anything that walked, flew or flitted past.
Everything we laid eyes upon was frame-worthy.
Associated with all things Africa, the African Lion is a true symbol of the continent. We spent an evening with a small pride, a few females with some adolescents. These were my first ever big cats in the complete wild, and it was exactly as I anticipated – they were doing the same things my cat does at home – sleeping. Some of them eventually woke up and demonstrated further familiar behaviour. One got up, stretched, and began washing his face. Another, a young female, padded over to where (assuming) her mother was asleep, and proceeded to perform the famed butt-to-face manoeuvre. Uncomplaining, the war-torn lioness gently embraced the younger cat and went back to dreamland. This particular young lion pictured here was a little distance from the rest of his pride, his personality already strong and resolute. The makings of a future king, perhaps, but just not right now. Right now this kitten needs another nap.
Although extreme heat wasn’t experienced from the get-go, it eventually caught up with us. The effects of equatorial heat were only truly felt on the rare occasions when we dipped to a low altitude (the lowest was Lake Baringo at 1,000m), but the steep temperature gradient was always apparent, warping anything in the distance. These Common Zebra might look like they’re being thoroughly baked, but surprisingly the temperature here was barely at 30 degrees Celsius, even at the peak of midday heat. One of the highest lakes in the world, Lake Nakuru is more than 1,700m above sea level and the air is always crisp and cool.
Ascending further, but also at Lake Nakuru, Washington got out the vehicle and very casually mentioned that we might catch a view of the closest living relative to the elephant – a Rock Hyrax. I had read about this animal and seen documentaries on it many moons ago – but never thought I’d be able to be so close to one. Let alone more Rock Hyraxes than I could’ve counted!
The presence of Olive Baboons at the Rock Hyrax site ensured we never relaxed fully, however. But did they pose!
After seeing the lions at the start of the trip, we struck out on large, predatory felines until almost the very end. That morning, we enjoyed fantastic views of two species of pure, spotted gold. Seeing this wild African Leopard (with a huge surprise, stay tuned for this!) for the first time will remain etched in my memory forever.
Oh, and there were Elephants. Massive effort to downplay my excitement to witness the largest land animal on earth. And even this huge tusker was dwarfed by a towering grove of Doum Palms, the only species of palm with actual branches. How amazing is that?
We closed off our trip with a slow drive through Buffalo Springs, on our way out of Samburu. On this drive we enjoyed views of the largest bird in the world, nearly became surrounded by a herd of elephants, and eventually came upon this group of Reticulated Giraffes on the dry riverbed. Closer inspection revealed that they had gathered around a small pit with water that was previously dug out by elephants. The pachyderms can detect water far below the surface of the riverbed and often dig wells that serve many other creatures during the unforgiving dry season. Males, or bulls, of this species of giraffe are darker coloured than females.
Surely, I have left my heart in the ultimate mother continent, the birthplace of our species, where everything is always beautiful and grand. From city folk to rural tribespeople, everyone wished us a very warm welcome to their country, of which they were immensely proud. I left there feeling revitalized, inspired – coupled with an odd feeling I wasn’t too sure of. This odd feeling finally made sense on our return to Trinidad. Having spent a fortnight in Kenya, flown through airports in the Netherlands as well as nearby Curacao, I had grown dangerously accustomed to an aspect of human existence loosely referred to as courtesy.
On exiting the aircraft at Piarco, I greeted a woman who barely mumbled a response. The second Trinidadian person we encountered passed us without even a word. So did the third. And the fourth. The Immigration official was the fifth person we had direct contact with since touching Trinidadian soil, and was the first to say “good afternoon” and even went as far as welcoming us back. I’m either jetlagged or still adjusting to a different level of manners.
I do have much to say after visiting a country that takes tourism seriously, especially to my compatriots here who wish to speak of concepts like ecotourism, sustainable tourism and conservation. All in good time.