A recent article in the New York Times about photographing safaris got us thinking about our own experiences on safari. Two of our programs, Wapenduka and Hujambo, have safari sections. While there is a lot of focus on the photographic potential of safaris (a safari is such a once in a lifetime opportunity it should be documented and brought home to be shared with friends and family!), but it is also a chance to find yourself so completely away from anything you’ve ever known, sitting quietly while not 10 feet away a water buffalo is eating her breakfast.
We asked our Africa expert Whitney Hall, leader of our Hujambo program in 2010 and Wapenduka program in 2011, to share her thoughts on safaris. Also, we’ve included some of our own and some student shots from our 2011 programs! If you’d like to view some amateur footage of two lions roaring to protect their territory click here!
When we awake it is still dark. The chill morning air makes us dress warmly, though we know once the sun rises, it won’t be long before we feel the intense embrace of the African climate. As darkness begins to lift, it is replaced by thick fog that courses through the jungle as we drive further into the park. Little time passes before we see horns and hooves in the distance, still partially hidden by the fog.
With the time we’ve spent in villages, we expect these must be cows, but as the safari vehicle slowly rolls to a halt, a giant water buffalo looks directly at us. He is elegant and strong, and he is just going about his morning routine, eating breakfast right next to us.
The water buffalo is one of “the big 5” safari animals, with the lion, leopard, rhino and elephant. Few rhinos remain in the world as they were nearly poached from existence. As solitary creatures suspicious of humans, they keep their distance from safari vehicles, yet we are lucky enough this day to see a lone black rhino in the distance.
Bumping along the dirt road, we have to remind ourselves that we have not jumped into an adventure movie or a childhood storybook – this is real life, as we see a family of baboons cross in front and monkeys swing from tree to tree. We look for leopards in the trees, as this is one of their favorite spots to lounge. The thick sandy blonde hair of the majestic lion blends perfectly with the rolling yellow grasses that stretch endlessly into the distance; a fact which is sure to scare their prey whether it be zebra, Thompson’s gazelle, or wildebeest. Hundreds of zebra follow each other, grazing together methodically. Three little warthogs scurry behind their mom and pop with their little tails flying straight up in the air like flags behind them. Pink flamingos bathe in the pale blue water that reflects the endless sky, while extremely round hippos topple into the cool, refreshing mud pit as a break from the mid-day sun.
But the most regal animal of all, the African bush elephant, is the highlight of our day.
Our guide estimates that this well-traveled elder is close to 60 years old, as it’s long ivory tusks nearly touch the ground. There is no other animal quite like this one. As she walks toward us, her trunk gently bends in curiosity while her ears lightly flap against her shoulders. It is here that it really hits us that we are guests and this is her territory. As the red-orange sun sets over the savannah, we are reminded of how grateful we are that wild places like this exist. We occupy only a small place among this beauty that the earth has to offer, and as we express our appreciation for the experience we’ve been given, we wonder together what we will give the world in return.
Whitney Hall spent 2013 as a Program Coordinator for Global Glimpse, where she designed and led student trips to Nicaragua that emphasized service education and global citizenship. She holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Columbia University, and previously worked as a counselor for HIV positive immigrants in Harlem from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, as well as at a teen center in the Bronx. Whitney has spent a significant amount of time volunteering for youth programs in East Africa and Latin America, and spent 3 summers with The Road Less Traveled in Tanzania, Namibia and Peru. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she spends much of her time hiking and photographing wild places. You can visit her travel photo blog here.