In 1980, the year of my 50th birthday, I spent a month in South Africa, the first two weeks of which were for a work assignment. My wife, Niki, and our children, joined me for the last two weeks. The highlight was a safari through Kruger National Park, where we stayed in a camp from which we took daily morning and evening rides into the bush in an effort to gain sightings of the “Big Five” (lions, elephants, leopards, African buffalo, and rhinoceros), and all the other animals I only had seen before in zoos or by watching Tarzan movies.
Elephant Spraying Mud
It was an amazing and unforgettable experience. We still tell many stories of our encounters and fondest memories. It was a safari that succeeded in its goal—to bring people closer to the awe of nature and as a result, perhaps, to be more mindful of the natural wonders that co-inhabit our planet.
African Pygmy Goose
My travel philosophy is to not revisit places we have already been to, given that there are so many others to go to that we have yet to experience. Several of our trips have been organized by Jay Dickman of FirstLight Workshops. We greatly enjoy traveling with Jay, a Pulitzer Prize winning and National Geographic photographer. He also is an Olympus Visionary—essentially an ambassador for the company in its effort to boost recognition of its revolutionary camera equipment. Niki and I use Olympus equipment and like having access to such an accomplished photographer who uses the same gear as us.
Victoria Falls Bridge
It was because of Jay that we decided to travel to Africa again. This trip, however, would be quite different than the previous one. Our first stop was Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe. My only point of reference is Niagara Falls. These are much different in size and shape. Rather than the wide-open view of the horseshoe shaped Niagara, Victoria was more like a curtain that was spread along a straighter line. The power is immense. There were several stops along the path following the falls where the air was filled with a heavy mist that required raincoats or ponchos to avoid getting soaking wet. On most days, a rainbow would greet visitors. Niki and I also took a brief helicopter ride to get a different perspective from the air. An added bonus was sightings of wildlife (zebra, elephant, giraffe) from the air. It was definitely worth the added expense.
Squacco Heron with Fish
Our next stop was the Chobe River in Botswana. The river had overflowed in some areas, swollen by storms marking the end of the rainy season south of the Equator. Our “safari” vehicle was a specially designed boat for photographers, complete with 360 degree swivel chairs. Much of the wildlife only can be viewed from the water, although we did take one foray into the bush via 4×4 safari jeeps. The Chobe is a bird watcher’s paradise, its shores and over-hanging trees providing sanctuary and sustenance.
But the water’s edge attracted many large animals, as well. We were able to closely witness bathing elephants, crocodiles laying in the sun to recharge their “batteries,” antelope of all kinds, and a leopard on the hunt. We also encountered many hippopotamus. We gave them a lot of space, as our guide pointed out that there are more injuries in Africa caused by hippos than by any other animal.
After our 2 days in Chobe, we drove and flew to Namibia, a vast country the size of Texas, but with only 2.5 million (human) inhabitants. Namibia has a very storied history, including being a colony of Germany, which, according to many historians, used genocidal practices against several Namibian tribes, and was later controlled by South Africa, which had imposed Apartheid on it. Namibia finally won its freedom and became an independent country in 1990.
We continued to spot wild animals, in spite of the desert environment, including wild horses, zebra, antelope of many kinds, giraffe, elephants, jackal, ostrich, pink flamingoes, and black rhino. Unlike our safari in Kruger, we did not venture out at night. Our guides and trackers were emphatic that the night belonged to the predators. In fact, we were instructed not to leave our quarters at night without an escort.
This is the part of the trip where we had the greatest landscape photography opportunities. We spent 2 days at the infamous red sand dunes, which also are purported to be the world’s largest sand dunes. Our group was fortunate that our organizer, Jay, booked us in tents within the park, which got us much closer to the pyramids than those who lined up at the gates every morning. And on one night we were given permission to stay at the dunes after closing hours. Being alone under a sky full of stars was a spiritual experience.
Deteriorating Room Kolmanskuppe
Our other landscape location was Kolmanscuppe, an abandoned diamond mine. Seeing the desert sands swallow up many of the old buildings is another reminder of the power of Mother Nature. Referred to by the locals as a “ghost” town, Kolmanscuppe gave me the creeps. I’ve photographed many abandoned buildings, but have never felt this sensation before. The voices of the miners, in particular, seemed to be reaching out to me. The chill I felt in the morning fog remained with me until we departed later that evening at sunset.
San Elder Lady
The animals, the mighty water falls, the sand dunes, and abandoned towns all made this trip worthwhile. But it was even more special because of the visits we made to the villages of the San and the Himba people. Even though they have been exposed to outsiders for some time now, they try to retain their ancient traditions and way of life as much as possible.
Our time with the people included a long hike with the bushmen of the San people, who demonstrated their survival techniques, such as hunting and killing game with poison arrows and finding plants hidden below the ground’s surface that provide water to prevent dehydration. We watched the Himba women prepare an ointment made from ocher that is used for skin care, including bathing.
We learned so much from interacting with the members of the two tribes, and feel that we acted in ways that were non-threatening and respectful, and that advanced the level of trust between the indigenous people and outsiders like us.
Himba Boy Eating
The Africans we met and interacted with, in general, seemed very content and joyful. At the villages, children and adults all participated in various games. Singing and dancing appear to be a big part of their lives, as well. Even at the camps we stayed at, the local help would serenade us on our arrival and departure.
Perhaps the greatest impression I was left with is how similar people from all over the world are, and how much of the similarities start with the love and care for children. Children are so revered that entire villages seem to collectively care for them, regardless of who the parents may be. Interestingly, that same behavior is practiced by many of the wild animals we encountered.
This trip would have been enough if we had only seen the power of Mother Nature at Victoria Falls, the Chobe River, and the red sand dunes. It would have been enough if we had only observed the abundant wildlife that we usually only have access to in a zoo. But combining all that with our time with the San and the Himba people made this one of the richest and most rewarding travel opportunities we have experienced to date.
More photos of this trip are available on my website. They have been divided in two parts and can be accessed by clicking on the links below: