Sharon Artley joined us in the Maasai Mara in 2017 and has kindly written this guest blog recounting her experiences…
Little did I know that when I went on a group photography day to the Farne Islands led by Alan Hewitt in June 2016, that it would result in my being in the Maasai Mara this last summer!
Wanting to improve my bird photography and also to have an opportunity to see species such as puffins, guillemots and arctic terns at close hand, I signed up for Alan’s Farne Islands wildlife photography workshop. There were a lot of people of the boat and on each island we visited there were already many people. However, Alan, prepared us with fluorescent tags so he could easily identify “his group” and came round regularly to give advice and support. As part of this day, there was also an evening boat trip before which, I joined Alan and others at a local hostelry for something to eat. There I met a lady who had been on Alan’s Maasai Mara photo safari in 2016 and had already signed up for 2017. To say she was enthusiastic was an understatement!
Later that year, I had a one-to-one day with Alan looking at different photography techniques and whilst waiting for birds in a hide, Alan told me more about the Maasai Mara adventure. I have to say, the prospect excited me greatly, and having looked at his website and that of Kaleel Zibe, Alan’s friend, professional photography colleague and joint leader of the trip, I felt confident from my two outings with Alan that the experience would be very well organised and enjoyable. So, after much thought, I signed up.
At each step of the way, Alan and Kaleel provided us with all the help and guidance we needed, for example, about camera equipment, ensuring that we had all the right documentation along with anything else we wanted to ask.
And so, we were off. Most of us met in Newcastle with the remaining two joining us at Schiphol in Amsterdam. As there was quite a lot of waiting at the airport, it gave us time to begin building relationships and develop a rapport. By the time we got on the plane to Nairobi, there had already been a lot of laughter and this continued throughout the holiday. The group gelled together very well and were very supportive of each other.
In preparation for the trip, I had done quite a lot of reading and watched various wildlife programmes and so on, but of course, it is nothing like being there and having the experience. Landing at the very small safari airstrip (an airstrip and two toilets!), we were met by Moses and Boston who would be our drivers and guides for the week. I soon learned that what they didn’t know about the flora and fauna of the Mara could probably be written on the back of a small postage stamp. Incredible!
Our adventure was beginning. Even in the twenty-minute drive from the airstrip to The House in the Wild, we saw various antelopes. I thought I would never be able to distinguish between them, but by the end of the week, I surprised myself.
I think one of my lasting memories will be the hospitality and generosity shown by all the staff at The House in the Wild. It enriched the experience greatly. Food was always delicious and what enhanced it even more, was we never quite knew where in the grounds breakfast or lunch would be served! Always a location in the shade and always one with a splendid view.
Each day began in the dark at 6am. There was a welcome mug of coffee with a biscuit or pastry to wake us up before we set off and there would be breakfast on our return. Sometimes we took breakfast with us if we were having a longer morning and also lunch if it was an all-day safari drive – complete with tables, chairs and everything needed for a delicious picnic.
A mile or less would pass before we began to see an abundance of birds and animals. This continued throughout the day – every single day. Although we might have hoped to see a few more leopards we did see these elusive creatures and there were very few animals which you would expect to see, but didn’t. The whole experience was beyond what words can express adequately. The variety of species, the array of pattern, colour and shape, the sound and the silence was spectacular and beyond anything I could have possibly imagined. Seeing wildlife in its natural habitat; to be able to get sufficiently close to hear lions and hyenas crunching bones, or elephants spraying themselves with mud to cool down or closing your eyes to listen to elephants walk past the vehicles and being astonished at hearing nothing as they walk so quietly, are just three of the myriad of sound memories which will abide.
Because we wanted to make the most of each day, there wasn’t a great deal of ‘down time’ but what there was put to good use to snooze, chat, or take photos of the wildlife around The House in the Wild. Alan and Kaleel were also on hand to offer help with techniques such as post processing of photos or talking through photos we had taken and considering what use of altered settings might make a difference. On safari drives, with Alan in one vehicle and Kaleel in the other, they were always on hand to offer further advice, give help or answer questions.
The essence of the whole trip was attention to detail and maximising photo opportunities. Moses and Boston were so skilled at manoeuvring us into the best vantage points that it was then really down to our skill as photographers to make the most of what was being offered. The small group size meant that everyone was included. There was space in the vehicles so that there were only two people in a row on a bench seat. If the animal was on the other side to you, then it was easy to come to an arrangement with your partner so that you were both able to get good shots. (If it so happened you were sitting in the same row as Alan and you are little like me, he made quite a useful bean bag!)
Would I go again? Most definitely. In fact….
Thank you Sharon for this wonderful report of your experiences with us in the Mara. I’m, also delighted to have received your booking for 2018!