Yesterday I was pining for the days of black and white photography. This is probably because I’ve been looking at all the new mirrorless cameras being released which got me thinking about monochrome rangefinder photography. While I don’t miss mixing chemicals or the smell of stop bath I do miss the emphasis monochrome places on tonality, line and shape. It’s a different aesthetic. So, I began going through my library of images to find one I could convert to monochrome. A little while ago I did a black and white conversion on one my landscape images from the high steppe in Central Asia using Silver Efex Pro and I think it came out pretty nicely. For this African elephant image I chose Agfa APX 100 film grain since this was an emulsion I had used quite a bit and was familiar with it’s qualities. In addition I used a glass plate emulator for the vignette and antique look.
The Safari fresh in our minds we drove back through Moshi to the Marangu Hotel at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Our Safari guide Nico was from the town of Moshi and when we told him we were planning to climb the mountain he gave us a very serious look and asked “All the way to the top?” Yep.
At 19,340 feet Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain on the continent of Africa which makes it one of the fabled “Seven Summits”. Although not considered a technical climb, only an estimated 30-50% of those who attempt it successfully summit Kilimanjaro. Fewer still spend the night in the crater. We chose to ascend via the Lemosho Route which is the longest of the several traditional ascents to the summit, Uhuru Peak. The Western Breach was closed at the time of our ascent, due to a recent accident it was deemed too dangerous therefore we reached the summit via Karanga Valley and Barafu Camp. Our itinerary had us taking seven days to reach the summit with an overnight in crater camp, the descent would take two days along the Mweka Route. The walking distance was 45 miles with an estimated 15,000 feet of total elevation gain.
Seamus, the proprietor of the Marangu Hotel gave us our pre climb briefing and introduced us to our crew. John was our guide, Elias assistant guide, Elvis was our cook and we had ten porters to carry enough food and gear for nine days on the mountain. After loading up the truck we spent the next few hours driving around the base of the mountain to the west side and up the roughest steepest track I’d ever seen to get to the Lemosho trailhead. Due to the long drive and our late start it wasn’t clear if we’d make it to camp before dark. Christy and I had trained hard for this trip and we made it up this first leg of the climb using our headlamps only in the final kilometer.
The following day we were up at dawn for a long day of climbing to Shira Camp One. We trekked from rain forrest, rose above the tree line and settled in for a cold evening on the Shira Plateau. The next morning we had our first clear view of the peaks of Kilimajaro.
The Serengeti plains “are endless and they are empty, but they are as warm with life as the waters of a tropic sea…There is nothing as far as you can see, or walk, or ride, except grass and rocks and a few trees and the animals that live there”, Beryl Markham.
In Serengeti the veneer of civilization becomes so thin you are stripped of any pretense that there is much separation between you and the land and the animals. You are thankful for the car you travel in and the bottle of water that keeps you hydrated and alive. A fine layer of grit clings to everything inside your vehicle and you have to take care to cover your head and eyes and arms from the sun.
I didn’t want to leave Serengeti. As we traveled along hardly a mile went by that we didn’t see a skeleton or a partial skeleton or bits of bone. The farther we traveled the less I felt like taking pictures and the more I appreciated my life and my mortality. I stood sticking out of the open roof of our vehicle, cradling my camera in my arms like a child and soaking up as many of these rich sensations as I could absorb. We had only tomorrow at Ngorongoro Crater before we began our expedition to spend a night on the summit of Kilimanjaro.
We arrived at Serengeti late in the day. Views stretched out to the horizon and immediately we knew this was a special place. Within minutes we saw lion cubs and their mother, herds of gazelle and beautiful rock formations. Based on watching documentary television and what has been written in the press I expected it to be difficult to spot animals perhaps seeing one here and another there. I hardly anticipated the vast herds of zebra, wildebeest and antelope we witnessed. In California it’s not unusual to see cattle, deer or turkeys walking along the side of the road, imagine instead elephants, hyenas and giraffes!
While we were traveling north toward the Kenyan border we noticed a number of zebra heading toward a rock outcropping. When we rounded the rocks we saw a crowd of zebra romping joyfully in a large pool of water. A little further down the road there were several more zebra rolling around in the red dirt of the road giving them a dusty ochre coat. Who would have guessed zebra were so playful.
Nico’s knowledge of animals was remarkable. He had an ability to spot subtle differences in foliage indicating game we had missed. I enjoyed taking photographs and showing them to Nico on the screen of my Nikon, it was a real treat to hear him laugh and say “you got a good one!”.
Safari means travel in Swahili. Safari in Africa is exciting, for the smell of the air beyond the visual feast, for a foot treading soil which has seen continuous human habitation for two million years.
There are smells of passers by, of cars and buses, diesel and modernity. There are also the smells of the antiquity of life, the smells of game, of grasses and dust, of cooking oil and roasting meat.
Our guide Nico met us at Kilimanjaro Airport in his white Toyota Land Cruiser which was to be our transportation for the next five days and one thousand miles. We packed lightly, expedition style as I call it and our bags sat on the seats around us. Driving in Tanzania is done on the left side of the road and while the primary roads in town are paved most roads are dirt and rock. In the mountains and wildlife preserves they become rutted tracks on which we and our luggage happily bounced along and excitedly stuck our cameras out the window or stood hanging out the top of the truck hoping to capture the vivid blankets worn by the Masai or elegant stances of wild game.
Lake Manyara National Park was the first stop on our photo safari and sits adjacent to the Great Rift Valley. A sign at the Visitor Center informed us John Wayne had filmed “Hatari!” near here. The first sighting of an elephant had us scrambling for our cameras but we were assured by Nico there would be many more opportunities for better photographs and there were. Soon we fell into the rhythm of driving, spotting, observing, photographing and driving.
There were several other safari trucks full of tour groups in the Park creating a friendly competition amongst the drivers to get into the best position for their clients to experience the wildlife. While driving along the track a few hours after entering the Park we came upon four or five trucks pulled to the side and partially clogging the road. Nico spoke to another driver and told us there was a Leopard behind a tall bush laying under a tree. The bush was huge and the tree was a good 25 yards away but we had to see that Leopard! Nico found a good spot for us but it was hard to see through the foliage and past all the other people straining this way and that to get a glimpse. Fortunately I’m tall and I have a big lens on my camera so I climbed onto the roof of the Land Cruiser, stood up and managed to capture this photo. My first photo of a big cat in the wild and it was a Leopard! We spent a couple more hours at Lake Manyara before heading off to the E Unoto Retreat for the night.