Peregrine Falcon, Torrey Pines

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Safari Man

It is hard for me to think of my late father and not to reminisce about the incredible trip we took to Africa together with our wives, a trip of a lifetime for me. The only time I ever really went first class all the way.

After all of this time and even with my good memory, certain parts and events are blurry. But there are also images that are still so fresh in my mind they could have happened yesterday and I would like to recount and expand a bit, with your permission and forbearance of course.

I must tell you that the great majority of my photographs from the trip are missing at this point but there are a few still extant that will help me paint a crude picture. Honestly, I can't find many of the very best pictures I have ever taken, which were shot during this trip, and it grieves me a little.

The year was 1989. We had just completed a very large subdivision that we had built as a partnership, a very successful one I might add. It was time to celebrate.

We flew into Nairobi and soon made our way to the Serengeti. If you go to visit nature in the wild one should not be squeamish. We saw many kills, some quite gruesome.

We watched hyenas chase thousands of wildebeest. Hyenas, an unfortunate one of god's creations with the highest mandibular jaw locking strength in the world per square inch but offset by a chronically failing back end and dysplasia.

We saw so much in Africa, lions, cheetah, fierce cape buffalo, herds of zebra beyond count. Drove all over Kenya and finally made our way to Treetops, Lord Baden Powell's treehouse overlooking a watering hole in the Aberdare National Forest. I can honestly say that the night at Treetops counts as one of the most incredible nights of my life, a parade of animals came to drink hourly, elephants and buffalo, countless others.

We were led to the five story primitive facility by a man with a 508 caliber rifle, the largest cartridge I have ever seen. It seems that a year before a lion had picked off the last guy in line, who coincidentally on this trip, happened to be me!

I was wrapped in a blanket, shivering, and stared at the cavalcade of animal guests in amazement through an oblong stone "flintstones" style window. Stayed up all night.

I believe that I was shooting Konica 3200 speed high speed film in near total darkness with my Konica FT -2 electronic camera. Really didn't have much of a clue what I was doing, as you can see.

It was an absolutely unbelievable night. The next day I made a significant error in judgement, one that ostracized the rest of the tour to some degree from then on. We hired a guide in an open jeep to drive us around the Serengeti and decided to bring a bunch of children along, we being my wife at the time, Diann and I.

The jeep had a canvas top and as luck would have it, it started to rain. And the jeep got stuck. In a mud hole in the middle of the largest lion pride I have ever seen, I remember counting 28 lions lounging around laughing at our predicament. And there was only thing I could do at the time and that was to step out of the jeep with the driver and push.

By this time the parents of our young wards had become worried about their progeny and rented their own jeep to come find us. I will never forget the wide looks on their faces watching me get out of the jeep and push it out of the mudhole while surrounded by this army of wild felines. I summoned up a lot of adrenaline and we were on our way.

People count themselves lucky if they see two or three of Africa's big five, we saw all five animals. We once saw a leopard drag a zebra up a tree, an unbelievable feat when you consider the leopard's relatively small size. We saw maribou storks and tufted eagles. gerunuks and ostrich. Nearly charged by an overprotective Elephant mother. Hippos beyond count. Lucky enough to catch some rhino as well.

Our favorite spot was Samburu in the north, the place that makes you feel like you are in a Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan set it is so lush. Sat a few feet away from a giant croc, who lay motionless until another croc came down the river and what ensued was the most ferocious battle I have ever witnessed, like two primordial dinosaurs going at it.

One of the cool things we did was take a hot air balloon, I believe from Serengeti to Masai Mara. We landed in a field of zebra and wildebeest and enjoyed a sumptuous brunch while the scout teams raced out to find us. I have often wondered what I would have done if something had jumped out of the bushes. Beyond crap myself.

Masai Mara was a wonderful place. We had a small hut out on the fringe with a plate glass sliding door. That night we were woken up by a quiet voice saying leopard. A leopard had scurried through our camp and was now engorging himself on a gazelle or impala that had been hung from a tree as bait.

In the morning our green front lawn was covered with zebras. I was startled to find out that a few months back, the tenant of my room had a lion crash through the glass door chasing a zebra. The terrified man hid in the bathroom while the lion had a leisurely breakfast in his bed.

Tanzania was a difficult trek in those days, a rich and verdant country beset with a corrupt communist government. The five hours to the crater were on the worst and bumpiest road I have ever traveled and I have traveled many. But the trip was wonderful as was the trip to Olduvai.

I think that I am done remembering for the day. There are many more experiences but no time to recount. I hope that I can return to Africa with Leslie one day.

1 comment:

Helen Bauch McHargue said...

How great that you got to travel with your father. There's nothing like having new experiences together...it's very bonding and the memories really endure. You're wise to take a little time to remember, right now, when your senses are stirred up by grief. A time to laugh and to cry.