Out Of Africa

Posted by Greg Hammond on

I am on my way home from our photo safari. I’ll be taking off from Doha, Qatar in a few hours, where I had a longer-than-expected layover. Our plane left Johannesburg late and could not make up enough time to make my LAX flight. But the folks on Qatar Airways were superb and did everything they could to make the best of the situation. I was met in Doha by a QA rep who had my rebooked boarding passes and hotel voucher in hand. They arranged my hotel transportation and routed me through immigration. It was easily the best missed/delayed flight experience. Maybe one of my best flight experiences period. I will fly Qatar again whenever I can  

A few quick notes about the trip, the people, and the imagery; I will be updating this post as I get a chance to relax and share:

1. On your unbucket list: do not fracture your tailbone in a safari jeep just before commencing 64 hours of air travel. No matter how tempting this may sound, I urge you to reconsider. I tried it, and will do my best not to do it again.

2. Go to places like Africa with people who are good souls, and make sure that your organizers know what they are doing. This workshop scored on both counts. See that crew in the image above? Those are the folks with whom we shared a very comfortable safari jeep during our time at Savute Lodge in Chobe National Park [more on that in a minute]. From left to right: my good friend CJ, Phyllis, NatGeo wildlife photog and co-leader Henning de Beer, yours truly, Susan, Liane (fellow Nikon shooter), Susan, and our incredibly skilled and delightful guide Isak (who also goes by Isaac), who happens to be a photographer himself, and thus anticipates, appreciates, and meets the needs of (and wants) of photographers. My only regret is that I can't make these people part of my daily life; that's when you know how fortunate you are. The other half of our crew, including the other workshop leaders Don Smith and Pierre Steenburg, were in another jeep. In these jeeps, we each had an outside seat with 180º unimpeded views, and with only moderately impaired access to the other 180º. You won't know what you've got until you get to a place like Savute so, again, make sure you go with someone who knows what they are doing, has done it before (and not just on the internet), and wants to do it right.

3. Also add to your unbucket list: don't leave your laptop and iPad at security in Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport. In my race to get to my plane—which I almost missed even with a 2.5 hour layover—while in pain and on codeine, I was so scattered, I left my laptop and iPad in the bin, even while I spent ten minutes trying to locate the cheap Timex watch that was actually already in my pants pocket. Duh . . . with a capital IDIOT. Here's the good news: there is a global Lost & Found service called MissingX, that I never even knew existed (but makes perfect sense in the internet age), because I had never lost anything in 50+ years of traveling. Well, I can check that box. When I arrived home and started unpacking, I gradually realized what had happened. So, I went online and searched "lost found Heathrow" and quickly found this service. It's easy to register, enter your information, and submit it. If you search for items like yours, they return a list of items by location and date found. It is impressive. Within 48 hours, I received an email from Heathrow Bagport. Once your serial numbers have been verified—N.B.: make sure you have serial numbers for all your devices recorded separately, not just your camera or other valuable equipment—they direct you to the delivery service, you pay, and they ship. It makes a potentially disastrous experience almost pleasant. But I genuinely hope you only know that vicariously. [BTW, I highly recommend that Timex watch; I'm an Omega guy, but this watch just works, has Indiglo, a 10-year-battery, looks good, won't be a sob story if it's lost or stolen, and—I know I said thisitjust works.]

4. The people of Botswana and Zimbabwe are a true delight. Obviously, we met them in highly structured, hospitality-oriented circumstances. That may explain, but does not alter, my perception. With their history of brutality, Zimbabweans have every reason not to be happy. Somehow . . . they seem so. I wish I could say the same for South Africans. I have only been through O.R. Tambo airport in Joburg, and at that, only four times. Few, if any, who work there seem happy.

5. When you go to a place, a potentially spectacular place, for the first or umpteenth time, take lots of reliable memory cards. Not "enough," but twice as much as you think you might need. We went out on safari twice each day—morning and afternoon/evening, because that's when the animals are out—and on each venture, I shot between 900 and 1.500 images. Have a way to back up those cards, or catalog and environmentally secure them, so there is no risk of image loss. Don't use the largest cards you can buy; use more and smaller cards.

6. Bug repellent and bug clothing are highly recommended.

7. Prepare to be amazed. I cannot wait to go back.

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