I've experienced quite an adventure our in the Kruger National Park whilst the photographing magnificent wildlife and living a different short way of life in just 10 days. I've made unforgettable memories with my 10 friends who have looked after me and helped me enjoy myself in Timbavati, South Africa.
Here's what I got up to in my 10 days in South Africa!
You see my sudden impulse to go an adventure like this began in December last year when I was with Matt, David, Debbie, Katharina and Kathy at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.
After hearing Matt and David discuss their Africa Safari on the train, I remembered how much that I love animals, the Lion King and stars and I asked to accompany them. Of course, they had no problems to turn me down from an opportunity like this. Matt did give me a serious talk about the whole idea, change, rules and to make me understand how my Aspergers will cope with creepy crawlies and being quiet out in the bush.
I was still game for it all since I never back down from a challenge/ promise or opportunity to Live My Life and challenge my conditions and capabilities!
Over the year and ever since the decision, I've had nightmares, anxiety and pessimistic thoughts about the trip and encountering the most dangerous spiders or coming home with Malaria. Luckily all the reassurance from my family, friends and especially Matt, I've pulled through it all and done an adventure way out of my comfort zone.
And the last 3-4 months, I've been preparing for Africa and now I have everything and can tell you all what happened:
* Early Morning Leave
6am marked the dawn of the first day which was full of everlasting hours of travel and came to a day and a half to reach the Camp. After my last minute packing from the night before and all the hugs goodbye from my family, I met the others in a big taxi as we set off for Gatwick Airport at sunrise.
I'd never been to the North Terminal before let alone going on a luxurious Emirates flight. This was also my first holiday travelling with others besides my family and I'm glad and honoured to have joined them. So we passed through Customs and then had a good cooked breakfast at Armadillo's whilst waiting for our 1st of 2 flights.
* Emirates Flight
After Matt helped me take my first picture before the plane and I left my well planned exciting farewell post, it was time to board the jumbo Emirates plane! Oh My God, I've never felt so well looked after or treated to such class even at Economy. There were small TVs in every chairs rear headrest with an enormous selection of Movies old and new including box sets and loads of the latest releases from the cinema too! During our 8 hours to Dubai, I enjoyed watching The Force Awakens again and I gave this weird claustrophobic Sci-Fi film 400 Days a go (it was alright but had one of those endings which leave you scratching your head).
The 2 course food was delicious and I felt so privileged to be here and receiving this level of hospitality. Plus the plane had an outstanding ability to display cameras of the actual outside front and centre view of outside the plane (it was cool to see a first-person view on taking off and landing). There were even plugs to charge phones n' laptops and to plug in earphones too. Can it get any more perfect than this?
* 3 Hours at Dubai
We arrived in Dubai near 7.30pm whilst I was 3/4 through watching Kung Fu Panda 3. The Airport was prestigious and gleaming even at night time.
We had to spend 3 hours waiting for our next Emirates flight to JoBurg. So we grabbed a bite to eat down what felt like a mile or two long path which turned into a Mall and Foodcourt. I grabbed MaccyDs whilst the others got something else. The Foodcourt was surrounded with a field trip class who wouldn't settle down *ugh*. But our flight was ready at 11pm for us to fly out into the night. So I finished through the rest of Kung Fu Panda 3 then I went onto X-Men: Apocalypse (I loved this one so much since it was a more fulfilling ending to the past ones and was a good change in story too).
Dinner was at 1:30am and was great and I passed some more time by watching the beginning and skipped to the war till end of The Battle Of The Five Armies (still feels weird that it's all over now). Then so pretty much only managed to sleep for 3 hours due to knee and leg aches.
* Arrival at Johannesburg
We finally reached Johannesburg at 8:00am and we're now dreading the 6hour bus journey to the camp. The Airport was big and we found our pee-booked Taxi and hopped in for the long ride ahead.
* Breakfast Stop
We had to stop after 2 hours since we were all starving so we stopped at this nice small stop with a couple restaurants, petrol stadium with the animals outside across the plains. We ate at Spur Steak Ranches for an hour whilst just chilling and spotting Impala, Ostriches and Buffalo near the small water hole circling around the area.
* 6 Hour Taxi
With bellies full, we headed back on the road. Everyone went to sleep whilst I was recording sceneries and photographing the landscapes for my blog and possible video of my journey.
* Elephant Appearance
6 Hours on the road landed us a surprise spot of Elephants outside the border of the Private Nature Reserves. We were all chuffed to see such beautiful creatures in such a sudden surprise and even before setting foot in the reserve.
* Arrival at Camp
Shortly after, we headed through the gates and towards Walkers River Camp where we met the main man that Matt kept talking about all year, Brett Horley! And to credit another incredible man that we are all greatful and amazed by is the unique eyesight of the silent Duncan! That legend could spot animals in the dark and shine a light on them to not even scare them away and he was Brett's right hand man during our adventure!
Whilst everyone was unpacking, I walked round recording the camp to show everyone back home when I returned. But we also had a lovely up close Elephant encounter before heading out.
* White Lions at Sunset
After unpacking and recording my first video of the luxurious camp in the wilderness, we were all set to head on our afternoon to see what we could find. Would you believe it that in our first day that we'd seen the reserves prime and legendary icons? We saw 2 White Lions near a recently killed Buffalo carcass. We were gobsmacked and shooting our cameras like mad and we managed to get a nice shot of the sunset behind the chilling Lionesses.
* Night Feast
* Early Morning Drive
It's a shame that every morning that I never got to properly record the sunrise just like in The Lion King as I tried to realise the limited opportunities and the fact that almost every morning was cloudy or covered the sun rising for a couple minutes. But I got some alright shots as I got better with the camera.
* Lion Pride Feast
We headed to the same spot as yesterday and saw one of the Lionesses munching on the wide open innards of the Buffalo. Her chin was covered in blood and she was panting from struggling to breathe whilst poking around inside (sorry). But it was amazing and I got a great shot of her face.
* Vulture Scavengers
Those flying hooded scavengers were everywhere and we saw them nearly everyday. I was quoting The Jungle Book "So what are we gonna do?" a few times (come on, who wouldn't?)
Especially from my sunset picture from Day 2 (which is near the bottom of the post).
* Elephant Encounter
Brett spotted a solo Elephant that we got unrealistically close to in the jeep. I was worried from all the stories of Elephants being unpredictable and not as comfortable as you'd think around humans thanks to those ba****d poachers. But it was fine with us as it munches on the tree roots it was uprooting.
* Giraffe DungSpitting Contest
I thought Matt was kidding throughout the year about this little "Initiation" but turns out he wasn't joking... Brett found some Giraffe pellets and said we were participating in a game... And I knew right away what was gonna go down XP.
Laughs and Banter were everywhere as everyone spat out Giraffe sh*t across the dried out river. Would you believe it that I'm disgustingly proud that I won? Check out the video of my victory speech! Lol
* Setting Up Camera Traps
One of the ongoing routines that we did throughout our stay was setting up Camera Traps for us to record animals at spots like the water hole or near a carcass to see what pictures the cameras would get us.
We used my MacBook to store the images (3000+ nearly overall) and there were this many due to one camera recording double the load (one load as thumbnails stupidly). But we saw some interesting and tactical shots in the day and night of the animals. I tried making the shots into a slow Time-lapse so that you can see too!
* Warthog, Mongoose, Spider Holes
Pumba was one of the most scared animal (as much as the Kudo or Impala) when it comes to getting his photo taken. But we did see small black Mongoose poking their heads it of their home a few times and made great substitute for Meerkats "Timon".
* White Lion Night Stalking
By chance, the African lads spotted a beautiful surprise on our return to camp. I got a great video and a few shots of the White Lioness quietly patrolling at night and was completely unbothered by us or even the loud noises of off-roading and trees/ bush twigs snapping as Brett tried to keep up with the White puddy tat.
* Night Fire
* Yellow Hornbill and Giraffes at Sunrise
Day 4's morning introduced us to he tallest animals on Earth, the Giraffe. With the land looking almost the same colour as them, we though it'd be hard to spot them but we found a mother and her young one with her (they weren't bothered by us).
We also spotted a Yellow Hornbill which ticked off my checklist for spotting both red and yellow (I think the same coloured one for Zazu lives up in the North of Africa according to Brett).
* Inspecting the Buffalo Carcass
We parked the jeep to check out the bone exposed Buffalo who looked like it'd been eaten clean. Brett knew that it would be a good thing to keep an eye on because different animals might interact or do more to it. So we placed a camera trap near it a while later to see what footage we'd get.
* 3 Hour Trekking with Brett
Our first day or hiking/ trekking with Brett and Duncan had arrived at last. Brett gave a clear small instruction guide about his rules of safety and procedure for us all to remain safe, aware and vigilant quietly out in the wild.
We all kept true to his rules and calmly walked for 3 hours around the park. I was looking everywhere and recording here and then on us walking but to also see if I could spot out any predators stalking us secretly. We were allowed to whistle or click our fingers to grab anyone's attention if necessary.
* Baboon Spider Hole (nothing)
We came to a big Termite Hill which was also a neighbourhood for other holes for small but potentially deadly creepy crawlies. Brett found a Baboon Spider hole and Tony got a thin stick to play about down his hole to see if he'd come out all curious (looks like he wasn't home). Oh well, we found another one in the camp, but more on that later.
* Recovering Water Hole Camera Trap
We walked for 3 hours under the scorching sun and didn't really see any animals but Brett told us facts that were like stories about animal behaviour or how long ago an animal passed by or what it's marking suggested in behaviour or territory.
So we went back to the Water Hole to pick up the camera that managed to record an Impala herd approaching, drinking and running around the area. I managed to turn the 220 pictures into a short video time-lapse to show our footage.
* Baboons, Impala and Giraffes near the Camp
As everyone was relaxing in the camp for the rest of the afternoon, Matt, both Gary's, Will, Becky, Jack and I were all photographing a big moment where many Impala, Kudu, several Giraffe and a huge pack of Baboon all crossed the plains and the dried up river opposite the camp over the hour. We took many shots at different angles and when the animals moved around, good thing someone spotted that Giraffe in the distance because spotting it, did more animals show up for the occasion.
* Hippopotamus, Elephant and Hyena Afternoon Drive
The afternoon drive landed us a picture of a Hippopotamus enjoying the water hole (did you know it's the most dangerous mammal on record). There was also an Elephant walking for a while kicking up dirt not far from the water hole. Plus we managed to find a Hyena laying outside her hole as the sun was beginning to set.
* White Lionesses Eating
* Star Exposures
As the sun went down, Brett finally gave us the opportunity to begin doing an activity that I'd been eagerly waiting for all year, Star Photography. We were at a huge dry lake where a steep bank was behind us and the trees were ahead. It was the first night of the Lunar Cycle (which affected our work from that night onwards). Brett was showing everyone how to do an Exposure (where your camera stays open like an eyeball for a set amount of time and it records everything it sees into a picture).
I was quite anxious and stressed out about jumping in to it so suddenly and the fact that almost everyone was aware of what they were doing. But my work turned out pretty nice after several attempts as we all synchronised our 30 second exposures and Brett lit up the jeep in front with Becky and Will onboard. And our final result came out beautifully and with a good amount of stars lit up in the background thanks to the 1600 ISO setting.
I tried to get a shot taken on the jeep too but the torch was playing up and it didn't work out then (luckily it worked on our last night).
* Owl In The Spotlight
* Morning, Hyenas
In the morning, we checked out the Buffalo Carcass and spotted 3 Hyena by it who were grinding their teeth on the bones and a Vulture swooped down to invade the moment and try to steal some leftover flesh.
* Leopard Discovery
What really made this day as well as Gary's "African Dad" holiday was the report that a Leopard had been spotted 20 minutes away by one of the other safari jeep belonging to another camp. A while later we arrived and kept our eyes peeled in several directions near the area where the predator had been discovered. I recorded us slowly approaching the beast which was hidden in the thick bush, we didn't see it but we all heard the snarl after a twig snapped and it dashed away). Everyone was amazed to hear it and some were glad I managed to record it too.
But a couple paces backwards and would you believe it, we saw it blending in the distance between stick bushes. I can't believe I was the only one to get a descent photograph out of the moment and I felt like I'd achieved something there and then.
Brett drove us a short distance around the area back to the lake we'd been photographing the stars the previous night and we headed up the big river bank and waited for the leopard to step out for a drink. And it did! The Garys, Matt and David all got amazing zoomed in shots thanks to their powerful long range lenses but my shot of it licking the water came out blurry when you zoomed in too much (oh well, I am still really proud do of my first shot of it blending in perfectly).
The monochromatic animals of Africa were seen on our way back. As we photographed one, slowly one by one more began to appear round the corner of the trees and bushes (it went from one, to three, to four to five). One shot looked like a psychedelic picture up close and to make you guess how many were together grazing. We also learned that Zebra's receive a light blend of orange on the top of their backs, the older they are.
* Dried Up Water Hole
We stopped for some tea and coffee around a dried up water hole which also had a ladder leading up to a small square in the trees to photograph from above high. Becky and I climbed up a little but weren't brave enough but we were smart enough to not attempt to reach the top as the result might lead breaking something.
So we chilled for half an hour and looked around the area whilst getting some pictures of one another since we hadn't really as much compared to photographing the animals of the land.
* Lilac Breasted Roller and Dragging Buffalo Carcass
We saw a beautiful rainbow coloured bird soar up to a tree for a bit before soaring away with it's wings open, it was the stunning Lilac Breasted Roller. A small bird with several colours on it as if it'd had flown through one of those colour runs which look really fun and something to do someday.
Matt and Brett thought up the idea of putting one of the camera traps on a tree near the Buffalo carcass to see which animals came to nibble on it in the night. This required most of the men (hilariously) to drag the heavy load along into the line of the shot.
* Hoedspruit Shopping
After returning to camp and having some cereal, I volunteered (not as tribute) to join Katy, Gary and Dave into Hoedspruit with Brett to do the shopping. It felt weird but also nice to go do some weekly shopping in a supermarket far different to our countries ones. Though it was perfectly safe and the products were too, I was surprised but also ecstatic to notice that Still D.R.E was being played in the supermarket quietly and it made me think of Lewis because it's one of his favourite Hip-Hop/ Rap tracks.
We even popped to a butchers to grab different animal types of Billtong. I felt quite uncomfortable looking at all the stuffed animals around me, but it's their culture, ya know.
* Baboon Spider Nasty Encounter
After arriving back, everyone was gathered round near the spot to gaze out across the savannah because Tony had spotted and got the attention of a big creepy crawly. We found the black Baboon Spider (a tarantula) which was touching the thin stick like a fish on a hook and several times tried to come out of it's hole but also shot back in without even stepping full body out (it was spine-chilling to be this close to something that I feared to ever see up close). I recorded on my small sense of it playing about but luckily it didn't seem too agitated since he didn't raise his front legs and show us his intimidating 2 teeth *shivers*. This was the reason that not many of us felt confident or safe enough to walk around in flip flops or to go to the pool/ sunbeds plus we all had other things to do and the weather was on off with the sun.
* Elephant Family and Stand Off
The afternoon drive was an unforgettable one thanks to the memorable and heart pounding moment at the water hole. There was a herd of Elephants having a drink and playing about near the water's edge and with a baby one too. But the scary part (which I managed to record 8 mins worth of it all) was when the Elephants moved past us but one who looked to be in charge actually stopped and stared at us during that time. We all kept quiet and clicked our buttons to photograph and record everything as we were waiting to see what would become of us or even what behaviour this Elephant would show to us. Brett noticed that it's rear right leg looked funny and it raised it off the ground most of the time as if it were injured. Deep down, we wanted to go and help it but we all knew our place and didn't want to turn into casualties if this all went south. The elephant stared and shook it's head and trunk several times like a whip which Brett said was a display act. We started to move after it had passed by slowly and as we did, it gave off a loud cry which made us all jump in shock with laughter as we were lucky to have witnessed such a tense moment.
* Buffalo Herd Heading For Water Hole
We noticed in the distance just after passing the water hole that a long 39 Buffalo herd were all marching in single file towards the water "Hi-Ho". We stopped to count and then make out way back to the spot where we were dead in our tracks with the Elephant (who all had moved on). We saw them all drinking and lining up along the riverbed (too bad a Crocodile wasn't around to get the drop on one of them).
* Sunset Time-lapse
Brett took us to a spot where we could see as far as possible and for us to watch and record the sunset. I got my phone out and played Binary Sunset/ Light Of The Force just like in the Star Wars Original Trilogy as the moment was too perfect and most of the others shared the moment and smiled at my action. I tried video recording the sunset for 13 minutes but the settings weren't as fire red as I had hoped and the more it set, the brighter blue the top of the screen became. It was a shame that it failed but on the last night, I took loads of pictures to stack on top with the right settings applied.
Duncan spotted a Hyena with his spotlight and our luck turned out better than expected. The 2 Hyena sitting outside their home was actually also home to one or two cubs. We saw one of them crawling out for the first time as Brett explained. Duncan kept the light on them all and it was good that they weren't startled or bothered by our presence.
* Boma Fire Time-Lapse
After dinner back at camp, I decided to record everyone warming up by the Boma Fire. I wanted to use it in my upcoming video during he night life moment along with my animal recordings and star pictures to half a minute of A Sky Full Of Stars (more on that next month when it's finished).
* Long Walk Through Dried Up River at Sunrise
Day 6 had us up and at em for a long 3 hour walk away from the spot where we spotted the Leopard (don't worry, it was safe... I think).
I took more pictures and videos of the pack walking (I can't decide whether to put Across The Desert or something like this, this or this for when I put most of the travel clips together during my trek part of my video). I also recorded some more of Brett's fun facts for him to use on his website and it's thanks to him and Duncan that we learned things rather than just a sighting, picture and then move on.
We ended up travelling along several rivers which was a weird feeling since apparently in March, they are all running and attracting all varieties of animals as well as make the journeys in the jeep more challenging to wade through.
* Hiding Elephants
After a long while out, we were beginning to return to the jeep less than half a mile away. But Brett stopped us with his fist up meaning no movement. He'd spotted that a big family of Elephants were hiding in the thick bush and there was no telling what unexpected behaviour might occur.
We all kept quiet with no sudden movements and one of the Elephants was staring at us with it's elephants out like wings which meant a warning. But after 5 mins, they decided to move away a little giving us a chance to continue our journey back to the jeep *phew*.
* Group Photo
Back at the circle spot above the left-side of the dry lake where we spotted the Leopard, we all knew this was the spot to get several group shots together to mark this adventure. Gary and I set up our tripods and did one of everyone laying against the big logs (we used timers so we could get in the pictures too). And then we did 3 shots of everyone in the jeep (Matt and then I wanted a turn on Duncan's seat).
I love those pictures so much and it's a milestone for me since I really did survive and enjoy myself with new people in a different world. I think I'm gonna do this again with them or somewhere else someday.
* Impala and Hyena Camera Traps
We got the water hole camera back and back at camp saw that a huge herd of Impala had been around. We also got the camera back from where the Buffalo carcass was, and our results led to hundreds of shots of a Hyena pack hacking the skeleton and dispersing. I'll try to re-upload it on here a while later or use it in the video sped up because there are hundreds and hundreds of pictures and their no time right now.
* Sunset Failure
As the sunset, I hilariously attempted to do a 30 second exposure on the sunset thinking that I would actually get a similar result or a light stream of the sun setting. Boy could I have been more wrong... My results came out clear white as if I had stepped into the light. I was furious and anxious seeing eh sunset and I had no results or any creative work from it. It took me a while after some quiet sulking and getting answers from Brett (the camera expert since he does do Safari Photography) that I learned why it wouldn't work out that way.
But I still got a good super dark red picture during the grumpiness of not understanding where I was going wrong.
Good thing it wasn't the last day otherwise I would have been mortified. But my quick group selfie and our evening is what cheered me up and we saw something pretty amazing!
* Night Leopard Stalking
Brett and Gary's evening was made as we all bared witness to a Leopard stalking a Stembok. In the darkness, Brett drove cautiously through bushes and off road to keep up with the subtle Leopard who we didn't know was stalking prey. Brett in the video was so ecstatic and made a funny laugh as we watched the Leopard give lightning fast chase to the Stembok. As harsh as it is, we couldn't keep up with the chase and reckon that the Stembok got away because we didn't hear a cry or shriek to signal the kill.
* Morning Sunrise Failure
I got up at 5.00am o trying record a sunrise like in The Lion King, but once again my plan was foiled by the clouds covering the sky at dawn. Disappointed, I chose to return to bed and skip out on the morning drive from 6-9 since I knew I'd need to be awake for todays activity.
And I did spot some monkeys all eating together near Brett's room, a few minutes before we headed off for our main event for the morning.
* Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre
At 10.30, we were picked up by a minibus to go to Moholoholo Widlife Rehabilitation Centre that Matt and Gary had read up about a few months ago. This centre is famous for treating animals who have been poisoned, snared or damaged by humans when they invade their farmlands or bother the population.
Upon arriving, us along with a few other groups were all seated to listen to a guide (who I thought looked a bit like Andy Samberg) who was talking to us about what the centre does along with explaining the history of animal territory and population and even through in some humour to keep everyone interested and interactive with his questions.
We were shown several horrible pictures of what snares do to animals including Lions with their lips sliced open or a Honey badger with a cut through it's hips thanks to metal wire from snares. It's so heartbreaking to see animals suffer or in pain because people take matters into their own hands instead of calling the experts to move them away safely and find them a better home instead of trying to hurt/ kill or leave them for dead.
When he was done, we went outside to look around the centre. Our first animals was a beautiful Cheetah which we were all allowed to have our picture taken with it and gently stroke it's lower back. Of course, I participated in this but afterwards I saw that the others had skipped out on the stroking because they felt that it was a money making petting zoo a little and as if we had affected the animals "purity". Looking at it that way, I can't help but agree but on the other hand, I was more honoured to have been so close to the fastest predator on the planet!
Next up was the Vulture cage where we were introduced to our guide Moses (who has a very unique voice that goes from deep to high, see in the videos - he'd be great for commentating football or the olympics we all agreed afterwards). We were all allowed to wear a thick arm glove so that we could feed the Vultures some meat (which everyone participated in).
We also saw Leopards, Hyenas and Wild Dogs whilst learning a paragraph of information from Moses who had some good humour, sarcasm and facts to share with us all and keep us giggling.
When we came to the Lions, we saw how a REAL LION (not that fake MGM Logo Lion's roar) roar for real. We also unexpectedly bared witness to a "mating" moment between the two and I can't tell if it's a good thing to have recorded it during Moses's talk or a sick thing... Oh well, it's educational or like a take on the Discovery Channel, right?
Lastly, we came to the Bird Cage where the Bycanistes Hornbill was staring at us (it's actually a troublesome bird when it comes to keeping the species going, a bit like the cruel Cuckoo Bird). Bateleur Eagle "Zimbabwe Bird" was a beautiful medium sized bird which people were allowed to stroke the back of it's head because I think he said that it likes it. No one was brave enough to try it besides a pushy tourist lady who was a bit patronising to the animals and we were all waiting for her to have stepped the line and get pecked.
Despite being only 2 hour-isn long, it was really nice to learn about several animals and how this place and good people really care about them and try to nurture them back to health with care. We said thank you to Moses and headed for the gift shop (I got a Moholoholo logo Cap) and we all headed back home.
* Talking With Brett
In the afternoon, I popped over to Brett's separate house to ask him some questions about star photography. I was hoping to get some photos or exposures like this guy on Instagram called Nightscapades. I was expecting "Milky Way" pictures or jaw-dropping starry nights. But he explained about the Lunar Cycle and that actually a lot of this guys Instagram pictures and time-lapse videos were all done through hundreds of exposure shots using a remote.
He said that in order to achieve a time-lapse video like this one, I'd need to take hundreds of still photos at about 3 or 5 seconds and then pile them onto each other using a video editing software. It's a shame that this wasn't possible here due to the conditions, but at least I was guided by a pro on how to achieve this some other time, maybe even back home.
In return, I shared with him all the pictures and videos so far along with the clips of his advice, rules and facts during our time here because I wanted him to have access to them for his own advertisement use on his website and business. It's the least I could do for all that he's done for us!
* Sunset Picture Exposure Collection
I decided to try out a time-lapse using pictures instead of a video recording for the sunset. I managed to take pictures every 3-5 seconds so that I could put them on top of each other once I'm home. Since my recording came out brighter a few days ago, I figured I'd try this instead to get a slow sunset full of red and get it reflecting slightly in the water hole too.
* Honeybadger, Bushbabies and a Hyena vs Lion Pride
Our night drive was a special one. We found a Honeybadger in the darkness thanks to Duncan (it even showed it's teeth and did't run away so easily). Brett managed to spot along the main concrete road, a Bushbaby (a tony small creature jumping from branch to brach in a tree next to the main road). I was amazed that I managed to spot it and focus on it so accurately through my 70-300mm lens and everyone was amazed by my shot and even asked for it later on.
But the biggest highlight of that evening (especially for Brett) was that we found a pack of sleeping Lions off the main road a long way from camp. We were watching them yawn and sleep as Duncan carefully shined a light on them but not enough to disturb them. But then Brett heard a Hyena calling which did alert a teenage Lion who was curious. As I was recording, we had to turn around and catch up to the young one because we didn't want to miss such a sad off between two predators both almost equally matched. It was like seeing something from The Lion King, where a female Hyena was howling for help as she single handedly tried to take a kill away from the protective teenage Lion. We were all like spectators videoing and photographing the scene. We weren't sure which species would have backup first. In the end, the Lion gave up and the Hyena ran away victorious having snatched away the kill from the Lions.
I'll upload the video within a few days.
* Staying Outside for the Night
Many said I was stupid and foolish, but I was determined to sleep outside in the bed upstairs from one of the huts. I was determined to wake up at 4am once the moon had gone down to see if I really could see a Sky Full Of Stars. I had to ask Tony to follow me up to bed once I had sprayed myself with Jungle Formula, checked the net and underneath the bed for any unwanted nasties (even if they wanted to spoon with me). I recorded the moment of him turning off the light and I did sorta sleep from 11 till 3 in the morning but I did have a few wake ups in fear thanks to predator calls and listening to the sounds of nature who kept me up trembling.
I knew I was safe in the camp and I was proud of myself for trying out something way out of my comfort zone and all just so that Matt and I could wake up with Brett to get some amazing shots before sunrise.
* Morning Clouds
By 4am when Matt and I woke up and got dressed to meet Brett near the edge of camp to get some long awaited star pictures. We were gutted to wake up and see that the sky was covered with clouds. FOR F***S SAKE!!! Matt said: "Why didn't you look up before you came into the room. You could have called it off and we'd go back to sleep!" He had a point, but I was so tired and eager to save that gaze upwards for when us three were together. So we headed to Brett and he had seen the sky too so we decided to call if off regrettably and disappointingly. So we head back to bed for less than 2 hours...
* 2 Male Lions
* Brett's 20 Questions
I admit that I was too tired to actually pay attention or give effort on this thing compared to Matt or some of the others. You see, Brett had a little 20 question challenge for everyone during the trek which required us to think about things that we had learned from him during our time here. He found tracks, bones, droppings, tree marks etc and asked us questions on which animal it was or to calibrate the situation. He asked a few then evaluated after every 5 so that we wouldn't get lost in the numerical order. Matt, Gary and Tony I think were the most keen (Matt one in the end) since this was a real challenge and the Franklin's love the whole Safari guide idea, Matt said to me that it's something he'd like to be as one day.
After returning, it was time to do the thing that all people hate near the end of a holiday. I was making a cheese clip in continuation from my packing clip the night before we made the journey here. But honestly, it wasn't so complicated since I had all my clothes already folded and divided them into dirty and clean piles. Surprisingly, I didn't get round to wearing half of my suitcase as I had expected. I even bought a club shirt which was pink, purple and blue like something from a drum n' bass visual video of something and I even had a crimson blood red t-shirt which looking at it during packing would have been the STUPIDEST t-shirt ever to wear out in Africa...
* Pub Lunch
African Dad had planned a well deserved generous idea on paying Brett, Duncan and the Maids a huge tip to say thank you for everything. We all gave 400Rand each to be spit in total between the 3 to say thank you for everything that they had all done for us. We were gonna give it to him at lunchtime.
Gary also suggested to eat lunch back at The Bush Pub & Inn a short distance away from the reserve border. We all had a laugh and some interesting pizza's with toppings unique to the area. And like the 21st century people that this generation is, we popped on our Wi-Fi phones to check what we'd all been missing. I kept true to my no Social Media check up and I only used the Wi-Fi for Whatsapp to let my folks know that I'm alive and give them a paragraph of my holiday till I return to show them everything.
* Matt's Slow-Mo Pool Dive
Back at Camp, Will, Jack and then Matt spontaneously decided to enter the pool for the first time. I wasn't so keen thanks to not having brought my flip flops with me and not wanting to step on something. So I got a shutter picture set of Matt cannonballing in.
* 2 Lions with Buffalo Carcass on our Last Drive
The same two lions from the morning trek were at the same spot and it was made clear now, they were guarding a kill under a tree. They were both panting and Brett said they were brothers, guarding the kill from the vultures glaring at them in the trees.
We returned to the Buffalo Skeleton from Day 1 to see it for the last time. We were all taking pictures of it up close (Will and I even had a selfie with it). I got really up close with it and was an inch away as my teeth almost touched the bone as I posed for the camera like a feral human. I would "unleash the beast" but not when there are diseases and hundreds of flies around (I'm lucky that I didn't swallow one) lol.
We also saw a lone Bull Elephant who was giving himself a "dust bath". He was throwing dirt on himself using his trunk to coat himself and shake off any unwanted insects. This was just like when we had the Elephant Stand Off where one of them had mud on itself. Brett says "it coats itself in it because it's a layer on the skin to take away sun burn and soon once it's dry, an Elephant can scrape it off using a tree because the insects would be stuck in the layer and shed off more easily ".
* Last Sunset
Our last sunset was so righteous and this time I was prepared. We returned to the horizon spot and I went a bit further forward so that I had one of those African trees in the foreground. The sky was slightly purple as the red sun was setting. I did the same as yesterday where I took shots every 3-5 seconds of counting and trying to keep the gorilla pod steady. I took nearly 40+ shots and it came out not bad, so I made the video and I'm pleased with it even if it's not as professional as the ones in one of David Attenborough's documentaries.
* Star Trail Exposures
We remained at the spot and were all listening to some of Brett's stories in other parts of Africa and with those horrible, obnoxious and pretentious guests with no manners or respect for some. For we were going to have one last attempt at Star Exposures using the jeep for the foreground. We were in a hurry before the moon was shining high enough to affect the pictures. I think they both came out good enough for what we could do with. I owe it to Brett for his patience and help!
As we returned to the camp, we stopped by the 2 Lion Brothers who were still guarding their kill from the dedicated vultures. One was eating it out as if it were rubbing it in their faces. We'd never seen a Male Lion eat before so it's good to see Mufasa majestically eating like the king of the pride lands.
* Photography Competition
Brett had said after Day 1 that on the last night, he'd have a photograph competition where all of us would pitch our top 5 pictures forward for a fun competition. Everyone had been busy the last 2 days either slightly editing their pictures or judging through hundreds/ thousands of pictures to find their top 5.
Becky and Will were helping out with the decision making. I think my Vulture Sunset one came up as one of the separate favourites to Brett's favourites but none came in the top 5. The ones edited by a few were the winners but I know I'm proud of all my original ones and thats what really matters. There was no prize really, but everyone still participated with good sportsmanship.
* Farewell Walkers River Camp
And thus ended our last night in the camp with Brett. I asked for a picture with him to say thank you for everything and I'd been wooed over just like Matt and had so much respect for him like how Matt never stopped bringing him up during our year anticipation.
We all also signed our names in Brett's memory book where Becky and Will had written an honest, thoughtful and perfect farewell page to say thank you for everything that Brett had done for us. we all marked our signatures at the bottom to commemorate our time here.
* Early Morning Taxi to Johannesburg
Ar 4am, it was time to jump in the taxi for our long 6 hour drive to the airport. Brett woke up to see us off and we had said goodbye to Duncan the night before and praised and thanked him for all his help and his amazing hawkeyes for spotting the animals too!
Our journey was a long one and I couldn't really get comfy whilst riding shotgun. So I photographed some scenarios around sunrise and even got a weird but cool 3 second exposure of the lighted up towns passing by (the result was a scribbled psychedelic picture which looks trippy).
We ended up getting breakfast at the same pitstop as Day 2. But we got snacks at a Costa Coffee replica place for some toasted bacon and cheese sandwiches so we could get back on the road quickly.
I recorded some dramatic, serious videos of me looking out the window to use in a serious moment in my upcoming video to give off that daydreaming feeling at the endless sceneries. And we all couldn't help but notice so many hitchhikers during the rest of the ride. This was pretty much the norm for the people, they might have been either trying to move on (even with their families beside them) or they were tying to hitch a ride to work...
* Johannesburg Airport
We arrived at JoBurg Airport and got through past customs. We all divided off to gift shops over the 2 hour wait before flying off to Dubai. I bought Dad a big bottle of Gin and a Quicksilver Africa T-shirt.
I got Mum a big hexagon of Toblerone and a black and white Elephant pattern scarf. And Becca, I bought a cuddly Leopard toy and a big tin of Oreos. As for myself, I got an Quicksilver Africa Peace T-shirt and a beautiful Elephant wooden statue (I almost bought a beautifully incredibly detailed one for 1000Rand till I noticed an ear was missing on the other side) I'd be furious and feel cheated.
* Flight to Dubai
Our first return flight was nice. I loved the service, plane and film choices. This time, I watched Revenge Of The Sith *sniffs in sadness*.
* Waiting at Dubai Airport
After stopping near 9pm at the airport and getting through customs, we went to a Weatherspoons for some burgers and to watch the Chelsea v Liverpool game.
We sat near the gate for the last hour where I kept nearly dozing off uncomfortably.
* Flight back home
On our last long 8 hour flight back home, I decided to listen to blink 182's newest album (which I'm loving and find it to relate to their EOTS and TOYPAJ albums.
I also decided to put on Annie Lennox Into The West since the song title is relatable but I think it'll be more perfect for the day I return home after a holiday in New Zealand/ Middle Earth.
Everyone must have been asleep on the plane near 1.30am, so I rewetted Catching Fire then finally got round to watching the emotional conclusion Mockingjay Part 2 (I missed it in cinemas) before touchdown.
I was brave enough to ask the cabin crew if it was okay to go near the Fire Exit window to photograph the sunrise patterns which they had no problems with.
* Parting Ways At Gatwick
Of course they had to put all the luggage on 2 separate conveyer belts so that everyone kept turning heads left and right like watching Tennis... But after like 20mins of waiting, we all finally got our stuff and Tony and then the other Gary headed off. They were both great and I hope to see them again before or at our next Africa adventure in time.
The rest of us (The Franklin's, myself, Katy and Dave) were in the taxi heading for Horsham in the rainy weather at 8.00am... typical English weather to return to.
I said my goodbyes and thanked everyone for everything and the memories! Seeing Mum again was fantastic, she hugged me tightly and was so pleased and relieved to have me home. I told her everything and waited for Dad to come home and Becca to wake up by 10.30am to tell them and give everyone their gifts!
I was so pleased to be home so that I could have a good warm safe shower and then later looks at the 20+ notifications and respond to em all on Facebook! Back to the usual lifestyle.
So that's my story. I really really enjoyed it and am proud of myself for surprising myself on actually remaining calm, sensible and cool with it all. I saw so many amazing animals and photographed/ video recorded such unforgettable moments and sights to hold forever and use in my upcoming video. I made new friends and we all came together like a family over the 10 days that we were together (as if we were doing I'm A Celebrity or something).
I have hundreds of pictures that I can't even overload this post with to show you all. I've been pretty good back at work last week and been proud to tell and answer everyone's questions. And it was a long challenge on Sunday 18th to upload about 400 out of the 3000+ pictures I took onto Facebook.
I seriously hope that my pictures are safe and will remain credited as mine since I have no time or effort to watermark every single one I've taken even if it'll affect the picture's quality...
And I've been trying to write this up all week during the evenings when I'm not getting easily distracted or stressed out about my 2nd Tough Mudder (which I aced on Sat 24th). That post will go up hopefully before November. But I'm glad overall that this is finally done and I can relax a little before keeping up the posts.
MTVT.U really had such motivational pictures to help me when I was worried.
I think next time we aim to go back to Timbavati in a year or 2, or we might go in Land Rovers with Brett and drive through the Kalahari if we get 8-12 of us to fit in a jeep (4 each). Who knows what's next up on my adventures?!
I hope you enjoyed my long post and stay tuned for my Safari Video in November!