My Tanzania Vacation - June 29 - July 14, 1998

Andrew Davidhazy

School of Photographic Arts and Sciences
Imaging and Photographic Technology
Rochester Institute of Technology

This is, and will continue to be, only a sampling of the photographs from the trip. So far I have only processed a few of the 50+ rolls of film. I will periodically add and subtract images from here so as not to overload my account while still bringing you some examples of the great opportunities for photographing wildlife in Tanzania. BTW, if you'd like to (and can afford it!) participate on a future safari with me just let me know and maybe the people who organized this one will help put another one together!. In addition to the photographs below, you will also find a couple of narratives to read along with interspersed photographs to view!

[lion] [hippo] [giraffe] [raptor] [rhino] [lion]

Report in Progress

Well, I did not intend to delay sharing at least a brief report on the outcome of my "safari" to the plains of Serengeti and the Ngorongoro crater but I have been somewhat pressed for time lately (and this is looking like it will continue for a while!). So, while a few photographs and mere words may not be able to express all my feelings and impressions of the experience, here are some observations anyway.

[getting close!] First off I feel I was very fortunate in having been asked to participate in this trip by the US agents who organized it. I went as a "photo advisor" or "guide" and my duties as such were not really overwhelming and consisted of nothing more than being somewhat responsible for the group of six people (plus me) and act as a go-between between us and the local outfitters in Arusha and the drivers of the Land Rovers that took us all over the place. I also was asked to give as much instruction and advise to the group as they requested. Two of the "tourists" (Bill and Nicole) were already fairly experienced with photography (Bill having already been to Africa a number of times and Tanzania three previous times), three of the group (Paula, Bill E. and Bruce) had no more than a passing interest in photography and Paula used a P/S with a 35-105 lens as her camera). The last member of the party (Sandy) already had done quite a bit of photography during her previous travels and really did not need much more than encouragement and a few basic instructions on how to use her camera (which she had bought just a few days before embarking on the trip).

Twice I had to fix this brand-new camera which had become "jammed" (to this day I don't know why) ... it was a Pentax P??? ... latest model, autofocus and all, etc. with a 100 to 300 Sigma Zoom I believe. Anyway, the camera's logic circuit I think became confused ... maybe she opened the back before it was done rewinding (???) and failed to accept a new roll of film and set itself up for the start of a new roll. I basically pushed the manual rewind activation button and the camera whirred, stopped and this seemed to reset its functions. Thus I became an instant "expert" camera repairer. On the other hand, if I had not been able to do this she would have ended up without photographs and been greatly disappointed ... not only with me but probably the whole trip. I mean she was "geared up" for photography!!!

[crocodile] We saw all kinds of animals ... and from quite close up. Of course, lions, elephants and giraffes but also crocodiles, cheetahs, snakes, ground hogs, jackals, hyenas, hippos, rhinos, etc. etc. Although we were able to get pretty close the most often used lenses it seems to me were the 400 or 500 mm focal length ones. When the distances got a little large we would plop a 1.4x or 2x converter on and carry on. In broad daylight this was not much of a question. There was ample light for the speed loss associated with use of the converters. Usually in the early morning ... between 6 and 9 am and late afternoon, between 4 and 6 pm we would use 400 speed film and in daytime some used 100 speed film and others 200.

Early July, which is when we went, up on the plains of Serengeti and the crater floor (at an altitude of over 5,000 feet) the temperature was quite pleasant and the sun, while hot in daytime, was not really that bad. And the temperatures not nearly as hot as I expected. In fact, during early morning hours the temperature was actually cold and a sweatshirt or light down filled vest would come in handy. Some people used baseball type hats to keep the sun off their faces but I found a hat with a wide brim all the way around was excellent for those few times the sun beat down on us. The brim did interfere with photography a bit (those with baseball caps just turned them around) but otherwise I thought it was to be highly recommended. NOT a "safari" pith helmet!!

We encountered no flies, mosquitoes or other unpleasant insects to speak off. Sure, from time to time we ran across horse flies with a potent bite but this was rare. I have two hardly used containers of insect repellent left over. An item I should or could have left behind or just taken a VERY small amount. But no, not me, I have enough DEET insect repellent to last a lifetime! Well, remember this was not the rainy season ... it was quite dry. In fact, we had no rain at all during the two weeks we were there and the plains in many places were burning ... sometimes started on purpose by man others by natural reasons. An impressive sight in its own right! On one occasion we drove on a dirt road flanked by flames!

Among other items that were suggested by others to take on this trip were a flashlight - I found it useful when at night in your hotel room the electricity is turned off (although the hotel does provide candles usually).

A 220v AC to 120v AC power converter can come in handy for those that might take things like hair dryers along (although the larger hotels have them already available in the rooms). These can also be used to recharge batteries with an appropriate charger although the generators are not on for an extensive time and I would recommend recharging batteries "on the go".

A set of small "precision" screwdrivers might come in handy to tighten loose screws on lens mounts or such. My focal length converter broke and I sure could have used a set to make a repair or to more effectively deal with the problem than the way I had to do it through improvisation. Additionally, a "Swiss Army" knife probably would be handy to have.

Binoculars are highly recommended for each person. Sharing is ok but having your own is better. A compact 7x35 or a 7x50 is good, but 10 power may be better.

A comfortable set of shoes is recommended. We did not do much hiking so the important thing is that you be able to stay in them for the length of the day comfortably. I wore sneakers.

I did my own "laundry" in the hotel sink although laundry service is available. If you'll do your own, a bit of laundry soap is helpful to have with you. Wash in evening and dry in bath overnight and the following day if needed.

Dust was not a major problem for me. Of course, I was in the "lead" Land Rover. Something that probably is to be recommended!!! However, if the second vehicle or third and so on leave enough distance between them the dust "problem" tends to be somewhat overblown. :-) Cleaning brushes, cloths and tissues do come in handy as do ziploc bags and such for keeping dust out of things.

I made enough exposures such that on my return I counted over 50 rolls of color negative film and about a dozen of transparency stock each of 36 exposures. I myself used 200 or 400 speed Kodak Vericolor color negative film almost exclusively. I did take a home-modified Nimslo panoramic camera and in it I used 100 speed Ektachrome and Fujichrome reversal film.

On the trip that I went we stayed exclusively in lodges ... 5 star hotels in the middle of the wilderness!!! The food, the lodging, the beer (Serengeti Lager, or Kilimanjaro or Safari Lager - all good) and the service were all invariably superior. The best lodges were the SOPA lodges. The price for the safari for the participants was in the order of about $5,500 including airfare from their home city in the States. Not always with the most convenient connections but a flight nonetheless. On Northwest and KLM. FYI, the agents in the States that put this thing together were Unique Adventures

Something that was suggested that I take along, pencils to trade with locals, especially children, for the opportunity to photograph them, is something that I never did. I mean I had the pencils but I usually had them packed away in my suitcase on top of the Land Rover or I could never bring myself to say "let me take your picture in exchange for this pencil". Poverty in the country (or maybe better stated standard of living) is extremely great. The Maasais have villages (well, more like "forts" with a perimeter wall flanked by huts and with a cattle pen in the middle) that one can visit (entry fee is $50 per vehicle) and we did visit one of them but I decided not to photograph there. Although, in retrospect maybe I should have since upon entering the "compound" its members were putting on a song and dance "show" of sorts in the central pen with the women singing and the "warriors" doing the "jumps" that have made the Maasai world recognized in the film King Solomon's Mines (if memory serves me right).

In any case, I think even in retrospect I think I would have refrained from photographing ... one since this was obviously a staged event (guess I would have had the least trouble with it) and the other because as one toured the compound within which the Maasai keep their cattle .... even keeping some in their huts made of interlocking sticks and cow-dung ... that the naked little children were playing in just that and covered with flies, etc. Why would I want to make pictures of little kids in this state ... I mean they were quite happy doing whatever they were doing so what right did I have to take pictures thinking that later I will show these to others who would say "Is that child COVERED with flies and playing in cow dung???" ... no, thanks.

Besides, it was obvious that the whole thing was a put-on of sorts and the older women and the "warriors" in particular would much have preferred if we left them alone (unless they were involved in the "show"). We had "permission" from the Chief to photograph anything, anywhere in the compound. However, I felt quite out of place even though it was a "commercial" deal of sorts.

[antlope] Well, I have finally had my negative films processed and the photographs are pretty good. Not spectacular but I am happy with some of them. Enough of them that I feel happy about having made them. I ended up making what someone called "animal pictures without the zoo bars" but I think I simply played along with the system. There was not much else to do but to either just look at the enormous spectacle the wildebeest and the zebras in their migration put on for us or to also make some photographs. I chose the latter knowing that my images were going to be no match for those made by others with more skill, patience and opportunity than I was getting. In some cases I was pleasantly surprised. Although if I had to equate the number of good photographs with the cost of a trip like this the price per image would be quite high indeed! On the other hand the trip was more than about simply making photographs and so the eqaution now makes the photographic expense well worthwhile!

I also took along a small camcorder and this was a good thing although I should have taken high quality Hi8 tape since the camera was a Hi8 model ... but I only used standard 8 tape ... bumer. I also took enough tapes for 32 hours of recording ... waaaay too much!!! I ended up with about 4 tapes (2 hours each) (of course I was also doing the stills!).

Also, remember to take a battery charger for the camcorder batteries. We took chargers that could be plugged into the 12v DC cigarette lighter sockets available in the Land Rovers. A socket "splitter" might come in handy in a case that more than one battery charger needs to be operated from the same vehicle's socket, although some vehicles have multiple sockets available just for such purpose.

The still camera (for me a Canon A1 with a Canon winder A2 and a 400 mm Canon f/4.5 lens plus a 2x converter) was used on a good sized bean bag. I had 24, 50, 100 and 200 mm lenses in addition. It was all packed in a soft camera bag which itself was typically stored in a large sports duffle bag. I carried this onto the plane as my one carry-on. It also accomodated all my film in clear plastic bags.

As for the video camera I would suggest S-VHS or Hi8 if possible and loaded with Hi8 tape as suggested earlier. The zoom range should be large .. optically large. 1 to 12 or 1 to 15 is good but then on top of that you might want to take an afocal 2x converter along as well. A small additional support, maybe a monopod, would have helped smooth out some of the shots, especially the telephoto ones. I DID try not to make pans too quickly and endlessly zooming the focal length or using the lens in tele mode with the vehicle in motion but even so, some improvements would have taken just a little more forethought. One of my friends in the group, who also took a video camera reported that her mother, while watching the video she produced, got seasick!!! So next day she gave her dramamine before subjecting her to another showing ... which she says she survived (!!!). ;-)

Stills are ok but the addition of sound and movement really does add a dimension that friends at home do appreciate. Especially the time that a bull elephant made threatening moves towards the second Land Rover in our party coming to within less than 20 feet (or at least it seemed that close!) before stopping short, flaring his ears and "trumpeting" loudly!!! I wonder if there was a dry spot left in the seats of that vehicle after that!!!

[gazelle?] All in all, if I had the discretionary funds to spend on a trip like this, I would certainly recommend it. It exposed me to a whole new appreciation for not only the treasure that are Tanzania's National parks with all the wildlife within but also the people of Tanzania who have to eke out a living in dismal conditions. The new friends I made with the participants in the trip was also something special and a nice "fringe benefit". Maybe I will be asked to "conduct" one of these again. I would go. Would you? ;-)

Well, I better go do something ... I was thinking I would promise to write more in the future but I have no certainty I will do so so I won't. If you have specific questions I would be happy to answer them.


oh, ok, here is some more "stuff" .....

(Welcome to Tanzania)
[stork] [zebras] [elephant] [reptile] [4 giraffes]
[antelope] [gazelle] [gazelle] [gazelle] [gazelle]

Itinerary of the Photo Safari Program

We all left our hometowns on June 29 and arrived on June 30, at about 7 pm at Kilimanjaro Airport on KLM after a very long flight from Amsterdam which was preceeded by flights from Albuquerque and Minneapolis for Sandy and Bruce Seligman and Paula and Bill Eglinton (they were all from Albuquerque), from Baltimore for Nicole Harding, from Monroe, New Orleans and Detroit (!) for Bill Stripling and Rochester and Detroit for me! A long voyage for all of us indeed!

The airport is 35 miles from Arusha, a city on the northern border of Tanzania. We were met by Kizo, a representative of Unique Safaris, a local outfitter working with Tiffany DiBlasi, of Denver, CO who arranged the trip from stateside. We had dinner and stayed overnight at the Mountain Village Lodge in cute separate little buildings sporting thatched rooves!

On July 1 we were driven to Arusha National Park taking picnic lunches with us. This park has three distinct zones - the Ngurdoto Crater - which remains quite natural as no human intervention is allowed. It is an experiment in conservation on-going naturally. There are the Momella Lakes, a group of shallow alkaline lakes fed by underground streams and Mount Meru - a most rewarding mountain to climb we heard. Animals frequently seen (and most of which we saw (excepting the leopard!)!) in the park include giraffes, elephants, waterbucks, blue monkeys, black and white colubus monkeys, hyena, buffalo, hippo and a variety of antelope. Lions are not residents in the park although they are known to visit and stay especially during dry spells. We returned to Mountain Village Lodge for dinner and an overnight stay.

[flamingos] On July 2, after breakfast we drove to the Ngorongoro crater where we stayed until July 4. Ngorongoro crater is a place which strikes memorable moments. It is a natural amphitheater, with a wall about 2000 feet high surrounding the valley floor which is over 100 square miles in area. It is home to more than 25,000 permanent wildlife and black rhinos are easily seen here. (In fact we saw half the rhino herd - which numbers about 18 animals and also saw the two white rhinos that were imported into the park and which are assigned armed guards to try to prevent poachers from killing them). We also saw flamingos, elephants, lions and cheetahs here. We stayed 3 nights at the Ngorongoro SOPA Lodge on the crater rim. A great place and with great accommodations and service.

On July 5 in the morning we drove towards Serengeti National Park where we stayed until July 8. On the way we stopped at the Olduvai Gorge - the archeological site that has yielded fossils and a remarkable record of human evolution from 2 million years ago to date. We stayed these four days at the Seronera Wildlife Lodge in the heart of the Serengeti plains. As usual, since these lodges are provided with electricity from motor driven generators, we did not have either hot water or electricity all the time but we soon got used to the schedule of the generators and adjusted our schedule accordingly! During these four days we went out on what is called "game drives" every day. We would be picked up by our drivers (Agustin and David) in their Land Rovers after breakfast (although one morning we left before breakfast!) and be taken into the plains looking for wildlife doing what wildlife do! We were not disappointed!

[wildebeest] [waterhole] The Serengeti is the biggest park in Tanzania with a staggering animal population of about 4 million and encompassing an area about 15,000 square kilometers (roughly the size of the State of Connecticut). It is one of the largest wildlife sanctuaries in the world the site of one of the most breathtaking events in the animal kingdom - this migration of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest. The park was accepted by the world heritage convention as a world heritage site and a biosphere reserve in 1981. The park's name: Serengeti, means "endless plains" and is derived from the Maasai language. The park was declared a national park in 1948 and officially listed in 1951 as the first national park in Tanzania. Seronera is located about 320 Km from the city of Arusha.

[] On July 9 we proceeded to Lake Manyara National Park for a day of wildlife viewing. We were somewhat disappointed as far as wildlife was concerned because apparently due to the high water levels present in the lake due to an El Nio effect, the numbers and variety of wildlife present (or at least visible!) in the park was limited. Manyara Lake is below the rift valley and the soda lake. It is supposed to contain a large variety of habitats such as the rift valley wall, the ground water or "rain" forest , acacia woodlands and areas of open grassland, swamps and the soda lakes. We had dinner and stayed overnight at the Manyara Hotel, again on the ridge of the crater wall.

On July 10th in the morning we drove to Tarangire National Park and stayed there until the 14th. We had four days to explore this beautiful park with a dense population of wildlife (we were getting somewhat tired of giraffes by then!) and what was supposed to be superb birdlife. We did not see many birds but the elephants, snakes, lions and many other animals did not disappoint us! The park is about 115 Km. from Arusha on a good paved road (well, good until you get to the poor, dirt road!) The features of Tarangire which correlate with the type of animals in the area are grasslands and flood plains. Tarangire is famous for its large herds of elephants numbering over 300 in one group (we saw one group of what must have been at least 100!), tree climbing pithons (we saw one!) zebra, hartebeests, buffaloes, waterbucks, gazelles, oryx, and many others. We spent four nights in the lap of luxury at the Tarangire SOPA Lodge.

On July 14 we drove to Arusha in the morning and stopped on the way to do some gift shopping. We were assigned a day room at the Impala Hotel in downtown Arusha and were escorted by our drivers into a local market and tour of downtown. Late in the afternoon we were taken to Kilimanjaro Airport for the trip back home. We had enough time in Amsterdam to take a canal boat tour of the city!

[heron] [antelope] [mongoose] [lion] [hyena] [eagle]

well, that's it for now ...

Equipment suggested for Photo Safari in response to an inquiry:

I assume you are doing a "safari" ... this in Tanzania implied being driven in a Land Rover around the national parks looking for flora and fauna. The vehicles have a top that is open or covered with a top that can be elevated thus providing a certain amount of shade. I prefered the former. It is also good if you can get on the front vehicle.

While the 75-300 zoom is probably very nice, my experience was that 300 was a bit short on the long side. 400 and 500 was better and for the really long reaches, a 1.4x or 2x extender was often required. Autofocus is a decided advantage. Of course, auto exposure is indispensable.

Actually, the 75-300 plus a 2x extender might be a good, or acceptable, option. You loose a bit of light with the extender but can make up for it (in a way) if you choose to use a slightly faster film than you would use otherwise. Use 400 speed film instead of 100.

A colleague of mine had a Nikon F5 with a 75-300 on the Tanzania trip but hardly ever used it. Usually he used a second F5 with a 500mm focal length lens on it. The shorter one came in handy for scenics, landscapes and instances where we could get out of the car and get up close to subjects. In some instances though it was perfect ... when we had lions at less than 10 feet from the car and elephants charging and coming within 20 feet of the vehicle!

good shooting (photographs that is!)

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