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How the Addiction Began! Botswana 2012 with Safariguy...


JulieM

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"Africa", I thought. "Now that's a place I've been wanting to go back to ever since that white van tour we did of Kenya and Tanzania in 1999!"

 

This was some time in 2011. I had a new hobby (photography) and a husband who hadn't been to Africa before, so I started the hunt to find a photographic tour to Africa. This was in the dark days before I knew of the existence of Safaritalk, so I was pretty much flying blind, but I was delighted to find a photographer whose work was stunning, who was leading a tour to somewhere I hadn't been before, at a time I could travel, and with a discount for my non-photographer husband! Perfect! And so it was with my breath held, and my fingers firmly crossed that I sent an email enquiry to see if there were spaces available. Happy days!! The lovely @@safariguy confirmed two places on his November 2012 trip and all that was left was to start practicing wildlife photography at all my local zoos, and try not to explode with anticipation waiting for our departure! Andy answered all of my newbie questions with much patience and insight in the coming months and so by the time we left I felt well prepared. This is Andy's website if you are already jumping at the bit to find out more!! http://www.andybiggs.com And here is the man himself. (I used this slide for the presentation I did for camera club which is why it has all the words on it!!).

 

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We flew from Brisbane to Johannesburg, where the tour was going to start. We allowed an extra day just in case of flight delays or cancellations, leaving us a full day in Johannesburg to fill. We did a day tour with http://www.fellengtours.com which we really enjoyed. We were picked up at the hotel and firstly visited the Apartheid Museum. It is an excellent museum and we spent a sober couple of hours there - well worth the visit.

 

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We then went into Soweto where we visited the Kliptown Youth Program http://www.kliptownyouthprogram.org.za This is an organisation that supports the young people of Kliptown, one of the oldest shantytowns in Soweto, by providing educational support and after school activities. I was worried that we might have felt a little voyeuristic visiting Soweto, but it has played such a role in history that I felt I wanted to see it for myself. We were certainly welcomed there and felt very comfortable.

 

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One toilet for 8 families

 

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Billy had brought some souvenir koala toys for the kids - I bet they wondered what on earth they were!!

 

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This lady was gracious enough to accept us into her home

 

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We visited other sights within Soweto also, including Nelson Mandela's house.

 

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We had a great day, learned a lot and we really enjoyed it.

 

At dinnertime, with some trepidation (because I am very shy by nature) we went down to the lobby of the hotel to meet with Andy and our fellow tour mates. It was quite an eclectic bunch with mainly Americans, some Europeans, another couple from Australia and a delightful lady from Colombia. There were 16 of us altogether (if I remember correctly). We headed into the casino complex where Andy had booked a table for dinner and we settled in to get to know each other. It was a lovely meal and we went to bed excited about the days ahead.

 

More to come…..

 

 

 

 

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twaffle

Excellent start. I think Andy would be fun to travel with.

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graceland

Thanks for starting this JulieM....always wondered how a safari was experienced with a Pro like Andy!

Looking forward to more.

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So the next morning we headed off as a group to Johannesburg airport for our flight to Maun. There were some unusual groups at the airport that day - all couples, with a film crew following them! When we asked what they were doing, they all replied that they were doing a travel documentary. We weren't fooled though - they were filming the Amazing Race and they were on our flight!! Hubby and I are massive Amazing Race fans so we were very excited! Andy was sitting towards the front and seated next to him were two very cute young blondes. He did what he could to help them get off the plane first by standing in the aisle, blocking the other contestants, for as long as he could get away with! It was fun watching them all run off the plane towards customs, followed by the entourage with all the gear! We enjoyed watching that season of the show!

 

From Maun airport, we were on two private charter Cessna Caravans to our first camp in the Okavango Delta.

 

Maun from the air

 

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First glimpses of the Delta!

 

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Billy swore he saw a huge herd of elephants from his side of the aircraft - he was soooo excited!

 

On arrival we were greeted by the guides from the Sandibe Safari Lodge where we would be for the next 4 nights. Here's a link to their website http://www.andbeyond.com/sandibe-okavango-safari-lodge/ It has only just reopened after an extensive rebuild, so it looks quite different now from when we were there!

 

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Let the safari begin!!

 

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We had a wonderful welcome into camp - all the staff singing and dancing, with champagne!

 

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Billy opted for a welcome beer and he was as happy as a pig in mud!! His first trip to Africa and he thought he was in heaven!

 

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Our rooms were glorious! (And that is before the rebuild!)

 

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From memory, we had time for a late lunch and then we headed out on a very short afternoon game drive.

 

Our guide for our stay was Jonas, and our tracker was his uncle Hamas (I'm sure that spelling isn't right sorry!).

 

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From memory Andy was in our truck that drive and he immediately set about adjusting my camera to back-button focus - a complete game changer for my photography that trip. I haven't switched back and I don't think I could now! I can't remember what we saw on that drive and the only photos I have are of our introduction to the great African sundowner tradition!! All the jeeps met at the same location, overlooking a hippo pool, to have a drink and get to know each other better.

 

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You might be able to see some of the big gear that people had. I was still quite new in my photography hobby and thought my 100-400mm lens was quite an extravagance so I was blown away when I saw these enormous lenses! I had never seen a 500mm f/4 lens, or a 400mm f/2.8. They were absolute beasts, and I was initially worried that I might have lens envy. I sat in the truck with my two bodies (a Canon 5DMk2 and a Canon 5KMk3), one with a 24-105mm lens and the other with the 100-400 and I actually found I wasn't restricted because of the big gear. I can hand-hold that lens and I felt I was getting shots that I was happy with, without the "fuss" that some of the others seemed to have in managing their gear. I was never made to feel "inadequate" because of my gear, so if not having the big gear puts you off a photographic tour then don't worry! At least with one of Andy's trips. He is much more focused on the photography aspect than the gear which I found really great.

 

And while I'm on practical matters, let me tell you a little more about Andy's tours. For this Botswana trip, as mentioned, there was a discount for non-photographers, or if you were happy to share a row in the truck. If paying full price you are guaranteed a row to yourself, but if you are happy to share then the second person gets a discount. That was ideal for us, and Billy is very good at moving aside to let me get the shot I needed. As it turned out, we ended up in a truck with another couple for the length of our trip, and with four rows (three in the back and one beside the guide) we could all have a row if we wanted to. The other couple were from the States and they were both photographers. We had a lovely time with them and we remain in touch to this day. Also on our trip was @@LouBNYC - another buddy we keep in contact with. I'm trying to talk him into coming to Zimbabwe with us in 2016…...

 

It was a great start to our trip and we looked forward to our first full day the next day!

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The morning began with Jonas waking us up with a song and some drumming. I sometimes still sing his song when I want to remember Africa …"This is your wakeup call, this is your wakeup call, this is your wakeup call, here are the drums - boom boom boom-boom"! It was so cute! There was tea and coffee in the dining area with some snacks to get us going first thing in the morning, and we would stay out until near lunchtime when a big breakfast/lunch was served. We would also have a coffee on the drive, so we were never hungry!

 

Because this trip was 2 years ago, I can't remember all the ins and outs of each game drive, but here are my favourites from each drive.

 

Our first morning game drive netted a nice sleepy cheetah, elephants, giraffe and two different leopards, one with a kill - pretty good first day!!

 

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We stayed with this leopard for around an hour. One of the beauties of being on a photographic tour is that you know that all of the other people are as interested in getting "the shot" as you are, so are generally happy to sit at sightings for as long as needed.

 

Morning coffee in the Delta

 

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This next photo was one of my favourite shots from the trip - so much so that I blew it up as a big 24in x 24 in canvas to put on my wall. It is the first thing I see when I come in from the garage - a constant reminder of why I go to work!! (to pay for these trips!)

 

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Lions in the afternoon completed the cat trick for the day! We followed this little pride along, with the cubs playing happily in the grass, as they made their way back to a kill that they had under a tree. We just missed the action though because apparently a leopard had tried to take the kill and had been chased up a tree by the lionesses. He managed to get away when they weren't looking - we just saw him scurrying away. These lions kept us amused for the whole afternoon drive!

 

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Great retrospective so far. "Pretty good" first day is selling it short, I think!

 

 

 

It is the first thing I see when I come in from the garage - a constant reminder of why I go to work!!

 

 

 

I know what you mean. I've done the same thing for the same reason (coincidentally, also a photo of a leopard in a tree).

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graceland

@@JulieM

 

Love your leopard shots! I always wondered how a photog safari was like with a pro leading the way. I'd definitely be out of your league carriying my point and shot (bridge around :unsure: )

 

I loved Botswana, so I can see how it was the beginning of your addction with Africa. But then I loved...Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya..so I am Fickle! I love them all!

 

Looking forward to more of your report!

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Leopards were again on the menu the next morning. One of the pictures on the top of my shot list was a leopard draped in a tree - how lucky was I that there she was?!

 

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We sat with her for a while and she had a couple of position changes, but when she seemed to be settling in for a long sleep we headed off.

 

The rest of the morning netted some birds, wart hog, giraffe, hippos, baboons, kudus and then more lions - Botswana delivers too!!

 

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The lioness thought the kudu would make a good lunch, but it wasn't to be!

 

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For the afternoon drive, we did some more birding, saw a couple of hippos out of the water, watched giraffe, zebra and wildebeest as well as followed a small herd of elephants. Sundowners topped the drive off well and in the evening we had a lecture about wildlife photography from Andy. Great day!

 

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I really like Andy's style of photography, and being encouraged to break some of the "rules" of photography was really refreshing. Being able to then go out the next day and experiment with his teaching made it even better. As well as teaching the creative side of photography, he was also able to teach us about wildlife photography more generally, telling us things that really improve your images, e.g. including tails in images rather than cutting them off, how if you can see all the eyes in a group of animals then that is a stronger image, how the leg position while an animal is walking can make or break a photograph, etc. I have a friend who went on a photographic tour to Africa before me and she said she wasn't taught any of this stuff. So just being on a photographic tour isn't always enough - you have to go with the right teacher.

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On the next morning game drive I got some of my favourite shots of the trip. We started by playing around with trying to get pictures of running animals. It must be quite amusing for Billy listening to the three of us madly clicking away on our cameras, mostly being frustrated by it but occasionally being rewarded with a reasonable shot.

 

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Trying to get all 4 feet off the ground was something Andy had talked about.

 

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Not long after, a dazzle of zebra very kindly lined up for us.

 

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I have done really well in competitions with this next shot - at camera club, nationally and internationally (sorry, that sounds like bragging, but I really love this shot!). It's another one I have up on the wall at home, and one that my boss bought to put on the wall at work and another one for her house!

 

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Next up we heard about a big male leopard in the area so we headed over to join one of the other trucks to see him. He was very handsome!

 

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He posed for us for a while, allowing us to try different compositions, until he headed off. I tried a panning shot which was semi-successful.

 

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After he left, we found some elephants and then this lovely warthog with her babies - too cute!

 

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There was a bit of excitement on the radio as a big male lion was found. He was first found relaxing under a bush and I took this portrait of him - another one of my faves.

 

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Then he took us on a journey - all the trucks from the tour having joined us by now (4) - through sand, bush and grass. At one point I remember that he walked in front of our vehicle, and I had been thinking all about my camera settings - what is the shutter speed, have I chopped his tail off, am I correctly exposed etc etc - when I put the camera down and it suddenly hit me - "OMG - there's an enormous male lion just a few feet away from me!!" It really illustrated to me how disconnected you can sometimes become behind your camera, so I learned then to also put down the camera at times and just enjoy the moment!!

 

This panning shot is framed on my bookcase.

 

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After he headed off and away from us, we couldn't quite work out why all the trucks were trying to stay together. It wasn't until we rounded a corner, and found Andy and all the camp staff singing a welcome to us that we worked it out! They had set up a bush picnic, in the middle of the Delta, for all of us. It was very cool!!

 

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It's a pretty tough life being on safari…….(NOT!!). We had been out on drive for around 6 hours and seen so much! I felt very lucky to be where I was!

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It was always going to be tough to top that morning drive but we headed out anyway! We all decided we'd love to find some hippos and see if we can get "the yawn" shot. Along the way we did a bit more bird photography.

 

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Jonas took us straight to a hippo pool where this guy was lurking.

 

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And then he obliged us with the yawn we were after!

 

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Sundowners overlooking a hippo pool - ahhhhhh!

 

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i can see why you're happy with the zebra dazzle & leopard images. Lovely shots.

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twaffle

Agree with Geoff, I'd be very happy with that zebra photo too and you have a good selection of leopards. I like the blur experiments, gives plenty of variety.

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graceland

@@JulieM, love the zebra shots, and the lion portrait. I don't know whether Andy influenced your shots, or you are just a natural, but they are lovely...certainly winners in a contest.

 

I tend to keep my camera down more than up as I love being in the moment; never knowing when I will get back.

 

I snap a few for memories (and for my trip reports, but everyone is warned beforehand :wacko: ) however, I do enjoy photos that real enthusiasts and pros take. One reason we are all different by nature.

 

Its' fun to see the different approaches folks here take to their photos. Thanks for returning to Bots and sharing your addiction.

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At one point I remember that he walked in front of our vehicle, and I had been thinking all about my camera settings - what is the shutter speed, have I chopped his tail off, am I correctly exposed etc etc - when I put the camera down and it suddenly hit me - "OMG - there's an enormous male lion just a few feet away from me!!" It really illustrated to me how disconnected you can sometimes become behind your camera, so I learned then to also put down the camera at times and just enjoy the moment!!

 

Well said. Everything seems so "apart" when you're looking through the viewfinder.

 

On the other hand, the photos really are fantastic and I enjoyed them a lot, so I'm glad you spent as much time taking photos as you did! Lovely sunset.

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@@JulieM I do love how you tell the story of the trip ! This was a last minute trip for me, the second to Botswana and I am glad I went and met some wonderful friends ...

 

Unfortunately I now Tusker addiction which costs me $50 a case in NY... !

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Unfortunately I now Tusker addiction which costs me $50 a case in NY... !

I can sympathize with this...it's Amarula in my case, but it isn't even sold in my state. Obtaining it can be tricky (always worth it of course).

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Billy loves the Tuskers too, but we can't find it here in Brisbane!

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Finding the balance between photographing and being in the moment can be tricky but I think I achieved it better on our trip to Kenya this year. Botswana was my first trip to Africa since getting into photography, so I wanted to photograph everything, and I was also learning so wanted to practice a lot. In Kenya, I could sit back more and say "well, I've already got a better shot of that" and not try to shoot everything because I knew there would be other opportunities. I do love having the images to play with when I get home and to have in albums and on my wall, so I couldn't imagine ever not taking photos, just have to mind the balance.

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It was our last game drive at Sandibe and we were all sad to be leaving, but excited for our next destination. Looking through my raw files from that morning it is clear that I had a particularly dodgy day of photography - many many photos of blurry birds! Not a decent shot amongst them!

 

We had time for a quick photo with Jonas and Harma and then we headed to the airstrip to catch our charter planes to Nxbega.

 

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The view from the airplane

 

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The airstrip near Nxbega (Pom Pom?)

 

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After landing, we met our new guides and trackers and started the drive back towards camp. Our guide was called Easy and we still have very fond memories of our time with him. He had a lovely gentle nature, but a wicked sense of humour and an utterly addictive laugh, as well as being a great guide! He was used to photographers and knew how to find the light and the angle for us. We asked him if he could find us some giraffe, as we hadn't seen that many in Sandibe. Sure enough, just around the corner we found some lovely specimens!

 

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Not far from the airstrip we saw this pride of lions. I think they are known as the Pom Pom lions. They were doing what lions do best (nothing) but it was great to be so close. All the members of our group were there watching.

 

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We should have known something was up with all of the trucks in one place. Sure enough, we rounded a corner and there's lunch all set up under a tree in the middle of the Delta.

 

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That's Andy there, looking well pleased with himself! As he should have been - the trip was a great success!

 

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After another marvellous lunch, we headed in to camp. This was a bit more challenging than Sandibe had been!!

 

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We had another lovely warm welcome.

 

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It is a beautiful camp.

 

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We had about an hour to settle in before we headed out to see what this neck of the woods would bring. I immediately made up for my very dodgy morning bird photography with this reflection shot...

 

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And then watched some baboons by the pond.

 

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I could have watched these baboons all day! The babies were so cute!

 

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Our next sighting was at a hyena den. We would spend quite a lot of time here over the next few days as they had little puppies who were very cute!

 

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That's @@LouBNYC in the back with the big bazooka!

 

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Some elephants came to visit too.

 

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It was a great introduction to Nxbega and we were all happy campers!

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wilddog

Those hyena cub shots are great!

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graceland

Love the hyenas coming to take a peek! What a great spot. I had met some guests from Nxbega in Bots, and they raved about it.

Great report; thanks again! Enjoy seeing a group with such a fabulous photographer. I'd be so intimidated :blink:

You could teach a course or two, Julie; love the shots.

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Thanks @@graceland - glad you are liking the report!

 

And yes @@LouBNYC - I always laugh at that photo too! Bryan usually had his 1Dx and 500mm, shutter going bang-bang-bang superfast for seconds at a time so to have this shot of him with his iPhone cracks me up!

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