Archive for October 2010

Masai Mara

Masai Mara Masai MaraINFO: The Masai Mara National Reserve (also spelled Maasai Mara, and known by the locals as ‘the Mara’) is a large game reserve in south-western Kenya, which is effectively the northern continuation of the Serengeti National Park game reserve in Tanzania. Named after the Maasai people (the traditional inhabitants of the area) and their description of the area when looked at from a viewpoint – “Mara”, which is Maa (Maasai language) for spotted: an apt description for the circles of trees, scrub, savannah and cloud shadows that mark the area. It is famous for its exceptional population of Big Cats, game, and the annual migration of zebra, Thomson’s gazelle and wildebeest from the Serengeti every year from July to October, a migration so immense it is called the Great Migration.

YEAR: October 2010.

Long-crested Eagle (Lophaetus occipitalis) Long-crested Eagle (Lophaetus occipitalis)STORY: After breakfast we checked out and met up with Wilson who was going to transport us to our next destination. We had received information before hand that this morning we had a long and exhausting drive ahead of us, until we would reach the Masai Mara National Reserve. Approximatley after 30 minutes drive we spotted a Crested Eagle on a tree top along the road and we decided to pull over to take some photos. It was a huge bird and according to Wilson it is not very common these days, so it was a rare sight. The road which we had to take in order to reach Masai Mara was heavily trafficked, and the vehicles around us was quite loaded. For instance, we saw one truck who was packed in three layers; at the bottom layer was live sheep’s standing almost on top of each other, above them was a layer filled with cut up bushes and branches, and finally it was topped off with 4 persons balancing in the four corners trying not to step on the animals. One could easily imagine that such a over-loaded truck doesn’t stop easily in case of an emergency. Besides all of this they often drive very fast and in my opinion quite recklessly. Unfortunately we happened to arrive at the scene of an accident approximately 10 minutes after we had spotted the crested eagle. It was a petrol truck which had collided frontally with a minibus, which was completely loaded with people. There were great turmoil and people on the scene tried to stop passing cars since they needed help with separating the two vehicles, in order to try and assist the people in the minibus. It was impossible to help the people that was trapped in the minibus without separating it from the petrol truck. They saw us coming and since our vehicle was a huge terrain jeep, they started to run towards us and begging us to stay and help them. We could see people bleeding inside the minibus, and there was a woman crying and screaming heavily out of pain and chock. It was a very traumatic situation for everyone involved. We pulled over and a rope was tied onto the rear of our jeep and the other end was fasten onto the minibus, and then we tried to pull the two vehicles apart. Unfortunately the rope wasn’t strong enough so it broke without having any effect on the collided vehicles. Luckily, another enormous truck came by and had proper equipment to assist with the pulling apart. Wilson said that now we can leave, and we were relieved to hear this. The next couple of hours of our trip was spent in silence, since we were all pretty chocked and saddened by the whole incidence.

During the last part of our trip the road got really bad, it was filled with big holes, and we were also a bit late due to the accident, so Wilson decided to drive a little bit faster. Unfortunately, the hard seats in the jeep didn’t really absorb the non smoothness of the road, so we were bouncing around for an hour. When we finally arrived, Wilson said that we had gotten true African massage.
We ran into the main building just in time for lunch. Masai Mara Sopa Lodge Masai Mara Sopa Lodge

Our lodge was really beautiful, and built in traditional African style with lots of tree ornaments and Masai decorations. The hotel was surrounded by a large garden flourishing with flowers and birds. We asked Wilson to pick us up after a couple of hours for our late afternoon safari. Unfortunately we were unlucky, since after only 30 successful minutes it started to rain, and we spent more than one hour closed up in the jeep waiting for the rain to stop. It was already late afternoon and after the rain had stopped we hadn’t so much time for further exploration before it became too dark. However, we saw elephants and many wildebeest and plenty of beautiful feathered friends. Masai Mara is a really huge reserve and so we decided that we would start really early the next morning. We went back to the hotel, and after a quick fresh up we went down for dinner. They had a big buffet which we enjoyed greatly. After dinner we returned to our room to download the photos and to do some writing.

Dik-Dik Dik-DikDay 2: It was an early, cold and humid morning after a whole nights rain. We started our safari at 07:00 AM with hopes of seeing several more birds and animals than yesterday. The first animals we saw was a dik-dik family, and it turned out that we would see them every time we passed their “habitat”, since they had chosen a rather small passage with lots of vegetation which we had to drive thru in order to reach the open planes. The first animals we came across entering the open planes was a large group of mongooses, and we saw them since we where trying to photograph a Hoopoe, and they where running right into the picture. Wilson pointed at a group of jeeps which had gathered at a point and appeared to search for something. We decided to drive over there, and it turned out to be a lion family comprised of four lionesses, several cubs and one younger male. They where hungry and looking for a suitable prey. Within less than 10 minutes so many vehicles had gathered that the lions choose to hide in the bushes, and the whole event was over. We decided to drive on and later we came across elephants, ostriches and a warthog family.
In the afternoon we drove back to the lodge to have a late lunch and to get some rest. One doesn’t really picture that it could be quite exhausting to drive around in a jeep, but it is. The terrain is quite inaccessible and you have to stand up the whole time in order not to miss any action.

Serval (Leptailurus serval) Serval (Leptailurus serval)For our late afternoon safari we had planned to visit the Mara River and hopefully see some hippos. It was a really long drive on some really bad roads, and so we got some African massage again. We arrived at the Mara rivers well known crossing over point for the wildebeest and zebras when they migrate from Masai Mara to Serengeti into Tanzania.  It started to rain again and the sky was really dark, which was to be expected since the rainy season was literally standing on the threshold. We saw a group of hippos swimming in the water, and bit further down we saw several dead wildebeests which had been washed up on the river bank. It was plenty of scavengers around having a great feast on the cadavers. We decided to only make a short stop at this rather gruesome display.

On our way back we saw the beginning of the formation of the great wildebeest migration. Groups of wildebeest and zebras were aligning themselves in big columns comprising of hundreds of thousands of animals. We also spotted a type of ” Serval – wild cat” and a pair of Southern Ground hornbills.

When we returned to our hotel, we freshened up and went to dinner. After we had completed our dinner we came across a posting in the lobby which announced that it would be Masai dancers performing that evening. We found a nice place to sit and enjoyed a cup of coffee while we waited for the performance to start. The dancers arrived and they were a group of approximately 15 masai men who where singing and doing their characteristic jumping. After they had completed we went back to our room for a good nights sleep.

Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri)Day 3: This morning was our last in the hotel, and even in the national reserve. After we had enjoyed our last breakfast we checked out and packed our stuff in the jeep. The roof was opened and we hoped to see and photograph yet more wildlife before we had to leave the reserve. We had had lots of rain during our days of safari, and we hoped to have better luck at least this last morning. Unfortunately after only 15 minutes it started to rain again, and we had to close the roof on the jeep. We continued to drive around but visibility was not to good sitting down in the jeep, so spotting small animals where ruled out. Therefore we decided to try and find the cheetah and hopefully be able to photograph it. After 45 minutes of searching we saw an old lion male lying alone beside the road. Wilson explained that he probably had lost a fight to a younger and stronger male which had taken over his flock. He was still in good shape considering that a male lion are not as good hunter as a lioness, but thanks to the hundreds of thousands of wildebeests present in the area, he could still hunt with rather ease. We left him and continued our search for the cheetah. Wilson communicated with other drivers in the reserve to hear if they had seen cheetah or leopard, and finally we got some information about their possible location. After approximately 15 minutes we found tree cheetahs laying in the bushes 30 m from the main road, trying to take cover against the rain. It wasn’t an easy task to try and photograph them considering that it was a lot of branches in the way and heavy rain, so I had to handhold my heavy camera and lens. After some examination I found out that we were to close, and since we couldn’t back up our jeep, I had to switch to my second camera with 100-400 mm lens. I made a few shots and a little video clip with two playing cheetahs, and our “mission” was completed.

The lion (Panthera leo) The lion (Panthera leo)It had been raining a lot the last few days making it problematic to drive around on the roads, they had become muddy and very slippery. It felt almost like we were driving on ice, and it was very easy to get stuck. We had planned to take a shortcut to the entrance of the reservate to avoid having to drive all the way around. We searched for a small passage to cross over the river and to continue our trip, but we couldn’t find it. We got in contact with a local who tried to help, but when we arrived there it turned out to be impossible to cross over due to the heavy rain which had literally turned the road into a mud-hole. We had to try another way and the local guy knew the surroundings and recommended another way for us which worked, and so we could leave the reservate.
A little after 10 minutes drive, our engine died. We got a bit concerned since we had such a long way to drive in order to reach Nairobi, but Wilson was sure that it was something concerning the gasoline pump. We were in a little village and we spotted a local car mechanics and decided to discuss the matter with them. The jeep contained two separate gasoline tanks, one main and one second, and the main one was empty but the second one were almost full, so we had gas. The mechanics explained that the main tank must always hold at least 20 liters of gas in order for the engine to work. It didn’t matter if you had lots of gas in the second tank. So we fueled up the main tank and we were on our way again. It was more than 60 km to drive on very bad roads before we reached the good road, which was also in a rather bad condition. After shaking and jumping for an eternity we stopped for lunch. We had polenta made of white corn served with vegetables and a spicy tomatoe sause, it tasted wonderful.
After lunch when we were all back in the jeep it started to rain so heavily that we couldn’t see more than 20 meter in front of us, but after approximately 20 minutes the  weather changed for the better again.
Eventually we arrived in Nairobi and we checked in at our hotel. We rested at the hotel until the next day and Wilson escorted us to the airport. We flew in a small plane for 1 hour and then we reached Kenyas coast, where we intended to relax for four days, hopefully with better weather.

PHOTOS:

Lake Naivasha

Lake Naivasha Lake Naivasha and red point as our start positionINFO: Lake Naivashaisa freshwater lake in Kenya, lying north west of Nairobi, outside the town of Naivasha. It is part of the Great Rift Valley.

YEAR: Oktober 2010

STORY: We started our day with an early breakfast in order to be in time for our pickup at 8:00 AM. We were being picked up by a young guy by the name of “Wilson”, who came driving in a large terrain jeep and which was working for the current company which we had engaged for our private safari.  Our first visit was the Lake Naivasha game sanctury which was located north of Nairobi, and it took us more than two hours to reach the sanctuary. We were informed that we were going to spend the next few hours in a boat where we would be guided around the lake in order to explore the wildlife on and around the lake.
The boat was quite big and suited for twelve persons, but luckily enough we were the only ones going that day. The wildlife on the lake was extensive and I had placed myself in the front of the boat with my camera secured on a tripod. I used Canon 1D mark IV and my favorite EF 400 mm F/2.8 L IS USM. I also had in my pocket 1.4 and 2X extender, but we always managed to get close enough to the objects, therefore I never needed any extender. My biggest expectation was to see the African Fishing Eagle and Kingfisher in action. We saw three different kinds of Kingfishers (Great Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher and Malachite Kingfisher) and a couple of them with a catch in their beak. We were also fortunate enough to see the Fishing Eagle hunting for fish, and I even succeeded to get it on picture. I believe that we saw more than 30 different kinds of birds on the lake in less than two hours. Additionally, we discovered a few hippopotamuses as well, enjoying their bath in the lake. Almost by coincidence, Wilson discovered a little green snake, which had crawled up in a bush which was growing out in the water, and was hunting for insects from one of the branches.
After the boat ride on the lake, we enjoyed a nice lunch in the beautiful garden at the Lake Naivasha Resort. There were plenty of birds flying around us in the garden and another one of my “bird favorites” came by, the Superb Starling, and I managed to get a picture. In the end of our lunch we got a special visitor, which was trying to steal the rest of the food from us. The visitor was a a big male Velvet monkey who was just waiting for Wilson to leave us, so that he could take action. Wilson had previously informed us that the monkeys don’t fear white people, therefore we were determined to see the intruder off, since we didn’t believe in that. Unbelievably, Wilson was correct, we clapped our hands and I even touched him on his back, but he just turned his head and looked at me like he was telling me “Don’t disturb me, can’t you see I am eating”, and continued as nothing had happened. The monkey didn’t leave until he saw Wilson running towards the table, trying to save what was left of his french fries.
This concluded our day, and Wilson drove us to our new hotel which we checked in at, and there we were left to “recharge” for the next day’s adventures.

PHOTOS:

Lake Nakuru National Park

Lake Nakuru Lake NakuruINFO: Lake Nakuru is one of the Rift Valley soda lakes. It lies to the south of Nakuru, in central Kenya and is protected by a small Lake Nakuru National Park. The lake’s abundance of algae attracts the vast quantity of flamingos that famously lines the shore. Other birds also flourish in the area, as do warthogs, baboons and other large mammals. Black and white rhinos have also been introduced. Nakuru means “Dust or Dusty Place” in the Masai language. Lake Nakuru National Park, close to Nakuru town, was established in 1961. It started off small, only encompassing the famous lake and the surrounding mountainous vicinity, but has since been extended to include a large part of the Savannahs.

YEAR: October 2010.

STORY: Early in the morning after breakfast we were ready for a long day’s safari. The entrance of the national park was located just 10 minutes drive from our hotel, and we were there exactly when they opened the gates. Wilson opened the “roof” of the jeep for us and I prepared my equipment, and the adventure started. I had brought two camera houses with two different lenses. My first set was 1D Mark IV with EF 400 mm F/2.8 L IS USM and later during the day when light was brighter, I attached 1.4 extender as well. Second camera was 5D Mark II with EF 100-400 mm F/4.5-5.6 L IS USM, which I used occasionally when the distance between the camera and the object was to narrow. My expectation was to see as many species of birds as possible and hopefully to be able to catch a few of them in action, and by the end of the day: I wasn’t disappointed.
The first game we saw was a lion family sleeping in the long grass, and there was one of the cubs which popped his head out when we drove by, and I managed to get him on picture. Later on, we entered a forest area which flourished with birds and monkeys. Wilson assisted us grately on our safari by being able to name all the bird species and other animals which we saw. He even invented a stand for my heavy lens, which was a sack of beans that I could use to place my heavy leans on when shooting from the roof of the jeep, since it wasn’t possible to mount the camera on my tripod. This lake was alkaloid and it was the perfect habitat for flamingos and pelicans, and we saw houndreds of them along the coast line. We also spotted several types of plowers, stork’s, water buffalos, white rhinos, giraffes, zebras, jackals, several kinds of gazelles, water bucks and so on.
We were beginning to feel a bit hungry so Wilson headed the jeep up on a peak which presented an astonishing view. He unpacked our previosly packed lunch box for us which he had ordered from the hotel, and we gratefully accepted the invitation.
On the way back to our hotel it started to rain and it kept on all night. We where really tired after a whole day’s safari, and after our dinner we went to bed, knowing that we had a long drive ahead of us the following morning in order to reach the Masai Mara National Reserve.

PHOTOS:

Mexico City and Teotihuacan

Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of MaryINFO: Mexico City is the Federal District, capital and largest city of the Mexico and Americas… Teotihuacan is an enormous archaeological site in the Basin of Mexico, containing some of the largest pyramidal structures. Teotihuacan is also known for its large residential complexes, the Avenue of the Dead, and numerous colorful, well-preserved murals. Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas.

STORY: We arrived in Mexico City buss station after six hours trip from Vera Cruz. It was in the mid of the day and city was crowded with cars. Our hotel was located in the north part of the city ad we had to take a taxi. When we booked our hotel in Vera Cruz we had a plan to find a hotel somewhere in the city and we found one with similar description. But if you don’t know how big Mexico City was than you can be 50 km from the center of the city in any direction and still you are in the city. After almost two hours in taxi we arrived to our hotel from buss station and was still in the city… huh. We had plan to find some tours to explore area called Teotihuacan and some part of Mexico City. Teotihuacan map Teotihuacan map
Our tour started one hour earlier than usually with reason the we stayed on the opposite side of city. As usually crowded streets and many stops before we arrived in the right area to rejoin with the rest of the group. Weather was cloudy with chance of raining. First on the list was largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas and seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico, Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary. It was situated a top the former Aztec sacred precinct near the Templo Mayor on the northern side of the Plaza de la Constitución in downtown. Our guide explained whole history of this place during the walk around and later we visited a tourist shop with souvenirs.
Next place to visit was Teotihuacan. We arrived on the parking area where our guide collected tickets and quick explained what we are going to do and how long time was before a lunch. I wish I had my camera equipment as I have today but only camera I had was my Canon 20D and 17-85. It is not bad camera but today’s technology is much better than many years ago.
Teotihuacan - The Sun pyramid Teotihuacan - The Sun pyramidAfter guided tour at the complex it was the time for personal exploration. Teotihuacan was much bigger and impressive than expected. Just walking the Avenue of the Dead and seeing how big and enormous the Pyramid of the Sun was with all people on their way up to the top. The moon pyramid was smaller then the Sun pyramid and located in the end of the avenue. My plan was to climb on the top and take wide panorama shot. After climbing the Moon pyramid I was really exited and my attempt to climb the Sun pyramid was interrupted by heavy rain. Of the security reason climbing was canceled for many visitors and we left the whole site and want to the restaurant. After good vegetarian meal the adventure was over and it was time to go back to the hotel.

CONCLUSION: One day I will definitely return to this place and properly document with better equipment. If you are visiting the Mexico City than don’t miss the opportunity to visit this magnificent place!

Mexico

Mexico


INFO:
United Mexican States or Mexico is the fifth-largest country in the Americas by total area and the 14th largest independent nation in the world.  It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of Mexico. In Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica many cultures matured into advanced civilizations such as the Olmec, the Toltec, the Teotihuacan, the Zapotec, the Maya and the Aztec before the first contact with Europeans. In 1521, Spain conquered and colonized the territory, which was administered as the vice royalty of New Spain which would eventually become Mexico as the colony gained independence in 1821.

YEAR: Autumn 2001, Summer 2006 and Summer 2009.

Year 2001:I spent two weeks of my vacation on Yucatan peninsula with some friends. We where in a place called Playa del Carmen, well known as a tourists paradise and most visited by European tourists. I don’t remember so many details from this trip other than visiting Merida and Uxmal pyramid area and the well known Chichén Itzá.

Summer 2006: This years plan was to visit Mexico City and the coastal city Vera Cruz. Both of these cities are rich in history with ruins from two ancient pre-Columbian cultures. First on the list were Vera Cruz which we reached after a long bus ride. We stayed for about one week. There we explored cities rich in history and its surroundings, being guided by a private tour guide who was an expert in archaeology and also a published writer.
Mexico City was a big and over-crowded city covering a huge area.  The reason for visiting  was a special location called Teotihuacan. Apart from the pyramidal structures, Teotihuacan is also known for its large residential complexes and the “Avenue of the Dead”. Here we spent two days in total.

Summer 2009: This year we spent ten days on the beautiful peninsula Yucatan and Cancun, a coastal city in Mexico’s easternmost state. The city center was located on the mainland which connects the Nichupté and lagoons to a narrow 7-shaped island, where the modern beachfront hotels are located in the tourist centric hotel zone. We had two adventures, the first by visiting the famous and one of the new seven wonders; Chichén Itzá and secondly Isla Mujeres. Isla Mujeres was located off the coast and was only accessible by boat from Puerto Juárez.

PHOTOS:

Chichén Itzá Chichén Itzá Teotihuacan Teotihuacan