Marfa, Texas Video | Andrew Harper


Marfa, Texas Video | Andrew Harper




2017
june
marfa-texas-video



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An Afternoon With Baby Elephants | David Sheldrick


My wife and I visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya, in early November 2016. It’s a short 15-minute drive from Giraffe Manor, where we were staying, and the hotel organizes daily group visits for guests for a $50 tax-deductible donation. However, we have been donors to the trust for a few years now, so we chose to donate an additional $500 for a private 3 p.m. visit instead.

Upon arrival we were greeted by Edwin, the lead keeper, and given an overview of the program and guidelines for interacting with the elephants. Papering the office walls were photos of other private visits from a range of notables including Prince William, basketball player Yao Ming and actress Lupita Nyong’o. We had little time to examine them, though, as the orphans were already on their way to their afternoon feeding.

Edwin, head keeper at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust - Scott Dubois

We waited a minute near a red-clay watering hole until the first of the baby elephants rushed in from the bush. They all headed straight for the keepers, who were waiting with oversize bottles of formula. Thirty baby elephants jockeying for feeding position is a sight to see, and there was quite a bit of trumpeting from the orphans. Edwin takes notes and ensures that all of them have been fed.

When all the babies were satisfied and had moved on to dust bathing and playing, Edwin told us, “They are all yours.” We were free to walk among them and pet any that were interested in getting attention. Our 45 minutes passed so quickly, I would have thought it was but a dream if not for the elephant trunk marks on my jacket.

Orphan elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust - Scott Dubois

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is on the front line of elephant conservation. To date the trust has raised over 150 orphaned infant calves and reintroduced some into the wild that have gone on to have babies of their own. The staff is incredibly dedicated to the project. Baby elephants need milk every three hours, so the keepers work tirelessly, going so far as to sleep in the stables with the youngest rescues.

We loved our first visit so much that we made a second visit with another group of donors to see the elephants tucked in for the night. There was less interaction, but baby elephants sleeping under blankets are undeniably adorable. For animal lovers, it’s definitely a bucket list item.

To learn more, visit:
www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org

Filmed on a DJI Osmo +



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Small Crowds, Big Game | Maasai Mara Safari


“Safari” is a Swahili word, and when people think of safaris the first image that comes to mind is often vast herds of animals migrating across the grassy plains of the Maasai Mara in southern Kenya. Often missing from this vision are the large groups of 4x4s on game drives that follow the migration.

I’ve wanted to see the Mara since watching nature shows as a child, but the thought of crowds always gave me pause. One of the best parts of a safari is the sense of peace while traveling in large isolated natural areas, and encountering animals as wild as you will find in our globalized world. That is why I started looking into an early November trip to Kenya.

November is shoulder season, which falls right after the peak of the great migration in August through October. The crowds are smaller and prices are significantly cheaper because you risk getting rained on. However, as long as there is no threat of El Niño, November often has short showers as opposed to the torrential rains that can occur from March to June.

Sanctuary Olonana

After checking the forecast, which was tending toward La Niña, I booked a four-night stay at Sanctuary Olonana as part of the second leg of our safari. We flew direct on a small AirKenya plane from the Samburu reserve to the Maasai Mara. Herds of wildebeest and acacia trees dotted the landscape below as we approached the Kichwa Tembo landing strip.

Bush flight into the Maasai Mara - Scott Dubois
Entrance to the Maasai Mara - Scott Dubois

The Sanctuary driver greeted us and loaded us in the Land Cruiser for the short drive to Sanctuary Olonana, which sits outside the reserve near a Maasai village. We were greeted by management and an enigmatic flute player and given an overview of the camp. The main dining area and lobby are adjacent to a hippo pond, and the loud grunts proved to be an entertaining distraction during our orientation.

After a cup of coffee and a look at the beautiful beadwork in the gift shop, we were shown to our safari tent. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the biggest disappointment of the trip. The roof showed the signs and scents of leaking, and one of the main doors to our porch was broken and nailed shut. Our mattress was also very springy, and the hot water was hit or miss. The staff was quick to remedy any problems we had, but the experience was always a little awkward and the staff judgmental.

Game Drives

Fortunately the subpar accommodations were offset by spectacular wildlife, which was the reason for our visit. You are given two options on the timing of your game drives. I recommend taking the longer late-morning-through-lunch option, because the late afternoons were often rained out. We were usually headed in by the time most of the rains would come, and the scattered showers made for some great lighting for photography.

Elephants on the Maasai Mara - Scott Dubois
Male lion on the Maasai Mara - Scott Dubois

The wildlife viewing was excellent during our trip due to better grazing conditions in the area. The tail end of the great migration had come back across the border from Tanzania, so we were lucky to see vast herds of wildebeests and zebras late in the season. With an almost complete lack of other cars in some of the areas of the park we explored, we had the animals all to ourselves.

Our driver was overly fixated on finding a leopard, which we didn’t see, and often seemed bored with the whole affair. Nonetheless, we still managed to view every other mammal in the guidebook including spectacular sightings of lions and cheetahs hunting and an unusually large group of rhinos.

Next time we visit the Mara, I would pass on Sanctuary Olonana in favor of Sala’s Camp, because of our great experiences at other Safari Collection properties. A green season safari in the Maasai Mara I can recommend without hesitation though. After all, it’s not often you have one of the natural wonders of the world almost completely to yourself.



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Samburu Safari | Sasaab Lodge, Kenya


A 45-minute flight northwest of Nairobi takes you past green farmland and into the arid mountains of the Samburu National Reserve, the first stop on our Kenyan safari in November. My wife and I had reserved three nights at Sasaab, a luxury tented camp on the outskirts of the park.

The Samburu

Upon arrival at the small airstrip, we were greeted by our Samburu guides, Jacob and Kupiru. The Samburu people are a pastoral tribe related to but distinct from the more well-known Maasai. Jacob’s colorful sarong and jewelry put my drab khakis to shame, and Kupiru’s intricate bead-and-feather headdress was thing of beauty.

Driving to Sasaab Lodge past Samburu National Reserve - Scott Dubois
Jacob, one of our Samburu guides - Scott Dubois

We loaded into the Land Rover for the long, dusty drive through the park to Sasaab. At first glance the landscape seemed desolate. In the face of a historic drought, many of the herders had moved on to greener pastures on the slopes on the mountains. Only baboons remained to scratch the dirt for any morsels that may have persisted. However, as we crossed the bridge over the Ewaso Ng’iro river into the park, more signs of life started to emerge. The land had been grazed less, and the first scattered storms of the rainy season had passed through the previous afternoon. There were buds on the thorny trees and movement in the bush.

On our way to the lodge, Jacob decided to take a short detour into a riparian zone to see if we could find any game. We rounded a corner and encountered a small herd of elephants and impalas happily grazing in the clearing.

Jacob turned at the sound of a warning call, “Did you hear that? There may be a leopard close by.”

We spun the car around, and sure enough, an adolescent male leopard was passing through. Vervet monkeys, waterbucks and impalas all sounded the alarm, but he paid them no mind. He wasn’t hunting. We observed for a while longer and then continued on toward the lodge, happy with such a great start to our safari.

On the way we passed the park gates and two Samburu villages with their distinctive bomas (livestock enclosures) and manyatta huts. Many people were occupied herding goats, but some chatted with our guides, as many of them were family. Small children waved as we passed.

Sasaab

Sasaab lodge is a unique blend of Moroccan architecture and Kenyan style. Luxury tents are arrayed on the hillside with thatched roofs that mirror the silhouettes of the distant mountains. The common areas are open air and feature Moorish arches and fountains.

The camp managers, Scott and Nikki, were waiting to greet us when we pulled up. We were given a short orientation and then joined them for a lunch buffet with the other two guests who were staying there. (Since it was the end of season, some days we would have the camp almost entirely to ourselves.) This meal and all the others were a consistently good mix of Kenyan-, Indian- and Mediterranean-inspired dishes, prepared with ingredients from the hotel garden. The egg yolks, from the happy chickens raised on site, were a beautiful orange color, and other options were prepared specifically for my wife, Wynn, who is a vegetarian.

A friendly staff member walked us to our room, which had a stunning plunge pool overlooking the river. Most of the time it was too cold to swim, but the beautiful photos we took made up for it. We found the main pool to be a better option for swimming.

Plunge pool at Sasaab - Photo by Andrew Harper
Our four poster bed at Sasaab - Scott Dubois
Sasaab from Above- Scott Dubois

Our tent included a four-poster king bed, large seating area and bath with double shower heads. The room, and indeed the entire camp, is powered completely by the sun, which is rare to find. We spent most of the afternoon resting on the porch, casually painting with the watercolor set in our room, and watching elephants and herders along the riverbanks.

Afternoon Activities

After our short break, we returned to the lobby for our afternoon walk. Because the reserve closes in the evenings, game drives are limited to the mornings, but the lodge offers a variety of afternoon activities within its private 3-square-mile reserve to make up for it. We decided to start with a nature walk to get the lay of the land. Jacob and a friendly ranger toting an AK-47 for protection walked us along the river and instructed us on the basics of tracking.

The following afternoon we visited the Samburu village on ATVs. It was a fun drive, and sitting inside a small manyatta in the village makes you realize how many things we take for granted. Everyone was very friendly and accommodating of our rudimentary grasp of the Samburu language.

On our last day, we opted for the sunset camel safari. The novelty of riding a camel wore off after 30 minutes, but the journey was well worth it. We had sundowners on a large rock outcrop that overlooked the valley, and it proved to be one of the most stunning views I’ve seen in my life.

Morning Game Drives

Every morning we woke before dawn to make the long drive toward the park. Fortunately hot coffee was always waiting for us on our porch first thing. We also got in the habit of cleaning our teeth with the minty tasting stems of the local toothbrush trees with the locals.

The wildlife viewing was much better than I expected, and Jacob and Kupiru were an endless source of knowledge about the area. We had multiple elephant sightings every day, and saw many more than on our last safari in Sabi Sands, South Africa. Rare Grevy’s zebras, lions, reticulated giraffes and ostriches were all common sights as well.

Elephant in Samburu National Reserve - Scott Dubois

Each morning ended with brunch in the bush prepared by our guides. They would unpack a camp stove under a multitrunked palm tree and make made-to-order egg dishes and pancakes, while we drank coffee and observed roaming lions and elephants across the river.

The only troublesome aspect were the herds of cattle we came across each day. Because of the drought, some herders had moved into the park to graze. It was not a huge problem, but apparently some herders had been killed the previous month in a conflict with rangers. There seemed to be legitimate grievances on both sides, and thankfully much-needed rain was on the way.

Indelible Memories

All in all, Sasaab was the best safari experience we’ve ever had. There are too many memories to relate, but a few stand out.

  • Scott, the manager, Kupiru and Jacob chasing after an injured warthog piglet in an attempt to save it.
  • Wynn, feeding cabbage to Rosie, the tiny dik-dik antelope (right), on the steps of the lodge.
  • Everyone consoling us with drinks and a private dinner after we heard the election result.
  • Jacob helping me fly my new “American toy,” a DJI phantom drone.

Most of all, there was the leopard that missed a kill just a few feet outside our tent at midnight. When the impala escaped its clutches, the leopard growled in dismay (called sawing), groaning off and on over the next two hours. We were zipped in our tent safely, but it still made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Hyrax warning calls preceded the soft plod of leopard feet and heavy breathing as it passed on its nightly migration between the hills and the river. I found myself praying for Rosie, as she had just given birth to a fawn.

We left early the next morning to catch our flight and got in one last hour of game viewing. The few short rains had made trees that were bare on arrival a leafy green on departure. We shook hands with our new friends as we boarded the airplane, and Jacob asked us to say hello to their Maasai brothers when we got to the Mara.



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