Previously published in The Toronto Globe and Mail
In Nairobi I join five other tourists, all of us keyed up and anxious to begin our first safari. I climb into the land cruiser and compete for space with backpacks and telephoto lenses so big they obscenely dwarf the cameras attached to them. Not an auspicious start, I think.
I have my camera with me, of course. I even take a picture or two. I photograph the big five, the little five, and a number of fives in between. I take a picture of our guide, a few of the landscape and a couple of our luxury tent camp.
My fellow safarians are not so casual about their picture taking. Three minutes into the first game drive the conversation goes something like this:
“How many gigs have you got?”
“Me too. I brought four cards with me. I hope that’ll be enough. I might have to buy more.”
Now where in the Serengeti, I wonder, will we find a store selling gigs. I cradle my little Canon on my lap, protective of the runt of the litter.
The conversation switches to zoom power. I know I’ve got a one-gig card and that I can zoom. But zoom power? I glance down at baby Canon and see 4X. That must be it. My relief is shattered when I hear numbers like 14, 20, 300. 300?
“Zebras on the left,” someone shouts. Click, click, click go the cameras. The zebras begin to move away. Click, click, click. Just how many pictures of zebra bums does one need?
“Sawa sawa?” the driver asks.
“Sawa sawa,” we say. The signal to move on.
“Over there at two o’clock. By that different-colored grass.” Click, click, click.
“There. Do you see it?” Click, click, click.
“A tree stump,” says the driver.
We click and snap our way through Kenya andTanzania.
“Road kill.” Click, click, click.
“Airplane.” Click, click, click.
From a hot air balloon we watch the magnificent migration of wildebeests. I feel like I’m seeing all two million of them. We see lions, hippos, zebras, and an amazing sunrise. My camera is in the truck. I didn’t forget it. I left it there on purpose.
“Wasn’t that incredible?” I say to the nearest safarian when we land.
“Yes, but the light wasn’t quite right for my camera,” comes the reply. I groan inwardly and walk away.
We visit a Masai camp. I surrender baby Canon to one of the fanatics. I want a picture of myself dancing with the Masai warriors. She takes twenty-seven. I delete twenty-three. After all, I’ve only got one gig.
A cheetah moves parallel to our vehicle then begins to close the gap. “He’s stalking the gazelle, using us for cover,” says the driver. The cheetah bursts across our path. A telephoto lens whacks me on the head. Another bruises my shoulder as the fanatics try to follow the cat’s charge on a herd far to our right. For God’s sake, put the damn cameras down and watch. It’s what I want to say, but I don’t. My mother raised me to be polite.
“I lost him,” one moans.
“He’s too fast,” says another. A cloud of dust rises and then settles. The hunt was successful. I mentally salute the cheetah and rub my throbbing temple.
Game drive number seven.
“Hartebeest,” our driver says. “Shall I stop?
“No thanks. Got it,” four sing in chorus.
“I don’t have a picture of one,” says the fifth.
We stop. Click, click, click, go five cameras.
“Sawa sawa,” someone says and we motor on only to come to a stop moments later behind one of the other land cruisers in our party.
“What do you see?” I ask the group in front of us.
“A baby topi. All alone. We’re wondering where the mother is,” one of the men says.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake. Do they have to stop at every little thing?”
I stifle a snort of laughter. Isn’t that what we’ve been doing for four days now? Isn’t that why we’re always way behind the others?
To be continued.