Top 20 Non-Safari Photos

Three thousand, two hundred and fifty-six. That’s how many photos we’ve taken since we moved to South Africa in June 2011.

3,256.

The vast majority are not worth mentioning, let alone displaying. Many reinforce the trite stereotypes of Africa: lions in the bush, children at school, life in shanty towns. Some capture universal moments: birthday parties, weddings, holidays. Others fill the frame with great natural beauty: mountains, beaches, sunsets. Some defy categorization, decline comment, dare to be defined.

With such a large, diverse collection, one might think that at least a few shots would rise to the top, like rich cream in a bucket of Du Plooy melk. Certainly, some do. Choosing the best 20 of more than 3,000, though, is a difficult task. Particularly when excluding our favorite safari photos.

That’s not to say that all of the 20 photos below are amazing, or that they don’t fall into the stereotype trap, or that my idea of a good photo isn’t biased by a memory of the moment, or that there were so many candidates to choose from. In fact, I think I narrowed the choices from an original 39, which I tried to pull from a wide range of experiences and travels. Even so, a quarter are from Ethiopia — an obvious overrepresentation of the two weeks we spent there in relation to our year in South Africa.

Long story short, the photos below may not be the “best” for any number of artistic, technical or other reasons, but I hope you enjoy them and vote for the one that stands out for you.

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Some of the photos that didn’t make the cut live on my Flickr page.

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Moçambique!

A ticking clock is a right good motivator. It prompts desperate online auction bids. It demands quick thinking on game shows. It signals that the bomb is about to explode.

It spurs last-minute travel plans.

It sends us sprinting to Mozambique.

Actually, the decision was much less dramatic. Sitting on the couch after dinner one night, Jenny simply turned to me and said, “Why don’t we just go to Mozambique for the weekend?” We looked at each other, in silence, each of us contemplating what should have been an outlandish question. Then for another hanging moment, as we shared the unspoken realization that only now, with our days in South Africa tick-tick-ticking away, could we even contemplate such a whim.

“OK, cool,” I said. “Let’s do it.”

From that point, the only real decision to make was whether to drive or fly. The capital, Maputo, is an easy, 6.5-hour drive on the N4 from Pretoria. But, driving from South Africa with a South African vehicle can lead to trouble, particularly in the form of informal road blocks, sometimes set up by legitimate police officers, seeking bribes, etc. Not only did that not sound like fun, we were concerned that something might happen that would jeopardize the pending sale of our car.

So, we decided to fly.

A 45-minute flight dropped us in Maputo, where we waited in a short queue for a visitor’s visa, complete with our photos on them. It was much easier than our ordeal in Addis Ababa (sorry, Melhik and Adem, Abeba). From there, it was off to the Polana.

The Polana Serena Hotel

The Polana Serena Hotel is a colonial era structure long considered to be one of the finest hotels in Africa. It took a beating and endured neglect during the conflicts that engulfed the country through the eighties, but has been restored recently to reflect its past, but with some decidedly modern touches.

That afternoon, a Friday, we left the hotel on foot to explore a bit of the city. We walked down Avenida Julius Nyerere (named for the first president of Tanzania), along Avenida Friedrich Engels, through a park and on to a little sidewalk café, where we ordered a platter full of grilled prawns and a small pitcher of sangria. Then, another. Mozambican seafood was living up to its billing.

Saturday, we had bigger plans. Well, not really. Vacation, after all. But we did start after breakfast with a tuk-tuk ride down to Avenida Guerra Popular and Mercado Central. Before I wisely take a break and let the pictures do the talking, do yourself a favor and look up a map of Maputo, just for the street names.

Tuk-Tuk Taxi in Maputo

Sidewalk Vendor on Guerra Popular

Mercado Central

Mercado Central

Mozambican Foosball

[more market & street photos here]

Despite visiting a number of hard-sell markets like the ones in Maputo, such as at Merkato in Addis, Thamel in Kathmandu or Silom in Bangkok, I still find the experience to be exhausting. “No, I really don’t need a dirty jar of nuclear-hot piri piri sauce, thanks. I just paid twice as much as I should have for a t-shirt…I think I’m done.”

To the hotel pool, please.

Dinner on Saturday night was at a restaurant called Zambi. Nice garlic bread, white sangria with what seemed to be a cinnamon sapling in the bottom of the pitcher, and pretty decent TG prawns and langoustines. Nothing to write home about. We should have gone to Costa do Sol. Next time.

Sunday: Jenny jogged, we ate breakfast outside with a nice view of the Indian Ocean, then we walked to a permanent craft market across from the hotel. In addition to the usual stuff – tribal masks, cloth dolls, beads to make beads, wooden elephants that “my blind uncle just carved yesterday, my brother” – there was a young dressmaker displaying some really incredible work. Jenny was hooked.

Dressmaker in Maputo

Speaking of hooked, after the craft market, things got a little fishy. A lot fishy, actually.

As to be expected at Mercado de Peixe – the Maputo fish market.

Tubs of lobster and prawns at Mercado de Peixe, Maputo

The real attraction of the fish market is that you can shop for fresh seafood – LM prawns, lobster, snapper, you name it – then take your catch to one of the restaurant stalls behind the market and have it grilled on the spot. After negotiating prices for a nice lobster and three LM prawns, we paid, sat and waited for lunch to arrive. Decadent.

Fish Market Lunch: Grilled Lobster & Prawns

Yet, even as we pulled bite after delicious bite of succulent, white meat from the shells, we could hear the clock ticking. Tick! We must hurry to the airport. Tick! We must finish our projects in Pretoria. Tick! We must pack our bags for home. Tick! We must leave our life in South Africa.

And it just keeps getting louder. Things are about to explode.

Top 20 Safari Photos

With just over four weeks left in sunny South Africa, we are beginning to face facts. Our days on safari are (likely) over. At least for a while.

But, we still have the memories … and the photos. Hundreds of them.

I narrowed down my favorite safari shots to the 20 photos below. Now, we need to pick the best one(s).

Which one is your favorite? Which one says safari to you? VOTE NOW!

Check out the slideshow, then choose your favorite in the poll below. Larger images are available by clicking the thumbnails at the bottom. Thanks!

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Entabeni Photo Safari: Lions and Lenses in Limpopo

A pride of lions begins the day at Entabeni

If you had asked me last week to give one good reason to wake before dawn on a Saturday and a Sunday, I would have told you to go away and let me sleep. Ask me to give you one good reason today and I’ll give you five: one lion, three lionesses and a lion cub. That’s because this weekend I went on a couple of early morning game drives as part of a photo safari in the Entabeni Game Reserve.

Two professional photographers from Africa Photographic Travel and Nikon South Africa led a group of twelve students into the field and shared some tips and tricks for shooting wildlife as part of a hands-on photography seminar. It was fantastic.

I am, by all accounts, a hobbyist photographer. I have a nice camera, by normal standards, but I knew going into the weekend that it is not the kind of camera (or lens, particularly) that works well for capturing wildlife, and certainly not for über-closeup or action shots. I was at peace with that until I saw some of the equipment a few of the other students brought: high-end digital SLRs, lenses the size of tractor axles, multiple tripods, hard-sided rolling camera cases, the whole works. Lens envy.

Our accommodation and classroom was at the Wildside Safari Camp, one of Entabeni’s five lodges within its 22,000 hectares (about 85 square miles) of territory, which is primarily reclaimed farmland. Entabeni is nestled in the Waterberg Mountains about 3 hours drive north of Pretoria in Limpopo Province. In fact, the word Entabeni actually means “the place of the mountain” in the local language. Even in the “dead of winter” when the trees are bare and the colors muted, the mountainous backdrop bestowed breathtaking beauty.

Once we got out into the bush in those open vehicles, my lens envy subsided. It was just great to be outside in the relative middle of nowhere looking for animals and enjoying the sights and sounds of nature.

While Entabeni is in Big Five country, and the reserve does have lions, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard, we only found the lions and rhino. Still, there were plenty of other mammals and birds to see, as well as some amazing landscapes.

One of the highlights of our time out in the reserve was following a partial pride of lions as they woke early one morning to hunt for breakfast. They stalked along the road at one point, and eventually found themselves looking directly at a lone wildebeest off in the distance. The wildebeest was oblivious to the lions and they knew it. Without a sound, one of the females darted off along the right flank to make a wide circle around the unsuspecting wildebeest, while the other females and the male crouched in the tall grass. Following the adults’ lead, the cub crouched low, instinctively waiting to pounce.

As the wildebeest slowly clomped around a bend in the road it spotted the tiny cub, who, while crouching like a big boy, was lying in the middle of the road. The wildebeest froze. Realizing the situation, it broke to its left, directly towards the lioness on the flank. We watched from the truck, hearts racing as it seemed certain that the wildebeest was doomed. We wanted to see the kill. We didn’t want to see the kill. We…

…did not see the kill. There was no kill. The lone female had apparently not yet made it into position, so the wildebeest galloped off safely. The lions seemed dejected, but soon swaggered off in search of the next unwary creature. We drove on.

That may have been the most dramatic moment, but there were so many other encounters worth noting, like the two male cheetahs frolicking in the grass, the mother rhino and her calf, a lion cub yawning while hiding in a shrub, and meeting up with the same pride of lions after dark. But, with their thousands of words, I will let the pictures tell the stories.

For those of you who don’t want to spend time with the 36 shots posted on Flickr, below are the (very subjective) “Top 10.”