Tag Archives: Travel

Back in Kenya at Long Last

After 30 hours of exhausting travelling and very little sleep, we are back in Kenya at long last, for our second Maasai Mara safari.

After our flight from Doha to Nairobi, during which we had the pleasure of viewing Mount Kenya from the air, we are resting at the hotel before Mario joins us later for dinner and a good catch-up, followed by what will hopefully be a solid night‘s sleep before we fly to Mara North Conservancy tomorrow morning.

This trip has been on the agenda for a few years, and finally we are here.  Tomorrow, an intense week of wildlife photography and experiences begins.

 

Returning to Kenya and Israel

I am pleased to announce that we will be heading abroad later this year, with visits to Kenya and Israel in the same big trip.

It has been a few years since we have been to either country (2015 and 2016 respectively), but a return to Africa was something high on the agenda for some time.

Because we need to return to Israel for some family events, it made sense to combine the two destinations into one trip.

The original plan was to visit South Africa again, as it seemed to be the logistically simplest option, whereby we would fly directly to Johannesburg, photograph wildlife in the Timbavati, and then fly to Tel Aviv.

Unfortunately, a combination of circumstances meant that South Africa was not a viable option for this trip.

Firstly, the cost of accommodation at safari lodges has considerably risen since our visit in 2012.

Secondly, we could not easily obtain a private 4WD vehicle, as the lodges either no longer offer them due to low-impact regulations in the Timbavati, or as was the case with one lodge, we would have had to pay for an extra tent/rondeval, which made the cost prohibitively expensive.

Thus, South Africa was off the agenda.

Enter Plan B: Kenya.

The initial thinking was that Kenya would be more logistically difficult than South Africa, but it is actually not much more difficult in terms of logistics.  Plus, we were able to secure outstanding accommodation and a private vehicle at a lower cost.

After a FaceTime conversation with our friend and safari leader Mario Moreno one night, we worked out a plan, and booked a safari with Mario — our third.

We are heading back to the Mara North Conservancy with Mario for a fantastic time of being in the African savannah and twice daily pursuing amazing sightings and images of the wildlife in the Mara.

After our African part of the trip concludes, we head north to visit family in Israel for some celebratory occasions.

I am not sure what kind of photographic opportunities I will have in Israel this time (I did not engage in any photography on the last trip), as it is more of a social visit than a photographic visit; but I am sure I will have the chance or two to capture some images I did not capture during previous visits.

Our schedule is going to be quite full, but I am sure I will land an image or two.

The countdown begins!

Travel and Tripod Tales of Woe

Last week we flew into Tel Aviv via Hong Kong.

The airlines unfortunately left half the HGK-TLV flight’s luggage in Hong Kong, including all our clothes, and my tripod — a Manfrotto MT293A4 and 494RC2 travel tripod combo I had specifically bought for this trip.

The morning after we arrived, we had to go buy a new tripod, and new clothes, as we were flying to Prague the same night, and there was no way on Earth our luggage would be here by the time we needed to leave.

I bought a Vanguard VEO 235AB travel tripod at a camera shop ten minutes from here.  I have never used that brand before, but it is a nice little tripod which, as it turned out, handled the job well.  I will probably leave it here in Tel Aviv so that I do not need to carry a tripod the next time we visit.

So, there we were, in Prague, at our hotel, after yet another annoying flight.  I decided to set up my tripod for the next day’s photography, so I unpacked it.

The ball head has a quick release plate, which I attempted to install, only to discover that a pin protrudes from the base of the mounting plate.  No problem, as according to the manual, the tripod included an Allen key to adjust it.  I took out the Allen key, and then discovered that the screw to adjust the pin actually takes a flat-head screwdriver, not an Allen key!

The Allen key is also used to adjust the tension on the leg hinges, but naturally, the Allen key supplied was too small.

Not only did I have the world’s most useless Allen key, but I also needed a flat-head screwdriver, which I naturally did not have.

Fortunately, despite the pin obstructing the quick release plate from sliding all the way onto the mount, there was enough space for it to be securely held, so I was able to use it after all.

Phew.

Our luggage did eventually turn up in Tel Aviv, but we were well and truly in Prague by then.

So now I have two travel tripods.

Morals of the story:

  1. Airlines do occasionally misplace/lose/delay luggage.
  2. Procure travel insurance (we did, and we will claim, as well as seek compensation from the airline).
  3. Keep multiple tripods in strategic locations (you know, like spies do with passports, cash and pistols).
  4. When buying a new tripod, check that it is all ready to go before you have gone.
  5. Know the locations of camera shops at your destinations.

New Backpack and Tripod

It is not very often that I discuss photography gear, but given that I purchased a few new items of gear today, I figured it was worth relating the story.

Soon enough, we are heading overseas on a trip to Israel, followed by a small soujorn to Czechia for a few days.

As is always the case when travelling abroad, I bring a camera rig.  While this is not specifically a photographic trip, I certainly intend to engage in some twilight cityscaping in Prague, and may even have time for the odd cityscape in Tel Aviv or Caesarea.

My go-to camera bag for most of my photography (other than wildlife, which calls for the big lenses), is my Lowepro Nova 190 AW.  It is a shoulder bag, and I have a fairly standard array of equipment permanently packed in it, which covers most of my shooting needs, and certainly the needs I will have on this upcoming trip.  This bag has travelled internationally twice now.

However, as is also always the case when travelling internationally, I take my laptop, which has its own bag.  This time we are travelling somewhat lighter, and rather than carrying my camera gear in the Nova 190 AW, and my laptop in its own carry bag, I wanted one bag in the form of a backpack which would accommodate both.

A few months ago I discovered the Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II backpack when looking in a camera shop one day.  This bag seemed to fit the bill nicely.

It has a laptop compartment which will accommodate a 15″ laptop (according to the specifications), a lower compartment (with dividers) which will accommodate a large DSLR with a 70-200/2.8 mounted, plus another medium-sized lens or two; and it also has an upper compartment which will accommodate anything else, including non-photography equipment.

Today I decided to buy a Fastpack BP 250 AW II.  Now, my laptop is a 17″ MacBook Pro, but having compared its specifications with the backpack’s specifications, it fits.  I took the MacBook Pro with me to the store, and verified that it actually does fit — it does.

So, that solved a definite problem, and has given me a comfortably-sized, airline cabin-friendly backpack which will allow me to remain hands-free whilst traversing airports, fit my camera gear and laptop in one bag, and have room for other things such as a water bottle, light jacket or other day-trip equipment.  This will be perfect for walking around Prague.  Additionally, it has a tripod compartment on the side, along with a strap for keeping the tripod in place.

This brings me to my next subject: tripods.

I am rather accustomed to larger tripods, particularly as I have a few heavy lenses and both want and need the height, stability and load-bearing capability they provide.

A few years ago I toyed with the idea of buying a smaller tripod for travelling, but did not quite find something I liked, or something which gave me much confidence, as I was wary of smaller, lighter tripods.  Additionally, they were rather expensive for what they were.

After buying the Fastpack BP 250 AW II today, I browsed around the store, and found a Manfrotto combination of a 290-series set of legs (Manfrotto T293A4) and a ball head (Manfrotto 494RC2).

I played with the tripod for maybe ten or fifteen minutes as I mentally debated whether it was suitable.  While it is certainly not as tall as my Manfrotto 055XPROB, or even my 2005-vintage Manfrotto 190D, it is tall enough, and the extension of the centre column will give sufficient extra height if necessary.  The legs have four sections and quick release clips, which is definitely desirable.

The ball head was also quite nice, and as with all my other Manfrotto heads, it accommodates the Manfrotto 200PL quick release plate.

Soon enough I decided to buy it.  The salesperson advised me that it was a discontinued model, and as it appeared to be the last unit and lacked both the quick release plate and packaging, he gave me a nice discount.

So, now I have a suitable, light-weight but sturdy tripod which can be taken on international trips, which reduces the bulk and weight of what I am carrying, and nicely attaches to the side of my newest camera backpack.  For the kinds of photography this trip will present, this rig is more than enough to suit my needs, and it will also be quite suitable for other photographic outings locally and inter-state.

Booked: Trip to Israel and Czechia

Later this year we are travelling to Israel for a wedding, but since we will be within close proximity to many other destinations, it made a lot of sense to also plan a mini-holiday somewhere else nearby.

While there are some fantastic places in the world which are worth re-visiting, what is more appealing is the notion of visiting a place we have not previously visited.

Over a number of months, the main destinations we considered were Dublin (Ireland), Budapest (Hungary) and Prague (Czechia).

Today we decided on Prague, and while booking flights to Israel, we also booked flights to Prague.  We have both been to Europe before, but in my case, I had never been to Eastern Europe.

By all accounts, Prague is a beautiful city, so I am looking forward to not only seeing Prague, but capturing some cityscape and architectural images of Czechia‘s capital city.

It has been nearly 16 years since I last visited Europe, so I am looking forward to seeing it again, and hopefully landing some pleasing images.

Kenya: So Where Exactly Were We?

For the past few months I have chronicled our adventures in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya on a day-by-day basis, detailing in words and pictures the incredible experiences we had.

For those who have not been to the Mara, it can be difficult to picture the geography and understand how vast it is, and just how scattered were our various sightings.

When I travel, I like to record the precise details of every place we visit.  I use a smartphone app which does not require cellular network connectivity (but will use it if present), but uses the phone’s GPS receiver to record the coordinates of wherever I am.

At each place we visited, and at each wildlife sighting or other stop we made, I recorded our position and the details about what took place there.

When we returned, I plotted all of the details onto a Google map, breaking down the locations by days, game drives and other activities and places of interest.

We were based in the Mara North Conservancy (MNC), which is a privately-managed, 28,000 hectare region of the greater Mara ecosystem, located close to the Mara River which forms its northern-most border.

The neighbouring conservancies (also known as private concessions) and reserves are Lemek Conservancy to the north, Motorogi Conservancy to the east, Olare Orok Conservancy to the south-east, and the Maasai Mara National Reserve to the south.

We stayed at the magnificent Elephant Pepper Camp, a luxurious semi-permanent eco-lodge, which is positioned to the south of the C13 road, with Mara Rianta to the west and Aitong to the east.

To the south of MNC lies the Maasai Mara National Reserve, which itself is over 1,500 square kilometres in size, and which forms part of the greater Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, spanning both Kenya and Tanzania to the south.  On one of our days, we departed from the Mara North Conservancy and headed into the main reserve, where we encountered wild cheetahs for the first time.

The Mara is 270km west of Nairobi, and takes 45 minutes to reach by light plane, with numerous airstrips being spread around the Mara, two of which we used being within a few hundred metres of each other.

The  Mara North Conservancy and the Maasai Mara National Reserve are both quite famous, and were extensively featured in the superb BBC series Big Cat Diary.  One particular leopard was filmed at a spot called Leopard Gorge, which lies to the south-west of Elephant Pepper Camp, and, incidentally, was the location of our first leopard sighting in the Mara.

So, here is a map which shows where exactly we were, with images captured at many of the places.

Before and after our Mara visit, we were based in Nairobi, and predominantly travelled to various places of interest in Karen and Langata to the south-west.

I hope readers find interest in seeing where we were, and gain a greater understanding of an undeniably fantastic part of the world.

It is Official: Kenya African Wildlife Photography Trip

A few months ago we booked another trip to Africa.

It has been something we have wanted to do again since our first life-changing visit in October of 2012.

This time we are heading to the Maasai Mara region of Kenya, for some incredible wildlife encounters on an eight-day private photographic safari.

We are again going into the wilderness with our friend and guide Mario Moreno.

Also a few months ago, I bought a 400mm f/2.8 lens for wildlife photography — actually, for this trip.  On the last trip, I took my 300/2.8, which was comfortably accommodated by my Lowepro Mini Trekker AW backpack.

Unfortunately, the 400/2.8 is a much larger lens, and the Mini Trekker AW cannot accommodate it.  Well, it can (barely), but there is insufficient room for everything else I need.

In researching camera bags, I had two criteria:

  1. it had to accommodate the gear I need and want to take; and
  2. it had to be airline cabin-friendly.

I was pointed in the direction of the Lowepro Vertex 200 AW, and looked into this bag.  When I contacted Lowepro to enquire into whether it would accommodate a 400/2.8, I was told it would not.

Fortunately, that answer was wrong, as it very comfortably accommodates such a lens.

Today I headed into town with the lens and tried it out.  It was a perfect bag for my needs.

I brought it home and packed it with the gear I am taking to Kenya:

  1. Canon EOS 5D Mark II;
  2. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM;
  3. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM;
  4. Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM;
  5. Canon Extender EF 1.4x II; and
  6. Canon Extender EF 2x II.

It all fits!

My 17″ MacBook Pro even fits into the laptop compartment, albeit somewhat snugly.  This means I will only need one bag, whereas last time I had a camera backpack and a laptop bag, which is not ideal when travelling internationally.

I am very pleased with the Lowepro Vertex 200 AW.  The build quality is excellent, as indeed it is with all Lowepro bags/cases I have owned; and the padding and straps in the waist area really make the fully-packed bag seem much lighter.

Here is a photo of the bag, packed with the bulk of the gear I am taking to Kenya:

Lowepro Vertex 200 AW Packed for Africa

Lowepro Vertex 200 AW Packed for Africa

This bag will certainly make travelling internationally with bulky and heavy camera gear a much more pleasant experience.  It will also serve me well locally and on domestic trips, as since having the 400/2.8, I have not had a suitable method of carrying it.

I cannot wait for the Kenya trip, and to being in the wilderness for some incredible wildlife experiences.