During the two-week trip to Africa my father and I took with natural history photographer Daniel Cox, something unexpected seemed to happen continuously. Quickly, I figured out why. Beyond what I had read, or discussed with Dan before the trip, I really hadn’t known what to expect. Accordingly, many things were, well – unexpected.
For example, I expected to see zebras. In fact, zebras were everywhere! What I didn’t expect to witness were two male zebras fighting viciously. It was explained to me that each zebra was trying to bite and rupture the tendons in the other one’s legs. This lame zebra would then easily fall prey to a predator.
We saw hippos in several areas. But I never expected them to remind me of the arcade game “Whack-a-Mole”! We encountered a large group of hippos submerged in a pond full of vegetation. Under the cover of the greenery, we couldn’t tell where they would pop up next for air. Often when they’d surface, plants would be atop their heads like flowery hats.
We visited Lake Nakuru, which boasts a flamingo population estimated between 3 and 5 million. From a distance, the flamingoes looked like a pink land mass. The unexpected fun was finding smaller groups of them up to some antics, or catching great reflections of them. They would wade out to water deep enough to cover their legs, where they looked like floating pool toys, or big pink ducks!
Of course I hoped to see elephants, but I never expected to see so many elephants. We encountered elephants every day at the Masai Mara. In the light of sunrise, they looked positively pink!
Unexpectedly, we saw populations of both black and white rhino species doing very well at Lake Nakuru. We witnessed an international protection effort in progress. The goal was to relocate some of the animals to less populated areas.
We encountered a rare species of giraffe I had never even heard of. In fact the Rothchild's (Baringo) giraffe is exclusive to Lake Nakuru. Their caramel-colored body has rust colored spots that blend to a chocolate color in the center. We saw six Rothchild’s giraffes running on the beach of Lake Nakuru, I was awestruck by the breathtaking sight; they appeared to be moving in slow motion.
I didn’t raise my camera. I wanted to absorb the sight in real time using the full scope of my vision. Instinctively I knew no camera or photographer could possibly capture their fluid beauty. Yet, I felt disappointed anyway, not having captured the moment.
Dan told me not to feel too bad; he didn’t go for the shot either. He explained that he’s witnessed some amazing things that he’s not been able to photograph due to poor lighting, excessive distance or other circumstances. He said he plans trips he goes around calendar dates when he might expect to see lots of baby animals or a migration or experience the best weather. But what we had seen is the sort of magic you could never plan on seeing; it was just what we were hoping to see.
We saw the giraffes on the beach during the very last game drive of the trip. That led me to the most unexpected experience of all. I didn’t feel ready to go home, even though the calendar said it was time.
Twenty-six hours after leaving Nairobi, I was back home in St. Louis. My family brought me roses when they met me at the airport; the color was chosen to remind me of an African sunset.
I never expected to feel overwhelmed by my good fortune. But I was. I came home feeling that I must be the most fortunate person alive.