Or better said eyeball through lens to eyeball.
The Safarilink Caravan bumps down onto the runway at Olkiombo and I cannot believe that this is only my second visit to the Masai Mara. It is inconceivable to imagine that it has taken so long for me to discover the heart and soul of Africa. The anticipation is tangible and I look forward to the seven days ahead. This time I have deliberately chosen to visit the Mara when there are no wildebeest. The last time I touched down here there was hardly a spot unoccupied and the stream of grunting wildebeest constantly on the move did not leave space for the appreciation of the wilderness.
The plains are devoid of the players of this epic annual event and the eye can search back and forth and soak up the plains that stretch out in a display of golden harmony. The road to the camp (Entim Camp) is still as rutted as ever and the crossing of the Talek River is a little more difficult as the rain has washed the access badly this year. I have a different driver/guide this time. Samy, a broad smiling Masai is competent behind the wheel of his Landcruiser as he makes his way over the rough terrain. The camp is unchanged since September and the tent is a comfortable haven. After a welcome drink, we head for the tent to unpack and get the gear ready.
It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how one may plan, the bush has its own plan, and the best course of action is to allow that action to dictate the activities on Safari. It is often a point of discussion while out in the bush with other photographers that we miss out on so much because we are behind the lens with a limited view. However, I find that my senses become heightened during drives, I am constantly looking around for opportunities and therefore I am not only looking but I am seeing too. Then there is the pleasure of pouring over my photographs afterwards. As I search for that perfect shot I am aware of so much more as photographs are studied intensely. It is amazing how much one can miss such as a crocodile hidden between the rocks behind the hippos wallowing in the river.
On review of my photographs from this visit to the Mara one pervading theme is evident. I think the animals were on Safari. It is astounding how many animals turned the tables this time round and studied me. So much so, that I tried to do some research on eye contact with wild animals. However, this was completely fruitless as most animal behavioural information is centered around what NOT to do in tight situations. For instance, eye contact is considered as being a sign of aggression and therefore not advisable with lions etc. However, there does not seem to be much information in the public domain as to why animals should watch you.
A case in point is the hyena at a carcass that is not her kill. It is obvious that the stare is to ascertain whether we are coming to get our bit of the carcass and another instance where a blackback jackal gives us the evil eye. Even the eyeballing that the antelope species do when they examine you to check your movements is one thing but another entirely when there is unusually intent examination going on of me behind the camera.
Whatever the reason, this time round, the close up photography is, once again, a very special moment as I manage to capture more than twenty five “eyeball” shots at different sightings. Africa does not ever disappoint, and even when the light is bad (as it is this June) and animals are not doing what they normally do there is always a special moment out there just waiting to be snapped.