Back to Africa: Kenya, Madagascar & Ethiopia

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Africa: arguably the world’s most thought-provoking, captivating and conflicted continent.

Africa: culturally rich, geographically diverse and historically fascinating.

Africa: consistently producing a profound impact on all who venture there.

Africa: my next travel destination.

I was first introduced to sub-Saharan Africa six years ago, on a three month overland trip from Rwanda to South Africa, crossing the borders of eleven diverse and fascinating countries. It was an experience that drained my senses with an overload of incredible wildlife, culture, geography, characters and history. It was an experience of a destination that got under my skin as quickly as the dust settled beneath my fingernails. It was an experience that motivated me to look beyond my pre-conceived stereotypes, challenge my own beliefs and question my lifestyle. I left Africa with conflicted feelings, a hunger to learn more and a dream to return again one day.

But it was just an introduction.

I hadn’t even touched the surface of this complicated continent, visiting only a handful of countries for a limited amount of time, as a traveller on the outside looking in. Yet it found its way into my heart and my mind, encouraging me to look at myself and the world through new eyes.

And that is the magic of Africa.

It is complicated. It is diverse. It is intense. It is extreme.

But it makes you feel alive.

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It should be impossible to stereotype a continent that is home to more than a billion people, 54 countries, different eco-systems and geographical landscapes and a large diversity of languages, cultures and ethnicities. But ask someone who hasn’t been there what they first think of when they hear the word Africa and their answer is likely to include war-torn countries, safety concerns, poverty, corrupt organisations, famine-hit regions, misplaced foreign aid and wildlife poaching.

Ask someone who has been there and they’ll tell you there is positivity beyond these stereotypes: spectacular landscapes, incredible wildlife behaviour, charismatic and friendly people, communities developing and thriving, star-filled skies and intense sunsets.

There is no doubt it is a complicated continent. But is it also an addictive and intriguing one. I only touched the surface on my first trip, I scratched it on a return to South Africa a few years later and I’ll take another small step into it when I arrive next week for the start of a four month stay.

My upcoming trip has me feeling excited with a healthy dose of trepidation.

I haven’t been reminiscing about my previous trips to Africa with rose-coloured glasses: I’m prepared for the days I’ll miss my creature comforts, I’m ready for the mosquitoes, I remember a number of ethically uncomfortable situations that arose, I know I’ll be stereotyped as a white foreign tourist (because even if I view myself ‘differently’ like all travellers like to do – at the end of the day, that is what I am) and I have conceded that I will have to leave my hair straighteners behind and cope with the naturally curly hair I usually keep hidden!  But I know it will be worth it.

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The Plan

Masai Mara, Kenya (1 week)

The Great Migration has the reputation of being one of the worlds’ most spectacular and dramatic natural events and as my interest in wildlife photography has grown, so has my dream to see it in person. It’s an epic tale of survival, staged each year on the Serengeti-Mara plains, as millions of wildebeest cross crocodile infested rivers and face hungry land-based predators. I had a taste of this spectacular setting during my first visit to Africa, with a visit to the Serengeti one of the highlights of my trip. But the massive herds of wildebeest had already moved north, eluding me from the main event.

I’ll be joining five other photographers on a tour run by David Lloyd Photography, which will see us based at Entim Camp, a stone’s throw away from one of the main river crossings in the Masai Mara. I’m looking forward to the advantages such a tour offers: staying within the park itself, having a whole row to myself in the safari vehicle, two drives a day at the times best for photography and of course, being with like-minded people who will happily stay at the one location for hours just to get that dream shot!

3 Things You May Not Know About the Great Migration

  • The Great Migration refers to the 300 mile circuit of the Serengeti-Mara savannah, taken each year by more than 1.3 million wildebeest, as they follow the rains in search of new growth grasses.
  • Three percent of the wildebeest that begin the journey each year do not survive it.
  • The wildebeest are joined on their journey by up to 200,000 Burchelli’s zebras.

 

Madagascar (1 month)

I’ve always been interested in Madagascar, but more so since I discovered my love of outdoor photography. My 7 year old nephew has asked me to bring him back a penguin and does not believe me when I tell him there aren’t any on the island – after all, he has seen them on TV and the fact that they are animated doesn’t mean they aren’t real. I hope to distract him from the disappointment of arriving in Australia without a penguin with photos of the unique lemurs, insects, reptiles and birds that habitat the island, not to mention the humpback whales I hope to see in Ste Ile Marie.

3 Things You May Not Know About Madagascar

  • The 100 different types of lemur living in Madagascar cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
  • It is the oldest island in the world and is home to more than 200,000 diverse and unique species, many of which can only be found in Madagascar.
  • Although the island is rich in wildlife and nature, it’s one of the poorest countries in the world with 68% of the population living on less than US$1 a day.

 

Ethiopia (3 months)

My three months in Ethiopia will be spent as a ‘pioneer volunteer’ with a new project that has just started with a Hamar tribe in the South Omo Valley. It promises to be a fascinating experience as we partner a community that wants a ‘better life’ whilst maintaining the traditions, culture and overall lifestyle that makes them happy at the moment.

The merit of volunteering abroad is a topic that is always guaranteed to create heated debates amongst travellers and my side of the debate has continued to flip back and forth the more I’ve learned from my own experiences. I do believe volunteering has the potential to be an incredibly rewarding experience and can bring benefits to all concerned. But it’s not something to take lightly and not something to jump into without doing some due diligence and asking important questions I suggest.

I’m really excited to join Big Beyond, to immerse myself in the South Omo Valley and disconnect from the distractions of my daily life for a while. And let’s be honest – I’m really excited about having three months to capture the Milky Way and Star Trail photographs I love to shoot!

3 Things You May Not Know About Ethiopia

  • Apart from a short occupation by Italy in the 1930’s, it’s the only African country that was never colonised
  • It has 83 different languages with up to 200 dialects spoken
  • It is the location of a number of key archaeological discoveries, including a 2.8 million year old jawbone discovered last year, claimed to belong to one of the first humans in existence.

Although I’m looking forward to disconnecting from the internet and embracing the moment, I will be sharing photos and stories along the way when I can. If you’d like an email notification when a new post is published, please subscribe as per the instructions below.

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. Hi Kellie – such an exciting adventure you have planned. Just a quick question for you – what settings did you use on the gorgeous photo of the milky way you posted?
    Thanks!

    • Hi Jen. This was taken with an exposure of 30 secs and f/4.0, ISO 6400, but this was based on the lens I had at the time. Since then I’ve got a 16-35mm lens which allows me to shoot wide open at f/2.8. General approach for shooting milky way is to shoot with the smallest f/stop you can on your lens (e.g. f/2.8), exposure no longer than 30 seconds (for this particular lens and focal point, anything more than 30 seconds will start producing star trails…there is a formulae I can’t quite recall for calculating this) and ISO that creates the exposure you are after. It very much depends on the conditions and your equipment – I’ve been meaning to write a blog post on this for some time, I should get around to it!

      Oh – and I also lit the foreground for a few seconds with a torch, to light up the trees.

  2. Africa has a way of getting under one’s skin, doesn’t it? Our safaris in South Africa and Zambia were trips of a lifetime for us. We’d love to return one day – Namibia, the Seychelles, Botswana are all calling to us :-). Your upcoming trip looks fabulous. Jealous that you’re visiting Madagascar! That should be very fascinating. And how nice you will be volunteering in Ethiopia…

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Wildlife in Pictures: Masai Mara, Kenya