The date is August 1986. I mention here a few interesting facts of my trip to Africa as I remember them. We arrived at Dulles Airport, and I hustled my baggage into the main lobby and checked in. I got in line to go through security so I opened my carry-on bag, opened my lens bag, hauled my big lens out on the table, removed my shoes, and emptied my pockets. I could not let them x-ray my film bag. That would ruin the film. They had to be hand inspected. Then is when I was informed that I had to remove all the 100+ film canisters from their respective little cartons. Was I told to come early? But one good thing about it, it would make more room in my carry-on baggage.
A week before the departure date our tour people mailed us instructions to read. Enclosed was a round bright yellow placard to be pinned on your clothes. That was to identify you with a group going on the same trip together. When you arrived at Kennedy you were to congregate together.
After exiting the plane in NYC., I was milling about looking for anyone with the same placard as I had. I finally saw one and I asked him if he was looking for me! He stared at me a little and said YES. Eventually we found others and we had a group. Guess what! The tour rep. showed up with my passport! She blurted out “Does anyone know John Coffman”? No one knew him except one person. I guess that told me, I would be going to Africa after all.
We boarded the Boing 747 at around 9:00 p.m. We were booked to depart Kennedy at 9:15 on flight No. 188. We finally left the runway at 10:05 p. m. EST. We flew north and then out over Providence and Cape Cod, Mass.at 37,000 ft. elevation, so as to enter the flight lane to southeast, to Africa. On this trip they usually flew to Amsterdam, Holland, overnighted there and on to Nairobi the next day. Because of problems with Muammar Gaddafi in this part of the world they decided to fly straight to Nairobi, from Kennedy International, a 22 hr. flight. They didn’t want anyone to get killed, kidnapped or shot out of the sky.
We had three stops scheduled before arriving at Nairobi. We first stopped to pick up passengers at Dakar, Senegal, a country on the west coast of Africa, next stop was Monrovia, Liberia, next was Lagos, Nigeria, allowing only time enough to take on passengers. From there we flew to Nairobi, Kenya, across the continent of Africa.
When approaching Lagos for landing the plane entered a windshear sending the plane on a steep climb (It felt like we were going almost straight up by looking at the fuselage) then taking a steep dive, putting everyone’s heart up in their throat. Departed Lagos 2:45 p.m. EST. We took on a new flight crew, African pilots and stewardesses.
Menu for Tuesday evening on plane: Beef and gravy / Peas and carrots / Pastry / Hot bread and butter / Tossed salad / Crackers / Kenyan Cheddar cheese / Juice.
We arrived in Nairobi approximately 7:50 p. m. EST, 2:50 a. m. Eastern African Time. EAT. in the morning which made us 1 hour behind schedule. Due to being late we were hauled to the International Hotel instead of the Norfolk Hotel for the remainder of the night. After 22 hours we were glad to lay down anywhere. At long last my feet finally touched African soil. I’ve waited 48 years for this moment on my bucket list.
At late morning with our eyes sealed shut we were bussed to the Norfolk Hotel, the same building Theodore Roosevelt stayed in on his safaris. We were shown his room which was interesting for me. We were shown our rooms and unloaded our baggage. We only spent two nights there, the day before we left for home and one day, after a week and a half to get things organized again. On this day I decided to call Kay. I wanted to surprise her. It took a while for her to answer the phone. She told me it was 3:00 a.m. here in Virginia due to time zones. She sounded like she was just down the street. We stayed at other hotels and tented camps in the bush throughout Kenya the remainder of the time. We spent very little time between four walls.
Back home before I left, seeing how big the lens and camera was, I decided to build a lightweight platform to mount a ball joint on to attach the camera and lens. The vans we rode around in had open top hatch roofs. You could stand up and rest the little platform on the roof of the van and fire away typical of a machine gun mount. The ball joint made it possible so you could revolve the camera/lens from side to side. You could get rid of a lot of film with a motor drive camera. That set-up worked great.
Due to limited time on the first day, the first game park we visited was Nairobi National Park. It is the only place in the world where there is a National Park with animals within the boundary of a large city. My first exposure was of a giraffe looking at me through a hole in the Acacia tree limbs.
Nairobi National Park is fenced on three sides leaving the fourth side unfenced so that the wildlife can come and go as they wish. There are no elephants in NNP, but most any other animal can be found within its borders including Rhino, Lion, Cheetah, Cape Buffalo, Giraffe etc. NNP is a 44 square mile sanctuary.
On the evening of the first day of photography we showed up at the Lord Delamere restaurant at the Norfolk Hotel. With my meal I ordered a Tusker Beer. I mainly wanted a Tusker Beer bottle for a souvenir. I’m not a beer drinker but I thought I could handle one. That was not the case as it tasted like pond water and I gave it to the chap sitting next to me. But I retained the bottle. I might add here, in the three weeks spent in Africa, we never got a crummy meal, even in the outback, two and three course meals. Unbelievable. The gov’t must have had something to do with that in the name of tourism.
I invite you to check out next month’s adventure here…John