To match my wild nature, I always wanted to go to Africa on a Big Game Safari, after reading about Teddy Roosevelt and his safari in 1908 -09 and the days spent in Kenya by Robert Ruark, Professional Big Game Hunter, who wrote, “Horn of the Hunter”. I’ve always liked hunting ever since I was given a .22 rifle when I was 9 years old. I was also given a quality camera that was bought in Germany during World War II days. That got me interested a great deal in photography, especially wildlife photography. I loved sitting around in blinds photographing birds and such.
Fast forward 14 years. I was in the midst of getting wound up with wildlife photography and getting good enough results, I started thinking about selling my photographs to books, magazines, etc.
A friend asked me one day if I wanted to go along with a group of his friends to New Jersey to a seminar given by Leonard Lee Rue III, a well-known wildlife photographer, being held in Blairstown, NJ.
I agreed to go with them and off we went to New Jersey. At the end of the seminar and on leaving, I noticed a bunch of brochures laying on a table near the door that caught my eye that said something about Africa. I picked one up and stuck it in my pocket. It turns out he was organizing a trip to go to Kenya, Africa to photograph the wildlife. Whoooh, did I read that right?
I read it over and over. I sure would like to go. This wasn’t hunting but the next thing to it. For a week or two it was a yes and no thing. Finally, I had to have a verdict. Heads or tails?…….Heads! I was going! I had better get on the stick. I had a lot of things to do to get ready for a trip like this.
Did I have time to get ready? I needed to pay for the trip. I needed shots and a few medications of which had to be gotten at University Hospital in Charlottesville, VA. An up to date Passport. I had to reserve my plane ticket to Kennedy Airport in New York from Dulles airport. And most of all I needed a long zoom lens for my camera. At that time, you could only buy them in large camera stores in New York. I already had a good camera and accessories for it. I couldn’t stand to go on a trip like this without a good long lens. I also had to order my film from NY. For the film I ordered 100 rolls of Kodachrome II film. That adds up to 3600 exposures plus what I had on hand. It took all of that for a 3 week safari. I ordered my lens, a NIKKOR 200 – 400 F.4 zoom lens…$2900.00 dollars. With this set-up you put the camera on the lens, not the lens on the camera.
At first the camera store told me there were none available, then they said that they were reserved for military use. After I exploded over the phone and a threat, my lens arrived in the mail in a few days. I guess they thought it over and didn’t want to spend time in a courtroom with this dude from Virginia. After all it was for sale in their catalog. My money was worth as much as anyone else’s.
When my lens came, I began hearing something rolling around inside of it. I rushed it to a camera repair place in Harrisonburg. He didn’t know if he could fix it without voiding the warranty, but he said he would try. Well as things turned out he did an excellent job. A screw had worked itself loose and only needed tightening.
When I went to get my passport there was a hitch somewhere and the travel agent had to send a personal carrier from upstate New York to get it stamped by the Kenya Embassy in New York City, in order to have it in time. They were to give it to me when I got to Kennedy Airport in New York before boarding my plane.?? What were the chances of my passport finding me in the cement jungle called New York City? Could I trust that setup to work out? But I had no other choice.
By this time I didn’t know if I would be getting to go or not. There was no time available for any more hurdles. It all hinged on if I got my passport or not. I might be coming back home.
The day came to head to Dulles Airport. At least I was on my way. I was driven to Dulles International Airport by my family, Kay, Michele, Joni, and Tony Biller, to board a plane to Kennedy International to catch the flight to Kenya.
The plane finally took off from Dulles at around 4:00 pm. I had a good flight to Kennedy on a Boeing 737. I had never flown on a commercial jet before, (that in itself made me a little anxious) only on a prop plane to Seattle from Columbia, S. C. when I was assigned another army base.
Little did I know that after 22 hrs. in the air and thru 5 time zones, my feet would be on African soil.
I invite you to next month’s adventure in Africa….John