Masai Mara Kenia
I have to admit that he was right! I’ve never been in a place so vast and magical as the Masai Mara. When I was invited to be part of a safari with other photographers, I immediately said yes, even if a moment later asked me what I was going to do there myself because I used to be afraid of even a single mosquito! But curiosity and the desire to see something much bigger than me, got the better, because sooner or later you have to face your own ghosts! I left with all my Nikon and Hasselblad cameras because I had no idea of what I would stumble upon.
Mara literally means “land dotted” because what you see in the vast golden hills when the plane flies over the reserve, are often solitary and scattered trees here and there. Obviously I witnessed an unusual savanah, full of greenery far away from the images I had seen of Africa. I find out that in fact it was not that “normal” to find this park with “Irish” landscapes. I’m lucky or else but the fact is that I have lived eight days of intense emotions and extraordinary colors! In this enchanting place I was inspired, got answers and photographed what my eyes have never even imagined.
Safari, which in Swahili means Trip in my head had the form of hunting wild animals. I could not see it otherwise even if I was wrong. I have seen hundreds of nature documentaries videos in my life and my perception of wildlife was of extreme danger, places to avoid at all costs. Instead, Kenyans prohibit any kind of killing the animals that inhabit this Country. I’ve seen animals graze in perfect harmony of the smallest to the mammoth elephants as I never imagined. Masai Mara instead is a paradise in the true sense of the word. The respect of visitors to its “inhabitants” is something sacred. I shared days of respect and the love for nature with rangers and ‘tourists’.
In front of and next to me I have seen pass by leopards, lions, elephants, warthogs, jackals, hyenas, cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, mongoose, several species of antelope: wildebeest, water back, Topis, impalas, Thompson’s gazelles, Grant’s gazelles, eland , conghoni, bush back, colorful and rare birds of different prey, hippo, serval, herds of buffalo, gienetta, dik dik, rabbits, baboons, crocodiles, owls, and who knows what else!
Every day, three Masai gentlemen waited for me for a “Karibu”, which means welcome in their language. For dinner I had a regular guest a sweet “gienetta” that looked like a cat, staring at me as if to ask me some food and blinked when I called her Janet in a sweet tone. I fell asleep every night at 10 o’clock to wake up every morning at dawn, waiting for the sun to give it my greetings. I slept in tents where every night I listened to the ‘chatter’ of baboons, hippos and lions who were watered by the river outside my house. I listened to the silence of the darkest night filled with whispers of the animals that I will never see and listened to concerts of crickets and frogs in the bushes, I saw the most intense light of the stars of the firmament, observed the fast changing and passing clouds so soft as I could touch them. Above me were the skies of the prairies of the most amazing colors that stretched away to keep an eye on! I went out only on “golden hours” to shoot felines and any photographic moment in the savanah. I saw the 5 o’clock sun gilded lions and sleepy leopards under curious humans gazes. I witnessed six lions eat sumptuously from a dead elephant in the grassland. I found myself happy in a stormy weather for the first time in the midst of lightning with the opportunity to see live their power and beauty lit, I forded rivers, mired jeep, visited the town of Talek and photographed a Masai tribe where they lived in houses made of mud built by the women. I looked deep into the eyes of these young and fair women with their children hanging on their shoulders while doing daily tasks. I have witnessed the Masai dances and songs of struggle and prayer, I have seen children with smiling faces despite the flies covered up their looks. I attended the kindness of these people bringing the cows back into the circular courtyard where everyone lives in harmony. I learned that the Masai may have more wives even if they are Christians. I peeked inside Talek shops selling everything where even medicines were held together with pesticides and foods. A gas station fill the tank of our jeep with a transparent tube where the keeper blew into a gallon to release the gas and the structure were he held the gallons of gasoline, I saw his humble bed clean and comfortable.
I’ve share this all with two beautiful people, Lorenzo Marchetti, who has “selected” me for this adventure and Federico Veronesi (www.federicoveronesi.com), inspired photographer and exceptional guide of great generosity.
Of all this perhaps what will always remain in my memory, is the following story, which took place the day before returning to Italy.
We went to the “usual” hunt for unique scenes, when we see a group of jeeps. As we get closer, I see that strangely enough there was a cheetah and it’s cub on the roof of the jeep of two German tourists terrified while the driver calmly kept taking pictures with his body out the window. I immortalized the scene amused and surprised. Federico tells me that it happens that a cheetah go up on the roof of a car for a better overlook the surroundings in search of preys. Immediate I ask a question why it does not attack the mankind as it is a few inches away from it. So I learn that “cheetah” does not distinguish well a human form! It only understands if it’s a human being only when a person walks! I keep an eye on the grass trying to find a good angle to shoot a few more images of her immersed in the savanah. Federico tells me that they named her Malaika, which means angel in Swahili! Suddenly she jumps on our roof! I am scared to death but Federico instead urges me to come in front to take some pictures of Malaika even if, perhaps for fear, she alarmed blows at him.
I swear I’ve gathered all the courage I could, slowly try to get out of the roof with a camera attached to my face because I thought that if I were attacked it would first collided with my Hasselblad which I had chosen for the wide-angle mounted and since the close contact with her, it was the best I could use. I come out from the roof below to reach the upper part. I can not describe the shaking feeling mixed with emotion that I felt. My stomach was trembling uncontrollably and my hand looked like leaf in the wind. I calmed down a little and started doing a series of shots, each one more beautiful than the other. The emotion, the desire to fondle her, the thrill, the wonder alternated in me at the point of almost no reason. At one point her cub climbs onto the bonnet of the jeep. Carefully I go towards it to get some shots but my thoughts was entirely focused on my “angel” on the roof. wondered to take a photo while she jumped into the blue sky above her. I left alone the cub and go back to Malaika. I wait and shoot. Federico reaches me to do some shooting too. For our surprise, she gets up, looks at me and then him, while I get ready for a hypothetical side jump, but all os a sudden she jumps into the middle of the two of us, something quite unusual for a cheetah! She gets on the floor and get away with the cub behind her. Meanwhile other cars had gathered to watch this incredible scene, and luckily two people have taken the whole sequence (here in low res) that will print and keep that feeling for life.
From this trip a project will be ready soon. The gallery you see here, I often took from the window of the jeep with the iPhone. I turned it black and white because these pictures can not describe the color and intensity of the moments that I lived photographically in Kenia.
I hope I have succeeded at least a little to describe the feelings that I have lived.