I’ll be honest; I haven’t been inspired to write much this year. I was hit with a few personal hurdles early in the year and I decided to take this year to re-align with myself and really start improving my lifestyle. It started with my health and wellness both physically and mentally. I knew it would be a year of personal growth, but when I stated I was truly blind to just how much growth I would achieve through life experiences. Although my career has never really slowed down, I’ve finally began to balance life and career. I’ve never been happier.
If you could describe my travels thorough Tanzania, Africa in one word; indescribable. It was the adventure of a lifetime and I’m blessed that I was able to visit such a beautiful country. I can’t go into every detail, but I can highlight some of the more memorable moments over the course of seven days.
Several months ago I was approached by Coury Deeb of Nadus Films to head over to Tanzania, Africa with director of photography, Justin Gustavison, to capture production photography for a short documentary. The project; the Waterboys Initiative. A non-profit foundation that builds water relief wells in rural villages all over the country of Tanzania. Waterboy Inititive was founded by Chris Long of the St. Louis Rams and to promote the foundation he brought on Doug Pitt (Goodwill Ambassador Of Tanzania), John Bongiorno (President, WorldServe) and Nadus Films to build content to be pushed through the NFL and various other major contributors. The content is to raise awareness as well as to gain the attention of more celebrities, players and investors.
Logistically, this trip would be an adventure and a lot packed into a short amount of time. We had to be prepared for any circumstance and any scenario that was thrown in our lap. I spent a full day prepping my camera and lighting kit to be completely portable and low profile. With my ThinkTankPhoto Airport Security, I packed a Profoto B2 Location Kit, Canon 5D Mark III, Sony A7II as well as lenses and every accessory I could possibly need in the African bush. Luckily, our friends at B&H Photo and Profoto stepped in to sponsor our travels, so we had the right gear to tackle the job.
I knew this wouldn’t be a quick flight over to Tanzania. But, what was supposed to be a 24 hour trip turned into a two day adventure to make denature times, all due to weather. Unfortunately, we were grounded in Atlanta for a day with none of our luggage. I seemed to remember complaining about the absence of my toothbrush, when I realized I was about to head into a culture where a toothbrush may be a considered a luxury. I’ve never actually had to pull a “Home Alone” and run full speed through an airport until this trip. Myself, Coury and Justin took a full sprint from one end of the Amsterdam airport to the other end to catch our flight to Kilimanjaro. Flights are never comfortable; 9 hour flights are especially uncomfortable. I seemed to hit a wall and became very ancy after the third movie hit the credit roll. It’s impossible for me to sleep on a plane, so stretching near the bathrooms and giving my legs some “exercise” was the only remedy from the insanity.
When we arrived to the Kilimanjaro airport and made it through customs, we all lit up a celebratory cigarette, it was the best smoke I’ve ever had and I don’t smoke. The air was fresh and there was a energetic aura among us. We we’re driven to the Mount Meru Hotel in Arusha, Tanzania by a private guide. The hotel was incredibly swanky and nice, an extreme contrast to the world and culture on the outside.
My first experience in Africa would be an interesting and incredibly hectic one. In two Safari trucks we were driven down to the local Arusha market to get in some documentation of Chris Long and his wife Meg. We were told to keep all valuables and jewelry secured and safe. As soon as the car hit park, we jumped out of the truck first. Suddenly, we were mobbed by a large crowd of people, who were either attempting to sell and barter or simply made money by being a translator or guide. Luckily, our drivers could translate Swahili for us and directed us to the right people. The market was beautiful, rich and colorful. The culture was fruitful, vibrant and loud. As we made our way through the nooks and crannies of the market I was snapping the shutter like a madman, I couldn’t keep up with the photographic opportunities, it was overwhelming. I did my best to focus on the project at hand, that being Chris Long, but my eyes constantly wandered to the better subject matter.
VILLAGE IN THE DUST
I didn’t exactly ever know where we would land hour after hour. I suppose that was the thrill of it. I knew we were heading to a remote village, but I wasn’t truly aware of how remote. When we pulled off the main road and started driving into a desert with no roads, I knew this was the adventure we had asked for. This path was rough and extremely bumpy; it could make someone with a steel stomach feel weak. About an hour of winding through trees and dust we arrived to people running from one end of the village to the other in an extreme dust storm. It was the most incredible sight I have ever seen. Out of the dust emerged a indigenous people who treated us like celebrities. We immediately got to work and I began snapping away. The dust added a compelling element to every single shot. It was excessive and overwhelming, but it opened visual opportunities we couldn’t pass. We finished the day with a quick 30 minute photoshoot, where I did my best to capture the emotions of Chris, Doug and few of the Maasi. It was a time- pressure situation, but I prevailed with some great imagery. We hopped in the truck and high-tailed it out of the village before sunset, at which time traveling becomes very dangerous.
Even though we had a mission and clear objectives, the most exciting portion of the trip was the Safari. I really didn’t know what to expect. People from all over the world pay thousands of dollars to experience an African safari and here we were. It felt like something out of Jurassic Park, just waiting to see a monster appear out of the century-old-trees. We didn’t have to look far. Giraffe, Elephant, Water Buffalo, Wild Boar, Baboon, Flamingo, Zebra and many more species of animals casually enjoyed their natural habitat. Needless to say, I’ll probably never look at a local zoo the same again. It was a rush and thrill to be in this environment with so many incredible animals that were only feet away.
During our stay in Arusha we happen to meet Adrian McCrae, an Aussie risk-taker who enjoys hang-gliding of mountain tops. Adrian is also an extremely charitable person. We were extremely interested in his stories, so much so he arranged a quick flight up to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, one of the seven tallest summits in the world. Mount Kilimanjaro is 19,000 feet above sea level and Mount Everest is 24,000 feet above sea level. Only hours before our flight was schedule to head back overseas we jumped into a 4-seat Cessna plane that was smaller than my Nissan. We opened the windows and took off. I was actually quite nervous, the last time I was in a plane that size I had paid to jump out of it (skydiving). It took roughly 30 minutes to reach Kilimanjaro and we did several passes. It was freezing, the temperature had dropped some 40 degrees from sea level, not to mention wind chill. I was able to maneuver a few shots of the summit through the open window. After a few moments tipping the wings we headed back down to the ground and I was relived upon touchdown.
I wish I could do into more detail of each and every moment spent in Tanzania. The people are beautiful and so is the landscape, they make it easy for a photographer like myself. Even though most of the people of Tanzania have probably seen a camera, they are still completely enthralled with the technology. And, they just stare into the lens. I hope I have the opportunity to return one day, but this experience will be something I’ll never forget.
“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences.” – Christopher McCandless