2023 was another intense year of travel with 159 days traveling. In addition to those days out of my home state, I spent many days and nights at my moms house to visit and help out. It felt like I was away more than at home and I very much enjoyed my at home time with my 3 "foster" dogs.
9 of the 159 days were in the USA for business conferences - my favorite was Orlando in December. The hotel was so beautifully decorated for the holidays.
It was just a week after returning from Kenya so being somewhere (a bit warmer than Chicago) that was so festively decorated definitely got me in the mood for the holidays!
I returned home and immediately went to my moms for 5 days to start prepping for Christmas. We enjoyed a Christmas Day with a total of 45 of extended family members. It's a lot of work - but it is such a joy to share the day with so many loved ones.
As the year was winding down, I wanted to create another year video...so I started searching thru the 65,000 images I have from 2023 (that does not include family pictures) to find some for my annual video. It was not an easy task - (that's a lot of pictures). I had to find some that really shared the locations / animals but also that fit into the format of the video.
The images in the video below, are not necessarily the best images from the trips - some may not even make the cull cut, but they are a good representation of the locations I visited this past year. Most are not edited and the majority have not been posted on social media either.
Here's a brief overview of the trips. I will be writing more about each country over the next several months. If you aren't a member of the newsletter yet - be sure to sign up as I'll be doing a lot more writing in 2024. You can sign up to the right.
In February, I visited Tanzania for the calving season. The migration is a continuing movement of mostly wildebeest and zebra from kenya on the north side down into the southern Serengeti on the south. They move in a big circle depending on the rains. February is when most of the wildebeest have their babies in Tanzania and it is called the calving season. The hopes for traveling at this time of year is to see a birth and the first steps. It is also a huge time for predators as they feast on the newborns.
Unfortunately, we weren't quite in the right place at the right time. We had a lot of rain (which is normal) and we did see a lot of wildebeest and zebras but not the huge herds and I was not lucky enough to see a birth.
The trip started in Ngorongoro Crater. This was my first time back to Tanzania in over 30 years. The Ngorongoro Crater changed in that it was more crowded than 30 years ago and they even had a food truck at one of the rest stops. Definitely convenient for a lot of the visitors. There is so much wildlife in the crater, and it's a great starting point for a safari in Tanzania. Rhino, lions, birds, buffalo, wildebeest, zebras, baboons, and so many birds! My favorite animal to photograph is lions and there were plenty!
Then it was off to the Serengeti. We had a lot of rain and mud, cheetahs, some of the most beautiful lions I've ever seen - I swear one had a silver mane even though it doesn't look like it in my pictures, striped hyena (only the third time I've ever seen one - and I was so excited!!!), and a caracal - only the second time ever to see one! You can imagine how excited I was for that one. We even had the tree climbing lions. Lions can climb trees but they are not as good as leopards. In certain areas of East Africa, the lions often climb trees to escape from the wet grass and the flies. It was fascinating to see this behavior in large numbers as opposed to the one or two I've seen in the past.
My last stop was at the kopjes. These are the large rock formations that are often adorned with leopard and lion. I didn't have much luck until the very last night when we found 2 male lions on the top of the rocks in pouring rain. What a sight!
Tanzania is an absolutely beautiful country for safari - and a great country for the first time safari goer as the wildlife is abundant, there are many options for lodge types, and the infrastructure for tourism is fabulous.
I flew from Tanzania to Kenya and visited Ol Donyo lodge which is near Amboseli. They have a great underground hide at their water hole and big tuskers often come to visit.
Then went to Amboseli for a few days. What a relief it was to see some of the devastation of the drought lifted. It's not over, but the animals were much healthier than when I was there in November of 2022.
We(the friends I was with) joined a group to visit the Sheldrick reintegration units in the Tsavo area. We spent 2 nights in Ithumba and 2 in Umani Springs. This was much more about the experience than the photography - so I have very few photographs from that part of the trip. It was my second time visiting the stockades where the orphaned elephants begin the journey back to the wild. It's incredibly moving to talk with the keepers and get to know their stories and sacrifices alongside the stories of the elephants. (more about Kenya below as I visited 2 more times in 2023.)
The trip to Mexico was an unusual trip for me. It was a snorkel trip go photograph whales underwater. It was a really great experience. I didn't have any underwater equipment really and was advised a few years ago when I was preparing for my trip to Tonga to photograph humpback whales (which didn't happen yet due to covid shutdowns) to not get a big underwater housing if I'm not a strong swimmer. So, I purchased a good quality point and shoot and a housing for it. The trip to Mexico is really well documented in my VLOGs on YouTube which you can find here.
What really impressed me was the respect paid to the animals in the water. The crew was incredibly responsible about when and how we could get in the water - to not only keep us safe but for the well being of the animals. I loved this trip and can't wait to explore more underwater.
Greece and Turkey
In May, I took my annual cruise with my mom and sister to Greece and Turkey. I usually don't bring my camera gear when cruising as it is truly a vacation and family time. I do enjoy seeing the ruins and of course love being on the ocean. It was a great trip and I always look forward to the trips with my mom and sister.
June had me returning to the Okavango Delta after almost 30 years. This was a covid - postponement trip. We visited the Chobe River, the Okavango Delta, and the Jao Conservancy. I love the Chobe River. I've been several times just in the last few years. The abundance of wildlife and the different perspective from the water definitely makes it a great place to visit. On this trip, we did take a game drive into the park in addition to seeing it from the water.
The Okavango Delta is a sight to see. The delta is quite large and depending on where you go - you can go by land or boat. This part of the trip was by land although we did have a few "questionable" bridges to cross.
The last stop was the Jao Concession, unfortunately, the Delta is facing severe drought conditions and it was more obvious here. As we were making our way to the lodge in from the airstrip, our guide showed us where normally we would have picked up a boat - it was land everywhere and not water. It was sad to see the changes and I wonder if the animals will be able to adapt quickly enough to survive. We ended up having a lot of vehicle drives as well as boat drives. My favorite land sighting was watching a bull elephant knocking down fruits from a tree where his bull friends were waiting to get some yummies. (I'll be releasing a video of it on my YouTube channel soon)
Botswana is often a fist time safari destination. It is more remote and caters to those wanting more of a private experience. With that comes a heavy price tag which is why most people opt for East Africa or South Africa for first time safaris.
The Botswana trip was only 10 days and I really don't like flying to Africa for that short of a time period. The flights are expensive, take a long time, and jet lag is horrible for me. So, I booked a trip to Kenya and flew up there just after the Botswana trip ended. It was early July and the migration had not come through yet so the grasses were long. I only stayed in the Mara Triangle for that trip.
The long grasses can make photography more challenging but I also love the look of the golden grass swaying in the wind. I stayed at the Wild-Eye camp there and absolutely loved it. I'll be writing a post about the camp in the next few months as it deserves its only blog post.
The mara never disappoints even with long grasses. So many cheetahs, lions, leopards, and plains game. I was also lucky to see the first large herd of wildebeest crossing the sand river into Kenya. Crossings are often referred to as the 8th wonder of the world - and there's no question as to why. Even though this one was through shallow waters, to see that number of animals on a mission - is, well, breathtaking.
Kenya is currently my favorite country to go on safari. It has been since I started 30 years ago and has never left the number 1 position. The wildlife is amazing, the types of accommodations, activities, infrastructure and the people - all make it my number 1 choice for safari.
In the past few years, the Masai Mara has had some issues which the new government is trying to combat - I'm hoping they are successful otherwise I could see Kenya sliding from their number 1 position. This is still a great country for first time safari goers as well as seasoned travelers (like me).
Kenya is my number 1 choice for safaris - for both first time and seasoned veterans. the people, infrastructure, types of accommodation and the abundance of animals makes it a great destination.
South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana Family Trip
In September, my mom, sister, and I went on an adventure to Southern Africa. My mom had mentioned she wanted to go back to Africa so we did a ton of research.
Through research and my contacts, I found out about Rovos Rail - which is similar to the Orient Express. A luxury rail line where they serve afternoon teas, dress for dinner, and get to see the countryside by train. The rail took 4 nights and sent us from near Johannesburg to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
We spent several days at Victoria Falls (I am not posting pictures because they all include my mom and sister) and then went up to Botswana to spend a few nights on the Chobe river.
While visiting the Chobe River, we took both boat rides as well as vehicles in the park. We saw fabulous animals and even got to glimpse 2 very young leopard cubs.
Then we went back to S. Africa and to Madikwe - my first and definitely not my last visit to the park. My first time ever to see a brown hyena! What an incredibly beautiful creature. Loads of elephants, giraffes, wild dogs and so many other animals. We even took a walking safari and found some curious giraffes.
South Africa is another common first time safari - goer country. The infrastructure is great and with Cape Town a flight away, it's a great choice for people that don't want to just go on safari during their vacation. The topography is completely different than the vast open plains of the Mara / Serengeti ecosystem in East Africa so that is something to consider if you are planning a safari experience.
After my mom and sister departed for home, I went to S. Luangwa in Zambia. This was my first visit to Zambia and it won't be my last. It is my 10th country in Africa for safari.
The wildlife in S. Luangwa was phenomenal. It was hot and towards the end of dry season so the animals tend to congregate around water holes. The only thing I didn't love about the location was the first lodge had lots of big wall spiders -- evidently only in my room - which is due probably to the fact that I have a massive fear of spiders. They aren't dangerous at all - but they are scary looking - especially if even daddy long leg spiders freak you out - like they do me.
Leopards were very abundant and also mostly very acclimated to cars and just didn't care about us (as opposed to some places where they are skittish). They were so beautiful to watch. We also took a boat blind to see Carmine Bee Eaters nesting - where I took thousands of images that I still haven't even looked at yet.
I "met" new sub-species of giraffe and zebra at S. Luangwa. It's a bit confusing because there isn't a real concensus amount scientists about sub-species and there is a lot of conflicting information I found when I started to write a blog post about the zebras. I'll continue to dig through it and write what I find out.
Zambia has a lot of parks to offer but is usually a location for people that have been on safari before - looking for something different or "more". It's a bit harder to get to and doesn't have as much selection as other countries but definitely a country I will be exploring more and soon.
My third trip to Kenya in 2023 was for the month of November. I have several blog posts to write from this trip.
I stayed at a camp called House in the Wild which is in one of the Northern most conservancies of the Masai Mara. I believe this may be the best kept secret of Kenya. The lodge was amazing, the work they do for conservation also amazing and the wildlife sightings - phenomenal and uncrowded. Just a really beautiful experience in every way. I also found my new favorite lion - Seenka. I will be offering a limited edition print of this lion sometime next year. There will only be 12 total printed ever of this image (10 Limited editions plus 2 artist proofs offered in Metal and Acrylic). I can't wait to launch this image.
And yes, there will be at least 1 blog post dedicated to this lodge and the conservancies.
After a week, I moved to the main Masai Mara and stayed at Mara Bush Camp - in the private wing. (I was upgraded by the camp). It was a beautiful lodge - and again, I will be writing a lodge review. The location is great in the middle of the mara but a few sightings - especially cheetahs got very crowded which I don't like. I feel that the animals get too much pressure when there are too many vehicles around.
From there, I went to Olare Motorogi Conservancy. (yea, another lodge review coming). I LOVE this conservancy and can't wait to visit it again. This was my second time going to the conservancy. There were many lion prides, a few leopard sightings, cheetah sightings and lots of other animals to see. Giraffes and giraffe babies! It was really very special.
Then I flew back to Nairobi and drove up to Laikipia Wilderness Camp. This is the location where Giza, the famous black leopard can be spotted regularly. And I was lucky and I got to see her. I can't even express in words how it felt to see such a beautiful and rare creature. I can't possibly do it justice in a few sentences...so you'll have to wait until I can get the blog posts written.
In addition to the travel, I started my online store early in the year. If you haven't visited yet, be sure to look at the offerings. I have prints (photographic paper, watercolor, metal, canvas, and acrylic), as well as tote bags, pillows, puzzles, and much more to come in 2024. You can visit the site here. Since I traveled so much, I wasn't able to get a lot of content in the store, but I'll be adding more each month.
I have also started a blog on the store. This blog will be articles about the store and the images in the store.
I've decided to cut back on my travel in 2024. It's with many mixed emotions. It will be the first time since 2016 that I haven't spent at least 3 months in Africa over the year. I know I will miss her.
In 2024, I will be working on my images (my photo database is now over 240,000 and needs serious culling and editing. It takes me forever to find images to post because although they are organized, there are just too many.)
I have so many stories in my head - they need to get out on paper so I can make room for more. I have tons of lodge reviews I want to write and sightings I want to write about - but when I travel so much, there is no time.
2024 is also beyond time I get my health (physical and mental) back on track. My level of fitness is pathetic and with so much stuck in my brain - my mental health is suffering as well.
I've been working on my African Safari Planner for years and it's time to get it done and launched. And I really want to work on my store.
As of right now, I have 3 photography trips planned for 2024 - 1 month in S. Africa and Zambia, a few weeks in the Kingdom of Tonga to photograph humpback whales underwater, and then a month in Kenya. I have my annual trip with my mom as well.
My friends are all telling me I'll change my mind and add more trips - I might, I am currently looking at a trip to the Pacific North West to hone my landscape photography skills but that will be a last minute addition based on how much work I can get done.
I will be posting images and animal videos regularly on my social media as well as tips about traveling to Africa for safari. I'll also be writing a lot more blogs - be sure to join my newsletter so you don't miss anything. (you can join below)
If there is anything you'd ever like to know about, please feel free to contact me! I love talking about animals and travel!
I wish you a very blessed and memorable 2024!