Extreme Adventure Series: Botswana Africa

The Extreme Adventure Series trip to Botswana was a fitting destination for both trip winner Eric Sackler and mentor James Porto. Each came to the trip from a desire to travel to a place he had not yet been...

Extreme-Adventure-Series-Botswana-Africa
Extreme-Adventure-Series-Botswana-Africa

The Extreme Adventure Series
Botswana Africa
Photo: Eric Sackler, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Eric Sackler, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.

The Extreme Adventure Series trip to Botswana was a fitting destination for both trip winner Eric Sackler and mentor James Porto. Each came to the trip from a desire to travel to a place he had not yet been. Also, each had visited Saharan Africa but had not ventured south. "I had gone to Morocco in 1997 and taken some excellent photographs," related Porto, "and it piqued my interest in Africa as a photographic destination. So when American PHOTO presented me the opportunity to go to Botswana, I seized it."

Photo: Eric Sackler, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: James Porto, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.

In Eric Sackler's case, a friend familiar with his passions for travel and photography informed him about the eBay auction. "I logged on to eBay and read about the different trips," said Sackler. "The India trip initially caught my eye because it's my favorite country. I was there in 1987-88 and spent some time working for Mother Teresa in Calcutta. I thought I could go back and document changes. Then I thought I should go somewhere I've never been but had always wanted to go. The Botswana trek intrigued me, so I checked out Jim's bio and logged onto his site. I saw his work and decided then to bid on the trip." However, there was one minor problem remaining. "It all sounded great, but I had never bid on anything on eBay!" exclaimed Sackler. With only 30 minutes remaining for bidding, Sackler called a friend to get a crash course in registering and bidding on eBay. After a very short lesson, Sackler was ready, and then, with only a few minutes remaining in the auction, he logged in and won the trek.

Photo: Eric Sackler, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: James Porto, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.

Even with modern transportation, traveling to the African bush is not a light undertaking. "The trek started with an 18 hour flight from JFK to Johannesburg, South Africa," explained Porto. There he met Eric Sackler at the hotel for their overnight stay before continuing from Joburg, as the locals call it, to Maun, Botswana. "Jim and I had emailed and talked on the phone but didn't meet until the hotel in Joburg," related Sackler. "We went over our equipment list and got to know each other over beers at the hotel." Porto continues, "It was a quick shot the next morning from Joburg to Maun on a medium sized jet, followed by a wonderful one-hour flight on a ten-seater prop plane, which took us right to Kwara Camp."

Photo: Eric Sackler, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: James Porto, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.

Kwando Safaris of Botswana and Zambia provided all details and support for excursions into the bush. It is a smaller safari outfitter whose circuit focuses on a more personal experience for trekkers. Kwara Camp is one of four camps the company operates. It is located in the Okavango Delta region of Botswana -- a location well known for its rich biodiversity and abundant array of large animal species. "Kwara Camp was well-outfitted and even luxurious, considering how far you were from civilization," said Porto. "After the journey to get there, it was a welcome refuge and we had a few hours to rest before heading out by open-air jeep to look for game."

Photo: Eric Sackler, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.

With some Extreme Adventure trips, the mentor is a resident of the community in which the trip takes place, and can, therefore, impart a good taste of the local culture. With both Sackler and Porto newcomers to Botswana, some local expertise was necessary. This guidance and knowledge came from resident Botswanan, Mothusi Kebusitswe, whose skills were highly praised by the trekkers. "Mothusi possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of the region's animals," noted Porto, "as well as a keen sense of how to approach them in a non-threatening manner. This enabled close proximity for our photographic pursuits." In further delight to Sackler and Porto, Kebusitswe was also an avid and accomplished photographer. So in addition to his skills as a guide, he also had a great understanding of the elements necessary for getting for great shots. As Porto explained, "The days were structured wonderfully for photography; up before dawn, in the jeeps, and out in the bush for sunrise photography. Then set out looking for animals, who were all emerging and looking for food. We had fairly good luck in the mornings with seeing game. We returned to the camps by 10am for a wonderful breakfast and then siesta, relaxing in the camp for the hot - and bad light - part of the day. A nice lunch at 4, then back out in the jeeps for evening game drives and beautiful light."

Photo: Eric Sackler, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.

Needless to say, the wonders and beauty of Africa left both participants enthralled. "There was an abundance of wildlife -- giraffes, zebras, elephants, baboons, lions, impalas, birds of all types, warthogs, wildebeests, hippos…a truly wild place," described Porto. "But don't get the wrong idea -- you could drive for a few hours sometimes and not see much life. But then you'd come around the curve and see a herd of elephants. It's out there, but sometimes you have to drive a bit, and a little luck always helps." Sackler agreed, "Through plane rides, game drives, and a river cruise, we shot everything we wanted to shot except for the elusive cheetahs and leopards. We learned how to use the Southern Cross to navigate our way back to camp at night and learned not to make any sudden moves in the presence of hungry lions."

Photo: Eric Sackler, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.

A sense of caution was necessary to keep in mind in the bush- even while at camp. Eric Sackler's following anecdote makes the point: "The scariest moment of the trek was when a large bull elephant came through our camp like he owned it, which, we all knew, he did. Everybody scrambled to get the best vantage point to observe the bull while at the same time leaving enough distance so as not to rile him. He was brushing up against trees, stepping over everything and making his way through camp. I had my wide-angle lens and had no time to go back to my tent to change lenses. I was looking through the viewfinder as the elephant came right towards me. Without taking my eye away from the camera I waited for him to get closer, then closer, when he let out a loud cry, flapped his ears and threw his tusks in my direction. Through my wide-angle lens he looked 25 feet away, but taking my eye away from the viewfinder, my heart jumped through my chest as I realized he was only 15 feet away! I jumped, then froze, looking him straight in the eye to try to read what his next move was going to be. He lunged forward to within 8-10 feet of me, suddenly stopped, hesitated, then turned and exited the camp."

Photo: Eric Sackler, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.

Sackler's tenacity to do whatever necessary to get the shot was appreciated by Porto. "I was very lucky to end up with Eric Sackler. He is a wonderful guy and an enthusiastic photographer," said Porto. "One of his great strengths was the fact that he was rarely satisfied and was always pushing himself to get better and better photographs. He was very self-sufficient photographically and his absolute hunger to take great pictures was contagious; I found energy from his attitude." That said, Porto didn't want his strength to become an obstacle. "The most valuable thing I learned from Jim was to recognize when I had a bird in the hand not stress as much about missing a possible better shot," explained Sackler. "A week later, I was shooting a group of hippos that surrounded my boat at sunrise. I got a few shots that I thought were okay, so I instructed my boatman to head down river in search of something else. Then I thought about Jim's advice and ended up staying there for another 45 minutes and getting one of my favorite shots of the trip."

Photo: Eric Sackler, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: James Porto, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: James Porto, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.

For Porto, the trek was a welcome break from his usual professional photographic work. "I'm mostly studio-based,' said Porto, "but I love to travel occasionally to capture new imagery." As with Sackler, the elephants also provided one of Porto's favorite moments of the trek. "We had been tracking a herd of elephants for a few hours as the light was going down," said Porto, "and we were just about to depart to try and find one more wild subject before the day's end. But there wouldn't be enough time and we would have wasted the light, as it progressively got more beautiful. So we doubled back on the elephants and Mothusi got them right between our lenses and the sun; as they kicked up dust clouds we captured some great obscured silhouettes of these marvelous, majestic animals. I thank American PHOTO and SanDisk for the opportunity to take on the Extreme Adventure Series."

Photo: Eric Sackler, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Eric Sackler, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Eric Sackler, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Eric Sackler, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Eric Sackler, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Eric Sackler, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: James Porto, 2005, Botswana Africa. All Rights Reserved.

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