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Experimenting with travel

Experiential travel is the new big thing. More and more people are keen on picking up a skill while on vacation, writes Geetika Jain.

india Updated: Sep 17, 2008 17:12 IST

Experiential travel is the new big thing. More and more people are keen on picking up a skill while on vacation. It enables them to get under the skin of the place and interact with the locals. A week-long cooking course on a farm in Italy, lassoing cattle at a ranch in Wyoming, or picking up Spanish in Santiago can be truly appealing.

This August, when we arrived in Kenya’s famed Masai Mara to catch the spectacle of the wildebeest migration, we had something new on the agenda — our family was accompanied by a professional wildlife cameraman, Warren Samuels, who showed us the finer points of filmmaking.

Warren is associated with a newcomer on the safari circuit, a set-up called Film Safaris Camp, where the emphasis on teaching filming and photography is just as great as the safari experience. The camp is sited under a copse of trees, with a slip of a river meandering behind, and wide open grasslands in front.

Six hexagon-shaped tents as well as a central dining and lounging area make the place a cosy home away from home. There was never a dull moment as the enormous vistas were constantly animated with dazzles of zebra, journeys of giraffe and all manner of wildlife.

Zooming and panning
Every morning and evening, we’d set off on our game drives. My video camera was connected to Warren’s monitor, and he could see exactly what I was filming. He guided me throughout: “Pan from left to right. Our eye is used to reading from left to right. Start with an interesting object, like a tree, and end with an elephant or a hill. Don’t zoom quite so much, it can be taxing on the viewer’s eye.”

Soon, I began to think about spacing, sequencing and story-building. Then Warren would turn his attention to my husband (wielding a digital camera) with “How about that flash diffuser? You could use some extra light now.” Shawn Hartley, the camp manager, is an excellent stills photographer. He joined us on several game drives, solving the hubby’s long-standing issue with pale, mid-day photos by suggesting underexposing by a few F stops. Back at camp, twizzling a glass of wine in the evenings, we’d view the day’s filming. Everyone would critique and admire the rushes. I had my first foray into editing and a week-long safari became 30 minutes of action-packed Jain family diaries.

A conservation success
The 30,000 acres of Olare Orock conservancy, where we were based, is a new extension of the Mara. The land has been recently leased from the Masai tribesmen and returned to the wild. It is now privately managed and run by people who care deeply about conservation.

Within months, the area, once over-grazed by cattle, has rejuvenated itself. The plains were spotted with wildebeests, and lions that would have been culled otherwise have formed prides and colonised the region. In the conservancy, we rediscovered the use of our legs on walks with an armed ranger.

We also took the spotlight and went on night drives that revealed genets, civets, bristling porcupines and a leopard on a hunt. For us, it was unalloyed delight. Nothing could be more riveting than the drama of life and death unfolding before us. Like us, Warren and Shaun never tire of the bush.

Twice, over dinner, when lions called in the cold, clear night, we spontaneously dropped our cutlery mid-meal and leapt into the jeep to go off and investigate. Both times, I forgot to grab my woolly fleece, but not my new best friend, the video camera.