It’s a strange feeling to travel. To know you’re stepping out of your comfort zone and going to a place you’ve perhaps only read about.
There’s simply no other feeling like it. It’s terrifying, exciting, and exhilarating at once. Especially when the travel is as drastic as moving from the urban streets of New York City to the wild of the Maasai Mara, Kenya. This is what happened to me and it was an experience like no other.
Back in May 2017, which seems so long ago now, I graduated from college with a major in Film and a minor in Creative Writing. I thought I knew what I wanted to do next, but an opportunity was sprung on me that gave me an adventure like no other. I was given the opportunity to work for safariLIVE. After being told what they do and how they operated, I thought their work sounded fantastic. I was offered an internship. My nerves were quite I was excited, of course, but still, my thoughts initially held me back. Working alone in Africa, by myself? I was scared, both for fear of traveling so far away and terrified of messing up once I got there. But still, I recognized that this opportunity was once in a lifetime – I’d be a fool if I passed it by. So I accepted and the plans were set: I would travel to the safariLIVE camp, located on the edge of the African rift valley overlooking the Maasai Mara, at the start of August.
Standing in the middle of the Maasai Mara, Jake McDaniel, safariLIVE intern
I spent the weeks before it watching safariLIVE on YouTube and their live show on National Geographic chronicling the Great Migration. I began to wonder how exactly the show was managed behind the scenes. Doing a live show on this scale struck me as rather insane and I began to wonder how exactly I could contribute in all of this. I couldn’t possibly do this, could I? My anticipation grew as the weeks sailed by until the date was upon me.
Once safely in Nairobi, I was escorted to an airport, where I beheld a tiny plane that would carry me to Mara Camp. I looked outside, across the airstrip, listening to the sound of planes in the early morning light. And it hit me, perhaps for the first time: I was here. I was alone in Africa. I had actually done it.
I reflected on this for sometime, not knowing quite how to feel. Between the sleep deprivation and the unusual surroundings, it felt as if I was in a dream, walking through the world in a state of delirium. I couldn’t really be in Kenya, could I? After the initial shock wore off, the fact was that I indeed was finally here.
Soon enough, I boarded my plane, squeezing myself into the little compact seat. Tourists filed in around me, chattering away and clearly excited to be going on their own African adventures. The plane took off and I looked out the window. I saw a huge stretch of land far below, miles of scrubland and harsh terrain stretching as far as the eye could see. I stared in wonder, a bit awed by the sheer expanse of it, as the plane zoomed over the enormous landscape.
I sat in my seat quietly, my gaze continuing to linger on the landscape below. The plane made several stops, on airstrips that were barely scraps of dirt along the road. I witnessed several different types of animals lingering near these ‘runaways’ that caught me off guard. Thomsons’ gazelles, zebra, and wildebeest were mere feet away from where the planes landed! It astounded me, to see these animals I had read so much about, just casually standing right there.
After the third stop, the plane took off for its second to last stop and my final destination. This stop was mine. I sat up straight as the plane circled low over a flat, dry looking plain below. We landed and I stood. A brief glance out the window showed miles of flat grassland stretching before me, a few clumps of trees here and there. I took a breath before snatching up my backpack and squeezed myself down the boarding ramp.
I emerged into the intense brilliance. Sunlight slammed down on me like a waterfall. I looked around and saw a tall man with messy hair approaching me, wearing a green shirt with the safariLIVE logo plastered on it, big and bold with its orange font. I approached him and introduced myself. He shook my hand and said his name was Brent, the first person I would ever meet at safariLIVE.
We gathered up my belongings and I piled into a roofless, windowless jeep. Brent drove me down a rocky, rugged path, explaining that camp was only a few minutes from the airstrip. I listened carefully, watching as the landscape passed by.
True to Brent’s word, the camp was very close. We turned down a path and rumbled to a halt in front of a small building. I took a long look around, seeing rows of tents parked along a rugged hill overlooking our parking spot. Below us was a massive cliff face, which ran down into an enormous landscape below that seemed to stretch on forever. The sight of it was slightly overwhelming and it dawned on me again that I was here, in the Maasai Mara, at safariLIVE’s camp.
I stepped out of the jeep, looking around. Brent brought me to final control, where I saw the control room setup. The sight was, again, overwhelming. There were four monitors, all displaying pictures of locations I didn’t know. A keyboard with multi-colored buttons sat on the table next to a line of computers. It was like something out of a low key science fiction film and I gulped, horrified I might actually have to use this device.
Nevertheless, I was introduced to the studio staff at FC: Kirsten, Gerry, Rebecca, Jana, and more. All of them greeted me warmly and I felt instantly more relaxed just by how casual everyone was. Putting me at ease, I was shown to my tent, one of the last ones in the row. My tent was more spacious than I imagined and after unpacking my belongings, I began to feel like this place was more like home.
And a home it did become. I got used to things fairly quickly, being thrust into my job the next day. I helped out with whatever FC wanted me to do, which usually meant working on D2 shifts (these were my favorite), watching the rivercams for any herd crossings, going live when I was instructed to, and filming behind the scenes footage during the Migration TV shows.
Although I got into the swing of things quickly, I still made a lot of mistakes. I messed up a fair amount of times during my initial D2 shifts, often being too slow with questions from viewers. The pace took quite some time to get used to. Still, I learned from my mistakes and my fellow FC personnel gave me quick and constructive feedback. I slowly improved over the next few weeks and although I don’t think I’m anywhere near the level of the professional FC staff, I think I can hold my own decently, which is pretty good!
Another thing I had to get used to was night shifts. Presenters would often stay out late into the night, looking for action from lions or cheetahs on possible hunts. I would emerge from my tent around eleven PM, trudging through the dark camp, only my iPhone flashlight lighting the way. I would listen to the sounds of the night, such as crickets chirping, hyena whooping, zebra crying, and other night creatures, before wandering into FC. I was handed the radio and listened to them throughout the night, waiting to see if the presenters wanted to go live with any action. I couldn’t sleep very well on the couch in FC, so the night shifts often took their toll. I’d wait until four in the morning on most of them and only get a few hours rest before starting my day. But I got used to them after a while and knowing that the presenters were working much, much longer shifts made me feel a bit foolish for feeling tired myself.
The weeks went by and I began to feel like a real member of the team. I got to know the staff at the camp quite well, from the presenters such as James, Brent, Tayla, and Jamie to the tech crew like Jared, Stef, Alex to the maintenance workers and chefs. I began to really enjoy my work, getting into the habit of cracking jokes with presenters and managing the workflow of incoming questions during my D2 shifts much better. This job was simply amazing and long hours or not, I was really enjoying it.
The TV shows, where safariLIVE broadcasts to Nat Geo WILD (Saturday mornings in Africa and Friday nights in the United States) were the most chaotic but also the most fun to work on. Once I had to brew a cup of hot coffee for James so he could use it as a prop during a sketch. I ran to the kitchen, stumbled around for a bit before managing to heat up some water. I then ran back to the studio and poured some coffee in. I held onto that hot cup of coffee for dear life, agonizingly waiting for James’s sketch when he’d use it. Finally, a commercial break came and I handed him the cup. He decided it wasn’t hot enough and in mere moments brewed his own before running off. Moments like that were both frustrating, fun, and hilarious in hindsight. They also provided me with real hands on experience, showing me what to do and not to do in the heat of the moment. This is something I don’t think many internships could really provide.
What also astounded me was, of course, the wildlife. Back home in the city the only animals I would experience would be a gaggle of pigeons fluttering overhead or some squirrels chattering in Central Park. Here, on my first day, I took a step outside and looked over the expanse of the Mara. To my shock, I saw a troop of baboons walking mere feet from my tent! They darted off into the brush when they spotted me but the sight still left me flabbergasted. Since then, I saw giant beetles buzzing around the showers, groups of zebra walking through camp, and mongoose chasing each other into the long grass. At night, while I would be trying to sleep, I would often hear the laughter of hyenas, the snorting of wildebeest, and even the occasional growl of a lion in the darkness beyond my tent. At first, I was frightened to have all these animals in close proximity but soon, I became used to them and welcomed their presence. It was so astounding to sleep with all these animals roaming around. It was nothing like I had ever experienced.
Once the TV shows finished, a lot of the staff went on leave. After that, things began to quieten down around the camp. I began to use the opportunity to make a short film of my own for safariLIVE’s content team, making one humorously comparing the migration patterns of New York City to those of the Mara, also telling my own story in the process. It was a lot of fun to make and I learned a lot about editing/film schedules. It taught me a lot and the end result was worth it.
As I sit here, in the FC studio writing this, I can hear others moving around me. Gerry is on the couch, trying to manage presenters going out for the afternoon live show. The screens in front of me display views of the various rivers across the Mara. I can see a large crocodile swimming down one, its enormous form sliding through the water. Outside, I can hear the pitter-patter of rain on the roof and hear the occasional chime of various animals. I am truly blessed to have been given an opportunity like this. It’s astounding to think I’ve only been here two months. I’ve learned so much and experienced so much, that I feel like I’ve been here forever.
I am so thankful for this amazing adventure. I hope to continue my work with safariLIVE in December, where I’ll head to Djuma, but I’ll always remember the Mara for opening my eyes to the world and teaching me about myself. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same and that is the best thing I could ask for.