We had just arrived at a tiny dirt path runway somewhere in the middle of Tanzania near the Serengeti for a flight that would take us to Kitchwa Tembo, Kenya. There, we would finish out our safari adventures in the Masai Mara before heading back to Nairobi and ultimately home. We’d been in Africa for about 12 days at this point.
At each airport stop, we took photos to memorialize the moment. This one was no different. I got out my camera, went to snap a shot of the little 4-seater plane that was arriving, and “beep, beep, beep!” No SD card.
My heart started to race. Where did it go? Had I forgotten that I’d removed it? Had I already downloaded the photos? And then I remembered. I had put it in my pants pocket the night before because I had been planning to upload them onto my laptop, but then we were enjoying the fire and dancing and conversation so much, that the only thing I took my computer out for was to play “Where the Lion Sleeps Tonight” for our new Masaai friends.
It must still be in my pocket, I thought.
I dug through my tiny bag (on safari your luggage must weigh less than 30 pounds), so there weren’t a lot of places it could go. I went through the pockets of the pants I’d worn the night before. I tried the pockets of my sweatshirt. No luck. I unpacked the entire bag, khaki pants and insect shield shirts splayed all over the Land Rover for all to see me in my now-state-of-panic.
IT’S NOT HERE. Tears began welling up.
It was the moment all travelers and photographers dread. The last two days of photos while on safari in the Serengeti – during the Great Migration – were gone. The morning had begun like every other while at AndBeyond’s Serengeti Under Canvas camp. Mauran, our handsome and soft-spoken Maasai warrior woke us with coffee and a quiet “good morning.” We enjoyed some final moments with the warm staff at the camp and got ready to leave the serenity of the Serengeti to continue our journey.
Bouncing up and down and all around on the dirt roads to the airport, I left my camera and video equipment in my bag. I’d been shooting so much, I just wanted to enjoy the moment, breathe in the air, and remember everything about the experience. That is, until we got to the airport and I wanted a shot of us leaving the Serengeti.
The physical pain I felt while I started thinking about everything we’d seen the last two days that was on that SD card — the cheetah on the hunt, the leaping wildebeest as they crossed the Mara, the lions feasting on their prey — was something of the sort that can only be compared to heartbreak and missed opportunity. I was absolutely crushed.
These were the moments I had dreamed of for years, and years, and years, and years. We had planned our entire trip around being in the Serengeti to witness the Migration. And we saw it!!! We waited and waited for hours, going back and forth along to river, to actually see the very moment when the wildebeests took the plunge and went for it. Some survived. Some didn’t. And I had captured it all.
I told myself that the memories alone would have to suffice.
“I’m sure you have it somewhere,” Lanee assured me. “It’s so unlike you to lose something like that!”
I knew though. It was gone. Because I am so careful with things like cameras and SD cards, there was only one or two places it could be and I’d checked them all. I gave myself a good dose of self-shaming for putting a tiny SD card in my pocket. What was I thinking?!?!
Our driver from andBeyond tried to console me, too.
“I called the camp,” he said. “They’ll look for it.”
I appreciate that, I said, knowing that the chances of them finding it were less likely than spotting a tree full of leopards.
We left the Serengeti and head on to Bateleur Camp in the Masai Mara, another beyond-my-wildest-dreams property that had us doing walking safaris to hippo land, seeing hippos in action (literally — I cannot believe how long they stay under water to mate — seriously disturbing ritual…). While we were there, the magic of the wildlife and scenery and new photos taken was almost, almost, enough to let go of the lost SD card.
We arrived at dinner the final night and the manager of the camp said he’d received a call from the Serengeti Under Canvas Camp, “They found your photos,” he said nonchalantly.
I was so distracted by the Dawa cocktail in my hand and the giraffe and elephants in the distance that I didn’t put two and two together to immediately understand what he meant.
“OH MY GOD! You mean they found the SD Card?!!!” I squealed.
“They said they are going to try to get it here, but we only have two guests coming here in a couple days, and they are going to Arusha first, but the card will come with them.”
You must be joking, I thought. My photo memory card is going to travel with another set of guests to Arusha and then make it to the Masai Mara with them. Talk about “and beyond” service! I didn’t care how it was going to make its was to me; I was just beyond ecstatic that the tiny little sacred plastic chip of priceless memories was even found!
“Your butler was cleaning the tent and found it. That’s all,” he said.
I bet it was Mauran, the Maasai with the million dollar smile…
Three days later. The card hadn’t arrived and we were packing up our things to get ready for an early departure back to Nairobi, where we were spending a few hours back at our original hotel until we had to leave for our flight home in the middle of the night.
I thought it was too good to be true, and now it seemed it was. Before we left, the manager said that the new guests had arrived but the package hadn’t come with them from Arusha.
“One of the rangers brought it to Arusha and then she handed it off to another one who was driving guests this way, and now we can’t reach the last person who had it,” he said.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I really appreciate all the effort, and if it ever turns up, here’s my address to send it.”
It was an exercise in letting go and being in the moment, appreciating travel for what travel is supposed to be about — the experience. It was about relishing in the memories you carry with you in your heart, not the envy-inducing ones you share on Facebook or instagram for bragging rights or superficial kicks.
We left the Mara with happy hearts, knowing that the trip-of-a-lifetime exceeded expectations in every possible way. I shed a tear leaving in a tiny prop plane, hoping that I’d be back again one day soon. East Africa captured a part of my heart that no photo could possibly ever capture in visuals.
We arrived back at Tribe Hotel in Nairobi where the journey began. A doorman took our bags and handed us the other bags we had kept there for storage while on safari, and then handed me a package.
“This just arrived for you,” he said.
Every cell in my body froze.
It was a large brown bag wrapped package with tape all over it. It said my name. It said the name of the camp we had just been at and other names that were crossed out and scribbles all over, dirty and smudged. I shredded it open. Inside was another brown wrapping and an envelope that said my name and “Arusha” among other names and scribbles and dirt.
Inside that was yet another envelope. It was like opening one of those Russian dolls that keeps getting smaller and smaller, or a Christmas present that is boxes wrapped within smaller and smaller boxes to keep the anticipating high and the payoff large.
My SD Card.
It was there! Five days and a couple hours later, it had traveled from the Serengeti to Kilimanjaro to Arusha to the Masai Mara to Nairobi, on a safari of its own.
I could not believe – still can’t – the lengths to which the andBeyond team went to get me my memory card back. Everything about it, however, from losing it to getting it back, was a lesson in and of itself — it was never about the photos but the memories that I thought would be lost. And surprisingly, as a result of thinking I’d lost the SD card, Lanee and I talked for hours about what we’d seen and felt so we wouldn’t forget.
Too often we rely on photos to remind us of special moments… Instead, I wrote notes in my journal during those days with the kind of detail and reflection that I hadn’t done in years, not since I actually kept a journal. For that, I’m so grateful, because now looking at the photos, there were other more important reflections and journeys happening at the same time; things that no photo could tell, but which my written travel journal now holds.
That said, I’m still really happy to have those photos too! Here are a couple of my favorites from SD Card that went on safari.