Isabel Conway’s image of Maasai warriors making fire in Amboseli National Reserve Kenya has been shortlisted for the inaugural Travel Media Ireland travel photo of the year. Three other photographs were also shortlisted and the winner will be announced at the annual Travel Media awards in Dublin on May 20.
She writes: “No wonder Amboseli inspired the big game hunting tales of Ernest Hemingway and Robert Ruark with its unrivalled views of Kilimanjaro and large elephant population. I was lucky enough to visit for the first time on a press trip to launch Elewana’s Sky Safari in Kenya last summer. Game drives, walks, sundowners and bush meals – all were all memorable while flying around Kenya’s top national parks. Having our own Elewana limousine in the sky felt so Meryl Streep and Robert Redford from Out of Africa.
The stars were of course the wildlife in one of the oldest protected areas in East Africa. The good news here is that Amboseli’s elephant population of over 1,000 is one of the few in Africa that was left unravaged by poachers in the 1980’s.
On our first morning we drove through lava fields to a clearing with a water pump and a shed in a desolate spot where a little boy was tending a herd of goats. Then, suddenly, we entered a manyatta (temporary village of squat mud huts) ringed by a thorn fence as a defence against lions and other wild animals.
Warriors emerged to welcome us, dressed in bright red, adorned with colourful beads and jewellery. The married women, equally bejewelled, wore blue. Mulanti (the future chief) explained: “My first wife was chosen by my family. We must marry out of our village to bring new blood. I am allowed to choose my second and third wives myself but it costs five cows for each wife and a cow costs $500 so not many of us can afford more than two or three at most”.
We crouched down and prayed with the Maasai villagers for good crops and many cattle. Warriors then danced, leaping high into the air, inviting us to join in. Nobody managed to rise more than a foot from the ground. Maybe that was because we hadn’t started the day as they had with a mixture of fresh cow blood extracted traditionally from the neck of the beast and milk, a recipe for their renowned athleticism.
They demonstrated some ancient rituals including that of making fire with two sticks rubbed together, adding elephant dune and dried grass, patiently blowing for a long time before a tiny ring of smoke miraculously rose up. In my photo I wanted to show the concentration in their task and how these Maasai nomads of the plains retain their traditions. The kneeling warrior is visibly worried because it is taking so long for that tiny spark to ignite the dried grass under his hands.
Isabel is Ireland’s current Travel Writer of the Year and she also won the Long Haul category at the Travel Extra travel journalist of the year awards in Dublin in January 2016.