Best of Kenya 2019

In February, 2019, Adventure Artists International co-founder Susan Schmitz set off on an epic journey throughout Kenya, Africa over the week of her 50th birthday. This trip was hosted by one our favorite safari companies, Wild Eye Destinations.

Take a journey through the magic of Kenya with Susan in her recap below…

How can I even begin to describe the magic of this adventure? With four different destinations, a visit to a school in a Maasai community AND my 50th birthday celebration… It was jam packed with fun.

We started off on the right foot, being spoiled by our friends at Wild-Eye Destinations. They coordinated and hosted the entire trip and did a spectacular job.

Arriving in the Mara.jpg

Private charter plane landing right in the center of the action.

Getting to Kenya always seems like it takes an eternity. The anticipation makes the long flights go by very slowly. But the long journey is well worth it once you board that last little puddle-jumper plane. The quick and scenic hop over to “The Mara” is filled with excitement, especially as you land in the middle of the wide open savannah.

Pro camera gear at our fingertips.

As soon as we landed, we were handed the camera and lenses that we rented directly from Wild Eye. How convenient to be able to hire high-end professional camera equipment and not have to travel across the globe with it!

I opted for a Canon 1DX II and a 200-400mm with built in 1.4 extender. This is a pretty sweet setup!

Photo by Michael Laubscher/Wild-Eye Destinations

Photo by Michael Laubscher/Wild-Eye Destinations


On board the coolest safari ride in the Mara.

What more could you ask for in a cruiser? The top pops up to provide shade while you stand up and shoot from above. This also allows you to move about freely to capture the sights from any angle. The middle seats are removed leaving room for four passengers and plenty of room for all of your gear. Wild-Eye even supplies sturdy bean bags to stabilize your lenses, plenty of snacks so you don’t get “hangry” and beverages on board (including ice cold Tusker beers for what turned out to be our daily sunset celebration that we dubbed “Tusker Time”).

We set off on a magical 10-day safari throughout Kenya, including the Mara Triangle, Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha and Amboseli. Each area was a completely different experience with diverse landscape and varying populations of wildlife.

Our first stop was in the Mara Triangle

The wide open savannah in the Mara makes it easy to spot animals near and far. This portion of our adventure was focused on finding the big cats. Mission accomplished, along with lots of other magnificent creatures.

Next on the agenda was Lake Nakuru.

I had never been to this area before and heard that the landscape filled with fever trees was magnificent. I have to admit that I was nervous that we wouldn’t be able to see many animals hiding in the forest. I was pleasantly surprised to find that even though the area was densely wooded, the ground level was still open and nicely shaded, providing a soft, surreal light.

There were many more rhinoceros than I had expected. We didn’t get lucky enough to see any critically endangered black rhinos but we did see quite a few Southern White Rhinos. There is also a large population of endangered Rothschild’s giraffe. This area is a protected sanctuary that keeps these beautiful species safe from poachers.

Then we headed off to Lake Naivasha

I was never really into birds until visiting this area. There were so many different species! I have an irrational phobia of open water so I was on the verge of a panic attack the entire time we were out on the boat. But I think I still managed to get a few good shots. The fish eagle were my favorites. They did bait them by throwing dead fish in the water so they would soar down and grab theme with their talon. So I guess we cheated a little.

I haven’t gotten around to editing many photos of this stop yet but there are a few below:

The last stop was in Amboseli.

This was my favorite part of the trip. The wide open landscape was populated my massive herds of majestic elephants, including some enormous big tuskers. We had the great fortune of seeing the famous Tusker Tim on several occasions. We even caught him in the act of creating a little Tiny Tim that I hope to meet someday after he is born! Mount Kilimanjaro displayed her beautiful snow-capped peak for us each day. My dream for this trip was to capture some images of elephants in front of “Killie” to hang up at home. I think I walked away with a few winners:

I still have thousands of images left to process from all of these areas that I hope to share soon. For now, here’s a video that will give you a better picture of the whole trip:

The highlight of this trip for me was a visit we took to the Iltolish primary school in a local Maasai village courtesy of the Africa Foundation.

As we arrived, we were greeted by over a hundred happy, smiling children running in from all directions while singing a song to welcome us. Then suddenly they became quiet, gathered together, then gave me what turned out to be the greatest birthday gift that I could have ever dreamed of….

I turned into a blubbering fool, crying and laughing and thanking them over and over. They must have thought I was nuts.

We then took a few minutes to meet the children and staff take a few photographs. Some of these images were taken by guests that I took along to the visit. (Jane Rix and Lorraine Kourafas)

After this heartwarming experience, we toured the grounds of the school. What we witnesses was eye-opening, humbling and incredibly inspiring.

(Excerpts of text below provided by the Africa Foundation)

In Kenya, schools must be started by community members, using their own resources and time. They receive a minimal amount of support from the government, which only comes after they have first fulfilled a set of requirements on their own, including the initial construction of classrooms and basic facilities. 

In 2007, the community came together to build the first classrooms and teachers’ accommodation that would create a primary school for their children. The responsibility for supplying teachers lies with the Government, and they fulfilled their commitment of supplying a teacher for each classroom. And so Iltolish Mara Primary began, and quickly grew, receiving children from all over the dispersed community of around 2,000 residents. 


The people that make a difference, every day.

(The founder and teachers of Iltolish Mara Primary School with Simon Saitoti, Regional Program Officer for the Africa Foundation)

As the school expanded to teach 7 grades, including preschool, space became an issue and some classes were being taught out of the local church. Africa Foundation was approached by the community for assistance and they were thrilled to raise enough funds to build five new classrooms, making it possible for the school to separate its grades into individual classrooms. 

In spite of the capacity challenges the school emerged as best in the whole division, in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education for 2016. This nationwide examination, tests final year primary school pupils across 6 core subjects, with the pupils of Iltolish Primary School achieving the best overall results. A demonstration of the incredible thirst and enthusiasm for learning that the children of this community have. 

(New classrooms funded by Africa Foundation pictured below)

Recently the community leadership has approached Africa Foundation for financial assistance in further development of the school – to build dormitories for boys and girls, a kitchen and dining hall; an ablutions block for teachers; and teachers’ accommodation cottages.

The children currently eat their meals outdoors on makeshift benches and on the ground. And the meals are prepared in a small smoke-filled tin hut with only two big pots on fire pits.

 A few months prior to our visit to Iltolish school, Adventure Artists International co-founder April Howland held a very successful fundraising art auction event where she raised over $40,000 to help build a new kitchen and dining hall for this school and another in South Africa! This is a great example of what we aim to inspire our photographer and artist guests to do… To make a difference with their art and their travels.

Our mission is to provide artists with a unique art and philanthropic centered travel experience that inspires global impact through creativity, connection and conservation.
— Adventure Artists International

Communities such as this are affected by their close proximity to wildlife and for young children walking to and from school, the risk of being harmed by wildlife is real. With the community dispersed, the distances walked to reach school also mean that seasonally children are negatively impacted by severe rainfall, and walking home after dark, all factors which reduce their attendance rates and ability to perform during lessons. Beyond alleviating these concerns, dormitories at school ensure that children benefit from consistent nutrition with 3 meals a day; and are protected from the potential pressure to work at home, or to enter into early marriage. Make-shift responses to these issues had already been put in place at Iltolish Mara Primary, with a number of girls sleeping in an informal structure made of wood and tin and boys sleeping in a classroom. 


Where the children slept

The boys slept on the floor of one classroom and the girls slept 2-3 to a bunk and on thee floor in another building.

The construction of a brand new boys dormitory housing close to 100 children has just been completed and the boys have moved in! Construction on a similar building has begun for the girls.

The only source of water for the children and staff is from the rains. One water tank is included in the build of the girl’s dormitory block. However, an additional one was needed to ensure that there is adequate water supply available for the girls to maintain healthy washing habits.

How Adventure Artists International Made an Impact:

When I returned home from this trip, I was moved to take action and help. So I held a small fundraiser to raise enough money for the additional rain water retention tank for the new girls dorm. By giving away a print of a selection of wildlife photos I took on this trip to donors over a certain amount, I was able to raise the money within a weeks time, thanks to some very kind-hearted donors. Some of these images will also be on display this coming fall at the Art on the Wild Side exhibit at the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation, with a portion of proceeds benefiting going back to the conservation and to Africa Foundation.

Yet another example of how we at Adventure Artists International strive to continue the movement towards making an impact in the communities we visit.

If you are interested in making a difference in the lives of others through your art the next time that you travel, give us a shout. We would love to help you to create your own legacy.

Check out our upcoming “philartripic” adventures here.