The first time I spoke to Grace was on Instagram, someone had stolen my photos and was using them as his. Any creative knows how annoying and disrespectful that can be. I was struck by her kindness. Soon after, our paths crossed again, only in person this time round. She was one of the three ladies shortlisted for the CRBC’s SGR photography Contest. I was the official blogger for the competition. The week long competition with daily stops from Mombasa to Nairobi gave me a better interaction with Grace.
She comes across as soft and almost harmless, but do not be fooled, she is aggressive, tough, firm and a go getter.
She is a fantastic landscape,travel and wildlife photograher.
Here is how our interview went.
- If you got to the Airport just in time to check in (heading to Himalayas), then you notice you left the pack that has you camera in it… would you still go?
Oh my God! Prophet of Doom! Please let this not happen on my trip to the Himalayas in April 2018. I can visualize myself pulling my hair at the check in terminal while making calls to the Uber guy to confirm that the bag was not left in the car. Yes, I would still jump onto the plane with the hope of buying a camera on transit or in Nepal. That’s what miscellaneous budget is meant for, for a mountain girl like me, not for doll shoes.
- Not everyone appreciates the beauty that is traveling… has is ever been an issue in your personal relationships? Do you get Positive support?
Traveling is not for everyone. Just like any hobby or profession, you have to dream, visualize and actualize it. There is so much to see and experience from different continents, countries or even different regions of a country but I have learnt overtime that not everyone will understand. Some think it’s a waste of time, others think it’s a waste of money, others have just not been exposed to that kind of life.
- To set you on a very tight spot, as an ardent hiker and a photographer, are there moments where you’d wish you just ditched the camera and got lost in the moment? Or are there times where you are really so caught up in a climb/hike and you’d wish there was another clone of you behind the camera?
This scenario is typical of many hikes/climbs that I have undertaken in the past. At the start, I am usually upbeat and full of energy to photograph each and every landscape beauty I see but as the hike/climb gets tough, it’s a struggle between a step at a time and a click away. At times, ardent hikers are not necessarily ardent photographers hence I find myself playing catch up when I stop to click away. My DSLR camera seems to get heavier as the hike/climb progresses. In 2015, when it was new I would ditch it and pass the baton to a fellow ardent hiker and photographer ‘Mits Kimiti’. So yes! I at times wish there was another me behind the lens but am glad to report that I have successfully carried it through for days on two major climbs I have undertaken this year – Mt. Elgon (Kenya – Uganda) and Mt. Rwenzori, Uganda.
Mt. Rwenzori, Uganda .
Lake Bujuku, Rwenzori National Park.
- In your travel routines… are you the backpacker or the plan-it-to-the-second type?
I would say I am both. Back in the day, there were random trips out of town (including one that was to Dar, Tanzania in 2008) that I went with friends without major planning of hotels to sleep in or restaurants to eat at but with knowledge of sites to visit. However, in the last few years my kind of travel requires meticulous planning by me and by the travel/mountain guide. I am not a solo traveller, I always find a way of convincing others to join in but I have done a solo climb of Mt. Ololokwe in Samburu last year after potential companions pulled out due to the heat.
- Everyone would love to travel, but the million dollar question is how they’d pay the costs. How do you manage to cover such an ‘expensive’ lifestyle?
Let’s demystify the notion that travel is expensive. Not necessarily, though at times it is. It’s possible to travel on low budget especially within your own country. It’s about planning and sacrifice, if you are passionate about travel then you can make it happen. It can be just that one trip you save for and take in a year but all worth it.
- Have you ever been anywhere which turned out to be totally different to how you imagined? If so, how?
Yes! Pre-election weekend at Mt. Ol Doinyo Lengai aka Mountain of God! I was astonished that it is harder to descend Mt. Lengai than ascend. I would describe it as a dusty, rocky, steep and slippery wall. It took us 5 hours to ascend but took 6-8 hours to descend.
- In our bucket list of travel destinations… what remains, what’s achieved?
A lot remains! The bucket list keeps increasing while the hole gets deeper in my pocket. Top on the list is Everest Base Camp trek. God willing I shall embark on it next year as one of the epic treks in my life as a hiker. A lot has been achieved! I can’t complain.
- Now that you are Queen of two Kingdoms, between photography and travel blogging, which – in your opinion – is more rewarding?
At the moment photography is more rewarding. I am still struggling with writing, am more of a verbal story teller. I am able to describe experiences in detail but putting words onto paper is a bit difficult for me. I know with a little more effort and practice I shall break into it.
- There’s usually a whole lot of photography DIY kits/tricks online… Do you have something you spontaneously came up with while on your hikes/photo excursions? A useful hack or a challenge on the road maybe?
Try as much as possible to take pics during ‘bush moments’ and rest stops as ‘picture stops’ might not arise especially in a fast paced hike. The same applies at lunch points, click away first then sit down to eat, otherwise you might not get an opportunity to take a shot when fellow hikers are full and ready to move. Always remember you will not forgive yourself for missing a shot.
- How was it the first time you went on a bungee… did u hesitate? Or were you all psyched up start to finish?
I’ve only done bungee once in 2014 and I can’t repeat it again at least not at Sagana. Adrenaline rush! That’s the best description of the experience that began with psychological preparation years before I took the jump. I had been to Sagana in 2010 while on a road trip and promised myself to go back to jump off the 60m high tower. I said a prayer, jumped off, closed my eyes and got lost in the moment of oscillation in silence. No screams! Spectators thought I had died of heart attack.
- The hardest thing for the ‘working class’ travel enthusiast is to find and make time to travel and experience. How would you advise someone whose day job seems to always be on the way in finding time to travel?
I would advise them to create time. Make good use of your weekends, public holidays and leave days. In addition, take advantage of any work travel you undertake to visit a park or any attraction in the area. Don’t just work and write reports, spice up your life. Just like finances, if you are passionate about travel then you can make it happen.
- What’s your lowest/most discouraging moment as a photographer?
Discovering photos are underexposed when displayed on a desktop. Sometimes the camera’s LCD screen misleads me on the exposure of photos in low light situations. That means I have to spend more time editing the pictures and I hate it!
- Has your passion for travel/photography ever gotten you into trouble with the Authorities?
No. Thank God I have never been a victim. However, the laws and regulations of the country/city have made it very difficult for photographers to capture the beauty of our cities especially Nairobi. Photographers have faced harassment from various authorities including the police service and County Government officials popularly known as ‘kanjo’. We hope the new leadership at Nairobi County Government shall better facilitate photography in the city as already signaled by the Governor, Mike Sonko.
- Talk to us about Gracia Photography.
Gracia Photography is about landscape, wildlife and travel photographer. About 13 years ago, I bought my first camera; a Kodak film camera to document my travel adventures. Since then, I have been capturing moments and preserving the memories I experience along the walk of life. Through the lens, I am able to share my stories and experiences and showcase earth’s beauty of landscapes, wildlife, cities, people and culture. Over the years, I have photographed the beauty of countless hills, mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, parks and reserves within Kenya and its neighboring countries of Tanzania and Uganda. I am a passionate advocate of #TembeaKenya that promote local tourism. Gracia Photography aims to inspire the world to visit my beautiful country, conserve the environment and serve as an information tool to fellow travelers and photographers. You can check out www.graciaphotography.com, like the FB page Gracia Photography and follow on IG and Twitter @graciaphotos @gracawangu
- For someone who has never climbed a termite hill… what, in terms of advice, would you tell them if their end game is to summit Mt. Kenya in 6 months?
I would warn them not to repeat the mistake I did in 2012 on my first Lenana Peak mission. I heard of a Mt. Kenya climb 3 weeks to time and jumped onto the bandwagon. Let’s just say I was ill-prepared of the summit night torture that I underwent. Join a hiking group. There are many today in Kenya with their presence on social media platforms. I have majorly climbed with Kwea Milele, Outdoor Circuits East Africa and Xtrym Adventures. Once you have tested your fitness, stamina and tenacity levels on different day hikes then pay up for Mt. Kenya. It’s doable!
- Can you tell us of a near breaking point experience in your climbing experiences? Have you ever had any serious injuries?
Near breaking points are many. One of the most recent is on Mt. Rwenzori. Day 6 on this mountain is a day I shall live to remember, we were on a long descent from the highest camp (Elena Hut) to the lowest camp (Nyabitaba Hut) after a successful summit of 19 hours the previous day. That means we were to skip two huts! By the time we got to camp at 9pm I was kaput! I just lay on my bed and cried as my whole body was in pain especially my knees. It took the intervention of fellow climbers Sarah Kocko and Nyamzy Giati to help me stretch my muscles for me to walk and laugh again. Thanks people! Otherwise, I have not had any serious injuries during climbs despite many falls other than my knees complaining on descends.
- What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever done while on climbing trips? For someone who has never climbed, do they even have toilets on top of Mount Meru? Or do you have to hold it till you get all the way down?
Hahaha! There are toilets or in most cases latrines at designated camps on all the mountains I have been to including Mount Meru which I climbed in 2013. However, along the way (between camps) you have to make use of the bush, we call it ‘bush moment’. I can’t think of any unusual thing I might have done that climbers don’t do. For e.g. it’s normal to take a nap on a cold rock at high altitude in the dead of the night, sleep walk to the summit and pee at the summit on arrival.
Connect with Grace on her social media and get to enjoy her journey as she quenches her thirst for wanderlust.
Facebook page:Gracia Photography.