Last night, when I came around the corner to exit the airplane, a hot breeze hit me in the face and reminded me that I was somewhere new. It is hot here, and the air smells like it does in Florida when the forest is burning. Only here there is no fire. It's just the dry season at the edge of the Sahara and the earth is parched. Everything has gone smoothly so far. My last 36 hours in Tampa were a bit rough, and I didn't sleep a single minute before my departure. But now all is well and the trip here seemed easy. Perhaps I'm getting used to the Africa commute. Matt Miller, an economics officer with the US embassy, met me at the airport and brought me to the ambassador's residence. I am staying in the Chambre Carter, built for a presidential visit in the 80's. The ambassador and her husband have been very kind and she is a real champion of elephant conservation here in Mali. Tomorrow we head north to Gourma, the region of Sahel just below a large bend in the Niger River. There the elephants should be gathered by a few remnant waterholes key to their survival in the dry months. We leave at 5 am for a 10-hour drive. There will be 3 Land Cruisers in the caravan. Our goal is to meet leading elephant researcher, Richard Barnes, at Inadjatafane by nightfall. This is my last moment with AC power and phone line (not to mention air conditioning and a bed). From here out it will be solar power and a sat phone and a cot on the desert floor.. More in a few days…View new photography at