A Travellerspoint blog

Of Schools Revisited- May 26th to 28th

During our Nairobi respite between returning from Tanzania and going to Lamu, Dana and I turned up at two of my old schools that I attended in the 1950s. The first one we went to is located about a ten-minute walk away from Vikki and Calum’s house. Now called the Nairobi School, it was th Prince of Wales School when I was there (1957-60) …. and years prior to that, when Dad was a teacher there (about 1948 to 1952), our family had lived in a couple of different houses located on the very extensive school grounds.

So it was that one day Dana and I found ourselves walking up the long, Jacaranda-lined driveway to the school’s main buildings which are pretty much exactly as they have been since I first remember them, especially going down to the staff-room with Dad to collect mail. The students we passed wore similar school uniforms to those in the 50s except that, instead of having khaki shorts, they now had grey dress pants – shirts and ties were as they had been, as were the blazers ….. same badge, same motto (“To The Uttermost”}. We first went to the Principal’s office, where we were warmly greeted by the Secretary, who found my name in a register of former students, and then showed us into the Principal’s office and brought us tea to drink whilst I signed the Visitors’ Book. A few minutes later, the Vice Principal came in and was most welcoming. We were subsequently joined by another staff member who told us he was the housemaster for Athi House (houses are now named after areas in Kenya), the revised name for the house – Rhodes – that I was in. We received permission to walk around the school grounds, so first went to where the classroom blocks had been way back when. Most of the long wooden buildings, each of which held three classrooms, had been replaced by stone buildings – but at least one of the original structures remained, and there was the classroom that was my First Form “home” room where Ernest Loftus had kept us “rabble” (the name given to first-year students) under pretty good control and who taught us English. I remember Loftus with considerable affection, in particular as he, knowing my serious interest on collecting coins, gave me an intriguingly bound book on English and Commonwealth coins. The binding was a three-dimensional rendition of the British coat-of-arms, done in black, heavy papier mache, and the book had been published in the 1850s. It is still a cherished volume in my library.
Dana and I also went down to the swimming pool where, as a day-bug (as opposed to a boarder), I had often eaten my packed lunch – then past the science buildings and the school chapel (built and consecrated when I was at the school – I recall spending many after-school hours cycling around my neighbourhood selling raffle tickets to help raise funds for the chapel, hoping to ne the person who sold the most so that I could get a plane ride over Nairobi (or whatever the incentive was to sell the highest number of tickets) – I failed! Then we walked along the north side of the school quadrangle, up some stairs past the gym, then past the sanatorium (the only time I recall having been admitted there was for a few hours following a bike accident when a brake lever penetrated my right leg just above my knee – it actually ended up being worse than it at first seemed and resulted in my being in a Nairobi hospital for a week or so – and on to one of the staff-houses we had occupied. I was able to show Dana the Christ-thorn hedge (still there!) that edged the roundabout just in front of the house into which I had fallen when learning to ride a bicycle and which resulted in what seemed like hours of Dad and Mum removing thorns from various parts of my body. We asked someone in the house if we could look around the outside of the house and the garden – she told us we could. There was the verandah on which my sister, Gillie, and I, usually with a couple of friends (Peter and Mike Liversidge, or Mike and Colin McCulloch), would put on spontaneous plays for our audience of four (fewer if there were good excuses!) long-suffering parents. Because the plays generally had no pre-thought-out script – nor even a decent plot – much time was spent having prolonged intervals during which, to entertain the audience, one or two of us would walk round and round the chairs playing music (for me, that meant nothing more than banging on a small steel drum!). And there was the tree in the next-door garden in which Jocelyn Forrest had a tree-house and where he (very much my senior at about 10 or 11 years old if I remember correctly) and I (aged six or seven) occasionally smoked really cheap cigarettes (probably one of the main reasons why I gave up smoking at about that age!). The tree is now much taller than it was then – as are all the other trees that are still there (a few have disappeared).

We ended our self-guided tour of the school by walking up to Athi House and looking at the Common Room in which I and most of the rest of the boys in Rhodes had done our afternoon prep. We saw the nearby kitchen and dining room where those of us in Rhodes and Nicholson used to eat – and were invited into the kitchen by the cooks. They have to cater for about 250 boarders now ….. school attendance numbers a total of some 1300, I believe – pretty much double what it was in the 50s.

Another day, we found ourselves near Westlands Primary School, so decided to go in and introduce ourselves to the Principal. Once again, we were received with great warmth, and the Principal expressed considerable amazement upon realizing that no-one now at Westlands had been born when I began my school career there in 1950! I was at the school somewhat over two years – until we moved to Mombasa in late 1952 or so – but the classrooms are still there, plus a lot of additional buildings as the attendance has risen to some 1300 from the three to four hundred (???) sixty or so years ago. The Principal had parents to meet, so he appointed someone else to show us around. We first spoke to four women who were all Standard One teachers, each with around 50 students in their class. I think they liked meeting someone who had been in Standard One at Westlands in 1950! Then we were shown the swimming pool (there wasn’t one way back when) and met the instructor. We also saw the pre-school classrooms and met one of the teachers, Anita, with whom we had a long conversation about early education in Kenya. Her commitment to teaching well and effectively under challenging conditions was very obvious – as it was with all the other teachers and school-staff that we’ve met in Nairobi. We ended our visit back with the Principal, who offered us soft drinks and who gave us more of his interested and interesting attention. As with Nairobi School, the uniforms are essentially unchanged from what they were all those years ago. There are heritage aspects that the school administrators are keen to retain even though they hail from what is generally referred to here as “the Colonial Era”. I have, so far, found almost no bitterness about British colonial rule here – in fact, it seems that there is substantial appreciation for much of what colonial rule brought to this part of Africa. This observation does not preclude the possibility that much bitterness may exist in various places and amongst various sectors of the Kenyan population.

Chris

Posted by danjali 01:42 Comments (1)

Lamu Island, Paradise!

Chris and I wrote this entry together so we hope it is not too confusing reading it.

We arrived in Lamu on our first Kenyan flight on June 2nd early in the afternoon. We managed to negotiate a reasonable price for a boat from the airport over to Shella which is a small village about 3 miles from the main town of Lamu. From where we landed at Shella to the Sea Breeze Hotel, which we had booked on line, was only a 2-minute walk. We were welcomed by Omar, the owner of the hotel, who gave us a choice of rooms. For us there was no hesitation; we chose the room which is a bit like a square turret with windows on all four sides. The only part of the room that was without windows was where the doors to the room and to the bathroom were situated. It was an idyllic place in which to settle ourselves!

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Our turret room

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Our balcony at the Sea Breeze

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Shella sunset

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Omar and Chris

We really loved our five-day stay there and felt drawn to regularly retire to our rooftop room which gave us views of both the ocean and the town. Thomas, whose job it is to assist guests around Shella and Lamu, took us to the Baitil Aman restaurant for our first meal on the island. This beautiful waitress Grace served us one of many fantastic meals. Before coming to Lamu, Chris had decided to eat fish while he was on the island as there is so little else available here. It is a seafood paradise, we must say!

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Lunch at the Baital Aman

Sam, who works at the hotel and restaurant, told us that in the evening suppers are served on the roof under the stars so of course we felt enticed to have our evening meal up there. We chose to have grilled jumbo prawns which were huge to say the least and beautifully cooked. We are still talking about that meal!

After our first lunch in Shella, Thomas showed us Shella Beach which is a beautiful expanse of sand which is actually about twelve kilometres long. After that, we walked into Lamu town with Thomas and he showed us around. One of the things that is unique about Lamu is that there are almost no motorized vehicles on the island. Everything is transported by boats, hand-drawn carts or one of the many donkeys. The streets are really alley ways and some are very narrow indeed.

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Riding a donkey whilst talking on a mobile phone!

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Unloading bananas

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Lamu transport

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Donkeys nuzzling

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Donkey enjoying a roll in the sand!

The people are really friendly and helpful (occasionally to the point of being a nuisance). Most of the population here is Muslim, though there are also some Christians. The women are mostly dressed in black robes (bui-bui). Many of them have their veils across their faces so you can only see their eyes. Men sometimes wear white or grey robes if they are going to the mosque and many of them wear embroidered caps on their head. Some men simply wear kikois which are similar to sarongs. There are loads of children in the streets many of whom are wearing their school uniforms. There are also numerous cats which are small, thin, long-legged and large-eared – they generally look reasonably well fed and healthy. We were later to find a photography book featuring the cats, which the author suggested could be relatively direct descendents of cats of the pharaohs.

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Lamu main road

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Lamu boy

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Kids playing after school

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Lamu kitten

Over the next few days, we saw sunrises from Shella Beach, swam in the beautifully warm Indian Ocean, and collected seashells, many of them very delicate. Needless to say many of them are coming back with us!

June 4th was Chris’ birthday, so we decided to celebrate it by taking our first dhow trip. Dhows are traditional wooden sailing boats which range in size from those which would take just a few passengers to larger ones which would perhaps take 10 or 12 people or cargo. I was delighted to take our first dhow trip with Abdullah who is a very tall man with very gentle eyes and a huge smile.

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Abdullah and his dhow

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Sailing dhow

When we started off for our destination which was the village of Matandoni, about a two hour dhow ride away from Shela, the sea was calm and it was great to be in the sailing boat. It reminded me of being in our kayaks, so quiet and peaceful. However as our journey continued and we changed direction, the wind picked up and became quite gusty. Several times the gusts were so strong that they caused the boat to keel over so much that water came in over the side. The boat hand then spent the next while bailing out water. From that point on I got kind of scared. So everytime it would begin to keel over, I found myself tensing. I have learned that I am not someone who is likely going to love sailing. Abdullah, was reassuring me a lot by saying “ It’s OK Mama hakuna matata (no problem) ”. We did arrive safely at the village and were taken by one of the villagers on a tour to see how the houses are made and what their village was like.

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Arriving at Matandoni

The village is where much of the ship building happens and also there is a lot of basket and mat weaving done with palm leaves, by the women. It happened to be Friday and so, as it was a Muslim day of rest, the men were all sitting around taking it easy. I noticed that the women were still busily weaving away. There is definitely a double standard here! While in the village, we encountered some children who were in a tree and were dancing to some very loud music. When they saw I had a camera they were more than happy to pose for photos.

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Children posing for a photo

We were impressed by the schools in the village of about 2000 people. They have both primary and secondary levels which would take the children up to eighteen years if they attend consistently. One of the things that has been very obvious is how important education is to both Tanzanians and Kenyans. They all want their children to go to school and many would prefer that they attend private schools as public schools are not the best education. This is partly because each class has about 50 students with one teacher. Paying for children’s education is one of the things that is quite a burden for people here; even if they are in the public system there are some fees to be paid. Clearly from our experience so far, jobs are hard come by and many men have to work far away from their families as they cannot find work at home. It means that they may only see their wives and children once a month for a couple of days.

Leaving the village we took the village chief back to Lamu with us.

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Village chief and Chris

It was great to give him a ride, but what it meant was that we had to drop him off in Lamu before we sailed on to Shella. We arrived at Lamu at dusk and nightfall comes quickly here. In order to be able to sail to Shella, we had to go way out in the channel and again it was very windy. There we were sailing in the waves, in the dark under the stars. Had I not been afraid I am sure I would have appreciated the beauty. One of the things that made me nervous was that I noticed the boat-hand (Jeff) standing up at the front of the boat, which of course had no lights, looking for something. Abdullah then told us that he was looking for a warning tower that actually had no light on it. It would not be a good thing to sail into it! When Chris asked how long the light had not been working, Abdullah replied “About 5 years!” It was a bit shocking as it was so dangerous. Luckily Jeff noticed it and we sailed around it. I was never so happy to stand on steady land as I was that night. Though sailing on dhows sounded kind of a romantic thing to do, I have found that it’s too challenging for me. Chris, who used to sail with his dad on the ocean near Mombasa as a child, was not at all perturbed, though he did say the he was a bit scared the first time the water came into the boat.

We had arranged to have dinner at our favourite Baitil Aman restaurant earlier. We decided to really go all out and have a lobster dinner. It was fantastic. I don’t suspect we will ever have such a delicious supper again. Again we were able to sit up on the roof on cushions under the stars with candle lights all around. Sadly the photo we have is one that was taken with a flash as it was just too dark to take a natural photograph. It really doesn't capture the beautiful atmosphere on that rooftop.

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Rooftop dining

The staff are just lovely and serve with such heart. We had told them that it was Chris’ birthday and they offered to make a cake for him if we could just pay for the ingredients. It was such a lovely offer and we found out later that they walked for 40 minutes into Lamu to get candles and colouring for the icing. We are including a photo of the cake they decorated for Chris. They all stayed late that night so they could sing him Happy Birthday. How dear it was. We all sat around and ate cake together. Then one of them told us the owner of the hotel had offered us a free night at the hotel. Amazing.

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Staff at the Baital Aman who made our night so special

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The cake!

So our last night we are spending here in Lamu. We have moved from the Sea Breeze to the Baitil Aman as we accepted the kind offer of the free night’s stay. Again, here is a photo of this gorgeous room.

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Our room

We just had our last dinner which was jumbo prawns and calamari cooked in coconut sauce. It was scrumptious. So here we are in our room, me writing and Chris packing away his hundreds of shells. He has been at it for at least an hour! We have one more morning and then we head off for Nairobi. We will get up early and head down to the beach for one last swim. It’s not easy to leave here, but we have to go as we have another great adventure starting on Wednesday as we have a ten day safari to Lake Turkana which is a very remote part of Kenya. We had almost given up on this safari as we had been waiting for several months for someone to sign up for it. Just the other day we got confirmation that an American man was joining us. Lucky us.

In the morning we had breakfast and one last walk along that gorgeous beach including a swim in the ocean. Sadly I have no photos of the beach as every time I walked along the beach I wanted to swim so it was not wise to bring my camera with me. After breakfast we had a photo session with the staff at the Baital Aman. It was very sweet. Honestly by the time we were leaving we felt like family. It was very dear. I left with tears in my eyes!

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Staff at the Baital Aman

A Few Extra Words about Our Lamu Stay (by Chris)

I echo all that Dana has written. We loved every moment of our six days on the island …. apart, that is, from a few of the times when the dhow we sailed in heeled over so much that, when I was sitting on the side of the boat, I was just about standing upright! Those times were pretty uncomfortable for both of us, especially as water-safety is pretty lax and we didn’t have life jackets!

We actually had two rides on a dhow – Dana has described the first time when we went to Matandoni. The second was a couple of days later when we decided to go to the ruined town of Takwa on Manda Island, just north of Lamu across a kilometre-wide channel. The water seemed relatively calm, so although we had asked Abdullah to use a motorized boat, he appeared with a smaller dhow than the one we had previously used. Abduallah told us that the dhow should have had an outboard, but it was being fixed, and assured us that the ride this day would be much less rough than before. We both had doubts about venturing out again in a dhow, but decided to go anyway. The trip over was relatively smooth, and we arrived at the landing for Takwa safe and sound – and really liked seeing the ruins. We understood that the remains of houses, a mosque, and a wall that encircled the town date back to the 16th to 17th centuries and may go back even further in time. The inhabitants abandoned the town because the water supply became saline – with the permission of the people of Lamu, they moved to Shella but had to adhere to certain conditions – one of which was that whenever they went into Lamu town, they had to take off their footwear.

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Takwa mosque

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Takwa ruins

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Takwa tomb

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Abdullah and Chris at the ruins

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Chris dwarfed by a massive baobab tree

We walked over some dunes to the beach - we were the only people on it - and spent a few minutes wave-watching before going back to Takwa. Our plans for the rest of the day included having lunch on another of the beaches on Manda Island, then trying to find a place where the water was clear enough to snorkel - but these were swiftly revised when we found the wind had become much brisker so tha the dhow, in places, began heeling and, consequently, giving Dana some nerve-racking moments. We decided to go straight back to Shella, have our lunch there, and spend the rest of the day on solid ground!

Another memorable event was supper with Ali Hippy. One of the times when we were in Lamu, Dana had been approached by a smallish, rather rotund man wearing dark glasses and using a walking stick. He started telling her about himself and about how he invited people back to his house so that they could experience good Lamu hospitality which included dinner and some music. I joined them whilst he was describing the evening we would enjoy if we were to accept his offer - which would cost us a little under the equivalent of about $12 each, prepaid. We briefly talked over the pros and cons, and decided we would accept. So, a day or two later, we made our way at 6 pm to Lamu's main square, wondering if Ali Hippy would meet us as promised - and, sure enough, he appeared after a few minutes. We walked with him through some of Lamu's narrow streets to an hotel where two other wazungu (white) couples were waiting. Another couple was expected, so we hung around for another ten minutes or so before walking to a village a few minutes walk away. And there we spent the next hour and a half eating, talking to Ali or to the other guests, and then listening to Ali as he played some Swahili tunes on a small electric keyboard, accompanied by drums that were played by several relatives. Ali sang - with back-up provided by young children ..... both relatives and village-children. Then it was time to thank Ali and his family for a memorable evening, and for us guests to walk back into Lamu, guided by two of Ali's relatives. The star-spngled sky overhead - the sand beneath our feet - all seeming to be so different to our lives in Regina! We parted from the other four guests, and took a boat (motor - not a dhow!) back to Shella.

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Ali Hippy

We departed Lamu with a strong sense that we would return - preferably at another time of year when the sea is clearer so that we would be able to enjoy snorkelling ..... the one thing that we felt we had missed out on during this, our first visit there.

Now we will include a few photos that we took while in Lamu that we haven't included above.

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Masai men

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Swahili traditional wedding decoration of newly wed wives feet. They also decorate their legs up to the knees and their hands and arm. Its beautiful and I was tempted to get it done on my feet!

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Lamu door

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View of Shella

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Show sailing in high wind

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Lamu kitten

Until next time, Dana and Chris

Posted by danjali 00:36 Comments (0)

Lake Naivasha and Time in Nairobi

I'm afraid this is rather a late entry as we were not able to enter it successfully onto our blog site due to lack of access to a working computer as well we have been away a lot in the last few weeks. We hope to get our entries up to date soon.

We arrived back from Arusha in Nairobi and so had restful five days at our home away from home, the McLeans house.

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Lunch Out with the McLeans

One of the highlights of our week was going to the Giraffe Centre which is on the outskirts of Nairobi. They have a number of giraffes there and are the Rothschild giraffes which are being bred there as their numbers are dwindling. They have an elevated platform that allows people to feed the giraffes directly. Its a real delight to be that close to these very beautiful animals. Their tongues are huge and so soft! There were a few brave souls who actually held the food pellets between their lips and had the giraffes eat from there. I must say that did not appeal to me.

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A Dear Moment

Along with giraffes, there were three warthogs who were running around too. They are such peculiar looking animals, but these ones were rather handsome.

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Warthog

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Benji, Vikki and Dana

That week we met up with our friends Ema, Christian and Nestory from Arusha as they were in Nairobi waiting to leave for a trip to Regina.

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Our Last Lunch with Our New Friends From Arusha

We went out to the Makina Clinic in Kabira with them and were able to see the visit the clinic and the area. We had some medical equipment to give them that Pammla had asked to bring for them. It was obvious from the clinic that they were really getting by with so little medical equipment and supplies, and so we were so glad that we had something we could bring them that would be helpful in serving the people living there.

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In Front of the Clinic

Kabira is a huge slum in Nairobi. Its said that it is the same size as Central Park in New York and has between 1.5 and 2 million people living there. The clinic serves people 24 hours of the day. We also found out from Andrew who is one of the doctors in the clinic that there are many youth projects and also an orphanage that is connected to the clinic. We were impressed with the work they are doing in such difficult circumstances. We had a small tour around the area and were able to see the slum conditions people are living in. It left me imagining what it is like in the heart of the slum. What we saw was just on the edge, so was not the worst part. What amazed me was just how friendly people were with us. It is inspiring to meet people with so little and yet they smile warmly.

Early on Monday morning May 31st Vikki, Jemima (17), Hamish (15), Rory (11), Benji, (9) Chris and I started off our overnight trip to Lake Naivasha which is about an hour and a half west of Nairobi. It was a beautiful drive out there as you can see in this photo.

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The Rift Valley

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Benji, Chris and Jemima

Unfortunately, Calum was still away in Sudan working so was not able to join us. Some friends of theirs joined us for the weekend and each of them had children so there was lots of young energy around which was delightful. Vikki and Calum are members of the Lake Naivasha Yacht club as the family sails often and so we had our first camping experience there which was a very tame one. We could hear the hippos in the distance and we did watch out for them at night and early in the morning as they are nocturnal coming onto land at night. One has to be careful not to get between a hippo and the water as they will attack.

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Hippos in Hiding in the Daytime

We slept great in our little tent. My big adventure that day was going sailing for the first time with Jemima my goddaughter who has been sailing since she was eight or nine years old. I have to say I was not so confident that I would be able to get the hang of sailing but I was willing to give it a try. It was not very long till a gust of wind came up quickly and before I knew it I was in the water! The water was a really pleasant temperature so it was fine. After a bit, I managed to clamber back onto the boat, though it felt like I was a beached whale in doing that. I remembered when Chris and I did a kayak course up at Waskesui some years back. We had to practice getting back into the kayak and it was very ungraceful indeed! One finds out about lack of upper body strength. Luckily I am the one with the camera so there are no photos of this!

Unbelievably, after some minutes of sailing well, another gust came up and there I was in the water yet again. Jemima was incredibly kind and patient with me I must say. I ended up going in a third time and I could see it could continue like this again and again, so I opted to stay in the water holding onto the back of the boat. It took some time to come back in as the wind was constantly changing and gusty. I did wonder how I looked from the shore as I had just left the binoculars with Chris before I left. I’m sure they had a few laughs! Anyway after some time and good tactical skills, Jemima brought the boat back into shore. My biggest worry while I was in the water was the hippos which we could hear while out in the lake. Luckily Jemima reassured me that they cannot swim.

Just before we entered the yacht club was a huge open field in which there were giraffes, zebra, wilderbeeste, waterbuck with their handsome horns, hartebeeste and buffalo running freely, not to mention the numerous birds including one of my favourites, guinea fowl with their beautiful blue feathers. We were able to wander in the field freely, though we did not get too close to the zebras and giraffes as they tended to move away as we got closer. It was a fantastic feeling.

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The Open Field Where the Animals Roam Freely

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Our First Waterbuck

We had a lovely evening that evening at the yacht club with family and friends. We even had a fire. The next morning we woke up early and some pelicans caught my eye as they were swimming in the mist on Lake Naivasha. We started to walk towards where they were coming from and discovered where literally thousands of them had spent the night tucked away in a small inlet. As the sun was rising through the mist they slowing began swimming out into the lake. Needless to say there are a lot of photos of this experience. It was really exquisite.

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Pelican Morning

As Chris and I got up early we organized a boat trip over to Crescent Island which is a strip of land which divides the very shallow part of the lake and the crater part of the lake so it really is not a proper island.

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Parts of Out of Africa were filmed there. It’s a conservation area and there is a guide named Moses, who took us on a walk to see the giraffes. He was incredibly enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about the island and its animal inhabitants.

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Moses

Vikki, Jemima and Benji joined us for this walk as well as her friend Suzie and her two children, so we were a big group. I thought we would just go to see the giraffes from a distance, but as we got closer to them in this beautiful acacia forest, it was clear that we were going to get closer than we had done before. There were baby giraffes, the youngest one being a month old, who still had the umbilical cord hanging from its belly. The adult males were eighteen feet tall! We were literally walking with the giraffes. In fact at one point there were some who were just ahead of us and others following us. I am sure that this happened as Moses has a special rapport with the giraffes. I felt like I was in a Garden of Eden. It was truly amazing to experience that. Meanwhile, the pelicans are flying overhead, the zebras are not far away and the usual wilderbeeste are their noisy selves. It was one of the most wonderful walks I have ever been on. 1006_Naiva..35_0014.jpg
Giraffes at Naivasha

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Wildebeeste Grazing

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Crescent Island Community

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Am I Really Seeing This?

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Giraffe Close Up!

We got back from our walk in good time to pack up and head over to a small lake called Lake Kongoni as we had heard that there were many flamingos that were there. One of the things I have wanted to see is a lake of flamingos. As a child, I loved them and so still have this wonder about these incredibly beautiful, elegant birds. We found them, but as it was a bit later in the day, they had spread out to a number of different locations on the lake. There was a pretty large group of them close to where we were but as it was a military zone, I had to stay on the other side of a line. Sadly the flamingos were beyond that line. It was fun seeing them and taking some photos.

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Flamingos

Had we had more time we could have explored more, but we needed to get on the road back to Nairobi as the driving gets a bit crazy later in the day of a holiday as there is a lot of drinking that happens. We were happy to avoid a difficult drive. As it was we saw some pretty amazing driving. The risks people take! I have been very impressed by Vikki’s capacity to drive in Kenya. It really takes a lot of confidence and skill to weave through the traffic. One of the things that has amazed me is the absence of traffic lights even in Nairobi. There is no system at intersections, but it somehow works. Amazing.
On the way to Lake Naivasha we stopped at the little Italian church which was built by Italian prisoners of war, late in WW2. I understand that they were involved in building the road up the escarpment on the east side of the rift valley. It was a very sweet little church and one that Chris had visited as a child. So many memories

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The Little Italian Church

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Benji Exploring the Church

When we went to find Chris' section of this blog it was nowhere to be found, so hopefully he will get a chance in the next few days to write a bit about being in Nairobi again and visiting some of his old schools. Also, I was a bit enthusiatic about getting this blog done and completely forgot to edit my photos before uploading them and so some of them are a bit under or overexposed, but I thought it was better to get this up rather than going back and redoing them.

Until next time, which will be very shortly as we have another blog entry ready to load about our time on Lamu Island on the Kenyan coast. Warmly, Dana

Posted by danjali 13:52 Comments (1)

Chameleons and Colobus Monkeys

We left Arusha early on May 20th to catch an early bus to Lushoto which is not far from Tanga, Tanzania. We had arranged a taxi, but due to some confusion, it didn’t come. My first response was “Oh shit”, as I had no idea how we could get to the station for our 6am bus. Amazingly, Rena who we were staying with told the security guard and he walked to the gate whistled, and instantly a car stopped with a Masai driver and we were whisked off to the station. It was quite amazing! Anyway we got on our bus and the driver invited us to sit in the front seats which were much more comfortable and we had a better view. We had a 6 hour trip ahead of us. It was a great drive. We had a good view of Kilimanjaro which was fully visible. Usually it is shrouded in clouds. It is an amazing mountain with a huge presence. Luckily I am not inclined to climb it!

We arrived in Lushoto which is located in the West Usambara Mountains. It was a beautiful drive up to Lushoto with so many fields of crops patch-worked up the mountains. We found a place to stay and then set to finding a guide for our trek in the mountains. We finally came upon Amani who worked for an organization called Tayodea. It is a youth organization that runs treks to various locations in the Usambaras. One the things that they do is also run projects in the area which improve the life for people living in the mountains, like a carpentry training program. Some part of our money that we paid for the trek also goes to fund these projects. From the first moment we met Amani we felt comfortable him. His lovely personality and his excellent spoken English really stood out. We knew that we needed someone who would be patient as neither of us were in any kind of shape especially as in the last week we had walked very little. Our choice was a good one.

The first morning we headed off in the pouring rain, climbing upwards through the forest and then into the rain forest. Within 15 minutes of beginning our trek, Amani spotted the first of many chameleons. How he spotted them is a mystery as they blend in so well to their surroundings. It was sheer delight to see them and we had many opportunites on the trek to stop and experience them.

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Chris with his new friend!

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A Perfect Chameleon


Our guide had told us it was a 7 hour walk, but what he had not told us is that the first day was a 23 km walk and we climbed about 2000 feet. Also parts were downhill so we climbed even more than that.

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View from the Mugambi Peak

By the time we got to Lukosi where we spent our first night it was dusk. We felt as though we were 90 years old at least. I had my doubts about the next day, but we did set off the next morning, with the possibility of picking up a bus is we got too tired. This day we mostly spent walking through the valleys through hillside farms often of cabbages and Irish potatoes which fetched a good price in Dar Es Salam. It was fun walking on the little paths meeting people along the way carrying all manor of things often on their heads.

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Kids Work Hard!

Little kids could see us from what seemed miles away. We would here the familiar words “misungu” which means foreigner in Swahili. The next thing they would say is “take your pikcha”. When I would pull out my camera they would all run away. Soon I got smart and realized that they really didn’t want their photo taken. Although there were some brave ones who were delighted to see their photo on the screen of my camera. One of the sweetest moments of that day was when some kids invited me to take a photo of them and actually wanted it. Then one of the adults appeared and pulled out his cell phone and wanted to take our photo, including one with him and us. It felt like a perfect exchange. Later on in the walk we came through a village and by the end of the village I think every child in town was following us. It was delightful.

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We drew quite a following!

We passed through many villages that day which I loved, seeing their houses and just witnessing their way of life. The Usambara mountains has four different tribes of people who are living there, and they have found a way to coexist together very peacefully.

That evening we arrived at a convent where we stayed the night. It was a welcome sight when we were coming into Rangwi. This was an easy days hike by Amani’s standards, only 18 kms!! The morning part of the trip was very steep as we climbed out of a valley, but most of the rest of the day was fairly flat, and included some wonderful views.

I will leave Chris to tell you more about the convent as he was very touched by the experience of being there. After a very restful night at the convent and breakfast we headed off to Mtae which was the end point of our trip. Mtae, is perched right on the edge of the Usambara mountains and overlooks the Kenyan plains, including on a clear day a view of Kilimanjaro. This was my very favourite day as we passed through villages all day and met loads of children along the way. It seemed to me that the further we got away from Lushoto the more friendly and less scared the kids were of us. I am including a photo of some girls who we met and who I really had fun with as I photographed them. They loved posing for their pictures and burst out in screams of laughter when I showed them their photo on my camera. Luckily I had bought 5 little toothbrushes in Lushoto, just in case I met any children along the way. They were delighted with them!

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Usambara Girls

Along the way we met three men who were sitting on a bench beside the path and so we stopped to talk to them. They wanted Chris and Amani to sit with them and then take a photo. It was another one of those sweet moments.

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Usambara Mens Gathering

As were reached Mtae which is beautifully perched on the mountain top there was a lot of mist and cloud and it was later in the afternoon, so it was magical. We were doused with rain just before arriving and really had our doubts about seeing much at the Mtae viewpoint. However we had some really beautiful views, though not of Kilimanjaro. There has to be something for next time!

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Chris and Dana nearing Mtae

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View as we approached Mtae

Our guest house was tucked into the mountainside and we had a very tiny room but it was enough.

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Chris and Amani at the Mtae Guesthouse

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Mtae Sunset View

Sadly the only way back to Lushoto was a bus that leaves at 4am in the morning so we had to leave earlier than we would have wished. The bus ride was very interesting as the bus just got fuller and fuller. As we were at the beginning point we got seats, but as things got fuller we had less and less space. One woman put her purse on our laps, and I didn’t find her till the end of the bus ride. Chris was enthusiastic to continue hiking for the day and so got off with Amani and they walked to a waterfall. I on the on the other hand I was wanting a day to cool out and just catch up with our blog and emails. Over the hike we had covered 60 kms in all. I was amazed that we had managed it and I suspect so was Amani, though he was very kind to us saying he really liked to hike slowly.

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Amani at the Waterfall

Leaving Lushoto to get back to Nairobi we wanted to take one of the bigger fast buses as we wanted to get back to Nairobi in one day. It was very unclear about how we were going to do that so we just had to trust the Tayodea office in organizing it which involved phoning someone’s brother in Dar Es Salam to reserve tickets. We had been told the bus would pass through Mombo, on the main road at 10 or 11 am. Needless to say I was a bit doubtful, but what to do. Sure enough 11am comes along and the Dar Express bus pulls up and we get on and have seats. Luckily it was in the back of the bus so I was not able to witness the driving. These bus drivers drive by intimidation. They come up so fast from behind other cars and then honk, the other drivers have no option but to get out of the way fast! Vikki told when we returned to Nairobi that these buses are nicknamed ”flying coffins”. Actually, the truth was that it was fast but we didn’t see the driver doing anything too stupid which is more than we can say for some other drivers! Anyway, I want to stop here and let Chris write about other aspects of our Usambara adventure.

Until next time, Dana

Some additional words from Chris

Our last day in Arusha was relaxed as we recovered from our Serengeti safari and prepared for our departure for the Usambaras. We had hoped that Emma and Chris would be back from Nairobi complete with their visas for entry into Canada. Instead, they were still away and no-one had heard from them for a day or two, so we were all worried about what was happening. In the afternoon of that last day, we (Gladness, her friend, Lydia, Dana and I) went to the handicraft market where I bought a couple of carvings of the heads and upper torsos of a Maasai man and woman and Dana bought some small carvings of giraffe and some beaded baskets. We also spent a little time at the main market, but soon left as the young men there were kind of aggressive in their reaction to Dana’s taking photographs (most other people did not appear to be upset by photography being done) even though they were not in any of the photographs, so it made the experience unsettling and uncomfortable. That night, back at Emma’s house, we packed all our gear, wrapped up our assorted Tanzanian souvenirs which Emma and Chris had said they would try to take to Canada for us, wrote a note to Emma (we were still very concerned about him, wondering what might have befallen him, Chris and their friend, Nestory), and went to bed so that we could get up early the next morning to get to the bus station at about 6 a.m. A few moments after we had retired, Rena knocked at our door to say Emma was on the phone, so we were able to have a brief conversation with him. Apparently they were having difficulty in getting their visas. They intended to return to Arusha the next day, but would be back after we were due to arrive in Lushoto.

Dana has described the trip from Arusha to Lushoto. My only addition to what she has already said about it is to emphasize how amazing was the view of Kilimanjaro as we travelled the section of our journey between Arusha and Moshi. The bus stopped for thirty minutes in Moshi (from about 9 to 9:30 a.m.), and we noticed, as Dana was composing her images of the mountain, one or two small clouds appearing on its flanks – then, as the bus was leaving Moshi, saw Kilimanjaro was suddenly totally hidden by cloud!

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Kilimanjaro

And so to our three-day trek from Lushoto to Mtae. Again, Dana has described various aspects of the journey, so I’ll just add some of the parts that struck me so deeply that they are still very present in my memory.

The chameleons – we saw eight or so on our first day, a couple the next, five or so on the third day, and another five or six on the fourth day when I went with Amani to the Mzuki waterfall whilst Dana went back to Leshoto. It was great to see so many of these ancient-looking creatures again – they had always been a favourite creature of mine ever since when, as a child of 5 to 7 years old in Kenya, I tried to keep one from time to time as a “pet,” much to the detriment of the poor chameleon which almost never survived longer than a few days. We had quite the chameleon and injured-bird graveyard in part of the garden of the house we then lived in. These gentle, brightly coloured little animals brought deep joy to my heart whenever Amani pointed one out. I became determined to be the first to see one at some point on the trek – a resolve that completely failed to materialize!

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A Baby Chameleon
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Chameleon Close Up

We also saw Colobus monkeys on our first, very tiring day. Our best sighting was in the evening as we were climbing a never-ending hill. What a blessing it was to see them engrossed in eating some kind of fruit in the tree they were in – a blessing in part because they are such handsome animals, but equally (at that point in the day) because it gave us a reason to stop whilst Dana took a lot of photographs of them! A couple of earlier sightings had been fleeting as the monkeys seemed very shy and disappeared almost immediately we (read “Amani” for “we”) spotted them. I was to have another great view of Colobus monkeys on the fourth day of hiking on my way back from Mzuki Falls.

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Colibus Monkey

Neither our overnight accommodations nor our evening meals on the trek were particularly memorable with the notable exception of the convent in Rangwi, where the sisters of the Order of Our Lady of the Usambaras fed us delicious food that they had grown in their gardens and gave us a clean, comfortable room for the night. Their most beautiful singing in Kiswahili both in the evening after we arrived and in the following morning, which happened to be a Sunday, moved me to the depths of my soul, and, in both services, tears freely coursed their way down my cheeks. I could happily have spent days listening to them such was the magic of their voices and the sincerity of their worship.

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The Convent Garden

Mtae was amazing, perched on cliff-top bluffs overlooking Maasai plains several thousand feet below. What a spectacular view! It could only have been more spectacular had Kilimanjaro revealed itself from behind its cloak of clouds.

By the end of the three days of trekking, I was starting to feel reasonably fit at last, so decided to add a 25-km walk starting in Mugambo village, going to the Mkuzi Falls and back, then descending to Leshoto. Amani and I did this pretty swiftly, but took time out to enjoy a great, reasonably priced breakfast at Muller’s Lodge. Also, when we arrived at the falls, I went for a swim in the deep and quite large pool at the foot of the falls. I was a bit dubious about doing this, being uncertain about the purity of the water because of all the habitations upstream ….. but I seem to have survived OK as far as I know.

Dana mentioned how we encountered several downpours as we were approaching Mtae. I elected to not wear my rain jacket – probably a mistake as now, some ten days later as I write this in the midday heat of the Kenya coast (Lamu) – I am coughing and sniffing vigorously, suffering from a well-installed chest cold (could this, alternatively, be somehow related to my swim at Mkuzi Falls?). But I enjoyed dancing in the rain! My brand new British passport got soaked, too, so now looks well aged – and some American 50- and 20-dollar bills also got wet so that, when I tried to change them the following evening, the woman money-changer held them up with utterly contemptuous suspicion, but luckily accepted them as otherwise we would have been in difficulty as we paid for our hotel, our bus-ride into Mombo, and our Dar Express ride from Mombo to Nairobi. Leshoto had only one ATM, and it was not set up to accept Visa-related cards, so I was hugely relieved when I discovered the money-changer in the same building as the hotel (the Tumaini, which I can thoroughly recommend) we stayed in for our last night.

So it was that the next day, Dana and I rose early and, accompanied by Musa, a most helpful young man who works with Tayodea, went down to Mombo. There, we had some breakfast, took leave of Musa, caught the Dar Express and arrived in Nairobi (River Road) at about 8:30 pm. We took a taxi from immediately across the road from where the Dar Express stopped, and were at Vikki and Calum’s house before 9 p.m., looking forward to a few recovery days.

Until Next Time, Chris

Posted by danjali 01:59 Comments (1)

Our Safari in Ngorongoro and the Serengeti

A Few Words From Chris:

Dana has comprehensively summarized our short safari to Ngorongoro and Serengeti , so I have relatively little to add.

The last time I was there was during a family holiday in about 1955 or ’56. I know that we spent a night on the caldera rim, staying in a rondavel of some kind, but recall no details of the view or the rainforest that is well established along most of the rim.

So – this visit was one of the many highlights that I had been looking forward to with great eagerness and I was in no way disappointed by the actual experience. Actually, I have to say that seeing the variety and number of game animals and of birds that we did exceeded my expectations. And the fact that there were rather few other tourists being driven around the caldera floor was a significant plus. Dana listed most of the animals we saw whilst in the caldera, but omitted mention (if I recall correctly) of the pair of cheetahs that were lying about 75 or 100 metres off the track we were travelling on – we didn’t have a brilliant view of them, but they were the first I had seen in the wild, so were unforgettable! We also saw a pair of grey crowned cranes doing a mating dance – very beautiful and graceful. Throughout our time in the caldera, Dana was taking picture after picture, capturing many of those special moments on camera so that we’ll be able to give anyone who is interested and who hasn’t been to this magical place some sense of its awesome qualities. It was expensive, but worth what we paid!

The confining aspect of being in the Ngorongoro caldera, always somewhat evident by seeing the walls on every side – albeit at a distance – was completely reversed when we continued our travels westward to the open plains of Serengeti . Before leaving the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, however, we stopped at a Maasai manyatta for a little over an hour. As tourists, we had to pay $50 to one of the senior morans there in order to be shown around the thornbrush-rimmed enclosure around the huts and invited into one of the huts where one of the men described, in excellent English, aspects of Maasai life. Before we went into the manyatta, the Maasai men and women gathered (in separate groups) to dance and sing our welcome, inviting Dana to dance with the women and me with the men. I think I caused considerable amusement by my efforts to jump vertically as high as I could from a standing position. Even if I had been in the prime of my youth and not wearing heavy boots, I would not have come anywhere close to the height the Maasai men leapt, seemingly with little effort, and with great elegance. After our visit inside the hut, we had to go around an inner boma that I think hold the manyatta’s herds of cattle, sheep and goats each night to examine the beadwork adornments (necklaces, bracelets, earrings and so on) and carvings that had been laid out in hope that we would spend some more money – which we did, recognizing that whatever the Maasai received helps provide the men, women and children, with much needed water.

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The Serengeti National Park was every bit as special as Ngorongoro had been. The numbers of zebra, wildebeest, and Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles seemed to swell considerably, even in the short time we were there, as these animals started to assemble for their migration northward to the Maasai Mara – and we were treated to seeing, at very close quarters, an array of other animals and birds in their natural surrounds. Totally stunning.

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Wildebeest readying for the migration

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One Serengeti adventure that Dana did not talk about was when Ibrahim stopped the 4WD saying we had a flat tyre – and sure enough, we did – the rear right was in process of deflating gradually. Ibrahim tried to jack up the vehicle, only to find the jack was not working. So – we waited until a couple of other Landcruisers came up behind us and pulled to a stop. When our vehicle was raised, we discovered that the wheel was totally impossible to take off – impossible, that is, until the three drivers made a decision to wrap a steel cable round the back of the wheel, attach it to the front of one of the two mobile Landcruisers that had been driven so that it faced at a right angle to the wheel of our jacked-up vehicle , then gently back it away. The first time this was tried, our vehicle was pulled off the jack but suffered no ill effect as the wheel and its soft tyre prevented it from falling far. The second attempt at getting the wheel off succeeded, and the spare tyre (devoid of any tread!) was soon in place and we were all on our various ways. Ibrahim was subsequently able to purchase another somewhat better tyre to replace the bald one, and this lasted us well until we were back in Arusha.

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To end this account, I want to say how very grateful Dana and I are to Emma for giving us the use of his 4WD, to Christian for accompanying us until his presence was needed in Nairobi as he and Emma continued their efforts to obtain visas from the Canadian embassy there, and to Ibrahim, whose sharp eyes, amazing instincts, excellent driving skills and empathetic presence made our safari such a truly outstanding, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I'll end with a few more photos that Dana took while visiting this area. Enjoy!

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Impala

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Impala's Harem

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Dana, Chris and Ibrahim

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Hippo at Dawn

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Marabou Stork up Close

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Lion in the Grass

Posted by danjali 14:56 Comments (0)

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