A Travellerspoint blog

Our Safari in Ngorongoro and the Serengeti

Dana's Experience

Our long-awaited safari to Ngorongoro and the Serengeti began 4am just over a week ago. We had to start early as we needed to drive to the Ngorongoro crater in order to descend to the bottom just as the sun was rising. Sadly we just had one day there as it is just too expensive to do more. I think we added it up to be about $800 US for the day between the park fees, crater charge, the guide, vehicle and room at the most fancy hotel we have ever stayed in. Still it was worth every penny of it. The positive side of the expense is that foreigners fund the Ngorongoro Conservation Area which allows the animals to continue to be in a protected environment. Local Tanzanians, just pay a very small charge to visit which makes it more accessible to them.

Our friend Christian from Arusha, who was hosting us, and Ibrahim our guide whom they had arranged and Chris and I were on this trip. We were very lucky to have this whole trip to ourselves as people usually are with a group and so you cannot just stop anywhere you wish. We had that luxury. The crater is an amazing place being 23 kms across and 600 metres deep.

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Ngorongoro Crater

In the bottom of the crater are populations of animals that live there all year long instead of migrating. Within an hour of descending we had seen our first lions, elephants, zebras, wildebeest, buffalo, and Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles. My most often repeated thing I said those three days on safari was “I can’t believe I am seeing this. Is it real?” I wanted to touch the zebras to see if they were really real. Our 4-wheel-drive vehicle, which was a necessity, had a sun roof so I was able to stand up on the seat and have a completely unencumbered view of everything. It was very special indeed. We were visiting in the rainy season, so everything was quite green and there were loads of yellow flowers which looked gorgeous. It was a bit of a surreal experience driving along and seeing elephants and lions, and gazelles and buffaloes. Over the day we covered the whole crater floor and never knew what we would see next. Our guide Ibrahim had a particular knack at finding animals especially when I would say “Gosh it would be great to see an ostrich or an elephant”, and within minutes we would be looking at them. What made it even more interesting was that Ibrahim knew a lot about the animals and the birds and their behavior and so we learned much in those few days.

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The King
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Our first elephant up close
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Zebras

The birds were amazing. I have never seen so many beautiful birds from being tiny to huge, some as tall as me, such as the ostrich which is often 7 ½ feet tall and the saddle-billed stork which is often 5 feet 5 inches tall. I felt totally blessed to be able to experience this wildlife so closely. Luckily we did not see any animal chases or kills, which I know would be disturbing to watch. One of the joys of a trip like this is never knowing what we will encounter next. It’s always a wonderful surprise.

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Male Ostrich
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Crested Cranes


One of the highlights of the day was running into a family of lions just beside the road. One of the lionesses, was walking beside one of the vehicles, rubbing her behind on the wheel! I’ve included a picture of it.

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Having a Scratch!
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Lion at Rest

The lions seem very undisturbed by our vehicles, which allows us to be very close. As we were there in low season, there were only 5 to 6 vehicles which would show up when a lion was spotted, which in the busy season would be more like 90 vehicles. I considered ourselves lucky. Many of the guides are in radio contact so that whenever something is spotted, they let each other know and head over to see the animal. Our guide didn’t have a radio but just had this amazing instinct and has eyesight like an eagle!
Regretfully our day came to an end and we had to leave the crater. I hope that one day I will have another opportunity to be there again. We then went to our room at the Wildlife Lodge which is located right at the edge of the crater. It was a much fancier hotel than we had ever stayed in, but luckily the rooms were a bit cheaper than they can be. They had a wonderful deck from which we watched the gorgeous sunset and sunrise.

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Ngorongoro Sunset

We had an early start off to the Serengeti which was a good two-hour drive from there. We passed through some rain forest and then through beautiful valleys dressed in yellow flowers and zebras! I don’t think I will ever have enough time to photograph zebras as much as I would like to. Each one has its own print of stripes. In fact, baby zebras know their mothers by knowing their stripe print. As we were driving along, Ibrahim turned off the road and started to go through a very muddy patch which personally I would have avoided. We got stuck! After trying to get out by placing a few stones under the wheels, which did not work, we began to wait for another vehicle, which had a guide who knew Ibrahim, to stop and help us. Again there is a photo included.

After some time, a truck pulled up and within a few minutes, they pulled us out. We then proceeded to an area of sand dunes and Ibrahim drove into a little pond and just as he was telling us that lions often are there, we saw two males sitting right in front of us, out of breath, resting by the water. We sat there for quite a while just experiencing being only feet away from them. It really is an amazing thing to experience them being so close and unperturbed by our presence. Next we ran into a whole herd of elephants making their way to the Serengeti. It was the first time we saw little ones. How dear. The elephants here are just huge!

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Lions at rest
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Elephants on the Move

We went on a game drive in the later afternoon and it began with our seeing a leopard lazing in an acacia tree. He was literally draped over a branch of the tree in the afternoon heat and the only part of him moving was his very long tail. It was an amazing sight. We travelled along the earth roads for quite a while that evening mostly seeing birds and some gazelles grazing in the grasses. Our hotel for the night was even more fancy than the night before if that was possible. It was located right in the heart of the Serengeti and had baboons who regularly appeared on the roof. When we were eating breakfast, we were watching giraffes and baboons through the windows. Again they had a viewing platform that allowed us to be up high and watch the wildlife below. One of our favourite moments was on our second morning there when Chris spotted two hippos who were out of the water foraging around for food. Rarely do you see them out of the water as they are usually in water in the daylight. I’m going to stop here as I want to leave Chris some things to talk about in his blog. All in all it was an experience that I doubt I will ever forget. It’s been lovely sharing this with you.

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Baboons
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Gentle Giants

Until next time, Dana.

Posted by danjali 01:59 Comments (2)

From Nairobi to Arusha

Gosh the days are flying by and it is high time for our second blog entry. We have now been based in Arusha, Tanzania, which is a long bumpy seven-hour bus trip from Nairobi due to serious road construction. Instead of completing sections of the road, they have basically ripped up half of it so we mostly were on a series of detours. Emma (short for Emmanuel) and his brother Christian gave us a wonderful warm greeting at the bus station with roses in hand. We had been invited to come and stay with them, through meeting Emma’s wife Pammla in Regina. It was a wonderful accidental meeting with Pammla several months ago, and it has been a very special time staying with Emma, Christian, their sister Ada, and daughter Rena and her son Kerry who is two. Gladness, who comes in each day to cook and care for the house, has been a total delight to be with. She cooks us chapattis each morning; they are a real treat. I have loved hanging out with Gladness in the kitchen and will be sorry to say good bye when we go. We have been so welcomed by all of them and we feel like family. Each day we go off on adventures, never quite knowing how things will work out. There are so many unexpected things, which often end up actually making our time even better.

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We just spent the last few days around Arusha visiting a number of orphanages and also the Green Hope Medical Clinic which has just opened recently. It was special to visit the clinic and see that much of the equipment and furniture that is there originally came from Saskatchewan, donations from hospitals, doctors’ offices, or SaskTel which is a major supporter of the clinic. Pammla and her mother have been involved in gathering furniture and medical equipment as well as numerous items that are used by orphanages and individuals in need, which they send over in large shipping containers. It’s lovely to see the fruit of their work! Today was a public holiday so the clinic was not open, but amazingly the administrator and all of the staff except their doctor and one of the nurses was there. They came in to be there for us. I am constantly amazed at the generosity of people!

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Our next stop was an orphanage called Living Waters. We arrived at recess where all the kids were playing in the yard skipping and playing ball etc. They sang us a lovely welcoming song. It warmed my heart I must say. This was the poorest of the four orphanages which we visited, being a very small building with only 3 bedrooms for 29 children. Each bed had one older and younger child in it. I couldn’t believe so many could fit into such a small space. But in two short days I have seen that what is really important is the love they receive. These kids were happy despite having so little. This particular orphanage also has a school at it, so the kids receive an education right there as do some kids who live in the area and attend the school with them. This provides a way for the orphans to integrate with local children. It seems to be working well. In each of the orphanages we visited, we gave notebooks and pencils to each child as well as pop-sodas which are a real treat here. We also had some other things to offer that Pammla had sent from Regina. I found myself wanting to buy mosquito nets for them, new shoes, clothes etc when I saw how little they have. All of these orphanages are dependant on donations often from abroad but some from within Tanzania.

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Yesterday we went to the Samaritan orphanage, which was an amazing experience. We walked into the bedroom for the one year olds, who were having baths, and within seconds each of us was carrying a child. They literally lept into our arms. At one point I was carrying two children. So dear, I must say. Many of these children have been abandoned for one reason or another, but really it was so beautiful to see the interactions between them all. They all look after each other. We had Emma’s niece, Tawa, and her two-year-old daughter named Beauty, with us and Beauty totally got involved. When the kids had dinner she joined them and instantly one of the children came over to her and started feeding her. I think we were all very touched by what was going on there. The confidence of those children was remarkable and they seem to be thriving despite their lack of parents. It was a very heartwarming experience.

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Our first orphanage was challenging as every single one of the children was HIV/AIDS positive. Many of them looked unwell and just generally lacked the normal energy of children. We did find out that they do receive anti retro viral drugs freely which is a god send. It was difficult to be there for me I must say seeing these children having so little energy for life. There were a number of volunteers staying there for two weeks who were from Guelph, Ontario; they were giving the children lots of loving attention.

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I want to also write about my experience of the Arusha Market, which could be possibly the most interesting and photographic market I have experienced. It’s huge and totally chaotic. I simply stood in one place watching one of the streets which was absolutely filled with fruit and vegetable sellers both seated and walking around, shoes and clothes sellers, and a variety of other wares for sale. My favourite moment was when a huge truck appeared and started driving down the street that was filled with these sellers. I have included a photo below to tell the story. It was literally a sea of people that the truck moved through. It is so refreshing to witness so much chaos that somehow works.

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As we have been out and about in Arusha and also out of town visiting some mines that Chris wanted to visit, I have been amazed by seeing Masai people in traditional dress everywhere. Most often they can be seen in the fields with their flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. Each Masai man has a flock, and the more animals he has, the more wives he will be able to afford. It is not unusual for a man to have 12 wives all of whom live in the same village. Each wife has a little hut where she lives with her children. The husband moves between the homes as he pleases. What a life! It has almost seemed unreal seeing these Masai people dressed in their bright red cloth and beautiful beaded wear, worn particularly by the women. They are totally striking. The other day, Christian and Emma drove us to the part of town where Tanzanite (a blue gemstone that is much valued and seems to be rather high priced) is bought and sold. Most of the people there were Masai men huddled around cell phones checking out the moment to moment price of the Tanzanite market. I so much wanted a photo of a Masai man with a cell phone, but so far I have not succeeded!

I am just finishing this blog as we are ending our time at the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park. So I have some catching up to do. Suffice it to say that it has been a fabulous time. We have seen so many animals and birds over these last three days. I had no idea of how close we would be able to be to lions, elephants, zebras etc. With any luck I will be able to post some photos soon so that you can see some of what we have experienced. These last two weeks have been such a rich time and we are just getting started………..

Until next time, Dana

Chris: Continuing from where I ended my last brief account of becoming reacquainted with Kenya:

During our last couple of days in Nairobi before departing for Tanzania, Dana and I walked around a lot. We found St Mary’s School which was close to one of the houses I lived in when I was aged thirteen to sixteen or thereabouts. My Dad and I often walked Laddie, our German Shepherd dog, on the playing fields – and frequently lay on our backs looking up at the stars sharing our awe of immense distances and great time spans and appreciating our ability as humans to appreciate such wonder. On other occasions, we would practise field hockey, or one of us would hide in some adjacent light forest (no longer in existence, having been replaced by houses) leaving the other with Laddie who would then be encouraged to find the hidden person. He always succeeded!

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We also visited another part of Nairobi – Kileleshwa – where we had previously lived for about four years. I think I found the corner where the house had once been. Again, the changes were so immense that I could not be sure. We found our way to the shallow valley where again we had walked Laddie. Now it is overlooked by apartment blocks surrounded by security walls, and we were unable to cross to the other side of the valley (to St. George’s Primary School) as there were more security fences that surround part of the State House grounds. Still, I was able to share memories with Dana – and this has been a constant delight to me as I feel she is able to get an experiential sense of my boyhood and, perhaps, start to understand why I am as deluded as I am in my adulthood! I should add that my emotions continued to course strongly through my body, and tears of joy and sadness often came to my eyes.

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One of my teeth began to hurt badly, and I was fortunate to be able to get an infected root canal dealt with by a most competent Swedish dentist. Had the infection begun a few days later, I would have found the wonders that were to unfold during our visit to northern Tanzania nigh on impossible to absorb. As it was, I was able to give my experiences here (I am writing this in Arusha with just a few more days left before we head back to Nairobi) the closest of attention.

Following a very bumpy seven-hour bus ride from Nairobi to Arusha, and being heartfully welcomed by Emma and Chris, we have been doing and seeing a lot. Dana has described the couple of days we spent visiting four orphanages and a health clinic that is operational but still in process of becoming fully equipped. I echo what she has said about how deeply the children and their carers touched us. The children opened their hearts and arms to us, and they quickly established their places in our hearts. Colour, language and cultural differences evaporated, and we were simply human beings reveling in the warmth of each other’s touch and focused attention. Our departures were the most difficult part of the visits (those darned tears pricking away at my eyes yet again!). I am sure I have been more helped by these children about overcoming any prejudices I may be harbouring than I have been able to help them through the small gifts we left or whatever other impacts I may have made.

Dana mentioned about our spending a couple of days visiting mine sites. The first, which worked ruby-bearing rocks, was near a town named Longido (which we has passed through on our trip from Nairobi). The ruby that we saw occurred as thin (1 to 2 mm) platy (1 to 2 cm diameter) pink crystals in hornblendite with bands of a greenish mineral (zoisite?) – in 50 cm thick layers interbanded with hornblende-feldspar layers. All the rocks were considerably veined and sheared, which likely made mining a hazardous business. Mining is not currently in progress, and it is difficult to assess the economic viability of an operation – the rubies we saw in the tailings of the small-scale mining that has taken place were not gem quality and the host rock seemed to be too fractured to allow for production of an attractive ornamental stone, but my visit was perfunctory and this overview is in no way close to a decent assessment. The trip to and from the mine was highlighted by seeing several gerenuk and a small herd of giraffe – the first time we had started to see wild African game in any number and variety (the Nairobi-Arusha journey had been notable for the absence of game – we had seen a few Thomson’s Gazelle, but nothing else).

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The following day, we drove east and south of Arusha to the Mererani area where tanzanite is mined, primarily by a fairly large South African operated mine, but also by many small-scale mines, one of which we visited. Entry to the workings was down a circular vertical shaft that, we were told, was about 40 m deep with access down a wooden ladder, and from the end of the shaft, the distance to the working face was about 80 to 100 m. They crawl there on hands and knees. When I asked the owner what the rocks that were being worked for tanzanite were like, he had a couple of miners who worked for him to descend the ladder to bring back some samples. For headlamps, the miners attached ordinary flashlights to the tops of their heads using rubber bands that looked like they might be cut from tyre inner tubes. They had no boots, nor safety apparel for their descent. It was all very rudimentary. I felt no temptation whatsoever to accompany them! They were gone for well over an hour – and a third miner went down to make sure they were OK. The samples they brought back were primarily medium- to fine-grained, equigranular, non-foliated graphitic rock with coarse-grained veins that I believe is where the tanzanite (a zoisite) crystals generally occur. Disseminated to massive pyrite was also widely present.

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From the tanzanite mine, we headed due east to visit a tsavorite working, again non-operational (tsavorite is a green garnet that, if of high quality, produces a beautiful gemstone). We had gone only a kilometer or two when Gaudens (brother of the mine-owner, Leonard), who was driving, said we had a problem with our brakes. It proved to be a broken brake-cable, so we returned to another of the small-scale mines. There, following considerable animated discussion amongst the Tanzanians in our vehicle (Emma, Tawa, Gaudens and Leonard) and several miners, it was determined we should disconnect the one brake, then get some brake fluid to ensure the other three brakes were fully operational. Whilst we waited (about two hours altogether), I looked through the mine tailings whilst Dana and Tawa spoke to one of the miners who told them he had been working for ten years and had been totally unsuccessful in finding tanzanite. The miners do not get paid, and eat only one meal of rice and beans a day (sometimes this is provided by the owner). When they find a tanzanite crystal that they can sell, they share the proceeds amongst all of them. They start work at around 4 pm and stay in the mine until 8 am when they come to the surface, rest, eat, then go down into the mine again. It’s back-breaking, very dangerous, generally unrewarding work with the possibility of a rich strike being the only incentive – for most, a futile dream. I recall reading in a mining journal last year or the year before of a flooding of the mines that killed many workers. When the car was ready to leave, I felt deeply sad for these kind-hearted, hard-working men whose present and future seemed so precarious. The tsavorite workings proved to be about four angled adits with no sign – to me – of green garnets anywhere. Again, the most abundant rocks in the tailings were highly graphitic gneisses, much sheared. A neighbouring mine worker passed by and came to see what we were doing – he sorted through some of the tailings and quickly presented us with a few very small fragments of a clear green mineral that he said were tsavorite – I had no problem believing him even though I couldn’t be sure without doing some further tests (not part of my plans, however!).

Until next time……Chris

Posted by danjali 22:23 Comments (1)

Africa Through Our Eyes

First Impressions

Our plans have become reality. We arrived two days ago in Nairobi and have had a very gentle landing indeed, staying with dear old friends Vikki and Calum who I have not seen in so many years. I lived with them when I lived in Totnes in Devon, England in the early 90’s. Now they have four children, the oldest one is my goddaughter who I have not seen since she was very young. I really don’t ever recall being able land in a foreign country so easily. Usually it’s the full on immersion, which almost always involves making a lot of mistakes and being frustrated without knowing the ropes. Coming into the country was remarkably smooth, and with little difficulty we got our visas, our bags and had a taxi waiting for us. William, our driver was so welcoming and when he found out that Chris had spent most of his youth in Nairobi he spent the rest of the trip pointing out places that Chris might recognize. We both were struck by how quiet it was on the road, though the traffic was pretty dense with everyone vying for a place in the quickest lane. It seems that Kenyans have not taken to the bad habit of leaning on their car horns constantly. This is not the case in most of the Asian countries that I have visited. I saw my first Maribou stork, which was perched on the roof of a building, and it looked just huge at least 2 feet tall or perhaps more. Then William pointed out a tree right in the middle of a very busy intersection which had a whole bunch of the storks perched on it. 1005_London_0021.jpg It s wonderfully green here as we have come right in the middle of the rainy season. After another a Saskatchewan winter, it’s so uplifting to be surrounded by flowers and trees in leaf. It’s delightful to be seeing so many new species of plants and birds and even flying termites, which Vikki told me are actually eaten here. Amazingly they are very nutritious. It made me glad to still be a vegetarian! One of my fears of being in Africa is of being in that uncomfortable position of being offered something to eat that would gross me out.

Today we had the wonderful experience of visiting the Elephant orphanage on the edge of Nairobi for young elephants who have lost their mothers for a variety of reasons including their mothers being killed for ivory. 1005_Elephants_0030.jpg I was sad to hear that this still goes on. I had naively thought that because ivory is illegal in most countries I have been to, that it was no longer something that was poached. I guess that it still has a large market in China. Seeing these elephants from the ages of 3 months to 2 years brought tears to my eyes. At the orphanage for the first three years they each have a man who is their trainer who has a very special relationship with the elephant.1005_Elephants_0049.jpg He even sleeps with the elephant at night and is really a mother figure to them. After three years they are transferred to a national park where within 5 to 10 years they will find a family of elephants that eventually adopt them allowing them to live safely in the wild once again. It was inspiring to hear of the work this organization is doing. We were very tempted to adopt one of them for $50 US which is care for one of the elephants for a year, but thought we should wait a bit as we are sure there will be lots of causes along the way. I am hoping that I can load one of my elephant photos successfully to share it with you.

That’s all for now. Dana

Chris’s first entry:

Meeting up with Dana at Heathrow on the 29th (at about 8 am) was heart-warming as we had been apart for four weeks. We went into London for most of the day, getting back to Heathrow in time for me to check in for our 8 pm flight, most of which we spent trying to sleep – Dana well as she was so tired from her previous flight from Regina, me poorly, so when we touched down in Nairobi, I was feeling pretty thick-headed. The plane stopped out on the apron at Jomo Kenyatta Airport, so we had to go to the airport buildings by bus. As I stepped from the stairs leading down from the aircraft onto Kenya ground for the first time since 1969, I found myself really emotional – my voice choking and my eyes tearing when Dana asked how I was feeling.

Once through customs and immigration, neither of which took very long, we found ourselves in a taxi heading toward the Lavington area of Nairobi. The journey was not very long in terms of distance, but took ages as we were in the midst of rush-hour traffic. Much chaos, with cars and pedestrians mixing compatibly as the traffic was moving so slowly. I couldn’t believe how built up the city was, and how many people there were everywhere. All the way to the McLean’s house, I recognized nothing from when I had been here forty and more years ago – well, a few place names, but none of the places! Other surprises included the greatly increased security around people’s homes, especially in the more up-scale residential areas where high walls topped by barbed wire, electric fences and/or broken glass have become the norm, with entry through heavy metal gates which generally show the name of the security company responsible for looking after the place. All the trees look much higher and well established than I remembered them.

It was lovely seeing Vikki and Calum again for the first time in about 15 years, and meeting their four children who range in age from 9 through 17. We have been enjoying their company and warm hospitality since (it’s now the morning of May 4th). Our (re)introduction to Kenya has been very gentle so far – mostly sitting on the verandah of V&C’s house gazing out at the garden and taking in the endless shades of green set off by the bright mauves, yellows, whites, blues, reds and oranges of the wide variety of flowers, and the continuous sound of birdsong. Much of this, and the activities we’ve undertaken since our arrival have been well described by Dana, so I will not go into them in detail. I am hoping to visit my old high school sometime soon – it is a few hundred yards from V&C’s home, within easy walking distance. The road running past its entrance is now a dual carriageway carrying heavy traffic as it is part of the main road running from the coast to western Kenya, Uganda and beyond. I don’t think I would dare cycle along it as I did on a daily basis to and from school in the late 1950s. The house my family and I lived in then has gone – replaced by apartment buildings within a walled compound. I felt sad about that as it emphasized the changes that have taken place in the last fifty years. But in a sense, I am glad, too, that the old is being replaced by the new, and that Kenyans are creating a social, spiritual and economic environment that reflects their own aspirations and values rather than those imposed on them by outsiders. This creative process will doubtless be ongoing here as it is everywhere else – hopefully with a minimum of violence and a maximum of peace and well-being for all. One of the things that I really notice is the friendliness and warm smiles of most Kenyans. For me, ithis helps make for a welcoming return to the country where I spent my most formative years.

Posted by danjali 06:56 Archived in Kenya Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

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