Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 10 – Masai Mara

20151002-DSC_4528Today was another early start: 6:00 wake-up call and 6:30 take-off. We got to see the hot air balloons taking off as we ourselves took off.

We headed out to see what we could find, and it turned out to be birds, topi, Impala, and elands, along with some banded mongooses before breakfast.

Topi

Topi

Spurfowl, Red-necked

Spurfowl, Red-necked

Longclaw, Yellow-throated

Longclaw, Yellow-throated

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Bateleur

Bateleur

After breakfast, we saw two lions, a mom and her 3-year-old daughter with a warthog’s’ head in her mouth.  Further along, there was another lion who went to investigate some noise in a gully, and a cape buffalo came up to meet her challenge!

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A thrush?

Heron, Black-headed

Heron, Black-headed

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A lion looking down in the gully just beyond

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A cape buffalo coming up from the gully to “play” with the lion, who had beat a hasty retreat

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Daughter lion with lunch

In addition, we saw the usual variety of antelope, zebras, a crocodile and warthogs.

The sky took on an interesting feature, as a halo of light surrounded the sun.  There were clouds in the sky, and knowing how dry the season had been, we asked about the likelihood of rain.  We were told that the halo was usually seen before rain showers, and sure enough later on in the day, it did rain for a short while.

The highlight of the antelopes we saw were three male eland, which could be easily differentiated from the females by the large dewlap they had hanging below their broad necks.

Male Eland

Male Eland

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A very pregnant hyena

A very pregnant hyena

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A cheetah resting

This afternoon we’ll visit a Masai village hopefully!

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And it was quite a visit. The headman in the village introduced himself to us, and then presented the Masai men, who did their chant with bass and harmony (no instruments, mind, just with their voices), and to these chants, they jumped — who jumps the highest? This went on for quite awhile, and then they approached us and we all participated in the chant and structured walk.

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Next he took us into the village proper. This is a rough circle with about seven houses in it. There is a twig fence around the whole thing, with four openings, one for each main family in the village. When their cattle are driven into the center of the compound for the night, they know to come in the correct entrance. The houses themselves are made out of sticks and cow dung daub, mainly because the cow dung does not get infested by pests.

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The next was a demonstration of making fire. The men gathered a flat stick about 1.5 inches thick and a round stick about a foot long and half an inch in diameter. One of the men then put his long knife on the ground, flat, placed the flat stick on top of it, and then used the round stick to spin back and forth creating friction. Meanwhile another man pulled some elephant dung from the roof of the house next to him, and pulled it apart, exposing the undigested dry straw. The heat from the friction and the softness of the wood began depositing smoldering ash on the knife below, and when the man spinning the stick decided that he had enough burning material, the generating sticks were removed, and the embers were put into the elephant dung. With a little blowing encouragement, the fire indeed flamed up, and if it had been wanted for broader purpose, it would have been put under larger wood shavings. From what they said, the bush people taught this to the Masai.

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We went into a house, designed and built by the women. There is an entrance room, followed by the main room where the fire for the cooking burns. This has benches on two sides, and a vent hole high on the wall behind the fire. The houses are dark (no windows), and the roof is flat, with cow dung on top.

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We came out and the village women gave us their version of chants and songs. They also were unaccompanied by instruments. The women didn’t jump, however — that’s just for the men (and boys).

We were lastly led outside of the village proper where there were the women had laid out their wares for us to peruse and purchase if we wanted to. We all picked out something to buy, and bargained our way to the deal.

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It was back to the camp, and this evening Nixon (whose village this is) is going to talk to us about the Masai some more.

Nixon’s talk went into more detail about the Masai culture. They believe that God (undefined) dropped the first human on earth in the Northern Africa area of the Nile River, closer to the source than the delta. He is named, and his wife is named, as are their three sons. Their three sons each started a clan, and the rule became no one could marry within their clan. There are now thousands of clans, and the rule still holds. Marriages are arranged between the parents of the man and prospective wife, based in part on the dowry (in terms of number of cows) on offer.

Their diet consists primarily of the blood, milk and meat of the livestock (cows originally, and now including sheep and goats). Masai are nomadic, in part to provide feed for their livestock, and to account for the weather. Nixon said that the warrior who has two wives will leave his primary wife at the first location, and take his second one with him to the second encampment, to build the house and keep him in the way he has been accustomed. Apparently his village is planning a seasonal move within the next couple of months as the grass is getting too dry to support their herds.

He also talked about the changes that have come about to the nomadic aspect due to the need to have their children in schools. Providing education requires a more stable community, and so that has slowed down the movements of the tribes. He talked for a good 30 minutes, and covered a number of topics. Then it was on to dinner and back to the rooms to pack for tomorrow’s trip to Nairobi.

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 9 – Masai Mara

Up early again, we were on the road a little after 6:30. In addition to the normal animals, we saw five hot-air balloons rising near the camp. Gretchen got a good picture of a couple of them as they took off. She saw them from the bar area of the camp, as one of the balloon concessions is run out of our camp.

Guinea Fowl, Helmeted

Guinea Fowl, Helmeted

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Jackal with Crowned Plover (Lapwing) in the distance

Jackal with Crowned Plover (Lapwing) in the distance

It took awhile to get started, but we saw the cheetah mother and her cubs playing with each other near a different tree from yesterday.

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We saw a group of hippos in a rather disgusting pond which had only still water, so their waste just stayed put.

Eagle, Tawny

Eagle, Tawny

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Vulture, Lappet-faced; Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, Lappet-faced; Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, Lappet-faced; Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, Lappet-faced; Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, Lappet-faced; Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, Lappet-faced; Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, Lappet-faced

Vulture, Lappet-faced

It was a small pond, with a number of hippos. One stayed off by him/herself, and she put on a good show. Among other things we saw a group of vultures surrounding a kill that had already been abandoned by the killer (a lion, it was guessed based on the footprints in the area). We also caught up with a number of warthogs and their youngsters. Apparently the warthogs at the height of their reproductive capability will have four babies, having graduated from one upward, and then as she declines, she will have less number of babies. The ones we saw typically had three babies, but at least one had four.

Warthogs - tails up!

Warthogs – tails up!

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Hightailing it!

Hightailing it!

The wildebeests were common all around, and we even had our breakfast in their midst (well, they were aways away really).

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Picnicing in the midst of the wildebeest

Picnicing in the midst of the wildebeest

Sammy and I practicing to be Maasai

Sammy and I practicing to be Maasai

Another group lunching amongst the wildebeest

Another group lunching amongst the wildebeest

We went to a common crossing point in the Salama River (?) where there were a number of hippos, a number of crocodiles, and a number of vultures.

Vulture, White-backed; Goose, Egyptian

Vulture, White-backed; Goose, Egyptian

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There were also several wildebeest bodies hung up on the rocks in the river. We were told that the river had been much higher and faster last week, and the wildebeests had had a hard time getting across quickly. They stumbled over each other and in the process a few drowned, were captured by predators, or just weren’t strong enough to make it to the other side. It made for a gruesome scene, yet somehow from a distance, natural. We went to another area where it looked for awhile like a herd of wildebeest was going to cross, but they stopped, and we grew tired of waiting, so headed back for lunch.

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Young warthogs

Young warthogs

Topi

Topi

Stork, Yellow-billed

Stork, Yellow-billed

This afternoon, we’re going to a school to give them the school supplies we brought for them. The school is nearby, and one of the Masai warriors who work at the camp (Nixon is his name) has siblings who go there. It is the Loingo (?) Primary School, meaning it has children from nursery school through level 8. It is a residential school, so the students live there during the terms (three months in school and a fourth month at home). Unfortunately, there is a teachers’ strike right now. We are told the reason is that an official in the central government gave the teachers a 50% rise in pay, and it has since been determined that this is not really a good thing to do, so they have tried to rescind it, but the teachers now are striking to have it reinstated. The net result is that schools are not really in session. The only class running at this school is the level 8 class as the students have their state-run graduation test in November.

There are 19 in that class, 15 boys and 4 girls, at least there were on the day we were there. After a brief introduction by the principal, and a welcome song by the students, we were allowed to talk to them individually or in groups. I ended up talking to six boys who were quite interested in interviewing me (as I was them). They asked all sorts of questions about me, my occupation, what it meant, where I lived, what the USA is like (what is our economy based on — yes, that was one of the questions!), what our weather is like, what religions we have, what our political parties are, and a whole variety of other things. They knew President Obama, and wanted to know more about him.

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I asked them about their economy (farming and herding based), their religion (mostly Christian, although they also knew of Muslims), their schooling (they do have high school, if the child and his/her parents choose to take advantage of it), what their ambitions are (pass the test, and then be herders), and so on. They were very attentive, and interested in the answers to their questions, as well as interested that I understand their answers to my questions.

Bruce's turn to be Maasai

Bruce’s turn to be Maasai

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Robin-chat, White-browed

Robin-chat, White-browed

After we finished, the principal had us into his office to do his bit for getting us to gift money to the school, but we demurred by suggesting he send a list of needed books to Philip who would forward it to us and then we would work on providing them to the school.

After we left, we came back to the camp, where we took the afternoon off, meeting again for dinner. The big adventure in this interval was the decision of a large baboon to visit Gretchen’s tent-cabin. He made a lot of noise, and when she came out to investigate, he was on her roof. She went back in to grab her camera, and when she reappeared, he had gone over to the side closest to our tent-cabin, and Gwen had come out to see what the commotion was all about. He saw Gwen, and ran back over to Gretchen’s side. He quickly decided that wouldn’t do, and disappeared up one of the many trees right above our tent-cabins. There was a smaller monkey in the trees as well, just to increase the fun. Unfortunately, no pictures were taken, so we have to rely on Gretchen’s and Gwen’s descriptions.

20151001-DSC_4495One other event worth recording is the latest adventure with Frederica and Nameless. They are the eland females who are domesticated enough to be allowed to inhabit the main areas of the camp. Before dinner, the three of us (Gretchen, Gwen and I) were sitting in the bar area, when the two eland walked by the registration desk and headed toward the patio just outside the barroom walls. Standing with her back to them was a young Japanese lady, who was almost rammed by Frederica. When she turned around to see who bumped into her, she screamed loudly and threw up her hands. The eland were remarkably calm about the whole thing, but the woman got flustered a bit. Gwen was closest to see, and tells me we should have a shot of the Japanese lady’s face when she realized she was being bumped by an animal that was just about her size!

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 8 – Lake Victoria to Masai Mara

Another travel day, sigh. We met again at 6:30 for breakfast, and then again at 7:00 at the truck to drive to the airport. When we got to the truck, we found that Bruce and Dee had lost their passports and money. Bruce was just coming to the truck to check his backpack, with very little hope of finding anything. But, sure enough, they were there, right in front!  Such a relief for all of us.

On the road there was lots to see.

The road serves many purposes

The road serves many purposes

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Farmland

Brick houses arising alongside the straw and grass structures

Brick houses arising alongside the straw and grass structures

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A local school

So off we went for first the Tanzania – Kenya border, and then the airport. The border was not really a problem, we visited first the Tanzanian agents in one building, and then crossed the border and visited the Kenyan agents in their building. Once we did that, we got back into the truck, and headed for the airplane. 20150930-DSC_3546 20150930-DSC_3558We got off the main road about an hour later, and drove a little way on a secondary dirt road, and pulled under a tree where a woman and her two daughters had set up a souvenir stand. This was the airport. About 20 minutes later, sure enough, a single engine plane drops down out of the sky and meets the runway (which was perpendicular to us), runs to where the tarmac stops, turns around and makes a turn towards us. After saying goodby to Everest, who had unloaded our bags, and hello to the pilot and copilot, we stood around and waited. Everything got on board, but there were three more passengers to meet us. At least an hour later, the first one arrived, and perhaps another half an hour elapsed before the other two got there. We were told that there was a big political rally in town, and our three compatriots had been slowed down for having to make their way through the crowds. By the time they arrived, two more planes had arrived (a twin-engine plane from Kenya Air, and another Safariair single engine job. 20150930-DSC_3589 20150930-DSC_3591 20150930-DSC_3600

Approaching the cliff that marks the edge of the Masai Mara

Approaching the cliff that marks the edge of the Masai Mara

With all aboard, we took off. We flew for about 20 minutes to the first of two Masai Mara airports. About 15 minutes into our flight, we flew over the edge (literally!) where the plain we were on dropped down to the Masai Mara plain, about 1000 feet down.  The cliff seemed to carry on in both directions forever.  It felt like the whole of the Masai Mara had been scooped out flat with a giant bulldozer.

Approaching the cliff that marks the edge of the Masai Mara

Approaching the cliff that marks the edge of the Masai Mara

20150930-DSC_3624 20150930-DSC_3628The vegetation immediately went from relative green to almost completely brown, except along the winding waterways.

The plane landed at the first airport, unloaded two of our extra passengers, and then we were on our way again, Up over the next ridge, about 5 minutes flying time, and we set down at the second of the two airports, our destination (almost). Our new driver greeted us, and we set off on another 30 minute drive to the Fig Tree Lodge. We arrived at about 2:00 and immediately had lunch, which was very nicely done. We were all ready for it! Now I’m sitting here on the porch of our tent-cabin, while the domesticated eland is munching at the greenery around.

Gretchen petting the hotel's pet eland

Gretchen petting the hotel’s pet eland

She is certainly calm enough. 20150930-DSC_3665Gretchen got pictures, and then got right up and petted her. Bruce and Dee came out to see her, but now I am left to watch and wonder about her. Just the other side of the path she is on is the bank of the river that runs through the camp. It is down about 10 feet from the level we are on, but it does have water in it, despite the obviously dry conditions all around.

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Two cubs playing while mom eats

This afternoon, we went on our first drive through the Masai Mara. 20150930-DSC_3720 20150930-DSC_3742 We were very lucky, seeing a mother Cheetah and two young cubs finishing off a kill (Thompson’s gazelle, we think.)

They were near a tree, and the youngsters were splitting their time between eating and playing with each other. They were clearly full of food, as their approach to the kill was fairly nonchalant. We spent a long time there watching. 20150930-DSC_3801 20150930-DSC_3807 20150930-DSC_3837Finally the mother got up and wandered about 25 feet away from the kill and lay down. The cubs joined her, and they licked each other’s faces necks and fronts. Philip says this is common procedure to get the blood off of each other. The youngsters didn’t stay with mother all the time though, they wandered back to the tree, playing with each other. A van pulled a bit too close, so one of the cubs came to challenge the interloper. The van didn’t move, and eventually the cub lost interest. It was a fun watch! In driving around, we also saw another leopard (our fifth),

Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, Lappet-faced

Vulture, Lappet-faced

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Hornbill, Ground

Hornbill, Ground

20150930-DSC_3945and quite a few birds. We saw several vultures of various kinds, especially after we left the cheetah kill. A hyena was asleep near the road as well. We saw a hippo pod in a pond, where they were bunched up together.

20150930-DSC_3904The most fun sight, however, was a giraffe getting a drink from a creek.  Giraffes have to get into an awkward position to drink, and it is at this point that they are the most vulnerable to attack.  As a result, they are very wary as they drink.  This I already knew.  What I didn’t know was that they come up quickly with their mouths open, spraying water as they rise.

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We came back and had a nice dinner, got to our tents, and had a good night’s sleep.

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 7 – Serengeti to Lake Victoria

Today is the trip from the Serengeti to Lake Victoria. 20150929-DSC_3224The trip itself was not as strenuous as was imagined by the group. At one of the rest stops (read: bathroom break) Everest had to change one of the tires which had developed a slow leak.

Crocodile

Crocodile

One of the fun animal-related events was the sighting of our first crocodile, and in fact we ended up seeing two of them,20150929-DSC_3270 including one very large one out of the water sunning himself.

20150929-DSC_3256Lions are getting to be second nature, so we weren’t too excited by seeing a pride of perhaps 10 lions sleeping under two trees close to the road. Of interest was one of the pride was under one tree while all the others were under the other tree. I wonder what made that lioness so unpopular?

We saw other animals, as well as people along the way to Lake Victoria.

Stork, Marabou

Stork, Marabou

Stork, Saddle-billed

Stork, Saddle-billed

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Heron, Grey

Heron, Grey

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Later on in the day at the Lake Victoria beach-side hotel we went on a bird-watching tour.

Kingfisher, Gray-headed

Kingfisher, Gray-headed

Scimitarbill, Common (Greater)

Scimitarbill, Common (Greater)

Bulbul, Common

Bulbul, Common

Gonolek, Black-headed

Gonolek, Black-headed

Kingfisher, Pygmy

Kingfisher, Pygmy

Thick-knee, spotted

Thick-knee, spotted

Eagle, Fish

Eagle, Fish

Thick-knee, spotted

Thick-knee, spotted

Stilt, Black-winged

Stilt, Black-winged

Stilt, Black-winged; Ruff

Stilt, Black-winged; Ruff

Plover, Spur Winged

Plover, Spur Winged

Dove, African Mourning

Dove, African Mourning

Plover, Three-Banded

Plover, Three-Banded

Thick-knee, Water

Thick-knee, Water

Plover, Spur-Winged (Lapwing)

Plover, Spur-Winged (Lapwing)

Weaver, Yellow-backed female or juvenile

Weaver, Yellow-backed female or juvenile

Gwen is very happy about this place, as it is literally right on the shore of Lake Victoria. The wind is blowing the water right onto the rocks outside our cabin door, and the sights and sound remind her of the Caribbean. I have to admit, after the last week on the savannah, it is quite a nice change of atmosphere.

The bird watching was a good job done by a local connected with the hotel named George. The highlight for me were the Fish Eagles, who have a next in a tree about 30 yards off of the shore. I got a lot of pictures of lots of birds, and Gwen took notes, so we’ll put them together when we get home.

Tomorrow it is on to Maasai Mara by small airplane.

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 6 – Serengeti

Out into the cold and dark…   Breakfast was early as predicted. We finally got on the road at 7:30, and made our way out to where the game were. That’s a bit of a bad way of saying it, as game are all around us here. We pass through zebra, giraffe, and several kinds of antelope before we get very far.

But first I should comment on our lodgings. This is a tent place. All the buildings, of which there are about 15 are tents. 20150928-DSC_2403The main tent is about twice as large as the cabin tents, giving it room for a nice lounge on one side and dining tables on the other. There are chandeliers hanging from the ceiling providing light, and electricity for most of your needs. This is provided by sun power, which collects the electricity in batteries during the day, and then allows use at night. There is a generator which kicks in if the batteries get low. As with each of these individual-tent-cabin places in the middle of wild animals, one of the camp’s employees (ours is Sampson) accompanies you whenever you go out in the dark.  By the way, the curtain behind Gwen hides the bathroom facilities, so we didn’t have to go outside to relieve ourselves.

Our room cabin tent is very large, probably 40 feet by 24 feet, with a full stand-up bathroom at one end. The room centers around the double bed, enshrouded with netting to keep away the mosquitoes at night. The other aspect of living in a tent in the Serengeti are the noises in the night. Lots of animals sound off (we really couldn’t tell what we were listening to), and then there is the wind, which was loud last night.

So on to today. Each day seems to get better, and today was no exception.

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Vervet monkeys

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Zebra fight!

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Momma and baby Kongoni

Momma and baby Kongoni

Momma and baby

Momma and baby

The savannah in the Serengeti seems dryer than what we saw in Amboseli or in Ngorongoro.  I guess there is enough to eat, but our guide tells us that the rains have been sparse so far, so the fields are not as supportive of the large herds are they have been in the past.  Still we see lots of wildlife during the day.

20150928-DSC_2485Our most exciting leopard story starts when Philip or Everest spied a female leopard heading toward a stand of trees and rocks.  20150928-DSC_2501We stopped to watch, and then decided that she probably was going to move through to the other side, so we moved the vehicle to be able to see her if that is what she did. Sure enough, she shortly showed up there, heading out into a field on a path that paralleled the track the truck was on. 20150928-DSC_2552We saw that she had brought a friend (male, we think). 20150928-DSC_2561The two of them walked through the tall grass, moving unhurriedly, and we did our best to keep them in sight. Eventually, they decided they wanted to cross the road, and indeed on they came. They passed in front of our truck no more than 10 feet away. Great for pictures. 20150928-DSC_2574 20150928-DSC_2576

They continued on toward another rock 20150928-DSC_2595outcropping, 20150928-DSC_2604and once they got there, we thought we saw the female kill a small field animal that didn’t move quickly enough. I guess that was their goal, as we lost sight of them and shortly thereafter, we moved on.

As had become usual, we saw a number of the larger land animals.

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Impala

Impala

We also saw a number of birds.

Vulture, Cape (juv)

Vulture, Cape (juv)

Stork, Yellow-billed; Goose, Egyptian; Stilt, Black-winged; Plover, Blacksmith

Stork, Yellow-billed; Goose, Egyptian; Stilt, Black-winged; Plover, Blacksmith

Stilt, Black-winged

Stilt, Black-winged

Weavers' nests

Weavers’ nests

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Vulture, Lappet-faced

Vulture, Lappet-faced

We saw other leopards today, 20150928-DSC_2810both of the two we saw were up a tree, (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) which we watched for awhile.  The leopards were watching the animals in a large field beyond the tree each was in. We tried to see what each was seeing, but didn’t see anything that would excite them to do something dramatic. It was fun to watch for awhile, and then we moved on.  Can you see the one in the tree below?

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As for lions, we saw probably 30 all told. All were resting, and we saw only walking type movement from any of them. 20150928-DSC_2853 20150928-DSC_2898In one area were two females sitting under a tree, while across the path at the next tree, two males were lazing away their late morning. We watched the males for awhile, and then moved on. 20150928-DSC_3098 20150928-DSC_3113 20150928-DSC_3133The last sighting was the largest, Seven youngsters (less than a year) were sleeping under a tree under the oversight of two older females. Eventually, the two older ones and five of the youngsters cross and joined two more females and two more youngsters under a much larger tree. We watched them for awhile, then moved on.

We saw some more hippos sleeping in a pond, and quite a few birds. We saw eland, kongoni, dik-dik’s, and at least one other new-to-us antelopes, water bucks. It was quite a day.

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Kongoni

Heron, Great Blue

Heron, Great Blue

Weaver, White-headed Buffalo

Weaver, White-headed Buffalo

Hyrax trying to mooch some food from us humans

Hyrax trying to mooch some food from us humans

Shrike, Northern White-Crowned

Shrike, Northern White-Crowned

Dwarf Mongoose standing watch in an abandoned termite mound

Dwarf Mongoose standing watch in an abandoned termite mound

Vervet Monkey

Vervet Monkey

Water Bucks

Water Bucks

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Dik-diks

Topi compared to zebra

Topi compared to zebra

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 5 – Olduvai Gorge to Serengeti

Today, it’s the cradle of mankind! Oh, what a day. Another long and hard one, based around riding in the van all day.  We started out in the morning early (as usual) and got the benefit of seeing the sun through the clouds again.  We drove by the entrance road to the Ngorongoro valley and onto the next one.

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This one afforded us views of clouds still clinging to the surrounding hills, as well as views of the tribal huts that housed people in that area.

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We were able to get out of Ngorongoro fairly easily, making our way to the Olduvai Gorge at the connection of the Ngorongoro and Serengeti Plain. The museum is right on the edge of the gorge, and does a good job describing the finds, and helping me remember the dates and sequence. It tells of Louis Leakey’s first experience at Oldupai Gorge in 1924, when he and a group of others were looking for dinosaur bones. He came back at the head of his own expedition in 1931. “Olduvai” was apparently a misspelling that stuck for Leakey’s publication, but locally it is known with a p instead of a v.

Looking down from Olduvai Gorge Museum

Looking down from Olduvai Gorge Museum

In 1934, he was joined by Mary, his eventual wife, as a student, along with others. Each year they came back and dug for bones, using the latest in archeological techniques. Finally in 1959, they discovered Zinjantropus, the first of several historic finds. Zinj, later renamed with a more scientific name was in the bottom most of four beds, and was determined to be 1.9 million years old. The lava base of the gorge is 2 million years old. Later came Homo Habilus (Handy Man) at 1.8 million years old, and Homo Erectus (stand-up man) at 1.6 million years old.  Mary and another colleague later (in the 1960’s?) found the footprints which had been frozen in time thought to be the prints of Austropithicus Ferensis (Lucy, found in Ethiopia, and thought to be 3.5 million years old. These footprints were found frozen in time several kilometers from the main gorge site.

After a brief lecture, one of the guides took us down into the gorge and showed us the site from its floor, and the marker which shows where Zinj was found.

Looking back toward the Museum

Looking back toward the Museum

We dropped him off, and made tracks for the Serengeti park.

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Starling, Superb

Starling, Superb

Weaver, Thick-billed

Weaver, Thick-billed

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20150927-DSC_2079At the gate to the park, we stopped and ate our lunch, provided by the last hotel, the Serena.  In this park, we were visited by a number of animals, most notably four elephants, who kindly allowed us to take their pictures.  We also saw quite a few birds, including many of the starlings that are more common in the Serengeti.  Oh, and a gecko that was pink and blue!The lunch was (as might be expected) too much food, but Philip took all the extra and made up packages for giving away to those who didn’t have any.

We continued on, but the road was the usual washboard, and it was noisy and bouncy. 20150927-DSC_2059We passed another native village, as we drove.  Finally a couple of hours later, we turned off into the game reserve (off the main road), and made our way to a number of spots where Philip and Everest thought we would see something. 20150927-DSC_2062 20150927-DSC_2079

Barbet, d'Arnaud's

Barbet, d’Arnaud’s

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Female Ostrich; the first willing to have its picture taken!

20150928-DSC_2825We saw the usual suspects, zebra, giraffes, grant’s gazelles as well as a new kind of antelope, the Reedbuck. It is larger than the gazelles we have been seeing, and has two stubbier horns on its head.

We saw a lion, sitting by itself (we presume), as well as a pod of hippopotamuses in the river we were roughly following.20150927-DSC_2301

Shrike, Grey-backed

Shrike, Grey-backed

Before we got to the pod, we saw an individual who walked along from one pond to another, and then dropped itself into the new pond to rest from its exertions.

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Roller, Lilac-breasted

Roller, Lilac-breasted

Stork, Yellow-billed; Goose, Egyptian; Heron, Grey

Stork, Yellow-billed; Goose, Egyptian; Heron, Grey

Teal, Red-billed; Plover, Blacksmith; Stork, Yellow-billed; Goose, Egyptian; Heron, Grey

Teal, Red-billed; Plover, Blacksmith; Stork, Yellow-billed; Goose, Egyptian; Heron, Grey

Heron, Grey

Heron, Grey

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Kongoni

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Grant’s Gazelle

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Cape buffalo

The trip into the camp was long after that (another half an hour), and the most difficult part was it started raining! We have made it here, however, so we now are happily ensconced in our tent-mansions. This is the largest room we’ve been in on this trip, and it is all out of canvas. Hopefully the rain will subside so we can go out tomorrow and enjoy the sights of the Serengeti!

Saddle-billed stork watched with great interest

Saddle-billed stork watched with great interest

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 4 – Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Today is spent all in the caldera. As most all our days, this one starts early, with breakfast at 6:00 and on our way at 6:30.  Morning light breaking through the clouds that seem to hover around the volcano early was fascinating to see from our vehicle as it headed down the steep road from the lip to the floor.  The reflection of the light in the infrequent water helped us see what was below.

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We spent about seven hours in the caldera, and it was fun almost from the get-go. The first of the highlights were the black rhinos, one of which we saw almost right off, and then later on we saw two more. All were at a distance, but hopefully the camera was up to recording them. We later learned that these black rhinos are extremely rare, there being approximately 25 left in the wild.  So seeing 3 of the 25 was even more of a treasure than we realized at the time.

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There are four lions sleeping in this stone formation.

The second was a pride of lions all sleeping in and amongst some rocks on the side of a rise toward the middle of the caldera. Down below them we noticed a number of hyena, and a jackal or two.

Oh, no you don;t!

Oh, no you don’t!

Three of the hyena, sometimes joined by a fourth had a piece of a kill about 100 yards below them, and were busily taking hunks out of it. 20150926-DSC_1422One of the jackals tried several times to get a few bites, but was chased off by one of the hyenas each time. It was only as we climbed the rise behind the lions that we were able to see there were a number of hyena congregated in a depression below the ground level a bit farther away from the lions. We surmised that they were devouring what was left of a carcass that the lions had brought down and had sated themselves with last night. 20150926-DSC_1351There was a hyena that we had first noticed on our left as we were driving toward the area where we first saw the lions. He (or she) crossed our path between where we first stopped and where the lions slept and headed for the depression, but eventually stopped, watched what was going on for awhile, and after the appearance of a couple of other hyenas, decided that discretion was the better part of valor and came back across the road where he watched what was going on. We only really understood his actions after we spotted the hyena group as we drove above it. One of Gwen’s favorite aspects of the day was hearing the hyenas “talking” to each other during this episode.

We saw quite a variety of wildlife, most of which we had seen before, but I can never get enough of them, especially the birds.

Crane, Grey-Crowned

Crane, Grey-Crowned

Crane, Grey-Crowned

Crane, Grey-Crowned

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Crake, Black

Crake, Black

Pelican, Great White

Pelican, Great White

Ibis, Sacred

Ibis, Sacred

Bustard, Kori

Bustard, Kori

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Eagle, Tawny or Eagle, Wahlberg's

Eagle, Tawny or Eagle, Wahlberg’s

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We managed to get very close to some warthogs as we drove along.

20150926-DSC_1534 20150926-DSC_1678One of the more amazing sights were the herds of wildebeest stretching out to the horizon, or coming over the hill toward us at a distance.

A wildebeest herd and flock of birds in the Ngorongoro caldera

A wildebeest herd off in the distance

The third amazing find were a family group of elephants we passed as we came onto the rise where the road started to climb out of the caldera. This rise is hilly, with a number of trees of various kinds forming a loosely packed forest, enabling easy movement by the elephants as well as shelter from the sun when desired (like it was as it was well after noon by this time). 20150926-DSC_1887At first, we saw three females and two youngsters (one very young, a second perhaps a juvenile) eating grass and leaves from a tree not too far off the road. As we watched, the five became seven, as there was another youngster behind the tree-eater, and another older juvenile with the first youngster. 20150926-DSC_1875 20150926-DSC_1858There were about a dozen zebra on the other side of the vehicle happily munching away at the shorter grass shaded by the trees as well. As we continued on, the road took a turn which took us in front of the elephants, and we discovered the rest of the group, with at least three more adult females, a couple more juveniles and yet another youngster. 20150926-DSC_1895We watched them continue to eat, and some decided we were too close, so they headed away from us while two or three headed to an area we couldn’t see ahead of us. 20150926-DSC_1924 20150926-DSC_1923We eventually moved in that direction, and found a stream where four elephants, including one youngster and at least one juvenile were enjoying playing with the water. The baby was having the most fun, kicking up water with his feet and trunk, while the others were enjoying spraying themselves with the water, and doing their own dance to keep their feet cool. It was delightful to watch, and was a really nice way to end our tour of the area.

This afternoon we have another talk by Philip. He talked about Kenya and Tanzania, and the relative size and populations of them. In response to questions, he focused more on the education systems in the two countries and how they have evolved.

Tomorrow it is on to Oldivai Gorge (rather the museum the Leakeys created near there) to hear about the finds there, and then the afternoon is a tour which should end us in the Serengeti.

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 3 – Amboseli National Park to Ngorongoro caldera

Today is the long drive between Amboseli and the next major stop, the Ngorongoro caldera where wildlife has been able to grow and survive without outside interference for thousands of years.   It is 20 km across, and while not round, is close. We are staying in the Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge, which sits just inside the rim of this extinct volcano.

Our ride today was indeed long, 11 hours total. The first part was a “race” through the Amboseli Park, taking us quickly by many of the wildlife we had seen before, including lots of wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, a few elephants, more than a few gazelles, and even some rather interesting looking cape buffalo.

Secretary

Secretary bird

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Out of the park, we ran on corduroy roads at top speed until we got to the border with Tanzania. Here we bade farewell to Charles and climbed on board a more modern version of the same vehicle type. This meant the springs and suspension had not been so badly treated, but of course from here on we were on paved roads so we were much relieved.  The trip in Tanzania differed from that before in that the towns we went through seemed to have a better economy. This evidenced itself in the substantial number of brick buildings as a proportion of the tin-roofed wooden shacks. The town centers seemed to have more store-fronts built from cinder block rather than wood and cloth. The trip differed also in the number of potential police (or para-police) stops we passed through. Except for two, we passed through without stopping. Phillip says that we should pass freely as tourists get that privilege. At the two stops, Everest (our new driver) was able to talk his way through, thus all turned out well.  At about 1:00, we got to a coffee plantation. This is a privately owned farm which does meals for travelers in a very nice purpose-built building. They then provide you with their pitch on the 40 steps coffee goes through from bean harvesting to drink enjoyment. Because we could be there only a short time, the daughter of the owners gave us her 15-minute version of the coffee roasting process. It was a very well done presentation, and very informative, going from first “crack” at 13 minutes to second “crack” at 15 minutes, and talking about what all this meant. We were impressed enough to purchase a couple of pounds to take home with us.  (Now having tasted it, I can attest that they grow and roast some of the best coffee I’ve tasted.)

Tanzanian Coffee plantation

Tanzanian Coffee plantation

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Carrying LARGE coffee bean bags on her head

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Baobab tree

On our way through, we saw Baobab trees, something that we saw more of on our trip in 2009.  As it turned out, this was the only time we saw them on this trip.  We also passed a very interesting “car-boot” sale — notice the amount of blue covering the booths.  Finally we got to the Ngorongoro entrance.

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When we got to the Ngorongoro volcano caldera, we found a lookout point and were able to view the expanse of it. It really is quite spectacular, and we are all looking forward to our exploration tomorrow.  The banner at the top of this post shows cape buffalo as they were beginning to bed down for the night at a great distance down in the crater.

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On our way to dinner at the new safari camp, we found the lounge was a place of entertainment, including a dancer on some stilts which put him into the overhanging lights (he was careful not to hurt himself), and a band of gymnasts who performed lots of tumbling on the hard floor without mat protection of any kind.  Their towers got high enough to require them to avoid the lights as well, but they were very well practiced, and made it look like part of the act.

Dancer on stilts

Dancer on stilts

Gynnasts without mats

Gynnasts without mats

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 2 – Amboseli National Park

We got up early (5:45) and got to the park by 6:30. There were a plethora of animals, including all we had seen yesterday, as well as elephants in larger family groups, giraffes, gazelles and hyenas scaring all they came near.

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Amboseli Park, It is not uncommon for many different animals to share the forage. (7)

Amboseli Park, It is not uncommon for many different animals to share the forage. (7)

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We got close to the cape buffalo herds, as scary as they looked.   We drove by one old male who was wallowing in a mud puddle close to the road trying to get enough mud on himself to keep the flies off.

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An hippopotamus made its way across our view at one point, going from one watering hole to another presumably looking for better forage.  The wildebeest wandered all around us, and at one point there were a group of four lopping across the savannah headed toward an elephant male standing on his own.

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We did see a couple of lone baboons lopping across the savannah close to us.

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More birds showed up as well, even an example of one of the largest eagles, the largest of the flight-able birds, as well as an ostrich off in the distance.

Martial Eagle

Martial Eagle

Kori Bustard

Kori Bustard

Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, White-backed

Ibis, Hadeda

Ibis, Hadeda

Ibis, Glossy; Ibis, Sacred

Ibis, Glossy; Ibis, Sacred

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Lapwing, Long-Toed

Lapwing, Long-Toed

Goose, Egyptian

Goose, Egyptian

Ibis, Hadeda

Ibis, Hadeda

Jacana

Jacana

Duck, White-faced

Duck, White-faced

Ibis, Sacred

Ibis, Sacred

Spoonbill

Spoonbill

Teal, Red-Billed

Teal, Red-Billed

Heron, Great Blue; white bird unknown

Heron, Great Blue; white bird unknown

Duck, White-faced

Duck, White-faced

Bustard, Harlaub's

Bustard, Harlaub’s

We learned a lot about eastern Africa from our guide Philip Keter. He was joined after his talk by a Masai tribesman dressed in the traditional costume, and the two took us around the perimeter of the hotel compound and showed us some of the bones kept near the signs, and some of the plant life that grew within its confines.

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The Masai groups traditional occupation is livestock, which now means cattle, sheep, and goats.  As we travelled in the park, we saw a large such herd that had permission to forage in the park, overseen by younger boys who were off from school as the result of a teachers’ strike.

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Tomorrow promises to enable us to see even more animals!

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, The Beginning

Off we go on another trip!  This time our goal was the Great Migration in the plains of Kenya and Tanzania.  Once again we were in the capable hands of Road Scholar, and with Gwen’s great aid in getting us ready (a much more complicated process than going to Europe, for example, what with visas, immunizations, and clothes requirements), we flew first to London (on 17 Sep) to see relatives and friends, a play (“Kinky Boots”), and to time-adjust partially.

On 22 Sep, we got on our British Airways flight, joined by Gwen’s great friend, Gretchen Hurlbert, and traveled the 8 hours to Nairobi.

It was a pleasant journey, and a nice introduction to business class on British Air. The food was great, the service as well. The two ladies each had seats next to the windows, and those turned out to be cold enough to where they commented on it, but the aisle seat I was in was “just right”. We got in as scheduled, late in the evening, and shortly met up with our tour guide, Philip Keter and the driver Charles after we got through the usual customs and passport control dance and picked up our bags from the carousel. We also met the other pair we are to tour with, Dee and Bruce Dwelley, from Northern California.  The group of us got along really well throughout, and so the tour was very successful in this way.  Philip and Charles took us to the Eka Hotel about half an hour away from the airport, and there is where we stayed the rest of the night.

Wed 23 Sep: Nairobi to Amboseli Park, and out on our first safari

In the morning, we arose and after a very pleasant breakfast buffet, packed ourselves into the van that was to be our safari ride for the next few days, and off we went. The trip to Amboseli Park took four hours, and had a variety of very interesting sights as we moved from Nairobi urban life through its gradually thinning suburbs, and finally out to the rural farm land and the small town markets that exist near Amboseli.

The Amboseli Park area is quite something, and we are glad we made it! (We learned that evening that the park is over 350 square kilometres.)

The trip to the park kept me interested most of the time (as opposed to sleeping, which is what I thought I would be doing). The buildings we passed through as we moved out of the hotel’s location on the outskirts of Nairobi proper are not high rise, getting to three or four floors only. The bottom floor fronted a number of businesses, not unlike those found all over Europe. These included car dealerships, grocery stores, bars, hotels, taverns, hardware markets, and a variety of specialty consumer shops including electronics and furniture, as well as the occasional lawyer’s office or something business-to-business.

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The business that Phillip said delineated the outside of town was the cement manufacturing plant. Indeed that took a lot of space, and was quite clear to see. Other manufacturing concerns filled in the area around and after it, however. I have to give him credit, things began to be more suburban after that. More housing, street markets, and so on.

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As we got further out, the space between the small towns expanded. The trip itself took all of the four hours, with the look-and-feel of the place not really fully changing until we took off on the side-road to Amboseli’s entrance and our hotel which is just outside the entrance.

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The markets were probably the most interesting. One of the first we saw was indeed market day for all the surrounding area. There were numerous stalls each selling something different (well, many stalls sold onions apples tomatoes and squash in one form or another). The market fronted more established shops which were housed in ramshackle rectangles often of tin or wood, with hand-panted signs indicating the goods to be found within. These shops continued for several city blocks in either direction from the market square, and appeared to fold back behind the front lines offering more than one street of these kinds of shops. As we continued on, the number and quantity of housing types decreased, as well as the actual number of houses of each type. The markets were to be found where the main drag used speed bumps to slow traffic to a stand still — just long enough to allow the potential customers in the vehicles to get a good eyeful of the merchandise on offer by the purveyors walking between the lanes and holding their wares up to the windows for those inside the vehicles to view.

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The last 10 to 15 kilometres were driven at breakneck speed by Charles along the corrugated dirt road from that turnoff through to Amboseli Park. He later explained that driving as fast as he could over the corduroy road forced the car to skate over the top of the corduroy strips essentially smoothing the ride out for the car and the passengers. It’s a good theory…

We arrived safe and sound, and disembarked from the van in front of the Kilima Hotel. After checking in, Phillip sent us off to our rooms to freshen up and gather as soon as we could at the lunch table. We did, and enjoyed our lunch with the group of us.

Philip Keter, our guide for the trip., Amboseli Safari Hotel

Superb Starling, Amboseli

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White-Headed Buffalo Weaver

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White-Browed Sparrow-Weaver

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Above the restaurant in the hotel is a look-out overseeing a small pond. Today, elephants were enjoying it.

Starting at 4:00, we got in the slightly reconfigured van (it’s top was up) and into the park we went.

That proved to be an excellent start to the adventures ahead, enabling us to see elephant, Grant’s Gazelle, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, warthogs, an eagle, and even a cheetah and a lion.

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Traffic jam in Amboseli Park.

Traffic jam in Amboseli Park.

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