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The quick and the less adventurous


twaffle
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I've been thinking about how to give an interesting and adventurous sounding trip report when it was, in fact, just a quick dip into the Masai Mara to get particular photos for a new collection I'm putting together for exhibition later this year. So I will just upload some photos (not the art ones, they haven't even begun to be worked on) and make some observations and not try to compete with some of the wonderful recent reports.

 

As many of you know, my son spent 5 weeks volunteering at Alex Walker's Serian camp in the Mara thanks to Alex, Adrian and Roisin. I had planned to meet him and take him on safari as he wouldn't get many game drives during his volunteering. Initially I wanted to go to the Amboseli area to get some particular shots I wanted, however, the logistics became too difficult and expensive so that will have to wait. In the end, I took the easy way out and just headed down to Serian where Adrian and Roisin kindly let me take my son out on safari.

 

I flew in at around 1pm and met Newton from Emakoko Lodge, rather late as I had some problems buying a phone from the Safaricom counter. The reason I decided on a night at Emakoko was because of the short duration of the trip, the fewer nights I had in a suburban atmosphere the better, and because I wanted some new black rhino photos and Nairobi National Park was my best chance on this occasion.

 

My one mantra on this trip was to take NO tourist photos. By that I mean not taking a hundred and one photos of everything I saw, whether it was interesting or not. Some of the photos I took were, by themselves not interesting, but they were taken for a long term purpose. Of course, I failed on the first test thrown at me when we entered the East gate of NNP and I took a photo of the first thing I saw … the rear ends of departing guinea fowl.

 

So my initial observations of NNP:

 

It is great value and offers much to the safari visitor.

The suburbs and industrial areas are becoming more and more obvious and are a distinct threat.

Rains had been generous so the park looked glorious.

Very big herds of hartebeest and eland … both species doing extremely well by my sightings. Many young calves.

 

I was the only guest for my night at Emakoko, but I really liked the lodge and the location. Driving towards it you can see the villages on the southern side of the park, and at night you can see the lights from the village where the young boy with the flickering light, anti lion experiment lives. I didn't see them as they hadn't come on in time for my evening drive.

 

So here are a handful of photos I took on the afternoon/evening drive and the following mornings drive to Wilson's.

 

First off, an iphone photo of Emakoko as a reflection in their mirror.

 

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Also taken with my iPhone, my little cabin at Emakoko.

 

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Water lilies in one of the ponds.

 

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I saw several large herds of hartebeest but have chosen to show just one, because she posed so nicely for me. gallery_5545_484_38777.jpg

 

 

You wouldn't think that there would be any hidden or secret roads in a small, well visited park like Nairobi National Park, but surprisingly there are. Newton drove down one very small track which apparently doesn't lead anywhere but down the valley, consequently most drivers don't bother with it. We did encounter another vehicle on the track, a self driver, but they didn't linger. It was here that we spent quite some time with a rhino cow and calf.

 

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A Thomson gazelle.

 

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One of my goals was to collect photos of the industrial activity on the southern side of the park and found this very easy to do.

 

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A zebra stallion.

 

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A different zebra.

 

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Sundowners, looking towards the Ngong Hills.

 

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The following morning Newton and I left Emakoko for a game drive to Wilson's. I could have stayed longer.

 

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A rather handsome rhino bull to finish off

 

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All in all, I would highly recommend Emakoko and the Nairobi National Park for a short stay.

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Another Boring Kenya Trip Report? akaTwaffle Bites Back

 

Well, tbhat's what I would have called it! :P

 

Great, great start with the photos... so far, so on track. We like you start with Emakoko in a mirror - already different - but we love the zebras and pollution shot; that's something really worthwhile (as of course are the rhinos). So I think you were very successful.

 

We're hoping for a few more words here... but we'll take what we get!

 

What was it like staying at Emakoko. DId it feel wild/ almost European - meaning little unencraoched nature/ just weird? What's the set up there and what did you think of it? How long to and fro?

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Thanks for the encouragement Paul, I do need it this time, I think I may have anthrax which is why I'm finding it hard to get enthusiastic. Or perhaps it's malaria or yellow fever … you can never tell with Africa which dire disease will knock you down.

 

Emakoko … it was a shortish drive, 10 or so minutes, to the East gate of the park where we signed in. Then we took the roof off and slowly grove (game drove) our way toward the south. The lodge is set in a little valley and when you drive down through the yellow fever trees you would have no idea that you are so near a major city.

 

Although it is set on private land, it abutts the park and there are no fences. Some of the huts are up a hill and quite a walk but as I was the sole visitor I scored the close hut which suited me just fine. The dining and sitting rooms are open to the side facing the valley so the views are beautiful and Newton said that the leopards are becoming a little more habituated but I wouldn't count on seeing one. The food is really spectacular although I didn't write in my journal anything about it, I just remember thinking "my goodness, where do they find these chefs". As far as I'm concerned, good food is an added bonus when in a lodge so close to civilisation, so I wasn't complaining at all. There is a funky bridge which takes you from the car park to the main reception areas of the lodge and it creaks and sways disconcertingly as you wobble across. Not as scary as the Serian bridge across the Mara, but at least you feel adventurous and like you have begun the safari in style. There was a wonderful, very mzee Maasai with only one or two teeth left, who creeted me every time I crossed the bridge. No idea what he said because the teeth really make it hard to get diction right, but the smile said it all. All the staff were cheerful and welcoming.

 

I wrote the following half way through the night:

 

4th February, 2013

 

Every 2 hours my internal clock wakes me up. Drowsily I reach for my phone and check the time, check that the alarm is still set and try to boss myself to sleep … again.

 

Emakoko, set on private land on the edge of the NPP is peaceful and beautiful. You wouldn't know that you are so close to so much human activity, apart from the occasional jet passing overhead on its way into or out of JKIA. The rooms are huge, and artisitically appointed with a fireplace (not needed), bath with a view and a large verandah over looking the valley.

 

It is very conducive to sleep, unless you wake up every 2 hours, that is!

 

I was telling Anton about my attempts to capture a cricket which I found on the bed after the mosquito nets had been put down. I, trying to sneak up on it, glass poised; it leaping at the last minute as we both bounced around the huge bed. Anton laughted and said that he hoped it wasn't breeding as it would be sure to wake me up with "chirrupping" during the night.

 

I didn't see it again, however, at 2 am the chorus of crickets outside my hut was in full sway, pleasantly adding to the ambience of the African night, when right by my ear was the loudest "chirrup, chirrup: of them all. I was awake so I don't suppose it really mattered.

 

So to answer your question, it didn't feel European to me, it felt a bit like Wilderness Trails at Lewa WC. High end lodge, plenty of privacy, would certainly suit the high end traveller before heading off to Great Plains, but equally suiting little old me who is quite unpretentious with my needs. A bit of a soft landing really, with electricity and wifi (in the reception rooms only) and I think a lot more interesting explorations could be done. There are 3 prides of lions in the park, a female with cubs near the camp. The largest herds of eland I think I've ever seen. A big herd of buffalo. Healthy numbers of young animals.

 

 

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I'd love to hear a lot more from NNP on ST: seems like Emakoko was a really good choice for starting your safari.

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Thanks for the encouragement Paul, I do need it this time, I think I may have anthrax which is why I'm finding it hard to get enthusiastic. Or perhaps it's malaria or yellow fever … you can never tell with Africa which dire disease will knock you down.

Thanks for the rest of your post - much appreciated and sounds really good.... but this doesn't sound very good!! Shouldn't you be KNOWING whether you have anthrax, rather than thinking it? I don't know much about it but I thought it was a little bit terminal in some cases. I do admire the stiff upper lip, though!

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Thanks for the encouragement Paul, I do need it this time, I think I may have anthrax which is why I'm finding it hard to get enthusiastic. Or perhaps it's malaria or yellow fever … you can never tell with Africa which dire disease will knock you down.

Thanks for the rest of your post - much appreciated and sounds really good.... but this doesn't sound very good!! Shouldn't you be KNOWING whether you have anthrax, rather than thinking it? I don't know much about it but I thought it was a little bit terminal in some cases. I do admire the stiff upper lip, though!

Apparently a few elephants have died in the Mara from anthrax and I was on the ground photographing bones but really no danger, but how does a girl make a report more dramatic without poetic license.

 

The reason for the malaise is more likely the mundane fact that I poured petrol all over myself yesterday when I had an altercation with the petrol bowser and inhaled too many hours worth of petrol fuel. Petrol poisoning. I don't know how the petrol sniffers get high on it, I guess you have to build up the doses.

 

Anthrax is no joke, but it certainly sounds like I'm more adventurous than a petrol sniffing junkie!

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Twaffle

 

I was at Emakoko for the day last Sunday at the end of our Mara safari and it was a great way to wind up. Emma and Anton are wonderful hosts and the two meals we had there, especially dinner under the stars with what seemed like a hundred lanterns and sounds of the bush, were amongst the best of the entire safari. I loved the photographs of old Nairobi on the walls along with Anton and his fathers explanations. Although jaded after 8 nights in the Mara, the short game drive we took specifically to see Rhino was a lot better than I expected but we only got to see the Black Rhinos from about 300m so my images of the Rhinos are a lot smaller than yours. I thought its just amazing for residents of Nairobi to have a real wild park right next door to the city. I understand the southern border is in fenced allowing animals to wander freely there. Can't think of another major city in the world with such a comparable park next door ( no Arusha does not count as a major city !).

I was wondering how Emakoko got permission to build in the park till we were informed only their parking lot is in the park and once you cross the bridge it's technically outside the park. The whole thing was apparently Anton's idea.

Do you have any memories of the park from your childhood days and how different is it today? Was this Kenya's first National Park?

 

Lovely pictures as always

Edited by AKR1
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Those two Rhino in that Love Grass (at least I assume it is Love Grass) got something magical, imho.

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You really take excellent photos. Thank you for sharing... looking forward to reading more...

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I think you have a magic thing going with rhinos, Twaffle. Always some really great rhino shots.

 

That industrial activity looks alarmingly close to the zebra :( Hope you feel better soon.

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Thanks for the nice comments everyone, feeling good today and what ever it was has gone.

 

There are two areas in Kenya which always deliver for my photographically and spiritually, and for me the two go together. One is the Laikipia Plateau and the other is the Masai Mara and surrounding areas. In purely safari terms, new locations are great and exciting, but in photographic terms returning to the familiar offers some distinct advantages.

 

For example, you pretty well know the layout of the land and the sorts of animals, trees, valleys and rivers you'll encounter. It may seem dull to some, but if you are seeking certain photos it helps to know the area you are visiting. Familiarity also allows you to slow down the way you work and stops the frantic dithering of "should I stay with these lions or head over the hill to find something better". In the Mara, you know you will find lions every game drive. Well that has been my experience.

 

So this time I knew that I had certain images which I needed to get and I also knew that I needed to start training myself to have better patience and endurance and focus.

 

No tourist photos (I failed, can't help myself)

More patience at a sighting (not quite up to Hari and his cheetahs, but very successful)

More focus on specific compositions which I wanted. (ok, needs work)

 

So perhaps I missed some variety, but I can't complain at all about the quality of what we saw, tall grass notwithstanding.

 

Enough blah, blah, blah and on with the photos.

 

I've arrived in the Mara North airstrip, sadly no son to greet me. Perhaps he really did go to Las Vegas gambling instead. Two new guides to meet me, James and Mark as my familiar guide Daniel had been head hunted by a new camp. I felt a little sad, Daniel and I got on so very well and James had a lot to live up to.

 

Mara North Airstrip is fairly new, previously I flew into Musiara and drove back up to MNC and I know some have flown into the David Livingstone Airstrip but that is in Lemek I think. Anyway, the politics of it all are a bit vague, suffice to say, the MNC has developed their own airstrip out of one which had been disused (someone with better facts can set me straight) and it has a little shelter and a new toilet. It even had an assistant sitting behind a desk to help with enquiries and a lot of flights in and out.

 

Serian had recently had a South African guide trainer spend a couple of weeks with their guides upgrading the training and I notice a more professional manner by James. I was given a briefing on what was and wasn't ok to do. No getting out of the vehicle without asking first. Seriously, does anyone do that? Apparently yes, idiots do get out of the vehicle without checking first, even around predators.

 

Then we were off towards camp and my long lost, bearded son.

 

Were there any animals out there?

 

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Right next to the airstrip we enjoyed some time with a large herd of topis. The males were busy chasing and fighting which proved to be entertaining.

 

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The problems of photographing with a prime lens, some animals just get too close.

 

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Just being topi.

 

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Then we continued on, funnily enough talking about leopards and how Daniel had taught me to find them by looking for vertical lines in the mass of a trees branches. Probably they knew already, but as Serian vehicles don't turn on their radios, perhaps it was serendipitous but this is what we saw shortly afterwards.

 

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It wasn't going anywhere so we decided to return to tree #7 (don't ask) later this afternoon with Master Twaffle in tow as he hadn't seen a leopard yet.

 

A couple of nice sightings, a pair of saddle billed storks and an ox pecker, not pecking oxes.

 

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A lovely way to start the Serian Adventure on your way to meet up with your son. I LOVE the b&w trees - that is indeed Africa in my heart; & don't you just love seeing leopards legs dangling from a tree!

 

Do you know where Daniel went? We loved our week with him at Serian.

 

I have a feeling Botswana was not our last safari as I had feared; too many good reports here to entice us once again.

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Nairobi National Park is looking good. Nice to see the rhinos. Any comments on lions in the park, or grazing or the general health of the ecosystem? It will be interesting to see what happens to your mantra as the trip progesses.

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Lynn, despite all the problems with the lions in the park, Anton told me that there are 3 good prides, one very large and certainly going by Gareth Jones FB postings, they are seen quite regularly. I had no doubts that I would have seen them had I stayed a reasonable length of time. Of course, the cheetah population has crashed and they seem to have moved out onto the Athi plains but quite frankly, seeing how the industrial zone is developing, I don't see much future in the migration in and out of the park. Given my very short visit, I can honestly say that I haven't seen the park look as good as it did then.

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Back to my first day in the Mara. I wasn't going to report like this, I was just going to chuck a whole lot of photos together and make some observations, but obviously I don't work that way. So despite intending to put it together off the cuff, so to speak, what is coming out is my normal day by day writing. Lucky for you all, it isn't thought by thought!!!!

 

After meeting my son and seeing that he looked not much different, I chucked (oops, a member of the staff deposited carefully) my bags in my tent and we all had lunch. All of us consisting Adrian and Roisin, Adrian's brother Craig (who tells the funniest jokes without intending to), Rhys and I, there being no guests in camp at that time.

 

A short break to get my gear in order, and it was off for a drive and of course it was straight back to Tree #7 and the resting, feeding leopard. Sorry about the first photo, didn't pay enough attention to the processing and should have fixed that background .....

 

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Whilst always nice to be in the presence of a leopard, it was quite clear that this boy wasn't going anywhere, anytime soon and as we spent quite a bit of time just waiting and watching and light was fading, we decided to do a scout around before heading back to camp.

 

Finding a good sized herd of buffaloes, I decided to try one of my new found mantras and we spent the rest of the time with them.

 

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Naturally, I have over exerted myself with the number of photos taken, but I was happy to get one or two which which I liked. I don't find buffaloes the easiest animal to photograph.

 

Finally, feeling happily exhausted, the night falls on the first day ...............

 

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madaboutcheetah

OMG - that looks like a cushion on a comfortable sofa!!!

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Loving the report, Twaffle! The pictures are wonderful, mantras or no mantras. Especially love the leopard resting on its kill - such bliss on its face! Love the buffalo too.

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And so the first full day in the Mara dawned and I wondered if it could be possible that my teenage son would make it to the car park by 5.45 am considering that his rising time was a more civilised 8 am for the preceding few weeks. I turned up at the vehicle to find him ready and waiting, I thought that perhaps he was looking forward to some proper game driving and he proved that he was able to maintain the early starts for the rest of the week.

 

I had never experienced the Mara so HOT, phew, it even caused me to have the canvas roof put on after day 3. So the form of our days was thus; early up and out with breakfast, eat breakfast at the convenience of the animals (usually around 11am) and back around 1pm for lunch and a rest. Absolutely no point being out, too hot, light too horrible and this trip wasn't about sightings, it was about photographs.

 

The sun rises on the first morning ...

 

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Leopard Gorge and the famous fig tree.

 

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A pride of lions, 2 males, several females (couldn't count as they were scattered around under various bushes being totally uninteresting).

 

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One male was very interested in a female lion who was less interested, however they did both wander off and settle a fair distance away in some bushes. The male scenting marking on the way.

 

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One of the things I love about the Mara, a place for the big super telephoto lenses and also for the phone cameras and iPads. Most of the time, I would rather be in the company of the latter, given the disgraceful behaviour of many of the so called professionals who have a less than professional attitude to wildlife. Enough said!

 

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The light was getting very bright and unpleasant by this stage and of course, that was when we found our first cheetah, a female and her almost fully grown male cub.

 

With the long grass in the part of the MNC, it was only when she when sightseeing that we noticed her.

 

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And then what followed was our first (and only) difference of opinion with James when I was right and he was wrong. I know, don't you hate that.

 

The looked and searched for some suitable meal on the surrounding hills. What you can't see, but what she can see, is a tommie behind those bushes.

 

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The cub following mum

 

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The 2 of them headed off in that direction and we followed the road around to the left and up onto the ridge to get a good view of the hunt. By this stage we had a MNC ranger vehicle following us (the rangers were very much in evidence around the predators making sure that the rules were adhered to). On the ridge the road forked and we sat at the fork as James tried to see where the cheetahs were going to come through the gully. My son and I urged him to take the lower of the forks because we had seen the tommie and thought he had too. He thought they would come up higher and wanted to go on the left fork. We waited, the rangers went left and we waited. After several more plaintive pleas, James took the right, lower fork and about a minute down the road there were our cheetahs with our tommie. My son was incandescent with rage. I explained that that's how it goes sometimes but in the way of a teenager he took until breakfast to calm down.

 

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After that slight difference of opinion we decided wisely to feed the beast teenager.

 

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to be continued .....

 

 

 

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Tusker mentioned a Serian GTG where we book out the whole camp. Maybe you can have a word in Alex's ear? Looking great, much better than my dream the other night :)

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Does your son know about this site or will he be reading the report?

 

The antelope leg in the tree is a real mixed emotion piece.

 

Amazing how resilient those lions are in NBO Nat Park. Reminds me of our coyotes at home. Which reminds me of an old Native American saying:

 

When the buffalo are gone and man is gone and the earth becomes dark, the howl of the coyote will still be heard. I’ve heard a variation of this that includes Cher. Sometimes cockroaches are mentioned too. Maybe the lions as well. So someday it may be a world of only coyotes, lions, cockroaches and Cher. A very odd Garden of Eden.

 

Looking forward to the rest and hope it does not remain so hot throughout the trip.

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You really take excellent photos. Thank you for sharing... looking forward to reading more...

My sentiments exactly, Twaffle

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so awesome photographs....clearly I am stuck in the tourist mode with my offerings....but your images are so inspiring....I have so faaaaaar to go! but I do have a wise and wonderful mentor

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Thanks everyone for continuing to look and read, so many good reports around at present. I'll try to answer questions but sometimes I miss the posts if they get posted whilst I'm posting, so apologies.

 

Lynn, my son is ST TR aware and I'm hoping to either post some of his photos or get him to post some himself. Cher in our garden of Eden? Mmm, must think about that. :)

 

Matt, I think safari GTGs are possible but difficult to coordinate as everyone is working on a different time schedule. It would need a 3 year lead in time I think.

 

.... interesting news on the cheetah and I'm glad they are such efficient hunters. Cheetahs are doing it tough with the healthy lion populations, it seems.

 

Thanks Mosquito, actually your photos are far from tourists photos, they are really good and tell a story. Who could want anything more?

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After a late breakfast we returned to the cheetah kill ..

 

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and found the two cheetahs further up the ridge heading wisely heading towards a shady tree.

 

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But as you can see, the light by now is harsh and unpleasant and so we headed back to camp. By this time I was saying quite loudly that some clouds would be nice, bit of overcast weather, anything to soften the harshness. Would anyone listen.

 

Close to camp we found several very young giraffe calves which is always a lovely sight.

 

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See you all after lunch! :)

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