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Fire, Wind, Dust and Wonder.


Whyone?
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This year’s self drive trip to Mana Pools ran between from October 25th – November 1st inclusive. We must be getting the hang of this (finally, after 15 years!!!) as we arrived at our home for the week, Mucheni 3, early afternoon, leaving plenty of time (and light!) to get the camp set-up. Most uncharacteristically, by late afternoon on our day of arrival, everything looking remarkably organised.

 

15800234427_26c8e344d9_o.jpg2R4C0644 by Whyone, on Flickr

 

15985628662_96b5cbe49c_o.jpg2R4C0646 by Whyone, on Flickr

 

15800282739_aa72fdfec3_o.jpg_MG_9837 by Whyone, on Flickr

Great place to shower:

 

This early arrival was no doubt aided by a 4am departure from Harare....just 10 hours after my excellent flight with Ethiopian from Heathrow (via Addis Ababa) had touched down in Zim. As a consequence, I must confess the first few hours of the drive were a little bit of a blur. However, once we had checked in at the Parks office at Marongora, negotiated the road snaking its way down the Zambezi Escarpment (along with with the scarily predictable truck-carnage) and were bumping our way along the dirt road between gates 1 and 2, I perked-up significantly. A few baobab's, impala and kudu are a great cure for jet-lag!

I slept well that first night –whilst I remained conscious long enough to hear lion calling nearby, there is nothing like 48 hours of travel and sleep deprivation to help you into the land of nod.

By 5pm the following morning and we were all up and about and ready to walk. The morning was a little cooler than might be expected for late October in the valley, and there was a noticeable breeze causing a light chop on the Zambezi. This was ominous....and we knew that the day was only going to develop one way from here. Sure enough, the strength of the wind quickly increased, and with it came clouds of dust. Undaunted, we headed out walking upriver (towards Mucheni 1 and beyond for those who know the geography of the area) By 6:30am the wind was blowing hard, and huge clouds of dust filled the air, such that the hills in Zambia, usually such a prominent and dramatic backdrop, where intermittently barely visible.

 

15807346689_324f6105f5_o.jpg2R4C0242 by Whyone, on Flickr

Dusty Zebra

15960242236_68976b98eb_o.jpg_MG_9688 by Whyone, on Flickr

Whilst I certainly didn’t realise it at the time, there are lions in this photograph (only visible by zooming in to the full-res version).

 

Four of five minutes after taking the photo, we spotted the lion – always a great feeling so early in the trip. Fortunately they were sat quite prominently in the open so we could see than and they could see us.

 

15800285247_c41119afe7_o.jpg2R4C0116 by Whyone, on Flickr

 

15984033831_a3a7109afd_o.jpg2R4C0124 by Whyone, on Flickr

 

15800014349_5c08b45879_o.jpg2R4C0123 by Whyone, on Flickr

 

The three female’s watched as we approached them, and seemed quite content for us to sit on a nearby fallen tree and enjoy their company for 30 mins. or so.

 

One of the rewarding things about returning to the same location year after year is you get to recognise some of the animals, most especially lions and ele’s. Whist she is sadly no longer with us, ‘Granny’ was a notable example, and I do wonder if these three are her offspring? Three females is quite a small and unusual grouping, but Granny spent much of her life in similar groups and was the master (mistress?!) of ambush hunting. These three looked in fine shape and I am sure that Granny would have taught her progeny well. Bumping into ‘old friends’ was to be a feature of our week, but sadly some of them appeared to have fallen upon very hard times indeed.

Whilst there were some nice groups of antelope, ele’s were in very short supply this first morning – possibly as a consequence of the strong winds and dust clouds which by mid-morning enveloped everything.

 

15363772744_2436b9cc6d_o.jpg2R4C0142 by Whyone, on Flickr

Eland, Waterbuck and Impala.

 

Little did we realise, these winds would persist for two full days, making life jolly uncomfortable. When we returned to the camp we were disconcerted to find sand-dunes forming over our beds! Even when the wind finally abated, it made its presence felt for the rest of our stay with its legacy of dust and grit, which no amount of shaking and sweeping would completely remove. Another more immediate and unpleasant surprise awaited us as we arrived back in camp on that first morning. One of our large cooler chests was lying on its side, next to a very large damp patch of ground....dampness which only a short time previously had been large blocks of ice. Loosing this amount of ice on the first morning of our week-long stay in late October when temperatures could be reasonably expected to climb into the 40’s most days raised the disturbing spectre of warm beer!!!! Initially we wondered if the wind had blown the chest over (it had been stacked on top of another, similar chest). But given its weight, this seemed highly unlikely, and a far more likely culprit was ‘Charlie’ or resident camp baboon. A splendid large male, he was rarely out of sight during hours of daylight, and was a supreme opportunist. I strongly suspect he has opened an ‘esky’ or two in his time and found contents rather more to his liking then our blocks of ice! Charlie was to make his presence felt though-out the week.

 

As well as making life uncomfortable for all on the Zimbabwean side of the river, the winds also whipped up the wildfires on the hillsides in Zambia, making for spectacular nighttime views across the river:

 

15363755174_24355e3bbe_o.jpg2R4C0108 by Whyone, on Flickr

Wild-Fires in Zambia.

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Spectacular photo of the wildfires.

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@@Whyone?

 

I have been waiting eagerly for this report! Taking me back to September with your walks and superb photos. (Hate you lost your ice; thats a precious commodity)

 

The dust; I had never been in such a dusty place, can only imagine October being worse.

 

The lions look familiar to me....but I guess I am hoping they are the ones we sat with for a few hours;

 

Feeling Nostalgic :)

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It was an enormous relief to wake up on day 3 to just the sound of hippos's, Egyptian geese and plovers and to find the Zambezi with a mirror like-surface.

 

15960207786_beba556e3f_o.jpg_MG_9824 by Whyone, on Flickr

Sunrise

 

We drove out of camp and went exploring an area of the park we hadn't previously visited, someway downstream from Mana Mouth / Nkupe. After parking up and heading off on foot, it became apparent that this was a very beautiful area, with the floodplain being unusually broad providing wide ranging views. As we walked out, there was a sizable heard of buffalo grazing near the river.

 

15986105265_d317f66eaf_o.jpg2R4C0427 by Whyone, on Flickr

 

There was little other four-legged wildlife to report until we stopped for a rest on a fallen tree. As we sat down there was what seemed like an almighty crashing through the dry, fallen branches which cause some alarm. It turned out it was a scrub hare we had disturbed - a new species for me at Mana.

 

From walking and driving about, it was apparent that there was still plenty of standing water away from the river and pools - indeed I don't remember ever seeing so much water this late in the year. Some of small pools wouldn't have looked so out of place in an English country garden!

 

15798835280_0f1779ea88_o.jpg2R4C0430 by Whyone, on Flickr

 

As we returned to the vehicle, the buffalo have moved away from the river and closer to where we needed to walk. We skirted as far around them as the bush permitted, but inevitably we spooked them.

 

15986111465_dce2cc3df6_o.jpg2R4C0438 by Whyone, on Flickr

 

Fortunately they only ran a few years before stopping, turning and staring as only buffalo do.

 

15798720888_deacf78a27_o.jpg2R4C0440 by Whyone, on Flickr

Buffalo and Egyptian Geese. Much less obvious than at night, but you can see smoke from fires on the hillside in the background.

 

15986228165_65d0f27712_o.jpg2R4C0447 by Whyone, on Flickr

 

15984109381_34fdafe218_o.jpg2R4C0395 by Whyone, on Flickr

White Faced Whistling Ducks

 

Following the walk, we returned to Nkupe, which was not occupied. It was great to see a blue sky and breath some relatively clean air after the previous couple of days of oppressive grey so the next few hours were spent putting the world to rights overlooking Mana Mouth...not a bad spot, and far from the reddish-brown dustbowl which typically makes up much of Mana at this time of year.

 

15363848184_61bd722190_o.jpg2R4C0410 by Whyone, on Flickr

 

 

Very obliging of the clouds to line up so photogenically!

15984115461_c8a6fc0e2c_o.jpg2R4C0412 by Whyone, on Flickr

 

15363851144_6d15103f46_o.jpg2R4C0415 by Whyone, on Flickr

 

15800366767_e45d65ac91_o.jpg2R4C0404 by Whyone, on Flickr

Unusually 'pink' hippo.

Edited by Whyone?
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Had been looking forward to your annual Mana Pools adventures. Ugh, warm beer - problems with drinks always seem to feature in your reports. :)

 

Beautiful photos, looking forward to more, and I hope you were able to enjoy your safari this year despite all.

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Sat reading this after a foggy grey cold day has certainly warmed my bones a little. I am a little sad to see the fires that were so prevalent during our stay in late Aug are still going. Nice to be back in Mana for a few days though and looking forward to the rest of yout TR.

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Love the laid back photos of the gents gazing across the water at Nkupe...I'm sure the cooler was in the stream by then :)

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Hi all, many thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings and your very kind comments which are greatly appreciated.

 

@@twaffle - it is always especially pleasing to receive praise from you regarding a photo - thank-you! The fires did make for a spectacular night-time backdrop, but between them and the dust thrown up by the wind, the atmospheric conditions put paid to all my great plans to take some pictures of the milky-way...I had even arranged (!) for especially dark nights, with the moon nowhere oto be seen until ~4am. Hey-ho, best laid plans of mice and men!!!

 

@@graceland - so pleased to have you reading along. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they are one and the same lions - there are are not so many lions in Mana and you do bump into the same lions day-to-day and year-to-year. Forgive my shocking memory - the lions you say with, was it also a small group of females? I will discuss them a little later in my report with a mystery possible fourth member joining them.

 

@@michael-ibk - lets get the serious bit out of the way first - thanks for asking. I must confess, it wasn't the easiest week away from home, and certainly I missed the usual euphoria of being at Mana with my friends. However, the place is just too special not to carry you along, fascinate and lift your spirits.

 

Now the really, really serious stuff....warm beer! Eish! You would not believe the man-weeks of planning and effort that go into devising a fool-proof plan to ensure the beer is kept cold and there is ice in the sun-downers. And if the meat stays fresh(ish), hell what a bonus! Following Charlie's wanton misbehaviour with our ice early so early in the trip, we had major worries however as things transpired, it was an unusually cool last week of October. Temperatures are usually well into the 40's, and occasionally nudging into the 50's at this time of year. We generally only say temperatures in the 33-36 deg. range. One day into the low 40's. SO our meagre ice supplies did see us through the week I am sure you will be relived to hear!

 

Hi @Id1 - I am pleased my report brightened your day a little. (I hark from Manchester, but am in exile in the south!) I have never thought of the wild-fire in Zambia as being anything other than just a natural part of the annual cycle - it is usual for the hills to be alight in October, and I don't think they do any great harm. I have seen parts of Mana which have burnt in a similar way - a year later you wouldn't know there had been a fire.

 

That was a lovely few hours spent at Nkupe @@graceland - nice still air and greens and blues enjoy. We drank Mazoe orange cordial and ate digestive biscuits - decadent eh?!

Edited by Whyone?
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Early morning camp visitor:

15805960728_18be386e34_o.jpg_MG_9720 by Whyone, on Flickr

 

Classic Mana

15798679750_40dc055f0d_o.jpg2R4C0808 by Whyone, on Flickr

 

Once again exploring in the Nkupe area (actually between Chine Pool and Nkupe) an old male hippo had died.

The unfortunate hippo had been excluded from his pod, and had led a solitary existence for the last 2 or 3 weeks of his life. It is believed that he just gave up the will to live and, after a brief skirmish with hyena, two well known and familiar old male lions (the 'two-brothers' or 'backstreet-boys as they are locally known) took initial charge of the carcass. These were two of the 'old friends' it alluded to earlier, and it was good to catch up with them.
15363791104_4a8bf420cd_o.jpg2R4C0277 by Whyone, on Flickr
15363751154_343da53836_o.jpg2R4C0293 by Whyone, on Flickr
Sadly, one of the brothers was looking in especially poor shape:
15960233776_5718384d2b_o.jpg2R4C0290 by Whyone, on Flickr
15363792994_b78aba6bc7_o.jpg2R4C0305 by Whyone, on Flickr
15800051759_3eb1498131_o.jpg2R4C0319 by Whyone, on Flickr
It was smelly where I was standing - heavens knows what it was like in there!
15800316337_57bf6c8fba_o.jpg2R4C0312 by Whyone, on Flickr
15800054499_51ba82294d_o.jpg2R4C0324 by Whyone, on Flickr
15960295616_8944a71aca_o.jpg2R4C0328 by Whyone, on Flickr
The above photo's were taken late afternoon, and as the brothers moved off the carcass and into the shade, I took the opportunity to attach a trail-camera to a tree overlooking the scene - I was slightly anxious that the lions might object to me walking towards their hippo. Other than opening an eye or two between them, they didn't appear to consider me to much of a threat! By 5:20am the next morning, the camera had been triggered 337 times. But I get ahead of myself.
Driving back to camp we picked up a puncture just before Chisambiko pool.
15984081251_59973bddf1_o.jpg_MG_9761 by Whyone, on Flickr
There are worse places to have a puncture...
15800061179_fd1cacd821_o.jpg_MG_9749 by Whyone, on Flickr
Whilst unavoidable, regrettably this did mean that we broke Park rules, as it was well after sundown when we made it back to Mucheni 3.
Edited by Whyone?
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@Whyone What a lovely report and such beautiful photos.

 

Regarding the fires, Doug and Humphrey explaind that the fires are started by people misguided in their belief that the land benefits from such burning. I understand its a long held tradition but its been proven there's no benenfit to the practice. Despite efforts to change perceptions it is still a widespread activity and thousands (possibley hundreds of thousands) of small animals, birds and insects perish each year. I found them beautiful and sad each evening we sat at Mucheni 4 looking out across the water. They have become part of the cycle of life I guess, but are part we invented.

 

They let you back up here these days you know. There was an amnesty a few years ago when the underground population of southerners who'd found out about Glossop and the Peak District were finally accepted. It was around the time everyone threw their flat caps into the river Irwell. I am somewhat troubled by the alarmingly high availability of Sushi thses days though and increase in double yellow lines on the city streets (we've even got a few of those threatening red ones). Thankfully chips and gravy, not wearing a coat on a night and being able to buy a pint for less than 4 quid remain stalwarts.

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As mentioned above, the two-brothers were kind enough to let me attach a trail camera to a tree overlooking the hippo carcass. When I retrieved the camera the following morning, it had been triggered 337 times....thats 337 20 second videos which took quite a bit of trawling through. Whilst I am sure that some will be disappointed to hear that I don't intend to post all 337 video clips, most will be relived to see just a few of the nights more interesting events.

 

The quality is poor - an infra-red light source from some distance means grainy black and white. Allied to this, and most frustratingly, the sound on the camera chose this evening of all evenings to go AWOL.

 

It was sometime shortly after 5pm that we left two lions sleeping in the bush and the hippo unattended.

 

By 6:38pm the hyena's had moved in, but are looking pretty jumpy....

 

6:56pm and the hyena are hesitantly returning and again getting stuck-in:

 

7:11pm, hyena's have backed off and one of the lions returns:

 

10:22pm. Hyena's feeding, one climbs on top of the carcass, whilst another carries some meat towards the camera.

 

10:25pm hyena's continue to look nervous:

 

10:27pm, the wind has picked up and dust is blowing towards the camera. Hyena's feeding, but looking around.

 

By 10:47pm both of the brothers are feeding again. This is the last time the camera captured the lions.

 

4:03am: strangest event of the night - a hippo arrives to witness the hyena's devouring the carcass. This is where I really cursed the sound recording failure!

 

5:10am: Dawn begins to break, revealing what little remains of the hippo.

 

5:24am: with light, vultures have arrive en-mass and squabble over scraps, waiting for their turn to get at the carcass.

 

6:02am: Hyena's chasing vultures and each other. One walks towards the camera looking like he has consumed most of the hippo single handed!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJX-clTEuJs

 

6:05: Hyena walks towards camera

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7FIBUCF0EI

 

6:16am: This hyena picked up a nasty looking injury overnight - broken foreleg?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7eraJIZtCc

Edited by Whyone?
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We arrived back on the scene at about 5:20am, and were astonished to see how little of the hippo remained. Only about 14 hours had elapsed between the photo's above of a near-intact hippo with the brothers in attendance and these. Once the hyena's had moved off, a close inspection of the remains revealed the corpse was crawling with maggots - these guys have a seriously quick life cycle!


15985998435_f4a7281036_o.jpg2R4C0340 by Whyone, on Flickr


15960301936_189a8ed8cd_o.jpg2R4C0345 by Whyone, on Flickr


Hyena to left of photo showing wound acquired overnight:

15800342737_c622962b49_o.jpg2R4C0366 by Whyone, on Flickr


15985418272_1658f3398a_o.jpg2R4C0376 by Whyone, on Flickr


Chasing off the (Brown and Lappet Faced) vultures:

15985335222_681b3ee4b7_o.jpg2R4C0361 by Whyone, on Flickr


Hyena's showed some interest in us...it was interesting and a little disconcerting being sniffed by hyena, and sniffing them back - they were certainly close enough to smell their rather unique aroma, no doubt added too after a 'night out on the hippo'!

15800351617_62bff6315e_o.jpg2R4C0385 by Whyone, on Flickr


15366460303_a234e3d145_o.jpg2R4C0378 by Whyone, on Flickr


Not me....

15986080255_ce9d8d4ab5_o.jpg2R4C0379 by Whyone, on Flickr


15363832224_4e98b2979c_o.jpg2R4C0388 by Whyone, on Flickr


15986090815_c7e7237614_o.jpg2R4C0392 by Whyone, on Flickr

Edited by Whyone?
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Fire, Wind, Dust and Wonder and Warm Beer – doesn’t have the same ring to it.

 

“Making for spectacular nighttime views across the river:” What a unique and beautiful shot. And your shower bucket in the sunset is spectacular too.

 

Those hyenas at the carcass are amazing and I can see why. You were right there with them. It had to be a little scary when the hyena came over to you. I bet in 15 years you have not had such an intimate encounter with a hyena.

 

The flying vultures are great too.

 

Your giant, big screen photos really take the viewer right into the action.

Edited by Atravelynn
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Fascinating. Amazing how a hippo can be stripped bare overnight.

 

@Whyone Warm beer and grit in your bed. Now that's what i call roughing it.

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@Id1, @@Atravelynn, @@Geoff and @@RichB, many thanks for sticking with my report and your kind comments.

 

@@Atravelynn, I think you are right, I need to play down the significance of warm beer.....having said that, warm beer on safari, as @@Geoff notes, is really, properly roughing it!

 

The last couple of years have been great for Hyena - last year we had two camp regulars, who joined us for a leisurely 90 minute walk one morning which was a wonderful experience. This year, having them sniffing at us less than a yard away was certainly exceptional.

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Much has been written recently about the busyness of the park, and this detracting from the Mana 'experience'. Whilst a good indicator that tourism to Zimbabwe is picking up again, with hopefully some of the tourist $'s are finding their way to National Parks, there is a danger that increased numbers of visitors will destroy precisely what they have come to experience - a feeling of being in a wild and remote wilderness. We were fortunate - during our visit the park was extremely quiet. Only 2 or 3 of the Exclusive campsites were occupied (including ourselves at Mucheni 3), and similarly, there were few Operator accompanied guests about....though Stretch seemed busy all week which speaks volumes for his enduring popularity. Nyamepi was also sparsely populated - with only 2 or 3 tents in evidence at any one time. It was therefore rare to see other people and vehicles and to have to share sightings - especially when out walking, which is really the way Mana should be imho (though I accept that this may not be an especially viable 'business plan!)

 

Last year I posted some pictures of the controversial Vine Camp development. We walked along the river from the 'Car Park' to look around again this year. Given over 12 months had elapsed, there was precious little progress, indeed the thatch on some of the chalets was looking decidedly second-hand. However, there were still a few workmen on site, and a pumped water system has been installed, and rather grand (and totally out of character) baths, toilets and showers have been installed. New furniture, beds and mattresses (still in their packaging) are stacked in 2 or 3 of the chalets, so it does look like they are moving towards a point where they will be ready for guests - perhaps next year? Before they open, they really need to tidy up the areas around the accommodation, most especially the some of the sandy areas between the buildings and the river. It is clear that building waste has been burnt and buried (so much for an environmentally sensitive development). The sand has blown and shifted, as it inevitably will, exposing all manner of wire and metal off-cuts - an eyesore for sure, but much more importantly a very real hazard to the animals.

 

Whilst on the subject of development, building on the Zambian side of the river has spoilt some of the views, especially at night when lit. Again perhaps we were fortunate, with very few lights were visible from Mucheni 3 during our stay, and those that were, were low intensity, 'warm white' (akin to oil lanterns) so really provided little distraction. It was an operator camp at Mucheni 4 which provided most light pollution - though thankfully only for one night.

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Hello Whyone, Thank you for posting this tripreport.

 

We were at mucheni #3 in july and it s very nice to see your photo's in this period

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Outstanding pictures, great sequence. I love the hyena just behind the hippo skull!

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Hi @@sylvia000 - Great to hear from you again. You will be pleased to hear that the centipedes you mentioned to me did not put in an appearance, though there were two colonies of large, black ants. They tended to go walkabout in columns at night, and try as we might (for their sake as much as our own) every now and again someone would tread on them resulting, quite reasonably under the circumstances, in much very painful biting from the ants and and equal measure of cursing and stomping about from whoever was on the receiving end.

We also had a camp frog, who was much easier to get along with:

15366333793_7329b0d2c7_o.jpg_MG_9870 by Whyone, on Flickr

 

Other Mucheni 3 news is that Parks have laid a new concrete pad for a braai stand, but nothing has been built on it as yet.

 

@@Bush dog many thanks for your kind words. The Hyena behind the hippo skull certainly looked like he'd had a hard night!

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Loving this @@Whyone?. I always enjoy your reports.

 

Pleased to see you and your travel companions have resumed your relationship with the hyenas. Not sure if I would have lain down in front of it; sat down possibly, but I bet he got some great shots. Glad to see the two male lions are still around. I would recognise that split nose anywhere.

 

 

Keep in coming. :)

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Hi Lynda / @@wilddog. I have always liked hyena's and have never really understood why they seem to give some people the hebegebees. However, prior to last year, they didn't appear to like me - heading for the horizon whenever I came across one during daylight hours. Certainly the experiences of the last two years have made up for all those years of taking blurry pictures of hyena bum's disappearing into the mid-far distance. Memorable and very special times.

 

Oh, and you've just got to lie down to get 'that' special point of view! ;)

Edited by Whyone?
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Hyenas eyes are really beautiful.........................

 

the other end is NOT such pretty sight so at least your fortunes have changed.

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Great stuff @Whyone, I have to go to Mana some day. Looking foreward to the rest of the TR.

 

Cheers.

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