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Meru, Samburu, Lake Nakuru, Kenya — October, 2014

Tom Kellie

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“Education, if it means anything,

should not take people away from the land, but instill in them even more respect for it,

because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost.

The future of the planet concerns all of us, and all of us should do what we can to protect it.

As I told the foresters, and the women, you don't need a diploma to plant a tree.”

~ Dr. Wangari Maathai in ‘Unbowed

Respect for the Land

~ During an eventful safari in August, 2014 there had been ample evidence suggesting that Kenya’s seemingly timeless landscape was, in fact, changing as a consequence of ongoing development, whether in the form of urban expansion or in the form of herding and grazing activities by those squeezed out from the benefits of high technology and advanced education. As a guest in Africa, it wasn’t my place to judge what I saw as the antecedents were far too complex for a casual safari tourist like me to adequately understand. While I cringed when observing large herds in national reserves and national parks, it was clear that the economic pressures involved were far beyond any simplistic understanding which I might have. Added to that were several less than pleasant scenes with safari van overcrowding around plainly harassed predators, sparking questions in my mind about my own presence as part of the telephoto lens and smart phone scrum. Leaving Nairobi for the long journey back to China, there was a malaise which sullied the memories of the wildlife I’d observed. Was Kenya’s verdant land in the process of losing much of the natural charm which had originally attracted me?

My very good fortune was having true friends guiding me in farflung areas of Kenya. Safaritalk member @@Anthony Gitau and his wife, Maggie, of Bigmac Africa Safaris, http://www.bigmacafricasafaris.com, had been with me on four highly productive safaris, including the August, 2014 visit to Masai Mara and Lake Nakuru. We had developed trust and rapport such that there was unspoken understanding of what made an ideal game drive. Anthony and Maggie are both such intelligent, warmhearted, humorous individuals, representing Kenya’s finest qualities. One week after returning to China, I contacted them to ask about their availability for a safari in the first week of October, when universities have a one-week vacation in connection with China’s National Day on 1 October. The turnaround time to plan the safari, booking accommodations, was brief, little less than one month. With admirable finesse, Maggie Gitau pulled together the elements of an itinerary which matched my interests and limited time schedule. There were no complaints, despite the scant time available for arranging the details, which is typical of Anthony's and Maggie’s graciousness. They implicitly understood that I needed to return to Kenya as soon as possible to restore my enthusiasm by visiting land with minimal human impact, where the songs of birds and the tracks of herds were the primary evidence of life.

Anthony had told me several times that his uncle, who now resides in the United States but was once a safari guide ranging throughout East Africa, had taken him to Meru National Park. That initial visit has triggered Anthony’s love of wildlife tourism, and had given him a special appreciation of Meru National Park. In communicating about possible locations for the October, 2014 safari, I stressed that an itinerary with Meru National Park would be especially welcome. After Anthony praised Meru’s charms, my interest inspired me to learn more about it. Having read several of Mrs. Joy Adamson’s books set in and around Meru National Park, I sensed that a visit there might be a special experience, no matter what sorts of wildlife might be observed. Meru National Park is the training base for newly recruited staff for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and therefore is well maintained despite the relative paucity of visitors. I’d visited nearby Samburu National Reserve with Anthony in May, 2014, and was eager for a return visit. With those considerations in mind, Bigmac Africa proposed an itinerary comprising Meru, Samburu and Lake Nakuru, beginning and concluding at the Sirona Hotel in Nairobi. I agreed with gratitude, for I realized that it had been a complex process to arrange a private safari on such short notice.

As I enjoy fresh challenges, I decided to take only one camera, the EOS 1D X, with three lenses, the Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/2, the Zeiss Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2, and the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II super-telephoto. As it turned out, that trio of lenses was more than adequate for photographing all that was observed during the safari. I’d never used Tv, Shutter Priority shooting mode before, therefore I resolved to use it throughout the safari, with a constant shutter speed of 1/2000 sec. An untested piece of equipment was an iPad Air which I’d purchased somewhat reluctantly, with the hope of being able to share with Anthony any especially satisfactory images from game drives on the previous days. On every safari there’s invariably something forgotten. In this case it was a recharging cord for the iPad Air. In Hamad International Airport, in Doha, Qatar, it was possible to buy a replacement cord. Nothing else was forgotten or broken, such that it was a trouble-free safari from start to finish, with exceptionally lovely weather every day. The Qatar Airways flights were all on-time, with ample connection time in Doha. The in-flight meals were excellent. At my request, we stopped for lunch at the Trout Tree restaurant near Naro Moru, making a pleasant break during the all-day drive from Nairobi to the Murera Springs Eco-Resort near Meru National Park. The off-the-menu trout en papillote at the Trout Tree restaurant is a special joy on any Meru or Samburu safari.

Accomodations were respectively at the Murera Springs Eco-Resort, the Samburu Sopa Lodge, and the Kivu Lodge in Nakuru. Making allowances as needed, all were more than adequate for my needs. I’d previously stayed at both the Samburu Sopa and the Kivu in prior safaris, but it was the first visit to the Murera Springs Eco-Resort owned by Safaritalk member @@nhanq. What a terrific experience! The staff was delightful, adding to the pleasure of visiting Meru for the first time. I had no idea that I would subsequently be a guest at Murera Springs on two later safaris. I’m not especially meal-oriented, but felt that all meals throughout the safari were excellent. As is my custom, when Anthony stopped in Nairobi on the departure morning to fill the fuel tank with petrol and check both tires and suspension, I wandered into the service station convenience shop, strolling back out with a rather large sack filled with small boxes of juice. Apple, black currant, red grape, guava — they sustain me during long drives between destinations, and refresh during lulls between game drive sightings. Whenever the white Toyota safari van stops for refuelling, Anthony’s ritual is to rock it back and forth to assess how the suspension is functioning. That’s a favorite with me, because it signifies “safari” in my mind. Notes about each day on safari were made, as usual, in a mini-notebook from Muji. I’m a devoted Montblanc fountain pen user, therefore two pens were brought along for late-night notes and sketches.

The late @@graceland told me that: “a trip report is for you. If others enjoy it, that’s great, but write to express what you feel”. In that spirit this trip report is prepared fully two years after the fact. Life has gone on in Kenya and for me, but the natural beauty I observed during the October, 2014 safari retains its appeal. As will be apparent, this was a “Big Five” safari, the third of eight consecutive “Big Five” safaris. Encountering any species is a treat, whether obscure or “Big Five”. I’m especially drawn to plants, including wildflowers and palm trees. Beauty abounds if one takes time to spot it. Although my profession involves teaching life science students about field ecology, in a trip report I’m far less concerned with precise species identification and far more interested in appreciation of the intense loveliness of the natural world. Simply being outside in Africa’s vibrant scenery is more than enough. There’s a place for carefully reasoned analytical reports about wildlife behavior. That’s not my purpose here, where I prefer to share what I saw, using photographs and poetry to convey cherished memories of a hastily planned safari. A special thanks is in order to @@fictionauthor, @@Peter Connan and @@offshorebirder, all of whom have regularly encoraged me during the past half a year, each being remarkably gifted individuals and loyal friends. Most of all, heartfelt thanks to @@Anthony Gitau and Maggie Gitau, for making this gem of a safari possible.

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Lasagne and minestrone,

Always put a smile on my face.
Although certainly not tony,
Soprafino's my kind of place.


Table 12


Cool Drink


Soprafino Interior


Every Which Way






Lasagne at Soprafino


Salmon on Linguini

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We're all quietly passing through,
From one far place to another.
Are you bound for Africa, too,
Respected sister and brother?


In Transit

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Morning in Hamad Airport Hall,

Geometric design prevails,

Not many passengers at all,

The shops ring up very few sales.


Saffron Yellow Speed


Nearly Empty Main Hall


Flight Information


CDE Bear


Arrangement in Grey, White and Black


Crossed Scimitars


Filtered Morning Sunlight




Workday Joyride

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Shapely cones and towers abound,

Hamad Airport's geometry,

Straight lines and smooth curves all around,

Its design features symmetry.


Yellow Cone


Brown Cone


Godiva Tower


Copper Playground

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Tranquility on Concourse C,

Silent computer access points,

Nearly empty, it seems to me,

That I can hear my creaky joints.


Free Net Bar


iMac Colony


Inclined Plane




C Concourse


At Rest


Internet Access Point


Architectural Handiwork


Gate Counters




Gate C28 Nairobi

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Awake in a Sirona room,

I marvel to be back once more.

Nearby the soft sound of a broom,

Quiet footsteps outside the door.


First Morning of the Safari


Sirona Hotel Room

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In Buenos Aires long ago,

Jacaranda flowers so blue,

I would see wherever I'd go,

On the streets and on sidewalks, too.


Jacaranda Color at the Sirona Hotel


Fallen Jacaranda Blooms in Nairobi


The Sirona's Jacaranda Driveway

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Lovely images and poetry! What a delightful mind you have, @@Tom Kellie!

Edited by AmyT
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What a marvelous sunday surprise! A Tom Kellie Trip Report! Thank you.

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What a great surprise to wake up to! Always a gift having your trip reports to read Tom!

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The Sirona's ramshackle look,

Lacks any sign of pretension.

Straight from the pages of a book,

Tranquil, without apprehension.


Sirona Entrance


Sirona's Wagonwheel Sign


Porch Decoration




Sirona Lobby Entrance


Green Porch Seat


Sirona Front Desk


Welcome to Sirona Hotel


Lobby Elephant Decoration

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Mrs. Mbabu's kiosk there,

Up the street from the hotel gate,

She always has a smile to share,

Seeing her again feels so great!


Mrs. Mbabu's Kiosk


Hotel Sign with Palm Fronds






The Sirona Hotel's Stately Entrance


Across the Street


Traveling Light


Walking to School with Mom


View Toward Mrs. Mbabu's Kiosk

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So here's a look back at some of Kenya's gems and what better way to kick off a report than with lasagna.

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Passing tall jacaranda trees,

Nairobi's bustling life goes by.

It's remarkable what one sees,

Watching both red earth and blue sky.


Nairobi View While Fueling


Tall Palms


Jacarandas Beside the Highway


Nairobi Northern Outskirts


Military Garrison Main Gate


Housing Units with Jacaranda


Amazing Grace Supermarket


Cultivation Alongside the Highway


Kenol Junction


Lunda House


Capitol Hill House

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What a wonderful surprise this trip report is @@Tom Kellie! And what an incredible level of detail you have provided.


I am green with envy at how lightly you managed to travel.


Now I have a series of new entries to look forward to in the coming days and weeks.

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Was the plane full to Nairobi?

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Well this was a long time coming Tom, but much better late than never.


Based on previous form and attention to detail I calculate you should finish the Samburu section shortly before I leave for that area in June, which is great.


I like the Nairobi shots. The wandering around the airport shots make me feel appropriately sleepy and bored.

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@tomkellie I just love your photos of Nairobi because they capture the fact that Nairobi's trees add considerable charm,and beauty. No matter how many building sprout up all over the place,the jacaranda and acacia trees add grace.

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two years in the making and in classic Tom quartets. welcome back. :D

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Boda Boda men together,

Providers of transportation,

Going in all kinds of weather,

A great service for the nation.


Boda Boda Motorcycles Near a Forest


Planted Forest


Athletic Field


Under Construction


Hillside Cultivation


Fruit Vendor


Makuyu Church Road


Sweet Home Central Kenya


No Business Today


Boda Boda Gathering


Roadside Jacaranda


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Approaching Embu the road curves,

Past small farms, schools and a river.

Around each corner the van swerves,

On bumps we shimmy and quiver.


The Power of a Single Tree


Masonry Farmstead


Hardscrabble Life


Rural Development in Blue


Slow-flowing Lifeblood


Bougainvillea's Color


Philbern Slaughter House


Izaak Walton Inn


Wanguru School Gate

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Driving along, what does one see?

An agro-vet, a posho mill,

A butchery and kinyozi,

Rural Kenya's life is tranquil.


Roadside Nursery


Empty Market Stalls


Daily Life


Kingdom Hall


Public Works


Burning Field


Bolt Plaza


Jacob Tyres Centre


Melons, Potatoes, Tomatoes


Made in the Shade


White Rose Medical Centre


Jua-Kali Classic Point

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Around Mwea lush fields of rice,

Irrigation water, sunshine,

Cultivation so it looks nice,

These Kenyan rice farming define.




Three Bicycles


Midday Break


Setting Up


Irrigation Pool


Tender Care


Stacked Bales


Rider Amidst Fields


Mixed Use Agriculture


Red Cannas with Rice


Kenyan Rice Terraces

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