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Quick Trip to the Mara - June 2012


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We had an all too brief visit to Kichwa Tembo just outside the Mara Triangle in June. Below is a general trip report with a few pictures (there is a complete set of photos from this trip in the gallar).


Arrival in Nairobi –

We arrived as usual late in the evening on BA and got through immigration in about 20 minutes. We were met by our driver and headed off to the Norfolk. Traffic was very light and it took us only about 20 minutes to get there. Security was beefed up due to recent issues so we had to go through a metal detector and my wife’s hand bag was searched. This was only mildly intrusive and the security measures were not nearly as tight as some hotels that I’ve stayed at in other developing countries. I’ve always liked the Norfolk as it is in a quieter area than the Central Business District and the grounds are quite nice. I wish that I had been able to stay here before it was acquired by Fairmont so that I could compare and contrast the “old colonial” feel that I’ve read about with the fairly recently updated hotel. Although it’s been refurbished and does have a bit of large hotel chain feel, it still has quite a lot of character. We’ve also stayed at the House of Waine and the Sankara Hotel during overnights in Nairobi. These were fun to try and both quite nice in their own way but so far, the Norfolk is our preference.




After check in we needed to change rooms as the sliding glass door to the courtyard did not lock. As we were unpacking in the new room, I happened to find a perfectly nice pair of Ray Ban Aviators which are now my official safari shades. After unpacking and freshening up a bit, it was Tusker time at last! We had a couple of drinks and some bitings in the bar and celebrated being back in Kenya. In the morning we had a nice stroll around the hotel gardens/grounds and I did a walk around Harry Thuku Rd. to stretch my legs. Then it was off to Wilson and back to the Mara.


This was our third time we’ve stayed at Kichwa Tembo (KT) and we were met at the airstrip by our now regular guide (: - >) Benedict. This was a happy reunion and we spent a few minutes catching up on how families were, etc. Our prior visits have also been in June. This year it was a bit cooler, significantly greener and the grass was higher than in 2010 and 2011. 2010 was hot and dry and we got lucky as we were able to drive down to the Tanzanian boarder and see the migration. Last year temperatures were moderate, the grass wasn’t too high and we generally had good weather. Because of an exceptionally wet rainy season some of the roads were in tough shape. One of the roads into KT was not being used because a small bridge was washed out and was being repaired. This was a bit of a bummer because it goes through a lovely forested area where we’ve had some nice (and close) elephant sightings. Once we were in camp and unpacked it was now time for my happy routine of having a tusker by the pool overlooking the plains. Apparently, I was too good of a customer on previous visits as the bar man recognized me and immediately presented me with a “Tusker baridi” without me having to ask! It was good to see him and a few of the other camp staff that we were friendly with on our prior visits.


As I’ve stated before, this is the happiest place on earth for me as I really enjoy sitting by the pool and looking out over the vast plains and identifying the game. I was supremely annoyed however that I could see the derelict Mombasa Air plane that is at the KT airstrip from my vantage point at the pool. Someone needs to tell these people to come and pick up their trash or the Conservancy should declare it abandoned property and hire a salvage company to remove it.


Now it was time for our first game drive, as I said the grass was higher than on prior trips so spotting was more difficult and our guide relied on the radio a bit more than on prior visits. We had good general game viewing with all the usual suspects Thomson’s gazelle, impala, zebra, warthogs, elephants, buffalo, giraffe, etc. Once we got out into the reserve I was really struck how much greener (and how beautiful) the Mara looked. I remember thinking to myself that to some degree it seemed so different that it was almost like seeing the Mara for the first time again. We hung out for about a half hour with some cubs and a female lioness that we could hardly see in the tall grass.



About this time the radio crackled and Benedict turned and looked at me with a grin and asked – “Paul, have you ever seen lions in a tree?” I was caught a bit off guard as I never associated tree climbing lions with the Mara and it just didn’t occur to me that they do this in this part of East Africa. Live and learn; that’s why I love coming back again and again! We drove for about 10 minutes and Benedict explained that the lions climb the trees to get away from flies, enjoy the breeze and possibly spot game. We arrived at a tree and there was a lone female snoozing away. I was just blown away at the sight of a full grown lioness in the tree. We stayed for about 10 minutes and then drove a couple of minutes to another tree with two lounging lionesses. I had to wonder how comfortable they were but they seemed happy enough. These were great sightings which I felt fortunate to see. Best of all there was only one other car at both sightings.










On the way back to camp we went down by the river to check in with the hippos and a couple of crocks. As we were leaving we got a puncture and we all had to get out and stand by the river while our guide collected a couple of large rocks to put behind the wheels to prevent the Rover from moving whilst it was being jacked up. We also had a flat tire on a drive last year and for the second time I was the assistant pit crew chief and we got the tire changed in less than three minutes (all the while I had been somewhat nervously keeping an eye on the nearby brush waiting for a leopard to pounce!). No leopards were a lurking, only a demure dik-dik. Then it was back to KT and a fine dinner prepared by the very amiable and gregarious Chef George.

Edited by PT123
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Great start. Can't believe that plane is still there, over a year since I saw it!

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I agree wholeheartedly with Twaffle, both about the great start and the derelict plane :)


Those lionesses look like they're sitting on pretty precarious branches! What a lovely sighting on Day 1! Looking forward to more...

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Day Two; Morning Drive -

The next day we were up and out bright and early. As we headed for the Rover I enjoyed our first sunrise over the Mara and our camp companions: one bush buck (“bushy” to his friends), a band of banded mongoose and a few (loud) copper tailed monkeys. On the way out of the camp I remarked to our guide, Benedict that it was too bad the other access road through the forested area was not in use because I’ve enjoyed seeing elephants in the bush. He said that we could circle back and go part way down the road and sure enough there were elephants feeding, stripping bark off trees. We had some nice close encounters while they fed complete with a couple of warning trumpets and head shakes.









About a half hour later we returned and found a couple of lionesses with some cubs which we had seen the prior day. The cubs were at times hard to see because of high grass and we enjoyed counting them as they bobbed and frolicked around (9 cubs in total counted). One lioness was intently starring across the road into the distance. Benedict told us that she’s looking for the pride males that were undoubtedly in the high grass somewhere on the opposite side of the road.








After about 10 minutes she slowly crossed over and into the grass and was followed at a meandering pace by the cubs and other lionesses. We enjoyed watching the parade of little lion butts weaving their way through the tall grass. After they completely melted into the grass we all scanned with our binoculars for the black tips of tails. We were more or less able to track the direction in which they were heading. Low and behold first one and then another male lion briefly stood up, stretched, looked around and then flopped right back down disappearing into the tall grass. Based on their manes it was guesstimated that they looked to be about five years old.










As we were heading off for breakfast in the bush we saw lots of elephants in the very green Mara. It seemed like there were more crowned cranes and more elephants out and about in the Mara than what I recall seeing on our prior visits. Also, that seeing them with such a green back-drop just seemed so different to me then with a bownish back drop. I loved that I felt like this was a new experience and “feel” than I’ve had on other trips. Another plus of the greenness is that it seemed to help my spotting skills (and had the opposite effect on my wife who has always been a good spotter).






We then drove for about 25 minutes to a spot at the base of the escarpment just south of Out of Africa that looked out over a stand of balanitis trees and the plains. While enjoying coffee we watched a lone giraffe with a limp feeding as well as a few assorted ostriches in the distance. I wondered if the somewhat disabled giraffe would make it.






On the way back we made a pit stop by the hippo pool to do the necessary. Last year the Conservancy installed latrine facilities. Changes over the past year include a ranger post as well as railings at the end of the trail, overlooking the river. In 2010 none of these were present and I admit that I prefer the undeveloped state better. As we were watching the hippos our guide Benedict said that he got a report of a cheetah sighting and we needed to get moving as it was a bit far off. Off we raced for about 15 minutes.


By the time we arrived there were about ten other vehicles watching the seemingly indifferent cheetah roll around in the tall grass on the side of the road. We stayed for about twenty minutes as the cheetah spotted a group of tommies. As he stalked them he came in and out of sight in the long grass. He eventually chased (but did not catch) one.









As this was going on the number of vehicles grew to about 15 or so. All were fairly well behaved; none left the road or in any way interfered with the cheetah. I was happy and grateful for this sighting but the general sense of being surrounded by people, hearing their chatter and the electronic chirps detracted from the experience. I think I’m spoiled as on past trips we’ve had a few great cheetah experiences including one time when we sat with a cheetah for about 90 minutes in the peaceful twilight. I chalked this up to the tall grass causing more guides to rely more heavily on radios to be sure their clients get to see cats. Also, due to work commitments we were there in the last week of June (right after school ends in the US) and there were more families then when we’ve visited in the second or third week of June. We were out for about 4 ½ hours and headed back to camp to freshen up and have lunch.

Edited by PT123
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When the camp bartender knows your order, it may be an unfortunate signal to cut back on the drinks and the safaris. A signal you'll likely ignore.


Seeing the Mara for the first time on a repeat trip adds a new dimension to your visit. You got this added benefit while travelling the same month each year.


Lions in the trees. Lucky find. From what I've seen, read, and heard it appears lions in the trees happen most everywhere, though some places more than others and some places have done a good job of promoting their tree climbing lions.


Hope the rest of your short trip was as good as the start.

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Afternoon Drive -

The weather was overcast and the skies threatened rain. We headed out and again the elephant sightings were prolific (I joked that it was almost like being in Amboseli).








The tall grass was not our friend on this drive - we had an obscured sighting of a large male lion and then an ok sighting of a rhino and small calf. I was barely able to glimpse the calf because of the high grass. We then came across a good size flock of about 10 ostrich which I enjoyed seeing as I’d only seen them in smaller groups before. For the next hour and a half or so we had ok general game viewing but no cats and no rhinos. It started to rain and we started to head back to camp as it was almost dusk. I had resigned myself to the fact that this was “just an ok” (but unexceptional) game drive and had visions of Tusker baridi dancing in my head. Suddenly we stopped and backed up…across a field, about 50 feet away by the fringe of riverine forest by Little Governors was a beautiful adult black male rhino. Yes! This made my day. Even though it was raining the rhino was happily browsing away.






We stayed and watched for a bit over ten minutes when all of a sudden we pulled away in somewhat of a hurry without any warning. I was a little bit annoyed - why leave a perfectly good rhino sighting!? I’d happily have stayed and watched him all night but assumed that as it was getting dark we needed to head back.


We drove on for about five minutes and were on a winding stretch of road going through an area of somewhat thick brush. Our guide was heavily focused on driving as the ground had gotten muddy and slippery. As the Rover fish-tailed I joked with Benedict that he could drive in snow as it’s about the same. It was almost dark by this point when we rounded a bend in the road and there were two other KT cars stopped watching a soggy adolescent leopard sitting on top of a large mound. He had his shoulders hunched and didn’t seem to be enjoying the rain shower! He was staring across the narrow road into the bush where a guide from one of the other vehicles was shining a spot light. Out strolled mother leopard from the brush; she stopped, sat and preened for a few minutes.


We contently watched for about five minutes (getting whiplash from turning side to side to be sure that we didn’t miss anything). Eventually mother turned and strolled up the road head of us and crossed over to the side of the road where her cub was. She was about 60 feet ahead of her cub (with the cars between them). They made eye contact and the young leopard hopped down from his mound and went into the bush on his side of the road. Mother turned and continued to walk along the side of the road away from where the cars were parked. Benedict observed that the two leopards had communicated with each other and that they will meet further up the road. We slowly moved along and were able to get ahead of the mother leopard and stopped and watched her. As she walked along the younger leopard appeared out of the bush into a small clearing at the side of the road and waited for his mom. When they were close the younger leopard bounded over and greeted his mother – he playfully tackled her and together they moved off into the bush. We drove around and tried to locate them with the searchlight for about five minutes and then headed back to camp for dinner. This is a great example of how anything can happen on a game drive and how sometime it’s a matter of just being in the right place at the right time. I had pretty much given up on this game drive and in the last half hour we saw a black rhino and two leopards.

Edited by PT123
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It was a cold morning in the Mara and I did my usual stroll over to the grass line that overlooks the plains so that I could watch the sun rise and the balloons go by. On the way to breakfast I stopped for a minute and watched our friendly neighborhood bush buck grazing away. We headed out from the camp and didn’t initially go into the triangle; instead we drove along the base of the escarpment and watched as the olive baboons were coming down the side of the hill foraging for food. There were a few zebra sprinkled along the hillside as well. As the road is cut into the side of the escarpment wall we had a nice view over what looked to be mostly deserted plains. As it was pretty chilly the animals didn’t seem to be too active. Once we got down off the side of the hill and onto flatter land we did see warthogs, impala, gazelle, a couple of zebra, giraffe and a hippo grazing his way back to the river.





We had ok general game viewing for the next couple of hours as we drove around an area near the base of the escarpment just outside the triangle. We cruised along by the river for a bit and just enjoyed the peaceful tranquility of a cold but beautiful morning. So far we hadn’t seen another vehicle.


We started heading over to the conservancy entrance (Oloololo gate into the triangle). Once at the access road you can turn left and head towards the gate or turn right and head back to camp. We turned right and drove for about three or four minutes. We stopped about a quarter mile from KT, where there were two male lions feeding on a zebra.





They had well developed manes and also looked to be four or five years old and we supposed that they were brothers. They were on the sloping hillside of the road. On the opposite side of the road the slope becomes more gradual. There are areas of shorter and longer grasses as well as a forested area in front of KT (where the road with the washed out bridge is). We observed the boys for about an hour as they dined. Initially there were only three vehicles there and over the course of an hour this grew to about a dozen vehicles in total.




One of the lions was indifferent and happily enjoyed his breakfast (even as a couple of hyenas arrived and began bounding around). The other lion seemed to be more and more disturbed by the growing (yet well behaved) group of observers. He eventually moved away from the kill and crossed the road into the field.





His brother seemed a bit perplexed as to why he’d be leaving but after a second of contemplation resumed eating.




The lion that crossed the road would periodically stop and look wistfully at his brother.



We observed for about an hour and finally the lion seemed to have had his fill. There was still about a third of the zebra left and as he had no intention of leaving it for the couple of hyenas that were lurking about he picked it up and dragged it along looking for a place to cross the road and rejoin his brother.











He would periodically stop to catch his breath and one of the vehicles pulled away creating an opening between the cars parked along side of the road so he could cross.





Once on the other side the consensus was to leave these chaps in peace so that his brother could feed and the cars all moved off.




We returned to the camp and relaxed before lunch. It had warmed up nicely and after lunch we had a dip in the pool and did a good walk about to the furthest reaches of the camp. The tents in the Kichwa Tembo and adjacent Bataleur camps are spread out over about ¾ of a mile in a band of forest at the base of the Oloololo escarpment. There is an inner ring of about a dozen tents with the remaining tents more or less in a row on either side. Some look out over the plains others over a smaller river (the Sabaringo). To get to the tents that are not part of the inner ring you walk through fairly thick forest (with red tail and blue monkeys over head).







Edited by PT123
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You had some good viewing despite the long grass. Enjoying the report very much.

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Thanks! As stated on other threads, the animal sightings in the mara are exceptionally consistent and reliable. I like the triangle better than the musiara section as it's less crowded and the animals don't seem to be quite as habituated. I haven't been to Mara North or the other smaller concervanies to the north of the reserve (yet!) but look forward to checking them out at some point.

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It's just when you've about given up that something spectacular happens! The red tailed monkeys in camp are a great find. Do you know if they are a common sight there?

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Yes, they are there all the time and are an effective alarm clock in the morning. You can hear them calling and running accross the roof of the tent - it's pretty cool. There are blue monkets too but I didn't get any pictures of them this time around.

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Afternoon Drive –

We headed out of camp to the area where we saw the two males eating the zebra that morning. We drove into the forested area just outside the camp and stopped to watch the elephants feeding. We were in the middle of a small heard with elephants on both sides of the road.











We passed through the forest and into a field where we last saw the two lions. There was the less shy of the two lying on top of a small dirt mound in a small clearing. We watched as he rolled around, stretched and was just generally majestic.











After a few minutes he got up and ambled along into the taller grass (which was about up to his shoulders). As we watched him move away he suddenly stopped and pounced into the tall grass. He did this two or three times and looked just like a big house cat pouncing on a toy. A warthog came running full speed out of the tall grass toward our cars and the big fella playfully bounded after him. They ran along the edge of the tall grass and right past the opening of a culvert that was partially obscured by the grass. Immediately after the lion passed a very perturbed cape buffalo, that must have been lounging in the culvert and wasn’t at all visible, came blasting out in hot pursuit of the lion and was closely followed by another buff. We could see the lion jump as he was quite startled and his demeanor immediately changed as he went from being playful, into a quick moment of shock and finally turned quite serious as he went from the hunter to the hunted. The lion kicked into high gear and was off. The buffalo gave up the chase and stood around huffing, puffing (and pooing). If only I filmed this! This really got the old blood pressure going. We were happily enjoying watching the placid scene as the big cat lolled around and then playfully tormented a poor little wortie and then the excitement really began! I think that we were all in shock as everything happened so quickly.



During the remainder of the drive we spotted a huge journey of 23 giraffe.





Also we had an obscured view of a lioness and cubs in tall grass and two other views of lions in trees. This just strikes me as funny as these big cats just don’t seem to belong up there.

























We also had another obscured rhino sighting and our only black-backed jackal sighting of the trip. This seemed strange to us as we have in the past never had problems spotting these little guys.




Edited by PT123
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Whoops, this is the last photo that goes with the above post!



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Thanks...I'd like to take credit but admittedly, all I do is "point and shoot" and my little Panasonic does the rest!

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Lion cubs in trees is a bit special, as is the rhino. Grass is really long - don't think I've ever been there when it has been that long - but you still had very good sightings. the rhino is nearly invisible! No wonder you didn't see many jackals - there were probably hundreds but you couldn't see them!


Did you think the long grass and the amount of lions in trees are linked too?

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Hmmm, I think you may be quite right about the height of the grasses and all these lions in trees, Paul. It looks like they're up on the really high branches too!


Agree with you about the green backdrop in your pictures, PT123, it makes for such a soft and soothing setting. Also, your sightings seem every bit as good as any dry season sightings, possibly with the exception of some smaller chaps like jackals?


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Hi PaulT and Sangeeta,


Yes, the overall number of sightings was about the same but in some cases they were some what obsured due to the grass. On past trips we had brief glimses of servals and routine jackel sightings. On the flip side we got to see lions in trees (which was very cool). I assume that they climb up there not only to get way from the flies and enjoy the breeze but to also possibly spot thier next meal. Also, we were lucky this trip with some nice leopard sightings as well.

Edited by PT123
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Day Four; Morning Drive –

The highlight was a terrific cheetah sighting up by the Serena; this time with far fewer vehicles (five).








We had some nice close-up time and then she spotted a group of impala and the hunt was on.







We watched as she stalked and then went into full speed hot pursuit of her breakfast. We didn’t see the kill as it was obscured by some bushes but were told by a ranger monitoring the number of vehicles that she did get the impala and pulled it into the bushes to feed.


I love this part of the Triangle as it seems like we hardly ever see any vehicles here and the views are just spectacular.








I had previously mentioned to our guide that there didn’t seem to be many Grant’s gazelles around as usual. He told me not to worry as they’re around. Later in the drive he stopped and as we came across a couple. We have a running joke that that the only thing our guide Benedict hasn’t spotted for us is a unicorn. As I looked closely at the Grant’s I noticed that he had one antler broken off at the base and can now check unicorn off the list.







Frightening experience -

Before we saw the cheetah, we came across a balloon crew preparing to load a trailer with the balloon basket etc. There was no truck around just the trailer, crew and a very agitated bull elephant that was in a stand-off with a minivan full of Japanese tourists. The elephant was slowly walking down the road towards the minivan (flapping its ears, shaking its head and trumpeting). The minivan driver was honking the horn and flashing the lights and slowly pushing the elephant back down the road in the direction of the clearly scared balloon crew. By this time the crew had clamored into the only shelter they had, the balloon basket. Why the (IDIOT) van driver didn’t give way is a mystery; he just kept moving toward the elephant flashing the van's lights and honking the horn. Needless to say, this did nothing to sooth the elephant. Finally it turned and started moving in a rapid and agitated pace towards the balloon crew (in the basket). Most of the crew got scared, climbed out of the basket and ran to seek cover behind the trailer. At this point our guide was incredibly concerned thinking that someone was about to be seriously hurt. The elephand ignored the men that ran behind the trailer and was closing in on the balloon basket which by this time only had one person left in it. When the elephant was about 10 feet away from the basket the lone individual left inside let off a blast of white gas that is used to fuel the balloon’s burner. It didn’t ignite but gave off a very loud woush. Althogh the gas cloud itself never hit the elephant it sent the elephant scampering off onto the plains. As you can imagine, we were all very relieved as this easily could have turned out much worse.



On the way back towards camp we made a pit-stop at the hippo pool where we watched a couple of hippo chasing each other around and fighting.








The two males fought for a bit and then finally, one was chased into the water.



Edited by PT123
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That last story does sound frightening, especially for the guy left in the basket. Are you sure that blast of gas was from a canister? ;)

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Nice report and pics, PT! Glad you shared my pain of the long grass, if you know what I mean :P


No pics of the leopards or the chicken in a basket!?!

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Thanks SL! No pics of the leopards on that sighting as it was dark and pissing down rain, but stay tuned...


I didn't take pic.s of the elephant by the balloon crew as it was a pretty tense situation. You could just feel the stress and seriousness of the situation in the guide's demeanor and voice.


I should have taken pictures of the Japanese tourists in the minivan though. It was a a cold morning and they all were wearing white terri-cloth bathrobes (from the Serena) over their clothes. This was a good bit of comic relief after things settled down. Our guide Benedict made the "spot" and was giggling so hard we could barely understand when he pointed and said "they are all still wearing their nightclothes"!

Edited by PT123
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Thanks...I'd like to take credit but admittedly, all I do is "point and shoot" and my little Panasonic does the rest!


True, but you had to point at the right thing without wobbling. So give yourself a bit of credit.

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People should probably give way to elephants more often, despite the inconvenience - guides get so casual about them because they "know what to do", but they're unpredictable and the consequences of an elephant's "mad moment" can be serious and very frightening. Might the driver in this case have been trying to drive the elephant away from the area of the balloon at the request of those on the ground? The gas was quick thinking and shows necessity is the mother of invention (a wicker basket is a fig leaf of a defence against an elephant).


The Japanese were doubtless "cute" in their bathrobes. I wonder if they had them on because of the cold or because they got up a bit late? :)


I recognise the hippo pool and in fact have pictures of youngsters like these play-fighting in exactly the same location from 2008. I wouldn't have been sure, but since you were on your way back from Serena I am. The "beach" is a bit bigge now, but you would expect that. I agree there is nowhere more pretty than that part of the triangle.

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