Taking The Broad View ~ Mara Grasslands

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In the rainless months it is the oat grass that gives the Mara plains their golden hue. The small trees with their sculpted looks are desert dates, mulului trees, much browsed by all the local herbivores.

These photos from the Farrells’ old Africa album were taken outside the main Maasai Mara National Park, below the Oloololo Escarpment on territory owned by related Maasai families, locally referred to as a group ranch. Visitors pay a daily fee to group ranch elders. We were lucky to be able to make three trips there while living in Kenya.

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Life in Colour: Gold

Lens-Artists: Going wide

How Elephants Hide In Bushes

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These elephant photos were taken in the very special community sanctuary of Mwalunganje near the South Kenya coast. It was set up in the 1990s to ensure the future of an important migration route from the Shimba Hills to Tsavo East National Park AND as means to provide compensation to 300 smallholder farmers whose crops were being destroyed by the herds. The farmers retained ownership of the land in the form of shares, and many of them took up posts running the sanctuary as a tourist attraction. The project continues to be run (or at least it was still going last year) with the support of the Kenya Forest and Wildlife Services and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. (More photos at this link).

The Mwalunganje sanctuary is extraordinary terrain, a remnant Jurassic Forest survivor that still supports many cycads. They look like small palm trees and, as living survivors from a 200 million year old forest, are a seriously endangered species.

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Mwalunganje Hill is also a sacred place for the local Duruma people. Here there is kaya, a palisaded space where traditional rites are performed by the elders. On the day when we went to look for it there was a tree blocking the trail – frustrating for a nosy mzungu, but then I thought, ‘quite right too. You have not been invited there.’

There’s more about the sanctuary HERE

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‘Large As Life’ ~ More ‘Vintage’ Africa Scenes

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For this week’s Black & White Photo Challenge, Cee asks for things on the large side, which at once had me thinking of big animals; big skies; big landscapes: Africa. And this further prompted the thought of trying a sepia-vintage look with photos from the Farrells’ aging Africa album. To my eye the results look rather like plates from some 1930s book club imprint of travellers’ tales.

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Lewa Downs, Northern Kenya: white rhino

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Lewa Downs: Grevy’s zebra with Mount Kenya backdrop

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Kilimanjaro revealed one morning on the Mombasa Highway at Kibwezi

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Maasai Mara Marsh Pride

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Olololo Plateau and Thomson’s Gazelle

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Desert Date tree Maasai Mara

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Athi Plains Giraffe

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Large subjects

A Very Big Zambian Baobab

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Zambia is a country blessed with some magnificent trees and miombo woodland that makes for parkland like landscapes. This particular tree is in South Luangwa National Park, one of the world’s wildlife treasure spots. (Do not believe the tales that Africa has no wildlife left. It is absolutely untrue.)

Here is more of the tree that wouldn’t fit in the square. The damage on the lower trunk is probably due to elephants and/or other other grazers:

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South Luangwa - mighty poachers' baobab

Tree Square #30

Vintage Zimbabwe

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Late 1992-3 and we were living in Lusaka, Zambia, Graham on secondment from the Natural Resources Institute in Kent to the European Union Delegation – his job to manage the logistics of food aid deliveries to drought-stricken parts of Zambia.

These were exciting times. As we arrived, long-term presidential incumbent, Kenneth Kaunda (he who had led Northern Rhodesia to independence in 1964) had recently ceded to Frederick Chiluba, the first elected president after the return to multi-party democracy. Which sounds positive, but it also involved the International Monetary Fund structurally adjusting the nation, causing hikes in staple food prices, and stopping free schooling and medical care for the poor so they could become even more hard done by.

Then there were the international corporations who continued not to pay taxes on their exploitation of Zambia’s copper mines. Then Kenneth Kaunda’s army officer son, Rezi, had thoughts of starting a coup and was said to behind much of the criminal activity in the capital, and then over in the neighbouring Congo (or so the story went) President Mobutu had neglected to pay his army thus causing them to come on regular night-raiding missions to the diplomatic quarters of Lusaka.

One could have become very anxious, but actually, none of this was my experience of Lusaka. It always seemed rather sleepy under the wide blue skies of breezy white clouds, the locals ever quick to smile and share a joke.

Anyway by July ‘93, winter in southern Africa, we thought we needed a holiday, and headed south for the then peaceably prosperous neighbour-state of Zimbabwe. We drove on near empty roads all the way to Harare. Back then that city  seemed like a wonderland, the epitome of sophistication compared to Lusaka where the downtown stores had empty shelves and all seemed stuck in a 1950s time-warp.  And after Harare we set off across Zimbabwe – nothing booked ahead – empty roads. The only downside was a gloomy day or two when we were in Hwange National Park and my little camera could not cope with low light levels. Still, it just about managed to capture the elephants under this very large acacia. They turned up while we were eating our picnic lunch.

Photo: Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.

Tree Square #29

A Very Big Baobab

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A Christmas holiday with chums down on the South Mombasa coast, and one very sturdy baobab, Adansonia digitata. It’s a tree with many surprising properties: a drought tolerant soft wood that is also fire resistant. It may also live for up to 3,000 years and grow an astonishing 25 metres in girth. The fibrous bark stores water and provides emergency dry season fodder for elephants and elands. Humans also work the fibre to make ropes, twine for basket making and cloth.

Baobabs are leafless for most of the year, which doubtless gave rise to the many traditional tales of an upside-down tree with its roots in the air (planted by creator, or the devil, or hyenas who are always getting things badly wrong). When they do happen, the leaves are large and finger-like and villagers harvest them as vegetables. In the flowering season the branches hang in fleshy cream flowers that only open at night, smell somewhat foetid and are pollinated by bats and bushbabies. The resulting fruits – large woody capsules – contain seeds that are eaten by wild and domestic grazers alike, while the white, cream of tartar like pulp that surrounds them is a good source of vitamin C and used in juices and beer-making.

One of my best African treasures is a Kenyan kiondo  bag made in the traditional way from baobab fibre. These days the baskets are more commonly woven from sisal cord. Either way you can see how they are made at an earlier post HERE.

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Tree Square #20

Trees For Everything On Zanzibar

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While I’m in East Africa arboreal mode, I remembered Zanzibar could not be beaten for its array of fabulous trees – from giant mangos and jackfruits to its plantations of spice-bearing nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves trees. On the family farms there are papaya, orange, banana and coconut groves, not only sources of family food, but also crops for market. And the leaves of the coconut palms can be turned into all kinds of useful recyclable household essentials – roof thatch, baskets, screens and sleeping mats.

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The Coconut Harvester

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Island guide, Hari, doing a deal at the farmhouse door.

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Roadside spice farm stall:

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Jackfruit tree:

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Maruhubi boat builders’ beach with an ocean going dhow under construction:

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And then there are the baobabs. This one coming up is a little unusual – apart from being in leaf which only happens now and then, it’s providing the structural wherewithal for a Stone Town pizza joint:

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Tree Square #10

Where Trees Grow On water

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In my last post I mentioned the exposed Silurian seabed in our local quarry was once located somewhere off East Africa. And Jude at Travel Words said she wished she was somewhere off East Africa – to escape our recent rain-pouring summerless weather. Which then had my mind whizzing back to our years in Kenya, and in particular to a trip to Lamu Island, and a December day spent sailing by the mangrove forest of Manda Strait, drifting and dreaming aboard a traditional dhow.

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The timber from these curious trees has long been an absolute necessity for the Swahili seafaring people of the East African coast. They built their dhows from mangrove planks and harvested the pole wood (boriti) for house construction, both at home and for export to places as far away as Yemen and Iran. The traditional Swahili merchant’s house was build of coral rag, excavated from old reefs, with the roof raised on boriti poles. The oldest surviving houses in Lamu Town date from the 18th century, but the Swahili City states of the East African seaboard – from  Somalia to Mozambique – date back to the 8-9th centuries – a fusion of Arab and African cultures.

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Christmas Day on Shela Beach. Distant baobabs across the strait.

Lens-Artists: on the water This week the challenge is hosted by John at photobyjohnbo.

Tree Square #8 Becky wants to see trees in square format.

Life in Colour: blue is Jude’s colour of choice at Travel Words.

A pair of bright sparks

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No apologies for showing this yet again. But the biting April wind here in Shropshire has driven back to the ‘old Africa album’ for a bit of warmth. And anyway, what can be more brightening than the sight of elephant babes. This photo was taken early one morning, on our last trip to the Maasai Mara. Happy times. Eight years in Africa gone in a flash.

Bright Square #22

Vintage Views: The International Nairobi Agricultural Show

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The agricultural show can most probably be counted as one of the more useful left-overs from the colonial occupation of African nations. Back in 1995 when these photos were taken I remember being struck by a rural farmer’s glowing comment in a newspaper interview. He said he had to travel a great distance to attend the Nairobi show every year, but it was worth it. The exhibition stands were his university, he said.

I could believe it. The amount of expert advice available at every turn was indeed impressive, and I speak as someone brought up on agricultural shows: my father was a grain merchant for a farmers’ cooperative and my memories of the various company stands were weighted rather more towards alcohol delivery than education.

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Of course the Nairobi show is also about selling and public relations, but I remember being particularly diverted by the National Archives stand which was showing 1950s newsreel footage of Land and Army so-called Mau Mau uprising; also by the Kenya Automobile Association’s  novel pitch to drum up membership; and by the glorious conformity of the cabbage display put on by a seed company. And of course there was all manner of entertainment to be had: shopping, snacks, a helter skelter, close encounters with camels, ripping performance from the military band: all the fun of the fair in fact. And you could get your shoes cleaned with the ‘world’s  no.1 shoe polish’, then have a swish new hair do in the next-door salon.

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Life in Colour: Yellow   This month Jude at Travel Words is asking us to think about yellow. Please pay her a visit.