Quiet Hour In The Maasai Mara

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Almost sunset and a good time for mamas to play with the children…

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Or for lads to roll and loll…

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Or a cheetah to snooze in the grass beside a mulului tree…

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And then for humans to watch day’s end over the Mara plains…

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Lens-Artists: Serene  This week Patti invites us all to stop and ponder on peaceful scenes. As ever,  these views are from the old Africa album.

In Matching Stripes?

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Day’s end and a gathering of Grevy’s zebra, the largest and most northerly race of zebra-kind. It was a chance encounter. For two hours Kevin, our Chagga guide had been driving us along the dirt tracks of the Lewa Downs reserve. It was new territory to us; our first trip to northern Kenya from our then home-town of Nairobi. The landscapes were breath-taking, sweeping rangelands, pale grasses, beetling gorges, the distant gauzy backdrop of the Matthews Range.

Earlier we had stopped to follow a Greater Kudu family on foot. They were moving in single file up a steep bush trail. We lingered under a thorn tree and in the late day light, watched as they melted one by one into dappled cover. Then it was back to the truck and more trail bashing, the only sign of wildlife, massive piles of elephant dung on the track, and some torn up thorn trees where the herd had passed.

We scanned the bush country all round for a glimpse of them, but they were gone, or at least we could not see them, which is not the same thing. Elephants are invisibility specialists. No matter. As I said, the country was magnificent, the light like liquid amber, and the air filled with the soothing scent of acacia blossom. Lemony with tones of jasmine. As ever, out in the bush, all felt like a dream.

And by now, too, the sun had dropped behind the mountains, the light fading fast. We headed back to camp, and it was then, as we rounded a bend on the trail, we met the zebra. There was only just enough light left to take their photo, but they obligingly stood perfectly still.

And just in case you’re wondering what the difference is between Grevy’s and the plains zebras, here’s another sundowner scene, this time from the Maasai Mara far to the south:

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These are Common or Burchell’s Zebra, smaller than the Grevy’s. Their all-over, widely spaced stripes are thicker; ears pointed to Grevy’s endearingly round. Their social habits are different too, the plains’ zebra living in family groups with much grooming between members while their cousins appear to move in less structured gatherings.

But what about the stripes, you may ask: is every zebra’s livery unique?

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It is hard to be sure from the Grevy’s portrait, though I’m thinking it’s highly likely. But when it comes to the plains’ cousins, I have told the tale before of how once in Zambia, on a New Year’s Day game drive, a rather tipsy guide waxed lyrical about the very particular patterns on each zebra’s ‘butticles’, and how it was by such means that zebra offspring recognised their respective mamas. I don’t know about the last bit, but these two photos from Nairobi National Park certainly prove a point, final blurry butticle shot aside: the stripes truly do not match.

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Matching Things

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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On The Reef ~ Tiwi Beach

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In bygone days of Nairobi living we often made the long-haul drive down the old Mombasa Highway to the south Kenya coast. After 300 miles and six and more hours of judder and roar in the Land Rover, humping in out of potholes, getting covered in dust and smothered by truck fumes, being broiled in the queue for the Likoni Ferry, which once boarded you could never feel quite sure of making touch down, to arrive at last on Tiwi Beach felt like stepping into heaven. There were rarely many people there, not even in the Christmas high season, just a couple of beach cottage enclaves, the  local farmers calling round with fruit and vegetables for sale, the Digo fishermen bringing parrot fish and lobsters, and the unbroken soundscape of ocean pounding on reef, fluting notes of the water bottle bird, soft ting-ting of a bicycle bell when the vegetable seller came calling, the breeze in the coconut palms.

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Madagascar Flame Tree and beach cottage

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Life in Colour: greener shades of blue

Tree Square #11

It’s A Wonderful World: From Kenya’s Rift To Wenlock’s Edge

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Two landscapes a world apart, but for the most part both largely shaped by human endeavour. The first shot is one from the old Africa album: the Great Rift Valley just north of Nairobi. In the foreground is Escarpment, a faulted terrace of the Eastern Rift. The patchwork of fields are smallholdings – some 12 acres, others much smaller. This was one of the study areas for he-who-builds-sheds-and-greenhouses’ doctoral thesis on the smut fungus of Napier grass, an essential staple fodder crop for farmers who, for lack of pasture, zero-graze their cows and sheep (i.e. stock is kept in pens and paddocks and food is delivered to them).

Beyond Escarpment on the Rift floor you can see the yellow wheat fields of large-scale farming concerns. The last time we drove that way from Lake Naivasha there were zebra and other plains game helping themselves to the crop. Zebra in a wheat field? Now there was a sight to excite a Shropshire lass used only to seeing flights of greedy pigeons in her homeland fields.

The hazy peak in the distance is the old volcano, Longonot.

But that was then.

So now to Shropshire – a winter view from Wenlock Edge not far from home: farm fields and the Wrekin, which is not actually an old volcano but a hill composed of lava layers spewed from other volcanoes.

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Lens-Artists: wonderful

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.

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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.

Giddy Up, You Slow Coach Camels!

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It was meant to be a diverting event between the horse racing at Nairobi’s Ngong Racecourse. Officers from Kenya’s Police Anti-Stock Theft Unit were demonstrating their mounted expertise by racing their camels. The camel units usually operate far away in the arid zones of the Northern District, patrolling the border with Somalia, so perhaps the genteel and leafy ambiance of the Jockey Club enclave did not enthuse the camels.They certainly took much urging to leave the starting line and then, having started, there was little inclination to finish. An underwhelming contest then, though it added to the many and varied goings on of a Nairobi racing weekend.

The Ngong races are a hangover (pun retrospectively intended) from British colonial settler days when, for a week around Christmas, farmers left their lonely farms and ranches and gathered in town to let their hair down. For many it was a drunken spree, at least if you are to believe Evelyn Waugh’s 1931 account in Remote People. I’ve quoted from it before but it’s worth a second go:

I found myself involved in a luncheon party. We went on together to the Races. Someone gave me a cardboard disc to wear in my button-hole; someone else, called Raymond, introduced me to a bookie and told me which horses to back. None of them won…

Someone took me to a marquee where we drank champagne. When I wanted to pay for a round the barman gave me a little piece of paper to sign and a cigar.

We went back to Muthaiga and drank champagne out of a silver cup which someone had won.

Someone said, ‘You mustn’t think Kenya is always like this.

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I see from the internet there has been plenty of racing at the Ngong Racecourse during January. These days it is a well ordered multi-cultural affair. I’ve also just had a quick trawl through the Kenya Jockey Club’s Facebook photos but found no sign of camels. Obviously lacking in appropriate competitive attitude.

 

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Six Word Saturday

Up And Away ~ Flamingos Take Flight

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It is distinctly shivery in Shropshire just now, the wintery weather set to stay for a couple of weeks at least. And so as ever when the parts are chillier than is altogether comfortable, thoughts turn to the old Africa album and days when we lived in warmer climes. Christmas and New Year are the hot season in Kenya, following on the short rains (a term that these days belies their frequent flooding capacities).

Lake Elmenteita in the Great Rift Valley was one of our favourite getaway spots, only an hour or so’s drive north of Nairobi. The shallow soda lake is the breeding and feeding ground for  both greater and lesser flamingos (it’s mostly the former you see in this shot).

The small tented camp where we stayed nestled among fever trees at the foot of the East Rift escarpment, below the Aberdares range. I took the photo just as the early morning sun rose above the heights and lit up the flamingos. Of course this scan from an original photo doesn’t quite do the scene justice, the crispness lost in translation. But you get the gist. It’s still very lovely. Though come to think of it, this part of the Rift was very chilly at dawn: jumper and jacket and wellies required, so not so different from my usual Shropshire outdoor garb.

For those who want to know more about this extraordinary place plus a spot of Kenya’s colonial history see my earlier post:

On watch at Elmenteita: the lake that blows away

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Today I’m  doing a two-in-one post for Becky’s January Square Ups, and Lisa’s Bird Weekly. Please pay them a visit.

 

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Bird Weekly This week Lisa at Our Eyes Open wants to see birds with long wing spans.

Two Of A Kind

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Gloomy Shropshire skies today had me rifling through the Farrells’ old Africa album, though it has to be said that Kenya, too, does a good line in gloom, cold and wetness at certain seasons. Anyway, the sun is shining in this particular shot, taken in the Maasai Mara long ago,  and these ‘likely lads’ of the leonine kind (or maybe a lad and lass) are anyway sure to raise a smile.

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