Early Morning Elephants In The Mara ~ All Very Much In Order

The thing is, they are noiseless as they move, their footfalls cushioned by pads of fat behind their toes. Of course there are the low frequency stomach rumbles that maintain lines of communication across the herd, but we weren’t close enough to hear those. Or maybe we were too intent on our own stomach rumbles. We had driven out of the Mara River Camp at first light, after only a 5.30 cup of tea. Breakfast was still a distant prospect when we found ourselves among this large, slow-moving herd.

They paid us no attention whatsoever. All we sensed was a wave of communal intention as they headed on through the thorn brush. In fact we were so beneath their notice, Daniel, our driver-guide, decided it would be fine to stop the truck and eat our picnic breakfast as the elephants moved on by.  I remember thinking how incongruous it was to be standing out on the Mara plains eating a hard boiled egg while these majestic creatures slowly passed me.

This is not to say that elephants cannot be dangerous; sometimes murderous if they bear a grudge for some harm done them; or if the bulls are in musth. But nothing was amiss this day. It was like one big family outing, the epitome of good elephantine order wherein mothers and children always come first.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Daily Post: Order

Sun And Rain In The Seychelles

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We were living in Zambia at the time – in Lusaka, a city that in 1993 was  beset by cholera from infected boreholes, rumours of military coups, incursions over the border by predatory gangs of Zairean military making up for lack of pay, and the populace being structurally readjusted courtesy of financial rigours visited on them by the International Monetary Fund. Elsewhere in the country, people were starving due to severe drought and high maize prices; there was an outbreak of swine fever that caused small farmer chaos, and reported figures for HIV infection were sky high.

It was thus a relief to leave for two weeks of quietness on Mahé, the Seychelles main island. The place was blissful, but there were twinges of guilt nonetheless as we wandered barefoot on near empty beaches: we had the means to take a break from Zambia when most of Zambia’s ten million citizens did not.

For more of the Zambia story: Letters from Lusaka part 1 and part 2,

Once in Zambia: in memoriam

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Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Rain

Six Word Saturday

Thursday’s Special ~ Being Serially Arrested In Wales

This week Paula’s Pick A Word  challenge is giving me the chance to post more views from our March trip to the Conwy Valley in North Wales. Projecting, arresting, pastoral, convex and communal are the prompts, and this distant shot of snow-dusted mountains pretty much covers the first three. However, I won’t let that stop me.

Arresting is my word of choice for all the following images; Wales was at  its magical, magnificent best – from the glittering waters of the River Conwy to the surreal towers and ramparts of Conwy Castle. It made you want to burst into song. Cue: Land of My Fathers, the Welsh National Anthem, which you can join in with at the end, and so definitely cover the communal. It doesn’t matter if you can’t speak Welsh; humming will do. Besides, there is nothing quite like the quality of Welsh singing voices.

Also look out for Thomas Telford’s amazing suspension bridge in the next shot of Conwy Castle. It was built between 1824-26 to improve access between Holyhead on Anglesey and Chester, and was also part of Telford’s larger road and bridge improvement scheme to enable swift and safer travel to London for Irish Members of Parliament. A triumph, then, in both function and form.

The castle was built between 1283 and 1289, and is another of Edward I’s overbearing edifices to oppress the Welsh. Not only did he invade, he also cleared out the monks who occupied the site and set about building both a fortress and a model town below it, the latter confined by massive defences. Today, these walls still surround the town, and you can walk around them, though I should issue a warning: the wall-top walk is not for the faint-hearted or those prone to vertigo. But if you don’t mind heights, they provide striking views in every quarter.

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A few miles upstream from Conwy is the market town of Llanrwst. It is claimed that in 1947 its town council made an unsuccessful attempt to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council as an independent Welsh state. One has to admire this piece of Celtic chutzpah. I’m sorry they did not succeed. P1070238

Anyway, one of the present day arresting features of Llanrwst is this bridge, the Pont Fawr or Great Bridge. It was built in 1638 and still cars drive over it. There are other names too – the Shaking Bridge – because if you tap the central parapet the whole structure vibrates, and also Pont y Rhegi – bridge of swearing, explained by the fact that the carriageway is too narrow for vehicles to pass, and the height of the central arch too steep for forward visibility,meaning that everyone meets in the middle and this happens…!&?#!

The view through the central arch shows the ground on which the National Eisteddfod was held in 1989. The town is currently campaigning for a return of this annual extravaganza of Welsh culture in 2019. Which is a good point to bring on the choir. Croeso – welcome!

So Easy To Be Green After The Rains In Kenya’s Great Rift

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It is hard for many of us to imagine living in lands that have rain only in given seasons with little or none in between. In Kenya, in theory at least, the long rains come during March and April, and the short rains between October and December. All depends on the movement of the Indian Ocean monsoon winds, and long before awareness of serious climate change,  Africa’s rainy seasons were known to be fickle.

So: the arrival of timely rains to plant or ripen crops is matter of survival  for most rural households. Only 15% of the country’s land is fertile enough and receives sufficient rain to support agriculture, and most of this is cultivated by smallholder farmers, women for the most part, while their husbands go to the towns to earn cash to buy stuff – medicine, fertilisers, stone to build a house etc.

The second photo was taken just north of Nairobi, from one of the Great Rift view-points looking over the smallholder farming community of Escarpment. The farms here were originally a series of single 12 acre lots, distributed by the British administration around 1951. I’m not sure what prompted this land hand-out to Africans, or how  the beneficiaries were chosen, or if they had to buy the land, although that seems unlikely as Africans were not allowed to own land as individuals. By then the native reserves, the only places where indigenous people could farm, were more than overcrowded. Land shortage, especially within the Kikuyu reserves, meant that the marriageable generation could not marry for lack of farm plots, and this was one of the main drivers of the Land Freedom Uprising of 1952 – aka Mau Mau.

When we visited Escarpment during  Graham’s Napier Grass smut survey, Njonjo, our driver-guide played host, since this was where he had his own farmstead. He told us that his family’s 12 acre plot had been so subdivided (from father to sons according to custom) that he only had a quarter of an acre. He proudly showed it to us anyway, with his good crop of maize, and said it adjoined his brother’s plot.

Of course there comes a point when further subdivision is pointless, and there is not enough ground to support even the smallest family. Nearer the city such communities have turned ancestral farm land into room rental land, and erstwhile family gardens are now part of the city perimeter slum sprawl. It’s how it goes. As I’ve said in an earlier post, the British left their constructs of Crown land, landed gentry land ownership and native reserves well embedded when they so ‘graciously’ handed Kenya back to Kenyans, and made them pay for it too, thus creating a great big debt that was only paid off in recent times.

British feudal notions about land ownership never did fit with the more communally minded African ideas about land usage and proprietorship, although they certainly came to suit the current ruling elite, a family that has hung on to power (one way another) since the British bestowed it upon them in 1963.  Let us hope we manage the exit from Europe with more wisdom. Much as we Brits like to think we went around civilising the world, we also left a lot of skeletons in cupboards when we beat our retreat.

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Daily Post Photo Challenge: It is easy being green

 

Thursdays Special ~ Winding Our Way Round Kingsand and Cawsand With Some Pirate Tales Thrown In

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The meandering streets of Kingsand and Cawsand were all but deserted when we went wandering there one winter’s afternoon. The twinned  villages fringe adjoining bays, clinging to the hillside above the Tamar Estuary in south east Cornwall. The river marks the county boundary – Devon, and the port city of Plymouth to the north, Cornwall to the south.

The communities of these rugged shores run together so it’s hard to know when you have left one and entered the other. They have always looked to the sea for a living, although these days this is more about providing seaside holidays for outsiders. The place had a determinedly deserted air during our December visit. Many of the houses are now second homes; unoccupied out of season.

Once, though, it would have been a teeming place – a thriving fishing community from the medieval period, and the centre of the pilchard trade from the early 16th century. You can still see the remains of the fish cellars, or ‘pilchard palaces’ that were built along the shore north of Kingsand. These were for the storage and processing of fish, and there’s a surviving example, the red sandstone building, on the far right of the next photo.

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Smuggling was the other big business – its heyday running through the 1700s and into the 1800s. The place was a smuggler’s haven in fact – with some fifty vessels dedicated to the nefarious trade in contraband liquor.

And then there were the pirates. In 1604 one especially notorious rogue, a Kent man called John Ward,  upped the stakes of his earlier career as a privateer, and decided to join forces with the Barbary pirates of North Africa. He stole a French merchant ship off the Scilly Isles and headed for Cawsand, even then a well known centre for Cornish smuggling.  Mooring in the bay there, Ward went ashore and set about recruiting local smugglers to join his enterprise as a Barbary pirate.

The Barbary corsairs were slavers, mostly North Africans from Algiers, Tripoli and Tunis, but there were Dutch and Englishmen operating with them too. They terrorised Britain’s south west shores for 300 years, snatching people from their homes. By 1626 there around 60 Barbary men-of-war preying on communities of the Devon and Cornish coasts, and attacks were almost a daily event. A parliamentary committee of 1645 established that there were at least 3,000 English men, women and children held captive in Algiers. It was only in 1816 that combined British and Dutch forces ended their power, at which time four thousand Christian slaves were said to have been liberated.

As for Ward, he and his happy band of recruits wormed their way in with governor of Tunis, he who had made that city rich by providing a haven for pirates and taking a cut of their loot in goods and captives. Ward captured many ships, and directed his own pirate fleet. Then built himself a palace with his ill gotten gains and lived a life of drinking, gaming and swearing, to name the least of the vices he apparently indulged in. One wonders what happened to his Cawsand recruits. Did they ever go home? Ward himself gave up piracy, got married and took to raising chickens. He died of plague in Tunis 1622.

And now, after that little diversion, some more turny-twisty byways and shorelines from Kingsand and Cawsand, accompanied always by the sea’s ebb and flow on the nearby rocks, and the cries of gulls:

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Thursday’s Special: winding.  Please visit Paula to see her astonishing interpretation of this week’s theme.

Sunset On Desert Sands ~ And Escaping From Kenya

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It is a kind of alchemy. As the sun sets, and its glow flows out across the desert, the dunes that in the full light of day had been dun coloured, inert, dull even, transform into waves of molten copper.

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To drive into the desert in late afternoon was blissful. The emptiness. And more emptiness. AND NO PEOPLE. We had come to Dubai for a break from Nairobi living. Sometimes life there could become too nerve-fraying. During the Moi era, security was always an issue in Kenya. Whenever the political temperature heated up – which was often during the 1990s’ donor push for multi-party democracy – so the crime wave spiked. It was mostly white collar crime too – run by crooked lawyers, senior officials and cops – all people who should know better.

Car-jacking was a speciality, and the diplomatic and aid community were particular targets with their newly imported 4 x 4s that were shipped in with each fresh posting. So it was that High Commission cocktail party talk mostly involved expats’ tales of having their vehicles stolen in hair-raising scenarios, usually by men with AK47s who had followed them into their driveways as they were returning home. Then there were the stories from Graham’s Kenyan colleagues. If they were driving project vehicles they would be car-jacked AND taken hostage for hours on end. We never did understand why car-jackers did this – driving around the city for hours until they finally decided to dump the unfortunate hostage in some god-forsaken wasteland.

Then there were aggravations such as coming home from a four-day seminar to find the house without electricity and the freezer dripping into the hall. In our absence some officious meter reader had been let into the property to read the meter. He misidentified our house number and claimed we had not paid our electricity bill. He then went off with our house fuses, and it  took a week of hideous argy bargy with closed-minded officialdom to have the power restored.

They claimed they had never heard of a meter man taking the fuses with him. Usually, they said, he would simply hide them somewhere handy, to be reinstated once the bill had been paid. In the meantime, nothing in our house worked since everything was electric. And all the security devices which the High Commission insisted we had, pretty much useless.

We have paid our bill, we kept saying to the electricity men. We have the receipt. These were the wrong words. Kitu kidogo were the right words. A little something. But as we didn’t play, we had to wait. Eventually a couple of very pleasant engineers took pity on us, and called in to see what was going on. After remonstrating at the lack of fuses as if this was our fault, they decided to make some new ones, standing on the kitchen stoop by the fuse box, winding wire round spools while admiring my crop of Tuscan kale, a variety they had never seen before but were much taken with. It was nice to have the lights back on. Playing scrabble by candle-light might seem vaguely romantic, but it wasn’t really, not after the first night.

And on top of the power-out dilemma, the weather had been vile – an El Nino special of weeks of endless torrential rain – people drowned, homes and whole villages washed away, impassable roads, the place unnaturally cold and grey and impossibly WET. It made us realise that we had very little to complain of. At least we had a roof over our head, and it only leaked a bit in the sitting-room corner.

But then the long wet spell next promoted an outbreak of ‘Nairobi Fly’ or Nairobi Eye – a rove beetle that causes extremely painful skin conditions if you happen to brush it away with too much enthusiasm, and then use the same hand when touching some area of bare flesh. For a time the whole city seemed under siege from this nasty little bug, the press burbling with horror stories of men whose private parts had become horribly inflamed due to some inadvertent contact. (Er, hem).

So it was good to fly away. It was good to spend a night in the desert even if our Tanzanian guide did lie in the back of the 4 x 4 with the door open and snore all night. It was good to get up at dawn to a bright, crisp day and walk alone through the dunes, and to see for miles and miles, without a soul in sight, only the distant blue spine of Oman’s El Hajar Mountains. It made the spirits soar, all that aloneness, as if you could face anything, though a month there might have truly done the trick.

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P.S. In case you are wondering, the green areas in the last photo are plots of alfalfa – high octane fodder for Dubai’s racing camels which are also reared in the desert on small camel farms.

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Daily Post Photo Challenge: Atop

Sunday Solution to Saturday Guess The Place ~ It’s The Trossachs!

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And more specifically it is a view of Loch Katrine taken from the summit of a ‘small mountain’ Ben A’an. So Jo was closest guesser with Loch Lomond, which is the next big loch westwards – she is definitely a woman who knows her landscapes. But thanks to all for playing along with yesterday’s photo quiz. And since I’m guessing that many of you have no idea where The Trossachs National Park is, here’s a map. The area is basically north of Glasgow and west of Stirling, and so not even in the Scottish Highlands despite all the beguiling peaks in the photo.

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Map: Eric Gabba (Sting)/Wikipedia CC-BY-SA 4.0

For more about The Trossachs from a local, see this article by Bill Kasman.