In Search Of Lost Time At Elmenteita ~ Back To The Old Africa album

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Flamingos at dawn on Lake Elmenteita, Kenya

What better way to spend wet and windy days than trawling through old photos: scenes of times past when we lived in Kenya. So all thanks to Tina at Lens-Artists who this week sends us off on a treasure hunt through the photo files. Images may include sunsets, sunrises, birds, mountains, expressive portraits and a host of other things – in combination or otherwise. For the full list, follow the link at the end of the post and be inspired by Tina’s own treasure-hunted photos.

Meanwhile, I’ve chosen photos taken at different times but in a single place where we often stayed – a tented camp on the shores of Lake Elmenteita – a 2-hour drive up the Great Rift Valley from Nairobi. The camp had gone now, but the 46,000 acre wildlife sanctuary that surrounds the lake may still be visited. It is now the Soysambu Conservancy, the land still owned by Lord Delamere, whose grandfather, in the early 1900s, was one of first British colonial settlers in Kenya.

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The Eburru massif is still volcanically active. The light here changes every second.

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The pioneering Delamere ranch at Elmenteita was never successful, the soil too thin on volcanic bedrock and lacking in vital minerals, a fact well known to local Maasai herders who had long avoided grazing their cattle around the lake. Their name for the place could have offered further clues. In Ki-Maa Elmenteita means ‘place of dust’, their oral accounts telling of times when the lake blew away completely, leaving only a dust-plain.

These days the water levels rise and fall, but in any event the lake is both shallow and intensely alkaline, being one of a string of soda lakes along the floor of Kenya’s Great Rift. The waters are rich in crustacea and insect larvae which support large flocks of Greater Flamingos, and also blue-green algae that keep even larger numbers of Lesser Flamingos well fed. On rocky islands beneath the rugged cones and scarps of the Eburru massif pelicans breed.  While around the lake, in marsh and acacia scrub, some 450 bird species have been spotted. The sanctuary is also rich in all manner of plains game: gazelle, eland, impala, waterbuck, zebra, giraffe, warthog, dik-dik, buffalo. And then there are monkeys, aardvarks, spring hares, zorillas, porcupines and rock pythons.

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My memories of course are forever fixed in the 1990s, and as an antidote to the kind of nostalgia-wallowing that inevitably overlooks the modernising needs of Kenyans, I should just mention that the volcanic steam vents of the southerly Eburru hills are now being exploited on an industrial scale to generate geothermal power as part of Kenya’s greener, cheaper energy initiative.

Now for my ‘treasure’ trawl:

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Who scattered  those rose petals on the lake?

I’m including this photo because it shows that East Africa can have very dull weather, often for weeks in July, August and September when it can also be quite cool. The bush is very dry during this period – the main rainy seasons being the short rains in late October – November and the long rains late March – June: if they happen, that is; some years they miss altogether. This last year there have been life-threatening deluges across East Africa. The other striking feature here is the exploded volcanic cone across the lake, traditionally known as the Sleeping Warrior, but also dubbed Delamere’s Nose on account of the original pioneering lordship’s hooter that so impressed the locals.

People portraits:

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Paul Kabochi, camp ethnobotanist and medical herbalist. There was not much he did not know about the wilderness, the ways of its wildlife and the healing properties of plants and trees. His  animal tracking expertise was often called on by the BBC in the making of wildlife documentaries. The times I spent with him, walking through the early morning bush, or out on night drives, are fused in my heart.

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Paul Kabochi and Jo Bickerton on an ethnobotany walk.

I think it was at this point that Paul invited my sister to stick her finger in the top of a harvester ants’ nest. Jo, newly arrived in Africa, but quick as a flash, balked and suggested he might stick his own finger in the nest. This is not the best of photos, but I love the body language: total engagement in more senses than one.

An unexpected portrait:

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This tiny Kirk’s dik-dik is not much bigger than a hare. They are rarely spotted during the day, so I was lucky to see this one; even more that he stayed to have his photo taken.  Unlike most larger antelope, dik-diks live in monogamous pairs, staying closely together, the male marking their territory with dung middens and secretions from the  conspicuous glands at the front of each eye. Each couple generally avoids  their immediate dik-dik neighbours, though when boundary disputes do occur they can lead to fierce combat between the males.

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Lens-Artists: Treasure Hunt

 

Dubai Desert: Early Morning Strobelight

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It was about 5 a.m. and I had not slept all night. Desert sand is very hard on the hip bone, with or without a custom-made scoop-out beneath it. And our pop-up tent offered no defence against the loud snores of Geoff, our Tanzanian guide, who was sleeping in the open back of his Land Cruiser. But to walk out of the camp alone and up into the high dunes and watch the sun rise over Al Hajar –  instant rejuvenation remedy.

More desert views in the previous post.

January Light #20

Dreaming In Africa

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Long ago when we lived in Africa and far away on Manda Strait in the Lamu Archipelago, Captain Lali dreams. It is late afternoon, the day after Christmas Day, and we have been sailing in Mzee Lali’s small dhow, out exploring the reef and catching a fish or two for a seaboard lunch that will be cooked on a little jiko stove, and served with freshly chopped coleslaw. Even wide awake it seemed like a dream to us.

I’ve posted this photo several times before, as some of you will know. The way time is speeding up, it’s rapidly assuming vintage status. So here’s an ancient Swahili tale to go with it, also one I prepared earlier:

There came a time when Sendibada signed on with a strange sea captain. The next day, as dawn was breaking, the ship cast off, a strong breeze filling the lateen sails, and bearing them swiftly out to sea. But towards noon the wind died, and the boat drifted, becalmed, on still waters.

At this, the captain strode out on the bridge, and began to utter words that Sendibada could not fathom. He stared and stared for, to his astonishment, the ship began to rise, graceful as an egret taking flight. Sendibada grinned. He liked a good adventure, and now it seemed this strange captain of his was none other than the most powerful magician.

Up into the clouds they soared, flying, flying until at last they saw a faraway red spot. But little by little the spot grew, until at last Sendibada saw it was a city in the sky, and that every house there was made of copper. Soon they set down in the harbour and, as the crew made to go ashore, from every quarter, lovely girls came out to greet them, bearing on their heads copper trays laden with the most delicious fruits and sweetmeats and tender roasted morsels.

And so it was that much time passed, the ship’s crew enjoying month after month of this most gracious hospitality. Sendibada, though, was growing homesick, and said as much. Now the magician gave him a round mat and told him how to use it.

Sendibada followed the instructions, placing the mat on the ground and seating himself upon it so that he faced the direction of his home town. Then he spoke the foreign words that meant: Behold! We shall all return to it . And at once the mat rose into the clouds, and faster than a diving hawk, set Sendibada back on the beach just outside his home town.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

The Copper City  retold from a translated text in Jan Knappert’s Myths and Legends of the Swahili

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Related posts:

Lamu Dreaming

Quayside Lamu

The Swahili

Lens-Artists: Dreamy  This week Ann-Christine is hosting Lens-Artists’ Saturday challenge. If you want to join in, please tag your post ‘LENS-ARTISTS’ and add a link to the challenge post. Or just visit their lovely blogs and be inspired:

Patti https://pilotfishblog.com/

Ann-Christine aka Leya https://lagottocattleya.wordpress.com/

Amy  https://shareandconnect.wordpress.com/

Tina https://travelsandtrifles.wordpress.com/

Thursday’s Special: Desert Dawn

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We’ve been suffering serious gales and wetness in the UK, and it’s set to persist, bluster and precipitate for several more days yet. Which has me thinking of dryness and deserts and heat and stillness and no wind. This photo was taken early one morning in the desert outside Dubai. It was around 5 a.m. and I had just given up the battle of trying to sleep in an igloo tent while close by our guide snored loudly in the open back of his 4×4. And when I walked out alone and saw all this, what could I say. Who cares about mangled limbs and a sleepless night? Why would I?

Thursday’s Special  This month Paula challenges us to show her any or all of the following: inversion . circuitous . corniculate . sabulous . interstice . I’m definitely claiming the last two in this shot, and also some circuitous tyre tracks. And then there’s inversion – the up and down-ness of the dunes and sand ruts, the light versus shade, the cool of sunless valleys versus sun-warmed peaks. I suppose at a push too, you might say the distant small lumps and bumps are reminiscent of newly erupting horns?

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Remembering December Colours In East Africa ~ Thursday’s Special

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December is usually the time of the short rains in Kenya. I say usually because these days the tropics are especially affected by climate change so nothing is certain when it comes to weather. It is also the hottest time of the year, and in the upcountry regions, the season for planting. Here on Lamu Island (above) it is also tourist time, although the year we spent Christmas there it was scarcely crowded. This  photo was taken on Christmas Eve as the sun was setting. There were about six other people on the beach. Earlier that day we had arrived in a sudden squall which made the dhow crossing to Lamu from the air field on Manda Island a touch exciting. We visitors all huddled under the awning while the stalwart captain kept us on course across a choppy, foggy strait.

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Most of our Christmases were spent on Tiwi beach south of Mombasa. Not a busy place either. Here’s the sunrise over the lagoon at Maweni one Christmas morning long ago.

sunrise on the reef

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And some ageing views of the lagoon in head-on sunshine:

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Thursday’s Special ~ please visit Paula to see her colour prompts. As you might conclude, they include aquamarine, cyan and golden.

Morning Chat In The Manhattan Diner

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Sadly this particular Manhattan Diner in Upper West Side is no longer there, though  there is another of the same name not far away on Broadway. We were staying across the road in the Beaux Arts style Hotel Belleclaire (much revamped in the last few years) and since they did not have a restaurant, we were advised to come here for breakfast along with their other guests. The place had a pleasing ease-yourself-into-the-day atmosphere, but what I liked most was that Upper West Side residents also came here every day for breakfast. I rather felt that this easy cross-the-aisle conversation had been continuing for years, morning after morning, familiar, but not too familiar.

Cee’s Catching People Unaware Challenge

Flamingos At Dawn On Lake Elmenteita And Remembering Paul Kabochi

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It looks like a mirage, I know – not helped by aging photo/collapsing scanner syndrome. But even when I was taking it, it was hard to believe I was there. This despite some very particular sensations that still lurk in my memory – the sting of soda in nose and eyes (Elmenteita is one of the Great Rift’s soda lakes)  plus the pungent whiff of flamingo guano, and under foot, the slimy droppings-rich mud along the shore. There was also the noise – the continuous honking of the birds as they jostled among  rich algal pickings.

On one of my dawn visits to the lake shore, I bumped into Paul Kabochi. Or rather he bumped into me. He had driven a Japanese bird enthusiast down to the lake to take photos.

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Paul Kabochi wildlife expert and ethnobotanist 1942-2003

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As I said in an earlier post:  “Paul Githinji Kabochi was a man I am lucky to have met, and I mourn his tragic loss in what was, for him, the strangest of accidents. He was a true path-finder, and not only for the likes of me, a traveller, wanting to experience the African bush with someone who knew it intimately, but also for august naturalists such as David Attenborough.  Paul had been one of the expert guides during the making of The Life of Mammals, and his special knowledge was often called upon by the BBC’s outpost in Nairobi.”

For more of his story…

 

In the Pink #27