MARA CROSSING REPORT!!!

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Aug 28th, 2003, 12:53 PM
  #1
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MARA CROSSING REPORT!!!

I am deliriously jet-lagged but couldn't wait to post for Liz and others who are leaving soon. This is just about the crossings for now...too tired for anything else. We had 3 days in the Mara. First day, we saw a modest zebra-only crossing - maybe 25 crossed while another 30-40 stayed behind. Who knew that zebras could make such otherworldly sounds? It was indescribable but also obvious that they were communicating just as clearly as if they spoke the King's English. Negotiating, encouraging, warning, pleading, daring...maybe all of the above. At last a couple took the plunge with the others in hot pursuit. What an amazing sight. They all seemed to make it but we were quite sobered later that day to spot a very large croc on the banks with an odd-looking object next to it. Closer examination with binocs revealed that it was a zebra head. I know it's survival of the fittest and all that, but it put a lump in my throat nonetheless. Turns out it was good preparation for the next day's lesson.

On the afternoon game drive next day, our driver scouted out some likely locations near the Mara Bridge. Wildies were massed on the opposite shore as far as the eye could see along with some zebras here and there. We drove up and down a bit and finally settled on one spot where they were most tightly packed together. Our drivers hid our two land rovers behind some brush and told us to stay out of sight as well. They told us that the slightest thing might scare the animals from crossing, but that once it began, nothing would stop it and we could emerge from hiding to watch and take photos.

Let me add that at this point there were a couple of other vehicles nearby that eventually left, leaving only our group to witness the spectacle that was to come.

Peering through the brush with binoculars, we settled in to wait. Like the zebras the day before, the wildies were discussing the situation loudly and stridently. Their voices rose and fell like a chant, with a couple standing out above the others in tone and volume. Some of the animals seemed to be making trial runs, circling down the packed dirt bank and back up again. A couple of times, something spooked them and they retreated en masse farther back and down the river. Each time they gradually returned to the bank. Finally after 2 1/2 hours, we heard rather than saw the first splashes and our driver gave the ok to come out of hiding. What a magnificent spectacle. They came in hordes, with the successful leaders charging up a dirt ravine not 15 feet from us. It seemed like hundreds had already crossed in a matter of seconds when a head and then the top two-thirds of a huge croc appeared. It was so far out of the water that it must have been on top of the charging backs of some of the wildies and in the blink of an eye it grabbed one and disappeared underwater. At least one other was taken by a croc as we watched, but they just kept coming and coming. I can't even say how long we watched, it seemed like an hour but our sense of time was suspended. Somewhere in there, we realized they were spreading out from the dirt ravine and breaking through the brush closer and closer to us - maybe six feet? My brother whispered calmly behind me that he thought they were coming too close and we all started a quick backpedal to safer ground. We noticed then that some successful crossers were circling back to the bank, as if to locate their friends and families and welcome them to the other side.
At this point it must have been nearing 6 pm and the sun was starting to sink. The crossers slowed to a trickle and finally one last guy swam across the river alone, with others still on the banks above him snorting and milling about. Our guide said they were done for the day as they would not cross after dark.
We cheered the survivors, including lots of little ones, as they regrouped on our side of the shore. We watched them spread out until the plain was almost as dark with wildies as the other shore had been before the crossing. Breathless at this spectacle and our extraordinary good fortune, we climbed into the rovers to head home. We hadn't gone half a mile before we came upon ANOTHER CROSSING in progress! We pulled up next to a couple of other vehicles that were parked there just as a little movement caught our eye - two young lionesses crouching in the grass! Score one for the wildies, as the cats took off like coiled springs, but the nearest one seemed to lose her footing or misaimed or something and they came up empty-handed. Klutziness cost them dinner that time...

Those are my crossing stories. I'm still pinching myself to check whether it was just a dream. I hope to post photos when I get them back and would be glad to share other info if anyone is interested. I haven't had a chance to see Andy's pix yet but look forward to that. I agree with him that it was best the Mara was the last part of our trip, because had we gone there first, all the other wonderful and amazing things we saw would have been child's play in comparison. And yes, I'm bitten by the bug. Will definitely be returning someday.
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Aug 28th, 2003, 01:38 PM
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Wow Wow Wow! What a great story! And the way you tell it - I can feel it!

How lucky are you to experience that!
I am very excited for Liz and everyone who is on their way this year.

Congratulations!
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Aug 28th, 2003, 02:23 PM
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Oh my!
You are a natural born story teller!
I can't tell you how wonderfully evocative your narrative is.
Thanks to watching crossings on television documentaries I can picture your experience and it's just so exciting.
THANK YOU SO MUCH for stopping to share this with us while the experience is so fresh in your mind.
I know Liz will be blown away by this!
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Aug 28th, 2003, 03:19 PM
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LizFrazier
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Oh Offy-
Oh! Oh! Oh! I just jumped out of my skin. You are everyone's hero now. First trip and crossings all over the place! I am there! What a wonderful recitation of events. And they let you out of the car? Never have I heard such a story. Never! I am so thrilled. I knew something was going on with you, as I felt it in my bones. I still have to sit here for 6 more days. Day after day after day! I am driving everyone here on the threads nuts! Nuts I tell you.
You made it through! No problems. How wonderful. I will read and re-read every word you write in your trip report many, many times. But I won't get to see your photos I'm afraid. At least until I get back. Well I hope there is a crossing or two left in those babies when I get there. I would think you would have been scared to death with them so close to you. Thanks so much for sharing. Now just try to go to sleep. I'll bet you'll be back posting, unable to sleep from all of the excitement. Isn't it quiet in your bedroom? Thats the first thing I notice when I come home. How confining the rooms are and how quiet it is at night. No lions roaring, no hyenas whooping nearby. Just quiet. Not a good thing either after what you've witnessed. Liz
 
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Aug 28th, 2003, 04:00 PM
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OffToAfrica: I can share in your joy and wonderment of a crossing. We saw one last year in the Mara and it was a site I will remember until the day I die - and probably after that! How fantastic that you took the time to wait things out. We also had to wait almost three hours for the wildebeests to decide what they wanted to do. The day we were there, not one zebra crossed. There were some mixed in with all the wildebeests, and about 20 on the other side of the river which kept calling, but, for whatever reason, those on the other side decided not to cross. Thank you for your wonderful narative. I get goose bumps when I think of what you saw, and what I have seen ... and what LIZ will see!!! Yes, Liz. There are still thousands of wildebeests holding ground on one side of the river, awaiting your arrival. I am telling you, girlfriend, the Mara will NOT LET YOU DOWN! She will reveal all her beauty and splendor to you. You will not be disappointed. Let's see Liz. You have six days to wait and I have one year and about 20 days to wait. To be perfectly honest, I would rather be in your shoes right now!
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Aug 28th, 2003, 11:39 PM
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OffTo, that was a *great* story! Fantastic. I can't even imagine being feet away from that...
Liz, I am another one very excited for you...
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Aug 29th, 2003, 12:45 AM
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WOW! This just sounds so amazing. I want to go! Just told my husband that we are going next year to see this spectacle. I think he is despairing of me a little - we haven't had this year's Africa trip yet! (South Africa in October)

Anyone got any links to some good photos of the migration so I can tempt him some more?
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Aug 29th, 2003, 10:46 AM
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Thanks everyone for the great feedback and congratulations on our crossing viewings.
Larissa- Andy's Kenya Trip Report has a link to his photos, some of which are from the Mara, and I hope to get some of mine posted by early next week.
Liz, there should be plenty wildies still waiting to cross during your trip. Did you say you are staying at one of the Governors camps? We were at Mara Serena Lodge which is farther south. I would like to stay in tented camps next time for a more intimate experience, but Mara Serena does have a spectacular setting on a high woodsy bluff overlooking the river and the plains. From our rooms, from the pool and the main lodge you could watch with binoculars for hours at a time. At any given time, we could see giraffes, elephants, cape buffalo, wildies, zebra, hippos in the water and grazing on the shore, baboons and what seemed like 50 varieties of antelope. The lodge was teeming with beautifully colored birds and overrun with hyraxes. The hyraxes were fearless and would leap out of trees right in front of you or practically run across your feet at poolside. They are so cute it almost makes you want to pet them but of course they are wild, unpredictable and should not be touched.
Serena is located quite close to a hippo pool and the lodge offers a "hippo breakfast." The staff sets up tables riverside and serves champagne and a full breakfast spread for you to enjoy while observing the hippos, crocs, birds and a few hungry ngiri (warthogs) that came to see if they could scrounge some leftovers. This was where we saw the zebra head next to the contented croc so we instantly renamed it the "zebra breakfast."
Besides the splendid crossings, our game drives produced other wonderful animal encounters. We saw cheetahs numerous times, including a mother and two cubs, and followed a cheetah on the hunt until we lost her in in the tall grass. They are soooo fast. We found a pride of lions including dad lazing in the sun, two or three lionesses and four young ones frolicking and wrestling with each other. We spotted lots of spotted hyenas, including a family group with two cubs, and three adults squabbling over an unidentifiable carcass.
Our only regrets - no leopard sighting, and the only rhino we saw were a mom and young one in Nairobi National Park. Nairobi was fascinating with its urban setting - we took photos of giraffes and other animals with the city skyline clearly visible behind them.
We also stayed at Mountain Lodge in the Mt. Kenya area, set on a waterhole much like the Salt Lick Lodge Andy described in his report. We had just checked in and were eating lunch when a staff member came in the dining room to report that a herd of elephants was visiting. 14 of them in all - the adults minded the little ones and trumpeted at the cape buffalo when they got too close. We also saw a bush pig, baboon family and lots of Defassa waterbucks and impala there. At night we witnessed a fight between two genet cats and got a visit from a lone young bull elephant. The nighttime roars and trumpets were amazing and we could understand why we had been accompanied by an armed guard on our earlier nature walk.

The Sykes monkeys were funny and quite brazen. We had left a coffee cup and ashtray on our balcony when one paid a visit. Not wanting him to pitch these breakable items over the side, I went out the door to retrieve them - he stood his ground and took a little swat in my direction to the keen amusement of my brother who was watching from the observation deck. But payback is hell - brother and his wife returned to their room to find the monkeys had managed to open their louvered window and strewn gatorade powdered drink mix and chocolate about the place.
We also stayed one night at Mt. Kenya Safari Club, something I would not recommend. Another night in the Mara would have been far preferable. The only animals we saw there were in the on-premises orphanage/species conservation center - the highly endangered bongo, a bizarre but beautiful zebra-horse hybrid called a zebroid, Colobus monkeys, porcupines and some others. Interesting but not worth it. We wanted to take a game drive to the nearby Sweetwaters private game reserve but it was threatening to storm.
Another fascinating part of our trip was a goodwill visit to Kibagare Good News Centre on the outskirts of Nairobi, which feeds, houses and educates some 1,000 orphaned and/or poor children each day. We took school supplies and toys, toured the facilities and learned about their unique problems such as keeping the water supply safe from raw sewage runoff that last year led to a serious outbreak of cholera among the children and staff. After seeing some kids using half a rusty bicycle as a plaything in the yard, we vowed to follow up with donations toward decent play equipment like soccer balls and kickballs.

And speaking of poor children, we - like Andy and his wife - toured a Masai village along the Oloololo escarpment. The compound was a large fenced circular arrangement of low-slung stick and cow dung huts, facing onto a center "yard" of three-foot deep livestock waste. The huts are dark and claustrophobic, and it was hard to imagine a family sharing one of these with the calves and baby goats at night (to keep the wild animals from snatching them). The women gave a song and dance performance then were happy to show us beadwork,jewelry and carvings for sale.
As far as practical stuff, PACK LIGHTLY! I lived in the same 2-3 pair of convertible pants the whole time, plus tshirts, one longsleeved shirt and a windbreaker or lightweight fleece jacket. I found sleeveless shirts useful during midday when it was pretty warm and I wanted to work on my tan a bit. No place was dressy although Mt. Kenya Club stated no sneakers or jeans for dinner.
Nobody ever asked for yellow fever shot certificates, and next time I would forgo the nearly $300 worth of shots we each had. Didn't see a mosquito the whole time though I'm sure it would have been more of an issue in the wet season.
Carry lots of $1 US bills for tipping and small purchases, but I also recommend getting some Kenya currency for those places where prices are marked in shillings. They will convert prices to US dollars for you but you are not getting the best exchange rate that way.
As far as luggage allowances, I weighed my suitcase before I left to be sure it was under the 26 lb. weight limit for the small plane to the Mara. Some of our party had more with the heavy camera equipment but they left excess clothing behind with our guides who stored it at our Nairobi hotel.
OK I have run on long enough here. Hope some of this information is helpful or interesting, and to anyone sitting on the fence about such a trip, I say DO IT! I would go again in a heartbeat.
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Aug 29th, 2003, 11:08 AM
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One last thing: Carnivore restaurant report. This seems to be a must-do tourist stop in Nairobi. The ostrich was good and quite tender, the croc was horrible. The sausage-like preparation of eland was pretty good. And the plain old beef was the best beef I had in Kenya.
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Aug 29th, 2003, 11:20 AM
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LizFrazier
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Offy-
Could you give us your first name? Please? I'm tired of saying he/she, Offy, etc. Thanks.
I too like the location of the Serena Lodge, ideal right by the fork of the Mara and Talek Rivers, but I had always wanted to stay at Governors Camp and they have the private cars for hire. Also wanted the tented experience I guess. It is on the Mara River, but I realize the Talek River also gets crossings, etc. We will be able to drive there or whereever the action is each day I hope. I couldn't see that Serena had the private car hires. Were your crossings close to your lodge? Were they on the Mara or Talek River? Also we can hot air balloon ride right from Governors. We will be in the Main Camp. I liked the location of the main camp to Little Governors better, and Il Moran's rates were comparable to the Main Camp including the hired car. We will be at a tent away from the main area and facing the plains. The river tents are closed in more and we wanted to sit and view the open plains from our tent. Also thought we might hear more animals that way.
Appreciate the posts about clothes, etc. Did you go through Europe? Which airline did you fly? We heard from Andy that he had to check his duffel, so we are prepared to check ours in LHR. We can carry them on American Airlines from LA to LHR, so at least we won't have to worry about losing them by checking them in London. You've given us a lot of details, but I want more, more, MORE! Do you hear me?
I just want to keep reading every word about your trip. Isn't it incredible? Your first trip and here you are a hero now? If I don't get to see a crossing, I shall slink back in shame, or wait, maybe I could just lie about it. Yeah, thats it. I'll just lie. Well, that's settled. I feel better now.
Mountain Lodge is my favorite in the Aberdares and I agree about the Mt. Kenya Safari Club. You can probably see why we are only going to the Mara now on this trip. We've done the other areas, and this is just the creme de la creme for us.
Thanks again for your posts and sharing of details. Liz
 
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Aug 29th, 2003, 12:53 PM
  #11
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Liz, the name is Tracy and I'm a she...but I was pretty amused to be dubbed "Offy!"
I don't think of myself as a hero in the least, just fortunate and in awe to have had such great experiences.
We flew Virgin Atlantic from NY to Heathrow then Kenya Airways to Nairobi. We had a 12-hour London layover on the way there and a 5-hour one on the way out. Both were long enough to take the Heathrow Express then the underground to see some sights... changing of the guard, the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace with some wonderful Da Vinci works and royal heirlooms currently on display, a double-decker bus excursion, Trafalgar Square, lunch at a pub. Our bags were checked all the way to Nairobi so we didn't have to claim them in LHR. See heathrowexpress.co.uk for more info on cost etc.
Your thought to bring a mini-tape recorder is brilliant by the way...that is the one thing I wish I'd had to capture those amazing sounds. One brother shot video and I'm hoping he'll copy that for us so we'll have some record of sound. Also, my sister, daughter and I did manage as a trio to imitate the wildie sounds pretty well...we had our driver in stitches.
I am quite envious that you will be in the Mara the whole time. That's exactly what i'd do if I was to plan another trip.
We saw the crossings on the Mara near the Mara Bridge. We had private cars arranged through our booking agency. Our drivers said they are under contract with the Mara Serena Lodge. It seemed like everyone else there had private cars as well..the vehicles would be all lined up in the driveway every morning and afternoon. We liked to get a jump on the crowds so if the morning game drives were set for 6:30 a.m. we would agree to meet our drivers by 6:15.
The first of my film rolls should be ready over the weekend, I can't wait to see them! I took someone else's advice and didn't drop all film at the same place/time in case of mishaps. I have done some professional photography in the past but for this trip I just used my auto SLR with 38-170mm zoom. We were so close to animals at times that I think I got some good shots. Plus, my brothers were assigned to the "heavy lifting" photo duties - one had the videocam and another had the mega-huge 400mm zoom lens. All in all, we should have thorough documentation of everything.
I can't explain about being able to be outside the vehicles for the crossing...our guides didn't seem to think anything of it, so we didn't either. There wasn't time to be scared at having the wildies so close, we just knew when it was time to back up and give them some more space.
The main thing I'm missing back home are the hearty buffet-style meals -all the food you could ever want spread out before you morning, noon and night! The array of fresh fruit was my favorite...be sure to try something called the "tree tomato" which resembled passion fruit but was red.
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Aug 29th, 2003, 01:19 PM
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LizFrazier
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Offy-
So, I've gotten used to it. Suits you better. You will always be a youngish dark haired male to me. Thats the picture I conjured up from your posts. Sorry. Tracy just didn't do it for me.
Thanks for the info on LHR. I'll check that out for sure. Maybe you don't feel like a hero, but you saw crossings and you meet the requirements, so.........
We always enjoyed the fresh fruit in Kenya too. Tree tomato? Don't remember that. Will try it.
When we were at the Carnivore the Croc. was pretty good. Tasted like chicken. I thought I might stick with the beef this time. I have this friend named JanGoss, I feel I don't want to tread on her heart, and that is more important to me than some wild meat. Why do I let you guys get to me so much, I'll never know.
I'll keep my eyes open for those pictures on Monday, after that I'll be off somewhere with my head in the clouds I imagine. Liz
 
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Aug 29th, 2003, 02:03 PM
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Tracy:

Thank you so much for the wonderful exiting report. You write so well that for a minute I thought I was seeing it with you!! Though I am not going to the Mara to see Liz's wildies I will be in my favorite Kenya in about three weeks and just can't wait (I know Liz will kill me but I've always thought of the wildies as plain dumb animals - in Amboseli all the female wildies leave after the rains and the dumb males sit guarding their empty territories while the females are out playing with some other males!) - Sorry Liz.

Liz, I love you for thinking about what you'll eat in Nairobi - better than the Carnivore how about the Tamarind? Just about the best seafood you'll ever get.
Just a thought. You know the seafood around the U.S. East Coast is getting very scarce so I'll be sure to enjoy it there. The prawns piri piri are something to die for.

If I don't get a chance to talk with you before you go, you know we'll all be there with you in heart and mind. I know you'll have a fantastic trip.

Jan
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Aug 29th, 2003, 03:02 PM
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Hearing your awesome description has stirred my excitement, we leave in 8 days. I have been so busy at work that I have tried not to think about the upcoming trip, but know the Africa juices are flowing. I CAN NOT WAIT!
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Aug 29th, 2003, 04:58 PM
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dterrell and Liz, you will have such excellent trips and I am rooting for you to see all the animals and crossings you wish.
And JanGoss is so right about Tamarind, owned by the same people as Carnivore I think, with a fantastically diverse seafood menu. I live in New Orleans where we have damn good food in general and especially lots of excellent fish and shellfish, and I found Tamarind world-class. Don't miss it. Business seemed kind of slow when we there and the service staff and management were wonderful and seemed genuinely appreciative of our patronage.
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Sep 1st, 2003, 01:20 AM
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Tracy: What a beautiful, evocative description. How lucky you are to have seen such incredible "animal dramas".
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Sep 1st, 2003, 05:43 AM
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LizFrazier
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dterrell-
I don't recall you posting your itinerary or anything about your trip. Where will you be going, etc.? Liz
 
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Sep 1st, 2003, 09:08 AM
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Hi Liz,
No I haven't posted my trip. But I have been reading so many of the stories and messages on this board and other boards for about a year it seems. We settled on 2afrika, the swinging safari and vic falls. I wanted to do the grand combo, but my husband wants to bungee jump at vic falls, so the compromise of relationships comes into play. We are adding another day in vic falls to canoe the zambezi, and 2 days in Jo'burg to do some cultural exploration. I have done interantional voluteer work and would like to spend some time in Soweto and Pretoria. This week is a short we for us since today is a holiday. I am trying to get as much done as possible today. My parents are coming in Wednesday thru the day we leave. I hope you have a wonderful and safe trip.
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Sep 1st, 2003, 11:57 AM
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Thanks d-
We'll be leaving the Mara about the time you get there. Quite a few people from Fodors have taken the Swinging Safari and have posted good things about it. I know you'll have a fabulous time. Vic Falls is also wonderful. We were there about this time of year in 1999, and we really liked it although the water is low this time of year. Still spectacular. I would like to see it during the Spring and the flood, maybe another time, another trip. Be sure and post a trip report for us when you get back.
It is so exciting with so many going at this time. After a long dry spell, lots of goings on. Take care and be safe. Liz
 
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Sep 4th, 2003, 06:25 PM
  #20
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http://www.ofoto.com/BrowsePhotos.js...1&sort_order=0

Here is a link to my Kenya album on ofoto. Hope it works, let me know if it doesn't.
Some of my photos didn't turn out quite as well as I hoped but I posted the better ones.
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