Nyamera's Double Mara - June/July 2007

Old Aug 6th, 2007, 08:11 AM
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Part 2

Day 12
In the morning I was very worried about my heavy bag. I had not planned any domestic flights. Compared to other expenses, what you have to pay for overweight is irritating but negligible, at least with Air Kenya. It’s an image problem – real travellers travel light. My bag keeps getting heavier for each trip and at Arlanda airport it had weighed 19 kilos. I decided to put all books and some big bottled cosmetics– that had had to travel in my big bag because of the “problem” with liquid terrorism in Europe – in the hand luggage. I packed the cheese and decided to donate it to the kitchen of Mara Intrepids.

The receptionist phoned a taxi driver that she knew and he was there in a minute. I never got to know the reason for all the singing. I mentioned it to the receptionist, but she just smiled. On the way to Wilson Airport, somewhere along Uhuru Highway, there were marabous on both sides of the road. One of them decided to cross the road from one tree to another and a lion wouldn’t have been more striking.

This time I was flying with Safarilink. I was told my bag was 18 kilos, but not a word about having to pay for that. I prefer them to Air Kenya. The x-rays where out of order, so there was a long queue for manual control of the bags. The control consisted in opening and having a peek. The packing wasn’t disturbed in any way. A group of six very pretty American ladies were on the same flight as I. Their eye make-up looked like it would stay in place during very long game drives. I was amazed to hear they were teachers. They had a lot of luggage, but most of it was school material for a school near Kichwa Tembo where they were going for the third time. One of them put her palm on the wall of the plane saying, “Jesus, bless this plane and everyone in it”, or something similar. Then she said she wasn’t afraid as she was going with God. Completely insane, almost Kenyan, I regretted I wasn’t going to Kichwa Tembo instead of Intrepids! Between the numerous clouds, after Nairobi Kenya looked like a wilderness with the occasional Maasai village. On a road trip you see people everywhere. I was supposed to get off the 18-seater at the Serena airstrip and get on a 13-seater to Ol Kiombo, and so I did. The pilot couldn’t find my bag, but as I’d identified it outside the plane before taking off I knew it must be in the luggage compartment. After unloading all other bags it was found. Ol Kiombo was a 2 minutes’ drive from Intrepids. Two middle-aged couples and one young honeymoon couple from Scotland arrived at the same time as I. We were given some juice and information, and taken to our tents. Mine was number 7. More than a tent, it felt like some luxury cabin on a ship, but I don’t know if there’re four-poster beds on ships. There were 3 big mirrors and lots of lamps everywhere. It was a bit irritating that the tent was made animal proof and that the camp was fenced. The animals are the reason people are there. I thought the fence was because the camp was big and it wasn’t possible to keep an eye on all stupid guests, but later I asked and it was because so many nice things had been constructed and elephants could break everything in 15 minutes. There were some vervets and dik-dik in the camp though. Lunch was soup, buffet and dessert, and as tasty as expected. The waiter would guard my water bottle till dinner. That way I couldn’t do like in Samburu were I had a tiny beverage bill because I took the bottle with me and then I used the water bottles that the tent steward kept putting in the tent for people decadent enough to brush their teeth with bottled water. I tried out the suspension bridge over the Talek River. It was very elastic, but the sign saying “maximum capacity 3 pax” was a bit worrying.

The afternoon game drive was at 3.30 and before it there was tea/coffee and cake. I was wondering with whom I’d be sharing the game drives, and it was sorted out in the best possible way – the three couples from Scotland in one vehicle, and I in another. My driver/guide was Dennis, not very experienced but a most pleasant and good-looking young man from Nairobi, and with him he had Jacob, who was training to become a guide and who shared Dennis’ characteristics, except that he was a Maasai from a place just north of Bushbuck. At last I had an open-sided vehicle, and all to myself. I don’t think we saw any cats on the first game drive, but there were topis and a multitude of less glamorous antelopes. We also saw ground hornbills and a pair of secretaries in their nest. Returning to the Mara was the best idea I’d ever had.

Before the 4-course dinner I sat down by the fire next to the swimming pool. There must have been around 40 guests all the time I was at Mara Intrepids, but I was the only one showing any interest in the fire. The pool attendant, Isaiah, was from the shores of Lake Victoria and when he told me about it, it sounded as if that was the reason he got the job. His way of talking reminded me very much of the night watchman in Darwin’s Nightmare. Then I saw that a slideshow had started in the conference room. I went there to see what the “naturalist”, Johnson, had to tell. One other tourist was there, the only other solo traveller during my stay at Intrepids – a man (amazing as they usually don’t dare to travel on their own) from an unidentified European country. Johnson talked about the Maasai way of life. At the end he asked if we had any questions. There’s a lot I’d like to know, but I never have any questions when people ask me. There’s also the problem that I don’t know what might cause offence, but from experience I know that painful body modification is something most Maasai like to talk about. The only thing I could think of was to ask Johnson why his earlobes weren’t enlarged. It was because his teacher had asked him not to enlarge them. The teaching would go through the holes in his earlobes instead of into his head. Johnson also told us that circumcision was worse than the removal of incisors, and he talked about the drugs that make warriors cry and cry. Since they used a mixture, he didn’t know from which plant that drug came. I didn’t ask why anyone would want a drug that makes you cry. We went to dinner and the other solo guest commented horrified (quite rightfully) that he hadn’t known that the Maasai practised female circumcision. Johnson had mentioned it and maybe I should have directed my questions in that way. The waiter asked if we’d like a table for two, but the other solo guest said, “I’ll sit at my table”. Just as well as he was half-fat and dorky (much like myself) and I wouldn’t have liked people to think we were a couple. A bushbaby appeared on the rafters. Everybody was photographing and feeding it, so I decided to bring my camera next night. It must have been very used to flashes, but I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do. There were at least two bushbabies, first a normal grey one and later a black bushbaby. They were never there at the same time. Then I heard that the Scots had seen baby hyenas in the afternoon.

I think that at the arrival info we where told there wasn’t any hot water after 8pm, but I always had plenty of hot water, and in my bed there was a hot water bottle.
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 08:13 AM
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Day 13
I was up at 5 and on the other side of the suspension bridge before 6.30. I’m pretty disorientated, but it’s better to start from there when you’re going to the eastern side of the Talek River. I’d planned to bring a map of the Maasai Mara and to ask the guide exactly where we were, all the time, but I forgot it at home. Before the heavy rains in December, Intrepids used to have a concrete vehicle bridge in the camp, but it was washed away. For a while the rain was so bad that they could only do game drives between the Olare Orok and Talek rivers. We were going on a long game drive with breakfast boxes. Both Dennis and Jacob seemed to think that the Talek area had the best game. Close to Talek Gate there was a traffic jam of mostly white minibuses. We were a couple of hundred metres away, but could see that there were lions in front of the vehicles. Then the steering went dead. We had to stop, as Dennis couldn’t turn the wheels at all and we had to wait to be picked up and taken to the gate where we would wait for some mechanics. It was a bit silly as we were very close to the gate and there were only topis, waterbucks and impalas along the way. Soon an Explorer vehicle with two German tourists turned up and took us to the picnic tables next to Talek curio shop. The Germans said that there had been lots of lion cubs playing wildly, but that they wanted to leave because of the traffic jam. We had breakfast while waiting and all kinds of birds turned up demanding food. I’ve always wanted a good picture of a superb starling and thanks to my breakfast bread I got some that were acceptable. After a while the Scots who also were going to have breakfast next to the curio shop joined us. I thought they could have chosen a nicer spot, but I didn’t say anything. In the morning they had seen a pair of mating lions and a leopard with a kill in a tree close to camp. I really should have supported a fellow curio seller, but I didn’t. I also regret not having checked out Aruba and Riverside Camp.

The mechanics turned up in an Explorer vehicle and we drove to the vehicle without steering and left them there. Then we encountered some lions in a big grove of thorn apples. They were lying absolutely flat and didn’t move. There was a big ostrich harem and then I became obsessed with having a picture with one Thomson’s and one Grant’s gazelle in it. Suddenly a male lion crossed the road and started to walk towards a herd of topis. He just walked straight through where they were and continued towards some thickets. The topis followed him and then he disappeared into the thickets. On the way back to camp we saw a congregation of 18 giraffes. Two people were going to join me for the afternoon game drive and I started rehearsing how to greet them. Maybe, “this is my vehicle and there’re certain rules you should know.”

After lunch I saw a bushbuck at the other side of the river. Then, after a brief siesta and some freshing up, on my way to the afternoon game drive, I saw vervet monkeys inside the Scottish honeymooners’ tent. I told them to get out of there and behave themselves, but then they came against me in a threatening way. I took some pictures of the vervets with stolen fruit and then I closed the tent and put all the veranda furniture in front of the zipper with velcro and knots.

The people who were supposed to join me hadn’t showed up. First we went to look at some hippos, and I didn’t manage to photograph any of them with an open mouth. Then we saw an Intrepids vehicle next to a lone tree and a leopard in the tree. A bit further away there were two Intrepids vehicles looking at the honeymooning lions. They were lying flat in the grass and we could hardly see them. After a while Dennis heard on the radio that another vehicle had found cheetahs and we went there. On the way we saw a poor hyena that was throwing up and limping. My first thought when I saw the three young cheetah brothers was, “Honey’s cubs”, but Dennis said that their mother wasn’t dead. She had killed a tommie for them and then she’d left. The cheetahs were lying flat on the ground as well, but when they saw the hyena they became a bit more alert. Some elephants passed by. The brothers weren’t interested in them. Without radios we might have stayed with one kind of cat to see what that cat was up to, or we might not have seen any cats except the serval that I spotted on the way back to camp after having had another look at the very sleepy leopard. The reason I spotted the serval was that, even with an open-sided vehicle, I was standing up all the time, except when we were close to some interesting animal that I wanted to be at the same level as. Dennis told me that, as he hadn’t been able to talk to the new guests, we’d have two short game drives the following morning.

Johnson joined me next to the fire. Steven had told me fire is “enkema” in Maa. It’s easy to remember because, in Spanish, “quema” means “it burns”. Johnson wanted to know the cost of my flight from Sweden and was horrified at my answer. He’d have bought a good number of cows instead. One cow costs 7000 – 9000 shillings and my return flight was almost 70000 shillings. There was a new couple at dinner, but I was too shy to talk to them. After dinner I became more and more irritated at having breakfast in camp. I asked the waiters if it was too late to order five breakfast boxes. There was really no reason to prefer two short game drives, so I could decide for the new couple. It was too late. Had it just been me, I’d have taken all the early morning biscuit with me on the game drive and that would have been quite sufficient.
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 08:14 AM
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Day 14
I didn’t say anything about my vehicle rules, in part because I hadn’t decided what they were. Anyway, the couple, Jo and Darren from England, didn’t need to hear the rules. I think I was quite lucky. They were very interesting as an example of extreme sexual dimorphism, one anorexic and the other anabolic. Though, as they didn’t seem mentally disturbed – I was a bit worried when they didn’t recognize the topi, but they soon learned - it was probably natural and healthy variations, and both were quite attractive. When we came across a secretary bird, Jo said that she’d seen one being fed at a zoo where the keepers had to throw a plastic snake for it to stamp on before it would eat the meat it was being served. Jo and Darren were coming from Samburu and where on their way to Zanzibar. In Samburu they’d spent the entire last day on an unsuccessful search for a leopard and they were a bit too eager to find that kind of cat - something that can easily bring bad luck. We came across the honeymooning lions again and this time they were a bit more visible and even got up for some sniffing and I got a flehmen photo. A male hanger-on was lying in the grass a couple of metres away. Then we found the three brothers and could have stayed with them instead of going back to camp for breakfast. We also spotted a Basecamp vehicle. The driver was Tonkei, my driver from 2003, but as he didn’t seem to recognise me, I didn’t say anything.

Breakfast in camp wasn’t that bad. I had lots of pineapple. The Scots were leaving and that was just as well as they’d seen leopard cubs.

After breakfast we saw plenty of giraffes and some elephants and zebras. Darren got a good shot of a lilac breasted roller. Compared to the area around Bushbuck there were far fewer zebras inside the reserve and I didn’t see a single wildebeest.

After lunch I used the very expensive Internet at Intrepids to find the website of Karen Camp and send an enquiry. It had caught my attention because it was next to a riding school, I thought it would be in the countryside and that I’d have some riding opportunities, and also that I’d be close to Sheldrick’s and other interesting sites. I used to hang around horses many years ago and I’ve been missing it all the time. I asked for the reply to be sms:ed to my mobile phone and in the evening I had a reply saying that it was 1590 shillings for a single with bathroom. I replied that I’d be there on Thursday afternoon.

In the afternoon we went to the Mara River for hippos and crocodiles. Darren got a photo of two hippos fighting with open mouths. Had I known about continuous mode, I too might have got that kind of photo. I still don’t know how to use continuous mode, but I’ll find out as soon as I’ve finished this report. I wanted to stay in that part of the Mara forever. I’d thought the Serena was a big lodge, but when I saw it there on the other side of the river on its hill, it looked like an enchanted Maasai castle. A mysterious mist rising up from the river intensified the enchantment, but Dennis said that was from the generator. The elands were very real though, and straight out of a fairy tale. We came across an elephant family with two tiny, tiny calves that were barely visibly in the grass. And then there were a couple of grumpy old buffalo bulls. The strange thing about them was that one of them wasn’t old at all; he looked very young, but was so irritated with us that I was afraid he’d have a heart attack. He must have been suffering from precocious senility, or else he would have been with the herd. Dennis said that the herd probably wasn’t far away. I started “seeing” leopards everywhere and discovered that it was a good way to be able to stay out longer.

In the evening I had to reanimate the fire myself. Not even the staff showed any interest.
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 08:15 AM
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Day 15
This morning we had breakfast boxes and were going on a “village visit” after breakfast. First we went to the Talek area and on the way we saw the elephant family from the evening before, jackals, hyenas, lots of topis etc. Near Talek Gate the big lion pride had a buffalo kill out on the plain. For some reason it was not permitted to drive out there. I never understood where it’s permitted to drive and where it’s not. To me it seemed like Dennis was driving just everywhere. It was probably an area in extra need of regeneration. A minibus drove up close to the lions anyway, but I was glad we were better behaved. We did see a lioness in a thicket and, for a second, two of the tiniest cubs I’ve ever seen showed themselves before disappearing again. Dennis thought we’d have a better view from the other side of the thicket, but when we got there we couldn’t see the lioness. The Talek curio shop was on the way to the village, so we had breakfast there and met up with another Intrepids vehicle with one British and one German couple that were going to the “village visit”. When I ran out of bread I started feeding the birds chilli crisps, and the superb starlings liked them.

When Dennis had asked if wanted to do the village visit, I just thought, “why not?” At 1000 shillings it was a bit more expensive than the previous one. The set-up was almost identical, but at this place you were forced to dance. I wish I’d known so that I could have practised a year or so in advance.

At lunch I was invited to the table of 16 American women with their 3 guides from Origins Safaris. These Americans were almost like normal people, only so much nicer.

In the afternoon Jo and Darren were on their way to Zanzibar without having seen a leopard. I’d thought about telling them about the Zanzibari leopard, but, as it’s extinct, I kept quiet.

I was back on the Paradise Plains without “intruders” in the vehicle. There were elands and topis and I thought everything was quite perfect. I even thought I had got the best wildlife photo ever - a mother and calf topi picture that looked fabulous on the display screen, but turned out a bit grainy on the computer. Nevertheless Dennis and Jacob were worried about the absence of cats. Then we got the message that an Origins vehicle had found a leopard. Dennis had a problem. The leopard was a bit further away, we were a long way from the camp and it was getting late. He chose the leopard. It was a small leopard, barely visible where it was sitting in the grass. The Origins driver had been alerted to its presence by an impala. Suddenly the leopard got up, walked a few steps, and jumped in a long leap up on a stone from where it jumped high like a serval pouncing on something in the grass. The animal pounced at got away and the leopard continued walking. At almost exactly 6pm we started the direct drive back to the camp. We stopped for a few seconds next to some buffaloes and we were back in camp at 6.45.

At dinner I didn’t understand who was who of the 16 women or what they were talking about. I think they were a group of friends who did a trip together every second year. My only contribution was, when one suggested Sweden for their next destination, to half-scream “no, don’t!” Maybe I should check out the official tourism site, if there is one, to learn to say, “we have lots of lakes, sometimes you see a moose and, and, and …” It was the 4th of July and those who celebrated that day were invited to toast in Amarula. I celebrated. One of the women told the guide, Felix, about guerrilla tactics against the British, and he associated to the Mau Mau. I don’t know too much about these things, so I had problems fitting the Native Americans into the picture.
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 08:16 AM
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Day 16
When Jesse had asked me if I wanted the morning or the afternoon flight, I had said, quite logically, that I wanted the morning flight to the Mara and the afternoon flight back. I had to be out of my tent at 10am, so I left my bags packed before the last game drive at 6.30. I hadn’t remembered to donate my cheese and now it had been unsuitably stored a bit too long. I let it stay in my bag.

Soon we came across a leopard in a tree. It was a very tired leopard, he only looked up for a while when he heard lions. A rhino had been sighted, so we went on a long unsuccessful rhino search while the giraffes looked at us as if we were really stupid and before driving towards Lookout Hill. On the way there we saw bat-eared foxes. Lookout Hill had a view into Tanzania and some very photogenic agama lizards. I’d recommend it for a boxed breakfast. Jacob said that for white people it was easier to learn Maa than Kikuyu, and some other questionable things.

After a brief stop at the Mara River we were on the way back to camp when we found an army of topis that was being approached by an army/harem of impalas. It was an impressive sight and I wondered what would happen. Some topi representatives came forward nodding their heads and the impalas felt safe (I’m not Richard D. Estes). Dennis pointed to vultures circling in the air a bit further away. They were a sign there was a kill, as were a couple of Intrepids vehicles. “Or would you like to look at the topis?” he asked. I contemplated the topis a few seconds more and then we went to have a look at who had killed whom. It was the three brothers that were eating an unidentifiable animal. Suddenly a hyena jumped in and started biting at their kill, and the brothers started growling – at each other! Then the hyena took the kill and galloped away. The hyena was an animal looking for food, but it’s impudence made it so human-like that I was quite upset. The brothers had red faces and round bellies. The bellies weren’t round enough though; they should have looked heavily pregnant. A heap of vultures descended on some intestines that were lying about. There were interested jackals in the grass and some bat-eared foxes that I thought were insectivores – they must be curious insectivores. The cheetah brothers started walking with frequent stops to lick each other’s faces and we returned to the topis. We saw a lone elephant and then we were back in camp.

I no longer had a tent. I knew it was international hotel rules and that new guests had arrived, but being thrown out of my tented palace was quite irritating. I decided to set up residence in the ladies’ toilet next to the reception where I spread out my thing and started to undress, wash myself, put up my hair etc. Just one person, an Intrepids employee, entered the toilet while I was there. Then I went to lunch and the American women showed me a film of two leopard cubs that they had seen in the morning!

I had to wait to be taken to the airstrip while other people were waiting to go on the afternoon game drive, and the plane was late. When we finally arrived at the airstrip after the 2-minute drive, I had to wait some more, pretending I was just leaving a holiday destination. Dennis and Jacob probably noticed that leaving the Mara was a tragedy of epic proportions because they said that they would never forget me, and that I had to come and visit them even if I was staying in another camp next time. I tried to concentrate on the horses of Karen and the hippos of Lake Naivasha. The plane was an hour late and it was a 13-seater.

At Wilson Airport a taxi driver soon found me. Thanks to my LP-guide we knew approximately where to find Karen Camp and arrived there after some asking. The front lawn was sprinkled with huge vehicles and the bar/reception area was full of scruffy looking people that were smoking. I asked a man behind the counter if he was Josh. He wasn’t and Josh was Australian, but he showed me to my room. The room looked nice, there was a big bed with a mosquito net, but there was no mirror in the bathroom. The only mirror was in a dark place on the wall between two wardrobes. I’d have to use my torch like at Bushbuck. There was no towel, so I went down to the bar to get one. One of the many signs on the walls was about fresh-squeezed guava juice, but the only juice available for the moment was prepacked orange juice of which I had a glass. I felt a bit awkward as everybody else had a group of friends and I was even to shy to pat the big overfed dogs that were lying on the floor. I went to check out the garden and found a tree full of guavas. There were quite a few igloo tents with people crawling in and out of them, so I went to the front where the watchmen let me out on the street that was very dark and empty. I returned to my room and fell asleep for an hour and so, and then I went down to the bar to have something to eat and was told it wasn’t possible as the kitchen closed at 9pm. I’m sure I’d got something to eat if I’d insisted, there was a sign about Mars bars for example, but I’d overeaten at Mara Intrepids and wasn’t that hungry, so I went to my room and had a shower and then I went to bed.
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 08:18 AM
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Day 17
The morning was chilly. My plan was to visit Kazuri Beads and then have a look at some other sights around Karen. I didn’t know what to do with my cheese. I didn’t want to throw it away so I thought about cutting it into pieces and throwing it out of the window for some animal to eat, but as there were people everywhere in the garden they’d probably wonder what I was doing. I just wrapped it in a plastic bag and threw it in the bin. I went down to the bar and asked about Josh who was asleep, 23 and “slightly better looking than I am” (told by a man reading a newspaper). Then I had breakfast: tea and toast that wasn’t included but added to my tab. The dogs came to sniff me out and were quite nice. I wouldn’t say they were obese, but their backs could have been used as tables. A white South African with no hair and no body fat, on his way overland to China, was horrified at my “long” stay in the Mara. He would have been bored. I told him I’m bored anywhere else, which is almost true. Then Josh appeared and he fitted the description that I had heard. He was going to the shops and could take me to Kazuri.

I got off Josh’s car at Kazuri thinking I’d find my way back to Karen Camp. The main objective of my visit was to find out if there was anything that could be of interest to Nyamera Kenya Imports. First I went to the shop. I liked touching all the necklaces hanging there in different colours, but then I thought that I would not like to have those big cold things around my neck, and that they were made of clay, would chip and break, and that I then would be pestered by angry people wanting their money back. There was a portrait of the founder of Kazuri with a big flower arrangement in front of it. I was irritated for a few seconds until I saw that she had died in 2006. I asked for a guided tour of the workshop. There were hundreds of workers, almost all single mothers, I was told, and the work looked repetitive and boring, though most jobs I’ve had have been worse. The guide told me the women were “bussed” from the slums. I would not feel grateful about being bussed from the slums while my employer, even if dead, had a ****-ing altar. I should have asked how much the women were paid. The thing I liked the most at Kazuri was the oven. I didn’t want to leave it. I returned to the shop. There were some American women literally shrieking with joy at the beads and my interest in doing business with Kazuri was reawakened. Last summer I experienced that reaction at my cow horn jewellery. Then I just had ridiculously big sizes left, but ordered more from my supplier who ignored me until after the tourist season. That’s why I went incognito to The Collector’s Den. I didn’t do any business other than buying a reticulated giraffe patterned necklace and earrings for myself. A bracelet would have been more useful, but there was none in the giraffe design. Maybe the workers live in the slums because they prioritise a first class education for their children. It is a fair trade project anyway.

I exited the gates of Kazuri and remembered what direction I’d come from. I had a life-saving easily foldable map called “Tourist’s Kenya- Kenya’s Elite Guide for Tourists - Map an Guide”. It’s not much of a guide, but there’re maps of the City Centre, Westlands/Parklands and Karen/Langata. My intention was to walk down Marula Lane to get to Karen Road walking past Karen Camp learning its location and sneaking back to my room to powder my red nose on the way, but I would not have walked past Karen Camp even if I’d been on Marula Lane. I saw big hedges, big gates and tall trees with blue monkeys in them. When I reached Karen Road I saw that I’d been walking on Forest Road between the Blixen Museum and Karen Blixen Coffee Garden. Once on Karen Road it was easy to find the way to the shops and, thanks to my map, I felt quite safe that I was walking in the right direction. On Langata road there were more people walking. The walk was considerably longer then I’d thought and there wasn’t much to see at the shops, or, more probably, I missed everything interesting. I checked my email at a price twice as high as in the city centre, bought some chocolate at Nakumatt, and then I had lunch at a Mexican fast food place where they lost my order and I was freezing. I should either just have had mini-bananas for lunch or eaten at the Horseman. I must stop wasting my money eating at not so interesting places.

Then I took a matatu back to where Marula Lane started and walked to the end of that road, where I thought I’d find Karen Camp. I knew it should be just a little bit off the road, so when I’d walked for a while I asked a watchman at a gate if I was on the right way and he said I was. Then I started to suspect I was walking down Mbagathi Ridge towards Kazuri and asked a woman with an enormous Nakumatt plastic bag on her head. She confirmed my suspicion and I had to turn around to walk back uphill.
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 08:18 AM
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Near the end of Mbagathi Ridge I asked a young woman - with a baby on her stomach instead of on her back, and a furry jacket that must have cost the life of several blue teddy bears - if I was on the right way. I was, Karen Camp was just down a smaller road that was like a continuation of Marula Lane. The woman’s name was Purity and the baby, Sunset, was only 7 months old, but already had braided hair. Two watchmen were standing nearby and there was a driveway with horses grazing to one side and that ended in a big gate. Purity told me that Sunset’s father, a Botswanan named Daniel, was hiding behind the gate at the home of his employer, a Belgian named Michel M, and that the watchmen were lying to protect him. She handed me a baby blanket and asked me to hold it. The watchmen started talking in Swahili and Purity said that now they were saying that Daniel and Michel had moved to Malindi. Earlier they had said that they’d moved back to Botswana. The watchmen walked to the gate and Purity started crying. Her father had thrown her out of the house when she got pregnant. A teenage boy with a bike was standing on the other side of the road. He was a neighbour of where Purity was staying now and she told him to go for a ride to see what he could find out. I had no idea what to do. I can’t even solve small problems. Purity thought about a hunger strike, but couldn’t do it while she was breastfeeding. I said we could try getting into the garden through the bushes, but Purity had already tried that. She was caught trespassing and was taken away by a security firm. Then Purity thought about Robina, a European woman who knew everything about where everyone in Karen was living. She wouldn’t be suspicious if someone with a European accent phoned her to ask where Michel M. had moved. I told Purity I wouldn’t know what to say and that I’d just get Michel’s mobile number, but she insisted, so I phoned saying that Michel had lent me some mountain bikes that I was going to return, that I was at his place and that the watchmen were saying he had moved, but that they didn’t know where to and that a neighbour had given me her number. Robina thought he had moved to Ndege Road, but she wasn’t sure and she asked me if I had his number. I said I’d lost it. She would sms it to me and I hung up. Purity said Ndege was a very long road and that she would have to ask at every gate. I remembered having read that Ndege Road had been Denys Finch-Hatton’s airstrip, but that knowledge felt a bit irrelevant. We stood there for several hours and Purity enquired with most people who came walking and talked about contacting Botswana’s Embassy and Sunset’s grandmother in Botswana. A man on a horse passed by twice, each time with a different young white girl behind him on another horse. Purity asked him as well, but he didn’t know anything. I suppose he was from Karen Riding School and that you got a better view of the hidden Karen houses from the horseback, but I had imagined more of a countryside environment. I would have felt silly riding a horse on Mbagathi Ridge. One of the watchmen, a Maasai – I knew because he had enlarged earlobes and because Purity called him “Maasai”-came back. He told us he hadn’t said anything about Malindi. Then came the dog trainer. He was walking a fat old Labrador. He said sit and the Labrador sat, but when he continued walking the Labrador got up and he wasn’t supposed to. He told us he was a dog trainer and Purity asked him to phone the water company to ask where Michel M. had moved. He did, but didn’t get any information. Then he went back up Mbagathi Ridge. After a while he was back saying he had found a gardener who knew where Michel and Daniel had moved. He was obviously a better detective than dog trainer. We followed him to the gardener who told us they had moved to Nakumatt Junction. It was far away and Purity needed to get a lift. A car was approaching, but when Purity saw that the driver was white there was no use trying to stop him. White people never give anyone a lift. Then came another car. Purity knew the driver who was going to drop off a child and then come back. A third car stopped a bit down the road and a door was opened. Purity said the people in it were from Karen Camp and wanted to give me a lift. When her friend was back she took the baby blanket from my hands and got into his car while throwing kisses at me, and I got into the car that had stopped. During the whole time Sunset had only cried a little bit and then Purity got a breast out for her and she was happy again. “My” driver looked Indian and the two passengers were an elderly black couple. They weren’t from Karen Camp. I was asked who I was and where I was going and the driver told me he was a landowner and a wildlife photographer and painter and that the elderly couple had worked for him for 20 years and were like his family. Karen Camp was maybe a hundred metres away and I got off there. Only later did it occur to me that I should have told Purity to stop losing her time with Daniel and to concentrate on contacting the grandmother in Botswana instead. I should have thought of getting a good picture of Sunset to send to Botswana.

I went up to my room to try to freshen up. Nobody had been there and the cheese was still in the bin. When I was a bit cleaner and had made the bed, I went down to see if there was anything I could have for dinner. I felt so much more uncomfortable being alone than I’d felt at any other place in Kenya. I ordered vegetable sauce with pasta and sat down outside. It wasn’t as cold as in the morning. A white man leaning on a walking frame without wheels and kind of swimming with his legs came and sat down next to me. He asked, with great difficulty as his face was half-paralysed or something in that way, how my dinner was and I exaggerated saying it was very nice. I asked what had happened to him and it had been a head on collision. When, after some confusion involving Sweden and Switzerland, I asked Burns, as was his first name because of a Scottish mother, where he was from he pointed to the ground and said, “all my life”. I didn’t know if it was the building, Karen or Kenya. It was Africa because then he showed me a cigarette case with a badge of what looked like a post horn on it, but was from the Rhodesian infantry where Burns had spent many years. As he hadn’t been able to speak for 9 years after the accident – his right arm was useless as well and he had been right-handed- and also had spent many years alone on a farm, Burns liked very much to talk. I’m not the greatest conversationalist and regretted more than ever not having a collection of different stories to tell people. I just talked about Purity. The only person involved that was known by Burns was the dog trainer. Burns was smoking all the time and kept asking me if the smoke bothered me, and as I didn’t want him to leave, I said it didn’t. Burns admitted to being a smoke junkie, but said he only drank at night. He thought I should have a drink as well and I don’t know why I didn’t want to. Maybe because I hadn’t yet started the “theme drinking” that I would take up at the end of my trip. I could have had a cup of tea though. I told Burns the obvious, that he should get a walking frame with wheels (rollator in Swedish) on it, but it wasn’t that obvious. Since his legs were so bad he would fall flat on his stomach and there were no walking frames with wheels on them in Kenya. The one he had was his “wife” that had been with him to Botswana, Borneo and some other place beginning with b. After some time, Burns’ driver thought it was time to leave and Burns thought it necessarily to explain that the only reason he had a driver was because he couldn’t drive. When he had left, I went to bed. The tree hyraxes were screeching.
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 08:19 AM
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Day 18
It was my 4th trip to Kenya and this time I was determined to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant and Rhino Orphanage. I walked down Marula Lane, turned onto Karen Road and reached Langata Road 30 minutes after leaving Karen Camp. Looking at a map you get the impression that this walk would be less than 5 minutes. I only had a short break for goat photography. I didn’t even wait for the goats to pose. Then I got on a matatu down to Magadi Road where I took another matatu to Mbagathi Gate. This was extremely quick and convenient. The only problem with matatus is the low ceiling that makes you a bit claustrophobic when sitting in the back. I was let in at the gate and started the long dusty walk to Sheldrick’s. I saw a warthog and two bushbucks that ran away. In the bushes there were vervet and blue monkeys. Half-way a car with a young white girl stopped and the girl asked me if a was going to Sheldrick’s and told me to hop in as it was a long dusty road and there were baboons and warthogs. “And bushbucks”, I added. The girl was working at Sheldrick’s and she told me to wait on a bench behind a rope. After a long wait I was let in together with as swarm of other people. There must have been at least a hundred visitors. As a foster parent I suppose I could have visited in the afternoon instead, but I didn’t know how to make an appointment, and I didn’t ask. The girl who had given me a lift was collecting the donations. First came the smallest babies and they played some football (soccer). There were several handlers spread out giving information, but I didn’t catch much of what they were saying. I did manage to touch one of the elephants, but it was not like Voi were I could touch them as much as I wanted to, except some “pushy” ones that I was told to be careful with. There was no “rhino show” as Maxwell was having an eye operation and Shida could break someone’s leg. We did see Shida at a distance and a Japanese woman sneaked in to get a close shot of him. Then came the older babies who had milk and a mud bath. Of course my skirt got splashed with red mud. When all the elephants had left I looked at a DVD for sale called “The Tsavo Story” but it was “region 1”. Then I waited for the toilet queue to disappear before I started to wash my skirt under the tap. It was thin and wide and would dry quickly. When I got out I tried to photograph a spider. I need more practise. There were no people around, so I could have been sneaking around for a while, but instead I walked towards the road. Shida was outside the stables, but trotted away when he saw me.

The way back to Magadi Road was long and dusty and the sun had come out for once. I was wearing a Columbia shirt that I bought for my first trip to Kenya when I thought I needed that kind of thing. I can normally only wear cotton, but as the morning was chilly I thought I could wear it anyway with a pashmina (viscose really) over it. On Magadi Road it was hot, I had to take off my pashmina, my shirt felt like plastic, I had to walk uphill and all matatus were full. After a long walk I found a matatu stage (stop) opposite Banda Gate. A woman, Mary, who looked like a black version of my ex-neighbour in Spain, said that the matatus were full because so many people were coming from Rongai. Finally we got on a matatu and got off at Bogani Road that I’d thought of as a nice Karen-style road, but really was a dust road. I was going to Utamaduni and Mary was visiting a friend. When I told her I was a tourist she said I was courageous for moving around on my own. Nobody would say that to a tourist in Spain and there’s not really any difference. Some animals are a bit more dangerous, but people are generally gentler than in Spain.

At Utamaduni I asked for the toilet at the restaurant and started washing off the red dust. For a while the bathroom looked like a mud bath, but I left it exactly as I’d found it, minus some toilet paper. Then I fell down onto a restaurant chair and had some passion juice. As I was too tired to move, I had lunch as well - spinach-filled ravioli. It would have been more interesting to sit in the garden, but I couldn’t move. After some time resting, I had a look at the shops. Since Utamaduni is supposed to be an expensive place it was interesting to see exactly what’s supposed to be a high price. There were quite a few shops, but not as many as I had imagined. I bought a book called “Bush Friendly Tips For Girls” thinking I’d get some tips about mascara on game drives, but instead I got an explanation to Purity’s theory about white people. The authors are two white women who have lived most of their lives in Kenya and in the section “Safety Tips For Driving In Kenya” it says, “Never give strangers lifts or help of any kind, no matter how innocent they look.” I suppose the girl at Sheldrick’s hadn’t read that book. When I had seen Utamaduni I searched my bag for my Elite Map. I couldn’t find it! I told the waiters it looked like a worn rubbish piece of paper, but was extremely important to me. They hadn’t seen it. The only map available at the shops was “Nairobi A-Z” that is quite confusing and heavy. I bought it anyway. At the counter, after having paid, I was asked if I’d lost a map. They had it in the restaurant and I was saved!

Then I took a matatu to Karen Shopping Centre to check my email. I should have gone to the Giraffe Centre instead, but I felt too dusty. I had an early sandwich dinner in a back alley and then I returned to Karen Camp: matatu to where Marula Lane starts, walk uphill and then, the last 100 metres, I got a lift with a white woman with a golf playing son. She wondered if I was staying at “the overlander place” and I became worried. How dusty did I look? From the Lonely Planet guide you get the impression that Karen Camp is for backpackers. It isn’t. Backpackers don’t have vehicles and it’s not suitable at all for people without vehicles. It’s an overlander place.

This evening there was fresh guava juice at Karen Camp. I had decided to leave for Lake Naivasha the following day. One of the waiters said that, as he would be free, he could come with me on the matatu to the Eldoret Express bus stop and that we’d have to leave before 8am. That sounded really good as it would be a solution to my bag problem. I needed to pack some clothes that I’d sent to the laundry service. The waiter took a torch and showed me where they were hanging on a line outside, significantly more creased than if I would have washed and hanged them myself. I asked him if we could find some tree hyraxes with the torch, but they were high up in the trees. The waiter said we could talk about how to get to Fisherman’s Camp from Naivasha – after midnight when the bar closed. It didn’t sound like a great idea as I wouldn’t get any sleep, but I got up to my room to pack and stay awake. I fell asleep anyway and woke up when the waiter knocked at my door. He said he could come with me to Naivasha and put his hand on my fat thigh. I became really bored and said I’d prefer to sleep longer and take a taxi to the City Centre. Then I washed my hair and went to sleep again. The cheese was still in the bin.
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 08:21 AM
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Day 19
I woke up early, got ready and took my bags down to the bar. When I was going to pay my bill, I saw that the room was 1950 shillings instead of 1590. That was the price, but as Josh had said 1590 it was changed. The waiter phoned a taxi that I shared, part of the way, with the South African girlfriend of an overlander. The taxi driver wanted to know if she was Zulu and she said she was Xhosa. It was snowing everywhere in South Africa and I was glad I was obsessed with a country on the equator. It doesn’t prevent me from nearly freezing to death, but at least there’s no snow.

They had rooms available at the Terminal and the charismatic cleaner, Nelson, gave me his business card. He had some interesting business ideas, for example, buying ridiculously cheap earrings to help the Kamba community. I was interested.

As I had to do some shopping for myself and for Nyamera Kenya Imports, I decided to stay in Nairobi and go to Lake Naivasha some other time. I hate shopping.

As the last days of my trip weren’t that interesting I’ll try to condense the report to get it ready some time soon.
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 08:22 AM
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Day 20
My plan was to go to Village Market, Nairobi’s biggest shopping mall, and a place where I hadn’t been. I walked around enquiring at the huge matatu stage next to the railway station for an hour or so, but couldn’t find a matatu going to Village Market, so I went to Yaya Centre in Hurlingham instead. It was smaller than Sarit Centre, but there was an excellent Italian restaurant. I think it was called Basilica, but I’m not sure. Then I returned to the City Centre without having explored Hurlingham.

In the afternoon I bought some batiks for my brother and a white striped Maasai blanket for the table of Nyamera Kenya Imports. The batik seller wanted to have dinner with me. It didn’t have to be the Norfolk. I tried to explain that I could go anywhere on my own and that I’d prefer the Norfolk on my own to an inexpensive place with someone I don’t know. I understand exactly how bored people who ask me these things must be and we have A LOT in common, but they don’t understand how bored I am. Maybe I should print a list with circumstances under which I’d invite someone from the street to dinner, like if they could offer a serious over-dinner lesson in Swahili or some other Kenyan language.

I don’t know what I did later in the afternoon. I suppose I just walked. Tourists are not advised to walk the streets of Nairobi after dark, but I’ve always done it – with my heart in my throat, but now I felt completely safe. There were more streetlights and the security guards were so bored they begged me to stop and talk to them. Before, they had sometimes had to take action, but it didn’t happen any more. There are dangerous places in Nairobi, but the City Centre is probably among the safest in the world. I’d feel more nervous in Stockholm.

I had dinner at the Thorn Tree Café and it was not a good idea. There’s always nice live music and the toilet is very clean, but the food was less interesting. I had a Greek salad. It should not have had lettuce, but that’s something I expect at a restaurant. Worse was that it didn’t have any onion and that the dressing was sweet and slimy instead of acid and salty. Quite disgusting, but I ate it anyway. I had two glasses of fruit juice and expected them to cost 100 shillings or so each, but the price was 300 shillings/glass – the most expensive juice in Kenya and ten times as expensive as in Lamu.
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 08:22 AM
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Day 21
I was looking for a specific kind of dress and met Chris from Kenyatta Avenue who would take me to Eastleigh for 500 shillings. I told him I could go there on my own for a lot less and that’s what I should have done as a Somali in Sweden had recommended it to me saying it was like a “little Mogadishu”. It’s on my list for next trip. I should have done something with Chris though. I have to send him an SMS. Anyway, I found the dress and at a reasonable price. Then I went to the City Market so that the sellers could tell me what a bad person I am.

Nelson went to fetch a Kamba lady with a basket full of earrings that she spread out on my bed. I bought quite a few for Nyamera Kenya Imports. Some earrings were made of porcupine quills and I hope I stated very clearly why I didn’t want to buy those. The seller, Catherine, told me that polythene bags would soon be banned!

In the afternoon I went to Westlands and Sarit Centre to buy a Neutrogena sun block that isn’t available in Sweden and have a look at the Banana Box that’s good quality and fair trade. I decided to send them an email when I got back home.

Outside Sarit Centre there’re always children looking for sponsors for their school uniforms. Two of them approached me saying they’d share a donation. They were very happy with about a tenth of the cost of my sun block. Then came ten more children and I started running saying that they were too many and they kept saying, “Madam, don’t leave (or live?) like this”. It’s the worst thing that ever happens in Kenya and I have no idea what to do.

I had dinner at Havana. The menu was vaguely Mexican and I decided to have something light – an avocado and tomato salad and then pineapple fritters for dessert. The salad was just that, avocado and tomato. They could have thrown in some onions at least, but it was quite tasty anyway, as where the pineapple fritters. Cuba and Kenya made me think of Hemingway and daiquiris, so I ordered a strawberry daiquiri – the first alcoholic beverage I’ve had at my own initiative in Kenya. Also, I wanted to be able to say that it’s perfectly safe to drink and then take a nighttime matatu. It was, but then the daiquiri had more strawberry than rum and when I was getting off the matatu on University Way, my hair got caught on something sticking out from the ceiling and someone with mental or drug problems kept following me saying “I’m a good guy, I’m a good guy”. I would have been worried if he’d said, “I’m a bad guy”.
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 08:23 AM
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Day 22
I don’t know what I did in the morning. Probably just walking around visiting shops and seeing that almost all with marked prices had salads sets and similar items at a lower price than the wholesale price I’d got from my supplier in 2006. Then I had lunch at the Java Coffee House near Terminal Hotel. As I’m not a coffee drinker I hadn’t been there. Of course, I had to have coffee - a caffe latte with scoops of sugar to be able to swallow it. The coffee didn’t make me any more alert. I had a serious slow reaction problem that I’m not going to describe in detail.

Nelson was worried for me. To the Kamba marriage is not that important, but it’s absolutely necessary to have at least one child. Even if I weren’t a Kamba, I would become old and not have anyone to take care of me. I tried to explain that a child would be very expensive and the last thing I’d want, as I wouldn’t be able to travel to Kenya. I said that what I needed was a rich Kenyan husband and asked if he could help me to find one. He could not because it would get me into serious problems as all rich Kenyans have at least six wives and they would only marry me to be able to show off a Mzungu wife. What he could do was finding me a good husband from his village. We had talked about working in Kenya earlier and Nelson kept saying it was very possible for me to get a work permit and a good job, but he couldn’t give me any concrete advice how to go about it. Before leaving he asked me not to leave any tip in the room as someone else could take it, as he wouldn’t be at the hotel early in the morning. Then he said that next year I had to take a child with me to Kenya. I could leave it to be brought up in his village. It would be very cheap.

I was so irritated over not being any closer to finding a way to live in Kenya. The whole trip felt like a gigantic waste of money. I bought some passion fruit at Nakumatt Lifestyle. It’s probably the most expensive place to buy fruit, but it was still a tenth of a reasonable price in Sweden. Then I had a near perfect pizza at Trattoria.
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 08:24 AM
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Day 23
I got up at 5 and got almost everything ready. My plan was to leave for the airport at 7.30, but my hair didn’t behave and I left at 8 instead. It wouldn’t have been possible if I’d bee travelling with someone else, or if I’d had pre-arranged airport transport. I took the oldest looking taxi outside Terminal Hotel and on the way there were marabous and ibises. The police stopped us twice. The queue at the check-in wasn’t bad. My bag was 25 kilos, but I didn’t have to pay. At the departure visa/passport counter I said I wanted to stay in Kenya and was told an extension could be arranged in a moment. Then the controller said I’d been to Kenya many times. I don’t think he felt sorry for me. I had to go to the gate almost immediately. Once in the plane there was a long wait because of a technical problem with the toilets. It was raining. Almost the whole trip had been overcast, but the only rain I’d seen lasted a few minutes in the evening of day 6. I was sitting right behind the wing. At the tip of it there was a light and a pin where a superb starling sat down to iridescent in the light. When it flew away there was nothing more to write about.
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 12:37 PM
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Nyamera,

Just read the second half of your report. Your writing is brilliant! I think you should write novels. When you become rich, you can move to Kenya and write there. You include details, but yet, there is more to the stories than we know, and our imagination takes over.

So glad you got a private vehicle for part of the trip, loved the topi/impala meeting, and the accounts of your encounters. Loved the line: "It’s an image problem – real travellers travel light." Thank you.

CW
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 12:47 PM
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nyamera, you know I agree with cw. Magazine or book -I'll buy it. I have been checking in often, desperate for the rest of your report - and it didn't disappoint ! Thanks for all your hard work writing it.


Julie
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 01:56 PM
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Nyamera, thanks for finishing up your report -- I love your writing style and sense of humor, and I really enjoyed reading about this latest adventure! Thanks again for spending this much time on writing up all your experiences and insights, and I hope you make it to Kenya again very soon.
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 02:05 PM
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Really enjoyed the rest of your report, thanks!
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 03:49 PM
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Nyamera, ever considered sending this report to a travel writer contest? Fantastic reading!
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 06:26 PM
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Well, I'm going to try to avoid hyperbole and my usual bloated prose, but your voice is unique and this report is thoroughly engaging from start to finish. Excellent, fascinating!

Lots of unanswered questions, though.
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Old Aug 6th, 2007, 06:58 PM
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What happened to the cheese? :-?
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