Patty & Mark's 2008 Kenya Seychelles Trip Report

Feb 29th, 2008, 12:14 PM
  #1  
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Patty & Mark's 2008 Kenya Seychelles Trip Report

Our itinerary:

Jan 26/27 � LAX-CDG-AMS-NBO airport marathon
Jan 28 � arrive NBO, transfer to Swara Plains
Jan 29/30 - Galdessa/Tsavo East
Jan 31/Feb 1 - Satao Rock/Taita Ranch
Feb 2/3 - Lion Rock/Lumo Sanctuary
Feb 4/5 - Finch Hattons/Tsavo West
Feb 6/7/8 � Sandai/near the Aberdares
Feb 9 � Staying with friends in Nairobi
Feb 10/11/12/13 � Hilton Northolme/Mahe, Seychelles
Feb 14/15 � SEZ-NBO-AMS-CDG-LAX 36 hour trek home

Photos in case anyone missed them:

Kenya
http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=...&x=0&y=-r706vt

Seychelles
http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=...x&x=0&y=kyzuq7

On this trip we primarily wanted to revisit and spend more time in the Tsavo area which we had very fond memories of from our first trip in February 2005 (it lived up to our memories and more). The Kenya portion was confirmed back in September and we received an email from Serah at Eastern and Southern Safaris saying that everything was all set while we were in South Africa. A couple of days later, I learned from this thread http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=35014814 that Kenya Airways (KQ) had finally formalized their entry into Skyteam so of course, ideas started spinning in my head and I felt compelled to tweak my itinerary to somehow take advantage of that

I immediately started working on it when we returned home which resulted in 4 nights in the Seychelles added to the end of our trip. I had to shift the dates of my safari a bit to accommodate the Seychelles flight schedules which only operate on Thursdays and Sundays, and the date changes were confirmed by my TO within 24 hours. Woohoo, we were going to the Seychelles too!

In the mean time, everybody knows what happened in Kenya Like everyone else, we were following the news and were pretty much determined to go if at all possible. I started monitoring flights to NBO in early January thinking that passenger loads or other issues could cause cancellations or disruptions. We were booked on KQ CDG-NBO-CDG which seemed the most vulnerable to me given the service had only started in late 2006 and they also operated AMS/LHR services. Sure enough, they started canceling some flights on this route a week and a half before we were supposed to depart http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=35101311

I contacted Delta (these were Skymiles award tickets) for alternatives but since our flight wasn�t officially canceled yet, they wouldn�t override award availability and I would need to find flights with award availability if I wanted to make any changes (I could understand their position). I did find a longer routing via JFK and AMS with award availability that would�ve worked but decided to hold out hope that our original flights would operate as scheduled. Plus I thought I could make these changes now only to have something like weather at JFK delay us.

I also hoped that if there was a cancellation, we�d find out by late Friday or early Saturday so I�d be able to get rebooked while many alternatives remained. As it turned out, we didn�t find out about the cancellation until after 4:00pm on Saturday about an hour before we were planning to leave for the airport (and too late to get on the 5:30pm LAX-AMS nonstop). I found out we were protected on CDG-AMS-NBO flights but couldn�t get our tickets re-issued over the phone, so I hurriedly finished packing and we left for the airport. It�s a good thing Mark always insists on leaving for the airport early or I would�ve been even less ready

The rest of our saga of getting to NBO was posted live here http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=35104040 I can�t believe 2 things happened � 1 that we made our connections (I�d resigned myself to spending our first night in AMS) and 2 that someone (THANK YOU whoever you are) noticed our camera/video bag when I inadvertently left it in the boarding area and turned it in and we had the sense to put a name tag on it so they could track us down and bring it onboard. How cool was that?

AF ground staff seem to have a bad reputation, particularly at CDG, but I have to say that the agents were encountered at both LAX and CDG were nothing but incredibly helpful. OK, getting someone to meet us at the gate at CDG didn�t materialize but they also said they couldn�t guarantee it would happen.
Patty is offline  
Feb 29th, 2008, 03:02 PM
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I cannot imagine the dread you felt when you first noticed the camera bag gone. Well, maybe I can. I left mine on a plane once as we were exiting and when I went back to retrieve it just moments later, the bag was gone. An employee had found it and put it on the counter in the lounge where we exited the plane. Whew!

Maybe you never knew you had a problem until you were paged. That would be good.

atravelynn is offline  
Feb 29th, 2008, 03:32 PM
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There was never any dread because I didn't even realize I'd left it until a flight attendant handed it to us onboard!

Years ago I left my camera in a taxi at MIA. Luckily, I remembered right away and was able to chase the taxi down.
Patty is offline  
Feb 29th, 2008, 05:17 PM
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Hi Patty,
I remember reading about all of your flight problems and camera situation when you posted from the road. Glad it all worked out.

I can see myself now, sleeping outside on the viewing platform at Galdessa. What a lovely view. You also had fantastic views from your tents at Satao Rock Camp and Lion Rock. The setting at Finch Hattons is also beautiful. But I have to admit that even though I go to Africa for the wildlife, the views from your villa in the Seychelles really made me stop and look at the color of that water twice. Maybe its the winter weather getting to me!


You had some wonderful wildlife sightings. I loved the picture of the vervet screaming for lunch. And the cheetah cub, it seems so very young. My favorite photo, though, is of the bushbaby. And you even saw a pangolin! What a fantastic trip. Im looking forward to hearing more about it.
Dana_M is offline  
Mar 1st, 2008, 06:58 AM
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I've seen crystal clear blue water in many places. But flying over and even from the shores in the Seychelles all I could think was "they must have added food coloring." The most amazing colors of blue anywhere.
sandi is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2008, 12:10 PM
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Swara Plains - We arrived NBO at 7:30am on Monday morning, only an hour and a half later than we were originally scheduled. For the first time, I realize there are two separate passport control areas at NBO that are laid out as mirror images of each other. No wonder theres always a debate as to whether the visa counter is on the right or left hand side. It depends on which passport control point you pass through, mystery solved! Our luggage didnt arrive but we didnt expect them to, and neither did the luggage of anyone else who was originally on the canceled flight. We fill out the baggage paperwork, change some money and head out to meet Julius who had been waiting for us since 6:00am. I had emailed Serah and Siema to let them know the flight we were rebooked on but forgot that it was Sunday, so they wouldnt have seen it until Monday morning.

I got some more cash from the ATM in the arrivals hall and picked up a new Safaricom SIM (they used to be good for 365 days so I could use the same one each time, but I found out theyve shortened the validity to 120 days). At 8:30am, were off to Swara which is to the southeast of NBO heading toward the direction of Tsavo. The drive takes about an hour due to construction on the Mombasa Hwy. Swara Plains is a 20,000 acre private ranch which used to supply game meat to local restaurants until the 2003 ban. Nowadays the ranch operates on tourism, vacation rentals to Nairobi residents, and various other things. There are two camps on the ranch, Acacia, a larger, less expensive and simpler one with about a dozen bandas, and Swara, the smaller 4 cottage up market option. We were staying at Swara but did have a look at Acacia. The latter was fully booked by a bush survival course group so we didnt get to see the inside of the bandas but they looked comfortable enough from the outside, if a little closely sited together.

On the way to camp, we saw a lot of plains game and to borrow from Lynn, many antlered things. Swara camp operates on an all inclusive basis, so its decided that Julius will head back to Nairobi and pick us up the next morning for the drive to Galdessa. On his way back, hell stop by the airport to check if our bags arrived. We were given cottage 4 which is the farthest one from the dining area (but not that far) and very private. Cottages 2 and 3 are near each other so would be good for a family or 2 couples traveling together. Cottage 1 is adjacent to the dining area and where the Hopcrafts who own the ranch are currently living until their house which burned down in a fire is rebuilt. We met David Hopcraft briefly on arrival and it was later explained to us by Raine, the lodge manager, that the owners arent really people people and they tried not to subject the guests to them unless the guests had a particular interest in discussing dung

We decided to nap until lunch. This is the first time weve arrived in the morning and Im not sure I like it as Im too exhausted to try to stay awake. Arriving in the evening, I can pop an Ambien, pass out and start fresh the next morning. At lunch we met Raine and the 4 other guests, a UK expat couple living on the north side of Lake Naivasha and their friends who were visiting. Theyd left their house this morning and had to make a detour to avoid Naivasha town. Swara was one of their stops on their way to Msembweni on the southern coast. Tomorrow theyd stop at Ngutuni outside Tsavo East.

At 4:00pm we went on an afternoon drive with Phil Tilley, the ranch manager. We saw giraffe, fringe eared oryx, eland, gazelle, warthog, ostrich, zebra, hartebeest, a pair of white bellied bustard and stopped at one of the dams on the ranch where there were many red-billed teal and Egyptian geese. We were told there were some, but not many, larger predators on the ranch and occasionally they do get lions from Nairobi NP wandering over. We also stopped to visit Tuli the resident cheetah. She had to have a tooth pulled recently and still had an infection so wasnt in the best of moods. Therefore, we were only able to photograph her from a distance. Phil also showed us their car collection which consisted of some used in Out of Africa (doesnt every mzungu in Kenya have something to do with the filming of Out of Africa? weve yet to meet one who didnt ).

We were offered the option of a night game drive and a morning walk but reluctantly passed on both as we didnt think wed be able to stay awake for the night drive and wanted to leave fairly early the next morning for the drive to Galdessa. In addition, biking, horse riding and fishing are also available on the ranch.

We had a nice dinner with the two British couples and were off the bed early. Swara was a good alternative to staying Nairobi and put us a little closer for the drive to Tsavo East. It would also make a good choice for a final evening in Kenya if youve done all of the Nairobi activities and didnt want to stay in the city. The only downsides of the ranch were that we could see the highway from our cottage (it was more noticeable at night than during the day because of the headlights) and hear the occasional plane taking off and landing at NBO. Other than that, I can recommend it. I believe they also accept day visitors for game drives and lunch with prior arrangement.

In an attempt to be less long winded I decided to write this report in a location by location rather than day by day format, but Im not sure that Im actually succeeding
Patty is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2008, 02:50 PM
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The passport dilemma is now solved - Funny, I remember a few of us going around about that - leave it to you Patty.
We'll have to send you back to scout every country that needs detail verification

More, please!
cybor is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2008, 04:21 PM
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Galdessa Julius arrived this morning with our bags, yay! Although we were prepared to live out of our carry ons for a while, we were glad they arrived. We continued southeast on the Mombasa Hwy through another 40km of road construction before we hit smooth blacktop. We noticed there were less lorries and traffic than usual. The area we were driving through was predominately Kamba and Julius said that as one of their own had just been appointed VP, they were mostly OK with Kibakis administration. It took about 4 hours to reach Tsavo Easts Manyani gate where a Galdessa vehicle met us with our park tickets and another hour or so to reach camp. Saw many zebra and marabou stork by the gate. They were like a welcoming committee there to greet us.

Galdessa is set on a spectacular location on the Galana River. Wed requested and were given Banda A (since we were the only guests, they could hardly refuse ) which is the end honeymoon tent thats part of private camp. This tent had an adjacent, elevated viewing platform with 2 chairs, a table a day bed and the best views in camp! Galdessa is divided into main camp with 12 tents and private camp with 3 tents. Each side has a honeymoon tent with viewing platform (at main camp, its Banda 7) but the view is better from private camp although from what we heard, Banda 7 is where Tusker the resident elephant likes to hang out when hes in camp. Unfortunately, he never made an appearance during our stay. Each camp has its own dining area with private camp having one big communal table and main camp having several tables. Sylvia, the manager, explained to us that they often get big Italian groups and will put them in main camp while using private camp for individual bookings. It sounded like a great solution to us as weve been in camps where groups seem to take over.

We had a lunch of vegetable pasta (the pastas here were delicious!), grilled chicken and fruit salad accompanied by lots of lizards running around and crocodile on the riverbank. We decided we would just nap and game watch from our deck this afternoon. We saw hippo, impala, vervets, a baboon with an adorable baby that played hide-n-seek with us, glossy ibis and had an agama visit us on our deck. Im loving this!

The tents at Galdessa operate on solar, theres cold running water in the sink with a thermos of hot water for shaving and bucket showers which we found held more than enough water for 2. There was another great pasta course at dinner tonight. I think they mentioned something to the effect that normally there would be two choices for dinner but since we were the only guests, it was a fixed menu. We didnt care (except that they made way too much food for us). It was a bit eerie being in a camp thats supposed to be full with just the two of us. Weve traveled in off season and to obscure places where we were the only guests but this was different. They told us that their normal staff of 50 was down to 16.

We fell asleep sitting on our viewing platform after dinner, woke up an hour later and decided we should just sleep up here. Grabbed a sheet from the bed in case of mossies and fell asleep again under the stars. It was a beautiful, breezy night. At 5:00am, the hippos decided it was time for us to wake up, so we did some early, early morning bird watching. Saw a grey-headed kingfisher and a green-backed heron or was it a black-crowned night heron? It was hard to see. The morning was overcast with no sunrise. We left for a game drive at 9:00am after breakfast stopping at Lugards Falls and Crocodile Point to get out of the vehicle and look around. During the drive we saw impala, Grants gazelle, gerenuk, common waterbuck, warthog, ostrich, hippo, crocs, giraffe, buffalo, dik dik, and several herds of eles. On our way back, we stopped at Epiya Chapeyu camp which is also located on the Galana east of Galdessa. They had no guests at the time. Its a fairly simple, rustic camp but well sited on the river.

We returned to camp at 1:00pm for lunch with 2 cheeky vervet monkeys. They kept sneaking under the table and we kept having to chase them away. I think these guys have tasted the quiche before Everyone at camp asked if we saw any lions on our morning game drive and seemed disappointed when we said no. I tried to convince them that I was much more excited about seeing gerenuk and even more so, being able to get a couple of good photos of gerenuk than I wouldve been about seeing any lions but no one seemed to believe me.

We went back to our tent for another afternoon game sit and saw a big bull ele on the opposite bank (it wasnt Tusker who has only 1 tusk), more hippos and many more vervets running back and forth. Had another yummy dinner of carrot soup, pasta Bolognese and duck lorange tonight. It was not as breezy so we decided to sleep inside. Woke up at 1:00am and moved outside again when the breeze picked up and it was nice and cool.

In case its not apparent, I loved, loved, loved Galdessa! I could sit all day along that bend of the Galana.
Patty is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2008, 12:45 AM
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Hi Patty,

I'm enjoying this report so much, thank you for sharing.

Pol
Treepol is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2008, 04:27 AM
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Patty -

>>I realize there are two separate passport control areas at NBO that are laid out as mirror images of each other. No wonder theres always a debate as to whether the visa counter is on the right or left hand side. It depends on which passport control point you pass through, mystery solved! <<

Have I missed something in 13/years. Two separate passport controls? Do tell!

Down the ramp and the Immigration desks are in front of you; Visa desks are positioned to the right or left... from visit to visit, Visa desk is sometimes on the right, others on the left.

Depending on which terminal Int'l flight arrives?

Oh, I'm enjoying your report!
sandi is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2008, 07:13 AM
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Sandi,
There are two ramps from the intl terminal down to passport control, one closer to the lower numbered gates and the other closer to the higher numbered gates. The ramp that's immediately to the right of the transfer desk has the visa counter to the far right. If you come down this same ramp and turn right at the hallway just before you get to passport control, you'll find the KQ Simba lounge. The other ramp takes you to a passport control point where the visa counter is on the far left and you turn left at the hallway to get to the lounge. I had to do a double take when I finally realized this!
Patty is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2008, 07:23 AM
  #12  
 
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Galdessa sounds great! Looking forward to the next chapter, patty.
Leely is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2008, 07:51 AM
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Patty, Im glad you saw some wildlife at Swara and not too much of the apparently not presentable owners. Im very interested in the Galana River. Do you know anything about the rates of Epiya Chapeyu and how to have a look at their website?
Nyamera is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2008, 09:27 AM
  #14  
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Nyamera,
At one point in the past I was able to access the Epiya Chapeyu website. I seem to recall seeing a posted rate of $80pp full board double occupancy then. Don't recall the single rate. Sorry, I didn't realize their website was down and didn't think to get contact info while I was there.
Patty is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2008, 10:10 AM
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Patty, I'm loving your report! Looks like I might have to add Galdessa to my ever-growing wish list... (sigh)

Looking forward to more!
MyDogKyle is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2008, 11:40 AM
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Well, I'll be!

Never paid any attention... just wanted to be in front of queue, which I was. And, yes apparently one area has the Visa desk to the right and the other to the left.

Seems I've used both any number of times.
sandi is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2008, 03:38 PM
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It's amazing the things you see in a 7 hour layover, extended to an 11 hour layover. I think I walked up and down the concourse of the NBO airport 5-6 times, in and out of the Simba Lounge. I knew all of the restaurants, coffee bars etc. well before we finally left. I passed by both passport controls several times, but it was probably the 2nd or 3rd time that I actually realized there were two different ones.
sevendown is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2008, 04:09 PM
  #18  
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sevendown,
Did you happen to see the Sleep-n-Shower facility that's supposed to be near gate 4?

I'd planned to check out every little itty bitty corner of the airport during our 6 hour layover, but we ended up yakking with a couple we met at SEZ who were also heading home and waiting for their KQ LHR flight. The time flew by and I didn't end up checking out any part of NBO (no great loss ).

I was also trying to keep an eye on the progress of our rebooking which they were working on in the lounge. Believe it or not, they started working on it when we arrived and didn't finish until 11:00pm (the KL flight departs at 11:10pm). They were paging us by the time we left the lounge. I don't know what they were doing all this time but did notice the one lounge attendant only used one finger to type.
Patty is offline  
Mar 4th, 2008, 05:49 PM
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Satao Rock We left Galdessa around 9:00am and game drove our way to Satao Rock. Another overcast morning and aside from the species wed already seen in Tsavo East, we saw some Cokes hartebeest, a young lesser kudu and our first tourist vehicle near Aruba Dam. We also tried to visit the supposedly re-opened Aruba Lodge but construction was still going on and they wouldnt allow us in. We reached Buchuma gate around 1:00pm and used the cleanest park restrooms Ive ever seen. We took a short drive across the Mombasa Hwy before reaching the turn off for the 18 remaining km to Satao Rock getting to camp around 1:30pm.

Satao Rock is located on Taita Ranch bordering Tsavo East NP to the south. There was one other guest here staying the same 2 nights as us. The camp is built on a rock kopje with a waterhole below. We were given tent 7 which has a view of the waterhole from the deck. There are 8 tents total, 4 on each side of the dining area, with tents 3 (best view), 7, 8 and the dining area having waterhole views. Meals here are mostly buffet with soup and dessert courses brought to the table at dinner. A white-bellied go away bird and hyrax joined us for lunch.

We decided wed chill in the afternoon (are ya getting the picture that we dont do much of anything in the afternoon?) and see what came to the waterhole. As Satao Rock is at fairly low elevation (1500 ft) and the entire camp faces west, it began to get really hot about 3:00pm. We turned the fan in the tent on only to realize that the generator is off from 3:30pm-6:30pm (what, do they expect their guests to be off on game drives or something? ) and started to wonder if we might have made a mistake by staying at camp. By 4:00pm, theres not a speck of shade on our deck, so we move over to the deck of tent 8 which is unoccupied. We stay there until were relegated to one tiny corner before moving to the dining area where we take up residence in the one remaining table in shade. This whole time the only thing that came to the waterhole were 3 woolly-necked storks. Bottom line, go on afternoon game drives at Satao Rock! We thought about calling Julius and asking him to drive us around in circles really fast

Dinner tonight was the best peanut soup Ive ever tasted. OK, its the only peanut soup Ive ever tasted but it was really great! And to think I was incredulous at first when they said wed be having peanut soup. 4 buffalo were at the waterhole at dinner and a family of eles arrived after we returned to our tent for the evening. It looked like a matriarch, 2 babies, 2 adolescents and another adult. From our tent, we could hear more eles arriving at the waterhole throughout the night.

The next morning, we caught the last of the eles leaving the waterhole around 6:00am. Then the worst moment of the trip happened. I accidentally flushed a frog down the toilet It was dark, I saw something blurry desperately clinging to the side of the bowl, but by the time I realized what had happened and reached in to try to scoop it out, it was too late. From then on, I started checking the toilet for frogs.

At 7:00am, we went on a 2 hour morning drive and saw a pair of black backed jackal, impala, dik dik, giraffe, zebra, 2 gerenuk, several lesser kudu, an oryx butt, a pair of buffalo wallowing in a mudhole, more eles, and among other birds, the red-billed, eastern yellow-billed and Von der Deckens hornbill. We were in hornbill heaven. It was overcast again this morning, so nice and cool. Its hard to believe how much hotter it can get in the afternoon though.

We learned our lesson from the previous day and also went on an afternoon game drive. Didnt see any new animals but concentrated on birds and saw a little bee-eater, white-bellied bustard, grasshopper bustard, pale chanting goshawk, and several steppe eagle in one tree. On the way back to camp, we encountered a large herd of buffalo near camp and about 15 eles on their way to the waterhole. Different groups arrived throughout dinner. Then it was the buffalos turn.

At 9:00pm we went on an hour long night drive in a Satao vehicle with their driver and spotter. Their spotter was very funny. We liked him a lot but every time we came across something, he would ask us what it was and regardless of our reply, hed answer it again himself like we never said anything. He did this with other types of questions too. When we came across the cheetah, he asked us why would a cheetah not feed on its kill right away. We replied that it needed to cool down. As he went on to talk about other cheetah behaviors, we thought he was satisfied with our answer, only to have him ask the same question again. We gave the same reply but elaborating a bit more this time. When we were done, he proceeded to tell us that the cheetah needs to cool down because its body temperature becomes so elevated during the chase. Hmm isnt that the same thing we said This might come across as sounding annoying, but we found it rather amusing.

In addition to the cheetah and species we had seen during the day, we saw a bat eared fox, genet (spotter what is it?, us its a genet, spotter its a genet), white tailed mongoose, bushbaby and some hares on our night drive. It was a very productive hour.
Prior to our trip, we hadnt read too many positive comments about game viewing on Taita Ranch, so we were very pleasantly surprised by what we saw. Maybe we were lucky or maybe were easy to please?
Patty is offline  
Mar 4th, 2008, 07:27 PM
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I peeked ahead at your Seychelles photos and they look lovely...especially where you stayed. You were there the same time we were in Zanzibar...and part of the reason I didn't choose the Seychelles originally was that it was supposed to be rainier than Zanzibar....but you got the sun and we got the rain! Your beaches look so inviting too. Looking forward to your report on the Seychelles.
barefootbeach is offline  

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