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A very tardy trip report - Rwanda/Kenya, Jan/Feb 2007

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Lillipets told me I should do my "homework" while my kids were doing theirs. She was referring to a trip report for my trip to Botswana in July. I decided she was right but I needed to start with a trip report from my Jan/Feb trip to Rwanda and Kenya. So here it is, warts and all. (You know, January seems like such a long time ago by the calendar but when I think of this trip it feels like only a couple of months ago.) This is pretty long so just skim over/skip over the boring parts. I didn't realize how long it was getting when I was writing and if I take the time to edit it down, it will be over a year old before I get it posted. Please excuse the misspelled words, incorrect tenses, bad grammar, being in a totally random order, etc.

Mid December (2006!), Sandy (Divewop) invited me to join her on her safari to Rwanda to see the Mountain Gorillas and to Kenya to photograph wildlife. She had the trip all planned out and was going solo so I had to quickly decide if I could go on such an expensive trip with such short notice. Well, I thought about it for a good 10 minutes or so. I had just lost my job of 29 years with limited vacation and decided I may not ever have the opportunity to do a trip like this again so what the heck - I might as well go!

Here's the trip.

Sandy has said she'll post here as well with her thoughts about the trip.

Rwanda for gorilla trekking - Sandy was leaving home earlier than I was and had 4 treks scheduled. I had 2 treks. (This is when they were still at the bargain price of $350. each.)

3 nights at Campi ya Kanzi
3 nights at Offbeat Meru Camp
3 nights Sosian Ranch
3 nights Joy’s Camp
4 nights Little Governors Camp

The trip was 1/18/07 to 2/12/07. It wasn't until a couple of days before the trip that I realized it was 26 days, the longest I'd ever been gone for a trip. Sandy's was even longer because she left several days before I did.

Rwanda/Kenya 2007

Lillipets told me I should do my "homework" while my kids were doing theirs. She was referring to a trip report for my trip to Botswana in July. I decided she was right but I needed to start with a trip report from my Jan/Feb trip to Rwanda and Kenya. So here it is, warts and all. (You know, January seems like such a long time ago by the calendar but when I think of this trip it feels like only a couple of months ago.) This is pretty long so just skim over/skip over the boring parts. I didn't realize how long it was getting when I was writing and if I take the time to edit it down, it will be over a year old before I get it posted. Please excuse the misspelled words, incorrect tenses, bad grammar, being in a totally random order, etc.

Mid December (2006!), Sandy (Divewop) invited me to join her on her safari to Rwanda to see the Mountain Gorillas and to Kenya to photograph wildlife. She had the trip all planned out and was going solo so I had to decide if I could go on such an expensive trip with such short notice. Well, I thought about it for a good 10 minutes or so. I had just lost my job of 29 years with limited vacation and decided I may not ever have the opportunity to do a trip like this again so what the heck - I might as well go!

Here's the trip.

Sandy has said she'll post here as well with her thoughts about the trip.

Rwanda for gorilla trekking - Sandy was leaving home earlier than I was and had 4 treks scheduled. I had 2 treks. (This is when they were still at the bargain price of $350. each.)

3 nights at Campi ya Kanzi

3 nights at Offbeat Meru Camp

3 nights Sosian Ranch

3 nights Joy’s Camp

4 nights Little Governors Camp

The trip was 1/18/07 to 2/12/07. It wasn't until a couple of days before the trip that I realized it was 26 days, the longest I'd ever been gone for a trip. Sandy's was even longer because she left several days before I did.

First things first. My passport didn't have enough pages so I had to send it of with a small fee of $160.00 to get additional pages (free pages) added. That's pretty crazy money for those free pages, right? I paid for expedited service and overnight delivery. I didn't want my last minute safari to get messed up at the last minute because of a delayed passport so I spent the money. My passport arrived a week before I was scheduled to leave.

Before I could actually commit to the trip I had to take care of stuff at home. I needed a babysitter to pick the kids up from school and stay with them until my husband got home from work or my older daughter home from school (college). I ran into my son's teacher (2nd grade) at Starbuck's one morning and asked her if she knew of someone. It turns out her son (a senior in high school) had just broken his leg and couldn't participate in soccer so he was available. Cool!

Even though the time between deciding to go and going wasn't very long, I was still very excited. Since I had been on safari before I didn't have to worry about what to take. I have a great packing list (Excel spreadsheet) and I just had to find everything. The day finally arrived; it's time to go! I was leaving on Thursday at 3PM (Jan 18th). I finished packing in the morning and was getting ready to take my last shower for a couple of days and decided to check the airline web site and make sure the flight was on time. I logged in and it showed the flight from the US to AMS was cancelled! NO WAY! I re-read the itinerary and sure enough, it was cancelled. The funny part was the flight I was connecting to in AMS wasn't cancelled. So I was scheduled to leave home, arrive in AMS one day, and my connecting flight left the day before I got there. How crazy was that. I got on the phone and called the airline to find out what was going on. Turns out they were having 50MPH winds in AMS and all flights were cancelled. She reschedule my whole flight but had me landing in Nairobi on 1/22 (Monday), two days later than planned. My first gorilla trek (already paid for) was on the 22nd so I would definitely miss that (no refunds). I asked if I could cancel the whole flight/itinerary and get all my money back and she said yes.

I kept the reservation she had made for me but I got on Orbitz, Delta, Continental, all the airline websites I could think of. It cost $3-4000 to leave the same day (Thur) but I found a flight on Orbitz that left Friday and arrived in Nairobi on the 21st (Sunday) and it was $1610. I couldn't believe I found a reasonable airfare for next day travel so I booked it and cancelled the other one. Problem was it was a nightmare of a flight. 38 hours travel time going ( San Antonio to Houston to London to Dubai to Nairobi). But hey - I got there only one day later instead of two so I booked it. It didn't land early enough to make the flight from Nairobi to Kigali so no matter what - I was missing my first day of gorilla trekking. But by arriving on Sunday (21st) instead of Monday (22nd) I had one extra day to get used to the altitude. (Altitude really affects me in a not good way.)

My flight was cancelled and the dates are screwed up but I'm still going to Afreekah!!! Since I arrived at the airport early and we have a small airport, I arrived at the gate real early and it was full because the preceding flight hadn't left yet. It was also going to Houston. When nearly everyone had boarded I went and sat at the correct gate. An agent came over and asked me if I was on the next flight to Houston and I told her yes. She said my flight had been delayed so I must get on this flight if I wanted to make my connection to London. I may have a hellish flight ahead of me but because of my 'being late to the airport' paranoia I avoided another catastrophe!

See, I told you it was long and I haven't even left the US yet.

All of the connecting flights I had were delayed but since they were all delayed I didn't miss any. London had the one-bag-rule so I was worried about that. I had two bags and there just wasn't any way I was going to check one. Before I reached security there, the Emirates ticket guy was trying to tell me my bag was too big. I convinced him it was not too big so then he told me it's too heavy. He said I must divide my stuff into lighter bags to be able to board the plane. I said I would and he finally let me go. This was right next to security so I walked a few steps and zipped open the camera suitcase and started stuffing stuff from the backpack into it. One of the security guys came over and helped me get it all in. It wouldn't zip completely but he helped me put it on the conveyor belt and let it all go through. Whew! I made it. No worries anymore. Of course, at the gate no one even gave the carryon luggage a second glance.

I had the longest layover in the Dubai airport, 8 or 9 hours. It doesn't really matter how long because anything over 2 hours is horrible to me. I landed in Dubai appx 1:30AM. The flight was scheduled to leave at 9:15AM. I wandered around for awhile to stretch my legs and then got a lounger for a couple of hours and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't fall asleep. Around 5AM I got up and went to Starbucks. Yep, there I was in the U.A.E. drinking an Americano at Starbucks. Stayed there about an hour and then wandered around some more. They had free internet in the Dubai airport. You just had to be patient (and lucky) to snag a computer. And lucky enough to snag one that wasn't an Arabic keyboard. I had read that NWA was real bad about not refunding your money for a month or two 'because that's how long it takes for the credit card company to post credits'. I know that it doesn't take any longer for a credit to post than a charge so I kept emailing them from everywhere to get the refund on my cancelled original/rescheduled ticket. It did show up before I got home.

That airport in Dubai was amazing to me. There were so many people of all types. There must be hundreds of flights that dump people there overnight and nearly all the chairs were taken. I was real lucky to get one of the loungers. I really hated to get up when I did but I really had to go to the bathroom. Some people left coats in the chair to 'save' their spot but all I had was a pashmina that my sister had given me and I didn't dare take a chance on losing that. I walked miles around the airport. The most amazing thing was the people sleeping everywhere. They would take their shoes off and lay on the floor. They all used some kind of cover, pashminas, towels, jackets, Emirates Air blankets, whatever to cover up. But they all covered their bodies and heads and left their feet uncovered and bare. There were bare, ugly feet everywhere. I really wanted to take out my camera and photograph all the feet but I didn't dare. I didn't feel like I was in a woman friendly place and doubted any of these strangers would appreciate a woman taking pictures of them, even if it was just their feet.

My flight finally left after only a one hour delay. I was stuck in a bulkhead seat with no place for my bags except in the overhead. Yuk. The flight itself was great and the seat back entertainment was full of movies etc. I watched two movies and of course, they switched the system off before the end of the second one.

I'M HERE!! I landed in Nairobi and couldn't find anyone to greet me. Went outside for a smoke and went back in to walk the gauntlet. There's my name! Yeah! I'm not stuck at the Nairobi airport! Henry took me to the Norfolk Hotel, about 15 minutes from the airport. Nice hotel. But not quite in the $215 per night in Africa category. I'm really tired after all those flights and I wanted to grab something to eat and go to bed. I had to decide whether to shower and redo my hair and makeup or just put my jacket back on and go eat dirty. Or order room service. Dirty in the restaurant won. It's 5 o'clock somewhere so I ordered a Myers rum (double) and dinner. The food was very good. One of the hotel guys came around and told me some of the history of the Norfolk ... 102 years old, the railway station used to be right there, now it's Nairobi University, the family that started the hotel is still around and the grandson or great grandson is in trouble right now for 'murdering' a trespasser. Lessons over and I went back to the room, showered and was in bed at 8PM. Between 8 and 11PM, three times someone tried to open my door with a key. Once they actually opened the door but the chain kept it from opening. After the second time I called the desk to make sure they knew the room was occupied. Yes, they knew, and no one should be trying to enter my room. It happened again when they tried to bring me an ironing board. WTF?? I had to get up and send them away. Fell back asleep again to be awakened at 3AM by loud neighbors. Took over an hour to fall asleep that time. I decided then that I should set the alarm clock in the room and not depend on the hotel to provide the wake up call. Good thing I did. No wake up call. They also didn't come to get my luggage either after 2 phone calls. I had to haul it all back to the front. I think I'll give the Norfolk a miss next time I'm in Nairobi.

Next up - Rwanda!

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    Guess I don't feel guilty not having yet posted my trip report :) I'm working on it between stuff!

    "Composition of Feet" - a still life.

    Oh, I do recall... bodies sleeping everywhere, especially on my return flight departing DXB middle of the night. Like you, thankfully I was able to get one of those lounges to catch some Zzzzzzs.

    Will wait patiently for the rest of your homework! And, promise to be able to post some of my report soon.

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    I remember way back that you mentioned you had missed on gorilla visit. Now I know why. I share your early arrival at the airport anxiety and often have extra hours to spare. It paid off for you.

    You may not have gotten a wake up call, but you could have had an ironing board.

    I'm glad you got around to posting!

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    Sorry about the double posting. I did proof read and edit it out but the edit didn't take. I've emailed the editors so maybe they'll fix it.

    Rwanda is where I'll meet Sandy for the first time. We've talked on the phone and sent emails back and forth like wildfires. We are staying at the home of the head of the gorilla research center in Karisoke (the Dian Fossey Gorilla Research Center). Sandy is friends with a couple of people there and they invited her to stay with them (K) on this trip. I'm an add-on and I get to stay with them also. Very lovely people and a great way to start the trip.

    Gorilla trekking - what an experience! No one can fully describe the whole thing - you just have to do it. We left K's at 6:30 each morning. The driver (you have to hire someone to take you to the mountain) was Ebby (sp?). It's about 30-45 minute drive on paved roads that China has funded. From the time we leave K's gated house until we get there we see a constant stream of people walking. Little kids on their way to school, women carrying water or huge sacks of corn or sacks of potatoes - all balanced on their head. Some with babies strapped to their backs or chests. Some of the younger children have babies strapped on but not too many of those. We pass by farm land that is divided into small plots. Many small plots each planted with a different crop. We are in the mountains so you can see across the field and up the side of the mountain and see all the different fields. It's so beautiful.

    Part of the drive is through communities and the houses are built right next to the road. There are people walking everywhere. K said the government in power has made school mandatory and it's free. The people do have to pay for uniforms (blue for girls, khaki for boys) and supplies. The people earn about $100 a year from selling potatoes and corn. I think we saw some garlic, too. There are also fields of flowers that are cash crops. I never saw men carrying anything except the water jugs. Most of the men I saw carrying water had bicycles. They had many jugs strapped on and they were usually pushing them uphill. Must have been very heavy with 5 or 6 5-gallon water jugs. The people have to walk on the roads because the one side of the road is straight up mountain and the other side is straight down drop off. You would think the people have the right-of-way but they don't. The vehicles do. The people usually move over when they hear a car but if they don't, they get honked at. Also saw a few motorcycles. I think the only cars we saw in this area were owned by tour companies. There were a few of the buses but mostly people walked.

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    Thanks for the comments! Wayne, me too. I love reading Rwanda trip reports.

    Good one, Sandi (Composition of Feet). I guess it's never too late for a trip report so finish yours! They are always fun to read.

    Carla, here is a link to the photos

    atravelynn, maybe I should have taken the ironing board to throw at the partiers at 3am.

    moremiles and Patty, thanks for reading and hope you enjoy it.

    I have even more photos that I need to put up (as if there aren't enough already!). I have photos of some of the camps and of Sandy and I riding the camels. (I had forgotten about the camels until Sandy reminded me yesterday.)

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    Once we got to where the gorilla treks are organized, Office Rwandaise du Tourisme et des Parcs Nationaux (ORTPN) , we could grab a cup of coffee or tea and go to the toilet. After awhile, they assigned groups to go on the different treks. There are 8 people allowed in each group and there are 7 groups of gorillas plus 1 group for the Golden Monkeys. (I think these are the only Golden Monkeys in the world.). The trackers head up the mountain around 6AM to locate the gorillas. so when they are forming the groups of people for the treks they aren't really sure where the groups of gorillas are yet. Once the people groups are set up you meet your guide and he tells you about the gorilla group you will be looking for. The first day we went to the Hirwa Group. This group has one silverback with 5 wives and 3 young ones. (That makes 9 so maybe it was 4/3 or 5/2). This silverback came over from Uganda and got his wives from different groups.

    Once you learn about your gorilla group you load back up in your hired car and drive to the starting point of your trek. Some are close (30+ minutes) and some are further away. It depends on which volcano the gorilla group is on. The roads from ORTPN to the start point haven't been paved. They are covered with rocks. Round rocks. It is so bumpy and a very slow drive. I got quite a workout just riding in the car plus a little brain rearrangement when my head hit the window and door jamb a couple of times. We drove past more fields, villages and people everywhere. We got to the parking spot where we would leave the car and that was where we picked up porters and a walking stick. The porters will carry your bag all the way up and down the mountain and they are very careful with your gear. The suggested tip for the porters was $5US. Very cheap. I tipped mine double because he ended up carrying my backpack plus dragging me up the mountain and making sure I didn't fall down anywhere.

    From the parking spot we still have quite a way to go before we reach the national park. We walk through fields. The park has a lava rock wall - maybe 4' tall - surrounding it. Once we reach the wall we are met by armed soldiers that will go with us as protection from: buffalo and elephants is what they admitted to. I don't know if there is anything else. The beginning of the trek is NOW. Right away we are in 'the jungle'. I don't know if they call it a jungle but that's what it is. You walk dirt paths through the foliage. Dense. In some places the path is so closed in that you can only see a few steps ahead of you and your arms and legs are pushing and hitting on both sides. One thing that was surprising to me was the lack of bugs. We saw some safari ants in one or two places and we gave them plenty of room. We also saw two huge earthworms but that's it. We asked the guide about snakes (we asked after the trek!) and he had worked there 6 years and had never seen a snake. The other guide has been there 7 years and had seen 2 snakes. So no worries.

    Anyway, the trekking was hard (for me. I didn't have any advance warning about this trip and would have been in better shape if I had had more time to prepare). Going straight up the mountain at a high altitude, winding your way through the undergrowth and tripping over vines, walking this narrow trail with some spots very muddy (if you didn't have on proper shoes it could suck your shoes right off your feet), walking through the bamboo meant I always had to look down so I wouldn't trip and that made me not see the fallen bamboo that had fallen just far enough to knock me in the head.

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    Is it possible to walk from the ORTPN to the start point and avoid that bumpy drive or is it too far?

    In short no, it would be a LONG walk, or at least it is to the Sabinyo and Amaharo start points. You just gotta suffer on that road :(
    But it is all worth it.

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    I would chime in but I can't even hold a candle to how good my partner-in-crime on this trip is doing. Evidently, she's got one heck of a memory.

    OK...I'll chime in anyway...excuse the memory loss as this progresses. Getting too old for these *(%^$# reports! ;)

    I can't even remember the date I left for the trip, although it was sometime in January, apparently before the 18th, and long enough to spend a day in Nairobi, do 2 gorilla treks and a golden monkey trek in Rwanda before Sundowner got there.

    Let's day in Nairobi was spent visiting the KWS wildlife orphanage and then on to Daphne Sheldrick's to visit the ele calves.

    At the KWS orphanage, it was almost completely empty with the exception of a few locals, so I pretty much had the run of the place and got to do things that the typical tourist doesn't. "Goodie for me", I thought! :)

    I did the cheetah hug with the 3 cheetahs, got to rub the haunches of a orphaned hyena through a fence, of course, (who acted just like a dog) and got to pet a huge older black-maned lion. The lion charged at me through the fence, scaring the crap out of me, but then he calmed down and was rubbing up against the fence, wanting to be petted. Whew!

    Too bad Dave Salmoni (Rogue Nature) and his stupid stick wasn't there! ;)

    But, I gotta say, the highlight was spending time with little Talek, the 3 month old orphaned leopard cub. As you would imagine, he was a mischievous little guy and wouldn't stay still for the camera. I did get a couple of shots of him, albeit, blurry but I've got the proof! And the keeper took photos of him chewing on my foot, which I do have. I played with him with rags and chew toys for some time. Quite the experience and one I'll never forget!

    I got so wrapped up in the KWS visit, that I lost the first half hour at Sheldrick's. I did get there in time to watch the little ones play and frolic around in the dirt and mud. I knew Sundowner and I would be returning at the end of our trip to see our adopted babies so I didn't fret too much of losing a half hour. Then I headed back to KWS to spend more time before heading to Jomo. I think I would have moved in to the orphanage if they would have let me!

    I left NBO late that afternoon and headed to Rwanda to catch up with my Fossey Fund pals in Kigali, spend a couple of nights there and then head up to Ruhengeri and the Karisoke Research Center and wait on Sundowner to arrive a couple of days later, which turned into more than a couple of days later.

    I was scheduled to do a gorilla trek, then 2 days of g. monkey treks and then 3 more gorilla treks.

    Sundowner, from what I remember was to do 3 gorilla treks, but do to her flights screwing up, lost a day of gorilla trekking and only got to do 2.

    We couldn't sell her permit to anyone or ORTPN so we (KRC folks and I) decided to let one of the poor young interns use it instead of it going to waste. More on that later.

    OK...this is somewhat of an iffy beginning, but it's a start. My memory will get worse and worse as the trip report continues...Oh well, between Sundowner and I, we'll try to make sense of it all because it does get quite humorous in some parts. Well, parts of it seemed like a quest and the trip from hell but at least we can look back at it and laugh now! :)) Ummm...are we laughing now? ;)

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    Of course, it depended on which group you were seeing as to how far you had to trek. The first day we didn't trek too far because our gorillas were fairly close. Our group was me, Sandy, and two Italian couples. Once you get close to the gorillas you stop and leave all your stuff with the porters/armed guards. They will wait while you spend your hour with the gorillas. You only take your camera and extra batteries/cards/film (no tripods/mono-pods/walking sticks). We walked not very far and THERE HE IS! We saw the silverback through the bamboo and we walked past him and had a good view from the other side. WOW - that's all I can say.

    The gorillas move around a bit so we would follow them. With 6 people there was usually enough room to get a good spot for pictures. I wanted to photograph from a low angle and be on the same level as the sitting gorillas so I was usually kneeling or on one knee. As I was taking pictures this huge (400-450 lbs) silverback gorilla was coming straight towards me. I stayed squatted down and tried to 'duck walk' out of his way with little success. I won't say my life was flashing before my eyes but I sure was trying to remember everything the guides had told us. The main thing I remembered was to be subservient and not look them in the eye. So I'm trying to keep my head and eyes down but how can you not look! The guide, Francois, was near and he tried to move me out of the gorillas way but I couldn't move because my feet were all tangled in the vines. The gorilla kept coming and walked right past me. As he walked by he purposely bumped me with his shoulder. It wasn't a hard bump but it did knock me over (my feet were all tangled up in the vines on the ground). Wow, very cool! Once I got up off the ground, everyone was looking at me with questioning big round eyes so I thought maybe I should have been scared. Maybe it was it the jet lag? stupidity? I don't know but I was totally ok. The gorillas went off to another spot to eat more bamboo. We were allowed to follow them and I started taking pictures again. After awhile, the silverback got up and started walking towards me. Francois came over and grabbed my arm to move me away. It's not like there is a lot of room to maneuver in there. The trackers would hack away enough foliage so that there was just enough room for the 6 of us to get in there. Some of us would kneel in front and the others would stand. So here comes the silverback and even though Francois is trying to move me out of the way we didn't move but a few steps. The gorilla bumped into me and grabbed my thigh and just kept walking. WOW again! Very cool again! I don't know why he picked me (I swear, I wasn't flirting).

    It's hard to describe that hour. I think the trackers start a timer when you find the gorillas and one hour is all you get (not 61 minutes, 60 minutes!). That hour seemed to last a very long time but it also passed quickly. I don't know how it could do both but it did. We saw babies playing a couple of times, the silverback eating and then the silverback playing with the babies. We saw some moms. Although there were 8 gorillas in this group we didn't see all 8 together - just a couple here and there. It's very dense and dark. I took the Canon 20D with the 70-200mm f/2.8 which is better than some lenses for low light. I started out at ISO 400, then 800 and by the end it was ISO 1600 with a shutterspeed of 15 or 30 or 60.

    Before I knew it, the tracker gave us the 2 minute warning. I would have loved to stay longer but at the same time I felt very lucky to have been there at all. I was looking at 8 of the remaining 700 mountain gorillas in the world and I wasn't seeing them in a zoo. I was in their home. How utterly awesome is that!

    The trek down is easier. We used the same path we used going up so we went through the same bamboo fields, the same mud holes, the same dense areas that you could barely walk through but it was mostly down hill. We were back to the bottom rather quickly. We climbed the lava rock perimeter wall, trekked back through the farmland and back down the road to where we parked. The tipped the porters and load back up and Ebby drove us back to the ORPTN. We went to the toilet and got our trekking certificate. We head back down the rocky road and ended up with a flat tire in the center of one of the towns (villages?). Damn the luck! It took over an hour to change that flat. First, they couldn't get the car jacked up and then, they didn't have a key to remove the spare tire. Picture this - here we are, two white women standing around on the road with 40+ guys watching/helping/supervising the changing of the tire. Dozens of kids of all ages are gathered around us (I don't think too many white women stop here) just staring. Only 2 or 3 could ask us in English - where do you live, what is your name. A couple of the little ones (3 or 4) were begging but the older children made them stop. Back on the road we arrive at K's house and have lunch and then lounge around the rest of the afternoon.

    Next day another gorilla trek (my 2nd and Sandy's 4th trek). This time our guide is Francis. Sandy and I end up as a group of two and we're going to see a different group of 8 gorillas. We get to the car drop off point and into the farm land and the trackers still haven't found the gorillas but we head up the mountain anyway. After about 45 minutes of climbing they know where the gorillas are and they are moving higher up the mountain - straight up. Francis said we can either continue after this group OR we can join another group of 5 people that are not too far away. We discuss the pros and cons - they could be very high on the mountain by the time they stop and it will be a hard climb but we'll be by ourselves. If we join the other group we'll have to hurry to catch up with them and there will be 8 of us. You're thinking 2 + 5 is 7, not 8, right? Since we were only 2 people we paid Ebby's way to go with us. It costs $20US for locals to do a trek which is a real lot of money to them but not that much to us. In the end we decide to join the other group. We went through the same ordeal as the day before except for longer. Very steep, very muddy/slick (it rained again last night), many vines to trip over.

    We finally reached the other group and the gorillas are near. We leave our backpacks and stuff with the porters and barely have time to catch our breath and there they are! A big silverback with his wives and kids. I don't like this sighting as much as yesterday. The area is real green and bushy and bright sunlight. Yesterday was in the bamboo. We did see gorillas mating. And scratching. This group continuously scratched. I didn't notice any of them scratching yesterday. I took appx 150 pics today and 400 yesterday. The 5 people we met up with were not very friendly and were pretty rude. They stood right in front and wouldn't kneel down so we could see. The tracker even said - if you are standing in front you must kneel down so the others can see. They ignored him. I accidentally hit one of them in the head when I was trying to get a picture. That person did move over a little. The hour ended too quickly and back down the mountain we went. Since our car was parked in the spot of where our first trek started, we had a very long way to go to get back. We made it back to K's house at 3PM. No flat tires today. Really tired after the trek so just lazed around again.

    Up the next morning for the drive to Kigali. The driver must have been a race car driver wannabe because we flew down that very curvy mountain road. There were people on both sides of the road and he was squealing the tires on the curves. Crazy fool! We had to tell him to slow down. It took a couple of hours to get there and we checked in for our 2PM flight at noon. We all boarded the plane at 2pm but there were mechanics on the plane. Uh oh. We sat there for an hour and they had us get off. It'll be fixed in an hour. Right. We waited in the lounge area for a couple of hours and they sent us upstairs for free drinks and food. Everyone is drinking the sprites and orange drinks they are handing out but of course, we order beer. I don't even like beer. But they should have to ante up more than a orange soda. We had to ask for beer a couple of times before they brought us some. Cool! They also brought out some cheese sandwiches and meat balls. Around 6pm they announced the flight was cancelled. Bummer. It took another hour to get our luggage back and stand in the line for re-booking. The are telling everyone to go to the hotel Milles de Collinas and that they will call all of us tomorrow with our flight info. No way! We don't want to miss our 8AM charter flight out of Wilson airport in nairobi so we stand in another line. This guy tells us he'll fly us to Entebbe (Uganda), put us in a hotel and get us on the 5AM flight from Entebbe to Nairobi and we'll land in time to catch our charter. Cool! "But you must board now - the plane is ready to leave and they are waiting for you." But what about our hotel vouchers? "Go ahead and board now and we will have the information for you when you land." You guessed it. No info. Sandy stuck to them like glue for over an hour before we got our free rooms and free breakfast. Now it's 11pm. We get to the hotel and check in and scheduled a 3:30AM wake up call. Since all we had to eat were the meatballs we had our breakfast before we went to bed. 3:30 came very early but we made our flight without any problems and landed in Nairobi at 6AM and our driver, James, arrived shortly after. We were very early for our 8AM charter so James was told to take us to breakfast at the Flight Club.

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    Great report from the tag team.

    For $20 a local can track gorillas with you? That's an important piece of info.

    How did you get to PNV from Kigali? You mention a driver on the way back, did you have one on the way there? When you drove to your starting point for tracking the gorillas was your gorilla tracking guide with you?

    What an ordeal flying out of Rwanda. For Sundowner this was Flight Ordeal #2.

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    Yes, for $20 US the locals can go trekking. Since it was only Cindy and I on the last trek, we invited Aby to go as part of his tip for being our driver all week. He was a great driver, always on time and always there at the end of the treks and I'll probably use him again when I return. He'd only seen the gorilla once before so we thought he'd enjoy the treat. And he did...

    The guide rode with us on the last trek but when we got there, the trackers informed us that the gorilla group was heading high up on the volcano with no signs of slowing down and it would have taken us several hours to get up there and back.

    Cindy, Francis (the guide) Aby and I then had to cross what seemed an eternity of farmland to join up with the non-friendly, very rude tourists trekking to Amahoro. When we met up with them I pulled their guide (Eugene) aside, who I trekked with a few times before and I know well apologizing for our arrival and he told me his tourist group told him they did not want to speak English, especially around us. To say these guys were extremely unfriendly would be an understatement. Very unusual to encounter a$$holes like that on treks. Out of the four treks I did, these people were probably the rudest.

    We had a taxi driver who the Fossey folks use quite often, to take us from Kigali to Ruhengeri and back. They have a couple of different people they use regularly to shuttle folks around Kigali and Ruhengeri.

    But, and this is important, whomever you hire to drive you up or down the Ruhengeri highway, you must make sure to tell them to slow down. Even though I did a few times on the way back to Kigali, Cindy and I were green by the time we got to the airport.

    Sundowner did have a rocky start to the trip. We were about two of five peopole at Entebbe airport late that night, along with a skeleton staff and I'll be damned if we were going to have to stay there overnight. I made the girl jump through hoops for over an hour to get us the hotel rooms they said they would, and I was not going to take no for an answer.
    Stay tuned gets even more interesting. And so the saga continues...

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    I love how the gorillas will do that little bump move just to let you know that they are much stronger that you. the leg grabbing thing was interesting. What type of perfume were you wearing? ;)

    Were the villagers call out "Mzunga!"

    I accidentally hit one of them in the head when I was trying to get a picture. I'm sure it was an accident ((A))

    And what were the names of all the gorilla groups you wen to see?

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    Thanks for the info. The slow down part can be life saving. There was just a post from a woman whos daughter was involved in a bad accident in Rwanda because the driver was going too fast.

    I've emailed you Divewop re: gorillas. I am seriously considering Aug 2009 for a visit.

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    Wayne, I didn't think the Banana Perfume would bother anyone!

    We saw the Hirwa Group and the Amahoro Group. I have seen photos of a couple of gorilla groups in Rwanda and Uganda and the silverback of Hirwa is definitely the most handsome. :S-

    The people in the group the second day were something else. Have you ever felt invisible? We were. So she shouldn't have felt it when my lens hit her, right?

    Remember long, long ago at the beginning of this trip report I said I have a great packing list and just need to find everything? Two things I left home without. One was anti-malarial medicine. If there was ever a trip that I needed them, this was the trip. I just couldn't find them anywhere. Of course, I found them right after I got home and took them with me to Bots but never needed any.

    The other thing I didn't have was bug spray. I did have a spray but I read where you aren't supposed to take aerosal cans in your luggage so I took it out of my luggage. I should have just taken it and let them confiscate it if I got caught. Dumb, dumb, dumber. The airport in Entebbe was one big mosquito fest. I just knew that I would be bitten by a female malaria carrying mosquito. It was so hot and muggy and not a breath of air there.

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    Finally on our way to our first camp, Campi ya Kanzi. We are going in a tiny little plane (seating for 4 including the pilot!) and I'm worried that I'll get sick. Martin, the pilot, suggests that I sit up front. I'm not thrilled but I would rather sit in the least-airsick place I can. I feel bad because Sandy really likes to sit up front but I really didn't want to throw up. Turns out flying in a small plane is really very cool. I didn't get sick but I didn't feel good. We landed and were met and driven to camp. Tembo House is the main lodge and it's very nice. After a great lunch (pasta salad appetizer, eggplant Parmesan and other stuff) we had our first game drive. We had a Maasai driver and tracker and saw hundreds of Coke's Hartebeest, ellies, warthogs, bunnies, vultures, 2 owls, Tommies, gerenuk, Eurasian roller, giraffes (one, very pregnant), goshawk, zebras, wildebeest, baboon and impala. We saw lion tracks but no lions. Also saw Kori Bustard displaying but they were far away.
    Early to bed - 9:45ish. Sandy couldn't sleep because I snored. I hoped it was because I was so tired with only 3-4 hours sleep the night before. (Not to be, I'm afraid. She said I breathed loud or snored every night - so sorry, Sandy!). 5:20 wake up call with tea/coffee. Lots of stars still out. Once the sun came up it looked like it would be a clear day. We drove to a lake that was a couple of hours drive. Before we got there, the fog rolled in and was very thick. Couldn't see very far. We saw some ellies far away and they were hard to see through the mist. Took pics anyway. We saw many zebras, wildebeest, more kori bustards, tommies, giraffes, mountain reedbuck, hoopoo, warthogs, impala, baboon, crowned cranes, herons, egrets, egyptian geese. We had breakfast at the lake and stooged around for awhile. It was nice.
    In the afternoon we went for a walk for probably 1.5 hours. We climbed a small hill and everyone from camp was there. It was a surprise bush dinner! Big fire and the bar was set up. Great fun. We had wine each night for sundowners from Antonella's families winery. Great wine.
    Next day, Stephano drove us to the old growth forest in the afternoon and we climbed a huge granite kopje. Very steep. Such a beautiful view. Kili on one side, rolling hills on the other. It seemed like we were on top of the world. More wine for sundowners and it's our last night here.
    We were at Campi Ya Kanzi for three nights. It's a lovely camp and the tents, beds, bathroom, service, the food and wine are all first class. I believe each tent has a view of Kili. Lots of plains game and a huge number of Coke's Hartebeest. Only saw ellies at a distance and we did hear lions roaring fairly close but didn't see them. Luca said that 19 lions had been killed recently by the Maasai but they had instigated a program to reimburse the local Maasai for any cattle killed by the lions so they would quit killing lions. I asked him if the Maasai put their cattle in bomas to protect them. He said they do but they aren't too careful and they don't always put up all of the cattle. Oh, remember that walk through the tall grass? I found a tick on me here. YUCK! I hate ticks. Or bugs.
    On our last night there were a lot of giraffes around our tent. You could even hear one of them breathing and he was bent over looking in our tent. How very cool! There were also several birds in camp (sunbirds, red tailed weaver, etc) and some of the very colorful lizards (flat nosed somethings). All of the staff were Masaii and on of the trackers/drivers was Samson. He has travelled by himself to Washington DC to accept an award on behalf of the camp and he's been to California with Luca. He said it was very strange travelling to America and he did wear his Masai clothing throughout the trips.
    Campi Ya Kanzi, website has won several eco-tourism awards. Gold rated by Ecotourism Kenya, Eco-Warrior Award 2006, TOURISM for TOMORROW 2006 - Conservation Award Winner, 2005 Skål International Ecotourism Award and World Legacy Award 2004 finalist. The National Geographic Society, in the September 2005 issue of their magazine, has mentioned Campi ya Kanzi as a lodge where tourism can help. The only lodge mentioned in Africa. Campi ya Kanzi is a joint venture between the founders (Luca and Antonella Belpietro) and the Maasai community, for which it provides about $30 U.S. per guest per day under the form of a conservation fee (used to help sick people, assist schools, prevent poaching, etc.). Together with its associated Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, the camp employs over 70 Maasai.
    I really enjoyed our stay there. I really wanted to get a picture of hartebeest's face - a closeup of that l-o-o-o-ng face but they wouln't pose for us. They took off any time we stopped nearby. We saw quite a bit of wildlife and Luca is quite the orator when it comes to eco-tourism, Campi Ya Kanzi or the Maasi.

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    Next up - Offbeat Safaris in Meru. It's a 1.5 hour flight at 11,000 ft. Still don't love flying in small planes. It's a smooth flight and landing. This camp has 6 tents, 3 doubles and 3 singles. It doesn't need too many tents right now because Sandy and I are the only guests. Adrian is the camp manager. He's a very young man (18 yrs old) and he runs a great camp. Since there aren't any other guests Adrian gives us seperate tents. The tents are a pastel green and there are rock lined walking paths through the red dirt to the tents. Bucket showers. Solar lighting (not enough light for me). The lounge/dining area is covered with a couple of the pale green canvas tents and canvas is also the flooring (over the red dirt) and has wrought iron furniture with white canvas pillows. Kind of shabby chic looking but not shabby. They use kikois as table cloths. It's so pretty!

    The first afternoon game drive isn't that exciting. We were served a nice lunch and dinner was around the fire closer to the river. Oh yeah, the camp is on the banks of the Bisanadi River and you can hear the water rolling through the rocks. It's a small river near the camp. Six hour game drive this morning. Pretty long. Did stop for breakfast. Saw buff, gerenuk, reticulated giraffes (lots).

    Once again, I didn't finish writing in my journal. I'll have to see what I can remember.
    Adrian told a story around the campfire one evening. At days end, Adrian takes his shower and instead of wearing shorts he wears a kikoi as a skirt for the evening. Last year he had a group of teachers in camp and they wanted to know what he wore under his kikoi and they chased him around the campfire trying to tear it off of him. Successful? Don't know. He wasn't telling that part. Pretty funny.
    We really didn't see a great number of animals here. I'm pretty sure it's an area that hasn't been protected from hunting for very long.
    We did see the tsetse flies here. I expected the flies to be bigger than they are. A little larger than a housefly but they sure do bite. We were driving to Joy Adamson and Elsa's grave (Born Free) down this very long road. We saw quite a few dik-diks on this road and we tried to get their picture by they always took off. They can sure fly! There was one strecth of the road with the flies and we just kept killing all we could find. Finally we drove out of them. The 2 guides/drivers had not been to Joy's grave before but they had been told where to go. We stopped at one place to look around and it was a big rock kopje. Sandy and I thought the rocks looked familiar (cute, huh? familiar rocks) and wondered if Born Free was filmed there. The grave wasn't there but we climbed the rocks and it was a great lookout spot.
    We drove a little farther down the road and pulled into a spot where the grave was supposed to be. The grass was pretty tall because the rains lasted so much longer than normal. We walked around quite awhile looking for the grave and finally spotted it. It's between two trees near the river. The grave is marked by bronze plaques on a huge rock. I need to look at the pictures because I can't remember what the plaques say.
    We stooged around there for awhile so Sandy could cry (just like she predicted!). It was actually pretty moving to be standing there with Elsa and Joy. Katie, Gus and I (my two youngest) had watched all the Born Free movies not too long ago and here I am - where they filmed it and where they are buried. After awhile we went back. We game drove on the way back and it's another long day.
    I don't remember which day it was but we had a flat tire here (flat tire #2 if you are counting). Remember the flat tire in Rwanda that we couldn't get the spare off because of no key? Well, here we couldn't get the jack to lift the tire high enough off the ground. It took forever trying different things. Finally they called Adrian and he came flying up the road and used his jack to finish changing the tire.
    Nearby is a rhino sanctuary so we went over there one afternoon. We wanted late afternoon light but it wasn't to be. We got to the fenced, guarded sanctuary with enought time IF we had been able to find any rhinos. Finally found them in very tall grass - 5ft tall - plus it's getting dark and you can't go off road. We did end up getting close enough to get pics but it was too dark. Then our guides/drivers tell us we were really supposed to be out of the reserve before dark. And it's past dark now. We drove and drove and drove. It felt like forever and we were going fast and then would slam on the brakes for holes and then sped up going like a bat out of hell. All the extra rains meant this place was very muddy. We finally got out of there. We thought we were lost the whole time we were driving because it took much longer to get out than in. I think we must have had to leave out of a different gate than the one we went in. There were armed guards at this exit/entrance and we didn't get into trouble for being there late (at least 1.5 hours after dark).
    Oh - I just remembered a couple of things about Campi Ya Kanzi - or maybe it was here - not sure. We drove by some barrack looking buildings and there were a couple of guys there and we stopped for our guys to talk to them. I looked at the buildings and they had written works on the buildings - Texas Rangers and above another door was Greengoes. Pretty funny. I told them I was from Texas and they grinned.
    After 3 nights at Meru (pronounced Mare-roo) we said goodby to the very cute Adrian. He warned us not to expect too much at our next camp, Sosian. Oh, no. What did we get ourselves into? Not much at Meru and now not much at Sosian.

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    Just a couple of additions to Meru while still a faint memory in my mind.

    Not that it matters, but Adrian was 23, not 18. I think he'd been doing the camp manager training thing since 18, learning the ropes, assisting and then got to manage his own camp.

    We did have a couple of fun sightings. Remember the hippo in the river. We practiced taking shots of his nostrils. :)) I think Cindy has one of the photos on her pbase website.

    And then the ever so brief spotting of the African wildcat as it crossed the road. That little critter disappeared pretty quickly in the 5 ft. grass.

    And the poor baby waterbuck who somehow got trapped inside the rhino sanctuary and couldn't find the way out to join his mother on the other side. We felt pretty bad for it.

    We did get to spend a lot of time with eles here, a decent sized herd. Eles and the white butterflies. But in Meru, you can't drive off-road and there isn't a lot to the road system, meaning no criss-crossing to get close to the animals.

    The reserve had the funky looking palm-type trees. I can't remember their names but they're pretty cool.

    I think we got the flat tire the day before we had to leave. So we just pulled over, waited patiently, (learning from flat tire #1) and started early on the sundowners. :)

    All of this so I could pay homage to my childhood heroine, Elsa! I did cry like a baby and asked Cindy and the guides if they minded if I could spend time with her by myself. Thank God Cindy had a tissue because it got pretty sloppy for a while.
    I don't know how long I took, maybe 10 minutes or so but it would have been so easy to spend the afternoon with Elsa at her resting place. I took more photos than I knew what to do with, from every imaginable angle. Then I placed a beautiful yellow flower on top of her grave marker. I will never forget that moment in time. My lifelong dream to be with Elsa had finally come true!

    Offbeat Meru was great. Small tented camp, decent food and Cindy and I felt like we had the whole reserve to ourselves. We certainly had the whole camp to ourselves. And I agree, the light bulbs in the tents sucked, but what the hell. No biggie and we didn't have to worry about looking good for anyone. :)

    I did like Meru a lot. The river system is quite unique (7 rivers) and it's a beautiful reserve. I hope it returns to it's grandeur of days past.

    A few more notes.
    Our charter pilot also flies for the wild dog research center tracking the wild dogs around parts of Kenya. They had been spotted in the Lakipia region which was our next stop, but they were nowhere to be found during our upcoming stay.

    I dragged Cindy to Campi Ya Kanzi with me because I befriended the owners, Luca and Antonella back in '03 during my first visit there. I'd been back to see them each time I returned to any neighboring country with the exception of '06 when I couldn't fit them in. So it was good to see them and catch up with Luca and his foundation's work.

    In addition to a tick bite, Cindy got a cool photo of a spider web while at ya Kanzi.

    Cindy had told me to wake her if I heard lions at anytime during the night. Well, we didn't see any during the day, but they certainly were doing they're chatting and roaring and calling at night. I woke up Cindy the first night, but after that, I let her sleep. She was such a sound sleeper I felt bad waking her up. A bomb could've gone off near the tent, and she would have slept through it. So I enjoyed the sounds of the African night by myself, always keeping one ear open for the sounds of the lions. But when the giraffe came up to the tent and put his head up to the screen to peek in, I just had to wake her.

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    There is some fascinating primate behavior described in this report. The gorilla who bumped you and grabbed your thigh was probably doing the same thing you were when you knocked your camera lens into the unfriendly tourist. I am glad both incidents ended peacefully.

    Cindy, maybe what Sandy heard was just giraffe breathing and not your snoring!

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    Looks like you have added some new ones~ love the ellie sequences!! What great moments you have captured Cindy!The more I look at your photos, the more I want to upgrade my camera equipment (yikes!) Still can't find that camel photo though???

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    Sandy, I'm glad you're filling in the blanks and correction mistakes! I'm copying from my notes and most of them were written within hours/days of things happening. You have a great memory!

    Thanks to all of you that are still reading and sorry to be delayed even more. We are working on kitchen remodeling plans and that is taking way too much time.

    Back to Kenya ...

    Another charter flight. I can't remember how long this one was. Once we landed we were picked up and driven a couple of hours. Sosian is a working cattle ranch and all the land we passed was ranch land. We did see quite a few locals out here in the middle of nowhere. Finally we arrive at Sosian. We enter the lodge and I immediately decide I want to live here. The walls throughout the house are 3' thick. There is a 12-14' verandah all around the house with different furniture groupings. There is a large living room/sitting room entry way and dining room. The LR and DR both have huge fireplaces - maybe 4 - 5' tall and 5 - 6' wide. They told us how the ranch had changed hands through the years and the house had fallen into disrepair. The locals had goats living inside the house. Crazy! I believe the ranch is now owned by a group of people. Some of the owners have homes on the ranch.

    I didn't write down all we saw here but we did see more than I expected to. They did have a hippo pool so we got to have sundowners there and listen to them grunt. Gotta love the hippo pool.

    The ranch had just hired another couple to run the tourist part of the ranch, Annabelle and Steve. The other couple (I can still see each of their faces but I can't remember their names) would now be in charge of the cattle/ranching portion. We were the only guests during the 3 nights we were there so some of our game drives were kind of show and tells with the managers.

    This ranch had one of those huge stone fences - probably 3' wide by 3-4' tall that went on for miles and miles and miles. I don't think I ever took a picture of it because I knew I could't capture how cool it was. It reminded me of Roman architecture that would last for thousands of years.

    The rooms here were little cottages and since the camp was empty, Sandy and I got our own rooms. Each of our rooms had twin beds, a comfy chair, a desk and chair, a very cute bathroom and a patio. The chairs on the patio were very uncomfortable so I took the desk chair out there. I had to take it out several times a day because every time I left the room they put it back where it belonged.

    We had lunches in the pool area, breakfast was either on the verandah or packed for game drives. Dinners were somewhat nicer in the dining room in the house. The house and all of the furniture had a casual elegant feel to it and made me want to dress for dinner. Well, we did wear clothes but didn't have much to choose from since we were light in the luggage department.

    I started getting sick at this camp. I think it was the 2nd fuul day. I felt like every bone in my body hurt. We were going to the hippo pool that afternoon and I carried my camera gear all the way to the landrover but I just couldn't get in. I felt too bad. I pretty much slept the rest of the day. Sandy went to the hippo pool and went horseback riding a couple of times while I slept.

    One day we had a picnic lunch over by a river. Of course, they carried a table and chairs and all the necessities. This wasn't a blankets on the ground picnic. It was really nice. The two couples went swimming in the river with the dogs.

    I left some room in my journal here in case I remembered something about Sosian later. It's still blank. Other than a reminder that we had flat #3 here. The jack wouldn't work (imagine that!). It was too short. Took forever to find a rock to use to jack it up. After 45-60 minutes we were back on the road.

    3 pictures I took of the room at Sosian are here

    There wasn't a huge amount of game at Sosian but it was a very nice place and I enjoyed the stay there. The morning we left, they arranged for us to ride the camels to the landing strip. How cool is that! We didn't make the plans until late so one of the workers followed us in the landrover so when the plane arrived we could get off the camels and get to the plane quickly. My gosh - I have never seen so many flies! Gross! My husband's partner owns a cattle feed lot and they don't have that many flies. Steve, Sandy and I were going to ride the camels so 3 were saddled and tied together. Once we arrived at the camels Steve decided to walk and take pictures for us. Of course all of the cameras were packed so he used my little Canon S70 and the pictures aren't great. They had the camels lay down and we got in the saddle and stirrups. The camel stood up rear legs first and you really had to hold on so you didn't get pitched off the front. Their hind legs are pretty long so it was really rocking and rolling. Quite an experience.

    Next up, Joy's Camp.

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    You have a wonderful array of photos from the ostrich parade to the flying dik diks and then that dik dik aborbing his own face. You just don't see that kind of stuff! Some great elephant activity and the stalking cheetahs. I couldn't believe the stupid warthog with the cheetah. Excellent bird shots like the ground hornbill with a kill.

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