Friday, December 18, 2009

Walking around London when there's agreeable weather

It's coming up three weeks since I returned to London & I've been plenty busy exploring London & being strangely domesticated. As Trish (a cousin of Mum's) broke her leg the day after I left for Kenya & is now housebound I've been doing a lot of cooking, cleaning, shopping & running of errands. In amongst that I tend to run in to London for a day when it is fine (usually manage three days a week of suitable weather) & continue with the walking tours - I've now completed nineteen of the thirty in the book. I'm thoroughly enjoying exploring London & discovering, both obscure & well-known bits of, its history. My London geography is slowly improving & I am often surprised at how close many things are to each other. Heading in to the city for the day is also a great excuse to catch up with friends & family for a drink or a meal or both.

The first day of walking since returning, I strung three walks together from Waterloo. The first around Lambeth & Southbank was around an area I was already familiar with, but new sights for me were Lambeth Palace (the palace of the Archbishops of Canterbury) & Archbishop's Park. Since I was last on the Southbank, a German Christmas market had sprung out of somewhere & was selling all sorts of traditional wares & food - a reminder that the festive season was pretty close, something that wasn't all that apparent in Kenya. I was pretty thrilled to pop in to Somerset House & see that a small ice rink had been made in the courtyard - I have since seen quite a few others, including one in the (former) moat at the Tower of London. The second walk had me crossing back over the Thames to Bankside & Southwark on Blackfriars Bridge - next to Blackfriars Bridge you can still see the large piers that formed the foundation for the first railway bridge over the Thames. Soon I was in the area that was previously filled with theatres & bear-baiting pits - the rebuilt Globe Theatre being the only one still around. I was surprised to see the HMS Belfast has had a camouflage painting since I last saw it & pleased to see that Tower Bridge (still one of my favourite London sights) is in the process of getting a fresh lick of paint. My last walk that day was around the City of London & was mercifully short - as there is so much to see in quite a small area - but great fun going through all the little alleyways. Highlights for me were: Lloyd's, the Bank of England, Wren's St Mary-le-Bow Church (you were considered a true Londoner if you were born within earshot of its bells - that were damaged in WWII), and Wren's Monument - a monument to the Great Fire.
As Thursday last week turned out to be a stunner, I took the opportunity to venture a little further out of the city towards Highgate & Hampstead. Despite the cold, it was pretty easy to keep warm as this turned out to be one of the hilliest walks I've done around London. Starting out, it wasn't long before I was walking around Highgate Cemetery - I couldn't believe how sprawling & overgrown it was. The most famous resident here is Karl Marx. At the top of Highgate Hill, was the first of many great views of the city for the day. Steeply descending from Highgate, I was soon rambling across Hampstead Heath - which is over three hundred hectares of quite-wild-in-parts grass, woods & scrub. I stopped & had my lunch in the sun outside Kenwood House & was quite pleased with the art collection inside. Getting my shoes & the cuffs of my jeans nice & wet & dirty & making my way out of the heath & I was in Hampstead. Hampstead all of a sudden found itself a popular spa resort in the early 1700s, so there were many watery names around the village. Famous former-residents include Constable, Keats, & Robert Louis Stevenson. Near the end of the walk there was a delightful little local museum, which was also a welcome escape from the frigid late afternoon. I managed to get my weary legs home somehow.

It's surprising how many times I've been asked in the last few weeks if I am working yet or looking for a job. Somewhere in amongst the walking & sightseeing, I've started to think about looking for one. That basically means that I got around to starting to update my CV, emailed some referees, made a Job Hunting folder on Firefox & filled it with useful sites & then got distracted. I'm in no rush as going away for four weeks in January/February is a whole block I am going to be unavailable. Having said that, I think those four weeks will be quite a drain on my remaining finances & returning to the UK I will have to begin the hunt in earnest.

Friday the eleventh saw me head in to check out the Covent Garden Christmas market - which was disappointing - & then to continue my intermittent gazing at art at the National Gallery. The gallery is quite manageable if you only try to do a little bit at a time - I think I would go mad if I tried to do it all at once. I'm now half way through the collection, but definitely enjoyed the works I saw on my first visit more. I managed to get out to Rayner's Lane to see the Patricks before it got dark (i.e. before half past four) - always great to catch up with Andrew, Shelley & the girls - even if I did get thoroughly confused trying to learn how to play Knights & Cities.

Over the last weekend the weather took a little bit of a turn for the colder. I was getting quite comfortable with high in the mid-high single digits; now I'm getting used to highs of zero to low-single digits. Still, so long as it's not windy or raining & one is well wrapped up the walking has been more than pleasant. On Monday's Islington & Clerkenwell walks I was particularly interested in the New River. It wasn't really a river at all, but for almost four hundred years this man made channel brought London's potable water supply from springs about thirty miles north in Hertfordshire. Now of course, it has been superseded by something a bit more modern &, being the geek that I am, was fascinated by details of the new ring main that is twice as far under London than the most of the Underground & is a little like the M25 - but it's for drinking water. Walking around Highbury Fields was quite nice too - it was here in 1666 after the Great Fire that one diarist saw "200000 people of all ranks and degrees dispersed and and lying along by their heapes of what they could save from the fire, deploring their losses, and though ready to perish for hunger and destitution, yet not asking one penny for relief". On a less sobering note, I also stumbled across Arsenal's rather large Emirates Stadium. Near the end of the Clerkenwell there was a flurry of interesting sights - the Smithfield Meat Market (on this site William Wallace was hung, drawn & quartered after being dragged behind a horse from the city; also more than two hundred were burned alive under Queen Mary's reign - charm the paint off walls, these guys [sorry, Jason Statham quote]), the oldest church in London - St Bartholomew-the-Great (coincidentally, St Bart's day is the same as my birthday) & where the St John's Ambulance was launched in 1877.

Before meeting (NZ) cousin Chris in the City on Tuesday it was another good chance to take advantage of the sun & string a few more walks together. These were a little bit closer to the West End - starting with the Notting Hill walk, I then continued on from Bayswater to Belgravia (through Knightsbridge) & finally Marylebone. There was of course a lot of interesting things for sale on Portobello Rd (even if it was only Tuesday); generally, Notting Hill was a lot of nice houses - although it was interesting to learn that there used to be a racecourse around the top of Notting Hill & the top of the hill was used as a natural grandstand - it didn't last too long as the jockeys refused to ride on it as the ground was so heavy as to be dangerous. I also found one of those delightful book shops near the Holland Park tube - the one where you want to leave with cases of books. From Bayswater it was through Kensington Park (lunch by the Round Pond was quite cold - I resolved to start wearing my Icebreaker leggings, jeans just weren't cutting it) to the museum district & Knightsbridge before trooping around the quite fancy area of Belgravia - a lot of embassies & consulates. Marylebone is just north of Oxford Street (I never really enjoy the crowds of shoppers here) & once was one of the closest villages to central London - it of course, has long since been swallowed up. This a very pleasant walk with lots of nice squares; the biggest find on this walk was the Wallace Collection - the art collection of several successive Marquises of Hertford. As I walked past, I resolved to return & see it - as it turns out after popping out from the cute shopping street of St Christopher's Place (nice lights) on to Oxford St, & scooting around Harley St I had plenty of time to pop in to the collection for an hour or so before heading off to meet Chris. So Hertford House didn't look overly big for a grand old house & wandering around the ground floor confirmed this. I particularly enjoyed of pieces on Venice by Canoletto in the Dining Room & then in the Back State Room the nature & hunt paintings by Oudry were particularly cool - there plenty of pheasants in these ones, & for a change they weren't all dead. As it turns out one of the larger rooms downstairs was closed for refurbishment, so when I went upstairs after admiring many miniatures, paintings & ornaments from the sixteenth century, I was blown away by the size of the place - especially the aptly named Great Gallery. After finishing up & having a cursory glance around the shop, I was surprised to find a huge armoury - mostly European, but a bit from India, Persia, Japan & Arabia. The size of it was staggering & I only had enough time for a quick whizz through - I later found out its one of the, if not the, best armoury in Britain. That ended that very nice hour or so - it's always cool to stumble upon something like that completely unexpected - I had no idea that I would be seeing works by Rubens, Rembrant, Titian & Gainsborough - to name a few. That stumbling across such delights is one of the things I love about wandering around & exploring London. Always great to catch up with Chris & share a few drinks & a meal (even if the city was packed due to the holiday season).

Wednesday was a very domestic day with shopping & various errands - but made much more exciting by the first snow of the winter. It snowed for a good few hours, but was never enough to settle in more than a few small places. Consequently, I was well prepared for the possibility of snow on Thursday's walks - the forecast was favourable for the day. As I had an appointment a little west of the city, I took the opportunity to head out & explore around the Thames & Richmond & then Barnes to Putney & Fulham. The Richmond walk was quite a long one & there was alternating patches of (comparatively) brilliant sunshine & cloudy gloom. I saw what little was left of Richmond Palace - where Edward III, Henry VII & Elizabeth I all died. Climbing up away from the river towards Richmond Park (which has deer roaming free) it was possible to get some nice views of the surrounding area. The best was from King Henry VIII's mound (the highest point in the park & so called because he apparently watched from here for the flare from the Tower of London confirming that Anne Boelyn had got the chop - there is a good Snatch quote that goes with that turn of phrase, but it's probably not appropriate) & was an unobstructed view of St Paul's ten miles away. It's a great view as St Paul's looks as though it is standing alone in the city - most of the view is framed by an avenue of trees that prevents you seeing much else. My little camera doesn't give nearly as good as image as the monocular on the mound, but you get the idea (if you squint). Descending through the park, I was soon back by the river & the sun popped out to give me this picture, for the Oamaru Pheasants, of the Royal Star & Garter (top right, & just like the Oamaru one, I've never been inside). Just as I was getting back in to the centre of Richmond a massive cloud came over & dropped snow on me for ten of fifteen minutes before I caught a bus to Barnes Bridge.

Barnes Bridge is passed during the last stage of the famous University Boat Race & as I made my way down to Putney Bridge (where the race starts) I was to see a lot of boat houses & boats. I was curious to find out what the flashing blue lights were there for as I approached Putney. It turned out that the fire brigade was attempting to winch a VW Golf out of the incoming Thames - some clown had parked a little to close to the edge. So that provided a bit of a distraction for a while - they eventually got it out, but I'm not certain if it was too damaged to be written off. The cabin may be a little wet, but the engine & electrics hardly got flooded (the alarm went off as the tow-rope was connected). Chatting to another bystander, I found that another car was not so lucky - parked a bit further down the Thames at the top of a boat ramp, that BMW had been carried off to the depths of the river. Crossing the river I quickly checked out Fulham Palace (the traditional summer residence of the Bishops of London that has only in the last thirty-five years been given up by the bishops). Another big old house, but it had a nice walled garden that was far removed from the city & had a few neat moving sculptures. After my appointment in Putney it was off to Earl's Court to meet a university classmate for another worthwhile catch up. The snow started again on the train from Charing Cross & was not to let up for the rest of the night.

Consequently, when I eventually got up this morning there was a good two inches of snow everywhere - quite exciting for someone who has spent most of their life living in a decidedly temperate climate. When I made it out to get some bread & post more of Trish's Christmas cards, it was quite pleasant (i.e. above freezing point, just) & these are a few of the photos I snapped around the neighbourhood.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

More safari & animals

I'm sitting in the departure lounge waiting for VS672 back to London. That has got to be the easiest & quickest international (economy) check-in I've ever done - even Nairobi airport is better than Heathrow! The security in triplicate did seem to be a bit of overkill though. After the excitement & all the travel of going to Uganda last weekend, this week has been pretty lazy really - sitting around resting my shoulder (which is much better, thank-you) & slowly ploughing through "The State of Africa" by Martin Meredith. It is a pretty dry & long history book about Africa since most countries were granted independence around fifty years. The words dog and show go a long way to summing it all up - it was all pretty depressing; the detailed explanations of what happened in Rwanda and then Liberia & Sierra Leone in the nineties were particularly grueling reading. I eventually finished it - so the challenge is still there, Carmen.

Friday afternoon, Adrian knocked off early & the three of us (Kimberley included) jammed the Suzuki full of camping gear & food & headed off to Nakuru National Park for the night. The great advantage of Nakuru is that is only a relatively easy two-hour drive from home (not that I did any driving, thanks Adrian). I was also assured that I would see plenty of rhino - the only of the Big Five that I did not see in the Mara. Lake Nakuru was disturbingly low, but it did mean we got to walk over the salt flats to try & see the flamingo - apparently, there weren't all that many, but still more than I had ever seen at once. Shortly after, we did see my first rhino in Africa (this one had a young one with it) & then we found three more making there way across the dry part of the lake bed.We managed to get to the campsite & pitch the tents & get the fire going before it got too dark. It was so great camping out & when the clouds cleared quickly, there was of course a great sky to look at. As we were chowing down on some quite wonderful steaks & the rest of our dinners a very large herd of buffalo made their way down the ridge next to our camp for a drink. Later on at about 10.30 well after the rest of the herd had made their way back past; alone buffalo, who was pretty damn big, wandered over a lot closer - thankfully he was just curious & not the slightest bit shirty. After a fitful sleep (for me at least) we were up before six to go on what turned out to be a fantastic game drive.

I'm not so good at describing game drives - but as always it started off slow & then we saw a whole heap more of rhino (they are frigging massive - in both senses of the word; but no great surprises there), including this rather cute pair. Down at a water hole there were a lot more buffalo & as we were next driving aimlessly around (or so it seems when you are looking for game), Adrian was very interested in what had a herd of impala rather spooked. Eventually he & Kimberley spotted a leopard slinking through the bush - I was in the back, so couldn't see it as much as I tried. After waiting around for quite a while wondering where it had gone, it eventually crossed the road right in front of us - what a beautiful animal. We tried to find it on the other side of the bush it was walking through, but had no luck there - we traded sightings with another van (they found our leopard & we found their group of seven lions later on). The said lions were happily resting near the road & we quite easily watched them for ten or fifteen minutes. By this time it was going on for four hours of driving & no breakfast, so we started heading back to cook brunch & decamp. On the way back it was quite neat to see a small group of giraffes near the road & then cross right in front of us.Upon our return, we discovered that the pesky baboons had gone through our fire lighting material & decided a bottle of kerosene was the only thing worth taking. Needless to say, that made lighting the charcoal a bit harder; but with a lot of fanning of flames, bacon & scrambled eggs & toast was finally cooked & devoured before we decamped & hit the gravel roads for another few hours. Exploring some different areas of the park, we didn't see a whole heap (except some more magnificent giraffes) before we headed up to Baboon Cliff for a great panorama of the lake. The resident baboon up there must have been fed previously as he was mighty bold, jumping on the car as soon as we stopped & tried to get in the window. A swift punch in the face & much throwing of rocks from Adrian saw him off; that was until he came back to jump on top of the next van that came up & try & get in the open top - completely freaking out the child inside.On the way out of the park, it was back to the group of lions we had seen earlier - they had moved a whole five metres to the shade of a different tree, so we quite happily watched them while we had lunch. Just before we left the park, we stopped & watched a wonderful black-maned lion & lioness lazing around between attempts at expanding the Nakuru lion population; pleasantly, it started to hose down while we were there - the park definitely needs a lot more rain. So it was back home to pack (for me), eat & sleep. So that is the end of my Kenyan adventure for this time - I sure am looking forward to getting back to London & having a decent sleep without being woken up at all hours by crazy dogs. I'm not looking forward to the winter however - the Kenyan weather has been fantastic. In the air now & just crossed the equator for the fourth time in three weeks - plane is a lot better & less cockroach infested than the Akamba bus. Less than six weeks to Canmore, Alberta! Hope my shoulder is up for skiing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wayne being in prison was an example of a down

Yes, I watched The Castle again last week with my antipodean friends in Kenya; and yes, it has been a week of ups & downs. Monday saw me out for another ride around the tea-fields & factory. As I was starting to get my bearings in the countryside a bit more, I was able to extend the loop to get a bit more of a work out. As I was making my way back to Brackenhurst (where Adrian & Carmen work) I somehow got a bit away from the tea-fields. As I found my way back, I was particularly pleased to be welcomed by a pack of dogs; I don't think they were too happy to see me either - thankfully, I escaped with a slight scratch on my thigh (NZO Dobies are so fantastically bombproof), which later bruised up nicely, and no bites.

Somehow, that night I got convinced to tag along to an aerobics class in Limuru at a tiny little gym. Not having been to aerobics class before, a Kenyan one was sure to be an introduction - I think I went for the cultural experience & a good laugh. I think there were about seven of us in a tiny basement room sweating it out (I was soaked after ten minutes & I'm not sure how I survived an hour of it). Of course, they only have one tape & the old Aqua songs provided much amusement. But most of my amusement (& probably Carmen's) came from my total lack of coordination when things got a little too complicated for my simple brain. Somehow winning a half-hearted sit-up challenge before the session started was not looking like such a great idea half way through the hour as we moved to the mats (it smelt decidedly funky on the ground - urgggh) & we proceeded to do a lot of sit-up-esque exercises. I had previously forgotten that I had muscles lying dormant around my stomach - I was reminded time & time again over the following two days. I sure hope I'm a little fitter after my Kenya trip - what with all the extra riding, the aerobics & eating less.

Tuesday I was off to the slums near the airport again with the volunteers. I spent a few hours at a small medical clinic, but it was a quiet day & they didn't have a lot for me to do. For the first time in years, my hands were covered in lactose after I spent an hour or two packaging drugs from a bulk container. I think that afternoon Adrian & I went for another of our run/rides around the fields; after the exertions the day before, I was slow again up the hills - but enjoyed blasting down the hills of course. As this was the last night that Jeff & Christina (two of the great volunteers) were in town, most of the volunteers arranged transport in to Limuru for a night at the Beehive - a local bar. Once we at the ACTS house had organised ourselves, we finally made it for a few Tuskers. We weren't sufficiently organised enough to have had dinner before we left, so had to wait for the cook to light the fire & cook what looked like most of the torso of an unspecified animal (never worked out if it was beef, sheep, goat or something else). Anyway, the Nyama Choma (roast meat) was very good, but very salty. A great night out, even if we were home relatively early (some of us have to work - not me of course). Just been informed it was goat.
After another sleepless night (all the water before bed didn't exactly help), we were off with the volunteers again to a feeding program. Thankfully, it was local & the drive was short - if somewhat circuitous due to the rain finally starting up & muddying up the dirt roads (apparently it is one of the rainy seasons at the moment - but the weather has been perfect up until this point; thankfully the rain is becoming a little more frequent). Hundreds of people had turned up for the dispersal of flour, grain, matches, fuel, salt, bottles, & other such things. I couldn't believe how many people there were & how far some had walked; all very sobering really. I handed out salt all morning, so for the second day in a row I was covered in the product of uni summer jobs. That afternoon, we were back to Makeu - the school & boarding for about thirty disabled children that we had visited last week. It was life-skills lessons, so a couple of volunteers tried to teach the kids how to make beds, brush their teeth, clean the classroom & use the long drop properly ("In the hole!"); I'm such a horrible teacher, but thankfully Kimberly has endless enthusiasm & she did a great job while I defaulted to crowd control.

The much anticipated game of Ultimate Frisbee was on Wednesday night & that when my week got a lot worse. It was a fantastic game, exhausting, but a lot of fun & we were winning (there was not a lot experience - me included). If it wasn't such a great game, I may have been a little wiser & realised that my right shoulder clicking & popping was a really bad sign. My poor arms obviously aren't strong enough & all the jumping & reaching (I think it was this rather than the throwing) was too much & I eventually dislocated my shoulder. It went back in once, but the last time I couldn't get it back in & it frigging hurt. Thankfully there were a few nurses on hand & Carmen is an OT. None of the nurses were too keen to put it back in; but thankfully Carmen was up for it (with a bit of help from the trusty interweb thingy) & a bit of forced movement later we were both stoked to feel it pop right back in to place. My hero - thanks Carmen. Since then, it's been pretty good - a few days immobilised in various slings, a little discomfort & with a bit more rest, I hope it never happens again (of course, that is not how such dislocations usually go).
Thursday was a bit of a write off with a gammy arm; but Carmen & I did take a couple of kids from Makeu to the doctor in Limuru. One had a horrible scar from a burn sustained in last year's post-election violence on his upper arm & another had a horribly infected thumb. There wasn't much to be done for the scar (I sure was fortunate to escape any permanent scarring from my little altercation with Melter 1); poor John screamed blue murder for ten minutes while all the pus was drained from is thumb (just as well Carmen had gone to get lunch, it was heartbreaking listening), hopefully the necrosis under his thumb nail isn't too extensive. I wasn't too displeased to have to miss dance aerobics that night.
Uganda & the Nile beckoned on Friday - Adrian had wonderfully organised ten of us to go up Friday night on the bus (arriving Saturday morning), relax at the camp Saturday & spend Sunday rafting down the river. At the last minute, Adrian had to fly to Kampala for work & unfortunately the bus ride was such an experience he is not likely to be forgiven for a while! I think Akamba must have dragged the last & worst bus in their fleet out for us to take the twelve hour trip through the night to Jinja. It didn't start off too bad (except we had to retrace our steps through Nairobi traffic) & it was stinking hot in there. However, it quickly became apparent to quite a few of our group that the bus was infested with cockroaches & they were none pleased to have them crawling across their faces & all sorts of other places. I was lucky enough to have an empty seat next to me, but that was quickly filled when Carmen spied the possibility of sleeping against the window. Actually, here is a photo of one of the few times during the whole horrendous trip which Carmen is not actually sleep - just pretending. Being able to sleep while travelling would have been a real bonus - we had three blow outs & associated hour long stops to change tyres - one of the blow outs pushed the border crossing out to an hour and a half over sunrise. I had a week's worth of Hamish & Andy podcasts to catch up on, so that helped pass the boredom a little. Needless to say, we were all happy to be off the roach-coach at nine on Saturday morning. The Adrift truck picked us up & we spent the rest of Saturday relaxing next to the Nile or next to the pool at the next-door resort. On first impressions, Uganda is considerably nicer than Kenya - the roads were markedly better, the cars on the road are much nicer & it just looks a lot more orderly. Unfortunately, somewhere on Saturday afternoon I got quite sick & lost my appetite- that only really helped by lessening the blow of being unable to go rafting. That evening we watched the All Blacks beat England with the Nile right next to us - that was a little surreal. I was even quieter than normal that night, so it was with some relief to head off to bed well to early - the bunk room was like being in a submarine with the bunks seeming to be only a foot apart, it made getting in & out of bed difficult with only one good arm.Five of the group decided to do the bungee on Sunday morning before they headed out rafting. I was keen to give it a go a few days prior, but wasn't really up for all things considered.
Andree (also sitting out the rafting for medical reasons) & I lazed around the bar while everyone else hit the river. It was a great afternoon reading, chatting, eating & enjoying the view. Later in the afternoon a couple of hundred of the British Army descended on the camp after many weeks in the bush, so we made a hasty exit to meet the rafters at the take-out point thirty kilometres downstream. By all accounts it was a fantastic day & it was really frustrating to hear all the stories; on the upside the food was delicious.
Monday morning, Carmen & Adrian were flying back to Nairobi for work & considering the state of my digestive system & contemplating another hell bus ride, I joined them at 4 am in a taxi to the airport. I managed to get a ticket for the flight & it was very pleasant with great views of Lake Victoria (saw a good sunrise during the taxi ride too); just as well the plane was pretty empty, as the final podcast I had was side-splittingly funny & it would have been even more embarrassing. What is it with small airlines in third world countries leaving before the scheduled departure? Admittedly, this wasn't as noticeable as Yeti Airlines in Nepal - but it was a little odd.

So home to catch up on sleep & washing; it turns out that the bus ride back was better by orders of magnitude, but I'm still not sure if I would have survived so well. So that was the end of great weekend had by everyone else - I quite enjoyed it, but it was frustrating & disappointing at the same time. But at least my arm hasn't popped out again.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Masai Mara!

So for the fourth night in a row I have woken up at about 2.30 & this time I decided I couldn't take any more of my mind going in circles with no hope of resolution & a rumbling stomach; after some toast, here I am doing something slightly productive.

I have spent the previous three days in the Masai Mara National Reserve (& on the four-five hour van ride to & from). The Mara is in south-west Kenya & borders Tanzania at the Serengeti (pretty much making it the top of the Serengeti) & Adrian had organised for me to tag along with four of the volunteers - a wonderful opportunity & not one to be passed up. The park is over 1500 square kilometres & is named for the Masai tribe that live there & the Mara river that flows it.

Hopefully this posting won't have much text as normal & lots of photos. I am pleased at how a lot of the pictures turned out from my little Canon. Sure, it would be nice to have an SLR - but this camera was bought for one function only, to sit snugly on the shoulder strap of my Camelback while riding. Hopefully I can filch some good photos from the rest of the group sometime - but they all had compacts too.

We stayed at the smallest of the camps in the park (only thirty beds) & were extremely well looked after - there was only one other group there the first night & no-one other guests the second night. The food was fantastic & I have never stayed in such a flash tent - bath, shower, toilet. We had to be escorted to our tents at night by a sentry carrying a spear as there was much wildlife wandering around at night - we saw a lot of buffalo tracks the first night & Lotte & Ansje (sp?) saw a couple of buffalo outside their tent before going to bed on Saturday. Enough of such details - while the camp was excellent, that was by no means the highlight of the weekend.
I went on four game drives over the weekend (three of the group opted out of Saturday afternoon - which turned out to be my favourite - after a six hour drive in the morning). It was all new on the first so we were very pleased to see hundreds of zebra (they are such comical looking animals with such vivid patterns; the funniest thing I saw all weekend was zebra lying on their side & then rolling over with all legs sticking up in the air to scratch their backs), impalas, wildebeest, buffalo (they do have such strange looking horns) & a few giraffes.

Source of bad joke - a zebra crossing.

That night we saw (actually were right next to some of them) a pride of at least twelve lions (including glimpses of a very cute looking cub); we watched for quite a while - as it was near the end of the day, they were still lying around keeping out of the heat. On the way back to camp we saw a small herd of elephant - the only time we were to see an elephant calf. Elephant are especially cool to watch as they grab lots of foliage off the trees & eat it - I think this was the first time I have seen so many elephant still with their tusks, so that was neat (I think in Nepal & Thailand they had be detusked). So back for dinner we had seen three of the 'Big-Five' (apparently the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot), with just the rhinoceros & leopard to go.

Saturday morning we left the camp at six with a massive packed breakfast. I still couldn't get over how many zebra there were - they all look so well fed, but I'm told they look quite round even if they don't have much to eat. The Mara had been in drought for seven months previously & has only just started to get a bit of rain & green up a bit; consequently, the Masai have been running their stock further in to the park, which means reduced feed for the wild animals & therefore lower numbers. We added a cheetah resting on a bushy knoll to our list - it was gorgeous, if a little restful. This took quite some time to find & in the meantime we had gotten the van stuck twice in mud - stuck enough for us to have to get out & push, the first time took quite a while to get out - I was glad that there were no animals around. We also a lion & lioness stalk a limping zebra for about fifteen minutes, that was neat to watch - incidentally, the zebra managed to get away.
We managed to find a good spot away from all the animals to get out & have a very large & very late breakfast, before heading off in search of the elusive rhino (apparently there only four to five hundred in the park & they are very hard to find).Before long we had found another cheetah who was out for a bit of a stroll. No one seemed interested in a sprint against it & the herd of zebra close by were pretty unperturbed by its presence.Returning for lunch, the rest of the group lounged by the pool while I tried to grab a nap in tent - but it was a bit warm - so when Yvonna & I headed out again at three-thirty I was still pretty tired. But I figured I wouldn't be here again in a hurry so, I would just suck it up & enjoy it. Which was just as well, because although the drive started off pretty quiet looking for that elusive rhino - it ended in a flurry of fantastic sightings. First was this lion just dozing in the shade & here is a photo to prove that I was actually there (there is a lion there - I assure you). Next we found a hippo sitting in a pond that looked like it had be made quarrying for roading materials - this was a great surprise as we had been told that hippos are mostly down by the river which would have required a whole day excursion, which we were not keen for.After seeing a big herd of elephants in the distance, a couple of giraffe crossed the road right in front of us. I can look at giraffes for so long - I think I've really liked them since I was quite young - the patterns on their skin are so cool & they seem such unlikely animals.Then what turned out to be my favourite sighting of the weekend - a leopard up the tree. We couldn't get quite as close to it as some of the other animals (that is what I am telling myself is the reason why I only took one photo of it - & that isn't even very good). But it was a delight to stare at through the binoculars as it lazed on what looked like some pretty precarious branches high up surveying the surrounding scrub (looking for dinner perhaps). I thought it had an extraordinarily long tail, & I now know why a leopard doesn't changes its spots - they are quite incredible to start with & not worth risking I think. It was getting darker now, but we still managed to a cheetah & two more groups of lions. The last group (a male & two females) were a bit more active than most of the others we had seen & the two females had a bit of play fight that was entertaining. There was also a nice sunset way off across the plains (it got better than this, but it was hard to take a decent photo while bumping along the dirt tracks & road).This is Edward - our Masai scout - in traditional garb, you can almost make out his ear lobe that (because it has a massive hole in it) he wears pulled over the top of his ear. You can't quite see his traditional knife or traditional cell phone.
Sunday was off again early in hunt of that rhino. However, we never found it - that was a little disappointing, but I didn't mind too much as I have seen one in the wild many years ago in Nepal (albeit briefly as someone yelled "Rhino!" on spotting it & it ran away). We saw quite a few big herds of giraffes (more than thirty in total) before heading back home. What a weekend - Joe (one of Adrian's flatmates here) wasn't kidding when he said the Mara was one of the best, if not the best, things he has seen in his life - it was incredible.