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  1. #1
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    Default Kenya 2023: Mountains, plains, valleys, lakes and forests

    This trip report is dedicated to the memory of Stan Weakley, the King of Trip Reports, who sadly died a few weeks ago. Lala salama, Stan.


    Kenya: Mountains, plains, valleys, plateaux, lakes, forests, and escarpments
    17 January to 17 February 2023

    There are few places in Kenya we haven’t been - or roads we haven’t travelled. This trip was a combination of visiting family and friends, and going on our travels in our Land Rover revisiting old haunts.

    After arriving on the British Airways flight from London on the evening of 17 January, we spent the first few days in Nairobi having a lovely time with my family, but also finding our camping kit in my brother’s store, repacking the Land Rover, and buying and packing the provisions.

    We had been keen to go north again – I had wanted to revisit Lake Turkana before we are too old, but the ongoing critical drought in northern Kenya was having a severe effect on the security in the region – so we decided on a circular route taking in Tsavo West, Amboseli, Tsavo East, the eastern flank of Mt Kenya, Nanyuki, Baringo, Kakamega Forest, and to visit friends on their farm in Nyanza Province.

    Tsavo West National Park
    23-25 January
    We set off on our travels on Monday 23 January. As ever, we took the road from Karen to Ngong and then on to Kiserian and Isinya. Just before Kajiado, we turned east on the road we travelled last year signposted “Imaroro D524”which connects to the C102 Emali to Loitokitok. This is an interesting route through Maasailand, but the tarmac on this new road is already starting to break up, although repairs were being done in some places. It is to be recommended as it avoids any time on the main Mombasa road.

    As we had made good time and were at the village of Kimana by lunchtime, we decided to press on to Tsavo West NP and we turned on to the dirt road heading towards the Chyulu gate into Tsavo West. It took about an hour from the C102 to the Chyulu gate. Here we paid our park fees and camping fees by card at the new gate and were warmly welcomed by the ranger on duty. The drought is affecting this whole area and we drove through a parched landscape.

    We spent two nights camping at the Chyulu public campsite in Tsavo West NP. There are ablutions with cold water showers, loos, loo seats, and a water point. The camp attendant, Emmanwel, lives at the rangers’ accommodation at the nearby old Chyulu gate and ranger post. The rangers’ accommodation has recently been renovated by the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Tsavo Trust. We set up camp at the far end of the campsite under a thatched shelter and Emmanwel brought us firewood (1000shs). Later, we had a short game drive around towards Kilaguni and had early sundowners sitting on the roof of our Land Rover. Back at camp, Emmanwel had the fire ready for us and we cooked on the open fire. We had a peaceful night being the only campers. It was so good to be back on safari.

    As we drove out of camp early the following morning, Kilimanjaro was visible through the dry season haze. We meandered our way towards Mzima Springs seeing quite a lot of game despite the parched conditions. Mzima, as always, was a green oasis with hippos and crocs in the crystal clear water. Back at camp we cooked a full English breakfast on the open fire although it was getting very hot.

    For all our game drives, we hired Emmanwel to guard our camp from baboons (although there weren’t any baboons around we have had unwelcome intrusions from baboons and monkeys here in the past). We tipped him for this service.

    Earlier than usual, we went for an afternoon game drive towards Kitani and the Tsavo River. The river was dry. The area around Kitani and the Tsavo River was bone dry with hardly a blade of grass. This area is normally teeming with game. We then wound our way up to Poachers Lookout and gazed over the drought-stricken plains. On our way back to camp, we took a track marked “4x4 only” which took us over lava flows and through dry thick bush popping out on to the main track from Chyulu gate near to the Shetani Lava Flow. We were back in camp just on sunset. Here we found another vehicle in camp – a young British couple in a hired vehicle with roof top tent. Later, we invited them over for drinks with us beside our campfire. [Note to Ortelius, this couple had hired a vehicle from a company with 4x4 in its name. Sorry, we can’t remember exactly what the name was, but they said it was USD50 cheaper per day than Road Trip Kenya, but they too had had vehicle problems. It didn’t look in its first flush of youth.]

    The following morning, we struck camp in the cool of the morning and headed off. First stop was Kilaguni Lodge to have a cup of coffee on their cool, breezy verandah overlooking the waterhole with zebra and giraffe slaking their thirst - with the ultimate backdrop of a clear Kilimanjaro. It is a fabulous spot. Fortified, we headed off towards the Ngulia area.

    In the Ngulia valley it was a different world. There had been rain in the past few months and there was abundant grass, leaves on the trees, and flowers bloomed. We eventually saw our first two elephants in the valley: I had been wondering where the elephants of Tsavo had gone. As we crossed the pass between the Ngulia valley and the lower ground to the east, it was clear that this side of the hills had also received recent rain. As we meandered our way towards Mtito Andei, the waterholes were full of elephant families wallowing and drinking, there was ample browse and all looked well in this part of Tsavo West NP.

    Park fees are based on twenty-four hours and 2.00 pm was our deadline. We had a quick picnic lunch in the public campsite at Komboyo near to the Park HQ. This is a huge, but dismal and pretty derelict campsite. To be avoided at all costs. Not a patch on Chyulu public campsite. Bang on time, we exited Tsavo West and turned on to the main Nairobi-Mombasa road. Mtito Andei used to be one of only three places to stop in the “old days” on the long dirt road from Nairobi to the coast. It had a petrol station and little else except for the famous Mac’s Inn. I wonder who Mac was?

    We turned north on this notoriously dangerous road, but we only had some 45 kms to do. That evening and night we spent with my family doing family things. We had a lovely time including sundowners on a rock with Kilimanjaro visible behind the Chyulu Hills. What a sight.

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Kenya 2023: Mountains, plains, valleys, lakes and forests

    WW thank you very much for allowing us to travel with you and for having you back writing a report! This will certainly become handy in planning our much anticipated return trip to Kenya, next October.

    Anxiously waiting for future installments.


    Asante sana.

    AP
    Last edited by apfac; 2023/02/19 at 01:43 PM.

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    Default Re: Kenya 2023: Mountains, plains, valleys, lakes and forests

    WW - following with great interest - thank you for taking the trouble.

    As you suggested we have travelled up from SA fairly quickly and are currently camped at Twiga Lodge near Arusha and will cross over into Kenya tomorrow. V excited.

    It is so dry, hot, hazy and windy here, and we have been hearing some depressing reports out of Amboseli and Tsavos, so I am so pleased to hear that things are better around the Ngulia area (or at least they were a month ago). Paul here at Twiga says that the wind here around Arusha at the moment is what they usually call "Christmas wind" and usually signifies that the short rains are over (of which they hardly got any) so jury is out what these winds mean now...

    Our blog is in progress - promise!

    Looking forward to the next instalment.

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    Default Re: Kenya 2023: Mountains, plains, valleys, lakes and forests

    Amboseli National Park
    26-27 January
    For the next four nights, my brother and sister-in-law joined us in their own vehicle. We were not camping: for the first two nights, I had booked us into Tawi Lodge which is on the Tawi Conservancy bordering on to Amboseli NP on the eastern side. Hugh and I were at the lodge in time for lunch. The road is now tarmac all the way from Emali to the Kimana entrance gate to Amboseli. This new tar road from Kimana village to the gate has a number of unmarked speed bumps. It was a relief as the old dirt road was horribly corrugated.

    Tawi Lodge is a lovely little lodge with a beautiful view of Kilimanjaro, has lovely gardens, a waterhole and a swimming pool. The rooms are huge and very nicely decorated and equipped. It is also not that expensive in Kenyan terms. The family arrived in the late afternoon, but we didn’t go for a game drive and we had our sundowners overlooking the waterhole. We had a delicious dinner in the thatched open-sided dining room and retired to bed in good time.

    The following morning, we got up early and were rewarded with a fabulous view of Kilimanjaro looming overhead. After a cup of tea delivered to our rooms, all four of us leapt into our Land Rover. It was a short drive to the gate to Amboseli NP where we paid our park fees to the efficient KWS officers. Amboseli had been a firm family favourite, but my brother and sister-in-law hadn’t been for many years. Amboseli was bone dry, but game still hung on and it was not strewn with carcasses of unfortunate creatures who had succumbed to this devastating drought. This is due to the presence of the swamp which is fed from Kilimanjaro and underground aquifers. The swamp was filled with elephant, buffalo, hippo, and many water birds.

    We were all intrigued that the swamp had increased in size and there was much more open water visible than in the past. We saw substantial flocks of flamingoes in the open water. The wooded area at Ol Tukai was flooded and most of the trees were dead: the few lodges hanging on at Ol Tukai were retreating to the slightly higher land and must be fearful for their businesses. Later we were told that this inundation was likely to be similar to what is happening in the Rift Valley lakes and the geologists think it might be due to some seismic event: it is certainly not due to increased rainfall here in this otherwise drought-stricken landscape. Very intriguing.

    We saw the “usual suspects” on our morning game drive. Back at Tawi Lodge for a delicious late breakfast, one of their drivers reported that there was a cheetah mother with four cubs on the Tawi Conservancy. We had actually gone to look for them early in the morning, but without clear directions, they were impossible to find. So, Tom the driver hopped into our Land Rover and guided us to where he had seen them early in the morning. Bingo! They were still there sleeping under a bush. Although we are pretty experienced game spotters, we would never have found them without Tom. What a thrill – and what an amazingly experienced cheetah mother to raise four cubs to teenage years through years of drought. Tom told us that there was another cheetah Mum with four cubs currently in Amboseli National Park.

    Amboseli NP has a policy of allowing visitors staying outside the park to enter twice a day. On our afternoon game drive, we showed our park fees receipt at the gate and were free to go. We went on a different circuit down towards the Serena Lodge and then round towards Observation Hill. Many of the roads had been rerouted due to flooding. We saw a lot of elephant, buffalo, and the “usual suspects”. We did not find any cats on our exploration of this lovely little park. On our way back to the lodge, we were heartened to see park officials checking receipts. Good work, KWS!

    Another delicious dinner and comfortable night at Tawi Lodge. A great place.

    To Teita via Tsavo West
    28 January
    We woke again to a crystal-clear view of Kilimanjaro from our rooms. We packed up, had breakfast, and set off on our way to Teita via Tsavo West. Although we hate backtracking, our planned route through Tsavo West was an excellent choice.

    Beautiful views of the mountain followed us all the way on the road from Tawi Lodge to the Chyulu Gate into Tsavo West. Here, the officer on duty recognised us from a few days before, but we told him we were only transiting the park to the Taveta-Voi road. However, park fees do have to be paid. We ambled off across the Shetani lava flow once again, down towards Kitani, and across the Tsavo River. We had thought to have our picnic lunch near the ford over the Tsavo River, but we couldn’t find suitable shade. The trials of finding the perfect campsite or picnic spot!

    Over the Tsavo River, we turned left on to the track to the Maktau gate some 60 kms away. Just before the road turned south-east and away from the Tsavo River, we spotted a doum palm just off the rarely used track and both vehicles parked up under the shade and we got out the chairs, cold beers, cutlery, plates and our snack lunch of ham, cheese, crackers, and crisps. Pretty damn good!

    On and on we went south-east through dry bush with scattered acacias. This track to the Maktau gate had been recently graded and was excellent. It is rarely used and we didn’t see another vehicle. It was a lovely drive and it reminded me of the dirt road from Nairobi to Mombasa when I was a child. A few hours later, we arrived at the Maktau gate where we had to dig the gateman out of his quarters to let us out.

    The Taveta-Voi road is an excellent new tarmac road. It follows the original line of track which dates back to the First World War. This area was heavily fought over in WWI - the history of this extraordinary and brutal campaign in East Africa is forgotten in many circles, but the book “Battle for the Bundu” by Charles Miller is to be highly recommended.

    We sped along this road until we came to the village of Mwatete and turned right through the sisal estate until we came to a little piece of paradise. We were booked into Hildana Lodge on the Teita Sisal Estate owned by friends. We arrived at this really beautiful lodge at 5.00 pm and were warmly welcomed. The lodge is on conservation land owned by our friends. They are to be applauded for building this sensationally beautiful lodge - with every possible attention to detail – in this out of the way destination (although it is only half an hour from Voi). The conservation land is an important wildlife corridor between Tsavo West, Tsavo East, the Taita hills, and the bundu towards Kasigau and the Tanzanian border.

    We fell into the arms of their lovely staff, fluffy white towels, and acres of space in our beautifully appointed and equipped rooms. How lucky are we? We quickly got into our swimming cosies and got into the infinity pool overlooking their waterhole with the Taita Hills in the distance. We decided not to do an evening game drive and sundowners, but instead had our sundowners beside the pool. What a beautiful place.

    We had a delicious dinner in their huge central dining and sitting open-sided building. The buildings are all thatched – not with coconut “makuti” which is common all over East Africa, but with reed thatch similar to that seen in England and southern Africa. Whilst we were having dinner, some elephants came into the waterhole to have a drink and a huge herd of approximately 100 buffalo.

    After perhaps a few too many drinks, we retired to our rooms and had a blissful night.
    Last edited by Wazungu Wawili; 2023/03/19 at 01:15 AM.

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  9. #5
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    Default Re: Kenya 2023: Mountains, plains, valleys, lakes and forests

    Quote Originally Posted by Webster View Post
    WW - following with great interest - thank you for taking the trouble.

    As you suggested we have travelled up from SA fairly quickly and are currently camped at Twiga Lodge near Arusha and will cross over into Kenya tomorrow. V excited.

    It is so dry, hot, hazy and windy here, and we have been hearing some depressing reports out of Amboseli and Tsavos, so I am so pleased to hear that things are better around the Ngulia area (or at least they were a month ago). Paul here at Twiga says that the wind here around Arusha at the moment is what they usually call "Christmas wind" and usually signifies that the short rains are over (of which they hardly got any) so jury is out what these winds mean now...

    Our blog is in progress - promise!

    Looking forward to the next instalment.
    Asante sana, Webster. Karibuni Kenya!

    I have quickly typed the above installment as I am conscious that you are crossing the border tomorrow and it might be helpful to you. I will try and crack on with the next installments as they too might assist you. Or you can contact me direct.

    Safari njema!

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    Default Re: Kenya 2023: Mountains, plains, valleys, lakes and forests

    Another amazing report from an even more amazing trip in your beloved Kenya, WW! It is a pleasure to read your descriptions and a wealth of ideas for our future trips. Asante sana.
    24 hours in a day.... 24 beer in a case.... Coincidence?
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    Default Re: Kenya 2023: Mountains, plains, valleys, lakes and forests

    Thank you, Ortelius! I was waiting until you finished your wonderful trip report before I posted.

    Glad you are home safely.

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    Default Re: Kenya 2023: Mountains, plains, valleys, lakes and forests

    Quote Originally Posted by Wazungu Wawili View Post
    Asante sana, Webster. Karibuni Kenya!I have quickly typed the above installment as I am conscious that you are crossing the border tomorrow and it might be helpful to you. I will try and crack on with the next installments as they too might assist you. Or you can contact me direct.Safari njema!
    Wow. Thank you for all of this so hot off the press! We are safely at Kimana community camp outside Amboseli after a painless border crossing. Will digest all at leisure tomorrow. Thanks again, all super useful and very inspiring
    Last edited by Webster; 2023/02/20 at 06:33 PM.

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    Default Re: Kenya 2023: Mountains, plains, valleys, lakes and forests

    Tiva River to Embu via Ithumba and Kitui
    31 January

    We struck camp in the cool of the early morning, had a quick breakfast and headed off north towards Ithumba. This was a day where we decided to be flexible: we hoped to get to Ngare Ndare on the north side of Mt Kenya, but it was a long old way. Our fall-back plan was to stay in a hotel in Embu.

    It was about an hour from the Tiva River to Ithumba and then another hour or so to the gate. Once out of the national park, the dirt track took us through shambas and small settlements until we reached the newly tarred Kibwezi to Kitui road. This was an immaculate road with very little traffic: the last two times we drove the old dirt road, it was not great. The new road bypasses Kitui town which is a bustling, busy town in a fertile agricultural area of orchards and shambas. We continued north from Kitui on a much busier road. It was very hot and we were beginning to flag. Nevertheless, on we went until we reached the Thika-Garissa road and then turned north again towards Embu.

    This pleasant tarred road passes across one of the dams on the Tana River. Eventually at about 2.00pm, we arrived in the bustling town of Embu in the foothills of Mt Kenya. We stopped at the old colonial Isaak Walton Inn. Here at the Isaak Walton (an old fishing hotel, of course), we had to make the decision as to whether to push on or stop: we were getting tired. We wanted to go round the eastern side of Mt Kenya via Meru town. Whilst sitting having cold sodas and eating samosas in their lovely gardens, I phoned Ngare Ndare about camping for the night. Stupidly, I had forgotten that bookings for camping must be made at least the day before. The decision was made for us: we would spend the night at the Isaak Walton Inn.

    This was a good call as we would have been chasing the light with the sun setting in our eyes on a road with lots of bends and curves, and ups and downs. So, the lovely staff made a room ready for us in one of the cottages. In fact, they upgraded us to an “executive cottage”. We had a nice enough dinner of curry and chapattis and a few cold beers. The staff were very welcoming. There was a party of Italians also staying the night. In the old bar was a piscatorial honours board of the Embu rivers dating back to 1952. The fishing had been in various rivers coming off Mt Kenya. Tony Weaver would be interested in that.
    Last edited by Wazungu Wawili; 2023/02/21 at 01:07 AM.

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    Default Re: Kenya 2023: Mountains, plains, valleys, lakes and forests

    What a treat to read your wonderful day-to-day report, WW. We were at Bush Baby on Lake Baringo just 5 days before you.

    Exactly the same sentiments about Luca's fantastic job with his campsite.

    I was playing with the idea of driving toward Baringo from Ol Pajeta via the Mugi conservancy, but wasn't confident enough with our car. Didn't know about the unrests thereabouts. But I will certainly mark your new route as an option toward Baringo for one of our future trips.

    It's funny you mention German bikepackers. We had one too, also German, biking ALONE through East Africa. As the unbearable heat wasn't enough, he was doing it ALONE, without any company at all. Unbelievable. But I can only admire such strong will characters.
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    Default Re: Kenya 2023: Mountains, plains, valleys, lakes and forests

    Thanks, Ortelius. Yes, I think we camped under the same tree as you at Bush Baby! Weeks later we were still taking the acacia pods out of the roof of our Land Rover. Some of the seeds are now being planted by friends on their farm. Luca is doing a great job. One of the people who set up Tumbili Cliff is Luca’s cousin. He is a top-notch bird guide for East Africa.

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    Default Re: Kenya 2023: Mountains, plains, valleys, lakes and forests

    Lake Baringo to Kakamega Forest
    3 February

    Early in the morning we struck camp, paid Luca (efficient separate tax receipts were issued for camping, the boat trip, and our beers), and we headed off. The German bikepackers had set off about an hour before us and we had warned them of the very steep ascent up the Tugen Hills and asked if they wanted a lift or anything carried for them, but they said they were fine. As we passed Marigat again, we saw them going into a duka. They must have been daunted when they saw the long non-stop ascent up to Kabarnet.

    Just past Marigat, we turned right and wound our way up and up and up the Tugen hills. Eventually we arrived at the town of Kabarnet (home town of the ex-president Daniel arap Moi). Then it was down and down and down into the Kerio Valley with the escarpment of the Rift Valley looming ahead. Once across the Kerio, we started the long, steep ascent up the Elgeyo (Iten) escarpment. There was some repair work being done on some of the lower parts and we drove over new tar and chippings. At one of the very steepest parts of the escarpment, we started hearing a horrible noise from the Land Rover. OMG! We decided to ignore it until it got very ear-splitting. Fortunately we were able to stop at a relatively flat bit off the road. As we thought, there was a large piece of gravel stuck between the front brake pads and Hugh managed to remove the offending bit.

    Then we ground our way up to the top and the town of Iten. We were now on the Uasin Gishu plateau. Iten is the “home of champions” and where all the great Kenyan Olympic athletes live and train. It is high altitude training. In fact, most of our great Kenyan athletes come from this part of the world. Their morning run consists of up and down the Iten escarpment!

    We realised, although we have driven this escarpment many times, we had only ever descended. Except once, many years ago on a different part of the escarpment, on a dirt road in a short wheel base Land Rover. The switchbacks were quite something - in a longer vehicle we would have had to do a few three point turns to get round the switchbacks. I think it was the route that the Safari Rally used to take.

    The Uasin Gishu is a very fertile farming area of large farms interspersed with co-operative farming schemes. It had been a European and Afrikaner farming area before Independence in 1963. Their legacy lives on with excellent farming practices. The road from Iten to Eldoret was busy with tractors, combines, trucks, cars and the inevitable bodabodas. We stopped for coffee in Eldoret.

    We continued south-west heading towards Kapsabet. Nearing Kapsabet, the agriculture changed from wheat, maize and sunflowers to tea. This was Nandi County – they proudly claimed that Nandi County was the “where the champions come from”. The roads, although still quite busy with people and farmers getting on with their business, were good.

    Once we turned west towards Kakamega Forest, the tar road was not so good, but perfectly okay. About 40 kms later, we turned right onto the dirt road to Kakamega Forest. A short while later, whilst still in shamba and smallholder land, we came upon a broken down tourist vehicle. The front wheel and differential were shattered. It was only the driver waiting there. As we know our bush etiquette, we stopped. After the usual Kenyan polite greetings when the driver said he was “fine”, we said you don’t look fine. He laughed and said we were not to worry as a mechanic and spare part were coming all the way from Kisumu. He had obviously sent his tourists on and was sitting waiting beside the road. We had a jolly chat with him and I think he was pleased we had stopped.

    Then we came to the rainforest – although it was all looking very dry. Kakamega is the last remnant of the rainforest that once extended all the way to the west coast of Africa. It is an enchanting place and is a Mecca for birders.

    We have stayed a number of times at the very beautiful Rondo Retreat in the forest, but this time we wanted to camp. I am not a great fan of the ioverlander app, but we trusted it for once. After a bit of manoeuvring, we found Isecheno Blue Shouldered Guesthouse/Campsite. It does not have a sign either from the road or at their gate, but they heard our Land Rover and opened the gate. Here we were warmly welcomed by Samuel the caretaker and shown around. We selected a nice shaded, flat area and pitched camp. There is also a simple guest house with two rooms and, separately, a bunkhouse. The ablutions are outside with western loos and loo seats, squatter loos, and hot water showers supplied by a Tanganyika boiler (what you South Africans call a donkey boiler).

    Later the owner and manager, a lovely Kenyan called Smith, arrived and we arranged with him for a bird walk the following day. Smith was trained by the National Museums of Kenya and the Kenya Wildlife Service as a bird guide. He is a top-notch guide.

    Later, an extraordinary party of bird photographers arrived. It was the same party that we had seen on Lake Baringo. It consisted of six Scandinavians (we think) with two Tanzanian bird guides and a Kenyan driver. Extraordinarily, none of the six tourists even acknowledged our existence although we said hello to them. We had chats with the Kenyan driver and he explained that bird photographers are different to birders. All the men were certainly “on the spectrum” or on a mission. They prowled around the compound constantly lurking in the bushes looking for birds. They did not dare to step out of the compound on their own. We had a short walk on our own through a short stretch of tea and into the forest which was about 50 metres from the guesthouse.

    The temperature up here was delicious after the heat of Baringo and we had a lovely evening, dinner and night. What a great place.
    Last edited by Wazungu Wawili; 2023/02/23 at 01:24 AM.

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    Default Re: Kenya 2023: Mountains, plains, valleys, lakes and forests

    Thank you again for the formidable descriptions WW. We are really traveling with you. Although not necessary, maybe at the end, we could be pampered by some photos?

    Asante sana WW.

    AP

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    Default Re: Kenya 2023: Mountains, plains, valleys, lakes and forests

    Thank you, apfac. Yes, I will post some photos, but I always do them at the end.

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